19 December 2015

Star Wars (1977) Memories

"We'll be back after these messages ... (followed by ominous orchestral music, then a voice-over states) You are a 'droid that has just been kidnapped by a Jawa (cue the sound of a munchkin and electronic "zap" effect)." (A radio spot I heard when the alarm went off one morning)

This is how I learned of "Star Wars" (1977). I was home from University and had taken a summer job. The school I attended had no cable and an antenna barely picked up the television stations of the two major cities, each about 40 miles distant. So I was pretty separated from television and news, I had time for little besides studying, attending class, and working. I knew nothing of this movie and the commercial did little to pique my interest.

But Newsweek magazine did.

There was an article reviewing this new film that had folks lining up around the block at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood CA to see it. Accompanying the article were pictures and these most assuredly piqued my interest.

You, gentle reader, are most likely very familiar with SW, later renamed Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope so I'll forgo the review and simply give you my impression. Cable television was only just coming out of infancy at the time and most non-network (CBS, ABC, NBC) stations were filled with syndicated programming such as Beverly Hillbillies and The Brady Bunch ... and old movies. So I saw a lot of old science fiction movies growing up and, though I enjoyed them a lot, many of them were awful. My biggest impression of SW was "finally somebody gets it!" What was "it"?

My belief that, to truly immerse someone in a futuristic milieu, one must make the universe look "lived in." That, in my opinion, was the strength of the Star Trek (1966) television series and SW. People wore clothes you could envision wearing yourself, not silver lamé jumpsuits with wings, rocket packs, and helmets with antennae sticking out of them. In the Star Wars universe hatch covers were missing, upholstery discolored and ripped ... things looked used. 

This was my impression of Star Wars. It wasn't a horror movie masquerading as sci-fi like many 1950's and 60's science fiction movies. It was lived in world much like our own the viewer wanted to inhabit. You could be a mysterious Jedi Knight, a wily smuggler, royalty, a soldier, a spaceship pilot, and on and on. That's the feeling Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens has recreated in me. I hope it touched you the same way.

17 December 2015

Establishing An OD&D Campaign

Do you want to run an original-style campaign? Here's my advice. This is one man's opinion, perhaps given a little extra weight by the fact this is how I did it in 1975 and it worked for me. This is, by no means, the only way to run an OD&D campaign.

Get a copy of OD&D. The books are available second-hand from a variety of sources, including eBay and used bookstores. New rules sets are still legally available as a reprinted Anniversary Boxed set from Hasbro.

Why not a clone? Emulations of the OD&D rules, called clones or retroclones, are great games and there are good ones available. As good as they are, however, they are still someone's interpretation of the OD&D rules. The reason why this is so should become apparent to the discerning reader after perusing the original booklets. Since the originals are still available, why not go straight to the source if recreating a 1970's experience is your goal?

Don't overthink it! It's a game, written and published by amateurs. Experienced gamers and very intelligent persons, certainly, but still publishing amateurs. I've seen folks dissecting the written text with the fervor of a Bible scholar but the text very often means what the common sense interpretation of the wording says it means. Be wary of the phrase "could be taken to mean" during rules discussions. What follows will likely be a tortured interpretation of a fairly straightforward but poorly worded sentence.

You don't need anything else. There are folks swearing to hell and gone you need "x" to play the game, where x = some other work or reference. You really don't, what you need is imagination. Most commonly cited as "must haves" are the Chainmail rules for miniature warfare and Outdoor Survival board game by Avalon Hill. There are references to both in the OD&D rules but most everything you need from either is repeated in the text or easily done without. If you have them and want to use them? Great! They'll certainly be useful but they are not necessary to your game.

It's all compatible. There are a lot of published works specifically intended for use with OD&D. The various published supplements, material from The Strategic Review and The Dragon magazines, fan work on the internet, published modules, et al. Casting an even wider net? Pretty much anything published for any pre-1983 D&D rules set can be used "as is" or with little modification with OD&D. Going even wider, most FRPG supplements and rules can be adapted to the game. Go wild.

Make a ruling and run with it. There are ambiguities and omissions in the rules. Don't get all in a lather trying to find an "official" word. As referee, decide how it should work and note your ruling for future reference. If it doesn't work well in play, modify or change it as needed until it's a good fit.

Be prepared. Your players will often do the unexpected. The best way to  handle this is to prepare extra material that can be plugged into the session with little trouble. Goblin camps, smaller dungeons of 1-3 levels to serve as the objects of map-based quests or teleport curses, shops, small castles, houses, lists of NPC names, a small stack of NPC character sheets ... all these things will help you "wing it." If all else fails, simply admit to the players you need time to prepare for this latest twist and adjourn the gaming session for the evening.

Borrow. Take inspiration from other rules sets, published adventurers, books, and films. Is there an aspect of a treasured piece of literature you enjoy? The hurtloam of Illearth, for example, sequins from Tschai, the Force from Star Wars, radium pistols from Barsoom, and so on; all can be put into your game if you so desire. Adapt it, try it out, leave it as is or alter to taste. Don't be afraid to tell your players these items are in on a trial basis.

Excise. Don't like the Cleric class (for example) as written? Delete it. Just as you shouldn't be afraid to put something in, don't stress about removing rules. A lot of great fantasy literature revolves around only fighters, or wizards, or wily thieves, so do you really need the other classes? Your choice.

Start small, go big. You don't need a fully realized and fleshed out world to begin a campaign. You need a good general idea of how the world works and what the surrounding region is like but you don't need a lot of detail. Map out the starting hex containing the player-character's base of operations, usually a village or town, and nearby locations of note. These will include humanoid lairs, monsters, dungeons, and other friendly settlements.

11 October 2015

It's Playing Music With Friends

As an amateur musician, I love getting together with my friends once a month and playing some music. What do we play? Selections from a variety of sources, depending upon what we love. Most of us are amateurs on some part of the learning curve though there a few accomplished and even semi-professional players who sit in with us. We hear it all: rock and roll, folk, country, jazz, hard rock, and even tunes we've penned ourselves.

What does this have to do with running a FRPG campaign? Well I'm glad you asked!

We have a growing segment of our community who take the stance a campaign isn't worth the time if it isn't something completely new and edgy. If they aren't completely original then they are passé and shouldn't be spoken of in polite company. As a musician I sometimes derive great joy from learning to play a favorite song (or the favorite tune of someone I really care about) and playing and singing it. It makes me smile, brings me joy, and helps fine-tune my technique. Thus it is with a good fantasy campaign. It isn't about innovation, it's about putting together a game that will bring you and your players joy. As an artistically minded person you won't be able to avoid putting individual touches on your campaign world and your influence on the way your world develops.

I'm certainly no Eric Clapton with a ukulele in my hand. When I received my black belt in TKD Bruce Lee had nothing to fear from me. And I'm no Gary Gygax when it comes to running OD&D. But ... and this is the important part ... I'm okay with that. What I do still brings me great joy and happiness and I'm egotistical enough to believe my running a campaign (or participating in one for that matter) brings the same to others. I can learn from these masters and improve but I'm not going to think for even one second that because my song, kata, or campaign doesn't resemble "the Master's" it is therefore somehow inferior.

Getting together with friends and playing songs you all know and love is fun. It brings a sense of contentment and puts a smile on your face. Getting together with gamers in a well-run campaign, no matter how familiar all the elements are, does the same. We all can't be Picasso but we can all pick up a paintbrush and experience the same joy of creation.

20 September 2015

Fall Down, Go Boom

I just read a very well written and designed falling damage system for pre-1983 D&D. I'd never use it. No, I'm not cracking wise, it's a great rule but just not right for my campaign (please note the last 5 words of the sentence before giving me both barrels). Keeping in mind I like to keep things simple and fast, here is mine.

I researched real life falling damage and learned falls of greater than ~30' usually result in a fatality. Figuring dungeon adventurers are unusually lucky/blessed/divinely favored I doubled that figure to 60' for my rules. Falling damage is figured normally using the usual d6 per 10' fallen rule up to 60'. If the fall exceeds this distance the player rolls d% with any result but "00" resulting in character death. If they make the roll they survive with 1 hit point remaining. Why the survival chance? First of all, there are documented rare cases of parachutists free-falling to the ground and surviving. Second, I generally avoid the chance of absolute failure/success IMC.*

Sure, it makes falls scary. I just felt a high level fighter jumping off a 100' cliff then leaping to his feet, dusting himself off and fighting on was not the tone I wanted to set for my campaign.

* though I do have them. Touch anti-matter or jump into lava, for example, and you'd best have 3d6 and a fresh character record sheet handy.

17 September 2015

Creating An FRPG Player-Character

This is from the Moldvay Edition of Basic Set Dungeons & Dragons but makes a handy checklist for all your D&D games. Quoted without permission from TSR or subsequent holders of TSR's IP.

Roll Ability Scores: using 3d6 to generate a number from 3-18 in the following order -- strength, intelligence, wisdom, constitution, dexterity, charisma.

Choose A Class: fighter, magic-user, cleric. If you're a complete newcomer to games of this type you should practice the following statement and say it anytime someone suggests to you the best type of starting character ... I would like to play a fighter, please. 

Adjust Scores: most versions of D&D and its various simulacra allow some adjustment of rolled ability scores. For the PbP game that inspires this post players may swap the prime requisite of their desired class with any other rolled ability score.

Roll Hit Points: in S&W rolling hit dice is easy! Throw a six-sider and write the result on your character sheet. Fighters add +2 in my PbP (it's usually +1).

Roll For Money, Equip Your PC: 3d6 x 10 for starting gold. You may spend your money on whatever you wish, or save it, lend it, or even give it away. It's yours to do with as you wish. You should always have at least one weapon, the best armor you can afford, a waterskin, some rations, and a backpack. Large sacks, rope, light sources, holy water, vials of oil, iron spikes and hammer, mirrors, items of this sort can be distributed among the various party-members.

Find AC, etc.: like it sounds. We are using AAC (ascending armor class) for this game, so your attack roll is a piece of cake! Note your saving throw and saving throw modifier based on class.

Name The Character: I will often research traditional names for the flavor of the campaign. For example, I used the Nordic name "Esbern" once in a Viking-styled campaign. Failing that, make one up or use an online fantasy name generator for inspiration such as this one or that one.

That's it! When you're used to it the whole process takes < 5 minutes.

16 September 2015

S&W: White Box For PbP Game on Dragonsfoot

Before digging into the rules I'd like to humbly request players always identify their character by name and class when posting a move. For example: Boromir the fighter draws his sword and with a mighty challenge he ... This will really help me out when adjudicating the game.

Assume any non-optional rule in the books to be in use unless specifically excluded here. If you wish to play a variant class or race not in the S&W:WB rules e-mail or message me and let me know what you have in mind. 

Character Generation

You may swap any other ability score for the prime requisite of your desired class. This will allow some good characters without completely removing the element of chance.

  • Fighters get +1 to melee damage rolls for STR 15 or more. 
  • Magic-Users get an extra 1st level spell for INT 15+.
  • Clerics get an extra 1st level spell for WIS 15+ (yes, even at first level).

Fighters add +2 hit points to their first HD roll, not +1 as in the rulebook.

Magic-Users begin the game with a wand of arcane bolts which allow the casting of a glowing magical missile doing d4 damage with hits resolved as if the caster is wielding a light crossbow. The wand comes with a rune of spell conversion inscribed upon it, converting any spell of equal or higher value into the specific spell for that rune. For example: a rune of sleep will convert any other memorized spell into a sleep spell. This takes the same amount of time and concentration as casting the spell of the same name and taking this action will naturally remove the original spell from the caster's memory.

Clerics may sacrifice any spell memorized into a cure light wounds (CLW) spell. Doing so will of course, remove the original spell from memory.


We will be using the simplified order of battle for resolving combat.

No ties when rolling initiative. 

Please use Ascending Armor Class (higher number is better armor class) for this game.

The single saving throw method will be used.

The bind wounds rule will be used.


Assuming my monsters are exactly like the rulebook monsters may be hazardous to your player-characters! Typical monsters (goblins, for instance) will either be as written or I'll let you know the difference if it becomes necessary (per my background information ruling).


I randomly roll most treasure but freely hand-pick and custom design some of the better items

Potions will be consistent as to taste and appearance, meaning that a healing potion will usually have the same color and taste as other healing potions. Sipping to try and deduce the nature of a potion is allowed.  

Team Play

I encourage team play and humbly request your PC not visit violence upon fellow party members.

As an impartial referee, however, I will allow you take whatever action you deem appropriate. Just remember that actions have consequences and deities are always watching ...

A Player's Guide To My PbP Game on Dragonsfoot

First, you'll need a copy of the rules. For this play-by-post (PbP) game I'll be using Mythmere Games Swords & Wizardry: White Box available as a free download by clicking here. It's the first of the three hyperlinks below the descriptive text.

Next, you'll need an account on the Dragonsfoot forums in order to be able to post, though you can read to your heart's content without an account. I've heard back from the board's owner Steve, who assures me he will create a sub-forum for our game this weekend. I'll keep you posted and will post a direct link here when that happens.

Then, you'll need to notify me so I can send you an invite to post to the sub-forum (though, again, you'll be able to read all you want even without an invite). You can e-mail my last name at gmail period com if you don't want to publicly associate your forum handle with your G+ handle.

That's it for the preliminaries!

Now, regarding how I run the game: I use the honor system as much as possible. In other words you can roll your starting character, hit points, gold, equipment, etc. and just post them to me. I figure we're all adults and collectively realize cheating just sucks all the fun out of the game.

I pledge the same back to you. I won't fudge a die roll to grant you either boon or bane. The chips, or more accurately the dice, fall where they may. I also will assume your character "knows" the background information any reasonably informed person in the Shattered Lands would know. For instance? You can swim, ride a horse, build a fire, and recognize common monsters such as goblins. You would know what forms of address would insult either a goodwife or Manor Born. Keep in mind, however, common knowledge isn't always accurate and is sometimes wildly erroneous.

Posting will be at approximately 2000 hours (8 PM) Central Time Zone (Zulu -6) on Monday and Thursday. If you miss one turn I will try to have your PC react as you've played him so far. If you miss 2 turns I'll run him as my NPC until you reappear. At 2 turns per week I'm hoping the attrition rate often associated with PbP games will be minimal. Please be prompt, your teammates are counting on your participation ... even if your post consists of "continue previous action."

The turns themselves will be much more productive if you includes lots of conditional statements. For example: Boromir the Bold will try to open the door. If the door is locked then he will throw his weight against the door. If that doesn't work he'll try the next door down the hall. If the door opens he will enter the room torch held high, unless the room is occupied in which case he will ... You get the idea, I imagine.

I track consumable supplies and encumbrance. So arrows, torches, holy water, vials of oil, etc. are all accounted for and when they're gone you had better have a Plan B.

I will cover specific game rules in the next post.

30 August 2015

Fuzzy Is Good

No this isn't about fuzzy logic, as cool as that is. It is about fuzzy rules and the way OD&D works out of the box. Because many of the folks playing the game in the first few years, including myself, had a background in wargaming and chess? Lots of the distinctions made in those early rules were accepted without much comment by participants. Pawns move one space, knights can hop over other pieces, a queen can move any direction the player wishes ... that's the way the game worked. Sure, in real life a common footman can go any distance on the battle field he wishes (within the limits of his capability) and a queen would rarely if ever be seen on the field of combat but that isn't how they work in chess.

Similarly, magic-users in OD&D and its immediate successors were not able to wear armor. It never said why in those rulebooks, it just said they couldn't do it. Clerics couldn't use edged or piercing weapons, fighters had no ability to cast spells, and when they were introduced to the game a short time later the thief class could only use leather armor. No explanation was given for these limitations, they were simply listed.

As I recall it? My Shattered Lands campaign ran for years before anyone ever questioned why a magic-user couldn't wear armor or carry a sword. As an aside, how many referees heard "but ... GANDALF was able use a sword!" during that discussion? Thinking I would head off any future arguments about the issue I optimistically put reasoning into my house rules as to why certain things worked the way they did. This only spurred even more vehement arguments about how properly fitted armor wouldn't inhibit a spell-caster's somatic spell components, or how my cleric would not wish to only spill blood in the rituals dedicated to his deity, etc.

See ... giving an explanation indicates you are trying to justify the rule. In reality, however, many of those rule restrictions are there for game balance and not necessarily how the historical or legendary basis for that class worked. I've covered before but it bears repeating as an example: the magic-user's ability to cause mass damage or bend reality is balanced by how thin-skinned he is in combat. One may further assume clerics were not granted access to certain weapons because magical swords were among the most powerful melee weapons in the game. A cleric wielding a holy avenger would usurp the fighter's niche as the preeminent fighting class.

All of this is pure conjecture, by the way. Logically, it fits but that doesn't make it the truth. I've no special insight into the minds of the game's co-creators and play-testers.

At any rate? Rather than trying to justify why a player-character can't do "x" or use "y"? Simply tell them they can't and move on. Trying to explain it simply opens the ruling up for debate. If a player stubbornly refuses to yield on the point and presses the debate? Perhaps the referee should gently suggest to the player that he may conceivably be happier playing a different game (or at least in a different campaign). While there is nothing wrong with debate, do you really wish to spend valuable gaming time in a non-resolvable argument concerning whether a magic-user can wear plate and carry a longbow or do you want to kill some goblins? I know how I want to spend my gaming time!

11 August 2015

Rules Light Is Not Freeform

What follows is my opinion only. I would not presume to tell others what they mean when they use a term, I speak only to how I express myself.

Folks new or even relatively new to OD&D games frequently mention how the game is "rules light" and go on about how all those rules aren't needed. I agree to a point but I believe many folks are missing the basic point of how the game was intended to be used. A common theme running through Gary's writing was my oft-repeated mantra: it works the way I say it works. It isn't the idea rules are bad. No, it was rather the referee could probably come up with rules that suited his refereeing style better. The generic stuff is covered, e.g. how likely to hit a target is an arrow fired from 50 yards, or how far does a chain-clad warrior move when running? And even those rules are easily modified.

Most of us would likely feel movement adjusted per specific footwear and surface gradient to be overkill. Any good footwear on a solid surface is as far as we'd take it, but not everyone feels that way. I've made cracks, over the years, about games that play "like a spreadsheet." To me? I can't imagine anything more boring but I recognize there are folks who live for this type of fun.

As I see it OD&D to some degree was written the way it was to enable referees to pile on this sort of detail if they saw fit.  A ref who loved sailing and wooden sailing ships might greatly expand the naval battle portion of his rules and center his campaign around such. If not, the typical ref had all he needed to run a pitched naval battle versus a bloodthirsty crew of miscreants and misfits.

Anyway, as one's campaign grew and expanded the ref could add on rules as needed. As they worked or were subsequently honed until they did work they were added to the "rules." So in time a campaign could, under some referees, grow to rival the complexity of AD&D itself. It all depends upon what you as referee and his gamers wanted.

I tended to cater to a more casual group of gamers so I kept my campaign light. I favored and continue to favor light-fast-easy when making a call. But, and this is an important point, I was confident in my ability to make off-the-cuff rulings. If I really liked that ruling it went into my campaign notes but if it was a rare situation I didn't even do that. I've played in other games where the ref's house-rulings were a thick notebook with dizzying (and rather intimidating) levels of detail. While I still enjoyed the game I wouldn't want my regular game to be like that.

My point? Simple out of the box doesn't have to stay simple. For every referee like myself there was at least one other who felt there simply weren't enough pole arms in the game.

03 June 2015

The 20 Questions

My approach to the game in a nutshell 

Beyond having fun I encourage or discourage nothing. If the rules and campaign matrix don't specifically forbid something? You can try it. For instance, your fighter usually can't cast magic spells, that's outside of the game's reality. But, if your fighter wants to use his spear in an attempt to pole vault a 30 foot deep pit? No problem.

0.  The Rule of Cool

This rule covers a lot of possibilities. Sometimes something will just happen because it's cool and makes the game more fun.

For example: your fighter is engaged in mortal combat with the hobgoblin king. You're both down to a few hit points and you've won initiative. You roll a 20 for your attack and a 6 for damage. Sure, I could blandly say you've slain your opponent and now his soldiers must roll against their morale. Boring! Your dice rolls are noteworthy so the rule of cool says the hobgoblin king's head flies from his shoulders at your mighty blow, sailing through the air and landing at the feet of his general. A moment of shocked silence follows as the general and the hobgoblin soldiers arrayed behind him stare at the king's severed head. Then, a collective shriek splits the air as they drop their weapons and flee in terror.

1.  Ability scores generation method?  

3d6 in order. I offer two methods for altering ability scores during character generation. First, you may use the point buy system proposed in the rulebook and slightly modified by myself. Or, you may swap any one ability score as rolled with the prime requisite of your chosen class. You may use one method or the other but not both.

2.  How are death and dying handled?

Your player-character is dead at zero hit points or below. Barring massive hit point loss, promptly applied curative magic (e.g. cure light wounds) stands a chance of bringing the player-character back from death's door.

3.  What about raising the dead?

The capability certainly exists within the milieu but this isn't a quest lightly undertaken.

4.  How are replacement PCs handled?

They are worked into the story as quickly as possible. I like to use some pretext, however thin, to insert them into the action. Still, I've been known to have them appear in a flash of light and puff of smoke with a very confused look on their face if nothing readily suggests itself.

5.  Initiative: individual, group, or something else?

Group. Each faction rolls d6 with high roll winning the right to act first. Action may be delayed if desired. Ties are rolled again.

6.  Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work? 

No critical hits or fumbles. My house rules do state a natural 20 is always a hit (with the exception of opponents only hit be special attacks) and a natural 1 is always a miss.

7.  Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?

A protected head! Otherwise “1 in 6 hits in melee will be at an unarmored head” as per the rules. If you do wear a helmet and are AC 5 or AC 3 it is further assumed you are wearing a chain coif with padded hood or cap beneath that. All this must be removed if your player-character wishes to attempt to listen at doors or hear noise. 

8.  Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?

Yes. It may be a fantasy milieu but getting shot with an arrow still hurts, whether fired by friend or foe.

9.  Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything? 

You, the players, decide your own tactics. If your party of first level adventurers is foolhardy enough to take on an ancient red dragon you'll surely get what you deserve. I'll never arbitrarily throw you onto the sword but if you see an outstretched blade and still want to run onto it, that's your decision.

10.  Level-draining monsters: yes or no?

Yes. And to further illuminate; without some high-level restorative magic a drained level is gone for good. You'll have to regain experience to regain your previous level. Level draining is scary, but it's supposed to be scary.

11.  Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?

Yes. Adventuring is a dangerous and deadly pastime, player-character death is a very real possibility.

12.  How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?

I feel both are integral to the challenge of the game so I track both. The rules themselves are somewhat lax regarding encumbrance: the weight of your armor and weapons plus 80 coins (8 pounds) of gear. If you're carrying more than a backpack full of stuff I'll probably take a closer look at your inventory to see if you've incurred a movement penalty. Encumbrance becomes an issue when treasure is found and the player-characters wish to cart it off. There's only so much one can carry and gold is heavy!

Some resources are more stringently checked. I'll often give you tokens such as poker chips or printed chits for certain expendables such as arrows, quarrels, torches, or vials of holy water. Every time you use one I'll take a token back from you and, when they're gone? You've reached the end of that particular resource.

13.  What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time?

In order: nothing, no, no for magical types and yes for divine types, no, yes.

14.  What do I get experience for?

Recovering treasure is the main source of experience. For this reason clever adventurers will attempt to gain maximum treasure with minimum combat. Other sources of experience are defeating or outwitting monsters, solving problems, outstanding role-playing. In short? For good play.

15.  How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?

Description, augmented with die rolling in some situations for certain characters (particularly scouts).

16.  Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?

If you want them, hire them. They will be played as persons balancing a greed for treasure against a strong sense of self-preservation, modified by how you treat them. They may also have their own agenda which will affect their behavior as well. Morale is outlined in further detail in my rules document.

17.  How do I identify magic items?

By using/wielding/wearing/etc. the item. For instance, small sips of potions will often give a hint as to their use. NPC sages and wizards will often identify items for a fee.

18.  Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?

Generally speaking, no. Some relatively common items, such as healing potions or first level spell scrolls, might occasionally be found for sale but a wise player won't count on it.

19.  Can I create magic items? When and how?

Short answer? Yes, with lots of money and time. Meanwhile, the world keeps on spinning. Opportunities may be lost and your enemies will still be working on their nefarious plans. The official rules should give you an idea of time and effort, as well as the level of player experience, required to create items, I'll give you more exact information if and when the need arises.

20.  What about splitting the party?

There is safety in numbers but if the slowed and rather awkward play arising from splitting the party is how you wish to spend your gaming time? Have at it.

19 May 2015

Everyone Is Somebody's Moron

Society at large is quick to label persons with the worst possible spin they can put on their actions. Somebody making a very public mistake is called a moron. Someone running a stop sign in front of a police car is labelled an idiot. Someone who tells two different versions of a story on different occasions, sometimes years apart, is obviously a liar.

Can't it be those folks made foolish decision on the spur of the moment; made a careless mistake; or were mistaken in their recollection of an event? Why does it always have to be worst thing we can think of to call them? I'm not saying you automatically dismiss things that don't add up from people. By all means, keep it in mind. There is a great deal of difference, however, between mental reservations and public shaming.

This was inspired by a fellow who called into a well-known radio show dealing with ... err ... fringe belief systems. You know, folks who claim to have evidence of bigfoot, alien landings, visitations from billion year old spirits with detailed information about prehistory, etc.? Everything about this fellow spoke of his lack of education and refinement: his speech patterns, his inability to frame a cogent argument, his inappropriate word usage and grammar in general. And yet, he felt perfectly comfortable calling folks disagreeing with his viewpoint as morons. 

Well? Everyone is somebody's moron. We've all done something causing us to look around while thinking I hope nobody saw that.  Take a breath. Even better, take a minute or at least count to 10. Remind yourself we all make mistakes and don't be so quick to give the other person both barrels.

17 May 2015

Burning Crosses

Religion and D&D is a touchy subject and I certainly don't mean to inflame anyone with this post. However, strong religious beliefs did play negatively into my gaming life and my social life in general in the 1970's. I would therefore be remiss if I didn't speak on the subject, however briefly.

A couple of caveats before I begin:

I'm a "live and let live" kind of fellow. I've no issue with your personal beliefs or lack thereof. If you want to play the game and are able to interact with other adults of the same interest in a wholesome way? You're welcome at any game I run.

Second, don't be a dick. If this post, in spite of the fact I'm not naming or slamming any particular faith, pushes your buttons? Stop reading and move on to something else. Don't "call me out" or take me to task. I'm merely reporting actual events and avoiding value judgment on some of the actors in this little play.

Still here? Read on ...

As I've stated, I grew up on a small Texas town. Never mind which one, that's personal and frankly it's information you really don't need. It's enough to know the folks of that town, indeed the entire region of this rather large state, were god-fearing folk.

The first omen was a simple one. I was at a friend's house and we were puttering around the backyard (garden to you UK folks). We were moving some debris caused by a recent storm from the fence-line to a compost heap when I saw something odd and passingly familiar sticking out. Curious, I poked at it to learn it was half a Ouija Board, the other half presumably buried somewhere within the midden heap. My friend saw my puzzled expression and related how his mom had learned the Ouija Board was a "tool of the devil" and had destroyed his before he could succumb to its power.

Okay. Well, as I've said I'm a big believer in folks doing what they wish so long as they don't break the law. I filed it under "curiosities" in my brain and mostly forgot about it.

So D&D comes along and when folks learned I played it I started getting stories about that, too. Like how the rules were based upon the Satanic Bible. Or, the magic spells in the game were real and I could lose my eternal soul to the demons those spells conjured up. One woman burst into tears as she told me about a boy who had "a real curse" put on him by another player ... and he died a few days later don't you know. My favorite, however, was the well-intentioned but rather scary woman who held her hands high and loudly rebuked the power of Satan within me for playing "that devil game" as onlookers gawked. My reply to these sorts of gambits was to either laugh out loud when folks brought them up, or reply along the lines "playing D&D makes you a real Wizard much like playing Monopoly makes you a real slum lord. It's a game!"

Now, don't get me wrong. I was never in fear of my physical safety over my participation in what I feel was a harmless hobby. However I was insulted, talked down to, dismissed, made fun of, and had folks go out of their way to frighten what they believed was an impressionable young man (I was anything but that) on the road to ruin. So I could say my mental health was threatened. And I did lose a few friends over it, though mostly relationships with certain ones cooled a lot rather than just stopped altogether. The whole episode taught me a lot about folks who may mean well but still leave harm in their wake.

Keep in mind, my parents and the people in funny hats of my particular sect of Christianity had no issue at all with me playing this or any other game. My folks saw me socially interacting in a positive manner with boys and girls of my age group and this was thought of as a good thing. The priest of our church reacted similarly to how I reacted when I approached him with the "devil game" stories I'd been getting from that other Christian denomination. He laughed then assured me I was in no danger of eternal damnation. 

So there you have it. I've no doubt others had no issues at all and I'm just as certain still others had far worse experiences than mine. I've always done as I pleased and hang anyone who didn't like it. That didn't make me popular with the "conform at all costs" types of persons out there, but that really wasn't an issue to me. I'll take a handful of friends who genuinely care about me over a crowd of folks whose interest is a fleeting, fickle thing.

04 May 2015

Too Picayune?

A stack of poker chips, pennies, an index card with tally marks, a simple hand-written note ... all ways to track expendable resources. Resource management is an integral part of the challenge of playing OD&D. My favorite method for tracking arrows was to hand the player a stack of poker chips, one for each arrow in his quiver. Each round he fired an arrow he had to hand a chip back to me. When the chips were gone, so were his arrows. A bow without arrows is called a stick. Parties who just watched their last torch sputter and go out are in a bad way if they haven't planned ahead.

In like manner, tracking and using encumbrance is a big part of adventuring. OD&D had a wonderfully simple way to track player-character encumbrance: assume players are carrying 80 coins or 8 pounds of gear (basically, a backpack full of stuff) in addition to weapons carried and the encumbrance of their armor if any is worn. Alternately, I'd allow players to itemize gear carried if they enjoyed that aspect of the game. Any treasure or items recovered during the course of the adventure counted against their encumbrance.

I'm always curious why both players and referees balk over a shield granting only +1 to armor class (for example) but have no issue at all with assuming players have unlimited numbers of arrows or iron rations. Along with this wonderful boon, they are able to easily transport treasures weighing a thousand pounds with no problem at all.

Encumbrance and resource management adds another challenging aspect to play. If your players find 100,000 gold pieces but can only carry a few hundred of them back to civilization, what happens to the rest of them while the party is away? Do they divide up, some of them taking what they can carry to safety while the others guard the remainder? Do they hide what they can't carry away? Leave it behind, sacrificing both XP and financial gain? Similarly, if the party opts to flee from an encounter they are faced with hard choices. Drop non-essential items to increase movement rate? Or, do faster moving members leave the over-burdened compatriots behind? Drop part of the treasure hoping it will deter pursuit?

I'll accept you telling me you simply don't like that aspect of the game. By all means change it if you don't like it, that's how you're supposed to approach OD&D. I'm a bit less inclined to accept all this is "too complicated" because I've been running games with resource management for 40 years.

03 May 2015

Order in the Court!

There are probably as many ways to go about character generation (chargen) as there are referees. I've always been a fan of "3d6 in order" chargen for several reasons. Chiefest among those reasons is the fact it's simple and fast, my main criteria for rulings in my campaign. I like to keep the action moving.

Almost as importantly, however, is my belief 3d6 in order removes the emphasis from generating the perfect character and gets the player to rolling dice. Ability scores in original edition Dungeons & Dragons are simply not as important as in later versions of the game, it is the player's skill that makes the difference. 

Still, there is often a need for a certain type of character in the game. If the party consists of four magic-users, a new player rolling up a fifth one might not be the best addition to the party. The dice are tools, not dictators and though it is fun to let random chance have a hand in all aspects of the campaign sometimes a bit a self-determination is in order. My solution? I offer two ways to alter rolled ability scores in my game.

The first method is "point sell" system (as I call it) in the rulebooks. Each class can "sell" points in 2 different ability scores to add to their prime requisite. I keep the same restriction as in the books, that is, no ability score can be reduced below 9. This is a good method if the dice have rolled a character similar to what the player already wants, but wants to "beef up" the prime requisite a bit.

The second method is much simpler but more useful for when the dice roll a complete miss for a certain needed (or desired) class. In this case I allow the player to swap any single ability score with the prime requisite of the desired class. For example, if the player rolled a perfect Cleric character with a 17 Wisdom and 5 Strength but he really wanted to player a Fighter? Under Method II he could swap the WIS and STR scores and wind up with a pretty strong Fighter who may be a bit lacking in common sense.

Naturally, a player may choose one or the other method as desired ...but not both!

30 April 2015

D&D: The Movie(s)

[incidentally, if you want to see D&D: The Book of Vile Darkness for yourself ? It airs on Saturday May 9th on SyFy channel at 0100 hours.]

I posted on G+ last night regarding a big studio effort at bringing D&D to the silver screen. As you likely already know there has already been a film in 2000. The company behind it? New Line Cinema, the folks who brought you Jackson's LotR and Hobbit trilogies.

Dungeons & Dragons: The Movie (D&D:TM) was ... well it's difficult to put into words. On the one hand D&D:TM had a promising cast including Jeremy Irons, Justin Whalin, Tom Baker, and Thora Birch. On the balancing side you had an inexperienced director in Courtney Solomon and a low budget. These 2 factors alone are often the kiss of death for this type of film.

The best way I can think up to describe the film is schizophrenic. It couldn't decide if it was a slapstick comedy with wise-cracking Marlon "Snails" Wayans playing off straight man Justin "Ridley" Whalin. Or was it campy, with Jeremy "Profion" Irons chewing the scenery and milking the giant cow? Or was it menacing, with tough guy Bruce "Damodar" Payne in his black armor and armed with a wicked looking sword? Payne, by the way, was incongruously wearing blue lipstick which was never explained but was distracting and looked rather silly.

Overall, the film was mildly entertaining. I saw it in the theater and I must admit there was a rather awkward silence among the film's patrons, few of them though there were, when the credits rolled.

I didn't care for the excursions into comedy or the hammy portrayal of Profion. Wayan's Snails was almost a caricature comic relief character and not very funny anyway. The single dungeon delve was abbreviated and involved only one character while the rest of the party waited outside. The dragons were just plain awful. I realize both these last issues were related, in part, to the budget and freshman director, but a film must be judged on its presentation.

What did I like? The basic story was a good idea. I liked the main characters of Ridley and Marina. I thought Damodar was scary and liked the relentless way he tracked our heroes throughout the course of the film.

Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God (D&D II) came out 5 years later, much to my surprise. I say "surprise" because (a) I didn't think it there would be another after the poor performance at the box office of the first one, and (b) it was actually pretty good (at least, when compared with the first). D&D II was a made-for-tv film that was a sort of sequel to the first film, taking place in the same milieu and involving the same antagonist but a new story-line and new cast.

D&D II had a third of the budget of its big-screen brother but was a better all around film. Gone was the half-hearted attempt at comedy while the acting, from the main characters at least, was better with much less ham and cheese evident. Even the dragons looked better, though this can be partially chalked up to improved CGI in the intervening 5 years. Best of all, the film depicted a believable adventuring party with each using their abilities to allow the party to progress. I found Tim Stern's Nim the Thief to be particularly well-played: surly, secretive, borderline uncooperative, but when push came to shove he was acting in the best interests of the party.

This one is my favorite of the 3 and it seems many folks who have seen both feel the same way.

Finally, we come to Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness (D&D III) in 2012. Another made-for-tv movie but after the relative success of D&D II I was certainly willing to give it a chance. Unfortunately, between the acting and obviously lower budget this film fell short of already lowered expectations.

I really liked the story. I interpreted it as a fallen paladin questing to regain his paladin-hood. He basically had to look into the abyss and, for a brief while, the abyss looked into him (with apologies to Nietzsche).

Unfortunately? Between the pedestrian acting and low budget, this movie just didn't work. It can't even be bought here in the US of A last I checked. I had to log into the German version of Amazon, fortunately I speak and read German, and order it from there.

BOTTOM LINE The second film comes the closest to capturing the "feel" I expect of a film with D&D in the title.

29 April 2015

Variant Character Classes

My feelings about popular variants changes with my moods and the needs of the campaign but, overall, I simply don't care for them. Many seem invented to fill campaign specific slots while still others are a bit overpowered, taking emphasis in game-play away from cooperation and the party pooling its resources and talents.

Still, I do use them and here are my general guidelines:

Archetypes are the best at what they do. IMC fighters are the best class at dealing and absorbing damage, magic-users are the best class at casting spells and using magic, and so on. So, for example, if you invent a warrior class that exceeds the fighter class in some respect I will add in some disadvantages to off-set this skill.

You can't do it all. Table-top FRPGs are designed around groups of player-characters, each with their own set of skills, working together to solve problems. So your character will be very good at his profession but still have to rely on the others for certain things.

No evil characters. This is not a popular stance these days but I make no apologies. I don't find running a campaign with evil characters such as assassins*, anti-paladins, death masters, demons or half-demons, etc. to be fun. You don't have to be a caricature of the All American Hero or anything like that, but you won't be committing murder, rape, or the like in my game. I put a lot of work into running the campaign and I have to find it fun, too, or it isn't worth my time.

I won't offset a mechanical advantage with a role-playing disadvantage. To go back to my example of a variant fighter? If you are better at sword-fighting than your typical member of the fighter class I'll likely limit your armor wearing ability or perhaps decrease your hit points. What I won't do is limit your ability to have magic-users or clerics in the party because members of your profession "distrust" magic users. Role-playing disadvantages often turn into what my character would do types of arguments. No! Mechanical advantages will be balanced out with mechanical disadvantages.

THE BOTTOM LINE Would any reasonable player wish to play the variant class over the archetype? Does your Blade Master variant class dominate player-character classes, all but replacing stock fighters? Then, in all likelihood, the class is over-powered for the purposes of my campaign. Of course, it should go without saying if the class is meant to replace an archetype (something I've never done) then this is not a consideration.

* Yes, I have assassins in my campaign but they are NPCs, very Lawful, and have a lot of laws and societal expectations built into the specifics of how they are used. 

The Archetypal Character Classes

I use archetype in the sense of a perfect example of something. The term is often used to describe the basic four classes of D&D (or the basic 3 + 1 classes if you've been playing since the beginning).

I don't have a lot of standard variant classes in my campaign. What I mean by standard variant is classes besides the four archetypes (fighter, magic-user, cleric, thief) included in the milieu. Variants, though present, tend to be one-offs based around a character concept by a player.

WHAT DO I INCLUDE? My wood elves are based upon the druid class from Eldritch Wizardry. They are one of 2 main classes of elves that survived the cataclysm that formed the campaign world into it's current state. The wood elves adapted and, to a degree, have continued to participate in the world of man.

I've also rearranged the Gnome class to be a bit different from the Dwarves. In my campaign Gnomes favor gems and jewels over gold and precious metals. They also have a special affinity with burrowing animals. Gnomes also breed superior war ponies in The Shattered Lands, prized both by themselves and the Hobbits. Dwarves also seek these fine steeds but IMC Dwarves and Gnomes are in a state of cold war threatening to go hot at any time. Last of all, Gnomes are the weavers of a mysterious silk cloth (garnrillon) prized by makers of magical clothing (e. g. robe of protection).

I included druid-type elves because I felt these would fit in well with my campaign milieu. Gnomes are included for no more reason than they were included in the TLBBs and I wanted them to be more than merely Dwarves Lite.

IS THAT IT? Assassins, martial artists, witches, and similar niche classes can be found as NPCs. While I'm not averse to having a player be a member of those professions, they are not commonly found adventuring and endure a number of prejudices from society.

Assassins in my campaign take the depiction of assassins in fictional accounts of the Far East such as the Amida Tong and ninja. They are Lawful, almost painfully so, and ill-suited to the adventuring life. These men and women are basically living weapons to be used once then discarded with extreme prejudice.

Martial artists, also called brawlers, are adept at weaponless combat in the finest tradition of Welsh and Greek wrestling. No flashy moves or flying kicks here, these guys are deadly close up but mostly useless in a sword fight. Brawlers are the bouncers in most places that need same in the campaign. Many a burly and over-served Fighter has been humbled by these fellows in the bars of my campaign. There is also a sect of monks, The Children of Ashing, who are mainly dedicated to brewing very good beer but have an enforcement arm of staff-wielding brawlers in the vein of Friar Tuck (et al.).

Witches are the healers and folk magicians of the common folk. They have staunch defenders among the people they serve, but they rarely need protection. First, they are dedicated to promoting weal and doing no harm to any living thing. Second, they have a number of magical abilities that make them dangerous opponents.

SO HOW DO YOU ADD CLASSES? I mostly make the player do the work. One wishing to play a variant class IMC must bring me a work up of the class with level progressions, abilities, saving throws, combat ability, and so on clearly laid out. This can be a photocopy of a published class or their own work. I review it, make any changes I feel make the class a better fit for my milieu and hand it back to the player. If he likes the changes, we're good to go. Otherwise, we repeat the process until we're both happy.

I also like players who taking the option of playing into a certain class. Want to be a knight? Play your Fighter in a knightly way. Want to be an alchemist? Have your magic-user delve into the mysteries of alchemy, seeking out masters of that arcane art. I like rewarding campaign level play and gamers choosing this route are rewarded in proportion to their role-playing ability.

THE BOTTOM LINE I will not guarantee a player the chance to use his or her character and the unusual skills of same. If you want to be a Thief-Acrobat? It's up to you to figure out how to make pole vaulting relevant to your group. Why would an Assassin, normally an NPC class, be adventuring with the player-characters? That's up to you the player to decide and then justify, not the referee.

28 April 2015

If It Ain't Broke

The original 1974 boxed set edition of Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D), in my opinion, begs to be tinkered with. Yes--I know I ended a sentence with a preposition but, since we're all adults here, I just let it all hang out. At any rate, sometimes the need to tinker can overwhelm the simplicity of the rules. Take combat, a common sticking point for a lot of folks. As characters gain in level a lot of the areas gamers feel get overlooked are actually abstracted into the rules.

For example, let us examine the 2 advantages of of higher level player-characters: hit points and better "to hit" numbers in combat. Greater numbers of hit points reflects a lot of factors in a general way as opposed to specific and often complicated sub-rules sets referees tack on. More hit points means a player can stay in the fight longer, outlasting lower level opponents. Anyone trained in the various combat arts can testify winning a fight is often a factor of outlasting your opponent as opposed to landing that perfect kayo. But it could also be considered to reflect a better use of armor (and shield, if applicable), fending off damage that might otherwise place the character hors de combat. 

In like manner, better "to hit" scores abstract increased ability to deal damage, obviously reflecting an increase in skill. Further, hitting more often and finishing an opponent more quickly is also a bonus, in a manner of speaking, to hit points. You don't have to heal or rest-and-restore hit points you've never lost in the first place.

As written, combat reflects reality fairly well. A better equipped and more experienced fighter will defeat a lesser opponent most, but not all, the time. The greater the disparity between the opponents the less likely the weaker shall overcome the stronger. But, there's always a chance. I once had a first-level thief character hold off 5 goblins for several combat rounds until help could arrive. He killed 3 of his enemy and survived the fight, though just barely. 

I'll always agree with the referees right to change whatever rulings he sees fit. But, as Gary advised in an article of the The Dragon long ago, make certain you've played the rules as written and understand why they work as they do before making a lot of changes.

And please, don't open posts about your spectacular rules variant with "my group and I have considered the rules regarding [XYZ] and found them to be stupid and idiotic." Yes, I've seen that very statement made. You've just insulted the myriad players who like that rule the way it is. Geeks being what they are they'll rush to defend rule [XYZ], likely using language similar to yours, and ... voilà ... instant flame war! You've also given us a peek at how close-minded you are. Believe me, nobody looks at a statement like that and thinks to themselves how smart you must be. We know the rules work just fine because we've used them, some of us for decades. Even if we ourselves have changed them to address the specific needs of our campaign.

24 April 2015

He Was A Tall Short Man

I could send 10 friends to Disney World and get 10 descriptions of the place with areas of both commonality and vast difference. I'll lay odds I could send 2 people to Disney World who would spend the entire day together and yet still get 2 pretty different descriptions from them regarding the place. Today's post is inspired by statements from 2 men who both spent time playing D&D with Gary at the time of the original publication of the rules.

One tells in a very matter-of-fact manner of how players naturally evolved into the (so called) end-game of OD&D. Upon reaching name level or soon thereafter, players would naturally gravitate toward building strongholds, establishing realms, and joining the (ahem) game of thrones. This is sometimes accompanied by the rather snide observation of how modern day gamers (kids these days, I swannee) need everything spelled out for them.

The other insists the end-game is but a modern day fabrication of folks over-reading the rules and not making the game their own. Back in the day there was no expectation or even a trend toward building strongholds. Different opinion but, oddly enough, the same mildly condescending tone.

Which is right? Why, both of them, to my way of thinking. Oh, not in the way they look down, however subtly, on how others play the game. But I'm pretty sure both are giving an accurate accounting of how they perceived the game as played. They both sat at the table of the game's co-author. Perhaps not at the same time, but certainly within the general time-frame of one another. And both took away a different experience.

This is one reason I try not to look down upon how others play the game. It's easy to think we've got it all figured out and dispense our wisdom to others struggling to reach our level of familiarity with the rules set. I'm certain this 'blog sometimes gives persons that impression of me, which is why I struggle to keep my postings from sounding exclusionary. They are either my experiences with something from 40 years ago or my opinion expressed humbly. Well, as humbly as a great intellect and humanitarian such as myself can manage! Sorry, couldn't resist that last part.

By the way, the title of this post was taken from a seminar demonstrating the fallibility of eyewitnesses. Even to a recent, as in minutes ago, event.

23 April 2015

Super-Duper Cheater Pants

I've run into the concept, once again, of a referee altering the game to suit his unique vision as cheating. I find this a curious idea. Not that the game can't be cheated in some way, by altering die rolls or character records and such. But, the referee's campaign?

The books themselves encourage tampering with the rules, to wit; making the game your own, why would you have us do your imagining for you, imagine the hell out of it. Or, as put recently by a member of the team who helped form the game itself: those are the fun parts!

It's terse, it may even put off some, but my campaign works the way I say it does. I don't intend that to be rude, I intend that to be a Mission Statement of sorts. You the player are welcome to know all the printed rules as well as anything the common man (were he real) living in my campaign milieu would know. Otherwise? You'll just have to poke it with a stick, wear it, taste it, talk to it, push the button, turn the crank, etc., to figure out what it does.

Likewise for my vision of how the classes and races work. If I decide, for example, Hobbits are mighty magic-users with unlimited progression within that class? That's how it works. There is literally and figuratively no aspect of the game I won't change to suit my campaign.

I recall running a temporary solo campaign game due to lack of players about 20 years ago. After conferring with the player about the game he wanted to play, I allowed him a relatively over-powered player-character. This PC was primarily a fighter with some abilities in both magic spell casting and thievery. As referee, it was incumbent upon me to run a game my sole participant wanted to play. Would I have allowed his PC in a game with more players? Almost surely not ... but this wasn't for a full game table. It was a limited and temporary situation we were both making the best of. Anyway, as I was sharing this information with another gamer a few years afterward, that person became quite indignant and accused me of cheating. Then, as now a few days ago when I read the same charge on a D&D related forum regarding Magic-Users able to wear armor, I just don't get it. I wouldn't run them that way in my campaign but that doesn't mean it's cheating.

OD&D resembles a rules book but it really isn't one in the meaningful sense of the term. It's more a collection of here's how the game might work -- now let your imagination improve upon this idea. Calling OD&D's TLBB "the rules" is akin to calling Lego bricks a toy. Lego is technically a toy, yes, but until you build something out of them there really isn't much entertainment value to be found in the box. And, because of this ephemeral nature of the so-called rules? I find the concept of calling their use as building blocks to a unique vision as cheating to be rather foolish.

19 April 2015

It's Simpler Than That

I once read a statement by a seamstress that a simple black dress was far more difficult to make than a fancy one. The reason being a simple "little black dress" had nothing to cover up any errors. I think this concept holds up to gaming campaigns as well, with referees believing more and more flashier detail will cover the overall poor structure of their campaigns. Note: not saying complicated campaigns are automatically in this class. 

This thought often arises when I read about gamers attempting to explain to newcomers of the OD&D rules set. Referees talk about how simple it is ... then with no trace of irony offer up pages and pages of explanations regarding how to play this simple game.

One explanation I admire about OD&D and how to approach play came from a member of the pre-publication D&D campaigns. Using a warfare analogy, which makes sense considering the backgrounds of the co-authors and beta-testers of the rules, the following concepts were put forth:

  • Fighters are the infantry, the ones bearing the brunt of the fighting.
  • Magic-Users are the artillery, powerful offensively but weak defensively. 
  • Clerics are the support and medical corps.
  • Thieves are recon and scouts, the providers of intelligence.

I like this parallel because it emphasizes salient points. Fighters are the backbone of any army and a good general will tell you no war can be one without infantry (dog-faces, ground pounders, etc.). A successful party will have several well-equipped fighters in it. Magic-Users, like artillery, have a lot of firepower and deal mass damage but are not intended to go toe-to-toe with the bad guys. Clerics are useful in either supporting the front-line fighters or healing (sorry to all the cleric players frustrated with being treated as combat medics, but if the magic boot fits ...). Finally, thieves are adept at reconnoiter and infiltration but should only be fighting as a last resort.

Like any analogy, the comparisons begin to break down with in-depth analysis, but doesn't this explanation just lay it all out in a row for you?  Of course, after using this explanation I would go on to encourage tyros to the game to expand their characters in their own directions. Just as the rules are really guidelines, so is this just a nudge in the direction they may want to go. As a player gets a handle on the rules, these give an indication of how to approach problems presented within the milieu.

17 April 2015

The First New Monsters

If you read my last post carefully you already know this, but the first creature published outside of the original rulebooks was arguably the Mind Flayer. I say arguably because the publication date for the premier issue of The Strategic Review is Spring 1975 and Greyhawk was published in March 1975. At any rate, here are some of the monsters that appeared in the early years of the hobby.

SR 1.1: Mind Flayer. Just Mind Flayer, by the way. The label Illithid didn't show up until the AD&D Monster Manual.

SR 1.2: Roper. Incidentally, the Ranger PC class and the first of what has been jokingly called Gygax's polearm porn appeared in this issue.

SR: 1.3: Yeti, Shambling Mound, Leprechaun, Shrieker, Ghost, Naga, Wind Walker, Piercer, and the Lurker Above. Also included was an article listing some humorous monsters with a satirical bent such as the Droll, Weregamer, and Hippygriff.

SR 1.4: Clay Golem. Greyhawk gave us the flesh, stone, and iron varieties of these monsters. This one rounded out the 4 that went on to be included in AD&D Monster Manual.

SR 1.5: Rakshasa, Slithering Tracker, Trapper. This issue also had the infamous Sturmgeshutz and Sorcery article detailing the battle between fantasy forces and a German armored division.

SR: 2.1: No new monsters. The issue did have the Bard, a new PC class. It was also the first time the 9-point alignment system saw print. Included in this issue was a great deal of errata and corrigenda for Greyhawk which would also be included in later printings of that supplement.

SR 2.2: Catoblepas. Also included was a satirical monster labelled the Denebian Slime Devil.

After issue 2.2, Strategic Review became The Dragon. As one can see, every monster appearing in SR made it into the canon, if not in an OD&D supplement (like the mind flayer) then in AD&D's Monster Manual.

11 April 2015

Well, I'll Be Flayed!

The Original Pre-Psionic Rules Mind Flayer

Quoted without permission from TSR's Strategic Review Vol. 1 Issue 1. The holder of rights to TSR's material does not, in any way, relinquish their rights to this material. It is presented here in the interests of comparison and contrast to how this monster evolved in later editions of the game.

The Mind Flayer:

Number Appearing 1-4
Armor Class 5
Move 12”
Hit Dice 8+3
% in Lair 50%
Treasure F
Magical Resistance 90%

This is a super-intelligent, man-shaped creature with four tentacles by its mouth which it uses to strike its prey. If a tentacle hits it will then penetrate to the brain, draw it forth, and the monster will devour it. It will take one to four turns for the tentacle to reach the brain, at which time the victim is dead. A Mind Flayer will flee if an encounter is going against it. Their major weapon, however, is the Mind Blast, a wave [of] PSI force with a 6" directional range and a radius of 5'. All within the radius must save as indicated or will suffer the result shown: (ranges listed are in inches, I omitted the ["] from the table)

How I Built My First Dungeon

This post is an edited cut-n-paste of an answer I gave an online friend to the question of how I designed my first dungeon.

One problem with commercial modules is they were often tournament modules or very lightly modified versions of same. This gave folks who used them for inspiration a somewhat skewed view of what a dungeon adventure should be like. I've spoken with many referees who felt frustrated their modules didn't look and play like "X" ... whether X was the B2: Keep on the Borderlands or A1-3: Against the Giants. My main inspiration OTOH was from a quote near the beginning of the first volume of rules: [a] huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses. Upon my first reading of the rules all those years ago several things leapt at me: huge, ruined, vast, generations, insane, genius. This, in turn, fed into my philosophy on dungeon design.

Huge, vast ... my dungeon was, looking back on it now, a megadungeon though we didn't use that term at that time. If you've ever played Tékumel you have an idea of what my main dungeon was like. If not, I'll encapsulate. Barker (creator of Tékumel/Empire of the Petal Throne) envisioned a vast underworld complex formed by each succeeding Emperor destroying the existing city and building a new one on top of it as an example of his/her glory. Over many generations these underground ruins became quite complex and containing many disassociated connections between each former city's ruins.

I was also inspired by (of all people) Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion. I read how he would build something on his grounds to support some new hobby, then tear it down when he grew bored with it and found a new interest. I seem to recall a specific example of a slot car track (a big craze back on those days) razed in order to build a shooting range [side note: years after his death I toured Graceland with my wife and children, if you ever have the opportunity you should take it. It will teach you a lot about the American psyche.]

In this manner, I envisioned sprawling areas that might have a binding theme of some sort: monster research, undead study, steampunk machines (inspired by Tolkien's vague descriptions of fell machinery), training, etc. These areas could be completely remodeled new areas or they might be adapted from existing older areas with little or no alteration.

Mad wizard also said to me: equally mad and power hungry apprentices. The best of these might have an entire level for themselves, the less powerful (or more remedial!) of these might have (what is now known as) a sub-level off another level.

I also varied level sizes and shapes. I would tape graph paper together to make larger sheets, or layout levels based on arcane/occult symbols.

As far as planning a level? Naturally I would consider depth, ingress/egress, who occupied the level above and below (or who I tentatively thought might be below). I didn't strenuously strive for realism but I usually included some kind of water and food supply but otherwise? The sky was the limit. After all, the guys who built the place were CRAZY! I could do whatever came into my mind.

At any rate, level 1 was fairly random. Like my players, I was just learning after all ... and I had no one to mentor me beyond the brief example in Volume III of the TLBB. Level 2 and 3, designed as the players explored the first level, were more of the same but I began to develop ideas with that. Humanoid factions, demi-human enclaves, an underground (no pun intended) faction of Lawful human commandos. Finally, the wizard's forces themselves began to appear. They were opposed by an Evil High Priest and her minions who were trying to take over the dungeons for themselves. Various sub-factions of each were scattered around as the overall dungeon began to develop.

Beginning with 4th level, more themed layers began to appear. Level 4 was a town of sorts, with an uneasy peace existing under a tacit truce between all the various groups. Level 5 was a vast laboratory where bizarre creatures were experimented upon. A lot of my homegrown monsters appeared here, as well as monsters from other "realities" including many from literature. When GH came out I had the origins of the owlbear explained IMC as being from here. When Mind Flayers came out in the very first issue of The Strategic Review Issue Spring 1975 Issue 1 Volume 1, I made them the administrators of the lab and their own faction within the dungeon.

To sum up: no overarching theme beyond some kind of bizarre playground of an insane, powerful, and very rich arch-mage. He lived on the bottom level in a city populated by the minions of Chaos. Levels were sometimes themed, sub-levels were usually themed. There were lots of factions in the dungeon, association with one brought enmity with others.

I tried to keep players on their toes by throwing lots of things at them drawn from various sources. Sometimes this was to supplement my own creativity by introducing other lines of thought into my milieu. Sometimes it was laziness or artistic burnout. I tried to maintain the idea of a deadly environment with rare scattered relatively safe spots, mixing in occasional light-hearted and amusing encounters (though I tried not to veer off into slapstick comedy).

09 April 2015

Fringe Participant

I use the concept of matrix and matrices quite often when describing my campaign milieu. Basically it means the rules I've set up for how reality works in my ... errr ... reality. Elves can't be arch-mages, humans can't simultaneously be 2 different classes at once, player-characters can't see in the dark, and so on ad infinitum and ad nauseum. For instance, I don't have cross-breed races IMC such as grizzled half-orc veteran or effete (this word can be typed with one hand) half-elf spell-slinger.

So what do I do when I get some dude or dudette who really wants to play a variant character?  Simple! I allow them to enter the milieu from outside the matrix. I make the prospective player come up with a justification for the variant PC being there. The might include an interdimensional gateway, cursed scroll, very angry deity, magical accident, and so on. If they spin a good enough tale? I allow it.

This requires a bit of adjudication on my part and a dialog with both the incoming player (and variant character) and the existing group. In this way I can keep the established boundaries of my game world while still allowing the players some freedom.

02 April 2015

Well, It's About Surviving ... Outdoors

The Avalon Hill Gaming Company's board game Outdoor Survival (OS) gets a great deal of mention in the OD&D boxed set booklets. More than one person has questioned why, since everything needed to run a wilderness campaign is already in the rule books. The answer is rather simple: you need OS for the map board.

If the party became lost while in the wilderness, the map/board from OS came into play. This is why there are no rules in the OD&D booklets for generating random terrain: there was no need. When the party found its way again, they were moved back to the larger terrain map (Ah, yes! We're 6 miles south of where we ought to be!) and play continued from there. If players moved off the edge of the map while lost, Gary would just have them reenter from the opposite side.

The map really is handy, but with a sheet of hex paper, some map colors, and modicum of imagination you can produce something just as good. There are also a variety of maps for free created for D&D types of games available on the internet.

On a side note, I'd suggest using 6 mile hexagons for your outdoor maps as opposed to the 5 mile hex recommended in the rules. Why? Because character movement rates are generally divisible by 6 not 5. This small change will greatly ease referee burden during overland travel.

Electrum Woman & Dyna Girl!

Electrum is a not-as-beautiful-as-one-might-think alloy of silver and gold. It was listed as an optional coin in the original boxed and, depending on referee choice, was suggested to be worth either half or twice as much as gold (2 electrum to one gold coin, or 2 gold coins to 1 electrum piece). Besides being a rather ugly metal (see graphic below), electrum coins are significant for another reason.

Ever wonder why Experience Points were abbreviated XP rather than EP? According to at least one person around back on those early days, it was because of electrum pieces (EP).

And now you know!

Running Into The Sword

Gary had a habit of summing up gaming experiences into pithy little sayings. One of my favorites was his oft-repeated admonition that while he never set out to TPK (total party kill) if players insisted on running into the outstretched sword he'd certainly allow them to do so. I feel much the same way. Brought on, I suppose, by my wargame experiences in which losses were commonly the result of poor strategy or tactics.

Sometimes, however, the dice just hate you and want to kill you. As referee I've made a habit of rolling in the open so the player can see the dice fall where they may. This is why one uses dice to begin with, after all, to introduce an element of chance (or chaos to my way of thinking!) into the game. So, what do you do when the players do everything right but the player-characters wind up in extremis?

INSTA-CAPTURE! I've mentioned this in a previous post but one house-rule Gygax used and is rarely mentioned elsewhere is the insta-capture (my name, not his). This ruling states a PC successfully grappled by four opponents of a similar size is instantly and automatically successfully overborne and subdued. Thus, if half the party is slain or hors de combat there is no need for a bloodbath. Thag the Orc-King (first of his name, don't you know?) orders Sergeant Grom and his squad of 40 bully-boy Orcs to take the player-characters into custody. Hooting and jeering the Orcs swarm over the adventurers still on their feet and the lot of them are carried off and thrown into the Orc's prison cells. Those smooth-skins will pay, and pay dearly, to get their precious heroes back. The PC's, on the other hand, will have to pay back every gold piece ... with interest! If they don't have the money? Or if the money is in some big city bank? Well, no credit here! This is why spells such as geas and quest exist!

Or maybe 1 or 2 player-characters escape. Upon returning to town (or home base) with nothing but what they managed to carry as they ran away from the fight, they'll have to organize a rescue. This will cause them to lose much face with the locals, you can be sure of that! The one(s) that escaped may be accused of working with the enemy, or of cowardice.

Or perhaps one of the captured player-characters is sent by the Orcs to carry their own ransom demands back to the town. That one is under threat to return within "x" days or one of his fellow adventurers will be beheaded each day of his delay. Of course, upon returning to town the carrier of the ransom demands is thrown into jail while the Captain of the Guard sorts out what happened ... 

BOTTOM LINE There is no need to wipe out a party if they've had a run of bad luck. Now, if they are goofing off and playing poorly, by all means: let the last thing their characters see is the edge of an Orcish scimitar. The insta-capture rule can allow the referee to show a bit of mercy to otherwise good players without flat-out rescuing them by deus ex machina. They players will pay for their bad luck, such is life, but they'll live to fight another day. Of course, Bambi the buxom tavern wench will never look at Boromir the Brave with the same twinkle in her eye again.

30 March 2015

Chaos Bubbles

I casually mentioned, during a local gaming session, my use of chaos bubbles as a wandering monster encounter. When fellow gamer "A" questioned what I meant by that, it took a moment for me to realize this was an encounter of my own devising and not a part of the rules. I'd been using them for so long I'd forgotten.

Chaos bubbles had their genesis in the Dungeon Geomorphs marketed by TSR back in the day. When this result was rolled on my (always) customized encounter tables I would simply remove the geomorph I was using and put a new one its place, rearranging room descriptions and making up new stuff as needed "on the fly." I liked it so much I began using the idea when I drew my own maps, marking out areas ahead of time that would change if a chaos bubble percolated up from the chaotic underdark (new expression for an old idea used in the name of brevity).

The whole idea sprang forth from the understanding the underworld was opposed to the Forces of Law. This, in turn, was inspired in part by the rules about doors opening easily for monsters but resisting the player-character's attempts to open them. Or, the fact denizens of the underworld had infravision but not players ... and a monster entering the service of the players (and Law, presumably) would lose that ability.

As I began to use this idea on my hand-drawn maps, I began to expand upon it. There were often 4 or 6 such areas with the potential for changing if a chaos bubble came up. The appropriate die was used to generate which area was so affected. Players trapped within a bubble's area of effect might find egress from the room or area significantly changed and their maps of the immediate (or larger) area rendered inaccurate. In addition, the players themselves might suffer subtle changes: gems changing value, gold coins turning into less valuable copper pieces or vice-versa, rations appearing or disappearing from their packs, even the number of arrows in their quiver changing.

You Do/Don't Need To Know The Rules!

There's been some talk of how players need to be ignorant of the rules in order to play the game as it was played in the halcyon days of the hobby. Though I feel this is a fine way to run a game (more on that below) I'm going to have to call foul ball on the "authentic" part of the claim. I submit as proof for my assertion the following: 
If you are a player purchasing the DUNGEONS and DRAGONS rules in order to improve your situation in an existing campaign, you will find that there is a great advantage in knowing what is herein. (OD&D Volume I: Men & Magic)
It's the first line of the second paragraph of the bloody rules! The first paragraph of the introduction is written specifically to referees, making this second paragraph the very first statement made directly to potential players. As a referee, I never had a huge problem with players knowing the rules. My reasoning was they should know the basics of How Things Work™ ... just as we know by experience and observation how our world works. They should know the basics of the protective factor of armor, how far an arrow flies, how tough a giant is to kill, and how likely a blow will actually hit an opponent. Of course I always caution against assuming my goblins (or any other monster) are the same as the rulebook goblins, doing so might get their player-characters killed. Some things should be a mystery, after all.

SHOULD THEY KNOW? I'm speaking from supposition and not experience here. Because I was the first geek in [small town in TX] to own the rules I had to know them well enough to run the game. Thus, I never had to play OD&D without thorough knowledge of what was in the little box. Still, years of running the game allows me to speak from cumulative experience.

Excessive gamist thinking tends to pull players out of the game and into reality. Suspension of belief is a fun part of the game for many of us ... even the referee. When folks ask me how players opened locked doors or chests when there was no thief in the game, my reply is how would you do it? Don't think only a thief can pick a lock, if you yourself were actually in the game with the resources your party had, how would you open that locked door?

Player-Characters don't "know" they have only 1 hit point left during a fight (you feel weak and your vision is beginning to blur), they have just gained second level (your experience has taught you a better way to use your sword and shield in combat), or the monster has a high armor class (you gasp as your powerful blow harmlessly glances off the young dragon's hide). On a personal note, I think it's more fun when you don't know all those things. I played in a campaign here in Austin TX in which a monster's AC or a magical sword's bonus was discovered by trial and error. I know many players feel the same way. But ...

DO THEY WANT TO KNOW? Geeks (and I use the term affectionately) are a smart bunch of guys and gals. Some just can't relax until they've unscrewed the back of the cuckoo clock and disassembled the blasted thing to figure out how it all works. There are just as many who feel this way about the rules of the game as those of us who feel looking at the man behind the curtain steals the magic away from "The Great & Powerful Oz."

A common theme in my 'blog writing is "what do your players want?" A player having a well-rounded knowledge of the game can be a big plus at the table, as I learned when I was conducting a Traveller campaign and overlooked a significant rule in ship-to-ship combat. Then there is the darker side of same. As alluded to in my previous post there are barracks room lawyers out there who want to beat every bit of advantage from the rules; this being fun for them. Unfortunately their fun usually sucks all the joy from the game for everyone else at the table.

SO? SHOULD THEY OR SHOULDN'T THEY? In my opinion, a basic but not specific knowledge of the rules is the best way to proceed. Whether you agree or not, don't allow yourself to believe not knowing is an authentic "old school" (how I hate that term) playing experience. Focus on the behavior and desires of the players. Explain to them you'd like to try running the game with a minimum of knowledge on their part, though they will still need certain specifics such as prices, how their spells work, etc. Most players will enjoy the challenge, even if it makes them feel uncomfortable. If the majority of your players do not feel this is a good way to proceed then pass out the rulebooks with a smile ... along with the caveat these are merely suggestions not rules. An evil smirk and brisk rubbing of the palms together whilst making this pronouncement will go a long way toward keeping your players on their toes!

17 March 2015

... And Then Everyone Went Home

I've wondered how much to say about my first ever session of OD&D but, to the best of my knowledge, none of those individuals are currently active gamers. So, here goes.

After selling my parents on the idea of having friends over for a game, I eagerly laid out all my materials on the table in the breakfast nook. They were used to me taking over this area for constructing Estes model rockets and pretty much whatever else had caught my fancy. Our religious beliefs didn't take a dim view of the game, though I was to run into one that did (and hard) within a year or two of this time. One by one my nerdy friends from the Chess Club, the euphemism for wargaming club at my high school, began to show up. They'd heard me talking about this "new game" and all were eager to give it a try.

There were 7 of us in all. A brief explanation of the dice, mapping, and character creation followed and we got to work. Character creation took longer than I thought it might but we muddled through. Already some troubles were beginning to show. Two of those present, "D" and "R," were arguing with every little aspect of the rules ... rules laywering as it came to be known as the hobby caught on.

With a bit of time D began to relax and get into the flow of the game. He was the fellow who'd taught me wargaming with Avalon Hill's Blitzkrieg and quickly came to realize bickering over the rules was a fruitless endeavor. On the other hand R never caught on to that bit of wisdom.

It wasn't subtle, even from the start, his voiced objections growing increasingly strident as the party progressed from equipping themselves, to the 2 game hour trip to the actual dungeon, to entering the huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses. As the player-character party stood outside a dungeon room door arguing with R about how to proceed, I rolled for a band of wandering monsters. The rest of the party wanted to sound retreat but R's fighter (18 STR!) attacked the group of berserkers. He was quickly slain with the first exchange of blows and the rest of party retreated with no further losses, pursued by the berserkers as they fled the dungeon.

R was glowering at me, interrupting me constantly as I tried to run the pursuit. As soon as the party was deemed safe, he exploded. Red-faced and shouting, he demanded an explanation of how his 5 hit dice fighting-man (original nomenclature for the fighter) was slain with but a single blow. Puzzled, I ask why he believed his first level fighting-man was 5 HD. He pointed to his character sheet and the PC's rolled hit points. Five of them. As I attempted to explain the difference between hit dice and hit points he got angrier and louder and the rest of the group began to snap and snarl at him.

The situation was spinning out of control so I attempted to take charge. Quieting everyone down, I calmly explained his error again and politely asked him to respect my ruling as the referee. When he began yelling again I managed, with great effort, to quiet him for the last time. I understand your frustration, I told him, but you must believe me. I've read and reread these rules every day for the past week since I'd bought them and you're just wrong.


That word hung in the air like the aroma of rotting eggs. His face, already flushed, became even more red, his eyeballs bulged, and the shout became a scream as his dice whistled past my face.


Maybe I should have used the term "incorrect" instead of "wrong"?

No, I do not believe it would have made any difference. Chairs were knocked over and my rulebooks thrown to the ground as he made his exit from the room, slammed the door open and shut, climbed into his car, roaring off into the night in a blind fury. To call the stunned silence in his wake awkward would utterly fail to hint at the shocked speechlessness filling the room. In a daze I gathered the fallen dice and rulebooks, righting the 2 chairs he knocked over in his flight. My dad casually wandered through the breakfast nook with a look promising a long "talk" with me later.

... and then everyone went home.

The post script to all this: the friendship between R and myself was forever damaged that night. I tried to patch things up with him but he was convinced I purposefully killed his character, we never again gamed together in any capacity. I tried, and I believe he tried too, but the continued strained interaction killed what little goodwill we had left for each other. The rest of the group continued to meet, though there were some nervous smiles the next time I ran a combat for them. Our group otherwise thrived until I moved from that town a short while later. I was off to University and at the same time my family moved out of state. As a result of this I subsequently lost track of them all. Except R, as fate would have it. I've run into him a few times over the past 40 years since I left [small town in Texas] and, though we've never spoken of the incident, it seems time has finally healed that wound.

For both of us.


One of the first things I house-ruled in the first days of my campaign were the various non-human player-character races. These are now referred to as demi-humans to distinguish them from the humanoid bad guy races, but in the boxed rules both were collectively referred to as man-types. And, no! I did not eliminate demi-human level limits as part of those changes. I understand the objections some have raised over them but understanding does not imply agreement. I've found those who came into the hobby from a wargaming background are generally more accepting of these.

CHAOS TINGED The Law and Chaos dichotomy was a big part of the background picture of The Shattered Lands campaign. I liked the notion of segregated human and demi-human civilizations and used the idea of a strong aversion to Chaos resembling the Communist paranoia of the 1950's in USA history ... they are among us, they look like us, but they are not us. I didn't make this a strong element, one in which those accused of being minions of Chaos were dragged from their homes in the middle of night. It was more like a case of assumed suspicion until proven otherwise, particularly in less urban settings. Chaos Tainted (or tinged) is not the same thing in the minds of common man as Chaotic. Calling someone Chaos Tainted means it is believed the person in question is Lawful or Neutral alignment but they are influenced, in sometimes subtle ways, by Chaos. It should be noted the demi-humans are not Chaotic in my campaign, at least as a group.

This suspicion was especially heavy upon the eldest races, the High Elves and the Dwarves. The former due to their historically strong but now waning connections to magic and all things fey, as well as their odd dual nature as both Fighter and Magic-User. In the latter case due to their delving deep into the earth, associated with the underworld and the Oldest Powers of Chaos. This cue was taken from the association of infravision being granted by a mysterious and non-specified underworld power in the printed rules. Wood Elves and Gnomes were slightly less distrusted by humanity. In the case of the Wood Elves, though still of fey origins, their association with woodlands and growing things is seen as more pure. Gnomes are a similar case, in my campaign associated with normal and giant varieties of normal burrowing animals. This coupled with the fact their burrows did not delve as deeply into the earth as Dwarves made them seem less menacing. Their shorter stature no doubt aided in this regard.

And last of all, Hobbits. Their bucolic communities and epicurean ways made them seem innocuous to the humans. Hobbits faced no suspicion of Chaos taint the other man-types faced, though the general suspicion of strangers still needed to be dealt with.

In general terms during NPC interactions? Humans would deal with Hobbits, Gnomes, and Wood Elves in the group; speaking only to High Elves or Dwarves with necessity. This would quickly ease with repeated dealings, and might be relaxed if the individual demi-human had a high Charisma or somewhat local good reputation. 

NOT LIKE US I downplayed the more insular nature of medieval communities in my campaign. I felt it an impediment to fun. Not that player-characters were treated as long lost brothers, but spending lots of game time trying to prove to the natives one is a good Joe seemed to be a useless exercise. In 40 years of gaming I've never had anyone raise this objection.

PLAYER-CHARACTERS INTERACTIONS ARE DIFFERENT It was assumed none of the general suspicions regarding trust or mistrust between the races was a strong player-character dynamic. In my campaign, for instance, Dwarves and Gnomes are bitter enemies whose nations are in a state of Cold War constantly threatening to break into open conflict. Players are not expected to evince this dynamic and are, in point of fact, encouraged to work together in a spirit of cooperation. 

SHORT GUYS Fans of mythology had no issue with this, but fans of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings were a bit taken aback to discover elves weren't tall, beautiful, ideal realizations of the human form. Neither variety of PC Elf exceeded 5' in height, Dwarves were 4.5' tall, Gnomes 4' tall, and Hobbits were 3.5' tall.

  • High Elves had the abilities generally outlined in the rules. When they achieved 4th level as a Fighter and at least 5th level as a Magic-User their dual nature integrated into one and he was able to function in both classes simultaneously and without restriction. Until then they acted as one class or the other.When I adapted the Chance to Know Spells percentages from Greyhawk, I allowed High Elves to know any spell of all their usable levels.
  • Wood Elves early on were Rangers of a sort in much the fashion of Strider from Lord of the Rings. When the official Druid PC class came out I gave them the spell-casting abilities of that class, though I did not grant them the other special powers of that class (e.g. skin-changing). Because of their association with forest and outdoors, Wood Elves were also given low light vision similar to that of animals, this is not the infravision ability of the chaos tainted Underworld denizens. This ability made Wood Elf eyes reflect light in the darkness in the manner of cats and other creatures. 
  • Dwarves were used pretty much out of the box except I increased their level cap by one, to 7th level. This granted them access to 2 attacks per round per my house rules. As a side note: calling a Dwarf a Hill Dwarf (see Gnome, below) is a grave insult likely resulting in bloodshed.
  • Gnomes were not just a hill dwelling variety of Dwarf. They lacked the nearly supernatural architectural ability of the Dwarves but kept the giant fighting abilities. Gnomes were given the skills of increased accuracy in gem appraisal. They also had the ability to communicate with all normal and giant variety of normal burrowing animals, gaining a +2 to all reactions rolls when dealing with same. 
  • Hobbits were used pretty much right out of the box with one exception. They could be either Fighters, as laid out in the rules, or Scouts. Scouts were my campaign's Lawful variant of the Thief.