International Original Dungeons & Dragons Month 2019 Post 5

Greetings, welcome to my last post in celebration of International Original Dungeons & Dragons Month 2019. I wanted to end the month with a post as I had planned to start it but failed to do so. That said, I wanted to touch on something I’ve rarely seen actually discussed in practical manner that could be used as a template for others – how to turn monsters into playable characters. I’ll be giving you three examples of how I’ll be doing so in my campaigns if such races are allowed; those monsters will be Orc, Centaur and Dragon (Gold).

Gary & Dave never gave any rules for how to turn monsters into races in OD&D; it was up to each individual referee and the needs of their campaign to decide. It wasn’t until Gary & Rob Kuntz wrote the Greyhawk supplement was there an optional racial addition of Half-Elf. Further more it wasn’t until Advanced Dungeons & Dragons did other races and sub-races begin to appear. That said, there still weren’t any official rules for converting monsters (to my best knowledge) until 2nd edition AD&D. Before I go into how I’ll convert monsters into player character races I’ll first quote a passage from OD&D as my starting point.

Other Character Types: There is no reason that players cannot be allowed toplay as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up tothe top, i.e., a player wishing to be a Dragon would have to begin as, let us say, a “young” one and progress upwards in the usual manner, steps being predetermined by the campaign referee.

From Dungeons & Dragons Book 1: Men & Magic by Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson TSR 1974.

As you can see from the above quote there is only the most basic of advice concerning the process, which I admit flustered me initially. I had come from games where nearly everything needed was laid out for both the referee & player as to how you’d make such rulings. It took nearly a year reading & discussing Old School gaming philosophy to finally break me from my previously by-the-book mentality.

Before I get to the nitty gritty of my examples I did want to set out how I’ll be doing so. First I’ll quote the monster info and stats, then I’ll them show you dear reader how I’d convert them for actual play. I’ll start with the simplest monster the Orc, then move to the Centaur and finally onto the Gold Dragon.

ORCS: The number of different tribes of Orcs can be as varied as desired. Oncedecided upon, simply generate a random number whenever Orcs are encountered,the number generated telling which tribe they belong to, keeping in mind inter-tribal hostility. When found in their “lair” it will be either a cave complex (die 1–4) or a village (die 5–6). The cave complex will be guarded by sentries. A village will be protected by a ditch and palisade defense, 1 light catapult per 50 Orcs, and a high central tower of some kind. Orcs found in a cave will possibly have strong leader/protector types, as will those in villages:

Cave Complex Village

7th- to 9th-level Fighting-Man Nil 25%/100 Orcs

11th-level Magic-User Nil 10%/100 Orcs

Dragon 10%/100 Orcs Nil

1–6 Ogres 10%/50 Orcs 15%/50 Orcs

1–4 Trolls 10%/100 Orcs Nil

Orcs will defend their lair without morale checks until they are outnumbered by 3 to 1.If found other than in their lair Orcs may be escorting a wagon train of from 1–8 wagons. There is a 50% chance for this. Each wagon will be carrying from 200–1,200 Gold Pieces. Wagon trains will have additional Orcs guarding them, 10 per wagon, and be led by either a Fighting-Man (die 1 = Champion, die 2–4 = Superhero, die 5–6 = Lord) or Magic-User (die 1 = Sorcerer, die 2–4 8= Necromancer, die 5–6 = Wizard), 50% chance for either (die 1–3 = fighter, die 4–6 = magical type.)

Note that if Orcs are encountered in an area which is part of a regular campaign map their location and tribal affiliation should be recorded, and other Orcs located in the same general area will be of the same tribe.

Orcs do not like full daylight, reacting as do Goblins. They attack Orcs of different tribes on sight unless they are under command of a stronger monster and can score better than 50% on an obedience check (4–6 with a six-sided die for example).

Move in Inches 9          Hit Dice 1

From Dungeons & Dragons Book 2: Monsters & Treasures by Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson TSR 1974

Okay, much of the above will be ignored as the info pertains to either Orc lairs or caravans, thus not necessary for the needs of a player character. But we can glean some info that is usable and helps paint a picture of the type of Orc player characters are possible.

Here is what we know of Orcs from the above:

  • They Move 9 Inches/Yards.
  • They are 1 Hit Dice creatures like the standard races.
  • That they have Fighting-Men & Magic-Users amongst them.
  • Orcs do not like full daylight thus like Goblins incur a -1 to all melee & morale rolls in full daylight or spell-like equivalent.
  • That they will often attack other Orcs of a different Tribe unless they under the command of a more powerful monster or being.

Since Orcs do not get racial benefits like Halflings, Dwarfs & Elves, I’ll not place racial class level limits, so they can advance as humans can but instead of recruiting human supporters they recruit Orcs from their tribe to build a new Orc stronghold. That said, depending on the campaign they could instead recruit Orc, Human & Ogre supporters to create a barony for a local Kingdom they Orc PC is aligned with.

Now onto Centaurs:

CENTAURS: At worst these creatures are semi-intelligent, and therefore Centaurs will always carry some form of weapon: 50% of a group will carry clubs (equal to Morning Stars), 25% will carry lance-like spears, and the balance will be armed with bows (composite bow, foot-type). In melee the Centaur will attack twice, once as a man and once as a medium horse. Centaurs will be found in hidden glens. It is there that both their females and young are and where their treasure is hidden. In the lair (glen) will be found from 1–6 additional males, females equal in number to twice the total number of males, and young equal to the number of males. Females are not generally armed and will not fight, and the young are also non-combatant, except in life-and-death situations.

Move in Inches 18       Hit Dice  4

From Dungeons & Dragons Book 2: Monsters & Treasures by  Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson TSR 1974.

From what we can glean from the above:

  • They are not very smart.
  • They move 18 inches/yards.
  • They are only able to be Fighting-Men.
  • They get two attacks, one as a man & once as a Medium Horse.
  • They have 4 Hit Dice

Taking the info above I’d rule that Player Character Centaurs are young men (if I use the above info as my default) who are Fighting-Men with 1 Hit Die. They get two attacks and are generally limited like Halflings to 4th Level Fighting-Men (Hero) before they return to their tribal glen. Since they are often very dim, they roll 2d6+1 on both Intelligence & Wisdom instead of the standard 3d6. Again this is only if I use the info above as my campaign default.

Now onto the Gold Dragon:

DRAGONS: There are six varieties of Dragons, each with separate characteristics in particular and other things in common. The varieties will be dealt with first:

Dragon Type Breath Weapon Range & Shape Hit Dice Talking/Sleeping

Golden Fire or Gas (as applicable) 10–12 100% / 10%

Breath Weapons: The Dragon is able to use its breath but three times per day, so sometimes it will bite instead. To determine this simply roll two six-sided dice; a score of six or less indicates the Dragon will bite, but a seven or better indicates it will breathe.

Cone-shaped breath weapons originate from the mouth of the Dragon at 1/2” diameter. Line-shaped breath weapons will travel in a straight line beginning at the height of the Dragon’s head at the time it releases. Cloud-shaped breath weapons extend from ground level to a height of 3”.

Hit Dice: The number of dice is an indication of the size of the creature. Most will fall in the middle, but 20% will be small and 20% very large. The value of the hit dice, as well as the value of the breath weapon, will be subject to the maturity of the Dragon.


Die Roll to                                                        Value of Hit Dice

Determine     Description/Age                 and Breath Weapon

      1                 Very Young/1–5 years                     1 per die

      2                 Young/6–15 years                              2 per die

      3                 Sub-Adult/16–25 years                    3 per die

      4                 Adult/26–75 years                             4 per die

      5                 Old/76–100 years                               5 per die

      6                  Very Old/100+ years                         6 per die

Special Characteristics:

 Golden Dragons are the only Dragons which are Lawful in nature although this exception is not noted on the Alignment table. They will often appear as human or in some other guise. They will not usually serve any character.

Attacking Dragons: Sleeping Dragons may be attacked with a free melee round by the attacker and +2 on hit dice for chances of hitting.

Certain weapons will be more or less effective than others against the various types of Dragons. This is indicated on the following chart, the number indicating the addition or subtraction for the probability of hitting as well as the amount of damage done.


Type Attack by:        Water     Fire*    Ltng.     Air**     Earth***

        Golden                          —           —           —            —              —

*Includes attack by Efreet or Fire Elementals.

**Includes “whirlwind,” Air Elemental, or Djinn attack.

***Attack by an Earth Elemental.

Subduing Dragons: Any attack may be to subdue rather than to kill, but this intent must be announced before melee begins. When intent to subdue is announced, hits scored upon the Dragon are counted as subduing rather than killing points. Each round of melee the number of points scored in hits is ratioed over the total number the Dragon has (hit point total), the hits obtained being stated as a percentile of the total possible, i.e. 12%, 67%, etc. The percentile dice are then rolled to determine if the Dragon has been subdued. A roll equal to or less than the percentage of hits already obtained means the Dragon is subdued. For example:

A “Very Old” 11 Hit Dice Red Dragon is encountered asleep in its cavernous lair. Three fighters creep in and strike to subdue. All three hit, scoring respectively 2,3, and 6 points, or 11 points total. 11 ratioed over 66 (the number of hit points the Dragon can absorb before being killed or in this case subdued) is 1/6th or 17%. The referee checks to determine if the Dragon is subdued and rolls over 17 on the percentile dice. The Dragon is not subdued, and a check is then made to see whether he will bite or use his breath weapon during the second melee round. The result indicates he will breathe. The attackers strike again and once more all hit for a total of 12 points. The Dragon breathes and as none make their saving throws the attackers are all killed for they take 66 points of damage from Dragon fire. Subsequently, the referee rolls 01 on the percentile dice (any roll up to 34 would have indicated success) indicating that had the attackers survived, they would have subdued the Red Dragon that turn. Not more than eight man-sized creatures can attempt to subdue any one Dragon.

Value of Subdued Dragons: Subdued Dragons can be sold on the open market (going out of existence in the game) for from 500 to 1,000 Gold Pieces per hit point it can take. Thus, the Red Dragon in the above example would be worth from 33,000 to 66,000 Gold Pieces. Offers are determined by the referee merely by rolling a six-sided die to see if the offer will be 500 (die 1), 600 (die 2), etc. Gold Pieces. Of course the character or characters who subdued the Dragon could keep it in their own service or sell it to other players for whatever they could get.

Length of Subdual: A subdued Dragon will remain in that state until such time as an opportunity presents itself to escape or kill its master, but as long as the master is in a commanding position it will not attempt either course.

Two or More Dragons: If two Dragons are encountered they will be a mated pair of at least the 4th age category. If three or four Dragons are encountered they will constitute a family group of a male, female and one or two young. The adults will be of the 4th or greater age category, the young of the 1st. If the young are attacked both parents will automatically use their breath weapons. If the female is attacked the male will attack at double value unless he is simultaneously attacked, and vice versa.

Dragon Treasure: Very Young and Young Dragons are unlikely to have acquired treasure. Sub-Adult Dragons will have about half the indicated treasure for Dragons. Very Old Dragons can have as much as twice the indicated amount. 

Move in Inches 9/24 Fly       Hit Dice 5 -12

From Dungeons & Dragons Book 2: Monsters & Treasures by Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson TSR 1974. Edited to limit info quoted to Golden Dragon.

As with Orcs above much of the info is moot and only applies to Monster dragons and as a guide to referees on how best to convert them to a player character race. Since I chose Golden Dragons to simplify things for the sake of this post, I’ll focus on the info for them.

From what we glean above:

  • Golden Dragons are magical.
  • They can shape change.
  • They have 5 to 12 Hit Dice.
  • They can move 9 inches/yards on foot or 24 inches/yards by flying.
  • They are Lawful only.

How I’d rule for such campaigns that I’d allow dragons as a PC race, they’d be limited to being Magic-Users only; beginning at 3 Hit Dice thus level three. I’d only allow them if a character has died at 5th to 6th level and the player wanted to play a Golden Dragon. Unlike Monster Dragons though a Player Character may advance in level it’s Breath Weapon is static at 3d6 for its career until it retires & creates its lair. It’ll recruit Lawful creatures as its supporters when it does so to help defend its lair when it travels and to bring it offerings (food & treasure) when it is residing within its lair. It’ll often recruit Clerics, Paladins & Magic-Users dedicated to Law to aid it in any effort the Golden Dragon deems to require such aid.

As you can see it isn’t too hard to convert monsters into player character races, you just need to understand what kind of campaign you want to run and how such races could affect it and how it’d affect the party dynamic. It might take an hour to mull over everything and compose notes for the races but it is an easy task and one I suggest more referees look to take up. Your campaigns need not be cookie cutter clones of Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms, take a page out of the Eberron play book; that setting is rife with potential character options. An OD&D campaign set in Eberron would be a natural fit, outside converting the Eberron setting core races, you should have zero issues with it.

But I’ll end this post hoping that it might spur you to take the leap if you haven’t tried to incorporate non-standard races into your OD&D campaigns. This post is aimed at refs who are new to not just OD&D but its retro-clones such as Delving Deeper; as they old hands (should) know all this by now. I’ll be back next week with a new post likely discussing a new setting idea I am contemplating developing since I’ve hit a creative block on my older projects. Fin.


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