Thursday, September 14, 2017

[D&D] The Teeth of Barkash Nour

Going into some deeply obscure Gygaxiana: back in 2006 The Believer magazine published a long profile on Gary Gygax. The whole thing is worth reading. The most interesting part to me was always this section, near the end:


Wayne and I took Gygax to lunch at an Italian restaurant on the outskirts of Lake Geneva: an expensive place, Gygax warned us. Our sandwiches cost six or seven dollars each. After lunch, we returned to his house to play some Dungeons & Dragons. Wayne and I felt curiously listless; it had already been a long day of talking; Wayne wasn’t sure he remembered how to play; I would have been happy to go back to our motel room and sleep. This happens to me often: I decide that I want something; I work and work at it; and just as the object of my quest comes into view, it suddenly comes to seem less valuable, not valuable at all. I can find no compelling reason to seize it and often I don’t. (This has never been the case, curiously, in role-playing games, where my excitement increases in a normal way as the end of the adventure approaches. Which is probably another reason why I like the games more than the life that goes on around them, and between them.) I wonder if we would have turned back, if Gygax hadn’t already gone into the house and come back with his purple velvet dice bag and a black binder, a module he wrote for a tournament in 1975. This was before the Tolkien estate threatened to sue TSR, and halflings were still called hobbits. So I got to play a hobbit thief and a magic-user and Wayne played a cleric and a fighter, and for four and a half hours we struggled through a wilderness adventure in a looking-glass world of carnivorous plants, invisible terrain, breathable water, and so on. All of which Gygax presented with a minimum of fuss. The author of Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t much care for role-playing: “If I want to do that,” he said, “I’ll join an amateur theater group.” In fact, D&D, as DM’ed by E. Gary Gygax, is not unlike a miniatures combat game. We spent a lot of time just moving around, looking for the fabled Teeth of Barkash-Nour, which were supposed to lie in a direction indicated by the “tail of the Great Bear’s pointing.” Our confusion at first was pitiable, almost Beckettian.
GYGAX: You run down northeast along the ridge, and you can see the river to your north and to your northeast. So which way do you want to go?
PAUL: The river is flowing south.
WAYNE: Which is the direction we ultimately want to go, right?
PAUL: We have to wend in the direction of the tail of the…
PAUL, WAYNE: “Great Bear’s pointing.”
PAUL: But we have no idea which way that is.
WAYNE: Tail of the Great Bear’s pointing. Maybe we should go north.
The sky clouds over; raindrops fall; the clouds part and the light turns rich yellow. The screen porch smells of cigar smoke. I want to go outside, to walk by Lake Geneva in early May, to follow the beautiful woman Wayne and I saw walking by the shore, to meet a stranger, to live. But I can’t get up. I roll the dice. I’m not tired anymore; I’m not worried about making a fool of myself in front of Gygax, who obviously couldn’t care less. And something strange is happening: Wayne and I are starting to play well. We climb a cliff by means of a magic carpet; we bargain with invisible creatures in an invisible lake. We steal eggs from a hippogriff’s nest; we chase away giant crabs by threatening them with the illusion of a giant, angry lobster.[41] The scenario was designed for a group of six or eight characters, but by dint of cooperation and sound tactics (basically, we avoid fighting any monster that isn’t directly in our path) we make it through, from one page of Gygax’s black binder to the next. So we come to the final foe, the Slimy Horror, which turns our two spellcasters into vegetables; my hobbit thief and Wayne’s fighter don’t stand a chance against it. “That was pretty good,” Gygax says. He lets us read through the scenario, noting all the monsters we didn’t kill, all the treasure that was never ours. The Teeth of Barkash-Nour are very powerful: one of them increases your character’s strength permanently; another transports you to a different plane of existence. We were so close! So close, Wayne and I tell each other. We did better than we ever expected to; in fact, we almost won.

What we're seeing here is, in fact, a fairly detailed description of a long-lost, unpublished D&D adventure by Gary Gygax, The Teeth of Barkash Nour. Those who've read the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide will undoubtedly be aware of the Teeth of Dahlver-Nahr in the artifacts section. Presumably they're the same thing (not sure why the name was changed). I've always been intrigued by this description, because the adventure sounds really cool and weird, and not really like any of the D&D adventures TSR published, and like something that would've made a great addition to the canon.

