Archive for July, 2016

Experimenting with OED

At a recent gathering Delta and I were discussing rulings we’ve used in how we run D&D, and laughing about how similar our play styles have become.  Someone asked “What is the difference between your games?” to which I answered “They only differ in which book we each keep behind the screen.”

That’s basically accurate.  Though Delta began with the three LBBs of white box, or original edition, or whatever you want to call that first version of D&D that is only actually labeled “Dungeons and Dragons”, and I began with what is called red-book or B/X or Moldvay/Cook Basic D&D, we’ve both house-ruled our games into pretty similar beasts.  And I suppose that’s not surprising given the fact that we play together regularly and often discuss our house rules in detail with each other, and have the same basic goals in mind of what makes good D&D.

But it’s not really true at all, there are some rather big places where we differ.  Delta has streamlined saving throws and thief skills in a way I have not.  Delta has demi-human level limits, whereas I charge extra XP for demi-humans to level and reserve level limits for multi-class characters only.  We both do not use 0 hp is dead, but have come up with different death-mitigation techniques.  And of course Delta does not have clerics.

To be honest, I find the no-clerics idea really fascinating.  If I were to eliminate a class my first choice would actually be thieves, as it fits with the original book (thieves were not introduced until supplement I), and I dislike their tendencies towards a skill system.  My favorite anecdote on thieves is the OD&D DM who told a player disappointed to find there were no thieves “if you want to be a thief, then steal something.”  Still, Delta makes an excellent point that the class simply does not jibe with the source inspiration material.  Search your Leiber, Vance, Howard, de Camp, heck even your Tolkien, and find me an example of a holy warrior with divine healing magic.  Oh sure, there are plenty of evil cults lead by dark priests with powers granted by evil gods, but by and large heroes do not go in for that sort of thing.

The other rule that Delta uses that really struck me as pretty cool recently is that magic-users can only memorize one copy of any given spell.  Now that’s not in any version of D&D either of us are familiar with, but it does fit the source fiction pretty darn well.  And frankly, I love what it does to play.  Each spell becomes unique and interesting.  Suddenly there’s a reason to examine the full spell list instead of just packing in a full array of magic missiles and fireballs.  It also kind of adds a neat aspect to magic wands.  Sure, your level 10 wizard is pretty impressive with his 10-dice fireball, but he can only do it the once.  Having a wand that shoots 6-dice fireballs by comparison feels pretty weak, but when you can shoot a dozen in a day, now it’s looking pretty sweet.

OK, 500 words in and I’m only just getting to my point.  Sorry everyone.  The deadline for game submissions to Carnage on the Mountain is looming, and I’ve been thinking about what to run.  I like running a lighter faster game in the Sunday late morning slot, as I don’t like Sunday being a wash, but I also know I’ll be burnt out by then and so will my players.  A quick easy dungeon crawl is kind of perfect for that time.  But every game is an experiment, so what can I do that is interesting?  Hm, perhaps I should try running it by the book — by Delta’s book that is.

In the past I’ve avoided taking on too much of Delta’s stuff because my games have been rooted in a consistent world since I started running them in 2010.  I’ve made changes here and there, but generally leaned towards not completely disrupting the continuity.  But convention games are a perfect environment for experimentation, so perhaps this is a good chance.  I don’t expect this will change how I run games regularly, but it may cement some ideas (like the 1-each spell idea) that I kind of like but am not totally sure I want to commit to just yet.

So let’s take a look at spells.  In fact, both Delta and I have written up little spell books that we use during play, though mine are really just for convenience while Delta’s are a serious project which you can find on Lulu.  I was curious though to compare our spell lists, and see where they differ.

Spells in B/X Missing in OED:

  • Cure Light Wounds
  • Floating Disc
  • Purify Food and Water
  • Remove Fear
  • Resist Cold
  • Ventriloquism
  • Know Alignment
  • Resist Fire
  • Silence 15′ Radius
  • Snake Charm
  • Speak with Animals
  • Cure Disease
  • Speak with Dead
  • Striking
  • Create Water
  • Cure Serious Wounds
  • Massmorph
  • Neutralize Poison
  • Speak with Plants
  • Sticks to Snakes
  • Commune
  • Create Food
  • Dispel Evil
  • Insect Plague
  • Quest
  • Raise Dead
  • Part Water

