Sunday, July 31, 2011
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Friday, July 29, 2011
I think what I was feeling last night was that the game got a little “out of my control” last night. I had certain expectations that didn’t pan out, and things that I felt had been “tightened” in design ended up loose in practice. In the end, I think *I* was too attached to the game unfolding a certain way…and when it didn’t I felt like
A) I let the players down.
B) I let myself down.
The first because I strive for an entertaining game, a fair game, a challenging (i.e. deadly) game, but always an interesting game. The second because, well, I challenge myself to provide that kind of game.
Here’s what happened:
I wrote up an adventure that would play as a sub-plot of the party’s PC magic-user. Now that the cast of characters has become fairly stable (there are some principal PCs that have stuck around for awhile) I’m trying to involve the players more in the campaign world. I introduced the dwarf to some dwarven contacts, I’ve allowed the thief to make some underworld contacts, and I plan on having the cleric get some missions from his “church” now that he’s a vicar. This week, with the graduation of the magic-user from apprentice to 4th level (magician), I thought it would be neat to start developing more of a peer relationship with his former mentor wizard.
Except that the player doesn’t give a shit about this kind of thing.
Which is fine. I mean, it’s one way to play the game, “just give me the damn mission, tell me what’s in it for my character, and then let’s start the f’ing adventure.” Some players aren’t interested in exploring the imaginary world with the vehicle of character, they just want to be challenged and get XP and level up. In other words, it’s a night out to blow off steam by blasting some monsters.
As I said, this is a fine and appropriate way to play the game. It’s not really the way I think, which may be why I butt heads with that player so often. Common complaints (just to highlight) include:
- B/X is too generic (characters don’t have enough differentiation)
- B/X magic isn’t effective enough (saving throws make charm worthless, for example)
- Collecting treasure is worthless (since one can’t buy anything useful with it)
- Auto-kill effects (like save versus poison) are stupid.
- Energy drain is the most terrible part of the game.
Now, while any of these might be gripes to any players, they fade in importance to characters with a less cut-n-dry gamist attitude. For example:
- B/X is only as generic as you want it to be (you can give your PC as much characterization/traits/quirks as you wish to distinguish him from others…but that’s a role-playing thing and generally carries no mechanical effects). The lack of complex chargen rules gives you an empty cup into which you may pour your own characterization.
- B/X magic is plenty effective when used creatively. I could write a whole blog post on this particular subject.
- From a role-playing perspective, treasure is THE thing…the whole reason your character faces danger is to earn money. Save up to buy your castle or conduct spell research or create magic items or hire followers or retain specialists or buy ships or horses or donate money to a temple or blow on hookers and cocaine…WHATEVER. I can understand if YOU don’t care about “imaginary money;” but your character probably does (unless he has a particular quirk about it).
- Auto-kill effects…like poison or petrifaction or whatever…may not seem “fair” but they are attempts to model “real” stuff in the fantasy world. When someone is poisoned by a giant snake or spider, they don’t grit their teeth and manly resist it, taking a few points of damage…they curl up and die in agony. Saving throws are chances for your heroes (yes, I said it) to heroically save themselves. No, it’s not fun to die…good thing there are ways to bring your characters back to life (yet another thing to spend money on!).
- Ditto energy drain…undead are dangerous and losing levels sucks. It’s part of the game; keep your cleric alive and at the ready. It’s not like energy drain is permanent…one can always earn level’s back by gaining more XP. If all you care about is leveling, though, it can be a real detriment to the cause.
This may sound like harsh criticism of my player…I don’t mean it to be. I’m just trying to share MY point of view: i.e. I don’t see these things as “problems” of the B/X system. If anything, I see them as features…which is, of course, why I prefer to play this particular edition.
So, moving on: the player wasn’t biting at anything and in the name of expedience (we were already slooow in starting again…I really need to use the email better between game sessions for the housekeeping stuff) I pretty much said, “here you go, go find this tower.”
