Monday, July 30, 2012

Only Ten Hard Copies

Recently, Brendan asked, "If you could only keep 10 of your printed RPG books, what would you pick?"

In no particular order (well, besides generally alternating between TSR-era titles and OSR titles):
  1. The Arduin Trilogy: The first three Grimoires bound in one volume. Includes awesome critical hit and critical fumble tables, random tables that make character generation more fun (in both my and my players' opinion, at least), gonzo monsters (Kill Kittens!) and more classes, magic and optional rules than, well, you really need. Which is awesome.
  2. Tome of Adventure Design: Matt Finch's giant book of tables. It includes everything from diseases to villainous motivations to randomized dungeon mapping to monster and trap generation to, well, so much more.
  3. Ready Ref Sheets: Published by Judges Guild, this is a collection of tables. It includes city encounters, poison rules, an alignment charting system that's spelled out in a much more practical way than in the DMG, a random ruins generator, a well-thought-out, if complex justice system and a material component list for 48 potions, among other awesome things.
  4. The Dungeon Alphabet: 26 letters in the alphabet, 26 themes for tables. This is a great book for inspiration and for flipping through when you've hit a block in preparing an adventure.
  5. City Book 1: Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker: Published by Flying Buffalo, this is a system neutral collection of businesses, the NPCs who run them and adventure hooks related to them for use with any city. I once ran a city adventure completely by the seat of my pants with this, Haldane and Matt Finch's City Encounters. For game prep, I just made sure I was really familiar with these three documents; my players loved it, and so did I.
  6. The Wilderness Alphabet: Basically the Dungeon Alphabet for the outdoors. My favorite tables are the domains of the gods and the population factor tables that provide the quickest and easiest way to find out what businesses operate in town that I know of. 
  7. 1E DMG: Only twenty-some pages into it, I've already gotten inspiration for Dragon PCs (against Gary's advice, I know) and decided to incorporate the Ranger follower tables, the Age rules and at least some of the disease rules into my game.
  8. ACKS: The tightest version of D&D I know of, built to be tinkered with and with extensive end-game rules. If I ever had to choose just one iteration of The Game to play, straight from the book, for the rest of my life, it would probably be ACKS.
  9. The Great Pendragon Campaign: Over 400 pages and 100 adventures, plus inspiration for more adventures and a great system for running battles, even for games other than Pendragon.
  10. The Majestic Wilderlands: A rules supplement with great classes, multiple simple magic systems, magic items and simple combat rules additions. Enough history and geography to be well-versed in the Wilderlands is included as well.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 9: Alignment

I've gone through numerous understandings, tinkerings and levels of enthusiasm concerning alignment, and read plenty of other bloggers do the same. It was interesting to see Gary's own take on alignment, at least as he sets it out in the DMG.

Gary begins by explaining what alignment is and some basics about how it works: it is the general "ethos," of a character. It doesn't determine religious views, though it may be determined by religious views, and it doesn't prevent characters with the same alignment from fighting with each other, though similarly aligned opponents are likely to cease hostilities and team up with each other against opponents of different alignment.

In AD&D, Gary differs from the single-axis, "allegiance in a grand cosmic struggle," D&D definition of alignment so common in the OSR and instead sets out alignment as a roleplaying aid, a compass to help players run their characters well and in such a way that they do more than just ask, "what would I do in that situation," and go with that. In Gary's own words, "alignment describes the world view of creatures and helps to define what their actions, reactions and purpose will be. It likewise causes a player character to choose an ethos which is appropriate to his or her profession, and alignment also aids players in the definition and role approach of their respective game personae."

In AD&D, there are now two axes for alignment, Law-Chaos and Good-Evil. Gary casts Law as being about the group over the individual; the group needs order and organization to survive and function. Spock was being supremely Lawful when he said, "the good of the many outweighs the good of the few or the one." Chaos in AD&D, far from being the existential threat to the cosmos it is in D&D, is merely promoting the individual over the group. Good is basically about valuing the rights of others, while Evil is about accomplishing one's goals without regard to the rights of others.

Gary goes on to describe each of the possible nine alignments. Nothing is particularly surprising when one realizes that each alignment is just a synthesization of two points on the two axes, except that I found it interesting to read Gary's descriptions of Evil alignments. Gary describes Neutral Evil characters as basically social Darwinists, believing in the success and survival of the fittest and the failure and extinction of the weak; Lawful Evil sees Law as a mechanism for subjugating those who are weaker, the epitome of classism and racism; Chaotic Evil values individual desires and volition… so long as the individuals who have them are strong enough to bring them into reality and defend them. Ultimately, "might makes right," seems to be the unifying theme of Gary's understanding of Evil.

Gary stresses that it is important to chart the alignment of characters' behavior, using a chart in the PHB. He doesn't go into much detail on this point and I'm unclear on whether that chart is this chart that I've seen multiple times before:
or something else. If it's this chart that Gary is talking about, I'm not sure how he expects "small shifts" to be kept track of. Charting character behavior on the alignment chart is important because some classes require certain alignments and because there are serious consequences to actually changing alignment.

Gary takes alignment so seriously that he states, "failure to demand strict adherence to alignment behavior is to allow a game abuse." Gary offers as an example of such game abuse a Paladin who is conveniently led away from the party while the rest of the party schemes to poison a monster; the Paladin isn't stupid and, if played according to alignment, would not turn a blind eye to that sort of behavior, but the players play their characters that way because it is convenient. Gary argues that the Paladin's player should be told that turning a blind eye towards obviously non-Lawful behavior will cost him his Paladinhood and if the player continues to act against alignment then the DM should follow through and strip the Paladin of his Paladinhood.