Not a lot of surprises here, as they’re mostly off the cleric list.  The cure spells (wounds, disease, poison) are not surprising and Delta compensates for this by making potions of such readily available.  There are a fair number of spells like resist fire/cold, create/purify food/water, and know alignment that feel fitting for a cleric but honestly I can’t say I feel like I’ve seen used a lot in game.  Also there are a few spells that feel redundant with other spells — commune is just a better version of contact higher plane,  quest is just like geas, and raise dead can be replaced with the magic-user reincarnate spell.  There are also oddly a couple magic-user spells that fit that same bill for me.  Massmorph just feels like a crappier version of invisibility 10′ radius.  Sure it can hide a lot more people, but they can’t really move.  Likewise, why do I need part water when I have lower water?

I’m surprised at there being no floating disc — that feels like a classic to me.  Ventriloquism I could live without.  Striking is a cool spell, and would be easy to translate into a magic-user spell.  Being able to temporarily make a normal weapon magical is pretty sweet.  And though I’ve really gimped the silence spell, I still find it to be a very useful spell that my players quite like to use.  Also I love the speak spells, even to the point of retrofitting speak with dead (B/X has plants and animals but not dead).

Spells in OED missing in B/X:

  • Magic Mouth
  • Pyrotechnics
  • Strength
  • Clairaudience
  • Rope Trick
  • Slow
  • Suggestion
  • Extend Spell
  • Ice Storm
  • Wall of Iron
  • Legend Lore

OK, a shorter list here.  Magic mouth always struck me as a weird spell.  It’s kind of cool, but I found used chiefly by NPCs whose dungeon you are exploring, rather than by actual players.  Do you really need an official spell for that?  I mean, there’s no explanation for any of the other random magical effects we love to litter the dungeon with.

Pyrotechnics, eh, no strong feelings.  Clairaudience is cool but slightly less good than clairvoyance.  Slow I could live without as I’d always rather haste myself than slow my enemy.  Rope trick I find to be a weird one.  It seems awful high level for something that just helps you climb somewhere and gives you a temporary hiding spot.  Though I did see it put to good use recently in conjunction with an extend spell to have a safe place to sleep the night, I almost wonder if a day shouldn’t just be its normal duration.  Suggestion I likewise am not impressed with – it feels to me like a weirdly vaguer version of charm person.  Legend Lore is a neat spell, though I’ve not seen it used very much, and it feels just a little less flavorful than contact higher plane.

OK, Strength is a great spell that we use all the time and is very notably lacking in B/X.  Extend Spell is also a very cool tool for the inventive caster.  Ice Storm nicely completes the missing damage type started by fireball and lightning bolt.  Finally wall of iron I like just for the idea of a spell that can actually create a permanent object.

So, when all is said and done, I can’t say there’s anything on those lists that feel like major deal breakers for me.  There are some spells I will be very interested to see introduced into my game, and a couple that I will be sad to not see as an option, but it feels more or less like an even trade.

Perhaps I’ll spend some time analyzing other elements of OED vs BX in a future post.  As of right now, I am feeling somewhat intrigued at the idea of running a pure OED game just to see what works for me and what doesn’t.

 

Monstrous Experience

I started in on my Monster Card project just to see how hard it was going to be.  I created a template in Libre Office, agonized over fonts, and searched the web for some place-holder artwork.  My thought was, let me create one card as a prototype, and then see how difficult it will be to fill in the rest from there.

I knew the text description would be an interesting challenge.  Dan had mentioned that most of this stuff was probably open gaming license, but I assume that does not extend to simply copy and pasting text right out of the Monster Manual.  That text is probably too long anyway, I can tell just from the existing cards that some heavy editing was done to make this fit on a 3×5 card.  I eventually decided as a start to just borrow the text from Labyrinth Lord, as it’s in the correct vein, is clearly open game content, and is available digitally for ease of copy and paste.  Even then I knew I’d still likely have to edit down, but it’s a start.

The next road block though is really something I was not expecting: stats.  I figured this would be an obvious straight copy from MM to card.  And for the most part it was, until I got to the entry “L/XP”.  What the heck is that?  The one bit of explanation text I get is on the back of the title card:

Monster Level / Experience Point value.  *Average value only, see DMG p.85.

