Monday, September 16, 2019

Castle Construction Times

Chateau Gaillard
Previously I looked at some real-world data for medieval castle construction costs and found, somewhat surprisingly, that if we read the costs from OD&D in silver pieces (groats; 1/3 shilling) that they're quite close to the actual prices involved. I'm still jazzed at how sweet that was!

But one thing I couldn't figure out at the time was a way to estimate castle construction times. The real-world data was all over the map and not consistent; a small single keep at Peveril could take 2 years; medium to large castles like Orford or Dover took 8 or 10 years; and then on the upper end the "vast" castle of Gaillard which cost twice as much as Dover (and on a difficult-to-reach precipice) itself took only a lightning-fast 2 years. So I left that puzzle for a later day.

Well, that day is today. The players in my ongoing campaign are advancing in experience and treasure enough that they're starting to ask about options for castle-construction. The night of this writing I sat down and played with some numbers and discovered a remarkably simple rule that gives fairly realistic results. Here it is:

The base time for construction is the square root of the OD&D total cost, read in weeks. If speedier construction is desired: Each multiplied cost factor divides time by a like amount, up to quadruple cost/speed.

Let's compare that to the real-world data; it's a small sample size, but for game-design purposes I'm comfortable making a decision on this basis. Gray and yellow highlights are things added to the spreadsheet since last time. The bottom row for Gaillard is special, because it's the only one where we're applying our quadruple speed-up rule.

Castle Construction Time Estimates

In the 8th column, we have our squart-root estimate for time in weeks. For example, with the top row of Peveril, we take the square root of the D&D cost (identical to real cost in this case): sqrt(12,000) = 110, rounded to nearest whole number. Dividing that by 52 weeks in the year comes out almost exactly to 2 years, exactly the real-world time it took to build it (in the 4th column). Doing that for Orford and Dover likewise comes out within 1 or 2 years of the actual figures.

Now let's look at the last case of Chateau Gaillard. Just looking at a map of the place, it looks smaller than Dover Castle (compare "Details" in the 5th column). My estimate using the OD&D tables it that it should cost about 208,000 sp or so; and construction time ought to be sqrt(208,000)/52 = 456/52 = 8.8 years or so. But to this we will apply a speed-up factor of 4, quadrupling both price and speed of construction; then the price jumps to 832,000 sp and the time drops to 2.2 years. Note that these figures now align with the real-world prices: Gaillard cost some 720,000 groats (i.e., 12,000 pounds) and did indeed get built in just 2 years time.

Consider: Gaillard was the major work of Richard the Lionheart, who worked feverishly to stake the world's finest castle directly in the heart of his French enemies. He personally supervised the work and drove laborers unrelentingly, even through reported rains of blood. Said one observer: 

... the king was not moved by this to slacken one whit the pace of work, in which he took such keen pleasure that, unless I am mistaken, even if an angel had descended from heaven to urge its abandonment he would have been roundly cursed.

Note also at least one nifty side-effect of our square root rule: Designing a large castle up front will take overall less time than if you build a small construction and add to it over time. Say, two separate rounds of 10K construction would take sqrt(10K) * 2 = 100 * 2 = 200 weeks. But one round of 20K value construction would be just sqrt(20K) = 141 weeks. This sort of jives with the classic engineering experience that it's more efficient to get a design right early rather than late; and provides a neat in-game dilemma on whether a PC should get started with something small with available resources, or wait to gain more treasure so as to start on a larger (and ultimately faster) construction.

(N.B.: There's a bolt from the blue waiting for the first person who suggests Agile castle construction methodology.)


Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday Figures: Outdoor Areas


Outdoor areas survey on ODD74 Discussion forum.

Here's another somewhat surprisingly contentious survey result on Original D&D rules from the ODD74 Discussion forum (thanks to all who participated!).

Starting with OD&D Vol-3, there's a rule that each "inch" denoted for movement and spell effects means 10 feet indoors, but 10 yards (30 feet) outdoors. That's a rather enormous change; consider the fireball spell at scale 4" diameter. This effect is kept explicitly in the extensive list of spells in Gygax's mass-combat Swords & Spells rules for D&D; e.g. on p. 12 there's an example of a fireball catching 8 figures of orcs (80 individual orcs) in its area.

But then with Dragon #15 Gygax made a large theoretical shift; here he decided that rule didn't make sense for areas, and instead we should read 1" = 10 feet for all spell areas of effect, whether indoors or outdoors. He calls this one of "the most obvious precepts", and heaps scorn on any player who would seek an advantage from the DM to rule otherwise. This then becomes a rule which is expressed thereafter in screechy all-caps in Dragon, the 1E AD&D PHB (p. 39), the D&D Expert rulebook, and so forth (p. X19).

From the 1E AD&D PHB

That said, a few counterarguments can be put forth: (a) For some high-level large-scale spells, the adjustments makes the area so small as to be effectively useless in mass-combat situations (e.g., hallucinatory terrain, massmorph, move earth, lower water, etc.). (b) If this precept is so laughably obvious, then why did Gygax himself miss it entirely when preparing the several pages worth of spell statistics in Swords & Spells? (c) Further on in the 1E AD&D PHB, why is Gygax again asserting a switch in scale for the part water spell (p. 51)?


So this is certainly one of those areas where there's a great opportunity for a schism, about whether one chooses to honor the later rules adjustment or not. The survey on the ODD74 Discussion forum shows a 2:1 ratio in favor of following the revised rule; a significant majority, but far from unanimous. This is clearly one of those areas where the systemic "distortions" that Gygax speaks of (see Dragon #15, and also his Warriors of Mars text) create a practically irremovable fault line in the system; there is no perfect fix, especially if we seek both gameable man-to-man and mass combat action. What are your thoughts?


Don't forget: Tune in to Wandering DMs this Sunday 1 PM ET for more live chat!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Arneson Enigmas

As time goes on, claims about how Dave Arneson ran his Blackmoor games seem to get more and more inexplicably confused. Last week, after the release of the Secrets of Blackmoor streaming movie and related press on Kotaku and other sites, tempers flared and several people associated with the film seem to have deleted their accounts on the ODD74 Discussion forums. This post isn't really about that, but some lines of communication got cut off mid-discussion, which is a bit frustrating.

So here's a recent confusing thing. A particular blog series by Norbert Matausch recently spawned a lot of interest, in that it claimed to present the system that Arneson used to run games pre-D&D. He writes:

So how did the roleplaying game that came before D&D really work?

In a nutshell:
  • write down a few things about your character
  • one special power that allows you to do things others can't
  • no stats
  • no hit points; but you have to screw up real bad to die 
  • saves: roll 2d6; high=good; middling=does not change the situation; low=bad
  • combat: we both roll 2d6; if I'm higher, I say what happens, if you're higher, you say what happens; if we're close, we negotiate

Now, I've seen several old-school guys seem to agree with this idea that Arneson hid all of the mechanics and stats from the players (or maybe there weren't really any at all). One original player agrees that even Gygax hid hit points from the players. Matausch helpfully replied to a comment of mine on his blog:

Bob Meyer, one of Dave's players who's now the official Blackmoor referee, told me that even he doesn't know what rules Dave used - back in the days, players were deliberately kept in the dark.

Okay. But on the other hand, we also have PC record sheets from Dave Megarry (thanks to DH Boggs), who also played in Arneson's Blackmoor games from the earliest. Supposedly the sheets below span some two years of play starting in 1971. Note that they're nothing but a giant list of 36 separate statistics! (Including separate skill stats for all of the Chainmail man-to-man melee weapons, in the exact same order as that book.) Also, "Health" is the 11th one down.


