Tuesday, April 2, 2019

[D&D] More miscellaneous AD&D house rules

A few more miscellaneous AD&D house rule bits and pieces I've had sitting around. This material would've been included in the AD&D Companion except that I thought them up and wrote them down after I'd decided I wasn't going to make any further additions or changes to that book. But so that I don't forget about them, and since one of them is referred to in the AD&D Initiative Primer I posted a couple days ago, I figured it was worth making a post to memorialize them here:

Reach advantage: In melee where one combatant has a reach of advantage of 3' or more over the other, the individual with the greater reach receives a +1 individual bonus to initiative. This advantage persists until the individual with the shorter reach achieves a successful hit, at which point that character is considered to have closed in, the reach advantage is negated, and, depending on the comparative speed factors of the weapons involved, the characters with the faster weapon may be entitled to extra attacks (q.v. DMG p. 66). A character with more attack routines than his or her opponent (whether due to superior speed or skill) or any character with the advantage of surprise is always able to close successfully and negate superior reach.

When calculating reach, the character's size matters as well as the length of the weapon being used. Any individual 3' tall or smaller (e.g. a halfling, kobold, xvart, tasloi, pixie, brownie, etc.) has an effective reach 1' shorter than indicated by their weapon type (e.g. a kobold wielding a club has a reach of 2' rather than 3'). Creatures larger than man-sized add 1' to their reach for every 3' in height above 6', so a creature 9-11' in height (e.g. an ogre, hill giant, bone, horned, or ice devil, or solar) has +1' reach, one 12-14' tall (e.g. a stone, fire, mountain, or fomorian giant, ettin, yagnodaemon, pit fiend, or type VI demon) has +2' reach, 15-17' tall (e.g. a frost giant, Orcus) gives +3' reach, 18-20' (e.g. a cloud or fog giant, or titan) gives +4', and 21-24' (e.g. a storm giant) gives +5' reach. Thus a type VI demon armed with a greatsword has a reach of 8' and advantage over any melee opponent whose weapon does not have greater than 5' reach. Large monsters that attack by claws or biting, such as trolls and type III-IV demons, still apply their size bonus to their natural reach, so for example a troll's claws have a 3' reach and the fists of a massive goristro demon have a reach of 7'.

Space requirements: Medium-sized individuals (and dwarfs, who are short but broad) require 3' of frontage space, while small ones (e.g. gnomes, halflings, goblins, kobolds) require 2' of space, and large ones (e.g. half-ogres, gnolls, bugbears) require 4' (or more, for trolls (5'), giants (6'+), etc.). Space required for weapons is total, not per-side, and overlaps with the space occupied by the wielder (so a weapon that requires 1-2' to use is subsumed into the space occupied by its wielder). If there isn’t sufficient space for a weapon, it can't be used. If a character with a footman's flail and another with a two-handed sword are standing side by side in a 10' wide corridor, for example, only one of them can attack in any given round (presumably the flail, since it has a faster weapon speed). Weapons 5' or more in length can be used from the second rank (subtract 4' to determine their effective length when so doing, and all attacks made from the second rank are at -2 to hit unless the second-rank character is larger in size than all of the characters in the front rank) but require open space in the first rank. So, for example, a 10' wide hallway can fit up to five small individuals so long as all of them are using a weapon that require no more than 2' to use (hand axes, short swords, etc.). Or, if there are four such individuals in the front rank, then two individuals in the second rank can also fight with spears or stabbing pole arms that only require 1’ of space each. If three medium-sized individuals are abreast in a 10' wide hallway, all using weapons that require 3' or less of space, then one individual can fight from the second rank; two dwarfs with battle axes (i.e. taking up 4' each) can be backed up by two second-rank spearmen, and so forth. Spears or pikes of 9’ or more length can be used from the third rank, at -3 to hit, if there is sufficient open space in both the first and second ranks. That is the limit indoors, or for regular footmen, however trained pikemen in close formation on an open field of battle are able to attack simultaneously with up to five ranks of awl pikes 

Speed factor for natural weapons: Natural weapons (claws, bites, kicks, horns/antlers, stingers, etc.) have the following assumed speed factor: 1 for Small-sized creatures, 2 for Medium-sized creatures, and 4 for Large-sized creatures. This value is used both for breaking tied initiative rolls and also for determining bonus attacks against opponents with slower weapons. However, note that opponents with superior Reach (see above) will at least initially be able to hold many of these attackers at bay.

Use of holy symbols: Holy (or unholy) symbols have differences in effectiveness depending on the material of which they are made. An iron holy (or unholy) symbol allows a +1 bonus to Turning Undead attempts made by clerics against chaotic evil undead (ghouls, shadows, ghasts, vampires, apparitions, coffer corpses, huecuvae, sons of Kyuss, and demons). Furthermore, any chaotic evil undead or lower-planar being struck by a properly-consecrated iron holy (or unholy) symbol (cf. Holy Symbol spell, UA p. 35) suffers 1-3 points of damage and must make a morale check or retreat for 1-3 rounds.A silver holy (or unholy) symbol has the same effect but with respect to lawful evil undead (wights, wraiths, mummies, spectres, ghosts, poltergeists, and devils) and lower-planar beings. A holy (or unholy) symbol made of nickel costs 10 g.p. and has the same effect against daemons and other neutral evil lower-planar beings and undead (liches, juju zombies). For purposes of striking, a holy symbol is considered to have a weapon speed of 2, length and space requirement of 1', no weapon vs AC adjustments, and does not require a proficiency slot for use. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

[D&D] Beating a Dead Horse

As anyone who's ever studied the AD&D rulebooks and tried to run a "by the book" game can tell you, and anyone who's ever discussed the game on online message-boards can emphatically confirm, the rules for Initiative in combat - determining the order in which events occur during combat - is a perennial headache: the rules as printed in the Dungeon Masters Guide are incoherent-at-best (and seemingly self-contradictory, and most likely cobbled together from multiple incompatible sub-systems that were never really intended to be used together), so they pretty much require each individual DM to house-rule something that makes sense and is usable, but that doesn't stop many online fans from tilting against the windmill of trying both to figure out the secret truth that makes the system as-printed usable without house rules, and to convince everyone else that their interpretation is the most correct and everyone else is Doing It Wrong.

I usually try to steer clear of these conversations, not always successfully. I've got my own way of doing things that works for my games, that I think is both consistent with the intangible "spirit" of the game, that flows well in play, and that has the added advantage that it's pretty close to the system used in the RPGA-sponsored games I played in as a kid in the 80s, including those run by TSR staffers (though I haven't attempted to adopt their simplified system entirely, and have re-introduced some of the more complex and flavorful options from the published system that I feel add to rather than detract from the fun and challenge of the game). I've had all of this fairly straight and consistent in my mind for years (if not decades) but had never bothered to put all in writing, because for I own personal use I didn't need it (I already know all of it), and because I'm not naive enough to think that there's anyone else would ever use all of my interpretations and house rules - that at best I might inspire someone to do one or two things differently than they had previously. I also don't like the idea of giving out such an extensive house rules document to players in my games, for a couple of reasons: I think it sends the wrong message and is a turn-off to players to hand them a big pile of house rules, and also because I prefer the players not to focus on the rules - that they remain largely a black box on the DM side of the table.

Nevertheless, in the wake of another round of message-board initiative discussions, and after an attack of masochism, I finally set down and put my collected interpretations and house rules for AD&D initiative into a formal document and made it available for download here and over in the sidebar. For the sake of the OCD crowd I've highlighted all of my "acknowledged" house rules - things I've deliberately added to or changed from the published rules, rather than just collected and interpreted. Many of those house rules will already be familiar to anyone's who has read my AD&D Companion.

As I said above, I'm not naive enough to expect anyone to adopt these rules in toto, but hopefully they might still be worth a look, to help shed a light on how I interpret some of the more opaque passages of the DMG text out draw attention to things that might have been overlooked (for instance, I've included some bits from Chainmail and Swords & Spells that aren't mentioned in AD&D but aren't contradicted there either so it seems a reasonable assumption that they're still in effect) and that someone reading this might be inspired to adopt at least a few of these "Advanced" options to add a bit more tactical complexity and flavor to their games. And at very least next time an initiative discussion comes up and I foolishly decide to weigh in, rather than spend time re-articulating my interpretations and preferences yet again, I can just point to this document. Or something...

Monday, January 21, 2019

[D&D] Reflecting on the Hall of Many Panes

Shortly after the turn of the century, Gary Gygax's posts to his email list and on message boards began talking about a new adventure he was running in his home campaign and was preparing for publication - the Hall of Many Panes. From what we were able to gather, the adventure concerned traversing a gauntlet of different dimensions and overcoming a variety of challenges there in order to free a trapped demigod. The premise sounded similar to both Gary's novel Come Endless Darkness and the summaries he provided of the unproduced D&D Movie screenplay he co-wrote with Flint Dille. Gary emphasized the variety and difficulty of the challenges, and described it as one of his proudest achievements, and when publication was announced by Troll Lord Games it was described as a boxed set and described as "an adventure of significant playing-length." This seemed likely to be an epic masterpiece, the next step following Necropolis, and a worthy substitute for the Castle Greyhawk dungeons, that were then in limbo after a rumored plan to publish them with Kenzer & Co. for their Hackmaster game failed to materialize.

