Monday, April 30, 2012

The Horns of a Dilemma

Well, my friends, the fickle winds of my ADD are shifting yet again. I hate this. I've been in a serious LBB mood and groove (and who knows, it may yet prevail), but I've heard the siren-song of S&W WhiteBox again. I love that game, with one exception: fighters. I know, I know, you've been down this path with me before. My apologies if this post seems like so much old news. In truth, I'm just trying to write my feelings as a way of resolving this dilemma.

I'm definitely committed to the original three classes. My mood hasn't swung so wildly as to embrace the nth classes. My main bone of contention is the fact that in the LBBs the Fighting-Man's main class ability is being able to employ magic swords. They are, bar none, the uber-weapon of LBB D&D, and it is a real boon to be able to take full advantage of them. However, it is a class benefit that is dependent on possessing the item in question. Two 9th level Magic-Users are pretty much equal, because their class ability, magic use, is tied directly to level. Two 9th level Fighting-Men, one with an uber-blade and one with a lesser, unintelligent, blade are much less fairly matched.

I suppose there could be an argument that the M-U relies on his spellbooks and should he lose them, he is in the same boat as the F-M who has no enchanted sword. But, the M-U can make copies of his spellbooks, and by the time he reaches 5th or 6th level, he should definitely have done so. Fighting-Men can't make copies of their swords. Also, spells to add to a spellbook are much easier to come by, in the form of scrolls, than magic blades. 

I like the intelligent sword rules, though. What I'm considering is reducing the frequency of swords with powers. In Monsters & Treasure there is a 50% chance that any sword will have enough intelligence to have powers. Here's what I'm thinking:
  • Cut that back to a pretty small base percentage
  • Modify by each "plus"
  • Change the alignment roll to make most swords Neutral
  • Determine powers pretty much as written
  • Determine if sword has a Purpose (if Lawful or Chaotic)
  • Determine Ego of sword, based on Intelligence, Alignment, Powers, and Purpose
 Intelligent swords and their bearers must arrive at some sort of "understanding" if the Powers of the sword are to be utilized. 

Now, with the role of intelligent swords somewhat more limited, I want to give the Fighting-Man some true class abilities. I came up with some a while back, but I think it's too much, really. So, let me think this through.

D&D combat, and by extension, S&W:WB, models results. It isn't concerned with the blow-by-blow. It grew out of wargaming rules, where the important questions to be answered from combat are: 
  1. Who's still standing?
  2. Who's still effective?
Chainmail's method for representing more capable troop types was to give them the relative ability to render more enemies ineffective at the end of a combat. It did this by allowing so-called "Hero" types to roll more HD in combat, which represented their chance at causing an injury, which would reduce an enemy's effectiveness.

Now, if we accept that D&D combat is abstract and that a to-hit roll does not represent a single swing of the weapon, we can understand what it does represent. The to-hit roll represents the chance, during a given round, of a combatant to have an impact on his enemy's effectiveness, or more importantly, his ability to continue to prosecute the fight. So, I think it should follow naturally from that understanding that a more seasoned and capable combatant would have more opportunities to adversely effect his foe.

So, here is where all this has led me: Fighting-Men get an extra attack each turn at 4th level and again at 8th. I know there are those old-school players who don't hold with multiple attacks per round, and I used to be one of them. However, in keeping with the abstract nature of combat as a whole, I don't necessarily consider this as additional, discrete, attacks, anymore than the one attack is a single swing of the weapon. To me it merely represents greater competence and a heightened ability to force your opponent from the fight. These "attacks" are nothing more than opportunities to injure your opponent, whether that comes in the form of one "attack", two, or three.

What do you guys think? Does that make sense when it is reasoned out like this?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A "New" Blog

Well, "new" to me, anyway. I ran across this blog today. There is a very insightful look at Swords&Wizardry WhiteBox, as well as variety of other stuff. Well worth a look.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I was thinking yesterday. I can't remember what the original thought was (I have some sort of sinus infection, so my brain is like mud). Anyway, whatever I was thinking about brought me to the realization that things aren't changed for the benefit of existing customers. They are changed to bring new customers into the fold. That's understandable, from a certain perspective. A business can't remain a business if it isn't making money. I have issues with the notion, though, when it is applied to D&D.

I've refrained from posting about D&DWhatever, aside from some initial optimism. There are plenty of blogs and forum posts for those interested. I highly recommend Eric's insightful analyses at Tenkar's Tavern. He breaks down posts by the development team from the perspective of a guy that's been in the hobby a while and seen edition wars.

This is a little different, though. I'm not worrying about mechanics and the like. I'm really not worrying over that aspect. If they fuck it up (again), I'll always have OD&D. No, this is more about doing business and insulting my intelligence.

