Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Flashback

This is a Friday Flashback and commentary.

If your OD&D games don't feel like this, you might be playing the game the wrong way.

You see, D&D should be from the heart. It should be free-form. The players should be experiencing something for the first time. The game should be pushing the envelope, it should be taking players out of their everyday doldrums and depositing them into a world that might at first be uncomfortable, but one that shall become uniquely their own once engaged and understood.

Welcome to the do it yourself spirit of original D&D. I hope you enjoy your stay. Now go and grab pencil and paper (much as these great rock visionaries did decades ago) and craft your own version of this concept. Go and make this game your own.

Never, ever forget that NO ONE can tell you how to play D&D. Ever.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, January 29, 2009

In case you missed it...

I've added a handy link over to the right there under the "Sham's OD&D Stuff" section for all of the PDFs I've loaded to Orbit Files for The Dismal Depths. I'm planning to share some more of the files as I work on the megadungeon, but the grand plan is to make a complete 10 level (42+ map) dungeon crawl adventure suitable for campaign play with enough creative space for referee's to make it their own. At my current work pace this will take some time, but I feel this might be a project which is a more reasonable undertaking than the much wordier, involved Ulin-Uthor, The Dim Expanse megadungeon. Hang in there! I'll be adding some information to the project in the near future after completing some other more pressing creative efforts.

Anyway, there's the link I promised but forget to announce properly.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I’ll roll on the table below, and then on the indicated Whimsey Table, and share the exact wording found in my very crude often ridiculous 25 year old handwritten notes from the early 80’s.

Random Whimsey Determination Table (2d6)

2-4 Basic Whimsey Chart (d00)
5-7 New Whimsey Chart (d00)
8-10 Nyark Ripplesnap’s Whimsey Channel (d00)
11 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #1 (d20)
12 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #2 (d20)

Today’s Roll: 3, 79.

“Target floats uncontrollably for 1 day.”

Have a Whimsical Wednesday.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Flashback

It's been a long week, the sort that makes one really appreciate the fact that it's Friday! Here's a quick little ditty from Celia and the Mutations. Round & Around epitomizes what I appreciate about the musical liberation realized during the punk movement. Free from the over production and gratuitous solos of 70's arena rock, and clocking in at a blistering 1:38, it's a long forgotten example of the simple perfection so often produced during that short-lived musical revolution.

I've no idea what became of Celia, but her backing band, the Mutations, were actually one of the "big four" of London punk, The Stranglers.

Enjoy, hit play again, and have a great weekend!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

D&D Cover to Cover, part 38

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.

The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures

Before it is possible to conduct a campaign of adventures in the mazey dungeons, it is necessary for the referee to sit down with pencil in hand and draw these labyrinths on graph paper. Unquestionably this will require a great deal of time and effort and imagination. The dungeons should look something like the example given below, with numerous levels which sprawl in all directions, not necessarily stack neatly above each other in a straight line.”
Volume III gets good, and it gets good fast. If you didn’t know how to play D&D yet, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures dives right in and tells you with its opening words that the game is played by adventuring in dungeons created by hand by a referee. That the dungeon was intended to be the central focus of Dungeons & Dragons, there is no doubt. Jumping ahead to THE WILDERNESS section, p. 14, we find passages that support this fact. Everything mentioned in that section speaks to the areas which surround the dungeon. The campaign grows forth from the dungeon, its centerpiece.

One need not limit a D&D campaign to dungeons, clearly, but the theme is obvious. The dungeon is the anchor. A village, town or city and the immediate terrain surrounding the dungeon serve as extensions of this underworld affair. This then is how the game is played. What the characters may do outside of the campaign’s focal point is discussed in THE WILDERNESS section.

Step one in preparing for the game is to draw the dungeon. It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

The SAMPLE CROSS SECTION OF LEVELS example provided on p. 3 conveys the fact that dungeon levels should be sprawling and convoluted. I’ve found laying out such cross sections for dungeons unnecessary, but the end result can be nice to look at. The authors go on to say that the levels shouldn’t stack neatly, one on top of the other. I’ve found that such concerns are likewise superfluous, the end result being that the players rarely know the difference. I contend that it’s perfectly fine for levels stacked on top of one another, as long as the individual level maps are interesting in and of themselves.

I have made dungeons in both ways, and I doubt I’d bother worrying about a cross section except for one reason, and that is keeping track of all of the entrances or exits to and from the dungeon itself. The cross section is perfect for such details which are easily forgotten after a referee undertakes the long process of filling a large dungeon.

Readers will notice that the term “dungeon”, as described here in Volume III, is in fact what we now call a “megadungeon”. Thirty-five years later we have found the need to redefine the very term used to name this grand game by adding a prefix. The truth of the matter is that what we now call a megadungeon was indeed what the authors had been using to run their campaigns, it’s just that they called it a dungeon. Perhaps “Megadungeons & Manticoras” didn’t have quite the zing to it. I wonder who coined the megadungeon term in the first place. It’s certainly a necessary evil now in the current gaming era. It begs the question though, were there minidungeons in 1974?

I’d also like to mention the usage of the term “campaign” here, “conduct a campaign of adventures” is the proper usage. A campaign is a collection of adventures. As we will see, the campaign is also the world which emerges from these adventures. Everything that evolves from the ongoing adventure, the continuing gaming sessions, is all a part of the campaign. These features together can form a setting, or world, but the campaign itself is the collected adventures of the players within a referee’s games. A campaign which is started by drawing a dungeon, and defined by the actions of the players.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Whimsical Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I’ll roll on the table below, and then on the indicated Whimsey Table, and share the exact wording found in my very crude often ridiculous 25 year old handwritten notes from the early 80’s.

Random Whimsey Determination Table (2d6)

2-4 Basic Whimsey Chart (d00)
5-7 New Whimsey Chart (d00)
8-10 Nyark Ripplesnap’s Whimsey Channel (d00)
11 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #1 (d20)
12 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #2 (d20)

Today’s Roll: 6, 24

"Congratulations! You are now married to (and in love with) a Donkey."

Have a Whimsical Wednesday.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pursuing Resolutions

During the pursuit of my New Year's resolutions, I found a newly formed D&D Meetup group in my own backyard. I couldn't let this opportunity pass, so on Saturday I trundled across town and met up with six complete strangers and was quickly thrust into the world of 3rd edition, 3.5 specifically.

The intent of the initial meet up was to discuss such matters as what edition the group would play, who would be the DM, how often we'd meet, etc. The hostess was particularly welcoming, and as it turned out, had never actually played D&D before, ever. This was her introduction to the grand game that I love so much.

Three hours of banter and gaming chit-chat commenced after initial introductions had been made. On numerous occasions I made my gaming and D&D preferences known, but I also made it very clear that more than anything else, I was interested in meeting up with other local players and joining a regular campaign, regardless of edition.

I took the opportunity to correct many of the inaccuracies bandied about the group in regard to the game's history, and even explained the logic behind the “experience for treasure” aspect of older versions. More than a few times I had to ask for clarifications on certain modern terms and topics, but all in all I was able to keep up rather easily. I am after all a D&D player of three decades now.

