Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Monsters & Treasure Part 5

We begin today with a number of magical creatures, generally those that are summoned intpo the game by magic.

INVISIBLE STALKERS: These are invisible creatures created by the spell of the same name, that obey the orders of the caster. They're faultless trackers and pursue their mission to the exclusion of all else. When that's done they return to their "non-dimension" - canonically this is the Elemental Plane of Air. The only way to stop them is to kill them, but you can do it with a Dispell Magic as well - which is odd, because the spell description specifically said they can't be dispelled. I'm going to rule it like this - the Invisible Stalker can be sent home with a Dispell Magic spell; the reference in D&D Vol. 1 means that it can't be dismissed by the caster, which can have consequences as detailed below.

If the Stalker is made to perform tasks that take a long time, they'll try to pervert the mission to screw their master over. There's even a possibility that the caster will be whisked off to the Stalker's own plane and held in suspended animation. So use these guys wisely!

ELEMENTALS: As would be expected, the four classics are here: air, earth, fire and water. The strength of an elemental depends on the method used to summon it, and strangely enough it's the spell that summons the strongest - I thought it would be the other way around, since the spell is the most easily accessible of the three methods.

Only one of each type can be conjured in a day - and that goes for everyone in the game. If your opponent summons a Fire Elemental, you won't be able to do the same until tomorrow. This makes me wonder what happens if some guy on the other side of the planet summons a Fire Elemental - is it a global thing? Of course not - we'll call it a localised phenomenon, and chalk it up to either fickle elementals or a magical limitation due to the unknowns of piercing dimensional barriers.

Air Elementals fly all the time, get a damage bonus in the air, and can turn into a whirlwind. This will sweep those under 2 hit dice away - but there's nothing said on its effect on stronger creatures.

Earth Elementals can't cross water, but they deal 3d6 damage per hit on those touching the ground, which is pretty brutal. They can also batter down walls, so they're handy in a siege.

Fire Elementals score more damage against non-fire users, cannot cross water, but can set stuff on fire. You need a large body of flame to summon one.

Water elementals generally don't leave the water, and deal more damage when in it. Like Fire Elementals, you need a lot of water to summon one.

A summoned elemental has to be mentally controlled by the summoner at all times, or it'll go berserk and try to kill him. And they can only be hit by magic weapons, so good luck to your M-U if this happens to him.

Elementals are in Chainmail. It states that fire-breathing dragons can't affect Fire and Earth Elementals, which is fair enough. Otherwise there are no changes.

DJINN: Ah, the spelling. Noobs never know what this thing is until you tell them it's a Genie. But they have a load of special abilities - they fight as giants, can carry a lot, create food and drinks and items of wood or softer, create temporary metal items, cast illusions, form whirlwinds, turn invisible and become gaseous. It's not a lot of offensive power, but they'd rock as henchmen.

Djinn are in Chainmail, briefly noted as a type of Air Elemental, which fits well enough.

EFREET: Like the Djinn, but fiery, and Djinn are their enemies. Their home is said to be the City of Brass, and so we have our first D&D extra-planar location named. Otherwise they do a bit more damage than a Djinn, can carry more, and can create a Wall of Fire. They also serve for 1,001 days, though how you get one to serve you isn't spelled out.

Efreet are in Chainmail, briefly noted as a type of Fire Elemental.

OCHRE JELLY: Oozes! There's little that's more D&D than the various oozes and molds and fungi monsters. Each one has its gimmicky immunities and vulnerabilities, and because the oozes aren't specifically memorable the players can get them mixed up a bit. The Ochre Jelly is an amoeba, immune to weapons and lightning but vulnerable to fire and cold. Hits split them into smaller versions. They also dissolve wood and flesh, and can seep through small cracks.

BLACK PUDDING: There are also apparently Gray Puddings. It's said to be a nuisance monster, but with 10 hit dice and a damage output of 3d6 they're nothing to sneeze at. They're immune to cold, split by weapons and lightning, but killed by fire. And just because they weren't deadly enough they dissolve metal (which means weapons and armor), they can seep through cracks and they can travel on the walls and ceiling. A great monster for harassing PCs wherever they hole up (so long as it's not an extradimensional space).

GREEN SLIME: Getting your character killed by Green Slime is a kind of old-school initiation rite, I think. Fire and cold can kill it, but it's immune to weapons and lightning. It eats wood and metal, and sticks to flesh - and after one turn the victim is turned to green slime himself! It can be scraped off or burned off or healed by Cure Disease, but it's still awesome.

GRAY OOZE: The Gray Ooze resembles stone, so it's hard to see in a dungeon, as well as being immune to fire and cold. It corrodes metal, so when you accidentally step in one your leg armor will probably dissolve. It also eats flesh, as if that was ever in doubt.

YELLOW MOLD: Underground fungus that can be killed only by fire. Touching it deals damage to you, and it also has spores of the save-or-die variety. It's probably the most potentially deadly of the ooze/fungi group - try putting one at the bottom of your goblin's 10-foot pit, and watch your players wail.

HORSES: You know what they are. Their carrying capacities get listed, and it's noted that those not trained for battle are spooked by fire and strange smells. Also, Mules are great because they can go in dungeons. I already have a Mule pencilled in for my next character.

INSECTS OR SMALL ANIMALS: A vague guide for making stats up yourself. Which is fair enough - devote the space to monsters, not animals!

LARGE INSECTS OR ANIMALS: Again it's more of a guide, but it mentions giant ants and Tyrannosaurus Rex, so it gets bonus points. We also get our first glimpse at the Warrior of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs influence, with Martian creatures such as Apts, Banths, and Thoats being mentioned under this category. The original Greyhawk campaign had at least one character venture to Mars, so I must have it as a possibility, probably via a portal in Castle Greyhawk or the one I'm placing under the Adventurer's Guild (see earlier posts for more on that).

And to finalize the monster section (at last!) there are a number of other creatures that get very small descriptions. Most of these monsters showed up in later supplements, much as they are described here. Titans are said to be giants with magical abilities (correct!), Cyclopses are stronger giants with poor depth perception (who knows, they were never in AD&D to my experience), juggernauts are huge statues on wheels that roll over their enemies under guidance from an unearthly force (correct!), Living Statues are stone or iron beings that come alive to attack trespassers (correct in Basic D&D, but called Golems in AD&D), Salamanders are free-willed reptilian fire elementals (correct), and Gelatinous Cubes as transparent creatures that fit exactly the dimensions of the dungeon corridor that absorb items and may have metal ones floating in them. They even describe the infamous iron golem encountered by Gary's characters that was immune to everything but the weapons it guarded, had fire breath, a poison sword, and a whip of cockatrice feathers to turn its victims to stone. This was encountered in Castle Maure, as shown in the module Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure - that module will be part of the original elements I'll be mixing into the sandbox.

Robots, Golems and Androids also get briefly mentioned as self-explanatory. The second were rolled into Living Statues above, and the other two never really got further developed in D&D - I'll be throwing them in somewhere, possibly when the PCs jaunt off to other worlds. I certainly won't be neglecting the sci-fi/fantasy mash-up at the heart early D&D.

That's it for monsters, and it's heartening to see that the majority of them appear in the form they would keep in later editions of the game. On Monday I'll tackle the Treasure Tables, as well as a host of magical items - Swords, Armor, Weapons, Potions, Scrolls and Rings.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Monsters & Treasure Part 4

I'm dealing with a whole bunch of stuff today, from gargoyles to dwarves to griffons.

GARGOYLES: These are the classic monsters that look like statues of winged demons. I love 'em, but you can only have a statue jump out and shout "Bleagh, I kill you!" once, and then it will never work again. The thing that makes Gargoyles cool is that they're so hostile that they ignore the standard reaction chart, and attack 75% of the time without provocation. They don't care much for alignment either, killing Chaotics with equal abandon. They're semi-intelligent, which is kind of a back-handed compliment, but it means that they'll use at least a bit of planning. And they're only hit by magical weapons, which makes them out of the reach of low-level parties. Sure, they're a one-trick monster that most parties will see coming a mile away, but their innate hostility to everything makes them a bit more interesting.

LYCANTHROPES: There are four kinds included - werewolves (natch), werebears (for the Beorn fans out there), weretigers and wereboars. Now the first two are fantasy staples, but where did the others come from? I suspect from some mythology I'm not overly familiar with, but it would be good to know.

Anyway, as you'd expect they're only hit by silver and magical weapons. They form packs of 2-4 or family packs of 5-8. The family packs are two adults and a whole lot of children, and what that implies is that lycanthropes are a race in themselves, rather than a curse passed on to humans. Thankfully they can still pass it on if they hit a character for 50% of his total hit points - you can't beat the classics after all. But that means there are natural lycanthropes and ones who have contracted it - how would they relate to each other, I wonder?

Back to the family packs, if you attack the kids the mother goes berserk, and if you attack the mother the father goes berserk. Nice to see where a man's true priorities lie!

Werewolves and werebears are in Chainmail. The only extra ability they get from there is that they are always accompanied by regular animals of their own kind. It doesn't say how many, though, so I'll wing it somehow, probably using the Number Appearing from this book. I guess those lycanthropes in the dungeon don't have these animals, and those found above-ground do - there aren't many bears roaming about in the Underworld, after all.

NIXIES: And now we arrive at the section for irritating fey creatures that DMs don't use much. I'm going to change that for sure! Nixies are neutral water sprites that seek to lure humans underwater to enslave them for a year. To this end they can cast a Charm Person spell. Now apparently any charmed character goes underwater and serves for a year - but it doesn't say whether they can breathe there or not! The implication is yes, but there's room for DMs to kill the PCs here. Then again, enslavement for a year will probably piss them off more than death, so I'll go with that.

Nixies don't fight that well, but they're usually guarded by a whole mess of fish like pike, muskie and gar. I don't know fish besides what gets put on my plate, but I assume these are vicious buggers to avoid.

PIXIES: There's a whole alphabet of possible -ixie creatures waiting to be discovered, but mercifully Gary stops at two. Pixies are air sprites that can become invisible at will and stay that way in combat, so you can imagine how much fun they'd be to fight. Only magic can reveal them, but they can also be seen by Dragons, and apparently high-level fighters as well (Chainmail implies that this is an ability of Super-Heroes, so I'll go with that).