OK, so I whip out my DMG and open to page 85.  Sure enough, there’s a chart there for XP value based on HD and special abilities.  The “level” bit is not there, so I dig through some existing cards and based on the fact that it’s shown as a roman numeral, I’m guessing that it has to do with what dungeon level on the wandering monster chart the monster appears on.  Where are those printed?  They’re not in the Monster Manual, maybe they are here in the DMG, but I’m not finding them.  Then I remember, didn’t they put a bunch of combined tables in the back of the Monster Manual 2?  So I get out that book.

Sure enough, there are the wandering monster charts in the back.  Great.  Oh, huh, this is interesting, that L/XP stat is here in the block for every monster in MM2, though again the intro text just vaguely refers me to the DMG (doesn’t even give me a page number this time).  Weird, why doesn’t this stat exist in MM1?  Suddenly, I realize that the use of this stat on these monster cards must be their first actual use case.  How do I know that?

Well, when making my template earlier I noticed that in the bottom right corner of each card is an indicator of where the monster came from.  For example, the Ankheg card says “MM 6” in the bottom right corner – Monster Manual page 6.  Almost all the cards in fact have the “MM” indicator, with a few interesting outliers.  The Nycadaemon stands out as being the one and only card with an “FF” indicator.  Why did they take one and only one thing from the Fiend Folio?  I have no idea.  The only other indicator is NEW, and it includes:

  1. Galeb Duhr
  2. Grippli
  3. Hybsil
  4. Korred
  5. Land Urchin
  6. Lycanthrope, Seawolf
  7. Mihstu
  8. Obliviax
  9. Thri-kreen
  10. Tunnel Worm
  11. Wemmic
  12. Zorbo

In fact, the front title card that came with each set, which BTW was about all that was visible in the original packaging (I recall they came in kind of flimsy clear plastic boxes that always eventually got crushed), says on it:

Monster Cards combine full-color illustrations with vital information on 20 AD&D™ monsters, including 3 totally new creatures, in handy 3″ x 5″ cards.

Fascinating.  The inclusion of new unprinted monsters in each set appears to have been a marketing ploy.  And not surprisingly the above list includes just about every monster in the collection that I’ve always found to be a very strange choice.  Also note, almost all of those creatures were then included in Monster Manual 2.  Here’s acaeum.com to the rescue with the full details:

These “new” creatures were then incorporated into the Monster Manual II published in 1983 — presumably because the decision to abandon the Monster Cards line had been made during the new hardcover’s compilation (thanks to Ed Jendek for this info).

As an aside, while researching for this post another interesting bit of info comes from the wikipedia entry on the Monster Cards:

A second group of four sets was tentatively scheduled for release in 1983, according to Harold Johnson, and those sets would have included several monsters from the Fiend Folio book.

OK, so, I’m really flying off on a tangent now.  How did I get here?  Oh yeah, L/XP.  So, trying to figure out how the values were reached is pretty difficult, since this stat is not included in any text for monsters that came out of MM1.  There’s this reference to DMG p. 85, but that chart is super subjective.  How do I draw the line between a special ability and an exceptional ability?  Perhaps I can examine some MM2 creatures and see if I can reverse engineer the rules?

Let’s consider our old pal the troll. Probably a poor choice, given Dan’s own research into what an outlier he is in XP calculations.  Still, we have an interesting point of comparison: the MM2 includes the Marine Troll (Scrag), which should be pretty similar.

So, given the 6+ HD of the troll, and let’s assume his regeneration ability is “exceptional”, I guess that puts him at 400 + 8/hp XP.  Hm, that’s exactly the same number as the freshwater scrag.  Surely the scrag should get a little extra for it’s ability to breathe underwater?  Though maybe that’s offset by his regeneration being limited to when he is in water?  (Side note: huh, nothing in the scrag’s listing actually says he can breathe underwater.)  And wait a minute, the freshwater scrag has 5+5 HD, how does that work?  Even if we assume the special abilities somehow compensate to bring up the base value to 400, the per-hp value, at least according to the DMG chart, should be directly tied to HD and not modified.  So how the heck does he get +8/hp instead of +6/hp?

I jumped then to examining the Bugbear (don’t ask why).  His L/XP value on the card is “III/135 + 4/hp”.  OK, 4/hp does line up with his 3+ HD line on the chart.  But how do we get to 135 base value?  Base value on the chart is 60.  Hm, the extra surprise could be an exceptional ability for +65.  That gets us to 125, still 10 short.  Um, if he had two special abilities instead of one exceptional that would be +50…  Nope, nothing I’m doing here is getting me a total of 135.  Where the heck did they pull that number from?

Sigh, this is really discouraging.  And all for a number that frankly I never even noticed existed on these cards even from when I first bought them back in the 80’s.  My urge to be true to the original format is strongly fighting against my knowledge that I would never use this particular stat in my own games.  What should I do?

Monster Cards

This weekend Delta came up and gave me the best birthday gift I can ever ask for – a weekend of D&D with my brothers and friends.  We played G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King, which Delta ran for us a couple of HelgaCons ago and we failed miserably at.  I think we saw all of 2 rooms and ended the game in a TPK.  With more time on our hands we hoped to do better this time.

As Dan set up his material he discovered I had left nearby my copy of the AD&D Monster Cards, and started flipping through them to see what might be useful.  On getting to the Giants section he discovered the Hill Giants, Frost Giants, and Stone Giants, but no Fire Giants.  In fact, we weren’t surprised, both Delta and I have complained in the past of the odd choices in the composition of this set of cards.

monster_cards

At first blush the cards seem really useful – a nice full color picture on the front so you can show your players what the thing looks like, and all the pertinent stats on the back.  What a great idea.  But who picked these monsters?  Goblins and bugbears are here, but no orcs or ogres.  We get the Luecrotta and the Mihstu, but no troll or owlbear?  What the heck?

So I said to Dan, “we just need to make set 5 that fills in all the weird gaps.”  It seemed like such an obvious idea.  I grabbed my Monster Manual and the list of what’s in the cards and started my own list of what was missing.  I was looking for anything that really shocked me that it wasn’t included.  I skipped the weird stuff I tend not to use, and tried to limit myself to just what felt like “classic D&D” and/or that I use myself a lot.  Sure, this is pretty subjective, and of course I’m in terrible danger in doing just what the original authors did: leave out something someone else would feel is obvious.  But it’s a start.  So here’s my list of the cards I’d like to add:

  1. Chimera
  2. Dragon, Brass
  3. Dragon, Bronze
  4. Dragon, Copper
  5. Dragon, Blue
  6. Dragon, Green
  7. Dragon, White
  8. Elemental, Air
  9. Elemental, Earth
  10. Elemental, Fire
  11. Elemental, Water
  12. Gargoyle
  13. Giant, Fire
  14. Golem, Clay
  15. Golem, Flesh
  16. Golem, Iron
  17. Griffon
  18. Green Slime
  19. Hobgoblin
  20. Lich
  21. Lycanthrope, Were-bear
  22. Lycanthrope, Were-boar
  23. Lycanthrope, Were-rat
  24. Manticore
  25. Minotaur
  26. Men, Bandit
  27. Men, Buccaneer
  28. Ogre
  29. Orc
  30. Owlbear
  31. Pegasus
  32. Piercer
  33. Purple Worm
  34. Roc
  35. Skeleton
  36. Stirge
  37. Spider, Giant
  38. Toad, Giant
  39. Troll
  40. Unicorn
  41. Wyvern
  42. Wight
  43. Wraith
  44. Zombie

The two that gave us pause were Dragon and Men.  Do we really need all the varieties of good dragons?  I honestly never used them, but the original set of cards has two good and two evil, so it seems like we should complete the set.  And what about Men?  There are a ton of sub-types of men in the Monster Manual.  It seems crazy to not have any, I mean, players are always being beset by bandits, right?  But do I also need Berserkers?  Merchants?  Pilgrims?  Dan suggested the two I listed (Bandit and Buccaneer) as the most useful, so we limited the list to just those.

Looks like we need more than just one extra set.  In fact, the original sets were 20 cards, so I kind of feel like I want to trim out 4 entries so we can do sets 5 and 6 and follow the original pattern.  Once we have a list I’m sure I can dig up the right font and lay out the cards, but then I’ll need to find some artwork.  Do I just swipe scans from the internet or my books and make this a personal pet project?  I wouldn’t mind making this publicly available to the world, but then I need artists.  We could put the call out for submissions, but I don’t know if between Dan and I we have the pull to get 40 pieces of unique art.

But let’s start at the beginning.  Tell me what you think I missed that should really be on the list.  Or what you think is most prime for cutting it down to 40.  Once I have the list of cards I’m sure I can figure it out.