Dragon by Dragon – April 1979 (24)

April of 1979 – those heady days of stuff that was happening and things and stuff. Okay, I’m too lazy at the moment to look up what was happening back then, but hey – who cares, right? We know the Dragon was happening, so let’s focus on that.

What did the Dragon have to offer in 1979? More importantly, can we use any of this stuff now?

Lost Civilizations (A Fantasy Supplement for Source of the Nile) by J. Eric Holmes

When you see Dr. Holmes as the author, you know you’ve got some quality material in your hands. Hell, I’ve never even played Source of the Nile and I know this article has to have something useful in it. The article is all about adding some fantasy to the more realistic game of African exploration, specifically of the sort you might get in an H. Rider Haggard or E. R. Burroughs novel.

First up, I love the list of explorer types used in Source of the Nile: Missionaries, Doctors, Zoologists, Geologists and Adventurers. If you were doing an RPG of Victorian exploration, you have your class list right there.

His idea is that when you enter a completely uninhabited hex, there is a chance of it containing a lost city (a roll of 2-3 on 2d6). If in a desert, the city is uninhabited. Otherwise, it is inhabited by survivors of lost Atlantis. The people use bronze weapons and wear ornaments of gold and gemstones, and then you roll dice to determine the city’s organization. Roll 1d6; on a 1-3 the city is ruled by a warrior-king with 1d6 x 1d6 x 1d6 + 10 warriors; if the roll is 4-6 it is ruled by an evil high priest and a white goddess who command 1d6 x 1d6 x 1d6 + 5 warriors. I include this bit because it could be adapted to almost any hex exploration style fantasy game.

When exploring an uninhabited desert city for treasure, you roll 1d6: 1-2 he discovers that the ancient gods still live, his expedition is destroyed and he escapes completely mad; 3-4 traps kill half his askaris and bearers, but he escapes with a bag of diamonds and rubies worth $500 and the secret passages are closed off forever; 5-6 he loots the city for $1000 worth of gems and $200 worth of gold.

This brings to mind something I once did for a game. I was starting with characters above 1st level, and they were from various places in my campaign world (Nod – you might have heard of it). For each character, I came up with one past adventure for each level, each adventure leading them from where they were born to where the adventure was to start. In this way, I gave each player a bit of knowledge about the campaign world and some cool tidbits about their characters. Something to consider.

Keeping the Magic-User In His Place by Ronald Pehr

A classic of old Dragon (hell, a classic of modern articles as well, in as much as it addresses the idea of “balance” between characters). Ronald includes a few ideas of controlling these damn wizards so they don’t mess up the game. Interesting, because it introduces the idea of forced fairness to the game – i.e. I want the game to go one way, but the rules aren’t allowing that to happen. Think of the article previous – the explorer explores a lost city and you roll a dice and that determines what happens – amazing wealth or complete insanity. That’s it. Why? It’s a game, and those are the rules, and playing the game is more important than winning. Or, to state it another way, winning or losing should be a product of the game experience, not a preconceived idea that the game play must support. Why not have wizards who “ruin” the game with fireballs and charm spells? Let everybody have their time to shine, and play it smart. A fireball is a tricky thing, and over reliance on them might be a wizard’s undoing.

Chinese Dragons by David Sweet

One day, these fine monsters will appear in the Fiend Folio, and they were always pretty cool. In fact, it might be fun to do something similar with occidental dragons, replacing the red-blue-green-etc. dragons with ones based on the famous dragons of European myth.

Another Look at LYCANTHROPY by Jon Mattson

This article throws in the idea of different types of lycanthropes that a bitten character might turn into. They are as follows (in summary):

A. Turns completely into the lycanthrope that bit him; i.e. new alignment, etc.
B. Remains in human form, but takes on the mentality of the lycanthrope.
C. Character takes lycanthrope form, but retains his own mentality.
D. As A, but only changes under a full moon or great stress.
E. As B, but only changes under a full moon or great stress.
F. As C, but only … well, you know.
G. Under full moon or great stress, changes into a hybrid of beast and man.