A sad twist to what would otherwise just been an intriguing bit of trivia is that this adventure actually was supposed to be published. Around the same time the Believer profile was published, D&D superfan The Dungeon Delver was actually contracted by Gary to expand Gary's notes from the 70s into a full adventure, which was to have been published as part of the "Castle Zagyg" series - it got cover art and everything. Alas, it was never released, and after Gary's passing his widow canceled the entire Castle Zagyg series and the whole thing has been in limbo ever since, which doesn't appear likely to change anytime soon, if ever.

Dungeon Delver is an online buddy of mine, and I've occasionally pestered him for details about this adventure over the years, and he's obligingly provided a few. Yes, the Teeth of Barkash Nour in this adventure are the same thing as the Teeth of Dahlver-Nahr in the AD&D DMG. The adventure is set on a strange demiplane, accessed through a Gate of Horn deep within Greyhawk Castle (very similar to both The Isle of the Ape and Dungeonland). The encounters are as mentioned in the article, plus a few more equally-weird and colorful ones that I'm not at liberty to describe. And the manuscript was complete and handed over to Troll Lord Games (Gary's publisher at the time) for final production and release well before the line was canceled. Alas, that never happened, because, as 'Delver tells it (in a story I'd heard privately a while ago, but which he has only just made public) he was submarined by Frank Mentzer, who convinced Gary to halt publication on specious legal grounds in order, apparently, to set himself up as the savior and take credit for "fixing" a product he had nothing to do with the creation of. Sleazy underhanded stuff, and doubly unfortunate since the delay caused by Frank's interference, coming as it did shortly prior to Gary's passing, ended up dooming publication altogether.

There are a lot of intriguing and agonizing could-have-beens in Gary Gygax's career. Heck, I compiled a whole book out of my takes on some of them. But the Teeth of Barkash Nour are a particularly tantalizing and frustrating example, because this isn't just something Gary talked about maybe writing someday, or some set of minimal, barely-legible notes, or something rumored that may or may not have ever existed in the first place, this is an actual honest-to-goodness complete D&D module that was all-but-ready to go to press, and which is presumably still sitting around somewhere as a complete manuscript. Just like the guys in the article, we came so close to having this thing in our hands.

Maybe it's unrealistic of me, but I still hope that someday maybe Gail Gygax will change her mind and we might still be allowed to see it. But I'm not holding my breath...

Monday, September 4, 2017

[D&D] The Crook of Rao

This magical artifact was described by Gary Gygax in Isle of the Ape:
Amidst the gems and magicks we bore out from the depths of Castle Greyhawk's dungeon, was a small mace, a mere toy it seemed, albeit one fashioned of iron and silver and encrusted with carven gemstones. No geegaw, that. It is a most charmed implement of clerical power, the Crook of Rao. If that One is most peaceful and serene, nonetheless his word is not to be lightly passed off. Long and long Rao has refrained from any meddling here, but he left with us a token of his power. Devils and demons of the Lower Planes shudder at the mere mention of the object. Daemonkind flee in terror at sight of it, and we need it now!
While the adventure centers around a fetch-quest to recover this artifact for the forces of Good, the item itself is not actually detailed within the module, which feels like a major failing. Not only should it be usable in the final confrontation at the end of the adventure, but a party of 18th level characters should be considered capable of retaining it and using it themselves against the forces of Evil, rather than being expected to dutifully hand it over to their NPC bosses.

So, in an attempt to rectify that failing, here's my take on a full description of the item, so that it may actually be used and not just serve as a flagrant plot-device. [Note: I realize this item was "officially" detailed by TSR in the post-Gary era; I am intentionally completely ignoring that version.]

Crook of Rao
GP Value: 75,000

This artifact was created and left behind on the Prime Material Plane many ages ago by Rao, Flannish god of peace, reason, and serenity, who otherwise concerns himself not with the affairs of mortals. It appears to be a miniature ceremonial mace (1' long - too small for effective combat use) with a silver haft and iron head shaped as a stylized shepherd's crook. There are two star sapphires embedded in the head, and six carnelians surrounding a large topaz on the pommel. The value of the crook as jewelry alone is 25,000 g.p. As with other artifacts, it does not radiate any sort of magic. 

The crook can be used to cast a remove fear spell or cure insanity by touch. Anyone wielding the crook is immune to mental and psionic attacks and may cast a withdraw spell at 18th level effect once per day.

Any undead or Lower Planar creature (including those not normally affected by clerical Turning) struck by the crook is affected as if hit by an 18th level mace of disruption. Undead and lesser Lower Planar creatures are permanently destroyed; greater Lower Planar creatures are affected as if their material form was slain.  Once a month the wielder of crook may call upon it to summon 1-6 astral devas. 

