The Alexandrian

Since we’re going to be discussing the Caverns of Thracia extensively as part of the Jaquaying the Dungeon essays, I finally motivated myself to collect the campaign journal / exploration of OD&D that I wrote in early 2009 so that they could all be accessed through one handy link. Check it out:

Part 1: Character Creation
Part 2: The First Foray
Part 3: Death in the Ruins
Part 4: The Second Party
Part 5: The Final Foray
Part 6: The Second Session
Part 7: The Twin Travails of Thalmain
Part 8: The Massacre of Fire

UPDATE: The following posts also contain thrilling exploits from the dungeon:

The Intemperate Jungle
My Favorite Character Sheet

You might also want to check out the (Re-)Running the Megadungeon essays, which use a behind-the-scenes peek at this campaign as an example of how to properly run a megadungeon.

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One Response to “OD&D in the Caverns of Thracia”

  1. Justin Alexander says:

    ARCHIVED HALOSCAN COMMENTS

    AzaLiN
    OH, sudden death and d&d: gygax wrote in his book, Master of the Game, somewhere on or after page 58 or so:
    (a paraphrase: i can’t find the exact quote)
    “given good player choices, and average or slightly lower luck in dice rolls, a player should have a 95% chance of surviving an adventure intact.”

    elsewhere,
    “continuity is very important, and so a superior gaming system will have some sort of mechanic for ensuring continuity: return from death, continuance of the quest/campaign by a sibling or family member, or some form of luck (in Necropolis he called it ‘Joss’: use a point to ensure a hit, a miss, minimum damage, or maximum damage, but you get very few of them)

    he still intended tomb of horrors to be an extremely challenging, killer module however!
    ======================

    Why do player mapping at all? It needs to be challenging, suspenseful, or intriguing in some way to be worth the time and annoyance- but weren’t there chutes and random teleporters and one way doors back then? Enchanted stairs that make you think your going up but you’re actually going down? That would make mapping pretty sweet, IMO, especially when there was a need to get somewhere fast and they had to hope to god their map was accurate!

    I think most rooms were more or less identical also, with landmark rooms here and there for the PCs to actually confirm their location with only occasionally, so a player can’t just say “I walk down the corridor and turn down the hallway that leads to such and such place”

    I thought about using cut-up map portions, but if the players aren’t mapping, why don’t i just skip the effort and draw it roughly on blank scrap paper as they explore? that goes pretty well also. Its all about whether you can make player mapping rewarding or not. Unfortunately with player mapping, you can’t suddenly ask where each player is as easily because there isn’t a grid laid out for them at all times.

    fyi, getting my players to map is new for now: gotta see how it turns out.
    Friday, May 01, 2009, 4:28:34 AM


    vorpalauroch
    Two points: One, a group of new adventurers who burn four score of skeletons down in the dungeons will be telling that story until the day they die; damn right they’re getting a massive XP reward.
    Second, re CR tables: Much like the division of encounter difficulty (discussed a while ago), it’s easy to forget that there are guidelines for adjusting the ‘effective CR’ depending on situation. The CR-xp rule is not much firmer than the “EL = party level” rule.
    Monday, April 06, 2009, 6:07:53 AM


    James Richmond
    @ Part 8: That’s pretty cool, I guess. From the sounds of things, it came down to how competent you were at making simple and logical rules additions and changes to keep up with your players. Sure poses interesting questions about how much weight tactics and circumstances have on the difficulty of an encounter… I’m looking at you, exceedingly static calculated CR/ER tables in 3rd edition and beyond.
    Sunday, April 05, 2009, 4:02:30 AM


    Justin Alexander
    Looks like it was a server-side error on the part of my hosting company. Apparently transient.

    @James: It’s pretty informal. But generally if they ask, I’ll tell them (unless I have a specific reason why the details of the particular status would not be known). I’m a big fan of de-centralizing mechanical concerns: The more stuff I can get the players to deal with, the more attention I can pay to the stuff they can’t deal with. Smile

    In this case, I just said “X, Y, and Z fall unconscious”. The player just kind of leapt to the assumption that, like the characters who had “frozen in place, staring up at the ebon statue” he wouldn’t be able to wake them up before the effect timed out.

    @Noumenon: Thanks for the link to Alt Text. That’s pretty nifty.

