Great Khan Enthroned

Great Khan Enthroned

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What I Spent My Afternoon Doing

Since it was snowing out and it was my "off" weekend for D&D, I read OSR blogs all morning and then broke out my miniatures for some painting. I actually spent the first couple of hours going through the paints here to see which ones were still good, my buddy Lance recently donated a large collection of his paints to me*, so I figured it was about time I checked them out since he had had them in storage for quite a while. Most of them made it, but there were 13 casualties, almost all Games Workshop paints, except for 1 truly ancient AD&D bottle.

I decided that I would prime a bunch of miniatures up for painting, hopefully this week, for my new B/X campaign set in England during the Anarchy. My lovely wife Mona joined me for this fun weekend activity and began to paint a previously primered Black Orc Games Geisha, just for fun, until I had some miniatures more appropriate for our current campaign ready. I am a stickler for waiting 24 hours for the primer to dry, but she over-ruled me, since she is an actual artist and just waited until she decided they were dry enough.

I primered miniatures today until I ran out of primer. She painted a total of three from start to finish, and has a fourth in progress. My son, whose 17th birthday is tomorrow, so Happy Birthday John, painted his first ever miniature too. He's convinced it sucks, I don't think it's too bad.

So here are the pictures.

This is John's first try at painting a miniature, from the front.

And from the back, he was going for a skull on the shield there. I tried to warn him not to try an paint anything too detailed on the shield, but he wouldn't listen. He decided it looks like a Panda. The red is supposed to be blood. I usually go for a less is more approach to gore on my miniatures, but again, it's his first time and he's 17 tomorrow.

This is the Lantern Bearer miniature I call Lorenzo, after my last campaign's professional lantern man. Oddly, this is the only picture of all the ones that Mona took of the individual miniatures that she painted that came out good, the rest were all blurry.

These are all 4 of the miniatures that were completed today from the front.

And from the back.

This is the huge bunch of mostly Clan War Samurai Heavy Infantry, but also a bunch of Black Orc Games Bushido Clan and some of their Panthera Tribe.

Lastly, a group shot of the miniatures I primered today I think I did 46 total, including 3 of the ones that were painted or partially painted. Most of them are Mega-Minis or old Grenadier AD&D Gold Box, the rest are a mix of Ral Partha, Heritage and a bunch of other companies. I only wish I had remembered to grab the pack animals off the shelf in the other room before I ran out of primer.

*Only fair, years ago I did the same for him, strangely three of my old AD&D bottles made the trip back, sadly one of them had dried up.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Moldvay Basic Observations Part 3-

Sorry I missed a couple of days, I had some real life get in the way of blogging, not all bad, some gaming was involved. I figure I should probably provide a link back to parts one and two in case you missed them before.

Now, we only really got through the first 18 pages of the book in the last two parts of my Moldvay Basic Observations, but I am confident that we can make it through the rest of the book here in part three because, despite the fact that we still have another 46 pages to go, there really aren't all that many more observations, and most of them are from the next few pages.

Part 4: The Adventure starts on page 19, and is a bunch of useful information for the beginning player and the beginning DM. I was both amused and impressed by the first paragraph, it has the heading beginning the adventure and essentially states that once the players have rolled up their characters and bought their equipment, the DM will tell them what the Adventure is going to be, where they are headed, what they're after, who is with them and what they know about the place. I found this amusing because I have had players over the last three decades that were such a pain in the ass that I wondered why they showed up at the table. I'd drop adventure hooks, usually some sort of hire, and they'd be all "Nope, I'd rather not take your excellent commission to go clear out the Dungeon of Doom, I'd rather sit at the inn doing nothing for the next six hours"; here they pretty much tell you that kind of nonsense doesn't fly.

Next it moves on to optimal party size and composition, pretty standard stuff for old school; it tells you that you should probably have 6-8 characters in the party, that's what pretty much every module said on the cover back in the day; and that you should have a mix of character classes, all the human classes should be represented and, if possible, get some Demi-Humans in the party too for their special skills. The most noteworthy thing here is that it suggests that some players, at the DMs discretion, might be allowed to play multiple characters. I am pretty sure that this was, if not outright forbidden, at least heavily frowned upon in AD&D. It also point's out here that if you don't have enough players you can fill in the ranks with retainers, but I'll get back to them in a bit.

Next we move on to organizing a party; setting your marching order is mentioned first and it mentions having several different marching orders for various tactical situations, which is something I always thought that me and my nerdy friends came up with on our own, but here it is in black and white. Then comes the Caller. Is this where the Caller comes from? I just looked through Holmes and didn't see any reference to a Caller, but I may have missed it, and in AD&D's PH it says that party's should have a leader who will "call" to the DM the party's actions. I never played in a D&D group with a formal Caller and damned few with formal Leaders, although informal leaders often existed. This is the first place I question whether or not people actually played this game with the rules as written.

After the Caller, there is a section on the importance of mapping and how one player should be designated the Mapper, this is a D&D job that I used to see a lot more in the old days than I do now. I can't decide if it's just because every DM on earth got sick and tired of having to describe the room over and over again, or draw sections of map for the "Mapper" to copy or if it was just because D&D moved away from dungeon based adventuring over the last three decades, either way, mapping is practically a lost art and it is frustratingly difficult to reinvent. I do like the way it says here that you maps aren't going to be exactly perfect and not to worry too much about making a perfect, detailed map though.

Next it brings up a controversial subject, use of miniature figures. They are clearly optional, but can enhance play. However, many of us OSR types, no matter how much we loved our old lead miniatures back in the 1980s are still a little gun shy about being slaves to the battle grid. Me, I can go either way, I hated being a slave to the battle grid and it did take me forever to wean my kids off of using miniatures even when we were playing 1st edition AD&D. I haven't used them yet with Moldvay Basic, but I may. I used miniatures pretty much the whole time I played D&D from Holmes through 3e, I only wanted to quit after 3e and now that I have had a break I am OK with them again. The only thing that bugs me is when 3e-isms crop up in an old school game when we're using miniatures, I know it's because we're using miniatures; someone will say something like "Shouldn't I get an attack of opportunity here?" and make me want to smack them.

The last things on the page are Time & Movement, there's not much of note there, except the note at the end that you need a 10 minute break every hour or you'll start getting fatigued and suffer a -1 to hit penalty until you do rest. I don't ever recall seeing that rule anywhere else. The only other fatigue rules I remember seeing in a version of D&D were in Hackmaster 4th edition.

Flipping the page brings us to encumbrance, which fills the entire page and is an optional rule. Sadly encumbrance gives us one of the worst and most enduring game-isms of D&D, the idea that all coins regardless of metal or purity weigh the same, and that the weight of a coin is 1/10 of a pound. Here in Moldvay Basic the basic unit of weight has gone from the Gold Piece (gp) to the more generic Coin (cn). I never really understood why we couldn't just measure weight in pounds, or ounces if necessary, but there you have it. I hear Lamentations of the Flame Princess has a better encumbrance system, and I did buy it in December during their PDF sale, but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet; if it is vastly better I will most likely adopt it for my B/X game.

Page B21 starts us off with Light, points out that most dungeons are dark and tells us how long torches last and how long a flask of oil will last in a lantern, reminds us that you need to pay attention to who is carrying the light sources because you can't fight with a sword & shield if you are the one holding the torch and then talks about how Infravision works. Now, when 3e hit the market and we lost Infravision in favor of Low-Light Vision and Dark Vision, I hated that as much as the next grognard; but over time I have come to actually prefer them to Infravision and I'll tell you why- there is always some jerk trying to screw with Infravision, either a player who has seen the movie predator or a DM that realizes that undead are the same ambient temperature as the air surrounding them. Giving a scientific explanation for how the eyesight of fantasy races work is stupid, plus have you ever looked through an infrared camera? Seeing everything like Geordi LaForge or the Predator isn't really all that helpful, plus why does it only work for X number of feet? An Elf or Dwarf's ordinary eyesight will allow them to see pretty much to the horizon, but their Infravision only works for 60'? Sixty feet of visibility is pretty crappy, especially if you can only see stuff that gives off heat. Realistically, deep enough underground the stone and the air are going to be about the same temperature, so the subterranean dwelling Dwarf is still screwed without a light source; he'll be blind, bumping into cavern walls*.

