Games: OD&D from Scratch Part 1: Men and Magic

Preface: This series is a detailed thought experiment concerning one of the earliest versions of my favourite all-time game: Dungeons & Dragons. It poses the question: Just how difficult was D&D to grasp to a young person with no prior experience? It also toils a bit with the question: “Just what is D&D?” (fundamentally speaking) This series examines the earliest and (arguably) the most enigmatic edition of the game: Original “White Box” D&D or “0E.” First published in 1974, and then amended with additional supplements beginning in 1975 through to around 1976, Original D&D was the first commercial role playing game; released before the term “role playing” was applied to such games. The version my fictional 11-year-old self stumbles upon here is the 1975 “white box set” plus the first rules addition (sold separately): Supplement I: Greyhawk.

My "Woodgrain Box" Original D&D Set. I made the box myself.

My own Original D&D collection with hand-crafted woodgrain box.

Imagine it’s 1982. I’m 11 years old and some of my friends at school are talking about this really cool game called Dungeons & Dragons. Visiting the local hobby shop in my smallish southern Ontario town, I make my way to the back where they keep such magazines as Model Railroader and Scale Auto. Quite suddenly, I am drawn to a vaguely magenta-coloured box with “Dungeons & Dragons” prominently displayed across the top in bright yellow. The box sports a mythical-looking scene showing two heroes facing an enormous green dragon. The immersive backdrop in which our heroes battle hint of a vast subterranean world; a world filled with endless stalactites, iridescent green waters, and frightful monsters; a world where a singular stone stairway meandering up to some foreboding doorway framed by solomonic columns may be (save dying) the only means of escape. The image (an Erol Otus masterpiece) is nothing short of evocative. The shrink wrapped box is almost out of reach. I pull it down. It’s surprisingly light. I read the subtitle, Fantasy Adventure Game and I notice Basic Set with Introductory Module in the top left corner.  It sounds mysterious and exciting! I flip over the box and read:

Fire and smoke surround you as you swing your sword and land a mighty blow upon the dragon’s head. The great creature crashes to the ground with a thud…

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS fantasy game is the original “role playing” game and it is now easier than ever to play. The rules are easy to read and understand and have been specially organized for new players. Anyone can join in a D&D adventure.

BasicSet1981b

Later that weekend I beg my parents to buy me the game. It costs $15 (1982 Canadian dollars); a prohibitive sum for what could turn out to be “just another phase.” I sulk. We get in the car. We’re on our way to Uncle Pete’s. He’s my godfather and a pretty cool (if weird) uncle. We get to his place and the subject of the game box comes up. My uncle smiles.

“Dungeons & Dragons? I used to play that game back in college,” he says. “Would you like to borrow my copy?”

The answer, of course, is an emphatic, “yes please!” I thank him over and over again. I’m ecstatic. He goes upstairs to fetch the box. I can’t wait to pour over its mysterious contents! Much to my surprise, he comes downstairs with an entirely different box; a small white, scarcely illustrated box. He hands it to me. It’s distinctly heavier than the magenta box in the hobby shop.  The subtitle is a mouthful: Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Pencil and Paper and Miniature Figures.

This doesn’t look or sound anything like the game I saw at the hobby shop. No “Adventure Games” or “Basic Set,” or “Introductory” to be found anywhere! But Dungeons & Dragons is clearly blazoned across the top of the box in bright red. Uncle Pete notices my bewilderment.

DnDBoxedSetFourth

“It’s an older version than what you see in the stores today,” he explains. “Everything you need is in there…I put my dice in there for you too.”

“Uh, thanks so much Uncle Pete…”

The adults resume talking about whatever adults talk about and my puzzlement is soon replaced with a burning curiosity as I examine the small white box.

