The Alexandrian

Posts tagged ‘reactions to OD&D’

Wizards of the Coast has finally made the PDFs for OD&D available again! For those unfamiliar with the evolution of D&D throughout the years, check out A Nomenclature of D&D Editions. (Which is somewhat out of date at this juncture, but should more than suffice for the current topic.)

If you’re a newer reader here at the Alexandrian, you may be wondering what the fuss is all about. The short version is that exploring the strange nuances of OD&D proved to be an incredibly insightful journey for me, most notably culminating in my understanding of the importance of an Open Gaming Table for roleplaying games. I wrote a number of short articles here at the Alexandrian about my reactions, and if you’d be interested in visiting (or revisiting) those thoughts here are some quick links to explore:

Reactions to OD&D
The Ur-Game
Thinking About Morale
OD&D in the Caverns of Thracia
Ranged Combat
Prime Requisites
The Scope of the Game
OD&D Character Sheets
Gygaxian Rulebooks
Experience Points
Encounter Probability
Size Does Matter?
Turns, Rounds, and Segments… Oh My!
Bachelor Party OD&D
(Re-)Running the Megadungeon
The Intemperate Jungle
My Favorite Character Sheet
Keep on the Borderlands – Factions in the Dungeon
Treasures Maps & The Unknown: Goals in the Megadungeon
Wandering Adventures
Interesting Facts About the Blood Shield Bandits
Untested: Reserve Items
Vampires as Lycanthropes
Untested: At Death’s Door
The Ruined Temple of Illhan
The Subtle Shifts in Play
Turn Undead in Blackmoor

You might also find these interesting:

Gary Gygax’s House Rules for OD&D
Justin’s House Rules for OD&D

Van Helsing - Peter CushingDH Boggs at Hidden in Shadows has put together an absolutely fascinating bibliographic analysis of the earliest versions of the turn undead ability in D&D.

The short version: Virtually no explanation of the “turn undead” ability was provided in the original edition of D&D. Boggs makes a strong case that the ability was only being used by Arneson’s Blackmoor group in Minneapolis and not being used by Gygax’s Greyhawk group in Lake Geneva. Gygax, therefore, gave the ability short shrift in compiling the 1974 rulebooks; this short shrift, in turn, resulted in people interpreting the ability in a way that was much more powerful than Arneson intended (or the Blackmoor group was experiencing). And the legacy of that power-up is something that the game is still dealing with 5+ editions later.

This is a great example of the “Ur-Game” of D&D, as I described it in my Reactions to OD&D several years ago.

What’s also interesting to me is how closely Boggs’ reconstruction of Arneson’s original rules mirror the house rules for turning that I posted here on the Alexandrian back in 2007. (These rules are still being regularly used in my 3.5 Ptolus campaign. And they’re great: Streamlined resolution paired with a range of effects which is less overpowered and, simultaneously, more interesting in the results it produces.)

Justin’s House Rules for OD&D

September 17th, 2011

OD&D - Volume 1: Men & MagicNot quite as auspicious as Gary Gygax’s house rules, but these are the house rules we’ve developed as part of my Thracian Hexcrawl open table campaign.

Virtually all of these rules are the result of discussing the rambling inconsistencies of the rulebooks. For the first five or six sessions of the campaign, in fact, every session started by tackling a few key passages and trying to unravel their meaning (which led to many different experimentations). Over time, however, the table settled sort of naturally into a set of “standard practices”, at which point I codified them and printed up a small booklet to accompany the copies of Volume 1: Men & Magic I have on the table.


One-Handed Weapons: 1d6
Two-Handed Weapons: 2d6, take highest
Light Weapons: 2d6, take lowest

Short Bow: 2d6, take lowest
Long Bow: 1d6
Composite Bow: 2d6, take highest

Light Crossbow: 1d6
Heavy Crossbow: 2d6, take highest

(In OD&D, despite a lengthy list of different weapons all costing varying amounts of money, all attacks do 1d6 points of damage regardless of what weapon you’re using. This always prompted merry discussion. It gave rise to a memorable session in which a character opted, instead of buying a proper weapon, to simply turn 1 gp into 100 cp and then hurl copper pieces for the duration of the session. During this time period I read James Maliszewski’s Dwimmermount Campaign House Rules and mentioned his rule for two-handed weapons (2d6, keep highest). Everyone liked it and we quickly expanded upon the concept.)


