Monday, April 24, 2017

OD&D Experience Levels

Question: Do Wizards need more XP to level up than Fighters?

This is one of those questions that has an answer which, for OD&D, is "clear, simple, and wrong" (with apologies to H.L. Mencken). Granted that Wizards start with a bigger XP step to 2nd level than Fighters have. But while Fighters consistently double the XP required to reach each level up to 9th, Wizards -- and also Thieves from Sup-I -- do not. Rather, in the range of levels 6-10 or so these latter classes add less than a doubling's increment, closer to 50% or so (specifically: between 33% and 75%). And therefore by the 7th level Wizards actually need less XP for each level than Fighters do; this is highlighted in the summary table below.

A few other observations: In the original D&D rules, while it was explicated that "There is no theoretical limit to how high a character may progress" (Vol-1, p. 18) -- and also indicated patterns for hit dice, attacks, and spells at levels off the chart -- no guidance was given for XP steps above those shown here. Sup-I does state for the new Thief class that it requires "+125,000 additional points for each level above Master Thief" (p. 9), and from this we might infer a similar increment to the last step in the table for others (also: in synch with later rulesets) -- which would be 120,000 for Fighters but only 100,000 for Wizards, so the flipped relation would hold true for all higher levels. Also note that the "Name" level at which hit dice stop accruing is different for each class (Fighters at 9, Thieves at 10, Wizards at 11, per Sup-I); the table above matches everything given in the OD&D book tables.

Gygax made some edits to XP tables in AD&D but this artifact largely persists there (AD&D Fighters need 70,001 XP to reach level 7, Wizards merely 60,001; by 10th level the Fighter needs precisely double what the Wizard does). Cook in the Expert D&D rules made the tables completely uniform; everyone doubles XP requirements up to Name level, which is universally 9th. Even in OD&D, Clerics had a regular doubling of XP, like Fighters, starting from a low 1,500 XP needed for 2nd level (omitted from table above; a suspiciously low basis for a class that gets all of fighting, armor, and spell capability).

An open question would be: Why? The fact that Gygax maintained this asynchronicity in both OD&D and AD&D seems to suggest that it was intentional -- that Magic-Users were intended to get accelerated advancement compared to Fighters at higher levels. Perhaps this was an amplification of the idea that Magic-Users will be weak at low levels and need assistance, but increasingly more powerful at high levels.

(Also consider: Do Wizards get better saves vs. spells than Fighters?)

Monday, April 17, 2017

OED Deck of Spells

For about 8 years now I've been using my custom Book of Spells in my own OD&D games. It's an Open Gaming Licensed version of magic-user spells that are in OD&D -- based on text from the d20 SRD, but massively cut-down and refined so they're short (usually just a few lines of text each) and more like the original game (subject to some small changes based on my own play experience). Now in its 2nd Edition, I really like being able to hand every wizard player at the table their own slim volume for looking up their spell effects (see sidebar; available at

But now my good friend Paul S. has done one better and turned it into a custom deck of cards! This way you can pull out your memorized spells at the start of the day, have all their effects directly in front of you, and simply discard the spells when you use them. We're finding that many players actually prefer it in this form, because once chosen it entirely skips any book look-ups during the game. All the spells in the OED Book of Spells are included, and the text is identical to the 2nd Edition of the book.

I myself played a wizard in a game of Paul's (who's started running OED-style games himself -- which was a little Being John Malkovich-y for me) and I really liked being able to slap down a card on the table during my turn as a representation of what I was doing. Also: If it's an effect that boosts or protects another PC, I could simply hand the card over to them and they could use that as a reminder of what the effect was on their character. It's ridiculously nifty! Only $14.99 at (which is pretty close to the manufacturing price, so we'll see how long we can keep it at that level). Thanks to Paul for creating that resource!

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Fallible Fiend

I recently had the opportunity to acquire and read L. Sprague de Camp's The Fallible Fiend (1972), and it's completely delightful; a real treasure and highly recommended. Of course, in Gygax's Appendix N, it's one of two works by de Camp called out by name (the other being Lest Darkness Fall).

In terms of D&D, The Fallible Fiend falls into a category of possibly lesser-known works that are (a) great literature, and (b) loaned a few very critical ideas to the D&D game. Other examples would be: Bellairs' The Face in the Frost (on the profession of wizardry and spellcasting); Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions (alignment, paladins, trolls); and so forth.

In the case of The Fallible Fiend, the primary ideas that it gives us are those around the D&D concepts of planes, extradimensional creatures, how they are summoned and controlled, and their overall demeanor in response to such summons. The opening paragraph of the book reads as follows:
On the first day of the Month of the Crow, in the fifth year of King Tonio of Xylar (according to the Novarian calendar) I learnt that I had been drafted for a year's service on the Prime Plane, as those who dwell there vaingloriously call it. They refer to our plane as the Twelfth, whereas from our point of view, ours is the Prime Plane and theirs, the Twelfth. But, since this is the tale of my servitude on the plane wherof Novaria forms a part, I will employ their terms.
This alone give us several central concepts to D&D: The idea of calling other dimensional spaces "Planes" (is it the first in pulp literature? Possibly so). The idea of the place of your origin being called the "Prime Plane". The fact that at least 12 such planes exist -- explaining my earlier mystification as to why, in Original D&D, the spell contact higher plane went up to exactly 12 planes (Vol-1, p. 29).

Other now-familiar tropes to us also seem to come from the first chapter of this book, such as -- The powerful "demon" being something of a mundane citizen in his own realm. The need to give very precise, literal commands to avoid ironic downfalls by the creature (or a wish). The extradimensional creature returning to their own plane when they seem to be slain. And so forth.

Moreover, I have to say that this slim little work of fantasy also provides an almost uncannily sharp cultural commentary for this exact time that we find ourselves in. The titular character is in all regards well-meaning, but subject to constant unwarranted abuse due to his strange appearance, language, and place of origin. We manage to follow him through a travelogue of various fantasy kingdoms, each of which has deeply insane customs -- but whose citizens are generally entirely convinced and willing to argue as to their rightness, in ways that are unsettling echoes of our own world. At a key point the Fiend meets with a crude and addlepated former entertainer (wrestler), who by a random electoral process has been named Archon of his nation, and has since let the country fall into complete ruin and anarchy.

Within this latter chapter the first-person Fiend finds temporary shelter at an otherwise abandoned inn, and engages the innkeeper, named Rhuys, who at one point finds himself needing to muster a defense of humankind:
"We're not all thieves and murderers at heart," quotha. "In fact, most of us do be peaceable and orderly, asking only to be let alone to earn our livings."

"But enough of you are of the other kind, if I may say so," I said.

Rhuys sighed. "I fear me you are right. Do no demons ever misbehave?"

"Oh, certes; but the fraction is small enough to be easily mastered. Besides, our wizards have puissant spells, which compel one accused of crime to speak the exact truth. This greatly simplifies the task of ascertaining the culprit's guilt."

Rhuys looked sharply at me. "Does the Twelfth Plane permit immigration?"

"I misdoubt the question has hitherto come up. When I return thither, I will try to learn and let you know."
Prescient commentary indeed, for a work of pulp fiction. The book is not without its flaws: most notably, it has a rather obvious sexist blindspot. But the ending is as pitch-perfect as any I've seen in a fantasy novel. You should read The Fallible Fiend

Monday, April 3, 2017

HelgaCon X

We held HelgaCon X in Plymouth, MA this past weekend -- and it was probably my favorite one yet. Saw some stuff happen in games that I'd seriously never seen in my life before; amazing. Also: I finally broke my decades-long streak of train-wrecks and finally crafted one actually successful puzzle/riddle in a D&D game. So I'm psyched! Here's a few quick snaps of the activities:

Google photo archive here.