Monday, May 3, 2021

Updated Elf XP (OSR D&D-BECMI)


Well now, since I have this handy-dandy tool to calculate character class experience levels, it’s time to go back and update the ones I posted earlier.

Art Credit: Elven City Landscape by Ravensey Travis Lacey on Deviantart

Let’s start with the elf.

I had originally guesstimated the xp needed to reach level 2 to be 3,000 (down from 4,000 in the classic rules) in line with my original goal to ease requirements for low level pcs. Here’s the formula I just used on the Excel tool:

If spells are limited to level 6, then 3,100 xp seems appropriate. If you absolutely insist on counting the "extra" 50 xp, enter +50 in the discretionary modifier box, otherwise base xp are rounded down. If spells go all the way to level 9 as I had it in the original article, then the Excel tool points to 4,100.

Given that the classic elf character in the original rules is limited to level 5 spells, both of the two optional versions are definitely more attractive in the long run. I prefer the “elf-lite” version, with the lower xp load and spells limited to level 6, which definitely helps with level advancement early on. "Design à la carte!"

The above stats could be abbreviated as follows:

bhd 2, ct 3, st 3, cs 1, mus 3, uca 1, ra 3, ss 4, wp 4 ap 4
or 2-3-3-1-3-1-3-4-4-4.

What About a Cleric? I ran numbers for an elven cleric (a standard cleric plus the elf's racial abilities, but with the elf's saves). With up to spells level 5, the base xp amounts to 1,800. With the full range of spells, then the elven cleric's base xp is about 2,000. You get the idea. Optional Elven Cleric Profile: 2-2-3-3-1-2-3-3-3-4.

What About a Thief? While I'm at it, a standard thief's experience requirement allowing for elven racial abilities and saves amounts to: roll the drums... 1,500 base xp. This is starting to look like AD&D, with the exception that humans and demi-humans with the same character class still have different base xp requirements, since most things are accounted for. In the AD&D game, elven and human thieves use the same advancement table. Want a few magic-user spells to boot? No problem. Add them to the tab and have some fun! Optional Elven Thief Profile: 1-2-3-1-1-3-3-4-3-2.

Here are the updated advancement and saving throws tables for an old-style magic-using/sword-fighting elf.


Thankfully, the Excel tool  doesn’t produce results that go totally nuts. In any case, you can tweak stuff to your heart's content. If you want to copy/paste tables from the spreadsheet, you'll need to "unprotect" the document first. Either restore the protection when you're done or don't save your Excel file before closing. It is safest to use it while its protection is switched on. At worst, you can always download a clean copy.

More in a few days.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

D&D BECMI Alternate Experience Levels


W
ith all these character classes popping up, I felt the need to examine whether class features could determine level progressions. So far, a seat-of-the-pants “guesstimation” has been my method. That’s less than ideal. What if the main features of a character class could be rated with numbers, and added up? This would provide a more precise and consistent method of assigning base xp requirements to all character classes across the board. This may be a mere glint in a designer’s eyes.
Art Credit: Unknown Author or Copyright

Perplexing Ruminations

While researching the subject, work on exactly the same topic came up in Erin Smale’s fine article Building the Perfect Class. Erin’s system dealt specifically and in great detail with classic BECMI/RC character classes. I wrote my own version, achieving approximately the same results: emulating level progression tables from the classic rules sets. While seeking answers about the origins of the numbers used in official tables, I found they seemed to be based on a combination of educated guesses and subjective empiricism. I don’t mean this as criticism, since I enjoy the game as designed. Nonetheless, as a consequence of emulating official tables, math-based mechanics inevitably manipulate values assigned to character class components, which makes them as arbitrary as their source.

If the end goal is only to emulate official tables, then fine, this matter is settled. On the other side of this coin, however, lies the annoying question: who’s to say that a thief’s 1,200 XP really is a fair amount to reach level 2, compared with a magic-user’s 2,500, or an elf’s 4,000? What logical method is there to decide whether 1,200, 2,500, or 4,000 are too little or too much for their respective class features? This is a thorny issue because rational and consistent calculations involve comparing asymmetrical class components and attributing fair numerical values to each of them. This leads to challenging questions like these: is a d8 base HD more relevant than fighting as a fighter, or than having better saving throws, or than having access to spells? One might assume that being able to cast the full range of magic-user spells is more valuable than cleric spells, but then by what measure—50% more, 100% more, 200% more? How does turning undead compare with backstabbing? How much of this reasoning reflects personal bias vs. objectivity? Assigning values to class components can be subjective if not entirely arbitrary. Thus the conundrum.

Departing from official-but-somewhat-artificial tables, a more-logical system may yield substantially different results. If so, the game may be altered beyond what most fans feel is desirable or practical. What if calculations indicate, for example, that features of a cleric’s character class are more “valuable” than a fighter’s? Out of fairness and logic therefore, experience points clerics need to level up ought to be higher than those of fighters. Or is it that in response to the fighter being more popular, deliberately lowering the cleric’s xp scheme encourages players to pick this latter class instead? Would players and DMs be willing to accept far-reaching changes? Are they worth altering the game? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s worth a look though, at least out of curiosity. The point of this is to ensure all character classes are run through the same process with the understanding that if imperfect, it is at least consistent.

The Big Walkthrough

Perhaps the simplest approach is a walk through the Excel document I created. Always “allow editing” if the notice comes up to make sure you can alter cell contents and to enable the drop-down menus. To maximize your screen "real estate," collapse the ribbon and switch off things like the formula bar, headings, and gridlines. Does not work with software other than Excel.

Click here for the Excel tool.

In the upper left you’ll see a section labeled D&D BECMI Class Features and Relative Values. These are subjective xp values I picked for the various class features. Feel free to alter numbers in the gray-shaded cells if you wish. I’d suggest skipping this section altogether for now and trying out the spreadsheet first. Values are weighted so end results fall within the xp range for the revised character classes I posted on Blogspot in the past few months (approx. 1,000 to 4,000 xp). I appended a list at the end of this article. These results are compatible with classic BECMI/RC numbers.

To the right, check the section labeled Class Features–Approximate Rankings–XP, with a series of dropdown menus for each of the class features. Select the most appropriate choice for each. This is a tricky process, because it won’t be clear at first which choice best describes each feature. I’ll clarify each entry in the list below.


Base HD: This one is pretty simple—d4, d6, or d8. In general, the weakest choice gets a “0 xp” rating. The strongest choice gets a ranking many times higher than the previous ones in order to be more relevant in the long run. So, d4 gets “a big, fat zero,” d6 gets a 150 xp, and d8 a whopping 400 xp.

Combat Table: Whether your character fights as a magic user, a fighter, or something else (listed as “Mid Range.”) Same deal. Next…

Saving Throws: This is based on my “revised” saving throws. Click here for this article if you need a refresher. I’m sure you’re getting the point by now.

Cleric Spells: If your character can cast cleric spells, pick the right description. Full Range is for classic clerics. Most Spells applies to classes that cast fewer spells up to level 5. Few spells relates to classes able to cast spells up to level 3. The latter two imply a slower spell progression and possibly certain categories of spells disallowed. I kept this vague because there’s no good way to quantify every possible variation in a simple and manageable manner—hence the end result being qualified as “ballpark.” Pick the best fit.

Magic-User Spells: Pretty much as above. Full Range is for classic magic-users. Most Spells applies to classes that can cast fewer spells up to level 6. Few spells relates to classes able to cast spells up to level 3. Pick the best fit. I’ve assigned 2,000 xp to the full range, but feel free to change this value to 2,500 if you really want to emulate classic game stats. Magic-users are pretty powerful at high levels, so their spellcasting up to spell level 9 rates at least 2,000 xp versus cleric spellcasting up to spell level 7 only fetching 600 xp. It's debatable for sure.

Unique Class Abilities: This includes unique or rare abilities, such as turning undead, reading/casting magic from scrolls, and backstabbing. Minor applies to classes with a single ability used occasionally. If there are multiple abilities certain to be used frequently, select Major, such as a mystic’s abilities. Significant offers an intermediary option if the other two don’t fit.

Racial Abilities:  The approach is similar to the above. Use Significant for demi-human classes in general—things like resistance to dragon breath, combat bonuses vs. giant, etc. In the case of the half-orc, I’d select Major, given the number of abilities and the likelihood they’d be used in most combat encounters.

Special Skills: These abilities relate to skills, such as thieving skills, combat maneuvers, weapon proficiencies, weapon mastery, etc. Same idea as above. Thieving skills and fighter combat skills qualify as Major. Be careful not to duplicate abilities already listed in previous entries. If you create a cross fighter/thief class, adjust the base xp by about +200 to fully account for the fighter skills over and above those of a thief; use the discretionary modifier box for this (see the next section).

Weapons Permitted: That’s pretty clear. Few describes a magic-user. Most applies to dwarves, halflings, clerics, or thieves. All relates to mystics, elves, and fighters.

Armor Permitted: As above. Few would describe a thief. Most relates to the problem with oversized or undersized character races—no actual restrictions exist but size becomes an issue. All applies to elves, clerics, and fighters.

Once you’ve gone through this selection process, you can see the ballpark xp total to reach level 2. Scroll down a bit and look on the left.

Type of Advancement–Level Progression Table: You can see what your character’s level progression should be, based on your previous choices. Select the type of advancement that you want. The first three settings emulate classic level progressions. If you prefer some other custom scheme, select the last option. If you do, be sure to enter under “Alternate Intervals” how many xp each level requires above level 9 (the red box). You can also tweak results to increase or decrease base xp needed at level 2, using a discretionary modifier (the yellow box).

Saving Throw Parameters: Shift to the section on the right of the xp chart. This relates to my revised saving throws (see ref. earlier). Select your character class from the first dropdown menu at the top. Unless you’re designing a custom character class, skip to the next paragraph. Otherwise, pick the last option at the bottom of the dropdown menu: “11. Custom Class.” You then need to select options from the next four dropdown menus below.




Saving Throws Table: When done, follow the big blue arrow to the right. Your character’s saving throws are listed there. By now, you’re done with critical features of your character class. It’s also a useful tool for someone like me, to create alternate character classes using the same basis across the board—as promised!


