Did HD equal Level in early Blackmoor?

Author: DHBoggs /

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 may have had varying “levels” of ability within these rankings as perhaps hinted at in the Ran of Ah Foo paragraph where he has both  “warrior” and “magic” levels.  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:

Hit Dice
Earl of Vestfold
9 +1
Baron Fant
8 +2
8 +5
Inspector General Snider
6 +1
6 +1
Baron Jenkins
6 +2
Captain Krey
4 +1
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:

Warrior Level
Level Title
Earl of Vestfold
Baron Fant
Inspector General Snider
Baron Jenkins
Captain Krey
Wizard of the Wood
Elves, Dwarves, Peasants, Men

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 title in Blackmoor, given that "wizard" in D&D is considered the ultimate rank or following the titles in first edition CHAINMAIL™, where the 4 titles are 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.

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.    

D&D Comparison Conclusion and Houserules doc

Author: DHBoggs /

So having gone through all of Doug Stewart's 1994 Dungeons & Dragons rulebook, what have we come away with?

For me, it was remarkable to recognize just how much of the original game "engine" was still "under the hood" so to speak.  Although D&D94 has a lot of added bells and whistles and does a lot of futzing around with various things, a great many of the rules still stem from the original game, either completely untouched or only cosmetically altered.

Even so, there are also key elements of the original's brilliance that have come to be ruined, too.

As a text to mine for houserule ideas and rule clerifications though, D&D94 proved very appropriate and useful.  The simplified introductory nature of D&D94 is no doubt a great aid in this regard.  If one tried to do the same thing with, say, the bloated Rules Cyclopedia, for example it would be quite a headache.

So attached below are the TSR "houserules" I derived as we went along.  It is a fairly conservative document.  I've only included those rules and guidelines which are truly appropriate and useful for OD&D play, whatever it may be that fell into that category, regardless of whether I myself would ever employ them.  


D&D Rules Comparison 16

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

Stocking the Dungeon

Generally similar to D&D74 except as noted below.

The difference between a monsters’ level and a dungeon level should usually be no more than 2. (p68)

(This statement apparently replaces the dungeon Monster Determination by Dungeon Level Matrix and monster level lists of D&D74)

Room Contents table:
Treasure Chance

Rooms with monsters and treasure together indicate a lair and should be filled with full numbers of monster and treasure. (p116)
Special indicates unusual things which in and of themselves are harmless, if left alone.  Examples given include alarms, shifting walls, magical pools, sound effects and so forth.

Create a wandering monster list for each level consisting of 1-10 monsters of no more than 2 levels (HD) above or below the dungeon level.

Discussion: It is curious that the general approach to stocking the dungeon is the same, but hard to know if that's because TSR inc., didn't utilize the process much or because they though Gygax got it mostly right the first time.  My guess is on the former.  

What has changed is quite interesting, however.

First, unlike in D&D74, there is no  random table for treasure by dungeon level as there is on page 7 of         The Underworld and Wilderness Adventure booklet.  Treasures in D&D94 are either determined by the treasure type tables or hand picked by the Dungeon Master.  If it is a treasure and monster together then the treasure is a lair treasure chosen by the treasure type table.  While I'm happy to see it clarified in D&D94 that lair treasures are indeed expected in dungeon lairs, not also having a random treasure by level table leaves off the interesting possibility of monsters not knowing that there is a hidden treasure in their domicile. More problematic however is D&D94's encouragment of sometimes hand picking the treasure, because few DM's understand the frequencies at which treasure, and especially magic items should appear in a campaign.

Second, as mentioned above, D&D94 has no equivalent to the "Monster Determination and Monster Level Matrix".  This D&D74 table's results lead to subtables of specific monsters of varying strengths, each subtable getting tougher than the previous (discussed at length in my "Setting up a Proper Dungeon" article).  Frankly, the method offered by D&D94  (level = HD +/- 2) is much more practical and flexible than the D&D74 tables, with the caveat that it does not leave a method for the occasional wildcard monster.  
Third, the room table contents table shown above is quite different from anything in D&D74, particularly in percentage chances.  Note there is an equal chance (16.7%) of a room being empty, trapped, or having a "special".  Traps and specials are given no particular chance in D&D74, being things a DM is expected to add or not based on the nature of the level.  Some levels might have lots of traps and/or specials and others none, and that is how it should be.  Such things should not be predictable in some fixed percentage.

