Friday, November 15, 2019

We've Got No Class - OPTIONAL 2.6a Upgrade Patch

This is an alternative version of my system of "classless"/multiclass house rules for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Assume everything is the same as in the PDF and Patch 2.6 except where noted.

The purpose of this alternative version is to limit PC advancement to level 12, with everything re-balanced to fit this limit. I originally put the limit at level 14 as a homage to B/X D&D, but lately I've come to think of level 12 as something of a "sweet spot" for upper-level advancement. It's the limit I'm tempted to use if I ever run OD&D without the Greyhawk Supplement, and the number 12 is divisible by 3, so you could easily have a character with their levels split evenly between all three "paths" or classes.

Optional Upgrade 2.6a - Level 12 Limit

Saving Throws
  • Before selecting a Path, every character begins with a 14 in each saving throw category.
  • A bonus Saving Throw Point is awarded at levels 2, 5, 8, and 11.
  • A bonus Skill Point is awarded at levels 3, 6, 9, and 12.
  • The Architecture and Tinkering skills are combined into one new skill: Engineering.
Fighting Path Bonus Table
Roll 1d6:
  • 1-3: +1 base attack bonus, up to a maximum of +10. If you already have the maximum base attack bonus, choose a different available result.
  • 4: It takes five additional items to gain the first point of encumbrance (as per the Dwarf class in LotFP). If you have already gotten this result once before, see Result 1-3 instead.
  • 5: Increase the amount of damage you do with any weapon (including your bare hands) by 1 die size, following this pattern: 1-->d2-->d3-->d4-->d6-->d8-->d10-->d12-->d20 (the maximum for mundane weapons). If you have already gotten this result once before, see Result 1-3 instead.
  • 6: You get a second attack per round. Also, instead of making a second attack, you can make one extra round's worth of progress toward reloading a weapon. For example, you could fire a light crossbow every round (rather than every other round), or fire a heavy crossbow once every other round (rather than once every three rounds). If you have already gotten this result once before, see Result 1-3 instead.
Experience and Leveling
  • Player Characters are limited in advancement to level 12.
  • Once level 12 is reached, at every additional 128,000 experience points gained, pick an ability score and roll 3d6. If you roll higher than the current ability score, that score increases by 1 point. No ability score can increase above 18.

We've Got No Class 2.6 Upgrade Patch - Extra Skill Points

This is just a quick update to my "We've Got No Class" system of character generation and advancement house rules for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I made this simple change shortly after the PDF went live, and it seems to be working out well in playtesting.

Added Rule: Player Characters gain one addition Skill Point at levels 3, 6, 9, and 12.

On my printed copy of the PDF, I personally just penciled in "Skill Point" for the appropriate levels under the "Bonus Saving Throw Point" column on page 5. I'll probably update the PDF itself at some point. I might wait a bit to see if I want to make any other changes to the system before doing so.

Honestly, I added this rule so that a PC who takes all 14 levels in the Proficiency Path could theoretically max out every skill on the list. 28 Skill Points for Proficiency Path levels + 2 for starting out + 4 from this new rule + 5 extra points from maxing out both Saving Throws + 3 Language points from 18 Intelligence + 3 Athletics points from 18 Strength = 45 Skill Points total.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Elves vs. Magic-Users: Redux

Coming back to this old topic, I've got a few more ideas for differentiating these two classes in Basic D&D and similar games like LotFP.

Option 1: "I'm a Magic-User. As in any magic."

Spells are no longer divided into "Cleric" and "Magic-User" lists, but rather "Cleric" and "Elf" lists. If you care about alignment, perhaps the former is Lawful Magic and the latter Chaotic Magic. The Elf class can cast the same spells as before, which is to say the latter list of spells. However, the Magic-User can now learn and cast spells from both lists.

For the Magic-User, "Cleric" spells simply operate as their usual "Elf" spells do in terms of learning, memorization, casting, research, etc. You could either keep the Cleric spells at the same level (e.g. "Bless" remains a first level spell in most systems), or bump them up one level for Magic-Users to give the Cleric class a little more niche protection (e.g. "Bless" remains a first level spell for Clerics, but is a second level spell for Magic-Users).

Magic-Users cannot learn Cleric spells directly from Clerics, because Clerics pray for their spells whereas Magic-Users require written magical formulas to study. Magic-Users can learn Cleric spells randomly at character creation, research them, or copy them from scrolls or the spellbooks of Elves or other Magic-Users. Magic-Users can cast Cleric spells from scrolls, wands, etc., but if your game includes other highly specific magic items that can only be used by certain classes, those class-based restrictions remain.

LotFP-specific details: Magic-Users no longer necessarily need to collaborate with Clerics to make potions of Cleric spells, while Elves still do. Magic-Users are still Chaotic in alignment, because Lawfulness demands a certain degree of so-called "purity." If you have access to VAM and/or EC, then Magic-Users are also capable of Risky Casting, whereas Elves are not.

Option 2: "Fireball? No, I'm not that kind of Elf."

Honestly, I haven't thought this one through nearly as much as Option 1. I just wanted to toss it out there while it was on my mind.