Dungeons & Dragons
Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Pencil and Paper and Miniature Figures

Gygax & Arneson

3-Volume Set

Published by
Tactical Studies Rules
Price $10.00

Inside I find four brownish booklets, one silver booklet with spiral binding and some loose papers labelled, Reference Sheets. The four brown booklets clearly state Dungeons & Dragons in the same recognizable “old time” lettering, each with their own colour (red, green, blue and purple) and all  with the same strange “Medieval Fantasy Campaigns” subtitle. Is this really the same game? As the box states there are three main books: Volume 1:Men & Magic, Volume 2:Monsters & Treasure and Volume 3:The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures.  The art looks terrible; I mean, did someone get paid to do this? I could draw this stuff! The two other books, obviously added by Uncle Pete, look way more promising in terms of art. The fourth brown book, titled Supplement I: Greyhawk, sports the weirdest (and coolest) looking monster I’ve ever seen: a round floating head with a massive eye, curled human-like lips and numerous twisting ommatophores for hair. A swordsman, clad in helm and tattered loincloth, attempts to slash the beast. It looks like a surreal medieval woodcut from some ancient tome. The fifth silver-coloured book doesn’t even say Dungeons & Dragons, but it has the best cover art by far: a mounted Templar knight cutting down two spear-men. It’s called Chainmail: Rules for Medieval Miniatures.  As promised, Uncle Pete put some dice in.  They appear to be the same strangely-shaped dice I saw in the photograph on the back of the magenta box at the hobby store, plus at least six regular dice.

I begin with Volume 1, since that seems like the logical place to start. The inside cover says, Copyright 1974 Tactical Study RulesWow, I think, this game’s been around for a lot longer than I thought! It also says:

Dedicated to all the fantasy wargamers who have enthusiastically played and expanded upon the CHAINMAIL Fantasy Rules, with thanks and gratitude. Here is something better!

Hmm, I think. I’m not even on page one and this booklet is already referencing that other non-D&D booklet. Luckily, Uncle Pete added that to the box; it must be important. After puzzling over the table of contents (Books of Spells looks interesting), I read the Forward, hoping to gain some insight into how this “game” might be played.

FORWARD

The forward is written by the first author, E. Gary Gygax. He begins by describing a sort of history of a “little group” of what I assume are the original players of this game called the Castle and Crusade Society. Cool name. He also mentions the co-author, Dave Arneson, and his group called the Twin Cities Club. Perhaps these two clubs were rivals of sorts? Apparently Twin Cities established an “enclave” called “Blackmoor” near the “Great Kingdom,” within a place called “the land” where, presumably, epic games of Chainmail were played out between these clubs. It’s all a bit confusing…I guess people have been playing this D&D (or at least Chainmail) for years before it was actually published. After establishing this history, I’m struck by this confusing statement:

While it is possible to play a single game, unrelated to any other game events past or future, it is the campaign for which these rules are designed.

This word, “campaign” is mentioned several times but I’m not sure what the term means here.  I ask to see the dictionary:

cam·paign
/kamˈpān/
noun
1.
a series of military operations intended to achieve a particular objective, confined to a particular area, or involving a specified type of fighting.
“a desert campaign”
verb
1.
work in an organized and active way toward a particular goal, typically a political or social one.
“people who campaigned against child labor”
“they are campaigning for political reform”

Perhaps it speaks to the war game aspect? Perhaps it alludes to the organization of the aforementioned (and presumably fictitious) land shared between clubs? I read on. One thing becomes clear. The game requires a person to be the campaign referee and apparently this person’s task is quite demanding in terms of time and “laying out the maps of his ‘dungeons’ and upper terrain before the affair begins…” The affair? To be honest, the whole section seems pretty boring, but I tough it out. Near the end, much to my relief, Farfid, Gray Mouser, John Carter, “evil sorceries” and Conan are mentioned. Phew.

Interestingly, this section claims that miniature figures, despite being mentioned on the box, are totally optional.

INTRODUCTION

The first thing that strikes me about the introduction is the idea that the rules are merely guidelines.

These rules are as complete as possible within the limitations imposed by the space of three booklets…As with any other set of miniatures rules they are guidelines to follow in designing your own fantastic-medieval campaign. They provide the framework around which you will build a game of simplicity or tremendous complexity…

This comes as s sort of relief but at the same time the whole prospect of designing my own campaign seems a little daunting. And there’s that word campaign again, now further qualified as fantastic-medieval.  It warns to begin the campaign “slowly, following the steps outlined herein,”  and seems to be concerned with the “pace best suited” to the endeavour – whatever the endeavour actually is. The intro tries to comfort me saying that the third volume, “tells how to set up and actually play the campaign” but it also implores me to “read through the entire work in the order presented.” Alright then.