Alas, when the set was finally released and we got to see it for ourselves it quickly became painfully obvious that it was, to put it mildly, not what we had hoped for. Even leaving aside the production and editing issues that are endemic to everything Troll Lord Games has ever published (among others things, the adventure was double-statted for both the then-current D&D 3rd Edition and Gary's own Lejendary Adventures game, which was handled very awkwardly and made things not only much longer but also much harder to read and comprehend) the content of the adventure was sorely lacking.

There are 49 panes, 7 colors and 7 shapes in every combination, and to finish the adventure the PCs must successfully complete all of them. Each plane takes the party to a discrete sub-plane, usually dropped into the middle of a scene where they first have to figure out what's happening and then what they need to do to escape (usually performing some task or defeating some enemy). Many of the panes put the PCs into other bodies - animals, monsters, other humans, and in one case even animated acorns. Some of them require solving puzzles of various types. Some are straight combat. So far, so good. But on closer examination some problems become apparent. First and most obvious is that there are way too many panes, and the requirement to complete every one of them shows that the "significant playing length" description wasn't kidding - actually playing through this adventure would likely take two years or longer. Second, too many of the pane adventures are too similar to each other, which is likely to become tedious. Thirdly, the entire thing is completely arbitrary: the situations are all random and unconnected, with no larger scale meaning or pattern, not that it matters since they have to complete all of them anyway. Fourthly is that many of the pane-adventures are significantly underdeveloped, more sketched and fully-written, with a requirement that the individual DM either add a significant amount of their own development or treat things in a very shallow and railroad manner - and the fact that every one of the situations must be played through in order to finish the adventure makes this a pertinent issue, because the DM can't just choose to skip over the weak or problematic entries. [There's also a technical issue in the D&D rules context in that, over the course of playing through 49 panes (actually 51, including two special panes that appear when certain conditions are met), it's inevitable that they'll gain several levels; since the panes may be entered in any order the party will likely be several levels higher for the later ones than for the earlier ones, which the adventure glosses over in what I consider to be a very unsatisfactory manner by simply recommending that the DM increase the difficulty of the encounters within the panes to keep pace with the PC levels. I can only assume that in Lejendary Adventure, the native ruleset under which Gary originally wrote and played this material, character improvement is on a shallower curve and this wasn't an issue.]

Because of all of these issues it was obvious that I would never actually run this adventure, so it went off into the closet and was pretty much forgotten about. Which was unfortunate, not only because it so badly failed to live up to my pre-publication expectations, but because despite the overall disappointment of the product as a whole there were a few episodes that did capture moments of the old Gary magic. Those feelings were exacerbated when Gary died a few years later and this was left as his last major legacy (since the later Castle Zagyg series was both left incomplete and was in large part the work of Gary's co-writer). So, from time to time over the years since I've pulled this out again, or at least thought about it, convinced that this could have been better.

Eventually, I sat down with the adventure for a couple of hours and pulled together the following, my ideas and notes for how to extract the actual Gygaxian classic buried within the mess that was published.

My first recommend change is to reduce the number of panes significantly. Instead of 49, I've settled on 25. My second change is to tie the panes together thematically by both color and shape, as follows:

SHAPE (Challenge Type)
Rectangle - combat
Square - helping
Oval - puzzle
Disc - transformation
Hex - misc
Star - false finale
Diamond - finale

COLOR (Setting)
Red - underground
Orange - misc
Yellow - desert/plains
Green - woodland
Blue - mountains/boreal
White - false finale
Violet - finale

Combining the two, I came up with the following "best of" panes list.

Red Rectangle - Pane 35 (Key)
Orange Rectangle - Pane 30
Yellow Rectangle - Pane 19
Green Rectangle - Pane 3
Blue Rectangle - Pane 11

Red Square - Pane 47
Orange Square - Pane 27 (Key)
Yellow Square - Pane 44
Green Square - Pane 17
Blue Square - Pane 4

Red Oval - Pane 20
Orange Oval - Pane 48
Yellow Oval - Pane 21 (Key)
Green Oval - Pane 5
Blue Oval - Pane 16

Red Disc - Pane 10
Orange Disc - Pane 46
Yellow Disc - Pane 22
Green Disc - Pane 1 (Key)
Blue Disc - Pane 13