Instead of dividing spells into two lists (one for Clerics and one shared by both Magic-Users and Elves), give each class their own spell list. The Elf represents a third magical tradition alongside the Magic-User and Cleric.* If there is little or no overlap between the Magic-User and Elf lists, and the Magic-Users keeps their usual repertoire, they gain niche protection from Elves and hopefully become more valuable in terms of party balance. The Elves, meanwhile, retain their fighting prowess and unique class abilities, but instead of arguably serving as "Magic-Users-But-Better," they serve an entirely new role as far as spell casting is concerned. Like Clerics, they could work as a sort of mid-point between Fighters and Magic-Users, being skilled in both arms and arcana, but not quite to the level of pure expertise earned by those more focused classes.

The Magic-User memorizes spells from books, learns them individually, and generally casts them empty-handed. The Cleric receives spells through prayer, learns a whole spell level at a time, and casts with a holy symbol. The Elf should have its own quirks. If you've got some house rules for magic you've been itching to try, you could drop them in here. Spell points? Magic Words? Psionics, if you're feeling brave? Bard songs, if you roll that way?

If your system of choice includes "Druid" spells (e.g. BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia D&D, or OD&D + Eldritch Wizardry), you could remove the Druid (sub)class from the game and give its spell list to the Elf. You could also keep the Druid if you want - since Druids can also cast some Cleric spells in the Rules Cyclopedia, you could make them different from Elves by restricting the latter to the new, Druid-based spells. Whether you remove the Druid or not, the Elf might need some additional spells added to the list to flesh it out. If I decide that's a problem, I'm bound to share my solution later.

*Add in two new spell casting classes and give each a thematic color if you want to get all Magic: The Gathering up in here. Heck, if you consider Thief skills to be supernatural in nature, you've got a fourth magic system already.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Gold Box D&D - Final Party Lineup for Pool of Radiance Series?

Just a follow-up to this old post. I got a new computer, and I'm thinking about finally playing through these classics. Here's the party I've settled on:

Permanent Members
  1. Rosaline - Lawful Good Human Fighter 13, dual-classed to Cleric in Secret of the Silver Blades
  2. Nopmarc - Chaotic Good Human Cleric 17, dual-classed to Magic-User in Pools of Darkness
  3. Maverick - Chaotic Good Human Magic-User (not dual-classed)
Members Who Get Replaced
  1. Ivellios - Chaotic Good Elf Fighter/Magic-User, replaced by Desrath in Pools of Darkness
  2. Wheels - Neutral Good Dwarf Fighter/Thief, replaced by Mandolini in Curse of the Azure Bonds
  3. Crampon - Lawful Good Half-Elf Fighter/Cleric, replaced by Bob in Curse of the Azure Bonds
Replacement Members
  1. Desrath - Chaotic Good Human Magic-User immediately dual-classed to Ranger (in Pools of Darkness)
  2. Mandolini - Neutral Good Human Ranger 15, dual-classed to Magic-User in Pools of Darkness
  3. Bob - Lawful Good Human Paladin
Lineup in Each Game
  1. Pool of Radiance - Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, Fighter/Magic-User, Fighter/Thief, Fighter/Cleric
  2. Curse of the Azure Bonds - Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, Fighter/Magic-User, Ranger, Paladin
  3. Secret of the Silver Blades - Cleric (+Fighter 13), Cleric, Magic-User, Fighter/Magic-User, Ranger, Paladin
  4. Pools of Darkness - Cleric (+Fighter 13), Magic-User (+Cleric 17), Magic-User, Ranger (+Magic-User), Magic-User (+Ranger 15), Paladin
Now to figure out my parties for the Gold Box Savage Frontier and Krynn series...
P.S. Don't forget to check out the Gold Box Companion.

XP or Level Limits for OD&D (and Full Metal Plate Mail)

This is a follow up to my "XP Limits > Level Limits" post. I was trying to apply that concept to Original Dungeons & Dragons, a.k.a. the Little Brown Books (without the supplements, in this case), as well as a retroclone called Full Metal Plate Mail that I picked up a while ago. Looking at Men & Magic, I realized that the experience tables only went to level 9 for fighting-men, level 8 for clerics, and level 11 for magic-users. The book provides guidelines for advancing characters beyond those levels, but it doesn't specify exactly how much experience is needed to reach those levels.

Full Metal Plate Mail has more extensive experience tables, going up to fighter level 12, cleric level 13, and magic-user level 18. However, according to a post at Delta's D&D Hotspot and another at Playing at the World (and the comments below those posts), Gary Gygax intended the experience tables to be extrapolated beyond each class' name level as follows: +240,000 XP for every fighting-man level past 9, +100,000 XP for every cleric level past 8, and +300,000 XP for every magic-user level past 11. (See the picture below.)

Literal Back-of-a-Napkin Math

Full Metal Plate Mail
 follows a different extrapolation. Thus, a good XP limit for OD&D might not work as well for Full Metal Plate Mail, or vice versa. The other "Little Brown Books only" retroclones I've looked at, like Delving Deeper and Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, seem to have even more varied experience tables; FMPM at least follows the OD&D tables up to name level for each class. I don't mean to cast aspersions on any of these retroclones, though, because I'm not convinced the original XP tables are necessarily the best possible XP tables. And the matter of what is "best" here is going to be subjective, of course.