One particular topic that made me really appreciate original D&D was alignment. Here was this group of mostly middle-aged veteran D&D players, and it seemed not one of them could agree on the subject. It reminded me of similar discussions back in the 1st edition days nearly thirty years ago, yet there I was listening to disagreements about alignment again. I added that in my AD&D games alignment didn’t play a big role, that it was rarely even a concern for any character other than Clerics or Paladins. You know I also took the opportunity to exclaim the merits of Law and Chaos, good guys and bad guys, and referee interpretations inherent in OD&D.

During the seemingly ceaseless back and forth on a topic which I feel should be pared down or entirely excised from the rules, I noticed once more that the hostess was quietly and politely listening. I attempted to remind everyone that we had a new player amongst us by saying that I felt we were neglecting her, and asking if she had any questions or comments. Nothing changed and the group dove in once more to discussing the finer points of D&D 3.5.

It was no surprise when the majority cast their vote with 3.5. I recognized fairly early that advocating the old school would get me nowhere fast, one other player suggested d20 Modern, and the hostess had no idea what we were talking about, so 3.5 it was. And I was fine with that. As long as I could roll some dice and kill some monsters, I was going to be a happy gamer again.

That is, until the next morning when I checked email and visited the Meetup page. Our hostess had already left the group. It’s no surprise really. This was information overload, culture shock, and intimidation all wrapped into one five hour event. So now we have a group of six players with no meeting site. It remains to be seen whether this prospective group ever actually gets going or not.

Something inside me wishes I had come prepared to run some sort of basic adventure. Perhaps then the eager to learn hostess would have been able to experience a much more hospitable atmosphere and a proper introduction to role playing. In retrospect this potential D&D player was never given a fair shot at learning our game. We should have been more considerate, after all this was not only the host for the initial meeting, but also the individual who had taken the time to set up and organize everything.

How steep is the 3.5 learning curve? Steep enough to chase off someone willing to not only create and pay for a new Meetup group, but to also open her home to a bunch of strangers for an evening.

I was going to finish this post with a collection of some of the more "interesting" comments I heard during the meeting, but in hindsight there was nothing said that wouldn’t surprise any of my readers. All in all it was a collection of enthusiastic, personable gamers, and I hope something more comes of this session. Who knows, if we can establish a new meeting place, my goal of expanding my face to face gaming circle might come to pass.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dan the Man

Dan Proctor, creator of Labyrinth Lord and Mutant Future, has taken it upon himself to establish a unified store front on Lulu for the Old School Renaissance. The store is in its very early stages, but already boasts awesome print on demand publications from Fight On!, Brave Halfling Publishing, Mythmere Games, and of course Dan's own Goblinoid Games.

I have added a permanent link to the site here on my blog. I'm excited about the possibilities of such a singular location for all of our old school gaming needs, and I'm sure the list of print-on-demands will grow in the near future. What are you waiting for? Go check it out!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

D&D Cover to Cover, part 37

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.

Monsters & Treasure
IN CONCLUSION (continued)

Here are some, not all, of the reader comments I wish to quote here in regard to the reading of Volume II. 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 at this time:

On Monster Attacks and Damage:

From Dwayanu: Having more Hit Dice means that a combatant dishes out more damage on average. It also allows taking more damage on average. In the context of D&D's rather abstract combat model, this makes sense; look at the outcome in the long run. It also keeps things simpler and faster-playing than multiple attacks. Some monsters do more damage per "hit," as do magic weapons. The rarity of this distinction makes it all the more impressive!

"Such things as speed, ferocity, and weaponry of the monster attacking are subsumed in the matrixes." Complications tend to be designed on the assumption that those things were not already factored in, and that it somehow makes sense to lay a blow-by-blow treatment on top of factors based on a thoroughly different premise.

From Geoffrey McKinney: I greatly prefer all weapons doing 1 die of damage. As a referee it makes things a lot easier (such as not having to write down the weapons every single Deep One has). As a player, it's nice to be able to use whatever weapon I think is particularly cool, rather than hunting through the weapon damage lists (such as in the AD&D PHB).
On Men:

From Snorri: I guess Mermen are rather Lovecraftian Deep Ones, (not the) Tritons they became later. It fits better their stats and abilities.
On Undead:

From Will Douglas: I've seen "mere mortals" (i.e.; non-clerics) use the cross to fend off a vampire in movies and such, but it never dawned one me that it would also work for non-clerics in D&D. Part of that might come from the fact that, in later editions, the cross is replaced with a 'holy symbol', but is left in about the same place on the equipment list.

From Snorri: in Chainmail: a paralysed unit can be freed if touched by a friendly elf or hero unit. In the french version, I stated elves are immune to undead paralysis and at 4th (hero) level, can also free their friends by touch. As there is no duration for paralysis, this is nice...
On a Hydra‘s attacks:

From some guy named Sham: one could simply rule that a six headed Hydra could engage up to six opponents at once, but still only dealt 1d6 damage, at a maximum, to any one target.
On Purple Worms:

From Frank: My interpretation of "any hit which scores over 20% of the minimum total required to hit, or 100% in any case" is that a 20 would always cause a swallow.
On Swords:

From John Stephens: An idea just occurred to me: what if all magic swords have the capacity for intelligence and special abilities, but for some reason most of them haven't awoken - yet. Something has to happen to wake them up, but after that they gain experience points and abilities tied to level, and an ever increasing Ego score as well.

From Chgowiz: I tend to think of the simple 'plussie' type of weapons to be similar to the "Hanzo" type of weapons - best of the best, perfect items that convey advantages that aren't 'magical' in nature, but are just as powerful.
On Poison Potions and potion sipping:

From Rod: Why not poison an actual potion?

From Matthew: Perhaps you could roll randomly (on a d8, for this example) to see what potions seem to be from sampling: 1-4 type is correctly determined (except for a delusion potion which will seem like something else), 5 appears to be a healing potion, 6 appears to be a poison potion, 7-8 type cannot be determined.

From John Stephens: I treat Poison and Delusion as ordinary potions that have gone "off" due to age, etc. A sample gives the effect of the original, but if the whole thing is taken then WHAMO! After all, those things have been down there a long time, and even magic potions have a "best by" date, or should if you ask me.

From Steamtunnel: Perhaps you could have the potion take effect with an added poison effect. Yes- the potion of fire breathing works but it also can kill you.
On Magic Items:

From Brunomac: I usually have something like an amulet of protection be in the shape of a shield.

As always, thank you for all of the comments in this series. Were it not for these alternate views, observations and clarifications, I’m not sure I’d have the motivation to finish this undertaking.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Flashback

Tonight I revisit 1973. A vastly influential band that is still lauded to this day by bands of multiple music genres from punk to metal to glam, I was too young to appreciate them before they broke up, they were THE NEW YORK DOLLS. After breaking up in 1975, a few of the surviving members of the band reformed nearly 30 years later, and as far as I know a couple of them, including front man David Johansen (famous as fictional lounge lizard Buster Poindexter years later), are still playing under the name. They'll never be the same without the late, great Johnny Thunders on guitar, of course.

Best known for wearing girly make-up and even girlier clothes on stage, the band certainly understood how to draw attention to themselves. They have been cited by both KISS and the Sex Pistols as major influences both musically and in the methods chosen to draw attention to themselves. Such antics only work if the music itself is good, though. If one could look past that debut album cover, which I still recall didn't sit well with me in the mid 70's when I would see it at the local record store, you might find a damned awesome rock 'n roll band. We find that yes, the music is good. I just wish that I hadn't found those images unsettling and had given that album a chance way back when, over 30 years ago.

