Doing It Wrong When It Was Right There In the Book Pt 3: Still doing Magic Wrong!

Where do I keep getting these assumptions about how magic works in D&D?

Wrong Again

I was brushing up, looking at the Magic Users class section in Blueholme, a Holmes clone, when I realized I had it wrong again.  I cannot be possibly be trusted to know what I’m talking about in matters of mechanics in B/X apparently.

“A magic-user is not necessarily able to learn and transcribe all spells of that level into his book. This is determined by the magic-user’s Intelligence score, as detailed in the table below. A magic-user only gets one chance to figure out each spell; if he cannot learn it then, he never will.

“Minimum denotes the fewest spells a magic-user will know for that level. Before the player makes any of the d% rolls for “chance to learn”, the referee will randomly choose this many spells from the spell list for that level and inform the player that his character already knows those spells.

..

“Every time a new level of spells is acquired, and after the referee has picked the minimum spells, the player should roll a d% for each remaining spell of that level; if he rolls equal to or less than the chance listed, then his character has that spell in his magic book.” – Blueholme Prentice, pg 11

Yeah, I totally remember the whole “start with a minimum # of spells in your spellbook at level 1 and then roll for the rest of them” part.  What I did not remember was repeating the process every time you unlocked a new tier of spells.  You hit level 3, you suddenly know as many as a dozen level 2 spells without ever having to find them. W… T… F!?

Noooo!

Where do your new spells come from?  Certainly not from finding scrolls and stealing spellbooks!  God, now I need to start digging through OSRIC to figure out where I came up with this idea.

“Magic users do not gain bonus spells for high intelligence scores; intelligence does determine which spells they can understand and how many spells they may learn for each spell level.

Magic users are dependent upon their spell books, and normally may only cast spell they have learned from these books (exception: magic users may cast spells from arcane magical scrolls). Mages may not cast spells from divine, druidic or phantasmal magic scrolls. The acquisition of a new spell is difficult and demanding and must normally be accomplished through adventuring, although the mage will automatically receive one new spell of the highest spell level that he or she may cast upon acquiring a new level of experience.

….

Magic users may memorise and cast arcane spells in accordance with the tables provided below. A beginning magic user character will know four spells. One of these will automatically be Read Magic. The second spell should be chosen by the player from the list of first level spells, and the last two should be determined randomly from the list of first level spells.” – OSRIC Page 16

Huh!  Okay, so I’m not totally crazy and that IS a thing in a version of Dungeons & Dragons somewhere!  So, all this time, I’d been conflating multiple rule sets in my mind based on a combination of half-remembered 1e games from highschool, video games and context of ‘how it ought to be’ via on my understanding of Vance.  Yet even here in OSRIC, it does not explicitly state that MUs can acquire spells by copying scrolls into their spellbooks.  The only place I am 100% certain that this was the case was in that crappy Neverwinter Nights compy game from over a decade ago.

thinking-of-holmes

Apparently, I’ve been using Holmes’ spell book (the physical item, that is) and scroll rules, smeared with some Moldvay (I typically gave 1st level MUs 2 spells, including Read Magic), but used a half-assed version (no need to roll % chance) of AD&D’s rules for learning new spells from scrolls & other spell books with some minute differences.

At some point, I may need to do an in-depth look at Read Magic and its implications across all editions!

Advertisements

Happy Birthday John Eric Holmes!

Today, John Eric Holmes would have celebrated his 86th birthday.

Though both a doctor of neurology and a science fiction author, what Holmes is best known for is the “Holmes Basic” or Bluebook edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Not pictured: the blue book inside the box.

Not pictured: the blue book inside the box.

Holmes’ son was a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, but the good doctor found the way the rules were written in the original 3 volumes + 4 supplements to be poorly presented, difficult to understand and ineffective as a tool to teach players who were new to the game.

4a8caf496ea5a8679e5ece4888a50538

John Eric Holmes gaming with his son.

Holmes offered his services to Gary Gygax to create a streamlined ruleset that combined the mechanical elements present in OD&D in a single document with the express purpose of introducing new players to the game.  Though long out of print and somewhat difficult to find these days, Holmes’ edition was the launching point of one of the longest running and most commercially successful lines of Dungeons & Dragons.  Dreamscape Design has lovingly crafted the only Holmes-clone, Blueholme, which I strongly recommend checking out; Holmes’ D&D is one of the few “Basic” games that retains the truly Vancian magic mechanics that many of us just house-rule in anyway.

One of the only OSR products specifically based on Holmes' work.