Gary goes on to discuss alignment languages. He draws parallels with Thief's Cant and the Catholic Church's Latin, but it's clear that there are no strict real-world parallels with what he is describing. Alignment languages are not complete languages; their vocabularies are well-developed concerning the main topics of the alignment, but very bare in all other areas. Thieves can discuss casing and stealing to no end, but a discussion of literature is out of the question; Druids can discuss plants and weather, but not politics. Gary's examples of Thieves and Druids discussing things with their alignment tongues makes me wonder just how many alignment tongues there are; are there nine, one for each alignment? More? Less? Nine seems to generally fit what Gary is saying, as it seems that any intelligent creature, even Gold Dragons, isolated from humanity, can speak the tongue of their alignement. It is taboo to speak in an alignment tongue in the presence of anyone not positively known to share that alignment.

One aspect Gary doesn't address with alignment tongues is how they play out in a game. Do characters ensure that they are not overheard by enemies who don't share their alignment by using it? Do characters prove to monsters that share their alignment that they, too, are of that alignment (for example, a Lawful Good party approaching a Gold Dragon)? Of what real use is alignment language?

Consequences for alignment change include: losing spells or spell-casting ability (particularly for druids), losing a level and loss of alignment tongue while beginning to learn the new alignment tongue. If alignment change is the result of magic against the character's will, magically reversing the alignment change can restore the lost level, but at a hefty monetary cost.

Gary suggests not informing players that there are consequences for changing alignment, letting players cross into other alignments and then penalizing them. I've read and heard complaints about alignment from the players' side that make much more sense to me now that I've read this. I mean, how would you react if you were playing your character according to how you understood your character's alignment, all the while moving closer and closer to alignment change because the DM interpreted your actions differently but wasn't telling you that, and then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, the DM tells you, "you just changed your alignment; congratulations, you lose a level!"? I actually argue for keeping alignment secret from players in this post, but with less drastic consequences, especially for players who play classes that aren't aware of alignment; I think it's important for players of classes that depend on alignment to have at least an in-game understanding of how things work if they are going to suffer consequences for their actions. Gary's approach, as far as I can tell, is "gotcha-ism," pure and simple; I understand that Gary apparently DMed with unrepentant, shameless power-gamers, but this, I think, crosses the line into dysfunctional adversarial gaming advice.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Brainstorming about Dragon PCs

Yesterday's DMG reading got me thinking, so I'm going to take a break from my DMG series for today and throw out some half-formed ideas for your review, specifically about running Dragons as PCs. At some point, I'd like to work them into a playable… something, but that's probably not going to happen soon. Reflections appreciated!

First off, playing a Dragon should be more challenging than playing a conventional, standard race. This should be something that a player chooses because s/he wants to make the game harder, not because s/he wants to make it easier.

Also, while I'd like to eventually figure out how to make any Dragon playable, it seems to me that the Gold Dragon is the most playable, largely because of its Polymorph ability, but because of its alignment (Lawful/Lawful Good in most sources I have access to) and its interest in humanity as well.

I really like Gary's idea to require treasure accumulation and retention, not just age, in order to level.

Motivation: Gary, in the section of the DMG I discussed yesterday, questions why a Dragon would join an adventuring party, given the difficulties involved and Dragons' tendency to be solitary and not interested in interacting with other races. I've got a few ideas about this. The first is that Dragons need treasure to level up and, especially for Lawful/Lawful Good Dragons, what better way for a young, weak Dragon to accumulate wealth than by adventuring? In addition, if we take inspiration from Pellatarrum, one path a young, weak Dragon, just starting out and without any network, might take would be disguising itself as a human and living among them for a while, building up power and a network for later in life. Finally, according to OSRIC, Gold Dragons are naturally interested in man, so it would make sense for a Gold Dragon to live among men for a time, especially since their interest in man dovetails with the other advantages of adventuring.

This is not to say that most NPC Dragons, or even most NPC Gold Dragons should spend a significant amount of time adventuring during their youth; if everyone did it, older Dragons would be more on the lookout for young Dragon adventurers! These reasons, though, I think are sufficient to justify the very occasional Dragon PC.

Dragon PCs should also have to constantly worry about detection by other Dragons. If a Dragon notices the party, there should be some chance of detection, in which case the PC's life would be sought by the NPC Dragon.

The end-game for the Dragon should have to do not so much with the creation of a stronghold (the Dragon should establish multiple lairs without many attendants) but with the creation of the Dragon's personal network and (un)diplomatic dealings with Dragons (favors, territory disputes, etc.). As the Dragon ages, perhaps other PC adventuring parties will catch its attention and it can decide whether to attempt to eradicate them or incorporate them into its network…

Most sources I've looked at have each type of dragon ranging between three different numbers of hit dice (so, 8-10 HD, for expample), as well as having a set number of hit points per hit die, that number being determined by age. Synthesizing these could result in something analogous to levels for Dragons: a Dragon starts out with the lowest number of HD available (so, 8HD for this example), with 1 hit point per die, then moves up to 9 HD, but still 1 hit point per die, then 10 HD, but only one hit point per die, then moves up to 2 hit points per die, but drops back down to 8 HD. This makes growing up as a Dragon less jumpy and more gradual.

The fact that a PC is a Dragon should be witheld from the rest of the party for as long as possible, just as a Dragon would want if adventuring with humans. This would mean staying polymorphed and refraining from using breath weapons. Depending on what class the Dragon masquerades as, the Dragon will have to hide spell-casting or fighting ability. This will add some dramatic fun and also make the Dragon harder to play. In order to facilitate this, it may be helpful to have special classes and character backgrounds that are secrets from other players (lycanthropy, or being hunted by this or that group, or secret political or religious society membership, for example) be somewhat common in the game.

Speaking of magic, Dragons should have access to Dragon magic, powerful spells that are seldom or never shared with humans and which are difficult for them to master when they are exposed to them. These spells should be rare and difficult to find, but well worth it. In addition, Dragons should not have to study spellbooks (though they may certainly pretend to), instead memorizing their spells. Possible models include the Order of the Trehaen in the Majestic Wilderlands and the spell point system at the end of Green Devil Face 4. (I'd lean towards using the Order of the Trehean model, as the GDF model feels more suited to classes for whom magic comes so naturally that it is not studied at all, like my Dryads.)

