Monday, December 30, 2019

Super-Casual Pulp Campaign

Bird #1: I want to try out my B/X/RC bridge rules.
Bird #2: I want to play a bunch of old D&D adventures that I've been curious about.
Bird #3: I want to start a second campaign so that more of my friends can play RPGs with me, and so I can get some new acquaintances into RPGs, and so I can just play more games, for Crom's sake!
The Killing Stone: I'm going to run a super chill, laid back, extra casual game of Basic D&D every other week, and it's going to be pulpier than an orange juice spill in a paper factory, and it's going to have more modules than the ISS, and it's gonna make me Professor Karate Dragon because I'll be teaching folks how to kick it old school. Here's the syllabus:

Adventures at Sane Levels
MSOLO1 Blizzard Pass - Levels 1-3
B4 The Lost City - Levels 1-3
B7 Rahasia - Levels 2-3
JG0102 The Caverns of Thracia - Levels 2-6 (or maybe 2-4?)
B10 Night's Dark Terror - Levels 2-4
X2 Castle Amber - Levels 3-6
MSOLO2 Maze of the Riddling Minotaur - Levels 1-10
X1 The Isle of Dread - Levels 3-7
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City* - Levels 4-7
ST1 Up the Garden Path - Levels 4-7**
C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan* - Levels 5-7
X8 Drums on Fire Mountain - Levels 5-8
X4 Master of the Desert Nomads - Levels 6-9
X5 Temple of Death - Levels 6-10
S2 White Plume Mountain* - Levels 5-10
WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun* - Levels 5-10
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth* - Levels 6-10
I8 Ravager of Time* - Levels 8-10
JG0088 Dark Tower* - Levels 7-11
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks* - Levels 8-12
X7 The War Rafts of Kron - Levels 9-12
DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor - Levels 10-14
DA2 Temple of the Frog - Levels 10-14
DA3 City of the Gods - Levels 10-14
DA4 The Duchy of Ten - Levels 10-14
S1 Tomb of Horrors* - Levels 10-14

New Game + (AKA "They've Gone to Plaid!")
CM2 Death's Ride - Levels 15-20
CM8 The Endless Stair - Levels 15-20
CM6 Where Chaos Reigns - Levels 17-19
CM4 Earthshaker! - Levels 18-20
WG6 Isle of the Ape* - Levels 18+
M5 Talons of Night - Levels 20-25
M1 Into the Maelstrom - Levels 25-30
M2 Vengeance of Alphaks - Levels 28-32
M4 Five Coins for a Kingdom - Levels 28-32
M3 Twilight Calling - Levels 30-35
And then on to immortality?

*AD&D Module
**This one is super rare, so if I can't find a PDF, I might run a UK-series AD&D module here instead.