    I have to dispute his conclusion regarding [i]Tenser’s floating disc[/i], however. Although it is virtually never used in my campaigns for hauling stuff around, its usefulness as a transport across dangerous terrain for low-level characters has been useful on countless occasions. Wink
    Friday, April 03, 2009, 1:41:15 AM


    Anon
    Huh… it’s working now. Never mind, I guess.
    Thursday, April 02, 2009, 5:31:45 PM


    Noumenon
    I agree about the huge battlemat — I have one that’s 34×22 squares and it holds at least half the adventure module at once, so I can predraw it. Then I have another one for drawing-and-erasing.

    Regarding sleep, Alt Text graded it here along with other first level spells.
    Wednesday, April 01, 2009, 8:36:54 AM


    Scott W.
    That sounds hilarious, but it’s working fine for me.
    Tuesday, March 31, 2009, 6:28:44 PM
    – Like – Reply
    Anon
    Hey, there is something very wrong with http://www.thealexandrian.net/archive/archive2009-03e.html .

    It stops in the middle of the bit on war-trained familiars, with:

    “but that’s likely because (a) standard familiars can’t use weapons aHTTP/1.1 200 OK Date: Tue, 31 Mar 2009 02:32:43 GMT Content-Type: text/html Connection: keep-alive Server: Apache Last-Modified: Mon, 30 Mar 2009 20:22:01 GMT ETag: “b5a7587a-d1f0-4665bd5cb3350″ Accept-Ranges: bytes Content-Length: 53744”

    …and then it starts repeating the entire page starting with the “ARCHIVE” graphic and going on into your definition of speculative fiction.
    Monday, March 30, 2009, 10:19:20 PM


    James Richmond
    @ Part 7, defending the unconscious: Impressive ignorance and impressive competence bring impressive results. I assume this couldn’t have happened unless you don’t tell players what status effects they are actually under if you think they couldn’t work it out or couldn’t inform another player. Do you have a standard procedure for when information should or should not be revealed to a group about specific players’ debilitating conditions?
    Monday, March 30, 2009, 5:25:53 PM


    Justin Alexander
    I used the “cut-the-map-up” technique for Pythoness House. Given the complex, multi-level design of the house and the high-quality cartography it definitely enhanced play. But the laborious process of cutting the map up into usable chunks was definitely laborious.

    I recommend using Post-It notes to adhere the pieces together. Either use the tiny ones or tear the large Post-Its in thinner strips. Then just slide it under the edge of the piece you’re adding to, press down, and then press the new piece into place. Works like a charm.

    I use the same method when assembling Cheapass boardgames.
    Monday, March 30, 2009, 4:03:15 PM


    Leland J. Tankersley
    Re: imprecise measurements:

    Yeah; if you’re using a battlemat of some kind, then anything that gets drawn on it is pretty definitive. Pretty much circumvents the notion of inaccurate party mapping.

    My group typically only draws things out on the mat when encounters are, if not underway, than more-or-less imminent. Because of some physical constraints on where we play, it’s a bit of a pain to draw everything out. Plus, drawing, say, a 100′ long corridor that just links a couple of rooms together gets old fast. I do like the idea of asking “where are you” often. I do this from time to time; I may try to throw it in more often.

    When I’ve used pre-printed elements on paper (e.g. Eric of Ptolus’s Dunjinni maps) they’ve worked pretty well. But we don’t usually play at my home, and transporting and organizing these sheets gets to be a logistic challenge. Plus the paper gets wrinkled, or whatever. And to preserve secrecy (and to keep the pieces manageable) I like to chop them up physically along barriers to observation (walls/doors) so as not to reveal too much, too soon. Then just finding the right piece of map to pull out gets challenging. And the relatively small bits of paper are light and tend to get jostled or blown. Nice idea, would work better if we had lots of dedicated space, but not really practicable for my group.

