Monday, September 22, 2014

Happy Hobbit Day 2014

Today is Hobbit Day.  It is the day chosen by the fan community to celebrate the works of Professor Tolkien's Middle-earth cycle.  In the books, September 22nd* (of The Shire Reckoning) is the birthday of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.  It is also the date Bilbo "disappeared" from his 111th birthday party to leave The Shire forever and the date that Frodo left Bag End seventeen years later to begin his quest to destroy the One Ring of Sauron.

My original from 1984.  The cover is almost detached.  This may be the last year I read this copy.

September 22nd also happens to mark the day on which I begin my yearly rereading of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Every year since I first read the books back in 1984 (I was 13 at the time) I have opened The Fellowship of the Ring and accompanied Frodo and his companions on their long journey through Middle-earth.  I don't always complete all three books and I'm sure I have missed a year here and there.  But there can be no doubt that I have read the books at least 25 times over the years...and counting.  I'm so very thankful that I discovered Tolkien's works so very long ago.  For it was Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli, and the others that directly lead to my love of D&D.

So happy Hobbit Day to you all.  Now it's time for me to open my well-read copy of The Fellowship of the Ring and start my journey anew.

* Note: I am well aware of the differences between our calendar and that of The Shire.  September 22nd has been chosen by consensus as the date to celebrate Bilbo and Frodo's birthday rather than the converted date.  I'd rather not debate the merits of September 13th-ish vs. September 22nd.  To me, it's just not that important.  So have a pint, raise your mug, and drink one with me!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Dragon Magazine: Where To Start My Quest?

One of my many stated goals for the year is to read every issue of Dragon magazine.  I'm well on my way to completion, but I ran into a bit of a quandary along the way.  Instead of just reading each one, I'd like to discuss them with the community.  I want to post about certain articles and items that interest me or pertain to this blog.  As I read the older issues however, I noticed that in the early years D&D existed in a form quite different from the version I was familiar with.  I started playing in the Moldvay years.  As a result, elements of the Holmes edition are unfamiliar to me.  And let's not even get started on the original version.  The content during those first years really would not fit well with the topics I choose for this blog.  My dilemma then is:  where do I begin with Dragon magazine?



So my first option would be to start at the very beginning.  Though I have found little in that earliest of issues that resembles the game I used to play, I could learn from the past.  Writing about and discussing articles from way back then might give me a better understanding of where the game came from and how it arrived in its current form today.  The disadvantage would be that it would take many posts before I journeyed into content that I recognize and that fits with the theme of this blog.




The next option would be to start with posts dating back to the beginning of the Moldvay era.  That iconic boxed set was released in January of 1981.  Issue #45 was the first issue published after the release.  Having read it, and subsequent issues, I can say that the content did not change overnight and become more Moldvay-ish. It was a slow transition from those early issues to what I came to later know and love.  I did, however, recognize more of the elements and themes that made up the game I used to play so long ago.  Moldvay was there but not in an overwhelming sense.




Another good starting point would be from the oldest physical issue of Dragon magazine that I own.  My earlier issues are all in electronic form, mainly from the CD compilation that unfortunately has long been out of print.  I obtained this issue from eBay, so beyond being the oldest, and sporting great cover art, this option holds no special advantage over simply starting with issue 45.  After all, there were only two months between the two.  It felt right to include it as an option though.




Option four is to begin with issue 63.  What's so special about this one?  Though I did not own it at the time, this issue dates back to my very first D&D game.  On a warm summer night back in July 1982, I was introduced to the greatest game ever invented.  To say that D&D had a profound effect on my life would be an understatement.  Dragon #63 honors that momentous event.  The advantage of beginning with this issue (beyond the nostalgia) would be that I should be quite familiar with the content of each issue from this point on.




The final option holds a very special place in my heart.  Issue 94 (from February 1985) was the first issue I ever purchased.  I vividly recall the evening I walked into a Waldenbooks and discovered this beautiful magazine sitting on the shelf in the gaming section.  How I had missed discovering Dragon magazine for over two years I will never know.  I was always in the local hobby shop so I know I should have/would have noticed it.  Perhaps fate meant for me to find this particular issue or maybe I just matured enough to notice additional content beyond books and modules.  Either way, this issue remains my favorite to this day (but not my favorite cover art) and therefore deserves inclusion in my list.

So, where should I start?

Though this entire post has been one long-winded question, I would still like to leave readers with additional points to ponder.

*  Do you collect Dragon magazines?

*  What was your first issue?  Do you have any memories associated with it?

*  Though I plan on writing a future post on the subject, do you have a favorite cover?

Thanks as always for reading my blog.  And thanks in advance for your comments and participation!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

This Guy Has Game!!

One of my stated goals for 2014 was to begin playing Dungeons and Dragons again.  Actually, my goal was a bit more lofty than just playing D&D.  I set the bar high by tasking myself with playing games in several different formats:  Moldvay, Mentzer, AD&D, and even 5th Edition.  Since I live on an island I'm fairly isolated from the gaming community. So as an additional goal, playing in a virtual environment was also included (a necessary inclusion, I might add).

Well I'm happy to say that I've been able to knock out not one, but two goals over the last several weeks.  That's right!  This guy has game!  Now bring on them kobolds!



I responded to a Google+ post seeking players for a Moldvay Basic campaign set in the World of Greyhawk.  At first I was a bit worried.  There were a few house rules being added that I felt could possibly change the character of the game.  After speaking with the organizer/DM and being assured that the new rules would not change the overall flavor of the Moldvay set, I agreed to take part.  I'm so glad that I did.  We have been playing every Thursday night over Google Hangouts and the experience has been everything that I had hoped for.  We've had taverns, goblin battles, intrigue, roleplaying, character death, and magic.  I can't even begin to explain the rush of nostalgia I feel when we get together for our sessions.

I'm playing an elf.  I actually dislike playing elves (for reasons that I may explain in another post) but I chose to create one for this campaign for two reasons.  The first reason was based upon my desire to recreate that magic I experienced on that first night back in 1982.  I played an elf that night and I thought it would provide perfect historical symmetry to play one again upon my return to D&D.  The second reason was more of a logistical choice though.  At the time I joined the group, we still did not have a magic-user and were low on fighter types.  Due to the high mortality rate of Moldvay Basic D&D, I did not want to play a regular squishy magic-user.  I thought that by choosing an elf I could provide some much needed magic while still adding some brute force and fire power.  We did gain a true wizard shortly thereafter but by then my decision (and my character) was made.

The campaign is taking place west of Woolly Bay in the foothills of the Abbor Alz.  The DM has heavily modified a commercial adventure and set it in Greyhawk.  I must say that he has done well with his conversion.  His setting fits organically with the original and had I not known otherwise, I would swear that the town of Skogenby had always existed in that location.  It has been fun to have Greyhawk as the background setting.  Though we have not ventured away from our starting area, elements of Greyhawk proper have crept into our game.  For instance, our party recently stumbled upon several ancient texts written in Old Oeridian.  It may sound simple, but for me the inclusion of a Greyhawk language in our session last Thursday opened a floodgate of memories for me.  I can't wait to see what else the world has to offer after my long absence.  Did I mention that I love this game?


The DM's house rules also fit well.  At first I was worried that having multiple house rules would detract from the Moldvay set.  I wanted as pure an experience as I could get for my return.  But after the first session I quickly realized that the rules added by the DM only enhanced Moldvay instead of tainting it.  I'm happy with the additions and may actually steal a few of the new rules when I begin DMing again.  I will list them in a future post if anyone is interested.

Fortunately my character hasn't died yet.  After six game sessions I'm still only first level though (damn that 4,000 XP mark for elves) so my longevity could easily change on any given night.  I'm trying to play intelligently to keep him alive but I can't control fate or the dice.  My elf has been in some sticky situations but so far has come out relatively unscathed.  Wish me luck for tomorrow night's expedition.

