Ability score impact in B/X

 In the early days of Dungeons & Dragons, ability scores had little function in the game but to act as prime requisites for the three (eventually four) classes, determining whether a character received a bonus to earned experience points. When they did affect resolution of actions during actual game play, the impact was limited to a bonus or penalty of + or -1. As the game evolved, ability scores began to apply more directly to in-game actions, such as attack and damage rolls and saving throws, and the range of adjustments was expanded. With the increase in the role of ability scores, they became important to all classes, not just the one for whom each is a prime requisite, and their relative importance and impact also shifted greatly, with some becoming very powerful and others much less so. In this post, I'm going to analyze the power of each ability in the B/X D&D rules, including factors such as which rolls or stats an ability modifies, the relative magnitude of modifie

Hit point inflation

 Way, way back in the long-ago days of the mid-80s, I was introduced to D&D through a copy of the Moldvay Basic Rules and the accompanying module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. Before I ever worked up the courage to ask my siblings if they might like to play this game, I had read both books cover-to-cover at least a dozen times and thumbed through the most interesting bits still more, and they left some impressions. One of those impressions was a sense of scale regarding hit points. The average starting player character might have 7 or 8 if he were lucky, but maybe as few as 1 or 2 (though I did take to heart the suggestion that players be allowed to re-roll at 1st level only if the dice came up 1 or 2.) Lots of 1st-level NPCs had hit points below average for their class's Hit Die -- I recall plenty of Keep guards manning the walls with 3 or 4 hp. NPCs of 2nd level seemed quite tough with 7-10 hp or so, and those of higher levels with hp totals in the teens were real badasse

Special wilderness locales

Tired of wilderness encounters with nothing but monsters? Here are some other interesting things a party might stumble across while trekking cross-country. A convenient list of 30 for those who have a d30 on hand. Use them by themselves or combine them with a monster encounter or terrain feature. (I'd recommend not using them all the time; perhaps a 1-in-6 or 1-in-12 chance per day of travel.) 1. Battlefield. The site of some forgotten battle of old, strewn with the rusted remains of arms and armor half-buried in the earth. Possibly haunted. 2. Enchanted tree. Its fruits produce the effects of a random potion at half-strength, but spoil a day after picking. Has 2d6 ripe fruits when found. 3. Faerie ring. Mushrooms growing in a circle. Will a character stepping into their midst be put to sleep by mischievous faeries or whisked away to a mystical forest? 4. Burial cairn. Whose eternal resting place is this?  5. Cache of supplies. A stash of iron rations, rope, torches, oil, or ot

Where does that wilderness encounter happen?

 Wilderness random encounters in classic D&D are a little vague and generic. Determine the local terrain features and add some detail and interest to the scene of an encounter. d8 Clear, Grassland Forest Hills 1 Farmland Hill Hill 2 Copse Gully Ridge 3 Hill Dell Valley 4 Stream Stream Ravine 5 Pond/Lake Pond/Lake Stream 6 Wetland Thicket Gully 7 Pasture Glade Pond/Lake 8 Gully Burn Dell d8 Mountains River Desert 1 Ridge Rapids Dunes 2 Ravine Sandbar Wadi 3 Stream Wetlands

Basic combat objectives

 The abstract nature of classic D&D combat doesn't lend itself well to calling discrete moves and maneuvers. A lot can happen in a 10-second combat round. Combatants trade feints and parries, with weapons, shields, and body parts. They grab and push and trip. They try to pull dirty tricks like dust in the eyes or stomping on toes. They stumble, maybe fall down, maybe get back up. They may get dazed or stunned momentarily, but shake it off in the same round. All of this is distilled down to an attack roll and possibly a damage roll, because it's assumed the ultimate objective is to hurt the opponent. The specifics of how you get to that point are descriptive only, and don't need to be mechanically codified. I'm not saying you absolutely can't or shouldn't add mechanics for called shots, parries, trips, throws, dirty tricks, and whatnot, but it all runs counter to the idea of abstraction, that the actions of a round ultimately boil down to how much damage is d

Constitutional crisis

 You thought I was gonna get all political, didn't you? But no, I just want to talk about Constitution in basic D&D, and how it's at least a little bit broken. Constitution, as written in B/X and BECMI D&D, has a much larger impact, for good or ill, than other ability scores. These editions use a modifier scale from -3 to +3. Most modifiers are applied to a d20 roll, meaning they can have, at most, an impact equal to 15% of the die's maximum. That makes a + or -3 modifier nothing to sneeze at, but it's not big enough to render a character either unplayable or insuperable.  Constitution, though, tacks that -3 to +3 modifier onto rolls of d4, d6, or d8. Despite the huge disproportion, nobody ever complains about piling a +3 on top of a d4 at each level, even though it more than doubles the average hit points of such a character (2.5 base, 5.5 after +3 modifier) and it's not really a huge deal to have an exceptionally hale and hearty magic-user have more hit po

Experience points for what?

 D&D needs experience points to truly and fully be a game in which player skill and choices matter. Rewarding skillful play and avoiding the subjectivity of DM fiat as much as possible make for a more rewarding gaming experience. But simply having an XP mechanic is not enough -- experience point awards must incentivize the right things to maximize the range of player choice and properly recognize its results. (What's "right" is a matter of debate, but DMs should at least be fully cognizant of what actions their XP systems encourage and discourage.) XP awards can be broken down into two broad categories: XP for accomplishments and XP for actions. The former is about broad objectives, with little or no regard for the strategies and methods used to accomplish it. XP for treasure is one prominent example. It doesn't matter whether the PC party gets loot by combat, by exploration and searching, by stealth, by negotiation and diplomacy, or by some combination of all. S