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

Friday, December 3, 2010

I make a Diplomacy roll

I have been having a couple of crazy weeks at work which has adversely impacted my gaming and my surfing of the blog-o-verse. However, I have managed to catch a bit of Ryan Dancey's discussion about social mechanics.

Trollsmyth has made a number of posts on the subject starting with this one that I have found interesting.

Upon my return to RPGs a couple of years ago, I took great interest in the social mechanics that had been introduced to all of the new games that had appeared in my absence from the hobby. At first, I bought into the argument why should a player who is not as social adept as their character suffer while another player who has never had a sword can effectively play a great warrior. However, as I quickly returned to my roots of old-school D&D I relearned the fact that the need for social mechanics in the game is redundant with a relationship between player and DM. Afterall, one of my favourite things about playing RPGs is that it is a social activity.

That being said, my favourite B/X has a couple of subsystems which can quickly handle social situations - the Reaction and Morale systems. Both of these systems are meant to give the DM quick and easy guidelines for the resolution of such situations but are not meant to be the sole method for determining the outcomes. If the reaction roll for an NPC is positive but the characters are determined to be a bunch of A-holes to NPC there should be consequences.

This quote from Trollsmyth really encapsulates how I feel about the subject:
What it means is you should not have mechanics for social interaction if the goal of the game is to have the players interact socially. In the same way that the combat rules in D&D mean that the players don't have to actually swing swords in the air, mechanics to handle social situations mean the players don't actually have to engage in any sort of social interaction.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A different initiative system

An unplaytested, hypothetical, alternate sequence for resolving B/X combat:

All combatants complete each portion of the sequence before proceeding to the next portion of the sequence.

A. Morale checks, if needed (page B27)

B. Movement per round - meleed opponents may only move defensively, if not meleed the character can move and fire missiles or move and fight hand-to-hand (close for melee). Spellcasters may not move and cast spells.

C. Missile fire combat - Missile combat will be handled in the following order:
1. Thrown
2. Short Bow
3. Long Bow
4. Sling
5. Crossbow

D. Magic spells - magic spells will be handled i order of the level of the spell being cast (lowest level to highest level)

E. Melee combat - Melee combat will be handled in the following order during the first round of combat, when opponents first close:
1. Lance
2. Polearm
3. Two-Handed Sword
4. Spear
5. Staff
6. Battle axe
7. War Hammer
8. Sword
9. Mace
10. Club
11. Hand Axe
12. Short Sword
13. Dagger

For all subsequent combat rounds, after opponents have closed, melee will be handled in the reverse order (daggers to lances). combatants using the same weapon will go simultaneously.

When it becomes important to know who goes first when doing something besides straight up combat, opposed d6 individual initiative rolls (modified by DEX Initiative Adjustments), will determine what happens first. For example, two characters diving for the same object, a character trying to dive behind cover before an opponent can fire an arrow at him, or trying to move past a bodyguard to get to the evil ruler.

This might be fairly close to the system shown in the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets but I haven't looked at those in a while so I could be wrong. What do you think?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Poor planning for winter crafts

Over the past year I took up painting minis. I am actually pretty happy with how my recent painting projects have turned out. Living in Calgary, I have found that most of my rpg playing happens during the cold, dark winter months. I have also been thinking that winter would be a good time to get some mini painting done. However, the daytime temperatures here are already barely 5 degrees celsius. I have been priming my minis with spray primers but they all require a temp higher than what we will see here in Calgary for many months. I had planned to have primed a bunch of minis to prep for the winter but suffice it to say that this didn't happen. What do other mini painters in the great white north do for priming their minis during the winter? I have a garage but it isn't heated and doesn't get warm enough and I don't want to spray primer in the house. Is there a brush on primer that is good?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The refreshing Thool air

Scott over at Huge Ruined Pile has started to revisit his Thool setting as a side project.

I am looking forward to it as I found his setting to be very imaginative.

Here is a copy of my character sheet for his long-lost play-by-post game. Oh, Ungar... How I miss you.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

B/X Monsters - Mummy

Happy Halloween!

B/X does not have a ghost monster entry so instead you get the mummy.

The mummy is another great sword & sorcery monster in B/X. Two things I really like about the B/X mummy is the sparseness of the description and the sword & sorcery-esque fear mechanic.

The description on page X36 is very short and really only covers some basic ecology and combat mechanics, leaving the imagery up to the DM's own expectations. This will, of course, mean that most mummies will be of the wrapped in bandages style. Mummies are described to lurk near deserted ruins and tombs (presumably their own). However, their is no mention of deserts or ancient egypt style pyramids or flavour. For the devious DM, this means that a mummy could look like a normal person maybe with the stench of disease and decay enveloping them.

On seeing a mummy, characters must make a save vs paralysis or be paralyzed with fear until the mummy attacks someone or goes out of sight. I like this as a large part of sword & sorcery literature is the instinctive fear of unnatural things— magic and creatures that defy explanation. Such things are unwholesome and evil; therefore, they should be feared.

A mummy causes a hideous rotting disease with a hit. This is nasty as there is no mention of a saving throw and if you are paralyzed by fear the hit is a near sure thing unless someone is able to intervene. The disease causes all healing to take 10 times longer than normal and prevents all magical healing. This really hinders the management of one of the main resources in the game - hit points. The only way to get rid of the disease is with a cure disease spell which is a 3rd level cleric spell which requires an Elder Cleric (6th level) to cast. In my settings, 6th level clerics are fairly rare which sets up all sorts of possible adventure hooks.

Have a safe and happy Halloween and watch out for mummies as you don't want to be paralyzed by fear (as a Normal Man you only have a 25% chance of making your saving throw) or catching a terrible rotting disease.

City of Thieves

As I try to get Red Box Calgary up and going, I have been thinking about a campaign setting that I would like to run. I had a couple of simple criteria that I wanted to make sure the setting allowed for. I wanted to focus mainly on dungeons and I wanted to allow for the quick return of characters to a central location to allow for the changing roster of players inherent to an open game.

After some reading and some plagiarism, this is what I have come up with and posted on the Red Box Calgary wiki:

Throughout the known world, no city is half so notorious. Blackened by fire, soiled by pestilence, and scarred by war, its sandy collection of spiderwebbed tenements and rat-ridden bazaars have birthed some of the worst rogues and villains to ever stalk the storied thrones of the north.

But Jekarra is also a city of chance and adventure, where fortunes are won in a night and lost before dawn. Where gems glint and flare in the lamplight, the might of magic knows no bounds, and a warrior's quick blade and shirt of mail are his best defense.

So loosen your sword, keep a hand on your coin pouch, and take these first steps into its shadowy, torch-lit streets. A black mist is rolling in off the salt marsh, and the ancient city beckons…

Welcome to Jekarra the Wicked, city of thieves, city of the long night, city of adventure. Rich, poor, religious, debased - all of these and more can be found here. It all depends on where you look.

The idea for Jekkara the Wicked came from Thieves World. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Thieves World was/is a setting developed by the author Robert Asprin for a series of fantasy anthologies. The idea was to create a common, consistent backdrop, then invite a wide variety of authors to write stories using that setting, but exploring their own characters and interests within it.

That is what I am trying to do with Jekkara. I want to develop a very high-level overview of a setting where various Red Box Calgary DM's can set their own adventures. An ancient, sprawling and decadent city with a maze of catacombs and vaults beneath it provides for numerous adventure opportunities.

The name "Jekkara" comes from my love of Leigh Brackett's stories.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Red Box Calgary

I have been ridiculously busy with work the last while, however, I have recently been in contact with K-Slacker from Tempora Mutantur and Paladin from A Paladin in Citadel about scheduling an old school game. K-Slacker suggested that each of us run a one-shot for fun and then we can decide where to go to from there.

We are using the forums over at Red Box Calgary to discuss and schedule something and also to hopefully get some more interest.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

B/X Combat - Fast, faster, fastest

One of the benefits (at least in my mind) of B/X combat is the speed at which it is resolved.

Recent editions have focused on taking long duration combats and giving the players enough "fiddly bits" to make the combats interesting. However, I prefer the fast, abstract combats of B/X. A few reasons why:

1. Initiative is rolled every round - I much prefer this to the cyclical initiative in the most recent editions. I like the uncertainty and I really like the fact that it eliminates the need for such things as Attacks of Opportunity. It is also instrumental in balancing spellcasters and fighters.