I hope readers will forgive me for posting more about this campaign from time to time.  I'm having such a blast that I can't help but want to share my experiences with others.  I wish you could all be there and take part (especially my frequent commenters).

So....two more goals down!  Now I need to find other games so that I can return to the other systems.

I'll close for now, but as always I'd like to leave you with a few questions:

*  Do you prefer "pure" D&D or are house rules the norm?
*  What is the best/favorite house rule you've encountered in your games?
*  How about the worst?
*  Are you aware of any Mentzer, AD&D, or 5th Edition games that are seeking players?

Thanks for you participation and comments.  Most of all, thanks for reading!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Rereading the Moldvay Basic Set - Part 4: The Encounter

Time to get back on track and post another entry from my Moldvay rereading project.  Section 6 covers the encounter and combat phases of the game.  At first I was going to discuss both but before I knew it the entry started getting too long.  As a result, I will cover the first section dealing with the encounter on this post and actual combat on the next.

A word of warning before I begin.  I strongly dislike blogs with too much text.  In my opinion, blogs should be fun and light reading with plenty of photography, art, and illustrations.  Unfortunately the Moldvay manual skimped in the art department for this section.  As a result, my output mostly resembles the very type of blog I do not like to read.  Hopefully the information will keep the reader entertained and hooked long enough to finish the post.  I did throw in a few pics here and there to break up the blocks of text but they really have nothing to do with Moldvay.  My apologies in advance.

The chapter is basically broken down into two sections.  The first part deals with the non-combat portion of an encounter while the second details the steps necessary if the encounter evolves into fighting.  I'm sure I didn't DM this way back then (at least until I matured to a certain degree), but I think it's important to note that the first part does not always have to lead to the second part.  In other words, magic, missile fire, and melee are not the ways to solve every encounter.  It took me a while to learn that but once I did, D&D become something more than just a game.  It became a living novel that the young me loved to immerse himself in.

The first section begins by reminding the reader about time.  Ten minutes of in-game time equals one turn.  Therefore six turns equals an hour.  Timekeeping changes dramatically during an encounter however.  Moldvay writes that it's best to envision this period of play as taking place in "slow motion."  Players and the DM represent this slowing of the action by switching from turns to rounds.  Unlike turns where a character can do many things, rounds are usually represented by a character performing only one or two quick actions.

Rounds are ten seconds long each.   It takes six rounds to equal just one minute of in-game play.  A turn then is comprised of sixty rounds.  I don't know about you, but I have never been in combat for that long at once.  That would be a marathon hack and slash session indeed.  Moldvay advises the DM to keep things simple since 99.9% of encounters do not last that long.  The leftover rounds that would equal a new turn can be assumed to take place while the characters catch their breath, bind their wounds, clean blood from weapons, etc..

What I love about this simple yet elegant system is the implied chaos that happens in a short amount of time.  Many encounters are over in six to ten rounds, so if one were to speed up the "slow motion" view, it would become obvious that combat is a vicious chaotic event.  Arrows are launched, magic unleashed, wounds received and monsters and characters fight and die all within a very short amount of time.  Some players criticize the system as unrealistic but I would argue the opposite.  It's the long drawn out fights on TV that are the problem.  Historical references seem to support the short, dirty, brutal fight as the norm.  Moldvay provides us just that sort of combat.  We simply have to remember that we are watching it in slow motion.

Curiously, after describing the differences in time and emphasizing the shorter round, Moldvay goes back to the non-combat encounter and describes the Order of Events in One Game Turn.  This is the list of actions the DM should follow when a party encounters a possible obstacle.  During my upcoming Metzer Basic rereading project it will be interesting to see if the section was laid out a bit more logically than in Moldvay.



Order of Events:

1) Roll for wandering monsters.
     I hated wandering monsters.  As a player I would cringe every time I heard the d6 bounce around on the hardwood table behind the DM screen.  I felt like the DM was out to get us.  We just survived a close fight and were licking our wounds when out of nowhere another monster with a chip on the shoulder arrived.  Damn, there was no rest for the weary back then.
     When I first started DMing, I did away with wandering monsters.  I guess I was influenced by my hatred of them as a player.  But the more I played and the older/more mature I got the more I realized that there is a place in the game for those wandering brutes.  Without wandering monsters the world is no longer a living breathing entity.  It's nothing more than episodic encounters....a story board if you will.  The chance of encountering random beings in the wild or in the dungeon enlivened the situation and brought the game to life.  But....and this is a big but, a good DM doesn't completely rely on random tables.  The creature encountered should have a reason for being there.  For example, if a party is in a dungeon complex that is home to a tribe of goblins, then encountering a monster that is completely out of place can ruin the feeling of immersion that the wandering monster rule tries to create.  Where did those skeletons come from?  Shouldn't the goblins have been aware of that gelatinous cube wandering around their home?



2)  Movement, searches, etc...
     This is self explanatory.  The party describes their intensions for the turn and the DM narrates the outcome of each described action.  A wise party will cover the important tasks first like searching for traps or listening at doors before searching for loot.  If they do not then it's not a question of if, but when ill fortune will strike.

3)  The turn ends if monsters are not encountered.  Every other turn the DM returns to step one and rolls for wandering monsters.  Otherwise he repeats step two.  If monsters are encountered then the DM should determine the number appearing.
     I will get more into number appearing when I go through the monster section of the manual.  For now it's important to note that the roll is not always necessary.  Moldvay reminds us that the design of the dungeon will often dictate how many foes the party is to face.  Also I think it's important to use the same common sense I mentioned in the wandering monster section.  Don't rely completely on the dice to determine the game.  The encounter should make sense in the grand scheme of the adventure. Otherwise the game loses its immersive feeling.

4)  Check for monster distance
     This roll is only necessary if the distance between the party and the potential encounter is unknown.  The very shape of the dungeon determines the distance on most occasions.  The surrounding landscape often plays the same role in wilderness adventures.  When the distance isn't specified or obvious then the DM can roll 2d6 to determine the number of feet separating the party from their potential foes.
     I didn't do it back then but I would certainly take into account the effect of light sources on the encounter distance.  One party may be aware of the other long before by watching the approach of light given off from a burning torch or a lantern.  This should definitely be a factor when determining encounter distances.  I think light sources should also influence the surprise roll.  When I start DMing again I can't wait to try out this mechanic.

5a)  Check for surprise
     The DM should check for surprise for both the party and the monsters.  A roll of a 1 or a 2 on a d6 indicates that one or both sides is surprised.  If both are surprised the mechanic cancels out and events proceed as normal.  The side which suffers a surprise cannot move or act during that round.  Again, a good DM will not rely completely on the dice to determine surprise.  Sometimes the situation will tell the story.  Loud noises, light sources, combat, etc... can alert nearby monsters to a party's presence.  Rolling the dice in such cases makes no sense and removes the consequences of a party's actions. Along the same lines, monsters should be given similar consideration by the DM.

