How I Started with D&D

Our friend Ash reminded us about David Chapman's RPGaDAY 2022 over a his Autocratik.com blog. In particular, the daily prompt for Wednesday of last week (the 3rd of the month) asked, "When were you first introduced to RPGs?" -- which leads to a short anecdote I've been meaning to share for some time. (Also, it answers a handful of other questions for RPGaDAY 2022 at the same time.)

I've said a number of times that the stock dogma of, "everyone needs a mentor to learn D&D" doesn't apply in my case -- indeed, I learned from the printed books and nothing else. Here's the full story:

By September/October of 1978 (when I turned 8 years old), my great uncle was laid up after a medical scare, and someone had given him a subscription to a new publication, Games magazine. He lived in a house nearby with his two elderly sisters, and they already had a good stock of puzzle books, math texts, games, and the like. Supposedly at some earlier time he'd been a pretty sharp poker player -- and his sister was one of the first women in the country to get a higher degree in math, wrote questions for the first SAT test, etc. (I still have her copies of college algebra & calculus texts dated 1929 and 1933, now with handwritten notes from both of us all through the margins). So all that's pretty well in character.

Anyway, my uncle was handing off his issues of Games to me once he was done with them. At this point TSR Hobbies was running full-page ads for Holmes Basic D&D on a regular basis... it caught my eye, but very conservative with money as we all were, it would take more than that to make the jump. This came in the November/December 1980 issue when the editors included it in their first-ever Games 100 feature of their current favorite games. Dungeons & Dragons was included on their alphabetically-ordered list. Here's the entirety of what they said about it:

D&D is actually a series of books and rules to help players design a fantasy world replete with treasures and perils. A Dungeon Master (DM, or referee) creates the world, which players explore under his direction. The more players, the merrier.

Dungeons & Dragons photo and blurb from 1980 Games 100 in Games Magazine

That clinched it -- I asked for this particular game for Christmas, and did indeed unwrap it that holiday. (Complete with chits -- this being the crunch where dice weren't available - so for quite some time I was spending hours pulling paper out of cups, with the idea polyhedral dice still only a flight of fantasy in my mind. At some point my mom surprised me with a set of dice and that still might be the best, most unexpected gift I ever got.)

Anyway, to this point in my community I was the only person who's ever heard of Dungeons & Dragons. I read the Holmes rulebook & Gygax's inserted Keep on the Borderlands adventure intently, and -- never imagining there was any other option -- started running my friends through games based on those books, teaching everyone I knew how to play. Everything I knew came from the printed text. 

As I look at that 1980 blurb for D&D, I'm a little surprised but how deeply that exact pitch is still the root of what I expect from a D&D game today -- "a fantasy world... treasures and perils... DM or referee... creates the world... The more players, the merrier". Also, it bears reflection on how much harder it was to discover, learn about, and acquire niche media like D&D in the past -- often taking several years, as it happened for me. But it was worth the wait!

Ad for D&D from TSR Hobbies in Games Magazine, Sep/Oct 1978
Ad for Dungeons & Dragons from TSR Hobbies in Games Magazine, Sep/Oct 1978


Pool of Remonstrance

Beat-up bandit leader

As I play through the well-loved 1988 AD&D computer game, Pool of Radiance (which launched the very successful "gold box" line of games), on the Wandering DM channel late nights Thursdays -- I'm reminded of the hard fact, for computer game developers, of how many ambiguities in classic D&D the programmers need to hammer down judgements for and back-fill in to complete the software. And this in turn leads to many surprises in store for the player who's become used to particular table rulings with their friends. I'm sure there's a similar phenomenon when players move between different human play groups. That's somewhat ironic, as AD&D was partly held out as a unifying solution to exactly those problems.