    I just made up some wilderness “geomorphs” by scribing a 1″ grid on 6″x6″ foam-core squares and drawing some generic forest terrain on them with Sharpie markers. They worked pretty well in an initial game – they’re just heavy enough that they don’t drift much on the table, and the size is pretty nice. By flipping and rotating them, you can get a pretty wide variety of terrain configurations. I might do something similar for generic dungeon environments (10′ hallway, 20′ hallway, 20’x30′ room, etc), with some little tokens/markers for e.g. doors. Those are things I could pre-position at our normal gaming site so transportation wouldn’t be an issue. For “special” encounters you could also prepare a specific foam-core block for a given encounter and pull that out when needed. Might be possible to pull the old “where are you” schtick without disrupting things too much by doing this.
    Monday, March 30, 2009, 1:32:31 PM


    James Richmond
    To your credit, when you do finally respond, you do so elegantly. Sadly, I am unable to do the same, or even stay on topic.

    I suppose I’m just less reluctant to change swathes of game rules with my Rule 0 gun than I am trying to play on when I see the core of the game as being beyond retrievable through wild rule patching. Clearly, this is a bad solution to a system like 4e, which has more problems than a minotaur can shake their dual-wielded spiked chains at, and I wouldn’t be able to run OD&D at all because I see the core rules as being maddeningly badly written (from what I have read).

    (Coincidentally, figuring I may as well productively use my obsession with changing integral game mechanics, I actually started writing an entirely new setting and rule set for my group, with a relatively unique use of dice and the destruction of various system staples.)

    Somewhat off-topic; indeed, I think this site may have single-handedly caused me to (realise my) dislike of 4e’s approach to many problems. So, bravo if your (commercially understandable) apparent hatred of everything 4e stands for means you like the idea of people being slowly turned from it. (Otherwise, your constant 4e knocks during many posts seem surprisingly heavy-handed compared to most of your writing.)
    Monday, March 30, 2009, 1:20:19 PM


    Justin Alexander
    Regarding mapping: The convention I use is that I don’t give them precise measurements unless they take the time (in-character) to do the measurement. So a hall is “30, maybe 40 feet” before taking a turn to the right and precise angles are never given. If they want to be more precise than that, they need to pace it out or measure it.

    Combined with wandering monsters, this turns time into a meaningful resource that they have to manage. And I don’t mind imprecision on the map as long as it doesn’t break verisimilitude (IOW, the error comes from the character misjudging angles or distances, rather than the players misinterpreting a verbal description of something that would be obvious if you were actually looking at it).

    In my Ptolus campaign, I just draw out every single inch of the dungeon crawl on my (very large) Chessex battlemap. I also make a habit of asking them, “Where are you?” Even when there’s no reason for me to know.

    These conventions have several advantages:

    (1) The drawing of an encounter map is never a “give-away” that something interesting is about to happen.

    (2) The position of a PC miniature on the battlemap is understood to be absolutely precise and binding 99% of the time, virtually eliminating all metagame arguments about who was standing where when the fireball trap went off.

    (3) The question, “Where are you?” can be used to re-focus attention in much the same manner as, “So what are you doing?” and “Everybody give me a Spot check.”

    (4) I hadn’t really thought about it until just now, but the “Where are you?” questions also keeps people engaged in the action while the rogue is making their Search, Disable Device, and Open Locks checks. We know where the rogue is in order to make the skill check, so everybody else gets engaged in figuring out strategically where they want to be. This strategy is rarely complex and frequently standardized, but it emphasizes that their characters are still part of the scene for those few short seconds while the rogue is rolling the dice.

    But, OTOH, it means that imprecise mapping is pretty much nonexistent. It’s all about trade-offs.
    Monday, March 30, 2009, 12:25:51 PM


    Justin Alexander
    @James: I’m sorry I missed this post previously. However, I would say you need to look at the complexity of the house rules you’re suggesting.

    First, saying “roll up a 3rd level character” isn’t even really a house rule. There’s a discussion of rolling up non-1st level characters in the 3.5 DMG. It’s just a campaign parameter. You could just a easily say “everybody roll up an elf” or “everyone should create a character from the Silvermarten Hills”.

    Creating “apprentice levels” for 4th Edition, OTOH, would requires an obvious and significant amount of work to make the necessary alterations.

    The difference between saying (in previous editions), “Hey, we’re going to start play in this non-default but fully supported way.” And saying, “Hey, I’m going to write up a whole bunch of house rules so that we can play in a totally unsupported way.” Is, to my eye, a fairly significant difference.
    Monday, March 30, 2009, 11:56:44 AM


    Leland J. Tankersley
    I used to have my players do their own mapping. Then there was … The Incident. They were in a dungeon, and there was a little section in between encounter areas where there was a “loop” of corridor. And instead of a simple loop, there were a couple of extra turns in there. Topologically equivalent to a loop, just with a couple of jogs in it.

    Well, they wandered around in that little section of dungeon (which was MAYBE 200 linear feet of hallway) for something like an hour. They filled an entire sheet of graph paper mapping it. It was amusing at first, but then I just got fed up, took their paper, and drew what it was supposed to look like on it. They got “lost” for an hour in a “maze” consisting of, essentially, one four-way intersection and the hallway to connect two of the four openings together. That was the beginning of the end for player mapping.

    There are also all the logistical problems. Sure, describing odd rooms can be tough. But even settling on conventions for seemingly simple things can be challenging. “The hallway goes thirty feet, and then turns to the right.” “Is that 30 feet, and then the 4th square is the turn? Or is the turn at 30′ so there’s only 20′ of wall on the right side, and 30′ on the left?” “Er…. let me draw it for you.”

    I’m intending to do some old-school dungeon-crawl adventures next time I’m behind the screen, and as sort of a “return to when it was all shiny and new” I might give player mapping another try. But I kind of think I know how it’s going to come out…
    Monday, March 30, 2009, 11:44:14 AM


    Jeff Rients
    I draw the map for the players. One of them has to be the mapper and they can lose the map and all that kind of good stuff, but it makes things go much faster.

    Though when I make an error I look like an idiot, since I’m just copying.
    Monday, March 30, 2009, 8:07:10 AM


    drow
    regards mapping… make a copy of the map, grab a pair of scissors, and start cutting it up into logical room size pieces. you can read your description as you’re cutting, to save time. just watch the fingers. give the players a blank sheet of paper, a roll of tape, and each piece as they progress.
    Monday, March 30, 2009, 1:09:05 AM


    James Richmond
    4th edition may well have narrowed the range of gameplay supported, but considering you justify the addition of potentially problematic features in previous editions (even in 3rd edition, 1st level is a somewhat daunting prospect) by suggesting what amounts to house-ruling (we won’t use the first couple of class levels for PCs), why is house-ruling DOWN starting players in 4th (for example a reintroduction of ‘apprentice-level’, albeit for a different purpose) not also an acceptable strategy for bypassing a potentially limiting feature? (Of course, it wouldn’t be easy, but as has already been made clear, getting previous editions to play acceptably for your group isn’t either. We can’t be the only group that has to heavily house-rule 3rd, because we’re a really crazy bunch of players that like inventing new approaches and new adventure possibilities.)
    Thursday, February 26, 2009, 11:15:42 AM


    Justin Alexander
    One more thought on this issue: I think the tweaking of the rules that had happened by the time of BD&D and AD&D to make 1st level characters slightly more durable than a pinata were good adjustments. These adjustments kept survival as an important part of the game for those who wanted survival to be an important part of the game, while also making characters durable enough to support other styles of gameplay.

    If you want your starting characters to be more durable than that, though, I recommend the simple and expedient solution of starting them at 3rd level.

    4th Edition’s method of redesigning 1st level so that it’s functionally closer to what 3rd level was like in previous games is unappealing to me because, unlike the tweaks that happened between OD&D and AD&D, these tweaks narrow the range of gameplay supported by the system.
    Wednesday, February 25, 2009, 1:35:18 PM


    Justin Alexander
    @Johan: Well, the traditional solutions have been max hit points and/or larger hit dice.

    But I also agree with the points Leland makes. It’s something that I’ll be talking about in a lengthier essay in a couple of days, but this early lethality is a feature not a bug. If you start tweaking it, then you have to start tweaking a lot of other things. (Notably the method of ability score generation.)

    OTOH, I don’t think this early fragility is incompatible with making players care about their characters. To the contrary, I think it actually results in players caring about their characters.

    There were many possibly character and scenario goals in OD&D, but the primary gauge of success was simple: Survival. The high lethality rate establishes that gauge and, by extension, when you finally figure out (through luck or skill) how to keep a character alive until 2nd level that makes the character important to you on a personal level — it’s a “living” monument to your success.

