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.

Stonehell: the Joys of Megadungeons

We had a very good session with the kids exploring Stonehell last night, and it was gratifying to see that one of the primary features of a megadungeon that you return to again and again has started to pay off, namely that they are remembering and taking advantage of their knowledge of the places and creatures they’ve run into before. When they killed a wandering giant ferret that attacked them on level one, they headed over to the Kobold marketplace to sell it, figuring the hide must be worth something (and it was). Later on, on the way out of the dungeon, they used their knowledge of the layout to duck out of the way of a group of hunting Neanderthals… the Neanderthals had come close kicking their asses several times before and now they give them a wide berth when they can.

During the session they almost lost a party member to the haunted straight jacket, and unwisely sat down to party with the Piskes whom they mistook for their benevolent relatives the Pixies; they survived that encounter, thanks to a lucky roll by the party cleric in smiting the Piske shaman, but it was a near thing. They also got some interesting magical loot that I threw in, a potion that granted 10 minutes of unkillability (damage taken while the potion is in effect regenerates) and some random magic lollipops (these were licorice, cure poison).

A good time was had by all, and three of the party leveled up (which reminds me I should make a cheat sheet to make that easier next time).

Introducing New Players to D&D via Stonehell

Last night we brought my wife’s college roommate and her two kids, ages 14 and 9, to our Sunday night Bumblers gathering, and introduced them to D&D.  None of them had ever played RPGs before, so I decided that a straight-on dungeon delve was the ticket.  The kids were enthusiastic to try, the mom was at least willing.   We rolled up characters, using my D&Desque homebrew rules, before the game started and they created Hippolyta the Fighter (mom), Dorian the Fighter (14 year-old daughter), and Little Father Muffler (9 year-old son).  My wife Elyssa also rolled a new character, Ranger Joe-Bob.  Yeah, I don’t bother trying to encourage campaign-world compatible names, not for this sort of thing anyway.  Doug and Dan were the only other regulars, what with it being Valentine’s day, and they brought Tomato the Fairy Witch and Hurlon the Dwarven Thief.

For a dungeon, I used Michael Curtis’ Stonehell, the same one I’ve been using with the other set of kids.  (I’m using the free version, though the link it to the more polished and complete version you can purchase from Lulu.) It’s a good beginner’s dungeon with a variety of things to encounter, architectural features, and old-fashioned traps.   I’ve found that I like to beef it up a bit, adding stuff so that almost every room has something interesting to investigate or fight; a lot of the rooms are empty, particularly right around the entrance, presumably so you can more easily tailor it to your taste this way.  There are probably arguments to be made along the lines of naturalism and discouraging too much caution (by making it boring to search exhaustively)  for having a fair bit of empty space, but since it violates the King Kong principle (get to the f*ing monkey), the heck with it… players go into the dungeon to encounter stuff, so let’s have them encounter stuff.

An example: in the Feast Hall I put a niche behind one of the rotting tapestries.  In the niche are a swarm of carnivorous moths; they won’t do any actual damage, but will painfully bite exposed flesh (similar to the bit of a horsefly). They are thickly gathered on a small leather bag that’s been coated with a waxy substance.   After Joe-Bob the ranger found the niche and got badly bitten for his troubles, Father Muffler (the 9-year old boy) came up with the idea of luring the moths away from the bag with the light of his lantern; this worked and they retrieved the bag with no further problems… though they did end up abandoning the lantern; fortunately they had a spare.  In the bag they found a necklace of amber beads, each containing an insect inclusion.  Tomato cast Detect Magic, and found that it was indeed magical, and after some hemming and hawing about whether they should try it out and if so, who should take the risk, Tomato draped it over her(him?)self as a kind of sash.  Nothing bad happened immediately,  and later on in a random encounter with some fire beetles they discovered that it allowed the wearer to control insects.  It also dealt Tomato a 1 HP stinging wound after Tomato had made the beetles fight until there was one left, when Father Muffler smashed the last beetle.  The party speculated that this was some kind of feedback effect.  SPOILER (Doug don’t read): [spoiler name=”Spoiler”]actually, it just deals 1HP sting damage whenever the spell wears off, after one ten-minute turn; otherwise it has no charges or limit on times it can be used[/spoiler].

The new players were a bit confused and tentative at first, but started to get the hang of it as we went along.  I did all the rolling for them (usually I let the players roll for everything except searches and the like where they’re not supposed to know whether they’ve failed or there was nothing to find) and just told them the results.  They had the fairly typical fear that they were “doing it wrong,” but the experienced players really encouraged them to go with the flow.  One thing that I do, which I think helps new players get the hang of the role-playing aspect of it, is encourage them to roll on a random table of motivations: once each for their primary drive and primary aversion.  So, for instance, Father Muffler happened to roll that his primary drive was Religion, and that his aversion was also Religion, so he decided that the was a fanatic about his faith and opposed to other faiths.  Dorian rolled that her primary drive was Knowledge, and her aversion was Danger.  This made for (imo) for a rather interesting character, though I think she was particularly concerned that she wasn’t “playing well” because she was avoiding the fighting that the others were doing (with great enthusiasm on some of their parts.  Elyssa in particular loves hacking away at things as a Fighter).  After the game we all reassured her that as long as she was having fun, playing true to the character’s personality rather than optimally for the party’s goals was playing well.  At least by my group’s standards.  Certainly Doug never lets optimum party strategy or groupthink get in the way of his characters’ outrageous personalities, and as long as he manages to be entertaining about it that’s one of the fun things about playing with Doug.

The evening ended with the poison-gas fish-fountain claiming all three of the new players (everyone had to make a save, they were the only ones who failed).  It was getting late, so we ended there, but we’re going to play again tonight, probably with just the kids and Elyssa…the mom appreciated it as a new experience, but wasn’t as taken with the whole thing.  As they were heading out the door to go visit the museums they have planned for the day, the 9 year-old was busy trying to come up with a name for his next priest…

The Ghoul’s Shrine

The Ghoul’s Shrine is my entry in the One-Page Dungeon contest.  It didn’t win anything, a fact which I can ascribe only to blatant favoritism on the part of the judges.

Not really, but anybody who expects me to pass on an opportunity to use a perfectly apropos quote from Tom Lehrer obviously doesn’t know me very well.

It has a couple of amusing features, and I’m glad I took the trouble to enter since it forced me to figure out how to use Chgowiz’s One Page Dungeon templates and the various tools I have to make a semi-decent looking free-hand dungeon map.  But compared to some of the other entries I’ve seen (such as Michael Wolf’s astonishing Horror of Leatherbury House) it’s pretty weaksauce.

Chgowiz Quiz

These were the answers I gave:

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I play in three different groups, which meet with varying frequency, one of which has rotating referees, so my answers are somewhat complicated.

1. What are you doing with an original edition/retroclone D&D?

I’m a player in an AD&D+homebrew campaign, and I GM two retroclone-inspired homebrew campaigns, and play in a 3rd edition campaign that’s switching to a homebrew 3e variant.

2. What type of roleplaying game were you playing (or are still playing) before you became interested/involved in an original edition/retroclone?

So I’ve always played in one AD&D campaign, and one 3 campaign

3. If you were playing 3E, why did you decide to investigate/play an original edition game or retroclone?

I still play in a heavily 3e inspired campaign, though I mostly hate the mechanics.

4. If you were playing 4E, why did you decide to investigate/play an original edition game or retroclone?

Don’t play 4e

5. What attracted you to investigate/play an original edition/retroclone D&D?

Always played in one, decided to GM one in honor of Gary Gygax when he died, and decided to continue it w/more homebrew rules.

6. How did you learn about the original editions/retroclones?

The one GM has always had AD&D 1e books, learned about retroclones when searching the web for original edition for Gygax tribute game.

To elaborate a little more:

My friend Mac has always been running an AD&D plus houserules campaign for the past twenty-seven years or so, and I’ve been a player for the past…elevenish?  Russell was a player in the same campaign back in college, though he only gets to play now when he’s visiting.

After Gary Gygax died I wanted to GM an homage game for my other group, which I did (though I used Mentzer’s Basic, so technically not Gary’s actual rules).  I was hoping to turn that game into a “back-up” game for when we didn’t have a quorum of our regular group, something that happens a bit more frequently now that so many of the players have young children.  I wasn’t very satisfied with how it went, mostly because I wasn’t fully back in the mind-set of “rulings not rules.”

I shelved the idea of actually running some kind of retro-clone for a while, but when Mac’s kids started playing D&D we discussed my running a game for them sometimes, because she didn’t want them to develop the bad habit of thinking there was only one way to play D&D based on the way she ran it.  At that point I’d read a lot more of the old school renaissance blogs and thought more about what I liked and disliked about D&D in the old says, so I set out to create house rules that would let me run something along the lines of what Mac was doing (straight ahead dungeon bashing) but that I’d be comfortable with.  I’ve been describing what’s been going on in that game as they explore Amityville Mike’s Stonehell in this blog.

I’ve also started to use that homebrew and setting as the backup game in the regular Rambling Bumblers group.