I included a few extra bits at the bottom of the spreadsheet.

Min/Max Hit Points: If you need a quick reference on hit points for your character, check the section just below the saving throws chart. You’ll need to select the character level and whatever Constitution bonus it may have. If you selected “Custom Class” in the saving throws section, then you’ll need to specify how many hit points your character earns above level 9.

Monster XP–Character Level Conversions: Those are self-explanatory. The conversion system is a very simple one just to give you a quick-and-dirty answer.

Do not bother with “Miscellaneous Criteria” if you find them: stay on the Main Page. The criteria section is just a bunch of reference material needed for the dropdown menus and Excel formulas to work. Ideally, I should review all of my previous character class designs, incorporate feedback I ran across, and update their xp totals according to the system presented here. For reference, here are links to relevant articles posted previously:

Other character classes were introduced in Calidar books:

            Re. these last three: Stats for Labyrinth Lord are also available in CAL1a Conversion Guide to Meryath and CAL2a Conversion Guide to Caldwen

Thursday, April 15, 2021

D&D BECMI "Revised" Paladin Class

One more “class” of hero can be added to the panoply of “revised” versions I’ve come up in recent past. D&D BECMI’s classic paladin is an extension of the base fighter class, only available from level 9 up. It’s perfectly fine when playing “by the book.” For the sake of variety, however, I’m now offering an alternative available from level 1 for those who don’t want to wait until level 9. Most adventures back in my earlier years of roleplaying often included a paladin in the party. This iconic character proved awesomely beneficial and at the same time equally infuriating to unscrupulous opportunists. Priceless. The subject of paladinhood since then has been covered to death in multiple RPG versions, so there isn’t a whole lot of innovation that can be brought to this table other than my own creative license.

Art Credit: Paladin by ForrestImel on Deviantart, published: Jun 29, 2017 © 2017-2021 ForrestImel

Regarding D&D BECMI
            Be aware that unlike recent game versions, races are treated as classes—thus an “elf” is a class onto itself, and so are the dwarf and the halfling. If you are a big fan of 5e, that’s great but this article isn’t meant for you, let alone the paladin’s existing treatment in 5e. Comparisons and personal judgements on the nature of games from the early 80s are irrelevant here and unwelcome. Please consider this analogy: plenty of folks love the latest car makes, with the best modern technology can offer; others collect vintage cars as a hobby. Neither is wrong. D&D BECMI also fits on the vintage side of things, much like most other OSR fares.

Origins
            "Paladin" derives from the Latin palatium (a palace), palatius relating to a high-level official attached to an imperial or royal court, a palace warrior. In literature, this eventually referred to a pious knight, as in King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. In roleplaying games, it became more of a holy warrior, a well-meaning zealot with extravagant powers and a lordly demeanor. Cool. I dig this.

Concepts
            The basis for the paladin is essentially a cross between cleric and fighter, with fancy chrome, whitewalls, and gnarly tail fins. Although I hadn’t intended to grab everything I found in other RPGs about paladins and jam it all into this character class, I carried over the abilities described in D&D BECMI at least. Following the general trend of my recent articles, I focused on the lower levels offering plenty of features to have fun with. I’m using the cleric’s revised spell progression as the basis for the paladin’s spellcasting ability, and the updated saving throws I introduced in the previous article. I added a couple of new things. They replace the +2 bonus to saving throws and miscellaneous combat bonuses, although perhaps with a bit more panache. I’ve also altered mechanics for some of the class features taken from sources other than BECMI.
            Experience point requirements are much higher than the classic fighter’s, given all the special abilities. If you still think the paladin is just too unbalanced for conventional level 1 adventuring, you can start the new character as a level 1 fighter. When reaching 500 or 1,000 xp (at the DM's discretion), the fighter makes its oath and becomes a level 1 paladin (with 0 xp).

The New “Revised” Paladin Class

Prime Requites: Strength and Charisma.

Experience Bonus: I give a +5% if Str and Cha average out between 11 and 12, and +10% if they average less than 11, implying that all other stats are lower than the prime requisites. Paladins with lousy stats are possible provided their two best scores go toward Str and Cha. What matters is what truly lies in their hearts (think of Capt. America before his transformation or Don Quixote). At 13+, stats otherwise provide conventional bonuses, other than extra xps.

Hit Dice: 1d8 per level up to level 9, +2 hp per level thereafter, and Con adjustments no longer apply.

Maximum Level: 36.

General Abilities: Fights and saves as a fighter.

Armor & Weapons: All armors permitted. Ranged weapons, however, are restricted since they are deemed a coward's means.

Fighter Combat Options: As fighter; starts with the same number of weapon proficiencies and special combat maneuvers.

Special Abilities: See below.


The Oath: The paladin must of course pronounce its oath of fealty to a lawful cleric order. All RPGs and fantasy settings have their own versions, so there isn’t much point is belaboring this issue here. The bottom line is that there can be no paladin without an obligation to do Good. Failure to comply results in forfeiting all class abilities; the paladin becomes a regular fighter of the same level until proper atonement is performed. Whenever the atonement is complete, paladinhood is regained on the basis of the fighter’s current xp. For example: A level 6 paladin (48,000 xp) demoted to a simple fighter (with 32,000 xp), would regain paladinhood on the basis of the fighter’s current xp, probably becoming a level 5 paladin. This loss can be much steeper at high level.

