Original Edition Delta Plus DCC

As much as I’m looking forward to getting back to the stark simplicity of OD&D (as streamlined and simplified by Original Edition Delta) there are certain rules from Dungeon Crawl Classics that I’m unwilling to do without because they fix what seems to me to be genuine problems with OD&D (at least for me and my players).

  1. Mighty Deeds for Fighters. The DCC Mighty Deeds rule just makes Fighting Men more fun to play, and really makes up for the relative lack of options that FM get as they level up and the other classes get more and better abilities.  More than that, it gives me as Dungeon Master and simple and consistent way of adjudicating all the crazy shenanigans that Fighting Men ought to be getting up to: tripping, disarming, swinging from chandeliers, throwing sand in the face of the foe, etc. Of course I can make rulings on the fly, but I appreciate having a rough framework to help.  Gygax, et. al. had an actuarial approach to combat: as long as over hundreds of rolls the statistics worked out, who cares what happens moment by moment in a combat round.  Only everybody I play with regularly, that’s who.  Even back in the 70’s we never really paid attention to the “fast and furious” one minute combat rounds.
  2. Luck instead of Wisdom.  Since OED removes Clerics, and I agree with the reasons for doing that, it leaves Wisdom as a dead stat.  Luck is better for a pulpy game, and the ability to spend Luck when you really need to succeed, coupled with the sure knowledge that your Luck is running out when you do that does great things for the game, IMO.  It also helps with the the problem I sometimes perceive of an allegedly competent character getting a few unlucky rolls and coming across as a useless twerp; yes, in the long run the probabilities will prevail, but in a game with a decent dose of lethality we may all be dead before the long run. I’m not usually a fan of “meta” game currencies like Hero points and the like, but Luck is different… characters like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser worry about their luck in a way that makes more sense with Luck as a spendable resource than just what you get from rolls of the dice.
  3. Luck Die for Thieves. as per DCC Thieves cans add their Luck Die to any of their rolls by spending a point of Luck, which they recover 1 point per level per night. Thieves in OD&D suck, and OED just simplifies the math around that.  I know all the apologetics for really low chances of success at anything except climbing (not even reaching 50-50 chances until nearly name level), and probably have written a few myself.  The fact remains that, except for climbing, you’d be better off playing a Fighting Man or Magic User that sneaks around and steals stuff.  The Luck Die fixes all that.  Even with your terrible starting probabilities, if you spend Luck you can make it count when it’s important.
  4. Recovering Spells Through Spellburn. I’m not going whole hog into the DCC spell charts, because as great as I think they are, some of my players seem to really resent the randomness.  So we’ll be using the clearly defined OED Book of Spells and the usual spells per day charts, but since I think that oh, you’re out of spells, you can just throw daggers is and always was lame, while the 5e solution of endless cantrips makes the game feel like a JRPG setting I’m going to let Wizards attempt to cast an already expended spell via Spellburning. Same as DCC rules, it’s a point of Spellburn per level of spell… plus to succeed they’ll have to roll a check against DC 11+ spell level. The points of Spellburn to recover the spell won’t add to the roll, but I’ll probably let them burn more to try to make sure that the spell actually goes off. I’m definitely going to make them roll on the creepy Spellburn actions chart instead of just ticking off the points of STR, DEX or CON.
  5. Rolling the Body. Instead of death at zero HP or Delta’s rule allowing a Death Save, just roll the body after combat per DCC: roll less than your remaining Luck and you miraculously survived… you haven’t burned all your Luck, have you?  Heh. Heh.  The loss of a point from a random physical attribute will keep this from being a permanent “Get Out of Death Free” card even for players who hoard their Luck.
  6. Crits and Fumbles from DCC. I like Delta’s rule about being able to save against crits and fumbles, as well as 1 HD or less creatures not generating crits, but the Good Hits and Bad Misses chart from the Dragon magazine that he uses strikes me as both too bland and too punishing.  I think I prefer the DCC charts as well as the way that Fighters’ crits are better than other classes and improve with level.  I think I’m also going to keep DCC’s rule that Thieves crit on back-stab, too, instead of just boring old double damage; the victim will still get a save as per Delta.
  7. Dwarves can smell gold, and Elves are allergic to iron. Those are just too much fun in RP terms to part with.  Magic armor and weapons won’t pose a problem to elves, that would be too cruel, but they better stick to leather and weapons like bows and spears or try to find some mithril until they can get magic. I note that in OD&D encounters in the wild, bands of Elves have AC 5, which implies either chain without a shield or (more likely at least in this setting) Leather, Shield and a +1 from DEX.

