Gothic Earth Session 11: The Legend of Zudet

In our last game of the summer, we lost a character. As DM I get rather fond of them, and I am always attempted to cheat, but that just isn't the way that this game works. Most character deaths are not brave or noble. There is no great sacrifice, or dying at the hands of a worthy opponent. Most PC casualties are stupid and pointless. As a player, that more often than not was the case for me. D&D is about taking risks and doing your best to minimize them, but eventually, especially with fickle dice, your luck is just going to run out. Trouble, more often than not, comes from rushing ahead. You rarely see the one that gets you until it is too late. When it happens, you typically feel stupid, and hindsight automatically kicks right in.

The players believed that they needed more power before entering the Vault of the Witch, and I agree, but it did cost them dearly. Magic items in my games are pretty hard to find, it's not that they aren't there, it is just that they are typically out of the way and off the beaten path. The players know this, but game time is so limited they really tend to keep focused on different goals. This goal on game day was searching the wilderness for what is going on out there.

They have found a sign of dragon. The kobolds are using the mine to pay tribute to a reptilian god. I never came out and said it, but there was enough out there to suggest an ancient evil living in the mountains. This is a modern game, taking place in 1890, the dragon I placed in the area is modified from the Monstrous Manual description (as are all of my monsters) to fit a more folklore feel.

They knew that the dragon was wealthy, and they are fairly high level, especially for us! They took a vote and decided that they would go dragon hunting. I didn't help them in any way, the players moved around the play map, slowly exploring different sections, I had had enough areas out there prepped to have a good idea of what is out there, but much of the fine details were determined randomly, and it was one of these that ended up causing the incident.

I knew that there was probably a rope bridge that led over a deep canyon on the main map, but I didn't know where it was. We found it and it was the way that was made by the kobolds to get over the canyon, of course, kobolds are not known for giving much thought to safety, so this 3 rope bridge that stretched at least a mile in length was dangerous as all get out!

I like skill checks, but I also like them to be a mixture of old Dungeons & Dragons where player agency and ideas were prized over the dice, and AD&D, which favors the dice to decide stuff like this. The character in question, a spy, had very good DEX, so her player figured that she could scoot right across there, she rolled over her DEX score, and I allowed a saving throw which she failed as well and she was gone.

I really enjoyed the character, her player was a novice who became very good very quickly. It isn't easy to keep low-level AD&D PCs alive, but she was able to do it. Her story was magnificent, through play she took what was going on very seriously and became a good leader. She was a German spy who worked for the old regime which was being replaced. She went back to Germany and extracted the former Prime Minister and her King from the hands of his enemies and delivered him safely to Zurich. It was an amazing story!

She stepped up to the call of duty again in Belalp, when the Sheriff was attacked, she took over his duties, ignoring her own agenda until law was restored to the village. Now she is dead because of something stupid, at least it was an ending. Her death will have consequences, she must now start a new character and take this novice PC into a very difficult dungeon.

While everybody else played, she rolled up a new PC and we got it introduced before the session expired. A Russian specializing in thieving abilities, and a fellow member of The Watchmen. It will be interesting to see where she takes this one.

The players had spent much of the night, frustrated because I wouldn't just put the dragon's lair somewhere randomly, I had already placed it and I stuck to it. Eventually, they found it. A cylinder-shaped tube deep in the earth, lined with a kobold apartments. At the bottom was discovered an ancient pyramid made of onyx, its top broken off and overflowing with treasure. The party quickly took a couple of things and ran for it. After a couple of hours, the creature realized that something was wrong, the rest of the day, they are racing out of there while the sounds of roaring and menace echo through the mountains, and creatures run for cover. They hurry as fast as they can to get across the rope bridge before the sun goes down, and when dusk does arrive the lamentations of the dragon Zudet stop and the creature's hunt has begun.

They had made a predictable escape and kept running through the night, when the dragon saw them, and made its attack, the players reacted at the same time, their tiny guns against sheer power. Only one player made their saving throw against the blast of flames which engulfed them, this looked like a total party kill, instantly two characters dropped below 0, just shy of death. The players shot wildly, missing more than they hit, the one exception was the explorer. He took the full brunt of the blast, heavily injured but still standing, his shots hit the mountain's monster, doing just enough damage to trigger a morale check, which the dragon failed. It turned itself invisible, and hide itself to heal and stew over what had happened.

