Monthly Archives: February 2014

Genie binder

Image by Henry Justice Ford (source)

Image by Henry Justice Ford (source)

I was just recently glancing through the D&D Classics PDF of Arabian Adventures, and thus reminded about the sha’ir class, which is a wizard that consorts with genies. Conceptually, the sha’ir shares space with the warlock as a class that derives magic from powerful, but probably sub-divine, entities. As written in Arabian Adventures, genies bring the sha’ir spells, which can then be cast. While the concept is great, the second edition mechanics leave something to be desired, so here is a simpler take on a similar idea.

A formatted PDF version of this class is available.

Genie binder class

  • Hit dice, saves, and combat as magic-user
  • Genie consultation (see below)

I do not generally do weapon or armor restrictions, but if I did the list would be dagger, staff, scimitar, and light (leather) armor.

Unlike most sorcerers, genie binders do not use magic directly. Instead, they study the cosmic bureaucracy and compel services from minor genies. These minor genies have an aspect which determines the nature of their magical powers. Sample genie aspects include fire, time, desire, storms, and so forth (appropriate aspects should be less general and more specific).

Between downtimes, a genie binder may compel a number of genie services equal to class level. Thus, a third level binder may compel three services. Bound genies are not generally helpful types, and delight in following commands to the letter and twisting meaning where possible.

Services include commanding the genie to:

  • Perform a complex task
  • Retrieve a magic spell from another dimension
  • Engage in combat for an encounter

The material form of a bound genie becomes more impressive as the genie binder gains experience levels. At first level, bound genies are small, usually humanoid, creatures of between one and two feet tall with otherwise unique (but fixed) characteristics that reflect a genie’s particular cosmic aspect. They maintain their general form but increase in size and power as the binder’s experience level increases. Bound genie hit dice and combat stats while in material form are as a magic-user of one level lower than the binder (and thus as a zero level person for first level binders) with an armor class bonus equal to genie binder level. Slain genies are not fully destroyed, but merely banished to genie-land, and can be summoned back as a downtime action.

Bound genies have the ability to fly and to inhabit a specially prepared talisman (such as a lamp, jar, or other solid container which is equivalent to at least one encumbrance slot).

A genie binder may only ever have one bound genie in service, but may dismiss that genie at any time and summon another (as a downtime action). Binding a new genie only has a 3 in 6 chance of success, however, so previously bound genies are not generally dismissed lightly, though dismissal is the only way for a genier binder to gain access to a genie with a different aspect.

Retrieving magic spells

Bound genies may be sent to retrieve magic spells. Any spells sought must be related to the genie aspect (by referee ruling). For example, a genie of desire aspect would be able to retrieve charm person, but not fireball. Spells from any spell list may be used with referee permission. The maximum spell level of retrieved spells is equal to binder level divided by two, rounded up and a genie can hold only one spell at a time (the spell must be used before another spell can be retrieved). Fetching a spell takes one exploration turn per spell level.

OD&D reprint

I was undecided and leaning against picking up the recent Original Dungeons & Dragons reprint until recently. Before buying this set, of the OD&D booklets, I only owned the original 3 little brown books (the OCE set) in print, so getting access to physical copies of the supplements at a somewhat reasonable price was a big draw, and in the end I decided to go for it while it was still available, given that OD&D is one of my favorite RPG frameworks.

Though I do not consider myself a collector, nonetheless a big part of the enjoyment of an RPG product for me is the physical artifact itself. As such, most of this review will regard the presentation of the product rather than the contents, which at this point I do not think need much review (go read Philotomy’s Musings if you want an intelligent discussion of how OD&D works). At the bottom of this post, I have included some photos comparing the premium reprint with the OCE set I picked up on Ebay a few years back.

Compared to a standard, cardboard game box the wooden case that this set comes in is quite solid, and though it is not of the highest quality wood, it is well-constructed and the etching is attractive. The bottom is covered with some felt-like material, making it sit nicely on hard surfaces. The external design is classy and understated, with simple carved borders, a large dragon-styled ampersand on the top, and the words “Dungeons & Dragons” in a traditional font on the side. I would love to see future D&D products with this aesthetic. It has far more presence compared to the standard, loud fantasy art that most in-print RPGs use. That said, the art on the interior of the lid is only okay, and the cardboard “frame” could better have been omitted (though note that this does not impact the external appearance at all).

