Best Selling

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Clockwork & Cthulhu Story Arc

Butters wrote up a concise synopsis of the games arc to date on our community page. Here it is reprinted for those interested in the plot which has unfolded so far. This is a cockpit view of the PC's experience as they've rolled through the adventure I've set up as Keeper over a year of play. Make no mistake; this is not a regurgitation of description I told my players, they're knowledge has come from kicking in doors, faces, and prodigious lopping of limbs (not to mention the caving of baby skulls with rocks in the rain). Two PC's have died bloody death piecing things together so far. The game has been run bi-weekly, sometimes with a month break; and managing pace, intrigue, and excitement has been a fun challenge. The big lift, the helpful bits have come from using published game material and hacking it to my tastes. Trying to come up with all this stuff on my own and not be dull and predictable would be demanding.

What is he up to?

Mallebench and his brother come to Norfolk looking for heretical items all of which are possibly connected with the order of Kites a religious crusading order which their ancestor belonged to.
Mallebench brings in the Crows a mercenary band whilst his brother brings in the Cardinals to support him.

Mallebench goes to a great deal of trouble to get himself set up in Norwich, he arranges to have Randolph Nutley (A clockwork engineer) murdered by the Crows so that he could take his place at Norton Ironworks. This gives him access to a clockwork production facilities and after impressing the owner with his skills managed to become part of the companies inner circle very quickly especially after he helped secure a major military contract and happened to discover a nearby source of cheap coal.
All this seems to have been done to be able to secure men to mine and further guards/enforcers as the military contract required armed guards to be employed and as he was so trusted by the now grateful owner there was very little oversight on how resources were being used.
His brother remained outside of Norwich itself and seemed to be roaming around the surrounding countryside with his gang (The Cardinals) collecting artifacts and gathering information.
They were killed during the incident at Gothards hollow where they had attempted to recover a strange ruby bell from the tomb of a knight who later on appears to have been their ancestor from the Order of Kites.
Meanwhile Mallebench was spreading his influence in Norwich bribing some whilst corrupting others through blackmail he even hired a local gang by the name of the name of the Tenebrous hand
Seemingly one of the first to fall was a man called Rimehart a man who ran an import /export company of somewhat shady reputation and ideally placed to help Mallebench gain more artifacts and blackmail material. More weak men followed including a Captain in the town garrison.
Also during this time he seems to have set up a satanic temple and recruiting members of the upper classes into it this provided more funds as he soon made requests for soft loans.
All this effort seemed to be in aid of gathering resources and funds for some big operation various tunnels were explored under Norwich including several under the castle (The source of the cracked wall?)
It seemed he was after something in particular though as he seemed happy to sell a powerful artifact to one of the new Satanists (The cursed sword) for a huge amount of money.
All this effort seems to be spent suddenly after something was found at the small hamlet of Conistan and even though his brother had died the plan was still on.
Mallebench now started spending money and transferring miners from the New Norton coal mine at Wythburn to excavations now starting at Coniston.
More and more resources were diverted from Norton ironworks including men, digging equipment and a variety of clockwork devices.
This couldn't go on for too long though as the diverted resources started to effect the main ironworks the dwindling supply of coal being the most noticeable.
The dig at Coniston uncovered a strange and terrible structure which seemed to be a vast temple complex
Soon all the German miners were sent to the Coniston dig where they were all sacrificed to call forth a demon of some sort if this was the plan then due the somewhat accidental actions by the Party this failed to go off correctly resulting in the destruction of Coniston, the sending back of the demon? and the creation of the blighted area.
Mallebench then seemed to go into clean up mode as the effective removal of the demon combined with the Parties return from the Pale Ladies realm not only caused a big explosion, the Blight but brought other strange changes. So after leaving the Coniston area via Keswick (This resulted in the centre of Keswick being burnt down during a flesh beast attack) he returned to Norwich and seemed to begin eliminating anyone who could identify him.
The Hand were set up to be attacked by the Party after failing to recover some books that he wanted he also arranged for the murders of the Satanist group he had set up.
The last of the Crows died in a cavern under a ruined church in Norwich to some sort of hell toad ? Whilst trying to return those self same books.
So what's Mallebench up to his brother is dead, the demon didn't work out, he blew his cover at Norton's by using up all those resources, he hasn't managed to get his books back and seems to be destroying whatever was left of his Norwich network so what is he up to and what if anything is he still looking for? What were Ghwon and Tobias doing in that cavern and more importantly where the hell is he?