Dual-wielding grants you a +1 bonus on your attack roll. On a hit, you deal damage as per the most effective weapon. (You can’t dual-wield with a two-handed weapons unless you have more than two hands.)


Not wearing a helmet inflicts a -1 penalty to Armor Class.

(This was another rule prompted by consideration of the equipment list: Helmets are listed, but what are they good for?)


Shields grant a +1 bonus to Armor Class (as shown on the combat tables) when they are readied. (Surprised characters do not benefit from their shields.) In addition:

Shields Shall Be Splintered:Whenever you take damage, you can opt to have the damage absorbed by your shield. The shield is splintered and destroyed, but you don’t take any damage from the blow.

Magic Shields: You can do the same with a magic shield, but the shield won’t be destroyed. Instead there will be a 75% chance that the shield will lose +1 of its enchantment.

Magic Shields vs.  Spells: In addition, you can automatically sacrifice +1 from a magic shield in order to make a successful save vs. any spell, breath weapon, gaze, or similar effect.

Special Materials:

  • Dragonscale Shields: Can be sacrificed like a magic shield in order to make a successful save vs. any spell, breath weapon, gaze, or similar effect.
  • SilverFaced Shield: Functions as a magic shield against spectral attacks (75% chance of the silver-facing being ruined).

(These rules are adapted from Trollsmyth’s Shields Shall Be Splintered and Aeons ‘n Auguries’ Splintering Shields by Material. Unlike the other house rules here, I included these simply because I liked ’em so much. The result? Unlike the other house rules, these are basically never used.

What I like about all of these house rules, however, is that they provide a simple-yet-effective method of making greatsword wielders (effectively +1 damage), dual-wielders (+1 to hit), and sword-and-boarders (+1 AC plus the splintering) all mechanically diverse and rewarding options.)


1 turn = 10 minutes = 10 rounds = 2 moves
1 segment = 5 minutes = 1 move

1 move = speed x 10 feet
1 turn = 2 moves = speed x 20 feet
1 turn of flight = speed x 40 feet

Search a 10’ wall = 1 full turn
Listening/ESP/Clairvoyance/X-Ray = 1 quarter turn

(Check out Reactions to OD&D: Turns, Rounds, and Segments – Oh My! for a complete description of archaeological text work that was required to piece out this system.)


  • Declare Magic / Preparations
  • Missiles
  • Movement
  • Magic
  • Movement
  • Melee
  • Miscellaneous

All actions in a phase are considered simultaneous. If a character becomes incapacitated in a phase, they will generally not deal damage in that phase.

Surprise: Surprise allows one movement and one action.

Magic: Includes turning and most magic item use. Characters preparing to cast cannot take other actions. Any damage suffered while preparing forces a prime requisite check (modified by damage taken) to avoid losing the spell / turning.

Preparations: Retrieve 1 item, stow a weapon, draw a weapon (while dropping current weapon), pouring oil in front of you.

Missiles: Firing into melee has 50% chance of hitting a random target.

Movement: Move a number of feet equal to your speed (6” = 6 feet) or charge at twice that rate (suffering -2 penalty to AC and attacks for round).

Melee: If you’re engaged in melee, all non-melee actions (spells, missile fire, etc.) are considered a miscellaneous action and delayed until that phase. You cannot attack during melee if you are waiting to take a delayed action in the miscellaneous phase. (A spellcaster forced into melee during the first movement phase can’t cast until the miscellaneous phase, even though they were out of melee when they declared their spell.)

Miscellaneous: Includes helping wounded comrades, imbibing potions, lighting a flask of oil, etc.

