Saturday, March 9, 2024

Arneson’s version of Challenge Rating

One of the more fascinating bits of information to be gleaned from Tonisborg is a section which reveals Arneson’s methodology of stocking dungeons. For those of us who have used Moldvay as our go-to guide for creating dungeons, we might expect an Arneson dungeon to have monsters in about one third of all rooms. If you are exploring dungeon levels 3-6, this is exactly what you would find; however, only 1-in-6 rooms on dungeon levels 1 and 2 have monsters and half of the rooms on dungeon levels of 7+ are occupied.

Each room that has monsters is assigned what are called “Protection Points” — a randomly determined amount of hit points that are used to “buy” monsters with. As described in Tonisborg, the number of Protection Points are based on an average party size of 4 to 5 PCs. Unfortunately, I found the table provided to be a bit confusing, but was able to take the concept and the described math to provide a very simple metric for determining the number Arneson’s Protection Points:

(1d6+1)(Dungeon Level) per PC*

*This assumes that that HD are based on a d6. This die would shift depending upon what the standard HD is according to the edition used.

Thus, if I were stocking the second level of my dungeon, I would be rolling 2d6+2 Protection Points for each PC in the party. So, if my party had 3 PCs the total number of Protection Points would be 6d6+6.

Additionally, Arneson had a “one sixth principle of monster variation.” On top of the dice rolled above, an extra d6 is rolled. Should that d6 result in a ‘6,’ there is a 50/50 chance that the number of points are halved or doubled.

Thus, in the example above, an average roll would result in 27hp; this would be halved to 14 hp or doubled to 54 hp with a ‘6’ on the variation die.

I have yet to try this method at the table, but in principle it does several things: 

1) It clearly sets up the expected danger of each dungeon level while allowing for some encounters to be surprisingly easy or hard. 

2) It despenses with the need to roll for the number of monsters encountered or for hit points. Both are simply assigned based on the number of Protectin Points avaible. In a way, it frees up the Referee to more exactly tailor their dungeon.

For example, our room on the second level has 27 Protection Points. This can be a typical encounter of 2HD monsters like 3 gnolls with 9 hp each. Or, it could be a bit more ridiculous with 27 goblins with 1 hp each. Or it could be a bit more chellenging with a single 5HD creature like a griffin with 27 hp. 

3) It allows for a kind of short hand when designing/stocking a dungeon. I can simple indicate the number of protection points each occupied room has and assign these points to monsters on the fly depending on whim, need, or random roll. It gives me the freedom to adjust some of the difficulty of a room by increasing or decreasing the number of potential attacks. For example, if I wanted to buy gnolls with my 27 Protection Points and my party needed a bit more of a challenge, I can increase the number of gnolls to 9 with 3 hp each; however, the overall deadliness of nine gnolls is somewhat mitigated by the fact that each will die from average hit from a PC.

This is an idea that seems far more practical than Challenge Levels and their equivalants in the modern game. It will also be something I will have to experiment with to see how it actually plays. Nonetheless, fascinating stuff!


Friday, February 23, 2024

What to Buy Instead of WotC's "The Making of Original D&D"

For several years I have avoided giving WotC my hard earned money. I have patiently waited for the rest of the world to wake up and do the same. Today, I wish to be much more specific and proactive.

WotC recently announced the publication of The Making of Original D&D in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Game. It is currently available for pre-order on Amazon for about $100. Please do not order this product. In the years that followed my open letter to WotC about their warning label on legacy products, not only have they not removed their label, but have gone on to treat their customers, fans, and even their own employees with contempt and malice. We don't need WotC or Hasbro in order to play and grow our game.

If, like me, you are interested in a product that explores the origins of the game in fascinating and applicable ways, I encourage you to spend your money in a much more responsible way and be treated to a fascinating and highly useful book: The lost Dungeons of Tonisborg.

If you don't mind giving Amazon some of your money,
you can pick up a paperback edition for a mere $30. 

This book has history, facsimiles of a dungeon designed and played prior to the publication of D&D, an updated version of that same dungeon, a guide on how to play the game as it was prior to 1974, and (best of all) a set of rules based upon the way Arneson and Gygax ran the game. This is amazing stuff and a treat for anyone interested in the history of the game.

For those of you who have it, what is the rule that blew your mind the most? For me, it was the idea of rolling up a character's base saving throws randomly!

Again, let WotC rot and spend money on people who actually care about this game and its history. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Stocking a Moldvay Dungeon with a Deck of Cards

I was fiddling around with a deck of cards today, and it occurred to me that it might be possible to emulate the math of Moldvay's table for stocking a dungeon on page B52 of the his Basic Rulebook with a deck of cards. He has us rolling 1d6 to determine the contents of a room:

1-2 Monster 

3 Trap

4 Special

5-6 Empty

A second roll determines whether or not there is Treasure: 

Monster: 1-3 Yes; 5-6 No

Trap: 1-2 Yes; 3-6 No

Empty: 1 Yes; 2-6 No

If you include a pair of Jokers, a deck has 54 cards, which is dividable by 6. That means we can assign each of the four outcomes of our Room Contents Table to 9 cards. This comes out to 18 cards for Monsters, 9 cards for Traps, 9 cards for Specials, and 18 cards for Empty Rooms. With these groups, 9 of the Monster, 3 of the Traps, and 1 of the Empty Rooms would indicate a Treasure.

A deck of cards could thus be divvied up as follows:

2D = Empty with Treasure

3D-5D = Trap with Treasure

6D-AD = Monster with Treasure

2C-5C = Empty

6C-AC = Monster

2H-5H = Empty

6H-AH = Special

2S-8S = Empty

9S-AS = Trap

Jokers = Could indicate an Empty Room or Placed Encounter

Of course, all of this assumes that your dungeon has multiples of 54 rooms... but being a fan of the megadungeon, this is no real issue for me. 

Monday, February 12, 2024

Dragon Events

Inspired by my last post, I decided to create some random tables to emulate the kinds of events the appearance of a dragon might be the harbinger of. What follows are seven tables. The first six are different kinds of events. I provide each with a number in case you want to randomly determine which table to roll on. Alternatively, each table could be assigned to a specific type of hybrid monster. The seventh table is a kind of narrative tool, where something is revealed. Whether this revelation is a cause, effect, or just happenstance is up to you. Enjoy.

1. Death

    1. King 
    2. Queen 
    3. Heir 
    4. Bishop 
    5. Guild Leader 
    6. General

2. Event

    1. Refugees 
    2. Shortage (equipment) 
    3. Shortage (food) 
    4. New taxes 
    5. Rise of a new religion 
    6. King goes insane

3. War

    1. Peasant Revolt 
    2. Massacre 
    3. Civil War 
    4. Invasion 
    5. PCs Kingdom defends another kindgom 
    6. PCs kingdom attacks another kingdom

4. Magic

    1. Arcane Magic effects halved dawn to dusk & Divine Magic effects halved dusk to dawn
    2. Magic effects double during New & Full Moon
    3. Magic effects are randomly normal, half-effective, or twice as effective
    4. Arcane spells with random effects are at advantage dusk to dawn & Divine spells with random effects are at advantgae dawn to dusk
    5. Magic does not work at dusk and dawn
    6. Recovering Spells takes twice as long

5. Natual Disaster

    1. Blizzard/Heatwave
    2. Avalanche/Mudflow/Wildfire
    3. Hurricane/Tornado
    4. Flood/Tsumani
    5. Earthquake
    6. Volcano

6. Stange Events

    1. Unending Fog
    2. Days shorten to 12 hours
    4. Days lengten to 48 hours
    5. Seasons last a month
    6. Seasons last 6 months


    1. New Ally
    2. New Creature
    3. New Race
    4. New Enemy
    5. New Civilization
    6. New Disease

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

That is a Dragon

I recently watched Jonathan Pageau and Richard Rohlin discuss dragons on their Universal History video series. It is a fascinating look at dragons from symbolic, pre-modern, and Orthodox Christian points of view (which in some ways can be understood to all be the same). I wanted to share here because Dungeons and Dragons is specifically referenced. This whole discussion is contrasted with what we old gognards might call Gygaxian Naturalism — if we narrow our view to that of the modern, as expressed by the naturalistic categorization of monsters found in the various Monster Manuals of DnD, we might not completely grok what Johnathan and Richard are talking about. This is an interesting parallel to the move I was made to make when exploring how Scripture might inform the megadungeon.    


For those who don't want to sit and listen to these two geek out for over an hour, here is a short summary of the general characteristics of dragons:
  1. They are serpents.
  2. They are hybrids — the serpent aspect is mixed with pieces and parts of other animals.
  3. As hybrids, they occupy a symbolic space of flux and can be understood as harbingers of change.
  4. They function as guardians (mostly of water). This guardianship can be understood as hoarding and water needs to be understood as an essential material for civilization to function.
  5. They have an enemy, often a thunder god symbolized by a trident (which is originally a symbol for lightening, not for a sea god/creature).
The aspect of this I find most useful and interesting is the fact that not all dragons exhibit all five characteristics. Thus, from this perspective, an owlbear is a type of dragon (as are many of the hybrid creatures found in the Monster Manual). From the perspective of a DnD campaign, the appearance of such a creature could signify a major event for the campaign world as a harbinger of change.

Personally, I would be tempted to leave all hybrids out of my placed encounter areas and only have them appear as Wandering Monsters. Once one appears, this could mean a roll on a major campaign event table with various types of catastrophes both natural (such an earthquake that reveals a subterranean civilization) and man-made (such as war).

This view also reinforces the mechanics of treasure from early DnD: the gold hoarded by dragons (monsters, especially hybrids) is the main means by which the PCs (both the enemies of the dragons and the defenders of Civilization) level up to become more capable of defending Civilization.

I highly recommend taking the time watching this episode. It is a fascinating (and I would say useful) discussion even for those of you who are not of the Christian persuasion. Enjoy.