Sunday, June 9, 2013

Little things

One thing that I've noticed recently in running Swords & Wizardry is a couple of the little things that have an impact on the game. I want to talk about one that comes from S&W and one based in the Holmes rules.

Swords & Wizardry gives fighters the benefit of extra attacks versus creatures with 1 hit die or less. This has a big impact, giving the fighter a serious advantage. Quantity of attacks really matters in old school D&D more than either hit dice or armor class, given how things average out. It also makes a much more significant gap between 1HD opponents and 2HD enemies, which I think I like: the bigger foes are more dire threats. Very interesting dynamic.

This is part of the key of old-school D&D, in whichever edition: if you play with too few PCs, you won't do well. People often look at the game's lethality, particularly in OD&D and "classic" (Holmes, B/X, BECMI, RC), as something that needs to be fixed - but it's fixed by sheer numbers. Quality of troops comes into it in certain ways, mainly in the ability to maintain those numbers, but Mike Mornard's core advice is correct. People wishing to survive the megadungeon should go into it with nine characters.

The other little tweak that's having a big impact is scroll creation, since I use the Holmes rules. It really gives magic-users a feel of not being useless until 5th level, and also helps "fix" their excess of wealth otherwise. The M-U in our Stonehell campaign has been using it for Sleep, which is great for avoiding fights where you're outnumbered.

A quirk of this that I've been thinking about is "inheritance." That is, once an M-U has made a scroll, it's there even if they die. This could come in particularly handy when a higher level M-U dies in the campaign with several scrolls in tact; a fresh replacement (1st level) would still be able to use, say, Web or Fireball or what you will at least once in a game.

So let's open this for conversation. What tweaks have you found to make a relatively big impact in your games?


  1. I really, really like the Holmes scroll rules. I've noticed the same thing about scroll inheritance in my OD&D game, and think it is a salutary development (it really helps characters feel like they are not starting from zero, without actually being a give-away).

  2. The idea of inheritance is a good one. Not just for M-Us too. We lost a fighter with plate mail and my 1st level cleric inherited it as the only party member who could use it. In another game, I'm going to encourage our magic user to make some scrolls.

  3. I prefer the EPT method much more than the regular multiple attacks vs 1 HD rule. It makes no sense that a 10th level fighter can kill 10 Orcs a round but only one Gnoll. By 10th level you don't want to fight large groups of Orcs anyway because the rolling gets so tedious.

    In EPT, fighters do extra damage based on the relative levels on them and the monster plus any excess damage rolls over from one monster to another. So your killing multiple monsters all with one roll. It scales better and is easy to resolve so the rule actually gets used. IME AD&D's multiple attack rule doesn't get used much after 3rd level.

  4. I like Philotomy's Musing of OD&D about Multiple Attacks:

    Multiple attacks by a single PC occur infrequently in OD&D; normally, a PC will only get a single melee attack roll per round.* A major exception to this rule is Fighting Men in melee with opponents of 1HD or less. A Fighting Man who is in a melee where all his engaged foes are 1HD or less may make a number of melee attacks equal to his level. Thus, a Hero (4th level) battling a group of goblins may attack four times in a single round. A Superhero (8th level) facing the same goblins would attack eight times each round! I see this as OD&D's "mow down the mooks" rule; a higher level Fighting Man is a force that normal men rightly fear.

    Note that even a single higher HD opponent in the melee will negate this ability, being a more skilled or dangerous threat that demands the high-level Fighting Man's attention. This is a great boon for PC henchmen and hirelings, since it allows even a Veteran (i.e. a 1st level Fighting Man has 1+1 HD) to prevent the massacre of weaker party members when confronted by a dangerous foe (such as an evil Hero). This rule has its origin in Chainmail's concept of fantastic vs. non-fantastic melee (and its use is illustrated in the OD&D FAQ originally published in the Strategic Review). Since monsters in Chainmail's non-fantastic melee get multiple attacks, I extend the multiple attacks to monsters in OD&D, as well. That is, an Ogre attacking a group of normal men will attack four times. However, if there's a Veteran guard amongst those men, the combat is considered fantastic, and the Ogre is limited to a single attack.

    (This rule also exists for Fighters in AD&D, but was modified to only work against enemies of less than 1HD. I speculate that this may have been done because a 1st level Fighter in AD&D is considered a 1HD foe, where a 1st level Fighting Man in OD&D is considered a 1+1HD foe.)

    * - This is also true of monsters. In the three brown books, most monsters get a single attack in fantastic combat, rather than an attack routine (e.g. claw/claw/bite). The single attack roll represents their entire attack routine. This includes monsters like ghouls and trolls, which get multiple attacks in later supplements and editions. In three brown book OD&D, only very special monsters like multi-headed hydras get more than one attack in fantastic combat.

  5. The rules for OD&D do not limit the extra attacks to just fighters, as AD&D does. A 6th level Cleric fights as a Hero so would get the same attacks a 4th level fighter does. Also, the example in the FAQ states that multiple attacks occur against any opponent of 1 hit die or against any opponent where the attacker has 4 times as many hit dice as the defender.

    1. That's an interesting way to do it. Seeing as I'm running S&W Complete, I will probably stick to limiting this to fighters - that gives them a little something "special" - but it'd be a consideration the next time I get to run LBB OD&D.


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