SCOPE

Here the authors describe how the game can be used as a framework for just about any fantasy genre (things like prehistoric settings or the “imagined future”) but warns that “the medieval aspect” should be fully explored before stretching out, genre-wise. Cool, I think. All my favourite stories (like Conan, Robin Hood, etc.) take place in ancient or medieval times. It claims again that actual miniature figures are optional but also that “the use of paper, pencil and map boards are standard.” I’m not sure what these map boards are. Perhaps it’s the job of the campaign referee to create them? Perhaps these will be the “dungeons and upper terrain” mentioned before. OK, I think, the campaign referee makes the game board (or game boards?) and the other players somehow “interact” with them.  That’s pretty interesting. The game says the “age level” is 12 and I suddenly feel a bit smarter. The number of players to one referee can be as high as 1 to 20! That’s a lot of players!

RECOMMENDED EQUIPMENT

OK, so the book says I need (in addition to the rules themselves), the special dice (thankfully supplied by Uncle Pete) , Chainmail (check), something called “Outdoor Survival,” notebooks, graph paper (used to make the map boards, I suppose), drafting equipment and coloured pencils (to make my boards look nice), more paper, regular pencils, “1 patient referee” (me, I guess) and players. First major problem: I don’t have Outdoor Survival. By the looks of it, it’s an entirely separate game published by another company! I’m sure the hobby shop carries it, but it might be as expensive as the magenta box…I hope it’s not that important and press on.

PREPARATION OF THE CAMPAIGN

Rather than explicitly explaining how to prepare a campaign, this section drives home the fact that campaign preparation is foremost a burden. I must first draw at least six (!) maps of the underworld and then “people them with monsters of various horrid aspect,” and “distribute treasures accordingly” which sounds cool but the statement “and note the location of the latter two on keys, each corresponding to the appropriate level” throws me for a loop. I guess each aforementioned map is its own “level” and deserves its own detailed legend? (We call “map keys” legends in geography class.) Again, the book reminds me that all will be explained in volume three. Next, the players themselves must do some prep work by deciding what “role they will play” in the campaign. The roles mentioned are “human or otherwise, fighter, cleric or magic-user.” I have no idea what a cleric is. Then, players are to work “upwards – if they survive – as they gain experience.” Experience is in quotes, so I figure it must mean something more than the general sense of the word.

So we have at least six map boards with keys, made by me, the campaign referee, and up to 20 players who each take on a role and work to survive and gain experience as they interact with my map boards (and the monsters of horrid aspect therein).  I guess the roles the players take are called characters because that’s the name of the next section.

CHARACTERS

So, right off the bat the book declares that there are three main classes of characters: fighting-men, magic-users and clerics. I turn to the dictionary once more and learn that a cleric is another word for a priest or religious leader. OK, so we have all our bases covered here then: Robin Hood, Fafhrd, Strider and Conan are clearly fighting-men, Merlin and Gandalf are clearly a magic users, Friar Tuck is a cleric, King Arthur may have been a cleric  – or maybe just a religious fighting-man? What about Gray Mouser? He knows a bit of magic, but I guess he’s more of a fighting-man.  It says that fighting-men include characters like elves, dwarves and halflings – so, Gimli, Legolas and even Frodo (and his venerable cousin, Bilbo) are all fighting-men. But dwarves and halflings cannot be magic-users and only “men” can be clerics. I wonder if they literally mean men here or a more general sense of the word. I’ve never seen a female priest in the flesh, but I’ve certainly read about priestesses.

Straight away the book goes through all the benefits of each type of character. Fighting-men (or fighters, as the book often refers to them) get to use all magical weaponry and this is touted as a big advantage. So there’s magical weapons – cool! Another big advantage has to do with something called hit dice.

In addition, they gain the advantage of “hit dice” (the score of which determines how many points of damage can be taken before a character is killed).