One troublesome issue is that a Dragon's strength has always been connected to the Dragon's age, and Dragons have considerable lifespans: how can a Dragon keep up with the other members of the party, or even grow/"level up" more than perhaps once during a campaign? There are a few possible ways to address the issue.

One is to have Dragon strength and growth dependent not upon both age and wealth, as Gary suggests, but instead solely upon wealth. Most Dragons take decades or even centuries to acquire enough treasure to grow to the next level, but most Dragons don't adventure, so a PC Dragon will grow more quickly than other Dragons as its hoard grows more quickly than the other Dragons' hoards.

Another possibility is to run decade-long campaigns in which time moves more quickly than in real time. The Dragon PC will slowly age and come into its own as its adventuring companions die and leave their legacy to their heirs. A variant of this option would be to take one's Dragon PC from game to game, though getting referees to allow it, especially at higher levels, might be difficult.

Another possibility is to provide some sort of time-warping mechanism for the Dragon to use. Perhaps whenever growing, the Dragon leaves for an inter-dimensional pocket where its hoard is to sleep, molt and grow and perhaps time passes much more quickly in the inter-dimensional pocket than in the normal game world; while the Dragon sleeps and grows for a few centuries, the Dragon is only absent from the game for no more than a year of game-time.

Finally, if Dragons level as they accumulate their hoards, it becomes important to figure out at what wealth levels they level up. Most OSR games I've referenced don't seem to vary hoard sizes by age, which strikes me as odd; does anyone with access to TSR editions know whether D&D or 1E or 2E varied hoard sizes by age? I know that they started doing that in 3E, because treasure depended upon Challenge Ratings, which varied with age. ACKS also varies treasure with age, so that's likely where I'll start in figuring out how much treasure must be accumulated to "level."

What are your thoughts? Would you allow something like this in your game, and if so, would you have any conditions that accompanied its inclusion? Would you be interested in playing something like this? Am I missing something? How would you improve these rudimentary building blocks for a Dragon PC?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 8: Character Classes - The Use of Poison by Assassins, Monsters as PCs and Lycanthropy

The Use of Poisons by Assassins

Up until 9th level, Assassins use poison pretty much like everyone else. Once they hit 9th level, however, Assassins can choose to make a study of four aspects of poisons:
  • injected/blood poison
  • ingested poison
  • contact poison and poisons that work both ingested and injected
  • creating poisons and antidotes. 
In order to study poisons, the Assassin must find another Assassin of at least 12th level to study under, paying 2000-8000 gold a week; altogether, these four courses of study may take up to 32 weeks! This course of study allows the Assassin to use instantaneous poisons, poisons that take 1-4 hours to kill a victim and poisons that are administered in multiple doses so that they are undetectable, as well as create blade poisons, which evaporate completely in two days and are only effective for the first two hits. Victims of poison administered by Assassins who have completed this course of study also lose the +1 to their saving throw against poisons that they usually get when poisoned by Assassins (those poisoned by non-Assassins get a +2 to their saves).

If you think that's a lot of payout for little benefit, listen to this: the DM isn't allowed to tell the player about the availability of these options, or even hint at them! I'm extremely curious how often a player came up with the idea of having their name-level Assassin study poisons all on their own (and how often their DMs would accuse them of reading the DMG if they did ask about it!).

Altogether, I'm ambivalent about these extra poison rules; they seem pretty complicated and I partly think Gary may have been doing players a favor by instructing the DM not to tell players about them… on the other hand, why shouldn't an Assassin get to study the advanced levels of his craft, just like Magic Users?

The Monster as a Player Character

I was really disappointed with this section, in which Gary addresses what was apparently a not-uncommon request: running monsters as PCs. Gary declares a few times that, "in most cases [running monsters as PCs] was only thought of as a likely manner of game domination." His antidote for this power-gaming motive for running monsters is to explain the in-game limits monster PCs would face. Monsters would be hunted down if they wondered into a tavern to join an adventuring party, and, besides, "Men are the worst monsters." By that, Gary means that high-level characters are able to challenge even demon princes and demi-gods; high-enough level characters, with no limit to the number of magic items they can possess, leave all monsters behind in terms of the danger they pose to their enemies.

For the DM, Gary also points out that it is difficult enough to create a campaign world that is humanocentric, with the aid of humanocentric literature and science; he states that attempts to create a campaign setting which revolves around, or even is partially based on, a monster's perspective, "is destined to be shallow, incomplete, and totally unsatisfying for all parties concerned unless the creator is a Renaissance Man and all-around universal genius with a decade or two to prepare the game and milieu. Even then, how can such an effort rival one which borrows from the talents of genius and imaginative thinking which come to us from literature?"

To be fair, Gary does allow that some players will want to run monsters out of curiosity and an honest desire to experiment. He suggests letting them do so, confident that they will quickly lose interest in running those monster PCs; he states that monster PCs whose players have lost interest in them make interesting NPCs and can contribute positively to the campaign setting.

I wish Gary hadn't taken this position; I've expressed elsewhere my desire to try running a dragon character from its first age category into maturity, so I won't repeat that here. Who knows? Gary might be right and I might lose interest after trying this out for a bit; I just won't know until I've given it a shot.

