Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Master's Monastery, Ep. 9

Sextilius 21st, 4729.
  • Personae: A reduced group assembles: Tim, Maccus, Aslak, Tamar, and Yulia (respectively: Hobbit Ftr4, Ftr3, Elf Ftr3/Wiz1, hireling Elf Ftr1/Wiz1, hireling Elf Ftr1).
  • This group decides, with some skepticism, to follow up on clues from prophet-girl last time. Takes the guide Andreas, who conveniently waives chances for lost or monsters on way to monastery. Group enters by the secret back tunnel, leaving Andreas to guard the way out.
  • Proceed to the oddly-shaped room with frescoes on five walls (a former PC member was killed here by a giant snake). Group carefully and comprehensively searches for secrets on each panel. As they do so, they are attacked by (another) swarm of giant rats; six must be slain.
  • Resuming search, a secret keyhole is found. Aslak tries the keys from the old priestess, and one works! A panel rotates left and the group with some surprise proceed into a northward-running corridor. 
  • Stairs downward. The party descends, leading down to a natural tunnel which connects with a large open tunnel running roughly northwest-southeast. Several other craggy side-tunnels seen; party opts to stick to large tunnel to southeast. 
  • Enters a very large cavern; far walls and roof out of sight. A 20' terrace rises in the center. As PCs look up at this with lantern, shadowy creatures appear at top and begin slinging stones at them. Party runs closer to get better light and shooting; several drop swords and pull out bows. Creatures are seen to be large reptile-men with hissing forked tongues, some 7' tall. Heavily-armored Maccus pulls out snake-teeth necklace and taunts them; stones rain off his helm and magic shield.
  • More creatures appear from the darkness, at foot level, behind the party, attacking the archers with wicked pole arms. Tamar takes a critical hit; triple damage, 12 points, she fails the save vs. death and expires. Tim counter-attacks with rapid swordplay. Others keep firing up. These creatures are tougher than those met earlier, and the fighting is hard. Finally Tim and Maccus fell the three on ground level, and those above withdraw out of sight, hissing angrily.
  • Four party members explore further into cavern, working southeast, then northeast, between central terrace and high cavern wall. In the narrow gap, they are attacked by wandering zombies; Tim and Maccus hold the front line while Aslak and Yulia fight with polearms from behind. Four zombies cut and speared down.
  • Another connected large cave to the east. Find a 5' tunnel south some 100', leading to silent and dark waters-edge. PCs want none of this and return how the came (wandering monster check from behind: nil). 
  • North and east into a long cave with five statues along the wall. Maccus searches one and tries to shift it. Suddenly a wraith-like creature is in the room, gliding aggressively towards the party. The run back to the large cave and regroup.
  • PCs take out silver arrows and daggers and return to the haunted statue cave. Aslak grabs the statue and the wraith returns. Tim fires the first shot, hitting with preternatural hobbit accuracy; the thing smokes and hisses. Others run to melee en masse, stabbing with daggers. Mostly misses. Wraith tries to choke Maccus but the magic shield blocks it. Yulia lands a cut. Wraith misses her narrowly. Tim pulls a dagger and double-strikes, destroying it. 
  • Worried about more wraiths from other statues, the group withdraws. Finds another cave. Exploring southward, find a huge web with three giant spiders; retreat. Run into more zombies behind them. Retreat some more. Regroup and move forward; find large group of zombies and also several become sick and weak from gas. Retreat again. 
  • Southwest of the main cavern, a tunnel leads to an underground river; narrow wooden bridge leads over to a cave beyond. Guardian lizard-men with polearms ae engaged; several arrows shot across, but their thick hide turns most. Splashing is heard from upstream, and then several begin crawling out on ledge beside bridge. Maccus suspects the danger in advance, and steps before being dragged into water.
  • A heroic and deadly fight occurs here; tired of retreating, the small party makes a bold stand. A dozen lizard-men are held ff on the narrow ledge; with difficulty one is cut down, and more pile up out of the water. One advances on the bridge to add polearm-attacks. Yulia at the back fires arrows overhead, mostly to no effect. Aslak fumbles, slips on the wet ledge, and goes down for 2 rounds, while Maccus tries to cover him. 
  • A lizard-man-wizard appears on the far shore, shakes a staff and chants magic words; a perilous sleep spell. 2d6 for hit dice affected: comes up only 4. Yulia falls into a helpless slumber. Aslak rolls a save: natural 19 and he stays in the fight, but staggering and bloody under many claw-wounds. Worse, the lizard-wizard then casts web, sealing off the tunnel behind the PCs; now there is no escape.
  • Maccus cuts down the lizard man on the bridge; next round he bull-rushes past the next one (opposed Strength checks; he wins) and chops at the wizard with swordplay. Tim kills another on the far ledge. Morale for lizard men; narrowly fails, stand still but cower and cannot press attack. Thus, no help for the wizard and Maccus and Tim finish him off others. Others scream, get attacked, and are finished off in a bloody, sopping mess. 
  • Wooden huts in the dark, open cave. Ancient and exotic gold jewelry taken from the wizard. A staff with a magical aura; read magic reveals inscribed words: "Bone and flesh/ Be refreshed". A side cave with furnishings, foul fish, and a metal coffer. The dart-trap is detected, avoided; a small amount of silver and gold coins. 
  • PCs exit the caves, greatly worn and reduced in number. Andreas asks if they found the fabled fire opal; disappointed for party they did not. Group returns to village and splits up good deal of treasure among the small, courageous party; each PC gets 505 sp and 2024 XP. (Hireling Yulia now 5 XP from of 2nd level.)

Player-Written Summary
  • They had an entire civilization of lizard people, a lizard wizard, and some kind of structurally unsound bridge. But we had something better: 5 fighters. Now they have no wizard lizard, no lizard lizards, and we have one less overpriced mouth to feed. So, win-win-win.

Adventure Log

Monday, September 17, 2018

Swimming in Armor Videos

Three videos of people attempting to swim in armor. Conclusion: It's hard. No one succeeds.



Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Master's Monastery, Ep. 8

Sextillius 7, 4729.
  • Personae: Maccus, Tim, Aslak, Gruff Eric, Candi, Dusteg, Tamar, Yulia (respectively: Ftr3, Hobbit Ftr4, Elf Ftr3/Wiz1, Hobbit Ftr2, Wiz2 [former exotic dancer], Dwarf Thf3, hireling Elf Ftr1/Wiz1, hireling Elf Ftr1).
  • Party returns monastery -- still hunting for fabled fire opal. Enters via the secret way found last time, direct into the crypts. Exploring other hallways leads to a dead-end. Searching reveals a switch for a secret door! Entering carefully, the party see a strange site: a circular chamber covered with bones, with roof extending out of sight far in the darkness above. A stone altar; a half-dozen leathery statues of men contorted in pain; an unlit lamp over the altar, on a chain extending to darkness. PCs debate approach at likely trap.
  • They are attacked by a large number of giant rats swarming out cracks in the walls. Melee ensues, morale stays bold, and all nine rats must be put to the sword. 
  • Dusteg throws bloody giant rat bits on the altar, at the statues, etc. Shoots an arrow in a statue. Gruff fires a lit arrow into the air, sees a trap door in the roof some 60' overhead. Snags the lamp with a rope and tugs it closer. Aslak is first to step into the room, takes and lights the lamp. Something clicks near the floor and PCs a huge pit; also the statues animate and attack, mostly surrounding Aslak. He is brutally attacked, cut off, while other PCs fight to save him. Fortunately this works, the zombified things are destroyed. An open drawer is found with ceremonial silver dishes, gold knife, bejeweled ring of significant value.
  • Party searches other corridors, find they link to other known passages. Belief that the entire crypt area has been mapped. Notice small crawl-holes that were earlier bypassed. Aslak undresses and crawls into one; a giant rat nest! Quickly pulled out with rope as the rats pursue; four giant rats killed, an extra potion of healing found.
  • Stymied at further explorations, PCs return to village, sell loot, split silver and reflect on experience. 
  • Several spend money at inn pursuing other news and rumors. Such as: (1) Below monastery crypts are extensive caverns. (2) Bandits recently take merchant wagon headed to City of Agrivia. (3) Castle Garsley has scouts flying on griffons. (4) There was a dwarf identical to Dusteg asking at inn last several nights for fire opal rumors. (5) Girl in the next village over is a reborn prophet. (6) A guide in the village, Andreas, is willing to be hired to lead PCs to monastery without any chance of being lost or monsters.
  • PCs find and hire Andreas for next foray. Accepts 10 sp for job. Refuses to enter dungeon, but willing to stand guard at entrance with Gruff's mule. 
  • Most of party decides to pursue prophet-girl in next village of Cheshire. Erik the innkeeper tells them the homestead. Meet father Stefan at door, somewhat guarded and/or hostile. Agrees to present daughter for money and special dance by Candi.
  • PCs meet Alicia Margaretha: beautiful but distant 8-year-old girl in white dress. Party asks after fire opal, is told "man on wall guards it", and "terrible things below it". Asked about wizard's tower in forest, she says, "powerful magics protect viewing it". Exhausted, she retires.
  • Meanwhile, Aslak stays in home village watching for Dusteg-clone. Meets a man who tells him, "those who get closest to fire opal are tricked into caverns", and disappears.

Player-Written Summary
  • That's it, there's nothing more to explore. Time to hang up our swords, and make those 100 gold pieces or whatever last the rest of our lives! Or go examine every inch of the freaking place for secrets to nowhere.

Adventure Log


Monday, September 10, 2018

Dressing in Armor Videos

Four nice videos on dressing and undressing in armor. Conclusions: The inner gambeson may take a few minutes to lace up. Chain mail can come on or off in a few seconds if you know what you're doing. Plate mail requires assistance, taking around 10 minutes to put on, and 3 minutes to take off.





Saturday, September 8, 2018

SMBC: Cleric

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal on Clerics:


SMBC: Cleric

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Master's Monastery, Ep. 7

Quintilis 20, 4729.
  • Personae: Maccus, Tim, Aslak, Gruff Eric, Yulia, Tamar, Tahj, Dusteg Bronzehide (respectively: Ftr3, Hobbit Ftr4 [new feat: Rapid Strike], Elf Ftr3/Wiz1, Hobbit Ftr2, hireling Elf Ftr1, hireling Elf Ftr1/Wiz1, Elf Ftr3/Wiz3, Dwarf Thf3).
  • Group hotly debates returning and trying to access wizard's tower found last time. Decision narrowly in favor of returning to ruined monastery (for fabled huge fire opal). 
  • Travel to monastery, down the stairs, up the secret door into the crypts region. Again fight some 8 skeletons at a checkpoint; easily defeated.
  • Assault lair of the ghouls which previously almost destroyed the party. Numbers swollen with spawned killed former party members. Now well prepared: armored elves in front, PCs with long polearms, etc. Yulia in the front is tripped, falls prone, dragged out by several ghouls; gouged horribly to zero hit points, but makes the permitted (difficult) save vs. death! After some fierce fighting the ghouls are all destroyed. Yulia takes a potion of healing and is refreshed.
  • Enter room with stone sarcophagus; trap found, Dusteg successfully snips the hidden wire on the lid. Lid raised, and a single zombie jumps out to attack; it is destroyed. Chamber searched and a secret crawl-space revealed. Aslak doffs plate mail, crawls through, finds it connects to a previously-seen chamber.
  • Further into the crypts; attacked by a pair of hobgoblins throwing spears. They are put to the sword. A small lived-in room is found.
  • A door; Maccus tries to kick it, but it is barred. Latching and buckling sounds heard from within. Another two attempts and the door bursts in; good-quality furnishings (table, chair, canopy bed, etc.) but no creature within. After some searching, a hidden door screened by the bed. Another door beyond is opened; the group is hit by magic and all their lights go out.
  • Fortunately, most of the party (elves, dwarf) have infravision and can carry the fight. Two hobgoblins are met in swordplay, while an armored figure casts protective magic. A sleep spell puts the hobgoblins down and the leader loses morale and flees. Faster member of the party pursue, catch, and battle, giving a mortal wound. Helm comes off to reveal an aged evil priestess, who admits to empowering undead and searching for fire opal for years to no avail. She expires, cursing the party crazily. 
  • The old hag's weapons, shield (magical), and a ring with three keys are taken. A box under her bed is found; poison needle discovered and removed. Unlocked with one of the keys, it contains gold and gems.
  • Party finds stairs upward and a long, narrow tunnel southward. Find that it exits via a secret door south of the monastery, in the bog. A watery causeway leads back around the place, and the party returns to the village. 

