Men and Magic Examination Part 2

This examination rounds out the rules portion of Men and Magic, that is, everything but the spell description. There’s really nothing else that grabbed me like I described in Part 1.

As far as things I’ve always overlooked and want to make a point to use in my next campaign, I have to say the rules on henchmen/hirelings/retainers are it. I’ve always known the rules were there, just never bothered to use them. Upon re-reading, though, I can see where their inclusion not only makes characters more survivable, it also makes for good role playing. The idea of the party’s fighter having 2 or 3 bully boys following him around is amusing. The image of a cleric cajoling his posse into joining him for evening prayer is likewise funny.

What’s really intriguing though, is the part about

“Monsters can be lured into service if they are of the same basic alignment as
the player-character, or they can be Charmed and thus ordered to serve. Note,
however, that the term “monster” includes men found in the dungeons, so in this
way some high-level characters can be brought into a character’s service, charisma
allowing or through a Charm spell.” (Men and Magic, pg 12)

I can see a 1st or 2nd level Magic-User running around with a cult following, especially the way Charm works (remains in effect until dispelled).

There’s also a cool little section about setting things up so that if your character gets killed he can have a cousin or whatever waiting in the wings to claim all his shit and sally forth on his own adventures.

So far, this has been a very enjoyable experience. I’m looking forward to seeing what I may have missed in the spell descriptions next.

Men & Magic Examination Pt 1

Here is one of the first areas to catch my eye. It has long been common practice to allow players to rearrange numbers by lowering one stat to raise another, typically on a 2-to-1 ratio. Now, I’m not saying this is any different. All I am saying is that it is open to another interpretation. The compelling statement in this case is this Clerics can use strength on a 3 for 1 basis in their prime requisite area (wisdom), for purposes of gaining experience only. (Men & Magic, pg 10-11)” I believe this can mean that the stats don’t actually change. The “secondary” ones listed merely act to supplement the Prime Requisite. That does make sense, when you consider the advancement paradigm as a whole. There is a relative dearth of direct mechanical bonuses of the sort found in later additions. In the LBBs ability was measured more importantly by level. Rising through the levels could be aided by greater natural ability, but it was only in the attainment of levels that “bottom line” ability was measured. In other words, the character’s ability to influence events in-game was almost solely dependent on level. Thus, any bonus that resulted in a character rising through the levels more rapidly could be construed as the realization of a natural aptitude or innate talent.

Within that paradigm, bonuses to earned experience are very important. Far broader in application, if taking longer to realize, they actually help shape the character, moreso than simple bonuses. Of course, bonuses to-hit and damage make a Fighter better able to survive to higher levels. Yet, a bonus to XP will get the Fighter to the higher levels more quickly, which improves his chances to hit, while also speeding access to more hit points. In later editions power creep came in with the granting of stat bonuses, in addition to XP bonuses.

This was always something of a sore spot for me. In the latter editions, experience did not mean as much as raw ability. A 1st level Fighter with a very high STR in AD&D could have the same chance to hit as a 3rd level Fighter of average STR, and would do significantly more damage. D&D combat has always been about modelling the result of the combat, not the blow-for-blow of it, and over the course of a fight, experience should win out. But, I digress.

I think it is also compelling that only the non-primes get a direct mechanical bonus, and very small ones, at that.

On the whole, I like the idea of interpreting this as the secondary stats listed serve to “buff” the Prime Requisites, but otherwise remain unchanged. I’ve included the full passage of relevant text below, I hope I’m not crossing any copyright lines by doing so.

Explanation of Abilities:
The first three categories are the prime requisites for each of the three classes, Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and Clerics. (See the Bonuses and Penalties to Advancement due to Abilities table  which appears hereafter.)
Strength is the prime requisite for fighters. Clerics can use strength on a 3 for 1 basis in their prime requisite area (wisdom), for purposes of gaining experience only. Strength will also aid in opening traps and so on.
Intelligence is the prime requisite for magical types. Both fighters and Clerics can use it in their prime requisite areas (strength and wisdom respectively) on a 2 for 1 basis. Intelligence will also affect referees’ decisions as to whether or not certain action would be taken, and it allows additional languages to be spoken.
Wisdom is the prime requisite for Clerics. It may be  used on a 3 for 1 basis by fighters, and on a 2 for 1 basis by Magic-Users, in their respective prime requisite areas. Wisdom rating will act much as does that for intelligence.
Constitution is a combination of health and endurance. It will influence such things as the number of hits which can be taken and how well the character can withstand being paralyzed, turned to stone, etc.
Dexterity applies to both manual speed and conjuration. It will indicate the character’s missile ability and speed with actions such as firing first, getting off a spell, etc.
Charisma is a combination of appearance, personality, and so forth. Its primary function is to determine how many hirelings of unusual nature a character can attract. This is not to say that he cannot hire men-at-arms and employ mercenaries, but the charisma function will affect loyalty of even these men. Players will, in all probability, seek to hire Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and/or Clerics in order to strengthen their roles in the campaign. A player-character can employ only as many as indicated by his charisma score:

In addition the charisma score is usable to decide such things as whether or not a witch capturing a player will turn him into a swine or keep him enchanted as a lover. Finally, the charisma will aid a character in attracting various monsters to his service.
Bonuses and Penalties to Advancement due to Abilities:
(Low score is 3-8; Average is 9-12; High is 13-18)

Prime requisite 15 or more: Add 10% to earned experience
Prime requisite 13 or 14: Add 5% to earned experience
Prime requisite of 9 – 12: Average, no bonus or penalty
Prime requisite 8 or 7: Minus 10% from earned experience
Prime requisite 6 or less: Minus 20% from earned experience
Constitution 15 or more: Add +1 to each hit die
Constitution 13 or 14: Will withstand adversity
Constitution of 9 – 12: 60% to 90% chance of surviving
Constitution 8 or 7: 40% to 50% chance of survival
Constitution 6 or Less: Minus 1 from each hit die*
Dexterity above 12: Fire any missile at + 1
Dexterity under 9: Fire any missile at -1
* minimum score of 1 on any die

Note: Average scores are 9-12. Units so indicated above may be used to increase prime requisite total insofar as this does not bring that category below average, i.e. below a score of 9.

Thieves PLUS a New Idea

A lot has been said about the Thief class. I’ve said a lot about it. I am really divided on the topic.

On one hand, when I’m in OD&D mode, I want player skill, reasoning, and description to rule the day. I love the idea of a return to the days when players said “I carefully remove the clothes from the chest, being watchful for tripwires or things of that sort. When I have them emptied, I lightly tap around inside the chest, listening for hollow spots or a false bottom.” To me, that is so much better than “I check out the chest. My Perception Check was a 15. What do I find?”

Yet, there are times when player description just isn’t enough. Describing how to pick a lock isn’t something most of us can do with any degree of accuracy, for example. So, I do think there are instances where player skill needs to give way to character skill. Besides which, I like the idea of a skulking character of unsavory repute, but he is necessary. While I like the idea of any character doing thieving things, I also like the idea that one character may be better at it, or an aspect of it, than another character.

I’ve given some thought to various methods of making this happen. I could just allow the Thief from Greyhawk to the available classes. If I did, though, it would give one class a monopoly on thiefly activities.

I could make available a “graft” of the thief skills, at an XP cost. This seems ok, but just doesn’t feel right. I’m not crazy about the thief skill being this homogenous blob. I prefer the idea that a guy can be a first-rate lockpick and not know a damn thing about sneaking around.

lastly would be some method whereby players could select thief skills for their character, cafeteria-style, at some sort of premium, such as additional XP. The drawback to this option is that it starts straying into the murky area of a skill system, which I prefer to avoid.

Here’s an idea I had. I’m just spitballin’, but here it is. In Greyhawk, the majority of Thief skills are divided up into two broad categories: Open Locks/Remove Traps and Pick Pocket/move Silently/ Hide in Shadows. I propose that Fighters and Magic-Users (only) may opt at character creation to have certain Thief skills. The player may choose one group for his character to have. The choice must be made during character creation, and can not be changed. The character advances in those skills per Greyhawk. In return, the character must forfeit 15% of earned experience. Up to 10% of this may be offset by high Prime Requisites.

I’m not so sure I’m crazy about that either. But there it is. If anyone has an opinion on the matter, or that idea, I would love to hear it.

Ok, I just had another idea. This one can apply to pretty much anything, not just thief-like activities. Very simply, when the outcome of something is too variable to allow a player to simply describe his character’s actions, roll d20 and add the most appropriate stat. The referee will do likewise, high roll is successful. This can be used for anything from picking a lock (give it a rating to be added to the d20 roll), to sneaking past a guard, climbing a wall (d20 + rating based on surface and conditions), deciphering something written in a lost language, etc, etc.

I hate to sound like I’m patting myself on the back, but I really like this idea. It even takes class into account, in a way. If the referee allows players to place stats rather than rolling in order (which I do), then the best numbers will be allocated to the stats that are most relevant to the class. In other words, there’s no need to give Fighters a bonus on a physical roll because he will most likely have his best number in Strength anyway. If you want a guy that is above average in the thieving arts, just be sure and put one of your better numbers on DEX. If it means missing out on the Prime Requisite bonus, then that’s the cost of being a jack-of-all-trades. This should also play very fast at the table. All in all, I think I might be onto to something here.

