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New Campaign: OD&D Set in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy

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The Swords & Wizardry/Microlite74 campaign I've been running since early in the year (some 17 sessions) last Sunday. My players had looked through The Gray Book the previous weekend and told me then that they might want to convert the campaign to OD&D. What I wasn't expected was three of their friends deciding they were interested in playing as well -- provided I would allow thieves and set the campaign in the old Judges Guild Wilderlands of High Fantasy.

After some email discussion of this late last week, we decided that our Sunday session would be a chance for me to meet their friends and discuss starting a new campaign. Between this discussion and Sunday, one of the three potential new players learned that OD&D -- despite many comments to the contrary online since the release of fourth edition -- is not a tactical miniatures game and decided that it was not for him.

All five regular players and the two new potential players showed up Sunday. The new players had already heard about what I expect from players behavior-wise and what type of campaigns I run, so my player info sheet wasn't a surprise to them. We decided to start a OD&D campaign set in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy with the new players on "probation" for their first few games to make sure they fit in.

After a lot of discussion, we decided the campaign would start in Thunderhold with the players heading toward the City-State of the Invincible Overlord with a few adventures along the way. This was a compromise as some of the player really wanted to start in the city-state, but I think it is more fun for the characters to start elsewhere and discover the city-state for the first time as their players do -- especially when none of the players know much about the City-State.

We agreed to use OD&D with most of the additional classes and rules from the supplements (a la the Gray Book). Initiative would be a simple d6 roll on both sides not the complex DEX-based initiative rules used by Holmes and The Gray Book. I added a few minor house rules and warned them that more would be introduced with time. Everyone heartily approved my max hit points at first level house rule.

Next came character generation. We ended up with the following PCs:

Grimaxe, a dwarf fighter who favors axes.
Zal Green, a human ranger who favors bows.
Henry Knot, a human fighter who favors swords.
Rose, a human thief who was making a living as a dancing girl/pickpocket
Father Anthony, a human cleric of Thoth
Ian, a human mage
Farsinger, an elven fighter/magic-user

The players decided that they all knew Grimaxe and that he had persuaded them to travel with him to the city-state where he hoped to get his axe enchanted to slay goblins. Rose knew a courtesan from the city-state who had been stranded in Thunderhold when her lover was killed in a drunken fight over a crooked game of cards and convinced her to hire the party to escort her back to the city-state safely. The pay isn't much, but as they are going that way anyway, they decided they might as well take the job. As they went around Thunderhold buying things they thing they will need for their trip and trying to find a few men-at-arms they can hire cheaply to provide some extra muscle, they occasionally noticed that some strange shimmering in the air was following them. Next week, the campaign proper starts with the characters beginning their journey to the City-State of the Invincible Overlord.

I'm really looking forward to this new campaign. It's been a long time since I've ran a campaign in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy or used the City-State of the Invincible Overlord. This should be fun.

1976 OD&D Articles by Gary Gygax and Len Lakofka Available

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What many people have forgotten is the Gary Gygax was involved in the wargame hobby long before TSR and D&D. Gygax used to participate in wargame fanzines that were common in the era. They were one of the main ways gamers -- especially Diplomacy gamers communicated in the days of expensive long distance and no Internet. Starting in 1976, D&D articles by Gary Gygax and Len Lakofka (separately and together) started appearing in Lakofka's long running Diplomacy zine, Liasons Dangereuses. I saw one of these issues back then when someone had a copy of then current issue at an ancients game I was involved in.

I was surprised to discover that many issues of Liasons Dangereuses have been scanned and are available at the Postal Diplomacy Zine Archive as free PDFs. Warning: The site is a bit slow and the scans are not always the best (probably because the reproduction on the originals was not always that good). Here's a list of the issues I found with D&D articles of possible interest:

Liasons Dangereuses #70 – April 28, 1976 has a short article by Gary that talks about how D&D and the first two supplements did.

Liasons Dangereuses #72 – July 17, 1976 has "Women and Magic" by Gary and Len. This appears to be an early version of The Dragon article.

Liasons Dangereuses #73 – August 18, 1976 includes Expanding the combat tables in D&D and a long article about dungeon doors and some material from the Blackmoor campaign (I think).

Liasons Dangereuses #74 – September 27, 1976 has an article by Len and Gary "The Pryologist: A Study in Magic" -- a fire mage sub-class for D&D. Also "Capture and Bondage in D&D" -- rules for tying people up. Errata for some previous D&D articles.

Liasons Dangereuses #75 – November 10, 1976 has an article by Len and Gary on "Scrying in Dungeons & Dragons".

Liasons Dangereuses #76 – December 14, 1976 has an article by Gary and Len entitled "Dwarfs & Hobbits & Magic" with magic-using classes for dwarfs and hobbits.

Liasons Dangereuses #77 – January 26, 1977 has an unreadably light article on Metamorphosis Alpha and an article by Gary and Len on "Special Damage in Dungeons & Dragons".

Most of this material was new to me. I expect it will be to most OD&D players. Enjoy.

There is More to OD&D than the Three Little Beige Books

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Some of the comments to my post on The Gray Book yesterday that The Gray Book was too much like AD&D to be considered OD&D confused me. The only reason I can think is that the 1e retroclones have given people a very limited idea of what OD&D included. Swords & Wizardry, for example, mainly emulates the original three book set of OD&D. Swords & Wizardry include the different die types for hit dice and weapons -- and some of the new spells -- from the first OD&D Supplement, but ignores most of the addition material in Greyhawk and seems to completely ignore the additional material in Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, and the issues of The Strategic Review published in 1975 and 1976. Most OD&D campaigns played in the 1970s used a great deal of this OD&D material that currently available 0e retroclones ignore.

Here is a list of the major material added in the three OD&D supplements and in issues of The Strategic Review:

Greyhawk added:

* more bonuses and penalties for attributes, including exceptional strength for fighters and number of spells knowable per level for magic-users
* More class options for non-human characters
* Thief class
* Paladin fighter sub-class
* different die types for different weapons and class hit dice
* weapon vs armor type modifiers
* multiple monster attacks
* more spells, including levels 7-9 for magic-users and levels 6-7 for clerics
* many more magic items, including lots more miscellaneous magic items
* many more monsters (including metallic dragons)

Blackmoor added:

* Monks as a cleric subclass
* Assassins as a thief sub-class
* Hit location during melee
* new monsters (mainly aquatic)
* new magic items (mainly water related)
* underwater adventure rules
* specialists (sages)
* diseases

Eldritch Wizardry added:

* Druids as a cleric subclass
* Psionics
* Segmented melee round
* new monsters (mainly psionic monsters and demons)
* Magical Artifacts (Mainly from Greyhawk)
* new outdoor encounter tables

The Strategic Review Added

Issue #1 (Spring 1975)
* the Mind Flayer (non-psioniv version)
* Solo Dungeon creation tables

Issue #2 (Summer 1975)
* Rangers a a fighting-man subclass
* D&D FAQ explaining a number of rules poits that weren't clear

Issue #3 (Fall 1975)
* new monsters (including cllasics like Shambling Mounds, Piercers, Lurker Above)

Issue #4 (Winter 1975)
* Illusionists as a magic-user subclass
* Ioun Stones

Issue #5 (Dec 1975)
* a few new magic items and monsters (including prayer beads and the Trapper)

Vol 2, No 1 (Feb 1976)
* Two Axis Alignment System (Law/Chaos, Good/Evil)
* Bard class

As you can see from the above list, there is a lot more to OD&D than current retroclones have elected to include. Groups that used most of these rules -- and most groups I knew of in the 1970s did use much of this material -- were playing a game very similar to what was later published as AD&D -- just without all fine detail and complexity of that came with the longer and more detailed AD&D rules. However, the game they were playing was still OD&D.

The Gray Book includes most of the additional OD&D material published by TSR in 1975 and 1975. This makes it look more like AD&D to those unfamiliar with the OD&D supplements, but the rules are still OD&D. The lowest armor class is 9, not 10. The hit tables are those of OD&D not those of AD&D (where 20 repeats five times), there are no material components or XP costs for spells, spell and monster descriptions are usually very short, etc. Most people who played OD&D in the 1970s would look at The Gray Book and see the D&D rules they used, just in one book instead of in six booklets and six newsletters.

Comments on The Gray Book

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I mentioned a nice compilation of the OD&D rules here a few days ago (see The Gray Book: OD&D Compiled). I printed out a copy and the players at my Sunday Microlite74 game looked it over while we played.

The general consensus is that The Gray Book is the best "revised" version of OD&D and supplements yet. It is well-organized. While it incorporates a lot of text taken straight from the various OD&D booklets, it clearly written and easy to understand. Part of that clarity comes from having everything related to one subject in one place instead of scattered across many booklets, but the editor added additional text here and there which simply explains things better.

There is one major flaw with the system, IMHO, it uses the Dexterity-based initiative system from the Holmes Basic Set. I've never liked this as it requires the GM to roll (and track) each monster's dexterity. As far as I'm concerned, that's far too much work for too little gain. However, it is easy to substitute a different initiative system into the game.

The Monk character class from Blackmoor and psionics and artifacts(from Eldritch Wizardry) are missing from the rules, as are some optional rules that few people used such as weapons versus armor class and hit locations (from the Blackmoor supplement). Illusionists and Rangers have been added from OD&D supplements, and articles in the The Strategic Review and The Dragon. The Ranger also has a lower-powered version of spells for Rangers from AD&D. A few other minor things have probably been taken from AD&D as well, but for the most part The Gray Book seems to have drawn on OD&D. It take little effort on a DM's part to add material written for either OD&D, B/X, or AD&D 1e. This makes most of the material from early issues of The Dragon and White Dwarf or from modules by TSR or Judges Guild available.

This will probably be my "go-to" version of OD&D for the future. It will be easy for players to print out if they want a copy. It uses OD&D hit tables and saving throws. It includes the classes and other material from the OD&D supplements -- or at least most of the material in common use. It is well-organized and easy to understand. Unlike Swords & Wizardry, all the advice on creating dungeons and wilderness adventures from the third OD&D booklet is in The Gray Book.

While the original OD&D booklets cannot really be replaced, The Gray Book comes closest to being a usable replacement, at least in my opinion. Unfortunately, it's definitely a "gray market" item. It's free but it is a definite copyright violation as, unlike the retroclones, it is not covered by the OGL. However, as I said in an April post, since WotC pulled the legal PDFs of older versions of D&D from the market, I no longer feel the need to play unpaid copyright police for them at my game table.

The Grey Book: OD&D Compiled

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I've just discovered another collected compiled version of early D&D available for free on the web. Steven J. Ege's The Gray Book is a collected, re-organized and slightly edited version of the OD&D rules and supplements (with some additions from The Strategic Review, The Dragon #1, Holmes D&D, Basic/Expert D&D, and even AD&D).

In spite of the additional material, The Gray Book has a house-ruled OD&D and supplements feel. The only major feature I noticed missing from OD&D and its three rules supplements is psionics. I could have easily used The Gray Book back in the late 1970s to run my OD&D games instead of OD&D, Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry.

Like the AD&D "3rd Edition" Books, The Grey Book is probably one big copyright violation. Grab your copy while you can. It's a free 4.2 meg pdf download and provides 146 pages of old school RPG goodness. If you would like to try OD&D with all the supplements, They Grey Book is a great way to do so without having to track down and buy the out of print original booklets.