Friday, January 20, 2012

AD&D Reprints

I have to say I am thrilled that WotC is offering a limited-run reprint of the AD&D core rulebooks. I've got my set already reserved at the Fantasy Shop. Those guys are great. 

While I did manage to snag the AD&D Monster Manual, Monster Manual II, and Fiend Folio at their Used Gaming Auction last weekend, I was outbid for the Players Handbook and DM Guide. I'm definitely looking forward to getting brand spanking new copies of these core books. 

What does this mean for the OSR? I'm not sure. I think a lot of these copies will be snatched up quickly by folks already involved in old-school gaming. The price point is too high to lure in new players, and I don't think they'll be sitting on the shelves for very long at all. Perhaps all the talk of a new edition will sell some of these to folks who haven't played since the 80s, but who knows? 

I hope they sell out quick. I hope WotC makes a bunch of money to share with the Gygax Memorial Fund. If WotC comes out ahead on this one, I bet we'll see more of the old material re-released pretty quickly. Hey, if there's a market for it (and the fact that the OSR exists is proof of that), some penny-pincher at Hasbro will figure out a way to make some money off all those old files taking up space on their hard drives. The market for these books is certainly driven by more than nostalgia. These are products that will see use at a lot of game tables. 

My money's on a big fat Ravenloft book next. A hardbound reprint of several of those modules would move quickly. I'd plop down $50 or $60 in a heartbeat. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

D&D Wizard Spell-Learning Times Through the Editions

As a follow-up to Tuesday's post on Magic-Users learning higher-level spells, it occurred to me that there are no guidelines in M74 Extended for how long it takes a Magic-User to learn new spells. So far in our game, it's been handwaved that a few 1st level spells can be learned in about a day of study. Now that we're getting a little higher in level, it bears researching the precedent in the game. 

And it gives me an excuse to flip through my newly-acquired B/X booklets! (Like I really needed an excuse...)

My 1980 Moldvay Basic book had very little to say concerning the learning of new spells, other than the fact that on gaining a level, a magic-user or elf gains an extra spell in their spellbook. 

Cook's 1981 Expert Book goes a little deeper, saying that "when player characters gain a level of experience, they will return to their masters and be out of play for one 'game-week' while they are learning their new spells." Interesting. At low levels this is one spell, and after sixth level elves and magic-users get two spells per level.

The Mentzer Companions didn't give me a whole lot to work with in addition to what was already offered, though I did find it quite entertaining that a wizard, after attaining name-level and either building or seizing a tower, is generally expected to build a dungeon nearby, and that monsters would move into the dungeon, and furthermore, adventurers would show up to take the monsters' treasure! 

Anyway, I'm going to jump ahead to AD&D 2E (Revised), because that's the next edition of Players' Handbook I have available. There is no mention here of a length of time to learn a new spell. What is interesting, however, is the Intelligence table. It offers several important bits of information for spellcasters, primarily the maximum level of spell they can learn and cast, their chance to learn any given spell they come across, the maximum number of spells they can know per level, and, with superhuman intelligence, what level of Illusion spell they are immune to. 

Now, this next observation may sound a bit rules-lawyerly, but nowhere in the Players Handbook does it say that a magic-user must be able to cast a spell to be able to learn it. Maybe it's supposed to be obvious, I don't know. But it seems to me, with the rules as written, that a 2E magic-user could find some high level spells and learn them (if she made her "chance to learn spell" roll) well before she was actually able to cast them. Which is just a bit odd to me. I definitely don't like the static "chance to learn spell" percentage roll, which is supposed to be for any spell of any level. Wouldn't a high level wizard have a pretty easy time learning a low-level spell? 

Now, in the 2E Revised DM Guide, it gives a guideline of 2 weeks per spell level for researching new spells, which is quite different from learning an existing spell, which is given on p. 62. "The standard amount of time required to prepare a spell book is one to two days of work per spell level of the spell being entered."

Excellent. That's actually useful. That information probably should have been in the Player's Handbook, but at least I found it! 

On to 3E. "The process (of copying a spell into a spellbook) requires 1 day plus 1 additional day per spell level". This information was in the Player's Handbook, and remarkably easy to find. 

Easy enough. Similar to the 2E. 

And 4th Edition, just for grins. Spells are split between "powers" and "rituals". Wizards automatically gain both powers and rituals as they level up, without needing to find the spells or be taught them. If a 4E wizard wants another ritual beyond what is already handed to him, he can buy it or find it and copy it into his spellbook. This process takes 8 hours for rituals level 1-10, 16 hours for rituals level 11-20, and 24 hours for rituals level 21-30. 

