Saturday, February 23, 2008

My First 4th Edition Character!

Over the Christmas period, Wizards of the Coast gifted us with the 4th Edition elf. Just yesterday, they gave is the 4th Edition rogue. Who am I to keep them apart? And so I present to you, with a sprinkling of fact and a dollop of speculation, my first 4th Edition character.

Name: Erdan
Race: Elf
Class: Thief
Level: 1
Alignment: Unaligned

Height: 6'0"
Weight: 130 lb.

Size: Medium

Speed: 7 squares

Vision: Low-light

Languages: Common, Elven

Strength: 13 (+1)
Dexterity: 18 (+4)
Constitution: 11 (--)
Intelligence: 11 (--)
Wisdom: 12 (+1)
Charisma: 13 (+1)

Hit Points: 23 (11 Bloodied)

Healing Surges: 6

Armor Class: 16 (+0 level bonus, +2 armor bonus, +4 Dex bonus)
(17 against opportunity attacks)
Reflex Defense: 16 (+0 level bonus, +2 class bonus, +4 Dex bonus)
Fortitude Defense: 10 (+0 level bonus)
Will Defense: 11 (+0 level bonus, +1 Wis bonus)

Initiative: +4

Trained Skills: Acrobatics (+9), Bluff (+6), Insight (+6), Perception (+10), Stealth (+9), Thievery (+9)
Other Skill Bonuses: +2 Nature

Feats: Alertness, Trapfinding (it's been mentioned that rogues get this for free)

Weapon Proficiencies: Dagger, hand crossbow, longbow, short sword, shortbow, shuriken, sling
Armor Training: Leather

Equipment: Leather Armor, Short Sword, Dagger


Elven Accuracy (Encounter/Free Action/Personal): Reroll an attack roll. Use the second roll, even if it is lower.

Wild Step: Ignore difficult terrain when you shift (even if you have a power that allows you to shift multiple squares.

Group Awareness: You grant non-elf allies within 5 squares a +1 racial bonus to Perception checks.


First Strike: At the start of an encounter, you have combat advantage against any creatures that have not yet acted in that encounter.

Rogue Tactics – Artful Dodger: You gain a bonus to AC equal to your Charisma modifier (+1) against opportunity attacks.

Rogue Weapon Talent: When you wield a shuriken, your weapon damage die increases by one size. When you wield a dagger, you gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls.

Sneak Attack: Once per round, when you have combat advantage against an enemy and are using a light blade, a crossbow, or a sling, your attacks against that enemy deal +2d6 extra damage.


Piercing Strike (At Will/Standard Action): When wielding a light blade you can slip your weapon past armor, making an attack with Dex vs. Reflex. You deal 1[W]+4 damage.

Deft Strike (At Will/Standard Action): When wielding a crossbow, light blade, or a sling, you can move 2 squares before the attack before making an attack with Dex vs. AC. You deal 1[W]+4 damage.

Tumble (Emcounter/Move Action/Personal): You can shift 3 squares (ignoring difficult terrain due to being an elf).

Crimson Edge (Daily/Standard Action): When wielding a light blade, you make an attack with Dex vs. Fortitude. On a hit you deal 2[W]+4 damage, and the target takes ongoing damage equal to 6 and grants combat advantage to you (save ends both). On a miss you deal half damage.

NOTE: It has been brought to my attention that my rogue cannot have the powers of Tumble or Crimson Edge due to level-based requirement. I'm leaving them in, though, because I don't have any known alternatives to swap them with.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Review: Original D&D Part 2 - Monsters & Treasure

by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson

The second booklet of the original D&D boxed set, entitled Monster & Treasure, serves the same purpose as the Monster Manual, with a dash of the treasure-related sections of the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Let me say that this book certainly doesn't mess about. There's the cover and the title page, both featuring artwork of dubious quality, the index, and then it's straight into the tables with barely a word of explanation. It's Gygax all over.

The table in question runs for two pages, and summarises the stats of every monster in the game. Needless to say that it would be highly unintelligible to anyone unfamiliar with the game. But then again, Original D&D isn't the version of the game that you use to introduce people. It was written for a small audience of hardcore wargamers, and they'd probably know what's going on.

