Tuesday, April 4, 2017

AD&D Character Generation for White Plume Mountain

Here is how we generated our mid-level AD&D guys for White Plume Mountain.

What levels?

First things first, I needed to know what level people would need to be at.

WPM says it is for levels 5-10 on the cover. Inside, it's more specific:

"at the very least four and at most ten characters, with a combined total of 40 to 60 levels between them. A good party balance would be something like 40% fighters, 30% magic-users, 20% clerics and 10% thieves."
- WPM, p. 2

So I sat down and said, okay, what's the middle range of XP in that? Probably around 80K.

Then just to be sure, and just for the fun of it, I actually calculated the xp that would generate fighters, magic-users, clerics, and thieves at 5th and 10th levels, plugged them into a spreadsheet and weighted it by those 40/30/20/10 numbers.

In the end this came out in the 75,000-80,000 XP range. Heh. Eyeballing was good enough . I tried a few PCs and found that 80,000 would put some PCs right on the "I need 1 xp more" edge of a level, and with triple-classed demi-humans it would be a mess. So I went with 75K, after checking to make sure I wasn't causing any problems, and I said this to my players:

"Roll 4d, drop lowest, six times. Arrange in any order.
Do that for six sets.
Pick one.
You get 75,000 xp (so 37,500 each for 2 classes, 25,000 for 3 classes), yes you can get your Prime Requisite bonus as appropriate

HP are max at first level, then roll."

We actually ended up doing this for most of the group before a session of Felltower, as each person came in and wanted to try a "test set" of rolls. Why test? Just roll and write. We did most of the chargen in a relatively short amount of time, although it did eat into our game session a little.

I did end up modifying the instructions a little:

- no characters with two classes. It's just a big headache, for one, and then I'd need to allow people to hairsplit XP a bit to avoid a dual-classed PC who didn't have access to the first class's abilities yet.

- no Assassins, no evil characters, if only because we knew we'd have a paladin (and we did, although he had to miss the session) and we had another player who'd pretty much said he'd be a LG cleric or a paladin.

- I did say I'd allow a bard, but you'd have to three-way split the XP to do it - no using just enough for your fighter level, just enough for thief, rest in Bard. It's doable, though.

Otherwise, that put people between 6th level and 8th level, which multi-class characters generally one level behind (two classes) or two (three classes). That seemed about right given that we had between six and ten people who wanted to play. If everyone could make it, centered on 7th level would be fine, and if only six did, we'd still be closer to the top end, and I figured that was a slight handicap since they hadn't played AD&D in a long time (some never had) and the extra HP and spells would help buffer against the difficulty.


Gear was a different issue.

I said, unlimited mundane gear. Take as much as you want. However, only gear in the PHB. No "there are silver daggers, can all of my weapons be silver?" No, silver daggers, silver arrows. Otherwise, help yourself. By this level, you should have more money than you know how to spend on adventuring.

For magic items, I turned to Appendix P in the DMG on page 225-227. I had though of handing out a budget and a theoretical amount of money - like in C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness. But I decided that would take a lot of time and debate, get switched last minute as people rationalized a different choice as better, and might make for very lopsided decisions. Random was better, in my thinking. I almost picked a selection based on tournament PCs from similar level modules (which pretty much means the other S-series modules) but again, random seemed more fun. "I got plate +1 and a shield +1!" beats, "Okay, we should give the fighters all plate +1, and save this shield +1 for the druid because he's our backup healer and needs a better AC, and . . . "

So Appendix P. We calculated the percentages and rolled.

Let me tell you, it's hard to get a well-equipped party that way. We had an 8th level druid with three different +1 weapons and a 7th level fighter with nothing but a single +1 shield. The percentages seem high, but they really are not, and you can't even have a chance of a +2 item until you're above name level for most classes (except Rangers with chain armor and magic-users with magical daggers.) Druids get a lot of chances for different sorts of magic weapons and fighters get one chance at one. You can't even technically get a broadsword, two-handed sword, or bastard sword as a magic weapon because that's not listed.

What we did was honor those * and ** entries, but ignore the qualifies on sword types except for class restrictions.

I also assumed that the scroll % chances were rolled for each type of scroll based on the footnote about thieves. We further assumed that you'd get a number of potion rolls equal to the maximum number of potions.

I allowed PCs to pick the kind of scroll of protection they got, or any spells (although we rolled for levels.)

And then in the end, I gave the group some items and upgrades, specifically:

" 2 potions of healing (2d4+2)
- 1 potion of extra-healing (3d8+3)
- a single +2 weapon for one of your characters*
- an upgrade of any of your current magical weapons from +1 to +2**
- Bag of Holding (500 pound capacity)
- One each of Cloak and Boots of Elvenkind
- Wand of Negation (20 charges)
- Necklace of Adaptation

* Pick any one person.
** Pick someone who has a +1 weapon, make it +2 OR if you've got a cleric with a +1 weapon you can upgrade the cleric to a Staff of Striking (20 charges) instead of his +1 weapon.

Divide them up as you see fit."

When we got down to 5 players, I threw in an extra each of healing, extra-healing, and one chosen or randomly-rolled potion from the chart on DMG p. 227, and said that instead of a swap the cleric could just have a Staff of Striking in addition to anything he had.

Amusingly that Bag of Holding weighs 15 pounds empty. Geez. Who needs Detect Magic? "I grab that empty sack! Oof!" Plenty of "hand this to people, don't throw it to them" jokes abounded.

How was it?

I mentioned some above but:

- we ended up with about half the party in magical plate mail, and half the party in mundane armor.

- Urf Nightsoil ended up with Bracers of AC 6 and a Ring of Protection +2, giving him AC 2 with his Dex adjustment.

- two fighters ended up with 15 bolts +2. I love how there are no magic arrows on the list.

- I had to provide those +2 weapons because some monsters in AD&D need +2 weapons to hit, plus these guys are level 6-8, someone would have a +2 weapon by then.

- I needed to provide miscellaneous items by choice to avoid getting things too good (Wings of Flying, say, or a Rope of Climbing) or too useless in the adventure (enjoy this Wand of Wonder).

I picked items that seemed useful in the context of the adventure but weren't too tailored to it, and were likely pickups from the kind of things I'd hand out back in the day (or would hand out now.) The Wings of Flying and Rope of Climbing were specifically not on my list. Although the latter is fairly common, my players agreed after the session that had they had one everything would have been "How do we use the Rope of Climbing here to get around this?" or "Just use the Rope of Climbing!" instead of "How do we get past this obstacle?"

Replacement Characters

So last session, three characters were turned to frosted corpses and need replacement. The players have their six sets of rolls, and used one set - I told them to simply get the next set they want to use and use that to make their PC. XP will be the same, simply because it's easier to use what's gone before and because the adventure is going to be hard enough without being lower level.

Magic items would be rolled as before, even given the oddness that results, and I will probably give the new group one or two healing potions on top of that. Probably. We'll see.

If I could do it again . . .

I'd do chargen the same. It worked great. It was fun to do, it gave reasonable characters without either too high or two low scores, and made "roll then choose" compatible with "but I really want to run a _____." On top of that, you weren't assured of at least one 18 (I think no one had multiple 18s) and at least one player picked a stat set that lacked an 18 because they needed more prereqs for a given class.

Appendix P isn't so great, though. It gives you a potentially lavishly equipped (with +1 weapons) guy but until name level you aren't really getting anything impressive. Plus, you can get odd results and some of the reasoning isn't clear. I'm only using it again for replacement guys because everyone's characters will be on the same system.

Next time, I'd probably use the magic item tables for NPC parties on pg. 176. I'd probably roll percentage for each one - so a 6th level guy gets three 60% rolls for table I and two 40% rolls on table II. What you can get for gear there is more random, but also potentially more useful. I'd allow certain swaps (so a magic-user rolling Splint +4 on Table II could choose the Bracers of AC 4 instead) but otherwise, that might be good. Plus you can get some sweet stuff no sane GM would just hand to you but which probably would be fine in play anyway.

And that's how we ended up with our AD&D party.


  1. One of my favorite bits of design work in Dragon Heresy is my method for giving characters that start at high level an appropriate amount of money, gear, and magical cool stuff.

    1. I need to look at those again.

      I do like "appropriate" having a lot of random in it, though, but Appendix P ends up with both a low ceiling and a total lack of a floor. That wasn't so great here.

  2. I definitely like "roll to see what your adventurer could have picked up in his earlier adventures" method more than "you have (gold) and can buy any enchanted gear you want with it" for starting play as higher level characters. Looking at the lists of magic items people always assume everyone "should" have by a certain level in theoretical minmaxing posts always makes my head spin, I like magic treasure to not be something you can always rely on having exactly how you want it.

    1. Yeah. Pick-and-choose seems okay, but instead you lose a lot of the charm of "hey, I had this awesome thing!" and "I got a rock." Appendix P just didn't get the feel and possibilities that I'd like.

  3. The one thing lacking about starting at higher level with odd bits of gear is the familiarity with it. Someone playing with a peculuar miscellaneous item ffrom the ground up will have learned a few tricks with them. I think of Robert Bevan's crew of miscreants from Critical Failures commanding their bag of holding to pour out "all the vomit" onto someone below, or having the entire party climb in and be held by the one character with feather fall when cliff jumping.

    1. Well, conversely, they aren't limited by previous attempts to try something interesting that didn't work out, because it's the first time for everyone.

      I'm not sure either of those two examples you gave would work in my games - as written, nothing in a Bag of Holding says it's subject to commands, so you'd need to fill it with stuff and then dump it like any other bag. And Feather Fall is weight limited. A high-level caster can certainly hold a lot of weight (2,000 gp plus 2,000 gp per level) though, and so it would work as long as the levels were high and the party not too heavy. Or big, giving the 1 cubic inch (presumably 10') area of effect.


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