Sunday, November 30, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 20

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic
IN CONCLUSION (continued)

After stating that this Conclusion wasn’t going to philosophize, it did that very thing in the previous post. But now that the table is set, I am prepared to roll up my sleeves and go back through those posts in order to extract what I feel are notable observations.

Here are some, not all, of the reader comments I wish to quote here. I value all of your comments, so don‘t worry if I didn‘t quote you below. These just happen to be the comments I found to be of particular interest to me:

On the Dwarf:

From John Stephens: How about letting them spot traps the way Elves spot secret doors? 1-4 if they're actively searching, 1-2 even if they're not (Vol.3, p.9).
On the Elf:

From The Myth: It seems clear that, while an Elf must choose a class to advance in between adventures [and will thus start as either Fighting-Man *or* Magic-User], the Elf will *always* retain all benefits of each class level achieved, including the ability to cast spells in armor and use all weapons. So, while this does imply that an Elf is not a gestalt combo-class of fighter/magic-user [as in Mentzer or AD&D], forcing the Elf's player to keep re-rolling hit points and using different saving throws seems to contradict the statement that they "gain the benefits of both classes."

In essence, the Elf is able to change classes without the necessary 15 in the prime requisite needed for Humans. The big question for me thus becomes whether an Elf starting as a Magic-User has full weapon and [magic] armor use. [I think least not until the "next adventure" when the Elf can switch classes and gain some XP as a Fighting-Man.]
On Alignment:

From Ian: What I mean by this is that the natural tendency of the original D&D player (especially from a wargaming background, and most of us were at the time), was to carve out a domain in the wilderness (or neutralize a dungeon which is much the same thing), essentially bringing Order/Law to the Wilderness/Chaos. Civilization was generally something that was off-screen in most of the games we played at the time (although it did exist as a source of supplies and workers).

Thus Chaos was the enemy - the forces that resisted building your stronghold, carving out your domain, and taming the wilderness. Neutral characters and creatures weren't particularly antagonistic, but neither were they likely to be very helpful. Lawful characters and creatures would tend to assist this process.

The cleric, as a servant of the church (it being strongly implied in OD&D that the clerics belonged to a monotheistic [or at least unified] religion), was thus an agent for spreading religion, society, and civilization, and thus a servant of order. The Anti-Clerics were opposed to "the church" and thus were servants of Chaos.
On Constitution:

From Wayne Rossi: the "withstand adversity" roll does not necessarily need to be limited to the later interpretations of "system shock." It strikes me as an unnecessary AD&D-ism to import the limited system shock to Constitution, and allow "withstand adversity" to act as a mechanic whenever it is necessary (for instance, summiting a mountain or surviving exposure).
On divisional (alignment) tongues:

From David (Sir Larkins): I guess one possible interpretation of alignment tongues is that they're the languages of Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic nations; Common remains as either a pidgin or a lingua franca like Latin. Thus, taking the world of Conan as our example, if you grew up in, say, Cimmeria, you speak Chaotic. If you're from Aquilonia, you speak Lawful. Shem? You speak Neutral. Doesn't matter what your actual alignment is that way, and nicely avoids the alignment shift conundrum.
On hits (aka damage): "Whether sustaining accumulative hits will otherwise affect a character is left to the discretion of the referee.”

From Geoffrey McKinney: I understand that to mean stuff like having a broken arm (thus making to hit rolls at a penalty), having a broken leg (unable to walk), getting knocked unconscious, or whatever.

From Victor Raymond: Missed that one first time around - I know many a game that assumed PCs fought at full strength until hitting zero HP. Hmmm! Thank you!
On Spells:

From Belst8: I understand the natural impulse to proliferate spells and to fine tune and specialize them. But unless it's done with care, I think the result will be to make magic mechanical rather than the strange and wonderful, or even disturbing, thing that it could be. And what a loss that is.

From Wayne Rossi: I interpret the saving throw column for "Staves & Spells" to apply to every spell unless it is covered by a different column. I think the "only allows a saving throw if explicitly defined" attitude you've taken is a pretty radical one considering the economy of description of spells.
On Charm Person:

From John: I treat Charm Person as if the victim rolled a 12 on the Reaction Table, and then an 18 for morale. You now have the person on your side; it's up to you to keep him there.
On Spell Durations and Turns:

From Will Douglas: I think for spell duration you can ask yourself one simple question: Is this a spell to be used in combat, or not? Yes means "turns" are what we think of as rounds. No means regular 10-minute turns.
On Counter-Spells:

From Snorri: (paraphrased) I wonder whether rules for Wizards from Chainmail apply? It is a good basis for OD&D, and I use it for my French version.

From Tussock: Countering is detailed in Chainmail, 7+ on 2d6 for a stronger wizard, 8+, 9+, 10+, or 11+ if lower level (for the five "levels" of Chainmail Wizards, at 2, 6, 8, 9, and 11th level D&D equivalents by name). It uses the whole turn for the countering wizard.
On Polymorph Self:

From Taichara: Though what entertainment could be gotten from actually allowing 'anything'! I'm imagining the pretending-that-you're-furniture ambush gambit at the moment. Heh.

Keep those comments coming. All of you are adding insight and opinions which make this undertaking a pleasure.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Coattails 3

Although this might be a perpetual series of Grognardia links; I feel that these are topics worth rambling about.

James M recently posted a review of S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks; a personal favorite of mine due to its unconventional contents.

Here’s the thing. From a wargamer’s approach, S3 is within the bounds of balance. The controversy that surrounds a sci-fi adventure in D&D is due more to the original direction (and in my own personal opinion, mistake) taken in the writing of D&D. The fact is that TSR missed the boat in making D&D D&D.
The approach should have been the game concept that was defined by D&D, and not the fantasy milieu.

Whether you are taking 1d6 damage from a Goblin’s spear, from a Mutants Eye-Beam, from a Vege-Pygmy’s Laser Gun, or from a KGB Agent’s PPK should be irrelevant. The point should be that your character is in danger…that and nothing more.

Inspirations, influences and milieus be damned.

The point is that there are obstacles and threats to your character; overcoming those threats is your objective.

To quote Mr. Gygax:

“…the scope need not be restricted to the medieval…”

It is, after all, a game of dice, tables and decisions.

In other words, 6d6 damage from a Plasma Cannon is the same as 6d6 damage from a Dragon‘s Fiery Breath. That’s a wargamer’s outlook at least.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

D&D Cover to Cover, part 19

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

A look back at a dozen and a half posts from my re-read of Men & Magic follows. One thing’s for sure, a break is in order before I dive in with Volumes 2 and 3. I have a feeling Men & Magic will yield the largest amount of posts, but I could be wrong.

I’m going to take my time as I consider some of the topics or nuggets which I think are most noteworthy in regard to past assumptions. Philosophy and theory aside, I’ll be looking specifically at those things I missed before, or I’ve altered my opinion on, and how they might change the way I play or think about OD&D.

In other words, this will serve as a recap as I attempt to encapsulate the most significant observations. I’ve you had the intestinal fortitude to have made it this far, I congratulate you on your resolve. This exercise began on a whim for me, as I thought it might be fun to try and uncover some passages here and there which I felt were noteworthy, or perhaps I had been implementing incorrectly. It has now become more or less a challenge to see if I can actually read and consider each passage in the famous White Box, or LBB.

I know many will scratch their heads, and wonder why in the world anyone would want to actually undertake such a project. The joy of OD&D for many, myself included, is to treat the books as a guide; one which is a pleasure to use for playing D&D precisely due to the vagaries inherent in the books. Here’s the thing, though. Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time debating various topics within these volumes. Many of these subjects are simply rehashed theories and assertions, but others are more or less glossed over; as if some authority through the years has ‘shown’ us how to play. I blame AD&D 1e for many of the assumptions I make when looking at these rules. I am trying to distance myself from those opinions formed over nearly 30 years of gaming.

In addition, given the amount of time many of us spend considering and speculating the matters in these volumes, and the sheer collective value the originals now hold, I feel it is important to make these distinctions. This IS the Holy Grail of RPGs, and it is deserving of such attention. Once we understand as much as we can about OD&D, then we can still go on our merry ways and house rule, home brew and customize ad nauseum.

By no means is this meant to be some ‘by the book’ essay or thesis which attempts to tell players that there is one right way to play OD&D. As all of you know by now, you could very well toss all three volumes in the trash bin and wing an entire campaign using just paper and pencil, and maybe some dice. I value these books more than that, so while I might end up home brewing a game that is very clearly NOT OD&D, I will always cherish and respect the words found within the LBB; those words of Gygax and Arneson written 35 years ago.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, November 28, 2008

Coattails 2

I’m doing it again; riding on the coattails of the effusive author of Grognardia. Inspired by more ruminations on the Dungeons and Hobbits post, I want to speak to fantasy influences and D&D.

