Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Way Back Machine - Greyhawk (Supplement I)

This is the first part of a series (The Way Back Machine) to discuss the four OD&D supplements (Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, and Gods, Demigods & Heroes).  I'll start with Greyhawk, of course, and go from there.

Greyhawk had a profound effect upon our D&D game when it was first published back in 1976.  As many of you know, it was a kind of precursor to the AD&D game.  It, along with the other supplements, introduced many new rules that were included in AD&D.  Players received many new choices and characters had many more powers and options, including enhanced ability bonuses for the first time.  Then again, the monsters got a bump up too.  And experience point awards were dramatically changed.

So much of what you now know about D&D was first introduced in Greyhawk!  The list goes on and on.  For the first time, we see Thieves, Half-Elves, exceptional strength, AC bonuses for DEX, Paladins, variable hit dice by class, variable weapon damage, Magic Missile, and many other such "firsts."

The Cover, Layout & Art

Wow!  What a solid cover.  For some reason, as a young gamer that was a very evocative image.  That bedraggled, almost defeated looking fighter standing over his dwindling campfire faced off against that most horrific of foes - the Beholder.  Very stark, very minimalist.  Not professional, but effective.

The book is 70 pages, digest sized, and is PACKED full of content.  Very little fluff.  There are literally only 10 illustrations in the entire book.  I must say, the art is pretty bad - like the first three LBB's.  The illustrations by Greg Bell provide powerful nostalgic value but looked at objectively aren't too good.  Of note, there is a picture of a bare-breasted woman so political correctness had not yet swept over the company.  As an 9-year old, I certainly enjoyed it!

The layout is pretty good.  This supplement (as with the others) is organized in three sections - Men & Magic, then Monsters & Treasure, then finally Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.  This is cool because those are the titles of the original three LBB's - so Greyhawk effectively updates each LBB with its own section.  Nice!

Section 1 - Men & Magic

New Classes: One of Greyhawk's crowning achievements was introducing the Thief class to D&D.  Granted, some gamers and RPG historians think that this WASN'T such a good thing since, by creating a specialist, it deprived other players of the chance to try picking a lock or opening a chest.  But it can't be denied that this had a profound effect upon the game going forward!  Additionally, the Paladin was also introduced in Greyhawk.  So a player could now choose between a Fighting Man, Paladin, Magic User, Cleric or Thief.

The Thief also gave non-human characters a second option.  In OD&D Elves, Dwarves and Halflings can only be Fighting Men.  But Greyhawk rules allow them to play Thieves and, best yet, advance to  unlimited levels.  And Halflings are much more effective as Thieves than Fighting Men.

Thieves in Greyhawk look quite similar to AD&D Thieves, including abilitiy to read magical scrolls and gain backstab damage.  Granted, they only receive a d4 for hit points.

Paladins are quite similar to AD&D Paladins, although the only requirement to become a Paladin in Greyhawk is a Charisma of 17.  Paladins can lay on hands (cure wounds), cure diseases, are immune to disease, and can both Detect and Dispel Evil as they gain in levels.  They gain +2 in all saving throws.  They also receive a highly intelligent war horse every 10 years.  A Paladin can possess no more than 4 magic items.

Racial Changes: In another AD&D precursor, Dwarves and Elves with high Strength or Intelligence abilities can now advance further in levels as a Fighting Man or Magic User.  E.g., Dwarves in OD&D can only advance to 6th level as Fighting Men.  In Greyhawk, they can advance to 7th level with a STR of 17 and 8th level with a STR on 18.

Also on the racial front, Dwarves can now multi-class as a F/Th, while Elves can even triple-class (F/Th/MU). 

Additionally, Half-Elves are introduced into D&D.  They are normally F/MU multi-classes, but those with a WIS of 13 or higher may triple-class as a F/MU/Cleric.

Ability Scores: In a major change from OD&D, certain ability scores were given significant ability bonuses.  In OD&D, no "To Hit" or "Damage" bonuses existed.  In Greyhawk, these bonuses were first introduced - but only for Fighting Men!  Starting at STR 13, Fighting Men receive significant combat bonuses.  In fact, "Exceptional Strength" was introduced in Greyhawk - all the way up to 18/00, which produced a massive +4/+6 To Hit and Damage bonus.

Another significant change is that for Fighting Men only, DEX bonuses improve Armor Class.  So a Fighting Man with a DEX of 18 gets a +4 bonus to AC.

I believe these STR and DEX bonuses seriously power up the Fighting Man, making him incredibly more effective in combat than the other classes who can't receive the bonuses.  However, one feels sorry for the poor, pathetic Thief with his d4 hit points and no DEX bonus to AC!

For Magic Users, we see the impact of Intelligence for the first time.  High Intelligence scores allow the wizard a higher chance to know spells and grant him the aptitude to learn more spells.  Finally, a high INT allows MU's to use higher level MU spells.

CON bonuses are upgraded significantly - for all classes.  A character in Greyhawk can receive up to a +3 per hit die CON bonus.  OD&D only allowed a +1 CON bonus.

Hit Point Differentiation: For the first time, we are introduced to the concept of different hit dice by class.  Fighting Men receive a d8, Clerics a d6, and Magic Users & Thieves a d4.  This, coupled with the dramatic ability bonuses for STR and DEX for Fighting Men, really held up Fighters as combat monsters.  Greyhawk admonishes us that if this system is used, all Monsters must be upgraded from d6 to d8 for hit points!

Experience Point Awards: Gygax slams the "ridiculous method" of OD&D experience point awards (100XP per hit die of defeated monster) and introduces XP charts that are quite similar to the versions you see going forward in B/X, AD&D, etc.  Personal opinion: I actually LIKE the OD&D method of 100 XP per hit die.  I think it allows for faster progression at early levels.

Variable Weapon Damage (and Weapon vs. AC): Greyhawk is to thank for variable weapon damage - and I am a huge fan.  I know it's the subject of much internet debate, but I like that a sword does more damage than a dagger.  I just like the flavor of it.

Of course, if variable weapon damage is to be used, we also need to allow monsters to do variable damage - not just the 1d6 from OD&D.  So a chart is given listing the number of attacks and pursuant damage from all the various monsters.

But Greyhawk - Shame on You!!  How could you dump this monstrosity upon us of Weapon vs. AC charts?  It really sucks and isn't well explained.  Even amongst AD&D players, I'll bet no more than 25% of players use it.  I know some people defend it, but I just don't like it.  Too cumbersome.

New Spells: Many new spells are introduced in Greyhawk - including *drumroll* the Magic Missile!  This little guy does 2-7 hit points of damage, but the rules are very unclear on whether a To-Hit roll is required.  Some other notable new spells include Web, Rope Trick, Monster Summoning, Wish, Power Word Kill, Aerial Servant, Raise Dead Fully, and countless other new spells.

I hope you've enjoyed these Cliff Notes of the Men & Magic section of Greyhawk.  Next I'll discuss Monsters & Treasure changes in Greyhawk.


  1. Greyhawk also has an amusing callout to Jim Ward in the Meteor Swarm spell. Nice to see a first example of the GM winning an argument by writing his side into the next rulebook. I know I do that. :)

  2. I never noticed that before. Pretty funny! Why are they calling out Jim Ward? Was he a player in Gygax's campaign? I didn't know that.

    1. He was, and according to what I can gather, he argued that Meteor Swarm called down actual meteorites. So they settled that by printing a rule that said he was wrong. Here's where I found that originally:

      Scroll down a bit - I couldn't figure out to link to a specific post in the thread.

  3. I feel much the same about Supplement I as I do about AD&D: lots of interesting ideas and additions, but as a whole it's a big, hot mess.

    Personally, I really like the idea of weapon vs. AC, but I would prefer it to be a fighter perk rather than a general rule that all combatants need to use. To work in that way, it would need to be recast in terms of only bonuses rather than bonuses and penalties. Then, it would be the fighter player's responsibility to remember to apply the bonuses, rather than the referee. I think it would work much better, but I haven't had an opportunity to test my theory yet.

    1. Brendan - that's funny. I actually think Supplement I is a bit better organized than the original 3 books. Granted, it's still a mess. :)

      I like your ideas on W vs AC. That sounds like it could work.

      You should test it out in the Boardroom! :)