Next we move on to Doors, which has three sections Normal Doors, Secret Doors and Listening at Doors. Normal doors are pretty interesting in Moldvay Basic, because they kind of have some weird mojo going for them. First, they are usually closed, that's cool, I usually leave my doors closed too; but additionally they are often either stuck or locked. Stuck doors any character can take a shot at, but higher strength characters are better at unsticking them, this is where the "Kick in the Door" meme in D&D comes from. Locked doors have to be picked open by a Thief, and the text here kind of implies that if your party Thief fails here, you are just screwed; which makes sense from the description of the Thief and his lock picking ability, but not from the point of view of a dungeoneering party that probably has at least one axe with them. The other odd, semi-magical qualities of dungeon doors are that they automatically swing shut after you open them unless you specifically jam them open and that they will automatically open for monsters unless you spike them shut; and these are the "Normal" doors.

Secret doors have fewer rules regarding them, but there is the interesting clarification that a Character only gets one chance to find a secret door. I remember playing AD&D and having the party know there must be a secret door in an area and just keep searching forever until they found it, that was annoying. Listening at doors gets a mention at the end of the doors section, I am amused by that because that's another one of those semi-lost dungeoneering skills, like mapping. When I DMed last weekend the party remembered to check for traps about 70% of the time, but only listened at one door. This section also has a rules clarification that a character may only listen once at any given door, and that the undead do not make noise.

The bulk of this page though is taken up by rules regarding Retainers, which brings me to a mini-rant- What is the deal with the inconsistent terminology between editions of D&D for the hired help. That's just confusing, why does every damned edition need to change the name? Here Retainers are, mostly**, what you would call Henchmen in AD&D, in 3e they'd be called Cohorts. Why on earth couldn't they pick a term and stick with it? That said, they are a little more interesting to hire on than they are in other editions, they have their own reaction table, which I assume the PC's Charisma modifier applies to, although it doesn't expressly say so. I also find it interesting that they have to check morale after every adventure to see if they will stick with you. Charisma would not be a dump stat in this version of D&D even if the rules supported stat rearrangement.

Skipping way head to combat, did anyone use the rules as written? The DM rolls all the damage dice? Why? Just because only one set of dice shipped with the boxed set? I like the morale rules, they are simple and easy to use, every monster has a morale value. Would I have preferred it to be on a D20 instead of 2d6? Yes, but Moldvay has a lot of 2d6 tables, so I am getting used to it. AD&D didn't get a decent monster morale system until 2nd edition.

Moving on to the monsters in general, there is more variety in low level monsters than in previous editions of D&D or than in AD&D, even some more mid-level ones than I would have expected; and many that weren't in any previously published D&D. The AD&D Monster Manual was only published four years earlier, so I would not have expected too much deviation from it's list, but there is. All of the standard humanoids are there, as are all the minor undead and a bunch of other "standard" D&D monsters, like Stirges, Rust Monsters and Ochre Jellies. Dragons are here too, surprisingly, since the book only covers levels 1-3. There are a bunch of new monsters and monster variants though that I never saw really until I read through this book, different types of Giant Lizard, Snakes, Giant Spiders and the Thoul to name a few.

What else did I skip over before?

Paralysis can be cured with a Cure Light Wounds spell? Does that happen in AD&D? I never heard of it if it does. Here it gets mentioned in the spell description and in the description of pretty much everything that causes paralysis.

The Monster Reaction Table, not every encounter needs to be a combat encounter and another reason why Charisma wouldn't be a dump stat even if the game rules allowed for it. Sometimes a monster might help you out.

Individual Initiative is an optional rule. I can't decide whether or not to use it, because my current group is less wargamer heavy, and therefore less rules crunchy and combat oriented than most previous D&D groups that I have played with, so I think that it might just be too much of a stress builder on combat and make combats more chaotic and lengthy, but on the other hand I think it really helps open up the combat options for high Dexterity characters like Thieves to be able to maneuver into position for Back Stabs, which is never actually called back-stabbing here, but instead "striking unnoticed from behind", or just getting to go first in combat.

Experience points, you get WAY more of them for treasure than for killing monsters, that kind of sets the tone for what's important here, now doesn't it? I actually noticed this when I was figuring experience points for the game I ran last Sunday, gold piece value is king when it comes to XP, killing not so much, magic not at all. AD&D was kind of like this, except that you got the XP for magic and monsters were worth a little more, Goblins in B/X D&D are worth 5XP each in AD&D they are going to be worth an average of 13XP.

Overall thoughts- There is still a great deal of customizability to Moldvay Basic, like there was in OD&D. The number of rules that are presented as optional is reminiscent of 2nd edition AD&D and the rumors of 5th edition D&D's multi-edition compatibility; for example- if you use none of the optional rules presented in Moldvay you have a game that is more similar to OD&D, if you use them all, it becomes much more distinctly it's own version. As an introduction to D&D, and RPGs in general, I think it does a much better job than Holmes basic did, and I mean no disrespect to Holmes Basic, it had a different design agenda; I am told Mentzer Basic did a better job still, but I haven't seen it to say for myself. What I can say is that all of the rules you need to play D&D are in this book, it's only flaw, and this is by design, is that it tops out at 3rd level and then you have to buy the Expert boxed set to go to level 14; which is past "name" level, the theoretical end game stage of D&D, so you really never needed the Companion boxed set, that never got published, that promised levels 15-36.

Now, I suppose I'll have to do some posts on my observations about the Expert side of the B/X equation too, but at least this will be more mixed with review, I had that set back in the day and I used stuff out of it pretty liberally with my Holmes Basic set and my AD&D until everything was taken over by AD&D eventually. I'll need to finish reading it

* unless the assumption is made that Infravision is very, very good and he can see the heat from his body and breath emanating around him and it outlines the walls and stuff, but then you still have the problem of jerks trying to blind Infravision scientifically because they can.

**They might be a 0-level torchbearer, that dude would be called a hireling in AD&D which has entire classes of standard and expert Hirelings. I looked ahead in the Expert book and some of the Hirelings in there are overlapped with the Hireling types in the AD&D DMG, but it didn't include any of the standard 0-level porters and torchbearers that AD&D parties have available to them.

OK, these EBay items arrived today.

Everyone in the OSR raves about this old Judges Guild stuff, I never had any, so when I saw I could snag some cheap I grabbed these.

I know I swore off buying Star Wars stuff, but it was a bargain and I was bidding on a bunch of other stuff from the same seller, I figured if I caught this at the minimum bid and got the combined shipping with any of the other stuff it's be like getting a free item almost. This was the only item I won though, but I got it for the minimum bid.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Moldvay Basic Observations Part 2-

OK, yesterday I got us all the way through character creation and only wrote a little bit about the different classes and how they differed from the edition of D&D I was more familiar with. I was a little hard on the Thief maybe, because he does get to advance his abilities pretty quickly from worse than everyone else to pretty good and Thieves do have the fastest rate of advancement. I didn't go at all into how much better it was to be a Cleric or a Magic-User in B/X D&D than it is in AD&D and that was an oversight brought on mostly by the fact that I figured it would get covered when I did spells, but the spells alone aren't the reasons why B/X Clerics and Magic-Users are better off than the AD&D versions.

First, I have to backtrack us to Ability scores, and this really applies to every character class in Moldvay, but AD&D really favors Fighters and Fighter Sub-Classes when it comes to Ability score modifiers in regard to Strength and Constitution. In AD&D only Fighters, Paladins and Rangers get percentile Strength scores, so only they have the ability to really lay down the hurt. Likewise, only they have access to the +3 and +4 Constitution modifier for Hit Points, so only they can really stand up in a fight; at best a Cleric in AD&D is a second rate Fighter, limited to weapons that deal less damage, unable to be physically strong enough to do as much extra damage per hit as a Fighter and having both a smaller Hit Die type and less likely to have a Constitution bonus that gives them as many Hit Points, they are unable to stick with a fight as long as a Fighter. Granted, this assumes that the AD&D Fighter has a standard Fighter build, high Strength, Constitution and Dexterity; in AD&D it's pretty common to roll your Ability scores and place them as desired. My point here is that in Moldvay Basic a Cleric* has access to the same Strength and Constitution** bonuses as a Fighter does, he also has the same access to armor, and variable weapon damage is an optional rule***; so the Cleric can stand on the front line, with the same AC as the Fighter, dealing out the same damage as the Fighter and has, on average 1 HP less/level.