I took up D&D at age 12. At that time, I had read relatively little in the way of fantasy books. I remember that my fantasy achievements at that time included C.S. Lewis, de Camp and Pratt, and Lewis Carroll. I had not yet tackled Tolkien nor Howard nor Lovecraft.

I had, though, played more than my fair share of Avalon Hill and SPI games thanks to my older brother. I had no idea what the term ‘pulp’ meant; nor that there was even such a term. I was actually introduced to Tolkien via other D&D players!

All I know was that I had stumbled upon a game that offered creative potential and no boundaries. I think that discovering the game in this order of events made me perpetually 'old-school'.

To me, it's OK that a game of D&D has 'quirks' that may not seem realistic or make sense, but are born of a certain wargamer mentality. For example, the fact that all doors are stuck or locked for PC's, but open without effort for all Monsters. That is a wargamer ideal, and it makes sense to me, a former wargamer who doesn't fret over verisimilitude.

D&D, as originally conceived, was not bogged down by concerns of realism. It was a ‘game’ in the true sense of the word. The concept of D&D was totally foreign and original. It was a game in which a referee created and directed a world designed to challenge the other gamers. Over the course of multiple sessions, those players took their characters to greater heights and accomplishments; rewards that reflected a players competency and resourcefulness.

Perhaps this is why I have come full circle to OD&D. It is first and foremost a game. It doesn’t get bogged down in realism. Game balance and challenges are more of a concern than creating realism.

The notion of realism came later. BUT, the concept was born with D&D.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

D&D Cover to Cover, part 18

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

MAGICAL RESEARCH: Both Magic-Users and Clerics may attempt to expand on the spell lists…”
I missed the fact that Clerics may conduct Magical Research in my initial read of the rules. I even listed magical Research as one of the advantages for Magic-Users in part 7. As we can see, this process is not at all limited to Magic-Users. Playing with the numbers as presented a bit, we can figure that in order to have a 100% chance of success when researching a new 6th level spell, a Magic-User will be required to spend 320,000 Gold Pieces, and six weeks of research. Not a very affordable hobby, to say the least. Sure a researcher could skimp on the gold investment, but at 64,000 GP per 20% block of success, I’m not sure if you’d be willing to gamble with such a fortune in hard earned cash. I’d consider revisiting those research costs for the higher level spells.

I find it interesting that at this point in D&D’s history, Clerics and Magic-Users are sharing the exact same magic system, albeit with different spell lists.

BOOKS OF SPELLS: If a duplicate set of such books is desired, the cost will be the same as the initial investment for research as listed above, ie 2,000, 4,000, 8,000, etc. Loss of these books will require replacement at the above expense.”
Carrying Spell Books along on an adventure is potentially an unwise decision based on the costs alone. That said, the fact that this guide is in the rules might suggest that at some point, spell-casters could find time mid-adventure (before returning to town) in order to change the spells they have memorized for their daily allotment. The Books of Spells are not required for once again committing said spells to memory; but only needed when the Magic-User or Cleric needs to change or add to his list. It is assumed, based on this passage, that a new Book of Spells must also be acquired before spells of the next level can be so remembered. We can assume that there is one Book of Spells for each spell level (six books and five books, for Magic-Users and Clerics, respectively). Casting spells is an expensive proposition, especially if the character is required, by the referee, to seek out and purchase a Book of Spells for these new spell levels.

This ends my re-read of Volume I, Men & Magic. In an upcoming post I will formulate some closing thoughts before moving on to Volume II, Monsters & Treasure.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, November 27, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 17

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

1st Level:”
Cure Light Wounds: During the course of one full turn this spell will remove hits from a wounded character (including elves, dwarves, etc.). A die is rolled, one pip added, and the resultant total subtracted from the hit points the character has taken. Thus from 2-7 hit points of damage can be removed.”
First of all, I love the careful wording choices here. Looking back now, 34 years later, the spell description seems awkward and requires another reading unless you already know what Cure Light Wounds does. It’s worded in such a way to prevent players from mistakenly assuming that the spell could potentially increase maximum hit points. BUT WAIT, this is where you may have glossed over the description. Stop and read it again, if you care. Got it? OK, let me reword it so you see what I am getting at.

Over the next turn, Cure Light Wounds will heal damage up to 1d6+1 points on the target. The spell will continue for one full turn, or until it has healed an amount of damage equal to the number rolled on the die, plus 1.

I’m reading this to mean that after the spell is cast, the target will have ‘future’ damage healed as well, provided the ‘resultant’ amount has not yet been healed. It sure could be useful to wade into melee with a Cure Light Wounds active upon your character, no? Now, prevailing logic might be that in fact, this spell has a casting time of 1 full turn. But why then is the rest of the spell worded so carefully, while the first part is misleading? Looking back for some precedence in previous spells; Transmute Rock to Mud ‘takes effect in one turn’; Move Earth ‘takes one turn to go into effect’. On the other hand, there is no duration listed for Cure Light Wounds. Another example of why casting time is clearly conspicuous by its absence in this section. I like the possibilities of a Cure spell that is ‘sticky’ on the target for a full turn. Am I taking the above too literally, or going out on a limb here? Yes, but still it makes for an interesting twist.

3rd Level:”
Cure Disease: A spell which cures any form of disease. The spell is the only method to rid a character of a disease from a curse, for example.”
Interestingly, Remove Curse will apparently not cure a disease caused via curse. I suppose the thinking is that at some point the ailment is considered a disease and not a curse.

4th Level:”
Cure Serious Wounds: This spell is like a Light Wound spell, but the effects are double, so two dice are rolled and one pip is added to each die. Therefore, from 4 to 14 hit points will be removed by this spell.”
A nice spell made even better under my unorthodox interpretation. 4 to 14 points worth of healing potential over one full turn.

Turn Sticks to Snakes: Anytime there are sticks nearby a Cleric can turn them into snakes, with a 50% chance that they will be poisonous. From 2-16 snakes can be conjured (roll two eight-sided dice). He can command these conjured snakes to perform as he orders. Duration: 6 turns. Range 12”.”
Aside from Hold Person and the still to come The Finger of Death, Turn Sticks to Snakes is about as offensive as the D&D Cleric gets. With an average roll, 9 snakes may be created thusly. I’d allow each snake a 50/50 chance of being poisonous, rather than roll for the whole lot at once. Five poisonous snakes, created up to 120 feet away, has a lot of potential. There is nothing indicating the hit dice of these snakes, but I’d probably go with something like AC 7, HD ½, Move 6”, Damage 1, 50% chance of being poisonous (save or die variety).

5th Level:”
Dispell Evil: Similar to a Dispell magic spell, this allows a Cleric to dispell any evil sending or spell within a 3” radius. It functions immediately. Duration: 1 turn.”
This spell combines the best vagaries of Dispell Magic and the ‘evil’ concept, with ‘evil sending’ again to boot. Notable in that it lasts 1 turn and has a 30 foot area of effect. I’ve still no idea what an evil sending is, but this spell will get rid of them in spades.

Raise Dead: The Cleric simply points his finger, utters the incantation, and the dead person is raised. This spell works with men, elves and dwarves only.”
Sorry Hobbits, you’ll need a Reincarnation spell, or a friend with a Ring of Three Wishes to come back from the beyond the pale.

Create Food: A spell with which the Cleric creates sustenance sufficient for a party of a dozen for one game day. The quantity doubles for every level above the 8th the Cleric has attained.”
That’s a heap of food by 13th level. 12, 24, 48, 96, 192, and finally enough food for 384 at 13th level. By 14th level, able to create enough food for 768 people in a single casting, I’m fairly sure the Cleric builds a new stronghold, out of sausage and cheese. Surely the intent was that it increased by 12 per level after the 8th…or were Gygax and Arneson envisioning opening a chain of Cleric Smorgasbords in Greyhawk and Blackmoor, respectively?

The Finger of Death: Instead of raising the dead, this spell creates a “death ray” which will kill any creature unless a saving throw is made (where applicable). Range 12”. (A Cleric-type may use this spell in a life-or-death situation, but misuse will immediately turn him into an Anti-Cleric.)”
A save negates this potent spell, but it the most offensive one in the Cleric arsenal. It begs the question, though, whether or not a Cleric can reverse this ‘mid-adventure’ after memorizing Raise Dead. Since this is such a unique spell amongst all 26 Cleric spells, and because it is highly situational for the only class which can actually choose which version of the spell to cast, I would allow Clerics to cast Raise Dead as either its standard form, or as The Finger of Death.

