Dragon by Dragon – May 1982 (61)

Wow – May of 1982. I was on the verge of being 10 years old, so probably 2 years away from discovering D&D, three from Tolkien and may five from superhero comic books. My only nerd-cred at the time was probably reading encyclopedias. What I do remember being excited about in 1982 – and begging to get for my birthday – were these new army figures called G.I. Joe. Have you seen these things? They’re like Star Wars figures (which I loved), but military (which I loved)! Awesome! I don’t remember exactly what I got that birthday, but I know I got a few of them, and I think I got the jet pack launch pad thingee. Unfortunately, within just a couple years I was done playing with toys, so I never had more than the originals and Doc. Good times, though!

Two-D’lusion (illusion)

A of E: 4 sq.”

CT: 1/6 segment

This cantrip is virtually the same as a phantasmal forces spell in most respects. The caster creates a two-dimensional illusion of whatever he or she desires. If any viewer observes it from an angle of more than about 45° from its horizontal or vertical viewing axis, the nature of the illusion will become immediately apparent. It is dispelled by touch or magic (dispel illusion or dispel magic). The illusion is invisible from the side or the rear. It lasts as long as the caster concentrates upon it. To effectuate the cantrip, the caster must speak a phrase descriptive of the illusion while making a circular motion with his closed hand.

Just so you know, “A of E” is “area of effect” and “CT” is casting time. I think 1/6 a segment would be 1 second, but I might be wrong on that. It’s been a while since I played AD&D.

It wouldn’t be until high school that I discovered Warhammer, and thus White Dwarf magazine. 

I always dig Giants in the Earth, either because it covers characters I know, or introduces me to new characters. This issue we get C. J. Cutliffe Hyne’s Deucalion, John Norman’s Tarl Cabot and Charles R. Saunders’ Dossouye. While I am aware of Cabot and have read some Saunders, I have never experienced first hand the characters described in this issue. I have, however, read Hyne’s The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis, from whence Deucalion comes (well, not really – it’s from ancient mythology really), and I can recommend it. A ripping yarn that, in my opinion, was reminiscent of Conan and such barbarian literature long before REH got his sandaled hero off the ground.

I always wanted one of those Dragonbone electonic dice rollers as a kid. A quick search on ebay revealed none for sale. Oh well – maybe some day.

Next are “Without Any Weapons …” by Phil Meyers and then “… or with a … Weird One” by Rory Bowman. The first has new rules for pummeling in AD&D, the rules for which were never very satisfying and always overly complex. They could have been quite simple, but the gaming zeitgeist of the time was all about complexity – a far cry from the old days when the game was the thing. The later article introduces new weapons for AD&D such as atlatls, blow guns, chakrams, bullwhips, etc. I had no interest in complex fighting rules, but always liked new additions like the weapons article.

For the gnome-curious out there, Dragon 61 had some groovy articles by Roger E. Moore about the littlest adventurers in AD&D. “The Gnomish Point of View” fleshes out the gnome characters – of course, your campaign may vary from Moore’s ideas, but it was always helpful, especially when I was young, to see how these things could be fleshed out. It is followed up with “The Gods of the Gnomes” – Baervan, Urdlen, Segojan and Flandal. Of course, Garl Glittergold was introduced earlier. I can remember thinking Flandal Steelskin was cool.

“Quest for the Midas Orb” by Jennie Good is the included module in Dragon 61. It was the third place winner at IDDC III, and I’ll admit I don’t know what that is. Here’s the introduction:

“Long ago in the land of Gnarda lived the worshippers of Kalsones, the god of wealth and power. Kalsones was a fair god who treated his followers kindly. As proof of his fairness and kindness in an era long past, he had presented the people with an artifact called the Midas Orb. Legends say if the Orb is held in one hand and another object is touched with the index finger of the other hand, the object touched will turn to pure gold.”

The adventure is a groovy dungeon crawl with some cool ideas in it. Well worth the read and probably well worth the exploration.

The “Dragon’s Bestiary” includes the Firetail by Ed Greenwood, the Umbrae by Theresa Berger, the Light Worm by Willie Callison and the Tybor by Jeff Brandt. Here’s the Light Worm for Blood & Treasure:

Light Worm by Willie Callison
Type: Monster
Size: Large
Hit Dice: 4
Armor Class: 14
Attack: Bite (1d6 + Poison IV)
Movement: 20′
Save: 16
Intelligence: Animal/Low
Alignment: Neutral
No. Appearing: 1 (25% chance of 1d3)
XP/CL: 1,200/6

SD – MR 75%, Immune (charm, hold, illusions), vulnerable (cold, fire)

Light worms are dungeon denizens with poisonous bites. They look like giant snakes with black underbellies and violet and light blue bands on their backs. The monster’s have two small bumps above their eyes, and stubs on their underside – perhaps vestigal legs. Victims of the light worm’s bite must save vs. poison (at +1 from the first bite, and a cumulative -2 penalty for each additional bite) or die in 1d8 minutes.

There is a 35% chance each round that the worm creates a 20′-diameter sphere of colored lights around victims within 120′. All creatures within the sphere are made dizzy for the first three rounds of their entrapment (-2 to attack, cumulative). In rounds four and five, they are so dizzy as to be incapacitated, and in round six they fall unconscious for 1d10+1 minutes, during which time they are devoured by the monster if at all possible.

Creatures that save against the sphere of lights are only made dizzy for three rounds, shaking off the effect thereafter. Dispel magic, mind blank and true seeing cut through the sphere of lights, as does a helm of telepathy.

The sphere of lights can be generated once every 12 hours.

Light worms are stunned for 1d3 rounds by the sticks to snakes spell, and the spell cancels a sphere of light currently in play.

The Monster Cards described in this issue were really cool. Each one depicts a monster painting on the front, and the stats on the back. If you can find some out in the wild, grab them, cherish them, and use them to kill player characters.

There is an article about introducing aging into the Ringside game, of which I know nothing. It is followed up by the “Jo-Ga-Oh – Little People of the Iroquois” by Conrad Froehlich. These are stats for three “monsters” that are quite groovy.

Gary Gygax has a supplement to Top Secret. Again, I know next to nothing about this game, but I like the level titles for infiltrators – snitch / foist / inside man / plant / ringer / contact / insinuator / penetrator / subversive / infiltrator. Given the title for 8th level, I guess we can assume that’s James Bond’s level. The article also has info on different types of missions, the XP value of them, and other notes. 

Boy – What’s New? With Phil and Dixie was just the best when you were in junior high …

It was fun discovering Phil Foglio’s art in old Star Trek fanzines. Everybody has to start somewhere!

Tramp’s Wormy has some gorgeous artwork – he was just getting better and better!

That, folks, is a wrap! Have fun folks, and please be kind to one another. 

Hit Points and Armor Class

As soon as I wrote that title, my brain went to “pork chops and applesauce”.

Brady Bunch-isms aside, I recently had an idea about hit points and armor class in D&D-esque games.

In terms of combat, hit points and armor class combine to form a sliding scale for determining how long a character or creature can last in combat. Armor class determines how hard it is to “deal damage” to a target, so it is impacted by the form of armor worn (or natural armor) and by dexterity. Hit points represent how much “damage” a target can suffer before it dies, with damage in this context meaning not just physical injury, but also exhaustion and your skill in avoiding telling blows. In other words, there’s a whole lot wrapped up in the hit points concept.

This is all fine and dandy in the context of combat, but hit points are used outside of combat as well, such as from traps and falling – and that is where it gets a little goofy.

Fighters have more hit points than thieves, for example, because they are more skilled at combat than thieves and should therefore last longer in combat than thieves. But why should that help them survive falls better than thieves? Shouldn’t thieves be better at falling than fighters? And perhaps they are, depending on the system used, via the saving throw system, but even then – a character’s ability to withstand physical punishment outside of combat should have more to do with their constitution score than their fighting ability.

Some games introduce multiple kinds of hit points, or shifting non-combat damage directly to the constitution score, which is fine, but does create more book keeping. I thought of another way to go that is simple and doesn’t require any additional rules or statistics.

First, equalize hit points across classes. Everybody rolls d6 for hit points at each level, and still add their constitution bonus to hit points.

Second, un-equalize the character’s base Armor Class. Using the ascending version of AC, fighter types have a base AC of 12, cleric and thief-types of 10, and magic-user types of 8. Monks use the system they’ve always used. For barbarians, who usually roll even more hit points than fighters, go base AC of 14.

The base AC now represents fighting skill, while the hit points are a representation of one’s ability to survive injuries either through sheer physical endurance and toughness or luck (or both). Fighters can’t take more falling or trap damage than anyone else, but they can survive combat better than everyone else.

Notion – One vs. Many

Here’s an idea I had today while walking the dog. It’s about combat with multiple attackers in RPG fights of the B&T variety.

When a character is facing more than one opponent, they can make a choice on how many of their foes they want to “actively engage” each round. For each foe they actively engage beyond the first, they suffer a cumulative -1 penalty to their attack. Any foe they do not actively engage gets a cumulative +1 bonus to attack the character.

For example: A fighter is facing three goblins. If he decides to actively engage one goblin, he gets to attack that goblin with his normal chances. The other two goblins, because they are not actively engaged, attack with a +2 bonus (+2 because there are two goblins not actively engaged).

If the fighter actively engaged two of the goblins, then he suffers a -1 penalty to his attack that round (-1 because there is one “extra” goblin he is engaging). The one goblin who is not engaged gets a +1 bonus to hit the fighter (+1 because there is one goblin not actively engaged).

If the fighter actively engages all three, the goblins get no bonus to attack, but the fighter suffers a -2 penalty to his attack.

If you use a rule wherein the fighter class can attack multiple opponents, you can still use these penalties, but apply them to each of the fighter’s attacks during a round.

Note – I planned to use an image from Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) where he was fighting several men, but couldn’t find it. I stuck with Cyrano anyways, because he’s my hero.

Bar Fights Updated

Bar fight from The Spoilers (1942) – click for source

A few weeks ago I began writing a supplment I had long planned for my GRIT & VIGOR rules concerning the “Old West”. I’d been working on the High Frontier supplement, which covers the retro-future imagined for the late 20th century (now in editing – hopefully ready soon) and was cleaning up the G&V file folders. That led me to opening a few files to see what was in them, which led to doing some organization in an “Old West” word document, which led to .. well, let’s say I’m about 50% finished with writing the supplement now, when I should have been completing other projects (i.e. NOD 36 and Gods & Legends).

One element I needed for the Old West supplement was rules for saloon fights, which I’d written up for generic Old School fantasy games a few years back (2012, to be precise). I hadn’t looked up the old post yet when I got an email mentioning that I’d left something off a table in that article, and would I please update it. Strange coincidence!

So, here are the rules as modified (just slightly) for the Old West supplement. The updated table (the first one) is suitable for the old post and use in fantasy games (or sci-fi games if you want to host a slugfest in the Mos Eisley Cantina).

Saloon Fights

A staple of western movies and television shows, especially those of a less serious nature, is the saloon fight. Sometimes it starts with an insult, or sometimes with an accidental bump, but in no time at all an epic free-for-all slugfest erupts.

Running something like this in a game is difficult because there are so many moving parts. These rules are designed to make it easier.

The first thing to determine is the size of the brawl. If you do not know how many brawlers are present, you can roll dice and consult the table below:

D6 Fight Size Combatants Hit Points
1 Kerfuffle 6 to 10 3d6
2-3 Dust-up 11 to 20 6d6
4-5 Donnybrook 21 to 30 9d6
6 Slugfest 31+ 12d6

Hit Points in the table above refers to the total hit points of the crowd of combatants. When the crowd’s hit points are reduced to zero, the saloon fight is over because all the non-PC combatants have either fled, are unconscious or are otherwise unable to fight.