Red Hex - Pane 8
Orange Hex - Pane 15
Yellow Hex - Pane 45
Green Hex - Pane 36
Blue Hex - Pane 23 (Key)

White Star - Pane 50 (appears when all of one color + one of each type (or vice versa) completed)

Violet Diamond - Pane 51 (appears when 5 key panes completed)

The "key" panes (one of each color + shape) become the only mandatory ones needed to activate the final pane and complete the adventure, so a group of players who are paying attention can figure out and exploit that pattern. In order to draw further attention to the key panes and emphasize the pattern of them, I also recommend that the first four completed key panes also provide the party with special useful tokens:

Special Tokens (gained upon completing first four key panes; one use each)
1. Lens - view a pane before entering
2. Reset - return to pipe without completing a pane
3. Extra Life - killed in pane respawns in pipe
4. Phone a Friend - commune with Zagyg

This doesn't solve all of the issues with the adventure - not all of the selected panes neatly fit the challenge or setting categories I've placed them into, and many of the pane-adventures are still underdeveloped (and of course to actually run this I'd also need to convert all of the stats into a game system I know and use) - but I feel that it solves the core problems, and transforms the unusable mess of the published version into something that I could use in a game, an adventure that would be challenging and memorable to the players without overstaying its welcome, and that would actually feel like it was rewarding player strategic planning and attentiveness and not that they were just passengers on an inevitable train ride. Something like this would be, I feel, a much more fitting legacy to Gary Gygax's memory than the unfortunate product that Troll Lord Games actually released.


P.S. Lastly, the backstory of the adventure - the trapped deity, the reason why he was trapped, and why the PCs are sent to rescue him, involves the machinations of various deities. In the published adventure, these deities all come from Gary's Lejendary Earth pantheons. If the adventure is instead adapted to the World of Greyhawk, I recommend the follow deity substitutions:

Deities
Gwynn = Baalzebul
Bili = Belial
Arianrod = Fharlanghn
Llew Llaw Gyffes = Pelor
Amadan Mors = Zagyg
McGreggtim = Heward

Sunday, December 2, 2018

[D&D] Three new cleric spells

Three new spells available exclusively to clerical devotees of the campaign's "god of wine" or other equivalent figure (Aegir, Dionysus, Inari, Ninkasi, Olidammara, Osiris, Siduri, St.Brigid, etc.):

Transmute Water to Wine (Alteration) Reversible

Level: 1                     Components: V, S, M
Range: 1”                   Casting Time: 1 round
Duration: Permanent Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: 1 gallon/level

Explanation/Description: Use of this spell will transmute the appropriate quantity of water into a like amount of high quality, and highly intoxicating, wine (or other alcoholic drink - beer, mead, sake, spirits, etc. - depending upon the circumstances and particular flavor of the campaign). If the cleric so chooses, and specifies at the time of casting, the water can be transformed into any particular type or variety of wine or alcoholic drink. Water which was polluted, contaminated, or otherwise non-potable will also be purified (as per the 1st level cleric spell purify food & drink) by the transformative process of this spell.  The material component for this spell is a single drop of wine (or beer, spirit, etc.). The reversed form of this spell, transmute wine to water will transform the specified amount of wine (or other alcoholic drink) into ordinary, and completely non-intoxicating, water.

Create Wine (Alteration)

Level: 2                     Components: V, S
Range: 1”                   Casting Time: 1 round
Duration: Permanent Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: 1 gallon/level

Explanation/Description: Except as noted above, this spell is effectively identical to the 1st level cleric spell create water. The wine created is of exceptional quality and highly intoxicating. If the cleric so chooses at the time of casting, he or she may specify any particular type or variety of wine (or other alcoholic drink - beer, mead, sake, spirits, etc.) to be created.

Remove Intoxication (Alteration) Reversible

Level: 3                      Components: V, S
Range: Touch              Casting Time: 5 segments
Duration: Permanent Saving Throw: Special
Area of Effect: Creature touched

Explanation/Description: Use of this spell instantly removes any and all effects of intoxication caused by alcohol, narcotics, or other similar substances, from the recipient. The reversed form of this spell, intoxicate, requires a “to hit” roll against an unwilling recipient, who is also allowed a saving throw. On a successful save the recipient is considered moderately intoxicated (with all effects as described on DMG pp. 82-83), and on a failed save is considered greatly intoxicated (ibid). Recovery time from this state is as indicated in the DMG (i.e. 2-4 hours for moderate intoxication, 4-6 hours for great intoxication) - barring use of another remove intoxication spell, of course.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

[D&D] [Review] Art & Arcana first impressions



I received my copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana Deluxe Set in the mail yesterday, and while I've only had a few brief minutes to peruse it so far, my first impression is very positive - that this is a substantial and very interesting book that does everything the previous D&D art books (from 1986, 1989, and 2004) did not. While the focus is on the "visual history" of the game, they've taken a much more expansive view of that concept than the previous books, including not only art from the rulebooks and modules, but also extensive discussion and examples of things like logos, trade dress, maps, advertisements, etc.


