These Are the End Times

The world has ended. The great kingdoms have fallen, and their cities lie in ruins. Far to the north the forces of Law clashed against the forces of Chaos, and were defeated. But in their moment of triumph the armies of the invading barbarian hordes overreached, and lost control of the dark powers that had carried them to victory, unleashing a magical corruption that consumed them as well as their enemies. Now the pitiful remnants of the armies of Law straggle back to their homelands, through monster-haunted wilderness, past ruined and abandoned villages. The PCs are among them, searching for means to survive, whether that is wealth, power, or just a safe harbor.

This was more or less the intro I gave my group to our new D&D campaign. I wanted to really take the game back to its roots, 1974-style, but hopefully with the advantage of what I’ve learned since I was ten. We’re using Original Edition Delta, which is a set of house rules by Dan Collins that streamline and clarify the little tan books. Onto that I’m bolting a couple of rules from DCC that I think really fix problems that my players and I have with the  oldest version of the game (more on that later). I want to lean heavily into the insights of Wayne Rossi’s The Original OD&D Setting, namely that the wilderness rules and encounter charts are more in keeping with a post-apocalyptic setting than any sort of semi-realistic medieval or even pre-D&D fantasy fiction setting. The population densities and size of the marauding bandit bands and prevalence of horrible monsters don’t make sense in a well -settled area with stable government and regularly-traveled trade routes. But in a post-apocalyptic anarchy…

I also wanted to try a setting where the status quo was terrible, and there was nobody around to do anything about it except the PCs. Maybe they’d try and maybe they wouldn’t, and either way would be fine…but if they don’t, there is no king’s army or great wizard who’s going to clean it up instead. I have a strong tendency to run settings where the government is basically benevolent, and things are largely peaceful, so I wanted to try breaking sweat from that default, just to see how it goes.

I’m really excited about where this could go. I’m using Delta’s rule for starting the PCs at third level to bypass some of the initial grind that my players have had enough of in our DCC funnels. Initial play is going to be dungeon-centric, because Dungeons & Dragons after all, but I’m hoping they’ll stick with it to name level and maybe try settling the wilderness and pushing back against the tide of Chaos with “domain game” play.

Bell Curve vs. Linear

Here’s a handy little chart showing the difference between a linear distribution like rolling a d20 and a bell curve distribution like 3d6 when it comes to rolling versus a target.  The first column is the d20 roll, the second is the approximate percent chance of rolling that or less on d20. That’s pretty obvious, but the next column is what the target number would be on 3d6 to have that chance to succeed (i.e. roll target or under).  So a 50% chance is right in the middle of the curve at 10… but by the time the target is 12 you’ve got a 75% chance of succeeding.  Next we have columns for a d20 skill roll/Basic Attack Bonus (as in 3e or 5e).  The final four columns show THAC0 (to hit AC 0) and what level you would have to be to have that chance of hitting an unarmored person, using the D&D Rules Cyclopedia as a reference point.  Hitting an unarmored person is the standard we’re using because that directly translates to scoring a hit in Heroes & Other Worlds/TFT (and similar games like Runequest) where armor reduces damage from a successful hit but does nothing to make success less likely.

From this you can see that, for instance, having a 13 DX in HOW is like being a 10th level Fighter, at least in terms of being able to land a blow.  (On the other hand, a 10th level Fighter in D&D can sustain multiple times the damage a HOW fighter could, so you can’t just translate back and forth quite that easily.) Another thing to pay attention to is the s20 skill column, where you can see that in terms of stat bonus, a D&D score of 18 is equivalent to DX 11 (if 18 is +3 as in original D&D), or maybe DX 12 (if 18 is +4 as in later editions).  Using the stat bonus in D&D is much more common than a straight roll-under against the stat.

Still, I find thinking of things this way as instructive.

Roll Under Rules Cyclopedia
d20 Approximate % 3d6 d20 skill/BaB THAC0 Fighter Cl/Th/D MU/Normal
0 0.00% 3,4 -11
1 5.00% 5 -10
2 10.00% 6 -9
3 15.00% 7 -8
4 20.00% -7
5 25.00% 8 -6
5 25.00% -5
6 30.00% -4
7 35.00% 9 -3
8 40.00% -2
9 45.00% -1
10 50.00% 10 0 10 1 1 1
11 55.00% 1 9
12 60.00% 11 2 8 4 5 6
13 65.00% 3 7
14 70.00% 4 6 7 9 11
15 75.00% 12 5 5
16 80.00% 13 6 4 10 13 16
17 85.00% 7 3
18 90.00% 14 8 2 13 17 21
19 95.00% 15 9 1
20 100.00% 16,17,18 10 0 16 21 26

Here’s an Anydice page with the 3d6 info, and just for the heck of it, the 1d20

Link to

Overland Travel Rates

The following are some hopefully useful templates (mostly based on Delta’s discussion of the rates in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1e Dungeon Master’s Guide).  They show the cost to enter1 a hex on the overland travel map, with a key to how many hexes a party can move in a day based on the degree of encumbrance (for travelling on foot) or type of mount.  The assumption (following the DMG) is that roads and trails do not speed your travel enough to track, but they do allow you to pass over worse terrain as if you were on clear terrain.  That doesn’t completely match up with the way, say, the Cook Basic D&D works, but it’s easy enough to increase the rates on roads if you’re really inclined.

If the cost of entering a hex is more than a single day’s allotment (e.g. on heavy horse in a swamp with no road), you can either say it’s impassible, switch to a smaller scale map and have the party slog through taking multiple days, or make the minimum rate of travel 1 hex per day or 1 hex every other day.

While these have been derived from D&D, they are non-system specific, and are released under a CC-BY license (that is you can use them any way you want, but you should credit me somewhere)/ Enjoy.





  1. This is by far my preferred approach, since it means no tracking of partial hexes. It also matches the way Outdoor Survival worked, which was the original source of the all the D&D movement rules…and by extension almost everything that came after. 

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.

Trollsmyth’s Death & Dismemberment Table, revamped for 5e

I’ve long been a fan of Trollsmyth’s Death & Dismemberment table for D&D-like games… Arduin’s Critical Hits are more amusing, but quite a bit deadlier than I’m usually willing to play with (though I read somewhere recently that the way Dave Hargrave used them they were only 1 in 400 chance… a 20 followed by a 20 required a roll on the Crit Chart, rather than just a 20 the way we did back in High School.)  At any rate, one of the things that kind of bothers me about 5e Basic is that there’s not really any way to sustain a real injury. I’m OK with Hit Points representing pure Stamina, or at least I’m willing to give it a try and see how my players like it, but it kind of bugs me that except by GM fiat there really isn’t any way to suffer a broken bone or serious laceration.  Even if your HP go to 0 and you have to start making saves against Death, once you’ve stabilized a Long Rest will patch you right up.

So my current thought is to use a slightly modified version of Trollsmyth’s D&D chart to fix that.  We’ll ignore the time-to-death results from the original chart, and just use the 5e three success before three failure Death save to determine when and if you die.

If you get taken down to 0 HP, and every time you get hit when you’re at 0 HP, roll on the following table.  Apply a -1 modifier to the die roll for each time you’ve failed your Death save, a +1 for each success.

2 or lower Grievous wound: Increase Exhaustion Level by 5, if that would take you to 6 Instant Death (decapitation or the like).
3 Fatal wound (gutted, stabbed through lung, broken back, etc.); Increase Exhaustion Level by 4.
4 Severed limb (DM’s choice or roll randomly); Increase Exhaustion Level by 3.
5,6 Severe Wound. Needs surgery. Increase Exhaustion Level by 3.
7,8 Broken bone (DM’s choice or roll, randomly); Increase Exhaustion Level by 2. Requires 2d4+9 weeks to heal; can’t use the bone until that first 2d4 weeks have passed. After that are at a Disadvantage for checks that rely on it until it’s healed the rest of the way.
9 Moderate Wound.  It’s going to need stitches. Increase Exhaustion Level by 2.
10 Light wound: cut, gash, contusion in random place, and according to weapon type. Needs bandaging. Increase Exhaustion Level by 1.
11 Knocked out for 2d6 rounds, unless wearing a helm. With helm, only stunned for 1 round. Increase Exhaustion Level by 1.
12+ a surge of adrenaline returns 1d4 hit points per HD; these vanish at the end of combat & you gain 1 level of Exhaustion.

The upshot of using this table is pretty much anything that takes you to 0 HP will also give you at least one level of Exhaustion… I think that’s fair for an ever so slightly grittier take one what it means to be out of HP and dying.  If you want to stick to straight 5e for HP and conditions, you could just use the wounds as flavor text with no mechanical effect.

For an even grittier, though still not super-gritty, effect you can also use the table for critical hits in a variant on the Hargrave method: a crit is double damage, and 1/20 chance of having to roll on this or some other favorite critical hit table.

And as an added bonus, I’m reposting the Quick Hit Location Chart I posted on G+ a little while back, which lets you quickly determine a hit location without an extra die roll, and a relatively sensible weighting of heavier hits with more dangerous places:

Damage Chart


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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Simple Combination Classes

Here are some rules for adding simple combination classes to old-style D&D and retro clones. (This is what I do in my D&D inspired house campaign with the kids.)  Basically the idea is that players are free to choose to be dual classed, and each combination has its own name and role, and one or more minor special abilities.  Some of the specifics relate to other rules I’ve added like Talents (swiped from Tunnels and Trolls, a Talent is a bonus you get to rolls involving areas that Talent covers).
First off, I’ve added two classes so that there’s a class that uses each Primary attribute.  Obviously you can ignore those and all the combos that involve them if you like.  I also strip Clerics of their fighting and armor-wearing abilities; in my campaign Priests fight like Mages… if you want an armor-wearing, mace-swinging caster of clerical spells you take a Monk or a Paladin, depending on which aspect is more important.


  • Primary Stat is Constitution
  • d8 Hit Die
  • Cannot wear armor heavier than Medium Armor
  • Can wield swords, knives, bows, slings, and spears, and thrown weapons
  • Can use shields
  • Save as Fighter
  • Special Talent: Survival at first level (better of two d6)
  • Bonus equal to level on Ability Rolls using Survival Talent.
  • Combat as Cleric
  • Move Silently and Hide in Shadows as a Thief, but only in the wilderness
  • Climb as Thief
  • Animal Companion: have a loyal, trained domestic animal as a companion.


  • Primary Stat is Charisma, Charisma Bonuses are doubled
  • d4 Hit Die
  • Cannot wear Armor heavier than Light Armor
  • Can wield only Light Weapons
  • Cannot use Shields
  • Special Talent of Acting at 1st level (better of two d6)
  • Save/Ability Bonuses +1/Level Cha
  • Get a bonus equal to Level to Acting Ability Rolls
  • Actors get one additional Talent at 1st level

Combination Classes



Fighter Mage Priest Thief Ranger Actor
Fighter Magic Knight Paladin Brigand Barbarian Swashbuckler
Mage Wizard Seer Rogue Hermit Witch
Priest Monk Thaumaturge Charlatan Druid Oracle
Thief Assassin Mountebank Cultist Outlaw Spy
Ranger Scout Explorer Shaman Hunter Emissary
Actor Bard Conjurer Evangelist Jester Minstrel

In order to qualify for a Combination Class you must have a minimum score of 9 in each Primary Stat. E.g. a Magic Knight must have at least STR 9 and INT 9.
Combination Classes get:

  • The better of the hit-dice between the two classes
  • The armor restrictions of the Primary
  • The better of the weapon Restrictions
  • At first level, they are treated as being 1st level in both classes at once (e.g. spells/level, special abilities and saving throws).
  • They advance in their Primary class on even levels and their Secondary class on odd levels; they get the better of the Saving rolls.  E.g. A 4th Level Paladin is treated as the better of a 3rd level Fighter and a 2nd Level Priest for saves.  A 6th Level Thaumaturge casts Priestly spells as a 4th level Priest and Mage spells as a 3rd level Mage. Upate: When I first posted this I had the write-up reversed… if you start at 1/1 and advance in the primary faster, the sequence goes: 1/1; 2/1; 2/2; 3/2; 3/3…
  • Some Combinations have special abilities of their own

Fighter Primary

Magic Knight (Fighter/Mage)

Magic Knights are fighters who employ magic to aid them in war.

  • Magic Knights may cast spells even with weapons in their hands
  • Magic Knights have the ability to enchant their arms and armor. Starting at 1st level, whatever weapons and armor they have count as enchanted. Every third level (rounded down) they get a bonus of +1/+1 to their arms and armor. This bonus doesn’t stack with other pluses on the weapons.

Paladin (Fighter/Priest)

Paladins are holy champions of their God.

  • Save as the better of a Fighter or a Priest of their full level
  • May choose one first level spell that they can cast as a permanent ability: once per day per Priest level, requires no preparation (i.e. does not occupy a “slot”).

Brigand (Fighter/Thief)

Brigands are highwayman, ambushing travelers and using their skills to elude pursuit (or to open such locked strongboxes that the travelers might have).

  • Hide in Shadows as a Thief of their full level

Barbarian (Fighter/Ranger)

Barbarians are warriors from uncivilized lands, where the ability to survive in the wilderness is almost as important as the ability to swing a sword.

  • May choose one of the following abilities:
    • Hardihood: add Con bonus to HP at first level. Each new Hit Die roll twice and take the better.
    • Rage: once per day per level gain +Con bonus damage for the duration of a fight, then take Con bonus in fatigue damage when the fight ends.
    • Animal Companion: may choose an exotic, but non-magical, animal companion such as a wolf or an eagle.

Swashbuckler (Fighter/Actor)

Swashbucklers are flamboyant fighters who use their Charisma and sense of drama to aid them in fighting and leading troops.

  • May use the better of their Charisma bonus or Dex bonus in hand-to-hand combat
  • Use their Acting bonus on Leadership and Morale rolls

Mage Primary

Wizards (Mage/Fighter)

Wizards are adventuring Mages that specialize in combat-oriented magic, and learn to use arms to supplement their magical power.

  • Wizards may cast spells while holding weapons.

Seer (Mage/Priest)

Seers are Mages who probe the secrets of the universe in the furtherance of the cause of their God.

  • Cast Divination or Information spells as a Mage or Priest of their full level.

Rogue (Mage/Thief)

Rogues are Rogue Mages who will stoop to theft, deception, and perhaps even assassination in their quest for magical power.

  • Can cast spells they are at least 1 level higher than the minimum required to cast with their hands full. (So a Rogue can start casting 1st level spells without gesturing at 2nd level, but needs to be 5th level to cast 2nd level spells hands-free.)
  • Can cast spells they are at least 3 levels higher than the minimum without speaking.

Hermit (Mage/Ranger)

Hermits are Mages who live in the wilderness so as not to be distracted by civilization in the pursuit of their magical research. Hermits are much more concerned with the why of magic than the how.

  • Research all their own spells: do not have to pay Wizard’s Guild for new spells, instead spend one quarter the normal cost of research in gold to acquire ingredients and books (often by hiring adventurers).
  • Animal Companion: can have a magical animal companion, as the Familiar spell without taking that spell, or an ordinary domestic animal companion as per Ranger.

Witch (Mage/Actor)

Witches are Mages who employ the skills of Acting to help accomplish their goals, it’s all part of Headology, you see.

  • Witches may add their Acting Talent to the difficulty of any Saving Rolls targets have to make to spells involving Headology (roughly illusion, mind control, charm).

Priest Primary

Monks (Priest/Fighter)

Monks are holy men who have trained in the arts of war.

  • Monks may wear Light Armor (despite their Primary class being restricted to Cloth Armor).
  • Monks may choose one weapon (subject to restrictions that their god might impose) with which they fight as if Fighter was their Primary class (i.e. bonuses to combat one level early).

Thaumaturge (Priest/Mage)

Thaumaturges (literally miracle-workers) use their Magic and Prayer to the greater glory of their Gods.

  • Save as the better of a Priest or Mage of their full level

Charlatan (Priest/Thief)

Charlatans are priests, who steal by preying upon people’s religious sensibilities. They are actually genuine priests, but not of the God they profess to serve. Their real God is a secret God, who approves of their duplicity (whether for evil purposes or just as a trickster). So as to avoid retribution, the god they pretend to worship is one who is either forgotten or better yet, doesn’t actually exist. Since there are a myriad of Gods, they are seldom caught out just for this.

  • Resist attempts to detect lies, even magical ones, as the better of a Thief or a Priest of their full level.

Druid (Priest/Ranger)

Druids are priests of the forest and wild lands.

  • Cast spells related to nature as a Priest of their full level.
  • Can speak the languages of the animals native to the region.
  • Animal Companion: can have an exotic or magical animal as an animal companion (as the Familiar spell).

Oracle (Priest/Actor)

Oracles are Priests who use the talents of Acting to impress their followers and give weight and import to the dictates of their gods. Unlike Evangelists they are not concerned with spreading the faith (“putting butts in the seats”) as much as they are in making sure that their God’s will is carried out, which means making certain specific people (not necessarily even followers) believe that it’s important to carry it out.

  • Bonus equal to their Wisdom Bonus to Ability Rolls to persuade or impress someone with a pronouncement by the god (this is in addition to the bonus for Acting)
  • Cast spells of Divination as a Priest of their full level.

Thief Primary

Assassins (Thief/Fighter)

Assassins are Thieves who specialize in killing people quickly and silently.

  • Sneak Attack as a Thief of their full level

Mountebank (Thief/Mage)

Mountebanks are Thieves who use magic to aid in their quest for riches. Most times, that entails using deception to appear to be more powerful Mages than they are, so that they can secure funds from the gullible for further magical research. Mountebanks often pose as Alchemists, and trick rulers into thinking they can change lead into gold or some such, and are merely in need of funds to scale up the process, or as Healers selling elixirs to the crowds.

  • Mountebanks can cast spells while their hands are full, and without speaking.

Cultist (Thief/Priest)

Cultists worship forbidden gods. While their primary class is Priest, they use the stealth and deceptive abilities of their secondary class to conceal the nature of their worship and carry out the forbidden designs of their gods. Unlike Charlatans they may not appear to be Priests at all, though if they are openly Priests then they too will pretend to serve a non-existent God. Cultists aren’t necessarily Evil: in Evil lands, a Cultist may be a secret worshiper of a Good deity.

  • Resist attempts to detect lies, even magical ones, as the better of a Thief or a Priest of their full level.

Outlaw (Thief/Ranger)

Robin Hood.

  • Hide in Shadows as a Thief of their full level.
  • Sneak Attack as a Thief of their full level when using a missile weapon.

Spy (Thief/Actor)

Spies gather information and carry out espionage for their patrons, employing Acting to deceive and disguise.

  • Bonus to lie or deceive (but not perform) as an Actor of their full level.
  • Hide in Shadows, Move Silently and Pick Locks as a Thief of their full level.

Ranger Primary

Scout (Ranger/Fighter)

Scouts are woodsmen who are trained in combat and serve as lookouts and advance forces for the military, penetrating deep into hostile territory, or keeping watch for trouble in the wilderness.

  • Sneak attack as a Thief equivalent to Ranger level (e.g. 5th Level  Scout Sneak attacks as a 3rd level Thief), only in the wilderness.
  • Hide in Shadows as a Thief of their full level, only in wilderness.

Explorer (Ranger/Mage)

Explorers seek to explore and understand the world, and use magic to further their explorations. They have a strong preference for spells of transportation and clearing the way forward, though they’re not above using combat spells to get themselves out of a tight pinch.

  • Can cast spells related to travel (e.g. Spider Climb, Expeditious Retreat) as a Mage of their full level.

Shaman (Ranger/Priest)

Shaman are woodsman who serve the gods and spirits of the forest, and who often serve as witch-doctors to primitive tribes.

  • Cast spells related to nature as a Priest of their full level

Relic Hunter (Ranger/Thief)

Relic Hunters travel the world seeking out and recovering lost treasures.

  • Relic Hunters Detect and Remove Traps and Pick Locks as Thieves of their full level.

Emissary (Ranger/Actor)

Emissaries are sent on behalf of rulers (and others) on missions of good-will, where the goal is to communicate and persuade. They are hardy travelers, since getting there is often half the battle, and persuasive speakers.

  • Can demand Right of Safe Passage in civilized (and many uncivilized) lands.
  • Bonuses to Diplomacy as an Actor of their full level.

Actor Primary

Bard (Actor/Fighter)

Bards are performers who are trained in combat, and to aid in combat, inspiring troops and signaling on the battlefield with their horns and pipes.

  • Charisma bonuses for morale are applicable within earshot of their instruments on the battlefield.
  • Loyalty and henchmen/hireling rules apply as a Fighter of their full level, but based on their Actor Charisma bonuses.

Conjurer (Actor/Mage)

Conjurers are performers who use magic to entertain the crowds.

  • Cast spells of Illusion as a Mage of their full level.

Evangelist (Actor/Priest)

Evangelists are interesting in getting the good word out there, reaching out to the masses, and attracting followers to their religion (or increasing the devotion of the existing followers if there aren’t competing religions). They’re not above putting on a good show for a good cause.

  • Add half their level (rounded up) to Loyalty rolls.
  • Cast “mass” form of spells as a Priest of their full level.

Jester (Actor/Thief)

Jesters are performers, courtiers and sometimes spies. They enjoy a privileged position of being able to tell the uncomfortable truth, as long as it’s cloaked in a jest. All Jesters employ sleight of hand, subterfuge, and snooping in order to ascertain what is the truth. Most Jesters are simply performers; adventuring Jesters go further and actually serve as collectors of information for their patrons (often, but not always, the person ostensibly employing them).

  • Privileged position: people who openly take any action against a Jester for something said “in jest” become laughingstocks.
  • Jesters can use anything that comes to hand as a weapon with no penalty, from long hours practice with comic props.  Count blunt instruments as a club, edged as a dagger.

Minstrel (Actor/Ranger)

Minstrels are traveling performers.

  • Safe Passage: Minstrels can demand safe passage for themselves, and as long as they take no hostile action they are free to travel where they will.
  • Hospitality: Minstrels are almost always welcome where ever they go, and outside major cities will be put up for free at least for a short while unless the hosts have a very good reason not to, for news and entertainment are hard to come by.