The Complete Fighter's Handbook, Book Review

A video blogger, user-named Mittierim, recently reviewed the classic book, The Complete Fighter’sHandbook on his Youtube channel, Mittierim gave a fair assessment of the book from a modern perspective; I had tried to comment, but apparently, for whatever reason, Google has deemed it necessary to ban me from commenting on Youtube. I had sent him a message, telling him that I enjoyed the video, and about my feelings in regards to the book in question. It actually stirred up more feelings about the book than I thought were really there, which was surprising to me; so today, I’d like to write my own review about the book, from my perspective.

The Complete Fighter’s Handbook is a very important book: It was the very first supplement for the 2nd Edition. The original goal of 2e, was to put all information needed to play the game in 2 core books, but it quickly became evident that this was an impossible task, if all information was added, then the cover price of the Player’s Handbook would be priced over $50, which would be the equivalent of around $100 today, so nobody would buy the book. It’s also harder to properly bind extremely large books. Dave Cook, the man put in charge of the 2e project, had broken the news early, and asked the users what classes that they wanted kept, as there were cuts that had to be made. People responded in bulk! But that couldn’t stop the fact that the player’s handbook still had a limited amount of page space. It was decided to publish additional books (the irony is lost on nobody, the book count for 2e was, and still is the most enormous of any edition), this being the very first one! Today, a lot of the information seems blunted, additional books came out which did a better job, but what one has to know is that this was the first time that users got this information. It had a big job to fulfill! It had a lot to add to the core mechanics, and it also addressed things that there just wasn’t enough space for in the PHB.

Character Creation

In the PHB, the descriptions for the new skill system, called Non-Weapon Proficiencies, was good enough for most skills, but for others, there just wasn’t enough information present to actually be useful. This book addressed a couple of the big ones, namely Armorer, and Weaponsmithing; presenting rules on these skills that are incredibly helpful to not just players, but Dungeon Masters as well.  It provided a solid base so that we can more accurately simulate the time, cost, and construction of stuff that 95% of the users know nothing about. Sure, we go to Ren Fairs, and watch the blacksmiths and craftsmen do their thing, but that is a skill that is an art form. While the book probably isn’t all that accurate, it does allow us to better assess things in a fair way.

As far as usefulness today, I still use this system above all others presented later. I find it to be incredibly quick and uniform; the information is presented in table form with additional commentary that one can read if they need further information. It also makes sense that this information is in this book; when a question like this appears, it is logical to find the best info on the subject in the Fighter’s Handbook.

Warrior Kits

This was it! This was probably why you bought the book. I was expecting more information: Stuff like what one found when cracking open the old Unearthed Arcana, instead what we got wasn’t that at all, but ways to modify the existing class into different archetypes. While, technically, it did try to add classes lost in the update, namely the Barbarian and Cavalier classes, it did it in a way that seemed to neuter their potential. I’m not sure if play-testers found the two classes to be over-powered compared to the other classes, or to powerful in regards to the updated monster stats, or what, as this change has never been truly explained, but it feels like the kits were just an after thought; phoned in, if you will. To new players, though, this was a radical concept. 

I have played many of the kits in this handbook, and I still use them to fill out major NPCs. Today I have mixed feelings about kits, I don’t really think that they are all that necessary to play the game, one can create a better character just by  focusing on skills alone. Most of the modifiers in the kits presented simply changed how NPCs treated you, giving you bonuses to Charisma that really doesn’t matter all that much during game play. These are all just role-playing decisions to me: At the end of the day, a barbarian is still a fighter. BUT! When this book came out, new players had not yet learned this. Fighters weren’t all that desirable at many tables. We always played just regular classes, and while fighters could use armor, and dish out a lot more damage, it was always more exciting to cast spells, or pick somebody’s pockets! This book showed us that we didn’t have to play fighters like that, that we could create unique ones and give them a depth of character that previously new users didn’t know about. A fighter could be more than just a tank, but a fully realized character.

Many of these kits depended upon DM cooperation, which also gave a hint to new DMs about how to tailor an adventure to the people who are actually at the table. Some kits were harder to tailor than others; the Swashbuckler, for instance, is a character that just doesn’t fit into all campaigns, and it instructs the DM to focus too much attention catering to just one PC. As a 1-on-1 campaign, the swashbuckler is an awesome experience, but during standard, cooperative game play, not so much.

Once again, this book just gave information, without stating its intent. Is the Swashbuckler good for all games? No! But it did present the information to show us that we can play in different settings other than the ones published at the time, even a character like Zorro or a musketeer.