In the hands of a lawful good cleric the disruption effect of the crook covers a cone-shaped area 6" long and 2" diameter at its base, and is usable once per round. 

Any evil cleric or creature from the Lower Planes who touches the crook suffers 5-50 points of damage. Any non-lawful good character who uses any of the crook's powers must make a saving throw vs spells on each use or become lawful good. 

Activating the summoning power of the crook subjects the user to a quest to perform some task that furthers the cause of lawful good. 

Anyone who retains possession of the crook for one month or longer loses all interest in sex, and the longer the item is possessed the more serene and imperturbable its owner becomes - after three months he or she loses interest in money, after six months loses interest in family and friends, and if the crook is possessed for a year or more the owner will have no interest in anything external and desire only to to be left alone to spend the rest of his or her life peacefully contemplating the mysteries of the cosmos. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

AD&D Companion update

Many folks reading this are probably already aware, but a few may not be, of the "AD&D Companion" document that I compiled last year and have updated a few times since. There's a link to it near the bottom of the list over on the side, and I've made occasional other references to it, but haven't drawn a lot of attention to it.

For those who don't already know, this document combines three things, in about equal measure:

First is a compilation of all of the AD&D material I know of written or explicitly approved by Gary Gygax that wasn't compiled into an official AD&D rulebook during his tenure at TSR - including new monsters that post-dated (or were left out of) the Monster Manual II, material from Dragon magazine that post-dated (or was left out of) Unearthed Arcana, assorted acknowledged-but-uncorrected errata for the rulebooks, and even an unofficial new AD&D class (the Hunter) that Gary published in New Infinities' short-lived "Realms of Adventure" newsletter in 1988.

Second is material that I adapted to AD&D from Gary's two post-TSR systems - Dangerous Journeys: Mythus (published by GDW in 1992) and Lejendary Adventure (published by Hekaforge Productions in 1999) - including joss, knacks and quirks, "spellsongs" for bards, new weapons, and several abilities for the jester and acrobat classes. There's a lot of interesting material in both of these games that showed that Gary was still actively creating and expanding his concept of fantasy role-playing in different (and, IMO, more interesting) directions than TSR was taking the official game, that when adapted to the AD&D paradigm can help bring new freshness and possibilities and remind us of the period in the 80s when AD&D was all about expansions and new material, and not the later eras when (due to lack of high-quality new material) it became increasingly hidebound and ossified.

Last are my own house rules and expansions compiled from several decades of play - including my preferred "fixes" to various problem-areas in the rules (like psionics, weapon specialization, and various under- or overpowered spells), my versions of some of Gary's proposed-but-never-detailed new AD&D classes (mystics and mountebanks), and various "cheat-sheet" documents I made for myself over the years covering topics like how to go about hiring mercenaries, what you can find at each type of shop in a typical town, all the rules for wilderness adventuring that are otherwise spread across tons of rulebooks and modules, a quick-reference for the relevant details on all of the World of Greyhawk deities, and so on.

This document is extremely unofficial. I don't have permission from the copyright owners for any of the reprinted or adapted material, and it doesn't comply with the terms of the Open Gaming License (because I wanted to directly refer to the AD&D rulebooks and World of Greyhawk and not have to speak in code or pretend I'm talking about some other game). That's why I've kept it low-key. My position is that this is an amateur fan-production, intended solely for the private and personal use of me and my friends, and the last thing I want is to receive a cease and desist letter from Wizards of the Coast of the Gygax Estate.

That said, despite this document's humble ambitions (and even more humble production values), for anybody who reads this blog and enjoys the same flavor of AD&D as I do - who doesn't think the game ended with the publication of the Dungeon Masters Guide in 1979 and everything that came out after that was a mistake - I think there's value in it. If nothing more, having the compiled articles from Dragon and the monsters and magic items from the late-era modules all in one place should be convenient. It doesn't cost anything to download the document and take a look!

Anyway, that long preamble out of the way, the reason I'm mentioning this now is because I've just uploaded a new "version 1.3" of the document - the third revision since I originally posted it last year. The changes between this version and the previous one are the notes on barbarians and cavaliers that I've already posted here, and some additional compiled material - a bunch of changes and additions to the creatures in the Monster Manual from TSR's Monster Cards that I'd previously overlooked, a previously-overlooked note on halfling stats from Dragon #95, and a few more monsters and magic items from modules that I hadn't previously included. I'd like to think this is the "final, final" version of this document (I say that every time I upload a new version), but I don't actually believe that to be true anymore. As proof, already since uploading this version I've realized there are several typos that a reader pointed out that I forgot to correct...

The link over on the side now goes to the updated version (EDIT: now with corrected typos!). Or you can click here:

I hope if you haven't seen it before that you get some useful material or inspiration out of it. And please don't do anything with it that will get me in trouble with Wizards of the Coast or the Gygax Estate!

EDIT (12/8/17): New version uploaded:

I added one small but significant paragraph on page 7, regarding barbarians:
Barbarians able to harm creatures only normally affected by magic weapons (as described in UA) gain an actual bonus to hit and damage on melee attacks (i.e. +1 at 4th level, +2 at 6th, etc.). Furthermore, any melee hit by a barbarian that totals 21 or better after adjustments scores double damage. Both of these advantages are, of course, lost should the barbarian ever deign to wield an actual magical weapon.
Both of these additions come from Gary's write-up of Conan in The Dragon #36 (which obviously formed the conceptual baseline for the barbarian class), but were dropped from the class write-up itself in Dragon #63. Presumably that was done because they were felt to be too powerful, but doing so ironically made the class too weak at higher levels (as noted by Gary in Dragon #67) which UA "solved" by gradually lifting their restriction on magic item use, which is lame (since it undermines one of the core conceptual hooks of the class and contradicts Gary's claim (also in Dragon 67) that barbarians don't change and become more sophisticated as they increase in level, they just get tougher). By reverting to the original Conan write-up and extending these two abilities to all barbarians, balance is restored - high-level barbarians remain comparable in combat ability to other fighter-types without having to debase themselves by relying on witchcraft and magic like a coward or weakling ;)

EDIT (1/1/18): Another new link to the latest new revision (version 1.4) - Various changes from the last version are on pp. 32 and 73-77

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

[D&D] Eudaimones


FREQUENCY: Very rare
MOVE: 9”/15” (MC: B)
% IN LAIR: 5%
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic good
SIZE: S (2-3’)
Attack/Defense Modes:
V/290 + 4/hp

Eudaimones (also known as agathodaemons or genii) are free-willed, benevolent spirit-beings that are native to the Upper Outer Planes of chaotic good but are also known to wander the Prime Material Plane. They are friendly with, and may occasionally be found dwelling among, fairy-folk and nature spirits (brownies, nymphs, pixies, sprites, sylphs, etc.) or gray elves, but are especially drawn to the company of humans.

A eudaimon who has an enthusiastically friendly reaction to a human or halfling (per the Reaction Table) may (base 25%) choose to attach itself and grant its blessing to that individual. Such blessings are minor benefits, generally of about the same power-level as a Knack (q.v.), that function when the eudaimon is within 24” of its mortal partner. Each eudaimon can only grant a single type of blessing, and each one’s blessing is unique. Examples of typical blessings include: +2 on one particular type of saving throw, +5% on reaction rolls, +10% with a particular skill, natural healing at double normal rate, increased endurance, infravision, ability to speak with animals, and so forth. Eudaimones will never choose to partner with or bestow their blessings upon any character who already has a bound familiar.

While bonded, the eudaimon and its partner have a mental link and can communicate with each other telepathically. Eudaimones tend towards chattiness and will often offer advice to their partners, however despite their high intelligence they are very rash and impulsive, with a wisdom rating of low-average, so their advice will often not be practical or useful.

Eudaimones are flighty and capricious and without notice may decide to leave their current mortal partner to seek the company of a new one. Each game week a check is made on 2d6, with a cumulative +1 adjustment per week after the first which the eudaimon and character have been bonded, and on a result of 7 or higher the eudaimon will depart and the benefits of the blessing will be lost. They are, however, vain and subject to flattery, so every 50 g.p. of value sacrificed on behalf of the eudaimon (by, for instance, buying and burning incense) grants a -1 modifier to that week’s check. Nevertheless, the eudaimon will always depart on a roll of natural 12. Should a eudaimon ever be slain while partnered with a character, that individual is cursed – not only will no other eudaimon ever partner with the character, but he or she will also suffer a permanent (barring a wish) penalty – generally the reverse of the slain eudaimon’s blessing. 

Eudaimones are occasionally also sent by chaotic good deities to serve favored mortal followers as a reward for special faith and service. In such cases, the eudaimon will serve until slain or recalled by their divine master or mistress and no loyalty checks or sacrifices are required (to the eudaimon itself – however, it is advisable for the character to make sacrifices and tributes to the deity who sent the eudaimon in order to demonstrate his or her continued faithfulness and service).  

Eudaimones are peaceable and non-violent by nature and will generally only attack if threatened. However, they bear special enmity against imps, quasits, and grimlings and will attack any such beings they encounter on sight.

Eudaimones carry small bows (9” range) with a variety of different magical arrows: sleep arrows (as per a pixie or sprite, but with -4 on the victim’s saving throw), arrows that create the effects of the emotion spell (Fear, Hate, Hopelessness, or Rage) for 2-8 rounds, and arrows that dispel evil. Eudaimones can use the following spell-like abilities at will, at 5th level of ability: become invisible, becoming ethereal or astral, charm person, detect evil, and polymorph self into the form of a small animal such as a cat, crow, frog, mouse, owl, or rabbit. Eudaimones have the following psionic disciplines at 5th level of mastery: animal telepathy, empathy, and precognition. Eudaimones are immune to cold, poison, and energy draining and do not require food or water. Once per day, a eudaimon may attempt to gate in aid, with a 50% chance of the call being answered by 1-4 foo dogs (50%), 1-2 foo lions (40%), or a titan (10%).

Description: In their natural form, eudaimones appear as healthy human infants or children with small, feathered wings. They are typically rosy-cheeked and curly-haired and their eyes sparkle with preternatural intelligence and wit.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

[D&D] Under the influence of art

As I've mentioned before, I was part of the second (or even third) generation of D&D kids, and didn't have much notion of fantasy before starting to play D&D (outside of Disney movies and fairy tales and He-Man) and I didn't really get into reading fantasy fiction (outside of The Hobbit, a book of King Arthur stories from my school library, and TSR's own Endless Quest series) until a bit later, so for the first two years or so my idea of fantasy and sense of "what fantasy looks like" was very heavily influenced by D&D and, especially, D&D art.

Alongside the canonical TSR artists (who, thanks to TSR's practice at the time of keeping old material in-print, I got the experience several generations of simultaneously - from David Sutherland, David Trampier, Tom Wham, Darlene, Erol Otus, Russ Nicholson, Jeff Dee, Bill Willingham, Timothy Truman, Jim Holloway, Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, Keith Parkinson, and Clyde Caldwell all side by side by side) there was also some ancillary licensed stuff that was influential on me.

Back in the 80s, when D&D was a fad and everybody was anxious for a piece of that money, there was a lot of licensed, non-game D&D branded stuff (jigsaw puzzles, posters, beach towels, etc.). By 1983-84 that material generally featured either the characters from the AD&D toy line or reproductions of the same handful of book covers by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley. But if you go back a couple years further, things get more interesting and there were some unique, now mostly-forgotten D&D-branded items floating about.

One that I never actually owned but that had a subconscious impact from seeing (and coveting) older kids' copies was a line of D&D-branded folders and notebooks released in 1981-82 by St. Regis Consumer Products. There were a dozen or so different designs, all by an artist named Alex Nuckols (who is, apparently, mostly known for paintings of Jesus guiding 18-wheelers that were sold in truck-stops in the 70s). Unfortunately I can't find any good sample images to post (thanks to Photobucket changing their terms of service), but you can Google image search on "d&d st regis" and come up with a few. The art is very much in the same style stuff like the Brothers Hildebrand and Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings, or perhaps Rankin & Bass' The Last Unicorn, and doesn't really have anything specific to do with D&D (no identifiable monsters or anything) so it was probably pre-existing fantasy art that got the D&D logo stuck on it as a quick cash-grab, but it's still pretty cool (and I wouldn't mind having a couple of those folders today).

[Actually, here's one of the pieces - hope this link still works!]

Another item that I did have was the sets of AD&D-branded "rub down" transfers (a la PrestoMagix - one of those genres of kids' toys that has since completely disappeared). These were apparently released in 1981, but I found them sometime around the spring of 1985 in the gift shop at the King's Island amusement park in Cincinnati (where I guess they'd been gathering dust for awhile?). There were several sets, each of which had about a dozen images that were drawn mostly from the Monster Manual, Fiend Folio, or Players Handbook, but rendered in full color. These were very cool to me - the combined familiarity of the images with the novelty of them being in color (and transformed from book illustrations to stand-alone figures) seemed "right" to me and really struck my imagination. I don't remember what I actually did with these - I know I didn't keep them unused, but I didn't put them into my actual D&D books, either. I think I must have drawn landscape scenes on blank paper which I inserted them into. Here's one of the sets I had:

Here's another one that I didn't have (there were 8 different sets in total; I think I had 2 or 3) but that is still a pretty cool selection of some of the most iconic AD&D monsters:

And last but not least is another item that was even older (released in 1979), but that my best gaming buddy at the time picked up "new" at a flea-market I think sometime around the summer or fall of 1985, and that we spent a lot of quality time with and was very influential on my mind's eye picture of D&D: the Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Album, with illustrations by Greg Irons and text by Gary Gygax.

This item has already been "rediscovered" by bloggers and gotten a fair amount of attention in recent years, including a blog post from 2011 that included the entire book (both text and pictures), but I still want to talk about it a bit, both because it was so cool and because thinking back it's likely that having spent so much time at this impressionable age with my friend and this book, reading Gary's text and carefully coloring the images to match it, as well as playing with those rub-down transfers of Trampier and Sutherland art, at the time when the look and feel of the official game was rapidly moving in a very different direction, is a big part of why my D&D tastes and aesthetic preferences were out of step with what TSR was offering up in the post-Gary era and why I gravitated towards the "old school" Gary-era aesthetic, even as it was disappearing from (and in some sense being actively repudiated by) TSR's official product lines.

Greg Irons was an underground comix and tattoo artist out of San Francisco, and his work didn't look like anything from the TSR art department, but - especially in combination with Gary's text - it still fit the mood of the game perfectly. The purpose of a coloring book is, of course, to present tableau images that will be fun to color in, so Gary's "story" is really just an excuse to set of a series of these tableaux, but he included enough detail and evocative flavor in those paragraphs to make it interesting, and to make sure that the subject matter wasn't just repurposed generic fantasy art, but was extremely specific to the AD&D universe. All of the characters and monsters come straight out of the game, and even though the style of the art is different than the rulebooks, the imaginary world being portrayed is unquestionably the same:

(Alas, one downside of the amount of fun my friend and I had with this coloring book is that once we had filled it up we went on to start coloring in the illustrations of the actual D&D modules - especially those illustrated by Jim Holloway, Jeff Dee, and Bill Willingham, including my otherwise-highly-collectible copy of R1: To the Aid of Falx...)

So all of that D&D art - the canonical TSR art, plus the AD&D toys, plus the D&D cartoon (especially those monsters that came out of the game - the orcs and bullywugs, shadow demon, Tiamat, etc.), plus these licensed oddities - are and always will be "what D&D looks like" in my imagination. And that association, as much or more as all of the changes made to the rules (which, as the books always told us, were really just a set of guidelines, suggestions, and examples anyway) is the reason why I've never been able to embrace the Wizards of the Coast editions of D&D. No matter what they call it, or how hard they try to play the nostalgia card, nothing they do ever looks or feels "like D&D" to me :(

Thursday, July 13, 2017

[D&D] Being cavalier about it

Seemingly everybody but me hates the AD&D cavalier class, introduced by Gary Gygax in Dragon #72 (April 1983) and later canonized in Unearthed Arcana. Some of it might be subconscious revulsion at Eric, the smug-but-cowardly cavalier character from the D&D cartoon, or resentment at a class that's basically built around the idea of getting all kinds of extra, unfair advantages by virtue of being born rich. There are also some valid complaints that the class as-described with its strict behavioral code doesn't fit in within "traditional" D&D paradigm where a bunch of rootless "murder hobo" adventurers crawl through dungeons and the wilderness employing stealth, ambushes, trickery, and bribery in order to garner loot (and do a lot of running away from danger to save their skins).

That's true, but it was also deliberate. Gary was intending with the cavalier (and similarly with the acrobat, and the other classes he mentioned in Dragon magazine but was never able to detail, like the mountebank and jester) to expand the scope of the game beyond the dungeon- and wilderness-crawling of OD&D, to include more in-town activities and interaction with the civilized world. Most D&D characters exist apart from, or at best on the fringes of, "normal" society, but cavaliers are required to be a part of it. They're not independent free agents the way other character are.

Some people don't like that, and want their characters to be free agents, so it's natural that this class, with its explicit social status and obligations, won't be appealing to them. That means that adding cavaliers (and the other "town-oriented" classes) makes it more incumbent that everyone be on the same page up-front regarding what the campaign is going to be about so that there aren't incompatible characters or resentful players who expected one thing and got something else. But that's part of the larger trend in how the game was growing and changing in the 80s (and the unfortunate coincidence that the growth was piecemeal and not explained (and ultimately incomplete) so that a lot of people didn't understand that it was happening and spent a lot of time trying to shove square pegs into round holes) of which the cavalier and acrobat are a symptom, not the cause.

