Dolmenwood: Winter's Daughter Cover Illustration

I recently got the cover illustration for the upcoming Dolmenwood adventure -- Winter's Daughter -- in from the illustrator, the phantasmagoric Mish Scott. The cover depicts a melange of imagery from the adventure:
  • The deep, fungal infested glades of Dolmenwood.
  • The circle of ancient, rune-carved stones known as the Whything Stones. (Ritual site of the Drune.)
  • The fairy princess Snowfall-at-Dusk, seventeenth daughter of the Cold Prince. (The eponymous daughter of Winter.)
  • Random spooky / cute wildlife.
Feast your eyes!

Dolmenwood / B/X: Wilderness Exploration Rules

Image from B/X Essentials: Core Rules, by Tom Kilian

Following on from some discussion last night in the Necrotic Gnome group on MeWe, relating to encumbrance and wilderness travel, I realised that the simple hex crawl rules for Dolmenwood (see Wormskin issue 5) completely ignore encumbrance.

For some groups this is fine, but for others (i.e. those who routinely use encumbrance in their games) it renders the guidelines pretty much useless. Obviously, that's not what I want!

So I've spent some time reworking the hex crawl guidelines, now fully taking encumbrance into account. The resulting system is ... quite different (talking about miles of movement instead of hexes and phases), but I don't think I'd say it's more complex.

I've put the new system online in a google doc here. The document consists of two sections:

  1. A summary of the B/X wilderness travel rules, including movement rate calculation for vehicles and mounts.
  2. Extended rules for hex crawling, including guidelines for searching hexes, foraging, fishing, and hunting.

Let me know what you think!

Dolmenwood: Adventure Layout In Progress

A new Dolmenwood adventure looms before publication! I've been working this week on finishing up the text and have got started on the layout.

Continuing on from my recent work on B/X Essentials, my focus is firmly on ease of quick reference. The layout concept for adventure locations breaks things down as follows:

  • Each important feature of an area is broken out in its own heading.
  • Monsters and NPCs are treated likewise.
  • A short description appears after each heading. These consist of bolded keywords, with finer detail in parentheses. (Yeah, this was inspired by Hot Springs Island.)
  • Bullet points note any actions, reactions, or events related to the heading.
  • Monster or NPC combat stats are broken out in sidebars.

That probably all sounds a bit dry. Here's an example of what it looks like in practice -- the first two encounter areas in the adventure, as PCs wander through the forest and approach a burial mound.

As always, feedback is most welcome!

Dolmenwood: Werephasm (New Monster)

Looks something like this. Illustration by Abz-J-Harding.

A nasty monster that I just invented while writing up the hex description of one of the nodal stones in Dolmenwood. A servitor of the Drune.


Humanoid, lupine creatures of twisting shadow, summoned by Drune magic.

  • Behaviour: Seek to snuff out light and rend sentient beings’ souls from their flesh.

Werephasm: HD 6* (3), AC 4, Att 2 × claws (1d4 + soul-rend), 1 × bite (1d8) or 1 × howl (extinguishes light), MV 120’ (40’), ML 10, AL C, XP 500.

  • Mundane damage immunity: Can only be harmed by magical attacks or silver weapons.
  • Weakened by light: Werephasms have 6 Hit Dice, but attack as 3 HD monsters when within the radius of a light source.
  • Howl: A werephasm may let out a bone-chilling howl. Every light source within 90’ has a 4-in-6 chance of being extinguished. (This includes magical light, but excludes permanent enchantments such as continual light.)
  • Soul-rend: Each hit of the monster’s claws drains one point of CHA from the target. A target reduced to 0 CHA has its soul annihilated (i.e. can never be resurrected).

Upon the Dawning of 2019

All hail the mighty Moldvay / Cook / Marsh!

2019. I think everyone is agreed by now that we live in the future. What better time to talk about old-school roleplaying games from the 1980s then!

As is traditional, I thought I'd write a blog post around the turning of the year discussing what's in the works from Necrotic Gnome. I post quite regularly about the different projects that are on the go, but I think it's nice to write up a summary of everything, all in one place. Here goes... (Note that I'm just covering projects that are seriously in development. I have loads more stuff planned that's at the "notes / ideas" stage.)

B/X Essentials

The Complete Revised Edition

This is the big one. The all-in-one hardcover and boxed set of the revised edition of the B/X Essentials rules.

