About Me

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Magic Mart: Buying/selling magic items

I am not a fan of how later D&D editions (particularly 3.X) reduced magic items to a simple commodity. I get that some of the rules about crafting costs and times were a bit subjective before, but I fall into the camp that magic should be magical. 

That being said, players will want to find ways to spend their loot and one of the most useful things for an adventurer is better gear. Once the fighter has bought plate mail and silver arrows, his upgrade options in the standard price list are a bit thin on the ground. I sometimes do have the odd item or two for sale in towns. Usually its things like potions or scrolls and other "limited" magics.

The current campaign I am running, the PCs have managed to get through two adventures, both times clearing a fair amount of coin; enough that the PCs that have survived since session one are at or near level 3 (except the elf). The nature of the adventures limited the chance to find items, though. I am thinking of giving them a chance to acquire some magical shinys. The question is how to decide what's available in such situations without being utterly arbitrary.

The idea I am currently playing with is based roughly off of the Treasure Type Tables on X43. The larger the town or city, the better the chance of any magical items for sale. Likewise, certain types of items are more often found than others. A first pass at this for a typical BX fantasy setting (not particularly high or low magic) might look something like:

Small Town or Village: 15% Any 1
Medium-sized Town: 25% Any 2 + 1 potion + 1 scroll
Large Town or Small City: 1d4 scrolls, 30% Any 3 + 1 sword, armor, or weapon
Large Metropolis: 1d4 scrolls, 2d4 potions, 35% Any 4

It's up to the individual DM to decide where a given population in his setting falls on this list. As examples, I would say a town like Threshold in Karameikos would be a medium town, whereas Specularum might be a small city. You might also tweak how you roll based on things like how much trade or traffic a location sees or if adventurers are common there.

In my campaign, the party is currently in a town of 3,000-4,000 people; what I would consider medium-sized in my setting.  But, it is also a busy river port that sees a good deal of trade and adventurer types are not uncommon here (a name-level mage has a tower just outside the town walls). Therefore, I have chosen to roll as a large town/small city.

Roll results are as follows:

1d4 Scrolls = 1. The % dice came "00"! Which is a nice treasure map to 5d6 gems and 2 magic items. Buuuut, the party is already following one map and I am trying to generate magical items here. So I re-rolled that and got a Protection from Magic scroll.

% dice for other magic = 30 exactly (!) So 3 items plus 1 arm or armor. I rolled a d3 to see which and got a 3, which is a non-sword weapon.

The percentile rolls for the specific items came up as follows:

  • A potion of Giant Control
  • +1 Spear
  • A Staff of Healing Staff of Striking (18 charges)
  • A MU/Elf spell scroll of 3 spells. This came up as one 4th, one 1st, and one 2nd level spell. I rolled randomly (d12s) and got Charm Monster, Ventriloquism, and Detect Evil.

Now this is a pretty impressive haul, and frankly a lot more magic than I like to be just lying around. If I want to let these results stand, I need to make sure these items aren't too easy to get. Namely, they need to be expensive or require the PCs do something to get them.

The protection scroll isn't limited but pretty nice, so I will peg that at 1000gp.

I decided to roll randomly for what type of giant the potion can control. There are six kinds of giants and I rolled a 4: Fire Giant. This is pretty neat, but of limited usefulness. However, commanding 1d4 fire giants even for only an hour could be pretty epic. Let's say 1000gp

The +1 spear is nice, but is just a bonus to hit and damage. 1000 gp should cover that.

The healing staff is another matter. I will invoke DM fiat and say this is too powerful to be simply bought in town, ready to go. This item allows essentially allows a cleric to cast a Cure Light Wounds once per day on each PC and uses no charges! This sort of thing would be snapped up by one to the temples in town and not readily available to wandering murder hobos. Like with the map, I re-rolled and the result was a Staff of Striking with 18 charges. This is a nice item, but limited by who can use it (clerics) and finite charges. I will judge it roughly equivalent to the spear and set its price at 1000 gp as well.

The spell scroll would be pretty expensive. I have previously established house rules about spell books and scrolls, so using those I can pin its price tag at 3,500gp (7 spell levels total at 500 gp per). Since they are all on one scroll, it's an all or nothing price.

Now, this is a pretty generous haul, but the rolls were with them. The odds favored 2-3 scrolls and that's it. I would also argue that it would be a while (a month or two at least) before this particular town might be "restocked." Over the course of a campaign, I would see this as balancing out. I'm not sure it's the perfect system. I still needed to intervene a little to maintain what I see as a correct balance, but isn't that what DMs are supposed to do?

Friday, September 7, 2018

REF (Random Encounter Fun): Stone Giants

Rolling on the wilderness tables (I arbitrarily chose "Mountains"), I got "Humanoid" as result (ho-hum), but the roll on the sub-table yielded "Giant, Stone." NOW we're getting somewhere!

Cook says 1d2 might appear in a random encounter and, lucky PCs, I rolled a 2. The description says they may keep cave bears as guards, but in a moment of mercy I originally decided those would be at the lair, not wandering (even though I did roll and they have 4 of them at home!). I changed my mind, however as I developed the idea for the encounter. But I only added one (see below).

The encounter distance came up as 170 yards (4d6 x 10 yards). A pretty respectable distance but giants are tall and easily seen, plus they would have a good vantage for spotting the party as well.

Stone Giants are Neutral and there's nothing in their description to indicate a natural empathy or antipathy toward people. So a reaction roll is probably in order. Unfortunately, it came up a 4, so the giants are not feeling friendly. The giants can throw stones 300', but that becomes yards in the wilderness, so they would probably lead with that. But rather than get into a specific melee, let's take a look at the encounter and try making sense of it.

The party is travelling through the mountains, yes? It's a random encounter, so they haven't met these giants before. The two groups are nearly two hundred yards apart, so it's not like the PCs could have said something to tick the giants off. What would cause such a hostile reaction? Are the giants being territorial? Did they just wake up grouchy? Or did they just want some target practice?

Maybe it's a case of mistaken identity,

Perhaps the giants had a run in with a different group of puny humans, maybe an NPC party? Giants have good treasure, so maybe, in a "My Cousin Vinny" sort of a twist, some other adventurer types tried to raid the lair for the loot. Maybe they succeeded, maybe they were chased off, but during the fracas all but one of the giants' pet bears was killed! Now the giants (the surviving ones at any rate) are angry. After scouring the mountainside all morning looking for the interlopers -using the bear to try tracking them- what should come stumbling by? A group of murder hobos just strolling along the slopes!

Now this could (likely) end up being a straight out fight to the finish, with neither side knowing the whole story. But imagine for a moment that one of the giants speaks Common and yells something mid-fight like "Now you will pay for what you did!" And the PCs retort with something better than "Huh?"

If the slaughter pauses long enough for a non combat actions to take place, maybe the party passes the bear's sniff test and the giants realize their mistake. Perhaps the giants feel guilty, or maybe they offer the PCs a bounty to hunt down the "killer NPCs." Depending upon the PCs' levels, they might decide staying on the good side of some 9HD monsters isn't the worst idea imaginable.

That sounds like a fun little twist. Or at least a potential side quest. Not to mention that, if they are sloppy in their pursuit, they could make enemies out of the NPCs.  Plot fodder for months!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Curious Objects: Medallion of ESP

3 copper pieces if you know where that image is from!

Miscellaneous magic items (MMIs) are always an interesting read, as they cover what I consider the really "magical" part of magic items. Magic weapons or armor are usually just combat boosts, and scrolls or wands are mostly more spell slots. But MMIs? The sky's the limit. They might be boots or bags, musical instruments or jewelry, who knows? And who knows what they'll do? Sometimes their powers are passive, sometimes they have only a few uses. Often their abilities come with a price or a twist.

Case in point is the Medallion of ESP. This is an especially weird entry as there are two versions of it: The 30' range one in Moldvay, and its 90' cousin in Cook. Let's start with Basic, shall we?

The medallion has no charges or limited uses per day. It merely requires a round of concentration and limits what the wearer can do while concentrating (no fight, no spells). One need not be a spell-caster to use it, either. It should be mentioned that its effective range is shorter than the spell's, but its duration is limited solely by concentration.

This item's fun tidbit is that it malfunctions 1 in 6 times, causing the reverse effect and broadcasts the wearer's thoughts to everyone within 30'! I find that very funny and with great plot twist potential. This also ties in neatly with my ideas on magic having a cost.

The Expert rules add a second version of the medallion. This one with a 90' range. It's description is also somewhat different. This one merely mimics the 2nd magic user spell with the slightly farther range (90 vs 60'). This is interesting for two reasons. One, it's not only replicating a spell, it's improving upon it. Secondly, it puts me in mind that the basic version could be seen as a sort of a "flawed prototype" with less power and with some bugs in the system. I don't know why, but that just seems very "BX" to me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Moldvay Musings IX: Pursuit and Evasion

Looking over some of the response to the last post, where I talked a bit about wandering int he wilderness, it seems that people find explaining some of the rules useful. So I thought I'd take a whack at a couple of BX rules that seems to generate a little confusion for some: Pursuit and Evasion.

In Basic, the pursuit rules are simply what happens when one side of a (potential) fight runs and the other gives chase in a dungeon. Obviously if the PCs are one of the sides, and the faster of the two, chances are what happens is whatever the PCs want to happen (they catch up, they let them go, etc.). 

Here's a basic scenario for pursuit and how it would break down. Unlike the last time, I've already rolled it out and know what happened, so I can provide step by step maps.

Dungeon Chase-

The Setup: A band of brave(ish?) adventurers have entered a dungeon. They open a door and step into the room to discover a pack of orcs. 

Round 1: Surprise rolls are made and both sides roll 2s. The PCs and orcs stare stupidly at one another for a moment.

Round 2: Initiative is rolled. The orcs get a 5 and the PCs a 6. The orcs' reaction roll is a 5 indicating they are hostile and will probably attack.

The party doesn't like the look of all those snarling tusks and decides to beat a hasty retreat. They use their running speed for movement, which is 60', which gets them to the corner turn in the hallway.

The orcs take off after them. The monsters have a move of 120' so they can catch the PCs if they want, but the magic-user cleverly tossed a pouch of coins on the ground behind him as the party fled. There is a 50% chance the orcs will stop for the loot and it turns out they do (I rolled a d6. Odds they ignored it, evens they stopped. I rolled a 4).

Round 3: The PCs move another 60' and reach the outside and daylight. The DM rules that since the wizard dropped the whole pouch and didn't scatter the coins, it only took the one round for the orcs to retrieve it. They run down the hall and see the PCs out in the sunshine. The DM rules that the orcs don't like the idea of fighting in the daylight and break off pursuit.

Now, there were a lot of things that could have happened differently there, but that gives you a short & sweet version of it. If it had been an unintelligent creature, like a giant lizard or some such, the party might have dropped food instead of treasure to distract it.  

Wilderness Pursuit-

The scale of wilderness pursuits makes mapping it less useful. The rules themselves favor a more abstract method as well. In a nutshell, if one group is surprised and the other is not, the latter may automatically avoid the encounter: remember the wilderness random encounter distances are 40-240 yards! If a group that did not surprise the other wants to avoid an encounter, and the second group isn't having any of that nonsense, then the Evasion Table on X23 is used. The DM is encouraged to make ad hoc rulings for factors like terrain, speed, or whatever is deemed relevant.


A group of four PCs and their three hirelings are traveling in the forest when they spot a group of 10 gnolls though the trees. The DM rolls for encounter distance and gets 100 yards as a result. Neither side is surprised (they spot one another simultaneously) and the gnolls seems hungry. The party decides this is a fight they'd rather avoid and flee deeper into the foliage. 

The party has 7 people total, the gnolls 10. This gives a 70% base chance of losing their pursuers. The DM also rules that the tree cover is thick enough to grant a +10% bonus (it would have been higher, but the gnolls' are keen-nosed). This gives the party an 80% chance of success. The dice are rolled and come up 44! The party spends a tense several minutes fleeing into cover and waiting for the gnolls to lose interest. 

If the odds weren't as favorable, the party could have upped their chances by splitting up, as smaller groups are more likely to evade bigger ones.

Had the party failed the roll, the gnolls would have closed the distance and -if faster than the PCs- had a 50% chance to force an encounter (using the PCs from the dungeon example, the gnolls are faster with 90'). If the gnolls fail to force the encounter, the party could attempt to evade again, but their direction is random and they cannot map. This process continues until:
  1. The party successfully evades or stops trying to run.
  2. The gnolls successfully catches them.
  3. The gnolls give up the chase.
There are no specific rules for time increments in a wilderness pursuit, though the text mentions the possibility of a chase continuing for "several days." I feel like there must be something in the books (there usually is), but I don't see it. If I were to run such a situation, I would say each evasion attempt takes an hour, giving the abstract nature of moving through terrain, hiding, looking for signs of one's quarry, etc.

So the next time your group decides to exercise the better part of valor and skedaddle from certain doom, or decides to chase down those wascally kobolds, hopefully this will help clarify a few things. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Moldvay Musings VIII: Into the Wild

I had written a longer, more rambling post that bounced between general thoughts on resource management to critiquing how such rules are often applied in-game. After looking over that train wreck of text, I opted to delete most of it and start over with a simple walkthrough of overland travel rules as sort of a Random Encounter Fun (REF) entry, but with a little more focus on rules instead of a specific critter.

A lot of players (and more than a few DMs) complain that tracking every little thing can be tedious. I find the main issue players have is that they fail to plan well before the actual adventuring begins, and DMs fail to take some of the factors that will matter into account when they plan the session.

There is a terrific example of an expert level party preparing for an overland journey on page X19. If the players know that you (the DM) will be having them track resources consistently, and you as DM are keeping track of time, then it can all flow fairly smoothly. It's really just a question of organization and some minimal prep.

Here's an example of what I mean by minimal. This is a map I made in about 5 minutes on the computer. It's all I need to run an overland adventure with the rules in the book. I've set no fixed encounters. If I wanted, I could include several days' worth of weather for added detail. All rolls in this example will be recorded as they happen. As of writing these words, I don't know how this will play out.

The premise? A party of four PCs start in the village. They have heard rumors that the wizard Examplo the Mad is likely dead and his evil tower to the Northeast is ripe for the pickings. To get there, they must traverse the Spooky Forest and the Haunted Hills. They know it's about 40-50 miles.

There is no road, which means A) slower travel times, and B) they would be wise to seek out a map or guide. Sadly, our heroes are more bold than wise and decide they merely need to steer NE and they'll get there eventually. They do have enough sense to buy rations for two weeks apiece (x 4  = 56 days) plus bedrolls, tents, and a mule to carry most of the extra gear. Under these conditions, the PCs can travel 12 miles per day on open ground (Their slowest member moves at 60'). The DM also decides to only roll for encounters once per day and once per evening's rest. 

Day 1: The land outside the village is open grasslands with trails made by trappers and woodcutters leading to the woods. The DM rules no problem, the path negates the chance of getting lost. The PCs camp that night just inside the forest. There are no grassland or forest encounters (52 days' of food left).

Day 2: The trails don't go far into the forest, so now the PCs (lacking a map, guide, or personal knowledge of the terrain) need to rely on their own senses of direction. They are also moving slower (2/3 normal rate for wooded terrain = 8 miles a day). For simplicity, we'll call it (very) roughly 1.5 hexes. 

The DM rolls a d6. On a 1-2, the party takes a wrong turn. Uh-oh, a 2! Rolling again, the die comes up a 4, so the party heads NW, all the while THINKING they're heading NE. The trouble is already beginning! They camp again. Luckily, the encounter gods are with them yet again. They have no trouble that day or that night. (48 days' food remaining)

Day 3: Another roll vs getting lost. A 3 means they stay on course. Mind you, they still think NW is NE. Since they are still deep in the Spooky Forest, they have no landmarks to set them aright. More bad news as an encounter comes up for the their night's rest. A 2 (flyer) and an 11 for woodland encounters means sprites! The DM rules that the quiet little clearing where the PCs have unknowingly bivouacked is quite near the lair of 22 sprites. A reaction roll of 9 lists as "leaves or considers offer." Now normally I'd say that would be the end of it, but sprites love their pranks so I don't think they'd let the PCs go scot free. The DM decides that the little jokers pull the mule's picket and then spook the poor beast.  While the PCs chase it down, the sprites steal 11 days worth of food (one half per sprite) from the saddlebags. The PCs eat their dinner and try to rest (33 days' left, leaving a week for each of them).