This section ends the D&D94 booklet.  Next post I will give a brief conclusion and a document of  D&D94 house rules for D&D74 players.

D&D Rules Comparison 15

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

Spell effect changes:

Charm person – is ineffective against 6hd or greater creatures.  Victims receive a saving throw after 24hrs and at intervals thereafter based on intelligence.  The spell is broken if the caster attacks the victim.

Clairvoyance – allows the caster to see through the eyes of another creature.

Continual Light – covers a 60 foot area and may be cast on an object as for the Light spell.

Detect Evil – causes the evil to appear to glow to the caster

Detect Magic – causes the Magic to appear to glow to the caster

ESP – requires one minute of concentration and picks up all thoughts in the direction chosen by the caster.  Thoughts are understood regardless of language barriers but multiple minds in the area produce a jumble of “voices”, requiring another 6 rounds to single out one mind.  Target Saving throw allowed.  The spell can be reversed as MindMask to block esp.

Find Traps – causes them to glow a dull blue.

Haste – doubles movement for 4d6 creatures.

Hold Person – causes paralysis but does not affect undead or creatures larger than ogres.  Reversed “free person” releases paralysis.

Hold Portal – any creature with 3hd more than the caster can temporarily break open the portal in one round.

Invisibility – objects made invisible become visible when touched.

Invisibility 10’ radius – leaving the circle returns visibility.  Entering the circle after casting does not allow one to become invisible nor does reentering after leaving it.

Knock – opens only one lock or similar obstacle at a time.  A door barred and locked could not be opened by a single knock spell.

Light – can be cast on a moveable object and will blind a victim if cast on their eyes.

Lightning bolt – begins 180 feet away from the caster (!?!?) and extends a further 60 feet.

Phantasmal Forces – effects of damage wear off and can be disbelieved with a save vs. spells.  A successful hit will dispel.

Protection from evil extends 1 inch from the casters body.  The caster may make missile attacks.  The caster cannot be touched by “evil” creatures unless the caster attacks them.  No saving throw allowed against this spell.

Protection from Normal Missiles – excludes catapult stones (D&D74 is ambiguous on catapult stones).

Purify food and water can separate water from mud.  It does not affect living creatures and no saving throw is allowed.

Sleep – affect 2d8 HD worth of creatures of less than 4+1 HD, within a 40 x 40 foot area for 4d4 turns.  Sleeping creatures may be killed with a single blow.  Undead and large creatures immune.

Speak with Animals moves with the caster.

Discussion:  Most of the changes to spells are explanations of how the spell will function in a given circumstance or an explanation of limitations.  Sleep is perhaps a bit more limited depending on the interpretation of the original, but it is also simpler and easier to apply in practice.   Most of these are pretty good and worth adopting.  I believe the original light spell was not mobile (but continual light is) and could not be cast on an object (but continual light can be) - and I prefer it that way.  The one spell alteration here that is definitely out for D&D74 games is the change to lightning bolt.  It is a feature of the game that the spell can be cast directly in front of the caster (or casting object) and that there is always the potential of bounce back in tight spaces.

D&D Rules Comparison 14

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

At present I have no desire to document the range and duration changes of each spell, because D&D74 is noticeably lacking in this regard, so there are a lot of such to document.  Important effect details however are noted.

Spells last in the mind forever until cast.
Spells shared by both clerics and magic users are now identical, not having separate versions.
Both clerics and Magic-users must be 4th level to cast a reverse spell.  Cleric spell reversal is now made identical to Magic-user spell reversal; meaning spells aren’t really “reversed” rather a separate spell having an opposite effect is learned and cast as such. (p52)

Clerical spells
D&D 1994 lists only 1st and 2nd level spells due to its introductory nature.
1st level Cleric spells added:
 Remove Fear
Resist Cold
2nd level Cleric spells added:
            Know Alignment
            Resist Fire
            Silence 15’ Radius
            Snake Charm
Note: the clerical spell list of D&D 1994 is identical with the 1977 J. E. Holmes edition.

Magic User Spells:

Only the first 3 levels are given in D&D 1994.

1st level spells added (identical to Moldvey basic 1980):
            Floating Disc
            Magic Missile

2nd level spells added (identical to Moldvey basic 1980):
            Mirror Image

3rd level spells REMOVED (none added) (identical list to Cook/Marsh expert 1980):


Not putting a limit on how long a spell stays "memorized" is an interesting twist some DM's (and likely all players) might prefer.  However, the rules regarding reversed spells are just wacked.  There's no reason to change the D&D74 approach, and certainly not to this 4th level, same for all business.  Reverse spells are, and ought to be, the provenance of Clerics, especially chaotic clerics, as this is their distinguishing feature, and because they lack the power to turn undead.

Likewise, I'm not inclined to remove spells from the OD&D list.  Adding a few is no problem.

D&D Rules Comparison 13

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

Exceptions to the rule that only one ring may be worn per hand are the ring of weakness and the cursed ring.

Cursed Ring
(appears to be unique to D&D94?)
Can only be removed by a high level cleric.
Causes a -1 penalty to all Saving Throws.
Does not detect as evil.

Have 1d10 charges (D&D74 wands have up to 100 charges)

Rods and Staves
Rods are intermediate in size between a wand and a staff.
Staves and Rods apparently have unlimited charges unless specified.
The only rod listed is a Rod of Cancellation

Discussion: The cursed ring is a very good idea and fits right in with the D&D74. Generally I'm extremely reluctant to add new magic items to my OD&D campaign, but this ring is an exception for me.

Gimping the number of charges a wand can potentially have may seem like a good idea, my concern is that individual wands may seem like disposable items if they only have an average of 5 charges. 

There are no "Rods" in D&D74.  I don't think they add much to the game, but whatever.  It is strange that staves and rods have no charge limits in D&D94, given how reduced the charges of wands are.

D&D Rules Comparison 12

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

Scrolls are written on parchment or paper.
There must be enough light to read a scroll.
Scrolls must be read aloud to cast a spell.
Cleric scrolls are written in the common tongue but only Clerics know how to use them.
There may be up to 3 spells on a scroll (D&D 74 has up to 7 spells) as follows:

Number of Spells

Cursed Scrolls

Just looking at the writing sets off the curse – no reading needed.  D&D94 includes a different curse list from D&D74 as follows:

1. The reader turns into a frog (or some other harmless animal).
2. A wandering monster of the same level as the reader appears and attacks the reader by
surprise (a free attack with bonuses).
3. One magical item owned by the reader disappears (the item is chosen or randomly determined
by the DM).
4. The reader loses one level of experience, as if struck by a wight. (The DM should roll
again for a first-level character to avoid unfair "instant death.")
5. The reader's Prime Requisite must be rerolled.
6. Wounds will take twice as long to heal, and healing spells will only restore half
normal amounts until the curse is lifted.

Protection Scrolls
Protection scrolls  verses monsters hinder the warded creature from entering the protection circle, but they do not prevent spell or missile attacks from the warded creature.

The circle is broken if a protected creature attacks a warded creature.

Protection from magic differs only in duration.  In D&D74 it lasts 8 turns, but in D&D94 it lasts but 1d4 turns. 

Discussion:  I think the basic rules for scrolls given in D&D94 are good clarifications, although I don't agree that scrolls have to be on parchment or paper.  They same spells might be scribed into stone, wood, or clay tablets, I should think.

I also like the change to less spells on a scroll, but only because in my campaign I prefer to consider "scrolls" of 4-7 spells on the treasure tables to actually be spell books. 

I also much prefer the cursed scroll effects given in D&D94.  The D&D74 ones have a few similar entries but also contain two that result in being transported out of the game.

Lastly, I also think the clarifications in D&D94 for protection scrolls are good ideas, but I see no reason to reduce the time a protection spell lasts.  Let the players have their 8 turns.

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