Under option G, he actually writes, “This may sound something like the “Incredible Hulk,” but that is the general idea.” Love it.

There is also a percentage chance for figuring out the character’s new alignment. The new lycanthrope has half the character’s spells and abilities while in lycanthrope form and some modifiers to his ability scores.

Another great quote:

Note: To many people it may seem strange that a wolfs constitution would be better than that of say a bear, but remember that wolves often survive through incredible hardships such as hunger and cold, and I’ve yet to see a bear do as well.

What the?

Ultimately, this is a pretty cool article as it allows the chance that a PC can remain a PC and an interesting party member even after succumbing to lycanthropy.

Roman Military Organization, A Classic Warfare Update by Gary Gygax

An interesting article on the organization of the Roman army.

A Viking Campaign in the Caspian Sea by James E. Brunner

This is a nice history of an actual (well, I assume actual) Viking foray into the Caspian Sea for plunder. A sample:

“In the tenth century the Caspian Sea lay like a great pearl in an ocean of endless steppes and towering mountains. The prows that cut its placid waters belonged to poor fishermen and merchants from every land. Unlike the Black Sea that lay to the west, no northern pirate fleets had ravaged its shores and carried off its great wealth. To the north and the east lay the powerful Khazar Khanate whose capital, Itil, on the Volga Delta, controlled the major trade route to the north. Any merchant or pirate that sought wealth in the Muslim lands to the south had first to deal with the Khazar Khan, whose greed was legendary.”

Primarily interesting to me as it reminds me of Howard’s Vilayet Sea and the adventures had in and around it. When you find fantasy that interests you, take the time to find the reality that underlies it. You might find it even more inspirational.

The article also includes rules for fighting the Battle of Barda’a using Classic Warfare.

The Melee in D&D by Gary Gygax

Here, Mr. Gygax offers up some thoughts on how melee combat is supposed to work in D&D, specifically it seems to answer the complaints of folks who would like more realism in the system. A few important points:

– The game is mostly about creating fantasy personas and their adventures, and that means more than just fighting

– Hack and slash shouldn’t be the first resort of characters

– The system isn’t too unrealistic – it’s built to ensure relative speed of resolution without bogging the ref down in paperwork or creating a high probability of character death

Here’s a bit I found interesting:

“Don Turnbull stated that he envisioned that three sorts of attacks were continually taking place during melee:

1) attacks which had no chance of hitting, including feints, parries, and the like;

2) attacks which had a chance of doing damage but which missed as indicated by the die roll; and

3) attacks which were telling as indicated by the dice roll and subsequent damage determination.

This is a correct summation of what the D&D melee procedure subsumes. Note that the skill factor of higher level of higher level fighters — as well as natural abilities and/or speed of some monsters — allows more than one opportunity per melee round of scoring a telling attack as they are more able to take advantage of openings left by adversaries during the course of sparring. Similarly, zero level men, and monsters under one full hit die, are considered as being less able to defend; thus, opponents of two of more levels of hit dice are able to get in one telling blow for each such level or hit die.”

An article well worth the read.

DUNGEON – More Variations on the Theme by George Laking

This is a collection of extra rules for the DUNGEON game. Since it’s being published again, this might be a good article for folks who love it.

Armies of the Renaissance by Nick Nascati

This is the second part of an article from last issue (I think – too lazy to look at the moment). It covers The Swiss. I’ve long thought the Swiss would be an excellent folk on which to model dwarf armies.

Narcisstics by Darrel Plant and Jon Pitchford

Some monster humor of the disgruntled geek variety, statting up jocks and their female groupies as monsters. I’d convert them to B&T format, but the format in the article is hard to make out, and frankly they’re not just worth it.

Psionics Revisited by Ronald Pehr

This variant takes some of the random chance out of the powers psychic characters receive, tying them more closely to their professions (or so the article says). It appears to divide the powers into two categories: Cognitive Powers and Kinetic Powers, adding a few new powers to the game.