I'm still in the early phases of Pool of Radiance, but here's a small sampling of things that have jumped out at me as a surprise, many cases of which I've needed viewers to helpfully point out the novel ruling before I got in too much trouble. Keep in mind this is even while the designers and programmers have in very many cases been huge sticklers for hewing to the 1E books as written:

  • Initiative is in a different order for each party, and intermingled between parties, on every round; i.e., it seems to have an individual initiative mechanic. (To me the 1E DMG seems clear that party-based initiative is in order.)
  • Attacks against the back are determined not by position but by number of attackers -- one or two count as front attacks; the third or more attackers, or thief across from an ally, count as rear attacks. (This somewhat conjures the 3E flanking rule, abstracting where the "back" is on a figure. The 1E DMG kind of wants it both ways, arguing in some places for fully abstracted randomized-opponent melee dustups, and in others very exacting charts for the angle of flank or rear attacks. A chronic problem in D&D.)
  • When in melee, you can actually run circles all the way around an opponent without triggering free attacks -- the free attacks only occur when you step fully out of contact. (Which is a legitimately narrow reading of the DMG language, but perhaps doesn't make sense in the spirit of the tactical game.)
  • You can exchange items in hand -- weapons, shields, scrolls, etc. -- freely within any round. (This seems to butt up against the examples of rummaging in a pack or exchanging weapons in a fight; see 1E DMG p. 71.) Likewise you can thoughtfully look at all your gear and select any number of items to drop at your leisure within a fight (counter to the harrowing tale of Dimwall & Drudge in DMG Appendix O). 
  • Diagonal moves on the grid are measured 1-2-1-2, etc., spaces. (There's no whisper of this rule in 1E; prior to playing Pool of Radiance, I thought that was a 3E novelty.)
  • There's a "guarding" action option, in which you give up your action, but get a free attack if any enemy thereafter comes in contact with you. Likewise one can "delay" and wait for others to go first in a round. (Again, these are mechanics I associate with later editions.)
  • One can cast spells freely in melee contact, except if you've taken any damage previously within the same round. (This is sort of the reverse of the DMG rule on p. 65 which dictates advance declaration of spells, before rolling for initiative, and then the results of that initiative possibly allowing interrupting attacks. Like Pool of Radiance, I actually do prefer not dealing with advance-casting; but I wouldn't want to track who took damage at what point in a round.)
  • On the other hand, no missile attacks can be when one is adjacent to any enemy. (Which is quite sensible, but not in the books, and easy to confuse with the spell-casting rule which cuts the opposite way. You can't even shoot a missile if you're next to a sleeping enemy!)
  • Having had to painstakingly fight the trolls on the 1st level of the dungeon, I'm still not sure if fire is needed only as the final blow, or at some point in the combat, or what, to prevent regeneration. Also: preventing troll regeneration by standing on the body is not a ruling I think any DM would come up with (although maybe necessary here just for the issue of not having multiple figures active in one space). Also: having a downed troll get back up with full hit points was a real shock to me! (But: It seems basically in tone with Poul Anderson's original regenerating troll encounter, and I actually plan to have trolls play possum like that until fully healed in my future games -- watch out.) And of course trolls breaking morale, so critical to that fight in the Pool of Radiance slums, is exactly opposite to where they're labeled as "fearless" in classic D&D texts.
  • Also there's flaming oil which can be freely thrown, but there's no splash damage from misses (per the DMG). 
  • Training to advance a level costs a fixed 1,000 gp (as opposed to the greater expense by level in the DMG; a saving grace in Pool of Radiance).
  • The "option" the let characters go below zero hit points and possibly be resuscitated is in use (making combat much more survivable that if it was not). But the DMG dictate that a week's rest is then required is not used (although healing a downed PC in a fight does not let them get active again within that encounter). 
  • Casting hold person allows you to individually select the multiple targets (whereas Gygax said more than once that spells of that nature would affect random targets). 

I could go on. None of these are bad rulings -- it's just that it provides a neat opportunity to re-experience the game as a "new" player at a fresh DM's table, in some sense, and think about all the ways I get to be surprised and think about different legitimate ways of running classic D&D.

