Hit Points + Constitution

(Note: The lack of recent posting here is due to the amount of D&D I’ve been getting in lately. I’ve played more in the past six weeks than I have in any 6-week period since the mid-80s. No joke. It’s been amazing. I have a huge backlog of stuff to write about but I’ve been too busy playing and preparing to play to get any of it posted. It’s a wonderful problem to have. I’d apologize for the dearth of blogging, but I’m not sorry at all. Not one tiny bit.)

Like many, I’ve tried various methods to improve survivability in my D&D game, particularly for low-level characters which can be taken out with one or two good hits. I already implement a few things to tip the scales a little more in their favor, most notably 4d6-drop-lowest/arrange-as-desired (which helps increase the characters capability a bit) and giving maximum hit points at first level and re-rolling 1s for hit dice at every subsequent level.

My standard house rule for the past five years has been a combination of a typical “0 hit points is unconscious not dead” and a “save vs. death if below 0.” This has worked out okay, but I’ve never been 100% happy with the results and have been looking at various alternatives all along.

However, I’ve recently been using a new system on a trial basis:

  1. Hit points down to 0 represent fatigue, luck, heroism, and minor injuries
  2. Damage beyond 0 hit points reduces the character’s constitution score
  3. Character can save vs. (reduced) constitution to remain up and active
  4. Must save each time damage is taken with 0 hit points
  5. If constitution is reduced to 0, character is dead (no save)

This is a significant boost to survivability and gives the character a chance to get themselves out of trouble (or even keep fighting) even with no hit points left. It might be too significant, but I’m okay with giving characters the benefit of the doubt. The saves get increasingly harder as the constitution hits accumulate, but that should give most characters the opportunity to bug out before they pass out.

As far as healing goes, characters who haven’t taken any constitution hits recover their hit points with a night of good rest as long as they’re able to eat and drink properly. Characters who have taken constitution damage recover only half of their lost hit points. 1-3 constitution points can be healed per day of complete rest. Healing magic affects constitution before hit points.

Initial results have been good. I’ll stick with it for a while before deciding for sure.

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Flaming Oil

From the 1994 Classic D&D rules:

Oil is carried in glass flasks. It is often thrown at monsters (on one round), then lit (on the following round) to cause 1d8 points of damage. Before the oil is effective, however, a successful hit roll must be made against the target to break the flask on the monster. Then a character wielding a torch (or some other flame) must make a separate hit roll to light the oil. This hit roll is made against AC 9 (plus or minus cover modifiers) instead of the creature‘s normal AC, however, since all the attacker is trying to do is touch the torch to the oil.

1994 Classic D&D, page 44

I’ve generally seen oil used more like a Molotov cocktail, with a fuse of some sort lit and the flask hurled grenade-like at the monsters. Not always–in fact a player used a torch to light previously-thrown oil in a game just last week–but it’s definitely the most common usage. I think oil is a bit over-powered, considering that we’re talking about lamp oil, and I’ve house ruled it down in various way over the years. But, as I’ve been trying to stick closer to BTB, I’m back at the 1d8 for two rounds right now.

The 1983 Mentzer rules were similar to 1994, though they refer to AC 10 instead of 9…which is clearly an error. The 1981 B/X rules don’t specify a process or the AC to use when trying to light oil, but they do state “The chance of oil catching fire depends on the situation, and is left for the DM to figure out.

I rule that a character tossing flaming oil takes one round to prepare and light it and one round to hurl it, so the every-other-round attack rate is the same. Of course, two characters could team up, with one lighting oil each round and handing it to the other to hurl, allowing attacks every round. Or unlit oil could be thrown at a monster or onto the ground and a teammate could light it that same round.

Personally, I usually don’t use the AC 9 (or 10!) rule when trying to light oil and use the target’s normal AC, instead. Yes, you’re just trying to get the oil. But just like a “miss” against plate mail armor with a sword could indicate a hit that simply bounces harmlessly off the armor, I rule that armor and dexterity improve a target’s chances of avoiding significant harm from oil.