From Chainmail we learn that the annoying little beggars can only fly for three rounds in a row before landing. There's a bit about their invisibility being useless after the first combat round as opponents will note shadows and air distortion, but I attribute that to the high numbers involved in mass battles - a smaller group of Pixies can remain invisible in combat. And looking at the charts up the back of Chainmail, I see that Wraiths, Rocs, Dragons and Superheroes can detect invisible enemies. Sorted.

DRYADS: Ah, the topic of many a misspent D&D session I assure you. Anyway, they're beautiful tree sprites that have to stay near to their own tree. They are said to be shy and non-violent (so what are they doing here in D&D then?) but they've got a powerful Charm they'll throw at anyone following them, and anyone affected never returns from the forest (ah, that's what they're doing here). They are said to have exact knowledge of the woods around them, but considering they can't go further than 240 yards away from their tree, that doesn't mean a lot.

GNOMES: Smaller dwarves, longer beards. Live in hills and burrows, more reclusive than dwarves. Dwarf-lite. Chainmail tells us they hate kobolds. Nothing new here.

DWARVES: It's time for the PC races to get their entries (two of them anyway - where are Hobbits?). First up we get an answer to one dilemma - how to convert the dwarven defensive bonus against Giants from Chainmail? They take only half damage from those monsters, that's how. The rest of the entry involves how many high level fighters will accompany a dwarven posse, and also what animal guards they use - bears, wolves, etc. It's weird to picture D&D dwarves with pet wolves, but it's cool in its way, making them feel a bit more mythically Norse.

ELVES: We find out that Elves are of two types - those that live in woodlands and those that live in meadows. This, I assume, is in addition to the Fairy Elves from Chainmail. They can move silently, and again we get the bit about them being nearly invisible. It's attributed to their cloaks, and it makes me wonder - are Elven Cloaks and Boots so common? Should Elf PCs begin the game with them? I'm thinking they're powerful enough already, but it seems like all Elven NPCs get them. Maybe they are only for those Elves who remain in their homelands. And as if they aren't uber enough, they get an extra +1 to damage with magic swords, presumably because they are mostly elven-made - or perhaps the original magic blades were Elven, and all others work from the same principles and techniques?

ENTS: The tree guys from Tolkien, basically, found only in the forests. They can command trees to fight for them, up to two each, so a few Ents can quickly multiply into a small army. They're Lawful, but they don't like to get involved. Which makes them a bit difficult to work into a campaign, but that's ok - viva le difference and all that. It's good to have a variety of monsters that serve different roles - they can't all be sword fodder.

PEGASI: Winged horses! An icon of metal. They are wild, shy, difficult to capture, and will serve only Lawful creatures. And that's all we get. Quite uninspiring, really. But they still make for awesome album covers.

HIPPOGRIFFS: The name supposedly indicates a cross between a horse and a griffon, but Gary helpfully notes that it is "another kind of beast entirely" before proceeding to not tell us what that is. They do have hooves and sharp beaks, though - and they won't herd with Pegasi, instead fighting them! I guess this could make for some fun if two PCs have one each as mounts.

ROCS: The D&D equivalent of the eagles from Tolkien. The stats here are said to be for the smallest variety, and they've got 6 hit dice - there are larger varieties with double or triple that. They live on inaccessible mountains, where their nests might contain young. These might be tamed as awesome steeds, but Rocs are always hostile when their babies are around. Otherwise they only attack Chaotic and Neutral characters, which is mighty nice of them.

GRIFFONS: Swift, loyal, and fierce. Apparently they are the most valued of steeds, despite the fact that they will eat horses. If you ever wondered what purpose the hippogriff served, it's so that players can have griffon mounts that don't chow on other people's horses. In their wild state Griffons are nasty belligerent bastards. I wouldn't ride one, that's for sure.

Tomorrow, I finish up the monster section with extra-planar monsters, oozes, and animals.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Monsters & Treasure Part 3

Dragons. We've come to the namesake of the game, and it shows, with 4 pages devoted to the critters - most of the monsters in OD&D get a single paragraph.

As far as Dragons go, I haven't used them a great deal since the early days when I was playing Mentzer Basic. I think I succumbed to the hype a bit, thinking of them as untouchably powerful until PCs hit high level. In OD&D they're just another monster, albeit one with an inordiante amount of space devoted to it. I'll be trying to use them more often when this campaign gets out of the planning stages.

The five classic evil dragons are featured (White, Black, Green, Blue, and Red), as well as Golden Dragons to represent for good.

The dragons all get their standard breath weapons: White a cone of cold, black a line of acid, green a cloud of chlorine gas, blue a bolt of lightning, Red and cone of fire, and gold with its funky combination of fire and chlorine gas. They can only breathe three times a day, and when they do is determined randomly (which I find weird for a supposedly intelligent being, but them's the rules). A dragon's breath weapon deals the same damage as the creature's hit point total, though it's a difficult rule to find. It cuts down on a few dice rolls at the table, but it makes me wonder if the breath weapon damage goes down as the dragon is wounded. I'm thinking not, but I'll probably defer to the answer held in AD&D, whatever that may be.

Dragon hit points are determined by size, rather than by rolling. You roll 1d6 to get the Dragon's age, and here we get our first taste of the Age Categories. There are six: Very Young, Young, Sub-Adult, Adult, Old, and Very Old. These categories remain into 3e, albeit with several more added and sandwiched in between. They even list age ranges in years here, and these are seriously out of whack with D&D dragon lore - Adult dragons are 26-75 years old! These numbers get higher as D&D goes on, and at the moment I can only explain it as dragons gradually learning to extend their lifespans magically. Or possibly the more recently hatched dragons have shorter lifespans then their mighty ancestors, and it's the current generation of dragons that are being slain by OD&D characters. So then the elder dragons awaken around 1e-time, and so on.

Not all dragons can speak, which is also a departure from the uber-masterminds that they seem to get played as these days. Each type has a percentage chance, and those that can talk then have a chance to cast spells. I like this - it gives an option of playing a straight non-spellcasting dragon, which is nigh impossible in 3e. Note that it's impossible for White Dragons to have magic, and Golden dragons always have it.

There's also a chance that dragons encountered will be asleep at the time, granting a free attack round (or the chance to flee as the case may be). This is a nice bit of archetypal flavour, and it always creates some tension when a sleeping dragon is discovered and the players argue over whether to take a crack at it. In some ways it makes the monster less dangerous, but it can also serve to lull the players into a false sense of security, thereby making it more dangerous. And you never know when the cagey beast is just foxing you...

The Dragons then get their habitats mentioned: Whites like cold, Blacks swamps and marshes, Greens forest, Blues the desert, Reds mountains, and Golden anywhere. Matches my vague Monstrous Manual recollections pretty well.

Golden Dragons are said to be the only Lawful dragons (the others not being known yet), and their ability to appear in human form is introduced as well. They won't serve any character, I guess for purposes of game balance - sure let the potentially treacherous evil dragons do it, but not the agreeable, possibly long-term companion good dragons!

Dragons also get a range of minor 1-point resistances, some of which make sense and some of which are arbitrary. I'm guessing this chart is one of the dragon rules that gets forgotten the most.

The rules for subduing Dragons then come up, and what it means is that you beat the dragon up until it surrenders and then you can order it around for a while. Or maybe even sell it, because there's a formula for how much money dragons are worth. You'd be forgiven for thinking that dragons are the only monster that can be subdued - this is the only place that the rule pops up. But the section on NPCs in Vol. 1 mentions subdual of monsters that implies it can be used on others.

A small amount of dragon ecology follows - if there are two dragons, they're always a mated pair. If there are more, then they are the kids of the happy couple. The parents will breathe automatically if their children are attacked, and if the female is attacked the male fights at double value. I guess that means you double the dragon's hit dice for the purpose of its attacks? Or do you double the damage? I lean toward the former. Anyway, it implies that adults of the same gender don't shack up together - though a 'mated pair' could be gay dragons, I guess.

Also: newsflash, dragons have a lot of treasure. The young ones have less, the old ones have more. Good luck getting your hands on any of it!

PURPLE WORM: Heh heh. Purple worm... It may just be my filthy mind, but I wonder if Gary was in a prurient mood when he created this monster. We'll never know, I guess, and that's probably for the best.

Anyway, get this - "These huge and hungry monsters lurk nearly everywhere just beneath the surface of the land." Dear god, that's terrifying! They reach about 50 feet in length and 10 in girth. They've got a poisonous stinger in their tail, but they probably don't need it, as they're able to swallow creatures up to ogre-size in a single bite (on a roll of natural 20, or one 4 over the score it needs to hit). This kills the victim in six turns, and in twelve it's been utterly digested and can't be raised from the dead ever. They never check morale, and they always attack.

So any time you think it would be awesome to live in Greyhawk for a while, remember that there are gigantic purple worms that can sting you to death or swallow you whole, digesting you beyond all hope of resurrection, attacking everything they meet - and that they are everywhere just below the surface!

Purple Worms are mentioned in Chainmail as a variety of dragon. They are called Purple Dragons or Mottled Dragons, but the description is the same. There are a few possible explanations here. One is that it's a cock-up by some sage who was trying to fill in the missing colours of the spectrum for chromatic dragons. Another is that purple worms are like some sort of dragon larvae, but given that they're more powerful than a lot of dragons it's not really feasible. Another idea I'm toying with is that dragons need to lie on big piles of treasure to live, or perhaps to retain their innate dragonosity. Perhaps Purple Worms are what becomes of dragons with no treasure hoard to sleep on?

SEA MONSTERS: Apparently these things are 'more for show than anything else'. Gary hasn't even bothered to stat them up, except to note that they're equal in size to a purple worm, possibly up to triple that size, and they inflict 3 or 4 dice of damage per hit. But they're just for show. Might put a few in an aquarium in the dungeon or something.

MINOTAURS: The classic bull-headed man of Greek mythology (complete with snide remarks from Gary about rules lawyers). They're big man-eaters, basically. (Does it even need to be said? It would be more efficient for Gary to note the monsters that aren't man-eaters.) Belligerent things, they always attack, never flee, and pursue as long as they can see their prey. The next humanoid up from the Ogre, basically.