2. Declaration of actions prior to initiative - I find that this and the fact that initiative is rolled every round keeps players at the table and interested. it also speeds things up. It eliminates the "what am I going to do this round…" when it cycles to each players' turn.

3. You can really try anything - I know that free form actions in combat are not restricted in 3E or 4E but I find that feats and powers have the unintended consequence of focusing a players decisions to a relative narrow scope of actions. There are no such mechanical focuses in B/X.

3. Fast feedback - Tactics in B/X are very different than in the most recent editions. Proper tactics in B/X are really focused on the decisions made prior to combat - things such as marching order, choke points, resource management, etc. But there are still enough decision points after entering combat to give players some control over what happens after combat begins - such things as trying to trigger opponents morale checks, when to withdraw or retreat, etc. The speed with which B/X combat is resolved allows for quick feedback of these larger macro decisions. There may only be three of these large scope decisions to be made each combat but the speed of B/X combat allows for these decisions to be made in quick succession. The longer combats of recent editions instead focus on micro decisions such as 5-ft steps, avoiding attacks of opportunities, etc. I would rather have a 10 minute combat where there are three important decisions that impact the outcome of the combat and then move onto the next encounter instead of an hour long combat where there are thirty decisions each of which has a minor impact on the outcome of the combat.

4. Onto the next encounter - I much prefer a series of short interesting encounters than a long encounter with a series of variables. Maybe it is a lack of attention span.

However, recently I have been finding myself getting wrapped up in the narrative description of what is happening in a combat. I am beginning to think this is actually a "bad" thing. Why would describing the action be bad?

1. Slows things down - if one of the key benefits/strengths of B/X combat is speed, anything which detracts from this is harming the action.

2. I can't compare to players' imagination - How can the words I use compete with the image in each player's head? Any verbs or adjectives I use may be counter to how a player imagines the action. My descriptions cannot be as vivid nor as interesting as what a player can have in their mind's eye.

3. It takes focus off of the important decisions - who cares if the orc hit with an overhand chop or a sweep at the legs? it doesn't impact the decisions that the players can make to affect the combat.

4. It takes focus off the things which do create tension in B/X combat - Tension in a B/X combat is not created by intricate description of the action but instead by the attrition of the party's resources. Quick combat keeps the focus on how many hit points you have left, what spells you have remaining, how many retainers have fallen, etc. Me describing how a bunch of hobgoblins press the attack does not create tension as much as a player seeing their hit points dwindle under the on-slot of those hobgoblins.

What do you think? Do you prefer fast abstract combats with only a few significant decision points or long combats with a large number of intricate decisions? Do you use colourful descriptions in your combats or instead stick to the basic, "you are hit for 6 points of damage"?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

B/X Monsters - Carrion Crawler

Two thoughts about the Carrion Crawler:
1. What is it about the illustration of the Carrion Crawler? I remember being fascinated by it as a kid and now my kids are fascinated by it.

2. Eight tentacles! Yipes. Given that they are each 2 feet long and a Carrion Crawler is 3 feet tall, I would guesstimate that the spread of tentacles would be about 5 to 6 feet. Put a Carrion Crawler in the middle of a 10 ft wide dungeon corridor and you have a wall of tentacles coming at you. A Carrion Crawler hits Armour Class 2 35% of the time and with eight attacks each round the characters are looking at making a lot of saving throws.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

B/X Monsters - Bandits

Another "man-monster", bandits to me really reinforce the relative differences between adventurers, monsters and normal men as discussed in the excellent post by JB on B/X Blackrazor.

We are told that bandits are NPC thieves that have banded together for the purpose of robbing others. Looking at the entries for bandits and normal men we can see that bandits have on average nearly twice as many hit points and are +1 better to hit compared to normal men. Their dangerous and nefarious lifestyles make bandits far more dangerous than normal men. The average farmer would be terrified of a group of bandits as they could easily take what they wanted and kill him and his family.

We are told that bandits have a leader that can be of any class. This leaves open many possible adventure hooks. A bandit group led by a magic-user could have very different goals than one led by a cleric or thief.

Looking at the Wilderness Encounter Table - Subtable: Men on page X57, bandits can be found in nearly all terrain types, except desert and ocean where they are replaced by dervishes and pirates respectively. Bandits are more likely to be found in "Inhabited" or "City" areas which makes sense since you need other people to rob.

In my games, bandits are often one of the most common monsters.

I would like to come up with an adventure hook involving a group of bandits led by a cleric that are hiding out in a jungle.

B/X King of the Ring: Clerics vs Fighters

In the comments to the post: Does the B/X Fighter need to be Buffed? K-Slacker mentions how he doesn't like that at times the Cleric surpasses the Fighter in fighting ability. Now, I've never really examined this in detail before. I put the following tables in the comments section to that post but I wanted to pull them into a post of their own.

Table 1: Cleric vs Fighter THAC0

Table 2: Cleric vs Fighter Average Hit Points

So yes, from a hit point perspective the Cleric does intermittently surpass Fighters at low (from 1,500 to 12,000) experience point levels. However, I don't think the discrepancy is enough to tip the scales too far in the Clerics favour as the discrepancy only lasts for a short time.

Also, if the optional variable damage system is used, the damage output of the fighter will likely be higher as they will likely have a weapon that will do at least 1d8 damage and they might have a strength based damage bonus. Also fighters will likely have any magic swords that are found.

Screwing Magic-Users

In the comments of my previous post Will says:
"Regarding the "by the book rules for spellbooks": I suppose if you really want to run it that way, nobody can stop you, but I think it's a clear case of adhering to the letter of the rules rather than their spirit, since context (every version of the game before and since) makes it clear that this is a simple misinterpretation. I'd never make run a M-U in a game with that rule in effect, because I'd obviously be getting screwed."

Two comments:
1. B/X was the first version of D&D I played. I picked up Moldvay's basic set when I was 10 years old and played that for five years before I picked up the AD&D PHB. I don't see how using the B/X rulebooks as written could possibly be a misinterpretation. I would contend that anyone that doesn't use this rule is house ruling their B/X game. Which is fine. I house rule some aspects of my game as well.

2. I don't think the rule as written obviously screws the magic-user. Sure it limits his versatility but page X11 says, "Magic-users and elves must be taught their new spells… Either the player or the DM may choose any new spells." I usually run this as various high level magic-users have their own specific spellbooks. Some will be famous for having certain spells such as the witch in the swamp that can communicate with otherworldly beings (Contact Higher Plane) or the Ice Mage that lives in the castle on top of a glacier (Wall of Ice). When a PC magic-user wants to learn a new spell they can do some research about who has the desired spell already in their spellbook and can then go an approach that magic-user about learning the spell from them. This allows players to customize their magic-user exactly the way they want and gives numerous adventure and roleplaying opportunities.

I agree that some players will dislike the limitations placed upon magic-users by using this rule. That's fine. I don't like playing clerics. Everyone has their own preferences. However, I like the rule and plan to continue to use it in my B/X games.

What do you think? Does the rule limit magic-users and elves too much?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Does the B/X Fighter need to be "buffed"?

A little while ago a short thread started on Dragonsfoot about adding multiple attacks for fighters as they advance in levels. The thread specifically focused on BECMI but that is close enough to B/X for me to comment.

The thesis put forward in the thread is that the damage output of fighters is dwarfed by spellcasters in later levels and that by adding extra attacks the fighter can keep up.

I don't think this is necessary. One of the reasons why I love B/X is that the by-the-book rules for spellbooks (whether intentionally written this way or not) is that magic-users and elves may only have as many spells in their spellbook as they are able to cast each day. I believe that this limits spellcasters so that such tweaks are unnecessary. Yes, a couple of times per day they may be able do things the fighter can't but the magic-user's limited resources and versatility keeps the fighter very relevant.

What do you think? Do B/X fighters need "buffing"?

B/X Monsters - White Ape

White apes are one of my favourite monsters. They illicit a strong sword & sorcery vibe. If I make up the tower of a decadent wizard, odds are that I included a white ape inside as a guard. White apes are tough (HD 4) and quick (move 120') but they are fairly easy to hit (AC 6) and don't cause too much damage with their two attacks (1-4 each). They also have ranged attack - they may throw stones for 1d6 damage.