Alignment Issues: Starting out as “Lawful” is a game requirement. Situations may arise where alignment has changed for no fault of the hero’s. Paladinhood isn’t necessarily lost instantly, provided the paladin never performs malevolent acts. Scrupulously following one’s oath may suffice over time for the paladin to become “Lawful” again, without penalty. The oath therefore safeguards not only those deserving protection, but also the paladin itself. Changing to a “Chaotic” alignment outright (or an evil one in other game versions) will, however, cause the loss of paladinhood, as explained earlier.

Wealth and Hirelings: Paladins do not retain wealth, as pledged in their oaths. They keep what is needed to purchase or replace personal equipment and pursue their missions. The balance of their earnings goes to support their clerical order. They may not forego (in favor of other party members) portions of their treasure shares that should go to their orders. A paladin does not keep henchmen, but may employ hirelings whose combined HD aren’t more than ⅓ their employer’s (rounded down).


Aura of Protection:
This is an ability unavailable to classic BECMI paladins. An aura 15’ radius surrounds the paladin. All evil creatures within range suffer a –1 penalty to hit rolls and saving throws. This aura cannot be dispelled. Affected creatures can sense where this aura comes from.

Detect Evil: This ability is akin to the detect evil spell, thus with a 120’ range. The paladin must be able to see the source of evil.

Laying on Hands: D&D BECMI doesn’t offer this power. I include it here since it is ubiquitous in other game versions. The healing amounts to 4 hit point plus the paladin’s experience level, thus 5 hp at first level up to 40 at level 36. If a wound requires less healing than what the paladin can offer, the balance can be bestowed upon another wounded companion. Once the paladin has used up all of its healing power, this ability is no longer available for the remainder of the day.
             If its healing ability is completely depleted, the paladin still has the option of forfeiting its own hit points in order to heal someone else (also see Knightly Fervor, later). It is considered a feat of great compassion. The player decides how many hit points to spend, up to the recipient’s normal total (the paladin can sense how much healing is needed to revive someone, relative to its own life force). Forfeited hit points cannot be healed for the remainder of the day.
             Malevolent recipients (NPCs or monsters) revived after having been knocked unconscious and restored to their full hit points, must save vs. spell (aimed magic) or change their alignments one notch toward the paladin’s. Saving throws receive a penalty equal to the paladin’s Cha bonus plus ½ the hit points needed to revive the recipient (rounded down; a natural score of “20” always saves). The hero must protect recipients failing their saving throws, or at least allow them to leave unharmed. The alignment change is canceled if the paladin or its companions harm or act against the recipient’s best interest.

Fortitude: This manifestation of faith provides immunity to non-magical diseases. Immunity does not extend to curses such as lycanthropy or a mummy’s rotting disease.

Turn Undead: The paladin can repel undead as a cleric one third its level (rounded down). Therefore, a level 3 paladin turns undead as a level 1 cleric.

Knightly Fervor: A paladin sacrificing its own hit points while laying hands on a wounded being earns faith points equal to the forfeited hit points. Faith points are only gained when forgoing at least 5 hp (or 10% of its normal total, whichever is greatest). A paladin may not accumulate faith points exceeding half its own normal hit point total (rounded up). They can otherwise be saved for later days.
            Faith points are redeemed as bonuses to hit rolls or saving throws. A player intent on spending its paladin’s faith points must clearly announce the matter before making any die rolls (possibly invoking the divine patron’s name for the sake of roleplay). Faith points are spent if the roll fails, just enough for the roll to succeed. If the paladin does not possess enough, current faith points are wasted although they do prevent a critical failure's catastrophic consequences.

Divine Ardor: Whenever striking down a foe affected by the hero’s aura of protection, the paladin earns a +1 AC bonus until the end of the battle. The foe must have at least half as many HD or levels as the paladin’s and been defeated in hand-to-hand combat (no slaying prisoners or helpless opponents, casting spells, or resorting to ranged means). These bonuses are cumulative; they cannot be dispelled unless the paladin is unconscious or subject to magical fear.

Cure Ailments: When laying hands, the paladin also cures any non-magical disease or non-magical poison. If the recipient doesn’t otherwise bear physical wounds, treat as if healing a 5 hp wound.

Hallowed Steed: At the end of the current adventure when reaching level 7, the paladin senses the need to leave on a personal errand. This journey should lead to a location where the steed awaits. The paladin may have to earn its trust and service. It can be a war horse or some other creature best fitting the paladin’s style, at the DM’s discretion. The steed should have +4 hit point but not more than half the paladin’s HD (up to 11 HD, rounded up). Its Int should be no less than 4, and its alignment Lawful regardless of its breed. The steed is bound to its master. It allows no other rider, unless permitted by its master. The steed also receives +1 HD each time the paladin earns two more, up to 11 HD, after which the steed receives only +1 hp. Should the mount perish at a later time, the paladin will sense another has become available after reaching the next experience level.