The book is arranged in chronological order, from the earliest days of Chainmail and the Castle & Crusade Society up through the latest D&D 5th Edition releases, but there are sidebars interspersed throughout - on topics like the evolution of mapping and how different characters and monsters have been depicted throughout the years - that keep the "early edition" content that I'm interested in present throughout pretty much the entire book. I haven't actually read any of the text (aside from some photo captions) yet, but from flipping through the book there is a ton of stuff of historical and nostalgic interest, not just reproductions of art (cover and interior) and old ads and pictures of oddball 80s-era licensed products, but really cool unpublished tidbits as well. Some of this is stuff that people who follow historically-oriented D&D blogs (like Playing at the World) and ebay auctions (like those from  The Collector's Trove) will already have seen - like Gary Gygax's original "Great Kingdom" map that eventually became The World of Greyhawk, and pre-publication versions of some of the famous TSR cover art, but there's also stuff that is new (or at least new to me), such as Gary's hand-drawn maps of the village of Hommlet and the upper works of the Temple of Elemental Evil from his 1976 home campaign, that are intriguingly different from what was later published by TSR (Hommlet is the same but smaller - the "main street" around the Inn of the Welcome Wench is exactly the same, but many of the outlying buildings - the church, the jeweler, the brewer, and the tower - aren't present; while the Temple upper-works are almost completely different). The book is over 400 pages long, and I've only looked through a small portion of it (I confess I got so distracted by studying the TOEE maps that I didn't really look much further after that) so there may well be more surprises of that nature that I haven't spotted yet.

It's worth mentioning that (again, in contrast to the earlier D&D art books) this book is very solidly and well-produced. It is heavy. The paper is thick and glossy and all of the reproductions are very clear - many of them looking better than their original appearances. This feels like something you'd get in a museum store, and justifies its high pricetag.

An even higher price (which, of course, I paid) gets you the "deluxe edition" which includes not only the book with a special matte cover, but comes in a box (with the same cover art) that also includes a pouch of extra swag - loose prints of various key pieces of D&D art through the ages (text-free versions of the cover art of the AD&D Players Handbook and Fiend Folio, Dave Trampier's glorious art from the original AD&D Dungeon Master Screen, and various pieces of later-edition art) that are theoretically suitable for framing, though the larger ones are folded and have visible creases, and most intriguingly a reproduction of the original 1975 tournament version of Gary Gygax's Tomb of Horrors. This is a typescript of a dozen or so pages, a hand-drawn map, and 20 or so illustrations, just like the 1978 module version (but the art is by Tracy Lesch rather than Trampier and Sutherland, so it's of considerably lower quality). The map and at least most of the encounters appear to be the same (though even in a very brief skim-through I spotted at least one or two differences). The summer of 1975 is very early in D&D's history, long before TSR became a professionalized operation, but it's interesting how much of what later became the standard for TSR's modules is already fully formed here - the only real difference between this version and the 1978 version is the production values of the art and map and the typesetting of the text.

And, as a bonus to the bonus, and even more intriguing, the TOH booklet also includes a reproduction of a short dungeon (5 hand-written pages and one map covering 14 rooms) that D&D fan Alan Lucien sent to Gary and that inspired him to create the Tomb of Horrors - the "Tomb of Ra-Hotep." As the name suggests, and which has gone curiously un-commented-on that I've seen in a brief scan of other previews and reviews of this book (and the introduction within the book itself) is that Lucien's dungeon seems to have been a very close and direct inspiration not just for the TOH, but for Gary's later expansion of the same concept as Necropolis: The Tomb of Rahotep. Not only is the villain's name the same, but so is the map and many of the traps and encounters! Lucien was acknowledged with (presumably non-royalty-bearing) "special thanks" in the 1978 TOH module for inspiring its design, which is probably appropriate, since although the idea was similar the specifics are not really. But he curiously was not given any such thanks or credit for Necropolis, even though roughly half of that adventure's tomb section is directly lifted from his dungeon.

The deluxe version costs a lot more than the book version. I don't know that the TOH reproduction, even with the bonus Ra-Hotep content, justifies the price difference, but I'm still glad to have it.