Chaotic Caves Hexmap

This is a hexmap version J.D. Neal’s Chaotic Caves map from his The Chaotic Caves supplement for Basic Fantasy, released under the OGL, which is basically a nice, simple, hexcrawl retroclone of The Keep on the Borderlands.  C.R. Brandon released a version reskinned for Heroes & Other Worlds.  Since I was kind of irritated by the square grid in the map, I ripped it out and replaced it with a hex grid to approximately the same scale (1 hex = 1 mile, instead of 1 square = 1 mile). If I have energy I might even go as far a coloring it, though even doing this much took way more time than I had hoped.  (If there’s a truly easy way to just lay down a hex grid in GIMP, I couldn’t find it.  The otherwise nice hexGIMP plugin I found assumed that you wanted to hand-place all the hexes… and Hexographer has pretty much the same assumption: you can import an image to trace over it, but just imposing a simple hex grid of a particular size?  Forget about it.  I ended up just creating custom graph paper at the right scale and combining the images in Paint.NET, having had my fill of GIMP for the evening.)

You can get the free PDF version of the Basic Fantasy edition of The Chaotic Caves here.  The HOW pdf version is available from C.R. Brandon’s Lulu store (and is somewhat inexplicably more expensive than the print version of the BF edition on Amazon, but it does save you any headaches converting from D&D to HOW).

Anyway, enjoy!  Naturally, this version of the map is also released as OGL-licensed, but if you think I’m going to add the complete text of the OGL itself to the image, fuggedaboutit.

Chaotic Caves map by J.D. Neal, with hex grid added
Chaotic Caves map by J.D. Neal, with hex grid added

How To Hexcrawl

+Joe Johnston released How to Hexcrawl: a nice little pay-what-you-want primer on running a hex crawl in Labyrinth Lord, or any other D&D-like, gathering together the rules and charts you might use as well as some advice.

What I want to talk about, though is how to handle checking for encounters. Joe correctly points out (p 20) there’s a contradiction in the rules, or at least some confusion, about the step-by-step procedure of rolling once per day’s travel vs what happens when you travel over multiple terrain types and the admonition against checking more than 3-4 Times per day.  He suggests 3 possibilities: roll based on the start hex, the last hex, or each time the terrain changes. Unfortunately those all skew the encounters one way or another.

I’d like to offer a fourth option:

4) Secretly roll 1d12 for the hour and 1 die  of any type (or flip a coin) for day/night.  At the appointed hour in the game day, roll for an encounter based on the current hex’s chance of encounter.   This prorates the chances exactly.  The only minor drawback, if it is a drawback, is you do need to pay slightly closer attention to what the in-game time is, though that shouldn’t be at all difficult since you already are dealing with the travel speed to traverse the hex.

N.B. How to Hexcrawl doesn’t mention it, but the assumed overland travel rate for most D&D editions is about 3 m.p.h. for unencumbered travelers, with an 8-hour effective travel day, which gets you the list 24 miles/day.  With 6-mile hexes, each hex of travel is 2 hours.  If you get in the habit of announcing the time of day as the party enters the hex (“it’s about 10 am when you get to the mountains”) it’s dead easy to tell if it’s time to roll for an encounter, and helps give the players a better sense of the passage of time anyway.   This suggests a nice variation, if you want to roll for travel encounters and then separately for night encounters while camped: roll a d8 to see which hour of travel the encounter gets checked and then again at night based on the terrain where they are camped.  Ideally you want to have a separate table, or at least adjust the results, for night encounters, since a caravan or troop of men are not at all likely to be traipsing through the woods in the dark.

Goblins of Salmagundi


A new race for D&D 5e Goblins are evil, or at least mischievous, creatures, no two of whom are alike.  Skin, eye, and hair color vary as do number and arrangement of eyes, limbs, ears, mouths, etc.  Every goblin should roll on the Goblin Random Features chart (see bottom of post).  Goblins are often employed by evil wizards, because of their large numbers and lack of fear…but their equal lack of discipline makes them less than ideal as guards.

Stats: +2 Dex Size: Small (approx same as Halfling) Speed: 25 Age: Goblins reach maturity at age 3, and while max lifespan is 100+ years, average is closer to 20. Alignment: Chaotic

Foolhardy: Advantage on saves vs. Fear; Disadvantage on Wisdom checks related to prudence or patience (such as Perception checks on guard duty, but not while skulking around looking for a snack or treasure).

Goblin Nimbleness: Can move through the space of any creature at least 1 size larger

Darkvision: you can see in total darkness

Sneaky: can attempt to hide even when only obscured by a creature at least 1 size larger than you.

Languages: speak Goblin and Common.



It had better be food, ’cause I’m gonna eat it!timmymonster

Ability Score Increase: Str increases by 1.

Iron Stomach: Advantage on Poison Saves and Resistance to poison.

Devour: During a grapple, you may attempt to use a Shove attack to shove the grappled creature in your mouth. Creatures so grappled may attempt to escape as usual, but the Grappled condition does not end automatically when you are incapacitated (though the next attempt to escape the grapple will succeed since you can no longer resist it), and things that move you (such as a Thunderwave spell) will move both of you instead of disrupting the grapple.


Sticks and stones? It is to laugh.cousinit

Ability Score Increase: Con increases by 1

Boyoyoing: Advantage on saves vs. falling and crushing.  Resistance to Bludgeoning damage.

Squeeze Through: You can move through openings as small as a key-hole.  This takes your full move (so you start and stop on either side of the opening), and the distance you can traverse while squeezing yourself through a narrow opening can be no greater than the length of one of your limbs (you have to be able to shove one of your body parts through before the rest can follow…)


cheech Ability Score Increase: Cha +1

Behatted: you can (and usually do) fit your entire body except your feet into a Medium-sized creature’s hat. Any Prodigious physical features also stick out (see chart). You may also fit as much gear as you can carry unencumbered…any gear over that has to be carried outside the hat.  You may use gear and wield weapons normally, by extending your hands and arms outside while you’re using them.  The hat does not interfere with your perception.

Poker Face: you gain Advantage when trying to brazen things out (resisting Insight), but not on your own attempts to persuade.


Ability Score Increase: Wis +1stealthygoblin

Nimble Escape: may take the Disengage or Hide actions as bonus actions in any turn.

Full of Attitude

Elves “If they had those sticks any farther up their butts, they’d be dryads”

Dwarves “If rocks could make beer, Dwarves would never get invited to another party.”

Halflings “Come the Revolution, they’ll be first up against the wall!”

Humans “OK, I guess.  Really, really touchy about sharing their children.  You’d think they can’t just make more.”

Goblin Personality Traits

You may roll on this instead of, or in addition to, the Personality Traits associated with your Background

  1. What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine!
  2. That looks edible/drinkable/humpable!
  3. Boom!  Hahahaha!
  4. Pull my finger!
  5. I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him and call him George!
  6. Gee, it never hurts to help!
  7. What’s the matter?  You wanna live forever?
  8. When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

Goblin Random Features

Roll d20

  1. Scaly skin (roll d8 randomly for ROYGBIV, reroll twice and you’re spotted/checked/striped/plaid)
  2. Prodigous feature (counts as Tool):
    1. Ears
    2. Eyes
    3. Nose
    4. Lips
    5. Hands
    6. Arms (extremely long and bendy, not beefy)
    7. Legs (extremely long and froglike)
    8. Feet
    9. Hair
    10. Tail
    11. Gut
    12. Genitals
  3. Hairy to the point no other features visible
  4. 1d4 extra (on a 4 re-roll and add), arranged (1-3 Symmetrically, 4-Asymmetrically):
    1. Eyes
    2. Ears
    3. Noses
    4. Arms
    5. Legs
    6. Mouths
  5. Tiny fanged mouth on the tip of a serpentine tongue.
  6. Big sad puppy eyes.
  7. Webbed fingers and toes. And arms. And legs.
  8. Sloughing leprous skin.
  9. Second Head
  10. Part creature:
    1. spider
    2. bird
    3. shark
    4. bear
    5. monkey
    6. bat
    7. wolf
    8. horse
    9. goat
    10. choose
  11. Part random element
    1. fire
    2. water
    3. ice
    4. air
    5. dark
    6. Earth
  12. Fur (random ROYGBIV)
  13. Can climb walls like a gecko or spider
  14. Antennae
  15. Big butterfly wings
  16. Blind, uses sonar to identify targets.
  17. Two hearts (gets an extra save vs. Dying before expiring at 0 HP)
  18. Is much larger than the average goblin (counts as Medium instead of Small)
  19. Is much smaller than the average goblin (counts as Very Small)
  20. Has styled its hair
    1. dreads,
    2. mohawk,
    3. “horns”,
    4. greaser pomp,
    5. slickback,
    6. “the Bieber”.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

So, the 1st level Sleep spell in D&D bugs me. I don’t actually mind that it’s an encounter-ender for low-level characters… in fact I regard it as a bigger problem that 1st level MUs don’t really have any other spells nearly as worthwhile. Maybe Charm Person, at least outside of a dungeon, but that’s about it. But being awesome once a day isn’t a deal-breaker. No, what bugs me is the ritual of going around and killing all the sleeping foes afterwards. Not only is that particularly unheroic (granting that not everybody needs to play a heroic character) it just doesn’t feel particularly like the magic in stories that inspired it.

Over the years I’ve played with a number of DMs that had various solutions to this: some made you roll for damage against the sleeping foe, and if you didn’t kill him in one blow he woke up. That mainly served to make players more cautious about arranging a gang-stabbing of any multi-hit die creature they slept and sometimes the spell being wasted; not trying to kill the creature almost never came up. A free round of attacks was basically the best chance you were ever going to have, and chances are you’d be meeting it again. One DM made you roll to hit as well, though at least she applied bonuses. I think I recall one in the early days of playing who would count it as an alignment infraction if a Lawful (or maybe */Good… can’t recall which edition) character killed a sleeping foe; hardly anybody played Lawful characters at his table. A couple have removed Sleep from the game, or made you start with random spells and by the time you found a spell book with Sleep you likely had better mass-murder spells. Some have allowed saves against sleep in addition to the max number of creatures affected (not necessarily horrible if you extend the same thing to the PCs). But nothing I’ve encountered really did more than make the process of casting Sleep then slitting throats a bit more risky and likely to fail.

So I’m considering the following house rule: if you try to attack or move a magically slept creature, you fall under the spell as well.  No save, no limit on the max HD.  To me that feels a lot more like the sleep spell in literature, including spells like abandoned castles with all the inhabitants sleeping for a hundred years.  The 1st level Sleep spell would just be a lesser version of that.

Another version I considered would be the spell would be broken on all sleepers if any of them were attacked, but that seems like it leaves too much room for rules-lawyering it.  E.g.,  trying simultaneous attacks, tying them all up and throwing them off a cliff all at once, smacking your own companion with a small attack to wake the rest, and so on.  They could all probably be patched, but I think the result would be a multi-paragraph list of conditions like a 3rd edition spell.

One thing that I think is attractive about this, besides having more of a fairy-tale or fantasy feel, is the way it makes Sleep a very different spell, with different purposes, than something like Fireball or Cloud Kill.  You always need to think about what you’re going to do when they wake up… are you using it to cover your retreat, give yourself time to burgle the place, pass deeper into the dungeon and figure you’ll deal with them on the way out, or what.  You can’t count on clearing the level one sleep spell at a time.  And on the flip side, if an enemy spell caster uses sleep on you it’s no longer time to roll up a new character unless the GM is having the monsters be far more merciful than the players ever are.

I guess my one worry is whether it’s just too different from the way players are used to using Sleep.  The whole reason for using D&D instead of something like Zounds! is because of the instant familiarity and buy-in.  There’s definitely a certain amount of tweaking and house-ruling that just the way D&D works, but there’s a point beyond which you might as well play something else, and changing one of the most reliable 1st level spells gives me some pause.

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge

Doing this all in one post, ’cause I can’t be bothered to schedule a post a day for all of Feb.

1: First person who introduced you to D&D? Which edition? Your first Character?

I picked up the original “White Box” D&D from the local game store, before anybody else I knew had ever heard of it.  This was back in 1975, so nobody outside of Lake Geneva and a few college towns even knew what it was.  I don’t remember my first character, but I was the DM of most of the games I played until my brother Alex started his own campaign.  My first player character was actually probably in a game that my 6th grade science teacher agreed to run for us, once we explained what it was.  My first PC that I clearly remember was Berken the Bold, but that was later, after we had switched out the D&D “alternate” combat system for Melee/Wizard.

2: First person YOU introduced to D&D? Which edition? THEIR first character?

Hm.   Probably Alex, maybe my best friend at the time, Ike.  Still White Box, and no idea what the character’s name was.  The first  Alex character I actually do remember was a Traveller character, Lord Admiral Death Vendor, M.D. (crazy Traveller career-path character generation).

3: First dungeon you explored as a PC or ran as a DM.

Something I created based on the example in book 3.  I don’t think I gave it a name, even, it was “the dungeon”.  At that point I’m not even sure there was a town outside, I think I had a shop on the first level, because the players had to buy stuff somewhere, right?

4: First dragon you slew (or some other powerful monster).

Now this I do remember: we killed a T-Rex in the dungeon that my 6th-grade teacher ran after school.  That was an epic battle… I think only a couple PCs were killed, but I think we each had only a few HP left.

5: First character to go from 1st level to 20th level (or highest possible level in a given edition).

I don’t think I’ve ever hit max level in 40 years of playing.  I did have one character  (Berken) who graduated to demi-godhood because he became so powerful he was boring to play, but by that point we were playing Alex’s  house-rules and I don’t think there officially were levels any more.

6: First character death. How did you handle it?

Roll up a new character, of course.  After a while we made resurrection pretty cheap and easy, just because it was getting boring rerolling scrubs.

7: First D&D Product you ever bought. Do you still have it?

The old white box… and no, I don’t, more’s the pity.  I think it got junked when my mom moved while I was in college (along with a lot of my comics… the age-old tragic story).

8: First set of polyhedral dice you owned. Do you still use them?

Purchased separately, and good grief, no.  I don’t think they lasted a year before we’d lost some or all of them.

9: First campaign setting (homebrew or published) you played in.

I think the first actual campaign setting was based on Arduin… before that it was just “the dungeon” and later “the town.”  Inspired by that we made whole campaign worlds and solar systems.  My biggest and longest-lasting setting at the time was The Four Kingdoms, though later on Neng lasted more years but with different groups of players.  Alex’s world started out without a name, but eventually there was Sorrock’s World and… um, I forget. Cargoth’s World?

10: First gaming magazine you ever bought (Dragon, Dungeon, White Dwarf, etc.).

Dragon, but I was a much bigger fan of The Space Gamer.  I pretty much fell out of  playing actual D&D pretty early on, certainly before Basic was released.  We moved on to different systems and homebrews.

11: First splatbook you begged your DM to approve.

Splatbooks are after my time.

12: First store where you bought your gaming supplies. Does it still exist?

The Games People Play, in Cambridge, MA.  And yep, it’s still there.

13: First miniature(s) you used for D&D.

I think we got some Ral Partha minis?  But mostly we were playing “theater of the mind” style.  Minis were expensive, and we had no money.  I remember I had to save up my allowance for 2 months (maybe more) to buy Empire of the Petal Throne… still probably the most expensive game relative to my income I have ever bought.

14: Did you meet your significant other while playing D&D? Does he or she still play? (Or just post a randomly generated monster in protest of Valentine’s Day).

No, but she plays now.

15: What was the first edition you didn’t enjoy. Why?

AD&D 1e… too fiddly and complex, and by the time the DMG was released I thought I was done with D&D forever.

16: Do you remember your first edition war? Did you win? 😉

The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

Actually I did used to get involved in edition wars, except it was D&D versus other “better, more realistic games.”  I’m kind of ashamed of that, but in my defense a lot of the vocal D&D supporters I was arguing with were big “you’re playing RPGs wrong!” dicks.

17: First time you heard D&D was somehow “evil.”

All during the Satanic Panic I never actually met anybody who held that view, it was just something stupid in the news.  Even now, I never have, though I’ve met people whose parents actually fell for it.

18: First gaming convention you ever attended.

Only ever attended some mini-cons, or SF cons that had some gaming events.

19: First gamer who just annoyed the hell out of you.

One of my high school “friends” was a complete “Loony” player… looking back I’m pretty sure he only played because it’s what the rest of us were doing, but he had no real interest in anything except being disruptive.

20: First non-D&D RPG you played.

Traveller.  SF was more my bag than fantasy, anyway, so my longest running HS campaign was actually a Traveller campaign.

21: First time you sold some of your D&D books–for whatever reason.

I don’t think I ever did.  You kids with your internets and ebays don’t know what it was like back when you threw stuff out because how the hell would you ever find somebody to buy it, even if you thought it was “worth something”?

22: First D&D-based novel you ever read (Dragonlance Trilogy, Realms novels, etc.)

I think I got through Quag Keep, but remember nothing.  I know I never finished the first Drizzt book.  I’ve read a bunch of stuff that was inspired by or parodying D&D and/or RPGs in general (e.g. the Joel Rosenberg Guardians of the Flame series), but I’ve never really cottoned to any of the official D&D published fiction.  They mostly came out during the phase when I was snobbishly avoiding D&D, but nothing I’ve really heard about them since has convinced me they’re a treasure trove awaiting discovery.

23: First song that comes to mind that you associate with D&D. Why?

Behold the wizard!  Beware his powers! Unspeakable powers!

because that’s what I want my D&D games to be like.

24: First movie that comes to mind that you associate with D&D. Why?

25: Longest running campaign/gaming group you’ve been in.

My current gaming group has been together for 13 years, I believe.  Not the same campaign, though.  My Friday night group has been only a decade, but we actually don’t play D&D as much in the past few years… more board-games and the like.  Still, when we do play, it’s the same campaign… though the GM makes us create new characters whenever we get to around 5th or 6th level, since she thinks 1-5th is the “sweet spot” for D&D adventures.

26: Do you still game with the people who introduced you to the hobby?

I did the introducing, and not really.  Alex and my siblings are the only folks I still see from back then, and they’ve mostly fallen away from gaming.

27: If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything different when you first started gaming?

I would do everything differently.  Well, maybe not, but I’d like to think I’ve learned a bunch about what’s fun and what’s not over the years, and wouldn’t make a lot of the same mistakes.  A lot of that is captured in this blog.

28: What is the single most important lesson you’ve learned from playing Dungeons & Dragons?

Rules make good servants but poor masters.

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XP for Loot in D&D

Gaining XP for recovering loot is the cornerstone of level progression in D&D, or at least the early editions. You can remove it, but if you do you’ll have to make other changes to keep the whole thing from collapsing.  People deride it as “unrealistic” in the sense that suddenly being given a wad of cash in the real world doesn’t make you any more skilled, or argue that “wealth is its own reward”, but it serves a vital function in the dynamic of the game.  In essence XP for loot makes D&D a game about recovering treasure, not fighting monsters, and that’s a huge difference in how things play out and what strategies make sense.

In early editions, the XP for killing monsters is pitiful compared to the XP for the monster’s treasure.  Typically treasure is worth ten times as much as a monster.  This means that players are able to advance quite nicely even if they manage to avoid fighting monsters completely, and that  they advance relatively quickly if they’re successful.  If you take away XP for treasure then, at around 100 XP per monster hit die a party will have to defeat 20 encounters of equal numbers and level for a fighter to advance to second level, instead of two or three.  All of a sudden the fragility of low level D&D characters becomes a much bigger issue.  If a single blow can kill you, but you only have to survive a handful of well-chosen battles to advance it’s a completely different proposition from needing to survive twenty such fights in a row.

Changing the game from needing a couple of big treasure scores in order to advance to having to grind through twenty dangerous combat encounters completely changes the complexion of the game.  Many of the things that are regarded as problems with old-style D&D are really problems with old-style D&D once you remove XP for loot.  If expeditions in the dungeon are concentrating on finding loot and getting out with it, with as little fighting as practical, you have to press ever deeper to get a good pay-off. In addition, since combat is a relatively small part of the reward, and hirelings are relatively cheap, it’s viable to try to have enough force to overwhelm what opposition you can’t avoid.  You’ll get almost nothing from the combat itself, but the treasure more than makes up for it; still, to pay off, you have to get in, get the loot, and get out…

Take away XP for loot, and you introduce the “15-minute workday” and “scumming” (bumming around the upper levels of the dungeon and retreating or holing up as soon as you’ve expended any resources, be they spells or hit points).  Since the only way to advance is fight stuff that’s on the whole as tough as you, it doesn’t really matter what you fight or where… if the parts of the dungeon that you clear out near the entrance get restocked by wandering monsters, so much the better.  The only reason to go deeper is to find more monsters, or monsters of your level if you’ve leveled up.  Taking extra hands with you to help fighting just means you’ll have to have that many more fights. And since it’s pretty much pointless to explore or try to find treasure if you’re not looking for a fight, as soon as a fight would get dicey (which for a low-level D&D party is as soon as anybody has expended any spells or taken any hits), the only sensible thing is to “turtle”–hunker down until you’re in fighting trim again.  A party looking for treasure… preferably treasure that’s lightly guarded or protected by traps or obstacles they can plan their way around can profitably press on even when their resources are depleted.  A party looking for a fight, not so much.

Shifting the focus of D&D to combat has a number of other unfortunate effects.  For one thing, combat in D&D is pretty abstract, and not all that interesting.  Combat is also quite hard for low level D&D characters to survive, and for Wizards and Thieves to participate very meaningfully in. (It’s not so much that a dart or dagger are that bad as attacks at low levels, as the poor armor and low HP are basically a death sentence if you have to survive twenty combats to level up–twenty-five if you’re a wizard).  Removing the XP for loot is usually the start of a death spiral of “improvements”: increasing the HP so they’ll survive to level up, but then combats are even less interesting since there’s less on the line, so criticals are added to spice it up, but then characters die too much, or spend almost all their game time in turtle mode so healing and even resurrection are made cheap and plentiful so they can get back to the  business of combat.  Wizards are given spell points so they never have to choose between combat and non-combat spells, then more spell points or “at will” spells so they always have something to do during combat, which is now the complete focus of the game, and so on.

Some GMs give out XP for “defeating” monsters without necessarily killing them, or as “story awards”,  but it’s generally pretty ad hoc.  In an XP for loot game of D&D, the players know exactly what they can do to get that XP… and possibly even how much it is if they’ve gotten some information about what the treasure contains through scouting, rumors and treasure maps, talking to the denizens of the dungeon, and such.    How liberally the GM will interpret defeating the monster by bypassing it all together (if they find a way down to the level with the treasure vault skipping over a level in between, do they get XP for all the monsters on that level?  Doubtful). When and how much they’ll get from “story awards” is much murkier and hard to plan around…for instance knowing whether it’s worth hiring some specialist or extra men at arms to push for accomplishing an objective.  And when all is said and done, such awards usually don’t keep pace with the awards from loot at one XP = one GP.  This is probably just a psychological hurdle, but somehow once XP for GP is out the window, GM’s seem to think it’s “cheap” to award XP in multiples of what the party got for killing things, even though if you don’t you’re probably not reproducing the advancement curve of the original game.

Obviously, despite all this, many people play D&D without XP for loot awards… in fact, giving out XP for GP is probably terribly old-fashioned.  Still, I think it’s worth considering how D&D was designed around certain assumptions about how fast you could advance for what sorts of activities, particularly while avoiding or limiting combat, so if you want to make changes you can compensate.  I feel like I see too many people who’ve never actually played it the way it was intended, and then been disappointed and blamed the game for faults that they themselves introduced.   It’s fine, more than fine, to prefer more recent editions or other games entirely (I certainly do, that’s why I designed the SFX! games), but I think it’s better when you do that fully appreciating what the older editions do if you play them as designed.

Super Simple Martial Artist Class for D&D (early editions)

The Monk is a Fighter, with the following special rules:

  • AC is 3, unarmored.
  • Attack is 1d6, unarmed.
  • May use any object that she can lift as an improvised buckler, for AC 2.
  • May attack with any object she can lift (1d6 damage); the only advantage to this is not actually having to touch the target (in case it’s on fire or is an ooze or something) and she gets the reach of the object (if you’re using rules for reach).  The Martial Artist isn’t subject to the penalties for the size of the object (if you’re using those) as long as she’s not using the extra reach, since she can just change her grip to not use it at full extension.
  • May not use missile weapons, or ordinary weapons except as improvised bucklers/ways of extending reach (i.e. doesn’t get additional damage if using variable weapon damage rules, doesn’t get bonuses for magic weapons).

That’s it.  You’re encouraged to also use “Super Simple Combat Maneuvers“, to give the Martial Artist more variety and the chance to do take-downs, holds, and the like.

If you want a Martial Artist with Esoteric Chi powers, you could base it on an Elf instead, and adapt the spells to chi powers, but that’s for another day.