    The primary difference between the style of play assumed in OD&D and most modern play (including my own) seems to be the amount of detailed investment made into a character before play begins.

    In OD&D your character was largely a cipher at creation (after all, why would you put much work into something that could be dead as a result of one die roll?). He was defined through his actions during the game and his tale grew in the telling.

    In most modern games, we spend a lot of time carefully constructing the party — back stories, a properly diverse arrangement of classes, the hook that pulls them all into the huge campaign we’ve got planned.

    My Ptolus campaign is an excellent example of that: There’s no way that I would design a campaign structured around five characters waking up with missing time in OD&D because the odds are that all of those PCs would be dead long before the mystery resolved itself… and then where’s the campaign?

    And, of course, the difference is that — in most modern games — survival is not the goal. There are plenty of people who even play with a table rule of PC “script immunity” — the dice may determine the success or failure of many things, but the PCs are never allowed to die.
    Wednesday, February 25, 2009, 1:30:25 PM


    Leland J. Tankersley
    “That sounds way waay too lethal for a game where the players are supposed to care about their characters.”

    You know, it’s not entirely clear that that’s the authorial intent in OD&D. I mean, they must have noticed the lethality when they were first playing, right? And old-school modules were deadly. Caverns of Thracia certainly doesn’t appear to pull any punches. And let’s not forget Tomb of Horrors, after all.

    Certainly as the game has evolved the “coddling factor” has increased. But I think in the Old Days ™ maybe death was much more accepted, especially at low levels. Gygax in particular seemed to delight in elaborate traps and situations likely to kill or at the least inconvenience characters.

    It may also be that the assumptions we tend to make in more recent versions of the game (e.g., you roll 4d6 6 times, arrange how you like, but the character is still so bad you just say he died as a kid and re-roll) weren’t made back then. Instead, only the characters who were lucky and skilled would live through the first few levels. And the rarity of that would then create attachments to the characters.
    Wednesday, February 25, 2009, 8:54:12 AM


    Johan Larson
    In OD&D, there is a significant chance that an attack that hits will kill a first-level character outright and unrecoverably. That sounds way waay too lethal for a game where the players are supposed to care about their characters.

    Do you have a preferred way to fix this?

    It seems to me a character should be able to take at least one hit without dying. Take one hit, you’re hurt and should probably back off. At that point the player would have the choice between being careful and withdrawing, or pushing his luck and fighting on.
    Wednesday, February 25, 2009, 8:26:52 AM


    Justin Alexander
    Raise Dead is a 5th level cleric spell (the highest level of spells available). The players are aware of it, but they consider it to be far out of their reach.
    Tuesday, February 24, 2009, 2:06:17 PM


    Johan Larson
    Is there no mention in the OD&D rules of ways to bring a character back from the dead?

    If the rules have any mention of spells or artifacts that allow resurrection, it would not be unreasonable to allow the characters to go off on a sub-quest to revive their fallen comrade. Of course, they may end up hip-deep in hoc to the nearest temple, but them’s the breaks. Even a very inexperienced GM with a brand-new game system might reasonably think up that.
    Tuesday, February 24, 2009, 12:26:21 PM


    Leland J. Tankersley
    I don’t think the random generation stuff had its genesis in wargames, because in historical wargaming there’s no precedent for that kind of randomness. And treasure is not something that typically comes up. But I agree that the motivation was probably to provide something approximating/resembling a “complete game” rather than just some general guidelines.

    I didn’t remember all swords being intelligent (and aligned), or the bit about shields. I don’t think I actually played with these rules much, if at all, though (although I spent a lot of time reading them, drawing dungeons, and trying to figure out how to approximate the polyhedral dice ranges with a handful of six-siders) — the AD&D Player’s Handbook was either just published, or about to be, when I got the white box, and the DMG was at least on the horizon.

    I do remember the first time I played with a group, though. A guy I knew took me along to play with his group. They were running a module, and told me to just roll up a new character. The module?

    Tomb of Horrors. Oh, yeah.

    Interestingly enough, this is actually a module where a weak character actually has a chance, because there’s very little combat. I’m sure I didn’t contribute anything (except maybe thinking about the taunting rhymes), but as long as you don’t get disintegrated or walk through the wrong archway, or whatever, you actually have some chance of survival. I don’t remember whether I did, or not — I kind of doubt it, but I do sort of remember the final “confrontation” with the demi-lich.
    Sunday, February 22, 2009, 9:04:00 PM


    Lior
    Re: languages: I think it’s always been the case that the number of languages is fixed by the rules, while the choice of starting languages is made by the player (within reason). So, a dwarf of intelligence below 11 will only speak Dwarfish. A dwarf of intelligence 11 or more might speak Common.

    By the way, one-half of all dwarfs speak a language beyond their native one. If 20% of all dwarfs speak Common, then the conditional probability of speaking Common given INT>10 must be 40%.
    Sunday, February 22, 2009, 1:58:59 PM


    Justin Alexander
    I suspect the tables for randomly determining the parameters of the game were heavily influenced by similar traditions in wargames.

    I also think these — and the more complete Random Dungeon tables from AD&D — were a way of saying, “Shut up and game.” If somebody wants to play, a lack of preparation should never stand in the way of that. Play a different scenario or just roll something up.

    The thing I find interesting about the treasure rules in OD&D are the rules for swords: All swords are intelligent and at least half of them will have their own agendas and be able to communicate.

    Another interesting rule: Magical shields are only useful one-third of the time, and then only if their magical bonus is larger than that of the armor the character is wearing.

    These are both things I’ll be discussing at greater length in future essays.

    A lot of flavor comes out of the quirky inconsistencies in the way the OD&D rules model different types of magical weapons and so forth.
    Sunday, February 22, 2009, 1:03:20 PM


    Leland J. Tankersley
    “Re: Re-rolling all hit dice. I had completely forgotten this until your comment jogged my memory, but I had the same interpretation of the BECMI rules for a few weeks. Although, looking at the rulebooks now, I can’t figure out how I had reached that conclusion.”

    The answer to this, I think, is that IT WAS ALL NEW. These books were pretty much the genesis of the tabletop role-playing game genre. Reading them (or the BECMI rules, which I never saw) for the first time, you have no preconceived notions of how things work. You just have to go by the text and squint to try to see the “Platonic ideal” Gygax is trying to present.

    I’m remembering a lot of little tidbits about my early days, too. Reading through book 2, especially the magical treasures, makes me wonder about why there are a bunch of magical swords (for example) listed, but only a very of the monsters in the game are represented (in the sense of there being a sword or other weapon that has special bonuses against that type of monster). Really, I think the whole idea here is that they are trying to say “look, just make stuff up, here are some examples of the kinds of things you can do.” But they don’t really pound that message home. And that, coupled with the presentation in random determination tables, I think led to a lot of people feeling somewhat straitjacketed by the rules, monsters, and items, when that was probably precisely the opposite of what was intended. I wonder if they felt compelled to put in these tables because, you know, that’s what you DO in game rules. Lists might have been better; I don’t know.
    Sunday, February 22, 2009, 9:31:09 AM


    Justin Alexander
    Re: Automatic doors. I would disagree with your reading of the phrase “automatically close”. Since even doors which are “wedged open by means of spikes” still have a one-third chance of having the spikes slip and the door shut of its own accord, I think the only logical conclusion is that “automatically close” means “doors close unless you do something to stop them from closing (and maybe not even then)”.

    I will agree, however, that “doors will automatically open for the monsters” probably does mean “if the monsters try to open them”.

    Is this confusing? Yes. Welcome to a rulebook written by Gary Gygax.

    Re: Languages. Your interpretation of the passage is interesting, but actually significantly less supported by the text than my own. (Which, as I noted, is probably because the section is poorly written. But that doesn’t change what it says.) In the same paragraph which discusses the 20% chance of non-humans to know the common tongue, there are very precise rules given regarding how many additional languages a character may know based on their Intelligence score.

    Reading this in the rulebook: “Characters with an Intelligence above 10 may learn additional
    languages, one language for every point above 10 intelligence factors. Thus, a man with an intelligence level of 15 could speak 7 languages, i.e. the common tongue, his divisional language, and 5 creature languages.”

    And concluding that players should fairly get to arbitrarily decide which and how many languages they speak is, IMO, perverse.

    Are these rules badly written? Possibly. Can this entire section of the rulebook be rewritten? Of course it can.

    But, of course, it would be silly to attempt to talk about the published rules of OD&D by ignoring the published rules of OD&D. If I were to do that, I could just as easily conclude that OD&D and Monopoly are the exact same game — after all, the rules of one can be rewritten in to the rules of the other.

    Rule 0 Fallacies hold little interest for me, eradicating — as they do — all basis for meaningful discussion or criticism.
    Sunday, February 22, 2009, 5:13:33 AM


    Lior
    Regarding the common tongue: This game is not intended to be played “rules as written”. Moreover, the “rules” are not really rules. That 20% is a population statement, not an individual statement: whether individual characters speak the common tongue should depend on their personal backgrounds, not on a die roll, and should be fairly left to the players. Those characters that had close contact with humans in the past should speak common; those that haven’t probably don’t.
    Sunday, February 22, 2009, 3:26:07 AM


    Lior
    Regarding the doors: surely you have “automatic success” not “automatic doors”. In other words, the doors don’t close by themselves; instead attempts to close doors always succeed, as well as attempts by monsters to open them.
    Sunday, February 22, 2009, 3:16:14 AM


    Justin Alexander
    Re: Re-rolling all hit dice. I had completely forgotten this until your comment jogged my memory, but I had the same interpretation of the BECMI rules for a few weeks. Although, looking at the rulebooks now, I can’t figure out how I had reached that conclusion.

    A pretty fundamental BECMI mistake that we made — and one that persisted for a long time before we realized we were doing something wrong — was our interpretation of ability score adjustments. The table on pg. 50 of the 1983 Basic Set was titled “Bonuses and Penalties for Ability Scores”, with “Ability Score” in one column and “Adjustment” in the other column.

    So, for example, an ability score of 18 had an adjustment of +3… which we concluded meant we should add +3 to the 18.

    So we had characters running around with ability scores of 21 out of the box.

    Ah, youth… Wink
    Sunday, February 22, 2009, 1:04:55 AM
    – Like – Reply
    James Richmond
    It’s the weirdest thing, reading about how the rules were at the beginning. I’ve never even seen a copy of any OD&D rules, being new to this type of gaming… one thing that is clear is that the focus has shifted dramatically from building rules that facilitate basic gameplay whilst relying on game master interpretation in the earlier editions, to trying to build a complex (but well-defined, and therefore restrictive) ruleset without knocking over anything valuable in recent versions (especially 3rd edition and beyond). Looking at 4e, that suggests it’s realistically playable without a dungeon master at all (as so far as endless combat goes), there’s something quite special about these old rules you have to sit down and decipher, then try and explain to equally clueless players without proper reference material, then house-rule to death in order to get something players will put up with (unless the players of yore were very patient and forgiving indeed)

    I’m not left thinking that unclear, ineptly written rules hacked together from rules for army-level command is for me, though.
    Saturday, February 21, 2009, 5:53:03 PM
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    Leland J. Tankersley
    I remember rolling up a lot of crappy characters. Of course, ability scores barely mattered in OD&D. (That didn’t change until Greyhawk.) FWIW, my reading of the ability score trading is that you actually reduce one ability in order to increase your prime requisite, and you can’t reduce any ability below 9 in this way. (That’s how I parse it now; I don’t think I understood what the heck they were talking about back when I was 13, or whatever.)

    Hit points were a big problem. I know at one point, it wasn’t clear to me that, when you advanced a level, you wouldn’t reroll ALL of your hit dice (and just from the text, it’s still not obvious that this is the intent). I remember several times when I would advance a level and actually LOSE hit points.

    Since all hits do 1d6, why would you buy an expensive sword or bow? A cheap dagger will do just fine.

    The answer, I think, is that almost all of this stuff is, initially, FLAVOR. It’s cooler to be swinging a sword than poking with a dagger. And it defines what you have. OD&D was almost 100% improvisation on the part of both players and DM. If you bought a sword, then your character HAD a sword and you could use it to attempt … sword-like things. Whereas if you just had a club, maybe the DM wouldn’t let you stab someone through an arras, or whatever. And that led to more and more detail and differentiation being layered on, first in Greyhawk and Blackmoor, and then AD&D, and so on along the path that led us to 3rd and (recently) 4th edition.
    Saturday, February 21, 2009, 3:20:31 PM
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