Basic D&D Class: Prodigal Apprentice

Looks like I’m set to run B4 – The Lost City starting this friday.  I’m revisiting my old homebrew B/X classes in case someone would like to play test them.

I don’t know that the Abbey Monk will be particularly effective in the desert as he won’t be able to take advantage of his herblore, but I think that the Prodigal Apprentice class is worth presenting as an option.

I’ve made a 1 page PDF that can be downloaded here.  Note that this class is meant for use with Holmes basic or B/X groups that use Holmes’ or 1e AD&D’s magic system.Tovenaarsleerling_S_Barth

J’Rhazha is a Useless Coward (and Incredibly Fun to Play)

So, once I finally got my Rakasta rolled up, my previous speculations about his cowardice found their justification.

Str 7 (-1 damage and +1 to Thac0; this is important)
Dex 17
Int 16
Wis 15
Con 11
Cha 7 (He is not the most likable fellow)

Though he lucked out maxing his HP, he’s beyond useless in combat, but he’s okay with that! Fighting means he might die, and that’s no good for him!

Sometimes, when it’s clear the day is won, he might charge in with his gladius (which he can’t actually attack with) waving about wildly. He managed to do 2 points of damage the whole session; one was knicking an elf a thrown dagger (thank goodness for minimum 1 damage rule!) and one was punching a skeleton who was on its last HP (“J’Rhazha has defeated the bone man!).

The coolest thing he managed was to use a Phantasmal Force to create a likeness of the statue of an elf queen we’d seen earlier; we played the whole ‘we’re with her’ card while exploring an illusory* elven village, but it ended up all being for nothing since we had to fight our way back out once we got the key from the skeletons*.

He cowered and hid, occassionally firing off a nearly useless cantrip or two, during the climactic fight of the session, though, as one of the last men standing, he was able to help patch up the wounded. Victorious, without taking a single hit!

The DM is using a rule that I’ve not seen about 3 dart attacks per round, which makes darts suck a lot less than I imagined, so the gnomish magic user is a lot better in combat than my cat-man. If I wanted to power-game, I guess I could ask if I could switch my weapon proficiency from dagger to dart, but really I’m pretty okay with sucking and being useless in combat and I don’t want to knick the gnome’s dart bit. I’ll only change if it becomes a problem with the other party members.

Meanwhile, I’m coming up with various ways to find my way into the mage’s guild. The first test to join is to find the entrance. I’ve chosen to interpret this as ANY entrance. I think first I’ll try changing my shape to the apprentice who told me about the test and throwing rocks at the windows. If I get caught, I’ve got my answer planned out “J’Rhazha was merely taking a test, involving powerful wizard magic and mystic forces. Perhaps he answered the first question wrong. Perhaps he did not. Now go away, while I work to serve the guild.” ::continues throwing rocks at window::

Also, I know what the elf queen and elf king look like now, so I can work them into illusions in the future. Yay!

*:The megadungeon under the city is, I’ve gathered, the work of a mad mage who modelled portions of it based on set pieces from his memories of the past. The village was, therefore, a rather complex illusion representing the final days before it was destroyed by war. On one side of a tower, we’d see elven generals discussing battle plans during the day; on the other side of the tower, it was night and the place was littered with skeletons and charred grass. As an experiment, J’Rhazha left the tower to see if he could see his companions fighting skeletons; nope, on that side of the tower, the generals were still discussing battle plans.

Why J’Rhazha Will Carry a Short-Sword (Even Though the Rules Say He Isn’t Allowed to Use It)

“Like many things about J’Rhazha, his sword is an illusion. Perception is sometimes more important than function.”

I’ve never been a fan of the idea that wizards not only are bad at using swords, they cannot use them at all. It’s even stranger to me that they’re allowed to be proficient with daggers and staffs, which strike me as much harder weapons to master. You can give someone a shield and a sword who doesn’t have much fighting experience and they’ll be able to bang away with the sword and block a few blows with a bare level of competence. I’m not saying that they won’t be killed by someone who knows what they’re doing, but actual proficiency with a staff as a combat weapon (beyond just trying to hit someone with a long stick) or knife-fighting or knife THROWING is a completely different animal. It strikes me as easier for a wizard to awkwardly flail at a foe with a medium length piece of relatively light-weight and purpose-balanced metal than knowing how to lithely move in for a killing blow with a dagger.