Evil, evil and more evil. Anti-Clerics MUST be aligned with Chaos. Therefore, evil = Chaos.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


A few recent posts over at Grognardia have inspired me to coattail on the maestro that is the author of that well read blog.

First up is JRR Tolkien and the notion of influence or inspiration garnered by the authors of D&D from the titles The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.

I just want to take the time to echo my own theory on the D&D concept and how it might have been better served as a generic game concept by explicitly disassociating itself from any particular genre.

What should be the thrust of D&D is the notion of individuals overcoming obstacles and gaining experience in a world conceived by a referee; the same referee who creates and administers the milieu in which the characters find themselves. This is the concept of D&D, and is the gaming convention that we should all appreciate and celebrate.

It doesn’t matter whether that milieu is fantasy, sci-fi, horror or super-hero (or a combination thereof). The fact is, D&D was and will always be the notion of taking the make-believe into the realm of gaming and campaigns.

Screw JRR Tolkien and Robert E freekin’ Howard. Welcome to Role-Playing, brought to you by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Now roll some dice and have some fun.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 16

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

4th Level”
Polymorph Self: A spell allowing the user to take the shape of anything he desires…Duration: 6 turns + the level of the Magic-User…”
I’m certain the authors intended this to read “any living thing” and not “anything”.

Polymorph Others: …lasts until it is dispelled…a troll polymorphed into a snail would have innate resistance to being stepped on and crushed by a normal man.”
A potentially much more powerful Polymorph, as the target gains the abilities of the new form, while retaining the relative power or innate abilities of the original form. This one lasts until it is dispelled, and does allow a saving throw to avoid the magic, as it has a column on the SAVING THROW MATRIX.

Remove Curse: A spell to remove any one curse or evil sending. Note that using this spell on a “cursed sword”, for example, would make the weapon an ordinary sword…”
I’m not sure what an “evil sending” is, but I assume it’s not a lot of fun if it’s following you around. I like the fact that this spell will essentially cleanse a cursed item, rendering it non-enchanted.

This spell is very aptly named, being not only the longest and most involved spell description thus far, but being almost AD&D-ish in it’s implementation. That said, it’s a fun and interesting spell. Too much to quote here, but take my word for it.

Charm Monster: If animals or creatures with three or fewer hit dice are involved determine how many are effected by the spell by rolling three six-sided dice.”
Based on this text, and using Sleep and Charm Person as previous guides, I would assume that this means those targets with three or fewer hit dice do not receive a saving throw. Those single targets of four hit dice or greater do, the primary difference being that unlike Charm Person, this spell can potentially charm any monster.

5th Level”
Contact Higher Plane: This spell allows the magical-type to seek advice and gain knowledge from creatures inhabiting higher planes of existence (the referee).”
Truer words were never spoken (written).

Cloudkill: …poisonous cloud of vapor which is deadly to all creatures with less than five hit dice.”
Targets under five hit dice: save vs. poison or die, others are immune to the gas.

Feeblemind: …it causes the recipient to become feebleminded until the spell is countered with a Dispell Magic.”
Not a great deal of detail here. Feeblemind only effects other Magic-Users, and the spell doesn’t go into describing what having a feeble mind actually means. Since it’s purpose appears to be to nullify an enemy Magic-User’s offensive repertoire, I’d rule that it makes the target forget all spells, and be unable to use any magic items or memorize any spells until the Feeblemind is Dispelled. If it did anything more than that Feeblemind could potentially have uses against other classes as well. It specifically wrecks a Magic-User’s ability to cast spells.

6th Level”
Anti-Magic Shell: A field which surrounds the Magic-User and makes him totally impervious to all spells. It also prevents any spells from being sent through the shell by the Magic-User who conjured it.”
This spell does not create a field or zone of magic deadening nor dampening. It brings into existence a shell that stops all spells which come into contact with it, from within or without. It does not Dispell enchantments it comes into contact with, nor does it have any effect upon magic items, excepting those items which create spell like powers which would likewise be prevented from passing through the shell.

Death Spell: An incantation which kills from 2-16 creatures with fewer than seven hit dice.”
Based on previous spells like Sleep, Charm Monster and even Cloudkill, I’d rule that there is no saving throw against Death Spell. Sleep and Charm Monster are very specific in that they allow you to roll dice to see how many creatures are effected. Cloudkill, which allows a saving throw (in my opinion), gives a hit dice range, and proclaims that the gas is ‘deadly’, but does not give any set numbers or dice to roll to see how effective the spell is.

Geas: Duration: Until the task is completed.”
Interestingly, unlike other ‘enchantments’ which might have a duration of ‘until Dispelled’, Geas is specific in it’s duration. There is no mention of a saving throw, and Geas has a range of 3”. Geas has lots of possibilities, and I’d have to ruminate on its intricacies once a PC actually had access to it.

Move Earth: …move prominences such as hills or ridges…at a rate of 6" per turn. Duration 6 turns.”
Control Weather: …the following weather control operations…Tornado, Stop Tornado…”
The above two spells demonstrate how a Wizard (12th level) is truly a campaign force to reckon with, capable of moving the very earth or summoning up a tornado. A 12-die Fire Ball pales in comparison to a tornado or a rumbling hill barreling down upon some unsuspecting town.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 15

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

2nd Level
The notion of using this spell to save oneself from damage due to a fall brings up concerns in regard to Casting Time. I’d allow it, provided the caster’s Dexterity indicated some level of superior manual/conjuration speed; or I’d judge a roll with the dice was in order.

Phantasmal Forces: …the illusion will continue unless touched by some living creature…Damage caused to viewers of a Phantasmal Force will be real if the illusion is believed to be real.”
Illusions are nearly always tricky business. How does an illusion cause damage if it is dispelled upon touching a living creature? How is belief determined? By a Saving Throw? Is such a Saving Throw automatic, or does the target have to decide to stop and attempt to see through the illusion before being allowed a Saving Throw? Have fun with this one, referees.

Invisibility: Range 24” ”
Yes, in this version you can turn things invisible from 240 feet away! Whether they like it or not, I suppose. Long time players of D&D know the limitations of being invisible, and it is important to remember that this spell is not as powerful as it might at first seem. It is still a useful, iconic spell in the D&D repertoire.

ESP: A spell which allows the user to detect thoughts (if any) of whatever lurks behind doors or in the darkness.”
I’m not sure this if this is exactly how the AD&D version worked, or was intended to function, so I’ll be right back after a quick check of the PHB…OK, it’s somewhat similar, but seems less useful. I never read AD&D ESP in the way I read this version; as a scanning ability to avoid surprise. This version lasts much longer, so could see real use as a dungeon early warning system. I like it.

3rd Level”
Hold Person: A spell similar to a Charm Person but which is of limited duration and greater effect.”
I don’t see how exactly this spell is better than Charm Person, except that it will potentially effect 1-4 targets, and can be used on a single target to force a saving throw at -2. It’s a spell which is just asking for clarification. Does it cause paralysis? Mental enthrallment? Bedazzlement and Bewilderment? Are targets simply ‘rooted’ in place, or are they incapacitated? For this spell to be of greater effect than Charm Person, I’d say the targets are incapacitated and unable to act for the duration of the spell, even if attacked.

Dispell Magic: Unless countered, this spell will be effective in dispelling enchantments of most kinds (referee’s option)…Duration: 1 turn.”
Wait, what? Does this mean that Dispell Magic is more of a delay or cessation of magic? Does this spell ‘turn off’ magic for 1 turn? Ugh. It clearly states it is not effective against magical items. And what is this ‘countered’ business? There are no ‘counter spells’ in D&D as I have come to understand the term (a reactionary anti-spell cast to foil another caster’s spell). I almost wish I hadn’t read this spell now. It has duration 1 turn and range 120 feet, is ineffective against magic items, and may be ‘countered’. OK, got it. Next…

Fire Ball: A missile which springs from the finger of the Magic-User. It explodes with a burst radius of 2”…A 6th level magic-User throws a 6-die missile, a 7th a 7-die missile, and so on. Duration: 1 turn. Range: 24”.”
Ah, now something even I can understand, the most iconic Magic-User spell of all time, the deadly Fire Ball. Make sure you know the difference between radius and diameter before you cast this one. The normal 1d6/level of Magic-User in damage, pretty much what I remember. BUT, as noted before in part 12, there is no mention here of a saving throw for one-half damage. I’m allowing the precedence of that table to define how this spell is handled (and yes how later editions also handled Fire Ball) in my own games. Save for one-half damage. Oh, and duration 1 turn. Either I ignore that duration, use the white-out on it, or assume it is intentional. Surely the Fire Ball does not ‘burn’ for 10 minutes. I can only assume, if pressed for an answer, that this spell may be prepared and cast, and then loosed at anytime over the next turn. In that regard, it is like a Magic-User is holding a hand grenade with the pin pulled. If he is slain, that Fire Ball is going off, right at his feet.