So that was one hitch in my plan to find a good XP limit for OD&D. Another problem was that the experience tables for the three classes differ drastically beyond name level, at least if you follow the advancement scheme Gygax seems to have intended. At 960,000 XP, a fighting-man is only level 12, and a magic-user is level 13, while a cleric is at a whopping level 16! For comparison, 600,000 XP in B/X D&D gets you a level 12 fighter, a level 13 cleric, or a level 11 magic-user. Using the fighter as a sort of baseline character, I don't want to set my XP cap at a number that will result in any other class being too far above or below the fighter in level. Also, the OD&D fighting-man seems overly "expensive" in my opinion, while the cleric seems too "cheap."

So in the case of OD&D-without-supplements and the aforementioned retroclones, I'm tempted to just go by the following house rule: All classes use the fighting-man's experience table, and the maximum level is 12.

I'm not convinced anything of value would be lost if I implemented this change, and it's appealingly simple. Honestly, I'm not sure that the concept of having separate experience tables for each class adds anything enjoyable enough to the game for it to be worth the extra complexity. If I ever get lured by the siren song of designing my own OSR heartbreaker system like so many lost souls before me, I think it's a safe bet that I'll use a unified XP table for all classes.

I still like to think my whole "XP Limits > Level Limits" concept has some merit for Basic D&D and its derivatives, though. I'm hoping to test the idea in a future campaign and see what my players think of it. As for AD&D, I haven't really examined the XP tables in depth, yet. The same goes for OD&D-with-supplements. I guess it comes down to whether or not these games are better off with separate XP tables.

One last note: Below are some XP limits I considered for Full Metal Plate Mail, along with some extra ideas for house rules.

Any of these might still work. I'm just not sure any of them are ideal.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Basic stuff all adventurers can do in old-school D&D?

Probably-Unnecessary Preamble
If I'm running a pseudo-medieval fantasy game that doesn't have any explicit rules about horse riding, and a player with the appropriate gear wants to ride an available domesticated horse, I'm inclined to just allow them to ride the horse successfully unless some specific obstacle crops up, in which case I would either disallow it by fiat (in the case of an overwhelming obstacle), or establish some random odds of success based on a combination of the player's individual approach to the problem and whatever preexisting rules seem applicable by way of analogy (in the case of a hindrance that seems significant but surmountable).

This all depends on the assumptions baked into the setting; if there's a good chance your character has never seen or even heard of a horse before, I'm going to be more hesitant about letting you ride one automatically. But like I said, we're assuming a typical D&D-style fantasy setting in this example.

Let's say our gaming group switches mid-campaign to a different game, one that includes a horse-riding skill, and it says in the rulebook that only characters with this skill can ride horses. Absent any house rules, suddenly the ability to ride a horse goes from something players can take for granted to a specialized activity forbidden to all but the select few with ranks in horse-riding recorded on their character sheets, presumably at the cost of some resource like skill points that could have been spent elsewhere. The focus of the campaign shifts because the source of the conflict shifts; the set of all possible obstacles has been expanded to include the potential inability to ride a horse.

Because the thing about skills in RPGS is, generally no one gets all the skills, and everybody is limited in some area of expertise, because otherwise there'd be no need for the skill system. Why waste space in your rulebook and the precious time of your readers with banal, common-sense stuff like "all player characters are assumed by default to be able to wipe their own asses"? Why make players roll dice every time they want to take a breath? The skill system is presumably there because the game designers wanted to focus the action on certain things - "this game should be about killing monsters and taking their stuff" or "this game should give players the ability to make very different kinds of highly detailed and specialized characters" or whatever.

This is all well and good, as far as I'm concerned...unless it introduces limitations to the capabilities of characters that seem artificial or overly-constraining, to the point of either damaging verisimilitude, or just making simple actions into complicated ordeals involving too much time and thought. Much ink, both literal and digital, has been spilled over the introduction of the Thief class to OD&D, and thus the introduction of a class-specific skill list that left some people asking things like "does this mean my Fighting Man can no longer sneak around because he's not a Thief?" and "why can't my highly intelligent wizard learn how to pick a simple lock?" After all, soldiers in real-life are often trained not only in combat, but in skills that a D&D nerd like me is bound to associate with thieves and rangers and possibly other character classes. I've discussed this subject before. I'm personally undecided on the whole Thief matter - I'm probably leaning slightly toward the pro-Thief side, honestly - but I think it nicely illustrates the kinds of complications that a "skill system" can introduce to an RPG. Who gets what skills? How skilled does a given individual get to be? What does your skill list imply about your game's setting? How are skills linked to other mechanical aspects of the system, like class or level?

The Point
Originally, I wanted to make a list of some common, important skills in which I generally assume all PCs are competent when I run D&D and similar games. No matter your level, your ability scores, or your class, if you're a PC in, say my current LotFP campaign, you know how to do these things, and you can usually do them well enough that I won't make you roll dice to do them under normal circumstances...Except that I'm uncertain about many of these. So instead, maybe we should think of this not as a definite list, but as fuel for an open debate about what players should and should not be able to take for granted in an OSR game?

