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:
(More up-to-date version HERE.)

Adventures at Sane Levels
"Sample Dungeon" AKA The Tower of Zenopus (from the Holmes Basic Set)
B6 The Veiled Society - Levels 1-3
MSOLO1 Blizzard Pass - Levels 1-3
B4 The Lost City - Levels 1-3
B7 Rahasia - Levels 2-3
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
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?

Extra Helpings (Add to taste whenever players need more XP between main courses.)
UK5 Eye of the Serpent* - Level 1
B1 In Search of the Unknown - Levels 1-3
B2 The Keep on the Borderlands - Levels 1-3
B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (Orange Cover Version by Jean Wells) - Levels 1-3
B5 Horror on the Hill - Levels 1-3
B8 Journey to the Rock - Levels 1-3
B9 Castle Caldwell and Beyond - Levels 1-3
N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God* - Levels 1-3
T1 The Village of Hommlet* - Levels 1-3
U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh* - Levels 1-3
U2 Danger at Dunwater* - Levels 1-4
U3 The Final Enemy* - Levels 3-5
UK2 The Sentinel* - Levels 2-5
UK3 The Gauntlet* - Levels 3-6
UK4 When a Star Falls* - Levels 3-5
UK6 All That Glitters...* - Levels 3-5
T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil* - Levels 1-8
UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave* - Levels 4-7
X3 Curse of Xanathon - Levels 5-7
I2 Tomb of the Lizard King* - Levels 5-7
O2 Blade of Vengeance - Solo Level 7 Elf
X6 Quagmire! - Levels 4-10
X9 The Savage Coast - Levels 4-10
UK7 Dark Clouds Gather* - Levels 7-9
EX1 Dungeonland* - Levels 9-12
EX2 The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror* - Levels 9-12
X10 Red Arrow, Black Shield - Levels 10-14
CM1 Test of the Warlords - Levels 15+
Hollow World Boxed Set - Levels 1-3, Levels 4-9, and "high Expert or low Companion level"
HWR1 Sons of Azca - Levels 1-3, Levels 1-5, Levels 6-8, Levels 1-7, and Levels 8-11
HWR2 Kingdom of Nithia - No Levels Specified
HWR3 Milenian Empire - Levels 2-3, Levels 3-5, and Levels 9-11
HWQ1 Milenian Scepter - Levels 6-8
HWA1 Nightwail - Levels 6-8
HWA2 Nightrage - Levels 7-9
HWA3 Nightstorm - Levels 8-10

*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. (Updated HERE!)
  • 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.
    • Alternatively, I might decide that "open door" rolls are not required for opening normal dungeon doors at all, but rather for bashing them open quickly and smoothly enough for the normal possibility of surprising enemies on the other side to apply. If the roll is failed, there is simply no chance of surprising anyone on the other side. For locked doors, I would say that opening it with the proper key or having a thief pick the lock would similarly allow the normal surprise chance, but if one bashes the door open (assuming this is even possible with a locked door, which might not be the case) there would be no possibility of surprising those on the other side.
  • 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 even more ancient structures, said to be magically sealed off from the city by the power of the Black Opal Eye. Perhaps these 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.)