The players knew that there was no way that they could survive a second attack, the healer was able to quickly get to the two downed characters and stabilize them before they died from their wounds. So far, they have kept their treasures and their lives, just barely, but they came at a very high price. The party was able to return to civilization, but minus an important member of the team and heavily injured. Through magic and rest they will be healed enough after a week or two to attempt to explore the Witches Vault. This will have to wait for September :(


The movement rates that I had set in the snowy mountains was too low, movement was only possible on the roll of a 5 or a 6, I had to correct this during play because we were getting bored.

The players were also keen on trying to get me to put things in every space that they were in, searching each hex. I had to improvise a better system on the fly that allowed a more limited chance of a feature being discovered. They were literally only moving one hex at a time, when the game was set for them to move much faster. This could had been why I was getting bored, they probably did this around 30 to 40 times.

Prior to play I designed a better system to flesh out the underground cave system which was never mapped, and hid some features down there that can be discovered randomly. I also hid treasures within, but one of the treasures was designed for the character who died, this was moved to a new location, I had failed to identify the dragon's hoard and had no idea that the players would decide to seek this out.

The player's felt happy with the work that they had gotten done. The explorer really wants to go back and finish off that dragon, which may not be a bad idea, though creatures of myth and legend are never that easy, and a creature this old and who has kept itself a secret for so long is not going to fall victim to a bullet.

While they lost a character, the gunfighter who hasn't changed in a couple of years now has finally gained a level. This is a huge achievement! While 8th level in many games is obtained quickly, my game progresses much slower, progression slows down dramatically after 5th level, this is years of dedicated play and keeping a risk taking player who is always there in the thick of things alive. He is heavily scarred and beat up, but he is still one of the most dangerous men alive in my world, who is now even more elite.

I am glad that they didn't decide to break the seal of Sabaldus, that dungeon is going to take multiple sessions, and skill to defeat, an 8 week break between sessions would really suck. Are they ready for it now? I don't think so. The new character is 1st level, and while she will progress quickly taking her into the finale of a complex and devious death trap is really expecting a lot.

Wizard's Weapons Fixed with the wave of a wand!

I've never been all that happy with the wizard class, specifically in regards to Weapon Proficiency. At
Level 20 they have Four slots. This is fine! This isn't my problem, the problem is that the 2nd Edition AD&D Players Handbook picks these weapons for you.

  • Dagger
  • Staff
  • Darts
  • Knife
  • Sling

It adds that the weapons that require no training can be used, this would imply that nobody needs to be proficient in them, but whatever. The deal is that, for me personally, most of these five items are not things that I mentally associate with wizards.

Dagger, and staff: Okay, I can see that. But, where did all of that other stuff come from? The answer probably goes back to OD&D, a wizard's weapon does 1d4. I can get behind this! Regardless of what a wizard chooses, mixed with his god-awful THAC0, if a mage is proficient in a sword of some kind, it still does 1d4.

I know that in my own games, we identify staff as a quarterstaff and give it the damage of 1d6. Dudes like Little John were specialized in the quarterstaff and could dish out serious damage, while a wizard probably just dorks the other guy. The 1d4 rule makes more sense; Playing a wizard, I would except that ruling.

I don't know about you, but when I think of a wizard I don't see him attacking with a dagger or swinging a staff around. In my mind's eye it is always a wand. That is what I see! Now I'll admit that I have never read the Vance series of bookswhich the AD&D system is based on. I will also admit that the biggest inspiration to what I know about fantasy wizards was gleamed by collecting stickers in the 80's (it was a thing), and ain't no rainbow summoning wizard walking around carrying a dart. That said, would it break the game to give the wizard a wand? Now, I'm not talking about those weird wands of power found in the Dungeon Master's Guide, I'm thinking just a basic everyday wand that a wizard can use in melee.

Let's stat it out:

Item: Magic Wand
Cost: 10gp
Weight: 0 lbs.
Size: S
Type: P
Speed Factor: 2
Damage: S-M 1d4, L 1d3

It acts like a missile weapon.

ROF: 1
Short Range: 5 feet
Medium: 10 feet
Long: 15 feet

If you want, you can even have it augment spells, but you don't have to. Naturally, this could open up a new can of worms if you let it, and it might be interesting! But, you don't have to. You can just judge that it is a melee weapon, and that is all. A quick burst of magic that is regulated by the users crummy THAC0.

Alternatively you can rule that a basic magic staff can be constructed at 10th level which has a longer range (10/20/30) and is required to augment spells of 5th level and beyond.

Augmenting Spells shouldn't be overly powerful, maybe just reducing the casting time of spells with Somatic, or verbal/Somatic components only by 1. Or keeping the Somatic based spells as is but doubling the casting time if the caster doesn't have a wand.

Spells can also be developed specifically for wands. Now keep in mind that I suck at writing spells, if you can improve the wording do it. This stuff isn't play-tested either, but I really can't see how this can break the game.