One of the only OSR products specifically based on Holmes’ work.

In addition to his work on D&D, Holmes wrote a number of books, including an unauthorized sequel series to ER Burroughs’ Pellucidar books, a Buck Rogers novel, and some of his own original fantasy.

Mahars_of_Pellucidar

If you want to know more about the man and his work, I suggest you check out Zenopus Archives, one of the largest sites online devoted entirely to preserving the legacy of J.E. Holmes.

Shadow Over Alfheim Pt 16a: What to Do With the Elf King’s Crown?

There’s been a bit of a shakeup in the Alfheim group as of late. The goblin has finals, and the fighter has a conflicting schedule with a new job, but we got a caster back and have a new fighter player. The abbey-monk was unable to make it to this session, so we had Cleric, new fighter, mage and goblin thief.

First we had to get a few things out of the way. Old fighter who may not be rejoining us woke up in the pre-dawn hours, mumbling incoherently about a ghostly blue stag with more points on its antlers than he’d ever seen, grabs his stuff and goes running after it. This is a workable in-game explanation for his absence because said fighter was exiled to Alfheim for poaching deer in the imperial reserve and was also kind of crazy. Goblin who is busy with finals has been completely out of sorts after having put on Caelden’s crown in the catacomb beneath Law’s End. After establishing this, I hurry everyone along back to town so the new member of the group can be brought in.

The party left Alfort in mediocre shape and returned to find that things had gotten worse. Everyone was dour, down in the dumps, and just seemed beat. As though the life had been drained out of them. Maybe too subtle? But there’s plenty of time for the gang to figure out what’s really up. The party ran into the crazy old bluesman at the inn, who seemingly pulled the Crown of Caelden out of thin air, laughed, and warned them that they’d better get it out of Alfheim, because the king was looking for it. This had the party pretty freaked. They are still unsure whether the bluesman is a real person or not or some sort of evil ghost apparition or illusion of the elves. But they do know that dudes who can be found playing their lute down at the crossroads in the middle of a ruined elven empire late at night are probably bad news.

After this brief encounter, the party spent an interminable amount of time trying to figure out what to do with the Crown. Part of this was my fault, because I’d built it up just enough that the players overestimated its significance to both the King and to the story. And that kind of encouraged me to run with it.

Their initial inclination to give it to Richmond was put aside quickly after the incident with the bluesman. Having it made them incredibly paranoid; you’d’ve thought it was the One Ring or something based on how they went about things. Their first idea was to try to make a replica of it (ostensibly to try to pass off to Richmond). There was a two-fold problem with this plan: Alfort didn’t have a goldsmith and the crown was a masterwork that had been intricately carved with Bosch-like scenes and had life-like screaming faces on its points. It would take at least 6 months for a master goldsmith to come up with even a passable facsimile.

The next option the party went for was to try to destroy the crown. The goblin thief failed to hit it with his mace; each time tried, it would stop a few inches short and he would hear “Hail, master” in his head (except for when he got a natural 20 later during the second attempt, I let him get a dent in, and his cursed mace said “Forgive me master”). The cleric managed to smack it with his silver mace. “You hit it. Your head is filled with a thousand screaming voices.” The cleric falls to the floor (his choice, not my ruling). I told them they managed to put a pretty solid dent in it. The mage takes it to the blacksmith and after some dubious negotiations convinces the smith to let him use the hammer and anvil to smash the thing. He takes a few whacks at it -being crazy- just to listen to the screams. He manages to hammer it into a pancake and brings it back to the inn, where the cleric is still lying on the floor (“am I still on the floor?” “I don’t know, do you want to still be on the floor? Everyone in the inn is looking at you guys like you’re crazy.”)

I decide to ratchet things up a notch while they’re trying to decide what to do with the ruined crown. I tell them that it’s starting to slowly resume its original shape like something out of a David Lynch movie. They beat and bash at it more, thoroughly ruining the table (which the cleric generously paid for). They ultimately decide that they needed to find some way to sink it in the sea (though there were some game-derailing ideas floated that would’ve turned things into a quest for a non-existent Mt. Doom), so made a mold to encase it in lead.