Potential House Rules
I'm not 100% sold on all of these yet, so I'll talk with my players about it when the campaign starts.
  • I'm definitely using my B/X + RC Reference Sheet.
  • I'm definitely ignoring the optional rule that wielders of two-handed weapons always lose initiative.
  • Page B19 states that PCs must rest for one turn after every five turns of movement. Does anyone actually follow this rule? I'm ignoring it.
  • One could interpret the rules on page B21 to imply that all dungeon doors are "stuck" and can only be opened with a d6 roll modified by strength. (This is the default rule in OD&D, right?) If this is the intention, I'm probably going to ignore it anyway and only require "open door" rolls for doors that are either locked (which can also be unlocked by a Thief, the proper key, etc.) or specifically noted in an adventure as being stuck. I think my approach is shared by the 1983 Basic Set and AD&D 1E, but please let me know if I'm wrong.
  • Players don't have to roll for HP. They can just take the maximum possible amount each level.
  • I might combine the Fighter and Thief classes into a single class, as I've discussed before. If I do this, then for the sake of simplicity I'll probably still just call them Fighters, and they'll have the same HD and experience table and saving throws and such. They'll just be able to use Thief skills and special abilities as a Thief of the same level, provided they don't have any armor equipped that a Thief couldn't use (including shields) and that they're not greatly encumbered. (And I'm flexible on encumbrance - see below.) As for name-level antics, each Fighter can choose either to build a castle and attract the usual followers, or to build a hideout and attract followers as a Thief. Finally, this pseudo-multiclass thing will probably only apply to PCs and retainers. Most NPCs with Fighter or Thief levels can behave as usual. "Monsters" don't have to follow the same rules as PCs.
  • Isn't encumbrance listed as optional in B/X? This is a Super Casual (TM) campaign, so I'll probably ignore encumbrance. Feel free to leave angry comments below.
  • For generating ability scores, I'm probably going to use one of the two methods listed on page 130 of the Rules Cyclopedia. Yes, for all PCs, even at first level. Angry comments below.
  • I'm going to start the campaign with the default rule that 0 HP=death. However, if that eventually gets old due to high attrition, I'd be willing to use the "Keeping Characters Alive" variant rule from page 266 of the Rules Cyclopedia.
  • I'm probably going to include something like "checkpoint levels", but it'll be "checkpoint amounts of XP" instead, since different classes have different XP tables and players won't necessarily play the same class all the time. I'll probably base it on the Fighter's XP table. As for brand new players joining the campaign at a later time, their characters will most likely start 2 levels below the least experienced living PC.
  • As far as I'm concerned, the number of spells that can fit in a character's spellbook is essentially unlimited, as per the Rules Cyclopedia. Spells can be copied from a scroll or another Magic-User's spellbook into your own spellbook, and you can research spells, so you can theoretically collect 'em all.†
  • I'm going to use one or both of the house rules mentioned in THIS POST. (Warning: Contains harsh language!)
  • If you want to play a Mystic from the Rules Cyclopedia, or a class from one of the Gazetteers or Creature Crucibles or other official Basic D&D books, I'm cool with it. If you want to play a class you found on a blog or something, I'll probably allow it, but run it by me first, please.
  • If there's a rule or something in the Rules Cyclopedia or another supplement you'd like to try out, feel free to ask me about it.
Possible Links Between Adventures
This is all subject to change based on the actions and requests of the players, of course. I'm just spitballing.

In true "patchwork map" fashion, the party members descend from the snowy mountains of Blizzard Pass to a vast desert, home of the pyramid from The Lost City. Battered by sandstorms, they seek refuge in the pyramid and come into conflict with the evil Zargon. Below is the titular city of Cynidicea, currently thrown into turmoil by the kidnapping of princess Rahasia. Beneath Cynidicea are the even more ancient Caverns of Thracia, said to be magically sealed off from the city by the power of the Black Opal Eye. Perhaps the Thracian ruins hold the secret to ensuring that Zargon never returns?

If Zargon is defeated for good, the adventurers are given an opportunity to make a vast fortune in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos as Cynidicean ambassadors, but their plan is interrupted by Night's Dark Terror. One thing leads to another, and they end up making their way to a hidden valley which houses a secret portal to mist-veiled Castle Amber. Should the players find a way to return to their own world, this method of interdimensional travel could conveniently deposit them on the island of Vacros from Maze of the Riddling Minotaur. If the players procure a ship, they could travel to The Isle of Dread and/or Teki-Nura-Ria from Drums on Fire Mountain, either of which could be modified to include Dwellers of the Forbidden City and The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. Some uncharted corner of the Sea of Dread could easily contain another interdimensional portal as well, this time leading to a certain "Paradoxical Garden Festival Anomaly".

Should the players return to the mainland, news of whatever great feats they may have accomplished could inspire some major political figure from Karameikos to ask them to intercede in the ongoing crisis described in Master of the Desert Nomads and Temple of Death. Afterward, the players could wander the land as they wish and get involved in all kinds of shenanigans, following a trail of incredible technological and mystical artifacts (and more portals, of course!) until they eventually reach the forgotten realm of Blackmoor. Perhaps they may even learn of the legend of Acererak, dreaming fitfully within his Tomb of Horrors in the darkest of Blackmoor's mires. Is the astral magic of the demi-lich somehow involved in the strange portals and chronological anomalies the adventurers have discovered time after time? And what is Acererak's connection to the dreaded immortal Alphaks?

"But Professor, I thought railroading was bad?"
Listen here, you little sh- Good point, but I don't think this'll be so bad. These newfangled "adventure paths" aren't actually all that new - look at "supermodules" like the GDQ series or Scourge of the Slave Lords or the Saltmarsh series or Desert of Desolation or the Village of Homlet/Temple of Elemental Evil combo or...you get the idea. I've seen plenty of online discussion about the ideal order in which to run this or that group of adventures, or various dream campaigns that link together various favorites.

