Tuesday, September 28, 2010

AD&D Monster Manual part 3

Baboons: Believe it or not, baboons originally showed up in the updated Wilderness Encounter tables from Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry. Their stats are given here for the first time, but they are more likely to flee than fight.

Despite a general lack of use in most games, I am completely in favour of regular animals getting stats in the Monster Manual. Fantastic monsters are all well and good, but real world animals give us something to compare them to, and also provide a baseline of normalcy for the campaign world that I think is really important. If everything is fantastic and extraordinary, then nothing is fantastic and extraordinary. Not to mention that the pulp fantasy and mythology that D&D draws on is full of instances of heroes battling regular animals. Hercules wrestled a lion. Conan bit off a vulture’s head. The game needs this stuff, and I was massively disappointed that it was taken out in 3e. Luckily for me there’s a ton of it in the AD&D Monster Manual. Much of it, like the baboon, won’t come up in play very often. But it’s important nonetheless.

Badgers: Speaking of which, badgers are actually pretty hard, with a low AC and multiple attacks. You do not want to engage one with a 1st level PC. I’m not sure if they have appeared in a previous OD&D book, but it doesn’t look like it. There’s also a giant variety that has 3 hit dice and deals more damage. A D&D staple rears its head, as you can sell their pelts for 10-30 gp.

Baluchitherium: It’s another new monster drawn from prehistory. These guys are prehistoric rhinos, with a tendency to trample anything nearby. They also have a metric shit-ton of hit points and deal a lot of damage. And they carry no treasure, so I’d advise just getting out of their way.

The name presents a problem, in that it really doesn’t ring true for the flavour of D&D. A lot of the Latin-based names just don’t sound right. In previous posts I have posited the existence of an ancient language in my campaign world that was used to classify various types of monsters – it’s where the term Draco Conflagratio for the red dragon comes from. So I guess they did the same for the dinosaurs and prehistoric beasts that still exist in various remote pockets. The Latin is not their literal tongue, but simply a representation of it. Even with this explanation, I feel like I should come up with a more authentic-sounding name for these guys. Nothing springs to mind just now, though.

Barracuda: Wow, I never realised how much of this book is real-world animals. This looks like another new monster to me. They’re aggressive saltwater fish that attack the injured, the helpless, and the very small (i.e. hobbits). And look out, because that bite is as effective as a longsword.

Basilisk: This monster, which first appeared in OD&D, is basically the same: a lizard with a gaze that turns its victim to stone. A lot of cosmetic details are filled out here – it has eight legs, moves slowly due to a slow metabolism, have dull brown skin with yellowish underbellies, and glowing green eyes. There is one major change, in that it no longer turns people to stone with its touch. But it does still have the awesome ability to see into the astral and ethereal planes, and turn people in the latter plane into ethereal stone. So rad. Oh, and the number encountered has dropped from 1-6 to 1-4.

Bear: Cave bears first appeared in the OD&D Wilderness Encounter tables, and regular bears were in the updated charts from Supplement II. There are three types of bears given stats here: black, brown and cave bears. Black bears are non-aggressive herbivores, while the other two types are highly aggressive. All three types can hug for extra damage if their attack roll is high enough. Brown and cave bears keep fighting for a few rounds even after their hit points go below 0.

Beaver, Giant: This monster comes to you courtesy of Supplement II. The Preface has already stated that Gary edited the hell out of the monsters from that book, so I’m interested to see how different this one is. To start with, their AC has worsened from 5 to 6. A swimming speed of 12” has been added. % in Lair has dropped from 85% to 80%. Treasure Type has changed from D to C. They now attack with 1 bite, instead of 2 claws and 1 bite. That bite damage has lessened from 4-24 to 4-16.

The intelligence of the giant beaver is listed as Low to Average, which makes them about as smart as a person. This jibes well with their previously established tendency to build dams in exchange for gold and exotic bark.

We’d been told previously that beaver fur was valuable, and that their young could be sold at market. Ever the entrepreneur, Gary provides price ranges.

Beetle, Giant: Six varieties are detailed here: bombardier, boring, fire, rhinoceros, stag, and water. The first five had been detailed in Supplement II, while the Water Beetle seems to be new. The Number Appearing for the Boring Beetle has changed from 2-12 to 3-18. The Fire Beetle now moves at 12” instead of 9”. The Bombardier Beetle has 2+2 hit dice instead of 1. The Fire Beetle has 1+2 hit dice instead of 1-1. The Stag Beetle has 7 hit dice instead of 6. The Boring Beetle now has a % in Lair of 40% instead of 50%, and its Treasure Type has changed from A to C, R, S, and T. All of the beetles have had their damage range tweaked slightly. The only major change comes from the Fire Beetle, who has dropped from a massive 3-24 down to a reasonable 2-8.

Bombardier Beetles now have a concrete range and area of effect for their vapour cloud. It causes damage now, which it didn’t before, and it has a better chance to stun opponents, but it can’t be used as often as it could previously.

Boring Beetles still cultivate molds, slimes and fungi as food, but it seems now that these are just the regular varieties. In Supplement II they were specifically said to do so with things like Yellow Mold and the various monstrous slimes and jellies. It made for a more interesting monster in my opinion, and it’s not exactly ruled out here. So I’m going to leave it in, because it’s cool.

