Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Alignment in my Campaign

I've been thinking lately about how alignment will work in my campaign. Alignment has been a problematic concept in D&D for as long as I've been gaming, and I feel the need to codify just exactly what it is and what it represents.

I think a part of the problem is that it models several different concepts that are only tangentially related. On the one hand, it tells you which side you are on in the grand cosmic struggle for the fate of all reality - in other words, who you are aligned with. On the other, it gives you guidelines and boundaries that define a character's behaviour. It's a nebulous concept, and yet it's also concrete due to the fact that it can be detected by magic. I'm big into finding rationalisations and explanations for this kind of stuff, even if those explanations are pure nonsense. So long as it all makes sense in my own head, that's good enough for me.

So I put my head to the problem, and came up with a solution inspired by an article that Gary wrote in The Dragon #8. This article lays out a lot of stuff about the Outer Planes, and particularly focuses on their relationship to monsters and magic weapons. The article theorises that magic weapons extend into the planes, and from there it comes to the conclusion that if there are magic weapons designed to work better against a specific type of creature, then every type of creature must have its own pocket dimension, in which rests a part of its existence. It's heady stuff, and really hard to condense and explain, but it's definitely worth a read.

The idea that every creature type has a pocket dimension got me thinking that there could be a plane for each alignment. I don't even need to create new ones, because that's the very idea behind D&D's planar cosmology to begin with: each of the Outer Planes is keyed to a certain alignment already. My conclusion is very simple. A being's soul resides not completely in its own body, but partially in the Outer Plane that corresponds to his alignment. They are born with no alignment to speak of, and their behaviours as they grow up determine where their soul resides. The soul is not beholden to that plane, though, and a change in behaviour can shift it around - unless magic comes into play. Certain magic items (such as a helm of alignment change) can lock the character's soul to a plane, as can deals with the Devil and other such things.

So that's my reconciliation of the disparate elements of alignment. We have the behavioural aspects determining where the soul resides, and the very fact that the soul has a concrete location gives detection spells and the like something to lock on to. Again, it's more esoteric thinking that will probably have no bearing on my campaign, but it helps me to sleep at night.

D&D Basic Set part 4

Today I get into the portion of the book that deals with adventuring.

Time and Movement in the Dungeons: No changes from OD&D here. We get a turn defined as ten minutes in the game, and unencumbered characters are said to be able to move 240 feet in that time if they are moving cautiously. Characters can go double that speed if they aren't being careful. Fully armoured characters move half that, and those with armour and a heavy load move a mere 60 feet a turn. It's interesting to note that there seems to be no distinction between the different types of armour in their effect on movement. A character is either fully armoured or unarmoured, with nothing in between. Does that mean a character in leather is as slow as one in plate mail? I'll probably house-rule that one.

Encumbrance: There's a rudimentary system in place for encumbrance that is simple yet effective. As noted above, a character is either armoured or unarmoured. An unarmoured character can move 240 feet per turn, and an armoured one can move 120. A character who is carrying a heavy load of equipment will move at the same rate as an armoured character, and a character both wearing armour and carrying a heavy load will move 60 feet per turn. The various items on the equipment list aren't given a weight, but players are encouraged to note down where they are carrying everything. Otherwise, it looks like you just eyeball it and decide if the character is heavily loaded or not. The only guideline given is for coins: all coins weigh the same, and a character carrying 600 coins is heavily loaded. Strength doesn't factor into it, except for one sentence where it mentions that fighters are likely to carry more stuff, but their high strength offsets it.

Also, we get an NPC: Malchor the Magic-User. We don't learn much about him, except for the equipment he takes into the dungeon with him. But he'll be an NPC hanging around the Adventurer's Guild in my campaign.

Light: This section on light sources in the dungeon provides a number of clarifications to the OD&D rules. The ability of Elves and Dwarves to see in the dark is reiterated, and its range of 60 feet is brought in from Supplement I. Torches are now given a duration of six turns (1 hour), while lanterns are said to burn for 24 turns (4 hours). We also get the first indication of the nature of infravision, when it is said that Dwarves and Elves lose their ability to see 60 feet in the dark if they are near a light source.

