Friday, April 16, 2010

Something We Forget About Gary Gygax...

...namely that he had his moments of really being crankily down on those tinkering with house rules and variants in D&D. A fact that we, the so-called old school, tend to readily gloss over in our rush to embrace a DIY ethic. Re-reading an ancient issue of Dragon magazine (#16, July 1978) yesterday I was surprised how early indeed he was travelling down this warpath.

A few eyebrow raisers:

ON CRITICAL HITS (one of the most common of house rules)

"The “critical hit” or “double damage” on a “to hit” die roll of 20 is particularly offensive to the precepts of D&D...the point must be made that whole game system is perverted, and the game possibly ruined, by the inclusion of “instant death” rules, be they aimed at monsters or characters. In the former case they imbalance the play and move the challenge which has been carefully placed into D&D. In the latter, “instant death” no longer allows participants to use judgement when playing. Certainly some monsters are capable of delivering death at a single stroke, but players know these monsters and can take precautions. If everything that is faced has an excellent chance to kill characters, they will surely die before long. Then the game loses its continuity and appeal, for lasting character identification cannot be developed."

ON WEAPON EXPERTISE (guess a view he ditched when Unearthed Arcana reared its head)

"There are a number of foolish misconceptions which tend to periodically crop up also. Weapons expertise is one. Given the basic assumption that those normally employing weapons are typical of the medieval period, and D&D is plainly stated as a medieval fantasy game, it should follow in the minds of knowledgeable players that any fighting man worth the name made it a point to practice daily with all forms of arms. There was a prejudice against the use of the bow by knights, granted...The truth of the matter with respect to weapon expertise is, I believe, another attempt to move players closer to the “instant death” ability. For those who insist on giving weapons expertise bonuses due to the supposed extra training and ability of the character, I reply: What character could be more familiar and expert with a chosen weapon type than are monsters born and bred to their fangs, claws, hooves, horns, and other body weaponry? Therefore, the monsters must likewise receive weapons expertise bonuses. While this does put part of the system into balance again, it moves player characters closer to situations where they can be killed before they can opt to follow a course of action aimed at extricating themselves. Again, this feature is undesirable and must be discarded."


"Spell point systems are also currently in vogue amongst the fringe group which haunt the pages of “Amateur Press Association” publications. Now APAs are generally beneath contempt, for they typify the lowest form of vanity press. There one finds pages and pages of banal chatter and inept writing from persons incapable of creating anything which is publishable elsewhere...From this morass rose the notion that a spell point system should be inserted into D&D...[The D&D magic system is] inspired by the superb writing of Jack Vance. This “Vancian” magic system works splendidly in the game. If it has any fault, it is towards making characters who are magic-users too powerful. This sort of fault is better corrected within the existing framework of the game — by requiring more time to cast spells, by making magic-users progress more slowly in experience levels. Spell points add nothing to D&D except more complication, more record keeping, more wasted time, and a precept which is totally foreign to the rest of the game."

Beyond enjoying the sheer snarky beauty of this particular rant, I draw two somewhat contradictory lessons from reading this:
1. that those of us monkeying around with the rules shouldn't bow to any infallible authority--even to that of figures we tend to respect. It is your game after all and all the putzing around under the game hood out there is a good and healthy thing. Can I get an amen?
2. That said, one should always keep a sharp eye for the balances that were built into the game at the get go. Thus the seeming weakness and illogical nature of one class (magic users not being able to wield swords is a classic example) may be hardwired into the game for good reasons. Keep an eye out especially for changes that muck up actual play at the table and be clear-minded enough to discard your own "brilliant" ideas when they just simply don't work.

More later next week on how and why we ditched any number of "brilliant" house rules in our campaign.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Mountebank: 1st ed/LL/AEC Class

Oh mountebank, how I have yearned for ye. Way back in the misty day--before girls and punk rock turned my head--I can distinctly remember opening that old issue of Dragon (#65 I do believe) to read The Great Man Himself laying out his vision of the new D&D classes to come in the next edition.

Laying along side the soon-to-disappoint barbarian and achingly-lame thief-acrobat were some odd but compelling new additions. One in particular grabbed me at the time:
"Mountebank: This sub-class of thief specializes in deception, sleight of hand, persuasion, and a bit of illusion. These factors, together with speed, are what the mountebank relies upon. However, disguise and theatrics also provide valuable tools of the trade to this class, so that one might never know one has been had by this class."