Finally, Gary does partially redeem this section in my eyes in a short section in which he specifically addresses the true unattractiveness of dragons as PCs. He states that, "only time and accumulation and retention of great masses of wealth will allow any increase in level (age)." This both provides a mechanism for leveling for dragon PCs - retaining, not spending treasure - and provides an incentive for young dragons to adventure. I will have to give this further thought…


Gary stresses that lycanthropy is supposed to be undesirable in AD&D, something to be cured of rather than some sort of bonus. Lycanthropy in AD&D consists mostly of loss of control; characters have chances to change into their were-form six times a month (full, half, quarter, new, quarter and half moon - I'm not sure if 3/4 moons were left out intentionally or not) with varying chances of being able to have any control over those changes or not. Were-PCs are apt to change if they are hurt badly in combat, arguing with other party members, proximity to creature-summoning magic, etc. Lycanthropy can also cause serious mental anguish in those whose alignments are different from their were-form (which is usually the case, since they usually contracted lycanthropy fighting those of different alignment) as their alignment slowly changes to that of their were-forms. Lycanthropy is especially bad for Paladins, who lose their Paladinhood and are considered, "no longer pure enough for that honored state;" Gary even advises against allowing a redemptive quest for the ex-Paladin! Finally, no XP is gained while in lycanthrope form and there is no such thing as "leveling up:" it is impossible to be a "2nd level Werewolf," for example.

In short, lycanthropy is supposed to be incredibly inconvenient.

Gary also provides multiple cures for lycanthropy; the cheapest and easiest are only efficacious very soon after contracting lycanthropy. The most expensive option is to go to a holy/unholy place and drink holy/unholy water prepared by the clergy there and laced with wolfsbane and belladonna out of a silver chalice for a month or more. I found it puzzling that unholy sites would assist in curing lycanthropy until I realized that some lycanthropes are, I believe, lawful and good-aligned.

Finally Gary gives short profiles of lycanthrope behavior. Werebears fight evil creatures until one or the other is dead, and are likely to attack evil creatures immediately upon encountering them. Wereboars are argumentative and want to be in charge. Wererats are the only type of lycanthrope that can use weapons while in were-form; they volunteer to be at the back of the party marching order if they are in a party. Weretigers are supremely self-interested and have a fondness for cats. Werewolves seldom join adventuring parties, but when they do and are discovered, they tend to wait until the party is in combat and then turn on their comrades.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 7: Character Classes - Spying, Thief Abilities, Setting Traps and Assassination Experience Points


In contrast to ACKS, in which spying and other hijinks are usually carried out by the followers of a PC, in AD&D they are carried out by NPCs that are hired, if the PCs don't want to do it on their own in the first place. Gary provides a table for determining the success of a mission, modified by whether the mission is simple, difficult or extraordinary. There is always a chance of discovery, modified by the length of the mission and how well guarded the target is against spying. If the spy is unsuccessful, or if the spy is discovered, you roll on the Spy Failure Table, which determines the fate of the spy. Altogether, I prefer the simplicity of the ACKS system, which takes care of all of these issues with a single die roll (up to capture, when some more rolls are required).

Thief Abilities

Gary expounds on Thief abilities for the purpose of preventing abuse, which mainly means that he lists the limits and time consequences of Thief abilities - Thieves cannot backstab opponents who are aware of their presence, opening locks takes 1-10 rounds (though usually 1-4), and so on. Gary emphasizes rolling all the dice to determine success or failure in secret so that the player will not know whether his character has successfully hid in shadows or moved silently or whatever. The two abilities he singles out as the most abused are hide in shadows and climbing walls. Hide in shadows is not possible if a character is already being observed, and a hiding character is still susceptible to being detected as if he were invisible. Gary provides a matrix that lays out how quickly a Thief can climb, from non-slippery to slippery surfaces and from smooth to very rough surfaces. Gary states that most dungeon walls are on the rougher side but are also slippery from dampness and slime growth.

Thieves and Assassins Setting Traps

Thieves and Assassins get a chance to set traps that is based off of the Thief's chance to detect traps (Assassins get a chance as if they were Thieves of two levels higher than their actual level). They must have access to the components of the traps, having to hire a specialist to provide special components, and the player has to provide the DM with a drawing of the trap. Even if the PC sets the trap successfully, there is a chance (the inverse of the chance to set the trap correctly) that the trap will accidentally go off and hurt the PC while he is setting it. This all seems over-complicated to me; I imagine that this level of work for setting one trap will discourage players from setting any traps at all, which is the exact opposite of what I'd like in my games. I do like the idea of PCs setting traps, though, so I'll probably try to inform players of that possibility in my games in the future, but I'll probably just require a verbal description of the trap similar to, but with fewer requirements than, the ones I use for my Tuesday Traps series and handwave the chances of failure, at least unless the trap is being set up in a hurry.

Assassination Experience Points

On top of the normal XP gained for killing the target of an assassination, an Assassin gets XP for having assassinated the target, based on the level of the target and modified the Assassin's level and the difficulty of the job. The Assassin also receives XP for the fee he is paid, meaning that an Assassin gets XP in three different ways every time he assassinates someone! This seems to incentivize assassination to a degree I'm not sure I want in my game; I do suppose that if Assassins don't make up the majority of the party, the rest of the party probably won't go for assassination missions every session, and if the majority of the party is made up of Assassins then it's already basically an assassination campaign, so I needn't worry too much. Still, what feels to me like disproportionately rewarding assassination rubs me the wrong way.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 6: Character Classes - Followers for Upper Level Player Characters

Gary provides tables for generating followers for PCs who have reached "certain levels" and done "certain things." The closest thing I've ever seen to these tables and rules, which take up about two pages (and Gary fits a LOT on one page), is the ACKS rules, but the ACKS rules are much, much more streamlined than these tables; the way I see it, ACKS creates a much easier-to-use framework, but the DMG provides more variety and, in some cases, more detail, and I'll probably incorporate large portions of it into an ACKS framework if I ever run games where PCs begin establishing strongholds.

Let's talk about Rangers first because, frankly, while the other tables are very cool, they pale in comparison to the tables for generating a Ranger's followers. Rangers get 2d12 followers, and the fewer followers they get, they cooler they'll be, as each result on the 2d12 comes with a modifier for the d% table you roll on next; for example, if you rolled a 3, you'd adjust your rolls on the d% table by 15%, increasing your chances of getting the really awesome results that are higher up on the table.

