The Smoldering Wizard

Old-school Roleplaying

Forgotten Gems of the OSR - The Holmes Companion

May 27, 2022 — Doug

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For those not familiar with it, Meepo's Holmes Companion (HC) is a small supplement for Holmes Basic D&D that expands the original rules from level three to level nine. It was meant to give referees a simple but complete OD&D-based dungeon-crawling game, and it certainly does that in spades.

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Musings on Weapon Damage in Old-School D&D

May 23, 2022 — Doug

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It's fairly standard now that weapons in D&D do variable damage, but of course the original 1974 D&D (3LBBs) had all attacks doing d6 damage. The spear was the notable exception, able to do 2 or even 3 times normal damage when set against a charge. The Greyhawk supplement ushered in what we now take for granted, variable weapon damage. This was meant to complement the fact that monsters now had "attack routines" and did varying amounts of damage themselves.

The Greyhawk weapons table also added varying damage by size of the opponent, and there was a separate weapon vs. armor table, similar to the one in Chainmail but broken. In any case, the Greyhawk modifications were a pretty large jump in complexity and a move towards more of a simulationist combat model.

Holmes Basic kept the simplicity of d6 damage for all weapons, but tied this together with advanced hit dice and monster variable damage - something Greyhawk explicitly warned against. At least in Holmes' pre-publication manuscript, monsters kept the d6 hit die from the 3LBBs - it was only later, during editing, that the monster hit die was increased to a d8.

Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert (B/X) kept the variable monster hit dice and damage, and presented variable weapon damage as an option, but without Greyhawk's varying damage by opponent size and without the weapon vs. armor table. Moldvay's simpler variation made it into the B/X clones like Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy RPG (BFRPG). AD&D took the Greyhawk track, including both options.

Now, where does this leave us? In my mind, meaningful player choice is more important than simulating combat. As a player I'd rather have my weapon choice mean something in itself, without resorting to extra tables. Is the weapon two-handed, meaning it might do more damage but prevents the use of a shield? Does the weapon have some other sort of utility outside of combat? Can I use it as both a missile and melee weapon? Cost is rarely a factor outside of character creation, since after the first adventure or two, most characters will be able to afford any of the standard weapons.

For the 3LBBs, if you're a fighter, the spear is a clear winner. It can be thrown, used as a one-handed stabbing weapon with a shield, set against a charge, and it allows you to attack from the second rank.

For Holmes, as written, the dagger is king - but if you ignore the broken "small weapons get two attacks per round rule", the spear still wins.

For Moldvay, the sword is the clear winner - it's one-handed and does d8 damage, whereas two-handed weapons always attack last. Labyrinth Lord (LL) adds a lot of weapon options from AD&D, but quite frankly has a broken weapons table. Many of the choices make no sense (e.g. the two-handed war hammer that does d6 damage, or the two-handed battle axe that Dwarves cannot use).

BFRPG gets points for the most consistent weapons table, having variable damage but also fixing the B/X and especially LL issues with two-handed weapons, the battle axe and the hammer.

Swords & Wizardry Core and Complete also have a nicely consistent weapons table, however, in my opinion, the best compromise between simplicity and consistency is Swords & Wizardry White Box. It keeps the weapon damage variation small (d6 plus or minus 1), while still allowing some meaningful choice. It is my favorite of the bunch.

Tags: weapon-damage, musings

Musings on Experience Awards in 0e and White Box Games

May 21, 2022 — Doug

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In Greyhawk, the first OD&D supplement, there is this famous text (p. 12):

"The awarding of experience points is often a matter of discussion, for the referee must make subjective judgments. Rather than the (ridiculous) 100 points per level of slain monsters, use the table below, dividing experience equally [emphasis theirs] among all characters in the party involved..."

The emphasis on "dividing experience equally" is interesting. I used to think that Gygax was railing against 10 slain Orcs being worth 1000xp, divided among an entire party. Which is strange to me, as I still like to play this way in all my OD&D/White Box games, regardless of the system. I find it helps PCs gain levels more quickly in today's gaming environment, which is typically shorter games with smaller groups that are played not as often. Maybe it results in rapid advancement if you are playing 1974-style 12-hour sessions, but still not overly so, given the typically larger parties back then.

But now, looking back carefully at Men & Magic on the section about awarding experience, p. 18:

"Experience points are awarded to players by the referee with appropriate bonuses or penalties for prime requisite scores. As characters meet monsters in mortal combat and defeat them, and when they obtain various forms of treasure (money, gems, jewelry, magical items, etc.), they gain "experience." This adds to their experience point total, gradually moving them upwards through the levels...

Let us assume he gains 7,000 Gold Pieces by defeating a troll (which is a 7th-level monster, as it has over 6 hit dice)...thus; 7,000 GP + 700 for killing the troll...

It is also recommended that no more experience points be awarded for any single adventure than will suffice to move the character upwards one level. Thus a "veteran" (1st level) gains what would ordinarily be 5,000 experience points; however, as this would move him upwards two levels, the referee should award only sufficient points to bring him to "warrior" (2nd level), say 3,999 if the character began with 0 experience points."

Notice that nowhere in there does it say to divide experience equally among each party member leaving the reader to deduce from the example how to handle larger parties. I suspect that what some referees were doing back then was awarding the total XP for slain monsters to the entire party, without dividing it up equally (this seems even more likely with the example about the veteran earning 5000xp in one session). So a party of six first-level PCs that battled and killed 10 orcs would each get 1000xp. And that does indeed seem "ridiculous", especially when you include treasure-based XP awards in the total.

I can imagine Gygax receiving letters about this, or hearing of games played where referees were seeing every PC gain a level per game, which prompted that paragraph and emphasis in the Greyhawk supplement. This is all just conjecture on my part of course, but I'd love to hear from anyone who played back then and knew of referees who awarded XP this way.

Tags: musings, odd, whitebox, experience, greyhawk

Return to the Known Lands - Sessions #19-#20 of Secret Doors and Evil Priests

January 15, 2022 — Doug

Dates: 1/24/21 and 1/31/21

PCs:

  • Louis (FM 1)
  • Osan (Elf F/MU 2/1)
  • Omes (Half FM 2)
  • Arro (MU 1)
  • Habru (Cleric 2)

NPCs:

  • Habru's war dog, named Dog
  • Horace - Habru's retainer - Cleric 1

Hirelings:

  • Arvay - wagon driver
  • Dramm - porter

Link to Discussion

Links to Previous Sessions (old blog)

Links to Previous Sessions

LL Notes:

The players continued their dungeon crawl started two sessions ago. This was a fun session with a lot of exploration and some combat. There wasn't much monetary treasure, but Habru discovered a magical club and a clerical scroll (silence 15' radius and find traps), while Arro snagged a magic-user scroll (knock and mirror image). Curiosities included a small Inn within the dungeon, and a skeleton generator.

Session notes:

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Old-School Gaming Forum Update

December 10, 2021 — Doug

It's coming up on the six-year anniversary (January 30, 2016) of my old-school gaming forum. As with all forums, activity has waxed and waned over the years, but I'm happy with how it is running. There are dedicated sub-forums for Swords & Wizardry, White Box FMAG and Labyrinth Lord, and I just created a new sub-forum for Moldvay B/X, so I encourage anyone interested in those games to take a look!

Tags: forum

Random OD&D Dungeon Solo Play Report #4 - The Adventures of Graf the Warrior

October 16, 2021 — Doug

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Link to Prior Solo OD&D Play Reports

In our last session, Graf the Veteran got lucky and left the dungeon with a 6,000gp jewel, more than enough to level up. Back in town, he upgraded his armor to plate, purchased a short bow, a lantern and some oil, and set about trying to hire some help.

In OD&D, retainers are classed and leveled help that a PC can hire to accompany them on adventures, for a share of the loot. The rules stipulate some expenses, but "the referee must determine expenditures". However, in the section on hiring specialists and mercenaries, a guide of 100-600gp is given for advertising expenses, so I used that to make it easy.

Graf spent 100gp and had two potential hires present themselves - a Cleric and a Magic-User. Graf offered 200gp up-front to each and a 1/3-share of any treasure. The Cleric was insulted by Graf's offer, but the MU reacted favorably, and agreed to accompany him back to the dungeon. Total expenses for Graf: 417gp.

I perused my stash of index card characters, and pulled out Shal the Medium, with a 15 INT, giving her an extra 1st-level spell under my house rules. She memorized sleep and hold-portal, and headed out to the dungeon with Graf. For this I was using the Monster & Treasure assortment and the AD&D 1e DMG random dungeon generation tables.

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Return to the Known Lands - Sessions #17-#18 Dungeoneering

September 26, 2021 — Doug

Dates: 1/10/21 and 1/16/21

PCs:

  • Louis (FM 1)
  • Osan (Elf F/MU 2/1)
  • Omes (Half FM 2)
  • Arro (MU 1)
  • Habru (Cleric 2)

NPCs:

  • Guff - MU 1 and mule
  • Habru's war dog, named Dog
  • Horace - Habru's retainer - Cleric 1

Hirelings:

  • Arvay - wagon driver
  • Dramm - porter

Link to Discussion

Links to Previous Sessions (old blog)

Links to Previous Sessions

LL Notes:

These two sessions were really one spent in the dungeon, split into two real-time sessions a week apart. Normally when running dungeon crawls, I try to get the PCs out of the dungeon after each session, but it doesn't always work, or sometimes I'm certain we can have the same players play the next day or week or whenever. What I do in that case is freeze time in the dungeon, and we pick up where we left off when we can.

Anyway, for these two sessions, the party explored part of the first level of a dungeon beneath a nearby hilltop ruin. They were joined by Guff, a Magic-User they befriended while searching the ruins.

The dungeon is my own creation and I was trying to do something different from the "kill the monsters take their treasure" type of crawl. Not that those types of games can't be fun, but for this I wanted more exploration and the potential for dealing with dungeon factions, like the Duergar and Gnomes noted below.

Session notes:

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The Chronicles of Nolenor Play Report #28 - The Harvest Fair

August 16, 2021 — Doug

Real dates: 11/10/19 In-game dates: November 23rd, EY632

PCs:

Ambrose (Swashbuckler – Fighter L5)

Roger (Woodsman – Warden L4)

Hirelings:

Retainers

Figgish (Thief L1 - Squire to Ambrose)

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