Sure, if you force it, and you don't get player buy-in, then sure, that's railroading and that often sucks, and it generally runs counter to what I find to be some of the biggest strengths of D&D and the OSR. You know, like open-world sandbox play and unpredictable player-driven "storytelling" - as opposed to pre-determined stories dictated by the DM and acted out by the players with little or no wiggle room, which is the kind of stuff that makes "story" a dirty word for some in the OSR crowd.

When I run a campaign and I feel that it's time to add in a new adventure, I usually try to avoid railroading in one of two ways.
  1. I introduce plot hooks and wait to see if the players bite. If something related to a particular adventure grabs their attention and they freely choose to pursue it, or if the consequences of their previous freely chosen actions force them to interact with such an element, then I reel them in and start the adventure when it seems to make sense. And if they don't bite, that's fine; we don't play that particular adventure and the players do something else instead. In other words, I try to let it happen organically.
  2. I give the players a list of adventures I want to run, along with their basic premises or other non-spoiler info if asked, and I straight-up let them vote on the next one we play. Then I do my best to fit it into the campaign as naturally as possible, with the implicit agreement that the players will cooperate in biting the initial necessary plot hook. In return, I try my best not to immediately and totally screw them over through no fault of their own.
But now, with a specific list of adventures I want to run, I think I'm going to try a third method: tell my players ahead of time that I have this path roughly planned out and just see if they're okay with it. If they are, I don't see the harm in roughly sketching out a path like this; they can tackle each adventure however they want, they can decide when they're ready to move on to the next one, and they can revisit previous adventure locations if they want to. They can straight-up skip one if they want. Their actions determine how each adventure ends, who survives and who their enemies and allies are, what resources they can bring to bear, what kind of reputation precedes them, etc.

And if they're not okay with the path, they're free to leave it. I'll do my best to adjust and follow their lead. I might need extra prep time, or I might end up making stuff up off the top of my head, but I'll deal with it. Still, the path is there in case they enjoy following it.

I honestly think they will. This is supposed to be a Super Casual campaign. I think one advantage of running a series of modules back-to-back like this is that if we get bored of dealing with the minutiae between adventures, we can easily gloss over the connective tissue and get back to the action. We don't have to worry about exact distances and travel times between interesting locations, or keeping a consistent calendar, or tracking every last ration in the wagon or copper spent at the inn. That's just not what I want to focus on this time. The story starts when the wandering heroes show up, and it ends when they leave. Then we're off to the next story.

My Biggest Challenge
This campaign needs a catchy name!



†If I'm interpreting B/X correctly, the default rule is that a Magic-User's spellbook can only hold as many spells as the owner can memorize per day - as far as memorizable spells go, that's all the Magic-User can ever have or "know." In that case, I'm not sure why spell research rules are included; my best guess is that you can choose to research a brand new spell in lieu of the one you would earn for gaining a level.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

B/X + RC Reference Sheet v0.5

As I suggested earlier, I put together some house rules to "bridge" the difference between the 1981 D&D Basic/Expert sets ("B/X") and the Rules Cyclopedia, as inspired by Zenopus' Bridge Tables. The idea here is to use the Rules Cyclopedia primarily as a supplement to extend B/X campaigns beyond Level 14, and to allow additional rules from the Cyclopedia to be added piecemeal as desired. Hopefully, this post can help players use all of these rulebooks together within the same campaigns, without confusion or inconsistencies.

Suggestions for improvement are more than welcome. I'd also like to give this a slicker layout with some easy-to-read tables and turn it into a PDF, so if anyone is willing to help me figure out how to do that, I'd appreciate it. Anyway, I hope someone finds this useful. Enjoy!

B/X + RC Reference Sheet v0.5

Saving Throws
Cleric
  • Levels 1-16: As per B/X.
  • Levels 17-20: Poison 3, Wands 5, Paralysis 6, Breath Attack 8, Spells 7
  • Levels 21-24: Poison 3, Wands 5, Paralysis 5, Breath Attack 6, Spells 5
  • Levels 25+: As per the Rules Cyclopedia.
Fighter
  • Levels 1-15: As per B/X.
  • Levels 16-18: As per Levels 13-15 in B/X.
  • Levels 19-21: Poison 4, Wands 5, Paralysis 6, Breath 5, Spells 7
  • Levels 22+: As per the Rules Cyclopedia.
Magic-User
  • Levels 1-15: As per B/X.
  • Levels 16+: As per the Rules Cyclopedia.
Thief
  • Levels 1-16: As per B/X.
  • Levels 17+: As per the Rules Cyclopedia.
Dwarf
  • Levels 1-12: As per B/X.
  • At Attack Rank D, begin using Level 12 Saving Throws from the Rules Cyclopedia.
  • Levels 13+: As per the Rules Cyclopedia (if using the Extended Experience Table).
Elf
  • Levels 1-10: As per B/X.
  • At Attack Rank F, being using Level 10 Saving Throws from the Rules Cyclopedia.
  • Levels 11-12: As per Level 10 in B/X (if using the Extended Experience Table).
  • Levels 13+: As per the Rules Cyclopedia (if using the Extended Experience Table).
Halfling
  • Levels 1-8: As per B/X.
  • At Attack Rank C, begin using Level 8 Saving Throws from the Rules Cyclopedia.
  • Level 9: As per Levels 7-8 in B/X (if using the Extended Experience Table).
  • Levels 10+: As per the Rules Cyclopedia (if using the Extended Experience Table).
Spells Per Day
Cleric
  • Levels 1-14: As per B/X.
  • Level 15: 6/5/5/5/4/3
  • Level 16: 6/5/5/5/4/3
  • Level 17: 6/6/5/5/4/3/1
  • Level 18: 6/6/5/5/4/3/2
  • Level 19: 7/6/5/5/4/4/2
  • Level 20: 7/6/5/5/4/4/3
  • Levels 21+: As per the Rules Cyclopedia.
Magic-User
  • Levels 1-14: As per B/X.
  • Level 15: 5/4/4/4/3/3/1
  • Level 16: 5/5/5/4/3/3/2
  • Levels 17+: As per the Rules Cyclopedia.
Thief Skills
  • Climb Walls and Hear Noise: Switch to the Rules Cyclopedia at Level 14.
  • Pick Pockets: Switch to the Rules Cyclopedia at Level 23.
  • Open Locks, Find Traps, and Remove Traps: Switch to the Rules Cyclopedia at Level 26.
  • Move Silently and Hide in Shadows: Switch to the Rules Cyclopedia at Level 36.
Turn Undead
Always use the table from the Rules Cyclopedia.
Alternatively, from Levels 1-10, use the B/X table, and from Level 11 on, use the Rules Cyclopedia table.

Attack Table, Attack Ranks, and Multiple Attacks
Always use the Attack Table from the Rules Cyclopedia.
Demi-human Player Characters gain Attack Ranks as per the Rules Cyclopedia (or else follow the Extended Experience Table from the Rules Cyclopedia if the Dungeon Master allows).
Player Characters gain multiple attacks as per the Rules Cyclopedia.

Experience Points for Monsters
Always use the "Experience Points for Monsters" table from the Rules Cyclopedia.
Alternatively, use the B/X table until at least one Player Character achieves either Level 14 or the maximum level for their class, then begin using the table from the Rules Cyclopedia.

Known Spells and Spell Acquisition for Magic-Users and Elves
Follow the rules in the following sections of the Rules Cyclopedia: "Number of Spells Known" page 32 (excluding the example number of Cleric Spells/Level in favor of the B/X rules), "Magical Spells" pages 43-44, and "Magic-User Spell Choice" page 147.

The Electrum Rule: Aside from the changes above, assume the B/X rulebooks take precedence over the Rules Cyclopedia by default, unless the Dungeon Master decides otherwise.

Monday, December 16, 2019

B/X vs. RC: A Quick & Dirty Class Comparison

The Rules Cyclopedia rocks, but I have a major bone to pick with it (and BECMI, which is practically the same thing as far as I'm concerned). Thieves freaking suck!* Their chances of succeeding at their class skills were SUPER nerfed from B/X in order to spread out their advancement over a ridiculous 36 levels; it would have been better to keep the percentages the same, then introduce some new abilities after level 14, if you ask me. Also, they could use ANY weapon in B/X, but they have new weapon limitations in BECMI. It's bad enough the poor guys have d4 hit dice, and you have to make them even crappier on top of that just to fit the new level scheme? Lame. That class deserves better if you're going to bother including it at all.

