Min – Maxing

Min Maxing RPGs

Do You Min Max?

Min Maxing RPGs What is it? Who does it? How does it affect the game?

For those who don’t know, let’s take a look at what Min / Maxing is regarding tabletop RPGs. Below, I will be relating my experiences with it in AD&D 1e, 2E, and OSRIC.

Min/Maxing refers to the cherry picking of abilities, equipment, numbers and probabilities to maximize results or success. This doesn’t always require an attempt to maximize ability scores, although it does help and is often the base. It also brushes up against meta-gaming. Min Maxing can be various weapon or ability choices that exploit a glitch in the rules or push an ability to the upper limits of what the game allows.

We all want to do well in games and feel like we are progressing or being successful, but sometimes a desire to “win” or come out ahead grips people. I certainly went through this phase as a gamer, and have faced it from other players as a DM.

Let’s take a look at an example

Bofo the Dwarf, manages to roll well at creation and gets an 18/95 Str. He also has a good Dex at 16.  With the 18/95 Bofo has +2 to hit +5 damage (according to AD&D 1E).
An idea starts forming in the players mind of how best to use this. This in itself isn’t Min / Maxing, it’s simply applying the numbers. Things start to become Min / Maxing when we plan a career path on the numbers to try to “beat the system”.

To do this, Bofo might take darts. An unusual choice, but with a firing rate of 3 per round can be formidable. The darts may defer to his Dex to hit, but most DMs go to strength for the power of hand thrown projectiles.

So now Bofo has 3 attacks per round +1 to hit, +5 damage each. Each dart only does 1-3, but with that +5 suddenly that is 6-8, with a potential of up to 18-24 hp of damage each round! With a long sword, that damage possibility is only 6-16. Minimum damage with one dart is also 6, but there are 2 more chances to follow it up.

As an inexperienced DM many years ago, I faced this exact situation in a 1 on 1 second edition game where we also allowed the double specialization ability (+1/ +2) and 2E kits. This brought the firing rate up to 5 per round on the darts. Yes, the character is made at great cost, but battles were fast, and deadly. My inexperience as a DM left me floundering to control it. When any other players came to the table, I could see the fun of battle being pulled from them as the min /maxed dwarf waded through enemies. The feeling of teamwork was slipping and we had to make adjustments. The bofo character eventually poisoned all his darts and had a work-around for the aging effect of speed potions. Speed potions put bofo over 10 attacks per round at his level. All 10 at +7 damage with poison. It was a maximum damage range of 80 – 100 per round, + poison.

This character was created entirely on meta- gaming and pushing numbers to maximize damage per round. there were few choices made with the character that related to in-game character qualities. In a 1:1 situation, the character ran fine, as no other players had feelings about being useless in combat.

DrizztAnother Min / Max AD&D 2E character comes to mind as that of a certain ambidextrous, Drow Elf, scimitar wielding Ranger. Everything about that situation says min / max.

The scimitar is a heavy damage weapon for the speed. With a 19 or 20 dex (after adjustments), the speed factor on those scimitars before magic, drops to 1 or 0. Dual weapons adds more attacks, but at a price of accuracy. Less so as an ambidextrous character.
Drow have magical weapons and armor from the get-go.  They also have innate magic abilities that do not require memorization. Once you pile on becoming a Ranger, those dual wielding penalties are a thing of the past. I can only assume that the scimitar was also a weapon specialization for that character adding more attacks and damage.

It did make a memorable heroic character, evidenced by how many times I have seen it replicated at the gaming table. As I read the books, it would make my head throb as a DM as to how I would have dealt with it.

Is it bad?

Min / Maxing isn’t bad if it is how your table is enjoying the game. If your DM likes the challenge, and all players are in on creating and running characters this way, there is no problem with it what-so-ever.

The problem can arise with classes that don’t lend themselves to min maxing so well. A wizard with a 19 intelligence is still left with one spell per day at level 1. DM discretion may change that.

The road also gets rough when another player joins in and doesn’t roll so well at the character creation stage. Another warrior in the party along side Boffo who only has a 15 Str and one attack suddenly feels quite useless. If bofo goes first, there may never be anything for fighter #2 to do.

As a DM this situation can become very problematic if you are unprepared for it. In order to challenge Bofo with a little danger, you might obliterate the rest of the party. While Bofo’s player may be having a great time, leaning in, attacking all the orcs whacking everything around, the player of Fighter #2 may not be so enthused. The player may tend to be sitting back, arms crossed, simply rolling their single D20 at their turn with half-hearted interest, lining up the horde for Bofo’s glory.

There is nothing against the rules about min / maxing. it is simply using the rules and pushing the numbers to get maximum results.

Warriors aren’t the only class to get min / maxed. Depending on your system, table, and gamers, most any class can be tilted with enough thinking and exploring the dark, less tested corners of the rules.

Who does it?

When I went through this phase, it was a feeling of approaching super powers and nearly breaking the game. Often the players I see who do this are very competitive, or have a tendency to try to “Win”. Even when everyone knows you don’t really win at RPGs, it is that draw to feel the win that often drives min /maxing.

We should all do a little min / maxing to an extent when we create our characters. There are very few reasons to put your best ability roll anywhere other than your prime requisite for class. Like everything else, there is a point to let go of maximizing numbers to create a dynamic memorable character for the fun of the game.

Sometimes it can be fun to put your best roll in an unexpected place. A warrior with a 15 strength but an 18 chr changes the approach. Or a thief with a 17 wisdom, but a 12 dexterity may not be less formidable in the game, but will not operate like a common thug.

Dirt Characters

I am not advocating everyone suddenly play dirt characters (those with only lousy ability scores). I am suggesting that we look within ourselves when we start setting aside character vision and start looking through the list for the weapon that goes first and does the most damage.

It might be more important to create a memorable and exciting character for an enjoyable game than to grapple for a couple more points of damage.

As a young DM I once thought I would control my min /maxer by requiring everyone to roll 3d6 for each ability and place them where they like, no re-rolls one shot only. We were using other methods before this that raised number probability. We all sat in awe as he rolled 4 out of his 6 ability scores as 18’s. the other two were a 16 and something around a 14.

Super characters happen, and they will bulge the game limits in some places. It is up to DMs to make sure everyone is involved and enjoying the game, so be ready.

The draw backs are that you may miss some opportunities for classes and races by always looking for peak numbers. Some unusual weapons that may not be ideal for min maxing have other advantages when used to role play in game. Magic can battle character mediocrity in some areas as well, so characters may later become “super powers” through adventuring.

So don’t be afraid of that fighter with a Bo Stick if that was the vision you had to role play. If you find yourself at the table with a min / maxer you can hold out to see where they are heading with their character creation and re work your own to something that won’t be a source of competition. Let them have one spot light, you can grab a different one.

DMs can balance challenges with min / maxers easily enough with a little thought. A maxed out warrior will clearly be the biggest threat in hand to hand combat and intelligent enemies will note that quickly.

I think it might be worth taking a second look at how you approach the game if you tend to min / max characters. RPGs are a subjective type game with as many ways to play as there are people to play them. We should push out of a standard every once in a while and try a new approach.

For DMs, it might be fun to encourage a group to min / max for a few adventures separate from your regular campaign. This will keep your deadly sadist… umm  I mean, challenging ideas a chance to be tried out. If a player or two is missing one night, encourage the table to max out numbers and stretch the game. Make it dangerous and see if the table can handle the practice.

May your games be epic

~Lloyd M


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What Happened to RPGs?

The gap to suspended disbelief

What happened to RPGs? It’s time to wake up! We’ve stopped gaming the what if world! What happened?
Being a grown up, that’s what happened!

There is a reason we reach for nostalgia and old school RPGs. Red Box, Chainmail, Moldvay, AD&D. It’s because when we were kids WE WERE DOING IT RIGHT and it had NOTHING to do with editions. Often edition wars spring up and people blame editions as the reason that games don’t hold the same wonder they did as when they were young. I am calling BS on this.

When we were kids we would be completely absorbed into the heart our characters. We could feel the cold steel of the sword in our hands, the ire for the orcs in the vale! We were our heroes in the game! We often cobbled together pieces of the box sets,  ad&d, later 2E, GURPS, and whatever other tid bit we could beg our parents to buy and we mashed it in there, none of the rule sets mattered. We couldn’t wait for school to let out so we could gather up at one of our friends houses and bring our heroes to greater glory and power. Even the DM didn’t know what would happen next!

Everyone over 20 can stand around and tell a story about the best, most legendary character they ever played and how EPIC it was! There is at least one, if not many in each gamers vivid memory.


Why were those characters in our youth so epic? So memorable? So vivid? What made the sights, sounds, smells, and glory of victory so much clearer in our youth? Even young people playing the newer versions of the game today, like 5E or Pathfinder, have eyes that are glazed over at the table. They aren’t seeing graph paper, pencils and dice, they are seeing orcs, heroes, and dungeon walls. It really is a certain ‘look’ that cannot be described. Yes, they are seeing what’s in front of them, but they aren’t ‘seeing’ this world, they are in that magical place. It’s the place where heroes are made.

The closer we get to our 30’s the more that magical place fades, in your 40’s it fades even more. We recant the tales of those old characters of our youth still, and continue to game hoping to recapture that feeling and that vivid release from this world as we peer into another. Even if you are still gaming frequently, those old characters pop back into the game as NPCs. Heck, even as I am writing my newest adventure for publishing, I am writing in an old character into the story line.

When worlds collide

In one game in my youth the party was deep in a dungeon and some wizards were manipulating powerful magic. The party peered carefully into a portal. Through that portal they saw four teenage boys sitting at a table in a rec center. They had a number of papers, dice, pencils around them. Our heroes had found a portal to where we were gaming. When they made the decision to step through the portal into the room with the young boys, there was a long and uncomfortable pause. The two worlds had just collided and we weren’t completely sure that our heroes wouldn’t materialize in the room next to the table. I later discovered that this had happened to a number of other gaming groups at least once.

Adulting too much

One day in my forties, I realized something was really wrong when I had a character to fifth level at the gaming table with my friends and we didn’t even know the names of the characters we were playing. Leveling up was gaining more power, but we had some sort of disconnect. Nothing was vivid, the vacant glaze never really came over our eyes that meant we were leaving this world out of focus and peering into the game world. This was by no means the fault of our Game Master, it must be our own fault. It really was the fault of being adults.

When we were young, the quest set up and story lines were much weaker and less involved. Our grasp of the mechanics was flimsy and often made up on the spot. Descriptions were awkward and often limited by our experience and vocabulary. Dungeons usually made little sense in layout or how the creatures might live or interact with one another. So why was it “better”? Sometimes we can point to insane ability scores, or super magical artifacts, but those didn’t completely make up the character. When we discussed the character outside of gaming, we knew how they would react to various situations, things they might say or do in any scenario. Sometimes we could talk at lunch during school and come away feeling as if a game had just happened.

Player1: “I want to know what Fafnir found out at the blacksmith.”
DM: “Well, the smith decides that those daggers were made of some sturdy metal charged with magic. He offers you 40GP each.”
Player2: “No way smith!! You don’t see these every day!”

In my forties looking around at my friends gaming, I realized that we weren’t really sure how our characters would react to situations. We reacted as expected within the confines of the game mechanics – “Attack” “Flee” “Talk to the barmaid”.

I was instantly reminded of the old cartoon where D&D characters were playing papers and paychecks. Damned if we hadn’t played so much Papers and Paychecks as adults, that we had lost touch with our inner “What if” that most kids have. We had also lost touch with our practiced ability to slip in and out of the worlds of our imagination.

Papers and Paychecks

If you are unaware of the “What if” factor, listen in on a couple of young children role playing with dolls, cars, or toys. Eventually the two will start a conversation that goes like this:

Child 1 “What if Barbie was up here on the bed”
Child 2 “Ok but what if she was also driving the firetruck.”
Child 1 “Yeah, and what if the Lego guy needed her help!”

The barrier or gap for children to hit this “What if” world is very narrow. It’s a muscle they use all the time, every day. It can be tested out any time. Ask any seven year old a what if question, such as, “Hey, what if Spiderman had race cars for feet?”

There will likely be little or no pause before an answer will come along relevant to this little pocket reality you just created. If you ask an adult the same question, it will take time as they cross the now wide divide to the “What if” world.

Some adults answer in a strained sort of way that is painfully obvious that they are trying to be creative but they aren’t there. Others will outright refuse to take the trip and look at you like you are an idiot for suggesting such a thing. Even those close to “What if” land have to stop “Adulting” for a second to hop the divide to think of what would happen if Spiderman had cars for feet.

There is nothing wrong with this, it just is what it is. As adults in modern society we need to get to work on time, pay bills, get the kids off to school. We have to play Papers and Paychecks every day. It can ruin your tabletop RPG experience, and keep you yearning for those old school days. It doesn’t HAVE to be this way though.

Next time you sit down to game, try crossing the divide into “What if” land before you start to game. Some ways to help shrink that divide could be to

  • Spend a few minutes asking what if’s related to the game “What if Ragnor fell in love with a goblin?”
  • Place tent cards in front of each player with character name and profession.
  • Use character names when talking to one another in game. It activates roleplay immediately.
  • Discuss the world and general situation the party is in before everyone sits down to game.
  • Make a private Facebook (or other) group and post snippets of what the characters are thinking. Make this that lunch time paperless play you used to do as a kid.
  • Add occasional opportunities for character description and customization. (Many of those old characters had unique weapons, armor, mounts)
  • Open up opportunity for players to type out descriptions of unique items in the social media group. Let everyone get intimate with what makes their character unique.

Any activity that the group can do to close that gap to the “What if” world will stand to increase the quality of the game at hand.

We ourselves have ruined that old school gaming feel, simply by growing up. Allow yourself the opportunity to recapture those epic old days by warming up your “What if” muscles and letting this world slip away as you embrace the one in your game.

Take a moment to think about feeling your character’s hand grip their weapon.
What is that grip like?
What makes up the handle?
How does that weapon feel today as you sit down to the table?
What is worrying your hero?
Why are they here?
What is the weather and how do they feel?
What do they smell as the game begins?
What are the sounds of where they are as you open up your dice?

Let your mind drift across to the “What if” before you start.

May this game be epic!

~Lloyd Metcalf

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Turning Undead

To everything Turn Turn Turn!

Undead Mask Dungeons & Dragons and many other tabletop RPGs seem to have a plentiful supply of undead. Clerics in classic tabletop games get the ability to call upon their deity to affect undead, and it may require more strategy than you think!

“Turning Undead” Is the term used for a religious character to turn away, make indifferent, destroy, or even control undead creatures (list of what qualifies as undead is specified in text)

Let’s take a look at how this ability functions in 1E and OSRIC and understand a little more about it.

For reference, we will be looking at the revised 1979 DMG , 6th printing of 1E PHB (Jeff Easley covers) and the second printing hardback of OSRIC. I use these books simply because they are on my desk and I don’t want to dig through the stack for more.

For both OSRIC and AD&D the cleric, druid, paladin or holy character must be in possession of their holy symbol. The symbol of faith is at the epicenter of what a religious character does, and in turning undead, it is especially true.

For both AD&D and OSRIC more than just reanimated dead things can be turned. Creatures that may be turned, depending on alignment, are demons, devils, godlings and paladins. Although it isn’t mentioned specifically, most game masters assume this list to also include angels and other creatures of direct divinity.  Yes Paladins, you too can be turned by that evil priest! Angels may have a get out of jail card by accident in 1E, however repelling them by evil priests does have a ring of common sense to it.

In both systems the cleric’s level affects the results they can expect and the difficulty to turn or control certain opponents. Tables and charts are supplied in the texts to roll on.

AD&D Mechanics

The cleric must be able to step before the undead. The cleric must also be able to speak and hold forth the symbol of their faith. No other spell casting, attacks or action can be taken when ‘turning’. (Ref pg 104 PHB)

The wording around this gets a little more confusing in the DMG. (pg 65)

In the DMG it says that “As stated on the CLERICS AFFECTING UNDEAD table, this function may be only attempted once by each cleric”. 
This gave me pause, because honestly I thought this was once per combat or so many rounds. Flipping to the cleric affecting undead table of the DMG (pg 75-76) the answer is a little buried. After the table on page 76 it apparently confirms that once a turn has failed on an undead, that’s it. That particular cleric can never turn that undead.

“No further attempt can be made with respect to the particular undead…etc”  Game masters and players take note. That means if you try to turn that lich at a lower level and it fails, when you come back 4 levels later… it will certainly fail again, and forever more.

I honestly can’t say why, but our hero Gary Gygax complicates things a bit at the point in the text where there are multiple types of undead in a single group. Personally, I believe this may hearken to some war-gaming rulings and situations. With some stretching of the brain it DOES make sense, but it can cloud the turning rules up a bit.
I will attempt to paraphrase here, so stick with me:

IF there are multiple undead in a group and the cleric’s ‘turn’ is successful against any or all of the types within the group, on the following round they may attempt to turn more or other undead within the group. As long as successful turns are made, the cleric may continue turning each round until there is a failure.
The summary above is clouded by some circumstance and explanation  of the turning order. (See page 65 DMG)

Some of this confusing paragraph is set up to describe a situation where a greater undead is controlling others. A roll on the table may not allow for the turning of the powerful undead, but it may have qualified to turn the lesser minions. So it would allow the continued turning or say, skeletons serving a crypt master.

Other Turning – Stuff –

The DMG continues with some interesting reading regarding turning that we often don’t consider in ‘every day gaming’. I will just quickly note them below, but are worth the read, or re-read if you are a weathered GM.

Evil Clerics

We all love to use them in cults and adventures, but forget about their ‘turning’ ability. Turning a skeleton or zombie is pretty simple on the charts. For evil characters anything below a result of “T” indicates that the undead are compelled to perform some sort of service for 24 hours minus the minimum score required.

A result of “T” that the undead are neutral or serve for 24 hours. A “D” (Normally disintegrate) result means cooperative service as long as the cleric ‘renews’ their control every 6 days. Essentially the conditions are similar to that of a basic charm. This means that any god.. erm.. I mean evil cleric worth their salt, even of modest levels, are quite likely to have at their command some undead.

If the cleric is knocked out cold, all this control stops. However, it is o.k. to sleep and have the undead servants stand guard or follow other commands.

Evil Clerics and good may ‘ping pong’ control of undead, that is until they fail to ‘turn’ the undead. A good cleric may use the table to counter command of an evil cleric’s undead in service. This could keep the afterlife a-buzz but could also make for some interesting roleplay of priests wrestling for control of burial grounds.

The text isn’t clear on whether or not one evil cleric may wrest control of the undead from another.

Another stipulation to affecting creatures comes in the paragraph regarding “Evil areas”. Among the interesting circumstances of evil areas limiting undead control, the text notes that a cleric visiting either a good or evil plane cannot turn a creature that lives there. So a LG cleric could not enter the first plane of hell and start turning all the lesser demons.

OSRIC Mechanics

Crypt Thing Now we look into the OSRIC book to see what, if anything, regarding this piece of the game has changed for OSR folks.

Right off the bat the OSRIC text clarifies that an evil cleric cannot destroy a paladin by turning. I can only assume that discussion was up for debate among 1E players and had to be house ruled.

OSRIC has added the requirement that the turning cleric MUST sheath or drop their weapon to carry out the ‘turning’.

IF the cleric’s weapon is their holy symbol, they may use it to turn without dropping it, but cannot attack in the same round.

Clerics suddenly get much more turning power in OSRIC. The text simplifies the continued turning by saying that a cleric may continue to attempt turning as long as they were successful in their attempt on the previous round. If they fail, no further attempts may be made during the CURRENT ENCOUNTER. 

This is a powerful upgrade  from the AD&D rules where no further attempts can be made, period!

Evil clerics get throttled back a little in OSRIC. They cannot control more hitdice than their level of experience. So, at level 4, stick to 4 skeletons.

like so many other things, OSRIC trimmed the text and did some heavy editing to simplify the mechanics. My Inner GM finds some of the AD&D concepts a little more inspiring in the end in regards to the evil clerics and jostling control of their undead servants.

The GM in me also appreciates the streamlined OSRIC text that makes turning numerous undead a bit simpler.

Some players forget to look closely at clerical abilities beyond “Cure Light Wounds”. A strategic turning or controlling undead could easily turn the tide of a battle. In AD&D NOT turning a powerful undead that you may see later, at a higher level is a valid tactic.

There are many ways to use a holy character’s relationship with the undead to a party advantage. No one likes the evil cleric, until a cold biting rain comes, and he has 4 skeletons holding a tarp aloft as he travels.

~Lloyd Metcalf
Fail Squad Games

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I’m Dead?

I'm Dead Jim!
I’m Dead Jim!

The DM Killed ME!

Is often the knee jerk reaction to a character death at many tables. Much of this reaction depends on how the particular table plays the game and how death is handled by the group as a whole.

Let’s take a look at the mechanics of death in AD&D 1E and OSRIC and then have a look at death in the game and how it affects players and DMs.

AD&D mechanics of death

*Note* I am referring to 6th printing PHB and revised DMG (Jeff Easley covers) for page numbers below.

This seems like it should be a pretty straight forward situation. Zero hitpoints = Dead. In the Player’s Handbook (pg 105) it suggests any creature at zero is simply dead. The text gives the exception of regeneration.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide has a softer rule regarding being be ‘dead’. Compared to the newer game systems however, it still seems like a hard line.

In the DMG on page 82 under “Zero Hit Points”  the text says that any creature brought to zero, or as low as -3 Hit Points is unconscious. The -3 must be brought by the same blow that dropped the number to zero. Unattended, the victim continues to lose hit points at the rate of 1 per round until -10 is reached, at which time death occurs.

The decline is instantly ceased when another creature aids the fallen. This doesn’t need to be ‘healing’ in any magical or skilled sense. It requires binding wounds, respiration or other means of general first aid.

The text further goes on to note that any character brought to zero or less and back will be in a coma for 1-6 turns. Furthermore, the victim must then rest for a week with little to no activity, unless magical healing is applied.

Characters being brought back from -6 or less are likely to lose limbs or retain permanent scarring for life. Yeah, that’s what makes a tough fighter cool!

On page 110 of the DMG is a section of rather involved advice for the DM regarding death of a player character. It offers some ideas for DMs to avoid letting a player die if they acted cautiously, but simply couldn’t beat the cruel fate of the dice.

It would appear that throughout the books players are set up to understand that 0 hit points is death. DM’s are given the tools to make a dramatic close call of it.

AD&D and it’s various iterations have always had an ‘out’ for the condition of death however. Raise Dead, and rods of resurrection among other means exist in our favorite fantasy worlds. Some more than others. The spells or services don’t come cheap, and can often prohibit the resurrection. Even still, a character must make a system shock roll and they only get a limited number of resurrections based on constitution.

OSRIC mechanics of death

*note* I am referring to second printing hardback for the following

Not too much changes in the OSRIC rules around death, but there are a few variations.  A player is still unconscious at zero, and drops 1 hp per round until dead at -10. The variation here is the bit about getting to zero or up to the -3. It would appear that in OSRIC, you can get whacked to anything between zero and -9 without going to death.

The rules are clear that if a creature takes ANY damage in this negative HP state they will be killed. The rules for coma and rest are the same as 1E here as well.

Resurrection has a variation, in that elves are not allowed to be resurrected in the usual method since they do not have souls. The text also puts a starting price on the cost of the spell at 1,000 GP

Anyone that recalls the goldbox AD&D games for IBM, Commodore 64 and the like, may remember resurrection costing 1,000 GP/level of the character. (It’s been a while, so forgive my accuracy on that memory.)

Death for players

Death is part of life, and it surely is part of a fantasy RPG.

Be especially prepared for death if you attend conventions. Players have little invested in the characters and simply come for fun, not necessarily an extended campaign. GMs often put up heavy challenges just to allow players to test their mettle. The exception to such things may be tournament modules or adventures running over multiple days or sessions. For the majority of convention games though, death is certainly part of the game, expect it, embrace it, enjoy it. That is not to say one should game foolishly. Often players have gamed a particular adventure a number of times, and the challenge can be to see how far the party can get.

Home games with friends tend to take on a different air when death and danger are at hand. Your GM likely has a campaign world, and your friends have been pulling as a team for many sessions to achieve long story arcs. This is where players tend to become attached to characters and dig deep into backgrounds and family ties.

These characters too will likely die. Without death in the game, especially player death, the risk gets lost. You could simply charge off in any direction challenging every town guard, dragon, or elf without concern. Why bother rolling dice? why bother tracking hit points if you know there is no threat of death? Why play any game if you know there is no way to lose?

How hard or soft your GM is on the topic of death changes at every table, and even in various situations. The AD&D DMG suggests that if a player acts foolishly and without caution, to let the dice fall. If the player has been the victim to bad dice rolls, a GM can wear velvet gloves.

In the end, character death is not about a game master who is ‘out to get you’. Well, it shouldn’t be anyway, as such an approach loses the spirit of the game in many ways. Character death was a calculated risk that simply didn’t work out. Battling is dangerous, dungeons are dangerous. If they weren’t, every peasant would trot in, and no one would have any issues.

Those piles of gold you find, are the result of rich heroes, laden with treasure who didn’t come back. When you lose a character in the game, you have lost a character in the game. You are among friends, and there should be no more personal attack behind this event than if you totaled up your scrabble score and came out behind.

Try a new class or race that you hadn’t considered before. It may be an opportunity for a fresh start. Character deaths can actually be liberating and refresh your game a bit.

Death for the GM

Death for the GM can create a new set of headaches, especially if the party is far and away from all connections to the civilized world. The 4th level of Hades is a dangerous place, and players die…. now you need to get a cheery little halfling freshly rolled up here to keep the game night flowing!

Some GMs allow more than one character per player, some have NPCs at hand, but most GMs will find a way to pull a new character in through a story vehicle of some sort. Granted it might require the table to stretch their minds a bit, but usually it works and can be accepted.

Some tools I have seen used to bring a new character into a game:

  •  Character is a captive or hostage of the villain
  • Character came with another party that were all slain
  • Teleportation accident (for when just nothing else fits)
  • Character attempted the quest on their own, quickly realized they were in trouble and hid.
  • Character opened a bag of holding in a pocket dimension (similar to teleporting accident)
  • Character has discovered the entrance to where the adventure is, but doesn’t dare to enter alone.

A party can only take so many ‘teleporting accidents’ before it becomes old hat and meta-gaming around death starts to become a joke. Your campaign can lose some traction if such devices are over-used. Captives turning PC, or requiring the party to return to civilization is often the best route.

Explain death to new players

This is really essential when new faces come to game, or young players sit at the table. It should be made clear that death isn’t a personal vendetta. It should be understood by everyone that it is simply part of the game. New players are most susceptible to the ‘hurt feelings’ syndrome of PC death. They may be left feeling like you are mocking their lack of knowledge of the mechanics, or don’t want them to be included.

I have literally seen players get up from a table in tears, only partly due to the loss of the character, but mostly because it was assumed “He killed my character!! he hates me!”

After the first few, this gets easier. Often I have found that a well informed player, even a new one, can often let a character go more easily. It helps ease the wound if the GM lavishes drama on the death. It also helps new players if you use that character death as some sort of vehicle to add purpose to the quest at hand or enhance the story line in some way.


Often if a quest is particularly difficult or dangerous I will remind my players that this is a dangerous adventure before we begin. Many modules hand out death traps quite matter-of-fact-ly. Phase spiders and other creatures have ‘save or die’ tactics.

Some sense of balance needs to be struck where your game has a sense of danger, threats are real and sometimes you need to run away. Your games should also not be a meat grinder where new characters are required every couple of sessions. (Unless you are presenting a meat grinder at a convention)

Sometimes characters die, let it happen. A GM struggling to throw in unrealistic story pieces to save a PC takes away from the game in the long run.

Level one!?!?

Should a new character start at level one?

This is strictly a GM call. A level one player with a party of level 8s can be cumbersome, but eventually that level gap will even out as experience points start rolling in. I typically request the slain player bring in a new character at the lower end of the quest range. If the party is in a module rated for levels 4-5, I will ask them to create a level 4 character. A character that I assign magic items to after they are done with creation.

In short, death should be a real risk that players face. sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. It’s a game, have fun, accept all parts of the game!
~Lloyd M

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Ugly Stick

Ugly Stick
Ugly Stick

The ugly stick

System – BECMI
30″ weighted sheleighleigh +2.

  • Damage vs Sm-Med       1d4+2
  • Damage vs Lg                  1d3+2
  • Cost                                   N/A Unique
  • Value                                 2,000 (this gp value used to relate to xp and trade)

Appearance and Creation

Typically the Ugly stick appears as a traditional sheleighleigh in all respects. Detect Magic will reveal that the object retains magical energy at all times. The Ugly Stick will function only as a +2 sheleighleigh until a detailed Identify spell is cast upon it or the command words are known and enacted by the user.

If Comeliness is used in your game, the Ugly Stick is ideally suited to the statistic. Charisma can be replaced with Comeliness if desired, or physical appearance simply tracked and accounted for in character description. The Ugly Stick deals ONLY with physical appearance not social graces.

Upon touching, or striking a creature and uttering a command word, the user is able to drain one point of the victims comeliness attribute into the sheleighleigh and transfer it to themselves. Saving Throw Vs Spell applies. Maximum daily transference 6 points. The transfer requires 3 rounds to complete and recharge before it can be used again. The victim feels no discomfort what-so-ever unless they are drained below 6, then loss of teeth and blemishes begin to cause pain.

Maximum magical comeliness / charisma transferable to user is 18, transference beyond 18 will lengthen the duration for 5 hours per use.  The wielder’s unnatural beauty is in constant decay. The user loses one point of the artificial comeliness every 10 hours.

If the sheleighleigh is within 500 yards of the original victim the comeliness / charisma will return to them, if not, the beauty is lost forever. The Ugly Stick can only transfer a comeliness score if the victim has a 4 or more and it cannot drain a character below a score of 3.

The beauty transferred is relevant to race / species. Thus is the user is dwarven they will take on features appealing to dwarves. If the user is goblin, they will attain beauty by goblin standards.

The Ugly Stick is prevalent in elven campfire tales that tell of human and gnomish witches with warnings to not get beat by the Ugly Stick.

Creation of the Ugly stick

If one can find the rare tales or even rarer written instructions on the creation of the Ugly Stick, the following would be included:

It is made from Blackthorn wood carefully oiled with butter specifically mixed from a black sheep, a yak, and a shetland pony. It is then stored and cured in the chimney flu of a beautiful or handsome royal for a number of months. The traditional method of oiling and polishing the sheleighleigh wood must be observed. after this, a hollow is made in the head of the sheleighleigh and it is filled with 1/4 oz blessed pure gold from a Lawful Good church, 1/2 oz of pure silver, and 2 oz of lead that has been kept in an ogres pocket for a day.

A powerful wizard or witch will then imbue the Ugly Stick with its magical bonuses and a spell of permanence is cast along side a polymorph other spell.

This process is occasionally debated among researchers and wizards in casual conversation, but few if any have ever seen an Ugly Stick. Most consider it a thing of legend told to children and princesses to keep them from straying into the wilds.




Roll for Initiative

Initiative – Who’s on First?

D6onMap550pxQuite possibly one of the most squirrelly and house-ruled portions of classic RPG game systems is initiative. It’s the piece of the game that is often simplified at convention games and larger groups but maybe doesn’t need to be. It is also often mis-understood. For those new to OSR gaming, or those like myself who have played a house-ruled version for so long we have forgotten the original method, let’s take a look at the OSRIC method of initiative and what it means. It doesn’t just resolve “Who goes first?”

Below I will attempt to summarize in a straight-forward way, the intent of the OSRIC rule system regarding initiative. I paraphrase a great deal below.

The Combat Round

Prior to rolling for initiative, surprise actions are resolved and actions/spells are declared. It is also the time for the GM to decide what the monsters will be doing. A fair minded GM will not wait to see how initiative pans out to decide actions.

The combat round is 10 segments (usually seconds) long. Initiative (D6) is rolled to decide on which part of the first 6 segments the OTHER party’s actions take effect.

Note that the text in OSRIC alludes to the rolls of Party vs Monster. This means that in convention or large group play, there is still one roll on each side of the screen. Smaller groups may wish to decide per player.

A D6 is rolled by the party and by the ‘monsters’. Each is rolling for the OTHER side to determine when their action or damage takes effect. So if the party rolls a 6, the monsters damage doesn’t ‘hit’ them until segment 6. If the monster rolls a 3, the party’s damage takes effect on the 3rd segment.
In short, when you roll initiative, you are rolling to see when, in the 10 segment round, you will get hit with damage by your opponent.

Contrary to many house rulings, a players does NOT add their Dex bonus for surprise to their initiative roll for combat. a player DOES add their missile attack bonus if they are using a missile weapon that round.

But wait – You said 10 segments?

The remaining segments are important as spells take segments to cast or take hold, some combat rounds players may wish to hold their attacks. Zombies always go last in a round, that means on segment 10.
If a character is aiming, wants to see if the guard notices etc. these last 4 segments can mean life or death!
Yes, a combat round is 10 segments. The dice are to resolve the order of events in the first 6.

What about a tie?

Rolling initiative isn’t to see “Who goes first” as much as it is to see in which of the 10 segments of the combat round you sustain damage from your enemy. Or “Receive their action”. This adds more excitement that simply “I go, you go” gaming.

It is possible to have 2 opponents slay one another.
If Boblo the halfling is fighting an orc, they roll initiative and both get a 3. It doesn’t matter who rolls to hit and damage first, but they both receive the damage on segment 3 of the round.
So it is possible that they could each deal a killing blow to one another that segment. This would actually happen frequently enough in pitched battles with blades and swinging weapons.

Multiple attacks

A creature or character with multiple attacks I.E. claw, claw, bite, all go in the same segment. It is considered an attack routine.

Players with multiple weapons like a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other, can count those weapons as a single attack routine. Players with multiple attacks because of level, haste etc, are considered to be making a completely new attack routine. The second attack routine must be held until the opponent has resolved their attack. This puts that second routine into those last 4 slots typically.

Spell flinging

Spells have a casting time. A wizard only begins casting on his segment of initiative. The spell is considered active or ‘fired’ after the appropriate casting time has elapsed.


All this may have just been a swirl of confusion for a new gamer. Rest assured your rule book contains all the mechanics you need. To make a short summary-

  • Declare action before combat round
  • Resolve surprise actions
  • Roll D6 to see what segment your opponent’s action affects or damages you
  • Resolve actions or attack and damage rolls
  • Sort out that damage or those actions in the correct chronological order
  • End combat round at 10 segments

It is important to note that OSRIC is somewhat different than 1E in initiative. If anything, it has streamlined things a bit and done away with a number of variables and adjustments. The rules do vary somewhat between systems.

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