Things have been pretty quiet for a long time on Kilgore’s game front. Oh, I’ve spent time looking over rules and browsing things daydreaming about games, but actual play sessions have been few and far between. But my daughter continues to be interested and we fired up a new game a few weeks ago. Three sessions in and some good adventure have convinced us to make another go of it, and hopefully we can stay on track until the campaign gets a life of its own.
We started out with 1e AD&D, but I’ve made the decision to shift over to B/X. Despite the nostalgia for 1e and my love of those books, my desire to stick close to BTB and our hope for a quick, easy-playing game with the focus on adventure and fun and less worry about rules and details has convinced me to go all 1981 Basic/Expert. I will freely import monsters and magic from 1e as desired, of course, but I continue to believe that B/X is the best-ever edition of the game and sometimes wish that I’d played it back in the day instead of 1e. Our 1e game played more like B/X than 1e, anyway.
Despite my plan to stick close to the rules as written, however, I cannot help but tweak a few things. First of all, even though I think the B/X rules are the best version, I don’t think they’re perfect. And I have my own sense of the type of game I want to run and how my campaign world looks. I want a little more gritty sword-and-sorcery and a little less high fantasy. Everyone is an “adventurer” first and a specialist second. Plus, with limited playing time and a very limited pool of players, no one is really interested in the long low-level grind. So:
Kilgore’s B/X House Rules
- 4d6 six times, arrange as desired, no point trading
- PCs begin at 3rd level
- Re-roll 1s on hit points
- Custom XP system that uses listed XP to level but dispenses with XP tracking
- Thieves have d6 hit dice and can use a shield
- Magic-users can wear leather armor and can use staff, sling, and club in addition to dagger
- Clerics use the 1983 Mentzer spell progression but don’t get 6th-level spells
- Clerics turn undead as two levels lower on the table
- 2-handed weapons do NOT automatically strike last
- Binding wounds hit point recovery after each combat
There will be some other various minor tweaks. The goal is to have a fast, fun game where combat is quick and deadly but not quite as risky as written. XP accumulation will not depend on killing monsters or accumulating mountains of treasure. I will be putting together Basic versions of some additional classes as needed. Initially, at least, all PCs will be human. Demi-humans exist, but they’re not quite they typical D&D demi-humans. Elves, in particular, are getting a significant makeover.
I want to put the dragons back into Dungeons & Dragons, so I’m working out a method that is sort of similar to the AD&D age system to allow a wide range of dragons to present challenges for a wide range of adventuring parties. I’ll probably write a little about the dragons (and the custom XP system) at some point if the game keeps going and I keep blogging.
Also, druids are not your typical friendly animal-loving defenders of nature. If you aren’t at least a little afraid of druids (and rangers, for that matter), you probably haven’t met any yet. Between the re-worked elves, druids, and rangers, it’s possible that orcs, undead, and dragons may be the least of your problems out in the Wild.
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 1
Move: 120′ (40′)
Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: 1-6 or weapon
No. Appearing: 2-8 (10-60)
Save As: Ftr-1
Treasure Type: D
Orcs are ugly human-like creatures who look like a combination of animal and man. Orcs are nocturnal (usually sleeping in the day and active at night or in the dark), and prefer to live underground. When fighting in daylight, they must subtract 1 from their “to hit” rolls. They have bad tempers and do not like other living things; they will often kill something for their own amusement. They are afraid of anything which looks larger and stronger than they are, but may be forced to fight by their leaders.
Orc leaders gain their positions by fighting and defeating (or killing) the others. One member of any group of orcs will be a leader with 8 hit points who gains a bonus of + 1 on damage rolls. If this “leader” is killed, the morale of the group becomes 6 instead of 8.
Orcs may often be hired at low cost as soldiers, and are often used for armies by Chaotic leaders (both humans and monsters). The orcs are satisfied by being allowed to kill and burn as much as they want. Orcs prefer swords, spears, axes, and clubs for weapons. They will not use mechanical weapons (such as catapults), as only their leaders understand how to operate them.
There are many different tribes of orcs. Members of different tribes are not usually friendly with each other, and may start fighting unless their leaders are present. An orc lair has only one tribe. Each tribe will have as many female orcs as males, and 2 children (“whelps”) for each 2 adults. The leader of an orc tribe is a chieftain who has 15 hit points, attacks as a 4 hit dice monster, and gains + 2 on damage rolls. For every 20 orcs in a tribe, there may be an ogre with them (a 1 in 6 chance). (If the D&D EXPERT rules are used, there is a 1 in 10 chance of a troll living in the lair as well.)
So the other morning at breakfast I was telling my kids a story about a D&D session from way back in the day. My daughter asked, “Why don’t we play that anymore?”
I went into the usual blah blah blah about not enough time and how her brother didn’t seem to like it as much and how our plans for a regular group fell through and so on. It all made perfect sense and was totally correct.
Then she said, “But you have so many great stories about your old adventures. I wish we had some great stories like that from our games.”
How do you say “no” to that? I mean, seriously?
So we’re going to dust off the books and get back at it. A little, anyway. Probably a very unorganized and loose campaign. Maybe not even a real “campaign” in the typical sense. We’ll have to see. At this point the key is to get back to playing regularly. We’re going to stick with 1e AD&D. PHB, DMG, and MM only.
I’ve been pretty much out of touch with the blogs and boards since spring. I’ll be trying to get back into the swing a bit and will probably do a little posting here. We’ll see.
Lead ‘graph from In Defense of Dungeons & Dragons:
A D&D session probably calls to mind the following: a group of overweight, awkward men who have no social lives. They spend weeks locked in a parent’s basement, blissfully unaware of reality.
As stupid as that is, it’s completely true. That it’s the stereotype, that is.
Anyway, the article is a little rough around the edges and the comments are, for the most part, even rougher.
Yesterday I noted that I’m planning on making dragons a lot more common in our AD&D game than I’ve made them in the past (read: virtually unused) and how having uberpowerful “name” dragons doesn’t have to mean that all dragons are uberpowerful.
While I’m basically onboard with dragons as they’re written in the AD&D Monster Manual, one thing that’s always bugged me a bit is the fact that the damage from their claw/claw/bite routine is the same across all age brackets and sizes. Regardless of what power level you want your dragons to be, the idea that a monster with very specific age and size categories causes the same melee damage regardless of category is more than a little disappointing.
I’m not the only one to be bugged a bit by this, of course, and an article called ‘Dragon Damage Revised’ in Dragon Magazine #98 by Leonard Carpenter had a very good and detailed system to fix it. Each dragon was given three sets of damage numbers for each of three age ranges, and this was further expanded to cover each of the three size categories for a total of nine sets of claw/claw/bite per dragon. I intended to use the numbers from the article in play, but I’m not sure that I ever actually did due to the extreme rarity of dragons in my campaigns.
However, I’ve long since embraced the “less is more” approach to gaming, and, even though it’s not easy to reconcile this viewpoint with my decision to go with AD&D, I’m trying to keep my tinkering and optional rules to a minimum. When I do make a change, I try to keep it as simple as possible.
So here’s how I’m going to handle dragon damage. The goal is to tone down the bite damage at the immature age (below Adult) brackets while tweaking up the claw damage in the mature age brackets. If the amount of adjustment between the two was about equal, I would have just as happily left them both alone and called it even. However, after spending some time playing with the numbers I decided that it was worth making tweaks to each.
So here is what I’m planning to do:
A couple of notes:
First, notice that in addition to the adjustments for age there is an adjustment for huge-sized dragons. It’s not a lot, but it’s a little bit of a kicker for the biggest of the dragons besides the extra HD and associated increase to breath weapon damage.
Secondly, it looks like the young adult category could easily have a small positive modifier for claws and a small negative modifier for the bite. In fact, when I finally settled on my numbers there was a +1 per claw attack and a -2 per bite. However, the minimalist in me pointed out that two +1s and one -2 pretty much cancel each other out, so I dropped both.
If I really want to differentiate while sticking to this minimal table, I could round the half damage bites down for very young dragons and up for young. But the point is to get dragon damage to be a little more reasonable without jacking anything up or requiring a lot of external look-ups. This could easily be penciled into the MM next to the age categories.
I’ve rarely seen dragons used, either as a player or as DM, and I think that’s a shame. From what I see online, it appears that many players have had similar experiences. A lot of it, I think, has to do with how they’ve been pumped up over the years into truly horrendous monsters who can wipe out everyone before you can say “TPK.” And this pumping up has a lot to do with how they’re portrayed in literature and film as the biggest, baddest monsters around.
No one wants Smaug to be killed by a party of well-equipped mid-level adventurers, of course, as a huge ancient red dragon could be in 1e. This is part of why, back in the day, I was strongly in favor of pumping up dragons significantly…the first time I ever placed a dragon in a dungeon, it was defeated in a couple of rounds. It was a blue dragon, I fudged hit points and dice rolls to make it tougher, and it was still killed rather quickly with only moderate harm to the party.
But I now believe that, rather than turning all dragons into supermonsters who are a serious threat to even the most powerful adventurers, the solution to the ‘Smaug Problem’ is not to beef up dragons across the board. Rather, it’s to decide that “name” dragons like Smaug and other legendary wyrms are exceptional examples of dragons, with their own special increases or extra abilities, but that most dragons conform to those detailed in the Monster Manual.
Declare Smaug a huge ancient red dragon with extra hit dice, a better AC (remember the gems embedded in his scales?), the ability to use his breath weapon five or six times per day instead of three, and a +2 on all saving throws. Just don’t do it for all huge ancient red dragons, scaling all other dragons upward similarly, because you need a Smaug-like dragon in your game to be a truly fearsome opponent. This will have a couple of benefits.
First, the special “name” dragons will seem a lot more exceptional. Smaug won’t be just an ancient huge red dragon, he’ll be “Smaug” and will have special abilities to go with the name.
Secondly, it will keep non-name dragons normal. And this will allow them to be placed into dungeons and the wilderness much more frequently without killing off every last living thing in a five mile radius. They’re tough, for sure, and at the apex of the predator pyramid. But they won’t throw the entire game out of whack if their numbers are bumped up a bit.
Dragons in the original D&D game were quite weak, even compared to the 1e AD&D versions. And, I’m guessing, not nearly so uncommon as they weren’t the thermonuclear supermonster that they became in later editions.
Who wouldn’t like to see more dragons in the game?
UPDATE: All this said, I do think the claw/claw/bite numbers could stand a little fiddling. I will have a follow-up post on how I’m going to do that.