Of course -- the thing that grabs my attention the most sometimes is 1E's very wonky relationship with scaling of distance and time. Pool of Radiance almost manages to hand-wave that away, but not quite. AD&D "inches" of scale directly convert to "squares" in Pool of Radiance for movement and missile fire. Many spells follow the PHB ranges and areas, but others were significantly modified. For example, the sleep spell in 1E PHB has a range of 3" + 1"/level, but I've discovered that in Pool of Radiance (without any ranges being listed in the game manual), the range is 3" + 4"/level. That's a big difference, and would probably have changed a few fights if I knew my Nirjarini, my 3rd-level magic-user, could cast it 15 squares, instead of the 6 that I expected.

Furthermore: Simon Wood on YouTube helpfully pointed out that the Pool of Radiance Clue Book (which I'd been avoiding) has a Spell Parameters Chart on its last page. I observe that the range given for every spell there exactly matches what's listed in the 1E PHB (except in two cases of 0-range spells, the area is swapped in instead: i.e., prayer and friends). So now I wonder: Are there other spells than sleep that are secretly off-book? Was the Clue Book author working directly from the 1E PHB and not the game, or an earlier design document? Is the sleep spell range change a conscious design decision, or an outright programming error? (Note that 4 is directly above 1 on a numeric keypad.)

Finally, exactly how big is a battlemap square in Pool of Radiance? Consider the following. A one-square wide corridor in the strategic view converts to four-squares wide in the tactical view (i.e., 4 characters standing abreast). So how big is that corridor, really? If we think it's 10' wide (standard for 1E dungeons), then the tactical squares are 2.5 feet wide. Or if we say the corridors are 20' wide, then the tactical squares are a 5 feet each (in line with later edition sensibilities). But neither of those options are present in the 1E core rules. Of course, the 1E PHB states that all indoor ranges and areas are a scale of 1" = 10 feet, whereas the DMG says that 10 feet will be represented by 3 actual inches on the tabletop (i.e., 1 inch = 3⅓ feet). So everything's up in the air with that math, as usual.

Party in a 1-square corridor in Pool of Radiance strategic view.

Party fighting NPCs in that corridor, with both sides packed 4 characters across.

I think the Pool of Radiance manual almost managed to expunge any reference to "feet" distance, except oddly for two spells interacting with invisibility -- detect invisibility and invisibility, 10' radius both have their area of effect stated in terms of feet, not squares. (I mean: obviously it's embedded in the name of that latter spell. But for the former, the 1E PHB & POR Clue Book give the range as 1"/level, while the manual says 20 feet per level instead, so that seems like a conscious addition by the video game designers, and another thing not reflected in the Clue Book?) So when I get higher level I kind of want to prioritize acquiring invisibility, 10' radius so I can test how many squares its 10-foot radius area encompasses. Maybe someone's already done that?


Dragon Inflation Through the Ages

In the Wandering DMs aftershow chat last Sunday, several of our patrons started swapping classical illustrations of dragons with us. The moral: Dragons have undergone a radical inflation in recent years with the rise of the mass-market fantasy game. Here's a quick perusal over the last few centuries (everything to 1914 being depictions of the same scene, Saint George and the Dragon):

Anonymous, Ms. of Legenda aurea, 1382 

Bernat Martorell, 1434

Albrecht Dürer, 1501

Johann König, 1630

Unknown, early 1700's

Gustave Moreau, 1889

Briton Rivière, 1914

J.R.R Tolkien, 1936 (Bilbo the Hobbit on right)

1st Edition cover to Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight, 1968

Clyde Caldwell, Dragons of Despair, 1984

Jaime Jons, 2014 (5E D&D Starter Kit cover)

My, how quickly they grow up!


Saved by Rolling Rock

Statue of Sisyphus rolling a rock

Our friend Baquies asked a question that I like very much: my OED Traps Digest has a 10' diameter rolling rock trap, which I basically lifted from Moldvay's Lost City adventure (module B4, area 39), and he probably swiped it from Raiders of the Lost Ark the prior year. 

Now, I stipulate that after the boulder comes to a rest, it can be pushed aside 1 in 6 by a normal man. Is that reasonable?