5b)  Roll for initiative
     The die is cast and the side with the highest result goes first.  That means that if the players win initiative then they all get to act before their opponents do.  Unfortunately that also means that if the players lose then they must endure multiple actions before acting.  At lower levels, losing initiative can be a deadly occurrence.
     At first glance, the initiative roll separates Moldvay Basic (and other early sets) apart from later editions.  Rolling a d6 for the entire party probably seems foreign to many modern D&D players.  But upon further reading, Moldvay provides an additional option for initiative that looks very similar to today's system.  The Pair Combat optional rule allows individual initiative to be rolled by each participant rather than by side.  The rule also allows characters to apply their dexterity bonus (if any) to the d6 roll to determine the order of action.  The Moldvay optional system looks almost exactly like modern initiative rules in this instance.  
     One interesting note about initiative in Moldvay:  unless I'm reading it wrong, initiative does differ drastically from modern versions in that initiative covers more than just combat.  Remember that in this post we are discussing only the encounter, and not combat itself (though the system works the same between the two).  The two sides are rolling for initiative for the right to go first in the turn, not the combat round (that will come later).  I find this interesting and wonder a) where the mechanic came from and b) why did it not survive in later versions.
     To be honest, I never realized this fact until my rereading of the text.  Back when I played, the encounter was not structured as Moldvay is suggesting.  It was just played fluidly and story-like.  There wasn't a strict ordering of events until if and when (usually when ha!) combat ensued.  I will have to experiment a bit when I start DMing again to see if it affects the game in any noticeable manner.

6)  Party Action and/or Monster Reaction roll (I have combined steps 6 and 7 on page B23)
     Remember that before combat ever takes place, initiative is rolled to see which side acts first.  The party can obviously decide for themselves what action to take without the need of a die roll.  If it were me nearly thirty years ago the question would not even have to be asked.  Of course I will attack [XYZ] monster with my +[pick a number] [fill in the blank with weapon of choice].  If asked today I could chose to do any number of things such as (gasp!) try to speak to the monsters or even run away.  Obviously if the party goes first and decides to attack then the action switches to the combat round.  If the party does not attack or if the monsters win initiative then the DM should roll for monster reaction.  Yes....another random table.  Once again, a good DM will not rely completely on the roll of the die to determine a reaction.  If the party has been wreaking havoc throughout the goblin's lair then they will probably not offer to form an enthusiastic friendship with the slayers of their kin and family.    But for those times when randomness is desired there is a table on page B24 that should be consulted after rolling 2d6 to determine monster reaction.  The options range anywhere from immediate attack to "let me give you my treasure and show you the secret door."



7)  End of the turn
     At the end of the turn, ten minutes of in-game time will have passed.  At this point Moldvay encourages the DM to check on current party/environmental conditions and perform some record keeping.  Is it time for a rest (one in six turns should be spent resting to avoid penalties), are characters hurt, where is everybody standing/walking, etc...

The encounter section closes with a few rules that are out of place.  I don't have the Metzer rulebook in front of me right now but it will be interesting to see if and how the revision rearranged these items.

Encounter Movement
     We are reminded of the quickness of time when the game switches from turns to rounds.  We are told that the quicker than normal movement cannot be kept up for longer than ten minutes (60 rounds).  Character movement rates during rounds was covered on page B19 but here Moldvay tells the DM how to find monster movement rates.  Dividing the base movement rate (given in turns) by three will yield the encounter movement rate (given in rounds).  Thus a character or monster that has a movement rate 30'/turn could move 10' each round.  I like the simple conversion system and the rates sound about right.  In the limited time I have been playing since returning to the game I have not found an instance where the numbers did not work or seem unrealistic.

Running
     Running did not seem to happen all that often in my groups back in the day.  If we encountered a monster then we fought it until either the monster or our characters died.  Running away was simply not an option.  Lately I have found that running is a great way to survive and at low levels, is almost certainly a necessity at some point.
     Running speed is determined by multiplying the normal movement rate per round by three.  The resulting number is actually quite fast.  Using the encounter movement example above, that character could move at 90' in a single round (ten seconds).  That same character would tire pretty quickly however.  In the Moldvay rules running can only occur for 30 rounds (half a turn or five minutes).  At that point the character must rest for three complete turns (yes, that's thirty minutes) or suffer -2 on their to hit and damage rolls.  To make matters worse, due to the extreme fatigue, opponents would get a +2 on any to hit roles until the full rest period is completed.  Ouch!  Maybe I was smart for not running away back then.



Evasion
     As long as combat has not yet started, characters that wish to avoid an encounter may try to evade.  It's a simple mechanic.  If they are faster than the opponent they wish to evade then it is automatically successful.  If they are slower then the DM has to decide.  Once again 'ye olde random table' is suggested but I would argue that the situation would warrant an intelligent decision on the part of the DM most of the time.  If the decision is truly up in the air then the monster reaction table on B24 can be used.

Pursuit
     If either side wants to chase after the other then the action switches from turns to rounds.  The running mechanic comes into play at this point.  Fortunately, Moldvay states that monsters will chase characters only for as long as they are in sight.  Hopefully the dreaded rest period will be avoided if a quick escape can be accomplished.  To help influence the outcome, characters can try to drop food or items to get their pursuers to lose interest.
     I think the lesson learned here is that if the party is going to run then they had better be able to outdistance their foes pretty quick or else they will still find themselves in a battle but saddled with some crippling penalties.  Unfortunately at low levels, unless evasion is a sure bet, it's almost better to stand and fight.  This is one mechanic in Moldvay that I really dislike now that I'm playing again.  A low level fleeing party should be somehow rewarded for having the foresight to avoid combat with a superior foe or when outnumbered.  Otherwise certain death may be swift to follow.  Looking through the speeds of random monsters, an encumbered character is not likely to get away from too many pursuing enemies.  Sure, one could make the argument that perhaps the character should not be too encumbered and thereby have a high speed value but then that character probably isn't well protected and will suffer from a poor armor class.  This is a sticky wicket indeed.

I'll move on to the heart of the system and cover combat in the next post.  Until then I'd like to close up with a few questions:

1) As a player, what are your thoughts on wandering monsters?  What about as a DM?

2) What do you think of using initiative not only in combat but during the encounter sequence as well?  Were you aware of this mechanic?  Do you know the origins of the system?  Finally, if you do use initiative during the encounter phase, does it affect the game in any significant manner?

3)  How often do you, as a DM, use random tables?

4)  What are your thoughts on running, pursuit, and resting?  Do the rules seem slightly stacked against those that choose to run if they are partially encumbered?

5)  Am I the only one who dislikes text heavy blogs?

I'm looking forward to your answers and comments.  Thanks for your participation.  I've learned so much from interacting with my readers.  And even if you do not post a comment, thanks for just stopping by and reading!



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Hello GenCon 2014! Goodbye GenCon 2014!

One of my stated goals of this blog for the year was to attend GenCon.  While I have attended the show once before back in 2009, I was there mainly for miniatures and wargaming.  With my renewed interest in Dungeons and Dragons and the 40th anniversary of the game, this was to be the year of D&D at GenCon for me.

I received my badge in the mail last week.  My excitement nearly bubbled over as I opened the envelope because it arrived on the very same day as my new D&D Starter Set.  Surely that was no coincidence.  It was an omen that GenCon 2014 was going to be a wonderful experience.


My worthless GenCon badge (altered to protect the innocent)
Well maybe I read the omen wrong.  It looks like GenCon 2014 will not be a wonderful experience after all.  It now seems that I will not be able to go.  I just received a big promotion at work that will probably preclude me from taking the required time off in August.  To say that I'm disappointed would be an understatement.  Don't get me wrong though, the promotion is a big thing.  I'm very appreciative that I was chosen to fill the position.  I just wish that my plans were not affected in such a drastic manner.  I was really looking forward to my trip!

So now my badge is quite worthless.  It will not even make a good souvenir since no awesome gaming memories are attached to it.  The tickets I purchased for multiple gaming sessions and painting seminars are also not worth the paper they are printed on.  In the garbage they go.  Even the nice room I booked at the Springhill Suites will go unused.  I guess I need to call and cancel soon so that some other lucky gamer can get a last minute downtown hotel room.

No gaming for this guy in Indianapolis this year.  Yes, I'm bummed but I'll get over it.