Brynn’s Saga

Brynn’s Saga, being an account of the early adventures of Brynn, at the behest of Jeffrey of Osthoff, curator of the XPs

iron armed, bicep bulging
hale and hearty Brynn
Warden entrusted, elf-maiden wanted
Sallies forth, friends found
stag on snow, blood bespattered
Elf-maiden safe away
Shrine spider-infested
Brynn bitten, spider squishing
stratagem suggests
offal arranged, oil arrayed
arachnids alight, shrine saved
arrow attacked, woefully wounded
goblin’s guggle to zatch unzipped
Awful altar ablaze
grotesque goblin guts
vile vitals vented,
Wardens win
boon beseeched
false friend, creature’s captive
Paladin’s palliation proffered,
senile semblance sloughed
egregious evil exposed
White Lady’s wyrd, warriors warded
craven cowardly Corrruptor creeps
away. Avaunt!
Vile villain vanished!
Boisterous, bouyant,Battle-tested

20 Questions: How I run Zounds!

Here’s the same list, for how Zounds! works (not all questions are applicable)

Untimately: 20 Quick Questions: Rules

Here are 20 rules clarifications that are likely to be needed anyways at some point.

  1. Ability scores generation method?
    Your Attribute scores are determined by your Template (Hero, Adventurer, Wise One), though you can improve them at creation or later by spending points.
  2. How are death and dying handled?
    In base Zounds! you only die if you feel it’s suitable (presumably you’ll have been rendered Out or Overkilled first, but that’s not strictly necessary); in grittier play any Overkill result means death.
  3. What about raising the dead?
    Absolutely, if you want it…though it probably comes with a price (you’re a ghost, or undead, or in the thrall of some necromancer, or under a geas by a deity).
  4. How are replacement PCs handled?
    They just show up, as soon as I can work them in. They start at 1 Boost less than the rest of the party.
  5.  Initiative: individual, group, or something else?
    No initiative, just go around the table.
  6. Are there critical hits and fumbles?
    Not as such.
  7. How do they work?
    If you’re Hindered that might be narrated the way other systems treat a fumble; if you score an Overkill, that might be narrated as a critical.
  8. Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?
    Helmets make it less likely that you’ve picked up a serious injury/new Complication when you recover from being Out.
  9. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?
    No.  If it would be silly given the conventions of the genre you’re using, you’re supposed to refrain from doing it; if it’s plausible (e.g. you’re doing action-movie style adventure) then you might miss, but you won’t hurt your friends.
  10. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?
    It would probably be wise to run sometimes, but if you insist on fighting then likely your worst case is capture rather than death, unless you’re playing it gritty.
  11. Level-draining monsters: yes or no?
    No levels, though there are some monsters that can infect you or even potentially re-write your character as a thrall.
  12. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?
    No saves as such; there may be times when failing an unopposed task could plausibly result in PC death, but it’s generally up to the player to bite that particular bullet.
  13. How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?
    Again, the players are asked to keep things plausible according to their own understanding of the genre.  You can take extra resources with you on a quest, in order to sacrifice them along the way to overcome obstacles, but if you do so you risk losing wealth.
  14. What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time?
    You only get XP in between sessions, but it’s conceivable that you spend XP in the middle of a session; this could represent suddenly figuring something out or spending time training and researching during the session, or getting new assets.
  15. What do I get experience for?
    1 XP per session.  1 additional XP for “carousing” (volunteering to be hit with the plot hammer). 1 additional XP for being put Out , plus one if the whole party was defeated (defeat is an excellent teacher) . Possibly 1 or 2 for completing a long story arc.
  16. How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?
    You mostly just spot them if you have an appropriate ability; particularly well concealed or planned traps might require a roll, or might simply succeed.
  17. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?
    Absolutely.  At low scopes, retainers are individuals and have a Will stat (and possibly their own or your abilities) to resist attempts to scare them or undermine their morale; at higher scopes, retainers will represent entire groups and will have a Morale stat for much the same purposes.
  18. How do I identify magic items?
    Try them.  Or use an appropriate ability to research them.
  19. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions? Can I create magic items? When and how?
    Buying them depends on the setting, but is likely to cost an astonishing amount of money or agreeing to a quest in order to get a magician to custom make a magic item for you.  Wise Ones can create new magic items by research (that’s part of what they’re about); other templates might be able to depending on their particular abilities.  In any case, players will have to spend XP and not just money in order to get the items.
  20. What about splitting the party?
    Be my guest.  Unless you mean overland or in the city, in which case running errands that will get hand-waved is fine, but I encourage the players not to go on separate adventures as a courtesy to each other and to me.