Looking at the Rockhound Resource website, one of the examples in a table there includes a rock that's "Car sized | ~10 ft" weighing in at at about 86,500 pounds (and I double-checked the calculation: assumes about granite density).

An answer to a Quora question (by Charles Collins -- no relation, I assume) says that the optimal coefficient of rolling resistance on level ground is 0.10 (for a car with inflated tires, or a plane bearing). For our rock this gives a critical force of 86,500 × 0.010 = 865 pounds.

Can a man push that much? That's something I suppose a gym could answer. I think it's pretty common to bench press 100 pounds or so. An answer on Reddit here says regarding a leg-press machine, "People can easily hit up to 400-600 pounds or more on these machines, I would design for a force of 1000 pounds to have some safety factor built in."

So maybe we should dial down our rock a little bit, say to about an 8' diameter -- thereby letting it roll a bit more freely down our standard corridor, and also reducing the weight by half, to about 44,300 pounds, with a critical rolling force of about 443 pounds. This seems to put it squarely in the range that a fit man could roll, if he had his back against one wall, and pushed with both legs.

(And our friend Seeker points out that the easiest rock to carve for this purpose would be limestone, so let's say that's the material, which increases the weight a small amount, i.e., by 2% or so.)

What are your thoughts on that? Will it make Sisyphus happy?


OED House Rules v.1.0.7

OED Player's Rules Cover

Presenting the state of the OED House Rules for 2022: we've bumped up both the Player's and Judge's rules documents to version 1.0.7. Some of the more important edits you'll find there:

Player's Rules

  • Combat Feats have been reworked & rebalanced for a better overall distribution. (In particular, Rapid Attack is no longer the hands-down best choice.)
  • Sweep Attacks are noted as a universal ability for all Fighters, as opposed to the ambiguous state it was previously left in (and the Cleave feat consequently removed). See numerous analytic posts in which we researched this issue in 2021; in short, if you're going to play with O/AD&D listed large numbers appearing for low-level monsters, then players need this ability to stay competitive.

Judge's Rules

  • Mechanics based on a d6 roll have been synchronized to follow a low-roll for success model, following the majority of the instances in the LBBs. See here for the analysis on that.  
  • Slime/ooze monster mechanics were edited to match results of recent polls we ran (to be presented in the near future).

Monster Database

  • At least as important as any of the above, we've recently significantly expanded the Arena simulator program to include common wizard spells, magic-using and exotic monster types, etc. EHD (Equivalent Hit Dice values) have been modified to reflect that; basic monsters (giant-types, etc.) mostly stayed the same, while some outliers had large changes (e.g., vampires, golems, etc.). 
  • All monsters now have a justified EHD listings (previously some special or spell-using types were left with a null entry). 
  • The database has been expanded with more monsters from the OD&D supplements (now over 200 listed!).
  • Quick copy-paste stat blocks are now at the OEDGames site; the complete database in spreadsheet format is kept in the repository at Github.

We'll plan to post more updates and reflections on lessons from that recent simulator work in the coming weeks. Big thanks to the Wandering DMs patrons for kicking around and giving invaluable feedback and motivation on most of these issues. If you play around with these rules, tell us how they play for you! 

OED House Rules v.1.0.7 at OED Games


Wilderness Simulator Stats

Wilderness Encounters: Clear (log chart)

One more reflection on the Original D&D wilderness encounter charts. Last week we were using some tabulated charts to decide between two possible rules interpretations, and one was clearly much nicer. But that was based on just looking at the average EHD (Equivalent Hit Dice) for each encounter type, which is maybe a little sketchy. Since I'm obsessive about these things, I wrote a simulator program that actually rolls up the individual encounters (varying the number appearing by psuedo-random dice), and I had it spit out a thousand random encounters for each terrain type.

