31 March 2012

Armor Classes Revised Chart

This is my revised armor chart for Basic/Expert D&D and Labyrinth Lord. It isn't anything revolutionary. Sometimes I nitpick. This is one of those times. For example, I don't like to see the word "mail" attached to a form of armor unless it really involves chain mail. "Mail" and "chain mail" are synonymous (the latter being redundant). The article "Demystifying Chain Mail and Ring Mail" by Dan Howard explains my reasons for excluding certain types of armor mentioned in AD&D, i.e. ring mail and banded mail.

[Edit: I changed this chart on 4 May 2014.]

Type of ArmorArmor Class
Splint & Mail4
Plate & Mail3
(Shields improve armor class by 1.)

Lamellar and laminar armor vary in armor class depending on the material used. If metal, the armor class is 4, otherwise it is 6.

29 March 2012

AD&D Commemorative Reprints

Wizards of the Coast will be reprinting the three original rulebooks of 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (the Monster Manual, Players Handbook, and Dungeon Masters Guide) on the 17th of July (my birthday, coincidentally). The purchase of these books help "support the Gygax Memorial Fund."

All we know at present is that the content will be the same except for two changes: the few pages of TSR advertising at the end of each book will be missing, and the covers will be different. For anyone who already owns usable copies of the originals, there seems to be little reason to purchase the reprints. Donations can be made to the Gygax Memorial Fund without making a purchase, and used copies can be purchased on the Internet at prices comparable to or less than those of the reprints. I still have the copies I bought when I first started role-playing in the early 1980s. To persuade me to buy the reprints, they would have to offer something as an incentive, such as superior binding and acid-free archival quality paper with full color plates reproducing the original cover illustrations.

There's just one other problem, though. I've recently discovered that I actually prefer the Basic/Expert D&D I started with in 1981 (not to mention Labyrinth Lord and Microlite20). There are still some aspects of AD&D I appreciate, such as the expanded lists of spells, magic items, monsters, and random tables, as well as Mr. Gygax's writing, but now when I play the game, I want to play it with that pre-AD&D mindset that was not obsessed with creating rules for every possible contingency. I don't want to worry about the effects of aging on player characters, or weapon proficiencies, or material spell components for nearly every spell, or training for level increases. It's not that I can't ignore those things, it's just that I prefer the simpler Basic/Expert D&D framework. It's easier to add to that edition than sift through all the rules I don't want in AD&D. That's where Labyrinth Lord gets it right. If anything, I should probably buy the Labyrinth Lord print editions.

27 March 2012

Clarification of a Rules Clarification

I should probably clarify rules clarification #14 of my 20 Rules Clarifications. Specifically, where I say that one can be awarded experience points for "defeating foes," I am referring to thwarting those who stand in the way of one's mission or goal. In this sense, defeating a foe could mean capturing, incapacitating, slaying, tricking, or avoiding the foe. Player characters who go out of their way to kill something for the sake of killing something will gain no experience points for their efforts and may even be penalized if it is clearly out-of-character. Adventures in my campaigns may involve victims in need of rescue, slaves in need of freeing, artifacts in need of recovery, treasure in need of liberation, caravans in need of protection, evil in need of banishment, armies in need of reconnaissance, cults in need of smashing, or any number of other goals, personal or otherwise, but I will not abide senseless killing sprees. Video games are better suited for satisfying those urges.

[Originally posted here in Fudgerylog.]

[This article has been transferred from this location in Roundouse #2.]

10 Basic Campaign Questions

Inspired by the 20 rules qualifications from Untimately, which I answer here, I thought it might be useful to organize a list of other fundamental questions about one's old school fantasy role-playing campaign. Here are the 10 basic campaign questions that occurred to me:

1. What races are available as PCs?
2. What classes are available as PCs?
3. What classes (including multiclasses) are available to each PC race?
4. Are there level limits for demi-humans?
5. Are dual classes available to humans? If so, how?
6. What alignments are used?
7. How strictly is alignment enforced?
8. Do alignment languages exist?
9. Initial hit points for starting PCs: Standard roll? Reroll for low rolls? Maximum hit points at 1st level? Other?
10. Weapon proficiency rules?

Here are my own answers:

1. What races are available as PCs? Usually Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling. Occasionally Dark Elf, Goblin, Pixie, Lizard Man, Centaur, et al. If it fits the campaign, I'll permit the races from Realms of Crawling Chaos: Sea Blood, Subhuman, White Ape, and White Ape Hybrid.

2. What classes are available as PCs? Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling.

Fighters may choose a background such as Barbarian, Brigand, Cataphract, Engineer, Hunter, Knight, Sailor, Soldier. Each background includes appropriate secondary skills and a special combat bonus.

Magic-users who belong to a guild or college of magic have access to certain spells that are only available to members. In addition, members have easier access to common spells, although their manifestations may bear a uniqueness characteristic of that organization.

Clerics have access to certain spells that are available only to the clergy of their patron deity. Clerics have the usual restrictions prohibiting the use of edged weapons, but are free to use those weapons sacred to their patron deity even if they would ordinarily be prohibited.

Thieves may choose which thiefly skills to advance as they gain levels and at what rate, thus enabling them to specialize in burglary, picking pockets, filching at markets, trap expertise, encoding and decoding messages, disguise, poison lore, etc. (Yes, thieves have the skills of disguise and poison lore that were the province of assassins. Being an assassin is a matter of being a thief who specializes in assassination. Similarly, a thief could be a spy or scout depending on the skills emphasized.)

Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings may also choose backgrounds that allow them to specialize.

3. What classes (including multiclasses) are available to each race? [Edit: Since I've decided to use Basic/Expert D&D-style race classes, this question no longer applies to my campaigns.]

4. Are there level limits for demi-humans? No.

5. Are dual classes available to humans? If so, how? [Edit: Since I've decided to return to Basic/Expert D&D-style rules, no.]

6. What alignments are used? Either Law-Neutrality-Chaos or LG-NG-CG-LN-N-CN-LE-NE-CE.

7. How strictly is alignment enforced? For clerics very strictly. For other classes there is much greater leeway. I do not allow evil PCs, however.

8. Do alignment languages exist? No.

9. Initial hit points for starting PCs: Standard roll? Reroll for low rolls? Maximum hit points at 1st level? Other? Maximum hit points at 1st level.

10. Weapon proficiency rules? No. Class and race are the only potential limitations for using standard weapons.

[Originally posted here in Fudgerylog.]

[This article has been transferred from this location in Roundouse #2.]

20 Rules Clarifications

Despite the sandbagging by TSR, nothing could prevent the flood of house rules that emerged ever since Dungeons & Dragons became commercially available. Here are my answers to the 20 rules clarifications that tend to come up in most campaigns. (The answers may vary, but they tend to be the same whether I run Basic/Expert D&D, AD&D 1st Edition, Labyrinth Lord, or OSRIC.)

1. Ability scores generation method? Roll 4d6 (drop the lowest die) seven times and assign to attributes and starting coin as desired. Multiply starting coin by 10.

2. How are death and dying handled? Unconscious at 0 or less hit points, automatic loss of 1 hit point per round starting at -1 hit point unless healed or stabilized, death at -10 hit points. [Edit: Alternatively, I am considering the merits of various death & dismemberment tables.]

3. What about raising the dead? The usual spells exist, but knowledge of them is very rare and the cost is generally a hazardous quest in the case of raise dead or resurrection. Reincarnation can potentially be had for less than a quest, but the price is still exorbitant.

4. How are replacement PCs handled? Replacement PCs will usually be a relative or friend of the deceased. If the death happens at a low level, then a new PC can be introduced as soon as logically possible. If the rest of the party is 2nd or 3rd level, I might arrange a solo adventure or two for the new PC before he or she joins the party. If the rest of the party is 4th level or higher, I allow the player to generate a PC of the appropriate level based on the average number of experience points possessed by the other PCs.

5. Initiative: individual, group, or something else? Group. One player rolls. Initiative is rolled every round. [Edit: Unless I decide to use individual initiative rolls. It depends on the situation and my mood.]

6. Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work? A natural 20 is a critical hit. The player chooses between maximum normal damage or double rolled damage before rolling. Sometimes I also use a random injury table. A natural 1 is a fumble, the results of which will be rolled on a random fumble table or determined by me.

7. Do I get benefits for wearing a helmet? Each piece of armor missing worsens its effective Armor Class by 1 whether it's a helmet, a greave, a gauntlet, or any other piece. Helmets also protect your head from falling rocks, falling masonry, low ceilings, and sunburn.

8. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly? If you miss, there is a chance you may hit any of the combatants. There is generally a 10% chance of hitting someone else per additional combatant in the melee. Designate each combatant as numbers 1 though 10. Roll 1d10. Whichever number is rolled determines the combatant that is hit. If the number rolled is higher than the number of combatants in the melee, then no one is hit. If there are more than ten combatants, only designate the ten who are nearest to the intended target.

9. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything? A wise player knows when to fight and when to flee (or when to bribe, or when to avoid being noticed). The campaign world is a world. Use good judgment.

10. Level draining monsters: yes or no? Yes, but the effects may vary. Most levels that are drained are restored at a rate of one level per week of rest and spiritual recuperation, if the character is not reduced to undead status first.

11. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death? Yes, but the effect may be delayed and possibly reversed (depending on the circumstances). Most poisons, for instance, do not kill instantly, although they may debilitate the PC very rapidly.

12. How strictly are encumbrance and resources tracked? I need to know where every item is stored. Every item listed should have its location noted, whether it's in a backpack, poach A, pouch B, a saddlebag, whatever. If everything looks plausible, that's all I need. If the PC is trying to stow everything including the kitchen sink on his person, then I will require an exact accounting of every unit of encumbrance.

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? Levels are gained as soon as you have the required amount of experience points. Training is unnecessary — your adventures are your hands-on training. Magic-users get the capacity to cast new spells automatically, but selection is limited to those spells present in their spell books or whatever spells they can acquire through adventuring or their guild (if there is one). Clerics get new spells automatically as long as they are in good graces with their deity. All of the above can happen in the middle of an adventure.

14. What do I get experience for? Acquiring treasure, defeating foes, acquiring esoteric knowledge related to your class, rescuing those who are in distress, achieving mission goals.

15. How are traps located? Description, dice-rolling, or some combination? Traps are primarily detected by description and by any PC. Dice-rolling is permitted for thieves and dwarves (where appropriate) as a second chance to detect traps that would otherwise be missed.

16. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work? Retainers are neither encouraged nor discouraged. Morale is a matter for my judgment based on circumstances, but I may roll if I feel that there is a chance it could go either way.

17. How do I identify magic items? Unlike the AD&D standard of all magic items appearing to be identical, ordinary objects, magic items in my campaigns are much less common and certainly neither identical nor ordinary-looking (for the most part). Some will have inscriptions in known or unknown languages or runes, some will be ornate, some will exude magic that anyone can sense, some will seem ordinary unless detect magic reveals their true nature. It's all quite erratic. Sometimes research by PCs or sages can identify a magic item. Sometimes an identify spell is the only means short of trial and error. Generally, a magic-user will only cast an identify spell in exchange for extraordinary services.

18. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions? Minor potions can be purchased from apothecaries, major potions can sometimes be purchased from alchemists, and healing potions are usually available from temples, churches, and abbeys in exchange for monetary donations or services. Clerical scrolls are only made available to clerics of the same religion (possibly only of the same order) in exchange for donations or services or for a purpose specifically sanctioned by the cleric's superior. Magical scrolls are only available from a magic-user's master (if he has one), the guild (if there is one), or the antiquities back market. Other magic items must be discovered or constructed.

19. Can I create magic items? When and how? In most of my campaigns I abide by the rules of whichever game I am playing.

20. What about splitting the party? It's the players' choice.

[Originally posted here in Fudgerylog.]

[This article has been transferred from this location in Roundhouse #2.]

26 March 2012

The Migration

Before the work of Applied Phantasticality truly commences, I thought it best to transfer a few preliminary articles from my update site, Roundhouse #2, that would serve as an appropriate starting point for this Web log. As I do so, I shall remove them from the Roundhouse, but they will remain cross-posted at my other gaming Web log, Fudgerylog. Transferred articles will be noted as such.

Welcome to Applied Phantasticality

This is the first entry of Applied Phantasticality, my Web log devoted primarily to the "Old School Renaissance" (or OSR) faction of the role-playing game hobby. My first exposure to role-playing was the Monster Manual of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, and by exposure I mean I looked at the illustrations and failed to comprehend the stats. My first role-playing experience was with the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set edited by Tom Moldvay and the Expert Set edited by David Cook (collectively known nowadays as Basic/Expert D&D or just B/X D&D). This was quickly followed by a transition to AD&D 1st Edition (by which time the stats in the Monster Manual made perfect sense). Over the years, my collection has expanded to over 100 role-playing games, and I have an especial fondness for various incarnations of Basic Role-Playing and Fudge. Most of my gaming articles for all sorts of games, role-playing and otherwise, are published in Fudgerylog, but I decided that it would be a good thing, dare I say a Lawful Good thing, to start a Web log with a narrow focus on the game that was my gateway to the hobby, as well as those games (such as Labyrinth Lord) that have rekindled the flame of the hobby's first spark of glory. These games, often referred to as "retro-clones," have revitalized that form of gaming that was prevalent when I first started gaming, which is a very good thing from the standpoint of this diehard gamer.

In the course of this Web log I intend to do my modest part to contribute to the old school community that has been so incredibly generous with its time and creativity.

Game on.