Monday, March 18, 2013

Tarnhelm's Terrible Tome

Just finished reading Tarnhelm's Terrible Tome, a book I'd consider to be the latest entry into the phenomenon I call D&D Mine.

Nice work.

You can download Tarnhelm's Terrible Tome for free from Retro's blog here. Randall Stukey (the author) has presented a nice little 40 page book with his personal house rules for 0E. Similar to Planet of Eris, you'll still need a copy of the LBBs to play D&D using TTT...and would, in fact, appear to need some extra books, too (like the supplements detailing higher level spells and later classes and subclasses). But regardless of whether or not you have access to those things, there's plenty to peruse and (possibly) purloin for your own games...even B/X and LL.

Stukey's approach to D&D is much more fantastic then my own, what some might call "high fantasy"...though I use that term with some hesitancy as (for me) it has derogatory connotations and Stukey's handling is much more classy. Some of the ideas in his book that I'd call highlights include the following:

- the craft (and use) of magic implements. Whereas I have kicked "magic wands" to the curb in my book, Stukey revels in them. Of course, they have to be hand-crafted by the mage (if you want one), but you don't have to wait till 9th level to do so and afterwards you gain bonuses to your spell-casting when using such implements.

- minor magic that's always on contributes to the "high fantasy;" magicians ability to do minor conjurings (or throw "magic darts" which here doesn't feel nearly as crappy as, say, 4th edition) makes the character class a joy to play from level one, while still providing room for "power ramp-up."

- Stukey's handling of clerics...again, he went a different route from myself where, instead of making them more different from magicians, he made them more similar, right down to carrying "prayer books" with their magical spells (clerics use their holy symbols the same way magicians use their wands). It's tidy...we're simply looking at two different schools of magic...or two philosophies...that still operate under the same principle. That's all to the good if you want a more magical campaign setting.

- I see he went the same direction as myself with regard to armor (in the sense of light, heavy, etc...this is a separate blog post that I'm planning for the immediate future). The class bonus to AC is nice, as are the spell-casting penalties...magicians lose their highest castable spell level with light armor, highest two with medium armor, etc. This means that a 1st level mage has too much to deal with (mentally) to wear ANY type of armor and still cast spells, while a high-level sorcerer can wear plate and mail and still toss off fireballs without batting an eye. That's pretty hip (though now that I reread it, I see this is an "optional" rule...isn't everything in this book kind of optional?)

- I like the combat maneuvers based off critical hits and misses. Simple and effective.

- I liked the divine intervention rules (though again, this is only an "optional" rule): not only does it make the game more "magical" in feeling (the gods are among us!) it provides a decent mechanic for getting players out of trouble, while forcing them to sacrifice goods for the privilege. No more must the DM send thieves to steal that +5 sword...just put the PCs in a death trap and make them break it themselves! Ha! No, in all seriousness...sacrifice to the gods is a GOOD thing to have in a fantasy game (it's very much a part of our own ancient and mythological past)...and adding mechanics to encourage its use is the best way to make it a part of your game. I also like that lesser gods and demigods are MORE likely to intervene (their attention is less divided) than greater powers.

- I think I like his character "background" rules as written better than the DMG secondary skills...or even his own "skill system."

Anyhoo, Tarnhelm's is not a book I'd choose to adopt wholesale for myself (a lot of the bits are just too fiddly for my taste...why not simply substitute CON for "body points," for example?). But it has good ideas and it's a nice example of what people should be doing: making their own "Gaming Bibles" for use at the table. This one's nice, clear and concise...and illustrated to boot. Not a bad free offering to the discussion.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be getting back to writing my own version of D&D Mine.
: )


  1. Thanks for the nice review!

    As you note, all the rules are optional. The rules listed before optional section were designed to work together, however. They've been used in almost all my TSR-edition D&D games (in some form or another) since around 1977. The rules in the "optional rules" section were only used in certain campaigns.

    It seems strange to see my house rules described as for a more magical campaign setting as when the (non-optional) rules are used together, there is actually less spell magic available than in standard OD&D. Magic-users can hold fewer spells in memory (except for the first couple of levels) and casting spells costs hit points. The HP costs mean that higher level casters will likely be unable to cast all of the spells they can memorize even once a day.

  2. @ Randall:

    Ha! Perhaps I should have said "more magical than MY game" where wizards don't toss fireballs and lightning bolts and magic missiles ("what DO they do?" some might ask). A game where magicians have a bunch of freebie spells (your minor magic and "magic darts") is a much more magical world (in my opinion)...the normal "folk" of the world will be able to recognize spell-casters by their wands and holy symbols.

    Now, is it "more magical" than standard D&D? No, not necessarily. But as I said, YOUR high fantasy is pretty classy compared to some certain "standard" ones for D&D.

  3. @JB: I should have known this was just another example of how no one sees magic in their campaign the way anyone else sees magic in their campaign. Why I sometimes forget this "true truism" is beyond me. I'd like to say its my ADHD, but I'd be fibbing. :)

    You're right that the "normal folk" of my world can recognize spell-casters by their wands and holy symbols. I think that's a good thing as it gives normals a way to "disarm" spell-casters as a mage without his wand or a cleric without his holy symbol is at a disadvantage. While they can still cast spells/prayers, the HP cost is much higher without their implement meaning they can cast fewer of them and might not be able to cast their most powerful spells at all. As you may be able to tell, I like powerful magic, but don't want every caster to be a minor deity compared to non-casters.