Isn't it ironic that in the oddest circumstances we can find moments of great clarity and lucidity? If only we could express them as clearly and eloquently as we experience them. Somewhere in my mud-brain a stunningly brilliant insight just formed, but I can't seem to grasp it.

The evil Wizard of the Coast casts Confusion, make a saving throw.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I find it insulting that TSR/WotC/Hasbro stopped caring about me a long time ago. Now, they're trying to "bring me back to the fold". The very fold they caused me to leave, because they needed "new blood" in the hobby. All of a sudden my old blood is just the ticket to revitalize the game. They abandoned us to our own devices and we've formed a thriving community of outcasts, our own little Island of Misfit Toys. Now, they want to tap into us. I guess they figuring we've been feasting on free OSR games for so long we must have some gaming-budget-surplus.

I say we install some shore batteries and meet them on the beach. We'll throw their D&DFrankenstein invasion back into the sea and get back to our misfit toys.

PS> I know this post isn't typical, but I'm posting it as-is. I'm not a professional writer and this isn't a professional blog. I'm just a guy sitting at home at a desk, beating my gums about gaming. I'm hoping this is entertaining, if nothing else.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Underworld & Wilderness Adventures Examination Pt 1

This first examination of Underworld & Wilderness Adventures will only be concerned with one thing: mapping the dungeon. Specifically, player mapping of the dungeon environment. It will be brief.

There are several schools of thought regarding player mapping. EGG recommends basically trying to confuse the players at every opportunity, rendering their map useless, unless the players are very diligent. At the other end of the spectrum are referees who essentially reveal the entire map from the outset, simply placing it on the table for all to see.

Somewhere in the middle are those who enjoy the experience of a player-maintained map, but who dislike the notion of "screwing" the players by allowing their map to be grossly inaccurate. They reason that the characters are actually occupying the imagined space, and would not be prone to the same mistakes the players might make.

I have a background in drafting. I have held numerous jobs which required me to measure and draw existing structures. I can tell you from my own experience, as well as that of co-workers, that accurately diagramming a given space is not simple nor easy. I have performed this function at an easy pace, with the proper measuring equipment (including laser-type measuring tools), with good lighting, and without the stress of worrying about a pack of ravenous kobolds rushing around a corner. Rarely do corners line up, do doors or windows fall where they should, or is a square room square.

Characters are in a setting which features flickering torchlight and highly stressful conditions. They are likely using a measuring device no more sophisticated than a knotted string. They are certainly not drawing on neatly lined graph paper.

I believe that if a referee decides to require player mapping, he should accept that players will misinterpret his descriptions and make mistakes. He should not feel somehow guilty or responsible (unless, that is, he intentionally misleads them). Mapping in a dungeon as you go is an inaccurate undertaking, at best. Perfection is unattainable. Get over it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wilderness Encounters

I've had an idea. It's actually an amalgam of several ideas, plus a dash of my own, and given a good stir.

I've been giving Judge's Guild Wilderlands of High Fantasy a good look. I've broken Map One up into four pieces and zoomed each one up to a full page. That give me a map of close to 15" x 20". I also have one that is about 10" x 16". The larger one I am coloring with pencils (I'll scan and post when I finish it, should be the next couple of days). The 10" x 16" I plan to use for wandering encounters.

I'm going to color-code it to encounter tables. Encounter tables unique to specific regions are nothing new. I'm just going to color-code them with a map, for easier reference. It doesn't stop there, though. This is a fairly ambitious idea.

My criteria for a Wilderness Encounter System are:

  • Check if an encounter occurs and the basics of it with a single roll
  • It needs to be very flexible with handling modifiers, not just simple +/-
  • It needs to support more than simple creature encounters, it should incorporate random events, odd discoveries, and other interesting outcomes.
So, here's the raw idea: Use a different die-type for each aspect of the encounter roll and throw them all at once. BOOM. Here's my first breakdown, subject to change:

Occurrence 2d6
This roll will determine if an encounter occurs and the type (Boon, Creature, Obstacle/Event, Signs/Portents, Special)

Boon 2d4
A beneficial occurrence

Could be animals, patrols, man-type (bandits, etc) or actual monsters

Obstacle/Event 2d12
Anything non-creature related that hinders or impedes characters; weather, getting lost, impassable terrain features, snares/traps, etc

Signs/Portents 2d8
Omens, shrines, totems, and the like. More flavor than anything else, to re-enforce the character of a particular region, but these results may have in-game effects

Special 2d10
Something odd, unusual, and/or unexpected. Typically some sort of abandoned/forgotten structure, some of which may be suitable for exploration

Now, I realize that's a fistful of dice to be throwing down at once. Think about this, though: Do it behind a referee screen and your players will never know what the hell is going on. They will be completely clueless, and therefore paranoid, about the occurrence of an encounter, or the nature of any encounter. All they'll know is the thunder of 12 dice hitting the table at once, and the completely helpless feeling as they have no idea which, if any, of the rolls has the potential to ruin their day . . .