This information was ground breaking at the time, but was later replaced by different character systems. A modern user who looks at this stuff will find it not even worth their time to play, as it has become seen as under-powered clichés, but they weren’t at the time of its release, these kits were imagination fuel that taught us that we shouldn’t be content with just the information offered in the PHB, but to push it into different directions. We weren’t limited to just the kits in this book, we were taught how to create our own kits, which was empowering and got players more involved in the creative process of campaign design.


This section is probably the most dated. Today we take for granted that everybody knows what a role-playing game is, but this wasn’t always the case. 2nd Edition had an unstated mission to make role-playing and story more important to the game. There was also a new trend in the hobby, AD&D saw a very large boom in new players who were interested in the game, but who didn’t have access to a table of experienced players who were willing to teach them how to play. You also had war-gamers who were playing the game and their games tended to be more combat oriented. It wasn’t uncommon to have all of your characters be the exact same character with a different name. The player’s handbook mentions roleplaying and defines it, but didn’t really offer any suggestions in regards to how to do it, or why you would even want to. This section changed that, it provided some examples of adding motivations to your character. Tools that help the player get inside of a characters head and make them more interesting to play.

Once again, it did provide a hint of insight on how to DM, and tailor a campaign to fit the individuals who were playing in it, and inspired players to create more than just a tough character, but a unique one who was more than just a tank. Reading this section back when the book came out was mind-blowing and incredibly exciting. It changed the way that we saw the game, it gave players a chance to create something unique and exciting. As a new player, this was probably my favorite chapter, but it isn’t necessary today. It did it’s job, and it did it well! All of the other Complete Class Handbooks had this section in them, but none were so revealing and as inspiring as this one was.

Combat Rules

This section is why the book is still on my table on game day. The Core handbooks described basic combat, and included a bunch of optional material, but this book, THIS BOOK really expanded upon it. When users first purchased this thing, all shrink wrapped and mysterious, they expected rules for new player classes, but instead, they got this section, which was amazing! This book greatly expanded upon optional fighting rules. It added fighting styles to Weapon Specializations, updated a weird martial arts and hand to hand combat section, and had even more rules for things that DM’s might want to add to their games. It elaborated upon many details that were briefly discussed in the Core manuals, and is still a very helpful section to have, which makes this book useful to everyone who still plays the 2nd Edition system.

Some of the topics in this book were kind of game breakers, such as adding called shots, which players used to kill powerful villains with 1 hit, so a DM has to really read this section carefully before allowing these optional rules into their games, and being specific about what these rules can and can’t accomplish. It did force “true hits” into a very abstract combat system that may not support them.

All of these rules were replaced with the Player’s Options series of books that came out many years after this book was released, but I’ve got to tell you, as far as mechanics go, I still prefer this book to the Players Option’s Combat & Tactics. I guess that it is probably because I have this book better memorized, and thoroughly play-tested with house rules that are just automatic and excepted by everybody at the table that keeps me using this section, newer players do prefer the stuff in Players Options.

Again, to the original buyers of this book, this stuff was gold! It gave players more options, and even more ways to customize a unique fighter. Today reading the Fighter’s Handbook is boring, as this information is common knowledge and old hat, but I can’t express enough how exciting this book was at the time . . . and I should stop trying as by now I’m sure that you get it.


This section was an emergency must have. Again, because of the limited page count of the core books, a lot of information was left on the cutting board, this section gave a quick patch to users which helped hold us over until the full Equipment Guide could be completed and published. Oddly enough, I don’t actually own the Equipment guide anymore. I don’t know if I had lost it, or if I never bought it because another player owned it and we all just used his copy. I really need to pick that book up, but for years, this little section has been helpful enough. Not everybody is a history major, in fact, D&D provided the entry point for a lot of future history geeks. This section kind of helped players even the playing field, it also changed how we looked at armor. This chapter is far from perfect, but it did serve the purpose of helping us out until a better book could be completed.

The binding of the book varied by year it was printed, my copy is the Faux Leather softbound with shiny gold lettering on the cover, which has held up very well through the years. The binding is strong, I’ve flipped through this book thousands of times and haven’t lost any pages. The one thing wrong with the binding is that the book won’t sit flat on the table, so you need to weigh it down with something if you want to keep a specific page open for quick reference.

There are some helpful tables at the back of the book, and pages that you have permission to photocopy and use. It supplies Character Sheets for Fighters, a players cheat sheet to the supplemental combat section, a helpful sheet for DMs to use during combat, and a Warrior Kit Creation worksheet which can help you add your own kits.
There is not an actual index for the book, but the Table of Contents does provide double duty as it does a good job of describing the subsections by topic for fast reference.
Artwork is minimal, and all of it recycled from previously released modules, but it is helpful and fun to look at none the less. The tables are all highlighted in blue, and the book is easy to flip through for experienced users who already know roughly what they are looking for.