A Creem magazine poll ended up with the New York Dolls being voted as both the "Best New Band" and "Worst New Band" of 1973. That's how you get it done and make a lasting impression!

Critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that their music "doesn't really sound like anything that came before it. It's hard rock with a self-conscious wit, a celebration of camp and kitsch that retains a menacing, malevolent edge."

Now I am happy to say I am a fan of their music, even if I was introduced to it in a backwards fashion as a fan of Johnny Thunders and his subsequent band, The Heartbreakers. That's him to the right of Johansen wearing red and thrashing around in this live version of Lookin' for a Kiss:

Here's the studio track Personality Crisis with the debut LP cover that I found rather laughably unsettling back in the day. Seems somewhat timid and passe now.

Have a great weekend!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

D&D Cover to Cover, part 36

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.

Monsters & Treasure

When I wrapped up my conclusions on the re-read of Volume I, I wrote that the 20 posts I had made while going through Men & Magic would amount to more posts than Volumes II and III combined. I guess I missed the mark with that statement. I ended up with 15 posts regarding Monsters & Treasure, so unless I skim through The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, I will certainly surpass my original estimation.

As I did with Volume I, I will be looking back at the posts and comments for Volume II in order to highlight some of the noteworthy observations from readers which I think will help me realize different angles or views on the topics I covered and speculated on. I have definitely altered my view on a number of elements.

The following words, written in the Volume I Conclusion, bear repeating here as well:

“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 deserves attention and its truths need to be brought forth, that they might stand on their own merits. 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.”

With that I invite you to return soon for the follow-up post which will quote many of the insightful comments left by readers.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, January 15, 2009

D&D Cover to Cover, part 35

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.

Monsters & Treasure

MAGICAL ITEMS’ SAVING THROWS: Magical items will, during the course of play, be struck by various forms of weapons. For the sake of simplicity it is generally easier to assume they survive unharmed if their wearer/user is not killed (exception, Helms). If the wearer is killed, or the items are alone, throw for them on the following table if struck by Fire (Dragon or Ball) or Lightning (Dragon or Bolt). Those items not listed should be assumed automatically destroyed.”
I recall reading this passage with great interest the first time around, and now I am reminded of how important and often overlooked this section of the rules is in the scope of the continuing campaign. Back in the headier days with my numerous game sessions and long campaigns, the characters managed to amass quite a collection of magic items. Many, many characters perished, but they were of course always looted before being laid to rest if at all possible. Thus, magic items were handed down through the gaming generations. The end result of years and years of weekly play was character sheets filled with magic items of all types. It was in those higher level Monty Haul games that I eventually created various hazards and threats to thin out this glut of magic. Such tactics didn’t always sit right with the players, but they knew that survival meant newer more powerful items, so they got used to my campaigns of holy fire, burning many older items to ash in the process.

If only I had bothered to keep in mind the fact that many untimely ends which the characters meet might have taken care of this anti-glut process for me. The above is a fine example of how magic items can become less than permanent. The table included on p. 38 below this passage details exactly which magic items might be recovered from a character slain by either Fire or Lightning. I would include other threats as well, including Acid and Crushing damage. The list of items which are entitled to a saving throw are: Staff of Power, Staff of Wizardry, Fire Ball Wand, Lightning Bolt Wand, Fire Resistance Ring, Ring of Protection, and Magic Armor and Weapons. That’s it. EVERYTHING else is automatically destroyed if the character is slain by Fire or Lightning.

ARTIFACTS: Although not otherwise mentioned, there can be included various powerful items of Law and Chaos termed Artifacts. These items are super-powerful in comparison to listed magic and must be handled by the referee…If such items are included very harmful effects should be incurred by any Neutral or Oppositely aligned character who touches one. For Example:

Instant Death
Paralysis (until freed by designated means)
Immediate Loss of Six Energy Levels
Immediate Loss of Four Energy Levels
Insanity for 1 Month
Take 10 Hit Dice of Damage

If saving throws are allowed they should be very limited and require a very high score
Dreaming up Artifacts was a pastime for me in the old days. I love the concept of unique, ultra-powerful items which come with often fatal side-effects. No examples of such side-effects are given here, but touching one of these beauties could prove to be fatal indeed. Unlike Magic Swords, which could potentially be wielded by someone of a differing alignment, Artifacts offer no such possibility. Therefore in many campaigns, Chaotic antagonists with powerful Artifacts might prove to be more trouble than they are worth. I can hear the groans of my players now after they risk life and limb and possibly suffer a few casualties to defeat some foul deep down anti-hero in order to claim his mighty Blazing Sword of Eldritch Awesomeness, only to lose another character to 10 Hit Dice of Damage and be left with a useless item which they might feel compelled to destroy somehow. Harsh stuff.


Metal is melted to solid lumps by fire or lightning. Fire will not destroy Gems (optionally 10% chance of destruction) but lightning will. Both will devalue Jewelry by 25%
Continuing with the theme of item loss via character death from Fire or Lightning, we are reminded that even the monetary treasure on a character so slain is not safe from the sweeping broom of anti-glut.

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

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

D&D Cover to Cover, part 34

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.

Monsters & Treasure


Medallions of ESP
:…malfunctions on a roll of 6, so whenever in use roll a six-sided die to check it.”
Quite a nice item. As was observed in part 15, ESP was more or less used as a scanning ability to avoid surprise which could see real use as a dungeon early warning system. A character with a permanent magical ability such as this might prove tiresome, so the medallion does “backfire” 17% of the time.

Amulet vs. Crystal Balls and ESP: This device presents the location, sight, or thought waves pick-up by Crystal Ball or ESP.

Scarab of Protection from Evil High Priests: The small scarab acts as a charm which absorbs the “Finger of Death” from Evil High Priests…”
The word “presents” is of course a typo and was meant to be “prevents”. As with Death-Rays and Aging (Withering), I get the feeling that Crystal Balls and ESP were seeing a great amount of use in the campaigns being run by the authors at the time of this writing. I make this assumption based on the existence of counter-measure devices of seemingly limited scope which were nevertheless included in this first edition of D&D. I often get the feeling that if there was not outright player vs. player activity, there was at the very least a sense of competition amongst the many groups of characters living in Blackmoor and Greyhawk. Next up, here’s the Death-Ray again, being counter-measured by what was probably deemed a very useful item in those campaigns. Not necessarily due to player conflict, but probably just as likely as protection from the threat of Evil High Priest antagonists in the games. Interestingly, this scarab would not protect against a Finger of Death cast by a Cleric, only those cast by Anti-Clerics. Otherwise why not just name the item Scarab of Protection from Finger of Death?

Elven Cloak and Boots: Wearing the Cloak makes a person next to invisible, while the Boots allow for totally silent movement.”
This item(s) has been alluded to in earlier comments regarding how some referees explain some certain Elf racial abilities. Specifically, the entry on p.16 of this same volume, stating that Elves can move silently and are near invisible. It’s been suggested that this could refer to the fact that all Elves are already wearing the above item(s), and are therefore gaining this benefit. I don’t care for this interpretation at all. See part 25 explaining how I handle these Elf abilities. Now, the Elven Cloak and Boots are actually superior due to the fact that no effort is required on behalf of the user to move silently, and to be nearly invisible. This is an item which is named for it’s magical power of replicating the natural sneakiness of an Elf, not for the fact that Elves wear these when they go adventuring, hunting or to war. Furthermore, a referee might judge that the items are a singular pair, and that they lose their power if separated or worn by two different people at the same time.

