Monday, February 1, 2016

The d6 HD OD&D Thief


In honor of the newly released Whitebox OD&D pdfs, let's take a look at the first class added to those rules: the Thief. Not the commonly known version in the 1975 Greyhawk supplement, but the even earlier one in the Great Plains Game Players Newsletter (May 1974), from just a few months after those first D&D sets were released. Jon Peterson helpfully shared this material with us in a post back in 2012.

As Gygax acknowledges in the article, he got the idea from a phone conversation with Gary Switzer, owner of Aero Hobbies in LA, "who mentioned that his group was developing a new class of character -- thieves" and "gave me a few details of how they were considering this character type, and from these I have constructed tentative rules for this class". In Switzer's group the original idea was by D. Daniel Wagner, who talks about it here in the OD&D Discussion Forums.  Wagner later co-wrote the Manual of Aurania, and a few years ago he let me post some of the Aurania material on the blog here.

The "Great Plains Thief" very much resembles the Greyhawk thief, but there are differences. In general the original version has less limitations and is more forgiving (less chances for failure). Furthermore, the write-up provides examples and clarifications on the second page that are not found in Greyhawk.

-Hit Dice. Most notably, the Great Plains Thief uses the original d6 system for hit dice, where all classes use d6s. For the thief this means 1d6 at level 1, 1d6+1 HD at level 2, 2d6 at level 3, etc. This really gives this version a "LBB" feel. Greyhawk only presents thieves using the "alternate hit dice" where they get a d4 hit dice per level.

-Race. The Great Plains write-up simply says, "Men, Dwarves, Elves, or Hobbits may become thieves", and nothing more. So the class is open to all of the standard races of the LBBs without any mention of the more complicated concepts added in Greyhawk such as multi-classing and racial bonuses for the non-humans.

-Alignment. The Great Plains Thief is "always neutral". The Greyhawk version adds chaotic to this, plus a note that lawful characters can employ them on a limited basis for missions.

-Armor. The original write-up lacks the clarifying note found in Greyhawk that shields are not allowed, thus rendering it ambiguous whether they can use shields.

-Climb Walls. The Great Plains Thief has this ability, described as "Climb almost sheer surfaces rapidly, up or down", but no chances are given, implying it is automatic. Greyhawk  introduces a chance of failure (13% at level 1).

-No "Pick Pockets". A skill of this type is present in the original write-up but does not yet have its standard name; instead it is "Steal items by stealth and/or sleight-of-hand", which to me implies a broader skill than just "picking pockets". Furthermore, this ability is not listed in the table of chances; instead the example on the second page indicates that the chance is the same as move silently. In Greyhawk it was changed to "filch items and pick pockets" in the list of skills and just "Pickpocket" in the table, where it is still given a chance equivalent to move silently.

-Finding Traps is automatic. Notably, in the example in the original write-up the thief finds traps in two chests simply by examining them, without any rolling. Only removal requires a roll, with failure activating "it with regard to the thief and any others within its range". This idea would persist into Greyhawk, Holmes Basic and Moldvay Basic where there is a "Remove Traps" but no "Find Traps" skill for thieves.

-Open locks saves time. In the original example, Gygax notes that failure to open a lock means that it "must be forced open - a very time consuming process". Also note that both here and in Greyhawk the skill is described as "by picking or even foiling magical closures". This is not explained further, but one could rule that this includes opening Hold Portal or Wizard Locked doors.

-Reading languages and scrolls are automatic. Greyhawk adds chances for failure, but that's not in the rules here. 

-Hide in Shadows allows movement. The second page clarifies that is a chance to "remain undetected when hiding or moving through shadows" (so the thief doesn't have to remain still), requires shadows "of course", and a lack of "observation prior to hiding". In the example, the thief is able to avoid observation by a pursuing monster simply by hiding once the party goes around a corner.

To make the original material more usable for gaming, I've edited the material into a single page "Thieves Reference Sheet". I took the Holmes approach here, attempting to retain as many of Gygax's original words as possible. It's digest-sized (a 8.5 x 5.5 sheet), so it will fit inside your virtual or real Whitebox.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Whitebox OD&D PDFs

Screenshot: #1 in the Top 100 Products at RPGNow

I've been too busy to post here for the last month, but I had to make a quick one for this.

Yesterday, WOTC released a set of pdfs from their OD&D reprint set from three years ago. The set of pdfs costs $9.99, which is almost the same as the original 1974 price ($10), and includes four pdfs: the original three booklets plus the reference sheets. I imagine the four supplements also included in the reprint will be available shortly.

In terms of printings, the pdfs approximate the 7th printing, also known as the Whitebox (for its white box cover) or OCE (Original Collector's Edition, which appears on the cover in a starburst). This is the same box that I found in a store in the late '80s, and still have.

This set is missing the Tolkien references of the original, but as Wayne R. reminded me, I created a Balrog Reference Sheet to supplement those of us with later printings.

Having these pdfs available goes a long way towards making the original invention widely accessible. It will be easy to point players to this pdf and say "we are playing this" - with x, y and z house rules, of course!

As Holmes wrote in Dragon #52: "D&D is, after all, a truly unique invention, probably as remarkable as the die, or the deck of cards, or the chessboard."

Now we just need Holmes Basic!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Dragon+ 5 Wallpaper


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The Wizards released this wallpaper today taken from the latest issue of "Dragon+", apparently a free app successor to Dragon magazine that you can read here. Click on the web version and the whole issue should show up in your browser.

Naturally I immediately noted some thematic similarities to the Holmes Basic cover by David Sutherland: a blue-robed wizard on the left casting a spell at a centered Red Dragon on a huge pile of gold with an embedded open treasure chest. The warrior has gone missing, though perhaps he's the target of the dragon breath.

Since Dragon+ is free, I took a look at the issue, which has an article about the art on page 9 and an interview with the artist, Todd James. He started playing D&D around 1979/1980 and recently started playing again (5E). The art is taken from a larger piece that is a T-shirt design for Wizards. He writes, "It’s inspired by the D&D logo but is also a slight nod to the old box, with a wizard facing a dragon who’s sitting on a pile of treasure. The references I used from fifth edition were the head shape of the Ampersand logo and red dragons."

Friday, December 4, 2015

Character Creation Worksheet - Revised

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Above is a revised version of the Character Worksheet for Holmes Basic (the first version is here). Based on feedback from Desert Scribe, I add the Thieves' backstab ability (inadvertently left out of the previous version) and Movement rates. Each was a bit of a formatting challenge as I've been trying to stick with a single sheet. But I think led to an overall improvement. Saving Throws are now listed up in the Class section, which makes sense since they are class specific. Armor Class, the Combat Table and Move are all together in a table after equipment purchase, since they are all dependent on armor worn.

Once I'm reasonably satisfied with a version, the pdf will be posted up on the Holmes Ref page. Also, once the format is stabilized I also plan to make a blank character sheet version, if you want to copy the information over to it.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Character Creation Worksheet

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Above is a draft of a "Character Creation Worksheet" for Holmes Basic, planned as part of my Holmes Ref series of references sheets. I designed it for character creation, but also to be used as a character sheet. If you are using it as a character sheet, you can simply circle the relevant selections/information. There is also a quick reference box near the top of the page, and some reference tables at the bottom.

A few notes:
1. No Str or Wis mods per Holmes, but I left the rows blank so they can be added easily.

2. For reasons of space, the M-U Intelligence modifiers are a bit off for Ints below 10.

3. The Charisma numbers involve a bit of an extrapolation. Holmes (pg 5) only mentions a maximum of 5 followers for Charisma "below 13" and a "large number" for a Charisma of 18. This is probably based on the OD&D Vol 1 table, but it doesn't match it exactly ("below 13" (10-12 Charisma should be a maximum of 4 followers). Also, as with the M-U Int modifiers, my columns don't always match the original.

11/30 Update:
4. I had two purposes in mind for the numbers 1-12 in the equipment table, neither of which is essential to character creation but that I thought could be useful. 

One, they allow for random d12 rolling on the table, for example if a DM wishes to use the sheet to generate random weapons, armor, other equipment for an NPC, or to generate random items found in a room.

Two, the numbers 1-12 represent the original 12 weapon class from the Man-to-Man Melee Table in Chainmail (pg 41). These classes are roughly ordered in length and/or weight from lightest/shortest to heaviest/longest, and the class was used in the Man-to-Man combat starting on page 25. OD&D didn't mention any specific use for these classes, but did keep the weapons ordered in this fashion in the equipment table. Holmes likewise kept the weapons in this order in the equipment table. In the module B2, Gygax lets the guards in the Keep that wield polearms automatically win initiative on the first round of combat, which shows one possible use for this information.

I left Halberd out of the table for space reasons, as it can be considered a form of Pole Arm. Both cost the same and are the same class in Chainmail.

* * * * * 

This is still in the tweaking stage, so feedback is appreciated.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

TSR Founders Day Memo 1980

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The above image is from a recent auction for a one-page TSR memo about a Founders Day celebration for employees in 1980 (the end price for the auction will blow your mind). The memo is on manila TSR stationary that includes the TSR Wizard logo in the letterhead. Per the Acaeum, this logo was in use at TSR from Dec 1978 to mid/late 1980. 

The memo is interesting in that includes a brief TSR history as well as a bit of contemporary company/sales info, including that the Basic Set has sold "close to one million copies" (make sure you say that in your best Dr. Evil voice). Here's the full paragraph, with bolding added for emphasis:

"Today TSR is a multi-million dollar publisher and Dungeons & Dragons is the leader in the field of "Adventure Gaming" (simulation games, wargames, science fiction games, role playing games, miniature games, etc ...). TSR now employs more than 95 people and there are close to one million copies of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in circulation (picture the number of players that there must be). It takes no genius to see what a tremendous future TSR has and the unlimited potential that can be realized if we all continue to support and serve the company as well as we have in the past. It is up to us!"

The memo is not signed, so it's not clear to me who wrote it. It may have been Gygax or one of the Blumes, although it refers to Gary Gygax and Brian Blume in the third person.

The celebration itself was held at the "Red Eye Restaurant located south of Lake Geneva on Highway BB". The restaurant is no longer in business; this history article briefly mentions the Red Eye tavern on Highway BB, now named Linton Road.

Looking at other auctions from the same seller, I noticed a follow-up article about the Founders Day event in TSR's Random Events employee newsletter from October 1980:



Coincidentally, the Collector's Trove just auctioned a similar memo from 1981, from the collection of former employee Allen Hammack, author of C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness. This memo uses the later TSR Face Logo. The text is partially obscured with an index card, but from what I can see, most is identical to that from the previous year, and the party was once again held at the Red Eye. I can see that the "close" (to one million) from the above memo has been changed to "over", though the rest of the sentence is obscured. Note that this would be after the Moldvay Basic Set was released in early 1981, so any sales data here would include sales of both sets.


Some bits of interesting emphemera from an exciting time at TSR, when sales and national attention were skyrocketing.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Monster Face Mountain

Another map illustrated with monster faces, similar to the last one, but here it's a "cross-section of levels" ala Skull Mountain:


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