Lightning Bolt:”
Similar to Fire Ball, but no ‘duration‘, thankfully. Again, I’ll use the wand/staff/dragon breath precedence established in the saving throws section, and allow saves for one-half damage. I could possibly be talked into allowing Fire Ball and Lightning Bolt to have no saving throw, since none is indicated in this volume, but the one doing the talking would have to make a great argument as to why the spells behave differently than the ones from wands or staves.

Slow Spell: …effects up to 24 creatures in a maximum area of 6” x 12”.”
Haste Spell: …exactly the opposite of a Slow Spell in effect, but otherwise like it. Note that it will counter its opposite and vice-versa.”
It seems fairly simple to assume that the AD&D treatment is the way most players would define these two spells. These are inexorably linked at the waist since 1974, throughout the history of the game. My old D&D buddies used to debate which was better, and Haste was normally considered slightly better, but only if you ignored the whole aging thing…but from this perspective, and trying to forget about AD&D, what exactly do these two spells do? Slow Spell slows, and Haste Spell hastens, but to what extent and measure? They counter one another, so the decreases and increases in speed are relative. In other words, if affected by Slow Spell, and then Haste Spell, you would not be hastened, you will have returned to normal. This is not a matter of one spell ‘replacing’ the other, it is a matter of them actually countering, presumably even if the durations overlap. So we do gain some insight into Gygax and Arneson’s meaning when they say ‘counter’; that certain spells do not replace or supplement, but nullify one another (so what counters Dispell Magic?). Clearly the simplest formula to rely on is that a Slow Spell reduces movement (and perhaps actions) by 50%, while Haste Spell increases movement (and perhaps actions) by 100%. Some referees might simply allow these two spells to affect movement, others will allow one-half or double normal attacks as well as movement. I prefer the latter, even understanding D&D’s abstract nature it just makes sense to me.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, November 24, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 14

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

Pages 23-34 of Men & Magic are devoted to brief explanations of the 70 Magic-User and 26 Cleric spells found on the SPELLS TABLE. Before I dive in and begin quoting items of note, I’d like to make an observation that stems from my experience as an AD&D Dungeon Master for three decades. If you, like me, are using these rules after playing later editions of D&D, you might consider the system unclear or enigmatic. Just take the leap and try it, remembering that the great fun in playing this way is that the referee is free to decide how it works on his own. It might work one way today, and another tomorrow (it is magic, after all). If you’re like me, though, you will probably feel the burning desire to add some level of definition to these spells, be it prior to actual play, or on the fly. Either way, knowing what issues might arise down the road and being prepared for the magic system and its somewhat fuzzy nature can never hurt a prospective referee.

What struck me immediately is that certain AD&D-isms have not been introduced at this point in the magic system. There is no notion of Casting Time, for example. Whether or not the target of a spell is allowed a Saving Throw is indeterminate at times. Material components and spell casting methods are not defined. For the most part I like the bare bones presentation here. It’s a simple system; spell casters memorize and can then use the indicated number of spells each day. That’s it. For my own treatment of the rules here, I will attempt to sort out the ins and outs of various spells, based on text in the spell, and upon precedence established elsewhere (such as the Saving Throw Matrix).

Casting Time: Dexterity is the only precedent here; as it helps in ‘conjuration’ and indicates speed in regard to ‘getting off a spell’. The assumption is that either spells may be cast ‘faster’ or that reaction and perfection of motion are increased with an above average Dexterity rating; and the contrary with a below average Dexterity rating. Nothing in the rules indicates that a spell caster has a chance to ‘fail’ his spell; just that it might not ‘go off’ before something else (such as an enemy’s attack) transpires.

Spell Casting Methods: Based on what we know about Dexterity, one may assume then that spell casting involves motion of some kind. Being bound or otherwise restricted might prevent successful spell casting. Likewise, being struck in melee might also interrupt or prevent a spell casting; this is entirely a judgment call on behalf of the referee.

Saving Throws: As noted above, I will attempt to approach this category in a logical fashion. In the end, though, like all of the rules, this is a judgment call by the referee if it is not specifically stated (and even then, the referee runs D&D his way and changes will be commonplace).

Area of Effect: This is very rarely defined. For spells like Sleep or Confusion, I would simply assume that it affects with line of sight; if the Magic-User can see the enemies, they are potential targets if they are within range.

1st Level
Read Magic: Without such a spell or similar device magic is unintelligible to even a Magic-User.”
This is the all-purpose identification method for Magic-Users, and the text hints that without it (and therefore without a M-U, or similar device) that no magic items may be understood (and subsequently used). I would presume that this includes scrolls, wands, staves, miscellaneous items and certain rings, but not magic items which are simply enchanted (such as weapons and armor). A very handy spell if players want to discover the usefulness of items mid-adventure.

Read Languages: The means by which directions and the like are read, particularly on treasure maps. It is otherwise like the Read magic spell above.”
This is interesting. If it is like the Read Magic spell, one can assume that directions and treasure maps are in code or cipher, and are unusable until deciphered. Does this mean ALL treasure maps are so encoded and useless until a Read Languages spell is cast upon them? That’s up to the referee, but it certainly adds an amount of utility to this rarely memorized spell.

Protection from Evil: …also serves as an “armor” from various evil attacks, adding a +1 to all saving throws and taking a -1 from hit dice of evil opponents.”
Ah, the good/evil debate is back. Protection from Chaos might have proven to be more useful. Keep in mind that ‘-1 from hit dice’ doesn’t mean it reduces an evil monster’s life total, it simply means his attack rolls are less likely to hit you (since they are based on hit dice). Remember, evil is Chaotic, but not all Chaos is evil…or something like that. I’d say considering Undead and Anti-Clerics as evil is pretty much a safe bet, the rest is up to you.

Charm Person: If the spell is successful it will cause the charmed entity to come completely under the influence of the Magic-User…”
Save or no Save? It says IF successful. Therefore, a Saving Throw is permitted. This spell is immensely useful, as it is PERMANENT until the victim is the beneficiary of a Dispell Magic spell. It not only removes a potential enemy from a conflict, but adds that target to the Magic-User’s own side. Furthermore, it states ‘completely under the influence’. Those familiar with the AD&D version should understand that this original version is far superior.

Sleep: The spell always affects up to the number of creatures determined by the dice.”
A cornerstone Magic-User spell, even in later editions. Based on the above text we can see that there is NO Saving Throw against Sleep. Will the targets be awoken by loud noise? Can the PC’s easily give them the slip, or can they quietly cut the throats of all of these now slumbering foes? Again, this is a judgment call, as the only effect is that those targets indicated by the dice are asleep.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Sunday, November 23, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 13

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

What follows in the SPELLS TABLE is the first list of Magic-User and Cleric spells for D&D. Of note is the fact that Magic-Users have but 18 spells, combined, from which to choose from in the columns for 1st and 2nd level; and Clerics are offered a combined 14 spells in 1st, 2nd and 3rd level. Missing (well, not technically ‘missing’ yet, as this is the original list) is the iconic M-U spell, Magic Missile. As someone who grew up using 1st edition AD&D, this amount seems miniscule. On the other hand, nowhere in this edition does it mention that spell casters begin with a random assortment of spells in their books from which to select and memorize. Apparently this is the list that every spell caster has in his or her initial spell book, and is able to employ while memorizing spells between adventures. The Magic-User list tops off at 6th level, and the Cleric list at 5th level. None of this would have seemed noteworthy in 1974, but to many D&D players, even one such as myself who ‘peaked’ in 1st edition AD&D, the number of spells available seems very limited.

“Clerics versus Undead Monsters:”
Like many of the rules and guides in these volumes, the Clerics versus Undead Monsters table and accompanying text is very vague, open to interpretation by referees. This is one of the peculiarities of the original rules that by now you are either beginning to appreciate, or find troublesome. It harkens back to the blurb in part 2B, which embodies the old school spirit. Here is a list, sorted nicely by Cleric level title, showing what score is required on 2d6 in order for a Cleric to turn away or dissolve Undead Monsters. That’s it for this important feature. No mention of duration, method of ‘turning’, range, or anything specific. The feature presented here is begging for house rules in order to define its implementation. I am one of those players which appreciates the vagaries of original D&D, finding myself intrigued and inspired by the possibilities therein whenever I am able to take the opportunity to disassociate myself further from my AD&D preconceptions.