I mostly do like the cavalier class and think that it fills an archetypal niche that is distinct from the soldierly "fighting man" just like the barbarian does, and - when the role is understood - that it works fine in the AD&D game, especially in a campaign where the players have a stable of several characters that they rotate between depending on the nature of the adventure.

The various advantages given to the class, including things that seem like they should (or at least could) also have been given to other classes like special parrying and ability score training and multiple weapon specializations and the ability to keep functioning with negative hit points, make sense, given the core conceit that unlike common men-at-arms (i.e. fighter characters), cavaliers have undergone intense, specialized, high-quality (and very expensive!) training and conditioning since birth. This is perhaps made more clear in the Dragon version, which includes some text that was rephrased or edited out of UA:
[T]he cavalier character must be of the correct social class, i.e. gentle or noble birth, or of the accepted aristocracy for candidacy to knighthood. This requirement usually means that the character must be of a knightly, noble, or royal family which has suitable financial means to support the training necessary for entrance to the class of cavalier.
Landless aristocrats (knights or nobles) are typically precluded from having a child immediately enter the cavalier class at 1st level, since they are unable to afford the training and equipment needed. Such families (as well as lesser families being particularly honored) might, however, be allowed to have a child candidate enter the cavalier class as a 0 level horseman retainer of a knight. 
Cavaliers in AD&D are, by definition, either rich kids or kids who've been adopted and sponsored by rich patrons. They are explicitly the privileged "1%" of AD&D characters, and that gives them advantages that other characters of humbler means simply didn't have access to. "It's not fair that cavalier characters get to improve their ability scores through training and other characters don't." Exactly - it's not fair at all. That's the point. The whole concept of the cavalier class is completely unfair and non-egalitarian, by deliberate design.

And, at least in a properly-managed campaign, those benefits don't come without a steep price. As noted above, cavaliers - at least at low to mid levels - are not free-agent adventurers in the way other characters are. They have strict social obligations that must be obeyed and maintained. Again, this is made clearer in Dragon #72 than in UA:
As stated above, service is the paramount requirement for assumption of cavalier status. This service can be to a deity, state, order, or any master, particularly one of high station. After attaining knighthood [ed. note: at 4th level - this isn't explicitly stated in the text of either Dragon #72 or UA, but it's strongly implied by the level titles and supported in context], the cavalier can renounce former service, of course. At such point, the cavalier then champions a creed or cause, or is simply a rogue. In all cases, social status is likewise of paramount importance, and this must be maintained.
Note also/especially that "if the order or liege lord of the cavalier demands it" the character can be forced out of the class, becoming a fighter and losing all cavalier benefits (except weapon of choice). That's something that I suspect gets overlooked and ignored a lot, but it seems very important to me as it's unique among all character classes - paladins, rangers, and monks lose class abilities if they violate their alignment, and clerics are subject to judgment by their deities, but the cavalier alone has their class abilities subject to the whims of an earthly patron (typically an NPC, but at least theoretically another PC) - if you don't do what your boss says to their satisfaction, at their discretion, you lose your class abilities.

The cavalier's required body of retainers also worth paying attention to. Starting at 4th level the cavalier must acquire at least one lower-level cavalier retainer, and must increase the size of their retinue as they increase in level, to a total of 6 (3 lower-level trainee cavaliers and 3 0-level servants) by 8th level. The cavalier "is responsible for the actions of his or her followers and retainers, and is required to insure that others of the cavalier class live up to the standards of the class," and is also required to always travel with this substantial retinue until they achieve 9th level, unless their master orders them to travel solo. At first glance this may look like a benefit, but it's actually a substantial burden that characters of other classes don't face. Cavalier characters not only always have to answer to a boss above, they also are responsible for the well-being and behavior of a group of dependents, with no choice in the matter.

Many players will look at all the benefits and special abilities of the cavalier class and be envious of them, but it's a good bet that many of those same players (especially those accustomed to playing "traditional" free-agent adventurer characters) are also very turned off by all of the obligations and would be unwilling to abide by them. And that, of course, is exactly the point. You don't get one without the other. A cavalier without all those burdensome obligations, who doesn't have to answer to an NPC boss and doesn't have to shepherd around a group of dependents and is free to go out adventuring and behave in whatever manner he or she chooses is called, you guessed it, a fighter.

