OD&D-ish Stuff I’ve Been Doing

A Trade Caravan
Photo by Chris Rainier

The scheduling here on Papers & Pencils is important to me. If I’m being honest, it’s probably unhealthy how much importance I place on my posting schedule. Anytime I miss a day it feels like the end of the world. I’ll avoid detailing my emotional pitfalls, but it can get bad. I’m also human, though, so there are times now and again when I simply don’t care about tabletop games. I mean…Dishonored is so good, and I’ve been re-reading the X-Wing series, and do I really have to write about wizards at the moment? What has often happened in the past is that I’ve solved this problem by making really shitty posts. Which actually solves nothing. I know the post is shitty, so I still feel bad about it, and the immense amount of time I spend stressing about that only prolongs my momentary disinterest in tabletop games.

I’m not announcing a hiatus or anything. Just offering an explanation. I don’t know if any of my readers pay attention to my schedule, or feel disappointed when I’ve failed to update on time. But I do know that in the past 15 days, I’ve missed 4 posts. At this point, I thought an explanation was warranted.

Moving on, I’d like to share some stuff I’ve been doing in the OD&D-ish game I’ve been running for my younger brother and one of his friends.

I call it OD&D-ish because I’m not very familiar with the OD&D rules, or with the way OD&D GMs go about things. My entire experience in that regard comes from flipping through the three “little brown books” (which I’ve found to be disorganized and nigh-incomprehensible in some sections), and from playing in Vaults of Pahvelorn. Anything I don’t understand, I’ve filled in with whatever seems to mesh with the spirit of the game, as judged by me at the time that I need to come up with it. If you thumb through my campaign pages for this game, you’ll find numerous sections where all I’ve written is “I’ll detail this when its needed.” It’s a disorganized way to run a game, but in my defense I thought the game would be a one-shot. And the kids keep coming back, so it can’t be all that terrible.

The design-as-you-go nature of the game has forced me to come up with some ideas I don’t know if I would have come up with otherwise, two of which in particular I’m happy with: Alchemy, and Trade Caravans.


Upon reaching second level, a magic user has achieved sufficient learning to attempt creating alchemical concoctions. This requires that the magic user have access to an alchemical laboratory, and the creation of each potion will require large investments of time and gold. Like spells, potions (and other alchemical products), have levels.

Each alchemical product requires a number of material components which must be purchased from the town herbalist, such as leaves, seeds, and nectars from plants all over the world. The cost of the components are [50gp * Potion Level] So a first level potion would cost 50gp to make, a 2nd level potion would require 100gp to make, and so forth.

Alchemical products also take time. The materials must be painstakingly prepared so as not to contaminate them, and and even once all the work is done, it can take days for the mixture to slowly, drop-by-drop produce enough of the liquid to create the desired effect even once. Each alchemical product requires 1 week per recipe level to complete.

Regarding recipes, you will need them before you can create a working potion. Like magic, alchemical knowledge is rare and difficult to come by. However, recipes are freely traded, and are normally much less expensive than spell scrolls. It’s also likely that you’ll find some recipes among treasure hordes!

It is possible to create a recipe yourself through research, but alchemical research can be an expensive and time consuming proposition! In addition to costing [250gp * Potion Level] in material components used for experimentation and failure, the process will require [1d6 + Potion Level] weeks to complete. If you have a potion to reverse-engineer, then you may reduce either the cost, or the time required by 20%. Having a magic user apprentice who is willing to assist you can reduce either the cost or time by an additional 20%. (In each case, you must pick only one of the two. If you have both a potion to reverse engineer, and an apprentice, then the two you select need not be the same).

If you do not have a potion which you are reverse engineering, Alchemical research will result in discovery of a random potion, determined by the GM.

Some alchemical products may be associated either with clerics, or magic users. For example, a healing potion will be associated with clerics. In that case, a Magic User may still create a healing potion, but the potion will be treated as though it is 1 level higher. So if a healing potion is a level 1 alchemical product, then a magic user who wishes to create one will treat it as a level 2 alchemical product, which costs 100 gp and takes 2 weeks to produce.

An example Alchemical recipe is Strength of the Bull. It’s a level 1 alchemical recipe for clerics and magic users. When consumed, it grants the person who drinks it immense strength for 1 minute. With it, the player can ignore most strength checks, lift heavy boulders, and even smash through walls. A punch from someone who has consumed a Bull’s Strength potion would be equivalent to 2d6 damage.

Bull’s Strength doesn’t make a person Superman. They couldn’t knock over a building or lift a sailing galley over their head, but their strength is superhuman none the less.