At the end of this lead in to the actual EXPLANATION OF SPELLS, we find this passage:

“Note that under lined Clerical spells are reversed by evil Clerics. Also, note the Clerics versus Undead Monsters table, indicating the strong effect of the various clerical levels upon the undead; however; evil Clerics do not have this effect, the entire effect being lost.”
More in regard to evil Clerics here. One can assume, since it is not specified otherwise, that any non-evil Cleric (again, we see the conundrum which arises in regard to good/evil versus Law/Chaos) therefore casts the spells as described in the upcoming pages, and has the ability to ‘turn’ Undead Monsters. So, for all intents and purposes, only evil (Chaotic, it is assumed) Anti-Clerics are unique amongst this character class. The fact that evil and good only seem to be attached to the Cleric class, and are used in these particular spots, but not interchangeable, supports my opinion that good is Lawful, evil is Chaotic, but that Lawful does not always mean good, nor does Chaotic always mean evil. One can form verdicts or judgments from this observation, or simply assume that the two are synonymous. The way in which the terms are used helps me formulate this distinction, and also reinforces my theory that good and evil are of greater concern in regard to Clerics (and perhaps mean little or nothing to the rest of the Law-Neutrality-Chaos world).

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, November 22, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 12

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

Five categories of threats are covered, as follows:

“Death Ray or Poison”
One can assume that Death Rays were expected to be much more common in the original game. Or one can assume that ‘save or die’ situations were to be the most forgiving. Jumping ahead to the very end of the EXPLANATION OF SPELLS section, we find The Finger of Death spell for Clerics. I can only assume that Death Ray here in the Saving Throw Matrix was added due to that very spell, and that early dungeons were not actually littered with hidden, zapping Death Rays.

“All Wands - Including Polymorph and Paralization”
My assumption here is that ALL Wands, regardless of attack type, use this column, and all Polymorph and Paralization attacks, regardless of source, do as well. A trend is developing showing certain specific threats superseding their source.

Flesh to Stone threats, whether by monster or spell. Jumping ahead to Monsters & Treasure, the short list of such threats includes Cockatrice, Basilisk, Medusae and Gorgons.

“Dragon Breath”
These ‘elemental’ threats are more potent than their potential ‘Wand’ counterparts. Whether they are magical in nature or not is open for debate (and would determine whether or not a dwarf would receive a bonus against them). Types include Cold, Acid, Chlorine Gas, Lightning and Fire.

“Staves & Spells”
Unless specified by one of the previous columns, spells and staves are treated as threats within this category. Clearly, ‘elemental’ type threats from these two sources are more potent than those from Wands. Staves & Spells are a greater threat to Fighting-Men than Dragon Breath; not so for Magic-Users and Clerics.

“…or one-half effect (poison scoring one-half of the total possible hit damage and dragon’s breath scoring one-half of its full damage).”
This tidbit of insight in the footnote of the Saving Throw Matrix raises some questions in regard to poison. Jumping ahead in the other volumes, I find that there are only five examples of poison as a threat: a Wyvern’s sting, a Purple Worm's sting, a Green Dragon’s Chlorine Gas, the M-U spell Cloudkill, and the deadly Poison Potion. I assume that poison was indeed normally a ‘save or die’ threat when used in traps or when home brewed with deadly snakes and spiders. The above sentence clearly says that poison can cause one-half damage, but this fact is separated from dragon’s breath. A referee can decide for himself that there are simply different types of poison, some deadly, some which cause damage even if the saving throw is made, but I’m lead to believe that a Green Dragon’s Chlorine Breath is the only example of a type of poison (gas) that causes full or one-half damage; the rest are an all or none proposition, save or die. This means ALL dragon breath attacks use the Dragon Breath column, and the rest of the poison threats use that first column which seems to be reserved for save or die threats.

“Wands of cold, fire balls, lightning, etc. and staves are treated as indicated, but saving throws being made result in one-half damage.”
Notice that elemental spells (Fireball, Lightning Bolt) are not mentioned here in this sentence about full or one-half damage, just those types of threats from Wands or Staves (and earlier, Dragon Breath). Skipping ahead to the Explanation of Spells section, we find that saving throws for one-half damage are not mentioned in the spell descriptions themselves, either. It seems only logical that these Magic-User spells behave in a similar fashion, dealing full or one-half damage. The quandary presented by the vagaries of the spell descriptions will be explored in an upcoming section, but for now I assume that all Fireballs, from Wand, Staff or Spell, are for all intents and purposes a 'full or one-half damage' type of threat.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

-edited- to add another example of poision; a Purple Worm's sting.

What If?

Remember that old Marvel Comics series? No? That’s OK. I’m playing it today anyway here at Ye Auld Grog and Blog. What If…Dave Arneson, rather than Gary Gygax, had wrested control of D&D? What If, by some strange twist of fate, Gary had returned to the insurance business, and left the direction of D&D to Blackmoor’s creator, Dave Arneson?

Less prose and more punch

Less realism and more free wheelin’

Less medieval and more alien invasion

Less tables and more what the f**k just happened

Less concern about standardized tournament rules and more kung-fu theatre

Less D&D is fantasy, and more D&D is anything you can imagine…D&D is a concept; not a place or time in history or mythology

I love me some Gygax ‘purple prose’ as James M calls it. On the other hand, I wonder…What If?

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, November 21, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 11

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

“This system is based upon the defensive and offensive capabilities of the combatants: such things as speed, ferocity, and weaponry of the monster attacking are subsumed in the matrixes. There are two charts, one for men versus men or monsters and one for monsters (including kobolds, goblins, orcs, etc.) versus men.”
The ‘Alternative’ system for combat presented in Men & Magic quickly replaced the CHAINMAIL rules, and eventually became the standard for D&D games everywhere. It became adopted in later editions of D&D, and CHAINMAIL slowly faded into obscurity. Nevertheless, when I first began reading the Original Collector’s Edition of D&D, I felt as if I was missing something NOT having CHAINMAIL as a reference. So I got it, and I can see why this ‘alternative’ combat system became more popular and was adopted for D&D. It isn’t simply the fact that this system is readily available, being actually in print here in this volume; it’s more so that this approach, when considering character levels and monster hit dice, translates much better to D&D. One of these days I’ll devise a CHAINMAIL-D&D combat system, but such a successfully working model is easier said than done. Of particular note here for players of later editions is that YES, Armor Class works in descending order, that being ‘lower is better’. That’s the way D&D worked for years and years, and older players never questioned this nor considered it unusual.

On ATTACK MATRIX 1, we find Target Armor Class and Description, along with six columns detailing the roll required to hit each AC. The scope of this alternative system is no more than eight armor classes, and six fighting capabilities for characters (monsters are further divided into eight fighting capabilities). I did a fair bit of numbers crunching and extrapolation using these matrices, and in case you’re wondering the FC (fighting capability) translates to modifiers that increase in chunks across the six columns like so: 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 13 (again, on a slightly different progression for monsters). Fighting-Men progress through these plateaus in three experience level increments. Many find fault with this uneven or lopsided progression, but we have to remember that this is the first such published combat system designed for D&D. In fact, I tinkered with this system quite a bit in my initial foray into original D&D, but have since gone back to the original FC and uneven progression for each class. The 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 13 values are now etched in my games. Fighting Capability is simply a method I’ve devised to dispense with the attack tables altogether, but rather than be a hypocrite, I should also return to table use and not a derived short-cut formula. More on being a hypocrite follows…

“*Fighting-Men: Magic-Users advance in steps based on five levels/group (1-5, 6-10, etc.), and Clerics in steps based on four levels/group (1-4, 5-8, etc.). Normal men equal 1st level fighters.”
This passage defines where Magic-Users and Clerics fall upon ATTACK MATRIX 1. With the uneven progression across these columns, there is often overlap. The perceived melee advantage of Fighting-Men is nonexistent in many of these cases; yes they possess slightly better hit dice, and can use all weapons, but they aren’t the offensive juggernauts of later editions. In fact, all characters have an equal skill level in regard to chance to hit for experience level one through three and level six. Looking at this from a purist view, them’s the rules.

“All attacks which score hits do 1-6 points damage unless otherwise noted.”
Dagger, Arrow, Halberd, Mace…they all deal 1d6 damage. Gargoyle, Troll, Goblin, Wererats…all deal 1d6 damage (certain specific large monsters deal extra damage, as detailed in Monsters & Treasure). This generic system begins to give the reader the overall abstract feel of D&D combat. There is little in the way of tactical concerns, its simply an exchange of melee, each side essentially dealing from 1-6 damage if successful, and that’s it in a nutshell. I enjoy the 1d6 synergy in original D&D. Characters and monsters share 1d6 Hit Dice, attacks, for the most part, fall within that range, and Magic-User spells retain a certain level of potency lost in later editions. Players desirous of a less abstract, more tactical treatment or method of handling melee could employ CHAINMAIL to help sort out things such as positioning, weapon length, parrying or withholding attacks.

"All base scores to hit will be modified by magic armor and weaponry."
Speaking of being hypocritical, in my early efforts of ‘purism’ (if indeed such a term could EVER have been applied to D&D), I decided it more keeping with the spirit of the game if I used those original fighting capabilities of 1, 3, 6, 8, 10 and 13. BUT, being the hard-headed AD&D player I was, I decided to use a ‘fluid AC’ system. I allowed characters to have an AC lower than 2, or to wear Leather & Shield, but still claim an AC of 5 due to magic. In fact, as stated above, there are EIGHT Armor Classes (each defined by the type of armor a character wears, or an equivalent value based on a monster’s natural defenses), these are AC 9 through AC 2. Thus, there is only one way for a character to achieve the best AC, and that is to wear Plate Armor & Shield and be considered AC 2. In the abstract spirit of the alternative combat system, plate and shield equals AC 2, AND AC 2 equals plate and shield. So how then does magic armor or weaponry affect melee? Simply by either adding to or subtracting from the d20 roll, and then cross-referencing the adjusted result in one of the attack matrices. You can play like I have in the past, doing away with steps of adding or subtracting or even using a table at all, and still end up with the exact same chances to hit, BUT when I am finally finished re-reading these volumes and considering my interpretations, you can be sure that I am going to consider doing away with my house rules for ‘fluid AC’ and the table-less ‘derived attack formula’. Just because.

"Missile hits will be scored using the above tables at long range and decreasing Armor Class by 1 at medium and 2 at short range."
Another bit I missed in my initial read of the rules. Missiles are quite potent in D&D! That is, as long as we interpret 'decreasing Armor Class' as reducing its effectiveness. It seems logical that closer targets would be easier to hit with a missile weapon. So, at long range, the number required to hit is unmodified. At medium range the roll is at +1, and at short range the roll is at +2. In original D&D terms, these are major modifiers. Fighting-Men, with their ability to use all weapons (and the only class capable of wielding bows or crossbows) have a significant advantage if they are able to employ a missile weapon in combat. Sure, a Magic-User could throw a dagger here and there, but the range is surely much smaller. The definition of long, medium and short range is not clear in this volume, but one can refer to CHAINMAIL for a guide if so desired.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, November 20, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 10B

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

This post is being added in hindsight after I had already moved forward in my reading. I suspect I might add a few more like this as I have been scheduling some of these in groups of posts. I’d like to thank Jonathan at The Core Mechanic for his excellent The New Cleric is the Old Cleric series which prompted me to realize I had glossed over something I felt was noteworthy.

Men & Magic

“Item: Wooden Cross, Cost: 2
Item: Silver Cross, Cost: 25”
The two items above are the only ‘holy symbols’ in original D&D. Certainly we know that the equipment list is no more than a guide for referees, and far from complete.

“Other items cost may be calculated by comparing to similar items listed above.”
By now the reader is gaining an understanding that there is potentially more to the world, to the campaign, and that covering all possibilities is implausible. The fact that ‘Cross’ is used, rather than ‘Symbol‘, is noteworthy. I realize that my AD&D mind is taking hold here, as I know what’s in store for the Cleric in the near future. The Cleric, more so than any other class in D&D, is rooted in our world, the real world. One might argue that Fighting-Men are as well, and that Magic-Users are the only true fantasy archetype of the Three-Pronged-Crown of D&D classes. I would contend that Fighting-Men are generic by design, and meant to encompass not only historical Medieval warriors, but also pulp fiction and high fantasy heroes of bravery and daring. Clerics, as originally designed, were inspired by a vampire-hunting, Van Helsing-type character (Sir Fang) from Arneson’s Blackmoor, an archetype to which Gygax added some Medieval and historical trappings; namely Christianity. From there the idea blossomed and became one of the three D&D archetypes.

While there is no mention of God, or Christians, or of whom Clerics or Anti-Clerics worship, this is the only reference point we have to work with. One can make assumptions based on this, but I think even 34 years ago TSR realized that a potentially volatile situation could develop if the ramifications of this were spelled out. On the other hand, I truly get the feeling from reading these volumes that there was no intent to enforce real world religion into the rules of the fantastic worlds which were growing around them. In the end I am left to surmise that the Cross was specifically the literal translation of the Van Helsing tool used on the Clerics versus Undead Monsters table detailed in the pages to come, and nothing more.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Fight On! Issue 3

A little slow on the draw today, so this may not come as actual 'news' to many of you, but...Issue #3 of Fight On! is officially out and available for order from Lulu's print on demand service. At 148 pages, it's a steal for ten and a half clams.

I'm ordering my copy as soon as I add this post. My modest contributions include Bogbears!, Spawning Grounds of the Crab-Men, and the hand drawn map for that adventure. Thanks to Calithena for encouraging me to get involved, and a big thanks to all of the authors and artists who are helping Fight On! fill a much needed hole in the gaming community. It's growing, and everyone reading this should support the 'zine by ordering a copy, spreading the word, and hopefully contributing for future issues.

Here are the release notes:

The premier fanzine for the old-school renaissance comes out swinging with a +5 vorpal claymore of disintegration! All 148 pages of issue #3 are released in honor of the late Bob Bledsaw and in cooperation with the Judges Guild, and feature the following legacy articles:

Wilderlands Map 19: The Wild North by Robert S. Conley, detailing the lands north of Valon and west, by many folks' reckoning anyway, of much-fabled Blackmoor!

Haghill by James Mishler of Adventure Games Publications, detailing the legendary village near the City-State of the Invincible Overlord and the communities monstrous and mundane that surround it!

Inferno: The Fifth Circle by Geoffrey O. Dale, author of the original Inferno, taking you farther and deeper into Hell than gamers have ever trod before!

You can also learn intriguing tidbits about the history of Judges Guild from Bob Bledsaw II and Bill Owen, the Guild's co-founder, and read a stirring tribute to Bledsaw and the early days of gaming from Bill Webb, co-founder of Necromancer Games! But it's not just the glorious of yesteryear to be found in our pages. David Bowman's contest-winning Spawning Grounds of the Crab-Men and Diana Jones/Indie RPG Award double winner Jason Morningstar's first honorable mention Khas Fara give you two tough new adventures to tackle, the latter of which can be played with traditional fantasy games or with The Shadow of Yesterday. Gabor Lux, the Hungarian Prince of Swords & Sorcery, takes you inside his Fomalhaut Campaign. Our front cover was penned by Len Cain of Berkeley gaming legend. Baz Blatt brings you new demons for Empire of the Petal Throne, while Max Davenport gives us some terrible and zany monsters for Mutant Future! And Fight On! stalwarts and newcomers Jeff Rients, Steve Zieser, Kevin Mayle, Lee Barber, Patrick Farley, Del Beaudry, Vincent Baker, Kesher, John Miskimen, Age of Fable, Calithena, and many more are back and ready to rock your game with the newest tables, tricks, sorcery, monsters, and mayhem their deviant minds can devise!

Whether you started in 1974 or 2008, you won't want to miss this fall's issue! Buy it now from lulu at

and be sure to pick up the first two issues as well if you haven't already. Happy gaming, and Fight On!

Got and get some!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

D&D Cover to Cover, part 10

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

Pages 12-18 are fairly self-explanatory, in regard to the above categories. I would like to cover the following subcategories on page 18 and 19.

“Experience Points: As characters meet monsters in mortal combat and defeat them, and when they obtain various forms of treasure (money, gems, jewelry, magical items, etc.), they gain “experience”.”
Experience earned through the acquisition of monetary and magical treasure. It’s the goal of adventurers far and wide. True power is achieved through wealth, and the fantasy world should reflect this in some shape. I’d like to note that avoiding, parleying with and outsmarting monsters is never as tricky in original D&D; if such maneuvers lead to unguarded or ‘unearned’ treasures, the reward for acquiring these is still just as lucrative in regards to experience earned. I also have been giving thought to the notion of only awarding the experience for monetary treasure once the riches are actually spent; be it on wine, women, gambling, tithing, donations, alms, rare material components, age-old tomes of knowledge or stolen scrolls of forbidden rites. There’s always something an adventurer can blow his wealth on to keep the campaign interesting…but I digress. Experience for treasure is, to me, an inherent facet of adventuring and realizing the fruits of ones labor.

