Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Random D&D Notes

The following thoughts are things I could probably wrap whole posts around, but I've been a little busy lately and (thus) don't know when I'll get to it. Rather than lose these in the ether, I figured I'd just jot them down, perhaps to examine more deeply in the future:

Some great replicas, but
this one was real.
Viking Treasure: had the chance to check out a great exhibit at the Nordic Museum (in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle) on loan from Uppsala University in Sweden. Called "The Vikings Begin" it was a great collection with a lot of historical information. Didn't know that that the Norse didn't really have a currency before the 10th century or so; they collected coins from their travels, and would still use them for trading (as silver), weighing them with small (portable) scales. Also, silver coins? Really f'ing tiny (about the diameter of a nickel and thinner than a dime), though otherwise fairly uniform across multiple centuries and cultures; the exhibit included English pennies, coins from Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire, Arabic dinars, and some sort of Russian coin, all dating from the 7th to 9th centuries). Norse people liked to use wealth (gold and jewels) to decorate their stuff, especially weapons and armor.

Viking Shields: really big. Something along the line of Alexis's rule for large shields is appropriate, if a little generous (the +2 versus small missiles in the original DMG might model better; your call, of course).

Magic Swords: I keep wanting to write about this and I keep finding it hard to make the time. Magic swords in Original D&D (and also continued in Holmes Basic) only added their magical bonus to attack rolls, NOT damage. As far as I can tell, this is simply a continuation of the rules for magic swords in CHAINMAIL, the tabletop war-game which doesn't record "damage" anyway: one hit = one kill. Miscellaneous magic weapons, on the other hand, add their bonus to both attack and damage, save in the case of certain weapons (like magic bows). This wasn't changed until the 1st edition of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, where bonuses became universally applied to attack and damage rolls for ALL weapons (including bows), presumably for simplicity and consistency...I can find no other reason/information for the change I've spent the last couple-three days combing through every issue of The Strategic Review and early Dragon magazines leading up to the DMG's release (and afterward) to see if there was mention of this change, finding nothing.

Here's the thing: I actually LIKE the original rule better; I like how it models abstract combat in D&D. Armor does not reduce damage; it prevents damage being inflicted at all. A magical bonus to hit reflects the magic weapon's ability to penetrate the armor. I don't require the weapon to inflict "more grievous wounds" especially as a successful attack roll with a low damage roll can still indicate two parties grappling in fierce melee and thumping each other with fists and feet, while they try to get their blade in position to strike home. Adding a damage bonus to a sword attack means every blow is more likely to have been a killing stroke...and I just don't like that. Leave that to the axes and spears and arrows. I find this is yet another thing I really like about the original game and the Holmes version of Basic.

[also, for some reason, my D&D groups have always played that magic bows do not inflict their bonus to damage. I have no idea why this is, as both the B/X and AD&D rules are clear that magic add their bonus to both attack and damage. Weird....really don't know where we learned to play like that...]

Old School Advancement: And this will be the final thought of this post, as I've got stuff to do. In reading these old magazines, I've found a lot of info, much of it fascinating, insightful, or informative. No, not all of it is great, but there ARE kernels/nuggets of "good stuff" in there, one of which is Gygax's own thoughts and ideas on how advancement was supposed to look in D&D: a successful player who's character participated in 50-70 game sessions per year could expect to reach 9th to 11th level after the first year of gaming, and then another 2-3 levels per year thereafter. At the time he was writing this, his Greyhawk campaign had been going on for four years and Arneson's Blackmoor had been going for five, and he could "definitively" state that no character in either campaign was higher than 14th level...presumably (it isn't explicit) due to a combination of character deaths, energy drain, and retirement from active adventuring. By my calculations, this rate of advancement amounts to a (rough) average of 4,000 experience points per character per session over the course of a year, which seems a little high but perhaps he was still using the pre-Supplement I system when it came to awarding XP for defeated monsters. For certain the article was written prior to the publication of the AD&D books.

[the reason for the high level spells in D&D (which became part of the system with the advent of the Greyhawk/Sup1 booklet) then appears to be neat and/or legendary effects that can be found on scrolls or provided through the good graces (or by paying) of high level NPCs]

I have to admit this seems entirely reasonable rate of advancement to me, and makes old tournament modules like Tomb of Horrors and Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth really look like worthwhile "epic paydays" for adventurers. Tomb of Horrors, especially, finally starts to inspire ambition as it's potential treasure payout is 437,409 g.p. Given that destruction of Acererak is another 100,000 x.p. that's a pretty substantial chunk of advancement for even a large party of adventurers. It really makes me turn up my nose at the paltry 53,035 g.p. one might pull out of White Plume Mountain...though, I suppose the original idea was that players would find the (campaign-wrecking) power of the magical weapons to be reward enough for their endeavor (all later publications/variations of WPM have insisted that the weapons be removed from PCs possession following the adventure).

All right...that's really all I have time for today. Later.


  1. Sure. Coins throughout history are actually tiny. D&D coins at ten to a lb. are not historically accurate, but they are both cooler and more useful in a game sense.

    Minting is a function of a central authority, and there was no central authority in Scandinavia until sometime in the 900s, and even then it was sketchy.

    I like that idea about magic swords but it may be too fiddly for people who came into the hobby through the front door. I’m going to leave the +X/+X construction in actual play even though it’ll be +X/+0 in my heart.

    Ok leveling. 18th level or whatever always struck me a silly. The sweet spot for d&d, at least in 3E and beyond, is about level 3-6. You can take on 10th level opponents like dragons with planning and luck, and that’s thrilling. Once you get a handful of 4th level spells, it stops resembling the source fiction.

    In my own home game, 10th level is a great achievement. We’ve played about 50 sessions and the highest level guys are 6 and 7. And that’s a little slow, but it’s okay because the threats can stay at an imaginable level and there’s always something out there that can kill you with a snap of its fingers.

    1. @ Scott:

      I hear you on the coins and the fiddly. Of course, in B/X the DM does the damage rolling so I can always do the math myself (likewise, I suppose I could artificially “inflate” HPs for opponents).

      Your comment on 18th level being “silly” is a different matter. I might have to address that in a separate post.

  2. My old 1e crew played a similar rule. Bows didn't get damage bonuses from enchantment or from strength. Magical arrows did, though, so there was one PC who made good money creating +1 arrows for other PCs. I remember a big debate when a new player found text in the rulebooks which showed that bows did get +damage. In the end it didn't change.

    Common opinion at the time was that bows were overpowered with 2 attacks per round, so the no-damage-bonus was compensation. Much later I came to the conclusion that they seemed so effective because the DMs in the group rarely used any effects firing-into-melee.