Cleric Spell Progression — UPDATE

A while back I wrote about how I dislike the B/X spell progression for clerics. However, though I remain unconvinced that it really makes sense, I have decided that this is yet another thing that is not worth deviating from by-the-book RAW. So my KAOSE oldschool game will stick to the rules. Third AND fourth level spells at 6th level.

Despite my first-ever D&D character in 1982 being a cleric, I am entering something like year 37 of non-stop aggravation over the way the class is written. You’d think I’d eventually get over it, wouldn’t you?

Meanwhile, I’m currently running a cleric-centric campaign and these overpowered jackwagons with too-low XP requirements are running around all over the place. And my son’s character is getting close to 6th level, which is when the spell progression shenanigans begin.

It’s a good thing it’s some of the best D&D I’ve played in decades. Otherwise I’d have second thoughts about it.

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Beyond the Pale

Confession time: I like ascending armor class.

And as long as we’re baring our souls regardless of consequences here, another confession: I use ascending AC in my oldschool game.

As far as I can tell, ascending AC is the only thing that gets the THAC0 people and the attack matrix people to put aside their differences and join forces….

“There’s no pitchfork on the weapons list.”
“Just use trident?”
“No trident, either. I play B/X.”
“This is oldschool, dammit. Make something up.”
“1d6+1 damage?”
“Sure. Sounds good. Whatever.”
“We got them out because someone’s using ascending AC.”
“Maybe 1d8+1 would be better.”

Oldschoolers, somewhere, probably


“Kilgore, I’m going to cut your heart out with a +3 spoon!”

“Then it begins!” [Kilgore exits; AC changes from 3 to 16.]

“Why a spoon, cousin? Why not an Axe of the Dwarvish Lords?”

“Because it’s DULL, you twit. It’ll hurt more.”

Right now, I’m guessing, if anyone reads this

Anyway, I actually did use ascending AC in a Swords & Wizardry game in about 2009. I liked the idea then and thought I’d use it for a while in that game to try it out. But that campaign petered out after 3 or 4 sessions and I didn’t give AAC another go until last summer as a player in 5e. A few months back, I started using it on my end in a B/X game and now am making it official.

Unlike a lot of AAC supporters who insist that they can’t do the math that THAC0 requires or think that looking at a number on a sheet is too difficult and time-consuming, I see no issues at all with regular descending AC. It works just fine and is not an impediment to play. Obviously, it’s not a big issue, seeing as how I’ve gamed perfectly fine with it for close to four decades. But AAC with attack bonus is an elegant and, I believe, slightly superior method that I’m not going to dismiss just because Gary didn’t do it that way.

I’ve also got a few other newschoolisms that I like and am using (at least on a trial basis) in my KAOSE (Kilgore’s Advanced Old-School Essentials) game. Cantrips, faster healing, death saves, and ability score increases are among them. Some of them are directly from 5e with tweaks to make them fit, some of them are older ideas I’ve used for many years that are similar to things in newer editions. Oldschool games shouldn’t reject ideas from newer editions any more than newschool games should reject ideas from older editions.

So go break out your pitchforks, folks. Just remember to get your torches from the 1e AD&D equipment list because they illuminate a 40′ radius rather than the 30′ radius from B/X torches.

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KAOSE Reigns

Though the posting here has been zip, my D&D games are still zipping along pretty well. Kilgore is currently:

  1. Dungeon mastering an oldschool B/X campaign online which has more than 30 sessions in the past 11 months. This is a 1-player game with my son and it’s some of the best D&D I’ve played since the 1980s. We have both wanted to run this cleric-centric campaign for about a decade, and though we should have started it in 2012 instead of 2020, it is as awesome as I’d hoped it would be.
  2. Dungeon mastering a 5e game that recently shifted from B/X after ~20 sessions…sometimes this game is online and sometimes it’s in person. This is my longest-running campaign, but play is sporadic.
  3. Dungeon mastering an online 5e game through the Essentials Kit module Dragon of Icespire Peak. This game includes my nephew, who seems to be starting to really get into it. It also includes my brother, who the majority of my gaming in the 80s and early 90s included.
  4. Dungeon mastering a different 5e group in-person through Dragon of Icespire Peak. This game has had the most roleplay and the most laughable moments of any game I’ve run in a long, long time.
  5. Playing in a monthly in-person 5e game. This is exciting for me and I’d forgotten how easy it is to be a player when you’re not DMing. I do struggle a bit when rules and rulings don’t go the way I think they should, but I’m working hard to bite my tongue when that happens.
  6. Playing in a roughly-monthly online 5e game. I’m playing a bard in this one. I’ve literally never played a bard before in my life. Again, despite my love for DMing, it’s fun “prepping” for a session by making sure you have your character sheet…Yep, there it is. I’m ready. My brother is also in this game, and it’s the first time we’ve both been players in the same game since the mid-80s.

Last week, I was informally invited to join another 5e game as a player, though I’m waiting to see what really happens there. The DM of that game also expressed interest in me running a 5e game for him and some friends who have never played before. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, and even if it does there’s no telling whether it’s a one-shot intro or the start of something more. Either way, it’s turning into more D&D than Kilgore can shake a +2 sword at.

In the past year I’ve played more D&D than I’d played in the previous ten years, probably. In addition to all of the actual playing, I’ve spent a ton of time preparing to run the games I’m DMing and spending a ton of time learning 5e, including a lot of solo practice encounters which have turned out to be a lot more fun than I’d have expected.

Personally, despite 5 of my 6 current games being 5e and me enjoying the heck out of it, I’m STILL not totally sold on the system in general. In Kilgore’s opinion, it’s SO CLOSE in most ways but really misses the boat in a few others, and despite rather significant investments of time and money into it, I’m curious to see what the long term will bring.

Meanwhile, I’ve made some adjustments to my (only) oldschool game, namely a shift from the 1981 B/X rules to the Old-School Essentials rules. Since OSE is an almost perfect replica of B/X, that’s obviously not much of a leap. But the arrival of the complete Advanced Fantasy rules has convinced me to take the current lull in oldschool games to take the much bigger leap to “Advanced” play with race plus class. Honestly, I have grown tired of tinkering with things to create the game I want and have decided to officially switch to pretty-BTB Advanced OSE using separate race and class. I am jettisoning a lot of house rules but keeping a few. Once we have them more formalized I will post more about them.

I’ve come to start calling my oldschool game Kilgore’s Advanced Old-School Essentials, or KAOSE (pronounced kay-oss).

Oh, stop looking at me like that. Just let me have my fun.

The only thing that’s really missing is Traveller. I haven’t played any Traveller in over a year now, and though I’m looking at getting an online game set up, it’s definitely taking a back seat to all the D&D. Hopefully, I can put something together soon and get it off the ground.

EDIT: I should also add that something else I’ve wanted to play a bit of is the 1st edition DC Heroes. I always found that game to be a TON of fun, but other than a few sessions with my son when he was young, I haven’t played since the 1980s. I wouldn’t mind giving it a bit of a go if the opportunity came up.

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Residents of the No-Go Urban Zone

Working on a project that has long been on my mind. Now I’m planning to give it the 5E treatment. The map isn’t perfect but it’s the best version I’ve created and I think I’m going to go with it.

I’ve been playing some 5E and one of my B/X games is still humming along each week. For all of the trouble, 2020 has been the year of more D&D since the early 90s for me.


Here is the latest with a bit of the bloat fixed and alleyways put in. Plus a 5′ grid.

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Failed a Save vs. Newschool

This afternoon, I will be violating the principles of my alignment (Neutral Oldschool) and participating in a Fifth Edition D&D game. Exciting to me is the fact that I will be a PLAYER, not a Dungeon Master. I am pretty sure that I have not been a PLAYER in a game of D&D since 1989 or 1990. I’m a little apprehensive, actually.

I’ve written before about my initial reading of the 5E Stranger Things Starter Set and how I was pleasantly surprised by it, but I haven’t mentioned how I picked up the 5E Player’s Handbook when I got invited to play with a group a friend games with. The PHB seems fine, and I’m sure that I will make plenty of use of it, but it is quite a monster. After the introductory sections (which I liked) I’ve basically been saying “Oh, for fuck’s sake” every four or five minutes as I slog through the races and classes and character creation. My impression was that this was the core game, the options added in the early years, and the mid-life Unearthed Arcana-type expansions all jammed into the PHB. Way too much stuff, and way too much depth for the too many things. Even the free PDF of Basic Rules seemed pretty excessive. I had honestly reached the point of “Well, I said I’d play and I guess I should at least check it out one time,” but I was expecting that it might be a one-and-done for me and 5E.


What I’d skipped over due to timing and the fact that I’ve been playing B/X two or three days a week lately is the Essentials Set. I’d bought it but not even opened it, then dove into the PHB because the session was getting close.

I wish I’d started with the Essentials Set. As a player who knows these sorts of games, I’d personally say that the Starter Set should really be called the “Introductory Set” and the Essentials Set should really be called “Starter Set” or “Basic Set.”

The Starter Set(s) use pre-generated characters and include only the spells and monsters used by those characters or in the included introductory adventure. The classes and races are described on the included character sheets, and there is no character generation included in the set at all. The Essentials Set is a stripped-down full game, with basic classes and a few of the options for each of them in a 64-page book plus an introductory adventure. The spell list is likewise limited, as are the monsters and magic items, but it appears that the Essentials Set is a full game that could provide a fair amount of gaming, similar to B/X’s or Mentzer’s Basic book.

I’m really looking forward to playing for a change. I love DMing and I love B/X but this is a great way for me to broaden my horizons a bit. Plus I think it will be a lot of fun to just relax a bit and run a single character for a session. Plus, I’m making a point to use my veteran purple dice from the mid-80s. Adventure awaits.

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Clerical Spell Progression

I’ve never been a fan of the spell progression for B/X clerics. They gain 3rd AND 4th-level spells when they reach 6th level, and then they gain 5th-level spells a level later. I’ve generally just gone with the spell progression from Mentzer BECMI, but that isn’t quite right, either, since it’s built for longer growth and includes spells higher than B/X’s limit of 5th-level clerical magic. So, in my endless quest to “fix” the cleric class, I now use the following:

Kilgore’s Clerical Spell Progression

I am aware that some (or many?) claim that what I call “wonky” is, in fact, part of the “charm” of oldschool D&D. Though I am fully prepared to overlook a fair amount of stuff–including the Clerics vs. Undead table that I find to be ridiculous–I am not going to stick to BTB on this subject. Though I welcome any explanations about why the rules as written are superior, as I generally find that nothing makes me happier than being convinced that BTB is better. (Fair warning: I’m not going to be easy to sway on this…but I will listen.)

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Almost all of my D&D for the past few months has been online, but I’ve also been doing some testing on the tabletop using a grid and my tokens.

I make these by gluing 1″ cut-outs from Magic: The Gathering cards onto wooden circles. Even though I like them a lot and enjoy the tactical nature of combat on the grid using B/X rules, we don’t use them too often. So it’s fun to break them out and runs some combat simulations.

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Thieves’ Abilities – Easy, Hard, and Very Hard

To state that the thief class is “controversial” in oldschool circles is an understatement. But, despite some reservations, I remain in favor of its inclusion in the game. The B/X thief, however, has what I perceive to be some significant shortcomings, the greatest of which are the low chances of success for the standard thieves’ abilities.

Take the cleric’s ability to turn undead–a definite skill-like ability not unlike the thief skills. The Clerics vs. Undead table starts with decent chances of success, 58% for skeletons, 28% for zombies, and 8% for ghouls. Rates then ramp up very rapidly, with automatic successes arriving at 2nd level. The The Thieves’ Ability table, meanwhile, starts with success rates mostly in the 10% to 20% range and they increase very slowly.

What I’ve done for the past few years is treat the Thieves’ Abilities table numbers as the chances of success in “challenging conditions,” giving a bonus when the conditions aren’t quite so harsh. Basically, the table rates apply to good locks, sophisticated treasure traps, open areas with few hiding spots, etc., while giving better odds when the lock isn’t quite so well-made, the trap isn’t nearly so well-hidden, or the area provides better opportunities to hide.

While I’ve tried various methods over time, the way I’m currently implementing this is to rate each challenge as “easy,” “hard,” or “very hard.” Actually, I also rate them as “very easy,” but generally won’t even require a roll for a “very easy” challenge, since it’s literally very easy.

  • EASY CHALLENGE – Double normal chance success
  • HARD CHALLENGE – Normal chance of success
  • VERY HARD CHALLENGE – Half normal chance of success

This makes it simple to let the thief do some thiefing without trying to explain away thief abilities as some sort of near-magical extraordinary skill. Sure, thieves are really, really good a moving “silently,” and that’s a lot better than sneaking like non-thieves are stuck doing. But it’s not a supernatural ability. High-level thieves might be the Batman, but they aren’t a mystical phantom.

I use the “easy, hard, very hard” scale for a lot of other stuff, too. Like opening or listening at doors. Searching for secret doors. Almost anything. Easy things have double normal success rates. Hard things have normal success rates. Very hard things have half-normal success rates. Very easy things are usually automatically successful.

I remain convinced that thief abilities could and should use 1d12, but I’ve resisted the urge to implement that. So far.

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