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Thanks to all of you for getting me over 7000. It really means a lot to me, especially with all the technical difficulty I've had since 5000. I'm also really happy with the comments. Even though I started this for me, it's always been my hope that it becomes almost like a gaming club, where guys that enjoying being gaming geeks can get together and do what we do. Thanks for making it happen.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Time and Movement in Combat

As I've said before, I started gaming with wargames. Wargames have very strictly defined rules, including rules for time. OD&D has pretty strict rules for time, too, but they are a little loosely presented. I've never been comfortable with the one-minute combat round. Combat is supposed to be abstract enough to encompass multiple swings and feints and parries in that minute. Yet, paradoxically enough, in that abstract melee, time is supposed to be very closely tracked.

There are two reasons to track time:
  1. Timing (duh): Seriously, the timing of disparate movements so that their individual effects on the battle as a whole can be understood. If you have a unit of cavalry attempting to sneak around a small grove of trees and make a flank attack, it is vital to understand the state of the battle when they complete their movement and launch their attack. It is also important to understand when effects become active and when they no longer apply.
  2. Movement: It can be important to know how far a character/creature can move in a specified amount of time. Or, more to the point, how long it takes a character/creature to cover a given amount of space.

I've never been happy with the idea that a combat can last 10 minutes or more. That is a lot of work to swing a weapon weighing 8 lbs or more, virtually continuously. The lack of fatigue rules makes it worse.

I think time and movement should be abstracted the way the rest of combat is. For time, I am thinking about randomly determining elapsed time. Maybe roll d4, +1 per HD of opponents in excess of characters' level. So, a 2nd level fighting-man, a 1st level fighting-man, and a 2nd level magic-user engage a group of 7 orcs. At the conclusion of the battle, roll d4+2 to determine how long the battle lasted.

Wandering monsters being attracted to the noise of a battle can be checked after a certain number of exchanges in the fight. I would likely just judge the progress of the battle. If the battle seems to be dragging, I would avoid wandering monsters like a plague. If they would add some spice to the session, I'd roll for them.

When you take away time, you take away movement. At least in the sense of covering distance in time. I like the idea of Arenas from Old School Hack. I can see them having a place in a more abstract time keeping scheme. It's a fairly simple concept and I think it really lends itself to exciting, swashbuckling combat. More importantly, movement in the system doesn't rely on accurate time keeping.

Thoughts? Comments?

Quick Resolution Mechanic Further Thoughts

Side note: I try to maintain a relatively steady stream of posts. They all have some substance and meaning, at least I hope that comes across. Sometimes, though, I rush them off before they are fully developed. Such was the case with the Quick Resolution Mechanic post.

So, I was thinking on it some more, and at the risk of sounding boastful, I've realized the loose nature of it has some neat advantages:

The roll made by the referee (hereafter called the Difficulty Roll) can be modified based on objective and subjective bases.

  • Objective would be a flat modifier based on the determined difficulty. Obviously, characters with higher relevant stats will be better at this tasks.
  • Subjective would be modified by a percentage of the character's relevant stat. This represents the fact that certain things are difficult no matter how much raw ability you have. It levels the field, so to speak, without totally disregarding raw ability.
The variable nature of the Difficulty Roll keeps things tense and exciting. Critical Success/Failure can also be introduced, which will add to the potential dramatic tension of the situation.

I had thought of more, but they escape me right now. I'll build on this as more ideas come to me. I think this idea has a fair bit of potential. I was also thinking it needs a clever name, so I came up with R.A.R.E. Ridiculous Acronym (for a) Resolution Engine. Just kidding.

A Quick Resolution Mechanic

I don't like skill lists in D&D. The words "Feats" and "Proficiencies" make me itch. There are, however, times when a random outcome needs to determined. It isn't unreasonable to assume that some characters will be better at some tasks than others. What is undesirable, at least to me, are lists, restrictions, and hard-and-fast applications. Such a system should be fluid and malleable to the specific situation and participants. In that regard I give you my Quick Resolution Mechanic, which includes guidelines for characters becoming, let's say, reliable, at certain tasks.
Quick Resolution Mechanic

Basics: Roll d10+relevant stat and any other reasonable bonuses (arrived at by mutual agreement) VS. Referee roll of d10+modifier (based on situation/adversary). Obviously the higher the mod, the more it cancels character's bonus, making it a wash. It can exceed the character's bonus, meaning the character is relying on dumb luck and/or divine providence.

