Monday, August 17, 2015

D is for Demon

Consider AD&D DMG Appendix D (p. 194-5): "Random Generation of Creatures from the Lower Planes", that is, Demons, Devils, and Daemons. The esteemed Mr. Russell Flowers made a web generator to instantly create these when you need it. I really love this tool, especially in the case of the Chaotic demon types, where you never need have two be exactly the same. That's really a legitimately good use of tablature, maintains the mystery of not knowing the whole game for players, and handles the occasional cry of "every monster should be special" with efficiency and elegance. Thanks to Russell for automating it!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Shields & Stuff

Shields, Cavalry, and Mass Combat

Shields aren't highly valued in the D&D rule system, and they never have been. Not the first time that's been said. Start by looking at the original Chainmail mass combat table for missile fire (p. 11):

Ok, so shields give some kind of benefit there -- men with shields (or "1/2 armor"; think chain mail) reduce hits by about 1 for similar dice rolls. But let's consider a historical case like the Battle of Hastings (Wikipedia):
The battle opened with the Norman archers shooting uphill at the English shield wall, to little effect. The uphill angle meant that the arrows either bounced off the shields of the English or overshot their targets and flew over the top of the hill... After the attack from the archers, William sent the spearmen forward to attack the English. They were met with a barrage of missiles, not arrows but spears, axes and stones. The infantry was unable to force openings in the shield wall, and the cavalry advanced in support. The cavalry also failed to make headway, and a general retreat began...

This is an example of a "shield wall" which seems to make the defenders effectively immune to missile attacks (and others), as long as they maintain it. But that's a big difference from the one-hit reduction granted in Chainmail. Furthermore, Chainmail has no "shield wall" rule; it never did, and neither did D&D in any classic form. So this action is completely non-simulatable in any version of the game. Worse, consider the switch to the Man-to-Man rules:

That's the start of the Chainmail Man-to-Man missile fire table where, at the top of the table, armor class 1 = none, 2 = leather or padded, 3 = shield only. Note that in most of the cases there is absolutely no benefit given to either the shield or leather/padded armor! (Almost all of the target numbers are the same.) Of course, the D&D d20-based system gives a fixed 1-in-20 benefit for a shield; and AD&D DMG p. 28 suggests the option of changing this to +2 for large shields vs. small missiles, not that I've seen anyone ever use that. In any case: a very small, almost negligible benefit, and not at all representative of "shield wall" type immunity. (Contrast with EGG's almost fetishistic gauntlet of bonuses given to Swiss pikes.)

Let me also comment on cavalry in the system here. In the Chainmail table, no distinction is made to targets of missile fire that are horsed or on foot (see above). Presumably, a hit in any case wipes out one figure, whether mounted or not. But if we switch to EGG's later mass-combat revision of Swords & Spells, we see that he adds the entirety of the mounts hit dice as a benefit to cavalry units (p. 17):

Note the line, "Mounted troops include the hit points of their mounts." So instead of just killing the man riding the horse, you now have to deplete the entire sum of the hit points of horse & rider -- tripling or quadrupling the number hits that a figure takes from attacks before being eliminated (as compared to Chainmail)! That's a tremendous benefit, and later rules like Battlesystem basically carried on that tradition (or at least averaged them in the 1989 revision).

If I watch a Western movie with my father, who's worked on horses et. al. as a large-animal veterinarian for a half-century and counting, then he'll usually say, "Those guys should skip shooting at the riders and just shoot at the horses instead, because one bullet to the leg and they're done for". So at least in one expert's opinion, men on horses would have additional vulnerabilities to missile fire, not added endurance; and likewise when we look at famous historical cases like the Battle of Agincourt or Crécy, we see cases where English longbows were devastating to massed cavalry. But  it's practically impossible to simulate that action in the D&D system from Swords & Spells or later, because the endurance of cavalry is made to be several multiples greater than that of a man on foot.

So the end result of this is that whereas, based on historical sources, we might expect a dominance diagram of the basic unit types to look like this (infantry beats archers via use of shields, archers beat cavalry by shooting either riders or horses, and cavalry beat infantry by charging through shields):

... In D&D the situation, at least when you look at a cost-benefit analysis, looks exactly the reverse (infantry beats cavalry simply because they're so cheap and numerous, cavalry beats archers due to endurance multiplication, and archers beat infantry because the latter have negligible defense from shields):

And there's kind of no way I can see to wrestle this back around without entirely overhauling practically all of the guts of the D&D core system. Something we just kind of have to accept and live with if we take the simple D&D combat system as the basis for our games.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Lou Zocchi at Gen Con 2015

A video from Lou Zocchi from Gen Con this past weekend:

(Tip to E. Gygax Jr. for posting this on Facebook.)