On the B/X-ification of Classes

As part of the work on the future B/X Essentials: Advanced Characters book (previously mentioned here), I've found myself reading a lot of AD&D material. With my general B/X obsession, AD&D isn't something I've looked at in great depth for quite some years, so it's been very interesting to observe the contrast between the two rules sets. On the surface, just reading through the class descriptions, the rules are, for the most part, the same, and the level of complexity doesn't seem so much greater. It was when I came to directly comparing the AD&D classes against the B/X classes, though, that the differences stood out rather sharply.

My aim with the Advanced Characters book is not merely to clone the AD&D material, but to present classes that slot cleanly into B/X. This has several aspects:

  1. Rules: Obviously, the classes must not use any rules that only exist in AD&D (good and evil alignment, for instance).
  2. Complexity: The classes must not be any more complex than the existing B/X classes, in terms of the number of class abilities or the mechanical complexity of those abilities.
  3. Power: Generally, AD&D amps things up from B/X. The majority of classes have higher HD. Some classes start play with multiple HD. I want my converted classes to be in line with B/X power levels.
  4. Rarity: In AD&D, some classes are clearly way more powerful than others. The paladin is a prime example: unlimited use of detect evil, and a continually active protection from evil, 10' radius are the most obvious super-powered class abilities (and both from 1st level!). In order to make classes like this less commonplace, AD&D introduces an additional mechanism: stringent ability score requirements. Only with super lucky rolls can a player select the paladin class, making them exceedingly rare. (This, in turn, was the genesis of the "alternative rolling methods" arms race. But that's another topic.) This concept of class power vs rarity doesn't exist in B/X to anywhere near the same level (the most stringent class requirements are the halfling's CON 9, DEX 9 -- hardly a harsh limitation), so my converted classes should not rely on it.
  5. Overlap: Each class should have a clear niche, and its own set of unique abilities. The core B/X classes (especially the core 4 human classes) each have a very clearly defined niche, and can do things that other classes cannot. Adding more classes to the mix, a degree of overlap is inevitably going to creep in, but my aim is to keep this to a minimum, and to make sure that each class retains a niche. There's a tendency in AD&D classes to be able to do everything another class can do, plus X, Y, Z. I want to avoid this.

With the above in mind, I started writing up some B/X-ified versions of AD&D classes. The question was, though, what exact yardstick to use to ensure that I was achieving the goals I'd set? Eyeballing and play testing are, of course, necessary, but to address the points of complexity and overlap, I quickly came upon a very different, rather unusual, and highly effective method.

One of the prime directives of B/X Essentials is that (as far as possible) all material relating to a topic should appear on the same page or spread. Thus, a very effective measure of the rules-complexity of a topic is simply: how much space does it take up when laid out?

In the basic Classes and Equipment book, the class descriptions have all been painstakingly edited and laid out to fit exactly onto a single page or spread each. For example, the most complex B/X classes (according to the "how much space?" definition of complexity):

The cleric class -- turn undead requires a lot of explanation

The thief class -- there's a lot of those % skills
So, if it's possible to fit the whole description of every B/X class onto a single 6" x 9" spread, including all required tables, it should also be possible to fit any new, additional classes within the same space constraints. It was when I started to attempt this that I truly realised how much complexity there is in some of the AD&D classes! Some of them required a huge amount of trimming. But this process of trimming to fit on a spread forced me to consider two things:

  1. Which abilities can be simplified? (i.e. so that explaining them takes less words and/or tables.)
  2. Which abilities are really the core of this class, and which can be removed?
Thus, my aims of complexity and overlap were neatly addressed by this process of rough layout. As a result, I think the classes I'm coming up with are much closer to true B/X-ifications of AD&D material than other, previous attempts at this.

As an example, here's a laid out preview of my B/X-ified paladin class:

I'll be putting out an official call for play testers soon, but if anyone has any feedback on the paladin, please feel free to comment!