While the fight is still happening, characters can choose one of the following actions each round:

Fight: Character jumps into the fight with feet and fists flying – he’ll take all comers

Flee: Character tries to scramble out of the fight

Hide: Character hides under a table or behind the bar

Loot: Character wades through the fight picking pockets or stealing drinks

Seek: Character wades through the fight looking for a specific target; the target could be a person or an item

The VM rolls 1d10 and checks the matrix below, cross-referencing the roll with each character’s stated action. Any time a character suffers damage, they must pass a Fortitude saving throw with a penalty equal to the damage suffered to avoid being either stunned for 1d3 rounds or knocked unconscious for 1d10 minutes. There is a 50% chance of either. A stunned character is considered to have chosen “Hide” as his action each round he is stunned.

D10 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fight N F F B A A A A A A
Flee N N N F F F M M M M
Hide N N N N N N F F B A
Loot N N N F F B A L L L
Seek N N F F B A A A R R

The letter codes are as follows:

A is for “Attacked”: The character is attacked by other combatants, and can attack them back. Roll 1d6:

1 AC 10, ATK +0, DMG 1d2
2 AC 11, ATK +1, DMG 1d2+1
3 AC 12, ATK +2, DMG 1d2+1
4 AC 13, ATK +3, DMG 1d2+2
5 AC 14, ATK +4, DMG 1d2+2
6 Attacked by two combatants, roll 1d4 to determine each attacker’s stats. If both attackers attack successfully, the PC must make a Reflex saving throw or be lifted and thrown. Roll 1d6 for the effect:

Lifted and Thrown Sub-Table

1-2 Slid down the bar for additional 1d6 points of damage and knocked prone
3-4 Thrown out door and into street for 1d6 points of damage and knocked prone
5 Thrown out window and into street for 2d4 points of damage and knocked prone
6 Thrown off balcony or stairs onto a table, suffering 2d6 points of damage and knocked prone; if this doesn’t make sense, re-roll

B is for “Bystander”: The character catches sight of an innocent (or not) bystander

1-2 Child hiding from the fight; good characters must attempt to save them by fleeing
3-4 Saloon girl motions you to a door; you must “Seek” to get there, and once inside consult the Saloon Girl sub-table below
5-6 A damsel faints, roll under Dexterity to catch her for 100 XP; you now fight with a -2 penalty to hit

Saloon Girl Sub-Table

1-2 Quit the fight and do some wooing and cooing (50% chance of being slipped a Mickey or simply being pick pocketed, 10% chance you are hunted down by a jealous lover afterwards) – either way, you earn XP per a 3 HD monster you dog!
3-4 Suckered into an ambush, roll as per “A” above, but roll 1d3+3, and you don’t get to hit back
5-6 Punched by the girl/guy (AC 10, attack at +1, 1d2 points of damage) – this is a surprise attack, so you don’t get to hit back

F is or “Flying Debris”: The character is struck by flying debris; boxers can attempt a Reflex saving throw to avoid it, but all others roll 1d6:

1-3 Hit by bottle for 1d3 points of damage; Fortitude save or knocked unconscious
4-5 Hit by chair for 1d6 points of damage; Fortitude save or knocked unconscious
6 Hit by a flying body for 2d4 points of damage; Fortitude save or knocked unconscious; if a compatriot was thrown this round, you were hit by them

L is for “Looting”: The character acquires some loot – roll 1d6:

1 Acquire a single mug of beer or a shot of whiskey
2-3 Pick pocket check to acquire 50¢ or its equivalent
4 Pick pocket check to acquire $1 or its equivalent
5 Pick pocket check to acquire $10 or its equivalent
6 Pick pocket check to acquire a treasure map or some other plot device; only use this once!

On a failed pick pockets roll, you are instead attacked – see “A” above.

M is for “Move”: The character moves 1d10 feet to-wards his chosen exit.

N is for “Nothing”: Nothing happens to you this round, nor do you get to do anything

R is for “Reach Target”: Character reaches the target they were looking for!

Break It Up!

Each round of the saloon fight there is a 5% chance that the town sheriff and his deputies (or deputized citizens) shows up to break things up. The number of deputies depends on the size of the town – use your best judgment – but they are armed with pistols and are willing to use them to restore order.

Combatants, including the player characters, are arrested unless they find a way to sneak out. If the sheriff is on his way, there is a 50% chance that some old coot yells “Sheriff’s coming!” the round before to give the combatants a chance to flee.

Bringing a Gun to a Fist Fight

Pulling a knife or gun during a fist fight is a cowardly and low-down act, and results in you being avoided by other combatants for the duration and suffering a -4 penalty to reactions in this town in the future.

Death and Dismemberment

Saloon fights should not result in PC death, because death just is not the point of these things. At 0 hit points, a character is knocked out and awakens in jail.


Dangerous Ground

Combat in D&D and its various descendants is abstract for the most part, making it fast (well, except in 3E) and easy to run, and thus pretty fun to play. So how about using abstraction to introduce dangerous battlefield conditions into a fight?

The Idea

While some battlefields may be perfectly safe to fight in, one can expect many fights, given where they occur and the genre in which they exist, to be fought in dangerous spaces. The floor could be slippery, there could be a fire pit in the middle of it, the roof could be caving in – just use your imagination.

flashVbarinActually staging a combat in such a dangerous space can be tricky, though, because the combat rules are abstract. You can use a battle grid and miniatures, but sometimes they are feasible, or you just don’t want the bother.

One way to get around this is to extend the abstraction of combat – Armor Class, hit points, etc. – to the ground itself.

As the Referee, you pick a number from 1 to 20. This is the unlucky number. When this number is rolled during combat – attack rolls or damage rolls – the roller of the number suffers an effect tied to the battlefield.

For example – the room in which a fight is taking place has a fire pit in the middle of it. The pit is about 2 feet deep and there are hot coals in the bottom of it. The Referee decides a roll of ’10’ (unmodified by anything) means somebody has stepped into the pit and burned themselves for 1d4 points of damage. He also decides this damage cannot reduce them to less than 1 hit point, and that the unlucky combatant must pass a saving throw or suffer a penalty to movement for an hour due to twisting an ankle or burning a foot.

Now – this is key – it is probably a good idea to let players know what the unlucky number is, and what can happen (in general terms) when it is rolled. Why? I’ll let Alfred Hitchcock explain:

“There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”

When the players know the unlucky number, every dang roll has some tension packed into it. You know how everybody stared with wide eyes and holds their breath when somebody has to roll a crucial saving throw or attack? You can bring a little of that to every roll during one of these fights, but only if people know the unlucky number.

A few things to consider if you decide to use this notion:

If the unlucky number is low, it means it has a more likely chance of coming up, since both attack rolls (1d20) and damage rolls (d4, d6, d8 etc.) can trigger it. If you want the effect to be more rare, make the number higher than 10.

Higher numbers also mean success can be tinged with failure; lower numbers can rub salt in the wound of missing an attack.

You can have multiple unlucky numbers. In the example above, the roof might also be in danger of caving in, so a ’10’ means stepping in the fire pit and a ’17’ means roof tiles fall on a person for 1d4 damage.

The effect can also be a time track. Using the “roof falling in” example above, each roll of ’17’ can bring the roof closer to collapsing entirely on the people in the room. Maybe it takes 3 such rolls before it happens. This introduces some great tension into the fight, and requires players to gamble a bit every time they roll the dice.

You could, maybe even should, permit people a way to avoid these unlucky numbers. Maybe they have to reduce their movement rate or accept a penalty to attack.

Whatever the unlucky number, carry the attack and damage roll through completely before the dice roller suffers the consequences. In other words, if the attack roll brings up the unlucky number AND scores a hit, the hit counts and damage is rolled before the unlucky attacker burns himself, slips, etc.

One could also use this to simulate the danger of engaging giant monsters, with a chance of being stepped on or knocked into or of a randomly flailing tail connecting for damage.





Weapons Increase Armor Class?

I had a little notion this morning about a different way to run combat in d20-esque games. This is a departure from normal combat, but can be done pretty easily.

