Sunday, July 31, 2011

D20 Conversion Update

Last night (or rather, early this morning) I wrote that I was thinking of converting my B/X campaign to D20, just for this next week...partly as an interesting mental exercise, partly to show I could do it, partly because I haven't killed anyone using the D20 system in awhile and tactics and minutia are generally "my cup o tea." Or at least they were.

So here's the update:


D20 is soooo Goddamn boring. Ugh. I got as far as picking feats for the characters and just got sooo bored. Even limiting myself to only the feats in the 3.0 PHB I just could feel my eyes glazing over...I don't know what people would want! Nothing would really model the game we currently have going anyway.

It's funny...I used to really relish the chargen aspect of D20, planning out character's career advancement all the way to level 20 and beyond. Hell, the character crafting was generally more fun than the actual playing! But now...shit. I still enjoy "crafting" characters, but I so prefer the B/X system which allows my imagination to do the work rather than the rules system.

Ah, well.

At this point, I seriously doubt I'm going to run a D20 session this week. There are too many reasons why it would be a Bad Idea:

1) D20 is very precise about the amount of gear/equipment characters should have at any given level. B/X is not. As a result, some characters possess magic items in excess of their character level...for example, the magic-user just acquired a crystal ball, an item valued too high in D20 for any character under 10th level. Meanwhile other characters, like Stanley the 5th level thief, have the proper amount of treasure, but not in the form of useable equipment (magic gear and whatnot). And in doing the conversion, I don't feel like ret-conning characters' equipment lists.

2) If I'M responsible for picking characters skills and feats and whatnot, and then their characters get killed or suck or whatever, I'll be the one to take the heat for it. And I don't want the hassle.

3) At the same time, I don't want to blow two hours of game time helping players to pick their own skills and feats and whatnot for a single one-off event. Screw that!

4) As I said, it's kind of boring. Creating "optimum" characters just because that's the name of the game seems like such a waste of time, especially when they're just going to get stomped anyway.

So I might continue tinkering with the conversion in my "free time" (yeah, sure, what's that again?) but it's definitely low priority. Fact is, I need to read up on my DCC Beta rules, since it looks like we'll be playing that on the following Thursday and I want to make sure my candlestick maker is sufficiently badass to rock the joint.

: )

"...I'm so bored I'm drinking bleach..."

No, not really. What? Doesn't anyone still listen to The Dead Milkmen?

However, you wouldn't necessarily know I'm kidding from the last hour or so, when I've been working out a conversion of my players' B/X characters to 3rd edition.

Oh, yeah...I CAN play D20.

But actually, it was more of an interesting exercise than anything else. I've kept notes of all the sessions of our current campaign, more for "accounting" purposes than anything else (in case I or someone else lost a character sheet or wanted to bring back a dead character). Because of that, I have a record of all the encounters/monsters fought and defeated by the PCs, as well as the characters that fought those encounters and survived.

Not that the latter matters in's "how many goes in" that matters, when dividing up XP, kind of the opposite philosophy of Old School D&D. The idea here is that it's not "only the strong survive," but "have mercy on us Father for we have died...please bring us back to life so we can advance in level."


Of course, no one's come back to life in my campaign, re-calcing XP the 3E way means leaving a lot of points on the "cutting room floor," so to speak.

Anyway , just for shits & giggles:

The current campaign consists of eight player characters:

Ellephino (2nd level elf warrior-seer; Elf)
The Myrtle Magician (4th level magician; Magic-User)
Neckbeard (4th level dwarf hero; Dwarf)
Orestes (2nd level seer; Magic-User)
Pendle (4th level vicar; Cleric)
Spunk (4th level escort; Scout)
Stanley (5th level cutpurse; Thief)
Zeebd (3rd level halfling swordmaster; Halfling)

(also Derrick, now "Garrett" the Normal Man who Andrew took over playing last week...don't know if Garrett will become a regular PC or not, but he hasn't yet chosen a class)

After figuring XP back to session #1 (including the XP each PC started at: 2500 for some, 3360 or 3200 for others), the XP total and level of the characters are as follows:

Ellephino - 6,689 XP (4th level)
The Myrtle Magician - 8,825 XP (4th level)
Neckbeard - 9,820 XP (4th level)
Orestes 4,578 XP (3rd level)
Pendle 7,964 XP (4th level)
Spunk 6,811 XP (4th level)
Stanley 11,532 XP (5th level)
Zeebd 5,671 XP (3rd level)

So, um, yeah...everyone's the same level (except the new wizard, Orestes...who's actually only 241XP away from 3rd level in the B/X game). That's pretty weird. What's even more bizarre is that Stanley the Thief has the exact same XP total in both editions of the game: 11,532. And that's without adding "entertainment bonuses" or "prime requisite bonuses" or any such thing. Just XP for traps and monsters.


Even though the elf would be 4th level, I'd assume the character would be an even split between wizard and fighter (right? to make it as close to B/X as possible?), so we're talking 2/2...which makes him the same power level as the 2nd level elf he is in B/X. Serendipity, huh?

Good ol' D20.

I'm tempted to do a complete conversion and run next week's game as "straight D20." Just for the heck of it. Just to change it up and see what it's like. Of course, players would have to choose feats and skills and update their ability scores and re-calc their AC and BAB and saves and, blah, blah, blah. Just so I can wipe 'em out anyway with D20 tactics and attacks of opportunity and "spell-like abilities" as opposed to "spells" and...

