Monday, October 27, 2014

Did HD equal Level in early Blackmoor?


We’ve discussed character levels in early Blackmoor before here: http://boggswood.blogspot.com/2012/02/infamous-characters-and-history-of.html

So building on that discussion, Lets consider some statements from original player Greg Svenson.

“There were only three levels at the time: flunky, hero and super hero. We were all flunkies at the start. He became a hero when he mastered the magic sword we found during the adventure. I don't remember when the level advancement became one level per new hit dice….”

From my previous post, it is apparent that as Arneson developed early Blackmoor, flunky, hero, superhero did not really function as “levels” as we would think of them today, but more like level titles or social ranks – the sort of things we sometimes call tiers – that were nevertheless very important divisions as far as rule differences were concerned.   Characters also had “levels” of ability within these rankings as either “warrior” levels or “magic” levels, and sometimes in both.  It is the meaning of “level” in early Blackmoor and the interplay of level and title that I want to explore here. 

Lets look at one of the earliest documents in the FFC we have for Blackmoor, dating to before Kurt Krey’s character became a Bad Guy, and so apparently from 1971.  That is the Blackmoor Military Manpower Distribution (initial).  I’m reordering the list in terms of HD and leaving off the manpower figure for clarity:

Personna
Hit Dice
Earl of Vestfold
9 +1
Baron Fant
8 +2
Svenson
8 +5
Inspector General Snider
6 +1
Bandit
6 +1
Baron Jenkins
6 +2
Captain Krey
4 +1
Merchant
4 +1
Wizard of the Wood
-
Elves, Dwarves, Peasants, Men
-

Keep in mind that Hit Dice are not dice for Hit Points.  That is a change made during the process of writing D&D.  Hit dice here mean damage dice.

Notice that hit dice are only given for “warrior” player characters. Elves, Dwarves, peasants, “men” and the “wizard of the wood” have nothing.  It is a safe bet that where nothing is indicated, 1 Hit die can be understood.  Greg Svenson tells us, “My recollection is that a flunky or man-at-arms rolled 1d6, a hero rolled 4d6 and a superhero rolled 8d6 for damage.”  http://odd74.proboards.com/thread/4186/layer-od-archaeology?page=2

Damage apparently could be shared across multiple opponents as in EPT, as Greg says: “For what it's worth, I remember Svenny killing over 200 orcs in one battle and 112 orcs in another.”

Okay, note however that 4 of the 8 characters in the list have HD that don’t fit the pattern – the Earl has 9 and the Bandit, the Inspector General, and a baron have 6 HD.  Now, going back to Svensons opening statement, notice what he says in the second half – “. I don't remember when the level advancement became one level per new hit dice….”

That statement always nagged at me because in D&D it is not accurate to say you get one new HD per level.  Fighters kind of do up to level 10, but not really since there are several instances where it is a HD + a bonus number, not a simple 1 HD per level progression.  Now maybe Greg was actually remembering something, consciously or not, from early Blackmoor, or maybe it is just coincidence, but I think he was really on to something with the idea.

One hit die per level is exactly the sort of simple progression we might expect in early Blackmoor, and explains the 6’s and 9 in the Military Manpower table.  We can recast the table this way:

Personna
Warrior Level
Level Title
Earl of Vestfold
9
Lord
Baron Fant
8
Superhero
Svenson
8
Superhero
Inspector General Snider
6
Hero
Bandit
6
Hero
Baron Jenkins
6
Hero
Captain Krey
4
Hero
Merchant
4
Hero
Wizard of the Wood
-
-
Elves, Dwarves, Peasants, Men
-
Flunky

There's something curious to note about this list; and that is the 4, 6, 8, pattern.  It may simply be coincidence that there are no 5's or 7's, no odd numbers until the lord of Vestfold.  There's another possibility. and that is that fighters were advancing not by one HD per level, but two.  Interestingly, Arneson seems to suggest this very thing in his endlessly fascinating but altogether too brief "How too become a Bad Guy section in the FFC,  Here he says "To progress to the next level, (which in Blackmoor meant getting 50% more HD per level, although aour combat system did not really use HD).

There is a lot too unpack in that non-sentence.  It was obviously written for the FFC in the mid '70's post D&D, and is subject to the fallacy of memory and Arneson's habitual reductionist brevity, however, Arneson does seem to be confirming our hypothesis in saying that "in Blackmoor" acquiring more "Hit Dice" equated to gaining a "level".  He explains that they didn't really use HD, which we can take to mean HD in the D&D sense of dice for Hit points, because there is no doubt that Hit Dice as damage dice were indeed used.  What's more that note of "50%" more HD per level is somewhat nonsensical.  Assuming a hero has 4 HD, by this math, a 10th level fighter would have 27 HD, or if you start at level 1 and 1 HD, then a hero has only 3 HD and a superhero 11+ HD.  However, and in typical Arneson fashion, since in this "Bad Guy" section he specifically says he is talking about "Hero Type" monsters, it may be that he meant a single HD amount that was 50% of the hero level value - which for humans would be 2 HD.  Who knows?  But it does fit the pattern observed in the Manpower table.

So what about all those +1’s +2’s etc.?  They clearly don’t progress in any consistent pattern, varying from player to player.  So it is not like the 7+1  HD, for example that each seventh level D&D fighter has.

There may be a clue from the Wizard of The Wood.  The wizard was played by Pete Gaylord, and we have his character sheet.  This is the sheet published in Peterson’s PatW that I discussed in a series of post beginning in September of 2012.  It was probably not the character’s first sheet, but nevertheless dates from 1972 or no later than very early 1973 since its contents predate the D&D playtest period.  According to the sheet, the wizard is level 7 (initially), a fact which seems to confirm that level is separate from level title in Blackmoor, since Blackmoor appears to have followed the titles in first edition CHAINMAIL™, and there are only 4 (sorcerers, warlocks, magicians, wizards).

As we’ve discussed, the character sheet has a list of weapons and a target number for each weapon.  One of the wizards weapons (the battle axe) however, has a +5 noted after the target number. 

Given that Hit Dice in Blackmoor are damage dice, a possibility is that the +x numbers in the Military Manpower list  reflect a bonus each character may have with their principle weapon, perhaps due to the weapons magical properties, or perhaps just their personal proficiency.

There is another possibility that may be more likely.  The bonus may apply to morale.  Morale was a continual factor in Twin Cities wargaming, and is mentioned several times in the FFC.  It would certainly explain why Svenny's bonus is so high.

In any case, I do think we are seeing "levels" in the Blackmoor manpower list.  However I place it in quotes because terminology at this stage of the game was very loose.  In other words, a 6HD Hero might advance to a 7 HD Hero, without the actual term "level" being used at all, and at the same time they might still be casually referred to as a Hero "level" character.    


3 comments:

  1. It appears that level was used for Wizards before being used for fighter-types. There are plenty of nameless wizards in the first part of the FFC.
    Page 6: one 4th and one 3rd (who is also a superhero)
    Page 7: one 3rd and two 4th (one of whom is a superhero)
    Page 8: level 6.

    He mixes wizard level numbers with the term superhero. Also, in Greg Swenson's Chainmail notes, he give all wizards the same hit points whereas hit points for heroes and superheros varies.

    Finally, in those notes, fighters have exactly as many hit points as the average for their hit dice. So even then hit dice represented both hit points and damage done.

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    1. Peterson made a similar argument about wizard levels coming first, but I don't buy it. I'm not convinced the evidence that HD levels for warriors and magic levels for wizards were invented separately is particularly strong. I think the idea was more or less simultaneous.

      The references you cite (1980 print) are intriguing though and that's a great observation that they are all called "wizards" regardless of level.

      Page 6,7 "also a superhero" could mean the wizard is also a superhero as you say, or it could mean that a superhero also costs the player 12 or 16 GP/Wk.

      I think though that your interpretation is right, because the two example wizards are pretty different, and superheroes are mentioned elsewhere in the paragraphs. However, since these weren't player characters, there would have been less reason to be fine grained about their warrior level, possibly.

      Great comment as usual Hedgehobbit.

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    2. We know that fighters advanced in both hit points and damage (and, presumably chance to hit), yet Wizards didn't. So a wizard's level could simply be the number of spells that wizard was allowed to carry (ala Dungeon!). The opens the possibility that a wizard's "level" and a fighter's "level" represented two entire different things initially and were only combined later on.

      IOW, the term "level" only applied to wizards. You didn't need to refer to fighters by "level" since "hit dice" represented the same thing. It's only later when "level" becomes a general term for character advancement does it seem strange to refer to fighters by their hit dice.

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