Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Holmes Basic D&D Rulebook Part 12 - Summaries & Skeletons

PROBABLY NOT SAFE FOR WORK BECAUSE OF HARPY NIPPLES. WHICH IS DUMB.

PART 12 OF 12

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11

Let's start my wrap-up by looking at the art I haven't mentioned yet.

Image from HERE

This is the TSR logo on my copy of the book. He's like the Platonic ideal of a wizard. He's even got the Fantasia hat with all the cute little stars on it. I wonder how this dude would fare in a knife fight.

Image from HERE

Too bad there aren't any stats for lizard men or giant riding lizards in Holmes Basic, because this is a cool image. EDIT: I forgot that there are lizard men in the book. My bad! There are no giant lizards for riding in the book, however. Good thing it's so easy to create new stuff (or borrow it from elsewhere) in the classic versions of D&D. Something about the way the characters are surveying the land gives me a sense that there's this great big fantasy world out there, just waiting to be seen.

Image from HERE

How nice of that fighting man to help that Minotaur with his cardio. Much like yours truly, it looks like he could use it. Also, the weapons and armor on display are pretty stylish. I like the Greek mythology vibe going on here.

Image from HERE

I think these are meant to be Dwarves,. Very Viking/Anglo-Saxon. The silhouetted, cartoony face of the guy in the middle reminds me vaguely of an Adventure Time character, although I'm not sure which one. The variety of equipment is nice. They look like they're holding their weapons awkwardly, though. I think the guy on the left is using his ax to point out some toilet paper stuck to the shoe of a friend out of frame.

Image from HERE

I think this is my favorite piece of art in the book.

Image from HERE

Nipples? In a game for people as young as 12? It's more likely than you think. (It's only because of annoying prudes that this is even worth pointing out.) Also, these harpies are terrifying. Those poor adventurers are doomed.

Image from HERE

Git gud, chump. Hope you brought plenty of Estus.

Image from HERE

I usually think of a manticore as an enraged, flesh-rending murder-beast, but the look on this one's face is more like that of an inquisitive, slightly perturbed who-farted-beast. The tail looks appropriately pokey, though.

Image from HERE

Are those skeletons frowning? I didn't know a skeleton could frown. They must be sad because all the good skeleton music wasn't out yet in the 1970s.

Image from HERE

I think I had a toy sword and scabbard that looked more or less like this when I was a kid. They're probably still in a box in my parents' basement, like the toy shotgun they used in Doom.

Image from HERE

I never understood the candle-on-a-skull thing. Wouldn't a regular candle work way better? I like how the magic wand looks like the plastic toy wand I had as a kid (like the sword above), except with a little knob on one end. This stuff must belong to an EVIL wizard, since there's a bottle of poison just sitting out in the open.

Image from HERE

Open the tomb, face skeletal doom. That's just the way the world works.

I'm very fond of the art in Holmes Basic. It sets the mood fantastically, and I kind of wish there was more of it, although I'm not sure where they could have fit any more art in such a slim volume.

Overall, what else was I especially fond of?
  • This book can work as a very good intro to either OD&D or later editions of Basic D&D, it can probably work fairly well as an intro to AD&D (since this is what the book actually claims to be intended for), and with a little work it can even be paired with David Cook's Expert Set (or so I've heard) or simply used on its own (and expanded with house rules if desired).
  • The rules don't seem to care too much about really fiddly details like whether or not spells can be cast one-handed or while holding an item. I like this simplicity, since I think it gives players more room for creative solutions to their problems and prevents them from having to constantly second-guess whether or not they can actually do whatever simple action seems appropriate because the DM keeps citing some obscure rule buried in the book.
  • The encumbrance rules are similarly fast and loose in a lot of ways, but the few restrictions that are in place seem reasonable. I like the idea of specifying exactly how your character is carrying each piece of gear, provided this doesn't bog the game down too much and completely get in the way of the aforementioned lack of fiddly details.
  • While exploring, characters move really quickly, but have to stop and rest every so often. It's an interesting dynamic that might be worth trying.
  • The phrase "for adults 12 years and up" sends a good message about who can play and how they should conduct themselves while playing. Don't be a jerk, use your imagination, and play intelligently, and you'll probably be fine and have fun whether you're a kid or a grownup.
  • House rules and common sense rulings are encouraged.
  • Monsters are presented as often having personalities and motivations, and aren't always mindless killers.
  • Mechanically speaking, fighting women seem to be treated the same as fighting men.
  • The rules for swapping ability scores at character creation are intriguing, if a bit complicated. I like this approach more than just being stuck with exactly what you roll, and it's nice that you can still have a chance of getting decent ability scores for the class of your choice when things don't turn out as you'd hoped at first.
  • Elves are basically multi-class fighting men and magic-users at the same time, and don't have to switch between classes or chose one class or the other for a specific outing (as some have interpreted the rules in OD&D). It seems simpler and less annoying this way, and the advantages of being a multi-class character are presumably offset by the increased XP needed per level.
  • Players are encouraged to make up new classes and races, as long as they start out fairly week and get stronger over time by acquiring XP.
  • Dr. Holmes is a great writer. He generally keeps things helpful and concise while also adding in some nice little jokes and bits of flavor. The various examples of play are especially nice.
  • I don't really like alignment in D&D, but as far as alignment systems go, I like this one more than the AD&D version because it cuts out the alignments that bug me the most.
  • Fighting men are not only good at fighting, but carrying heavy loads as well.
  • To quote myself, "I like the idea that an Open Door check isn't about whether or not a PC can open a stuck door at all, but rather whether or not they can do it quickly and/or quietly."
  • Doors are evil bastards that actively work against the party.
  • The tables for wandering monsters and reaction rolls strike me as well-crafted.
  • The DM is encouraged to balance encounters to the skill and capabilities of the party.
  • If monsters are chasing the party, they can be distracted or deterred by dropped food, treasure, or burning oil.
  • The tables are all easy to read and compact. They are also repeated at the end of the book.
  • PCs can draw weapons quickly as long as they're not buried in a backpack or something.
  • Scrolls are cheap and easy to make. Magic-users don't seem so puny when they're packing arsenals of scrolls.
  • There are rules for magic-users to create new spells.
  • The spell list includes a ton of cool stuff despite being so small.
  • If you hit 0 HP, you're dead. No "bleeding out" rules here. Easy to remember and appropriately brutal.
  • The words "Melee is the most exciting part of the game" appear within, giving me plenty of ammo for silly internet debates.
  • Flaming oil is awesome.
  • Ranged attacks have a +1 bonus to hit at short range and a -1 to hit at long range. I prefer this to the approach I've seen in other D&D-type games, which is to give no bonus at short range and increasing penalties at medium and long ranges. It's easier to remember and it makes medium range feel like the "proper" range for distance-based weapons while short range is more like point-blank range in that it's easier to hit a close target than usual (provided that target isn't right on top of you and swinging a sword).
  • While underground, archers can't attack at the long range increment unless the ceiling is high.
  • The rules for parrying are neat.
  • Withdrawing from melee gives your opponent a free swing at you.
  • Skeletons don't take less damage from edged or piercing weapons. It's not like a sword is incapable of inflicting blunt force trauma, you know?
  • The monster list is full of awesome creatures.
  • There is good advice for scaling down monsters.
  • As John Wilson pointed out in the comment section for Part 9, the more powerful monsters that are provided can provide a great challenge for large groups of PCs who cut through lesser enemies with ease.
  • You can identify a potion by taking a little sip.
  • Protection scrolls can be used by anyone.
  • The implication that reading a scroll activates it lends itself to some creative uses for scrolls beyond the usual ones.
  • The Ring of Regeneration is super powerful.
  • The Ring of Contrariness is hilarious.
  • Wands can be used in melee.
  • "Wands that have projectiles or rays are considered to do six 6-sided dice of damage and to have 100 charges or projectiles." Wow!
  • There's a good variety of magic items in general.
  • There are consequences for using your hirelings as guinea pigs to test out magic items.
  • The advice for stocking the dungeon is very helpful.
  • The sample dungeon is cool, and I want to run it.
  • All this and more is packed into 48 pages.
In the interest of fairness, here are a few things I didn't care for in Holmes Basic:
  • The default, mechanical uses of the ability scores aren't exactly created equal (then again, when are they?), and I'm not a big fan of the way they seem to be more useful for DM fiat than more predictable advantages and disadvantages.
  • Human fighting men seem a bit sucky compared to the other classes.
  • The book seems to have some weird prejudice against the thief class. Ditto with poison.
  • All monsters can see in the dark. I'm fine with most of them having this ability, but there are some that probably shouldn't have it.
  • Less XP is rewarded for defeating enemies below your level, which feels like overkill to me.
  • The book seems to waffle on the topic of conflict between players, and I don't like the advice to decrease the XP award for sneaking off with the party's treasure while the others are left to die. I think there are better ways to handle that situation.
  • I'm not too fond of limiting the use of thief skills to one try per situation, but I don't hate the idea either.
  • I don't like the way the rules determine what spells a magic-user knows and what spells can be learned in the future.
  • I think the chance of failure when researching a new spell is too high.
  • The need for the "Read Magic" spell is crappy.
  • Fighting men don't get a bonus to hit at levels 1 to 3.
  • The rules regarding shooting into melee are...confusing.
  • Some magic weapons only give you a bonus to hit, while others also give you the same bonus to hit and to damage. I don't see the point in creating this difference.
  • That bit about daggers hitting twice per round and large weapons only hitting once every other round should probably be ignored.
  • A lot of weapons (especially crossbows) don't seem too useful when all weapons do 1d6 damage.
  • I think the game would be better off if it either stuck closely to the idea that almost all attacks and HD are d6-based, or discarded the idea completely and used variable weapon damage. The hybrid approach taken by Holmes Basic seems to me like the worst of both worlds.
  • Only being able to level up every 6 to 12 adventures (not counting low-treasure expeditions) might be a bit harsh, especially if the players have busy or unpredictable schedules.
Overall, I enjoyed the heck out of this book, and would definitely recommend at least checking it out if you get the chance and you're interested in old-school D&D. I'd give the Holmes Basic D&D Rulebook an underground domed city accessible via giant stone skull out of 10.