Holy Sword: Another classic artifact from other game versions implies the existence of the famed holy avenger. Upon reaching level 10, the paladin receives word of such a sword’s possible location. The paladin must leave on a personal journey to wrest the fabulous weapon from evil hands. The so-called holy avenger acts as a +1 magical sword. However, in a paladin’s hands, it rates as a sword +2/+4 vs. malevolent foes. It also produces a 10’ diameter aura that dispels malevolent or hostile curses and enchantments, cast at the paladin’s experience level. The sword must be unsheathed and held in hand for the latter power to manifest itself.

Death Blow: Whenever reduced to zero hp or less in while in hand-to-hand combat, the paladin is entitled an immediate and final strike against its nemesis (must be a malevolent being). The attack receives a +4 bonus to hit and inflicts the weapon’s normal damage +1 per level of the paladin.

Immunity to Mind-Altering Attacks: The paladin cannot fall victim to such spells as charm, hold, sleep, or magically induced fear. Spells such as confusion, hallucinatory terrain, or feeblemind are only effective if the spellcaster’s experience level is greater than the paladin’s. Immunity does not extend to magical illusions, however.

Aura of Piety: The paladin radiates a force 15’ radius keeping at bay enchanted creatures of a malevolent nature. These monsters include those that can only be hit with magic or that were magically summoned. Affected creatures cannot physically touch the paladin or its companions within the area of effect, but can use projectile weapons, spells, and natural abilities. The aura no longer repels those creatures attacked from within the area of effect (with melee or projectile weapons, with spells, or in any other way).

About Calidar: Paladins have not been mentioned in the World of Calidartm up to this point. They must be either pious followers of a divine patron, or zealots. Nothing prevents DMs from running paladins in that world. Paladins are by design empowered by their patron deities to fight demons. They suffer no penalty against rascals (see CC1, page 216), although weapons +2 or better are required. Archfiends require +3 magical weapons or better, and at least experience level 16 for a demon lord, or level 32 for demon prince. On the extreme end of things, paladins can only ever fight a fully ascended deity if they have earned epic hero status (see CAL1, page 86) and have been personally empowered to do so by their divine patrons.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

D&D BECMI Alternate Saving Throws Pt. II

 As a follow up to the previous article, here is the complete list of saving throw tables for character classes recently brought up on this blog.










Cheers!

Monday, April 5, 2021

D&D BECMI Alternate Saving Throws

After posting a number of articles about character classes, some hindsight might be useful. One reason I wrote revisions and additions was to boost player characters’ lowest levels—hence extra spells at the first few levels, modified class abilities, etc. The other reason was to stretch demi-humans experience progression to the full 36 level range. One pothole remains (I’m sure there are others), but this one needs particular attention: saving throws. These weren’t handled in the RC’s variant rules (see pg. 266), leading me to an expedient using the saving throws of thieves or clerics instead. This was less than ideal. Rather than approach the matter willy-nilly and rely on ad-hoc, seat-of-the-pants guesswork, I thought of reviewing the entire saving throw subject and coming up with rational mechanics applying consistently across the board to all character classes. 

Art Credit: Death Maker by 3mmI on Deviantart.

Regarding D&D BECMI

            With this older version of D&D, be aware that unlike more recent game versions, races are treated as classes—thus an “elf” is a class onto itself, and so are the dwarf and the halfling. While human character classes can reach level 36, demi-humans are limited to around level 10. If you are a big fan of 5e, that’s great but this article isn’t meant for you. Comparisons and personal judgements on the nature of games from the early 80s are irrelevant here and unwelcome. Please consider this analogy: plenty of folks love the latest car makes, with the best modern technology can offer; others collect vintage cars as a hobby. Neither is wrong. D&D BECMI also fits on the vintage side of things, much like most other OSR fares.

Categories

            Classic saving throw categories are as follows:

  • Death Ray or Poison
  • Magic Wands
  • Paralysis or Turn to Stone
  • Dragon Breath
  • Rod, Staff, or Spell

             Inevitably, I questioned this arrangement. I wondered about the logic of combining death rays with poison—perhaps that failing this save would result in instant death. What of magic wands? Why aren’t they lumped together with rod, staff, and spells? It was suggested to me that one might be able to dodge the effects of a wand. Okay, but then can one also dodge the effects of a staff or a rod, or even a spell? I found nothing specific on this subject. Paralysis and turn to stone have a category of their own, although they are different things (one could be related to poison while the other to a spell or a gaze attack). Etc.

Art Credit: Dragon Breath by t-biddy on Deviantart

            Of course, saving throws in BECMI are the result of earlier B/X concepts, and I’m fine with that as regards playing the classic version of the game. I’m looking for an alternate approach. Sure enough, some folks will be shaking their fists and calling me a heretic. Just have an open mind for a bit longer and hear me out. Here's a different arrangement:

  1. Death: Concerns all saving throws whose outcomes are instant death (be it poison, death rays, traps, finger of death spell, creatures less than 5 HD caught in a cloudkill spell effect, etc.)
  2. Device Magic: Includes all magic cast from an enchanted object (rod, staff, wand, ring, crown, enchanted portal, cursed weapon, magical trap, artifact, etc.)
  3. Poison, Disease: Intended for non-magical effects of a biological or chemical origin, including diseases, poisons, drugs, acid, parasites, paralyzing venom, etc.
  4. Area of Effect: Any effect primarily covering a physical area (such as a fireball, lightning bolt, cone or cold, entangle, magical web, or a breath weapon.) Non-magical effects can be included here, as regards siege weapon bombardment, avalanches, earthquakes, or anything affecting a location and everyone within it rather than specific individuals.
  5. Aimed Magic: All other magic, especially spells cast by a live spellcaster targeting individuals or objects rather than an area (charm, hold, sleep, polymorph, petrifying gaze, etc.) If unsure whether an effect is area-based or aimed, treat as the latter.