The other point I bring up in my argument in favor of wizards using swords is the number of magical swords showing up places. I can see a wizard making a magical weapon for their own use and protection. I can’t see wizards making a surfeit of powerful magic items that are of no practical use to them. Sure, you can argue that maybe they wanted their lieutenants to have magical weapons, but I’d think wizards would want to keep their edge and not make stuff that could be turned against them, especially not in the bulk you see in typical fantasy settings.

I would also point out that the difference between a Fighter’s combat ability with weapons and a mage’s ability is reflected mainly in THACO: the level 6 Magic user flails his weapon about with the same competence (THAC0 19) as a level 2 Fighter. Surely this should be enough to fairly represent the differences in ability without having to say that all wizards would either turn their nose up at wielding a sword or, holding one in their hand, would stand there and say “I just can’t use this. I mean, if I had to get significantly close to my opponent to attack with a short blade, maybe, but I – Oh, god, you’ve stabbed me while I was holding this sword and not using it!”

But this is AD&D and I’m not going to press the DM on the issue. Instead, I’m going to adapt it to the character.

As a Rakasta, J’Rhazha comes from a warrior background; it would not be unexpected to see a Rakasta wielding a blade, and a Rakasta wielding a blade is not someone with whom you would want to fuck. But this Rakasta is an illusionist and trickster (maybe even a coward), not a fighter. But he likes to maintain the illusion that he is.

Alternatives to Spell Books

I’m trying to think of some more ‘primitive’ alternatives to spell books for a character in a game I may be joining. Most of those that I can imagine have certain disadvantages, though one can imagine that dragging your spellbook through the dungeon can’t be very convenient either.

I figure that either you’re dealing with a massive arcane tome like from Holmes or you’ve got what is basically a moleskine with your spells scribbled down in it. Because of how AD&D treats spell scrolls (which in Basic are the bread and butter of mages, since they can be used for memorizing), your spellbook is your ONLY means of refreshing your daily spells with. You can’t always just go home every time you run out of spells, especially at lower levels. I’m not really sure, but there may be some indication that the amount of script and therefore physical space which a spell requires may be significantly less than in Basic, which offers a bit more lee-way.

So, here are a few ideas I’ve come up with:

Ivory Spell Fetish – Worn around the neck, each tooth of a beast which the spell caster has slain is carved with the symbols of magic. More complex and powerful spells would, naturally, need to be carved on larger teeth of more more dangerous beasts to accommodate the additional characters. Big-cats, especially saber-toothed varieties, are a popular choice. A powerful wizard with countless teeth worn about his neck would be a frightening sight, indeed!

Spell Staff – Combining spell book and weapon, and possibly continuing with the bone theme, depending on your tastes, the mage carries a staff with each of his spells meticulously carved in the wood or bone spiraling downward. On the plus side, you have convenience of portability. On the down side, your ‘spellbook’ is somewhat fragile (though how much more fragile it is than a book is debatable, especially given the hell that most PCs go through). More worrying is what sort of powers all of that magic might imbue whatever was etched onto it.

Tattoo – This is kind of a favorite idea of mine, having the various spells tattooed with special ink over the mage’s body. This would certainly be one of the most painful and time consuming methods of entering new spells in one’s spell book, but just imagine the frightful sight of a half naked wild mage covered head to toe in runes. I wonder what sort of effects it would have on the body? Maybe certain ‘buff’ spells would have a degree of permanency, like Mage Armor. Another idea I had, which would be more in line with Basic, is that in a pinch, the mage could use any tattoos that were currently visible as scrolls, though the ink would fade and the tattoos would need to be reapplied (yeowch!)

Given that I’m wanting to play a Rakasta, I’m thinking that the tattoo thing wouldn’t be an option, but as for the other two, I’ll see what the DM says.

Updated! New OSR Class: the Prodigal Apprentice

Shortymonster, who I readily acclaim to be a gentleman and a scholar, has cooked up some awesome flavor text in the form of a character profile for the new OSR class “Prodigal Apprentice”, which I described a little while ago.  For the time being, he’s doing free NPC write-ups, so if you want one, you’d better ask him before he gets swamped.  Last time he did it, he wrote up over 30 of them.

The Prodigal Apprentice

He’d been set up for a month before he started to worry about what would happen when the scrolls ran out, and the potion flasks ran dry. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time. Malefectus, although skilled in the arcane arts made for a terrible teacher. He was quick to anger, and when faced with a student as stubborn and willful as Crathe, he had lost his temper often.

Crathe had gone in with high hopes of mastering unknown forces before the end of his first year of study, and had done well to last six months. It wasn’t that he didn’t try; he just expected so much to come naturally to him that he was often frustrated and struggled to concentrate even more as result. He had picked up the language and pronunciation required to cast from a book or scroll, but couldn’t get the words written in a way that contained the magical power he sought to unleash. He knew which ingredients were needed to make the oils and unguents that were so desirable to the common folk, but never managed to get the proportions right.

And the more he got wrong, the angrier Malefectus became with him. Eventually it all spilled over into the kind of argument usually only seen been child and parent, and Malefectus demanded he be gone from the keep by the next sunrise. Crathe was happy to oblige, believing himself a naturally gifted that just needed some time away from the strictures of the classroom to get a feel for the magic. So he had done the only thing that made sense, and taken as much as he could carry in a couple of trips, and loaded the items into a waiting cart, then fled into the night.

So here he was, a newly established practicing Wizard, with no clue how anything worked, but enough knowledge to use the right words when hoodwinking his clients, and a stock of magic that would soon run dry. For now, the townsfolk trusted him, but if he was to keep up the charade without actually learning magic, he was going to need some help.

The life of the Magus is not for everyone. It requires immense amounts of discipline, training and study to become a successful wizard. As such, there’s always going to be a fair share of promising young wizardlings who wash out of their apprenticeships. Whether it is a propensity for drink or partying or normal human relationships, there is always something that calls these students out of their mentors’ libraries and into the wide world. Maybe studying is too hard. Maybe their teacher is insane and they can’t wait to get away. Maybe they just want their shadows back. Whatever the reasons, these would-be mages have taken leave (along with some scrolls) of their master, and sought other means of making their fortune.

Character Concept: Magic User
HD: 1d4
Prime Requisite: Int
Equipment: Restricted to Light Armor, no shield
Weapons: Any 1-handed
Save: As MU of Equivalent Level
XP Progression: Thief
To Hit: Thief
Class ability: Read Magic as per 1st level spell, can use magic items
Starting equipment: 3d4 random 1st level spell scrolls.  Potions at DM’s discretion.  No gold, weapon or armor.

The Prodigal Apprentice cannot ‘memorize’ spells, but may cast spells from scrolls. Once per day per level, the Prodigal Apprentice can use “Read magic” as per the spell to decipher a spell scroll or to copy an existing scroll that has already be deciphered (normal scroll costs apply). Treat caster level as level x 2/3 rounded down (but never below 1). When casting spells of spell levels above the Apprentice’s caster level (see Magic User Spell Progression Chart), roll 1d20 and add +1 for each caster level between the apprentice and the spell; if the total is below the caster’s intelligence score, the spell is successfully cast from the scroll.

Joseph Wright - The Alchemist

Those two kids in the back are reconsidering their career choice.

New OSR Class: The Prodigal Apprentice

The life of the Magus is not for everyone. It requires immense amounts of discipline, training and study to become a successful wizard. As such, there’s always going to be a fair share of promising young wizardlings who wash out of their apprenticeships. Whether it is a propensity for drink or partying or normal human relationships, there is always something that calls these students out of their mentors’ libraries and into the wide world. Maybe studying is too hard. Maybe their teacher is insane and they can’t wait to get away. Maybe they just want their shadows back. Whatever the reasons, these would-be mages have taken leave (along with some scrolls) of their master, and sought other means of making their fortune.

Character Concept: Magic User
HD: 1d4
Prime Requisite: Int
Equipment: Restricted to Light Armor, no shield
Weapons: Any 1-handed
Save: As MU of Equivalent Level
XP Progression: Thief
Class ability: Read Magic as per 1st level spell, can use magic items
Starting equipment: 3d4 random 1st level spell scrolls. No gold, weapon or armor.
The Prodigal Apprentice cannot ‘memorize’ spells, but may cast spells from scrolls. Once per day per level, the Prodigal Apprentice can use “Read magic” as per the spell to decipher a spell scroll or to copy an existing scroll that has already be deciphered (normal scroll costs apply). Treat caster level as level x 2/3 rounded down (but never below 1). When casting spells of spell levels above the Apprentice’s caster level (see Magic User Spell Progression Chart), roll 1d20 and add +1 for each caster level between the apprentice and the spell; if the total is below the caster’s intelligence score, the spell is successfully cast from the scroll.

Joseph Wright - The Alchemist

Those two kids in the back are reconsidering their career choice.