The cleric took some time to speak with the Querillite priests, who informed him that they’ve sent for warrior priests to come to the aid of the land. The players mistook the information about escape tunnels out of the city from below the chapel as a new dungeon, but I’ll let them figure that one out on their own. The fighter wanted to do a training montage type thing, so he went to the parade/training ground where he found the guards to be in an incredibly lax state. He was approached by a lieutenant who told him about the situation, with several guards having abandoned their posts, going awol and needing some sort of leadership to whip things back into shape. Also, he hooked him with the stories of the zombie cows that had been wandering into the nearby farmlands and said he could see if there might be some reward for helping take care of it. Finally, the goblin thief and mage asked about possible travel by boat either up the coast or to Estport, but none of the little fishing skiffs were particularly sea-worthy, nor did any of the fishers know when abouts the next real ship would be by.

Continued in part 2, when the party has a massive encounter with undead elves.

Shadow Over Alfheim Pt 15: The Second Death of Nuromen

The latest session of of my B/X game saw the wild mage rejoining the party (yay! another arcane caster!). The conclusion of the run of the Maze of Nuromen was complicated slightly by the loss of the original player’s map from nearly a year ago and the player who normally maps’ absence that night. Fortunately, the second floor is mostly a straight run.

The party was looking for the Crown of Caelden. Some of the players didn’t know why (or had forgotten why) they had come back to the Maze (this had to do mostly with the fact that there have been several interruptions that have led to several weeks between sessions), but a quick reminder of the hooks that had led them there got us back into the swing of things.

The party remembered the hall of statues – mostly that the statues had been trapped – so rather than muck about further, they pressed northward. At the 4-way junction, they took the left to the dead-end empty room. The walls were covered in scratch marks; one of the hallmarks of my elves (since they’re ghouls) is the long clawed fingers with which they incessantly scrape along the walls as they shamble down haunted corridors. The clawmarks led back to the priest’s room, where the skeletal body had been moved onto its bed.

My players didn’t find the secret door in the priest’s chamber, but they did find the chute below the sacrificial basin in the temple of the evil ape god. Now let me say that Maze of Nuromen has given me a lot of places to fudge things, rewrite the rooms and improvise to insert things into the Alfheim setting. The giant doors of horrors & debauchery in the main hall have given me kind of the idea that every room here (whether described or not) is covered in bizarre Hieronymus Bosch-like paintings and reliefs. The party was amazingly paranoid that the 8-armed statue would come to life and kill them all (they still remembered those obsidian living statues back in Stull which they never managed to kill), and luckily for them, that paranoia kept them from catching leprosy (curse); they made sure their ropes were tied to the basin and not the statue.

They crawled down and made their way toward the crypt, killing the two elves who were posted as guards. I tried to make Nuromen’s entrance as dramatic as possible, rising from the ground while the party was examining the desicated remains. Nuromen gave the party a few moments to explain themselves and maybe get a clue (i don’t know if the party picked up on the fact that he pointed out that they had been serving Caelden all along and that HE was actually attempting to stand against his former lord in death, but he at least gave them a shot) before telling them he would no longer stand the tresspasses of those who’d defiled his grave and stole from his daughter. I was glad that the cleric used turning; having all of the bodies on the slabs burn to ash in a bright white flash was not only deemed pretty cool, it meant I didn’t have to muck around with miniatures. Very different from the previous boss fight.

I tried to keep Nuromen using spells, mostly; level drain is such a cruel and unusual punishment. Luckily for the party, Nuromen made crappy melee rolls. Unlucky for the party, very few characters had weapons that could hurt him; magic items are fairly sparse in my game, though a few characters had silver implements. I’ll admit, I DID pump Nuromen up a little bit HP-wise, but I kept his spell-list intact. Before playing as J’Rhazha, I would’ve maybe swapped out one or two of his spells for attack spells, but I decided having the cleric think that he burst into flames and roll around on the ground trying to put himself out was more fun than giving him another Magic Missile.

In the end, nobody died, Nuromen was defeated and they found Nuromen’s medallion in one of the piles of white ash. The group popped the secret door behind the statue (weeping elf-maiden; the Doctor Who fans were more freaked out by the statue than the Wraith, natch) and opened Nuromen’s vault. Thief makes his saving throw vs poison, the cleric does not; I’ve made a behind the screen executive decision that a failed save, rather than causing instant death, the effect instead is doing whatever a character’s current hit dice is in damage; rather than instant death, the 4th level cleric takes 4d6 damage. Doesn’t die, but comes close; he’s burned through the most healing of anybody this session.

After the cleric is patched up, goblin thief notes the pit full of spikes and the treasure on the other side. Goblin thief tries going down into the pit. He finds that the pit is full of treasure. He goes up the other side to check out obvious-trap because GREED! The party is filled with bolts. Ouch. The party manages to get the treasure hoarde out of the pit, but still no crown.

On the way out of the vault, the party comes across the back side of the secret door out of the caverns, where they find the hidden stash of treasure and the crown. Somehow, the skeletal hand with the sword had the party just as worried as some of the harder fights, but the cleric finally decided to try blasting it.

Goblin ranger finds the crown, puts it on, screams in agony, has visions of the elven king, hears over and over in his head “mine, it’s mine”, loses 2 charisma.

“Looks like this is the right crown.”

I’m not sure what the party plans on doing with it, but someone mentioned taking it to Richmond. Richmond was actually waiting for them outside of the ruins of Laws End, and was going to pull a Rene Belloq, but he decided to hang back and watch what happens. The only hint that something was amiss was the howling of wolves in the hills surrounding the ruin.

So, at last, I think I’ve exhausted content from Maze of Nuromen, but I sure got a lot of play out of this one module. The only thing the party never found was the troglodyte cave, and they did not bother to re-check the library to find that Nuromen had gotten his spellbook back with the help of his ‘apprentice’. I doubt the players will be back this way until the showdown at Caelden’s crypt, but until then, the Maze is behind them. There are a little over two weeks before the goblins launch their attack on the Old Island Fortress, but there are a few adventure hooks left to tide them over. Most importantly, i think everyone will be about level 4 by now, so I can start throwing a few tougher things at them. Content-wise, I’ve still got Zombraire’s Estate to run, though the cleric and the abbey monk very well might cut a swath through that one. They never finished Malek. Now might be a good time to run Cave of the Unknown, but I’d rather wait until after the battle for the Old Island fortress if I can help it. Malek may never be finished; things may be too far in motion for Caelden’s plan to sit on the backburner for a nifty but unnecessary artifact to add to his collection.

Anyway, Richmond will be meeting the party in Alfort when they get back and see what they want to do with that Crown.

.

Shadow Over Alfheim Pt 14 – Mirror Image is a Pretty Brutal Spell

I think I may have underestimated this spell a bit in the past, but when given to an evil NPC, things turn into the last big fight from the end of the old TMNT Arcade game. Which was pretty sweet.

We had everyone all back together for the first time this year. The party started the session on the bluff looking down over the ruins of Law’s End. The ghostly procession that descends into the valley and beyond toward the mountains each night from the crossroads at dusk had passed. The goblin with low-light vision was able to see that 8 skeletons were milling about the ruins of the elven city rather purposelessly. I had the skeletons, who were specifically noted as being unarmed, there just for funzies to see what the players would do and my group did not disappoint.

Despite having two cleric types in the party who could’ve easily blasted the skeletons into oblivion, the party discussed and attempted to engage in all sorts of weird strategies, essentially making fools of themselves, using both magic and mundane lighting sources for illumination, and the fighter clumsily searching the grounds thinking that the skeletons had been looking for something, all while the skeletons formed two lines of 4 on either side of the path to the entrance of the Maze. Just waiting.

The party assumed that either something was coming out of the maze to meet them or something was going to arrive that the skeletons were welcoming. It took awhile for the party to figure out it was them the skeletons were welcoming. Finally, the cleric of St. Cuthbert tried to turn them. They immediately fell to pieces (they were 1hp monsters) in 8 nice little piles forming two lines of 4 on either side of the path to the entrance of the Maze. The thief smashed all of the skulls systematically.

Meanwhile, the Cleric was getting ready to tie some ropes to go back down into the base of the tower when he discovered that there was already a rope ladder in place. Cue the collective “uh oh”.

The party managed to get down the tower, go across the underground river, down the stairs, and to the great chamber.

A party always knows trouble is ahead when you ask for marching order. And trouble they got. The brazier in the center of the room bursts into flames, and the party is approached by an unrecognizably charred black version of their former companion. Questions were asked and answered, though the party didn’t ask anything that revealed relevant story information. On the plus side, they’re beginning to doubt that Lord Richmond’s on the level.

The encounter consisted of 8 undead giant insects, 2 “elves” (ghouls) and a quasi-undead 4th level version of their old elf companion. I knew that the insects would be turned right away, and they were there to be turned, but it also was a tie in to when the elf learned the animate vermin spell from the Necromancers of Stull module.

Really, other than making him a weird and gross looking burned up bend’em man with rubies for eyes, this baddie was just a 4th level elf. His spells for the day were Animate Vermin, Mage Armor, and 2 Mirror Images.

I don’t think the party figured out that he’d cast Mage Armor, because they thought he was nightmarishly powerful: rather than simple “misses” for their ranged attacks, he’d swat them out of the air. That bit alone made him somewhat terrifying. That and the fact that there were 4 of him. Because the players weren’t familiar with the exact text of the Mirror Image spell, they assumed incorrectly that there was a “true” version of the elf. Once they got they got him down to 1, he managed to split off again, so they ended up fighting 7 of him in total.

Before he could split the first time, the elf was hit with a spear, and he didn’t have a lot of HP to begin with, but he was still a hard to kill badass and I’m going to have to come up with a penalty for the fighter who was KOed and then healed back up by the abbey monk.

It was great when the goblin-ranger finally killed him:

“Can I have your eyes?”
“If you take the Crown from this place, make sure it does not fall into His hands…”
“That’s cool, dude, gimme your eyes.”

Shadow Over Alfheim, Pt 13 – Regrouping

Well, we are only slowly easing back into things after our holiday break and brief interlude playing Pockets.

The players sold some of their non-coin loot, but held onto the Cat’s Eye Ruby, because “priceless” clued them in that either no one would have the money in town to buy it or maybe it was important, and the jeweled walking stick, because the goblin-ranger wanted a pimp cane. See? What’d I tell you about non-coin treasure’s awesome potential?

In a lot of ways, this session was dumping my players back into the sandbox and pointing out where the sand castles were. We were under some time constraints and the absence of one player influenced my decision to make this a bit of a “half-session”, but I think it worked out.

The goblin-ranger received a letter from a fellow goblin from the southeast tribe, informing him of the alliance between the southeast and northern tribes and the upcoming assault on the Old Island Fortress. 30 days, a force would try to dislodge the NW tribe and would welcome assistance from the young goblin noble and his companions. Goblin-ranger shared this with the goblin-thief and they are excited about the prospects of some goblins kicking ass, but decided to keep the note on the DL from the other players. Basically, this was a reminder that there was an unfinished nearby dungeon, but I’m going to be modifying the original module substantially to accommodate the shift up the timeline from when the party initially scoped the place out.

Meanwhile, the swordsman went walking around and happened upon a zombie cow that had strayed into the farm country northwest of the fort. This brief encounter reminded them that there is, indeed, still an elven plantation full of dead horrors somewhere in the wilderness to the west of Sigyfel’s Tomb.

The Cleric did some investigating in town, finding that things were pretty bad morale-wise. A lot of his following that he’d accumulated in the past have lost faith, and he even acquired a few hecklers who doubted the powers of the Saint. He met up with some refugees from Stull who report that the town is not doing well despite the players’ intervention (there just aren’t any jobs), and they plan to continue on to Portsdam to sail back to the empire. Most folks seem sure the colony is going to fail, but the cleric swears by his god that so long as he remains in Alfheim, it shall not fall.

The goblin thief caught me off guard a bit because he wanted to break into the Alfort keep at night. I managed to do a little bit of a castle climb on the fly, but between not having a map prepared and no real specifics given for the keep in the Morgansfort module it was rough going. With some difficulties, the goblin thief managed to scale the north wall of the fort and avoid patrols on the ramparts and climbed in a window. A couple locked doors (where the baron would’ve been, and a guest room), a little hall, and a sitting room were crammed into the 5x5ish keep’s upper floor. The goblin evaded a lazy guard, stole a few silver candle sticks, and no one in my gaming group has played “Thief” apparently (“From beyond the stairs, you hear a gruff voice saying ‘I’m going down to the bear pits tomorrow, you wanna come?’ Anybody? Anybody? Really?”).

Here, I’d like to shill for a moment (though no one is paying me to do so); if you ever need to come up with a mansion-dungeon on the fly, there’s no better tool than “Castles of Mad King Ludwig“; this game is perfect for this sort of thing.  It’s a tile-laying mansion building game that is a lot of fun in its own right, but if you’re as lazy a DM as I am, you can grab a handful of tiles, put them together and have an instant mansion-dungeon map that you only have to guess a few relevant treasures and guards to populate it with.

In the end, the party decided that they would take another run at Law’s End to see if they could figure out why the goblin thief had had a vision of Nuromen or maybe why Taramedes’ house had burned down. I might have the elf who had to leave the game show up as a mini-villain. After our 5th player is back, I can retroactively adjudicate some in-town purchases so we aren’t in one of those situations where players are deciding whether or not they bought scrolls while the first encounter is happening.

I’m stoked about revisiting and hopefully finishing Maze of Nuromen!