"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Effects of Leading an Unsavoury Life

I was reading though some of the Basic rulebook and I came across something which reflects the nature of hit points as more than just a measure of physical damage that can be sustained but instead also reflects intangibles in combat such as morale, luck, skill, etc.

The entry for Normal Humans in the Monster section reads:

A Normal Human is a human who does not seek dangerous adventure. A normal human does not have a class. Normal humans have their own saving throws and "to hit" numbers. They have from 1 to 4 hit points (depending on their age, health, and profession). EXAMPLE: An adult blacksmith would have 4 hp, but a young child or sickly beggar would have 1 hp.

In contrast, the entry for Bandit assigns 1 HD and better saving throws for those who band together for the purpose of robbing others.

The difference between the two monster entries, I believe, highlights the impact that leading a dangerous life has on the game mechanics. Why would a Bandit potentially have more hit points than an active and fit blacksmith? Not because of any ability to sustain more physical damage but instead, the bandit's dangerous lifestyle has prepared him better for surviving a fight through skill, luck, etc.

The relative power levels between PCs and Normal Humans also shows that, even though low level PCs in B/X are not of heroic power levels, they are still a definite cut above 98% of the population. The fact that magic-users also have d4 for hit points makes sense as they also do not have the martial abilities of the other classes so their hit points being the same as a Normal Human makes sense. The Thieves d4 hit dice is a bit of a puzzler, however. If Bandits have d8 HD why does a Thief only have a d4? My take would be that Bandits are not "skilled" thieves but instead ruffians and other highwaymen that rob through brutishness instead of the more specialized skills of a thief - Bandits would instead be more like the Bandit Hillmen of the Conan sagas.

This also brings to mind a very sword & sorcery type scenario that low level PCs could survive - a village of evil Normal Humans, led by an vile priest or adept who is aided by degenerate snake men (use Lizard Men stats).

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  1. I don't have a problem with Thieves getting d4's, because Thieves also level faster than any other class, meaning that depending on where you're at on the XP ladder, a party's Thief might be easily a level or two ahead of everyone else, which can really matter at low levels.

    I also thing a D&D "thief" is more like a cat burglar, or a safe-cracker, or a pick-pocket; they aren't swashbuckling "rogues", but rather more like a real-world thief who relies on skill and stealth to get the job done, not any kind of combat prowess. Most good thieves don't even carry weapons because they know if they get caught, the weapon will just make their crime that more serious. That's the sort of mindset I see a D&D Thief having - it's all skill and stealth, not how many bad guys you can shank.

  2. I agree with you, Badelaire. Instead of learning combat skills, the D&D thief (at least until the archetype was ruined in later editions) spent their time learning specialized skills. That is another reason that I don't have the aversion shown be some "old-schoolers" to thieves.

    If you are robbing people by shanking them your character is more likely a fighter of the chaotic persuasion.

  3. I think all human-scaled creatures ought to get d6, and that would solve everything.
    --Monsters would be tougher so as to warn PCs away from fighting them unnecessarily.

  4. It took me a long time to realzie that 1st level guys are better than avergae schmoes. The scale may be a bit too grainy to make that clear though--I have had 1st level PC's (in AD&D) killed by house cats.

    I don't have a problem giving Theieves six-sided HD, but the XP requirements should go up a bit.

  5. Dude, I am SOOO on the same page with you! I LOVE the Normal Man entry in the Basic book...it has helped clarify my world view.

    Um...just to get it out of the way: D4 for thieves. Ok, back to the original post! ; )

    I'd invite you all to consider something, maybe a slightly new concept for B/X: what if the human occupations of Bandit, Berseker, Noble, etc. are actually CHARACTER CLASSES of their own.

    Now, they're not Adventuring character classes, which is why they are not available as PCs (let's face it...if a player was already a Noble, he'd have little reason to go on adventures). But a Bandit, for example, has a maximum level of 1 (though the hit dice is D8) and fights as a HD 1 monster. A noble has a maximum level of 3 (younger nobles might have a HD of 1 or 2). A Berserker is likewise limited to "level 1" but gets a D8 hit die and a bonus +1 (plus some bonuses in combat).

    Bandits ARE like those hillmen of the Howard stories...and occasionally they'll be led by a REAL adventurer type (like a Conan/fighter, perhaps?).

    Hey, it's just something to think about...
    : )