Helm of Reading Magic and Languages: …It does not protect in the same way as Magic Armor, so if it is worn in combat any hit upon its wearer should be given a 10% of striking the helm and smashing it.”
Of note is this rare reference to hit allocation during melee. The justification for this item having a 10% chance of being destroyed after being hit in melee is rather troublesome, though. The reason given is that this helm does not protect as Magic Armor does. Using this logic we can see then that all non-magic helms (or even armor) have a 10% (or more) chance of being destroyed after a hit in melee. This is of course not the case, and the reasoning behind the “smashing” of this item in melee should have been something which referred to the fragility or decorative nature of the helm; that it in fact is not a real helm (magic or otherwise) at all.

Helm of Telepathy: …If his Intelligence rating is higher than that of human or humanoid creatures within the range of the helm the wearer may attempt to control their mind with suggestions implanted telepathically. Such suggestions will have a +2 effect in their likelihood of being carried out (see Vol. III for random actions of monsters)…Treat as non-protective helm if worn into melee.”
The Helm of Telepathy is ridiculously powerful if a referee doesn’t carefully read the table referred to, and consider the modifiers hinted at there (bribes, fear, alignment). The last bit, that the helm is non-protective brings up some concerns. Perhaps they mean read the entry above this one, which details what happens if this item is worn in combat. That’s how I read it, and it reflects a better choice of words. There is no mention of Magic Armor. But, it leads to further possible questions. What are the ramifications of wearing a non-protective helm in melee? Further house ruling and gnashing of teeth for all involved. As with most anything else in this classic version of D&D, take it in a case by case manner.

Helm of Teleportation: …The Magic-User can Teleport himself endlessly about the universe…”
Um. Wow? Perhaps the Magic User can indeed do so, but keep in mind the dangers of teleporting blindly. The device is of course limited in that it may only be used by a Magic User who has the spell Teleport memorized and not spent; thus by a Magic User of no less than 9th level. A very powerful item with limited usage depending upon how many Sorcerers you have running around in your campaign.

Gauntlets of Ogre Power: These gauntlets give the wearer the ability to strike as an Ogre and generally give his hands and arms the strength of an ogre. They do not necessarily increase hit probability however.”
I enjoy this original version of these little beauties so much more than I did the Advanced D&D one. First of all, they may be used by any character, regardless of class. Secondly, the wearer attacks as if he were an Ogre, which is to say at HD 4+1. HD 4+1 equals a Fighting-Man of level 7-9. In other words, the wearer of these gauntlets needs a roll of 12 to hit AC 2 in melee, unless, as is stated in the description, this would be higher than the character would normally need (“they do not necessarily increase hit probability”, as opposed to “they do not increase hit probability”). Well, that’s my interpretation and I’m sticking to it. Furthermore, attacks made by the wearers of these gauntlets deal 1d6+2 with weapon, and 1d6 without (see Ogre and Troll entries).

Girdle of Giant Strength: Wearing this device bestows the strength and hit probability (if greater that the wearer’s own) of Hill Giant.”
This item supports my interpretation of the Gauntlets of Ogre Power, confirming that both strength and hit probability are increased (assuming we allow ourselves to accept the two items as being of like nature). We must almost combine the two descriptions to arrive at our final interpretation, though. I’d also remind readers of the Potion of Giant Strength from part 33. The wording in many of the entries I am attempting to combine here is different. For example, one is led to believe in the Monster Descriptions that increased damage is attributed to mass, and not necessarily strength. In the potion example, prowess is used to describe gaining extra damage. In the gauntlets example, strike is used, along with logical interpretation to assume that they also cause increased damage. In this example, strength is increased. I interpret this entry to mean that the item gives both increased damage and hit probability. Therefore, this nigh awesome item, usable by all classes, allows the wearer to attack using the HD 8 table, and to deal two dice of damage in melee. The HD 8 column refelcts a skill level slightly superior to that of a 9th level Fighting-Man, but just under the ability of a 10th level Fighting-Man. A very desirable item from the old rules.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Whimsical Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I’ll roll on the table below, and then on the indicated Whimsey Table, and share the exact wording found in my very crude often ridiculous 25 year old handwritten notes from the early 80’s.

Random Whimsey Determination Table (2d6)

2-4 Basic Whimsey Chart (d00)
5-7 New Whimsey Chart (d00)
8-10 Nyark Ripplesnap’s Whimsey Channel (d00)
11 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #1 (d20)
12 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #2 (d20)

Today’s Roll: 9, 10

"Target has been summoned by an unknown force on an unknown plane to do an unknown deed."

Have a Whimsical Wednesday.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Couple Quick Hits

Here are a couple of quick new PDF's I whipped up for The Dismal Depths. No new maps as of yet, I'm still sorting out 2A and making notes.

The first is simply the merged Bestiary for 1-6.

The second is a collection of Trap Tables for further confounding your players. This addition is partially inspired by an excellent example of what one creative dungeon master is doing with death-rays. Thanks, Wayne!

I'll be keeping additions to a minimum as I'd rather have tables like these on the actual map, but there just isn't room.

I should add a perma-link to my PDF sharing page, too. I'll be redoing the lay out here soon, so that readers can see the collected PDF's rather than searching through old posts.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, January 12, 2009

D&D Cover to Cover, part 33

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.

Monsters & Treasure

POTIONS: All potions come in a quantity sufficient to perform whatever their end is, although a small sample can be taken without effecting the whole.”
The notion of “taking a sip” of a potion in order to glean some minor insight into its effects is as old as the hills, as they say. My players have always done this, but I’m not sure where exactly they learned this method. Perhaps it has been handed down though the ages, and as long as I can remember, it has been a staple of player magic item investigation. The question is what happens when a sip is taken of the Delusion or Poison varieties? Delusion would give some false clue, or simply hint at something untrue. Once quaffed, Delusion would just make the poor sap think the potion was something else, such as Dragon Control, Flying or Treasure Finding. Hilarity will normally ensue. Poison on the other hand is a bit trickier. If a sip is all that is required to force a saving throw, then the party has just found a large amount of poison which might be used for some sinister purpose later. I read the above passage to mean that while a small sample can be taken, the effects are not gained unless the whole amount is drunk. So, the infamous Poison Potion is a bit tricky in that regard. The best approach might be to mislead the players until such a time that the entire Poison Potion is consumed, revealing its true nature then and only then. Another solution might be to assume that the Poison Potion is dropped as soon as it is tasted as the character clutches at his neck; the contents spilling out or the vial shattering. Or, you might not care that you have allowed the players access to some amount of deadly poison. They might even thank you for it later, assuming they made their saving throw.

Giant Strength: Gives the recipient full Giant prowess, including two dice of damage when he scores a hit.”
Aha. An example of Strength literally adding to melee damage. Previous wording had attributed such monster damage ranges to mass, and not Strength. A very potent libation, to be sure. 70 to 120 minutes of two dice of damage is nothing to sneeze at in this version of the game.

Longevity: Reduces 10 game-years from the game-age of the character drinking it.”
I’m led to believe that game-age and game-years came into play in the old days often enough that this item was devised as a much needed counter-measure. I’m curious as to why the authors felt the need to specify “game-years” and “game-age” rather than simply years and age. Am I missing something? Why is it being deliberately spelled out to avoid confusion? I’m missing something here.

RINGS: A ring must be worn to be employed, and only one ring may be worn on each hand if the ring is to be operable by the wearer. (The referee should be careful to enforce this in order to maintain some balance in the game).”
I’m reminded of the NPC in The Rogue’s Gallery who wore a bracelet with numerous magical rings which could be quickly changed as the situation demanded. I think it was an Assassin, but as I misplaced my copy of that AD&D product, I can’t remember for sure. You can bet in my later Monty Haul campaign most of the high level players duplicated this little trick. Of course I required a full round’s actions to swap rings, just because I got tired of the tactic. Perhaps if I hadn’t handed out magical rings like lemon drops I never would have had to cope with those antics? Hmmmm. Anyway, I later brewed up a funky magic item that allowed characters a third hand, as well as one free attack per round in melee. The now infamous "Zipper Arms" were sought high and low in that same gonzo campaign. If only I had actually READ passages like the one above, warning referees to maintain control of the game balance and not go too crazy. Ah, the youthful exuberance of yesteryear.

Three Wishes: As with any wishes, the wishes granted by the ring must be of limited power in order to maintain balance in the game. This requires the utmost discretion on the part of the referee.”
More warnings from Mr. Gygax. Wishes are more or less flexible magic spells. Potentially powerful, but best used with extreme caution and foresight. We are treated through the old editions of the game with bits and pieces hinting at how the authors handled wishes. I’ve always taken that approach to heart, and my players, as I assume most players did as well, would carefully write out their wishes and present them to me almost in contract form. They’d pore over the notes, ensuring that everything was air-tight and straight-forward. This of course only made me think longer and harder of ways in which to pervert their wishes. They’d have been better off just stating their wishes, but of course I created that monster through the years; all it took was one or two “minor” misinterpretations on my behalf to make the players eventually behave like copyright lawyers.

Delusion: A ring which makes the wearer see whatever he desires, I.e. a bummer thrown in to fool the players.”
Nothing earth-shattering here, fairly self-explanatory. I just like the “a bummer thrown in to fool the players” bit. Not only do I rarely ever hear anyone say “bummer” anymore, that bit of 70’s slang is actually used in a way in which I’ve never seen nor heard.


Paralization: A paralization ray of the same dimensions as a Fear Wand. Creatures take half damage if their saving throw is made
Huh? Either someone was being lazy and copied the last sentence of the entry before this one (which is a Wand of Cold), or the wording is way off. I’d rule that the saving throw is for no effect, but one might assume it is for one-half duration. No actual duration is provided, though.

Staff of Striking: This Staff does not add to hit probability, but due to the energy within it, it scores two dice of damage when a hit is made.”
This, dear readers, is in fact an item that most Fighting-Men would give up their shields for! Unfortunately it is usable by Magic-Users and Clerics only. What a waste. On the other hand, a Cleric with one of these is nothing to scoff at, provided he’s able to connect since the staff yields no bonus to hit. Still a cool magic item, as it requires no charges to operate. It’s just a 1974 beat-stick.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Dismal Depths, more monsters

Work continues. I took a break from mapping the second level to work ahead a bit on the Dismal Depths Beastiary, detailing the next grouping of monsters, hostile and benign (mostly hostile).

I've merged the Upper Levels 1-3 list with the new list, but will wait to update the PDF after I've had time to consider the entries at greater length, but I thought I'd share the new critters here since I haven't done much in the way of posting this week.

I haven't come up with a name for levels 4-6 yet. 1-3 is The Upper Levels, 7-9 The Lower Levels, 10 The Dark Domain. 4-6? Hrmph. Maybe The Middling Levels or some such.

Anyway, here's the list thus far. Note that a few of the entries in The Upper Levels should be grouped here, but I won't copy them here until I compile everything together after starting the level 4 maps. I'm also including the playable races as monster entries, along with Jackals which I left off in error from the original list.

Dismal Depths Beastiary, The Middling Levels 4-6

Alfar(Any): AC * Move * HD 1+1 to 6+1 Lonely, haughty fae race of weird hunters and enchanters. Pale, brooding and gaunt, their kind is given to nonsensical behavior. Can sense secret doors, possess immunity to sleep and charm, and are able to cast spells while wearing magic armor.

Blob(N): AC 8 Move 3 HD 5 Large masses of flesh-eating microorganisms, Blobs are able to seep through small cracks, and attack foes through envelopment, seeping and eating, treating all targets as AC 9. This bright pink member of the clean-up crew devours flesh at 2 dice per round, is immune to fire and only struck by magic weapons, those causing naught but their bonus in damage.

Bogbear(C): AC 5 Move 9 HD 3+1 Huge shaggy furred, jack-o-lantern headed night-spawned terrors. Immune to sleep and charm, their targets must save at the start of each round or be frozen with fear, unable to act and giving the Bogbear +2 to hit. Surprise others 3in6, only surprised 1in6.

Doende(Any): AC * Move * HD 1 to 6 Swarthy, fae race of bitter, forgotten ne’er do wells. Once proud and strong, Doende are known far and wide as burglars, robbers and scalawags. Adept at deactivating traps, sneaking and pilfering. Naturally lucky and poison resistant.

Drool(C): AC 4 Move 12 HD 5 Toothless twisted two-headed dog things. Somewhat smart, very cunning, able to understand Chaotic only. Ravenous eaters, caustic acid breath attack makes victims edible. Breathe acid 3 times/day in 20'x10' cone for 5 dice damage.

Dvergar(Any): AC * Move * HD 1+1 to 6+1 Subterranean, often deformed race of greedy, distrusted fae malcontents who live in caves and gorges. Excellent metal-workers who greatly prize gems. Can sense and avoid traps. Both resilient and tough, they sustain but ½ damage from large, clumsy foes.

Experiment-X(N): AC 4 Move 12/18 HD 6+1 Failed White Coat experiment. Gigantic bat-winged beetles with a pair of glowing eyes on stalks which emit purple cones of light. Fire up to 24 energy darts, max of 6 per round to 180', dealing 1 die damage, with +2, +1 or 0 missile range bonuses.

Floating Horror(C): AC 4 Move 6 HD 6+1 Bobbing loathsome squid beast with two great quartz eyes. Shrink-ray gaze attack (save vs stoning) range 60', their tentacle attacks also turn targets to solid glass (save vs stoning).

Great Python(N): AC 7 Move 9 HD 6+1 Huge constrictors with massive biting maws. After a natural hit of 12 or higher, the target has been constricted and will sustain 1 die per round while being crushed, unable to escape until the constrictor is vanquished. One target at a time may be held.

Hag(C): AC 8 Move 9 HD 4 Very old, cackling, wart covered witch-women. Hags brew potions in cauldrons and worship pagan lords. Man to Frog gaze attack (save vs stoning) range 60', and hidden poisonous barbed tail lashes out at those attempting to enter melee.

