Hiya folks. Right now SOD is on a small hiatus due to holidays coming up. But don’t worry we will be back after the holidays will all new shows!
Archive for the ‘Articles’
Let’s be honest: One of the coolest things I get to do as a DM is come up with interesting villains to pit against my players, and I savor every moment of heart-pounding tension that leads up to the final, climactic battle, when the players finally come face to face with the nefarious enemy.
Of course, as much fun as developing a villain can be, it can also be very challenging. As a storyteller, you want your villain to stand out from all the rest. You want to create a character that wows the players and keeps them on the edge of their seats, and you want someone who poses a very real threat. There’s a very fine line between this:
Here are some suggestions you can try to help build better villains:
Start by Building a Hero
“We are all born heroes; it is the world that makes of us villains.”
This might sound like strange advice, but one of the best ways to develop a villain is by starting off with a hero, and working your way forward through their life until you stumble upon the moment (or moments) that turned them against society. This works even if your campaign setting is the black & white, good vs. evil variety — just look at Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, as an example — but it works especially well when the lines between good and evil are murky at best.
Start by finding good causes that would inspire your hero to action, even in the face of insurmountable odds. As an example, we’ll use Vlad the Impaler. Vlad may have been one of the most gruesome men in history, but he gave land to the poor and was a staunch supporter of his people and their rights. Even to this day, Romanians praise Vlad Dracul as a hero, and not the villain the rest of the world portrays him as.
So let’s imagine Vlad the Impaler is a hero…he’s a man who cares deeply for his people, whose stubborn patriotism — and arrogance — fuels his campaign to claim the throne of Wallachia, then turn against the Sultan Mehmed II in blatant defiance.
Add Character Flaws
Once you’ve developed the concept of your “hero”, it’s time to sprinkle in “flaws” — attributes of the character that cause them to act a certain way — usually with disregard for the livelihood of others. You’re welcome to use as many or as few flaws as you feel is best for the character concept you’re developing, but I definitely recommend reviewing the character’s moral and ethical compass, and adjusting accordingly. Vlad doesn’t order 20,000 people be impaled because his ethical compass is accurate; chances are the needle’s a bit off kilter. The good thing about this step is that it forces you to think about where the character went wrong and why, adding depth to the character’s background.
Add Finishing Touches
Finally, look over your character, and take every part of their personality and background into consideration as you determine what their place in your adventure or campaign might be. You know what motivates them — love, wealth, power, etc. — and you also know why they will stop at nothing to have what they desire most. You’ve analyzed and gaged their individual moral and ethical compass, and you understand where they failed and how they became a villain.
Ultimately, it’s Vlad’s ego that proves to be his undoing.
Another Suggestion: A Villain with a Twist
While we’re on the subject of starting with heroes, why not try this out and finish with a hero as well?
The party is on a quest to reclaim a particular magic item. They have no choice, for whatever reason, and must complete this quest.
Unfortunately for them, this magic item is guarded by a Holy Order o f Paladins. Yep, the good guys. Now the players must choose to either violate their own moral compass and battle the Paladins, or give up on their quest — as they will be unable to simply persuade the paladins to part with the artifact they are protecting.
Final Thoughts: Five Villains to Study
Finally, I present to you five of the top villains from film and television that every writer should be familiar with:
No. 1): Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious
Why he’s awesome: I usually don’t go for the cut-and-dry “good vs. evil” types that are rampant throughout Star Wars, but the Emperor is a very devious character whose schemes and motivations come to fruition after decades of planning. He’s always ten steps ahead of any other characters in the story, making him a formidable opponent, but his most intimidating aspect is his power to manipulate, suggest, and influence others, tricking them into doing his bidding. This is showcased best in the 3rd film, “Revenge of the Sith”, when Palpatine is explaining to Anakin that maybe the darkside isn’t so bad after all…
No. 2): Mr. Freeze, from the Animated Batman series
Why he’s awesome: He might be cuckoo for ice crystals, but Mr. Freeze does everything — and I mean EVERYTHING, from bank robberies to grand larceny to kidnapping — all in an attempt to find a way to save his wife, whom he has cryogenically frozen. Eternally separated from the love of his life, Mr. Freeze will let nothing get in the way, and will do everything in his power to make sure no harm ever befalls her.
No. 3): Heath Ledger’s “Joker” from “The Dark Knight”
Why he’s awesome: This movie does a fantastic job of introducing the character of the Joker with no back story to speak of, and Heath’s performance is so spot on you don’t even question the fact they never explain where the Joker came from. He simply…exists…in much the same way the forces of chaos and entropy exist.
No. 4): Jeremy Irons as the “Über-Morlock”, from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine
Why he’s awesome: The Über-Morlock is a powerful creature whose psychic abilities allow it to keep the other morlocks in check, prohibiting them from consuming their food supply. The interesting thing about this is that the Über-Morlock understands its place in the grand scheme of the food chain and, despite having total access to the time machine and thus an ability to go back in time and rule the world and change the entire course of history, he instead returns the time machine back to the time traveller, which is something we don’t typically see in Hollywood. Plus, he dresses like a total badass.