B/X Essentials: Downtime

Following on from the announcement of the Post-Apocalyptic book for B/X Essentials, I have another book to announce today:

B/X Essentials: Downtime

Written by Courtney Campbell.

This book is a rules / genre expansion for B/X Essentials that can be used in any fantasy campaign where the group wants to add some more detailed options for the time between adventures.

The traditional Basic/Expert rules largely focus on two things:
  1. Adventuring in dungeons.
  2. Adventuring in the wilderness.
The rules are, however, very sketchy on what characters do in between these two activities, upon returning to the safety of their home town. This book provides loads of options for fun (and profitable!) stuff to do in that period, inspired by Gary Gygax's famous admonishment: “YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT”.

Here's a list of some of the stuff covered:
  • Markets and haggling.
  • Orgies and carousing.
  • City navigation.
  • Locating specialised mercenaries, hirelings, and side-kicks.
  • Optional rules for training.
  • Investments.
  • Arena fights.
  • Theft, crimes, and punishment.
  • Detailed rules for consulting a sage.
  • Gaining influence (political, economic, spiritual, etc).
  • Constructing unique vehicles.
  • Magical labs.
The draft text of the book is finished, and I'll be looking for proofreaders to look over it soon!

B/X Essentials: Post-Apocalyptic Classes and Equipment

As I mentioned recently, there are lots of expansion books planned for the B/X Essentials line. Obviously, a lot of the ideas mentioned in that post are in the state of "planned but purely notional", at present. In this post, however, I want to announce a book that is currently in the works. Without further ado:

B/X Essentials: Post-Apocalyptic Classes and Equipment

Written by Chance Phillips.

This book is a modular replacement for the standard B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment, replacing the classic fantasy classes with new classes inspired by media such as Mad Max, Planet of the Apes, and Tank Girl. Likewise, in place of medieval / fantasy equipment, this book contains rules for guns, mashup vehicles, and salvaged technology.

This book is 100% compatible with the B/X Essentials: Core Rules, and can be slotted in alongside any other B/X Essentials books.

The draft text of the book is almost finished, so play testing will commence soon. Get in touch if you're interested in running some post-apocalyptic adventures with the B/X Essentials rules!

To further whet your whistles, here's a preview of the table of contents:

Character Classes: New classes for post-apocalyptic settings.
  1. Biker
  2. Cardinal
  3. Gladiator
  4. Inventor
  5. Marksman
  6. Monkey
  7. Motorist
  8. Prepper
  9. Soldier
Languages: A brief description of the various languages that are prevalent in different enclaves, as well as the pidgin trade tongue often used by travelers.

Money/Bartering: An explanation of how value and wealth is represented after the collapse of fiat currency, and a system for bartering.

Equipment: A wide selection of firearms, armor, and other gear.

Vehicles: A vehicle creation system and rules for driving in combat.

Mercenaries and Specialists: Listings and stats for the various types of mercenaries and hirelings that players may want to hire.

Wasteland Survival: Rules for surviving the various hazards of the wastelands, from radiation to extreme cold and heat.

Sustainable Necrotic Development

As I announced last week, big things are afoot here at Necrotic Gnome. I'm going to be at the Berlin Brettspiel Con this weekend, with the Quality Beast and Necrotic Gnome crew, and we're already planning for the next con: SPIEL, in October. (And then Dragonmeet in London, after that.) Together with the UK Games Expo in June, that'll be four con appearances for Necrotic Gnome this year! (That's up infinity% from the grand total of zero last year. *)

* Mathematical accuracy not guaranteed.

The other angle that we're exploring (massive thanks to the Quality Beast crew here!) is getting in touch with retailers to get Necrotic Gnome books beyond RPGNow and into shops. This is a big -- and super exciting -- step for me!

All in all, this year is about building things up ready for the next stage: the production of the deluxe B/X Essentials editions, and the Dolmenwood Campaign Book.

