Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: The Stretegic Review #2

This issue begins on a rather sombre note, by mentioning the recent death of TSR co-founder Don Kaye. I don't know how influential he was on the game itself, but he certainly helped to shape the company, and his death here was the earliest seed of Gary's eventual ouster from TSR.

From there it's an editorial by Brian Blume, some stuff about the Strategists' Club, additions to Cavaliers and Roundheads, and a round-up of recent Wargaming news - none of it relevant to the project at hand.

QUESTIONS MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED ABOUT DUNGEONS & DRAGONS RULES: In short, a FAQ. This is chock-full of information.

The first section deals with combat - it mentions that the regular Chainmail combat system is intended for large battles mainly involving humanoids, and that Chainmail's Man-to-Man and Fantasy Supplement systems are for battles of smaller size. The 'alternate system' provided in D&D is recommended for important melees - and aren't they all? I won't be using the Chainmail systems for anything less than skirmish combat, so it's of little concern.

The next paragraph mentions that there is normally only one exchange of attacks per round. It's then clarified that all attacks deal 1d6 without regard for weapon type, unless otherwise noted. Since I'll have already introduced variable weapon damage from Supplement I, this is also of no concern.

What is of concern is the clarification that PCs get multiple attacks when fighting creatures of 1 hit dice or less. It's not stated whether this only applies to Fighters. In AD&D it does, but for OD&D I'm inclined to let every class get multiple attacks based on Fighting Capability. So when your Fighting Capability says you fight as 2 Men, you get two attacks against creatures of less than 1 hit dice.

Initiative and surprise get a brief mention. It is stated that initiative is checked every round, and adjusted by Dexterity - high Dex grants a +1 to the roll.

The combat example shows a 4th Level Fighter getting ambushed by 10 Orcs. Its interesting in that it provides perfectly workable grappling rules that I've never seen elsewhere. Basically each side rolls a number of dice based on their hit dice total, and the higher result wins the grapple - grapplers may also be thrown off and stunned for a number of turns. I really like this, it's simple and easily used at the table.

Monster saving throws get a mention - most monsters save as a fighter of the same hit dice, and those with magic resistance might save as magic-users.

Morale is mentioned, seeing as it did not get covered in OD&D. PCs and unintelligent monsters don't use it, but others do. The simple system provided involves a roll of 2d6 where low is bad and high is good. It's much like the one from Chainmail, so no problems there.

Experience points for magic items are discussed, even though no such possibility was brought up in OD&D. Rewards range from 100XP for a magic arrow to 1,000 XP for a +1 Sword to 5,000 XP for a 'Genie Ring' (presumably a Ring of Wishes). The rest if this section reiterates what is said in OD&D, adding that creatures with special powers should be worth more XP.

This concludes with a discussion of spells, and how many spells a magic-user can cast in a day. It also clarifies that spells cast from scrolls disappear. The usual Vancian stuff.

THE ROPER: It's a new monster! This 'mass of foul, festering corruption' is cigar-shaped, about 9' tall, and has six sticky tentacles that cause weakness that it uses to drag victims into its maw. It's immune to a lot of stuff - lightning, charm, half-damage from cold, and 80% magic resistance to top it off. Fire is more effective against it, and since that's usually a Magic-User's first go-to weapon they'll find that out quickly enough.

This is one of the first instances we have of treasure inside a monster - the Roper often has gems in its gizzard.

Ropers are yet another cool monster that I've never used in a game - more a factor of infrquent gaming and my games petering out before high level than the monster itself.

RANGERS: It's a new class! This Ranger is heavily based on Aragorn from Lord of the Rings - the warrior that protects civilization from the monsters of the wild. They first appeared in Chainmail as slightly tougher Heroes, but here they are expanded into a class all their own.

It's much like the 1st Edition AD&D Ranger. Strength is their Prime Requisite, but they also require a high Intelligence, Wisdom and Constitution - not many characters rolled by 3d6 in order will qualify. But that's ok - I prefer the more powerful sub-classes to be a rarity. They also have to be Lawful, and if they stray lose everything except their abilities as a Fighter.

Looking at their XP chart, they take longer to advance than Fighters, but they start with 2 hit dice at first level. At much higher levels they get the ability to cast both Cleric and Magic-User spells, which I suppose is intended to model some of Aragorn's powers.

Despite these advantages, there are a few drawbacks - they can only own what they carry, they can't hire servants, and only two can work together at any one time.

They automatically get a 25% bonus to XP! That's pretty good, and just about negates their steep advancement chart - except that it's lost after 8th level. They can also track creatures, are difficult to surprise, and get a damage bonus equal to their level against monsters of the Giant class - from the Wandering Monster charts, this includes all the evil humanoids and giants.

At higher levels they get access to more magic items, and they automatically get some followers. Most of these are similar to the PC types, but other options include Werebears, Hill Giants, and even Golden Dragons! Something tells me that some of these options will get excised when AD&D rolls around...

In campaign terms, all of these guys are going to be much like they were in Lord of the Rings - the ancestors of ancient kings of men that lurk at the fringes of society and protect it from evil monsters. Once rumours of the dungeons reawakening get out Rangers will start investigating that and become part of the Adventurers Guild - not through their own guild, but as part of the Guild of Fighting-Men.

MEDIEVAL POLE ARMS: Aaaaaaaaaah! It's Gary banging on about pole arms for a couple of pages - if you own a copy of Unearthed Arcana you've already seen it in all its ghastliness. This is the first iteration, but by no means the last. At least it provides stats for using some of these in Chainmail. About this point I'll probably introduce a weapons vendor who keeps trying to entice players into his shop with glaive-guisarmes and bohemian earspoons.

On Monday I continue with The Strategic Review #3, which sees the introduction of a whole host of new monsters, as well as... Nazis and Cowboys?!? Believe it!

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