After reading through this book, I'm left with a major question: how do I personally want to use it at the table? Here's the idea I'm leaning toward at the moment. The party starts out on the Dungeon Moon from Papers & Pencils (which I've mentioned before) using the Holmes Basic rules. If they make it past the third level of experience and/or escape the Dungeon Moon, we start to transition into OD&D rules. I figure this is a good fit since Holmes Basic seems in many ways like a simplified and clarified version of the rules from the three Little Brown Books and some bits from Supplement I. Also, I've really been wanting to try out an OD&D game, but as I've mentioned before, the original booklets can be a little intimidating for beginners like me. Anyway, if the party makes it to the planet below, the game becomes a West Marches-style wilderness hexcrawl using the board from Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival. In short, I think I would mash together my OD&D and Holmes Basic ideas from this post, along with the Dungeon Moon concept, adding in more ideas if they seem appropriate, of course.

I guess that wraps up my overview. If you have any thoughts you'd like to share about Holmes Basic or anything related, please feel free to leave a comment. Until next time, keep your wand of petrifaction close at hand, by Crom!

Friday, July 22, 2016

100 Posts and Quiz Results

If I'm not mistaken, my last post was number 100 on this blog.* I started it on January 1 of this year, and I already feel like I've accomplished a lot in terms of getting into the habit of writing regularly and meeting awesome people in the OSR. I'm thankful for the people who read and comment on my posts, and who inspire me to be more creative and thoughtful.

My current campaign, Lamentations of the Fallen Lords, has been running for about a year now. For years I wanted to get back into playing tabletop RPGs, and now that I'm doing it I really have to say that if you're thinking about starting, it might be wise to just take what time you can, find some people (online if not in person) willing to give it a shot, and get started. Wishing and waiting are less rewarding than doing. I need to apply that advice to more aspects of my life than just playing games!

I have some ideas for adventures and other things I should get writing. I'd like to publish things if I can, and once all the hard work of creating something is done, it seems like publishing it is pretty easy to do in the OSR. The community certainly seems encouraging and receptive. But I should actually get started before worrying about the finish line, right?

One idea my friends seem to enjoy is an adventure idea I've talked about on and off, which they said they'd be glad to help me with. It's partly a parody of James Raggi's style of adventure writing (and the overblown, exaggerated straw man version of his writing that some people seem to think he engages in), and partly a riff on things like Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess which turn family-friendly material into nightmare fuel. My tentative title is Death Frosting Doom. Let's hope I get off my ass and commit to making this, now that I've announced it to the world.

One last thing. Inspired by this post at Mage of the Striped Tower, I took one of those online quizzes to see "What D&D Character Am I?" While I thought the choice of answers was a little restrictive on some questions and I'm not sure that I'd give all of the same answers if I took the quiz again, I think the results are amusing. Here's what I got:

Neutral Good Human Wizard (3rd Level)
Ability Scores:
Strength- 10
Dexterity- 12
Constitution- 10
Intelligence- 16
Wisdom- 12
Charisma- 15


Detailed Results:

Alignment:
Lawful Good ----- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (22)
Neutral Good ---- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (26)
Chaotic Good ---- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (18)
Lawful Neutral -- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (20)
True Neutral ---- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (24)
Chaotic Neutral - XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (16)
Lawful Evil ----- XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Neutral Evil ---- XXXXXXXXXXXXXX (14)
Chaotic Evil ---- XXXXXX (6)

Law & Chaos:
Law ----- XXXXXXXX (8)
Neutral - XXXXXXXXXXXX (12)
Chaos --- XXXX (4)

Good & Evil:
Good ---- XXXXXXXXXXXXXX (14)
Neutral - XXXXXXXXXXXX (12)
Evil ---- XX (2)

Race:
Human ---- XXXXXXXXXXXXX (13)
Dwarf ---- XXXXXXXXXXXX (12)
Elf ------ XXXXXXXXXXXX (12)
Gnome ---- XXXXXXXX (8)
Halfling - XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Half-Elf - XXXXXXXX (8)
Half-Orc - (0)

Class:
Barbarian - XXXXXX (6)
Bard ------ XXXXXXXXXXXX (12)
Cleric ---- XXXXXXXXXXXX (12)
Druid ----- XX (2)
Fighter --- XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Monk ------ XXXXXXXX (8)
Paladin --- XXXXXXXXXX (10)
Ranger ---- XXXXXXXX (8)
Rogue ----- XXXXXXXXXXXX (12)
Sorcerer -- XXXXXXXXXXXX (12)
Wizard ---- XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX (18) 


Not bad. I'd play that character. I do have to wonder if your character's level is determined by how confident (i.e. boastful) your answers are. Maybe I need to learn to be more assertive, start throwing around more fireballs and less charm spells, in order to get that sweet, sweet XP. But hey, I'm a lover, not a FIGHTER.

