Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Arrg! This Game!

Every fucking time I think I understand how AD&D combat works, I learn something new.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More Random AD&D Crap

DEX helps saving throws
Never noticed this before, but it's right there on page 11 of the PHB. I always wondered why Thieves had crappy saves, but now it makes sense. Against magical attacks like fireballs, they will typically have very good saves due to generally better-than-average DEX scores. Against mind altering effects, their saves will generally be mediocre due to lower WIS ("generally"). Essentially, the saving throw tables take into account archetypical attributes and assume their modification due to ability scores. Once again USING ALL THE RULES makes sense. But, once again, the fucking rules are spread out across multiple books, sometimes in places easily glossed over and forgotten. Taken with a retrospective look, 2nd edition AD&D should have been collating all the rules into an easier-to-understand form, not completely suck all the flavor out and rewrite crap. Corollary, Unearthed Arcana didn't help.

AD&D originally had five alignments
Yep. It's right there in the Monster Manual. This is a natural outgrowth of the Law-Neutrality-Chaos scale I talked about before, and explored (apparently) in the Holmes Revision of D&D. Between the publication of the MM and the PHB, it looks like someone decided it naturally followed that alignments such as Chaotic Neutral and Neutral Good were valid choices and thus included. Again, this makes sense due to alignments such as Chaotic good (neutral tendencies) in the case of brass dragons. Brass dragons are Neutral Good, but due to the five alignment system, shoehorned into Chaotic Good. Or something. Sylphs are Neutral (which looks to be a running theme with woodland creatures), but with a parenthetical "good". Going back to the post I made about alignment, Neutral is in fact "neutral to monsters-vs-humans". The good descriptor for sylphs just means they're aren't inimical to anyone, but don't concern themselves with the Law-Chaos war. Or something. There are obviously many different interpretations to be made here, but to be perfectly honest, the five alignment way works better than the dual axis system introduced in the PHB. It also makes me wonder if the MM was in fact meant to be a solitary release. Probably not. But it does demonstrate (again) that there were rules changes during the  publishing of AD&D. It also means AD&D was supposed to be a revision to D&D, not a new game. Sorry, Arneson...this brings up another question: what was the real point of B/X and the Mentzer sets? To fuck Arneson over as many have pondered? Just using what I've seen in the printed text, that's the only conclusion one can reach. AD&D is really D&D 2nd edition, B/X is D&D-light. Or something.

DungeonMorph Dice

So, I got them today after waiting what feels like forever. Seriously, nearly 7 months? Anyway, these things are huge, the largest dice I own, barring the d30 I never use. I suppose the real question: are they worth it? Since I bought them sight unseen, I had nothing to go by but the conceptualization (which sounds awesome) and some mock-ups (which looked cool). Now that I have the things in my I wouldn't buy these, not for $20. They're mostly a novelty item, to be perfectly honest, as I really don't see any practical application. Sure you can roll them and come up with some random dungeons, but you still have to graph that shit out anyway so might as well just come up with it randomly out of your own skull. For $10 I'd probably buy a bunch more sets, along with the other types, and truly create some random dungeons. At $20, though, they seem overpriced.

Anyway, more dice I'll never use. I have a bunch of dice from Flying Buffalo that are similar, but a lot cheaper. I've never used these, either, but they're cool to have and didn't cost that much. My suggestion to Inkwell Ideas is to find a way to dramatically lower cost, and size (they honestly are huge) before marketing these things as a regular product.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

More Cleric Spells

Cure Serious Wounds
Why bring up another healing spell? Well, clerics can't cast this until 7th level, and it only heals 2d8+1 damage. So much for clerics being walking infirmaries. The average fighter with a decent CON (+2) will have 56 hit points at 7th level. If a 7th level Cleric with 18 WIS memorizes the maximum number of healing spells, he will be able to cast 5 CLW and 2 CSW. These spells will cure an average of 34 total hit points, hardly enough to keep the fighter going if they get into a major scrap. Strangely enough, druids can cast more healing spells at 6th level than a 7th level cleric. Quite honestly clerics aren't that great for healing parties of adventurers. By extension, this means potions of healing and staves of curing will be extremely useful to high level parties. Coupled with how difficult it is to cast spells during melee, it also means fighters will want to have a couple healing potions on their person at all times.

Hold Person
This spell is fucking incredible, no exaggeration. If the target fails its save, this results in being held for at least 7 rounds (why the description even bothers to list levels 1 and 2 is beyond me), which might as well be death. Further, 3 targets can be affected, or less with a decrease in saving throw. Say an evil priest with a few orc minions meets a party of adventurers. He has a pretty good chance of holding one or two of the fighters, smashing their brains in as the orcs rush the less combat savvy party members. If you're using cavaliers from Unearthed Arcana (on the fence about UA...), paladins are an evil priest's worst nightmare. They already are just using the PHB rules, but all that added crap makes them essentially invulnerable.

To reiterate a point made in my last post, clerics aren't healers. Yes, they can cast heal spells, but quite honestly, paladins and druids are just as effective, which means not really effective at all. Clerics are in fact fighters who can cast a lot of very useful spells that keep a party adventuring. If we look at hit points from a logistical viewpoint, the main strength of a cleric is managing resources. They can create food and water, light, cure poison, detect items and creatures and increase fighting ability, all things that enable a party to stay in the dungeon longer before returning to town. Thus the most important reason to have a cleric in the party is the ability to get more treasure and more experience, leveling up more quickly. If we treat AD&D as a game (wow, imagine that), this is a huge incentive for someone to play a cleric character.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

AD&D Spell Deconstruction OR Never Assume Anything

This will be the first in a series of posts dealing specifically with some AD&D spells that, for whatever reason, I never fully understood. Perhaps it was simply a lack of reading comprehension on my part, but most likely because I never actually read the fucking things completely. There is a lot of information contained within each spell description; glossing over misses some key components.

Spell Components
Speaking of components (or writing of them...whatever), did/does anyone use spell components? I realize some of this is mainly for flavor, but if you want to be a hardass DM and limit spell casting just use the spells as written. For instance, a lot of cleric spells require holy water. That's not too hard to get, but it is expensive. Each vial is 25 gp, so a starting character probably has at most one vial unless they forego armor and/or weapons. Bless, Protection From Evil and Purify Food & Drink all require holy water to cast, which means 1st level clerics aren't going to be using those spells much, or not at least until they find some treasure. By extension, it also means the first few hundred gold the cleric finds will be donated to his church in exchange for holy water. Want to limit characters running around with lots of money? Start with spell components. Further, spells require risk to cast if using components; take the magic-user spell Scare, for example. Material components for this spell are bone fragments from an undead monster, which essentially means MUs must risk their hide adventuring to acquire the means to cast it. Or they can buy skeleton bones in town, right? Even if you as DM allow there to be an alchemy shop or something similar, no alchemist worth a crap will sell those bones cheaply. Suppose the alchemist had to pay a few fighters and a cleric to delve into a tomb and kill a few skeletons for their bones. What's the markup like? 100 gp for skeleton bone pieces seems reasonable. Either way, the MU is paying with personal risk or out of his pocket book. You can hand-wave a lot of this and just tell the spell caster, "Okay, you need to spend 300 gp this month for components" and leave it at that. Not as nitpicky but at least you're hitting them where it hurts most. Players who complain should be forced to track every component for every spell and explain in detail where they got those components. That'll shut them up.

And now on to the spells...or at least one to start.

Cure Light Wounds
I've read that Heal is a ridiculous spell. Well, not so much Heal, but its reverse Harm which leaves a creature with only 1d4 hit points left. No saving throw. Kill Demogorgon in one round! Read CLW closely: creatures that require special weapon properties to hit (iron, silver, magic) are unaffected. This applies to all healing spells and their reverse. Further, these spells are completely useless against undead, incorporeal creatures (air elementals?) and nearly anything from another plane. That certainly balances them out, doesn't it? Another thing to consider is that casting a CLW during melee is nearly impossible unless the target is motionless i.e. unconscious. The cleric cannot move more than 10' during the casting, any successful attack ruins the spell and a roll-to-hit must be made. That's a lot of crap to worry about. Cause Light Wounds really seems like a last resort for a desperate fool, or possibly a sneaky way for an evil cleric to kill someone. Sure, I'll heal you! In any event, clerics will be casting nearly all their spells before or after melee; that's why they can wear heavy armor.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

AD&D Combat

This is a followup to yesterday's post about character creation and probably one of the most straightforward I've ever done. When I decided to spell out AD&D combat as-written in the rulebooks, I figured it was a lost cause. Oddly enough, the DMG is very specific about how combat is run and tries to cover most circumstances within the rules. Page 61 gives an outline of how to run combat, which is a pretty helpful starting point as long as you actually read the sections that follow in detail. So, here we go...

1) Determine surprise

This isn't as difficult as it sounds, even though it takes about five readings to understand. Roll a d6 for each side, 1 or 2 means that side is surprised. There is a chart on pg. 62 that can be extrapolated to cover just about any surprise conditions. Each segment of surprise allows a full round of combat actions for the unsurprised party. However, DEX adjusts this and does not allow melee nor missile attacks (from what I can determine) to affect certain individuals. A thief with a 17 DEX (+2 reaction) would only be a viable target if there were 3 segments of surprise. All those spell casting times rated in segments make more sense now: Magic Missile and Sleep can be cast during 1 segment of surprise. Supposing there were 2 segments of surprise and a MU cast Fireball; the spell would occur on segment 1 of the first combat round, regardless of initiative. Considering some of the rules about interrupting spell casting during melee, it's not a bad idea to start casting a lengthy spell during surprise. This does mean that high level wizards who surprise parties can royally fuck them up beyond belief. This is counteracted by being pathetic during regular melee, and pretty much a liability when facing high level fighters unless they have some sort of magic item. I knew there was a reason for all those staves and wands...

2) Determine distance

Again on pg. 62 there is extensive detail on how to determine distance. Unless charging, it takes 1 segment to move 1" (10'), so melee is generally impossible unless surprise occurs within 10' initially. Moving during surprise segments is a valid action, so if 2" separate the combatants, using 2 segments of surprise to close the gap is a good idea. In retrospect, I always thought surprise was ridiculously overpowered, but really, using the distance rules it's really not that bad. Essentially you catch a monster with its pants down 30' away, you run up to it before it has a chance to figure out what's going on. If it bumbles around a corner, smack the hell out of it before it can react, etc. Anyway, this is vitally important because if the distance is far enough, the first melee round will be combatants moving into position, giving spell casters an opportunity to do some damage. If it's close, the wizard better pull out a wand or staff.

3) Determine initiative

There is a document called ADDICT which essentially does the same thing this post tries to do, but much more complexly. I believe it comes to the same conclusions, but goddamn the section on initiative is hard to comprehend. Basically, a d6 is rolled per side. Higher roll goes first, ties result in simultaneous actions. High level fighters with multiple attacks go before everyone else, no matter what the initiative says, their attacks staggered as necessary. If firing a missile, the reaction bonus is added to personal initiative roll. This last part resulted in an epiphany: DEX doesn't help bows hit. It helps them fire sooner during a round. Given later information in the DMG about bows created to utilize STR bonus, it makes perfect sense. STR is the only ability that helps attacks hit. Period. Anyone complaining about fighters not being very good needs to use all the rules...

4) Determine actions

This is actually detailed fairly well; specific actions occur before others.

  1. Run away
  2. Parley
  3. Wait
  4. Fire missiles, use magic devices, cast spells, turn undead
  5. Move or charge
  6. Set weapons against charge
  7. Melee
  8. Grapple
Now comes all the fun stuff...specifically spell casting during melee. Page 65. Reading through this section, you are an idiot if you cast a spell during a general melee unless you have some beefy fighters for protection. No movement, no DEX bonus to AC, can be interrupted with a successful attack. If on the losing side of initiative, an attack will always occur before the spell goes off. This also means high level fighters get to attack before any spell can be started. Ouch. Tied initiative, compare weapon speed to casting time in segments. I KNEW WEAPON SPEED WAS THERE FOR A REASON! If initiative is won, the initiative rolls subtracted from weapon speed to determine segment of attack and compared to casting time. This means if a MU won initiative and is casting Sleep (1 segment), he can be interrupted by a punch, but that's about it. Daggers can disrupt a Fireball, however, even if initiative is lost. During tied initiative, weapon speed is further used to see which side attacks first. This only occurs when weapons are used; against natural (monster) attacks, simultaneous attacks mean both take effect. Further, multiple attacks are possible if the weapon speed is more than twice as much (or 5 total), 1 additional attack is possible. 10 or greater, 2 attacks before and 1 simultaneous attack. Certainly a reason to use a dagger in melee, right?

More fun stuff: picking a specific target in melee is generally not possible. The DMG recommends randomly determining targets. Breaking away from melee results in a free attack with no DEX bonus, shield bonus and at +4. Vicious. Getting really drunk is beneficial for villagers against high-powered opponents. They get a +3 to hit points which easily outweighs their -5 to attack; if you have to roll a 20 to hit, what's the difference? Speaking of 20s, the to-hit chart implies a natural 20 is required to hit certain ACs, and a natural 20 with bonus required to strike extremely low ACs. Further, a 1 isn't an automatic miss. In fact, high level fighters with magic items and great strength pretty much hit everything, every time. For example, a 17th level fighter with an 18/00 STR and a +5 weapon will hit AC -5 or below without even rolling. Any roll of 6 or higher will hit AC -10, or literally 75% of the time. High level paladins fucking up demons beyond belief is very plausible...

After going through this, I decided to re-read ADDICT in detail. To be perfectly honest, it IS exactly how AD&D combat is performed, but holy shit, good luck doing it that way. Strangely, there aren't any contradictory rules if you take the system as a total as opposed to piecemeal. I don't think I'm ever going to run combat this way, but it gives me a good reason to consider weapon speed factors. Quite frankly, I always hate the way spell casters dominate melee, casting spells that determine the outcome of every fight. Using the AD&D combat system, they'll rely greatly on magic items and use spells rarely during fights and instead focus on more utility magic. That's pretty awesome.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Trying To Figure Out AD&D Character Creation

So I keep making posts about AD&D, and pretty much decided to run a game relatively soon. Of course, this means I have to re-read all the rules for about the millionth time; seems like every time I do, I notice more crap (just as a note, more to myself than anyone else, I'll explain my reasons for going with AD&D vs. something else in a followup post). By crap I mean exactly that: endless contradictory rules. There's literally no way to rectify half of the stuff contained within the PHB and DMG with itself and create any sort of meaningful game. If you tried to use every rule there wouldn't really be a game and instead an exercise in self-hate. I won't even address Initiative here...that's a topic best left for my doctoral dissertation.  Perhaps my wargaming background leads me to expect rules delineated with numerical headings, with countless references. That's probably false as Powers & Perils is one of the crappiest games I own and uses such a system. Still, it would be nice if you could just generate a fucking character without having to refer to pages contained in multiple books, referenced nowhere except in the section itself. Am I exaggerating? Here is how to create an AD&D character to the best of my understanding at this point. Oddly enough, having played the game for over 20 years I've never actually used this system because I sort of hand-waved it or used generators such as Dungeon Master's Assistant (which is STILL one of the best computer-based rpg utilities ever coded). My Labyrinth Lord character generator has a lot of AD&D stuff in it, now that I think about it, but it's obviously much less complex. I digress...

1) Generate ability scores using one of the methods described in the DMG
Why aren't these in the fucking PHB? Okay, okay, I get it: selecting one is entirely the province of the dungeonmaster. Quite honestly, I'm cool with that. This does mean the DM actually has to outline his campaign ahead of time instead of assuming some sort of baseline rules-set. Again, that's fine.

2) Pick character race and adjust ability scores
If you roll a 7 for INT, you cannot be an elf. If you decide to be a half-orc your 18 CHA will need to be lowered to 12. Actually, it would be a 16 due to the -2 penalty, then lowered to 12 as that is the racial maximum. Strangely, there are no bonuses listed for ability scores over 18, even though it is very possible to have a 19 through various means. Refer to Deities and Demigods!

3) Select character class
If you want to play a paladin but don't have a 17 CHA, tough shit. Fuck all that UA die rolling crap; if you're going to do that why not simply assign ability scores? It'd certainly be easier. Selecting multiple classes is easy enough if you flip to that section.

4) Determine age
Yes, you must roll the age of the character per the DMG. That's fine, but again, why the hell isn't this in the PHB?

5) Adjust ability scores for aging
This is oft overlooked, but pretty much the easiest way to get higher scores. It's not possible to roll up a middle aged magic-user or cleric, which kinda sucks.

6) Roll for secondary skills
Not necessarily required, but as it's on the same page in the DMG, might as well do it now.

7) Determine psionic ability
It's in there and therefore a valid rule. Right?

8) Alignment
This is either simple (druids for instance), or confusing (thieves). If you read the alignment requirements in the thief description a couple times, it makes sense, but why not simply list all the possibilities? Not Gygax!

9) Roll hit points
Easy enough, I guess.

10) Select languages
I'm not really sure if you're supposed to do this in-play for extra languages granted by INT or before play starts as the section is somewhat ambiguous. I suppose it would be more fun to do it during the game, but that can be somewhat annoying.

11) Roll for starting money and buy equipment
Easy enough.

12) Pick weapon proficiencies
Now wait a minute; shouldn't this be before buying equipment? Yes, it should, but it's right after the equipment list so whatever.

13) Ask DM for starting spells
Yeah, you don't get to pick these unless the DM rolls a 0. However, you do get to start with 4 spells, which is nice (3 for illusionists).

14) Determine if keen-eared
Hidden away on page 60 of the DMG...this comes after everything else because it is determined during play, specifically the first time the character attempts to hear a noise. Seriously, Gygax? You surely expect me to have a photographic memory, don't you?

Stuff specifically left out includes THAC0, turning undead and saving throws. While I don't necessarily agree that players shouldn't have access to this information (it certainly makes it much more a pain in the ass), there's something to be said for the DM keeping this stuff private to create an air of mystery. Or something. Personally, I do all this last anyway.

Overall not that bad, but still somewhat annoying. Combat, on the other hand...I'll post something about that later.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Case For One Axis Alignment


What's wrong with this? Within the confines of D&D, it makes sense. Law is associated with people and society, chaos is monsters and sorcerers and elder gods and crap like that. Law is organized, chaos seeks to destroy everything. Do we really need a Good-Evil axis as well? Using a Real World view within a game is doomed to failure. How many times do people have arguments about whether or not it's evil to kill orcs? Baby orcs? Are orcs inherently evil, incapable of performing good acts? That's an ethical question and quite honestly not much fun for a game, at least for me. But it's also irrelevant if we ditch the Good-Evil axis and focus on upon Law-Chaos. Orcs are chaotic and seek to bring down civilization. Killing orcs makes perfect sense, there's no need to worry about such actions being good nor evil. It also means there's no need to define rival human nations as good or evil, either. Yeah, they fight each other and disagree on everything, but they'll always join up to destroy orc settlements that threaten their lands. Further instead of pigeonholing PCs into a specific, required behavior, we allow them act more "realistically". This does of course mean chaotic PCs are actually on the side of the monsters; or maybe they're just crazy. Being chaotic doesn't mean you support a particular group. It's entirely possible within the game to be chaotic and truly enjoy society, yet bring upon its downfall. Thieves thrive only within lawful environments, but are directly at odds with law. I suppose they're chaotic, but less extreme than orcs. And no one would be that upset if you killed a bunch of thieves who were threatening the city, would they?

So...suppose we dump Good-Evil from AD&D. Now what? Nothing changes, really. The problem with paladins and assassins working within the same party go away as they're probably both lawful anyway. Yes, assassins kill people for money, but if they're using their talents to kill orcs, why would a paladin care? Really, getting rid of the ethical component of alignment makes the game much more gamey, back to its roots in wargaming as opposed to a thin excuse to use funny voices and engage in amateur theatre. It turns back into an Us-vs-Them boardgame, people vs. monsters. It's also much more human-centric. Elves and dwarves and hobbits, yes they like humans, but they're still "different", and thus not trusted. Humans are primary with demi-human races taking a backseat. And honestly, that resembles what I want out of a swords and sorcery rpg...evil human sorcerers and strange monsters working together to bring about the downfall of humanity, a motley group of heroes banded together to thwart the threat. All that other tripe like half-dragons and gay teleporting elves can stay firmly within the realm of "modern gaming".