Sunday, December 5, 2021

Thief Me Baby One More Time

Given how many times I've written about how to fix the B/X Thief you'd think it was my favorite class. Not true. If I'm sitting down to play B/X at a con or whatever, I'm probably picking Elf. POWER GAMER.

Anyway... thieves.

This is a shit or get off the pot kind of moment. I've noodled Thief fixes for years but since I'm cementing my B/X house rules in a printed book forever I need to pick a path, right?*

TL:DR: Thieves add double Dexterity to most of their skill ratings and they get 7 new skills.

The current draft includes these fairly simple tweaks:


Thieves add double their Dexterity score to all Skills except Climb Sheer Surfaces and Hear Noises. When trying to Find Traps, they add Intelligence x2 instead of Dexterity x2.

Let's talk about it.

First of all, the exclusions. I exclude Climb Sheer Surfaces because those skill ratings are already quite good. I suspect the designers didn't want to subject the lowly Thief to dying from a fall multiple times per session. Because while it's logical to say that failing to Move Silently does not mean you were heard it is harder to logically argue that failing to Climb means you didn't fall. I think I get it. Anyway, you don't add double Dex to that skill.

You don't add it to Hear Noises because that's the only Thief skill that isn't a god damn percentage.** 

Second of all, the skill ratings are famously and monumentally shitty. We all know it. Some of us like to make rational arguments to justify low scores but in the end we're just wrong and grasping at straws so we can idolize the most perfect TTRPG ever published. The Thief skill ratings are just too damn low. It would have been far better to start them around 50% and just slowly raise them by 2 or 3 each level or something like that. But nooooo. Fucking 10%.

Sorry, ranty moment.

Doubling your Dex and adding to the skill ratings brings your chances up towards 50% to start. For example, you have a 20% chance to Move Silently at level 1. Let's say you roll up a Dex of 14. Your Move Silently would be 20+14+14=48%. Not bad. It's on par with the chances of a first level PC hitting a target with AC 9 [10]. It makes some fucking sense, if you ask me.

"But James, this places a lot of weight on the Thief's Dexterity score. The original game didn't emphasize stats this much. Are you sure about this? What if the player rolls a really shitty Dex score?"

Yes, I'm sure. B/X gives us the well-loved roll-under-Ability mechanic, after all. Clearly the game was realizing that Ability scores aren't just window dressing and a bonus to XP isn't as super sexy as they thought it was. Also, I made 4d6-drop-lowest and place-score-where-you-want canon in my games. It's statistically unlikely that the Thief player will not have a good Dexterity score. As it should be.

"But James, then the 9th level Thief has a 103% chance to Move Silently! That seems very high to me."

Yes, 103% is very high. But consider these points. First of all, and let's be honest here, the lion's share of B/X play happens in the 1-7 level range. If you're running con games, you're doing level 1 or level 3 or something like that. If you do a campaign, it'll likely peter out by name level. But OK... let's say it doesn't. So second of all, who cares? The 9th level Thief is a Master Thief according to the level titles. Let them be mutherfuckin' masters. The DM can always make the situations harder and apply penalties. That's kinda how this game works. And it's especially ok when you're not playing with 36 levels.

"So, James, if these pathetically low Thief skills irritate you so much why not just house rule an entirely different skill system?"

Because when it all comes down, this is a B/X fan production. If I wanted to make a whole new dungeon game I'd do that instead. But I'm making a B/X inspired RPG supplement. I wanna preserve as much of the original spirit as I can. I want as few changes as possible. Simple as that, see?


When I went to Gary Con I met Frank Mentzer. This was like meeting a rock star for me since it was his red box that was the first RPG that I ever owned. I used it so much that eventually the box fell apart completely, long lost to time and the trash bin. So I asked Frank one question that always bugged me. In B/X's Expert book under the Thieves section for higher level play it says that in the fabled Companion rules the Thief would gain skills such as ventriloquism, distraction, and climbing upside down. I asked Mr. Mentzer why he didn't include those in the official Companion rules.

He said they were silly so he didn't want them in there.

Major points lost, Frank. Major points lost. My man... climbing upside down, scurrying across a ceiling like a fucking demon ninja? Hell yes.

So I added these skills to Thieves in the world of Yria, where Thieves are somewhat like assassins in that they have secret signs, secret guilds, and highly specialized training. I didn't add these to any Thief XP table because, again, I wanted to preserve the original spirit. So each of these skills simply uses the ratings of existing skills (in parenthesis).

-Evasion (Remove Traps)

-Climb Upside Down (Move Silently)

-Ventriloquism (Hear Noise)

-Mimic Voice (Hear Noise)

-Disguise (Pick Pockets, adding Intelligence x2 instead of Dex, and modified by the target's level in the same way as Pick Pockets)

-Forgery (Pick Pockets, adding Intelligence x2 instead of Dex, and modified by the target's level in the same way as Pick Pockets)

-Use Poison (Open Locks, adding Intelligence, not doubled, with serious risk)

Thieves are the original skill class, after all.

*Of course this is not true. The Doomslakers B/X Playbook is but one iteration of B/X campaign house rules and setting notes. Many more could follow! I can dream.

**WTF, designers? Did you not realize in 197x that in 202x people would be critiquing your work? Anyway, I'm kind of OK with the Hear Noises ratings. If anything I'd bump it up by 1 to start. So maybe that Wis modifier could play a role. But I'm thinking just leave it alone.

This One Goes to 14

As you might have noticed... I have some B/X D&D on the brain these days. I was worried... for a time in recent months I simply did not have it on the brain. Burnout? Probably not. I don't really "burnout" on something. I get distracted.

OD&D is a beast with which I am familiar only through the osmosis of reading blogs, FB posts, Twitter, and listening to a bazillion podcasts about the OSR. I understand what it is, I know it's rules, generally, but I'm unfamiliar with it intimately and have no nostalgia for it. I never knew much about its existence until much later in life, to be honest. No one I knew who was into gaming back in the 80s ever mentioned it or owned it.

What I did have intimate experience with was B/X, BECMI, 1e, and 2e. That's my era, due to the age at which I bought my ticket to ride (13-14). The first one I played was B/X. The first I owned was Red Box. It was all glorious, of course.

Anyway... levels.

Peeking into OD&D I can see that Fighting Men were given levels through 9, Magic-Users through 11, and Clerics through 8. I don't believe there was any sort of level cap or anything, it's just that they only included those levels. Those books are a shit show of organization - a beautiful shit show, of course. I am an old school zine kind of guy so you would think that I'd be all over OD&D's gritty photocopier aesthetic. And I do admire it! But it's not my D&D so it's hard to get a boner about it.

Add to that the fact that even though B/X is far better organized, cleaned up, and codified it is still a fairly crude book by today's standards, right? Who the fuck uses that garish Souvenir font anymore?? (hint: I do).

So what was my point here? Oh yeah... this one goes to 14. And I think that's super important.

Going to level 10ish is fine. Going to 18 or 20 (AD&D's range, from what I remember, and the range of 5e) is fine and dandy too. Going to 36 is BONKERS. What was Frank Mentzer thinking? (well, the 36 level range had already been promised so it wasn't his idea... he was just fulfilling it.)

14 levels is basically perfect. You have your sweet spot at lower levels, some access to real power, and a nice place to say "We've done it. Let's roll up some new level 1s."

There are other reasons, though. It's hard to hold 20 levels in your brain. What does 14 mean in the context of 20? But 14 fits nicely. I know that getting past 7 means you're a big fuckin' deal. Getting to 14 means you're a god damn existential threat. After all, even though 7th level spells aren't in B/X (and maybe they fucking should be), given the logic of the Magic-User's XP table, they should be slinging 7th level spells at level 13. Mass Invisibility... Charm Plants... bring it.

There are 7 classes in B/X. Characters can get to level 14... 14 is 7 x 2. This means something.

Ok. Time to wrap this up. I'm rambling. Next up, the B/X 64 Challenge! Write and publish a 64 page (or 32, or 48) book for B/X within a year. Stop just thinking about it. Do it.

Saturday, December 4, 2021


Part of the Doomslakers B/X project. 

Hawkhead, +1 sword: User can see through the eyes of a passing bird for 1 turn (10 minutes). During this time they cannot see anything else.

This sword was forged in Nylar before the city fell to ruin. It was made at the behest of the legendary hero Makkus the Mark whose clarity of vision and steadiness of hand was unparalleled. Perhaps this blade currently rests in a pile of treasure in some forgotten tomb or in the hands of some troll or scoundrel haunting Hill Country. Where the famous bow of Makkus rests is a mystery.

Some say the voice of Makkus may be heard by worthy warriors who heft this sword in battle.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

BX Wizard Revised

I posted about this before. I've used a version of this class in play and I feel like this iteration is closer to what a B/X wizard should be. So for my B/X games I'll be using the Wizard to replace the ole Magic-User. Why?

More cool options for low level play - which is where most of my gaming takes place.

How is this different from the standard MU?

1. An extra spell at level 1.
2. More versatility in spell levels you can memorize.
3. Ability to use weapons and armor in a sensible way beyond "you can't use that".
4. Putting magical research and potion making front and center so the players will actually USE them.
5. Some immediate weirdness... a minor magical item, reaction roll penalty, etc.
6. Combining MU and Cleric spells because I honestly don't care about Clerics at all. I don't need them.

Note that this Wizard can only memorize a spell once at a time. So they cannot be a healbot with multiple Cure Light Wounds.

I'm open to arguments for why this iteration of the Wizard is broken. I might have a blind spot so I appreciate feedback. This will likely end up in whatever Yria setting book I end up publishing.

Some of this was inspired by Stuart Robertson's old B/X Witch class, which I really adore.

EDIT: A hero in comments pointed out some errors so I fixed 'em. Hopefully better now.


I haven't been using the OSR label in a long time. I don't recall taking a stance on it in any particularly strong way at any point. I just sort of moved away from it a couple years ago because let's face it... so many shit shows.

But I'll probably start using it again as a hashtag because let's face it... so god damn useful.

The Expert Dwarf

I drew this Bill Willingham D&D dwarf while playing Top Secret. Go figure.

You'll know this guy from the first page of 1981's Basic D&D book. He's smacking a dragon around with his adventuring pals. I don't know if Willingham named him, but I like to call him Zipsmasher Busterchops.

I should do more fanart from the old game. It's fun to explore how another artist works and when you're drawing one of their characters you pick up on a lot of details. Willingham and Jeff Dee, for example, both obviously had tremendous super hero comic book inclinations. I actually like that they both had their stamp on this version of D&D because as an old comic book guy myself it resonated. I saw D&D characters as larger than life and not just pond scum struggling to become epic. While I love the zero to hero aesthetic that the OSR has cultivated (see DCC RPG), I also know it sucks to sit down to play an adventure game and be virtually powerless (reminds me I might need to do another Magic-User rant soon).

The original Bill Willingham art kicks much ass, natch.

I made a character sheet for Zip. I figured he was a strong dwarf, so 14 Str seemed realistic, assuming the player rolled 3d6. I could have went higher... maybe I should have. Ole Zip's got guns.

Here's a timelapse of the drawing for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Zarp in Pan-Gea (color)

Here's the finished art for the new Zarp piece. Zarp hitchin' a ride across the broken lands of Pan-Gea on the back of a duck-skulled tigerlope with his friend Shullaroo.

Here's some B/X stats for ya bones.

Duck-Skulled Tigerlope

AC: 6 [13]

HD: 8 (36 hp)

Move: 150' (50')

Atks: 2 claws/1 bite or 1 gore

Dmg: 1d6/1d6/1d10 or 2d6

No. Enc: 1d6

Save: F8

Morale: 9


Align: Neutral

Big, loping beasts with long horns. Can be tamed for riding. Will charge for x2 damage if 60' or more space is available.

Hump back stores fatty milk to sustain the beast up to a month without food.

Zarp in Pan-Gea

Lately I've been thinking about comics again. I used to be a comic guy, not an RPG guy. I was an active small press creator, self publishing an array of titles such as Anomalic, Blacksheep, and Random Order Comics & Games (which represents a transitional phase for me from all comics to mostly games).

Comics is hard fuckin' work. This is why I probably stopped doing them. The insane amount of time you pour into it may or may not pay back. It's fine, of course. Nobody owes me their attention and I learned decades ago that I'm an underground guy forever, not a highly successful artist in terms of doing it for a living. So I'm cool with screaming into the void. But I gotta be passionate about a thing to scream with comics.

Anyway... Zarp! I was thinking about doing some new Zarp comics. Which lead me to doodle the little devil more and more lately. Now he's showing up in works that were meant to be pure pinup. This one started out as a sexy bit and morphed into a cool Pan-Gea bit. And I'm super happy about how it turned out. This is the vibe I hit in the mid-2000s with Pan-Gea and is, I believe, my most authentic, unfiltered self.*

So this might end up on a comic cover or it might end up in an art book. I'm giving serious consideration to publishing a collection of my favorite art and putting it out there for those that might like to have it.

*Well... sans the naked bits dangling out. Which I'll happily draw as well.

Saturday, October 16, 2021


The vampiress... Jubella Equinox!

Check out the post over at my Blood Red blog for more variations.

Intuos 4 Love Bomb

In 2009 the Intuos 4 graphics tablet was released to the masses and I got one. It was my second tablet after starting with a small Bamboo. Since 2009 I have used two tablets: the Intuos 4 and an XP-Pen Artist 16 pen display tablet. My experience with the XP-Pen is shitty. The hardware was OK but the drivers... holy shit they were terrible. Constantly crashing, freezing, losing pressure sensitivity, etc.

After using the XP-Pen for less than 6 months I said fuck this piece of shit and I dug out my trusty Intuos 4. It felt like an old friend returned to me in a time of need. This tablet is a god damn workhorse. I have used it for a solid decade to create almost every piece of art you've seen from me during that time and it shows no signs of slowing down. No dead spots that I can detect, the pen is absolutely pristine, no worries at all. I assume the buttons on the side still work but honestly I'm a keyboard guy so I don't even touch those buttons. I have my work habits and I'm a bit unwilling to change. Insert old man yells at cloud meme here.

The Intuos 4 never crashes. It works seamlessly with my ancient machine. Losing pressure sensitivity is extremely rare and seems to be more related to my drawing software than the tablet. And look at those nibs! They are all in perfect condition. Hell, I have used the same nib on this damn thing for years at a stretch. I mean... they don't really wear down, do they? If your nibs wear down maybe you're murdering your tablet?? Ease up.

Anyway. Love my tablet. I will eventually upgrade, probably when this machine finally chokes up its last gasp. But for now we're good.