Ugh. So exhausting.

Interesting that...if I remember correctly eight 4th level PCs should find a CR 6 encounter (I guess it would be called EL 6 or "Encounter Level 6") to be the right size for 'em. And the last encounter of the game was (calculating): EL 6. How fortuitous! I somehow managed to balance my adventure for the hard math of 3rd edition D&D just using the B/X encounter tables and "eyeballing it."

Huh. Maybe I should convert it. I mean, we're already using a battlemap and miniatures due to the heated disagreements over "positioning." I remember all that 5' step and "full melee attack" stuff. I could probably do it for one evening.

But, man...what a learning curve for the players that don't already know 3rd edition.

As I said, it's an interesting mental exercise. If I can "get it together" by next Thursday (I'll just do "pre-gens" and choose an appropriate selection of skills and feats and such for the PCs), I'll give the players the option. You know...just to see how the other half lives.

; )

[and, oh yeah, there IS a "scout class" in D20, too...see The Complete Adventurer hardcover; I've got that one. Bring on the skirmishers!]

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Intimidating Artwork

[saw the Captain America movie last night...sorry, Josh!...and will be posting about it later today after I've reflected on it a bit. This little "tide you over" post is somewhat related]

I just want to say a brief word or two about visual know, folks that draw and paint and sketch and whatnot. I throw around the word "artist" a lot in reference to any creator or undertaker of creative endeavor, but for this post I'm discussing those guys (and gals) that make pictures using something other than a camera.

There is a huge amount of talent floating around right now.

I mean, the overall quantity of quality art to be found on the market today is just astonishing. To me, anyway. I've read comic books since I was a small child, I've seen masterworks in Italy and Spain and France and London (not to mention the museums of the good ol' US of A), and the stuff in-between (I like to go to art showings or peruse the paintings on the walls of coffee shops and cafes or the prints at sidewalk-street vendors)...and I am AMAZED at the sheer amount of high quality artwork that can be purchased all over the place.

Where do all these folks come from?

Lil' D and I stopped into the local comic shop the other day to get the proprietor's take on the recent comic book movies...

[yes, yes, I read film reviews, too, but you know the quality of your average superhero flick is generally less-than-Oscar-worthy. I'm not going to see 'em for quality cinema, and I want the comic-quality-control opinion of a Subject Matter Expert on the subject. Jeez!]

...and as usual I am blown away by much of what I see. Rows and rows and pages and pages of high quality artwork for sale. More than any one person could read in...well, perhaps ever. Certainly one person couldn't subscribe to ALL those mags!

I even picked up a little something-something: a compilation of Mark Schultz's Xenozoic Tales (something for which I've been searching about two years...). More on that particular find later. Yes, I know it is not recently drawn (artwork from the 80's), but it's still excellent art in addition to being well-written.

[I'm kind of on the same page as Jim Shooter regarding the state of today's comics and the lack of story-telling ability]

But of course, my passion isn't comics (or movies)'s GAMING and the sheer amount of incredible artwork used in recently released games is simply astounding.

Card games. Man, I'm not even talking collectible ones (like Magic, etc.)...just one-off card games by a variety of companies, all with different themes and rules, all with gorgeous artwork. $30 and $40 card games...hoo-boy!...that are so beautifully illustrated, who cares if the game is as playable as Uno. Mad Zeppelin really caught my eye for its artwork (I was browsing Gary's today also), even though the game itself didn't sound all that great.

I was talking to Casey (an artist and gamer herself) who was working the counter and asked "where do these companies get all these fantastic artists?"

Well, that's where the money is these days if you're an artist, she replied.

She went on to explain that, tough as ever as the graphics biz is, for some steady pay one can do illos for card and game companies, although there's a catch: companies only pay you if they actually use your artwork in the game and if they don't use the artwork they still own the rights (!!!) to the stuff you've created.

Apparently companies will commission 10 or more illos, but the terms of the contract (all illos submitted are owned by the company and artist only gets paid for illos published) is fairly standard.

Why the hell would anyone sign a contract like that?!

What part of "that's where the money's at" don't you get, pal.

Ugh. At least when I've exploited artists ( people to give me stuff for free), I've said they retain their rights to said art and are welcome to re-sell and re-use it. But perhaps that's not enough. Maybe I need to pay people in the future, too.

*sigh* I don't have a business right now. I have a hobby. And if it were to ever turn into a "real business" (a la one of the large scale game companies), I'd probably have to start running it like one (i.e. cutting costs and exploiting starving artists as much as possible). Only if I wanted to keep afloat that is.

Shoot. For now, I'm just going to enjoy the pretty pictures.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Revisiting the "Slop"

Last night, I wrote that the Thursday night game was “sloppy” and that personally I felt like I/we were “off our game.” In retrospect, this isn’t really accurate; I was just trying to put my feelings down on blog before I crashed for the night and I didn’t spend a lot of time contemplating what it was that I didn’t like. Upon reflection, it was actually a pretty good game on many counts.

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.

Let’s see:

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.

Sloppy Game

That's the best way to describe tonight's game. At least from my perspective.

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?

Who knows? I don't. I didn't drink all that much tonight (a couple-three beers, some fantastic mead called "Vikings Blood," a couple-three pulls of whisky off Greg's flask in honor of EGG's birthday), but I just didn't feel "on my game" tonight. My refereeing was haphazard. My "rulings" were half-assed or downright soft. I don't know...maybe I made the adventure too hard and didn't play the monsters tough enough because I was afraid to kill PCs. Maybe the adventure was too half-assed in general.

