Tuesday, 29 May 2012

AD&D Races: Elves

Wood Elf?
Races are one of the big tone-setters in any fantasy game. A game with only humans is going to have a different feel than one where there are only demi-humans and AD&D's assumption that players can play any one of several races certainly puts a distinctive stamp on the default gameworld.

Elves are particularly interesting because of what they are not. What the word means to a person probably reflects that person's reading or movie-watching more than any other race. While AD&D's dwarves, half-orcs, and hobbits/halflings are inextricably linked to Tolkien's versions, the elf as described in first edition retains its own identity to a much greater extent.

High Elf?
Art: Wendy Pini
"Elves" can be, of course, Tolkien's superhuman serial-incarnating immortals from the dawn of time, or they can be the fairies of Rackham and Shakespeare, the wood/nature spirits of English folklore, Wendi Pini's shipwrecked star-voyagers, or the elemental magic-wielders of Scandinavian and Celtic myth. But Monster Manual elves are basically the English type.

Over time they changed, but from the start Gygax demonstrated a knowledge and interest in the beings found in the folklore of the British Isles, and not just English stories. The MM, MMII, and even the Fiend Folio have many examples which are straight adaptations by Gygax from English, Scots, Irish, and Welsh tales and myths into AD&D stats. Probably only Greek mythology rivals Britain for direct inspirations for AD&D monsters.

The elves fit into this "ecology" and are in fact a very poor fit for either Middle Earth or Vanaheim, while the more whimsical of Britain's "fairies" are given their own entries as brownies, pixies, sprites, booka/pookas, and so on, leaving the elves themselves as one of the main demi-human options for player characters.

Which is not to say that Gygax didn't try to ride more than one horse. Even in 1977, AD&D elves came in a wide variety of types: Grey (specifically given the alternative name of "faerie"), half-elves, wood-elves (AKA sylvan elves), aquatic elves, the default high-elves, and the rumoured drow or "black elves".

Although the tallest male elves can reach 5' 6" in height, according to the DMG, the average is 5'; not "little people" exactly but far from the imposing forms of Tolkien and many older tales of elves.

Elven Queen?
In (particularly Scots) folklore, the elves and the other fairy races are divided into two camps, the seelie and the unseelie courts, where "seelie" means "blessed" and court is used in the sense of a royal court, with a king and queen at its head - Oberon and Titania being the most famous examples of elven rulers due to their appearance in A Midsummer's Night Dream, although the "Queen of Fair Elfland" encountered by True Thomas is still also widely sung about anywhere where two or more beards and a guitar doth gather together. Presumably, the unseelie court likewise has its rulers, although I don't know of any specific examples off the top of my head (and I can tell you that Google is no help at all in this area!)

The influence of these stories is so strong, in fact, that they manage to impinge on one of the most clear of all the lifts from Tolkien - the ranger class. Despite its unarguable origins in Tolkien, in that class the list of "giant class" opponents is really a thinly disguised list of the Unseelie Court of British folklore.

Elven Royalty?
In the Players Handbook the "giant class" covers bugbears, ettins, giants, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, ogres, ogre magi, orcs, and trolls. Of these only orcs and ogre magi are not found in British folklore. The UA version of the list added some monsters from other sources (gibberlings, flinds, norkers etc.) but at the same time MMII had added many more examples of British monsters and intelligent races.

In the end, "seelie court" of AD&D consisted of the Booka, Brownie, Buckawn, Dryad, Dwarf, Elf, Gnomes, Grig, Killmoulis, Leprechaun, Nixie (Anglo-Saxon), Pech, Pixie, Pseudo-dragon, Selkie, Some Dragons, Sprite, Swanmay, and Sylph from the lists of intelligent creatures, although some of these races would be neutral to humans. These, plus their opposite numbers in the ranger's list plus the hags and many more non- or semi-intelligent British monsters - from cooshee to yeth hounds - constitute the "natural" associations of the AD&D elf much more than balrogs and wraiths.

Elf and Sylph?
For me, and many people I knew, these were the sorts of things we associated with elves, and in Irish Studies in school we were taught about some of them as well as hearing stories from our parents and grandparents long before we ever read Lord of the Rings. So I never had that urge that so many seem to have had to make elves into a super-human race, and similarly level limits never bothered me or seemed unreasonable. Many of the stories Gygax drew on told of the decline of the elves and their associated races and creatures - even Chaucer's Wife of Bath mentions it (as does, of course, Tolkien although for subtly different reasons). The "fact" is well established in myth that elves retreated in the face of the rise of humans and the game builds that fact into its default make up.

If elves in AD&D don't seem very elvish to the modern player used to later depictions both in film and in other game systems, it may help to consider why elves are the way they are in the game and what the source material is for that particular design and build some scenarios that emphasise those origins. There are a lot of meanings to the word, and it probably helps to know which one is being used.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Secrets Clerics Were Not Meant to Know

When 3e was released the area that sustained the most abuse was the magic system. Nothing epitomises the lack of understanding by the design team more than the fact that they gave all classes nine spell levels. In other words, they had rejected the idea that magic users were better at using magic than the other classes. I guess it was too obvious or something.

Seven levels of spells for clerics etc. is not a mistake, nor do the seven levels "map" to the magic user's nine. A daemon's magic resistance is not affected by a seventh level illusionist spell in the same way that it is by a ninth level magic user's spell, and a globe of invulnerability leaves an 18th level cleric with 3 spell levels while her archmage counterpart has 5 levels of spells which can penetrate it.

Rather than discard this as an error, I think it's more interesting to examine the questions about why this might be in terms of the game world. Because there's a potentially dark subtext to the arrangement, which could be focused on by a DM.

Illusionists are limited to seven levels like everyone else, and on the surface of it this is explanation enough - the magic user is simply better at magic. But that doesn't actually explain why clerics don't have higher level spells.

The cleric's spells come from deities that themselves often have access (according to D&DG) to 8th and 9th level spells; why do they not provide them to their servants? Well, do deities actually want their worldly representatives to have the ability to fulfil their own wishes, for example? Maybe the characters' gods are jealous gods. Perhaps there's something in the history of the game world which explains the limitation on clerical spells. Maybe the gods just don't trust mortals (and maybe that's because the gods were once mortals who have become gods). There's lots of possible answers.

Bloody magic users; can't leave anything alone.
What about the magic users? Are they not, as a group, delving into ways of manipulating the world without the need to placate or even acknowledge the power of the gods? Isn't that what the very essence of being a magic user is? What does this say about the relationship between mages and high-priests even of the same alignment? One has researched the nature of reality to the point where she can bend it to her will and answers to no one, the other answers, and gladly, to someone else daily and presumably believes passionately that only the deity has the required insight and wisdom to decide what is right and what is taboo.

There's potential for a campaign-wide tension there which can supply ideas for high-level play and NPC motivation and a bit of inter-party friction without having to go as far as the rather badly thought-out barbarian rules in UA.

In my 1200AD England setting I looked at this issue from another angle - the mediaeval Jew in Christian England. I wanted the Jews to have a similar role to their historical one; I wanted to retain the idea that they had in some way rejected the Christian messiah but how to do that in a gameworld where clerics commune directly with their gods and can simply ask "is this man the messiah?"

