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.


  1. It seems you still need Good and Evil to be objective, rather than caster relative, for spells like Detect Good and Protection from Good to work. That is, seeking to kill you simply for being an evil bastard has to count as a Good intention, or it's not a barrier...

  2. Yes, well in D&D killing evil things can be skewed as 'opposing evil' and opposing evil is a good act. I'm not opoosed to that kind of morality in D&D.