Saturday, August 1, 2020

Swords & Spells

"Swords & Spells" was a set of miniatures wargame rules for use with D&D, written by Gary Gygax, with credit for development shared by Dave Arneson and Robert Kuntz.  Illustrations were by David Sutherland, with editing and a foreword by Tim Kask.

Swords & Spells (August, 1976) by Gary Gygax, with Dave Arneson and Rob Kuntz.  Cover illustration by David Sutherland.

I used Swords & Spells back in 2014 to run a battle for my group's PCs, leading a contingent of troops from the Keep on the Borderlands against a large force of bandits.  You can read about our experience, complete with maps, here.

We didn't even use miniatures.  Once the composition of the various units was determined, troop movements were sketched out on a piece of paper.  The PCs engaged in hand-to-hand combat, and the outcome of the wider battle was influenced by their actions.

Swords & Spells was notable for its diceless combat resolution, although not rolling dice removes an element of chance, and is less fun.  A similar, abbreviated system was incorporated by Merle Rasmussen in XSOLO Lathan's Gold (1984).

The D&D Companion Set, edited by Frank Mentzer, introduced the "War Machine", rules for large-scale, strategic warfare, developed by Douglas Niles and Garry Spiegel, in which resolution was abstract, and miniatures were not required.

The next iteration of miniatures rules for use with D&D was Battlesystem (1985), which I used for running parts of X10 "Red Arrow, Black Shield" back in 1994.  We didn't have an 8' x 4' table, so taped off a section of the floor in the basement, instead.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Gen Con IX: D&D Tournament

The D&D Tournament at Gen Con IX in August, 1976 was run by Bob Blake.  Both rounds were published by Judges Guild as JG #55 "Gen Con IX Dungeons" (1978) with illustrations by Sheryl England, and reprinted in 1980 with a new cover by Kevin Siembieda.

Poster for Gen Con IX (1976) from the Legends of Wargaming display at Gary Con X (2018)

The preliminary round was "Baldemar Castle and the Staff of Albalon" (character levels 6-7) and the final round was "Temple of Diklah and the Helm of Valasdum" (character levels 8-10), with a tenuous link between the two scenarios.

I've run both parts of this adventure, and posted a review on Dragonsfoot, back in 2016.  The preliminary round was fairly routine, although the final round was more challenging, and would be well suited for a session at Gary Con or some other old school con.

The five pregens included a fighter, a mage, a cleric, an elf, and a dwarf (no hobbit or thief) and awards were given to individual players, as opposed to a winning team.  Allen Hammack was the champion mage, (and has promised to tell me all about it, some day!)

Blake's campaign world is "roughly similar to Celtic mythos" and could be used in place of Gaul, in the OD&D game world.  It would be interesting to learn more about the Valparaiso Society, Blake's gaming group, as they represent a significant early nucleus of gamers.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

A Plethora of Obscure Sub-Classes

The Dragon #3 (October, 1976) included 4 new variant subclasses (as well as 2 tongue-in-cheek subclasses), recommended as NPC rather than PC options.

The Healer:

Contributed by C. Hettlestad, being "a combination of magic-user and cleric with a dash of fighter".  Alignment is restricted to lawful or neutral.  No prime requisite is given, although minimum scores of 15 in intelligence, wisdom, and dexterity are required.

Healers cannot use armor or shields, but can employ any weapon.  Special abilities include the ability to detect slimes, molds, etc (4th level), identify potions (8th level), read scrolls (12th level), use 1st level magic-user spells (16th level), and use 2nd level magic-user spells (20th level).

Spells are a combination of magic-user and clerical spells, with some new ones (such as the 4th level "energy" which restores levels drained by undead creatures, the 5th level "cure insanity", and the 6th level "improved cure serious wounds" which cures up to 4d6+4 hp.

The Scribe:

Contributed by David Mumper.  Specialist NPC as opposed to a playable character class, able to transcribe either magic-user or clerical scrolls into spell books "of magic-users and clerics" (being a rare mention of clerical spell books).

The class was updated for 1e by Ed Greenwood, in The Dragon #62 (June, 1982).