People may recall that when I was initially planning these compiled editions, I wasn't considering substantially revising the content. As is so often the way, though, looking back at finished work with the benefit of hindsight, I started finding more and more ways in which I could improve the clarity and usability of the rules. So this project has mutated into a revised edition proper. (I recently discussed the main changes in detail here.)

Of course, the rules will be completely compatible with the original B/X Essentials booklets (and with B/X), just with enhanced layout and editing.

Current status: The work on revising the text is pretty much done. The plan is to take the new, compiled editions to Kickstarter in the Spring. Around May is looking likely, currently.

Advanced Characters

This book represents the first rules expansion to B/X Essentials -- adding 15 new character classes to the game, all inspired by the AD&D material of yesteryear. (Note: "inspired by" -- these are heavily adapted B/X renditions of the classes, not simple clones or near-clones of the AD&D material.)

Current status: Intensive play testing. It's a lot of work to test 15 new character classes! And play testing is something that I'm taking seriously. The classes that have been tested so far have all benefited greatly from the feedback garnered. My feeling is that this book will be ready in about 4-6 months, which may mean that it's ready in time for the Revised Edition Kickstarter (see above). We shall see.

Druid and Illusionist Spells

The accompanying book to Advanced Characters. Includes 87 new spells for B/X, formatted in the easy-reference style of B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells.

Current status: Same as Advanced Characters. May be ready in time for the Revised Edition Kickstarter (see above). We shall see.


This book will be the second rules expansion for B/X Essentials, taking things in a completely different direction -- a near-future, post-apocalyptic wasteland! Inspired by works such as Mad Max and Tank Girl, this book adds 9 new character classes, firearms and scavenged tech, customized vehicles, rules for wasteland survival, and lots more.

Current status: Play testing. We're actively looking for more play testers for this book, so if you love B/X and post-apocalyptic gaming, please get in touch!


Campaign Book

The fabled Dolmenwood hardcover is coming along very nicely. The book is divided into two sections:

  1. Lore: Setting overview, background, factions, history, rumours, etc.
  2. Adventures and Hexes: Procedures for hex crawling, hex descriptions, new monsters, treasures, NPCs, etc.

These may end up as sections of a single hardcover or may even be produced as two separate books. That's still to be determined. (And may depend on how the planned Kickstarter goes.)

Current status: Writing in progress.

Lore is really nearly finished. All that remains to be written is some miscellaneous stuff like beer and cider generators, lists of edible plants, that kind of thing. The one significant chunk of content that I've not really touched yet is the lists of rumours. I'm deliberately leaving those until all of the hex descriptions are complete, as the rumours will obviously refer to things in the hexes.

Adventures and Hexes is probably at about the 66% mark now, overall. Of the 184 hexes on the campaign map, only 45 are left to write up. The hex write-ups are a huge amount of work. I'm super happy with the end results, but honestly I'm not sure I'd go into another hex crawl product with such detailed hex write-ups again! (I now fully understand why most hex crawls stick to a very brief per hex write-up!) Fortunately, it's not an effort that I've had to tackle entirely alone: we have hex descriptions written by a number of other talented writers: Luke Gearing, Yves Geens, Greg Gorgonmilk, Kyle Hettinger, Clint Krause, Jonathan Newell, Brian Richmond, Glynn Seal, Andrew Walter. What a team!

All in all, there's still a significant chunk of work to do, but things are looking in extremely good shape for the Kickstarter later this year. (Exact date still to be determined.)


I've mentioned several times over the last year that there are a few Dolmenwood adventure modules in development. This is still true!

Two are approaching the finish line:

  1. Winter's Daughter:  (Formerly code-named "Tomb of the Giant-Slayer".) We've been play testing this module pretty intensively at cons this year (some of you may have played it already!), and I feel it's now reached its final form. It's a small forest / dungeon adventure -- suitable for 1st to 3rd level characters -- that revolves around the history of the war against the Cold Prince in Dolmenwood. This module makes a great campaign starter, either simply as an introduction to the weird of Dolmenwood, or as a hook into the wider his/story of the setting.
  2. The Fungus That Came To Blackeswell: Also suitable for characters of around 1st to 3rd level, this module details the apocalyptic downfall of an isolated community in the deeps of Mulchgrove (in eastern Dolmenwood). It's dark and creepy with a touch of whimsy. Just how us Dolmenwood connoisseurs like it.