Note: It is possible to shoot a missile weapon, move, move again (into melee), make a melee attack, and then drink a potion (although this would require you to be wielding a one-handed missile weapon and a one-handed melee weapon, since you wouldn’t be able to switch weapons between those actions). Similarly, one can declare a spell, cast a spell, move (into melee), and then make a melee attack (but if someone engages you in melee before the spell goes off, your casting is delayed to the miscellaneous phase and the other actions become impossible).


OD&D doesn’t include a system for determining the order in which actions are resolved. My initial impulse was to embrace a system of simultaneous action resolution. We went through several variants of this — generally with a guideline that incapacitation favored the PCs (either striking one last valiant blow before falling unconscious or preventing monsters from dealing damage by slaying them first) — and what I discovered was that I could generally manage the system as long as the number of combatants remained relatively small.

But as group size grew — both due to the popularity of the open table and the increasing number of henchmen and hirelings — it became more difficult to juggle all of the disparate elements into a compelling narrative and game experience. This led to a fresh round of experimentation. Throughout this process I resisted the impulse to simply embrace initiative checks and call it quits (largely because I view my OD&D experiences as a chance to radically experiment with the basic game-form).

I eventually settled on this system, which is largely inspired by the Mmmmmm! System from Swords of Minaria and the Perrin Conventions. Resolution in each phase is simultaneous, but sufficiently broken up that I can manage much larger groups without losing all sense of cohesion and comprehension.

The Subtle Shifts in Play

August 29th, 2011

B4 The Lost City - Tom MoldvayConsider this: In 1974, create water was a 4th level spell and create food was a 5th level spell. That meant you wouldn’t have magical access to a water supply until you had a 6th level cleric in the group; and you wouldn’t have magical access to food until you had a 7th level cleric. (By 7th level you’re considered a major religious leader and at 8th level you’re assumed to be founding your own churches.)

This remained true in the Basic line of the game all the way through the Rules Cyclopedia in ’91. In the Advanced line of the game, however, things shifted. In the 1st Edition PHB create water became a 1st level spell.

What does this mean? Well, it means that B4 The Lost City was a viable scenario in the Basic game, but not in the Advanced game:

Days ago your group of adventurers joined a desert caravan. Halfway across the desert, a terrible sandstorm struck, separating your party from the rest of the caravan. When the storm died down you found that you were alone. The caravan was nowhere in sight. The desert was unrecognizable, as the dunes had been blown into new patterns. You were lost.


The second day after your water ran out, you stumbled upon a number of stone blocks sticking out of a sand dune. Investigation showed that the sand covered the remains of a tall stone wall. On the other side of the stone wall was a ruined city.

The whole concept of being driven into an ancient ruin because you’re short on water pretty much ceases to be an issue. This is even more true in 3E when the already devalued create water became a 0-level orison.

But like the wings of a butterfly, the subtle shift in this single spell actually has a profound impact on gameplay.


As my old school 1974 campaign moved towards hexcrawling, my players began figuring out how to equip their characters for wilderness exploration. The hexcrawling was based around a fairly basic system (which served as the test pilot for the wilderness exploration mechanics found in Legends & Labyrinths). It’s not a mass of complexity, but it does provide a basic model for:

  1. Travel Time
  2. Navigation
  3. Discovery

Combined with the standard systems of encumbrance and a daily requirement of food and water, the result was a fairly plausible demand for supplies (particularly if they were heading into the jungle where potable water was difficult to come by).

What they quickly discovered was that, for any journey of appreciable length, they couldn’t physically carry the necessary supplies. So they needed horses.

But horses pose a problem if you need to go spelunking. So they needed hirelings to care for the horses.

And once you’ve got hirelings watching the horses, it doesn’t take much imagination to start hiring men-at-arms to come into the dungeon with you.

All these hirelings, of course, need their own supplies. Which means more horses. And eventually pack horses. (The latter, particularly, once they started hitting treasures that they couldn’t easily haul back in a single load.)

