Posts Tagged With: 1e

Magic Weapons and Armor limitations

So about the sudden disappearance of +4 and +5 weapons and armor…

On the one hand I can see the logic given the new allegiance to bounded accuracy, on the other hand given their opposing natures they cancel each other out, and by the time characters reach the level where they “should” have one I’m not certain that the extra +1 or +2 makes that much of a difference in actual play. Let’s look at the way the “official numbers” add up for characters who are in the right level range to have that kind of magic:

+5 or +6 for Proficiency, +4 or +5 for Statistics, and then +3 for Magic. That makes a range of +13 to +15. A Balor or a Pit Fiend only has an AC of 19 (Hitting 70% to 80% of the time), while an Ancient Red Dragon has an AC of 22 (Hitting 55% to 65% of the time) – with a human in +3 Full Plate having an AC of 21 (thus being hit by the Pit Fiend or Balor a mere 65% of the time and the Ancient Red Dragon 80% of the time).

Granting a maximum of a +5 magical bonus only tweaks those hit percentages up or down by 10% – which while certainly what we would call in my profession “statistically significant” I’m not sure I’d say that it is “clinically relevant”. The bonus adds a minor amount of damage to each strike, and… I’m not in the mood to do the stats on the overall statistical impact of hitting an extra 10% of the time but given that the rules for determining Combat Rating assume hitting with the creatures “best everything” for the first three rounds of combat it is pretty clear that 5e isn’t concerned with that level of statistical detail.

Unlike 1e, where there was some real concern over the need for “bonuses to hit” because of the huge range of AC (a 21 point spread), 5e has what? A fifteen point spread? A Terrasque has an AC of 25, so this is a game where literally a goblin with an attack bonus of +4, without recourse to a Critical Hit, can strike an Ancient Red Dragon 15% of the time (in 1e it was only on a natural 20, but without any doubled damage) and hit either the Pit Fiend or the Balor 30% of the time.

Obversely in 5e, that Pit Fiend and Balor are missing the Goblin only on a Natural 1, the same for the Ancient Red Dragon. In 1e the Ancient Red Dragon missed the Goblin 15% of the time, the Balor missed 25% of the time, and the Pit Fiend 10% of the time! The human (Fighter we’ll say) would, in the same level range of 15+, never miss using the canon 1e rules (natural 1’s only autofail on Saving Throws, not To-Hit).

So “increased reliability” (re: bounded accuracy) really means “everyone pretty much hits all the time” no matter who or what you are because the Attack Bonus rapidly outstrips Armor Class and unlike 1e it never really catches up.

All of this also just goes hand in hand with my general eye-rolling at the “no Dexterity modifications for Heavy armor” that I’ve grumbled about before. Frankly, give humans a Dexterity bonus, and monsters either (or both) a Dexterity or Constitution bonus to AC and those fights suddenly became much more interesting!

AC25 for the Balor, AC26 for the Pit Fiend, and AC31 for the Ancient Red Dragon – with the best human probably having an AC in the 26ish range with a maximum of 28.

Alternately, you leave monster AC where it is but give the Pit Fiend and Balor access to a magic weapon or two and the new bonus to AC for humans is relatively quickly cancelled out to a large degree from a statistical (and “game balance”) standpoint. You could actually make a good argument for this by saying that the increased Hit Dice for large creatures (with correspondingly greater Hit Points) reflects this power rather than raw AC. E.g. yeah, they are easier to hit that the best of the tiny, puny humans, but they are also much harder to kill due to sheer mass and size.

So, 5e is certainly simpler than 1e when it comes to To-Hit/Attack Bonus and Armor Class – but I’m highly unconvinced that it is actually better or that some of the fiddly bits that are supposed to enhance game balance actually matter in most fights.



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Economics of Magic in 5e

Ok, this was going to start out as a short rant about another crazy bit of unthinking largess on the part of the writers of Lost Mines of Phandelver – who have obviously never played an edition of D&D where money equated to experience or played with folks who wanted to squeeze every last cent of loot and treasure from the adventure.

Let’s just say that my players lit up upon being told that there was an entire wizard’s workshop or alchemists laboratory “there for the taking” – and the idea that the “most valuable things in it” were three rare components worth 25 coin each is laughable in any logical sense. You are going to tell me all that glassware isn’t worth money? Even if we only roughly analogize this to a 1e workshop this room should have at least a couple of thousand coin worth of stuff in it. Even giving up on the idea that treasure = experience points, my players are used to conquistador-levels of pillaging. The arms and armor that the bandits or the goblins are wearing and carrying is almost always worth more than the coin in their pockets…

Ok, that little rant out of the way, now to a larger rant about how the magical economy makes no sense in 5e.

In 1e, magic was limited because you had to be a certain level of magic user or cleric to make magical items. Basically 7th level-ish for consumables like scrolls and potions, and 12th level for charged magical items (for the 6th level Enchant an Item), and then 16th level to make anything permanent (because you needed a Permanency spell).  It was relatively easy to see why magical items were rare-ish, so rare that many DM’s I knew came up with ways to explain some types of ostensibly permanent magical items were so darn common (surely not every +1 weapon needed a 16th-level Wizard involved did they?). In fact, in 1e magical items were actually pretty common depending upon the setting – in places like the Forgotten Realms they are positively commonplace! This was an inherent inconsistency of the rules as written (inherent setting assumptions) vs. the modules presented (actual setting presented). This inconsistency was also seen in the tables for generating magical items for PC and NPC groups given at the end of the 1e DMG – definitely “high magic” not the supposed “low magic” that was said to be the case.

Now, in 5e we have the exact opposite problem. Supposedly it is a “low magic” setting, and that is certainly the case if we look at the first modules presented. But when we look at the 5e DMG we find an utterly confusing and contradictory set of rules governing the economy of magical items. First they are supposed to be so rare that they are difficult to sell and basically impossible to buy – but making a +1 sword or a Wand of Magic Missiles only takes a 3rd level character who can cast the base spell, four days and 100 coin to make!

And the rules for selling it, if used as written, essentially guarantee at least a small loss (because you had living expenses during the Downtime spent looking for buyers) and probably a larger loss upon selling it (again, assuming a buyer can be found).


Even in a crazy-to-modern-sensibilities ancient/medieval economy this makes no sense.

I think that 5e tries to “fix” by introducing some “Attunement” rules that limit the number of powerful-ish magic items a character can use at one time – though that seems somewhat spotty in application in the DMG. Unfortunately, to these tired old 1e eyes this seems exceedingly awkward, much like the old rules that limited the number of magic rings you could wear at one time. Sort of. I like the idea for certain magic items – like only being able to have a certain number of intelligent magical items – but it seems otherwise arbitrary for no good reason other than “game balance” and that is rarely a good reason to set in a new limit of this sort.





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Economics, Equipment, and Availability

I’ll be posting some rules for weapons and armor made from a selection of metals, most (but not all) of them also considered “enchanted” when and if such a thing would matter. The list includes not just a description of effects, but also refers to my “availability codes” for equipment.

Years ago now I took a page from the Pendragon RPG which has separate equipment lists for “Standard” areas and another for  “Great Cities” (essentially London and Camelot), essentially forcing the characters to certain areas if and when they wanted certain items because that is the only place they were available. I experimented with a variety of systems over the years, but when I really sat down and hammered out an economy I drew deeply from the Pendragon well, along with looking at systems such as Harn for other inspiration.

The first thing I did was do research living expenses and wages across a number of eras, and eventually decided to peg the daily wage of a standard mercenary (aka “an adventurer”) at 1 Silver per day, the cost of a standard (long)sword at 30 Silver (a full month’s wages), a Laborer’s wage a 2 Copper per day, a bottle of table wine at 5 Copper, and a days worth of Bread at 1 Copper (a day’s worth of Dried Meat is also a Copper, Dried Vegetables is 1 Bronze). All other prices were essentially figured out using pegging things to these prices either using real world analogies, or simply eyeballing it, keeping in mind the difference between ancient and modern economies.

Using this system, a laborer can eke out a very poor existence assuming that they keep working and are supplied someplace to sleep by their employer – if not then space in a field or a stable is usually 1 Copper, the Common Room of an Inn or Tavern is 2 Copper a night, and a Private Room is 5 Copper ( a Private Suite is 1 Silver, sans any other amenities). Interestingly it took very little work to adapt the 5E “Living Expenses” to this system.

Given the “Wild West Mining Town” trope that Lost Mine of Phandelver has been running with, I decided that it is also working under semi-typical inflated prices. In this case merely doubling prices, with some slightly tweaked availability of mining related  equipment from the normal “Town” gear.

In any case, a large part of what I wanted was to have a relatively exhaustive list of equipment, but also make it clear that some things were rarer than others. As a result, on my equipment list (and associated documents) items are noted as being available in Villages (generally less than a hundred people), Towns (anywhere from couple of hundred people to upwards of 1500 people, usually 600-800 inhabitants), Cities (smaller cities ranging from 1500 to 2500 people, larger cities from 2500 to 5000 inhabitants), Great Cities (10,000 or more inhabitants), or as Exotic. You can always find things from a smaller population available in a larger population center, but the reverse is not true (and such items are invariably inflated in price considerably when they can be found).

Exotic items are exactly that, treasures from the Shadowlands or Faerie, especially hard to craft items, especially rare herbs or spices, etc. These are technically available anywhere that you can find a seller – but that is much more likely in a City or Great City.

It sounds like this was a great deal of work to set up, and in some ways it was, but is was also just the sort of world-building detail-work that I enjoy researching and chewing on. It also starts to build up a certain Gygaxian Naturalism into the campaign world.



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Yup! Psionics were dangerous!

Rick over at Don’t Split the Party has a great post breaking down the dangers of psionics in 1E.

This essentially sums up why I didn’t think that psionics were overpowered – or really that common beyond some very basic abilities.


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CR = Combat Rating = Training Wheels = Fleeing From Gygaxian Naturalism

I was commenting on the Rambling Roleplayer’s “The Temple of Elemental Challenge Rating Calculation Evil” post when I realized my big problem with CR numbers.

It’s a set training wheels that I don’t need or want.

I’m used to playing 1e – there were no CR’s. I had to learn how to build adventures based on roughly equating Hit Dice to Level – sort of. Alternately, we could look at the old “Random Monster” tables for dungeon levels, which had a roughly accelerated version of that idea. Going one step further there was the old Wilderness Random Encounter tables which were Gygaxian Naturalism red-in-tooth-and-claw and had no correlation whatsoever to level, it was simply what you could run into “out there in the wild” (or in the city).

This might be because it is a game based on a wargame that predates the vast majority of “point build systems” that are so common today (the Citadel games, Ground Zero Games, etc.) It was rooted more in systems that replicated scenarios that were often less about “balance” and more about “interesting”. Could you survive as the British at Roarke’s Drift? Could you sink the Bismark? How would you handle Pearl Harbor? Can you do as well as Caesar at Alesia?

Instead of trying to build a “balanced scenario” players and DM’s really did engage in a least a little bit of “who can outwit the other” – in the same spirit as wargamers did. In fact, some of the joy of the DM was not so much in building a scenario that killed the players but in watching the players win against odds that were stacked against them.

That’s what made adventures like D3 so great – the idea isn’t to wipe out the entire city of Drow, it’s to sneak in and “win” by achieving the victory conditions. There is nothing “balanced” about the module at all in most respects. One of the most memorable adventures I played in as a players was similar, it was for essentially name level characters (9th-10th level) and was based on Stephen King’s novel Salems Lot – yes, it was a remote village that had been taken over by vampires. By “CR” standards it was utterly over the top and a level-draining, undeath-generating deathtrap, there was nothing “balanced” about it – but we still beat something like two-hundred vampires, along with the utterly evil vampiric version of Rutger Hauer’s character Étienne from Ladyhawke with the bastard sword that acted as a Ring of Vampiric Regeneration. Twenty-plus years later and I still remember that adventure, we had a great time, by finding and enlisting allies, some combination of Captain Kronus, Vampire Hunter and Vampire Hunter D by my recollection, plus finding a vampire-mesmerizing magical item (the Bloodstone) and then fighting smarter not harder.

There are some echoes of this concept in Rise of Tiamat, and that’s actually kind of cool. But it still talks about reducing Tiamat down from a CR30 threat to a more manageable CR18 for the supposedly ~15th level adventurers. I wish it simply talked about ways to allow a group of hopelessly outmatched 15th level adventurers to handle a CR30 threat. It bad gamer speak that robs, I think, the players of any real pride in the accomplishment of taking down Tiamat. “Sorry, that wasn’t the real Tiamat, it was the CR18 version – come back and brag when you vanquish the real one.”

As a long-term DM I don’t need the training wheels of a CR to tell me how to balance an encounter or adventure. Ultimately I’m not trying to build a balanced adventure. I’m trying to build a fun adventure, a challenging adventure, a memorable adventure, hopefully an adventure that my players will be talking about 20+ years from now.

I think the other potential problem with CR ratings is that it doesn’t actually account very well for exceptional players or “unbalanced groups” – I think I just witnessed that with the Cragmaw Hideout session. Three lightly armoured, high-magic characters essentially walked through the entire section by using stealth rather than what was clearly designed for a more “frontal assault” from the descriptions in the module.

The players job is to break the module, to shred any semblance of balance, and reap the rewards.

CR is a third and unnecessary wheel in that process.




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Musing about the last AD&D campaign

As I’ve been thinking about the AD&D game I was running I’ve been looking at some of the things I’m not so thrilled with. Training for levels is one thing and weapon proficiencies is another. Experience points are the last place where I am just not thrilled with the basic AD&D system.

Weapon proficiencies were ok, but I wasn’t really happy with the way that they worked. While I like the idea of the different classes being restricted in what weapons they can use (it’s somewhat artificial but I’m ok with it for game balance) I’m less convinced that there is any good reason for limiting the learning of new weapons to level advancement. It seems to me that I merely want there to be a cost in time and money (mostly time) in order to learn new weapons.

Similarly, I’m less than thrilled with the time and costs associated with level advancement. This seems to be a remnant of the particular play style that is very “Grognardian” and reflective of the artifacts of the AD&D experience system. Back in the day I had dropped any level training for fighters and rogues (save for when they wanted to learn a weapon proficiency) and retained some costs for spell casters only when they gained a new spell level (to cover initiation and ritual costs). I’m really thinking that I’m going to do the same thing again. This makes the warrior and the rogue classes a bit more popular (not a bad thing) and in turn makes the magic-using and multi-classes a bit less popular because they are actually expensive to play.

In the old days I’d left the old style AD&D system behind and moved to what was basically the Palladium XP system which was far more based on ideas and planning rather the killing and treasure for the generation of XP. The problem is that this made figuring out XP a large investment of time after I was done gaming for the session. So this time around I went with a mix of that style, plus the old AD&D style, and it was still a ton of work. I really like Alexis’ method of 10XP per point of damage done, 20XP per point of damage suffered, with a bonus for the party on total damage suffered. There would still need to be a bit of something figured out for spell-casters and rogues because I like to reward people for using their special skills, but looking at his number crunching and doing some of my own I think it is a pretty reasonable method.

In any case, I just wanted to get this down for posterity. TTFN!


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Fixing Humans… (1e)

So as I mentioned in the last post I’m trying to fix the balance for taking human vs. non-human characters. This was always a bit iffy in many AD&D games because there was rarely a downside for playing a demi-human. Many campaigns never reached the level caps and of those that did, they often seemed to ignore them or have rather easy ways to sidestep them.

I’m generally happy with what I’ve done with Demihumans and Darklings (Half-breeds of Goblins, Ogres, and Trolls) and Shadowkin (the creatures of the Shadowlands) so I don’t want to mess with them particularly. Yes, they are significantly more powerful than they are in standard AD&D, but they’ve been that way for years now and I don’t think the change in engine really makes this a game breaker.

What I do have to do, in a game without skills, is find a way to boost up regular humans into something that is attractive beyond simply being the most predominant race that advances the quickest via XP. My current model for this is using secondary skills/professions and linking them to additional abilities or skills and having this be a human only benefit. This could range anywhere from allowing a initial dual-class, to additional weapon proficiencies, to tracking ability, to any number of isolated special skills for various character classes.

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LOL! Yeah, there’s been another slight break here…

Apologies for that, life and work has been busy.

A sad part is that I haven’t really been gaming. There was a little bit of Dark Heresy with my son that led to the musings on the Lost Imperium project, I’m not done with that, I think it would be lots of fun to run. I’ve been talking with my spouse about running a small little Artesia game just for the two of us and at the same time revisiting the “Pulp Cthulhu” (using Call of Cthulhu) game that I was running for my son and KT.

I’ve also been doing some real pondering about what went wrong with my AD&D game. In some ways that’s not a fair statement because I know people had fun, but I think I burned out a bit faster than I was expecting. It was also more of a s=chore to pick the game up again after 15 years and start running it.

Part of that was having other old-time AD&D players in the game (KB & CB) who were used to their own house rules and who have been playing in a several edition long campaign elsewhere (now in some 3.5E version IIRC). Going back to 1E was a great blast from the past for them, but I really had some very different house rules that they weren’t used to and I was also getting used to AD&D again on top of rebuilding an old set of house rules.

Some of the new house rules don’t work as well as I’d like (and will get tweaked again), some work really well, and in some ways I’m wondering if I was/am trying to make things too neat and clean. Now part of it was trying to come up with a coherent version of some of my older tweaks to character classes (Bards, etc) and make it easier for newer players who hadn’t been playing the game for years and didn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of old articles, character classes, spells, magic items, etc.

At the same time, my campaign world has another 15 years of non-AD&D development and that has taken it away from a straight AD&D game as even just perusing my character races would show. That said, one of the things I’ve realized is that I either need to dial down the powers of non-humans (which I’m loathe to do because I do like how they feel) or I need to figure out how to increase the appeal of humans as a player race. That’s something I’m struggling with slightly, but it may simply be a matter of increasing the XP penalties of being non-human so that humans advance significantly faster or coming up with some extra penalties that the non-humans suffer from.

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Long time no see…

Yeah, life did get pretty crazy there for a bit. I don’t think it has really gotten any less crazy, but at this point I’m starting to acclimate…

The AD&D game is on hold, after the switch to the new setting we had a great time starting the Slaver series, pretty much trouncing through A1. But due to the chaos I was basically burned out and when my spouse was ready to take over running a “Cybertraveller” (Cyberpunk 2020 and Traveller mashup) game we had an extra bit of chaos thrown into the works and we had to cancel that plus pretty much all formal group gaming.

For the last few weeks my son and I have been playing in our shared Dark Heresy game. Itself a bit of mashup because it has been combined with the rest of the FFE WH40K games. It is just my son and myself because my spouse and our friends really don’t have much of a desire to play in it’s the dark future setting.

This Friday past we (my son and I) went to see Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and I was struck by how much the vaguely steampunk setting would work in a low-tech Dark Heresy setting. The witches in the film are excellent examples of Chaos-taint, and the steampunk-esque weapons certainly had a WH40K feel to them.

And that had me thinking.

Why couldn’t the setting of 41st millennium be re-imagined? It doesn’t have to actually be so unrelentingly god-awful and dark, that’s a function of how the Imperium works – and there are certainly plenty of examples of how there is definite scalability to that even in the official universe. So I’ve starting think about how everything could stay the same but at the same time be massively different…

I have a couple of very interesting ideas, and much of it involves delving into the apocrypha of the WH40K setting – not hard because I was playing 40K back in the days of the original Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader rules. So I’m going to be using this space to talk about this alternative setting, which has it’s start in bright hope of the Great Crusade, before the dark days of the Horus Heresy and the slow descent of the Imperium into madness and chaos…

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Status Update


Life has been, well, really crazy for the last couple of months. Gaming-wise, I’m behind on game logs, behind on rules updates, and I’ve made some interesting and major changes in the campaign.

The short version is that the group finished up with Castle Amber – which in and of itself let me implement a couple of changes to correct things that we “out of whack” with my current campaign. I realized that I reached a point where it was impossible for the players to keep up with the DM (me) on just sort of simple “world knowlegde” because I’d been running essentially the same setting for such a long time.

So I took the wierdness of Castle Amber as an excuse to jump the group forward in time and space when things ended.

So they are roughly 1000 years in the future and in a brand-new part of my world – I have somewhat steadfastly decided to not worry about where it is in relation to where things were. Given the somewhat mallable nature of the Mortal Realms I’m not sure I ever have to determine that. I’m having a great deal of fun worldbuilding again and the entire group gets to participate in the process. I think that this is an undermentioned aspect of world-building – the role of player participation.

Sometimes this is really explicit – my spouse invented a whole culture once because she wanted something new to play – and other times it is more accidental – Gnomish culture is pretty much the result of two different players in my old game.

But currently, the characters are investigating what could be done about a group of rampaging slavers…



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