More than meets the eye

Ok, so, like I said, I’m back in the old school vibe. Part of that lead me back to the excellent essays at Philotomy’s OD&D Musings ( If you’re an old schooler who’s never read these musings, stop reading this and go there now. I’ll be here when you get back. If you have read them before, read the again, they are that good.

Reading (more accurately re-reading) made me want to really dig into the LBBs. See, I started really getting into D&D with my best friend at the time. He begged and borrowed the books long enough to hand copy them (the LBBs and Greyhawk). He taught me, was always the DM, and never relinquished his hard-won copies. So, back then I never actually read the rules. Eventually I did buy a white box, but by then I thought I knew it all already, so didn’t read it. Then came AD&D. Long story short, while I’ve read bits and pieces, I’ve not read them cover to cover.

When my old school urge fell on me, I immediately decided to set the Way-Back Machine for 1976 and avail myself of all the Supplements released by that time. Upon reading Philotomy’s excellent advice to read the LBBs with a fresh eye, I decided it was high time I do so. All I can say, is DAMN!

Sure, there are numerous references to Chainmail. But, for a book that weighs in at a svelte 30+ pages, digest sized at that, this is a remarkably complete character book. The most remarkable thing about Men & Magic, though, is its internal consistency. Individual systems and subsystems have been picked apart and criticized piece-meal for years. They’ve been ridiculed, laughed at, and called outdated. And all that was said from the instant Runequest arrived on the scene. The thing is, the systems and subsystems don’t exist in a vacuum. They are all part of a cohesive whole, and when they are left alone to function in that environment, they function unbelievably well.

This post isn’t going to be a guided tour of all the things I never realized were in there. It is an introduction to a series of posts offering guided tours of things I never realized were in D&D from the very beginning. Most of the time those earliest versions are still better than systems and methods designed with 40 years of collective design experience informing them. So far these has been a very rewarding experience, and I hope that by sharing it with you, perhaps you’ll be inspired to reacquaint yourself with the prototype from which all others sprang.

An Old School Character Sheet

Here’s a character sheet I drew up and scanned. It’s meant to be reminiscent of something that might have been at a table in ’76. The stat order, with CON before DEX, is pure LBBs, as are the Saving Throw categories. I also included spaces for stat mods from Greyhawk, as well as AC adjustments to-hit. I know it’s not the Next Big Thing, but I like it. Hopefully some of you will, too.

Forward to the Past

Hello, everyone. Please accept my apologies for being so reticent of late. It’s been a combination of a general lack of focus, family obligations, and being sort of bummed that blogspot went south on me.

Anyway. Those of you that suffer Gamer’s ADD know that anything can trigger a shift. I was scrounging around for fonts the other day when I found one named Quentin. Fairly unassuming, right? One problem: it’s the red-letter font proclaiming D&D on a certain white box (pictured at left). That was all it took, I tried to fight it, I really did. I was nursing a cyberpunk/Alternity mood that I was pretty happy about. The lure of my first gaming mistress was too strong, though.

So, here I am, back in 1976, Or at least pretending to be, game-wise. Planning a campaign (which will likely never get played) using only what was available in December of 1976. Incidentally, in case you’ve missed it in other posts, I really was playing in December of 1976, having been introduced to D&D that September (or maybe October, but I do believe it was September). All the issues of Strategic Review, and the first four of The Dragon. There really is some great stuff in those early issues of those mags. Some of it quickly became canon.

There is one “modern” convenience I’m using. I am working on randomizing a wilderness map using Welsh Piper’s templates. I’ll post it when I get (at least) the Atlas map done.

There it is, then.

What gives a game legs?

I’ve read a lot about how a lot of rules-lite games are good for pick-up games, but lacking for long-term play. There are some instances where that is obvious. There are some, though, that I don’t see it, so that started me to wondering: What aspects/compnents are necessary for a game to shake off the good-for-pick-up-game stigma? Honestly, once we stray beyond the obvious, and into more ill-defined territory, that definition is as elusive as the OSR itself.

Obviously, chracter development is huge. However, Dungeonslayers takes characters all the way to level 20, and it is still referred to as a beer-and-pretzels game. OD&D is a character development wasteland, as far as written rules support, but to this day no one thinks of it as a one-off engine. There’s a certain line in the sand, as well. Phase-line Crunch, let’s call it. Too many character development options becomes too crunchy, too burdensome, and too inviting to munchkinism.