It is now specifically stated that the glowing spots on Fire Beetles can be cut out, and will continue to glow for 1-6 days with a 10’ radius. Previously there had been no mention of this, and presumably adventurers were expected to herd these things like mobile light sources. That seemed like more trouble than it’s worth, so I approve of this clarification.

Water beetles are voracious, and attack just about anything nearby. There’s not much else to them, besides the aquatic aspect.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

AD&D Monster Manual part 2

Aerial Servant: This monster first appeared as part of the Aerial Servant cleric spell in Supplement I: Greyhawk. This is simply a restatement of the stats given in that spell as a monster entry – it’s an invisible monster that can carry a lot, has a grip that’s very hard to break, has a surprise bonus, and that will go bonkers and attack the cleric that summoned it if it can’t complete its mission. The only mechanical change is with its speed. Before it travelled at twice the speed of an air elemental, but now it does so at twice the speed of an invisible stalker – a drop from 72” to 24”!

We learn that Aerial Servants are actually semi-intelligent air elementals that roam the astral and ethereal planes. Could this be the result of air elementals being trapped in those planes, away from their native habitat? Maybe this can happen to any air elemental summoned to the prime material plane? It would certainly explain their tendency to flip out on their summoner.

There’s a little rules nugget tucked away in this entry that explains something I had wondered about in OD&D. Often in OD&D it would be noted that a monster fights at double, triple, or even quadruple strength under certain conditions.  The Aerial Servant is said to fight as a double-strength Invisible Stalker. Comparing the two entries, I find that the Aerial Servant has 16 hit dice to the Invisible Stalker’s 8, and that it also delivers twice as much damage on a successful hit. It’s how I suspected the rule worked, but it’s nice to see some hard confirmation.

Anhkheg: The Anhkheg remains mostly the same here as it was in The Dragon #5, with some cosmetic changes. Originally its % in Lair was 25%, but now it is 15%. Its Treasure Type was first listed as B2, which made no sense, so that has been changed to C. Its bonus acid damage on a bite attack has been significantly lowered, from 1-10 down to 1-4. That’s fair enough, as that bite already does 3-18 to start with. It’s plenty deadly without an extra 1-10 on top. Finally, its acid squirt now has a damage rating listed, which it did not before. It’s a nice revision that slightly lessens the Anhkheg's deadliness and brings some weird rules bits into line.

Ant, Giant: Giant ants were listed in the OD&D wilderness encounter tables, and also given as an example under the entry for Large Insects. Here they get stats for the first time. The worker ants are pretty standard low-level monsters, while the warriors have a poison sting that deals extra damage. The queen has a ton of hit points, but can’t move or attack. Quite remarkably for AD&D, their eggs have no market value. Usually Gygax can’t wait to tell you how you’ll earn for selling that sort of stuff, but I guess there’s not much call for giant ants as pets or delicacies, is there?

Oh, and as the rad illustration of them swarming a hapless paladin shows, they’re only about 2 feet long. I have a habit of envisioning them as larger than man-sized, so I’ll have to try hard to remember that they are smaller. Still large enough to be scary in large numbers, but not towering over the PCs.

Ape, Gorilla: Again, Apes appeared in the OD&D wilderness encounter tables. This is the first time they are given stats. They’re pretty tough, with 4 hit dice and multiple attacks, and extra rending damage if both of their punch attacks land. They’d wreck the average 1st-level party, I think.

Ape, Carnivorous: These guys first appeared in the Supplement I revision to the Wandering Monster tables, replacing OD&D’s White Apes. They’re pretty much the same as gorillas but a little bit tougher and smarter, with a better chance to avoid being surprised due to keen senses

Axe Beak: This seems to be a new monster, stemming from Gary’s seeming fascination for prehistoric animals. It’s just an ostrich with a big beak and claws, and I’d be very surprised if anyone pipes up in the comments to say they’ve used one in a game.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

AD&D Monster Manual part 1 of many

Man, the Monster Manual is awesome. The first ever product for AD&D, it was a compilation of all the monsters developed for OD&D, with some new stuff added in for good measure. In terms of the physical product it was light years ahead of anything TSR has produced to this point. My 4th edition copy is still a very sturdy hardcover, and I’ve honestly never seen a Monster Manual that isn’t in really good nick. So kudos to TSR for the production values, because it’s a great book. The writing’s good, the art’s good, the monsters are good. You’d be hard pressed to find a D&D book that’s as high quality as this one. I may be biased due to my love of monster books in general, but this is a real doozy, and a genuine watershed moment for the RPG industry as a whole.

The book kicks off with an editorial by Mike Carr, who was an editor at TSR at the time. He mentions right off that the Monster Manual is the ‘second part’ of the new D&D releases. Presumably the first part he’s referring to is the Basic Set edited by Holmes. The rest of the piece is devoted to reiterating TSR’s success and drive for excellence, while putting down their derivative competitors. It seems to me as though the company was doing a fair bit of that in products around this time.

An alphabetical table of contents follows, which is nice and legible and very useful.

Then there’s a preface by Gary, in which he explains who created most of the monsters herein. Gary himself is responsible for most of them, but he credits Steve Marsh for the undersea creatures taken from Supplement II, Erol Otus for the original illustrations of the Anhkheg and Remorhaz, Ernie Gygax for the Water Weird, and Terry Kuntz for the prototypical Beholder.

Explanatory Notes: Wow. We’re definitely in different territory to OD&D here. In the products released before this book, lots of things went unexplained and unexpanded. You had to figure out what certain tables meant and how certain rules were supposed to work on your own. But the Monster Manual leaves nothing to chance. Everything is explained, and nothing is left ambiguous (at least on purpose). It’s a completely different mindset to OD&D.  No doubt it's a side-effect of the growing success and appeal of D&D, as people not accustomed to wargaming have to make sense of the rules.

This section begins by explaining the use of the term monster, as it refers to any creature encountered in the game by the PCs, as well as being used in the more traditional sense of a horrible or wicked creature. See what I mean? Not even the basic terminology goes unexplained. There’s a note at the end that humans and demi-humans, despite being under the catch-all term of monsters, still use the attack matrix for humans.

From there it goes on to explain all of the common statistics in the monster entries. It has all the usual standbys that have already been in OD&D: number appearing, armor class, move, hit dice, % in lair, treasure type, number of attacks, damage per attack, magic resistance, and alignment.  All of them of course, get a far more detailed explanation of their use than they did in OD&D, but the basics remain the same.  Frequency is a new one, showing how rare the monster is and what percentage it should have to show up on the appropriate Wandering Monster chart. Special Attacks and Special Defenses give a brief description of the monster’s unusual abilities, which can be dead handy for the DM in the middle of a game. Intelligence was something that had been touched on in some of the OD&D monsters, particularly those that showed up in The Strategic Review, but now it’s been much more codified, and applied to every monster. Size introduces the categories of Small, Medium, Large, etc., which begin to have some mechanical effect in AD&D. Psionic Ability shows the monsters psionic attacks and defenses and their other powers as well. I’ll be interested to if it matches the Player’s Handbook, or if it’s closer to the system from Supplement III. The section on Magic Resistance has a rule whereby casters higher than 11th level have a better chance to penetrate it, while those lower have a worse chance. At first I thought this was a new rule, and I had a hard time finding it, but it’s tucked away in the Balrog entry in earlier printings of D&D Vol. 2.

And that's the introductory stuff out of the way.  I did want to get into some monsters today, but I ran out of time.  And yes, that means I'm going to running through all of the monsters in this book, which could get frightfully boring after a while.  Deal with it!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Dragon #11

The Dragon Rumbles editorial this month sees Tim Kask getting excited about the inclusion of stories from Fritz Lieber, Gardner Fox, and L. Sprague de Camp, as well as talking up the popularity of the Snit Smashing game included last issue. View from the Telescope Wondering Which End is Which sees Gary in fine form, taking pot-shots at anyone and everyone who wants to profit from D&D without the permission of TSR. It contains some praise for Judges Guild, which is now officially licensed to produce D&D material, and also for GDW, but mostly it’s Gary just letting loose, which I always enjoy. How Do You Stop That Thing? is an article discussing tactics for the game Ogre, in which one player with a heap of smaller vehicles and weapons defends against the other player who has one gigantic monstrous tank. From the Chronicles of Emaj the Rotund is a play report for Snit Smashing. Sea Magic is a short story by Fritz Leiber that features Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. In the comics, Wormy stumps his dwarven foes with a riddle, while Finieous Fingers falls for crying hobbits. There’s also an unimpressed review of the animated film of The Hobbit, which had just been released at the time. And finally there is Snit’s Revenge, an add-on to Snit Smashing.

Oh, and there is some interesting stuff in the ads, as well. At the front of the issue is a Minifigs Ad that shows some demon miniatures, including Orcus and Demogorgon. Minifigs at the time was the official D&D miniature creator, and these look pretty rad. At the back of the issue is an ad for the AD&D Monster Manual, which is one of the strangest pieces of advertisement I’ve ever seen. It’s basically just a big block of text explaining what the book’s about, followed by the complete entry for the Carrion Crawler. I think it’s a great ad, as it shows you exactly what you’re getting from the book. It’s like TSR know they’ve got a good product, and they’re willing to let it speak for itself.

Brawling: The Easy Way “Out” in D&D by Rob Kuntz: Look kids, it’s an unarmed combat system! I’m seriously perplexed that it has taken this long for one to show up. There were rudimentary (and very good) rules for grappling in an early issue of The Strategic Review, but these ones are much more involved.

There are rules here for Grappling and Punching. The person with the highest Dexterity usually goes first. When grappling, each combatant averages his Strength and Dexterity scores. The attacker compares his result to the defender’s, dice are rolled, and a chart is consulted to determine how many Constitution points the defender loses.

When punching, someone with a much higher Dexterity than his opponent will get multiple attacks. A hit is scored on a 2d6 roll of 2-7. The attacker’s Strength is compared to the defender’s Constitution, and again a chart is consulted to determine damage to Constitution. There’s an optional rule that gives you a chance for a knockout blow if you roll snake-eyes.

It’s not really a difficult system, although it does use more dice rolls than I feel are necessary. But my real problem with it is the way it completely bypasses D&D’s level system. It doesn’t matter what level you are as a fighter, a 20th level Lord with average stats could get trounced by a farmer with an 18 Strength. Certainly there’s some fun to be had with that kind of result, but it flies in the face of the basic building blocks of the game. Not only that, it completely ignores hit points as well. It’s not that it’s a bad system for unarmed combat, it’s just a bad fit for D&D.

The Play’s the Thing by Thomas Filmore: It’s an article about giving your PCs personality and flavour. There’s not a lot here that modern players haven’t seen before: the usual stuff about fleshing out your background, your likes and dislikes, that sort of thing. The one useful tid-bit I can take from the article is an NPC: Saltair the Dwarf, blamed for a friend’s death, a drunk and a gambler who hates everyone. Oh yeah, I can really needle my players with this guy.

Seal of the Imperium by M.A.R. Barker: Professor Barker is back, answering more questions about Empire of the Petal Throne. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I would like to include Tekumel as a possible destination in my campaign, as I like the idea of thrusting D&D characters into such an alien world. The information given in this article will be incorporated. Barker talks about the Shen and its club-like tail, whether non-humans get more hit points than humans, why it’s so hard to advance to high level, the nature of Demons, the organization of the Ssu, the use of women in the armies of Yan Kor, and where magical scrolls come from.  It's always interesting to hear this guy's perspective on the game, because he's coming to it from a much different place than Gygax and the rest of the D&D crowd.

From the Sorcerer’s Scroll by Rob Kuntz: This is the first in what Rob intends to be a series. Here he spends his time talking about what’s coming up for D&D: the Monster Manual, Monster & Treasure Assortments for levels 7-9, AD&D, and an outdoor map designed by Brian Blume. Did that map ever get created or published? It seems not, but I’d like to know anything about it. There’s a plug for Judge’s Guild (although the comment about them saturating the market doesn’t sound too complimentary). It ends with a survey, as Rob wants to know what people want the feature to be.

Quarterstaff Fighting Rules by Jim Ward: It’s yet another fighting style that bypasses D&D’s level system in favour of ability scores. Yay! To resolve a combat round, each person writes down his actions. He can attack twice, defend twice, or attack and defend. High Strength makes it easier for you to hit, high Constitution lets you absorb damage, and high Dex does both. There are also different levels of proficiency that make it easier to hit. It’s not that difficult to figure out, but it still has that potential problem of low-level characters with high ability scores being better than high-level characters. The best thing about the article is that it provides some ability scores for Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Implausible scores, I might add, as most of them have a 17 or 18 in everything. But I guess legendary figures get some special dispensation.

NEXT: Hold on to your hats, folks – it’s the Monster Manual!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Dragon #10 part 2

Let There be a Method to Your Madness by Richard Gilbert: This article gives advice to DMs on how to design a dungeon, and I have to say that this is great stuff. The central idea that the author puts forward is that you should work out what the dungeon was before it became a dungeon. Figure out a short history of the place and a basic personality for the person who built it, and you ought to have enough hooks from that to plan out a goodly number of levels. Obviously this sort of thing can go too far, but this article keeps things just on the right side of sane so far as planning goes.

An example dungeon is created for the article. It was built 400 years ago by a magic-user called Nappo with the aid of a few hundred orcs. From that, plus the fact that Nappo loved to experiment on monsters, a whole lot of ideas for levels are created. There is the requisite laboratory level, another for the animal experimentation, living space for the orcs, cells and torture chambers, a number of levels with tricks and traps to stop intruders reaching the lower depths, where are Nappo’s own quarters. Not bad for an article of this size. I’m going to tentatively place this dungeon in my campaign world, should I ever get around to designing the thing. (I think this project has about five mega-dungeons planned so far, which is really stretching things. But hey, I like to plan big.)

Weights & Measures, Physical Appearance and Why Males are Stronger than Females in D&D by P.M. Crabaugh: What we have here is a set of charts to randomly determine your character’s appearance, as well as size and build. That’s fine and handy so far as it goes, and I do appreciate that there are some pretty odd and fantastic combinations possible here. But this is yet another author who feels the need to differentiate between male and female characters. Thankfully, things aren’t too egregious here. There’s actually a rare tendency here to err in favour of women, giving them a +2 to Constitution and a +1 to Dexterity. They don’t suffer any actual Strength penalty, but they do have a diminished carrying capacity. The author has devised a new encumbrance system that computes a character’s maximum carrying capacity based on size and build. Since on average females are smaller than males, they can’t carry as much under this system. But you know what? I’d swap that for the Dex and Con bonuses any day.

Gaining a New Experience Level by Tom Holsinger: There has already been one article in this issue about level advancement. While that one proposed the idea of granting XP only for gold spent on orgies and charity and such, this one takes a different tack. The idea here is that characters can only advance in level by attracting the attention of the gods, and having that level divinely bestowed. I have to say, I like this a lot. It clears up a lot of problems that people have with D&D’s level system, most notably the amount of punishment that high level characters can withstand. Now there’s a reason Rothgar the Mighty can survive about twenty sword thrusts – he’s powered by the gods.

There are a lot of rules here for how different alignments can attract the attention of the gods. Good characters can engage in prayer and fasting, or alternately they can ritually sacrifice Evil or Neutral creatures. Evil characters can also do sacrifices, and sacrilege against gods of another alignment also works. The author is getting a little cheeky when it comes to Neutrals. They can attract their god’s attention by playing practical jokes on religious figures of Good or Evil, or they can do so by getting laid in a mistletoe tree.  It seems a little incongruous, until I remembered that mistletoe is sacred to druids.

This is all well and good, but the downside is that you don’t always attract the attention of the right gods. There’s a chance for gods of the opposite alignment to show up, which is never going to be pretty for your character. Apparently the presence of clerics can be used to mitigate this chance, for a token sum of course.

The character then has to become physically exhausted once he’s got the attention of the gods. The author’s suggestion is to get drunk, but I figure there are a lot of different ways. I certainly don’t intend to use his suggestion of ‘Great Pink Elephants’ as emissaries of the gods. You do have to admire his explanation for demi-human level limits, though: it’s because they have a harder time getting drunk than humans! He also provides an explanation for why high level characters need to build castles. It’s because all of these antics involved in getting the attention of the gods have a tendency to piss people off, and are harder to get away with in a town or city.  Once you've got your own place out in the wilderness, you can have all the wild parties and sacriligious tomfoolery you want.

I plan to use these guidelines in conjunction with the ‘XP for gold spent’ rule mentioned in the Orgies Inc. article. I’ll provide this as an alternative, generally requiring the expenditure of less gold or possibly none at all depending on how the player goes about things.  So players can spend all of their gold and reliably level up, or they can take the risk of keeping their gold by using the gods, and hope they conmtact the right ones.

Next: The Dragon #11

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Dragon #10 part 1

There’s a lot of stuff to get through with this issue of The Dragon, so I’ll be brief when it comes to the stuff that does not pertain to D&D. The Dragon Rumbles editorial is mostly concerned with the aftermath of Gencon X, as well as the reorganisation of the magazine and the clear marking of rules variants. Snit Smashing is the first board-game by Tom Wham, and it looks to me like rollicking good fun. The Tactics of Diplomacy in Stellar Conquest discusses how you can implicitly use diplomacy in a game where negotiations with other players are strictly forbidden. And over in the comic strips, Wormy is preparing for an encounter with some dwarves, while Finieous Fingers is still dealing with hobbits.

Orgies, Inc. by Jon Pickens: Now that’s an attention-getting title, make no mistake. It’s also slightly misleading. What the article is actually about is getting all of that surplus loot out of the hands of the PCs. The method put forward? “Instead of receiving experience for gaining treasure, players would receive experience only as the treasure is spent.” It’s a great idea that has been picked up and expanded by a number of old-school bloggers, and it seems to me that it would help greatly in capturing the feel of the pulp heroes of yore. The author even name-checks Fafhrd and the Mouser in the article, so he’s off to a good start.

In the system described, the amount of GP spent is divided by the level of the character to determine the amount of XP earned. So already the 1 gp = 1 XP paradigm has been broken here; not only will the use of this system get rid of the players’ excess loot, it will also slow level advancement significantly.

There are a few set ways that this money can be spent. The first, open to any characters, is to sacrifice it to a god or a demon. Good idea, but I disagree with the optional note at the end that the recipient of the sacrifice will grant a wish or favour for a sacrifice of over 100 gp per level of the character. That’s far, far too low for such a thing.

Philanthropy is the second option, open only to Lawful characters, so your paladin can give his gold to the poor rather than having to resort to some of the seedier options presented later.

Magic-Users and Alchemists can spend the money on general research, including the research of new spells.

Dwarves can just give it all to their clans, as can anyone else of a clannish nature.

The last option is where the title of the article comes in: Orgies! Yes, your character can overindulge in drink, drugs and dames to his heart’s content, limited by his Constitution score. This one’s open to fighters, bards, thieves and any Chaotic characters, but paladins, rangers and monks are forbidden.

One potential problem with this system is the use of treasure that wasn’t earned in the dungeon, but the author demonstrates that the amount will be negligible as a result of the XP being divided by level. He then goes on to detail some alternatives to rid players of treasure, such as robbers and other devious means, but he also rightly points out that too much of this sort of thing can piss your players off.

The article ends with a short and fairly pointless bit about gambling, and an appendix detailing the effects of orgying on psionics (mostly that it drains your psionic points for a while).

I plan to use this option for a little while in my game, perhaps until the rules for training costs come in. With the restructuring of the Adventurers’ Guild, it’s possible that there just aren’t enough trainers there now, and the adventurers will have to find other means of increasing their prowess.

Designing for Unique Wilderness Encounters by Daniel Clifton: This article provides a series of charts to randomly determine wilderness terrain features. The battlefield is divided into four quadrants, with each one having a terrain feature rolled for on the chart. There’s a table for steepness of hills and slopes, and also the direction rivers flow in. It’s nice and simple, and doesn’t seem like it would take up too much time at the table. I’m definitely going to include this with the Holmes rules.

Random Monsters: It’s 1977, and already DMs are having trouble with players who have memorised all of the monsters in the game. The solution given here is a series of charts to randomly create a brand new monster. It’s pretty thorough, and covers all the bases so far as I can see. It’s a shame that the monster types are limited to Mammal, Reptile and Undead, but that does actually cover a large variety of stuff. There’s even a great special ability for undead that allows them to turn clerics – and I’m totally stealing that. My players can definitely expect me to roll up a few nasties on this table for inclusion in my game.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 19

Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art: This section is a very short primer on what the DM needs to prepare to run the game. There’s not much to discuss here, but I thought I’d bring attention to it just because I love that sub-heading. I’m a firm believer in equality among all the arts, with no distinction between low and high, and there’s no reason that a well-crafted dungeon should be any less valued than a well-crafted sculpture. Like they say, I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like. Is every DM a fine artist? Hell no, but it's something to aspire to.

Oh, and there’s also a little dungeon cross-section you may have heard of. Shall I reproduce it? Who am I to resist such a thing?

Now that is an evocative dungeon layout right there. I’ve been itching to design something for it ever since I first saw it a few years ago, but given the breadth and scope of this current project I’m much more likely to have to steal someone else’s work. Such as this version here, soon to be on sale. Are there any other Skull Mountains out there?

Then Holmes goes on to discuss the distribution of monsters and treasure, and the deadliness of traps. He’s much more forgiving with pit traps than the other rulesets I’ve seen, allowing a 4-in-6 chance that a shallow pit deals no damage. It’s all good advice. There’s even a little bit about role-playing, and using appropriate voices for various NPCs. I’m a total ham, so I get into doing voices, but I can see that it’s not for everyone. Some people are comfortable with it, some aren’t. As far as my table goes, you play it however you want to. Holmes then describes the customary player roles of Caller and Mapper, but he also adds a third – a player to chronicle the monsters killed and treasure obtained. This is actually a very good idea, as it takes some onus off the DM so far as calculating experience points goes. So long as you have a trustworthy player, that is. Where I do disagree with Holmes is his assertion that the Mapper and Caller must be at the front rank of the party. I can’t think of a watertight rationale for either, so I won’t enforce it. A leader doesn’t always lead from the front, and the mapper can do his job just as well from the middle ranks.

An example of play follows, and besides some lines that I find inexplicably humorous it’s not that remarkable. It’s distinguishing feature is that it reduces the game to a conversation between the DM and the Caller, which doesn’t sound like the sort of game I’d want to play in. It’s possible that it’s all an abstraction to simplify the players discussing their decisions, but that’s hardly the best way to go about things in an introductory example. In the example, a Fighter, a Dwarf, an Elf and a Hobbit are exploring the dungeon. They explore a room, do the obligatory listening at doors and searching for secret doors, find some treasure and smash some orcs. The example ends just as they have encountered a gelatinous cube. I’ll most certainly take the dungeon as described and place it somewhere in Skull Mountain, and I’ll stat out that adventuring party as well. (The way the leader constantly refers to his buddies as ‘The Elf’, ‘The Dwarf’ and ‘The Hobbit’ gives me all sorts of ideas about him already. I’m going to play him as a somewhat prejudiced guy who really does call the rest of his party by those names. “Hey elf, check for secret doors! Hobbit! Gather up those coins. Dwarf, get over here and look in this pit!” Yeah, I can have some fun with him.)

And then Holmes ends with some more good advice. DMs should prepare, inspiration can be found in literary sources, make the game your own, yada yada. The usual stuff that’s been covered before.

Sample Dungeon: The sample dungeon given here is the Tower of Zenopus, and it’s pretty sweet. It’s not the most imaginative dungeon out there, but it hits the basics very well, and it has a good ratio of traps, tricks and monsters, as well as some nice atmospheric touches. I’ll be placing this dungeon and the nearby Portown somewhere in my World of Greyhawk, possibly around the Nyr Dyv. There are quite a few intriguing possibilities brought up by Holmes at the conclusion for expanding the dungeon. I’m wondering now if the on-line community has tackled this yet, but I can't find anything.

And that’s a wrap for the Basic D&D Boxed Set. Overall it’s a quality product, albeit with some shonky rules in the combat section. And I think it’s going to be a valuable deck-clearing tool when my campaign has acquired too much rules build-up from the OD&D supplements. I also think it’s interesting that Holmes D&D can legitimately lay claim to a connection to all three strains of TSR D&D. It’s a reorganisation of OD&D. It’s the obvious design predecessor to Moldvay’s Basic Set. And it has a number of pointers in the text to AD&D. Holmes Basic is a very important piece of D&D history and development, and we should never forget that.

NEXT: The Dragon #10

Sunday, September 05, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 18

Treasure: This section begins with a cursory explanation of the treasure tables, and also provides the exchange rates for the different types of coins. Electrum is given a concrete value for the first time here, being worth half a gold piece. Previously in OD&D it could be worth either half or double the value of gold, depending on the DM.

The section on determining the value of gems uses the same table as in OD&D, but it doesn’t provide for values above 1,000 gold pieces. Sorry folks, there’s no way to fluke a 500,000 gp gem any more.

The value of jewelry has also been greatly decreased, using only the least valuable entry from the OD&D chart. The rules for destroying jewelry and gems with fire and lightning have been retained, but they lack the precision of OD&D.

This is followed by an explanation of how to use the Treasure Tables, something that wasn’t given in OD&D. Holmes goes out of his way to stress that the treasures shown are very large, and should be guarded by a lot of monsters. Words to live by!

The actual treasure tables are much the same as those in OD&D, except that Holmes has added columns for electrum pieces and platinum pieces. There are also new Treasure Types from J to T, which provide much smaller treasure hoards intended for single creatures or small groups. The only other change is that there is a slightly smaller chance of finding magic items here than there was previously.

The table to determine what type of magic item you’ve found has been slightly altered, with the armour and miscellaneous weapons categories now combined.

Holmes has created his own tables for each category of item. Rather than a percentile dice roll as is required in OD&D, each table requires a single roll of 1d10. There are ten items on each table, meaning each has a 10% chance to come up. It’s a lot less fiddly than OD&D, but it also provides less granularity and choice of items. It makes sense for an intro game, though.

The Swords table is much the same as that in OD&D, with the following omitted: Sword +1 with 2-8 Wishes, Sword +2 with Charm Person, Life Draining Sword, and Sword +3 vs. Trolls. He has added a Cursed Sword -1, which is the first time a cursed sword with that particular penalty has entered the game. Supplement I had a Cursed Sword +1, which may have been a typo, but it also made the wielder seek out battle with as many monsters as possible, which is penalty enough without the negative modifier.

The Armor Table and the Weapons Table from OD&D have been combined here. You can no longer find armor of more than +1 bonus. Also omitted are the chance for 3-30 magic arrows, mace +2, war hammer +2 and +3, and the spear +2 and +3. Bad luck clerics, you only have one type of magic weapon to choose from. Holmes has brought in his own version of cursed armor, that adds +2 to the opponent’s chance to hit.

A ton of potions have been left out of Holmes, so instead I’ll list what is there: growth, diminution, giant strength, invisibility, gaseous form, speed, flying, delusion, poison and healing.

Holmes has done something interesting with scrolls. Along with the usual assortment of spell scrolls and protection scrolls, there are also options that allow a scroll to duplicate magic rings, potions or wands. I’m not sure there’s much there that isn’t already covered by spells, but then again Holmes only covers spell levels 1 and 2 – this is a neat way of getting some higher level spell scrolls into the game without having to give the actual spell descriptions.

There are also a lot of rings left out. Holmes has included rings of invisibility, animal control, plant control, weakness, protection +1, three wishes, regeneration, water walking, fire resistance, and contrariness.

Again, the selection of wands and staves is small, and many of the most powerful sorts such as the Staff of Wizardry didn’t make the cut. Included are: wand of magic detection, secret door and trap detection, fear, cold, paralysation, fire ball, staff of healing, snake staff, staff of striking and rod of cancellation.

Last of all is miscellaneous magic, a section that has been absolutely gutted by paring it down to ten items. Included are the crystal ball, medallion of ESP, bag of holding, elven cloak and boots, broom of flying, helm of telepathy, bag of devouring, helm of evil/good, rope of climbing and gauntlets of ogre power.

Magic Weapons and Armor: These work much the same as in OD&D, with most swords only getting a bonus to hit, while other weapons all get bonuses to hit and damage. Swords have been majorly nerfed here, as they no longer have intelligence and the raft of special abilities that come with it. A regular sword +1 is actually an inferior weapon to most of the miscellaneous types.

Potions: The potion of giant strength now specifically confers the strength of a stone giant, and thus is more powerful than the OD&D version. The potion of haste (called a potion of speed in the tables, as it was in OD&D) now allows the user twice as many attacks a round as well as the power to move at double speed. Otherwise, the potions listed work just as they did in OD&D.

Scrolls: A little more explanation is given regarding cursed scrolls, and the protection scrolls are simplified a little. But this is mostly just as it was in OD&D.

Rings: The ring of animal control (mammal control in OD&D) has been slightly altered in terms of how many animals can be controlled at a time. The ring of plant control is new, and it simply gives the wearer the ability to mentally control plants and fungi. The ring of weakness has been changed, as it now has a 5% chance to make its wearer stronger instead of weaker. The ring of protection has been majorly beefed up, now granting the same AC as plate mail +1. The original line in OD&D said that the ring ‘serves as +1 armor would, giving this bonus to defensive capabilities and saving throws’. I’ve always interpreted this as the ring granting a simple +1 bonus, but Holmes has definitely gone with the more powerful option. The ring of three wishes hasn’t been changed, but there is an added note that wishes can be curtailed with literal interpretations. The ring of contrariness has also not been changed, but this sentence is a doozy: “If, for example, the wearer is told to not kill himself, he will agree – and instead attempt to kill the person suggesting he not kill himself.” I’m not sure if it works logically, but it makes me laugh.

Wands and Staves: The same is those in OD&D.

Miscellaneous: There is now a 1-in-6 chance that someone in an Elven Cloak can be spotted. It is suggested that a Broom of Flying ought to have its command word engraved on the handle, or be otherwise easily accessible. Holmes gives a saving throw against the mind control ability of the Helm of Telepathy, which I approve of over OD&D’s more arcane percentile method. The Helm of Evil/Good was known as the Helm of Chaos/Law in OD&D. It still changes the wearer’s alignment to the opposite, but now this has been altered to suit the more complicated alignment system of Holmes. The Rope of Climbing is now said to be able to support 10,000 gp in weight. Gauntlets of Ogre Power are now given specific powers. They grant 2d4 extra points of damage per blow, and the ability to carry an extra 1,000 gp.

Holmes ends with a note on characters using their henchmen to test magic items, and how it can be a Very Bad Idea. Bad morale, henchmen demanding to keep beneficial items, revenge schemes for henchmen who get bad items… Good stuff. I’m almost certain this advice has appeared in the game before, but I’m mentioning it now just in case I’m wrong.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

On Alignment Changes From OD&D to Holmes Basic

Alignment undergoes a big shift from OD&D into the Holmes Basic Set and AD&D. Originally it was a simple three-way system of Law-Neutrality-Chaos, but by Holmes the concepts of Good and Evil have entered into the mix, creating a system with five alignments (Lawful Good, Lawful Evil, Neutral, Chaotic Good and Chaotic Evil). I've tracked these changes below:

Chaotic to Lawful Evil
Fire Giant
Hell Hound

Chaotic to Chaotic Evil
White Dragon
Black Dragon
Red Dragon
Hill Giant

Chaotic to Neutral Evil
Displacer Beast

Chaotic to Chaotic Good

Neutral to Chaotic Good

Lawful to Lawful Good
Blink Dog

Lawful to Chaotic Good
Brass Dragon
Storm Giant

Note that the above list is probably not precise, with a few accidental omissions here and there. But it gives a pretty good indicator of how alignment changed between OD&D and Holmes (as well as AD&D, which more or less uses the same system for monsters as Holmes).

The alignments previously known as Law and Chaos seem to have mostly split down the lines of good and evil. There are a lot of once-Chaotic monsters that have become Lawful Evil, and quite a few once-Lawful monsters that are now Chaotic Good.

It makes me wonder about the nature of the grand cosmic struggle between Law and Chaos. Though it seems that on a conceptual level those are the two sides vying for dominance, on a practical level it comes down to a struggle between boring old Good and Evil. The good monsters sided with Law, and the evil monsters with Chaos.

What's evident from this is that alignment models a completely different thing in OD&D than it does in later AD&D versions of the game. The Law-Neutrality-Chaos system of OD&D is what I like to call Universal Alignment. These are the only conceptual forces that matter in the grand scheme of reality. Growth vs. entropy, live vs. death, law vs. chaos, order vs. disorder, however you want it to actually play out. The later system models what I call Personal Alignment, which is much more predicated on the internal nature of the individual.

So why the shift? Something happened to fracture the two sides, something that I'm probably going to connect to the rise of various new churches and deities. When the campaign begins, it will be full of churches to Odin and various real world mythologies from Supplement IV. These are powers that are either fading in potency, or not particularly interested in the dealings of mortals. By the time the AD&D era rolls around I will have introduced churches to St. Cuthbert and Pholtus, as those two were the first two such churches introduced in Gary's campaign. And there will also be Demon Lords and Arch-Devils, and the many other staple D&D gods, all more active on the Prime Material Plane than the 'elder gods'. So new gods rise to power and prominence, and the Law vs. Chaos war gets muddied by different ideologies, which makes Personal Alignment (at least on my Oerth) become more important than Universal Alignment.

As for some of the more anomalous results above:

The Displacer Beast above was said in Holmes to be Neutral with Evil tendencies. There's no actual Neutral Evil alignment in these rules, but I threw it in for completeness.

The wereboar is an interesting anomaly, as the only case where Chaos was not equated to Evil. They're Neutral in AD&D, so that's no help. I guess it's just a weird rules thing, but I like having those strange discrepancies. Why did they fight for Chaos, then become Good? Were they enslaved, and then broke free? Or were they utterly loyal to the tenets of Chaos, despite their goodness?

D&D Basic Set part 17

Troll: In OD&D Trolls had an AC of 4, but now it has dropped to 6. They were Chaotic in OD&D, but now they are Chaotic Evil. As has become expected, the damage for the Troll’s claw/claw/bite attack routine has been changed, from 1-4/1-4/1-8 to all three attacks doing 1d6.

Unicorns: They were Lawful in OD&D, and now they are Lawful Good. The unicorn’s horn now only deals 1d8 damage instead of 1-16. Their saving throw of 8 against all magic is a simplification of the OD&D rule, in which they had the same saving throw as an 11th level magic-user. They have also lost their ability to sense enemies within 240 ft.

Vampire: Vampires were Chaotic in OD&D, but now they are Lawful Evil. The need for them to sleep in a coffin filled with soil from their native land has been taken out, which is a shame because it’s right out of Dracula.

Wight: Wights were Chaotic in OD&D, but now they are Lawful Evil. There’s also an odd note about them being nearly immaterial, which doesn’t really jibe with later D&D material. I’m going to play this as false information from a sage who got wights and wraiths mixed up.

Wraith: Wraiths were Chaotic, but now they are Lawful Evil.

Yellow Mold: Just as in OD&D.

Zombie: Zombies have received a boost, being twice as fast and having 2 Hit Dice instead of 1. I chalk this up to research, and the standard Animate Dead spell being replaced by a more effective version.

And that's it for the monster section. It's a nice eclectic selection that Holmes has used, even if he's filled it with stuff that 1st to 3rd level PCs are never going to be able to encounter without dying horribly. But now I want to talk about a couple of the differences and discrepancies that keep popping up in the Holmes ruleset.

The first is the damage for monsters with multiple attacks. Most of these have been simplified so that all of the attacks do the same amount of damage. I don't know what Holmes' reasoning here was, unless it was just a way of simplifying things at the table. And I'm not even sure that mathematically speaking it doesn't average out the same. It's certainly not something that Holmes grabbed from the upcoming AD&D Monster Manual. But in terms of my campaign, in which I am trying to rationalise all of these fiddly little rules changes, it's a bit annoying. Luckily I can explain it without too much fuss. I figure that there are always different combat techniques being developed, and for a while here certain attacks may be more or less effective.

I also want to do an analysis of alignment, and how it has changed from the Law-Chaos system to the five alignments of Holmes. I'm separating that out into its own post, so expect that later today.