The Alexandrian

Caverns of Thracia - Paul JaquaysI wasn’t actually planning to write up a detailed account of my one-shot session as part of my Reactions to OD&D essays, but somebody requested it and I’m vain enough to oblige.

I had a group of five players: Like me, two of them had first played with the BECMI rules from the ’80s. Two of them had started playing D&D with 3rd Edition. And the fifth had never played any tabletop roleplaying games (but he had played NetHack, so he easily grasped the lingo).


We spent the first forty-five minutes walking through character creation, deciphering the rules, and generally getting ready to go.

There was some significant sticker shock when it came to the “roll 3d6 in order” method for generating attributes. A fighter named Veera was “blessed” with 9 Strength, 9 Intelligence, 7 Wisdom, 9 Dexterity, 11 Constitution, and 8 Charisma. And there was only one ability score higher than 14 at the table (Warrain the Wizard had a 16 Dexterity). One of the players said that they felt practically “coddled” in 3rd Edition’s system of 4d6, drop lowest, and arrange how you like.

We had an interesting discussion regarding the rules for Prime Requisite scores. Prime requisites are a topic I’ll be discussing at greater length in a separate essay, but this particular discussion revolved around how to interpret these particular passages (“Men & Magic”, pg. 10):

Strength is the prime requisite for fighters. Clerics can use strength on a 3 for 1 basis in their prime requisite area (wisdom), for purposes of gaining experience only. […]

Intelligence is the prime requisite for magical types. Both fighters and clerics can use it in their prime requisite areas (strength and wisdom reflectively) on a 2 for 1 basis. […]

Wisdom is the prime requisite for Clerics. It may be used on a 3 for 1 basis by fighters, and on a 2 for 1 basis by Magic-Users, in their respective prime requisite areas..

Before we get into the meat of the discussion, I’ll note that I chose to interpret this passage to mean that the phrase “for purposes of gaining experience only” applied to all of this ability swapping. (If you choose to not draw that conclusion, then things get even more complicated.)

Coming into the session, I had concluded that the passage meant this: For the purposes of gaining XP you use your prime requisite ability score as a base value and then add in these 3-for-1 and 2-for-1 scores as modifiers off of this base value. So, for example, if a Cleric has a Wisdom of 14, Strength of 9, and Intelligence of 10 their prime requisite for purposes of XP would be 22 (14 + one-third of 9 + one-half of 10).

But when we actually started running the math at the table, we quickly realized that this didn’t make any sense. Using this interpretation, it would be almost impossible for a character to not gain the maximum XP bonus as a result of their prime requisite score.

A closer examination of the “Bonuses and Penalties to Advancement due to Abilities” table on pg. 11 seemed to confirm that this interpretation was in error, as it clearly read: “(Low score is 3-8; Average is 9-12; High is 13-18)”. (And if we uesd my interpretation, that would not be the actual distribution for the purposes of the table.)

Then we noticed a rule crammed in on the bottom of this page:

Note: Average scores are 9-12. Units so indicated above may be used to increase prime requisite total insofar as this does not bring that category below average, i.e. below a score of 9.

That passage confused us for awhile because it’s grammatically incorrect. In that sentence structure “that category” refers to “prime requisite total” — and how could increasing your prime requisite total ever result in it being brough below a score of 9?

In reality, of course, what the passage is trying to say is that the “units so indicated above” cannot be reduced below a score of 9. And this led us to the interpretation that ┬áthis was an actual modifier to the ability scores. In other words, clerics could give up 3 points of Strength to gain 1 point of Wisdom. But then we re-read and clearly noted the “for purposes of gaining experience only” phrase.

So then somebody said, “Well, maybe it just means that you can use these other scores instead of your prime requisite for the purposes of experience points.” But about five seconds of math showed that was even more nonsensical. (When would a cleric ever have 5 Wisdom, but 18 Strength?)

We circled around the issue several times, but eventually came to a workable conclusion: You can permanently trade in ability score points as indicated to gain a bonus to your prime requisite for gaining experience (but not the actual ability score itself). So a cleric could, for example, reduce their Strength from 12 to 9 and thereby gain a +1 bonus to their prime requisite.

This sounded like a horrible deal to me, but several of the players took it.


After debating the rules for adjusting prime requisites, we had some fun with the unfortunately worded Language rules on pg. 12.

The “common tongue” spoken throughout the “continent” is known by most humans. All other creatures and monsters which can speak have their own language, although some (20%) also know the common one. Law, Chaos, and Neutrality also have common languages spoken by each respectively.

Did you spot it? You may not have if you’ve been accustomed to the tropes of D&D through other editions. I didn’t notice it myself until I was reading that passage out loud to my players.

While the “common tongue” is known by most humans, it’s only known by 20% of non-humans.

Elves and dwarves aren’t human. Ergo, Veera the Elf and Nichol the Dwarf only had a 20% chance of knowing the common tongue. We rolled the dice to check it… and they didn’t. We had a brief discussion about how Warrain the Wizard was going to have to act as a translator for both of them (he was the only party member with an Intelligence score high enough to learn their languages), but then the good ol’ alignment languages came to the rescue: Everybody quickly changed their alignment to Lawful and the crisis was averted.


Then everybody rolled their starting gold and started buying equipment. A few players had some misunderstandings regarding how encumbrance worked (thinking that the cost of the item in gold pieces also determined its encumbrance cost), but we quickly got that sorted out.

As the equipment itself, there was some consternation at discovering that all weapons did the same damage per hit. Assembling the old school adventuring kits, on the other hand, was no problem: Two of the players at the table were the only two players I’ve ever seen defeat the Tomb of Horrors. They knew what they were doing.

At this point we realized we had forgotten to roll for hit points, so we did that. This went… poorly. Hit point totals for the table: 6, 2, 1, 1, 2. With the exception of Veera, the entire table had glass jaws.

This boded ill for their dungeon delving. A few of them asked me to let them reroll, but I shook my head: The whole point was to play it by the book. And by the book they went…


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One Response to “OD&D in the Caverns of Thracia – Part 1: Character Creation”

  1. DanDare says:

    Reading this I suddenly felt very nostalgic. I also realised that there was something about the white box, and the Blackmore supplement, that has been lost. But I can’t work out what it is.

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