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Notes

Year In Review – 2021 – Spitting in the Face of the Bat Plague

The second year of blogging has come to a close, time to take stock. Contrary to my hopes and expectations this time last year, 2021 turned out to be the second year of playing in times of a global pandemic. In spite of this, we managed to continue our gaming.

What we played

So what did we play? Most notably, I refereed two seasons of Castle Xyntillan using my homebrew classic D&D rules, Hackbut. Season two ran for 14 sessions, from late January to late April. Season three lasted 10 sessions and ran from mid-September to mid-December. In between these, from early May to mid-July, one of our players stepped up to “warden” a season of Mothership. We played one session of The Haunting of Ypsilon 14 and 10 sessions of Gradient Descent. Over summer I ran a two-shot of The Coming of Sorg, again using Hackbut. When circumstances allowed for it, we managed to resume our monthly face-to-face boardgame night. To celebrate, I acquired Kemet Blood & Sand, which according to many is the pinnacle of Matagot “dudes on a map” games. We managed to play this three times between late July and late October.

With regards to our ongoing Castle Xyntillan campaign I kept pretty extensive records. What follows is some data on attendance, character deaths, and experience points. Just for kicks.

Attendance

Like last year, our play group numbers 7 players, not including me. Most sessions had 2-3 players attending, with average attendance being 3,6. Season 2 had an average attendance of 4,4, season 3’s average attendance was 2,6. This drop in attendance is probably the result of a number of factors, including big life events for at least one of our players, and perhaps also some fatigue with online gaming setting in for a few others.

Attendance

The top 3 players were good for 66% of the attendance. This was 56% in the previous year. This shift can be explained mostly by one of our group not participating at all this year, and another only playing in the beginning of the year.

Number of players

Character deaths

Ah, killing player-characters, the thing every classic D&D referee enjoys doing the most. I am kidding of course, but still, deaths is a good indication of how hazardous my game is. Seeing as how a key distinguishing aspect of classic D&D is that it is a game of challenge for the players, character death serves as a reasonable proxy for it.

Deaths

In total, 10 player-characters died in the dungeon. That’s an average of 1,7 per session. The most PCs killed in one session was four, which happened during session #18 when the company had an ill-fated run-in with a bunch of ghouls.

Retainers were unluckier still, with a total of 27 perishing across this year’s two seasons, for an average of 2,3 per session. The most retainers killed in one session was five, during session #33, when the company got lost in a pocket dimension forest.

Overall, 37 characters were killed by the dungeon, for an average of 1,5 per session. I don’t have a baseline to compare these numbers to, so I really can’t say if I run an extraordinarily deadly game, or if I am soft-pedaling it. I guess over 1 PC killed on average every session is kind of rough, but I don’t go out of my way to try and slaughter them. In fact I often feel bad about not giving the players the challenge they deserve. Maybe this number is an indication I should relax a little on that front.

Experience points

In any case, was all that dying good for anything? I would say so. The players brought back 132.796 XP. This breaks down to 84.754 XP in season 2, and 48.042 XP in season 3. That is an average of 5.533 XP per session (6.054 XP in season 2, 4.804 XP in season 3). I think it is safe to say Castle Xyntillan is a pretty generously stocked dungeon, but not overly so. I think this nicely offsets its lethality. Yes it is easy to die in the dungeon. But it is is also easy for players to get back into the game reasonably quickly, and level up past those first fragile levels.

Experience points

All of this XP is from treasure recovered, at a rate of 1 GP equals 1 XP. I award no XP for killing monsters and in case you are wondering, magic items also do not yield any. Another important thing to note is that players get to divide XP between all player-characters that participated in an expedition as they see fit. I do not enforce shares for player-characters.

The highest single haul was 15.900 XP, in session #21 (in season 3, the biggest score was 11.660 XP during session #34). In general, it is those wine barrels in the cellar that are the real money makers.

The seven currently active player-characters between them have acquired 106.393 XP. The average party level is 4.

The lowest level character is Guillemette, a level 1 thief, with 432 XP collected over 4 sessions. But this character saw no action this year. The next lowest-level character is Robert, a level 2 cleric, at 2.529 XP, all of which was acquired in one session.

The highest level character is Hendrik, a level 6 magic-user, at 36.000 XP, collected over a whopping 24 sessions of careful, diligent play. Level 6 is the highest level in the game and the magic-user is of course the class that requires the highest amount of XP. Getting there was quite an achievement, well-earned.

Closely following Hendrik is Jürg, a level 6 fighter / level 1 thief, at 31.600 XP collected over 14 sessions. Jürg is the only multi-classed character in the game. I wonder if more will follow now that some of them are plateauing and have no use for XP anymore. It’s also worth noting Jürg began life as a retainer (and husband) of this player’s previous PC, Bartolomea.

Blogging

Moving on, what happened with the blog? I mostly wrote play reports, for Castle Xyntillan seasons 2 and 3 (see the index), as well as the Coming of Sorg two-shot (a, b).

I also continued to write up commentaries on my homebrew ruleset, Hackbut. This year I covered the four character classes, equipment, encumbrance and retainers.

WordPress tells me I had 3.519 views and 1.188 visitors over the past year. This is of course very modest, and in truth I pay little attention to this sort of stuff. I do promote my posts on the OSR discord server and my twitter, but not anywhere else really.

The best performing posts this year were the first Castle Xyntillan play report, the thief class, and The Coming of Sorg.

I got quite a bit of traffic through referrals from Beyond Fomalhaut (thanks Melan). Most of my visitors are from the anglosphere (US, UK, CA) and also from The Netherlands of course.

Looking ahead

I hope I will be able to keep our weekly online D&D game going. It is definitely something that keeps me sane, and a welcome outlet for my many creative urges. I think we have one more season of Castle Xyntillan in us. I might try to add a new player or two to our group, so that we push the average attendance back up to the 3-4 mark. We are a close-knit group though, so recruiting will have to rely on our immediate social networks.

After Xyntillan, I think I want to try my hand at running material of my own fabrication. I have come to realize that this is the purest form of D&D, homebrewing everything, and I want to experience it first-hand. I have been quietly chipping away at a mid-size dungeon (about 120 rooms across three levels) and am about half-way through completing it. It is strongly OD&D inspired, but filtered through my personal fantasy canon, which is very much in a science fantasy vein and includes things like Masters of the Universe, Storm, and The Incal.

Of course, once we are able to, I look forward to once again playing games face-to-face, but that will most likely mean more boardgames. I recently acquired both a copy of Tigris & Euphrates, and Quantum and I hope to get those to the table in 2022.

In terms of blogging, I will continue to write up play reports for as long as I referee games. I like keeping a record of what happened and most of all reflecting on what went well and what I can improve on as a referee. Occasionally I get a comment saying others are getting some use out of them as well, which is always nice. I also intend to continue the series on Hackbut, although we have now hit the section on running the game, which may lend itself a little less well to the kind of posts I have been doing so far.

In any case, despite circumstances, 2021 was another good year for me for gaming, and I hope to maintain this in the year to come, bat plague be damned.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Retainers

“Retainer” is the catch-all term I use in my game for NPCs that accompany player characters on adventures. I make no distinction between hirelings, henchmen, mercenaries, etc. In some editions, each serves a particular purpose: Some accompany PCs on wilderness treks, others also go with them into dungeons, etc. In our current campaign, town is mostly handled off-screen and we don’t do wilderness treks. It’s all about the dungeon crawl, so different types of retainer don’t add anything.

The reason for having rules for retainers in Hackbut is mainly so players can pad out their expeditionary force with some extra muscle. This way player-character death rate is reduced, without having to dial down the lethality of the campaign. Retainers are usually the first ones to drop, as anyone who has been following my Castle Xyntillan play reports will know. Retainers also add to the party’s carrying capacity, which nicely complements the rather strict encumbrance rules we enforce.

Okay, so how do they work? The short answer is that I lifted the Morale & Men rules module by Istvan Boldog-Bernad and Sandor Gebei published in Castle Xyntillan (as well as Echoes from Fomalhaut #1). These are a coherent, comprehensive, but straightforward set of rules that fit on a single A4 page. They cover:

  • Determining the availability of retainers that takes into account settlement size, and includes light & heavy footmen, bow & crossbowmen, and mounted troops
  • Recruiting retainers
  • Determining their level
  • Loyalty and morale (very close to the rules in B/X, with a few clever tweaks)

I more or less lifted these rules wholesale, so I won’t describe them here. I will note the few small changes and additions I made.

  1. Rather than having all retainers be 1 HD by default, I say that non-combatants are 0 HD, and men-at-arms are 1 HD but have no class.
  2. I add a line to the table for determining availability of classed NPCs. These are the ones for whom a level and class can be determined as the original rules module suggests. The probabilities and amounts for village, town, city and metro are: 10% 1d2, 10% 1d4, 20% 1d6, 30% 1d8.
  3. These classed NPCs don’t take a per-expedition wage as the others do, but instead insist on a half-share of the expedition’s treasure haul (and as a result, because of the way my XP rules work, they also get a half-share of the XP).
  4. I say that unclassed retainers can be promoted into a level 1 class by assigning XP to them. For 0 HD this requires an initial expenditure of 1000 XP. I took this rule, like so often, from Delta.
  5. I added stat blocks for the basic retainer types to my rules booklet, which are largely based off of those created by Nic, with just a few tweaks to bring them in line with my flavor of classic D&D.

And that’s it, really. These rules have served us so well hardly a game has gone by we do not have at least a few retainers join the party. I cannot count the number that have perished in those haunted halls of Castle Xyntillan. At least one of the currently still active player characters, a level 6 fighter now, started out as a lowly porter. In short I can’t imagine playing classic D&D without retainers, and this set of rules make running them a breeze.

That’s it for this Hackbut rules post. With this, we have also come to the end of the equipment section of the rules booklet. The next section is “playing the game”, which is substantial, but also in many cases maybe less interesting to blog about section by section. So I will have to see how I will go about that. In any case, to be continued.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Encumbrance

Time for another Hackbut rules post. This one is about encumbrance and inventory management.

I considered sticking with the traditional way of tracking encumbrance, but none of the systems in the original editions felt right to me. They were either too abstracted, or too unwieldy. Of course, in contemporary old school D&D circles, slot-based encumbrance tracking has become a house rule many people adopt. We were familiar with this approach from playing The Black Hack, and liked it, so I decided to adopt it for Hackbut as well.

My goal with this particular iteration of slot-based encumbrance was to have a set of rules that would be easy to remember and adjudicate, something that would make inventory management meaningful and enjoyable, but also, to have something that would be compatible with the traditional movement rates, and weight allowances that go along with that.

Let’s get to the rules. Here’s a bullet-wise rundown. I’m sure a lot of this will be familiar to those versed in contemporary old school D&D gaming.

  • A character’s carrying capacity is a number of slots equal to 10 plus their STR mod
  • Most things take up one item slot
  • For on-the-fly adjudication purposes, slots are roughly equal to 1/3 stone, 5 lb, or 2 kg
  • When you exceed your capacity — and once again at every multiple of it — your movement rate drops by 3″, and physical rolls incur a cumulative -1 penalty
  • The first three slots are so-called quick-draw slots, readying an item from any other slots takes a round
  • Small items stack to a slot — most notably, 100 coins take up one slot
  • Items marked in the equipment lists as “oversized” take up two slots
  • Armor takes up a number of slots equal to its AC “bonus” (e.g. light armor, AC 7, takes up two slots)
  • We ignore clothing, worn items, and very small single objects for encumbrance purposes

And that’s it, basically. I will close with some further notes on my thought process here.

  1. I did not use the raw STR score because that’s too swingy. In general in Hackbut I use the ability score bonuses rather than the raw scores to ensure abilities don’t matter too much.
  2. I went with a simple progression between the MV tiers. In particular, the break point for MV 6″ is some times at 1.5 or 1.33 times the base capacity. I dialed in the slots and weights to a slot so that I could simply have breakpoints at each multiple of the base capacity. Again, easy to remember.
  3. The weight a slot is roughly equivalent to I dialed in by analyzing the classic editions, some of the main retroclones, but also OED and Knave.
  4. I played around with the number of coins to a slot to get a sensible single coin weight. I landed on 0.05 lb (0.02 kg). By comparison, Delta’s coins are 0.01 lb, and Knave’s are 0.05 lb.
  5. I believe I mentioned this in my series of posts on the equipment lists, but I determined slots for each item mainly by translating from the weights listed in Delving Deeper, and plugging holes where needed using Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy’s Equipment Emporium (PDF).
  6. Finally, keen-eyed readers may be wondering about the slots for armor. I admit this is a deviation from the classic editions. If I were to follow the weights listed, armor would have to take up roughly twice the slots I am currently using. But that is hard to remember, and also possibly too punitive under a system where a lot more stuff adds to your encumbrance than was the case in the original game. So I have made peace with the fact that my armor slots are on the lenient side.

Besides those already mentioned, I would also point to Necropraxis (a, b), Delta (a, b), and Coins & Scrolls as three other sources of inspiration.

And that’s it for encumbrance. Next time I will likely discuss how I handle retainers.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Equipment – Weapons & Armor

Continuing the discussion of Hackbut’s equipment list, after adventuring gear I now turn to melee weapons, missile weapons, and armor.

This, along with the missile weapons, are a part of the game I agonized over way too much. In particular, I fiddled with their damage and properties until each each was distinct from all the others.

The items on the list are basically a merging of the OD&D and B/X weapons lists. I wanted something that would be broadly compatible with the original editions. So I stuck to the original prices or took averages where editions diverged.

I also did not want to offer situational bonuses for specific weapons against particular types or armor, like for example OED does. I think that is adding a level of complexity that does not fit the simple and fast-playing game we want to be playing.

Melee weapons

Melee weapons
Melee weapons
  • I rationalized the damage as follow: 1d4 for small weapons; 1d6 as a baseline; 1d8 for two-handed weapons with reach or versatile weapons wielded in two hands; 1d10 for two-handed weapons with no reach. (I took some inspiration from Skerples for this.)
  • If it wasn’t obvious, “reach” means a weapon can be used to fight from the second rank. “Versatile” means the weapons can be wielded in one or two hands. “Oversized” means the weapon takes up two slots.
  • Pikes, lances, pole-arms and halberds are a bit of a mess in the original editions. I decided to make pikes and lances functionally the same weapon, with certain benefits gained when fighting from horseback. Halberds I used to model large axes that do not quite have reach. Pole-arms I used for the plethora of slashing/stabbing/hooking implements that do have reach.
  • The keen-eyed observer will see that spears are incredibly useful, as they should be. Note, however, that the 1d8 damage die is only rolled when using the weapon with two hands without reach.
  • The flail is the two-handed variant that might have actually seen some use in the late medieval and early modern eras. I designed it to basically be the cleric’s alternative for the fighter’s zweihander.
Two-handed flails (Paul Hector Mair)

Missile weapons

Missile weapons
Ammunition
  • The bows are balanced against each other by trading rate of fire for damage. (My rules don’t have multiple shots for regular bows like some of the classic games do. My combat round lasts 10 seconds. I follow Delta’s reasoning for this.)
  • The eponymous arquebus is the only deviation from “official” classic D&D weapons. I added it to the list because I wanted to add some early modern flavor to my game and guns are a big part of the battlefield in that era. However, I again went for simplicity, so it is basically a souped-up heavy crossbow that has an even worse rate of fire, and a heavier ammo kit. My main reference for this was the firearms appendix of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
  • Those “Ud” notes are usage dice (taken from The Black Hack) which are rolled after each combat. In my game, no-one enjoys counting individual missiles, except when they are remarkable in some way (magic arrows, silver arrows, etc.)
  • Edit (August 15, 2021): I should add missile weapons all have the same range. All missile attacks are at -1 for every 10 feet beyond the first 30 feet. Thrown weapons can’t go beyond 60 feet. (This, like so much else, was taken from Delta.)

Armor

Armor
  • Armor really is incredibly straightforward. The only deviation from the classic rulesets is the pricing, for which I followed Delta’s intervention to make chain and plate more expensive.

***

I’m sure there are more teeny tiny details that might catch your eye or you might think are odd. Suffice to say that I don’t think I left any aspect of each single item unconsidered.

Edit (August 15, 2021): To help my players get up and running quickly I created this guide to equipping your character. Somewhat inspired by Talysman (a, b) and The Alexandrian.)

That’s all for melee weapons, missile weapons and armor. The next post about Hackbut will most likely be about every OSR blogger’s favorite topic: encumbrance.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Equipment – Adventuring Gear

Let us continue the discussion of the equipment list in Hackbut. Last time around I provided an overview, this time I will cover adventuring gear. Below is the table once more.

Adventuring gear
Adventuring gear

I started with the White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game (WBFMAG) list. I really only removed or combined a few items. My goal was to have a list that wasn’t too long but would still contain most of the things commonly required for a dungeon delving expedition. The item descriptions I for the most part lifted from Old School Essentials, but I did make a few rules changes here and there.

  • I removed the wine bottle, scroll case, helmet, and tent. I list only one type of holy symbol, and only one type of rope (hemp).
  • I translated the capacity of the containers to match my 2 kg (5 lb) inventory slots, and tweaked each container’s canonical capacity somewhat.
  • I rejiggered a few prices. The price of garlic is dropped back down to the 5 gp it also is in OD&D. The class-specific tools I all set to 25 gp (so the spell book price is dropped down from 100 gp). This only seems fair.
  • I also rebalanced the numbers on those items that come in bundles. I primarily used the weights from Delving Deeper, and rounded the amounts that go into one slot to multiples of 5 (spikes, stakes, torches, rations).

With regards to the notes in the table, here are a few clarifying remarks:

  • “Non-encumbering” means what you think it does. These items are so light that they only start counting towards encumbrance when you carry ridiculous amounts of them, so for all intens and purposes they do not take up slots.
  • I don’t allow oil to burn of its own accord, so it requires a wick, or some flammable material (possibly a creature) needs to be doused and set fire to.
  • The “splash” weapon property rules text boils down to: Attack against unarmored AC. On a hit, listed damage is inflicted for Ud4 rounds. Target can use an action to try and prevent further damage for an additional roll of the Ud. Fumble: attacker has doused themselves. Crit: max damage on first round only.
  • As mentioned in previous posts “Uds” are usage dice — you roll the listed die size and if it comes up 1-2 you drop down to the next smallest size. I mainly use this for light sources. They are rolled each exploration turn (i.e. 10 in-game minutes).
  • “Oversized” means the items takes up two slots. Rope is heavy. Poles are long.
  • The rules for the special herbs and spices (belladonna, garlic, wolfsbane) I adapted from OED.

That’s about it! Next time I will cover melee weapons and maybe also missile weapons and armor.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Equipment – Overview

The next section to discuss in this series on my homebrew D&D rules is equipment. A big part of classic D&D play is about using tools to solve problems. From this perspective, picking equipment from the list is already playing the game. Not surprisingly, this section is probably also the one I obsessed over the most. In particular, I agonized over the specifics of the weapons list, what exactly to include as adventuring gear, and probably most of all, how exactly to dial in the encumbrance rules. I will probably devote a post to each of those topics. This post however serves as an overview of the section as a whole.

But before I continue, why don’t I just show the lists as they are in the current draft of Hackbut:

Adventuring gear
Melee weapons
Missile weapons
Ammunition
Armour

My starting point for the lists was (as always) those provided in White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game (WBFMAG). I also relied heavily on Old School Essentials, in particular for the adventuring gear descriptions, and the weapon qualities. I did do a lot of editing and tweaking. For example, I revised the weapon damage, and massaged the qualities as well.

Seeing as how my game is set in a pseudo-historical late medieval to early renaissance period, I had to have a firearm on the list. This is also where the name Hackbut comes from, it’s an early form of arquebus. I borrowed some description and detail from Lamentations of the Flame Princess for this one, but vastly simplified the rules.

Speaking of missile weapons, some will have noticed a “Ud” listed for the ammo — this is the usage die from The Black Hack. It is also used for some consumable items, although not as many as in The Black Hack itself. I feel like it only adds something when counting individual items is too much of a chore, and adding some unpredictability makes for a more exciting game. The main thing here would be light sources.

The prices listed are in gold pieces, and in many cases are a straight copy from the source material. The coinage in the game is also entirely standard, following the description in WBFMAG. I considered switching to a silver standard for more verisimilitude, such as how Delta suggests doing it, but I opted to not go down that route because it would mean constant conversion of treasure and prices in the modules I am running.

The one major thing changed in terms of pricing which some of you may have noticed are those of armor. Here I did follow the change suggested by Delta, and made plate armor in particular significantly more expensive. This adds a degree of verisimilitude and also makes it so that fighter players have something to strive for in the early stages of the game.

I’ll close by just briefly noting that my encumbrance rules take a slot-based approach. It is heavily inspired by Skerples’ GLOG hack, The Black Hack, Knave, and Brendan’s OD&D house rules, but also Delta’s stone-based approach. The whole thing is also fully aligned with the classic D&D movement rates. This took a ridiculous amount of time to get right, and I am still not 100% satisfied, but it has withstood over 25 sessions of play and hits a sweet spot between ease of use and meaningful choice. I will certainly dig into it more in a future post.

That’s it for the overview of equipment in Hackbut. Next time I will dig into adventuring gear.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Classes – Thief

What it’s all about (David A. Trampier)

So after last post’s discussion of the magic-user we’ve come to the final entry in this series on the character classes in Hackbut: the thief.

Out of the four, I’ve probably tinkered with this class the most. As is often pointed out, the skills-based nature of the thief is at least a little at odds with the spirit of early D&D. On the other hand, the sneaky dungeon-delving specialist does add a nice bit of sword & sorcery genre flavor. There was no way I wasn’t going to include them in my game.

As always, I’ll just note that all of Hackbut’s classes are based on Hungarian retroclone Kamazaták és Kompániák. And again I’ll point out that the saves are replaced with the unified save in WB:FMAG. Below are the further changes I made to this class specifically.

  • Only simple and light weapons are allowed (hand axe, club, dagger, spear, staff, short sword, short bow, light crossbow and sling). This is mainly to protect the fighter’s niche and reinforce the fact that the thief is not a front-line fighter. It was inspired by Brendan’s OD&D “rogue” class.
  • I use the term “sneak attack” (rather than, say “backstab”) and some language from OD&D (“silent attacks from behind”). This to allow for some looseness in the interpretation of what counts as such an attack.
  • The OD&D percentile-based thief skills are collected under a single “thievery” ability and operate on a d20. This was inspired by Homebrew Homunculus’s deep dive into thief skills. For disarming traps I borrow some additional language from OED (three tries allowed, traps are only triggered on a fumble). I also make explicit that this skill is only applicable to small devices (aka “treasure traps”).
  • The hear noise skill is covered by a bonus to “perception checks” (+1 every four levels). Perception checks are handled by rolling 1d6, adding your WIS mod, with success on a 5+.
  • Climbing is similarly treated as a bonus. As well as allow for attempts at climbing unequipped that would be impossible for others. (This is based off of how Delta handles it in OED.)
  • Finally I allow thieves of any level to try and use magic-user scrolls, provided they succeed at a save vs. magic. If they fail, the spell backfires in some amusing and possibly deadly fashion. This is once again taken by a blog post by Brendan on the LBB thief.

So yeah, as you can tell, this is a mix-and-match of elements from various interpretations of the thief in the glorious OSR blogosphere. I should probably add that I would have not been able to assemble this version if (a) people had not taken the trouble to blog their OD&D house rules, and (b) those blogs were not made easily searchable through the OSR search engine created by Brendan (of Necropraxis).

And with that, we’ve come to the end of this series of class write-ups for Hackbut. I hope they will be of use to fellow homebrew enthusiasts out there.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Classes – Magic-User

Russ does the best wizards (Russ Nicholson)

Next up in this series on Hackbut’s character classes is the magic-user. (The previous instalment was on the fighter.) Once again, the Kazamaták és Kompániák class serves as the foundation. As always, it is worth noting I replaced the classic saving throws with the unified save found in WBFMAG.

In the weapons permitted, I removed the sling and added the club. Historically, slings are actually among the hardest missile weapons to master. It doesn’t make sense to me that a wizard would have time to learn how to use one in-between all the arcane studying. Clubs, by contrast, are possibly the simplest weapon to use (a stick, basically) and furthermore, on the Hackbut equipment list they are free and do 1d4 damage. I see no reason why a magic-user wouldn’t be allowed to use them.

The rest of the things to note are all related, unsurprisingly, to spell-casting.

Starting spells, and gaining spells at level up, are basically as described in the aforementioned KéK blog post. I do, however, prescribe that such spells are determined randomly.

The spell list and spell descriptions themselves are from Delta’s excellent OED Book of Spells. The spell selection is classic but flavorful, and the description are streamlined and rationalized. This one comes highly recommended.

Finally, I tweaked the rules for memorizing and casting spells as described in White Box to be a little bit more flexible and forgiving. Taking a page from 5e, magic-users can memorize level + INT modifier spells from their spellbook. They can cast memorized spells by “expending” a spell slot, but the spell itself remains memorized for further use. Essentially, memorized spells and spell slots are decoupled. So yes, this does mean a magic-user can cast the same spell more than once, which I know is frowned upon in old-school D&D circles. However, the number of spells a magic-user can cast per day remains as per the original game, so some looseness aside, the system is no more powerful than before.

And that’s all there is to say about magic-users, really. Next time I will tackle the last of the four classes, the thief.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Classes – Fighter

Fighting-men doing their thing (Dave Trampier)

Continuing the series on the four classes in Hackbut, having previously covered the cleric, next up is the fighter. This is the simplest class in the game (not that the others are particularly complicated, but still). I buy into the notion that the fighter should be kept as simple as possible so that there is a clear go-to for new players, or players who just don’t feel like something too involved.

As with all the classes in the game, I have used Kazamaták és Kompániák as the base. It is worth noting the multi-attack ability. This is an adaptation of the rule in OD&D and first edition AD&D where fighters may attack creatures of 1 HD or less a number of times equal to their level. KéK tweaks this. The rule reads as follows:

They may attack multiple opponents, provided their combined HD doesn’t exceed the fighting-man’s own (e.g. a level 4 fighting-man may attack four 1 HD goblins, two 2 HD wolves, or a 3 HD crystal statue and a 1 HD cultist).

So the power level of creatures that a fighter can perform multiple attacks against scales with their level, without getting out of hand. When I saw this I was immediately taken with it, because it solves this strange break point at the 1 HD mark without unbalancing the game unduly. (I should add it is also listed as an option in the Castle Xyntillan stat blocks.)

In play, I have found one slight drawback to this ability is that players are prone to ask about enemy HD, which is an unwelcome intrusion of rules concepts into the game’s fiction. I do not expose HD to players (nor do I AC, for that matter). So I handle this by telling a fighter their options with regards to performing multiple attacks in a round. This works fine. And in any case the ability leads to fighter characters wading into melee ahead of other characters.

One other ability that I added is a +1 to open door checks and other feats of strength for every three levels the fighter has. (So it improves to +2 at level four.) Such ability checks in Hackbut are always 5+ on a d6. Everyone gets to add their STR mod, and fighters get a little boost. In play this means that fighters are typically the designated door-opener, and the first one in harm’s way. (I believe a version of this ability is also in OD&D and Moldvay Basic D&D.)

Fighters are the only class who get to use all weapons and armour. In addition it is worth pointing out I restrict the use of magic swords to fighters only. I believe the Greyhawk thief was able to use such swords, but I have dialed back the weapons they are allowed. When I first came to classic D&D I did not realise this, but magic swords are a major way for fighters to acquire special powers. And I have really come to appreciate that aspect of the game. Character advancement for a large part happens through the junk they acquire along the way, rather than marking off stuff on their character sheets in return for XP.

That’s all I have to say about fighters. Like I said, pretty simple. Next time we will cover the magic-user.

Categories
Rules

Hackbut – Classes – Cleric

The cleric gets it (Stefan Poag)

Okay, here are some design notes on the cleric class in Hackbut. This is the first of the classic four classes that are in my game. I will cover them in alphabetical order.

As previously mentioned in “the basics”, the chassis for my classes is from Hungarian retroclone KéK.

Using the cleric as described there as a base, I added and changed the following things:

  • I explicitly disallow missile weapons. Some allow slings, for example, but I don’t like the visual image it conjures up. If a cleric wants to kill something from a distance, they will have to use flaming oil flasks or holy water.
  • I replaced the classic turn undead mechanic with a d20-based approach taken from Necropraxis. The only thing I changed was that players get to add their WIS mod in stead of CHA, because I interpret turning as an expression of true faith rather than leveraging your force of personality. The main reason I went looking for an alternative to the classic mechanic was that I wanted something that does not require use of a lookup table, because I am all about speed of play at the table. This alternate mechanic does skew the odds of successful turning and destroying significantly in favour of the players. But if handled as an encounter action, it does not upset game balance too much, in my experience. Also, in Castle Xyntillan, named undead can never be destroyed, only turned. (If you want something that is mathematically equivalent of the table-based OD&D mechanic, I recommend Delta’s take.)
  • With regards to divine spell casting, I have clerics not carry a spell book. They gain access to all spells of the levels they can cast automatically at level-up. They do need to memorize spells, just like magic-users do.
  • The spell descriptions in Hackbut are adapted from an unofficial OED-style list of cleric spells created by “baquies”. These are basically exactly the spells that clerics get in OD&D, but the descriptions themselves are streamlined and harmonized. They’ve been working great so far.

And that’s basically it. As I’ve mentioned in the previous post, clerics work great in a pseudo-historical early renaissance campaign setting if you lean into their faux catholic demon hunter characterization. They’ve gone from a class that I’d rather cut from D&D, to possibly my favorite class of the classic four.

Next up: the fighter.