To that end, we're looking not only to future products, but also to the current offerings of Necrotic Gnome. As things stand right now, all physical books that we have on sale are produced as print-on-demand (via Lightning Source, via RPGNow). While this model has been a great way to get things going, its limitations are now becoming clear. A couple of examples:
  • Some books have specific physical requirements that are extremely costly via print-on-demand. An example of this is the B/X Essentials books, which I designed to be staple-bound. Unfortunately, this entails using the premium printing process of Lightning Source, which increases the manufacturing costs immensely.
  • Such high manufacturing costs, in turn are an impediment to selling to retailers at a fair discount. The only way to do this currently would be for Necrotic Gnome to sell books to retailers at a significant loss, which is clearly not a sustainable business model!
All things considered, there are a lot of good reasons to move away from print-on-demand. (And that's before we even start talking about production quality!) So we're starting to explore options for producing Necrotic Gnome books via traditional print runs, and all the advantages that will bring.

In the meantime, I'll be adjusting the prices of our books at RPGNow to reflect a more realistic business model. A couple of changes:
  • Some books will go up a little bit (like $1). This is to reflect recent increases in Lightning Source's printing costs. The prices of print-on-demand fluctuate a lot, and tend to increase in jumps, and of course without warning. (This is another good reason to move away from this model, to a more predictable one.)
  • The premium printed books will, unfortunately, see larger price increases. The reason for this is, as explained above, the outrageous production costs of these books via print-on-demand services (things are even worse at Lulu!). Until now, I've been making very little profit from sales of these books, which is something that I didn't mind doing as a hobbyist, but that doesn't make any sense from the perspective of developing a sustainable business. Basically, I'm going to start pricing the premium printed editions of books at premium prices that reflect the costs involved. (Makes some sort of sense, eh?)
Our aim is to find a traditional printer who can manufacture our books for a good price and according to our physical requirements for bindings, etc. We've already sent out our first request for a quote to a printer here in Germany. (If anyone has any advice or leads in this department, please get in touch: summon@necroticgnome.com)

Talking about prices (especially increasing them!) and business models feels a little gauche, honestly, but I want to be transparent about what's going on, the reasons behind it, and what we're aiming towards. Thank you all for your support and understanding in this matter! If you have any questions or advice on any of this, please feel free to contact me.

Necrotic News: Kickstarters, Newsletters, and Quality Beasts

Something has been brewing for a while here over at the Necrotic Gnome tavern*. And today is the time to unleash the news.

The Big News Is...
Necrotic Gnome is undergoing a bio-meld with another Berlin-based indie games publisher, Quality Beast. The aim of this fusion is to increase our pool of resources dedicated to producing amazing, crazy, creepy, and (above all) mossy stuff for your delectation. We have a lot of things in the works: a Necrotic Gnome website, a joint webstore, Necrotic Gnome presence at cons, and -- last but not least -- crowdfunding campaigns! We'll be bringing to life deluxe editions of hotly anticipated Necrotic Gnome products such as the Dolmenwood Campaign Book and the boxed set and all-in-one hardcover editions of B/X Essentials. And who knows… there may even be some plushie moss dwarfs or grimalkin in your fairy-infested future!

Dylan (Head of Game Development at Quality Beast) and I recorded a video at UKGE last month, explaining a bit about the collaboration, the B/X Essentials and Dolmenwood books, and what have planned.

Necrotic Gnome Newsletter...
To kick things off, we're starting a Necrotic Gnome newsletter. We’ll be sending out updates on new products, events, crowdfunding campaigns, opportunities to collaborate, and so on. The first newsletter (coming soon!) will include more details on some of the tidbits mentioned above.

You can sign up at necroticgnome.com.

All For Now!
Thank you all for your support over the years. Without folks like you, Necrotic Gnome would never have left the spawning vat!

* The name "Necrotic Gnome" actually began life in an old campaign of mine as the name of a ratling tavern at the base of a giant trash-heap below a fantasy mega-city.

B/X Essentials: Monsters -- Out Now in PDF!

The long-awaited Monsters book for the B/X Essentials series is out! A completely fresh write-up of all Basic/Expert monsters, in a format optimised for use at the table. Check out the preview!

Here it is at RPGNow!

Illustrations by Andrew Walter, Luka Rejec, Mike Hill, Matthew Ray, Michael Clarke, Alex Mayo, Kyle Latino, Sean Poppe, Tom Kilian.

(Print and plain text editions coming soon!)

B/X Essentials: Devil Swine!

An interesting thing about the monsters in B/X is that, while most of them appear in other editions, there are some that are (as far as I know) unique to B/X. (Or the 1983 Basic / Expert sets by Frank Mentzer. Though there are even some B/X monsters that didn't make the transition to that revision.)

Of these Basic / Expert monsters that aren't found in other editions, my personal favourite is the devil swine. Evil, man-eating, lycanthropic swine.

So when it came to deciding what to have illustrated on the title page of B/X Essentials: Monsters, the devil swine came immediately to mind, as an iconic B/X monster. I've always pictured devil swine as intelligent, debauched, wannabe nobles. Here's what Luka Rejec came up with, from my description:

Copyright Luka Rejec, 2018

And here's the accompanying monster description from B/X Essentials: Monsters:

Corpulent humans who can change into huge swine. Love to eat human flesh. Lurk in isolated human settlements close to forests or marshes.

AC 3 (9 in human form), HD 9* (40hp),  Att 1 × gore (2d6) or 1 × weapon (1d6 or by weapon) or 1 × magic (charm), THAC0 12, MV 180’ (60’) / 120’ (40’) in human form, SV D8 W9 P10 B10 S12 (F9), ML 10, AL Chaotic, XP 1,600, NA 1d3 (1d4), TT C
  • Shapechange: Only at night.
  • Ambush: Prefer to attack by surprise.
  • Charm person: 3 times a day. Save versus spells at -2 or be charmed: move towards the devil swine (resisting those who try to prevent it); obey the devil swine’s commands (if understood); defend the devil swine; unable to cast spells or use magic items; unable to harm the devil swine. Killing the swine breaks the charm.
  • Charmed victims: 1d4-1 accompany a devil swine.

B/X Essentials: Plans for the Series

As an addendum of sorts to the general B/X Essentials FAQ, I wanted to discuss the future plans for this project. Anyone who's been following along with the development will notice that work on the core "clone" or rules reference for B/X is nearing completion. But that is far from the end of what I have planned for B/X Essentials; in fact it's really just the foundation.

The whole series is formed around the idea of modularity, with the Core Rules as the only really essential book. Based on Core Rules, a referee can run games in any number of genres or settings, simply by adding suitable classes, monsters, spells, treasures, and so on. So far, I've been working on providing the classic fantasy answers to all of these elements (the Classes and Equipment, Cleric and Magic-User Spells, Monsters, and Adventures and Treasures books).

But innumerable alternative books could be used in place of the standards, enabling the easy creation of a rules set for a specific campaign by simply mixing & matching available rules modules. So, for example, you could grab Core Rules + Sword & Planet Classes & Equipment + Lost World Monsters + Planar Adventures & Treasures to make an awesome, dimension-hopping, pulp campaign with laser swords and dinosaurs. (These are largely hypothetical books right now, but you get the idea.)

So that's the concept, and that's where I plan to head with this, once the basic "clone" aspect of the rules are complete. Here are some of the projects that are either in the works or that I have rough notes for. Some of these are being developed by other writers, to be published as rules modules in the B/X Essentials line.

Classic Series (mostly finished now)

  • Classes and Equipment
  • Cleric and Magic-User Spells
  • Monsters
  • Adventures and Treasures
Advanced Series
  • Advanced Characters
  • Druid and Illusionist Spells
  • Advanced Cleric and Magic-User Spells
  • Advanced Monsters
  • Advanced Adventures and Treasures
Genre Modules
  • Lost World Monsters
  • Mythic Japan Classes and Equipment
  • Mythic Japan Spells
  • Mythic Japan Monsters
  • Post-Apocalyptic Classes and Equipment
Rules Modules
  • Character Options
  • Downtime
  • Biological Magic
  • Elemental Magic
  • Necromantic Magic
Victorian adventures? Planar monsters? Wild West? Pirates? Science-fantasy? The possibilities are endless!

B/X Essentials: Adventures and Treasures -- Draft Text v0.1.0!

Illustration by Michael Clarke
What with B/X Essentials: Monsters being close to wrapping up, my thoughts are beginning to turn vaguely to the fifth book: Adventures and Treasures. This, by the way, will be the final book in the initial "classic" series, completing the core B/X rules reference.

The document is currently just a very basic outline, with only the wilderness encounter charts and NPC party generators being at all fleshed out.

You can view (and comment on!) progress here online.

B/X Essentials: Monsters -- Art & Layout Preview 2

I just got some pieces in from Matt Ray, and wanted to share another spread. I love that gelatinous cube!

About the Dolmenwood Campaign Book

So I've mentioned this thing before called the Dolmenwood Campaign Book, but I realise that its exact nature has not been laid out particularly clearly. Here goes... a sort of general FAQ!

Is a weird fairy-tale hex-crawl setting for B/X (and pals), invented by myself and Greg Gorgonmilk. To date, all information on the setting has appeared in serialized (and somewhat randomized) form in the zine Wormskin.

Each issue of Wormskin details fairly arbitrarily selected aspects of the setting: player character classes, descriptions of clusters of hexes, new monsters, historical exposition, optional rules for forest hex crawling, and so on. By its nature, however, the zine does not reveal the setting in any logical order. It is, essentially, a partwork.

All issues of Wormskin are available here.

Dolmenwood Hardcovers
Since its inception, the plan for Dolmenwood has always been to release the setting in its finished form as a set of full-size hardcover books: a player's guide (with all the new classes), a book of hexes, a book of monsters, and so on. The vagaries of life have meant that the process of writing these books has not been forthcoming. Until now!

The Dolmenwood Campaign Book
Will be the first Dolmenwood hardcover to be published. It is currently being written, and is about 50% done.

What will this book contain?

  • Background information on the setting: the forest's history, the various sentient races that inhabit it, the magical energies that permeate it, etc.
  • Details on the various regions of Dolmenwood and their unique features.
  • Descriptions of the factions that lurk in the forest, their aims and goals, and how they relate to each other.
  • Descriptions of all 184 hexes on the campaign map.

When Will It Be Published?
The plan is to publish it in 2019. We're looking into doing a Kickstarter to get enough funding for a fancy print run and lush artwork. It's looking like the book will clock in at 180+ pages, once finished.

Will It Include Content That's Already Appeared In Wormskin?
Some of the content of the Campaign Book has already appeared in Wormskin. For example, about 50 of the 184 hexes have been described in the zine, and detailed articles on two factions have been published. All of this information will be collated in the Campaign Book, where it will be re-edited into a cohesive whole.

What Content Will It Include That's Not Appeared in Wormskin?
Absolutely loads of stuff. Wormksin has just scratched the surface, really. For starters, there'll be over 120 new hex descriptions. This will be a complete campaign setting, with a detailed, adventure-packed hex-crawl, and fully fleshed out background information. And it will all be organised in a logical fashion, naturally.

Will It Include All Content From Wormskin?
Anything that doesn't relate to the setting background and the hex descriptions will not be included in the Campaign Book. It will not contain any PC classes or adventures, for example.

Will Wormskin Continue?
Once the Campaign Book is published, yes, the plan is for Wormskin to continue. Its role will be somewhat different, as there will be no further articles with hex descriptions or setting background. I'd imagine the zine's focus switching to support materials like adventures, encounters, NPCs, and general setting ephemera.