No. 5): Ozymandias, from “The Watchmen”
Why he’s awesome: Ozymandias is a hero motivated entirely by the notion that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Fearing that the world is progressing rapidly towards its own destruction in a nuclear holocaust, Ozymandias goes to incredible lengths to unite the world, in the hopes that doing so will prevent nuclear war. And by “incredible lengths”, I’m referring to killing a former superhero ally, infecting anyone who ever came in contact with Dr. Manhattan with cancer, and creating a false “threat” against the world that forces all of humanity to unite together.
The Secret DM is an avid role player who prefers to keep his gaming lifestyle low-key — by hiding it from friends, family, loved ones, co-workers, neighbors, strangers, teachers, the mail man, any and all of their pets, and most of society. Gamers excluded.
Follow the Secret DM on Facebook!
Love in a roleplaying game can be a very sensitive subject. In its most base form, the mere mentioning of love at the gaming table can derail an otherwise exceptional story and turn the rest of the night into nothing but inappropriate jokes, off-color comments, and uncomfortable snickering.
It’s quite possible that your own group of players has no interest in the subject of love, and would much rather spend their time slaughtering orcs and looting treasure hordes. That’s all well and good, but if you don’t take a chance to at least attempt to include love in your game, you may very well be missing out on a very fun — and rewarding — play experience. Let’s talk about some of the ways that love can be a powerful tool in your next game:
Hook your players with a surprise twist
If you’re sitting down to your 300th battle with a band of roaming bugbear bandits, it might be time to interject something a bit more saucy — for example, a love interest. It’s best to choose a player who has some degree of comfort with the topic — you might have to do some pre-screening interviews to get a feel for which one of your players could best handle the task…although, it might also be fun to try this out on a more hack-n-slash type, as long as the player understands its all in fun.
This could be accomplished with something as simple as making the leader of the bugbears an old flame of one of the player characters. Even tossed into an adventure on the fly, this should create a new challenge/obstacle the party wasn’t expecting to overcome — reconciling one characters emotions against the nefarious actions of monstrous thugs — without creating a player/player or player/DM conflict because “Sir Ivan Bartholemew Isaacs Montgomery NEVER wasted time with love” — or other such anxiety-inducing objections.
Be upfront about it, but keep IT in the background
Rather than wrangle your players in a surprise love trap, use love as the motivation behind your next adventure. Orcs have kidnapped a local king’s wife, and the players have been hired to travel north, kill the orcs, and rescue the queen. This way, love keeps a safe distance from the player characters, while still acting as an integral part of the story.
Mix love as a plot device with a surprise twist
Suppose the queen from the previous example has in fact been kidnapped, but what if the orcs had nothing to do with it? The party has spent the better half of their time risking their lives to kill off orcs in the north, only to discover the queen is nowhere to be found. In fact, the kidnapping was all a ruse to get the party of heroes to do the king’s dirty work. Perhaps the king figured the heroes would perish in the process, but their assault on the orcs would help create confusion and give the king’s army an advantage, which has already begun a full-scale invasion to claim a larger portion of the northern lands.
You might even toss in a few more twists — the king has been replaced by a doppelganger, and the queen really has been kidnapped, but is being held by the king’s vizier in the west…and the vizier is a necromancer, driven mad by his own love for the queen, whom turns out is an old flame of one of the players…
…alright, maybe I’m getting a bit carried away, but you get the idea. Love can be a very handy tool, and if you’ve never used it before as part of your game, you might be surprised by how much fun it can add to an adventure.
Then, once you feel comfortable with the subject of love, you might start branching off into the more complex elements of PC/NPC relationships, and the fun challenges those can add to a campaign!
But I’ll save that topic for another time. Until then, happy adventuring, and Happy Valentine’s Day!
The Secret DM™ is just an average guy, trying to navigate the complexities of a successful career, a happy marriage, and raising a daughter…all while secretly rescuing damsels from fire-breathing dragons. Visit him at www.thesecretdm.com or find him on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/secretdm), or contact him at: email@example.com.
Strange monsters, mysterious mages, fighters that take a licking and keep on ticking, holy men who bring the word of god and his power to the masses; these are the cornerstones of Dungeons and Dragons. But for today let’s focus on monsters, the foul denizens of the underworld that make up the meat of any great adventure.
I used to think monsters were just there for you to fight; Sure, I understood that a dungeon needs an understandable and realistic ecology – you don’t put wood golems in a magma cave, and you don’t mix drow with duergar – but it didn’t go much further than that. Monsters were just there, maybe because it was their home lair, or maybe they had moved into the area through happenstance. Usually, they were there because they had the right amount of hit dice to challenge the party and it would logically make sense for them to be there, but I never bothered with how they were made, or where they came from. I would never pay very much attention to what gods they prayed to or what their childrearing was like. It was never important to me. If I ever needed info on that I would just check the ‘Ecology of ____’ articles in Dragon and roll with it. A couple of weeks ago I read a post on Dragonsfoot by a user named Beedo that completely changed how I look at monsters:
“The problem folks have (not you guys) is that humanoids became just men in funny suits. It’s the thing I hate about B2 – Keep on the Borderlands – you have all those humanoid tribes with females and males and little humanoid kids. […] Naturalism defeats horror. It’d be much better if creatures like bugbears were spawned by horrible pumpkin pods or created by the goblin king out of pure magic, or something completely unrealistic. Then DMs would think of using them as monsters (the Boogeyman, the Bugbear of legend) […] instead of, you know, just being the monsters that show up on level 3 because they’re slightly tougher than hobgoblins.”
Since then the way I look at monsters and how they fit into my campaign world has evolved into a more in depth process. Instead of just placing monsters for PCs to fight I’ve started taking an active look into the creatures’ roots in mythology (if they have any) or how they might be viewed through the perceived mythology of the campaign world. That’s not to say that I crib from myths whole cloth, but rather I used them to inspire my own world myths. A good example of this is the goblin: there are many myths and folktales about goblins, and because of that there are many dissociated depictions of goblins. In order to save myself some trouble (and headaches) I’ve gone ahead and come up with a wholly new mythology for the goblins of my campaign world; one that is actually inspired by Beedo’s post.
Goblins in my world are physically the same as those from the Pathfinder RPG, they’re different enough from other games and editions that their aesthetic sticks out to me and is interesting compared to things I’ve seen previously. They’re loveable melon-headed creatures with glowing red eyes, grey-green skin and bulbous heads. One might think of a misshapen, under-ripe pumpkin to get the color and shape right. “Why do these creatures look like this? Where do they come from?” the people of old would ask. Well, one would assume that, with their pumpkin like appearance, they come from pumpkin patches. Troublesome crops that refuse to grow, whether due to infertile soil or the taint of some ancient evil, are the spawning grounds for the goblin hordes. So, it has become custom in my campaign world to destroy unripe pumpkins that grow too large for fear of being overrun by the foul creatures. Whether this is true or not is unknown to the people of this world (it is), but that’s unimportant to me, what matters is there’s now a consistent legend in the campaign milieu that informs both the players and I of the world and how it works.
It’s a bit of an extra step, but I feel it adds a whole new layer of detail and a breath of life to the game. It helps the monsters to seem monstrous instead of being “men in funny suits.” Next time you’re preparing for a game, and you have a monster you don’t really have a niche for, try it out and see what comes of it! And, of course, tell us how you’d do it or what you did!
Next time I plan to tackle the combat system, hit points and variable weapon damage. Should be fun and full of game mechanics jargon!
This week the Save or Die Podcast crew set out to sea – and I was immediately reminded of “The Sea People” – a sourcebook for Basic Dungeons & Dragons. Written by Jim Bambra (Night’s Dark Terror, Shadows over Bogenhafen) and published as part of the “Creature Crucible” series by TSR in 1990, “The Sea People” took D&D campaigns under the waves, expanding on the marine-based rules presented in the Expert boxed set, and introducing new non-human classes, such as aquatic elves, kopru, and shark-kin.
Whether you’re setting out on a voyage across the ocean, or looking to explore the uncharted depths that lie beneath the surface of the Sunlit Sea, “The Sea People” is an excellent sourcebook (available for purchase here) which features a richly detailed history of Undersea and its inhabitants, new character creation options (tables to randomly determine physical traits, two tables representing possible perks and flaws to both enhance and hinder your character, as well as rules to turn any character into an aquatic spellcaster), new magic items and spells, and a plethora of adventure ideas. In addition, you’ll find a set of optional rules that will take your sea-faring, underwater-exploring adventures to the next level. Condensed into four pages, these optional rules address many of the challenges wrought by the ocean depths. Indeed, surface dwellers would do well to avoid the harsh environment that lay beneath the waves…
Light and Visibility
The first thing players and DMs have to worry about is just how far they can see underwater. “The Sea People” presents the following chart:
It’s important to keep in mind that spells such as light do not work as well underwater, only functioning at half their normal power.
Depth and Pressure
One of the deadliest environmental conditions (outside of drowning, of course) is pressure which, at too great a depth, can cause eardrums to burst or lead to “nitrogen narcosis”, which is a building up of nitrogen in the bloodstream that causes the diver to slip into a stupor-like state.
“The Sea People” suggests that, when outside of a vessel and either ascending or descending, a diver must rest for one turn for every 10 minutes used to move either towards the surface or slip further away from it. Adventurers unable or unwilling to to take this rest suffer 1d8 points of damage each turn.
Generally, movement rates are one-half normal in underwater encounters. However, this actually only applies when ascending or descending. Characters walking along the ocean floor move at their normal speed.
Learning to fight underwater
Any character who isn’t familiar with the nuances of fighting underwater suffers a -4 to hit penalty. This penalty can be removed, at the rate of 1 point per month, following a successful intelligence check which takes place at the end of each month.
Cutting weapons (like swords and axes, for example) and bludgeoning weapons (maces, hammers, etc.) suffer severely underwater – anyone using these types of weapons to attack suffers a -10 penalty to their roll. Thrusting weapons, like spears and daggers, work well underwater, and so their use imposes no penalty.
What I’ve outlined above represents many of the ideas presented in “The Sea People”, although there remains still plenty more to read about, both in that sourcebook and elsewhere.
And if you’re very interested in running an under-water adventure, I suggest you read Mel Odom’s “Threat from the Sea” – a Forgotten Realms trilogy – in which the ocean depths play a key role to the storyline.
What ideas do you have for underwater adventuring? What experiences have you had as a player in exploring the Undersea?
Adding Suspense and Horror to Your Fantasy Campaign Comments Off
Halloween may have come and gone, but there’s still time to spice up your adventures with some gothic horror elements. In Save or Die’s last podcast (Adventure #10), DM Vince mentioned he’s been working on adapting the Ravenloft Campaign Setting to his personal D&D game. This poses some unique challenges, because classic D&D is built more for dungeon crawls than easing the lament of some ancient, love-scorned vampire lord.
That isn’t to say that Classic Dungeons & Dragons is lacking in richly detailed content; one need look no further than Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor setting, or even the Gazeteer series. Both present volumes of material that enhance their respective settings and add layers of complexity and realism to the game. Unlike these settings, however, games systems like Ravenloft explore intense themes of terror and fear, drawing characters into nightmarish landscapes from which the only escape may very well be death…and even that is no guarantee.
Challenges to Incorporating Horror in Your Game
As a setting, Ravenloft imposes very serious restrictions on clerics. Their turning ability is greatly reduced, a number of spells are adversely affected, and they are, for the most part, separated from whatever divine power they worship. This could impact game play as well as character development. Paladins suffer negative effects also. The Domains of Dread do not take kindly to these interlopers, and offer no perks in exchange for these limitations.
Making clerics weaker invariably makes the game that much harder, especially when dealing with a set of rules that favors untimely deaths of characters because of poor dice rolls.
Ravenloft is also very human-centric – even more so than the Basic D&D Known World. Demihumans are not only rare in this setting – but they are feared and mistrusted by the natives, making any social interactions difficult at best and hostile at worst.
These changes in flavor, among others, can drastically impact the fun of the game and ruin the experience for everyone involved. DM’s have to be careful when incorporating horror not to alienate their players or make certain character choices unattractive.
Ideas for Overcoming Challenges
One of the best ways to handle these character restrictions is to simply ignore them. It may be more realistic for the cleric to not have access to its spells, but stifling the character means you possess little regard for the other players.
Ultimately, horror is about fear and suspense. It has to do with the thrill of facing the unknown, and the uncertainty of what remains just out sight – whether that means something hidden in the shadows, or some ancient and awful mystery concealed in tomes of dark power. It has very little to do with restrictions on character types.
Those restrictions may still come into play – but rather than being a constant element, you can make them one shot incidents – the cleric’s turning ability fails suddenly in the face of an undead creature that he or she should have no problem warding off – causing the player to doubt just what kind of undead monster this is and their ability to defeat it.
Here are some more thoughts on horror, which can be applied universally – whether you are looking to incorporate elements like the Ravenloft setting into your game or not:
- Set the tone and mood. Adapt an ominous tone as you describe even the most mundane scenes, and make sure to keep the jokes at the table to a minimum. Separate players into separate rooms if you have to, which may prove more useful than just putting a stop to mood-shattering humor.
- Create an appropriate atmosphere. Dim the lights, set up some candles, and have some eerie music playing softly in the background. Midnight Syndicate has some excellent CDs, and you can probably get them at a great price right now as Halloween has already passed. I also recommend using sound effects, like the free ones found here.
- Fluff up your descriptive text. You don’t have to write like H.P. Lovecraft (and you probably shouldn’t, as shorter is better), but your scenes should be a bit more flavored than “You enter a 20 foot by 20 foot chamber with smooth, stone walls, a door in the middle of the western wall, and a fireplace with a burning fire off to your right.” Instead, you might write something like, “As you slip into the room before you, your eyes cannot help but fixate on the shadows dancing against the wall — dark shapes which flicker and leap in a macabre waltz. The shadows themselves are the result of a fire which rages within the hearth of an ancient fireplace, built into the original structure of the chamber. Despite the intense flames, however, you cannot help but feel a terrible chill crawling up the length of your spine…”
- Isolate the characters. Nothing is more frightening than facing the unknown alone, especially when characters depend on one another’s abilities for survival. To phrase it another way: Always split the party.
- Isolate the players. As I mentioned in #1, physically divide up the players. It’s one thing to separate the characters, but when the players are divided, with no means of communicating, it makes them feel like their characters are in serious trouble.
- When in doubt, roll dice. Players get very uncomfortable when the DM starts rolling dice without provocation. While you’re at it, follow the dice rolls by jotting down fake notes, so players take you seriously.
- Pass messages. The notes can say things like “the hairs on the back of your neck are standing on end,” or “you notice Gregory shiver with a sudden chill”, or even “you get the impression you’re being watched,” – whether any of the notes are true or not, it will drastically affect how the players interact with the adventure. Plus, players who aren’t getting notes will start to wonder WHY they aren’t getting notes — as if there’s something you’re not telling them.
There’s certainly a lot more that could be said on the subject, but this is a good starting point to begin incorporating horror into your own games.
What ideas do you have about horror in D&D? What methods have you used?
The Secret DM™ is just an average guy, trying to navigate the complexities of a successful career, a happy marriage, and raising a daughter…all while secretly rescuing damsels from fire-breathing dragons. Visit him at www.thesecretdm.com or find him on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/secretdm), or contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Adventuring!
3 Ways to Expand Character Selection
My last article talked about the merits of Basic Dungeons & Dragons’ “Single Class/Single Race” design, and how this captures the essence of Tolkien’s Fellowship from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy – by emphasizing the characters themselves without dependence on race/class combinations.
Having a party that consists of a fighter, a magic-user, a dwarf, and a halfling is all well and good if you’re looking to recreate the archetypes of traditional fantasy, but you might be ready to try something new. Thankfully, because of its simplified structure, Basic Dungeons & Dragons is easy to customize.
Here are three ways to break from tradition:
Start with Simple Adjustments
A minor tweak to the core classes expands the number of choices available to players. For example, you can create a version of fighters featuring a +1 bonus to strength, but scale back the type of armor they can wear to either chain mail or leather. You might try generating a magic user with more than 4 hit points, possibly with a 1d6 hit die, and the ability to wield a long sword in battle, but make the caster level that of a magic user two levels lower. In other words, this variant character cannot cast a spell until reaching 3rd level.
(Make certain if you’re providing a bonus, such as a +1 to strength, you’re also taking something away. This process keeps characters balanced.)
Here is a more detailed example:
Stalker – based on the Thief class
- Add +30% to both Move Silently and Hide in Shadows ability
- Add “Tracking” ability – on a successful roll, a stalker can find and follow tracks left by a specific animal, monster, or humanoid
- Keep Climb Walls ability as is
- Remove all other abilities, including Backstab
This creates a new special ability table, which looks like this:
STALKER SPECIAL ABILITY TABLE
Level of Experience
|Hide in Shadows||(d%)||40||45||50|
You might feel that a 1st level thief moving silently half the time is too powerful, but keep in mind that the thief’s greatest strength – the ability to backstab an opponent and deal twice the damage – has been removed, so you’re going to want your character to be hiding (and as quiet as possible) whenever a fight breaks out.
Does this make the character too weak? A 1st level stalker can track enemies as well as a thief can pick pockets, and that could be a very handy talent to have, depending on the campaign. I created the stalker solely for this article, but I envision the class as a bounty-hunter type: someone trained to find criminals and bring them back – alive. For that reason, abilities like removing traps and backstabbing didn’t make a lot of sense.
If I were to flesh the class out further, I would introduce the Hear Noise ability at a higher level, and other special abilities as well – like translating the rules for subduing dragons (from the Mentzer Basic Dungeon Master’s Book) into a class ability that could be used against any opponent.
Draw Inspiration from Published Materials
The “Creature Crucible” series of supplements introduced treants, harpies, sea giants, and lycanthropes as playable classes, utilizing a “negative experience” mechanic to balance extraordinary abilities against the standard classes (as an example, treants begin play -48,000 XP below 1st level). Adapting this approach to character design is easier than it sounds, although I recommend keeping things simple – modify existing experience tables, rather than writing up brand new ones.
First, define your class and list the abilities it possesses, then decide how those abilities work:
Duergar (Grey Dwarf)
- All abilities as dwarf class
- Add “Enlarge” ability – once per day, can turn into a giant. Restores half total hit points. Increases strength to 18, and adds an additional +2 to damage rolls. Character is considered a large creature until this power ends. Player can take no other action during the round this ability is activated, or in the round when this ability ceases. Lasts three rounds.
Enlarge is a powerful ability, so I’m going to require the duergar reach 4th level before gaining this talent. I’m also going to modify the dwarven experience table by changing 3rd level to 1st level, which will make the actual dwarven 1st and 2nd levels into negative levels, like so:
This means that a 3rd level duergar is the equivalent of a 4th level dwarf, and will gain its powerful enlarge ability around the same time that a standard dwarf would be approaching 5th level.
One other ruling I want to make in regards to this character is that the duergar will not gain new hit point rolls for the negative levels; for the purposes of the duergar at least, hit dice are only rolled when advancing above 1st level.
Build from Scratch
In his article “Building the Perfect Class”, game designer Erin Smale (http://www.welshpiper.com) analyzes the whole level advancement structure of Basic Dungeons & Dragons, reverse engineering the classes into smaller components. Want a thief that rolls d12 for hit points? That’s an additional 400 experience points. How about a dwarven cleric? No problem. This system generates any conceivable character, from monastic warriors to hobgoblin shamans, and ensures each new class is balanced with the traditional class options.
No matter what method you use, the most important thing is to have fun — after all, that’s what role playing is all about.
How do you approach class design? What methods or resources have you used to create new classes for Basic D&D? Share some of your successes – and failures – with us, and you might be featured in a future article!
The Secret DM™ is just an average guy, trying to navigate the complexities of a successful career, a happy marriage, and raising a daughter…all while secretly rescuing damsels from fire-breathing dragons. Visit him at www.thesecretdm.com or find him on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/secretdm), or contact him at: email@example.com. Happy Adventuring!
Why Demihumans Have No Class
“We’d like to thank you for applying, Mr. Baggins, but there’s really no room for you with our company.”
“Look – right here on your résumé, under ‘previous employers’.”
“You wrote ‘Hobbit’.”
“’Hobbit’ isn’t a profession.”
“I beg to differ. It’s quite a bit of hard work.”
“But it’s not a career.”
“How dare you!”
“Mr. Baggins, we understand you’re upset, but – “
“You’re a racist!”
“You’re turning me down because I’m a hobbit. That’s racism.”
“No, Mr. Baggins – we’re turning you down because, while your résumé boasts a long list of exceptional achievements, you have no prior work history.”
“So now all hobbits are lazy.”
“We didn’t say –“
“Oh, stuff it. I don’t need to work for your company anyway!”
Basic Dungeons & Dragons (Holmes/Moldvay/Mentzer) utilizes a simplified character creation system in which dwarves, elves, and halflings are treated as character classes, while human characters may choose to be one of four unique classes. While the intention may be to highlight humanity’s abundance in the Known World, it’s considered one of the system’s main flaws – even by Frank Mentzer himself – and is often a spot of ridicule for the game system, with some detractors claiming this “single class” system is not only archaic, but racist.
I’ll honestly say that I switched from Basic D&D to AD&D because I was looking for a more realistic gaming experience and, until recently, I agreed that this was a major limitation of Basic’s design.
That is until I learned to appreciate Basic’s design premise, and now fully support this system as one of the most accurate portrayals of character creation for a fantasy-themed setting.
Consider this: when you hear fighter, your mind calls up a specific image. The same thing happens when you hear halfling or elf – some derivative characteristics are anticipated. Elves possess arcane abilities, and halflings are sneaky. We’re already applying stereotypes, so why bother to define specific classes?
You might be saying that “classes define abilities”, but abilities come from genetics, as well as skills and behaviors acquired through life experiences, with only some influence stemming from individual professions. The butcher is no better as a fighter than my own mother; in fact, I’d trust her talent with a sharp blade over his – she’s had to put up with me and my siblings, after all.
Basic D&D attempts to recreate Tolkien’s party structure as presented in sources like “The Hobbit” or “The Lord of the Rings”, capturing the flavor of the novels with a similar focus on character, rather than class choice. In fact, of all the possible character creation methods for fantasy roleplaying, Basic may emulate Tolkien better than any other system.
Consider Frodo’s class. Now think about Samwise. Consider the other characters that compose the Fellowship: Elrond and Gimli, for example. Each of these characters is a representative of their race, and embody the characteristics common among their people. In fact, the only real differences between Frodo, Samwise, and other hobbits are matters of personality. At no point does Frodo say, “I’m a rogue”.
Come to think of it, the only characters who express different powers are the humans – Aragorn and Gandalf – although, to be fair, Gandalf isn’t really human. Regardless, the point is that, using Basic D&D rules, players could craft characters that captured the feel of portraying Aragorn, Gandalf, and Frodo – without worrying about what class a character is or what role the character fills.
But it isn’t that the races are without class. The fact of the matter is that characters are all one class, regardless of if they are human or halfling, fighter or cleric. All characters are adventurers. Rather than worrying about what class your character is, consider instead why your character started adventuring in the first place. Individual powers and abilities should have little bearing on what caused your hero to set out into the world in the name of adventure.
Perhaps your character must escape some evil that threatens their homeland? Maybe they’ve been charged with a mission to destroy some powerful artifact, or possibly to recover one? Or they could be the key to reuniting two halves of a shattered kingdom. There are any numbers of reasons to begin a career as an adventurer, and they don’t necessarily revolve around class choice.
What if your character concept isn’t possible due to the rigid structure found in Basic D&D? Here are two suggestions to work around those limitations, using a halfling magic-user as an example:
Think Outside the Box
You could claim something like your magic-user is a halfling, even if your DM doesn’t allow this type of hybrid character. Perhaps there’s a reason why you lack abilities standard to halflings – for example, you’ve toiled for decades under the oppressive watch of a powerful wizard who, luck would have it, passed away abruptly, leaving you his haunted tower, a dusty old spellbook with most of the pages removed, and a mysterious quest. You’ve never spent any time with other halflings, so you’ve never learned any of the skills or talents typical of halflings. None of this needs to impact or influence the game’s mechanics; it’s just important to consider it in terms of character concept.
In this version, you don’t gain any of the halfling’s benefits – no bonus to AC against large creatures, for example, and no talent for hiding outdoors – but you’re able to roleplay the type of character you’d like, at least.
Think Outside the Rules
Alternatively, you could work with your DM to develop new options that allow for your unique character. In Basic D&D, you may build a halfling with spellcasting ability similar to an elf, but with a -1 to strength. Or you could start with a Magic-User, sprinkle in some halfling traits (such as hiding) and impose limits on spellcasting (like fewer spells), or penalties on other ability scores or saving throws.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to see past the arbitrary limits of Basic D&D, and explore the full range of possibilities in ways you might not have previously considered.
The Secret DM™ is just an average guy, trying to navigate the complexities of a successful career, a happy marriage, and raising a daughter…all while secretly rescuing damsels from fire-breathing dragons. Visit him at www.facebook.com/secretdm or www.thesecretdm.com, or contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Adventuring!
As a homage to the Dungeons & Dragons Cartoon (covered in Adventure 3) I’ve created what I consider the specific magical properties of the kid’s weapons. Please feel free to comment on them and let me know if I’ve missed anything.
Bow of True Aim
The Bow of True Aim appears as a fine yew bow with no , though the bow is bent properly as if it had the tension of an actual stringed bow.. The ‘string’ appears as a magical string of energy whenever a drawing motion is made by the wielder.
* Fires a Magic Missile once per round, twice if wielder is a Elf, a Ranger, or of 3rd level or higher.
* may fire a bolt equal to a Light Spell once per day per level of the user.
* may fire a bolt equal to a Shatter Spell once per day per level of the user.
Shield of Invincible Steadfastness
The appearance of the Shield of Invincible Steadfastness is of an ordinary metal heater shield of gold hue, with a black roundel on the surface and an eagle’s head argent within.
* The shield may act as a Shield spell for up to 6 persons once per day per level of the wielder, so long as neither the wielder nor those being shielded moves or attacks from behind the shield. An additional +1 use a day is granted to Paladins.
* May act as a Minor Globe of Invulnerability in conjunction with the Shield spell above if wielder is 3rd level or higher.
* If wielder is 7th level or higher the shield may act as a Wall of Force spell once per day per level of the wielder over 6th.
Club of the Giantkin
The Club of the Giantkin appears as a simple wooden club of heavy oak, though lighter and could even be wielded by a young boy or girl.
* The user of this club has increased damage inflicted upon a successful attack, as if the weapon was wielded by a giant according to the following table:
Level Type of
Of wielder Giantkind
1-2 Hill Giant
3-4 Stone Giant
5-6 Frost Giant
7-8 Fire Giant
9-10 Cloud Giant
11+ Storm Giant
* May inflict damage as a Earthquake spell (Companion rules, 7th level Cleric spell pg 13) once per day whenever the ground is struck, causing a small earthquake. This Earthquake is of ½ the effect of the spell, as if cast by a 17th level cleric.
Hat of Inestimable Invocation
This chapeau appears as an innocuous green wizard hat, of conical (pointed) shape.
* May summon items as noted in the table below, once per day per level of the caster if the conjurer takes one round to concentrate.
Roll Item Conjured
1 Bag of 100 gold pieces
2 Camp fire, 4′ in diameter, already burning
4 Door, iron (10′ wide and 10′ high and barred, must be placed upright, will attach itself)
5 Ladder, wooden (24′ long)
6 lantern (filled and lit)
7 mirror (large)
8 Mule (with saddle bags)
9 pole (10′)
10 rope (50′ coil)
11 sack (large)
12 Window (2′ 4′ up to 2′ deep, will attach as door #4)
* At 4th level the wielder may invoke any item on the table above without needing to roll the item randomly. The wearer may also summon any creature below 8 HD they wish upon a successful saving throw versus magic. Note that the item or animal will exist only 1 turn per level of the wielder and any creatures invoke might not be friendly to the wielder. Also, only one item or creature may be in existence at any given time.
* At 6th level, may be used to invoke the effects of any Magic User attack spell (DM’s discretion) upon a target once per day per level of the caster over 6th. The spell will have the same effect as if cast by an 11th level Magic User.
Staff of Agile Mien
This staff appears as a finely carved quarterstaff of heavy oak, but is very light when carried.
* The staff gives the wielder the ability to perform any acrobatic maneuvers successfully on a successful percentile roll of 75% + their Dexterity attribute or less; with appropriate modifiers as deemed appropriate by the DM.
* Can be telescoped magically into itself to create a small rod of 6 inches length or extend up to 10 feet in length.
* Can be used as a brace or lever, granting the wielder a Strength equal to a Hill Giant.
Cloak of the Chameleon
The appearance of this cloak is of gray wool, with a hood and clasp at the front.
* Grants +25% to all Hide in Shadows or Move Silently rolls if worn by a Thief.
* Bestows upon the wearer a +3 to saving throws versus Breath Weapon, Magic, and Wands.
* When the hood is raised to cover the head, the cloak becomes a Cloak of Invisibility, as if the 2nd level Magic User spell was cast upon the wearer. This does not muffle sound save for the addition to Thief skills noted above.
“In Search of Adventure: My First Roleplaying Experience”
When DM Vince invited me to contribute articles to www.saveordie.info, I wasn’t really certain what I wanted to write about. Classic gaming definitely interests me – it always has – but I didn’t believe I had enough to say on the subject. After all, I stopped playing 2nd Edition AD&D somewhere around 1998. It was almost ten years before I picked up another D&D book, and by then, D&D was at the tail end of 3.5, with 4th Edition just around the corner. Since then, I’ve played 4e exclusively…whenever there was time for it, anyway.
So what do I know about “classic” gaming?
I started roleplaying when I was 8. I had overheard my brother telling our Mom about the game, and trying to overcome her objections. Which, come to think of it, should’ve been impossible, because her objections dealt with Satanism, the occult, and kids attempting suicide: all pretty heavy topics for a 12 year old to not only be discussing, but debating against.
So I have absolutely NO IDEA how I finagled my way into going along, once my brother got the ‘Okay’ from Mom. Maybe my Mom was too tired to fight anymore. Maybe she believed my brother that it had nothing to do with any of that “occult” nonsense. Or maybe – and this I’m almost convinced of – my Mom knew just how much my brother didn’t want me to tag along, so she let me go as a way of spoiling my brother’s fun.
Regardless of the “how”, all that mattered is that I WAS playing D&D – and that’s where I met the man who changed my life forever: The Dungeon Master.
To anyone else who had gathered there that day, the Dungeon Master was just an ordinary-seeming kid, some years older than my brother and his friends, who had a pleasant demeanor and was thrilled and excited to have a party to run adventures with. But to an 8 year old, he was a towering monstrosity of power and intimidation – he was the crafter of worlds, shaper of destinies, and all-around bad ass. I was scared.
Still, the Dungeon Master had a compassionate side, and – although he hadn’t known I was going to be coming along – he took the time to walk me through the steps of making a character. He suggested a fighter, which he felt would be the easiest character type to learn with, and showed me how to roll the dice, record the numbers, and even explained what it all meant. Not that it mattered; he could’ve told me my sword was a banana and 2+2 is chicken, and I would’ve believed him. I wasn’t about to question the DM; he was scary – absolutely nothing like the diminutive bald guy in the cartoon – and I didn’t want to be sent home before I even had a chance to play.
“You’ll need to pick a name for your character,” he said, “It can be anything.”
“Baltek,” I blurted out.
He looked at me, somewhat stunned, because the name I had chosen wasn’t Bob or Killgore or Tiny or anything like that. It wasn’t anything at all. And that was a good thing. Especially for an 8 year old. It sounded like a fighter’s name. It sounded like something right out of a book.
“It’s from my favorite book.”
The book was “The Pillars of Pentegarn”, by Rose Estes, from the Dungeons & Dragons choose-your-own-adventure style of Endless Quest books. I must’ve read it like 50 times. I’m not sure “reading” is the right word when you could potentially get through it in only 12 page turns, but it was a great story, and I related to the character of Baltek. Well, I didn’t really relate, but I knew my fighter character would.
“Good name,” the Dungeon Master said.
Our party was a pretty dangerous group: There was Baltek, my brawny fighter. There was Maden, my brother’s brawny fighter. There was Orion, the brawny fighter played by my brother’s friend – and the DM’s sister. And there was Vagna, the cleric, played by my other brother’s friend.
Yep. Three fighters and a cleric. Hey! The DM had told us the fighter was a good class for starting players, and, frankly, we were all just starting out. Vagna too probably should’ve been a fighter, but the three of us were going to get hurt…a lot…and the DM suggested we would need healing.
The DM rounded out the party with two NPC’s – Deveril the thief, and Crassus the magic-user.
Once everyone was ready, we sat down to our 1st adventure, and never looked back.
Does any of this mean I’m qualified to write about classic gaming? Probably not. But one thing I can say about my personal experience with classic Dungeons & Dragons is this: Through all the years, I have continued to pull out my copy of the red box basic rules, thumb through the Player’s Handbook, and even run myself on the included solo adventure time and time again. I’ve read and reread about that first meeting with Aleena, the proceeding encounter with the ghouls, and that fateful conclusion when we came face to face with Bargle. I’ve reviewed the ideas presented in the Dungeon Master’s Rulebook under the “Creating dungeons” heading, and even used some of the suggestions there to develop adventures and campaigns whenever I needed just a little nudge of creativity – even as recently as my 4th edition campaign.
Maybe I do have something to say on the subject after all.
I’m curious to know, though: What were your first experiences with Basic D&D? How did the game shape your view of roleplaying? What are some of your fondest memories of Classic D&D?
The Secret DM™ is just an average guy, trying to navigate the complexities of a successful career, a happy marriage, and raising a daughter…all while secretly rescuing damsels from fire-breathing dragons. Visit him at: www.thesecretdm.com or www.facebook.com/secretdm, or contact him at: email@example.com. Happy Adventuring!