Vampires vs. Liches Part 1: Test Prep and B/X Liches

After doing a little homework, I’ve realized that the comparison between Liches and Vampires may be apples to oranges, at least if we’re looking at B/X.  I’ve only recently begun looking back at the D&D/OD&D rulesets.  Liches from one edition to another are VASTLY different (OH MY!).  This may throw a bit of a wrench in my plans to play out some B/X scenarios

See, I’m mostly familiar with Liches from 2nd edition AD&D.  Based on the Lich entry in the Monstrous Manual, a magic user of around 16th level or so could turn oneself into a Lich.  It took some digging, but I finally found where Liches stood in B/X (the Master set, to be exact), and it’s pretty damn near the top, suggesting a character level of between 27 and 36.  Sweet Jesus!  Fortunately, B/X Liches’ hit dice are restricted to their class, because they’re treated almost like a prestige class(!) rather than a monster.  That figures out to somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-50 HP (with a generous average of 2.5 per hd roll) for magic users and 50-60(avg. 3.5 per hd role) for clerics.  Despite being level 27-36, they’re about 10-12 Hit Dice monsters, at least in terms of HP, since Characters top out on actual dice around level 9 (I’d overlooked this initially; without using Character HD caps, they’d have around 70-100HP, putting them on par with AD&D Liches).  They do, however, have an additional 20 levels of wealth, legendary items and epic level spells.  Plus, B/X Liches can snap their fingers and have 2d4 Vampires show up. Don’t forget that even random Vampires take some storylining (kill & destroy at LEAST one coffin) to actually kill off.

It is interesting to see the difference in power between the B/X lich and his AD&D counterparts, or his 8HD (roughly 36 HP) OD&D counterpart.  Also, I think it’s important to point out that in B/X an Elf cannot be a Lich.  This means that the Vampire route is still probably the best for an Elven mage wishing to increase his powers further.  And some of the B/X Lich’s immense power might simply be from the desire to hold back some iconic monsters for the higher level sets.  But who really plays at those levels?  Even Tomb of Horrors, which features D&D’s second most famous Lich, is recommended for levels 10-14.  Yes, it’s AD&D and Acererak is a Demi-Lich, but I think the point still stands: high end of Expert set levels ought to be appropriate for Lich hunting.

It’s not atypical for parties to be fighting monsters a few hit dice above their level.  There are a number of experiments that could be set up to see how 8th-10th level B/X parties fared against a B/X Lich and a converted AD&D Lich.

I still intend to go forward playing out some scenarios, but I know now that I should probably include both an OD&D Lich AND a B/X Lich.  While a standard B/X Vampire could probably take an OD&D Lich, I seriously doubt he could hold his own against a B/X or AD&D Lich.

So, here are some experiments to run through:

1. A level 8-10 party against an OD&D Lich

2. A level 8-10 party against a B/X Lich

3. A level 8-10 party against a B/X Vampire

4. A level 8-10 party against an Elven B/X Vampire

5. A B/X Vampire vs an OD&D Lich

6. An Elven B/X Vampire vs an OD&D Lich

7. A B/X Vampire vs a B/X Lich (I have the feeling this will be short and brutal)

8. An Elven B/X Vampire vs a B/X Lich (This may last a bit longer, but I still feel it will be very one sided)

In doing these experiments, there are some assumptions I need to make about the mechanics of Vampires.  How many of a Vampire’s hit dice are determined by their pre-Vampire life?  Any persons killed by the Vampire may be raised as Vampires, so do we assume that even a low level character would return as at least a 7HD Vampire.  There’s nothing to indicate any relationship between a Vampire’s Hit Dice and the Hit Dice of whoever the Vampire was beforehand, other than that we’re given a range of 7-9 Hit Dice for Vampires.  Because I don’t want to turn B/X into some d20 point-buy twink BS, I’m only going to extrapolate high level Elven or magic user Vampires based on other undead who retain spellcasting abilities (such as mage wraiths).  At most, I’ll throw in an extra Hit Die.  Vampires’ abilities already put them +2 Dungeon Levels/XP tiers over normal monsters.  A normal fighter-build Vampire (7-9HD) would be Dungeon Level 9-11.  Therefore, a 10 HD Elven Vampire would be Dungeon level 13, adding an extra level for the spellcasting ability.  I think this is more than reasonable to throw against an 8th-10th level party.

I still can’t get over the stats of the OD&D Lich.  Both the OD&D Vampire and Lich are 8 HD monsters.  The Vampire has remained more or less the same (the B/X Vampire mostly just moves a bit faster), while the Lich has more than doubled in power.