Here's where it gets interesting
If the character should succeed and his roll is a 10, note what was specifically rolled for, ie sneaking, high jumping, bluffing, etc. From then on, whenever that conflict is tested again, the player rolls a d12 instead of d10. Anytime a d12 resolution check succeeds and is a 12, note a +1, +2, and so on, beside the check. From then on, that modifier is added to the player's d12 roll. The maximum bonus is +5.

Please feel free to offer comments and (constructive) critiques.

Friday, April 20, 2012

NPC Classes

Back in the early days there was a fairly steady stream of new classes in The Dragon. Things like the Duelist, Sentinel, and Witch, to name but a few. Many of them carried the disclaimer that they were intended as NPC classes only. Of course, being empowered by the LBBs to disregard anything I didn't want to regard, I immediately decreed them suitable for PC deployment.

These days, I can appreciate NPC-only classes. In fact, I can appreciate relegating certain "iconic" classes to "NPC Only" status. As I have made abundantly clear, I think true old school D&D only needs Fighting-Men and Magic-Users. They are archetypes. defines archetype thus:

"the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype."
It is one of my jobs as referee to allow for character development to the point that a player can start with one of those two and end up wherever his imagination leads. If that means giving special abilities at appropriate times, that's what it means. Whatever fits within the character concept, campaign "reality", and player direction.

For NPCs, however, it is convenient to use subclasses, NPC classes and whatever else in order to bring the campaign to life and give it the necessary verisimilitude. While I would not allow a player to create a Paladin, for example, in my OD&D campaign, they may very well encounter a guy that can lay on hands, cure disease, and trucks around on a bad ass horse. Sure, from my perspective as referee, I know he is a Paladin. From the player's POV, or more accurately, the character's POV, that NPC is a paragon of virtue, something to aspire to.

In other cases, it is my contention that many of the other classes are just too narrow of focus, or constrained by restrictions, to make truly viable PC choices. Sometimes, it is just a matter of common sense. Why in the sweet name of Gaia would a Druid be a dungeon-crawling adventurer? For a very specific purpose with a definite goal related to nature or the balance thereof, sure thing. As a lifestyle/career path? Absolutely not.

Druids (to continue with the previous example) certainly have a place in the campaign world, as NPCs. Same thing for Rangers, Monks, and even Thieves. They should be for hire, pursuing their own agendas, not related to "killing monsters and taking their shit". A specific campaign arc that would highlight these agendas would allow for their inclusion, but the basic sandbox/dungeon crawl does not, in my opinion.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Monsters & Treasure Examination Final

Allowing for what I've already said, there really isn't too much more to report on M&T. Some highlights and oddities:
  • Mermen are armed with darts. Excuse me, darts? How does one learn to throw darts while living underwater?
  • The "numbers appearing" are brutal.
  • There are quite a few references to the fantasy section of Chainmail. I mean references to the point that without it you would be clueless. Obviously, with the benefit of almost 40 years of D&D, that isn't the case now. I bet it caused a lot of teeth gnashing back in the day, though.

I very briefly toyed with the notion of varying the damage output of some monsters. I didn't want to go full-on Greyhawk variable damage, but I was starting to think that monsters were getting a little bland. I kept seeing references to "fights as heavy foot" and so forth, and thought that might be a decent yardstick to measure damage output. In the end I decided against it. If the monsters do more damage, then the characters have to, as well. The characters will also need more HP so they can have a chance to live long enough to outlast the monsters. At that moment I glimpsed the genesis of power creep. No, no, resist the urge. Make monsters special through game-play and the occasional special ability. Leave it so that a monster that metes out 2d6 per hit is a mighty foe, the stuff of legend.

& Treasure
There weren't many surprises here. I've already talked about magic swords in my post on OD&D Fighting-Men. There were three things that especially caught my eye.

I had forgotten the premium that was placed on maps as treasure items. 25% of treasure from the treasure-type table will end up being a map of some sort. I guess that makes those treasure map booklets from Judge's Guild very handy.

There are a lot of wishes going around. There's the Ring of Many Wishes (4-24) and a magic sword that comes with 2-8 wishes. There's only a 1% chance for the ring, but 5% for the sword. Not very great chances, to be sure, but when they hit, they hit big.

Scrolls are fucking dangerous. Pardon my language, but this is serious business here. Prospective referees are instructed to try to screw players over with scrolls. To whit:
*The referee must take extreme care in handling all Scrolls with an eye towards duping the players when a Curse Scroll is found. The curse takes effect  immediately upon reading the Scroll; therefore having non-Curse Scrolls  disappear on occasion if not identified will help to force reading of Curse Scrolls. To determine the type of curse use the table below:

Die Roll Curse: (Range 3" diameter)
1 or 2 Any monster of the referee's choice
3 or 4 Disease, fatal in 3 turns unless healed
5 or 6 Polymorph to insect of referee's choice
    7     Transportation 1,000 miles, random direction
    8     Transportation to another planet
Why?!?! It's not scrolls were game-breakers that had to be disseminated with utmost caution. And how about those curses? A 25% chance of a fatal disease because you read the wrong scroll. Nice move, dumbass. Reading's overrated anyway.

So, there you have it, Monsters & Treasures. Next stop, Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.

Monsters & Treasure Examination Dragons

So iconic as to be part of the title of the game, dragons have undergone quite a transformation over the years. They started off as being a threat, one might even say a grave threat, but a threat that could be pursued without shitting yourself in the planning. Sure, they were dangerous and deadly, but they could be beaten.

For purposes of comparison I'll be looking at 100 year old red dragons from Monsters & Treasure and the SRD3.5. That age is Old for an OD&D dragon, Young Adult for the 3.5 variety.

OD&D dragons all had AC2. Since there is no mention of multiple attacks or damage bonuses, it may be inferred that all dragons had one attack for d6 damage, apart from their breath attack. Other than that, they were each different. Reds had 9-11 HD, with Old Reds getting 5 points per hit die. That was also the amount of damage done by their breath weapon. They were able to breath 3 times per day. They hit AC2 on a 7 or better.

Their OD&D adversary, a Fighting-Man of similar 10th level, would likely have fewer hit points. With the average roll of a d6 being 3.5, he would have 36 points, compared to the dragon's 45-55. Of course, if the F-M had a +1 CON bonus his average HP jump up to 46, with a max of 71. His Saving Throw vs the dragon's breath is 8, which means he will save 65% of the time, for half damage. The bitch of it is, even if he saves, the dragon's 3 breath attacks per day are more than enough to roast our F-M without some sort of magical aid. That's ok, though, because he only needs a 10 to hit the dragon. Hopefully by the time a 10th level fighter tangles with a dragon he will have a pretty potent magic sword, some armor, maybe a Potion of Heroism. In other words, he should have a chance, even if he wandered up on the beast accidentally.

In comparison, the 3.5 dragon is almost a demigod. I'm not going to completely break down a Fighter's chances against this beast because I'm not really versed in 3.5-speak. I'll compare things that are obvious, but nothing that gets "rulesy". A 3.5 red will sport 218 HP. The Fighter (we'll say he's 19th level, to put him on par with the dragon) would have, on average, 105 HP. Of course, this is 3.x, so it is safe to assume a CON bonus, but even if it is a massive +5, his hit point will only (only?) be 200, on average. He could possibly have a max of 285, but that's not very likely.

Our 3.5 red is a Young Adult at 100 years. That translates into 10d10 damage for the breath weapon, which recycles (1 in 4 chance per turn of being available). That's a potential of an average of 55 points every fourth turn. Of course, you could go the whole fight with the poor red not hitting that one in four, or he could nail it every turn, in which case the Fighter is screwed. But, maybe he's screwed anyway. See, that Young Adult is like a B-17 bomber; it has weapons hanging all over it. It gets the following attacks: 1@2d6, 3@d8, and 2@d6. They all have a +19 attack bonus. A Fighter in half plate (which seems closest to D&D plate mail) is AC 18 without DEX or magic. He better have plenty of both or that dragon is going to rape him for an average of 28 points per round, not including breath.

I want to be clear about something. I'm not trying to compare OD&D to 3.x. I'm using 3.x in this comparison because it is the final culmination of a game with the D&D monicker that actually resembled D&D. It is the ultimate end of the dragon's development cycle in a recognizable form. I'm not even trying to say one is superior to the other. As an aside, I believe that what happened with the dragon is a direct reflection of the design paradigm of later editions. That being character power inflation and monsters becoming more and more challenging occurring an endless and self-serving cycle.

So, you can see that at some point the dragon went from being a worthy adversary to being a virtual deity. I think it also illustrates later editions' reliance on character buffs, special abilities, and magic items in order to overcome foes. A smart player running his character with a smart referee can handle an OD&D dragon without needing to use a database to cross-reference all the necessary bonuses. I don't believe any amount of player skill will help a later edition character who is short of his bonuses when he runs up on a dragon.

Monsters & Treasure Examination Pt1

This booklet leads off with two comprehensive reference sheets of all the monsters included with D&D. There were about 50 in the beginning and some were quite different than they were in later editions. The presentation was also vastly different.

The pertinent stats, minus special abilities, were all contained up-front, in the reference sheets. The descriptions were quite short. Specifics were left to the imaginations of individual players and referees. There were no lengthy entries detailing the proper habitat, eating habits, or the like. No highly detailed pictures showing you just what the creature looks like.

 I like this approach. It is my long-held contention that once something is in writing in a game, it is law in the minds of the participants, for good or ill. If a referee isn't told exactly where wyverns are likely to nest , he'll make it up. He may decree that there is a nest of wyverns high up in an ancient oak. Sure, he may worry if he's doing it "right", but he'll decide anyway, and the game will go on. On the other hand, if the Tome o' Monsters states unequivocally that wyverns only ever nest on rocky crags, then our referee will be at a loss. Of course, he can override the rules, but what complications may that cause, he worries. Better to scour the Tome for a creature that does nest in oaks. I know that may sound silly to a strong-willed referee, but it's not that far-fetched.

Even though the descriptions are brief, there are differences in several creatures. Here are a few:

Gnolls are a cross between goblins and trolls, rather than hyenas and whatever. I always pictured them more like a cross between men and dogs, myself.

Skeletons have 1/2 HD, Zombies have 1HD. Which means Fighting-Men shouldn't have too much trouble with either of them.

There is one iconic monster that has changed not only mechanically or descriptively, but philosophically. It has changed so much, in fact, I think it deserves its own post . . .

Monday, April 16, 2012

More Cleric bashing from Yours Truly

I made it clear from the title what this post is about, so if you're a fan of clerics, you might want to find something else to do for a little while.

My second-favorite class house rules (before now) was always trying to do something about clerics. I just don't like them. I've played them and they always strike me as lost in the middle. I can respect the fact that it should be a player's decision how he feels about a certain class. If Tim really digs on clerics, he should be able to play one. My only issue with that is it means that I can't do certain things I feel are necessary to my campaign. Specifically, if I do allow a cleric class, then I can't fold the cleric spells into the magic-user lists, which means, in turn, that I have to make use of NPC clerics, rather than magic-users with "cleric" spells.

Something that I especially dislike about the cleric class is the half-ass nature of it, as written. There are more religions, philosophies, pantheons, and/or systems of belief than you can shake a stick at. There is no acceptable way to abstract that down to a single representative class. So, in order to "fix" this it is needful to create a detailed pantheon, complete with how its clergy functions. That's the kind of thing I like to leave vague. It's another one of those "avoid restrictive choices" things.

No sir, clerics need to be gone like the thief, and ironically enough, for a lot of the same reasons. When I am in this hyper-LBB mood, I firmly believe that any character can be built from the two archetypes of Fighting-Man and Magic-User. Add in the absence of a restrictive skill system and the two classes become a starting point, a foundation, for the type of character you want to play.

All the cleric's spells can be folded into the M-U lists without any problems (I think). I do not believe classifying the spells in any way, thus restricting their selection, is necessary. Want to play a druid? Use mostly nature-based spells, there are quite a few. No need to make it anything official because that leads to things like "Druids can't do (whatever)". There should only ever be two broad-brush restrictions:
  1. Fighting-Men can't use anything that is the purview of the Magic-User.
  2. Magic-Users can't use anything that is the purview of the Fighting-Man.
Any sort of religion-based power/authority should be setting and role play based. There are numerous examples in books and movies of priests and other so-called holy men who trucked with the powers of darkness. The Bishop of Aquila in Ladyhawk cursed two lovers using dark powers. So, a church figure could be based on the M-U class and described through role play as belonging to the church. Likewise, a Fighting-Man can belong to a religious fighting order.

One thing I may do, though, is add some sort of undead-combating spells. I'm not real sure on just what, but they would go deeper than just turning undead. Enough quantity and variety to allow an M-U to model himself as some sort of Theurgist or Witchhunter.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Men and Magic: Spell Examination

I've added a first run of my spell clarifications to my OD&D House Rules (link under Pages, to the left). They are fairly short, because I'm not trying to tie anyone's hands, just close some potentially bad loopholes.

As for the spells, they are awesome. Even with the (much) smaller lists than later editions, the spells presented are very versatile. A Magic-User is a very useful member of an adventuring party with these spells, and not just as a Flamethower. I can see where Charm and Sleep are much more useful than Magic Missile.

There is a definite lack of direct-damage spells in the lists. There is, however, a wide range of choices which the M-U uses to create a toolbox to help his party deal with unforeseen situations. There used to be a cartoon based on the story Around the World in 80 Days. At the beginning of each episode, the main character would have his side-kick assemble a group of seemingly random things. It would be like "Gather us a table knife, a lump of coal, and a sprig of mint." By the end of the episode he had needed each of the items. That's how I think of OD&D Magic-Users, having to realize what they will need before they need it, and not cornering themselves by limiting their tools. The guy in the cartoon never once said, "Gather us a gun, a bigger gun, a red gun, a blue gun, and a shitpot full of bullets."

The spell descriptions are vague, but rather than focusing on that as a bad thing, I think it makes the spells more versatile and useful. For example, would Move Earth effect an earth elemental? How would Part Water affect a water elemental? Maybe they wouldn't. It depends on the individual referee. The point is, no one's hands are tied. I think it's easier to take the vague wording and put some limiters on it, rather than take a tightly worded spell and tell the players they can do more with it. I think that once we read that tight description, it's how we see it.

I was much more excited about Magic-Users than I have ever been, once I actually read the spell descriptions. It's a fantastic thing.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Men and Magic Examination Pt 3

I've started giving the spells a new, thorough, read-through. Of course, the first thing that struck me was the brevity. The spell descriptions are brief to the point of being terse. Some spells probably need some clarification, but the nature and wording will be specific to the group and campaign. Not so much house rules, more like clarifications, like in the DMG.

For example, Charm Person jumped out at me right away. Its duration is "Until Dispelled", and it can be used to lure NPCs into the caster's service. Obviously, the subject of the charm won't seek dispelling. It would potentially be somewhat contrived to have another NPC realize the situation and arrange for a dispelling. So, it is conceivable that a Magic-User could have an entourage of free, charmed help following him around. I will clarify Charm Person as follows, should I run an OD&D game:
  • A Magic-User may have no more persons in thrall than his level plus his Loyalty Base (from Charisma, Men and Magic, pg11);
  • The caster may not release a charmed person at will. The spell must be dispelled.
That seems to me to be logical, simple, and effective, without being too restrictive or heavy-handed. Once I have all my spell clarifications worked up, I'll post them, for those interested.

Here is something very interesting
On page 19, it states:
Spells & Levels: The number above each column is the spell level (complexity, a somewhat subjective determination on the part of your authors). The number in each column opposite each applicable character indicates the number of spells of each level that can be used (remembered during any single adventure) by that character. Spells are listed and explained later. A spell used once may not be reused in the same day.  (Emphasis mine)

I know a strict interpretation of this would not be popular. Memorizing a spell more than once so it can be used more than once is a staple of D&D. But was it always? I can't say. I definitely played back in the day, using the LBBs, but I never played a Magic-User back then. I know that when I saw someone else memorizing the same spell more than once it seemed like a revelation to me, because I'd never considered it.

Think about a strict interpretation for a minute, though. I like it, and here's why.
  • It makes Magic-Users more interesting. M-U's should be masters of a mysterious power. They should be able to perform a variety of tasks and feats using their magic. A Magic-User that uses all his available spells to memorize Charm Person is pretty two dimensional. 
  • From a Vancian magic standpoint, it makes sense. Jeff Reints posted a couple of excerpts from Mr. Vance on his blog (read it here). These serve to really illustrate just what Vancian magic means (hint: it does not mean Fire-and-Forget). Judging from the picture of magic painted by those excerpts, I can't imagine having two (or more!) of a single spell trapped in my head. In a way, it seems to me that it would be twice as difficult to retain them, almost like they could gang up on your mind. Of course, there is nothing mechanical to support that, it is purely role play. Which is the name of the game, after all.
Read Magic
Read Magic is a strange beast, to me. It is hand-waved in virtually every set of house rules known. It basically has to be, right? How is a Magic-User supposed to read his spell book if he can't cast it? Yet, its use is deemed mandatory in the LBBs.

I have given this a lot of thought, because I don't want to just gloss over the LBBs. The whole purpose of this exercise is to re-learn D&D from the floor up, and in so doing gain a deeper appreciation for it. I can't do that if I arbitrarily declare that something simply makes no sense, and ignore it. I will be much better served by trying to understand how it fits and how it is meant to be used, rather than just calling it antiquated and moving on.

So, in that spirit, I must say that I think it is the wording that's the problem. Rather than Read Magic, I believe it should be called Master Magic. A look at the spell's description will help understand why I say this:
Read Magic: The means by which the incantations on an item or scroll are read. Without such a spell or similar device magic is unintelligible to even a Magic-User. The spell is of short duration (one or two readings being the usual limit). Men and Magic, pg 24
 Items and scrolls. For items, it simply reveals the command word, or may be construed to reveal the function of the item. Scrolls contain spells, not merely spell-like effects. Spells in the Vancian sense are essentially alive, chaotic beings of magical energy. They are not merely words anymore than the scales and fangs are the snake.