Here’s the plan:

Damage is not based on the weapon, but on the success at the attack roll. There are a variety of ways you can do this. The most simple would be something like:

Roll < AC = no damage (obviously)

Roll = AC = 1d3 damage (’tis but a scratch)

Roll = AC +1 = 1d4 damage

Roll = AC +2 to +3 = 1d6 damage

Roll = AC +4 to +5 = 1d8 damage

Roll = AC +6 to +7 = 1d10 damage

Roll = AC +8 to +9 = 2d6 damage

And so on, adding +1d6 to damage each time. You can adjust the ranges and damages to suit yourself, of course.

So what good is a weapon in this system?

Weapons in this system would add to AC based on their length. If your weapon is longer than your opponent’s weapon, it is harder for the opponent to get close and strike. We could say for every foot difference in the length of the weapons, you get a +1 to AC, up to a max. of +3. We don’t want the weapon’s length to completely overshadow actual armor in the AC calculation. We might also want to factor in the size of the combatants, with maybe every 2′ of height (or length) equaling a +1 bump to AC, up to +3. The combination of height and weapon length, therefore, would give a max. bump to AC of +6.

Weapons also add to damage based on their stated damage in the rule books, as follows:

1 to 1d3 damage = +0 to damage
1d4 damage = +1 to damage
1d4+1 and 1d6 damage = +2 to damage
1d6+1, 1d8 and 2d4 damage = +3 to damage
1d10 damage = +4 to damage
1d12 and 2d6 damage = +5 to damage

Strength also adds to damage, as normal, and dexterity adds to AC.

Example Combat: Halfling Fighter vs. Ogre
We’ll pit two combatants against one another.

The first is a 5th level halfling fighter with a +1 Dex bonus and platemail and a short sword. The halfling (using Blood & Treasure rules) has a total bonus to hit of +5 (for level, no strength bonus). Her armor class is 18 (+7 armor, +1 Dex). She has 28 hit points.

The second is a 4 HD ogre with no armor and a spear. The ogre has a +4 bonus to hit (based on his HD) and AC 16. He has 17 hit points.

We’ll impose the following adjustments, based on the above rules:

The ogre is 8 feet tall, vs. the halfling’s 3 feet of height. This is a 4′ difference, so the ogre gets a +2 bonus to AC. The ogre is also using a 6-foot long spear, vs. the halfling’s 3-foot long short sword, which gives the ogre another +3 bonus to AC. This gives the ogre a total AC of 21 in this fight.

The halfling’s short sword gives her a +2 bonus to damage. The ogre’s spear gives him the same.

We’ll give the halfling initiative … her first attack roll is a 17, +5 for her attack bonus, equals 22. This beats the ogre’s AC by 1 point, and thus scores 1d4+2 damage. In this case, 4 points of damage. This reduces the ogre to 13 hit points.

The ogre rolls a 19+4 = 23. This beats the halfling’s AC by 5, which translates into 1d8+2 damage. The ogre rolls 5 points of damage, reducing the halfling to 23 hit points.

In the next round, the halfling rolls a 23, beating the ogre’s AC by 2, and scoring 1d6+2 damage. The halfling rolls another 4 points of damage, reducing the ogre to 9 hit points.

The ogre responds with an attack roll of 5, missing the halfling.

And so on … it is likely that the halfling will win the fight, though the ogre has a slightly better chance to score more damage, and he is slightly harder to hit.

Final Thoughts
I don’t think this is a better way to run combat, just different. If it has any advantage, it is that it takes into account the reach of a creature and weapon in a way that normal combat rules do not. Further development of the idea might lead to a better system, or might suggest alterations to the existing combat system that might make it better.

Your Kung-Fu Could be Better …

When writing GRIT & VIGOR, I wanted to include some martial arts. You can’t very well have manly adventures without a few face kicks and quivering palms. To that end, there is a sub-class of fighter called the boxer which is, essentially, the monk class without the supernatural abilities.

Since the game uses feats, I decided to create several feats to simulate different styles of martial arts. All of them have prerequisites, of course, but could probably be taken by 6th level or so. Here’s a little preview of the martial arts master feats. You might find them handy in your game if it uses feats or something similar, or perhaps you could adapt them as special abilities for a martial artist class in your game.

Aikido Master

Prerequisites: Int 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer), Dodge, Expertise

An aikido master can sacrifice his own attacks against a grappled opponent to lock them into combat. Each round, the aikido master makes an attack roll, noting the total. To break the lock, the aikido master’s opponent must make an attack roll with a result higher than the aikido master’s Armor Class and higher than the aikido master’s attack roll. If he fails, he may not move or attack anyone else. If he succeeds, he may either count the attack towards the aikido master and deal damage as normal, or instead move or attack another.

Bagyazhang Master

Prerequisites: Con 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Great Fortitude, Iron Will

The baguazhang master adds his Constitution bonus to his Armor Class and to Reflex saving throws. This is in addition to his Dexterity modifier, not in place of it.

Bartitsu Master

Prerequisites: 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer), Dodge, Look Smart

When the bartitsu master gets his opponent into a grapple, the opponent must pass an Endure task check each round the grapple is maintained or succumb to pain and fall unconscious for 1d4 rounds.

Capoeira Master

Prerequisites: Dex 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Brawler, Lightning Reflexes

When fighting three or more opponents, a capoeira master may make one free trip attack per round, in addition to his normal attack, against one of those opponents.

Jujutsu Master

Prerequisites: Int 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer), Expertise, Trip

When using the throw or trip combat maneuvers, a jujutsu master adds his opponent’s strength bonus to his own strength bonus when rolling his attack roll.

Karate Master

Prerequisites: Str 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Cleave, Power Attack

Karate masters deal triple damage with critical hits when making an unarmed attack. Items rolling a saving throw to avoid being destroyed by a karate master do so at a -2 penalty.

Savate Master

Prerequisites: Str 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Brawler, Power Attack

When a savate master makes a successful unarmed attack against an opponent and rolls a critical hit, the opponent is stunned for one round or knocked prone (player’s choice) in addition to suffering damage.

Taekwondo Master

Prerequisites: Attack bonus +2 or higher, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Flying Kick

You can make an unarmed attack against an opponent that is behind you at no penalty, or strike two flanking opponents by rolling an attack against each and splitting your attack bonus between them.

T’ai Chi Ch’uan Master

Prerequisites: Dex 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer), Dodge, Iron Will

When a t’ai chi ch’uan master is attacked in combat and missed, he may force his opponent to pass a Reflex saving throw or be grappled, or a Fortitude saving throw or be pushed back 5 feet.

Wing Chun Master

Prerequisites: Dex 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Dodge, Great Fortitude

Wing chun masters may re-roll failed saving throws made to resist combat maneuvers.

Xing Yi Quan Master

Prerequisites: Str 13+, Pugilist (or Boxer Class), Look Smart, Power Attack

When a xing yi quan master uses his power attack feat against an opponent at +3 to damage and -3 to hit and successfully attacks, he stuns his opponent for 1 round.

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.

Fight Like a Greek Hero … In the Buff!

A while back, I tossed out the idea of modeling variant samurai in Ruins & Ronin by swapping out access to armor in exchange for extra special abilities.

Today, I was looking at some classical art, wherein all the great heroes fight in the buff. Now, you could swap out the fighter’s normal access to armor with the monk’s ability to improve AC by level if you wanted to run a campaign set in classical Greece – in fact, I would suggest it. But what if you wanted to award fighters (and other character classes that normally have access to very good armor) if they want to throw down their metal suits and fight like Hercules?

My idea would be to grant an XP bonus whenever a warrior goes into battle unarmored. You can actually tie the size of the bonus to the amount of armor the warrior forgoes. This can get tricky at lower levels though, when fighters and clerics cannot necessarily afford better armor. You don’t necessarily want to hand the fighters and clerics a big XP bonus over the thieves and magic-users when they’re opting not to use armor they couldn’t get access to anyways.

Maybe the way to do it is this: If a character that normally has access to any armor decides to wear nothing more than leather armor (nonmagical), they get a +10% bonus to earned XP. If they decide to wear nothing more than padded, they get a +15% bonus. If they go around unarmored, but clothed, they get a +20% bonus. If they go virtually naked, they get a +25% bonus to earned XP.

You can reduce these bonuses for characters with more restrictive armor choices; you might decide that thieves who decide to go around virtually naked earn no more than a +10% bonus to earned XP, since they’re really only forgoing a couple points of AC bonus.

Shields don’t figure into this – the classical heroes often fought with shields. If the armor mentioned above is magical, reduce the XP bonus by 5% per magical plus (so wearing +1 leather armor translates into a +5% bonus to XP).

This could be a fun option for players with fighters who want to challenge common sense, and show off a bit in the process. It could also be a way to model the Xena’s and Red Sonja’s running around in less-than-optimal armor.

You might also give fighters with impressive physiques an additional bonus to reaction checks if they walk around virtually naked – i.e. permit them to add their Strength bonus in place of their Charisma bonus to reaction checks.

Over In a Nonce – Deadly Dueling

I’ve done a similar combat system to this one in the past, so consider this a revision or just forget the last one.

Once again, I’m thinking in terms of a deadly combat system, more realistic perhaps than the traditional hit points/armor class system, and potentially over quickly.

The system is written for Blood & Treasure, but should be easy to adapt. It assumes you are using the combat advantage system in Blood & Treasure. It works as follows:

A. Each character makes an attack roll, add half armor class bonus from natural armor or worn or carried armor (i.e. shields) to this roll

B. Compare the attack rolls – high roll wins the combat round

B1. If a combatant rolls a natural ’20’, their opponent is either killed or, if they are merciful, knocked unconscious or left prone and disarmed (and dishonored)

B2. If a combatant rolls a natural ‘1’, they suffer a catastrophe – roll 1d6

1. Disarmed (must draw another weapon or fight unarmed)
2. Trip or slip (fall prone, Reflex save or lose weapon as well)
3. Backed into corner (opponent gets an advantage, as you cannot maneuver)
4. Face cut (blood in your eyes, opponent gets an advantage)
5. Hand cut (must fight with other hand, giving opponent an advantage unless you are ambidextrous)
6. Roll again (or if anyone has another good idea for a catastrophe, let me know!)

B3. The loser must pass a Fortitude saving throw or is fatigued, suffering the normal penalty to attack rolls, but also extending their fumble range by 1 (i.e. from 1 on 1d20 to 1-2 on 1d20, etc.) A combatant with armor must take a penalty on this save equal to half their armor class bonus.

B4. The winner need only make a Fortitude save vs. fatigue in even rounds of combat. Each round that they win, they increase their critical threat range by 1 (i.e. from 20 on 1d20 to 19-20 on 1d20, etc.)

C. Keep rolling combat rounds until somebody is dead (or unconscious) or surrenders

Multiple Opponents – the outnumbered foe has to roll against each attacker, all of whom derive a combat advantage from the situation, and might have to make multiple saves against fatigue. Only the attacker’s first attack roll counts against a chosen opponent in terms of causing fatigue or death. Unlike with normal rules, heroes sallying forth against multiple foes are probably doomed unless they well out-level them.

Multiple Attacks – Monsters or characters with multiple attacks make those attacks as normal, with each defender making their own attack roll against them, or a defender making multiple rolls against them; as above, only the character’s first attack roll counts towards causing fatigue or death.

Missile Combat – This system doesn’t work for missile weapons, but consider this idea: Make attack rolls against AC as normal. Roll the hit location (you can devise your own table) with that body part being made useless unless the struck character passes a Reflex save. Obviously, hit locations like head, throat or heart would carry with them instant death.

Other Sources of Hit Point Damage: To get rid of hit points, you’d need to deal with things like fire breath or falls. If you like things to be super dangerous, you could always go save or die – or perhaps save vs. being crippled, severely burned (you’d have to determine just what that entails), frostbitten, etc. with a roll of “1” indicating that the attack killed you outright.

Impact of System

A system like this opens some interesting possibilities. High level characters are still hard to kill, but maybe not as hard as before – even a first level character can get lucky against a high level character with a system like this in a way that is essentially impossible using traditional combat. Likewise, first level characters are going to have a tough time surviving, but might actually last many more rounds than they would using the traditional system.

If you try this system out, let me know how it worked.