CENTAURS: Mythological horse-men, though at no point is that noted in the text. They're at least semi-intelligent, and always wield weapons - clubs, lances, and bows, which is a touch more primitive than most semi-human species here. In melee they use weapons and their hooves. They're found in hidden glens, where they hide their females, young and treasure (and counter to regular D&D, they're listed in that order!). The wimmin-folk don't fight, though, nor do the young. There's nothing said about Centaur society, so I can play them as vicious war-like wine-guzzlers instead of the standard D&D hippie Centaurs.

UNICORNS: Unicorns can be ridden, but only by "maidens", and they mean that most literally. They can act as a lance on their first charge, and make saving throws as an 11th level Magic-User. In addition their eyesight is good, and they can Dimension Door once per day. So if there are people around that they don't want to meet, those people aren't going to see them. Unicorns are one of those cool mythological creatures that see little use in D&D, in my experience. I'd like to see a Paladin with one as a mount, though - but the maiden thing runs counter to how most of my players play female PCs.

Tomorrow: Fey! Demi-humans! Things with wings!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Monsters & Treasure Part 2

Ah, the undead. Friend to DMs everywhere, feared by PCs - I use them far too much. It's probably the cool pictures, but that's not really a factor in OD&D.

They have a similar progression to humanoids, in that there are weak ones like Skeletons and Zombies, and others that grow steadily in power. That's probably true with every monster type, but it's the most noticable with humanoids and undead.

SKELETONS/ZOMBIES: They are customarily undescribed, but they act only under orders from an M-U or a Chaotic Cleric. They're also only found near dungeons and graveyards, or used elsewhere as guards. And being mindless, they don't check morale. The standard mook undead, basically.

Zombies are in CHhainmail, but with a whole host of abilities that aren't mentioned in D&D: they're immune to normal missile fire, can see in darkness, suffer -1 to die rolls in daylight, and have a paralyzing touch that lasts for a single turn. Since I'm going by the book, and the book says that monsters have any abilities from Chainmail that aren't contradicted by D&D... My initial zombies are going to be a lot more powerful than usual! Eventually those dark rituals will be lost, and Zombies will revert to their regular abilities.

GHOULS: Ghouls are probably one of the major causes of death for 1st level characters in OD&D, as they have low hit dice, but strong abilities - that paralyzing is a killer, even if it doesn't affect elves. They also have the ability to turn humanoids they've killed into more ghouls, just to rub it in. They also get all the abilities listed for Zombies above from Chainmail, except for immunity to missile fire, which is explicitly revoked. I can't fathom why, but I have to explain it - the Ghouls in dungeons are those that occur naturally (through cannibalism if I'm right). Battlefield ghouls are created by magic, and are slightly more powerful.

God, I love Ghouls. And why not? They're ravenous for human flesh, and anyone they kill becomes one of them - they're George Romero zombies! I guess I could also explain the missile fire thing by saying that single characters are more likely to shoot for the head...

Oh, and the Elf immunity to paralysis? Elves have a stronger life force than men and other demi-humans. The reasons for that will become apparent in later posts.

WIGHTS: Wights drain life energy - and so we get that most contentious of monster abilities, level drain. Personally, I love it - there's nothing players are more afraid of, so it's the perfect simulation of the fear their characters would have of the walking dead. I can see why it was ditched for 4e, though. In a more modern plot-based D&D game, where the players have to progress through encounters, mandatory battles with energy-draining monsters are unfair. In an old-school sandbox though, where the PCs choose where they go and often whether they fight, energy drain is fair game. (Plus, recalculating your PCs stats is a bastard once you get up to 3rd Edition and beyond due to the sheer volume of them.)

They're immune to missile fire like in Chainmail, but silver and magic arrows can harm them. Magic weapons score full damage in melee, which implies that they are immune or resistant to regular weapons (I'll go with immune to better match with later editions). Nothing is said about silver melee weapons, but that's just because there aren't any on the OD&D equipment list.

And just like Ghouls, those killed by Wights (normally or via energy drain) become Wights. And if there's anything better than killing a PC, it's turning one undead.

WRAITHS: They are described as "high-class" Wights, which tempts me to play them as corpses in top hat and tails. However, I'll take that phrase as a reference to their level-draining ability rather than their social class, or their physical make-up. They're otherwise faster and stronger than wights, and a bit more resistant to missile fire.

From Chainmail they can see in the dark, and their presence raises the morale of allies. They also paralyze every person they move through - but that's far too powerful for the small parties of D&D - I'm taking that as a weaker form of their energy drain, due to long absence from their natural dungeon habitat. Finally, they can see invisible foes.

MUMMIES: Mummies have their totally radical rotting touch, which makes their victims heal at one-tenth the normal rate (or half if a Cure Disease gets cast in time). They're only hit by magic weapons, and for half damage at that! But given that they are wrapped in dry cloth or paper or whatever, they go up if you set them on fire.

I know I've been gushing, but I friggin' love Mummies. It's a bit hard to justify them as being in dungeons not near a pseudo-Egyptian setting, though - I'll just have to retcon in an ancient world-spanning civilization that mummified their dead. Would the Great Kingdom count?

SPECTRES: They're non-corporeal, and so only affected by magic weapons. They drain two levels on a hit, which is enough to ruin anyone's day, and there's also the ubiquitous ability to make anyone they kill into another Spectre. This is a genuinely bad-ass monster. The earlier versions of D&D specifically name the Nazgul from Tolkien as Spectres, and that sounds about right to me (if anything the Ringwraiths aren't quite powerful enough).

VAMPIRES: And now we get to the top of the undead pile for OD&D. As the famous last words go: "There are so many ways to kill a Vampire, you can't help but luck into it eventually." Sunlight, running water, stake through the heart - you know the drill.

They're also hit only by magic weapons, but killing them that way only forces them into gaseous form. They drain two levels per hit, regenerate like Trolls, command rats, bats and wolves, can polymorph into a bat, charm humanoids with a gaze, raise those they kill as Vampires... Man, that's a lot of abilities. A well-played Vampire ought to be near-unkillable, Clerics notwithstanding.

There are other weaknesses to exploit - garlic, mirrors, the cross. Why a cross? There's no Christianity in Greyhawk... Is there a Greyhawk deity that has a cross as its holy symbol? A look here shows that St. Cuthbert has a symbol that somewhat resembles a cross, and that's good enough for me! Barring that, since I'm not going with a lot of individual gods to begin with, the cross will be a powerful symbol of law.

Also, Vampires must sleep by day in a coffin with soil from their native homeland. This makes me wonder about vampires whose homelands have no soil, but that's a discussion for another time.

That's it for undead, and so we move on to monsters that turn you to stone. They are another of those things that terrify players. OD&D has a whopping four monsters that can do this, and there are only about 60 monsters in the game. Little beats the despairing look your players get when they get turned to stone and then smashed with a Mattock of the Titans.

COCKATRICE: The cockatrice is normally an awesome chicken monster, but here it's simply described as a less powerful but more mobile Basilisk. I'm taking that statement in reference to its petrification ability only, which only works via touch (presumably pecking). In my campaign, they are and will always be chickens. They can fly, and are not intelligent, which just reinforces the chicken vibe more strongly. They're in Chainmail with no difference.

BASILISK: There's no description, as is usual. They can't fly, and can petrify with a gaze as well as a touch. They're also susceptible to the classic "reverse its gaze with a mirror" trick. Basilisks are not intelligent - which I suppose makes getting them to look into mirrors pretty easy. Again, they're in Chainmail with no differences.

MEDUSA: The classic D&D Medusa, with a difference - yes, they look like a woman with snake's hair, but instead of humanoid legs they have the lower body of a snake. Medusae have a gaze like a basilisk, and to top it off the snake hair is poisonous. Two save or dies in one monster! However, the mirror trick works here as well. And what's with rating intelligence for all of the petrifying monsters? Medusae are specifically noted as being intelligent, and will try to 'beguile' their victims into looking at them. That snake-body should make that tactic a bit harder, I'd think.

Later editions gave the Medusa human legs. Looking into the 2e Monstrous Manual, though, I see a Greater Medusa much like the one here in OD&D (though more powerful). So I posit here that this is a kind of intermediate medusa, with the look of the Greater and the powers of the regular. The other two versions are out there, but at this point not as common.

GORGON: This metal-scaled bull has a breath that turns you to stone. And before anyone goes spouting amateur Greek mythology - Gary got this baby from a medieval bestiary, so it has mythological precedent. And you know what? IT'S A FRIGGIN' BULL! MADE OF METAL! Gorgons are close to being my favourite D&D monster for that fact alone. It's a fact so awesome that it's all Gary says about the creature, like he knew there was nowhere else to go. One day I want to place a whole herd of these things out in a random plain somewhere and watch my players scramble...

Finally today I'll deal with a few of the mythological beasties presented in OD&D.

MANTICORA: Nope, it's not a typo - this beast's name is consistently spelled this way in the original booklets (and not the usual spelling of manticore). They're huge beasts with a lion's body, a man's face, horns, wings, and a tail full of iron spikes they can fire in a volley. (But can they wedge doors open with them?) And just in case you don't know what they're for, Gary leaves us with this sobering note: 'Their favorite prey is man.'

HYDRA: Not a snake, but a large dinosaur with many heads(!). As tempting as it would be to have a twelve headed T-Rex stomping about, this is more likely a brontosaurus-type body. They can have from 5 to 12 heads, and get one full hit die per head - so they always have maximum hit points. So they get a lot of attacks a round, but it's also pretty easy to cut their heads off (easier than anything else in the book!). Anyway, it's a frighteningly tough monster - I pity any party that gets surprised by one of these guys.

CHIMERA: You know the drill - front legs of a lion, back legs of a goat, dragon wings, goat head, lion head and dragon head. The dragon head gets a breath weapon, and otherwise it's a whole lot of biting and goring.

Chimerae are mentioned in Chainmail as a catch-all category for stuff like Griffons and Manticores and Wyverns - all those 'stitched together' beasties from myth. I'm going with Chimera as a term previously used to refer to these monsters as a group - when the sages started assigning individual names to them, Mr. Goat-Lion-Dragon Head got the Chimera name as its very own.