The way I see it, with a scroll, the spell is being pressed into the parchment rather than the caster's mind. The spell is seething and writhing on the scroll just as it does in a caster's mind. When cast from memory, the caster has already mastered the spell and bent it to his will, which is why there is no casting roll. When cast from a scroll, the spell is almost ballistic, kind of point-and-shoot. There's still no casting roll, of course, but it does need to be commanded from the scroll and given purpose. Read Magic is the spell for that. Considering my interpretation of the role play involved, though, I do believe Master Magic is a more apt term.

Obviously, this isn't the only way to interpret Read Magic. I was just looking for a reason to include it, along with a way to justify it through role play, since it seems so important.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Fighting-Man

Ah, the Fighting-Man. If you've read much of my ramblings, you've no doubt discovered my long-standing love of the Fighting-Man. Far and away my favorite class to play, regardless of edition. If you've picked up on my love of the F-M, you've also been exposed to my lamentations on the shortcomings of the class, compared to his peers. But, was I mistaken? Is the Fighter a poor cousin to the other classes?

Yes. The Fighter is far and away one of the weakest, least interesting, and enjoys the least niche protection of any class, bar none. Pity the poor Fighter.

The Fighting-Man on the other hand, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with his LBB peers. After a more thorough reading of Men and Magic, I propose that the Fighting-Man actually stands taller than the Magic-User and Cleric. Allow me to support my contention.

Hit Points
Three characters, each with 120,000 XP. The Fighting-Man and Cleric will be 8th level, while the Magic-User will be 9th. Assuming none of the three have a CON bonus, the Cleric will have 24.5 HP. The Magic-User will have 22. The Fighting-Man will have 30. Maybe 5.5 or 8 doesn't sound like much, but remember most creatures and all weapons deal d6 damage, so the F-M can definitely stand in for at least one more round of punishment than the other two.

Fighters can wear any armor, but so can the cleric (and elf, if the armor is magical he can cast while wearing it). So, maybe that one's a little soft, as class perks go. But in the arena of weapons, the Fighting-Man is unmatched. Sure, the dwarf, elf, and halfling hobbit (who are we trying to kid) can use any weapon, but they have level caps, which means their progression up the attack tables is short-lived. Only the F-M can use any weapon AND get good at it.

And lest we forget, Magic Swords. Magic swords in OD&D were a huge boon to the F-M. Fully 50% of all magic swords have Intelligence and at least one Power. Most of the Primary Powers are Detections of some kind. Virtually all of them are very useful, and should come into play often. Several of them outright hijack another class' niche. See Invisible, Detect Magic, Detect Traps, and Locate Secret Doors leap to mind right away. That gives the F-M a real edge, and there is a 50% of a magical blade having one of them. There is a whopping 25% chance the sword will have three Primary Abilities.

Attack Tables
I'm not going to crunch numbers into percentages of superiority. All I want to say is that the F-M progresses noticeably faster, and the separation becomes more pronounced the higher the level.

The real reason I bring this up is that the F-M does his thing every single round. Sure, a M-U can wreak havoc with a 6-die Fireball, but then what? And what if the bad guys save? The F-M wades in and counts coup. Nothing to memorize, nothing to cast, nothing that can be saved against. It's where the metal meets the meat. Yeah, the cleric and demi-humans do it, too, but they're not the masters of it that the F-M is.

The final thing that bears out my contention that the Fighting-Man is the most powerful class in the game is:

Experience Points
Clerics reach name level at level 8, which occurs at 100,000 XP. Each additional level after that is 50,000 XP. Magic-Users reach name level at level 11,  which is 300,000 XP. Additional levels for the Magic-User occur every 100,000 XP.The Fighting-Man reaches name level at level 9, which doesn't occur until 240,000 XP. It costs him 120,000 XP per level to advance beyond that. So, if we can assume that XP requirements are the primary means of balancing the relative power of different characters, the Fighting-Man must have been considered quite powerful, indeed.

Final Thoughts
It isn't until supplements start coming in (beginning with Greyhawk) that the Fighting-Man begins to lose his luster. The Thief's ability to use magic swords, the Ranger's favored enemy thing, and so on. When this fringe classes are as capable in combat as the Fighting-Man, why play one? Isn't it better to play one of the others, after all, they can fight just as good and do some other cool shit.

Well, maybe they can. But they never will in my D&D, where the Fighting-Man stands supreme.