Monday, January 25, 2021

AD&D 1st Edition house rules (part 3 of 3): Rogues

The final section of my series on AD&D 1st Ed. house rules considers the thief, the assassin, and the bard.


No changes are made to the thief class itself except the list of allowed weapons: anything that the thief is permitted to wield in Unearthed Arcana or 2nd Edition is permitted. The most important addition is the short bow: thieves without bows is just unimaginable to me.

That said, 2nd edition made another change which is generally good for the game, as it gives human thieves a reason to exist: instead of nearly all demihumans being unlimited in the thief class, they are level-limited as in 2nd edition—dwarves, elves, and half-elves limited to 12th level, gnomes to 13th, and halflings to 15th. (Half-orcs remain limited to 8th level as in 1st edition.)


Assassins have the following changes.

• Assassins roll hit dice as thieves do, with a maximum of ten six-sided hit dice at 10th level (and only +2 hit points at all higher levels). Human assassins have no maximum level: each level above 15th (grandfather of assassins) requires an additional 250,000 experience points. Assassins of 16th level and greater, having surpassed the hierarchy of the assassins' guild, are titled free agents. (Half-orc assassins are limited to 14th level, i.e. guildmaster of assassins, and may not become grandfather of assassins or a free agent.)

• The assassin has a "death attack" that works much as it does in 2nd Edition: provided the assassin has managed to study a human, demihuman, or humanoid target for three consecutive rounds at any point within the last 24 hours, the assassin may then attempt to assassinate that target by striking a single blow. The assassin must successfully backstab or otherwise surprise and hit the target; the target must then roll a saving throw vs. death (at a penalty of −1 per four full assassin levels attained, e.g. −1 for a 4th–7th level assassin, −2 for an 8th–11th level assassin, etc.) or be immediately reduced to −10 hit points. On a successful saving throw, full normal damage for the backstab is still inflicted.

• Assassins acquire the ability to read magical scrolls at 12th level, like normal, but they are only able to read illusionist scrolls, not magical scrolls in general (as thieves can). Further, assassins of 10th level and greater have a limited ability to cast illusionist spells, in much the same fashion that high-level rangers cast mage spells:


Like monks, bards are a bit of a garbage-fire and necessitate almost a total rewrite.

• The bard is a sub-class of thief, and a class just like any other. A player character bard begins at 1st level and does not need to be a thief or a fighter first. (In fact, since bards are a thief sub-class, the thief/bard multi- or dual-class is not possible.) A bard requires Strength 9, Dexterity 12, Intelligence 13, Wisdom 12, and Charisma 15. Dexterity and Charisma are considered the bard's prime requisites. Humans and half-elves may be bards, and half-elven bards may reach a maximum level of 16th in the bard class.

• Bards have all of the capabilities described in the 1st Edition Player's Handbook (additional languages, charm/fascinate, legend lore/item knowledge). They may become proficient in any weapon (as a fighter) and may wear armor up to chain (but cannot use a shield). Spellcasting in armor is permitted. Bards advance in all of the thieving skills as a thief of one-half their actual experience level, except for Read Languages and Read Scrolls (bards use their full bard level for these abilities, and moreover, a bard's understanding of magic is superior to that of a thief's, such that 10th level and greater bards are able to read any scroll, arcane or divine, and their chance of backfire is only 15% rather than 25%).

• Bards cast both druidic and illusionist spells. A bard's caster level for druidic spells is equal to one-half his actual level rounded up (i.e. a 1st level bard is equivalent to a 1st level druid, and the bard's druidic caster level improves by one on each odd-numbered level). A bard's caster level for illusionist spells is the same as his effective thieving level, i.e. one-half his actual level rounded down (equivalent to a 1st level illusionist at the 2nd bard level, equal to a 2nd level illusionist at the 4th bard level, etc.). Bards are never able to cast druid spells more powerful than 5th level or illusion spells above 4th level. 

Bard levels above 20th require an additional 300,000 XP per level. Bards roll hit dice exactly as thieves and assassins do, with one six-sided hit die at each level 1st through 10th and then +2 extra hit points at each higher level.

AD&D 1st Edition house rules (part 2 of 3): Priests

This is the second part of my little three-part series on house rules for AD&D 1st Edition. This post concerns the cleric and its sub-classes.