I’ve always kind of thought that the 1994 rules were a pretty good implementation, and I thought that the five levels covered were potentially a complete game. I know that there were a few things in there that I didn’t particularly care for, but back when I was debating my shift from AD&D to Basic, I considered 1994 before deciding on B/X.

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Stranger Things 2

I’ve been reading through the 5E Stranger Things Starter Set rule book and I have got to admit that it is probably the best-written ruleset I’ve ever encountered. It is well-organized, clear, and concise without being so bare-bones that I’m left with a lot of questions. I am sure that a million things are being left out of the introductory rules intended for new gamers, of course, but I am very impressed with it so far.

I am also more than a bit surprised to discover that I am rather enjoying the read-through and am respecting the rules a lot more than I expected. No, it’s not exactly the game that I would most want to play, but neither is it the bloated monstrosity that I feared it would be. Again, I am sure that at least some of this is due to the introductory nature of this starter rule book and that had I dove in with the core Player’s Handbook that I’d be ranting about a lot of newschool crap right now, instead.

I am not sure, but I suspect that this Stranger Things edition of the Starter Set uses the same text and rules as the normal 5E Starter Set and simply adds Stranger Things dressing. I am not sure, but nothing Stranger Things-related has actually been mentioned in the rules. I do know that the included adventure is a Stranger Things-themed adventure instead of the regular Starter Set adventure.

One of my goals here is to understand current newschool ideas a bit better and be able to see exactly how and where they differ from my preferred oldschool games. Another goal is to be able to actually play a game of 5E. Finally, I have been working on some additions to my B/X game, several of which I understand are similar to the ways that 5E does some things, and I want to be sure that what I’m doing is the best it can be done for my game. I’m not at all above taking ideas from other games and incorporating them into mine, even if those ideas come from newer games that many oldschoolers love to bash.

I am not shocked at all to find the 5E rules interesting and to see some good ideas. I am a bit shocked, though, at how much I am actually enjoying the reading.

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Stranger Things

Though I remain totally committed to my B/X game–which runs mostly BTB though I’ve been contemplating some additions lately–I have been spending a lot of time exploring variations on the game. One that I’ve been really enjoying is the Microlite81 take, and it’s been so intriguing that my follow-up posts on the topic have been delayed while I dig deeper. But I’ve also finally decided to take an even larger leap…

I got myself a 5E ruleset(!).

I’ve looked at this many, many times over the past few years. And several gamers I know have been strongly encouraging me to check 5E out. But I’ve resisted for a lot of reasons. Until now.


The standard Starter Sets seemed unavailable for some reason, but this Stranger Things special edition was available so I decided to at least give it a look. It arrived today, but I have not had a chance to do more than give it a glance so far. I certainly don’t anticipate shifting over to 5E (at all!), but I intend to keep an open mind about it. If that means I might dip my toes into the newschool of D&D on a trial basis, so be it.

I recognize that this will cost me oldschooler cred. Oh, well. I think I’ll manage.

(For the record, I’ve played more B/X in the past month than I played in the previous year. And I expect a lot more in the next couple of weeks, for sure. The oldschool game is humming along better than it has in a decade, to be honest.)

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Online Progress!

After spending a few weeks enamored with Roll20’s dynamic lighting and a lot of the virtual bells and whistles, then a couple more weeks plowing a ton of time into getting my adventures digitized for online play, I finally came to the conclusion that–for my games–the bells and whistles are more noise than signal. I have abandoned the dynamic lighting and video game-like token movement on the grid and returned to a more-abstract approach. This shift has been a largely positive one, with me managing to play more D&D in the past couple of weeks than I have in any 2-week period for probably any time in the 21st century.