The whole stupid wizard thing sucked. My raison d'etre for the adventure was predicated on assumptions I made regarding the players' reactions to these ideas. They didn't do that at all. This is why I should ignore the fact that my players sometimes read my blog.

There was a new guy (uninvited) at the gaming table tonight. That was actually fine...Andrew turned out to be a decent enough chap, though I don't understand this urge new guys have to play a Big Dumb Lug. They inevitably die and it's often poorly played and not a good example of the player's preferred "gaming style." I was much more interested when he took over the Normal Human retainer as his replacement will be interesting to see which class he chooses next session (since he survived and gained some XP). I hope it's not a fighter (again).

At the same time, my enjoyment of his playing a Normal Human (Andrew played the character more cautious and, to me, more effective) led me to "go easy" on his character when I should have probably just killed him. The same holds true for the thief...a quick magic-missile spell would have done him in, but I ignored him in favor of other targets, having already allowed him a "bonus save" versus poison (a DM ruling regarding a potion of gaseous form, and probably my most biased in the game). What's the point of auto-killing someone you just fudged to save?

Ugh. I've got to get to bed. Hopefully my internet will still work tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My Gygaxian Knowledge

Jonathan Becker took the Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz in the World and got 90%!

You are a Gary Gygax Lord. Wow, you know a lot about Gary Gygax! My guess is that you are one of those Old School Renaissance guys, or else your last name is Gygax. Seriously, I didn't think anyone would do this well on this quiz.

Paladin Code: You completed this quiz without using Google.

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.

: )

Tossing Magi A Bone

Wow. That last post went over remarkably well with the one player who uses a magic-user in my games. Considering that Luke actually came down harder on my "week-to-week house rules," I'm tempted to not even throw this up on the blog...but I have a few minutes before I bundle Diego off to the Greenwood Seafair parade. Here goes:

One of my few whiny complaints regarding B/X is its use of "languages" and the ability to speak languages. There are multiple things I dislike about the system (personally, I would prefer something similar to D6 Star Wars's "language" skill roll, using INT as a modifier...but I digress). Mainly, though, its silly that Intelligence, more than even Charisma, feels like a "dump stat" for PCs.

At least, for those that don't have it as a prime requisite.

There are advantages to having at least an average Intelligence (literacy...helpful for treasure maps and certain magic items), but I'd hesitate to count "bonus languages" as one of those advantages. The number of languages is so few (compared to, say, AD&D) and the number of possible languages so great (goblin, hobgoblin, and bugbear are all separate, for example) that the ability to communicate is more a spin of the roulette wheel than a crap shoot.

And who really wants to talk to an orc anyway?

So here's what I was thinking: for magic-users and elves, Intelligence provides a bonus to both spells known and spells that can be cast as follows:

9-12 .....No Bonus
13-15 .....One bonus 1st level spell
16-17 .....One bonus 2nd level spell (if 3rd level or greater)
18 .....One bonus 3rd level spell (if 5th level or greater)

All bonuses are cumulative (of course).

Again, this is a bonus both to spells known (i.e. the spells in one's spell book), and the number of spells that can be cast each day. It provides the wizards with a little more choice and some extra "tactical options" (so they're not limited to stocking that sleep spell all the time). And I don't think it's a "game breaking" bonus; just a little something at the lower levels to help out.
: )

Nerfing the Magi

So, I was in the middle of writing a post about Captain America, but this will have to wait for the moment...time to take the plunge and get this over with.

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).

(page X11)

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.

(page X7)

Spell Research. New spells may be researched by any spell caster. Research requires both money and time spent out of the campaign.

(page X51)

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

Crap...Tavaris Jackson?!

So, no, I am NOT deceased or even "on strike" from my blog. I've been hamstrung by a complete lack of internet access since...oh...round about Thursday night/Friday morning. Remember me saying I need to fire my internet provider? Still haven't got around to it (and still needs doing).

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.

Stay tuned.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Learning with Time

It's Friday morning and because it's Friday, I will be off-line for most of the day (don't ask). However, last night's game went well and everyone survived despite my efforts.

Shlominus commented on my last post:

but how shall they ever learn from their "mistakes" if you start cuddling them? let them apply the famed player skill! more ten foot poles or something...

Well, I don't think I'm coddling them too I said there were some surprises of a "killer" nature (a couple of auto-death encounters and a black bear), but they weathered it well through gumption, cunning, and tactics. I think they are learning...or at least getting better. Or maybe it's just that being a higher level (they're averaging around 3.5 right now) gives them more options and staying power (hit points).

Look, there's no way to sugarcoat it: the party is kicking ass right now. Maybe they ARE ready for me to throw 'em something a little tougher.

Time to break out the manticores.
; )

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Too Tough!

I will NOT be using my latest/greatest dungeon tonight for a couple of very good reasons:

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

Nerfing Halflings

Man...I've got a bug in my brain that's really digging its pincers in my frontal lobe, and it's telling me I should nerf the B/X Halfling.

As in, take 'em down a peg. Kick the chair out from under them. Put 'em in their place.

I've been thinking this since a couple days ago when I put together the B/X Wood Elf...O So similar to the halfling in so many ways, and yet decidedly elfy.