This sort of reminds me of the number of “lives” in a video game like Space Invaders or Defender. Lose three lives and you’re “dead.” Another cool thing about fighting-men is that they can build castles and become Barons at if they are “top-level.” I’m not sure what is meant by top-level.  Fighting men, as a rule, cannot cast spells; so Grey Mouser must be a Magic User? It also says they can’t use very many magical items that are not weapons.  It goes on (quite dryly) about holdings, investments and income – at base, a whopping 10 gold pieces per inhabitant of a Baron’s keep per year.

Magic-users who are “top-level” are apparently the most powerful characters in the game. Obviously, being top level is desirable. This section hints that any character can become top level by working their way up:

…but it is a long, hard road to the top, and to begin with they are weak, so survival is often the question, unless fighters protect the low-level magical types until they have worked up.

In terms of magical items, it seems magic-users are the polar opposite to fighters. They get all the neat stuff, “the whole plethora” as it were, but can’t use the magical armor and weapons. They can only arm themselves with daggers but “wizards and above” can make cool stuff like magical potions and scrolls. It seems like a fair trade off. I’m not sure what is meant by “wizards and above.” Perhaps wizards are top-level? The book then outlines the costs (in gold pieces) of manufacturing said magical items. A Potion of Giant Strength, for example, costs a wizard 1000 gold pieces and would take four weeks to make! So, I figure, it would take a Baron with a castle of 100 inhabitants a whole year to generate that much money! Expensive!

Another thing a magic user can do is research. I’m a bit confused by what is meant by research and the word “level” is used again with, seemingly, two different meanings:

Research by magical types can be done at any level of experience, but the level of magic involved dictates the possibility of success, as well as the amount of money necessary…Assume that a magic-user can use a 4th-level spell (explained later), therefore he could develop a new spell provided it was equal or less than 4th level. This will be explained full in the section dealing with SPELLS.

I’m guessing spells mean the same as they do in fantasy literature – basically magic powers or the ritual/procedure to bring about a magical result. So there are magical items and magical spells. The magic-user can research new spells and the top-level magic user, or wizard, can manufacture magical items. Cool, got it.  I’m not sure what is meant by “level of experience” and “4th-level spell” or if these are even two different things. I’m glad all will be explained!

Apparently, the cleric is like a combination of fighter and magic-user. They can wear magical armor, get to use more magical items than fighters and cast spells too! They are not allowed to use sharp edged weapons like swords, because shedding blood is evidently not very pious; however they can use blunt weapons, so bludgeoning foes to death is spiritually OK, I guess.  A top-level cleric is called a and a Patriarch can build a stronghold for half the cost of a normal fighting-man because he can get help from “above.” In addition, a Patriarch will attract “faithful men” to their castle and these faithful men will serve for no cost (I guess you normally have to pay your guards). It goes on to detail the types of soldiers who will come and protect the castle for free.

It also mentions something about a cleric choosing either law or chaos. I’m not sure what this means just yet…

I guess the three main classes described above are assumed to be human, because next the book goes on to describe all the “otherwise” types: namely, dwarves, elves and halflings.

Dwarves may only be fighters, and cannot progress beyond “Myrmidon” which also means “6th level,” but they do have advantages. Namely, they are really good at  magic resistance and something called savings throws, which they can “add four levels” to.  The word “level” is used a lot here.  Only dwarves can use the +3 Magic War Hammer, of which I assume only one exists in the underworld. Understandably, dwarves are good at noting underground anomalies like shifting passages, traps and new construction and can speak a bunch of languages like Gnome, Koldbold and Goblin.

Unlike dwarves and humans, elves are not tied down to one class and can begin as either a fighter or magic-user and switch class from adventure to adventure – an adventure being a single game. So an elf can use weapons and spells (but not necessarily at the same time) but may wear magic armor and perform spells. This definitely makes me think that characters are expected to be reused from game-to-game! I sort of figured this already, but this text seems to make that fact more clear and that’s definitely something new!  The elf choice seems the way to go, but there are limits: elves cannot progress beyond 4th level fighter and 10th level magic user (the Hero and Warlock, respectively). Elves are good at finding secret doors and, like dwarves, can speak a bunch of languages. The book hints that they have special advantages in combat against “certain fantastic creatures” but does not bother to list or clarify them and instead refers the reader to Chainmail.

