BoL Careers for OD&D

It’s always interesting to see how other folks try to combine elements of BoL and OD&D.  I haven’t seen the finished version of Simon Washbourne’s recent BoL Hack, but I confess to being somewhat disappointed with the draft I read — there were some good ideas, but ultimately the rules come down too heavily on the BoL side for my taste.  I’ve enjoyed the challenge of running D&D-style hex-and-dungeon-crawls with BoL, tweaking the rules in places to better accommodate the resource management elements essential to that playstyle.  On the other side, at times when the OD&D itch simply must be scratched, I find myself wanting to incorporate certain BoL-isms.  The foremost of these is the simple, flexible Career system.  My take on BoL Careers in OD&D is pretty straightforward:

Each character (Fighting-Man or Magic-User, regardless of race) begins with two Careers at Rank 1: one for background (upbringing) and one for profession (immediately prior to adventuring.)  If the character’s prime attribute is 15+, he may choose a third Career at Rank 1.  Consideration of character attributes should factor into the player’s choice of Careers.  (For example, academic careers such as Scholar and Alchemist are poor choices for an illiterate Fighting-Man with INT 5!)

Partial Career list: Alchemist, Artificer, Barbarian, Beastmaster, Beggar, Blacksmith, Craftsman*, Engineer, Executioner, Farmer, Healer, Hunter, Merchant, Noble, Performer*, Priest, Sailor, Scholar, Soldier, Thief

As per the BoL rules, these Careers are fairly abstract representations of skill groups.  A Thief character would know how to case targets, use stealth, pick locks, disarm small traps, pick pockets, fence stolen goods, etc.  Careers do not influence the character’s combat abilities except in rare special circumstances (i.e. a PC would only add his Soldier career if fighting in formation with a unit of Soldiers)

*For vague careers such as Craftsman and Entertainer, the player must choose a specific discipline, i.e. a Craftsman might be a carpenter, brewer, bookbinder, shipbuilder, etc., and a Performer might be a musician, storyteller, singer, dancer, acrobat, etc.

Task rolls using Careers are made using 2d6, adding the Career Rank and other relevant modifiers (difficulty, pertinent attributes, etc.) and consulting the Reaction table (2 = very bad, 3-5 = bad, 6-8 = uncertain/mixed, 9-11 = good, 12 = very good)

Career Ranks do not increase as the PCs gain levels.  If a character wants to advance in a Career, he/she needs to train in that skill.  This requires regular practice and study over a prolonged period — usually a number of months — and also usually requires some financial investment for tutelage and/or materials.  At the end of the training period, a Task roll is made to determine whether the PC successfully gained the next Rank.


5e–>OD&D riff: Hit Dice as non-magical healing

Driving home from work today, I got to thinking about one of the elements of 5e that I particularly like: the way PCs can strategically spend Hit Dice to regain some lost hit points.  Part of this stems from my preference for cleric-free D&D (and cleric-free FRP gaming in general), and partly because there is no regular cleric in my lunchtime 5e game, as our cleric player has been frequently absent due to schedule conflict.

My drive-time thoughts today were about possible ways I could tweak that rule for OD&D — still my favorite incarnation of the game — and I think I’ve hit upon a potential house rule that’s worth testing next time I run a game with the little brown books:

During a short rest (of minimum one uninterrupted hour), Player characters and monsters may spend Hit Dice in order to recover an appropriate number of hit points (i.e. spend 2 Hit Dice, regain 2d6 HP) up to the character’s normal maximum.  Hit Dice thus spent may not be recovered until the character has completed a long rest (of minimum six uninterrupted hours.)  Furthermore, a character who thusly spends Hit Dice attacks at his or her current Hit Dice until the spent HD are recovered.  Example: Borg, a 4th level Fighting-Man, is badly wounded in a fight.  The party takes a short rest, during which time Borg’s player decides to spend 2 HD (and recovers 2d6 HP.)  Until Borg can complete a long rest, he makes all his attacks as a 2nd level fighter.

I think it’s kind of cool in that it offers another resource to manage and additional risk to weigh.  If I’m badly wounded, and the party isn’t close to the dungeon exit, is it worth burning these Hit Dice to give me some extra hit points in case we run into something unexpected?  Hard to say for sure though without testing it out in play.  Unfortunately, HD are no longer tied to combat the way they used to be, so I can’t try out this house rule as is in my 5e game.

D&D 5e Appendix E: initial thoughts

It was nice to see an inspirational reading list included in the 5e PHB, Appendix E, but I found its contents mildly disappointing.  It’s only one page long, so of course they can’t include everything, but I have to wonder about some of the choices they made.  It was a grand gesture to include Gygax’s Appendix N from the 1978 DMG, but did they really need to include all of it?  People have been wondering for years why certain authors were included in the first place.  Why should anyone take the time now to track down the long-OOP S&S anthology Swords Against Darkness III?  Why that one and not the others in the Swords Against Darkness series?  Not to say that Gygax’s list should be edited, but some brief annotations would be extremely helpful to newcomers to the game, even if it meant expanding Appendix E to two pages.

The added material feels hit-and-miss, and is similarly in desperate need of annotation.  Although there are some additions that I was delighted to see (Alexander, Hodgson, Cook, Wolfe) and some unfamiliar names that I look forward to investigating, there are a few additions and noticeable omissions I found puzzling:

  • How on earth did Stephen King’s wretched Eyes of the Dragon make this list?  Did someone unearth an awesome alternate version that I somehow missed?
  • Why include the mediocre Shannara series (yes, I’ve heard it gets better after the original trilogy) but not the very entertaining and obviously-D&D-inspired works by Raymond Feist (Riftwar series, Krondor series) or Elizabeth Moon (Deed of Paksennarion)?
  • Doorstop epic fantasy series have been in vogue for quite a while now (for better or worse), so on that level I understand the inclusion of stuff like Wheel of Time and Game of Thrones.  The glaring omission in this category is Steven Erikson’s excellent (and complete!) Malazan Book of the Fallen, which feels much more “D&D” than the other two — understandably so, since the world was originally Erikson and co-creator Ian Esslemont’s RPG setting back in the 1980s.
  • Given the generally-politically-correct tone of the Players’ Handbook, I’m a little surprised that there aren’t more “non-Western” fantasy settings represented.  Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon is a nice addition, but why stop there?  Whither Charles R. Saunders’ Imaro, Milton Davis’ Changa stories, and other ancient-African-inspired “Sword & Soul” tales?  What about Jessica Salmonson’s Tomoe Gozen series or other Asian-inspired works?
  • Props to the writers for only including two entries for actual D&D novels (Salvatore and Hickman/Weis), three if you include Norton’s unofficial Quag Keep.  The absence of Gygax’s Gord the Rogue novels is disappointing, which were IMHO far more entertaining.
  • It is unfortunate but not altogether surprising that C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books didn’t make the Appendix E cut.  Although they are often (wrongly) dismissed as unimaginative Christian “allegories” for children, Oakes Spalding astutely notes that, based on the monster lists found in OD&D vol.2, the “default” D&D campaign setting has a lot more in common with Narnia than with Middle-Earth.

I could go on, but to what end?  As I contemplate the difficulty of the unenviable task of creating Appendix E, I’m struck by the notion that it’s really kind of odd.  A lot of virtual ink has been spilled in the past few years about the “sources of D&D,” examining the Appendix N material to see how those stories informed the development of the game.  For example, Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions?  The Paladin class and alignment.  Moorcock’s Eternal Champion books?  Alignment, intelligent swords.  Tolkien?  Hobbits and ents (halflings and treants, post-C&D.)  Vance?  The magic system (kind of) and some magic items (Ioun stones, etc.)  Which leads me to wonder: if, hypothetically, one of Gygax’s motivation for the inclusion of Appendix N was to provide insight into the game’s design decisions, what’s the point of 5e’s Appendix E?  “Here are some cool fantasy novels we dig, but don’t ask us which one has tieflings in it.”  It makes good sense to prepare an inspirational reading list for a new D&D setting, but to do so for a new edition of the rules seems unnecessary to me.

back to the Barrowmaze

Last week, I ran a lunchtime Labyrinth Lord adventure for three brave coworkers (two of whom had never played a tabletop RPG.) This introductory game met with considerable enthusiasm, and at the end of the session the players expressed interest in continuing. Looks like I may have a regular game group again, albeit one that can only play for an hour or so at a time…

I decided to use the trusty Barrowmaze for the intro session, this time set in the Wilderlands (Necromancer Games version.)  The PCs were hired by a nobleman from Lenap to find his wayward son, who was heading to the barrow fields north of Greenwax and the ruined city of Satur (map 11) with a party of adventurers and treasure hunters.  With their small retinue of hirelings, the PCs — a human fighter, halfling thief, and halfling cleric — explored a section of the underground labyrinth, fought some stirges, discovered the grim fate of the nobleman’s son, and made it back to Greenwax to tell the tale.   There were surprisingly no casualties, due in equal parts to player paranoia caution and the lack of wandering monsters rolled.

Greenwax has for some time seemed an ideal starting point for me in the Wilderlands, based on this bit of descriptive text in Book II:

Treasure seekers come to Greenwax to explore the nearby ancient ruins of Satur, a once-great city of the Orichalan Dragon Empire, though few return successfully.  North of the ruins are many burial mounds. To the northwest about three miles is a tree said to be as old as the seas. The region’s druids hold this tree holy.

Tons of adventure potential within 2-3 hexes.  Evil wizards, Orichalan cultists, monster factions within the ruins, druids to the north, cultists in the Barrowmaze.  Should PCs want to stretch their sea-legs, Greenwax’s port location provides easy possibilities for fighting pirates or Sinbad-style voyages of exploration.

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #24-27: quick catch-up

First movie that comes to mind that you associate with D&D.  Why?

The Rankin-Bass 1977 animated version of The Hobbit is #1, with very honorable mentions to Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and Clash of the Titans (1981), and the Schwarzenegger Conan flicks.  Not because they are necessarily “D&D-like” in every respect, but because they were my cinematic introductions to fantasy adventure.  

Longest-running campaign/group you’ve been in?

My longest running regular group was probably my AD&D group during my college daze at UCSB, which met at least twice a month from ~1998-2000 and had, at its peak, 11 active players and 15+ characters.  I have individual friends with whom I’ve gamed since then for longer periods overall, but not on as regular a basis.  

Do you still game with the group that introduced you to the hobby?

Nope.  That first group didn’t last long — a few months of D&D, then a much smaller group took to Star Frontiers.  I’m still somewhat in touch with the two guys I played Top Secret with in 5th-6th grade, but we haven’t played together since grade school.

If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything different when you first started gaming?  

Maybe if I hadn’t been such a TSR-exclusive fanboy, I would have gotten to play some other great games.  I vaguely knew that there were other game companies out there, but with the exceptions of Car Wars and Twilight: 2000 — one I played and one I wanted to play but never did — I wasn’t interested in their products because somewhere along the line I picked up the notion that “TSR is the best.”  I even turned my nose up at games based on properties I loved at the time, such as Victory Games’ James Bond 007 or WEG Star Wars.  (Later of course I would learn the error of my ways…)

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #23: D&D song

First song that comes to mind that you associate with D&D.  Why?

King Crimson – “The Court of the Crimson King”

Peter Sinfield’s lyrical imagery in this tune is so deliciously fantastic, cryptic, and esoteric, almost as if it were intended to be a font of RPG inspiration. It has been a lyric which has sparked my imagination in different ways over the years, each time focusing on a couplet here, a verse there, perhaps even a single image.

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #22: First D&D novel

First D&D novel you read.

The first D&D book I read was Dungeon of Dread (Endless Quest #1) but since this question specifically asks about novels, we’ll just disregard this and all the other TSR gamebooks I read in elementary school…  The first D&D novel I ever read was The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore, which I found on a spinner rack in my high school library sometime in 1992-93.  I really liked it, and subsequently tracked down the two other volumes in the trilogy.  I never caught the Drizzt-fever and was thankfully never left shaking with a desire to play an outcast, good-aligned, dual-scimitar-wielding Dark Elf Ranger.  I will confess that one of the most annoying PCs I ever had to DM was an unholy combination of Drizzt (renegade Drow) and Raistlin Majere (brooding wizard) from the Dragonlance series…

As an aside — the first D&D novel I wanted to read was the original Dragonlance Chronicles, purely on the basis of the Elmore covers which as a kid I thought were among the coolest covers I had ever seen.  I didn’t actually read the Chronicles until I was in college, and when I did I was completely underwhelmed by them — probably because I had built up the awesomeness so high in my mind as a kid…  (“How can a book with a cover this cool not be awesome?”)

The Icewind Dale Trilogy and Dragonlance Chronicles are the only officially-licensed D&D novels* I can remember reading, and will likely remain so.  Nowadays I generally avoid RPG/video game/movie-related novels like the plague, although I confess to being intrigued by the recent run of Delta Green story collections…

*Not included are Andre Norton’s Quag Keep (the “first D&D novel”) or contemporary fantasy works based on the author’s D&D campaigns/characters, such as Feist’s Riftwar series.

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #21: First time selling

First time you sold some of your D&D books — for whatever reason

The first time I sold any gaming books was when I was an undergrad at UCSB — not to buy food, beer, weed, textbooks, or other school supplies, but other gaming stuff.  My copies of the 2e core books (“2.5”-era) and 2nd edition Forgotten Realms box were gathering dust on a shelf, so I ended up taking them to Metro Comics in downtown Santa Barbara, which at the time (~1997-98) had quite a selection of used RPG materials.  I can’t recall exactly what I traded for, since I was a pretty regular customer there — given my interests at the time, it would most likely have been stuff for 1e, Gamma World, or Call of Cthulhu (which I really dug, but sadly my group wasn’t interested in playing…)

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #20: First non-D&D RPG

First non-D&D RPG you played?

My friends and I started playing Star Frontiers sometime in the spring/summer of 1984.  I don’t recall who was the first to get hold of the game materials — a couple friends had Alpha Dawn and I had the Knight Hawks expansion (which we didn’t use nearly as often) — but once we had them, D&D was pretty much jettisoned out the airlock in favor of sci-fi adventure.  I recall that our PC group was evenly split between Yazirians and Dralasites.  My buddy MM and I were staunchly pro-Dralasite, and our group had a houserule that allowed Dralasites a limited shapeshifting ability a la Gleep and Gloop from the Herculoids cartoon.

We played the heck out of Star Frontiers for probably a year or so.  Once I got my hands on the Top Secret boxed set (Christmas 1985), we shifted gears again and pretty much just played that (with some side forays into Car Wars and, to a lesser extent, Gamma World) for the next few years.

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop #19: Annoying Gamer

First gamer who just annoyed the hell out of you?

I can’t say I’ve ever played with someone who consistently annoyed me — what would be the point?

We all have annoying traits, and I’ve played with plenty of gamers who said/did annoying things at one time or another.  There were a couple people over the years (no names, they were dear friends and otherwise nice and fun people) who came close to being consistently annoying in games due to their munchkinistic tendencies, but thankfully never to the point of “they go or I go.”