[and just by the the folks who thought the wood elf was a waste o blog-space, allow me to say that I liked it a lot, as is, and wouldn't mind playing one...even without the extra hit die and magical powers. I like my elves away from wizard tomes, thank you very much, and this one feels pretty good to me!]

See, I was thumbing through WFRP and my (completely dog-chewed) copy of The Hobbit when I thought, shit, I can make an elf with the same stats/profile as a halfling and just call him a wood elf. Then I tweaked it a bit too taste, and voila. Wood elf class up for grabs.

But as I compared the two, I could see how...well, how powerful the halfling class is. OVER-powered in fact. And it made me want to bear down hard.

Now don't get me wrong: I believe the halfling is perfectly powered and balanced as far as B/X goes (at least up until 14th level). In terms of "viable PC class," halflings up to level 8 are right in the mix with elves and dwarves and fighters, etc.

No, it's in relation to their literary basis...i.e. HOBBITS...where we find they are completely over-powered and out of balance.

As it stands right now, a B/X halfling will give a dwarf, fighter, or elf a run for their money in single combat...and because a halfling advances faster than a dwarf or an elf, a runty fellow of equal experience (XP) may be able to take down a similarly experienced demihuman.

That's crazy talk.

But it's true. A halfling and an elf walk into a dungeon and pick up 8000 XP (the halfling probably picks up more actually since the elf prime requisite requirements are tougher to meet). The two have a falling out and decide to fight. Assuming similar armor (plate and shield), the 4th level halfling should kick the 3rd level elf's ass. That ain't right!

[actually, it would depend on whether or not the elf can get his sleep spell off before the halfling's individual initiative bonus gives him the upper hand. But if the halfling brought along a few retainers to absorb said sleep spell, well...]

If halflings are just "adventurous little people" and not hobbits or brownies or whatever the dudes are called in the film Willow, then great...let them be the consummate combatants and giant-fighters they are (I'd have to run the math, but with their size bonus I could make a case for halflings being the deadliest race for the fighter class in D20/Pathfinder!). HOWEVER, if you want your elf lords to be lordly and your halflings to be "hobbits" (even adventuresome hobbits in the Took clan tradition), then you have to nerf the guys 'cause they are waaay too badass.

Actually, it isn't all that hard to do, and there's still room for taking them into the high level play arena (what? oh yeah!). Here's what you do:

- Cap their level maximum at 6th level
- Give 'em the same rate of advancement as Dwarves (or Magic-Users if you're feeling mean)
- A halfling that acquires 250,000 XP may use the same attack and saving throws as a 7th-8th level halfling. At 500,000 XP the halfling character is entitled to the usual abilities as detailed in the B/X Companion.

Finally, because it's me doing this, I'd change the level titles:

1.....Halfling Wanderer (like Bilbo or Frodo or...)
2.....Halfling Warrior
3.....Halfling Swashbuckler (hard to be a "swordmaster" when you can't use 'em)
4.....Halfling Hero
5.....Halfling Champion

All normal rules for building strongholds and establishing halfling communities still applies as given in the Expert rules and B/X Companion.

Man...I am seriously considering putting this into effect IMMEDIATELY. Only one of my players is currently using a, halfling anyway. And since it's Dave...well, he knows he owes me one anyway.
; )

Screw it...I'm writing this one up officially!

Dungeon Design

Everyone seems to be indulging in their own little projects rather than spending much mental heavy-lifting on the blogs, and I'm no different really. Instead of writing anything useful or practical (with the exception of the occasional B/X class or flamey-type forum post), the main thing I've been doing is crafting B/X adventures...and loving the hell out of it.

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

B/X Wood Elf

[because I really HAVEN'T kicked off 'dwarf week'...this one's for the other side]


More closely related to the wooded faerie folk (pixies, sprites, etc.) the rustic cousins of standard elves are less concerned with the acquisition and collection of magic than with hunting and merry-making. Though taller than their 'high elf' brethren (as they call normal elves), they are slighter of build and light of foot, and prefer walking to riding whenever possible. They are excellent archers and evil creatures do well not to stray within bowshot of a wood elf forest.

The prime requisites for a wood elf are Strength and Dexterity. A wood elf character whose Strength or Dexterity is 13 or greater will receive a 5% bonus to earned experience. Wood elves whose Strength and Dexterity are 13 or greater will receive a bonus of 10% to earned experience.

RESTRICTIONS: Wood elves use six-sided dice (d6) to determine their hit points. They may advance to a maximum of 9th level of experience. Wood elves may use any weapon, armor, or shield just as a normal elf; however, they do not use magic and do not cast spells. They use the same attack and saving throw tables as an elf of equal level and can use any magic item normally useable by fighters. Wood elves must have a minimum score of 9 in Dexterity.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Wood elves have the same infravision, ability to detect secret doors, and immunity to ghoul paralysis as other elves. They are very accurate with missile weapons and receive a +1 bonus to attack rolls when using them. Outdoors, wood elves are difficult to spot, having the ability to seemingly vanish into woods or underbrush; wood elves have only a 10% chance of being detected in this type of cover. All wood elves speak Common and Elvish, as well as the language of orcs, hobgoblins, pixies, and treants.

Wood elves that reach Name (9th) level may build the same kind of forest stronghold as normal elves, developing the same friendship with animals in the region. Wood elves never hire non-elven mercenaries, though they may employ specialists and retainers of any species, including creatures of the forest that share the wood elf's alignment.