Okay.  So no GenCon this year.  Ive been working hard to meet all of the goals I set for the year when I started this blog but I'll have to concede defeat on this one.  I'm sure my failure will not be held against me by the RPG world.  Ha!  Plus, there is always next year to make a triumphant return!

As always, thanks for reading (and in this case, listening to me bitch and moan).


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Delivered: D&D 5th Edition Starter Set

Amazon came calling yesterday and delivered my preordered copy of the new D&D Starter Set.  I wasn't expecting it until today so getting it a day early was a nice surprise.  I realize it's been out at select stores for a while now but that wasn't an option for me.  The closest hobby shop is over 50 miles away on the mainland and they would not have had it early anyhow.


I have flipped through the contents but have not looked closely at the details yet.  I'm still immersed deep within the pages of Moldvay and I don't have the time right now to digest the starter set properly.  I'll write a post with my thoughts in the near future but don't expect an expert review.   Others are much more qualified to do so.  Though I have been an avid collector of all editions of D&D for about ten years now, I've been out of playing far too long to be able to compare/contrast the good and bad from earlier editions.  I just plan on talking about what I like and/or do not like about it.

Just flipping through the pages last night I can already add two comments.  1) I do like the art work.  That's no small thing for me to say.  I'm firmly rooted in the traditional art from the golden years of TSR: Elmore, Parkinson, Easley, and Caldwell.  Anything different is difficult for me to admire.  So far I'm a bit impressed however.  Mainly I think I'm happy that D&D seems to be moving away from the later 3/3.5 and 4e era styles.  I really hated most of that stuff!  2) I dislike the pamphlet style books inside.  Give me solid Moldvay and Metzer style covers please!  I want to feel like I'm holding something substantial.  Otherwise I feel like I'm flipping through a glossy catalog or travel brochure.

Did any of you pick up the new starter set?  If so, what are you thoughts thus far?  Even if you are completely committed to older editions, do you think you will collect the newer stuff?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Save vs. a Cold or Suffer 1d6+2 Days of Misery



The title says it all.  I went away for a short mini-vacation and brought home a souvenir I neither wanted nor expected - a summer cold.  For the next week that little cold exploded into a major ailment and brought me to my knees.  Either it had some super secret ingredient to make it more potent or maybe I'm just getting older and unable to recover as quickly.  Either way, I felt terrible and spent my free time resting on the couch or going to bed early.  Needless to say, both of my blogs suffered from my inactivity (apologies for the crosspost if you arrived here from the other blog).  My cold is gone now though and I feel like a new man.  It's time for a blog update.

*  I've finished rereading both the Moldvay Basic Set and the Cook Expert Set.  My notes are complete and ready to be translated into future posts.

*  I have played several games of Moldvay Basic D&D via Google Hangouts over the last few weeks (the next session is this Thursday night).  I'm working on a post right now about my experiences returning to the game.

*  GenCon is all lined up.  I just need to buy my plane ticket.  I've signed up for plenty of games and activities so the convention should be loads of fun for me.  Work is getting a bit crazy though.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that a conflict of schedule does not arise.

*  I've downloaded the new 5th edition D&D rules.  I've been following the play tests since the first release and I must say I'm rather pleased with the "finished" product.  I'm still waiting for my preordered Starter Set to arrive on the 15th.  After that, I'll write a post with my thoughts on this version of D&D.

*  I have started work on my own campaign world.  It's still very much in the planning stages but I can't wait to share what I have with the community and hopefully elicit some good tips and advice.

*  Finally, though it's not related to D&D, I have another hobby item to share.  I've been interested in photography for a long time and I'm always on the lookout for new ways to enjoy taking photos.  I've wanted to try aerial photography for a while now but the cost has always been too steep for me to justify.  No longer... Prices are now a bit more reasonable so I just dropped some cash on a new quadracopter and have been experiencing an entirely new side of photography.  Allow me to share one of my early practice photos.  Here is a shot of my neighborhood taken from 130 feet of altitude.  We can call it a "dragon's eye view" photo to help tie in this blatantly unrelated photo to D&D.


That's all for now.  Sorry for the unintended break and thanks for checking back in.  Most of all, thank you for reading!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rereading the Moldvay Basic Set - Part 3: The Adventure

This post looks at the Adventure section of the Moldvay Basic Set.  As was the case with the previous sections, I found myself reading a lot of material that either I did not remember from those early days or simply ignored for whatever reason.  Of course, that is the very thing that makes this project so much fun.  Rediscovering all the bits and pieces of information is like going on a treasure hunt.

Now that players have rolled up their characters and chosen weapons and spells, it is time to play the game.  Part 4: The Adventure offers rules, tips, and guidance on various subjects dealing with actual game play (except for combat).  I'll quickly go through each section and make a comment on any interesting material.

Party Size and Composition

Six to eight characters is the recommended size of a party, according to the author.  I'm not sure how that number was originally arrived at.  Did this number makes its way into Moldvay from OD&D or Holmes, or does it make a debut here?  Whatever the origin, I rarely remember having that many players at the table.  When we did, it was great fun.  But more often than not, there were just a few of us on an adventure.  We may have played more than one character each to bring up the number of PCs though.  Moldvay actually supports such a concept.  He does caution players to keep the characters separate however, and not share knowledge, items, and treasure between them.  Sounds like an early reference to metagaming to me.

The ultimate D&D party?  

Organizing a Party

This section covers some of the physical aspects of the game.  These are tangible elements that for the most part, a player can touch, see, and/or feel.

Marching Order 
I remember this clearly from the old days.  We would all jockey for proper positions when turning in our marching order instructions to the DM.  Melee characters were placed in the front to absorb damage and strike physical blows.  Squishy thieves and magic-users belonged in the center to avoid becoming a target.  And some foolhardy soul was "elected" to guard the back from the inevitable ambush.  In the beginning we simply used pen and paper to mark our positions.  Later we adopted miniatures to represent our characters.  Our combat was never "tactical" however.  Miniatures were not used to mark exact positions on a playmat which is commonly done today.  Encounters were played strictly in "theatre of the mind" mode.  Our miniatures were used only to physically represent the spatial relationship to each other.  My how times have changed.

The Caller
I still find it hard to believe that this was actually an element of the game.  While having one person speaking for the entire party sounds like a well-organized method of exchanging information between the DM and PCs, I personally think having a caller destroys the feeling of immersion in the game.  We never used a caller and I suspect that was the case for many others players at the time.  We each spoke to the DM about our character's actions, thus assuming the role of a dashing warrior or mighty wizard.  Doing so made us feel a connection to the unfolding story.  Using a middleman would not have had the same effect.

I find this particular text about callers very confusing:  "The caller is usually a character with a high Charisma score, and should be near the front of the party, where the character would be able to see what the DM describes."  If the caller (the player, not the character) is speaking to the DM to relay the party's actions, why is a high charisma score needed?  Is the caller trying to charm the DM in real life?  Does the caller need a high charisma to score in order to inspire moral in the other players?  Of course I'm being quite sarcastic but what the hell was Moldvay thinking here?  A thief with a high charisma score played by a shy quiet teen would not make a good caller, while a fighter with a six for charisma played by an outgoing good speaker would be perfect.  None of this makes any sense to me.

Along the same lines, positioning the caller near the front of the party is silly as well.  Sure, the caller's character may be able to "see" what the DM describes but guess what...the players around the table are not deaf.  They can hear what the DM is describing as well.  Am I missing something here?  Please enlighten me!