Still alive

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Gamma World Skill List for BRP

The (B)ig (G)old (B)ook for Chaosium's BRP is a decent touchstone for creating your own specific homebrew game world. The big advantage is the system is remarkably modular, allowing the Game Master to pick and choose levels of complexity, and the systems built in internal consistency. When coming up with your own game universe and setting it sure helps to be able to rapidly come up with a rules judgement without having to search through rule books for special cases. 

The other place where BRP shines is character creation. You can follow the step by step character creation instructions and quickly customize the mechanics to develop player characters tailored to your desired setting. The most useful feature is the "Guide to Creating A Character" flowchart. On two pages there are 10 steps clearly illustrating how to build your PC. While all these steps are detailed within the pages like you would find in any other RPG rulebook, this flowchart allows you to readily apprehend the overall process. I find this pictorial representation allows me to make design choices immideatly as I craft a brand new game. I could literally sit at a table with players and ask what kind of game do you want to play? If they answer 1920's gangsters good to go. Ruthless pirates on the Spanish Main game on in twenty minutes. If I have sourcebooks from other games on my shelf for the desired genre I have ready made setting material at my fingertips. 

To keep things simple I took a stripped down approach to creating a Gamma World character. Specifically with skills. 250 point for skills. That's it. For powers there will be Mutations, of course. The guidelines for major and minor mutations will be taken. Four slots total, a major mutation will take 2, minor 1. Declare your selection and roll away on random tables!

The table of contents can give you an idea how versatile and organized the Chaosium approach is: Characters (covering basic attributes), Skills, Powers (further broken down into Magic, Mutations, Psychic Abilities, Sorcery, and Super Powers), System, Combat, and Spot Rules. The only thing left is your full on imagination.

But being a generic RPG rulebook there are going to be gaps. Gaps and holes. A common complaint against BRP is that it doesn't do Super Hero roleplaying well. That the normal to heroic human-centric baseline breaks down when designing super powers. By extension this critique can be applied to Sci-Fi, specifically vehicles. I think this is a legit complaint. The BGB even cops to this, and I quote; "a comprehensive listing of all vehicles or even most major types of vehicles would dominate this rulebook." Reading between the lines you realize that coming up with comprehensive vehicle rules and vehicle combat is an entirely new subsystem which needs to drafted for technologically advanced gaming worlds. 

The other gap, and one much more easily managed, is skill lists specific for the genre being played. The BRP character sheet lists all the skills common to the system as well as blank lines to add additional skills as needed for the specific game. What this creates is kind of a mess which players and Game Masters have to sort out during character creation. Short of drafting a custom character sheet for each genre I recommend a Game Master provide a Complete Skill List to the players for the game. For example; if I was going to run a "Gamma World" inspired BRP game my complete skill list would look like this.

Gamma World Skills – Complete Listing

  4. TRACK
  1. ATHLETICS (covers Jump, Swim, Throw, etc.)
  2. CLIMB
  3. DODGE
  4. HIDE
  5. RIDE
  5. BRAWL
For Mutations you have rules and examples provided in the  BGB, and Psychic Abilities will most likely come into play. But the list is not altogether long. It has gaps. The Metamorphica, Being a Very Large Collection of System-Agnostic Random Mutation Tables by Johnstone Metzger is indispensable for building out your mutations list for a gonzo-tinged game of Gamma World. The BGB makes a distinction between Major and Minor mutations so random rolls on the the Metamorphica tables will take some work with the Game Master. I decided my Mutant Humanoid I'm rolling up will have one Major and two Minor Mutations. I rolled Hallucinations, Reverse Pedalism, and Bad Breath. Okay, so my Major is technically an affliction. The character would be severely plagued with Hallucinations. Not very gameable. So I will turn this into the psychic ability Emotional Control. The effect, and power of this ability is based on the Power attribute. As a Major mutation I decide the character's Power attribute is doubled when using this ability. Reverse Pedalism just means he has four legs. As a minor mutation I will increase his max movement by 50% then say double if it was a major mutation. No Gamma World character is complete without some type of negative mutation and this guy has got Bad Breath. Like nasty, gut wrenching bad breath. Why not say if he successfully Grapples an opponent they can paralyze them if the victim fails a resistance roll.     