             When considering which category applies, start with Death. If it doesn’t apply, move to the next listed item: Device Magic. If it doesn’t apply either, check the next entry: Poison, Disease, etc. This order matters because each entry’s challenge level gradually increases, from Death (the easiest to succeed, thankfully) to Aimed Magic (the most difficult).

Art Credit: Soul Eater by Orm Irian on Tumbler

Base Scores

            The next task is to create a set of mechanics to calculate base scores for each character class. Calculations must apply systematically and in exactly the same manner across the board. They serve as a common basis from which to compare the saving throws of demi-humans up to level 36 with those attributed to human character classes. Therefore, all saving throws need to be calculated accordingly (not just the demi-humans'). Three main factors should influence base scores:

  • The Saving Throw Category (as explained earlier)
  • The Character Class (self explanatory)
  • Better vs. Worse: Specific categories each class might be better or worse at.

            Looking at classic saving throws, it’s easy to ascertain they run from 8 to 16 at level 1 (not counting Normal Man). The median score across the board is therefore 12. Fighter and Mystic are the least favorable, while demi-humans seem to be the best.

Handicaps

            A series of base handicaps can be applied to the median score (12) to calculate first level scores. Minuses are bonuses, and plusses are penalties. Modifiers relating to saving throw categories and character classes are straightforward. The "better vs. worse" handicaps, however, need to be plotted out before moving forward. The table below shows which categories are best or worse for each character class.


          Each character class is assigned a type of saving throw for which they are better and another for which they are worse. This ensures that no two classes have the same sets of saves. I included the extra classes I posted earlier (the gnome and the half-orc). Decisions on which type applies to which class are entirely subjective on my part. Feel free to swap classes around if you wish. The mechanics below will allow such changes and show exactly how they affect saving throws. Some of my logic reflects the following thoughts: fighters do their best against dragon breath, but worse against aimed spells; dwarves do their best against aimed spells but relatively worse against areas of effect, and so on. Eventually, the rest falls into place as shown above. All handicaps are compiled in the table below.


Example: To save vs. Area of Effect, a fighter needs a “12,” plus 1 for the category, plus 1 for the class, but minus 1 since this is what the fighter is best at. The resulting score is “13.”

            This simple approach is all that is needed to generate all first-level saving throws for each class. I listed them in the table below. I included the average score for each character class, which explains the order in which I laid them out in this table.


            The final task is to find what the saves are at level 2 and higher. Use the table below and look up the appropriate column for each category. Cross-reference this column with the row corresponding to the character’s experience level.

            For Example: To save vs. Area of Effect, a level 1 fighter needs a “13,” as devised in the previous example. For a fighter level 10, find the column starting with “13” (under Full Saving Throw Ranges), and cross-ref with the “8-10” row (under “F” for Fighter.) The resulting score is “8.”







Attribute Modifiers

            Modifiers from ability scores can have an effect on saving throws. Everyone has their version. Here's one, adapted to the above.

  • Death:  Use Charisma, assuming it is a measure of one's strength of character with enough chutzpah to stare down death itself. Might be cool for a paladin-type. It's arbitrary but, hey, I found a new use for Charisma so don't complain! Constitution also is an option for a deadly poison.
  • Device Magic: Use Wisdom, assuming that it helps figure out whether/how a device might be used, increasing odds of avoiding its effects. This unorthodox use of Wisdom makes even more sense when dealing with divine artifacts.
  • Poison, Disease: Use Constitution here. That one's evident. 
  • Area of Effect: Use Dexterity. Thieving types will no doubt appreciate this, given their wimpy base d4 HD in D&D BECMI.
  • Aimed Magic: Mostly Intelligence, especially against mind-affecting attacks, but also Strength, for paralysis, slow, and petrifaction spells. Other attributes may be relevant--use common sense here.

Conclusion

            In most cases, these saving throws are more forgiving at low experience levels compared with the classic scores (which was one of my goals), but less so at mid or higher levels. How quickly these saves improve is also more benign at low levels compared with classic scores. For example, fighter saves improve every 1-2 levels early on, vs. 1-3 with classic scores; magic-user saves improve every 1-4 levels early on, vs. 1-5 with classic scores; etc. The table showing the full range of saving throws streamlined the progression of saves compared with the classic tables. For example, classic saving throws for a fighter are laid out over 12 rows, while classic magic-user saves take only 8, whereas alternate saves suggested here demand 11 rows for all character classes. As a consequence, the alternate progression per level differs from classic saves in this respect as well.
            The two previous tables are all you need to fill out character sheets. This cuts out the original seven saving throw tables, leaving you with just these two. Furthermore, you can play with the mechanics to modify base saves, while resting assured that you are using consistent numbers at all times. At worst, if you dislike the resulting modifications to the human character classes, keep their original scores, and use the above system only for demi-human saves now ranging up to level 36. For simplicity, treat monsters as fighters, although you could use creative license with what they are better vs. worse at.
            I’ll throw in one last table, for comparative purposes only. It compiles all saving throws for the fighter class, both alternate and classic, with average scores on the far right. The comparison is somewhat valid despite the modifications I made to the categories. They give an idea nonetheless as to how their numbers compare. Overall, the average of all alternate saves (all fighter levels included) adds up to 6.6 vs. 6.8 for classic scores.


Sorry for the lengthy explanations. I compiled the complete saving throw tables for character classes recently brought up on this blog for your convenience. Click here to access the compilation. Hope you enjoy these optional saving throws.

Monday, March 15, 2021

D&D "Revised" Half-Orc Class

This is beginning to sound like an ongoing joke. But hey, since I’m at it, I might just as well. What on @#&! (replace with appropriate game world) am I going to do with half-orcs now? Fret not. I do have a few ideas to set them apart from your basic fighter AND make them feel a tad beastly!

            If D&D BECMI isn't your thing, be aware that unlike more recent game versions, races are treated as classes—thus an “elf” is a class onto itself, and so are the dwarf and the halfling. If you are a big fan of 5e, that’s great but this article isn’t for you. Comparisons and personal judgements on the validity of games from the early 80s are irrelevant here and unwelcome. Please consider this analogy: plenty of folks love the latest car makes, with the best modern technology can offer; others collect vintage cars as a hobby. Neither is wrong. D&D BECMI also fits on the vintage side of things, much like most other OSR fares.

Origins: Much of how orcs are perceived comes from literature, especially Tolkien and the medieval tale of Beowulf, which Tolkien points to as his source. In Beowulf, the “orcneas” are evil spirits (no connection with Orkneys as far as I know). In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, orcs are brutal and malevolent creatures, possibly descended from corrupted elves. Previous to this, “orc” came from the Latin “Orcus,” a name for Pluto, the god of infernal regions. In old Anglo-Saxon, orc refers to some kind of goblin (don’t tell the orcs). In the 17th century, the word morphed into “ogre.” The latter term came into English through French fairy tales which took it from Italian literature—“orco” referring to a big, hairy, tusked, man-like monster that seeks to devour people. It was meant consistently through the ages as a malignant and brutal boogeyman to scare a storyteller’s audience.

How do I see Orcs? Based on original depictions in roleplaying games, it’s a brute living within a tribe’s rigid pecking order reflecting individual strength and ferocity, and who is often inclined to acquire by force what it needs or wants. Spiritual beliefs reflect a rough-and-tumble culture, and appear to the outside world as crude and blood-thirsty. Much of what is known of orcs comes from how their victims see them. They are universally thought of as malevolent thanks to their harsh upbringings in the harshest of worlds. Would they remain naturally evil under different life conditions? Perhaps, but at the very least, their fundamental character endures: coarse mannered, distrustful of those above them, intolerant of rivals, and unforgiving of those they perceive as weaker. Somewhere between belligerent and thuggish, orcs bow nonetheless to those who prove themselves tougher… or they die. They are compelled to confront or bully others because their kind always had to fight over scarce resources for the sake of their tribes’ survival. It’s in their blood. Strength, ferocity, and resilience run deep, along with a wild streak. 

Concepts: I see the half-orc more as a warrior class in BECMI than anything else. The goal is not to make the existing fighter class less attractive or short-change the half-orc. Rather, game mechanics for this class of warriors should illustrate the half-orc's mindset and ancestral traits: Strength and Ferocity, by Khroomsh!

            Half-orc warriors need not fight as well as fighters. These pragmatic folks aren’t interested in the technical end of things. Spirit and resilience is what makes up for their lack of sophistication. I can guarantee you that your half-orc will not want to run from combat. What happens during a battle, therefore, determines how hard your half-orc will fight. It won’t go down easily, and can recover from its wounds on its own. It’s really good at snarling too. Its fairly benign experience progression table is a straightforward affair. It encourages cunning warlike instincts rooted in eons of fine tactics evolution: Khraugor smash!

The New “Revised” Half-Orc Class

Prime Requites: Constitution. Strength should be at least 9.

Experience Bonus: I give a +5% if Con lies between 11 and 12, and +10% if less than 11, implying that all other stats are lower than the prime requisite. At 13+, stats provide conventional bonuses.

Hit Dice: 1d8 per level up to 9th level, +2 hp per level thereafter, and Con adjustments no longer apply.

Maximum Level: 36.

General Abilities: Fights and saves as a thief. Starts with 2 weapon proficiencies (instead of the fighter’s 4) and earns new ones as a thief.

Armor & Weapons: Any. Although half-orcs are free to wear any sort of protection, excess armor may eventually prove counterproductive to this character class. It’s up to the half-orc to strike the right balance between risk and benefit.

Special Abilities: Extra languages (dwarf, goblin/hobgoblin, ogre, troll); –2 Cha bonus with orcs and half-orcs related to rival tribes; Infravision 60’. Half-orcs may wear tattoos related to their ancestral tribes. In an odd and slightly masochistic way that other races do not fully grasp, half-orcs gain combat bonuses when suffering damage (First Blood & Battle Scars). Under certain conditions, they also heal on their own (Resilience).

Fighter Combat Options: As fighter.

Special Defenses: None.

Daylight Penalty: –1 to hit and saving throws when exposed to direct sunlight (ignore in overcast conditions or within an hour of sunrise and sunset). A goblin hireling with a large parasol can’t solve that problem. Sorry.

First Blood: When first blooded by an opponent, the half-orc gains a +2 bonus to hit against this foe alone. If this first wound inflicted at least 1/10th the half-orc’s normal hit points, the half-orc’s following attacks also inflict +2 damage against this foe alone. These bonuses are cancelled when this foe is stricken down; they cannot be accumulated and carried over to other foes. On the other hand, when fighting multiple opponents who inflicted wounds to the half-orc, the half-orc earns its +2 bonus against each one separately. Want a piece o’ me, punk?

Battle Scars: When reduced to 1/10th its normal hp or less during a battle, the half-orc suffers a permanent scar. With each battle scar, the half-orc earns a +1 to saving throws, up to a maximum of +4. The half-orc also incurs a   –1 penalty to Cha for each battle scar, up to –4 when addressing other races. Battle scars confer instead +1 Cha bonuses (up to 18 Cha) when interacting with other half-orcs (see Posturing Snarls later on), as they are a mystical source of great personal pride and accomplishment. I got more scars than you. (Oh yeah? Mine are bigger!) 

Resilience: After slaying a foe in battle, the half-orc heals 1 hp per hour until fully recovered. This ability does not regenerate destroyed body parts or revive a dead half-orc. With 5 battle scars, it heals 2 per hour, with 10 scars 3 per hour, etc. This mind-over-body aptitude is only triggered by the thrill of slaying a foe with at least half as many HD as the half-orc’s. For example: A level 1 half-orc can trigger its healing ability when slaying a puny kobold in battle; however a level 8 half-orc would need to strike down an ogre instead. The slaying must be in the context of a battle—executing prisoners or helpless foes does not elicit a sufficient thrill level.

            Death Door: Most DMs have their own rules on what constitutes "death" in their games. In many, a PC lies at "death's door" when hit points drop to zero down to –10. If this results in "blood loss" (losing a hp each round), then resilience will not be sufficient to revive the wounded half-orc. On the other hand, it could slow blood loss to 1 hp every two rounds. Us folks is tougher!

Battle Roar: A half-orc bearing at least one battle scar can roar once per battle. All foes within 90' receive a –1 penalty to Morale Check thereafter. The penalty grows for every 3 permanent battle scars, up to –4. The battle roar counts as a full action as it is somewhat equivalent to a warrior's haka. The next action must be to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Beat it, vermin!

Posturing Snarl: When half-orcs meet, they may snarl at each other for one round. They both roll a d10, adding their Charisma and battle scar bonuses. The one with the worst result backs off and accepts the other’s leadership. Ascendancy ends when the underling earns a new battle scar, at which point snarling may resume. If they’re tied, snarling continues for another round. If still tied, fighting ensues until one yields… or dies. You talkin’ to me?

Self-Inflicted Wounds: Deliberately harming oneself, directly or indirectly, or inviting injury at the hands of another does not trigger first blood or resilience effects. Self-inflicted damage negates resilience if healing was still in progress. Self-inflicted battle scars do not count; a half-orc rumored of self-mutilating would be seen as an outcast and a coward, resulting in all battle scars permanently losing their “beneficial” effects.

            On the other hand, cutting oneself for 1 hp and licking the blood off the blade with wicked glee, is mighty acceptable and righteous when specifically meant to intimidate. The action affects one immediate opponent or a group of foes with HD (individually or collectively) less than the half-orc’s. If these conditions are true, then the targets of intimidation must immediately roll a Morale Check. This show of sheer savagery bears no adverse effect on first blood, resilience, and battle scars, but can only be performed once per battle. Hawrrrg! It’s not Nutella!

Regarding Spellcasters: The Rules Cyclopedia allows spellcasting orcs—tribal shamans and sorcerers up to levels 6 and 4 respectively. As NPCs or monsters, this option is easy enough to put into effect. PC spellcasters are a different issue. Though half-orcs aren’t “full-blooded” orcs, the idea of an unlimited and proficient half-orc magic-user conflicts with this article's paradigm. Certainly, half-orcs can have clerics. For the half-orc to enjoy a cleric’s spellcasting ability in addition to its other class abilities, start out with 2,300 xp needed for level 2, doubling up to level 8, and with an additional 120,000 xp per level thereafter. Check the revised spell progression I gave clerics in a related article (click here).

Regarding Calidar: This setting hasn’t used half-orcs as of yet. I may just use the above material as an alternative to the setting’s inspiration from AD&D 1st Edition multi-classed demi-humans. None of what is posted here has been play-tested. Actual gaming feedback would be appreciated. Thanks!

Coming Next: The half-orc's favorite adventuring companion.