What is Kotaku’s Problem with Gary Gygax?

That the creators of Dungeons & Dragons and thus the initiators of our beloved hobby, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, had many differences of opinion about their respective contributions to the game and that there was significant bad blood between the two of them understates things considerably. Before many gamers were even born Gygax and Arneson had even contested these differences in court. The controversy is not new, it has been with us for decades. So why was a Kotaku article covering this all like it was a new revelation all over social media this week?

The latest piece, Dungeons & Deceptions: The First D&D Players Push Back on the Legend of Gary Gygax, is just the latest in a series of articles which are very negative about Gary Gygax written by Kotaku columnist Cecilia D’Anastasio. If it was taken by itself, I might think “Fine, a gaming website is revisiting an old controversy for its younger reader base”, but this is not the only article aimed at Gygax and his “legend”.

The first piece specifically about Gygax which I noticed in this series was entitled Graphic Novel About D&D’s Creator Is Enchanting, But Falls Into A Familiar Trap, and is a fairly benign review for the most part. Despite describing the graphic novel as “an enchanting history”, it seems to really bother the author. “And yet, perhaps Gygax has enjoyed enough time on D&D’s altar of hero worship.” the article declares. The article rails against the primacy of the Dungeon Master and asserts this diminishes the contributions of players, an argument which reminds me of my kids asking me “How come there’s a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day but no Kid’s Day?”. The author’s argument placing the contributions of Players vs DMs is ultimately made by asserting that the existence of the D&D community content platform tells us to whom D&D’s legacy really belongs (uh, yeah, Wizards of the Coast but I suspect that’s not what the article’s author meant), and ends with the quip, without source or reference offered, that “It was Gygax who originally fought against making the ruleset open source.”

Now, since no specific instance, citation, hyperlink, or other evidence is provided for this statement, I am left to speculate. Certainly, Gygax fought to retain control over his IP. Gygax and Arneson fought over it in court. TSR was certainly diligent in protecting its IP against Gygax once he had been forced out of the company. If the author is arguing that Gygax was protective of the D&D IP I would certainly agree with her. But the article claims “It was Gygax who originally fought against making the ruleset open source” and this just doesn’t make sense to me. Gygax didn’t own the 3e ruleset, the ruleset which was actually made open source with the OGL. Gygax was not part of Wizards of the Coast to fight against the ruleset being made open source. I don’t know what Gygax made of the OGL upon its first release, but I do know that he published a good number of OGL supplements and products, and that by 2002, he was giving interviews which praised the concept: “The D20 OGL is a very clever move too, as it provides support for the core system, brings in more players to it, and expands the fantasy base into other fantasy environments as well as into whole new genres.” I cannot therefore think of any basis for the Kotaku article to include this idea that Gygax fought against the OGL for any other reason except to conceptually drive a divide between the vast community of hobbyists and publishers who have produced OGL supplements for D&D and D&D-inspired games and one of the game’s co-creators, and to deny Gygax any of that part of the D&D “legacy”.

The second major piece in this sequence was an article principally about Gail Gygax, Fantasy’s Widow: The Fight over the Legacy of Dungeons & Dragons. This article isn’t really a hit piece, but it does reveal the rift between Gail Gygax and some of Gary Gygax’s children from his first marriage, and paints a pretty tragic picture of the current state of Gail Gygax’s world all around. The size and scope of the article makes it clear that some significant effort was expended in gathering the story. I am not arguing that the author went out of her way to make anybody look bad, but it seems to me that such a detailed article on what would generally be a pretty esoteric topic to most of Kotaku’s readership can only be the product of a fixation on the topic of Gary Gygax and his legacy.

Before this sequence of articles started, however, Gygax was also the target of Cecilia D’Anastasio’s ire in articles not specifically related to D&D. Her article The Struggle To Bring More Women Into Game Development, opens with the following paragraph:

Gary Gygax, biological determinist and creator of Dungeons & Dragons, once told a reporter for Icon magazine that “gaming in general is a male thing… Everybody who’s tried to design a game to interest a large female audience has failed. And I think that has to do with the different thinking processes of men and women.”

https://kotaku.com/the-struggle-to-bring-more-women-into-game-development-1783683864

Gygax’s thinking certainly sounds sexist and outdated in the quotation (and indeed, this shouldn’t surprise us), but if you follow the link to the article from Icon magazine which the author provides, you find that the quotation has been selective so as to make Gygax appear worse. At least this statement, unlike the throwaway about Gygax fighting against the OGL, is supported with a link, albeit one which reveals the selective quoting. The full context from the 1998 interview is:

What about the strains of sex and violence throughout D&D? The fantasy women in the chain mail bikinis.
GG: It’s the same in comic books and on the front of the lurid covers of the old pulp magazines. Gaming in general is a male thing. It isn’t that gaming is designed to exclude women. Everybody who’s tried to design a game to interest a large female audience has failed. And I think that has to do with the different thinking processes of men and women.

http://www.revolutionsf.com/article.php?id=3964

Note had D’Anastasio included the sentence deliberately omitted in the middle “It isn’t that gaming is designed to exclude women.”, it would make using Gygax’s name as a proxy for chauvinists in the game industry awkward:

The women who contributed to the new essay compilation Women in Game Development, out July 1st by CRC Press, heard Gygax’s sentiments echoed both in their heads and in game publishes’ (sic) conference rooms. Many felt first-hand the effects of big gaming companies pushing their games to boys, a marketing tactic popularized around the mid-80s. But despite all the Gary Gygaxes who told them No, get out, they did it, and they’re helping others do it, too.

https://kotaku.com/the-struggle-to-bring-more-women-into-game-development-1783683864

And later on in the article, discussing that the female authors of the book found that “Myst, Monkey Island, Donkey Kong, and–against Gygax’s proclamation–Dungeons & Dragons, were not only fun ways to pass the time, but crucial parts of their identities.” (emphasis added), as if it is a given that Gygax wanted female players excluded from Dungeons & Dragons.

I am not going to argue that Gary Gygax was not sexist, or that early D&D was not “biological determinist” (e.g. restrictions by race and gender in AD&D 1e), but both Gygax and his editions of the game came from a sexist age. Making Gygax the sole example of a male chauvinist voice seeking to exclude women in the Kotaku article about the struggle to bring in more women game developers is just ridiculous – especially when you consider that we’re talking primarily about the video game industry, and that the struggle is real and right now, years after Gygax’s death, not in a distant past where Gygax may have been personally influential in the matter. The article reports that, with respect to women in game development: “Incessant sexual and emotional harassment, along with imbalanced wages and constant doubt over their skill eroded these women’s mental health…” This harassment and wage inequality is not the fault of Gary Gygax, a dead man from another industry, but the fault of living people in the video game development industry right now. Perhaps Kotaku doesn’t want to name names in the video game industry, and thus prefers to use Gygax as a boogeyman to stand in for the actual bad actors? That doesn’t seem very fair to me, either to Gary Gygax or the actual victims of this harassment.

There are other, non-Kotaku articles by D’Anastasio about Gary Gygax as well. This review of “Empire of Imagination” has a pretty disgusting comment about Gary Gygax’s wife: “The thoroughly male world of wargaming, a world that, as Witwer chuckles, evaded the understanding of Gygax’s wife (whom, as rumor has it, he chose for her resemblance to a fantasy pinup girl in skintight armor)” (again, emphasis mine), and was written in 2015. I am guessing Gail Gygax didn’t see that before she agreed to be interviewed for D’Anastasio’s 2019 article Fantasy’s Widow.

For what it’s worth, not everything D’Anastasio has written for Kotaku about D&D is a hit piece on Gary Gygax. Dungeons & Dragons Wouldn’t Be What It Is Today Without These Women is very worth reading if you’ve an interest in the creation of some of the most iconic products of the “golden age” of TSR. D’Anastasio has also written some pieces praising 5th edition and it’s obvious she’s a keen gamer, since she’s also the author of a mini-supplement on DMSGuild (that’s an affiliate link).

Also for what it’s worth, every gamer with an interest in the history of the hobby (which probably describes most of the OSR), knows that Gary Gygax was far from perfect. Stories abound of drug and alcohol abuse, abusive parenting, infidelity, bullying, and obviously, fights over intellectual property. Even as a gamer, there probably is no “definitive Gygax philosophy” since his view of the game he co-created and the games inspired by it changed dramatically over time, and his advice to players and Dungeon Masters ranged from advocating almost “rules anarchy” to insisting that he personally was the definitive authority on all rules and everything between. Gygax wasn’t perfect, but he was the co-creator of a game which founded a hobby which millions of people love, including D’Anastasio herself. Reducing him to a click-bait caricature is unfair, as is using him as a stand-in for the sins and attitudes of others. This campaign to turn Gygax’s legacy into something dirty is unfair.

First Five Fantasy Roleplaying

My first post on this blog was about the 1991 Black Box Dungeons & Dragons starter set, which was my introduction to D&D and the roleplaying game hobby generally. I still believe this version of the game is an underappreciated classic. It covered dungeon crawling for levels 1 to 5. The box contained a rulebook, a DM’s screen which doubled as a folder for Dragon Cards (which restated the rules in single-page chunks for the most part), a large fold-out map of Zanzer Tem’s dungeon (adventure included with the Dragon Cards), and a huge set of fold-up paper miniatures for player characters, non-player characters, and monsters.

As previously discussed, I am running a D&D campaign for my kids and some of their friends, playing through the B1-9 super module. Although the Black Box version of the game had the “Thunder Rift” modules to accompany it, the same rules also work perfectly well for B1-9. Unfortunately, my old black D&D rulebook is nearly falling apart, and this classic is one of the few TSR-era titles which has not been made available on DriveThruRPG as PDF or print-on-demand. I wanted the kids to be able to have physical rulebooks they could hold and read both at and away from the game table, so I started looking to other options.

I love the Rules Cyclopedia but that is a cruelly large book to inflict on a 9 year old. It’s great it is available as print-on-demand from DriveThruRPG (you can pick it up via my affiliate link). Ultimately, my D&D campaign with the kids will progress to using the Rules Cyclopedia once their characters are high enough level, but a great introductory tome it is not.

Likewise, as much as I love Labyrinth Lord and Old School Essentials (or B/X Essentials as it still was when we started playing), both games present too much too soon for young beginners, in my view. The way Old School Essentials splits topic and contents across multiple books is convenient as a DM or as an experienced player, but I don’t multiple booklets is intuitive for young players. The main thing against these retroclones, though, was that both really strive to present B/X in a modern format, not the version of the rules as presented in the 1991 black box (which are subtly different from but closer to BECMI).

So, using Labyrinth Lord and Old School Essentials, I started to build my own retroclone, seeking specifically to provide a retroclone of the rulebook from my beloved 1991 black box. I wanted to make these rules available in print-on-demand so that players and DMs could have sturdy, gameable books, as opposed to my nearly falling apart original book, to play the version of D&D which introduced so many of us to the hobby. First Five Fantasy Roleplaying is the result.

My retroclone of the 1991 black box rulebook, with cover art by Payton Vaughn.

This is a 64 A4 page rulebook which includes everything the black box book had, with a few bonus features including the monster you see depicted on the cover here, and an index (definitely a missing feature from the black box book).

I found during actual play, it helped me to teach the rules to the kids if they had copies of the rules as well. It definitely speeds up character creation and equipment list shopping if everyone has their own copy! However, I didn’t want the kids to reference monsters during play. My solution? I removed the monsters, treasure, and dungeon design sections from First Five Fantasy Roleplaying and produced the First Five Fantasy Roleplaying Player’s Guide. This is a 32 A4 page rulebook which has everything players need to play the game and learn the rules, but doesn’t include any of the material you’d rather keep secret during play as the referee. Since it is almost literally the first half of the full rulebook, I made it available as pay-what-you-want on DriveThruRPG.

I’ve been a little bit shy about promoting First Five Fantasy Roleplaying mostly because I made it first and foremost for my kids and their friends and our home game. I also know it stands on the shoulders of some pretty tall giants. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a new print version of the 1991 black box rules, I am pretty sure you’ll like First Five Fantasy Roleplaying.

Cults of Chaos

Both my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign and my games of Basic D&D feature Chaos cults as adversaries for the player characters. Sometimes hidden in the shadows of respectable societies, sometimes open power centres in cities of wicked people, Chaos cults come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are great building blocks for world building. Although generally villains they can also be useful allies for more morally flexible parties.

Chaos Cults: Bubonica is the first of what I hope will be a series of zine-sized supplements for Basic D&D. The idea is that each booklet will feature a different Chaos god and different types of cults to that god which could be easily dropped into your game. Each booklet also incorporates some monsters, cleric spells, and an adventure locale.

You can buy Chaos Cults: Bubonica now on DriveThruRPG in print and PDF format!

I am working on two other Chaos Cults booklets which will hopefully be released in the next few months, and I hope more will follow.

Chivalry & Sorcery Essence

It has been my observation that most Chivalry & Sorcery fans relish in the perceived complexity of the game. I am not sure the game is actually very complex, at least in its actual mechanics, although there are certainly a lot of topics covered in the rules and the presentation of the rules themselves could be more accessible (something I hope the upcoming 5th edition rectifies where appropriate). I think the legendary tiny font size of the 1st edition of the game, necessary to fit in what by the standards of the time was a truly exhaustively complete set of rules, created a certain reputation for the game and C&S purists wear that reputation like a badge of pride.

And more power to them, I say. I have a lot of respect for people who play AD&D 1e “rules as written” too, because despite my enormous affection for Gygaxian prose, I am still not entirely sure I understand what the rules are for some systems (overbearing immediately comes to mind). Still, one of the reasons I am generally an OSR gamer and one especially drawn to Basic D&D and systems inspired by Basic D&D is that I quite like the simple, easy to play and easy to tinker with mechanics. I certainly like not being drowned in hundreds of pages of rules like I am when I try to play Pathfinder. Perhaps this is why Chivalry & Sorcery Essence appeals to me. Plus, at least until the 5th edition Kickstarter, Chivalry & Sorcery Essence is the only version of C&S you can currently buy in print (it is available as print-on-demand) unless you want to pay top dollar for a print copy of a previous edition of C&S proper.

Chivalry & Sorcery Essence shares the ability scores and the same basic concepts as Chivalry & Sorcery proper, but uses a different system, based around rolling under a success chance on a d20, rather than a d100. Of course the book does not have the exhaustive set of character options, equipment, or spells that Chivalry & Sorcery 4th Edition has, but it has a good selection and everything is simple enough that you can easily see how you could make or import your own. Simple enough that you can easily see how to tinker is a feature, not a limitation, to my taste.

The 44 page book includes all the rules you need to play, and an introductory scenario set in its own fantasy medieval campaign setting, Darken. Despite the rules being about the same size as the core of Basic D&D, there’s nevertheless a lot of options for character creation and advancement, a blow-based combat system which makes all your decisions count and is much more tactical and realistic-feeling than D&D, and even a mass combat system! There’s quite a lot to sink your teeth into even at the relatively small size.

There are a few “rough edges”. Some of the interior art is not high enough resolution for print – but most of it is very serviceable. The layout is also “serviceable”. This is a 2011 book, so it is unfair to judge it by the standards of some of the amazingly laid out OSR books of recent years. The game is designed to be played using a d20, but in some places a d10 is more appropriate (e.g. in character generation I’d rather roll a d10 than halving a d20 roll).

If you’re an OSR player who likes rules light systems but is intrigued by C&S I think you might enjoy Chivalry & Sorcery Essence. At the very least, it’s worth a look while you’re waiting to check out Chivalry & Sorcery 5th edition!


You can buy Chivalry & Sorcery Essence here via my affiliate link in PDF and print-on-demand format. Some of the artwork in the print-on-demand version is a little low-resolution but it is still nice to have in hard copy, I think.

Character Class: Nymph

Nymph

Nymphs are semi-divine beings linked to natural places – forest glades, underwater grottos, lakes, mountain pastures, and so on. They are always female and take the form of beautiful human women. There are numerous types, or subraces, of nymph. Some are the dedicated handmaidens (and often lovers) of the gods, or their courtiers and attendants. Others are linked to the natural world and are the most likely types to be encountered by mortals. These nymphs are the ones who may become adventurers.

Adventuring nymphs are those who have not yet bound themselves to natural location. As such they can be called free nymphs. They are able to roam the world just like mortals, and they grow old and need to eat and drink just like mortals do. When they have satisfied their wanderlust, nymphs bind themselves to a particular natural feature – dryads to a tree or glade, naiads to a stream or lake, auloniads to a mountain pasture or vale, and oceanids to an ocean grotto or beach. Once they become bound nymphs, nymphs become ageless, and require no sustenance – they will endure so long as the natural feature to which they bound is preserved.

Nymphs are exclusively female, but can reproduce with males of any species, or even gods. Any sons they bear will be of the same species as their father, and any daughters they bear will be nymphs.

If a player wishes to play a nymph, they should also choose which subrace of nymph they wish to play – dryad, naiad, auloniad, or oceanid. Each has slightly different abilities as indicated below.

Prime Requisite

Wisdom and Charisma

Requirements

Wisdom 8 or higher, and Charisma 12 or higher.

Restrictions

Nymphs cannot wear armour nor bear shields. Nymphs can use daggers, spears, javelins, staffs, blowguns, nets, slings, and whips as weapons. Nymphs can use any magical items permitted to clerics (except weapons), and any magical weapon of a type they can use.

Advancement

Nymphs are powerful creatures and advance more slowly than other character classes.

LevelXPHit DiceLevel 1 Spells/day
101d80
230002d80
36000No increase0
4120003d81
524000No increase2

Note that a “typical nymph” encountered as a monster may not be the equivalent of a level 1 nymph character. For example, a typical dryad is equivalent to a level 3 nymph character (levels 1 and 2 representing younger dryads).

Saving Throws

Note your saving throws on your character sheet as per your character level:

SaveLevel 1-4Level 5
Death119
Wands1210
Paralysis1412
Breath1614
Spells1513

Attack Table

Note what your character needs to roll on 1d20 to hit each Armour Class on your character sheet. This roll is modified by Strength for melee attacks and Dexterity for ranged attacks.

Lvl9876543210-1-2-3
110111213141516171819202020
29101112131415161718192020
39101112131415161718192020
4891011121314151617181920
5891011121314151617181920

Special Abilities

Home Environment

In terrain similar to their home environment, nymphs never suffer ill-effects from bad weather or exposure. The terrain which is sufficiently similar to a nymph’s home environment for these purposes is determined by her subrace:

  • Dryads: Woods, Jungle
  • Auloniads: Grassland, Mountains, Hills
  • Naiads: River, Swamp
  • Oceanids: Ocean

Natural Armour

Dryads and auloniads have natural armour, their flesh as resistant to blows as the wood of the natural features they protect. They have an Armour Class of 7 prior to any Dexterity modifier.

Water Breathing

Naiads and oceanids can breathe underwater. Naiads can use this ability in fresh water, and oceanids can use this in saltwater.

Purify Water

Naiads can purify fresh water at will. This takes one turn for the equivalent of 6 water skins of water, thus it may take many turns for a naiad to purify a large body of water.

Discern Direction

When on land, Oceanids can always discern the direction of the shortest path to the ocean, and they also intrinsically know which sea or ocean is the nearest. When at sea, Oceanids can always discern true north, as well as the direction of the nearest landmass, and can thus be extremely helpful for navigators.

Charm

At level 2, a nymph gains the ability to charm. Treat this ability as the magic-user spell charm person. A free nymph can use this ability 3 times per day. A bound nymph can use this power once per round, and victims make their saving throw vs spells at -2.

Spell Casting

At level 4, nymphs gain the ability to cast cleric and druid spells, except those which affect good or evil. The level 1 spells a nymph gains the ability to cast are as follows (* indicates a reversible spell): cure light wounds*, detect magic, light*, purify food and water, remove fear*, resist cold, animal messenger, detect animals and plants, divine weather, find dangers, and faerie fire.

Shape Change

At level 5, nymphs nominate a natural form appropriate to their subrace: a dryad or auloniad would pick a plant which might be found in a forest or vale respectively, a naiad would pick a pond, spring, or similar, and an oceanid would pick a rock pool or coral. The player should nominate a specific natural form along these lines – no animal form is permitted. The natural form should be vaguely the same size as the nymph (although there are no restrictions on shape).

The nymph can change into her nominated natural form (and back again) once per day – the transformation takes one round in each direction. When she transforms, the nymph regains 1d4 hit points/level, up to a maximum of half the damage she has sustained (thus, she cannot fully heal herself by shape changing). The nymph cannot cast spells, attack, or take any other action in this natural form, except change back to her humanoid form. The nymph can still be attacked in this natural form, and can be hurt as usual. can hold this natural form for 1 turn/level.

Bind Soul

A nymph may choose to bind her soul to a natural feature of an appropriate type for her subrace. Once her soul is bound, the nymph becomes almost immortal, in that she ceases to age and requires no food or drink to survive so long as the natural feature to which she has bound her soul endures. She cannot move more than 240 feet away from the feature to which she has bound her soul for more than one turn, or she will die. If the natural feature to which she has bound her soul is destroyed or dies, the nymph will also die.

Languages

Nymphs can speak their alignment language, Common, the local human dialect, and Nymph.

Movement, Size, and Encumbrance

A nymph is the same size as a human woman, and can move as far and carry as much as  normal human characters.

New Spells

First Level Druid Spells

Animal Messenger

Range: 10’
Duration: 1 day per caster level
Reversible: False

This spell summons a tiny animal (bird, mouse, or insect) to the caster and compels it to act as a messenger for the caster. Once the summoned animal appears, the caster tells the animal the message. The caster then tells the animal who the recipient is, describes them in terms sufficient for the animal to identify them, and describes their general location accurate to one square mile. The animal must then travel to the recipient and deliver the message within the duration of the spell, or it will forget the caster’s instructions. If, after delivering the message, the animal still has sufficient time remaining within the spell’s duration, it can take a response to the caster. Note that while affected by this spell, the animal will be able to speak to the recipient of its message, but only for the purposes of reciting the message.

Detect Animals and Plants

Range: Caster
Duration: 6 turns
Reversible: False

This spells allows the caster to know the direction of an animal or plant of a type named by the caster so long as that animal or plant is within 120’ of the caster. The caster does not need to know the specific name of the actual animal or plant being identified, just the type of animal/plant. If there are no examples of the type named within 120’ then the caster discovers as much through the spell. This spell cannot be used to detect the location of intelligent creatures.

Divine Weather

Range: Caster
Duration: 12 hours
Reversible: False

This spell allows the caster to know the accurate weather of the area around them (to a radius of 1 mile per caster level) for the next 12 hours.

Faerie Fire

Range:  60’
Duration: 1 round/level
Reversible: False

A pale glow surrounds and outlines the subjects, making them hypervisible. Outlined subjects shed light that makes them visible in darkness. The spell may outline up to one human-sized creature per every 5 caster levels. The Faerie Fire does not cause any harm to the objects or creatures thus outlined. However, their greater visibility grants attackers a +2 bonus to hit them while the spell is in effect.

Find Dangers

Range: 5’ per caster level
Duration: One hour
Reversible: False

This spell reveals hazards to the caster. Once casting the spell, the caster concentrates on a single item or area (1 foot by 1 foot) for one round and immediately knows whether the item or anything (including creatures) in the area is dangerous. The caster will also know the degree of danger (e.g. immediately or potentially dangerous). Large items/areas can take multiple rounds to search for dangers using this spell.

Character Class: Faun

Fauns

Fauns generally have the upper-body of a human, and the lower-body of a goat (although some, generally called satyrs, may be more human-like, exhibiting only minimal goat-like characteristics). They inhabit wild places, and are fickle, chaotic creatures. Fauns are exclusively male, although they can breed with nymphs and humans. Human women who fall pregnant to fauns give birth to fauns. Nymphs who fall pregnant to fauns have an even chance to give birth to a faun or a nymph.

Prime Requisite

Dexterity

Requirements

Dexterity 8 or higher. A faun cannot have an Intelligence greater than 15, nor a Strength greater than 16. If the player rolls an Intelligence or Strength higher than these maximums, then they may trade them for points in other attributes as usual. A faun must be male, and cannot be of Lawful alignment.

Restrictions

A faun can use any weapon or armour made for their body type (remember that some fauns are more human-like than others). They can use any magic item not restricted to magic-users, and they can use any musical instrument (including magical ones restricted to other classes). Likewise, fauns can consume any magical food or drink and benefit from it, even if it is normally restricted only to other classes.

Advancement

Fauns advance quickly compared to other races.

LevelXPHit Dice
101d4
210002d4
320003d4
440004d4
580005d4

Note that a “typical faun” encountered as a monster is the equivalent of a level 1 faun character.

Saving Throws

Note your saving throws on your character sheet as per your character level:

SaveLevel 1-4Level 5
Death1311
Wands1412
Paralysis1311
Breath1614
Spells1513

Attack Table

Note what your character needs to roll on 1d20 to hit each Armour Class on your character sheet. This roll is modified by Strength for melee attacks and Dexterity for ranged attacks.

Lvl9876543210-1-2-3
110111213141516171819202020
210111213141516171819202020
39101112131415161718192020
49101112131415161718192020
5891011121314151617181920

Special Abilities

Natural Armour

Fauns have natural armour, giving them a natural Armour Class of 8 when unarmoured. They can wear armour made of their body type, but only benefit from the armour if its Armour Class exceeds the faun’s natural Armour Class.

Amplify Emotions

At level 5, a faun gains the ability to amplify the emotions of another character using a musical instrument. This takes a full round, during which time the faun can do nothing else but play his instrument. The target must be able to hear the faun play in order to be affected, and is permitted a saving throw versus spells to resist the effect. The faun must declare which emotion/impulse/primal urge he is trying to amplify in the target (e.g. anger, love, hunger, fear, lust, etc). The target’s saving throw is modified by the faun’s level, with a cumulative -1 for each round the faun has been playing his instrument (including the first). For example, against a level 5 faun, the target gets a +4 to their saving throw on the first round, +3 on the second round, +2 on the third round, +1 on the fourth round, no modifier on the fifth round, -1 on the sixth round, and so on. If the faun is attacked, his playing is interrupted and he must start again from the first round. If the faun plays long enough (6 rounds or more), his music may even backfire and affect him! The faun himself must make the same saving throws as the target or be affected by his own music.

If the target (or the faun) fails their saving throw, then they become completely dominated by the emotion in question. The exact effects of this must be adjudicated by the referee depending on the target’s emotional state and the emotion/urge the faun was trying to trigger. If the target is a little angry with one of their allies, for example, then the faun’s music may make them so angry that they actually attack their ally. If the target harbours romantic feelings for another character, then the faun’s music may cause the target to forget all other tasks but the pursuit of their beloved, whom the target will indeed love with an all-consuming intensity even if the prior romantic feelings were mild. Once affected, the target remains consumed by the triggered impulse until they have acted upon it. Once again, the referee’s careful judgement will be required.

Languages

Fauns can speak their alignment language, the local human dialect, and Nymph.

Movement, Size, and Encumbrance

A faun is about the same size as a man, perhaps a little shorter due to his goat legs. A faun can move faster than a human but can carry less.

Weight Carried (coins)Speed (feet/turn)
Up to 300150
301-600120
601-90090
901-120060
1201-150030
1501-180015
1801+0

Character Class: Centaur

I want to add some creatures from Greek mythology to my Basic D&D game as playable classes to replace the Northern European mythology-based demihuman races of dwarf, elf, and halfling. There is a great BECMI supplement, PC1 Tall Tales of the Wee Folk, which is useful for this purpose, but I always found the system for “monsters as PCs” from this era to be a bit confusing. Effectively, I think there was a decision made that the monsters which appeared in the monster listings in the rulebooks were supposed to be the “Normal Man” equivalent for their monstrous races. Character levels would therefore follow the “Normal Man” level. To balance powerful monsters (e.g. a centaur) with other low level PCs, this system also added a “pre-Normal Man equivalent” level. This makes sense from a design consistency perspective, but I’m not sure it does much but add complexity in play – you start with negative experience points, have to get to 0 to become a “Normal Monster”, then you have to earn thousands more to get to level 1. It just seemed inelegant to me, so I redesigned some of these monsters as conventional character classes. Here is the first one of these: the Centaur.

Centaur

Centaurs have the upper body of a human and the lower body of a horse. They resemble a horse up to where the horse’s neck should be, at which point their human torso begins. They are formidable and wild warriors, found on the fringes of civilisation.

Prime Requisite

Strength

Requirements

Strength 9 or higher.

Restrictions

There are no restrictions on the weapons a centaur can use. A centaur can wear barding, and armour made for a creature of their size. A centaur does not gain any benefit from armour whose Armour Class is not better than their natural Armour Class of 7. A centaur can use any magic item which can be used by a fighter.

Advancement

Centaurs are powerful creatures and advance more slowly than other character classes.

LevelXPHit DiceHoof DamageNatural AC
102d81d28
240003d81d48
380004d81d67
4160005d81d67
5320006d81d67

Note that a “typical centaur” encountered as a monster is the equivalent of a level 3 centaur character – levels 1 and 2 represent young centaurs.

Saving Throws

Note your saving throws on your character sheet as per your character level:

SaveLevel 1-2Level 3-5
Death1210
Wands1311
Paralysis1412
Breath1513
Spells1614

Attack Table

Note what your character needs to roll on 1d20 to hit each Armour Class on your character sheet. This roll is modified by Strength for melee attacks and Dexterity for ranged attacks.

Lvl9876543210-1-2-3
19101112131415161718192020
2891011121314151617181920
378910111213141516171819
46789101112131415161718
5567891011121314151617

Special Abilities

Attacks

Each round, a centaur can make 2 hoof attacks and 1 attack with their weapon. They can make hoof attacks with their rear hooves against an enemy behind them, or with their front hooves against an enemy in front. If equipped with a lance, they can make a lance charge (as per the usual rules) which does double damage, but they cannot attack with their hooves on the same round as they make a lance charge.

Natural Armour

Centaurs have natural armour, which is reflected by the natural Armour Class shown in the advancement table. They can wear human armour made for the upper body and horse barding (or a special suit of armour combining both), but only benefit from the armour if its Armour Class exceeds the centaur’s natural Armour Class.

Horse Whispering

Centaurs can speak to horses, donkeys, and similar equine animals.

Languages

Centaurs can speak their alignment language, Centaur, the local human dialect, and Nymph.

Movement, Size, and Encumbrance

A centaur is a large creature, only slightly smaller than a horse and rider together. A centaur can move considerably faster than a human (assuming they have the space to move around, as they do above ground or in dungeons with high ceilings), and can carry more too.

Weight Carried (coins)Speed (feet/turn)
Up to 1000180
1001-2000150
2001-3000120
3001-400090
4001-600060
6001-750030
7501-800015
8001+0

Demonic Pacts with Lord Gogmak

This write-up is from my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign where a player character has formed a pact with a demon lord…

Lord Gogmak

Lord Gogmak is a mighty demon, worshipped by several cults across Europe, including the cult based in Blexham House in Southwick, London.

Pacts with Gogmak

Lord Gogmak will enter into pacts with mortals who offer up their immortal souls and service in exchange for Lord Gogmak’s assistance, generally with some task/quest (their great work). Once the task is complete, the character’s soul is forfeit. They will join Gogmak in the afterlife when their mortal life ends, or when their body is taken by another new devotee of Gogmak (this latter part is not disclosed nor explained explicitly by most of Gogmak’s cults to new potential devotees).

Lord Gogmak will grant an artifact or ability intended to assist the mortal with their great work. Each use of this artifact or ability has a 1% cumulative chance of causing a mutation (I use the mutation tables in Cults of Chaos – that is an affiliate link). Artifacts are not intended to be transferred to other mortals, and each use of an artifact gifted by Gogmak to somebody else requires a Save vs Magic or the unauthorized user will suffer a mutation.

Lord Gogmak will not allow a mortal who has entered a pact to complete a great work to fail at their quest unless they give up by themselves. If the mortal should die before the completion of their great work, they will immediately awaken in the body of another of Gogmak’s still-living devotees (one who has already succeeded at their own personal quest), effectively “reborn”. The new body’s previous soul is banished from this existence to the afterlife with Gogmak, and the mortal has another chance to finish their great work.

Rebirth Procedure

  1. Determine the body’s age. Roll 1d10. 1 or 2 = young adult (12+2d4 years), 3 to 4 = mature (20+1d4 years), 5 to 8 = mature (20+5d4 years), 9 = middle aged (40+1d20), 0 = old (60+1d10 years).
  2. Determine the body’s biological sex. Roll 1d100. Female on 51 or lower for young adult and mature characters, otherwise male. 50/50 split for middle aged and old characters.
  3. Roll 3d6 for STR, DEX, and CON. Middle aged bodies roll 1d12 for each year past 40 – on a roll of 1 to 3, no attribute loss, otherwise lose a point of STR on a roll of 5, 8, 11, a point of DEX on a roll of 6,9,12 and a point of CON on a roll of 4, 7, 10. Old bodies also lose a point of STR on a roll of 1, DEX on a roll of 2, and CON on a roll of 3.
  4. Replace the “reborn” character’s re-rolled physical abilities with the numbers generated for STR, DEX and CON respectively.
  5. Retain the rest of the character’s INT, WIS and CHA, along with any skills, levels, XP, and class abilities. Hit points can be re-rolled with new CON modifier if any. Gear and equipment remains with the original body!
  6. The Referee must determine who your character has “replaced”. This will generally be a cultist who has offered their soul to Gogmak who has already completed their “great work”, although sometimes it will be a cultist who otherwise offered their soul without such a geas, or perhaps an unfortunate victim of the cult.
  7. There is a 1 in 20 chance that the new body already has a mutation (sustained during the previous occupant’s tenure). If they have a mutation, there is a 1 in 20 chance that they have another, and a 1 in 20 chance that they have another after that, etc.

Teaching D&D to Teens

My kids are young (10 and 8 at time of writing), and so when I run D&D for them and their friends, I feel justified running my preferred iteration of the game: Basic D&D. It’s perfect for kids this age, for whom D&D is their first step into fantasy roleplaying games.

A while ago a friend of mine (who is not a gamer) asked me if I would mind teaching her teenage son how to play D&D. Her teenage son plays a lot of computer games, so I assumed he has a good exposure to computer RPGs already. Of course, I agreed, and then started to ponder what version of the game I should teach him and his friends.

Edition

I love the OSR and TSR’s versions of Basic D&D. But when asked to teach the hobby to somebody else’s kid, a teenager who has a lot more experience with the genre (albeit through the video game world) than my own kids, I hesitated. 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons is either the most popular version of the game ever or the most popular since the early 1980s anyway. It’s the version of the game he has seen played online on Critical Role (maybe I should watch some of that to get an idea of what expectations he may have), and the version of the game that kids his age are going to play. The logic was inescapable – teaching 5th edition gives the best chance for this interest to turn into a long term hobby.

Starter Box or Not?

The next decision to make was whether to use the D&D Starter Box or my own dungeon to introduce the game. I already bought the starter box for my friend to give her son, and I figured the beauty of that boxed set is that it is designed to teach the owner how to DM, not just how to play D&D themselves. I also figured that if and when he wants to DM, he will likely be running a game for the same friends who will be playing in my game. I’d like to leave him the option to run the starter box adventure for them.

Theatre of the Mind vs Miniatures

Next, I had to decide whether it was better to use miniatures or not. On this point, my recent experience running D&D for my own kids and reflections on my own first experiences of the game informed my decision. I used pre-painted miniatures and dungeon tiles to build the dungeon map dynamically and to make combat unambiguous. There’s multiple reasons for this:

  • Miniatures add a visual element to the game.
  • It is difficult for new players to keep the details of where every opponent is in combat in their head. This is why the 1991 starter box I have praised so much came with a complete set of fold-up paper minis and a large battlemat map.
  • Mapping is tough for experienced players and is not really part of the “modern game” of D&D (since 3rd edition if not earlier). Using dungeon tiles will let me reveal the map progressively on the table, as if they are mapping the thing out themselves, without forcing the players to keep maps.
Dungeon Tile Map
Top down shot of the sewer dungeon I created for the game. During play, I revealed this map progressively. Falling (or jumping, or being thrown) into the sewerage provoked a Constitution save to avoid penalties to physical tasks and attacks.

The miniatures seemed to be a big hit with several of the players, and were instrumental in convincing my friend’s daughter to join the game as well. As much as miniatures can seem “superfluous” to many experienced roleplayers, they were extremely important in “selling” D&D to the teens.

Give out XP

Even though this was a one-shot, I gave out XP at the end of play. Several of the players, those who had relevant video gaming experience, were looking forward to XP and were happy to see how close they came to levelling up (it helped that characters need very little XP to reach level 2 in 5e). Honestly, if I was going to do things again, I may even have planned to have a break part-way through to distribute XP, and give out enough XP to let students reach level 2.

Pre-Gens

I used a big variety of pre-gens – mostly from the WotC website but some generated using using Fast Character Maker. The pre-gens were selected to match the pre-painted miniatures I had available. I laid out the character sheets with the corresponding miniatures placed on top of each sheet on the table for the players to make their choices when they arrived. Again, this was about making the character selection visual. I also had a Player’s Handbook on hand and told the players that if they ran their own campaign in the future, they could create characters of their own with the rules in the book.

Play-Time

Much as I would for a con, I planned a very short dungeon, intending to play for 3 to 4 hours. Allowing some time to teach the players the basics about dice and advantage/disadvatnage, some time for some short breaks, and to get going in the first place, we had about 3 hours of actual play. The player characters cleared the sewers of a goblinoid criminal gang, lead by an ogre. There was one casualty, in the very final fight, which was climactic and only served to make the player whose character died even more excited by the game. I couldn’t have managed that on purpose if I tried, but I suppose the lesson I take away is that just because it is the first dungeon doesn’t mean it should be a cakewalk. Most OSR players I know can remember dying, often repeatedly, in their first session, and they stuck with the hobby, so don’t shy away from killing player characters in an exciting final battle

Did it work?

The kids seemed very excited and interested in running their own campaign (using the mini-adventure path in the starter box) by the end of the session. Ultimately, until they actually do that, I won’t declare that the kids are hooked! I know that the morning after I had dozens of WhatsApp messages from my friend about how much both her son and her daughter (whose participation was initially unplanned) enjoyed the game, and how both were planning future adventures, and researching buying funny dice, books and miniatures of their own

Games I want to play: Chivalry & Sorcery – A Song of Ice and Fire

One of the games I own but haven’t played is Chivalry & Sorcery. I have three versions of it:

The games are sorted above from most rules heavy to least. In truth, even Chivalry & Sorcery proper is not so much “rules heavy” as it is “complete”. There’s a lot of detail, but the rules themselves are not terribly complicated to use. Although the game has a distinct 90s feeling to the layout, all the tables and options and details make me enjoy thumbing through the books and think wistfully about playing. Almost all “serious” gamers I know have several games they have never played in their collection, in addition to several they will never play again. I’d really like to play C&S. While these books are currently in that “games I have never played” section of my collection, I’d really like to change that.

One of the regular players in my King Arthur Pendragon campaign made the observation not long after we started to play that the game system could be adapted to be a pretty fun A Song of Ice and Fire roleplaying game. While I am inclined to agree, and spent a few weekends working on a conversion, I eventually stopped working on it for a few reasons:

  • It was hard coming up with regional traits and passions for most regions of the world, frankly.
  • Pendragon’s “killer mechanic” is the personality trait system. In principle this should be great for A Song of Ice and Fire, however, I feel that most players would emphasize the “negative” traits (perhaps because of how salacious the Game of Thrones TV show is), and there would really be minimal social penalty and next to no “literary penalty” to doing so. The world of ASoIaF is more cynical than Arthur’s Britain. In play I suspect there would be less conflict between “positive” and “negative” traits and more simple indulgence of the negative traits.
  • Pendragon also has a defined “downtime” in the Winter Phase. Each session should be 1 year of the campaign, speaking generally. This would mean the whole of the events from King Robert visiting Winterfell to now, for example, would take only a few sessions depending on whether you preferred the book’s pacing or the TV show’s pacing.
  • Pendragon is about playing knights. You can also play ladies. There are more characters from more backgrounds than just those two in ASoIaF.

The more I think about it, the more I think a Pendragon version of ASoIaF would be fun, but not particularly faithful to the source material, which would be one thing if it was D&D, but almost sacrilegious to do to a game so perfect for its source material as Pendragon.

However, C&S seems to address these issues for me rather nicely! I can neatly side-step my difficulty in selecting regional traits etc by leaving those personality details up to the players, the personality trait system would not be present to be abused (replaced with some useful mechanics instead for influence), downtime is more flexible, and you can play any character from any social background. C&S also has a suitably low-key magic system (which would lend itself to tweaking to match the spell casting seen in ASoIaF), so I wouldn’t necessarily need to rule-out player character magicians as Pendragon 5th edition encourages.

So maybe A Song of Ice and Fire is my best shot to find players to play Chivalry & Sorcery with me… we will see!