So far, there are a lot of facts about classes and non-human types, but not a lot of rules. For example, how does an elf find hidden or secret doors better than other character types? Do the other character types simply never find them? And what is a savings throw? Does it have to do with monetary savings? Does magic resistance make one better at hording gold? That would explain why dwarves are “better” at it…

Not much is written about halflings. I’m not even sure what they are. My guess is that they are hobbits. They can only be fighters and never get past 4th level or “Hero.” They have the same magic resistance as dwarves and are “deadly” with missiles, however those rules are detailed in Chainmail.

The book goes on to state that other character types beyond those listed can be played but the campaign referee must create the rules. It gives a dragon as an example of an “other” type! Cool, but it sounds like even more work on the part of the campaign referee!

Next, a player must choose an alignment or “stance” for their character. There are three: law, neutrality and chaos. This was sort of hinted at under the description of the cleric class. Three columns nicely summarize what these mean. Nasty things, like goblins and evil high priests, tend to reside under chaos and nice things, like unicorns, reside under law. I’m not sure what half these creatures/characters are though. As for player’s characters, a halfling can only be lawful while an elf or dwarf can be lawful or sit on the fence as a neutral. Only humans (“men”) can be lawful, neutral or chaotic. Interesting use of the word “stance.” I guess the chaotic types are crooked.

DETERMINATION OF ABILITIES

Finally, we get some rules and the use of dice. Things quickly get tricky here though. The previous section talks about changing classes which is “not recommended” for non-elf characters but is legal if the prime requisite of the class they wish to change to is high enough (read, 16 or higher). It’s nice to know that characters are not tied to a single class forever, but what on Earth is a prime requisite?  Luckily, all is explained pretty quickly.

Here we learn how the campaign referee rates the abilities of each player’s character by rolling some dice: three six sided dice for each ability. There are six categories of ability (and the order here is important): strength, intelligence, wisdom, constitution, dexterity and charisma. The starting money for the character is also determined by rolling three six-sided dice and then multiplying the number by ten. The book shows a sample character, named Xylarthen but it really doesn’t make much sense until I read the descriptions for each ability. As it turns out, a prime requisite is the ability that is most important to a particular class. Strength is the prime requisite for fighters, which seems obvious. Apparently it allows one to “open traps” easily, but why would anyone want to open a trap? Intelligence is the prime requisite for magic-users (and Xylarthen) and can allow your character to speak more languages.  Wisdom is the prime requisite for clerics and is basically another form of intelligence. The other three abilities add icing to the cake. Constitution is health and will effect survival. Dexterity is quickness and can help a character “fire first” or help with”getting off a spell.” So magic requires a quick hand…cool. Charisma seems most important because evidently characters “attract” men at arms, mercenaries, “hirelings of unusual nature” and even monsters! High charisma will get you more hirelings and will add to their loyalty base (but I have no idea how that actually works). Having a high score in the prime requisite allows a character to “progress faster” by giving them a bonus to “earned experience” (+5% for 13 and above, +10% for 15 and above). The bonuses and penalties for having high and low scores in abilities are plainly laid out. There are a few question marks though. For example, a score of 13 to 14 in constitution means that a character “will withstand adversity,” but that seems pretty general and vague. Other bonuses make more sense to me, like “fire any missile at +1.”

Overall, this section seems the most straight-forward so far. I figure “progression” means going up in level and a character needs to earn experience to do that. Xylarthen has “nil” experience – so does that mean he’s level 1 or level nothing? It doesn’t say…

LANGUAGES

Next we learn about the languages of the “continent.” I’m not sure what continent they mean, perhaps the “land” of the “great kingdom” mentioned in the forward. There are four basic languages: the common tongue, and the three divisional languages (one for each alignment or stance). Various monsters have their own languages too (as noted under the dwarf and elf descriptions) although they are 20% likely to know the common tongue. Every point of intelligence above 10 grants a character a bonus language. So a really smart human character can learn elvish, goblin, etc. Apparently, if you try to speak “law” to a “chaos” creature, they’ll know you’re hostile an probably attack.

NON-PLAYER CHARACTERS

Non-player characters may be another term for hireling. This section explains how players can go about hiring these non-player characters to join their ranks, detailing the costs and the types of hirelings to be found. It costs a minimum of 100 gp just to make an offer! And that’s after posting notices in taverns and other such places or hiring messengers to find these places (which costs time and money). Given that the average character will begin with less than 100 gold pieces, I can see how getting a hireling might be difficult for starting characters.