You roll for each of your followers on this d% table, which directs you to one of six sub-tables. Let's talk about each of these:

Table I is the Human Followers subtable. While Clerics can only have 0-level Fighters as followers, and Fighters get 0-level Fighters and one leveled "leader type" of 5-7th level, and Thieves and Assassins get Thieves or Assassins who might be multi-classing if they are demi-humans, a Ranger's human followers might be Clerics, Druids, Fighters, Rangers or Magic-Users. And we're just getting started…

Table II is for demi-human followers. The only demi-human not available as a follower is the Half-Orc.

Table III starts to get interesting. Rangers might have a black or brown bear as a follower, or two giant lynx, or a pair of giant owls… or two blink dogs! Table IV lists possible mounts that follow the Ranger. the options are 1-3 centaurs, a hippogriff or a pegasus! Table V lists creatures, which are all fey or fey-ish: 1-2 brownies, 1-4 pixies, a pseudo-dragon, a satyr or 2-4 sprites.

Finally, Table VI lists "special creatures." The possibilities include 1-2 weretigers, 1-2 werebears, 2-5 treants, a storm giant and… a copper dragon of age category d4+1!

Seriously, Rangers get the best followers - this is the only way I've ever heard of, in any incarnation of D&D, to get a dragon to serve you without having to worry every second about whether it will turn on you or not; granted, the chances are small, but they exist! And consolation prizes include centaurs (that, since they are listed in the "mounts" subtable, will apparently let you ride them), blink dogs, storm giants and pseudo-dragons!

Rangers get the best followers. And if anyone ever mocks AD&D in my presence, pages 16 and 17 of the DMG will be exhibit A as I demonstrate to them just how wrong they are.

While Clerics, Fighters and Thieves mostly get one, two or four short tables for determining followers (and magic-users, illusionists, druids and monks don't seem to get any followers at all), Assassins and Paladins get some commentary that I think is worth commenting on here.

What I find really interesting about the Assassins section is that Gary provides a schedule for the Assassin's followers to show up (which seems to only be for the new followers that a Grandfather/Grandmother of Assassins will attract once they've achieved that title). The first follower(s) (Gary doesn't specify how to determine how many show up as the first to arrive) show up 1d30 days after, "the conditions for obtaining such followers have been met," with the next assassin showing up 1-8 days later, the third one 1-8 days after that and so on. Interestingly, Gary says that if there isn't anyone around to receive the new follower then the follower will wait 1-4 days and then leave forever. I've never seen any kind of schedule like this, but I like it and would consider using it for the followers of all classes.

Moving on to Paladins, who only get a warhorse for for a follower, albeit a very special one, I was surprised to read that, instead of the warhorse just showing up at 4th level, the Paladin instead has a vision of where the warhorse is and must go and get the warhorse, usually having to perform some task, such as taming the warhorse or defeating an enemy of opposite alignment. Gary is kind and stipulates that this, "will not be an impossible task," but should be, "of some small difficulty," that, "will certainly test the mettle of the paladin," and take no longer than two weeks.

A paladin's mount will grow old and need to be replaced every 10 years, which I found surprising, mostly because I just hadn't thought about it before. Gary really does seem to intend AD&D campaigns to last for decades, at least in game time; the aging and death tables weren't for show! Paladin mount hit points are determined not by rolling dice but by halving the Paladin's level and multiplying that by their hit dice (5). I've only seen this kind of hit point calculation done with dragons before. Finally, if the Paladin ever falls, the mount will become an "immutable enemy," apparently not forgiving the Paladin even if he is able to make atonement and redeem himself. And I thought Paladins were uptight…

Also, Rangers get the best followers. Seriously.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 5: Character Abilities and Character Races

Character Abilities

Gary explains what each of the ability scores really means, plus an extra paragraph about exceptional strength. Each ability score, much like hit points, is an abstraction of different things that would be difficult to quantify and would complicate things a lot if dealt with separately. Let's hit what ability scores really mean first:

Strength: physical power, endurance, stamina
Intelligence: mnemonic, reasoning and learning ability, plus book learning
Wisdom: willpower, judgment, wile, enlightenment and intuitiveness
Dexterity: hand-eye coordination, agility, reflex speed, precision, balance and running speed
Constitution: physique, health, resistance (I'm not sure what that means, really) and fitness
Charisma: physical appearance, persuasiveness and personal magnetism

I'll certainly be using Gary's summations the next time I try to explain ability scores!

Gary also discusses real-world correspondences with Intelligence and Strength. He states that Intelligence scores are roughly analogous to IQ scores (presumably multiplied by 10) and that someone with a Strength score of 18 can lift his weight (or 180 pounds, whichever is heavier) above his head.

Gary goes on to state that no human/humanoid (and, presumably, demi-human) can lift more than twice its body weight above its head. He then lays out how many additional pounds characters with percentage points above 18 can lift above their heads: one pound for each of the first fifty points, four pounds for the next forty and eight for the last ten. Added all together, the most strength that a character could begin play with, it seems, is enough to lift their body weight plus 290 pounds or twice their body weight, whichever is greater.

Character Races

Gary writes that while players should get to control their characters and determine their personalities, alignment will definitely be a factor they use in this task, and racial characteristics can also be a factor. He goes on to describe the general temperaments of dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, halflings and half-orcs. Each conforms to what, thirty-some years later, is pretty much the standard treatment of these races, difficult to get away from even if you try. Dwarves are "dour and taciturn," half-orcs "are boors," etc. I think the only information that was really new to me was the idea that elves are fascinated by magic to the degree that "if they have a weakness it lies in this desire."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 4: Character Age, Aging, Disease, and Death

Character Age

As part of character generation, a character's age is rolled for. Age ranges are determined by class and race. Age ranges vary from 13+1d4 for a Half-Orc Fighter to 500+10d10 for an Elven Cleric. Fighters have the lowest age ranges, followed by thieves, magic-users and finally clerics. For humans, sub-classes (druid, paladin, ranger, illusionist, assassin and monk, which doesn't seem to be a sub-class, but is maybe only available to humans in AD&D?) get their own ranges, but demi-human sub-classes get their ranges from their base class, it seems (based on no sub-classes being on the demi-human Age table). This is pretty straightforward, but gets interesting when compared with the age categories in the next section. It's also something I like and will probably add to my games in the future.


