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.

B/X Essentials: Adventuring Mode "Control Panels"

In his recent review of B/X Essentials, Ben Milton noted that the way the books are laid out, the reader is provided with super easy to use "control panels" for certain topics in the game. That is, two-page spreads that provide all the information relevant to a specific topic.

This was certainly one of the layout goals of the books, and is evidenced especially in the Core Rules and Classes and Equipment books. The following "control panel" spreads are good examples:
  • The basic rules for combat.
  • The character classes (all info on 1 or 2 pages).
  • The rules for character creation.
  • The rules around ability scores.
  • The basic equipment lists (including combat info for all weapons).
Looking back at Core Rules, one thing that I've been considering for a long time is whether the rules for adventuring would be better laid out by "mode" (i.e. dungeon / wilderness / seafaring), as opposed to alphabetically by rules topic. Ben's mention of "control panels" made me think about this again.

In working on the text for the all-in-one B/X Essentials tome, I'm taking the opportunity to reassess some of the decisions I made in the books to this point, and have been trying out some new approaches. So it felt like a good time to try out the alternative structure of presenting the adventuring rules by "mode".

You can see the results of my experiments below. Note that they're just rough renditions, and will be further refined in the final book.

Interested to hear what people think! Are these "control panels" more usable than the way these rules are currently presented in B/X Essentials: Core Rules?

The Dreamlands

Map of the Dreamlands, by Jason Thompson

This morning, I spent some time browsing the first issue of Ben Laurence's zine Through Ultan's Door. Naturally, it is fantastic. Ben is a talented writer, with a delectably vivid imagination. I always love his stuff.

You can purchase copies of the zine (print and/or PDF) here.

Reading Ben's description of the entrance to Zyan (the city that floats above the Dreamlands) that appeared unbidden beneath the stairs of a printmaker, I found myself catapulted back into the fantastic realm of dreams. Like Ben, the Dreamlands are a campaign setting (genre?) that has long captivated my imagination, and that I have also spent time exploring in games.

This brought my mind back to some material that I was writing for what was intended to be the second issue of my (thus far) one-shot zine Wizardzine. (Issue 1 available here.) The theme of the second issue was to be the magic of dreams, including guidelines to planar travel in the Dreamlands. (Ben and I even discussed collaborating on the material.)

I have lots of half-finished projects, but this Dreamlands material is one of the projects that I most yearn to complete and publish. Maybe once my work on the Dolmenwood Campaign Book is over, I'll have time to return to it.

For now, though, I thought it'd be fun to share a couple of extracts.

The Levels of Dream

Those who concern themselves with the study and classification of the world of dreams delineate several levels or realms to which a dreamer may gain access. These intersect variously with the dreamer's own psyche, with the real world, and with an independent reality known as the Dreamlands. The most commonly discussed levels are as follows:

  1. The hyperreal realm: Only accessible by powerful magic, dreams within the hyperreal realm have the power to change the real world.
  2. The hypnagogic realm: Existing at an intersection between the mind of the dreamer and the astral plane, dreams in the hypnagogic realm begin to overlap with reality. Prescient dreams and dream scrying are possible from this realm.
  3. The upper levels of dream: Where everyday dreams and nightmares take place. This realm is tied to the psyche of the individual dreamer and has no overlap with other worlds.
  4. The deeper levels of dream: Wherein the subconscious depths of the psyche become manifest and may be explored.
  5. The Dreamlands: An independent plane of existence which can be entered by magical means. Some mortals also have the natural ability to enter the Dreamlands via special gateways discovered in dreams.

