Category Archives: AD&D

UCON 2014 Impressions

I had fun at UCON and wish I had had the ability to be there the whole weekend, instead of the whole day. I did get tired and ran out of steam at about 7:00 pm, so I made the 2 hour derive home. Thankfully, the worst of the weather did not impact the interstate. This was my third con for 2014. Before this year, I had not been to a con in about 30 years.

I got there about 7:45 registration opened at 8:00. I took a chance and asked if I could get my stuff, and they were kind enough to accommodate me. I had pre-registered and prepaid for the day, so all they had to do was check my ID and have me sign something. I ordered a UCON bag, in case I needed it.

I then looked around to find where the two games I had signed up would be, they were in the same conference room at different tables. I had about and hour to kill before my first game at 9:00.

At 8:45 I worked my way back to the conference room, which was by now open, and found the table for Keep on the Borderlands, with S&W Rules. I had never player this module, or had no recollection of it, if I did. I started with Holme’s Blue Box, and modules were not a thing my brother and I could afford, so we only played modules when friends provided them. We had a father, John, and his ten year old son, Jack. This was Jack’s first con game. The other two players were friends Frank and Michael. Our DM was Forest Ray. We had a good time. We were given max hit points and our magic user, John’s character, was allowed to be third level. the magic user also hired a lantern bearer. Other than the power boost from the magic user and lots of sleep spells, we did very well in combat and the DM could not hit us for anything. We did have a couple of people get hit, but it was not knock down damage. Even if we had not had the extra spells of the magic user, we would have still done very well. Jack got the UCON token to redeem for a prize since this was his first game at a con. It was fun, but I can see where a lot of younger players would misunderstand game design and every player end up with a magic weapon or item of some sort. If there is a closet with a magic sword for every fighter in the group and other things, why aren’t the orcs using them on the players? In three hours we rolled up characters and got past the bandits, kobolds, and orcs. It was fun and I would have liked to keep going.

Next I viewed the vendor area. It was not very big at all. I had expected there to be more vendors there, but there was a bit of something for everyone.

I bought some things that I had not planned to by, but isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be at conventions? I had to have something to put in my UCON bag.

I picked up Gygax Magazine No. 2 at the Pacesetter Booth, that’s all they had. I have the PDFs but like having a real one. I wished I had the chessmen covers, those are too cool and remind me of the ones on Dragon, by the same artist. I wish I had my old collection of Dragon Magazine.

At Newera Enterprises, ran by Roy B. Snyder, I found a Blue Box Basic D&D Manual. This is what I started with. I gave my original to my youngest brother. But over the years, found myself wanting one.

I also picked up some things that I never owned back in the day: the red box basic rules that has a module in it – Keep on the Borderlands; the blue cover Expert Rules and red cover Player’s Manual with a Dungeon Master’s Handbook.

I spoke with Roy for awhile and found out that he live in Kalamazoo, and that one of the police officers in the village where I live has written for Castles & Crusades. It’s a small world. I had no idea.

UCON 2014L oot
UCON 2014L oot

While in the dealer room, I way a guy with this awesome shirt, and he was kind enough to let me take a picture of it.

Call Chulhu
Call Chulhu

I then introduced myself to Tim Snyder, of The Savage Afterworld, who was manning the Goblinoid Games booth. Tim sums up our conversation on his blog. Yes, Tim, it was good to meet you. One thing I will mention, is that it was priceless to see Tim’s reaction that I played Keep on the Borderlands for the first time that morning. [Tim – The Village of Hommlet is the module I was struggling to recall the name.]

From 2:00 – 6:00 I played in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, DM’s by Shawn Dry. This was ran as three four hour sessions, so one player could go through the entire adventure, if they signed up for all three sessions. I played a high level priest of Odin. I had played this module once way back in high school, so I remembered bits and pieces. As the DM showed us pictures of the creatures and other things we were finding, I recalled more of it. This was the middle session, and we had done well. I was having such a good time, I wanted to play in the next session. We had one character die, and mine got knocked down. We thought for sure we had a TPK on our hands, but we prevailed and survived for the next round of players to finish the module.

My only real complaint, it that on the website for UCON when I signed up, it was not clear playing through the Peaks module was an all day thing. I did try to sign up for the third session online before I knew this, but it and the first session filled up before the second. I did go downstairs and try to sign up for the third session, having forgotten it was already filled. I did not think to ask about an “alternate” ticket, in case someone didn’t show up. The person assisting me did not ask if I was interested in another session at that time, and I did not think to ask. It didn’t help that some guy came up asking her about shirts in the middle of her helping me, so she was well distracted, as was I. (What is it about people and their social skills and waiting their turn? I find this in places other than cons, usually at convenience stores all the time where the person behind me is putting their stuff on the counter around me, before I can put my change or my receipt in my wallet and put away my wallet and grab my stuff and get out of the way.)

I would suggest that the website show filled sessions in red or whatever color it is that works for color blind people, so one can see at a glance which ones are still available. That doesn’t mean one can buy the “alternate” tickets in case someone is a no show. Also if any games have the potential to be an all day thing, make that clear, so one can decide if they want to play the whole thing or just a portion. I would gladly play another module with Shawn as DM.

My plan was to meet others I have met and followed in online RPG settings, but I ran out of steam too soon. It is hard to fit all one wants to do into a single day at a three day con.

I was impressed by this con. It was big enough to have lots for everyone. For the board game set, the ball room was filled with tables. I would say 50+ tables. The venue was big enough to accommodate the attendees with only momentary crowds in a couple of places and not the press of a horde, like at GenCon. There were all kinds of RPGs, many I had never heard of. I loved that they had an OSR track. There were several DMs using their Dave Trampier cover AD&D DM screens.

I am already looking to next year. I plan to get Friday off so I can be present from the beginning, and to get Monday off so I have a day to rest. I will also get a room, so I don’t have to deal with all the driving and weather. I just wish I didn’t have to wait until January to put in the request at work.


Gold vs. Silver Standard

NOTE: I went down the Wikipedia rabbit hole on this one – Wikipedia or a regular Encyclopedia is good for that when I find something I want to learn more about. Short version, there would be about 100 Roman gold Solidi in a US pound. In the early Roman empire the standard silver coin, the Denarius was a day’s wage for an unskilled laborer. A system where silver is the standard coin of trade would require one to determine how much that would buy and what the fractions of a silver piece, i.e. copper pieces, would buy.

This was mentioned in the past week and has come up on various RPG blogs over the years. Gold as the main coin is the default in AD&D. The weight of the coins is ten to the pound, which would be huge coins.

I was reading up on ancient Roman coins last week on Wikipedia, and the Romans used 72 coins to the pound of gold, for the Solidus. Another gold coin, the Aureus, was valued at 25 silver denarii, and its mass in relation to the Roman pound went from 1/45 under Nero (7.3 g) to 1/50 under Caracalla. The Solidus was a new coin under Diocletian and started at 1/60 of a Roman pound and equal to 1,000 denarii, under Constantine it had the 1/72 pound and was worth 275,000 of the massively debased denarii. In later years the Solidus equaled 4.6 MILLION denarii. The aureus was about the same size as a denarius, but weighed more due to the higher density of gold. They had copper and bronze coins that were common, but were debased just as severely as the denarius. This example shows that the price sheet in AD&D or other FRPGs is a snapshot in time, and as the economy is flooded with loot, prices should go up, if you want to model reality that closely.

The fantasy vs. reality, is that in the real world it is estimated that all the gold ever mined would make a cube of almost 21 meters on a side. The pile of loot Smaug has and other depictions of dragons has could not all be gold, based on the real world. Silver is another matter, I found this graphic that illustrates the amount of various sizes and weights of gold and silver and compares the size of all the gold every mined vs. all the silver ever mined. The ratio of gold mined to silver mined is 1:10.48 in modern times. Prior to current methods the ratio was about 1:8.52, and historically 1 ounce of gold has had the power to purchase 15 ounces of gold. Now, as of March, 2014, an ounce of gold is valued at over 64 ounces of silver.

However, in the ancient world, the silver coin was the standard. It was a day’s wages for an unskilled laborer. What I found interesting, is the for Roman soldiers, their annual pay in the Republic was 112.5 denarii per year, and was raised to 225 denarii a year by Julius Caesar; and they had to pay for their own food and arms. Centurians’ pay varied under Augustus from  3,750 denarii and the highest ranking, 15,000 denarii a year.

Depending on which era’s size and value of coin you wish to use in your game, or make your own standard; you can greatly vary the number of coins and the amount of wealth a single person can carry. In AD&D 1,000 coins weighs 100 pounds. A roll of quarters contains 40 quarters and weight 8 ounces, or 80 quarters to the pound. That would make 1,000 quarters weigh 12.5 pounds. Based on a modern pound, with 16 ounces, being 453.592 grams, or 28.3495 grams to the ounce, and a Roman pound being 328.9 grams with 12 ounces, each 27.4083 grams. This makes the Roman pound 72.5% of the modern pound, meaning that 1,000 quarter would weigh 17.24 Roman pounds. Similarly, a gold solidus would be 1/100 (1/100.798) of a US pound. With 100 gold solidi in a US pound, 1,000 of them would only be 10 pounds. Thus it would take 10,000 coins of this size to equal 100 pounds. This makes the ability to carry a large number of coins and large amount of wealth somewhat easier. Gems and jewels would still be a more compact means of carrying a large amount of wealth great distances.

A quarter has a diameter of 24.26 mm and is 5.67 g. Based on Roman coins of about the same era, both the Aureus 7 g and Solidus 4.5 g gold coins were about 20 mm. The Denarius was about 19mm and was about 3g, about the size of a penny – 19.05 mm and 2.5 g. The sestertius was about 35 mm and 20.3 g. A half dollar is 30.61 mm and 11.34 grams. The Eisenhower “silver” dollar is 38.5 mm and 22.7 g with a copper core and a copper/nickel cladding. A Morgan silver dollar is 38.1 mm and 26.73 g, so 0.4 mm smaller but just over 4 grams more massive, thus the heft if you pick up a “silver” dollar and a silver dollar.

BTW – The Troy pound is 373.241 grams with 12 ounces, Troy weight is used for precious metals. This is why a pound of feathers weighs more than a pound of gold if each is measured with their usual method and not on the same standard.

I have played in games with the default AD&D coinage system, and games with a silver standard of ten silver to one gold and ten copper to one silver and platinum and electrum are rare or non-existent, having only been used by the ancients.

My current game uses this silver standard with ten silver to a gold and ten copper to a silver. However, I have been re-thinking that. Yes, it is easy and decimalization makes the math easy. However, I am thinking about a new silver standard with 1 gold = 100 silver and 1 copper = 100 silver. That makes the copper nearly worthless, so maybe more like 50 silver in a gold and 20 copper in a silver.

Something to think about.

With 1 silver = to a day’s wage for an unskilled laborer, the value of a copper would need to be a reasonable breakdown of that. How many loaves of bread can that buy? Can a single silver buy enough to feed a family? How big of a family? A family of four, six, bigger?

The drawback to fiddling with the money system, is that you have to revise the price sheet to accurately reflect the new prices. Without a quick way, like a spreadsheet to fiddle with the relative value of each coin to the other, it becomes tedium.

[EDIT 11/16/2014 – Removed last line to remove incorrect information and a very confusing sentence.]

Magic Shops

Tenkar has a post asking about Magic Shops. My reply grew as I thought of things to add, so I had to write a post, as I needed one for today anyway.

Game balance and maintaining a challenge for players is the key here.

Magic shops are only places where one can acquire inks (from a magical or fantastic creature, like a giant squid’s ink, or the blood of a troll), quills (from a magic creature), paper/vellum/papyrus for scrolls, and some standard items/ingredients for spells. Any special/unique/plot hook worthy ingredients are not to be found.

There would be a market for wizards and others for body parts of various creatures for potions of control, strength, etc. How common is it for busy wizards to trade scrolls, potions, knowledge, etc. for a “favor“, choice of found magic items, body parts, and a lot of gold or gems/jewelry?

Any place with a lot of magic items/ingredients is either a wizard’s tower, occupied, or long “abandoned”, a temple or shrine, or a tomb or dungeon.

All the really good stuff, the players have to find, or find someone who has something they want/need and is willing to trade; or live long enough to have the party wizard make it.

In AD&D 7th level is awesome because scrolls can be made, with the proper materials. Also, potions can be made by wizards and illusionists with the help of an Alchemist. This makes potions, other than healing, hard to come by.

Even holy water in AD&D has rules for how much can be made and the minimum 5th level cleric needed for all the requisite spells. Holy water can be hard to come by if the cleric at the local village shrine is not high enough level or does not possess the appropriate font.

While magic was once common in the ancient world, and many of its marvels still exist and function. Knowledge of all its features and functions are lost to time, or rare manuscripts, or word of mouth teaching from one wizard to the next.

Thus adventurers have to go where they hope there are unexplored ancient ruins, in hopes of finding the things they need to reach a level where they can make their own items or easily make deals to get the good stuff from NPCs.

I have played in games where one could buy anything they wanted, and it overpowered the game and the DM ended up scrapping the campaign and launching a new one that was low magic.

I find it much more interesting to have to figure out how to survive in a low magic campaign where wizards are reluctant to share fireball and lightning bolt with up and coming wizards. What kind of favor is needed to get access to these items?

While magic wands,rods, and staves are fairly common in my brother’s game, finding one that is permanent is rare. If one makes a wand of fireballs, if the wand is not re-charged with at least one fireball within 24 hours, it ceases to be a magic wand. I have a character with a wand of ice that can only do wall of ice, because of this. It still has its uses, but is not the awesome instrument of icy death it once was. This forces much more judicious use of these items. One can blast the enemy into submission, but at what cost?

In my brother’s game, another player finally reached archmage, 18th level, via an ioun stone, and made a very complex staff, that my brother declared is an artifact, due to permanency and very good rolls by the player for the success of most of the spells. It took a lot of time in game, a lot of gold, and a lot of other ingredients and preparations. The accomplishments of this player are much more impressive than a magic rich environment where powerful things are easily required. Back in the early days, I knew players that had archmages, high priests, lords, etc. after a few sessions. Monty Haul syndrome isn’t prevalent among experienced DMs, but can suck a lot of fun out of it.

Even an alchemist making certain kinds of potions should be regulated so that players can’t just buy their way into everything. Even if there were such things, how long until the alchemist is out of ingredients to make more healing potions, or they become scarce and the price goes up?

Or as Gygax advises in the DMG, a huge influx of coin from the dungeons eventually inflates the cost of goods and services?

I am sure one can have a high magic campaign where there is balance, but for me, that would take a lot of thought and effort to plan and keep up with it all and assure a balance.

I do like a Dragon Magazine article that discussed a high level fighter going out to fight a dragon and limping back victorious, but his magic weapon and shield failed their saves, and are no more. I don’t recall which one it was as that was probably 30+ years ago that I read it, but the imagery stuck. That would bring balance with either a high or low magic campaign. One big, bad, nasty dragon gone, two or more permanent magic items destroyed in the fight, along with healing potions, henchmen and hirelings.

If magic is easily acquired, it should be easily lost. Even magic items that are acquired with great difficulty can be easily lost.

A halfling fighter/thief with a girdle of storm giant strength, gauntlets of ogre power, a ring of regeneration, and a +2 sword is nearly invincible in melee. The back stab from such a character is a death blow to the majority of creatures on the receiving end. Who needs to pick locks on doors when you can just run through them? It takes some of the challenge and fun out of it, unless the DM can present challenges, like an invasion of a lot of giants, or massive hordes of orc, or trolls, etc. The DM must give a challenge equal to the power available to the players, or it can become the same old boring slog. A magic shop where one can buy any item in the book, makes that challenge harder to maintain over time in my experience.

The RPG Scene In E.T.

The one line I remember from E.T, besides “ouch”, “E li ott” and “I’ll be right here.”, is “Negative Charisma!” My friends and I all laughed at that, as Dieties and Demigods had already come out and we all knew about negative charisma.

Thanks to OSR Today, I was directed to an article about the game scene at Dungeons & Digressions, and a second article at Geeky Rant about the role of D&D in the making of the movie.

Unboxing My First Order From Wayne’s Books

I ordered a Dieties & Demigods with the Cthulhu and Melnibone mythos from Wayne’s Books on Wednesday evening, October 29th, and it arrived on my doorstep today, Saturday, November 1st! I am sure it made it to me so quickly is that I live in the lower penninsular of Michigan, which is the Eastern Time Zone, and Wayne’s Books is in Arizona, which is in the Mountain Time Zone, so a one or two hour difference. Wayne commented on my article that it was being shipped that same day! Excellent service!

Below I will have pictures of the unboxing, the contents, and a group picture with the DDG from my son. My son got home from work about two hours after I placed my order, and gave me a belated birthday present. We had a big laugh about that!

Below you will see what you can expect when you order something from Wayne’s Books.

The self-sealing box from the USPS was also well taped with packing tape. It wasn’t coming open without some effort, and care!


My New DDG Is Here!
My New DDG Is Here!

It was packed tight with cardboard and paper grocery bags, so it had no wiggle room.

Well Packed So It Does Not Rattle
Well Packed So It Does Not Rattle

Here’s all the packing material. It is obvious that it needs to come out before the book, so the book comes out easily.

All the Packing Material
All the Packing Material

The book is in a plastic protective cover that is taped shut then placed inside a UPS padded mailing envelope.

The book itself is in a padded UPPS mailer and a plastic sleeve
The book itself is in a padded UPPS mailer and a plastic sleeve

The book before the final layer is removed. This is kind of like those Russian dolls….

The Book Itself
The Book Itself

Taped to the plastic book protector is the packing slip with a handwritten note of thanks.

Close up of Packing Slip
Close up of Packing Slip

Inside the plastic protective cover is a business card with notes on this order. This is a very good idea! Others who ship things should do this.

Wayne Includes Business Card With Notes Of Your Order
Wayne Includes Business Card With Notes Of Your Order

At first I wondered if this was a catalog, but soon saw it was a module or something. Was this a mistake? I didn’t order this!

What's This A Catalog?
What’s This A Catalog?

No, it’s not a mistake.

I didn't order this.
I didn’t order this.

Woo hoo! Free stuff! I read a couple of the Elric books way back. I don’t recall details. This looks interesting and has some cool art. I’ll add this to my reading list.

Cool! Free Stuff!
Cool! Free Stuff!

Finally, my new books side by side. The one from my son on the right, and the one I ordered on the left. The quality of the book I got from Wayne’s Books matches what he advertised, and it is in noticeably better condition than the one my son got me, but the one my son got me had a kid’s name on the front and it was obvious that it had been used at the table, or at least was well read.

My new DDGs.
My new DDGs.

The one I bought is going back in the plastic sleeve, just in case.

I really liked the art of the Cthulhu and Melniboe mythos, plus there are some cool critters and ideas in there. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to use them in my campaign world, but you never know.


My AD&D Collection – Restored!

I have mentioned elsewhere the Water Damage Incident that destroyed most of my original AD&D manuals and other game things. My character notes and campaign notes survived.

Below I will show pictures of what I was left with and then the now end results.

Two manuals, my dice bag, my miniatures, and one half of my Dave Trampier DM Screens survived.


Original Collection 1
Original Collection 1

I also had two modules, the Player Character and NPC Record Sheets, and I photocopied the Combat Calculator from Dragon Magazine, rather than cut up my magazine. (I had all the Dragon Magazines from about issue 50 to about 150 or so. I needed money and gave them to my brother. He never gave me any money, and my parents had a water leak in their basement, and all the Dragons were mush….)

Original Collection 2
Original Collection 2

I only bought one Hexagonal Mapping Booklet. I still have 6 sheets left. I could make that 7, as one has a lightly pencil drawn star chart for my footsteps into Mega Traveller. I started building a campaign about 25 years ago, and that’s all I did with it. I still have the box for that and the manuals.)

I really wish you could just go buy these like in the good old days….

Closeup Hex Sheets - 6 Left
Hexagonal Mapping Sheets – Only 6 left
Closeup PC & NPC Sheets
Player Character and NPC Record Sheets
Dragon Magazine Combat Wheel
Combat Calculator from Dragon Magazine
Inside PC & NP CSheets
Inside PC & NPC Record Sheets

I only ever bought two modules back in the day. I bought Ravenloft for the cool 3-D style maps. I bought Village Of Hommlet for a low level adventure. I have never ran either of these. If I recall correctly I have played Ravenloft. I do have several of the classic modules in PDF from DriveThruRPG, etc.

My Only Modules Ever Bought
The only modules I ever bought.

What’s not to like about these maps. I think they are cool, and like most players of RPGs, I like maps!

Ravenloft Map 1
Ravenloft Map 1


Ravenloft Map 2
Ravenloft Map 2

The saddest part, was that one of the books was the Dieties & Demigods with the Cthulhu and Melnibone mythos. Several years ago, when I decided to rebuild my collection, I soon found most of the other rule books at my FLGS. All except the DDG. Then a few days ago, I ordered the DDG with Cthulhu from Wayne’s Books. About two hours after that, my son got home from work, and gave me one as a belated birthday present.

Below is a picture of my rebuilt collection with the DDG from my son, including a Dave Trampier DM screen.

I also added the Wilderness Survival Guide and the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide, which I never had.

Also this past summer, I stopped by Table Top Game and Hobby, on my way to my baby sister’s wedding, and picked up the core book re-prints. (This is the 20th year of operation, and the owner, Phil Kilgore, who was a year or two behind me in high school, but we gamed together often back then, had customers roll a d20 for a percentage off. I rolled bad, a 2, and he let me re-roll and I got 8% off, I think. Phil said back in high school that he wanted to open his own game store, and he did.) I am keeping them in their plastic wrappers, just in case.

I also have another Player’s Handbook with the Dave Trampier cover. It is in near pristine condition, but I could not find it to include here.

I also managed to get most of the PDFs before WotC halted them. I got the Player’s Handbook, which is now unavailable since they started selling them again. I didn’t get the Oriental Adventures PDF, I don’t remember if it wasn’t available, or because I kept mis-remembering and thinking I had the book. I picked up Oriental Adventures last year, and the Fiend Folio this past spring.

Rebuilt Collection Plus 2 Books
Rebuilt Collection Plus 2 Books

Here is an inside shot, of my precious…. I mean, the birthday present from my son. Now my collection is restored and expanded.

My New DDG From David
My New DDG From David

Here is the “final” stack of my AD&D Manuals, less the like new Dave Trampier cover Player’s Handbook, and the Dieties and Demigods I order from Wayne’s Books, on Wednesday, October 29th. Of course, just after I finished uploading these pictures and putting my manuals away, the mail came with my new precious. I will write up another post with the unboxing.

My Stack Of AD&D Manuals Less One PH And one DDG
My Stack Of AD&D Manuals Less One PH And one DDG