Second, and this is Cleric specific, they own the undead. They don't appear to have any restrictions on turning undead, with regards to multiple attempts or trying again after failed attempts; and they turn them generally easier than they do in AD&D at 1st-3rd level. For example, the Skeleton, the easiest undead to turn is turned on a 7 by a 1st level Moldvay D&D Cleric and on a 10 by a 1st level AD&D Cleric, automatically turned by a 2nd level Moldvay D&D Cleric which doesn't happen for an AD&D Cleric until he's 4th level. Additionally, an AD&D Cleric can not attempt to turn again after a failed turn attempt. That said, a 1st level AD&D Cleric at least has a shot at turning a Wight, that doesn't happen in Moldvay.

To end the Cleric specific portion of today's post I'd like to once again point out that the Moldvay Basic Cleric doesn't get a spell at 1st level and I thought that would be a problem, but it really wasn't, and I don't really see it becoming a problem. Cleric's level pretty quick anyway, so that first Clerical spell is right around the corner, but the Cleric should not be used as a healing potion with legs anyway. Honestly, he's never going to have enough healing magic to keep the party going forward, especially considering there are no bonus spells for high Wisdom in Moldvay Basic, so if he casts Cure Light Wounds it's probably because someone got unlucky in one combat. There are only eight first level Cleric spells listed in the Moldvay Basic book and they all have some utility.

Which brings us to spells in general and the biggest surprise I found in the Moldvay Basic rules, EGG really nerfed spell-casters, and Magic-Users in particular, in AD&D. I really considered giving spells a blog post or two of their own and just going through and comparing the spells from Holmes Basic to Moldvay Basic to AD&D, I decided against that, but it's pretty clear now how everyone from the old days considered Magic-Users to be the most seriously bad-ass class. Elves can come in second here, they get hosed by their super slow advancement**** and their low level limit. All of the spells in Moldvay Basic are better than in AD&D somehow, usually in duration. In AD&D spells got pretty much knocked back to a per encounter use, by which I mean nothing lasts until the next encounter; in Moldvay pretty much every spell has a good chance of lasting that long. Detect Magic lasts 20 minutes in Moldvay, it's 2 rounds (minutes)/level of the caster in AD&D, you can take a walk looking for magical stuff in Moldvay, in AD&D you better have all the stuff ready to check when you cast the spell. Mirror Image, 2nd level Magic-User spell, lasts for 6 turns, an hour, in Moldvay; in AD&D it lasts 2 rounds/level of the caster; and in Moldvay an image is always hit first, in AD&D there is a percent chance based on how many images are left. These are just two examples of the many.

So AD&D kind of toned down the Magic-User pretty hard, in Moldvay Basic they share a Hit Die type with the Thief, have awesome spells and can fight pretty well. They can't wear armor, so they probably ought to stay off the line, and they still have a pretty slow advancement, but they have access to the Strength and Constitution bonuses that everyone else has and on average, they are only going to have 2 HP less than the party Fighter at 1st level, the same as the party Thief, who is expected to go into combat with his crappy leather armor and no shield.

*or any PC for that matter, but I am using the Cleric in the example.

**and Constitution can't be modified, so you get what you get. The Fighter probably modified his Strength upwards if he could to get bonuses, so he is more likely to hit and do more damage than the Cleric in the example, but maybe he couldn't.

***although I recommend it's use, just to give the Fighter something to feel special about.

****it's a good thing the Expert Book came out so quick, by the time the Elf hit's 2nd level the Thief and the Cleric have needed to move on to it's expanded experience points chart.

Next D&D bargain week on EBay continues-

These pictures are of the beat up box and the contents sold with the set, it's the complete boxed set with some odd extras thrown in too. The first Dragonlance module and "Quest for the Heartstone", which has a picture of Strongheart the Paladin and Warduke, the D&D action figures, on the cover. I got this because I wanted a better copy of the Basic book.

This is the AD&D 2nd edition Mystara Monsterous Compendium Appendix, I didn't even know it existed until I saw it, but I figured it probably gave AD&D stats for all the monsters that appeared in D&D modules over the years, maybe even AD&D stats for all the monsters that appeared in B/X, BECMI or Cyclopedia D&D but never made it into AD&D.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Moldvay Basic Observations Part 1-

When I started reading through the 1981 Moldvay Basic rules I really didn't expect that I would find anything new or exciting to me, especially considering how many times I have looked things up in that book just for the sake of comparing it to something in AD&D, OD&D or Holmes. I assumed what I was going to find was a rules-lite version of AD&D, the "Kiddie-D&D" I had always been biased against since I was a kid myself. I am delighted to say I could not have been more wrong. I have stated on a number of occasions that I started out with Holmes Basic, and it is, more or less, just a re-edit of OD&D, less confusing than OD&D, but not by much and with a few funky house rules Holmes threw in there of his own, that's cool. AD&D was just OD&D all house ruled to hell for E. Gary Gygax's Greyhawk campaign and then declared official TSR, tournament style, never house rule this D&D again, D&D anyway*, right? That and a way to separate it from Dave Arneson's contribution to the hobby in a legal, financial way; or so I have heard.

Anyway, on to my observations about the red book. Right from the get go I could see that this was a different beast than Holmes, it was not simply a restatement of OD&D rules, but an evolution of them; sure they were clearly descended from their immediate ancestor, but they were a new creature, sleeker and more graceful than the one that had come before. I am currently so enamored of Moldvay's rules set that I am seeking out a Mentzer Basic set too, just so I can check it out and make that comparison too.

I was specifically asked by a blog reader to break this analysis of Moldvay down into easily digestible parts, so I will try to not cover too much in this post. I will also attempt to NOT simply compare Moldvay too much to it's immediate predecessor, Holmes Basic, or to 1st edition AD&D, which I am much more familiar with, but I can't promise anything simply because sometimes the only, or at least the easiest way to illustrate is through comparison. I should also mention that this blog post has been a beast to write, I have written and rewritten several sections, switched parts around and, in general, done more work on this post than any other blog post I have ever written; usually I just put out my thoughts as they come to me, do a quick fact check if necessary, look for obvious spelling or grammar errors and send the post on out. This one seemed like more of a special occasion post. I took notes for this one.

On to character generation then. It's totally old school; 3d6 in order (Str, Int, Wis, Dex, Con, Cha) with a slight ability to modify based on what class you choose, you can drop an ability score by 2 points to raise your prime requisite by 1, but you can't drop anything below a 9 and Dexterity, Constitution and Charisma may not be lowered at all, but depending on class Dexterity may be raised. Ability scores are way less fiddly than in AD&D, there is almost a universal stat modifier like in 3e. Except for Humans race equals class, another old school concept that's been gone since the AD&D 1st edition days from my world view, but there it is. I think that may be the biggest hurdle for more modern gamers to accept, and this includes 1st edition AD&D players**.

The classes available are Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, Thief, Dwarf, Elf & Halfling; a short and simple list. It's the same list, with a slight change in terminology, as the one in Holmes Basic, but way shorter than the list in AD&D. It also doesn't lead us to believe that this is the gateway to AD&D, this version of the Basic book comes right out and tells us that there is an Expert book coming (Spoiler Alert: I looked in the Expert book and it said there was a Companion book coming too), it doesn't ever imply that we should be moving on to AD&D.

So, you rolled your Abilities picked your class, modified if you wanted to or it was possible, now you roll your Hit Points. The bad news here is that if you are used to AD&D your Hit Die shrunk. A Fighter or a Dwarf get a D8, a Cleric, an Elf or a Halfling get a D6 and the Magic-User and Thief get the D4. I kind of felt bad for my players so I let them roll against me for starting Hit Points, that is to say, we both rolled the appropriate die and kept the higher result. Hit Points are still modified by Constitution and there isn't any of AD&D's preferential treatment given to Fighters, so you could possibly have a 7 HP 1st level Magic-User or Thief.