The idea I went with was that these Jews simply did not believe in an immanent deity. They dismissed the beings that the Christian clerics spoke to as demons and devils. They, in fact, rejected the whole superstructure of the AD&D clerical class (something I'm often tempted to do myself).

And that's number wang! You've won a
one-way ticket to Hell! Thanks for playing.
But, as I say, I wanted the Jewish population of my mediaeval England to fit into a similar niche as its real counterpart and their reputation for devotion to study lead easily to the idea that the Jews in the setting simply can not be clerics in the AD&D sense and instead would be the only (or nearly so) source of magic users. These would be men who are devoting themselves to the study of Jehovah creation and in the process learning much more about it than was revealed by what they saw as deceptive demons to the misguided clergy of the other gods (there being a handful of other religions knocking about in foreign parts) whom the Jewish scholars privately regard with a mixture of scorn and pity. In public, of course, they keep their opinions to themselves for the most part and only use magic when the mob gets out of hand at the behest of some anti-Semitic rabble-rouser. Probably the ultimate aim of the Jewish magic user would be to determine the date of the real messiah's coming. It's certainly a question that kept Jewish and Christian mystics busy in the real middle ages.

This split between clerics and magic users was quite inspirational and suggested many ideas for scenarios, patrons, magic items, and motivations for both small and large-scale events in the gameworld.

Some early D&D publications did try some of these ideas, if my fading memory serves, but it was mostly washed away in the name of party-balance: the ideal party having a representative from the four main classes of fighter, magic-user, cleric, and even thief (itself a source of friction). Perhaps it's worth looking at it again and seeing if something more can be made of the superiority of magic user spells over clerics and the potential rivalry between arrogant inquirer and those who wait patiently for the revealed truth.

One Other Thing
It was suggested to me many years ago that there was a default assumption that any spell in the book not in the magic-users' list could be researched at no worse than two levels higher than its level in whatever other list it appeared in. I have no idea if the person who told me this pulled it out of thin air or read it anywhere "official" but it does have a little support (gate, astral spell, phantasmal force, prismatic spray/sphere sort of, animate dead etc.). Interestingly, the overlap with druids tends to actually favour the magic user.

"Official" or not, it does raise the possibility that a determined archmage could completely usurp the powers granted to the cleric and research earthquake, heal, blade barrier, or even creeping doom. What then for cleric/mage relations?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

AD&D's Schematic World of Fiction

AD&D, as previously mentioned, is not designed as a soap-opera game where every day of the characters' lives are played out in detail, in fact the game assumes that quite large chunks of time will be skipped over between adventures. Time is not the only aspect of the game world to be treated this way, and in some ways AD&D can be seen as providing a framework of literary shorthands in which the players and DM can hang the story created by play.

Broadly speaking, AD&D divides people into three categories:
  1. The Key Players - Player characters, major NPCs. In a story these are the people the story would be about - the protagonists and antagonists. They are generated in a way which should produce unusually high average ability scores (4d6 drop lowest, two 15's, etc).
  2. Minor characters - Generated with a full 3-18 range and perhaps also with classes of their own, these are potentially ongoing characters of some note, sidekicks, retired characters who are consulted but do not take part in adventures, patrons or perhaps even rulers who assign missions to the party but likewise do not actively take part, love interests etc.
  3. Extras - The people the main characters buy things off, witnesses that provide information, crowds who demand the characters be imprisoned/freed/executed/come to their aid etc. Level-0 (or less) and generated with averaging dice so only a very small number have any bonus or penalty. They are forgetable.
Read any pulp story or any classic western and you'll see this three-way division over and over again.

AD&D's world-view is likewise a three-layer scheme, measured by population density: there is the densely populated "civilized" world, the sparsely populated borderlands, and the vast tracts of "wilderness" where a party is totally on its own with little chance of finding a base of operations unless they forge one themselves.

This schematic view of the world - where whole chunks are simply sketched in -  is again one that is seen in a lot of fantasy fiction, whether Lord of the Rings, Lankhmar, or Glory Road; heroes have a safe base and adventures happen primarily either on the border between the safe zone and the wilderness or beyond it. In game terms this is most strongly seen in the requirement that treasure must "be turned into a transportable medium or stored in the player's stronghold to be counted for experience points."

Similarly, both the nature and the frequency of random encounters changes from inhabited to sparse to wilderness regions.

What these "schematic" approaches to time, space, and people do is alter the ratio of time passing between the real world and the game world; when travelling through settled lands time passes quickly, as it does when the characters are at home healing or researching spells and so on. In dangerous wilderness areas it slows down as more encounters are generated and while exploring the small scale it passes more slowly again until by the point that once combat is engaged the gameworld clock ticks more slowly than the real-world one.

"Help! Help! I'm being under-represented
by the game system!"
So the system has built-in ideas of what's important: Magic users and evil high priests are important; blacksmiths and peasants are not. The wilderness and distance is important; the details of the characters' houses are not, and neither are the villages they might pass through on the way to adventure. The exploration of a dungeon or lair is important; what your fighter does while training is not.

These areas of importance reflect well the areas which short-story writers of the sort found in Appendix N prioritise in their works. Gygax is often accused of hypocrisy or outright lying on the subject of Tolkien's influence on the game, but I think that the very structure of the game suggests a very deeply rooted desire to see play that recreates short-story fiction instead of epic fantasy. Tolkien certainly did impact the game (without Tolkien there would be no game) but I believe Gygax when he writes that he didn't particularly like Lord of the Rings and that The Hobbit (a much shorter book) was more important to him, and Howard moreso again.

Generally speaking, as one gets a campaign going the players and DM start to personalize this framework and often the first place to get more clock time is the PC's home city or town. But even here the DM should be aware that s/he has a limited "page count" (ie, hours of play) and spending it on one thing probably means not spending it on something else. Eventually, the things that make the clock run slowly will reflect the things that interest you and your players and those that get assigned to big schematic blocks of "this happens off-stage" will reflect the things that don't. There's no rule to say that you have to keep the default settings.

Friday, 25 May 2012

AD&D Initiative - The Main Event

Gary Gygax (centre)
Explains Initiative to a Fan (right)
Mike Carr looks on (left)
AD&D initiative is legendary for its incomprehensibility. This is a reputation well-earned but fortunately it is not, unlike some other problem areas, because the rules are simply missing. They are all there; just not necessarily in the right order. So, here they are in a different order. As with the other posts in this introductory notes series, I'm assuming that you have read the relevant sections of the DMG in particular, so I'm not repeating literally every rule here.

Initiative Phase 1: Who's On First?

The most fundamental principle of the initiative system is that those who have lots of initiative commence their actions before those that have less, so the most basic question is to decide which of any two (or more) figures has the most initiative. Initiative is given in this order, from good to bad:
  1. Multiple attacks - ether from level, haste, missile weapon use, or monster ability (see below).
  2. Dice roll of 1d6 with high being good and reaction modifier applied for missile weapons.
  3. Zombies and characters under the effects of a slow spell.
"Multiple attacks" only counts if the character commits to using those multiple attacks this round - simply having the ability to fire a bow twice is not sufficient to give the character initiative if they decide to flee, however being under the effects of a haste spell does qualify automatically. Obviously, more multiple attacks is better than fewer and so three attacks beats two, and four beats three etc.