WYVERN: Smaller two-legged dragons (and they are specifically called out as dragon relatives). It has no breath, but it does have a poisonous sting which killed many of my characters on Curse of the Azure Bonds, and which can sting over the creature's head. It only uses the thing two-thirds of the time, though. (Man, Wyverns are great. I have nostalgic memories of my second D&D character backstabbing one, then surviving the retaliating sting with a natural 20.)

Again they're in Chainmail, with no differences that I can discern.

That's it for today. Join me tomorrow for Dragons (and for OD&D, it's a bloody mammoth entry...), and a few other nast critters.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Monsters & Treasure Part 1

Volume II of OD&D (Monsters and Treasure) is the equivalent of the Monster Manual, combined with the Magic Item chapter from the Dungeon Masters Guide. As you would expect, it details all the monsters in the game, as well as the treasure and magic items. In other words - all of the good stuff.

It doesn't mess about, jumping straight into a great big table that shows the stats of all the monsters in the book. There's not much you need to know about an OD&D monster - how many of them show up, how hard they are to hit, how far they can move, how many hit dice they have, whether they are in their lair, and what treasure they carry. A one line stat block is a thing of beauty.

There's not much else to say on the table just now, except that the Number Appearing can be absurdly high. 30-300 Goblins? There's a note that these numbers are used primarily for outdoor encounters, and a cryptic instruction to increase or decrease according to the party concerned, but those are still some high numbers. I'll have to wing it for dungeon encounters, I think.

There's a bit about Special Abilities after that that says some monsters will have the abilities listed in Chainmail, unless that's contradicted by D&D - I'll be noting those additions as we go through. It also includes this exceedingly gamist rule: any man or monster can see in total darkness in the dungeons, except for player characters. It's a lovely way to hose your players, but it doesn't make a lot of logical sense. Luckily OD&D has a ready made place for things that make no logical sense - the Underworld. So I'll be using this rule for megadungeons like Castle Greyhawk and Blackmoor, but in regular dungeons of normal size only those monsters specifically noted as able to see in the dark will be able to.

This is followed by a note on Attack/Defense, which states that a monster fighting normal men gets one attack for each of its hit dice. Fair enough, but now we need to define what counts as a normal man. Is it just those monsters specifically mentioned as being equal to normal men, or is it any humanoid of 1 hit die or less? I'm leaning to the latter, even though that seems to include 1st level Clerics and Magic-Users. Better make sure you have a Fighting-Man handy - that extra +1 hit point can be a life-saver!

And now the monsters, beginning with a somewhat bloated entry for different varieties of men. I'm a big believer in having ready made stats for different types of humans - 3e fumbled the ball majorly on this score. OD&D has the majority of types needed, though.

BANDITS: Though it doesn't say so, these are your bog-standard robber types. They fight as normal men, but often have high-level leaders - a fight with bandits could end up including an 11th level M-U... The rest of the entry goes on to detail weapons and armor used. Not much fluff here, except to note that the wilderness surrounding the City of Greyhawk must be pretty lawless.

BERSERKERS: Warriors mad with battle-lust who never check morale and get +2 to hit. There's no indication whether they are a culture-specific thing or not, so I figure there are berserkers pretty much everywhere.

BRIGANDS: Chaotic Bandits with higher morale. And a cooler name.

DERVISHES: These guys are interesting - berserk nomadic religious fanatics! Always led by a Cleric, and always Lawful. These are my new favorite humans, even despite the alignment.

NOMADS: Your regular desert raiders. They're much like Bandits, but with a lot more mounted troops.

BUCCANEERS: Bandits on the water. There sure are a lot of Bandit variants... I guess the ocean is lawless as well.

PIRATES: Chaotic Buccaneers. Slightly redundant, but when they take up a single line in the book I can't begrudge their piratey ways.

CAVEMEN: Cavemen! Awesome - I can never get enough primordial human throwbacks in my D&D. These guys are tougher than other men, but also a bit cowardly. Does this mean that Greyhawk followed similar evolutionary lines to Earth? Possibly, though there are a ton of other possible explanations for these guys.

MERMEN: Similar to Berserkers, strangely enough... I generally think of Mermen as peaceful types, but these are bloodthirsty warriors, apparently, which is far superior. They're weaker on land thah they are in the sea, though.

And now it's humanoid time! The monsters in the book are handily arranged into sub-categories of sorts, which helps me break them down for daily posting. They even start near the bottom and go up in power (aside from a little Goblin/Kobold mix-up).

There's a good level of redundance in the D&D humanoids, but I don't care, because each one of these critters is near and dear to my own heart. Besides, this is in the days before monsters got class levels and all that business. You start fighting Goblins and Kobolds, then you move up to Orcs and Hobgoblins, then to Gnolls, then to Ogres, then to Giants. It's a natural progression of slaughter!

GOBLINS: These guys are described here as "small monsters", so once again we're left to our own devices or an assumed knowledge of Tolkien. They can see in the dark, but take a penalty to attack and morale in daylight. Their hatred for dwarves is established, as they'll attack them on sight.

There's also a note that goblins found in their lair will be led by a Goblin King. I think it's great that every single goblin tribe, regardless of size or importance, has a leader that thinks he's king. Do they believe they are king of the entire race? It's certainly more fun that way.

There are no changes from Chainmail for these guys, which is great for me.

KOBOLDS: Treated as Goblins, but with less hit points. So they aren't little dog men yet. There's no mention of Kobolds hating Gnomes, though, as there was in Chainmail, but I'll be keeping that around as a way to make them a little different. Possibly it's that there are no Gnome PCs, so it wouldn't ever come up in play.

ORCS: The defining feature of Orcs (and one I've never seen used in-game) is that they each belong to a tribe, and the different tribes generally hate each other. They are most often found in caves, but occasionally they'll be found in villages with palisades and catapults and a central tower - so they're civilized enough to understand military fortifications, at least.

Their potential leaders are also very strong - 9th level Fighters? 11th level M-Us? Ogres and Trolls? A Dragon?!? And that's random, folks. Attack an orc lair at your peril.

There's also a good chance wandering orcs will be escorting a wagon train full of gold, which makes them very worthwhile to beat up on. Where does all this gold come from, I wonder? They must be pretty successful as raiders.

It's noted that they have penalties in sunlight like a Goblin. From Chainmail they get the ability to see in the dark.

HOBGOBLINS: Bigger Goblins, basically. They're fearless as well, which I like - it fits with the militarized vibe they get later. Hobgoblin tribes also have a king, just like their smaller cousins.

GNOLLS: A cross between Gnomes and Trolls! This doesn't fit at all with the hyena-men they would later be portrayed as. But you know what? I'm going to roll with it - it's too bizarre to attribute even to D&D sages. Campaign Fact: Gnome + Troll = Hyena-Man. They also get a bonus to morale, which I'm going to say is battle lust, because the only thing cooler than a Hyena-Man is a Berserker Hyena-Man.

OGRES: Large and fearsome men ranging from 7 to 10 feet tall. They do a massive +2 to damage! Sarcasm aside, that's a big bonus in OD&D, considering that PCs don't get any damage bonuses from Strength. They always carry 100 to 600 gp when wandering, so it's always worthwhile to kill these guys. But much like the Orcs, I wonder where it all comes from.

From Chainmail they can see in the dark.

TROLLS: Thin, rubbery, and able to regenerate - oh how I love them. I can't wait for my son to grow old enough to play - I'm carefully concealing the information that Trolls can only be killed by fire and acid. Finding that bit of info out during play is a quintessential part of the D&D experience.

They're also as strong as an Ogre, but they fight with talons and fangs, so they don't get a bonus to damage. Bah.

From Chainmail they can see in the dark. There's stuff about them being killed in combat only by Heroes, Giants, Dragons and Elementals, but that's short-hand for the fire-and-acid thing I say (or possibly they are the guys who can damage a troll enough that it won't get up again before the fight is over). They always fight alone, but that's no fun for D&D, so in the campaign that's just a battlefield thing - possibly commanders don't like having masses of loathsome trolls in their employ. They never check morale - and that is fun for D&D so I keep it!

GIANTS: As in Chainmail giants can throw rocks like a catapult. They also deal 2d6 damage, which in OD&D is massive. Wandering Giants carry 1,000 to 6,000 gp in sacks, which again is a lot of money - does this mean that every single giant on the face of the planet owns that much? It's something to ponder.

There are the five classic varieties, from weakest to strongest: Hill Giants, Stone (who can throw rocks further), Frost (immune to cold), Fire (immune to fire), and Cloud (keen sense of smell, for extra Jack-and-the-Beanstalk action). Hill and Stone Giants live in caves, while the rest live in castles.

Hill Giants are the most common, which is lucky for everyone else, really. Giants often keep pets, with wolves, bears, and hydras (!) the most common. I have to remember that - I've used Giants frequently, but I always forget to give them a menagerie, and a Fire Giant with a few pet hydras is too awesome to ignore.

Again, Chainmail gives them the ability to see in the dark.

Tomorrow I'll be tackling the Undead, monsters that turn you to stone, and various other mythological beasties.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Men & Magic Part 5

Today I tackle Cleric spells, and the remainder of OD&D Volume 1.

Cleric Spells

1st Level:
Includes Cure Light Wounds, Purify Food & Water, Detect Magic, Detect Evil, Protection From Evil and Light.

Cure Light Wounds is the staple Cleric spell, and in many ways the spell that justifies their very existence and defines their role in the game. It heals 1d6+1 points of damage, and is one of the few reliable ways to get your hit points back quickly. Essential on every single quest/expedition. Evil clerics cast a reversed version of this spell, that presumably damages the target. It's hard to say exactly, because the evil versions of cleric spells aren't defined at all. The idea is a great one, though. I do wonder if it means that evil Clerics can't cast the Cure version at all? I say yes - evil Clerics get the reversed version and no other.

Purify Food & Water makes spoiled or poisoned food and water edible/drinkable. Handy, but I've never seen it used before. Perhaps in games where the DM pays more attention to food sources? Evil clerics cast a version that despoils instead.

Detect Magic is the same as the M-U version - it lets you know when something is magical.

Detect Evil: is also the same as the M-U version, only it lasts longer and has a better range. I like that Clerics are more effective than M-Us with these kinds of spells - it gives them just a bit more of a distinct flavor. Evil clerics detect good instead.

Protection From Evil is once again the same as the M-U spell, but it lasts longer. Evil clerics cast protection from good.

Light: As above. Evil clerics cast darkness instead.