In AD&D, there are five age categories: Young Adult, Mature, Middle-Aged, Old and Venerable. Lifespans range from a maximum of 99 years for a Half-Orc to a maximum of 2419 years for a Gray Elf. (For those following along, these numbers are derived from calculating maximum age in the Death section later on; in this section, the Venerable brackets end for a Half-Orc at 80 and for a Gray Elf at 2000.)

These brackets are important because ability scores are modified based on which bracket a character is currently in. For example, a Young Adult character loses one point of Wisdom but gains one point of Constitution. As characters age, they lose Constitution, Strength and Dexterity while gaining Wisdom and Intelligence; Charisma is the only ability untouched by aging, which makes sense when remembering the Old School dogma that Charisma is more about leadership ability than about physical beauty (and assuming an pre-Modern culture in which age is respected instead of derided and mocked).

What I find really interesting is that, combined with the Character Age tables, this means that characters of different races but the same class will begin their careers in different age brackets. I first noticed this for Clerics, where a Human may begin their career while a Young Adult or Mature, Half-Orcs and Half-Elves begin while Mature (perhaps because of their Human blood?), Gnomes and Elves start their careers as Middle Aged and Dwarves may only begin their careers as clerics once they've reached the Old bracket! I link the Cleric class with Dwarves in my mind, so this surprises me, but that flouting of expectations is something I love about Old School games. I'm also interested in the consequences to play of starting a character out that is Old; will this change player behavior, and, if so, how?

Finally, the Aging section has a short table for the number of years a character ages when engaging in certain magics, ranging from aging one year for casting Limited Wish, imbibing a Speed potion or being the subject of a Haste spell to a whopping five years for casting a Gate spell. I'm curious as to the implications of this; if I was running a Human Magic-User, I would certainly hesitate to have him engage in these kinds of magic, but I'm just not sure I'd care if I ran an Elf Magic-User. Perhaps those are exactly the in-game play style ramifications that are intended. I'm on the fence about penalizing these kinds of magic by including magical aging as a consequence for using them; I'm alternately afraid that it won't matter at all to the players if I include it and afraid that it will discourage using these magics so badly that they will avoid them all-together.

Interestingly, casting one of the spells that includes magical aging as a consequence from a scroll, ring or other device does not cause magical aging; rather, placing a spell on the scroll (or device, presumably) in the first place causes magical aging. I can imagine plots revolving around getting another Magic-User to place one of these spells onto a scroll or into an item so my character (or, as the DM, an NPC) doesn't have to age to use one of these spells.


Diseases (and parasites - there are tables for parasites that parallel the disease tables) are described in the abstract; using these tables, a character does not contract TB or the measles or bubonic plague; instead, one might contract [roll, roll, roll] a mild, acute respiratory disease lasting 1-3 weeks unless treated or [roll, roll, roll] a chronic, severe gastro-intestinal disease which permanently robs a character of a point of Strength and Constitution each time it strikes. The one thing missing from the tables, in my opinion, is how much time elapses between attacks in the case of chronic diseases (d6 or d12 months sounds reasonable to me).

I really like the abstract nature of these disease tables; they add a flavor of uncertainty to the player's experience when their character gets sick. Instead of saying, "your character is down with the measles," this approach has me say, "your character is really sick and has a horrible rash; you're not sure what it is." If they consult a physician, I can roll on the excellent and complementary disease tables in Matt Finch's Tome of Adventure Design, which include Medieval-sounding diagnoses ("Irrationality of the Liver" or "Stiffness of the Kidneys") and Medieval treatments (bleeding, leeches, poultices, baths, drinking noxious liquids, scourging and prayer, and so on). The only thing I need to determine for myself is whether the suggested cure will actually work (I'm waffling between a 50% chance and a 75% chance).

Gygax suggests checking each month if each character has contracted a disease, each week if conditions are "favorable." This sounds cruel until you realize that the base chance of contracting a disease is 2%. There are modifiers which can boost the chances of contraction, but even if the character is Venerable (+5%), currently diseased or infected with parasites (+1%) and exposed to a carrier of communicable diseases (10%) in a crowded (+1%), filthy (+1%) city in the middle of a hot and moist (+2%) marsh, swamp or jungle (+2%), the chances of contracting a disease are, at the very most, 24%. Of course, in conditions like that, Gygax suggests rolling weekly instead of monthly…


Gygax begins his discussion of death by asserting that death in combat is, "no great matter in most cases," because of the myriad magical ways to bring a character back to life. The number of times Gygax has mentioned Wishes so far (we're only on page 15!) has got me wondering if there should be a lot more Wishes available in my games, and why they just don't seem to be super-common in today's roleplaying, even among the OSR. Reflections on that point are especially welcome in the comments. Other bloggers in the OSR (who, like me, tend to play D&D instead of AD&D) have already voiced their opposition to a "revolving door" approach to death and coming back to life, so I won't go into that beyond saying that, yeah, I don't enjoy playing so that the death of a character is, "no great matter," unless by that you mean that it's easy and quick to roll up a new character.

Gygax goes on to point out that death due to old age or (later on in this section) disease poses a greater problem; characters who die of old age and are brought back to life will soon die again, and those who died of disease and are brought back to life will still carry the effects of the disease, like ability score loss, and are 90% likely to still have the disease.

Gygax also provides tables for determining the maximum age for a character; that is, at what age the character will die of old age. The youngest that a character might die of old age is 62, for a Half-Orc, while, as previously mentioned, the longest that a Gray Elf may live is 2419 years.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 3: Creating the Player Character

Generation of Ability Scores

Gygax famously argues that 3d6-in-order is a bad way to generate AD&D characters, saying that truly average ("marginal" is the term he uses) characters will tend to have shorter life expectancies and that players won't want to play the classes and races that are the best fits for their rolls. Instead, he outlines four methods for producing ability scores above what would be average if 3d6-in-order was used.