All of that said, while I mostly like the class, I acknowledge that there are some issues with it, just like there are with the barbarian, including some details from the Dragon version (which I think is worth reading - the UA version reorganizes and streamlines the text in a way that is more efficient but loses some of the flavor; plus I like Keith Parkinson's illustrations better than Jim Roslof's) that were left out or changed in UA - presumably by Jeff Grubb and/or Frank Mentzer - that I think shouldn't have been. Therefore, I recommend the following changes to the UA text:
  • Elf and half-elf cavaliers have the same level limits as fighters of the same race [per Dragon #96, seemingly overlooked in UA - and really it only makes sense]
  • The activity of the cavalier is such that it precludes any other profession - there can be no multi-classed cavalier or dual-classed cavalier. [per Dragon #72]
  • Add battle axe, bec de corbin, pole axe, falchion sword, and two-handed sword to the list of allowed/preferred weapons [all of these were on the list in Dragon #72 and were used by knights historically, so their deletion in UA seems to have a case of overzealous game-balancing overtaking source-fidelity - I smell the meddling hands of Grubb or Mentzer!] 
  • Add falchion sword as one of the options for the second weapon of choice [also per Dragon #72]
  • Add composite short bow as an option for the second or third weapon of choice for elf and half-elf cavaliers. Such characters have an increased rate of fire (3/1 at levels 6-10, 4/1 at levels 11+ (should they manage to attain such)) and are able to employ their full rate of fire even while mounted [per Dragon #72]
  • Weapon of choice "to hit" bonus is capped at 17th level (i.e. +3 for the third weapon) [implicit per Dragon #72]
  • The Protection from Fear aura of good-aligned cavaliers becomes a +2 bonus to saving throws against Fear-based effects, not a blanket immunity [per me - this effect is just too good as blanket immunity]
  • Delete the 90% resistance to mind-affecting magic and +2 saving throw vs. illusions [per me - legendary knights (from Arthuriana, Orlando furioso, Don Quixote, etc.) regularly succumbed to such effects and were constantly being charmed, beguiled, and fooled by illusions. If anything, it feels more appropriate and truer to the source material that cavaliers should have a penalty against such effects than a bonus!].
With these modifications, and with a firm understanding by both the player and especially the DM - if the DM doesn't enforce the restrictions and obligations and just allows the cavalier character to be "a fighter, only better" of course the other players will resent it - of how such a character fits into the game and setting (i.e. that they're only suitable for a game where what the characters do in-town actually matters and can't just be plugged interchangeably into a traditional group of vagabond murder-hobo adventurers) I think the cavalier can be a solid addition to and expansion of the scope of the AD&D game and bring in more of a romantic fantasy element alongside the grubby swords & sorcery flavor of the original/baseline game.

It almost goes without saying that cavaliers are especially suited to small, one or two-person, player groups and/or to younger players who might be more willing to accept being sent on missions by an NPC boss instead of being self-directed free agent treasure-seekers. Another interesting possibility in a large and long-running campaign would be to have cavaliers as "second generation" characters whose bosses are the earlier (now high-level, retired) adventurer PCs who carved the kingdom out of the wilderness and settled it. The first generation of PCs builds civilization out of the wilderness, then the second generation is charged with defending it.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Future

So, umm, this blog was born out of a really slow patch at work; being bored and having a lot of extra free time sitting in front of a computer. Alas, that situation changed about a month ago and I'm no longer idle and bored.

This is unquestionably a good thing for me personally (continuing to have a job is nice!) but not so great for the future of this blog. I'd managed to build of a pretty long queue of posts during those couple months of involuntary downtime, which is what you've been seeing for the past few weeks, but we've finally made it to the end of that line and I still haven't had time to write any new entries (except for this one).

I still have several topics I wanted to write about but hadn't gotten to yet (both game-related stuff and general pop-culture stuff - I never got to do a post about Jim Henson!), so it's not that I've lost interest or run out of ideas, I'm just no longer able to devote time to writing posts, and (fingers crossed, knocking on wood) don't anticipate being able to do so anytime soon.

I'll continue monitoring the comments (like I've been doing for the past month) and might still make an occasional new post if there's a fortunate convergence of free time and inspiration, but the "new post every three days" pattern of the past is definitely not going to continue after today.

It was a good run - I hope you all had as much fun reading the posts as I did writing them. I hope you were reminded of some cool stuff from the 80s and/or got some new inspiration for your D&D game - or, best of all, were inspired to start a new D&D game. Please feel free to go back and comment on the older posts if you'd like (especially the Temple of Elemental Evil one where I've added more stuff in the comments as I've continued to think about and work on it), and be sure to keep me in your RSS feeds in case something new comes up :)

Live long and prosper,