Some Spells of Dream


Level: 2nd
Duration: 1 turn per level
Range: Sight
Schools: Charms, Dreams

Cast upon a sleeping subject, this spell allows the magic-user to insinuate his will into the subject's dreams and exercise control of their body. If a save versus spells is failed, the subject is caused to rise and walk under the caster's control. Two means of command are possible:
  1. Direct marionette-like control, as long as the subject remains within view. This requires concentration on the part of the caster.
  2. A series of instructions to be carried out. Once given, the instructions are followed mindlessly. A somnambulist has no capacity for independent decision making.
Initially, the caster's control of the subject is limited to direction to walk a certain route or to a specific location, but as the caster advances in level, more complex commands are possible:
  • From 5th level, the subject may be instructed to manipulate large objects such as opening doors, moving furniture, or carrying a pack.
  • From 7th level, the control extends to the manipulation of fine objects, including writing. The subject may also be caused to speak.
  • From 10th level, the subject may be commanded to fight, attacking using the caster's to-hit probability.
While under the spell's effect, the subject moves in a sluggish, drowsy manner -- it is usually clear to onlookers that the subject is sleepwalking. Loud noises do not awaken the subject, but a physical shock such as being slapped or shaken does.

When the spell expires, the subject lies down and continues sleeping, wherever he or she may be. No memory of the somnambulistic activities remains, but a vague feeling of having dreamed of a malevolent presence pervades. One time in ten, the subject has a clear memory of the controlling magic-user's face.

Note that the spell's range includes subjects who are viewed by magical means such as scrying.

Hyperreal Awakening

Level: 5th
Duration: Instant
Range: Self
Schools: Dimensions, Dreams, Translocation

Among those who study the lore and metaphysics of dreams, it is well known that the real world (indeed, the whole multiverse) is but another level of dream, and that it is possible to awake from this dream into another world, about which nothing is known. This infamous spell provides the means of awakening. One who casts it vanishes immediately and permanently from reality, waking up in a dimension whose nature cannot be speculated. If a player character casts this spell, the referee may choose to play out the character’s adventures in this other reality, which may be radically different in nature to that of the world in which the character originates.

The awakening into higher reality which this spell brings about is absolutely permanent -- not even wish has any power to reverse it. Legends speak of one arch-mage who, by means of intervention by the god of dreams, returned from the higher reality; his mind was void and utterly insane.

Some Saints of Dolmenwood

Work on the Dolmenwood Campaign Book continues apace! Today I have finished the write-ups for the 34 primary saints in Dolmenwood, each of which has a dedicated shrine or chapel somewhere within the forest (though many are now lost).

Here's a small sample:

St Abthius, Ever-Lustrous
Feast day: 22nd of Harchment
Associated spell: Resist cold
Major patronages: Ambassadors, righteous vengeance
Minor patronages: Courtly dances, seamstresses, springtime
Shrine: Hex 0406
Miracle: Abthius came to Dolmenwood at the command of King Thaldred II of Brackenwold, as an ambassador to the Cold Prince, who had newly returned his frigid gaze to the mortal world. Gaining an audience with the fairy court, the saint proceeded to preach the virtues of the One True God and His host of angels. The fairies responded only with jeers and mocking laughter, and their liege pointed his crystal wand at the saint, casting a spell of ice about him. The saint’s radiant beauty melted the fey frost, and he turned his back on the Prince, damning him to be vapourised in the flames of perdition.

St Cornice of the Angels
Feast day: 16th of Chysting
Associated spell: Insect swarm
Major patronages: Chastity, beetles
Minor patronages: Scullery maids
Shrine: Hex 1505
Miracle: As a maiden, Cornice worked scrubbing the kitchens of a cruel lord. The lord was accustomed to having his way with all of the scullery maids, but Cornice rebuffed his advances, quoting passages of scripture at him whenever he came near. One day, the lord cornered the saint-to-be in an isolated cellar and began to ravage her. Cornice bit the lord’s lower lip and tore it off, preserving her chastity, but was subsequently imprisoned for her insolence. In the dungeons, she whispered to the beetles that crawled across the floor, beseeching them in the name of the One True God to aid her. The insects obeyed, fetching ever more of their kind, until the cellars and dungeons of the lord’s castle were overrun. When the swarm encroached upon the lord’s bedchambers, he relented and had Cornice released.

