Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: Dungeons & Dragons

Deflating D&D Experience Levels

March 16, 2023

My first edition of Dungeons & Dragons was the 1981 Moldvay Basic but I quickly fell victim to Gygax’s marketing of Advanced D&D. It was years before my brother and I found anyone else who had the game, so all I had was the TSR products as-written. The 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set was the one and only campaign world, then. The encounter tables in the Glossography became unforgettable as they set the bar for NPC experience levels. The entry for “Men, Patrol, Knights” is the best example of this:

screenshot of encounter table entry for 'Men, Patrol, Knights'

Ignore the high-level officers. The average knight is at least a 4th-level Fighter. His squire is 2nd- or 3rd-level. Even the serjeants are 1st-level Fighters, which is meaningful as AD&D has the concept of “zero-level” for commoners a little better at combat (e.g. militiamen) than the rest. Other entries in those tables have similar experience level distributions.

Regardless of rules edition, these are high levels for average warriors. Knights are elite professionals, true, but all of them in (what 5th-edition D&D calls) Tier 2? D&D presumes that all character classes will be present in equivalent distributions, so Tier 2 spell-casters will also be common. Porting these levels as-is into 5e would not change my point at all. One of my many quibbles with 5e is its continued power inflation from 3e. Even more than with character classes, I disagree with Knights being 8d8+16 HD opponents and peasants having 16 Hit Points.

This has a huge impact upon the rest of a campaign world. How many of us have carried these assumptions into our own custom worlds? It has taken me years (decades!) to truly see that knights, for one, can still be feared killing machines at lower experience levels. That even comes with a bonus: they also become mortal, which every non-hero should be. If you are keeping the spell-caster equivalency, this also lowers the magical power level of your world—a very good thing, in my opinion.

In 5e terms, I see a squire as a 1st-level Fighter. An average knight would only be a 2nd-level Fighter. Higher levels are still available for experienced knights, of course. Against peasants and militiamen, a 2nd-level Fighter is a sufficient killer but is also at risk of being slain by a few enemies working together.

For further discussion on this topic, I highly recommend JB’s (B/X BLACKRAZOR) blogposts Hit Me Baby One More Time, 1st Level Magic-Users, and One Man Army.

Jealous Hoarding of Magic Spells

February 20, 2023

7 Myths Everyone Believes About Druids suggests that druids should be fractious.

Dojo Storming is but one example showing that martial artists are violently rivalrous about their skills, masters, and/or schools.

So, too, should magicians because it would be an identical situation. Spells are analogous to martial art maneuvers: most are common but advanced ones are secrets known to perhaps only a single master and her disciple. How shall all other magicians in the world learn such secrets? By force, most likely. Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series—a major influence on Dungeons & Dragons’ magic system—depicts all wizards as jealous hoarders of the hundred spells left in that world.

Xenograg’s homeworld of Panadus has not yet advanced to where schools—of any kind—are common. Indeed, the Imperial School founded by Demograg was part of his sorcerous revolution. The three masters that coexisted as the Veler Magi were unique; likewise their College where the sum of their knowledge was taught.

Xenograg is the only person to ever be a student of both those schools. That fact predates this retrospective but this is not a retcon. The old and this new dovetail nicely. The original narrative portrayed Maret, the last Veler Magi, as very wise and peaceful. Amazingly, it is Maret who invites Xenograg into the College. Xenograg did not seek it; would have believed it impossible. To his mind, Xenograg would have had to “storm” the College to get the spells within.

Now there is a “What If…?

Addendum: I neglected to include the witches coven. Either through temperament or necessity, female magic wielders are often depicted as working together in small groups.

Will You Give Me Your Prisoner, Or Must I Take Him?

January 21, 2023
[El Cid confronts the soldiers taking Prince Alfonso to the dungeons of Zamora.]
El Cid:
Will you give me your prisoner, or must I take him?
Guard Leader:
[incredulous] There are thirteen of us, and you are alone.
El Cid:
What you do is against God’s law. Were you thirteen times thirteen, I would not be alone!

— “El Cid” (1961)

That last line is a declaration of a D&D paladin, if there ever was one.

Using Computers To Play Non-computer Games Better

November 25, 2022

Many years ago, I was the Computer Statistician of my High School’s varsity football team. It was an unique position on the managerial squad. One of our coaches had purchased a software application for analyzing opposing teams’ offenses. Team scouts would collect the kind of data the application could analyze. My after-hours job was mostly data entry of any newly-arrived scouting reports but, more importantly, of running the analysis report of our next opposing team as soon as all relevant data was entered.

These reports were printed out on wide fan-fold paper because the bulk of each one was numerous ASCII grids that corresponded to lateral field positions. These simple graphics helped non-technical coaches interpret the results—statistical breakdowns of behavioral tendencies in an opponent’s play-calling. The breakdown categories were the traditional ones scouts and coaches use without computers: 1st-and-10, 2nd-and-long, et. al.

So I learned early that computers could be used for more than just playing games. They could be used as tools to help me play other games better. Even games that had nothing to do with computers.

I had found Dungeons & Dragons in Middle School, and already knew a few things about probability and statistics. I had been an user of computers, though mostly for playing games. I had even hacked game data once or twice. That only made the game easier to play; it did not make me a better player.

As the football seasons progressed, I watched those reports be used by the coaches to make our team play better through adaptation to our opponents’ patterns of play. Knowledge was power.

All that led to computer programming. My first original programs were various tools and toys for or related to D&D. I still write them in my leisure time, today.

I intend to blog about them. Soon.

Bling on Role-play Characters

November 17, 2022

5. Bling: One of the things that D&D has historically not paid enough attention to is playing dress-up. I don’t mean that the players should show up in costume. I mean that the PCs should be spending much more time on fantastical Vancian couture, terrifying battle-masks or makeup inspired by various parts of real-world history, necklaces made of their enemy’s teeth, and actually wearing the jewelry they’ve pulled out of various tombs in order to advertise that they are successful stone-cold badasses. I’ve instituted a rule in a lot of my campaigns that if you openly wear articles of jewelry, they don’t count towards your encumbrance. Ten [coins] worth of encumbrance here and there can make a big difference when you want portable wealth. Also, you can use it to modify reaction rolls (people can immediately tell that a sorceress with a 5,000gp crown of onyx and platinum is a VIP, and they’d probably better not fuck with her, or anyone else who can accumulate and keep that kind of wealth) and morale rolls (enemies might fight harder for a chance to loot the PCs’ goods)….

OSR D&D as a post-apocalyptic setting –

Emphasis mine.

Monsters Are Made To Be So

October 18, 2022

The Champawat Tiger killed, as far as anyone was able to record, 436 human beings in her lifetime. Mostly they were women and children, gone out into the forest to collect firewood or livestock fodder. She killed strategically, never hitting the same location twice and constantly staying on the move.

By any stretch of the imagination that is more than enough to call her a monster. It’s a perfectly fair assessment, and the leap of faith to ascribe it supernatural power would be quite small, given the circumstances. It’s as close to a true monster as you’re liable to get.

When the tiger finally died at the hands of Jim Corbett, the body revealed a different story: The two canine teeth on the right side of her jaw had been broken by a hunter’s bullet some 8 years before.

The Champawat Tiger was starving.

The damage to her teeth meant that she was unable to hunt her normal prey, and given the long-term pressure of habitat loss she would have been hard-up to find sufficient food in the first place. The killings were acts of desperation, brought upon by circumstances that made life as a normal tiger impossible. Perhaps it’s still right to call her a monster, but she was not a monster because she was born with some innate malice—she was only a very large cat getting on in years, desperate for food.

Jim Corbett was called upon to hunt down another fifty maneaters over the course of the next 35 years. Together, those tigers had killed over 2000 people, for much the same reasons as the Champawat Tiger—injury, desperation, starvation, and habitat loss.

Would you look at that.

The root cause was British colonialism.

436 people dead because some dumb shit went trophy hunting, because he just had to prove how big and strong his penis was to all his dumb shit friends….

Monsters have a cause.

That is the lesson of the Champawat Tiger.

Monsters are made to be so.

D&D Doesn’t Understand What Monsters Are – Throne of Salt

Author’s emphases.