Next we pick Alignment, there are only three to choose from which is actually a step backwards from Holmes Basic, which had five, but really the whole nine Alignment spectrum was there, just not filled in and defined; anyway, Lawful, which is more or less "Good" or allied to civilization, Chaotic is the opposite of Lawful, generally considered Evil, uncivilized, and selfish. Neutral falls in between the other two, either as unintelligent, and therefore unaligned in anyway, or actively preserving some balance between Law and Chaos, or just kind of libertarian and trying to survive.

Anyway, the thing that struck me right away about the classes was that they were both weaker and slightly stronger than their AD&D counterparts; what I mean by this is that AD&D kind of institutionalized the first iteration that all Player Characters were Heroes, not just average Joe's trying to better their existence through adventuring, AD&D gives you a whole bunch of different character creation methods, but the most common/popular one is probably 4d6 rearrange to taste; that's your first character build right there. AD&D is the first D&D where every player can sit down before the game and discuss what character they are going to play before character generation, that doesn't happen in Moldvay, in Moldvay, as in Holmes and in OD&D, you play the character you roll, it's actually kind of liberating. I had forgotten how much I liked that, much in the same way that I had forgotten how much I liked playing without miniatures when I quit playing 3e.

Now, that, and the fact that they get a smaller Hit Die type than AD&D, shows how they are weaker, so how are they stronger? First, they get an average higher amount of starting money than their AD&D counterparts because every character gets 3d6x10 starting gold; everyone except for Fighters makes out better, and the lower cost of better Armor even helps them out with better AC. They were going to get an AC boost anyway because there are only 9 ACs instead of 10. The thing I think makes Player Characters clearly tougher than their AD&D brethren though is the Morale rules in combat, two Morale checks in every combat encounter means that every encounter is not necessarily a slaughter, especially against the weaker low Hit Die Monsters like Goblins. Sure, when I played this past weekend the four Goblins the party encountered fought to the death, and killed the party's Magic-User in the process, but it was just bad luck there.

Every class has some clearly listed restrictions and special abilities; I could quibble with some of the restrictions, particularly considering the fact that variable weapon damage is an optional rule, but I won't for now. One thing I noticed today, after I'd already read through this section several times, was that Halflings DO NOT have infravision in B/X D&D, I went back and looked it up in Holmes and saw no mention of it there either, so EGG apparently decided in the AD&D PH that all Halflings got infravision, in the AD&D MM only Stouts have it and there is no mention in any book that I have before then; I mention this as a case in point of how hard this project has been, to read through rules text that greatly resembles rules text that you are very familiar with looking for the differences.

Of all the classes and racial classes, the one that I think gets hosed is the Thief. They get the d4 for a Hit Die type, no Dexterity adjustments for their Thief skills and their Thief skills are generally worse than they are for a first level Thief in AD&D. In a statistical anomaly, they are actually worse at finding traps than any other characters, despite it actually being one of their class specialties; a first level B/X Thief can find a trap 10% of the time, any character searching for a trap has a 1 in 6 chance or roughly 16.6% of the time, a Dwarf under the right circumstances doubles that to 2 in 6 or 33.3% of the time. Similarly, Halflings can hide in shadows better, 2 in 6 or 33.3% anywhere, 90% outdoors vs. the Thief's 10% chance at 1st level.

Having rolled our Abilities and chosen a Class then, possibly, adjusted them, picked an Alignment, and rolled for starting money, we move on to buying equipment. Fewer choices, quicker to play. There are literally 40 items on the entire list, I could type the entire thing here, with the prices in about a minute. 3 types of armor, Leather, Chain and Plate. 3 types of sword, Short Sword, Sword (normal) and Two-Handed Sword, I might have named them differently, but I am cool with the choices. Variable weapon damage is an optional rule, although I'd recommend it's use. Crossbows are far less screwed than in AD&D, they only get to fire every other round, but at least it makes more sense given the shorter rounds (10 seconds vs AD&D's 1 minute) and they aren't penalized on damage like in AD&D; that was one of the things that always bugged me about AD&D crossbows are vicious, deadly killers in the real medieval period in AD&D they are just a poor choice of ranged weapon.

Right after the equipment page is a page with Languages, Inheritance, "Hopeless Characters" and the run through of Character Generation. Languages are just a list of suggested languages for all of those characters that rolled a high enough Intelligence score to know any additional languages (13+). There are 20 of them listed so it could be easy to make it a random pick if you were indecisive or didn't care. Inheritance is a rule for inheriting the possessions of your previous character. The only place I have seen a similar rule before was in Hackmaster. This rule curiously applies to the player and is once only per player, so, presumably most older gamers that have played B/X are screwed, they probably used this rule back when they were 12 years old so they could keep their cool items from the Monty-Haul days. There is a 10% inheritance tax applied though. "Hopeless Characters" are a little more loosely defined in Moldvay than they are in AD&D or later editions, a Hopeless Character here is "below average in every ability" or has "more than one very low (3-6) ability score" in which case the DM may declare the character hopeless and allow the player to roll up a new one. The run through of Character Generation is cool for a couple of reasons. First, it is concise and easy to follow. Second, it assumes a girl will be playing D&D; I have rarely been part of a D&D group that didn't have some female players, and most of my players are women these days. I guess I missed the part where D&D was supposed to be girl repellant.

There are a few pages of spells listed after character creation and equipment, I suppose now would be a good time to mention the two things about spell casters that are different than AD&D. First, Clerics don't get a spell at first level, I thought this would be a huge weakness in play for the party but it really wasn't. Second, Magic-Users and Elves get to choose their spell, one first level spell, for their spell book, that's it. AD&D Magic-Users get them assigned semi-randomly, but they get four starting spells, Read Magic, an Offensive, a Defensive and a Miscellaneous spell for their spell books. At second level, the Magic-User or Elf will get a second first level spell, at third level they will receive a second level spell. Now I shall end for today, but I want to talk about the actual spells some next time.

*Not that anyone ever played it that way, but that was the intention, to get everyone playing by the same "official" set of rules for the purposes of tournaments. That's what old Dragon Magazine articles said anyway. I might not be imagining things if I thought there was a more mercenary motive in pushing the AD&D product line over the D&D product line, but then again I might be too.

**I am aware that, technically speaking, 1st edition AD&D predates Moldvay Basic; the Basic D&D line represents an older lineage of D&D gaming, AD&D was the more "modern" descendant.

Oh, and it was D&D bargain week on EBay-

A much better copy of the Cook Expert Book, my other one the cover fell off of.

The Mentzer Expert Book, I never had this one, so I am looking forward to reading through it too.

AC2- Combat Shield & Mini-Adventure, the 1984 publication date indicates it's a Mentzer era D&D product, is it compatible with B/X? I'll have to check the charts and see. When I bought it I was hoping so.

Grenadier's Dragon Lords Monster Manuscript, this one is pretty much just an AD&D monster manual for Grenadier's Monster Manuscript line of miniatures released in 1986-7; still more monsters with unique stats is always a good thing, eh?

Dwarf with a Torch, not too much to say there, I just usually throw down a minimum bid on any miniature I find that's carrying a torch or lantern or backpack or chest. Hireling types are hard to find.

Four Knights with a bonus Thief and Warrior, I really didn't expect to win these guys on the minimum bid either, but I did, I already had at least two of that Grenadier Thief. The Knights are nice, but kind of scrawny even for old 25mm scale, and the Warrior I'll need to strip and repaint, anyone recognize the company?

The High Level Campaign Book I grabbed because it was cheap and I never even saw it before, much less read it.

Ditto the Book of Artifacts, same seller, I must have been asleep for that part of 2nd edition AD&D's life cycle.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A New Game, A New Campaign.

I have been reading the Moldvay Basic rules and have really wanted to give them a spin, that's no secret to anyone that's read my blog recently. I have also had some issues with cast changes and a little bit of player burnout on the Oriental Adventures game, so last week, with the next game date approaching I asked the group if they wanted to take a break from OA and try something different for a bit and they pretty much all said yes.

So, I decided to grab some cool ideas from the OSR blogs I read and I snagged Jeff Rients Wessex map to use for a new campaign map and, since the map said 1139, that's the year I started a new Moldvay Basic campaign, pretty much rules as written*, and away we went. This decision was partly because I studied medieval England pretty hard core in college, partly because my wife and I just watched the entire run of BBC's Brother Cadfael series, and partly because Jeff made the maps and has made it so easy for me.

Now, I know that a hard historical setting isn't what I wanted to do here and, with rules as written, I was going to end up with a lot of Demi-Humans and other Fantasy stuff, I didn't care. Medieval people believed in all kinds of supernatural stuff, so I decided it was real enough to allow anything in the B/X books into the campaign world.

My intention was to start the campaign using Tim Shorts' module "Knowledge Illuminates", because it's a new module and it's old school, best of both worlds, minimal conversion necessary to make it work in Cornwall with Christians, the "real" middle ages and stuff; but everyone couldn't make it, so I held off for next time so everyone could have the fun of a new module. Instead I ran the party through a hastily converted "Castle Caldwell", which I renamed "The Manor at Bodmin Moor"; I snagged Jeff's small scale hex 1004 map too and started them in the village of Endelstow.

The set up was thus-The start date for the campaign was March 1st 1139 AD. Your party were in the village of Endelstow, Cornwall. The party was approached by and took a commission from Richard DuChamps the steward of one Lord Guillaume (or William) de Montfort to restore to him his manor at Bodmin Moor, which had been lost in the recent unpleasantness to Cornish rebels, or possibly Pirates, maybe Witches & Goblins, but most likely rebels. He inherited the castle through his wife Igrayne, who was the sole heiress of her father Sir Richard of Cornwall. They kept asking for more details.

The cast of characters has been so far-
Astrid, a female Thief from Norway, on the run from her homeland because of a blood feud.

Brocc, a male Fighter, a Welshman with a dark secret; OK, his secret is that he is actually the eldest son of an Anglo-Norman Welsh March Lord that ran away from home to be an adventurer because he didn't want to be involved in the impending civil war.

Linnie, a female Dwarf that sadly was slain fighting against a Wolf in the castle courtyard.

Sister Mary Jane Sledgehammer, a female Cleric from a secretive Catholic order devoted to seeking out ancient magical artifacts.

Gwynedd, a female Elf, who is hiding from the Elf queen.

Gerta, a female Magic-User, that also happened to be Jewish, slain in hand to hand combat with a Goblin, after slaying it's brother.

Another male Dwarf, whose name I don't recall, but who is deeply in debt to the Dwarf King.

And last, but not least, Lyanna of Thanet, a female Fighter they found captive in the castle, Linnie's replacement. She's half Norman and half Saxon.

Gerta hasn't been replaced yet.

I am thinking about adding a 1d12 Astrology roll, semi-adapted from "Fantasy Wargaming" for new characters, but I am an inveterate tinkerer.

Also, as it turns out 1139 is going to be an interesting year in England in general and Cornwall in particular, I looked up King Stephen's reign in Wikipedia, the Anarchy is an interesting time.

*Minus Alignment languages, I always thought they were pretty stupid.

Friday, January 20, 2012

AD&D to be Reprinted

In case mine is the only gaming blog you read, I'd be remiss not to spread the biggest D&D news out of WotC since the official announcement that 5th edition is in the works- The core 3 AD&D 1st edition books are going to be re-released by WotC. It's only a limited print run, with some of the proceeds to help the Gygax memorial fund, and only available in North America, but it's a nice gesture anyway.

My wife thinks that I am suffering from battered spouse syndrome with WotC, hoping that they'll treat me better this time since they are being so nice now trying to win me back. Maybe she's right. Maybe they are just trying to gauge the true sales potential of the OSR? Who knows, it's even possible they are actually trying to do what they said they are trying to do and bring us all back together, re-unite the tribes. Make D&D the undisputed king of RPGs again.

I liked what Raggi had to say about it, but I am kind of an edition warrior regardless of what Dungeon Bastard says.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

GM Questionnaire

So, I decided to fill out Zak's Questionnaire, here are my answers.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?

I am apparently a one trick pony, I can come up with good campaign settings. I can fill them with interesting NPCs and get some action started via plot hooks, after that it's all on the players. I don't really invent stuff like tricks, traps, spells or monsters.

2. When was the last time you GMed?

December 18, 2011, but that session and the one before it weren't all that great.

3. When was the last time you played?

Sometime in 2009? Right after Hackmaster Basic came out, my Daughter Ashli decided to debut as a gamemaster using that system, it went well for the first couple of sessions while she had pre-prepared material to work with, but once she had to start working with her own material and we started to do things that weren't covered in the book, things started to go bad; it ended shortly after that while we waited for the release of Frandor's Keep. I bought that for her when it came out, but we never went back to Hackmaster Basic, I think that the ultra-busyness of her senior year of high school and the bad memory of how it had ended before turned her off to the system. No, I forgot, it was last Spring when Lee's 1/2 Orc died, she DMed my campaign for a few sessions while I recharged my DM mojo.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.

B/X Pendragon, more of a campaign really though.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?

Eat, drink, chat with the other players; eventually roll a random encounter.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?

Usually Beef Summer Sausage, a variety of Cheeses, Ritz Crackers and Ranch Dressing or A couple of Different Types of Mustard make the standard "During the Game" snack tray, also Coffee (always), Hot Tea (Black, Green, or some types of Herbal- upon request), Hot Cocoa (upon request), usually some type of soda, always with a couple of diet options for soda. Sometimes the snack tray will include vegetables or other cold meats, this week's game will have Smoked Herring, for example. Since my game is every other week, I have the opportunity to stock up on snack foods when I find them on sale for a good price, so various Potato Chips and flavors of Doritos make their way here pretty frequently too. Since we always break for dinner, we almost always have some kind of food that is either easy and quick to make, or that we can throw in the oven or on the stove and not have to watch too closely, at recent game sessions we have had Beef Stew and Chili Con Carne; or alternately we order Pizza & Wings or Subs. Players are free to bring whatever other snacks they want to as well, as long as they bring enough to share, so this usually adds some Chips, Cookies and Soda to the mix too.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?

No, but I'm not 16 anymore either. I can't play D&D for 16 hours straight and then take a 5 hour nap before another 16 hour session.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?

Planning a tactical assault on a well guarded and somewhat fortified urban mansion with a party of low level PCs? I played a 1st level Magic- User. Seriously, I don't get to play much.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?

Sometimes they do, sometimes I do. It's a game. Sure I may get a little ticked off when one of the players decides to not take the game as deadly serious as I am, at the moment, but aren't we all doing this to have fun and blow off a little of our real life stress and hang out with our friends, and, in my case, my family too? Sometimes this game just takes a turn for the absurd, and there is nothing you can do to turn it around. When it's one player, it CAN get contagious, when it's the DM it WILL get contagious. The less said about the gay Orc discotheque, the better or the naked no-thumbed Orcs. Why do these things keep happening to Orcs?

10. What do you do with goblins?

After what happened to the Orcs, do you really want to know? Seriously, they're mostly evil cannon fodder.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?

The floor plan of a Korean bath house.

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?

Funny things happen all the time at my game. We have a pretty fun loving group of players, but nothing springs to mind specifically.

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?

Moldvay Basic Book, reading it cover to cover for a blog post.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?

Tough choice here, but I am going to go with Dave Trampier.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?

I would have to say no. Occasionally a little creeped out, but really scared, no; again, it's just a game.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)

Tough to say, I almost always heavily rewrite adventure modules anyway, because if I don't I am afraid I'll forget something important because I didn't write it, and the potential problem of players having read the adventure before hand. The only adventure I can run with a minimum of preparation AND be sure I am not forgetting anything is B2.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?

That would depend on the game now wouldn't it? An ideal set up for a WW II board game is going to be different than the ideal set up for a Star Trek RPG, but for the sake of argument I'll assume you meant ideal for D&D. Ideal for D&D would need to have some medieval ambiance in the room, a table large enough to seat 9 people at least, with room for books, snacks, an optional battle mat and minis. Good lighting. Access to a nearby rest room and kitchen facility, should probably be the DM's residence. Side table for the DM. Bookshelves are a plus, so reference books are in the same room. A good sound system would be nice too. Since we're going for ideal, I'd have a computer at the DM station too. The DM's chair would be more like a throne, so he sat higher up and in a nicer chair, projecting his more powerful status to the players. Actually with some redecoration, my old DM Marty's dining room where we used to play in his 2nd edition campaign comes pretty close, the only issues are that I am the usual DM now, his reference books were in an upstairs library room and it was a little on the small side.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?

Star Fleet Battles and Munchkin, they have got to be sitting at opposite ends of the spectrum.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?

Higher education, my 1st edition AD&D DMG, Conan the Barbarian, King Arthur.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?

People who follow the Wheaton Rule. Other than that be clean, no stereotypical gamers here; be on time and attentive to the game, it's respectful to the rest of the gamers here. It helps if we're already friends and would hang out with each other even if there wasn't a D&D game going on, because sometimes shit happens and we don't get to play D&D when we're supposed to and that can get awkward when there is a stranger that I only really know from D&D in my house.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?

Armored Combat with Sword & Shield (and other weapons) both in singles tournaments and in mêlée.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?

AD&D 2nd edition Oriental Adventures. I think it would have cleaned up a lot of the problems of the 1st edition version and probably would not have abandoned the Kara-Tur setting like 3e did.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?

I have in the past talked with people about RPGs that didn't play, but not with any regularity. Usually they either decide to give RPGs a shot themselves or we don't really talk about them after a while.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Remember Back Before?

No, this isn't about life before D&D, I am talking about life before the internet and how much it sucked. Remember what it used to be like back in the days before you could Google something or look it up on Wikipedia in seconds? You had to travel to a library or seek out an expert in the subject matter you had a question about. Encyclopedias helped a little, but became outdated pretty much as soon as they were printed. SOPA and it's little brother PIPA will kill the internet. I am not sure why the US congress has decided that they need internet censorship laws that rival those in China, Iran or Syria; just for different reasons, but some members of congress have the misguided notion that these bills are a good idea. This post here is my formal protest against them.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Few More Things

I recently found out that this blog post of mine is one of the top five hits in a Google search for 5th edition D&D, so I think that makes me one of the OSR's top voices with regard to the development of D&D's new edition, right?

My first ever poll ended, and was kind of a dismal failure. Maybe I didn't hype it well enough. I was hoping that the larger sample size of people reading this blog would help gauge more accurately the popularity of earth cultures to represent in my Garnia campaign world, but fewer people actually answered the poll here than did on my Garnia development blog.

I am still not done with my reading and analysis of Moldvay's Basic rules. Yes, it is taking a lot longer than I thought it would, there have been some extenuating circumstances keeping me from devoting as much time as I would have liked to to the project and the project is just taking longer than I thought it would.

I also got these things in the mail recently and I am pretty sure I forgot to mention them or show the pictures.

Saga I had a copy of, but realized that it was incomplete, so I sought out another copy since I consider it to be one of TSR's better minigames. The pack animal miniatures were a semi-rare find on EBay, I paid more than I like to for old school miniatures for them, but for some reason pack animals are always hard to find and never cheap. I find the same thing to be true to a slightly lesser extent for torchbearers and other obvious hireling types.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

OK then.

I just wanted to make a quick note today, because I mentioned yesterday that I was planning on posting some of my observations about Moldvay Basic today and it's not going to happen. I am running behind because my research is taking longer than I had planned. I have found that reading rules that are very similar to rules that I already know has to be done in short spurts, otherwise I start to skim them instead of really paying attention. Also, my Mother-in-Law came to visit today with her sister, the trip that was postponed from last Sunday due to car trouble. It was a nice visit, but it took a lot of my reading and writing time today. So it will be at least one more day, possibly longer, before I get my observations out to you all. I am sure they'll be ground breaking and change the course of the OSR though, so stay tuned.

In other news I found a stash of old AD&D and D&D modules today, some absolutely pristine, some pretty well used; in no particular order- H2, H4, B1, UK1, MV1, UK7, C1, C2, C4, C5, G1-2-3, D1-2, Q1, N1, X12, CM6, WG4, WG6, A1, A2, A3, A4, I4, I6, N3, S1-4, S1x2, S2x2, S3, S4, X1, X8, CM3, X10, GDQ1-7 and the cover of U1. The best of the lot being GDQ1-7 and the worst being one of the copies of S1, these are in addition to my other box of modules that mostly contain B, S, A and OA series modules and where T1-4 used to live.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Spreading the OSR

One of my players, Dalton, has started his own AD&D first edition campaign, and it's been going pretty well from what I hear. He has a group of teen-agers playing 1st edition AD&D several times per week. I think it's cool that he has been able to drag his fellow teens away from video games, texting and whatever else it is kids these days are doing and get them enthused about playing some D&D at all, much less a version that was published when I was younger than they are now. He got almost all of his D&D experience as a player at my table, so I feel a little proud of him too.

Now, from time to time he asks me for a bit of old school DMing advice and I usually have no problem handing it out, but the other day he asked me for some old school DM tricks, the kind of things that turn players from newbies into veterans; paranoid, experienced, veteran dungeon-crawlers. Now, I got to thinking about this and came up with some memories of the most vile, evil tricks and traps that DMs ever sprang on me as a player; not the Killer-DM type stuff, but the stuff that teaches valuable lessons about playing D&D, particularly in a dungeon environment, the stuff that teaches caution and teamwork and keeps the party on it's toes.

So, I advised a few simple things like putting the occasional pit trap in a hall way, or trapping the lock on a chest/desk/whatever with the old spring-loaded poisoned needle. I mentioned that the opening sequence of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was a pretty good primer on traps in dungeons in general. I told him it probably couldn't hurt to read through, or run his players through, some of the old TSR B series modules. I thought about the lessons I had learned as an adventurer in dungeons and the stuff DMs had done to my characters. There's a reason the 10' pole is on the equipment list and the Iron Spikes and pretty much every item that isn't a weapon; they have a use, otherwise they would not be there.

So, my first longtime DM Tim used to regularly trap the treasure and a favorite thing to do with piles of gold pieces was to cover them with Yellow Mold. I passed that little gem along. I mentioned that, in dungeons, a certain percentage of rooms should have unguarded treasure, this is mostly to lure you into a false sense of security for when treasure appears to be unguarded. Sometimes treasure will be guarded by a trap, mention when they open the door that there is a treasure chest sitting, perhaps enticingly open, on the other side of the room; allow time for each player to say what they intend to do, but not too much time, usually the greediest will rush forward to see what treasure is in the chest. Pit trap for everyone that ran into the room.

There are actually quite a few variations on this theme, you can also punish the really paranoid one that hangs back with, say, a scything blade triggered by those that rushed into the room stepping on a pressure plate or tripping a wire or something. Lance called while Dalton was at my house and we were talking and he offered up as his "Evil DM Trick", same premise as mine, apparently unguarded treasure on the other side of the room. This time the DM just assumes the first person to respond saying they are going in to check it out, before anyone else gets to say anything about checking for traps or all going in together or anything, enters the room; as soon as that happens a portcullis descends trapping the PC in the room and a secret door opens into the room allowing an undead, Golem or automaton of some sort entry into the room with the lone PC. The rest of the party can then see the lone PC fight against this creature, but only assist, at best, minimally; they mostly just get to watch him die. Admittedly, this skirts the edge of killer DM territory, but it does teach a lesson about leaping before looking.

I have actually already given Dalton some of the best advice I could in the form of the Old School Primer and links to various blog posts written by other OSR bloggers, I also gave him a couple of old AD&D books.

See now, as a DM, I moved my campaigns largely away from dungeon exploration a long time ago, so I don't have a ready repertoire of "Evil DM Tricks" like this, just stuff I remember from the old days. I am re-learning all the old dungeon based DM stuff myself, like tracking time and resource management and encumbrance; but mostly dungeon design and the tricks and traps and stuff that go with it. I have gotten kind of lazy with things like wandering monsters, I usually only roll for them in a dungeon when the players have bogged down and lost focus, I find nothing refocuses a party's attention like a random encounter. I hate drawing dungeon maps, I think they always look like crap and I always think that even a random dungeon would probably be better than what I could come up with; I am going to have to bite the bullet though and actually create an honest to goodness dungeon. I have done it before, I have even done it pretty well before, although I think my best efforts are derivative of EGG's work.

Anyone got a favorite "Evil DM Trick" to share?

Preview for tomorrow- I have been reading Moldvay Basic and have a few things to say.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Iterations of D&D

I have written before about how I play 1st edition AD&D, but it's really a mash-up of Holmes Basic, B/X, 1st and 2nd edition AD&D right? I even started writing a B/X WW II game. The other day it occurred to me that I have never actually played Moldvay Basic or even read through the book completely. I have read sections of it. I have looked things up in it. Moldvay's Red Basic book wasn't one I had as a kid though and I went straight to AD&D away from "kiddie D&D" as quick as I could. I think I have done myself a disservice. I have been reading through the Moldvay Basic book, straight through, since the announcement of D&D's impending "5th" edition. I don't really know why I picked it up, I had been reading through my GURPS Imperial Rome supplement, because I had just written about some old Roman campaigns I had run back in the 1990s and my interest was piqued.

But the more I read the Moldvay rules the more I like the simple elegance of them. Holmes Basic was really just OD&D cleaned up and edited into something slightly easier to wrap your head around; honestly after rereading the Holmes Basic book I am shocked that I ever figured out how to play D&D as a kid. Moldvay is pretty clear and simple by comparison. Holmes Basic will always be my first love, but I have to admit that B/X was really a better product.

Which leads me to this next point- I really want to actually play some B/X D&D, or DM it, since that's more likely to realistically happen. I skipped B/X back in 1981 for the most part on my way to AD&D with it's myriad of options and just the prestige of the "Advanced" version of the game being the more grown up one to play. Sure, there was a little confusion at the time, I bought a Basic D&D boxed set in 1980; Holmes Basic as it turned out; I got the Expert boxed set the next year (because it took us up to level 14!), although I already owned the AD&D Monster Manual; the obvious progression we all thought at the time was that you went from Basic to Expert to Advanced, not that Advanced was a totally separate, but related and nearly 100% compatible game. That I just happened to get caught in a different, earlier edition of Basic before moving on to Expert was just one of those odd growing pains I had on the way to Advanced D&D.

I'd like to give B/X a shot on it's own, without being stuck in the shadow of either Holmes or AD&D.

Who's with me?

I also had a few thoughts on TSR's last iteration of D&D, the one published postmortem, 3e and the D20 system. I might have liked the changes they made to the system in general if they had made certain subsystems optional and up to the DM's judgment. I am thinking particularly of the Feats and Skills, which seem like the core of the D20 system, but they're not; D&D is. Feats and Skills are an add-on that I think you could rip out and make the game pretty cool. Simplifying the saving throws was a good idea. Simplifying the Ability scores was a good idea, and it goes back to older editions of D&D than any edition of AD&D. Ascending AC was actually a pretty good idea, no matter how much me and the rest of the Grognards hate it; we only hate it because it's different and we hate change.

Now, this isn't going to turn into a 3e love-fest here, there's still plenty of stuff I didn't like. I didn't like renaming healing potions potions of cure light wounds for instance, or hyperfast leveling or the loss of multi-classing or the art direction that it took; but a lot of that could be house-ruled by the DM (except for the crap art, you're just stuck with that), once you ditch the feats and skills. Feats and skills are what made the entire D20 system slow and bound to the battle board. As a DM if you want multi-classing back in your 3e game, just do it, the same way you used to in previous editions. Too fast leveling? Double the XP required to level and reduce the XP/encounter to 10% of what it's "supposed" to be.

Now, you are going to say "What about thieves? (or Rogues I guess, right?)", OK, some skills can stay in the game, reduce drastically the number of skill points/level and limit them to "Thief" type skills. This works for Bards too, just give them even fewer. Never let someone just make a Search or Spot check, I am just brainstorming here, maybe we should just eliminate all the 3e/D20 skills and put in AD&D Thief Skills in their place. I haven't really thought it through too much. My point is D&D is the DM's game, he should be able to hack it how he wants to fit his vision; I don't understand how or why the D20/3e system's codification of everything scared us all and handed over our good judgment to the rules lawyers.

Now, I will repeat my call for Wizards of the Coast to publish the next D&D under the TSR imprint, out of respect for the continuity for the game and it's creators; and because the only version of D&D that they were solely responsible for caused more division in the D&D playing community than any other edition ever published. Resurrect TSR, and bring back the older edition TSR stuff in at least a PDF format legally. You say D&D next is going to be compatible with all of the older editions anyway, right? So sell us all that older edition stuff we missed out on too! PDFs and print on demand services cost you nothing, they do make you profits though and they generate goodwill with the fan base that you have alienated.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

D&D 5th edition Wishlist

OK, I know I said yesterday that I'd not speculate on what WotC was going to do with D&D and that I'd just get back to my own business, but my contrary brain wouldn't stop thinking about it, so here it is.

Point One- Ditch the full color, expensive art on every page; black & white line art can be just as evocative and it's easier for kids to afford or for parents to buy for their kids when the book is $20-25.00 rather than $40+ . I also would prefer an art direction that takes us stylistically back to a more realistically medieval look rather than dungeon punk, but I may get out voted on that. That said, feel free to mix it up some too, David C. Sutherland III, D.A. Trampier, Tom Wham and Jean Wells all got art credits in the 1st edition AD&D Monster Manual, David C. Sutherland and D.A. Trampier got them for the 1st edition Players Handbook, David C. Sutherland, D.A. Trampier, Darlene Pekul, Will McLean, David S. La Force and Erol Otus got them for the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide; I could go on and list the art credits for various other old D&D and AD&D books , modules and supplements I have, but I think my point is well made- Stylistically these various artists vary quite a bit within the same products and that's OK; all of them can represent D&D.

Point Two- Get rid of the instant gratification. People, even the kids you have been trying to attract get bored when you hand them everything they want on a silver platter. D&D was designed for long term campaign play. Sure, one of the biggest complaints going into 3rd edition was that nobody ever got to play high level characters because campaigns never lasted long enough, dropping the amount of XP required to level alone should have fixed the problem, you didn't need to amp up the amount of XP everything was worth too. I get that nobody likes being 1st level, but everyone feels a sense of real accomplishment when they make it to second, third, fourth and so on under the old rules; now everyone knows that they are going to level pretty much every time they play and it steals the sense of accomplishment from the players and replaces it with a sense of entitlement.

Point Three- Put the danger back in. This goes hand-in-hand with the last point. Since 3rd edition the PCs have been pretty much gods walking the earth, and the encounter scaling system doesn't help this problem. If there is no danger, no real fear of death and failure, then there is no real sense of accomplishment for the players there either. I am not familiar with 4th edition myself, but I have heard stories from my players who tell me that the power levels of PCs are even higher, and therefore worse, than they were in 3rd edition. Get rid of at will, per encounter, per day, per whatever powers; these are still supposed to be people adventuring not superheroes.

Point four- Make skills, feats & powers optional if you include them at all. Obviously I am biased against them, but I might still be playing a new version of D&D if they had made it easy to rip out the parts I didn't like as simply optional sub-systems.

Point Five- Scale back races and classes to the core four, at least at first. I write a lot about 1st edition AD&D and I sometimes lose sight of the fact that post-Gygaxian D&D has gotten way more complex and both class and race heavy than EGG was taking us when he was dismissed from TSR. 2nd edition gave us the endless series of Complete X splatbooks with their numerous kits and subraces. 3x did the same thing and called them Prestige classes instead of Kits. 4th edition, apparently, just published newer Player's Handbooks with new races and classes.

Point Six- Design the entire system first, before releasing anything. Nothing screws things up worse than having a great idea added to a game half way through it's life cycle and then making it mandatory for play. While you're at it remember to fire the first guy that says every class needs to be balanced equally with each other at every level, and then everyone that brings it up again after that. The classic D&D experience was full of unbalanced things and nobody cared, it was part of the fun. People played their characters then instead of these horribly optimized min/maxed things they use for their tactical combat game they call D&D these days. Also, some randomness is a good thing.

Point Seven- Bring back the OGL or something at least as liberal as it was. Get every other game company making product for your game again, it only makes sense, it increases your power and prestige in the marketplace when everything in the game shop says "requires 5th edition D&D to play", or has a D&D logo on it. Hell, give away the D&D license too, let other companies meet a more stringent quality control level and share their profits with you. Lucas does this with Star Wars video games, novels, comics, whatever, all it takes is hiring on a couple of people to make sure they aren't trying to print the adventure "Sex-Slaves of the Under-City" with a D&D logo on it, and if they do, you have the legal Death Star called Hasbro to back you up and destroy them

Point Eight- License official D&D miniatures from every manufacturer that wants to make them and can meet a decent level of quality control and make them all to the same scale and look like the pictures in the Monster Manual and other books, again, this could be done at no cost to you except making sure their product doesn't suck. It really doesn't matter if they are pre-painted plastic or resin or metal, as long as they meet your standard. The cost is all on them and they share the profits with you. They take the risk, you get the reward.