If several combatants vie in the same bracket then use the d6 roll to break ties and if that's equal then the two figures do in fact act simultaneously. Although groups share a single initiative die each member of the group may have its own modifiers.

So, an exceptional party which contained: Albert (hasted), Bertie (Bow with +1 reaction mod), Clem (normal cleric), and Zombie Dave (a zombie) who rolled a 4 for initiative would have this order of action:
  1. Bertie (ties with Albert for number of attacks but has +1 to initiative from Dex)
  2. Albert (multiple attacks)
  3. Clem (rolls a 4)
  4. Bertie's second attack (ties with Albert but has +1 to initiative).
  5. Albert's second attack
  6. Zombie Dave (is a zombie)
If they faced a party of normal orcs, say, who also rolled a 4 for their initiative then Bertie and Al would commence acting first, then Clem and the orcs together, then Berite, Al, and then Zombie Dave bringin up the rear (or whatever else he's been eating).

Once the order of initiative is determined each of the figures declares which of options A-H (DMG p61) they are using. In the above example Bertie's player would do this, followed by Al, Clem and the DM for the orcs, and finally Zombie Dave's player. Notice that Bertie has the advantage of acting first but everyone else knows what he's doing when they pick their option; he doesn't know what anyone is doing for sure.

War Houri Unleashes
her Maracas, gaining +1 to
(Art: Jed Dougherty)
Once everyone has declared their actions they must be resolved. Conceptually, everyone commences their actions at the start of the round with relatively minor delays (ie, less than 6 seconds) between those with initiative and those without less. The archers nock their arrows; the spell casters ready their components, the fighters pick their targets, the thieves run away, and the houris loosen their clothing. In particular, movement and spell casting begin here so all parties involved get a full 10 segments of movement and casting time each and every round.

Initiative Phase 2: Finishing What You Have Started
If everything took the same time then that would be more or less all there is to it - each action would be resolved and then the next round would begin. But some things take more time than others. The two most important ones being movement and spell-casting, although things such as winding up or down a drawbridge, finding a potion in a bag, or even falling also come under this heading and a specific time (usually in segments) is assigned to them. Everything else - archery, striking blows, most magical device effects - has a time requirement of zero (representing "unknown"). Which brings us to the golden rule of AD&D initiative

Actions which have initiative always complete before actions of the same length or less which do not have initiative.

Notice that if both actions require the same time, including zero, then the above rule covers the situation and the initiative die will break or confirm the tie.

The question that remains is what happens if the slower action has initiative? To decide that, you need to find the segment on which the faster one completes. If both have a specific time requirement then that answers the question straight away: If you need 3 segments to reach me then any two-segment action by me (such as teleport) will complete before you arrive.

That leaves situations in which only one action has a non-zero time requirement. I'll call the non-zero time action "untimed" (eg, a dragon's breath or a crossbow bolt or a sword in the gut) and the other sort "timed" from here on. There are two possibilities:
  1. If the untimed event does not have a speed factor then Method I below is used.
  2. If the untimed event has a speed factor (ie, it's a melee weapon attack) then Method II below is used.
Method I (no speed factor): The higher of the two initiative dice is consulted (without modification) and that indicates the segment on which the untimed action completes.

A fighter runs across a hall through the line of fire of an NPC with a heavy crossbow ready to fire. The distance to cross is 30' and the fighter has a move rate of 9" (9' per segment; doubled to 18' for charging movement) so he will take just 2 segments to cross. Here's how various initiative dice rolls work out:

Fighter rolls 3 and the crossbowman a 4: crossbow wins and gets a to-hit roll (this is just the Golden Rule from above).
Fighter rolls 3 and the crossbowman a 2: fighter wins and is across the gap before the attack roll.
Fighter rolls 2 and the crossbowman a 1: fighter wins and is across the gap before the attack roll.
Fighter rolls 3 and the crossbowman a 3: attack comes too late again.
Fighter rolls 2 and the crossbowman a 2: crossbow gets a to-hit roll but the fighter complete his actions regardless of the result. So, if taken to 0 or less hp they will be prone but out of the line of fire.
Fighter rolls 2 and the crossbowman a 3 but this crossbowman has a -2 to initiative for poor dexterity (or some other reason): the higher die in this case is still the crossbowman's 3 and so the fighter is safe.
All these cases can be replaced by a spell caster attempting to cast a spell with the same results. Note that any action which takes more than 6 segments can not possibly complete before an untimed action.

Method II (with speed factor): If initiative is otherwise tied, then the untimed action completes on the segment equal to the speed factor. Otherwise, the timed action comes on the segment determined by the difference between the speed factor and the losing initiative die.

If a dervish makes an attack with a scimitar (speed factor 4) and loses initiative with a 3 the attack will come on segment 1; similarly if he loses with a roll of 5 the attack will also come on segment 1.

When the losing initiative die is equal to the speed of the weapon, the segment indicator is zero, meaning that even a 1-segment action (or spell) will be interrupted by the attack.

Remember that you only use Method I or II if the shorter action has not gained initiative and that means that one of the actions must have a specific non-zero time requirement, otherwise the action with initiative is the one that completes first.


Notice that the system does not assume that what is being dealt with are attacks by one figure on another. There are many times when the players will want to know if, for example, a hold person spell takes effect before a monster attacks a member of the party who is not the spell caster. The example above of the fighter crossing a gap is likewise not one where the characters are in direct combat with each other.

Another thing worth pointing out is that the actions listed on page 61 of DMG are commenced in order. Thus, if a party's cleric turns undead which its fighters are in melee with then those fighters will get a an attack at +4 against the undead as they turn to flee. It is only those actions which have a time requirement which are set aside and resolved in potentially a different sequence from the raw initiative order.

Multiple Attacks

When a creature has multiple attack routines half of those attacks will have automatic initiative against other actions and half will automatically lose. If the creature has an odd number of attacks, then one will be evaluated in the middle in the same way as any other single attack (including using initiative dice to resolve its order).

"So, is this multiple attacks or multiple routines?"
"Shut up"
Gygax seems to have decided that running so many monsters with multiple attacks in the way that is outlined above would be too much complexity,. so he introduced the idea of the attack routine. Basically, when a lion does its claw/claw/bite attack it does so as a single unit against a single target albeit with three separate to-hit rolls. A thief using a sword and a dagger likewise attacks with them together, making two attack rolls against a single opponent. Meanwhile a high level fighter, on the other hand, with two attacks per round gets the benefit of automatic initiative for the first one and can attack two different targets.

In the monster manual, you will find occasional references to monster which are capable of splitting their attacks between targets (trolls, demons, devil, octopuses and a few others). It is never explicitly stated but I think the intent was that these monsters do fight in the same way as the high-level fighter or bowman, gaining the advantage of first strike against those with but a single attack.

Closing to Melee/Charging

A careful look at the options A-H in the DMG reveals an interesting fact: if you are not within melee range at the start of a round you can not make a melee attack this round without charging. Your only options for getting into melee range are to close (make a normal move) or to charge (make a double move with combat at the end), and the latter is only available once per 10 rounds. This has important safety implications for spell casters who are not in the front line at the start of an encounter.

