Oh Delta My Delta

Recently I have been running an OED campaign for my Sunday night group as a stop-gap between runs of our normal Demon Wars games.  The players are very savvy roleplayers and have a history of playing 1st edition AD&D.  As a result they have found every little gap and rough edge in OED that is not quite how I run the game.  Thus today I sat down and made a copy of the OED player’s guide and started modifying it.

My system for running old school D&D games has evolved over the years.  I started out using Labyrinth Lord, and eventually switched back to straight BX plus some house rules, and the finally just gave in and converted to OED.  This last change was largely due to playing with a lot of the same players as Dan, and repeatedly trying to answer the question of “how are your games different?”  The fact is that Dan started with OD&D and I started with B/X, and then we both started house ruling stuff and landed on games that were incredibly similar.  Since Dan does a metric ton more analysis (driven by very thorough computer-based simulations) I finally decided that I should just get on board and offer those players a little consistency.

Well, it turns out I may have glossed over a lot of the finer points, and it doesn’t help that Dan continues to add and modify his own rules and I may have failed to keep up.  That said, I didn’t want to just follow Dan’s lead blindly, as there are definitely some things I don’t agree with. So looking at the OED player’s guide, here’s all the things I do just a little bit differently:

Dwarves – Dan gives dwarves a +4 AC vs giants, which felt a bit generous to me.  I also like to give the +4 saving throw modifier to poison as well as magic.  Interesting – I looked up the origin of the dwarf vs. giant AC bonus, here’s what OD&D actually says.  I guess we’ve both diverged from the original quite a bit.

Because of their relatively small size, clumsy monsters like Ogres, Giants and the like will have a difficult time hitting Dwarves, so score only one half the usual hit points when a hit is scored.

Abilities – I don’t muck about with Dan’s fancy system for increased ability scores.  This made it’s way into the OED player’s guide as giving starting characters one stat at 2d6+6 instead of 3d6.  Instead, I’ve always made my players roll straight down the line, and then allow one swap for a little customization.

Hit Points – Dan gives new players a re-roll on a 1 or 2 on the first hit-die roll.  I just give them max value on their first hit die roll.  Note, I apply this only to their primary class, which means an elf player’s decision to be a Fighter/Wizard vs. a Wizard/Fighter has significant impact right away (in addition to the multi-class level-cap I use, see below.)

Equipment / Encumbrance – While we use the same scale of money and same value for starting money, I don’t use Dan’s stone-based encumbrance rules.  I have a lot of trouble with the 1/3 and 1/6 values.  Plus, I did my own research a while back comparing LL to BX and was happy with the output.  Here’s my official equipment list which includes weight for use with the standard BX movement chart.  It was noted recently by my players that armor in my list is cheaper than what Dan has.  I’m surprised Dan has put plate armor out of reach for starting fighter characters – I think plate armor at 1st level is big advantage for starting out as a fighter.

Ability Modifiers: Huh, Dan gives Int modifier adjustments to finding secret doors and traps?  I never noticed that before.  Personally, I use Int a lot for learning spells which we’ll see later.  The modifier I use only for starting languages.  Pluses gives the character extra languages, -1 means the character is illiterate, and -2 means the character has a very limited vocabulary.  

Spells – I do spell learning slightly differently from Dan: Dan gives d20 + level + Int mod >= 20, while I use d20 + Int – Spell Level >= 20.  I think mine makes learning spells early on much easier – Dan’s system gives a 1st level Wizard with average Int a scant 10% to learn new spells while mine comes out closer to 50%.  I also like that mine does not scale with level, and in fact makes higher level spells harder for anyone to learn and therefore more rare.  Also for starting spells I make the player roll for all 1st level spells while it looks like Dan just gives the player all of them.  I like making my players roll as it makes for some interesting differences between starting out 1st level wizards.

Weapons – I’m not a fan of Dan’s weapon matrix.  It introduces some distinctions not present in my own equipment list, such as separate pikes from polearms, and adding flails.  The added modifiers for weapon type vs. armor type is also far too fiddly for me – I never used this in AD&D and I’m not going to use it in OD&D.   Also, I like that in my list the large weapons restricted from use by hobbits/dwarfs is just two weapons (2-handed sword and polearm), and conveniently are the only weapons that do d10 damage.

Multi-classing – I think Dan’s requirement of 16 in a prime req is too restrictive – I bring that down to 13.  Also, I add level caps to additional classes – 8th level for your 2nd class and 4th for your 3rd class.  I like that this means non-primary wizards will never reach the most powerful spells, and third tier wizards won’t even hit fireball territory.  It also meshes well with fighter feats and thief ability bumps.  It means multiclass characters will simply never be quite as good at their second or third classes as their single classed counterparts.

I think that about sums it up.  It may sound like I’m pretty critical of OED, but really I see all the above differences as very minor style choices.  Dan has done great work with the OED and I really enjoy using it.  I just got tired with the current group of telling them “oh no, don’t use that, here’s how I do it.”  Better to just have a customized hand-out than to have to have errata to my sheet of errata. 

So having gone through all this, here is my doctored version of the OED player’s guide, which I’ve set to version 1.04a.


8 thoughts on “Oh Delta My Delta

  1. Tremendously cool to see players testing the boundaries here! I’m likewise pretty rewarded from the players in our Brooklyn campaign banging against it, too. I’ve gotten in a habit of pretty freely changing one thing up in any session to session to see how we like them (“reality shifts around you…”). Wish I had more time for a deeper analysis at the moment, here’s a few top thoughts:

    Dwarves: Sup-I Greyhawk errata changed giant defense to a flat -1 to hit (too small!), then AD&D made it -4 to hit. I do prefer the hit-or-not mechanic to half damage, so took the AD&D rule.

    Equipment: Two motivations for the plate expense. (1) Simulation-wise, plate armor was a whole lot more relatively expensive than D&D has it (arguably it could be another 10 times what I have it), (2) Game-wise, it’s a nice early graduated boost that the fighters have as an adventuring goal. (They do start with chain which no one else gets.)

    Ability Mods: For what it’s worth, I use the unchanged OD&D book rule on languages: can learn 1 per pip above 10 Intelligence (e.g., up to 5 extra for a 15 Intelligence; Vol-1, p. 12). I’ve been awarding these one at a time, say, on level-up, or during extended downtime (like current winter lockdown in our campaign). It’s been a well-received development boost.

    Spells: Your version is definitely attractive (inc. spell level difficulty), and I tried that again recently myself, but then switched back to my method for a few reasons. Instead I started doing this: 3 retries per spell (reset on PC level-up). Also I’m doing the same for thief skills (pick pocket, open lock, remove trap, etc.); critical failure on natural 1.

    Weapons: I’ll just say that this is one of my favorite rules at the moment. Change two months ago is that spear-types can be used from a 2nd rank (instead of the free opening attack, which indeed was too fiddly in round-the-table action sequence). Change this week was to apply club/hammer hit bonuses also to tough animal/beasts types. The PCs are definitely getting some extra mileage by thoughtful weapon selection, and wrestling with tough tradeoffs about weapon in hand, encumbrance, etc.

    1. Well, feel free to send deeper analysis any time. I’ll keep you updated on how things go with this group. I honestly have no idea how long this little campaign will run. Here are a couple quick responses to specific points above:

      Plate Armor – I suspect any attempt to balance the cost is fruitless given the scale of money players tend to rake in. If anything I’m glad to have things like healing potion cost and carousing to give some kind of outlet to the wealth they tend to accumulate. As far as plate vs. chain goes – I really like it as a distinguishing reason to choose between a multiclass Fighter/Magic-User vs. a pure Fighter.

      Languages – One language per pip over 10 feels pretty darn generous. The BX language chart is one of the few things I’ve copied directly into my OD&D book. I like making players roll for what languages they know, and I love how lack of language will drive player creativity (hiring NPC translators, packing read language scrolls, etc.) .

      Spells – one minor problem I’ve encountered is the flood of extra spell books as PCs die and are replaced. I’ve started pushing for something similar to your Outdoor Spoliation rule where players can’t just copy from arbitrary spell books, and need either the tutelage of the author or other expensive (time and money) research costs to transcribe the spell.

      Question for you regarding elves – do you require that elves have the required prime req for their free second class at creation time?

      1. No on the elves needing a high ability score for their second class. Both rulings on that are just straight OD&D, Vol-1 (elves freely switch, p. 8; for other than elves, need 16+, top of p. 10).

        I will say that someone on OD&D Discussion the other day had the interpretation that PC elves start with just one class, but have the free capacity to add a 2nd without restriction whenever they choose to apply XP to it. That’s least an interesting alternate take on it.

        Re: Influx of spells; I haven’t seen that yet as a phenomenon because (as you said) everyone has all 1st level spells anyway. However, I think we’ve seen similar trends in the past over other equipment & magic items. One thing that caught my eye recently was OD&D Vol-1, p. 13 on relatives: wherein each PC can name an heir to inherit all their stuff (i.e., the next PC starts with an equipment boost). Consider if that rule was enforced/mandatory, so that all gear by fiat went to a new PC (or else an offstage NPC) instead of the party spoil?

      2. On that latter point, there’s at least 3 or 4 “interesting” rules in OD&D that I don’t modify, so don’t appear in my house rules, so players don’t know about them unless they read Vol-1 or I otherwise draw their attention to them. (Which I did over holiday break). Namely:

        (1) Hiring NPCs
        (2) Writing wills to relatives
        (3) Magic research
        (4) News & rumors

        I still don’t use carousing, but my campaign has been draining a lot of cash from the PCs via monthly upkeep expenses, healing potions, and news & rumors outlays (Vol-3, p. 23).

    1. I do not. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% swayed by the no-clerics arguments, but I do think there are some very good ones, and the clincher for me is how much I like Delta’s Book of Spells. If he did a Book of Cleric Spells I’d happily put them back in the mix, but I’m too lazy to do the work myself.

  2. Paul,

    Thank you for the response. I am changing the Cleric class myself to be more like a Star Wars Jedi (no light saber), Lone Wolf Kai Lord, or one of the 30 Source Priests from David Gemmell. I will use the platform of the armor and weapons (edged weapons not prohibited) and change the spell list and change the special abilities.


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