2nd Level: This short list contains Find Traps, Hold Person, Bless, and Speak With Animals.

Find Traps is the spell that makes the Thief class mostly obsolete (and before it even exists!). It detects all traps within 30 feet. Indispensable, but I've NEVER seen it used. Baffling.

Hold Person is the same as the M-U version, here a variation on Charm Person as discussed in the last post. The Cleric version lasts longer than the M-U one.

Bless is a spell whereby a cleric can bless characters while they're not in combat, giving them a +1 bonus to morale and attack rolls. Evil clerics give out penalties instead, though I suppose they must be able to do so in combat or it's not much use. The original buff spell!

Speak With Animals. Ah, talking to animals - DMs I know usually use the 'different mindset' of animals to give away no useful information. Still, it's handy to stop bears and wolves and such attacking you.

3rd Level: Not quite the powerhouse level it is for M-Us - it has Remove Curse, Cure Disease, Locate Object, and Continual Light.

Remove Curse is exactly like the M-U spell, it does what it says it does.

Cure Disease rids characters of disease, which is ultra-handy in OD&D - this game seems to be rife with things like Mummy Rot that hose your characters. Evil clerics, of course, cause disease with this spell.

Locate Object is the same as the M-U spell. I've never seen it used, but for when you're looking for a specific thing in a megadungeon it would be the business.

Continual Light is also the same as the M-U spell, making a light that never runs out. Unlike the M-U spell, it's the equivalent of daylight, which makes it useful against goblins and such, and an instant vampire-killer. Evil clerics instead summon an eternal darkness - useful in its own way, and way cooler.

4th Level: Includes Neutralize Poison, Cure Serious Wounds, Protection from Evil 10' Radius, Turn Sticks to Snakes, Speak With Plants, and Create Water.

Neutralize Poison counters poison, but it don't do much if you're already dead. (Funny, my Curse of the Azure Bonds characters say different...)

Cure Serious Wounds is just like Cure Light Wounds, but it heals twice as much. It seems underpowered, but then again I'm not used to the power scale of OD&D. It might be ok. Evil clerics use this spell to deal damage.

Protection from Evil 10' Radius is the same as the M-U spell. Evil clerics protect from good.

Turn Sticks to Snakes. Man, I love this one. And with a 50/50 chance that the 2-16 snakes created will be poisonous? It's lethality potential is pretty high. Criminally overlooked, I think.

Speak with Plants lets you talk to the trees, and command them to do stuff. Useful if you need that sort of thing, I guess.

Create Water makes water. This seems like the sort of spell I'd put at 1st level, but Gary obviously values the wet stuff more highly than I do. Surely by 4th level Create Beer would be more appropriate?

5th Level: We got Dispell Evil, Raise Dead, Commune, Quest, Insect Plague, and Create Food. For Clerics in OD&D, this is as good as it gets.

Dispell Evil lets the caster dismiss any 'evil sending' or spell in range. Presumably this includes summoned monsters and such? Note the spelling - it's not a typo, that's how they spell the word in OD&D. Evil clerics Dispell Good.

Raise Dead brings back the dead. But in a sign of Gygax's hobbit-contempt, this spell works with men, elves and dwarves only! So not only are Hobbit PCs restricted to a maximum of 4th level, if they die THAT'S IT. This presents me with a problem, as in later editions it is Elves that can't be raised. I'll tie this into the waning of the elven peoples - as they grow weaker in life, so they are drawn ever more strongly to the realm they reside in after death. With Hobbits and other creatures, I'm theorizing that it actually takes contacting the land of the dead to return the departed soul to life - wherever hobbits go when they die hasn't been discovered yet.

Any character raised has to rest for 2 weeks, which is one of those unfathomable artifacts of the old game that would never fly today. Can't wait to spring it on my players.

Commune is a spell that puts the Cleric in touch with "powers above" who will answer questions. They aren't specified, but they could be gods or they could be forces of Law or Chaos. They're much more benevolent than whatever Magic-Users contact, as there is no chance of insanity.

Quest is the Cleric version of Geas - only instead of death for failure the target is cursed with whatever the caster desires.

Insect Plague summons insects that blind, and rout weaker creatures, but it's only useful aboveground. A bit weak for the level.

Create Food allows the Cleric to summon food. Much like Create Water, this is massively out of whack with the other spells of its level.

So that's the Cleric spell list. It's interesting to note that they have very few offensive spells at all - the closest they get are Sticks to Snakes and Hold Person. Mind you, the evil clerics get a few decent ones. But its refreshing to see the class before it became ridiculously overpowered.

Anti-Clerics: These are the evil clerics mentioned in many spells above. They get their own level titles - Evil Lama may just be the coolest ever. But best of all, they get the Finger of Death. It's a reversed Raise Dead, but so complete is its awesomeness that it needs its own entry. It's straight Save or Die. Regular clerics can use it in life-or-death situations, but if they misuse it it's a quick trip to an alignment-change.

Magical Research: These are hard and fast rules for Clerics and Magic-Users to create new spells. The prices are high, and so is the time requirement. There even a chance you'll fail and blow all your cash, but thankfully there's an option to throw more money at the problem to guarantee success.

Spell Books: In a big departure from later editions, casters are assumed to have spell books with all the listed spells. It only costs money for duplicates. Not only that, but it seems that Clerics need spell books as well. Or 'prayer books' as I'll be calling them. I like it.

Well, that's Vol. 1 done. Onward to Vol 2 tomorrow - Monsters and Treasure. Man, I loves me some monsters...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Men & Magic Part 4

Today I'm going to try sand get through all of the Magic-User spells, commenting on them and discussing how they differ from those in Chainmail. I'm going to try and breeze through these, but don't be surprised if I get a bit sidetracked and/or long-winded.

Magic-User Spells

1st level:
The M-U spell list at 1st level is: Detect Magic, Hold Portal, Read Magic, Read Languages, Protection From Evil, Light, Charm Person, and Sleep. The spells have the same general effects as they would in later editions, but the descriptions are a lot more open to interpretations and creative use.

Light is the same basic spell as Wizard Light from Chainmail, but with a dramatically reduced area of effect. As noted earlier, the Chainmail spells are those as cast by specialized Battle Mages, and will have effects much more suited to the battlefield.

Detect Magic is a part of the Detection spell from Chainmail. In Chainmail you can't detect a stronger caster's magic, but that isn't the case in D&D. The trade-off is that in Chainmail you can discern the exact type of spell, whereas in D&D it's just the presence of magic that registers.

Sleep and Charm Person are the obvious heavy hitters here. Charm Person is especially effective, given that it has an unlimited duration, broken only by a Dispell Magic.

The other spells are great dungeon utility effects - reading things, light, locking doors, detecting magical things. With the spell lists so sparse here, everything is useful.

2nd Level: This list includes Detect Invisible, Levitate, Phantasmal Forces, Locate Object, Invisibility, Wizard Lock, Detect Evil, ESP, Continual Light and Knock.

Phantasmal Forces is from Chainmail. The D&D version is more versatile, as it can create things other than creatures, and its duration is potentially greater (until it is touched). But the Chainmail version can create a whole unit of creatures, doesn't disappear when struck, can't be disbelieved, and lasts for a maximum of 4 turns. Once again, a Battle Mage did it.

Detect Invisible is a part of the Chainmail spell Detection, but in Chainmail it has no range limit or set duration. Also note that a stronger caster in Chainmail can't be detected by a weaker.

Levitate is also from Chainmail, but in D&D the duration is greater, as the caster adds his level. This is a tradeoff for the Chainmail version's unlimited range.

The other thing of interest is that Detect Evil only detects "evil thought or intent" - this is a necessity in an alignment system that doesn't have the Good-Evil axis. It means that if Evil Joe the Butcher is doing his taxes, he won't register. If he's planning to summon Orcus to ravage the countryside, then he lights up. I like this - it stops Detect Evil from being a constant plot-breaker.

3rd Level: There are a lot of 3rd level spells: Fly, Hold Person, Dispell Magic, Clairvoyance, Clairaudience, Fire Ball, Lightning Bolt, Protection From Evil 10' Radius, Invisibility 10' Radius, Infravision, Slow Spell, Haste Spell, Protection from Normal Missiles, and Water Breathing

Whew, that's a cracking list, and once he gets his hands on these is generally when the Magic-User comes into his own. Fire Ball (yes, two words) and Lightning Bolt are the quintessential mass damage spells, and due to the lower hit point totals of monsters they are at their deadliest in OD&D. There are a few here that I've always felt should be lower - Clairaudience and Clairvoyance in particular - but there's a lot of good stuff here.

Fire Ball and Lightning Bolt are in Chainmail as the Wizard's default missile attacks. The Chainmail Fire Ball is slightly smaller, but the Wizard there can cast these two spells all day long as many times as they want, if the rules are taken at face value. The Chainmail Wizard also has Infravision on permanently, but given that in D&D it has a duration of 1 day there's probably no difference. They also have Protection from Normal Missiles running all the time, which is a duration far in excess of the D&D version. The counterspelling of Chainmail could also be attributed to an at-will Dispell Magic as well, I suppose

Invisibility 10' Radius is in Chainmail as the spell Concealment, which can affect an entire unit and is seemingloy not limited to a 10' radius effect. There's no indication of whether a unit affected by Concealment will reappear when it attacks, but it's safe to assume it will.

Protection from Evil is insane in Chainmail in that it has no set duration and covers a 120 yard radius! That's crazy powerful compared to D&D's 10 feet.

Slow and Haste are also in both rulesets, but while they affect up to 24 creatures in D&D, they work on 20 figures in CHAINMAIL, which could be as many as 400 guys.

I love the duration on Fly. The DM secretly rolls 1d6 on top of the regular duration, so the PC doesn't know exactly when he has to land. It's these kinds of things that have been taken out of more recent editions that make them quite soulless in comparison.

Hold Person here is said to be similar in effect to Charm Person - able to affect more creatures, but with a much smaller duration. I'm not sure how to deal with this, because it's far different than the paralysis spell of later editions. I think I will run it as a variant on Charm Person, much as the book says. Eventually there will be some kind of slight magical upheaval, or a change to the spell, and it will become the more well known version.