Today, this book is an archaic antique from a much earlier time in the games history. Much of the material has been mined and rewritten elsewhere, but the concepts which it contains are still useful to those who own the book. Collectors should have this on their shelves, as it is a very important historical document in regards to AD&D, a fact that is lost to most players of the game. For modern players who want to return to 2e, or play the game for the first time, this book really isn’t necessary anymore. One would get much more use out of the Player’s Option series.

I personally love this book; it really changed how I saw the game, and how I continue to play it. While I don’t sit down and read this book, I do use it still, not because it is better than the Player’s Option series, just because I know the layout better and enjoy the mechanics that it has to offer.

Overall, this book is really easy to find and incredibly cheap to own, but since the information presented is rather dated, its usefulness compared to page-count is very limited. If I remove my sentimentality from the equation, I’d probably rate the book a C-. Some of the concepts can confuse new players, and appears to offer very little to even the modern novice; however if you allow me to judge the book on what it did for me personally? I’d give the book an easy B+.  

GAME PLAY Episode 1: Chaos at Griffon Hill

Yesterday was Gameday. It was the first game of a brand new project; and, for me, Episode 1 is always what my friend BROOSER BEAR from the TALESOF THE MIDLANDS blog calls, a BS session. I always disagree with him about having them, as I find them incredibly helpful to my game but to him, it is a form of cheating. I write very little down, but I do brainstorm pretty hard, figuring out what I want to do. I am introducing primarily setting, a small cast of important NPCs, and the villains. If I were to write this stuff down I’d have a book, so I keep it in my head. I’m very good at visualization, and I had thought about this stuff for several months, but now it is time to make it real and set up my first scenario, and I wanted it to hit hard and capture the tone of what we are going to be doing.

I had everybody roll up 12th level characters; it has been a long time since we’ve played at this high of level. I had thought of taking everyone from 1st but that would take a really long time, and in that time my story would deteriorate, so we did it this way, which in itself is really hard, as one never really knows their character until they run them a couple of times, but we got that done. 

Because of the time that it takes to roll them up, I had everyone roll up two characters, just in case one of them dies. They are allowed to play one of them, I don’t care which one, per session. For spells, I had the casters write down what spells they have in their memory, once they cast one they can write a new one down, this keeps their nose out of the book, and simulates their huge pull list of spells available to them without actually having to write all of them down. In effect, the players must pick the spells they want prior to play and live with their choices.

Just prior to game play, I spend a few hours writing information that I think that I’ll want to have access to quickly. I commit to my NPCs, writing down quick stat blocks; for my orc armies, I just wrote down quick info, which I’m glad that I did because the players never really engaged the enemy directly. I made no maps, and kept everything as abstract as possible so I had the freedom to make everything up as we went, and take notes to track continuity for later games.

The game turned out to be a short one, only 3 hours, but this allowed us to shake off the rust, and 12th level is hard for everybody involved. One of the original players came back into the fold for this game after an absence of over a decade, our game has evolved a lot in that time, so I had to allow him to catch up to the new style of play, which is a lot more cerebral then it used to be, and so that I can get a feel for how to write for him. Hilariously, he was chosen as the groups leader, which kudos to him for actually excepting it. Newer players got a quick glimpse of his style of play, and so did he! He is loud, and obnoxious, he even inspired our youngest player, who is normally quite the wallflower, to yell at him; which was awesome! I actually liked the seating arrangement this time. Quiet people were next to me and the loud ones were further away, I could hear everybody much better and only had to yell once for people to shut up so I could hear the quiet ones.

Okay, the story!

I took the liberty of writing a quick backstory for the players: These who aren’t from Cormyr were almost killed during the Horde War, which had taken place 5 years before, then, they were saved by the Cormyrian forces and they joined their ranks to win the war with honors and ended up joining the Purple Dragons. They were assigned to a horrible outpost in the Stonelands called Grimstand Keep. The first few years were constant fighting against the monsters who live there, protecting the civilized areas further south from their influence, and seemingly very effectively as the last two years have been absolutely boring, with less and less monsters every year, until the current year, in which there has been absolutely nothing.

At this point we start the game. The Steel Princess arrives to see how the Keep is holding up, she too is bored as there is nothing to do out in the Stonelands, she’s been trying to find out how the Zhentilar is moving trade through Cormyr, but unsuccessfully. During the night a page from Tilverton has orders from that cities nobility to report to a nearby mining town called Griffon Hill, their mission was to reestablish order until the Baron of the Western Marches arrived, typical of a lawful army, they just sent news of the order itself and expected it to be followed with no further information.

At Griffon Hill, Cormyr’s main source for coal, the Baron has disappeared with the money to pay the men. Tilverton had also sent word to Arabel to bring the funds to pay the miners for their work and investigate the whereabouts of the missing Baron once the mine is once again productive.

In true PC fashion, the Players arrive in town to find chaos, the accountant is trying to establish order, and doing a terrible job of it. Today is supposed to be payday, and the miners were demanding payment, and were not allowing the shipment to be taken to Arabel until they had been paid. They made up personal sob stories about how they needed the money for their families, but in reality they wanted the money to get drunk and gamble at the many many taverns and brothels in town. The players, instead of trying to maintain order, instead took it upon themselves to investigate what was already known. The Baron was gone with all the money.

I gave them further information, they could see two dust clouds, both two days out and heading to the mining town. Unknown to them, the Southern army was Cormyrian, led by the Baron of the Western Marches with funds and soldiers to replace the mercenaries who had taken off at the first hint of money being gone (players never even asked about the missing military presence), the other army approaching from the North was a hostile orcish war party. To win the scenario they had to come up with some means to placate the citizens, establish a militia, and defend the mine from invaders. This wasn’t done. The miners, left to their own anger, began rioting and were left to do it while the players tried to figure out what had happened to the Baron of Griffon Hill. They had discovered that the Baron had been the victim of an Enchanter, including everybody in the Barons Keep where they had set up as their base of operations. Unknown to them, the Enchanter was still there, he was a high level agent of the Zhentilar. His mission was to cause chaos, disrupting the mine until a band of orcs could come and sack the town, which would serve to weaken Cormyr as this coal mine was their primary source for fuel. The Enchanter was allowed to succeed; upon entering the Keep, the players were under a powerful spell perpetuated by burning cigars that simulated a Friends spell which led to much confusion in the house. They saw the Enchanter as the head Butler (yes, dear reader, The Butler did it) and, while they were able to deduce what happened, the entire investigation was ultimately pointless. They did find a list of names that told them who the pit bosses were that supervised the miners, which would had been their best men to help establish order, but they ignored it.

So, two days had passed, and the orc war-party rides right into town, but instead of sacking the village, which the Enchanter thought they would do, the first act is setting fire to the mine, destroying it and causing it to burn for the rest of eternity. There was no resistance what so ever, and orcs like sacking stuff so that was their new plan. This was met with resistance by the players, the cleric cast a horrifying spell that used the flames shooting out of the mine to make a massively bright burst of light, and a chocking cloud which killed most of the orcs instantly, as well as townspeople who had survived the orcish assault. The orcs and horses who survived this spell, quickly fled town, their mission completed, and highly successful for them.

The Enchanter, well, he wasn’t thrilled at all. This was not the plan. Chaos and disruption is one thing, but this was a tremendous waste of resources, the entire area was injured by this assault, not just Cormyr. He no longer cared about the plan, and yelled at the PCs when asked what he was doing, looking at a burning coal mine and raving like a lunatic. At this time, the forces of Arabel arrive, along with the Commanding officer of the Purple Dragons, he isn’t under the spell, and he sees the wizard not as a friend or a simple butler, but as a wizard, and a known advisory and agent of the Zhentilar. The PC war wizard tries to Enchant the Enchanter, who laughs at him and then teleports away, leaving a destroyed mining town, and a lot of confusion about motives.

If this was a Zhentilar plan, why destroy the mine? It would make more sense to enslave the miners, and hold the entire area hostage, probably as a distraction for the Purple Dragons as they are kept busy trying to take this resource back. Instead they burn the Realms number one supply of coal? Once Vangerdahaust, the Kings most trusted adviser, arrives to investigate the tragedy, even he is at a loss. It appears that orcs, under the employ of the Zhentilar got over-zealous. They don’t even know where these orcs came from, the Stonelands appeared to be as tamed as they can be, and these orcs, by evidence left on their dead, were armed, not with junk metal made of looted material melted down, but with true steel. The decorations on the armor they wore was new as well, somebody had made this stuff for them, but who? The Zhentilar was known for hiring orcs from time to time, but not for supplying them with arms.

The PC’s have decided to follow the retreating orcs, as it is feared that their next target may be Tilverton, which isn’t just a small mining town but a major city and a political hotbed that is always on the verge of political chaos anyway.

So, that is the story as we now sit. I now know enough about how the players play the game, and can properly prep for them. If I had prepped that game, I would had done it wrong. I expected a large battle between chaotic militia controlled by PCs to fight while the players identified the leader and went after him once help arrived. This would had been a colossal waste of my time. Instead they got easily distracted by a pointless mystery, which I probably would had ran the same way, but with the benefit of plans to the keep itself.  The failure was catastrophic, because they didn’t follow the orders that they had been given, which happens. Typically adventurers do what they want, but we aren’t playing an adventurers role, but that of soldiers against a strong military threat, which I think has been impressed upon them.

In other news, I think that I may have figured out a way of handling mass combat without using chits or miniatures, I was hoping to play test it, but maybe next time. It’s not perfect, and I’d still like to play true mass combat scenarios, but not everybody wants to do that; for a mix of Standard D&D and Mass Combat it may serve as a solution.

We did play test a new toy; one that I didn’t intend to use yet. A player and I assembled a large map of Cormyr so that we can play a game of modified RISK on it, and my wife had found a HUGE magnetic  dry-erase board with a very small budget, it came in the mail the day before game day, and it is so big that it makes our 8 page map look small. I had hung it up so that it would be out of the way and the players saw it and wanted to know where they were at, so we marked it and it really helped; everybody could see the map no matter where they sat, and I’ve got lots of room to write notes and stuff, so it is going to be awesome! In the past I always just used scrap paper to make tiny abstract maps, or we’ve got one of those small dry-erase boards which also served the purpose for laying out a room or something, but with this massive thing it can serve, not just basic maps, but we should be able to have abstract and very large scale battles cheaply, but in a way where we can all be on the same page. Can't wait to test it!

Mechanic Series: Necromancer

 My favorite Youtuber is Abraham Zentia, who uses the handle, Talking About Games; he is an intelligent guy who reviews table top RPGs in a way that I really enjoy; never one to just point out the obvious, he actually tells you how he feels on certain subjects, and interjects true opinions which matter when one is looking at rule books.

Everybody plays the game in different ways, and I was surprised by one of his comments: He enjoys 2e, but he finds the Necromancer Player Class to be too weak. A Necromancer PC? My mind was blown!

Now, in regards to Necromancers, I had gone through a phase that dictated that the worst monsters are of the human variety, and we played a TON of Ravenloft, so I personally over-used the Necromancer and have no desire to go back. I can’t think of any new ways to play the same character! But the Necromancer has always been an Evil NPC in my games. The 2e rules support this, but it also makes one wonder. The Necromancer is only effective if he is at high levels, but if this is the case, how did he survive to become high level?


In original AD&D all wizards, with the exception of Illusionists, were general wizards. They all cast basically the same spells, with very little variety. 2e set out to make wizards more unique from each other by encouraging players to specialize in schools of magic, and while the general wizard class is still a very popular one, if one chooses to specialize they will be less diversified, but more powerful, even at lower levels of play. Not all of the schools are created equally; the more powerful schools, while not restricted to just the spells from that school, are restricted from one to three schools of magic which oppose them, and can’t learn or cast spells from those schools.

While the Illusionist suffers the most restrictions, unable to cast Necromantic, Invocation/Evocation, and Abjuration spells, he can still fake it by creating illusions that simulate those spells. The true sufferer of the rule change is the Necromancer, he is unable to cast spells from the schools of Illusion and Enchantment/Charm. While he doesn’t really need spells from the Illusion school (after all, he can cast the real thing), since he can’t cast Enchantment spells, he’ll never be able to create his own magical items, which is a HUGE drawback. But the biggest problem isn’t the schools which oppose him; it is the lack of spells in his school in the first place. In the Players Handbook, there are only 18 spells which he can cast at a higher level because of his specialization. It is the smallest spell pool in the manual.

It is, of course, no secret why this is. This was done on purpose to appease our Mom during the Satanic Panic. Mom didn’t want us playing a Necromancer because before you know it we’ll be arrested for digging stuff up in the cemetery, which is actually a logical conclusion!


The necromancer is typically a power hungry guy. He doesn’t seek to control the living, if he did he’d specialize in Charm and Enchantment; no, his desires are to control the dead. Of course he still can borrow spells from other schools; well, that isn’t all that accurate, because he will HAVE to borrow spells from other schools because his specialized spell list won’t fill even a traveler’s spellbook.

His spells are good, but not very well rounded; he’s got only one mass attack, Death Spell, which even then requires a higher level to cast than the mass attacks of other schools. He also gets pseudo healing spells in the form of Reincarnation and Clone; good luck using Clone as it is an 8th level spell, but even for Reincarnation he must be 12th level.

I suppose that as a role-playing guide, this horrible spell progression would imply that he must hide what he truly is, he’d study normal magic, but in his own private researches he would be collecting tomes of the darkest nature possible. If he is discovered, he will no doubt be slain by his peers. He must bide his time until he feels that it is too late to stop him.


If one takes a look at the spell lists broken down into different schools, one can see what was done. Clearly they stole spells that were better fit for the Necromancer, and assigned them to other schools of magic. Was this fair? At epic levels a Necromancer can kill your entire army and turn it against you. One can say that that is a pretty strong ability to have, and one that balances itself out in the long run. If a PC uses this ability without moral obligations of any kind, then he could take over the entire campaign, but how is this any different from the other schools of magic? Enchanters don’t even need to kill you to turn your army against you. Illusionists can create entire armies of whatever; all of the wizards are truly epic in high levels of play. The Core Rulebooks go out of their way to tell us, specifically, how powerful the Necromantic School of magic is, which if you know anything about propaganda, the reason why they single this one school out as often as they do, is because that statement is utterly false.

The best fix is to restore the spells to the school by simply rewriting an expanded list of spells to Necromancy in Appendix 5. I’m not going to do this because it wouldn’t serve much purpose here; you can do this just as easily as I can, and in a format that you prefer.


I have always believed that the spells included in the Players Handbook are just there to get you started. As you play the game you’ll invent new spells, there is advice in the DMG to help you do just that. Once you understand how the magic system works, you can port spells in from other systems and settings if you don’t have the imagination to come up with them yourself. Players will have to submit them to the DM, as it is the DM that will have to live with this stuff. It is also helpful to let the player know that you are play-testing the spell, and things can always be altered later to make it better fit in the campaign world.

The Necromantic School has been expanded by the Ravenloft Setting; you’ll have to modify the spells that you take from the setting down, as the nature of that world promotes the art of necromancy specifically. You can usually cut one or more characteristics in half and it will be properly suited for your world, but that, of course, is just a suggestion. The books that might help you the most are, of course The Compete Necromancer’s Handbook (which I found to not be very helpful and don’t even own it), or Domains of Dread by William W. Connors & Steve Miller, and the Wizard’s Spell Compendiums Volume I-IV which had collected a huge range of TSR spells invented after the publication of the Core handbooks.


We are dealing with a character that can raise the corpses of your dead loved ones, and turn them against you. It is a psychological assault on so many levels that the very implications are horrifying. To force you to fight your dead loved one is one thing, but to also be forced to see your loved one in the shape that they are in is an additional insult and an attack all in itself.  The fact that this school of magic would appeal to the forces of evil is beyond questioning. The more one thinks about what is happening, and its implications, the more unsettling these spells become. What requires a true work of imagination and creativity is coming up with ways that one can perform acts of good within this very dark school.

A necromancer may be summoned to help with moving a cemetery to a different location, but then again, wouldn’t a cleric of the dead be better suited for this job? Hiring a known Necromancer probably wouldn’t make anybody involved feel better.

A necromancer may be hired to retrieve corpses from a calamity. A respectful one would cover them up and have them walk to where clerics could properly intern them. I can see that as a PC class, but again he can only do this job at very epic levels, which sucks. The Necromantic Priest is much more powerful in regards to this, as he is able to STEAL the undead by altering the Turning Ability.

Fighting Fire with Fire:  A scholar who is well-versed in Necromancy can use his powers to hunt evil magic users, and destroy them. If one created a Corruption Table, that would be one hell of a fun class to play. Very Call of Cuthulu, but so what? I can see a Necromantic avenger in Forgotten Realms.

Necromantic Battle Mage: Again, an epic level character, which sucks, but this mage is a soldier. Those that he raises from the dead are his allies, and once the war is done, the battle mage will make sure that the men that were slain and in his charge are properly interned as beliefs and custom dictates. Fellow soldiers would not see this type of Necromancer as evil, but as a blessing as they can still complete their missions even if death takes them. Becoming a ghost because of failure is probably more feared than this option.

If one looks through modules they’ll notice that even TSR hated the Necromantic weaknesses inherent in the class. I had converted the 5e Starter Set and found a huge error; a low level wizard of Thay had raised a bunch of zombies and was controlling them with no explanation as to how he was doing this. Either the spells were dramatically lowered so a 5th level wizard could use this stuff at will, or the module was cheating. Personally I’d say that the designers were cheating, but it proves a point. Low level Necromancers are severely underpowered. The only benefit of the school is to control undead, and they can’t even so much as raise a skeleton until 9th level? The Necromancer can’t even create magical items to allow him to do this; apparently the only way to fix this mess is create a spell, which should be core in the first place. Even a first level Enchanter can cast Friends. A Cleric can Animate Dead at 2nd level, why would Mom say that that is okay for evil clerics but not for Necromancers? That makes no sense at all, thus our friend, Talking About Games, has found a HUGE hole in the system, the question is, how can we patch it up without having to totally rewrite the book.

ADDENDUM: Our friend Brandon Lighter whose blog is The Rosetta Drake had this to say on Google+
As just-another-specialist-wizard, the Necromancer hardly bears discussing as a separate class -- though the Complete Book of Necromancers helps this tremendously (giving a lot of love to the classic villain -- including 1st and 2nd level spells that let them animate skeletons and zombies, albeit only 1 per casting), thus making low-level adventures to stop the zombie-creating apprentice Necromancer make sense. They are no more or less powerful than any other specialist -- though party tactics and the nature of encounters the DM runs can skew this one way or another (i.e. invoker has a clear advantage if the game features large-scale combat too heavily).

One of my longest-running campaigns featured a PC Necromancer who was the only truly good character in the entire party. The party (in 5 years and 28 levels of playing) never acquired a cleric, so the Necromancer quickly stepped up into that role, loading up on spells like: Hold Undead (in place of turning), paired Empathic Wound Transfer and Vampiric Touch (taking her allies wounds on herself then healing them at the expense of their enemies in place of more normal healing), and rampant Reincarnation at high levels (in place of Raise Dead). With the exception of VT for work-around healing, the character was otherwise a committed pacifist, studying the powers of death in order to understand how to counter them.

Talking about Games said:

 That's a really good blog post, thanks a lot for mentioning me! So far, my favorite versions of d20 Necromancers are the ones presented in "13 True Ways" and in "Adventures Dark & Deep". If you are curious about those or haven't seen them already, here are the links:

Talking about Games reviews 13 True Ways, and Adventures Dark & Deep

 The first one feels powerful and customizable without 'stealing the spotlight' from the other members in the party. The second one is pretty standard old school stuff, but the spells, the ability to create magic items and affect undead make it a lot better.

I also somewhat liked the 3.5 versions presented in "Libris Mortis" and "Heroes of Horror", but the former felt too fiddly, and the latter felt too powerful at times.

CORRECTIONS: Paolo Greco (AKA: Tsojcanth) whose blog is Lost Pages pointed out that Enchant an Item is also associated with the school of Invocation, so Necromancers ARE able to create magic items.

Mechanic Series: Armor Class & Damage

What exactly is Armor Class? We know that it came from naval war games, but I’m asking exactly what it means. In standard game play the combat is broken down into rounds, each round equaling 1 minute, and in that minute there is a lot going on which we are ignoring, the characters involved are parrying, feinting, and engaging in sword play, but this may not really be going on. For instance if a thief attacks an archer in single combat, the archer isn’t going to be able to parry unless he has a sword available, which he might not, but even if he don’t than the thief has to roll against his opponents AC anyway, which would be the same as if he had his sword drawn. Clearly these are game mechanics, and not meant to be taken seriously. We have sacrificed accuracy for ease of play. The alternative to this system would require a gigantic book of charts and require the thief to spend 1d10x10 minutes to figure out if he hit or not.

To those of us who play the game, the above makes perfect sense! We’ve come to except this logic as fact; we just roll the dice and move on without losing the images in our heads. This is the way that it has always been, which works! But, there are those out there who want to simulate different things, and there are rules hidden here and there in our handbooks which help us do just that. Of course every time we add supplemental rules to our combat, we are slowing it down just a little bit, and all of those little bits add up.

Some armors have them included by default, but if the character chooses not to wear one, then some DM’s heavily penalize them, but I don’t believe that a helmet supplies even 1 point of AC.  To me, this is just how you envision your PC, which is up to you. If you are wearing a helmet, you can’t get sapped, but, depending on your helmet type, your vision may be impaired, which the DM does have to know. Of course, there is another rule-set that influences this decision; called shots, but that is another topic entirely.

Shields have also got many strange house rules attached to them, some offering a cheap way of getting 3 free AC points, which grants the user the AC of studded leather if used by itself, though something like this does seem impractical to carry with you, so is a 10’ pole; and that shield rule kind of follows the Core Rules on Cover & Concealment, so why not?

How exactly does the shield protect the user? The rules imply that the shield is always protecting you, it factors into your AC, but some claim that they can do more with it, and block hits, which I don’t agree with. A hit is a hit. Perhaps this would work in a duel situation, but if that is the case, than the shield should be taken off of your AC score.

I’ve also heard that if your opponent misses you by 1, then it means that he hit your shield and it is destroyed, which is just silly to me, but different strokes for different folks, right.

Surprise is also a topic worthy of talking about here; since your AC also depends upon the user actively participating in the melee; would it be fair to adjust this when a character has been caught off guard? The attacker does gain a bonus to hit, is this enough? Is a surprise round really still 1 minute long? If not, how long is it?

Actively parrying is also an option which increases your AC, you focus on Defense, giving up all attacks. I’ve heard of DMs making players role to see if they block a hit, but I prefer to just increase the AC. I think that people may like the Roll to block method because they feel like it gives them more control, or at least allows them to participate, but I still prefer the easy AC bonus because it speeds up play.

Leather armor must be tended to regularly, if it gets wet it will rot, and since we are dealing with sweat and blood, rain and dew these things probably get gross really quick. If one doesn’t properly tend to even the cheapest of armors; this is magnified for the better stuff: Chainmail rusts, buckles break, dents in plate from who knows what, dirt and sand gets trapped in hinges, in other words, armor needs tended to, and tended often! For this reason a DM may enforce a monthly living expense, if this tithe is not paid saving throws must be made to see if your equipment holds up, failure indicates that a weapon is shoddy, and AC will suffer because you didn’t maintain it. Many DMs have applied personal modifiers; the higher the AC rating the more expensive that maintenance will be.

Sleeping in Armor also isn’t good, this stuff needs to be taken off; if it isn’t, than not only did you not get the full benefits from rest, but your armor will suffer for it as well, and runs the risk of damage. How long does it take to put back on? Look it up in the index, this is covered in the Core Rules.

Critical Hits vs. Armor
If you are using the optional rules in the Player’s Option handbook, than this is already covered, but even if you aren’t you can add a forced saving throw: if the save is successful, it could mean that the plate was still bent, or the shield was still trashed. If the player is carrying a shield, chances are the shield was sacrificed and damaged and he now has a new AC because the shield is worthless, but if he doesn’t than we can just assume that for whatever reason, the armor has lost 1 point of effectiveness that can be hammered out during your next break if the player can do that (NWP: Armorer), else the damage is permanent until the character can go back to town and get it repaired or replaced by a professional.

Weapons vs. Armor
This is an optional mechanic that probably requires its own space, but for now I’ll suggest that we can invent weapons that are designed specifically to damage armor types. Many existing pole-arms have this function, but, short of a guilty conscience, there is nothing stopping you from having a goblin design a strange blade which is meant to slip between armor plates and slice leather straps on a successful attack, while it wouldn’t be much good for attacking the man himself, it would allow his buddies a better chance of actually hitting him, and may make it so that the 15th level fighter has to get out of his armor before attacking because it’s just in the way.

Magical Armor
We have to decide exactly what we are dealing with; is the armor truly enchanted, or is it made out of a harder metal? While the metal can be enchanted, perhaps the bindings holding the thing on aren’t. Maybe, instead of just giving them Armor+3 you give them the pieces they need to make it, but the bindings had all rotted away? If the entire armor is enchanted, than it will do strange things: it will mold itself to the owner, and it will not break under most circumstances. This would be special armor indeed! But why not counter this by giving it an alignment; no need to be sentient, however, it can still disagree with the PC’s actions and betray them in subtle ways, such as a cuff coming lose and interfering with an attack, or not offering full protection until the character rights a wrong that he committed, have fun with it!

Players like to believe that Armor is constant, and it really isn’t. I don’t think that the above really adds to much bookwork to the game, but it will add some. I think that it can be over done, adding modifier after modifier is just silly to me, in my games an AC of -10 is the absolute best you can ever have, and that would be god-like armor.

Adjusting the armor system is actually quite brilliant when you look at it, the ideas above are pretty crazy, but they all function without breaking anything in the core rules. The Fighters Handbook has a few other ideas to add to the game, such as piecing together your own armor out of stuff that you find, and again, it all works!

If somebody has the wild idea of skinning a dragon that they had killed, and turning it into armor, this can easily be done on the DM’s side of the screen; probably not on the player’s side, but creating something like that would definitely be fun!

I suppose that the only thing that we have to debate about in regards to AC is Ye Olde Chainmail Bikinis! 

Further Reading:

A Treatise On Mages & Armor in AD&D, 2nd Ed.

AD&;D Rare Metals Breakdown
Crafting Systems in Tabletop Games: AD&D, Second Edition

Thac0 Forever: Shields

Trollsmyth: Shields Shall be Splintered



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