The Fruits of Evil

The idea of alignment – a mishmash of ethics, morality and game play – is probably familiar to most role playing gamers of the D&D persuasion – I’m not sure how (or if) the newer versions of the game use it. Whether its Law vs. Chaos (which was always really Good vs. Evil by another name) or the nine-alignment schmeer, alignment was much more integral to the earlier versions of the game than to the later.

Oft evil will shalt evil mar … and it doesn’t do good will any favors either!

In Chainmail, Law – Neutrality – Chaos was a fantasy version of the army lists you would see in many wargames. For those unfamiliar, an army based on the Normans would be chosen from a list of the kinds of soldiers common to a Norman army. For a fantasy game, lists based on Law and Chaos, with Neutrals serving in either army, made sense. This is the earliest version of alignment.

When the wargame became a role playing game, alignment was retained but became a bit more than just a cosmic allegiance, although it would still have had that role to play for characters who were building strongholds and armies for the endgame that was assumed/intended for older editions. Hey folks – that’s what all that dang treasure was for – building a stronghold and recruiting an army so you could play Chainmail!

Alignment now governed how your character behaved. This was just a simple description in Moldvay/Cook, but in AD&D it also governed access to certain tactics – i.e. evil can use poison, good cannot – and helped determined how expensive it was to gain a new level. Again, for those who do not know how AD&D worked, to reach a higher level you required training, and the cost of that training was more expensive if you had acted outside your alignment while earning your experience points.

Later editions took a path more like “good guys are supposed to be good, evil are supposed to be evil … but then what is evil really?” Sort of like “alignment relatavism”.

What if evil simply corrupts a character and ruins his or her plans? I don’t mean a supernatural corruption here – like the taint of Chaos in Warhammer. I mean, by committing an evil act, a character begins a chain of events that eventually overtakes and destroys them unless they find their way back to the path of good. Here, you don’t really even need a character to have an alignment, you just have to know what is good and what is evil, and no that by accomplishing goals with evil methods, that evil is going

He eventually made his point

to come back to haunt you eventually. We find this theme in many stories, especially the folktales, fables and fairy tales that form part of the foundation of D&D.

I just recently watched Majin: The Monster of Terror (or Daimajin in its original title), and its one representation of this concept. I won’t give it away for those who haven’t seen it – and I do heartily recommend it – but if you watch it you will see how the bad guy ultimately screws himself. You can create a tragic and powerful storyline as characters find success by employing evil tactics and then gradually find themselves corrupted, choosing evil over good to get out of bad situations they have precipitated, until all seems lost.

“So we used poison to kill the orc king – so what? The orcs are evil, so what’s the big deal?”

How might that act come back to haunt the adventurers?

Well, where did they get the poison – perhaps some evil organization or creature who will become a bigger threat than the orcs. Maybe the use of poison negates the protection provided by a good entity to a kingdom – the short cut in fighting evil then ushers in more sorrows for the kingdom, and gradually the king and his people find out who is responsible. Maybe the orcs had friends who would have accepted their defeat in combat as fair, but figure poisoning requires vengeance. You destroy 100 orcs only to raise the ire of 10,000 orcs living deeper underground. There’s also the issue of trust. Can the player characters trust one another when they’ll use any means to get what they want?

Can the adventurers find their way back to the path of good? Role playing of this variety can add another dimension to a game about adventuring, fighting and treasure hunting, and reveal the philosophies behind “alignment” in a way that arbitrary rules about who can use poison and how much gold it takes it get to 5th level do not.

Alignment as Religion

This is something that has been kicking around in my head for a while, so read this as nothing more than me tossing around a few ideas.

When alignment first reared its soon-to-be controversial head, it was in the form of factions for war gaming. There was Law and Chaos – they opposed one another – and then Neutrality. The neutrals would fight for either side, and thus neither favored Law or Chaos. The terms “Law” and “Chaos” came from either Michael Moorcock or Poul Anderson – I’ve heard both get credit, and haven’t researched it enough to have my own opinion on the matter. They may have already had the good vs. evil vibe, but I think the main point was in building fantasy army lists, not modeling ethics and morality in a fantasy game.

With the addition of the Lawful cleric (and later paladin), and the Chaotic anti-cleric,  alignment seemed to become a stand-in for religion. Instead of treading on the dangerous ground of Christians vs. Satan, they used Law vs. Chaos.

Eventually, alignment was expanded from the original three factions (or two factions plus neutrals) to five alignments and then to nine. Once you get to nine alignments, with sometimes vague divisions between them, the alignment as religion scheme starts to fall apart. Is Chaotic Good more aligned with Chaos or Good? Is it player’s choice, or does one override the other?

The Notion

What if you stick to three main religious/philosophical factions – Law, Chaos, Neutrality (or Good, Evil, Neutrality to be more precise) – and use the smaller divisions as sects within those three great factions.

For example, Lawful Good and Chaotic Good may argue and fuss with one another – they might even come to blows on rare occasions – but they’re still ostensibly on the same side, and will always rally to one another when Chaos comes marching over the hill. Both are part of the Good faith, they just differ on the details.

So, how might we characterize these alignment sects?

First and foremost, let’s assume that the main divide is Good vs. Evil. Why focus on the good/evil divide? Because I think it’s more pronounced and contentious than the law/chaos divide. Oscar and Felix managed to live together without killing one another. Superman and Lex Luthor … just not going to see eye to eye (you don’t believe me? Click HERE. You just can’t trust the guy).

I’m pretty sure they inspired Moorcock’s Law vs. Chaos

Good supports virtuous action, self-discipline (i.e. telling yourself “no”), kindness, justice and law – not tyranny, but rather the idea of “natural law” or God’s law – no murder, no theft, etc. The basics without which people cannot live in relative peace and tranquility.

Evil, on the other hand, scoffs at these ideas. It is interested in power for the sake of power. It might work within a system of law, but will always seek to distort and manipulate the system for its own benefit. Evil loves technicalities. Evil doesn’t think of itself as “good” – it knows it is not, and it doesn’t care, but it also doesn’t see itself as wrong. Evil is okay, because the universe rewards it. Everyone is evil at heart. Good is naive. Good is nonsense. Good is a chicken waiting to be plucked. You good guys can deny yourselves pleasure and wealth and all the rest if you want to, but don’t try to force me to deny those pleasures and power.

Simplify, man!

Neutrality is somewhere in between. Maybe pragmatic, maybe a dogmatic resistance to pick sides, maybe it just doesn’t think much about it. For druids who actually need a functioning philosophy, perhaps it is something akin to Taoism. We probably need to separate True Neutral (the philosophy) from Neutral (a cow chewing cud in a field). On the other hand, maybe druid’s just serve the immediate, practical needs of their parishioners OR nature without worrying about whether what they do is good or evil. Perhaps they have an ideal held higher than moral and ethical concerns.

You can play with those definitions, but I think they make enough sense to inform the way a character behaves in a fantasy game environment.

Now, let’s examine how the alignment sects might work.

Within the Good alignment faction, we have Lawful Good, Neutral Good and Chaotic Good. I can see Lawful Good as being something like the Catholic Church or similar religious organizations. It believes in virtue and civilization, and believes that the only way to preserve virtue and civilization is through hierarchical organizations and institutions. Its members also believe that the institutions are only legitimate, be they religious or political, if they uphold virtue. They hold their institutions to a high standard, and though they will rarely destroy an institution outright, they will work against its leadership to put a more virtuous person in charge when the institution appears to have lost its way. They believe in reformation rather than rebellion.