Trade Caravans

Like Vaults of Pahvelorn, all of the XP in my game comes from the players spending gold. It’s been amazing to watch just how instantaneously players internalize this fact, and become ravenous treasure hunters. It wasn’t long, though, before they’d spent all the money they wanted to spend on basic amenities, and started asking me what else they could spend their treasure on. I needed to come up with some items they could purchase which wouldn’t break my low-magic setting, but would also be interesting enough to the players that they’d feel compelled to spend piles of gold on it.

I immediately thought of Thracle’s Emporium, a shop in the town of Zorfath, which regularly sells oddities such as a miniature wyvern, Dragonbane arrows, or gems with the souls of ghosts trapped inside. The Emporium has often been the subject of discussion in the Vaults of Pahvalorn campaign, as we all scramble to find gold for whatever odd or end the shop has.

Since my game’s town, Haetrope, is a trading town on the edge of Elven territory, I decided that merchants traveling to and from the elven lands would serve the same role as Thracle’s Emporium, for my players. Every few days I come up with a bunch of random items, assign them to a caravan, and let my players know that new goods are available in town. Some of them have obvious uses, while others are simply highly valuable, and still others have uses which aren’t obvious at all. A few days after each caravan arrives in town, it leaves again. The system is pretty simple to pull off, since we manage the campaign online anyway, and everybody seems to be enjoying throwing their money at the various oddities which crop up.

As an example, here are the caravans currently stopped in town:

Marigold’s Caravan

  • 8 finely crafted oaken chairs, engraved with symbols of nature = 100 gp / ea
  • 1 finely crafted oaken table. Seats 8, engraved with symbols of nature = 1000 gp
  • 3 masterwork elven padlocks = 65 gp / ea
  • A chest with a magical lock upon it, which no one has yet been able to open = 500 gp
  • A miniature bear, about the size of a cat. It is fully grown. = 750 gp

The Corvani Family Trading Caravan

  • The Longsword of an Ancient King. It does not appear to be magical, but was once wielded by an unknown hero. It is extremely ornate. = 1700 gp
  • Exhausted Wand, crafted by an elven wizard, this wand retains no magical powers. = 100 gp
  • A ballista = 600 gp
  • 14 Ballista Bolts = 40gp/ea
  • 8 potions of healing from the elven lands = 100 gp/ea
  • 1 potion of Sight Through Walls = 200 gp
  • A block of the finest elven marble, large enough for a life sized statue = 1500 gp
  • 12 pairs of silk, elven shoes = 60 gp / ea

Dade’s Caravan

  • A grand piano. Well crafted, though not ornate = 700 gp
  • 12 Perisnia blosoms, potted in elvish soil = 30 gp / ea
  • A lightweight steel staff, topped with an owl holding a glass orb between its wings. Does not appear to be magical. = 1000 gp
  • 3 books detailing the language of Ancient Common = 25 gp / ea
  • 8 very fine elven dresses. Proportioned for an elvish frame = 100 gp / ea
  • 20 yards of elvish silk = 50 gp / ea

In closing, you should totally play Dishonored. So good.

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5 thoughts on “OD&D-ish Stuff I’ve Been Doing”

  1. I love the caravan idea! I’m one of those people whose players never seem to reach their wealth by level, and not by design. I’m bad at placing treasure. Any advice on that?

    1. Honestly, I’ve never been good at adhering to the wealth by level guidelines. I place treasure according to how difficult I think it is to reach or how cleverly I think it is hidden. If the players find it, then they earned it. For the most part this has worked out for me, though I’ve certainly had plenty of games where my players end up with way too much gold. >.>

      The most important thing is to remember that treasure can take many forms. It’s not just gold pieces and magic items. Convert those gold pieces into items which the players can sell. My players have found and retrieved artwork, fine clothing, maps, books, and all manner of other things.

      Amusingly, Dishonored actually does this really well.

  2. I try not to get too fussy about posting schedules and the like. I find if you push your self to post when you don’t have anything to say you do end up just posting nonsense and garbage. Though this means my D&D blog sits idle more than i’d like. On my regularly blog (funkaoshi.com) i’ll often link to things I find on the net and the like, which keeps it more active.

    1. Intellectually I recognize that. But P&P is really the only thing I like about myself sometimes. Because I’m a mess! =D

  3. I just love your variety of treasures. It reminds me of 1st Edition AD&D, but…more. Do you usually come up with treasures as you go, thinking of new things and then adding them? Or do you keep a running treasure table?

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