*EDIT: Actually, it looks like my next post is number 100. Not sure how I screwed that up. Oh well.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ananke - Hacking the Water Clock in Death Frost Doom

When I was preparing to run Death Frost Doom recently, I referenced this blog post over at Lamentations of the Blood Countess constantly. There are tons of great ideas here compiled from various blogs, and it's super handy to have the links all in one place. However, one idea I was looking forward to using was to replace the default powers of the water clock with the ability to summon the Chrono-Crone, and when I tried to follow the link to the appropriate post at Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque, it said the post didn't exist. I don't know what happened to it, but it sucks that I might not be able to read it again, since I remember it being really good.

So I made my own riff on the Chrono-Crone idea. Here it is.

If you move any of the hands on the water clock, time stops for everyone except those in the cabin. Your surroundings darken, the outside world seems to vanish into all-consuming darkness, and from a glowing blue-white doorway that wasn't there before (and yet was always there) emerges Ananke, Queen of Inexorable Dust. She is a gaunt, transparent, gauze-like humanoid figure with a voice that simultaneously reminds one of the whispering of a moth's wings and the roar of an angry ocean of liquid time. She appears powdery or blurry, and seems to vibrate in place so that you cannot make out any facial features, or much of any features, really. She will ask you and anyone else in the cabin, one by one, if you want to travel through time, and if so, to when.

If you say no, Ananke will be displeased that you have wasted her time, for even though she has an infinite amount of it, she values every instant. You will feel this displeasure in the form of a wave of rapid and inconsistent aging across your body. You will take half of your current HP in damage and suddenly become very hungry, thirsty, and tired. You must also make a Save vs. Magic; failure means you lose 2,000 experience points and magically age by 1d10 years. EDIT: In the comments below, Yora convinced me to change this to 1d10+10 years so the effect would be more noticeable, important, and dramatic. It's Death Frost Doom, so there's little reason to hold back.

If you say yes, Ananke will name a price. It will be something that will hurt you a great deal. Here are some examples:

  1. Every magic item you own.
  2. The last 1d4 years of your memory.
  3. The life of a loved one.
  4. The ability to sense the passage of time.
  5. Gaining an allergy to silver and gold.
  6. Gaining a severe phobia of something you commonly encounter.
  7. Lowering one or more ability scores to 3.
  8. The ability to sleep soundly.
  9. A language in which you are fluent.
  10. All but one point in one or more skills.
  11. The ability to read.
  12. Half of the XP you will ever gain.
If you agree to the price, Ananke will take it from you in a blur, pulling it from your forehead (even if it is a concept and not a physical thing). Then you will abruptly find yourself on the peak of Deathfrost Mountain in the era of your choosing...assuming Deathfrost Mountain exists at that time. You may simply find yourself in the spot where the peak was or will be.

If you do not agree to the price, see the bit about saying "no" above.

Once everyone has decided, Ananke will leave through the glowing doorway, your surroundings will return to normal (if you are still present in the current era), and the flow of time around you will resumes its normal pace.

No matter what happens, from the point of view of anyone outside of the cabin, nothing happened when you moved the hands of the clock, aside from you vanishing (if you said yes) or suffering the wrath of Ananke (if you said no), with either occurring in the blink of an eye, and the appropriate effects happening to everyone in the cabin simultaneously.

Myth Classes - Elf and Goblin

One player in our Lamentations of the Fallen Lords campaign was turned into an Elf when he ingested a magic mushroom. More recently, a new player asked to play a Goblin. Here's how I'm currently handling these classes, keeping my other Myth classes in mind.

Myth Elf
Treat as the Elf class from the LotFP Rules & Magic book, with the following exceptions:

  • Base Attack Bonus increases like that of a Fighter.
  • Can use the Double-Shot and Beneficial Alcoholism abilities of the Myth Warrior.
I'm considering giving the class a form of skill point advancement similar to that of the Myth Dwarf, but I haven't done that yet.

Myth Goblin
Treat as the Myth Dwarf class, with the following exceptions:

  • The Goblin gets a +1 bonus to Intelligence and Charisma (instead of Constitution and Dexterity). The Charisma bonus comes from the ability to fast-talk people and to appear cute in an ugly sort of way, and certainly not from what most people would consider "beauty" or "comeliness."
  • Gains 2 skill points per level after level 1. Can start with any skills.
  • No bonus to AC when not surprised.
  • Hit Dice are d8.
  • Can add Intelligence modifier to any rolls involving Mad Science. What counts as Mad Science is up to the DM's discretion, but the invention of crazy new devices should probably count.
I'm considering either removing the ability to add one's Constitution bonus to one's HP after level 9, the ability to fire a Dwarven mortar with the attack bonus of a Fighter of the same level, or the ability to double the range increments of throwing weapons. Maybe I'll take away two of these, or even all three, and add in another Goblin-exclusive ability or two in exchange.

I should also note that I've recently decided that Myth Dwarves and Goblins can invent new devices using rules similar to the magic item creation rules in the LotFP Rules & Magic book. The Goblin's bonus to Mad Science-related rolls should hopefully come in handy when inventing things. The Dwarf in the party is currently designing a method of reloading a mortar more quickly, while the Goblin is working on a pair of gloves that can self-ignite for use as flaming weapons.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Briefing for an Online LotFP Game

Hi! If I specifically sent you a link to this post or otherwise asked you individually to read it, that probably means I'm planning to start an online game of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and I think you might be interested in playing. So this post is for you. The game will most likely take place over Skype or some other program that allows real-time voice chat. Hopefully it'll be fun! Well, in one way or another...

In case you're not familiar with it, Lamentations of the Flame Princess is essentially a horror-based/weird fiction-based riff on B/X D&D. I can bore you with most of the details of what that means later if you want to talk about the history of Dungeons & Dragons; anyway, I'm not exactly an expert on the subject. Since it's based on an older version of D&D than you may be familiar with, Lamentations of the Flame Princess has some gameplay tropes you may want to keep in mind. Combat is not always the best path to success, since encounters are not necessarily "balanced" for any particular level or party composition, and combat tends to hit the nasty/brutish/short trifecta. On top of that, most experience point rewards come from acquiring treasure, and the defeat of enemies gives very little XP. Trickery, stealth, and negotiation are often the order of the day, although violence can certainly be useful (and fun, let's be honest) when applied cleverly and carefully. Other important aspects of the game include resource management, solving problems through critical thinking (rather than just appealing to the stats on your character sheet for success, although stats also have their place), player-directed adventures (more sandboxes, less railroads, so to speak), and rolling up lots of backup characters. I'm going to be honest here: LotFP (as the game is commonly abbreviated) tends to be highly lethal. That's part of its charm. Besides, character creation is pretty quick.