Traps and Doors: Traps, as in OD&D, are sprung on a roll of 1 or 2 on 1d6. This seems to apply mostly to pit traps and the like. The rules for doors are also the same, with most of them being stuck and requiring a roll of 1 or 2 to open. It's also good to see that doors still always swing shut behind the players, and that monsters can open doors automatically. It seems that Holmes is about as forgiving to the PCs as Gary was. Secret doors also work the same. No sense changing what works, now, is there?

Surprise: Yep, it's still a case of rolling 1d6, and being surprised on a 1 or 2. The chance for a character to drop what he is holding when surprised is still present, but it has dropped from 25% to 1-in-6.

Wandering Monsters: Now, here's a big difference right off the bat. In OD&D, the DM checks for wandering monsters at the end of every turn. In these rules, the DM only rolls at the end of every third turn. That's a significant drop in the number of random encounters, from an average of one an hour to an average of one every three hours. The determination of encounter distance has also been altered, from 20-80 feet to 20-120 feet.

The number of wandering monsters encountered is greatly clarified. In OD&D it was left very nebulous, but here we get a basic range for every result on the tables. There's also a bit about increasing the numbers on lower levels of the dungeon, or if characters are travelling in greater numbers, or for higher level characters. This is mostly from OD&D, except for the part about increasing numbers for higher-level parties. This is something I don't agree with, as it smacks of the phenomenon often seen in computer games, where the world scales up with your character. I'll still use it, rationalising that the monsters have gotten better at knowing when dangerous PCs are lurking the dungeons. But I don't gotta like it!

As to the wandering monster tables themselves, there are significant changes in what monsters appear. It's mostly based on the tables from Supplement I, but things have been rearranged, monsters have been added and others have been taken out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 3

Today I'm looking at a number of different topics, from equipment to alignment to languages. There's not a lot here that is different from OD&D, but I'm going to go through and point out the minor differences anyway.

I'll kick off with a quick look at the equipment list in the Basic Set. There are only a few small differences from the one in OD&D. Spears have raised in price from 1 gold piece to 2 gold pieces for some reason. It seems arbitrary, but who knows what Holmes was thinking. My in-game explanation will be that spears are going out of use in civilised lands, so not as many are being manufactured. Hence, those that are for sale cost a touch more.

The merchant ships and galleys are gone, but those things were all worth thousands of gold pieces, well beyond the scope of the low-level characters covered by these rules. Belladonna has been removed, again for seemingly arbitrary reasons. Traditionally it's a herb said to ward against werewolves, but I guess you could say the same about wolvesbane, which has been kept. I guess that it's become very rare by this point of my campaign. The sole addition to the list is the Tinder Box, which is such a vital piece of equipment that it mystifies me that it wasn't in OD&D. The sudden appearance of tinder boxes seems hard to reconcile, unless I say that they have only just been invented, but that seems very unlikely. It's more probable that they came standard with any purchase of a light source, up until now, when shopkeeps start charging for them.

The section on character creation continues, with a brief description of the classes not detailed in this set, some notes on handling characters with very poor stats, a bit recommending that each player controls a single character, and some more on what happens when a PC dies. They've kept the rules for relatives inheriting a dead PCs stuff, which I'm very happy to see. But otherwise there's nothing here that hasn't been covered before.

Some guidelines for hiring NPCs follow, and these are almost identical to those in OD&D. The only change is a concrete way for determining how much it costs to advertise to hire such an NPC – 1d6 x 100 gold pieces, which seems a bit rich considering that you are limited to hiring 1st level characters. I can't even fathom where that money goes, unless you have to buy some sort of a license to hire people.

Alignment comes next, and this is a complete departure from the OD&D system. Instead, Holmes is using the later one detailed by Gary in The Strategic Review #6. It's not quite the nine-alignment system of AD&D, but it's more complicated than the Law-Neutrality-Chaos found in OD&D. The Basic Set has five alignments: Lawful Good, Lawful Evil, Neutral, Chaotic Good and Chaotic Evil. Chaotic characters are described as unpredictable, and Lawfuls as having a strict code of behaviour. We're definitely out of the realm of alignment just determining what side you're on the grand cosmic struggle, and into the period where it defines your character's basic behaviour and moral code.