CREATE WAND (Alteration)

Spell Level: 2nd
Range: Touch
Components: V, M
Duration: Permanent
Casting Time: 3 days
Area of Effect: Special
Saving Throw: None

This spell can merge a magical component into a stick cut from a hardwood tree specifically for this purpose. The magical component can be collected from a magical and rare plant, and ground Ornamental stone of at least 10gp value. The magical component, over the course of three days which include regular breaks for eating, and resting, is verbally coaxed inside of the wand forming its core.

Once completed, a magic word is chosen to activate its basic power, as well as a specific flick which will cause a quick burst of magic which can be aimed at a specific target with a normal attack roll which inflicts 1-4 hp of damage. The target does not receive a saving throw, however magic resistance of any kind will always be immune to this attack.

WARNING: Augmenting spells which require the material components of stones, jewels, and/or gems which are consumed during casting tend to destroy the stones inside of the wand as well, rendering it useless forever more.


Spell Level: 4th
Range: Touch
Components: V, M
Duration: Permanent
Casting Time: 3 days
Area of Effect: Special
Saving Throw: None

This spell can merge a magical component into a stick cut from a hardwood tree specifically for this purpose. The magical component can be collected from a creature of mystical origin (Phoenix Feather, Unicorn Hair, Ground Dragon Claw etc.) given to the caster by the creature in freewill. The magical component, over the course of three days which include regular breaks for eating, and resting, is verbally coaxed inside of the wand forming its core.

Once completed, a magic word is chosen to activate its basic power, as well as a specific flick which will cause a quick burst of magic that can be aimed at a specific target with a normal attack roll which inflicts 2-5 hp of damage. The target does not receive a saving throw, though Magic Resistance will function as normal.

A wand constructed of a creature which has the same alignment as the caster, will act as a wand+1, +3 against targets which are natural enemies of the creature regardless of magic resistance. A target of the same alignment as the creature may not be effected at all.


The only problem that I really see with this is the lack of expendables. I tend to just charge a monthly living fee to players, having a wand puts them in at least the Middle-High Living Class, if they drop below Middle Class the wand can become damaged and break on the roll of a 1.

A wand can also break if it becomes subjected to a Saving Throw, if this is the case it falls under Wood, thin on the Item Saving Throws table.

A wand is also ruined if it is subject to Dispel Magic.

A wand cannot be used if the caster is unable to speak, flick their wand, or if magic doesn't function in that area. Areas of wild magic can also cause some weird things to happen.

Wand attacks work exactly the same as missiles, targets gain bonuses for taking cover, and if the armor vs weapon type is used, damaged is halved. It is also dangerous to fire a wand into a melee, see the rules for how to run it.

A basic wand may be commercially available or the player had to buy one from his instructor.

A captured or found wand must be attuned to the finder. The captured or found wand functions normally until either a natural 20 or a 1 is rolled. 20 indicates that the wand is attuned to the user, if it was captured the wand now belongs to the new owner. If a 1 is rolled before a natural 20, the wand rejects the new owner and no longer functions, if not, in the case of an improved wand, outright cursing them. Of course attuning oneself to a found or captured wand can be done through practice, the player just keeps rolling until a 20 or a 1 is rolled. Alternatively, an improved wand can be a bit more difficult, a limited amount of time (maybe 10 tries) can be attempted against a specific target, (INANIMATE OBJECT= AC 10?) failure to hit within that window results in the wand ignoring you.

A cursed wand always rebounds on the user with the roll of a 1. Always strikes a random person on a successful hit, and only hits the specific target if a 20 is rolled. The user of a cursed wand refuses to see that it is a problem until the curse is broken.

Finavryn brought up a similar idea on the OD&D Discussion Forum, writing a cantrip spell he calls ZAP, which can be found HERE 

Gothic Earth Session 10: The Lost Village of Old Belalp

I forgot to jot down my notes from last game. I made up a quick play session out in the fringe of the village, blatantly ripping off one of my favorite movies, The Witch. They were able to defeat the scenario really quickly, and save a young girl who they have taken on as a potential henchmen. What? Didn't see that coming, but we'll see where it goes.

The players have been reluctant to explore the wilderness, so I put some pressure on them, Mr. Harker, who is now just down the mountain helping with research in the city of Brig has been followed by a German Detective, he had been seen with PC Sam White at a bank in Zurich. He is smart and looking to recover the Relic of St. Sabaldus. Harker had to risk sending a pigeon up to the players, but it is unknown if the message had been intercepted or not.