Clerics have only a small cosmetic change: I like the level-titles from Basic better, so I'm using a variation on those:

(Hell, most printings of the 1E PHB that I've seen leave the level six title—which is apparently supposed to be "Perfect"—entirely blank, thanks to a misprint that wasn't even corrected when WotC reprinted the book a few years back.)

Oh, and one other thing: since I don't use alignment at all, the know alignment spell becomes worthless, so its spot on the list of 2nd-level clerical spells gets taken over by cure medium wounds, which restores 1d10+1 hit points (as per the same spell in 2nd Edition).

Druids and Monks

Druids and monks have no level-cap, and no duels are required to attain or maintain positions in the upper echelons of the druidic and monastic hierarchies. Both classes roll hit dice exactly as clerics do. Druids otherwise have only one change—namely, half-elves are limited to 9th level in the druid class (the same as in 2nd edition)—whereas monks have a great many changes (because monks as-written are a goddamn mess).

The monk's basic capabilities are as follows:

• Open-hand fighting allows for superior damage and multiple attacks, while armed fighting grants a damage bonus equal to one-half the monk's level, rounded down. The monk's "Ch'i Strike" ability does permit high-level monks to attack life-draining undead with unarmed strikes and to suffer no ill effects from scoring successful hits.

• Once per day per level, a monk can stun with an open-handed strike, forcing the target to save vs. paralyzation or be stunned for 1d3 rounds. (Monks do not have a killing strike.)

• Once per day, a monk can perform the "Breath of the Dragon," a ch'i attack that works much like a dragon's breath weapon: the monk throws his hands forward and produces a beam of energy, 1' wide and 10' long per level of the monk, that inflicts force damage equal to the monk's current hp total (save vs. breath weapon for half). Monks of 8th level and greater can perform this feat additional times in a day by expending eight daily uses of their Stunning Fist to fuel each extra Breath of the Dragon attack. 

• Monks can roll saving throws vs. petrification to avoid damage from missile attacks that would otherwise hit them, and they take no damage from spells or breath weapons when they successfully save for half damage. After 9th level, they also take half damage from such attacks even on failed saves.

• Monks possess all of the thief's thieving skills except for Picking Pockets; but they advance in these skills more slowly than a thief does, with a monk's effective thief level equal to one-half is actual level, rounded down (the same as a bard; see the following post). Additionally, monks can perform feats of acrobatics with a chance of success equal to ([3 × Dex score] + [2 × monk level])%. 

• A monk's Armor Class starts at 8, adjusted for both the monk's Dexterity and Wisdom (the "magical defense adjustment" is used). Most protective items (such as rings of protection) work normally for monks, while bracers of armor may provide a lower base AC than the table value if worn. Monks apply all of the usual Strength adjustments to hit and damage, and they never become immune to haste.

• The 2nd level monk's Awareness ability is the same as that of rangers: they surprise on 1–3 in 6 and become surprised only on 1 in 6. All higher-level special monk abilities are exactly as described in the Player's Handbook.

• The "Wuxia" ability noted on the table below refers to the monk's ability to both slow a fall (thereby reducing any falling damage) and also to leap to the listed height from a standing start without effort. With a running start, the monk can leap distances equal to twice the value given on the table.

So that covers priests. The third and final post in this series (which I'll put up tomorrow) will cover rouges: the thief, and the two thief sub-classes of assassin and bard.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

AD&D 1st Edition house rules (part 1 of 3): Rules, Races, Warriors, and Wizards

This is the first of three posts which will detail the house rules for AD&D 1st Edition that I used in my recent game, and which I intend to stick with if I ever run AD&D again in the future. This section will concern general rules, demihuman races, and the FIGHTER and MAGE classes (which, unlike CLERICS and THIEVES, see only minimal change).


In bench-testing 1st Edition, I didn't want to change things too much. That's always the temptation when it comes to playing AD&D, because back in the day? We house ruled the ever-loving hell out of 2nd Edition. But I wanted a purer experience. So I only made a very few general house-rules, as follows:

• No alignment.

• No infravision.

• None of the character classes with built-in level caps (assassin, bard, druid, monk) have a maximum level (if human), requisite dueling to attain or keep certain experience levels, or more hit dice than their standard class counterparts. In fact, hit dice for all classes are regularized, so that rangers roll hit dice as fighters and paladins do, druids and monks roll as clerics, assassins and bards roll as thieves, and the mage has a maximum of ten four-sided hit dice (as in 2nd Edition, and the same as 1st Edition illusionists) rather than eleven.

• Hit points are set rather than rolled. Constitution adjustments aside, characters have maximum hit points at 1st level and half this value at each higher level that still gets a hit die. That is to say that fighters will have 10–15–20–25…; clerics, 8–12–16–20…; thieves, 6–9–12–15…; and mages 4–6–8–10…

• No psionics, I guess, could be considered a fifth general rule, but that seems more like common sense than something that needs to be stated outright.


The following changes are made to the game's playable nonhuman races:

• There are no playable demihumans with infravision, so in place of that ability, each demihuman race that did have 60' infravision receives two bonus weapon proficiencies instead. This change affects elves, half-elves, dwarves, gnomes, and half-orcs (but not halflings).

• Halflings of all sub-types (hairfoot, tallfellow, stout) are mechanically identical. They always have the stoutish ability to notice slopes and gradients underground, but they never have infravision. Instead, they receive the 2nd Edition halfling's +1 bonus to hit with thrown weapons and slings, as well as the Basic D&D halfling's +1 bonus on individual initiative rolls (or group initiative rolls whenever a group consists entirely of halflings).

• Gnomes (which have no ability score adjustments in 1st Edition and are +1 to Intelligence / −1 to Wisdom in 2nd Edition) are +1 to Constitution and −1 to Strength.

• Half-orcs (originally +1 Str, +1 Con, and −2 Cha) are merely +1 to Strength and −1 to Charisma. They receive the same bonus to save vs. poison that dwarves and halflings enjoy (+1 per 3½ points of Constitution; unlike dwarves, halflings, and gnomes, they receive no such bonus to save vs. magic). This is in addition to the two bonus weapon proficiencies that half-orcs receive in lieu of infravision.


I like the symmetry of each of the game's four base classes also having two sub-classes. To that end, the playable classes are as follows:

The 2nd Edition THAC0 tables are just cleaner, more familiar to me, and easier to deal with than the 1st Edition attack tables, so I use the THAC0 tables instead.


There are no changes to any of the fighter classes, except that rangers use the hit dice and experience levels from 2nd Edition:


The mage class has two sub-classes: illusionists and necromancers (the latter from Footprints Magazine #14). Illusionists and necromancers need no alterations, but the mage class itself has one fewer hit die, and also different level-titles from the 1st Edition Player's Handbook version (a purely cosmetic change):

And that does it for the warriors and the wizards. There will be two more follow-up posts, one to detail clerics (and druids and monks), and another to cover thieves (and assassins and bards).

Yes, I know this post is about 1st Edition, but these
illustrations will never cease to be iconic for me.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Finishing up "The Village of Hommlet" — and my thoughts on AD&D 1st Edition

Last night, I just finished up a short, three-session play-through of the AD&D 1st Edition module T1, The Village of Hommlet. It was my first return to AD&D in a very long time indeed, and my first time ever running 1st Edition instead of 2nd Edition. I found the game to be great fun, but I was a little put off by how quickly characters can gain levels in 1st Edition, thanks primarily to the XPs awarded for the acquisition of magical items. It puts the pace of even the WotC editions to shame! Among the magical items the party can find in module T1 are a potion of undead control (worth 1,500 XP) and Lareth the Beautiful's staff of striking with its 20 initial charges (worth 6,000 XP when fully charged, reduced commensurately for however many charges are expended, but still quite the capture for any character that can use it)!

The party of player characters began five strong, with my wife playing Lady Sera Tonin (1st level paladin), my boss playing Theophania Fleetfoot (1st level halfling thief), my brother playing Wilfedric (1st level gnome assassin), my neighbor playing Tealeaf Clay (1st/1st level half-elven cleric of Wee Jas/mage), and my neighbor's friend playing Jeff (1st level monk). Except for the unfortunate Jeff, whose player was only able to attend the first of the three sessions (and whose monk then got unceremoniously eaten by ghouls in the Moathouse Dungeon's crypt area), the other player characters made out like bandits with the final defeat of Lareth the evil cleric. At the end of this short game, Theophania and Wilfedric were 3rd level, Sera Tonin was 2nd level, and Tealeaf Clay was 2nd/2nd—with all of them 1 XP shy of the next level up, purely because they couldn't gain more than one level per session!

Now I can see why Gary Ggyax was always admonishing his fellow referees to be stingy with treasure, clever at hiding it, and ruthless when it comes to not pulling punches! If you're playing 1st Edition, you practically have to be adversarial to a degree, or else the player characters will have it far too easy! (It also explains level-draining undead…)

What really astonished me, though, was how similarly 1st Edition plays to Basic D&D on a fundamental level, while also clearly being different enough that it's noticeably and unarguably a separate game. Whatever I might have believed before about the whole "D&D and AD&D are legally two different games, so that TSR could stiff Dave Arneson on royalties" shtick, I'm now firmly in the camp that holds to the notion that Gary Gygax wasn't by any means lying when he said that AD&D was a new game. It was; it is. It's different.

It's different enough that AD&D won't displace D&D as my go-to medieval fantasy RPG anytime soon. I did enjoy playing 1st Edition, but I do still prefer the simplicity of D&D over the wild nostalgia-trip that is AD&D. (That said, if and when I do come back to AD&D again in the future, I'll largely stick to 1st Edition, and with only a very few tidbits borrowed from Unearthed Arcana or 2nd Edition. By-the-book 1E is the way to go, if only for the magical classes' comparatively short and manageable spell lists!)

One other thing that did surprise me, at least a little bit: I had always supposed that 1st and 2nd Editions were more different than they actually are. Yes, there are clear differences, but some of the basics—the XP tables, saving throw tables, even most of the attack tables—carried over with startlingly little change. I had never really done a deep dive into the weeds of the rules minutiae to compare them before, but this time I did, and I'm glad for it. I feel better about borrowing liberally from both 1E and 2E when it comes to playing AD&D; nothing will break, and very little will conflict.

I'm going to end this post here, but my next three posts (I've decided to make it three, just so that each is more easily digested) are going to outline my house rules for AD&D 1st Edition—the way I'll play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons if I should ever decide to give a full Temple of Elemental Evil campaign a go. (And, in the far future, if I ever decide to do the same for the Return to the Temple, I'll produce a similarly detailed series on any necessary house rules for D&D 3rd edition—but that's a very low priority for me right at the moment.)

Call me a heretic, but I like the Easley covers better
than the Trampier covers. I had the Trampier versions
as a kid, but now I have these, and I prefer them.
Fight me.

Monday, January 11, 2021

I Like My Dice.

 Aren't they something?

• • •

Right now, I just need something that inspires happy thoughts.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Predictably Horrifying.

I think the most horrifying thing about the attack on the Capitol yesterday is how utterly predictable it was. How not the least bit surprised I am. Seething mad, saddened beyond words, embarrassed for what's become of my country. But surprised? Not at all. Every single person who's been paying the least little bit of attention could have seen this coming from a country mile away. Could've predicted it; have predicted it. 

Bill Maher (who is, ordinarily, something of a feckless idiot who likes to spew half-brained Boomerisms and a rancid brand of "anti-SJW" liberalism while also being a fucking vaccine skeptic) was actually spot-on when he started calling the Trump administration's antics a "slow-moving coup" literal years ago.

It just so happens to be a coup instigated by morons and then actually attempted by the soldier-LARPing racist man-children in cammo cosplay who are the execrable dregs of the American right.

Will this prove to be the sputtering death-rattle of detached-from-reality conservatism, or nothing more than a practice run for a more competent fascist takeover in the future? Who can say.

But make no mistake: it should now be clear to everyone that Trumpism is fascism, and that pointing this out (as many have for years) is not the hysterical bawling of liberals. One of the identifying markers of fascism is that the strongman or dictator or other leader at the center of the movement is often dismissed as a buffoon and not taken seriously; another marker is that this is always a mistake.

And if you don't believe that Trumpism is most definitely American fascism ("wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross," as the saying goes)—defined as right-wing ethno-nationalism, among other details—merely consider what was happening on the opposite side of the country from Washington, D.C. yesterday.

This too shall pass; but not soon, and not without a great deal more work and more pain.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

D&D 3rd Edition is garbage too, but it might be ~redeemable~ garbage

I never would have imagined that my previous post would garner any attention at all, never mind that anybody would try to argue with it—to argue in favor of a WotC edition of D&D on a blog almost totally dedicated to old-school TSR D&D. (Good luck with that.) But I should have expected some pushback: gamers are downright religious about their preferred RPGs, and right now 5E is the most widespread "sect"—still full of corporate and evangelical zeal, driven forth into the world by the full weight of WizBro and the Matt Mercer effect. 

But at the rate WotC puts out new editions, 5E probably has, at most, another two years' worth of gas left in the tank. So enjoy it while it lasts, YAETSNBN-players.

• • •

Considering the various O/A/D&D editions on a comparative plane did get me thinking about some versions of the game that I hadn't actually touched in a long while, though. In particular, I played a lot of 2nd Edition and 3rd Edition back when they were in print. I haven't played any AD&D 2nd Ed. in a number of years, and I don't really have any desire to revisit it anytime soon. But J.B. over at the B/X Blackrazor blog has been talking about playing some AD&D 1st Ed. recently, and that's gotten the old brain-juices flowing. I think I might need to go back and give 1st Ed. a try again, if only to see what I might have been missing out on the first time around. Back in the day, I always played AD&D as a heavily house-ruled, Frankensteinian mishmash; I've never just played it by-the-book, warts and segments and weapon-vs.-AC-modifiers and all.

Honestly, it sounds like a grand old time. 

But what to play? 

I'm normally pretty hard on published modules. I don't like most of them at all. But that's mainly a function of the modules being verbose, overwritten, and not worth the trouble of paring down into a "terse key" that puts all the info you need to run a whole dungeon level onto one page. But I think I'd like to give that part a shot again too—and try to run The Temple of Elemental Evil again. (I tried once, about ten years ago. I'm probably more up to the challenge now, and better-armed with a proper understanding of how 1st Edition is supposed to work.) But that's not all.

• • •

I also got to thinking, "what would I have to do to 3rd Edition to make it playable? What's the bare minimum?" As it turns out, there's rather a lot you need to do to redeem 3E. The system doesn't have reaction rolls or morale or the dungeon turn and dungeon-stocking table that make Basic/Expert D&D such a joy to prep and run. So at a bare minimum, that stuff would have to get ported in. More importantly, there would have to be three major changes made to the system to make it function appreciably like TSR D&D.

1) Saving throws are supposed to get easier to make instead of harder as the characters go up in levels. So all spell and monster ability save DCs would have to become a flat DC 15 across the board.

2) Feats are right out. Replace 'em with ability score increases to keep the characters balanced against the monsters, but they're a blight upon this system in particular and D&D in general. Lose 'em.

3) And, of course, you have to preserve the D&D gameplay loop by awarding XP mainly for the GP value of treasure, which necessitates altering the XP-per-level table so that the totals roughly double every level until 9th or so:

Lv1: 0 XP
Lv2: 1,000 XP
Lv3: 3,000 XP
Lv4: 6,000 XP
Lv5: 12,000 XP
Lv6: 25,000 XP
Lv7: 50,000 XP
Lv8: 100,000 XP
Lv9: 250,000 XP
Lv10: 500,000 XP
Etc.: +250,000 XP

The XP-doubling also serves to severely slow down level advancement just as the game-breaking 4th-level spells are coming into play, which achieves a system-fixing "soft cap" of the same sort as the hard cap of an "Epic Six" game.

Now, at this point, this looks like an awful lot of trouble. Why bother? Well… the answer would be "to run a 3E adventure without having to convert it." And that would be the aim here. Years and years ago, I had a copy of Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil that I always wanted to run but never got around to. It's a direct sequel to the 1st Ed. Temple adventure, and I think it might be a blast to run the two adventures back-to-back. But if I don't want to do any conversion work, the better option is to hack 3E and bash it into a decently playable form that vaguely resembles real D&D.

It's doable. It'll probably have to wait for Post-Pandemical Times™, but the point is that it can be done. And that unlike 4E or 5E, 3E (which still has a fair amount of TSR D&D "DNA" woven into its text) isn't wholly a lost cause.