So there you have it, a Hallucinating projecting, four-legged, foul-mouthed mutant humanoid striding the radioactive wastes!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The World Between for the Renaissance Game Engine

Jack Shear's Tales of The Grotesque and Dungeonesque  is a Gothic Fantasy Supplement for old-school fantasy role-playing games. He now has three publications in print containing house rules, random tables, new spells, new monsters, and a campaign setting for Gothic Fantasy adventures. He calls the setting "The World Between" and it is fit to drop right into your favorite B/X retro-clone. That means, if you are like me, this wonderful setting needs to be dropped into a completely different game system!

I have this perverse streak of grabbing hold of cool game settings and wanting to use them in an entirely different system than they were written for. Probably because the preponderance of great DIY stuff being released these days is written specifically for old school D&D. Therefore there is always a high chance I will need to convert because I have a head full of game systems and I'm always on the hunt for the "right" setting to play them in. Not all the time. Dolmenwood in the pages of Wormskin I would slot right into LotFP without changing a thing. I'm still on the quest for the right mash up of system and setting for a Space Opera campaign. With over a year of play I may be just starting to get comfortable with Cakebread & Walton's Clockwork & Chivalry game. More to the point, getting comfortable with using Chaosium's system, commonly referred to as BRP (Basic Role Playing) system. You know, d100 mechanics and the whole Call of Cthulhu engine.

I've mentioned plenty about my first exposure to BRP through Stormbringer. How I fell in love with it and believed it would give me the flexibility, the ability to go beyond a class and level system I had been playing with A/D&D. But I never got a chance to play it all that much. In fact the game puzzled me some. I knew I liked the combat system, and character creation framework seemed just what I wanted. The chance to make characters pretty much how I wanted them. I guess as a teen I just didn't know how to uncouple the system from the setting and then reskin.

Now that I'm back gaming I can reap the benefits of getting older and wiser. The plethora of DIY game materials available online from the OSR community continues to be an embarrassment of riches. There is literally a f$%k-ton of material so that players and referees can create any flavor of game they wish.

So now I finally have a satisfying fantasy setting to place a d100 game I can get my teeth in. The World Between's most attractive feature is it is relatively complete in concept. There is enough information on the game world and fantastic random tables I can sprout adventure ideas with relative ease. This also avails players with character color to give them a handle on what kind of world they are in for. The world map, found in Volumne II, conjures up Moorckock's other fantasy realm The Tragic Millennium, the world in which Dorian Hawkmoon quested for the Runestaff and battled the vile forces of Gran Breton. This is helpful because I have a copy of Chaosium's Hawkmoon on my shelf so can utilize these slim sourcebooks for immediate NPC and monsters stats.

The Clockwork & Chivalry rule book will give me all the Chaosium rules mechanics I could want including a nice framework for character creation. Its specific ties to European 1600's colors the magic system a certain way so it will need to be tailored to better reflect Shear's fantasy setting, but hell you have all the clockwork rules you could want! Cakebread & Walton also offer a free PDF of the "Renaissance" system which is actually much easier to flip through when creating characters. The free PDF does lack clockwork rules, but has alchemy and witchcraft, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to spend money or not.

Here is how I retrofitted character creation with this D&D based setting: Go ahead and roll starting attributes per the Renaissance/C&C rules. Then flip to the Character Background Table in TotGaD and make a random roll. Chaosium attributes line right up with D&D's. The only switch is Wisdom becomes Power. So attributes which receive bonuses from the character background  table translate point for point. Now compare the background rolled to the list of professions available in Renaissance/C&C. Pick the one which most aligns with the background rolled. For example; if you rolled Initiate then you have many good options. Witch/Warlock, Witchfinder, Scholar, Preacher, and Cunning Man or Wise Woman are all good matches for this one background. Your profession picked gives bonuses to certain Common Skills as well as giving the new character particular Advanced Skills. Also the profession picked indicates which Social Class you can pick from the five available.  Your Social Class gives your character further bonuses to Common and Advanced Skills. Note this is backwards from the regular character creation process outlined in the Renaissance/C&C rules.

Two Advanced Skills to pay attention to at this point are Lore(Any) and Craft(Any). If your character ends up with these it is now a good time to roll the character's nationality. There are fifteen nationalities listed in the World Between so make a random 1d15 roll for nationality and then a review of the TotGaD books, focusing on entries relating to the nation rolled. For example; if you rolled the Island of Jade Mysteries there is a section on "Monsters of the Jade Mysteries". This becomes a setting specific Lore skill which makes sense for your new character's background. Note the preponderance of undead listed amongst the different nations. Each has their own flavor and the unliving flesh is a common trope in gothic fiction. Characters having knowledge about these monsters should be useful in their upcoming adventures when they must confront these terrors. A look at the examples of suggested crafts in the Renaissance/C&C book should help with selections which relate to this gothic setting. Apothecary, Alchemy, Weaponsmith; all should find use in this world. I suggest skill in "Clockwork" can be either a Lore skill or a Craft skill.

The final thing which nationality will help flesh out is the characters starting languages. The character's native language will be obvious from the table in Volume II. The next language a character should have is the common language known as "Tradecraft". This is in effect a free additional Advanced Skill which should be noted on the character sheet. Each character will be required to have at least 30% in this language so that the party will be able to converse with each other and NPC's. The 250 free skill points each character gets at creation will be used to boost their starting skill in this language to at least the minimum.

So the last step in your World Between character creation process will be to distribute your free 250 points per the Renaissance/C&C rules. Here players will want to work closely with the Game Master if they are interested in utilizing magic. Now it is time to roll on the Dark Secrets table in TotGaD Volume I. Between this table, your nationality, character background, and chosen profession will be all the information the player will get to make their case for starting magic. For example; say I roll a "Dandy" on the TotGaD Character Background table with "Arcane Dabbler" for a Dark Secret. The Nationality roll gives me Mord-Stavian, a land of clockwork technomancy and undead worshippers. With access to Lore(Any) and Craft(Any) skills I have plenty of ingredients from the TotGaD books to brew up some type of magic wielder. From the Renaissance/C&C book I choose "Courtier" for profession and "Gentry" for Class. This combination will give me access to a Lore(Any), Craft(Any), and an Art(Any) skill. Flipping through the TotGaD books I come up with Lore(Witchcraft), Craft(Clockwork Technomancy), and Art(Gypsy Fortune Telling). I will now discuss with the GM what spells and or magical equipment my character will start out with, relying on guidance and inspiration from Jack Shear's background information.

Actually the last step will be to purchase equipment, so let's take a look at how to go about this process. Roll starting coin per the Renaissance/C&C rules. The monetary system for Renaissance is English with the common coin being the shilling. Just convert shillings into silver. You'll want a fantasy appropriate equipment list and you will need to classify armor into Light, Medium, and Heavy categories. This will give you corresponding protection in Renaissance/C&C values. I recommend jacking the prices of black powder weapons than are found in the C&C rules. I want my gothic fantasy world to have a premium on firearms.

Let's take a look at the Renaissance character sheet as we wrap up character creation. I'm not using Factions from the Renaissance rules so this part of the sheet is not being used. "Player" is to be used for the character's name. "Adventurer" is where you would write down your result from the Dark Secrets table. In the TotGaD book this is on page 44 and is highly recommended. Irregardless of the character's national origins the rolled result should be tailored to the character's profession and background so the Game Master has "personal apocalypses and a constant exposure to danger" to work into adventures for their players. "Nationality" should be used to list the character's national origin and "Homeland" is a useful line to write down their native language as well as Tradecraft and its percentage skill value. Any other languages known can be listed here also.

"Profession" is what you get from the background table and add the short descriptor from Dark Secrets. For example; Pirate-Silent Witness. Don't write down the profession you compare it to from the Renaissance book even though you are using that particular profession to identify the Common and Advanced skills your new character is starting out with. In the Character Background description is a Leading Question. This should be written on the "Connections" line of the character sheet. This is another useful bit of color the Game Master can use for plot hooks and adventure seeds. On the back Alchemy may be used if the character takes it as a Lore skill and Witchcraft section will be useful for spell casting ability.

Here is a character example; we've rolled are starting attributes giving us STR:10, CON:08, SIZ:13, INT:14, POW:11, DEX:08, and CHA:09. Before we establish the three figured attributes we should roll now for character background. We roll 80, Servant. We have a choice of a +1 to CON, or +1 to CHA. We'll boost CON to 09 as this will increase the character's starting Hit Points as well. The leading question described in the background will be written down on the Connections line of our character sheet, this being "What scandal forced you to resign your position?" Valet/Lady's Maid is the obvious profession here. Townsman is the only listed Class available so this will set the starting skills for our character. To finish defining our character concept we roll on the Nationality and Dark Secrets tables. We get Ulverland and Spy for the Inquisition. Now I have all the ingrediants I need to complete the concept. Defining the two starting Lore(Any) skills and the one Craft(Any) skill I look to the TotGaD books. Ulverland has some nifty descriptions for Enchanted Teas and seems they have a bit of a Troll problem. I shape up these skills such; Lore(Enchanted Teas), Lore(Trolls), and Craft(Apothecary). The Craft skill is how adept the character is in brewing the magical beverage and the skill number can be tossed into the Alchemy section of the character sheet. You get the idea...

Saturday, March 4, 2017

B/X Magic & Retro-Clones

Reading Moldvay/Cook edition of Dungeons & Dragons regarding magic I came to this conclusion; the magic-user's spell book cannot be read by anyone else, even with a Read Magic spell, because a spell book is not inherently magical. A close reading of how Scrolls operate and the text in the Read Magic spell description brought me to this conclusion. My previous two blog posts go into more detail on my study of the B/X magic rules as written, and why I bothered.

In this post I'm going to take a look at my favorite B/X retro-clones and see how they've house-ruled magic-users, spell books, and Read Magic. My initial assumption is the authors assumed Read Magic allows reading of another magic-user's spell book, that spell limits enforced by character level don't translate to spell limits in a spell book, and spell books and scrolls are treated as if they are similar magical items thereby rationalizing, in my opinion, an incorrect reading of Moldvay/Cook rules. I know my head has never been on quite straight on the relationship between learning spells, the character's spell book, and spell limits. And I don't think I'm alone in this. Hence every game I've run or played in has their own house rules regarding these issues. And if I don't understand something I'm not going to want to play it so much. The magic-user was for me always the character class of last resort. If I wanted a magic wielding character I always choose cleric.

Cleric's are easy to understand. Doing this close reading of the rules I've decided the cleric really benefits from the Spell Research rules found on X51. Just think, with enough gold they can continually expand their initial spell list and put them into play the next day. Your Light spell not turning you on so much, maybe you can get the DM to go for “Religious Fanaticism” as a first level spell. The cleric can go all day pulling nonsense out of his ass and putting it into play with a willing DM. Not so the magic-user/elf. Their spell research can only benefit them when they have the opportunity to learn a new spell. Having a magic-user play strictly by the rules found on B11 some might come to the conclusion the cleric is an unbalanced class!

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

This is the first retro-clone which turned me on to retro-clones. It opened my eyes to a smart, polished “house-ruled” system can be done without trashing overall game design. Reviewing magic rules the author's description of a spell book is near perfect in how I see Moldvay/Cook's vision of a spell book. From the Grindhouse Edition; “Each spell notation is a combination of reference notes, philosophical debate against the universe, and gibberish scribbling; all of which serves one purpose: To trigger dream-state understanding within the Magic-User's mind. Nothing contained in a spell book is a 'how to' guide so much as an individual recipe for self-induced hypnosis.” But there similarities end. The beginning spell user gets a total of three spells in their spell book plus Read Magic. There is no limit to the amount and/or level of spells which can be added to the spell book, even if the Magic-User has not reached a level high enough to cast it. Other spell books can be read with Read Magic spell and copied. Scrolls can be created from spell books.

I asked James Raggi, the author, if the Moldvay/Cook rules influenced his magic rules at all. James answered: “I was introduced to D&D through the Mentzer red box, then AD&D very shortly thereafter. I didn't even see the B/X rules until 2008, 2009, somewhere in there, and it's definitely not internalized. I can't tell you without looking it up what the differences might be between Mentzer and Holmes. (hell, I bet I don't even remember Mentzer's rules correctly... and hell, I've been using a completely new spell system in my own games for the past few years, so the LotFP rules haven't seen use in my own campaign in awhile. :P But I still agree with the blog post, pretty much. Don't need Read Magic to read your own spellbook, but can use it to read other spellbooks.”

So that explains the LotFP retro-clone. It is similar to the Mentzer interpretation of Dungeons & Dragons magic not Moldvay/Cook. Cool to know for a nerd like me. So no validation will come from this splendid corner of the game world whether my interpretation of the magic rules from Moldvay/Cook holds water. Of course I had to curse and damn Raggi's black soul to hell, because now I need to thoroughly review Mentzer Basic/Expert rules to see if I like them! What is clear is Mentzer is not Moldvay and the magic rules are significantly different.

Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game

This quickly became my favorite retro-clone when I started looking into the entire line of retro-clones for the game which was going to hit my sweet spot. It obliterates the race as class distinction while still running on an all too familiar B/X chassis. And yeah, compared to AD&D, a simple book of rules appealed to my limited gaming time as an adult-man-child-working-nerd. Modern upgrades like ascending AC and attack bonuses, all the while maintaining the clean organization found in Moldvay/Cook. The robust community support, cheap price, and free content closed the deal

The author Chris Gonnerman specifically states that BFRPG is intended to emulate the 1981 edition of Dungeons & Dragons so let us see how he interprets the Moldvay/Cook magic rules. Not like B/X at all.  As will be found common in retro-clones, a magic-user can have any number of spells written in their spell book. Character level only limits level and number of spells which can be cast on any given day. Unlike B/X, BFRPG directly calls spells in a spell book "magical script" which can be read by another magic-user by casting Read Magic on the book. Furthermore, Read Magic "is so ingrained that a Magic-User can prepare it without a spellbook." BFRPG considers this spell so foundational to the use and learning of magic the character can always cast it. The author also makes it clear the cast spell "is permanent with respect to any given magical work (spellbook or scroll)." It is not even included in the list of spell descriptions. It is not so much a spell as it is one of the class's natural abilities like, say, the Thief's ability to climb walls. Bravo for BFRPG and the other retro-clones out there for their clarity. There really is no way to misinterpret how magic-users learn new spells and the relationship between spell books, scrolls, and how Read Magic is used. 

Like Mr. Raggi, I wrote to Chris asking how the B/X Moldvay/Cook magic rules influenced his own. At this writing he hasn't responded yet, but reading some of his own blog posts at the BFRPG site demonstrate he is very thorough, that he puts a lot of thought and playtest into his products. So I'll assume he looks at the Read Magic spell and a spell book much like most of us have house ruled it through the ages. His writing of Basic Fantasy literally bears that out. If he tells me otherwise I will update this here blog post.  But the quest still stands; does my reading of the rules have merit? I like to think Tom Moldvay and David Cook were pretty thorough guys as well. That what they wrote they meant. Read Magic is for empowering scrolls and runes. That magic-users and elves must be taught their new spells or they must research new spells by spending time and money.

Labyrinth Lord

Goblinoid Games goes to great lengths to let the reader know this game attempts to replicate Basic Dungeons & Dragons of 1981. And it does a bang up job. None of those fancy-smanshy modern touches are found. This is Descending Armor Class as god intended, and Daniel Proctor, the author, most likely has a Tom Moldvay tattoo on his body somewhere.

Buuut, the rules do not adhere to those clearly stated rules found on B10. Much like Basic Fantasy above, magic-users can copy spells from spell books into their own. They can copy spells from scrolls into their spell book. Of any level. A beginning spell caster will have more spells in their spell book than they can cast. Unlike Basic Fantasy though it leaves Read Magic as a separate spell and includes the maddeningly ambiguous spell description as found in Basic Dungeons & Dragons. So it is a faithful reproduction of B/X with a few of the more popular house ruled aspects of magic hard coded, but doesn't go all the way like Basic Fantasy did.

For example; the rules state you need to cast Read Magic to utilize a scroll as a spell. But the rules are mute on whether you need to cast Read Magic to record the spell into a spell book. And I quote: "Scroll spells of any level may be copied to a spell book, but the spell disappears from the scroll. Characters may also copy spells from one spell book to another, and this process does not erase spells from a book." Kind of wishy-washy on the whole subject. These house rules leave the players with some more house ruling to do.

Like Mr. Gonnerman and Mr. Raggi, I emailed Daniel on how he reads Moldvay/Cook. Taking the writing of Labyrinth Lord at face value I feel he was undecided like most of us when we first used Basic and just went with what felt right. If he gets back to me I'll update this post to reflect his thoughts more specifically. So it appears the debate still has room to rage.

In closing on my personal magical navel-gazing on this topic; I think there is sufficient textual support for my interpretation within the B/X books and this reading of the rules creates a vastly different magic-user class than any of the retro-clones published does, and creates really interesting implications for the campaign world. And if you are in a B/X game I run you know how I plan to handle magic-users and elves!

Friday, March 3, 2017

B/X Spell Casting by the Book (cont.)

I'm going to finish my research on how magic-users and elves are able to learn and acquire spells per the rules as written for the Moldvay/Cook edition of Dungeons & Dragons. In my initial post I examined the text to find out what the authors actually say on how these two classes use magic.

My examination, as it has in the past, leads me to a lingering question, to what the authors don't say about magic-user spells. Specifically spell books. The all important, never without item of every magic-user and sword wielding elf. Within the spell book is all the spells these characters know. It is indeed the beating heart of these two classes and without a spell book the character does not have the ability to re-memorize spells each day. 

If a spell book is stolen, lost or destroyed, if it needs to be replaced it comes at a tremendous cost in time and money as detailed on page X11. This has always led me to assume the spell book was inherently magical, but no where can I find in the books rules supporting this assumption. I'm sure I'm not alone when turning to the description of the spell Read Magic hoping to find how you utilize Read Magic to use another spell caster's spell book like they would a scroll, or add new spells to your own spell book. But no, the rules are silent on the matter. 

Here is what (yes I am taking another stripe off this beaten horse) the spell (page B17) actually says in regards to spell books; 
"...spell book is written so that only the owner may read them without using this spell." 

If you are like me you have always made the leap that if you cast Read Magic on someone else's spell book you can read the spells written therein. But it doesn't say that. Taken the words as written it is just saying you don't have to cast Read Magic to read your own spell book. And that means, while expensive to replace, your spell book is not inherently a magic item. Casting Read Magic on someone else's spell book would have the same effect if they cast it on a book on pig farming, that is, nothing. The spell book is nothing more than a notebook of complex formula and instructions in a custom cypher so as to imprint a known spell to memory. Think of a spell book as a recipe book while a scroll is a frozen dinner.  As a magic item the scroll needs to have Read Magic cast on it to activate. It  needs to be "popped into the microwave" before the imbued magical energy can be released. Mmm, Hot Pockets. The spell book on the other hand is inert. Put it in the microwave and you get nothing one can eat. A magic user cannot just read from it and cast magic. They actually have to spend time memorizing the spell, to in fact become imbued with magical energy. The spell book is just a necessary tool to accomplish this.

And it shouldn't be lost on a player that there is no restriction on making additional copies of the spell book to prevent future downtime in the event of a destroyed or otherwise lost spell book. Well, I'm not real sure on this point, but I have not found it written in the rules that there is a limit to the number of spell books which can be manufactured. Someone please correct me if it is in there. 

Now, you may not like this arrangement, and the legion of house rules which have sprung up around how magic is done in B/X seem to indicate many players and DM's don't, but I believe this is how it works for Moldvay/Cook.

So, magic-user spells by the book, cont.: 

1. Spell book limited by spells known. 

2. New spells can be taught to the magic-user per the rules on page X11, and

3. New spells can be created per the rules on page X51. 

and add;

4. Spell books can only be read by the one who wrote it.

From these maxims I can deduce to my satisfaction the author's clear directions for spell acquisition and as a DM decide if they fit how I want magic to work in my game world. 

As written though here are my thoughts on B/X magic. It is straightforward and clear, it gives a wide range of customization for the player, it gives real purpose for the accumulation of wealth, and bakes in wonderful plot hooks and adventure ideas for both player and DM.

[Footnote] Here is a link to a post on the Ode to Black Dougal blog which originally got me thinking on how players and DM's bastardized the original B/X rules for magic.

B/X Spellcasting by the Book

I have a couple of Magic-Users in play which have now achieved second level, and house rules aside, I wanted to know how the Elf/Magic-User develops per a strict reading of the Moldvay/Cook red and blue books. 

I know this has been done to death, but I want to write it down for my own edification and invite debate on the practicality of the Rules As Written in play here on my blog.

The Basic rule book states on page B10, in regards to the Magic-User class;  "through study and practice, have learned how to cast magic spells." Part 3: Spells found on page B15 thru B18 describes what "study and practice" actually look like mechanically per the rules. The spell is "a memorized set of words and hand motions". A character can re-memorize spells once a day, and the spell caster may memorize the same spell twice. That there are the basics of spell casting and straight forward enough that these ideas are hardly debated. Same with; Magic-Users and Elfs may only memorize spells they know unlike the Cleric which can cast any of the spells found on the Cleric's spell list. This basic mechanic is well understood by players of B/X rules.

The Basic rule book also states the Magic-User's spells are stored in large spell books. "As magic-users and elves gain levels of experience, the number of spells they may use also increases." (page B16). So far so good except the Spell section here in the Basic book does not call out how a magic-user actually learns new spells beyond what they start with at the beginning of their adventuring career. There is the pointed statement that "A first level character will only have one spell in the spell book. A second level character will have two spells in the spell book; a third level character will have three spells in the spell book. The DM may choose which spells a character has in the book, or may allow the player to select them." This has come to be understood as an actual limit of spells a magic-user can have in their spell book. It is here on this point players will find a common house rule in most B/X campaigns, that is the DM allows first level characters having more than one first level spell in their initial spell book. That the first level magic-user actually knows more than one spell, but may only memorize and therefore cast one spell a day per the normal spell casting rules.

The final item from the Basic book I want to reference for this discussion on spells can be found in Part 7: Treasure, and this is in regards to the magic item known as Scrolls. Here a spell casting character can cast a spell without memorizing it and can also be of a spell level beyond their current ability. The magic-user/elf classes are restricted by needing to cast Read Magic on the scroll in order to understand it so that it may be used later. While this blog post is not about the importance of the Read Magic spell in B/X, for an up and coming magic-user by these rules it is pretty important.

So far, in light of the Basic rules, how a magic-user learns new spells is not explained. Maybe the Expert rule book will deal with this satisfactorily. Kind of. On page X11 we have these well known directions; "Magic-users and elves must be taught their new spells. Most player character magic-users and elves are assumed to be members of the local Magic-Users Guild or apprenticed to a higher level NPC. When player character gain a level of experience, they will return to their masters..." Blah, blah, blah. The paragraph even finishes with once again making it clear the amount of spells known and the number of spells found in their spell book are the same. Thus a 4th level elf will have a spell book with only two first and two second level spells. But what about player characters which are not like most? Are there other ways in which spells can be learned when leveling up increases the amount of known spells?  

Yes, if you look at Part 8: Dungeon Master Information, Magical Research And Production on page X51. I'm looking at the paragraphs for Spell Research. "New spells may be researched by any spell caster."

So, magic-user spells by the book: 

1. Spell book limited by spells known. 

2. New spells can be taught to the magic-user per the rules on page X11, and

3. New spells can be created per the rules on page X51.

Does this mean magic missile, web and the other standard spells on the spell lists need to be taught to be known? Not neccessarly. Call your researched web spell something else, give it its own "special effects", and duplicate the range, outcome and duration.

In essence being taught a new spell only requires one week of game time while researching requires two weeks and substantial money. This doesn't preclude the teacher who is teaching the new spell not exacting some cost for the newly leveled spell caster, gold pieces or otherwise.

In closing; adding a new, known spell to a spell book per the B/X rules is a time consuming venture which also requires the DM to establish how magic is taught in the campaign world. It also requires the DM to come up with, in conjunction with the player, how their new magic wielding character  came about his or her ability and how this relationship defines how new magic can be learned moving forward. It is easy to see why house rules sprung into existence to eliminate these hurdles for the gaming group sitting around the table ready to go. But I think there is some charm, some internal sense to these rules as written which can make for some great gaming fun and opportunities for PC's to contribute to the DM's game world.