Archive for the ‘legacy D&D’ Category

Random Dungeon video game

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Technically, the Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map kickstarter is complete. I’ve delivered everything that I said I’d deliver. However, I do have one more Dungeon Map-related project that I’d love to finish.

One of the Kickstarter rewards was a board game where you play a dungeon explorer, navigating the poster and trying to stay alive. Another reward was an interactive, online version of the poster, to help people generate Gygaxian mazes. The obvious intersection of those two projects, and one that I’ve been working on for months, is a Random Dungeon roguelike video game.

Like most of my projects, this one has succumbed to “featuritis” – it’s a lot more ambitious now that it was when I started programming. Here are some of the features I didn’t know I needed until I added them:

  • You can get yourself a pet. Unlike Nethack, you don’t start with a kitten or puppy. You have to earn it. If you find a whip, you might be able to tame a giant lizard or a carrion crawler. Some characters might one day gain the capability to raise undead minions. Or, if you prefer human henchmen, you might be able to hire them back in town – once you’ve built an inn. Speaking of which:

  • Unlike many roguelikes, you can leave the dungeon and return to town. The town’s economy is dependent on your success in the dungeon. When you start, there’s not much available besides a handful of weapons for sale at the market, a graveyard to commemorate all your dead characters, and a few other buildings. But as your characters loot the dungeon and retire as independent yeomen, wealthy bishops, or even nobility, new buildings will spring up, and new treasures will become available for sale for new characters.

  • The Dungeon Robber game is about what happens before your first game of Dungeons and Dragons, before your character has fighter or wizard skills and can afford decent equipment. But if you’re successful enough to retire as a merchant, a thieves guild moves to town. If you retire as a knight, you’ll be able to start your next game as a fighter. Eventually, when you’ve unlocked the four original D&D classes and starting equipment, you’re actually playing D&D.

    So will I even finish this game? No promises, but I think I might. I have a deadline in mind. My wife and I are expecting our first child in early August. I’ve heard that babies are a lot of work, so I’d really like to get a beta of the game done in late July.

  • en garde!

    Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

    If I had been reading Strategic Review 1.4 in winter 1975, this ad would have caught my eye:

    EN GARDE! is Game Designers’ Workshop’s newest, and most unusual game. The 17th Century, with musketeers, and swordfights in the streets, comes alive as the 40 pages of rules, charts, and tables unfold. In EN GARDE! each player finds himself a person, born and bred for the swashbuckling life of a gentleman adventurer. Status is pursued above all else, even above money. Social climbing is a way of life. The world is inhabited by the likes of Scaramouche, Cyrano and Roxanne, Errol Flynn, Porthos, Athos, Aramis, Rhonda Fleming, Franco is Villon, and, of course, D’Artagnan. There are people to be used, lackies to be abused, the Cardinal’s Guard to be trounced, friends to be cultivated, enemies to be humiliated, the hearts of fair ladies to be won, the ear of the King to be gained!

    All you need to play EN GARDE! is a pencil, paper, a six-sided die, the EN GARDE! rule booklet, an adventurous imagination, and some friends. . . Rules cover a complete 17th Century society in some hypothetical country, (oh, call it France, if you like). Specific rules include a complete fencing system (to settle those disputes you may have), character generation, social climbing, money, carousing, mistresses, gambling, influence, the military, advancement, everything you need to live a full life, and enjoy every minute of it.

    Come with us to those bawdy, rowdy days of yore. . . Sharpen your blade. . . Sharpen your wits. . . Take care not to insult a small man with a large nose. . . All for one and one for all. . . Good luck, friend, and may your swash never buckle!

    EN GARDE! $4.00 ppd.

    I like the Three Musketeers milieu, and Scaramouche, Flynn, and the rest of them. (I had to look up Rhonda Fleming, and I’m still not sure why she was on the list.)

    The promise of rigorous rules for “social climbing, money, carousing, mistresses, gambling, influence, the military, advancement,” and “everything else” would have been enough to part me from my $4.00 ppd. It’s a lot to jam into 40 pages, though; my guess is that the En Garde rules are about as sketchy as the OD&D rules, or more so.

    Also of note: “40 pages of rules, charts, and tables.” This was a time when people made a selling point of the quantity of their charts and tables. RPG design has sure changed over 35 years.

    According to En Garde’s own wikipedia page, En Garde was mostly a play by mail game. I also noticed that Loren Wiseman was listed as one of the designers. That name was familiar to me, since I had just read it in the same 1975 issue of Strategic Review containing the En Garde ad, in this hilarious cartoon:

    Apparently En Garde is still around and in its fourth edition. It seems to be mostly a play by email/messageboard game. It’s fun to see this list of all the currently-running En Garde games, so similar to the Players Wanted sections in the 70’s game zines or the Strategic Review list of all the DMs looking for players. I’m kind of tempted to try one of the En Garde games out.

    unnamed Gygax and Grubb campaign setting

    Monday, May 20th, 2013

    This week, two exciting, unpublished TSR settings collided in my head to form a third setting.

    setting 1: Jeff Grubb project

    On the latest WOTC D&D podcast, Steve Winter talked about the great campaign-world books that came out of Second Edition D&D. He said that, for every kick-ass setting like Planescape or Al’Quadim, they had a bunch of ideas just as good – they just didn’t have time to print them all. Prompted, he described one of the settings that he’d never forgotten:

    There’s one that always comes to mind: it was proposed by Jeff Grubb, and I forget what the name of it was, but the idea was, it was a world where there were all these mountain ranges, and all of civilization – the good part of civilization – has been driven up to the tops of these mountains, and then there’s a tremendously thick cloud layer, so wherever the sun shines is where good exists. Everything beneath the cloud layer has been overrun by evil. There are cloud ships that sail out from these mountain-top cities across the clouds, and the adventurers rappel down to the world where they go raiding the ruined cities that used to be down there, looking for gold, metal, and all the kinds of things that they don’t have in these mountaintop cities.

    As Steve Winter says, that idea isn’t quite as fresh as it was in the late 80s (he’s seen elements in anime, and it reminds me of Final Fantasy) but I think it’s still an evocative and inspiring world. I’m ready to play it! But, since all we have is a podcast sound bite and not a campaign book, I’m left with a lot of questions: exactly what kind of evil lurks in the cloudy lowlands? What does the wilderness look like?

    setting 2: “The Original D&D Setting”

    Here’s the other great setting I read this week: The Original D&D Setting, a series of blog posts by Wayne Rossi. This teases out the weirdness that you get if you take the original OD&D books and play its assumptions to the hilt. Griffin-riding Arthurian knights wait inside sinister castles, swamps crawl with dinosaurs, there are Martian creatures in the desert, and undead shamble through cities.

    Wayne Rossi provides a “campaign map” of this strange wild land: James Mishler’s version of the Outdoor Survival map that Gygax used for his wilderness adventures. When I took a close look at it, I noticed that three areas had little snow-capped peaks – presumably impassable. That’s when the Steve Winter idea crash-landed into the setting. What if those white-capped peaks aren’t covered with snow, but shining with sunlight? What if they’re the only safe places in the setting, and the PCs descend from the mountains to explore the misty lands of Wilderness Survival?

    A couple of nice things happen when we combine these settings:

    getting lost

    Getting lost is a big deal in Wilderness Survival, and in the OD&D exploration rules. If you roll badly, you can end up wandering north when you think you’re going south. I’ve always wondered how getting lost by 180 degrees can happen on a sunny day, when you always know which ways East and West are. But suddenly, in this setting, it’s possible! Beneath the cloud cover, you can’t see the sun or the stars, and navigation is much harder than it is in a traditional outdoor adventure.


    Even if you’ve played a campaign on the classic Wilderness Survival map before, this setting inverts it. Usually, peaks are impassable and towns are your home base. Now, peaks are safe in a way that no valley village is. Cities will be places of horror: mockeries of safety.

    In OD&D, in a city encounter, 50% of the time you roll on the “men” subtable and 50% of the time you roll on the “undead” subtable. Even in straight OD&D, there are way more undead in cities than we’re used to from later adventure settings. It really makes sense in this below-the-clouds horror setting, where, as Steve Winter says, the ruined cities are the primary dungeons. Since it’s always cloudy, you’re never safe from sun-fearing undead like vampires. Maybe the cities are filled with vampire lords who keep humans (the “men” encounters) as their cattle; maybe anyone who dies down here becomes undead, so cities are amoung the most dangerous places in the world; maybe the cities are straight-up dungeons ruled by necromancers and evil high priests (who together form 1/6 of the encounters on the “men” subtable).

    Wayne points out that the arrangement of the cities is odd: there are five in a cross in the middle of the map, and the central one is in the forest. If we’re saying that ruined cities are the main dungeons of the settings, the central one, overgrown by eerie forest, is probably the scariest and most dangerous dungeon.


    Most OD&D castle encounters, with wizards and clerics who enslave you and high-level fighters who challenge you, fit squarely into Steve Winter’s description of the wilderness as “overrun by evil.” While cities are the megadungeons of the settings, castles might be the bite-sized minidungeons that the players can try to clear in a single adventure.

    Wayne Rossi makes the point that, according to the number of castles on the Wilderness Survival map and the castle-inhabitant charts, you’d expect three of the castles to be controlled by good clerics. I have my eye on the three castles in the mountain pass near the largest mountain peak area.

    Wayne suggests that these good clerics are all part of one holy order dedicated to recapturing the land from evil. This makes sense to me. We can say that, while the surface of the world is nearly overrun with evil, there is one little area where a holy order has a foothold. This is the likely starting point of the PCs’ adventures: these castles control the only safe way to ascend to the mountain peaks. From the southernmost castle, it’s only 4 hexes to the closest city. That will undoubtedly be the first dungeon that the PCs tackle.


    OK, there’s something I haven’t figured out. According to OD&D, rivers are just swarming with buccaneers and pirates. Who are they preying on? Each other?

    Steve Winter said that cloud ships travel from mountain peak to mountain peak. Maybe the buccaneers and pirates are based on the river, but their ships can ascend to the clouds to attack cloud shipping. Maybe the pirates even have flying submarines.

    That said, if pirates can fly, why do they spend so much time on the river? Maybe someone can solve this for me.

    Another thing: there are a lot of flying monsters in the original OD&D encounter tables – dragons, griffins, chimerae. Can they threaten the mountain settlements and cloud ships, or are they confined to the lowlands?

    This week I’ll try to delve more into the implications of this setting.

    de vetula, the 13th century d&d poem

    Friday, May 10th, 2013

    I was amazed when I read in Playing At the World about De Vetula, the 13th-century poem that addressed the most important problem of science: how likely are you to roll an 18 STR?

    De Vetula is a real poem, and amidst the gambling adventures of its protagonist, it really has probability calculations for 3d6. I love that the world’s first accurate discussion of probability is so directly applicable to D&D. This plus the Roman d20 almost makes you think that there’s been a secret society of D&D players throughout history (the Brontes were probably members).

    I decided I’d track down the relevant section of the poem. Here’s a page of the manuscript:

    That’s a bell curve there, and along the right side, you see the familiar 3-18 range familiar to D&D players. This doesn’t look much like a medieval poem. What it looks a lot like is the beginning of the 1e Dungeon Master’s Guide:

    In case it’s of interest to D&D players or people interested in probability, here’s Nancy Prior’s translation of the relevant section of the poem:

    Perhaps, however, you will say that certain numbers are better
    Than others which players use, for the reason that,
    Since a die has six sides and six single numbers,
    On three dice there are eighteen,
    Of which only three can be on top of the dice.
    These vary in different ways and from them,
    Sixteen compound numbers are produced. They are not, however,
    Of equal value, since the larger and the smaller of them
    Come rarely and the middle ones frequently,
    And the rest, the closer they are to the middle ones,
    The better they are and more frequently they come.
    These, when they occur, have only one configuration of pips on the dice,
    Those have six, and the remaining ones have configurations midway between the two,
    Such that there are two larger numbers and just as many smaller ones,
    And these have one configuration. The two which follow,
    The one larger, the other smaller, have two configurations of pips on the dice apiece.
    Again, after them they have three apiece, then four apiece.
    And five apiece, as they follow them in succession approaching
    The four middle numbers which have six configurations of pips on the dice apiece.
    The small table set out below will make these things easier for you:

    18 666
    17 665
    16 664 655
    15 663 654 555
    14 662 653 644 554
    13 661 652 643 553 445
    12 651 642 633 552 543 444
    11 641 632 551 542 533 443
    10 631 622 541 532 442 433
    9 621 531 522 441 432 333
    8 611 521 431 422 332
    7 511 421 331 223
    6 411 322 222
    5 311 221
    4 211
    3 111

    These are the fifty-six ways for the numbers to fall,
    And the number of them can neither be smaller nor larger.
    For when the three numbers which make up the throw are alike,
    Since six numbers can be matched up with one another,
    There are also six configurations of pips on the dice, one for any number.
    But, when one of them is not like the others,
    And two are the same, the configurations of pips on the dice can vary in thirty ways,
    Because, if you duplicate any of the six numbers,
    After you have added any of the numbers which remain, then
    You will come up with thirty, as if you multiply six five-fold.
    But, if all three numbers are different,
    Then you will count twenty configurations of pips on the dice
    For this reason: Three numbers can be successive
    In four ways and non-successive in just as many, but
    If two are successive and a third non-successive,
    The figure set out below for your perusal makes this clear:
    You will discover from the one side twice three ways and from the other thrice two ways.

    666 555 444 333 222 111 665
    664 663 662 661 556 554 553
    552 551 446 445 443 442 441
    336 335 334 332 331 226 225
    224 223 221 116 115 114 113
    112 654 543 432 321 642 641
    631 531 653 652 651 621 521
    421 542 541 643 431 632 532

    Again, if one looks more closely into the configurations of pips on the dice,
    There are some which have only one way of falling,
    And there are others which have three or six, since the ways of falling
    Cannot be different when the three numbers in question
    Are the same. But, if one of them should be unlike,
    And two the same, three ways of falling emerge
    After a different number turns up on top of any of the dice.
    But if they are all unlike, you will discover
    That they can vary in six ways, since,
    When you give any position to one of the three, the remaining two change places,
    Just as an alternation of the configuration of pips shows. And so
    They vary in fifty-six ways in the configurations of pips on the dice,
    And the configurations in two hundred and sixteen ways of falling.
    When these have been divided among the compound numbers which players use,
    Just as they must be distributed among them,
    You will learn full well how great a gain or a loss
    Any one of them is able to be.
    The table written out below can make this clear to you:

    How many configurations of pips on the dice and ways of falling any compound number would have

    3  18  configurations of pips on the dice  1  way of falling  1
    4  17  configurations of pips on the dice  1  way of falling  3
    5  16  configurations of pips on the dice  2  way of falling  6
    6  15  configurations of pips on the dice  3  way of falling  10
    7  14  configurations of pips on the dice  4  way of falling  15
    8  13  configurations of pips on the dice  5  way of falling  21
    9  12  configurations of pips on the dice  6  way of falling  25
    10 11  configurations of pips on the dice  6  way of falling  27

    Thanks to Jon Peterson for letting me know that this poem existed!

    Strategic Review 3: Gotcha!

    Friday, April 26th, 2013
    This entry is part 18 of 18 in the series New Schooler Reads OD&D

    Strategic Review 3, published in 1975, has an extra long “creature feature” introducing 9 new D&D monsters. It tends heavily towards gimmick monsters designed to infuriate PCs, usually by setting traps that the PC can’t realistically avoid. Most of these monsters went on to become beloved fan icons, proving how weird D&D players really are.

    The original D&D monster book, the 1974 “Monsters and Treasure”, had its fair share of “gotcha” monsters: the Black Pudding, which Gygax called a “nuisance monster”, which divides when attacked with weapons; the ghoul, which could paralyze on touch; the various undead monsters which stole character levels. The dungeons of OD&D are dangerous, and sometimes people die. But the monsters published in the Strategic Review took it to a new level. Here are the 9 creatures introduced in SR#3, along with a Gotcha! rating of 1 to 5.

    Yeti: The yeti is actually a pretty stand-up guy: sure, it paralyzes you with its gaze if it surprises you, and it has a 85% chance of surprising a party of its level, but apart from that, the yeti fights fair. It even takes extra damage from fire attacks. Somehow, though, it didn’t make it to the status of iconic D&D monster. I guess there’s no room in D&D for pushovers.
    Gotcha level: 2/5

    Shambling Mound: I believe Gygax said that the Shambling Mound was based on one of the Swamp Thing-like superheroes. It’s crazy tough.

    First of all, it has 6-9 Hit Dice, and the Hit Dice are noted as being d10’s. I’m not sure why it has better, instead of more, Hit Dice, unless it’s so that the referee can justify using it to kill level 6-9 characters.

    Secondly, it has resistances to everything. Compare it to the “nuisance monsters” of the 1974 Monsters and Treasure book, which have a handful of resistances: “The ochre jelly can be killed by fire or cold, but hits by weaponry or lightning bolt will merely make them into smaller Ochre Jellies.” “Black Puddings are not affected by cold. It is spread into smaller ones by chops or lightning bolts, but it is killed by fire.” “Green Slime can be killed by fire or cold, but it is not affected by lightning bolts or striking by weapons.” Etc.

    For the Shambling Mound, though,

    most hits upon it do but little damage (thus Armor Class 0). As it is wet and slimy, fire has no effect, lightning causes it to grow (add 1 hit die), and cold does either one-half or no damage due to its vegetable constitution. All weapons score only one-half damage. It can flatten itself, so that crushing has small effect upon the Shambler.