St Eggort, the Troglodyte
Feast day: 28th of Lymevald
Associated spell: Continual light
Major patronages: Chandlers
Minor patronages: Undertakers
Shrine: Hex 0703
Miracle: Devoted his life to prayer in a minor chapel in the crypt of the monastery where he dwelt. Spending his days alone in the darkness, Eggort's devotion manifested, over many years, as a flickering glow upon the altar. This light grew and grew until, at the time of Eggort's death, the crypt was lit as bright as day, as if by the light of a thousand glimmering candles.

St Elsa, balm-gusher
Feast day: 19th of Grimvold
Associated spell: Commune
Major patronage: Floods, towers, and hunters of sea monsters
Minor patronage: Follies
Miracle: As the vicar of a small, coastal village called Hawksworth, Elsa had nightly visions of a great flood. Heeding this prophecy, she insisted that a high tower be built, with enough space to house the inhabitants of the village and their livestock. The project was regarded by many as a folly, but the saint's visions proved to be true when a great sea dragon, hunted by the famed knight Sir Willowthorn, was beached and slain at the village of Hawksworth, opening a sea bay which engulfed the village. To this day, the saint's tower is the sole surviving element of the original village.

As I mentioned above, each saint has a shrine or chapel in Dolmenwood. Here's my rough map showing which hex these shrines are located in:

Note: The marked location of the shrine of St Signis is wrong. It should be
in Castle Brackenwold.

B/X Essentials: Rebranding?

For some time, I’ve been pondering the name B/X Essentials and what it means to different types of people.

I chose the name in the early days of the project and I think it does a great job of expressing the content of the core books: the first five books form a clone / rules reference of B/X (the essentials of the B/X game, if you will). B/X Essentials has now become a (to some degree) known name in the OSR scene, and I’m delighted that my work has played some part in bringing B/X back into the limelight.

However, over time, I've had a growing awareness that the name is pretty obscure. This was reinforced by my experience last week at the SPIEL convention in Essen, selling B/X Essentials and Wormskin. I met three types of potential customers:

  1. People who are completely new to role-playing, but are interested in the hobby.
  2. People who are experienced role-players, but have never played B/X and aren't part of the OSR scene.
  3. People who are familiar with the OSR and B/X Essentials. (This group was by far the smallest.)
As you can probably guess, people in the first two groups were mystified by the name B/X Essentials. They don't know what B/X means, they don't know what a retro-clone is, they don't (for the most part) even know anything about old-school D&D. The name, in and of itself, isn't evocative. (If anything, I guess it sounds mathematical?)

I didn't have an easy time selling the game to them.

And I think this is a real shame. Of course, it's not good for my personal business interests, in terms of being able to sell the books I've produced, but more so I think it's a shame for the name to scare off people who would potentially get a great deal of enjoyment from the game.

Expanding the Reach

One of my core personal aims with the B/X Essentials line has always been to expand the reach of the classic rules set by improving the ease of use. The B/X rules, especially when presented in the new, streamlined form of B/X Essentials, are a great way for a novice to jump into the role-playing hobby.

To that end, in my work building up to the Kickstarter next year (the BXE boxed set and all-in-one hardback), I've been making a few tweaks to improve the accessibility of the game:
  • I've added a proper introduction, explaining what the game is, why it's split into modules, and giving some links and suggestions for how to learn about role-playing. (I don't feel there's any need to actually include a "What is a Role-Playing Game?" section, in this day and age. I've just linked to info online.)
  • I've included a section talking about what other products the game is compatible with. (I think the massive cross-compatibility of most retro-clones and TSR editions of D&D is a bit of a hidden secret in the OSR. It's obvious to most of us hardcore old-schoolers that you can grab a book of Labyrinth Lord classes, an old TSR adventure, and run a game with BXE, but I think it's really non-obvious to those outside the scene.)
  • I've added an extra section before the character creation rules, laying out all the different stats that make up a player character. (Such information was implicit in BXE before.)


Additionally, I've been considering rebranding the game. My goals for this are:
  1. Casual gamers who don't know what B/X and the OSR are should be able to recognise it as a simple to learn RPG.
  2. Experienced role-players who aren't directly in the OSR scene should be able to recognise it as an old-school game.
  3. OSR folks should be able to recognise it as being 100% compatible with B/X.
It's a challenge to come up with something that covers all of those different goals!

My current thoughts on the matter are as follows:
  1. The overall product line should have a new name. B/X Essentials is too obscure. I have a few thoughts on potential names, but nothing that I'm totally convinced about yet. Hex & Ruin is the current front-runner that I'll use in the example below.
  2. The game will probably need a subtitle that makes it obvious what it is.
  3. Each individual book will need a title (obviously).
  4. Some kind of "corner band" or "sticker" will indicate the game's compatibility with B/X.
So, we might have something like this:
  • Brand name: Hex & Ruin
  • Brand subtitle: Classic Adventure Role-Playing
  • Book title: Core Rules
  • Corner band: 100% B/X
The actual names there are all just rough ideas right now, but I feel like the general scheme is the right way to go to achieve the aims laid out above.

I'm posting about this now as I'd love to hear what people think about all this. If anyone has any suggestions for names, please let me know! The larger the pool of possible ideas, the better.

B/X: Unearthed Arcana Illusionist Spells

Illustration by Laura Sava

I recently announced the B/X Essentials: Druid and Illusionist Spells book, which includes a B/X-sized selection of spells adapted from the AD&D Players Handbook and Unearthed Arcana.

Working on this book has been a delightful opportunity for me to get back to my favourite pastime of writing up spells. I thought I'd share a few. These come from the Unearthed Arcana illusionist spell list -- spells that aren't so commonly converted to B/X.

Range: 30’
Duration: See below

This glamour causes a single creature to perceive the illusionist -- whatever his or her normal appearance -- as utterly captivating.

  • Creatures of less than animal intelligence are not affected.
  • Creatures of more than 4HD are not affected.
  • The subject may save versus spells to avoid coming under the power of the spell.

A subject affected by the spell behaves as follows:

  • The subject follows the illusionist wherever he or she goes, as if besotted, unless doing so would present a serious danger.
  • If the illusionist can communicate with the subject (even if only by gestures), it may obey requests. Each time a request is made of the subject, the illusionist must make a CHA check (possibly penalised, if the request is against the nature or best interests of the subject). If the check fails, the spell is broken and the target’s perception of the illusionist becomes one of horror, rage, and hate.
  • An animal remains fascinated for 1d4 days, after which it may either attack the illusionist (if it has been mistreated) or simply leave. If the illusionist treated the animal well, there is a percentage chance equal to his or her CHA that the animal will henceforth remain by the character’s side of its own free will.

(aka alter self)
Duration: 3d4 rounds, +2 per level
Range: The illusionist

The impression that the illusionist’s physical form makes on the world is warped, effecting an apparent change in form.

  • The new form is chosen by the illusionist.
  • The form of any creature may be adopted.
  • The new form may be at most 50% larger or smaller than the illusionist’s normal size.

The physical capabilities of the new form are granted to the illusionist to a limited degree:

  • If the new form can fly, the illusionist is able to fly at one-quarter of its flying movement rate.
  • If the new form is able to breathe underwater, the illusionist may also do so.
  • When attacking, the illusionist may appear to use the attacks of the new form, but cannot make more attack rolls or inflict more damage than he or she is normally able to.
  • The illusionist does not gain any special or magical attacks possessed by the new form (e.g. breath weapons, poison, charm, etc).

Whispering Wind
Range: 1 mile per level
Duration: Special

This spell allows the illusionist to send a message or other sound via the wind to a distant location within range.
  • The destination must be known to the illusionist.
  • The message travels on the wind, unnoticed, at a speed of up to 10 miles per hour.
  • Once it reaches the designated destination, the wind delivers the illusionist’s message -- up to 100 words or one minute of other sound.
  • The message is whisper quiet, relayed by the susurrations of the air, but can be heard by all within 30' of the destination.
  • Even if no one is present to hear it, the message is automatically delivered.

B/X Essentials: Classic Fantasy Tome

Tome still life by Tom McNemar

I've discussed the modular approach of the B/X Essentials series before -- how the books (excepting the Core Rules) are designed to be able to swapped out with alternatives. For example, the standard Cleric and Magic-User Spells could be swapped out with a book of Pagan and Elemental Spells, or the standard Monsters book could be swapped out (or augmented with) a book of Planar Monsters.

This design approach makes the system extremely extensible. Based on the Core Rules, the B/X Essentials line will grow in many directions, encompassing any number of different adventuring styles, genres, and campaign settings. All completely cross-compatible, in a mix and match way, and all without having to reprint elements of the core rules of the game in every new genre book.

However, there are people who prefer to have everything in one book. I'm not one of those people -- I've become rather smitten with the flexibility and usability of having chunks of content split into separate booklets -- but I completely respect the opinion of the people who just want a single book to take to their games.

So, work has begun on an all-in-one, non-modular B/X Essentials tome. I have given this the working title of "Classic Fantasy Tome", as it contains all of the classic, Basic/Expert rules for fantasy gaming. The plan is to run a Kickstarter for this early next year. (All going well, there may well be further B/X Essentials "tomes" in the future. For example, once the Advanced booklets are complete, I may produce an "Advanced Fantasy Tome".)

As the first step, I've been figuring out the structure of the book. The lazy way of structuring it would be to simply slap the five existing B/X Essentials books back to back and call it a day. Fans of all-in-one RPG books will probably be pleased to hear that I am not lazy! I'm restructuring the material into an order that makes more sense for a combined book.

Here's the current plan for the structure:

  • About B/X Essentials
  • Adventure Gaming
  • Terminology
Player Characters
  • Game Statistics
  • Creating a Character
  • Ability Scores
  • Classes
  • Alignment
  • Languages
  • Experience and Gaining Levels
  • Wealth
Equipment, Services, and Strongholds
  • Equipment
  • Land Transportation
  • Water Transportation
  • Mercenaries
  • Specialists
  • Strongholds
  • Adventuring Basics
  • Hired Help
  • Hazards and Challenges
  • Dungeon Adventures
  • Wilderness Adventures
  • Waterborne Adventures
  • Encounters
  • Chases
  • Combat
  • Other Combat Issues
  • Types of Magic
  • Spells
  • Magical Research
  • Cleric Spells
  • Magic-User Spells
Monsters and NPCs
  • Monsters (General Notes)
  • Monster Descriptions
  • Normal Humans
  • NPC Adventurers
  • Strongholds
  • Combat Tables
  • Dungeon Encounter Tables
  • Wilderness Encounter Tables
  • Adventure Scenarios
  • Designing a Dungeon
  • Random Dungeon Room Contents
  • Designing a Wilderness
  • Designing a Base Town
  • Awarding Experience
  • Placing Treasure
  • Treasure Types
  • Gems and Jewellery
  • Magic Items
  • General Notes
  • Armour and Shields
  • Miscellaneous Items
  • Potions
  • Rings
  • Rods, Staves, and Wands
  • Scrolls
  • Weapons
  • Treasure Maps

B/X Essentials: Druid and Illusionist Spells

As I mentioned a while back, a book of AD&D-inspired character classes is in the works for B/X Essentials. Included in this book (among many others) are the following classes: bard, druid, gnome, illusionist. Now, what do these classes have in common? New spells! (They're all spell casters who don't use the standard cleric or magic-user spells lists.)

So, naturally, a second book is also in the works (though only in the very beginning stages): B/X Essentials: Druid and Illusionist Spells.

I thought it'd be interesting to share the spell lists that I'm working from. Note that these have been carefully cut down to B/X size. That is, the druid has the same number of spells as the cleric, and the illusionist has the same number of spells as the magic-user. And naturally, the druid tops out at 5th level spells and the illusionist at 6th.


1st Level

  1. Animal Companion
  2. Detect Danger
  3. Entangle
  4. Faerie Fire
  5. Invisibility to Animals
  6. Locate Plant or Animal
  7. Predict Weather
  8. Speak With Animals

2nd Level

  1. Barkskin
  2. Charm Person or Animal
  3. Create Water
  4. Cure Light Wounds
  5. Heat Metal
  6. Obscuring Mist
  7. Produce Flame
  8. Warp Wood

3rd Level

  1. Call Lightning
  2. Hold Animal
  3. Protection from Poison
  4. Nature Growth
  5. Tree Shape
  6. Water Breathing

4th Level

  1. Cure Serious Wounds
  2. Dispel Magic
  3. Protection From Lightning
  4. Speak With Plants
  5. Summon Animals
  6. Temperature Control

5th Level

  1. Commune With Nature
  2. Control Winds / Control Weather
  3. Protection From Plants and Animals
  4. Transmute Rock to Mud (reversible)
  5. Pass Plant
  6. Wall of Thorns


1st Level

  1. Auditory illusion
  2. Chromatic orb
  3. Colour spray
  4. Dancing lights
  5. Darkness
  6. Detect Illusion
  7. Glamour (= change self)
  8. Hypnotism
  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. Dispel illusion
  2. Fear
  3. Hallucinatory terrain
  4. Illusionary script
  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. Illusory stamina
  4. Implant emotion
  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. Advanced illusion
  2. Chaos
  3. Demi-shadow monsters
  4. Magic mirror
  5. Major creation
  6. Manifest dream (= dream)
  7. Maze
  8. Projected image
  9. Shadowcast
  10. Shadow door
  11. Summon shadow
  12. Time flow

6th Level

  1. Acid fog
  2. Impersonation
  3. Mass suggestion
  4. Mislead
  5. Permanent illusion
  6. Persistent dream
  7. Programmed illusion
  8. Shades
  9. Through the looking glass
  10. True seeing
  11. Veil
  12. Vision

Dolmenwood: Animals

Writing about the quirky animals that live in Dolmenwood is fun!

Here are a few:

Gobbles: Fluffy, black, arboreal primates about the size of a baby, with appropriately huge, adorable eyes. Gobbles are nocturnal, sleeping in high branches during the day, and creeping to the forest floor to forage for grubs at night. Gobbles have the ability to speak perfect Woldish. Each individual knows but a single word, however, which it babbles incessantly when encountered.

Swamp sloths: Found primarily (but not exclusively) in the boggy regions of Dolmenwood, these lazy, infant-sized mammals creep through the treetops gathering succulent fruits and flowers. Their fur is brown, but they appear green, due to the profusion of moss and lichen that grows on them. In winter, they hibernate in tree boles.

Trottelings: Naked, miniature pigs with pinkish brown skin and the faces of petulant toddlers. Trottelings rummage through undergrowth, foraging for carrion whilst making sounds like bickering crows. If caught and roasted, their flesh is delectable, though incredibly greasy.

B/X Essentials: Classic Set Complete!

I am delighted to announce the publication of B/X Essentials: Adventures and Treasures! This is the final book in the "classic" B/X Essentials set. Together with the first four books, it forms a complete rules reference to the traditional Basic/Expert game, laid out for enhanced ease of use at the table, and modularised for your house-ruling pleasure.

A true labour of love from myself and the many people who helped out with proofreading, rules checking, number crunching, and so on!

Get it / the whole set here:

For more information about the B/X Essentials project, see here.

THAC0 in B/X Essentials

Over the last weeks, since the publication of B/X Essentials: Monsters, I've seen some online grumbling about my inclusion of THAC0 in the monster stat blocks. Some people have even gone so far as to say that this makes B/X Essentials incompatible with B/X, thus utterly defeating one of the aims of the project. So I wanted to address this.

To begin with, it's worth restating the aims of the B/X Essentials project:
  1. 100% accurate rules clone.
  2. Organised for quick reference.
  3. Clarified rules.
  4. 100% Open Game Content.
The question of THAC0 lies somewhere between points 1 and 2.

Next up, let's look at an example monster from the B/X Essentials monsters book alongside a monster from the original books.

Doppleganger in B/X
Doppelgänger in B/X Essentials

Note the differences in the B/X Essentials version:
  • The average hit points for the HD are listed.
  • The THAC0 is listed.
  • The full set of save values are listed, not merely the class and level that the monster saves as.
  • The pre-calculated XP value is listed.
So the stat blocks in B/X Essentials: Monsters are definitely different to traditional B/X stat blocks. They contain extra information. Here's where the second project aim stated above -- “Organised for quick reference” -- comes in. The core B/X Essentials books form a 100% accurate rules reference for B/X, but the way the rules are presented is deliberately different. My aim is to improve the presentation of the rules, making them easier to understand and easier to reference.

Including extra information in the monster stat blocks was done for exactly this reason: to make the monster entries easier to use as a reference during play. Let's look at each of the extra elements:

Average hp: Provided for convenience, either for quick usage instead of rolling for a monster's hit points, or to quickly see whether a rolled hp total is above or below average. The average values are calculated directly from the monster's HD.

THAC0: Provided as an option for referees who prefer to not use the monster attack table from B/X Essentials: Core Rules, thus reducing the need to look up info about a monster across multiple pages. The listed THAC0 values are lifted directly from the monster attack table.

Full saves: Provided in addition to the traditional “save as” value, as an option for referees who prefer to not look up monsters’ saves in the class saving throw tables, thus reducing the need to look up info about a monster across multiple pages. The listed save values are lifted directly from the appropriate class’ saving throw table.

Pre-calculated XP: Provided for convenience to save referees time having to manually calculate XP values by referring to the tables in the core rules,thus reducing the need to look up info about a monster across multiple pages. The listed XP values are calculated directly from the standard monster XP tables.

See the common thread? None of these extras are new information. They simply collate existing information into each monster entry, to reduce the need to flip between different pages looking it up.

I agree that the use of the term THAC0 is open to discussion. I'm aware that it's a term that originated in AD&D, not in B/X, and I thought long and hard about whether to use it or not. In the end, my feeling was that it's a term that most old-school players are already familiar with, so would be less confusing than using a new term. Of course, the meaning of the term is described in the introduction to the book, as well (where it's specifically noted as optional), for the elucidation of anyone who's not familiar with it.

I appreciate that adding extra information to monster stat blocks is a change in presentation, but my feeling is that it's an extremely positive change that makes a real difference to using monster listings in the heat of (imaginary) combat. (Ditto for the changes in the way monster descriptions and special abilities are presented in B/X Essentials: Monsters.)

The really fundamental aim of the B/X Essentials project has always been to improve the presentation of the classic B/X rules. I'm not interested in changing the rules themselves, but I think my fresh presentation of them really adds something to the game.

Hopefully that helps to explain the background to this somewhat spiky, old-school ultra-nerd topic!

May those who like table lookups refer to tables, and may those who like subtraction use THAC0! (And may both types unite against the wicked forces of ascending AC! Haha.)

B/X Essentials: Adventures and Treasures -- Spread Preview!

The text for the next B/X Essentials book -- Adventures and Treasures -- is complete. The layout is done, and all illustrations except for a single one are in place.

Now is the traditional time for me to start sharing previews of illustrations and page spreads!

How about this to start with? The table of contents, the foreword, and the first page of the book's content -- the guidelines for choosing an adventure scenario. Enjoy!

Illustration by Thomas Novosel

Regions of the Dolmenwood

In my own Dolmenwood campaign, I've been using a super rough map that divides the forest into different regions. The regions divide the forest up into areas with different characteristics, or with different rulers. Each of these regions will be described in detail, in the Dolmenwood Campaign Book, along with associated encounter tables.

I just knocked up a slightly less rough (ooh! digital!) version of the map to share. Here you go...

The map is also shared in the Dolmenwood public google drive folder.

B/X Essentials: Advanced Characters

Druid and mindflayer, by Erol Otus

As I've mentioned before, an Advanced Characters book for the B/X Essentials line is in the works. The draft text is finished now, and proofreaders are doing their magic.

I thought it would be worth giving a bit more info as to what exactly is in this book, as it's perhaps a bit different to what people might be expecting. Here's the table of contents:

  1. Foreword.
  2. Character Creation.
  3. Advanced Character Classes:
    • Acrobat
    • Assassin
    • Barbarian
    • Bard
    • Druid
    • Illusionist
    • Knight
    • Paladin
    • Ranger
  4. Advanced Demihuman Classes:
    • Drow
    • Duergar
    • Gnome
    • Half-Elf
    • Half-Orc
    • Svirfneblin
  5. Character Races (Optional Rule):
    • Drow
    • Duergar
    • Dwarf
    • Elf
    • Gnome
    • Half-Elf
    • Halfling
    • Half-Orc
    • Human
    • Svirfneblin
  6. Sub-Races (Optional Rule):
    • Dwarf
    • Elf
    • Gnome
    • Halfling
  7. Advanced Equipment:
    • Armour
    • Poison
    • Weapons
Some interesting points to note:
  • The assumption of the book is that the new classes in the Advanced Character Classes section (e.g. druids, knights, rangers, etc) are humans.
  • The classes in the Advanced Demihuman Classes seciton are race-classes in the classic B/X style. I'm really pleased with the way these have turned out, and think they'll add a lot of fun to games which use them.
  • There are optional rules for choosing race and class separately, for groups who prefer this, but this approach is explicitly an optional rule. It is not the assumed default of the new material, and was not the primary design goal.
  • I've not included a monk class. I have that earmarked for a future mythic Asian themed book.
  • A lot of previous supplements along similar lines (adding AD&D material to B/X) have been published by others, so I wanted to put my own spin on this. Here's what makes this different to, say, the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion:
    • The new classes are much closer to B/X than they are to AD&D. I think previous adaptations have erred more on the side of cloning AD&D material, whereas my renditions are heavily adapted to B/X.
    • The power levels of B/X have been carefully maintained. The maximum level is 14. The new classes are carefully balanced against the standard B/X classes. No d12 Hit Dice for the barbarian. No always-on protection from evil for the paladin.
    • The result is a set of new options for B/X games, rather than a way to play AD&D with the B/X core rules. These are two different things.
    • I've included adaptations of both the core AD&D races/classes and those from Unearthed Arcana. The UA material is more rarely addressed in AD&D / B/X supplements, so I thought it worthy of including. The human classes (acrobat, barbarian, knight) are heavily adapted from the overpowered messes in UA. The demihumans (drow, duergar, svirfneblin) are presented as race-classes (possibly the first time race-classes for these have ever been published?).
More news as things develop! I'm in no hurry to publish this book, though. I want to give the new material a proper play test before going ahead.

B/X Essentials Print Edition Errata

The first B/X Essentials book was published in September 2017, so nigh on a year ago. Due to the diligent work of the folks who've been helping out with proofreading on these books, very few errors have slipped through, but nonetheless, as few minor mistakes did worm their way into the text.

Following a suggestion of someone on G+, I've compiles a list of errata reported so far. All reported errata is corrected in digital editions (i.e. the online docs and PDFs) as soon as possible. Errata is typically not fixed in the print editions, however, as this requires taking the product down from sale for some weeks. Collected errata will be fixed in future print editions. Inconsequential errata such as typo fixes is not listed.

Here's the doc.

If anyone spots any further mistakes in the text, please let me know!

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!