Apparently, monsters can be “lured into service” or they can be charmed (magically, presumably). Oddly, a monster need not be a literal “monster” in this case since the term also includes “men found in the dungeons.” There are rules here for monster reaction in the form of a handy table. The referee rolls two six sided dice and adds or minuses from the result whatever he/she feels is appropriate “according to the offer,” including adjustments for charisma. The rules really don’t detail exactly how to make these positive or negative adjustments. A reaction varies from “attempts to attack” to “enthusiastic, loyalty + 3.”

Intelligent monsters can also be captured if they surrender (due to something called morale dice) or become subdued during a battle. The players can then make an offer of service to the surrendered or subdued monster. Monsters that surrender get to make a reaction check on the table, while subdued monsters don’t get a reaction check and will automatically obey (but not for long).

After reaction there is loyalty. Every hireling has a loyalty score, which is determined by the campaign referee and kept secret from the players. As long as hirelings are paid and “treated fairly,” loyalty will remain unchanged but poor treatment might mean a reduction in loyalty score – this is up to the campaign referee’s judgement. Base loyalty is determined by rolling three six-sided dice (adjusting for initial payment and charisma). A high loyalty score means bonuses to moral dice, which are rolled: “whenever a highly dangerous or unnerving situation arises.” The previous reaction table can be used as a means of checking morale dice, but there are also rules in Chainmail for morale dice.  So far, I’m thinking I’ll just use the reaction table rather than Chainmail rules for moral dice; since it’s right there in the booklet. Ok, so I can see how morale and loyalty come into play with regards to hirelings.

Interestingly, players can designate (or make up) a relative for their character. This relative can inherit the all the money and possessions of a character that met his or her untimely doom and presumably start off where the dead character ended in terms of gear (after paying 10% tax on all goods and monies, of course).  This is a huge advantage to a starting character, so I don’t know why any player would not opt for this. If the original character somehow returns from the dead, they have a right to take back their estate and possessions, but must pay tax (again!) and the relative may not wish to give the estate back (or may serve under the original character and “intrigue” to get the estate back). Built in soap opera drama!

BASIC EQUIPMENT AND COST

This section basically lists off all the stuff a starting character can purchase (priced in gold pieces). Obviously, gold pieces are taken away as purchases are made. There are a lot of weapons to choose from, most of them usable by the fighter class only. There are things a starting character can barely afford. A wagon costs 200 gold. A warhorse costs 200 gold and the barding would cost an additional 150 gold. The weight of gear is also taken into account. It took me a while to figure out that all the weights listed are measured in terms of gold pieces. A man weighs 1750 gold pieces and can carry up to 750 weight in gold pieces before going from Light Foot Movement (12″) to Heavy Foot Movement (9″). I’m not sure what they mean by 12-inches and 9-inches…apparently chain-type armor weighs 500 gold pieces! In the example given, a character has equipped himself with plate armor, a helmet, shield, flail, a bow with a quiver of 20 arrows, and a dagger and can therefore move as an Armored Footman (6″/turn).  If this character were to pick up more than 300 gold during his journey he would suffer a “penalty of half-speed,” presumably 3-inches per turn! Speaking of turns, it’s reassuring to know that players take turns in this game.

LEVELS AND NUMBER OF EXPERIENCE POINTS TO OBTAIN THEM

There isn’t any text, per say, in this section but rather a table. However, the use of the word “points” in the title of the sections sheds a lot of light on the meaning of “earned experience.” Finally, I understand. Experience is measured in points! Here listed are all the level names (but oddly, not their numbers, but I can count).  Fighting-men need 2000 experience points to reach the next level, which is a Warrior. Magic-users require 2500 experience points and clerics need only 1500 experience points.

