The Right Tools For The Job

I spent most of the past weekend finishing up the player-facing equipment document for my B/X Essentials campaign. I went through the exercise because the equipment list for B/X D&D is terse for my purposes, because I intend to revise it with simpler-than-RAW encumbrance and other house rules down the road & because experience has taught me it’s good to have a few copies of more easily-referenced gear for when the game transitions to “shopping mode.” I lifted items from The Nightmares Underneath, Advanced Labyrinth Lord , Beyond the Wall and many others.

I had a few thoughts about this process & thought I’d share some while they’re fresh in my mind. No doubt at least one of these observations have been made ad nauseam in the blog-o-sphere over the last decade.

The Humble Crowbar

As written, this item costs and weighs more than a short sword and yet has no explicit mechanical benefit. From B/X Essentials and some versions of Expert D&D it’s mentioned as being used for prying open objects like chests or windows. It’s not clear whether an adventurer even needs one to be able to force open a stuck door. I decided to clarify and rule on this; you can open a stuck door w/o a crowbar, but the base chance (2-in-6) falls to 1-in-6, so the base chance assumes you’ve got one.

Five Gold Garlic

Garlic is found in the Expert edition of the game and in B/X Essentials’ equipment list. It would be pretty harrowing for Basic level (1-3) adventurers to run across a vampire, but one never knows. Neither tell you on the player-facing side what garlic does. I’d been adding some explanatory details for my list, but decided not clarifying garlic’s potential benefits in the equipment manifest was a good creative choice. What amused me is that garlic costs approximately 250 times what one might expect given it’s difficult to not grow garlic, in our world at least.

I’ve read blog posts and listened to podcasts about following some of D&D rules’ peculiarities to their seemingly illogical conclusions rather than ignoring them or house-ruling them away. Judd Karlman talked about this with alignment languages recently on Daydreaming about Dragons. “That kid was born speaking Evil…”

What does it mean that garlic costs two orders of magnitude more than you might expect? Has a local vampire lord found some way to curse the soil for leagues around so that garlic takes an especially green thumb and or magics to nurture? Something like that sounds fun. I’d already been borrowing lots of things from Dolmenwood for my game, so maybe someone like this guy is behind this garlic price-fixing scheme.

Holy Symbols - You Get What You Pay For

I found it curious that Moldvay D&D doesn’t seem to provide any indication as to whether a holy symbol is necessary or how it might be used beyond devotional or status purposes. Such a symbol costs 25 gp which is quite a bit for a beginning Cleric who might also like to afford some other protections. Turning to Expert D&D, I find a holy symbol is “Used in turning undead.” The B/X Essentials book I’m using as my base indicates that “a cleric must carry a holy symbol.” As I’m making equipment packages & would like even a relatively impoverished acolyte to be able to afford a symbol of their faith along with some armor and weapons, I’m providing a wooden holy symbol option that costs only 1 gp, but has the disadvantage of a -1 to their 2d6 ability to Turn Undead. I’m guessing the 25 gp version might be made of something like silver and that such metals are for some reason more effective in warding off the undead. I think I may have stolen this “-1 for wooden symbols” from some blog or another, but arrived at this at least two years ago and have no idea by now where it might have come from. I think for my game holy symbols might be something more like a religious icon of some sort, some weighty object.

Silver and Wolfsbane

Engraving, 18th cent. depicting a scene from Johann Geiler von Kaisersberg's  Die Emeis  (1516)

Engraving, 18th cent. depicting a scene from Johann Geiler von Kaisersberg's Die Emeis (1516)

D&D monster entries indicate that lycanthropes, i.e. werewolves and such, may only be harmed by silver or magic weapons when they’re in their animal form. The literary origin of this vulnerability to silver apparently comes only recently from 19th century German folklore. On a weapon and equipment list as concise Moldvay D&D’s, I find myself wondering that a full three items, silver arrows, silver daggers & wolfsbane, are about the killing and/or driving off of shapeshifters. If one had only page 12 from the 1981 edition of the game, one might guess its primary mode of play was in hunting werewolves. Was there some Appendix N fantasy fiction especially concerned with this kind of adventure?

I recall playing a Solomon Kane / Van Helsing-like character in 4th edition D&D. The GM, catering to my concept, threw some recurring wererats at us in the several sessions. Apart from that, I don’t actually recall any particularly memorable D&D arcs over the years that involved lycanthropes, either as a GM or a player and feel like I may have missed something there. Moldvay Basic details nearly as many kinds of were-creatures (five) as it does dragons (six)! In using B/X: Essentials and in the world-building for my game, I’m wanting to get at something cardinal to the origins of the hobby, so werewolves will be a going concern. Some werebears might also be appropriate.

In some Russian folklore, a werewolf is called an oborot (“one transformed”) and there’s an evocative ritual to become one involving circling a tree and stabbing it with a copper knife while chanting a peculiar rite. That’s a great seed for an adventure.

In the B10 Night’s Dark Terror module I’m hoping to incorporate, there’re a couple of werewolves named Bailakask & Kalkask that are vital to end of finding some important ruins along the Volaga river.

Some depictions of the grand prince of Kiev, Vseslav of Polotsk, had him not only as a sorcerer, but as a werewolf. More fodder.

The silver arrows and dagger of the classic equipment list also reminded me briefly of 3rd edition D&D’s damage resistance mechanic & how it did actually lead in one campaign to that edition’s mostly apocryphal “golf bag of weapons” i.e. one silvered weapon, one cold iron one for fey, a bludgeoning weapon for undead, etc. Good times.