The Samurai:

Illustration of a samurai, from The Best of The Dragon vol. 2 (1981)

Contributed by Mike Childers, as modified by Jeff Kay, a subclass of the fighter.  Alignment is typically neutral.  A samurai's dexterity must be greater than 15.

Samurai may employ katanas (Japanese long swords) and wakizashi (Japanese short swords), one in each hand.  Rules are provided for critical hits.

Additional rules cover Japanese style armor, the composite longbow, and a form of unarmed combat resembling judo.

In the article, an OD&D version of Japan almost seems to be referenced as a part of the OD&D Game World, similar to previous examples involving other real-world cultures.

"Shōgun" (1975) by James Clavell was a major best-seller at the time, generating a great deal of popular interest in Japanese history and culture.

J. Eric Holmes includes a samurai in "The Adventure of the Lost City, Part I" published in Alarums & Excursions #17 (November, 1976), and mentions the class in the Basic Rulebook (1977).

The class was updated for 1e in The Dragon #49 (May, 1981).

The Berserker:

Contributed by John Pickens, who also contributed the alchemist, published in The Dragon #2 (August, 1976).  Another sub-class of the fighter.  Alignment is neutral.  Strength and constitution must be greater than 9, while intelligence must be lower than 9.

Berserkers may not use magical armor or shields, although this is compensated for by improvement in AC by 1 point every two levels.  Special abilities include reduced chances of being surprised (level 4), and ability to detect hidden and invisible enemies (level 6).

Although not true lycanthropes, berserkers gain the ability to assume a "wereshape" at a given level, corresponding to one of the five main types of werecreatures.  "Shieldbrothers" belong to individual clans, led by a clanmaster.

At 6th level, berserkers gain a 4th level companion (any neutral fighter-type or bard), and at higher levels, gain additional followers (similar to rangers) with chances for extraordinary types, one of whom must be a bard of levels 3-6.

Rules for "berserking", including both advantages and disadvantages, are given.  For more on the cultural context, see "Origins of the Norse Pantheon" by Paul Karlsson Johnstone, published in The Dragon #29 (September, 1979).

The class was updated for 1e in The Dragon #133 (May, 1988).

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The OD&D Alchemist

Rules for an alchemist sub-class were published in The Dragon #2 (August, 1976), combining aspects of clerics, fighters, magic-users, and thieves.  Alignment is neutral.

The Alchemist, from The Dragon #2 (August, 1976)

Hit dice and attack ranks are as per clerics, and their prime requisite is wisdom, although both intelligence and wisdom scores must exceed 12.

Armor is limited to AC 5, although any one-handed weapon is usable, and saving throws are as per fighters (with +2 against poison and non-magical paralyzation).

Alchemists possess 4 special abilities (detect poison, neutralize poison, neutralize paralyzation, and identify potion) which advance with a percentile chance of success, as per thief abilities.

Starting at level 1, they can also read languages (80%) and have the ability to prepare a potion of delusion, as well as poisons and drugs.

Starting at level 3, alchemists can prepare other potions (organized into 6 levels, similar to magic-user spells), with an increasing number possible.

Many of the potions are drawn from the OD&D tables, but some interesting new ones are included, such as Tanglefoot Pills (level 1):
Small synthetic fungoid which rapidly expands to fill a 10’ X 10’ area with rubbery tentacles. Men require 3 turns to force their way through, a giant takes one. The tendrils dissipate harmlessly in one hour.
Additional abilities are gained with level advancement (ability to prepare acids at level 3, "blade venom" at level 5, read scrolls as per thieves at level 7, and potions from samples at level 9).

Some new, class-specific, magic items are described, such as the Grimoire of Archaic Alchemy and the Philosopher's Stone.

Finally, there is a section on poison, including a description of Blade Venom:
This special poison for application to cutting weapons costs 200GP and 1 week to prepare. The victim struck must save vs. poison or die in 3 rounds. The venom is kept in vials which contain enough for three hits with a blade or three arrows.It loses potency rapidly, becoming useless 24 hours after the vial is opened.
The alchemist did not make it into the AD&D Players Handbook (1978), but I think represents an interesting class to play.  It was updated for 1e in The Dragon #49 (May, 1981).

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

OD&D: Random Monsters

The Dragon #10 (October, 1977) contained an article on "Random Monsters" by Paul Montgomery Crabaugh.  The rationale was to permit the DM to "occasionally throw a monster at the party that keeps them on their toes".

Illustration by Morno, from The Dragon #5 (March, 1977).

The tables are "geared for a 20-level dungeon".  In other words, the level the monster is encountered upon in actual play has some bearing on the characteristics determined.  Since I was just experimenting with the tables, I rolled 1d20.

There are three types of monsters which may be created.  This can be randomly determined, using 1d8 (1-4 = mammal, 5-7 = reptile, 8 = undead) or simply chosen.  To get a sense of the tables, I decided to create one of each type.


Level of the Dungeon: 1d20 = 19

Intelligence: 1d6 = 2 (highly intelligent)
Alignment: 1d8 = 8 (Chaos)

Armor Class (Mammals): 1d12 = 8 (AC 6)

Hit Dice: 1d12 = 9 (level of the dungeon) = HD 19
Hit Dice Modifiers: 1d6 = 6 (-1)

Damage: 1d6 = 4 (3-30)
(by weapon type)

Speed: 1d12 = 4 (90' per turn)

Special Characteristics: d% = 92 (none)

Other Characteristics: d% = 99 (three)
1d8 = 3 (4 eyes)
1d8 = 5 (unusually long fangs)
1d8 = 6 (unusually long claws)

Physical Description:
Size: 1d12 = 4 (medium = 3-12 feet)
Limbs: 1d8 = 8 (4 legs); 1d8 = 5 (2 tentacles)
Exterior Cover: 1d8 = 5 (skin)
Coloring: 1d20 = 2 (gray)

So, we have a highly intelligent, 4 legged, gray-skinned mammal with 2 tentacles for arms, 4 eyes, unusually long fangs, and unusually long claws.  That would freak out my players, for sure.

Monsters can possess up to 3 special characteristics, by type.  Examples for mammals include regenerates 1-10 hit points/turn, only silver/magic weapons effective, or has antimagic shell.


Level of the Dungeon: 1d20 = 20

Intelligence: 1d6 = 3 (highly intelligent)
Alignment: 1d8 = 4 (Chaos)

Armor Class (Reptiles): 1d12 = 2 (AC 3)

Hit Dice: 1d12 =  (level of the dungeon +1) = HD 21
Hit Dice Modifiers: 1d6 = 4 (0)

Damage: 1d6 = 5 (5-50)
(by weapon type)

Speed: 1d12 = 3 (60' per turn)

Special Characteristics: d% = 68 (none)

Other Characteristics: d% = 49 (none)

Physical Description:
Size: 1d12 = 4 (medium = 3-12 feet)
Limbs: 1d8 = 7 (3 legs); 1d8 = 7 (2 tentacles)
Exterior Cover: 1d8 = 3 (scales)
Coloring: 1d20 = 8 (gray)

So, this is a highly intelligent, 3-legged, gray-scaled reptile with 2 tentacles for arms (AC 3, HD 21) which attacks with some kind of weapon for 5-50 points of damage...

Special characteristics for reptiles include breathes fire (1-8 points of damage/four levels), legless, speed +3, or bite causes disease, fatal in 1-10 days.


Level of the Dungeon: 1d20 = 17

Intelligence: 1d6 = 4 (semi-intelligent)
Alignment: Undead "are always Chaotic"

Armor Class (Undead): 1d8 + 1 = 2 (AC 2)

Hit Dice: 1d12 = 3 (level of the dungeon +2) = 17 + 2 = HD 19*
Hit Dice Modifiers: 1d6 = 5 (0)
*Undead are Turned as per level HD/2 = 9.5

Damage: 1d6 = 3 (2-24)
d% = 95 (bite)

Speed: 1d12 = 12 (150' per turn)

Special Characteristics: d% = 41 (3 special characteristics):
1-24 = 7 (destroyed by running water)
1-24 = 14 (if human killed by undead, becomes undead)
1-24 = 24 (invisible)

Other Characteristics: d% = 70 (no more characteristics)

Physical Description: "Undead do not have a physical description (assume a figure under a cloak)"

So, we have an invisible, undead creature (AC 2, HD 19) which attacks with its bite for 2-24 points of damage.  That's pretty horrifying, actually.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Creature Feature: Contests

The Dragon ran two "Creature Feature" contests.  In the first, a monster had to be named and described, based on an illustration.  In the second, a monster was to be illustrated, based on an excerpt from a story by Fritz Leiber.

The Dragon #8 (July, 1977): Name that Monster!

Illustration by Erol Otus

I would have called this creature something like a "Dust Devil".  It appears to be able to hurl boulders, like a giant, and wield its tail, like a mace, in battle.

The Dragon received almost 100 entries.  The winner and runners up were announced in The Dragon #13 (April, 1978):
Winner: Conrad Froehlich "The Jarnkung"
1st Runners Up: Thomas and Edward McCloud "Cursed Crimson Crawler"
2nd Runner Up: Ann Conlon "The Ulik"
The complete write-ups, together with honorable mentions, were published in The Dragon #14 (May, 1978).

Creature Feature Contest #2 "Paint that Monster"

The second contest involved either drawing or painting a creature described in an excerpt from Fritz Leiber's "The Bleak Shore"

The winners were published a year later, in The Dragon #24 (April, 1979):

Illustration by Robert Charrette

The two creatures which emerged in the gathering dusk held enormity even for the Mouser’s drugged mind.  Shambling things, erect like men but taller, with reptilian heads boned and crested like helmets, feet clawed like a lizard’s, shoulders topped with bony spikes, fore-limbs each terminating in a single yard-long claw.  In the semidarkness they seemed like hideous caricatures of fighting men, armored and bearing swords.  Dusk did not hide the yellow of their blinking eyes...
Fritz Leiber "The Bleak Shore" (1940)

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Dragon: Creature Features

The "Creature Feature" column in the Strategic Review continued in The Dragon, with full color illustrations for many of the creatures.

The Dragon #1 (June, 1976): The Bulette (a.k.a. Landshark)

The bulette was created by Tim Kask.  Like the owl bear and the rust monster, it was modeled after one of the plastic toy "prehistoric animals" manufactured in Hong Kong.

The name was derived from the creature's appearance - that of a "bullet".  It is described to have been cross-bred from armadillo and snapping turtle stock.

The classic illustration by David Sutherland was subsequently used as the frontispiece for the AD&D Monster Manual (1977).

The Dragon #2 (August, 1976): The Remorhaz

The Remorhaz, illustration by Erol Otus.

The remorhaz was created by Rob Kuntz, likely after Remora, a creature from "The Lair of the Ice Worm", by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, published in "Conan of Cimmeria" (1969).

The illustration by Erol Otus was his first published colour piece, according to an interview in 2009, here.  The remorhaz makes an appearance in module G2: The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl.

The Dragon #5 (March, 1977): The Anhkheg

The Anhkheg, illustration by Erol Otus.

The anhkheg, a fearsome burrower, was created by Erol Otus, according to an interview in 2009, here.  It appears to have been modeled somewhat after a form of giant beetle.

The Dragon #6 (April, 1977): Death Angel

The death angel was created by John Sullivan.  Unlike previous "creature features", it was not included in the 1e Monster Manual, probably because the book had already gone to press.

A highly imaginative creature, the death angel shares characteristics with other undead.  This is a great OD&D monster to use, as it is fairly obscure.

John Sullivan also illustrated the covers of The Dragon #10 and #17.

The Dragon #7 (June, 1977): The Prowler

The Prowler, illustration by Erol Otus.

A truly horrifying creature, created and illustrated by Erol Otus.  It was later used in the AD&D adventure "The Pit of The Oracle" by Stephen Sullivan, in The Dragon #37 (May, 1980).

The prowler is another creature which didn't make it into the 1e Monster Manual, and so is a great option to release on unwitting player characters.

There were no further "Creature Features" published in The Dragon.  The 1e Monster Manual was advertised in The Dragon #11 (December, 1977), reviewed in The Dragon #12 (February, 1978), followed by 1-page advertisements in The Dragon #13 (April, 1978) and #14 (May, 1978).