Disease by Lenny Buettuer

This is a set of tables for determining how long it takes a disease to kill a person, and what symptoms are suffered in the meantime. The fatality interval goes from immediate to 10 months, based on a percentile dice roll. Another table determines how many symptoms are suffered and a third what those symptoms are. Honestly – a great idea and one I wish I’d thought of. After all, why do I care what the disease is called? All I want to know is how long the adventurer has to live (more on this below) and what happens to him until he can receive healing.

The other thing I got from this article is the point of diseases in the game. There are many ways to die in D&D, and each should offer up different challenges to the players. Disease in this case becomes a race to be cured.

Bergenhome ’77: the CAT’s Test of American Armor by Stanley Schriefer

If nothing else, this article presents an interesting moment in the history of the magazine. The article is about how well American armor (as in tanks) did in a NATO competition. No stats here. None. Not tied to any game. Just military news that might be interesting to wargamers.

The Return of Conan Maol by Paul Karlsson Johnstone

Weird little article about bagpipers and such.

Choir Practice at the First Church of Lawful Evil (Orthodox): The Ramifications of Alignment by Lawrence Schick

Another interesting article about the three-tier alignment system and their relationship to gods and the powers of those gods. It also divides the three alignments into several “sects” or versions of each alignment. Lawful, for example, is divided into the following:

(A) Absolute Order (High Law)
(B) Harmony/Goodness
(C) Justice/Vengeance
(D) Knowledge
(E) Evolution (Social Darwinism )
(F) War

It then gives information on each of these versions of alignment – its tenets, its practitioners, it’s prime deity. Here’s one example:

Law: JUSTICE/VENGEANCE (Monks, Paladins, Assassins)

Tenets: Good (Law) must be rewarded and Evil (Chaos) must be punished. All creatures are judged impartially by weighing their “good’ and “evil” deeds. Transgressors will be punished according to the depth of their depravity. Criminals must be diligently pursued until brought to justice. (Examples of this alignment’s enforcers might include Solomon Kane, The Shadow, Mr. A., and Javert.)

Prime Deity: MARLY
AC: -4 HP: 300 MOVE:24”
MAGIC: Standard plus See Past plus Detect Truth/Lie.

Honestly – one of the most usable alignment articles I’ve yet read. A great take on the subject, and quite usable. Bonus: Nice piece of art!

Naming People, Places and Things in Petal Throne by G. Arthur Rahman

This article provides a random table for generating the rather non-European names common to MAR Barker’s campaign world.

Monty Haul and the Best of Freddie by James M. Ward

Another adventure in the annals of Monty Haul. A sample:

“The Bronze Dragon was of tremendous size for its breed, measuring over 80 hands long and able to rear to a height of more than half that. The creature had gleaming claws as sharp and damaging as scimitars; buffed with gold dust. Its fanged jaws were kept sharp by biting heavy platemail vests that were a part of its horde. Its massive scaled body rested regally on an altar made of its own gold and silver. Chalices of platinum and coffers of gems and jewels were all about, arranged to please the delicate sensibilities of the dragon. Its giant eyes, that had been but a moment before closed in dragonslumber, opened, aware of the tread of footsteps down the echoing marble corridor, designed for just that echoing effect.”

In Defense of Extraordinary Characters by Rodford E. Smith

A very quick bit about why high level characters make sense, giving as examples from literature Odysseus, Daedalus, Hercules, John Carter, Conan and “everyone’s favorite Kryptonian.” So there you go.

The Society for Creative Anachronism by Allen Hammack

An overview of the society and their doings. These days, this would be what we term a “web page”.

And there you have the April 1979 issue of The Dragon. Not a bad issue all told, with at least two or three articles that I think most folks would find useful.

Dragon by Dragon – September 1977 (9)

Let’s get right into it, shall we? Because the first page we see past the cover is this …

Let the edition wars begin, I guess. Note the “For 3 or more adult players” [emphasis mine]. TSR would learn a little something about the purchasing power of the younger set in a few years.

The second page is an ad for 25 mm Minifigs D&D miniatures, which such evocative names as “5 Different Hobgoblins” and “10 Kobolds”. You can see some painted versions HERE, HERE (didn’t know hobgoblins were so randy) and HERE.

