Friday, May 1, 2009


Thread here got me thinking on yet another house rule for B/X – seems like as good a time as any to run down what I’m currently using while I’m adding another one.

First the new steez: IMC, so far, I've given MUs Read Magic on top of the two random spells they get. Up until now I've just rolled straight random - yeah, I'm a meanie, let's see what you can do with floating disc and ventriloquism (for some reason that combo comes up a lot) - but I'm going to try something different.


MUs (not elves) get read magic in addition to their ususal two starting spells, as part of their training. For each of the two remaining spells, the DM will roll two spells and the MU player may pick which they want.

(This gives the MU SOME control over what they get, and a better chance of getting at least one combat spell, but they're still at the mercy of the dice. (Somehow I predict a lot of people rolling floating disc and ventriloquism twice in a row. LOL) Looking at it now, elves may or may not get the choice. Suck it up, pointy - enjoy AC2 and a non-suck hit die.)

That gets added to what’s already in play – let’s take a look.


I specifically haven’t specified this in the house rules docco, but my go-to method is 4d6 (best 3), in order – if I’m feeling magnanimous, you might get to swap any two scores. For a one-shot or special occasion, I might go with something different.

Also, I tend to use the adventuring equipment packs from B3 Palace of the Silver Princess when rolling up PCs for a whole group – having a table full of people all poring over how much wolfs bane to take and who has the torches takes way too much time from kobold whack-a-mole, and the packs give the group a good selection of standard equipment they might not think to take otherwise (like iron spikes).


They’re in, subject to highly arbitrary DM approval. As per the “Customized Character Classes” article from Dragon #109. (Get it if you don’t have it – must-have stuff for Classic, IMO.) Pitch me a concept (whether an AD&D race-and-class combo or something funky like a monster), and we’ll talk. (Vampiric gelatinous cube monk, anyone? :D) (NO.)


Spellcasting humans (i.e., clerics and magic-users) whose prime requisites are 16 or greater receive one bonus 1st level spell per day; those whose prime requisites are 18 (or greater) receive two. Note that this will allow a 1st level cleric to cast spells.

That last part is a deliberate design decision on my part – this lets me still have groups of 1st-lvl “acolytes” (usually cultists IMC, at least in the dungeon) functioning as sub-par fighters, but gives a PC cleric the possibility of a spell.

I realize that granting 1st-level MUs up to 3 SPD can significantly up the “nuke factor” if they get lucky and score sleep, but even with the new rule the chances of getting 18 Int AND “win encounter” are pretty low. (Hell, gotta let’em win sometimes.)


Consider actions such as changing one weapon for another or removing something from a belt pouch to take roughly half a round. If the party rolled 4-6 on the initiative die for this round, perform the action on the party’s initiative and then drop your relative initiative by 3 for your attack – this could result in your attack taking place after the monsters’, even if the party won initiative. If the party rolled 1-3 on the initiative die, the action takes up the whole round, and you cannot attack this round. Note that attacks with two-handed melee weapons always come last in the initiative sequence – you can’t combine these attacks with another action, other than movement. Dropping an item to the ground is free, and retrieving an item from a backpack or other storage takes an entire round.

(This one occasionally gets almost cut – so far I’ve avoided having to refer to the initiative die beyond “you won/lost,” and focusing on the actual numbers rolled starts to bring us into AD&D territory – I can run an AD&D melee round easily enough, but it’s not what I’m going for with B/X. I dunno, it hasn’t been much of a pain in play, so it’ll stay in until it gets to be a pain in the ass.)


Casting MU spells requires at least one free hand and the ability to speak clearly. Swapping equipment to free up a hand for spellcasting is a miscellaneous action as described above; swapping equipment back into the hand would require an additional miscellaneous action.

Casting clerical spells requires that the caster be able to speak clearly, and present a holy symbol. Note that “holy symbol” can simply be a weapon or shield, properly sanctified (in a ritual that takes 1 hour and 50gp worth of material) (and assuming the cleric's order is not ideologically opposed to such a thing).

(Classic doesn’t get into spell components (V/S/M), and I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that merely being loud and demonstrative with your cleric badge out is enough for a clerical spell. MUs are the ones who have to manipulate bizarre pseudo-science and eldritch formulas.)


Attempting to fire a missile while in melee will allow the foe to make a free strike against the character – if the attack is successful, the shot will be ruined.

In addition, when firing a missile weapon while engaged in melee, there is a -4 modifier to the attack roll (stacking with any range modifiers).


MUs can use quarterstaffs. OH, THE POWERGAMING

Ok, enough for now - I'll post more later. Home now, then to Paganfest. (I get to see Moonsorrow, Primordial, AND Korpiklaani in the same night. I'm awesome. LOL)


First level characters are too powerful - did you know?

Nagora posted this insightful little essay on Dragonsfoot:

First level characters are too powerful

That got your attention, didn't it? Well, half seriously, here's what I've been thinking recently:

In AD&D, zero-level characters are pretty weak. Even men-at-arms have only 4-7hp and normal people have somwhere in the region of 1-5 or so. Now, BtB, "normal people" are 99% of the population (I'm only dealing with humans here). So in a town of 3000 adults, 2770 of them will have less than 8hp; probably more than 1500 will have less than 6hp.

It is these people to which weapons are scaled. A dagger stab is not a serious threat to a first level character given how common it is to grant firsties a hp boost (I rountinely give average hp or the hps rolled, whichever is higher, many people simply give max hp at first level) and, of course, PCs get CON bonuses which 0-levels rarely do (BtB their max CON is 15).

A first level magic user fights as well as any normal person and, equipped with a sleep spell can absolutely count on facing down and killing a gang of 4 such people (perhaps more) single-handedly. If s/he has magic missile then s/he can make most normal people drop dead from 210 feet away. With charm person they can make a town's mayor into a puppet from 360 feet away - while the latter makes a speech or some such. The potential for gaining political power is staggering!

A first level fighter is probably a bit less frightening to normal people, but is still generally able to laugh off even a good sword stroke from puny "norms" whilst their potential for great strength, say 18/51, means that even a glancing blow with a broadsword for minimum damage will almost certainly slaughter even the toughest soldier. Normal people never get a STR bonus to-hit or damage. The first level ranger does all this AND gets a double CON bonus and special abilities too!

Clerics, of course, frequently get bonus spells at first level and don't have to hope on random selection for their spells. So, in addtion to being armed and armoured and better than a normal trained soldier at combat, a cleric can command, cause fear, and/or darkness which the normal person has little defense against.

Thieves are "merely" equal to a trained soldier in direct combat, and have poorer armour in all likelihood, but their potential for DEX bonuses will probably take their overall AC to something in the region of chainmail and their ability to backstab gives them horrendous potential when combined with their ability to get into places where they can attack by surprise.

A party of 6 of these guys in a village is very serious trouble for the inhabitants if the party is hostile!


Okay, so it's overstated (and I carefully avoided the monk) but the point is that many experienced players lose sight of how capable first level characters actually are. They are in fact pretty tough compared to normal people, yet players used to higher level play can be very cautious when playing firsties again, to the point where they sometimes play them as more cautious than I think the player would be in real life!

I recently had a situation with a very old-timer player who, when given a first-level ranger to play hardly ventured out of town and explained that he was just playing "the way I think a first level character would be". Yet this first level character was big, strong, in his 20's and far more capable of surviving a one-on-one attack than most real people, even soldiers. The player's pre-concieved notion of first-level characters as little more than helpless babes crippled his ability to play the character.

Back in the days of OD&D this was understandable - there was no such notion as 0-level and when wandering about, for example, the City State of the Invincible Overlord, everyone you met was basically one of the leveled classes and if you were first level then, quite logically, most of these people were better than you.

With AD&D the "background level" was drastically reduced and in the process the heroicness of the player characters massively boosted. Yet it seems to me that most people never noticed. I think mainly because most play is not in towns, cities, and villages. It's in places where the opposition is almost all supernatural in some way or other.

Re-reading Conan I was struck by how much of the time he is facing hordes of normal people in towns with a tougher leader and/or a single supernatural sidekick. I think this is a much better model for low-level adventuring than the normal "dungeon full of kobolds" model. By placing the first-level characters into a setting of normal people, the superiority of the characters is established by simple comparison while the nature of an "urban" setting allows the party to flee, regroup, rest and so forth in a much less artificial way than most low-level dungeon or wilderness scenarios.

There is a learnt helplessness about low-level play that I think is discouraging for players (how many people here have heard the lament "can't we start at 3rd?"?) while simultainiously draining the colour out of the background and the specialness out of being one of the elite 1% that should be fun rather than a chore on the way to higher levels.

And it cuts the other way too. As I mentioned on another thread, a dragon is the nuclear weapon of the AD&D world, from the point of view of normal people. A dragon played BtB will land in a county and OWN it - simply flying overhead will cause all opposition to flee, the breath weapon of an adult green dragon will kill evey living thing in a market square; a red's will do likewise in an even larger area while also setting the town alight. Economic ruin and destruction are the inevitable result of a dragon entering even the most powerful empire's borders. Nothing and no one can stand in the way of these beasts. Except...the heroes!

Yet these monsters are routinely dismissed as "whimpy" or "in need boosting". Because most of the time they are not in any context which shows how fantastic either the dragon or the dragon-slayer are.

So I'd encourage all DMs to take a little more time to ground their games in the reality of the normal people before they start to complain that 11th level characters are "not high level", or that magic items are what separates a character from the mundane, or even take the fighter's multiple attacks against under 1HD creatures away from them. The more you let the players feel that their character's are special then I think the more fun they will have, and the more they enjoy rather than dread playing 1st level characters then the more willing they will be to take risks and act (anti-)heroiclly and everyone will enjoy the results.

Thus endith the sermon.

There's a lot to chew on, here. One thing I've always been struck by is how many folks see that AD&D (for example) has 20 levels built in, and assume that you're therefore actually supposed to get to 20th level in the course of normal gameplay. Where, from a logical standpoint, 9th (i.e., name) level characters are world-changing heroes, superhuman in almost every way. This puts the lower levels in the proper perspective, I think. (There's a reason an 8th-level fighter is a "super hero"!)

Anyway, good stuff.