Level.....Title.....Experience Points.....Hit Dice
1.....Wood Elf Scout.....0.....1D6
2.....Wood Elf Warrior.....2500.....2D6
3.....Wood Elf Swordmaster.....5000.....3D6
4.....Wood Elf Hero.....10,000.....4D6
5.....Wood Elf Swashbuckler.....20,000.....5D6
6.....Wood Elf Warden.....40,000.....6D6
7.....Wood Elf Champion.....80,000.....7D6
8.....Wood Elf Superhero.....150,000.....8D6
9.....Wood Elf Lord (Lady).....300,000.....9D6

[***EDIT: For higher level play, like the type discussed in the B/X Companion, use the Elf as the basis for continuing advancement with regard to multiple attacks, saving throws, and attack rolls. A wood elf that gains 500,000 XP attacks and saves as if 10th level, though they do not gain an extra hit die; advancement thereafter exactly corresponds to the Elf class***]

B/X Troll Slayer

From Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (Games Workshop, 1986):
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

B/X Charisma & Henchmen (Part 3)

[continued from here]

Wow, this has taken a long time about procrastination!

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. this the game to supplant B/X?

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.

Here, see, this is the kind of misunderstanding I was trying to address in my prior posts, started O So Long Ago.

In B/X, the morale of one's retainers (remember we don't have "henchmen" in B/X) is determined by the employer's Charisma score. A character with an average Charisma score (9-12) conveys a morale score of 7 to his or her retainers...a step up from normal ("civilized") human morale (6), though not quite that of a disciplined man-at-arms (8). According to the Expert set, 7 is the moral of your average "barbarian horde" (page X22).

Higher and lower than average Charisma provides the same bonus/penalty system found for the other ability scores: 13-15 +1, 16-17 +2, 18 +3, etc. giving the possible morale scores for retainers a range of 4 (really pathetic) to 10 (pretty darn stalwart).

Now, we all know what morale is in B/X, right? The Great Equalizer for PC adventurers, that's what. While a small group of 1st level characters might encounter as many as 8 spear-wielding goblins or 16 (!!) kobolds in a wandering 1st level encounter, it doesn't take much to break the morale of such rabble: kill one and have the DM roll over their morale score (7 for goblins, 6 for kobolds)...quite possibly adjusted in the PCs' favor if the party is heavily armed and armored with shiny steel.

You can see why the idea of retainers doesn't appeal to your average player, then (especially those with low Charisma scores), when the odds are good that your hired help could be fleeing the coop in the midst of battle...especially if you paid them up front! Sounds like it's not worth the time it takes to post a Help Wanted notice at the local tavern.

But such is only the case if you're using retainers incorrectly.

Retainers are ADVENTURERS remember? Not rabble. The only time they run in combat is when the rest of the party runs, i.e. when the battle seems lost and discretion becomes the better part of valor.

Really. But don't take my word for it; here's Moldvay:

Retainers do not need to check morale in combat unless the danger is greater than might reasonably be expected.

(page B27; emphasis Moldvay)

Remember that "retainers are more than just men-at-arms...hired to fight and protect their employer but only expected to take reasonable risks." No, retainers are "expected to take the same risks the characters expect to face" (Moldvay, B21).

In other words, if the party is duking it out with some big, ugly demon the retainers should be front-and-center, doing what they can to the best of their ability. If the PCs decide Old Walking Malevolence is too tough and want to split, the retainers are going to go right along with 'em. They're going to follow the PCs lead, but they are cut from the same adventurous cloth as the PCs.

So, what then is the point of retainers even having a morale score? And for that matter, what's the point of having a high Charisma score to influence the retainers' morale?

Here it is:

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)

Just let that soak in for a second...pretty damn harsh!

First off, it's great that the only time morale becomes an important item is between adventure sessions; one never needs to worry about retainers flipping out and bugging out or backstabbing the PCs mid-adventure (unless abused and mistreated, I presume)...which is, of course, what some (like myself) have suggested in the past.

On the other hand, one puts an investment of time and money into a retainer and expects the dude to stick around. Remember these guys are adventurers, so they gain experience points (albeit slowly) and level up, eventually becoming powerful allies and lieutenants of their employer.

Then WHAM: "So sorry, just got a better offer." And they're out the door. Perhaps to retire (they've earned enough swag), perhaps to settle down (marry their sweetheart), perhaps to join a rival adventuring group or start their own band of cutthroat treasure-hunters. Point is, they're gone, and that's tough to mitigate.

Oh, you can give them extra shares of treasure to stick around: Moldvay suggests a full share over several adventures will permanently raise retainer morale by 1, and I'm sure an occasional magic item would help "sweeten the deal" as well.

Why else would a magic-user need the ability to craft magic weapons and armor?
; )

Oh, yeah, there is another thing you can do to increase retainer loyalty: have a HIGH CHARISMA SCORE. It ain't a dump stat if you want to keep your retainers around!

Is it worth it to keep a few hard-cases on retainer?

What do you think? A retainer can be of any adventuring class (though the book points out that dwarves should be rare and elves rarer still), and can be used to shore up deficiencies (those of the employer or those of the party). The retainer advances in level, gradually becoming a powerful adventurer in his (or her) own right...and the retainer is loyal and helpful and uses skills in aid of the party to the best of his or her ability. Not a bad trade for a half-share of treasure.

Plus wouldn't it be damn cool to ride into town with a band of knights or dwarves or whatever at your back? To have dibs on your hench-cleric's cure disease or neutralize poison spell? To ask your pet wizard to slay the impertinent tavern wench that spilled your beer in some spectacular and callous fashion?

Of course it would.

So is there any reason NOT to hire retainers?

No, but there are some words of caution: unless your party is a small one, it's probably best NOT to go hog wild with the hiring of retainers. Even if your character has a high Charisma score and doesn't mind being free with his treasure. Experience points awarded for an adventure are divided evenly between all party members including NPC retainers. From Moldvay (page B22):

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.

The example that follows clearly shows the NPCs taking an equal share of the XP earned; although NPC retainers only earn one-half the XP a player character does (1 XP for every 2 XP earned).

NPCs are thus a drain on XP, slowing down the advancement rate of an entire party. If every PC brings an entourage of 4-5 (or more!) retainers to the dungeon, advancement can become glacially slow...not to mention the logistics of managing a party of 25+ adventurers.

On the other hand, if the inclusion of NPC retainers allows a party to explore more dangerous dungeons and purloin more incredible treasure (not to mention survive more extreme danger), then you're going to want to hire at least a couple stalwarts.

As with other aspects of B/X, it's a balancing act, and yet another area of tactical importance. How many retainers are enough? How many are too many? Which classes should we bring and which should we leave at home? How much "bonus" money should I pay to ensure a retainer stays on? Is the retainer really worth the extra share of treasure? At what point does a retainer become more bother than he or she is worth?

All things to consider...and well worth considering. I believe the rules regarding retainers, loyalty, morale, and Charisma occupy a significant portion of the Moldvay book for a good reason: retainers are an important part of the D&D experience. This part of the the rulership endgame...seems to have faded from importance in later editions as PCs have become more and more "superheroic" and thus self-sufficient. I would imagine that retainers (and henchmen) were much more prominent in the early years of the game, and I intend to make it a bigger part of MY on-going campaign.

Maybe some of you ancient grognards that occasionally drop-by would care to comment on the use, value, and prominence of retainers "back in the old days?" I've read Robilar had at least a couple of trusted hirelings (Quij the orc and Otto the mage)...I'm sure there were others attached to the original player characters.
: )

Sunday, July 17, 2011


When I was a kid, I didn't think much of dwarves.

Originally, at least. But remember, that for the first 3-5 years of my gaming career, my sole role was as a Dungeon Master. My experience with playing ANY character class was nil.

When I finally did get the chance to play in a game as a PC, we were deep in AD&D territory and any race-class combo that didn't allow unlimited levels (or maximum in the case of assassins, druids, monks, etc.) was pretty much taboo. Our campaigns ran in the upper echelons of game play...and even when we would (occasionally) start over with 1st level characters, it was expected that SOMEday we would reach those lofty heights. Dwarves were limited in every class, with the possible exception of thief...but as they were pretty fumble-fingered compared to the halfling variety who would want to go down that road?

Only an idiot would play a dwarf.

My younger brother was one such idiot...the only one of our regular gaming circle that would ever bother to play a dwarf. Generally a fighter, maybe a fighter-thief...but then, AB started as a B/X player and dwarves were hearty and he was apt to get killed off early anyway. I'm not sure he ever expected to live long enough to get to "lofty levels," though later (when he was of a more "serious" frame of mind) he switched over to playing ONLY human fighters and human barbarians.

Everyone else was a human or a half-elf bard/druid or a halfling thief or a Drow cleric...etc. You get the picture I'm sure. Dwarves as a species were nearly extinct in my D&D games from about, O say, 1986-1999. Or thereabouts.

And yet, even though I didn't play MY first dwarf until D20, I started getting intrigued by dwarves earlier than that. And I can pretty much point to two sources that got me intrigued:

Revolt of the Dwarves
Obmi the Dwarf

Revolt of the Dwarves was a TSR "Endless Quest" book that I never read until long after I'd stopped reading "pick-a-path" books...I believe I picked it up at at an elementary school library one summer when I was acting as a night custodian ('s possible I thumbed through it earlier). What intrigued me more than the story was the artwork, especially Larry Elmore's cover:
Check out that badass front-and-center, naked blade in hand. No hammer/axe slinger this guy...he's friggin' Russel Crowe as Maximus in Gladiator. Does the image remind you of anything you might have seen recently? It sure does me.

But this is the kind of dwarfs I could get into...dwarves on charging destriers, lances in hand. Where were these guys when I'd been playing D&D before?

Obmi, first found in Gygax's module G3: Hall of the Fire Giant King, is likewise a serious badass, showing just how cool a dwarf in AD&D can be. Of course, I didn't pick up a copy of G1-3 until 1988 or so after I'd lost contact with my original gaming group. But Obmi certainly made an impression on me, as did his detailed characterization in Gygax's own Gord the Rogue novels.

Since becoming intrigued, I've had some experiments of a dwarven nature, myself...for example, I played my own fighter/thief/duelist in D20 (the skinniest dwarf you've ever met) and I picked up a whole box of Warhammer dwarf models to craft an elaborate Mordheim warband based on Thorin and company (even had a halfling sword-for-hire to make Lucky Number 14).

These days, of course, I'm playing B/X (er...running B/X) so all my dwarves are "just dwarves," not dwarven fighter/thieves or Tordek...and certainly they bear little resemblance in my mind to John Rhys-Davies as Gimli. But even though they're "just dwarves" doesn't mean they can't still be badass. The more I consider it, the more I want MY dwarves to look like the dashing cavalry on the cover of Revolt, and LESS like Flint Fireforge. Damn Dragonlance and its clownish demihumans (gully dwarves, gnomes) anyway!

Recently, I've introduced some dwaren-ish plot stuff into my weekly campaign. Even though I want to continue exploring the deserty-Arabic-Egyptian setting in which the characters find themselves, I'm thinking that I'm going to "up the ante" on the dwarf impact. I need to stop thinking Nordic and start thinking "short, burly alien species." I believe I have simply fallen into the same trap many DMs and world-crafters have before me, namely riffing off the traditional Norse mythology on which the dwarf class is based. There's no need to do that...many of the monsters one finds in D&D are of quite different origins (Greek myth and 20th century science fiction, for example). The game is already a damn hodge-podge. At least I can make the dwarves something worth playing!

By the way...our one dwarf player in our Thursday night game? Not one of the guys with a 3 Charisma. Now that's something to riff off.

[and, yes, in case anyone's wondering, this little post has been inspired by the inundation of dwarf pix to the internet from Ye Old Hobbit film. I'll take inspiration where I can find it. Who knows, maybe y'all are in for "dwarf week" here at the ol' Blackrazor...]

Ham-Fisted as Usual

Thursday night gaming was once again a nice, clean tonic for that which ails the soul. Getting back to the gaming table is always a welcome respite to the usual drama of the real world, but this week I really needed a break.

Due to vacations (and recovery from vacations) only four of my usual players showed up, but that was plenty...especially as I've re-instituted retainers in a more useful fashion (yes, I will finally be finishing up that series of posts in the very near future).

Seeing as how I was forewarned of our short-staffing, I designed a very small site-based adventure with naught but a handful of encounters, perfectly capable of being completed in an evening.

Of course, the party hardly even made it into the building.

God love 'em. My players are great dudes, but man things go to hell with astonishing frequency for these guys. They've got more stealth dudes than fighters and yet they can't seem to sneak anywhere without leaving a mammoth footprint.

Of course, it's all in good fun and they DID survive and they DID complete their main mission objective (rescuing a fair damsel from distress). They just ended up leaving a lot of treasure (and thus, a lot of XP) sitting on the table. But what else is new?

The real question is, who should get the bonus? Stanley for his very entertaining choice of retainers ("Helmut? Helmut?")? Greg for somehow managing to survive yet another week with the same character? Matthew for his wry observations about the retainers and his character's excellent sword-work? Or Heron for his priceless facial expressions while listening to his party brainstorm?

Larry Elmore once wrote of SnarfQuest that when coming up with plots for the script, he would first consider a "normal" adventure session, and then find a way to make it happen in as ridiculous a fashion as possible. Personally, I've found most D&D adventures to become pretty ridiculous as a matter of course, with more ridiculousness occurring with smaller groups of players (group dynamics can change considerably with larger tables as players become more concerned with fitting in, doing the right thing, etc...generally "toned down").

Side Note: Old Snarf sure used to do a lot of running away in those comic strips, something I found pointless and irritating (if funny) when reading them as a kid. Now? I see this action occur a LOT more. Maybe this is what real D&D "adventuring" consisted of for adult role-players back in the Golden Days of the Old School!

Anyway, there IS a front-runner for the adventure bonus, which means that next week will see almost all of the player characters "leveling up" (even some that missed this session...they earned enough from the toad temple), which means my players are living through some exciting...if ham-fisted...times.

: )

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Moldvay on Moldvay

This was posted by Fenway over at Sword & Shield; I re-post it here for posterity on my own blog and because, dammit, it's pretty cool. This is Tom Moldvay's own explanation of the 1981 Basic set, the need for it, and the thought that went into its construction. The article was first published in Dragon Magazine Issue #52 (one I do not, unfortunately, possess):

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.

There is an also an article written by J. Eric Holmes (writer of the 1st Basic set, commonly called "The Holmes Edition) in the same issue, comparing the new Basic set to his own version. Fenway also posted that one, and it's also a good read. Some surprises? Mainly how complimentary Holmes is of the Moldvay...especially since (presumably) he was no longer on the TSR payroll in 1981...considering most of the new set's changes to be "improvements" over his own book.

How different is that from the blog-o-sphere's general bickering over editions?

Anyway, hope you folks enjoy the articles...thanks to Fenway, as I said.
: )

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In case anyone's wondering...

...I am back (in the U.S.A.).

The running beagles are fine, the house is fine, the wife, child, and self are fine. However, there has been some other developments of a personal nature that occupy my attention at the moment.

I'll get back to the blogging thing in a bit. Sorry for the inconvenience to my readers.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Side Note: Level Titles

Why is a 1st level fighter called a Veteran, when a 1st level thief is only an Apprentice, and a 1st level cleric is just an Acolyte?

Consider it in terms of my most recent post on henchmen (er...retainers). A normal human that earns any XP from an adventure must choose a character class in which to make a career.

So how is XP awarded? By surviving an adventure (defined in Moldvay's Basic set as a single session of play).

A normal man that survives an evening's delve is a blooded veteran, no doubt about it...if all he wants to do is continue swinging a sword and working on his combat prowess, that's a fine and apt description. For those individuals who decide to pursue other career routes, they have only just begun their path of higher learning.

Besides, even a fighter must achieve 2nd level before he is considered a full-on warrior, and 3rd level before he is a proficient swordsman...and of course "hero" isn't awarded until 4th level.

That's why.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

B/X Charisma & Henchmen (Part 2)

[from here]

First off, we should probably define the term henchman, as given in B/X.

Found it? Ha! There's no such thing in B/X, which means I've already screwed up the title of these posts by my improper understanding of the concept!

Well, that's not entirely true. "Henchman" is the term used in the older AD&D books. However, by 1981 (I am guessing) many kids picking up the Basic rules may very well have associated "henchmen" with the helpers/cronies of super-villains and such. The concept of the "evil henchman;" or as wikipedia so succinctly puts it (under the topic of "henchmen in popular culture"):

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.

What heroic adventurer wants toadies and minions? Who wants their PC associated with someone who (in fiction) is inevitably going to get their ass kicked by the "real" hero?

Which is sad, really, because "henchman" used to be a term of respect for a loyal aid or attendant (look it up).

Anyway, Moldvay never uses the term henchman to describe hirelings; throughout the Basic rules, the term Retainer is used exclusively. The Cook/Marsh Expert set continues this practice in the two or three places it is mentioned at all. When we speak of a retainer, we often consider the idea of a counselor or consultant (like a retained attorney) or the "loyal servant" that has been with a family for years.

The origin of the term retainer comes from the English feudalism (such as it was) during the late middle ages, at a point when the traditional "vassal-swears-to-provide-military-service-to-lord-when-called" had been replaced with "vassal-gives-money-to-lord-in-lieu-of-military-service." The lord would take this money to "retain" hired mercenaries year-round (a private army of sorts). Later, any crony in the pay and/or favor of a noble might be called a "retainer."

[this is, of course, a gross simplification but I'm not a medieval history scholar and this isn't a blog about old European governance systems. You can research the English War of Roses more info on this period]

For the purpose of B/X, Moldvay defines retainers as follows:
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.
Wow. The parenthetical note ("or hireling") is problematic as it implies an equal relationship between the term "hireling" and "retainers." Which is not the case: all retainers may be hirelings (i.e. hired individuals) but not all hirelings are retainers. Expert hirelings (called specialists in the Expert set) are explicitly stated to NOT be retainers.

Nor would it appear (from Moldvay's description) are men-at-arms...what many of us in the RPG biz commonly refer to as "meat shields." Retainers are "more than just men-at-arms," the latter being defined as:
"...soldiers hired to fight and protect their employer but only expected to take reasonable risks."
No, no, not meat shields at all. Retainers are "expected" to "take the same risks the characters expect to face" (and if the PCs are unwilling to risk, well...). AND they are likewise expected to contribute their "skills and knowledge" to the success of the dungeon endeavor, not just step forward and eat the first orc arrow or goblin spear.

Retainers are fellow adventurers in other words. Albeit NPC adventurers and thus controlled by the DM.

There is a clear distinction drawn between mercenaries and retainers. For example, in the Expert set it is explicit that elves and dwarves may only hire mercenaries of their own species, "but specialists and retainers of any race may be employed." A human adventurer can be the trusty retainer of an elven lord because the retainer is outside the norm of society...he is an ADVENTURER. Normal humans are well defined in the Basic set (page B40):
"A normal human is a human who does not seek dangerous adventure. A normal human does not have a class."
Player characters are not "normal humans." They each belong to an adventuring class, or they are a demihuman class. They DO seek "dangerous adventures" and profit because of it. Retainers are cut from the same cloth, gaining experience (though at a slower rate) and contributing their abilities while taking the same risks as the PCs.

Now, retainers may indeed start as "normal humans;" Moldvay writes:
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.
Does this contradict the definition of a "normal human?" Not at all. In his description of normal humans, he writes:
"...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."
A retainer may start their career as a normal human, but the sheer fact that they are willing to sign on to an adventuring party means they have the grit and fire to advance in "level" and outpace the rest of human society with their prowess.

These aren't "meat shields." These are fellow adventurers.

But they are NPCs. Adventurers controlled by the DM, even if hired by the player characters. And it is for this reason, Moldvay makes the following pronouncement that I believe I have misinterpreted up until now:
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.
Now for whatever reason, when I've read that paragraph in the past, I interpreted "players" as "player characters." However, re-reading of the Basic set shows Moldvay is fairy specific to distinguish "players" from "characters" in his text.

I always considered "new player" and "beginning player" to mean low-level player characters (possibly 2nd level, but certainly 1st level). For example, in my most recent B/X campaign (which has run for a dozen sessions or so) I wasn't letting any PCs hire CLASSED NPCs until recently when they started hitting 3rd and 4th level. My reasoning? They were finally getting to the "status" where low-level adventurers would come seeking them out.

In retrospect, this is completely retarded of me. Not that my players questioned this...I assume they assume I'm some sort of "master of the B/X game" (possibly because I have a blog and act pretty arrogant most of the time). However, I am only now seeing the error of my ways:

  • "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.

Remember I said that all ability scores should carry the same weight and purpose? This is the whole point of Charisma. A player rolls 3D6 six times to get a set of ability scores. Some are high, some are low, most are (probably) average. For the player with the high Charisma and low Strength score, his (or her) advantage is the ability to hire more retainers...adventurers that will contribute to the party's fortunes and share in their dangerous risks.

We'll get to the actual usefulness of that in the next post. Right now, I'd like to apologize for all the extremely surly and risk-averse NPCs I've been providing for my players to hire. No wonder they don't give a shit what their Charisma score is!