    That’s pretty much every type of damage that it’s immune to, takes half damage from, or becomes stronger from. That, combined with its AC 0 and its d10 HP, make it pretty much a guaranteed session-long battle (if the PCs can last a session). Luckily,

    Plant Control and Charm Plants are effective.

    which is good news for all the 14th-level wizards who memorized Charm Plants for their 7th-level spell slot instead of Limited Wish, Delayed Blast Fireball, or Power Word Stun. It’s bad news for people who memorized “Plant Control” because as far as I can tell, that doesn’t seem to be a real OD&D spell. [Edit: OK, I found Plant Control. It’s a potion.]
    Gotcha level: 4/5

    Leprechaun: This annoying, mostly noncombat creature “will often (75%) snatch valuable objects from persons, turn invisible, and dash away. The object stolen will be valuable, and there is a 75% chance of such theft being successful.” Pretty irritating, but at least “Leprechauns have a great fondness for wine, and this weakness may be used to outwit them.”
    Gotcha level: 3/5

    Shrieker: The only function shriekers have are to give the GM a few extra wandering monster rolls. It’s “unfair” in that it’s unavoidable (they shriek when light gets within 30′, so how are you supposed to see them?) but it actually strikes me as the kind of unfair that adds energy to the game table, not subtracts it.
    Gotcha level: 2/5

    Ghost: Ghosts have various attacks that they can make on you, but you can’t make attacks back at them because they are non-corporeal. They sometimes do take on corporeal form, which is when you have a fighting chance. Or is it?

    They otherwise attack by touch which causes aging of from 10 to 40 years, but in order to do this they must assume a semi-corporeal form, and when they do so they may be attacked by magic weapons (but not spells) as if they were Armor Class 0.

    They have a unique aging attack (two hits from which will kill your human character’s adventuring career). No matter what level you are, good luck carving through all of the ghost’s 10 Hit Dice (with weapons, not spells) before he hits you twice. That’s beside the fact that, presumably, ghosts can return to spirit form whenever they want.
    Gotcha level: 5/5

    Naga: There are three types of naga, roughly mapping to Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic. They get magic-user and cleric spells, but they don’t have spellcasting ability in excess of their Hit Dice. About the roughest thing they can do is “permanently Charm the looker unless save vs. paralization is made”, but hey, at least you get a save.
    Gotcha level: 1/5

    Wind Walker: Spooky telepathic storms that, like ghosts, are ethereal, so “Wind Walkers can be fought only by such creatures as Djinn, Efreet, Invisible Stalkers, or Aerial Servants.” If you’re just a PC, you’re pretty much out of luck. There are a handful of spells that have some effect on them (interestingly, Control Weather kills them, and Slow acts like a fireball), but if your spells can’t deplete the Wind Walker’s 6 Hit Dice, you’re in trouble.

    Everyone within 10′ of a Wind Walker automatically take 3-18 points of damage. That’s a lot, considering that in OD&D, you earn 1-6 HP per level. There’s clearly been a lot of damage inflation since OD&D Monsters and Treasure, in which a troll (6+3 HD) does one die of damage and giants (8-12 HD) do two dice. It will only take 3 or so turns for a single Wind Walker to wipe out even high-level Superheroes and Wizards. Here’s the rest of the bad news: “Wind Walkers will pursue for 10 turns minimum.”

    Oh, there was a piece of bad news I forgot: “Number appearing: 1-3”
    Gotcha level: 4/5

    The Piercer:

    With their stoney outer casing these monsters are indistinguishable from stalagtites found on cave roofs. They are attracted by noise and heat, and when a living creature passes beneath their position above they will drop upon it in order to kill and devour it.

    The penultimate “gotcha” monster, piercers are undetectable until they drop onto an adventurer for a confusing “1-4 dice (6-24) damage.” 1-4 dice seems to describe a range between 1-6 and 4-24 damage; I’m not sure where 6-24 comes from.

    Although I don’t understand the damage equation, it’s clearly a lot of damage. And piercers come in groups of 2-12.

    The piercer’s initial assault is bad enough, but they presumably keep fighting until they are killed, doing an additional 6-24 damage on every hit. It’s the gotcha that keeps on gotcha-ing.

    I think the right thing to avoid death by Piercer is to Fireball every square foot of cavern ceiling before you walk underneath. Enjoy your treasure type Nil!
    Gotcha level: 5/5

    The Lurker Above: The ultimate “gotcha” monster, “its greyish belly is so textured as to appear to be stone, and the Lurker typically attaches itself to a ceiling where it is almost impossible to detect (90%) unless actually prodded.”

    OK, so the defense is to prod every ceiling? No, because “when disturbed the Lurker drops from the ceiling, smothering all creatures beneath in the tough folds of its ‘wings.'” Clearly, the DM is going to drop this guy on your party whether or not you try to detect it.

    Once the DM has sprung his trap, “this constriction causes 1-6 points of damage per turn, and the victims will smother in 2-5 turns in any event unless they kill the Lurker and thus break free. … Prey caught in its grip cannot fight unless the weapons used are both short and in hand at the time the creature falls upon them.”

    Who always carries unsheathed short weapons? Not the fighter; he’s got a sword. Not the cleric either. The magic user might have his dagger out. But your hopes are really pinned on the party Thief. Can he kill the Lurker Above in 2-5 turns? Well, the Lurker Above has 10 Hit Dice. Given the generous assumption that the Thief can get in 3 hits before he smothers, can he do an average of 10 damage per hit?
    Gotcha level: 5/5

    an early bad review of D&D

    Thursday, April 18th, 2013
    This entry is part 17 of 18 in the series New Schooler Reads OD&D

    Issue #3 of the Strategic Review had this editorial from Gary Gygax:


    Donald Featherstone once said in WARGAMER’S NEWSLETTER that he believed Arnold Hendrick’s chief talent and claim to fame lay in his “pinching” of Fletcher Pratt’s Naval Wargame – alluding in all likelihood to similarities between Mr. Pratt’s game and the set of rules for naval miniatures authored by Mr. Hendrick. I concurred with what was said in WARGAMER’S NEWSLETTER, and when the good Mr. Hendrick “reviewed” CHAINMAIL in a highly uncomplimentary manner I ignored what was written, for surely most hobbyists could be assumed to be able to read this “review” for what it was worth and in light of Mr. Hendrick’s talents otherwise. As an example of the comments he made regarding CHAINMAIL, the most amusing was his assertion that heavy cavalry was rated too high, imagine! In a period where the armored horseman dominated the field of battle, heavy horse are too strong! Anyway, the learned Mr. Hendrick subsequently “reviewed” DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, again in a very uncomplimentary manner – after all, he had gone so far as to play a game of
    D&D as a Cleric, completely armed with such edged weapons as spear and arrows . . . Again, this so called “review” was so obviously inaccurate and biased that I ignored it completely, although numbers of letters and telephone calls from irate D&D fans who had read the comments and wished to let me know that the
    “review” outraged them assured me that Mr. Hendrick would not escape totally unscathed. Eventually the magazine which retains Mr. Hendrick as a “reviewer” did print a contrary opinion – how could they ignore a counter-article written by Mr. James Oden, President of Heritage Models, Inc.? This brings me to the point
    of this editorial. The axe that Mr. Hendrick has been grinding so loudly and long has been exposed.

    Possibly in light of TSR’s success in publishing miniatures rules and games, Mr. Hendrick has decided to begin peddling a line of his own creations. If these creations are as well-thought out as his “reviews”, as learned and clever, they will be rare products indeed. However, being inclined towards fair play, I invite any readers who wish to submit reviews of any of these sets of rules, and as space permits we will publish as many as is possible. Note TSR is not having one of its writers or designers review the products of a competitor. If we receive several reviews for one set of rules we will publish that which is most thorough in our opinion, regardless of what its recommendation is, and as an editor’s note include the conclusions of any other reviews of the same work so as to give all opinions expressed to us from disinterested reviewers. After all, could one expect honest and fair reviews from a source directly connected with a competitor of the product being reviewed? Certainly not. As an author of rules and games I have refrained in the past from reviewing the work of other writers and designers for just this
    reason. This policy will be continued in the pages of SR, despite less scrupulous methods employed in the magazine which carries Mr. Hendrick’s “reviews”. We will depend on you for product reviews, and when we plug our own staff it will be clearly labeled as an advertisement.

    Gary Gygax

    I believe this is the first recorded case of “Gygax spleen” directed at haters — we’ll see more of it over the years.

    I don’t know about you, but reading this editorial made me want to read the original review!

    I tracked down Arnold Hendrick’s review from this dragonsfoot thread. Not sure what publication it was originally in… The Courier? Someday I’d like to find it and see Mr. James Oden’s rebuttal.

    Rules Review

    three soft-cover volumes, totalling 112 pages, with five chart sheets, availible from Tactical Studies Rules, 542 Sage Street, Lake Geneva, W.I. 53147 for $10.00

    Subtitled “Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures,” these booklets attempt to outline a system for “playing” the kind of fantasy adventures one previously read about in paperpacks. The concept is remarkably interesting, since the same person interested in matching himself against Napoleon or Manstein might also find comparisons with Conan or John Carter enjoyable.

    The “game” is played by various adventurers and a referee. The players, starting in near total ignorance, attempt to adventure in the wilderness around them, or in dungeons and underground chambers beneath them. The referee is informed of each action, and after consulting the maps he has made, the basic tables and information in the booklets, and his own imagination, gives the player a response. Those who rememeber Korn’s “Modern Warfare in Miniature” will see the parallel, although Korn’s rules were much more tightly constructed. Here, introductions are made into many possible areas of interest: finance, magic, fighting ability, language, and monsters of every type and description (from goblins, orcs, giants, and dragons to the more esoteric manticores, chimeras, wyverns, and the hollywood mummies, purple worms, green slime, grey ooze, and black pudding).

    For personal combat, “Chainmail” is referred to, but the multiple-damage characteristics of characters in this game does not fit with the life-or-death struggle in “Chainmail”, and neither gives a clue for the effect of missile fire, save perhaps the firer’s normal ability is extended up to the range of the missile weapon, with restrictions and special options as allowed in the multi-figure section of the “Chainmail” rules. The resulting mess in interpretations is enough to tax the patience of most gamers to the extreme. Worse, personal combat is the area receiving the most attention, things go downhill from there.

    Play in person is usually impossible, since the referee can only show the adventurer the terrain he is crossing at that instant, plus whatever is in his sight. Only large battles are suitable for the tabletop. The optimim solution seems to be play by phone, or when distances are too great, play by mail. For those without gasoline to visit their fellow wargamers, or without a car, Dungeons & Dragons can be very, very interesting indeed. For example, in a test adventure recently concluded, the Acolyte Dorn from the village of Thane ventured into the ruins of Takator, opting for an underground Dungeon adventure instead of an above-ground wilderness expedition. After finding numerous doors beyond his strength to move, he finally opened one that woke four ghouls, who charged him directly. The well-equipped Dorn (with mail, shield, spear and crossbow) was allowed to fire by the kindly referee, and then strike first with the spear. Being rather handy with weapons and things, Dorn neatly felled two of the ghouls, but was then touched by the third, a circumstance which petrified him, while the ghouls proceeded to kill him, thus turning Dorn into a ghoul. So much for the Acolyte Dorn. Better luck in the next life!

    Beyond the problems involved in play (find an intrepid referee), the other discouraging factor is price. These booklets are roughly comparable to “The Courier” in physical quality, but at $3.50 each are priced rather high. Worse, all three are necessary. Graphics, considering the format, are decent, with some excellent illustrations, but some space could have been saved without compromising appearance.

    In general, the concept and imagination involved is stunning. However, much more work, refinement, and especially regulation and simplification is necessary before the game is managable. The scope is just too grand, while the referee is expected to do too much in relation to the players. IF you need ideas to help you along into your own fantasy adventure games, these booklets will be of use; otherwise you ten dollars will be wasted. I do not suggest these to the average wargamer.

    Gygax was mad because he felt his game was being attacked by a lesser game developer, and because he perceived a lack of ethics about Hendrick’s journalism, but let’s be fair: Hendrick’s review is not the biased screed I had been expecting. His understanding is as shallow, but perhaps not more so than most reviewers of most games. He doesn’t see that D&D is an entirely new type of game that can’t be judged by wargame standards; but that’s hardly surprising in 1974.

    Here are some interesting points in Hendrick’s review:

    “These booklets attempt to outline a system for “playing” the kind of fantasy adventures one previously read about in paperpacks. The concept is remarkably interesting, since the same person interested in matching himself against Napoleon or Manstein might also find comparisons with Conan or John Carter enjoyable.”

    It’s so interesting how important the John Carter Martian novels were at the beginning of the hobby. Gygax himself wrote rules for Martian adventures (John Carter is level 13). Carter has really fallen off the map: he has nowhere the kind of name recognition of, say, Tarzan. The John Carter movie did nothing to change that.

    “Vastly too much has been attempted in these booklets, with very little detail, explanations or procedures.” This is an entirely just description of the original D&D books. OD&D is the framework of a game. It’s pretty difficult to play without making a lot of interpretations on your own. In fact, it’s not really a game in the traditional sense: more of a set of guidelines for making games. Imagine if Clue came with vague instructions on drawing a map of an English manor, and instructions on making characters (“Appendix I: Forms of Address” “Appendix K: Colors”). OD&D is a game you have to unpack yourself over years of playing.

    “The optimim solution seems to be play by phone, or when distances are too great, play by mail.”
    I love the idea of Hendrick playing solo D&D over the phone with his spear-carrying cleric, while his referee moved figures around a detailed castle model (no doubt on a sand table). He really hadn’t made the mental switch from a wargaming table to a shared fantasy.

    “The well-equipped Dorn (with mail, shield, spear and crossbow) was allowed to fire by the kindly referee, and then strike first with the spear.”
    As Gygax sneered, Hendricks missed the section about cleric weapon restrictions. But fighting alone against four ghouls, he needed all the help he could get.

    Hendrick does come off as hapless n00b in this review. I hope Gygax’s army of fanbois weren’t too tough on him.

    By the way, Arnold Hendrick is actually a pretty interesting guy. After a little more work in boardgames and RPGs, he went into computer gaming. He worked on Sid Meier’s Pirates, one of my favorite games ever, and seems to have been a driving force behind its respect for period detail (perhaps because of his knowledge gained while “pinching” Fletcher Pratt’s Naval Wargame).

    Hendrick also worked on Darklands, which I never played, but I remember thinking it looked awesome based on its ads in Dragon magazine. Darklands seems to have sunk under the weight of featuritis, some of driven by Hendrick’s interest in obsessively modeling period detail. (Gygax was luckier. His obsession with polearms didn’t drag down his entire game.)

    Check out this interview from 2009.

    Warriors of Synnibarr by Gary Gygax

    Thursday, April 11th, 2013
    This entry is part 15 of 18 in the series New Schooler Reads OD&D

    Raven McCracken’s Synnibarr RPG takes a lot of criticism for – well, for a lot of valid reasons; but one of its poorer mechanics is this:

    If “Fate” (the GM) doesn’t know how likely the players are to succeed at something, he should roll a d100. The result is the players’ chances of succeeding. A second roll is then made. If the second roll is LESS than the first roll, the players succeed.

    It – almost – seems plausible until you think about it, right? But rolling a random difficulty threshold, and then rolling the same die against that threshold, is really always a 50% shot. You might as well play an RPG where you flip a coin every time anyone tries to do anything.

    As this review of Synnibarr says:

    “Fate [the GM] then makes a percentile die roll to determine whether the empty ship will be safe or not. The first roll is a 33. This indicates there is only a 33% chance of the boat remaining safe. Fate then rolls again. The resulting roll of 40 indicates that their ship won’t be there upon return. How and when the ship is lost is up to Fate.”

    This is the stupidest thing that I’ve ever seen done within a role-playing game. Besides removing a potentially useful element from the adventure, it removes control from the GM and puts it into a pair of dice rolls; and they’re both entirely random. You could roll a 95% chance of being safe or a 5% chance of being safe, but it doesn’t matter, because there’s nobody at the switch; just a series of random encounters determined by blind idiot luck. It’s like Azathoth designed a role-playing game.

    Agreed? Bad mechanic? Now check out these rules:

    Missile Fire Procedure:
    The firing player rolls two [d6] dice in sequence: The first is the number he must match or beat in order to score a hit, and it is modified by his status, weapon, the range, and so on. If the modified number is not matched or exceeded by the score of the second die the missile failed to hit its target.

    This is from Warriors of Mars by Gygax and Blume, 1974. (I’ve also seen the same rule in a fairly recent edition of Pendragon.)

    To be fair, one of the Warriors of Mars die rolls is modified by various factors. That doesn’t really change the issue, though. Rolling up a random target number on a d6 is no different than setting the target number to 3.5.

    Warriors of Mars is from the very dawn of roleplaying, and Gygax would go on to create much better subsystems than this (and a few worse ones). Still, if you’re a rules hacker at all, it might be comforting to see that every RPG developer starts at level 1.

    in praise of the funhouse dungeon

    Monday, April 8th, 2013

    A Dungeon Master’s Tale reminded me that “the dungeon is the mythic underworld; the sprawling underdark manufactured or discovered by the Ancients and now given over entirely to enigmatic and inscrutable things.” I’ve seen that mythic underworld phrase before but it resonated with me this time.

    I usually try to make each of my dungeons a themed, well-justified, sensible little environment, where the whole tells a story. That’s a worthy goal, but perhaps there are some things that such a tidy dungeon can’t do. I’d like to run a mythic-underworld game, with dream logic and primal hooks from the subconscious and all that Joseph Campbell stuff.

    I started to think how I’d make such a dungeon, and I realized that a bunch of good steps – hostile doors and darkness that thwart PC but not monsters, changing maps so that the dungeon is forever unknown – are all in the original OD&D books. I always balked at them because there was no good explanation for them. How’s this for an explanation: it’s the Mythic Underworld, or, to put it another way, it’s a horror movie down there. Dammit Gary! You beat me to all the cool ideas.

    I do think there is a place for the sensible, well-curated dungeon, as opposed to a constant diet of funhouse-dungeon pie. To perhaps overthink it: all underground chambers start as sensible environments, but if left alone they eventually “go bad”: huge monsters spontaneously generate in rooms with tiny doors, strange altars emerge from the rock, passages connect to other dungeons. A complicated labyrinth under a palace might remain under its builders’ control for centuries as long as they patrol each part of it. But woe betide them if they forget about some locked broom closet for a few decades. It might turn into a stairway, leading down…

    Rangers! An Exciting New D&D Class

    Friday, April 5th, 2013

    Strategic Review #2 featured the first appearance of the Ranger class, by Joe Fischer. I think it’s one of the few pieces of OD&D that Gygax didn’t have a hand in writing.

    Gygax says: “Joe Fischer played in my group, and he did an article in THE STRATEGIC REVIEW introducing the Ranger Class for the D&D game. From that I built the AD&D version.”

    Let’s compare the Strategic Review ranger with the PHB ranger to see how much building Gary had to do.


    From Strategic Review:
    Rangers are a sub-class of Fighting Men, similar in many ways to the new sub-class Paladins, for they must always remain Lawful or lose all the benefits they gained (except, of course, experience as a fighter).

    OD&D’s alignments were limited to Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic, with Lawful often standing in for Good. In AD&D, where we had the full dual-axis alignment system, “All rangers must be of good alignment, although they can be lawful, chaotic, or neutral otherwise.” The main literary model of the ranger, Aragorn, is probably Lawful Good, so I guess he can play in OD&D and AD&D games.


    From Strategic Review:
    Strength is their Prime Requisite, but they must also have both Intelligence and Wisdom scores of at least 12 each, and a Constitution of at least 15.

    In AD&D, the prerequisites are changed to 13 Strength, intelligence 13, wisdom 13, and consitution 14. Both classes are pretty hard to qualify for, although not as hard as the AD&D paladin (whose stat prerequisites were so demanding that, paradoxically, anyone who claimed to have rolled up a paladin was by definition a liar and not worthy of paladin status).

    Hit points

    The Strategic Review Ranger got 2 Hit Dice at level 1, while everyone else got one (“either with the standard [d6] system or the alternate system which allows fighters 8-sided dice”). That’s what happens when you let a player design his own class: you get power creep. Oddly, when Gygax revised the class for AD&D, he let the ranger keep its weird bonus level die, but to balance it, he gave the ranger d8 Hit Dice while the other fighter classes got upgraded to d10s. It sort of balances out, but it gives rangers a big lump of HP at level 1.


    The SR ranger got alternating levels of cleric and magic-user spells starting at level 8, so that a 13th-level ranger could cast level 3 cleric and level 3 magic-user spells. The AD&D ranger had a slightly slower progression, starting at level 8 and ending at level 17. Also, instead of cleric spells, the ranger got druid spells. That makes sense: druid spells didn’t exist when Joe Fischer first wrote the class, but they’re more woodsy and ranger-appropriate than cleric spells. I’m sure Joe Fischer approved.


    In older versions of D&D, mechanical bonuses were often balanced by role-playing and campaign-world restrictions.

    From the Strategic Review:
    Until they attain the 8th level (Ranger-Knight) characters in the Ranger class are relatively weak, for they have a number of restrictions placed upon them. These restrictions are:
    – They may own only that which they can carry with them, and excess treasure or goods must be donated to a worthy cause.
    – They may not hire any men-at-arms or other servants or aides of any kind whatsoever.
    -Only two of the class may operate together.

    The AD&D ranger kept most of these rules intact, except that “no more than three rangers may ever operate together” (emphasis mine). Did Gary end up with some D&D group where three players wanted to be rangers? Heaven help him.

    XP Bonus

    From the Strategic Review:
    They receive no regular bonuses for advancement due to ability, but they automatically gain 4 experience points for every 3 earned.

    OK, Joe, this is a bad rule. Granting an across-the-board 25% bonus to ranger XP is exactly the same as lowering the XP needed for each level, except it’s much more of a pain in the butt this way, since players have to fiddle with their XP every time they get it. Now if this rule were introduced into 3e, where every class uses the same advancement chart, it would actually mean something (and it would still be a bad rule).

    Gygax, an experienced game developer, of course removed this rule in AD&D. He also lowered the XP needed for level advancement to compensate.


    From the Strategic Review:
    They have the ability to track the path of most creatures when outdoors, and even in dungeons they are often able to follow:

    There follows charts for the ranger’s ability to track in the dungeon and the wilderness – the dungeon subsystem is based on the d6 and the wilderness subsystem is based on percentile dice.

    When Gygax reprinted the tracking subsystems in AD&D, he converted them both to percentile systems.


    From the Strategic Review:
    Because of their ability to track Rangers also are difficult to surprise, requiring a roll of 1 instead of 1 or 2.

    In AD&D, Gygax saw that, and raised it: “Rangers surprise opponents 50% of the time (d6, score 1 through 3) and are themselves surprised only 16 2/3 of the time (d6, score 1).

    Damage Bonus

    From the Strategic Review:
    All Rangers gain a special advantage when fighting against monsters of the Giant Class (Kobolds – Giants). For each level they have gained they add +1 to their damage die against these creatures, so a 1st Level Ranger adds +1, a 2nd Level +2, and so on.

    (I guess this is because Aragorn is really good at killing orcs?) Gygax kept this rule in AD&D. It’s especially good at low level because so many low-level D&D battles are against kobolds, goblins, orcs, and hobgoblins. That plus the 2d8 HP at level 1 make the ranger a low-level juggernaut.

    Special Followers

    From the Strategic Review:
    -From 2-24 followers will join the character as soon as 9th level is
    attained by him. These followers are detailed later.


    Special Followers: For each of the 2-24 followers the Ranger gains
    a dice roll must be made to determine what the follower is. Further
    dice rolls to determine type, class, and/or level will also be necessary.

    01 – 60 Man
    61 – 75 Elf or Half-Elf
    76 – 90 Dwarf
    91 – 99 2 Hobbits
    00 Extraordinary (see below)

    Class (Men Only)
    01-50 Fighter
    51-75 Cleric
    75-95 Magic-User
    95-00 Thief

    Multi-Class (Elves Only)
    01 – 50 Fighter
    51 – 75 Fighter/Magic-User
    76 – 90 Magic-User
    91 -00 Fighter/Magic-User/Thief
    Level of Ability (Roll for each)
    01 – 50 2nd Level
    51 – 65 3rd Level
    66 – 80 4th Level
    81 – 90 5th Level
    91 – 99 6th Level
    00 7th Level

    Extraordinary Followers
    01 – 20 Ranger, 3rd – 7th Level
    21 – 40 Lawful Werebear
    41 – 55 2 Unicorns
    65 – 70 Pegasus
    71 – 80 Hill Giant
    81 – 90 Stone Giant
    91 – 99 Golden Dragon
    00 Take two rolls ignoring any 00%u2019s which might come up

    A couple of things to note on the Extraordinary Followers table:

    -2 Hobbits? Why do hobbits come in pairs? Well… there is some precedent, in Merry and Pippin… and Frodo and Sam… I withdraw my objection.

    -2 unicorns?? Why do unicorns come in pairs? The second one is wasted, unless you plan to have them pull your coach. Or start a unicorn breeding program, I guess.

    Unicorns are a symbol of all that is wild and unattainable. It just seems like a waste to have two of them. It’s like finding two philosopher’s stones.

    -If you roll a 91-99 on the Extraordinary Followers chart, you get a GOLDEN DRAGON. How awesome is that. You’ll pretty much be the baddest ranger in the room (which isn’t saying much, since only 2 or 3 rangers may ever share a room).

    The odds of getting a golden dragon aren’t very good: each follower has a 1 in 1000 chance of being a golden dragon. Rangers do get 2-24 followers, though, so the odds are actually better than 1 in 100.

    The kinds of people who “honestly rolled up” a character good enough to be a ranger, though, probably ended up with 2 or 3 golden dragons.

    the first grapple rules

    Thursday, March 28th, 2013
    This entry is part 16 of 18 in the series New Schooler Reads OD&D

    A lot of ink has been spilled about D&D’s confusing Grapple rules. To refresh your memory, here are D&D’s first Grapple rules ever, which can be found inside a combat example in issue #2 of Strategic Review (1975):

    Combat Example:

    10 ORCS surprise a lone Hero wandering lost in the dungeons, but the die check reveals they are 30′ distant at the time of surprise, so they use their initiative to close to melee distance. lnitiative is now checked. The Hero scores a 3, plus 1 for his high dexterity, so it is counted 4. The Orcs score 6, and even a minus 1 for their lack of dexterity (optional) still allows them first attack. As they outnumber their opponent so heavily it is likely that they will try to overpower him rather than kill, so each hit they score will be counted as attempts to grapple the Hero:

    – Assumed armor of the Hero: Chainmail & Shield — AC 4.

    – Score required to hit AC 4 — 15 (by monsters with 1 hit die).

    – Only 5 Orcs can attack, as they haven’t had time to surround.

    Assume the following dice scores for the Orcs attacks:
    Orc #1 – 06; #2 – 10; #3 – 18; #4 – 20; #5 – 03.

    Two of the Orcs have grappled the Hero, and if his score with 4 dice is less than their score with 2 dice he has been pinned helplessly. If it is a tie they are struggling, with the Hero still on his feet, but he will be unable to defend himself with his weapon. If the Hero scores higher than the Orcs use the positive difference to throw off his attackers, i.e. the Hero scores 15 and the Orcs scored but 8, so the Hero has tossed both aside, stunning them for 7 turns between them.

    – Round 2: lniative goes to the Hero.

    – Score required to hit Orcs — 11 (4th level fighter vs. AC 6).

    Assume the following dice score by the Hero. Note that he is allowed one attack for each of his combat levels as the ratio of one Orc vs. the Hero is 1:4, so this is treated as normal (non-fantastic) melee, as is any combat where the score of one side is a base 1 hit die or less.

    Hero: 19; 01; 16; 09. Two out of four blows struck. There are 8 orcs which can be possibly hit. An 8-sided die is rolled to determine which have been struck. Assume a 3 and an 8 are rolled. Orcs #3 and #8 are diced for to determine their hit points, and they have 3 and 4 points respectively. Orc #3 takes 6 damage points and is killed. Orc #8 takes 1 damage point and is able to fight.

    – All 7 surviving/non-stunned Orcs are now able to attack.

    Continued attempts to overpower the Hero are assumed, and no less than 4 Orcs are able to attack the Hero from positions where his shield cannot be brought into play, so his AC is there considered 5, and those Orcs which attack from behind add +2 to their hit dice. In the case it is quite likely that the Orcs will capture the Hero.

    Keep in mind that D&D was so new at that point that they were giving combat examples of things for which THEY HAD NOT WRITTEN THE RULES YET. The actual Grapple rules for which these are an example have, I believe, never been printed. You have to reverse-engineer the rules from the examples – kind of like learning a language via immersion.

    I have to admit, I don’t speak OD&D very well. What’s going on here? The enemies all attack, and after everyone has attacked, you make a dice pool with 1d6 for every level of enemy who hit? and you roll that vs. a dice pool that has 1d6 for every level of the defender?

    (By the way, the next time TSR printed Grapple rules was, I think, in the 1979 AD&D DMG and it’s MUCH MORE confusing. Lots of percentile modifiers based on what type of armor everyone is wearing, and special rules for rabbit punches and stuff.)

    Here’s what Gary Gygax said in 2005 about the Strategic Review grapple rules:

    We sometimes used the SR system in grappling melees, but most often the Dm simply weighed the situation and ajudicated without all that dice rolling. thus, eight orcs getting the jump on a 4th level fighter would be assumed to overpower him with some loss to themselves–d6 and another die roll for each KOed in the struggle, a score of 6 indicating killed in action.

    The more complex system in AD&D was my error, mainly that of listening to those who wanted combat to be very detailed.

    You are on target in regards the examples of low-level monsters seeking to come to grips with a strong PC. Eight orcs will likely be slain by a well-armored 4th level fighter unless they use their sheer numbers to overwhelm him.

    I now have that happen when pack animals attack characters. Two wolves, dogs, or hyenas, for example, both successful in hitting the same target human (or humanoid), will knock him down and put him at a considerable disadvantage.

    I do like the idea of a bunch of low-level guys being able to pull down heroes by sheer weight of numbers. It simulates fantasy and adventure literature. And it makes hordes of orcs dangerous at any level.