Another reason why I like them is that they are associated with Neanderthals which I also really like for their S&S vibe.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

B/X Monsters - Acolyte

The Acolyte is one of many "man-monsters" in the B/X rules. The roster of man-monsters and lost world monsters are part of what I believe gives B/X a certain flavour. So let's look at the Acolyte…

They have an armour class of 2 which isn't surprising given the low cost of platemail in B/X. This makes them tough foes for low level PCs as they would have a low probability of hitting.

An odd fact is that acolytes have 1 hit dice of the d8 variety even though clerics are only 1d6. Tougher than the average 1st level cleric. Like other 1st level clerics though, an acolyte doesn't have any cleric spells.

Acolytes are on a pilgrimage and are found in groups of 1 to 8 in a 1st level dungeon or 1 to 20 in the wilderness. They will all be of the same alignment with an equal chance of being lawful, neutral or chaotic. This raises a number of interesting possibilities such as a party encountering a group of lawful acolytes on a pilgrimage in a dungeon that is the lair of a bunch of chaotic monsters. Why are they there? Where are they going or where are they returning from? Or maybe the party encounters a large group of chaotic pilgrims in the wilderness. With the low AC, a low level party better hope for a good reaction roll!

While all acolytes will be of the same alignment, the monster listing doesn't mention anything about their god/goddess. Do they all worship the same god or do they worship a pantheon of gods all of the same alignment?

Acolytes may be accompanied by a leader of 2nd to 5th level. The leader's spells may be chosen by the DM or determined randomly. With my love of randomness, I would roll for them. I would love to try to figure out why a Vicar of Chaos has Speak with Animals memorized.

Acolytes have treasure type U which means that the acolyte likely has 5 cp, 5 sp and 5 gp. 1-in-20 will have some gems or jewelry. 1-in-50 will also have a magic item - maybe a holy artifact.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Fist Full of Gold Pieces

I love using spaghetti westerns as a source for inspiration for D&D adventures.

The party arrives at the little small town in the borderlands. An innkeeper, tells the party about the bitter feud between two groups vying to gain control of the town: on the one side, the Iron Ring, a notorious band of thieves; on the other, the family of the town sheriff, Eli Thorrma.

The next day, the party witness a detachment of the local Lord's soldiers passing through town escorting a shipment of gold. If the party follows the troops out of town, they witnesses the soldiers being massacred by a band of elves, who are actually members of the Iron Ring gang in disguise.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Aloles, Medium of the Copper Bonds

Name: Aloles, Medium of the Copper Bonds
Sex: Male
Class: Magic-user
Level [1]
XP [0] [+10%]
XP required for next level [2,500]
Alignment Chaotic

STR [9]
INT [17] (reads & writes common, chaotic, goblin & medusa; +10% XP)
WIS [11]
DEX [8] (-1 missile fire; +1 AC penalty; -1 initiative)
CON [13] (+1 hp/HD)
CHR [5] (+1 reactions; Max. # Retainers 2; Retainer Morale 5)

[10 yikes] AC (none)
[2] HP (1d4 hit dice; +1 Con)
Move 120/40/120 ft

Saving Throws
[13] Death Ray or Poison
[14] Magic Wands
[13] Paralysis or Turn to Stone
[16] Dragon Breath
[15] Rod, Staff, or Spell

Class Abilities:
Spells (1st - Floating Disk)

Encumbrance [174]
Coins PP GP 84 EP SP CP

Dagger (10 cn)


Gear (80 cn):
Backpack (holds 400 cn)
6 flasks of oil
50' rope

Other Treasure:

Descriptors: untrained performer

Motivations: seek lust, oppress literature, plunder the populous

(Descriptors and motivations are from Conjecture Games' UNE the universal NPC emulator)

Wow, Aloles sounds like quite the guy. For someone who will really need retainers, Aloles will have a heck of a time hiring them and keeping them around.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Brother Dunnbelly

Just because I felt like making a B/X character...

Name: Brother Dunnbelly, Child of the Abundant Shrine
Sex: Male
Class: Cleric
Level [1]
XP [0] [+10%]
XP required for next level [1,500]
Alignment Lawful

STR [12]
INT [12] (reads & writes common & lawful)
WIS [16] (+2 on magic-based saving throws; +10% XP)
DEX [11]
CON [10]
CHR [15] (+1 reactions; Max. # Retainers: 5; Retainer Morale 8)

[2] AC (platemail, shield)
[3] HP (1d6 hit dice)
Move 60/20/60 ft

Saving Throws
[11] Death Ray or Poison
[12] Magic Wands
[14] Paralysis or Turn to Stone
[16] Dragon Breath
[15] Rod, Staff, or Spell

Class Abilities:
Turn Undead (skeleton 7; zombie 9; ghoul 11)
Cleric spells (at 2nd level)

Encumbrance [714]
Coins PP GP 4 EP SP CP

Mace (30 cn)

Platemail (500 cn)
Shield (100 cn)

Gear (80 cn):
Holy symbol
Backpack (holds 400 cn)
Wineskin and quart of wine
6 Torches
1 week standard rations

Other Treasure:

Descriptors: destitute pioneer

Motivations: record disbelief; attend greed; refine communications

(Descriptors and motivations are from Conjecture Games' UNE the universal NPC emulator)

From the motivations, I think that Brother Dunnbelly is a poor traveller wandering the Borderlands collecting oral stories and myths. He is hoping to publish a collective work that will make him rich and famous. All for the benefit of the Abundant Shrine of course...

Monday, August 2, 2010

Does the monster flee or do all the monsters flee?

I have blogged about B/X Morale before but I wanted to check and see how people apply the morale check. Do you roll the dice once and apply it to all the monsters as a group or do you roll for each monster and apply the results individually?

For example, a group of six goblins check morale:

Do you roll once and determine if all of the goblins continue to fight or do they all flee?


Do you roll morale six times and apply the result to each individual goblin?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

What I've been thinking about

1. Adding tactical combat aspects to Barbarians of Lemuria or B/X by hacking Melee. Sometimes I like to get the minis out. I have been playing 4E to get my tactical mini fix but I have pretty much lost any interest in 4E. Plus you gotta love Melee's use of hexes.

2. Giving the Mythic GM Emulator a try with either Barbarians of Lemuria or B/X. This is after reading a very interesting and well written play report of a solo (I believe) campaign using Mythic and FATE in an alternate Dragonlance campaign over at the Big Purple.

3. The forums over at Red Box Calgary have picked up a bit during the last couple of weeks. I have been very negligent about Red Box Calgary the last few months as I have been getting acclimated to my new job, coaching both of my kids in different sports, and taking some summer vacations. Hopefully, we can get some B/X gaming going down at the Sentry Box again soon.

4. Crap! I missed Scott Driver's call for players for a PBP game. I really enjoyed Mr. Driver's Thool PBP game.

5. Barbarians of the Black. Using the Barbarians of Lemuria engine for a Firefly campaign.

6. Megadungeons. I have been getting the itch to create my own megadungeon. I may post some thoughts later.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Remembering the Northern Marches

Well, hello there. Long time no see.

It has been awfully quiet around here the last while. I have been settling into my new job for the last couple of months and dealing with all of the kids summertime activities. I have been coaching my daughter's softball team and my son's soccer team.

With all the stuff going on the last while my level of gaming has declined dramatically. I am still DMing my 2nd edition AD&D game using Paizo's Rise of the Runelords. However, I have been woefully deficient in updating my blog about the campaign. I have really been enjoying it.

However, one thing I miss is my old Northern Marches game. Looking back the last session I DM'ed of that campaign was a year ago now. Looking back I know I made a number of mistakes with that campaign (primarily with the treasure level) but I sure enjoyed it. While the 2E campaign is really enjoyable, B/X is my favourite version of D&D for a reason (actually a number of reasons).

Also, my attempt to get Red Box Calgary going has also stalled due to my home and work activities. I am hoping to reboot it in the fall at which time I might try to restart the Northern Marches.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Thool guy, new blog

I have always loved everything that Scott Driver has blogged about in the past. His old Wilderlands OD&D and World of Thool blogs were always great inspiration and even made me feel a bit jealous about his creativity. It's a shame he took them down.

Well, Scott has a new blog Mandragora. You should really check it out.