Point Nine- Bring back Dragon magazine as a real, print magazine. Seriously, and make it a real magazine that covers all of gaming again instead of a house organ. Back when D&D was big Dragon Magazine was the one thing that every gamer tried to get every month, players and DMs alike, it had something for everyone. But don't spend more than a third of your magazine space on previewing your own upcoming products, or doing tie-ins to recently released products, or reviewing your own products (unless you have an independent reviewer that's allowed to call you out on a suck product); cover everything in the RPG world, some board game love wouldn't hurt either and I guess I could live with card games getting some space every now and again too.

Point Ten- Don't fuck with us. You say you are going to listen, then listen. Right now you are all conciliatory, you want to re-unite the tribes under your banner. I know this is because you are weak and getting beaten in sales by Pathfinder. Your biggest competitors are your previous editions, that's why the OSR exists. I have spent more money on old TSR product in the last decade than I have on any D&D produced by WotC. If I buy new RPG product at all, my money usually goes to Kenzer & Company, the last time Wizards of the Coast got money for an RPG book from me it was $39.95 for the Saga edition core rules in 2007. I want to love D&D, not OSRIC, Pathfinder, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry or Adventures Dark & Dangerous or any other retro-clone, but you are not making it easy.

Point Eleven- Resurrect TSR. Just as an imprint, a separate division within Wizards of the Coast. Wizards of the Coast is a CCG manufacturer and it has the reputation as the company that killed TSR and D&D. TSR invented RPGs. Avalon Hill still gets to be a quasi-separate entity within your empire, and it is a good thing from the perspective that it gives a sense of continuity to the hobby of war gaming. Bringing back TSR would do the same thing I think for RPGs and it would be a show of good faith that you were going to take D&D seriously this time around.

Point Twelve- Release the PDF library of old editions of D&D again. Removing them from being able to be legally purchased made them only available illegally, you created a piracy problem that was almost non-existent by being draconian about piracy and insisting that everyone only play the current version of the game. I didn't need the PDFs for the most part, but I know a lot of people did, that said I would not hesitate to take illegally that which you made impossible to obtain legally if I felt I needed a module or a copy of a book I didn't have and could not find at a reasonable price in the secondary marketplace.

Now, down to nuts and bolts, I would like very much for them to put out a beginners boxed set. Not like the Pathfinder box, although, by all accounts, it is very nice. I want them to do something very much like Moldvay or Mentzer Basic. Simple. Doesn't require miniatures or tokens or a battle map; just dice, pencil, paper and imagination. I think race as class is a dead concept these days, killed by time out of favor if nothing else, so I won't try and push for that. This set should include a players book and a DMs book and a beginners module like B1 or B2 or both, it should also focus on dungeon exploration and the first few levels of play, maybe 1-5.

Follow that up with an Expert boxed set. Give new DMs advice on how to take the game out of the dungeon and into wilderness exploration. Include a module like X1 and a bare bones campaign setting, D&D's the Known World AKA Mystara by choice, my reasoning I'll get to later. This should cover levels 6-15 maybe. Add in a few more modular optional rules, for more granularity if the players and DMs want to add them.

Concurrent with the release of the Expert set, I'd release the Advanced D&D Monster Manual. Every monster in it would be 100% compatible with the B/X sets, they would just have a little extra rules crunch to them that wasn't yet explained. More monster choices are always welcomed. This would probably end year one of 5th edition D&D.

Next add a Master boxed set, obviously by the time you are DMing for characters that are this level, you are probably not a newbie DM anymore, but the game focus and scale has changed and there needs to be advice on how to handle this. More optional rules should be added here, including rules for mass combat and warfare, the governing of domains and the challenges they face and what else to do with higher level characters. Have it cover levels 16+

Maybe a few months after the release of the Master boxed set, I'd release the new AD&D Player's Handbook, it would have a couple more race options and a few more class options. This would probably be where I added an optional skill system, or expanded it if it was already in the game. This is the place to add 1/2 Elves, 1/2 Orcs and Gnomes as player races. I'm not fool enough to believe we can turn back the clock to limit Demi-Humans in either class or level, but I'd make specific mention as an optional rule that some specific campaign settings have specific rules regarding those things.

Probably concurrent with the release of the AD&D PH should be the Dungeon Master's Guide, and it should be a weighty tome filled with advice and tables and all manner of rules explanations and clarifications for the DM. Use the 1st edition AD&D DMG as a guide when designing it, every one since has been lacking. I hear the Pathfinder GM book is quite good though, so maybe you all should take a look at that too. Mostly it should reinforce for the DM that he is there to keep the game moving, if he can't find a rule or there is an argument about how a rule works, it is his job to be the final arbiter; to make the judgment. The DM is not against the players, but he isn't necessarily for them either.

From here you can have a fairly robust release schedule that will keep both the publisher and the consumers, us gamers, happy. For instance, every year we can release a new monster book, this can be done for a number of years just updating the already extant monsters in the D&D/AD&D canon from OD&D up through 4th Edition and including everything from the modules and BECMI/Cyclopedia. Updating classic modules for release in the new edition, you could do one of these a month and get years worth of sales. Battlesystem/Chainmail/Whatever-You-Want-To-Call-It the tactical miniature game will always have a market, particularly if it is integrated into the rules system as a method of handling large combats, and it will drive miniature sales; done properly this can be linked to a more mass scale combat system too and then you'll be able to sell army list books for different factions in different campaign worlds. Speaking of campaign worlds, you own a bunch of them and some of them are pretty damned popular, release a boxed set for each one of them. Run a column in Dragon magazine for your old TSR worlds. I think the ones with the biggest numbers of fans are Greyhawk, The Forgotten Realms and The Known World (Mystara), but that may be skewed by my OSR reading habits, re-release them in their classic forms with the new rules. Once those classic worlds are released, put out a hard cover book for them that will cover all the crunchy rules specifics of the campaign setting for people that really want to amp it up. Region books for campaign settings, like the D&D gazetteer series could keep you going for a while too. Race books could give us sub-races, racial classes, whatever. Class books that open up options for various classes and add prestige classes or sub-classes or kits or whatever you want to call them. Remember Players Option: Skills and Powers and Combat and Tactics? AD&D 2.5, something like that could add back in some of the crunchiness that 3rd & 4th edition fans want for their games, while leaving it optional for the rest of us. New books with more spells will always be welcomed too, so a spell compendium every so often would be cool I suppose, provided it didn't screw with the power curve. 2nd edition AD&D gave us all of those HR books too, now mostly they were not great, but the premise was good

Now what not to do, do not put a rule in a core book and then contradict it in a later release. That's why I said to make the entire system first. If you say that only Fighters can specialize with weapons, then don't let anyone else, even Fighter sub-classes do it, and don't give them an ability that mimics specialization with a different name. If you say in the core book that a Fighter can only specialize with one weapon, don't say in a later book that he can specialize under some circumstances with more than one. If you say that all of your martial classes are going to have their options covered in this one book, don't later release a book specifically for Rangers or Paladins. This applies, obviously, to every class and race. You should also keep to your production schedule for stuff, even if it doesn't look like it's going to sell well, you could always sell it as a PDF or print on demand, but people are going to be pissed if you said you were going to publish the "Kara-Tur Compendium" and you don't. Your word needs to be your bond if we are going to trust you again.

Follow this release schedule and between a monthly magazine, annual monster book releases, classic modules revamped for the new edition, new modules being written for the new edition, and presumably at least three campaign settings getting significant support through boxed sets, hardcover sourcebooks and gazetteers, the race and class books, historical sourcebooks, a possible line of army books for the associated miniature battle game, and more advanced player, and presumably, DM, option books I think that this could easily sustain profits through the entirety of the 5th edition D&D life cycle. Don't expect any love though if there's 5.5 in three years though of 6th edition is in less than a decade.