Anyway, consider this my incomplete, tentative list:
  • Navigating and operating in the dark. Remembering positions and layouts from brief glimpses. Finding the right key or piece of equipment on your person in the dark without a bunch of fumbling.
  • Mapping. But do cartography skills equal those of the player, i.e. should you make the players draw their own map?
  • Estimating distances and measuring things.
  • Good memory in general? If the actual players can remember it, then their characters can presumably remember it too, right? But what about stuff the players had to write down to remember? I would just assume their characters either have better memories than they do (thus not needing to write it down in-universe), or that they also wrote it down in-universe, as some sort of unspoken agreement between players and DM?
  • Riding/driving/using horses, draft/pack animals, carts/wagons, etc.
  • Feeding and caring for the aforementioned animals
  • Building barriers? Basic carpentry? Probably basic tool use, at least.
  • Fighting with many different types of weapons and armor (depending on the game and/or your class). Punching/hand-to-hand fighting without hurting yourself.
  • Basic equipment maintenance
  • Basic wilderness survival. Sense of direction, sense of time. Lighting fires quickly and efficiently and keeping them burning. Basic cooking, skinning/field-dressing animals? Hunting? Recognizing types of plants, at least in broad categories?
  • Using rope, climbing ropes, tying knots.
  • Carrying/hauling stuff without hurting yourself. Packing your equipment.
  • Reading/writing! This is a big one, since in reality, literacy rates were extremely low until pretty recently, but in most D&D settings it seems like even the poorest peasants are fairly well educated in this regard.
  • Basic math!
  • Swimming. (Or at least floating/treading water?)
  • Music?
  • Appraising treasure.
  • Basic self-care/hygiene.
  • Sleeping at will, often in shifts and in less-than-comfortable places. Sometimes even in armor?!
  • Common manners/etiquette in the setting. One can choose not to employ it, but I'll assume you at least know how normal people generally behave in public.
What should be added to the list? Which items do you question? How much does this vary from game to game, even within the same genre and same basic mechanical framework?

For example, the Playtest Document for LotFP added a Seamanship skill, but in the current rules, I think it's implied that all PCs generally know how to sail, and success is mostly a matter of one's type of vessel and the size of one's crew, plus luck and maybe some other factors. Do OD&D players automatically know how to operate a ship? How about in AD&D?

Probably Unnecessary Afterword
Lengthy skill lists in RPGs are not a new phenomenon; I love the rulebook for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1E, but speaking as someone who's only looked at the rules and not actually played yet, I'm kind of...I don't know, perturbed? Let's say, nonplussed by the game's lengthy, thorough skill list, which includes a lot of capabilities I would have thought to be common among the populace of the Old World (and hence the kind of things the players and GM could take for granted) combined with what seems to be a relatively low number of starting skills for most players.

I'm betting that in WFRP in particular, this probably isn't as bad as it seems, considering how many people vouch for the game's system to this day. Plus, my understanding is that a certain amount of comical ineptitude is purposefully baked into the intended playing experience, so I suppose it makes sense to start PCs off with few skills in order to embody the experience of playing bumbling misfits, at least at first. Plus a lot of the game's skills seem to be designed less as prerequisites to being able to do certain things at all, and more as bonuses (or the eliminations of penalties) to certain categories of actions - so presumably the OSR ideal of "letting you try anything" - allowing players to try and do anything in-game they could try to do in a similar real life situation - remains intact. Still, WFRP is the game that most directly inspired this post, so I used it as an example. Feel free to let me know in the comments how unforgivable of a sin this is.

What bugs me in particular is when a skill list is extremely granular, to the point of separating out skills that could easily be lumped together. It strikes me as nitpicky, overly concerned with a level of detail that isn't fruitful for creating fun gameplay. It clutters up character sheets and makes character creation and advancement more complicated, and can make one feel obligated to spend "skill points" or what-have-you on stuff that may be necessary, but isn't cool or fun. I prefer "stealth" over "hide" and "move silently", "perception" over "spot" and "listen", "athletics" or "acrobatics" over "balance" and "jump" and "climb" and "tumble".

Friday, May 24, 2019

My Game of Thrones Season 8 Hot Take

Sure, it was a poorly-written conclusion for Game of Thrones.

But on the bright side, it was a pretty damn good adaptation of Drakengard.

Giant Cosmic Horror Babies would have been preferable to what actually happened in the second half of the last episode.
P.S. THIS is as far back as I could trace this picture.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

We've Got No Class v2.5 - PDF Download

Behold: the newest version of my "classless" character creation and advancement system for Lamentations of the Flame Princess!
CLICK HERE (or on the picture below) to view or download the PDF.

This is mostly a combination/reorganization of versions 2.0, 2.1, and 2.2 into one document. I did scribble in some extra notes; I wanted it to have a very DIY look, like something idly scribbled on during class. My wife Jessica was kind enough to illustrate the project. I'm very pleased with the end result.

I've been continually playtesting these rules in my current campaign, which I run more-or-less weekly. Feedback has been positive so far. I think the highest total level of any PC at this point is 5. There have been at least five PC deaths, so even if these rules make characters more powerful at low levels, they sure don't make them invincible.

A quick note on NPCs: I still use the default Saving Throw tables from Rules & Magic for NPCs, and I generally treat NPCs with class levels as only having their normal abilities, rather than those granted to characters created with these house rules. (Two exceptions: NPCs also use the new magic system from Vaginas Are Magic, and they use the skill list from my house rules.) I prefer to keep things simple, so I don't see the point of reworking every NPC in my game. I consider this to be a PC-only supplement, more-or-less. Naturally, you can do as you wish in your own campaign. I myself can't promise that I'll never make exceptions.

I wonder what my players will see
in the final days.

Update on 11/15/2019: Upgrade Patch 2.6 is available HERE. The PDF itself has not been updated yet, but the addition is simple enough that you can just scribble it in if you want. That's what I did. :P

Monday, April 29, 2019

XP Limits > Level Limits

When it comes to D&D and OSR games, it seems like a lot of referees like to put level limits on the PCs in their campaigns. Many rulebooks might provide for theoretically infinite character leveling, but beyond a certain point the game may begin to change in ways undesirable to the referee or other players. It could be an issue of challenge, of game balance, of changing mood, of world-building, or whatever. And of course, some games already have level limits by default.

Okay, hold that thought.

One aspect of old-school D&D/OSR game design which took a while to grow on me was the deliberate lack of a unified experience table for all classes. It still hasn't entirely grown on me, in all honesty, but I've come to appreciate it as a method of creating class balance, even if it isn't my preferred method. Cavegirl talks about this in more depth, and with more eloquence, over at her blog HERE and HERE, using LotFP as her example. This, in turn, was based on an excellent project at Breeyark! using Original and Basic D&D.

Sure, Class A might not be as tough/well-rounded/capable as Class B when they're both at, say, Level 3. But they don't level up at the same rate, so in all likelihood, they won't be at Level 3 at the same time. Given the same amount of experience points, Class A might be at Level 4 or 5 when Class B is at Level 3, so it doesn't entirely make sense to compare them at the "same level." One of the advantages of Class A is that it levels up faster, so one could argue that, insofar as the different classes are "competing" to be attractive options for players, Classes A and B should be compared at the same experience point total, not the same experience level.*

Returning to that thought from earlier, doesn't it make more sense to put an Experience Point Limit on one's campaign, rather than a Level Limit? That way, the rate of advancement for each class continues to matter into the endgame, and "weaker" classes with faster advancement rates are not disproportionately weakened when the limit is reached.

Let's look at Lamentations of the Flame Princess, for example. Here are six possible XP limits that I find rather sensible, and the corresponding level limit for each class in Rules & Magic.

288,000 XP
Cleric 9, Fighter 9, Magic-User 9, Specialist 10, Dwarf 9, Elf 8, Halfling 9
(This is the minimum needed to get all but the Elf to "name level," although that doesn't really exist in LotFP.)

480,000 XP
Cleric 11, Fighter 10, Magic-User 10, Specialist 12, Dwarf 10, Elf 9, Halfling 10
(This is my second-favorite choice. I don't personally prefer to set the limit any lower than this.)

784,000 XP
Cleric 14, Fighter 13, Magic-User 12, Specialist 15, Dwarf 12, Elf 11, Halfling 13
(This is my #1 pick right now. I guess you could call this my "comfort zone.")

1,056,000 XP
Cleric 16, Fighter 15, Magic-User 14, Specialist 18, Dwarf 14, Elf 12, Halfling 15
(In LotFP, this is the closest I could get to both the limits in the Dave Cook D&D Expert Set and the minimum XP needed for a level 14 Magic-User in the Rules Cyclopedia.)

1,152,000 XP
Cleric 17, Fighter 16, Magic-User 15, Specialist 19, Dwarf 15, Elf 13, Halfling 16
(This is the minimum needed for the Magic-User to get an eighth-level spell slot, and for the Elf to get 6 points in Search.)

1,296,000 XP
Cleric 18, Fighter 17, Magic-User 16, Specialist 20, Dwarf 16, Elf 13, Halfling 17
(This is my third-favorite choice. As far as I'm concerned, if you put the limit any higher than this in LotFP, you might as well have no limit at all.)

In LotFP, I would say this gives a bit of extra edge to the cleric and specialist, and helps the magic-user get out from under the elf's shadow. It also helps each class gain access to many of their major milestone features (better saving throws, new spell levels, skill increases) even when they come at different levels, without discarding level limits altogether. If you're not going to have a unified experience table, you might as well get the most from that choice, right?

What do you think? Any disadvantages to this method I've overlooked? Or any other advantages to point out, for that matter?