Friday, May 7, 2010

If the thief is rolling the dice he is already dead

In my 2E game, there is a player who's character is a thief. Even though this is a 2E game, and some people only see evil when they think of 2E, this player is playing his thief very old-school. Last night, the thief an 3 other members of the party were investigating a ruined pyramid that they discovered was littered with traps. As the thief successfully lead the party through the deadly maze it made me think about the thief skill of find/remove traps.

A specific example of one incident... the party came upon a room in the pyramid that was still under construction when the pyramid was abandoned. The thief quickly emptied his backpack and filled it and some large sacks with broken chunks of brick and stone. He then spent the next while dropping or throwing chunks of rock where ever he thought there may be a pressure-plate or tripwire. It was activities such as this that made me think that the find traps skill is really akin to a saving throw.

If the thief-player is using his head, the find traps ability becomes the last resort - the "holy crap I hope this saves me" - dice roll that a saving throw represents. If the player describes what precautions he is taking and how he is protecting himself, the percentage roll to find traps becomes an after-thought except in the more devious of circumstances.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why B/X Is My Favorite #19

Page B47:
"IDENTIFYING MAGIC ITEMS: A character can only identify the exact type of item by testing it (trying on a ring, sipping the potion, etc.)."

B/X doesn't have an Identify spell (which makes a nice gap for a magic-user to research a new spell). Sure a magic-user or cleric can cast Detect Magic but that even just ups the tension and suspense. Should you try the new magical chainmail you found? What does it do? Sure it might be chainmail +3 but it also might be cursed chainmail AC9... a BIG difference!

I think that one of the reasons why magic items have lost the "magic" in recent editions is it is either too easy to identify a magic item without risk or, even worse, players are just told what a magic item does up front.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Barbarians of Greyhawk

Over on Beyond the Black Gate are a great series of posts about re-imagining Greyhawk as a sword & sorcery setting.

This has got me thinking about running a short Greyhawk campaign using Barbarians of Lemuria, which has become one of my favourite sword & sorcery rule sets.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Under a vampire's spell

On page X41, the vampire's charm ability is described as:
"A vampire may also attempt to charm any who gaze into its eyes. The victim must save vs Spells to avoid the charm, with a -2 penalty on the roll. A charmed victim will be totally under the vampire's control, but cannot use spells or magic." (Italicized emphasis mine)

On page B16, the charm spell is limited by:
"Any commands given will usually be obeyed, except that orders against its nature (alignment and habits) may be resisted, and an order to kill itself will be refused."

Is the vampire's charm ability the same as the normal charm spell? If a victim is "totally under the vampires control" can they resist orders against their nature?

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Mistaken Synchronicity of Basic's Missile Weapons

I like to believe that the Moldvay, Cook and Marsh version of D&D is near perfect and everything in it was very carefully considered and forms a utopian synergistic whole. I also know that all it takes is to look for the description of the Detect Invisibility spell to blow that belief out of the water but let me dream.

Looking at the Missile Fire Ranges and Variable Weapon Damage tables in the Basic rulebook there are four missile weapons (not including thrown weapons):

Crossbow* Short 5-80, Medium 81-160, Long 161-240, Damage 1-6
Longbow Short 5-70, Medium 71-140, Long 141-210, Damage 1-6
Shortbow Short 5-50, Medium 51-100, Long 101-150, Damage 1-6
Slings Short 5-40, Medium 41-80, Long 81-140, Damage 1-4

* Two-handed weapon - always looses initiative.

Even though longbows and shortbows are not marked as two-handed weapons they obviously are. However, I like to think that this isn't a mistake or typo. I like to think this is a deliberate design choice to differentiate longbows and shortbows and allow them to follow the normal initiative rules.

This gives four distinct missile weapons:
1. Crossbows have the longest range, can be used by anyone except clerics but always loses initiative;
2. Longbows are in the middle for range, follow the normal initiative rules but can't be used by dwarves, halflings, clerics or magic-users;
3. Shortbows have only a slightly longer range than slings, follow the normal initiative rules and can be used by anyone except clerics and magic-users.
4. Slings have the shortest range, low damage and can be used by clerics.

Of course, then the Expert rulebook throws out this idealized belief of mine when it says that crossbows can only fire once every other round.

Oh well, I can ignore that if I have to.

Wow, JB nails it

I am late to the party but I wanted to link to JB's excellent post about the differences between classed adventurers and B/X's normal men even if just to make it easier for me to find it again.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rulings Not Rules - You are being followed

A thread on Dragonsfoot about how to handle character perception pointed to an article by Thomas Ruddick in Dragon magazine issue #133 which posited the following example:
His Honor the Lord Mayor was naturally quite interested in the adventurers who took temporary residence in one of the finer inns of the town — especially when he learned that one of their aims was to find the local assassins’ guild and settle an old score with it. The guild had caused the Lord Mayor many problems in the past, and he welcomed the possibility that the guild might soon suffer problems of its own. The adventurers, however, were close-mouthed and were cool toward his offers of assistance. His course of action was to rely on the capable services of Ferd, his halfling informant. Ferd began to tail the adventurers whenever they ventured into the city reporting back to the Mayor on their activities.

At this point, the DM creating this scenario must pause. Obviously, the game is going to develop in different ways depending on whether or not the adventurers notice that a nondescript halfling is following them around. How should he determine if the characters notice or not?

So, using the B/X rules how would you handle the likelihood of the party spotting the halfling?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rulings Not Rules - Sneaking past a guard

My post a couple of days ago about B/X resolution systems got me thinking about how to adjudicate certain situations.

Here is a situation that I remember from an old thread at Original D&D Discussion which I can no longer find. Assuming the use of B/X D&D how would you adjudicate the following situation:

A player character (not a thief) is trying to sneak across the entrance to a hallway in a dungeon. At the end of a hallway is a guard standing in front of a doorway. There is one torch in the hallway where the guard is. The guard is standing about 40 ft from where the player character is trying to sneak across.

How would you handle the situation? Does the PC have a chance to sneak past undetected? What rules would you use or what rulings would you make?

EDIT: Here is what I would do (of course, just one of many ways to handle the situation):

Case 1: The PC is wearing metal armour, carrying usual adventuring gear, etc.
I would give the guard a Listen check with a +1 or +2 bonus (so a 3 or 4 in 6 chance of hearing the PC approaching).
If he heard the guard failed his Listen check then I would roll Surprise with a +1 bonus (so a 1 in 6 chance of being surprised).
If the guard was surprised I wold then rule that he was asleep or something.
This gives the PC about a 5% to 8% chance of succeeding in sneaking past.

Case 2: The PC has stripped off armour, padded anything that could make noise and is generally being really stealthy.
I would roll Surprise for the guard. If he was surprised I would rule that he had is back turned or wasn't paying attention for a moment, etc.
This gives the PC a 33% chance of succeeding.

Case 3: A thief (even though I mentioned the PC wasn't a thief).
Make a Move Silently check. If he succeeded then I would give him a bonus to the same surprise roll I used in Case 2. Note that I am using the RAW that to Hide in Shadows the thief has to remain still so that skill isn't relevant.
This give the thief PC the best chance.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Combat Modifiers

I have mentioned a number of times how much I enjoy the abstract combat system in B/X. To me each individual piece fits together like a puzzle to give a near perfect abstract/narrative combat system that also gives players important tactical options.

Part of this combat system is a distinct lack of modifiers for "to hit" rolls. Taking a quick look through the Character Classes and The Encounter sections of the Basic rulebook gives the following modifiers that can be applied to "to hit" rolls:

- Thieves Abilities (B10): The thieves' "backstab" ability which grants a +4 bonus
- Resting (B19) and Running (B24): if not rested a character will have a -1 or -2 penalty, respectively
- Retreat (B25): opponent can add a +2 bonus
- Range (B26): +1 to hit with missile weapons at short range and -1 to hit at long range
- Cover (B26): -1 to -4 based on how much cover

- And of course Ability score bonuses (Strength for melee and Dexterity for missile attacks) and magical bonuses.

The lack of a multitude of situational modifiers goes hand in hand with the abstract system where one "to hit" roll does not equal one swing of a sword.

It doesn't surprise me that most of the modifiers listed above are related to missile attacks. Missile fire just doesn't fit as nicely into the abstract combat system.

Monday, April 5, 2010

B/X Skills, Actions and Resolution Subsystems

A quick read of the B/X rulebooks gives a list of the following resolution systems (and I may have missed some):

1. "to hit" rolls
2. saving throws
3. thieves' abilities
4. turning undead
5. opening stuck doors
6. finding secret doors
7. listening
8. reaction rolls
9. surprise
10. damage
11. morale
12. ability checks (save vs abilities)
13. evasion
14. foraging
15. spell research and magic item creation
16. becoming lost

These can be broken down into the following basic mechanic systems:
d20 vs target number
1d6, 1 or 2 succeeds
2d6 higher better
d20 under target number
d% vs target number

I think they can also be broken into the following thematic groupings:
"to hit" rolls - combat actions and maneuvers
saving throws - last ditch reaction to an action
reaction rolls - social, non-combat interaction
morale - combat interaction
open doors, foraging, etc - proactive, non-combat, physical, adventuring-type actions
find secret doors, listening and surprise - perception, awareness, intuition, etc.
ability checks - proactive skill-based actions
d% - very granular skills and "holy crap" actions

A quick look at the d20 SRD lists the skills below. Based on the B/X resolution systems, I have given a quick "conversion" of how I would handle each d20 skill-based action using B/X. Of course, each situation may be different and how I may handle each situation may change based on various factors.

Appraise - either roll a 1 or 2 on a d6 or an ability check
Balance - either a dex check or a d% check, maybe a "to hit" roll modified by dex if in combat
Bluff - reaction roll if outside of combat or a morale check if in combat
Climb - a thief ability, dex check or a d6 roll
Concentration - I wouldn't use this
Craft - either an ability check or a d6 roll
Decipher Script - read magic or read language spells, maybe a Int check of a d6 roll
Diplomacy - reaction roll
Disable Device - thief ability
Disguise - a d6 roll or a d%
Escape Artist - a d6 roll or a d%
Forgery - a d6 roll or a d%
Gather Information - reaction roll or a d6
Handle Animal - reaction roll
Heal - healing rules are given in the rulebooks
Hide - thief ability or surprise roll
Intimidate - reaction roll if outside of combat or a morale check if in combat
Jump - d6 roll, a dex check or maybe a d%
Knowledge - d6 roll or an int check
Listen - d6 roll
Move Silently - thief ability, surprise roll
Open Lock - thief ability
Perform - reaction roll
Profession - ability check or d6 roll
Ride - I assume everyone know how to generally ride a horse. Actions that may cause a rider to fall off or lose control of the horse are reactions to other actions so I would give a saving throw.
Search - find secret doors
Sense Motive - the players can decide if the trust someone
Sleight Of Hand - a thief's pick pockets or maybe a dex check
Speak Language - either they know it or they don't
Spellcraft - maybe give a magic-user a chance
Spot - listen or find secret doors
Survival - forage or becoming lost check
Swim - given on page X51
Tumble - maybe a dex check?
Use Magic Device - just use the rules as given in the rulebooks
Use Rope - a d6 roll

EDIT: One thing this shows me is that you can do everything that a skill system can do just using the B/X rules.

But I rolled it!

From page X59:
"A common mistake most DMs make is to rely too much on random die rolls. An entire evening can be spoiled if an unplanned wilderness encounter on the way to the dungeon goes badly for the party. The DM must use good judgment in addition to random tables. Encounters should be scaled to the strength of the party and should be in harmony with the theme of the adventure." (Emphasis mine.)

Okay, I am guilty as charged. I love die rolls and randomness. Not simply for randomness' sake but instead for the creative muse they provide. Trying to figure out why there are ghouls in the elven forest is part of the fun.

I also found the emphasized portion of the quote interesting. My impression is that one of the cornerstones of the OSR is that encounters should not be scaled to the strength of the party. I also rarely worry about scaling encounter difficulty relative to party strength.

However, I do try to scale difficulty relative to depth (for dungeons) or distance (for wilderness). That way players can make logical decisions and their actions have meaningful effects.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Cal-Con: A Tale of Two Conventions

Cal-Con, the local gaming convention, was this past weekend. After much deliberation, I finally settled on the old school game I was going to run. I chose to use Spire of Iron and Crystal using Original D&D (the first three books only).A couple of months ago, I was also asked if I could help out with DMing a couple of sessions of a 4E tournament.

I had sent numerous emails to the convention organizers following the request to help with the tournament in order to get more information. However, all of these emails went unanswered until the wednesday before when I received the tournament adventure. I spent the next two evenings reading and prepping the adventure.

I was excited. I had a great time at the convention last year and was really looking forward to going again this year.

Saturday - I was scheduled to run an OD&D session at 9:00am and then help out with the 4E tournament in the afternoon. After arriving early I stopped at the ticket desk I learned that 5 of the 6 tickets for my session had been taken. I then went to the gaming room to stake out a good table. Unfortunately, only one of the five showed up. After chatting with the fellow and trying to wrangle up other players, I talked to one of the RPGA guys and found spots for myself and the other fellow at some 4E Living Forgotten Realms tables. After the 4E game I tracked down the gaming coordinator and discovered that my efforts were not needed for the 4E tournament.

While I had fun playing in the LFR game, I was disappointed with the day.

Sunday - I was scheduled to run an OD&D session. Following my disappointment from the previous day, I had also prepared a character for a Pathfinder Society game that was scheduled during the same slot. After staking out a good table I again waited. This time I was approached by a group of seven people. Some of them had seen me DMing the OD&D session last year and decided that they wanted to play.

I had a great time and they all seemed to really enjoy it. Some well placed spells had them explore most of the first and second levels of the Spire. As time was winding down I had them find their way down to the bottom level and face the BBEG. The party won initiative and got a Fireball and Lightening spell off. Two failed saving throws and the BBEG was down to 1 hit point! However, the next round the BBEG got in his own Fireball spell and half of the party were charred bits. A few rounds later the remaining party members were victorious.

Day two left me much happier than day one.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Compound Magic Items

Just for fun I pulled out my copies of Monsters & Treasure and Supplement I: Greyhawk. I had the idea to roll twice on the magic items tables and try to combine the results into a single magic item. Here are three magic items I cam up with:

Armour +1 + Rod of Beguiling =
Armour of Beguiling
This armour subtracts its bonus from the hit dice of the opponents of the wearer. The wearer of this armour is also able to beguile all enemies in a radius of 20' into believing that the wearer is their most trusted friend or respected mentor. Each use takes one charge and the armour has 4 to 24 charges. Beguilement lasts for 4 to 16 turns.

Ring of Contrariness + Scroll Protection from Undead =
Ring of Attracting Undead
When this ring is put on it cannot be removed without a spell to Remove Curse, and the wearer will not wish to remove the ring. It makes the wearer absolutely contrary and he will act in the opposite fashion of normal/requested. Each day the ring has a 2 in 6 chance of attracting undead. Roll on the Undead-Types table from the Wilderness Wandering Monsters table in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry to determine the type of undead.

Sword +1 + Drums of Deafness =
Thundering Sword +1
This sword will seem to every test to be a normal sword +1. However, each time the attacker rolls a 20 for their attack roll, the sword will cause a peal of thunder which will deafen the wielder of the sword as well as those within a 6" radius, and this deafness will last until Remove Curse spell is cast upon them.

Monday, March 8, 2010

My So-Called Life

My self-imposed exile from the real world is about to come to an end.

Over a year ago, I quit my job and have been hanging out with my kids ever since. My staying at home dramatically increased my free time which I spent on playing with my kids and my hobby of gaming.

This is about to all come to an end as I have decided to re-enter the real world of employed adults. Happily, the whole job hunt thing went pretty painlessly and I was able to find a position with a company that has a great reputation with employees and the position fits very well with my background and previous work experience.

Unfortunately, this will impact two things that I am slightly regretting. The first is it will decrease the amount of time I will be able to spend with my kids. I have been very blessed to be able to spend this time with my children. The second is it will decrease the amount of time I will be able to spend gaming, thinking about gaming, talking about gaming, etc.

I am planning to keep my 2E Rise of the Runelords campaign going, I am hoping to continue playing in a 4E game, and I am planning on doing more Red Box Calgary games. The other games that I currently DM or play will continue for now but their ongoing status will be in question.

Seeing as how my posting here at Ode to Black Dougal seems to come in fits and starts anyway, we will have to see how it is impacted.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Saying Yes Is More Fun

I DMed another session of my 2E campaign a couple of nights ago. It was a long session by my now near-elderly standards lasting 7 hours (my wife has been teasing me about my advanced age since I turned 38 a couple of weeks ago). I had a great time but was wiped by the end. As everyone was packing up I did what I always do at the end of a session and asked, "So, what did you think? Is there any feedback?"

The response from one player was what I consider a great compliment. He replied, "you are one of the fairest DM's I have ever played with."

Now, in all honestly, I think that his perspective is because I nearly always say "Yes". It might be, "Yes, but..." or "Yes, and..." but I do always try to say "Yes" if they ask me if their character can do something - it might take a roll to see if they succeed but "yes" they can try. His character was trying to do something a bit different and maybe a little far-fetched earlier in the session and I said, "Sure, roll a d20 and..."

Something dawned on me a while ago. Saying "yes" won't break the game. By "break" I don't mean wreck the mechanics or balance or other more contemporary gaming issues. Instead by "break" I mean break the fun.

"Your fighter wants to try to leap a 50' wide chasm while wearing platemail to flee from the demon? Sure you can give it a try. Roll a percentage for me. If you roll a 99 or 100 you somehow manage to catch an updraft or something and grab a protrusion on the far side of the chasm. I will then roll 1d6 times 100 to see how many feet you fell before you grabbed on. You will take half damage from the fall of that distance. If you roll anything other than a 99 or 100 you fall to the bottom and take damage for falling 1,000 feet. How does that sound?"

That is more fun than being told, "No."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Taking Old School to the Calgary D&D Meetup Group

I have been to the Calgary D&D Meetup Group maybe ten times. I always had a good time even though most of the participants are interested in 3rd edition. I played and ran some 4th edition games and always found everyone to be very polite.

I have tried a couple of times to start an old school game at the meetups but to to start a game you must:
1. Consult with the Organizer who retains the right to approve or deny any requests;
2. Post the game on the message board to try to drum up interest; and
3. Receive feedback of interest from enough people to fill the table.

My experience has been that the Organizer is more than happy to have someone propose an old school game. However, I have never received the required interest to get a game started. Which led me to try Red Box Calgary. However, I still have a desire to try to get an old school game at the meetup. I would love to try to expose that group to the benefits of old school play.

So I have decided to try some undercover recruiting. If you are in the Calgary area and would be interested in playing in an old school game (B/X, OD&D, 1E - likely by way of LL and the AEC, etc) at the Calgary D&D Meetups, please get in touch with me - either in the comments below or through my email address on the side.

If I can get enough interest outside the meetup group, we will then have everyone join the group. I will then propose a new old school game to the organizer when I know I have enough interest "in the bag" so to speak.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Northern Marches Table Map

Here are images of the players' Table Map and how it evolved during my old Northern Marches campaign.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Wilderness Encounter Tables

I have been emptying out my Northern Marches binder so that it may serve as my Borderlands Binder. I found the table below in that binder. It was the wilderness encounter table for a small coastal mountain range called the Goblin Teeth.

Roll d6:
1 & 2: Encounter (roll 2d6):
2 - roll twice
3 - Griffons
4 - Giant Hawks
5 - Mountain Goats (see Antelopes)
6 - Black Bears
7 - Goblins
8 - Hobgoblins
9 - Mountain Lions
10 - Brigands
11 - Neanderthals
12 - Roll on Dim Forest Encounter Table

3: Obstacle (roll d6):
1 & 2 - Coastal storm (rain, snow, low cloud, freezing temperature, etc)
3 - Rock slide / Avalanche
4 - Box canyon
5 - Goblin snare
6 - Crumbling ledge

4: Clues / Signs (roll d8):
1 & 2 - Goblin totem
3 & 4 - Hear goblin drums
5 - Griffon feather / abandoned griffon or giant hawk nest
6 - Hear griffon or giant hawk call
7 - Goblin trail
8 - small forgotten shrine to (d6) 1&2 Orcus, 3&4 Zeus, 5 Ares, 6 Demeter

5: Special (roll d6)
1 - 15ft tall statue of (d6) 1&2 Orcus, 3&4 Zeus, 5 Ares, 6 something bizarre
2 - Stone stepped pyramid (stock as dungeon, level = 1d4)
3 - Statue of Athena - will answer 1 yes-no question per day, asker will be struck by a 6d6 lightening bolt of question is not a yes-no question
4 - Pile of rusted goblin swords, spearheads, etc
5 - Small 3-level tower (stock as dungeon, level = 1d6)
6 - Abandoned climbing gear

6: Good fortune (roll d6):
1 to 3 - find enough wild food to eat, don't have to use any rations for next 1d4 days (10% poisonous)
4 & 5 - Find hidden cache of 1d6 items of normal adventuring equipment
6 - Find medicinal plant that will cure poison (1d6 doses that will keep for 1d6 days)

Castles in the Wilderness

I have been reading my OD&D books again in anticipation of receiving my Swords & Wizardry White Box in the mail - it still hasn't arrived yet = {

I have also been browsing my B/X rulebooks for the Red Box Calgary game.

Each of those versions of D&D have information and rules about encountering a castle in the wilderness. This is another one of those "gameist" things about early D&D that I love.

In the OD&D books, the text specifically mentions the Outdoor Survival playing board and that ponds indicate castles.

B/X doesn't have the same relationship with a board game so I have always used the random wilderness encounter tables to indicate when a castle is encountered. The B/X wilderness encounter tables give chances to encounter "Fighter", "Cleric", and "Magic-user" in addition to "NPC Party" and "Adventurers". When the result was one of the singular I would often use that as a castle encounter.

The part that I like best is that each of these editions has a very simple table to determine what happens. I actually somewhat prefer the OD&D tables as they are crazier that the B/X versions.

The OD&D tables give a chance that the Lord or Necromancer or Evil High Priest (EHP) that owns the castle to have retainers such as Giants or Manticores or Vampires.

The B/X tables are much more boring in that they just list the horsemen patrols. It does give a suggestion that the "rest of the force" may include trolls or superheroes mounted on Griffons but I like that these types of things are the default in OD&D.

I also love that the OD&D rules say that Fighting Men will demand a jousting match and will demand the loser's armour if he wins. Magic-users are complete dicks and send passersby on errands by using Geas. And Clerics demand tithes and use a Quest spell or just try to kill the passersby if they are unable to pay.

The B/X rules are more staid with the castle owner either chasing the party off the lord's land, ignoring the party, or being friendly (either feigned or genuine).

Of course, as with all things in D&D (especially older editions), the imagination of the DM and the reactions of the players are the only limiting factors to these types of encounters but I love the fact that the default setting of these early editions includes this kind of stuff.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

What I did today - besides watch hockey

I sat down at the local gaming store and played B/X D&D with A Paladin in Citadel and his son and Roger of Stirges Suck. Hopefully one of the players will post a session summary over at Red Box Calgary. Of course, I forgot to take a picture...

They did an excellent job in the Caves of Chaos using the tactical opportunities available from the cavern layout and killed 23 orcs with only one party fatality!

I had a great time. It was good to sit down with a couple of guys whose blogs I have been following and get some gaming in.

Of course, then I watched the hockey game. I am a very proud Canadian.

Yes They Are!

They are indeed beautiful!
Along with my black on white Labyrinth Lord dice.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cal-Con and International Traditional Gaming Week

The local gaming convention, Cal-Con, is held during the final weekend (March 26th-28th) of International Traditional Gaming Week. Last year was the first time I had ever been to a con and I had a great time.

I have been pondering what I am going to run at the con this year and I decided that I am specifically going to run two separate things:

1. I am going to run two sessions of either A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity or S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth using Labyrinth Lord and the new Advanced Edition Companion. Which do you think I should run and why?
EDIT: I am also still considering running Stonehell with the base Labyrinth Lord rules.


2. I am going to run two sessions of Keep on the Borderlands using 4E.

I am also a herald-level DM so I will likely get roped into running some RPGA stuff as well.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion

I don't do reviews. My taste is likely different than yours. My likes and dislikes are often emotionally based instead of determined by analysis and careful thought. I also don't want to deal with whatever legal hassles the U.S. government may decide to impart on me.

But I will tell you what I think about it...

I received the art-less pdf copy of the AEC for being a member of the Labyrinth Lord Society. I liked it so much I ordered the hardcover from Lulu even with the shipping costs. As mentioned in actual reviews, it does a fantastic job of recreating the way my group of friends played "advanced" Dungeons & Dragons when we moved on from B/X.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Odds are Stacked in Favour of B/X Characters

There is a thread over at RPGnet where a DM asks for advice in helping reduce the fatality rate of the characters.

There is an excellent reply by Galadrin which focuses on the subsystems in B/X that really help improve character survival. These are things I have mentioned a number of times here but I liked the way that he put it.

PC's actually have a very high survival probability, when you think about it. Here is my argument, with page citation in bold.

1) If you think about it, by the book, every 1st level character except Magic-Users and Thieves is running around with AC 2 (Plate Mail and Shield is only 70 of the average 110 gp for starting characters, B12). Assuming the average party size of 7 (B19), that means 5 of the 7 characters are only hit 20% of the time (and with an average 5-6 hit points, thanks to the last line of B6, they need to be hit twice on average to inflict a casualty). That means a character must be attacked 10 times (on average) to kill him.

2) Combine this with the caveat that allows a Magic-User to pick his first spell (B16), very likely "Sleep", and you have a pretty tough party.

3) But who needs Sleep, when monsters only attack 28% of the time (B24)?

4) Even when a fight does break out, monsters tend to flee when they take their first casualty (B27).

5) All of these factors make it more likely that you can snag the treasure without a hard slog for it. The lair treasure of 24 Hobgoblins is already more than a quarter of a level for that group of 7, with even more for unguarded treasure, monster XP and so on.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I am a Knight of Dangerous Quests

Into the Borderlands

My 2nd edition AD&D group was suppose to meet last night but a couple of the guys were unable to make it. The others still wanted to play so they rolled up characters and made the first blood-soaked foray into the Borderlands. I will put some information on the forums at Red Box Calgary.

Expedition to the Ancient Academy

As a follow up to my post about podcasts, I have really been enjoying Expedition to the Ancient Academy which I found over at Robertson Games. I'm usually not much for listening to actual play but I am enjoying these.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A New Blog for My 2nd edition AD&D Campaign

As I mention quite often around these parts, B/X is my favourite version of D&D. However, I am really enjoying the 2nd edition AD&D campaign I am running.

In order to keep Ode to Black Dougal focused on B/X D&D and my general gaming thoughts while also allowing me to ruminate about my 2nd ed. campaign, I have set up a new blog - The Sandpoint Campaign.

I know some of you who share my love for B/X view 2nd edition as an abomination against nature. This will allow you to continue to enjoy my semi-coherent thoughts about B/X without the 2nd edition stuff polluting your reading.

I have also had some great responses from some of you about my 2nd ed. campaign. Those that enjoy reading about that campaign can still check it out at the new blog. I will work on moving the session summaries and other notes that have been posted here over to there.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The tragic tale of my son's D&D adventure

My 4-year old son asked this morning if we could play D&D before school (he attends play-school in the afternoon). I am sure my eyes lit up at the question. Actually a couple of days ago I printed rpgKids from NewbieDM's bog.

I quickly got out my figures and my combat mat. I sat down with my son and he picked four figures and named them. We had Steve (a figure with a warhammer), Sir Knight (a knight - go figure), Greenie the elf, and Miranda the Magician.

I the described to my son that the four were brave adventurers and asked him what they were going to do. He replied that they were looking for a bad guy in a forest. I am suddenly thinking that my son is DM-material.

I asked, "Why is the bad guy in the forest?"

He replied, "because he is lonely and looking for friends."

I think, "Minions!"

So the story becomes that there is a fearsome monster in the forest that captured the princess who is a friend of the party (who the monster wanted to be his friend as well). The party sets off to find the princess. They quickly meet some small monsters in the forest and battle ensues using a d6-only version of rpgKids.

That is where tragedy set in. The fight was well in hand for the party but one monster managed to hurt Miranda the Magician. My poor son became quite sad that poor Miranda would get hurt. We ended the session as tears welled in his eyes and his chin quivered.

I guess he isn't quite old enough yet.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

B/X Unarmed Combat

I have been thinking about rules for unarmed combat and grappling the last while. This is because of a post a bit ago on Wheel of Samsara "The Eternal Pain of Grappling" and discussion about 1E AD&D grappling rules on an episode of Roll for Initiative. Grappling hasn't come up in my 2E Rise of the Runelords campaign which is good because I haven't read the 2E grappling rules in years.

In the Expert rule book (page X25) it states:
Unarmed Combat
Characters who engage in combat without a weapon (for whatever reason) will do 1-2 points of damage plus and strength adjustments for a successful attack. All normal rules regarding combat apply to unarmed combat.

So that does it for punching and kicking but what about grappling where your character is trying to grab or wrestle down an opponent?

I have typically used one of the following methods:

Method 1. Opposed d6 rolls. I think this is from OD&D, maybe an issue of Strategic Review or an early Dragon. Each side rolls a number of d6s equal to the HD or level of that side. So for example, a 4th level fighter is being grappled by 5 orcs. The player rolls 4d6+strength adjustments and the DM rolls 5d6 for the orcs (there are no strength adjustments as strength is factored into HD). High side wins.

Method 2. The Ode to Black Dougal Default System. Have the player roll 2d6 with some adjustments for relative sizes, strengths, circumstances, etc.
2= it turns out REALLY bad for the player
3-5 = it turns out bad for the player
6-8 = neutral
9-11 = it turns out well for the player
12 = it turns out REALLY well for the player

Using the Fiendish Dr. Samsara's example of a Sorcerer, finding himself not too successful with spell or weapon, wants to pull a beastie off a companion before it eats her shoulder. Roll 2d6 with some adjustments you feel are appropriate:
2 = It turns out very poorly for the sorcerer - maybe he is knocked down at the feet of another beastie
3-5 = The sorcerer fails to grab the beastie
6-8 = gets his hands on the beastie but doesn't pull him off. May allow for a bonus to try again next round.
9-11 = pulls the beastie off
12 = pulls the beastie off and punches it in the face!

Method 3. Probability of Success. I have been gaining a greater appreciation for this style lately. Just determine what the probability would be for the characters to succeed and roll the d%. Using the sorcerer example again, after weighing many factors the DM decides that the sorcerer would have a 30% chance of grabbing the beastie and pulling it off his companion.

How do you do grappling in your old school game?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

2E Rise of the Runelords - Session 7

Note that there are spoilers for Paizo's Rise of the Runelord adventure path.

Session 7: Assault on Thistletop – The Fire Goblin

This adventure was played on January 15th, 2010, and featured:
- Kobb “One Tusk”, the half-orc mercenary,
- Toran Stargazer, the young thief from Magnimar, and
- Asreal Nom, the human (Shoanti) ranger.

And also included:
- Kobb’s henchman, Kurzek Irontusk, a half-orc fighter/thief, and
- Toran’s henchman, Vicoren Shieldheart, a cleric of Desna.

And introduced:
- The Wanderer, the as yet unnamed Shoanti druid,
- Roland, the paladin of Iomedae, and
- Saphara, the female, half-elven magic-user.

Summary: The party sets off for the goblin lair of Thistletop to find Shalelu the elven ranger and to deal out some punishment for the goblin raid on Sandpoint only to come limping back to town defeated and bloody.

I. A Visit from Aldern Foxglove. While the other members of the party are defeating the Imp in the catacombs below the town of Sandpoint, Asreal the Ranger recuperates in the Rusty Dragon and idly ponders where he lost a sock. While sitting in the common room of the inn, Aldern Foxglove, the noble the party saved during the goblin raid on Sandpoint, enters the inn. The nobleman is wearing his usual finery, but Asreal notices that his pants, shirt cuffs, and finger nails are all very dirty. Aldern is very happy to see Asreal and once again expresses his gratitude for saving his life. He tells Asreal that he has been overseeing carpenters that are repairing his manor to the southwest of town. He also tells Asreal that he is returning to the city of Magnimar and would be very happy to provide hospitality to the party if they find themselves in that city.

II. The Party Returns. Shortly thereafter, the rest of the party returns from their harrowing battle against the Imp (see Session 6). While recounting their tale of heroism and valor to Asreal a pair of merchants enter the inn. They appear to be battered and bruised and ask about the location of the Sheriff. They describe to the party how they were traveling to Sandpoint from the east and were a couple hours away when they were ambushed by goblins. The two merchants were quickly knocked prone and the goblins managed to steal their prize horse. They claim that it was only the trouble the goblins were having manage the magnificent horse that allowed the two merchants to escape with their lives. They offer the party a reward of 300 gp if they are able to recover the horse.

III. Father Zantus’ Plea. Toran made his way to the Cathedral to ask Father Zantus for healing aid in the morning before the party sets out for Thistletop. Father Zantus asks Toran to return Father Tobyn’s remains if he has the opportunity and to show Nualia mercy if at all possible.

IV. A Narrow Escape. Kobb and Kurzek go on their own to make some final preparations for the short journey to Thistletop. Toran, Vicoren and Asreal go to see the Mayor. On their way, they narrowly avoid Justice Ironbriar by ducking into an alleyway. They speak to the Mayor about taking over the abandoned manor-house that was being used by the Green Dagger gang. The Mayor says that she would be happy for the party to have the house and fix it up. However, given Ven Vinder’s (who is on the town counsel) attitude towards the party (due to Toran’s dalliance with his daughter) and the recent controversy about the party’s vigilante actions on the docks (see Session 4), she is very sensitive about making the transaction appear to be fair from the town’s perspective.

V. Thistletop. After a short journey the party reaches Thistletop. The party begins exploring narrow passageways among the thick briars and nettles that grow in a dense tangle. They encounter goblins and goblin dogs which are quickly dispatched and find a lookout point that shows that the thick briar is on a Cliffside that falls 80’-100’ down to the sea below. From the cliff an rope bridge extends out to an oddly-shaped island upon which rests a fort-like structure. The party continues exploring the passages through the briars in search of a way to the rope bridge.

VI. The Fire Goblin. In a thorny chamber the party is attacked by a mountain lion. As the fighters and ranger fight the large cat a goblin shaman appears from a side passage and, using a magical wand , traps the party on this side of a wall of blazing fire. As Kurzek quickly closes with the goblin, the foul creature uses the wand again, this time to cast a fireball at the party. This magical explosion kills the mountain lion, Asreal and Kobb and knocks Vicoren unconscious. Toran and Kurzek are able to wound the goblin shaman who quickly surrenders and begs for mercy that was not forthcoming.

VII. The Rusty Dragon. Kurzek, Toran and Vicoran quickly flee back to Sandpoint and recover in the Rusty Dragon. There they are introduced by the Sage, Brodert Quink, to Saphara the half-elven mage with whom he has been in correspondence with regarding his research into ancient Thassilonia. Hearing of the party’s discoveries she has come from Magnimar to investigate for herself. She is accompanied by her half-brother Roland the Paladin. They also meet the Wanderer, a Shoanti Druid who came to Sandpoint in search of his friend Asreal.

Body Count: 10 goblins, 4 goblin dogs, a mountain lion, a goblin shaman, Kobb One Tusk the 3rd level Fighter and Asreal Nom the 1st level Ranger.

Treasure: From the goblin shaman the party recovered what were Identified as a Wand of Fire and two Potions of Healing.


DM Notes:
- I continued to stress the impact of the party’s attack-first attitude with the Mayor’s reaction and Father Zantus’ plea. We will see if it sinks in following the deaths of two of the original PCs.
- The goblins were straight 2E goblins and the mountain lion was also straight from the MM. I have a feeling that much of Thistletop will be easy encounters broken up by a few hair-raising encounters.
- I spent more time making conversions of some of the classed goblins to be found in Thistletop. Using “Altering Monsters the Easy Way” from Dungeon Master Option: High Level Campaigns, I made the goblin shaman a standard goblin with +2 toughness and 4th level cleric casting ability.
Goblin Shaman (AC 4, Mv 6, HD 1+1, hp 8, Thaco 18, #AT 1 scimitar, D 1d8+2, SA cleric spells, SD nil, MR nil, ML 12) Equipment: scimitar, Wand of Fire (8 charges), 2 Potions of Healing.

Spells: 1- Darkness, Cause Light Wounds (x2); 2- Flame Blade, Speak with Animals.
The stats for the goblin shaman turned out much weaker than the 3.5E version. However, in the published 3.5 adventure he was equipped with a Wand of Produce Flame. I toughened him up considerably with a Wand of Fire (Burning Hands, Pyrotechnics, Fireball, Wall of Fire).

I gave the party some warning however. First he appeared on the edge of the battle with Flame Blade cast, then he used Fire Wall in a position to just trap the party and finally used Fireball as the heavy artillery. In that time only one character went to engage the goblin shaman.

The reward is that the party now has a Wand of Fire, albeit with only 4 remaining charges.

- Toran the thief is the only original and frequent character. Goalrath the elven cleric is also still alive but the player has been working shift work and unavailable for a while. This has brought one of the issues of an Adventure Path to the fore as some of the future plot elements somewhat rely on developed relationships with various NPCs. Its not a fatal problem but it will take some re-jigging to either redevelop these relationships with the new PCs or figure out different hooks.

- I started using Paizo's GameMastery Item Cards. When I sat down to work on converting the encounters to 2E, I went through the cards and picked out specific cards for mundane and magical items for the big encounters which I then handed out as the items were found. I liked the cards. I will have to ask the player what they thought.

- I was hoping to get further along in the adventure but we spent the last while generating the new characters and shooting the breeze so it was all good.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rise of the Runelord - 2E Specialty Priests for Desna

The last session of our 2E Rise of the Runelords campaign saw the introduction of Toran’s henchman, Vicoren Shieldheart, who is a priest of Desna. This required me to come up with the details for a specialty priest. Desna is the goddess of dreams, stars, travellers and luck. Looking through the Complete Priest's Handbook, I found that the template of the god of luck would be a good starting place.

Goddess of dreams, stars, travellers and luck

While the other gods created the world, legend holds that Desna was busy placing stars in the heavens above, content to allow the other deities to create a place full of wonders for her and her faithful to explore. Since that day, all those who look up to the stars find themselves wandering in the endless mysteries of the sky.

Desna often appears as a comely elven woman, clad in billowing gowns with brightly colored butterfly wings on her back. Delicate clouds of butterf lies frequently accompany her image.

Wanderers at heart, the faithful of Desna travel the world in search of new experiences, while always trying to live life to its fullest. Their temples are light, open affairs, with most possessing a skylight to allow in the night sky and a significant number of astrological charts to mark important celestial events.

Minimum Ability Scores: Wisdom 12 and Charisma 12. Wisdom or Charisma 16 or great is +5% XP, Wisdom and Charisma 16 or great is +10% XP.

Races Allowed: Elves, gnomes, half-elves, halflings and humans.

Required Nonweapon Proficiencies: Astrology.

Recommended Nonweapon Proficiencies: Direction Sense, Gaming, Reading/Writing, Religion.

Weapons Permitted: Starknife (favoured, see below), club, knife, lasso, net, quarterstaff, sling, sling staff.
Note: Besides the starknife, these weapons reflect "weapons of opportunity", the sort of weapons characters can make from things found on the road. The priest doesn't have to find his weapons but these weapons are the sort that he could make from found items.

Required Weapon Proficiencies: Starknife.

Armour Permitted: None, no shields.

Spheres: Major - All, Astral, Chaos, Charm, Divination, Elemental, Healing, Protection, and Travellers. Minor - Animal, Creation, Guardian, Plant, Weather.

Additional Powers:
- Turn Undead
- Found Mark - Placing a mark, typically the goddess' symbol, in some remote, distant place (appropriateness to be determined by the DM), earns the priest the favour of Desna and will be under the effect of a Bless spell for the next 24 hours.
- 1st Level: Can cast the wizards spell Suggestion, the priest can use this spell once per day in addition to his other spells. At 4th level twice per day, 8th level three times per day, etc.
- 3rd Level: Can use Traveling Dream (see below) once per day.

Traveling Dream (Divination)
Functions as the wizard spell Wizard Eye. Upon casting the spell the priest falls asleep for its duration. If the priest is woken the spell ends.

New Spell:
Dream Speak (Divination)
4th level Priest Spell
As wizard Dream spell.

New Weapon:
Starknife cost 20 gp, weight 3, size M, type P, speed factor 2, damage 1d4(S-M) 1d6(L)