After some trial and error, each group found their own equilibrium. But, in general, adventuring parties grew. And as the parties grew, the need for larger, more elaborate, and more rewarding ventures grew.

The reality of this dynamic is actually more complex than this, of course. (For example, I also believe the fact that hirelings are given a prominent place as a major feature of your character in the original rulebooks plays a large role in making them a major feature in old school play. Take those same rules and put them somewhere else in the rulebook and that gameplay doesn’t get as much attention.) But the need for supplies was, in a very real sense, the camel’s nose in the tent: Take that need away, the need for horses disappears. The need for horses disappears, the hirelings disappear.

And I’d argue it can actually be taken one step further: Take low-level hirelings away and you take away mid-level fiefdoms because you haven’t developed the skills or style of play necessary to gradually transition into those fiefdoms. The entire original “end game” of the game disappears.


The other thing about create water as a spell is that it’s a small example of a larger phenomenon in D&D which is often overlooked.

Specifically, it’s an ability which removes gameplay.

I’ve spoken with many game designers who consider this to be a huge mistake. It was certainly a motivating factor in the design of 4th Edition. A similar motivation gives you the game world scaling of Oblivion.

But I, personally, think it’s great: As you play D&D, the game shifts. At 10th level you aren’t playing the same game you were playing at 1st level.

If we consider this narrow slice of the game, D&D basically used to say: “Okay, you start out exploring a nearby dungeon for 2 or 3 levels. Then you start exploring the wildnerness and you have to really focus on how to make those explorations a success — supplies, navigation aids, clear goals, etc. We’ll do that for 3-4 levels and then, ya know what? I’m bored with that. So we’ll keep doing the explorations, but we’re going to yank out all that logistical gameplay, replace it with some magical resources, and start shifting the focus of wilderness exploration to staking out fiefdoms and clearing the countryside. We’ll do that for 3-4 levels. By that time you’ve probably transitioned pretty thoroughly into realms management, so we’ll just give you this teleport spell and we can probably just phase that ‘trekking through the wilderness’ stuff out entirely.”

(Of course, it’s not really gone because the same players are running multiple PCs. So if they’re in the mood for some hexcrawling on Tuesday night, they’ll just bring out their lower level characters to play.)

You’ll find these kinds of abilities studded throughout the game. Their impact has been dulled somewhat over the years (and removed pretty much completely from 4th Edition), but this fundamental panoply of gameplay experiences continues to be a major strength of classic D&D.

A couple days ago I described the first foray of my PCs into the Crypt of Luan Phien, a segmented dungeon which periodically rotates and rearranges its internal layout. As part of that post, I included the maps they drew.

Since then, there have been three return expeditions to the cairn hill, each allowing them to further perfect their understanding of the complex. Because of the unusual nature of the dungeon, I thought people might be interested to see how their maps have evolved:

Crypt of Luan Phien - Player's Map 1

This is the refinement of their first expeditionary map. Basically charting out their path through the dungeon, while also trying to figure out where the breakpoints in the rotation scheme lay. Analyzing this map allowed the mapper to produce this:

Crypt of Luan Phien - Player's Map 2

This map, representing the first effort to spatially understand how the segments linked together, went through several revisions, but quickly proved accurate enough to allow them to begin moving through the complex with purpose and intent (instead of hope and abandon).

After their last expedition, the mapper felt she had achieved a deep enough understanding of how the complex was working to further refine the map, resulting in this work-in-progress:

Crypt of Luan Phien - Player's Map 3

You can see larger versions of each map by clicking on them.

For reference purposes, the letters correspond to the original map as follows: A = 1, B = 2, C = 8, D = trap north of 13, E = 7, F = 12, G = unkeyed area next to 14, H = 13, I = area south of 13, J = 6, K = 10, L = 9, M = 11, N = 4, O = 14, Q = 3, R = 5.

If you’re curious about my peculiar variances in the dungeon, you can also check out my current key for the dungeon in PDF format:

Hex P8 – Crypt of Luan Phien



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