OK – to the meat of the issue. Our first offering is from Gygax, and is entitled Varied Player Character and Non-Player Character Alignment in the Dungeons & Dragons Campaign. The article is about the problems that alignment presents to DM’s. The line that caught my attention early in the article was:

“The most common problem area seems to lie in established campaigns with a co-operating block of players, all of whom are of like alignment. These higher level player characters force new entrants into the same alignment, and if the newcomers fail to conform they dispatch them.”

Nice to know that DM’s used to have help from the players in terms of managing alignment. It sounds like players with high-level characters could be real dicks back in the day.

Also interesting was this, about Gary’s Greyhawk Campaign:

“The Greyhawk Campaign is built around the precept that “good” is the desired end sought by the majority of humanity and its allied races (gnomes, elves, et al.). I have this preference because the general aim is such that more than self-interest (or mental abberation) motivates the alignment. This is not to say that a war of lawful good against chaotic good is precluded, either or both opponents being allied with evil beings of lawful or chaotic alignment. What is said is that most planned actions which are written into the campaign are based on a threat to the overall good by the forces of evil.”

Probably sounds a bit rail-roady to some of the old schoolers out there. If I’m honest, the article somewhat meanders a bit and didn’t really teach me much on its professed subject, other than to conclude that a variety of alignments is a good thing in a campaign. So that’s settled.

Next up is the continuation of The Finzer Family, the longest damn story I think I ever saw in a Dragon Magazine. I’m going to skip the continuation, just as I skipped the first part, but I will draw notice to this:

The gaming world is taking shape!

I’m going to post this next ad for miniatures because, frankly, they’re pretty dang nice. I tried to find some painted samples online, but came up short.

Almost 20 pages later, we’re finally done with the Finzer Family, and onto an article by MAR Barker entitled Seal of the Imperium. The article is designed to answer reader questions, but the first declaration of Prof. Barker is an interesting one regarding the difference between “real” Tekumel and the “game” Tekumel:

“Just to point up the contrasts, let me cite some differences: (a) “real” Tékumel has a lot less magic and magical paraphernalia lying about than one picks up in the game — with all the Thoroughly Useful Eyes and spells of revivification possible in the game, no citizen of Tsolyánu would ever have to die! — and there would be heaps of treasure and goodies for all”

The eternal problem with D&D. As Prof. Barker explains:

“All of these things, plus the ever-useful Divine Intervention, make it a LOT easier to succeed in the game than in “real” Tsolyánu. The same is true of “Monopoly” or “Alexander the Great”; games abstract, simplify, and simulate only those parts of “reality” which the designer feels are crucial.”

In other words – “Don’t sweat it, it’s just a game”. Good advice, then and now.

Brian Blume now rides in with The Fastest Guns that Never Lived (Part II), a list of actors from old westerns, along with their stats for Boot Hill. You have no idea how much this makes me wish I had the Boot Hill rules, just for the chance to put the Cisco Kid and Poncho on the trail of Lee Van Cleef.

James M. Ward now presents Tombs & Crypts. It’s a neat little graph for randomly generating the contents of a tomb or crypt. The table allows one to roll a d12 to get a set of modifiers for several other tables that determine the treasure in the crypt (gold pieces, gems, jewelry, misc. magic items, special items and artifacts) as well as the guardian and structure of the tomb. I’ll reproduce those last two tables:

01-30: None
31-50: Magic spell (wizard lock, curse, etc.)
51-80: Invisible stalkers (1d4)
81-99: Creature from the 6th level monster chart
100: A stronger monster + roll again for another guardian

Tomb Itself
01-40: 1 room/cave/mound of dirt
41-50: Hall with spring trap of some type and a secret door at the end of it
51-60: A 2-6 room/cave complex with many doors leading to other areas trying to lure the robbers away
61-80: 1-10 rooms/caves with a secret door to the tomb and 1-10 traps in the rooms
81-90: 1-10 rooms with 1-20 corridors, with 2-20 traps guarding the rooms and tombs and a secret door
91-99: 1-10 connecting rooms with traps, secret doors, and magical guard spells (wizard locks, symbols, etc.) guarding the way
100: 1-20 rooms with traps, secret doors, and a being guard. It requires a special word to open the final door to the tomb. The word should not be found in the tomb.

Next cool ad:

I found a shot of a painted one HERE.

Almost to the end, and I discover another famous first for Dragon …

When you combine Basic D&D, White Dwarf, Wormy and a long article about alignments, I think you might be able to peg September 1977 as the beginning of the modern era of D&D.

See you next week, when I give the Blood & Treasure mass combat rules a whirl with the Battle of Gaudin’s Ford, pitting a moot of halflings against a rampaging orc tribe.

Oh yeah – the cover – no room for it up above, but it is pretty groovy …

New game – stat the cover.

HORST HAMMERFIST, 5th level fighting-man with psionic powers, an amulet of advanced mathematics and a +2 ray gun of lightning.

A Notion on Alignment

Every good blog / magazine / forum devoted to fantasy gaming needs to address alignment eventually, especially if it can find a way to annoy its readers in doing so. Today is the day for The Land of Nod …

And before I go any further, this entire blog post is declared Open Game Content.

Law Means Sacrifice
Let’s assume, for the moment, that human beings, and therefore characters in an RPG, have free will. They can choose to kill the goblin children or leave them alive, steal the sacred goblet or leave it alone, etc. Adhering to a code – call it Law or Good or Lawful Good or whatever – means choosing to sacrifice your freedom to do things that might seem tactically or strategically wise, or just emotionally satisfying, in deference to a higher authority. In AD&D there was a hint of this in terms of which alignments were allowed to use poison and flaming oil. Clearly, poisoning a weapon (especially when poison usually meant save or die) was tactically a smart thing to do for adventurers. Kill your opponents more quickly, save your hit points for later battles, collect more treasure and thus collect more XP. The paladin, however, chooses not to do such a thing – just isn’t cricket you know! So, the notion here is that characters who choose to obtain their XP the hard way receive “compensation” from the higher powers.

Besides the assumption of free will above, an alignment system like this one makes a couple other assumptions that probably make it anathema to many campaign worlds and play styles. Understand – I’m only proposing this as a notion of how an alignment system could be modeled, not how an alignment system should be modeled. Therefore, if you feel the need to comment something like “No, this system is wrong, alignment shouldn’t be handled this way at all”, save yourself the trouble – I already know.

Assumption #1 – The God/Goddess/Deities of Law created the universe. This isn’t too far afield for a fantasy game – many mythologies work on this concept. First their was chaos, then there were titans/giants who gave birth to the gods who destroyed their parents and used them for spare parts while creating the universe and setting up its laws physical and spiritual. If you’re working on a more temporal universe or a Lovecraftian universe, this alignment system is almost certainly not for you.

Assumption #2 – The good gods are doing their best to hold back or defeat the bad gods/demons and they reward mortals for toeing the line. This alignment system operates on the idea of XP rewards for good behavior, which means experience points don’t just represent training and skill, but also the blessings of higher powers. It also means there is a universal establishment of right and wrong in the campaign, and those who submit themselves to it gain a palpable benefit. If this does not fit with your or your player’s sensibilities about life or how things should operate in a campaign, then this system is probably not for you.

Virtue and Vice
Now that we have the assumptions out of the way, we get to the system. Since this is a blog for rules light, old school gaming, the system is simple and draws on an existing system in the game – XP bonuses. You can use this system alongside XP bonuses for high ability scores or have it replace the existing system as you like.

Before we get into the rewards, let’s discuss virtue. This article will present virtue on quasi-Abrahamic grounds, since the Abrahamic religions were kind enough to put down things like Commandments and Cardinal Virtues and Seven Deadly Sins in writing. The point here isn’t to promote one faith over another. Feel free to rewrite the commandments.

Using the medieval concept of the chain of being, I’m going to put down a few commandments for adventurers in an order based on how difficult these rules would make dungeon delving. Commandment 1 is the most difficult to keep, Commandment 10 the easiest. I am then going to write down three systems of rewarding player characters with XP bonuses based on how they interact with these commandments.

Ten Commandments for Adventurers
1. You shall not murder/kill
2. You shall not steal (even from evil temples, though feel free to destroy their idols)
3. You shall defend the innocent and helpless with your life
4. You shall donate a minimum of 10% of your acquired wealth to the poor / the temple / etc.
5. You shall not use wicked tactics in combat (i.e. poison, flaming oil)
6. You shall not lie
7. You shall share treasure equally with other adventurers
8. You shall obey legal authority anointed with legitimacy by Law
9. You do not have improper relations with tavern wenches / stable grooms / etc.
10. You shall only worship (i.e. tithe, sacrifice to, call on) Law

Note that you can interpret “Law” in the above commandments as The God of Law, Creator of the Universe or The Deities of Law, Creators of the Universe or however it makes sense in your campaign.

Reward System One – Humans are Basically Evil
System one establishes that human beings are basically wicked and incapable of following any of these rules, and therefore rewards adventurers for adhering to any of these commandments. After an adventure, the Referee should award a +3% bonus to earned XP for each commandment an adventurer obeyed, working up from #10. As soon as you come to a broken commandment, the accrual of bonus XP stops.

For example, Sir Rodd of Todd gets back to town after delving in the Caves of Chaos. During that foray, he never called on Neutral or Chaotic gods, had no improper relations with men or women, obeyed the castellan and paid his taxes, shared treasure equally with the other adventurers, but did tell a lie to an orc sentry. So, he managed to obey the first four commandments, and thus earns a +12% bonus to earned experience points on the adventure.

Reward System Two – Setting Saintly Standards
In system two, we divide the commandments into the Greater Commandments (1-5) and Lesser Commandments (6-10). This scheme works much as the first, except one starts with an XP penalty and gradually lessens the penalty before it becomes an XP bonus. So, the commandments now look like this …

1. You shall not murder/kill [+15%]
2. You shall not steal (even from evil temples, though feel free to destroy their idols) [+12%]
3. You shall defend the innocent and helpless with your life [+9%]
4. You shall donate a minimum of 10% of your acquired wealth to the poor / the temple / etc. [+6%]
5. You shall not use wicked tactics in combat (i.e. poison, flaming oil) [+3%]
6. You shall not lie [-3%]
7. You shall share treasure equally with other adventurers [-6%]
8. You shall obey legal authority anointed with legitimacy by Law [-9%]
9. You do not have improper relations with tavern wenches / stable grooms / etc. [-12%]
10. You shall only worship (i.e. tithe, sacrifice to, call on) Law [-15%]

With this scheme, you again look for the highest level of “goodness” you manage to achieve, and are rewarded accordingly. Using the above example of Sir Rodd, the best he manages to do is share treasure equally, so he suffers a 6% penalty to earned experience points.

Obviously, this represents a much more severe attitude by Law to vice and virtue, and chaotic types had better make sure they score lots of experience points with their evil, because the universe is going to be acting against them at every step of the way.

System Three – Karma
Our last system is a modification of system one. In this case, you receive a +3% bonus for each commandment you obey and a 3% penalty for each commandment you break. All commandments are considered equal in this scheme – there is no chain of commandments from low to high – every one kept is a bonus, every one broken is a penalty.

Let’s again look at Sir Rodd. In our first example, we know that he kept the first four commandments and then broke the fifth. Perhaps he also abstained from wicked tactics, gave 10% of his treasure to the poor and defended the innocent with his life. That would give him 7 commandments kept (+21% XP) and 3 broken (-9%), giving him a total XP bonus of +12%.

Obviously, this is not a system for everyone. Take it as nothing more as a notion that struck me one day about how one might design an alignment system based on deeds (i.e. what you do) rather than words (i.e. what alignment you profess). If you find something of value in it, feel free to play with it, modify it and use it. If you think it sucks, feel free to ignore it.