"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Changing Process of Character Creation

In very broad terms the process of character creation can be broken down into three aspects:

1. Generation - rolling stats, rolling lifepaths, etc.

2. Concept - "I want to play an angsty drow elf that is trying to right the wrongs of his past..."

3. Mechanics - builds, min/max-ing, "controller", etc.

Moving from "old school" D&D to the latest edition, character creation has focused on different aspects.

The oldest versions of D&D focused more on the Generation aspect - roll 3d6, six times in order and see what you get. The Concept and Mechanics resulted out of the Generation. I pick a Fighter (mechanics) because my strength is the highest and his charisma is so low because he was caught in a fire when marauding orcs burnt down his village (concept).

The newest versions of D&D focus more on the Mechanics - 4th edition's "roles", the need for a healer in 3.5E, etc. The balance and structure of the rules requires that the Mechanical aspects of a character be at the forefront. The Generation aspect has been minimized by first using point-buy systems to generate attribute scores and then by codifying a fixed number of hit points instead of rolling.

I would suggest that 2E is the version that most focuses on the Concept aspect of character creation. In yet another way, 2E is the red-headed step child. To me, it is the most "story"-focused of the versions of D&D and how your character fits into that story, the Concept, is a central part of the character generation.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Any Interest in Rebooting the Online B/X game?

If there was interest from a handful of people, I would like to restart it from the beginning. I would like to either plunk some PCs down into some random town in the Wilderlands and sandbox it from there or put the Pit of Tortured Souls to use. Ideally, I would like to set a semi-regular time as well - maybe a couple of times per month.

So any interest?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Caster Level of B/X Magic Items

Page X44 of the Expert Rulebook says:
"In general, magic items are used in the same way as before, except that many items will be much more powerful. When such items have the effect of spells whose effects change with level, consider the power of the item to be as a 6th level spell caster." (emphasis mine)

Page X51 of the Expert Rulebook says that clerics, magic-users and elves can attempt to make magic items "On reaching name level" which is 9th level.

Where do these 6th level magic items come from?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


This is a recent email I sent to my players:
Hey guys,
At the end of last session we discussed the use of minis and a battlegrid. I am not a huge fan of using minis with 2nd edition and earlier D&D - I actually think the combat mechanics work better without them - but I am fine with using them if everyone else wants to. The important thing to remember if we are using a battlegrid and minis is the placement of your mini on the map is not the exact location of your character relative to everything else.

Why is this?
1. The duration of a combat round is 1 minute. It is completely unfeasible for a character to stand in one 5x5 area in a combat situation with horrible abominations trying to kill him for a whole minute.
2. The combat system in 2E and earlier D&D is abstract in that a d20 roll to hit is not the only swing of his sword. It is the culmination of a full minute of intense action involving many swings, parries, feints, wrestling, pushing, dodging, etc. Think of how much action happens in a "Bourne" combat scene during one minute. The number of d20 rolls you get during a melee round is an indication of your ability to have one or more of these many, many actions cause you to gain an advantage and/or your enemy to become disadvantaged. This leads into the actual meaning of "hit points" but that is a whole other discussion. It is because of all of these actions that happen in a 1 minute combat round that means you can't think of your character being in one stationary place on a battlegrid.

So while the minis and battlegrid will show very approximate locations it is best to view groups of minis in a whirl of constant motion in a larger general area instead of a mini in a set 5x5 square.

What does this mean?
1. There are two "states" in combat - "In Melee" and "Not In Melee" - one of the things that the minis and battlegrid will show you is who is in melee against how many opponents and, in a very approximate way, where this melee is happening relative to those "Not In Melee". The "In Melee" state has two positions "Front Rank" and if you have a long weapon (such as a spear) "Second Rank". If you have a long weapon you have to tell me if you are in the second rank - if not I will just assume you are in the front rank. Second Rank allows you to attack from behind your fellow party members, reducing the number of opponents that can attack you.
2. Firing missiles (arrows, thrown hand axes, etc) into melee will still be done as per the DMG - there is the random potential to hit anyone engaged in that melee.
3. The rules for Flanking and Rear attacks will still be done as per the core rules - ie the first 3 opponents are assumed to be to your front, the 4th to your shield flank, the 5th to your other flank, and the 6th to your rear (not including any special situations like a thief hiding in shadows and his sneak attack). So just because your mini shows that you are behind someone doesn't make it so unless you specify that you are in the Second Rank. However, I will allow the thief to sneak attack someone without any hiding or moving silently if he is the 6th opponent to attack that target which the core rules do not allow.
4. To steal a term from 3rd edition D&D - anyone in a melee is "Threatened" by all of the other opponents in that melee. Just because there are 2 squares and another mini between you and the Ogre does not mean that he doesn't get a free attack if you decide to flee (unless you say you are in the second rank).
5. Movement is inexact. For example, if there are two melees happening at opposite ends of a large room and your character decides to leave one melee to go help at the other melee - you can't just count the squares to find out how far you can move. Where you are actually located in the melee you just left is abstract. If it looks like you might be able to make it to the other melee we will roll some dice to see if you make it there.
6. With abstract positioning and movement, knowing where the PCs are in a melee for an area of effect spell will also be abstract. If you are in a large room fighting orcs and the magic-user casts a Fireball into an area that includes a portion of the "In Melee" area, your PC might get caught in the blast. We will handle this by rolling some dice and seeing where your PC actually is.
7. Narrative description is far more important than where the mini is located. I am far more likely to give bonuses for narrative descriptions than mini placement. Telling me that your character "hangs back at the edge of the combat attacking whenever the opportunity presents itself" means more than having your mini at the edge of the melee. In the narrative example, I can rule that you have a minus to attack but also limit the number of opponents that may swing back, give you a bonus to check if you are in the Fireball area of effect, etc. Telling me you jump off a table, bringing your axe down on top of your opponents head may get you a bonus to damage from the momentum. Most of the time I will do a 2-for-1 bonus for penalty - such as a +2 bonus to damage for a -1 penalty to AC in the example of jumping off the table.

