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

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Basic D&D Cover to Cover

Well crap, I faded again.

The other day I did a Google search for "Ode to Black Dougal" and below the obvious result was a page on Alex Schroeder's wiki titled "Ode to Black Dougal" that amalgamated all of my B/X is My Favourite posts. It made me feel kind of homesick. The funny thing is that I am still on my blog page nearly every day but usually just to check the blog roll on the right.

The original purpose of this blog was to act as a repository of my thoughts while I got back into gaming  and finding a gaming group. Over time it morphed a bit and became more intellectual exercise than anything else. Eventually, I ran out of stuff to say.

Gaming wise, I have a great, stable (almost too stable) gaming group. We have been playing 2nd edition AD&D using Pazio adventure paths and having a great time. We recently finished the Rise of the Runelords campaign, and it was honestly one of the most successful campaigns I have DM'ed. I took great pride when, after having a chance to read the campaign post-completion, one of my players declared:
"Kudos to you, Patrick, for making it a true adventure path. If I had read these ahead of time, I would have declared it a railroad of epic proportions. However, it seems that we hit almost every single major point and I would have sworn it was all of our own free will."
Oh, the power of illusion.

However, I am finding my mind wandering to simpler rules, groups with messier dynamics, and campaigns that aren't as organized or as dramatic. This and other things have me thinking about my beloved B/X D&D: The call for DM's has gone out for Underground Con and I am contemplating what games I am going to run; I have been playing a lot of the Dungeon board game with my kids; and, K-Slacker (the player quoted above) has begun DMing a series of old-school one shots at a local game day.

There are a number of things I would love to do using B/X. For instance, my idea of a B/X-based sword, science and sorcery game never really got any legs (even though I would still love to play it) and there is still my sword & sorcery hacks I would love to try out, and I still consider a reboot of the Northern Marches. Of course, the issue is time. Given an active family and a busy career, the one gaming group is stress enough on the schedule.

For now I am going to try to content myself with rereading the B/X rules books and trying to convince my gaming group of a possible change in campaigns. As I read the rulebooks I will post some thoughts here and see how far I get.

The Cover

My thoughts:

  • The cover is a classic Erol Otus work and the same as the picture on the cover of the magenta coloured box that the rules came in;
  • When I think of D&D, this is still the image I have in my head;
  • I love the dungeon layout of the encounter. The stairs leading up to the doorway and the waterway fading into the darkness in the background just scream of exploring the unknown.
  • I love the fact that the fighter is wielding a spear instead of the expected sword.
  • There is lots of legalese on the cover - "all rights reserved", copyrights, trademarks - this is no longer a small press item done by hobbyists.
  • I believe the cover is the only place were "Role Playing" is mentioned (I will try to confirm this as we go).
  • The only quibble I have with the cover (and it's a minor one) is that the dragon-like creature is not explicitly in the rulebook. I know that I can make my own but, given this is a "basic" set, I would have expected the cover to portray an image that is easy to replicate with the given rules
Edited to add...

  • "For 3 or More Adults, Ages 10 and Up" - this is marketing genius!

Next: The table of contents


  1. I'm glad you're back. Your B/X stuff is golden inspiration and worth re-reading.

  2. Hey, man: glad to hear you've still been gaming (and having a blast doing it)...I was a bit afraid you'd gone into permanent hiatus after re-joining the job world!
    : )

    It'll be fun reading your cover-to-cover thoughts; I'm already in total agreement with your initial sentiments.

  3. "Welcome back online, sir!"

    Looking forward to reading you again.

  4. When you ran the Paizo AP, did you convert the monsters using a lot of rules, or did you simply eyeball it (keeping HD, using an appropriate damange die or two for the various attacks), or did you try to look up all the monsters online? I sometimes wonder whether I should try and run an AP using Labyrinth Lord…

  5. Hi Alex,
    The monsters were easy. I either found the 2E equivalent or a different 2E monster that fit the same theme. I also made use of the rules for "Altering Monsters the Easy Way" from the 2E book DM Options: High Level Campaigns to make some of the monsters tougher or weaker.

    The real challenges were:
    1. NPCs - Here I took some shortcuts. I typically use a very simple conversion process for NPCs to adapt a 3.5E adventure for my 2E campaign.

    At low levels I keep the hit points as given in the published adventure. I higher levels I take between 50% and 75% of the given hit points.
    I determined Hit Dice by dividing the hit points by 5. I then round up or down depending on how things are going.
    Thaco was calculated as 20-Hit Dice
    AC = 20 - 3.5E AC
    And special abilities were approximated.

    For example, one of the sidetreks I have used is Mad God's Key from Dungeon 114. The final encounter in that adventure is against Cyrathas, an elven mulitclassed rogue 1/sorcerer 2. So I wanted him to have some thief abilities and be able to cast magic-user spells.
    He had 13 hp as given in the adventure

    HD = 13 / 5 rounded up = 3
    Thaco = 20-3 = 17
    His AC was given as 15 so I used 20-15=5

    Special abilities:
    I used the base thieve abilities for a 1st level thief as printed on my 2E DM screen and didn't worry about making any adjustments.

    For spells, in the adventure he has Burning Hands, Shield and a bunch of 0-level spells. So I just kept both of the spells as they have 2E equivalents and used Cantrip to replace the 0-level spells.

    For magic items, I used the 2E equivalents for what he had in the published adventure.

    Did all of this add up to a 1st level thief / 2nd level magic-user? Not exactly but he used a magic wand (Grease) to great effect, lost his Burning Hands spell when he was hit while trying to cast it, lit a pool of lantern oil on fire by knocking over a torch using Cantrip, drank a potion of healing and generally made for a fun encounter.

    2. # of monsters in an encounter - since 2E and 3E have different encounter design assumptions, this took some trial and error.

    3. XP progression - this is the trickiest part. However, I always found the XP rules in 2nd edition to be so flexible that I don't have a problem keeping the PC's exactly where I want them in terms of level. Before we started I decided that I would base XP awards based on what level I wanted a Fighter to be. I did a quick table that looked like:

    start……….……..1st level - 0 XP
    Mid book one…..2nd level - 2,000 XP
    End book one…..3rd level - 4,000 XP
    Mid book two…..4th level - 8,000 XP
    End book two…..5th level - 16,000 XP
    Mid book three…6th level - 32,000 XP
    End book three…7th level - 64,000 XP
    Mid book four…..8th level - 125,000 XP
    End book four…..9th level - 250,000 XP
    Mid book five….10th level - 500,000 XP
    End book five….11th level - 750,000 XP
    Mid book six…..12th level - 1,000,000 XP
    Prior to the final battle…13th level - 1,250,000 XP

    I then award enough XP to keep the fighter on track and all the other classes vary slightly from that. Between story based XP, roleplaying XP, etc I have no problem fudging it to keeping them on pace. We have also been doing a bunch of sidetreks but I just adjust the XP.

    In other words, I just use XP as a pacing mechanic instead of a reward mechanic.

  6. I've just recently re-read Moldvay Basic as well (will be moving onto X soon), so I'll be keeping close watch on your upcoming posts.

    One thing I wanted to comment on directly, about the monster on the cover, I'd always assumed it was simply a Green Dragon, not some other dragon-like creature.