Is this product (either version) worth buying? That really depends on where your primary interest in D&D lies (and, of course, how much disposable income you have). There's little if anything in this book that you will ever use directly in a game - its value is strictly historical and nostalgic and meta. If you're interested in the history and development of D&D you also probably already know most of what's in here and have seen most of the art and maps and ads and ephemera before (and maybe even own most or all of the products). This isn't a utilitarian product by any means - it's a toy, a luxury, a way to feel like you're still connected to the D&D culture even if you haven't purchased a D&D game-book in a quarter-century or more. And, on those terms, it's a winner. It's a very attractive, very well-produced set that will look nice on your coffee table, that you'll have fun perusing, and that might even make some of your non-gaming friends and family more interested in giving this thing a try than they would be from a dry (and, potentially musty) set of vintage rulebooks.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Community-spirit bloggy quizzy thing

Saw this quiz for "OSR" (i.e. old-school rpg) bloggers making its way around the 'net. Figured I might as well participate:

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:
The Other Moathouse

2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:
Mornard's Three Laws of RPG Rules

3. Best OSR module/supplement:
Classic Dungeon Designer's Netbook #4: Old-School Encounters Reference

4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):
Jeff Rients' table for what happens to PCs who don't make it out of the dungeon before the end of the session

5. How I found out about the OSR:
We were talking on the forums at dragonsfoot.org sometime c. 2003ish about how it seemed like there was increasing interest in older approaches to D&D exemplified by stuff like Necromancer Games "3E rules, 1E feel" slogan and Hackmaster and the Dungeon Crawl Classics modules aping old TSR trade dress and Troll Lord Games' plans to create an OGL 1E-like system that Gary Gygax could use as the basis for his "Castle Zagyg" reskinning of the original Greyhawk Castle Dungeons, and so on, and someone said "it's almost like there's an Old-School Renaissance on the horizon" and the phrase struck a chord and we started using it after that, as a joke at first but a few years later people (mostly "come-lately" types like James Maliszewski) started using it more seriously.

6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy:
Dungeon Robber

7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:
Around a table, playing a game

8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:
DragonsfootDoomsday Message Boards, the 1e AD&D Round Table group on Facebook

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:
That D&D is better and more fun when you include the material Gary Gygax added to AD&D in the early 80s that was originally published in Dragon magazine and later collected in the Monster Manual II, Unearthed Arcana, and the World of Greyhawk boxed set, and when you continue to expand beyond it in the same aesthetic spirit. You can still have fun with D&D without needing to (a) remain permanently frozen in amber in 1979, (b) embrace all the lazy and tonally-dissonant garbage TSR and Wizards of the Coast churned out after 1985, or (c) reimagine D&D into something so "gonzo" that it's no longer recognizable to what we fell in love with as kids.

10. My favorite non-OSR RPG:
King Arthur Pendragon, by Greg Stafford (R.I.P.)

11. Why I like OSR stuff:
Because, before the OSR, D&D (versions 3.5 & 4.0) had gotten to be almost totally about math and bean-counting and "character builds" and had lost sight of the freewheeling spirit of actual play, and the OSR reminded folks (including/especially younger folks who missed the "old-school" era the first time around) that it wasn't always and didn't need to be that way.

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:
i) Midkemia Press is selling (and in some cases even giving away) their old books in pdf format. Their book Cities is still one of the best, most useful rpg products ever published IMO.

ii) You can purchase legal Print-On-Demand hardcopies of a lot of the 1st Edition AD&D rulebooks and modules (and pdfs of most of the rest) at RPGNow. Tip to the wise: don't bother with anything published after 1985 ;)

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:
Mortal Worm - Just Keep On Rollin' with Gene Weigel

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:
AD&D Companion (my "fan-fic" compilation of uncollected AD&D material by Gary Gygax combined with my own house rules and additions that try to maintain the same spirit and show that old-school-style AD&D can still be a vital, growing thing)

15. I'm currently running/playing:
Nothin.' But I've got a growing hankering to run another game someday, if I can find the time and energy. We'll see...

16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:
The rules don't matter. They never mattered. If you think they matter, you've missed the point.

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:

Thursday, September 27, 2018

[D&D] Assorted Monsters and Treasures

Back in the 70s, before D&D became Advanced, TSR hadn't caught on to the idea of pre-written adventure modules yet. Instead, they released several "toolbox" accessories - a few sets of "geomorphic" maps (little map-sections that could be combined in a large variety of ways) for both dungeons and towns, and three sets of pre-rolled monsters and treasures, covering dungeon levels 1-9. The former are interesting in their own right, both because the style of the maps shows an earlier conception of dungeons as intricate maze-like spaces that had already fallen out of fashion before the turn of the next decade, and because each of the sets included a few colorful sample encounters that seemed to provide a taste of what play was like in Greyhawk Castle. Maybe someday I'll talk more about those here (even though they fall outside of my primary focus on 80s-era D&D), but for the time being I'm focused on the latter product - the three Monster and Treasure Assortments released by TSR in 1977 (sets 1-2) and 78 (set 3), right on the cusp between Original and Advanced D&D.