As for the atmosphere or tone of LotFP, think D&D, but with more H. P. Lovecraft, more Clive Barker, and more heavy metal.* Two of those three things I'm only indirectly familiar with at the moment, outside of a few examples here and there, but the aesthetics of these subjects are distinctive enough that I think even a cursory knowledge of them should give you a good idea of what LotFP tends to be like. In addition, many LotFP campaigns take place on a strange version of Earth in the 17th century C.E. instead of totally fictional worlds. This isn't a necessary component of the game, but it is a common one. This means that creatures like elves and orcs may not be present or may be so rare as to be virtually unknown to society, and that NPCs may practice real-world religions instead of worshiping Pelor or Gruumsh. A final thing to note: monsters in LotFP tend to be highly individualized, rare, unknown to the world at large, dangerous, and scary. You're more likely to encounter the Medusa than simply a medusa, and when you meet it, it'll probably be all fucked up and wrong.

Now, I'm not going to give you any required reading, because this is a game, played for enjoyment, and requiring you to do homework before playing probably isn't too enjoyable. But, if you're interested, I do have some recommended reading:
  • The current version of the LotFP Rules & Magic book is available (minus the art) as a free PDF, in case you want to take a gander at the system. I think it's pretty simple and rules-light, for the most part.
  • I put together a short list of LotFP actual play reports that are a real joy to read HERE. These might give you a good idea of what the game is like, and they're also worth reading on their own merits.
  • I tend to use a lot of house rules when I run an RPG. HERE is a list of things you might want to ask me to clarify, since the specifics may change from one campaign to another. Also be sure to ask me what classes are available if you have any doubts or you have a specific type of character in mind. Classes are possibly the aspect of the game's basic system I tinker with the most, and I tend to be pretty flexible in what I allow as long as it seems fair.
  • You can see a lot of (NSFW) official LotFP art HERE.
  • You can find some useful random generators related to LotFP HERE. There's another character generator HERE.
Finally, here are some important things to note about the old-school style of D&D generally embraced by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. (I'm directly quoting some great advice given to me by Tommi Brander on Google+ that I think is helpful to keep in mind.)
  1. "Once play starts, the referee is neutral, does not fudge (for or against players), and does not railroad. This allows players to succeed or fail on their own merits, rather than the whim of the referee."
  2. "It's a sandbox world, so you can go wherever. Please warn the referee before going to some unexpected place, so that the referee can prepare the area. There is no referee-made plot to follow, but if certain events are ignored in play, there will be consequences."
  3. "Creative problem solving is a good idea. Players are free to try ideas that are not codified in the rules. Put green slime in a bottle and use it as a missile weapon. Trap enemies inside a house and burn it down. Push someone off a cliff."
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. I hope I'll see you at the game!


*Some people may like to think of it as Call of Cthulhu played with the rules of D&D, although that may not be entirely accurate because LotFP lacks a sanity mechanic, which I believe was deliberately left out by the author because he didn't see the need for it when D&D adventurers tend to act crazy without any directly rule-based provocation. Still, I think it's an apt comparison in some ways. Characters tend to be a bit fragile, adventures sometimes revolve around investigating supernatural mysteries, heroism often has a price, and monsters and magic tend to be awful, dangerous, mind-rending "blasphemies" that demonstrate how little we poor humans can understand the nature of reality and how insignificant we are in the wider universe.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Too Many Books - In Which I Complain About Being Poor

So Gen Con is coming up. James Raggi is going to be there hawking his wares and presumably answering questions with "Because fuck you, that's why" between mouthfuls of Raggi-Os. This presents me with a familiar situation in such unfamiliar surroundings - I want to buy things, and things cost money. My original plan was to pick up these items:

If I'm correct about the prices, that puts me in the neighborhood of $175. It's hard on the wallet, but my wife and I have been saving up for this occasion, and we budgeted for my tendencies toward obsessive collecting. (She has a similar fixation on collecting dice, which comes in handy.) Besides, it's better to buy this stuff in person than order them and tack on the cost of shipping.

Here's the problem, or rather pair of problems:

So now I'm debating on which book(s) from my original list to drop so I can afford one or both of these. The problem with doing that is that if I don't buy these at Gen Con, I might never be able to convince myself to buy them (England Upturn'd and The Cursed Chateau excluded) because I already bought them in PDF and I can't justify the shipping costs to myself. Alas and alack. Too many books.

Anyone want to meet in a tavern and see if there are any rumors floating around regarding dungeons full of loot? Wait...it just occurred to me that dungeon delving for quick cash is kind of like the fantasy equivalent of taking out a payday loan. It's gonna cost ya.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

LotFP Playtest Document 0.1 - Saving Throw vs. Math

In a previous post (Initial Thoughts on LotFP Playtest Document 0.1 Part 2 of 2), I discussed the new saving throw system in the Playtest Document that was recently distributed to Pembrooktonshire Gardening Society members who purchased print products from the LotFP webstore. The new rules in this document are tentative, of course, but it's possible that we'll be seeing this saving throw system or a similar one in the next official edition of the game (not counting reprints of the current Rules & Magic book, of course - the new edition is still a long way off, according to James Raggi).

In the aforementioned post, I mentioned some places online where you can find some of the math related to these new saving throws. However, I couldn't seem to find a complete breakdown of all of the probabilities of success. I wanted to figure it all out myself, but unfortunately, I suck at math.

Thankfully, a mathematically inclined friend recently visited me, so I asked him about it. He found the relevant formula online HERE. Working from that, I did some algebra on a literal napkin, and these are the probabilities that I came up with. It is very possible that I made some mistakes, and I also admit to being quick to round many of the numbers involved, so please tell me if you see some way in which I screwed up here. I apologize for any errors.

Probabilities of Successful Saves - Playtest Document 0.1
2d6 = About a 30.6% chance of at least a partial saving throw, about a 2.9% chance of a full saving throw.
3d6 = About a 42.1% chance of at least a partial saving throw, about a 7.4% chance of a full saving throw.
4d6 = About a 51.8% chance of at least a partial saving throw, about a 13.2% chance of a full saving throw.
5d6 = About a 59.8% chance of at least a partial saving throw, about a 19.6% chance of a full saving throw.
6d6 = About a 66.5% chance of at least a partial saving throw, about a 26.3% chance of a full saving throw.

For comparison, a first level Fighter with average ability scores in the current edition of the rules has a 35% chance of success vs. paralysis, a 45% chance vs. poison, a 30% chance vs. breath weapons, a 40% chance vs. devices, and a 25% chance vs. magic.

Again, I apologize if my math is wrong. Please feel free to correct me. Also please remember that I rounded a lot of numbers in my calculations.