There are a refreshingly small number of stats. There's Number Appearing (which is always some absurdly high range that I always ignored), Armor Class, Move in Inches, Hit Dice, % in Lair, and Treasure Type. And really, in the middle of a game you probably only need three of those. It's great.

After the table the book moves on to the actual monster descriptions. The list is surprisingly comprehensive. There are very few monsters added to the game after this book that are essential. Just as surprising are some of the monsters that aren't present. You won't find most of the quintessential D&D monsters, the ones that are unique to the game. Stuff like beholders, mind flayers, rust monsters, owlbears, and the gelatinous cube didn't come until later (although the cube gets a mention).

Mostly the entries focus on monsters from mythology and fantasy novels. The order of the creatures is seemingly random. It doesn't follow an alphabetical pattern, but rather a series of groupings by type. It makes some creatures hard to find until you learn your way around the book. So what are the groupings and monsters?

Humans: The first few "monsters" shown are the commonly encountered human-types, such as bandits, pirates, berserkers, etc. I'm a big fan of these. This is the sort of thing that was really missing from 3rd Edition, and I'm hoping it makes a comeback for 4th. Ready-made NPC stats are always a god-send. Extra points for the inclusion of Cavemen!

Humanoids: Original D&D has humanoids covered. Kobolds, Goblins, Orcs, Hobgoblins, Gnolls, Ogres, Trolls, and Giants. Back in the days before monsters could get class levels, you didn't battle 2nd-level Orc Fighters, you moved up to Hobgoblins or Gnolls. The only thing missing here is the Bugbear, and that came along soon enough to fill the 3 Hit Dice niche.

There are five types of Giants detailed here: Hill, Stone, Frost, Fire, and Cloud. That's all of the classic varieties except for Storm Giants. Don't fret, they come along soon enough.

Undead: The undead scale upwards in power much like humanoids. Skeletons (1/2), Zombies (1), Ghouls (2), Wights (3), Wraiths (4), Mummies (5), Spectres (6), and Vampires (7+). They've got all the HD filled out, and nearly all the classic types as well. And yes, level drain abounds. Level drain seems like a much more usable mechanic in this form of the game, because there are far fewer things to remember about your character. It was always a pain in AD&D to recall just how many things on your character sheet tied to level, and in 3e it's an utter nightmare. Here, it's the perfect way to instill the proper fear of the undead in your players, without grinding your game to a halt.

Shit That Turns You To Stone: I'm pretty sure that this hits all of the mythical creatures in this category - the Cockatrice, the Basilisk, the Medusa, and the probably-superfluous metallic bull Gorgon. The Gorgon as a metallic bull was always a strange one, but by all reports Gygax got it from a medieval bestiary. And honestly, it's just such an awesome monster that it demands to be included.

Mythological Made From Bits Of Other Creatures: This is a short category, which includes the Manticore (here called a Manticora), the Chimera, and the Hydra. The D&D Hydra doesn't have the typical snake's body, but is instead like a dinosaur with multiple heads. A twelve-headed Hydra in this game is just about the baddest thing going around.

Dragons: The Wyvern gets in first, followed by a three page entry on Dragons proper. This is a lot of space in a 40 page book, but when the game is called Dungeons & Dragons you can't call it excessive. The five classic Chaotic types are included (White, Black, Green, Blue and Red) with the Golden Dragon the sole representative of Law. There are six age categories of Dragon, and this determines how many hit points they get. It's amusing to see that a Very Old Dragon is one that's been alive for 100 years - D&D would later posit much longer lifespans for its draconic beasts. There are rules for attacking sleeping dragons, and for subduing them as well. I've always found it strange that dragons are the only monsters seemingly subject to this rule, but then again I've never seen it used in a game anyway. The rules for selling Dragons on the open market are D&D in its purest form.

Really Strange Humanoids: Yeah, I'm stretching here. Gargoyles and Lycanthropes are up next. The Lycanthrope entry includes Werewolves, boars, tigers, and bears. The Wererat is sadly absent.

Really Big Bastards: The Purple Worm! This guy is a party-killer, and even in these earliest of days he can swallow you whole. Sea Monsters are given a cursory treatment, but it seems like Gygax deemed them beyond the scope of the game to handle. Their stats are very sketchy.

Human-Animal Hybrids: The two classics of mythology - the Minotaur and the Centaur. No surprises here, apart from the humourous dig at rules lawyers that Gygax throws into the Minotaur entry.