In other news, the scholar who has written a book on the Belalp Witch has finally been able to finance an expedition to search an area where she believes is the best spot to find old Belalp, and the players manage to get hired on to lead this expedition.

It just so happens that one of the players were able to decipher the clues found a few sessions back and had a really good idea where the church was, but they were able to get there with a bigger party and on somebody else's dime. It was a bit more difficult than they thought, the church wasn't where the cryptic map suggested. Well, it was, but it was buried deep under the ice. After more searching they found a chimney sticking out of the glacier of Mt. Sparhorn, melting the snow, the Explorer PC climbed down and discovered the perfectly preserved medieval village of Belalp trapped under a dome of blue ice.

The scholar had also hired some big strong locals who were far too large to climb down the narrow chimney, but this presented a problem. The party needs to HIDE the Relic of Sabaldus in the church, and it will do no good to have the world know about this place. Exploring the entombed village, they find a cave to the south which leads to the medieval Cathedral they have been searching for for so long.

Exploring the Cathedral, they find an ancient church which the cathedral was built around, and in the basement of this church they find a stone seal with a terrible warning, beyond this seal, placed by Saint Sabaldus himself, is the Witch of Belalp, however this seal is unbroken.

The players return to Old Belalp and spend the night in an old inn hoping that the scholar and the rest of their party get bored and just go away, or something; which doesn't happen. In the morning they find the scholar feeling betrayed which she is taking pictures of this amazing place.

Long story short, the players finally discover the cave system in the area, they exited the cave on the other side of the Massa River, traveling in hours what would normally take days. The scholar is pissed, she wants to go back to Old Belalp and further study the medieval village for her next book. The players agree but this time they exit the cave all the way back at one of the abandoned mines just outside of current Belalp. The Scholar is pissed, after all of that work, she got a few pictures but the village of Old Belalp is still lost! This pleases the party. She might have pictures, but she has still been bamboozled.

They now know that they can reach the church through the Belalp #2 mine, now it is just making some decisions about what to do. Breaking the seal and entering the tomb of the Belalp Witch is going to be incredibly risky, this dungeon is the meanest and most difficult that I have ever designed, I don't know if they are ready for it yet, but we'll see what happens.

Game wise, I was lazy. I had to work overtime the night before, and I was exhausted. I rolled for random encounters but we had no combat at all. We still had a blast though! I did run off script, changed the look and feel of the old Medieval village, originally it was supposed to be open air but I think that the last minute change was a lot more fun.

I have no idea what is going to happen next game, the secret BBS that my players use is buzzing, and the spell casters are getting together tonight to come up with some ideas on how to best manage their spells. I'm excited!

Global Trade made Easy

The Rug Merchant: Arnedeo Simonetti
There is a class in D&D that your players aren't necessarily interested in playing, but they are a big piece of what makes our worlds work. The Merchant class! This stuff doesn't sound like it effects the players, but it does. It effects them a great deal. It is they who the roads were built for, and it is they that allow civilizations to become empires. Only by working together as a whole is civilization possible.

I have already written an article about basic trade and gave a brief outline of how it functions on a local and national level. What it does is it helps you develop color, and purpose to your NPCs which in turn makes them easier to run. It is a little game that you get to play all by yourself during prep. 

It will tell you what kinds of things will be in the stores, give you a quick NPC template so you can keep things both fast and consistent when inventing on the fly, and make the world seem viable.

Naturally, in D&D, we aren't playing a real Medieval world, but a glamorized and modern take on what we wish that the world was like. We needn't be overly focused on Social Studies, but if we add just a few basics to our games it adds a psychological element which helps everyone at the table suspend their disbelief, not to mention that it does give us some solid adventure hooks to work with.

In brief, locals trade with locals so that everyone can live better. Small populations supply large populations with raw materials needed for finished goods, these finished goods move out and other finished goods from other communities move in, which improves the quality of life for everyone.

There are limitations. A region can grow the best peaches in the realm, but fruit is a difficult product to move because it rots, this restricts how far away the peaches can be moved. The farmer loads up the peaches and sells them in town, that is now the problem of somebody else. Technology dictates how far away the product can get, rivers can move product faster than roads, but these peaches are good sellers!

The town takes a good load of peaches into a city, and sells them to a merchant who has developed a new technology; he can turn those peaches into brandy which is no longer a perishable item, in fact, this brandy is highly prized and everybody wants some, which draws attention to the regions peaches. The royals who live far away will pay a lot of gold to have special orders of peaches quickly carried to them, and will do whatever it takes to keep this supply line open. The merchants will be making a killing on this product and take care of the people all the way down the line. This translates into power, and from a DM stand point, this stuff writes itself.

Naturally, most rural places won't have these peaches, but they will have other things. If we look at the area, we can generally decide how this network makes its living. A town high up in the mountains mining metal will have to have a lot of stuff shipped in just to survive up there.

FOOD, WATER, SHELTER these are the basics of survival. Grain and ancient mans ability to master it is what gave birth to culture. It isn't glamorous, but without grain the nation starves. Society is also dependent on water and man's ability to move it where it needs to go. Irrigation, supplying enough water for everyone in a city and moving dirty water out is required. There can be a rich supply of gold somewhere, but unless there is water for the miners it is going to stay there.

Then you have trees, this is a finite resource that had to be planned wisely. A large castle out in the boonies, though it looks like it is a stone structure, requires entire forests of timber to build. We don't need to go all realistic on our game, but timber is definitely a valuable resource, everybody wants it! All of our fancy cities and towns need wood to expand, it is used for everything from barrels, to carts, to ships, not to mention providing fuel. There is never enough wood, but what if a northern nation who can't grow grain has a huge surplus of lumber? This is when our worlds can expand!

Via: Pinterest
Global trade helps us on an even larger scale. Just as trade can help us figure out local politics, find adventure hooks, and provide color on a local level, this helps us color places that may not even be on our maps! We never have to draw them, either, they are just out there.

Lets say that the barbarians of the north exist. They have large cuts of meat, a surplus of fir, and wood. Now lets say that one of the tribes has become almost civilized, well, civilized enough to want to trade for some of our Iron. Politics will tell us that chances are that this brute is making steel, but we out number him and eating nothing but goat and fish is boring.

We also know that the other barbarian tribes aren't going to just stop attacking our northern border, but this union might give us a foothold and allow us to make some threats. We'll tell the barbarian “King” that we'll trade. We know he is planning an attack, but so are we. We covet those trees and eventually we'll push the barbarians back, and give more power to this so called King as long as he is behaving.

None of this will matter to the folks who have to live on the norther border, but we DMs will know it, and use this information to help us figure out what is going on.

Politics! Politics is a hard concept to grasp, but if we use global trade this abstract idea is easier to manage.

Lets get to the lists, shall we? 

I don't care if you use Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, or whatever; this stuff will be present. I'm going to use real world terms and let you figure out where this stuff goes. These products are a sampling of global trade during the medieval ages, now keep in mind that these resources are large enough that a nation or region can afford to trade them off for stuff that they don't have, so at least one of these items will appear on a detailed play map. You don't want the country that the players are actively in trading something like tin without ever seeing a single community dedicated to extracting this resource. It is meant to be a tool to help you world build faster.

  • Coal
  • Textiles
  • Tin

  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Tallow
  • Timber

  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Lead
  • Silver
  • Wine
  • Textiles
  • Coal

  • Amber
  • Flax
  • Fur
  • Hemp
  • Honey
  • Slaves
  • Tallow
  • Timber
  • Wax
  • Whalebone

  • Carpets
  • Copper
  • Gold
  • Horses
  • Iron
  • Mercury
  • Paper
  • Precious Stones
  • Silver
  • Slaves
  • Textiles

  • Cotton
  • Gold
  • Ivory
  • Salt
  • Slaves

  • Gold
  • Ivory
  • Precious Woods
  • Slaves

  • Animals
  • Carpets
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Naphtha
  • Paper
  • Textiles

  • Carpets
  • Copper
  • Drugs
  • Gold
  • Indigo
  • Iron
  • Precious Stones
  • Precious Woods
  • Textiles

  • Brocade
  • Fine Textiles
  • Jade
  • Rhubarb
  • Silk
  • Slaves

  • Brocade
  • Camphor
  • Porcelain
  • Satin
  • Silk
  • Sugar
  • Taffeta
  • Tea

  • Aromatics
  • Drugs
  • Gold
  • Precious Wood
  • Spices
  • Tin

  • Ambergris
  • Aromatics
  • Cowries
  • Drugs
  • Indigo
  • Ivory
  • Precious Stones
  • Spices
  • Textiles
  • Tortoise Shell

The Role of Woman in D&D

Joan of Arc
Oaks Spalding, over at Save vs. All Wands has been discussing an article written by a lunatic with too many readers and a rather low opinion of women. I think that there is some validity to the subject that she is writing about, but because of her personal arrogance, she can't write about it and be taken seriously. I'm sure that professional women within the industry did get the shaft, but that may have been due to standard office politics of the era.

As far as private games go, they are all different. All players are different too, but there are risks that we take. These risks apply not just to women, but to the younger crowd as well. People can take advantage of others, and I do believe that we do a terrible job of policing ourselves. We aren't exempt from predators, and while I know that there are a lot of decent people who won't sit idle while somebody is getting worked over,  there are still too many in this hobby that will do anything to avoid confrontation and just do nothing.

The role of women in gaming goes beyond characters. They are leaders, innovators, muses, artists. Are they properly recognized? I think that they are now, however, if they were properly compensated for their efforts is a different subject altogether.

It does feel that men have an easier time getting new ideas accepted and that women either take supportive roles or are forced to stay in them. I think that the greatest influence that women have had on my game personally, is in regards to story. I've pulled back on story-based gaming, but it has been said over and over again that the players (both male & female) want to know that this is going some place. They like reoccurring characters, they like slippery villains, they like having things going on in the background. They like long-term story arcs, and being able to walk around in a storybook world which reacts to them.

This, I have found, can be accomplished without forcing the players to play a linear story. I know that many DMs have a hard time grasping these theories, they translate into terrible modules, but the idea isn't creating a scripted game, the idea is to have a script running in the background which must be written and rewritten as the game progresses. My players love to be challenged by a railroad designed into the game, and it is their job to get off the tracks.
Some can credit other sources for the interactive story, but to me personally, it was Laura Hickman. She is co-credited with her husband, Tracy, but it was this format which got me started. The modules required a lot of cooperation from the players, but the principles, once separated and broken down into their basic components, showed a very advanced approach to game design and theory. Not settling for JUST Dungeons & Dragons, but constantly redefining it, and molding it to fit a larger vision. Creating worlds where there is something going on, a meta-plot which stays in the background. Defined objects that have meaning and history.

Laura taught me the joy of background. She gave me the courage to redefine old ideas and not be afraid to put elements of myself into the mix. It has taken a long time to find a good combination of old and new, but the effect that it has on the game is amazingly satisfying for everyone. I think that it is a warmer, and more personal game than just enforcing the same rules all the time.

My wife yells at me when I stray too far from this path. She reminds me that she and the other players can go anywhere to play Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms, it is my mind that everybody enjoys crawling around in. The men who play are of the same opinion, but we don't talk to each other like that.

"Bulgar Warrior" via: Pinterest
Perhaps it wasn't Laura who started me on this path, she just gave me something solid that I could study. It was the DM who was my best friend and years later would become my wife that taught me this lesson. She would run games with no Boxed-Setting, and only the memories of the world that she had played in when she was a little girl to guide her. Her games were way more advanced and personal than the rest of the club member's were. It went beyond just exploring castles and dungeons, there was stuff going on, she would beat us up and we'd have to crawl our way back up from the agony of defeat. NOBODY was doing that at the time. The YOU WIN! Games had already taken hold. She could infuriate you, but you never felt discouraged. This came naturally to her. Me? Not so much. Adding emotional and psychological elements into the game without causing harm, that is a skill that men (or at least I) had to develop over time.

Emotion. That is the magic element right there. Tragic villains with motivations beyond just because they are evil. NPCs with nuanced emotional ranges beyond those found in the average cocktail weenie. These are elements which I learned from playing under and developing games for female players. I don't think that I would have ever gotten there by just running games for a group of guys, and the guys who do learn to play this style have a very difficult time going back.

Are Thief Player Characters Still Relevant?

Albrecht Dürer - Cupid the Honey Thief. 1514
Since adopting more elements from OD&D into my gaming, a style that is less skill based and more player driven, I've noticed that many of my fellow tinkerers have opted to remove the thief player class from the game. Now, long-time readers of this blog know that even though I am very critical of skill based systems, my favorite class to play is the Thief. Doesn't make much sense, does it?

It's not that I think that the entire skill system is bad for the game, I just feel that systems like Pathfinder and modern D&D have allowed it to take center stage. It controls too much! People have gotten too reliant on them, and use the skill system to bypass fun parts of the game. It alters the flow, speeding it up, and I feel that it interferes with immersion.

To make a long story short, specifics can correct the problem of mechanical interference, but that doesn't mean that we should completely scrap the NWP system; and then we have the thief class. A skill based class that relies upon them to function.

In a game where the traps are specific, we know how they function and the players can locate them with tools or equipment, and come up with a plan which may or may not result in disarming them, where does the thief fit into this?

  • Thieves are more expendable.
  • They can figure out the hidden workings of advanced traps.
  • They do more for the team than just disarm and locate traps.

Handling Checks

In my last post, I suggested that we try to stick to specifics as much as possible. The DM listens to the plan, and translates the odds of success to the d%; however, there are times when the players are going to have to make checks. In times like these, I prefer the d20. It is fast, fair, and usually in the player's favor.

d% Thief Checks

via: Pinterest
I never really thought about it before, why do thieves roll d% for thief ability checks? I suppose that it is just a hang-over from 1st Edition AD&D. It gives the illusion of player control, but it really isn't all that functional.

As a player, the thief skill system doesn't work at early levels of play and offers no challenge at higher levels. The best games are when you are gambling with your character's life. As a player, if something is dangerous, I'm not going to even attempt it unless I've got at least a 70%. If things get desperate, I may attempt it at 50%, but never below that. If something has no risk, I will just sit there and roll dice until we all get bored or it works . . . hours and hours later in game time. That sucks, and that isn't playing the game.

I know that there is a huge population of gamers who think that the NWP system is broken, but I don't feel that it is, of course, the way that I design my games I enforce no reliance upon the system to use it. It can allow a user to bypass an obstacle, or make a section easier if you are successful, but play doesn't stop because of a failed check; that is a symptom of bad design. It all boils down to percentages, the d20 just uses increments of 5%. If a character has a DEX of 15, with a -2 to his ability check, he's got a 65% of succeeding. That is actually lower standards than I would normally allow for a dangerous task that will kill me if the dice say no. 


It was this book that got folks prepared for 3e. It focused on a reliance on skills over the traditional game. It even stripped the class system that we all loved in favor of building some character class that made it even slower to roll up new characters, and caused players to stop play to look at the weird rules in this thing. I hated it. I'm still not a fan.

Regardless if you like the book or not, it did say something interesting . . . if you could find it. It suggested turning thief skills into NWP. How stupid is that? I mean, it goes against years and years of tradition! Besides, thief players aren't going to want to sacrifice NWP slots on skills that they used to have from the start of the game, right?

RAVENLOFT: Masque of the Red Death

This boxed Campaign setting actually predates the Skills & Powers book, but it had lots of mechanics which were unique to it. It isn't a medieval fantasy game, this one takes place in our world during the 1890's. It altered all of the classes, but the most affected were the Thieves.

All of the characters had been depowered, there are no super-heroes in this game, what makes them playable is the skill system, however, this still isn't a skill based game. You aren't going to find the Pathfinder like rules which are overly strict, you pick your skills which define your character, and you play. The skills are passive. You still use specifics over rolling the dice, but I digress.

Thieves are no longer a class. While the other classes still use skills, the class that is dependent upon them is called Tradesmen. If a character doesn't use magic, and can't be defined as a soldier, they automatically become Tradesmen, thus, this is the dominant class.

via Pinterest
It is still possible to play thieves, but since all traditional thief skills have to be purchased with NWP slots, you've got to build them. The skills function as NWP too, you don't have to build them up through gaining levels, if you chose to know how to pick locks, then you can pick locks.

As a fan of thieves, this method works great! I always preferred to play against the grain. I never played The Greymouser type thieves, I could probably count the times that I've used Pick Pockets on one hand, and I never started building it up until I was satisfied with my other scores.  It just sat there, ignored. In this system, I don't have to pick it at all! I can replace it with some other skill that I want instead, something useful to me and how I want to play my character.

But wait . . . didn't I just say that Skills & Powers was stupid?

It is. It provides very little motivation to play-test the ideas held within it, however, this system has been play-tested at my table, and it works. It works amazingly well! Masque of the Red Death, to myself and the other members of the club, made D&D fun again. Its higher level of challenge changed not just how we game, but how we see the game itself.

  • Thieves are all different
  • Thief skills work from the start
  • The challenge is consistent, regardless of level
  • The thief skill system does not place limitations upon the system as a whole
As a DM I am sold, and the players are happy with the results that they get. This will be adapted into all future D&D games.

But Percentages gave more to the game than yes or no answers

As a player, I was always torn. I like rolling my own results, but sometimes I wanted the DM to keep the actual results a secret from me. I wanted to simulate thinking that I'm moving silently but not really being sure if I am or not. As a DM, these thoughts were amplified, but I was stuck because I couldn't figure out how to simulate the event without taking away player agency. This system actually allows that.

Either the DM can translate the d20s into percentages, or tell the player who succeeded their check that they believe that they have found a route which is possible to move silently and hide in shadows, then get confirmation that they still want to do the action or not. If they do, then the DM rolls the percentile check to see exactly how quiet they are.

The point is that no matter what we do, we've taken the traditional Thief Skills System, which was closed and set in its way, and changed it into a Skill System which allows the player and the DM to open it up when they want to.

  • Players can no longer get a 95% chance of success
  • A perceived penalty imposed on low ability scores
  • Player's who do want to play traditional thieves hate this
  • A psychological loss of control
  • Requires a talented DM to function
  • Cleaner Character Sheets
  • The Level Cap has been removed
  •  Custom Characters without breaking the system
  • Fast and Easy NPCs who are competent without cheating
  • Creating Hirelings that grow with the game and aren't static
  • Easier to level up (and level down)
  • Rewards Imaginative Play
  • Skills can be given to Races without weird limitations

Before closing, something needs to be addressed. Since the players are spending slots on abilities, should they get more slots to spend? The answer is no. They still get the same amount. This is balanced by the abilities themselves being useful as soon as they are chosen.

Unmodified skill checks do place caps on abilities. DEX of 18 = 90%, and on the low end, 9 = 45%.

The 3d6 method of STAT Generation prefers to give results in the 11-13 range, which gives you some good numbers that are fun to gamble with, 55%-65% but aren't fixed in my games, they go up and down. If you choose, the Thief Ability Table found in the 2e DMG can be used in conjunction with this system if you need to lean on it now and then. Since the system is open, we can change the difficulty level of a task as we see fit.

Most of the time, it really doesn't matter. The core Thief System is a nitpicker. Either the thief can pick a lock, or he can't. The players can decide to break the door, spend a spell opening the door, or ignore the door and walk away from it. Who cares if the Thief picks a lock? Why impose that restriction at all?


Streamlining The AD&D Skill System

The cool thing about having a Blog is that it allows you to go back in time and see how your thoughts and opinions about things have changed. G+ User, Stan has gone back into my archives and corrected a mistake that I had made in regards to The Non-Weapon Proficiency Mechanics.

Since writing that article, I have unknowingly adopted a set of house-rules that allows more freedom for everybody based on principles I've learned from researching Original Dungeons & Dragons and have a deeper understanding of how players interacted with the world before those systems were in place. 

It goes back to Open & Closed systems. The NWP system is designed to be closed, but it is also designed to be opened up by the players and the DM when it needs to be. What defines this need is the level of detail.


The proficiencies are guidelines, they help players get a clear idea of who their character is. They are tools which a player can use to tell the DM that they can do something very well. 

Having a proficiency is a pass. The player is not limited to these skills, but having these skills defined and written down allows that player to use them, and get extra-XP for using them well. 

Owning a Proficiency is proof that your character can definitely do this, and may even go beyond what is defined in the handbook.


This system is primarily the total domain of the player, DMs don't use this system, only players do. It is up to the players to remember these things and use them wisely. Since having a skill is a pass, when the DM asks how the character knows something, and they refer to the specific skill, the conversation is either over, or the DM can have them roll a skill check if that needs to happen. 

It is also up to the player if they want to risk rolling the dice to perform a task or to start a dialog and get specifics. 

Example: The player has an investigative skill which allows a methodic search of an area via the dice. The player can automatically use this when searching a room, but a failure is a failure. Alternatively any player, even those that do not have this skill, can ask for details. They can interact with the setting and the DM will tell them the results. Once this is done and the player believes that they have exhausted the place, they can say that they would like to do a skill check, and see what happens.


The idea that a character only knows what is on the character sheet is preposterous and self-limiting for no real benefit to the player or to the game. The DM is going to have to invent fast throw-away mechanics at the table on a case-by-case basis. Specifics dictate what can and cannot be done. Doing something that you aren't proficient at on a regular basis may equal gaining a proficiency.

For instance, if the game is played in the mountains for several months, the players are going to have a really good chance of understanding what they are doing. How can we translate this though? 

  • The DM can just have them roll a STAT check to see if they picked it up, and just give it to them if they are successful.
  • The Player can write it in once a new Prof. slot becomes available if they chose to.
  • All slots beyond those chosen at the creation of the character are left blank until a skill is learned through specifics.
That last one doesn't work so well, all of your players will end up having the same skills which defeat the purpose. 

There is a myth about open Skill systems, that goes along the lines of the Player taking advantage of the DM. Players going out of their way to change the tone of the game. The player CAN try anything, however, every hair-brained scheme takes the time to execute, time that the player probably doesn't have. I've been playing this way for a while now and so far my players have all embraced the tone of the game and do their best to preserve it. 

As DM, I reserve the right to ask the player how they learned this new skill, if they can't tell me, they don't get it. My players so far have written down things that would have been handy in the past. Things that they had picked up along the way but I didn't give it to them for free, and I do give out skills for free if they had been earned.

The question, "How did you learn this?", is a good governor for the skill system. Slots don't have to be filled up right away, and the question goes back to the player; "How can I learn this skill?"



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