There are more adventures in a semi-gelatinous state, which may coalesce at some point, but I won't say any more about those right now.

Current status: Writing finished. Layout and illustration to commence soon. (I just received the beautiful cover art for Winter's Daughter, in fact. I'll share that soon.)

Player's Handbook

Going a bit more into the "future" department here, but worth mentioning. The Dolmenwood Campaign Book is only the first of a planned set of hardcover books for the setting. A Player's Handbook and a Monster Manual being the two main books in planning.

I've had notes on a Dolmenwood PHB for years now, but recently started looking into it in a bit more detail, in a spare moment. The basic gist is that the book will contain a bunch of new character classes for the setting (both human and demihuman classes), new equipment, new spells, etc.

Current status: Very early in development. I just released a bit of play test content -- 2 new Dolmenwood character classes -- for anyone who wants to dive in.

Fight On!

B/X Essentials: The Quest For A Name

Six weeks back, I discussed my thoughts around finding a more widely appealing name for the revised edition of B/X Essentials.

I've been wracking my brain, on and off, since then, but still haven't come up with anything that I'm 100% set on. So I thought I'd throw it out to wider input once more to get some fresh ideas.

Here are the more refined criteria of what I'm looking for in a name:
  1. Evocative. The name should evoke something about what happens or features in the game (e.g. adventure, exploration, wonder, magic, the underworld, etc.).
  2. Non-descriptive. The name should not attempt to describe what the game is (i.e. that it's an old-school RPG or whatever). The intention is that a subtitle will carry that meaning.
  3. Accessible. Anyone who understands English should be able to get the vibe of the name. It shouldn't require knowledge of RPGs or the old-school scene. (Of course, I'm not expecting complete novices to get that it's an RPG, from the name alone, but it should at least sound cool or intriguing.)
  4. Genre-spanning. The name must encompass more than just classic fantasy. There are plans for a whole range of genre supplements, ranging from mythic Japanese fantasy, through post-apocalyptic, to sword and planet.
  5. Unique. The name should not be similar to the name of an existing RPG, boardgame, or computer game. Ideally it should be easy to google and should not come up with loads of hits for other games.
  6. Short. Ideally. Something like "Lamentations of the Flame Princess" (for example) is probably a bit excessive for my purposes, especially considering that there's going to be a subtitle, a book title, and probably a B/X compatibility logo on the cover as well.
Putting all those things together, it's a difficult task!

(You see how "B/X Essentials" breaks at least 3 of the above criteria.)

Some Front-Runners
I've got a big list of ideas, but a few keep bubbling up to the top:
  • Hex & Ruin. Sounds kind of apocalyptic / Moorcockian. Just about genre neutral enough to pass.
  • Xthonic. I love the underworld vibe, and the unusual spelling makes it unique and searchable. A danger is that no one will know how to pronounce it!
  • On the Borderlands. A little on the long side, but I think it has a nice ring to it and sounds perfectly multi-genre. (The reference to B2 is a bonus ;) Perhaps not quite as searchable as the other two suggestions.
More Ideas...
A dump of a few other names in my list: Chaoslands, Xenolith, Xpanse, Weirdlands, Xerberus, The Creeping Hand of Chaos (a bit long), Blasted Worlds, Purple Worm, Into the Deeps.

Fire away if you have any ideas!

B/X Essentials: Core Rules 2nd Edition

Cover of the original B/X Essentials: Core Rules. Illustration by Andrew Walter.

I've reached a major milestone in my work building up to the revised editions of B/X Essentials for the Kickstarter next year! I've finalised the text for the revised Core Rules.

"What exactly will be different in this new edition of the book?" I hear you say. Now that it's all finalised, allow me to provide some more details.

Introductory Content
The first big change is that I've added a few pages of introductory content aimed at players who are new to B/X and to old-school gaming. I've not gone so far as to include a full "What is an RPG?" section, but I discuss the following:

  • What is B/X Essentials? Why is it structured as it is?
  • Basic terminology.
  • Rules modules and required books.
  • Compatibility with other games. (I think this is a bit of a hidden secret within the OSR: that most old-school games are trivially compatible with one another. I don't think this is at all obvious to new players.)
  • The basic concepts that are assumed by the rules. (For example: magic, gods, monsters, lost treasures, dungeons and the wilderness, civilisation and the borderlands.)
  • The game stats that make up a PC. (Previously, there was no explanation of what hit points or Armour Class are.)

Reorganised Adventuring Rules
My recent posts have described how I'm approaching reorganising the rules, using the concept of "control panels" for different modes of the game.

More Stuff is Considered Core
As I progressively wrote the original B/X Essentials books, things popped up that I noted, in retrospect, should have been included in the Core Rules. A really obvious one from the second book (Classes and Equipment) was the rules for alignment. Alignment is a core concept of the game -- not something that only affects player characters -- so it should go in the Core Rules book. There are many other examples.

As a result, the revised Core Rules is a much bigger book -- nearly twice as long, by word count -- but it really does contain everything that is core to the game. The other, revised rules modules will, conversely, be smaller -- now focusing purely on providing the modular content of the game. A good example here is that the rules for adventure generation (that originally appeared in Adventures and Treasures) are now in Core Rules; the revised Treasures book will consist purely of the magic items.

As you can see, this shifting of rules content into the Core Rules book sets things up better for the additional / alternative rules modules that are planned / in the works. For example, those rules for alignment won't need to be repeated in every book of alternative classes and equipment.

Finally, in going through the text once more, I've taken the chance to improve wordings, clarity, and accuracy. Naturally, all known errata has been fixed, as well.

Table of Contents
You're probably wondering what this all looks like! Here's the table of contents of the shiny, new, revised Core Rules:

  • Introduction
    • About B/X Essentials
    • Adventure Gaming
  • Player Characters
    • Game Statistics
    • Creating a Character
    • Ability Scores
    • Alignment
    • Languages
    • Experience and Gaining Levels
    • Wealth
  • Adventuring
    • Adventuring Basics
    • Party Organisation
    • Hired Help
    • Hazards and Challenges
    • Dungeon Adventuring
    • Wilderness Adventuring
    • Waterborne Adventuring
    • Encounters
    • Evasion and Pursuit
    • Combat
    • Other Combat Issues
    • Vehicles and Vessels
  • Magic
    • Types of Magic
    • Spells
    • Magical Research
  • Monsters and NPCs
    • Monsters
    • Normal Humans
    • NPC Adventurers
    • NPC Strongholds
    • Combat Tables
  • Adventures
    • Adventure Scenarios
    • Designing a Dungeon
    • Designing a Wilderness
    • Designing a Base Town
    • Awarding Experience
  • Treasure
    • Placing Treasure
    • Treasure Types
    • Gems and Jewellery
    • Magic Items (Note: Naturally, this section only covers the generalities of magic items.)
  • Author's Notes
  • Open Game License

B/X Essentials: Evasion and Pursuit "Control Panel"

I mentioned recently that I've been working on tweaking the structure of B/X Essentials: Core Rules for the deluxe books that we're going to crowd-fund next year. One thing I'm focusing on is restructuring the rules of the game into a series of "control panels" (© Ben Milton): two-page spreads containing all the rules required for a certain topic or mode of play.

In the previous post, I showed work-in-progress layouts for the three main adventuring "modes" of B/X: dungeoneering, wilderness adventuring, and seafaring. Today, I'd like to show a similar work-in-progress layout for the evasion and pursuit "control panel".

The Original Chase Rules
First of all, I think it's helpful to show the chase rules from the current B/X Essentials: Core Rules. These rules are also laid out as a control panel, though more or less by chance -- the rules just happened to fit exactly on two pages.

The New Evasion and Pursuit Rules
Now, let's look at the new control panel from the work-in-progress deluxe book. (The layout is still a little rough; I'm just presenting it here to show how the structure has changed -- see below.)

Things to note, comparing the original and the new spread:

  1. The new spread is structured quite differently. The original was written in a more "wall of text" fashion, which I'm now trying to avoid. The text on the new spread is broken down into bullet points, making it far easier and quicker to parse out the required information. This structure is designed specifically to aid use at the table.
  2. The new spread presents a more accurate rendition of these rules as found in the original Basic/Expert sets. In the original spread, the rules for evasion (i.e. avoiding an encounter before it occurs) and pursuit (i.e. being chased) were kind of melded together. The clearly drawn distinction between these two separate procedures helps clarify the way these rules are used in play.
  3. A little piece of errata has been fixed in the new spread: the explanation of ships closing in during a pursuit was wrong. (Of course, all known errata will be fixed in the new editions of the books. So if you spot any, be sure to let me know!)
  4. Some bits and pieces of information that were present on the original spread are not present on the new one: for example, the statement about group movement rate, and the rules about when evasion can occur. These bits have been moved to higher level locations: the rules on general movement and the rules for encounters, respectively, for those two examples.
Feedback welcome!

Dolmenwood: Travel Times by Road

Illustration by Alan Lee. (Forgive the hobbitses.)

As part of my work on the Dolmenwood Campaign Book, I've been considering road travel between the various settlements on the map. Of course, there are standard rules for overland travel, but for common routes like these it seems like it'd be useful to provide pre-calculated journey times. So I've just spent a while figuring them all out.

Travel by Road in Dolmenwood
The basics are:

  • A party on foot can travel along a road through two hexes in 8 hours.
  • A mounted party can travel along a major road through three hexes in 8 hours and along a minor road through two hexes in 8 hours.
  • Major roads on the campaign map: King's Highway, Horseye Road, Swinney Road, Fort Road.
  • All other roads on the map are minor roads.

(See Wormskin issue 5 for more details on the travel procedure.)

Travel Times

  1. Times by road only. Ferry travel times have not yet been calculated.
  2. I've added some wayside inns to the map, where appropriate.

Castle Brackenwold 1508

  • The Roost (Inn) 1308: 8 hours on foot, 5 hours mounted
  • The Refuge of St Keye 1307: 8 hours on foot, 6 hours mounted
  • The Quivering Doily (Inn) 1807: 10 hours on foot, 6 hours mounted

The Roost (Inn) 1308

  • Castle Brackenwold 1508: 8 hours on foot, 5 hours mounted
  • Woodcutters’ Encampment 1109: 8 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted

Woodcutters’ Encampment 1109

  • Shantywood Isle 1110: By ferry (times to be determined)
  • Dreg 1110: By ferry (times to be determined)
  • The Roost (Inn) 1308: 6 hours on foot, 6 hours mounted
  • Mallowheart’s Repose (Inn) 1108: 6 hours on foot, 6 hours mounted 

Shantywood Isle 1110

  • Woodcutters’ Encampment 1109: By ferry (times to be determined)
  • Dreg 1110: By ferry (times to be determined)

Dreg 1110

  • Shantywood Isle 1110: By ferry (times to be determined)
  • Woodcutters’ Encampment 1109: By ferry (times to be determined)
  • House of the Harridwn 1010: 4 hours on foot, 4 hours mounted
  • The Jaunty Horn (Inn) 0910: 8 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted

The Jaunty Horn (Inn) 0910

  • House of the Harridwn 1010: 8 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted
  • Dreg 1110: 8 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted
  • Lankshorn 0710: 6 hours on foot, 6 hours mounted

House of the Harridwn (Inn) 1010

  • Dreg 1110: 4 hours on foot, 4 hours mounted
  • The Jaunty Horn (Inn) 0910: 8 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted

Lankshorn 0710

  • The Jaunty Horn (Inn) 0910: 6 hours on foot, 6 hours mounted

Mallowheart’s Repose (Inn) 1108

  • Woodcutters’ Encampment 1109: 6 hours on foot, 6 hours mounted
  • Prigwort 1106: 8 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted

The Refuge of St Keye 1307

  • Castle Brackenwold 1508: 8 hours on foot, 6 hours mounted
  • Prigwort 1106: 8 hours on foot, 6 hours mounted
  • Orbswallow 1405: 10 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted

Prigwort 1106

  • The Refuge of St Keye 1307: 8 hours on foot, 6 hours mounted
  • Orbswallow 1405: 12 hours on foot, 11 hours mounted
  • The Breath of the Kelpie 1204: 8 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted
  • Mallowheart’s Repose (Inn)  1108: 8 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted
  • The Crimson Bath (Inn) 0805: 12 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted

The Crimson Bath (Inn) 0805

  • Prigwort 1106: 12 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted
  • Fort Vulgar 0604: 8 hours on foot, 6 hours mounted

Fort Vulgar 0604

  • The Crimson Bath (Inn) 0805: 8 hours on foot, 6 hours mounted

The Breath of the Kelpie 1204

  • Prigwort 1106: 8 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted
  • Odd 1403: 8 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted

Odd 1403

  • The Breath of the Kelpie 1204: 8 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted
  • Meagre’s Reach 1703: 12 hours on foot, 12 hours mounted
  • Blackeswell 1604: 12 hours on foot, 12 hours mounted

Meagre’s Reach 1703

  • Odd 1403: 12 hours on foot, 12 hours mounted
  • Blackeswell 1604: 12 hours on foot, 12 hours mounted

Blackeswell 1604

  • Odd 1403: 12 hours on foot, 12 hours mounted
  • Meagre’s Reach 1703: 12 hours on foot, 12 hours mounted
  • Orbswallow 1405: 9 hours on foot, 9 hours mounted

Orbswallow 1405

  • The Refuge of St Keye 1307: 10 hours on foot, 8 hours mounted
  • Prigwort 1106: 12 hours on foot, 11 hours mounted
  • Blackeswell 1604: 9 hours on foot, 9 hours mounted

The Quivering Doily (Inn) 1807

  • Castle Brackenwold 1508: 8 hours on foot, 5 hours mounted

Dolmenwood: NPC Write-Ups

For some time, I've been mulling over how to organise NPCs in the Dolmenwood Campaign Book. I've not come to any great conclusions yet, so I thought I'd throw the topic out there for general discussion, to see what others think.

The idea is that there will be three kinds of NPCs in the book:

  1. Minor NPCs who are only encountered in a specific location.
  2. Minor NPCs who could be encountered anywhere.
  3. Major NPCs who play a role in the setting as a whole.

Addressing these one by one:

Minor NPCs: Location-Specific
Innkeepers, guard captains, hedge-witches, etc.

These are easy to handle. They will simply be described in the hex or location where they can be encountered.

Minor NPCs: Non-Located
I plan to include a selection of NPCs that can be used by the referee when players encounter random individuals. These will be the kind of people that PCs might encounter in a tavern or on the road, for example. The kind of people that don't play a major role in the setting or one of its factions, but can provide a fun, diverting encounter, and might know interesting rumours or hooks.

Again, these characters are easy to handle. They'll be described in a separate section (an appendix, say) in a format designed for easy random selection.

Major NPCs
The chiefs or most important members of the factions that vie for control of the Wood -- individuals who hold a significant degree of political, military, or magical power, and can exert their influence on the setting as a whole.

This is where things get tricky. There are two possibilities for where to locate the descriptions of these NPCs:

  1. In the campaign background info, alongside the faction which the NPC is associated with.
  2. In the hex description where the NPC can be encountered.

Both options make total sense and have their own pros and cons, but I don't feel that one is clearly better than the other. I can see a few possible ways of resolving this:

  1. Include the NPCs along with the faction descriptions. In the hex description, just mention them by name and say "see page XXX".
  2. Include the NPCs in the hex descriptions. In the faction descriptions, just mention them by name and say "see hex XXX".
  3. Include the full NPC descriptions in both locations (faction and hex description).
  4. Include major NPCs in a separate appendix. In the faction and hex descriptions, just mention them by name and say "see page XXX".
If anyone has any thoughts on this, I'd be interested to hear! Also if anyone has experience of how this has been done in other campaign setting books, and what worked / didn't work.

B/X Essentials: Illusionist Spell List

I'm happy to report that I've almost finished the write-ups of the illusionist spells for B/X Essentials! Since my last post with the projected spell lists, I've tweaked things a bit in order to round out the spell selection.

The updated list is below. Eagle-eyed illusionist fans may spot a few spells that aren't drawn from the original AD&D illusionist list. There are two types of these:

  1. Spells from AD&D 2nd edition. The 5th level shadowcast and shadowy transformation, for example.
  2. New spells of my own creation. Blacklight, visitation, dream quest, and through the looking glass, for example.

I've also renamed a few spells, either to better indicate their function or to tie them in with similar spells:

  • Glamour is the renamed change self. It's just a more evocative name.
  • Quasimorph is the renamed alter self. It indicates its function better (referring to the magic-user polymorph spells) and (I think) just sounds cooler.
  • Veil of abandonment is the renamed vacancy. Sounds less like a job ad.
  • Illusion is the renamed advanced illusion. I think removing the "advanced" helps to tie it in better with the 6th level permanent illusion and triggered illusion.
  • Looking glass is the renamed magic mirror. I like both names, but the rename ties it in with the 6th level through the looking glass.
  • Triggered illusion is the renamed programmed illusion. Just indicates its function a bit better.

1st Level

  1. Auditory Illusion
  2. Chromatic Orb
  3. Colour Spray
  4. Dancing Lights
  5. Detect Illusion
  6. Glamour
  7. Hypnotism
  8. Light (Darkness)
  9. Phantasmal Force
  10. Read Magic
  11. Spook
  12. Wall Of Fog

2nd Level

  1. Blindness / Deafness
  2. Detect Magic
  3. Fascinate
  4. Fog Cloud
  5. Hypnotic Pattern
  6. Improved Phantasmal Force
  7. Invisibility
  8. Magic Mouth
  9. Mirror Image
  10. Quasimorph
  11. Ventriloquism
  12. Whispering Wind

3rd Level

  1. Blacklight
  2. Dispel Illusion
  3. Fear
  4. Hallucinatory Terrain
  5. Invisibility 10' Radius
  6. Nondetection
  7. Paralyzation
  8. Phantom Steed
  9. Rope Trick
  10. Spectral Force
  11. Suggestion
  12. Wraithform

4th Level

  1. Confusion
  2. Dispel Magic
  3. Emotion
  4. Illusory Stamina
  5. Improved Invisibility
  6. Massmorph
  7. Minor Creation
  8. Phantasmal Killer
  9. Rainbow Pattern
  10. Shadow Monsters
  11. Solid Fog
  12. Veil of Abandonment

5th Level

  1. Demi-Shadow Monsters
  2. Illusion
  3. Looking Glass
  4. Major Creation
  5. Manifest Dream
  6. Phantasmal Door
  7. Projected Image
  8. Seeming
  9. Shadowcast
  10. Shadowy Transformation
  11. Time Slow (Time Flow)
  12. Visitation

6th Level

  1. Acid Fog
  2. Alter Reality
  3. Dream Quest
  4. Impersonation
  5. Mass Suggestion
  6. Mislead
  7. Permanent Illusion
  8. Shades
  9. Through The Looking Glass
  10. Triggered Illusion
  11. True Seeing
  12. Vision

On the B/X-ification of Illusionist Spells

A popular look for illusionists.

As I mentioned recently, I've been working on the illusionist spell list for B/X Essentials: Advanced Characters.

When converting AD&D material to B/X, the typical case is that the AD&D materials I'm using as inspiration are nowhere near as well written or well thought-out as the native B/X rules. Spells are no different.

My intention with the Advanced Characters and the Druid and Illusionist Spells books is to ensure that the new material is completely in line with B/X, including in terms of clarity and mechanical complexity. Some degree of adaptation is needed, therefore, to bring things in line with B/X. (I'm not making a pure, warts-and-all clone of the AD&D material. See OSRIC for that.)

Some of the illusionist spells are proving to be subtle and tricky, though...

Phantasmal Force
I'm currently pondering phantasmal force -- which exists in both AD&D and B/X -- and have noticed some subtle but important differences between the two versions:
  • AD&D: "The illusion lasts until struck by an opponent - unless the spell caster causes the illusion to react appropriately - or until the magic-user ceases concentration upon the spell." (PHB75)
  • B/X: "If the caster does not use the spell to attack, the illusion will disappear if it is touched. If the spell is used to "create" a monster, it will have an Armor Class of 9 and will disappear if hit." (B17)

See the difference? In B/X, the illusion disappears when touched or hit in combat; in AD&D, the illusion disappears if hit in combat "unless the spell caster causes the illusion to react appropriately". I would interpret this as meaning that the illusionist would choose for the illusion to react to the hit by recoiling appropriately, appearing wounded, and perhaps behaving more defensively.

Another subtle difference between phantasmal force in B/X and AD&D:

  • AD&D: "Creatures which disbelieve the phantasmal force gain a saving throw versus the spell, and if they succeed, they see it for what it is".
  • B/X: No mention of disbelief.

I think this second difference helps to explains the first difference:

  • If an illusory monster in AD&D does not automatically disappear when struck, it would be possible for the illusionist to keep it "alive" indefinitely (the duration of the spell is concentration, after all). What exactly constitutes "causing the illusion to react appropriately" to hits is open to referee interpretation, but it seems to me the intention is that disbelief comes into play here. For example: a fighter, attacking an illusory goblin, deals 8 points of damage. The illusionist describes how the goblin recoils and is slightly grazed. The fighter finds this suspicious -- the blow ought to have killed the goblin! -- and, in the next combat round, attempts to disbelieve that the goblin really exists. A saving throw is then allowed.
  • In B/X, none of this happens. Moldvay apparently made the (I would argue, wise) decision to simplify all of this. An illusion simply disappears when touched.

Higher-Level Illusions
Now we come to the crux of the matter, and the reason why I started looking into these illusions in depth. Phantasmal force is the first spell in a whole "spell chain" in AD&D:
1. Phantasmal force: Visual illusion, concentration duration.
2. Improved phantasmal force: Visual and audio illusion, concentration duration.
3. Spectral force: Visual, audio, and thermal illusion, concentration duration.
5. Advanced illusion: Visual, audio, and thermal illusion, fixed duration (no concentration).
6. Permanent illusion: Visual, audio, and thermal illusion, permanent duration (no concentration).

Only phantasmal force -- the first spell in this chain -- exists in B/X, but I'm adapting the full chain for the BXE illusionist class.

From their descriptions, one can only assume that the whole chain of spells that derive from phantasmal force work in the same way, including this stipulation about illusions being hit in combat, how they may be caused to react, and the clause about disbelief.

Adapting to B/X
In adapting these spells to B/X, I'll need to take this into account.

Perhaps the simplest and most obvious solution would be to say that the B/X phantasmal force rule about an illusion disappearing when touched / struck carries over to the higher level illusions. The problem with this approach, though, is that it greatly weakens the higher level illusions, in particular permanent illusion. A "permanent" illusion that disappears the first time someone touches it makes for a pretty unappealing 6th level spell.

I've been considering a different approach (and this is where we get into the realm of more heavy adaptation of the AD&D spells to B/X): ramping up the realness and stability of higher level illusions. Something like this:
  • Illusions created by phantasmal force and improved phantasmal force disappear when touched or struck in combat.
  • Illusions created by spectral force, advanced illusion, etc. do not disappear when touched or struck in combat. The attacking character may, however, save vs spells. If the save succeeds, the character realises the illusory nature of the monster and can no longer be harmed by it.
That seems like a simple approach, and solves the problem of powerful illusions disappearing when touched.

Any thoughts?

B/X: High Level Spells

A commonly known quirk of the B/X system is that the game only goes up to 14th level. This means that clerics top out at 5th level spells, and magic-users at 6th level spells.

I love the experience level cap in B/X, but I'm kind of ambivalent about the cap on spell levels. I love me some spells (especially magic-user ones), and there are indubitably some very cool spells at 7th, 8th, and 9th level. We probably all have books full of them.

So I've been thinking for a while about a way to (potentially) bring the higher level spells into B/X, without increasing the maximum level attainable by magic-users. Here's one idea. (Not tested in play.)

High Level Spells (Optional Rule)

A magic-user of 11th level or higher is able to cast spells of 7th, 8th, and 9th level.

Acquiring High Level Spells

Spells of 7th, 8th, and 9th level may be added to a magic-user's spell book by the following means:
  • The normal spell research procedure (see B/X Essentials: Core Rules, p31).
  • By studying the description of the spell in another magic-user's spell book (using read magic). This takes half as much time and money as spell research (i.e. 500gp and one week per level of the spell).

Maximum High Level Spells

Each magic-user may have at most two 7th level, two 8th level, and one 9th level spell in his or her spell book.

Casting High Level Spells

Spells of 7th, 8th, or 9th level cannot be memorized. This means that, while a character may have such spells in his or her spell book, they cannot be cast in the same way as spells of lower levels. High level spells may only be cast as follows:
  • A special ritual chamber is required. This must be constructed as part of the magic-user's stronghold (upon reaching 11th level or higher). It is not possible to cast spells in the ritual chamber of another magic-user.
  • Each time the spell is cast, 500gp worth of rare ingredients per level of the spell are consumed. The magic-user must acquire these ingredients before casting the spell. (The referee may wish to specify the nature of these ingredients, possibly tailored to the nature of the spell to be cast.)
  • Casting the spell also requires time: 1 hour for a 7th level spell, 4 hours for an 8th level spell, and 8 hours for a 9th level spell. If the magic-user is disturbed during this time, the casting of the spell fails.
  • At the culmination of the ritual, the magic-user may choose how the spell manifests, selecting one of the following options:
    1. The spell takes effect immediately.
    2. The spell's effect is woven into a staff. At any time in the future, the magic-user (and the magic-user alone!) may break the staff, releasing the stored spell effect. The magic-user may only have a single staff enchanted with a high level spell at any one time.