STATISTICS REGARDING CLASSES

This section ties a lot of the game together for me. Another single page of tables shows the “dice for accumulative hits” for each class at each level, previously referred to as hit dice and the results are called hit points. Hit points represent the number of points of damage a character can sustain before death. The book clearly states that a set of specialized dice are required to play the game, but so far only the regular six-sided dice have been used! A first-level fighting-man (or veteran) rolls one die and adds one, while a second-level fighting-man (or warrior) rolls two dice. A Lord or ninth-level fighter rolls nine dice! Since some of the levels indicate dice with pluses “to be added to the total, not each die” while others do not, I assume that a player will roll a character’s new hit points each time they gain enough experience points to reach the next level. This means that when Xylarthen progresses from first-level (or medium) to second-level (or seerhe might (by a stroke of bad luck) end up with less hit points!

This page (and the next) also sheds a lot of light on the idea of the word “level” with regards to experience points, fighting capacity and magic spells. A medium gets one first-level spell, a seer gets two, a seer gets three first-level spells and one second-level spell, and so on.  OK, so higher-level magic-users get a lot more spells. (But only one spell as a seer?) What does it all mean? Does a seer get to cast that first-level spell more than once or all the time? Well, shortly after we learn that each spell listed can be remembered and thus used “per adventure.” Does the term “adventure” mean single game here?

Experience points, and how player’s characters earn them, are finally explained outright:

Experience points are awarded to the players by the referee with appropriate bonuses or penalties for prime requisite scores. As characters meet monsters in mortal combat and defeat them, and when they obtain various forms of treasure (money, gems, jewelry, magical items, etc.), they gain “experience.” This adds to their experience point total, gradually moving them upwards through the levels.

It goes on to explain that these gains are relative to the current level of the character (and physical level in the underworld where the monsters are met and the goods are found) so that a fifth-level character who defeats a first-level monster only gains 1/5th of the normal value for that monster.

According to the book, fighting capability is a direct reference to the Chainmail rules. The units of measurement for fighting capability include: man, hero and superhero. A fighter character at third-level (or swordsman) fights as “3 Men or Hero -1.” There is a difference between, say “Man +1” and “2 Men,” which the Chainmail rules will hopefully clear up. (I’m assuming one means “one dice, add a pip,” the other means “two dice.”)

Interestingly, the book also offers an alternative system for combat to be used in lieu of the Chainmail rules and that is the subject of the next section of the book:

ALTERNATIVE COMBAT SYSTEM

There are two charts offered for this “alternative system” but not a lot of explanation regarding how to use them. We get this description:

This system is based upon the defensive and offensive capabilities of the combatants; such things as speed, ferocity, and weaponry of the monster attacking are subsumed in the matrixes(sic).

Subsumed is a funny word. I look it up: it means to “absorb into” something.

Looking at the first matrix, “Men Attacking,” along the y-axis we have a  new element called Armor Class and a description that tells us what each armor class means in terms of armor chosen by the player for his/her character. Plate armor and a shield is rated as an armor class of 2, while no armor is rated as an armor class of 9 – so lower is better in this case. Strange. Along the x-axis we have “20-sided Die Score to Hit by Level.”  Here we have the first mention of one of those crazy dice Uncle Pete put in the box! You need to use the biggest of these dice. I pull out the die…it’s numbered from 0 to 9…twice…hmm. I’m not sure what to make of this. According to the x-axis (which is broken up by level ranges) a level-three fighter needs to roll a 17 to hit an opponent wearing plate armor and carrying a shield. Pretty cool! The same fighter would only need a 10 to hit, say, a magic user wearing no armor. Each column of “to hit” numbers gets successively lower and lower, so that a level-10 fighter only needs to roll a 10 to hit that dude with plate armor and shield. Different classes move to the next column at different rates: a fighter advances every three levels, magic-users advance every five levels and clerics advance every four levels – so fighters kick butt way before the other classes do!

Each “hit” scores one dice worth of damage to the opponent, “unless otherwise noted.” So I’m not sure how weapon choice comes into play other than perhaps the fact that fighters are allowed to carry superior weapons compared to the other two classes and this is why they advance on the Men Attacking matrix faster. (The whole subsumed thing.)

There is a third table that throws some light on the meaning of savings throw: the Savings Throw Matrix! The y-axis lists the three classes (at various levels) while the x-axis lists several terrible things that might happen to a character like, death ray or poison, paralization (sic),  stone (being turned to?), and dragon breath, among other things. The highest role required is 16, the lowest is 3; so I’m guessing three regular dice can be used.  Regardless of what dice to use, I can see how being a dwarf is a real advantage at the start. A level-1 dwarf only needs to roll 10 or better to save against death ray or poison, while level-1 human fighter requires 12 or better.