We finish up with a section on Language, and this is seriously taken almost word for word from OD&D. The only change is to expand alignment languages to cover the new categories.

So, not much of interest today, I have to say. But that's what comes of going in depth for a compilation of stuff I've already gone in-depth on. Not every day can be a winner, I'm afraid, but I soldier on regardless.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On Castle Greyhawk and My Campaign

The initial plan for my Ultimate Sandbox campaign was to centre the whole thing around Castle Greyhawk, the original megadungeon from Gary Gygax’s campaign. I was going to use the Castle Zagyg supplements from Troll Lord Games for this, in conjunction with the stuff that Rob Kuntz has been putting out. But it seems less and less likely that Castle Zagyg will see the light of day beyond what has already been released. So what’s a DM to do when the vagaries of life and business get in the way of a good campaign? As usual, it’s time to put on my thinking cap. Or should that be my cap of thinking?

The first thing that springs to my mind is that the castle has had a number of incarnations over the years, both official and unofficial. Let’s take a look at them!

The Original Castle: This is the original dungeon designed by Gary that was used for the first year or so of his campaign. I think it was about 13 levels deep, with a similar number of sub-levels, and had a chute at the bottom that led to China. So far as I know, this baby hasn’t seen publication anywhere, though some of the sub-levels became TSR modules EX1, EX2 and WG6.

The Rob-Gary Castle: After Rob Kuntz became the first player to 'beat' Castle Greyhawk (by finding that chute to China) Gary brought him in as a co-DM. Castle Greyhawk and Rob’s El Raja Key dungeon were merged to become one gigantic sprawling megadungeon. Again, this dungeon was never published, although Rob Kuntz has released a number of products detailing small portions of it.

WG7 Castle Greyhawk: Now I’ve never read this one fully, but the brief skimming I’ve given it, in combination with the general scorn it receives in old-school circles, leads me to have a negative opinion. For those who don’t know, this is an out-and-out comedy module, with absolutely no basis in Gary’s campaign. Now Gary was not averse to humour and a good pun, but I can’t bring myself to consider this a proper incarnation of the castle.

WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins: This is a pretty solid bit of dungeon design, but it hardly qualifies as a megadungeon, nor as a design by Gary. Even so, it’s the official TSR/WotC version of the castle, so I’ll need to get it into my campaign somehow.

Castle Zagyg: This was the real deal, Gary’s version of the castle brought into print for the first time. Alas, he passed on before the project could be completed, but we did at least get the first set detailing the actual castle and the first dungeon level beneath it. As I understand it, this was sort of an amalgamation of the different versions of Castle Greyhawk that Gary had run over the years.

So the first question is, how do I incorporate all of these disparate versions of Castle Greyhawk into my campaign? The answer I came up with was inspired by the Castle Zagyg supplements, most notably Dark Chateau. In those products, the castle was surrounded by a strange mist that prevented PCs from entering the area, no doubt because it had yet to be published. It’s a pretty clunky bit of adventure design, but it lead me to the conclusion that Zagyg (the mad wizard who created the castle) would periodically seal off the area with his magic while he redesigned the castle. So Gary’s design was the original castle, then Zagyg redesigned it as the Gary-Rob merged version, then as the Castle Zagyg version, and finally as the official TSR version. You’ll note that the comedic version from WG7 was not included, but that’s not to say I’ve ditched it completely. I’ll probably use it as a cursed demi-plane within the castle, as I’ve seen suggested elsewhere.

But this leads me to another problem: I don’t want to get stuck with a crappier version of Castle Greyhawk once I make the switch to WGR1. To get around this, I envision that there will be a room or a machine or something that can be used to transport the PCs through time with regards to the castle. So if you still want to adventure in the Castle Zagyg version, you zip into this special room, pull the lever, and zam, you’re there. The time travel won’t affect anything outside the castle, but it’s a good way to keep all the versions in play (and to make the place even more sprawling and confusing.)

