Monday, August 13, 2018

Teleport Traditions

I do get a little weirded out when SF gets deeply injected into my fantasy. The top examples in OD&D for me are probably the spells ESP, telekinesis, and teleport. In particular, that latter spell's instant-death possibility always looked out-of-synch with other spells or pulp fantasy traditions (e.g., consider spell-casting screwups which land Cugel the Clever on a different continent, or Harold Shea in the wrong plane of reality). I previously wrote about it 4 years ago this month. From Vol-1:

Teleport: Instantaneous transportation from place to place, regardless of the distance involved, provided the user knows where he is going (the topography of the arrival area). Without certain knowledge of the destination teleportation is 75% uncertain, so a score of less than 75% of the percentile dice results in death. If the user is aware of the general topography of his destination, but has not carefully studied it, there is an uncertainty factor of 10% low and 10% high. A low score (1-10%) means death if solid material is contacted. A high score (91-100%) indicates a fall of from 10 to 100 feet, also possibly resulting in death. If a careful study of the destination has been previously made, then the Magic-User has only a 1% chance of teleporting low and a 4% chance of coming in high (10-40 feet).

For some time I've wanted to identify what part of the literature most inspired this. It certainly seems more SF than fantasy, but tracking that down in Appendix N is foiled because it doesn't list SF sources, only fantasy. Some of my top prospects previously have been Arthur C. Clarke's Travel By Wire! (his first short story, 1937), de Camp and Pratt's Harold Shea stories (listed in Appendix N as the first among the "most immediate influences upon AD&D", 1941-), and possibly Star Trek, especially their "Day of the Dove" episode (1968). See also many other entries at TVTropes' Tele-Frag article.

But at this point I'm pretty confident in theorizing that the most immediate influence on the teleport spell itself is Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination (1957). Having recently read it, I'd say that it has at least a 90% correlation with the D&D spell. Crucially, we know from other places that Gygax definitely read Bester: on ENWorld he wrote, "That list was just a sampling of the SF authors I have read. Good grief, Poul Anderson, ERB, Alfred Bester, Eando Binder, Edmond Cooper, and a host of others aren't on it..." And this book was one of really just two novels for which Bester is known. (Major thanks to capvideo on the OD&D Discussion board for digging this quote up.)

Here are some bullets in which Bester's The Stars My Destination synch up with the D&D spell:

  • Teleporters ("jaunters") have a strict need of exact knowledge of their destination. Chapter 3 details people taking a class in that exact skill, opening with:
    "Bravo, Mr. Harris! Well done! L-E-S, gentlemen. Never forget. Location. Elevation. Situation. That's the only way to remember your jaunte co-ordinates. Etre entre le marteau at l'enclume. [Being between the hammer and the anvil.]"
  • Furthermore, the custom/requirement is that people visit a certain location in person, traveling there by conventional means the first time, and make a detailed study of the place, before being able to teleport there. Again from Chapter 3:
    The men were brought down from General War Hospital to the jaunte school, which occupied an entire building in the Hudson Bridge at 42nd Street. They started from the school and marched in a sedate crocodile to the vast Times Square jaunte stage, which they earnestly memorized. Then they all jaunted to the school and back to Times Square. The crocodile reformed and they marched up to Columbus Circle and memorized its co-ordinates. Then all jaunted back to school via Times Square and returned by the same route to Columbus Circle. Once more the crocodile formed and off they went to Grand Army Plaza to repeat the memorizing and the jaunting...

    As their horizons expanded (and their powers returned) they would memorize jaunte stages in widening circles, limited as much by income as ability; for one thing was certain: you had to actually see a place to memorize it, which meant you first had to pay for the transportation to get you there. Even 3D photographs would not do the trick. The Grand Tour had taken on a new significance for the rich...

    The bandaged C.P.O. nodded dubiously and stepped up on the raised stage. It was of white concrete, round, and decorated on its face with vivid black and white patterns as an aid to memory. In the center was an illuminated plaque which gave its name and jaunte co-ordinates of latitude, longitude, and elevation.
  • Teleporting blindly without awareness of the co-ordinates (including co-ordinates of the point of departure) is almost sure to land one in solid matter, resulting in explosive death. Chapter 5 is set in a lightless, labyrinthine prison under Gouffre Martel (a real-world cavern complex in the French Pyrenes), so situated because it's the only way to keep prisoners unaware of their bearings and thus unable to teleport. Nonetheless, some try it out of desperation and this is called a "Blue Jaunte":
    But every so often... once or twice a week (or perhaps once or twice a year) came the muffled thud of a distant explosion. The concussions were startling enough to distract Foyle from the furnace of vengeance that he stoked all through the silences. He whispered questions to the invisible figures around him in Sanitation.

    "What's them explosions?"


    "Blow-ups. Hear 'em a long way off, me."

    "Them's Blue Jauntes."


    "Blue Jauntes. Every sometime a guy gets fed up with old Jeffrey. Can't take it no more, him. Jauntes into the wild blue yonder."
  • Finally, there is at least one case of the protagonist believing that he has mis-teleported high, resulting in falling from a significant height and being injured. Now, this turns out not to actually be the case -- the building to which he's teleporting has been ruined and the particular floor gone missing -- but his first sure instinct (combined with emphasis on remembering "elevation", above) indicates that this is a well-known possibility. From Chapter 8:
    He jaunted to Robin Wednesbury's apartment in the lonely building amidst the Wisconsin pines. It was the real reason for the advent of the Four Mile Circus in Green Bay. He jaunted and arrived in darkness and empty space and immediately plummeted down. "Wrong co-ordinates!" he thought. "Misjaunted?" The broken end of a rafter dealt him a bruising blow and he landed heavily on a shattered floor upon the putrefying remains of a corpse.

Some other minor details in Bester's work that may or may not match the D&D rules: (1) The teleporter is self-motivated, that is, they can only move themselves, not stay in place while forcing another object to jaunte. This matches OD&D and the AD&D line; B/X allowed the possibility of teleporting another target instead, but no other edition followed suit. (2) That said, a teleporter can carry with them as much as they can physically pick up. There are at least two instances in the book of characters struggling to lift another person and hence teleport with them. B/X mentions the caster's normal encumbrance as a limit, 1E introduced a formula for how much extra weight can be touched and taken with the caster (e.g., 700 pounds at 13th level), and later editions sequentially increased that limit (e.g., in 5E any caster can take 8 other creatures). (3) There is an acknowledged limit of 1,000 miles per teleport for any person, and longer trips are made in sub-jauntes of this length (explained in the Prologue). This also implies no extra-world teleports, not through space, and not across the planes.

Can you think of any work other than The Stars My Destination, of which we can document Gygax's prior knowledge, which better parallels the D&D teleport spell?

Monday, August 6, 2018

More Dungeon Treasure

Looking at the OD&D random dungeon treasure table from Vol-3:

Consider that their are 7 rows/"tiers" to that table. (Tier 1 = level 1, Tier 2 = levels 2-3, etc.). I randomly generated a sample of 1,000 treasures from each tier. Statistics are as follows:

And compiling the relative frequencies into a chart shows us this (note that the x-axis is quasi-logarithmic, using the 1-2-5 preferred numbers series):

Note how incredibly skewed the first two tiers are (i.e., dungeon levels 1-3). For example, at level 1 the median treasure is only 60 gp (in OED games we translate this to sp, but costs are all cut down in proportion, so purchasing-power is identical). 85% of the time you'll get a treasure less than 100 gp, which adds up to negligible XP for the party. But if you roll positively on the 5% gems/jewelry chance, then that treasure will be likely in the 1,000's of gp's (even possibly on the order of 40,000 gp maximum!). If you were to roll consistently and faithfully using this table then it's possible that you never get any large-value treasure in a given 1st-level dungeon (granted that by the book less than 1/3 of rooms have any treasure at all); or alternatively, you might have one outstanding treasure worth 20,000 gp sitting by some zombies or giant frogs (as happened the other day when I was doing some rolling experiments).

I think this highlights the need for the DM to intentionally place one or two "big hauls" on the first few levels of the dungeon, including gems and/or jewelry, in order to support PCs advancing levels at all before hitting lower levels of the dungeon. I think that Paul S. would further suggest that players be made aware of this from the get-go as an initial quest/mission/ante to get the action started. If one accesses the more advanced tiers, the gem/jewelry frequency increases, and therefore treasure gets a lot more evenly distributed at those levels (that is, by tier 4/level 6, about half of all random treasures have either gems or jewelry or both), which might indicate that we can then rely on the random method more for a useful amount of treasure.

Monday, July 30, 2018

OED Monster Database v. 1.06

Recent small updates to the OED Monster Database recently (to version 1.06):
  • Reordered the last few columns
  • In EHD listings, replaced '*' with more obvious '?'
  • Inserted EHD listings into the generated stat blocks.
Also, I removed the separate document for EHD listings, because that turned out to be a pain to maintain (DRY principle and all that). Just see the OED Database spreadsheet (including stat blocks) to see that. 

Monster Database at OED Games Add-Ons

Monday, July 9, 2018

Dyson's Delve at Paul's Gameblog

Nothing new from me at the moment: go check out Paul's Gameblog to see what I was doing over the long holiday weekend. (Updates as Paul adds more posts this week.)

Monday, July 2, 2018

How Tall is that Humanoid?

Let's look at all the height-values explicitly given for monsters in OD&D Vol-2 (there aren't that many; mostly just giant types) for some kind of pattern.

We assume the following: Hit dice are related to strength. And strength is related to cross-sectional area of the body. (This is certainly true for simple physical systems, where compressive strength is a function of area. It is broadly true in muscle physiology. However, it varies between individuals of a species based on gender, training, etc.)

Below we map the hit dice of various OD&D Vol-2 creatures to the square of their stated height (i.e., something proportional to their cross-sectional area). We include Men as a known quantity from the real world (taking 5' 8" as the mean height of medieval men). Also, we exclude Fire Giants as a rather obvious outlier (they are given proportions that are notably dwarfish, likely an allusion to the deformed god Hephaestus and many other mythological smiths/craftsmen).

Of course, we do not expect that these game values were set up with any kind of mechanical system in mind (on the other hand, it's pretty intuitive that strength and size should be increasing together). That said, we do find that a regression on these values gives a 96% coefficient of determination; a good match.

So if we want to invert this and use it as a rule-of-thumb, given that hit dice are given for every monster and height is usually not, we could say roughly that height (in feet) = √(27.71 HD) = 5.3 √HD5√HD.

Let's spot-check a few simple values. For Men (HD 1), our rough estimate would give 5√1 = 5×1 = 5 feet. For Ogres, we get 5√4 = 5×2 =10 feet (whereas the book says they "range from 7 to 10 feet in height"). For Stone Giants, we get 5√9 = 5×3 =15 feet (precisely the book figure). And so forth; it seems to work pretty well for creatures with man-like proportions.

For more serpentine creatures (like Tolkien-style dragons), we might say they have double the length given by this formula. In fact, we can check against the only other creature with a stated length in Vol-2: the Purple Worm, of which it is said that "some reach a length of 50 feet". Assume this is for the largest of the species, i.e., 6 pips per hit die, so 15 × 6 = 90 hit points. This equates to standard monster hit dice of 90 / 3.5 = 25. And our rule-of-thumb would estimate the corresponding serpent length as 2×5√25 = 2×5×5 = 50 feet. Well, isn't that nice.

Bonus: How Heavy is that Humanoid? This happened to come up (half-jokingly) in our game last weekend. Spring-boarding off the above, this needs to be proportional to the cube of the square-root of hit dice, that is, HD^(3/2) = HD^1.5. For the coefficient (multiplier), we back-calculate from information on the Corpulence Index (CI): We find that one can very roughly use weight (in pounds) = 100 × HD^1.5. For a somewhat better estimate, use 120 as the multiplier. For a value in stone-weight, use 8 as the multiplier. (Compare to "How Heavy is My Giant?" in Dragon #13, which relates height to weight but not hit dice.)

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Master's Monastery, Ep. 6

Juno 30, 4729.
  • Continuing personae: Long Tim (Hobbit Ftr3), Brother Maccus (Human Ftr3). After the dreadful encounter with ghouls last time, other new PCs need introduction.
  • New PCs: Aslak Jam Saskin (Elf Ftr2/Wiz1), a peddler of holy water and haunted by the spirits of earlier dead dwarven wizards; Dusteg Bronzehide (Dwarf Thf3), a trap-searching expert. Interesting side note: The party Strength scores are now 15, 17, 17, and 18; this is assessed as "Darwin having written OD&D".
  • Aslak JS makes use of the rule to "send[s] messengers to whatever place the desired character type would be found (elf-land, dwarf-land, etc.)" (Vol-1, p. 12), specifically elf-land, putting out a call to hire brave (but hopefully cheap and not-so-wise) elven adventurers. Three show up and two are hired after haggling on price and treasure shares (100 or 150 sp up front, and 1/8 each of all treasure); Tamar the Miller (Elf Ftr1/Wiz1; chain, war hammer) and Yulia the Ape (Elf Ftr1/Wiz1; chain, silver dagger, Str +1).
  • Brother Maccus makes use of the "Rumors, Information, and Legends" rule (Vol-3, p. 23) on two evenings at the inn; pays out 90 sp and gets two tidbits: (1) the hexagonal chamber in the dungeon is to be feared; (2) there is a powerful necromancer in the woods not far to the north. After some debate and purchase of healing potions, the group decides to return to the monastery dungeon and seek the priceless fire opal once more.
  • Into the pit; skirting the entry bone-mound, to the large empty ceremonial chamber. There, the secret door is closed and the makeshift steps gone. The group returns to the wood store in the dungeon, gets more logs, and recreates the climbing apparatus. Through the raised secret door into the crypt section. 
  • Look into the crypt-chambers to the immediate east and south; looking carefully for more lurking/hidden ghouls. Find hundreds of more bodies and skeletons in niches along all the walls; no exits and no obvious treasures, acting with utmost caution, the group backs out and searches elsewhere.
  • Passing through the alcove guard post, the party is surprised that 8 animated skeletons destroyed earlier have been replaced; combat is once again engaged. This goes fairly well, with the bulked-up party chopping down skeletons left and right with swords, polearms, and halberds. It is over in less than a minute, a pile of shattered bones beneath their feet. 
  • Further south, off a smaller hallway to the west, a very old and locked, heavy oak door; silence behind it. Dusteg tries to pick the lock but it seems jammed. The three strongest members line up to kick it down together; this works, and the door snaps inward. Within: a single stone sarcophagus. Dusteg enters to search the walls. At this, the lid scrapes open and a hideous figure stands up; clearly dead, black leathery skin, hairless skull, old robe and gold medallion, fairly crackling with foul energy. A mummy? Dusteg runs and with Tamar slams the door shut; the creature within pulls on the door, almost beating their combined strength. The others back up 20 feet and pull out missile weapons. The two let go of the door and duck and run; the rest launch arrows and bolts which all shatter helplessly against the creature's hide. The thing launches at the plate-armored Maccus, rolling poorly; chalkboard-sound of nails gouging his shield.
  • Everyone flees, running back up the long northern hallway. Maccus is slower than the rest, and the creature keeps pace; gets an attack at +2 and no shield; lashing at his ankles, again fails to connect. Rounding two corners, rolls are made to see if the creature follows (Vol-3, p. 2); these fail, the monster returns to its lair, and the party catches its breath.
  • With few options, the party returns south; looks at the door which is shut but clearly no longer locked. Further south, small tunnels; to the east a dead end. To the west a small dead-end room with sarcophogus; this has merely a long-dead body and no treasure. A bit further south another likewise. Now time for a wandering monster check: this comes up "6" so something comes down the dead-end tunnel at the party; another roll indicates it is this same weapon-immune undead creature (which the DM just added to the encounter table after the PCs released it). Long Tim spots it as others are searching for secrets and everyone gasps.
  • Aslak JS fires an arrow at the creature's gold medallion, but the shot goes wide. Tamar tries to hit it with her war hammer and this does nothing. Dusteg throws his silver dagger and connects; the creature recoils, silvery burning smoke wafting from the wound! Tim misses the medallion with his hobbit's two-handed sword. Maccus drops his sword with a clang, grabbing for the embedded silver dagger (success) and tries to hit with it (fails). Yulia also strikes with her silver dagger (the only other such weapon the party has), but also misses. The creature lashes out randomly; strikes Yulia for 4 points and drains her Wizard-class level permanently.
  • Aslak casts protection from evil. Tamar casts magic missile and the creature takes full damage. Dusteg throws a normal dagger; hits it in the black eyeball, but it gets spit out with no effect. Tim severs the medallion, it falls off, but this also has no effect. Maccus connects with the silver dagger and the thing weakens. The undead misses its next attack; around the table again, mostly with no effect; and then Maccus finally gets position and finishes it off, twisting the dagger deeply in its dead-again chest, silver smoke billowing into the air. The group pick up its gold medallion and silver bracelets and give a healing potion to Yulia.
  • Party decide to return to the village and sell this loot and recover. Split up 178 sp and 410 XP each (or 118 sp and 205 XP for the hirelings). Long Tim advances to 4th level; succeeds in mastering the ability to double-strike with a melee weapon.
  • The next day, the party decide to explore the nearby northern woods for the necromancer of note, one "Akharis the Astonishing". It rains but the group take some rations and head off anyway. After a half-day's march, into the trackless woods; the encounter roll "6". A short distance ahead they are spotted by 3 giant snakes (20' long each) wrapped around an ancient, withered tree. The snakes slither down to attack, and most of the party uses various hiding powers to disappear in the bushes. Brother Maccus is left standing alone with no such special abilities. He looks (success) for a thick cluster of downed trees where only one snake can get through at a time, and stands at that point. The first giant snake slithers through and bites his shield; a miss. The whole group launch attacks, cutting and stabbing it multiple times. It bites Maccus' leg and starts coiling around him; before it can crush him it is finished off, but the next is upon them. Again Maccus is bit and wrapped; and again the thing is split up. The third is likewise attacked and defeated. Beyond the tree, the party spots a wide and deep ravine and on the mesa beyond, an a tall tower surrounded by trees. Having no obvious way (or time) to cross, they return to the village.
  • Open questions: Can the party contact the necromancer, and will he/she/it be happy to see them? Does the party have any way to defeat the ghouls and find the fire opal in the dungeon -- if it exists at all? With Long Tim having reached maximum level as a Hobbit fighter, is there any way to cheat the rules, say, by training with a stronger or higher-level fighter? We shall see.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Expected Backstory Poll Results

Back in February, on the Facebook AD&D group, I asked a poll on the following question: "About how many pages of backstory is expected for a new AD&D 1st-level character in games you play?"

To be clear, this is not a question I would ever think to ask on my own. (Another poster previously asked, "How can I write the required 8 pages of backstory for my new character", or something like that, which generated a lot of interest.) As it turns out, this seems to be the most controversial/viral thing I've ever asked there: it generated 493 votes and 128 follow-up comments to date, with fiery opinions in all directions. Here's the original as it appeared on Facebook (out-of-order, and with vote totals of 100+ not visible):

Here's a possibly more useful version, with a table and chart in numerical order:

As you can see, the most popular choice by far was "zero pages" (by default, what I would have answered, the thought never even naturally occurring to me) with about 60% of the votes cast; but "one page" was also popular, with about 20% of the votes -- even more popular than a "half page", with 13% of the votes. On the other hand, while almost no one picked options in the range of 5 or 10 pages, ten people picked either "20 pages" or "More" (2% of the total voters), and were likely to post a comment justifying this stance (and so triggering counter-comments from the no-backstory camp).

Disclosure: There is a possibility that a few people picked "More" (i.e., more than 20 pages expected) accidentally, as by default Facebook only shows the top 5 options in a poll until one clicks "More Options...", that is, the options for 5-10-20 pages would be initially not visible.

In statistical practice, it is sometimes said that bimodal (or multi-modal) results like these indicate that one is measuring at least two disparate populations that perhaps should be separated apart in future analysis. The difference between "zero pages" and "twenty or more pages" of expected starting backstory is so startling that it does indeed seem like at least two different games are being played.