“Gains in experience points will be relative; thus an 8th level Magic-User operating on the 5th dungeon level would be awarded 5/8 experience.”
This passage goes on to explain the relative risk/reward balance for purposes of determining the ratio of earned experience when considering a character’s level and the obstacles he or she has overcome. This is one aspect of D&D that I have never utilized. First of all, the experience tables have a built-in model of depreciating returns. Secondly, in the example given, an 8th level Magic-User operating alone on the 5th level of a dungeon will be suitably challenged to warrant full experience. Lastly, I find this added level of math to be too cumbersome. I’ve recently instituted awarding experience for defeating monsters ‘on-the-fly’; to be shared by all surviving participants immediately after melee. I can understand the intent of the authors, that ‘sandbagging’ on the part of the adventurers should be penalized. That being said, I feel that the players are normally seeking out enough reward to be willing to face obstacles which are ‘just challenging enough’ in order to maximize experience and potential rewards.

“Experience points are never awarded above a 1 for 1 basis, so even if a character defeats a higher level monster he will not receive experience points above the total of treasure combined with the monster’s kill value.”
If I were compelled to implement the earlier mentioned risk/reward balance, I cannot see why a bonus of some sort would not be similarly provided in this circumstance. I think the experience system is one that has seen a very high level of ‘house ruling’ in D&D’s various editions. Based on this entire Experience Points passage one can understand why. It just seems too cumbersome for my taste. Nevertheless, I wanted to point out these passages as I indeed find it interesting to see how the original rules were expressed here.

“Dice for Accumulative Hits (Hit Dice): This indicates the number of dice which are rolled to determine how many hit points a character can take.”
This was a rule that eluded me until I took the time to delve into the collective knowledge of the contributors at Finarvyn’s OD&D forum. You see, I was so used to the AD&D rules that I simply could not sort out how the numbers jived from level to level for the character classes. In AD&D, one simply looked at the new level, and rolled the (in most cases) single die indicated, adding that result to the characters ongoing hit point pool.

“…A Super Hero gets 8 dice +2; they are rolled and score 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6/totals 26 +2 = 28, 28 being the number of points of damage the character could sustain before death. Whether sustaining accumulative hits will otherwise affect a character is left to the discretion of the referee.”
Perhaps if I had continued reading, and actually considered this example based on the Fighting-Man’s table and Hit Dice progression, it would have been clear that Hits are re-rolled upon gaining each new level. Or are they? While the example does indeed spell out that there is no Hit Point carry-over, or pool, from level to level, it does not explicitly state that the Hit Dice are rolled upon gaining a new level, and then not again until another level is gained. Perhaps the Hit Dice are rolled at the beginning of each adventure; with the dawn of each day; or at the start of each melee. The rules are not clear on this matter. I prefer to use ‘rolled upon gaining a new level’, along with the house rule that the character’s hit point total may never decrease regardless of this Hit Dice roll, and will increase by at least one with each new level. I believe this was a rule borrowed from Empire of the Petal Throne. That said, I kind of like the idea of rolling Hit Dice before each adventure, but I doubt many players would enjoy that one. The last sentence in the above quote mystifies me a bit. I assume the meaning is that further bodily damage, be it through a single massive, killing attack, or through continued damage even after death, is possible, with the results to be 'left to the discretion of the referee'. Falling 120 feet, sustaining 48 damage from dragon breath, meeting one's end in a crushing pit trap, etc. are all ways that might cause the referee to insist that more than simply being slain has resulted. Perhaps the character is beyond recovery of any sort.

“Spells & Levels: The number in each column opposite each applicable character indicates the number of spells of each level that can be used (remembered during a single adventure) by that character.”
Clearly, then, if an adventure lasts for multiple days, meaning that the spell caster is ‘in the field’ and not studying his spell books in his tower library or temple halls, he or she may not change the spells he has chosen.

“A spell used once may not be re-used in the same day.”
This means that multiple ‘copies’ of the same spell may not be memorized between adventures. Each spell may only be used once per day, from among the group of spells that the spell caster has chosen for that particular adventure.

Nowhere in Men & Magic does it say that spell casters are required to study their spell books during an adventure. It simply states that spells are chosen between adventures, committed to memory without duplication, and are able to be utilized once per day each. Yeah, I missed this initially as well, assuming that the magic system was closer to the AD&D one with which I was familiar.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Another Teaser for Lower Caves

I started working on Lower Caves of The Darkness Beneath months ago. It has been a work in progress for quite some time, now. For those not in the know, it is my next planned adventure submission for Fight On!, level 5 of Calithena's group project megadungeon, The Darkness Beneath. I shared some of the very early ideas I had for this adventure here and here, but the project has changed quite a bit since those early ruminations. It is going to serve as the 'origin' of my home brewed Bugbears, the Bogbears (included in Issue 3 of Fight On!). Anyhow, I keep picking it up, then setting it down, as it is a non-conventional lay-out the likes of nothing I have done in the past.

The central theme is that Calithena's NPC Jalen Longspear runs an Inn for adventurers on this level, in the middle of the megadungeon, called the Halfway Inn. The challenge of making the Inn, Jalen and his guests interesting, and detailing why they are hanging out half-way down in this massive underworld death-trap has kept me from hammering this out in a few nights. The magnitude of the Inn, as I imagined it, forced a re-do of my first map; there simply wasn't enough space for actual adventuring, and I wanted to incorporate those Fae aspects I alluded to in those other Lower Caves posts.

I finally sat down and drew a map which I know will work well now. I have everything planned out, and about 30% of the text is done. All that is left to do is number the map as I place each idea, put my thoughts for each room into text, dress up the map, title it, and send it off to Calithena for a look-see. Hopefully this will see print in the Spring (provided it finds it's way into Fight On!). More on this as I continue the project.

Anyhow, I promised to share this back in August, so here's the initial map draw:

I claimed before that work would speed up on The Lower Caves, so I'll be careful to make that assertion again, but it is definitely moving along in a promising fashion.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

D&D Cover to Cover, part 9

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

"Languages: The “common tongue” spoken throughout the “continent” is known by most humans."
The fact that the term humans was used rather than men here throws me off a bit. The distinct and sudden shift from the term ‘men’ leads one to believe that there is a reason for such a change. Perhaps humans in this context refers to all player character races. Perhaps the authors are suddenly more specific so as not to confuse readers who might assume that ‘men’ refers to all player character races. Perhaps there is nothing more to read into this than the face value, simply that most humans speak common.

"All other creatures and monsters which can speak have their own tongues, although some (20%) also know the common one."
I would assume that this 20% chance is to help the referee determine whether or not a non-player character type of dwarf, elf or hobbit knows the common tongue. There is a guide for player characters, so there is no mystery or random chance in regard to what languages they speak. It is not stated that any character type other than “humans” know the common tongue, other than through the 20% chance, so it is ultimately the decision of the referee. I would assume that unless the player character is from some unknown foreign land, he or she knows the common tongue.

"Law, Chaos and Neutrality also have common tongues spoken by each respectively."
Clearly, this structure of spoken languages does not follow any historical example of our world. Firstly, there is a common tongue which presumably is the language of commerce and trade. Then there are the three divisional languages, which are the most difficult to relate to, and do not seem to be connected in anyway to region. Lastly, there are creature languages, which could be considered ancestral languages from a creature’s culture which is either an ancient, seldom used, lost tongue, or the language of a secluded enclave of the creature type; an enclave which is somewhat removed from the pervasiveness of mankind. For ease of game play, the common tongue is simply the language of all men. Those humans which do not speak it are either uncivilized or entirely foreign to the known lands described herein. One could perhaps make an effort to reason that the divisional languages are regional ones; those of cultures or societies of man (and even dwarves, elves and hobbits) that are at odds with one another. Or, one could explain these divisional languages as age old religious versions of spoken word, learned and handed down through the writings, scriptures and scrolls of the faithful leaders of the three major sects or divisions of some as yet undetermined persuasion. What happens when a character makes an alignment change, though? Surely he does not simply forget his divisional tongue? Ultimately I would simply leave divisional languages as a simple but never foolproof way of ascertaining whether a stranger is part of your normal circle of friends or not. Not at all a language in this context, but perhaps best described as an extremely limited slang form of the common tongue, with slang terms unrecognizable, for the most part, by those not of the same alignment. There are of course members of the three alignments who are intelligent enough to learn how to adequately mimic or fool casual observers, and even the rare individuals who can live amongst their foes through expert masquerading. To summarize:

Common Tongue: The Language of man, of the Land, of Commerce and Trade.
Creature Tongues: Ancient, Ancestral, Lost or Secluded forms of language associated with specific races or creatures.
Divisional Tongues: Regional, Cultural and Societal Slang forms of limited communication associated with Law, Neutrality or Chaos.