The first two versions of the castle, those from the original campaign, will probably never be made public, so I doubt I’ll ever use them in a game. These will both have been around in the nebulous pre-history of my campaign. I may design my own versions of them should I ever decide I want my PCs to be able to travel back in time to explore them.

As for the Castle Zagyg version of the castle, the one I had planned to centre my campaign around, that’s another problem entirely. I’ll definitely use what has been released by Troll Lord Games, that’s for sure. With no guarantee of more releases, though, I need an alternative. Luckily one has been provided, in the form of the Castle of the Mad Archmage. No, it’s not Gary’s work. But it’s better than anything I could come up with myself. It will be the basis of my campaign, and if more official Castle Zagyg releases do come out, I can just have Zagyg summon the mists for another redesign, and the Castle of the Mad Archmage goes into the time travel vault. Lovely!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 2

Today I'm going to take a look at the races and classes in the Basic Set, and how they differ from their presentation in OD&D. The classes included here are Fighting Men, Magic-Users, Clerics and Thieves. The races included are Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings. The first thing to note is that a whole bunch of classes and races have been dropped. From the classes we have Paladins, Rangers, Monks, Illusionists, Druids, Assassins and Bards, and from the races we lose Half-Elves. Obviously Holmes wanted to simplify the game, and cut the options back to the core. I find it interesting that he has kept the Thief, when it was a later addition to the game. It's certainly a strong archetype in sword and sorcery fiction, and one not covered by the three original classes. I think its inclusion here, and thus its subsequent entry into the later Basic Sets, helped cement the class as one of the core elements of the game.

For my campaign, the classes and races not included here will no longer be available to PCs. That's not to say that those types will vanish from the game. On the contrary, they'll still be around as NPCs, and the older PCs may still be out there. But until I get to the AD&D Player's Handbook, there won't be any new characters with those classes, as they become estranged from the Adventurers' Guild.

Fighting Men: The Fighter is probably the most stable class in the history of the game, and that holds true here. Basically nothing about it has changed from OD&D, except to note that the hit point method from Supplement I is being used (meaning that Fighters roll 1d8 per level for hit points instead of 1d6). I also can't find a reference to Fighters getting multiple attacks against creature of 1 Hit Dice, but that could be concealed later in the rules. The stuff about high-level Fighters being able to build strongholds is also omitted, but that's more because the Basic Set only covers levels 1 to 3.

Magic-Users: The basics of the Magic-User remain unchanged, but there are a few minor changes. As per Supplement I, M-Us roll 1d4 per level for hit points. Their spell progression is slightly slower, with a 3rd level M-U being able to memorize just two 1st level spells instead of three. The magic item creation rules are gone, but again that's because this set only covers low levels.

Clerics: Clerics are also mostly the same, but it is interesting to note that they are now specifically said to dedicate themselves to one or more gods. Previously Clerics had been dedicated to Law or Chaos, and nothing further was needed. The switch to actual deities is a significant moment. Their weapon restrictions are also clarified, with edged weapons being specifically disallowed. It's not a change, but it was a vaguely stated rule in the original booklets.

Thieves: Thieves are much the same as presented in Supplement I, except that only humans can take the class. It's mentioned in places that Elves, Dwarves and Halflings can be Thieves, but readers are directed to AD&D for those rules. The alignment restrictions change slightly, mostly because the expanded alignment from The Strategic Review #6 is in use. One thing that hasn't changed, but that I never picked up on before, is that in OD&D Thieves can use every weapon there is. They're still restricted to swords and daggers for magical weapons, but as far as regular weapons go they can wield everything.

Dwarves: Although nothing about Dwarves has changed from OD&D, the restriction to the Fighter class and the presentation here is important. Later editions of the Basic Set have the demi-humans as classes in their own right, and that's a direct result of the simplification done here. Oh, and their infravision is specifically mentioned here, whereas before a little detective work was required to figure that out (it was only mentioned in the monster entry for Dwarves, and in Chainmail).

Elves: The main difference with Elves is that their ability to operate as Fighters and Magic-Users is clarified. Rather than choosing a class to play at the start of each game, Elves can now use the abilities of each class at all times. The compromise is that they split their experience points between the classes, and thus advance more slowly. This is in line with the multi-classing rules from Supplement I.

Halflings: Like Dwarves, Halflings are now restricted to the Fighter class. Their ability to become nearly invisible in forests is stated here, whereas before it had been only detailed in the Chainmail rules. The bonus they get to missile fire is also clarified to be a simple +1 to hit. In the earlier rules this had been stated in terms of Chainmail, so it wasn't clear how it worked in D&D. There's also a note that they can only use weapons and armour that have been cut down to their size, but no mechanical disadvantages are detailed. I suppose it would put a serious crimp on the use of magical arms and armour, though. Lastly, despite being Fighters, Halflings only get 1d6 hit points per level now. I'm pretty sure this is a new development, and a further gimping of the race.

At this point I should note that we are well into the period where the word Hobbit can no longer be used in TSR products, due to legal action from the Tolkien Estate. So from this point forward, they are halflings. I'm going to run with this, starting by using it as an insult from other races, and gradually just having it become an accepted term. The wee beggars will still call each other Hobbits, but for the most part the name won't come up.

The classes are followed up by a brief discussion of hit points. The one thing of note here is that the rate of healing has changed. In OD&D, characters regained no hit points on the first day of rest, and 1 hit point per day after that. Now they regain 1-3 hit points per day. It's a big change that will drastically reduce time spent recuperating. I guess the Guild in my campaign just has better facilities and better training in self-healing now.

That's it for today. Next time around I'll be getting into equipment, NPCs, and maybe alignment if time permits.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An Incomplete History of Oerth - Part 1

Now that I've read through every OD&D product, and taken copious notes, a basic outline of the history of my campaign world-to-be is emerging. Certainly none of this stuff was ever intended to fit together, and a good portion of it is conjecture on my part. But all of it has some basis in the official rulebooks and magazines, and I'll try to explain how I came to certain conclusions as I go. So here is a rough outline of history, as I have it at the end of the OD&D era.


The events of Michael Moorcock's Elric stories take place. (I included this due to the presence of the Melnibonean mythos in Supplement IV. Going off memory, the Elric stories end with a grand battle between Law and Chaos in which the universe is destroyed and reborn, so I've placed it before time with that in mind.)

THE VERY DISTANT PAST (So far back that almost no signs remain)

The events of The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien take place on the area of Oerth that corresponds to Europe. (There are a large number of Tolkien references in early D&D products. Combine this with the assertion that Oerth is a parallel Earth, and Tolkien's conceit that Middle-Earth was set in Earth's past, and I decided to include these events in my campaign history. It should also be noted that Gygax modelled the geography of his original campaign on North America, and I'm running with that, so these events happened across the ocean from the main Greyhawk continent.)

There is a great flood (or possibly two) when the ice caps melt during a war between the gods for control of the planet. Some of the gods save their subjects from the flood, while others transform them to adapt to the water. Sea elves and mermen are created by the gods of Law and Neutrality, while those of Chaos make the Sahuagin. Atlantis, Mu and Lemuria are all sunk beneath the waves during this flood. (These tidbits come from the Sahuagin entry in Supplement II, as well as the section on underwater adventuring.)

THE LESS DISTANT PAST (Many thousands of years ago, these events are now dim legend)

In forgotten ages past, in kingdoms unheralded and dead centuries of untold history, a fiery confrontation emerges between witch covens world-wide. The myriad witches of the woodlands and the fields form an alliance which dominates all other covens. This group forcibly directs the studies of other witches, and great emphasis is placed on the magic of plants and animals, that they might grow stronger still in their respective domains. But there are those who seek darker and more Godly enchantments, pursuing powers of devastation and the very elements. They promise to teach what they learn, to enslave the world of men, and to shape raw power to the ends of witches everywhere. This the alliance will not permit, for power inspires fear, fear of those that have it. Those who ally with the new Secret Coven are cast out, and in time only the mountains offered refuge to the members of this radical coven. (These events are described in the article on Witches in The Dragon #5.)

The events of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories take place in the area of Oerth that corresponds to Europe. (Supplement IV featured the Hyborian mythos, so I have placed Howard's stories in the history of my campaign. Again, it's set in Europe, and so will probably have little bearing on my campaign. But it's there if and when I want to use it.)