Here’s how we’re currently playing it:

  • Video and voice chat using MS Teams
  • Maps and other session content (like images) on Roll20’s virtual tabletop
  • All player and almost all DM dice rolls on Roll20
  • DM’s “behind the screen” rolls for some checks on my desk with my dice
  • DM reveals the dungeon map as players progress, similar to how the in-person player’s map gets drawn as the DM describes the corridors and rooms
  • Everyone has their own paper character sheets and other notes
  • XP, treasure splitting, rumors, news, leveling up, and other activity that can occur “in town” is handled via text chatting between gaming sessions

We have had great results so far, and I imagine that our online game will continue to evolve. I’ve long wanted to get a regular online game going, but it took a pandemic and a stay-at-home order to motivate me to learn how.

So far my sessions have been small with people I play with regularly, only family so far. The next steps will be to A) enlarge the number of players at once and B) possibly expand to new players (Gasp!).

Though I remain impressed with the vibe the lighting system in Roll20 brings, and will continue to explore ways to incorporate virtual bells and whistles into my game, the reduced workload of prepping an adventure and the streamlined play of “theatre of the mind” has really boosted things for us and I look forward to expanding the circle.

ALSO: I’m looking at ways to use Roll20 for some other games, including the Traveller starship combat game Mayday. I can very much envision this pumping up my Science-Fiction Adventure in the Far Future.

Another thing I’m thinking about is Panzerblitz. It seems to me that you could use Roll20 to do a lot of great things with a tabletop wargame like that. But I’m focused on D&D right now and the Eastern Front might have to wait.

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Archer Class for B/X

Though I’ve long resisted the temptation, I’ve finally given in and am going to try an archer class for B/X D&D. I have been trying to stick to BTB as much as possible, even dialing back some of my longstanding houserules in order to remain as closer to rules as written. While the standard fighter is perfectly capable with missile weapons and a player is obviously free to choose to use bows instead of swords, the fighter’s prime requisite of Strength (and the potential XP modifier) has always bothered me. One option would be to allow a fighter’s player the option of choosing Dexterity instead of Strength for prime requisite, of course. But back in the olden days my brother had an archer class and I decided that I’d write one up and give it a shot on a trial basis in my B/X game.

This archer class is basically a fighter with d6 hit dice that can’t wear plate mail or use shields or heavy two-handed melee weapons and has a prime requisite of Dexterity instead of Strength. There are no fancy missile bonuses or extraordinary abilities, so the XP requirements are lower than for a standard fighter. The goal is to have an archer fighter-type that is uncomplicated and quick.

Also, I have made the class available to elves. Firstly, this is an obvious choice, as elves have long been portrayed as archers in fiction. Secondly, despite B/X’s “race-as-class” approach to demi-humans, I’ve always described dwarves as “dwarven fighters,” halflings as “halfling fighters,” and elves as “multi-classed elven fighter/magic-users.” So, similar to how dwarf-classed characters pay a 200 base XP penalty compared to fighters, I’m applying a 200 base XP penalty for elven archers compared to human archers.

Does this mean that I will allow other class selections for demi-humans? No. Not right now.

Anyway, we’ll give this class a spin for a while and see how it goes. If anyone needs an archer class in their game and gives this a try, please let me know how it goes.

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Microlite81 (Part 1: Just the Essentials)

So far during the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders I’ve crash-coursed Roll20.net, spent a lot of time developing adventures for it, started some online B/X games, and worked quite a bit on some of my potential rules variants. In addition, I’ve bought a number of game-related things I’ve wanted, mostly in PDF, and printed and bound a few of them with all my extra time.

Microlite81 Digest Edition

One of the things I’ve wanted to look at for a quite a while are the Microlite rules. I remember looking at them years ago (when I think they were relatively new) and being impressed with them despite their D20 basis. I liked the boiled-down basic approach and the lightweight rules despite the newschool chassis to the whole thing, similar to how I was intrigued by the Dungeonslayers rules around the same time. I’ve looked up the Microlite system a few times over the years but have been put off by the plethora of systems and variants of each system. While I appreciate the effort to make a wide range of options available, it’s a lot to digest when thinking about diving in.