SPELLS TABLE

This is an amazing list of the potential powers both magic-users and clerics have at their disposal. The spells are organized by class (magic-user spells are listed first) and then by level. Some of the spells sound pretty self-explanatory (fireball, lighting, sleep, light, cure disease, create water, etc), while others are not (e.g. phantasmal forces, wizard lock, clairaudience, geas, commune).

After the list we are shown a table that sheds a whole new light on clerics and their powers: Clerics versus Undead Monsters. From my reading of various comics and from watching b-movies, I know that vampires, zombies and the mummy are all “undead.” I’m glad we’re on the same page here. On the y-axis we are given a list of such monsters, including a few I haven’t seen before: wight and wraith. Along the x-axis we see the various level-names for clerics, starting with acolyte (or level 1) up to patriarch (or level 8). According to the table description, clerics have a “strong effect” on the undead but evil clerics do not have this effect. The numbers and letters on the table refer to various effects: a number indicates a die roll required (using two dice) in order to turn a number of undead monsters away (the number affected being the number rolled on the dice). So, an acolyte can turn away no less than 7 skeletons at once (assuming they roll a 7 or higher)!   At the next level, adept, the cleric automatically turns the 2 to 12 skeletons (depending on the roll).  By the time a cleric becomes a vicar (or level 4), a cleric automatically dissolves 2 to 12 skeletons!  It makes me want to populate my underworld with undead!

EXPLANATION OF SPELLS

Most of the remainder of the book goes on to explain the effects of all the spells listed in the tables. Magic-user spells are described first and there’s a lot of overlap between magic-user and cleric spells (and so, many cleric spell descriptions just add to the magic-user description rather than re-explain the whole spell). I feel Gygax and Arneson were trying to be as brief as possible here, because most of the spell descriptions are short and leave a lot up to (presumably) the campaign referee.  For example, the spell Detect Magic is described as having, “limited range and short duration,” but does not say specifically how so. Other spells are more specific, citing the duration of a spell in turns and the range of the spell in inches. (turns and inches again!) Some of the spells do shed some light on how the game might actually work.

More Info About Magic

The last few pages of the book also deal with magic, specifically the storage of magic spells in books (used by both clerics and magic-users) and how to go about expanding on the list of spells through magical research. As hinted at the very beginning of the book (under the first description of the magic-user class), magical research is costly. It costs at least 2000 gold pieces to develop a new first-level spell! Once a character has developed a new spell it is up to the player whether or to “inform others” of the spell and so spells can be unique to specific characters! This also raises a question about the nature of magic in Dungeons and Dragons: how do magic-users and clerics acquire their spells in the first place? Do they find them? Are they passed on by others? For example, if a book of 2nd-level spells is somehow lost, it would cost the character the equivalent in research costs (4000 gold) to replace the book! Does that mean they are “re-researching” their lost spells?

Well, that’s it for Volume 1: Men & Magic.

There are a lot of question marks at this point, but generally I feel I’m getting a sense of of this game works. I’m hoping the next two volumes, especially Volume 3, will shed some light on those questions.

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Welcome

Welcome to mooksoul. This is my online culture journal – a place where I come to write about things that resonate with me*. It is one part GeekDad, two parts HM Dossier, with a whole lot of Grognardia thrown in. In a word – geeky. I’m here to practice the art of stringing words together in a cohesive and meaningful way. That’s it. I’m going to write a lot about D&D, books, film, comix and other stuff**. This blog is not about my band (for that there’s papermaps.net) although I might post geeky music or gear related stuff here from time to time. If you frequent this place, you will quickly discover that I geek out about a lot of things. Even worse, I am opinionated about it!

 


* A bookish, left-handed, crazy-haired, Generation X, guitar playing, songwriting, child-rearing, artist-type.

** I’m writing mostly about stuff from my childhood (i.e. nostalgia trips) and new cultural phenomena that resonates. I also attempt the occasional work of fiction.

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