Then, of course, they decided to get there BY BOAT, which I didn’t consider initially but made so much more sense in retrospect than an overland journey…and I was unprepared for the action, having to “wing it” with regard to chartering costs and such.
Since they used the boat to take a more direct route to the adventure site I ran into a problem of encounter pacing…initially there was to be a “warm-up” encounter of rock baboons in the jungle prior to getting to the “dungeon” (a ruined tower) where they would encounter a flock of harpy-bitches. Blah-blah-blah I’m not going to bother going into the backstory/interactions between the two groups. Suffice is to say that because they assaulted the tower directly from the water, they ended up being trapped between the harpies and baboons…which could have turned into a real clusterfk if I’d let it proceed as I had originally intended (the harpies charmed nearly all the spell casters, neutralizing those handy sleep spells that would have enabled the party to turn the baboons into a manageable encounter).
As it was, it threw off my whole rhythm for the scene. I held back the monkeys until the party drove away the harpies, but then they wanted to retreat to the woods where the baboons were hanging out, and their buddies were still incapacitated (harpies charm ability has a 120’ range and they can continue singing even in the midst of melee so, presumably, they can sing even in the midst of retreat). It was a screwed up mess, and thankfully the PCs gave me an “out” for the baboon slaughter with some clever use of fire to frighten away the apes.
It’s all the more irritating because I fully intended to read up on harpies and their charming ability before the night’s adventure and I didn’t get the chance. I “epic failed” in a number of ways here:
- Hold person should not have affected a harpy…I panicked when it appeared the PCs were going to be decimated by the 1st encounter. However, allowing the cleric to cast his only 2nd level spell prevented him from using Speak with Animals to negotiate the baboon encounter. Ugh.
- I played the harpies stupidly and randomly…they are intelligent, evil monsters and should have hung out of range and shredded charmed PCs individually. Barring that they should have attacked the non-charmed folks while the others were under their sway. Barring THAT they should have attacked the less armored folks first. I used them like intelligent animals instead of conniving unholy legends of myth. My bad.
- If I’d considered the possibility of a water voyage, I would have drawn up an additional waterborne encounter to use in place of the baboons. My attachment to running the adventure “as designed” and my poor adaptability screwed me up.
Still, it wasn’t TERRIBLE. It just didn’t go smoothly as I’d hoped.
The PCs entered the tower and got bogged down in its narrow confines while fighting. An encounter that could have been negotiated turned into a battle that killed a PC…but it was the new guy and he didn’t have much invested in his character so that was okay.
Then the thief got bit by a poison spider while hastily grabbing some treasure he found under a rock, and failed his save. Ugh. That was bad. Stanley’s been with the group since session #1 (this was session #14). Despite my high falutin’ talk about “auto-kill” being part of the game there was a noticeable pall on the group when this happened.
And so I waffled. Or rather, I allowed an unorthodox method of saving him. One of the dead monsters had a potion of gaseous form which the PCs forced down the thief’s throat in desperation. They asked if this might cause the foreign substance to leave his system (since in B/X the gaseous form potion doesn’t transform your equipment or items carried). I ruled the thief could make a second saving throw when the duration of the potion expired, and he made that one with flying colors.
At the time, I felt lame about letting the PC off the hook, just because he was a “beloved character.” Would I have acted the same if it had been one of the new PCs? Reflecting on it today, I believe I did the right thing by allowing the PLAYERS’ creative attempt at a remedy to work. I just hope that in the future I will remember to apply this principle CONSISTENTLY whenever the PCs try unusual remedies, not just when one of the “good ol’ boys” goes down.
The trap itself (this was a trap, not a monster encounter) deserves its own post regarding traps, which I’ll get around to one of these days.
The fight with the harpies upstairs went well and no complaints there. The downstairs encounter with the sorcerer and his buddy went A LOT different from how I expected.
There ended up being a lot of discussion on “line of sight” and whether or not it blocks spell use and whatnot. Certainly, I set up the encounter the way I did under the impression that it DOES…the sorcerer knew the party was coming for him and had a chance to prepare, but left the space in front of the door clear for spell-casting rather than having his burly bodyguard shield him.