There’s also system longevity to consider. In other words, will the actual play get stale over time? Are there enough mechanical options to keep players engaged with the system? Will combat be the same roll-to-hit, roll-to-damage at 15th level that is was at 1st level? Is spell casting going to scale with level, or will it merely be an exercise in casting more spells?

I don’t have any hard/fast answers, nor do I know if we really need answers. It’s just something I was thinking about.

When is a bonus not a bonus?

I don’t know what started me thinking about this, but I did. Anyway, to answer my question:

  • When it is  neccesary. It is explicity stated in the AD&D PHB that a character that doesn’t have bonuses in at least two stats is unplayable and should be rerolled. Everything changed with that. Bonuses became necessary due to a sort of “false economy” that the rules established. It was like every design after that, whether it was monsters, rules additions, or adventures, was based on a “Holy shit! These characters are more powerful then they used to be! We have to ramp this <whatever> up!”
  • When the bonus is the stat. I like this in systems where the bonus is what matters most. In every edition of D&D, since AD&D 1E, the stat proper has just been a scale to determine the “bonus”. Other than the cobbled-together mess of NWP, stats really do not matter. Some games have stats based solely on bonuses. Talislanta was the first I saw do that, back in the latter half of the ’80s. It isn’t really a popular paradigm, but at the same time it isn’t hard to find. The very cool Dungeonslayers comes to mind.
  • When the stat itself is integral to the mechanics. In games like Errant the stat becomes a target number in a roll-under mechanic. I think it works quite well. I don’t have a problem with roll-unders. Some folks do, though. The problem with basing the mechanics on the stats is that it must be a roll-under to really work. Then, to make a roll-under work in a logical fashion, the stat has to be modified, not the roll. We are so used to modifying the roll that modifying the stat is a bit of a pause. The alternative is to reverse the application of bonuses, such that a negative number is a “bonus”. That is just too counter-intuitive to simply overcome. It takes work to wrap your mind around that.

On the whole I prefer either the roll-under or bonus-as-stat designs. They just make more sense. Also, remember, there were virtually no mechanics attached to stats in OD&D, at least officially in the LBBs. The supplement Greyhawk quickly rectified that, but as conceived, stats carried no intrinsic benefits. I suppose they existed as a means of comparison.  I just know I definitely do not like the notion that a character is simply unplayable and/or undesirable with a shortage of bonuses. Especially when they are statistically difficult to come by. Couple that with the fact that the creatures and encounters are designed to challenge characters in possession of such bonuses, and it is an exercise in frustration to try to roleplay a character that is merely average.

Ailoria Update

I’ve done some work on the Ailoria map. I’m going for a hand-drawn, old parchment look. I’m pretty happy with the land mass/islands and the water. Not so much the mountains. I know they are just a bit too big, but there is something else I can’t quite put my finger on. I’m not real crazy about those city symbols, either, but so far they best match the style I’m shooting for. I need to get serious about finding some more map symbol brushes. I also need to flush the ones I’m not using. GIMP can really get slow with loading when you have a shitpot of brushes.

Speaking of which, I have also installed some hex mapping brushes. I plan to use those with Welsh Piper’s Hex Mapping Templates, and Hex Based Campaign Design. I’ll post those as they come up as well. I’ve taken the coast outline from my scanned hand-drawn map  and pasted it onto the world template. I’m actually pretty happy with how it sets up on that template, as far as climate zones and overall scale goes. It really sin’t much to see, so I doubt I’ll be posting it. It was just for my reference. If anyone does want to see it, though, I’ll be happy to share.

About my reviews

Since I’m doing more reviews of late, I wanted to make note of a couple of things. One is that I will probably sound like a gushing fanboy in most of them. This is because I only intend to review things I like. My time is too limited to devote to a thorough reading of something I’m not even enjoying. I barely have time to read what I do enjoy. Also, one man’s pain is another man’s pleasure. I would hate to turn someone away from a game they might enjoy. I’ve read plenty of games that got bad reviews, but I loved them (I still think there’s a lot of good stuff in Powers & Perils, for example). Another thing about negative reviews, I don’t want to throw shit at someone else’s work. Whoever wrote thought it was a good idea. Who am I to take that from them?

The other thing to keep in mind about my reviews: They are reading reviews only. I do not have a group to guinea pig these things on, so I have no experience with them in play. I’ve played a lot of games and been in the hobby a long time, so I have a fair idea for how the written word will translate to the table. That being said, unless I explicitly state otherwise, my reviews and impressions do not reflect actual play experience.

There it is, then.