Make what you will of this data. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this change. I've heard people express the opinion that this system is too harsh. If all you care about is getting at least a partial saving throw, I think these numbers are fairly generous, considering that the average saving throw (based on average ability scores) would be 4d6 - it's greater than what a first level PC would usually get in the current rules.* But if you're talking about making a complete success, the chances are incredibly reduced in the Playtest Document. Considering that partial successes don't exist in the current version of Rules & Magic, this latter comparison may be more apt. If so, I honestly can't say I'm pleased with this change. Dropping from an average of 25-45% to 13.2% seems a bit severe. I could see this game getting pretty discouraging for players pretty quickly if they're already happy with the way things are done in other D&D/OSR games, or if they're just newcomers who haven't gotten on board with keeping half a dozen backup characters on hand at all times. I'd love to hear what other people think of this whole idea. I bet James Raggi would, too, considering that this comes from a Playtest Document.


*Not nearly as great as what high-level characters can get in the current rules, but my understanding is that most LotFP groups never make it to high levels, and besides, one could argue that the saving throws for such characters are too generous in the current edition. Just ask my wife, who currently plays a level 20-something Dwarf who practically doesn't bat an eye at saving throws.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Expanding on the Professional - An Idea for Classless LotFP

This is a follow up to my post about a proposed Professional class for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which is itself a sort of follow up to my Fighters=Thieves post regarding old-school D&D in general. In response to my "Professional" post, Yora wrote an interesting and helpful comment that included the following: "I think when you go down that road you might as well go classless." Meanwhile, my friend Rob, who plays in our Lamentations of the Fallen Lords campaign, has expressed much interest in classless systems in RPGs. Now, there are two different classless systems presented in The Undercroft, one in Issue #4 and one in Issue #9*, and I like both of them and would like to discuss them in the future. However, since I like to tinker with the rules myself, I figure I might as well jot down one of my ideas for a classless system here, which is basically an expansion of the Professional class.

Everyone Thinks They're a Professional

HP as Specialist (d6 HD). Minimum HP at first level is 6. Experience Table as Fighter. Spells that can be memorized/cast per level/day as Magic-User. Alignment can probably be ignored, but if not, treat all PCs who do not know any spells as Neutral and any who know at least one spell as Chaotic.

All Saves are 17 minus the character's level, capped at a minimum of 2 (you can easily make this 3 or 4 if you feel that 2 is too generous). I'm fairly sure I got this idea from a comment by MarkS (posted on February 9, 2014) on a blog post at Papers & Pencils. EDIT: I've also heard that Swords & Wizardry has a similar saving throw system, but I think different classes get bonuses in different situations. I haven't played it yet, myself.

At character creation, a player may choose to start with either a free blank spellbook or a free set of specialist's tools and two free maps (one of the local area and one of the kingdom, nation, or greater area). The character also receives the normal amount of random starting money, which can be spent on starting equipment as usual.

Characters start with 4 Skill Points at first level and gain 2 Skill Points at every level after that, like the Specialist. Skill Points can be spent in the following ways:
  • They can be invested in skills, as per the Specialist.
  • For two Skill Points, the character can buy the Fighter's full set of Combat Options: Press, Defensive Fighting, and the improved version of Parry.
  • For one Skill Point, the character can increase his or her Base Attack Bonus by 1. This can only be done once per level, and the Base Attack Bonus cannot exceed +10.
  • For one Skill Point, the character can increase his or her HP by 2. This can only be done once per level.
  • For two Skill Points, the character can learn three random spells. The spells must be randomly selected from a list containing only spells that a Magic-User of the character's level could memorize (e.g. second level spells could not be learned in this manner by a character below level 3).
  • For two Skill Points, the character can learn one spell of their choice, as long as that spell can be found within the Rules & Magic book (or another book that the DM wishes to include, at their discretion). The spell selected must be one that a Magic-User of the character's level could memorize (e.g. second level spells could not be learned in this manner by a character below level 3).
If firearms are available, any character who has either a Base Attack Bonus of at least +2 or the Fighter's Combat Options is treated as a Fighter when reloading a firearm (see pages 159 and 161 of the Rules & Magic book).

When a character learns a spell by spending Skill Points, they learn it through a supernatural flash of insight and can copy it down into their spellbook within an hour (per spell) and at no monetary cost, instead of taking the usual time and money to do so.

The spell Read Magic is removed from the game, and characters with spellbooks may choose to write their spells in a dead or obscure language, or perhaps using a cipher.

No PC automatically starts with any spells. An empty spellbook can be bought (see Rules & Magic page 30). Any PC can copy spells from scrolls and from other books into their personal spellbook (or a blank spellbook, which then becomes their personal spellbook) like a Magic-User (see Rules & Magic pages 80 and 82). However, a character can only perform the following actions once they have already learned at least one spell (i.e. transcribed it into their spellbook, either upon leveling up or by copying it from a scroll or another spellbook):

  • Cast a spell from a scroll, wand, or staff.
  • Research a spell.
  • Create a scroll, potion, wand, or staff.
Spells can only be memorized from a PC's own personal spellbook and not one written by someone else. Likewise, PCs can only create a scroll, potion, wand, or staff using spells from their own personal spellbook. However, a PC can use multiple personal spellbooks if they buy or make blank ones and transcribe spells to them from scratch, so it is possible to have a "backup" book if the necessary time and money are spent.

If a character learns a spell by spending Skill Points, but does not have a personal spellbook (or a blank one to use as such) at the time of leveling up, at the DM's discretion they may add the spell to such a spellbook the next time they have one. Otherwise, a character without a personal or blank spellbook cannot choose to learn spells by spending Skill Points.

If the DM wishes, some or all of the Cleric spells can simply be treated as Magic-User spells and added to the list of available spells in the game. If the spell Bless is included in the game, a character who knows that spell may make holy water (see Rules & Magic page 76) at the DM's discretion.

Note 1: If you don't like the whole "personal spellbooks vs. other spellbooks" thing (which I believe is pretty much included in the Playtest Document), you can drop that easily enough and use the spellbook rules from Rules & Magic. I included this idea to make learning spells a little harder to offset the ease of buying spells with Skill Points or transcribing them without casting Read Magic, and to make it easier to portray spellbooks as highly personalized artifacts that reflect the psychology of the wizards who wrote them.

Note 2: If you want magic to be more like in Call of Cthulh, in which no one gets to just start with spells and those crazy enough to want them must seek them out or stumble upon them, you could disallow players from buying spells with Skill Points while still allowing any character to otherwise learn spells as described above. Perhaps you could also inflict some penalty for learning spells - madness, mutations, etc.

*You can also read this one HERE, although I highly recommend picking up The Undercroft #9.

The Bow of Sanguine Annihilation - Magic Item for LotFP

The Bow of Sanguine Annihilation is a longbow of exquisite craftsmanship. The wood and string have a slightly reddish tint. Etched all over the weapon are tiny images of humanoid figures slitting open their bodies in various grisly ways and drowning other figures with their blood. A command phrase, "Ut benedicat tibi," is engraved on the arrow rest.

When firing this bow, the wielder is healed by 1d2 HP if a natural 20 is rolled to hit, and damaged by 1 HP if a natural 1 is rolled to hit.