The Rules Cyclopedia is also just...a lot. It's a lot to take in. I think my ideal version of D&D would use the two B/X books as a base, and then just sprinkle some occasional RC stuff on top - some more monsters/magic items/spells here, a little rule clarification or two there, voila. Then MAYBE bring in some of the optional systems later if desired (mass combat?), but generally try to point the players to the B/X books if they need to reference something themselves, and just keep the RC to myself as an extra DM guide of sorts.

If I did that, I would probably still limit level advancement to 14, as per the Expert book. But if my players ever actually made it that far and didn't like the level limit, maybe they could budge me on that? I don't know. There are one or two Companion adventure modules that look kind of good. I don't know how smoothly you could transition from, say, the saving throw and spells-per-day tables of B/X to the RC if you switch from one to the other mid-stream like that.

Let's take a moment to compare the classes in B/X and the RC up to level 14. (Please feel free to point out any mistakes in the comments.) Experience tables are exactly the same. HP is the same.** Elf spells are the same, M-U is the same until level 12, Cleric spells are only the same until level 6. Saving throws are way off - Fighters, Clerics, and Magic-Users have worse saves by level 14 in the RC, while Thieves have mildly better saves and demi-humans have MUCH better saves in the RC. Dwarves and Halflings no longer share the same saving throw table in RC. Thief skills are generally MUCH worse in RC. The Cleric's Turn Undead table is the same until level 11 (where it maxes out in B/X), but the RC table has a lot more monsters and 2 new results, so it's hard to say if it's better or not. I don't feel like going over the Attack Table with a fine-tooth comb, but I did spot a difference or two.

In summary, switching from B/X to RC mid-campaign at level 15 would present some compatibility problems. Not insurmountable ones, by any means, but ones I'd personally prefer to address, partly to avoid confusion or inconsistency and partly because this kind of nitpicky stuff just bugs me. I would love to have something like the Holmes Basic + OD&D Reference Sheet by Zenopus, except for B/X and the Rules Cyclopedia instead. Something to work as a bridge between levels 1 to 14 for B/X and levels 15+ for the RC. Maybe I'll just have to do it myself...



*Well, I hear they're pretty good again if you use the optional Weapon Specialization rules and some other optional stuff, but I haven't really looked at them yet.

**Sort of. The Elf gets 2 HP at level 10 in B/X. In the RC, the elf gets 1 HP in at level 10 according to their class write-up near the beginning of the book, but I think it says later in the book that they get 2 HP as per B/X. I'm assuming there was a typo or an editing mistake or something. I'll probably double-check this later. It's a tiny difference either way, but I'd rather be nice and default to B/X here.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Humans-Only Holmes Basic D&D

Taking another quick look at the Holmes Basic rulebook for D&D, I'm thinking about two different ways I would want to run this version of the game. One would be to use it as a lead-in to an OD&D game, with the Holmes + OD&D Ref Sheet by Zenopus as a bridge between the "blue book" and the "little brown books" if necessary. I've been wanting to run a sort of pseudo-"Arnesonian" campaign in the style of Delta's "Outdoor Spoliation" games, The First Fantasy Campaign, and Adventures in Fantasy. OD&D seems like the natural fit, but the little brown books can be hard to parse and unfriendly to newbies, so it might be more fruitful to keep them as DM-only material at the beginning of the campaign and use Holmes Basic as the initial player-facing rulebook. Correct me if I'm wrong, but from my understanding, Holmes Basic is essentially just a (partial) reorganization and clarification of OD&D material, albeit with a few idiosyncrasies (e.g. five-point alignment, cheap scrolls, to-hit rolls for magic missiles) and TSR-mandated references to AD&D. The OD&D Discussion Forum even includes Holmes in their banner picture of OD&D covers at the top of the page. It could be useful to treat Holmes Basic as a sort of OD&D starter set.*

But my second possible approach is what I want to discuss for now. I could also see myself running Holmes Basic as a more-or-less self-contained system using an expansion like the Holmes Reference Sheets by Zenopus or Meepo's Holmes Companion (a link to which can be found HERE). I think this would be an especially fun way to run a megadungeon. But the more I think about Holmes Basic in this context, the more I think that removing demi-humans from the game is the way to go.

What do dwarves, elves, and halflings add to the game, mechanically?
  • Better saving throws for some characters? Fighting men really get the short end of the stick in Holmes compared to demi-humans. I'd rather ditch the demi-humans and have human fighters save as dwarves and halflings, rather than as thieves.
  • Infravision? Honestly, I'm not a big fan. I prefer to either have everyone need light to see, making the management of light-producing resources more important, or else have the dungeon lit well enough for everyone to see and ignore that aspect of the game altogether. When some PCs can see in the dark and some can't, I feel like it would be too easy to wind up in a situation where lighting matters just enough to be annoying and time/thought consuming, but not enough to lead to any interesting or fun situations.
  • Detecting secret doors and "slanting passages, traps, shifting walls and new construction"? That's what the thief ought to be for! Just let thieves do those things at the same dice probability that they use to "hear noise".
  • Wielding the +3 Magic War Hammer? Do we really need one specific magic weapon with race restrictions? Fighters are all-purpose weapons masters; just let them use the dang hammer. Heck, thieves "can use all the weapons of a fighting man", so let them use the hammer, too.
  • Beginning play with more spoken languages? If you don't want language barriers to be a big factor in gameplay, this doesn't particularly matter. If you do want language to be a big deal, I feel like you kind of run into the same problem as with infravision above: languages become another minor detail to track with little benefit in doing so. Having a dwarf and an elf in your party eliminates the need to worry about miscommunication with dwarves, elves, gnomes, kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, and gnolls. On top of that, you've got alignment languages, the "read language" and "esp" spells, certain magic items, bonus languages for every point of intelligence above 10, and a 20% chance of monsters speaking "common". Do you really even need to worry about languages at this point? Getting rid of characters who automatically know a bunch of free bonus languages might help make miscommunication become a real problem if that's what you want.
  • Fighter/Magic-User hybrid characters? With so few default character types, I think niche protection becomes more important. Even with their slow advancement, I feel like elves have a real possibility of upstaging both fighting men and magic-users. If you make some of the changes suggested above - give dwarf saving throws to fighters, let thieves detect secret doors and special architectural features like elves and dwarves do, and eliminate infravision - then I could be persuaded to keep the elf as a fifth "class" and only remove the dwarf and halfling. But honestly, if I'm dropping the other two demi-humans, I'd rather drop elves, too.
  • Immunity to ghoul paralysis? This only applies in very specific situations, so I wouldn't worry too much about it. Besides, ghouls are scarier if no one gets to shrug off their special ability, right? Still, if you really like the idea of allowing the very specific scenario in which most of the party gets paralyzed by ghouls and have to rely on the only unaffected (type of) character to save them, couldn't you just give this immunity to clerics? It makes sense for their holy nature to protect them from these undead creatures, if you ask me.
  • "[Vanishing] into woods or undergrowth"? Again, that seems like the kind of thing a thief should be able to do.
  • A +1 to hit with missile weapons? Characters who need weapons and armor "cut down" to their size? Honestly, I don't think these are interesting or vital enough to worry about.
I think that in a simple, pared-down version of D&D, it's enough to have four character types with very specific individual roles and abilities. I imagine it also helps if the thief is a bit more vital to the exploration process, and the fighter feels like the toughest character. I don't have a problem with players being demi-humans simply as a matter of flavor if they really want to, but I'd prefer not to attach mechanical advantages to one's choice of race at the expense of the four "core" classes or the choice to play a human - that is, in this very stripped-down, "starter set" kind of experience I'm imagining.

Don't get me wrong: it's not that I think demi-humans are somehow "un-Holmsian." When I read Tales of Peril by Dr. Holmes, I actually really enjoyed the way all of the fantasy races co-mingled, not only on adventures, but in everyday life as well. I'm not against that flavor of fantasy - sometimes I find it incredibly charming. I love the idea of casually hanging out with a centaur and a pixie at the tavern. The proliferation of playable races in Wizards of the Coast-era D&D doesn't really bother me.

It's just that I think the way non-human characters are implemented mechanically in D&D can leave a lot to be desired, and from a rules-based perspective, I think a capital-B Basic game of pure low-to-mid level dungeon crawling would benefit from a greater focus on the "core four," especially if my rulebook of choice is going to be the lovely blue volume I've grown so fond of.

House Rules Summary: Remove the dwarf, elf, and halfling as PC types. Fighting men make saving throws as if they were dwarves or halflings. Thieves can detect secret doors and special dungeon features as if they were dwarves or elves (and their ability to do so advances as per their ability to hear noises). Thieves can vanish into undergrowth like halflings. Fighting men and thieves may wield the +3 Magic War Hammer. Clerics are immune to ghoul paralysis like elves.
EDIT: And give thieves d6 hit dice, for goodness' sake!



