Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox: Supplement II - Blackmoor Part 1

The second D&D supplement, Blackmoor, is supposedly written by Dave Arneson, but in truth it is a hodge-podge of material from various writers. It's the first shaky D&D product - there's some good material in here, but there's also a lot of stuff that's of questionable usefulness. But in this project, that is irrelevant - it's all going in whether it's good or not!

FOREWORD: It's written by Gary, and the main thing of interest here is that it actually advises potential readers to put the book down and flee! It's an addictive business, this D&D...

Ooh, there's also a mention of "Dread Blackmoor Castle", which is the first we hear of that edifice. It's the main dungeon of Dave Arneson's home campaign, and even predates Greyhawk. Needless to say, Blackmoor will a part of the early going of my campaign - I'm planning to have the Adventurer's Guild portal already set up to transport PCs there if they wish to go.

MONKS: Ah. Damn it. I can't say that I'm a fan of this class, honestly. The occasional Asian-influenced character I don't mind, but I have a player that always wants to play one and it gets on my nerves to be honest. At least here they are a sub-class of Cleric, which could make them some sort of divinely powered ascetic martial artist. Strip out the Asian elements and I'm there.

They belong to the Order of Monastic Martial Arts, which is a cool name for their guild that I will use. Clerics must have Wisdom 15, Strength 12, and Dexterity 15 to become monks, and they also have to be human - that's a tall order. They aren't restricted by alignment, but most are Lawful, with only a very small number being Chaotic.

I didn't know this - Monks have to give away their extra gold like Paladins. They also can't use armor, which I gather would make it really hard to survive low levels. At higher levels it wouldn't matter too much, as their AC improves naturally. They can use any weapon, and when doing so add a damage bonus of half their level.

Their greatest advantages come when fighting unarmed, though - if any hit is 5 better than they needed, there's a 75% chance they will stun the opponent, and a 25% chance of killing it outright. They also deal a lot of damage unarmed, beginning at 1-4 at first level, up to 4-40 at 16th. This is combined with multiple attacks - that 4-40 attack will be coming in 4 times a round, and when you also factor in the stunning and instant death? Crikey mick. I doubt many monks survive those low levels, but at high level they're terrifying.

Monks are also hard to surprise, and they get the following thief abilities - Open Locks, Remove Traps, Hear Noise, Climb Walls, Move Silently, and Hide in Shadows. Which is nearly all of them - is there ANY statistical reason to play a Thief over this class? I can't think of one. But then again, in OD&D your choice of class is influenced by your dice rolls, so it works out.

Monks also get an absurd amount of special abilities. They can fall certain distances without harm; speak with animals at 4th level and plants at 8th; feign death at 5th; resist ESP at 6th; cure light wounds on themselves at 7th; immunity to suggestion and hypnosis at 8th; gain 18 Intelligence with regard to Telepathy used against them, and are immune to Quest and Geas at 10th; at 13th they get the infamous "Quivering Palm", which allows them to cause any creature they have struck to die upon command (usable once a week).

And here you think the list is over, but there is more - they can dodge missile attacks with a saving throw, and all sorts of magic missiles as well - I gather that includes lightning bolts and fire balls. Once they hit 8th level, even failing the save results in half damage.

The balance comes with magic items - they can only use weapons, rings, and miscellaneous items usable by Thieves. They can't use scrolls (fair enough) or potions - perhaps the sanctity of their bodies is too precious to pollute with such things? They are also forbidden from having followers until they reach 6th level. And among many other restrictions, they can't have any permanent hirelings.

And now the ultimate check on the power of Monks - from 7th level onwards, they have to challenge a Grand Master to a duel, and win to advance in level. This will be a lot of fun for me, especially so if two Monk characters hit high level in the game.

What I'm seeing here on paper is a class that looks very fragile at low levels, and just about unstoppable at high levels. Perhaps it's not the case (much as the 3e Monk wasn't as good as it looked on paper), but I don't think so - the combination of multiple high damage attacks and lots of immunities seems like a potent one to me. The limitations might balance it out, though.

As I've already shown Monks starting to fight on the battlefield, I'll extrapolate that further to introduce them to the campaign. The battlefield Monks will be Chaotic, and some of their number will show up in the Greyhawk dungeons looking to increase their Order's power. The Church of Law will eventually follow suit, producing its own Monks to counter them.

ASSASSINS: Assassins are a sub-class of the Thief, and even at the start the writer is cautious about it, stating that it should only be allowed under special circumstances or in large campaigns.

Only humans can be assassins, and they need a dexterity of 12, a strength of 12, and an intelligence of 12. It's also noted that they are always Neutral, which kills any lingering thoughts I had about OD&D alignment as morality. Killing for money is evil in my book, but if all alignment represents is what side you're on, then Assassins are definitely Neutral; they'll work for whoever pays them.

Assassins may "serve as" Thieves - which I assume to mean they get all of their special skills - at two levels lower. They can only wear leather armour, but they can use shields and wield any weapon. Again, here's a class that can do everything the Thief can with other things on top.

Every Assassin has to be a member of the Assassin's Guild, fitting nicely with my guild-centric campaign structure. They can't get followers until reaching 14th level, but after that they get the services of an entire guild of 1st level guys to train up, which could be useful.

Assassins have the ability to disguise themselves as another person, which is a mess of rules stuff about chances to be recognised and such. I'll have to work up rules for the other classes to attempt disguises as well.

Assassins can also learn different alignment languages if they have high intelligence, which is a first. I've set up alignment languages as those handed down from the gods, and anathema to those of opposing alignments, but I guess the Assassins have figured a way around that. Perhaps they have a patron god who straddles all three alignments?

They can also use poison, especially poisoned weapons. This is kept in check with a rather absurd rule - every round that the weapon is on display, there's a 50% chance that any person in viewing range will see it and go berserk, attacking with huge modifiers. So if you wave your poisoned dagger under Phil the Baker's nose, there's every chance he will flip out like a ninja and try to kill you. I can't really figure this one out with anything approaching logic. Perhaps poison is considered anathema to the Church of Law, which instills its followers (and that is pretty much everyone) with a pathological drive to kill anyone using it.

There's more stuff about the price of hiring assassins (which thankfully takes into account the numbers from OD&D). The one thing it indicates is that most assassins hired are of the 6th level. There's also a bit about Assassins gaining XP from assassination.

Finally, similar to the Monk, for an Assassin to progress beyond 13th level he has to challenge his Guildmaster to a duel to the death. Victory doesn't grant an actual level gain, but it does grant leadership of an Assassin's Guild, and all the power that entails.

Finally finally, there's an Assassination Table, with percentage chances for successful killing of the target based on the level of both parties. There are no guidelines for how this is to be used, and I'm thinking that it's there for a quick determination of whether an assassination mission has succeeded. The question is, should it be applicable during combat? Under certain circumstances, surprise being one of them, I say yes.

Tomorrow I take a look at D&D's first ever critical hit system, and some new monsters.

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