Hungry Growth(N): AC 8 Move 0 HD 4 Rapidly grows in rotting carrion, exploding in size in a matter of hours. Hungry Growth is non-mobile, but can grow to block entire halls. Immune to fire and cold, it attaches and spreads on metal, eating flesh at a rate of 2 dice per round.

Irkling(Any): AC * Move * HD 1 to 5 Small bog dwellers able to wear leather armor and cast both magical and clerical shaman spells. Irklings require a strong leader to be effective, as they are naturally cautious and reclusive. Able to defy odds but limited in advancement.

Jackal(N): AC 8 Move 15 HD 1 Swift hunting and early-warning guard dogs, these wild canines are often trained by Boglings and Misfits.

Juggernaut(N): AC 5 Move 6 HD 5 Motivated by unearthly force, these massive stone constructs roll on crude wheels, crushing anything in their path. Immune to magic and only damaged by blunt force, targets in their path must save vs poison or be smashed to a pulp. Movement is affected by inclines.

King Rat(N): AC 5 Move 12 HD 6 Bipedal genetically transformed albino rat-men who overthrew the White Coats and now command both their former masters and Lab Rats. Wield tranquilizer dart guns, bites inject berserk inducing saliva.

Leper-Con(C): AC 3 Move 6 HD 5+1 Diseased fae notable for their missing ears, digits and noses. Their attacks cause rotting wounds which cannot be healed naturally. Only struck by magic weapons, and even those hit and damage at one-half bonus. Fearful of fire as it causes double damage.

Living Statue(N): AC 5 Move 6 HD 6 Slow moving stone statues immune to magic. Physical attacks deal minimum damage. Reconstruct to full health even once destroyed at a rate of 1 hit per hour.

Moth-Man(N): AC 7 Move 9/15 HD 4 Blood-drinking winged monstrosities. Moth-Men have the power to mesmerize and hypnotize victims who view their intricate, colorful wing patterns. Save vs spell or entranced for 1d6 rounds. Those mesmerized for 6 rounds become mind slaves until master slain.

Nix(C): AC 7 Move 9 HD 2+2 A force of negative energy created by the dreams of Troldes, Nixes cannot exist above ground. Nixes are non-corporeal and only struck by magic weapons. Their chilling touch saps 1 constitution point for 8 turns, and any foe sapped of all constitution will cease to exist.

Odd-Bug(N): AC 2 Move 12 HD 5 Alien insectoids that seek out and devour, for inexplicable reasons, the arms and armor of mortals who dare the depths. Weapons striking them melt and turn to mercury, and their attacks cause the same effect upon armor. Magic items receive a saving throw of 16 adjusted by magic bonus.

One-Two(C): AC 6 Move 12 HD 6 Ceaseless pursuers and eaters of flesh, One-Twos attack relentlessly when faced by men. Large and menacing, One-Twos are hairy hulking humanoids with the head of a rhino. Their name is derived from their battle cries of “Want to kill! Want to eat! Want to die?”

Pod People(C): AC 7 Move 9 HD 5 Men infested with parasitic vegetation under control of the Great Alien Pod Mind. Thick, sinewy vaguely man-like beings covered in various leaves, vines and bark. Attacks cause save vs spell or fall asleep, entangled in vines, becoming a Pod Person in 6 rounds.

Psi-Clone(C): AC 5 Move 9 HD 4 Shape-shifters that scan brain waves and are able to assume the form of any humanoids they detect or have detected in the past, seeking to lure victims into ambushes. Immune to sleep and charm, and gain +4 on all saves vs magic. True form is an amorphous flesh mass.

Tenta-Bot(N): AC 5 Move 12 HD 6 Metal robot controlled by one dozen Lab Rats. Six 10' long tentacle arms, each attacking as HD 6 and possessing 1 maximum die of hits. Each arm must be slain separately to kill the robot. Lab Rats emerge once the robot slain to fight, escape or parley.

Toad-Man(C): AC 7 Move 6 HD 5 Massively obese race of dark dwelling humanoids. Toad-Men require slaves to perform their work, but are able to ferociously defend themselves for short periods when required to. They wield enormous mauls and battle axes, dealing 2 dice in damage.

Tomte(L-N): AC 2 Move 6/18 HD 4 Fae dungeon keepers, trap re-setters and members of the clean-up crew. Tomtes are just as likely to be helpful as they are to be harmful when encountered. Might extract from a pit, or might summon a clean-up monster. Can meld into and travel through stone.

Trolde(C): AC 4 Move 12 HD 6+3 Lumbering, shambling ancient creatures of the earth. Vaguely humanoid, but with misshapen, random features. Trolde women look like beautiful humans, with hidden cow tails. Troldes regenerate at 3 hits per round beginning three rounds after taking damage.

Watcher(C): AC 5 Move 9/15 HD 4 Squat flying monkey idols of stone, Watchers are only damaged by magic weapons or effects. They attack most everything they encounter using razor sharp talons on their “feet”. Semi-intelligent, Watchers still show great cunning in their hunting methods.

White Coat(C): AC 9 Move 12 HD 4 Crazed, twitching men in white lab coats who perform their Lab Rat masters' bidding. Mutated mind slaves of their former experiments, White Coats are now ape-like super-humans. They often employ burning oil and acid grenades, and deal +1 damage in melee.

Wirry-Cow(C): AC 6 Move 9/18 HD 5 Feather covered and winged, Wirry-Cows are non-intelligent tainted fae of the underworld, and may never venture into the daylight. They attack with taloned hands, each hit upon mortals turning the target into a scarecrow, save vs stoning to avoid.

Wolf-Worm(N): AC 5 Move 12 HD 5 Foul White Coat experiment, a vile, shaggy cross of wolf and centipede, mutated to giant proportions. Fully 10' long, these non-intelligent monsters know no fear and fight to the death. On a natural roll of 12 or more they deal +3 damage.
The entries are slightly longer as a group than the 1-3 HD collection, but given the special attacks and defenses of these higher level monsters I feel I've still managed to maintain an economy of words. Further consideration might allow me to distill the descriptions down even further.

Now, back to my desk for more megadungeon design.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, January 9, 2009

Friday Flashback

Doing a 180 from last week's all out rockin' tune. This one just feels right tonight. To say it's mellow doesn't do the song justice. It's difficult to share any good live vids of this legendary band simply because I'm not sure there are any that have both decent footage and sound quality. I'm a big fan of the first album, released in 1967. VU went through many line-up changes, and it became Lou Reed's band within a couple years after with the departure of John Cale. VU became a little more rock oriented while Lou Reed managed to define his edgy, gritty sound while continuing to write about controversial topics.

I'm no VU historian, just a huge fan of The Velvet Underground and Nico, that now famous debut album, so here's a bit quoted from wikipedia:

The Velvet Underground was an American rock band first active from 1965 to 1970 (and 1970 to 1973 in a different incarnation). Their best-known members were Lou Reed and John Cale, who both went on to find success as solo artists. Although never commercially successful while together, the band is often cited by many critics as one of the most important and influential groups of their era and to many future musicians.

The Velvet Underground was a part of the New York City art scene surrounding Andy Warhol's Factory and his Exploding Plastic Inevitable events. The band's music and lyrics challenged conventional societal standards of the time, and broke ground for other musicians to do the same. The band experimented with bending the rules of traditional rock & roll musical composition, often adding then-atypical instruments to their music and introducing a nihilistic outlook. The band was controversial in their day, and their outsider attitude and experimentation has since been cited as pivotal to the rise of punk rock and, later, alternative rock.

So, I hope you can enjoy this flashback. A bit of a departure for the series thus far!

Since I'm a bit late with today's flashback, let's make it a double feature so you can also hear a non-Nico song by VU:

The above songs are, in my mind, transcendent of genre. Just plain old well-written, moving songs.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Dismal Depths, 1C and 1D

I just uploaded two more levels for The Dismal Depths, completing Level 1.

Level 1C, The Crawling Catacombs

Level 1D, Rognvald's Nightmare

More to come as I begin the second level. Once the first 12 maps are done I'll figure out how to make a single (zipped?) PDF for the Upper Levels.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Whimsical Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I’ll roll on the table below, and then on the indicated Whimsey Table, and share the exact wording found in my very crude often ridiculous 25 year old handwritten notes from the early 80’s.

Random Whimsey Determination Table (2d6)

2-4 Basic Whimsey Chart (d00)
5-7 New Whimsey Chart (d00)
8-10 Nyark Ripplesnap’s Whimsey Channel (d00)
11 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #1 (d20)
12 Gorfaxio Gondoro’s Whimsey Table #2 (d20)

Today’s Roll: 4, 71.

"1000 white rabbits stream out of target's hat, pockets or backpack."

Have a Whimsical Wednesday.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Arduin, Whacky Arduin

With the impending fourth issue of Fight On!, the news that it was going to be dedicated to David Hargrave got me thinking about some of the crazy Arduin antics my old gaming crew and I enjoyed back in the early 80’s. Arduin is remembered for many things, but I think chief among them is the infamous pair of tables from Volume I, The Critical Hit Table (p. 60) and Hargrave’s Fumble Table (p. 61). While my gaming crew enjoyed these pillars of Hargravian gaming, we spent an inordinately long amount of time delving into the possibilities of one of the lesser known touches of Hargrave Gonzo, the Whimsey. It was a fairly innocent entry in that same Volume I (p. 47) that started it all:

WHIMSEY WINE: When drunk, anything can happen. The user might become hasted, or turn blue! The dungeon master should have a “whimsey chart” with 20 or more things that can happen, and roll on it.”
That’s all it said, but in those heady days of homebrew madness, I ran with this theme for many months during our campaign. It got to be a bit much after a while, and the whole thing was pure adolescent silliness. Before I was done, I had written five (maybe more) tables of Whimsies, made a playable Whimsey-casting character class, brewed up countless Whimsey magic items, and pretty much made the players dread the damn things after a while. More than one game session devolved into hilarity when multiple Whimsies began going off and the player’s characters got zero adventuring done, no experience, and no treasure. But damn did we manage to have a ton of laughs.

So, in remembrance, I just went earlier today to my gaming closet, and found that tattered old yellow folder crammed with handwritten notes for Arduin. The surviving tables are these:

Basic Whimsey Chart (100 random effects)
New Whimsey Chart (89 random effects)
Nyark Ripplesnap's Whimsey Channel (100 random effects)
Gorfaxio Gondoro's Whimsey Table #1 (20 high level random effects)
Gorfaxio Gondoro's Whimsey Table #2 (20 high level random effects)

As well as The Mar-Vexian Mage, Mar-Vexian Spell Table and notes, and even the Mar-Vexian Super Soldier (a Techno-Whimsey class).

The notes from 25 years ago, or longer, are now embarrassingly revealing. There’s some really whacky stuff in these tables. Much of it is just plain stupid. But somehow it worked wonders back then. In retrospect, the Whimsey was probably the single most important tidbit of Arduin for our wide-eyed gaming group, and it all started with an unassuming jug of Whimsey Wine.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, January 5, 2009

D&D Cover to Cover, part 32

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.

Monsters & Treasure

ARMOR: Armor proper subtracts its bonus from the hit dice of the opponents of its wearer. If the shield’s bonus is greater than that of the armor there is a one-third chance that the blow will be caught by the shield, thus giving the additional subtraction.”
The above quite innocent looking passage is what I once considered one of the poorest thought out of all the guides in the first three volumes of the game. In later editions, the system was changed entirely to not only arrive at fluid Armor Classes, improving in their protective quality with various modifiers, but also allowing magic armor and shields to be additive. This is one of the last gaming conventions unique to the 1974 rules that I have come to accept. It has indeed taken me months to get used to the static Armor Class system of the original game.

To recap the original system, Armor Class is not only defined by the armor worn, but also defines what armor is worn. In other words, there is only one way to achieve AC 4; Chain and Shield. Protective bonuses of any sort do not lower, or improve, this rating. It is basically a code revealing the type of armor worn. This was a major departure for my 1e mind when I first took on this edition. I spent many hours working the system over and converting it into a simplified collection of formulae and shortcuts.

Then I saw the light. Now I have adopted the original Armor Class setup. It’s up to the player to remind the referee that his magic armor (or other items) subtract from the attack rolls of monsters, just as it is his responsibility to remember to add magic or other bonuses to his own attack rolls during melee. Inspired by the method used by David Hargrave to indicate Armor Classes greater than AC 2 in his Arduin campaigns, I have adopted the simple AC expression of X+X. For example, the above wearer of Chain and Shield, who was lucky enough to find a suit of Armor & Shield +1 (Chain) would then score his AC as 4+1 rather than 3.

Why not 4+2, you might ask? Simply because, as related in the above passage, these two magic items do not in fact “stack” or become additive. Plainly put, using these rules, there is no advantage to Chain +1 and Shield +1 when compared to Chain +1 and Shield. None. Homebrew to taste. In the case of Chain and Shield +1, the character’s AC would still be 4, but the character would have a 33.3% or 2 in 6 chance to increase to 4+1 during melee.

It is quite common to see this explained as a positional or tactical translation of the protection afforded by a shield; that it protects against approximately 1/3rd of the possible directions of attack. The rules do not actually say this, though. They say that 1 out of 3 attacks will be caught by the shield, giving the additional protection to those attacks only. If engaged in single combat, presumably, the shield would always be positioned properly. But the rules state that the shield must catch the blow to effectively add any possible higher bonus it might grant. Furthermore, using a tactical ruling such as this shouldn’t be limited to magic shields, it should effect all Armor Classes, creating more detail and positional concerns than I care for. Nay. I prefer the static AC defining what is worn. AC 4 is Chain and Shield, and Chain and Shield is AC 4. No splitting hairs.

While I have indeed accepted the original game’s methods for Armor Class, and the effects of magic armor, I’m still struggling with the 1/3rd business for shields with a greater magic protection than one’s armor. My options as I see them are to:

1. Run it by the book telling players to keep a d6 handy which they must roll against each successful attack upon their character who has a shield of greater magic bonus, or

2. Use the simpler “positional/tactical” interpretation which I am not satisfied with, or

3. Allow the two values to become additive, or

4. Do away altogether with magic shields, or

5. Make magic shields do something else entirely.

Of the above options, I have used both 2 and 3 in the past. I want to avoid bonus inflation though, and as I move toward an even more abstract treatment of melee, I find the positional interpretation unsatisfactory.