During the quarantine, RetroRoleplaying has made a Microlite bundle of basically everything available on DriveThruRPG for $24.98, and when our lockdown got extended a few weeks ago I pulled the trigger. I’m glad I did.

The goal of the oldschool Microlite games is to “recreate the style and feel of that very first fantasy role-playing game published back in 1974 without giving up all of the clearer mechanics of modern D20-based versions.” I recognize that many old-timers might scoff at the idea of using newer mechanics for older-style games, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with newer mechanics. Even if you prefer the older ones (like I do).

It’s taken some time, but I think I’ve got the basics down: Microlite20 is the rules-light game built on the D20 foundation, and the various lines I’m interested in are oldschool-styled games built on Microlite20:

  • Microlite20 – Newschool rules-light D20 (68 pages in “Comprehensive” form)
  • Microlite74 – Oldschool rules-light D20 game based on Original D&D (20, 28, or 32 pages)
  • Microlite75 – Oldschool rules-light D20 OD&D using more original-ish XP and advancement than Microlite74’s D20-style system (38, 56, or 90 pages)
  • Microlite78 – Oldschool rules-light D20 game based on 1e AD&D (158 pages)
  • Microlite81 – Oldschool rules-light D20 game based on 1981 B/X Basic/Expert D&D (46, 60, or 128 pages)
  • Microlite81 Advanced – Oldschool rules-light D20 game based on B/X D&D with classes, spells, monsters, and magic items from AD&D (206 pages)

Those page counts are accurate, with multiple numbers for some of the games representing various versions of that game. For instance, Microlite74 has three regular versions: barebones Basic (20 pages) representing the material in the three original books, expanded Standard (28 pages) incorporating material from supplements and magazines, and enhanced Extended (32 pages) with additional material and house rules. All are complete games with characters, spells, rules, monsters, and treasures, though in some of the versions spells and monsters get only a line or two, each.

It’s amazing how much material can be crammed into so few pages when you boil it down to the bare essentials and assume that the players already know what RPGs are and how to play them. (Using a small font doesn’t hurt, either.)

In addition to the Microlite game lines summarized above, there are additional “specialty”-style versions, including a Swords & Sorcery version of Microlite74 and a version that uses only d6s. Also, a number of the games are available in digest-sized editions and even .epub and .mobi for ereaders.

That plethora of games can be daunting, but it also means that the right combination of elements you’re looking for could be already there on the list.

There are a few other games included in the DriveThruPRG bundle, including the game that got me searching DTRPG in the first place: BX Advanced. Unlike the Microlite lines, which are not intended to be a clone of the old rules, but rather a conversion of them to a rules-lite D20-based system that encourages old-school play without strictly old-school rules, BX Advanced is more of a traditional retro-clone, recreating a 1e AD&D game built on a B/X chassis.

Many of these games are available for free or Pay-What-You-Want, so it’s quick and easy to grab one or two to check out. Just be careful…you might end up getting sucked in. And if anyone out there is a Microlite junkie, don’t be shy about pointing out errors in my descriptions…I’m still struggling to take it all in and grasp the exact details.

NEXT: The Microlite81 line in more detail. Four versions of B/X on a D20 engine, with a lot of bells and whistle options.

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5X B/X

While I have come to prefer my comb-bound copy of B/X PDFs for play, I still have a bit of a thing about adding some of the real thing when I can find a good deal on some in good shape.

1981 Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons (B/X)
Excessive B/X

Got a couple pairs for table use and a few better-condition pairs bagged for now.

I thought that I had a first printing of Expert but no. So I still have something to shoot for. I also have a Basic that is not hole-punched. I had not seen one before. Was that sold separately instead of in the boxed set?

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