Friday, December 30, 2016

Playing with Cosmology (5e and BX)

This past week I have been trying to watch the show The Magicians which is based on the Lev Grossman novel by the same name. If I had to describe it in a sentence, I would say that it is Harry Potter for adults. Unfortunately that isn’t high praise.

While the “ostracized student discovers he/she gets to attend a secret magic school” is a proven concept, The Magicians suffers from many of the giant plot holes Harry Potter does: if there is a giant bad guy who only one or more children/unexperienced magicians are “destined” to take out why the hell do you leave them on their own and keep them in the dark about their role and responsibility in the world!? In both cases, this lack of supervision and information leads the “protagonists” to actually making the situation much, much worse.

I have to admit, however, that as much as I despise the Harry Potter series, at least I don’t feel like I need to take several showers after seeing/reading it like I now feel like I do after trudging through several episodes of The Magicians. The reason is simple: whereas Harry Potter wraps its postmodernism in a fun children’s adventure, The Magicians wears it on its sleeve for everyone to see. This is its great weakness.

I have concurrently been reading The Great Good Thing by one of my favorite authors Andrew Klavan. He doesn’t much show up as an influence in my RPG hobby because his is the genre of crime thriller, but this book is a self-meditation on his journey from being a secular Jew to being baptized. It was an emotional roller coaster for me, because he and I had similar journeys. In it, he expressed an opinion that I found refreshing (if only because I finally found somebody who put into words something that I have been struggling to make cogent for years). Of the Marquis de Sade he says:
Here, at last … was an atheist whose outlook made complete logical sense to me from beginning to end. If there is no God, there is no morality. If there is no morality, the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain are all in all and we should pillage, rape, and murder as we please. None of this milquetoast atheism that says, “Let’s all do what’s good for society.” Why should I do what’s good for society? What is society to me? None of the elaborate game-theory nonsense where we all benefit by mutual sacrifice and restraint. That only works until no one’s looking; then I’ll get away with what I can. If there is no God, there is no good, and sadistic pornography is scripture.
Several of the protagonists in The Magicians are hedonists and the story makes it very clear that the Christian God doesn’t exist, or if He does He is one of many and He does so for the express purpose of making magic available to the hedonists so they can go on pleasuring themselves and that to be left out of this great gift is to not live life at all.

It is revealed that the big bad guy (known as “The Beast”) is actually a pedophile trying to make his own magical murder/rape/torture world to allow him to explore his particular predilections to their fullest. In a world where God and morality exist, The Beast makes for a really creepy bad guy; however, in a world where God does not, what makes The Beast any better or worse than the hedonistic heroes? By what standard are the heroes right and The Beast wrong?

This got me thinking about a cosmology where magic is real and which institutions would support it and which ones would actively suppress it. I came to the surprising conclusion that the Church would have been to one safe haven for the magicians.

Hear me out: if magic is real, then it is part of creation. If it is part of creation then God, creator of all things, put it here for a purpose. If there is a purpose to magic given by God, then it must be a tool by which we can experience God and fulfill our role in salvation history by edging closer to the Image and Likeness of God that He endowed to us upon our creation. Thus, the church would be THE institution within which magic would be studied, taught and explored.

On the other hand, governments would see magic as a threat to power in the same way they see guns as a threat to power. Government would, of course, use magic to gain and maintain power in the same way they use guns; however, just as they do around the world with guns, magic would be largely illegal in the hands of the average citizen. This pits the Church against the State in a very compelling way (and not unlike the first three centuries of Christianity).

To put this all in context of D&D (especially 2e and beyond) it is the first time I have been able to envision a cosmology where Domains really work in a Christian context. If one were to envision a Christian University founded by monks in order to teach and study magic, there would be various “schools” within the university that would specialize in various types of magic: the Domains.

In such a cosmology, clerics become mages. My favorite curiosity of the retro-clone Delving Deeper starts to make sense:
At 2nd level a cleric acquires a spell book containing his 1st level spells and can thereafter cast a number of spells each day appropriate to his experience level.
This also opens up the possibility of having the Turn Undead ability of clerics being limited to one school and therefore making it possible for other special abilities to take its place. This mechanic is already in place in 5e, where the Channel Divinity ability can be used for different purposes depending on which domain the cleric belongs to.

In context of BX, this can be expressed by any number of special abilities. According to the ACKS Player's Companion, which reverse engineers the BX classes in order to be able to then build your own world-specific BX classes, a cleric can give up Turn Undead in order to get two custom powers at 1st level or more if they are delayed until higher levels. These might include the ability to use magic items only magic-users could use, using spell slots for extra melee damage or gaining access to appropriate spells from the magic-user spell lists.

Such a cosmology is radically different than the Christian Civilization vs. Demonic Wilderness that is the assumed structure of all of my campaigns and doesn’t seem to suggest a campaign where players exist on the fringes of Civilization making the Wilderness safe for everybody else. Rather, it suggests a campaign that takes place right at the center of civilization, in an urban environment where the conflict is not between Civilization and the Wilderness, but between two radically different visions of what Civilization ought to be.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christ is Born!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Playing with Abstraction (5e and BX)

There is an interesting pattern that exists in the way 5e describes armor and the way that BX presents armor. 5e has three categories: Light, Medium and Heavy. BX has Leather, Chain and Plate. Although 5e does have variable Armor Classes to different types of armor within each category, I think it very useful to abstract armor in the way that 5e does for the purposes of hacking 5e ideas into BX.

If one replaces leather, chain and plate with Light, Medium and Heavy armor with the same corresponding AC, it frees players and referees to describe armor anyway that they want to. Traditional D&D (including BX) is largely driven by the martial traditions of medieval and renaissance Europe. Abstracting armor to the broad categories of 5e suddenly allows a very simple way for players to imagine their characters from radically different martial traditions. For example, in my own Lost Colonies campaign, Medium Armor is crafted from the scales of giant fish from the Endless River and Heavy Armor from the chitin of giant insects.

To a limited extent, 5e also suggests a similar abstraction with weapons in context of Monk weapons usable with the Martial Arts feature of that class. 5e doesn’t bother to list nunchaku or kama in their weapon list. Rather, they offer the following advice:
[Y]ou might use a club that is two lengths of wood connected by a short chain (called a nunchaku) or a sickle with a shorter, straighter blade (called a kama). Whatever name you use for a monk weapon, you can use the game statistics provided for the weapon in chapter 5.
In other words, use the stats for existing European martial weapons and re-imagine them as a weapon from another martial tradition.

This got me thinking about taking this abstraction to the level of the armor abstraction. In other words, have broad categories of weapons, which are modified by weapon properties in order to provide generic stats to describe whatever kind of weapon the player or referee wants.

5e provides three of these categories: simple weapons, martial weapons and the subclass in each of ranged weapons. Simple weapons can be categorized as weapons that can be made of wood and/or stone. For example: clubs, hand axes, daggers. Martial Weapons are those that require the use of metal. For example, swords, polearms and heavy crossbows.

Each category would then have a base cost, which would be modified by weapon properties. The least expensive simple weapon (the club) in BX costs 3 gp. The least expensive martial weapon (warhammer or short sword) costs 5 gp or 7 gp. The most expensive melee weapon is the two-handed sword at 15 gp. Bows range in price from 25 gp to 40 gp

From this one could abstract weapons in the following ways:

  • Base price of a simple weapon = 3 gp
  • Base price of a martial weapon = 6 gp
  • Each additional property = 3 gp for simple weapons and 6 gp for martial weapons.
  • Ranged weapons have a short range of 10 feet which is doubled for medium range and tripled for long range. Every 10 feet added to the short range costs an extra 5 gp. For example: a short bow has a short range of 50 feet in BX. That would be an extra 40 feet for (4 x 5 gp) 20 gp. Having no other properties and being a simple weapon a short bow would cost 23 gp, which is comparable to the 25 gp cost in BX.

This system creates a set of properties that describe abstract ideas about a weapon which then can be used to create any weapon that a player or referee desires to exist in their campaign world. Since all damage is based on class, this system doesn’t punish players for wanting an exotic (non-sword) weapon.

For example, there are weapons in my Lost Colonies campaign similar to the macahuitl from the Aztec martial tradition. It is a simple weapon, being made of wood and stone, and has the Versatile property being able to be wielded either one-handed or two-handed. Thus, it would cost 6 gp.

The only wrench in this abstraction is the sling. According to this system it would cost 18 gp (3 for being a simple weapon, 15 gp for having a base range of 40 feet). In BX they are the cheapest weapon at 2 gp. If one is willing to include training in the abstraction of a weapon’s cost (because using a military sling isn’t easy) than this still works overall.

In the end, I am willing to live with hiccups like the sling if it gives me the freedom to imagine all kinds of weapons and have a simple way to mechanically describe them and assign a monetary cost to them.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Playing with Weapon Properties (5e and BX)

For years, I have used universal damage dice at my table while playing BX or LL. This decision, however, is not a partisan one as I have explained here. In recent years, I have subscribed to a class-based version of the universal damage die where magic-users use d4, clerics & thieves use d6 and fighters use d8. Anyone who is really familiar with my musings, however, knows that I do have a soft spot for tactical choice in weapons used by PCs. Several times over the years, for example, I have tried (and failed) at making Weapon vs. AC tables where different weapons do better versus different types of armor.

During my musings on combining Holmes with Cook, I took a stab at attaching some tactical choices to weapon variable damage here and here. I have yet to use this particular system at the table, because the siren song of a universal damage die just works for me.

With its various weapon properties, however, 5e may just very well allow me to have my cake and eat it too. The categories in question are as follows:

  • Light weapons can be used in the off hand for two weapon fighting
  • Finesse weapons allow the DEX bonus in place of the STR bonus
  • Thrown weapons may used as either melee or missile weapons
  • Versatile weapons can be used as either a one-handed or two-handed weapons
  • Heavy weapons can’t be used by Small Creatures without disadvantage
  • Reach weapons have an extra 5 ft range
  • Two-Handed weapons require two hands, but do more damage

These properties can be adjusted to affect a class-based universal damage die in BX or LL:

  • Light = 2 attacks per round at half-die damage ea.
  • Thrown = base die damage
  • Two-Handed = next die up damage but automatically lose initiative
  • Versatile = use either as one handed (base damage) or two-handed (next die up damage but lose initiative)
  • Reach = base damage and automatically win initiative on round one, but automatically lose it on subsequent rounds.
  • Heavy = Dwarves and Halflings can’t use these weapons.

Thus, if a battleaxe were to be given the Versatile property as it is in 5e, then a magic-user would be able to do d4 damage normally or d6 damage as a two-handed weapon (and automatically lose initiative). A cleric or thief would do d6/d8 damage and a fighter would do d8/d10 damage.

A Light weapon, such as a dagger, would allow a magic user to attack twice in the same round doing 1d2 with each attack. A cleric or a thief would do 1d3 damage and a fighter d4. This property would only apply to melee combat. Thus, if a dagger were thrown, only one could be thrown in a round and would do d4/d6/d8 damage.

Bows would do normal damage (d4/d6/d8), slings would have the Versatile property and Crossbows would have the Two-Handed property.

Finesse weapons would work exactly like they do in 5e (allow DEX instead of STR if the player so chose).

Thus, there still exists a universal damage die based on class, but each class has a variety of tactical choices when it comes to the weapons they want to use. Given that no one weapon is universally better than every other weapon (as swords are in AD&D), this still allows players to use a wide variety of weapons without being punished for wanting something for purely aesthetic reasons.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Playing with Skills and Proficiencies (5e and BX)

Historically, I have never been a big fan of skill systems in RPGs because they tend to describe what a character cannot do rather than what they can. One of the reasons I don’t really mind the skill/proficiency system of 5e is that it really isn’t a skill system. Rather, it helps describe where a character comes from and the areas of expertise that they can bring to the table. Therefore, the system assumes that anyone can try to do anything, but if a character has a skill, they have a better chance at doing a particular thing. Personally, I would go further and say that, as long as a skill isn’t contested by another skill, the only limiting factors in whether or not a character with a relevant skill succeeds are time and money.

In other words, let’s pretend that a character has the skill Artisan. That means that whenever that character sets about creating something, they will succeed. The variables are how much time and money the character wants to put into the project. The less time and money, the lower the quality but the character will always produce the desired item.

For another example, a character with Pick Locks will always succeed in picking a non-magical lock; however, the more complex a lock, the more time it will take to pick. Therefore, one could simply label locks in a dungeon with the number of Wandering Monster checks associated with each. Someone with Pick Locks would be able to understand how long it would take (the number of checks necessary to endure to unlock the lock) and decide whether or not the effort is worth the risk.

I very much like this approach, especially when coupled with the Background system of 5e. It tells a player what their character is capable of doing rather than telling them what their character cannot do. As such, I think it worthy of hacking into BX.

The problem I have with the 5e system, however, is that it is rather unbalanced. INT, WIS and CHA have a disproportionate amount of skills associated with them and CON has no skills at all. BX is, in its own simple way, very elegant and hacking the skills as is from 5e seems a bit too clunky for my tastes. Besides which, there are some skills and tool proficiencies that are redundant (Performance and Musical Instrument, for example) and others that are already hardwired into BX (Perception). Thus, a little rethinking and reorganizing are called for.

For the purposes of this exercise, I’ve arbitrarily decided that each ability score will have three skills associated with it. Some of these associations require a explanation:


  • Athletics (which also includes Acrobatics)
  • Intimidation (Intimidation happens because somebody has enough power to throw around. Normally, this power is pure physical strength. While a small, physically weak person can be intimidating, the power they have is political, economic, etc. In this context, that power would be expressed by experience level.)
  • Investigation (This is a bit of a stretch, but historically the folks who do investigation are fighter types: police, spy, soldier, etc.)


  • Pick Locks (aka Thieve’s Tools)
  • Sleight of Hand
  • Stealth (which encompasses both Hide is Shadows and Move Silently)


  • Survival (because actually being out in the wilderness is about staying healthy and stamina)
  • Nature (one of the ways 5e describes CON is “vital force” which could be described as something that clues us into the “vital forces” of other living things and the places where they live)
  • Animal Handling (another way the “vital force” can be expressed. In addition, it takes a lot of patience, aka stamina, to train an animal, especially a wild one)


  • Arcana (which includes parts of Religion)
  • History (which also includes parts of Religion)
  • Navigation


  • Insight
  • Medicine
  • Artisan (because beauty is understood better by that part of the human mind described by WIS than the ability to reason as represented by INT)


  • Deception (which includes Disguise, Forgery and Gaming)
  • Performance (which Musical Instruments)
  • Persuasion

Characters would end up with four skills: two from their Class and two from their Backgrounds. Right now, I am operating on the assumption that each of the three core classes will have Saving Throw proficiencies in two abilities so that all six are used uniquely by the three classes:

  • Clerics: WIS, CHA
  • Fighters: STR, CON
  • Magic-users: INT, DEX

This becomes important because the two class skills they can choose from are based on the Saving Throw proficiencies. This does have some interesting implications: your average magic-user is more likely to be the party “thief” and the cleric is more likely to be the party “bard” and the fighter to be the “ranger.”

Of course, these tenancies can be completely upturned by choosing a background that flavors the character in a completely different way. This is why I think the Background system of 5e is probably my favorite aspect of the entire game.

Also note: these categories are wide open enough that players can make the argument to accomplish all kinds of tasks with their skills. For example: a player could argue that they could try to track that war party of orcs with either Navigation or Nature. Again, this system is about encouraging players to do stuff, not about telling them what they can’t do.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Playing with Saving Throws (5e and BX)

Now that Jeff Rients has officially released Broodmother Skyfortress under the Lamentations of the Flame Princess ruleset, he is going through and comparing what he (somewhat jokingly) calls the Objectively Best Rules published by TSR (BX) and LotFP. The comparison that really interests me is that on Saving Throws. Like Jeff, I really like the 3e saving throw structure of Fortitude/Reflex/Will, at least on paper. Unfortunately, when applied to actual play it lacks that palpable joy/fear of hearing those wonderful words: “Make a save versus Death Ray!

Now that I have run a 5e campaign for quite a few sessions, I have been meditating on the various aspects of that system I would like to hack back onto the Objectively Best Rules published by TSR. One of the things that I like quite bigly about 5e is the expansion of the Fortitude/Reflex/Will saves to every ability score and the idea that characters get to apply a proficiency bonus to two of these saves. On paper, it takes the simplistic beauty of the 3e save system and makes it more glorious.

Of course, the 5e save system still has the same glaring weakness that the 3e version had: no Death Rays. Unlike 3e, however, there might very well be a fun way to alleviate the problem. Traditionally, D&D has five different categories of saving throws. That is one less than the number of ability scores. Thus, if we can separate out one category to two there will be six different categories of saves that can then be married to the six ability scores so that Death Rays can still wreck havoc at the gaming table.

This is why I find Jeff’s comparison of BX and LotFP saving throws so interesting. I decided to pull out all of the various older versions of D&D and their retro-clones to get a fuller picture of all the glorious ways players have had to make saving throws through the years:

  • 0e: Death Ray & Poison; All Wands including Polymorph and Paralyzation; Stone; Dragon Breath; Staves& Spells
  • Holmes: Spell or Magic Staff; Magic Wand; Death Ray or Poison; Turned to Stone; Dragon Breath
  • BX: Death Ray & Poison; Magic Wands; Paralysis or Turn to Stone; Dragon Breath; Rods, Staves or Spells
  • 1e AD&D: Paralysis, Poison or Death Magic; Petrification or Polymorph; Rod, Staff or Wand; Breath Weapon; Spell
  • LL: Breath Attacks; Poison or Death; Petrify or Paralyze; Wands; Spells or Spell-like Devices
  • ACKS: Petrification & Paralysis; Poison & Death; Blast & Breath; Staffs & Wands; Spells
  • Delving Deeper: Poison; Paralysis or Petrification; Wands or Rays; Breath Weapon; Spells
  • LotFP: Paralyze; Poison; Breath; Device; Magic
  • S&W: Paralysis; Poison; Fire; Spells; Wands; Staffs; Magic

I realize S&W systemically only has one Save, the categories listed are implied by the bonuses various classes and races get to that one saving throw for certain situations.

This is surprisingly diverse (even among the original TSR stuff!). Some of my favorites: Death Ray, Death Magic (as opposed to Spells or just pain Magic), Devices (as opposed to Staff, Wand, etc.), Blast (as a companion to Dragon Breath), Fire and Stone (which has a lot more flexibility than Petrification). It also seems that Polymorph was a whole lot more important in the Gygax editions than other ones. I also have to say that Dragon Breath just sounds cooler than Breath Weapon. I realize that the game has a lot of non-dragon creatures that breath nastiness, but “Breath Weapon” does conjure up visions of a Listerine ad.

So, onto the business at hand — assigning categories to ability scores:

  • Strength: Stone & Paralysis (because it just feels right to muscle through a ghoul’s touch)
  • Dexterity: Blast & Dragon Breath (because this is something that has to be dodged)
  • Constitution: Poison (because endurance seems to be the most appropriate way to tough through a spider bite)
  • Intelligence: Devices (because these things can be figured out logically, yes?)
  • Wisdom: Spells (because this is the traditional ability score for saves vs. spells as in BX)
  • Charisma: Death Magic, Death Ray & Death (because the root of the word charisma means gift, as in the gift of life given by God)

There you have it. Death Rays are back in business!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 11

Stocking the "Dungeon"

As I did for my similar meditation on the Fiend Folio, I wanted to find a map of a dungeon to stock using the Wandering Monster Tables I produced using monsters from the MMII. As before, I went to the maps of Dyson Logos to see if anything there inspired. I did not find any "dungeon" that satisfied, mainly because the idea of a dungeon, in a traditional D&D sense, isn't really something that an MMII-based Basic D&D automatically assumes. Most of the monsters therein are outdoor creatures that wouldn't be found crawling through the corridors of a long-lost dwarven mine.

I did, however, find these two maps here and here. I fiddled with them in order to make an odd looking two story manor that one might find out in the wilderness of an MMII-based Basic D&D world:

As before, I used the table provided by Holmes that randomly determines which WMT (1st through 3rd) to use so that I could take advantage of all three WMTs I produced with MMII monsters. Here are the results with some initial thoughts in parenthesis:

Rooms 1-13 are Empty
Rooms 14-15 have Unguarded Treasure
Rooms 16-21 have Specials
Rooms 22-26 have Traps
Rooms 27-28 have Treasure guarded by Traps
Rooms with Monsters sans Treasure:
29. Gripple (a prisoner?)
30. Pedipalp (charmed as some kind of guard?)
31. Vulchling
32. Footpad
33. Seer
Rooms with Monsters guarding Treasure:
34. Animal Skeleton (a servant of the Seer?)
35. Footpad
36. Constrictor Snake
37. Veteran
38. Vulchling
39. Scorpion (a kind of watchdog for the Footpad in Room 35?)
40. Hargin Elemental (summoned to guard the Footpad/Vulchling gang's hoard?)

This has shaped up to be a hideout of a gang of Thieves that employs Vulchlings, human Fighters and a Magic-user. The leader seems to have figured out a way to train giant insects and they have a beef with the local fey.

And for those of you who want a version of the map I made for this post sans numbers here it is:

Friday, December 2, 2016

Meditating on Playing 5e

The group that I am currently playing 5e with have a number of short (90-120 min.) sessions under our belts, and I thought I should be take the time to reflect on actual game play:

Firstly, this game does well with short sessions. Combat is short enough that the players have had plenty of time to interact with NPCs and gather information to their heart’s content.

Secondly, (and quite surprisingly) the experience system hasn’t really shown itself to be an issue yet. The players have enjoyed roleplaying so much that they haven’t yet focused on charging through a bunch of monsters to gain levels yet. In fact, all of the PCs are still 1st level. Although I believe this to be an artifact of the way the players are choosing to play the game and not something systemic to 5e, it has still produced an old-school feel in terms of sessions-per-leveling-up.

Finally, when 5e was first announced, one of the stated goals of the design team was to create a game that would allow D&D players of every game-generation to sit at the table at the same time and play according to the rules with which they most enjoyed. At the time, I dismissed this as a clever bit of marketing to try and rope in as many customers as possible.

Upon reflection, I do believe that they have succeeded to a limited extent. My players approach the game with 5e expectations and I approach the game as if I am running a Labyrinth Lord campaign and the two really don’t get in each other’s way. If someone from my old campaign showed up and played one of their characters according to LL rules, I don’t think anyone would readily notice.

In all seriousness, I quickly gave up on trying to makes heads or tails of the 5e rulebooks because the layout, editing, and organization is crap. As such, beyond the first session, I realized that I could just use Swords & Wizardry stats for monsters (because of the AAC) and wing it. No one was the wiser.

As long as the players know what their powers are and the mechanics behind them, the game runs smoothly despite the fact that I run LL/S&W and they are playing 5e. The only time our expectations collide is when a PC hits 0 hp. This has happened twice. Once was actually my fault because I had forgotten to let the player know about the Fighter ability Second Wind which he could have used to avoid hitting 0 hp.

My usual expectation is that a PC dies. Their’s is that they have a chance to cheat death. This is the only place where negotiation is necessary and since these guys are newer to the game and since I played with a house rule “up to -10 hp is unconscious” for years before I experimented with 0 hp = death and loved it, I had no problem adjusting to the new (old) expectation.

As such, this campaign doesn’t feel like I am running 5e. It feels like I am running a typical LL/S&W game with a group of players that have PCs with a few more options at their fingertips than usual. I gotta say, that’s pretty cool.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Re-Imagining the Megadungeon (Monster Manual II Part 10)

One of the interesting things that happens when I go about any kind of thought experiment, is that it has a tendency of bleeding out into other facets of the game that I wasn’t necessarily interested in or intent on fiddling with. So, as my thoughts drifted towards what a B2 adventure module might look like if MMII dominated the monster section of a Moldvay Basic Edition of D&D, my brain took a stroll right past the traditional TSR adventure module and started thinking about a megadungeon.

Normally, the themes found in the MMII lend themselves quite nicely to the idea of a megadungeon, or least a multi-level dungeon. This set-up allows for each section of the dungeon to have its own feel, its own monsters and its own environment. Thus, play isn’t bogged down by a bunch of X by X rooms that all look the same and have monsters scattered about with no apparent rhyme or reason. On the contrary, it adds an element of discovery and excitement as players try to figure out what makes each section of the dungeon tick.

Unfortunately, my brain would not allow itself to be contained by a mere dungeon. Or a megadungeon, for that matter. Take a look at the three themes that can be gleaned from the monsters of the MMII that might show up in a Basic Edition: Fey, Lost World, Elemental.

  • The fey normally hang out in the forest, as in outside.
  • Creatures from a Lost World, like walking plants and dinosaurs, don’t do a lot of dungeon delving. They, too, mainly hang outside.
  • Elementals can be found in a dungeon, but have always struck me as something that is better suited to an environment where all the elements can excel, not just the earthy ones. That means, they kinda want to hang outside.

This got me thinking about one of my favorite ideas from a module I have never played nor ever really plan on playing: D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth. Contained therein is a hex map with various tunnels that a party can travel and explore. On that hex map are fixed encounter areas. Thus, while it is a dungeon crawl, it also feels kinda like an outdoor hex crawl. Given that the monsters I have available with an MMII monster section of a Basic Edition, why couldn’t I then have a hex crawl that felt like a dungeon crawl?

The end result was something I’m calling the Valley of Chaos:
The white circle in the southeast corner labeled ‘1’ is the party’s home base. All the white squares are encounter areas with a small structure/dungeon/tower/cave network with 5-25 rooms. There are three distinct areas in and around the valley. The floor of the valley itself is the stomping ground of the fey. The forested areas above the valley have a Lost World atmosphere. The desert, volcano and lake of fire all are home to elemental creatures. The further away from home base the party wanders, the more challenging the going gets.

Note that like any good dungeon, there are multiple access points for parties to enter into the “dungeon.” There are established paths and river ways for the party to follow. Each branch ultimately leads to an encounter area. There are also things to be found off the beaten track. There is even a river way that encourages Referees/GMs/DMs to expand on so that a party can go off on higher level adventures.

All-in-all there are four 6-mile hexes with 23 encounter areas with approximately 200-300 rooms to explore. All of this is dressed up in several distinct environments, each with its own character and set of wandering monsters. All that is needed now is a back story to explain why all the monsters live there and why the valley looks and behaves like it does.

For me, one of the most exciting aspects of this set-up is that it realistically allows for dungeon factions to play a huge role in the adventure. As much as I love the feel and the play of dungeon factions, I have to suspend my disbelief every time I employ them because if such factions were in such close proximity to each other, why isn’t the dungeon a complete war zone with everybody dead? There are ways around this, I am aware, but it does take that extra step to make it work. In this case, the factions have enough space between them that raiding parties actually make sense.

Thus, here I have what feels like a tent-pole megadungeon that looks like a hex crawl and I think could be the beginning of something magical.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 9

Ecology of MMII Demi-Humans

As I have noted before, the MMII has two different elves within its pages: wild elves that are neutral fighter/druids and valley elves that are chaotic fighter/magic-users. When deciding which demi-humans to use for PC classes, I chose to use the wild elves. This is due not only to their PC-friendly alignment but also because they offer an interesting departure from the standard D&D elf.

Then porphyre77 opened a can of worms inside my head by suggesting that the Swanmay could also be an interesting stand-in for the elf. They are rangers and (for the purposes of a three-tier alignment system) are lawful. My brain immediately started linking the swanmay ability to shape change into a swan with the long list of normal animals that can be found in the MMII. Each animal became the basis for a different clan or tribe. Thus, elves are primarily ranger-types that can, depending on what clan they belong to, transform into an animal form.

I also made the connection that dwarves, as represented by the duergar, also have transformation powers: they grow big. Transformation is also implied by the mongrelmen and their chaotic morphology. Thus, shapeshifting becomes the common denominator of what it means to be a demi-human in an MMII-inspired world.

Chaos, in the form of arcane magic, has twisted both elves and dwarves into humanoid versions of themselves: valley elves and derro. Given that the undead in the MMII are largely dependent upon the existence of necromancy to bring them to unlife, it follows that there ought to be a twisted version of the mongrelman that dabbles in such nasty magic. This could be the origin of the implied necromancer.

Finally, there is one more creature in the MMII that is a shapeshifter: the wolfwere. These nefarious hunters have very fey-like powers: music that casts the equivalent of a slow spell on its listeners and they can only be harmed by cold-iron or magic weapons. This suggests that there are tribes of elves that have gone “wild” — thus the moniker wild elf. These clans, to certain degrees, have lost themselves in their animal forms. Thus, they range in alignment from neutral to chaotic.

Given that the “example” of a lawful elf transforms into a swan and a “wild” elf transforms into a wolf, it follows that the mammalian clans are the ones most likely to have gone wild, with the carnivorous ones being the most likely to have fallen into a chaotic world-view. In turn, the avian clans are the ones that still hold onto their “elfishness.”

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 8

Magic Items

Something I never did when I hypothesized a Moldvay Basic D&D with a Fiend Folio monster section was to see how that would affect the magic items detailed in the Treasure section. This was largely due to the fact that the magic items were fairly portable and made sense. Ironically, an MMII-based treasure section needs to be addressed because there are several magic items that require some kind of re-imagining.

Specifically, there are three items in Moldvay that have no meaning in an MMII world:
  • Sword +1, +2 against lycanthropes
  • Scrolls of Protection from Lycanthropes
  • Gauntlets of Ogre Power
While there are lycanthropes in the MMII (foxwomen, seawolves and weresharks), they are either too powerful for a basic edition or would be better suited for an expert edition with its emphasis on wilderness exploration. Thus, there are no lycanthropes in the monster list that would appear in an MMII-based basic edition. Thus, any items specifically created to fight them are rendered irrelevant. In addition, the only ogres in the MMII are aquatic. Thus, like the MMII lycanthropes, they are far more appropriate for an expert edition. Therefore, this item needs to have a different reference point.

There are also a number of magic items that do not have the same import in an MMII world that they do in a normal D&D world:
  • Sword +1, +3 against undead
  • Sword +1, +3 against dragons
  • Scroll of Protection from Undead
  • Spell Scrolls
  • Potion of Growth
As I have mentioned before, undead are scarce in the MMII and almost all of them are walking corpses created by necromancers. They do not have the frightening abilities that normal D&D undead do: level-draining, paralysis and disease. Thus, there really isn’t the same kind of incentive to create a magic item specifically designed to defeat them.

Unlike the MMI and the FF, the MMII does do not offer up a traditional view of dragons. Cloud and mist dragons are neutral creatures that literally live in the sky, far away from the cares of the world. Faerie dragons are small creatures that pose more of a threat as a spell users than as a fire-breathing monster. Shadow dragons are one of the few creatures in the MMII that have any kind of level-draining powers and certainly do not go around burning down villages.

As a consequence, there really wouldn’t be the same kind of demand for swords specifically made to fight these creatures.

Spell scrolls in Moldvay are specifically arcane in nature and are therefore listed as “magic-user/elf.” While I probably would not change this item at all for an MMII-based basic edition, it is worth noting that the only PCs that could use these are magic-users.

Finally, it should also be noted that a Potion of Growth is basically a watered-down version of what an MMII-dwarf PC can already do. This raises a question as to how these potions are created (from dwarf blood?) and how dwarves would feel about their existence and use.

The biggest generalized threat in an MMII-world are arcane spell users: necromancers, fey, chaotic elves, chaotic dwarves, faerie dragons and elementals. Thus, there would be a demand for Scrolls of Protection and Swords that did well against spell users. The latter already exists in Moldvay, but is a +1/+2 weapon. In an MMII world, this should be a +1/+3 weapon.

In terms of disease, mind control and being transformed into a minion, the biggest threat in an MMII world are plants and fungi. Items designed to fight these creatures would replace those originally intended to fight the undead.

It should be mentioned that there is a substantial reptilian threat in an MMII world. Dinosaurs and Ophidians are nothing to sneeze at.

Finally, the only basic-edition friendly creatures in the MMII that could inspire the idea of strength in the same way an ogre does is the cyclopskin. Without any other cyclops available to be kin to, however, I am just going to call them cyclops.

Therefore, here is a list of magic items that would be found in an MMII basic edition and the items they replace:

  • Sword +1, +2 vs. reptiles replaces Sword +1, +2 vs. lycanthropes
  • Sword +1, +2 vs. dragons replaces Sword +1, +2 vs. spell users
  • Sword +1, +3 vs. plants replaces Sword +1, +3 vs. undead
  • Sword +1, +3 vs. spell users replaces Sword +1, +3 vs. dragons
  • Scroll of Protection from Plants replaces Scroll of Protection from Lycanthropes
  • Scroll of Protection from Spell Users replaces Scroll of Protection from Undead
  • Gauntlets of Cyclops Strength replaces Gauntlets of Ogre Power

Friday, November 18, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 7

Wandering Monster Table Level 3

Oozes and Slimes continue to be my bane when trying to come up with Wandering Monster Tables for an MMII version of Moldvay’s Basic D&D. Even when I finally have an ooze that is appropriately powered, Moldvay puts two in his 3rd level WMT. Thus, once again, I am forced to be creative. Cave morays are described as slug-like, which (like fungi on my earlier WMTs) will have to suffice. Please note: according to the MMII both cave morays and cave fishers have a 100% chance of being in their lairs. Normally, this would disqualify them for a WMT; however, the Basic D&D stat block has no such entry. Thus, whether or not these creatures can wander (and both are capable of movement) is entirely up to the Referee/GM/DM. Especially since I am running short on appropriate monsters to fill these roles, I am using that implied freedom to allow these creatures to roam:

  1. Banderlong (4 HD)
  2. Pedipalp (2+2)
  3. Derro (3*)
  4. Land Urchin (3+3)
  5. Cave Fisher (3)
  6. Scorpion (4+4*)
  7. Shadow Dragon (4*)
  8. Chrystal Ooze (4*)
  9. Fire Bat (2)
  10. Elfin Cat (3+6*)
  11. Taer (3+6*)
  12. Swordmaster (3rd level fighter)
  13. Myconid (4*)
  14. NPC Party (var.)
  15. Cave Moray (4+4)
  16. Ophidian (3*)
  17. Elemental (Harginn) (4+4**)
  18. Giant Bee (3+1*)
  19. Zombie, Juju (3+12*)
  20. Zombie, Monster (6)

Seriously, I am more and more interested in this implied world. It has a dark fantasy feel to it, with a constant sense of corruption and decay. In a weird sense, it reminds me of Ravenloft, only better. There is no need for special rules, the undead are all man-made Frankenstein’s monsters, and the vampires aren’t Transylvanian, they’re reptilian. Plus, it has dinosaurs. Yep, I’m going to have do something with this…

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 6

Wandering Monster Table Level 2

For this Wandering Monster Table (WMT), I again used the break-down of Moldvay’s WMT as a template. As happened with the Level 1 WMT, I ran into several problems filling out slots. Oozes and slimes once again proved to be overly powerful. Interestingly, though, the MMII has three different creatures that are all basically the same idea, but with slight variations in powers: olive slime, phycomid and zygom. They are all plants/fungus. All infect a host which is then mentally taken over in order to reproduce and find more hosts. Of these I like the olive slime the best from a descriptive point of view: it's telepathic, it's a slime and the creatures it produces are humanoid slime-things. Unfortunately, they cannot be harmed by normal weapons at all. The least powerful is the zygom, but it does have a fun factor: the attack that infects a host only works with skin contact, otherwise it acts like a super glue that will eventually harden and destroy whatever it is stuck to. Therefore, the zygom makes this list in place of an ooze or a slime.

Another difficulty was the undead entries. As I have stated before, there aren’t many undead in the MMII and those that are not Animal Skeletons are on the more powerful side. The MMII, however, does have a number of mobile plant-like creatures that don’t really fit into any of the categories I used to break down Moldvay’s tables. Therefore I put some of the walking plants (the kamfult and mandragora) in the place of the undead.

Finally, there aren’t any real low-level constructs in the MMII and that is an entry that shows up on the Level 3 WMT. The vilstrak, which is a kind of stone creature that can move through solid rock, kind of fits the bill, but is less than 1 HD. Therefore, I switched out one of the mammal entries in this WMT and put it in the Level 3 WMT. The slot was then replaced with the “construct” and the vilstrak:

  1. Scorpion (2+2* HD)
  2. Conjurer (3rd level MU)
  3. Vilstrak (1-1)
  4. Wild Elf (1+2)
  5. Kamfult (2)
  6. Azer (2+1*)
  7. Zygom (3*)
  8. Hybsil (1-1)
  9. Dinosaur (4+2)
  10. Myconid (2)
  11. Mudman (2)
  12. Warrior (2nd level fighter)
  13. Buckawn (1-1*)
  14. Giant Fly (3)
  15. Vapor Rat (2)
  16. Constrictor Snake (3+2)
  17. Solifugid (3+3*)
  18. Magman (2*)
  19. Robber (3rd Level thief)
  20. Mandragora (1+1)

This isn’t your father’s D&D. There are fantasy elements that will feel familiar, but there is no sense that the world described here has any kind of foothold in Tolkien or any of the worlds that his imagination inspired. This is stranger and more primordial. This is quickly becoming a world I want to play.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 5

Wandering Monster Table Level 1

I have been trying to work on some Wondering Monster Tables (WMT) for a Moldvay Basic Edition using only MMII monsters and it hasn’t been easy, especially compared to my efforts to do the same for the Field Folio. While my original break down of Molday’s WMTs is still relevant and useful, finding monsters to fit that break-down is not nearly as straight-forward as it was with the FF.

Both the MMI and the FF have a wide variety of monsters of all power levels: everything from the lowly 1/2HD humanoids to god-like unique monsters. Each is a manual that can serve a Referee/GM/DM well for a campaign that spans several PC levels. One of the main reasons I have never liked the MMII — its theme of Gygax’s underdark and planar cosmology — is also the reason why the MMII does not do a good job of serving up monsters of variable levels for a Referee/GM/DM to use over the course of a whole campaign.

The MMII is top-heavy. PCs that are going to explore the underdark and/or the other planes of Gygax’s cosmology are necessarily going to be higher level. Thus, virtually every monster in the MMII either comes from a mid-to-high level module or is designed to challenge higher level characters. There are a number of low hit die creatures that are very capable of taking out an entire 1st level party. Sure, a well-organized group of kobolds could do the same, but not as some random encounter.

For example, the Quickling has the following spell-like abilities: ventriloquism, forget, levitate, shatter, dig and fire charm. When motionless, they are invisible. They save as 19th level clerics. They cannot be surprised, have three attacks per round and have an AC of -3. Did I mention that are 1.5 HD creatures?

Thus, it took a lot longer to arrive at the following 1st Level WMT:

  1. Seer (2nd level MU)
  2. Veteran (1st level Fighter)
  3. Cave Cricket (1+3 HD)
  4. Mongrelmen (1 HD)
  5. Myconid (1 HD)
  6. Vulchling (1 HD)
  7. Ustilagor (3+3* HD)
  8. Dreurgar (1+2 HD)
  9. Pedipalp (1+1 HD)
  10. Tasloi (1 HD)
  11. Dinosaur (3+1 HD)
  12. Formian Worker (1+1 HD)
  13. Giant Squirrel (1+1 HD)
  14. Animal Skeleton (1-1* HD)
  15. Muckdweller (1/2 HD)
  16. Giant Termite (1+2 HD)
  17. Gripple (1+1 HD)
  18. Webbird (1/2* HD)
  19. Footpad (2nd level thief)
  20. Coshee (3+3 HD)

The MMII does not lack for jellies, slimes and oozes. The problem is that they are meant to be a nuisance to mid-to-high level characters and therefore are not really appropriate for a 1st level WMT. As such, I substituted the ustilagor, which is described as a fungi.

This list suggests a world that passingly resembles a fantasy world, with its fey touches and its hat tips to elves and dwarves; however, there is a strong suggestion that this world has been ravaged by the effects of pure chaos. When a creature does appear to be somewhat normal, it seems like it was ripped from another time. Otherwise, this is a nice, large helping of weird.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 4

Demi-Human Player Characters

Unlike my experience with the FF, which had no halflings, dwarves or playable elves in its monster list, the MMII has a more traditional D&D demi-human feel. There are, however, a couple of twists.


In the MMII there are two types of elves: wild and valley. While valley elves function as normal elves for the purposes of a character class, they are chaotic neutral which would place them firmly in the Chaotic alignment category in the three-alignment system of Basic D&D. This would make them monsters, not PCs.

Wild elves do not use arcane magic. Rather, multi-class wild elves are fighter-druids. Necessarily (according to 1ed rules) they have a true neutral alignment.

In other words, while elves are available as a PC class, they do not use arcane magic (unlike their Chaotic and monstrous brethren). Instead, they have a unique spell list that only elves are able to use.


There are several dwarf and dwarf-like entries in the MMII: the derro, duergar, and the spriggan. Derros are chaotic evil (thus monsters) but interestingly use arcane magic in a limited form. The same is true of spriggans, though they only are able to cast spells in their giant form.

Duergar function as psionic, lawful evil dwarves. For the purposes of this thought experiment (and my own understanding of the three-alignment system), lawful evil can translate as Lawful. Thus, the duergar can be a stand-in for the Dwarf class.

Since psionics do not exist in Moldvay’s Basic, it is easy to dismiss most of the psionic abilities; however, duergar do have some interesting psionic disciplines that have to be discussed: reduction, molecular attraction, invisibility and expansion.

Reduction, as a power, is actually quite limited. A user can only reduce their height by 1’ until middle levels and then only 50%. While it does become more useful at high levels, and it strikes me as something a creative player could find beneficial occasionally, it is not the type of ability that would see regular and consistent use. Therefore, I feel quite comfortable just ignoring it.

Molecular Attraction is a typo. There is no such power in the psionic section of the 1ed Player’s Handbook. While I could make an educated guess as to what was intended, I feel more comfortable ignoring it.

Invisibility as a psionic power is weaker than the spell. It only affects creatures of HD equal to or less than the user. Therefore, I would rather express this ability as an increased skill at hiding or surprise.

Expansion is a power that allows a user to grow in height and strength. This increases with experience levels to a maximum additional damage of +6 — the bonus for an 18/00 strength in 1ed. In addition, the user gets extra hp. Due to the fact the spriggans have a similar power, I feel it is important to give a duergar PC class this ability, because it seems to be a part of a MMII understanding of “dwarfishness.” To simplify the ability, I took the mechanics of the psionic power and compared it to what I have in Ye Auld Skool Spell Creator and came up with a 3rd level spell with a duration of 6 turns +1 per level. When grown, the duergar doubles their size and their strength bonus. In addition, they take half damage from all non-magical attacks. This can be used once per day.


There are no halflings in the MMII. Therefore, in order to round out the number of demi-human race-as-classes to three, it is necessary to look at other possibilities. The MMII present several:

  • Buckawn: Neutral, 2’ tall fey with a 1-1HD. Curiously, they are given various illusion magics at “6th level” but no information as to how they attain 6th level or what that otherwise looks like.
  • Hybsil: Lawful good 3’ tall antelope centaurs also with a 1-1HD. This would allow folks to play a centaur without many of the problems that a normal centaur would have while dungeon delving.
  • Mongrelmen: Lawful neutral creatures with 1HD and are a mixture of “humans, orcs, gnolls, ogres, dwarves, hobgoblins, bugbears, elves, bullywugs and others.” They can pickpocket as a thief and have two special abilities: camouflage, and mimicry.
  • Swanmay: A good-aligned and female-only creature that can transform into a swan and has ranger-like powers.

All of these are interesting and (with the possible exception of the hybsil) are something more than a fighter with some cosmetic extras. Therefore, despite the fact I am most drawn to the Buckawn and the Mongrelman, I am torn as to which of these should be the halfling stand-in.

Regardless, there is an interesting undertone suggested by this selection of race-as-class. Arcane magic is dangerous and is associated with Chaos. Elves and dwarves that use arcane magic are all Chaotic. Even if Buckawn make the cut as the last race-as-class, they don’t use arcane magic until higher levels, suggesting that the race actually discourages adventuring because it tempts buckawns to learn things they shouldn’t.

Speaking of which, this all plays into a fascinating blog post by Jeff Rients on the suffix -ard in the word “wizard” and the implication that they know too much.

Of all the halfling stand-ins, which would you most like to play?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 3

Notes on the Undead

Interestingly, there are not many undead creatures in the MMII:

  • Animal Skeleton
  • Demi-Lich
  • Juju Zombie
  • Monster Zombie

This list does allow for a cleric’s Turn Undead to be relevant from the get-go.

The most interesting facet of this list, however, is that all of the entries are derivatives. Animal Skeletons imply the existence of human skeleton undead and monster skeleton undead. Demi-Lich implies the existence of Liches. Juju and Monster zombies imply the existence of “normal” zombies.

The undead picture of an MMII world, however, looks a lot more like a supernatural version of the current zombie fad (e.g. The Walking Dead) than the undead worlds suggested in literature, such as Bram Stroker’s vampire or J.R.R. Tolkien’s wights.

The hierarchy of undead might look something like this:

  • Animal Skeletons (the most basic undead creation).
  • Human Skeleton
  • Zombie
  • Monster Skeleton
  • Juju Zombie
  • Monster Zombie
  • Demi-Lich (when a necromancer fails to complete the transformation into a Lich)
  • Lich

Thus, the undead are exclusively the result of necromancy. Curses, diseases, the restless dead, etc. are not extant. This creates a very clear picture of what the undead are and where they come from. In other words, placing an undead into an adventure automatically leads to another: if there are skeletons around, there must also be a necromancer around. Without the necromancer, the skeletons would not exist.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 2

In Search of a Theme

Moving forward, I am going to have to depart from the methodology I used with the FF, because, while I whole-heartedly embraced the themes of the FF, I am not at all interested in the theme of the MMII (Gygax’s underdark and planar cosmology). Therefore, rather than beginning with the MMII, I am going to begin with Moldvay’s Basic D&D and his monster section.

Moldvay presents seventy monster types (where some types, like dragons and lycanthropes, have several entries). Of these types, 51 have entries that are below 4 HD. Of the nineteen that are 4HD and above, only 5 are 6HD and above. This gives me a tool with which to eliminate a large number of monsters in the MMII that might have appeared in a Basic Edition of D&D. This tool (not uncoincidently) eliminates a lot of extra-planar and underdark monsters. As a consequence, I can begin with a thematic clean slate with the monsters that remain.

One interesting feature of the MMII is the fact that there are a lot of entries for normal animals. Bat, cat, cheetah, eagle, falcon, goat, otter, owl, rat, skunk, snake, squirrel, swan, weasel, vulture and swordfish are examples that fall below 4HD. There are more, like the narwhale, that are 4HD+. Rather than using a bunch of types on various animals, I will simply use one entry: animals. This will allow me a greater variety of monster entries and help me find a few new themes. Unfortunately, finding 51 entries outside of animals in the MMII of monsters with less than 4HD is difficult. There will be a higher number of monsters with higher HD, but the overall HD average should be similar to Molvay because of the number of low HD animals under the animal monster type.

Looking over what is left, I can justify three main themes in the MMII with a pair of sub-themes:

  • Fey with a sub-theme of the Undead
  • Lost World with a sub-theme of Plants and Fungi
  • Elemental

One interesting feature of the fey is that, with the exception of Swanmays and Hybsils, the overall-all alignments tend toward neutral and evil. This includes both versions of elves: wild elves (neutral) and valley elves (chaotic neutral). Given that I see no functional difference between chaotic neutral and chaotic evil, this makes the only arcane casting elves in the game Chaotic, and therefore monsters, not a PC class.

I use the term Lost World because there are a lot of monsters that hail from some fantasy version of prehistory. Dinosaurs and weird giant insects abound. In addition, there are several entries for humanoid-like creatures that appear to have evolved from a non-mammalian source: aspis, formian, myconid, ophidian, vegypygmy and vulchling. I also include here a number of monstrous plants like the mandragora, tri-flower frond and kampfult.

Due to the abundance of planar monsters, it is difficult to avoid an elemental theme with entries like the azer, firebat, magman, mudman and sandling.

The end result actually feels a lot like Moldvay’s monster section, which also had both  Lost World and mythological elements within it. The major difference is that the MMII ventures outside the expected and will hold a lot of unpleasant surprises for players.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 1

A few years ago, I did a series of posts based around the idea of seeing what would happen to Moldvay’s Basic D&D if the Fiend Folio had been the source of all the monsters instead of the more traditional ones found in the Monster Manual and the monster section of my favorite version of D&D.

As happens when I start thinking about gaming and actually gaming, my brain jumps from one idea to another in what can only be described as Gamer Attention Deficit Disorder. I was recently thumbing through the Monster Manual II in search of inspiration for some 5e monsters, when my brain began to think on the possibility of repeating the aforementioned exercise with the MMII instead of the FF.

What makes this possibility interesting to me is that the MMII has always been my least favorite of all the monster manuals. This is in part because I did not buy it upon release in hopes that I could be surprised as a player when new monsters came crawling out of the woodwork. Unfortunately, so much of the work in the MMII is derivative that I only found myself disappointed rather than surprised.

When I finally got my hands on one, I found that the collection was as boring and disappointing as I’d feared. Like its predecessors, the MMII has an overarching theme. The MMI is chuck full of mythological and literary monsters. The FF has a definite sci-fi vibe to it. The MMII is an expansion of Gygax’s underdark and planar cosmology. Whereas I am a huge fan of mythology and the literature of science fiction and fantasy, I have no love for either Gygax’s version of the underdark or the various D&D planes. Indeed, when I am world building, these are two concepts that are left on the cutting room floor almost every time.

As a result, I don’t find any really iconic monsters in the MMII that demand entire campaigns or even adventures to be structured around. I am constantly fighting the the preconceptions that come with the theme: the underdark and the planes. If experience has taught me anything when it comes to D&D, however, it is that there are many hidden gems within even the most familiar of texts.

Therefore, I am actually looking forward to this series of posts. I can’t wait to find those gems that I have passed by all these years because of my own disdain for the MMII.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Meditating on Jack Chick

The news that Jack Chick has passed away has been making its rounds around the blogosphere. Reactions range from the vindictive to the conciliatory. Personally, I wasn’t aware of Chick’s work or his influence on the Satanist Scare and D&D until much later in life when (ironically) the Christian faith I had rejected in my youth drew me back to actually playing the very game Chick warned would destroy my soul.

Believe it or not, I have no animosity towards Chick. In another odd twist, I am actually grateful to him. Despite the fact that I disagree with him on many issues, without Chick and his ilk openly challenging D&D, we would not have the OGL, the OSR or Hasbro putting D&D on the shelves in bookstores so that another generation can fire up the imagination in a way that only pen and paper RPGs can.

In the small picture, the Satanist Scare but TSR on the ropes. In the bigger picture, it led to a series of events that culminated in the OGL so that the game can never be taken away from us ever again.

This leads me to the main point of this post: freedom of speech. Jack exercised his right to publish his nonsense and try to convince a bunch of people that D&D was bad. In turn, others (including myself) have used our free speech to defend the game and to promote it in its various forms. To this day, people are free to decide who is more persuasive and which set of ideas is going to make their life better. I call that a win for everybody.

Unfortunately, there are a growing number of people out there that think limiting speech is a good idea. More and more people believe that they shouldn’t have to listen to ideas that challenge their own world-view. Frighteningly, there are also more people willing to use their influence and power to make that happen and to coerce, bully and forcibly shut people up.

We live in a Golden Age of RPGs specifically because of the freedom of speech that allowed Chick to voice his beliefs. Those beliefs force those of us who play this game to answer his challenges, to know this game better and to make this game better. As a consequence, we are all better for it.

For all those who think that it is okay to bully, coerce and forcibly shut people up because you disagree with them, this is a world-view that would have robbed us all of the game we know and love today. It may very well have also forced D&D into the dustbin of history.

I pray that the lesson we learn from Chick, his life and his death is not that his version of Christianity was bad, but rather that freedom of speech and the ability to be challenged by ideas that disagree with our own has made the world a better place.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Towards an Arnesonian XP System Without the Gold

Anyone familiar with my musings on how to run a campaign is well aware of my long love-affair with Arneson’s rule of 1 gp of treasure spent = 1 xp. It is genius and it is the mechanical engine that makes a sandbox-style game purr. Handing over agency to a group of players is one of the true pleasures I have as a Referee because it guarantees an experience that I cannot get by writing short stories, novellas or novels: utter surprise. I had no idea stirge meat was a delicacy in the Lost Colonies until my players decided to ask a friendly monster NPC to cook one up. To this day, this fact and all of the various consequences that are derived from this fact are some of my favorite features of the Lost Colonies campaign world.

There is, however, one glaring weakness in Dave Arneson’s xp house rule: it assumes a gold-based economy in a post-apocalyptic world where treasure hunting is an inexpensive but lucrative (if dangerous) endeavor. It won’t work in the Third Imperium. Whereas there is a lost, ancient civilization, the locations of these ruins are often tightly controlled secrets or in places that are cost prohibitive to get to. In addition, the stuff that can be found is generally cultural and/or scientific, not monetary.

One of the reasons B/X is the one RPG I would choose if I could only ever play one RPG for the rest of my life is because it best expresses (and allows for) the madness of a sandbox campaign and players armed with the near-complete agency Arneson’s xp rule grants. One of the reasons I don’t regularly Referee games like Traveller, Call of Cthulhu and Champions is that these genres and systems lend themselves much less easily to the sandbox campaign (not that they can’t).

The discussion that followed my most recent rant about 5e and xp got me thinking about how it might be possible to marry the madness of Arneson’s xp rule and a sandbox campaign to another genres where Arneson’s assumptions about the world do not or cannot exist.

At the root of this whole issue is player agency. The way in which Arneson’s rule empowers players to advance exactly how they want to is a marvel to behold. The surprise factor and the world-building and world-altering factors are huge. Therefore, here is a stab in the dark at a framework upon which to build an experience system that could potentially give me the same kind of satisfaction in other games and genres that I get from Arneson + B/X:

There are six different methods of earning experience:

  1. Party Campaign Goal: This is a task the players set for themselves as a group. The expected time necessary to complete this task should be around the 2-5 session mark. For example: The party decides that it wants to figure out where the Tomb of Horrors is located. This would have a value of 2(x) for each character where x is an arbitrary number used consistently throughout this thought experiment.
  2. Player Campaign Goal: This is a task that the player sets for their character alone. Again, this is something they should expect to take 2-5 game sessions to complete. For example: The ranger decides that he wants to take out 20 orcs, while the Magic-user wants to visit the Great Library in the Capital City. Again, this would have a value of 2(x).
  3. Party Mission Goal: Similar to the Party Campaign Goal, but is something the party wants to accomplish over the course of a single session. For example: The party wants to get to the Village of Sages in order to find out the most likely place to find a map associated with the Tomb of Horrors. This would have a value of (x) for each character.
  4. Player Mission Goal: Similar to the Player Campaign Goal, but is something the player wants to accomplish over the course of a single session. For example: The Cleric wants to cast three utility spells that actually help the party. This would have a value of (x).
  5. Secret Player Goal: This is something to help me notch up the surprise factor for both players and referee. All of the above goals are assumed to be public knowledge so that everyone has a chance to negotiate with the other players to maximize their ability to gain experience. At the beginning of each session, the player’s also write down a goal their character has for the session that no one else is privy to, including the Referee. At the end of the session, these goals are revealed to the table and experience is granted for those who pull it off. This would have a value of (x).
  6. Referee Discretion/Secret Goal: This is also an attempt to up the surprise factor. The Referee could hand out (x) experience to players who showed exceptional bravery/cleverness/role-playing etc. and/or at the start of the session, the Referee could secretly write down a goal they hope the party accomplishes over the course of that session. This, too, would be worth (x) experience.

I think this would allow enough flexibility to just about any genre to pull off a sandbox campaign as well as offer enough structure to allow players to feel empowered on how their characters advance through the system and the campaign.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Toward an OId School 5e Monster Stat Block

My benchmark for a monster stat block is the 1ed Monster Manual because that is the stat block that I used for years in the formative youth of my RPG life. While too big for my (now curmudgeonly) taste, it does set a marvelous example for visual clarity and simplicity. In contrast to its modern counterparts, the 1ed MM stat block was perfectly happy to merely inform its user that there was a special attack (say, a breath weapon) at leave it that. The crunchy stuff was in the description. At a glance, I know all the essentials and am invited to investigate further for more details if I should so choose:
No. Appearing
Armor Class
Hit Dice
% in Lair
Treasure Type
No. of Attacks
Special Attacks
Special Defenses
Magic Resistance
One of the biggest headaches (literally) for me in 5e is the monster stat block. For some unknown reason, it isn’t possible to simply inform a user that there is a breath weapon. Instead, it must also be accompanied by every single bit of data about the breath weapon, as well as every other possible attack that monster is capable of. I am no longer allowed to get a handle on a monster at a glance. I am required to read all the details, because…stat block. It is visually muddy and crosses wires in my brain.

Therefore, if I am going to stay sane while DMing a 5e game I need a stat block I can understand at a glance. To that end (and inspired by the 1ed MM stat block) I would like to propose the following:
Hit Dice (with an average hp total in parenthesis)
Armor Class
Ave. Bonus (the average of all the ability score bonuses/penalties)
Attack Bonus (the total of the Proficiency Bonus, Str bonus and any special bonuses)
Advantages (including any listed skills)
Disadvantages (including any listed weaknesses)
Special Abilities (with no elaboration)
For all non-combat rolls, I use the Ave. Bonus (and can adjust that up or down depending upon how I want the monster to run). For all combat rolls, I use the Attack Bonus. If I need to understand a special ability, I can look in the description or just make it up as I go along (which I’d probably do anyway).

As an example, here is the 5e Goblin as represented by my old-fangled stat block:
Hit Dice: 2d6 (7)
Armor Class: 15
Ave. Bonus: 0
Attack Bonus: +4
Damage/Attack: 1d6+2
Advantages : Stealth
Disadvantages: none
Special Abilities: Nimble Escape
Alignment: Neutral Evil
Size: Small
Goblins usually wear leather armor and carry a shield. They are armed with scimitars and short bows. When using their Nimble Escape ability they can use a bonus action to either disengage or hide. Goblins are used to living underground and have dark vision 60ft.
This makes sense to me. I can riff of this info in seconds and I know how to run a group of goblins without having to give myself a headache.

Friday, October 21, 2016

What I Mean By 5e Lite

Yesterday, when I mentioned the idea of a 5e Lite, Michael Bugg enthusiastically agreed by pointing out the large about of fluff text that exists in the 5e core books. Whereas that would reduce the page count and give an editor an opportunity to make the rules clearer and more concise (meaning I might be willing to buy to them), this is not what I had in mind. My vision of 5e Lite is far more radical.

If we strip down each class to their fundamental core, what we find are Hit Dice and several categories that players are allowed to apply their character’s proficiency bonus to:

  • Armor
  • Weapons
  • Tools
  • Saving Throws
  • Skills
  • Spells and Spell-like Abilities

There are four types of hit dice (1d6, 1d8, 1d10 and 1d12). There are four types of Armor (light, medium, heavy and shield). There are four categories of weapons (a partial list of simple weapons, all simple weapons, simple weapons plus a partial list of martial weapons and all martial weapons). There are up to six Saving Throws (one for each ability score). There are any number of tools and skills. Spells and Spell-like Abilities can be categorized any way you like.

What we have here is a framework for a character build for just about any genre you want. Arbitrarily assign a number of build points that can be assigned to any of the above categories. For example, a Fighter might look like this:

  • HD: 3pts (d10)
  • Armor: 4pts (all armor)
  • Weapons: 4pts (all weapons)
  • Saving Throws: 2pts (Str & Con saves)
  • Tools: 0pts
  • Skills: 2pts (two skills)
  • Spells: 0pts

This build would cost 15 points.

Spells could be broken down to their mechanical core, as I have done with the spell list from 0e in my Ye Auld Skool Spell Creator. Each character build point could purchase the character an ability to use one of the 16 base spells. Each spell would have a basic DC in order to cast it (say 5 or 10 DC). Thus, characters should be able to auto-cast some of the simplest spells. As mechanics are added to these basic spells, the DC goes up by 5 for each mechanic. As the character goes up in level, it is possible to cast harder and more powerful spells. Due to the mechanical nature of this set-up, these “spells” can be dressed up any way the genre requires: mental powers, mutations, super powers, etc.

With this approach, 5e is transformed from the complicated mess it is now to a simple, streamlined system that can do just about anything you want it to without a lot of complications.

This is what I mean by 5e Lite.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

More 5e Thoughts (And a Gauntlet Thrown)

Over the course of the past several days, I have been trying to typeset a 5e Players Guide to the Lost Colonies in order to reflect some of the ideas I expressed in my last post as well as ideas that are campaign-specific. What a nightmare. I have gotten through what I hope is the messiest part, but I still have a lot of editing and re-organizing to do. This whole experience has cemented the idea that my major complaint about 5e has almost nothing to do with the system.

I will never spend a dime on the core books because they are a hot mess. Seriously, anyone out there who has played a 5e Paladin, you have my sympathy. I took me days to typeset and organize the paladin-as-cleric because, in order to understand the rules for some class features, you have to go to two or three different places in the class description to get a full picture. Even then, a lot of stuff needs several reads in order to interpret the rules.

Now, as an old-school grognard I don’t have any issues with rules that can be interpreted in multiple ways on principle, but 5e presents as such a complicated system that to have rules that are difficult to interpret is not something I appreciate, at least in context of trying to produce an ordered and understandable version of the paladin for my own campaign world.

On the flip side, this experience has demonstrated to me that 5e, at its core, is an extremely simple system. Simply put, it takes the bare bones of a typical d20 system (six ability scores, hit points, armor class, etc.) and strips it all down to the concepts of the Proficiency Bonus and the ideas of Advantage/Disadvantage.

The Proficiency Bonus is a very simple way of expressing that a character is good at something — anything from weapons, to skills, to tools, to saving throws. Advantage/Disadvantage is an extraordinarily elegant way to express bonuses and penalties for virtually any situation in the game.

5e then builds upon this very simple framework a baroque/gothic nightmare of complexity. Whereas I like the idea of using the paladin as a cleric and the warlock as a magic-user, I am less than thrilled about the sheer amount to rules necessary to pull this off. Swords & Wizardry Light (a complete game) will be four pages. That is less than the page count necessary to explain a single class in 5e.

At the heart of all this, however, is a system that I think will make the world of RPGs better. I don’t think I am the man to do it, but there is a 5e-Lite begging to shake off all the excess that WotC have piled onto this system. Indeed, I think the system is elegant enough to pull off just about any genre that you can throw at it.

Here is hoping that someone, someday picks up the gauntlet and produces a 5e-Lite that will make the process of tooling 5e into any genre we want easier than what I am putting myself through now.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

5e and The Lost Colonies

When the current party I am GMing created its characters, I had yet to get my hands on the core books and was operating solely with my reading of the Basic version of 5e. As such, I limited the choice of classes to the archetypal four found in Basic: Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Wizard. This made my life easier and, as I explained to my players, all of the other classes are really just variations of those four classes.

Having now read the PH and getting a better handle on both the system and the classes I have come to a rather surprising conclusion: if I were to do it all over again, I would have limited the class choice to three, but not the three one might expect.

I say three, because when I first started the Lost Colonies campaign world so many years ago that is exactly the number of classes I allowed (plus the race-as-classes of B/X). I got rid of the thief and wanted to see what the game would feel like with only the three classes of 0e. It worked surprisingly well. When new classes were introduced, it happened organically because of events within the campaign.

I also intellectually like the conceptual and mechanical balance associated with the three classes: Fighters fight, magic-users use magic and clerics are something in between (which, in practice, leaned more towards fighting than magic). This balance, however, does not really exist between the three core classes in 5e. While fighters still fight, the differences between clerics and magic-users have been blurred so much that it is hard to tell the difference without seeing the mechanics behind the special effects.

Thus, the three classes I would use in 5e to emulate that 0e feel I was going for when I first began using the Lost Colonies are:

  • Fighter
  • Paladin (in the place of the cleric)
  • Warlock (in the place of the magic-user)

In the Lost Colonies, all clerics worship the same god. I don’t need different Domains to represent different pagan cults. The paladin better represents a monotheistic set-up. They also don’t get their spell-casting abilities until 2nd level, just like B/X and 0e. In addition, they have fighting skills like a fighter, but don’t have as broad a choice nor are as good at them in the long run as the fighter is.

The warlock is the best D&D representation of the idea that arcane magic is a dangerous thing. It also is the closest I have ever seen D&D get to one of my favorite magic systems — the Elric RPG where demons and elementals were bound into items in order to get magical effects and spells. In addition, this also is a really good analog for the idea that pagan clerics are really magic-users dressed up to look religious.

Obviously, the various patrons for PCs would have to be tweaked else the cleric (paladin) and magic-user (warlock) would not get along very well. My initial thoughts are these: The Summer Queen/Winter King (a variation of the Archfey patron), the Dragon Kings (ancient metallic dragons, which could be a variation on the Great Old One) or the Celestials (archangels, which could be a reverse variation on the Fiend). Since these arcane casters have cantrips and can be really good casters at first level, they are much better at casting than clerics (paladins) who get no cantrips. Thus, it better cements the cleric (paladin) as a tweener whose magic comes from a much different source than the magic of the magic-user (warlock).

For those who want to play a thief, I will provide a background called Thieves’ Guild which will provide all the skills and connections necessary to play one, while still being one of the three core classes. Ironically, this set-up probably does a better job of emulating Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser than any version of D&D ever did.

In the same vein, for those that want to play a barbarian, bard, druid, ranger or monk I will provide a background which will encompass all the skills and backstory necessary to play one.

BTW this is yet another reason I think the background mechanic for character creation is such a brilliant idea. I get to have a much simpler version of 5e by limiting it to three core classes and players can customize these three core classes to emulate all kinds of cool characters without hardly any mechanical shenanigans.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Meditating on 5e Character Creation

Surprisingly, one the things that I really like about 5e is its character creation. I would venture to guess that there really isn’t anything I don’t like about it. This takes me aback because I normally don’t like point builds nor skill systems, but 5e manages to do both in ways that make this old curmudgeon smile.

The characteristic point-buy system of 5e doesn’t really have to be a pure point buy system. The game provides a standard array of scores: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8. This scratches the old-school itch in me that likes the challenge of “this is what you have to work with” that I get when I roll 3d6 in order. While it does provide quite a few bonuses in the balance, unless you specifically dump a +2 bonus on that ‘8’ you are going to have to deal with a penalty on one characteristic. I like this a whole lot better than any of the methods suggested in the 1e DMG to help inflate stats. It also has the advantage of being quick and easy.

The 5e skill system also doesn’t really present as a true skill system. This is in large part due to the relatively small number of skills and the broad manner in which they can be described. In other words, rather than telling players what they can’t do (ala traps that can only be disarmed by a Rogue in 3e), they allow players a means of describing unusual ways to tackle problems.

For example: if my character is having a hard time deciding whether or not the local noble is trying to pull the wool over his eyes but doesn’t have access to the skill Insight, I could argue that his expertise in History might give me a clue as to whether or not the details of the noble’s story jives with what my character knows about the history of the area. This encourages creativity and thinking outside the box rather than limiting roleplaying to roll-playing.

I love the fact that each character has starting equipment packages depending upon their class and background. This gets everybody off the ground running with an appropriate and well-rounded set of equipment that still leaves room for player choice.

The one part of 5e character creation that I think is truly great, though, is the Background system. With the use of 4 or 5 random tables rolls (gotta love those random tables!), players get to piece together an origin story and character motivation that makes their character unique right out of the gates without having to put a lot of effort into the creative process or having to rely upon mechanical bells and whistles. The fact that this background system is easily adaptable to virtually any DIY game-world is brilliant.

By the book, it was the background system of 5e that allowed me to give a bunch of young teenagers and their strange out-of-the-box ideas the characters they wanted to play without any real effort on my part. Thus far, this is my favorite part of the 5e rule set and is something I will happily graft onto all future campaigns I run from now on.

As an example of the wonderful variety this background system can produce, here is what the party of six characters look like in my current campaign:

  • A dwarven fighter who used to be a librarian and is now trusted by his clan with an ancient text that should never be allowed to fall into the wrong hands.
  • A half-elf fighter who used to be a medic in an army. Sick and tired of seeing his friends die, he cynically doesn’t want to make any more friends, but will never abandon them when he finally does.
  • A human cleric who wants nothing more than to help any in need despite the fact that she distrusts people and expects the worst of them.
  • A human wizard who is working on a scientific journal dedicated to the ecology, biology and sociology of dragons.
  • A human rogue whose specialty is forgery and multiple identities because she is a noble on the run whose family has all been assassinated.
  • An elven rogue who belongs to the Tinkers Guild. When she wasn’t allowed the funds to do research on automatons, she stole them from the Guild’s coffers. She is now off in the world trying to prove that her research can become a reality.

This stuff was produced by a couple of wild ideas and a bunch of random rolls. I have often lionized random tables and the wondrous things they can yield and this is yet another example of that goodness.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

I'm Back and Playing (and Ranting About) 5e

For those of you who don’t know, I have not been playing anything for a number of years now. My youngest was in and out of the hospital for about three years battling for her little life and we have been struggling to find what can only be called a new normal.

When things began to settle down, I found that the group that I had played with had moved on in life, as so often happens. Some began families and have to deal with the time realities that such an endeavor requires, some left town to go to school or back to school and one even went off to the military. Thus, I really haven’t done anything with this hobby let alone something worth blogging about.

Recently, however, my oldest got together with a bunch of her friends and asked me to be a GM for their group. The system of choice was D&D 5e. As a consequence, I got my hands on the core books for the first time. The Basic 5e .pdf release from a few years back did nothing to convince me that I should fork over $40 for a Players Handbook let alone $120 for all three core books.

As I wrote back then, when I took a hard look at the free .pdf release, there are things to like about the new system; however, all of them are things that can easily be grafted onto my (still) favorite version of the game: B/X and its clone Labyrinth Lord.

Now that I have had the core books in my hands and have had to use them at the table, I can with certainty proclaim that they most definitely are not worth $40 for a PH let alone $120 for all three core books. What surprises me, however, is that this declaration has less to do with the system itself, and more to do with the way the game is written, laid out and typeset.

These books are really hard to use. The visual style is chaotic, confusing and hard to read. The best of the bunch is the PH and its a nightmare. The page numbers are not only too small, but are a light color on top of another color. The index requires a magnifying glass. I have yet to really understand the logic of why the book is laid out and ordered the way that it is. For example: races aren’t alphabetical, but the classes are?

While I will admit that the DM Guide does have a bunch of useful information for a beginner, a good chunk of that advice runs counter to my own predilections. The only reason for me to own that book is the magic section and (especially since I own several versions of the game with their own better organized version of magic items) $40 is way too much.

Lastly, I despise the monster stat block. It is visually cluttered and overly complicated. For someone who has written and typeset modules, my least favorite part of the process is monster stat blocks. Swords & Wizardry has the best, and even then it is still a task. 5e requires all six characteristic scores and their bonuses!? Put that mess on top of all the ridiculous artsy crap that fills every single page of the MM and you have something that I would prefer to use as a fuel for a fire rather then something I have at the table. It gives me a headache just thinking about it.

So, yeah, the only book I’d be tempted to buy is the PH and only if I could find a deal that would put it in the $20 range. Even then, it would only be used as a reference so that I could typeset my own more table friendly version. Fortunately, I can do that legally now (and I may not even ever have to purchase a core book to do it!).

Systemically, I am going to do my best to play this particular campaign according to the book so that I can see how it plays, with one major exception: the XP rules. Just no. I can appreciate the faster progression at lower levels (especially given the fact that I am working with a group of young teenagers used to the instant gratification of cell phones, the internet and video games). What I can’t abide is that it is has everything to do with killing stuff (or accomplishing missions if you use the alternative options in the DMG) and nothing to do with gold for xp.

I cannot say enough about Dave Arneson’s 1 gp of treasure spent = 1 xp. It does such an incredible job of emulating a character investing in himself or herself. It also places almost all of the agency of how a character progresses through the game into the hands of the players.

For example: Lets pretend that there is a dragon with a requisite hoard living in close proximity to the PCs.

In 5e the only way to get experience points out of this reality is to kill the dragon unless the GM is kind enough to give you a mission associated with the dragon hoard. In other words, the only agency the players have is whether or not to risk going up against a dragon.

If one uses the Dave Arneson formula, the players are in almost complete control of how the existence of this dragon and its hoard will affect their advance in levels. They can kill the dragon, they can steal from the dragon, they can go on other adventures get enough treasure to do research about how to hide from or defeat or capture a dragon (which would mean getting experience points by spending that treasure), etc. Once they get whatever amount of treasure they want from that hoard, the players get to decide how that treasure is used to express how their character gets to the next level. They can go on a massive bar crawl, they can invest in cargo that will be traded for by merchants hired by the characters, they can begin building a house/temple/castle/bridge/bar/whatever, they can buy a fancy outfit to go visit the king, etc. How the character spends that treasure says a lot about who they are and that choice and agency is almost entirely in the hands of the player — not the game, not the system and not the GM.

So, using the training rules from 1e, I determined that the average price of advancing to the next level from 1st-9th level (when training is necessary) is approximately 36% of the total needed for that level. Thus, the one house rule I am using in this campaign is that players must spend a minimum amount of treasure equal to a third of the required xp to gain a level. In other words, if a 1st level character stole 300 gp from the aforementioned dragon hoard and spent it, they would gain a level. If that same 1st level character defeated a group of goblins worth 300xp, they would be stuck at 1st level until such time that they found 100gp and spent it.

I will grant that this has less player agency than I would like, but it is the only way I am going to be able to experience the 5e level progression while teaching these kids about player agency.

Now, despite all my curmudgeonly griping, I do think that 5e has a lot to offer the game and I look forward to seeing what works, what doesn’t and what modular bits and pieces I steal for my default Labyrinth Lord game.