To be honest, there's really not much to these products. Each of them was a set of 8 cardstock sheets, three-hole punched, unbound, that included 100 pre-rolled monster encounters and 100 pre-rolled treasures for each of three dungeon levels (set one had levels 1-3, set two levels 4-6, and set three levels 7-9). There's a bit of historical curiosity because they (the first two sets, anyway)  were released before the AD&D Monster Manual so they give full stats for various animal types that were mentioned but not detailed in the original rules, some of which are different than the AD&D versions, and also because they include a bunch of creatures that were probably mysterious to the audience at the time - not only monsters from the various D&D supplements, but also various creatures that appeared in The Strategic Review (TSR's house-organ newsletter that later evolved into Dragon magazine) and even the super-limited distribution Lost Caverns of Tsojconth tournament dungeon written by Gary Gygax but published by the Metro Detroit Gamers.

However, they're fun to me, like all of the Original D&D stuff - the geomorphic sets, the early magazines, and third party products from the likes of Wee Warriors and Judges Guild - because they're a glimpse into an era that had already long since disappeared by the time I started playing D&D in 1984. This was the era of the "funhouse dungeon" where randomness was not just accepted but expected, and the game seems to have been treated much close to something like a traditional wargame than what it eventually became, with more of a focus on worldbuilding and storytelling and things that tried to make sense. These products offer some of the few published glimpses we get (outside of the rulebooks themselves) of the era when D&D was just about the referee (the term "dungeon master" hadn't been coined yet) drawing a map of a maze, filling it with monsters, traps, and treasures, and a group of adventurers going in to explore it and get rich or die trying. It didn't matter how the monsters got there or why they didn't eat each other or where the treasure came from, it was all just accepted as the premise of the game. And in that context, lists of 100 random monsters and 100 random treasures make sense. Combined with the geomorphic maps, it's almost everything you need (the individual referee had only to supply his or her own tricks and traps).

So I've always kind of liked looking over ands studying these things, and trying to figure out how they were made and if there are any interesting hidden patterns, any lessons that other DMs could learn about what TSR c. 1977 saw as being appropriate challenge-levels and treasure rewards for characters of various levels (remembering that in the early conception of the game dungeon level was supposed to be equivalent to character level - so 4th level characters were balanced against the challenges and rewards on dungeon level 4, and so on).

Gary Gygax's son Ernie says that he rolled up everything in these products from tables as an after-school project, which is believable - the results certainly seem random - but also intriguing (at least to me) because they're definitely not the product of any published tables. A dozen or so years back I did an exhaustive listing of all the monsters for all nine levels, noting on which levels and in what quantities by level each of them appeared. The results seem fairly close to what you'd see from the Random Encounter Tables in the back of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (though not exactly, since those tables include "new" monsters introduced in the AD&D Monster Manual that weren't present here) which makes it likely that Gary had given his son an early draft version of those tables to work from. The most interesting takeaway is how the number of monsters of each type changes depending on which level they're encountered on - a single "overpowered" monster may appear on one level, a small group (say 1-4 or 1-6) on a lower level, and a large group (say 2-20) on a much lower level. Even deep in the dungeon monsters like orcs and giant rats still show up on the lists, but in groups of 5-50 or 6-60. All of that data is preserved at the Knights and Knaves Alehouse message-board if anyone's interested in taking a look.

At the time I never got around to doing a similar analysis of the treasures lists, which is what brings me here now. One thing that's immediately clear is that the lists are not based on the guidelines for random treasure hoards in D&D Volume III. In searching to see if I could find anything else they might have been drawn from, I came across the Solo Dungeon Adventuring rules published in issue #1 of The Strategic Review (and later reprinted as Appendix A of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide). The way that table produced treasures of a single type (i.e. one type of coins, or gems, or jewels, or a magic item, but not mixed together) and the proportions between them - the low value coins the most common, higher value stuff less common - looked similar. And, lo and behold, at least for the first three levels when I tallied up and compared them the results were really similar (not exact, but that's because Ernie was presumably actually rolling the dice each time rather than just using the statistical values). So this was almost certainly the table Ernie used. However, on the later levels some anomalies appeared - magic items became way more common than the table would allow (3%), and mixed hoards of coins start appearing on the lower levels. Plus, while that table gives a fixed number of coins per level - 1000 CP or SP, 750 EP, etc. - these tables showed more variation (but, notably, only within the last thousand - i.e. instead of 4,000 SP on dungeon level 4, you see anywhere from 3,100-4,200). These latter values may have just been chosen to provide an illusion of variety, but since they generally seem to align to dice-ranges, I suspect they may also have been rolled.