Day 4: Another travel roll yields a 1. Lost again! Direction roll is a 3. Two wrongs make a right and they're back on track, heading NE again! Their luck doesn't hold though. A wandering encounter roll during their days' travel comes up an 8: Dragon! "Luckily" it's not a REAL dragon, just a puny ELEVEN-HEADED HYDRA!

plus four more heads

Now, I'm not going to roll out a whole combat here, but it's probably not unfair to say that there are pretty good odds of four measly PCs getting their collective lunches handed to them here. And so, our noble heroes meet their fates in the Spooky Forest, never reaching the wizard's tower. If they had only had a guide or map, they might have avoided such a fate. Or not, random encounters be nasty!

There, now. That wasn't so hard, was it?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Curious Objects: Big Magic

When one thinks about finding magic loot in D&D, images spring to mind of glowing swords, magic potions, powerful rings, sorcerous wands, and enchanted armor. The real fun begins in the Miscellaneous Magic tables, though. Crystal balls, bags of holding, magical amulets, and magical cloaks are all classic finds in a dungeon or lair.

All of the above share one similar characteristic: portability. Even a flying carpet, which can seat up to three people and is hardly small, is still by its nature easily moved. There are, however, a few items which -while not immobile- can't be so easily transported.

Bowl of Commanding Water Elementals
This is the largest of the elemental summoning items (X50). It's described as a 3' diameter bowl. I imagine it as a birdbath-like stone basin, but I suppose it could be metal (or an enormous seashell!). Whichever way you imagine it, a 3' bowl is not something one stuffs in a knapsack (weight/encumbrance aside). It only works 1/day and takes 1 turn to prepare. Also, the caster cannot move or cast other spells while controlling the elemental. None of this lends itself to the bowl being moved around a lot. I can even imagine it being a fixture in a wizard's tower, as part of its defenses. This would work especially well if the structure was located near a coastline, river or similar where the elemental can operate easily on or in the water. 

Brazier of Commanding Fire Elementals

The brazier is the next largest elemental based item after the bowl. Braziers are defined as a pan for holding burning coals, usually for cooking and typically with a stand or legs. Braziers are designed to be portable for things like camping, but certainly not carried while lit! Cook's Expert doesn't give an exact size, but a foot or more in diameter and height isn't unreasonable. As a DM, I would interpret this item's 1 turn preparation to include lighting a fire for the elemental to "ignite" from. It also carries the same restrictions about the caster moving about or performing other actions while concentrating on controlling the elemental.

Efreet Bottle 

"This item is a large, heavy, sealed jug about 3' high." (X50). Now, unlike the elemental items, nothing in the bottle's description says one needs to have the bottle once the efreet is bound to the one who freed it, but it could be fun to require it. Perhaps it retreats to the bottle each day after it's completed the task required by its master. The possessor of the bottle must pop the cork each time he wants the efreet to do something. Remember that "[Efreet] are reluctant and difficult servants and will obey their instructions exactly, attempting to distort the meaning of whatever they have been told to do in order to cause trouble for their masters." (X31) So why would it make things easy for the clown summoning it over and over for 101 days? Making the PC drag around a Nebuchadnezzar full of surly smoky servant would probably amuse it.

Drums of Panic

This item is described as "large kettle drums" (plural). It's even in the name: it's not "DRUM of Panic" after all. Now, timpani come in different sizes, but the large ones are about 30" in diameter. Not something one just totes along through the dungeon. Of course the drums' function is better suited to a battlefield situation. It's interesting to note that the save vs magical fear is replaced when the "optional" morale rules are used with a simple -2 modifier. Again, this is an item I see used as a defensive measure for a castle or keep, but you'd have to work out the logistics of not affecting friendlies who are farther than 10' away when the drumroll starts.

Of course nothing says the DM can make other interesting magic less of a snatchable bauble and more of a fixture or even occasionally left at home. It may make the players have to think a little harder about how to take advantage of "big magic" in the game. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Moldvay Musings VII: Retainers, Mercenaries, and Specialists

A recurring idea in classic D&D that seems to be often overlooked by players is the option of hiring retainers and the like. When one looks at things like older modules, it's obvious that it was expected for the group to bolster their ranks a bit. It's a shame that too often today's players ignore the option. Whether it's a fear of book-keeping, or desire to keep the most treasure and XP for themselves, it often shortchanges the party's odds of survival and let them really get the most out of an expedition. I won't say I've never seen a group use hirelings of some sort or another, but it's far from the norm. 

As I am in the process of trying to start a new BX campaign (or at least run a few adventures), I've been thinking about ways to make features like this easier to introduce and handle at the table.


Retainers are first brought up in Basic (B21), so we'll start here. The idea behind a retainer is that they are an NPC (with a character class) of equal or lower level than the hiring PC. They ostensibly work for an individual PC, or at least that's who hires them. This is where those Charisma modifiers start coming into play. Most people think of sellswords/meatshields as your typical retainer, which is perfectly fair. But think of a spare magic user. Especially if people are low enough level that even one more spell is a significant boost. In a game where starting spells are determined randomly, imagine the demand for that apprentice who lucked out with Sleep. Of course, if one uses house rules like I recently described, unseemly types might see to it that such retainers have a lot of "accidents" and acquire new spells from their grimoires. But that's the sort of thing that would get the party a bad reputation re: hireling survival rates and the well may soon run dry. 

Another possibility with retainers in the party is the idea of instant replacement PCs. If the "main" PC is killed, the player can take over a retainer and still finish the adventure. Once "back in town," they can decide whether to keep playing the retainer or make a new PC. Of course the retainer will have earned some XP already, as opposed to totally new character. 

To make this easier for the players, I plan on A) having a ready stack of NPC characters pregenerated. There is a great BX character generator online one can use. B) I have incorporated locales in the "starter town" with reputations for being good places to find such people for hire. My hope is that once the players have been gently led to the well, they can find their way back as play progresses.


Mercenaries come up in the Expert rules (X22) with the focus being mainly on larger, more military roles. ie "Mercenaries are usually hired to guard a stronghold or castle."

While I see no reason that such "troops" couldn't be hired in small numbers for dungeon crawling, their inclusion in the rules seems to be more about the "endgame" where name level characters are manning keeps and fighting battles.

Side Note: 0 level noncombatants (torchbearers, porters, etc.) aren't really discussed in BX, but Barrowmaze's MEATSHIELDS is a nice NPC generator for their basic stats, etc. (LL-based, but quite compatible)

Honestly. What other image did you expect here?

Specialists, as per the Expert rules (X21) are generally hired for tasks, rather than to go on an adventure. Alchemists, Sages, Engineers, and Spies will often have missions or assignments that they complete for a fee. 

The thing I like most about specialists is the idea that there are non-adventurers in the world with sought after skills. It somehow fleshes the world out a little more to know that there are people who can command high fees for their services but may have never fought an orc or robbed a tomb. It sort of defines the adventurers as part of a larger setting. Even specialists like sailors (Seamen) and armorers have distinct skills that sets them apart from a common laborer as well as the sword-wielding warrior.

Specialists also fulfill a purpose for the game in giving the party (and the DM) ways to advance the character's knowledge when they can't answer a question or complete a task on their own. Getting a sage to look over an ancient map or an alchemist to analyze a poison might help further the plot if the players are drawing a blank. It's also a mean by which to drain some funds from the party coffers!

In my starter town, I've placed a few specialists including a an alchemist and a sage, I plan to make them known to the party very early on. Even if they have no need (or funds) to hire them, they'll at least know they're about. 

All of this is a very roundabout way of saying that these rules are well worth the time to integrate into one's BX game. They can add a lot of depth with not a lot of heavy lifting on the DMs part and continue to demonstrate the reasons I find this system so engaging.