Mapping
Unlike the caller, we did believe in mapping.  That doesn't mean that we liked doing it though. We did realize that it was a necessary evil however.  Having a record so that we could escape a dungeon alive wasn't part of our reasoning.  I think that back then we were more concerned with finding rooms we may have missed so that we could amass more treasure.  Had we possessed enough maturity and/or brains to run from obviously superior foes, we would have had a map to guide a hasty exit.  Usually we just held our ground and died horrible deaths.  Even then, the map would come in handy.  Unless the DM demanded that we hand over our scribbled, faintly geometric patterns that barely resembled a map, we knew we had a clearly marked route to the previous party's location of demise.  Hopefully our hard earned stuff would be somewhere nearby just wanting for recovery.  "I got dibs on the dead guy!"



Some mappers spend entirely too much time trying to replicate the DM's map.  Game play is constantly interrupted to repeat room and hall dimensions to get the details exactly right.  A better method, I think, is to sketch a general overview.  Instead of exact details, a rough sketch showing general spatial relationships would be much better.  The photo above is a perfect example of this method.  It was taken from this thread on the Dragonsfoot forums discussing this very subject.  Our maps looked a lot like that.  Whether it was because we were trying to speed up game play or because we were terrible artists remains a mystery.

Figures
As I mentioned above, the use of miniatures in Moldvay is not the same as using them in today's RPGs.  Positioning is relative and not designed to represent tactical situations.  With that being said, I have no doubt that we moved our figures towards an enemy miniature while shouting a battle cry every chance we got.  There may not have been five foot squares, but it sure felt tactical to us.

Time
Moldvay discusses time in more detail in the next chapter.  It is only glossed in this section.  Just like combat, time is relatively abstract.  There are no detailed actions that take X amount of time like in many modern RPGs.  Basically you can travel the equivalent of a character's movement rate or search a 10x10 foot area in a single 10 minute turn.  Everything else a player might wish to do is determined by the DM and a player's imagination.  This may seem too vague and ambitious by today's standards, but I think it allows for much more flexibility in game play.

Movement
A base movement rate of 120' per turn is the standard.  Moldvay mentions that the rate may seem a bit slow, but he reminds us that it is assumed that characters are exploring in dark dingy conditions and trying to be wary of dangerous creatures.  I think 120' is actually a bit on the fast side when one considers the size of the dungeons in those days.  Twelve squares per turn is moving along quite nicely.  A lot of ground would be covered in a short period of time.  If the optional encumbrance rules are used instead, then the movement rate seems more reasonable to me.

Resting
I have always loved this rule.  It's a great roleplay opportunity and also a chance for the DM to throw in a few surprises.  According to Moldvay, characters must rest for one turn (10 min) for every 5 turns of being active.  Written more eloquently, the PCs must rest for 10 minutes every hour or suffer a -1 on all "to hit" and damage rolls until they do rest.  Bring on those wandering monsters!

Scale Movement
We never used this rule.  In fact, I pretty sure we were not even aware of what it meant.  I find it interesting that Moldvay, who really refined D&D for the gaming newcomer, still provided a link to the past of D&D's wargaming roots.

Encumbrance

Two optional rules are included in the set to provide for more realistic movement.  Instead of the standard 120' per turn movement rate, DMs can adopt movement rates bases on the type of armor worn or based on the total weight in items carried.  It is interesting to note that while each of the optional rules are quite different, they end up being very similar when the mechanics of each system are examined more closely.



The easier of the two options can be found on the table above.  Movement rates are determined by the armor worn.  It's simple, quick, and elegant.  A character with light armor can move faster than a character with heavier armor.  No surprise there.  Add treasure to the equation, and those same characters move a bit slower.  Makes sense doesn't it?  It's not terribly realistic but it works well enough for game play.


Encumbrance option two involves adding up the weight of each individual item.  This total is then used to determine the proper movement rate.  Two items of note here.  One, weight is provided in coins and not pounds.  Each item is given an equivalent weight in coins with the understanding that it takes 10 coins to equal a pound.  The reasoning behind this system is not provided by Moldvay but I suspect it exists somewhere.  Given the emphasis early adventures and modules had on finding treasure, my guess would be that it has something to do with the amount of treasure characters are able to carry.  Just a wild guess though...

The other item of note is that the same movement rate is usually arrived at no matter which of the two methods are used.  There is some inherent slop built into the system that allows for a character wearing leather armor and carrying normal equipment to have the same speed whether the quick and easy method was employed or each item was added up individually.  I did not realize this back then. Now that I've tried a few of my own examples, I think it very probable that I would choose the first option if I was teaching new players.  It's fairly accurate and speeds up character creation.  As players became more experienced then I would probably switch to option two so as to penalize players trying to carry extremely large loads of treasure from the dungeon.

Light

Not much to say about his section except that I find torches and lanterns to be as integral to the D&D adventure as swords and armor.  Though many players (myself included back in those early days) completely ignored the limitations of light spread and duration, carrying a light source just feels right on a fantasy adventure.   When rolling up characters, I would often go without better armor if my starting money roll was low just so that I had enough gold to buy a lantern or several torches.  I love the thought of my character standing in a dark room holding a flaming brand aloft to allow the light to slowly reveal the treasures of ages long past.  Either that or I am a pyromaniac and I don't realize it. 


Doors

It's interesting what Moldvay says about doors.  For some reason, they are usually locked or difficult to open.  I'm assuming the reason is mainly for game mechanics.  After all, a thief can't hide in the shadows all the time.  They have to get their moment to be on stage.  But I've always wondered why every door was locked.  Do all the goblins in the dungeon each have a key?  Hmm...   


Retainers

Retainers are a must at low levels unless the party is large enough.  Moldvay Basic is absolutely brutal.  One arrow from a koblold archer or one unlucky saving throw when exposed to a trap is enough to end a character's life.  Retainers help to strengthen a party with additional numbers or by providing much needed role support.  Need a cleric?  Hire one.

Hiring retainers also provides an opportunity for roleplaying.  Moldvay suggests that the retainer NPCs go through an "interview" process provided by the players.  Good DMs will make for an entertaining session as the PCs explain to the potential candidates their expected duties, rate of pay, fees, and other offers.  Based on this information and the RP of the players, the DM can use the table below to determine the outcome.  The better the offer (and hopefully the better the roleplaying) then the greater the chance of acceptance.  Even if the offer is rejected, a great RP opportunity still exists as to the reasons for the rejection.  Who knows what situation may develop from that.

A clever little mechanic is clearly hidden in plain sight.  If the roll is particularly low, further attempts by the party to hire retainers in the town will suffer a negative adjustment.  Again, roleplaying opportunities abound as the players try to recover a soiled reputation and hire much needed help.

As a final thought on retainers, I find it interesting that Moldvay advises the DM not to allow beginning players to use them.  He feels that new players will use retainers as a crutch.  While that may be so, I'm not sure that I agree with him.  Given the brutal nature of the game, I'd rather have newcomers rely a bit on the hired help than get discouraged by frequent early deaths.  Perhaps the mindset was different back then (I certainly can't remember).  But I have to think that if new players today were introduced to this version of the game they may quickly become bored or frustrated.  Few modern games are as lethal as Moldvay Basic and losing a character is never a fun activity.  The rate at which death can happen may be completely foreign to players of modern RPGs where low level characters start off as "heroes" rather than some poor slop with a rusty sword.  I'm not saying that every character should survive an adventure.  How boring and predictable would that be?  New players should be given a reasonable chance to survive if they play well however.  Retainers can tip the balance in their favor.


Traps

I'm not even sure where to start here.  Traps are the bane of old school players.  The devious designs of quick painful deaths are a joy to the DM however.  Why are traps so frequent in the older editions?  What is the historical reasoning for filling a dungeon with so many clever instruments of death?  Is it from the literature of the period or from wargaming?

Whatever the reasoning, characters have very little chance of finding a trap.  A one in six chance (two in six if playing a dwarf) is not very good odds.  If one is unlucky enough to encounter a trap that has not been located, better not roll a one or a two on the six-sider.  Doing so may end your beloved character's life in a less than pleasant manner.

I lost my fair share of characters back in my day to traps.  Each time I did so I walked away from the session feeling very unsatisfied.  Death by trap was not the way I wanted to go out.  Losing my "hero" in such a manner felt cheap to me.  As a result, when I starting DMing, I cut down on the number of traps in the game.  I'd even remove some of them from published modules.  If characters were to die, I wanted them to go down heroically.  Lying impaled upon sharpened poisoned spikes at the bottom of a ten foot pit leaves little epic material for songs and lays about the recently deceased.  I used just enough traps to keep the PCs on their toes but not so many that they felt permanently paranoid.

Giving Experience

Everyone's favorite post game activity was dividing up experience points (and treasure).  It was a time to bask in the glory of a completed mission or another day survived.  It was also the time to hopefully gain a level and some extra oh-so-important hit points.  

Monster XP is determined by using the table below.  Monsters of a given hit dice are worth the same amount of points as a base value.  Depending on any special abilities, that total could go up (the bonus is added for each asterisk beside a monster's name).  What I failed to read/remember from my first years of playing was that a party did not have to actually kill a monster to gain XP.  Moldvay states that DMs may give XP to players for overcoming a particular monster or encounter using wits rather than blades.  I like this rule for two reasons.  For one, it encourages players to think about an encounter rather than just rushing in for a hopeful kill.  Brute strength is not the only way to defeat an opponent.  And two, it promotes roleplaying.  PCs may be able to accomplish a task without resorting to melee, which always carries a high risk of death in Moldvay Basic...especially at lower levels.  Of course, when I first started playing I only cared about hack and slash and getting XP the old fashioned way.  It wasn't until a few years before my hiatus that I began to see the fun of roleplaying and interacting with an opponent rather than slicing or shooting everything in sight.



When dividing experience, Moldvay writes that DMs have the latitude to give extra to players who overcome difficulties and/or solve problems.  He also states that better players can be the recipient of extra XP.  I'm not sure exactly what is meant by "better" players but in my later years I would provide XP for better roleplaying.  I have to assume that is what the author meant.

Well I've gone on and on way to long.  Reminiscing about the old times tends to cause me to do that.  Before placing the reader under a sleep spell (save vs. boring text or snooze), I'll end this post here by asking a few questions.

*  What do you think is the best party size and composition for Moldvay/Cook D&D?
*  Do players that use Moldvay today use "tactical" style combat with maps and squares or is it primarily still abstract combat/theatre of the mind style?
*  Callers....yes or no?  If yes, what does a high charisma score do for the caller?
*  Are mappers still utilized or is it assumed that the players have marked their way out with chalk or some other device?  Or do they simply look at the awesome 3D miniature dungeon created by the DM and move their miniatures out?
*  What method of encumbrance do you prefer?  None, armor dependent, or individual coin weight?
*  Any good/gory trap death memories?

I look forward to your comments and answers.  Thanks for reading!


   

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Of Ancient Dice, White Crayons, and Hoarding

My Moldvay rereading project has passed the halfway point and a post on combat is nearly complete.  While reaquainting myself with the rules of combat, I ran several practice encounters to make sure I was getting the process right.  In doing so, I felt it only appropriate to use the dice that came with the set.  They are old and in a pretty gnarly condition but it felt right rolling them during my character's practice encounters.  I only have four of the original dice left but as you will see below, I have plenty of extras available.

The last of my original Moldvay Basic Set dice.

After playing for a bit, I began to feel like something was missing.  Then it hit me.  In the 32 years since I first bought my Basic Set, the color on the dice had worn off.  I was suddenly assaulted with a wave of nostalgia as I remembered coloring in the numbers on those funny shaped dice so long ago.  I now had a mission.  Though the dice worked perfectly well without the numbers colored in, I had to stop my practice combat rounds until I could rectify the situation.

Easier said than done.  I had no crayons around the house.  None at all!  Though I now have a 14 month old little boy, it's a bit early for crayons and there was certainly no reason to keep them around before.  So off to the store I went in search of crayons.  Of course, one cannot buy just a white crayon so I am now the proud owner of a box of Crayolas.  Filling in the numbers was certainly easier than finding a white crayon.  I don't remember the process making such a mess the first time I did it though.  Then again, I'm sure I wasn't concerned with making a mess back then.  Mom would clean up after me.  I didn't want to try that with the current woman in my life so I wisely swept up the white residue before getting back to combat.

Breathing new life into the Moldvay dice.

Amongst the few things I kept during the great RPG purge of '88 were my dice.  Why I did so is beyond me.  Through the years I have obviously lost a few here and there but for the most part, I've still got a good sized collection of old dice.  As I mentioned earlier, the four shown above are from my original set in 1982.  The others would have been purchased during the next six years of playing.  They are "newer" but not by much.  I'm glad I kept them.  I plan to color the rest in as well.

I can't help but wonder though...considering the condition of these old dice, do they still roll true?  Is there a method to determine if a die is truly random?

Twenty-five dice older than a twenty-five year old player.

As the photo below may suggest, I think I have a problem.  Even though I haven't played D&D in over twenty years, I started buying dice occasionally in anticipation of returning to the game.  I still haven't played a game but I have plenty of dice for whenever I do.  The current count is 259 roleplaying dice.  That number does not include the multitude of six sided dice I use for wargaming.  Yes, I have a problem!

The good news is that I plan on returning to DMing in the not so distant future.  I'll have more than enough dice to provide to the new players I hope to create on my little island where I live.


Let's close this post with a few questions:
*  Do you still have your original dice?
*  Any special stories associated with that first dice set?
*  Would a modern day DM allow me to bring such old ratty dice to the table?
*  How many dice do you have?
*  Can a player have too many dice?
*  Are DMs expected to provide new players with dice?

I look forward to your comments and stories.  As always, thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Characters of the Moldvay Basic Set

Aleena the cleric vs. Morgan Ironwolf.  How many times have we heard that argument?  Just like Star Wars vs. Star Trek or PC vs. Apple, you're either for one or the other.  While the debate over which character is better will probably never be settled, we surely can agree that in regards to nostalgia, each female is strongly connected to her respective boxed set:  Aleena for Metzer and Morgan for Moldvay.

All the attention in the Moldvay set is focused on Morgan Ironwolf.  And for that reason, most of us tend to forget that a host of other characters are present within the pages of that venerable tome.  During my rereading project I was pleasantly surprised to come across names that I had forgotten long ago.  Revisit with me their stories.


Morgan receives the bulk of the attention in Moldvay and we know the most about her of all the characters therein.  She is beautiful and deadly, a natural leader, and she knows how to compromise to get what she wants.  We first meet her on page B13 when she appears as an example of creating a player character.

According to the fictional player creating Morgan, the name was inspired by Morgan le Fey from the King Arthur stories.  Beyond the reasoning for the name, we get little true background for Morgan.  I think this is the main reason that for many, Aleena the cleric wins out over Morgan in the debate.  We come to feel for Aleena because we know more about her.  Morgan is mostly just numbers on a page, though we do learn a bit more about her personality later in the book.

Morgan Ironwolf from page B14

Her stats suggest that she is strong, healthy, and dexterous but not very bright.  She possesses average wisdom and is a fairly likable person.  Morgan is well-equipped but not particularly rich in coin.  She is law abiding and dislikes chaos and evil.  That's about all we know about her for certain.  It will take two short example dungeon adventures for us to learn a bit more.

**  It is interesting to note that on this character sheet, Morgan is listed as having a lawful alignment.  When we next meet her she is not only noted as being neutral, but definitely acts that way in character.

Morgan appears again on pages B28 and B59, but this time she is on an adventure with four fellow companions.  Reading between the lines, it is here that one can find out more about Morgan Ironwolf.  For example:  after a battle that would see one of her companions fall, the attacking hobgoblins choose to surrender when the outcome of the melee becomes obvious.  This is when we finally see a glimpse Morgan's personality.  At first, though an agreement was made with the surrendering hobgoblins, Morgan wants to kill them anyhow.  As a neutral fighter* (see the note above), she sees no issue at all with dispatching her remaining enemies.  Perhaps she desires revenge for her fallen comrade or maybe she is being practical and does not wish to leave enemies behind to warn others.  Whatever the reason, she clearly wants them dead.  She wisely changes her mind when confronted by another party member who happens to be a lawful cleric.  Perhaps it was the wound Morgan received in battle (which she suggests) that causes her to wish to kill the hobgoblins and that mood has now passed.  Or maybe Morgan is savvy enough to elicit a healing spell from the cleric by bending to a more lawful view of the situation.  No matter her reasoning, it is plain that she understands that situations are fluid and she exhibits the ability to gain an advantage from such scenarios.

From reading the description of the encounter I think it is easy to determine some of her other personality traits that cannot be gleaned from a character sheet.  Even at low levels she is a hardened and practical fighter.  She understands battle tactics and the rules of war.  Yet she is not rash.  Morgan knows that to survive the harsh underground environment she must cooperate with the others and be a team player.  Morgan Ironwolf may not be as well-liked as Aleena but one cannot deny that she is an accomplished warrior and clever dungeoneer.

With Morgan in the dungeon are several lesser known characters from the Moldvay set:  Silverleaf the elf (level 2), Sister Rebecca the Adept (second level cleric), Fredrik the dwarf (first level), and Black Dougal the Footpad (second level thief).

We know only a little of Silverleaf the elf.  For certain he has Sleep for one of his two first level spells and we also know that he is neutral in alignment.  Silverleaf speaks hobgoblin and it is he that arranges for the surrender of the hobgoblins after the battle described above.  Just like Morgan, Silverleaf appears to be a practical fighter and knows that leaving an enemy behind is a dangerous gamble.  He is willing to go along with the fighter's plans to murder the hobgoblins to protect the party's rear.  Apparently he too is reasonable since he relents as well when the cleric insists on honoring their agreement with the hobgoblins.

We know less about Sister Rebecca, the lawful cleric. Other than the fact that she is obviously the moral compass of the party, not much can be determined about her.  Despite her dislike for the hobgoblins, she will not allow the party to forget their promise to spare their lives.  She forces her will upon the party and the hobgoblins are allowed to live.  Later she frets over a fallen companion when her fellow adventurers seem more concerned with treasure.  I think the cleric has a good heart.  We also know that she is armed with a mace and shield.  Other than those few details, Sister Rebecca remains shrouded in mystery.

Fredrik the Dwarven Veteran is a bit more fleshed out.  He seems to be both cautious yet battle-brave.  Perhaps it's his innate dwarven dungeoneering skills that allows him to sense danger, or maybe he is just simply afraid, but several times during the adventure he gets a bad feeling and warns the party.  Whether the party takes his warnings seriously or just puts him off as a grumbling dwarf is unknown.  His caution apparently does not apply to fighting goblins and finding treasure however.  He shrugs off his apprehension and charges into the goblin ranks in the party's first encounter on page B59 (the encounter order is reversed with the first taking place on B59 and the followup encounter on B28), helping the party win the melee without suffering any casualties.  His lust for treasure consumes him shortly thereafter when he concerns himself with loading coins rather than the death of a companion.  In fact, Fredrik is more than willing to strip the dead of his possessions to aid in the transport of his newly discovered loot. Dwarven stubbornness and greed aside, Fredrik does carry the corpse of his fellow adventurer from the room as they depart, thus allowing the dwarf to regain some sense of honor.  Despite his battle skills and earned karma, Fredrik is felled in the next melee by a hobgoblin that dispatches the dwarf with one mighty blow.  Alas for poor Fredrik.  Who will carry his stout body?

Morgan's last companion is Black Dougal.  We never get the chance to learn much about him since he is poisoned by a spring trap early in the adventure.  Perhaps his nerves were shaken after the battle with the goblins or maybe the lighting was too poor to properly detect the trap on the chest.  Whatever the reason, Black Dougal met an untimely end beside thousands of shiny silver coins.  Ironic is it not?

Is this Fredrik, Black Dougal, and Silverleaf?  Possibly.  

Other than Morgan Ironwolf and her brave companions, several other characters are mentioned in the Moldvay manual but little is said of them.

Borg the fighter is the only remaining character that we truly know anything bout.  Our knowledge of him comes from a single source on page B5.  We see his stats and equipment but have no other details about him.

Borg the fighter from B5: How To Create A Player Character.

We know even less about Tars the fighter and Gantry the cleric.  They both appear on page B15 in the example of Cure Light Wounds spell use.  Tars has a max of 6 hit points and was apparently wounded in a battle.  He is saved by his companion with a healing spell.

Sarien the elf appears on B17 in the example of using a Sleep spell.  During an encounter with four lizard men the crafty elf is able to put three of them to sleep.  Whether he survives the rest of the encounter is unknown.

We meet Bork the fighter on page B22 in the XP example.  Mighty Bork rises from second level to level 3 and becomes Bork the Swordmaster.  He gains six hit points during the level change to give him a total of 17.  Moldvay Basic D&D is a dangerous game.  He will need those extra HP to survive!  The photo below is not attributed to any one character in the text.  However, I can't help but think that if any illustration looks like a Bork, it must be this one!

Bork the Swordmaster?  

Finally we happen upon Huxley the fighter on page B25.  He and an unnamed companion (also a fighter) find themselves in battle with a gargoyle.  Lacking a proper weapon to inflict injury on the beast, Huxley first tries to employ a fighting withdrawal to allow his companion to join the fray but eventually opts to retreat instead.  Good luck Huxley... you will need it.

Morgan Ironwolf, Silverleaf the elf, Sister Rebecca, poor Fredrik the dwarf, Black Dougal the unlucky, Borg, Tars, Gantry, Sarien, Bork, and Huxley:  these are the brave men and women of the Moldvay Basic Set.  Let us bow our heads in remembrance of their daring exploits.  Long may they live in memory.

This rereading project has turned up many treasures thus far, and not just the kind that Fredrik the dwarf likes to find.  I must say that I had forgotten about most of these characters.  I'm glad I had the opportunity to rediscover them.  I hope you have enjoyed doing the same by reading this post.

I'd like to leave you with a few questions again.
*  Did I find them all?  Are there other characters in the Moldvay rule book that I missed?
*  Of those listed, which do you remember the most?  Any special stories about them?
*  Morgan's alignment change, was it intentional or a misprint?
*  Should Fredrik at least have mourned Black Dougal for a moment before snagging his backpack?
*  Is the photo of the three adventurers with the bound goblin meant to be Black Dougal and company?
*  The last pic of the fighter in a horned helm:  Borg, Tars, or Bork (or none of the above)?
*  Aleena or Morgan?  Never mind, that is a question for another day.

Thanks for your comments and participation.  Most of all, thanks for reading!








Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Rereading the Moldvay Basic Set - Part 2

My rereading project continues this week with the next section of the Moldvay Basic Set:  Spells.


A fair word of warning before I begin:  I have never played a magic-user.  Yep, that's right.  In the thousands of hours I spent playing D&D in the 80s I never once rolled up a magic-user.  Sure I've taken on the role of a spell-slinger as an NPC or an evil adversary while DMing, but never did I wear the robes of a squishy magician.  "But what about your elves?", you might ask.  Well, I've played many elves over the years but to me that really didn't count.  I mainly relied on their martial ability and used spells only as a backup.  So in both cases, as a DM playing a magic-using NPC and as an elf with a penchant for fireballs, I usually avoided the spell section almost completely.  I simply didn't need to reference it.  After all, what else was there to know beyond sleep, magic missiles, fireballs, and the occasional light spell?



The same can almost be said of clerics.  Although I've played a few when needed (never by choice), once again martial ability was far more important than spells.  To a bunch of young boys/teens, a cleric was nothing more than a fighter that could not use edged weapons, but did possess the gift of casting healing spells.  Detect Evil and Purify Food and Water were all just a waste of space on a character sheet.

My lack of magic use in those early years made the rereading of the Spells section that much more enlightening.  If I had taken the time to read through the spell descriptions thirty-two years ago I might have played more magic-users and clerics.  Those non-offensive spells would have been rather useful back then.

Part 3: Spells begins on page B15 and informs the reader that magic-users must memorize spells before they can be used.  After a given spell is used however, it is wiped clean from memory and must be studied again for use the next day (after a full night's uninterrupted sleep of course).  Since the manual tells the reader that most adventures take place over only a few hours of in-game time, this should not pose an issue.  I can't help but wonder though what adventures Moldvay was talking about.  Almost every module I ever played or ran (wether commercial or homemade) lasted well over a few hours of game time.  Most were epic dungeon delves or longterm travel in the wilds where finding a suitable place to camp in the dungeon or forest was just as an important decision as deciding what to bring on an adventure.  I also wonder how a full night's rest was to be accomplished due to watch schedules and wandering monsters.  I think both assumptions were pretty darn silly.  Fortunately it was never an issue for us because I'm quite sure we simply ignored the rule.  Sure we did set up camp each night (that was part of the fun) but I'm fairly certain no one in the party ever got much rest....certainly not a full night's sleep.  We woke up (if we survived) and our spell-slingers suddenly had new spells.  Now that's magical!

It was a good thing that clerics were able to use a mace and turn undead because their spell selection at lower levels absolutely sucked.  Hell, they could not even use a spell at first level.  At second level, when they finally got one first level spell, the only really useful option was Cure Light Wounds.  One of our players would have been heavily berated and mocked had they chosen Purify Food and Water over a healing spell!  To us, a cleric was nothing more than a combat medic.  I suspect that role remains through the more recent editions as well.



First Level Cleric Spells
Cure Light Wounds:  1d6 +1 of healing goodness.
Detect Evil:  Of course it's evil....it's in a dungeon!
Detect Magic:  Only useful after the adventure when dividing treasure.
Light:  Continual Light at second level is the only way to go.
Protection from Evil:  That's what armor and a shield are for.
Purify Food and Water:  No comment.
Remove Fear:  Useful in the Expert Set when the spell can be reversed to Cause Fear.
Resist Cold:  Good, because low level characters fight white dragons all the time.

Yes, I was being quite sarcastic.  And yes, I know it's all about game balance (but I didn't back then).  But there is simply nothing fun about a cleric's spell selection.  If it were not for the healing aspect, I doubt The Known World would have ever witnessed a mace in use.

Although I never played a magic-user, at least the spell selection was a bit more exciting.  I just wish that a first level PC could do more than blow his load at the start of the adventure, then spend the rest of the day hiding behind the thief.  I may have very fond memories of Moldvay/Metzer/AD&D, but some of the new editions of Dungeons & Dragons definitely make magic-users much more interesting and fun to play.

My thoughts as a younger player on magic-user spell selection.  Yes, I will be sarcastic again.

First Level Magic-user and Elf Spells
Charm Person:  Make dumb humanoids fall in love with you and become meat shields.
Detect Magic:  See above.
Floating Disc:  Useful as a pickup truck for treasure if it only lasted for more than 6 turns.
Hold Portal:  Reminds me of Gandalf's mental battle with the Balrog at the top of the stairs.
Light:  See above
Magic Missile:  1d6 +1 is absolutely deadly at lower levels.  Plus, it never misses!  Best. Spell. Ever!
Protection from Evil:  Would help a squishy wizard but casting would leave little room for offense.
Read Languages:  I wonder if this spell was ever pre-studied in the history of the D&D game.
Read Magic:  All magic-users should be able to cast this any time!  That was our house rule.
Shield:  A better option for squishy wizard protection but still shoots blanks on offense.
Ventriloquism:  ...................................Never ever saw it used.
Sleep:  Goodnight Kobolds!  Possibly the second best low level magic-user spell.

Second Level Magic-user and Elf Spells
Continual Light:  Cast this a day before the adventure then forget about torches and lanterns.
Detect Evil:  See above.
ESP:  This is only really useful as a chance at humor for the DM.  I loved confusing thoughts.
Invisibility:  Best armor for a magic-user.  Too bad it doesn't last in melee.
Knock:  Open up!
Levitate:  Good for hiding or dealing with chasms.
Locate Object:  Not very useful as written but I'm sure this spell was heavily abused in game.
Mirror Image:  If a squishy wizard has to resort to this then he has already lost the rest of his party.
Phantasmal Force:  Confusing as hell!
Web:  Of all the second level spells, this is the only one with any offensive ability.
Wizard Lock:  A fancy version of Hold Portal.


At higher levels, a Moldvay magic-user could be devastating.  I very much enjoyed taking on the roll of a powerful spell-slinger when behind the DM screen (my players....not so much).  Getting there as a player character was a challenge though.  That of course was the intent of the rules but I always felt magic-users to be underpowered in the beginning.  Perhaps the reward of reaching higher levels and the power that comes with doing so was enough to tempt others into playing the class.  I simply did not have the patience for it.  I wanted to kill and loot!

In the last years of the 80s before I stopped playing, I became more of a roleplayer.  The emphasis was no longer on destruction and progression. Instead I became more interested in living in the D&D world, enjoying the story, and creating character.  It's a shame that I had already developed such a deep dislike for magic-users.  Now that I have read through the spells and understood their role in the grand scheme of things, I think roleplaying a magic-user would be a lot of fun.  In fact, I may have to roll up a squishy magician right now.  Here are the spells that I would be interested in:

First Level Magic-user and Elf Spells
Charm Person:  Not only could this spell be useful, but in the hands of a clever player and creative DM, lots of role-play opportunities could be developed.
Magic Missile:  This would still be my first choice for an offensive weapon.
Shield:  Using tactical style combat, this could be a useful defensive position to aid the party.
Sleep:  Just like magic missile, this would be one of my first choices.  It would be valuable for crowd control.

Second Level Magic-user and Elf Spells
Continual Light:  A permanent light for dark places.  Could be used as an accessory or as an offensive spell.
ESP:  With a good DM behind the screen, this could be used to create additional RP plot hooks.
Invisibility:  I would still keep this in my arsenal but use it more in non-dungeon settings.
Web:  Another good crowd control device.

How about you, dear reader?  Did you play magic-users?  If so, what did you do to survive the lower levels?  What was your favorite spell?  How did you play the rule for resting/studying spell books?  Do you think Moldvay (or Metzer) magic-users were underpowered?

How about you cleric types...do you think the cleric had any role beyond healing and turning undead?  Was I being too hard on the usefulness of cleric spells?

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.

A final note:  The wizard and cleric illustrations in the post are actually Photoshoped images I created of miniatures I purchased from Otherworld Miniatures.  I'm a big fan of their work which combines the old school look of the 80s with the precision and detail of modern miniatures.  I just purchased another miniature from them to represent my re-creation of Tryon the elf in-game and I'm very happy with the quality of that one as well.  If you're not familiar with Otherworld Miniatures you might want to pay them a visit.