*This is also relevant if you're joining a campaign in progress and creating a character above first level to match the party's experience. Or if you're creating a group of pre-gens that are intended to be roughly equivalent in power or ability. After all, old D&D modules seems to be teeming with examples of "balanced" parties in which the characters are all at different levels. Instead of going by the average level of a party, it might be fairer to look at the average number of experience points.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

B1: In Search of the Unknown - Overclocked Remix

A friend ran this classic adventure for me quite a while ago, and while we had a great time, my fellow players and I had one major complaint: it didn't seem like there was anywhere near enough treasure to justify the danger and difficulty of this dungeon for a bunch of desperate first-level folks. The DM admitted that he had placed more than the recommended amount of treasure, but whether through bad luck, poor decisions, or the adventure just being stingy, we didn't see much of it. And that's generally okay; failure is often incredibly fun in D&D. But I asked the DM if he thought we were actually doing anything wrong or foolish, on a tactical or decision-making level, and in his opinion we were mostly playing intelligently.

I would just chalk our experience up to bad luck, but I seem to remember seeing others complain online about B1 being stingy as well, and when I later saw for myself just how little experience was available in a dungeon that felt like a meat grinder, I felt pretty justified in thinking Quasqueton isn't actually worth the time and risk for your average low-level PC.

I've looked up a bunch of advice, and I've asked a bunch of people about the best methods for stocking a dungeon with a fair and appropriate amount of treasure, and mostly what I got was along the lines of "eh, just wing it," "it's an art and not a science," "I'll tell you as soon as I can figure it out," "nobody knows, kid," or "have you tried just grabbing a fistful of dice and chucking them at your map?" Old-school D&D texts themselves, including the advice given in B1, all seem to gravitate toward exercising restraint.

Restraint is overrated. Let's pack in the monsters, and go full "Monty Haul" with the treasure.

Treasures in italics replace those that were included directly in the room descriptions, rather than those intended for placement by the DM.

Room 1: Alcoves
Monster - None.
Treasure - 25 gp in belt pouch of Body #1, 10 gp in purse on Body #2.

Room 2: Kitchen
Monster - 4 Orcs tossing the room over in the hope of finding food or treasure.
Treasure - None.

Room 3: Dining Room
Monster - None.
Treasure - None.

Room 4: Lounge
Monster - 5 Kobolds enjoying a "show." They seem to be under the impression that the statue is a real person, singing and dancing on stage, and that their empty mugs are actually full of potent ale. Their "drunken" rowdiness does not impair them in combat, and they will not take kindly to the lovely performer being "interrupted."
Treasure - The statue is worth 25,000 gp. Stuck to the bottom of the eastern bench with anachronistic chewing gum are 20 gp.

Room 5: Wizard's Chamber
Monster -  None.
Treasure - The baseboard and sideboards are worth 500 gp each, and the headboard is worth 2,500 gp. The pitcher is worth 75 gp. The mugs are worth 25 gp each. The locked nightstand drawer contains a crystal goblet worth 75 gp.

Room 6: Closet
Monster - 6 Skeletons poised to attack as soon as the door opens. That's all they do, really.
Treasure - One garment is worth 75 gp. Book #3 is worth 250 gp. Among the stack of papers is a scroll of 2 Cure Light Wounds spells.

Room 7: Wizard's Annex
Monster - None.
Treasure - None.

Room 8: Wizard's Workroom
Monster - There is a 50/50 chance that 2 Zombies are either milling about this room or in Room 9.
Treasure - Between the overturned table and the wall, a dagger lies on the floor. It has a jeweled handle, bearing 2 onyxes worth 250 gp each.

Room 9: Wizard's Laboratory
Monster - There is a 50/50 chance that 2 Zombies are either milling about this room or in Room 8.
Treasure - Affixed to the inside of the coffin lid is a silver mirror worth 450 gp.

Room 10: Storeroom
Monster - 7 Giant Rats are gnawing on the barrels, trying to reach their contents.
Treasure - At the north end of the room is a locked treasure chest containing 462 gp and 4 sp.

Room 11: Supply Room
Monster - 2 Ghouls quietly gnawing on a dead Dwarf.
Treasure - Between the row of doors and the wall, a Wand of Mending (10 charges) lies forgotten on the floor.

Room 12: Library
Monster - 4 Gnolls building a strange shrine out of torn paper on an oak table.
Treasure - The rack on the east wall contains a scroll of 1 Sleep spell.

Room 13: Implement Room
Monster - None.
Treasure - Under the coil of heavy chain is a locked wooden box containing 175 gp.

Room 14: Auxiliary Room
Monster - None.
Treasure - Buried in the rubble is an intact potion of Invisibility (2 doses, 2 hours duration each).

Room 15: Teleportation Room
Monster - None.
Treasure - None.

Room 16: Teleportation Room
Monster - None.
Treasure - None.

Room 17: Char Storage Cellar
Monster - None.
Treasure - Buried in the fuel pile is a silver-and-gold bracelet worth 80 gp.

Room 18: Smithy
Monster - 4 Giant Centipedes lurk in the northeast end of the room. The door to Room 19 is open, as the Centipedes came here from the lower level.
Treasure - Hanging on the wall near the blacksmith's tools is a set of Chainmail +1. Anyone approaching it without first looking into the northeast end of the room has a chance of being surprised by the Centipedes.

Room 19: Access Room
Monster - None.
Treasure - None.

Room 20: Dead End Room
Monster - 6 Goblins are lost in the winding corridor. If they hear the Shriekers in Room 22, this will help them get their bearings, and they will immediately head to Room 22.
Treasure - None.

Room 21: Meeting Room
Monster - 8 Goblins are holding a silent auction in this room, bidding with bags of teeth for unusual lumps. If they hear the Shriekers in Room 22, they will drop everything to go investigate as a group.
Treasure - The Goblin running the auction from the stage wears a gold ring worth 50 gp.

Room 22: Garden Room
Monster - 4 Shriekers. If you sit quietly in the dark without startling them, you can just barely hear them "breathing" or "whistling." The first two are on the semicircular stone formation at the west end of the room. The third waits on a similar formation at the north end. The fourth is at the bottom of the southern pit. If a source of light comes within 30' of a Shrieker (or 10' of the one in the pit, horizontally speaking), it will shriek for d3 rounds. Touching one also makes it shriek. After shrieking, a Shrieker must inhale for the same number of rounds it spent shrieking before it can do so again. The sound will definitely bring the Goblins running from Rooms 20 and 21, and each round of shrieking also triggers a 50% chance of a random encounter.
Treasure - At the bottom of the northern pit, a Ring of Protection +1 lies nestled among the fruiting bodies.

Room 23: Storage Room
Monster - None.
Treasure - A pouch containing 25 gp lies on the woodworking table.

Room 24: Misstress' Chamber
Monster - None.
Treasure - The comb is worth 25 gp. The dish contains 5 gp and 6 sp. The tapestry is worth 200 gp. Coins are sewn into the green canopy in the shapes of the zodiac, totaling 245 gp.

Room 25: Rogahn's Chamber
Monster - None.
Treasure - The tapestries are worth 500 gp each. The cabinet is topped with a display case containing a Mace +1. The case is locked, but it is made of glass that can be shattered easily enough, albeit with enough noise to trigger a random encounter check.

Room 26: Trophy Room
Monster - 7 Orcs, temporarily split off from the group in Room 27.
Treasure - Above the pair of crossed swords is a Shield +1.

Room 27: Throne Room
Monster - 7 Orcs, cautiously exploring the dungeon.
Treasure - The Orcs carry 140 gp among them, most of which they have collected while exploring the dungeon.

Room 28: Worship Area
Monster - Animated Idol: AC as Plate, HD 4, HP 18, Move 60'/20', ML 12, 1 attack for 1d10 damage.
Removing any of the coins from the pit (see below) triggers the Idol to animate, break free from the wall, and attack the thief. Returning all of the same exact coins to the pit will cause the Idol to return to its original spot and fuse seamlessly with the wall again - otherwise, only the thief's death will sate its wrath, after which it will try to return the coins to the pit. The Idol will also attack others in self-defense, provided it has been animated by the theft of a coin first. The Idol will not leave the dungeon under its own power, but it can sense the location of all coins stolen from the pit at all times.
Treasure - At the bottom of the sacrificial pit are 820 gp, scattered among the ashes.

Room 29: Captain's Chamber
Monster - 4 Bandits, hiding from the Orcs.
Treasure - The stoneware crock contains 25 gp. The plaque is worth 125 gp.

Room 30: Access Room
Monster - None.
Treasure - None.

Room 31: Room of Pools
Monster - None.
Treasure - The key in Pool B unlocks the glass display case in Room 25.

Room 32: Advisor's Chamber
Monster - None.
Treasure - The painting is worth 1,500 gp. Result #3 on the "contents of the drawer" table becomes 50-500 gp, Result #4 is worth 250 gp, and Result #5 is worth 100 gp.

Room 33: Barracks
Monster - None.
Treasure - Thrust through a table in the southwest end of the room is a Spear +2.

Room 34: Armory
Monster - 5 Hobgoblins holding an elaborate forced wedding ceremony between a captured Dwarf and one of the chests in the southwest corner, which they refer to as "Sally." They seem to think the whistling wind is the music of a pipe organ.
Treasure - None.

Room 35: Guest Chamber
Monster - 5 Dwarfs in the southernmost room, arguing in low voices about whether they should go home empty-handed or keep looking for treasure. They lost one companion to the Ghouls in Room 11, and another was captured by the Hobgoblins in Room 34.
Treasure - In the northernmost room, a silver-and-onyx medallion worth 500 gp is tucked into the pillowcase on the bed.

Room 36: Utility Room
Monster - None.
Treasure - None.

Room 37: Recreation Room
Monster - 9 Kobolds working out with Rogahn's gym equipment.
Treasure - Among the iron bars is a gold bar worth 75 gp.

Room 38: Access Room
Monster - None.
Treasure - None.

Room 39: Museum
Monster - Carrion Crawler "licking" at a fresco on the north wall.
Treasure - Set into the hilt of the curved sword is a pearl worth 500 gp.

Room 40: Secret Cavern
Monster - None.
Treasure - The skeleton of a one-eyed humanoid rests against the south wall. Its eye socket holds a peridot worth 2,500 gp.

Room 41: Cavern
Monster - None.
Treasure - None.

Room 42: Webbed Cavern
Monster - A Giant Black Widow Spider hides in the web near the ceiling.
Treasure - Caught in a nest of webbing in the southwest part of the cavern are 4 gold rods, each worth 150 gp.

Room 43: Cavern
Monster - None.
Treasure - Dropped long ago, a statuette worth 575 gp lies half-buried in the mud.

Room 44: Cavern
Monster - Giant Crab Spider waiting in ambush.
Treasure - None.

Room 45: Cavern of the Mystical Stone
Monster - None.
Treasure - Result #14 on the "chip's magical properties" table becomes a pearl worth 2,500 gp.

Room 46: Sunken Cavern
Monster - None.
Treasure - Strewn on the floor are the chewed bones of several people and 600 gp.

Room 47: Cavern
Monster - None.
Treasure - Beneath a pile of bones is a potion of Haste (2 doses, 10 rounds duration each) in a filthy-but-intact bottle.

Room 48: Arena Cavern
Monster - Ochre Jelly absorbing a dead Troglodyte near the middle of the arena.
Treasure - An onyx statue worth 1,000 gp squats on a short pillar in the middle of the arena.

Room 49: Phosphorescent Cave
Monster - 2 Giant Crab Spiders eating dead bats they caught in Room 53.
Treasure - None.

Room 50: Water Pit
Monster - 2 Troglodytes guarding a clutch of eggs in the water. Very aggressive and overprotective, like a mama bear.
Treasure - None.

Room 51: Side Cavern
Monster - 2 Troglodytes carefully butchering the carcass of a carrion crawler. 50% chance one of them wields a tentacle like a paralyzing whip - rolling a 5 or less on an attack roll means the Troglodyte must make a saving throw or paralyze itself.
Treasure - Sticking out of the eastern wall are 8 agates worth 50 gp each.

Room 52: Raised Cavern
Monster - None.
Treasure - Sticking out of the eastern wall are 4 garnets worth 500 gp each.

Room 53: Grand Cavern of the Bats
Monster - None.
Treasure - None.

Room 54: Treasure Cave
Monster - None.
Treasure - Scattered on the floor are 5d20+50 gp. One of the locked chests contains 3,100 gp.

Room 55: Exit Cave
Monster - Sickly, Wounded Green Dragon: AC as Plate +2, HD 8, HP 30, Move 90'/30', ML 7, 3 attacks (2 Claws for 1d6 damage each, plus 1 Bite for 3d8 damage) or Breath Weapon (50'x40' cloud of toxic gas doing damage equal to the Dragon's current HP).
The Dragon is currently too weak to fly, and there is a 50% chance of catching it sleeping while it hunkers down in this cave to heal. It does not speak any current human languages and does not have any spells memorized at the moment, although it could theoretically talk and memorize spells.
The Dragon's presence should hopefully serve as a clue that there is another entrance to the dungeon nearby. Forget that stuff about the secret exit being one-way; once it is discovered, the players should be able to use it to enter the dungeon in the future, albeit with difficulty due to thicker vegetation and harsher terrain on this side of the complex. Don't let the players use this entrance until they discover it, though!
Treasure - The Dragon sleeps on a small pile of 5,000 gp. Next to this pile is the corpse of a would-be dragon slayer, still bearing a set of Plate Armor +1, a Battle Axe +1, and a Dagger +1.

Room 56: Cavern of the Statue
Monster - 5 Stirges nesting on the ceiling above the statue. They have a chance to surprise anyone not looking at the ceiling.
Treasure - None.

Note on Random Encounters - If any party members are above Level 1 in experience, or if the party includes more than 6 characters above Level 0, I think it would be in the proper spirit of this project to include the maximum number of opponents possible in each random encounter.

Note on Fixed Encounters - I did not list any monsters that were "pre-placed" in the module, so as to avoid spoilers for those who have not read or played it yet. You can safely assume they are still there.

Pre-placed treasures I altered: Between 8,445 and 11,540 gp, plus 6 sp
Treasures I placed: 19,892 gp and 4 sp
Grand Total: Between 28,338 and 31,433 gp
*Not counting magic items. Also not counting the statue in Room 4, because it is unlikely to be taken.

In Search of the Unknown seems to be ideally suited for a party of 6 PCs, based on the "Availability of Non-Player Characters" table near the end of the module. If things go really well, a party of 6 could theoretically make it to Level 3 and well on their way to Level 4 if they clear this thing out thoroughly, assuming my math isn't too far off. But, you know...the best laid plans of giant rats and fighting men, and all that...

I might actually try running this soon. If I do, I imagine I'll post a follow-up. In the meantime, I'd love to hear some advice, opinions, etc. about the best ways to stock and run B1. Do you think the adventure was too stingy as written? Are the potential rewards commensurate to the challenge? Does that even matter? (I can hear the classic OSR chant of "screw balance!" echoing in the distance.) Did I fundamentally misunderstand something about the module and make myself look stupid in front of the internet? Are crab spiders cooler than giant ticks? G+ is dead, so you might as well talk about D&D here, right?

P.S. THIS would make for an excellent alternative to the encounter I put in Room 55.