Forest-Dwellers and Fairy-Tale Creatures: Ah, the beginning of a long tradition of monsters that are seldom used. This is the domain of the Unicorn, and all those fairy-types that I've never seen in a game - Nixies, Pixies, and Dryads. Actually, Dryads got used a lot in games when I was a teenager, for some reason...

Gnomes, Dwarves, and Elves continue this group, and it's weird to see that Hobbits don't get mentioned. Just more of that Gygax-brand mild contempt for the little folk, methinks!

Ents are next, although my book calls them Treants. They were Ents in the original printings. Then we get more staples of myth: the Pegasus, Hippogriff, Roc, and Griffon.

Other-Planar Beings: The Invisible Stalker gets an entry, as do all four types of Elemental, Djinni, and Efreet. The Efreet entry has a mention of the fabled City of Brass, which is one of the very first mentions of a specific setting in D&D.

Oozes: There is a surprisingly comprehensive spread of oozes - Ochre Jelly, Black Pudding, Green Slime, Gray Ooze, Yellow Mold. Green Slime and Yellow Mold are lethal bastards, and I'm surprised that I've never seen them used much - I guess they got passed over because they never had cool illustrations. I must also laugh at Gygax's description of the Black Pudding as a "nuisance monster". It's got 10 Hit Dice and deals 3d6 damage per hit, which is well hard by the standards of the day.

Animals: And finally, a category for horses, and a general guide for creating animals and insects of all sizes.

That's it for the proper monster entries, except that the list is rounded out with some suggested monsters at the end - Titans, the Cyclops, Living Statues (including the legendary Iron Golem of Maure Castle), Salamanders, Gelatinous Cubes, and even robots.

From there we go into the Treasure Tables, which use the old system of alphabetical categories. I think I prefer this as a way of randomising treasure to the Challenge Rating system of 3rd Edition - it keeps things reasonably balanced while still providing the chance for that occasional big haul. Treasures were much too standardised for my liking in 3e.

The rest of the book is taken up by magical item descriptions, and there are some interesting differences here from later editions. The first is that every magical sword is intelligent. This may be hard to process for AD&D players, because those things were rare in that game. But here, 20% of all magical items will be swords, and all of those are going to have a personality. It sounds like a lot of work to me, and I can see why the idea fell out of favour later on. It should also be noted that while all magical swords get a bonus to hit, only those with a bonus against specific creatures add to damage. It's another strange disconnect from the later game. Other weapon types aren't intelligent, but they all get their bonuses to damage. I'm guessing that players got this "confused" all the time, because it all got simplified eventually.

The rest is a the usual assortment of potions, rings, scrolls, wands, staves, and miscellanous stuff. You'd be hard pressed to find an item from the later core rules that's not here, other than the "named" ones like Heward's Handy Haversack, et al.

What we have with this book is the foundation of the AD&D Monster Manual, and also the core list of magical items that would see the game through for years. I think it's telling that nearly all of these monsters appeared statistically unchanged in AD&D, some 5 years later - Gygax got a lot of this stuff right the first time. It's fascinating as a historical artifact, but it's also a masterclass on cramming as many useful and evocative monsters and items into one book as is possible. It's probably the most important D&D book ever in terms of establishing the game's internal mythology.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Review: Original D&D Part 1 - Men & Magic

I promised I'd start doing this long ago, so I suppose it's about time that I got to it. This is the first installment in what is hopefully going to be a long series of D&D product reviews, starting from the beginning and moving through them chronologically. The first product is naturally going to be the original D&D boxed set, and the first review will be of the first book in that set - Men & Monsters.

I don't actually have a hard copy of this book. I'm working from a PDF of the Original Collector's Edition re-release, so if anything I say doesn't jibe with your own copy, that could be the where the discrepancy lies. And now, onward!

by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson

The original D&D boxed set is comprised of three booklets, each about 30 pages long. The first book, Men & Magic, is essentially what would later become the Player's Handbook. It contains everything you need to create a character, as well as a list of spells.

The initial impression that these books give is that of being gloriously unpolished. The cover is tan, with a servicable yet uncoloured picture of a warrior. And you have got to love the tag-line under the heading - "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures" It's a mouthful, and it's also something that would be anathema to a lot of gamers that I have met. But I love that in the olden days D&D wasn't trying to hide its war-gaming roots.

The book begins with an uh... 'Forward' that goes into a little of the history behind the game's development. It's a fascinating snippet that has kept would-be D&D historians chasing their tales for years. The gist of it is that a bunch of wargamers known as The Castle & Crusade Society (of which Gygax and Arneson were members) published their rules for medieval fantasy wargames as a supplement to the game Chainmail. Dave Arneson used the Chainmail rules to run a game where the players controlled one character instead of an army, and this became an ongoing campaign known as Blackmoor. Gary Gygax heard about the game, and from that he developed D&D.

This is followed by an introduction, which vaguely details what the game is about and what is involved. The requirements are pretty alien to me, it has to be said. Age level is given as 12 and up, which is probably fair enough - my friends and I started at 10 or so. The number of players is insane, though: "At least one referee and from four to fifty players can be handled in any single campaign..." Gygax ran a campaign where a lot of players were filtering through, forming various disparate groups all with him as the referee. I've never seen this type of game before, as every campaign I've ever been in has involved a solid group of 5 or 6 people that doesn't change much.

The recommended equipment is also important, as apparently you need a copy of Outdoor Survival (a game by Avalon Hill) and Chainmail, a medieval wargame designed by Gygax that was a sort of precursor to D&D. This is something of a fallacy - Chainmail is only necessary if you want more detailed combat rules, and Outdoor Survival is only needed for the game board, which can be used for ad hoc forays into the wilderness. I'll be covering both products in brief in the future, but for the moment they can be ignored.

And then we get to the important part: the rules. Even long-time D&D players will be surprised by what's here; or more accurately, what isn't here. For instance, there are only three classes: Fighting Man (no, not Fighter), Cleric and Magic-User. The Thief, normally considered to be one of the game's four essential classes, is nowhere to be seen.

The three classes are much the same as they were presented in later editions. Fighting Men have the pick of the crop when it comes to magic weapons, but use no spells. Magic-Users have a lot of spells, but can't use magic weapons or armour. Clerics fall sort of half-way, and use a different spell list then Magic-Users, more focused on healing. They can turn undead as well, with much the same rules as later editions. These classes run on strong archetypes, and they haven't changed much at all over the years.

Probably the most jarring change here is that every class rolls a d6 for hit points. The Fighting Man still gets the most, and the Magic-User the least, because the rate of progression is different for each class. It's a bit confusing, actually. At 1st level, the Fighting Man has 1+1 hit dice - he rolls a d6, and adds 1 to get his total. Then at 2nd level, the chart says he has 2 hit dice. Where does the extra +1 go? The chart is full of discrepancies like that. If I ever get to run this version of the game I'll be going with the interpretation that most favours the players. It's a deadly enough game as it is.

A lot of the class write-ups are dedicated to what happens when you build a stronghold and the like. I've never seen players get too involved with this stuff. There are also guidelines for Magic-Users to create magic items that are pretty useful in that they make simple items viable to create and powerful items not worth the time. It's exactly how I like my item creation rules.

It's interesting that at no point is there a list of what mundane weapons and armour the classes can use. We are told that Fighting Men can use all magical weapons, that Magic-Users can't use magic weapons and armour, and that Clerics can use magic armour but only non-edged magic weapons. By the book, the only restriction on normal weapons and armour is that Magic-Users can only use daggers. Otherwise, Magic-User in plate-mail? Done. Cleric with longsword? Go ahead. Presumably Gygax intended the restrictions on magic arms to include normal ones as well, but it's never explicitly spelled out.

The list of races available is similarly short compared to later editions, limited to Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Hobbit. Humans are the baseline, with no bonuses or limitations, but the other races get various abilities to set them apart. My PDF copy of the books has Halflings, but they were Hobbits in the earliest printings. Eventually the Tolkien Estate got wind of this, and the name was changed. Balrogs got excised from the game as well, and Ents became Treants.

Dwarves can only be Fighting-Men, may only progress to 6th level, and have a couple of other simple abilities related to finding stone traps and slanting passages. Hobbits are also limited to Fighting Man, and only 4th level at that! There's a certain level of veiled contempt in Gygax's writing whenever he refers to these little guys that I find amusing. He's on record as being no great fan of Lord of the Rings, and the Hobbit race was included apparently to attract Tolkien's many fans to the game.

Elves in D&D are a story all by themselves. They are Fighting Men and Magic-Users, but can only operate as one at a time in any adventure. How this is supposed to work is left as a mystery, explained in only the most vague and contradictory fashion. The best thing to do is probably to check the next version of the rules (the Holmes-edited Basic Set) and see how they did it. I would certainly be interested to know just how groups back then handled the elf, and how those interpretations differed from group to group.

Alignment is also much simpler than it later became. Your character can be Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic. That's it, no mention of Good or Evil is made. Alignment seems less like a measure of your character's internal qualities, and more of an indicator of what side you are on in the cosmic struggle between Law and Chaos. That's not explicit, though. The idea of alignment is just thrown out there and abandoned, and it's up to the referee to decide what is done with it.

Finally we get to Ability Scores, and it's the classic array of six: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity and Charisma. Determination of these is brutal - you roll 3d6 in order - that is, first you roll for Strength, then for Intelligence, and so on down the line. But that's ok, because Ability Scores are nowhere near as important as they would later become. High Dexterity might give you a +1 to hit with missile weapons, and high Constitution gives you +1 hit points per level. Strength gives you no combat bonuses at all. Having a high score in the ability that's most important for your class lets you gain experience points faster. It's a refreshing change from the reliance on stats fostered by later editions. Besides, there are limited rules for raising scores by lowering others, so you can probably get the scores you need without a lot of difficulty.

Following a couple of pages on hiring NPCs and forcing monsters into service, there's a great section of PC relatives and rules for leaving them your stuff when you die. Not only that, but there are guidelines for what happens if the original character returns from the dead to claim his stuff! I can't wait to introduce this into a campaign.

Equipment is really basic, as you'd expect in a 36 page book. Nothing out of the ordinary in the list, and encumbrance gets only a cursory treatment. That's good - I've never paid too much attention to it anyway. Experience points also get the once-over, and it's interesting to see that XP gained is commensurate with the risks undertaken - a high level character on the first level of the dungeon gets very little. And in true bastard Gygax fashion, you can't get XP above a 1-for-1 basis, so if your 1st level Fighting Man somehow knocks over a dragon you're outta luck.

The combat system is the familiar one - you find your level on the chart, cross-index it with the target's AC, and find the number you need to hit on 1d20. That's how it worked until THAC0 came along, and even that was just a different expression of the same system. What you don't get is the details - there are no rules for initiative, or anything else. For that you need Chainmail. The biggest difference in combat is that every weapon deals 1d6 damage. A dagger does 1d6, a sword does 1d6, an axe does 1d6. It's great. I love the fact that any weapon attack can be deadly to a 1st level character. It would be hard for modern players to accept, though. They love their d12s. Also, death comes at 0 hit points. There's no hovering at death's door, you get pushed inside by a burly man with a pointed stick. PC fatalities must have been obscenely common.

The rest of the book is taken up by spells, and it's a damn good list. You won't find any of the named spells like Bigby's Crushing Hand, but you will find pretty much all the classics. Sleep, Charm Person, Fire Ball, Lightning Bolt. Cure Light Wounds. The only absolute D&D staple that is absent is Magic Missile. The Magic-User list only goes to level 6, and the Cleric list to level 5, but you could seriously run campaigns for years without ever expanding it. The loose spell descriptions are great as well. There are a lot of ways that a smart player could use them to his advantage, and I always like to see that.

Intriguingly, all spell-casters require spellbooks. That includes Clerics!

The art in these books, by George Bell, is infamous. To be honest, it's all bad, but there are some interesting pieces in Men & Magic. The bearded man standing next to a tree that comes up to his knee is nice, except that it is clearly labelled 'DWARF'. And what's wrong with the following picture?


But you know, some things can earn you forgiveness for any misdeed. Case in point:

Ah, it was the 70s alright. God bless you, George Bell!

So that's Men & Magic. It's vague in places, and confusing in others, but it crams the entirety of character creation into under 40 pages. The rules are so open-ended and just begging for DM interpretation that I want to play it - it's exactly the antidote I need for 3e's heavily structured and codified style. More than a historical curio, Men & Magic is the Player's Handbook in it's most compact form, and everything that made the game awesome was here from the start.