So, taking all of that together, I've reverse engineered what seems to be a fairly close recreation of the tables that were used to generate these treasure lists. There are some anomalies on the lists - some that appear to have been the result of transcription errors (5,200 where it should probably be 2,500, etc.) others that may have just been inserted arbitrarily (perhaps as some kind of obscure inside joke reference?). But 90% or more of the results fall within these ranges. Whether viewed as nothing more than an historical semi-curiosity, or used as a tool by DMs who want to generate random treasures of their own in line with what TSR c. 1977 felt were "best practices," here it is:

Step One - Magic:

5% chance per level the treasure is a magic item, up to a maximum 25% at levels 5 and higher.

Step Two - Non-magic treasures type:

If the roll in step one does not indicate the treasures is a magic item, roll d% on the following table to determine treasure type:

01-25 Copper Pieces (Combined Hoard on levels 6 and higher)
26-50 Silver Pieces
51-65 Electrum Pieces
66-80 Gold Pieces
81-90 Platinum Pieces
91-96 Gems
97-00 Jewelry

Step Three - Treasure quantity:

Level One
Copper - 1d12x100
Silver - 1d12x100
Electrum - 3d6x50
Gold - 1d10x50
Platinum - 2d6x10
Gems - 1d4
Jewelry - 1
Magic - 1

Level Two
Copper - 1d24x100 (i.e. 1d12+"control die" for +0 or +12)
Silver - 1d24x100
Electrum - 300 + 3d6x50
Gold - 200 + 1d10x50
Platinum - 1d6x50
Gems - 2d4
Jewelry - 1d3
Magic - 1

Level Three
Copper - 2,000 + 1d12x100
Silver - 2,000 + 1d12x100
Electrum - 500 + 3d6x50
Gold - 500 + 1d8x50
Platinum - 200 + 1d4x50
Gems - 3d4
Jewelry - 1d3
Magic - 1 (25% of potions are two potions of same type)

Level Four
Copper - 3,000 + 1d12x100
Silver - 3,000 + 1d12x100
Electrum - 1,000 + 3d6x50
Gold - 500 + 1d6x100
Platinum - 200 + 1d6x50
Gems - 4d4
Jewelry - 1d4
Magic - 1d2*

Level Five
Copper - 5,000 + 1d12x100
Silver - 5,000 + 1d12x100
Electrum - 2,000 + 1d6x100
Gold - 1,000 + 1d6x100
Platinum - 300 + 1d4x50
Gems - 5d4
Jewelry - 1d6
Magic - 1d2*

Level Six
Copper - 6,000 + 1d12x100
Silver - 6,000 + 1d12x100
Electrum - 3,000 + 1d6x100
Gold - 1,500 + 1d6x100
Platinum - 350 + 1d4x50
Gems - 6d4
Jewelry - 1d6
Magic - 1d3*
Combined Hoard - Copper and Silver

Level Seven
Copper - 7,000 + 1d10x100
Silver - 6,000 + 1d10x100
Electrum - 4,000 + 1d8x100
Gold - 2,000 + 1d6x100
Platinum - 400 + 1d4x50
Gems - 7d4
Jewelry - 1d8
Magic - 1d4*
Combined Hoard - Copper, Silver, and Electrum

Level Eight
Copper - 8,000 + 1d10x100
Silver - 7,000 + 1d10x100
Electrum - 5,000 + 1d12x100
Gold - 3,000 + 1d8x100
Platinum - 500 + 1d4x50
Gems - 8d4
Jewelry - 1d8
Magic - 1d4 (50% of potions are two potions of same type)
Combined Hoard - Copper, Silver, Electrum, and Gold

Level Nine
Copper - 9,000 + 1d10x100
Silver - 8,000 + 1d10x100
Electrum - 6,000 + 1d10x100
Gold - 4,000 + 1d8x100
Platinum - 600 + 1d4x50
Gems - 9d4
Jewelry - 1d10
Magic - 1d6*
Combined Hoard - All coin types

*If a treasure includes two potions, 50% likely the second potion is of the same type as the first; if three or more potions are included, the third and subsequent are rolled normally for type