Now I am considering option 5. My thoughts are to allow magic shields to give a bonus to either missiles only, or to certain saving throws, but not to Armor Class at all. A magic shield might provide it’s bonus to saving throws against certain targeted effects or dragon breath, for example, but not poison or area of effect spells. A bonus that would be judged on a case by case basis, provided the player remembered to announce such a modifier.

I’ve managed to digress from the normal scope of my reading here, but this is a major difference between the original rules and later editions of the game. As with many of the perceived peculiarities of the white box, I might simply try the by the book method, telling players who fall into the category of having a shield of greater magic value than their armor to roll a d6 every time they are hit in melee. A roll of 1 or 2 means the shield comes into play, and might raise their AC just enough to turn that hit into a miss by catching it with their shield. I have often found that once these seemingly baroque differences of the original rules are tried in actual play, they aren’t nearly as bad as they might seem at first.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Dismal Depths in PDF

I'm going to continue work on this project, so I'll be sharing some of the PDF's as I complete maps along the way. I rescanned the first two maps in grayscale and embedded them again. Level 1A might always look a bit different than the others, but I think redoing it is a waste of time. It's a bit rougher than 1B (yet somehow 'better' looking'). If I ever learn how to "antique" or pick a suitable color in which to to wash them, I might redo all of the images at the end of the project.

For now, as mentioned in Monday's post, I'll finish The Upper Levels, 1-3, and play with the images again at that point, perhaps compiling all of the files into a large zip file that could even be dressed up with some artwork.

I plan to finish Level 1C today, and D&D Cover to Cover is looming so I need to find the time to keep that series rolling.

Dismal Depths PDF's:

Upper Levels Guide 1-3

Upper Levels Bestiary 1-3

Level 1A: Tunnels of the Mole-Men

Level 1B: The Chambers of Zod

One Page Mapper

The One Page Mapper is simply an enlarged 30x30 map with the steps which I used listed below it. Allows a large map draw before scanning and cropping then embedding as a smaller image. I used this Mapper for 1B, but not 1A. This explains why 1A has darker ink lines on the map.

Both Chgowiz and Amityville Mike have already shared some nice examples of this minimalistic style. So what are YOU waiting for?

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, January 2, 2009

Friday Flashback

I'm wondering how I went over 36 years without ever hearing this drop dead awesome live version of one of the greatest Rock 'n Roll songs ever. Strong words? Yes, but damn this song blows the doors off of basically everything new I've heard in a very, very long while. I think Alice Cooper's legacy in Rock has been lost through the decades, but his early stuff wasn't yet wrapped up in schlocky themes. It's just pure energy and cuts right to the marrow.

Alice has apparently had one too many in this old TV clip from 1972, and who cares if he forgets some of the words then ad libs towards the end, the band is clearly doing some serious jamming and that finale is worth waiting for.

This one needs to be cranked up. Let it build through to the end, and enjoy Eighteen by Alice Cooper.

Happy New Year, and have a Rockin' weekend.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

The Chambers of Zod

I completed another map for The Dismal Depths, so far so good. The image in OpenOffice looked spiffy and clean. But I hit a snag that's been annoying me now. When I print the document in color, I end up with faint bands of Yellow, Blue and Red through the image. I didn't have this issue before. I spent the past hour trying to filter and recolor the image and re-embedding it, but to no avail. It still looks decent in black and white, but some of the clarity is lost.

Here's the color version printed and scanned:

Here's the B&W version, printed and scanned:

Any computer whizzes out there with suggestions, I'm all eyes on this problem. I did use different graph paper for this map, and maybe it scans in a bit wonky. Perhaps my printer just doesn't like the image. I can either simply continue to print the future maps in B&W if the issue persists, or do a lot more trial and error tests until I figure it out. What irks me is I've spent tenfold the time sorting out the method for producing these maps compared to my actual dungeon writing time.

There's just something I enjoy about this approach and presentation that I hope will make it all worth it.

My writing got a bit wordier on 1B, but I still managed to convey each area sufficiently and not overflow the Room Key box. There's plenty of grey area for other referees to sort out within the descriptions.

Lastly, in case you missed one of my reader comments, here's a link to a map that Alex Schroeder made which is virtually the same concept.

As with most ideas I have, they've been done before (and usually better!). Such is the nature of having tens of thousands of guys and gals sitting around dreaming up new ways to play this crazy game.

Anyway, back to work tomorrow so I may not be able to fool with this much until I find some free time this weekend.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year 2009!

Happy New Year, one and all. Here's hoping that 2009 is the best yet for everyone. Inspired by Amityville Mike's list from last week, but with much less insight and forethought, here is my own list of gaming related resolutions for the upcoming year.

1. Complete The Upper Levels of The Dismal Depths: I feel that the heavy lifting is done here, now comes the actual map drawing and inking, then the compiling. I'll figure out how to merge all 12 maps, the Bestiary, and the one page Guide into a single file, create a PDF, and figure out what to do with it from there.

2. Consider revising and trimming down Ulin-Uthor, The Dim Expanse: While Ulin-Uthor will never be distilled down to the granularity of The Dismal Depths, I can certainly edit the existing work in order to dispense with much of the detail which has forced that project to the back burner. As my current gaming vehicle, The Dim Expanse might never reach a completed state, but hopefully in 2009 some section or the entire work will be finished and into PDF.

3. Finish Solstice as a Campaign Setting: Inspired by Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa, I hope to actually finally settle on some union of Solstice, No Future and Walpurgis that will yield a unique setting which encompasses The Dismal Depths, Ulin-Uthor, and many other homebrew projects I've been working on this past year.

4. Finish the D&D Cover to Cover series: And from those notes and comments write an OD&D Companion. I'm currently on Volume 2, p. 31 with my re-reading of OD&D, so there is light at the end of that tunnel now. I've received so many excellent observations and comments from my readers that have forced me to reconsider how I approach this hobby that I feel something needs to be done with these words of wisdom. I might call it The White Box Companion or something. Hell, I don't see why I couldn't call it The Dungeons & Dragons Companion. It's clearly a review of the books, so I doubt there should be any fear of copyright infringment.

5. Finish Lower Caves of The Darkness Beneath: I've made great strides with this future submission to Fight On! My problem now is which direction do I take? Do I continue with the wordy, detailed writing that I've used thus far (one room is a full page of text) or do I take the buther knife of word economy to the whole thing and attempt to let readers sort out the many indepth themes within?

6. Attend some Cons: This is a must for me. I'm so removed from the living, breathing face to face aspect of D&D that it sometimes makes me wonder if I'm fooling myself. Besides, I wouldn't mind actually meeting some of the other members of this online old school renaissance in person one of these days.

7. Expand my face to face gaming circle: This goes hand in hand with the above resolution. Playing is an extrememly important facet of the referee design process. Given the far flung proximities of my old gaming crew, expanding my circle of players will help engender more real face to face gaming and learning.

8. Encourage my 14 year old to finish his dungeon: And then plunder it with my own Entourage. For so many reasons, I truly hope that my 14 year old son catches the D&D bug. I cannot even begin to list the ways in which this hobby has expanded my mind.

So there you have it. I'm sure I've left a few gaming projects off of this list, but the above resolutions would certainly constitute a very good year of gaming in 2009.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee