The case for players playing multiple characters.

Should a TTRPG be run as one character per player, or can players have multiple characters? I’ve done it both ways over 30 years of gaming, but I now have my players use multiple characters.

When I first began running game regularly during AD&D 2nd edition, I only had three players and to have a full group they each had 2-3 characters each, plus I used an NPC or two. Our adventuring groups were roughly 10 characters (keep in mind that many older D&D adventures were designed for 6-9 characters). There were multiples of rogues, clerics, mages, warriors, etc. We had a lot of fun. Once 3E appeared and all the way up through my time with 5E, there was one character per player, and our groups were down to 4-5 characters. This worked to some degree since modern D&D characters are substantially more powerful than older versions of D&D (everyone has more hit points, it is incredibly easy to heal, you rarely run out of spells, and character death is rare). I now run Castles & Crusades and have returned in part to the multiple characters approach of the past, but with some modifications. Below I will lay out my reasons for doing so and why I enjoy it so much.

What if everyone here were all part of one adventuring group? (art from Gameloft “March of Empires”)

Reason 1: Old-school gaming – dangerous and less complicated
The Barrowmaze campaign I run on Tuesday’s is particularly challenging and you need as many people skilled in arms, spells, and problem solving as you can get. Being an old school game, I think using an extra character is more fun than just making use of henchmen, hirelings, or retainers, to accompany the group. In old-school games spellcasters run out of spells, hit points are lower, and healing is slower. In my days playing AD&D 1st edition, my magic-user had one or two spells per day. He used them for one or two encounters and the rest of the time he sat in the back of the party (or the middle, whichever was safer), and used his intelligence to solve puzzles that might arise. If you just use one character, that player could get bored. Whereas, if they were to have a wizard and a fighter, for example, they will always have someone they can use in most situations.

Old-school characters are also less complicated than modern D&D characters (there are a lot less special class abilities to manage in most old-school games), so it is much easier to manage them. Finally, whereas modern D&D and Pathfinder focuses on cramming a lot into one round (move action, attack action, bonus action, reaction), which necessitates the need for players to feel that their characters must always do something. Old-school games shift the focus from doing up to four things in a single round, to (sometimes) doing four things in an entire combat. This leaves plenty of room for players to have multiple characters with multiple things to do and not feel overburdened.

Reason 2: Expanded options allows players get more done
Each of my players are urged to create up to four characters and then swap them in and out based on:
1) What they are interested in playing that session.
2) Meeting the needs of the adventuring party for that session.
3) Some characters may be out training for new abilities (see this post for more information on that).

In my C&C games I encourage my players to bring up to two of their four characters on an adventure, or to have 10 characters go on any given adventure. So on days when five players show up to game, they usually bring two characters each, and if seven players are available to play, then only three of them will bring an extra character.

I like this because every player is not just invested in one character, they are far more involved with the adventuring company overall. In my Tuesday Barrowmaze campaign, there are 7 players with roughly 4 characters each, giving us 28 characters (and keep in mind that some characters are dual-classed, so there are actually well over 30 character classes represented). In the town where they reside – Ironguard Motte – they have their own building the size of a multistory tavern. At any given time when 10 characters are out adventuring, the other 18 are making or repairing weapons and armor, creating scrolls or potions, learning spells, identifying magic items, practicing their trade or profession, training lower level characters, connecting with local people of importance, and keeping the long-term interests of the adventuring company going on in the background. On any given four hour game session with the adventurers fighting their way through the Barrowmaze, I sometimes – in a lull or slow spot – throw in a 5-10 minute interlude when we return to Ironguard Motte for someone to knock on the door of their establishment and in a brief conversation set the stage for a future adventure. I think it is quite successful in conveying the feeling that there is always something going on in the world.

Reason 3: A Total Party Kill (TPK) is not the end of a campaign
In most D&D-type games, if everyone dies in an encounter, the campaign may be over. I ran Dragon Mountain in 1993-94 and there was a TPK. After two years of committed adventuring everyone died. It was a letdown. I also ran a Tomb of Horrors campaign over the period of a year. Everyone died in an encounter. But the way I run games now, if there were to ever be a TPK, the campaign would not end, since the other adventurers could avenge their friend’s deaths, and may even retrieve their bodies and equipment. It could add renewed vigor and more passion for the campaign (although obviously one does not want that to happen).

Summary thoughts:
Games like D&D 5E focus on one character. Many players will purchase a new set of dice to represent their new character. There is an array cool material on Kickstarter and Etsy for players wanting to purchase a journal for their character, or a unique token or miniature to represent the character. That is perfectly fine if that is the style of game you are aiming for. But my games are more dangerous and I aim for more group flexibility, and rather than focus on the beliefs and goals of a single individual, I’d rather focus on a family group dynamic, both a small family group that a player will have if they rotate four characters in and out of adventures, and a larger family dynamic which encompasses all the other player’s characters combined. This can also work more positively in keeping the focus on the overall arc of the campaign instead of on a particular character (although obviously individual characters will shine and stand out. That has happened in my Barrowmaze campaign, where the highest level characters have taken on leadership roles, and the younger, lower level adventurers, view them more as veterans, or parental figures and seek them out for their experiences and insights).

There are other ways in which this could be done. D&D 5E recently introduced the idea of a side kick. Older editions of D&D encouraged the use of hirelings, henchmen, and retainers. The game Ars Magica makes use of a “troupe system” style of play. And Dungeon Crawl Classics has the 0-level funnel where a player uses four characters in an adventure and whoever survives by the end makes it to 1st level. The approach I take seems to be a bit different.

What do you think? Would having players use multiple characters and rotate others in and out of adventures work in your game?

Castles & Crusades Diary: Barrowmaze, Session 52.

Summary:
The Army of the Light encounters a pool room with a Water Weird, and a secret room with two Gargoyles – that spew Green Slime! – protecting a chest filled with magical items. While working to deal with this a Wight stumbles in (its left foot is missing) looking to drain the life from them. Did they survive unharmed?

A pool with a Water Weird lurking within. Previous victims lie nearby (artwork from Barrowmaze Complete).

Game Diary:
Continuing where they left off last week in the north-west corner of the Barrowmaze, they enter a large room 100 feet long filled with a large central pool. To either side are four pillars and four very large wall mounted torches. There are also a series of bodies lying to the side of the pool with weapons lying by their side. Balthazar the wizard casts detect magic and sees that there is a magical shield, broadsword, and chain shirt lying before them. They want to retrieve these items, but they are cautious, for they can see no weapon wounds on the dead people and they aren’t sure what has had killed them. The rogue, Martin, steps forward and tosses a gold coin into the pool. At that point a watery pseudopod which moves like a serpent launches itself from the pool, enveloping Martin, and pulling him into the pool. He fails his saving throw and because of being held and squeezed underwater he begins to drown. The other nine characters move in launching spells and attacking with their weapons. The water weird has great potential to take down adventurers, but the Army of the Light is bold and unrelenting, and their attacks beat it down to nothing almost immediately and it’s body dissipates into the water. Moments later, Martin is released. After coming up for breath, Martin points out that he notices a nice number of silver, gold, and platinum coins in the pool, as well as a key. Since he is already wet, he takes the time to retrieve them.

Gargoyles ready to spew green slime protect a chest filled with magical items (artwork from Barrowmaze Complete).

The next major area the group enters is a room with two gargoyles surrounding an attractive looking chest. Rosaline, the druid, steps forward and attempts to place a gold coin in the open mouth of the gargoyle to her right as an offering. Doing so she notices a green residue in its mouth going down its hollow throat. With the intent to examine the chest clear, the gargoyle guardians spring to life. The one where Rosaline placed the gold coin into its mouth attempts to claw, bite and ram her with its horn. It misses with all its attack except one – the bite – and that attack results in it vomiting forth green slime, covering her left arm and spreading onto her shoulder and the left side of her torso. The other gargoyle attacks her as well and misses with all of its attacks! The group jumps in with weapon blows and magic missiles. The second round kicks in and both gargoyles again somehow miss nearly all their attacks (I am so disappointed with my dice!). Still, the green slime has by now destroyed half of Rosaline’s clothes and her armor. But she is lucky in that just before she stepped forward she had cast barkskin, and this was slowing down the green slime absorbing her into it, for as it ate away the woody exterior, the energy from the spell brought the bark exterior back.

At this point the group heard a strange stumping sound and looking behind them they see the piercing black lights coming from the eye sockets of an undead with white skin pulled tight around it – it was a wight – an no one was interested in losing an experience level from it’s attacks! Gorgat, the barbarian, marched toward it and tried to intimidate it with his attack, but he missed. The wight smiled. Others stepped up to it and pounded it as well.

The group was split in two, but with five players using two characters and one NPC, there was enough people to take care of the threats both in front and behind them. This was made much easier by the fact that the gargoyles had missed most of their attacks and the PC’s had not, so the gargoyles dropped dead to the ground at almost the same time as the wight was moving in for an attempt to steal a PC’s life essence. The monsters were foiled again!

The Army of the Light decided this was enough adventuring, stuck the chest in their bag of holding, and headed back to Ironguard Motte. Once back in their cozy organizational head quarters, they identified all their new loot: +1 shield, +2 broadsword, +1 chain shirt, a spell book with several unique spells from past wizards in the Barrowmaze region, and a conical wizard hat that provides a magic-user with a +1 on concentration checks to overcome losing its spell. Several characters leveled up and next time they will have to decide how much time they are going to take off before returning to the Barrowmaze. There are also several local events in the Duchy of Aerik which are about to take off, Lunacy which is the event when the two moons in my world are full and lycanthropes increase in power and go wild, and Thorgrimr, a local Viking lord who is organizing a Thing (which is a Viking governing assembly for the local community), and some players are interested in what might result from that. There is always something going on in my Barrowmaze campaign, next week we’ll find out what the players engage in!

A new approach to downtime activities and leveling up character abilities.

Dungeons & Dragons have had many options over the years on how you can personalize characters (e.g. training for acquiring class abilities upon leveling up, skills, feats, downtime activities, etc.). I enjoy drawing upon all these sources, but for my Castles & Crusades campaigns I have come up with my own formula for character improvement.

(art by dleoblack)

In AD&D there were secondary skills, in AD&D 2nd edition we got non-weapon proficiencies and later kits, in 3E there was a certain sequence when people would acquire skills or feats, 5E shares a similar approach, plus they have subclasses and downtime activities. They all offer something for players seeking to personalize their character, but they also tend to present things in a restricted manner which can make everything feel the same, such as getting a feat every fourth level. Why every fourth? What is so special about that fourth level? I want my players to have maximal amount of flexibility to mold their characters the way they want for the particular campaign they are in (each of my campaigns can have a very different feel and approach).

Now, if one were to offer new feats or skills every level, then that could easily make over-powered characters and I have far too many experiences with power gamers and min/maxers that ruin the game for the other players that are quite happy to simply play what they have and enjoy it for what it is. Can one accommodate everyone?

My approach is to offer players the opportunity to acquire a new ability every time they level up if they want to, but there is a price. In what follows, I will present what players can gain upon leveling up, and then provide the formula I use.

Leveling Up.
After gaining a level, some players may have discovered that they need to upgrade or expand an ability or skill based on their experiences during the previous level. Here are some of the options open to them.
1. Learn a new language.
2. Learn a new profession (e.g. blacksmith, herbalist, gem cutter, sage).
3. Attempt to raise an attribute (my formula for the player is to roll a d20 with no modifiers, and if they can roll the attribute or higher it will go up by one, if they fail, they can try again next level. This obviously makes it easier to raise low attributes, but more difficult to raise high attributes).
4. Increase a class skill (e.g. a 1st level fighter specialized in the long sword, but half way through 1st level discovered a +1 battle axe and now wants to specialize in the battle axe).
5. Enhance a racial/ancestral ability, a combat ability (melee/ranged), a defensive ability, a magic ability through a feat (or as they are called in C&C, advantages).

The Formula.
When you are younger you tend to pick things up a lot easier, and as you get older you become more set in your ways and things become more difficult to learn. My formula accounts for this.

Time: Level x 2 in weeks to learn/acquire the new ability.
Cost: The experience points you need to gain your next level x 10% in gold piece cost.

Example 1:
A fighter called Ecbert is specialized in the long sword. Halfway through 1st level he gets a +1 battle axe and decides he wants to make that his main weapon and specialize in it. He continues to use it through the remainder of 1st level and upon 2nd level he seeks out a warrior in the area that is a known specialist in the battle axe and has them train him. Since he is 2nd level, it will take 4 weeks (2nd level x 2). To go from 2nd to 3rd level as a fighter requires 2,001 XP in C&C, so 10% of that is 200, as a result he will pay this person 200 gp over that 4 week period.

Some time has passed and part way through 4th level Ecbert acquires a +3 spear that does double damage against undead and now wants to specialize in that. He will use this new spear until he reaches 5th level, upon which time he will seek out an expert in the spear. Ecbert is now a bit more set in his ways, so learning to specialize in the spear will require 10 weeks (5th level x 2), and the XP needed to increase from 5th to 6th level for a fighter in C&C is 17,001, so 10% of that is 1,700, which means he will have to spend 1,700 gp for the training and any materials over that 10 week period.

Example 2:
An elven wizard named Kythaela who knows the common, elvish, and orcish languages, encounters numerous gnomes in her first two levels of adventuring and decides that she should learn the gnomish language so as to better interact with them and understand them. When she reaches 3rd level she seeks out a local sage that knows gnomish. Learning the rudiments of the gnomish tongue will take 6 weeks (3rd level x 2), and cost 520 gp (as a wizard in C&C she needs 5,200 xp to progress from 3rd to 4th level).

As she adventures some more she travels through ancient elven villages and decides that when she reaches her next stage of development (i.e. gains her next level), she will want to take some time off and delve more into her elven culture and pull forth new elven abilities and reach a new stage of development (i.e. gain an elven advantage, or feat). When she reaches 7th level she heads off into the dense wilderness and spends 14 weeks (7th level x 2) with her elven elders to acquire this new elven ability (which, let us say is the Affinity to Nature elven advantage found in the Castle Keepers Guide, which gives her a +1 on checks to avoid surprise, detect hidden foes, and to initiative when in natural surroundings). The cost will be high, since she needs 85,001 xp to go from 7th to 8th level, thus the cost will be 8,500 gp for materials, training, supplies, and anything else related to enhancing her elven awareness.

Comparing players that do and do not use this system.
What you might have seen in the above examples is that you could gain abilities every level, perhaps take a new language at 2nd level, at 3rd learn a new background, at 4th take an advantage, at 5th level try and raise an attribute, etc. You could rack up a lot of abilities. However, this takes time and costs money. Each level will require time off, and unless the party you are in agrees to take time off with you, your character will have to stop adventuring for awhile and that will slow their level advancement (I should mention that in my C&C campaigns I encourage all my players to make several characters and swap them in and out depending on their preferences for that game session, to meet the needs of the group for that session (perhaps a player with the main rogue can’t make it and you have the other rogue in the party, or perhaps you know you are about to enter a trap-heavy dungeon and having two rogues would be useful), or to swap out if they are acquiring a new ability for leveling up. This will also cost a lot of money. Characters in my C&C game are encouraged to have their characters begin building towers, castles, establishments, temples, etc. based on their classes when they reach 9th level (much like AD&D) and that costs a lot of money. If you are spending all your gold on extra abilities, then you might be a bit short on cash to build your class structures and pay the staff and followers.

As a result, those players who are a happy with what they have, may have less abilities than their fellow party members, but they will be higher level then those that take time off (since they will be adventuring more), and from that additional adventuring they may have more loot and treasure as well, and of course they will have more cash sitting around to construct their buildings and draw in followers, since they didn’t spend it on training.

I’ve been using this system since 2018 and it has worked quite well. It also allows a campaign to spread out over time. Weeks and months can pass in game time between adventures, and the players see the seasons change, members of the town may pass on, children are born, others grow up and move on, and the regional politics in the region continue to develop around them. I’ve been able to present the larger world around them grow and change as they grow and change. I think it has made my games more immersive and feel more lived-in.

I’d be interested in knowing what you think of this system.

History & RPGs: Shields

How did the functions of shields change over time? What were the functions of different shield sizes and shapes?

Some Medieval fantasy RPGs have rules regarding weapon types vs. armor types. Medieval fantasy RPGs also frequently have critical hit systems or charts that cover certain battle techniques. Back when I ran AD&D 2nd edition, we did initially make use of weapon type vs. armor type, but in the end it involved too much book-keeping and slowed down combat so we stopped. On the other hand, The Complete Fighters Handbook had a rich amount of combat tactics, melee maneuvers, and called shots, which we did enjoy using. I now use Castles & Crusades and enjoy using the combat maneuvers they have available (and as I page through my Complete Fighters Handbook in preparing this blog, I am reminded I could bring back a few more dynamic combat maneuvers from 2nd edition).

In the Modern History TV video, I have linked here (roughly 15 minutes long), Jason Kingsley covers three different shield styles and describes how they were used, and what modifications may have been made to them depending on whether the user was on foot, on horseback, or if they were using missile weapons (like crossbows). This is can add a rich addition to your RPG game for combat flavour and to open up the combat techniques available.

For example, the shield style used by the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons was more easily knocked aside by weapons in one-on-one combat, opening up the warrior’s chest and abdominal region for a thrust or a slash, yet they could be used more successfully together in a shield wall formation. However, once you move forward in time and the shields become smaller and more curved, then it was more difficult to knock it aside to open up the lone warrior to a blow, yet it also made them less effective for a shield wall (indeed, they were no longer using shield walls by then). In my C&C game I have a variety of cultures represented (Norse, Celtic, Knightly, Greek, Babylonian, Egyptian), so these cultural differences will allow me to bring in different styles of combat.

Enjoy the video, and perhaps you will find a way to add a unique twist to your RPG combat.

Character Creation Challenge: Adventures Dark and Deep

For this entry in the Character Creation Challenge, I made a character in Adventures Dark and Deep (ADD). This game is based on an intriguing concept (quote from the back cover of the Players Manual): “What if Gary Gygax had been allowed to go through with his plans for a second edition of the world’s most popular role-playing game?” Joseph Bloch took AD&D (including the additional material from Unearthed Arcana (UA)), as well as drawing upon articles in Dragon magazine and various online forums, and ADD is his interpretation of what that might have looked like. I find the results to be quite interesting. The game does feel like the next step after UA for the AD&D game (if not an alternate Gygaxian AD&D 2nd edition, it could be thought of as 1.75, if you consider UA as 1.5). UA added the barbarian, cavalier, thief-acrobat, and new playable elven, dwarven, and gnomish races. ADD builds on this. Additional classes you find in ADD are the jester, mystic, bard (as a full class of its own), savant, and mountebank. The Player’s Manual doesn’t just feel like an extension of AD&D, it even looks that way with a font that is similar if not identical to the AD&D 1st edition Players Handbook with similar chart and table formats. If you ever wanted to play a more expanded AD&D 1st edition without switching over to 2nd edition, then ADD is worth looking into (let me also add for those GM’s looking for OSR monsters, that the bestiary for ADD is one of the best collections of AD&D monsters you can get. It is over 450 pages and has over 900 monsters).

But enough of this introduction, let’s move on to my character.

I decided I wanted to make a Jester. This was a way for me to make an expanded AD&D-type character. I had to re-roll my attributes (3d6 six times) several times before I was able to meet the requirement of having at least a 13 in Dexterity, Intelligence, and Charisma. I then did the usual of populating the attribute scores, writing down what the modifiers do, consulting the saving throw charts, rolling starting coin and buying equipment. All of that is like AD&D. What stood out, however, is that much of the character background and character building material in AD&D which you had to get from the DMG (such as social class, birth order, family traits) are in the ADD Players Manual. I always loved choosing that in AD&D but going through two books at the same time – or three if you were also using UA – was a hassle. ADD has all of that in one book in the order in which you need it.

As for the Jester, what do they get? Frankly, quite a lot of unique abilities. Their powers and abilities are: verbal patter, tumbling and performing, pranks, spell use (starting at 3rd level), attract a troupe (10th level). The verbal patter is broken down into subcategories: assure, distract, befuddle, enrage, etc. These all go up percentage-wise like thief abilities. Likewise, tumbling and performing is broken down into: evasion, entertain, falling, balance, fire breathing, juggling, knife throwing, sword swallowing, etc. Like any other AD&D thief-like character, you get a lot of abilities, but they start out quite low (my evasion is 10%, balance is 20%, juggling is 25%, and so on). All these abilities are laid-out in charts, so they are easy to reference. This would be a fun class and character to use with all his acrobatic maneuvering possibilities and the different ways in which he could manipulate his target’s perceptions!

All in all, I had a lot of fun making this character. It was a pretty big shift from the previous characters I made in this challenge from games that were clones from 1977, 1981, and 1983 Basic D&D with their much more simplistic and bare-bones rules, but if you love referencing AD&D 1st edition-inspired charts and tables, this will make you happy! Much like Old School Essentials, and Blueholme, I’d love to play this at a convention, but I get the feeling that this has a much smaller group of adherents. I own all of Joseph Bloch’s ADD books (Players Manual, Game Masters Toolkit, Bestiary, Adventures Great and Glorious, and Castle of the Mad Archmage), but I make use of them for inspiration in my game of choice: Castles & Crusades.

Character Creation Challenge: Swords & Wizardry

I love the evocative old school feel of Swords & Wizardry. Unlike many of the previous games I covered in this series – Blueholme, Labyrinth Lord, Rules Cyclopedia, and Old School Essentials – where I own and have read through the game, but never made a character, Swords & Wizardry (S&W) is a system that I have played a couple of times before (at GaryCon and GameHole), so I do have some experience in the character creation process.

Swords & Wizardry Complete and my Druid character, Ronan.

I decided I wanted to make a druid, but when I rolled 3d6 six times I didn’t get two 13+ attributes I needed for a druid (you need at least two 13’s for the prime requisites of Wisdom and Charisma). I rolled two more sets of attributes before I finally got two numbers that could meet that requirement. Since S&W has such a close affinity with D&D from 1974-1978, character creation is quite simple. I like how once I distributed my stats all the essential information that I needed to make note of from those stats could be placed within a box to the right of them. After that I wrote down a few druid class abilities (neutral alignment, spellcasting – I get one spell, and noted my +2 on saves versus fire). There is only one saving throw number to note in S&W, so that keeps things simple. I rolled my starting money (3d6x10) and only got 40 gold pieces, but luckily being a druid I don’t need much, so I bought a spear, sling, leather armor, and some basic supplies and I still had 23gp left over. I rolled my hit points and noted my armor class. All done, he’s ready for an adventure! Now if only there were some upcoming S&W game I could play in for Con of the North or GaryCon.

My Druid, Ronan Coglan.

Character Creation Challenge: Rules Cyclopedia

Previously in this character creation challenge I explored 1977 Basic D&D via Blueholme, and 1981 Basic D&D via Labyrinth Lord. I now chose to make a character using the 1983 Basic D&D via the Rules Cyclopedia (a 1991 consolidation and revision of the Basic, Expert, Companion, and Master box sets that were released from 1983-1985). The 1983 Basic red box set was my very first D&D game product, so these rules are quite special for me, since those rules along with the art by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley defined D&D for me and set me off on my RPG journey. By the time the Rules Cyclopedia came out in 1991 I had already switched to AD&D 1st edition and it was in 1992 that I began AD&D 2nd edition and a Forgotten Realms campaign that would last until 2018 (when I left behind the Forgotten Realms and D&D for my homebrew world using Castles & Crusades), so except for admiring the incredible Jeff Easley cover, I never used the the Rules Cyclopedia.

The Rules Cyclopedia, a consolidation of most of the BECMI D&D.

Character creation is pretty simple. I rolled 3d6 six times and distributed them the way I wanted. Unlike my Labyrinth Lord character, who had attributes that were 10, 15, 11, 5, 7, and 8, I rolled much better for this character: 14, 12, 13, 12, 13, 9. Since I chose to make a dwarf, I put my best numbers in Strength and Constitution. The high numbers ensured that Thrafith would get a +5% experience point bonus. I rolled for starting gold (3d6 x 10) and only got 70gp, so he was not going to be purchasing a lot! After buying basic adventuring materials such as rations, hammer, iron spikes, rope, tinderbox, and some clothes, I decided he would be happy with just a battle axe, shield and leather armor. He had 14gp left over. This rules set only has three alignments – lawful, chaotic, and neutral – and I made him lawful. Thrafith’s dwarven abilities are as you would expect: infravision, detection of stone traps, sliding walls, sloping corridors, and new construction. Finally, I filled in the “To Hit” chart and my Saving Throws (both could be found in tables found much later in the Rules Cyclopedia, however, the page numbers are conveniently listed in the character creation chapter at the beginning of the book).

The first page of my character sheet using the Rules Cyclopedia

If you want to run a Basic D&D campaign from 1st until 36th levels, this is the book. It has everything for players, and with a monster manual and rules advice, it has everything a Dungeon Master needs as well (the book is 304 pages, but keep in mind the format is three columns, with a small font and narrow spacing, so it is quite packed with information). Well, that is it for this character creation post, coming up I will cover Basic FantasyOld School EssentialsAdventures Dark and DeepSwords & Wizardry, and Low Fantasy Gaming.

The 1983 Basic D&D Box set (sadly, not my original box).

Character Creation Challenge: Labyrinth Lord

After previously making a Blueholme character for the Character Creation Challenge, today I used Labyrinth Lord (LL). I do have familiarity with LL, since my Tuesday Castles & Crusades game is based in the Barrowmaze and that was made for LL, thus on a weekly basis, I make use of LL encounters, monsters, traps, and ideas. Still, I’ve never sat down and made a LL character before. Whereas Blueholme is based on the 1977 Basic D&D set, LL relies upon its successor – the 1981 Basic D&D set.

Labyrinth Lord and Advanced Labyrinth Lord

Character creation begins as follows:
“Character Abilities must be determined by rolling randomly. Roll 3d6 for each of the abilities. The Labyrinth Lord may allow you to roll abilities in any order, or in order as listed here.” I rolled and got less than stellar attributes (5, 8, 7, 10, 11, 15), but since I am the Labyrinth Lord for the purposes of this character creation, I distributed them the way I liked. I chose to be a Halfling and put my best three scores in Dexterity, Constitution, and Strength, and the three low attributes in Wisdom, Charisma, and Intelligence. The result is that Elmin will get bonuses to his armor class, missile attacks and initiative, but when it comes to Intelligence, he is unable to read or write!

My character made using the basic Labyrinth Lord rule set

Since LL is based on 1981 Basic, your race is your class, which is a simplicity I really like (the game I run – Castles & Crusades (C&C) – models character classes more on AD&D, but race-as-class has been brought into C&C – in the World of Aihrde, for example – and I am in the process of doing that as well for my C&C homebrew campaigns).

I like the Halfling racial abilities: 90% hiding in outdoor settings, hiding in shadows underground on a 1-2 on 1d6, initiative modifier of +1 when alone or traveling with other halflings (I would really love to have a halfling-only party! I don’t see that happen much anymore in gaming, most people go for a very diverse group of characters, but to have all halfings, dwarves, or elves, could be a lot of fun), +1 on missile attacks, AC is -2 versus larger than human size creatures, and halflings get a d6 hit die.

I gave Elmin a Neutral alignment. LL uses the three alignment system of chaotic, lawful, and neutral. As I mentioned in my Blueholme character creation, I like the stripped down system (C&C uses the full nine alignment AD&D system, but putting greater emphasis on the cosmic alignments of law and chaos in my Barrowmaze game adds some unique flavor to that campaign). Finally, I rolled his starting money and got 140 gold pieces, after buying weapons (short sword and sling), armor (leather), and essential items such as backpack, bedroll, torches, rations, waterskin, etc., he ended up with 99 gp. Also, even though half his attributes are below average, he still gets a +5% XP bonus since his prime requisite of Dexterity is higher than 13. It was a lot of fun making Elmin, and it went very quickly. I do like being able to make characters quickly.

So that is it for this character creation. So far I’ve done Blueholme and LL, coming up through the remainder of this month is BECMI, Basic Fantasy, Old School Essentials, Adventures Dark and Deep, Swords & Wizardry, and Low Fantasy Gaming.

Character Creation Challenge: Blueholme

There is a Character Creation Challenge going on where you’re encouraged to make a character a day for the month of January. That’s a lot of characters and I doubt anyone wants to see me make 31 characters. Still, I do want to make make use of a reduced version of this challenge as an opportunity to make characters using game systems I own, but don’t know when I will get to play them. So I have printed out character sheets for Blueholme, Labyrinth Lord, BECMI, Basic Fantasy, Old School Essentials, Adventures Dark and Deep, Swords & Wizardry, and Low Fantasy Gaming. Those are the eight-game systems for which I plan to examine the character creation process (a more relaxed 2 characters a week instead of one a day!). It will be a great way to compare and contrast races and classes in these various systems. First up, Blueholme.

Blueholme
This is a retroclone of the Basic D&D set of 1977 (the first of the Basic sets). This is a much simpler form of D&D and one for which I would love to participate as a player just because I could sit down and play and not have to puzzle over lots of rules (e.g. races only have 2-3 traits, and all weapons do 1d6 damage).

Character creation is simple in Blueholme: 10 steps detailed in one column of one page.

Following the Generating A Character, step 2, I took out my Game Science dice (you’ve got to use dice that Louis Zocchi has been making dice since 1974 for this retroclone, right?), rolled 3d6 and wrote the numbers down as I rolled them down the line from top to bottom. This meant that the results of my rolls would determine what the species and class of my character would be. You can also see from my character sheet below what the attribute adjustments are – not much to write down – just some extra followers and two extra languages! Like I said, a very simple system!

My Elven Fighter Mage, Elyon.

With good rolls in strength, intelligence, and charisma, and with my lowest score in wisdom, I looked at my species/class options. Blueholme has four classes: Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, and Thief. There are also four species: Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfing. I chose to utilize my high scores in strength and intelligence to make an Elf Fighting Mage (mixing elements of the Fighter and Magic-User classes). This is one of the more complicated combinations you could probably make for Blueholme, and yet it was effortless. If you look at my character sheet, it took but a minute to write down my three Elven racial traits, the fighter class gave me nothing special (except saving throw numbers and the ability to use weapons), and for magic-user I just had to write down that I have one spell.

I then picked my alignment. Alignment is simplified in Blueholme: lawful good, lawful evil, neutral, chaotic good, and chaotic evil. I chose chaotic good. I do like this simplified alignment system, it isn’t as bare-bones as the lawful, chaotic, and neutral options you find in other early D&D games, and yet not as (sometimes) cumbersome as the nine alignment system. I sometimes wonder whether I should simplify my Castles & Crusades game from nine to five (I think I would want to playtest this in a Blueholme environment to see how it works out in game play). Of course, being a philosopher I do have a bit of an obsession sometimes with morality and alignment and I love to see these challenges play out in game play, but perhaps the challenges could be more fun with five instead of nine alignments?

I then rolled my wealth (3d6x10), got 140 gold pieces and then went to the one page equipment section to buy basic things an elven fighting mage might need. When I was finished I had 77gp remaining. To be honest, I think picking equipment took the longest for this character and all I got for him was a sword, bow, backpack, rations, torches, rope, wine skin, and a tinder box. Lastly, I came up with a name – Elyon – worked out my experience (you add the fighter and magic-user requirements together, so Elyon would advance slowly, however, with a high attribute in strength, he would get a +5% XP bonus), and then I wrote down my saving throws (you choose the best from fighter and magic-user).

The whole process was quick and easy. There is something elegant in such a simple system. I used the the Blueholme Prentice Rules, which covers levels 1-3 (just as the original Holmes D&D Basic Set did). However, there is a Journeymanne Rules set that takes the Holmes rule set from 1977 and allows character to go from levels 1-20. So Blueholme is a game system that you could use to run an entire campaign. I hope someone will run Blueholme at a convention like GaryCon or GameHole, because I want to give this a try!

Well, I had fun with this and I hope you did as well!

BlueHolme Prentice Rules (lvls 1-3) and Journeymanne Rules (lvls 1-20)

2020 Ends: Reviewing my Castles & Crusades journey.

This has been a very strange year. A lot of adjustments had to be made. But rather than do a year in review, I instead want to look at one thing which was a high point of this year – the further development of my Castles & Crusades game.

Castles & Crusades Players Handbooks. All you need to play the game (plus Mystical Companions).

2018: Leaving D&D behind and finding new players
I began C&C in 2018 after running a Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons campaign for 26 years. I was tired of edition changes, completely burned out on the Forgotten Realms, and although I enjoyed some of the post-2000 changes made to the D&D game, I wanted to borrow more from past editions as well as from non-D&D games, and perhaps most importantly, draw upon my personal interests and my academic background as a philosopher and historian. C&C met all those needs. I knew it could be difficult to get some of my old players to switch over from D&D, so I bought nearly two dozen Players Handbooks so that players couldn’t say they didn’t have the book, or couldn’t afford it. In the end, most of my old players who had played D&D with me for over 25 years chose not join me in my shift over to C&C, so I had to find new players. I had played D&D 5E Adventurers League for a year and made many friends from those games, so I was happy that many of those newer friends did make the move with me to C&C and gamed with me at the apartment that I lived in at the time.

2019: Moving into a House and having to start over again
In the first few days of January 2019 I moved into a new home. I turned my dining room into a game room. For the first time in my life I now had a dedicated and cool looking place to game. But when I made my move, most of my players felt it was too far away from them, some of them moved themselves, and a few went back to D&D 5E. So I had to once again nearly start over from scratch. But I knew I had a good thing going and had a lot to offer. For the first time since I first began my D&D Forgotten Realms campaign in 1992, I was energized and passionate. Indeed, I was more energized than I was then since C&C was my ideal game and allowed me to do everything that I had ever dreamed of doing. I was also using a world that I was creating and developing on my own. All my academic knowledge was flowing into this and molded by my enthusiasm and passion.

2019: For the first time in my life I had a proper gaming room.

So to get new players and to experience new gaming venues, I began offering C&C games at a local FLGS – Fantasy Flight Game Center. I also did some networking with my gaming friends and slowly, one-by-one, people showed up, both at the weekend games at my FLGS, and at the weekly Tuesday games at my house. These brand new players began to come in and it looked like they might finally be staying. I was able to see my world and homebrew ideas developing into something unique that stood out on its own. There was so much potential here, but would it hold?

Running Public C&C games at Fantasy Flight Games Center, 2019.

2020: Pandemic hits, need to adjust to online gaming
2020 began with me switching to a new FLGS for my weekend games – The Source Comics & Games. This was a better place to game, but my weekend players were split by another game being offered and player attendance at my game dropped. Then the pandemic hit. No more FLGS gaming. Indeed, no more home games either.

However, there was a difference between this and the previous challenges I faced. My Tuesday group still wanted to play, so it was a matter of adjusting to online game play. After some stumbling about on Google Hangouts the kind people at the Troll Lord Games (TLG) Discord server gave me my own channels to run my games. By the end of the summer my players and I had fully adjusted and were moving forward, I even increased the number of players in my campaign. As of the time of writing this, my Tuesday game has 7 regular players that have demonstrated their long-term interest and dedication to this game.

However, I still wanted a weekend game, and with FLGS gaming not possible, I began promoting my games on the TLG Discord and on MeWe, and over time players came in – from the west coast, the east coast, Canada, and Sweden. As of the time I am writing this I now have 7 players, with one additional player (an old friend who I gamed with 17 years ago during the D&D 3E era, who is on hold until he finishes moving into his new home), at which point I will have 8 players in that campaign. What began as a side game to get us through the pandemic is now an important campaign of its own where I have enough material to take everyone’s characters to their retirement age over the next year or so.

2020 may have been challenging, but somehow or other this challenge allowed me and others to rise up and unite together in gaming. I think we are stronger for it. Not only do I have two solid campaigns with 15 players between them, but I have made steady changes and development in my game world. Recognizable themes are emerging. There is a sense, feel, and familiarity developing, and the loyalty and enthusiasm of my players is demonstrating to me that I have a good thing on offer here: I have two healthy campaigns, I am offering a unique gaming experience, and there is an enjoyment and appreciation of what my academic background and reinvigorated passion and enthusiasm can bring to my C&C games to raise them to a new level.

So, what is in store for 2021? Well, my two campaigns will continue to develop. I will continue to bring more medieval history, realism, and folklore into my game (with my own unique twist). I will be studying and mining other RPG gaming products for ideas to bring into my games, I will continue to expand my GM skills, I will continue to learn new ways of using technology (even as I also embrace returning to some old-fashioned hand drawn maps like I used to do when I was a mechanical design drafter). I might also begin streaming games. There are so many possibilities for 2021. I have never had this much fun or passion for gaming. I can’t wait to see what develops next.

I wish you all a Happy New Year!

The C&C Players Handbooks, as well as the Codex books, which are pivotal in bringing the medieval feel to my campaigns.