A total noob explores BECMI: Part 1 – Abilities and classes

About a week ago I stumbled on a forum thread in which some veteran fans went through all the setting material of the Known World/Mystara setting, which had been the default setting for the B/X and BECMI editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Knowing nothing about that world I took a peek out of curiosity and quickly got very much interested. I had some vague familiarity with some retroclones based on it, mostly Adventurer Conqueror King and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and even though they looked very well made, they just seemed very weird. Very much unlike D&D as I had known it for the 10 or so years before I left it behind me.

But now I got myself really interested in that old game, mostly because it seemed pretty rules light, and the amount of complicated rules had always annoyed me the most about AD&D and made me leave behind 3rd Edition/Pathfinder and look for greener pastures. And I really hate the magic system so much that I never want to run any edition of D&D again and only play it if someone else is GM and wants to run it. But I am still very much interested in how that game really worked and what I can learn from it about running rules light games and how to make dungeon exploration as exciting as the tales I often read. So I got myself the original Basic and Expert rules as pdf and went ahead to really learn how that game actually works and was supposed to be played.

116578The first impression where so interesting that I thought about making this a series of post for other people like me, who really don’t know anything before 3rd Edition and perhaps a bit about AD&D.

Continue reading “A total noob explores BECMI: Part 1 – Abilities and classes”

Fantasy Safari: Creature Catalogue (BECMI), Part 2

Gator Man
Gator Man

A Gator Man is basically just a beefed up lizard man with the head of an aligator instead of a lzard. In actual combat, they are a lot meaner, though. Gator men stand well over 2 meters tall and at 7 Hit Dice really have a lot of hit points and good chances to hit which are well beyond what you usually get from humanoid monsters. They also swim 50% faster than human characters run, which can make them very mean ambushers. They attack with normal weapons, but these completely pale compared to their bite, which deals a massive 3d6 damage. Groups of them are usually lead by a chief, who is even bigger and meaner and has a bite that deals 4d6 damage. When encountered by low level characters, they probably simply bite their head off!


A Hephaeston is a giant for high level adventures. It’s 8 meters tall and has intimidating 25 Hit Dice, which should be well over 100 hit points. The skin of a hephaeston is like iron and gives him a very high armor class and can only be injured by magical weapons. It is completely immune to mind affecting magic, all spells of 1st and 2nd level, and fire. Though I think by the time a group of player characters has any chance to fight this guy, they probably wouldn’t attempt to hurt him with nonmagical weapons and low-level spells anyway. The amount of damage it can dish out is staggering. When attacking with a weapon, it deals 4d10 points of damage and it also has the option to attack with a free hand as well, which also deals impressive 3d10 points of damage. If that bitch slap from hell hits with an 18 or higher, the hephaeston grabs the character and smashes him into the ground for another 5d6 damage. This is so funny I wonder if anyone would ever make make a hephaeston fight with a shield. In addition, it also has the ability to levitate iron objects (to throw on people, I assume), make an iron object get red hot, or magically create a wall of solid iron. Fighting one of these guys really doesn’t sound fun. Or very fun, depending on how you look at it. Fortunately, hephaestons live alone.


The Hutaakans are probably one of the most iconic creatures of the Known World. Which means that most of you have probably never heard of them. Hutaakans are humanoids with jackal-like heads but are otherwise very similar to humans or elves. In the ancient past, they ruled over a small empire but have almost disappeard by now, with only a few groups remaining in remote mountain cities. They are not particulary strong and have no real special abilities other than being able to see in the dark and being quite sneaky. They are highly civilized and ruled by a caste of priests. Overall, they are really very similar to stereotypical elves with dog heads and priests instead of wizards. It’s mostly their place in the Known World setting that makes them popular, but as generic monster for games in other worlds there really isn’t anything remarkable about them. Continue reading “Fantasy Safari: Creature Catalogue (BECMI), Part 2”

Fantasy Safari: Creature Catalogue (BECMI), Part 1

The Creature Catalogue seems a rather strange monster book for Dungeons & Dragons at the first look. When I first saw it, it seemed even weirder than the Fiend Folio. During the 80s, there were to similar but also different games being published; one being called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the other just Dungeons & Dragons. The smaller, and less known line had no Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual, but instead came in five Box Sets named Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal, and is now most usually called BECMI for that reason. (There is also an earlier edition called B/X, because it only had the Basic and Expert rules.) AD&D became much more popular and famous, because who would want to play a light version of a game if you can also have the hardcore rules version? Also, AD&D got Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, and later Planescape, Dark Sun, and Ravenloft. The design teams for both product lines were almost completely separated and worked independent from each other, and their games developed in quite different directions. And the split happened very early back in 1978, only four years after the very first, and very bare bones edition of D&D had been released. When D&D 3rd edition came around (which really was the 8th edition of a game called D&D and we’re now at the 12th), it was based pretty much entirely on AD&D and went on where the 2nd Edition had left off.

The monsters that were created for BECMI went almost entirely ignored when there was once again only a single line of D&D books. The aranea made a few appearances, but never got a really big presence. While the nightwalker got a really cool picture in the 3rd ed. Monster Manual, it was just so incredibly powerful that I imagine it saw only very limited use. The atach and belker were put into the MM but to my knowledge never again, and the korpu made it into the MM2 with similar popularity. When you read the Fiend Folio, there are lots of weird monsters, but also a lot of well known and familiar monsters. The Creature Catalogue is a collection of most BECMI monsters that appeared in adventure modules and other supplements up to that date and I think none of them would be recognized by anyone who never played this particular line of D&D.

Dungeons & Dragons - Creature Catalogue
Dungeons & Dragons – Creature Catalogue

Creature Catalogue for Dungeons & Dragons (BECMI) by TSR, 1986; 63 pages of monsters.

Remember the Juggernaut from the 3rd ed. MM2? Some kind of massive tank/siege-tower golem on wheels? That one is in this book too. However, old fans of the game have told me that it really only appeared in a single adventure and was never used or mentioned anywhere else. Not sure what is the greater mystery: Why they put it into the CC in the first place, or why they later thought it was one of the best things in the book that needs to go into the MM2?


The Magen (majen?) looks like an ordinary human, but is indeed a magical and alchemical creation. As magical constructs they need no sleep, food, water, or even air to survive and they do not age either. While not great thinkers, they are amazingly intelligent for constructs and can function among humans without supervision by their master without any problems. Though they are not particularly powerful creatures, at least compared to golems, this makes them extremely useful and valuable. There are four different types of magen, which each have their own unique powers. The hypnos is using a permanent charm effect which should make them absolutely perfect for spying or kidnapping. All they have to do is ask and most guards and officials will be perfectly fine with doing anything asked of them. The demos is made for combat and can use use all weapons and armor. It usually is encountered in groups up to a dozen. A caldron can stretch its limbs to lengths of 6 meters and uses them to hold victims and kill them with acid that comes from their skin. The galvan is the strongest type and can use weapons and shot three lightning bolts per day. Magen are very expensive and difficult to make, so they are quite rare. When they are killed, the magic that animates them ends and they crumble into ash with a flash of flame, which might be the first indication that the PCs are not dealing with ordinary humans at all. The first idea I got was to use them as guards in some wizards castle that the PCs are supposed to quietly sneak into and then see how far they will have made it into the catacombs before they realize that none of the guards and servants they’ve sneaked past are humans but something entirely else and unnatural. I am sure there’s a lot of other cool things that could be done with them.

Also, remember the Belker? It’s in the 3rd ed. Monster Manual. That evil cloud of smole that attacks with two clawed hands. Another really lame thing that also comes from the Creature Catalogue. Should have stayed there. Continue reading “Fantasy Safari: Creature Catalogue (BECMI), Part 1”

It’s D&D, Jim, but not as we know it.

So these past days I’ve been looking at the old Basic and Expert rules for Dungeons & Dragons to get some clues how I can incorporate dungeon exploration and wilderness travel in a Barbarians of Lemuria game. There are rules for that in D&D 3rd edition and Pathfinder, but they seem incredibly fiddly, tedious, and just plain unfun. So I started to look further out and oldschool D&D really seems to have had a quite strong emphasis on it.

It might simply be because of the kind of stuff that personally interests me, but it always seems to me that most people who write about RPGs on their websites are people in their mid-40s to mid 50s who started with really ancient versions of D&D when they were 10 and stuck with it, while I am one generation later and only got into RPGs when I was 16 and D&D 3rd editon was released. What I have seen of dungeon crawling always seemed pretty dull and pointless, because I always demand for strong stories and roleplaying. But reading other people talking about their really oldschool adventures of dungeon crawlings, it all sounds much more exciting and fascinating. It made me want to learn more.

I had been looking at Advanced Dungeons & Dragons before, but never really got much useful out of it. I am very familiar with the AD&D 2nd edition and the D&D 3rd edition and also reasonably familiar with AD&D 1st ed. and D&D 4th ed. Now I started actually taking a lok at the Basic and Expert sets, and it all just feels very different. Familiar, but definitly different. So I went ahead to learn more about this other version of D&D, and there seems to be quite a lot more about it than I ever expected. Now obviously I don’t know even a bit about the larger history, how it was perceived at the time, who played it and how, or even how the game really feels when you actually play it. A lot of what I am going to write here will be inaccurate, misunderstood, and perhaps even flat out wrong. But I think there are probably quite a lot of people out there who don’t know anything more about Basic D&D than I did and I just feel like sharing some of those interesting things I discovered and learned over the past days. From one noob to other noobs.

Continue reading “It’s D&D, Jim, but not as we know it.”

XP for treasure

One oddity of AD&D 1st edition that had always seemed nonsensical to me, is to give characters XP not only for defeated monsters, but also for the value of treasures they bring back with them into town. Why do that? Picking up stuff that is lying around does not make you better at fighting or casting spells. And in those games I’ve been playing the most, treasure is there to be sold so you can buy better equipment and magic items. But in campaigns of a more oldschool leaning, there frequently are no more things for sale, which you don’t already have by 2nd level. So why bother with treasure at all?

Very often, and probably most of the cases, defeating an enemy also gets you treasure. But you can also defeat an enemy and not getting any treasure (because he doesn’t have any). And you can get treasure without defeating an enemy!

That’s what makes XP for treasure relevant. Sometimes an enemy can’t be fought, or the risk is regarded as just way too high. But if you can find a way to get his treasure while avoiding him entirely, you still created a clever solution to a problem. Which is rewarded with XP. Even in a game where money has no practical use, treasure still serves as a measure of your accomplishments. When you return to town, the treasure you bring back with you is your proof for your deeds.

You can’t make the player feel the comforts the money of the PC can buy him. And it’s extremely difficult to really play out the benefits of good clothing and a fancy house. To the character, being rich has great value and benefits. And when the chracter sees a golden idol, it is luring him with expensive wine and crocodile skin boots. But since comfort does not carry over to the player, XP can serve as a substitute lure. Instead of dollar signs in the players eyes, it’s saying “XP”. What matters is the emotional response.

When the GM describes a golden idol with ruby eyes on a pedestal, the player should think “I really, really want this. I hope there’s a way to get it without getting killed.” In other games like D&D 3rd edition and later ones, the player will want to have it because it can be traded in for magic boots or enchanted armor. So there is no need to add the additional lure of XP.