Posts Tagged ‘characters


D&D’s Original Iconic Characters

Doesn’t this look like an adventuring party you’d like to be part of?

Illustrations by David C. Sutherland for the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide

Stat one of these characters up using the Adventurer Conqueror King System and you can play ’em in a session I’ll run via G+ hangout! Plus, if the Kickstarter for Paul Hughes’ Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map poster succeeds in raising more funding than Autarch’s Player’s Companion did, the backers of that worthy project will get to admire your character-making handiwork as part of a bonus goal I offered Paul in the foolhardy belief that it’d never happen. (It is now less than $300 short).

Here’s the backstory. The designers of 3rd Edition D&D went to remarkable lengths to reference 1st Edition AD&D. This is something I’ve been saying for a long time, but the more I learn about 1E the more examples I discover.

One of the defining aspects of 3E’s art direction was the use of iconic characters whose illustrations were featured in the section introducing their class and were then re-used in other books, the D&D miniatures line, etc. For example, here we see the rogue Lidda, the wizard Mialee, and the fighters Regdar and Tordek planning a dungeon-heist:

At Gary Con, we were talking about things we liked and didn’t like about 3E. Iconic characters made it onto both lists.

  • Plus: The way that the same heroes would turn up in different contexts created the sense of the books being a window into another world, the way that elements of the Cthulu Mythos like the Necronomicon showing up in different stories made it seem real (and a precursor of roleplaying games and transmedia).
  • Minus: We weren’t convinced that the 3E iconic characters emerged from actual play; their inception had the whiff of a clever memo from WotC’s marketing department.

Until reading this post at Blog of Holding, from which the top picture was taken, I didn’t realize that the idea of a party of characters recurring from one illustration to the next had its roots in David C. Sutherland’s drawings for the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. I don’t know whether they represented a real party of player characters, but certainly the DMG illustrations show them doing the kinds of things adventurers do in actual games of D&D. (The planning illustration above is an exception to the normal kind of thing the 3E iconic characters were depicted doing: standing around on their own, looking iconic.)

Given that I care about things like illustrations reflecting actual play, let’s make sure that the ACKS writeup of the AD&D iconics reflects characters that a player created (albeit to match a pre-existing visual image) and played in a game! Reply in the comments to claim which of these five adventurers you’d like to stat up and play, I’ll email you to work out the details and schedule the G+ hangout.


Last Chance to Back the Adventurer Conqueror King Player’s Companion

Cover for the Adventurer Conqueror King System Player's Companion. Art by Michael C. Hayes, design by Carrie Keymel.

The Kickstarter for the Player’s Companion ends today, Friday March 16th at 10 pm EDT. After Autarch’s crowdfunding campaign for the Adventurer Conqueror King System wrapped up, we often got comments from people saying they wished they had known about it while the Kickstarter was still going. I hope that this announcement can help save people from a repeat of this terrible fate!

It’s worth noting that, if you haven’t picked up ACKS yet, by backing the Player’s Companion backer you can choose rewards that’ll get you both the core system and its first expansion. Two Sought Adventure gets you both books in PDF, each of which has a coupon that’ll give you a discount on a future upgrade to its hardcover equal to the price you paid for the electronic copy. Pair of Kings gets you ACKS in hardback + PDF and the Player’s Companion limited edition softcover pre-release, shipping together as soon as they’re available (weeks before they’re in stores), after which you’ll get the final Player’s Companion in hardback + PDF once it completes its final development based on feedback and playtest reports from backers. You can also add to your Player’s Companion pledge to get various other combinations of ACKS and its new expansion, including using the coupon in the ACKS PDF you may already have for a hardback upgrade. Email if you have questions about how to do this!

Yes, you may say, but what is this Player’s Companion of which you speak? Good question! It’s an expansion for the widely acclaimed Adventurer Conqueror King System, designed to give players new tools for creating the kinds of characters they want to see in their campaigns. Because ACKS builds directly on the legacy of the original fantasy roleplaying game, the material in the Player’s Companion will also be useful to groups playing other variants of that lineage. No conversion should be necessary to use the Player’s Companion with Moldvay/Cook’s original B/X and its inheritors Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy, and adapting the material to other TSR-era editions and their retro-clones will likely present no problems to those hip to the essential similarities between all OSR systems.

Here is what is in the pre-release version of the Player’s Companion that we will have at Gary Con IV. Thanks to the backers who helped us reach the first three bonus goals and thus enabled this list of contents to be much more expansive than originally planned!

  • 16 new character classes to expand your campaigns, including the anti-paladin, barbarian, dwarven fury, dwarven machinist, dwarven delver, elven courtier, elven enchanter, elven ranger, gnomish trickster, mystic, paladin, shaman, Thrassian gladiator, warlock, witch, and Zaharan ruinguard.
  • 238 character generation templates with pre-selected proficiencies, spells, and equipment options to create archetypes such as the Aristocrat Bard, Buccaneer Thief, Gladiator Fighter, or Runecaster Shaman.
  • A host of new spells, including never-before-seen dweomers such as dismemberearth’s teethand trance, as well as ritual spells including cataclysmplaguetemporal stasis, and undead legion
  • A point-based customized class system that lets you create the perfect blend of fighting, thievery, divine, and magical power. The custom class creation rules are 100% backwards compatible with every class in the ACKS core rules and all of the classes in the Player’s Companion.
  • Additional equipment and proficiencies to provide options for character classes new and old, plus prices for building traps to defend your stronghold
The final edition will have still more content, including guidelines for creating new spells through magical research and a system for side effects from experimentation we’re developing using Gygaxian democracy.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Player’s Companion is the explosion of player-created content it’s heralded, either because it gives many tools for custom creation to the user, or simply because it coincides with the ACKS PDF having been out there long enough for people to start sinking their teeth into it. Every game designer wants to know that their stuff is being played with, so it’s really gratifying to watch this happening. Check out the Autarch forums for a sense of the creative ferment that’s out there!

Everything is Flowcharts

Stop this recursive madness before it is too late.

Paul Hughes has launched a Kickstarter that must not succeed. If funded, he will turn the AD&D procedures for generating random dungeons into a dungeon, a section of which is shown above. Sure, it sounds innocuous enough in his description:

This intricately illustrated 36″ by 24″ playable dungeon map poster encapsulates the Dungeon Master’s Guide’s complete rules for generating random dungeons: Appendix A’s four pages of charts are rendered into a flowchart WHICH IS ITSELF A DUNGEON. It’s like the Platonic dungeon: from it, all other dungeons may be generated. Or maybe it’s the Dungeon of Ouroboros.

What he conveniently leaves out is that as adventurers go through this dungeon, there is a chance that they will randomly generate the same dungeon that encodes the procedures for generating new dungeons, creating an infinite loop. Being a known proponent of the $10,000 backer reward and idealistic bonus goal, I have been recommending that Paul combine these such that Wizards of the Coast could pick up the top pledge level and get enough posters to send some to every game store that will be carrying the AD&D reprints, or we could help him raise the necessary funding to do so just for the good of gaming. While this would hasten the process, the recursive nature of this project makes one thing clear: sooner or later we will be awash in endless, procedurally-generated nightmare mazes filled with gold, glory, and Paul’s inimitable illustrations.

You know what that means, don’t you? Yes, it means one reason we don’t embed music videos more often is that some of us can’t be trusted not to use them for cheap rim-shots.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this impending crisis. We need to fight dungeons with dungeons.

Holmes Character Creation as a Dungeon Map, by Doug @ Blue Boxer Rebellion

Compare to the 2e and 3e versions for a fantastic visual essay in how the complexity of chargen increases over the years, and become a follower of Blue Box Rebellion and pester Doug to dungeonize 4e’s Character Builder and map the planar nexus of Sigil from which those wishing to follow D&D Next’s ambition to unite the editions must certainly depart.

But that’s not what we’re here for. Our goal is to convince Doug to launch a Kickstarter to create dungeons to act as automatic spawners for adventurers to go into Paul’s dungeon and generate more dungeons, until every piece of paper in the world is covered with maps in which you can see little people making maps telling them which way to go to create a dungeon in which the Cave You’ve Been Living In Since 1977 connects to the Pool of Fluff.

Speaking of titles, the name of this post riffs off of Everything is Dolphins, which you should be interested in because:

  • the fact that the Play-Generated Maps and Documents Archive (PlaGMaDA) is starting a publishing arm is made of awesome and promises many other things of interest to old-schoolers, like reprints of old fanzines and homemade modules like Habitition of the Stone Giant Lord
  • the game part of Everything is Dolphins represents an interesting example of someone coming into RPGs cold in his twenties from a whole other world of music geeks, discovering OD&D, and running with it to make his own system to reflect a particular set of concerns and inspirations
  • said someone ran Everything is Dolphins at Games that Can’t be Named and a good time was had
  • the approach taken here – presenting the original handwritten notes and play materials, and then doing an exegesis of the text and the visions it’s inspired in others – is a promising model for how to publish lost RPG projects like Robert Kuntz’s Kalibruhn or Dave Arneson’s “Bluemoor” notebooks without losing the historical value under a layer of polish

It is an article of faith with me that the character sheets for the original Blackmoor were this cool. One of many ways that First Fantasy Campaign is awesome is that it publishes maps of the castles that characters in Dave Arneson's game built; let's get a new edition that has the architectural plans the players drew up!

  • the illustrations Tim assembled for the book to show what visions the game inspired include old-schoolers (Charlie Loving who illustrated the Bunnies and Burrows first edition in 1976), artists who were part of the Dungeons & Dragons in Contemporary Art panel last year (Casey Jex Smith and Sean McCarthy), and Tarn Adams of Dwarf Fortress who is like the patron saint of neckbeards who care way too much about imaginary worlds that procedurally generate adventurers who build their own dungeons
  • if the Dwimmermount Kickstarter makes its bonus goal of $20,620, James Maliszewski will donate his original campaign notes to PlaGMaDA; we hope the well-deserved immense popularity of his blog Grognardia will make this a notable a precedent for others to make similar donations and show that making the originals free to the public is not inconsistent with a successful commercial release expanding these notes into a form ready for others to use
  • Tim has an art show opening at the I-20 Gallery in NYC on March 22nd, which should be of interest to those who were interested in the stuff Tim had to say at the above-mentioned D&D art panel, and is planning a book launch party for Everyting is Dolphins in April, which may well also include the Adventurer Conqueror King System; details to follow.
On that tip and with the last of my breath, I should mention that there is also a Kickstarter for the Player’s Companion that expands ACKS with a host of new classes, procedures for making new classes, a bunch of new spells, procedures for making your own spells that characters can research (if Bonus Goal #3 is met, which seems like it will happen soon), and lots of the the ACKS class templates that Brendan at untimately calls “the apotheosis of the Second Edition kit idea“, presumably in a nice way.

Red Box Workshop: The Lizard Man PC


These humanoid reptiles dwell at the border of land and water—swamps, rivers, along the coast—where they can keep their scales damp and hunt for fish and amphibian prey. Though most are semi-intelligent at best, some are fully as intelligent as any human. Whether these are a new breed or an atavistic strain is unknown. While these ‘smart’ lizardmen tend to gather into tribes of their own ilk, some prefer to go forth on land to travel among civilized folk.

The prime requisites for a lizard man are Strength and Constitution. A lizard man character whose Strength or Constitution score is 13 or higher will receive a 5% bonus on earned experience. Lizard men whose Strength and Constitution scores are 13 or higher will receive a 10% bonus to earned experience.

RESTRICTIONS: Lizard men use eight-sided dice (d8) to determine their hit points. They may advance to a maximum of 8th level of experience. Lizard men may wield any melee or thrown weapon, but they have no training in projectile weapons like bows and crossbows. Their scaly hides grant them a base AC of 5, but they may not wear armor or use shields. Due to their aquatic nature, they must immerse themselves in water for at least one hour per day. Failure to do so results in 1d6 damage per day. They also suffer 1d6 damage each day they spend in cold or dry environments such as snowfields or deserts. Lizard men must have a minimum score of 9 in Strength and Constitution.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Lizard men may attack with their fangs or claws; such an attack inflicts 1d6 points of damage on a successful attack. They are difficult to spot in verdant environments, blending in seamlessly with forest foliage, swamp growth and seaweed. They have only a 1 in 6 chance of being detected in this kind of cover. They can also hold their breath underwater for 1 turn/level. All lizard men speak Common, Lizard Man and the alignment language or dialect of the character.

SAVING THROWS: As dwarves.


ADVANCEMENT: As per the fighter advancement table.


Red Box Workshop: The Kobold PC


These dwarfish subterranean dog-people are renowned for their cowardice, preferring to defend their lairs with sadistic traps than to risk their lives in battle. Nonetheless, some choose the path of adventure, whether from overweening greed, an unsatisfied bloodthirsty streak or some unkoboldish vein of courage. Their hairless, scaly red-brown hides blend in with the dirt and stone of their lairs; only the dull red glow of their eyes gives them away.

The prime requisite for a kobold is Dexterity. A kobold character whose Dexterity score is 13 or higher will receive a bonus on earned experience.

RESTRICTIONS: Kobolds use four-sided dice (d4) to determine their hit points. They may advance to a maximum of 4th level of experience. Kobolds may use any type of weapon that has been “cut down” to their size. Thus, they cannot use a two-handed sword or long bow, but may use a sword or short bow. They may wear nothing more protective than leather armor, and cannot use a shield. Kobolds must have a minimum score of 9 in Dexterity.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Kobolds live in underground caverns and warrens, and have infravision (heat-sensing sight) which allows them to see 60 feet in the dark. A kobold’s sneaky nature and tricksy upbringing allows it to open locks, find and remove traps, climb walls, move silently, hide in shadows, pick pockets and hear noise as a thief. Due to their small size and skill at dodging, kobolds have a bonus of -2 to their Armor Class when being attacked by creatures larger than man-sized. All kobolds speak Common, Kobold and the alignment language or dialect of the character, plus the languages of goblins and orcs.

SAVING THROWS: As thieves.


ADVANCEMENT: As per the thief advancement table.


White Box Archaeology: The Pyrologist

Let’s set the wayback machine to the ’70s, at the dawn of Dungeons & Dragons. For you kids out there, this entirely predates the Internet as we know it; there were no blogs or forums on which to share ideas. Gamers who wanted to broadly disseminate gaming material would submit their work to fanzines, which were compiled on a typewriter, printed via photocopier or mimeograph, and sent out via snail mail.

One such fanzine was “Liaisons Dangereuses,” a Diplomacy ‘zine run by Len Lakofka. As an early D&D player, Len used his ‘zine to print up some D&D material that he and Gary Gygax had written. There are a few gems to be found here, such as the Pyrologist, a new character class appearing in LD #74 (September 1976). The class is a gonzo mess, allowing for Pyrologist/Cleric dual classing, psionic abilities, spells and bonus powers, weapon choices varying by level, and other oddball rules. Well worth looking at for a peek into how idiosyncratic things could get in old-school play!

You can read the original ‘zine here. More recently, an old-school fan transcribed the whole thing up on the forums at The Delver’s Dungeon, a 1e AD&D fan site. The transcription can be found here.


Red Box Workshop: The Centaur PC


While these half-human, half-horse hybrids are known to dwell in sylvan settings apart from men, some few seek out the pleasures and wonders of civilization. Some have been cast out by their herds for unsavory practices; others find that their desires cannot be fulfilled in the stultifying presence of their brethren. In any setting, centaurs enjoy carousing and bibulous overindulgence, often to the detriment of those around them.

The prime requisite for a centaur is Constitution. A centaur character whose Constitution score is 13 or higher will receive a bonus on earned experience.

RESTRICTIONS: Centaurs use eight-sided dice (d8) to determine their hit points. They may advance to a maximum of 8th level of experience. Centaurs may use any type of weapon or shield, but they may not wear armor. Due to their large size and unwieldy equine bodies, they have difficulty turning around in enclosed spaces; they cannot climb ladders or ropes, nor can they enter small openings.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Being half-horse, a centaur has twice the base movement rate and carrying capacity as a normal man. Centaurs may attack with their hooves instead of with a weapon; a successful hit inflicts 1d6 points of damage. Starting at 4th level, a centaur may make 2 attacks/round, one with a weapon and one with its hooves.

SAVING THROWS: As dwarves.


ADVANCEMENT: As per the fighter advancement table.

Past Adventures of the Mule

February 2017
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