Categories
DCC RPG Tabletop RPGs

Wilderness encounter chance by terrain type for DCC RPG

I use the wilderness encounter system from the B/X D&D Expert Set in my DCC RPG hexcrawl (the binder for which is full of hexcrawling tools), but it occurred to me that it would be pretty easy to tweak that system to take advantage of DCC’s dice chain.

In this tweaked version, an encounter occurs on a 1 or 2, but the die type varies by terrain.[1] In general, roll once per day.

If the PCs are doing something that would dramatically increase or decrease their chances of bumping into something while traveling, like leading a small army of hirelings (increase) or wearing camouflage cloaks and moving at a snail’s pace (decrease), just step the die type up/down accordingly.

For example, if they’re in the woods (d6), but wearing camouflage garb, roll a d7 instead. Now the odds of getting a 1 or 2 have gone down from 33.33% to 28.6%. If they’re also moving super-slowly, consider rolling a d8 (25% odds) or even a d10 (20% odds).

Be wary of adjusting the die type by too many steps in already-dangerous terrain. Two steps down on a d4 is a d2, which is a guaranteed encounter.

The terrain types in the table above match “fantasy western Europe,” and play nice with my wilderness travel speeds and encounter tables by terrain type for DCC, but the sub-system itself should work fine with other approaches.

The only difference in odds between this table and the one in B/X is plains, which gives 20% odds here and 16.67% odds in B/X.

[1] In B/X, it’s always a d6, but the range of results that produce an encounter changes based on the terrain.

Categories
Miscellaneous geekery

Stepping down from Gnome Stew

As of today, I’m no longer running or contributing to Gnome Stew. There’s no drama or bad blood, it was just time for me to stop, and fortunately the Stew’s own John Arcadian is taking over — the site is in great hands.

Today feels super-weird. The Stew has been a fixture in my life for 8 years. To put that in perspective, during that time I’ve had a kid, bought and sold a house, changed jobs, and moved to another state. I woke up sad this morning, and post-coffee I still feel about the same.

I won’t retread all the ground I covered in the linked farewell article, with one exception: To everyone who has contributed to, read, commented on, or spread the word about the Stew over the past 8 years, thank you!

Categories
Old school Tabletop RPGs

Doodle Temple and Gormand’s Larder: illustrated DIY dungeon generators

Doodle Temple and Gormand’s Larder, both illustrated by Cédric Plante, are two of the coolest gaming books I’ve bought in recent memory.

They’re both dungeon generators, but instead of random tables, they consist entirely of Cédric’s beautiful illustrations. And they’re weird. I love weird! Mundane dungeons are boring, and neither of these books will turn out a mundane dungeon.

Doodle Temple is for making a peculiar temple, while Larder covers a small dungeon/lair. There are no stats or rules, just pictures of what to roll and indicators for what die roll produces what result. Totally system-neutral.

But oh, those pictures! They’re creepy, esoteric, graceful, twisty, sometimes quite dark, and above all they’re imaginative. I can’t flip through these books without thinking about what they might mean in-game, and how my players might react to them.

They’d work well in just about any old-school fantasy campaign, and probably in other genres, too — there’s nothing about the temple, for example, that wouldn’t fit right into a sci-fi game. Fantasy-wise, they’d be a perfect fit for a darker setting, which I wouldn’t have guessed beforehand.

Doodle Temple

(I didn’t have great light for these photos, so please ascribe any oddities to me, not Cédric.)

Doodle Temple opens with rooms and dungeon dressing (larger version):

What do the doors and windows look like?

And what lives there?

This is my favorite creature in the book, but it was by no means easy to choose just one. The temple denizens are all equally strange and wonderful.

Gormand’s Larder

The Larder is in black and white, and ups the creepy factor quite a bit. Here’s the foyer and its potential denizens and dungeon dressing (larger version):

You don’t need a written room description — it’s all there, clear and detailed, including the contents of the chamber.

What happens when you eat that weird thing in the recipe room? Why, this, of course!

This dude hangs out in the meat zoo. The meat zoo. I’m going to have weird dreams about this room.

On the whole, Larder feels more distilled. It’s denser with ideas, and the skin-crawl factor appeals to me, as does its strong sense of place. Doodle Temple is more loosely themed, and instead of lots of small pictures, you get fewer illustrations, but they’re larger and in color.

For Doodle Temple, Cédric collaborated with Benjamin Baugh, Ian Reilly, and Edward Lockhart; for Larder, Baugh was his sole co-contributor. Hats off to all of these folks, especially Cédric, for coming up with such a nifty idea and executing it so well.

If I had to pick just one, it’d be Larder, but I’m glad I don’t have to pick just one. Gormand’s Larder and Doodle Temple both get starred entries on my big list of Lulu RPG recommendations. I highly recommend them both!

Categories
D&D DCC RPG Old school Tabletop RPGs

DCC RPG wilderness travel speeds

I wanted to use the wilderness travel rules from the B/X D&D Expert Set in my DCC RPG hexcrawl, but character’s movement speeds don’t translate 1:1 across the two games.

I compared species (races) in both editions, crunched the numbers, and turned the results into a one-page PDF reference for DCC RPG wilderness travel speeds by terrain type.

I also tweaked my favorite weather mechanic, weather as a reaction roll, from The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms, and stuck that on the bottom of the page, mostly because there was room for it.

This one-pager is designed to work with my DCC RPG wilderness encounter tables and Hexmancer (for procedurally generating terrain), and all three share the same terrain types (“fantasy western Europe”).

Categories
DCC RPG Old school Tabletop RPGs

DCC RPG wilderness encounter tables

I needed wilderness encounter tables for the DCC RPG hexcrawl I’m running, but there aren’t any in the book. Jeff Rients created some excellent tables for wandering monsters by dungeon level (which also appear in Crawl! #5), but after searching high and low I couldn’t find any wilderness encounter tables online. So I created some.

They’re broken down by terrain type (for “fantasy western Europe”) and include number appearing for each monster. You can download them as a free PDF: DCC RPG Wilderness Encounter Tables. They’re also available as a plain text file so that you can fiddle with them to your heart’s content.

(2018 update: My tables, along with a shortened version of the design notes, appear in The Gongfarmer’s Almanac – Volume 3, 2018, with excellent editing by Rob Brennan.)

There’s no scaling by PC level or party size in these tables, and they’re not “balanced” in any way. The world is the world, and what’s out there is what’s out there.

To use them, you’ll need a way of figuring out whether or not a random encounter takes place (I use the system from the B/X Expert Set). That’s all!

I love design notes in gaming books, and a surprising amount of design goes into making wandering monster tables (these took me about 12 hours to make!), so the rest of this post is about my goals, process, assumptions, and the theory behind my tables.

Design goals

I went in with a few goals in mind:

  • Quick and dirty — when in doubt, make the choice that sounds the most fun, and do a lot with one roll
  • Showcase the flavor of DCC
  • Give each terrain type its own feel, which should be discernible to players after just a few encounters
  • Use only the monsters in the DCC core book, and use whatever they say (including rarity)
  • Don’t have too few monsters, because lack of variety is dull
  • But don’t have too many, either, because that dilutes each terrain type
  • Reflect “fantasy western Europe,” and a borderlands/wilderlands kind of region
  • Match the terrain types I used in Hexmancer, my system for procedurally generating hexcrawl terrain and features
  • Play nice with B/X D&D’s encounter chances by terrain type, since that’s what I use

The overuse of “men” in the monster names, while matching the feel of Appendix N, bugs me, but I figured changing it would make these tables less useful to others, so I left all of the monster names as-is.

Baseline

My baseline was always “What does the DCC rulebook say?”

If a monster entry listed terrain types, number appearing, relative rarity, or other details, I used those. If it didn’t, I looked at B/X and/or Jeff’s wandering monster list, and then came up with something that felt right to me.

I excluded monsters that are listed as underground-only, as well as the weird ones that seem like they’d work best as placed encounters, not random ones (extradimensional analogues, for example). I also left out things that only live in hot places or jungles (which aren’t in fantasy western Europe, or in Hexmancer).

Massage, dismantle, repeat

My first step was to list every DCC monster under all of the terrain types where it could appear. That gave me a picture of what a world created with this monster manual might look like, as well as some unique monster for specific terrain types and a host of critters that appear only in a couple places — both great starting points for flavor.

It’s not a short list, but it is short on specific things — normal animals, for example. And it’s a quirky list, which I like! Sure, the world likely does have animals in it the PCs could meet . . . but I didn’t worry about that.

I started out with d8+d10 tables, because that roll produces one of my favorite distributions for encounter tables. But I quickly found that I wanted more granularity, which led me to percentile tables. Those also have the added advantage of making the odds immediately discernible, which I like.

A few hours in, I hit on the idea of creating a template table based on the concept of using “brackets” of monsters to convey things about the world.

Broken out, those brackets look like this (in the order they occur on the table):

  • 10% (1-10) say a lot about the world (and the style of game I like to run), while being quite rare. Results 1-10 are on every table except Water, a big-picture statement about what kind of world feels like DCC to me.
  • 25% (11-35) emphasize the importance of humans and humanoids. Humans, humanoids, and subhumans (which are kind of like a mix of both), are on every table.[1] Humans are big in sword and sorcery fiction, and humanoids are big in D&D.
    • Taken in aggregate, the first 35% (1-35) also serve another purpose: Most of them are things that won’t always just try to eat you. Intelligent monsters, and encounters that aren’t always fights, are both good things in my book.
  • 20% (36-55) round out the flavor of the terrain type. These are often unique to the terrain type, but not always, and they’re indicative of what kind of place it is.
  • 45% (56-100) define the terrain type. You have a 45% chance of meeting each terrain type’s signature monsters. More than anything else on the table, these convey what that terrain is all about.

Seeing those odds in graph form also helped me decide that this was a fun distribution model (column height equals percentage chance of that encounter):

Having a template really sped up the process, too, because it made it feel less daunting. Instead of staring at long lists and not being sure quite where to start, I could just look at each terrain type and go, “Okay, which three say ‘forest’ best? Cool, now which four also look like good forest options?”

I ripped apart my draft tables a couple of times, but once I built them using these brackets they stayed pretty stable. My last couple iterations mostly involved comparing the lists, looking for ways to sneak in monsters I regretted not including (so many!), and — most importantly — making sure that the flavor of each terrain type came through clearly.

In B/X, some types of terrain are more dangerous than others by virtue of how likely it is you’ll have an encounter there: 1 in 6 on clear terrain (plains) vs. 3 in 6 in the mountains, for example. The way my lists shook out, some terrain types are also more dangerous because of what’s on them. For example, you’re 40% likely to meet some sort of giant in the mountains, which seems like fun to me.

Surprises and rolling your own

Two things surprised me about this process: how much work it was, and how personal it turned out to be. If two GMs sat down with the DCC book and designed wilderness encounter tables, I guarantee they’d look different — and probably not much like mine!

They’d use different die rolls, different breakdowns of monsters, and different philosophies about what a DCC world looks like. One would follow the B/X model of rolling once for terrain and then again on a sub-table for that terrain; another would compress things into one roll, like I did, but use 2d6 instead of d100. And since they’d both have to choose a subset of the overall monster list, they’d play favorites (just like I did!).

Chances are, if you’ve read this far, you can think of all sorts of things you’d do differently in building a set of DCC RPG wilderness encounter tables. I included my template in the plain text version, in case you like that baseline.

If you make your own tables, I’d love to see them. Post them somewhere and share them with the DCC community — the more the merrier!

[1] Except Water. Just add “except Water” to pretty much everything. Water is weird because there just aren’t that many water monsters in the DCC core book.

Categories
Books Tabletop RPGs

The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is great gaming fuel

My wife, Alysia, got me The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (paid link) for my birthday, and it’s a fabulous book.

(The rest of this post contains spoilers for the film.)

I enjoy these sorts of books as a fan, but I also dig them as a gamer. I’ve written about using non-RPG books as gaming resources and creating campaigns based on art books on Gnome Stew, and it’s a topic that’s near to my heart — like Star Wars itself.

As a gaming resource, what I like most about The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the concept art that didn’t get used directly in the movie, which occupies most of the book. (The further along you get in the book, the more things start to look like the movie.)

If you’re looking for quick visual inspiration for a Star Wars game, concept art is awesome.

Need a cool environment? Try this cantina on for size (larger version):

How about some characters for the PCs to meet?

Or cool ships plus a nifty set-piece location, like these vertically-oriented craft and the lightsaber-slashed Jedi statue “graveyard” (larger version):

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share my favorite illustration from the book, which requires one from the preceding page to set it up. Here’s proto-Rey in an X-Wing, with the top popped, using her lightsaber to tear something apart:

And what’s she demolishing? A Star Destroyer, that’s what (larger version):

I hope that winds up in Episode VIII or IX! Just looking at that picture makes me want to dust off WEG Star Wars (paid link) and start up a campaign.

The whole book is that good, all the way through. If you like Star Wars gaming, give The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (paid link) a look.

Categories
DCC RPG Old school Tabletop RPGs

DCC RPG in 18 pages

While running DCC RPG the other night, there was a good-sized chunk of time when I had my DCC core book, Expert D&D (for wilderness and reaction rules), and Crawl! #5 (for the wandering monster tables) open at the same time, along with scratch paper for hit points . . . and my DCC book was open in two places, combat and monsters. Too much!

The combat I was refereeing was already pretty robust: 5 PCs (1/player), their 4 retainers, and 16 acolytes. It was also my first time running DCC post-funnel, and (I believe) everyone else’s first time playing characters above level zero.

That’s not a situation where I want to be awash in books and stuff.

Conan needs not your art and spells

The DCC core book is massive — in the neighborhood of 470 pages long. If you mush it all together, something like 100 pages of that is artwork. Which is awesome! Another 200 pages or so are devoted to spells. Also awesome! These are two of my favorite things about DCC.

But the book being such a beast really ups my handling time at the table, particularly since I don’t have much experience running the game. It’s just too damned big to navigate quickly and comfortably in the heat of the moment.

By Crom, a mere 18 pages!

I realized after game night that I don’t need most of what’s in the book from moment to moment, though, which got me thinking about the PDF.

I went through my PDF copy and noted all the pages I needed at the table, and there were 18 of them. In 18 pages, I can cover (page references come from the 4th printing, and are the number printed on the page, not the “page” in the PDF):

  • Skills, 66 & 67
  • Combat, 77-79
  • Damage, healing, Luck, other combat stuff, 93-96
  • Magic and spellburn, 106-108
  • Corruption, 116
  • Deity disapproval, 122
  • Retainers, 310
  • XP, 359
  • Luck, 360 & 361

I printed out those pages, hole-punched them, and slapped them in a binder. Now I can reference the 4% of the book I need often without having to deal with the other 96%.

I’ll still bring my book so we can all use it, of course (plus two copies of the awesome DCC RPG Reference Booklet, one of the most useful books on my Lulu recommendation list), and there’s stuff I’ll need periodically or occasionally which I didn’t bother printing out. But where it counts, this approach has streamlined things a lot.

I can’t wait to use my “booklet version” of DCC at our next session!

Categories
D&D OD&D Old school Tabletop RPGs

Dungeon stocking in OD&D vs. Delving Deeper, plus The Strategic Review

My copy of Delving Deeper just came in the mail, and after a thorough skim I quite like it. I was after a retroclone that hews as closely as possible to OD&D[1], and at first blush DD seems to fit the bill.

But when I got to the section on dungeon stocking, it looked pretty different from OD&D. Let’s poke that bit and crunch the numbers, like I did with B/X D&D vs. Labyrinth Lord dungeon stocking.

OD&D vs. Delving Deeper

Both games assume that the GM is placing some things by hand before switching to random generation. In OD&D, that’s tricks, traps, and important treasures; in DD, it’s just important treasures (more on this later on!).

Here are the odds in OD&D:

  • Monster: 16.67%
  • Empty: 59.25%
  • Monster with treasure: 16.67%
  • Unguarded treasure: 7.41%

Here are the odds for dungeon stocking in DD:

  • Monster: 22.22%
  • Empty room: 44.45%
  • Treasure guarded by monster: 16.66%
  • Unguarded treasure: 8.34%
  • Treasure guarded by trap: 2.78%
  • Trick or trap: 5.56%

First, treasure: You’ve got a 24.08% chance that a given room contains treasure in OD&D, compared to a 27.78% chance in DD — basically the same. That’s awesome, because it indicates a similar balance of risk vs. reward, and a similar incentive to explore, in both games.

The first four categories in DD’s table correspond to the four categories in OD&D, so we can compare apples to apples in those cases — and they’re really close. The biggest difference is the chance of an empty room (without treasure), which is a whopping 14.8% higher in OD&D than in DD. That just about covers the increased chance of meeting a monster, finding a trap, or finding trapped treasure — the latter two of which aren’t options in OD&D’s chart.

And that’s the biggest difference, of course: DD’s two additional categories, which aren’t present at all in OD&D. Since Delving Deeper’s goal is “faithful emulation of the original 1974 edition,” where did those extra categories come from, and why are they there?

I have two guesses, one reasonable and one perhaps a bit more fun.

The reasonable one

My best guess as to the origin of those two categories is that DD’s authors wanted to provide a clarified take on OD&D’s system for random dungeon stocking, which entailed backing into the parts that OD&D doesn’t randomize.

OD&D includes a section called “Tricks and Traps,” and also notes “It is a good idea to thoughtfully place several of the most important treasures.” Those directives map pretty well to DD’s two “extra” categories.

It’s also significant that, unlike OD&D, DD only proposes that the GM place the “principal treasures” before rolling for the rest of the level — not tricks and traps. If you’re not going to stock those by hand, then they need to appear on the chart.

Legal “cover” may also come into play, too. By presenting stocking differently than OD&D, DD establishes a degree of variation between the two systems. At the same time, the percentages are mostly close enough that OD&D’s intent is preserved.

The Strategic Review

The fun guess involves pure speculation. When I was reading the DD section on dungeon stocking, the categories rang a bell — I thought I’d seen them in an early issue of The Strategic Review. Here’s the relevant chart from Gary Gygax’s article on random dungeon generation for solo play in issue #1:

Bingo! Those categories are almost identical to the ones in DD. The biggest difference is “Treasure guarded by trap” in DD vs. “Special or empty” in TSR; I’d argue those are pretty similar. (Crunching the percentages, they line up almost perfectly with OD&D, with a bit of fuzz factor in order to fit in the additional two categories. They don’t line up as perfectly with DD, but they’re still pretty close.)

I don’t know if Delving Deeper took that TSR article into account, but I do know that it encompasses the 1974 boxed set, Chainmail, and “some ‘zine commentary of the time (most particularly the FAQ that appeared in The Strategic Review and the unofficial untested thief as it appeared in The Great Plains Game Players Newsletter).” Given that the FAQ didn’t appear until issue #2 of TSR, contemplating an article in TSR #1 seems reasonable.[2]

Conclusions

Like B/X and Labyrinth Lord, Delving Deeper’s approach to dungeon stocking incentivizes the same play style as the system found in OD&D. Some treasure is unguarded, and about the same percentage of rooms in both games contain treasure.

Delving Deeper does a great job of breaking down the math used to stock an OD&D dungeon, and then matching it quite closely in the four categories that both games share. It then formalizes a part of the dungeon stocking process — tricks and traps — that OD&D leaves informal, and adjusts the percentages to make everything fit.

In a vacuum, that makes DD dungeon stocking look different from OD&D dungeon stocking — more traps, fewer empty rooms. But it’s not apples to apples, because DD expands the random generation system to encompass more dungeon elements.

It’s hard to directly compare OD&D’s combination of manual placement (tricks, traps, and principal treasures) and randomization to DD’s more fully randomized approach, which only involves manual placement of the big treasures. One GM might stick traps in 10% of her dungeon rooms, while another only traps 5% of chambers.

On the whole, it seems like it would have been easier to follow OD&D’s example exactly, sticking with four categories and matching the percentages more closely. But on balance I like that Delving Deeper attempts to fold the rest of the dungeon stocking process into one table, and that it does so by remaining faithful to OD&D’s intent — and, perhaps, to Gary’s take in The Strategic Review.

Update from Simon Bull

Over on G+, Simon Bull commented on writing this section of Delving Deeper:

DD V3-V4 were written, largely, mid 2013 to mid 2014–so a while back now–but being “legally different” to the original was an ever-present design consideration throughout.

I can remember spending a lot of time trying to get the dungeon stocking probabilities “just so”. I was aware that EGG’s expanded dungeon stocking article in the SR included the possibility of random traps and, although I don’t remember my precise rationale now, it probably helped me to “justify” adding traps to V4’s method of randomisation.

I can also remember being a bit dissatisfied with V4’s frequency of empty rooms, but I figured it was the least disruptive way I could add traps into the mix.

FWIW, I do consider the random dungeon stocking section–and particularly randomisation of monsters–a bit of a weakness in V4. However, I have done a lot a more thinking about it since then, and this element of game is presented far more cleanly in V5.

Thanks, Simon!

[1] “OD&D” can sometimes be a fuzzy term. Is it just the three original booklets? Those three plus Supplement I: Greyhawk? All seven LBBs? What about the FAQ in The Strategic Review #2, or the prototype thief class that appeared in a fanzine before it was published in Greyhawk? I’m most interested in the three original booklets plus the FAQ, so that’s what I have in mind in this post.

[2] While I’m out on a limb, given that Gary published this article in 1975, just a year after OD&D came out, I wonder whether or not the percentages for “Special or empty” and “Trick/trap” in TSR #1 might not be pretty close to what he used in his home games when stocking a dungeon level. I have no way of knowing, but it’s fun to think about.

Categories
Books Tabletop RPGs

All hail coil-bound gaming books

More RPGs and supplements should be coil-bound, or offer a coil-bound version. Coil-bound books lay flat and stay open, making them a joy to use at the gaming table.

Away from the table, I prefer perfect-bound (traditional softcover) or hardcover for reading, and hardcover for bigger table-use books (large-diameter coils suck, and a big hardcover will generally stay open pretty well). For modules, I prefer saddle-stitched binding, which lays flat but can also be held by the base of the spine to keep my players from seeing any spoilers (assuming a relatively short module, of course).

But for table use, for most books, coil binding is king.

Here’s my coil-bound copy of Savage Worlds (paid link), which sits next to me at every session. It gets far more use than my second copy, which is just a regular softcover.

Note that SW doesn’t come coil-bound, but for just a few bucks any office store with a printing/binding section will chop off the spine and coil-bind a book for you. Given that the core book for SW retails for under $9 shipped on Amazon, even coil-bound it’s cheaper than most gaming books.

I didn’t come up with this genius idea: Kurt Schneider, Gnome Stew emeritus and all around awesome dude, showed me his coil-bound SW rulebook a few years ago at Gen Con. I’m grateful to Kurt for turning me on to the beauty of coil binding.

One of the only publishers I’m aware of who consistently offers alternate binding options, including coil, is Chris Gonnerman. Check out his Lulu spotlight for Basic Fantasy RPG, and you’ll see coil and saddle-stiched versions of the books for which those bindings make sense. It’s awesome.

If you’ve never tried a coil-bound gaming book, give it a shot.

Categories
D&D OD&D Tabletop RPGs

Rerolling hit points, OD&D, and Empire of the Petal Throne

I love hit points. They’re a brilliant abstraction, though often misunderstood, and they work beautifully in play.

I double-super-love that in OD&D, how you roll them for your character is completely open to interpretation. I don’t think that’s been true since the late 1970s, as each edition since has spelled things out much more clearly.

This isn’t news, and I’m not a scholar uncovering D&D’s Hidden TruthsTM. These two threads on the Original D&D Discussion boards are both great reads on this topic: In defense of the original HD system and Origins of hit point re-roll at every new level?. I’m just a dude exploring old-school D&D and having fun poking things with a stick, and one of my maxims is that everything is new to someone.

It’s fun to talk about this stuff, and here on Yore is where I like to talk about it.

OD&D: Dice for Accumulative Hits

Here’s OD&D on rolling hit points:

Dice for Accumulative Hits (Hit Dice): This indicates the number of dice which are rolled in order to determine how many hit points a character can take. Pluses are merely the number of pips to add to the total of all dice rolled not to each die. Thus a Superhero gets 8 dice + 2; they are rolled and score 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6/totals 26 + 2 = 28, 28 being the number of points of damage the character could sustain before death.

That first sentence seems clear enough: you roll hit dice to find your hit points. And the second sentence just explains what “3 + 1” means: add the “+ 1” just once, at the end. So far, so good.

Then we get to the example. “Superhero” is the title for an 8th-level fighting man, listed as “Super Hero” in the chart. At 8th level, our doughty fighting man gets 8 + 2 Dice for Accumulative Hits — and in the example, they’re all rolled at once.

I don’t think I’d have noticed this on my own. If I hadn’t stumbled across folks talking about hit dice online, and then read those two threads above, I’d almost certainly have assumed you rolled HP the same way in OD&D as in every other edition — and maybe you do! Which is the neat part.

Consider this: Which of these is correct?

  • The fighting man adds 1d6+2 to his existing hit point total (which has been going up by 1d6, sometimes with a small bonus, every level).
  • The fighting man rolls 8d6+2, and now has that many hit points. It doesn’t matter how many he had before — this is a fresh roll.

I don’t see anything in OD&D that clarifies this, which suits the game’s DIY spirit just fine in my book. But if that second option, rerolling HP every level, sounds weird, consider Empire of the Petal Throne.

EPT: Hit Dice

M.A.R. Barker’s Empire of the Petal Throne came out in 1975, just one year after OD&D, and it does a lot of things exactly the same way as OD&D — but not everything. That makes it an interesting counterpoint to D&D in some respects, notably this one.

As each player enters the game, he or she shakes on 6-sided die to determine his or her available hit dice points. As each succeeding level of experience is reached, the indicated number of 6-sided dice are shaken to determine his new total.

And, later in that same section:

No character may ever have LESS hit points at a higher level than he did at a lower one. This, if a warrior shook two 5’s and had 10 hit points at level II, and then on reaching level III shook three dice but got only a total of 7, he adds 3 points to maintain his total at his previous 10. He must always equal his previous total, although he may not be lucky enough to surpass it.

Much clearer than OD&D: You roll hit points anew each level, keeping the new total if it’s higher.

Which is pretty wild! I’ve never played D&D that way, and it sounds like it’d be fun to try.

But what did Gary and Dave actually do?

As far as I can tell, whatever they thought best. Here’s Michael Mornard, one of the original playtesters of OD&D, on the subject:

Gary used to give us the option of rolling an additional die, or rerolling all your hit dice. However, if you rerolled them all, you took the new number, period.

You could also reroll at the beginning of an adventure, rerolling them all.

c. 1972

Not sure how Dave did it.

So at Gary’s table (at least during that time), you not only got to choose which option to use — from the two we’ve already looked at, additive rolling or full reroll — you could also reroll at the start of an adventure. And either way, there’s none of EPT’s “keep the highest.” Nifty.

Update (March 11, 2016): By way of an excellent post on Necropraxis, Rerolling Hit Dice & Healing, I found a direct quote from Gary on EN World on the topic of hit dice:

Everyone I know of kept hit points as rolled.

Gary also notes that the omission of a spot to record HP on the OD&D character sheet was an oversight, so it seems likely that he was doing this — roll and keep — in that same general time period.

Drop some math

My gut sense is that rerolling HP every level would make all PCs’ HP trend towards the mean — average out, basically. No one gets hosed by one or two bad rolls (at least not for long), and no one enjoys wild advantages based on very lucky rolls (ditto). But I can’t back that up with math.

Fortunately, Compromise and Conceit has the stats background to delve into the differences between these two methods. Here’s one of the bits I understand, a handy takeaway:

This does not have a central distribution: it reduces the probability of getting small numbers rapidly, and drives the weight of the probability distribution towards the maximum.

Fascinating! My gut is apparently totally off.

I love the fuzziness of OD&D in areas like this. It’s a feature, not a bug, and it encourages individual groups to develop their own approaches to the game. Just as Gary and Dave almost certainly weren’t playing the same game even as they were publishing it[1], playing OD&D looks like it requires a willingness to make up all sorts of things on the fly — including how you handle something as central as characters’ hit point totals.

And just like every time I’ve delved into OD&D, this makes me want to run it more than ever.

[1] This is just one of so many things Jon Peterson‘s stellar Playing at the World has been illuminating for me. I suspect I’ll be blogging about PatW at some point — it’s so good!