Character A Week: Basic Dungeons & Dragons (Moldvay)

So, as mentioned in my last update, I am going to slowly work through my large collection of tabletop RPGs and make a character for each one. I’ll probably have some observations and snarky comments on occasion. And with that, BX Basic Dungeons & Dragons is the first.

So, back in roughly 1978 or 1979, I used to deliver the local Sunday paper. One sunday, there was an article in the Parade magazine insert on this game called ‘Dungeons & Dragons.’ I’d just recently read every book by Tolkien I could get my hands on, and this D&D thing sounded incredible.

Holmes Ed. Basic D&D

So, I went out in search of it and the Bon Ton department store had 1 single box… and there was totally not Smaug on its horde and in front of it was a warrior and a wizard that, lets be honest, were about to die. 🙂
I was instantly hooked, but didn’t know anyone else that played. That’s a story for another time.

So, Basic D&D was my first roleplaying game and it only seems fitting that it be where I start this project as well. I still have a Holmes box, which did not come with dice, but for our purposes, I will be using the Red Basic D&D book… the Moldvay edition.

We start by rolling our stats on 3d6… and end up with STR 9, INT 13, WIZ 10, DEX 16, CON 11, and CHA 13.  Unlike later editions of D&D, Basic used 3d6 in order: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. There was no allowance for reordering stats, or alternative die rolling methods, although plenty of DMs had their own house rules. I was fond of 2d6+ 6, for instance.

With that Dex of 16, Thief and Halfling look good. However, I needed a Str of 13 to be a Halfling… so I’ll be a Human Thief.  However there were some minor allowances for selling a stat down to raise another. And here’s my first choice…

As a Thief, I could lower my Int by two to raise my Dex by 1, but that gains me no bonuses, so I will pass. I should note that this is actually slightly above average for stats (60 – 66) being average.

I’ll note that the non-flexible stat order, and straight 3d6 rolls makes this particularly well suited for a simple stat generation program of the sort that every kid with a home computer wrote at some point. Knock out a couple of pages of that, and you can have a new character ready in a few minutes.

And at this point I am mildly annoyed by the organization of the book… lots of flipping back and forth to find things. As a beginner’s RPG, it should have been organized in the order it would be used, especially the character generation section. This said, maybe I’m spoiled now. I certainly didn’t notice back then. Also, it didn’t come with a blank character sheet, though you could buy them. We generally just used a sheet of notepaper.

Hit points for Thieves are the same as Wizards, a d4 per level. This is one of the things that I do not miss about old school gaming… how fragile a character was at start. Though I suppose this was somewhat balanced by how much easier it was to roll up a new character. And so, I roll my hit points at first level, and start with 3 hit points. I’ma gonna need a meat shield.

We then roll 3d6*10 for gold and get a 14, so 140 gold pieces. Clearly, I managed a big score recently.

So, equipment… My choices are somewhat limited. I can only wear Leather armor, but I can use any weapon. With that Dex (and hit points), missile weapons are going to be my first choice. So I start with Leather armor, a short box & 20 arrows, and 3 daggers. My adventuring equipment consists of a backpack, thieves tools, several sacks, 50′ of rope, a waterskin, and some torches. I have 38 gold remaining, perhaps one of my koleĹ› will need a friendly loan…

Of course, a character needs a name… and I tend to be shite at names, so off I go off to Fantasy Name Generators and a few minutes later I emerge with Jacek (Polish) Greyheart (actually, was Blackheart, but I tend to play Neutral, so…). Yeah, it’s a bit generic but far worse has been done in print. I’ll use it.

So, here we have Jacek Greyheart, a clever, quite nimble, and somewhat charming apprentice thief with flexible morals. His remaining coin won’t keep him going for long, and so he’s looking for a paying job of sorts.

Name: Jacek Greyheart
Class: Thief

Str: 9, Int: 13, Wiz:10, Dex: 16, Con: 11, Cha: 13
Hit Points: 3, Armor Class: 5, Alignment: Neutral

Level: 1, Experience: 0 of 1000, Money: 6pp, 8gp

Saving Throws
Poison: 13, Wand: 14, Paralysis: 13, Breath: 16, Staves/Spells: 15

Equipment
Leather Armor, Short Bow, 20 Arrows, 3 Daggers, Backpack, 1 large sack, 3 small sacks, 50′ rope, thieves tools, waterskin, 1 week standard rations

What’s been going on…

I had some life get in the way of things, including keeping this site updated. Suffice to say, it’s not necessarily finished yet, but we won’t know for sure until November at the earliest. So, in the meanwhile, I tossed an idea out that might keep me updating this thing more regularly both to my Facebook followers, and my tumblr and there seemed to be enough interest…

The idea, such as it is, is that I have a rather large RPG collection that I have amassed over my 40+ years of gaming… yeah, I don’t like thinking about it that way either, but the idea is take a game off the shelf each week and make a character for it, and then discuss  this process, pros & cons, ideas, etc.

Ultimately, I also want to collect these in a wiki for archival purposes, but that can wait until after I get started. I’ll aim for the first post by this weekend. First up will likely be Basic D&D, since that’s where I first got into tabletop RPGs to begin with.

If you have suggestions, AND I own that game, I’ll prioritize those first. Please make these suggestions in comments. Some games will prove more complicated than other… *cough* Powers & Perils *cough*.

Also, if I am able to find software tools to facilitate charatcer gen, I’ll break that out as well.

Triplanetary

So back in 1973, Game Designers Workshop published a science fiction wargame called Triplanetary. Designed by Marc Miller, it was a solid newtonian space combat game with a compact and functional set of rules, and you used an acetate sheet and grease pencils to track a ship’s vector.  It was reprinted again in 1981, but has been out of print since.

In 1989, Steve Jackson Games acquired the rights to Triplanetary with the intent of republishing this classic game. My understanding is that it reached a draft status, but never saw print at the time. That said, SJG did publish a much more focused vector space wargame called Star Fist. If you’ve ever played the classic coin-op arcade game Star Castle, well Star Fist was Star Castle, but with chits and grease pencils. If you can find a copy, I recommend it, as it’s a lot of fun.

Not too long ago, Steve Jackson Games did a Kickstarter for a new edition of Triplanetary, which was quite successful. And today my copy showed up on my doorstep. 🙂

Obviously, I have not had a chance to sit down and play this with anyone yet, but I did unbox and inspect the components. As a deluxe version of the game, it does quite well. The map of the solar system is a large, sturdy coated hex map. No need for the acetate sheets… and the grease pencils have been replaced with dry erase markers.

The box contains the map (in two folding sections), a sheet of die cut counters, the 16 page rulebook, a double sided sheet with advanced combat rules, an ad for the Ogre computer game (It’s fun, do it!), two dry erase markers, one six sided die, a tasty, tasty packet of “Dangerous DO NOT EAT” silicagel, and a piece of foam that I assume is meant to be used as an eraser for the dry erase markers.

Sadly, as you may be able to see in a couple of my photos, my box took a drop somewhere along the way and one corner of the box as well as the maps are mildly dinged. It’s not bad enough to officially complain… hell, this shit happens. But yeah, slightly annoying.

Music In Tabletop Games

Music is important to me. I listen to a lot of music. My tastes are broad, and at times, seemingly random. But for all of my love of music, unlike many gamers, I don’t much care for it during game. I find it too distracting, and depending on the GM’s choices, dissonant. Frequently GMs make very common choices. I can count on both hands the number of times a GM has cued up the Conan theme for the big fight, and about as many times that someone has used the Indiana Jones theme in a pulps game.

If you turn up the music loud enough for everyone to hear it, it’s going to be too loud and distracting. If you stop the game to make everyone listen to your song, you’re breaking immersion AND slowing the game down. And, if you pick the wrong music, it just pulls me out of the game. As an example, I was once in a Call of Cthulhu game where the GM decided that since it was a 20’s game, that Jazz would set the mood. Unfortunately, he went to the only jazz piece he knew… Dave Brubeck’s Take Five.

Now, that happens to be one of my favorite jazz pieces, however, it is very recognizable and  wasn’t released until 1959. Yeah, that doesn’t work…

Okay, so I don’t much like music at the game table. I have not yet experimented with, or been in a game, that used ambient sound and sound effects. That might work, though as a GM I suspect that needing to manage a soundboard during game would be a bit much. If you’ve seen it used to good effect, I want to hear about it.

All of this doesn’t mean I don’t make use of music connected to gaming. What I tend to use it for is inspiration while planning and prepping my games. I have a large playlist of what I consider appropriate music for the Starfinder game I wish to run. That playlist is heavy with SF movie soundtracks, John Carpenter and 80’s retro electronica, as wel as some ambient and post rock.

My current thinking is that after game, I will post a playlist of the music that I was mainlining before the session. And if I manage to turn some people on to some new music, even better.

I’ll probably come back to this subject again after I get my game running.