At a recent gathering Delta and I were discussing rulings we’ve used in how we run D&D, and laughing about how similar our play styles have become. Someone asked “What is the difference between your games?” to which I answered “They only differ in which book we each keep behind the screen.”
That’s basically accurate. Though Delta began with the three LBBs of white box, or original edition, or whatever you want to call that first version of D&D that is only actually labeled “Dungeons and Dragons”, and I began with what is called red-book or B/X or Moldvay/Cook Basic D&D, we’ve both house-ruled our games into pretty similar beasts. And I suppose that’s not surprising given the fact that we play together regularly and often discuss our house rules in detail with each other, and have the same basic goals in mind of what makes good D&D.
But it’s not really true at all, there are some rather big places where we differ. Delta has streamlined saving throws and thief skills in a way I have not. Delta has demi-human level limits, whereas I charge extra XP for demi-humans to level and reserve level limits for multi-class characters only. We both do not use 0 hp is dead, but have come up with different death-mitigation techniques. And of course Delta does not have clerics.
To be honest, I find the no-clerics idea really fascinating. If I were to eliminate a class my first choice would actually be thieves, as it fits with the original book (thieves were not introduced until supplement I), and I dislike their tendencies towards a skill system. My favorite anecdote on thieves is the OD&D DM who told a player disappointed to find there were no thieves “if you want to be a thief, then steal something.” Still, Delta makes an excellent point that the class simply does not jibe with the source inspiration material. Search your Leiber, Vance, Howard, de Camp, heck even your Tolkien, and find me an example of a holy warrior with divine healing magic. Oh sure, there are plenty of evil cults lead by dark priests with powers granted by evil gods, but by and large heroes do not go in for that sort of thing.
The other rule that Delta uses that really struck me as pretty cool recently is that magic-users can only memorize one copy of any given spell. Now that’s not in any version of D&D either of us are familiar with, but it does fit the source fiction pretty darn well. And frankly, I love what it does to play. Each spell becomes unique and interesting. Suddenly there’s a reason to examine the full spell list instead of just packing in a full array of magic missiles and fireballs. It also kind of adds a neat aspect to magic wands. Sure, your level 10 wizard is pretty impressive with his 10-dice fireball, but he can only do it the once. Having a wand that shoots 6-dice fireballs by comparison feels pretty weak, but when you can shoot a dozen in a day, now it’s looking pretty sweet.
OK, 500 words in and I’m only just getting to my point. Sorry everyone. The deadline for game submissions to Carnage on the Mountain is looming, and I’ve been thinking about what to run. I like running a lighter faster game in the Sunday late morning slot, as I don’t like Sunday being a wash, but I also know I’ll be burnt out by then and so will my players. A quick easy dungeon crawl is kind of perfect for that time. But every game is an experiment, so what can I do that is interesting? Hm, perhaps I should try running it by the book — by Delta’s book that is.
In the past I’ve avoided taking on too much of Delta’s stuff because my games have been rooted in a consistent world since I started running them in 2010. I’ve made changes here and there, but generally leaned towards not completely disrupting the continuity. But convention games are a perfect environment for experimentation, so perhaps this is a good chance. I don’t expect this will change how I run games regularly, but it may cement some ideas (like the 1-each spell idea) that I kind of like but am not totally sure I want to commit to just yet.
So let’s take a look at spells. In fact, both Delta and I have written up little spell books that we use during play, though mine are really just for convenience while Delta’s are a serious project which you can find on Lulu. I was curious though to compare our spell lists, and see where they differ.
Spells in B/X Missing in OED:
- Cure Light Wounds
- Floating Disc
- Purify Food and Water
- Remove Fear
- Resist Cold
- Know Alignment
- Resist Fire
- Silence 15′ Radius
- Snake Charm
- Speak with Animals
- Cure Disease
- Speak with Dead
- Create Water
- Cure Serious Wounds
- Neutralize Poison
- Speak with Plants
- Sticks to Snakes
- Create Food
- Dispel Evil
- Insect Plague
- Raise Dead
- Part Water
Not a lot of surprises here, as they’re mostly off the cleric list. The cure spells (wounds, disease, poison) are not surprising and Delta compensates for this by making potions of such readily available. There are a fair number of spells like resist fire/cold, create/purify food/water, and know alignment that feel fitting for a cleric but honestly I can’t say I feel like I’ve seen used a lot in game. Also there are a few spells that feel redundant with other spells — commune is just a better version of contact higher plane, quest is just like geas, and raise dead can be replaced with the magic-user reincarnate spell. There are also oddly a couple magic-user spells that fit that same bill for me. Massmorph just feels like a crappier version of invisibility 10′ radius. Sure it can hide a lot more people, but they can’t really move. Likewise, why do I need part water when I have lower water?
I’m surprised at there being no floating disc — that feels like a classic to me. Ventriloquism I could live without. Striking is a cool spell, and would be easy to translate into a magic-user spell. Being able to temporarily make a normal weapon magical is pretty sweet. And though I’ve really gimped the silence spell, I still find it to be a very useful spell that my players quite like to use. Also I love the speak spells, even to the point of retrofitting speak with dead (B/X has plants and animals but not dead).
Spells in OED missing in B/X:
- Magic Mouth
- Rope Trick
- Extend Spell
- Ice Storm
- Wall of Iron
- Legend Lore
OK, a shorter list here. Magic mouth always struck me as a weird spell. It’s kind of cool, but I found used chiefly by NPCs whose dungeon you are exploring, rather than by actual players. Do you really need an official spell for that? I mean, there’s no explanation for any of the other random magical effects we love to litter the dungeon with.
Pyrotechnics, eh, no strong feelings. Clairaudience is cool but slightly less good than clairvoyance. Slow I could live without as I’d always rather haste myself than slow my enemy. Rope trick I find to be a weird one. It seems awful high level for something that just helps you climb somewhere and gives you a temporary hiding spot. Though I did see it put to good use recently in conjunction with an extend spell to have a safe place to sleep the night, I almost wonder if a day shouldn’t just be its normal duration. Suggestion I likewise am not impressed with – it feels to me like a weirdly vaguer version of charm person. Legend Lore is a neat spell, though I’ve not seen it used very much, and it feels just a little less flavorful than contact higher plane.
OK, Strength is a great spell that we use all the time and is very notably lacking in B/X. Extend Spell is also a very cool tool for the inventive caster. Ice Storm nicely completes the missing damage type started by fireball and lightning bolt. Finally wall of iron I like just for the idea of a spell that can actually create a permanent object.
So, when all is said and done, I can’t say there’s anything on those lists that feel like major deal breakers for me. There are some spells I will be very interested to see introduced into my game, and a couple that I will be sad to not see as an option, but it feels more or less like an even trade.
Perhaps I’ll spend some time analyzing other elements of OED vs BX in a future post. As of right now, I am feeling somewhat intrigued at the idea of running a pure OED game just to see what works for me and what doesn’t.