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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I Love Me Some Multi-classing

I love multi-classing.  Seriously, I adore it.  After all, Gandalf could swing a sword quite effectively, the Grey Mouser knew a fair bit of magic, and let’s not forget that Conan was a great thief as well as a mighty warrior.  The list goes on...Elric, Silk, Solomon Kane were all multi-classed characters in some way, shape, or form and there are too many more to count.  If you are at all like me, your introduction to these figures coincided with your early gaming experiences, and it seems only natural that you would want to emulate these folks in your game as a player or as a DM.

With skill and abilities, bonuses and attributes, there are many ways to skin this particular cat.  Many folks who played 1e, myself included, house ruled the hell out of multi-classing/dual-classing when we were running a game.  In most cases it had to be done in order to maintain some sense of order, balance, or logic with regard to the individual PC and the party. Rules surrounding multi-classing spark alot of discussion, and even more arguments.  I don’t think I’ve ever met two people who see it, understand it, or play it in the same exact way.

To be fair, it seems like an afterthought when you read the 1e PHB.  It’s not really our fault that much of it (like many things in those books) was left to our own invention and imagination.  This is fine.  With a game like D&D you cannot possibly conceive of every rule to cover every circumstance, but merely do your best to create a sturdy framework on which rules and in-game issues can be resolved by the DM as these things crop up.

Multi-classing gets alot of DM attention and customization.

One of my favorite (and I think the best) set of guidelines for multiclassing a PC comes from Castles & Crusades.  If you are an OSR enthusiast, then you’re likely no stranger to the game even if you haven’t played or run a session.  C&C was available as a ruleset on Fantasy Grounds many moons ago (2008 I believe) when I started using a VTT to play.  Due to the obvious licensing issues, early versions of D&D/AD&D weren’t really playable on that system, and C&C came closest to recreating 1e for the group I was running.  After a short time, I really learned to adopt the game as the rightful heir and successor to 1e.  One of the nice things was that I could reference old source materials like Keep on the Borderlands or Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth and run them pretty much as written as long as I flipped AC to ascending.

Yes, I know it had ascending AC.  It had some differences, many of which I thought were pretty darn positive and overall enhance/smoothed play as opposed to ruining it.  This isn’t a C&C review, but if you’re interested there is a really great in-depth review of the system over on RPGmusings which you should definitely check out.

What I REALLY liked about C&C as a player (and DM) was one of it’s multi-classing option, Class & a Half.  Rather than try and sum it up, I’m going to post it below so you can read it in it’s entirety.  A few things will become quickly apparent after reading.

  1. Your PC will not suffer the traditional level lag felt by 1e multi-classing.  Characters who M-C still require more XP to do so, but the cost is lower and so staying on-par with the rest of the party isn’t too difficult.  
  2. 1st level is still 1st level.  With level 0 in your second class, you are on the same playing field as the others in the group...precarious ground indeed!
  3. This method looks ALOT like the house-ruled multi-classing many of us pulled together after all the confusion and opaqueness provided in the 1e texts.

As a player I have two go-to multi-class characters.  I will often play a Cleric/Magic-user who worships a god/goddess of magic (obviously).  This is usually a popular character among the other players who don’t like playing spell-slingers for one reason or another.

My other go-to is the Thief/Magic-user, who allows me to fulfill my Grey Mouser-ness.  He may not fight on the front lines, but he is more often than not the reason that the party stays intact and alive, even if they don’t always know or acknowledge it.

What do you think of multi-classing?  How do you mod it?  More importantly, what are your favorite Multi-classes to run?


The Class and a Half system allows the player to choose one class for
his character, and supplement it with some of the abilities of another.
The player picks two classes; one will be designated the principal
class, and will essentially be the character’s “real” class. The other
will be designated the supporting class. For example, a character
combining fighter and wizard classes could choose to be either a
fighter who knows a few spells, or he could choose to be a wizard
with some training in armor and weapons. Character will advance
in the supporting class, and perform skill checks of that class, at half
the rate of the principal class. A first level character would have the
abilities of the supporting class at level zero.

Experience points needed for level advancement are determined by
adding the XP of the principal class to one half the XP of the supporting
class. Hit die is determined by averaging the dice of the two classes,
rounding in the direction of the principal class, or see the table below.

The concept of the Class and a Half is that the character is
considered a single, enhanced class. Traditional multi-class systems
(usually the only way to gain the abilities of two classes) generally
advance the character equally (and irrevocably) in the two classes,
at a heavy cost of XP and a thinning of the hit points. In many cases,
the character cannot combine the abilities of the two classes. All in
all, very discouraging. Who wants to play a fighter-wizard who has to
take his armor off every time he casts a spell?
This system allows a more lenient manner of combining these abilities,
in the spirit of creating new class concepts that, hopefully, are appealing
without being too powerful.

QuiCk rules:
1. Rule One: The Castle Keeper is the ultimate arbiter of which
classes can be combined and how they are combined. The Castle
Keeper can (and should) amend the rules to fit their needs and their
restrictions trump any rules presented here.
2. Primary Attribute: The character only needs the prime attribute of
his principal class.
3. BtH: The character uses the best to hit bonus, and best weapon
proficiency list.
4. Armor: There are some armor restrictions. They are as follows:
The character may only use a shield if allowed by the principal class.
Wizard or illusionist supported by an armor proficient class may cast
spells while armored, however, any spells which allow a save are granted a
bonus to the save equal to the base AC bonus of the spell-caster’s armor.
This principle also applies to druids who wear metal armor.
Wizard or illusionist supporting an armor proficient class cannot cast
spells which directly cause damage, or allow a save, while wearing armor.
This principal applies to druids wearing metal armor.
Monk aligned with an armor proficient class may use his unarmed attack
ability, iron fists and stunning attack while armored, but not unarmored
defense, and he receives a penalty to his attack equal to one half the base
AC bonus of the armor. Monk supported by an armor proficient class
may also use iron body, feign death and iron mind. All other abilities are
prohibited while armored. (Use this scratch test: if the monk can do it
while tied up, he can do it armored).
Rogue or assassin plus a class proficient in heavier armor may wear armor
with up to a base +3 to AC without penalty to class abilities affected by
armor. Penalties are determined by value over +3.
Barbarians may not use primeval instincts while wearing armor usually
prohibited by the class.
Rangers may not use scale or move silently while wearing armor usually
prohibited by the class.
5. Class Abilities: The class and a half’s supporting class abilities are
gained, or not gained, as follows:
Rogue, assassin, cleric, wizard, and illusionist gain all abilities.
Fighter supporting gains weapon specialization, but he must specialize
in a weapon allowed by the principal class. He does not gain combat
dominance or extra attack.
Ranger supporting gains all abilities except combat marauder and favored enemy.
Barbarian supporting gains combat sense, deer-stalker, and primeval
instincts, but no other abilities.
Monk supporting gains hand-to-hand combat (including secondary
attacks at high level), stunning attack, and iron fists, but no other abilities.
Druid supporting gains all abilities except totem shape (unless a ranger or
barbarian), nor does he know the secret druidic language.
Knight supporting only gains horsemanship abilities, but is not bound by
any Virtues or Codes.
Paladin may only be taken as a principal class.
Bard supporting does not gain fascinate or exhort greatness.
6. Class Combinations must follow the following restrictions:
Fighter, ranger, cleric, bard, and monk may align with any other class.
Rogue and assassin may not support knight or paladin.
Barbarian may not support knight, or align with wizard or illusionist.
Wizard, illusionist, or druid can only support knight or paladin if the
character is an elf or half-elf of elven lineage.
Other class combinations may require some justification, and some are
less than practical. For example, using a fighter to support knight or
paladin. The gain is not worth the cost in experience.

Monday, October 16, 2017

How Deep do You Go?

"RalfHuels (photographer), Anja Arenz, Chris Kunz, Dossmo, Niamh, Paolo Tratzky, Svenja Schoenmackers / CC BY-SA 4.0

Last night was the first time I’d played for some time.  Life, work, family, and my newfound passion for photography have really cut deeply into my game time, and when it was time to play I was juiced!  It had been gnawing at me for a while now, the fact that other things had injected themselves into game time.  Once again it was time to shine, to slip into the skin of my alter ego and play pretend with those guys who get it, get me.

This game that I’ve been popping in and out of as time allowed has been a very different experience for me on a number of levels.  Firstly, I was playing 5e.  My good friend IRL and online had decided to switch gears and give running a pregen’d 5e campaign a go, so we were going to give Storm King’s Thunder a go.  I wasn’t all that excited about moving on from C&C, which we had been playing for many years regardless of who was running.  It was the allure of a completely available set of tools in Fantasy Grounds that was the allure for him, reducing the prep time to simply reviewing the material and then running.

For me, switching gears to this system vs. more OSR systems was problematic.  I have issues with 5e as both a system and a mindset, but I’m not going to relive that here.  If you want to read about my thoughts on this, you can check them out here.  Suffice it to say that for the sake of friendship I’m willing to move into an uncomfortable place and try something that seems distasteful.  Am I now in love with 5e?  Nope.  I’d still rather play the games I played back in the 80’s.  What I do like is the group, the people, my friends.  So I play.

I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to play the same couple of races most frequently.  I do half-elf and dwarf.  Those are my go-to’s.  Perhaps there are aspects of my psyche that feel a connection that’s closest to what these two races can portray.  Have I played a halfling, gnome, a human, or a half-orc?  Sure.  I like to stretch my role playing legs a bit now and again.  Elf?  Once in a blue, yeah.  What hasn’t been all that interesting for me (outside of a one-off experiment) was playing a more extreme/monster-style race.  Not a fan of the Dragonborn.  Don’t like the Tiefling.  Forget it.  Not. For. Me.  It can be fun to play a bunch of trolls, or a dragon in human form, or something very far from center, but I have found that beyond the short side-trip of a game it’s too hard to maintain over time and keep it fun and interesting.  The basic races help ground the play, give it a cohesive and connected place to return to regardless of how weird, strange, freaky, or LSD-trippy the rest of the game world becomes.

Until this game.

After some discussion with the DM, I had been swayed to move very far outside my wheelhouse and play a Malison, an offshoot Yuan-ti with the upper body of a snake and below the pecs, a man.  A snake minotaur.  A creature who was not going to have an easy time buying fresh food at the market or haggling for some armor.

Now, I’m not sure how you play.  Everyone goes at it a bit differently, but I’m a big proponent of filling the shoes of my PC in every way I can.  For instance, when I play a dwarf I usually will give them a vocal affectation, something gruff or grumbly.  I play my dwarves dour, sour, and full of power.  I draw from the dwarves of my favorite literary sources, a certain archetype that I find appealing because I get it.  I get a race who feels their honor deep to the bone.  There is an understanding that many things can be tolerated as long as there is gold in my purse and the promise of more.  Living underground creates a certain disposition that draws me in, and when I’m playing a dwarf, for those few hours I’m a dwarf.  I play deep.

This Malison character was a mystery to me.  There’s not literary reference for me to use with a PC that’s half snake, half man.  How do Yuan-ti live?  What motivates them?  I had no clue.  What I did know was two things.  One, when he talked, he had to hiss.  Snakes hiss.  Two, he was an outcast.  This was not a member of Yuan-ti society, and quite honestly I don’t think he has a clue about them or their culture.  He was raised (for the most part) by an outsider, a normal.  This grounded him enough that he could interact with the group and not deviate too far from their motivations and behaviors.  I would play him neutral with good tendencies.  He would be a bit aloof, since snakes are primarily solitary hunters.  His class would be fighter, but his race dictated a leaning towards the mystical so I would use Eldritch Knight as his martial Archetype.  The challenge here was to get inside this guys head, through his scaly dry skull and play him unlike any character I had played before.  He was a nice guy, but creepy.

During the game I hissed.  Alot.  Every time I saw an opportunity to extend my s’s, I took it.

Not everyone I play with, or have played with, cares about the portrayal of their character in a deep or meaningful way.  To many players, the PC is a collection of stats, a game piece on the board.  This is fine.  It’s certainly a valid way to play the game.  Other folks put a bit of themselves into each character, and any or no level of personal investment if fine as well. There’s no wrong way to play unless what you are doing ends up being so disruptive that in the end, nothing gets accomplished (which happens).

If you ARE a person for whom the PC is a game piece, I would urge you to give a moment of your time and invest a bit of your creative energy to role playing your character a bit.  Maybe write up a quick background.  Perhaps just decide on his/her motivation.  Maybe drop in an odd affect, a limp, a tick, a bad habit.  It becomes easier with time and it has an infectiousness that spreads quickly to those around you.

If you go a little deeper, you might find your enjoyment of the game is increased exponentially.  Most folks can’t stay ‘in character’ the entire game.  Some people can but I can’t.  There are moments I’m the player, and moments I’m the character.  I don’t see a problem with this.

How deep do you go?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

City Tricksters: Metro Monsters for Urban Encounters

It's been a while since I've posted a monster, so I thought I'd drop one or two today.  There are many times where I wish I could draw/illustrate these beasties, and this is certainly one of those times.  Nothing beats a session or two in a city or town, not just to re-up on rope, rations, and rapiers but because anything can happen in the city!  As a hub of humanity, it also attracts those creatures who feed on humanity both literally and figuratively.

 Street Urchin

Living by the sea has some wonderful advantages.  A port of call often means a thriving trade, as well as access to many unique and wonderful items that larger cities on the interior may not easily have available.  Life near the sea is said to be restorative to one’s health, the salt air a panacea to many of lifes ailments.  Choosing to live by the sea also means that a person's diet usually includes much of the bounty of the sea.  Fishing boats fill their nets with all manner of meaty, delicious fish, crustaceans, and shellfish that find their way to the tables of even the poorest of folk.  The sea sustains life, not only below its dark surface but a wonderful and near-constant harvest allows life on land to flourish too.

Of course there are things beneath the waves that look upon us similarly, and the dangerous and always-hungry Street Urchin is just such a denizen of the depths.  As darkness falls upon the water, the Street Urchin creeps from the breaking waves and makes its way into the towns and cities that lay scattered about the shoreline.  In the darkness, the silhouette of the Street Urchin resembles that of a young child, perhaps aged five or six.  The creature is hungry, and seeks a solitary victim if possible.  A silent killer, the Street Urchin blends in so that it can attack, feed, and retreat back to the sea. It is with this camouflage that the creature lures prey, and once in range it attacks.  The spines are dark,short, and filled with a venom that can paralyze its victim almost instantly. The Street Urchin will begin to shake violently if it senses prey is within range, and as it does this the loose spines shoot out in all directions.

Each attack contains many flying spines, and a hit indicates that 1d10 spines have struck the victim.  It only takes a single spine to inject enough venom to paralyze its prey, and once the Street Urchin senses it has made a successful attack it will begin to move towards the paralyzed victim and reach out as if to hug them, but it will instead insert more spines with which to feed.

This Feed Attack is at +3 to hit and inflicts 3d6 damage.  The Street Urchin will remain attached for 3 rounds before detaching (or sooner if the victim’s total HP is reduced to 0), and will then make it’s way back to the sea.

AD&D 1e

Frequency: rare
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 5
Move: 1”
Hit Dice: 3
% in Lair: N/A
Number of Attacks: 1
Damage/Attack: 1d2/spine
Special Attacks: Feed
Special Defenses: none
Magic Resistance: N/A
Intelligence: Animal
Alignment: Neutral
Size: S
Psionic Ability: nil

Swords & Wizardry

Hit Dice: 3d10
Armor Class: 5 [15]
Attacks: 1
Special: Magic resistance N/A
Move: 1
Saving Throw: 15
Alignment: Neutral

Challenge Level/XP:  3/300

Thief's Hand

The King’s Adjudicator Themonius had a busy life travelling from town to town throughout the four kingdoms dispensing his majesty's justice.  Primarily he concerned himself with petty crimes, and chief among these was thievery.  Rarely did he stop in a town where some ne’er do well hadn’t been caught on the nick, and so it was normal to administer the only punishment for such crimes, the removal of the right hand.

In order to make the process quick and simple, and to ensure that the punished received fair, swift, and reasonable justice, Themonius brought with him on his journeys a special travel-sized guillotine.  Now, what was special about this device wasn’t its small size (which was indeed unusual) but instead its nature.  This guillotine was magical, a device of strange and ancient sorcery that the Adjudicator found expeditious and reasonable, facts pointed out to him by the swarthy eastern fellow who had sold him the small, magical wonder at the market square in Elbion many years before.  Themonius thought the price rather low for such a unique wonder, but haggled nonetheless and paid a pittance for a contraption of such usefulness to one in his line of work.

What Themonius did NOT realize was the dual nature of the guillotine.  Of course it made a single, clean cut at the wrist, removing the hand from its mother-appendage quickly and cleanly, but it did so without blood, healing the wound almost immediately.  Pain was minimal, and in fact the Adjudicator and his punishment were well known among the thieves of the four kingdoms, and often requested.  It was certainly better than the chop often given with rusty axe or sword blade, and if the blood loss didn’t kill you, then the infection often later did.

What the Justice did NOT realize is what would happen just a few short hours after the hand was removed and the sun left the sky.  Sometimes thrown aside, other times buried, the severed hand would rise, imbued with a sorcerous life all its own!   

Thieves Hands never stop stealing, as these sneaky creatures creep about the town or city driven by magic to ‘acquire’ coins, jewelry, and other precious items.  Thieving Hands will usually make their ‘lair’ in a dark dungeon or in the attic of an unsuspecting target, and will rarely make themselves known.  They will, however, attack any creature that attempts to take something from their treasure horde, which they will defend aggressively.

Memory is a strange thing, and these creatures retain much of their previous life in the form of thieves skills. Thief’s Hands have access to a range of Thief skills as per the chart below:

A cunning wizard might coax a Thief’s Hand into a familiar….

AD&D 1e

Frequency: rare
No. Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 2
Move: 10” (100’')
Hit Dice: 1
% in Lair: 10%
Number of Attacks: 2 Claw
Damage/Attack: 1d4 +1/1d4 +1
Special Attacks: Corrosive touch
Special Defenses: +1 or Better Weapon to hit, ½ damage from fire,acid,electric
Magic Resistance: 75%
Intelligence: Average to High
Alignment: Neutral
Size: M
Psionic Ability: nil

Swords & Wizardry

Hit Dice: 1d10
Armor Class: -1 [21]
Attacks: 2 claws (1d4+1)
Special: Magic resistance (75%), +1 or better magic weapon needed to hit, ½ damage from fire,acid,electric
Move: 9
Saving Throw: 8
Alignment: Chaos
Challenge Level/XP:  6/500