Now that's a radical departure if I ever I saw one. 

So, what does this mean for our fledgling Microlite74 wizard who just found a mysterious spellbook in a treasure trove? I think we'll ignore Type IV's severely shortened timeframes and go with what was established before. So, here's my houserule for Microlite74 wizards learning new spells. 

If the spell is of a level the magic-user would normally be able to cast, she can learn it without a problem. This takes one day per spell level. This time is halved if the magic-user has a higher-level instructor. 

If the spell is of a higher level than the magic-user would normally be able to cast, she can attempt to learn it at the risk of misfiring it (see previous post). This takes two days per spell level. This time is halved if the magic-user has a higher-level instructor. 

Higher-level magic users will typically request payment of about 100 gold pieces per level of the spell being taught. This is completely up to the DM. Some magic-users have been known to ask for favors, for certain tasks to be completed, of for rare alchemical reagents, either in lieu of or in addition to the gold payment. Most magic-users will be reluctant to teach spells that are a higher level than they believe the student can handle, as the risk of misfire or backfire is often not worth it. The price, in this case, should rise significantly. In this case, some clever teachers will ask for a favor first, often in the form of some dangerous task that could give the student enough experience to rise to the proper level to cast the spell. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Can a Magic-User Learn Higher-Level Spells? Sure!

I hate to tell players "no" when they want to try something, and here's a common example. The heroes uncover a treasure trove and inside is a book of magic spells. Upon studying it, the wizard discovers it contains a few spells he already knows, a few he can understand and learn, and a few that are technically a higher level than he can cast. 

Can't he try to learn them anyway, and have a chance at figuring them out? Why, sure he can! Here's a simple system to let your Microlite74 magic-user learn and cast spells of a higher level. 

Learning a higher level spell: DC=10+level of spell times 2 
Magic user rolls d20+level+Mind Bonus

Results greater than or equal to the DC means he has learned the spell and can now cast it. However, until he gains a high enough level to normally be able to cast the spell, it costs twice as many hit points to cast.

Results less than the DC means he cannot learn this spell until he has gained the proper level. 

Results of five less than the DC means the spell backfires while he is attempting to learn it (use your favorite backfire/misfire table).

Results of ten less than the DC means the spell backfires catastrophically while he is attempting to learn it (use your favorite backfire/misfire table and the magic-user is unable to cast any spells for a number of days equal to the DC). 

Rolling a 1 is an automatic catastrophic failure. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Kids' Campaign: Assault on the Bloodskull Orcs

My Microlite kids' campaign continued apace on Sunday. They have been exploring some underground tunnels in Haranshire, searching for the dark dwarves who are part of the kidnappings that have been occuring. The dwarves are taking people kidnapped by bandits and orcs down, presumably into the Underdark, for purposes unknown but probably nefarious. 

They started by recanvassing Broken Spire Keep, and this time managed to break into the old treasury, claiming a significant haul of gold and a new spellbook for the wizard. Then they went back down into the caves. 

It took them a day and a half of exploration, including a run-in with a pair of cave bears (they ran away) and some giant rats led by a pair of wererats (they stayed and fought) before they turned down the passage that led to the lair of the Bloodskull Orcs. They encountered a Bloodskull patrol, which they dispatched with ease and took one hostage via Charm Person, who led them to the huge, thick gates barring entrance to the clan's lair. The heroes had a key for one door, but not the other. Fortunately, they had the orc, who knew the secret knock to gain entrance. They sent him in with orders to get the boss to come out. The boss came out a while later, with his bodyguards of course: the orc shaman of Gruumsh, a seven-foot tall orog, a pair of cave lizards, the charmed orc, and an extra archer. 

This fight definitely went the orcs' way first. The shaman Cursed the heroes first, and the heroes couldn't seem to penetrate the orog's armor or land any blows on the big lizards. Then, with dwindling hit points, in one round the tide turned; first a lizard was dropped and then the fighter landed a decent blow on the orog, which was followed by a critical hit by the halfling rogue using her Vicious shortsword, which dropped the orog, and the other lizard fell right after that. 

The boss ran back into the lair, but the shaman wasn't fast enough. He was cut down quickly, and the heroes made it inside before the gates could be shut, killed the orcs trying to shut the gate, and set up around a corner from the main force of orcs. 

The next half-hour was pretty tense, as both sides waited to ambush the other should they be foolish enough to come around the corner in a bottleneck hallway. This is when the party remembered they had some unidentified potions tucked away in their bag of holding. 

One of the magic items I gave the party a while back was a pocketwatch. Once per day, one person can use it to gain an extra hour of time to do something; it's cursed though, and takes that hour off the end of your natural life. So the wizard used an hour to Identify the potions, which turned out to be a Potion of Extra Healing and, rolled randomly, a Potion of Superheroism! He also learned a bit about the fishy-smelling potions they'd been finding; they make the imbiber much more susceptible to charm and control magic. Weird, huh? 

The new potions gave them the edge they needed. They wizard and the rogue drank the Extra-Healing Potion, and the elf fighter drank the Superhero Potion, which knocked her up to seventh level and granted an extra 25 temporary hit points! Both elf fighters then drank what remained of their Invisibility Potion and snuck through the waiting orcs to take up positions behind them. The rogue and the wizard drank what remained of the Potion of Flight, and flew in and started shooting from above while the cleric stepped out and cast Darkness on the rear formation of orc archers. 

It was a slaughter. The battle lasted four short rounds. 

They let the women and children orcs leave-quickly-and freede a couple of prisoners, including Snagger, a first level dwarf fighter who desires to join the party to rescue the kidnapped people taken into the Underdark. He also gave the party an important bit of information: only magic-users and clerics have been taken below by the dark dwarves. Furthermore, he had talked to the apprentice wizard Jenna, whom the party is searching for, and knows she is still alive and was taken below by the dwarves just a few days ago. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A little ridiculous

For a grand total of $109, I made the following steal at the Fantasy Shop's Used Gaming Auction. 

1981 Basic and Expert D&D Books
B2 Keep on the Borderlands
X1 Isle of Dread
1984 Mentzer Player and DM Companions
AD&D: Fiend Folio, Monster Manual, Monster Manual 2, Oriental Adventures, Dragonlance Adventures
AD&D 2E: Players Option Skills and Powers, Players Handbook, Complete Thief's Handbook, Complete Book of Humanoids, Arms and Equipment Guide, Players Guide to Dragonlance, Dragonlance Adventure: Dragon Keep, Dragonlance Adventure: Wild Elves, Dragonlance Accessory: Time of the Dragon, Castles Box Set (with fold out castle, wtf?), Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar box
3.x D&D: Players Handbook, DM Guide, Monster Manual (all three for $4!), DM Screen, Pool of Radiance: Attack on Myth Drannor (came with B/X/B2, weird I know),AEG's "Magic", Bastion Press' "Friends and Familiars", Encyclopedia Arcane Crossbreeding and Familiars
Dragon Magazines: 169, 200(!), 233, 302-4, 306-8, 311-15, 351
AD&D 2E Monstrous Compendium Volumes 1 & 2, the binders, including appendices from Kara-Tur, Spelljammer, Outer Planes, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and Greyhawk Adventures
Role Aids Adventures: Wizard's Betrayal and Clockwork Mage
Oh, and Heroes Unlimited and Ninjas & Superspies, because why not?

Used Gaming Auction!

So, I'm sitting at my FLGS, the Fantasy Shop in St. Charles, MO, waiting for their twice-annual Used Gaming Auction to begin. I've taken a stroll through the boxes of what's being offered, and I have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to bid on. 

For Christmas this year, my in-laws gave me a gift certificate worth $100 to the Fantasy Shop, and it can be used at the auction. Last year, I put in a stack of Palladium RPG books and only got about $10 for them all. It'll be interesting to see how much things are going for today. I've seen a few lots of AD&D material, from "Complete Book of..." splatbooks to older Dragon magazines, some modules mixed in, a Fiend Folio, Monstrous Compendiums... Definitely several tasty books to be had. 

I'll have a post up this evening to detail my winnings! 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Microlite Doesn't Suck

Seems like everyone in the OSR is debating whether or not 1st level characters in D&D "suck", and I have a few things to say about that. 

Heroes ought to be just a cut above the average joe to start out. The necessary resolve it requires in a person to have the guts or be crazy enough to risk their life on a daily basis fighting monsters and braving trap-filled dungeons simply necessitates it. The ability to swing a sword well, pick a trapped lock, or even cast simple magic spells automatically places the people who can do these things a cut above the rest of the general population of smithies, farmers, and merchants. 

First-level characters do not suck. They aren't awesome enough to face down the Balrog yet, or cleave an orc cleanly in two, but they'll get there if they're lucky and smart. 

This is one of the reasons I'm enjoying Microlite so much. PC's aren't easy to kill unless they do something really stupid. At first level they can stand up to several encounters before resting, but the threat of death is still there if they're not careful or smart. They can handle a mess of goblins and with good teamwork overcome tougher monsters as well. Saving throws are still hard to make, but not overwhelmingly so. My kids have never felt like they "sucked", even when they have to run away. Maybe that has more to do with their complete lack of experience playing at higher levels, but I think it's also built into the system at-large. In a word, it works. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

D&D hits the New York Times

It's not everyday you see an article about Dungeons and Dragons in the New York Times. I can't be sure, but the game probably hasn't been mentioned in the papers since E. Gary Gygax passed away. Still, such an article bears mentioning.

Wizards of the Coast is expected to make a big announcement about plans for the next edition of our favorite past-time today. Player input into rules and an open playtest seem to be a big part of what's expected from the announcement. So basically they'll be doing what Paizo's been doing for years.

And really, it's what the folks in the OSR have been doing forever. Constantly play-testing their own rules, mixing and matching ideas from each other on how to best run the game for their own individual table. That is a huge part of what makes the game unique, and that's something WotC is going to have to understand to succeed with a new edition.

It was very nice to see a small nod to the OSR in the article, in the form of a quote from the writer of Adventurer Conquerer King, even if there was no mention of the huge community of bloggers out here who have been doing exactly what WotC is purportedly going to attempt with the new edition.

I have always felt that the splat-book drive that started with Type-II was not just TSR trying to make money off a slew of newer and newer option books. They wouldn't have pushed all that if there wasn't a large chunk of the player base consistently clamoring for more and more options for their games.

So if options are what we want, and often those options seem contradictory in nature, how will WotC square it all with the next edition? It's hard to tell. I will definitely be signing up for the playtest though, just to see the initial direction they take with it. I expect a significant departure from the Type-IV ruleset, particularly hit-point bloat and hour-long set piece combats. But they can't just publish what would amount to an "official" retroclone of the original rules. I would like to see a D&D game that takes what works well from each system and blends them into something easy to learn and easy to run, with lots of great ideas for adventure and world-building, and plenty of crunchy options that are really "optional" and fit into the game system without breaking it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kids' Campaign: Broken Spire Keep

Today, we gathered once again for my Kids' Campaign using the Microlite74 Extended ruleset, working our way into the Night Below boxed set module. 

This session found the heroes preparing to assault Broken Spire Keep. As they were scouting out the Keep, a small group of orcs was spotted returning to the Keep, carrying two kidnapped prisoners. (We're doing a trimmed-down version of the first book of the adventure, which basically places the Bloodskull orcs at Broken Spire)

They quickly took out the orcs and saved the hostages, both of whom smelled, literally, quite "fishy", and seemed pretty dazed. They were left with Oleanne the Druid while the party made its way across a trap-filled clearing to the front door of the Keep, wearing some of the armor and cloaks taken off the orcs.

The wizard charmed the orc at the gate, who let them in. They asked the orc to take them to where the prisoners go, which he did. That path went through the dining hall, where a number of orcs and human bandits were gathered, and a fight quickly ensued, and it didn't last long, in spite of some of the bad guys having levels in fighter or thief. 

They continued on down to the dungeon level. It took them a while to find the secret door that led to the Big Boss' chambers, and they did only after investigating the rest of the dungeon. 

The fight with the Big Boss and his zombie minions went well. The zombies all got raised once but were quickly dropped again. The Boss was down to 1 hit point when he flew away. I gave two pursuing PCs three chances to hit him with ranged weapons before he escaped. They didn't hit him. There were also a couple of dark dwarves that popped in from the connecting room, but a quick Web spell blocked their path into the room and they retreated. 

With an unconscious cleric, they barricaded themselves in the Big Boss' chambers for the night and rested. They uncovered some more of the "fishy" smelling potions, and a whole lot of gold (although they didn't get into the secret treasure room down the hall!) from the Big Boss' bedroom, and then discovered the secret door leading down into a cave system, presumably where the dark dwarves had gone. They decided to go down into the caves. 

The caves went on for miles! They encountered a group of fire beetles, which they distracted with some food and bypassed, and then a goblin tribe, which quickly surrendered after four of its number was slain in the first round. They tied the goblins up and left them there and discovered an exit to the surface, which led them back to the Thornwood. They made their way back to the Keep, wondering about Oleanne the Druid and the two rescued kidnapping victims, and set up camp. They did not find Oleanne or the rescued victims. The next day they went back into the Keep and found that the orcs had abandoned it. Very little of the treasure they had missed on their first trip through remained. 

Next time, they head back into the cave system below Haranshire. 

All in all, they got a lot accomplished for five hours of play. They are all getting better at working their way quickly through combat encounters and are seeming to enjoy more of the exploration aspect of the game. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Boon Cards

Here is a PDF of 9 Boon cards you can hand out to your players during your D&D game. What the hell am I talking about?

Boons won't break the game. They are just little extra bonuses you can hand out to your players when they do something awesome. Say they make a hard choice based on their alignment, for example. Or get a critical hit at a critical time.Or any other awesome thing players do. Players like little rewards like these.

The boons I came up with are as follows:

Action Point: Take an extra action
Bring the Pain: +1 to damage on your next attack
Close Call: Gain 1 Experience Point (note: this is peculiar to Microlite, which uses a 1HD=1XP system; use an XP bonus appropriate to your particular system)
Dodge: +1 to AC for 1 round
Guided Strike: +1 to hit on your next attack
Second Wind: regain 1d6 Hit Points
Stroke of Luck: +1 to any roll
That Was Close: +1 to any saving throw
Try Again: reroll any die roll. You must take the second roll

I haven't tried these out yet, but I'll be testing them in my Kids' Game. I have not yet decided how often to hand them out. My original thought was that it would be something cool to hand out in lieu of treasure, when they defeated a monster that didn't have anything precious to leave behind. Especially with kids, these kinds of rewards can be a bit tricky to balance, so we will have to see.

The PDF has pretty pictures. This file is usable in MagicSetEditor but doesn't have the pictures. If you are an artist and I've used your art and you would like me to remove it, I will. Just leave me a comment or email me at sully33 at gmail dot com.

Do you have ideas for more boons? I'd prefer to have boons that are usable by any character, and not specifically tied to spellcasters or fighters or elves, etc. Leave a comment!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Microlite74 Druid Modification

My wife really liked her Type IV druid character. In particular, she liked that she could change shape into a wild beast of some sort. She preferred tiger. Needless to say, she was disappointed that this feature of the druid class wasn't available in Microlte74 until the druid reached 7th level.

So I changed it around a bit for her. I knocked the Experience Base up to 30, and changed the shapechange ability to be "once per day per level" instead of "three times per day at level 7".

We haven't playtested it much, but I don't think it'll break the game. She hasn't played with the kids at all, because she's usually trying to keep the 2-year-old from attacking all the minis on the table (poor toddler wants to play D&D SO BAD!).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

More Fun with Magic Set Editor

I love using Magic Set Editor to create Magic: the Gathering type cards for use in my D&D games. My players get custom-made cards for their magical items, quests, clues, NPCs, and all kinds of other goodies.

Here is a PDF file that features the standard races and classes for Microlite74, in full-text card form, for easy reference for players at the table.

Here is a Magic Set Editor file that contains the cards in the PDF above, as well as cards for PCs (basically four cards to make up a character sheet) and three additional races that I have featured here on the blog: Tieflings, Dragonborn, and Eladrin. This file is useless without the Magic Set Editor program, which is available free at the above link.

Note: the text on these cards are pulled straight from the M74 Extended rules document. The gnome card includes my houseruled MIND attribute bonus instead of the original STR bonus. I'm making no claim to copyright or any bullshit like that. This is just an aid for your M74 Extended game.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Over at Your Dungeon Is Rock! I am compiling a couple of resources for old-school D&D gamers. One is a set of links to free, downloadable PDFs that bloggers have put together. The other is a listing of links to random charts. Obviously, this will be a constantly updating thing, as random charts are constantly being created by the blogosphere, and it seems there are more and more free PDF resources available every month.

I know I'm going to miss a lot of stuff. I know there's a lot out there that I'm not even really aware of at all. I need your help. If there is a free PDF resource out there you use that you think I ought to link to, send me an email at sully33 at gmail dot com or leave a comment here or here. Ditto for random charts.

Also, I'm not looking to compile a list of the free D&D retroclones. Tenkar has already done a great job of that.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year!

Everyone else is doing it, and while I find these posts to be boring as hell, it's probably good for me to look back on the year, take stock of my progress, and figure out just where the blog is headed in the next twelve months. I already did this once when I hit 100 posts, and then after that, my posting frequency started slacking off pretty badly. We're going to avoid that this time around.

In a couple of weeks, it'll be the one-year birthday of this blog! Hard to believe how quickly the time flies, but it does. So, what can you all expect from A Pack of Gnolls (and sister blogs, ImperialRuin and YourDungeonisRock) in the coming year? More reports and tips on gaming with kids, for one. Plenty more cards from MagicSetEditor for use at your gaming tables. Lots of Microlite74 material. I may even try my hand at some adventure/setting material. Imperial Ruin will continue to explore the Nentir Vale, Microlite74-style, and YourDungeonisRock is getting rolling again, highlighting the other blogs I come across who are putting out some really good stuff.

So, here's to 2012! Here's hoping the world doesn't end.