In the region of Oerth that corresponds to America, a continent-spanning empire rises and eventually falls. Their legacy includes the widespread number of Mummies found in dungeons, and the semi-scientific classification of monsters. (This is pure conjecture on my part, simply to explain why Mummies are everywhere, and why some monsters in OD&D have alternate Latin names. Plus, there's always a fallen empire in D&D campaigns. It's the law.)

The Throne of the Gods is carved by ancient Dwarves into the heart of a mountain. (This is from the Artifacts section of Supplement III. The race that created it is not specified, but I figure Dwarves are the most appropriate.)

The Axe of the Dwarvish Lords is forged in a volcano by a long-forgotten Dwarven King, possibly during a particularly bloody war between Dwarves and Men. It is passed down from king to king, until it is lost about 1,000 years before the start of the campaign. (This is from the Artifacts section in Supplement III. The Human/Dwarf war is conjecture on my part, based on the suggestion in the book that the axe requires human sacrifice to maintain its power.)

The ancient lich Vecna rises to power, along with his bodyguard Kas. So great is Vecna's power that he is able to imbue his hand and eye with horrible powers that enable them to survive to cause chaos long after he is destroyed. (This is from Supplement III. There will be a lot more on Vecna in the future, I'm sure.)

Queen Ehlissa rules for several centuries. (This is from the Artifacts section of Supplement III. Ehlissa herself doesn't get much description, and it's not yet known what country she ruled or even what race she was.)

THE RECENT PAST (Within the last thousand years, maybe)

An event known as the 'Goblin Wars' takes place. (It's in my notes, but I'm not sure where it originated from. I may tie it in to the strange bit in the rules where every Goblin tribe has a king.)

The Isles of Woe upon the Lake of Unknown Depths are ruled by a wizard-cleric who owns the Codex of the Infinite Planes. Knowledge from the Codex causes his death at the hands of the Demon Prince Nql, and his domain is flooded by the waters of the lake. (This is from the section on Artifacts in Supplement III, specifically the Codex of the Infinite Planes.)

The Temple of the Frog is established in the Swamp of Mil near Blackmoor. (This is from the background of the Temple of the Frog adventure in Supplement II. There are a lot more details given there about dealings with bandits and the Temple's actual goals, but here I've just gone with the broad strokes.)

Strange men from outer space start exploring the area around Blackmoor Castle. One of them leaves behind the legendary Mighty Servant of Leuk-O, and another takes over the Temple of the Frog. (There are references to people from outer space in both Supplements II and III. The Mighty Servant of Leuk-O is detailed in the section on Artifacts in the former, and the bit about the Temple of the Frog is from that adventure in the latter.)

The events of the original Greyhawk and Blackmoor campaigns take place. (Some hints have been dropped about these events in the rule books and magazines, but very little of it is concrete thus far. I'm planning to go through as many accounts of this era as I can find to construct a workable timeline of events, both for personal enjoyment and to use as background for my campaign. I like the idea that the goings on of Gary's campaign will be a prelude to my own stuff.)

After the chaos that ensues from unregulated adventuring, an Adventurers' Guild is established in the City of Greyhawk to control such things. (This is pure conjecture on my part to set up the guild for my campaign. Some of the reading I've done about the original campaign indicate some real shenanigans going on, and I could see the rulers of Greyhawk cracking down on that. And it gives me a rationale to have a guild, which I want to provide some structure and guidance to the campaign.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 1

Yes, it's been a long time. And yes, I know that I promised to do some consolidation and campaign-building in the meantime. That stuff is still going to happen. But in the interests of keeping this blog ticking over, I'm leaving the OD&D era behind and forging blindly ahead into the AD&D era, starting with the D&D Basic Set, as edited by J. Eric Holmes.

But wait! The Basic Set is not AD&D, I hear you cry. Shouldn't it be a part of the Classic D&D line? There's a school of thought that places it there, but I honestly believe that, as a reinterpretation of the original D&D booklets, it has more to do with AD&D than it does to Classic D&D. And besides that, this is a chronological journey through the history of D&D, and both lines of the game were in publication at the same time. That means I'll have both rulesets operating simultaneously in my campaign. And even disregarding all of that, the D&D Basic Set is obviously from a different era than the original D&D booklets in terms of style and presentation. I think it's a good relaunch point.

In terms of my campaign, the introduction of this product is going to be a major shift in how things work. The Basic Set is a simplified and clarified version of original D&D, and a lot of the rules introduced in later supplements are not included here. This is fine by me, as it will clear away a lot of accumulated dross, but it's going to take some explaining. So this is what I'm going to do. Once I get to the end of the D&D era, I'll leave things be until a group of players decide to create new characters. At that point, I'll explain that the head of the Adventurer's Guild has died, probably of old age (or possibly through murder if I feel like tossing a plot hook out there). A new guy has taken over, and he has issued an edict – back to basics! Out with illusionists! Bye bye assassins! No more new fangled fighting styles or any other such nonsense – just good old fashioned traditional adventuring techniques. Heavy-handed? Yeah, but I have nothing better. And all of that stuff is going to work its way back in soon enough, in spades. I should also note that older characters will continue to work with all of the previous rules - it doesn't make sense to strip a veteran character of all of those skills, and the different varations of D&D are all fairly compatible at this stage.

But enough of that, it's time to get to the real meat – the D&D Basic Set!

The preface kicks off with some words from the author, explaining that this is based on original D&D, and has been edited to make it easier to understand. Then it moves into a reprint of the foreword from OD&D, which I've covered before in the halcyon days. Nothing new here, kids.

The Introduction does a good job of explaining what the game is about (exploring fantasy dungeons for treasure, of course) without ever explaining how the game is played. We'll see how long it takes the author to get around to this. There's also a brief note on the role of the Dungeon Master, and it's good to see this term now being used in an official capacity.

And then it's straight into character creation, beginning with Ability Scores. It's the usual six (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma), each rolled with 3d6, and the prime requisites for each class remain unchanged. One thing that's interesting to note is that Dwarves and Halflings now have ability score requirements: you now need a Constitution of 9 or more to become a Dwarf, and a Constitution and Dexterity of 9 more to be a Halfling. Ability score requirements for race had been introduced earlier in a Dragon article about birth tables and social standing, but this is the first time that they appear in a core product.

Oh, and they've also kept the awesome bit about witches keeping high-Charisma male characters as their lovers. There's also an equal opportunity version, whereby charismatic females will be captured by dragons instead of eaten.

Having a high score in your class's prime requisite still nets you an experience point bonus (just as having a low score nets you a penalty), and those numbers haven’t changed at all. The Dexterity bonus for missile fire also remains unchanged. What has changed is the hit point bonus for high Constitution. In OD&D, it was a simple +1 for a score of 15 or more. Supplement I: Greyhawk introduced higher bonuses for scores of 17 and 18, and it's that system that is used here.

The rules for exchanging ability scores (dropping one score to make your prime requisite higher) are exactly as they had been, except that now Magic-Users can exchange Strength for Intelligence. Previously, Magic-Users had been more limited than the other classes in what they could exchange, which was probably more of an oversight than a deliberate choice. Holmes has changed that here, and I approve. Alas, the Thief remains as limited as before. While the other classes get two scores they can trade with, Thieves must lose 2 Intelligence and 1 Wisdom point to gain one point of Dexterity. It doesn't match up with the rest of the classes, and just plain offends my sense of symmetry. Blah!

NEXT: Classes!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

I Still Function

This is just a quick message to let you guys know what's going on with the blog. It's not abandoned, at least not on a theoretical level. I've had some technical issues (those being the complete lack of a computer) so work on the project has been sparse. But I'm back with a sparkly new laptop, and I expect to start updating again soon. I'm going to try and get at least one post out a week, just to keep my mind on D&D stuff. First up I'll be starting on the 'AD&D era', specifically the D&D Basic Set as written by Eric Holmes. That will be interspersed with posts to do with putting all of the data I've compiled together - histories, dungeons, that sort of thing. I should be back on here some time next week, so keep your eyes on this space.