28 April 2014

Table: Magic Helmet Abilities

Some magic helmets confer a bonus to the wearer's armor class beyond any normal improvement they may provide (q.v.). Some have a different kind of enchantment as well (or instead). Roll as needed on the following table to generate nonstandard magical helmet abilities.


Magic Helmet Abilities

Roll 1d20

  1. Amplifies wearer's voice at will.
  2. Can be used as an alarm if removed and activated. Anything that moves directly in front of it up to a designated distance will cause the helmet to emit a loud noise until deactivated. The noise will be that of a horn, a ghostly moaning, or a human voice shouting.
  3. Enables wearer to breathe in any environment and grants immunity to poison gases.
  4. Enables wearer to fly.
  5. Enables wearer to polymorph self once per day.
  6. Enables wearer to project two magic missiles once per day.
  7. Enables wearer to resist cold.
  8. Enables wearer to resist fire.
  9. Enables wearer to see in all directions.
  10. Enables wearer to see in darkness.
  11. Enables wearer to speak and comprehend any language.
  12. Enables wearer to teleport once per day.
  13. Enables wearer to use telepathy.
  14. Enables wearer to use X-ray vision for one round per day.
  15. Grants immunity to any spell or attack that would render the wearer unconscious.
  16. Grants immunity to any spell or attack that causes blindness or visual hypnosis.
  17. Grants immunity to mental attacks, both magical and psionic.
  18. Helmet's bonus applies to all saving throws vs. magic.
  19. Helmet's bonus applies to all saving throws vs. petrification.
  20. Helmet's bonus applies to all saving throws.

27 April 2014

Use Your Shield

This is my third attempt to make sensible shield rules incorporating both Shield Saves and Shields Shall Be Splintered (and now my own Use Your Helmet rules).

All shields improve armor class by 1 vs. mêlée and missile attacks if they are carried only (not wielded), i.e. if they cannot be actively used to block an attack, but the attack is coming from an appropriate direction. For example, if the shield is being worn on the back, it would improve the defender's armor class against attacks from the rear; or if the shield is being carried normally and the defender is surprised, the defender could benefit from the shield's armor class improvement, but would be unable to actively block any attacks.

If wielded, there is no improvement to armor class, but the wielder may use the shield to attempt to block blows by making a saving throw. Fighters roll their most favorable save; non-fighters roll their least favorable save. A successful save blocks the attack and deflects the damage. Blocking can only be attempted if the wielder is both aware of the attack and in a position to defend against it.

The number of mêlée attacks that can be blocked depends on the size of the shield. Small shields can block one attack per round; large shields can block three attacks per round. A saving throw must be made for each blocking attempt.

The number of missiles that can be blocked also depends on the size of the shield. Small shields can block one missile per round; large shields can block any number of missiles per round (but only one saving throw is necessary). Missile attacks can only be defended against from one direction at a time.

The defender may opt to sacrifice the shield. The defender suffers no damage, but the shield is destroyed by the attack. This tactic may also be used against area effect attacks such as dragon breath, fireballs, lightning bolts, etc.

Shields of normal construction are no defense whatsoever against ballistae, catapults, trebuchets, cannon, or firearms.

Magic shields are effective against all weapons. When carried, they generally improve armor class by +1, +2, or +3 beyond the normal improvement afforded by shields. When used to block, the magical bonus is transferred to the wielder's saving throw. All missiles except cannonballs can be blocked by magic shields (if the saving throw is successful). Magic shields can be sacrificed to defend against any damage-dealing area effect attack or weapon including cannon. (In the case of cannon, the shield is destroyed and the defender is thrown clear.)

Optionally, a magic shield may be sacrificed twice. The first sacrifice nullifies its enchantment. The second sacrifice destroys the shield itself.

[Edit: See Concise Shield Rules for my current perspective.]

26 April 2014

Use Your Helmet

What is a suit of armor without a helmet? Answer: less effective. What is a helmet without a suit of armor? Answer: better than nothing. The same can be said of a shield and it improves one's armor class with or without armor, yet the helmet is nothing without a corresponding suit of armor and its absence results in a penalty. The inconsistencies of Dungeons & Dragons do not surprise me, but that doesn't mean they are not worth addressing.

If any historical argument needs to be made for assigning protective value to the helmet alone, one need only look to history. On the battlefields of ancient Greece, often the only protection a soldier had was a helmet, a shield, and possibly greaves. On the battlefields of the two World Wars (and many other wars of the modern era), a soldier had no protection but a helmet. If the helmet is insignificant alone, why is it the one piece of protection that is considered indispensable in warfare from the distant past to the present?

The 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide provides no guidelines for use of a helmet without a corresponding suit of armor, but it does state that the lack of a helmet will attract more attacks to the head, which will have an armor class of 10. It's odd that no other missing piece of armor should likewise incur an armor class penalty. Basic/Expert D&D does not address the subject of helmets at all (as far as I can tell).

I propose that helmets should be treated as shields in that each should improve one's armor class by 1. The armor class rating for suits of armor should apply to the suits themselves. Armor class represents the character's protection in general. The exception to this is if hit location rules are in effect, in which case each hit location will have a separate armor class based on its protection.

Helmets, of course, restrict one's senses depending on the style of helmet, and they may have to be removed or tilted back or require the visor to be lifted to facilitate certain activities.

25 April 2014

Table: Magic Shield Abilities

Most magic shields confer standard magical benefits and a bonus to the wielder's armor class. A majority will improve armor class by +1, although a few confer a bonus of +2 or even +3. Some shields have nonstandard enchantments as well. Roll as needed on the following table to generate nonstandard magical shield abilities.


Magic Shield Abilities

Roll 1d20

  1. Acts as an extra eye as long as it is held or worn.
  2. Any blocked mêlée attack rebounds on the attacker unless the attacker makes a successful saving throw to dodge.
  3. Any blocked missile attack ricochets at the attacker unless the attacker makes a successful saving throw to dodge.
  4. Any spell or ray attack is reflected back if the wielder makes a successful save against it.
  5. Blinds opponents if sunlight is available. Opponents must save vs. magic or suffer -2 penalties to both Armor Class and attack rolls as long as they are facing the shield.
  6. Can be used as a raft on any liquid surface (including lava).
  7. Causes fear in opponents when the wielder strikes it repeatedly with a weapon for one full round. Opponents must save vs. magic or flee for two turns.
  8. Creates a cylindrical wall of force if it is placed horizontally on the ground and stepped upon.
  9. Creates a flat wall of force if it is set vertically on the ground.
  10. Enables wielder to resist cold as long as it is held or worn.
  11. Enables wielder to resist fire as long as it is held or worn.
  12. Grants protection from evil as long as it is held or protection from evil 10' radius if it is placed on the ground.
  13. Levitates if it is held or placed horizontally; obeys wielder's mental commands.
  14. Paralyzes with fear (as a hold person spell) any opponent who gazes on it.
  15. Prevents injury or death from falling by acting as a featherfall spell.
  16. Projects a hammer of force (range and damage equal to a throwing hammer) when used instead of a normal attack. Acts as a magic weapon equivalent to shield's bonus. Must roll "to hit."
  17. Shield's bonus applies to all saving throws vs. area effect attacks.
  18. Shield's bonus applies to all saving throws vs. magic.
  19. Shield's bonus applies to all saving throws.
  20. Wielder cannot be knocked down if standing on solid ground.

24 April 2014

Magic Shield Benefits

[This article is an expansion of Shield Defense.]

Magic shields have benefits beyond the increased improvement to armor class. Although "shields of normal construction are no defense whatsoever against ballistae, catapults, trebuchets, cannon, or firearms," magic shields are. Against all weapons, magic shields confer their armor class bonus. All missiles except cannonballs can be blocked by magic shields (if the saving throw is successful). Magic shields can be sacrificed to defend against any damage-dealing area effect attack or weapon (including cannon). (In the case of cannon, the shield is destroyed and the defender is thrown clear.)

Optionally, a magic shield may be sacrificed twice. The first sacrifice nullifies its enchantment. The second sacrifice destroys the shield.

23 April 2014

Shield Defense

This is a variation of the rules presented in Your Shield Is Your Friend, which in turn incorporates rules found in articles by other writers (Shield Saves and Shields Shall Be Splintered):

All shields improve armor class by 1 vs. mêlée and missile attacks.

All shields enable the wielder to attempt to block successful attacks by making a saving throw. Fighters roll their most favorable save; non-fighters roll their least favorable save. A successful save blocks the attack and deflects the damage. Blocking can only be attempted if the wielder is both aware of the attack and in a position to defend against it.

The number of mêlée attacks that can be blocked depends on the size of the shield. Small shields can block one attack per round; medium shields can block two attacks per round; large shields can block three attacks per round. A saving throw must be made for each blocking attempt.

The number of missiles that can be blocked also depends on the size of the shield. Each successful save blocks all of the missiles that would otherwise strike the wielder in a single round. A failed save blocks none. The size of the shield determines the penalty to the saving throw. Small shields can block missiles at a -2 penalty per missile; medium shields can block missiles at a -1 penalty per missile; large shields can block any number of missiles without penalty.

The defender may opt to sacrifice the shield instead of rolling. The defender suffers no damage, but the shield is destroyed by the attack. This tactic may also be used against area effect attacks such as dragon breath, fireballs, lightning bolts, etc.

Shields of normal construction are no defense whatsoever against ballistae, catapults, trebuchets, cannon, or firearms.

[Edit: See Concise Shield Rules for my current perspective.]

18 April 2014

Your Shield Is Your Friend

Shields are tragically undervalued in Dungeons & Dragons and its offspring, so it is my duty to correct this oversight by borrowing the wisdom of OSR brethren and tinkering further with it. The wisdom I am borrowing is from Shield Saves and Shields Shall Be Splintered. Without further ado:

All shields improve armor class by 1 vs. mêlée attacks.

All shields improve armor class by 1, 2, or 4 vs. missile attacks. (Small shields improve by 1, medium shields improve by 2, and large shields improve by 4.)

All shields enable the wielder to attempt to block successful attacks after damage has been rolled. The wielder chooses which successful attack to block and makes a saving throw. Fighters roll their most favorable save; non-fighters roll their least favorable save. If the saving throw is successful, the blow was blocked and the damage is deflected. Otherwise, the damage is sustained.

All shields allow the wielder to attempt to block one successful mêlée attack per round. In addition, the wielder may attempt to block missile attacks as follows: small shields may block one missile per round, medium shields may block two missiles per round, and large shields may block four missiles per round.

The defender may opt to sacrifice the shield instead of rolling. The defender suffers no damage, but the shield is destroyed by the attack. This tactic may be used against area effect attacks such as dragon breath, fireballs, lightning bolts, etc.

[Edit: See Concise Shield Rules for my current perspective.]

13 April 2014

Metamorphosis Alpha in Hardcover

There is a Kickstarter project afoot to fund one printing and one printing only of a deluxe edition of the original Metamorphosis Alpha role-playing game rules (and more). (See Metamorphosis Alpha: 1976 in The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope.)

Metamorphosis Alpha has fascinated me since I first read an article inspired by it in a copy of The Best of the Dragon that I bought at my first Gen Con back in 1980-something (1982?). Yes, I have the PDF of the original rules, and I am grateful it is available, but I am a bibliophile...

10 April 2014

Table: Weapon Ranges 2

[The following is an expanded version of the basic table of weapon ranges.]

The following table can be used to determine the range (in feet) of any spell, effect, or unusual weapon in a random manner. Use it whenever you create a new spell or device and you can't decide on its range, or to replace the range of an existing spell or device in order to promote unpredictability or variety. For ray guns, spells, or spell-like effects, just use the number in boldface as the maximum range. For most ranged weapons, use the numbers given for short, medium, and long range.


Weapon Range

Roll 1d20

  1. 5-10 / 11-20 / 21-30
  2. 5-15 / 16-30 / 31-45
  3. 5-20 / 21-40 / 41-60
  4. 5-25 / 26-50 / 51-75
  5. 5-30 / 31-60 / 61-90
  6. 5-35 / 36-70 / 71-105
  7. 5-40 / 41-80 / 81-120
  8. 5-45 / 46-90 / 91-135
  9. 5-50 / 51-100 / 100-150
  10. 5-55 / 56-110 / 111-165
  11. 5-60 / 61-120 / 111-180
  12. 5-65 / 66-130 / 131-195
  13. 5-70 / 71-140 / 141-210
  14. 5-75 / 76-150 / 176-225
  15. 5-80 / 81-160 / 161-240
  16. 5-85 / 86-170 / 171-255
  17. 5-90 / 91-180 / 181-270
  18. 5-95 / 96-190 / 191-285
  19. 5-100 / 101-200 / 201-300
  20. Roll again.

09 April 2014

OSR Search Logo

Every good Web log of the Old School Renaissance needs a logo to link to OSR Search, or at least that's the conclusion I finally came to after seeing the excellent one at Zenopus Archives. So, here's mine. Someday I'll try harder.

08 April 2014

Multi-Class Advancement 2

My recommendations in the previous article were based on the assumption that I would be following my standard rule of not imposing level limits on demi-human characters, but perhaps there is a way of preserving level limits in such a way that it does not discriminate against them. Therefore:

Any character, human or demi-human, who has but a single class, has no limit to the level he or she may achieve (and any character can choose any class).

Any character, human or demi-human, who is multi-classed, is limited to the 9th level of experience in any class.

In summary, any character can be multi-classed regardless of species, but will have the same level limits. Any character can be single-classed in any class and will have no level limit.

This does not mean that all classes are equally common to all species. Player characters are exceptional. Non-player characters may very well conform more closely to the D&D standard.

07 April 2014

Multi-Class Advancement

I am not the fan of multi-classing that I was when I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in the previous century, but some players are enamored of it and I feel an obligation to appease them rather than to proselytize. I'm just happy to find players willing to give older editions a chance. However, I am not willing to refrain from tinkering if it suits me. Lopsided level advancement for multi-class characters has never felt right to me, and on a purely practical level it's a nuisance. Gaining half-hit dice and half-bonuses are a consequence that I cannot abide. Moreover, there is no in-game excuse for such an arrangement. Unless experience is allocated to the class with which it was earned on a case by case basis (which is a level of bookkeeping in which I refuse to engage), then there are only two alternatives worth considering.

The first is what I call equal level advancement. This means that a multi-class character does not advance until enough experience has been earned to increase all of the character's classes by one level. In other words, instead of dividing earned experience amongst the character's classes (as is done in traditional lopsided level advancement), the experience costs of all of the classes are added together. When enough experience is earned, the character's level increases in all of his or her classes simultaneously. The multi-class character is recast as a single class with multiple facets. If it doesn't matter how the experience is earned, then this is the logical extension.

The second alternative is the OD&D (and Labyrinth Lord Original Edition Characters) method originally used for elves, but we could expand it to include any combination of classes and open it to any player character species. I'll call it separate level advancement. The multi-class combination must be declared when the character is created. [Edit: Or not. Why should it be? Perhaps a character initially plans to be single-classed, but has a change of heart or circumstances.] At the beginning of each adventure, the multi-class character decides which class to operate as, and all experience earned will be applied to that class only. Classes may be switched only between adventures. Characters may freely use the abilities of the class in which they are currently operating and any class in which they have previously gained one or more levels. If there is a difference in saving throws or attack rolls, the best one is used. Armor restrictions, however, remain in effect i.e. thiefly skills cannot be used when wearing armor heavier than leather, and magical spells cannot be cast when wearing non-elven armor.* Of course, the benefits of being multi-classed will not be felt at first level, but the rate of advancement in each class can be customized to taste. If one wanted to be a dabbler in magic at first level, and then lead the life of a swashbuckling thief forever after, that would be a viable option. Likewise, one could alternate as a fighter or a magic-user indefinitely.

This second alternative has the possibility of unbalancing the game, but I'd argue that multi-classing is inherently unbalanced. I'd rather do away with it, but I fear I'm in a minority.

In either equal or separate level advancement, I would take a cue from the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion and allow nearly any class combination for any species (including human).


* Some say that magic-users cannot wear armor, but elves can. In truth, any spellcaster can wear elven armor, but no spellcaster (including elves) can wear non-elven armor. Elves just have a much easier time obtaining elven armor than non-elves do.