Archive for November, 2011

Turning Through the Ages

In our last session we played with the B/X Changelist I posted earlier to see what it was like.  It was pretty good, but last session was dominated by a visit to town, so I’ll give it another session before really calling a verdict.  We did discover a few small problems, and one big one.  One of my players who plays a cleric asked if we would use the B/X turning chart or the LL one.  I hadn’t realized they were significantly different — turns out they are.

I decided to also look at other versions of the turning chart to get some historical insight on how the chart has changed over time.  I was surprised to see that it changes radically from one edition to the next.  Rather than post all the charts here to compare, I wrote up a spreadsheet (in open office) that you can download.  I also have that as a PDF for easier reading.  In both the first page is the raw charts from various editions of D&D, and the second page has them all translated into percentage values, as some editions use different size and numbers of dice.  Below is some discussion about the key differences I discovered in various editions:

OD&D

Always the starting point, OD&D looks pretty similar to the charts I’m used to looking at from B/X and Labyrinth Lord.  It’s a 2d6 chart based on level vs. type of undead.  In my pdf I include the HD of the undead in parenthesis, as later systems will convert to HD based rather than call out specific monster types.  One thing that is interesting here is that the HD of some common undead is lower than I expected.  Skeletons are only 1/2 HD, and zombies 1 HD.  More on that in the B/X section.

B/X

B/X gives us exactly the same chart as OD&D, but the HD of the lower level monsters has changed.  This gives us the odd presence of two rows for 2 HD monsters (zombies and ghouls).  Of course, anyone that’s ever fought either will tell you that ghouls are way tougher than zombies and kind of deserve their own row.  Frankly, I kind of think OD&D did it right here from a mechanical vantage of having a unique row per HD, but on the other hand I just can’t seem to swallow skeletons having the same hit points as goblins.

AD&D

In AD&D we get the switch to a d20, which forced me to convert all the charts to percentages so I could actually compare them.  (Probabilities for 2d6 shamelessly stolen from this site.)  The other thing AD&D introduces us to is a wider band of possibilities.  This is likely due to their also adding many more same-HD entries (look at how many 4 HD rows we have!)  Another oddity is the sometimes presence of a 19 value (levels 1-3, 9-13).  Also note that compared to B/X, AD&D is much slower to grant destruction.  A level 8 B/X cleric can destroy a 4 HD wraith, the same ability is not granted in AD&D until 14th level.

3.0

The 3.0 SRD switches us to HD based rather than specific monster based rows.  It also introduces a modifier to the roll, based on Charisma for some unknown reason.  For comparison’s sake I assume a cleric with no modifier, which essentially turns all those 22’s into not possible.  Given 3.0’s permissive ability rolling, I suspect this is probably not realistic.  Another interesting thing to note is the algorithmic autoturn.  In fact, I had to extrapolate this entire chart as the SRD just gives equations based on HD of undead and level of cleric.  The interesting is that by the chart auto-turning happens if the cleric is more than 2x the HD of the monster.  Given the presence of a “1” entry in the chart though (which is also essentially an auto-turn, except for you clerics with a very low Charisma), this means that auto-turn is basically non-existent until level 9.

Labyrinth Lord

Labyrinth Lord is very interesting.  Here we revert back to a 2d6 mechanic, but expanded from B/X to include a wider band of chances.  Compare 5th level for example.  At 5th level a LL cleric has an 8% chance of turning a 7 HD monster, a power the same B/X character won’t get until 6th level.  On the other hand, the B/X 5th level cleric is automatically destroying 1-2 HD undead (skeletons and zombies), which the LL cleric won’t get to do until level 7.  It’s like the LL cleric gets a more gradual curve, with low chances (but still a chance) of turning more powerful undead earlier, while the B/X cleric has a sharper curve that automatically turns or destroys less powerful undead sooner.  Also of note, LL has special text in the ghoul entry noting that it turns as if it’s a 3 HD undead, but still only counts for 2 HD when totalling HD turned.  This is a curious ‘fix’ for the lack of a special ghoul row in the chart.

So I’m not seeing a clear winner here.  AD&D and 3.0 are just too far different to even consider.  OD&D and B/X are virtually the same, while LL is what we’ve been using to date and is better in some ways and worse in others.  I think ultimately I’m tempted to go with B/X for no reason other than it’s one less thing to put on the changelist.

 

B/X Changelist

To date I’ve run my game using as a source book some modified versions of Labyrinth Lord.  I made the effort to actually create physical books which has been well received.  The idea with these books was that if I needed to make further changes to the text, they would be easy to update (they have re-openable bindings).

However, the more I’ve worked with it the more I notice most of my changes are in reverting SRD-isms from LL back to the original B/X.  Also, I worry that while having completely custom books for home campaigns are awesome, they may be a put-off at conventions (vs. a “known system”).

So I sat down and tried to create a short document of all the house rules and changes from B/X that I want to use in my campaigns.  It was sometimes hard to pull out stuff that’s clearly contradictory to the text vs. a common ruling I use for something that’s simply not mentioned in the text.  There’s a gray area there, and I want to leave the door open for Finch’s “rulings not rules” concept.  That is, I want to be able to change my mind on the fly based on the situation, and it’s easier to do that when the area you’re talking about is simply not covered by the book at all.

So here’s the result, what I’m calling my B/X Changelist.  I’ve managed to whittle it down to 3 pages by being very concise in my language and preferring formulas to charts, especially where XP progression is concerned.  Please feel free to take a look and send me any feedback you may have.  I’d especially like to hear from anyone who knows B/X, has played in one of my games, or best of all both.  I’m sure I’ve missed a few things, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some bits of it need rewording or further explanation.

Download the B/X Changelist.

Improvisational DMing

Our g+ game was, I think, an excellent example of my favorite kind of play.  I ran this adventure, which was written communally over at the goblinoid games forum here.  I ran this once before at last GenCon, and it was very interesting to play it again with a different group.  To start, this adventure has several unique features that I think greatly add to requiring a good amount of improv at the table:

  1. The basic model is a inverted pyramid, with several different small sub levels (A, B, C, E, F), with the best stuff at their nexus (D).
  2. The contents of each room vary wildly, as you would expect from something written communally by so many authors.  Each room though also contains a lot of interesting features to be examined.
  3. There is a shocking lack of consistency.

Basically, the combination of lots of interesting stuff that makes little sense when combined is just the motivation I need to start improvising a the table.  As the players encounter unrelated stuff and start asking themselves probing questions as to why certain things are the way they are, I find myself altering the remaining contents to ensure it answers those questions, though not necessarily in the way the players may or may not be conjecturing.

Let me go through it room by room, and you can follow along and see what I’m talking about:

Entrance

The players start by trekking up the hill where I describe the entrance to the tower and the creepy old tree across from it.  Both groups I have run this for have taken the time to examine the tree, found the second entrance, and opted to use it.  That’s kind of interesting.  I suspect it’s perhaps ingrained in D&D players that sneaking in the back door is always preferable to the frontal assault.  I suppose that makes sense for a game that essentially about tomb robbers, assassins, and spies.

F 14

The players examine the room with the weird mushrooms and ponder the gnome statues.  They then discover the kobold hiding in the closet, and rather than kill him, they question and then hire him to be their guide.  Brilliant!  The last group immediately attacked the kobolds, which pushes the adventure in an entirely different direction.

F15

The newly hired kobold guide leads the players right to his home, provides an introduction to the kobold chief, and thus paves the way for making this into a roleplay encounter rather than a combat.  The kobolds reveal their desire to steal the gnome statues.  The players quickly make up some nonsense about doing such requiring consumption of a magic herb found above ground, and cleverly describe poison ivy.  The kobolds fall for it hook, line, and sinker.  They send 4 kobolds out to find the magic herbs, and recompense the party by giving them two kobold guides and what little info they have about near neighbors.  They describe the scary bats below, and the scary spiders to the south.

The party questions them closely about what they will do with the gnomes, and now I have to start inventing.  Thinking of rooms 4 and 6, I start describing a band of orcs they trade with, and how those orcs are very angy at them as they traded some gnome statues with the orcs for a couple cows (likely stolen from farmers back at town) which the kobolds promptly ate.  Once the statue vanished the orcs demanded recompense, which the kobolds clearly don’t have, thus the kobolds are trying to figure out how to get and keep some gnomes to pay their debt.  I’m already thinking at this point of converting level C to a more traditional orc lair on the fly, though haven’t decided if room #6 will contain live orcs or not.  It’s possible the dead orcs in there only died recently, thus alleviating the kobolds but they don’t realize it.  Or maybe the orcs are still around.  I’ll decide when the party gets there.

(Minor point of interest: room #15 is one of my own contributions and I was pretty proud of it.  I’m super excited to see it treated this way.)

E12

The party decides the bats sound less scary than the spiders.  They go down the stairs and position themselves well in the doorway to the stairs to fight the bats two at a time rather than all at once.  This is an excellent tactic and may be the only reason the party succeeds, though the bats do kill and partially eat both kobold guides.

E11

The party discovers the creepy altar and stairs, and decides to deal with this later.  They move on.

E13

The party sees the carcass and disturbs the flies, but quickly retreats back towards E12.  I roll that they only anger 3 of the flies, which they fight and barely survive in the corridor between E12 and E13.

G18

The party decides to take the stairs down, finds the webs, and sees one of them moving.  They decide to apply fire and crossbow bolts, actually bringing one of the two ogres there all they way down to half hit points before they start really fighting him.  That said, they held the line for a few more hits, but once the ogre landed a solid blow on their front line fighter they decided it was time to get out of there.  Actually probably a wise choice, but sadly it meant missing out on all that sweet sweet ogre treasure.

Intermission

At this point the party decided it was time to head back to town to rest and recuperate.  While doing so, they discussed hiring on a hireling to replace their lost kobold guides, but instead ended up sending the magic-user over to the bar to draw out a potential fighter and charm him.  Brilliant idea, but very risky in my mind.  Once they were alone and the spell was cast, I think our friend the magic-user would have been in serious trouble had the victim failed his saving throw.  Good luck was with them though, and they returned to the dungeon with additional companion.

A1

The party now decides to try and enter from the other side and see if they can’t find those orcs they heard all about.  Looking at the map I see the giant killer bees described as living on the first floor, which is subdivided into two rooms, and it’s vague which room the bees are in.  I decide they are in the farther room as those orcs must get in and out somehow.  The party here’s the buzzing and decided to go immediately for the stairs and avoid the bees.

B2

Again in deference to the supposed orc clan down here I reduce the amount of honey in the room below.  As cool as that room description is, I figure the orcs must get in and out somehow.  The party also checks the stairs for stick prints, which I figure must be there as well.  Clever players — I quickly devise a way to eliminate those tracks later in the dungeon, a line of boots in the hall just outside room #2.  I mean, who wants honey all over the floor of their lair?

B3

The party makes an attempt for the bracelet and fails miserably.  The thief is stuck in the rubble.  They come up with a clever way of fishing him out using ropes and a 10′ pole, so I grant them a speedier escape than the 2d4 hours mentioned, but at the price of some additional damage to the thief.  Also, I was laughing too hard along with the rest of the party at the image of the thief being dragged out by his ankles from a pile of rubble to not push that through.

Stairs to C

First the party finds the boots, and debates whether or not they should take off their own boots.  They decide to go ahead and do so.  I love all the crazy theories they come up with regarding the boots, which were simply a dodge I invented to excuse lack of tracks further in the dungeon.  I start to ponder how I might further leverage trouble for the now barefoot party, but we never get anywhere I can use it.

Another invention I can personally claim credit for is the narrow stairs and fragile knotted rop, inspired by an actual staircase I encountered in England.  Not a real trap, just a dangerously old construction.  The party uses extreme care in examining it at first, sending a guy down slowly tapping with a pole and secured by rope, and given the slow careful pace he makes it down with no problem.  Then he comes back up, and they all proceed down at normal pace, avoiding the fragile rope, and thus naturally one of the fighters goes tumbling down the stairs and crashes into the door at the bottom.

C4

Between the crashing dwarf and the collapse of the ceiling above, I decide any orcs below are well aware of the party’s approach and start to devise what kind of reception they might have planned.  I figure there are orcs laying in wait behind every door in the passage beyond.  As soon as the party encounters one group, the rest will all leap out to attack, hopefully surrounding the party.  They don’t quite get this off though, as the party opens the very first door, leaving their rear ranks still in the stairwell blocked by their second line of fighters.  Still, we have a pretty enjoyable fight with the front two lines facing two directions — into the room and down the hallway.  A well placed sleep spell ends the fight pretty quickly.

And that is where we had to end for the night.  What is in rooms C5-7?  More orcs probably.  Is the same stuff in there as is written in the adventure?  Maybe.  To be honest, I haven’t even read those rooms in advance.  I figure as they enter those rooms I’ll read what’s in there and maybe tweak it a bit on the fly to have some more orcs.   What about level D?  I have no idea.  I’d be just as excited to find out as the players.

This is what I’m getting at with all my talk of improvisational play.  I get just as many kicks playing as the players do.  I’m just as surprised to find what they discover as they are.  Yeah, I sort of know what’s there in advance, but through play the players are actually encouraging me to change it, and I greatly appreciate all their efforts.

Now, the trick will be figuring out if I can write a similar adventure from scratch entirely by myself, without the need for random conflicting ideas from other people.  I’ll have to give that a try sometime in the future.  I wonder if there are any little tricks I might try to add more chaos to my design, but still give more interest to the room than usually comes from random monster, treasure, and dressings.  Any ideas would be appreciated.

Crazy Gaming Week

I have just made it through the most intense week of roleplaying activities, excluding conventions of course.  It was a complete accident, but somehow I ended up with many roleplaying related things all being planned for the same week.  It started last Wednesday with my regular weekly game.  On Thursday there was a lunch gathering of all the roleplayers in the office (man, there’s a lot of us now) to discuss potential future gaming.  Friday was Veteran’s day, which I used to run a practice run of module A1, which I will run again at TotalCon.  And Sunday some old friends and I experimented with playing a little D&D over google+.  So basically I ran 3 games and discussed the potential for yet more over the course of 5 days.  Phew.

Anyway, I want to talk about the g+ game I ran.  First off, the tech is much better than I was expecting.  We had one player that lost connection twice, but he solved that by switching to a different machine.  There were 5 of us, and I toyed with having a 6th connection pointing a webcam at my dice.  I was using one machine with two user accounts, each with their own google account, and each with their own webcam (an external usb one and the built-in one as the machine was a laptop).  There was some weird echoing until I switched the ‘dice’ account to use line in/line out for audio, which meant it had no audio as nothing was plugged into those jacks.  Ultimately it turned out to be more trouble than it was worth what with Google occasionally hitting it with the “are you still there” dialog, which I would have to use the Windows “switch user” mechanism to address, which takes too long to be worth it.  Ultimately the one time we had a “pivotal” die roll I just switched my own camera to point at the dice which worked just fine.

I’ve had mixed success with virtual presence gaming in the past, and I’d say this quite exceeded my expectations.  I think it was especially cool getting to play with a group of guys that I haven’t gotten to play with all together like that in a long time, as life has scattered us about.  Fortunately we’re at least all still in the same time zone, even still scheduling a 4 hour window when we were all available was difficult.  We made it work though.

So I’m little run down from all that gaming, and looking forward to a week of normal gaming level, which is to say just this Wednesday and then no gaming for a full week.  Still, it’s hard to complain of having too much gaming.  🙂

Scores of the Slave Lords

As I hope to run these modules a few times, I thought it would be cool to maintain some scores.  I’ll try to come back and update this post in future.  Here’s the scores to date:

Date Location # Players Round Score
11/11/11 Providence 8 1.1 270 / 405
1/27/12 Medway 9 1.2 355 / 405
2/23/12 TotalCon 5 1.2 270 / 405
2/24/12 TotalCon 9 1.1 360 / 405
2/25/12 TotalCon 8 1.1 265 / 405

 

FYI, per my previous post, I’ve decided to eliminate bonus points entirely.  I am also trying to pick out the 9 encounters from each part 1 that count towards scoring.  In the case of A1, part 1, I’ve decided to eliminate room 2, which empty and essentially just a time waster.

Take That, Slavers

This afternoon I got to run the first round of the slaver’s modules (part 1 of module A1) for some co-workers.  I’ve signed myself up to run some of these modules at TotalCon, and wanted some practice, especially as I’ve done a little translating to make this mesh with my own particular brand of B/X style D&D.  Mostly it was just the characters that needed tweaks, especially in the spell list department.  Anyway, here are some quick thoughts on running this module:

The Good

  • Got 8 of 9 players to show up, which was better attendance than when I played this same module myself at last GenCon.
  • Most of the character translation just worked.  I really didn’t miss some of the odd AD&D spells that had to be translated away (eg. Command).
  • Especially pleased with Phanstern who is an AD&D illusionist by the module.  Changed into “Phanstern the Illusionist”, a human magic-user.  Simple use of an epithet in the name and a well picked spell list (mirror image, phantasmal force, invisibility, etc.) really gave the character the right vibe without needing a special class.
  • Got to do some very fun interpretation of bad guy actions when the party hit a big group of them, fought a bit, retreated for an extended period of time, then launched a second assault.  Actually they did more damage than they realized in the initial fight and the baddies were happy to have the time to recuperate and try to lay new ambushes for the party.  All in all I did not feel like the bad guys did anything silly or game-ish in either fight.
  • Party made excellent use of illusion spell in second assault, basically of themselves charging in to draw out ambushers before real charge.  Well done players.
  • There seemed to be a fair bit of interest in running further parts, which I’d love to do.

The Bad

  • Not sure how the party took it, but the linear nature of the map made me a little sad.  Especially in above mentioned withdrawal after a fight, the party wanted to try to find another way around, but of course there was none.
  • Kind of sad that Spider Climb is not part of B/X.
  • Initial fight with lots of ghouls who both got in surprise round and then won initiative may have left the party feeling a bit gun-shy in later combats.  It was a great first fight though, with everyone on the edge of their seats as half the party quickly became paralyzed.
  • Scoring system is whack.  Starts out looking reasonable with simple 9×9 chart with # survivors along one axis and number of rooms encountered on the other.  Then proceeds to list bonus points for each of the 10 rooms — wait, what, 10?  Max points by chart is 405, bonus points can accrue up to 99 more points.  Other four rounds have no such bonus point scheme, but allow for up to 3 discretionary GM points per room, which is still only 27 bonus points.  A2 I see is even worse in having far more rooms than 9, only A3 seems to stick to 9 room limit.
  • Curious inclusion of Raise Dead scroll in equipment list.  Even in AD&D Raise Dead left recipient weak and useless for at least one day.  As there’s no place to rest in this adventure, is the point simply to game the system and recover some lost points due to player death?
  • First room mentions light coming from within, but then rest of module does not mention light sources.  I went with most of it being lit by torches, but the players then started asking astute questions as to who was replenishing the torches (which burn out in just 1 hour) given how slowly they were making their way through the dungeon.  Think in future I should probably ditch the torches and give the players a few more of their own light sources to use throughout the adventure.

B/X vs. Labyrinth Lord: Weapons

More and more I discover little oddities in Labyrinth Lord that differ from B/X D&D in a troubling way.  I’m getting down to minor details now, but they still rub me the wrong way enough that I’m contemplating switching to just straight B/X with a list of house rules rather than continue trying to support LL.  My latest qualm: the weapon list.  Here’s a quick comparison I wrote with the changes highlighted:

Labyrinth Lord Damage BX BX Damage (if different)
Axe, battle* d8 Battle Axe*
Axe, hand d6 Hand Axe
Club d4 Club
Crossbow, heavy d8
Crossbow, light d6 Crossbow
Dagger d4 Dagger
Dagger, silver d4 Silver dagger
Dart d4
Flail d6
Flail, heavy* d8
Hammer, light d4
Hammer, war* d6 War Hammer
Javelin d6 Javelin d4
Lance d6 Lance
Longbow d8 Long Bow d6
Mace d6 Mace
Morningstar* d6
Pick, heavy* d8
Pick, light d6
Pole Arm* d10 Pole Arm*
Quarterstaff* d6 Staff* d4
Scimitar d8
Shortbow d6 Short Bow
Sling d4 Sling
Spear d6 Spear
Sword, long d8 Sword (normal)
Sword, bastard** d8/2d4
Sword, short d6 Short Sword
Sword, two-handed d10 Two-handed Sword*
Trident d6

* = Two Handed

Most of the weapons that Labyrinth Lord adds I could do without.  Really, when is the last time you saw a player character running around with a trident or a heavy pick?  Why on earth differentiate between heavy and light pick at all?  And since when is a war hammer two handed?  I don’t mind the addition of flail and morningstar, but I also don’t mind just saying that they’re the same as a mace and leave it at that.  I suppose the heavy flail does add a two-handed cleric option that deals d8 damage.  I also kind of like the simplicity of three kind of swords: normal, short, and two-handed.  Do I really need a bastard sword and a scimitar?

I understand the addition of the dart and quarterstaff (though granted the Expert rules add Staff, at least they have the sense to drop it to a d4 damage) — to give some more options to magic-users.  Not that the text ever says as much, we’re left to interpret that from the statement that they can “only use light weapons such as a dagger”.  I kind of prefer the heavier restriction of daggers only.  I imagine magic-users get no training with weapons at all, thus grab for the most simple and primal weapon – a knife.  I don’t mind the image of the old greybeard wizard leaning on his magic staff, nor even using the staff to call for magical powers, but when he starts whirling it about like a ninja to crack skulls is where you start to lose me.

Anyway, this is all minor quibbles to be sure, but it’s yet another area in the text that I want to revert to pure B/X, as I already did for armor, XP progression, and spells.  I’m really starting to wonder: is it worth retaining the LL link at all?

 

Game Room Nears Completion

Having finished my shelves, I could finally unpack the last of my gaming paraphernalia from the move.  I’d like to think those were the last unpacked boxes, but I bet there are more hiding somewhere.  I also happened by Micheal’s where they were having a buy-one-get-one-free sale on poster frames.  I have a bunch of posters that have been wanting framing specifically for this room, so I bought some.  The game room is now really starting to come together.

Item still missing:

  • We really should repaint this room at some point.  The ceiling especially wants it.
  • I ordered a GM’s Valet from Geek Chic.  I’m really excited for this piece to show up, which should happen I think by January.  I’ve reserved a space for it in the room.
  • Gamers!  It figures now that I have space enough for a game room, everyone I game with lives far away enough to not want to come all the way out here for a game.  I must find some way to drag them out here.  Perhaps this post will help.

But enough blather, now for the pictures!

Hidden Chambers

No, not in D&D, in my actual house!  This weekend I tackled a project I’ve been meaning to do for some time — hanging shelves in my game room closet.  On the second floor of my house we have a bedroom that I’ve converted into my game room.  The closet had your standard top shelf and pole for hanging clothes, which is all very useful for a bedroom but not what you need to store all your board games, miniatures, etc.

My plan was to remove the pole and then add more shelves.  I bought the wood and looked online for how to build in shelves, it all seemed pretty straight forward.  One thing that bothered me though was that there was a spot in the back corner that someone had covered up with a couple extra squares of sheet rock.  I assumed there was a hole in the wall there, and being  a closet, the previous owner didn’t bother to make it look nice.  My options were to build around it, or take it down and see if there wasn’t some better way to patch up whatever was behind it.  I decided to remove the sheet rock and at least see what was back there.

A secret room is what was back there!  The sheet rock covered about a 2′ x 3′ hole cut in the back of the closet that revealed a small space about 4′ x 6′ behind it.  It seems to have previously been part of the bathroom.  You can see the back of the tub and shower stall in there.  I guess when they redid the bathroom they just closed up the part of the room with a sloped ceiling to put the shower and tub in and make the room square.  It’s no big deal as the bathroom is plenty big without this extra space, but still, it’s extra space!  I had to fight really hard to suppress the urge to find some way to utilize this space.  In the end, I just put the sheet rock back up and shelved over it.

Some day, perhaps if and when we re-do the bathroom, we’ll reclaim that space.  Until now, I think it’s super cool that there’s a secret hidden room in my house.  I took some pictures before I closed up the wall which you can see below.  They’re not great, as I had to stand in the closet to take them.

On Learning New Spells

In the past in my campaign, magic-users have not been a popular class choice. I’m OK with this actually, as I do like the idea that magic-users are a rare breed. On the other hand, I don’t want to give the magic-user such a raw deal that nobody ever plays one. Now that I’m watching some players play them I want to double check my rulings, especially as concerns learning new spells upon leveling. To do so, I will start by looking at what’s in the books, and then comparing that to what I’ve been doing.

OD&D

In OD&D I see little mention of how magic-users obtain spells.  It almost seems to me that the expectation is that every magic-user has every spell on the list in his books, and interestingly it appears that clerics also must maintain spell books.  I see rules on how many books are required to contain the spells (one book per level), the cost of replacing lost books, and the cost of inventing entirely new spells.  Scrolls appear to be used only for casting stored spells, which actually makes the spell Read Magic make much more sense.  Read Magic is essentially the ‘scroll activation spell’, used on the fly when you want to pop some spells off a scroll (it specifically mentions that the spell lasts long enough just for “one or two readings”).

B/X

In B/X magic-users start with  a book containing one first level spell only, and gain new spells automatically:

When player characters gain a level of experience, they will return to their masters and be out of play for one “game-week” while they are learning their new spells. … Magic-users and elves are limited to the number of spells they may know, and their books will contain spells equal to the number and level of spells the caster can use in a single day.  – X11

Like in OD&D, scrolls appear to be only for single-use castings.  However, read-magic has been modified to act as an “unlocking” spell for scrolls, including the text:

once a scroll or runes are looked at with a read magic spell, the magic-user becomes able to understand and read that item later without the spell.

AD&D 1e

Magic-users in AD&D start with 4 spells in their book, read magic automatically, plus one each from three categories (offensive, defensive, and misc.) They gain a single additional spell automatically upon leveling.  Found spells must be rolled to see if they are understood (using a percentage based on Intelligence).  Spells copied from scrolls destroy the scroll, though the text would seem to imply that failing to understand the spell results in not being able to copy it at all, thus preserving the scroll.  I have not found a clear description (though it may exist) if the roll to know a spell is failed — I assume it means the magic-user will never be able to learn that spell.  (DMG 39 for all of the above.)

My Campaign

My rules are a hodge-podge of the above along with some custom house rules:

  1. To learn a spell, a magic user must roll equal to or less than his intelligence on a d20.  Failure indicates he cannot understand the spell, but he may try again after gaining a level of experience.  One check per level per spell is allowed, regardless of source of the spell.
  2. Starting out magic-users roll a check for every first level spell to determine what they start with in their spell book.  This does not count as a learning attempt for first level, it is assumed to have happened during their apprenticeship.  A mulligan is allowed if all spells are failed.
  3. Read magic is required to ‘unlock’ scrolls, however once unlocked the spell is understood and further castings of read magic are not required.
  4. Scrolls can be cast from directly, which requires only the read magic to unlock, and no roll to understand the spell.  Magic-users may even thus cast spells normally above their ability to cast (eg. a 1st level magic-user could cast a 3rd level spell directly off a scroll).  This destroys the scroll.
  5. Scrolls may be copied from the scroll to the magic-user’s spell book.  The magic-user must make his roll to understand the spell, and may only do this for spells that are within his normal ability to cast.  The scroll is destroyed either way, succeed or fail.

I guess actually my system is basically straight out of AD&D, with a few tweaks here and there.  Having written it all out, I think actually I’m OK with my system.  The only minor change I think I might consider is the destruction of a scroll when the magic-user fails to copy it into his book.  Perhaps the roll should symbolize ability to understand the spell, and then only once the spell is copied does the scroll destroy itself.  I will have to ponder on this.

Curious to hear how other folks run this.  I suspect this is an area where most DMs have their own house rules that vary slightly from any written source.