Aside from the aforementioned effects, an attack made with the Bow of Sanguine Annihilation is normally treated as a regular, non-magic attack. However, if the wielder fires the bow while speaking the command phrase, its main power is activated. Such an attack costs the wielder 1d2 HP per level* (up to a maximum of 10d2) as blood bursts forth from the wielder's skin and coats the arrow as it is fired, leaving a contrail of crimson mist in the shot's wake. This shot has a +5 bonus to hit, does 1d6 damage per level of the wielder (up to a maximum of 10d6), and counts as an attack from a silver and/or magic weapon (whichever would be more advantageous to the wielder).

*This is the cost of using this ability in our Lamentations of the Fallen Lords campaign. Honestly, I would recommend making the cost of the bow's special attack at least 1d4 HP per level in a typical LotFP game in order to make players more hesitant about using it outside of absolute emergencies. Also, in our campaign this weapon is called the Bow of Blood Gout, and I did not specify to my players that a command phrase must be spoken, so I assume the bow's special attack is activated mentally.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Holmes Basic D&D Rulebook Part 11 - He's Got a Wand of Petrifaction, By Crom!

PART 11 OF 12

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10

Now we've got a little DM advice, an example of play, and the part of the book that people seem to hold in the highest regard, by my estimation: the beloved sample dungeon. For the time being, you can actually read along with this part at the Wizards of the Coast website.

The section titled DUNGEON MASTERING AS A FINE ART briefly describes the mapping process and suggests that the "geomorphic dungeon levels (available from TSR or your retailer)" could come in handy if you need help generating architectural ideas. Hey, game designers need to eat, too. The book also says that the Basic Set (the box that this book presumable came in, but which I unfortunately don't have) includes In Search of the Unknown, and that this module could be useful not only as something to play but as something to mine for ideas regarding your own dungeons. I've heard that this module and the next one, The Keep on the Borderlands, include additional rules that can be used with Holmes Basic and B/X. Between that and the fact that The Keep on the Borderland is considered a legendary adventure in its own right, I really want to check those out. Hm...I wonder if anyone has ever done a mash-up of The Keep on the Borderlands and The House on the Borderland...

By the way, check out this inspiring image from page 39.
(Image borrowed from HERE)

It reminds me fondly of Nupraptor's Retreat, and I wouldn't be surprised if this image was the inspiration for the Blood Omen designers to include such a location. Also, "THE PIT" and the "DOMED CITY" are great touches. I wonder what the scale must be for this dungeon. It must be huge if there's a city down there.

Next there's some typical but very helpful advice on stocking the dungeon. There's a lot of advice in here I emphatically agree with.
  • Traps should be avoidable through smart play, and shouldn't be unavoidable exercises in instant-kill sadism.
  • Dr. Holmes suggests that falling into a shallow pit should only have a one in three chance of doing damage, and should only do "1-6 hit points at most," but that such traps can still give the party some difficulty because they take up precious time.
  • "Try to keep the dangers appropriate to the levels of the characters and the skill of your players. The possibility of 'death' must be very real, but the players must be able to win through with luck and courage, or they will lose interest in the game and not come back." Maybe don't run Tomb of Horrors for 10-year-old kids the very first time they play D&D unless you just want to make them hate the game. Also, totally consider running Tomb of Horrors if your players start getting bored because they think you can't challenge them anymore.
  • If you're the DM, have fun giving your NPCs funny voices and verbal eccentricities. "When characters swear they call on the wrath of their appropriate dieties [sic], be it Zeus, Crom, Cthulhu or whatever." (I'm not 100% sure, but isn't this the first D&D book to ever directly reference H. P. Lovecraft?)
  • If time runs out (in real life, not the game), you can just pick up where you left off last time instead of trying to come up with some excuse for the party to instantly and safely wind up at the surface every time a session is about to end deep in the dungeon.
The book also suggests that the party designate a mapper, a caller, and someone to keep a "Chronicle" of monsters killed, treasure found, and other important details. In my current campaign, most Chronicle duties are handled by my patient and thorough wife, with some specific things handled by other people. Mapping is pretty much solely handled by one player, as well, and another player sometimes helps me keep track of in-game time during dungeon raids. We don't have a designated caller, though, and my understanding is that almost no one uses a caller anymore. I imagine it would be really helpful if you were running a huge expedition with more than 10 players, but that doesn't seem to happen much nowadays - maybe at some conventions. For small groups, I think it would probably be too formal and cut down on individual role playing opportunities.

Strangely, the book states "Both mapper and caller must be in the front rank of the party." I could see how it would be hard to map or give orders from the back of the group's formation, but I don't see the harm in letting someone in the middle do it, provided the group is sticking together and moving at exploration speed.

The example of play is a fun read. In short, the party finds a door in the dungeon leading to a room with four orcs (that they kill) and a treasure chest containing 1,000 gp (which the fighter kicks open for the party to loot), the group's Elf finds a secret passage (which the group uses to avoid a random encounter coming down the hall), the secret passage has a gelatinous cube, and the Dwarf finds what might be another secret passage inside the secret passage, which the group hopes will deliver them from a horrible, gelatinous death.

Some oddities: Nobody seems to check initiative (or dexterity) at the beginning of combat - the Fighting Man is just like "I got this, bro!" and cuts a motherfucker in half (with 4 damage, because it's an orc). The Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling are referred to only by race and not class, which basically confirms for me that Holmes Basic uses race-as-class in a de facto sense if nothing else. The caller tells someone to light at torch, which is weird because not everyone in the party has infravision and they seemed to be seeing just fine beforehand. At one point, the DM does that classic trick where they know there's nothing going on but they roll a die anyway just to keep the party guessing, which isn't odd so much as just amusing. Near the end of the example, the Dwarf finds a hollow spot in the floor, but the Elf seems to have to go back to that spot to actually try and find a trap door or other secret entrance - I'm guessing this is an example of the Dwarf's ability to find "slanting passages, traps, shifting wall and new construction about one-third of the time" as mentioned on page 6. Still, as far as examples of play in rule books go, this one is great. It gives a clear picture of what exploration is actually like in the game.

The book says that the trip to the dungeon is often included as a part of the adventure as well, with strange or hostile encounters punctuating the journey. Holmes Basic doesn't give any rules for wilderness play, but I guess it wouldn't be too hard for the DM to just run an encounter in a big field if they can't think of anything else.

Here's something that probably gives certain old-school gamers an aneurysm to this day: "The imaginary universe of Dungeons & Dragons obviously lies not too far from the Middle Earth of J.R.R. Tolkien's great Lord of the Rings trilogy." To be fair, Dr. Holmes also name-drops "Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Gardner F. Fox, classical mythology and any other source of inspiration the Dungeon Master wants to use." Still, I think it's funny that I keep reading things to the effect of "The Lord of the Rings and D&D are almost completely unrelated" and then I come across this passage. I feel like this sentiment comes up a lot on the internet, and while I sympathize (because Tolkien is indeed not the biggest influence on the game, and the game's design doesn't tend to reflect the kind of goals or activities that the heroes generally pursue in LotR so much as in, say, Conan), I still think it's a little silly to try and completely ignore the way Tolkien has influenced the game. It's doubly hilarious because after publishing this book TSR would go on to try and distance the game from Tolkien's work due to legal trouble. I'm sure the debate over exactly how influential Tolkien was on D&D will go on for a long time, and it's pretty interesting to read about. I don't know, maybe I'm making a straw man of some other D&D bloggers here, and if so I'm sorry, but I don't see the harm in poking a little fun at my fellow gamers.

The final paragraph before the sample dungeon contains the most important and liberating advice of all: the rules aren't written in stone. Feel free to change things. Have fun. Use your imagination. Make the game do what you want it to do. Play and experiment. Improvise.

As for the sample dungeon, it looks fun. I think it would be easy to use in most versions of D&D and related games, too. I don't think there's a whole lot that would require conversion. I should give this one a spin the next time I start a new campaign.

Some features of note:
  • The background of the adventure involves the wizard Zenopus disappearing in a giant, unearthly green conflagration, leaving behind a haunted ruin in the middle of a small city. I like the detail about how "goblin figures could be seen dancing on the tower roof in the moonlight," which actually manages to make goblins seem a little spooky. Eventually the townsfolk knocked the tower down with a catapult, which is so practical it somehow becomes comical, like bulldozing the local Witch House because the neighbors are sick and tired of those damn shoggoths constantly eating their pets and trampling their hedges. The dungeon beneath the old tower is still intact, of course.
  • "...the story tellers are always careful to point out that the reputed dungeons lie in close proximity to the foundations of the old, pre-human city..." Definitely a Lovecraft fan, then.
  • The players meet at the Green Dragon Inn, because of course they do. You know what? It's part of the genre. Some things are cliches because they just work. Whatever. Let's just make with the looting and the pillaging and the getting eaten by rats already.
  • There are several places in the adventure where a characters ability scores could affect the situation in non-standardized ways. High-constitution characters are knocked out by a sleeping gas trap for one less turn. Characters with less than 15 strength who fall in the river are automatically swept away while those with 15 or more strength will automatically be okay if they fall in. Finally, characters with less than 12 constitution have a 50% chance of taking 1d6 damage from being dragged between rooms by the river, while those with 12 or more will take no damage. These examples are interesting because they demonstrate some ways that ability scores can be made to matter during a game besides just adding flavor or influencing the small list of factors on pages 5-6. I don't care for some of the specific implementation here, though. Instead of having some characters automatically succeed or fail (or fail a set 50% of the time) based on whether or not they meet a very specific, static threshold, wouldn't it be better to give every character a chance at success, but have that chance be directly related to exactly how high their relevant ability scores are? Yep - I'm talking about ability score checks. You know, roll a d20 or 3d6, and if you roll your ability score or lower you succeed. I know a lot of old school gamers don't like them, but they strike me as being slightly fairer or less arbitrary than a lot of the exception-based design (which isn't inherently bad, of course) I've seen regarding ability scores in specific parts of specific pre-written adventures. Plus they allow a level of granularity that makes every point in an ability score potentially matter, which I like. And if you don't like that idea, saving throws could serve as another good method of consistent conflict resolution in unusual situations instead.
  • There's a level 4 evil Magic-User NPC. I wonder if Dr. Holmes or someone else at TSR stuck him in to make the players get envious and bug their DM to pick up Advanced Dungeons & Dragons from their friendly neighborhood retailer. This NPC has a solid plan for when adventurers burst into the room: run through a secret door, casting Wizard Lock on it from the other side, and then wait upstairs with a wand of "petrifaction" to bushwhack anybody who manages to follow him.
  • Some room descriptions seem to be written with the assumption that there will be some kind of natural lighting, with one room being described as gloomy and shadowy (with rats hiding in the shadows), and another is described as "completely dark, characters without lights or infravision will have to feel their way out," implying that this is not true of the whole dungeon. One room also explicitly contains phosphorescent fungi that negate the need to carry lights in the room, but I don't believe this fungi is stated to be anywhere else in the dungeon.
  • There are two swords and one dagger that are +1 magic weapons in this dungeon, and the swords at least look pretty easy to find. The evil Magic-User owns some cool magic swag, too. It's seems kind of generous to give a party the opportunity to get this kind of gear on their first adventure, but maybe I've just been reading too many Lamentations of the Flame Princess books.
  • The pirates in the dungeon have a hostage, Lemunda the Lovely, a level 2 Fighting Woman whose family would family would appreciate her safe return. If the players rescue her, I bet she could be useful for the rest of the adventure, too.
  • There's an octopus in the sea cave that looks ridiculously deadly, which is awesome.
  • The "endless" rat tunnels are a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. Dwarves and Halflings can navigate it unhindered, though, and if they're willing to fight big rats in small quarters, there's some random treasure. It's a neat detail.
  • I love the puzzle involving the sundial that activates a mystic, question-answering mask, but exactly how extensive is this mask's knowledge? Is it omniscient, or does it just know some things about the dungeon, or what? I guess the DM should give that question some thought before running the adventure and decide on the matter ahead of time. Or they could just bullshit something. That's fun, too.
  • There are two rooms in a small tower (three if you count the roof) that aren't actually on the map, but it's not a problem because each floor of the tower is just a single room. It's not confusing, but it struck me as unusual to leave it unmapped.
  • There's an evil Magic-User with a wand of "petrifaction," three unidentified NPCs that have been turned to stone, the potential for one or more party members to be turned to stone, and a single scroll that turns a statue back into a living person. Decisions, decisions...
  • The book suggests adding deeper levels to the dungeon so the players can explore the place "where Zenopus met his doom." This whole wizard-disappears-in-a-massive-green-fire thing makes for a cool plot hook. I bet the "Other magic-users [who] have moved into the town" would pay good money for detailed, accurate information about what happened all those years ago, and the status of whatever Zenopus was working on. The city officials would be keen on that information, too.

After the sample dungeon, there's a section explaining how to use D&D's funky dice, a cool little bio for Dr. J. Eric Holmes, an ad for Gen Con, two pages of reference tables repeated from throughout the book for quick and easy access...and that's it. Holmes Basic sure packs a lot into 48 pages, doesn't it? I wish more RPG books could be this concise. So many rule books are either boring, intimidating, or just hard to reference quickly during a game, yet this volume showed us how it was done back at the dawn of the hobby.

All that's left is for me to talk a little bit more about the artwork and other things that strike my fancy, then share my final thoughts, opinions, and ideas for the time being.

Next time: Odds & Ends

Friday, July 1, 2016

Wizard Duels, or Scan Me If You Dare

Here's some of my inspiration for this idea:

I wrote this with Lamentations of the Flame Princess in mind, but I don't see why it couldn't work for most D&D or related OSR games.
Sometimes, when two Magic-Users hate each other very much, they decide to settle their differences with a Wizard's Duel.

A Wizard's Duel does not require a memorized spell. It just requires two Magic-Users who agree to unleash their hatred on each other. It's just a thing that wizards can do. Even the lowliest Magic-User, with only Read Magic and some random starting spells to their name, can do it, although a novice is likely to bite off more than they can chew by engaging in such a dangerous feat of supernatural violence.