Non-Player Characters

Gygax writes that high-level NPCs should have their ability scores determined by DM fiat, which makes a lot of sense to me. Average Joe NPCs get 3d6-in-order, except that rolls of 1 are changed to 3 and rolls of 6 changed to 4 in order to keep them very average. Special characters, like henchmen (I'm not sure what else, as Gygax doesn't say) get 3d6-in-order, except for any abilities that are germane to their occupation, where a PC method can be used or add 1 to each die that comes up less than 6. This all seems reasonable to me, considering the assumptions about AD&D in the PC generation advice.

The Effect of Wishes on Character Ability Scores

Apparently it was common for players to use wishes to raise their characters' ability scores in Gygax's experience, and wishes were much more readily had than I've ever seen as well. Gygax suggests allowing one wish spell to raise a score by one until the score reaches 16, at which point a wish will raise a score by .1. Personally, I can't imagine being a player with nothing better to spend ten wishes on than raising one of my ability scores from 16 to 17, but apparently that happened. I find it interesting that Gygax pushes the idea that PCs must have above-average scores just a few paragraphs earlier, but here treats the idea of "many characters… eventually running around with several 18s (or even higher!)" as something to guard against.

Characteristics for Player Characters

One hundred pages into the DMG, there are tables for the traits of NPCs. Mostly, these are personality traits, like alignment, intro/extraversion, attitudes towards money, honesty, etc., though physical traits like age, height and weight are also included. Gygax warns against rolling on these tables for PCs for anything other than height and weight, insisting that the players must be allowed to decide on the personalities and choices of their characters. He does allow for players to request rolls on these tables if the DM thinks that the player can roleplay a randomly generated characteristic well enough.

Player Character Non-Professional Skills

As an option, Gygax includes a D% table of secondary skills that PCs may be familiar with, such as farming, mining, masonry and sailing. He leaves the adjudication of these skills to the common sense of the DM, without any mechanical way to determine what a secondary skill allows a PC to do. This is a prime example of where Gygax's earlier admonitions against unauthorized products clashes with my experience. Dragon Tree Press' Monstrous Civilizations of Delos includes a much more extensive set of tables for determining secondary skills and apprenticeship/educational background, with concrete mechanical benefits for each entry, and both my players and myself have really enjoyed using it.

Starting Level of Experience for Player Characters

This section is mostly concerned with how to treat new players. Gygax argues that players who are new to roleplaying should ideally be segregated from experienced roleplayers and allowed to learn the game for themselves instead of being taught by other players. I think this is usually impractical, but a good idea when possible. Gygax is hesitant to allow players to start with characters above Level 1, arguing that they will enjoy their levels more if they've earned them, but makes exceptions for players entering an existing campaign where the other players' characters are leveled and for new players who don't see level-gain as a worthy goal; the idea is that once they've experienced a high-level character, they will want to level their characters up to such a high level.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 2: The Game

Approaches to Playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Gygax declares that there are basically two schools when it comes to roleplaying games: realism-simulation and gaming. I had never realized that GNS theory had roots at least as far back as 1979, although by the "gaming" school Gygax seems to be meaning something closer to, but not synonymous with, GNS theory's Narrativist rather than GNS' Gamist. Gygax states that AD&D is firmly in the gaming school and that those looking for simulationism or realism won't find what they are looking for in AD&D. He describes AD&D as best for, "fun, excitement, and captivating fantasy," and for those, "who desire to create and populate imaginary worlds with larger-than-life heroes and villains, who seek relaxation with a fascinating game, and who generally believe games should be fun, not work, will hopefully find this system to their taste."


Gygax gives the fullest discussion of dice I think I've ever seen in a "core" book, jumping into probability curves within the first paragraph! He goes on to discuss conventional abbreviations for dice (xdy+z), how different dice can be combined in a roll (for example, you can simulate a d40 by rolling a d4 and a d10, which, in 1979, would itself have probably been a d20 with each number repeated), and other, non-platonic dice. He mentions the d10, d6s with no 1s or 6s but two 3s and 4s, and a die he uses for reaction rolls that has card suites on each face. Rolling dice, then, seems to be one of the areas where experimentation and homebrewing are encouraged for AD&D; at the end of the section, Gygax admonishes the reader that, "the dice are your tools. Learn to use them properly, and they will serve you well."

Use of Miniature Figures with the Game

Gygax encourages the use of minis with AD&D, stating that they are helpful in establishing marching order (so not every step of exploration was apparently played out with miniatures) and especially helpful in explaining tactical situations to players (so many, if not all, fights seem to be played out with minis). Gygax suggests that players furnish minis for their own characters, henchmen and hirelings while contributing to a fund for buying monster minis. Gygax cautions that all minis should be bought at the same scale and points out that mini bases are twice as big as the scale of the minis themselves, an important point in playing out tactical situations.

Aids to Playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Here, Gygax spends about half a column explaining what possible aids can be bought for use with AD&D; he mentions character sheets, DM screens, modules, miniatures and magazines. He also strongly, strongly stresses that only officially approved aids should be used or purchased. Besides TSR, the only companies he mentions as approved are Judges Guild for paper products, Grenadier for minis and Games Workshop's White Dwarf for magazines. This amounts to both informing the reader what kind of things are available and advertising for TSR and official licensees. As someone whose game has benefitted immensely from Arduin and DragonTree books, as well as more recent stuff that certainly isn't official D&D (that is, just about everything published by the OSR), suffice it to say that I strongly disagree with Gygax as far as what I'll allow in my games.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 1: Foreword, Preface and Introduction

I picked up my copy of the Type I Dungeon Masters Guide reprint today at my FLGS. I'm pretty excited. So excited, in fact, that I'm taking it upon myself to start a new series, going through the 1e DMG section by section. I've seen this done with the LBBs and the Arduin Grimoire, but never the DMG (possibly because it's so much bigger?). I've also read multiple blog posts that mention constantly discovering new things in the 1e DMG, and I want to try my hand at discovering some too.

Also, does anyone else's reprinted DMG smell like formaldehyde? Is that just because of the shrink-wrapping, or something about the pages? It's really not the "new book smell" I'm used to.


Written by Mike Carr, the TSR Games and Rules Editer, this is about a half-page long. After playing around with whether DMing is more art or science, Carr points out that it is both immensely rewarding and a lot of work. He then goes on to say that the DMG (along with the PHB and Monster Manual) are all you need to play AD&D, plus your imagination. He gets really close to Swords & Wizardry's motto of "Imagine the hell out of it." Finally, he plugs the DMG by saying that there are few DMs who can't improve their game and that the DMG is full of stuff that can help them DM better. From what I've read about the DMG three decades later, I'm anticipating that this is not an empty boast.


Written, like the rest of the DMG, by Gygax, this is two pages long. Both at the beginning and the end of his preface, he makes the strong point that the DMG should only be read by Dungeon Masters and even suggests in-game penalties for players who demonstrate knowledge only in the DMG (they should be treated as if they had consulted expensive sages who prefer to barter their services for magic items). The bulk of the essay is taken up with Gygax trying to walk a tightrope between the "imagine the hell out of it" attitude and attempting to force some sort of adherence to the DMG as written, leaning, in my opinion, strongly towards the latter attitude.

Gygax argues that the DMG should be closely followed for two main reasons. The first is that Gygax envisions all AD&D games in a "universe" with parallel campaigns in which players can move from campaign to campaign, presumably taking their characters with them. It's this desire that makes me think Gygax would be happy to see FLAILSNAILS doing so well. The second reason is that Gygax fears that not adhering to many of the rules (presumably concerning the economy, monster placement and treasure placement) would either create a too-easy or too-hard campaign, ultimately leading to an abortive, short-lived campaign.

Since this series is discussing the contents of the DMG, since I'm completely unqualified to speculate about Gygax's motives and because I find that kind of thing distasteful, I'm not going to go into possible other reasons why Gygax would push strict adherence to AD&D as-written. That will set a precedent for the rest of this series. That said, I can't say that I particularly care for the lack of choice Gygax asks his readers to hold to; the OSR and FLAILSNAILS seems to me to prove that it isn't strictly necessary, although, yeah, guidelines for treasure and monster placement are undeniably nice.

At the end of his preface, Gygax goes on to thank those who have contributed to the DMG in various ways. The fact that he doesn't mention most of the artists makes me think that their art that is included in the reprint came from later editions.


The introduction begins by laying out the format of the DMG: first comes elaboration upon material in the PHB, information that players shouldn't know, then comes material for DMs creating and running campaigns. Gygax says that he needed to omit a lot and that the priorities for inclusion were, first, what was necessary, second, what was very helpful, third, what was interesting.

Gygax also leans back the other way on his tightrope, arguing for making the game your own within the confines of AD&D. As an example, he says that wandering monsters can be omitted if they will get in the way of your players getting to where the real adventure is. "The game," that is, having fun, dictates what rules and systems are used; Gygax almost sounds like he's arguing for games without a lot of paperwork!

My final observation is that Gygax seems to push a view of the DM-player relationship that is overly antagonistic to my ears. The assumption Gygax seems to hold is that players will do their best to get whatever they can (in the Preface, Gygax states that players will constantly push for a too-easy campaign, and that this needs to constantly be guarded against), without regard to good faith. Now, I've met players and DMs who have this attitude (one player once boasted to me that they could break my campaign - for example, if they were riding in an airship, they would jump off and watch me flail for a way to save them, not realizing that, as a card-carrying member of the "yeah, your characters are totally going to die in my campaign every once in a while" club I would do no such thing - this really confused him); they seem to see this antagonism as the object of the game itself. That's fine if they like it: I'm not going to attack them centering their game on antagonism any more than I'll attack New School gamers for centering their games around character generation. The thing is that not all players today are like that (mine certainly haven't been) and I prefer (to borrow Gygax's phrasing) to play the game instead of engaging in contests of wit and will that break immersion and suspension of disbelief.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Learning New Games

I know some bloggers have written that they blog more when they aren't playing; for me, it seems to be the exact opposite. I haven't been gaming much and neither have I been blogging all that much. What gaming writing I have been doing has been mostly working on a Gamer ADD project that isn't ready for the blogosphere yet.

I've decided to put that aside for the moment and try to return to actually gaming. Primarily, that means finally getting that Pendragon game going with my gaming group, but I may also try Google+ ConstantCon gaming. It would be really fun to be a player again.

When I referee, one of the attitudes I have is that I don't require system mastery of my players (this seems to work better with Old School games, so far as I can tell). This, plus the fact that I tend to heavily house-rule, means that I tend to write up booklets for my players that distill the information they need to know. (Unfortunately, enough of those booklets is copyrighted - and not just OGL either - that I don't think I can share them online.)

I've found myself doing the same thing with Pendragon, except that grasping the way the system works has replaced house-ruling as my second motive. Today I went through the character generation section with an index card and wrote out an outline of character generation while I was waiting for a friend to finish physical therapy. When I got home, I typed it into the computer and now I just need to copy the tables and lists over to have a finished character generation booklet for my players. I feel much more comfortable with character generation and the character sheet (well, at least the front of it) than I used to, even though I've read through it multiple times before.

When you begin to play with a new game system, what strategies do you use to learn it? Do you read it through multiple times? Give it one long, thorough read? Only look at what seems most important for now and figure you'll learn the rest when it's actually needed? Re-state it for yourself to make sure you grasp it, like I do? What other strategies do you have for learning a new game?