Player-Written Summary
  • Well, we finally did it. We extracted some treasure from the horrible dungeon. And all we had to do was kill an old woman for it! She was probably evil, anyway. Also, we avenged the deaths of Penrod and Bill the R.A. by killing them both again, Long Tim attacked twice as much as everyone else, and Tahj finally saw what the dungeon looks like from up front.

Adventure Log

Monday, September 3, 2018

Scales Through the Ages

Another follow-up to the scaling issue. What scales of distance and time have been used in the various editions of D&D?


This actually has more variation than I originally expected. No two sequential editions of D&D ever specify exactly the same scaling. Gygax's editions (OD&D & AD&D 1E) maintained the same sensibility of giving ranges in inches, with different interpretation for indoors/outdoors (changing the rule for area) -- but no other edition did exactly the same. Basic D&D kept the same indoor/outdoor adjustment, but this was dropped in all later editions (which we commend). Even AD&D 2E apparently dropped it, as far as we can tell, except for movement (even though Cook's charge for that edition was to otherwise keep everything compatible). 2E uniquely specified the range in yards by default, with other editions from Basic onward specifying them in feet instead (excepting 4E, which did use the 1E-echoey "squares" as fundamental units).


Thursday, August 30, 2018

BTPBD Missile Fire

Follow-up to the last two posts, in which we reflected on how incredibly scrambled the D&D man-to-man scale has been from its inception, especially highlighted by its rules for ranged combat (which allow a person to hit another individual at incredible distances).

But let me present a case that comes further over the top than even that. Some of us have had the opportunity to look at the manuscript titled "Beyond This Point Be Dragons", which based on textual analysis is widely believed to be at least derived from a pre-publication draft of D&D. Here is that work's Table 30: Missile Fire:


Notice that each missile weapon has two rows: The second row exactly matches the Chainmail target numbers, which give rolls needed to score an instant kill. (Note that this is identical to how the Chainmail table for melee is used -- providing chances for instant kills, after a hit is first scored by normal D&D-type mechanics.) It is the first row that gives chances to score a simple hit, and these numbers are (obviously?) lower and easier to score than the instant kill numbers -- specifically they give, for most weapons against unarmored men (AC 9), automatic hits at almost every range (e.g., for light crossbow, longbow, composite bow: 2-2-3 on 2d6). And here there is no ambiguity about the implied range increments: the note to the table says this is definitively in tens of yards, up to 240 yards for a composite bow.

So whoever wrote this table thought it was reasonable for a longbowman to have a 97% chance to hit an active individual man at 210 yards, or a heavy crossbowman a 100% chance to hit at 240 yards, etc. Which I think we can all agree is outrageous lunacy, granted that grand-master champion archers in England today actually have about a 1% chance of hitting a like-size immobile target at distances like that.

Whatever errors were made by the earliest D&D author(s) in terms of mundane activities, the misunderstanding of man-to-man missile fire was surely the most thoroughly broken concept on the table.


Monday, August 27, 2018

Interpolating the Man-to-Man Scale from Chainmail Hit Rates

As a follow-up to last week's post where we considered the yawning gap in that Chainmail Man-to-Man Combat had no units of scale specified (and the years of headaches that followed), today let's try to compute what the distance scale should have been. Of course, more than one argument has been advanced in this direction. The most obvious one is to just take the figure scale in use and use the same or similar scale for ground distance; done. But here I'll take an approach I've never seen considered -- granted that Chainmail Man-to-Man Combat has no scale, it does have specified hit probabilities, and we can use those to back-calculate what distance scale is implied by those.

First, here's our standard simulation of archery hits at range, using a bivariate normal model (both error in the x- and y-axes simulated by a normal distribution), and now uploaded as ArcherySim on GitHub. An earlier version of this simulator was used numerous times on this blog, such as here and here. The simulator has been calibrated to match results seen last time from the UK National Clout Championships: at 180 yards range, a hit rate of 1% against a 1.5-foot radius target (equivalent to one man), and a 42% hit rate against a 12'-foot radius target (equivalent to a group of 64 men). Here's a table compiling the results from that program run on several different target sizes:



A couple comments about this table: Internally, all the simulator really does is for each doubling of distance, shrink the apparent radius of the target by half -- and likewise to interpolate any other distance. Therefore, each doubling of distance is perfectly offset by a like doubling of of the real target radius (and hence by a quadrupling of the number of men in formation), which can be seen by matching numbers running diagonally in the table. Of course, this presumes an immobile, defenseless, unarmored target (an aware and mobile man on the battlefield should shift these probabilities downwards by some amount). All of this is reasonable.

Next, let's look at the "Individual Fires With Missiles" chart from Chainmail. It looks like this:


For simplicity, we'll take the median missile range of 18 (as for a horsebow, light crossbow, or arquebus) as exemplary; therefore our supposed range categories fall at distance 6/12/18 inches, per the footnote on the table. Also note in the first column of results (armor class 1, which on this page indicates "no armor"), most of the hit targets are 5-6-7 (indicating the minimum score on 2d6 for a hit at each range category), with the outliers either up or down by one pip.

Now we'll take a few theoretical different scales for these "inches", see what the hit rates against a 1.5-foot radius target (one man) would look like according to ArcherySim, and convert those back to a 2d6 basis (for example, using a table like the one that appears at the bottom here). We will consider the possibilities that 1" = 10 yards, 1" = 10 feet, or 1" = 5 feet.
  • 1" = 10 yards: Therefore the median missile range categories fall at 60, 120, and 180 yards. According to ArcherySim (using the detailed output option with the -L switch), the hit rates against the 1.5-foot target should be 7%-2%-1%. On the 2d6 basis, these percentages convert to target scores of 11-12-/ (i.e., effectively impossible at the longest distance).
  • 1" = 10 feet: In this case, the range categories are 60-120-180 feet, equivalent to 20-40-60 yards. The simulator says the hit probabilities should be 47%-15%-7% (you can see two of these values in the topmost table, in the leftmost column). On 2d6 these convert to 8-10-11. 
  • 1" = 5 feet: Here the range classes are 30-60-90 feet, equal to 10-20-30 yards. ArcherySim estimates the hit rates at 92-47-24%. On 2d6 these become 4-7-9. 
  • 1" = 3 feet: Range categories become equivalent to 6-12-18 yards.  Our simulator computes the chances to hit at 100%-83%-54%. On 2d6 that looks like 2-5-7.
These results are illustrated below:


The first thing that is visibly obvious here is that the Chainmail modifiers for range adjustments, at just a single pip per category, are far too small. In the chart this appears as the Chainmail hit targets (the green line segment) being a tiny little span compared to the real-world models at around the same values. A better simulation would be to alter the hit targets by around 2 or 3 pips per range category (equivalent to something like −6 to hit in D&D with the d20 system). Also, this could be better if the range classes weren't assumed to be linear (that is: 6-12-24 range units would be a better physical model than 6-12-18 units; then the long-range chance segment wouldn't be shrunk compared to the medium-range chance segment in each case).

The second only slightly less obvious fact is that the 1" = 10 yard and 1" = 10 feet scales (the ones actually used in D&D) are terribly poor matches; they don't even overlap the Chainmail 5-6-7 targets at all. The 1" = 3 feet proposal at least overlaps it, but is skewed off almost wholly to the left side (e.g., should be effectively unmissable at such a short range). The one that is best centered over then Chainmail hit interval is the 1" = 5 feet scale, and we can therefore use this as the true "implied" distance scale for Chainmail Man-to-Man Combat.


Thursday, August 23, 2018

On Free Retreat Attacks

This came up in our game last Friday: When a figure retreats from melee, does the opponent get a free back attack? Unlike most standard versions of D&D, I say "no" in my games.

I think that the germ of this rule is from Chainmail mass combat -- that a retreating unit loses a turn as they attempt to rally and can be attacked for free if desired (somewhat poorly having chosen to stand motionless for a minute with backs to the enemy)...


 ... and, echoing Monday's post, this wound up being carried through sympathetically to man-to-man combat in AD&D (DMG p. 70):


Serendipitously, I ran into a video today by Lindy Beige on YouTube on exactly this issue, dealing with both the real-world simulation and game-design balance aspects. We approve:


Monday, August 20, 2018

Lack of Scale Considered Harmful

The first and biggest mistake in the foundation of D&D was not specifying any units of scale in the Chainmail Man-to-Man Combat rules.

In general, specifying units of scale (for figures, time, and distance) was usually among the very first things stated in traditional wargames, often before the actual start of the rules themselves. For a specific example, these are given in the third paragraph of the Chainmail mass-combat rules, preceded only by a statement on what the Middle Ages were, and what size and brand of miniatures are recommended (p. 8). These Chainmail mass-combat rules came with a respectable pedigree of playtests, refinement, and editorial corrections; in the second paragraph, they reference the prior "LGTSA Medieval Miniatures Rules... the rules have been thoroughly play-tested over a period of many months..." (p. 8). Jon Peterson in Playing at the World tells us, "The LGTSA medieval miniatures rules resulted from Gygax's expansion of Jeff Perren's original four-page ruleset..." (p. 30), published in Domesday Book #5 (July 1970). Also, "The core system of Chainmail adheres closely to the earlier LGTSA rules; for example, the movement and missile combat system charts are copied verbatim..." (p. 40). Furthermore, these rules themselves were influenced my older systems such as those of Tony Bath, etc. (p. 31). As a result of this legacy of a wargame refined by diverse hands, we find that the scales of time and distance, movement and missiles, found in LGTSA/Chainmail mass-combat are fundamentally reasonable and match well with real-world data. 

But with the publication of Chainmail, we also get a new 3-page section on Man-to-Man Combat which, relatively speaking, appears to come out of nowhere. It does not claim to come with a history of playtesting, appears relatively slapdash, and is likely the conceptual work of a single author (Gygax?). Notably, while one figure now represents one man, there are no specifications given for time or distance units on the table; it seems to have not even been considered at all. Broadly speaking, these rules try to "cheat" the issue by silently assuming that the mechanics for mass-combat can be used without alteration in man-to-man combat ("Generally speaking, the rules for 1:20 scale apply to man-to-man missile fire...", p. 25) and so forth.

Of course, there are some things in the world for which, when we "zoom in" on them, the characteristics appear the same as when we "zoom out"; for example, fractals are geometric figures which act in this fashion, and are therefore called "scale invariant". You can almost get away with the assume-everything-is-the-same approach for movement (if distance and time are changed in proportion), and melee combat. But it's precisely with missile combat where the problems and contradictions spring into plain sight -- ranged combat is distinctly not "scale invariant".

Here are two of the top absurd positions that this oversight forced Gygax to defend constantly in later a years as a result of this initial oversight: (1) That man-to-man combat took place at the same 1-minute action cycle as Chainmail, and that therefore only one sling or crossbow-shot could be made per minute, etc.; and (2) That effective missile ranges were at the same 10-yards-per-tabletop-inch scale, such that it was feasible to shoot an individual man at 210 yards outdoors with a longbow, which is patently ridiculous. (See OD&D Vol-3 p. 8 and 17; AD&D PHB p. 39).

Of course, a claim is made that the distance scale shortens to 1" = 10 feet in the indoor/underworld environment (OD&D Vol-3, p. 8). As a result of this, magic spells likewise grow and shrink depending on whether they are used indoors or outdoors. In Dragon #15 Gygax writes what seems to be a correction and apology on the issue after Len Lakofka points out the problem here. Gygax calls the existing result "ridiculous" and that "the blame for the possible ignorance of player and Dungeon Master alike rests squarely on my shoulders" (read the article and my past analysis on it here). This altered rule, that magic ranges change indoors-to-outdoors, but areas-of-effect do not,  then gets incorporated into the AD&D PHB (p. 39), in a rather screechy all-caps passage, below:
For purposes of the game distances are basically one-third with respect to spell and missile range from outdoors to indoors/underground situations. Thus most ranges are shown as inches by means of the symbol ", i.e. 1", etc. Outdoors, 1" equals 10 yards. Indoors 1" equals 10 feet. Such a ratio is justifiable, to some extent, regardless of game considerations.

Actual effective range of an arrow shot from a longbow is around 210 yards maximum, in clear light and open terrain. Underground, with little light and low ceilings overhead, a bowshot of 210 feet is about maximum. Archery implies arching arrows. Slings are in this category as are hurled darts and javelins, all arching in flight to achieve distance. Crossbows are a notable exception, but under the visibility conditions of a dungeon setting, a yards to feet conversion is not unreasonable.

Magic and spells are, most certainly, devices of the game. In order to make them fit the constrictions of the underground labyrinth, a one for three reduction is necessary. It would be folly, after all, to try to have such as effective attack modes if feet were not converted to yards outdoors, where visibility, movement, and conventional weapons attack ranges are based on actual fact. (See MOVEMENT.)

Distance scale and areas of effect for spells (and missiles) are designed to fit the game. The tripling of range outdoors is reasonable, as it allows for recreation of actual ranges for hurled javelins, arrows fired from longbows, or whatever. In order to keep magic spells on a par, their range is also tripled. IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT OUTDOOR SCALE BE USED FOR RANGE ONLY, NEVER FOR SPELL AREA OF EFFECT (which is kept at 1" = 10') UNLESS A FIGURE RATIO OF 1:10 OR 1:20 (1 casting equals 10 or 20 actual creatures or things in most cases) IS USED, AND CONSTRUCTIONS SUCH AS BUILDINGS, CASTLES, WALLS, ETC. ARE SCALED TO FIGURES RATHER THAN TO GROUND SCALE. Note that the foregoing assumes that a ground scale of 1" to 10 yards is used.


Now, a couple things to note about this passage. One: a cursory justification for the feet-to-yards conversion is made for missiles ("little light and low ceilings overhead"). Two: absolutely no justification is attempted for the expansion of magic spell ranges; it is purely a matter of raw game balance ("devices of the game... designed to fit the game"). In fact, to my knowledge, Gygax never attempted any in-world explanation or rationalization for this phenomenon. (You can of course make up your own: Do magic energies follow ballistic trajectories and get limited by ceiling height? Is every underworld locale uniformly imbued by dark counter-energies that reduce magic effects? Not to say that any such claim is in any rules text.) Ultimately Gygax hangs his hat on, "It would be folly, after all, to try to have such [magic] as effective attack modes if feet were not converted to yards outdoors, where visibility, movement, and conventional weapons attack ranges are based on actual fact." But this ignores the actual actual fact that shooting an individual man at 210 yards with a longbow is sheer lunacy in the first place.

Here's the thing that occurred to me a few days ago, and that I'm embarrassed at how many years it took me to observe: The whole notion of indoors-versus-outdoors is a false path and a distraction. The real issue is whether the action is at mass-scale or man-to-man-scale. Which again, is the original error, the essential oversight in the new section of Chainmail.

Let's look at some data. There's a notable real-world circumstance in our favor; modern archery competitions in the United Kingdom have the exact distinction that we're looking for here. There's standard target archery, at a fairly close range, with a target passingly close to the size of man; and separately, clout archery at a distance near the limit of a classic longbow, with a relatively huge target area (fundamentally simulating shooting at an army). Specifically: standard target sizes are 122 cm in diameter (approximately 4 feet, or 2 foot radius). Clout archery for adult men is held at 180 yards range, with a target area 12 feet in radius, and a central "clout" (bullseye) of 18 inches radius (that is, about the size of the entire short-range target, or roughly a single man's area).

Here are results for the Yorkshire Archery 2018 Clout tournament. For more, here are results from the National Clout Championships of 2016. Here's a data analysis by myself (ODS spreadsheet) of the latter tournament for the Gentleman's Longbow event . Some results of that analysis (N = 30, discounting last two outliers with only one point between them): The average hit rate on the 12-foot radius target at 180 yards was just 42% (ranging from 11% for the bottom-performers, to 83% for the winner). The average hit rate on the central bullseye/clout -- about the size of a man (assuming a totally immobile, defenseless one) -- was only 1%!. (Even the winner himself only scored a 1% hit rate on the centermost target; the two runners-up scored 6% and 8% bullseye rates, but these may be considered pure luck since their overall accuracy was not as good as the winner's, and in any event represent the equivalent of natural-20's for these almost-England's-best-archers).

The central lesson here is that it can be effectively impossible to hit a target in man-to-man combat at long range (1% vs. the central clout), while being completely feasible against a larger area/group of men (42% vs. the larger target, roughly the same chance D&D gives a 1st-level man to hit an unarmored opponent). If we take the small 18 inch = 1.5 foot radius as roughly the area of a single man, then the larger 12-foot target is equivalent to some 64 men in formation ((π(12)^2)/(π(1.5)^2) = 64). If we were to double the target radius again, to 24-feet and some 256 men, then this would be a 90%-something shot, nearly unmissable (using ArcherySim on GitHub). For emphasis: With a longbow at around 200 yards, hitting an individual man is a 1% shot or less, while hitting an army is a 99% shot a more. The cases are exact binary opposites. Note that Chainmail mass-combat had no rules or penalties for missile range, and we find this to be completely reasonable; but keeping the same or a minimal range penalty for man-to-man combat is, as Gygax would say, "ridiculous".

Some conclusions: One, the maximum effective range for man-to-man missile combat should be set at around 40 yards; this is especially true for a target that is mobile and defending itself (note that the real-world data above assumes a completely immobile, defenseless, unarmored target; hit rates should obviously be lower if that is not the case). This is true whether indoors or outdoors. Note that the legacy of this glitch has led to ranged attacks never being close to right in any edition of D&D. Over 40 years later, and in 5E D&D (from what I can tell), a 1st level fighter shooting a longbow at a mobile, active single man at maximum range of 200 yards still has a 42% chance to hit (AC 10 with +2 attack bonus, i.e., target 8 on 20, with disadvantage); coincidentally exactly the same rate that the UK's champion clout competitors actually have against an immobile, barn-sized target. That's twisted.

Two, in classic D&D, there should have been greater care taken in specifying scales, and distinguishing between the man-to-man and mass-combat situations; the two are not equatable. A random example: In D&D Vol-3, the Aerial Combat and Naval Combat sections seem to be closely related; they refer to each other in places, stipulate the same playing area, turn sequence, and written orders (compare p. 25 and p. 30), etc. But in truth, Aerial Combat is intended for man-to-man scale (each figure a single creature), whereas Naval Combat is intended for mass-scale (each ship model carrying tens or hundreds of men; missile fire as per Chainmail mass rules on p. 30, etc.; at least until a boarding action occurs and then we are directed to switch maps and rulesets to the man-to-man basis on p. 31). These are very different situations, requiring different distance and time units, tabletop missile ranges, turning radii (another characteristic that is definitely not scale invariant), etc., and this qualification should have been highlighted in the original rules.

Three, by Gygax's logic in the PHB, we should also calibrate the range and effect of magic spells on the reduced basis for game-balance purposes ("It would be folly... [for magic to contradict] where visibility, movement, and conventional weapons attack ranges are based on actual fact"). Again, irrespective of being indoors or outdoors; that is not a relevant distinction. Note that once this physical reality of the magic spell range is set by man-to-man scale, it implies that apparent range and usefulness in the mass-scale context is much reduced. Example: In Gygax's later Swords & Spells mass combat rules, spell ranges in inches are copied verbatim from the D&D rules, and hence have extraordinarily long-range effects on the battlefield (e.g., 24" for a fireball, i.e., 240 yards). Reversing the reasoning, we now consider that if the spell range was fixed at 40 yards, as per man-to-man missile fire, then on the mass-scale battlefield a fireball would only be usable at 4" or something like that. That's a fairly major change (perhaps in Book of War?), but upon reflection, it may be a better simulation of magic effects as seen in pulp literature and similar traditions. Some of the higher-level spells meant to influence large areas outdoors might prove troublesome, however.

To wrap this up, we look at a quote from Gygax in The Strategic Review, Vol. 2, No. 2 (April 1976), in his article "The Dungeons & Dragons Magic System" (p. 3), that some of us have been considering recently:
Magic in CHAINMAIL was fairly brief, and because it was limited to the concept of table top miniatures battles, there was no problem in devising and handling this new and very potent factor in the game. The same cannot be said of D & D. While miniatures battles on the table top were conceived as a part of the overall game system, the major factor was always envisioned as the underworld adventure, while the wilderness trek assumed a secondary role, various other aspects took a third place, and only then were miniatures battles considered.
This is somewhere between a strange thing to say and a ghastly oversight (that underworld adventures came first in the calibration of D&D magic, and miniatures battles a distant fourth), because in terms of time and distance, exactly the opposite is the case. The mass-combat miniature scales were carefully figured, and the underworld scales simply taken by theft of the same and without any real consideration. Even in the SR 2.2 article quoted above the issue continues to entirely escape Gygax's attention (the topic being only a defense of the Vancian memorization and daily-limit conceits). If only some assistant had been able to point that out at the earliest date.


Edit 9/1/18:  Around the time I was writing this, Jon Peterson had a new post about some of the prior systems that fed into Chainmail man-to-man combat. It doesn't exactly address my main criticism here, but it's quite interesting to know about for its own sake. Thanks to Jon for pointing this out to me.

Edit 9/20/18: Geez, I may be stuck in a fugue on this issue.

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?"

    "Explosions?"

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

    "Them's Blue Jauntes."

    "What?"

    "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.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thousand Year Sandglass at DriveThruRPG

My good friend B.J. Johnson, a.k.a. BigFella Games, has just released what may be his RPG magnum opus: the Thousand Year Sandglass, a fantastic Arabian-themed campaign that he's developed and run -- and which I've had the great pleasure in playing -- for about 10 years now. It has what I consider to be a uniquely and creative world, with never-before seen custom class, races, spells, magic items, monsters, etc. that have all popped out of B.J.'s genius skull. Plus top-notch art by the man himself.

That probably doesn't do it justice, though. B.J. is the single most creative producer of RPG setting content that I personally know. Here's a little slice of what it's like gaming in the Thousand Year Sandglass or any of his other games: Start out and get a customized setting with custom pre-generated characters, backstories, companies, handouts, cards, counters, and custom miniatures. Play for 4 hours and every encounter is fresh and novel, and has B.J. rolling out (again) custom landscape, buildings, miniatures, music etc. -- every one hand-crafted just for the game in question. Then at the end sit back for some extra hours as he shows off the other 70% of the encounters, battlemaps, miniatures, charts, sub-systems, etc., etc. that we never encountered. It's jaw-dropping and inspiring and truly humbling.

So some of us have been encouraging him for a while to pack up these ideas and make them public -- finally, you can take a look yourself and join in our amazement! After presenting the campaign setting, it even has no fewer than 8 adventures at the back to use in your games. Officially uses Labyrinth Lord but (of course) easily compatible with any classic D&D system. It gets my highest recommendation: Check out Thousand Year Sandglass on DriveThruRPG.


(Bonus: A post just about all the custom jinni miniatures he's made over the years for the game!)

Monday, June 18, 2018

AD&D Alignment Color Wheel

An alignment color wheel for AD&D. There are many places in AD&D where colors are associated with specific alignments (e.g., 1E Manual of the Planes color pools, or in Gygax's Gord the Rogue novels), but none were systematic in the following sense: I felt that oppositional alignments should be opposite colors (a.k.a. complementary in the traditional RYB model), and that adjacent colors should be close on a color wheel, and smoothly blend with each other (as a corollary: gray must be in the middle). I don't play AD&D anymore with its 2-axis alignment system, but back in 1996 I wrote a very small computer program to smoothly blend from one point to the other, and here was the result:



Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Master's Monastery, Ep. 5

Juno 15, 4729.
  • Personae: Long Tim (Hobbit Ftr3), Tahj Birdfoot (Elf Ftr2/Wiz2), Brother Maccus (Human Fighter 3), Penrod Pulaski (Human Thf3), Banjo Saskin (Dwarf Wiz 3). A month and a half since the last adventure, all are healed fully. Upkeep is 75 sp per person; restocked on healing potions.
  • One complication: While Banjo recently achieved 3rd level through a cunning stratagem, which expands his mind to possibly memorize a 2nd-level spell, he has none such in his book. So he satisfies himself with memorizing 3 1st-level spells, and the group departs for the ruined monastery on a rainy morning.
  • Traveling through passages previously explored. Looking down one passage, known to be trapped with hideous undead in cells, sees a glowing light -- reappearing even after the fake gem was removed before. Entering the lower storage chamber, Penrod hears a creaking noise: former bugbear hideout active again?
  • Group proceed to the ruined wine cellar, formerly with a swarm of stirges that caused several deaths, last seen in flames. Entering wine cellar, smoky and acrid, a few partly-burnt stirges angrily take the air, but are quickly cut down with slings, thrown daggers, and swords.
  • Enter a small nearby room, seemingly undamaged by nearby monsters. Pick up several bottles of aged, fine whiskey (value 2,000 sp total). Maccus open a door and several sacks of grain come toppling towards him. Passing through (and after some mapping confusion), realize they're back in the goblin storeroom, the door hitherto hidden by stacked foodstuffs.
  • Explore a northern hallway that turns out to exit via a secret door back adjacent to the entry chamber.
  • Having exhausted any obvious exits, the group decide to exterminate the two wood-store chambers full of giant fire beetles. Assemble at the first, Banjo throws a spike in to disturb them, and a half-a-dozen creatures run out. With the heavily-armored Tim and Maccus in front of the passage, and others launching missile weapons, they are defeated. Banjo cuts out a glowing gland and replaces his lantern with that item.
  • The second chamber is attacked likewise; this time, Tahj casts sleep and all the strange creatures curl up in balls and get eliminated. Maccus pulls down most of the rotten wood pile; the group find and ancient heavy leather-bound sketchbook. Among the schematic notes is an apparent wooden stage construction. There is discussion and then an "Aha!" moment.
  • Group returns to the large dead-end chamber off the entrance. Taking split cord wood with them, they affix the logs into the holes in the walls for a makeshift step-ladder. Tahj and Penrod climb and search for a secret door higher up the wall. Success! A hidden button pens a panel, and the group clamber into the dry, upper tunnel.
  • Travel south; enter into a wide 20' corridor with a double row of horizontal niches on each wall; the niches are filled with ancient rotting wood coffins, bones, skulls, mixed-up bits of human remains. Maccus starts bashing skulls and chests in, but the job seems endless.
  • Travel west and south. Here, a side-room with eight skeletons posted on the walls; the skeleton animate, stepping forward with rusty swords. The fighters protect the more vulnerable members. Tahj casts a magic missile and blasts one to splinters. Daggers get thrown in eye-sockets, ripping the skulls off. Maccus finishes off the last one with a mighty sword-blow.
  • A small tunnel northwest, north, then a side branch is explored for secret doors. This disturbs a swarm of 10 giant rats that come pouring out of the wall, biting legs and feet. The party runs back from where they came.
  • Once the rats have clearly settled back in their nests, the group returns north. Finds a half-octagonal chamber with a large stone sarcophagus and 5 painted panels on the walls; various scenes of a traveling monk, monastery, reception of gifts, training with arms, slavery of peasants. Maccus pushes the lid off the sarcophagus and a giant constrictor snakes slithers out? Tries to bite Maccus, who fends it off with a shield. Banjo casts sleep, but the creature is too large to be affected by it. This catches the monster's attention and it bites Banjo, casting horrible snaky loops around him and constricting. All of the party desperately attacks the thing, slashing and cutting. Banjo gets low on hit points and the party has only a few seconds to save him before more crushing occurs. Maccus gets a last hit in; is it enough damage? No, the snake has exactly 1 hp left, and it uses its dying breath to crush the life out of poor Banjo. Penrod finishes off the filthy thing.
  • The group returns from the apparent dead-end chamber, traveling south and then a wide hallway southeast. They are joined by another dwarven wizard from the same college: Bill of  RA. Step into a chamber with more coffins and bodies in the walls; consider exits east and northeast. As they pass through, they are horribly surprised by a half-dozen ghouls, disguised as corpses, stepping silently out of the niches. Ghouls are known to spread a horrible paralyzing fever with their bite, turning a victim into another ghoul. One is behind them, cutting off the exit.
  • Surprise round: Every party member is attacked by a ghoul. First target: Bill, who takes a natural 20 for a critical: The nearby ghoul grabs and bites into his skull, instantly killing him. Next: Penrod takes a hit, misses his save, and is paralyzed; the fever racks his body, gnashing teeth, helpless. Tim and Maccus avoid attacks. Tahj takes a hit, but is immune as an elf. Initiative follows: This the party wins.
  • Tim spins and attacks with his hobbit's two-handed sword, cuts the ghoul to the rear neatly in half at the waist, its diseased innards spilling out all over the floor. Tahj takes the opportunity and runs from the room at full speed. Maccus powerfully pushes the remaining party members back into the passage, blocking the entrance with his shield. Only two ghouls can attack, and they need a natural 17 to hit. The rolls: 4 and 17. Maccus misses his save and is paralyzed. Only Tim remains, facing 5 ghouls.
  • Tim has a ghastly choice; he can only carry one of the armored, larger humans away. He grabs Maccus and fireman-carries him off. Burdened, he either has to remain visible in the main hall or take a small side tunnel that hasn't been explored yet. He takes this to get out of sight. Unfortunately: It's a dead end, and the ghouls have the chance to bottle him up and finish off almost the whole party. Rules say that semi-intelligent creatures are 50% likely to be distracted by food, e.g., Bill and Penrod. Tim's player calls the dice "high". A d6 is rolled and the result: "6". So amidst the horrible rending sounds, Tim slips back out with Maccus, rejoins Tahj, and escapes the horrible place.
  • Back at the village with only 3 survivors. Aged whiskey is sold. Each gets 666 sp and 1633 XP. Tahj advances to a 3rd-level fighter. Have we seen the last of the ill-fated members of the Dwarven College of Magic? We'll see.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Rope Reckoning

In comments to the last post, G.B. Veras pointed to a nice web page on the economics of medieval rigging (MIT History Dept.), and asked how much rope costs in my games. The short answer to that is that by default, I just use the stock Original D&D equipment list, read as silver pieces, so: 1 sp for 50'. For things either not on the list or clearly broken, then I look to outside source like the Medieval Price List (or whatever) and convert with the interpretation that 1 sp = 1 groat (that is: 1 shilling = 3 sp). This usually comes out closer to the D&D equipment list than you'd normally expect.

Let's use G.B. Veras' cited MIT page as an exercise.
  • The page in question says that over three years or, 4,327.3 kg (9540 lbs) of rope were sold out of Bridgeport at a cost of 134 pounds sterling (including 20% transport cost).
  • We must convert that weight into a standard length, which is predicated on the standard width of our rope. This site on climbing says that something a little under 10mm (0.39 inches) is common. Then we can find that Home Depot sells a brand of manila rope that is 3/8" (0.38 inches wide), 1200 ft., at a weight of 45 pounds. (Side note: This is rated for a load limit up to 243 pounds.) 
  • 1200 ft/45 pounds is proportional to about 50 feet/2 pounds. Dividing this into the Bridgeport figure, we get 9540/2 = 4770 lengths of 50' rope. Dividing that into the price figure we get 134/4770 = 0.028 pound sterling. Then 0.028 × 20 = 0.56 shillings. Then 0.56 × 3 = 1.69 silver pieces. And if we back out the stated shipping cost, then we get 1.69 × 0.8 = 1.35 sp. So once again I'd say that's "close enough" to the book D&D prices, if we read them in terms of silver pieces/groat coinage (namely: 1 in this example).
  • A side issue is that the weight of the example 50' rope is only 2 pounds, which is less than half the weight currently specified in the OED rules supplement (specifically: 1/3 stone, that is, 14 × 1/3 = 4.6 pounds; whereas the AD&D DMG specifies 75 coins = 7.5 pounds). Presumably that's okay in OED if we assume the number is inflated for overall bulk/awkwardness in carrying it.
Thanks to G.B. Veras for the data and the interesting exercise!

Monday, June 11, 2018

On Pulleys

Only on the Hotspot: A post about how pulleys work. I've made at least one really bad call in-game about them previously. So here's my homework-atonement.

I've got a house rule in OED  that provides a small chance for a rope to break in any critical situation. My players totally hate it! (That said: I relaxed it a bit recently.) In dealing with this, sometime in the last year or two one of my players asked if they could purchase a pulley mechanism. I said, "I don't think that's available as medieval technology". Whoo-boy, was that super wrong. (If you have a mechanical engineering background you probably knew that.)
  • Pulleys have been in use since antiquity. Archimedes in the 3rd century BC studied it as one of the three most basic machines (lever, pulley, screw). Heron of Alexandria in the 1st century AD included it in his list of five basic machines (lever, windlass, pulley, wedge, screw), and described crane mechanisms using several pulleys. Renaissance scientists identified it as one of the six "simple machines".
  • Specifically in the medieval period, pulleys were used to hoist materials when building castles. Later drawbridge mechanisms used pulleys. They are part of the mechanism for a trebuchet. Some crossbows incorporated pulleys for cocking as early as the 13th or 14th century. On sailing ships they are referred to as block and tackle (although I couldn't confirm the earliest date of such use).
  • How much should one cost? Looking at the Medieval Price List, we can compare them to a vise, which seems like a machine of comparable sophistication (a large screw, basically). In the early 16th century this is documented at 13s 4d, or about 40 silver pieces in our silver-standard conversion of 1s = 3 sp groats. (In D&D book inflationary money, that might be 40 gp.) Note that if used for climbing or hauling, PCs would still need to find a solid structure to hang one on.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Underworld Overhaul, Pt. 6: Revised Monster Determination

For your consideration: A revision to the OD&D system for underworld monster determinations. We suggest using this in place of the tables on Vol-3, p. 10-11:



Click here for PDF version.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Target 20 at OD&D Discussion

Over at the OD&D Discussion Proboard, user Piper started a poll on people's preferred AC/combat mechanic, specifically: OD&D RAW Tables, Swords & Wizardry Ascending AC Conversions, or OED Target 20. I'm intrigued by the results so far. Thanks to Piper for thinking to survey that!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Dragon Metrics By Age

Following up on Monday's post, I thought it might be nice to look at the Equivalent Hit Dice (EHDs) for Dragons, broken down by separate age categories. (In the OED Monster Database, for brevity, I have only color breakdowns, and assume ages are set by a random 1d6 method). This also includes all the different enumerations for Hydras. Power-curve ASCII graphs can be seen here. Enjoy,