Based upon the passages in the CHARACTERS and LANGUAGES sections, each player character race begins with the following languages, and may add one additional creature tongue for every intelligence point over 10.

Dwarf: Common, Divisional, Dwarf, Gnome, Kobold and Goblin.
Elf: Common, Divisional, Elf, Orc, Hobgoblin, Gnoll.
Hobbit or Man: Common, Divisional.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Crazy Campaign Idea

So, this idea just sort of hit me as semi-interesting tonight. I bashed out the below text based on the idea.


The remnants of mankind, those spared by the War Pigs, are given to insanity, addiction, dreams and hallucination in the bleak aftermath of the Electric Funeral. Survival is marked by Paranoid struggles against the threats of a world consumed by madness; from The Wizard of the Vast Wastes and his Shunned minions; the time-traveling, vengeful god-like, merciless Iron Man; the deranged Fairy-King Jack the Stripper and his goose-stepping, steel-booted armies (those same ruthless murderers of drug-induced nightmares seen before the lunatic cries of "Fairies Wear Boots"); the false hope that is the thought devouring Church of Planet Caravan; the mutated, cannibalistic Tainted of the Hand of Doom; the demented Rat Salad Brood of the Forbidden Depths; the Snowblind Horrors that unravel reality beyond Luke’s Wall; to the pagan, demon-worshipping rites of the fell cultists of the Black Sabbath, this campaign is certainly not in the Land of Oz…or is it?

Still one of my favorite albums ever, Black Sabbath's Paranoid. With it's doom and gloom and social commentary, Geezer Butler's harrowing lyrics seem to mesh together to form a vision of mankind's grim demise. Throw in a couple B sides from singles off Paranoid (The Wizard and Snowblind), include the intros and outros (Jack the Stripper and Luke's Wall), and viola, a dozen distinctive aspects to formulate a campaign around. Oh, and yes, Walpurgis is not the preferred title, but in case you're wondering it's the 'original' War Pigs, linked below. Crazy? Yes. Promising? Maybe. How to make it actually work? That's the fun part.

Walpurgis warns about the disastrous end awaiting devil-worshippers, so no I am not advocating black magic or the dark arts or anything. I just love me some Sabbath.

It was either this, or Rush's 2112, but that's an idea for another Crazy Campaign.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 8

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic

"Prior to the character selection by players it is necessary for the referee to roll three six-sided dice in order to rate each as to various abilities, and thus aid them in selecting a role."
The referee rolls the six character abilities, in order, using 3d6, and not the player. Based on this outcome, the player can decide whether he would like to play a Fighting-Man, Magic-User, Cleric, Dwarf, Elf or even Hobbit.

"The first three categories are the prime requisites for each of the three classes, Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and Clerics."
Indeed, these first three ability ratings do little more than determine whether the character receives a bonus, penalty or no modifier to earned experience.

"Strength is the prime requisite for fighters. Clerics can use strength on a 3 for 1 basis in their prime requisite area (wisdom), for purposes of gaining experience only. Strength will also aid in opening traps and so on."
Clerics, but not Magic-Users, may use this rating to increase their Wisdom score “for purposes of gaining experience only”. More on this later.

"Intelligence is the prime requisite for magical types. Both fighters and Clerics can use it in their prime requisite areas (strength and wisdom respectively) on a 2 for 1 basis. Intelligence will also affect referees’ decisions as to whether certain actions would be taken, and it allows additional languages to be spoken."
Again, it is noted that this rating can be used in a prime requisite area, this time by Fighting-Men and Clerics. This ability also helps the referee determine whether the actions of a player character (or non-player character) are feasible given the rating here.

"Wisdom is the prime requisite for Clerics. It may be used on a 3 for 1 basis by fighters, and on a 2 for 1 basis by Magic-Users, in their respective prime requisite areas. Wisdom rating will act much as does that for intelligence."
The last of the prime requisite abilities, Wisdom can likewise be added to the corresponding scores for Fighting-Men and Magic-Users. From these three descriptions, we can see that Fighting-Men and Clerics have primary, secondary and tertiary rankings in strength, intelligence and wisdom from which experience bonuses might be determined. This vague guideline has created much debate as to how exactly such a system plays out. For now, though, we can see that a Fighting-Man has strength primary, intelligence secondary (2 for 1), and wisdom tertiary (3 for 1). Clerics have wisdom primary, intelligence secondary (2 for 1), and strength tertiary (3 for 1). Magic-Users are, again, the odd man out here, having intelligence primary, and wisdom secondary (2 for 1). Strength, it can be assumed, has no bearing on a Magic-User’s experience gains.

"Constitution is a combination of health and endurance. It will influence such things as the number of hits which can be taken and how well the character can withstand being paralyzed, turned to stone, etc."
Aside from possibly having an effect on a character’s hit point total, constitution determines how well such attacks as paralyze and stoning are withstood. The definition of withstand is to be proof against, or to resist the effect of. Without jumping too far ahead of ourselves, we know that there are already saving throws in place for withstanding such attacks, which are determined by character level, and not constitution. I assume then that this ’withstand’ chance indicates whether or not a character survives the ordeal of missing such a saving throw, being so affected, and subsequently ’returning to normal’. In later editions this became system shock survival, and is, in my opinion, the exact meaning here.

"Dexterity applies to both manual speed and conjuration. It will indicate the character’s missile ability and speed with actions such as firing first, getting off a spell, etc."
Aside from giving a bonus or penalty to missile attacks, this is no more than a guide for the referee to help determine the outcome of questions arising concerning acting first in a contentious situation. I know dexterity is useful for aiding the referee in judging the outcome of certain unspecified undertakings by the characters, but the above only speaks to manual speed, missile ability, and spell-casting.

"Charisma is a combination of appearance, personality, and so forth. Its primary function is to determine how many hirelings of unusual nature a character can attract."
The above is expressing that there is no real limit imposed by charisma in regards to standard men-at-arms, only in regard to hirelings (defined as ‘unusual’ types, including actual adventurers and monsters). Loyalty of all of these types, including unusual and standard, is effected by charisma. Lastly, charisma apparently helps determine whether or not a character becomes a pig or a boy-toy when captured by a witch!

"Bonuses and Penalties to Advancement due to Abilities"
Upon this table we see the actual numeric values determined by prime requisite scores in regard to earned experience. Surviving/survival in regards to constitution and the aforementioned “withstand” has actual numbers indicating the odds of doing so. From these we can deduce that the formula for withstanding is [(constitution minus 3) times 10], yielding a range of 0% at 3, 10% at 4, and 100% at 13 or higher.

"Note: Average scores are 9-12. Units so indicated above may be used to increase prime requisite total insofar as this does not bring that category below average, I.e. below a score of 9."
This is where the primary, secondary and tertiary ability scores of the three classes gets thrown for a loop. My initial reading of the rules led me to believe that an actual reduction of those secondary and tertiary ratings could be taken by the player to his character’s ability scores, in order to increase the primary or prime requisite rating. Other readers take this to mean that one can formulate a modifier based on how high the secondary and tertiary ratings are above 9 (9 being the minimum such ratings can be reduced by when figuring this modifier) while not actually changing any of the three ratings as originally rolled by the referee. For example, under the first school of thought, a Fighting-Man with strength, intelligence and wisdom scores of 12, 13 and 14 could actually reduce wisdom on a 3 for 1 basis, and intelligence on a 2 for 1 basis in order to add to strength. This line of thinking is based on the above quote of “may be used to increase prime requisite total”. This Fighting-Man could end up with strength 15 (12+3), intelligence 9 (13-4), and wisdom 11 (14-3). Using the second method, which is based on the earlier passage under strength, (“for purposes of gaining experience only”), this numbers tinkering produces an effective experience modifier while not actually adjusting the three ratings at all. The result is still strength 12, intelligence 13 and wisdom 14, BUT, due to a derived modifier of +3 provided by the secondary and tertiary ratings, the Fighting-Man still has an effective experience modifier bonus of +10% (as if he did indeed have strength 15). The more I contemplate this, the more it makes sense that the second school of thought, or the effective modifier which is not realized by actually altering ratings, is how this was meant to be applied. The fact that, as I pointed out earlier, the three classes have primary, secondary and tertiary scores has led me to this theory. Being intelligent or wise helps every adventurer, and the fact that strength means little to a Magic-User in determining how effective he is at his profession just makes more sense to me now. Looks as if I have more house rules clarifications in the near future.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee