Mining the Unearth Arcana

With 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons looming over our heads like a
mad watchmen, it has got me thinking about how we as a group incorporated 1st edition into our own games. Lets face it! Some of the 1st edition was just too kick ass to simply forget! Granted, some classes were overly powerful . . . (cough . . . Fighting Monk . . . Cough . . . Cough) but some stuff just seemed to be left out or powers striped of them for no real reason.

One of the greatest books from 1st Edition that I still keep around is the Unearthed Arcana written by Gary Gygax. Some of this stuff is just COOL!!! Now I never bothered to buy the Equipment Guide, so some of the stuff that’s in the Players Handbook might be equally as cool and “fixed” in that supplemental book, but I doubt it. Lets take the Whip for instance. The PHB gives this thing 1d2 of damage . . . How freaking lame is that? Clearly the person who wrote this little stat has not been hit by a whip; well outside of the bedroom anyway. A whip can cleave muscle from bone! At our local Ren Faire, there is a guy dressed up as a troll who hides under the bridge and cracks his big ass bull-whip; you can hear these cracks all throughout the campus! For fun, he uses two whips and really scares the kiddies.

The Whip

1d2? How shameful! Let us not forget that this is the weapon of choice of one of my favorite heroes, a certain Doctor Indiana Jones, and in all of his movies, he can do more with his whip then just inflict a max of 2 miserable hit points!

The Unearthed Arcana does this little beauty some justice! Sure it still does 1d2 of damage, but it also has an extra ability, ENTANGLE!!! In non-proficient hands, a successful hit only gives you a 5% chance of scoring an entanglement, but in proficient hands, the wielder gets 5% per level to entangle on a successful hit.

1-50: One limb is entangled
50-60: Both hands are entangled
60-80: Weapon hand is entangled
80-100: the head is entangled
*if the victim is unarmed, 60-100 means that the head is entangled

Now this isn’t all the rules, the book tries to take into account logic, but a good DM knows that if a whip entangles a sword, then the whip will need to make a saving throw or be cut. Plus you’ve got your strength to take into account, say a Thief tries to entangle an Ogre, well hilarity would ensue!

The Garrote

I play a lot of thieves, I simply love the class, and one of my favorite non-melee weapons is the Garrote, which was completely left out of 2nd Edition, granted it is an extremely dangerous weapon, but if you fail your attack then you are screwed! You’ve got no weapon, your defenses are down (probably at AC10 cause even leather impedes your cool class skills), if you fail a garrote attack, then chances are, you are a dead man yourself!

The Garrote is a backstabbing weapon that can’t be used during melee combat. The victim must be taken completely unaware (requiring some successful move silently rolls, or hide in shadows rolls) You make your attack according to normal backstabbing rules, but a successful attack means that the target has 1 round to Bend Bars else parish.

If the attack is interrupted by a peer, then the peer can attempt to hit the murderer, and a successful hit would indicate that the victim broke out of the attack and would only lose 1 point of hp, plus whatever modifiers that the attacker had.

We have tinkered with this one a bit, trying to find the right balance for it. I think that we did do a strength against strength check, but that could had been over-thinking things because the practical implications of this obscure weapon is really limited . . . Though, I suppose that if a group of Thugge attacked players while they were sitting around a fire, you would want to give them some chance to protect themselves from instant death. However, I’ve only found uses for them when attacking gentry, but even then a Sap would make more sense . . . to bad it’s not as cool though.

The Sap

While not as cool as a Garrote, the Sap was also left out of the PHB. I think that it appeared in The Complete Thief’s Handbook but it wasn’t as cool. Hell, it could be but that book is downstairs and I’m just too lazy to go down there and get it.

The Sap, or Blackjack is simply a leather bag filled with sand or lead and is used to knock out opponents instead of killing them. Again, damage is 1d2, but if used to strike an uncovered head, the attacker gets a 5% chance per Strength score, to knock your opponent unconscious with a successful hit. If the attacker has a STR score of 18 or higher, KO is automatic.

I don’t know about that 18 STR rule . . . Seems to me that the Blackjack might get abused in the hands of a warrior. But then again, it could just be a backstabbing weapon! It doesn’t really say? Oh well, it’s still badass.

Spiked Buckler

Now I haven’t ever used one of these, but they look cool! I remember some of my He-man toys coming with Spiked Bucklers, Whiplash comes to mind, and Whiplash was awesome!!!

The rules for this bad boy state that it can be used as a second attack which comes after your weapon attack. It still provides a -1 to your Armor Class rating, but it attacks at a -2 probability to hit, and inflicts 1d4 of damage to your opponent.

Now I suppose that that would change if you specialized in a Two-Handed fighting style. It would get rid of the -2 modifier, but we’ve always used the “Rite of Might” system, which just means that bigger people/monsters can manhandle smaller people/monsters, in this case they simply first do a shield strike, and knock their opponents off balance so that they can get past any DEX bonuses that they’ve got with their weapon, making them easier to hit. Spiked Bucklers could turn an already badass dungeon boss into an even bigger headache!

I’m about out of space here for today. I’m trying to eliminate those really long posts that seem to be too daunting for readers, and am going for a two page format, let me know if it’s easier for you to read or if you prefer the longer ones where I just rattle on about stuff.

Anyway, just so that I don’t feel like I’m barking into an empty room here, answer me some questions:

  • What are some of the badass things that other systems provided which you’d like, or have incorporated into your own game?
  • Any books that you consider to be such masterpieces that you refuse to get rid of them?
  • Anything from out of Unearthed Arcana that you can’t BELIEVE that I had the gall to leave out?

There is just something about Unearthed Arcana that players and DMs love! Out of all of the books published by Dungeons and Dragons, EVER, Unearthed Arcana seems to be the Monopoly of the gaming library. IT’S ALWAYS THERE! It might not get read all that often anymore, but maybe it should be?

Thanks for reading folks!


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