A Clash of Arms

No initiative summary would be complete without a look at the wacky world of initiative ties as they relate to melee weapons. Let's have a table too, why not?

These rules only applies when both combatants' weapons have speed factors and they have tied for initiative.
  1. The weapon with the lower speed factor (ie, the faster) attacks first.
  2. If the difference between the weapons' speed factors is twice the speed factor of the faster (or 5+), the faster weapon gets a bonus strike which is also resolved before the slower weapon.
  3. If the difference in speeds is 10 or more (only possible when facing pikes!) then the faster weapon gets a third attack simultaneously with the slower one.
Nobody can claim that is an elegant system, so here's a table instead:
"Look out! He's got a dagger!"

We'll stop there since 13 is the highest speed factor in the game. The first column is the speed of "your" weapon and the "+1" column indicates the opposing speed factor needed to get an extra attack, and "+2" that needed for two extra attacks.

Extra Reading
In particular, the section entitled "Actions during Combat and Similar Time-Important Situations" on DMG p71 is a useful thing to keep in mind, as is the fact that the rules are a base and you can riff off them and develop your own standards for what happens when in combat. The only real requirement is consistency. Initiative is an important topic in an adventure game as it frames the part of the game where characters are most likely to die - combat. Realism is not as important as being fair in this regard, in my opinion anyway, and AD&D combat is brutal enough without also making it hard for players to predict what is a good idea and what is not.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

AD&D Initiative - Surprise

Applying BtB Surprise Rules
Okay, a bit of a cheat here as I'm going to split this last introductory topic in two with this post being about surprise rather than straight initiative. Partly this is because it is associated with initiative in the rules but mostly because there is a bad mis-print in the PHB which has confused generations of DMs about how surprise works. The DMG repeats the incorrect table from the PHB but the text is in fact correct but by then for many DM's it's too late.

When two groups (of one or more figures) come suddenly upon each other there is a chance that each will be surprised. Normally, each side rolls 1d6 and a roll of 1 or 2 indicates that they are surprised as a group for 1 or 2 segments. A roll of 3 or higher means that they are not surprised. Do not subtract the different sides' dice from each other (as suggested in the tables in the rules).

If A rolls a 2 and B rolls a 3, A is surprised for 2 segments and B is not surprised at all

That's the basics of the most common case of surprise. The first modification is that characters with high (16+) dexterity scores will be surprised for less time than the die indicates and those with low (5-) scores will be surprised for longer. However, low dexterity never causes an unsurprised character to be surprised. If a member of party B has a dexterity of 4 s/he is still not surprised. However, such a character in party A would be surprised for 4 segments since party A is surprised.

A character in party A with a dexterity of 17 or more will not be surprised under normal circumstances as their dexterity reaction modifier means that even a roll of 2 will be reduced to zero.

Note that any encumbrance level above "unencumbered" negates all dexterity bonuses to surprise (but not penalties, of course). If you want your character to be like Errol Flynn's Robin Hood, s/he'll have to dress like him.

During surprise segments any character or monster who is surprised can do nothing beyond defend normally (ie, there is no to-hit bonus during surprise) while those who are not surprised may attack as if each segment is a full round.

If both sides are surprised then they simply gawp at each other for the required number of segments until one or both of them snap out of it. Thus if side A rolls a 1 and side B a 2, then there will be one segment of mutual gawping and one in which side A can act against side B as if the segment were a full round.

The next modification is that some classes and monsters are more stealthy or more perceptive than others, modifying their chances to surprise or be surprised. Rangers are an example of both - they surprise on 1-3 and are surprised only on a 1.

However, a group only rolls one die for surprise and the value used by their opponent is that of the least stealthy member of the group, so a normal party with a single ranger surprises on a 1-2 just like any other. On the other hand, a group is surprised as easily as its most perceptive member so the same party is only surprised on a 1 because of the ranger's presence.

When dealing with more complex examples, it's best to convert these modifiers into bonuses and penalties. Thus a ranger surprises at +1 (making a roll of 1-3 surprise) and is surprised at -1. If two rangers meet then these cancel out and both are surprised on 1-2. Elves in natural surroundings surprise on 1-4, which is +2. So if an elf and a ranger meet the elf is surprised on 1-3 and the ranger on 1-3 as well.

"Complete Surprise"
Being surprised is deadly. The rules consistently speak of "surprise" and "total surprise". As such, you may want to consider ruling that two segments are the most surprise that a group can roll (individuals can still get more due to low dexterity). This also allows you to use modifiers to surprise without increasing the chances of a massacre too much.

Talking of "deadly" - the rules say that missile weapons fire at three times the normal rate in surprise segments if they are ready. Yes, that's 6 arrows per segment (1 per second!). I don't know anyone who has applied this rule in real life as a blanket case, although it can just about work if you're very, very strict about what being "ready" means. I recommend ignoring it.

Some characters and monsters don't use d6 for surprise. The monk goes a bit further down the weirdo route and starts off with a d6 and changes to percentile. Handling these cases is fairly straight-forward (apart from the monk) if you use the idea that anything that doesn't surprise (or be surprised) on 1-2 has some sort of bonus based on this norm.

To take an extreme example, a ranger encountering a green hag (MMII). The hag surprises on 1-5 on d6 and is surprised on a 1, on a d20! We translate those values into +3 and -1 as above; the ranger is on +1 to surprise and -1 to be surprised.

The net result is that the ranger is surprised on 1-4 (2+3-1) on d6 and surprises the hag on 1-2 on her d20.

Several Surprise Monks
First level monks are surprised in the same way as anyone else; above 1st level there is a decreasing chance that they are surprised for one segment. I rule that monks simply can not be surprised for more than a single segment by anything as one of their special abilities.

That's it for surprise, next up is the main initiative rules.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Bloody Encumbrance

A slight detour before the final post in this set of introductory notes to look at encumbrance in AD&D.

Encumbrance is probably the most old-school mechanic in the game. Modern games have, like most AD&D DMs, tried to look for various simpler ways to handle encumbrance and many have simply given up on the whole topic and scrapped it, replacing it with guidelines like "just be reasonable". There's a few problems with this in AD&D. Primarily they are to do with the game's assumptions.

The Glamour of Low Level Adventuring
AD&D is, as previously mentioned, frequently about resource management, at least at the system level. As the game progresses and the character increase in level the nature of the resources change as part of a general movement away from realism and into the fantastic.

For low level characters one of the things that they are limited by is carrying capacity. Take away this restriction and you make one aspect of low-level play a lot easier. You also negate one of the advantages of high strength scores.

So, my advice is to use the system as printed and see how it goes. Obviously, this assumes that you know what the system is, which is just a case of reading a section in the rule books, right?

Encumbrance has several aspects in AD&D: weight limits, bulk, and movement limits. These three factors feed into the character's weight limit, dexterity, and movement rate respectively.

A character can be unencumbered, moderately encumbered, encumbered, or overloaded (these terms are not consistently used in the rules). In game the effects of the first two are fairly clear; but the others are not defined anywhere in the rules.
  • Unencumbered: normal action; no effect.
  • Heavy: the character's dexterity bonuses for surprise and missile fire do not apply, although any armour class bonus does. Note that any penalties still apply. Movement is reduced by 3" from base.
  • Loaded: not only do bonuses not apply, but the character is "slowed" but no rules are given about what this means. Movement is reduced by 6" from base.
  • Maximum/encumbered: "slowed greatly". This is also not defined (edit: there is a +2 to-hit modifier, DMG p67),.  Movement is reduced by 9" from base.
Over the years, I've tried many definitions of "slowed" and "slowed greatly". At the moment my suggestion is that they are used as individual initiative modifiers of -1 and -2, with negative numbers being possible. I'll look at this more in the post about initiative.

1. Weight
"Loose" items only relate to weight, but shields also add bulk, and armour adds both armour and movement limits. Magical armour introduces probably the most well known of the rules' self-contradictions.

Here's a table based on strength of what each of these means in terms of weight limits (counted in gp values; 1gp=1/10th lb):


Thus, an average strength person (STR 11) can carry 35lbs (350gp) weight or less with no effects and can not carry more than 140lbs/1400gp. An 18/00 fighter can carry 110lbs without effect, and has a maximum carrying capacity of 440lbs.

2. Bulk
Armour and some shields are rated for bulk as either non-, fairly, or bulky. Basically, these set the character's minimum encumbrance regardless of weight carried as unencumbered, moderately encumbered, or heavily encumbered. Thus an average strength person carrying 500gp and wearing bulky armour is treated as being heavily encumbered rather than moderately. If carrying 1200gp they are still counted as being overloaded.

3. Base Move Rate
Each type of armour has in addition a maximum movement rate stated in inches. This is a slight tricky rule as it's not clear, for example, whether a character with a base 15" move is treated in the same way as a character with a 12" move rate. Adding to the complication is the question of what the demi-humans' move rates are since the rates given in the monster manual seem to allow for armour already.

In the dungeon this is no great issue as underground movement rates are so slow that the average dead dog could keep them up indefinitely; the limiting factor there is stealth rather than actual movement ability and the heavier armours' low move rates can be rationalized as reflecting the difficulty of moving quietly in them (or not - you don't have to rationalize anything if you don't want to). Over long distances outdoors, it's probably worth ignoring the question although you could reduce dwarf movement by 25% and halfling/gnome by 50% if you feel that the human rates are too unrealistic (you should also reduce weights of clothes, shields and armours by the same amount if you do this). I would leave elves at 12" movement.

It's Magic. Or is it?
And now the contradiction. The DMG tells us that magical armour is half the weight of non-magical armour and one step better maximum movement (p28) and that it is weightless and imposes no movement limitation at all (p164). Which is right? The DM can pick, but I generally use the difference between chainmail and elfin chainmail as the basis so that magical armour is:
  • Half the weight
  • One step less bulky
  • One step less restrictive to movement.
Magical shields weigh the same as non-magical shields, although you might want to overrule that either for particular shields or for all. Note that a large shield is bulky and I'd certainly reduce that to fairly-bulky for magical ones.

Magical weapons have no special weight or handling rules by default.

So, in summary, a human fighter with STR-17 wearing magical platemail and carrying a large shield and bastard sword, backpack with change of clothes a tinderbox and half a dozen torches, 50' of rope, a flagon of beer (1 quart), and a sack with 120 gold pieces is carrying a total weight of 732gp. This would make him moderately encumbered with a movement of 9" but the large shield is bulky and makes him encumbered, with a move rate of 6" and the penalty of being "slowed".

Generally, speaking, large shields are not designed for mobility, although I would recommend discarding the bulk penalty when used on horseback as per the Normans (replacing that penalty with a restriction on which flank the shield protects).

That's plenty on encumbrance for now except to point out that when using the encumbrance rules there are armours which simply are inferior in all ways, including cost. However, not every campaign will allow all armour types to be available and still less so individual towns and villages within a campaign.

Onwards - to initiative via surprise!

Friday, 18 May 2012

I've Never Been So Insulted: Performance Ratings

Continuing the introduction to First Edition and following on closely from the alignment post, let's look at performance ratings since the system expects the DM to be keeping them at least at the back of their mind from the start.

On page 86 of the DMG there is a system given for the rating of characters on two, and only two aspects of the characters' behaviour:
1) Acting in accordance with their professed alignment.
2) Acting in accordance with their professed class.

At the end of each adventure, when the PCs have made it to a "safe zone", the DM is supposed to rate each character from 1 (Excellent) to 4 (Poor) for their performance as judged by these two criteria. The DM is not rating the players in any way. A player who turns up late is not automatically a "4"!

Also, a character who avoids chances to act in line with their class or alignment is certainly giving the DM a reason to mark them down, but a character who does not receive any chances to act "correctly" is not. It is worth remembering, however, that all classes are "adventurers" and a lack of adventuring spirit is a potential flaw for any class.

Once a character is ready to increase in level, the average score since their last level increase* is translated into a number of weeks training. And here we hit a problem - the cost per week given on p86 (1500gp/lv/wk) is far too high for a DM to be able to give out anything below a 1 on a regular basis. Change it to 600gp/lv/wk. You should be able to give out mostly 2s and 3s without crippling the characters bank balances at low levels that way.

Rating players will end your game and lead to out-of-game bad feeling and insult. Do not do it.

If you can't make the system work, then continue to track alignment actions but have training take 1d4 weeks and charge 1500gp/lv regardless of the time needed.

We're nearly at the end of this set of posts, the DM should have a minimal setting, an adventure, some idea about character generation and what to tell players about alignment, and a notion of what the system expects in terms of tracking of alignment and class play.

I'll round out next time with that trickiest of all issues for the beginner and expert alike in AD&D - combat initiative.
Change of plan: encumbrance first.

*It's not actually stated that the characters begin each new level with a clean slate, so you may decide to simply track onwards each time. I personally think it better to start again.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Pawn Promotion: Alignment in AD&D

Alignment in AD&D is a big topic with lots of room for going a bit mad; this post is just going to try to examine the baseline stuff in the books; that's going to be whacky enough on its own. I'd not bother putting in this series of introductory posts about AD&D, except that it impacts player choice of class right from the start and players may well ask what it means. They may also read the text in the PHB, which is pretty poor and begs all the important questions (like "what does it mean by 'evil'?").

Two things about alignment are important for the DM to bear in mind are that it is an absolute system invented for the purposes of the game, and it is not voluntary.

The implication of the first point is that the characters' opinions of what is good and evil are not important. No evil person would declare themselves to be "evil". They may rather scoff at the idea of being evil or good and simply say that they are strong while those that call them evil are weak sheep bleating at the wolf who simply has the strength to take what he wants.

The implications of the second point - that alignment is not voluntary - are rather cosmic and we'll come back to them later in the post.

First, the definitions of what the alignments mean in this absolute sense. There are two axes, with two poles on each. The Ethical axis has the poles "Lawful" and "Chaotic", and the Moral axis has the poles "Good" and "Evil". There are many such poles and axes in AD&D, reflecting a late mediaeval influence in the cosmology, but none are so important.

Good is primarily concerned with life and the quality of life for all, where possible. Things which create and grow healthy living things and allow them to be free from fear, disease, injustice, oppression and so on are "Good".

Evil is primarily concerned with dominance and strength. Those things which take from the many and give only to the few and which cause needless suffering and malicious, non-accidental, pain and loss are "Evil".

To act in concert, to bind together in order that the sum of the result is more than the parts. To subsume the individual's desires into the desires of a group so that the group can attain more than the individual could ever hope to, is "Lawful".


To act as one's own conscience says, to ignore the expectations or demands of others to conform. To put the purity of attempting to attain ones own goals above the value of compromised success within a group or society, is "Chaotic".

Combining these traits together leads to the 8 major alignments, and the neutral spot in the middle makes the classic 9. Further shading of the 8 major alignments into each other gives the standard view of the Outer Planes with their 16 uppermost planes (including Concordant Opposition, introduced in Deities and Demigods and not actually part of the core cosmology in PHB).

Neutrality comes in three forms: the character who purposely equally engages in actions which fit both ends of an axis; the character who never does anything especially biased towards any extreme, and the character who "does whatever works" in any particular situation without regard to dogma. The latter is the least stable position to be in if the character is of any note (ie, high level).

The first form of neutrality is called "true neutrality", although the term is normally reserved for a character who takes this stance in relation to both axis, not simply a lawful-neutral or neutral-evil character.

Notice that there is nothing explicit in "Law" about obeying laws. "The Law" is, as they say, a human institution, whereas "Law" is a more abstract thing. A Lawful Neutral knight can safely ignore any law or edict passed by, for example, a usurping king or evil high priest. If s/he has made an oath, however, then breaking that might be a lot trickier.

"Define 'Trickier'"
Remember when I said that the alignment system is involuntary? Let's look at that a bit more. Key pages from the rules here are DMG p80 (Saving Throws), and 81 (Hit Points) and PHB p34. Notice the references to "supernatural powers" in those sections? This is where alignment comes in.

In essence, AD&D's "big picture" is of a chess game played out chiefly in the worlds of the Prime Material Plane. Somewhere out there, beyond the gods, are supernatural powers, perhaps unthinking laws of the multiverse, perhaps something else. Whatever they are, they vie with each other presumably in an effort to make their pole of their axis the ruling one, extinguishing the other.

To do this, they look for promising pawns, whom they grant protections (and perhaps some other things) to. As those pawns continue to advance the alignment's goals the support continues even as the pawn becomes a knight or bishop, castle or king.

If the character does things which thwart the goals of the alignment, then eventually they will be "dropped from the team" and lose those protections. Fortunately, leaving one team means joining another, since they are opposed. Even going from LN to N means that the character is becoming more useful to Chaos. As a result, changing alignment only results in the loss of one level, and that only if the character is 3rd level or higher at the time. See DMG p25.

A character who is in danger of changing alignment involuntarily, can atone (PHB p49) but we'll leave that for a separate post; it's not important at the start of play.

If you, as DM, look at the actions of the characters and simply ask yourself which of the four poles would be "pleased" by their actions, then alignment questions largely become trivial. Some will balance out, some will move the character towards one or more poles. How far any particular action moves them, and how much movement is needed is up to you and it's probably not worth reducing it to a hard and fast numerical rule which becomes another rule to remember.

Which is handy, because there is one other aspect of alignment which the starting DM does need to be aware of - performance ratings.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Who Are These Guys?

Continuing this series of posts about getting started with AD&D, let's look at the basics of character generation.

As with so many things, this breaks down into a nice linear process:

  1. Roll ability scores: strength, intelligence, wisdom, constitution, dexterity, charisma. I have to admit here that I still use this order of stats, which was the OD&D method. AD&D normally lists them with constitution and dexterity swapped.
  2. Pick your race. You may pick any race that your ability scores will qualify you for including the racial bonuses and penalties for that race. So, for example, a set of scores which include 11 constitution will allow a character to be a dwarf as the +1 constitution of that race will bump the score to the minimum required.
  3. Pick your class or (if non-human) classes, possibly restricted by race (PHB p14 and pp16-17).
  4. Pick your alignment, possibly restricted by class.
  5. Find the character's age (DMG p12).
  6. Adjust the character's ability scores to reflect their age (DMG p13). You can't now go back and pick a different class!
  7. Roll hit points! Now your character can fight!
  8. Roll up secondary skills (DMG, p12) if applicable.
  9. Roll up starting cash. Multi-class use the best row of the table on PHB p35.
  10. Spend it.
  11. Spell-casters (clerics, druids, magic-users,  illusionists) pick their spells (magic users and illusionists use the rules on DMG p39).
  12. Adventure!
Easy. Apart from some minor points.

Firstly, #1 - roll ability scores. The DMG presents four methods (I-IV). Back in ye olden days, method I was probably the most popular. It's quick and reasonably good at generating decent score sets.

Nowadays, however, with computers and laptops and smartphones and all those sorts of things, the other systems can be utilized with no real time penalty. Given this, I prefer now to use Method IV.

Secondly, the Players Handbook has a note to the effect that characters should have two scores of 15+. I don't entirely agree with this, but again it can be factored into a computer program so that it only offers scores which fit this criterion. In fact, I have done such a thing and you can access it here, at least when my dreadful Internet connection is working (avoid TalkTalk, folks). Ironically, I think this suggestion is of less use to beginners than to experienced players who know what to do with higher stats. Anyway, it's up to the DM to decide.

Thirdly, there's a misprint in some early editions of the PHB which put the half-orc's maximum dexterity at 14. It should be 17. There's a full PHB errata list over at the Acaeum website, as well as one for the DMG, the MM and the notoriously extensive one for Unearth Arcana, should you decide to use UA in your games.

Alignment next time, I think.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The First Adventure

 So, what's in the cave?
The first thing to say is that you should not use the random dungeon encounters in the DMG (ie, p174-179) to stock anything, anywhere, ever, especially your first adventure. Those tables are for wandering monsters and even then represent "emergency use" only for when you don't have your own wandering monster tables tailor-made for your adventure.

The next thing is that "the cave" can be a lot of other things. The classic, of course, is the dungeon - perhaps an ancient remnant of a long-ruined castle or even the accumulated basements of a city (deserted or otherwise). It can also be, as in the Conan Story "Red Nails" an enclosed city sealed off from the world outside with labyrinthine passages and corridors on multiple levels. It can be the inside of a manor house or castle, or even a large farm and its collection of out-buildings.

Assuming you have picked a setting then think about the map. Who built this place or, if its a natural thing like a cave system, who/what has moved in? Some monsters are going to be within so they will have some reason to be there. If they didn't build it, will they have modified it for their own use? Will they share it with other monsters? If so, do they get on or merely tolerate each other? Or are they actively fighting over who can remain in the place; could the players exploit the factions? Thinking about these things should get you thinking about the map; sketch it out on graph paper in pencil. Don't leap to the computer or even to pens until you want a neat copy to sell to people or put on the Internet.

Before going any further, have a think about the level of party you want to challenge with this scenario. When playing "start at the door" scenarios the players don't get much of a chance to decide where they want to go so the DM has a responsibility to not clobber them. Add up the hit dice in your expected party and add one for for each character with spell casting or other "special combat power" then multiply by the number of fighters and clerics. That number will be a rough (very rough) guide to what you should throw at them in one go. Generally, any hostile encounter that is this level or higher (when counted in the same way) will result in even a victorious party needing to fall back for recovery time; anything less than a quarter will be just a bump on the road and about half should be a good fight.

For example: a first level party consisting of two fighters, a ranger, a cleric and a magic user would have a score of 32 (rangers starting with 2 HD). 6 orcs (score of 36) will be a very dangerous fight if the magic user has not got sleep available; 2 orcs (score of 4) should be easy; a single ogre (5) should go the players' way but three or more (36+) should be avoided. It's a rough rule and you'll have to apply some sense, and it breaks down at higher levels. A monster with 1HD which does 1d12 damage is capable of eliminating one first level character per round with lucky rolls. Poison is likewise a very dangerous thing at low levels.

When  you're laying out the map and the monsters in it make sure that any monster that is placed in a choke point is not something the players can't cope with. "Cope" can be combat, or it can be negotiation or trickery etc. but there's no point barring entrance to part of your adventure with something which is too much for the party. There's no problem having a couple of encounters in the adventure where the "correct" answer is to run away; just don't do it where the characters have no choice.

Let's go with the cave for now as an example of stocking a "dungeon". We'll assume that the cave is actually the entrance to an extended cave system which goes down and back for some distance with side passages and chambers which take the place of rooms in a more man-made dungeon. As a guide, only about a third of these should have encounters with monsters, and a few more should have other things to do such as difficult routes requiring some care and planning, perhaps some parts go under water to the next area. There's lots of material online about pot-holing which can give inspirations but don't over-play the realism card - this isn't a game about pot-holing, just one that sometimes contains some.

Perhaps the outer cave it has recently been joined to this larger system by some mining activity from the other side. That sounds like kobolds to me - evil Germanic gnomes/mining spirits (and not reptilian dogs, but in either case let's go with it). According to the Monster Manual, they come in packs of 40-400 when in lair. That's a lot. But let's decide that the 40-400 live deep into the system somewhere and that the recent troubles are the work of an extended scouting group. That's quite nice as it allows the players to probe and for the monsters to respond with both sides trying to determine the scope of the opposition over a longer period. So we'll make the main opposition to be a kobold clan of 4d20x10 members with the various extras listed in the MM. Giant weasels make more sense here than boars, so we'll include them. I'd also throw in a clan shaman as per DMG p40.

Dungeons are laid out with a standard logic which says that the weak live near danger and the strong get to relax in the safer areas. In other words, monster level correlates to dungeon level. The kobolds that the party meet initially will have been sent by the leadership which lives deeper into the cave. Depending on how things progress, that leadership may fall back from a strong assault and never be directly encountered, or may mount a determined attack on a party that seems weakened by combat or something in between. In any case, the vast bulk will be on the lowest level or even totally "off-camera".

What else might be in here? For a first level adventure, you want to stick to 1st level to 3rd level monsters and very few of the latter. Some might be using the caves as a lair, setting up a relationship network with the kobolds, and some will be passing through. Divide the cave into three levels to reflect this decision. The "levels" need not be arranged vertically, they can be zones of distance from the surface marked by guard points or obstacles. The kobold leaders, females, young, and eggs will be in their part of the third level which will be heavily guarded.

Typical Guard
Many other kobolds will be out and about exploring for copper and silver veins (they don't seem to like gold). These work parties should exist mostly on the wandering monster table. Scale a typical work-party to the expected character party (see above) and you should find that 8 kobolds is a tough group and 3 weak, so we'll say a random party is 2-8 kobolds, with all but one armed with picks (treat as horseman's due to size) and the other will be an overseer/guard with more typical kobold arms as per MM p52. Place a few groups in places representing parties that have actually found something and are working at extraction, say from 4 to 24 in a chamber, mostly on the second level.

Note that kobolds will be in total darkness but the sounds of their mining may carry a long way but equally may be baffled by the passages so judging distance and direction may be hard. Additionally, any passages made by kobolds will be kobold-sized, which will present problems for most player characters other than gnomes.

OK. That's enough bloody kobolds.

In addition to the kobolds, obvious 1st level candidates are giant rats, shreaker, small piercers, perhaps cavemen if you want to have inter-monster rivalry (probably need a different backstory for this), goblins, badgers, brownies and/or gnomes (possible allies are nice plot hooks), and maybe some fire beetles.

For second level monsters, a wild boar sow might make a challenging encounter, giant centipedes, the various forms of giant frogs, lizardmen, strangle-weed, ordinary (ie, without character classes) elves, myconids, stirges, atomies (exploring the cave entrance), and vapour rats can be placed or randomly encountered. For less run-of-the-mill stuff, a manes demon, brain mole, or female centaurs (oh, there's a whole heap of potential trouble there) might be worth thinking about.

Possibilities for third level monsters are the smallest anhkegs, carnivorous apes, bugbears, male centaurs, larger giant frogs, ogres, huge and large spiders, cave fishers, minor derro, mongrolmen (note their alignment), ophidans, large scorpions, and various giant snakes.

Monsters up to fifth level can be encountered on the 2nd and 3rd levels according to the table on p174 of the DMG but I would suggest counting them as third level monster encounters if you use that as the basis of your own table.

Not all third-level monsters have to be in the third level of the dungeon. Creatures such as centaurs only make sense to be encountered very near or in the outermost cave mouth, perhaps sheltering from weather or looking for a camp site. If your random table indicates something that doesn't make sense then there is no encounter.

As with the kobolds, parties of other monsters encountered at random should be scaled to the expected party, with a bit more range if placed in specific points of the map where scouting can allow the party to determine threat levels.

Once you've assembled the cast list, you need to place them and their treasure. For each monster type you have, roll the chance of being in lair and the numbers occurring (overruling freely results that you don't like). Those that are in lair will contribute their lair treasure to the stock in the scenario; others will contribute only their individual treasure. Creatures "in lair" will have a stronghold somewhere with the bulk of their treasure, but again need not all be sitting on top of it in one room. Intelligent monsters will be using any magic items they can and these will not be in the main hoard but carried with individuals.

Treasure is given in the MM as chances to have certain sorts of item, from copper to maps and magic items. These are based on a middling number of monsters - 2-3 dragons, 10-11 orgres, 220 kobolds etc. For smaller numbers the books says to adjust the amount otherwise, but not how to adjust it.

My suggestion is to increase or reduce the amount but to keep the chance of each sort the same. If this results in a number less than 1 for gems, jewels or magic then use that as a chance for a single item of the type. In the case of reduction, reduce by 20% per full 20% below the (lower) average the number encountered is, and for increases increase by 10% per full 25% above the (higher) average. Thus, if 40 kobolds are in lair the lair treasure will be reduced by 80% and if 400 are encountered it will be increased by 30%.

For monsters that occupy more than one area, any lair treasure may be spread out so long as the only access to it is guarded or trapped. Many evil monsters will not trust each other, let alone other races and if you role-play their attitudes to each other and their treasure you should be able to get a feel for how to place both monsters and treasure.

Once you are happy, put together some wandering monster tables for each level and you should have a basic scenario ready for the first game. Or, at the very least, a mess that has taught you what you don't like.

It's not going to break new ground or win any awards, at least not on paper, but it should be reasonably balanced, have a decent level of treasure and some internal logic.

Read over DMG pages 104-105 on the subject of Monsters and Organization before you start running the game and you should have plenty of inspiration for controlling the monsters in your brand new dungeon.

The next post will be on character generation.

Pre-launch Prep

Having talked about the overall scheme and goals of the game design, I next want to look in a bit more detail at actual play, starting with the first ever session. What do you absolutely need for that first game of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons?
  1. Players are useful, of course. You can get these individually or in packs of various sizes.
  2. Dice.
  3. Paper.
  4. Characters. I'll look at these in a later post.
  5. A minimal setting.
  6. An adventure.

The Setting

A typical minimal setting is something like this:
"You're standing outside the entrance of a cave. Local farmers say something nasty has taken up residence and is eating their sheep. They've all chipped in together and offered you 100gp to deal with the problem. If you pressure them you think they might go as high as 150gp and a milk cow."
In this case the setting is an unnamed village and a cave. The village is probably optional but it's nice, even in a "you start at the door" adventure, to have some explanation of how the characters came to be at the door.

I started with "Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor" by Judges Guild which had the village gathered around the foot of the mountain that the dungeon was dug out of, which is a nice set-up if your initial adventure ideas can work with it.
In any case, the game does have one requirement for the setting - there has to be at least an implied "safe zone" where day to day life does not constitute an adventure. This safe zone is where the characters ultimately have to get any treasure to in order for it to count as having been gained for the purposes of experience.

Normally the safe zone is a settlement of some kind but it is possible for determined characters to make a safe area out in the wilderness by constructing a fort of some kind, but that's unlikely to be something new characters will try.

Anyway, that's all you need to start, setting-wise. You don't need a world map, you don't even need a name for the world, you don't even need a map of the country or the area around the "dungeon" - that can be ad libed if need be. If the players have their characters and equipment and are keen to go, then why worry about anything else?

Next post will be about setting up the first adventure; it's a long post so I've split it off from this one.

Friday, 11 May 2012

What is Advanced D&D?

So, you've got a nice new copy of the Dungeon Masters Guide (DMG), a Players Handbook (PHB) or two for the players, and a Monster Manual, or picked up an old set on eBay or maybe dug out your own copies from storage; now what?

AD&D is fairly notorious for not really explaining itself well. The game was written with the assumption that it would be played in the first instance by players of the original Dungeons and Dragons (OD&D) which had been published a few years earlier in a set of 8 small booklets (three core "little brown books" and five supplements, with an additional mass-combat expansion too). In fact, the original little brown books suffered even more from this and were practically written from the point of view that you had met the authors or at least knew someone who had and could rely on them to tutor you in the play of the game. Thankfully, "The Dragon" magazine had helped a lot with OD&D but even that failed to resolve some questions and hardly tried to introduce the new edition when it came out.

So, what is Advanced Dungeons and Dragons? I'm assuming you know what role-playing in general is.

It's a role-playing game centred around the episodic adventures of a group of characters in a gameworld, whose ongoing sessions constitute a "campaign" wherein time passes from game session to game session according to several differing timescales depending on what is happening in the game.

"Episodic" is a key point here. AD&D was not designed with the goal in mind of representing every day of the characters' lives in detail. The game in fact has a "grand turn" sequence something like this:
  1. Run an adventure (1 or more sessions of actual time).
  2. Count up experience (xps) gained from adventure (often takes a half session, sometimes even more).
  3. Decide what everyone is doing between now and the next adventure. Some of these things are mandated, many are optional. Here's some examples all taken from the rulebooks:
    • Anyone taken to <1 hp: 1 week's bed rest.
    • Anyone wanting to heal up: variable up to a month.
    • Training: variable: up to a month/4 weeks. Pay for training.
    • Scroll preparation: 1 day per level of spell. (This may also cover the time taken to put spells into spell books).
    • Potion preparation: 1-10 days
    • Research poison manufacture: 20-32 weeks
    • Poison preparation by assassin: 1 week
    • Sage consultation: 0-40 days
    • Spell research: 1 week per spell level or more
    • Enchant an item: 3-10 days
    • Recovery from making a +3 sword: 2 weeks (plus actual making time)
    • Casting Legend Lore: up to 12 weeks
    • Holy water fount construction: 4-10 weeks
    • Henchman recruitment: 2-8 days
    • Simple spy mission: 1-8 days
    • Recovery from severe infection: 3-7 weeks
    • Recovery from being raised: 1 day per day dead
    • Recovery from casting resurrection: 1 day per level of resurrectee
    • Buy spell components - DM's discretion depending on component.
  4. Once the above is all added up for each character (usually doesn't take long and can be done between sessions) then the gameworld calendar is moved on in two ways:
    1. For each day that has passed since the last adventure session ended, one day passes in the gameworld. If the adventure that was finished last week ended on the 6th in-game and a week has passed then it is now the 13th.
    2. The players who wish to play together must figure out when they have characters available in the gameworld at the same time, depending on the above time requirements. If Bill is working on scroll making until the 5th and Ted is training for a new level in druid until the 9th then they can't adventure together until the 10th. If the calendar says that it's the 13th then they've missed the chance to do any adventuring on the 11th or 12th.
  5. If a month has passed, pay upkeep.
  6. Go back to #1 (probably due to the costs of #5).
Notice how little of the above list is intended to be actively played at the table - really just item #1; everything else is more or less handwaved bookkeeping - it's not deemed interesting enough to bother with.

The intent is to simulate fantasy short-stories, particularly the "pulp" stories of Howard, Haggard, Merritt, Leiber, Vance and their ilk, where the reader joins the characters for an interesting episode from their lives, enjoys it and then leaves them until the next exciting incident. We never see Conan arguing with his landlord over leaky rooves or the Grey Mouser training unless it leads into something more exciting.

When we see the characters at the end of an adventure they are battered but rich; when we see them at the start of an adventure they are generally well equipped, prepared, and somewhat low on cash.

The game has mechanisms to encourage this style of play, and in particular it gives out a lot of money and takes it back almost as quickly. Gold washes through player characters' hands like water through a sieve, leaving only a small residue.

AD&D's mechanics are frequently those of resource management - hit points, food, spells, arrows etc. but the top-level resource is time. So, for example, players who ignore charisma and thus henchmen will be less productive than those who cultivate a circle of assistant henchmen who can do things in between adventures as well as within them, and those who play magic users will eventually face the question of whether to take a different character on adventure while their main one concentrates on some great work.

None of this is written in stone, and when you start you can safely ignore some of it (since low level characters don't have so many options) but if you want to tinker with the game it's worth knowing what the assumptions are. That way you might be able to foresee what knock-on effects your changes might have. And for those that just want to play the game "by the book", having an idea of what the book expects play to be like is very useful.

So, AD&D is an episodic adventure role-playing game. That's the big-picture; I'll look at filling in some details in my next post.