Thursday, February 9, 2012

WARLOCK or how to play D&D without playing D&D?


     In his 1981 book Fantasy Role-playing Games, Dr. Holmes writes, "At Caltech in Pasadena, students Cowan, Clark, Shih, Smith, Dahl and Peterson put together a set of rules with what they felt to be an improved combat and magic system: Warlock. I used their combat table when I first began playing D&D, because I could not understand the one in the original books" (pg 65, Chapter 5: History).

    The Warlock system that Holmes refers to was one of the earliest published attempts to comprehensively "fix" D&D. It was published in August 1975 in the Spartan Simulation Gaming Journal #9 (picture above), filling most of the magazine (pages 4-37 of 50). This means it was released the same year as the Greyhawk supplement (Feb 1975 per the Acaeum). Dr. Holmes may have had the published version of Warlock or (this is speculation) an earlier draft circulating among the LA-area, where he lived at the time. 

     On the first page Warlock is subtitled:  "How to Play DandD Without Playing DandD?
     (yes, it writes D&D as "DandD")

     The first three introductory paragraphs:
     "A little over a year ago, the first copies of a new game called Dungeons & Dragons appeared on the market. Fantasy fans and gamers in general were enthralled at the possibilities. Most of them became hooked on the game.
     When our group first started playing it, our overall reaction was that it had great ideas, "but maybe we should change the combat system, clarify the magic, and redo the monsters".
Warlock is not intended to replace D&D, nor is it intended to interfere with it. All we have tried to do is present a way of handling D&D without the contradictions and loopholes inherent in the original rules. We spent a considerable amount of time working out a solid combat system, a coherent magic system, and a more flexible way of handling monsters. We have been (rightly) accused of making D&D into a different game altogether, and we think a slightly better one.
     We recommend that you at least have access to a
Dungeons & Dragons game, for the simple reason that we lack the space to go into some of the detail used in their three volumes. The D&D books are a good place to get ideas from. They are not a complete set of rules. We have completed them in our own fashion. We hope you enjoy it."

     Warlock covers only material from the first volume of OD&D (Men & Magic), plus the same material from Greyhawk. It has the same character classes, but allows any combination of dual or triple classes, and covers 40 levels (!). It uses a spell point system for magic-users, and its own greatly expanded spell lists (seven levels, though only five levels are fully described). It uses a spell-like system for thieves' abilities, although part of these rules seem to be missing in the original publication. And it has its own extensive combat system that includes critical hits and fumbles. Ironically, considering Dr. Holmes' experience,  the Warlock combat system is more complicated than OD&D; it actually says "the numbers involved in our combat system may look a bit frightening" (pg 26). 

     In 1978, the Warlock system was republished as a stand-alone rulebook titled The Complete Warlock (Balboa Games, 56 pages), with the subtitle changed to "a major D&D variant". The 1978 rulebook starts with the same three paragraphs, although they are revised and expanded a bit. Despite the 1978 rules being "complete", they still don't include any material beyond that covered by Men & Magic. Instead they add a lot more complexity across the board, such as more character classes (quadruple magical-fighting-cleric-thief class, anyone?). As a side note, it also changes "hobbits" (used in Warlock) to "halflings", echoing the change found in the D&D booklets. Two further Warlock rulebooks appeared in 1979 and 1980 and finally covered material from Monsters & Treasure (I haven't seen these). See small pictures of the covers here.

     So, Warlock was one of the first attempts to take post-Greyhawk Supplement D&D and "get it right" (and possibly the first published extensive revision of D&D?). The introduction sounds a bit arrogant, and laughable in retrospect, but it's a natural impulse that has led to innumerable other RPGs. Like Arduin, Warlock started as a supplement to D&D, except that it has been largely forgotten. This is probably because it contains mostly rules with very little flavor text and almost no art. I think it deserves a little more attention due to the very early publication date and the connections with Holmes. California was an active place for published D&D variants between Warlock, Arduin and the Perrin Conventions.

      In Dragon #109, Paul Crabaugh (LA-area gamer) wrote: "In the Good Old Days, the days of the original three books of the Dungeons & Dragons game, the number of variants on the rules was roughly equal to X, where X was the number of players in the game. Alas, we all get older and more conservative, and with the publication of the more detailed, more structured D&D Basic Set, variant rules tended to become one with history."
 
     It is speculation on my part, but Holmes' exposure to Warlock may have motivated him to offer to edit the D&D rules to make them more clear, leading to the Basic Set, which ironically helped confine variants like Warlock to the dustbin. Except for at CalTech itself, where the gaming group(s) seem to have carried on the Warlock tradition (later revisions of the rules have been spotted around the 'net).

    See also: how the Warlock rules may have influenced Holmes Basic, Part 1 and Part 2, and Part 16 of the Holmes manuscript series.

17 comments:

  1. I would love to see the "spell-like system for thieves' abilities." It sounds very interesting.

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  2. So, people having no idea what the tables in the LBBs plus whatever "normal man +1" and such meant goes back a long way, eh? :)

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  3. Interesting. Like Perdustin I'd like to see those thief rules.

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  4. Thieves simply don't upgrade the skills in the common way (i.e. placing % points here or there) but at any given level they have "Ability Slots" similar to "Spell Slots".

    So, a 1st Level Thief has two 1st Level Thievish Abilities; a 2nd Level Thief has four 1st Level Thievish Abilities and one 2nd Level Thievish Abilities; and so on.

    For example, Move Silently grants you a +20% for its 1st Level and +40% for its 2nd Level.

    Some other skills like Dagger Attack grant you an increasing THAC0 bonus and then an additional attack.


    Anyway, also Fighters and other similar classes (Dwarf, Paladin, Ranger) own similar slots for Fighting Abilities.

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  5. In the Good Old Days, the days of the original three books of the Dungeons & Dragons game, the number of variants on the rules was roughly equal to X, where X was the number of players in the game. Alas, we all get older and more conservative, and with the publication of the more detailed, more structured D&D Basic Set, variant rules tended to become one with history.

    And now, with the Internet, we have come full circle. :-)

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  6. I read one of the online versions of these rules. They didn't say anything about what the changes were intended to do, and I couldn't work it out.

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  7. Hi Zach---

    Some excellent work here, and I'm looking forward to your analysis of Spartan Warlock's influence on Holmes Basic!

    You mentioned that "This means [Warlock] was released the same year as the Greyhawk supplement (Feb 1975 per the Acaeum). Dr. Holmes may have had the published version of Warlock or (this is speculation) an earlier draft circulating among the LA-area, where he lived at the time."

    In discussions with Chris Holmes, he commented that they played using the Warlock rules published in Spartan.

    Allan.

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  8. @perdustin and Trey: since there's interest I'll do another post on the Warlock Thief class in the future.

    @Hamel: I presume you are looking at a later version? I don't see any "Fighting Abilities" in the Complete Warlock. Also, in CW, 1st level thieves only have 1 ability (1 slot), and 2 level only two (2 slots).

    In both the original Warlock and CW, the slots are written out like a spell chart on the Thieves Advancement table, although they are "at-will" abilities rather than 1/day. Come to think of it, this may have influenced Holmes in formatting the Blue Book: he put the Thief Abilities as "A", "B", "C" (for levels 1-3) in the "Spells" column of the experience table.

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  9. Urgh, my fault.

    I have a copy of the Y2K's version of the rules, taken from the authors' Yahoo Group.

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  10. @Hamel - no problem. It's interesting to hear how the group's game evolved over the years.

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  11. I became an instant follower of this blog just because someone,eventually spoke about "The Compleat Warlock". now the world is a better place.

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  12. "I think it deserves a little more attention due to the very early publication date and the connections with Holmes."

    I heartily disagree with this.
    The Compleat Warlck deserves more attention in its own terms, because it is a fantastic alternative to D&D.
    Something doesn't instantly becomes "important" or worth of scrutiny just because it is in some way connected to the game we all know. Please let us examine it with a mind immune from dungeons & dragons, so that we can appreciate it for what it is.

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  13. I have one copy of The Complete Warlock and two copies of the Warlocks Tower plus an notebook of the notes and characters from the Caltech D&D group. interesting stuff.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Eric. That notebook sounds very interesting. Is it from the 70s or a later time? Were you associated with the group?

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  14. The Spartan #10 (April 1976) contains one more page of info on the Warlock system ... er ... variant:

    The Spartan #9 contains a thief class description, plus descriptions for a dozen+ thief abilities, BUT it doesn't contain the Thievish Abilities tables (that are later included in the Complete Warlock). The Spartan #10 (April 1976) rectifies that omission, with a one-page article called "Warlock Thief Abilities," which includes the lists of 1st through 7th level thief abilities.

    Thief abilities in Complete Warlock only go up to 6th level, so the original Warlock is "one louder," as Nigel Tufnel might say.

    Oddly, both versions of the game ... er ... variant don't include enough thief abilities to match the thief class table. A 23rd level thief in the original Warlock begins gaining 8th level thief abilities, but there is no list of 8th level abilities. Similarly, a 17th level thief in the Complete Warlock begins gaining 7th level thief abilities, but there is no list of 7th level abilities.

    (Posting this a few relevant places, because I've found no discussion of the fact that The Spartan #10 contains Warlock material.)

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    1. Thanks! I had wondered about that missing table - it kept me from doing a follow-up post on the Warlock Thief. Great to learn it was actually published.

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