This had the effect of allowing the players to run up on the mage and gaffle him, causing him to lose a spell most every round (I was rolling lousy for initiative). I had given the party a limited ring of spell cancellation (1 charge) with the thought that without an extra tactical bonus they’d get cooked by a 7th level magic-user. It turned out not to matter a whit. Lightning bolt: cancelled. Magic missile: cancelled. Sleep: cancelled. I had dumped mirror image for invisibility with the idea that the bodyguard could add an additional layer of trouble while concealed. In retrospect, I should have gone with the mirror image, which would have allowed the mage to get off at least one or two more spells during the combat.
I have not taken the opportunity to review the spell-casting rules since last night, but I will before next session as the LOS issue became a heated point of contention. In the end, I think everyone was unsatisfied with my rulings on the matter (I know I was) and as this was the last true encounter of the evening it contributed to my overall “sloppy” impression of the game.
However, the END RESULT of the evening wasn’t all that bad. Only one player character killed. No one dead as a result of poison or harpies or “line of sight” issues or berserk baboons. A ton of treasure collected. And a few lessons learned from the experience (for ME as a DM). Despite the sloppiness, it feels a bit like I dodged a bullet this session.
Next week, I will strive to do better…for the players’ sake as well as my own personal satisfaction.
I'm not sure what exactly was "off;" was it an off night? Was everyone wigged out? Did we all want to go see the Captain America movie instead?
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
I suppose I'd rather be a lord of Gyaxian knowledge than a lord of a dung heap. However, I will say I was fortunate that so many of the questions were Greyhawk or Gord specific...I've read those Gygax novels a half dozen times I'm sure!
Happy birthday EGG.
From the Cook/Marsh (B/X) Expert set:
Magic-users and elves are limited to the number of spells they may know, and their books will contain spells equal to the number and level of spells the caster can use in a single day (thus, the books of a 4th level elf will contain two first and two second level spells).
Most player character magic-users and elves are assumed to be members of the local Magic-Users Guild or apprenticed to a higher level NPC. When player characters gain a level of experience, they will return to their masters and be out of play for one "game-week" while they are learning their new spells.
(page X11, emphasis added by me)
Magic-users may add more spells to their spell books through spell research.
Spell Research. New spells may be researched by any spell caster. Research requires both money and time spent out of the campaign.
Upon reaching 11th level, a magic-user may choose to build a tower...a mgic-user who constructs a tower will gain 1-6 apprentices of levels 1-3.
(page X7-X8; again, emphasis added by me)
Based on the text of the game, I am revising the acquisition of magic-user and elf spells in my B/X game. In reviewing the rules, I've decided on the following interpretation (and not without a bit of internal debate):
- Magic-users and elves may know a maximum number of spells (that is, they may have a maximum number of spells in their spell book) equal to the number of spells they can cast per day. Why they can't "store up" extra spells or rob spells from other magician's tomes is a mystery that one can interpret in a variety of ways (and I'm not going to make something up right now). While this is a change from how I was running the game earlier (I was allowing spell research to "add extra spells" to the spell book), I feel this is the correct call for the sake of game balance. Even AD&D limits the maximum number of spells available to PCs based on Intelligence, so I don't feel bad in limiting the maximum number of spells that can be known...though I'm guessing this won't sit well with my players.
- Magic-users and elves learn their new spells for "free" so long as they are apprenticed to a higher mage. I am tempted to cut players off at 4th level, for a couple/few different reasons: A) the wizard in his tower attracts apprentices of levels 1-3 (which can be interpreted as levels 1-3 being the collective "apprentice levels"), B) 4th level is what I consider "hero level" for most classes based on the break point it provides for most B/X classes and the fact that it is the 1st level of "Expert" play (levels 4-14), C) I've seen 4th level as a cut-off in other places as well, notably Dragon Lance (where magic-users were expected to take their Test of High Sorcery at level 4). Also, at higher levels elves and magic-users start to gain more than 1 spell per level, making that "week off to get spells" rule especially kind.
- A magic-user or elf who is NOT apprenticed may only add spells to his spell book through spell research. There is no minimum level for spell research (unlike magic item construction).
All right, that's it...and that's probably enough for now. Here are a couple different ideas I'm consiering adding that AREN'T based on the rules of the game:
1) Bonus spells for magic-users/elves based on their Intelligence score (sorry, no bonus for clerics/Wisdom).
2) Toying with the idea of a "graduation test" to level up beyond "apprentice stage" (like the Test from Dragon Lance).
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
But in a way, it was a mixed blessing being off-line the last few days. As usual, my weekened was crammed full of activities (guests visiting from out of town, parties on the Eastside...bleaH!...and barbecues down on the waterfront)...the great Seattle (summer) weather finally showed up and I was out-n-about, pretty much the whole time. That still wouldn't have stopped me from posting in the evenings...but without the 'net I was able to sleep instead.
ANYway, I've got a few thoughts brewing in my head, but only one D&D-related and I know it's going to ruffle some feathers in my gaming group so I'm dreading actually writing it up. The last couple days haven't been all that great anyway, and today's been one bit of ugly after another. I managed to sneak home to have lunch with the wife and hijo today and that was definitely the best part of it (the sun was even shining). Unfortunately, I got back to work in time to find out I need to work late Friday (unrelated to my sneaking out), that the Seahawks have NOT signed Hasslebeck (which means he'll probably playing for Arizona or San Fran...ugh!), AND that Tavaris Jackson will be competing with Charlie Whitehurst for the starting QB position?!!
So, yeah...a lame afternoon so far. But whatever...the next couple posts will see bit of thoughtfulness regarding comic books and violence (and comic book violence) and hopefully will NOT involve more bad news for the 'Hawks. Oh, yeah...and my feather-ruffling D&D post.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
A) I haven't finished it (haven't even started the mapping), which is due to...
B) It's too frigging tough!
Looking over the encounters today, I realized it was far and away out of reach of my current batch of PCs...what the hell was I smoking when I thought this up?! I suppose, I was a little too loosey-goosey with the B/X encounter tables...while it's all well and good to say, "okay monsters on THIS level will use this chart and monsters on THAT level will use the next, it sure helps if there's enough treasure on each successive level to boost the PCs' XP level before the descent.
[that's how I handled the Paschendale Necropolis, just by the way]
This one is just...ugh, retarded, the more I think about it. It's like "breezy, breezy, BAM! everyone's dead." That is NOT cool. I am all for killing player characters when I can, but not in stupid arbitrary ways.
[yes, yes...I realize that's precisely what the players think of my normal killing tactics]
SO...this thing needs to be re-worked. I know what the real problem is (*sigh*) ...the same thing I ran into often enough as a kid. Namely, there is an encounter I REALLY want to use and the PCs aren't the proper level for it. Even sticking it a couple levels down won't work since they'll still be a bunch of candy-ass rooks when they get there.
I want this one to be freaking EPIC.
So let's see what I can do...hmm, first thing is I need to come up with something for tonight. I guess I still have a couple dungeons left to pull out of the hat (and the PCs were clamoring to drop back into the snake den anyway...). That shouldn't be too tough.
Next, I think I need to completely re-vamp the B/X wandering monster charts. I should inventory the critters in the game, cross-reference 'em with the AD&D charts, and stuff my own B/X Companion beasties in there also (as appropriate). Some of these just don't make sense to me. 1D4 medusae are a level 3 encounter, but minotaurs and werewolves aren't appropriate till levels 4-5? How the hell does that make any sense? And where are all the giant snakes, spiders, and bears? Don't the live in dungeons?
If I remember correctly, Labyrinth Lord did a good job of organizing the B/X monsters in the AEC...that might actually be a good place to start. I also might need to re-do some of these treasure types...why is the average horde of an ogre lair (2000gp) so much wimpier than the average size of a bandit lair (17,000gp!!!). Not every bandit group is Ali-Baba's 40 thieves, right?
Hmmm...on a side note, I haven't got around to sticking up the hobbit class yet. I guess Dave gets to keep his halfling as is for the time being...
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I've discovered a newfound thrill for dungeon design; I'm nearly done with my 4th site adventure in probably six or seven weeks? I just am finding it entertaining in a (very lightly) challenging sort of way...I can't remember having this much fun since I was a kid DM.
Though when I was a kid, the fun was in the map-making...
Drawing (maps) is still my biggest stumbling block, but I've found a way to circumvent the pain of it all by simply adhering to the Moldvay guidelines in dungeon stocking...I figure out how many encounters I want and how much XP I expect the dungeon to provide (based on my current stable of players), and then make sure everything is properly proportioned (traps, monsters, specials, empties, and treasure troves). Once I know how many of each I want, and what they all are, the map pretty much draws itself. What a blast!
Last week, I was only going to have 4 players showing up to my table, so I was able to stat up the equvivalent of a 1 level dungeon spread over several floors of a single tower. This week I've got 8 players (plus retainers, I'm sure), and I've put together a sprawling 5+ level extravaganza...enough critters and treasure for several sessions should they want to plumb its depths (and heights...I like my dungeons to go "both ways," you know?).
I'll write more on this in the future...but right now I've got map rooms to number.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
The Dwarven Troll Slayer is an illustration of the personal psychology that dooms many young dwarves to short and violent lives. Young dwarves who have been disgraced, crossed in love or otherwise humiliated will abandon conventional Dwarven society and go to seek death, hunting down the most ferocious of beasts. Most of them die fairly quickly, but those who few who survive become members of the strange cult of Troll Slayers. Troll Slayers exist only to die, and by doing so redeem whatever disgrace they suffered in the past (and into which it is neither polite nor wise to enquire). They seek death by deliberately seeking uneven battles - going alone into Goblin strongholds is one example. Trolls are considered the ideal opponents, because the Dwarf's death is almost a certainty. Troll Slayers can be recognized easily by their hair, which is spiked and dyed orange, and by the many tattoos which cover their bodies. They also favor exotic jewelry, such as earrings and nose plugs. They spend a great deal of their time boasting of their exploits and showing off their many scars, and often indulge in bouts of overeating, fasting, and excessive consumption of stimulants.
[JB's note: I have edited the spelling in the passage. Elsewhere, it notes the "spiky hair" is achieved through the use of animal fat]
The dwarf troll slayer is an individual living the life of a self-imposed outcast from dwarven society, seeking only death in glorious battle as an atonement for some humiliation, misdeed, disgrace, or secret shame. Until such time as they meet their end, the troll slayer lives a life of excess and bloody hand-to-hand combat.
The prime requisite of a troll slayer is Strength, and they receive the usual adjustment to earned experience points based on their Strength score. A character must have a minimum Constitution of 9 to be a troll slayer.
RESTRICTIONS: Troll slayers use ten-sided dice (D10) to determine their hit points. They never wear any form of armor and do not use shields. A troll slayer is restricted to melee weapons; he refuses to use missile fire in mortal combat (though he may engage in tests of throwing skill for recreational purposes). The troll slayer uses the same attack and saving throw matrix as a dwarf, and may use any magic item a dwarf may use. A troll slayer may never voluntarily leave combat once engaged.
SPECIAL ABILITIES: Troll slayers have the same infravision and additional languages of a dwarf, though they are not known for much talking or negotiating with enemies. A troll slayer is a fierce hand-to-hand combatant and add +1 to attack rolls in melee and never lose initiative for using a two-handed weapon. Troll slayers are exceptionally tough, and may subtract one point per die of damage from any successful attack against them (this may reduce an attack to 0 damage!). For example, a troll slayer hit by a swordsman subtracts 1 point of damage; one hit by a 6-dice fireball subtracts 6. If the (optional) individual initiative rules are used, troll slayers receive an additional +1 bonus for their furious attacks.
Troll slayers use the same experience point progression table as dwarves and may reach a maximum of 12th level in experience; however, they receive a bonus of +4 hit points per level for each level beyond 9th level (rather than the normal +3). Troll slayers spurn any level titles; "outcast" or "troll slayer" are good enough for what they are.
Troll slayers never establish dominions or build strongholds; they seek death and will wander until they find it.
[***EDIT:Added the individual initiative bonus under Special Abilities...forgot to do that earlier***]
Monday, July 18, 2011
A couple weeks ago I was out of town and my gaming group, unwilling to give up their Thursday Night Out, met up and played a little DCC (the Beta rules) that everyone's been yammering about. Great fun was had by all, and my understanding is that the "funnel system" (they started with 15 characters between 'em) worked well and gave them a different (and not unwelcome) play experience, since they weren't worried about being overly-cautious.
In the email chain that discussed the session, and its plusses, severals comments stood out to me, especially this one from the GM:
It seemed like the extra characters were a lot handier than D&D henchmen which you have to order around by DM proxy and which have annoying morale checks/self preservation goals.
Retainers do not need to check morale in combat unless the danger is greater than might reasonably be expected.(page B27; emphasis Moldvay)
RETAINER MORALE: The morale score of a retainer is based on the Charisma score (see page B7) of the player hiring him (or her). Retainers must check morale after each adventure; if the morale check is failed, they will not adventure with their employer again...(Moldvay, page B27)
DIVIDING XP: Treasure is divided by the party, but the DM handles all the XP awards. At the end of the adventure, the DM totals the XP from all treasure recovered plus all monsters defeated and then divides the total by the number of surviving characters (both player characters and NPCs) in the party.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
by Tom Moldvay
Editor, second edition
D&D® Basic Set rules
Why was a new edition of the D&D® Basic Set rules needed?
First of all, it was necessary for the Basic rules to be in the same format as their sequel, the D&D Expert Set rules. Otherwise, it would be difficult to use the two sets together, as they were meant to be used. The D&D Expert rules build on the D&D Basic rules, they do not replace them.
Second, good as it was, the earlier edition still had minor flaws. The large number of questions received by TSR Hobbies showed that many areas of the D&D rules were still difficult for beginners to grasp. It was necessary to reorganize and re-edit the rules, keeping in mind that most new D&D players are not hard-core gamers and have never played a role-playing game before.
Third, the market has changed since the earlier rules edition. The first D&D market was made up of game buffs and college students. Today, the majority of D&D players are high-school and junior-high students. The new rules edition takes into account the younger readership in its style of writing.
Fourth, the TSR staff had answered thousands of rule questions; play tested countless dungeons at conventions, and received myriad letters detailing players’ experiences with D&D game rules. Because of the accumulated experience of the staff, and the help of the gamers, we could now pinpoint which rules needed additional clarification. When I edited the D&D Basic rules, I tried to stress clarity, simplicity, and conciseness. The organization of the rules was particularly important since the rules would set the format for all other rule books in the D&D system, such as the D&D Expert rules.
One important point to keep in mind when reading the D&D Basic rules is that they are not hard-and-fast rules, they are rule suggestions. The system is complete and highly playable, but it is flexible enough that Dungeon Masters and players need not fear experimenting with the rules. DMs and players, by mutual consent, are always welcome to change any rule they wish, or to add new rules when necessary. Because of this rule flexibility, individuals who learned to play using the original D&D Collectors Edition rules, or the earlier edition of the D&D Basic rules, can use the new edition without changing their campaign. Much of the work put into the new edition was in reorganization. Whenever possible, step-by-step instructions were given because that type of direction is easiest to understand. Numerous examples were added, because examples often clarify rule descriptions. The edge of the booklet was drilled with holes so that it could be placed in a notebook, thus cutting down on the usual wear and tear the rulebook takes. The rules were organized into a number of different sections which logically build on one another, are easy to follow and read, and are easy to find by using the Table of Contents. Furthermore, the general section headings will remain the same for all rulebooks in the D&D system. All gaming terms are defined before the actual rule
sections begin, and the definitions are repeated in a glossary.
Finally, the rules were indexed. My favorite two sections of the rules were Part 8: Dungeon Master Information and page B62, dealing with Inspirational Source Material. Much of the information given in these two sections is new. Many players feel that becoming a DM is difficult. I tried to make it as easy to become a DM as possible. After all, DMs like to play too, but if there is only one DM per group, that person never gets the chance to play. Novice DMs are given detailed instructions and as many helpful tips as possible.
The rules include a description of typical dungeon scenarios and settings. They give suggestions for common types of room traps, treasure traps, and special trap types. They provide a simple system for creating an NPC party.
Finally, they outline a sample dungeon, designed so that, if desired, one section could be played immediately. I also enjoyed sharing my favorite books and authors with readers. I have always found books to be excellent inspirational material when designing adventures. I am sorry that, because of space considerations, the list could not have been longer. The Basic D&D game rules are directly based on the original Collectors Edition rules. The original rules gave the first gaming system for fantasy role-playing and, in my opinion, the D&D game rules remain the best fantasy role-playing rules available to game enthusiasts.
I am proud to have edited the new edition of the D&D Basic Set rules. It was our intent to retain the flavor of the original game while improving upon and extending the rules, so that the game could be more quickly and more easily enjoyed by new players. I believe our efforts were a success.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Henchmen (occasionally henchlings) are common in mystery, fantasy, adventure comic books, and adventure novels and movies. They are the expendable adherents of the main villain, always ready to do the master's bidding, to kill or be killed, kidnap, or threaten, as needed. Often, they are killed by the hero before the master villain is reached, by the hero's sidekick in a dramatic battle, or even by the master villain as punishment for failure to comply with orders.
A retainer (or hireling) is a person hired by a player character (PC) to aid that character on an adventure. ...Retainers are more than just men-at-arms, soldiers hired to fight and protect their employer but only expected to take reasonable risks. Retainers are lieutenants and assistants to a PC and are expected to lend their skills and knowledge to the benefit of the party and to take the same risks the characters expect to face.
"...soldiers hired to fight and protect their employer but only expected to take reasonable risks."
"A normal human is a human who does not seek dangerous adventure. A normal human does not have a class."
A retainer may be of any level (0, 1, 2, 3, or higher) and of any class (normal man or character class). Retainers can never be higher in level than the PC who hires them.
"...some professions (such as merchant, soldier, lord, scout, and so forth) help in some adventures. As soon as a human gets experience points through an adventure, that person must choose a character class."
Retainers are often used to strengthen a party which is attempting an extremely dangerous adventure. It is recommended that the DM not allow allow beginning players to hire retainers. New players tend to use retainers as a crutch, letting them take all the risks.
- "Beginning/new players" are NOT the same as new (1st level) characters. When Moldvay talks about new players using retainers as a "crutch," I now believe he is referring to the fact that they are NPCs, and thus controlled by the DM. A NPC that is expected to contribute to the adventure by lending both skills and KNOWLEDGE? "Ah, yes, Mr. DM-controlled-character...what do you think would be the best course of action at this juncture?" Now that IS using the character as a crutch. For experienced players (as all mine are at this point after eight months of B/X gaming), this should be a non-issue.
- Well, what does a 1st level adventurer hire since he cannot hire since retainers "can never be higher in level than the PCs who hired them?" Answer: Normal humans and 1st level characters. It doesn't say the retainers can't be equal in level...and since retainers advance twice as slowly (earning 1 XP for every 2 XP a player character earns), they should never be able to outpace their employer. Well, except possibly for elves, but there are ways to address that.
- "Extremely dangerous adventures" include any adventure a 1st level adventure undertakes that doesn't involve mustard farming. Hiring a couple retainers for each PC might well have cut down on number of dead characters littering the Caves of Chaos. There IS a way to play this game from 1st level without the game looking like Russian Roulette, and including adventurous hirelings may well be one of the main ways.