Thursday, April 2, 2009

In The Gaps

Let's talk about what's not in my Original Edition Delta rules. Many of these items are likewise absent from OD&D, some I yanked due to personal preference. In the interest of brevity, I didn't address them one way or the other in the written document (below). However, the resulting gaps (compared to more recent versions of D&D) have significant and very deliberate effects on how the game runs.

1. No endless healing from clerics. Natural healing over time will be more prominent (and in accordance with pulp literary traditions). Magic potions should be conserved and kept unused when not immediately in danger. Poison, disease, and curses are still the primary dangers to epic heroes from myth and fable. (In addition, there is no absolute requirement to establish gods, mythologies, or particular religious institutions solely to support the cleric class.)

2. No special searching ability for thieves. (Exactly the same as the original Supplement I: Greyhawk.) This provides a balance of reasons for any PC to take the "point" searching position. Maybe the thief because he or she might remove certain obstacles; maybe the wizard for high Intelligence; maybe the fighter with high defense and hit points. (Also, there's no restriction on thieves' alignments, just to have one fewer unique thing to write down.)

3. No special risks to wizards casting spells in combat. Again, that's something lacking in the OD&D rules (and not seen until AD&D). Two points: (1) I think those rules are a great complication, and combat is enormously more elegant without the added regulations. (2) I want wizards to be significant, dangerous opponents, even within melee range. (Fighters should think twice before engaging them.) Granted their low defense and hit points, allowing them to cast spells freely even in melee seems like the minimum amount of balance required.

4. No magic resistance or spells without saving throws. Note that in the original white box there is no language about any spells avoiding saving throws (this only started to appear in Supplement I). Likewise, there is no mechanic for magic resistance (which appeared only for demons in Supplement III, presumably in response to the various non-save spells). I'll try to be witty here and point out that there's also no feat to reduce target magic resistance (which appeared in 3E as a further extension of the yes save - no save - yes save - no save arms race). At any rate, I apply a very simple adjudication for attack spells; they all get saves, including the old chestnuts sleep, magic missile, and the like. No need for added rule complications, no need for magic resistance, no intrinsic problem with completely unavoidable spells like sleep.

5. No bonus languages from race or Intelligence. This is something that, while present in all versions of D&D, I've never seen used by any of my players even once. It's been ever-present, unused clutter on all their character sheets, it slows down PC generation if assessed, and I think it's best to just avoid the whole issue. (Also, the Intelligence statistic is a fixed resource number, oddly dissimilar from all the other OD&D ability modifiers, which almost always affect some active die roll.) If one of my players ever wants to learn a new language, I'll just require some months with a native speaker, and then a 2-in-6 success roll (add Int bonus).

6. No prohibition against dwarf or halfling wizards. This last one is a work-in-progress, and I'm not sure where I'll take it or what the ramifications are, but it seems like another asymmetric restriction that I'd just rather not spend print space on. (Shh, don't tell my players yet.) I'm thinking I wouldn't mind Nordic-style dwarven runesmith-wizards, maybe with a unique list of starting spells. Or perhaps there's a cultural prohibition why they're not permitted to go freely adventuring.


  1. I like #6 especially -- dwarves in folklore are certainly magical creatures, and I feel no particular obligation for strict observance of halflings' Tolkienian origin.

    For Labyrinth Lord/BX I'm considering either XP penalties for Dwarf or halfling magic-users or simply treating the racial class abilities as the result of training rather than innate. That is, a halfling m-u would lose the standard abilities of the halfling class.

  2. 1. Thanks for explaining this! I wasn't aware that this was the vibe you were going for. I think implementing a "Conan Party" style rule as I have heard mentioned in other places (basically, if the party retires to a safe place with comfy cushions, plenty of ale, and buxom barmaids, they can quickly recover HP) might be a good "campaign option" if you want to allow fast moving events.

    It also might be good to let higher level characters heal more quickly. Otherwise, a beat up neophyte first level character takes but a few days to recover fully. A beat up lord takes weeks or months.

    2. Fair enough, although I think most groups will opt for a fighter unless there are multiple stealthy folks (to implement the Buddy System). I don't see Wizards leading out unless there is a clear threat that (A) is related to INT in some way and (B) is much more likely than a physical challenge/attack.

    3. No comment -- seems ok at the lower to middle levels due to limited spell slots. At higher levels, great saves will balance this.

    4. Right on. This is a patch for one of my Vancian spell system complaints ("Uberspells" that effectively reduce choice -- memorizing anything other than Sleep is usually stupid at level 1 or 2, so Sleep effectively reduces your viable spell choices to 1). It probably nerfs some spells too hard (like poor Magic Missile) but its better to spike down 3 spells too hard than to boost 1 above the level of its peers. If 3 spells are nerfed too much, you lose 3 viable choices. If 1 spell is too powerful, you lose all but one choice.

    5. I always liked this because it makes high INT useful in conjunction with high CHA. High CHA plus high INT lets you attempt reaction rolls with all sorts of creatures. This makes INT more important for fighters, especially. Without some sort of bonus for INT, the only benefit the fighter-type gains from INT is some bonuses in regards to magic intelligent swords.

    6. No beef here, especially if a semi-unique mechanic governing them is implemented.


  3. What is in the fine print is that I give Intelligence modifiers to rolls for secret doors & traps. That might address Chris' points on (2) and (5).

  4. Ah, that does help some. Although, secret doors doesn't help much -- it often doesn't matter if the point man or the rear guard discovers the secret door. Detecting traps is somewhat helpful although that just leads to "zap traps" (as Ars Ludi refers to them), where you hope to minimize the damage done. And that is likely by putting the fighter or dwarf in front as they are more likely to survive the trap that goes off (as its inevitable that you won't find them all).

    It might be a better solution to trim the language list down to 7+/-2. That would allow a reasonable number of languages to be selected from and spoken in the game.