What do you think? Any questions/comments?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Adventure Brainstorming

- A Giant Hawk
- Gypsies
- Smuggling


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Fate of the B/X Online Game

With me being AWOL for a while the fate of the online B/X game is a bit up in the air. What does the future hold? I don't know.

I have a few observations from the skype game.

1. I was either too polite in inviting/accepting people into the game or I needed to structure it differently.
Now, I want to make sure this is not misconstrued! I really enjoyed gaming with everyone that played and I am glad to have met everyone that participated but I think the game would be better with either a fixed group (making scheduling more difficult) or a setup similar to the Northern Marches campaign.

The Northern Marches campaign was an open campaign which accommodated the busy schedule of adults. It was structured so that whoever was in attendance could participate. This was partially accomplished through having everyone return to the one site of civilization in the setting or face Jeff Rient's Triple Secret Random Dungeon Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom. By having everyone return to the starting point, it allowed for a full roster of characters for the next session. One thing I found about the skype game is that the pace was slower than a face-to-face game so not as much was accomplished each session. This would make the Northern Marches structure a little more problematic.

2. The DM/Player interaction required to pull off a sandbox-style game is more difficult using an online medium.
A sandbox requires players with the ability to provide goals and this is amplified using something like skype. I find that in a face-to-face game a lot of this information is exchanged either when the group is just BS-ing or talking about the session just completed. This BS-ing is just not as natural with 4 or 5 people on skype. There are other ways of generating this communication such as a group email or blog for the campaign but they just don't work as well as when you can sitdown with the person.

3. I haven't gotten past the lack of visible feedback during play.
I mentioned this a while ago but it still bothers me.

I would definitely run more games using skype but I would likely do a few things differently and place more constraints on it.
Maybe by running a specific adventure module.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Moldvay Basic Part 1: Introduction

Starting on page B3 and X3 respectively, the Introductions for both the Basic and Expert rulebooks each take up two pages and have the same general layout.

The Basic rulebook has the following sections in the introduction:
What the D&D Game Is All About
How To Use This Book
Definitions of Standard D&D Terms
Use of the Word "Level"
How To Use the Dice
How To "Win"

A few things I enjoyed or found interesting:

In the "What the D&D Game Is All About" section there are two great and concise sentences:
"In the D&D rules, individuals play the role of characters in a fantasy world where magic is real and heroes venture out on dangerous quests in search of fame and fortune. Characters gain experience by overcoming perils and recovering treasures." - emphasis mine.
Now, to most people familiar with Classic D&D, these are fairly self-evident, but these two short sentences tell us what D&D is about.

In the "How To Use This Book" section we are told that the Basic rulebook details adventures in dungeons and refers us to the Expert book for levels 4-14 and gives rules for wilderness adventures. It further explains that a supplement - the D&D Companion Set - would provide details for levels 15-36. What else would have been in that supplement?

Near the top of the second column on page B3 is another great paragraph:
"D&D rules all fit together, and the rules that seem confusing at first will become more understandable when used with the rest of the game. This is not like any other game you've ever played before: it is more important that you understand the ideas in the rules than that you know every detail about the game. When you understand how they work, the rules will become more understandable."
We are introduced to the "mapper" and the "caller". The importance of the mapper is stressed and is still something I focus on. There is nothing like taking the map away from the party as they flee from some pursuing monsters and have them try to remember how to get out of the dungeon from memory.

Reading the "How To Use the Dice" section reminds me of the first time I opened the Basic boxed set and I got to handle the dice for the first time. There is still something great about the tactile sensation from D&D dice.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

So what's going on in here?

Hello everyone.

It has been a while since I have felt the muse. With settling into the new fall routine of kids activities and my general malaise as the weather turns in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, I just haven't had much to say with regards to fantasy roleplaying games.

However, something has happened to prompt me to make a new post. One of the original reasons for this blog was to document my attempts to find a new playing group. To that end, I have had postings up at various local gaming stores advertising my attempt to get a new "old school" group together. These postings have had an impact as a number of people contacted me over the past ~9 months. This has culminated in a group of people sitting around my basement this past wednesday evening generating characters. I have previously played with two of the players but three others were newcomers.

The ruleset we are using is 2nd edition AD&D. We went with this as most of the players had a preference for it because it is the system with which they have the most exposure. While it is not my favourite B/X, I still don't mind 2nd Edition.