Both Magic-Users must agree to duel in order for the process to begin, at which point they start to glow with eldritch energy, become rooted to their spots, and begin to fully concentrate on overpowering each other through sheer arcane willpower. The agreement does not have to be verbal - Magic-Users just know when they've both agreed to duel. Coercion, magical and otherwise, can be used to get a Magic-User to agree to a duel, but a Wizard Duel cannot happen unless it is begun mutually.

In combat, if one Magic-User challenges another to a Wizard Duel, the Magic-User being challenged does not have to wait until their turn to accept; the process can begin immediately. The Magic-Users must also be within each other's lines of sight (or what would normally be their line of sight if one or both duelists are blind) and be within range of each other (see below).

No more than two Magic-Users can duel with each other at the same time. It is a very intimate act.

When a Wizard Duel begins, both duelists roll initiative. If the initial challenger wins, they can make the first magical "attack." Otherwise, the initial challenger's action that round is used up in mental preparation for the duel, and the other duelist makes the first "attack" on their turn in combat.

During a Wizard's Duel, any outside party must roll a d6 twice on the Results table below if they attack (even with a ranged weapon, unless it is from beyond the range of the duel), physically touch (with a body part or a held object), or cast a spell on either duelist. It's dangerous to interrupt a Wizard's Duel, due to both the massive magical forces conjured by the battle and the instinctual, involuntary rage any Magic-User feels at being directly interfered with during a Wizard's Duel, a rage which automatically directs those forces toward the interloper. The only exception is that you can (non-violently) touch, cast a spell on, throw a bucket of water on, toss an object to, etc. a willing duelist as long as the action only takes one round, it does not do any damage (healing spells are okay), and the willing duelist makes a successful Saving Throw vs. Magic so that the helpful interloper does not have to suffer the normal consequences of interference.

A duelist's turn occurs when their turn would normally happen in the initiative sequence. Other people can still participate in combat or other activities around the Magic-Users during the duel - this isn't meant to interrupt the whole game.

On a duelist's turn, they can either declare an magic attack or attempt to end the duel, either of which also ends their turn. They can also make a minor movement (pick up or drop an object, make a gesture, pull a nearby lever, etc.) beforehand without using up their turn, but they cannot move from their spot or physically attack anyone without paying the price: rolling a d4 twice on the Results table and using up their turn.

When a duelist declares a magic attack, the defender must make a Saving Throw vs. Magic (add the defender's INT bonus and subtract the attacker's INT bonus). Success means nothing happens, and the attacker's turn is over. Failure means the defender must roll once on the Results table, and the attacker's turn is over. Which die the defender must roll depends on the defender's level (see below).

If a duelist attempts to end the duel, they must make a successful Saving Throw vs. Magic (add the defender's INT bonus and subtract the attacker's INT bonus) on two consecutive rounds in order to succeed. Failing one of these Saving Throws inflicts 1 point of damage on that duelist per Level they possess or Level their opponent possesses (50% chance of either possibility).

The Wizard's Duel continues until one or both duelists are dead or unconscious, one of the duelists successfully ends the duel willingly, or a result of 8 or 12 is rolled on the Results table.

Longest range at which a Wizard Duel can be fought (based on the highest level of the two combatants)
Level 0 = 20 feet
Level 1 = 30 feet
Level 2 = 40 feet
Level 3 = 50 feet
Level 4 = 60 feet
Level 5 = 80 feet
Level 6 = 100 feet
Level 7 = 150 feet
Level 8 = 200 feet
Level 9 and up = 300 feet

What die should the defender roll on the Results table?
Level 0-1 = d4
Level 2-4 = d6
Level 5-8 = d8
Level 9-12 = d10
Level 13 and Up = d12

Results
  1. Your Head A Splode. What a mess. I hope you had a backup character.
  2. Full Body Meltdown - Lose 50% of Max HP. If Max HP is already at 1, die from massive and messy organ failure.
  3. Body Swap/Brain Drain - The attacker can choose to either switch bodies with the loser* or drain 1d20 x 100 XP (gained by the attacker). If this happens to an interloper instead of one of the duelists, the latter (Brain Drain) must occur.
  4. Blow Out - Take damage as if from a Magic Missile spell cast by the attacker.
  5. Burn for It! - Your body catches on fire as if it were doused in flaming oil. Hopefully you brought a friend with a big bucket of water.
  6. Rapid Aging - Lose 1d10 x 100 XP, 1d4 points from a random ability score, and 1 Max HP.
  7. Curse - For 1d8 days, any time dice must be rolled, roll twice and take the worst number. The only way this curse can be lifted early (short of a miracle) is if four people cast Remove Curse on the defender at the same time.
  8. Baleful Transformation - Loser morphs into the (mundane, non-magical) animal of the attacker's choice for 1d8 rounds. The animal must be mobile in its natural environment - no coral or clams. If that animal cannot survive in the current environment (like a deep-sea fish on dry land), the defender can make a Saving Throw vs. Magic to force the attacker to turn them into something that can survive in that environment instead, although it can still be something slow, puny, etc. Wizard duel automatically ends, although it can be reengaged after the defender turns back into their original form if both parties so wish.
  9. Steal Spell - Lose one of your memorized spells. The winner now has it memorized instead, even if they normally could not memorize it. If you don't have any memorized spells left, take 1d8 damage from an energy backlash.
  10. Psychic Tear - Take damage proportional to the level of the winner, determined by the table above (Level 0-1 = d4 damage, Level 2-4 = d6 damage, etc.).
  11. Steal Sense - The loser is deprived of the sense (sight, hearing, etc.) of the winner's choice for 1d8 days. The only way this curse can be lifted early (short of a miracle) is if four people cast Remove Curse on the defender at the same time.
  12. Unintended Transformation - Defender morphs into the (mundane, non-magical) animal of their choice (not the attacker's choice!) for 1d6 rounds. Wizard duel automatically ends, although it can be reengaged after the defender turns back into their original form if both parties so wish.
*Just swap stats, with the following exceptions:
  • Your new INT, WIS, and CHA are your original scores, except that you can choose one of those ability scores to increase by 2, and your opponent decreases the same ability score by 2.
  • If available, you gain one new language that your opponent knew but you did not (winner's choice), but your known languages and those of your opponent otherwise stay the same.
  • If your opponent had any spells memorized, you can choose one to steal - now you have it memorized, and they do not. Otherwise, your currently memorized spells stay the same.
  • Your opponent loses 1/10 of their XP, and you gain it. Otherwise, swap Levels, but not XP - If you now lack the minimum XP for your new level (from swapping into a higher-level body), that just means you need a higher amount of XP to reach the next level. If you now have enough XP to gain one or more levels (from swapping into a lower-level body), you will advance one level per night of rest until you are at the level that matches your XP.
  • You and your opponent keep your original skills/skill points (not counting whatever is derived from your new ability scores).
  • If one of you had a curse or other magical effect, it stays with the body, not the traveling mind. (Generally speaking; this is up to the DM's discretion, but for the most part, body swapping should probably benefit the winner and leave the loser stuck with any crappy downsides of the winner's old body.)