Tuesday, December 11, 2018

(Material) Spell Components in Dungeons & Dragons

If there's anything in Dungeons & Dragons which is as controversial as alignment, and possibly even more roundly ignored, it's the idea of spell components. Some argue they are extraneous and irritating and ignoring them has no measurable effect on the game. Others argue that ignoring spell components entirely in D&D ignores an important--nay, vital--balancing element in the game. This article will examine spell components, how they developed in the course of the game, and the important role they play, at least starting with the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons iteration of the game.

To be clear, in the context of this article, unless otherwise noted, "components" refers specifically to material components, as opposed to somatic and verbal components. Pretty much everyone agrees that if you bind a wizard's hands and gag him, he won't be casting any spells. Indeed, that's standard procedure for parties wishing to capture a spellcaster without killing them. No, the components that are generally ignored are the material types. Let's look at why they are often ignored, the game balance role (if any) they fill in AD&D, their history in the D&D game, and ways (if any) that they can be incorporated that don't entail excessive resource management.

Constant Resource Management

Let's start with a concession for those who choose to ignore spell components (and I myself have been guilty of this far more often than not): tracking spell components can be onerous, and reduce a collaborative effort in storytelling to an exercise in painstaking resource management: how many pinches of sulfur or bat guano do you have in your pouch? How do you fit all that in your single spell component pouch and how is it organized? Do you have a lump of coal? 

It is largely for this reason, as well as a sense of hamstringing magic users, that people choose to ignore spell components. They think it's unfair for a magic user to quest to find spells, which can require deadly traps and risks, only to not be able to cast identify because they don't have a 100gp pearl. 

There's absolutely no doubt that this is the case. Detailed tracking of spell components is onerous and it does, to a point, hamstring magic users. It is, therefore, totally understandable when people simply ignore spell components. 

There's another side to the equation, however, and it involves as common complaint about spell casters in early editions of D&D, which spell components go a long way towards solving. That complaint is power disparity between classes. 

The Weakling Fighter

Please note I'm not attempting to argue the truth of the following section--merely repeating what is a very common complaint made by D&D players over the years. 

In a D&D game, at low to mid-levels, fighters rule. Their high hit dice, good attack probabilities and solid saves make them ideal characters. You can make one up in 5 minutes flat and tear through orcs, goblins and even enemy spellcasters like tissue. 

Flash forward to the point where characters get past tenth level. Magic users suddenly start to take on a much more prominent role in the game. Indeed, the spells they can cast at high levels, from Forcecage (which I know is not technically a material component, but the 1,000 gp of dimond dust that's consumed in the memorization counts, to my mind) to Bigby's Clenched Fist and beyond, are simply impossible for even a high level fighter to counter.

At mid-high levels, Fighters not only no longer rule the game, they're second-class citizens at best. This is especially true if the magic user can throw around powerful spells as they like, limited only by what they've chosen to prepare for the day. 

Some would argue that merely by virtue of having survived low levels of play, the magic user and illusionist have earned that status, and there's certainly something to be said for that. It still, however, doesn't do much to assuage the fact that the player running their beloved fighter now finds themselves largely impotent against spellcasters as the game progresses to higher levels. 

Spell component tracking, combined with properly tracking spell casting times, can be vital balancing factors in keeping the playing field even across the board. But even then, components weren't always as vital a part of the game as they became in later editions of the game. 

Spell Components in OD&D, Holmes, B/X, and BECMI

You can't address the issue of spell components without first acknowledging that, prior to AD&D, spell components did not exist in any official game rules. If someone can present me to a citation where they are discussed, I'd appreciate it, as I've scoured my OD&D books, my Holmes Basic, My Moldvay/Cook B/X, and my Mentzer BECMI as well as my later Rules Cyclopedia compilation, and spell components, as such, are not discussed. Spells have a name and description, and, as of Rules Cyclopedia, a duration and sometimes casting times. But there's no discussion of verbal, somatic, or material components. 

This means that material components first arrived on the scene in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. My thought (and this is nothing more than a theory) is that they were introduced specifically as a limiting factor for spellcasters, who in that game have access to more powerful spells than would be found in these prior games. 

Indeed, this lack of spell components makes it harder to defend their presence in AD&D, and much easier to defend the idea that the game did perfectly well in many iterations without material components, so why bother to include them later? 

Now all this being said, the first appearance of material components for casting spells does, in fact, arise before the advent of AD&D, or even Holmes. There is an article in the final issue of The Strategic Review, TSR's forerunner to Dragon Magazine.

The Pillars of D&D Magic

This issue, released in April 1976, carries an ad for Eldritch Wizardry, which was announced for release in May of that year. In any case, the article, entitled "The Dungeons and Dragons Magic System," and written by Gygax, expressly discusses the use of material components for spell casting.

Now, in this article, the expensive and/or rare components that would come to exist later in AD&D are not addressed. Material components, it is said, are assumed to exist for many spells, and require a "slight somatic and/or material component, whether in the prepartion of a small packet of magical or ordinary compounds to be used when the spell was spoken or as various gestures to be made when the enchantment was uttered." (The Strategic Review, April 1976, p. 3).

So here we have the genesis of material components, but not the detailed treatment we would later see.

Incidentally, and as a side note, this is a wildly interesting article on the development and intent behind magic in D&D, and is in my opinion a "must read."

Earlier in the article, Gygax outlines the four essential pillars of magic in D&D. The first is the verbal component, the words used to bring the magic to life. The second is the somatic component, the gestures used to manipulate the magical energies into form. Third is the psychic component, which refers to the mental attitude and acuity to cast the spell (in Vancian terms, the ability of the mind to temporarily hold the magical energies within the body of the wizard, until released by casting). Fourth are "the material adjuncts by which the spell can be completed (to cite an obvious example, water to raise a water elemental)." (TSR, Apr. 76, p. 3)

The Expanding Role of Material Components

I will admit that I haven't read every scrap of information about AD&D ever written. Few have, though I'm sure there are some among our grognard community who have eagerly devoured every scrap of every issue of Dragon magazine. I don't say that with any sort of disdain; I, in fact, admire those folks and wish I had the resources to do the same myself. I only mention it because I am forced to theorize on issues that may, indeed, have been answered at some point in time. 

I know, however, that Gygax changed his mind on many things, evolving his views as he grew and got older. His famous changing stance on Dungeons & Dragons RAW has been the source of heated debates for years (quick answer: he originally felt the rules were guidelines, then proclaimed for several years that if you weren't playing RAW, you weren't playing D&D, then went back to the rules being guidelines in his later years). 

His stance on how Alignment should be used in D&D was another shift. Thus, it stands to reason that the increased role that material components played in AD&D was the result of such an evolving stance on magic in the game. 

In the aforementioned article, Gygax says: 

"The logic behind it all was drawn from game balance as much as from anything else... Magic-users must rely upon their spells, as they have virtually no weaponry or armor to protect them... If magic is unrestricted in the campaign, D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly, or the referee is forced to change the game into a new framework which will accommodate what he has created by way of player characters. It is the opinion of this writer that the most desirable game is one in which the various character types are able to compete with each other as relative equals..."

Gygax is also somewhat disdainful of high level spells in general, saying that he had no intention of ever publishing 10th level spells, and that the intent of the game was that it should take years of regular play (defined by him as up to a few times per week) to actually reach a level where 9th level spells were accessible. 

We probably also tend to level up way too fast in our games, incidentally. 

So there we have that. It seems to follow, then, that Gygax had a vested interest in what we now would call "nerfing" magic users at higher levels of experience. He wanted specifically to avoid the weakling fighter issue, and material components serve an important part in curtailing that. 

Material Components in AD&D

Okay, folks, after all that, here's the kicker: for all the argument and debate, material components don't play that huge of a role in AD&D. Here's the exact text from the Player's Handbook: 

"Material components for spells are assumed to be kept in little packets, stored in the folds and in small pockets of the spell caster's garb. Of course, some materials are bulky, and in these cases the materials must be carefully accounted for. Also, some materials are rare, and these must be found and acquired by the spell user." (PHB, p. 40)

That's it. You're assumed to have most material components tucked away on your person, but rare, bulky or otherwise special components, you have to account for. This, in many ways, nullifies the argument that tracking components is onerous, and at the same time discourages DMs from forcing players to track every last pinch of sulfur on their person.

Later editions, 5th edition in particular, have further clarified this to say that any spell that has a material component with a stated gold piece value must be specifically tracked; while others are assumed to be part of a spell component pouch, which the wizard should purchase occasionally to refill their supplies, and to be honest, whether or not you enjoy later editions of the game, that's a solid middle ground. 

There may, however, be situations where the PCs are in an area where bat guano and sulphur aren't common--say they're in an arctic environs, for example. In such a case, the DM could tell the magic user, "you've got x uses of the material component for your Fireball spell left. Track it." This is because in such a case, bat guano and sulphur become rare. 

In general, however, this is only going to restrict powerful spells such as Symbol, Trap the Soul, and the like. It is worth mentioning, however, that the PHB is inconsistent in this application--why have Bigby's Clenched Fist require a very specific material component, when Power Word Kill and Prismatic Sphere require only verbal components? There's also the question of why Identify requires what to a first level character is a tricky thing to come by in terms of a 100 gp pearl? 

To that, I have no answer, at least not in terms of the high powered spells. In terms of identify, I think the answer is clear in that Gygax didn't want people just being able to cast a spell to figure out what magic items do; he quite preferred the experimentation method. 

In the end, it may be best to turn to another comment from Gygax in the Player's Handbook: "Your Dungeon Master may add to or delete from a spell(s) and may even add or delete entire spells. he will inform you of these changes prior to selecting spells or when new spells become available to your character." (PHB, p. 40)

Closing Thoughts

In the end, I don't know if there's a solution to be had, here. I went into this blog thinking that material components were absolutely essential to balancing high level magic users against other character classes, but the simple preponderance of exceptionally powerful spells that don't require them has left me a bit cold on that idea. 

Of course, the precedent is written into the game, and it would be well within the purview of any DM to require rare and expensive material components for all of these high level spells. But the same people who would support the use of material components are generally the same RAW crowd that would rail against the inclusion of components that aren't in the rulebook, while those who don't include material components aren't likely to be turned around by the need for more components. 

Perhaps a better means of balancing high level casters is simply to pay close attention to the casting time of any given spell, and the conditions under which a fighter or other character can interrupt the casting of said spell

But that's been briefly covered elsewhere, and may be a topic for another blog. Cheers!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Alignment and Dungeons & Dragons

So let's talk alignment. For decades now, Alignment has been one of the most hotly contested aspects of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Many people consider it to be either extraneous or some sort of limiting factor for playing characters. Some think it's "stupid." Many simply eschew it entirely, removing it from their game.

Others do use it as a hard definer as to how one is supposed to play their character. Both of these approaches fail to take into account the purpose of alignment in D&D...which, granted, is a difficult one to wrap one's head around.

Alignment is both an inherent and important part of the D&D cosmology, and an important descriptor of who your character is, what they believe, and how they view the cosmos. The key word here, however, is descriptor. Alignment describes your character; it doesn't lock them in a box.

Alignment in OD&D

Alignment first appeared in the earliest version of the game, but had only one axis: law and chaos. It originated (as most people are likely aware) in the Eternal Champion / Elric of Melnibone works by Michael Moorcock. In those works, the entire universe hinges upon an eternal battle between the forces of law and chaos, order and entropy. Originally, Alignment showed simply where your character fell in this struggle. Where did they side? 

Too many (admittedly and unfortunately, reinforced by a number of published materials at the time) assumed that law meant "good" and chaos meant "evil," when in fact, morality never came into the picture of law and chaos. Possibly because of this (though that's speculation on my part) in the first Holmes Basic Set, a Good and Evil axis was added to the alignment structure, and by the time of AD&D, we had the 9-alignment setup we have today. 

So What Is Alignment?

This is the million-dollar question, and I strongly suspect that those who are dismissive of alignment simply don't understand its intent, or the role it is intended to pay within the scope of the game. The AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide has a detailed section on exactly what Alignment is, and how it works in game. Indeed, there is discussion of a graph with a large range of possibility within each alignment; that is, there's a near-infinite set of possibilities regarding what counts as, for example, chaotic good, and even a gray area between neutral good and chaotic good. The DM is advised to essentially start each character at the center of the graph on their given alignment, and monitor their shifts as the game progresses from extreme to gray area, and even into other alignment territory. 

It's not easy for a character to betray their alignment or change alignments. Alignments are not a simple list of "do" and "don't." They are, however, an important aspect of game play. A Paladin, in AD&D, without the Lawful Good alignment, becomes nothing more than an unfettered superhero. By the same token, however, people tend to play lawful good characters as "stupidly heroic" and unbearable to be around--a lawful good character does not have to be this way to fall within the realm of lawful good. They are simply those who champion goodness and order. Indeed, in the graph itself, the four "extreme" alignments--Lawful Good, Chaotic Good, Lawful Evil, and Chaotic Evil--have the largest area of wiggle room of all the nine. 

To use the terminology fromt he graph, not all LG characters are saintly. Not all CG are Beatific, not all LE are Diabolic and not all CE are Demoniac. 

Chaotic neutral characters, by contrast, are not chaotic stupid. They don't live their lives by rolling dice to determine whether they use a fork or a spoon to eat breakfast. They are simply free spirits who value personal freedom and individuality above any concept of law, order, or concern for others. While the graph may show them possessing somewhat less space, existing in the gray area between chaotic good and chaotic evil, characters in this area still have some room to play with the interpretation of their alignment.

AD&D Alignment Graph

Functioning Evil

Another important factor to consider: not every evil character is a non-functional, unreasoning, violent bastard who never thinks about other people. If they were, evil wouldn't be remotely a threat to good because it couldn't work together. Even the most evil characters can form relationships. They can like people, they can even fall in love. They can do things that seem selfless, though it's likely they have an agenda for why they do such things somewhere. 

The difference between a good character in love and an evil character in love can be seen when the object of affection declares they wish to leave. The good character wants only the happiness and well-being of their object of affection. The evil character wants their beloved in their life. Period. They may try anything to stop their beloved from leaving. They could kidanp them, coerce them, hold them hostage, or even attempt to kill them, believing that, "If I can't have you, no one can." Yet up until that time, they may treat their beloved every bit as kindly and generously as the good aligned character, even showering them with gifts in an attempt to maintain their love. 

Thus, evil characters can adventure with good-aligned characters, so long as they have a reason to do so, and that reason can simply be that they like their companions and want to have them around. 

Within the context of D&D, the drow are a primary example of a chaotic evil society that, quite simply, functions. It functions because while the drow embrace the chaos of change, and the selfishness and decadence of evil, they form relationships. They understand that certain people are important to their plans, or even their lives. Will they discard such people when they become angered, view themselves as having been wronged, or no longer need them? Certainly, they will. That doesn't mean that they cannot function by creating personal connections. 

In the end, all of us, even sociopaths and misanthropes, need other people. Any psychologist or mental health therapist will tell you that. So yes, you can have an evil character that functions within the bounds of an adventuring party. It just takes a really good player to pull off the nuances required to make it work. 

For a great look at alignment specifically within the context of D&D, and evil alignments in particular, see the third D&D movie, The Book of Vile Darkness, which I personally think is quite underrated as a D&D film, and is worth a watch as it's not only a great example of how evil parties work together towards a common goal, and develop interpersonal relationships, but it is at the same time an outstanding exploration of what a Paladin really is. 

True Neutral

True neutral has often been stated to be the most difficult alignment to play, and in many ways, it is the most restrictive. A true neutral character has the least amount of "play" regarding what they believe; they exist at the very center of all the other alignments, and they campion absolute balance in the cosmos. Some choose to play true neutral as a completely unaligned character who doesn't have a stake at all in the battle between good or evil (and indeed, 5th Edition offers an unaligned option, though it's usually applied to animals rather than sentient beings). The problem is, again, that sentient beings make a choice to value something, at some point in time, which means they must step outside of being unaligned. 

A True Neutral character (like a druid) is difficult, as they seek to maintain the balance at all times. In general, such characters will stand against the forces of darkness, as these represent more of a lack of balance--more destruction, more tyranny, etc.--than that championed by good characters. If, however, the scales tip too far, the true neutral character will be inclined to switch sides and turn on their former allies, as all good quickly becomes corrupted towards evil and the unbalance begins again. The best result, in the eyes of a true neutral character, is to maintain the delicate balance of all things at all times. 

Alignment Language

Another aspect of alignment of which people tend to be very dismissive is that of alignment language. Again, in the context of the role alignment is intended to play in the game, where the PCs are pawns who progress to major players in a grand conflict between cosmic forces, alignment language makes perfect sense. In a game that is less concerned with cosmic forces and balance, alignment language can easily be dropped with no ill effect. 

Can Alignment Be Dumped?

Of course it can. It's your game, and nobody is telling you that you're playing it wrong. From where I sit, however, alignment when properly used can be an important part of the AD&D experience that adds a great deal to the game. It's not a box or a set of chains to tie your characters down to a specific list of behavioral codes. It is, rather, a broad descriptor of your character's general moral and ethical views. It's a shorthand for the way they look at life, at law and order, and at the universe in general. If nothing else, it's a sort of anchor point that you can look upon when trying to consider how your character would react in an unfamiliar situation. 

Alignment is a character trait, when it comes right down to it. For some classes, such as the Paladin or Druid, it's more essential than it is for others, like a fighter or even a magic user. Even still, it exists because the AD&D game was created with certain cosmic assumptions in mind, which Gygax and Co. assumed would be in play across a wide range of campaign milieu. Certainly it's more essential to a game set on Melnibone than one set in the Hyborian Age, but even still, the descriptor aspect of it, I think, is vital to fleshing out a character within the scope and boundaries of the game.

Addendum: Law vs. Chaos--What Gygax Said

Addendum 12/11/2018: I have just discovered a gem I'd forgotten about, while going through my old copies of The Strategic Review for purposes of my next blog (on spell components). In the Feburary 1976 issue (Vol. 2, issue 1), is an article by Gary Gygax entitled, "The Meaning of Law and Chaos in Dungeons & Dragons and Their Relationships to Good and Evil." It's worth noting that this article addresses alignment in the original D&D rules, and features the expanded 5-alignment system that would later appear in Holmes. Still, it offers insight as to the intent of these forces in the D&D paradigm, which is something we should consider. 

A number of people on social media have (some vehemently) argued that "Law," in terms of D&D, does, in fact, equate to "good," and "Chaos," does, in fact, equate to "evil." These people, according to Gygax himself, are simply wrong. It is in this article that Gygax said, "had I the opportunity to do D&D over I would have made the whole business very much clearer by differentiating the four categories, and many chaotic creatures woudul be good, while many lawful creatures would be evil." (TSR, Feb. 76, p. 3). 

This is the first appearance of what would later become the alignment graph above, this one featuring law, chaos, good, evil and neutrality, with Heven existing at the upper left of Lawful Good, Paradise at the top of "Good," Elysium placed at the upper right corner of chaos and good, Nirvana at the far left of Law, Limbo at the far right of Chaos, Hell at the lower left of law and evil, Hades at the center of neutrality and evil, and the Abyss at the lower right of chaos can evil.

Gygax goes on to say the following:

"Now, consider the term 'Law' as opposed to 'Chaos.' While they are nothing if not opposites, they are neither good nor evil in their definitions. A highly regimented society is typically governed by strict law, i.e., a dictatorship, while societies which allow more individual freedom tend to be more chaotic." (TSR, Feb. 76, p. 3). This statement expressly identifies chaos with a value on personal freedom. 

Gygax then goes on to list a number of traits that can be associated with each of the four axes (law, chaos, good, and evil). Law is associated with such traits as reliability propriety, righteousness, regularity, methodical, predictable, uniform, prescribed rules and order. Chaos is seen as associated with being unruly, confused, turmoil unrestrained, irregular, unmethodical, unpredictable, disordered, lawless and anarchy. 

Again, law-oriented characters tend to be bound by a very ordered, somewhat rigid, look at the cosmos--things have their proper place, and they are creatures of habit. Chaotic individuals tend towards more personal freedom and, yes, to a degree, randomness. This doesn't mean they can't make decisions or that they just behave foolishly. It means, rather, that they are highly adaptable and behave as the situation seems to best require. 

Good characters tend to be kind, honest, sincere, helpful, and beneficial, while evil tend to be mischievous, dishonest, bad, injurious, wicked or corrupt.

The article goes on for awhile, and if you can get your hands on a copy, is a very good read, but it does a great job of explaining alignment, in terms of the way Gygax viewed it, while admitting to his own shortcomings in its original conception in OD&D. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Age of Conan in AD&D

Most of my Conan gaming posts have revolved around the original version of D&D, using Chainmail as the basis for the combat and rules systems. There are a lot of people out there, however, for whom AD&D is their preferred edition.

The good news is, it's quite possible to apply about 90% of my tweaks to OD&D in an AD&D sense. There are already Hyborian Age tweaks to Conan available in the TSR Conan modules Conan Unchained, Conan Against Darkness, and Red Sonja Unconquered.

These cover such things as Fear Factor, Heroism and Luck (with "Luck Points" filling a similar role to my own Fate Points), Healing, and an overview of the Hyborian World, including monsters, magic users and the like.

These, however, can be difficult to get hold of; instead, my own Age of Conan resources can, by and large, graft right onto AD&D, or for those who do have them, my own tweaks to the game can be applied directly on top of these to expand the presentation.


Instead of standard spellcasters, apply the magic system for my sorcery class, adding +4 to all target numbers for spellcasting to account for the use of a d20 instead of 2d6. Thus, a spell that would require a result of 7 to cast on 2d6, requires 11 to cast on a d20.

Use the standard ability modifiers under "Ability Checks" on page 39 of my Age of Conan pamphlet when making spellcasting checks--arcane spellcasters use Intelligence, and divine casters use Wisdom.

In this system, Druids, as well, could be used to represent nature magic, also casting on Wisdom. Illusionists could be used to represent Eastern mystics, using Charisma as their ability bonus.

Other Classes

Character classes are by and large as presented in AD&D. The Ranger is replaced by the modified one in my Age of Conan pamphlet (and most imporantly, does not cast spells), while the Bard is replaced by the Bard in the package. The Thief uses the standard AD&D Thief. 


The various Hyborian Races graft onto the standard AD&D human just as they sit.

Saving Throws

Saving throws us the AD&D method, with bards saving as thieves. 


Combat is scored exactly as standard for AD&D. 

Ability Checks

Ability Checks may or may not be a thing in your Hyborian Age game. If they are, use a d20 instead of 2d6, and increase all target numbers by 4, but keep the ability bonuses on page 39 the same. 

Other than that, AD&D translates over fairly straight.

There you have it, folks--brief guidelines on converting my Age of Conan and Secrets of Acheron books to the AD&D system for a Hyborian Age game!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 42


There's a lot to dig into, in this section, which encompasses only about 2.5 pages of text, but is crammed with information. It begins with a discussion of how to keep excitement in your game when it becomes rote. This is something, I think, most long-term DMs can empathize with. There comes a point where you realize you're recycling ideas and there are only so many city murder mysteries, political intrigue stories, and standard dungeon crawls your characters can handle, and you want to kick it up a notch.

The section discusses the delicate balance of keeping the game challenging and dangerous, but not so deadly as to be un-survivable. It notes that there always has to be a balance between gain, loss, and risk, and that in a long campaign there needs to be an overarching story--what in modern terms is called a "big bad." It says that this big bad doesn't have to feature in every game, and indeed probably shouldn't feature until the mid-levels of the characters, when hints and clues to the larger events in play begin to appear.

The section posits that by building the heroes from "less than pawns" to heroes able to become embroiled in events of cosmic significance, the game will continue to be engaging. It's important, then, to keep upping the stakes. It also goes on, however, to remind the DM that sometimes you just need to have fun, and presents references to dungeon levels based on Alice in Wonderland and King Kong as examples (many will recognize these as references to the adventure modules that would later be released as Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, Dungeonland, and Isle of the Ape. 

Gygax then takes the stance that he understands not everyone has hours to put into preparing their games to this level, and suggests the many adventure modules published by TSR could be a big help in that area. Clever marketing, albeit combined with truth.

It then goes on to present one of the most interesting sections of the work, in an historical sense: guidelines to crossover AD&D with Boot Hill and Gamma World. 

Sixguns & Sorcery
Boot Hill, for those unaware, was the first western role playing game. Originally published in the same digest-sized, saddle-stitched format as the original D&D books, it later went through multiple editions, with the core system heavily revised over the years, and presaged games like Kenzer & Co's Aces & Eights. It's a game that, I think, that is due for a revival in the 5th edition era, and if WotC would like an experienced game designer with a solid grasp on 5e mechanics to tackle it, I'm taking calls. But that's neither here nor there.

This section focuses largely on conversion stats between Boot Hill and AD&D. What makes this (and the following section) historically interesting is that it is, to my knowledge, the first time such an attempt to convert and combine two wildly divergent games ever occurred outside of a fanzine article (and as it existed at this point in time, I'm still counting The Dragon as a fanzine; it hadn't quite reached the level it would in later years). Today this seems like business-as-usual; we all convert and lift ideas from one game to another. Back then, however, the idea of cowboys in D&D was pretty revolutionary.

The character ability conversions themselves are brief, but very comprehensive. One thing that jumped out at me right away was the strange difference in converting Dexterity score. When converting from AD&D to Boot Hill, a character's Dex score = their BH % score. When converting a BH character the other way, however, their Dex begins at 6 and gets +1 per 10%, to a max of 16. Why not us the same conversion both ways, with AD&D heroes subtracting 6 from their score, then multiplying the result by 10 to get an accurate BH Dex?

I admit that, though owning the original digest BH, I am not overly familiar with the system, so it could well just be the difference in how Dex works between the two games. It's just something I noticed.

It provides level, AC, saving throw, fighting ability and movement equivalencies between the two systems, how to determine first shot ability from fantasy characters, to-hit modifiers, how to convert BH wounds to hit point damage ratings, and more. If you've ever wanted to bring gunslingers into your AD&D game, this is a really solid start.

Mutants & Magic
Next up, we dive into adding zany, superscience, post-apocalyptic sci-fi to your fantasy game. If you're looking to run AD&D with a Thundarr the Barbarian style, this is the section for you. That's right, folks: we're talking about converting your game to Gamma World (and vice-versa).

Gamma World, written by Jim Ward, was adapted and expanded from his original Metamorphosis Alpha RPG, which has seen a resurgence over the past couple years, being converted to a wide range of systems, with new editions published by such notable companies Signal Fire Studios and Goodman Games, and forthcoming versions from Troll Lord Games.

Gamma World was a post-apocalyptic rpg centering around playing mutants with crazy powers and crazier physical features, and also notable for (in the original couple editions) being set in the blasted-out nuclear remains of Pittsburgh (or Pitz-Burke, as it was called). Like Boot Hill, it's gone through multiple editions and revisions over the years, but it lasted even longer, all the way up through the reviled 4th edition of the rules set (though to be fair, the D&D 4e version of Gamma World was quite solid).

The section begins with a reference to a Dragon magazine article that presented a MA conversion, and says that rather than going over that ground again, it's better to expand further and move into the full GW setting. As with the BH section before, it converts ability scores both ways. The conversions for GW are much more straightforward than those for BH, as GW is much more solidly based upon a D&D paradigm, from a system standpoint. It uses similar ability scores, replaces Magic Resistance with Radiation Resistance, hit dice, armor class and the like, though GW characters begin significantly more powerful than AD&D ones.

Because of these core similarities, it's quite easy to simply drop characters from one game into the other, using the combat rules, turn sequence, movement and the like of the game you are playing.

Some interesting observations in this section--it points out that if a magic user doesn't have their spellbooks, they won't be able to regain spells, or at least, their complement will be limited to that which is present in the traveling spellbook which they have with them. Clerics, likewise, will lose access to their deity and thus cannot regain spells higher than second level (remember, earlier we discussed that clerics cast up to second level from their own sheer, personal faith).

It then goes on to discuss the relation between GW mutations and D&D spells; how the two interact and affect each other. Specific spells and mutations are presented as examples: the mental shield mutation, for example, grants +4 on saving throws against mind-affecting magic, while mental control over physical state can overcome paralysis effects and hold spells.

Finally, there's a discussion of "artifacts," which in GW aren't magic, but are super-science items and technology left from before the apocalypse. It discusses that they work similarly to magic items in D&D, and outlines which artifacts are usable by D&D characters, and under what circumstances. At a glance, this section can be a bit confusing, as it references charts A, B, and C, but doesn't clarify that these charts are in Gamma World, not the current book you're reading.

There's then a brief mention of how GW characters would function handling BH firearms, but naturally, it's beyond the scope of the book to convert GW to BH.

All in all, this is a really fun, very thorough, engaging, and progressive (for the time) section of the book. It's one of my favorite parts to read over, and is an inspiration for everything that came later.


Previous Entry


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 41

That's right, folks; I'm back at it! It's been far, far, FAR too long. So let's not delay and get right back into it, shall we?

In case you forgot where we left off, check here.

If you're wondering what this is all about, start here.

Here we see some more of Gygax's, "brook no fools" approach to DMing. Interestingly, the section is very clear that not only are multiple characters not discouraged, they can be actively encouraged in certain sitiations, with specific stipulations in play.

To be clear, he's not talking about one player at a table running three different PCs at the same time. Indeed, the stipulations in place would seem to discourage that--multiple characters played by the same player should not be associates with one other, communicate directly with one another, or be able to freely interchange items and articles. Remember that at the time when AD&D was written, "campaigns" involved a "mileu," or campaign setting, and a single DM would run games for hours at a time, several times a week, with multiple groups.

That seems to be what this section is discussiong--a player running different characters at different sessions in a campaign, or substituting one character for another when a given PC has to leave the group to pursue their own ends.

As a side note, I remember the heady days of junior high when we'd play games and half the people at the table would have 2 or 3 character sheets. And yes, we violated that "no exchanging items and gear" rule freely. If a character died, their "nephew," "niece," "son," "daughter," or whatever. Said character was inevitably a clone of the original, who "inherited" all their stuff.

We really didn't get the point back then. But we had fun.

In any case, Gygax ends this section by saying that if a player oversteps their bounds and abuses the privilege, "you must be prepared to step in and take the part of one such character.... Do so quickly and firmly, and the player will be likely to understand that youw ill brook no foolishness -- particularly if hte character you take the persona of becomes hostile and aggressive to demands from the other."

Ah, Gary.

Also, it's worth noting that on this page is one of my all-time favorite AD&D cartoon panels:

This section is, to my mind, something of a mixed bag. It offers solid advice and rationale for why gods really don't get personally involved in the affairs of mortals. It talks about how busy gods would be if they even answered 1% of the desperate pleas for help they get all day, every day, and how they don't particularly enjoy engaging each other directly (after all, gods can kill one another).

It reminds me of a story from an old game of mine. It was a modern game, not a D&D game, but the story holds. The characters, in the last season, became embroiled in the events of an apocalypse, and the old gods were involved. One of the PCs demanded of Odin to know why if he was such a power god, he didn't just fix this. Odin's response was, "This is YOUR world, not ours. It was made for, and given to, you humans. Besides that, do you have any clue whatsoever, how many apocalypses are going on right this very minute? Handle your shit."

In any case, after it goes on awhile elaborating on exactly why, both mathematically and ethically, gods won't get involved...it gives numbers that to my mind result in a significant chance of actual divine intervention. To wit: characters of exemplary faithfulness have a full 10% chance of the god taking the time to actually send a powerful servant to aid them. Then, if you roll an 00 followed by rolling under your level on % dice, the deity themselves shows up. Certainly that's a less than 1% chance, but it still seems statistically significant, all things considered. Maybe it's just me.

Finally, this section closes with two interesting notes. The first ist hat a deity will NEVER intervene on a plane that'st he habitation of another deity, nor will they venture into the positive or negative planes.

Second is a mic-drop for those players who think that if it has stats, it can be killed and quest to kill gods. It expressly says that if a god or demi-god is "deprived of its material body by any means (including being 'killed' on the prime material plane," it is merely banished to its home plane of existence. In short, no, you cannot kill a god just because it has stats. You just send it home...and then you've really honked off a really powerful cosmic being. Good luck to you.

Okay, that's all for this installment. Feels good to be back on this! Next up, what promises to bea pretty in-depth breakdown: THE ONGOING CAMPAIGN, including the sections for Boot Hill, Gamma World, and Metamorphosis Alpha conversions guidelines!


Previous Entry

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sugar Free Homemade Milk Chocolate

I'm putting this recipe here because I keep losing it. Also, it's another easy diabetic-friendly recipe that people might enjoy having.

Who doesn't love chocolate? It's delicious and in the right quantities it's very healthy for you. While they say dark chocolate is better, I'm a fan of milk chocolate. They do make sugar free chocolate, but it's usually loaded up with sugar alcohols, and we all know what those do to your intestinal tract. So I started researching recipes for how to make chocolate at home, wondering if it was feasible. It is.

I'm a fan of Splenda (sucralose) as it's just sugar with an extra atom bonded to the molecule so you won't digest it. Also, every single study out there decrying its health risks...was created with an agenda. There's a war on artificial sweeteners, which extends to a war on diabetics, telling us we shouldn't be allowed to enjoy the things that other people do. There's nothing wrong with artificial sweeteners. There's an interesting blog on this subject that you can read here: http://10cokesaday.com/2015/04/ .

Okay, soapbox over.

So, homemade chocolate. It's a super simple recipe that requires only five ingredients: Cocoa powder, cocoa butter, Splenda, vanilla, and powdered milk. If you don't like splenda, you could substitute stevia or whatever sweetener you do like. And yes, it'll work with sugar.

3/4 cup cocoa butter
3/4 cup unsweet cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk powder
1 cup powdered Splenda
1 tsp vanilla.

1. Powder the Splenda. Place the Splenda in a food processor (optional: with a tbsp. of almond flour or low-carb baking mix, and run till it powders. Note that using almond flour will add an almond flavor to the chocolate). Without using the flour, the chocolate is very slightly gritty, but it's nothing that ruins it.

2. Melt the cocoa butter in the microwave, then transfer to a saucepan on low heat.

3. Stir in the Splenda.

4. Fold in the cocoa powder, milk powder, and vanilla until smooth.

5. Then transfer into molds. If you don't have molds, you can use an ice cube tray. A shallow baking pan will also work to create a large bar.

6. Place into refrigerator and let it set up for a couple hours. If making a bar, after an hour or so you can score it while it's solidifying but still somewhat soft. This will make it easier to break when done.

7. Use a spatula or butter knife to remove the chocolate from the molds, and enjoy!

As noted above, Stevia or any other sweetener you like can be substituted for sucralose. Just note that many sweeteners have varying degrees of sweetness and you may have to experiment with the proper measurements.

You can also use the sweetener without powdering, but the chocolate won't be quite as creamy.

A vegan version of this can be had by using powdered non-dairy creamer...but it does add a somewhat artificial flavor.

Coconut oil can be substituted for cocoa butter, but will add a slight nutty flavor to the final product, and it won't be quite as solid (it melts fast), so it's best to keep refrigerated.

That's it--enjoy!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Chronicling My Star Trek V/VI Communicator Build Part 2

See Part 1 here

So it's been a crazy busy couple months. I've continued to photo document the building of my communicator and I'm pleased to say it's FINISHED! Unfortunately, I got a new phone during the process, and it seems some of my pictures from the mid-point didn't backup, so I lost a stage. I thought you would all like to see what I have, however, so you can see how it came out.

The next phase was gutting the old Playmates' toy Classic Communicators, and gutting the innards of the walkie talkies. We had thought (hoped) there would be plenty of room just to swap out one set of electronics for another. Unfortunately, nothing ever goes according to plan.

We had to do some modifications to the interior cavity of the walkie to fit the electronics in. Part of this also included cutting away part of the battery compartment so we could swap out the 9v for a 2 AA setup. We considered keeping the 9v with a voltage regulator but decided if we were going to do it, we should do it right. We also discovered the need to swap out the "buttons" which really were just pressure pieces for the board, with actual tactile switches. You can see those as the red buttons in the image below.

Alas, the gutting part was the pictures I seem to have lost. If I ever recover them, I'll update with those pictures.

Now, sadly, the LEDs in the Playmates communicator are actually red and green, not white under red and green lenses as I'd hoped. This meant we had to order white LEDs to wire up for the panel. A minor inconvenience in the end and 50 bright white LEDs cost about 6 bucks on Amazon, so I'm still ahead on cast.

The on/off switch at the back was left in place for purposes of both saving batteries when not in use, and to power the eventual LED panel. The switch itself stuck out quite a bit from the top, so we addressed that a bit later.

Here's the final swap-out of electronics, wired up and ready to be inset. At this point we were still waiting on the LED for the panel.

When we finally got the LED in, we wired it directly to the on/off switch:

Finally, we did some touchup on the back switch, using a dremel to sand it down to nearly flush. This morning I painted the red switches black to match the rest of the casing so they are less visible. Here's the final product:

While not 100% screen accurate, it's a pretty damn good costume replica, easily as good as anything Playmates or Art Asylum might produce. I'm pretty thrilled with it! The TOTAL cost of this particular prototype came out to be about $40...the same price as the online vendor wanted for just his communicator LIDS. All in all...I'm happy. 

Here's the video link: