Creating Worlds Kit-Bashing and Campaign Building in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons
Last week my eldest son and his friends asked me to start up an AD&D game for them, they were feeling the itch to pick up their swords again. Every time I run a campaign for them I switch things up rather than give them the same setting and same mechanics every time. AD&D is the perfect toolkit, the published books give you a model, and you can tweak that model any way you like. Change up the playable races, the classes, the flora and fauna, the types of monsters that the PCs will encounter, essentially re-skin the game to make it fresh
I asked them what they wanted, and they said something along the line of “gonzo sword and sorcery with a dash of sci-fi and eldritch horror”. I had the day off on Thursday of last week, so I spent the whole day working on the campaign, and we played our first session on Friday night.
Secrets of Blackmoor on Twitter got me interested in Tekumel, and I decided to go with a Tekumel/Dragon Masters vibe to the game and set this campaign on a distant planet where human colonists had crashed 1000 years before. Playable races are aaracockra, lizard men, tortles, yuan-ti, frog-men, kobolds, rakasta and humans. Lizard men are the dominant race, and the game world technology level is Bronze Age/Roman with some late Renaissance flourishes (telescopes, primitive firearms).
Lizard men are the dominant race.There are select advanced technologies (e.g. lasers) left over from the colony ship crash, but they are scattered and hard to find. Basic firearms, however (flintlocks, muskets), have appeared and are becoming more common as some human knowledge has survived the crash and humans have back-engineered basic firearms from their incomplete records.
The long term "background" in the campaign is that the OLD ONES are coming! Grell are their primary agents in this world, as well as illithid priests and kua-toa footsoldiers. They dwell under the unexplored 4th continent of the world and are preparing for the arrival of the old ones. Their presence and their machinations have led to an upsurge in "eldrich" monsters. The base monster source books for the campaign are the Fiend Folio and the Cthuloid bestiary, plus, from the MM and MM2: some animals (e.g. no horses), giant animals (e.g. giant gar), insect themed monsters (carrion crawlers), dinosaurs, mythological monsters from the religions of the setting (e.g. coatl), horror themed monsters (e.g. golems, jellies and slimes), all elemental monsters, lycanthropes, Chinese dragons and various home brew monsters. There are no Fey/Sylvan monsters (e.g. satyr, elves, giants), no Tolkien monsters (orcs), no regular undead except for shadows, banshees, spectres and ghosts.
As the campaign begins the 4th continent is being settled by humans and aaracockra (as the primary 3 continents are dominated by reptilian races). The 4th continent is populated by giant sized animals and dinosaurs, as well as a psionic human priesthood that worships the old ones. Only the coast of the new continent has been settled, so the interior is a lost world style setting with emerging eldritch horrors to confront the players.
The gods of several pantheons reside on the planet, their avatars live in various remote places in the game world (mountaintops, deep in the ocean, etc.). Greek, Egyptian, Indian, Melnibonean, Central American, Japanese and Sumerian pantheons are all represented. So it is possible, at least in theory, to find and visit the gods.
I then “re-skinned” the classes. There are now sorcerers, mentalists, mercenaries, thieves, slayers and disciples. The first four are retooled versions of the existing classes, the last two are combinations of old classes.
Magic-users (now Sorcerers) get most non-healing priest & druid spells, & can use advanced technology (e.g. flintlocks). There are rules for sorcerers figuring out, repairing and eventually making advanced technologies. All with success, failure and harm odds. Spell casting is not AD&D Vancian, sorcerers in the setting don’t memorize spells, instead they roll “to know” for each spell and if successful it is permanently in their mind. If not they can only ever cast it from scrolls.
Each day they can cast one spell per level of experience of that level, e.g. a 1st level sorcerer can cast one 1st level spell per day from any of the spells permanently in their mind. A 2nd level sorcerer can cast one first and one second level spell per day, from any of the spells permanently in their mind, etc.
This means they get access to fewer spells that they can cast from memory, but they get access to higher level spells sooner. This eliminates the need to pick spells to memorize each day. However, all cast spells now have failure and harm odds.
These odds apply whether the spell is cast from memory or from a scroll. For anyone with an intelligence of less than 15, casting a spell has a 95% chance of failure, and a 5% chance of a reverse/harmful effect. So you need an intelligence of 15 to be a sorcerer.
For anyone with an intelligence of 15 or higher, your casting odds are as follows:
15 - Intelligence - 65% +1% per level chance of success
16-17 Intelligence - 75% +1% per level chance of success
18 Intelligence - 85% +1% per level chance of success
If the spell fails, you follow the odds in the DMG pg 128, if you are a non-sorcerer, you are “0-level” for this purpose, if you are a sorcerer you use the difference between your level and the level you would have to be to cast the spell to determine the odds of harm.
So in this system anyone with the requisite intelligence can cast a spell if they have a 15 intelligence or greater, but the chance of harm to non-sorcerers are higher. There are rules for scribing spells, and researching new spells.
Finally, sorcerers operate as sages with a major and a minor field, and two special categories within their major field. This also gives them a 31-50% chance of answering a general question outside of any of their fields, and a11-20% chance of answering a specific question.
Illusionists are now Mentalists, they do not cast 3d illusions, instead illusions are “all in your head”. They get all spells associated with the mind (e.g. ESP, charm, etc.) from all classes.
They have a 10% chance per level of resisting mind reading spells.
At 1st level they can cast forget once per day in addition to regular spells. At 3rd level they can cast clairaudience once per day. At 5th level clairvoyance. At 7th level ESP, at 9th level mass charm, and at 11th level mind blank.
They cast, research, scribe and are sages as sorcerers.
Priests, druids and monks are combined into Disciples. They do not use armor or weapons. They get all of the abilities of the monk except for the thief abilities. They have a d6 for hit points. They get all defensive, divination, detection, communication and animal summoning magic from all classes, but it is ecstatic (they are touched by the divine), they enter the self-transcendent state, make the connection to the godhead and the spell comes to them on the spot, no memorization, prayer or preparation necessary.
They are also free casters, they don’t have to find their spells, nor do they “pray” or “memorize” spells, instead they can cast any spell from their spell lists that is appropriate to their level. They use the cleric spell progression list to determine how many of what level they may cast per day.
If their pantheon has oppositional creatures, e.g. demons, devils, undead, nagas, spirits, etc, the Disciple can dominate or destroy those creatures with a successful turning roll, as a neutral or evil cleric can do with undead.
Rangers and assassins are combined into Slayers, who have dedicated foes, general and specific (e.g. reptiles/dragons, undead/vampires, animals/lycanthropes, etc.). They get increasing hit/damage bonuses with level and can “slay” these foes.
Slaying: If the slayer exceeds their “to hit” by 5 against a dedicated foe they have the option to try for a slay, using the assassination table. If successful, the target is instantly slain, ignoring HP. If this fails, they do half regular damage. Opponents of more HD than the slayer’s level get a saving throw versus death versus slaying. Slayers get the assassin’s spying and disguise, the ranger’s tracking and surprise bonuses, can speak their dedicated foe’s language (or if it has no formal language, imitate it's sounds) and are sages in that foe’s lore.
Fighters are now Mercenaries and get a package of combat benefits (there are no rangers, barbarians or paladins). They get all the fighter bonuses, per level to hit advancement, multiple attacks (1 per level) against 0 level creatures, mutiple attacks against all foes at 7th and 13th level, use of any weapon or armor, best initial weapon proficiencies, and best weapon proficiency progression. I have also introduced an optional proficiency bonus system, a combat effects system (to replace "feats") and a weapon versus armor class system. All classes can access these, but mercenaries get the best bonuses.
Proficiency bonus system: weapon proficiency slots can buy you either a new weapon, or a +1/+1 with an existing one. Mercenaries get the most weapon proficiency slots, and only mercenaries can stack these bonuses, so they benefit the most from the system.
I have introduced a “combat effects” table, when a PC, Monster or NPC exceeds their “to hit” roll by a certain amount they can choose to halve their damage and roll on the table for an additional effect. Mercenaries have the lowest threshold and get to pick their effect.
Mercenaries also get a saving throw versus any particular combat effect. So all classes get access to this, but since mercenaries have the best “to hit” table (the fighter table with per level to hit progression) and the lowest threshold, they get effects most often.
The Weapon Versus Armor Rules use the best modifiers from those listed for each weapon:
Slashing weapons get a +2 against no armor (N), +1 against leather (L) and -2 against metal (-2)
Stabbing weapons get a +3 against no armor, +2 against leather and -1 against metal
Smashing weapons get a +1 against no armor, -1 against leather and -2 against metal
E.g. a dagger would get a +3N/+2L/-1M Monsters are categorized in terms of their armor, e.g. monsters with a hard carapace or hard scales are treated as M, creatures with a tough skin are treated as L, and most other creatures are treated as N. This means that animals are treated as no armor, and weapons get the best bonuses against them.
I changed the rules for followers, mercenaries in this setting build armies. Mercenaries attract 1 mercenary follower at 3rd level, if that follower survives the season (half a year) they become a 1st lv mercenary. Mercenaries attract 2-4 0-level mercenary followers at 5th level, one of those who survive a season becomes a 1st level mercenary.
They get more followers at 7th, 9th and 10th level, following the same pattern with more of the mercenaries levelling each time, and any of those who transition to levelled in the service of the mercenary PC will be absolutely loyal under almost any circumstances, others follow the loyalty rules in the DMG.
Finally, thieves (I kept the name, it works!) have had their skills amplified. There is a flat +2% bonus to most thief skills per point of dexterity above 10, as well as racial bonuses. In addition, I treat thief skills very flexibly, expanding what is covered under each skill
For example, open locks includes: removing a component of a mechanism without breaking it, extracting jammed objects, tying-untying knots (binding foes or escaping bonds), reinforcing existing locks, fastening something against removal.
The surprise necessary for backstabbing is additive, e.g. thieves get the regular chance to surprise targets (e.g. 2 in 6), if this fails they get their move silently roll to try and surprise.
All thief skills are additive, if there is a chance for existing classes to do anything that is also covered by a thief skill the thief gets two chances. Thieves also get finesse weapons: the thief can apply their dex bonus to hit to any weapon less than 75gp weight
Finally, a thief can distract a target or become hidden while in combat with a successful HIS roll (the PC must identify/narrate a hiding spot or a distraction method), they can then makes a MS attempt next round, if successful, the thief can backstab
I introduced a new, expanded skill table, classic ability modifiers (that spread out the bonuses to lower scores), I added described damage rather than HP reporting, and location of hit tables for melee (these last two are from my current campaign).
We rolled up new PCs this past Friday, the party consists of a rakasta mercenary, a kobold mercenary/slayer, a yuan-ti slayer, a lizard man sorcerer, a aaracockra thief and a lizard man disciple. We start adventuring in two weeks. I have to generate some maps before then.
This will bring me up to 4 AD&D campaigns I am running concurrently.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is living the dream, old school style!