The class shouted all kinds of awesome to me. Sadly the Mountebank's road to legal limbo is well-known in these geekified circles. TSR gave Gygax the boot and his vision of AD&D part two in all its baroque, oddball glory never came to be.

Twenty-something years later, the itch to see this character come into being in an old school game swept over me again as I watched one of the players in our San Antonio LL campaign guide a character with a name appropriately stolen from Jack Vance through a series of smooth-talking swindles--with all the seeming dice gods-given luck of his namesake. (Well that is until meeting his fate last month on the horns of a ghost minotaur he rather unwisely tried to headbutt in a cursed helmet, a story for another time.)

So, what follows is my own stab at creating such a class. Again as I did with the white wizard, I tried to put together something that fits with the satisfyingly simpled, balanced nature of pre-Unearthed Arcana D&D classes. And as always feedback is greatly welcomed.

(For those of you as annoyed by Blogger's formatting limitations as I am, a PDF version of this can be downloaded here.)


Requirements: INT 13, DEX 13, CHR 13
Prime Requisite: CHR
Hit Dice: 1d4
Maximum Level: None

The mountebank is the consummate con artist of the medieval-fantasy world. By use of smooth talk, sleight of hand, and magical illusion the mountebank stays one step of the law—and earns a decent living in the mean time. Because of their specialized skill set they are often also employed as spies.

As a sub-class of the thief, they are allowed to wear leather armor and use any weapon. They are also allowed to pick pockets, move silently, hide in shadows, listen at doors, and back stab as per a thief of the equivalent level. They can further use disguises as per the assassin class. All saving throws are made on the thief table.

They are also able to use a new skill, sleight-of-hand, at the level they can pick pocket--plus an additional 15 percent. Sleight of hand allows the mountebank to move, switch out, or otherwise manipulate a hand-sized object without being noticed.

Upon earning second level, mountebanks can cast illusionist spells. They learn and memorize spells as per the standard rules for illusionists and magic users. They are restricted however to only using magic items open to thieves until ninth level at which time they can also begin to use items available to magic users and illusionists.

At third level, a mountebank can use their special flim-flam fast-talking powers to cast Charm Person once a day. At seventh level they can additionally cast Charm Monster once a day.

Mountebanks cannot be lawful or “good” in alignment.

Experience Level Hit Dice (1d4)
0 1 1
2,501 2 2
5,001 3 3
10,001 4 4
20,001 5 5
40,001 6 6
80,001 7 7
160,001 8 8
310,001 9 9
460,001 10 +1 hp only *
610,001 11 +2 hp only *
760,001 12 +3 hp only *
910,001 13 +4 hp only *
1,060,001 14 +5 hp only *
1,210,001 15 +6 hp only *
1,360,001 16 +7 hp only *
1,510,001 17 +8 hp only *
1,660,001 18 +9 hp only *
1,810,001 19 +10 hp only *
1,960,001 20 +11 hp only *
*Hit point modifiers from constitution are ignored.

Spell Level
Level 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
2 1 - - - - - -
3 2 - - - - - -
4 2 1 - - - - -
5 2 2 - - - - -
6 2 2 1 - - - -
7 2 2 2 - - - -
8 3 2 2 - - - -
9 3 3 2 1 - - -
10 3 3 3 2 - - -
11 3 3 3 2 1 - -
12 4 3 3 3 2 - -
13 4 4 3 3 2 1 -
14 4 4 4 3 3 2 -
15 4 4 4 4 3 2 1
16 5 4 4 4 4 3 2
17 5 5 4 4 4 3 2
18 5 5 5 4 4 4 3
19 5 5 5 5 4 4 3
20 6 5 5 5 5 4 4

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Revised White Wizard Class

Based on a number of remarks both on the blog and off along the lines of "the White Wizard is a big fat wuss, who the hell would play him?" (or thereabouts), I have duly listened to you the peanut gallery and decided to give a little experience point carrot to sweeten the deal. The old magic-user level progression is henceforth to be replaced by the much-lower clerical one.

To download the revised character class as a PDF from Google Docs click here.

Stay tuned for my LL/AEC-friendly versions of the Mountebank and Barbarian later this week...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Variant 1st Ed/LL/AEC Class: White Wizard

Inspired by a recent foray into the much-famed City of the Black Toga in a play-by-post campaign, I have been itching to introduce some of the ideas found in the old second edition Lankhmar supplement into my own LL/Advanced Edition Companion tabletop campaign.

One addition I was toying with is allowing for my own version of Newhonian white wizards as a playable class in the campaign.

As always any and all feedback would be greatly appreciated!

White Wizard
Requirements: INT 12, WIS 12
Prime Requisite: WIS
Hit Dice: 1d4
Maximum Level: None

White wizards are practitioners of a benign, defensive, and naturalistic magic school.

White wizards are much akin to their magic user cousins. They save as magic users and must keep spell books and memorize spells in the same manner. White wizards are only allowed to use simple weapons such as staffs, daggers, and darts as weapons and are not allowed to wear any armor.

White wizards differ from magic users in that they are only allowed to cast spells from the cleric and druid spell lists. (Their magic is arcane in nature and not divine in origin however.) Because of their rigorous studies, their spell progression is quicker than that of clerics and druids.

White wizards must be good in alignment (or Lawful in a three-alignment system).

White Wizard Level Progression
Experience Level... Hit Dice (1d4)
0... 1... 1
2,501... 2... 2
5,001... 3... 3
10,001... 4... 4
20,001... 5... 5
40,001... 6... 6
80,001... 7... 7
160,001... 8... 8
310,001... 9... 9
460,001... 10... +1 hp only *
610,001... 11... +2 hp only *
760,001... 12... +3 hp only *
910,001... 13... +4 hp only *
1,060,001... 14... +5 hp only *
1,210,001... 15... +6 hp only *
1,360,001... 16... +7 hp only *
1,510,001... 17... +8 hp only *
1,660,001... 18... +9 hp only *
1,810,001... 19... +10 hp only *
1,960,001... 20... +11 hp only *

White Wizard Spell Progression
Spell Level
Level 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1... 2 0 0 0 0 0 0
2... 2 1 0 0 0 0 0
3... 3 2 0 0 0 0 0
4... 3 2 1 0 0 0 0
5... 3 3 2 0 0 0 0
6... 4 3 2 1 0 0 0
7... 4 3 3 2 0 0 0
8... 4 4 3 2 1 0 0
9... 5 4 3 3 2 0 0
10... 5 4 4 3 2 1 0
11... 5 5 4 3 3 2 0
12... 6 5 4 4 3 2 0
13... 6 5 5 4 3 3 0
14... 7 6 5 4 4 3 1
15... 7 6 5 5 4 3 2
16... 8 7 6 5 4 4 2
17... 8 7 6 5 5 4 3
18... 9 8 7 6 5 4 3
19... 9 8 7 6 5 5 3
20... 9 8 7 6 5 5 4

Hill Cantons, the South by Southwest Front

Having received the critical mass point of "what is up with your blog and campaign" type email, I've finally reached the point of tearing myself away from the so-called real world to resume posting. Short answer on the "que donde" question is, ladies and gents, that the Hill Cantons have pulled up stakes--and rules systems--from their Austin-based environs.

Due to a unique work-situation that I won't bore you with the details of, I started spending a good deal more time down the road in San Antonio last summer. Not one to miss a fresh gaming opportunity (yes, this is how far I have fallen down in the cool-o-meter rankings), I prompted launched a new campaign much along the same old sandbox-focused lines using Labryinth Lord's Advanced Edition Companion, a 1st edition D&D retro-clone. And since I'm also not one to ignore recycling opportunities, the campaign extended the Austin-based Hill Cantons campaign by setting the SA players down about 70-80 miles south of the current playing area. (How's that for some real-world sychronicity?)

If you happen to be in the San Antonio area and are looking for a game--or just dropping in and want a fun pick-up game give me a holler. And for my handful of blog followers expect a number of posts to be coming in the next two weeks on various and sundry topics such as: analysis of what worked and what didn't in my attempt to build a West Marches-ish campaign; new LL player classes I am toying with (Lankhmarian White Wizards, Mountebanks, Berserkers, etc); musings on PC deaths; play-test reviews of the new LL supplement Advanced Edition Companion; and the next scheduled Texas Old School Mixer...whew busy, busy.