*Does anyone remember the "Dungeon & Dragons Adventure Game" starter set from 2000? Not counting video games, I believe that was my entry point into D&D. I got it for Christmas the same December I saw Fellowship of the Ring in the theater. It was magical.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Third Note from Sumnergrave

(This is for my Mansions & Mindfucks campaign, currently in progress.)


Third Note from Sumnergrave - Found by Owen Reid upon awakening from a strange dream in Derceto's secret study on December 5. The note takes the form of a stiff card, folded in half and tied with a red ribbon to a curious tome entitled Teratology Universalis, or "Memoirs to Prove the Existence of the Devil".

Front of Card:



Inside of Card:

Dear adventurers (especially you, Owen Reid),

Merry Christmastime, and congratulations! Our great work, my life's work, is almost complete. Owen, you should give yourself more credit: it is vanishingly rare for any author worth their essential salts to completely nail it on the first draft, let alone a freshman writer! I am most grateful to you for putting corporeal pen to paper and getting the damn thing done in my absence. Few are those both brave and intelligent enough to open their minds to communion with reality. Fewer are those who can subsequently correlate their mind's contents and package the fruit of knowledge for the masses. Heavy lies the crown, yet you wore it for the good of the people. Soon, I hope you will understand the profound beneficence of your labors.

Of course, each of you were essential to the creation of this text. Thus, you have my utmost gratitude. Everything that happens from here on out would be impossible for want of your efforts. I may not come across as the most forthright fellow, but I promise you that I mean this wholeheartedly. To every one of you, past and present (the living and the dead, world without end, amen): please accept my sincerest thanks.

Now all that remains is the matter of publication, or rather, distribution. Luckily, this requires little from you henceforth; a simple delivery job in all likelihood, and perhaps some slight party crashing should certain actors be unamenable to a minor last-minute script revision. Your specialties, no? You need not even go far out of your way, considering the plan you formed with Ooms for the disposal of that ghastly necklace, and the political scheming into which our beloved Renaissance Man has sweet-talked you.*

But there will be time enough for that after tonight's festivities. There is always more than enough time. Have fun. Indulge. Eat, drink...but be wary. Poor Joop must often contend with party crashers of his own, and you wouldn't want him to suffer any mishaps, no? Behind every great author is a good agent, and Ooms is a man with connections. Including rather damning connections to you, one might say. But fear of damnation is the greatest preserver of the status quo, and change is what we aim for.

Season's greetings,
Ambrose Clark Sumnergrave

*Ah, but perhaps you do not remember? Too much liquid time in your eggnog? I'll give you a few clues. In your search for a safe place to discard the aforementioned hideous relic of the Duvan'Ku, you will find two distortions in space in time. They will appear as holes punched in the melted wax of reality, with "GAZE NOT" emblazoned above. Obey this commandment! But without looking closely within, you can deposit your burden. Any hole will do, as certain hedonists used to say.

As for your conspiracy against crown and church, just ask Joop to repeat everything, and I mean everything, he knows about Orelia Woolcott. Remember her?

Finally, there is the matter of Agatha Foxlowe. Ooms did his best, and she is doing relatively well, given the circumstances. But there is no perfect balm for her trauma, save one. To remove any more of her memory, of her pain, would be for her to cease to be herself. "Very well," you might say. "Consign her consciousness to oblivion, and create a happier person in her place." But you remember, don't you, Owen? Time is cyclical. What has been always will be, world without end. Still, perhaps you begin to see a solution.

When this is all over with, I hope that you will come to understand that I did all of this for Agatha Foxlowe. For all of the Agathas in the universe. For you.

Back of Card:




(The pictures above were captioned using the Sierra Death Generator. The first was taken from the NES game Totally Rad. I thought it kind of looked like a weird interpretation of Jacob's Ladder. The second picture was taken from the NES game The Legend of Zelda.)

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.
Skills
  • A bonus Skill Point is awarded at levels 3, 6, 9, and 12.
  • Make ONE of the two following changes to the skill list from version 2.5:
    • The functions of the Seamanship skill are now included in the Bushcraft skill.
    • 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.

UPPER LEVEL
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.

LOWER LEVEL
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.

TREASURE TOTALS*
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.