Chaotic Good is not so big on institutions. Human freedom and liberty are the key to maintaining virtue and civilization. Institutions are about power, and power corrupts. Give a Lawful Good institution enough time, and it will become Lawful Neutral or even Lawful Evil. The individual must not be run over by the institutions. They would probably prefer a republic over a monarchy, and would be loathe to join with others except on a temporary basis.

Neutral Good

Neutral Good can, like most neutrals, see both sides of the argument. There is value in institutions – they can do things individuals cannot, things that must be done. On the other hand, they can also lose their way, and thus must not be depended on overmuch. A thriving civilization needs institutions, but it also needs freedom and dynamism. Neutral Good also makes me think about some of the Christian sects that wanted to go back to a more “primitive” faith. They were often nudists, trying to recreate Eden, and not entirely unlike the original hippies. Neutral Good hippies could be fun in a campaign, annoying Lawful Good and Chaotic Good alike.

The divisions might be similar on the Evil side. The Lawful Evils worship the devils and imitate their evil hierarchy. The Chaotic Evils worship demons and believe that no creature in the cosmos is more important than themselves – you might call them psychopaths. Neutral Evil seeks to forward itself on the backs of Lawful and Chaotic Evil – maybe they see themselves as the true faith, the puppet masters of the other sects, using and abusing them as events merit.

Neutrality is a little tougher. I would think Lawful Neutrality is conservative, while Chaotic Neutrality is radical. Both favor a balance – either locally among personalities or cosmically between factions – but Lawful Neutral thinks that change might throw things out of balance, so one should be wary of change. Chaotic Neutrality likes change for the sake of change. It rushes here and there, always looking for something new. By spinning the top, it balances. If the top is left at rest, it does not. Neither Lawful Neutral nor Chaotic Neutral want to be enmeshed in a wider struggle between Good and Evil. One faction is too preachy, the other is too scary, and why don’t they just leave us the heck alone?

Yes, Evil can work together … for a while

To recap – Europe’s Catholics and Protestants were at odds, often at war, but would have likely joined forces against the Ottoman Turks had they launched a major invasion. Likewise, the Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman hate one another, but they’ll form the United Underworld if they think they can get rid of Batman and Robin.

One More Lame Alignment Idea Before I’m Done

I also thought about characterizing alignments in a string, rather than a square. One is permitted a certain number of vices at each alignment “level”. The good alignments are permitted vices that hurt themselves but not others, while the other alignments permit more active vices.

The breakout could be something like:

Lawful Good: 0 vices (the toughest alignment to adhere to)
Neutral Good: 1 vice
Chaotic Good: 2 vices

Lawful Neutral: 3 vices (but only personal vices, as with the good alignments)
True Neutral: 3 vices
Chaotic Neutral: 4 vices

Lawful Evil: 5 vices
Neutral Evil: 6 vices
Chaotic Evil: 7 vices

So Chaotic Evil is permitted to glory in all seven deadly sins, while Lawful Good has to be perfect all the time. If a Lawful Good character sins, but only hurts herself, she becomes Neutral Good. If she does something sinful that hurts another, she drops all the way down to True Neutral (at best), and can feel free to dabble in a couple other sins as well. Reformation might come one level at a time, as the character swears off of different vices and proves their virtue by keeping away from that vice for some period of time set by the GM or through some other meaningful way.

This is what the planes should look like, right?

Dragon by Dragon – July 1980 (39)

It’s been too long since I did a review of The Dragon. Between work and trying to write/edit a few games, Sundays have been just packed, but today I’m diving back in. This week, we’re examining The Dragon #39, released in July of 1980. I can remember those days. I was 8, and I think the entire country was just about fed up with the 1970’s. Despite what you might have picked up in a revisionist history class, the 1970’s sucked. Hard. In RPG land, though, things were heating up – new companies, new games, and TSR and D&D were about to hit the heights.

So, what did July’s issue have to offer? Let’s check out this edition’s Top 10 cool things.

As we often do, we start with an advertisement. This time from Iron Crown Enterprises. I’m trying to remember if I’d seen an I.C.E. advertisement in The Dragon yet, and I don’t think I have. God knows, we’ll see plenty in the issues ahead.

I must say, there’s a bit of humor in an ad that looks like that and boasts about “fine graphics”.

They also left their state off the address – did everyone know where Charlottesville was back in the day?

Anyhow – they would go on to produce some pretty good material – from tiny acorns do mighty oaks grow.


Here’s a sign of the times:

“Snap! Crackle! Zap! THE DRAGON computes! Recently, we’ve acquired a TRS-80 computer here at THE DRAGON (for those of you into home computers, it’s the Level II with 16K memory, a 16K expansion interface, two floppy-disc drives, and a printer). In addition to using it in conjunction with Mark Herro’s ‘Electric Eye’ column, we’ll now be able to look at a few of the plethora of game programs now available on the commercial market, and (hopefully) do some reviewing on our own. Please hold off on sending us your own home-brew programs for a bit yet; we’ll have our hands full with what’s on the market already. But electronic gaming is looming on the gaming horizon, and THE DRAGON is going to be ready for it.”

Personally, I don’t think electronic gaming will ever catch on.


Fantasysmith did some really nice miniatures articles, and the art was always top notch. This one in particular deserves an airing after 35 years:

The one thing left off this guideline: Be good at painting. When I did the miniatures thing, I had no problem choosing the goal  … I was just often less than successful in getting there.


Really, this should be Cool #1, because this article by George Laking and Tim Mesford introduces a “beloved” element of old school gaming – The Anti-Paladin!

We start with awesome art (not sure who drew it), and then move on to the class itself.

The anti-paladin was an NPC class, meaning it couldn’t be used by players. To that end, it gives a guide on rolling up the anti-paladin’s scores, using 12+1d6 for strength, for example, or 10+1d8 for constitution. Charisma has a special formula that uses 1d4: a “1” equals 3, a “2” 4, a “3” 17 and “4” 18. On a charisma of 18, there’s a 25% chance of having an exceptional charisma. Anti-paladins with very low charisma cause fear, while those with very high charisma will charm humanoids and other monsters.

I bring the above up to show how different the game was in the old days. There was much more willingness to invent new sub-systems to do things.

Anti-paladins roll d10 for hit points, gaining 3 per level after 9th. They get a host of special abilities, including causing disease and wounds, protection from good, backstabbing, poison use, rebuking undead and demons, a special warhorse and cleric spell use at high levels. Their special swords are called unholy reavers, which is, by the way, pretty sweet.


Why was alignment discussed so much back in the old days? Because alignment was a stand-in for philosophy – moral and ethical philosophy anyways. That made it interesting for lots of people, and contentious as well. A good example is the “Up On a Soap Box” in this issue, in which the following question is asked:

“Is something right just because we think it is right? If Hitler feels that it is right for him to kill six million Jews, is that morally acceptable?”


The first superhero rpg. Review here.

Heavy stuff for a game magazine. Alignment has become a throw away in many modern games, or has been rendered down into the faction rules it appears to have grown from. The discussions are still being had, though, in the gaming community and beyond.

Oh, and the answer to the above question is NO.

#4: ERA in RPG

Well, we’ve already mentioned Hitler and the Holocaust in an article about alignment, why not delve into equal rights?

The article is “Women Want Equality and Why Not?” by Jean Wells and Kim Mohan, and there’s a follow-up called “Points to Ponder” by Kyle Gray. I’m not going to delve too much into the contents of the article, but I suggest you find a copy online (it’s there) and read through it. It’s worth comparing and contrasting what was being discussed 35 years ago with what is being discussed today.


Len Lakofka writes an article called “Starting from Scratch” about starting a new campaign and rolling up a new party. The bit I liked was the random tables for rolling up starting spells. For magic-users it’s pretty straight forward – roll once on each table for a magic-user’s three starting spells:

He also suggests a limited number of starting prayers for clerics – 1d4+2 to be exact, with those spells being rolled randomly and modified according to the cleric’s instructor’s alignment.

The article covers much more ground than this, of course, so it’s worth reading.


You know I always like these little Moldvay gems. This edition contains two Norse legends.

Bodvar Bjarki (16th level chaotic good fighter), the son of a Norwegian prince who was turned into a bear during the day. Bjarki wields Lovi, a +3 sword, +6 vs. magic-users.

Egil Skallagrimson (14th level chaotic neutral fighter) who became a viking.

The article also contains a small table of runes.


A question to the sage:

“Question: Why can’t human, half-elf and elven Magic-Users wear armor and still cast spells? Elves and half-elves who are Magic-Users and Fighters can, so I don’t believe it is because of the iron in their armor or weapons. If it is because of training, then Magic-Users could be able to learn how to wear armor and cast spells at the same time—and even a human Magic-User/Fighter could train to acquire the ability.”

My answer – it’s a made up rule to keep the game balanced, you knucklehead. Stop rationalizing make-believe!


This article by Carl Parlagreco is one of the classics. It covers critical hits and fumbles, which it describes as “two of the most controversial subject areas in D&D”. His system is fine enough, but the random tables for the effects of critical hits and fumbles are what makes it really groovy. A sample – critical hit effects of missile and thrusting weapons – follows:


I loved this piece by Karl Horak:

“Several months ago I came across a member of the minority that hasn’t acknowledged Gary as final arbiter. The campaign he ran was based on the original spirit of Chainmail instead of the latest revisions. To say the least, the game was fresh and unorthodox. His foundation was the 3rd edition of Chainmail and his vague recollections of the three-volume set of Dungeons &Dragons, which he never purchased.”

Testify, brother!


I dig the image in the ad to the right – makes you wonder what the Hell is going on. I’m going to turn this into a little side trek into comic books.

When I used to collect the things, the covers were a shorthand blurb about the story in the issue – the idea was to get a kid at a news stand to plunk down their money to find out what was going on.

Now comic book covers are mostly pin-ups, I suppose because they’re aimed at an different audience. They’re usually very well drawn, but personally, I prefer those old covers. They fired the imagination, and were pretty fun. In fact – when I find an old issue, those covers still induce me to buy them. The pin-ups – not so much.

#10: TRAMP

Of course …

That’s all for this week. Hopefully the pace will slow down and I can get another one written next Sunday. I will have some updates this week from the next hex crawl in NOD.

Dragon by Dragon – April 1980 (36)

There will come a day when the April edition of The Dragon will be full of jokes. Based on the cover, I’d say that day was not in April of 1980.

The aforementioned cover is by Dean Morrissey, and it is inspired by that issue’s short story by Gardner Fox, “The Cube from Beyond”, a Niall of the Far Travels story. Mr. Morrissey is still a working artist – you can see some of his pieces HERE.

Let’s check out 10 cool things about issue #36 …


First and foremost, I’m always a sucker for a good sword & sorcery tale by Gardner Fox. Here’s a sample:

“Now Thavas Tomer was a doomed man. He had fled down the halls and corridors, seeking sanctuary—where no sanctuary was to be found. At his heels had come Niall, his great sword Blood-drinker in his hand, seeking to make an end to this magician-king who had slain and raped and robbed all those against whom he had sent his mercenaries.”

If somebody could figure out a way to make a random idea generator that plucked passages from fantasy stories, I bet it would be a great way to come up with adventures or campaigns. Three different passages from the same book might inspire three very different campaigns.


An interesting “Up on a Soap Box” by Larry DiTillio, regarding him running an adventure he normally ran for adults for some adults and teens at a convention. Here’s an excerpt:

“In the same game another incident occurred, again with that same Paladin player. This one involved a mysterious monk smoking a substance from a hookah which he offered to certain party members. My friends accepted somewhat overeagerly, while the Paladin again asked me that question. Was smoking a drug against his alignment? Now, I’m not a junkie, nor do I think drugs are of any benefit to teen-agers (no high is as good as your own natural openness to things at that age), but I have had a good deal of experience with a whole gamut of consciousness-altering substances and would be hard pressed to declare them categorically evil.”

The first incident involved a dungeon room where sex could be purchased. In both cases, the paladin inquires whether these acts are against his alignment. It’s a tricky question, and does get to a problem with alignment – i.e. the interpretation of what it means. No answers here, but an interesting problem, and an interesting article.


In this issue, Gygax chimes in with some stats for Conan. It’s funny, but I was actually searching for this article recently, looking for inspiration for maybe making some revisions to the barbarian class in Blood & Treasure.

In doing so, I found some comments on websites that this article was a mistake, in that the weird rules changes needed to simulate Conan showed the weakness of the D&D system. I disagree – D&D is a game. Conan was a character in stories. No random rolls there, no comparisons of hit rolls and Armor Class. That a game cannot simulate something in a story is not a condemnation of the game (which, in D&D’s case, was not designed specifically to simulate Conan stories in the first place).

So, how does Conan shake out? Well, which Conan. The piece actually presents Conan at different ages – 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70. Neat idea. We also see how his fighter and thief levels change through his ages. His fighter level runs from a low of 4 at age 15 to a high of 24 at age 40 … and then back down to 12 by the time he’s 70.

How does a level drop? Well, there’s really no way to do it in the game, but I thought about using a rule that each year without adventuring might result in a character losing 10% of his earned XP. If you don’t stay in practice, you get rusty and, therefore, lose levels. Just a thought.

So, let’s look at Conan at age 25.

Conan, Human Fighter/Thief: Level 12/8; HP 132; AC 16; ATK attacks 5 times every 2 rounds; Str 18/00, Int 15, Wis 10, Dex 20, Con 18, Cha 15; AL Chaotic Neutral (good tendencies); Psionics–Latent–animal telepathy, detect magic, precognition, mind bar.

Conan gets the following special abilities:

  • When he rolls a total of “21” to hit, he scores double damage.
  • He is 75% undetectable in underbrush and woodlands.
  • He surprises opponents 50% of the time.
  • He is only surprised on a roll of 1 on 1d20.
  • He gets a +4 bonus on all saves.
  • Poison can knock him unconscious, but never kill him.
  • He regains hit points at double the normal rate, and regains hit points at the normal rate even without resting.
  • He has 25% magic resistance if he is aware that magic is being used against him.
  • His psionics are all latent – he does not know he has them, and cannot consciously choose to use them.
  • When wielding an off-hand weapon, he can parry one attack per round with it.
  • He can move at a trot all day without tiring.
  • His trails are 75% undetectable.
  • His vision and hearing are 50% better than normal.
  • When he pummels people, his opponents are treated as slowed; his fists are treated as mailed even when bare.
  • When grappling, his effective height is 7′, and his effective weight is 350 lb.
  • He gets a 15% bonus to overbearing attacks
  • He does unarmed damage as though armed with a club


In “Sage Advice” by Jean Wells …

“Question: Why can’t half-orcs be raised, especially if they are 90% human as the Players Handbook says?

Answer: The Players Handbook does not say that half-orcs are 90% human. It says that 10% of them (from which player characters are drawn) resemble humans enough to pass for one under most circumstances. Genetically, a true half-orc is always 50% human. Half-orcs cannot be raised simply because they do not have souls. I went right to the top for the answer to this one, and according to Gary Gygax himself, ‘Half-orcs cannot be raised-period.'”

It occurs to me that the inability to raise demi-humans was a balancing factor in old D&D for all of their special abilities.


Len Lakofka tries his hand at setting all those deity-killing PC’s right by setting down some truths about the gods. How many DM’s, I wonder, design their pantheon specifically for one day fighting high-level adventurers?

Here are Lakofka’s definitions for deity-hood:

1. Has 180 or more hit points
2. Can cast a spell or has a power at the 20th level of ability
3. Can fight or perform acts as a 20th level Lord or 20th level Thief

Those who cannot do this are not deities. This includes Jubilex, Ki-rins and Yeenoghu. Baal, Orcus, Tiamat and Bahamut, on the other hand, are deities.

He also states that deities get their special abilities from the Outer Planes, while lesser beings get their powers from the inner planes or from deities.

Much more here, including abilities from ability scores of 19 or higher (or 25+ for strength).

It looks like the blueprint used for the later Deities & Demigods / Legends & Lore books.


Now that’s a great illustration for selling a monster book. You can pick up the PDF HERE.


Turns out there was a prank hiding inside this issue after all – technically The Dragon #36 1/2.

We have articles about how to make the most out of your pet dragon, some new monsters (see below), keeping your players poor with the tax man, Bazaar of the Ordinary (web of cob), a random table (d30!) of things to say when you accidentally (or maybe not accidentally) summon Demogorgon, Leomund’s in a Rut (expanding character footwear options), this month’s module – a 10×10 room with nothing in it (map provided), and an add that includes Detailed Advanced D&D, the next step in fantasy gaming.

As for one of those new monsters:

The Keebler, Small Fey: HD 0; AC 13; ATK none; MV 40′; XP 50; AL N (good tendencies); Special-Magic resistance 60%, bake cookies (Will save at -4 or charmed); Spells-3/day-create water, purify food & drink, slow poison, create food & water, neutralize poison, locate object (edible substances) – as though by 7th level cleric.

7) The Mongols

Neat article by Michael Kluever on the history, weapons and tactics of the Mongols. Mongols done the way they were are probably pretty underused in fantasy gaming – they were a pretty fascinating group, and a campaign that includes a rapidly expanding Mongol Empire (wherein PC’s leave town, adventure in a dungeon, and come back to find the town razed or absorbed into the empire) would be pretty cool, especially if that expansion ends up being crucial to the game.

How was the typical Mongol warrior equipped:

Armor ranged from none to leather to scale armor, plus conical helms (leather for light cavalry, steel for heavy cavalry) and small, circular shields made of wicker covered with leather; they also wore silk undershirts that apparently helped to minimize damage from arrows when they had to be removed from wounds

Two composite bows, one for short range, one for long range; they used armor-piercing arrows, whistling arrows to signal and incendiary arrows (tipped with small grenades – apparently the Duke boys didn’t invent the idea); each warrior carried two quivers with 60 arrows in each

Heavy cavalry also carried a scimitar, battle axe OR horseman’s mace, a 12′ long lance with a hook for yanking warriors off their horses and a dagger

Light cavalry carried a lighter sword, two to three javelins and a dagger

8) Giants in the Earth

This edition, by Lawrence Schick and Tom Moldvay, includes:

Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood (17th level fighter, 10th level thief, 8th level cleric)

Lovecraft’s Richard Upton Pickman (King of the Ghouls, 9th level fighter)

Thomas Burnett Swann’s Silverbells (forest minotaur 15th level ranger, 13th level paladin)

The last one caught my attention, since I’d never heard of the author. The idea is that the original stock of minotaurs, termed forest minotaurs here, were neutral good defenders of the woodlands and the fey creatures who lived therein. You can find his books for sale at Amazon.

9) A New Way to Track XP

Experience points, like alignment, are a perennial sub-system people are trying to improve. In this version, XP are based on actual damage inflicted (modified by the strength of the opponents), and for deeds actually done. To whit:

For non-magical monsters, you get 5 XP per point of damage done, multiplied by the difference between the monster’s AC and 10

For magical monsters, 10 XP per point of damage done, same modifier.

For spellcasting in combat, 10 XP per level of spell

For spellcasting in a hostile situation, 5 XP per level of spell

Thieves get XP for gold stolen, maybe only if they grab a larger share than the other members of their party

Not a bad idea, really.

10) The Fastest Guns that Never Lived

This is a reprint, collection and expansion of articles I remember covering many reviews ago. Designed for Boot Hill, it’s a pretty fun article for fans of westerns, and a great opportunity for fan debates. If you think it’s bunk, you can blame Allen Hammack, Brian Blume, Gary Gygax and Tim Kask.

So, let’s get to the winners in each stat:

Fastest Gun in the West: (1) Clint Eastwood, (2) Bob Steele, (3) Paladin

Slowest: Pancho

Most Accurate Gun in the West: (1) Clint Eastwood, (2) Will Sonnet and Col. Tim McCoy, (3) Lone Ranger, The Rifleman, Paladin and Lee Van Cleef

Least: Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright

Bravest Gun in the West: Charles Bronson

Most Cowardly: Pancho

Strongest Gun in the West: Hoss Cartwright

Weakest: Will Sonnet

Somebody was in love with Clint Eastwood, huh?


Todd Lockwood (that one?) brings us the monster of the month, a race of warm-blooded flying reptile dudes. Here are the Blood & Treasure stats.

Krolli, Large Monstrous Humanoid: HD 2 to 6; AC 17; ATK 1 bite (1d6+1), rear claw (1d8+1), hand (1d8 or by weapon +4); MV 20′ (fly 40′); AL varies; XP 200 to 600; Special-High dexterity, multiple attacks, acute senses, surprised on 1 on 1d6, 25% magic resistance.

They are encountered in lairs, with 3d20 in lair, 25% females and young, with 2-3 and 1/2 HD each, and 1d8 7+2 HD chieftains. Encountered among men, they are usually mercenaries or slavers, and could be found as body guards or military officers.

They have high natural strength (20) and dexterity (23).

They may be of any class, though 95% are fighters. Of the remainder, 70% are clerics. They cannot wear armor, but often carry shields. They are almost never thieves or assassins.

Side note – I really loved Lockwood’s stuff for 3rd edition D&D – a very worthy artist to carry that torch, I think.

Hope you enjoyed this review … I leave you with Tramp

Dragon by Dragon – June 1979 (26)

Two years ago, I was writing a series of weekly blog posts on the old issues of Dragon magazine – something like reviews with a bit of crunch mixed in. And then I stopped. And I don’t remember why.

Well, now I’m starting again. So … journey back in time with me to June of 1979, when the Bee Gees were dominating the charts with Love You Inside Out

Oh – that’s Wanda Nevada. Brooke Shields. Groovy.

Anyhow – into this golden age of entertainment comes Dragon Magazine, Volume III, No. 12 with a kickin’ cover depicting some Napoleonic war game action, and of course much more. Let’s dive right in.

The first thing we’re greeted with is a great full-page Ral Partha advert, noting that “The Little Things Make a Noticeable Difference”. If you’re in my generation of gamers, Ral Partha is just branded into your brain. They were so prevalent in the pages of magazines, and had some great adverts. Honestly, I never messed with miniatures back in the day. I got into the Citadel stuff in late high school and through college, and bought a few Ral Partha minis then, but I really missed the companies hey day. Alas.

On the contents page, we are made aware that this issue marks the beginning of Gay Jaquet’s reign as assistant editor, assisting T. J. Kask, that is. I note this only to point out that TSR appears to be growing.

Another ad now, for the Origins! 79 convention in Chester, Pennsylvania. Do you think the geeks that now trod those halls know the gaming history of the place? Probably not.!1m0!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1436714251332!6m8!1m7!1scz6zKvyptBHn3Dg5DGMjQA!2m2!1d39.860951!2d-75.353605!3f295!4f0!5f0.7820865974627469

Looks like a cool college – love the brick work. I’m from Las Vegas – we live in a world of stucco and sandstone, so the brick stuff always impresses me. What can I say – I’m a cheap date.

Next, we have a status update on Gencon XII, and a notice that they’re looking for judges and events for the con. We also get a full con schedule, some prices on back issues of The Dragon (back issues are $2.10 a pop, or $6.88 in today’s dollars. Not a bad price).

Oh yeah – and a McLean cartoon involving the confusion between rocs and rocks. I love watching his art style grow in these early issues. There was some solid young talent in gaming back in the day. I wonder what they paid him per cartoon?

Now we reach the first article – “System 7 Napoleonics: Miniatures Meet Boards”, by Kask. I’m not going to delve too deeply into the article itself, which reviews the game System 7 Napoleonics by GDW, which uses cardboard counters in place of miniatures, and is thus cheap compared to using the lead, but I will point this out:

“The problem with establishing a campaign in a college club, whether it be D&D; TRAVELER, or a Napoleonics, is one of continuity. Each semester, some of the stalwarts say goodbye and depart for “the real world.” This can be especially traumatic if one of those departing owns the French Army, or what passed for it in terms of collective club figures.”

Funny to think how wrapped up the game used to be with issues like this. I suppose it still goes on to this day – maybe some college kids could chime in in the comments below and let us know if they still deal with this. Personally, I’m an old fart, and I do my gaming on G+ these days.

This article is followed up by another article on System 7, by Rich Banner (the designer), called “Necessity is the Mother of Innovation”. If you were into this new game, this was your lucky month, because this article is followed up by a Q&A with Banner.

Speaking of GDW (or Game Designers’ Workshop), we are now treated to a full page ad for their new expansion for Traveler, Imperium – Empires in Conflict: Worlds in the Balance. Great title.

From the Dungeon Hobby Shop in Lake Geneva (no longer there, I’m afraid), we have an ad for 4th Dimension, the Game of Time & Space, produced by TSR (sort of – click here for more). Apparently, you play a Time-Lord (does the hyphen grant immunity from BBC law suits?) commanding an army of Guardians, Rangers and Warriors in some sort of board game battle.

Next we get back into some D&D goodness, with “Giants in the Earth”. Great series of articles, giving game stats to literary characters (why don’t I do that in NOD?). This is a particular goody, because we get Jack Vance’s Cugel the Clever (14th level thief, Str 15, Int 18 (56%), Wis 13, Dex 18 (93%), Con 15, Cha 16 – sounds like Vance was cheating on his dice rolls when he rolled up Cugel, and what’s with the percentiles – I thought they only did that with Strength scores in AD&D?), Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane (30th level fighter, 20th level magic-user, 14th level assassin – how many XP would that take?) and Talbot Mundy’s Tros of Samothrace (15th level paladin). I love Cugel, I’ve heard of Kane (but never read him), but Tros was new to me.

Ah – this is included:

Note: For the game purposes of these heroes: Dexterity 18 (00) gives +4 on Reaction/Attacking, -5 Defensive adjustment and three attacks per round for high level fighters. Constitution 18 (00) gives fighters +4.5 per hit die bonus

Oh, and Judge’s Guild (hallowed be their name) was hawking the Treasury of Archaic Names by Bill Owen. Struggle no longer for heroic character names!

Up next, “What of the Skinnies?” by James W. S. Marvin, a Starship Troopers variant. Not going to lie – caught a bit of the movie, never read the book, have never laid eyes on the game they’re referencing here. This might be the greatest article on the topic ever, and I’ll never know it. Moving on.

Edward C. Cooper gives some tips on “The Placement of Castles” in Lord and Wizard. Article aside, L&W sounds like a pretty cool game: “Mighty, magical holocausts, awe-inspiring Dragons, weird and terrible monsters, military battles on a grand scale. Which of the combatants, Order or Chaos, shall win? And can the forces of Neutrality maintain the precarious balance of power . . . An exciting, fast moving game of movement and combat in a fantastic world, where skill and strategy will decide the winner.” Another board game – the RPG’s are still in their infancy, after all, and at this point most RPG’ers have probably come to the game from board games and miniature war gaming. Makes sense.

Joe Curreri writes “35th Anniversary of D-Day Remembered”. There were lots more veterans of that day alive at the time, and their kids were the ones playing all these silly games. The page also has an ad for Lyle’s Hobby & Craft Center in Westmont, Illinois. Sadly, also no longer there.

In the Design Forum, James McMillan writes about “The Solo Berserker for William the Conqueror-1066. This article presents solitaire rules for the aforementioned game, with a little history on the berserkers. He includes the note that Eystein Orre, one of Harald Hadrada’s men, was called “the Gorcock”. If you’re reading this and play a barbarian or berserker in some game, please consider renaming your character “the Gorcock”. For me. For Eystein. For America.

Next up, David Sweet presents game stats for “Chinese Undead”. We have stats for Lower Souls, Lost Souls, Vampire-Spectres, Sea Bonze, Celestial Stags and Goat Demons. Boy, stats were simple in those days:

Also this:

Look out!

Fantasy 15s has a full page ad for 15mm miniatures allowing you to “re-create the mass battles of Middle Earth – at prices you can afford!” I wonder if there’s a source for cheap men-at-arms so fighter lords can do the same thing. The reproduction ain’t great, but the art in the ad is pretty cool …

The next article includes Boot Hill additions, revisions, and triva (!) by Michael Crane. The have a great “Fast Exact Hit Location Chart” that could be useful for duels, but also just combat in general (especially missile combat):

And, because it wouldn’t be a real D&D mag from the old days … “Another View of the Nine-Point Alignment Scheme” by Carl Parlagreco. This article tries to lay out what you can and cannot do with each alignment. Helping people is something Good characters do, apparently, while trusting in organizations is something for Lawfuls. Here are a couple samples:

Chaotic Good … will keep their word to other of good alignment, will not attack an unarmed foe, will not use poison, will help those in need, prefers to work alone, responds poorly to higher authority, and is distrustful of organizations

Neutral Evil … will not necessarily keep their word, would attack an unarmed foe, will use poison, will not help those in need, may work with others, is indifferent to higher authority, and is indifferent to organizations.

I think this is actually a much more useful way to look at alignment that getting philosophical with it, especially for people new to the game. Of course, you need a reward/penalty mechanism with alignment to make these strictures matter.

Next is Kevin Hendryx’s “Deck of Fate”, with illustrations by Grey Newberry. This is a great magical tarot card deck. Characters draw cards, and get magic results based on what they draw. For example:

II – Junon – The Goddess: No effect for non-clerics. For clerics, permanently boosts their Wisdom score to 18 and gains use of one spell of the next higher level.

In other words – it’s a pretty powerful magic item – an artifact really. You could probably make one heck of a quest into a band of adventurers having to retrieve all of these magic cards.

Rick Krebs now provides “D&D Meets the Electronic Age”. Boy, they had no idea. Dig it:

Over the years access to photocopiers and mimeograph machines have aided many Dungeon Masters in copying maps, charts and even publishing their own zines, all to the expansion of their campaign. But, the recent electronics explosion has now brought another tool to those DMs fortunate to have access to them: the micro-computer. We were one of those fortunate groups to gain the use of a 4K (4,000 bit) memory, BASIC speaking microcomputer.

Charles Sagui now writes “Hirelings Have Feelings Too”. It’s a short article that provides some guidelines for paying hirelings to keep them around. According to Charles, hirelings should be payed two years salary in advance, plus a share of the spoils – either an equal share, or a percentage. Non-humans, he says, will not hire on for salary alone – except orcs – but will also demand to be supplied with equipment and weapons to go into the dungeon. Elves, he says, don’t like to go into dungeons as hirelings – they like fresh air and trees too much. They don’t care much for gold, but they will demand a fine cut gem or magic item + 15% of treasure. Dwarves can be greedy at times – they want four years salary and 15% of treasure. And if you try to give a +3 returning warhammer to somebody else, there’s a 65% chance the dwarf will try to steal it. Orcs will go in for one year salary and 2-5% of treasure, and will only work for chaotics. They are prone to run away when confronted with a difficult fight and have a bad habit of killing their employer in his sleep and stealing all his stuff. I guess turn-about it fair play in a dungeon.

Charles also says that hireling NPCs will only go into the dungeon once – after that, they retire to blow their hard-earned gold on “strong drink and their favorite vice.” Once their money is gone, they might go back in with the PC’s – and if the PC’s paid well last time, they’ll be more loyal. Loyalty ratings for hirelings aren’t used much these days, but they were an important system in a time when hirelings and henchmen were the norm for D&D.

Michael Crane also contributes “Notes from a Very Successful D&D Moderator”. This is a chance, he says, for the moderators (i.e. game masters) to share their tips and tricks after many players have shared ideas for beating dungeons. The article is pretty much about one-upmanship between the DM and the players. A nice historical piece, from when the game was (and was supposed to be) a competition between the DM and the players.

Gary Gygax now chimes in with his “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll” with “D&D, AD&D and Gaming”. The article discusses the origins of role-playing games, of fantasy war gaming, and of role-playing within fantasy war gaming. It’s a nice retrospective, and Dave Arneson’s innovation of giving players individual roles to play is mentioned. Gygax also takes pains to explain that AD&D is a different game than D&D – not an expansion or revision. As Gygax explains:

“Where D&D is a very loose, open framework around which highly imaginative Dungeon Masters can construct what amounts to a set of rules and game of their own choosing, AD&D is a much tighter and more structured game system.”

Which also explains why I like D&D better than AD&D. I like my games loose and imaginative. The article lays out the future of AD&D. And then this towards the end:

“For those of you who wondered why I took certain amateur publishing efforts to task, it was because they were highly insulting to TSR, D&D, this magazine, and myself.”

Nerd fights. They never end.

Kevin Hendryx now presents a variant game for D&D in the modern era called “Mugger!”. Welcome to the 1970’s. Technically, it is Mugger! The Game of Tactical Inter-City Combat, 1979. Each player plays a mugger, gaining experience for each successful mugging and gathering loot. The goal is to “… amass as large a horde of experience points as possible while carrying out one’s crimes and eventually gain a seat in the U.S. Congress …” The times, they ain’t a changin’ all that much, are they?

Random encounters include 1d2 cops on their beat, 1d3 roving squad cars, 1d6 tougher muggers, 1d8 street gangs, 1d20 Hare Krishna fanatics and 4d6 stray dogs.

Oh, and you pick up 1,000 XP for stealing 10 kg of plutonium.

Here’s the level chart:

It’s actually a pretty long article, and though tongue-in-cheek would probably be fun to play one night with some friends. It strikes me that the old city map from Marvel Super-Heroes would come in handy on this one.

Lots of articles in this issue. Next is “Birth Tables and Social Status” for Empire of the Petal Throne, by G. Arthur Rahman. EPT was still a major component in gaming in this period, and its generally featured in every issue of The Dragon. It provides a very long table for generating birth and social status, and this translates into skills, spells and the like for the character. Looks good to me.

Apparently, Grenadier was pushing their new line of licensed Gamma World miniatures with a full page ad. You can see some unpainted models HERE and some painted ones HERE.

Len Lakofka’s “Bazaar of the Bizarre” is “Blueprint for a Lich” in this issue. This is an in-depth article on how high level magic-users and clerics become liches, including a recipe that involves 2 pinches of pure arsenic and 1 measure of fresh wyvern venom (under 60 days old). Don’t mix this one up at home, kiddies.

The would-be lich then drinks the concoction and rolls the D%

1-10: No effect whatsoever, other than all body hair falling out
11-40: Come for 2-7 days – the potion works!
41-70: Feebleminded until dispelled by dispel magic. Each attempt to remove the feeblemind has a 10% chance to kill the drinker if it fails. The potion works!
71-90: Paralyzed for 4-14 days. 30% chance of permanent loss of 1d6 dexterity points. The potion works!
91-96: Permanently deaf, dumb or blind. Only a full wish can regain the sense. The potion works!
97-00: DEAD – star over … if you can be resurrected.

First – I can actually use this in the online game I’m running.

Second – awesome random table for generating liches – they’re either a bit paralyzed, could be blind or deaf, or maybe are completely normal. Side-effects are a good idea for major potions.

Gary Gygax now provides tables for “Putting Together a Party on the Spur of the Moment”. This generates a PC party quickly, with tables and rules for generating quick ability scores, level, armor, weapons and magic items. I think this made it into the DM’s Guide. Which DMG you ask – come on, there’s really only one.

Thomas Holsinger provides a “Strength Comparison Table”. He provides a strength table from 0 to 18/00, with monster equivalents, hit bonuses and damage bonuses. It’s inspired by Dave Hargrave’s Arduin Grimoire II. FYI – Leprechauns are stronger than Brownies, and Pixies are stronger than Leprechauns, just in case you were going to run an all-fey remake of Over the Top. (Google it!)

Jeff Neufeld now provides a review of a play-by-mail game called Tribes of Crane (which is mis-written as Tribes of Tome in the first sentence). We also have reviews of Ice War. (Soviet/US confrontation), Mercenary (a Traveller book), The Battle of Monmouth and Grenadier Figure Packs and a very long review of Battle Sphere with lots of cool illustrations.

The Dragon’s Bestiary (formerly Featured Creature) presents the barghest, so you now know which decade to blame for those little bastards.

Next comes “The Adventures of Fineous Fingers, Fred & Charly”.

Who says old school fantasy is all about scantily clad females?

Great article title by Rod Stephens – “The Thief: A Deadly Annoyance”. Amen to that. He laments the misuse of thieves in dungeons, because they’re really meant for urban environments, where they can steal from high-level NPC’s and other players – because PC’s have more money than just about anybody in the game. He isn’t wrong.

We finish up with some full page ads for GenCon XII, TSR’s new game Divine Right (notes that T.M. Reg. has been applied for – so don’t try anything funny) and Space Gamer (subscribe to get a free game – Ogre, Chitin I, Melee, WarpWar or Rivets).

A packed issue, and a reminder that The Dragon was a full-bodied gaming magazine at the time, and not just TSR’s house organ.

Hope you enjoyed the review – have a happy Sunday and a great week ahead.

Unhinging Clerics from Alignment

A Chaotic cardinal for a Lawful church? Read on …

Since the beginning of the game, clerics (and anti-clerics and druids) have largely been defined by their alignment. In the context of the early game, this made sense. Clerics were based on a combination of Van Helsing the vampire hunter and the religious knights of the crusades. That clerics must be Lawful was logical when you considered that they were based on adherents of a moral religion.

Note – I’m not going to get in a discussion here about the morality of the medieval Christian church. What I mean to convey is the idea that while Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that God created the universe and has some measure of control over nature (i.e. he can control the weather and such), they put their focus on his code of rules (thou shall not kill, etc.). Clerics of God, therefore, should be defined by their alignment.

Almost as soon as the game was written, though, it started to change. Clerics stopped being tied to an implicit Medieval Christianity and instead were tied to polytheistic deities, most of them just anthropomorphized forces of nature. Rather than the pseudo-Templars and Hospitalers that seem to have been intended under the original rules, we got clerics of Thor and Loki. Since Thor was Chaotic Good (if my memory of the Deities & Demigods/Legends & Lore book), his clerics needed to be Chaotic Good as well, which meant they needed to be “crusaders” for enlightened freedom. The Thor of mythology, however, did not seem particularly concerned with moral concepts. He was a personification of thunder and lightning, and, if anything, a ready and eager foe of the giants (i.e. natural calamities). It should have made more sense to use druids as the priests of all the nature deities, but they became saddled with the concept of True Neutrality. Ultimately, several unrelated systems were mashed together to make something that was mostly fun, but also didn’t make much sense.

How about a different concept for clerics? One that keep the basic rules in place (and hopefully the fun), but changes with the whys and wherefores and takes the focus for clerics away from alignment, and puts it back on casting spells in armor and pounding heads with maces.

Clerics, like magic-users, are spellcasters. The universe they inhabit has physical laws that can be broken with magic spells. In other words, the supernatural in thus universe is natural – it’s just a nature with processes that are beyond most mortals. The universe also has gods, goddesses and other divine beings. Maybe they created the universe, maybe they just have a secret knowledge of how it works. Either way, clerics join their cults and learn how to perform rituals that can alter the fabric of reality in ways the gods and goddesses are willing to allow.

Think of the universe as the internet, and clerics as people who have been given passwords to systems by the owners/creators of those systems, as a bank gives a customer a password that allows the customer to access her account information and perform other allowed functions. Because clerics are given this access in exchange for performing the necessary rituals and living by the rules of their temple or order or brotherhood, they have more time to spend on learning to fight than magic-users.

Magic-users are the hackers of the universe. They alter the fabric of reality without anyone’s permission, and it’s not easy. They have to learn the code of the gods and hijack it. This forces them to spend all their time figuring out how to get things done, and gives them little time left over for learning to fight. It also allows them a much wider array of powers than the clerics (though they still haven’t figured out how to hack into the healing spells).

Clerics in this scheme are not champions of an alignment, but champions of their cult/church/temple/brotherhood/etc. They represent their little faction in the very dangerous fantasy worlds in which they live, just as fighters serve kings and thieves serve their guilds. The name of the game is survival and power. In this scheme we do not need to tie the god of thunder to a particular alignment. He has a cult of followers whose existence allows him to play games in the cosmos (think of the scene in Jason and the Argonauts with the gods moving mortals around like chess pieces) or who just brag about how awesome he is. In return for their service he lets them alter reality on his terms. Within this cult, there can be clerics of any alignment, so long as they advance his agenda. In fact, the god of thunder might not even pay much attention to the cult. Maybe he gave his “passwords” to somebody long ago, and they passed the knowledge down to those who would serve them loyally.

Alignments in this sort of universe are not warring cosmic factions (a rather heady concept when you consider that the game is mostly made up of swashbuckling adventures and puzzle solving in a quest for money and experience/power), but rather the personal codes if men and women that determine how they interact with the world.

Clerics of Thor can be lawful, neutral or chaotic. The lawful clerics like to stick up for the little guy, the neutrals serve their order loyally to stay in good with their masters, and the chaotics try to get away with as much as possible without being expelled. This would endow these invented religious organizations a bit more color and intrigue. The lawfuls and chaotics within the cult don’t quite trust each other, and each works to control the cult because they fear the other faction, but they aren’t necessarily at each others throats all the time. The lawful heads of the cult might even understand that the chaotic clerics have their value in the organization, doing things they might shy away from, but which are necessary to advance the cult’s goals in the world.

A deity that does represent or espouse a moral or immoral concept might, of course, restrict his or her clerics to a particular alignment. A deity of charity would want his clerics to be charitable – this would make chaotic clerics a bit tricky. Likewise, a god of trickery would want his clerics to be tricky – this might not work well for lawful sorts. Then again, consider Cardinal Richelieu – a member in good-standing of an ostensibly lawful church, and a terrible villain if most accounts are to be believed.

I guess this is a conception of alignment and clerics that would only fit in well in a Robert E Howard-style fantasy world, where the name of the game is power. It certainly wouldn’t be to every player’s taste, but it should please some players or at least prove entertaining for a while to veteran players. At a minimum, it could free clerics in the game from being forced into the role of do-gooder or do-badder, and instead make them more enjoyable to play.

Two New Products and a New Notion

Hey folks. Three items today …


Bloody Basic – Classic Edition is now up for sale as a soft-cover book. A game with characters levels 1 to 6, with elves, dwarves, halflings, fighters, clerics, magic-users, thieves and all the rest of the classic fantasy elements, for $8.99. I’m working on getting the Contemporary Edition out pretty soon as a PDF, and then a hard copy, and then the other editions will follow – Fairy Tale, Chaos, Apocalypse, Jules Verne, etc.


The PDF of the Monster Tome is now available for download for $6.99. It includes 172 pages of monsters, with 258 monster entries. I hope to have the softcover and hardcover books up for sale in two or three weeks. As I often do, I’ll be offering a free PDF to those who buy the hard cover edition of the Monster Tome, so if you’re planning on buying the hard cover later, you’ll probably not want to buy the PDF now.

Monster Tome II will have to wait for 2015.


Just so this isn’t a completely commercial post, here’s a little notion for using a fate mechanic in your adventures.

When you delve back into heroic fiction, back to the days of the Greeks, Romans and Norsemen, it’s hard to avoid the concept of fate. The Fates and Norns measured out the days of a man or woman’s life and cut the string when it was time for them to die.

If you’re running a game set in these times, or any time if you like it, you might want to inject a little fate into the game. You could also inject Doctor Fate into your game, but that’s a matter for another post.

Obviously, you don’t want to use fate as a way of arbitrarily cutting a character’s life short. You can, however, use it as a way to determine whether character’s are beloved or cursed by “the gods”.

You could do this in one of two ways.

The first is to randomly determine a person’s fate for each adventure, every adventure. First, determine which deities are looking down on the player characters by rolling D10.

1. Lawful Good
2. Neutral Good
3. Chaotic Good
4. Lawful Neutral
5-6. Neutral
7. Chaotic Neutral
8. Chaotic Evil
9. Neutral Evil
10. Lawful Evil

If you use the three-tier alignment, roll D6.

1-2. Lawful
3-4. Neutral
5-6. Chaotic

Next, determine the character’s fate for that adventure by rolling 3d6. If the character is the same alignment as the deity, they enjoy a +2 bonus to their roll. If they are the opposite alignment, they suffer a -2 penalty to their roll.

1-2. You are loathed by the gods – subtract -2 from all d20 rolls during this adventure
3-6. You are cursed by the gods – subtract -1 from all d20 rolls during this adventure
7-12. The gods are disinterested – your fate is in your hands
13-16. The gods favor you – add +1 to all d20 rolls during this adventure
17-18. You are beloved by the gods – add +1 to all d20 rolls during this adventure, and re-roll one failed saving throw.

An interested god will be watching over the adventure. Whenever an accursed or loathed character performs an action in accordance with the deity’s alignment (or any element of their alignment), they are permitted to re-roll their fate. Whenever a favored character does something in opposition to the deity’s alignment (or any element of their alignment), they likewise must re-roll their fate.

If you are using this system, you might want to add a couple spells to your game.

Tell Fortune – 1st level spell for clerics, druids and magic-users; it literally tells the character’s fortune (i.e. loathed, cursed, favored, beloved).

Read Signs – 1st level spell for clerics, druids and magic-users; tells you the alignment of the deity watching over the characters during this adventure.

The other way you can use a system like this is to put the characters’ fates into their own hands. Instead of always rolling to determine a character’s fate for an adventure, the player’s instead offer themselves up for judgment. The system works the same way, it just puts the decision in the hands of the players.


Quicky Alignment Descriptions

Just a quick thought on describing alignment – popped into my noggin last night while watching F Troop and editing Monster Tome (and no, F Troop did not inspire this notion – just a coincidence).

I tend to think that alignment should be kept pretty vague, and should have a little in-game effect to make it worthwhile. I’ve covered the “make alignment count” concept in the past, and even worked it into Bloody Basic.

In the interest of keeping alignment descriptions vague, I thought of some extremely quick (one or two word) descriptions of the alignments that can guide a player without tying them down too tightly. Each one sets up a general goal – the direction they should probably be moving – without dictating how they should behave in every single situation they find themselves.

What does each alignment think is best in life?

Lawful Evil = Power
Neutral Evil = Wealth
Chaotic Evil =  Killing

Lawful Good = Virtue (for self and others)
Neutral Good = Charity
Chaotic Good = Happiness (i.e. freedom to pursue)

Lawful Neutral = Organization
Neutral = Self-Interest
Chaotic Neutral = Anarchy

What of “true neutral” – i.e. balance? Don’t ask me. How is an individual supposed to figure out what the multiverse requires to maintain balance. Is the player supposed to take orders from the GM? How about random rolls to determine which alignment is too powerful at the moment, so the true neutral can behave like the opposite alignment for the session? That should go over well …

Much Ado About Alignment

Just some stream of consciousness stuff here – me thinking about the over-thinking of alignment.

Alignment is the wrong tool for the job of “defining” a personality, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a useful tool for the game (you know – THE GAME). Let’s review …

Alignment seems to have originated as a way to do fantasy army factions, not unlike English vs. French at Crecy, or Warhammer’s Empire vs. Dwarves (or whatever).

These factions were more than just simple nationality or “race”, though – they did have some basis in values – good guys vs. bad guys, with neutrals joining either side. What were the factions really fighting about? I guess the good guys want a good universe, where there’s some measure of freedom and happiness and justice – good luck defining exactly what that means to a multitude of people, but you sort of get it in your heart. Finn and Jake are Lawful, but that doesn’t mean they spend much time thinking about it or hewing to a master plan of goodliness.

Chaos is the bad guys – they like to dominate and bully and kill because it’s fun (but don’t adventurers have fun killing people and taking their gold? Well, yeah, sort of … but it’s for the greater good, and they only kill bad guys!) So, it doesn’t matter that the Chaotic warlord thinks he’s bringing the blessing of his rule to people who can’t rule themselves – he’s a dick. You know it, I know it, the people he tortures know it.

Okay – so we have two factions, vaguely warring over control of the universe.

Alignment has another dimension though – game balance. Chaotics can use poison and flaming oil and do whatever they want WOOOOO!, but Lawfuls would never stoop to such lowly tactics, right? And neutrals are not low enough to poison people, but flaming oil is badass and super fun, and they don’t mind getting down and dirty like that. That means Chaos should pretty much always win, right? What’s the balancing factor?

Well, go back far enough and you find that you had two brands of clerics – the Lawful clerics and the Chaotic anti-clerics. Anti-clerics cast the reverse of lots of cleric spells, presumably healing spells included. So, it’s just possible that the old intention was that chaotics get to play with poison, but they don’t necessarily get healing.

A lawful cleric (remember, no neutral clerics – they would eventually show up as druids) doesn’t necessarily have to heal anyone if she doesn’t want to – she’s a crusading, fighting-priest – like the armored bishops of old who smashed in the heads of blasphemers and railed against Chaos in sermons and probably withheld their divine favors from folks who didn’t toe the line (or who didn’t come across with a sizable donation for the cause!)

Side note – clerics should be the most awesome class in the game to play, bar none. I think it’s a sorry lack of imagination, grit and gusto that has made them into “walking healing wands”. Cleric players out there – get into some old time religion and make those clerics awesome again.

So imagine the balance – chaotic characters can coat their weapons with poison (save or die!) and stab people in the back and steal from their friends and such, but they may not receive healing, which means they have to be sneaky as hell (pun intended) and might have to put up with tons of shit from the lawful cleric in the party, including giving up a hefty portion of gold in exchange for saving their sorry butts. Neutrals aren’t as bad as that, but they have a bit more freedom to play dirty, and probably have to tithe to the party cleric in exchange for the good stuff. The lawfuls are restricted in their tactics, but enjoy full support from the Lawful church as their reward for playing by the rules.

So, alignment, if reduced to a matter of vague faction and game balance, are probably game enhancers. There’s going to be some guidance in terms of personality, but let’s not worry over that too much. Law and Chaos are extremes, so embrace them. If you want to be complicated, be neutral and pony up some gold when you contract mummy rot – such is the way of the world.

What Alignment is the Universe?

More “History of NOD” coming very soon, but a brief thought on alignment in games today.

Is there a God (or gods) and how does He/She/It/Them want people to behave?

This is the big religious question, of course, and one I don’t want to answer here (or have answered in the comments – hint hint). But it got me thinking about religion/mythology/alignment in game worlds.

In many game worlds, the presence, identity and even ultimate aims of the divine powers is rarely in question. In most campaigns, a list of gods and goddesses is provided, each with a portfolio and an alignment, and players with a cleric pick their favorite and off they go.

What, though, would be result if nobody (no players, anyhow) really knew anything about who ran the universe?

Sure, there might still be pantheons that people worship, but what if those pantheons were just collections of names and mythological stories. What if what actually lay beyond the Material Plane was unknown to 99.9999% of the population, and those who did have some knowledge of it were super high level and thus generally unavailable for consultation? To put it in other terms, what if nobody knew what the universe’s alignment was? Clerics and players would have to creep along, wary of breaking an unwritten divine law and suffering the consequences if they did – loss of spell access, no healing, no resurrection, visits from divine enforcers, general bad luck, etc.

You could still have the different angels/demons/devils/demodands/modrons/etc. – you just don’t know which faction is in charge of the universe and which faction is just pretending to be control of the universe. Imagine too the excitement of stepping into the Outer Planes not knowing what you would find or who’s religion (i.e. alignment) was the One True Alignment. Maybe the Universe is Lawful Neutral, maybe its Neutral Good, maybe its Chaotic Evil, maybe it is completely unaligned. You won’t know unless you ascend to the Outer Planes and knock on some doors. In the meantime, players collect clues and interpret portents in-game and do their best to figure it all out, just as folks do in the real world.

However you structure such a game world, it could be for an interesting place to adventure.