How on Earth are both of these things possible? "No stats" and also a warship-full of "nothing but stats"? I'm stumped.


Friday, September 6, 2019

Friday Figures: Infravision in OD&D


Infravision survey on ODD74 Discussion forum.

Pretty much every edition of D&D gives see-in-the-dark powers to dwarves and elves; variously called "infravision" in older editions and "darkvision" in newer ones, with some tinkering around the edges about the exact effect.
  • Chainmail: Dwarves and elves have "The ability to see in normal darkness as if it were light" (Fantasy Reference Table, p. 43, note B). 
  • D&D Supplement I: Greyhawk: Dwarves and elves both "have infravision and can see monsters up to 60’ away in the dark." (p. 5). 
  • B/X: Both have 60' infravision (p. B9).
  • 1E AD&D: Both have 60' infravision. They "are able to see radiation in the infra-red spectrum, so they can see up to 60' in the dark noting varying degrees of heat radiation.  This ability is  known as 'infravision'." (PHB p. 15-16). The images are noted as being in black-and-white on PHB p. 102 (same in later editions).
  • 2E AD&D: Both again have 60' infravision (Ch. 1).
  • 3E D&D: Here the ability is renamed to "darkvision". "Darkvision: Dwarves can see in the dark up to 60 feet. Darkvision is black and white only but it is otherwise like normal sight, and dwarves can function fine with no light at all" (PHB p. 14); elves instead get "Low-light Vision: Elves can see twice as far as a human in starlight, moonlight, torchlight, and similar conditions of poor illumination."
  • 4E D&D: Dwarves and elves in this edition both get "low-light vision" (Quick Start Rules).
  • 5E D&D: In this edition, dwarves & elves are back to having 60' darkvision: "You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray."
Okay, so that's every edition except for one: namely, Original D&D as published in the LBBs. OD&D never explicitly says anywhere that dwarves or elves get infravision. In some ways it appears very restrictive about PCs having sight in darkness (e.g., "any monster or man can see in total darkness as far as the dungeons are concerned except player characters", Vol-2, p. 5). But on the other hand, it does include the prior work by reference ("Special Ability functions are generally as indicated in CHAINMAIL", same page) which gave them darkvision, and the first supplement within the year (Sup-I: Greyhawk) again explicitly gave them infravision.

So I asked about this on the ODD74 Discussion forums, and got what I thought was a surprising result; a distinct lack of consensus, with a majority declining to give dwarves & elves infravision as in any other version of the game (see image at top of post). As someone working from OD&D as a basis for my game, this makes me rather uncomfortable about veering off in an unexpected direction, compared to what players of any other edition would be used to. A few weeks ago we tried to hammer this out on Wandering DMs. In this case, I'm still leaning pretty strongly towards the interpretation that they should have infravision, both for custom and the fact that the referenced versions immediately before and after both included it. Thoughts?


On that note: Tune in to Wandering DMs this Sunday 1 PM ET for the live chat, "Basic dice probability" with yours truly -- we'd love to include your comments in the discussion.


Monday, September 2, 2019

Chainmail Core Combat

I'm kind of surprised to realize that I never directly compared the old Chainmail mass-combat rules to my own, much-simplified, Book of War rules (available at Lulu: see sidebar). Well, I guess I did just for missiles, which is pretty easy; but I never analyzed the melee combat rules, which are slightly more intricate. For completion sake, let's review the missile rules assessment:


For Chainmail missile fire, you batch up the firing troops in blocks of up to 10 or 20, roll a d6, and check a table for one of two possible results (or sometimes only one possible result regardless of the d6 roll). There are three armor classes: unarmored, half armor, and full armor -- which we might broadly correlate to leather, chain, and plate in the D&D system that came later. As shown in the table above, taken as an average, and rounding to the nearest d6 pip, the expected kills per figure firing is appreciably close to 3/6 (50%) vs. unarmored, 2/6 (33%) vs. half armor, and 1/6 (16%) vs. full armor. That's actually identical to what I set in Book of War, prior to ever doing this analysis, so that's great. (Note that Chainmail has no range modifiers for mass missile fire, which I now think is a realistic choice.)

So far so good. Now let's look at the melee combat chances.


Chainmail mass combat has a separate, unique chart for every troop type attacking vs. every other troop type. There are three foot types (light, heavy, and armored), and three horse types (light, medium, and heavy). There are also special modifiers for pikes that I'm ignoring here. I would think that the three weight-classes correlate with the three armor-classes above in missile combat, but I've recently seen original players giving mixed signals about that. In the book, attack levels are given in the fashion of "1 die per two men, 6 kills", or "4 dice per man, 5, 6 kills".

Now, looking at the table above, the results here are not aligned so well with either by-the-book D&D or Book of War (BOW); the attacker weight classes have significantly different chances to hit and kill, apparently reflecting overall discipline and density, even if we would think they are all "normal men" or something close to it. Let's assume that footmen can take 1 hit, and horsemen 2 hits, before dying, as we do in BOW. Then the Armored Footmen land hits on average about the same as missiles do: about 1, 2, or 3 chances in 6, vs. armored, heavy, or light types. As we've said, that's also approximately what we see in standard D&D or BOW for normal or 1st-level men. But Heavy Foot only land hits about half as often, and Light Foot only about one-third as often. In other words, by collapsing the attack proficiency classes, D&D and BOW give about triple hits to Light Foot, and double hits to Heavy Foot, as compared to Chainmail (noted in the last column in the table above).

That's not something I would expect to "fix" in BOW at any point. Note that this shift seems also to have been acceptable to Gygax in his later Swords & Spells supplement for D&D, which does the exact same thing (following suit from the core D&D rule). There is a small percentage adjustment to damage by troop classifications in the Melee Bonuses and Penalties on p. 24: ±10-20% for troops that are non-Regular (Guards, Elite Guards, Levies, or Peasants). But when one starts with only a 1-3 in 6 chance to hit, those percentages never amount to a whole pip of difference on a d6.

As a final thought experiment, let's see how the difference in attack types from Chainmail would appear when up-converted to D&D. Let's say "Armored Foot" is equivalent to a full 1st-level, Veteran Fighter, with (as seen above) about a 50% chance to land a hit on an unarmored/light foot opponent, and so forth. Then the "Heavy Foot" type is somehow restrained from landing hits, about 25% less likely, i.e., 5 pips in 20; so a -5 penalty, or effectively Fighter level -4? And the "Light Foot" is deficient by about 40%, or 8 pips in 20; so fights at -8, or Fighter level -7? Or we could turn it around, assert some sort of reduction for fighting en masse generally, and say Light Foot is otherwise fighting as Normal Men, Heavy Foot as 3rd-level Fighters, and Armored Foot as 8th-level fighters. Something like that. Interesting, but probably not something we want to port into our D&D games.

Git yer speadsheet here.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Who Will Speak?

It's never entirely spelled out in classic D&D exactly which creatures have their own racial language. OD&D says (Vol-1, p. 12), "The 'common tongue' spoken throughout the 'continent' is known by most humans. All other creatures and monsters which can speak have their own language..." But which ones are those?

When my players have the opportunity to learn a new language, I'm in the habit of handing them the list of aligned creatures from that same book (Vol-1, p. 9), but the more I've used it, the more some of those types look suspect to me:


Now, the AD&D game has more clues. The DMG (p. 102) has a random list of languages, so we can firmly settle for that game edition that all these creatures speak their own language:


Note the last category (86-00) and its associated footnote; "other" can be any "unlisted creature language", so apparently appearance in this table is only sufficient, but not necessary, for a race to have its own language.

We know that Intelligence is related to one's ability to speak a language (that's the ability that sets the number of languages one can know in every edition). Let's say we scan though the AD&D Monster Manual and see if we can correlate creature Intelligence to speaking a language.

We find this: There are a half-dozen monsters who have their own language (per the DMG table above), and who have an Intelligence in the category of "Low" (meaning 5-7 points per the MM preface). These are: Ettins, Giants (Hill), Manticores, Minotaurs, Ogres, and Trolls. No creature in that table has an Intelligence any lower than that, with one exception; the Chimera is listed as Semi-Intelligent (2-4 points), and of that monstrosity it is written, "Chimerae speak a very limited form of red dragon language" (MM p. 14).

So we might draw the pattern that creatures of Low Intelligence are most likely to speak their own language, whereas creatures with Intelligence below that usually don't speak, or at best, use a primitive pidgin version of some other race's. Based on that, it seems a fair bet that these other races also have their own languages in either edition, based on listed Intelligence in the MM: Treants (Very intelligent), Unicorns (Average), Pegasi (Average), and Wyverns (Low).

Now, here are some types that would seem to have lower Intelligence in AD&D than would permit language use: Rocs (Animal), Hippogriffs (Semi-), and Gorgons (Animal). However, note that AD&D has definitely made a big change for each of those in at least one other aspect; whereas in OD&D they are all aligned (Rocs* and Hippogriffs being Lawful; Gorgons being Chaotic), in AD&D they are instead listed as Neutral. To me, this seems to mark a change in those creatures who were formerly seen as being sentient (some minimal intelligence required to be non-neutral?). So back in OD&D I would read their being aligned as implying intelligence, and therefore also language-speaking. Likewise (since Pegasi and Hippogriffs both presumably speak), I would take the Griffon as also being also able to do so, even though it is Neutral in both editions.

To some extent OD&D echoes in this way the fantastic freedom in The Hobbit that almost any creature seems to possess intelligence and some unique language, whereas AD&D and Lord of The Rings seemed to get more restrictive/mundane in this regard.

This leaves a very small number of monsters from the OD&D list as possibly not speaking any language, creatures that are Neutral in every edition, and also have very low Intelligence in the Monster Manual: Hydras (Semi-Intelligent), Purple Worms (Non-Intelligent), and Sea Serpents (as a Plesiosaurus per Arneson in Sup-II; Non-Intelligent in the MM). Now, Hydras have the same Intelligence as Chimeras, so I'm prone to say they can speak, perhaps again in a degraded form of Dragon or whatever. The entirely Non-Intelligent types (which means 0 points per the MM), the Purple Worm and Sea Serpents, I'm pretty comfortable as leaving non-speaking mindless monsters. But that's (surprisingly) only two out of the entire OD&D list!

I guess (having mentioned The Hobbit), I should address the "Animals" entry in that same OD&D list. Certainly I wouldn't want a single language for all "Animals" (as some new players of mine have hoped for, given the way I introduced that table). Per The Hobbit, maybe every animal type has its own language. But following the Monster Manual, I think I'd require the type to have above "Animal Intelligence"; I'd be comfortable with any giant type so speaking?

* Finally: Note the particularly interesting evolution of the Roc in D&D. In the earliest printing of Chainmail, it is expressly written that, "These equal the 'Eagles' of Tolkien's Trilogy". And again in the first printing of OD&D (Vol-2): "This term has been used to encompass large and fierce birds such as the 'Eagles' of Tolkein", as well as expansion on their strong sense of alignment: "they will be positively hostile only to Chaos and Neutrality, ignoring (80%) or being friendly (20%) to Lawful characters".

In contradistinction, AD&D seems to split these types apart, with a separate entry for Giant Eagles (MM p. 36) with Average Intelligence and who "have their own language", versus Rocs (MM p. 82) who are now switched to Neutral and given a lowly Animal intelligence (and hence presumably non-speaking in that edition, by my analysis). In OD&D I'm happy to keep the original intent as sentient Tolkienian Eagles intact (and also not multiply entities needlessly).

Sunday, August 18, 2019

On Starting as Heroes

Playing devil's advocate a bit: here is a short argument for starting PCs in your standard campaign at around 3rd or 4th level.
  1. Gygax in his later era ran games where PCs all started at 3rd level (see here). 
  2. Arneson started his initial "Fantasy Game" using the Chainmail Fantasy rules, with players starting as Heroes (equivalent to 4 normal men, or 4th level in D&D), and being able to progress up to Superheroes (as 8 men, or 8th level). With that ruleset, there simply weren't any other options for him to start with. (See: Gygax, Dragon #7, "The Origins of D&D".)
  3. Many people have argued that classic D&D is most interesting in the range of 4th to 8th level or so. Not a huge surprise why that may be the case. It's also the most common level range for classic D&D modules (listed here).
  4. There's a desire and trend in D&D play to demand that PCs are inherently "elite" and special, chosen-ones. That's not a completely insane desire (the original texts mention mega-heroes like Conan, Fafhrd, John Carter, etc. as models of play). However, that made later editions shift gauges so that 1st level was head-and-shoulders better than normal men. That kind of discontinuity upsets me; is there nothing in between? Using classic D&D, with smooth graduations, and simply starting at a higher level seems like a more robust solution.
  5. You do get more of a capacity for PCs to take some hits, assess whether they're in trouble/over their heads, flee, and fight another day. This was a design intent that Gygax regularly beat on in early Dragon articles (around issues #1-20), mostly in the context of harping against critical-hits bonuses. 
  6. It's not terrible that wizards get a few spells to resource-manage during the day, not just a single one (e.g., at 3rd level: three 1st level and one 2nd level spell). 
  7. Looking at Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign, we see an eminently reasonable rule modification for wilderness adventures: the (very large) numbers appearing in the standard monster list are only for in-lair encounters; actually wandering bands will be around one-third those numbers (10-60%). When I crunch statistics on those tables with that rule, I find that the encounters average around 4th level difficulty (for a party of 5 PCs). 
  8. When I've analyzed systems for environmental damage (falling, exposure, starvation, drowning, etc.) with units of base 1d6 damage, I keep coming back to the idea that these mechanics give halfway "realistic" results at around the 3rd level (links one, two, three). Or see the "Survival Rule of Threes".

Thoughts?

Monday, August 12, 2019

Sunday Survey: Best Module Poll

Not a poll by me, but a gentleman named Jon Payton on the Facebook 1E AD&D group. And not just a single poll: Jon ran a whole series of round robin polls throughout May to determine a popular ranking for all of the published 1E modules (95 modules in all!). Here's an excerpt of his Top 10:


Now, in the run-up to the final bracket, I felt that the results were about as I would have guessed, and then right at the end it turned surprising. Namely the winner, S3: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth is not a module I normally hear as people's favorite (I've never run it, but it's an attractive work in some ways). Likewise, I know everybody loves module S2, but I was a little surprised to see it as high as 2nd place. For me, the G1-3 modules come out on top, always.

Related to this: In the final few rounds Jon was providing short supplementary commentary to each of the modules, that I thought was top-notch, refined, and observant. Right up until the end when he playfully spazzed out on his personal favorite, U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, not taking the top spot; Jon is apparently a big fan of all the UK-sourced modules (for me, the U1 Scooby-Doo plot is nigh-unforgivable). I'd highly recommend taking a look at the full rankings on his Musings from the Moathouse blog, as well his reviews there for other modules. And I wish that all of his Facebook blurbs were made public there, as well!


Monday, August 5, 2019

On a Theory of Elements, Energies, and Embellishments for D&D

Dragons in OD&D (and AD&D) each come with a characteristic color and breath weapon (energy) type. In addition, there's a table that gives attack bonuses and penalties in relation to the different elemental types (earth, air, water, and lightning). You'd think there might be some underlying theory for that, but it's very hard to pull out a consistent system for it.

As an exercise, let's pretend that I know nothing about the D&D relations of these things and go back to first principles, assuming an Aristotelian concept of the elements of the universe. We would consider this:

Classical elements per Aristotle

Fire would obviously be related to heat energy and the color red. Water, on the opposite side and following Aristotle, we could relate to coldness, and color it something like blue or green (the color of water and deep ice, and a complementary color to red). Earth we could relate to poison and the color black. Air, in opposition, we could relate to lightning and the color white (note that lightning is naturally white; and Aristotle opined that lightning was "dry exhalation" from cooling clouds, that is, colliding pockets of air).

That seems reasonable and good. However, the color/energy combinations are reversed from what we see in D&D in the two cases of white/cold and blue/lightning. That may be understandable when we think about white-reflective snow layers, and the poetic idea of lightning as a "bolt from the blue".

We may also note that in Chainmail, it seems that fire and lightning are set up as diametrical energy types; wizards must pick one of the two for missiles, and elementals are each affected by exactly one of those two types (air and water by fire; fire and earth by lightning). So with that we might say it is water that gets the blue/lightning relation, and air with white/cold... but at that point we are clashing with (a) the D&D conceit that blue dragons live in the dry desert, and (b) Aristotle's stipulation that air is essentially a hot element, not cold.

Consider also the table of attack modifiers against dragons given in OD&D, below. Note the columns are the four classic element types, oddly with a "lightning" column inserted as an addition. This was retained in AD&D, except that the two lower entries under "Earth" flipped from minuses to pluses. 

OD&D Vol-2 Attacking Dragons Chart (p. 12)

Water and fire seem reasonably like opposing types; they have opposite modifiers in every row except one. Air and fire seem more in agreement, because they never have opposite modifiers, and match in the "Red" row (suggesting hot air?). (This is nicely simpatico with Aristotle). It's harder to draw out consistent patterns with the other elements. The white and blue dragon types both seem friendly to water; while neither is specially attuned to air. Meanwhile, lightning seems opposed to water in the first row, but then synchronous with it in the fourth row.

As an aside, the first-ever depiction of extradimensional planes for D&D, appeared from Gygax in The Dragon #8: it includes a color schematic of all the now-standard planes. The elemental planes exhibit the same ordering as the Aristotelian conceit (above). The colors used are, somewhat unexpectedly: red (fire), green (earth), dark blue (water), and light blue (air).

In conclusion, perhaps the simplest correction on our part (vis-a-vis our first theory from Aristotelian principles) would be to surrender the expectation that complementary colors will be on opposite sides of the diagram above, and correlate air with blue and water (ice) with white. That seems slightly sub-optimal for those of us who are sensitive to color relations, but it might be the best we can do to draw a semi-consistent rule from D&D precedent.

You do not want to know how much time I spent thinking about this.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Sunday Survey: Wizard Spell Failure

Related to last week's survey on permitted armor, I asked another poll on the Facebook 1E AD&D group as follows:


This is even more surprising than last week, because the concept of a chance of "spell failure" for magic-users in armor is absolutely not a concept anywhere in either the 1E or 2E AD&D rulebooks. Nor does it appear in OD&D, Holmes, B/X, etc. (In those rules, multiclass magic-users are either permitted to use certain types of armor or they're not, end of story.)

But it is a core rule that appeared in the later 3E D&D ruleset (PHB, Ch. 7: Equipment). As a result, it also appears in the popular Pathfinder rules. However, it doesn't seem to be part of the 4E or 5E rules from the introductory materials that I have for those editions.

Spell failure for multiclass wizards in armor is not a thing that I assess in my games. That said, I do prohibit even multiclass fighter/wizards from casting in plate in my OED/OD&D game (as noted last week, a very common rule among AD&D players).


Monday, July 29, 2019

Wilderness Encounter Levels

We've spent some time on this blog in the past measuring the risk/reward level of the OD&D dungeon wandering monster tables (conclusion: as written, in total they're murderously lethal; even Gygax in AD&D massively ramped down the danger level). It recently occurred to me to ask a similar question about the OD&D wilderness encounter tables.

A somewhat theoretical difference is that while the dungeon tables have "levels" which theoretically relate to level of power of the monsters there, and suggested level of PCs adventuring there, the wilderness table don't come with that same packaging. Instead (obviously) it comes distinguished by "terrain types". We might assume that plains are designed to be safer than woods, and woods less dangerous than mountains, etc., but are they really?

What I did was go through all the entries in those tables and compute average Equivalent Hit Dice (EHD) from each type of encounter, using EHDs estimated algorithmically as shown in the OED Monster Database (code on GitHub) For example: Working bottom-up, here's the sub-table for "Typical Men" (i.e., the default for men in most terrain types):

OD&D Wilderness Subtable: Typical Men

The "grand average" of all the encounter averages in the rightmost column is 122, but that masks the bimodal structure of the table. These encounters split neatly into two halves: six are with mass groups of men in the range of hundreds (with a host of leader-types, including a Superhero or Lord for any group 100+; I estimated the EHDs for this by adding 25%), while the other six are with small parties of 2-12 men and a single NPC (like a Superhero or Lord). The average total EHD for the first category is in the 200's, while for the second category it's in the 20's. Clearly there's a big difference between meeting one Lord and his 200 soldiers, versus another Lord and his 10 soldiers.

This was done for all the different sub-tables, and "grand averages" compute for each resulting in the following:

OD&D Wilderness Subtables: Average EHD

Somewhat similarly, there's a big bifurcation in the danger levels of some of these subtables. For the Men and Giants (i.e., humanoids) tables, average EHDs are the range of 100+ -- specifically those tables which can produce bands of men, goblins, etc., grouped in the hundreds (30-300 men/orcs, or 40-400 for kobolds/goblins, etc.). For the other tables, average EHDs are only in the range of 20-50 or so.

Finally, we can turn to the top-level table, which serves as a function from terrain type to the different subtables, and see on average how dangerous each terrain type is on a per-encounter basis. We get this:

OD&D Wilderness Encounters: Terrain Table

What I've done there is compute the average encounter danger across all results for a given terrain type, and then divide by 8 (an assumed large PC party size?) to come up with a rough "suggested PC level" for adventuring in that terrain. Some of those assumptions can be easily debated, but at least it gives us a normalized basis by which to compare different terrain types.

The result is that on average, there isn't that much difference between the various terrain types. Rounded to the nearest integer, the Clear type suggests maybe 9th-level PCs, while Woods, River, Swamp, and Mountains are only one pip up from that, at 10th level. The City is 11th (because technically it generates more bands of 100s of bandits and brigands from the "Typical Men" table, however unreasonable that may seem), and the Desert table is 12th level, somewhat more dangerous (again because the "Desert Men" table skews more towards 100s of nomads and dervishes).

So this series of averages is a somewhat rougher analysis than I've done for dungeons (which have been given a complete simulation in software at the level of individual fighters adventuring and gaining experience in separate encounters). The overall distribution of encounters is not entirely clear, although it's trivial to guess that the tables with fewer Men and Giants encounters (River and Swamp) will have less variation than the other tables. Here are some other factors abstracted out by this rough analysis:
  • No modifiers are made for parties with special equipment (horses, ships, underwater, etc.)
  • No distinction is made for parties that may be parleyed with and turn out to be friendly (likely dependent on alignment).
  • Dragons and lycanthropes do not have family/pack structure simulated (which mandates presence of some immature figures, but also makes adults fight more fiercely).

Another thing that the numbers above overlook is that while the average encounter is roughly equivalent across different terrain types, the rate of those encounters is not. E.g.: Compared to Clear terrain, in Woods the party takes twice as long to cover a distance and has double chance for encounter each day; and in Mountains both time and encounter chances are tripled, etc. That is, for every 1 expected encounter for a given distance in the Clear, in Woods you'll expect 4 encounters, and in Mountains 9 encounters, for the same distance traveled. Ultimately that's where the real difference in danger levels comes from in this system. (On the other hand, with only one encounter per day, casters can unload their entire firepower capacity on each one, giving some buffer against that added danger.)

Finally, this project suggests a significant limitation to the overall attempt at using our EHD values in sum to balance against total PC levels. Here we've come up with a rough suggestion that OD&D wilderness encounters are, on average, a fair fight for a party of eight 9th- or 10th-level PCs. However, we can look back to our experiences in Outdoor Spoliation games using this system, which we've run with fairly large parties of around the 8th level; at least four times we've documented battles with groups of men and goblins in the size of 200+, and not had a single PC fatality in those encounters. (By the numbers a group of 200 bandits should be ~250 EHD, so for a eight-man party we would have suggested they be 250/8 ~ 30th level? That's clearly not right.) This points to a likely breakdown in simply summing EHDs, especially for very large groups of low-level monsters, versus PCs with high-level magic (not currently simulated in our program), very low armor classes for fighters, etc. It may be interesting to reflect on the exact magic used by players in those mass battles in Outdoor Spoliation sessions One, Two, and Three.

Full spreadsheet available here for the tables and calculations shown above.


Edit: Consider Arneson's rule in First Fantasy Campaign that (as I read it) wilderness encounter numbers are really for full lairs only, and encounters outside will only be 10-60% of those numbers (average 35%). If we take the charts above and multiply everything by 0.35 for expected outsiders, then the equated PC level (parties of 8) becomes 3 or 4 in each terrain. Which is kind of interesting, because reportedly at the start of Arneson's games everyone got Heroes from Chainmail -- fight as 4 men, D&D 4th level -- or else Wizards (I presume low-level, likely 4th-level equivalent?).


Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sunday Survey: Wizard Armor

A while back on the Facebook 1E AD&D group, a discussion occurred that had me quite surprised by the direction it was going. Intrigued, I asked the following poll question:


This was surprising to me, because given the context, the top result ("elven chain only") is clearly counter to the 1E AD&D rules text. Of course, when we say multiclass fighter/magic-users in 1E, we're just talking about elves and half-elves (the only races allowed for that multiclass). Under Elves on PHB p. 16, it says that they can "operate freely with the benefits of armor, weapons, and magical items available to the classes the character is operating in", with the exception being if thief activities are occurring (so: plate mail and anything else is clearly on the menu for fighter/magic-users). Note that this contrasts with gnomes on the same page who are restricted to leather for any multiclass combination. Furthermore, as of the 1E AD&D PHB, "elven chain" wasn't even a thing yet named or defined; it didn't appear until the later DMG (p. 27, as "Chain, Elfin") which says merely that it's thin and light, with no special notes about spellcasting.

I think partly, the result of this poll can be explained by later edition's rules "bleeding" into the memory banks of the many gamers who played mix-and-match a lot with different edition products. It was the 2E AD&D PHB that established elven chain as a sufficient and necessary requirement for multiclass wizards to cast in armor: "A multi-classed wizard can freely combine the powers of the wizard with any other class allowed, although the wearing of armor is restricted. Elves wearing elven chain can cast spells in armor, as magic is part of the nature of elves." (Ch. 3).

Moreover, we can look at 1E adventure products by Gary Gygax and possibly detect an "implied ruling" in the same direction on this issue. Looking at the many drow fighter/magic-users throughout the D1-3 series, all of them are equipped with fine chain mail (not a single one in plate, to my knowledge). The 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set's Glossography has wandering encounter listings for that world, including "Elves, Patrol"; these are led by high-level elven fighter/magic-users with base AC 4 or 5 (chain, with or without shield). On the same page, "Elves, Knights" (p. 4) are principally fighter/clerics with better AC, but they have fighter/magic-user assistants again with AC 4 (chain & shield). So the consistency of this pattern may be another telling point.

Not initially knowing about the 2E AD&D rule or the apparent AD&D player consensus, I've done a similar thing in my OED house rules for OD&D for about a decade now; without reference to any special elven manufacture, multiclass fighter-wizards can cast spells in chain but not plate (also must have one hand free, no shield). Actually for quite some time I thought that was a semi-unique ruling; my surprise is that I've unintentionally matched how a lot of people elsewhere also play things.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Friday Figures: Swords & Spells Stand Sizes

I got started in the hobby at the point where the only ruleset for mass D&D combat that I could find in stores was the last supplement for original D&D: Gygax's Swords & Spells (1976). Looking at page 2, I saw numbers for scales and recommend size for miniature figure bases. To wit:

Figure Mounting sizes from Swords & Spells

Those fractional values looked odd, but I never questioned them, assuming that the author had some deeper reason for them. But looking back more critically today: Why 5/8" (instead of say, 1/2")? Why 1-3/8", or 1-5/8"? Why so complex?

Now, consider the following. We'll take a few key measurements in millimeters, in multiples of 5, and convert them to inches -- in each case rounding to the nearest eighth of an inch. We get:

Conversions rounded to eighth of an inch

That is, (noting 6/8" = 3/4") we get exactly the figures on display in the Swords & Spells table.

It occurred to me to check this when looking at Chainmail (1971), which gives the option of using either 30mm or 40mm scale figures for man-size (or in the fantasy section for others races, corresponding options such as 10mm, 20mm, 25mm, etc.). It should also be noted that the base sizes shown in Swords & Spells, and even the Chainmail suggestions for 30mm-scale goblins, orcs, ogres, etc., closely matched those provided by the Warhammer Fantasy product all the way up to 2015!

Theory: Gygax had miniatures that were originally based in metric measurements, which he mechanically converted to imperial figures (to the nearest eighth-of-an-inch) for the Swords & Spells publication.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Damage Scales in LBBs and Supplements: There and Back Again

One of the things I really like, DM'ing games from the Original D&D LBBs, is that all hit dice and damage are d6-based. So I can set up with a big batch of d6's (wargame-style) and use that for all monster hits and damage without poking around for sufficient d8's for hit dice, or 5d4 damage or something. In addition, it's very rare for monsters to be noted with multiple attacks, so combat goes quite rapidly.

This got massively reworked in Supplement-I (Greyhawk), and personally I think it's one of the off-the-rails mistakes in the history of D&D. In this work, you get the establishment of different hit dice by character class, variation of damage by weapon type, and also variation in attacks and damage by monsters (each listed as "Addition/Amendment" and "highly recommended"). Actually, the first two -- giving increased granularity on the player side -- I have no problem with, but simultaneously complicating all the monsters is the part I prefer not to use.

As that was done, the damage output from monsters increased, approximately on the order of being doubled. Let's take a closer look: Below I've compared all the monsters in OD&D Vol-2 that are given explicit damage specifiers in their text blocks, with the "new" damage specifiers given in Sup-I. Note that by default all the other monsters should have 1d6 damage in Vol-2, but for brevity I haven't listed those (and also confidence: did Gygax really make a deliberate choice that dragon bites, purple worms, etc, should do 1d6?).



You can see above that a comparison of the average damage output for these types shows a linear relation from Vol-2 to Sup-I, being a bit less than doubling between those works. We should be a bit careful, because the correlation isn't perfect; for example, ogres have the same average damage both volumes. There are also a number of monsters not shown here who effectively have reduced damage, by being given less than 1d6 damage in Sup-I (kobolds, goblins, giant rats, etc.)

One thing that complicates my desire to stick with the LBB all-d6 (low damage) method is that while in Sup-I the amendments were quasi-optional, everything that came later on was designed only in those inflated, non-d6 terms. For example, there's a lot of interesting and memorable D&D monsters that only appear in later supplements: like lizard men, harpies, liches, ogre magi, hell hounds, owl bears, golems, giant frogs/toads/beetles, sahuagin, demons, and many more. Stat blocks for these types are only available with the inflated numbers.

(Note there is one unique exception here: In Sup-I, the text entry for the new Storm Giant type is the last place to give LBB-scale damage, "unless the alternate damage system is used". So the text says 3d6+3 damage, while the revised table in the same book gives 7d8 damage; a big difference.)

As a possible solution, consider taking the regression formula above and reverse-engineering all the supplement damage scores, so we get something back in scale of the LBBs. For simplicity, I'm only listing the maximum-damage dealing attack for any monster given multiple attacks in Sup-I. I've also made an executive decision that anything up to 1d6 in Sup-I is unchanged (so the kobold/goblin/rat 1d3 or whatever isn't further reduced, and neither is an orc's 1d6, etc.), but everything else is inverted by the formula. Having back-adjusted the average value, I use another spreadsheet function to suggested the best possible all-d6 damage dice. Here's a snippet from the first few results:


The fifth column over has our formulaic suggestion for damage dice in LBB-scale. The sixth and seventh columns are my manual choices for what I'll use in my own OED house rule games. Orange boxes are entries explicitly noted in LBB Vol-2 text, and I'll leave those fixed in each case (note they're generally quite close to our calculated suggestions, e.g., for giants).

That entire spreadsheet is available here, including suggested conversions of everything in the Sup-I and Sup-II tables. Note that the Sup-I damage table has three distinct parts: (1) revisions for monsters in Vol-2, (2) some damage specs for giant animal types possibly in LBB encounter charts but otherwise without stats, and (3) new monsters appearing in Sup-I itself; these are set off in white, yellow, and green sections of the spreadsheet. Meanwhile, looking at the Sup-II table, it's possible that Arneson was even more unhinged on the issue, e.g. damage of up to 24 points for a sub-1 HD fire beetle, 80 points for a plesiosaur bite, or 150 points for a whale fluke! (A lot of those figures were later reined in by Gygax in the AD&D Monster Manual.)

Finally, I've done a recent revision to the OED Monster Database which (a) edited some damage figures to be consistent with this analysis, (b) added a number of giant and aquatic creatures from Sup-II, and (c) expanded the sourcing/reference information in the last column. All of the damage values can now be rolled on d6 (previously I kept some d8 values in there, as per the supplements). There are currently a number of damage values like 1d6+1 or 1d6+2 (as the LBB Ogre), which shades towards fiddly for me, but I think I'm okay with it for now. Some of the EHD values moved up or down by one or two pips in some cases, as well. We now have 174 monsters in the database. :-)

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sunday Survey: Blind Spellcasting

Recently on the Facebook 1E AD&D I group I asked this question:


Before I asked the question, I scoured the OD&D and AD&D books for a ruling on the subject, and was surprised when I couldn't find any whatsoever. To my knowledge, there's not even any statement that a caster needs to see their target in general! Consider the idiom from Chainmail Fantasy, referenced in text for OD&D spell like fireball and lightning bolt, that attack spells must have "range being called before the hit pattern is placed" (that is, casters specify a distance, not a target). AD&D DMG p. 65 has an example of a caster of fireball needing sight to the area of effect, but no general rule to that effect.

However, all later editions do dictate that casters must have sight of their target. This first appears in the 2E AD&D PHB (Ch. 7): "If the spell is targeted on a person, place, or thing, the caster must be able to see the target. It is not enough to cast a fireball 150 feet ahead into the darkness; the caster must be able to see the point of explosion and the intervening distance." (Note the distinct change from Chainmail/OD&D, with 1E being silent/ambiguous on the issue.) The 3E D&D PHB (Ch. 10) says likewise: "The character must be able to see or touch the target, and the character must specifically choose that target." So this is all very consistent in any edition post-1E, and by their wording would seem to definitively shut the door on a blinded spellcaster being able to get their spells off (excepting a target in touch-contact).

Frank Mentzer actually chimed in on this discussion, saying, "btb if you can't detect/sense/see a target, AND a target is Required, then you can only hit it accidentally. (If you insist, you roll to hit, basically.)" Now, I don't think his recollection of "btb" (by-the-book) is correct, because I can't find anything in 1E materials requiring sight or detection; I can't even find it in his Red Box rules after a brief search. But, again, if it was a common house-ruling and a constant throughout all later editions, then we should be too surprised at some of it bleeding back into our earlier memory banks.

That said, the consensus in the poll that most DMs would give some kind of probabilistic chance of a successful spell seems eminently reasonable as a ruling. It hasn't come up when I've been running a game, but if it did, I think I'd probably lean in the same direction.

Related, today on WanderingDMs live chat (1 PM ET): How do you like your Infravision to work?

Monday, July 15, 2019

Marvel Money

For a couple reasons, we've been playing a few games of TSR's Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP) recently. It's an enjoyable system but a bit wonky if you scratch the surface on it -- the numerical values for ranks and FEATs (for a variety of real-world assessments) advance in unpredictable jumps and increments. If it had been me, I would have wanted to establish some kind of consistent math at the outset, and then be able to easily slot in outside assessments to the system. On the other hand, I think the DC Heroes game did exactly that, and I don't see as much legacy of love for that system as FASERIP, so what do I know.

But the most obviously broken part of the system was the Resources (money): it was wildly, insanely broken on a rarefied level for gaming systems in my experience -- on par with man-to-man missile fire in classic D&D. Resources was the sub-system that was entirely torn out and replaced with something brand-new in the switch from MSH Basic to Advanced rules. Here it is in the Basic game (Campaign Book, p. 8):


So: An individual of a given rank gets the indicated "resource points" to spend weekly as they see fit, and all items in the game are price in terms of these resource points. Further up the same page there are some sample costs: a knife costs 1r, a plane ticket 10r, an acre of empty land 100r.

Campaign book p. 9 says, "One resource point equals anywhere from 50 to 75 dollars". Let's take $60 as a rounded average. Then we see that the "Typical" salaried employee is making about $360/week, or $18,000/year -- in the same ballpark as the 1984 U.S. median income of $22,415. But on the upper end, a large nation like the U.S. at "Monstrous" rank is indicated as only getting 75r = $4,500/week, or $225,000/year. E.g.: The U.S. government can only pay the salaries for a staff of 12 federal workers total, and absolutely nothing else. In reality, the 1984 U.S. revenue collected was approximately $666 billion, so this figure is over 6 orders of magnitude in error. Lesson: Income advancement isn't linear, it's exponential. 'Nuff said about that.

In the Advanced game released two years later (all editions are by Jeff Grubb), you get the following alteration (Judges' Book, p. 6):


Note that the whole idea of "resource points" is simply gone. Instead the system now uses the standard MSH mechanic of rolling on its Universal Table for success, comparing one's Resource rank versus a Cost rank of similar description. (If the cost is lower, then it's a very easy "green" roll; if equal, a difficult "yellow" roll; if more, then a nigh-impossible "red" roll.) One roll is allowed per game-week. The justification for this is as follows (Player's Book, p. 18):

Resources are modified in the Advanced Set to cut down on the paperwork. As things stood previously in the Original Set, characters gained Resources like money. They had a physical amount of Resource points, and everything cost a certain amount of RPs. This may work for Peter Parker, who has to make the rent every month, but for millionaire Tony Stark who can buy roadsters out of petty cash, this is a bit harder to handle.

While the stated reason is to reduce record-keeping, I'd say the true benefit of this switch is to possibly correct -- or at least obscure -- the prior set's obvious lunacy on the issue. Costs for all items in the game (mostly weapons, vehicles, and headquarters furnishings) are in descriptive ranks, so it's possible that the underlying dollar costs are in a geometric progression. Or not.

In the past I spent a lot of time trying to rationalize this system (I won't recreate all of that here). But it's still going to be very awkward when one puts normal-people and the U.S. federal government on the same list. If we note on the table above that Typical people ($30,000/year) and U.S. Unearthly revenues ($666 billion/year) are 7 ranks apart, then the simplest geometric model would be to have each rank represent a multiplier of the 7th-root of (666 billion/30 thousand) = 7th root of (22 million) = about 11. Let's say it's times-10 per step to make it as simple as possible.

Now, among the problems here is the attempt at equating personal revenues to large companies and countries. Looking at relative values today, the largest company is indeed about one order of magnitude below U.S. revenues. But the wealthiest person should be two orders of magnitude below. A "standard" millionaire should only be one step above a Typical middle-class person (not 4 steps higher, as shown above).

Then if we look at the many copious price charts, a lot of the prices seem to be out-of-sorts with this suggested times-10 model. A simple Axe is Good cost: say the weekly income of a Good-resourced person, so $300,000/50 = $6,000.  A standard Sedan is Remarkable cost, suggesting the weekly revenue of a "large business", i.e., $30 million/50 = $600,000. A large Office Building (30+ floors) is weirdly set at a cost of Shift-Z, that is, 3 steps beyond what any Earthly entity can actually afford (around $6 trillion?). Maybe it's unfair for me to pick on cases like these; I'll stop for now. But you can sort of imagine trying to massage this system and just never getting rid of the many short corners.

Now, one thing I noticed recently is that the 1991 Revised rules, which mostly just edits and repackages the prior Advanced Rules under a different name, has yet another go at this. It gives a fairly brief table of about 50 example Resource ranks (Revised Basic Book p. 41), including salaries and costs of many common comic-book items, and it has the distinct advantage of leaving out the attempt at including national governments. I took that table and did some research to fill in current real-world estimated dollar values, and then a regression on the logarithms of those values, expecting broadly for the standard MSH Resource lunacy appear. But what I found was actually not the most crazy thing I've ever seen:


You can draw a simple straight regression line through that data, including the origin (0, 0), and have it be a 97% correlated match. The indicated model of f(x) = 0.80x means that the cost-multiplier for x ranks should be about 10^(0.8x); since 10^0.8 ~ 6.3, we could say roughly that each rank here represents about ×6 value over the preceding one (perhaps not what I'd have picked tabula rasa, but a more gentle advancement than the previously considered ×10 one). If we pick the 0-rank to be $1 cost, then the ranks represent costs with perhaps lower-bounds of $6, $40, $250, $1500, $10,000, etc. for Feeble, Poor, Typical, Good, Excellent, and so forth (and annual salaries of about 50 times those numbers). The other costs in this version of the rules are -- surprisingly -- kind of consistent with that model. I could find a half-dozen items in the given list off from the real-world estimated value by 2 ranks, but nothing any more than that.

Disclosure: I did put my thumb on the scale here a tiny bit by re-interpreting a few of the items on the list from my first estimates. For example: Low-rank hotel costs I interpreted as per-night, whereas higher-ranked apartments I took as monthly rentals (none are defined one way or another in the published list). For "Private Plane" I used the cost of a multi-engine Piper instead of, say, a corporate jet. I used entry-level "Old Masters" artwork at around $10 million, instead of the world-record $450 million for a da Vinci painting in 2017 (and likewise for examples of "Archaic Texts").

At the top end of this scale, the Mega-corporation does get promoted 2 ranks from Unearthly to Shift-Y (judging from the example of Saudi Aramco's $356B/year revenue; identified as the one real-world example in the Wikipedia Megacorporation article). If we were to include the U.S. federal government, then that would come in at the Shift Z level (based on revenues of $3.5T/year).

In summary: This is now a system that I think I could use for Marvel RPG purchasing power, and be able to estimate and convert real-world prices into in-game mechanics pretty easily, and not think I'm going to stumble over things that are obviously insane and broken on a regular basis. I did massage a small number of the given ranks in those rules and printed a copy for my MSH house rules. Data and analysis in the spreadsheet below if you want to see it. Excelsior!


Monday, July 8, 2019

24 Hours of D&D

Over the July 4th weekend, our Wandering DMs channel livecast a total of 24 hours, 13 minutes, and 16 seconds of D&D play, with us battling for our lives in the lowest depths of Dyson's Delve. That's all available at our Wandering DMs YouTube channel if you want to check it out.

I'm currently crashing and my throat is pretty torn up from yelling in terror and laughing hysterically over the weekend. I'll point you over to Paul's Gameblog for more specifics and links to the individual episode/sessions. Hope your holiday was half as awesome as ours!

More live D&D play than you can shake a magic sword at.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Birthday Broadcast

A quick reminder that the Wandering DMs channel plans to livestream nonstop D&D play (well: some stops for meals and sleep and pool time) all this holiday weekend from the evening of Thursday July 4 to Sunday July 7th. This will feature birthday-boy Paul DM'ing sessions of Dyson's Delve using our OED house rules for original D&D, and myself playing with a number of our friends and family. Simulcast on these fine sites:
As a preview, here's "the story so far" from our sessions one year ago:

Paul's Birthday Business

Hope you can tune in at some point when you've got downtime from your own weekend festivities. Tell us what you think! :-)

Monday, July 1, 2019

Carrion Crawler Coaching

The Facebook AD&D group had an interesting question posed the other day: "Okay DMs, what was the biggest mistake you ever made trying to homebrew something?" Here's one response that caught my eye:


I kind of really love the honesty here. The major reason I love this is as a case-study that even the biggest-name D&D principals didn't always get things right the first time. First, it serves as a great counterexample to the camp of fundamentalist players who argue that everything in a given edition of D&D is perfect, beyond critique or improvement, and intentional in all ways by the original author (although, am I unwise to spend any time responding to that camp?). Second, it serves to highlight that gauging the danger level of a given monster is not something that even the most experienced DMs can do correctly by sight or instinct. Rather; it needs serious large-scale playtesting -- that I would argue needs some component of computer simulation to get to the right scale.

Consider the Arena/Monster Metrics program (and related blog posts here you can search for) that we've developed to assess Equivalent Hit Dice (EHD) measurements for monsters -- results available in the OED Monster Database. Consider that carrion crawlers and other zero-damage monsters were highlighted as particularly broken in Turnbull's MonsterMarks and related a-la-carte point-buy systems. Recall that the stated "monster level" for carrion crawlers jumped around radically in early versions of D&D -- just 2nd level (of 6; say, 33%) in their first appearance in Sup-I (p. 64); then up to 6th level (of 10; so, 60%) by the time of the AD&D  DMG (p. 178). I think that's the single biggest adjustment for any individual monster between those editions.

Regarding Mentzer's comment above, I asked a follow-up question: "I've seen some people play that a crawler can only attack one PC at a time (w/all 8 atks), others they can attack 8 PCs at once. How'd you play that?" His reply:


So that's clearly "more than one", normally around 3-4 from how I read that. Interestingly, if the designers had a systematic model like our Arena program available, then the danger of carrion crawlers would have been immediately evident. If I run the Monster Metrics assessment with the crawler allowed 8 attacks against different opponents, it estimates an EHD value of 12 (i.e., roughly 50% likely to win a fight against 4 3rd-level fighters, or 3 4th-level fighters), putting it in league with the top 6th-level bracket in OD&D (comparable to a chimera, gorgon, balrog, etc.). That's why in my own game for some time I've actually house-ruled them to halve their attacks, i.e., a total of 4 attacks -- basically the same as what Mentzer suggests for targetable opponents here. At this level carrion crawlers are estimated to be EHD 9, or about 5th level in OD&D terms.

Anyway, big props to Mr. Mentzer for this important peek behind the screen, and the not-too-surprising lesson that we can always continue to make improvements to our game art.


Don't forget about our July 4th game with WanderingDMs on YouTube and Twitch: broadcasting live play all weekend, four days straight! (Starts Thursday night.)


Monday, June 24, 2019

Advanced Multi & Media

Over at Wandering DMs, we've been rolling out a bunch of new social-media contact ways for you to get in touch and follow us, as per your current preferences. Please do consider the following fine sites and handles:
So far this year we've had some new content on the video sites up every Sunday at around 1 PM EST. In particular, we have a livecast discussion that you can join in and pitch comments/questions on alternate Sundays at that time (next one scheduled end of this week: Sunday June 30). Broadcasts are currently streamed simultaneously to Twitch & YouTube, and then you can see old stuff archived permanently on YouTube.

But the thing that's coming up I'm most excited about is that over the upcoming Independence Day weekend we'll be making our first dive into indie live-stream gaming, and it's a deep one. We plan to play D&D all weekend from Jul-4 to Jul-7 and broadcast the whole thing for four days straight. (Well, subject to breaks for meals and sleeping and pool time and whatever.) That's what we normally do for the weekend of the 4th anyway, so we figured, what the heck, let other people see how we run that. Don't look at me, people have actually asked us for that. :-)

Enormous thanks to Paul who's entirely responsible for taking the vanguard and rolling all that stuff out. He's the one who's kitted out his game space for livestreaming, and he'll also be DM'ing on the 4th while I play with another half-dozen of our close friends -- actually a continuation from last year, where we got about halfway through the famed Dyson's Delve. Either we finish it off, or it finishes us off; fair fight, I think.

See more of Paul's setup for the Jul-4th mega-stream at his blog here. 


While you're waiting for that (less than two weeks away!), also consider some recent stuff we've posted on WanderingDMs: Paul's visit to the "D&D Live 2019" convention event in LA with a few coworkers, and my visit to the NYC Morgan Library for an exhibit of J.R.R. Tolkien's artwork (with guest artist Isabelle Garbani for thoughts & analysis). Hope you enjoy!






Monday, June 17, 2019

Air Elemental Whirlwinds

Random math-y investigation: How powerful are air elemental whirlwinds? Pretty powerful. OD&D says this (Vol-2, p. 18):
Air Elementals: Air Elementals move only by flying, moving at a maximum rate of 36". When engaged in combat in the air they add +1 to damage scored from hits. They normally do one die roll of damage. They can turn into a whirlwind which will sweep all creatures under two hit dice away, the whirlwind being conical in shape, 3" diameter at the base, 6" diameter at the top, and as high as the number of hit dice possessed by the Elemental (16", 12" or 8"). Forming a whirlwind requires one full turn as does dissolving it.
A few other notes: The general elemental description on this page says, "Only magical weapons/ attacks affect Elementals", whereas OD&D Sup-I boosts that to, "Elementals are impervious to normal weapons and to magical weapons under +2" (p. 34). The "turn" in the last line is arguably the same as a "round" (or something), as they seem to be used interchangeably in this text, and the 1 turn = 10 minutes rule is not given until Vol-3 (e.g., the other elemental descriptions all say "move at a rate of 18" per turn" and the like). The AD&D Monster Manual limits the whirlwind to just 1 round duration, and adds a 2d8 damage factor to creatures it can't kill outright.

Consider using an air elemental against a large body of humanoids, such as in a mass-combat situation. If we use the by-the-book D&D scale that 1" = 10 feet, then the elemental can fly 360 feet in a round, and affect a 30' diameter along that path, for an area of about 10,800 square feet; if we allow one man per 5' square (25 sq. ft.), then that's about 432 men automatically destroyed per round by this rule. I'm pretty sure that makes the air elemental exponentially the most destructive mass-combat weapon in the game.

On the other hand, if we use the better-reasoned scale of 1" = 5 feet, then the distances are halved, and the area and number affected are thereby quartered: 180 feet move, 15' diameter path, 2700 square feet area, for about 108 men destroyed. I think it's then still the most destructive force against normal men, but not quite so stupendously overkill-y.

But there's a final limiting factor that's easy to forget; the rules for aerial movement in Vol-3, thought to be written by Dave Arneson, and inspired by "Dawn Patrol/Fight in the Skies" by Mike Carr. For air elementals (4th row down in the table on p. 26), the specifiers give "number of turns per move: 6", and "number of spaces between turns: 3". Given these and a hex map (specified in Vol-3 on the prior page), I attempted to find out what the most-compacting "sweeping" movement was that could be made by an air elemental in one round. Consider the following:

Path A: Trying to make the tightest loop possible; this depletes the available turns fairly quickly, and forces us to make a long straight path away from the fight at the end. Covers about 45 hexes in the initial loop, with a donut-hole in the middle.


Path B: Trying to make a back-and-forth sweeping action, but the required spaces-between-turns leaves sizable gaps between each "sweep". Each straight segment covers about 27 hexes. You need to have a packed-in army of about 30 rows x 15 columns (450 men) to hit a man on every hex of this path (for a total of about 100 victims, as noted above, assuming 1 hex = 1 man = 5 feet).


Path C: Here I have the elemental spin away and then back, so as to sweep a kind of contiguous block at the start and end of the path. The top-left part thereby has something approximating a 6 x 8 rectangle, thereby hitting about 48 normal men in close formation there.


Path D: An iteration on the previous strategy; again, we get a top-left block of about 6 x 8 = 48 contiguous hexes.


Conclusion: In open mass combat, I might summarize this with a rule saying that an air elemental in whirlwind form can wipe out about 50 normal men in formation in one turn. That's still very powerful, so before one shows up in your game you might want to consider interpreting or house-ruling things to a power level that you're comfortable with. For example, reducing the diameter of the whirlwind (AD&D took it from 3" to 2"), making the attack 1d6 damage or with a saving throw, etc. Another option is to strictly enforce the book's given rule, "Forming a whirlwind requires one full turn as does dissolving it", which would arguably make it still extremely powerful in (turn-based) mass combat, but basically not ever usable in standard man-to-man D&D action. Thoughts?