Tag Archives: Fantasy

Who lives in a castle like this? (OD&D)

I was reading OSR Grimoire’s recent illuminating post, Cook/Marsh Expert: The Adventure, when I was reminded that there was a post about castles in OD&D languishing in my drafts folder. So without further ado . . .

In order to keep my brain ticking over, I thought I’d have a go at automating the castle occupant generation rules found in the original version of Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D). I’ve been finding it relatively easy to get the type of results that I’m after using Hex Describe, so I used it again for this project.

Castles are a bit of a big deal in OD&D and rightly so. They dominate the surrounding lands for 20 miles (4 hexs) in all directions and levy taxes on the villages within their barony. Adventuring parties that pass nearby will be intercepted by representatives of the castle in the following situations:

  • Travelling in same hex as castle: 3 in 6 chance
  • Travelling 1 hex away: 2 in 6 chance
  • Travelling 2 hexs away: 1 in 6 chance

If so, they could be challenged, taxed or even magically compelled to complete a quest or die! If the party tries to avoid the interception, they may be pursued (if hostile: 3 in 6 chance; if neutral: 1 in 6). It’s likely that adventuring parties will eventually feel the influence of castle occupants in one way or another. The owners fall in to six categories and they can be quite interesting characters. Here’s an example of each:

  1. This castle belongs to a Lord (level 9) guarded by 3 Giants. There are also 107 men aiding the castle’s defence. Half of these are light foot armed with crossbows, the rest are heavy foot. Also in residence: Magic-user (level 6). They seem neutral.
  2. This castle is the base of a Wizard (level 11) guarded by 4 Basilisks. There are also 95 men aiding the castle’s defence. At least half of these are light foot armed with crossbows, the others are heavy foot. Also in residence: Apprentice (level 7). They are hostile.
  3. The castle is owned by an Evil High Priest (level 8) guarded by 13 White Apes. They have an army of 102 men. At least half of these are light foot armed with crossbows, the rest are heavy foot. They are chaotic.
  4. This castle is inhabited by a Patriarch (level 8) guarded by 4 Superheroes (level 8). 111 men are under their control. Half of these are light foot armed with crossbows, the rest are heavy foot. Also in residence: 1 Assistant (level 4). They are lawful.
  5. The castle is home to a Necromancer (level 10) guarded by a Gargoyle. Defending the castle are 122 men. Half of these are light foot armed with crossbows, the others are heavy foot. The occupants seem hostile.
  6. The castle is occupied by a Superhero (level 8) guarded by a Hero (level 4) mounted on a Roc. Their forces include 108 men. Half of these are light foot armed with crossbows, the rest are heavy foot. The occupants seem hostile.

NB For those of you who might not be familiar with some of OD&D’s nomenclature, Patriarchs are level 8 Clerics, and the following are levels of Fighting-Men: Hero (4), Swashbuckler (5), Myrmidon (6), Champion (7), Superhero (8), Lord (9).

I hope you’d agree that such owners would have quite a bearing on the surrounding lands and therefore on any characters that journeyed within their realms.

It’s interesting to note that the castle occupancy rules in D&D B/X Expert Rules are a pale imitation of those in OD&D and only make a passing reference to the flavour that the earlier ruleset effused.

Note that the men listed [a patrol of 12 at most] are only part of the castle owner’s forces. The rest of the force should include men and might even include special creatures such as trolls, or combinations such as superheroes mounted on griffons.

D&D B/X Expert Rules (X59)

Believe it or not, the Rules Cyclopedia is actually slightly blander in this regard.

Note that the men listed [once more a patrol of 12 at most] are only part of the castle owner’s forces and are simply the unit sent out after annoying travelers; the rest of the castle’s forces should include other men and might even include special monsters.

D&D Rules Cyclopedia (p95)

However to its credit, the Rules Cyclopedia does at least feature demihumans as possible castle owners on the Castle Encounter table (p98). But it’s still found incredibly wanting on the topic of castle occupants.

In conclusion, I would recommend reading OD&D, even if you don’t intend to play it. You might be surprised what you find!

I would be remiss for not mentioning Wayne Rossi’s excellent The Original D&D Setting for drawing my attention towards OD&D‘s implicit procedural setting. Go read that too!

FYI Full Metal Plate Mail by Leonaru is a well-presented retroclone of OD&D. If you’re interested in retroclones of this era of D&D its definitely worth a look.

Epées & Sorcellerie: Thieves and their correction

The Alea iactanda est blog has done a fantastic job of translating some of the new content from the 2nd edition of Epées & Sorcellerie from French into English. However I did notice a few inconsistencies in the text of the Thieves article (you can read it here) which led me to do a little digging. Part of the translation reads:

“In addition, when he is prowling about on his own, a Thief adds his attack bonus to the normal surprise chance (1-in-6). For example, a Level 4 Thief would have 2 chances out of 6 to surprise his opponents. Carrying a light source cancels this bonus.”

Attentive E&S players will no doubt recall that the surprise roll in the English 1st edition differs from the aforementioned one:

“If in doubt about the surprise, consider the probability of surprise in an unexpected meeting to be 2 chances in 6.”

So something’s amiss here. Not having the French 1st edition to hand, I consulted the relevant sections in the French 2nd edition:

“De plus, lorsqu’il rôde seul, un Voleur ajoute son bonus d’attaque à la chance normale de surprendre les monstres (1 sur 6). Par exemple, un Voleur de niveau 4 aurait 2 chances sur 6 de surprendre ses adversaires. Porter une source de lumière annule ce bonus.”

“En cas de doute sur la surprise, considérez que les probabilités d’être surpris lors d’une rencontre inattendue sont de 2 chances sur 6.”

One doesn’t need to be a cunning linguist to figure out that the inconsistency in the surprise roll is in the original French text. It is not through any fault of the translator.

But there is more dear reader!

The keen eyes amongst you will have noticed that the example given, is also flawed. A Thief doesn’t gain an Attack Bonus until level 5 according to the table in the French 2nd edition (see below).

Strictly speaking the conclusion of the example is correct – if the chance of surprise used is 2 in 6 as mentioned in the Surprise quote. A level 4 Thief has no Attack Bonus, so their chance of surprise is still 2 in 6. However the 1st sentence in the example says that the normal chance of surprise is 1 in 6, so this makes the whole example unhelpful.

So for this paragraph to be consistent with rest of the text it should really be:

“In addition, when he is prowling about on his own, a Thief adds his attack bonus to the normal chance to surprise monsters (2 in 6). For example, a Level 5 Thief would have 3 chances out of 6 to surprise his opponents. Carrying a light source cancels this bonus.”

But of course there’s always the possibility that the standard surprise roll should indeed be 1-in-6. But upon referencing OD&D (Book III p9), I’d say that my proposal is probably correct.

“If the possibility for surprise exists roll a six-sided die for each party concerned. A roll of 1 or 2 indicates the party is surprised.”

I rest my case, M’lud.

Epées & Sorcellerie: procedural character generation

It’s nice to have an open gaming table and welcome wandering greenhorns to the RPG hobby whenever possible. But I think it’s better to have a stack of pre-generated characters for a newcomer to choose from, than hold up the session while they roll up a character from scratch.

NB They can of course roll up their own character between sessions should they want to play again.

Anyhoo, with that in mind, I’ve been experimenting with procedural character generation for Epées & Sorcellerie of late. I’d seen folks use spreadsheets to automatically create randomly generated bits & bobs for RPGs, so thought I’d give making instant pre-gens a whirl.

Not being a spreadsheet wizard, it’s taken me a while to figure out how on earth to do it. I’ll spare you the technobabble for now – I’ll go in it in a future post. I really just wanted to share one of the first outputs. Poor Edward . . . he really is a hopeless character.

Cultural Origin***Civilised
Languages / SkillsCommon
Read / WriteNo

* I prefer a humanocentric game but for the purposes of science I’ve included all types
** A houserule: 17 + level + 2d6
*** from E&S2 (English translation here)

So far so good. What could possibly go wrong?

ABILITY2d6 RollModifier
  • Shield (AC +1)
  • Flail
  • Javelin

He’s a brute in melee combat with his 4 Strength giving him -1 to hit *ahem*. Thankfully his Warrior’s Attack Bonus (+1) cancels this out. Phew!

As Edward has no armour, his base Armour Class is equal to his Dexterity. Unfortunately for Edward that’s 3 . . . so once you add in his shield, opponents only need to roll above a 4 on 2d6 to hit him. Oh dear. Though melee combat in E&S is based on opposed rolls – it’s only the highest roller that hits their opponent. So I guess Edward isn’t exactly nimble and if you can get past his average offences then he leaves himself open to a battering.

At least he can try and keep opponents at bay with his ranged javelin attack. Oh . . . That -2 Dexterity modifier isn’t going to do him any favours is it?

The nail in the coffin is his -2 Constitution modifier hampering every HD he acquires upon levelling. It helps hammer it home that he’s more than qualified to be cannon fodder.

I think he’s probably more of a danger to himself than anyone else. I can just picture him flailing himself in the face. Truly a force of chaos. And given that he’s 27 years old yet still level 1, I think it’s safe to say that he’s probably reached his peak. It could be that due to his size or savvy, he’s never mastered the art of defence, so he’s prone to getting duffed up which is reflected in his poor Constitution. As a result, he’s always the last to be chosen to ‘play for the local team’ and hasn’t gained any real experience. Or learned anything from those experiences that he has had.

I’ve grown rather attached to Edward you know. He’s too good to waste as a PC. I think he’s going in the NPC pile.

ps I realise Edward is a daft name, especially for an Orc. I just bunged a load of names in the generator to give it something to work with. For pre-gens I’d be tempted to leave the name blank so the new player can make it their own with minimal effort. But I’ll probably retool the generator as a hireling creator at some point, so it’s nice to have the function there.


Centaurs are pretty wild.

On the subject of centaurs, the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons says “Centaurs will be found in hidden glens. It is there that both their females and young are and where their treasure is hidden.”

OD&D also states “At worst these creatures are semi-intelligent“. B/X is pretty much in agreement and says they are “somewhat intelligent“. In both cases they seem closer to animal than man.

I realise that in a FRPG not everything has to follow the rules of nature or indeed make sense. But personally I just can’t get my head round the fact that they might reproduce, or indeed how. I’m more likely to have them be magical or divine creatures. Created as arboreal protectors by the Lord of the Forest or possibly chaotic liminal beings formed at the meeting of our world and the mystical.

Anyway… Centaurs. How do you do yours?

TSR Treats

Picked up these tasty TSR treats from DriveThruRPG for much cheapness recently. They were so cheap in fact, that I didn’t have to think twice. INSTA-BUY! And they only took a week to arrive from ordering… and that’s with 2nd class mail! That’s quite a service, considering they’re print-on-demand.

I’ve always had a fascination with Hommlet as it was the first module that I played back-in-the-day. Even after all these years, I can still remember the wondrous feeling I had exploring this ‘other world’. So it’s cool to finally get a hard copy without handing over out a small fortune. Hopefully there’s still some magic in there somewhere.

I’d never seen a Fiend Folio in the wild until last year, and I was surprised at how fantastic the interior art was. It’s got to be the best looking old-school monster manual. I knew I’d have to get my hands on my very own before too long. I’m going to enjoy perusing this tome of terror!

Epées & Sorcellerie: TWOTW session 2

Although 3 of my regular players couldn’t make it today, I decided to push on with the E&S game to help while away the afternoon.

After witnessing Visimar, Psatan and Deroth legging it out of the decrepit chapel, Akuma, a thieving ex-militiaman, joined Oxonfrey in the crypt. After making a ghastly discovery in a locked casket (a dead ringer of her ladyship with a wet doll), they too did a runner! Exploring the old farmhouse was surely a better idea…

They decided to extinguish their torches and sneak in, but found it was rather dark inside. The house was all shuttered up and there was only a smouldering hearth to light their way. It didn’t take too long before they sensed that they weren’t alone. There were creatures in the walls, under the floorboards and in the shadows. Nasty little hairless rats with almost human faces. Akuma managed to skewer two of them with his crossbow. Oxonfrey decided to roast one at point blank range with his elemental force but the rat-thing got the better of him, biting his leg, his finger and then slashing his wrist causing him to pass out in a pool of blood. As it gloated, Akuma got a bead on the rat-thing so that when it turned on him, he managed to fire a bolt right through its shrivelled skin. Ooh-ya!

Thankfully Akuma is a civilized sort, and was able to apply his learned mind to saving Oxonfrey’s life. Maybe there is honour amongst thieves after all…

Epées & Sorcellerie rides again

Due to some of my regular RPG group being off on hols, we decided to leave the post-apocalyptic wastes behind and venture back in to the world of sword & sorcery with a session or two of Epees & Sorcellerie.

We met a lovely motley crew of adventurers in the previous session… a worn-out knight, a disgraced cleric, a light-fingered sorcerer and a mortician with heretical leanings. They’re surely on the righteous path to gold & glory… I introduced Origins from E&S2 to add a little extra flavour. Two of the party plumped for Decadent – no points for guessing which!

I shan’t go in to any detail of the adventure at this point as it’s still on-the-go at the mo, but suffice to say I think we all enjoyed session 1 and I’ve got plenty in the goody bag for next time.

I think my favourite thing about GMing is seeing NPCs and PCs come alive when they engage with each other. And having a good laugh when player’s plans go awry of course! More on that later…