Though the box is attractive, it would be a bit unwieldy to use it to actually transport game materials, and it seems designed more to sit on a shelf and look pretty. Hinges and a latch would have been appreciated to make sure that contents would not fall out when carrying it around. It is also a bit larger than it really needs to be, as about a third of the interior volume is dedicated to (high-quality) foam inserts used to hold the dice. And on the topic of the dice, they are quite nice (though there should really be three six-siders, not four). The decorative work is intricate, but readability does not suffer. Despite some minor quibbles, within the context of other game boxes, the housing is nice.

The covers of the reprint booklets have a nice texture but are definitely not as thick or sturdy as the originals. They feel like high quality paper rather than card stock. The supplement language has been replaced with a strict booklet numbering (for example, Supplement I: Greyhawk has become Book IV: Greyhawk). Given that many people online reference the supplements by the original numbering, this has the potential to be confusing to a newcomer, though this is a minor issue at most. I have also read complaints that the contents do not include Chainmail (and even that the Outdoor Survival map should have been part of the set). (Regarding OD&D and Outdoor Survival, see here, here, and here.) From my perspective, those things are not needed to play the game and are really more historical curiosities, so I do not mind their omission.

The booklet covers also have new art, and though there is definitely some charm to the original covers (I particularly like the beholder’s strange expression on the cover of the original Greyhawk), I do not mind the new covers. I actually quite like the summoner on the cover of Eldritch Wizardry (which can be seen in the photos below). The interiors seem mostly unchanged, though I think they use new layouts rather than imaged reproductions.

Overall, though it is not exactly as I would have done it, in general I am pleased, and I am glad that the original books are back in print in some form. Ideally, there would also be PDFs and a collected, well-bound hardcover edition. While the second of those wishes does not seem likely (if for no other reason than it would require a new layout, which would be a nontrivial amount of work), it seems like PDFs at some point are within the realm of possibility. While I am considering what I might have done differently, I also think that some separate book explaining a bit of the context might have been good. WotC could have even looked into including a copy of Philotomy’s Musings (would that not have been fantastic?). Finally, I can see myself actually using this thing at the table, which is, in the end, what really matters for a game.

I normally would not mention the vendor I used, but in this case the service was particularly good, so I would like to give them a shout-out. I ordered my copy from Barnes & Noble on february third, it shipped on the fifth, and it arrived on the eleventh with no import duties required (this can sometimes be an issue living in Canada). Their price was good, too, relatively speaking (subtotal: $107.99, shipping: $6.48, tax: $5.40, total: $119.87).

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Eight enchanted objects

Seed of the sanctuary flower

Mondrian - Amaryllis (source)

Mondrian – Amaryllis (cropped, source)

This acorn-sized seed has a green and orange swirled pattern and is warm to the touch. If planted and watered in any soil, a small plant will grow rapidly until it is the height of a human and a magnificent flower will bloom (this process takes one exploration turn). When in full bloom, the petals shed a deep red light which illuminates with the radius of a torch. No creature with violent intent toward the planter or the flower may come near the flower or attack, either directly or indirectly, the planter or the flower. The flower will bloom for a year and a day, though will die within a turn if removed from the place of planting. Some ancient texts report that creatures of elemental earth sometimes carry these seeds in their bodies. Their true origin is unknown.

Bangle of earth

This heavy bracelet is made of dark brown stone. The crafting is superb, but several large gashes mar its otherwise smooth surface. It seems slightly too large to fit a human wrist, but mysteriously adjusts in size when worn. By concentrating for a full exploration turn, the wearer may cause a stone surface to soften temporarily and become plastic, almost as gummy mud. On each use, there is a 1 in 6 chance of the bangle itself dissolving into mud and thus being destroyed.

Time net of the time god

This gladiator’s net is woven with hair of a god of time, from whom it was stolen by a mortal hero in ages past. Anyone tangled in the net (reach melee attach versus unarmored AC), is frozen in time statically until the net is removed. When so used, the thrower must save versus magic or be flung into the future 1d6 turns. The original creator of the net will offer a great reward for its return.

Mergolder’s panoply

This old, heavily worn suit of heavy armor crafted from dragon scales was once fine but is now so battle scarred that it is almost more gap than armor and only protects as medium armor. The visored helm is in the form of a dragon, and when the visor is lowered, the wearer is transformed into elder wyrm. There is a 1 in 6 chance on each transformation that wearer’s personality is overwhelmed by draconic nature and becomes a dragon in mind as well as body. This process is irreversible. Otherwise, the transformation lasts 1d6 exploration turns, and leaves the wearer exhausted afterwards. It is said that the ancient wizard Mergolder created many similar suits of armor to transform his soldiers into an invincible army.

Scepter of Gremoras

The Scepter of Gremoras is a dull cast iron wand far heavier than its size would indicate. It is graven deeply with forbidden names. The wand may be used to command a demon (a saving throw applies, only one demon may be controlled at any given time, and the user must not take other actions while maintaining the effect). Even if the saving throw is successful, the wand’s user is protected from the wrath of the targeted demon by an effect similar to protection from evil, though this ends if the wand is used on another demon. Demons once touched by the wand’s power will always be able to sense the location of its holder.

Zephyrian sphere

This is a fist sized opalescent globe of unknown material that cannot be submerged in liquid no matter the force applied. When concentrated upon, the globe levitates to the user’s chest height, and electricity plays back and forth between the globe and the hands of the user. By means of stroking and gesturing the air around the globe, small winds and vortexes of air may be created anywhere within sight. The user may not otherwise move when using this power. These air currents are enough to hazard a flying creature or keep a heavy cloak aloft indefinitely, but not enough to knock a grown human prone. There is a 1 in 20 chance on each use that the globe will be sucked into a parallel dimension (creating a loud pop noise as atmospheres renormalize).

Ephebian mask

An ancient dynast was greatly saddened when the many men and women of his harem that he loved grew old. He commanded his city-state’s council of high magi to find a way to restore their youth, and in pursuit of this end the masks were created. Each mask is of white porcelain with high, dramatic cheekbones and striking, red painted brows. Many were made before the secret of their manufacture was lost, and though most were used in the distant past, some still remain. If worn, the wearer’s body ages backwards (or forwards) to that of late adolescence with all strangeness of body (including injuries, lost limbs, and birth oddities) normalized. In the process of working its magic, the mask fuses with the face of the wearer and loses enchantment (maintaining the consistency of porcelain while gaining enough flexibility around the eyes and mouth for moderate expression). After use, mask wearers continue to age normally, but their faces will forever be unlined masks.

Naberithim’s Crown

Naberithim’s Crown is an iron circlet set with 10 large emeralds that each emit pale green light and produce continuous trails of odorless, phosphorescent green smoke. The jewels are so perfectly formed that as abodes they are like paradise for earth spirits, and an earth spirit resides happily in each emerald. Given a boulder or other large stone nearby, one of the spirits may be released, but this shatters the emerald. Released spirits will perform one service, but are bound only by cosmic custom and will not look kindly on extended servitude. Damaging the iron circlet or removing the jewels will banish the spirits to the outer darkness, where they will drift eternally and undying without form or geometry.

Skeleton class

Most skeletons are mindless automatons, but a select few have free will and autonomy, and find themselves on the path of adventure. Small flames hover in a skeleton’s eye sockets, and their voices have a strange character, either high and shrill or dull and seeming to echo from a great distance.

  • XP progression, armor, weapons, attacks, and saves as fighter
  • Max level 4
  • Natural AC as light armor if unarmored
  • Fourth level skeletons are known as skeleton heroes

The general creepiness of talking to an obviously undead creature gives skeletons a -2 reaction roll penalty in polite society.

Automatic reconstitution

When reduced to zero HP, a skeleton falls apart (no save is allowed). However, if the bones are not scattered or smashed into powder, the skeleton will reassemble after one exploration turn passes. If the referee is uncertain, intelligent enemies have a base 2 in 6 chance to destroy skeleton remains following a battle where the skeleton’s remains are left behind.

Special defenses

Additionally, skeletons are not easily damaged by all attacks. When hit, the damage taken depends upon the type of weapon, and is:

  • 1 damage from piercing weapons
  • Half damage (round down) from slashing weapons (includes claws)
  • Full damage from bludgeoning or crushing attacks (included bites)

Skeletons do not require sustenance, do not need to breathe, and are immune to sleep and charm magic.


Like all undead, skeletons are vulnerable to being turned or commanded (as an undead of HD equal to their level). However, PC skeletons have exceptional power of will, and are thus additionally permitted a saving throw versus any turn effects. Skeletons may reconstitute as described above following D (“destroyed”) results.

Le triomphe de la mort (source)

Le triomphe de la mort (source)

Rethel - Horse final death (cropped, source)

Rethel – Horse final death (cropped, source)

Thanks to Jason Z. and Roger G. S. for suggestions regarding appropriate images.

2014-06-14: mods for skeleton without level limits:

  • Class: choose fighter or magician
  • HP: divide by two, round up (after mods) to represent fragility
  • No save at zero HP or negative HP (skeleton just falls apart)
  • Reconstitute after one turn with chance 5 in 6 (ignore stuff about smashing bones)

So there is a 1 in 6 chance of final death any time you are reduced to 0 HP and otherwise you come back after 1 turn.

Overloading the encounter die

Uccello - 24 hours clock (source)

Uccello – 24 hours clock (source)

The nature of the random encounter check is that of a timer. While it is not a literal countdown (since random results are mathematically independent), it simulates one. It is the danger clock, always ticking, giving meaning to the decision to search (or not), investigate just one more room (or not), or engage in any other potentially fruitful exploration activity.

There are a number of dynamics within the game that seem structurally similar to the periodic encounter check. Randomizing when light sources expire has also been suggested in several different places. Many systems as written specify that PCs should rest every sixth turn (though I have never once seen this in practice). Torchbearer imposes conditions on characters as turns pass to represent exhaustion and the abstract effects of other dungeon hazards. John B. suggests sometimes interpreting a random encounter as a monster spoor rather than an actual encounter.

Why not put all these things together systematically? Consider the following rule:

When the party moves into a new area or spends time on an exploration activity, roll the encounter die and interpret the results as follows.

  1. Encounter
  2. Percept (clue, spoor)
  3. Locality (context-dependent timer)
  4. Exhaustion (rest or take penalties)
  5. Lantern
  6. Torch

One might object: does this not lead to absurd results such as torches going out on the first turn or PCs needing to rest on the second turn? Well, yes, but you are an intelligent human, so ignore results that do not make sense. A result should be interpreted as not “X happens,” but rather as a prompt. A result can be deferred, but only so many times. The weight will naturally build up in the back of your mind as events proceed. As a guideline, ignore results above 3 for the first 6 or so turns.

You could have a general “light source” entry and just pick one light source randomly each time (this has the advantage of not having all torches go out at once), but I prefer to distinguish between the two main types of light sources given their differentiation on the equipment list. Conceptually, I think it helps to have different spaces in your short term memory for each, as you can have the sense that 5 has come up several times already and know that is relevant for lanterns. Torches should probably go out almost every time a 6 six comes up and lanterns should deplete approximately every third or fourth result of 5.

“Locality” is meant to be used for area-specific state that should be kept separate from standard random encounters. Examples: water rising, the stalker drawing nearer, a prisoner loosing an appendage to the torturer, doors locking behind PCs, and so forth. The possibilities are limitless and make every location potentially mechanically different in a way that is player-salient.

In addition to streamlining gameplay and decreasing intrasession bookkeeping, such a procedure also decreases null (“whiff”) results. Almost every turn result means something. This may or may not always be a good thing. Maybe there is something to be said for not having something happen on every roll. However, given how dungeon exploration tends to play out in real (player) time, I suspect this is about right.

The results table could be replaced with a custom one for a given location, but the above spread seems like a reasonable default to me.

See also: a method of play.