Protection from Normal Missiles has an interesting bit, in that it seemingly only works on missiles fired by normal men, or from normal weapons. Does this mean that higher level characters can affect such a Wizard with a normal bow? Or only those with a magical one? In the interests of making the spell useful, I'm ruling that only magical weapons can penetrate it.

4th Level: This is another long list: Polymorph Self, Polymorph Others, Remove Curse, Wall of Fire, Wall of Ice, Confusion, Charm Monster, Growth of Plants, Dimension Door, Wizard Eye, Massmorph, Hallucinatory Terrain.

The polymorph spells are interesting. Polymorph Self gives the caster the physical shape, but not abilities or combat prowess - I guess it's mostly useful for flight and other movement types, and for scaring the bejeezus out of other monsters. Polymorph Others, however, confers all the abilities of the monster - and it's permanent!

Polymorph Self is in Chainmail as simply Polymorph, with that spell having no given limitations on fighting ability and special powers. Confusion is also in Chainmail, and that version of the spell affects one unit instead of 2d6 people - it is also more predictable, making the unit do the opposite of what it is ordered to, rather than rolling on a random table (it's not nearly as much fun). Hallucinatory Terrain is the last of these spells in Chainmail, and for once it works exactly the same as in D&D.

The other spells here are much as they would appear in later editions of the game.

5th Level: This is the equal-longest of the magic-user's spell lists. It includes - Teleport, Hold Monster, Conjure Elemental, Telekenesis (sic), Transmute Rock to Mud, Wall of Stone, Wall of Iron, Animate Dead, Magic Jar, Contact Higher Plane, Pass-Wall, Cloudkill, Feeblemind, and Growth of Animals.

Teleport still has the wonderful chance that you'll come in high or low and end up instantly dead. Paging Wizards of the Coast - there was a solution to Scry-Buff-Teleport, and it was in the books 30 years ago.

Contact Higher Plane is interesting, in that it gives us our first indication of levels of reality outside of the regular world. It posits ten 'higher planes', where creatures dwell who can answer questions for you. The higher you go, the more likely you will get the answer you seek, but the more likely you will be driven insane. As far as D&D cosmology goes, there's only one of the Outer Planes that has at least ten levels, and that's the Abyss. That works ok for me, and makes the spell just a bit more awesome - it's the wizard seeking forbidden knowledge from demons!

Feeblemind is usable only against other magic-users, which I never knew. The other spells are much as they would appear later.

Conjure Elemental is in Chainmail with much the same effect as in D&D, as is Cloudkill. Cloudkill has a larger area there than in D&D, and no stipulation that it is dispersed by trees and wind.

6th Level: This is the most powerful level of spells in the game, and there really are a few doozies here. But it's a much lower power scale than D&D fans are used to, which helps give OD&D a bit more of an authentic sword & sorcery feel. The list is as follows: Stone to Flesh, Reincarnation, Invisible Stalker, Lower Water, Part Water, Projected Image, Anti-Magic Shell, Death Spell, Geas, Disintegrate, Move Earth, and Control Weather.

Stone to Flesh is the spell you use when your mate gets zapped by a medusa/cockatrice/gorgon/basilisk (geez, even in OD&D there are a load of things that can turn you to stone!). And there's always the option of using this spell to turn walls to flesh then carving your way through them. Its also reversible, for when your wizard wants to turn someone into a statue.

Reincarnation is an alternative to raise dead, that in my experience usually causes lots of fights between players. Most players I know would rather stay dead than have this spell cast on them. Basically, it means that you come back to life as another creature, and in OD&D you roll on the alignment table. Which makes this version of the spell much more badass than it will later become - a Chaotic character could end up as a Balrog!

Invisible Stalker summons an invisible monster that will do your bidding. Really useful, though the Stalker isn't massively powerful. In campaign terms, it establishes that the Invisible Stalker comes from an extra-dimensional plane, though there are no specifics.

Lower Water and Part Water are the red-headed step-children of 6th level spells. Why these two aren't combined as a single entity are a mystery to me. Anyway, they do what they say they do.

Projected Image creates an image of the caster from which your spells appear to originate. Handy to draw attacks away from you, I suppose, especially useful in conjunction with invisibility. It's a bit underpowered for 6th level, though.

Anti-Magic Shell makes you totally impervious to magic, but stops you from casting as well. It's in Chainmail, with a far larger area but a shorter duration.

Death Spell kills 2-16 creatures of under 7 hit dice - and that includes most of the monsters in the game! Save or die, man - the essence of true D&D.

Geas is a DM's best friend for when the PCs just won't bite at the plot hooks - it forces the target to perform a task or suffer weakness and eventual death. I've seen this used by DMs a lot, but never by players - but I think my next M-U might keep one handy...

Disintegrate, the spell for casual instantaneous destruction. As Gary says, "it will blast a tree, dragon, wall section, or whatever". Heh. Whatever.

Move Earth lets you move hills and ridges and stuff about, but it only works above ground. Which makes it a bit of a niche spell, really, especially in a game specifically geared around dungeon exploration. It's in Chainmail as Moving Terrain, with even vaguer guidelines as to its effect.

Control Weather lets the M-U can bring about all sorts of weather conditions which are only named and given no rules treatment. So this spell could either be awesome or worthless depending on how your DM interprets things. The weather rules from Chainmail give a good outline to work from, though.

As a final note, all of the spells have durations listed in turns. This shouldn't be taken the same way as it would in later editions, as the whole idea of turns and rounds wasn't as rigidly held to in OD&D as it was in AD&D. For spell durations, I'm going to make a turn equal to a round (keep in mind that a turn is ten minutes and a round is one minute). So if you cast a spell that lasts for 5 turns, it will last 50 minutes when out of combat, and 5 minutes when in combat. I figure maintaining spells is more taxing for a spell-caster while fighting, so the spells wear off quicker. Anyway, once the AD&D era is reached this will become much more concrete.

So that's the M-U spells down, with the Cleric spells to come tomorrow - but thankfully their lists are a lot shorter (and I don't have to worry about Chainmail comparisons). I'll try to power through them in one mammoth hit.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Men & Magic Part 3

First off today, a little more about tempting monsters into service. The chart I referred to in the last post is actually very similar to the monster reaction table that gets used in later editions. I'm not sure if it gets put to that use in OD&D, but soon we'll know.

I love the idea that PCs can bribe monsters to work for them. It's yet another option that OD&D provides for working around combat, and another curveball that the players can throw at the DM. The best moments of the game for me are when the PCs don't follow the script...

This followed by a section on NPC loyalty, and I think rules like these are a must if you're going to have PCs with servants and retainers. Without something concrete, it's all just DM fiat as to when and if they decide to desert their master. DM fiat isn't always a bad thing, but in this case I prefer something a bit more solid.

Relatives: This might just be my favourite rules nugget from the original booklets. PCs can designate one relative who will inherit their stuff if they die, paying a 10% tax to the body that runs this service (the Adventurer's Guild in my case).

But then, to throw a typical Gygaxian spanner into the works, if the dead character returns he reclaims his gear (with a further 10% tax, of course!), and there is the possibility of the relative becoming an NPC and trying to wrest it back. I just wonder about the shenanigans that went on in Gygax's campaign to inspire these rules.

Basic Equipment: As noted before every PC gets 3d6x10 gold pieces to spend on whatever they want. The list is basic, but I hesitate to name anything genuinely essential that isn't on there. It's got weapons, it's got armor, horses, wagons and carts, ships, and general adventuring gear like rope and torches and the ubiquitous 10-foot pole.

It should be noted that the price of armor here is very cheap compared to later editions of AD&D. I can instigate a few wars to drive up the price of metal, but I have no problem with plate armor being available to level 1 PCs - when characters die at 0 hit points, they need all the help they can get.

There are two weapons available in CHAINMAIL that aren't in OD&D - the arquebus and the horsebow. I'm ruling that the arquebus isn't available in everyday situations, and can generally only be obtained through military means due to the scarcity of gunpowder. The horsebow is an artifact of horse nomad culture, and not found in the City of Greyhawk all that often.

It's also interesting to see Gary exercising some restraint, and having a single entry for pole arms. No Bohemian Earspoons yet, I'm afraid. Also, no quarterstaff, which is the only major thing I don't see available.

Encumberance: The section on encumberance is very basic, with just a list of sample weights, and the amount that is needed to slow down a character. Strength doesn't factor into things yet - every character has the same weight limits. The standard unit of weight is based on the gold piece, and as counter-intuitive as it seems I think it's brilliant. When the main aim of the game is to get into the dungeon and back out again with as much loot as you can carry, the math is a lot easier when measurements are based on coins.

There are a lot of rules like this in OD&D that are seemingly random and don't make much sense. The problem, I think, is that the majority of D&D gamers don't play the game in the same way that Gary did. The newer players were using D&D to simulate grand fantasy and heroic questing rather than the looting of ancient ruins. So, a lot of rules got lost in translation, because they didn't make sense with what people were doing with D&D. Played closer to Gary's vision, they seem a lot more sensible.

And now on to the various charts and tables for classes and advancement.

Levels and Number of Experience Points Necessary to Attain Them: Yep, why say something in two words when you could use ten? That's OD&D for you...

This is the old days, where every class had a different rate of advancement. I'm cool with that - when you have a system where the classes aren't rigorously balanced against each other, you need other factors to keep characters a bit more even. I do find it a bit odd that the Cleric advances quicker than everyone else, though - it's a powerful class. I guess it's that 'help from above' stuff again...

Every level has a title, as well - for instance, a first level Fighting Man is known as a Veteran, 5th level is a Swashbuckler, and 9th level is a Lord. I'll be using these as in-game titles used by the Adventurer's Guild - so when Bob the Fighter tells you he's a Superhero, you'll know that he's 8th level. (Mind you, I anticipate a lot of jokes when Clerics reach the title of Lama).

The levels shown only go up to 9th for Fighting Man, 11th for Magic-User, and 8th for Cleric, but there are no set limits - in OD&D, you can go as high as you want. (But not too high, or Gary will tell you you're playing wrong...)

Statistics Regarding Classes: These charts show the hit dice totals, fighting capability and spell progression for the three classes.

Hit dice is a prickly one in OD&D. Take this progression for the Fighting Man: 1+1, 2, 3, 4, 5+1, 6, etc. If a Fighting Man has 1d6+1 hit points at 1st level, and 2d6 hit points at second, where does the extra +1 go to?

There are only two methods I can think of that make any sense with the rules as written. The first is to have the PCs reroll their hit dice every time they gain a level, and the second is to have them reroll at the start of each game session. The first gives a bit more stability (especially if you rule that the hit point total must always increase), but the second is just more fun and random so I think I'll go with it. Some days you just rock up to the dungeon with a bastard of a hangover, you know? One thing I think I will have to disallow is the rolling of hit points before the characters enter the dungeon. If Joe Fighter shows up and rolls a fist-full of 1s before play even begins, he'll probably just go home. So it will have to be done when a character first takes damage, which might add another nice little slice of tension.

And as you may have gleaned, classes don't get different dice for hit points. Everyone rolls 1d6, but the progression is faster for Fighting Men, in the middle for Clerics and low for Magic-Users.

Fighting Capability is another odd one - you get entries like 'Man +1' or '3 Men' and other such phrases not usual for D&D. This relates to Chainmail, and is therefore irrelevant to me outside of Mass Combat.

Spell Progression is the usual D&D method - the spell levels listed along the top (there are six in OD&D), and below that the number of spells of that level each Magic-User or Cleric can cast. Pure Vancian - the good stuff. Note also that Clerics get no spells at 1st level - that means no healing at the start, which I imagine can only help with the character death rates.

Experience Points: And after all that, we finally get an indication of just what an Experience Point is. You get 100 of them per hit dice of monster killed, and 1 per gold piece value of treasure you find. That last one is the most important - advancement via gold instead of combat is a primary way to get your players thinking of solutions other than a sword to the face.

XP totals are also modified by the level of challenge you faced - so if an 8th level character fights a 5th level monster, he gets 5/8 of the XP total. And just to prove that Gary was a stingy DM, the reverse isn't true - if your 1st level PC somehow manages to kill Orcus, he only gets the regular XP.

Alternate Combat System: I've already discussed the Chainmail combat systems, which are actually OD&D's official means of combat resolution. Here we have an alternate system, which in reality is the one that became D&D's rules for combat. Due to the difficulty of figuring out just how Chainmail is supposed to work, I'm using the alternate method exclusively.

Like all good things D&D, it uses a chart. There's Armor Class down one side, and character level across the top. Roll 1d20, compare on the chart to see if you hit, and you're done. Every hit in OD&D does 1d6 damage, regardless of the weapon used. This seemingly applies to unarmed combat as well (simply because there are no unarmed rules anywhere in the books), which makes an OD&D character's fist as deadly as a two-handed sword. I'll probably make it a roll of 1d2 just for the sake of sanity. Also, AC starts at 9 and decreases as it gets better. In AD&D it starts at 10, which will take some explaining, but I'll tackle that one later.

Fighting Men go up the chart the fastest, Clerics second, and Magic-Users third. But even fighters have to wait until 4th level before their attacks get better, so progression is slow. Monsters get their own chart, and they don't have to wait so long to advance, either.

I don't mind the chart system. I think it works better than THAC0, which is often difficult to explain. I've never had a problem explaining the charts, that's for certain.

Saving Throws: Their are five categories of saving throw: Death Ray or Poison; Wands; Stone; Dragon Breath; Staves & Spells. It's all a bit more specific than 3e's Reflex/Will/Fortitude, but it has its own charm. "Save vs. Death or die" might be the sweetest phrase in gaming ever...

As usual there's a chart. You find your level and the required save, and try to hit the target number on 1d20. Again, dead easy. Effects that deal damage still deal half damage if you save - I'm glad to see this D&D staple still present here.

Clerics vs. Undead: Skipping over the spell lists for the nonce, we come to the Cleric's ability to turn undead. Again (you guessed it!) a chart is needed. You find the type of Undead, and the level of the Cleric, and that gives you a target number to aim for on 2d6. Eventually you can turn some undead automatically, or blast them into dust. It's just like the later iterations of the ability, the only real difference being that you turn 2d6 undead on a successful attempt, rather than 2d6 hit dice worth. So it's a bit more powerful, but I suppose that the undead will develop a resistance after a while. Oh, and evil Clerics can't turn undead at all, and they don't have the ability to command them yet either.

Tomorrow I'll be tackling the spell lists, which might take a while.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Men & Magic Part 2

After the classes and races we get to Alignment which is barely explained at all. It's defined as what 'stance' the character will take, and that's it. I take it as meaning that there is some sort of a cosmic struggle between Law and Chaos going on, and that alignment tells you what side of the struggle your character falls on.

The three alignments are Law, Neutrality and Chaos. As in Chainmail there is a list of what monsters belong with which alignment - and again there are no surprises here.

However, there is one line I've never picked up on before, just before the list: "Character types are limited as follows by this alignment". So it seems that Dwarves and Elves can only be Lawful or Neutral, and Hobbits must be Lawful. Men, as usual, can do whatever the hell they want.

Changing Class: Here we have the initial rules for what would eventually become dual-classing. It's 'not recommended' for Dwarves and Hobbits, and I can see why - they can only take one class! To change you must have a score of 16+ in the Prime Requisite of the new class. Clerics can't become Magic-Users, and vice-versa. This plays into the standard idea that M-Us and Clerics are antagonistic towards each other - perhaps M-Us theorise that divine magic is not divine at all, and simply the Clerics tapping the same ambient arcane energy that they do? Add in some guild antagonism between the two factions, and characters aren't allowed to switch from one guild to another. Voila - instant arbitrary restriction!

As usual, the actual rules don't tell you what to do once the character has changed class. I'm going to run it like AD&D dual-classing, where the PC can't use his old abilities until he reaches the same level he had been at on the old class.

Determination of Abilities: Now, about a third of the way into the booklet, we get to ability Scores. It's the usual six - Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma. They're rolled using 3d6 in order, so you are likely to get some weaksauce characters by today's standards. But it gets even better, because by the book - THE REF ROLLS YOUR STATS FOR YOU! Man, that just cracks me up for some reason. I'm going to try and convince my group to roll with it, but the odds are slim to none... Oh, and the order of the stats might look odd to modern eyes, but it's the three Prime Requisites at the start, followed by the rest. The Abilities are followed up by a roll of 3d6x10 for starting Gold Pieces.

At this point we get our first sample character - Xylarthen the Magic-User. Now you wouldn't be caught dead playing an M-U with an Intelligence of 11 these days, but as you'll see stats weren't quite so important in OD&D. I'll be using Xylarthen as an NPC, one of the guild members that the PCs can hire if they want. Going with the line that he would have made a better cleric, I'll play him as a guy whose family are heavily religious and influential, who decided to flout tradition and become a magic-user.

Strength: This is the Prime Requisite for Fighting Men, which means that if it is high they will earn XP faster, and if it is low they get it slower. Other than that? Nada. The days of Strength being the most important stat for melee are some way into the future.

Intelligence: The Prime Requisite for Magic-Users. The referee can use a character's Intelligence to determine whether certain actions would be taken, but I'm not a fan of limiting a PCs actions based on their scores. It also gives a PC one extra language per point above 10.

Wisdom: The Prime Requisite for Clerics, and can limit a PCs actions much as Intelligence does.

Constitution: Health and endurance, basically. It helps determine how well a PC can survive adversities such as paralyzation and being turned to stone. A character with a score of 15+ gets +1 hit point per die. It ain't much, but those hp are precious in OD&D. A Con score of 6 or under will get you a -1 penalty.

The chart for 'withstanding adversity' is the original incarnation of the system shock roll, but you know what is totally hardcore about it? It applies to paralyzation! So the next time an OD&D character gets paralyzed by a ghoul, there's going to be a % chance that his heart was paralyzed as well...

Dexterity: It applies to both manual speed and conjuration, though there's nothing to back this up in the rules. I'm taking this to mean that the characters with the highest Dex go first in whatever phase the round is in (i.e. movement, missile fire, melee, etc.). Also, a Dex of 12+ gives you +1 to hit with missiles, and one under 9 gives you -1.

Charisma: This is a combination of appearance and personality, and it's mainly used to determine how many 'unusual' hirelings a character can have, and how loyal they are. Charisma is most often a dump stat in the games I've played, but I get the feeling that in a game full of hirelings and henchmen it will be vital.

Oh, and get this quote: "In addition the charisma score is usable to decide such things as whether or not a witch capturing a player will turn him into a swine or keep him enchanted as a lover." It will also aid in attracting monsters into service, and I'm really looking forward to PCs trying that out.

Stat Swapping: You can juggle your stats around a bit in OD&D if you want to, but only to increase your Prime Requisite. Clerics can sacrifice 3 points of Strength to gain 1 point of Wisdom. Fighting-Men and Clerics can drop 2 points of Intelligence to add to their respective Prime Requisites. Fighting Men can drop 3 points of Wisdom for 1 Strength, and Magic-Users can drop 2 Wisdom for 1 Intelligence. All of these gains are apparently just for purposes of gaining XP. This doesn't affect much now, but once Strength becomes the primary means of being awesome in combat, it will be vital to remember. Finally, no stat can be reduced below 9.

The six D&D stats are a godsend in terms of the project I'm attempting. No matter what version of the game you pick up, there they are. Not even the scorched earth tactics of 4e could destroy them.

Languages: There's a few lovely tidbits scattered here. There's a Common tongue known by most humans on the "continent" (in this case Oerik or the Flanaess or whatever the main World of Greyhawk is called). Every other creature which can speak has its own language, and 20% can speak common.

And then there are alignment languages, which have fallen out of favor since 3e appeared. Each character can speak his alignment tongue, but those of the opposite alignment, while not being able to understand, will recognize what it is and give you the old what-for. I kind of like them as languages passed directly down from the Gods themselves, a language of cults and secret rites. It's also a good way to find out if Lawful Jim is really who he says he is...

We can also infer a few things from the languages that Dwarves and Elves can automatically speak. Dwarves can speak Gnome, Goblin and Kobold - they are friendly with Gnomes, and they often war with Goblins and Kobolds, meaning all of these races share the same general environment. Elves speak Orc, Hobgoblin and Gnoll - again implying they have frequent contact with these races, most likely as enemies.

NPCs: This section deals with the hiring of guys who can aid your PCs, which I understand was a common practice in the old days. I'm going to push it heavily in the form of advice from various trustworthy characters, and I'm hoping my players go for it.

Only the lowest level characters can be hired, which I suppose is fair enough - once a guy hits 2nd level, he's already pretty special. The hirer needs to advertise in inns and taverns and by any other means necessary, which takes time and money as determined by the ref. There is mention here of "dwarf-land" and "elf-land", which are presumably where Dwarf and Elf characters come from - I'm stealing those as the human terms for those regions.

In general, it takes at least 100gp to tempt a human, dwarves are more interested in gold, magic-users and elves desire magic items, and Clerics desire a place of worship they can go to. All this tells me is that Elves and Magic-Users will NEVER be hired, because who wants to drop their magic items on some 1st level goon? Otherwise it conforms to the stereotypes, and in a project as broad as this one every stereotype helps.

Monsters and NPCs encountered in the dungeon can be tempted into a characters service if they are of the same alignment - a bribe is usually required here. There's a lovely Gygaxian chart to roll on, and that determines the monster's reaction, anything from instant attack to utter loyalty.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Men & Magic Part 1

Now that the preliminary pre-D&D material is out of the way, we really get things moving with the very first D&D product ever - the three booklets of original D&D. There are a lot of problems with these rules, especially viewed through modern eyes - they're vague, full of important areas that aren't covered, and the art is adequate at best. But taken in context, as the work of a few eager gamers producing something they are obviously passionate about - it's brilliant. The whole product just oozes with an infectious enthusiasm, and I find that every time I read some I'm just itching to play. There may be things missing, but it doesn't matter, because what is included is top-notch.

We start with the "Forward", and from the first paragraph we are getting setting info about the World of Greyhawk (in its original existence as the land used for wargaming by the Castle and Crusade Society) - there is a "Great Kingdom", and nearby in a nice bog is located the weird enclave of Blackmoor. Blackmoor lies between the Great Kingdom and the fearsome Egg of Coot. None of this is explained yet, but as I understand things it's still valid in a general sense (although the Great Kingdom is a tad far away from Blackmoor on the official Greyhawk map - was it once bigger?).

The Introduction and Scope sections follow, and very briefly outline what's in the books and what the game covers. There's a pretty conservative Age Recommendation (12 and up?), but I guess these rules are a bit more arcane than the Mentzer Basic Set I learned to play with. The Number of Players recommended is one referee and from 4 to 50 players, but I doubt that's for a single session - in an entire campaign with rotating players based on whoever shows up, that seems workable.

Recommended Equipment is the usual stuff - the D&D booklets, polyhedral dice, CHAINMAIL, various bits of stationary, imagination, and 1 Patient Referee (heh). The only thing recommended that I don't have is the game Outdoor Survival - but thankfully all you need is the game map, and that's simple to find on the Interwebz - lookie here.

Preparation for the Campaign talks about the work required by the referee (who is not yet referred to as a Dungeon Master). Mostly this refers to creating the "underworld", and gives us a description that sums up Castle Greyhawk: "a huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane genuises". As I understand it Castle Greyhawk was the sole work of Zagyg, but it was only an example, so I don't feel beholden to include those generations if they're not mentioned elsewhere.

And finally we get to the meat - Classes. In OD&D there are three - Fighting Men (sporadically referred to as Fighters), Magic-Users and Clerics. That's it, and I'm a firm subscriber in the belief that it's all you need. Want to play a guy that fights? Fighting Man. Want a spellcaster? Magic-User. Want a combination of the two? Cleric. As much as i love Thieves and Rangers and the rest, the three beginning D&D classes cover everything the game really needs, so long as you have a good DM.

The section begins with the race restrictions per class - Fighting Men can be elves, dwarves, hobbits, or men; Magic-Users can be Men or Elves; and Clerics can only be Men. This is done for purposes of game balance, presumably. I wouldn't feel the need to explain it outside of inherent limitations of non-humans, except that those restrictions all get lifted as time and editions pass. I've mentioned before that the Adventurer's Guild that runs everything is very human-centric, even discriminatory in some areas, and that's where the racial class restrictions stem from. Eventually more enlightened folk will be in charge, and those restrictions will drop.

Fighting-Men: You've got to love a game in which the class descriptions take up a paragraph each. The Fighting Man has a number of abilities to set him apart: he can use all the magical weapons (and armor according to the Magic-User section) and gets more hit points than everyone else, but he is limited in choice with other magical items and can't cast spells. Once Fighting Men hit 9th level (becoming Lords) and build a castle, they are considered Barons and get a yearly income from taxes. It's pretty basic stuff, but I'm getting a bit weary of games where the PCs have a hundred abilities and modifiers to remember - this level of complexity seems about right to me. Plus, I'm itching to DM a game for PCs that have their own baronies. The baron thing also implies that there is plenty of unclaimed wilderness near Greyhawk for PCs to set up shop.

It's not stated that Fighting Men can use any weapons and armor, but if you extrapolate from allowable magic items that's what you get.

Magic-Users: Right up front, the book lays out what playing a magic-user will mean for you - you'll be ultra-powerful at high level, and weak at low levels. Many a gamer has complained about this over the years, but anyone doing so with the original booklets in hand should have already known what was in store. In terms of abilities, Magic-Users can use basically every item except for magic armor and weapons, but they can only arm themselves with daggers. Once 11th level (wizard) has been reached, they can make their own items - the costs aren't so prohibitive, but time requirements would mean either a lot of waiting for other characters, or the Magic-User sitting out of the campaign for a while. I don't mind this - there needs to be a mechanic for PCs to create items, but I prefer it when adventuring is the preferable way of acquiring them. Lastly, they can research new spells, but that gets properly dealt with later.

Armor restrictions aren't mentioned at all, though - is it possible that Magic-Users can cast in plate mail by-the-book? We'll find out later!

Clerics: Clerics combine some advantages of the previous two classes - they can use all magic armor and non-edged magic weapons, and can cast from their own list of spells. They also get the use of more magic items than Fighting Men. When building their strongholds they get help from "above" (which confirms the existence of at least one god) which means they pay half price. In addition to that a whole bunch of fanatically loyal soldiers will man the stronghold for free. As if that wasn't enough, the Cleric gets a barony and can collect tithes at double the rate of a Fighting Man - it's good to have god on your side.

There aren't any specific gods or pantheons mentioned, but high level Clerics must serve either Law or Chaos. I figure that the various gods that come in later still exist, but worship of a singular entity is at this point less important than what side of the Law vs. Chaos war you are on.

Again, weapon and armor restrictions have to be extrapolated from the allowable magic items. For Clerics that's easy - all armor and weapons that don't have blades (maces, hammers, etc.).

Races: Yeah, in the OD&D booklets race comes after class. It's a topsy-turvy madhouse! There are four races - Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits. And to put my biases up front - I love dwarves and hobbits, and I despise Elves.

Even moreso than the OD&D classes, these four races are the only essential ones in the game. Gnomes and Half-Elves and Half-Orcs are all cool in their own ways, but in the end disposable. Try chucking Elves out of the Player's Handbook and into the Monster Manual and see the riot build...

Once again, as in Chainmail, the races aren't described outside of their mechanical attributes. A working knowledge of Tolkien is pretty much assumed.

Dwarves: They can only be Fighters, and even then can only advance to 6th level. This is a respectable level in OD&D, so it's not a major problem game-wise. And again, it's those pesky racists running the Adventurer's Guild that are to blame.

In addition they get higher saving throws vs. magic; are the only characters able to fully use the +3 War Hammer; they can note slanting passages, traps, shifting walls and new constructions underground; and they can speak Gnome, Kobold and Goblin. It's a pretty meagre set of abilities when you stack it up against the level restrictions. Note also that there are as yet no Ability Score modifiers - those scores aren't as important to a character as they will later become.

Elves: Ah elves - the great conundrum of OD&D. If a person has questions about OD&D, "How do Elves work" is generally the first that crops up.

What the book says is that an Elf starts as either a Fighting Man or a Magic-User, and chooses which they want to be at the beginning of every game session. How this is applied is a mystery. Some DMs do it just like AD&D multi-classing, with the Elf having all the abilities at once, but splitting XP between each class. Others have the Elf choose which class they want at the start of each session, operating for that game as a character of that class only.

I'm going with the second option - whichever class the player chooses, that's what he plays as for that session. Hit points, saving throws, attack progression, spellcasting, magic item use - everything.

Elves can cast spells in Magic Armor. This implies that Magic-Users can't cast in armor, so that possibility is put to bed. If memory serves, AD&D Elven Fighter/Magic-Users can cast in regular armor as well - I guess it's a technique they develop along the way.

Elves are limited to 4th level as Fighting Men and 8th as Magic-Users. Damned elfophobes!

Elves can spot secret doors a bit easier, and can speak Orc, Hobgoblin, and Gnoll. They also get advantages noted in Chainmail when fighting certain creatures - as far as I can gather this applies to Elves wielding magic swords, and as far as I can tell it amounts to a small bonus against Orcs and goblins.

Hobbits: "Should anyone wish to be one..." Ahahaha, Gary sure hates 'em. Anyway, Hobbits are pretty weak - limited to 4th level Fighting Men, magic resistance like Dwarves, and "deadly accuracy" with missiles as detailed in Chainmail. This means that they get the range of a bow when firing stones (from a sling?), and for every two hobbits firing they count as three. I'm translating the last ability to give Hobbits an increased rate of fire when using a sling.

In addition the abilities from Chainmail ought to count, which makes these races a bit more powerful. Dwarves get to see in the dark, hate goblins, and get combat bonuses against giant-types. Elves can see in the dark, and can split-move and fire. Technically they should be able to turn invisible, but I'm attributing that to items or spells, not a natural ability. Hobbits can hide in forests, becoming virtually invisible, and this one I'm keeping - the little beggars need every advantage they can get.

Other Character Types: A short snippet that says it should be allowable for PCs to play as anything they want, provided they start weak. The example given is to start as a young dragon and progress upwards as worked out by the ref (I've heard the original example, before the Tolkien Estate got their knickers in a twist, was of a PC Balrog. Awesome.). I'll definitely be allowing such play. If any paragraph sums up the freewheeling spirit of OD&D, this is the one.

Tomorrow I'll be looking at the alignment chart, ability scores, languages and NPCs.