Here's the statistics that get produced looking at those samples of size N = 1,000 for each terrain category. Note that this includes accounting for the sweep-attacks rule (high level fighters get one attack per level vs. 1 HD types), and also reduced numbers for the outlier groups of Gnolls, Cavemen, Treants, and Vampires that seem necessary based on our analysis last time:

Wilderness Encounter Simulator Stats

As you can see, like we've said a few times, the danger levels across the different terrain types are a lot more constant than one might have guessed without inspecting closely. But of course, the various terrain types mostly feed into the same subtables, anyway. This is in stark contrast to encounters for different dungeon levels, which obviously represent a setting of increasingly dangerous tiers -- although note that the rate of encounter checks increases quadratically in bad terrain, so that does make for a significant difference in risk level. 

The mean EHD per encounter is close to 40 for any terrain, with a standard deviation around 27 or so; and the median is around 35 or something, with an IQR (interquartile range; comparable to standard deviation) around 30. The mean-higher-than-median indicates that the distribution is right-skewed, i.e., has a long tail to the right, with a number of very high EHD encounters occasionally occurring. In cases like this, it's sometimes interesting to take the logarithm of the data values (e.g., the general mean converts to log(40) = 1.6), and see if the distribution then looks like a normal curve. I did that below:

Wilderness Encounters Simulator Log Charts

Okay: They're kind of normal? None of these actually pass a statistical test for normality (rejected at P < 0.0001). That's not too surprising, since it's not like the encounter design in OD&D has any kind of systematic consistency (nor would I argue for it to that extent). But it's at least kind of suggestive: a log-normal distribution is reflective of many natural biological and demographic processes, and these encounters are sort of in that ballpark, which is nice. There's significant variation in the encounters to make the D&D wilderness challenging and risky, but it's not a lunatic level of variation, where you can't even imagine half of the creatures surviving for a week in the presence of the other creatures.

So overall this doesn't change our conclusions from last week much at all -- or, in other words, it gives added support to those conclusions. These distributions feel kind of nice to me. For a party sized 8 (all fighters in our sim), an average level of 5th should stack up against the average EHD of 40 pretty well. Although rarely you'll have an encounter in the EHD 100+ range, and then you'd darn well better engage with the Evading rules. Or if you Arneson-ify the wandering numbers down to about 1/3 book values, and play with a 4-person party, then 4th level can be okay -- at least until you delve into the lair locations for that sweet, sweet gold treasure.

How do those simulated stats look to you?

Wilderness Encounter Sim Stats (ODS file)

Wilderness Encounter Sim on Github (Java code)


Sweeping Up the Wilderness

Horse-Drawn McCormick Mower

Last week I opened my personal journal on accepting sweep attacks (fighters getting as many attacks as levels vs. 1 HD targets) as a critical element throughout the O/AD&D rules, and my own game, and the effect they have on play. Today we revisit our analysis of wilderness encounter perils, in the context of including sweep attacks in the picture.

State of the Wilderness

Here's a recap. Back in 2019 I analyzed Wilderness Encounter Levels, and the overall distribution of danger on the OD&D outdoors tables. A first observation is that, on average, the different terrain types are actually pretty uniformly dangerous: we estimate they're roughly balanced for a 10th-level party (with a classically big size of 8 PCs, fighters only, and no sweep attacks). A second observation is that looking past the averages, the encounters have a very prickly distribution: lots of encounters at total 50 EHD or less; but also lots of encounters with EHDs in the 200s or higher. (EHD being "Equivalent Hit Dice", something a bit analogous to challenge ratings.)

In 2020, considering that problematic, I took a stab at considering Rescaling Wilderness Encounters; maybe dialing down some monster numbers to get things a bit more manageable -- possibly by Arneson's tactic in the First Fantasy Campaign (assume only about a third of any group is wandering outside the lair), or Moldvay's in the Basic D&D rules (drop humanoid numbers to around one-sixth the original). Here's a copy of the table I had there of EHD distributions for all encounters in the OD&D wilderness (note the logarithmic x-axis):

Frequency of Encounter EHDs
Now, as a statistician, you kind of hate to see that kind of bimodal shape in a graph -- the fact that there's not one but two upward spikes in totally different locations. (As noted: a whole bunch of encounters around 50 EHD total, and another big batch of upward of 500 EHD. The coin-flip of doom!) That usually suggests that you've got a problem with your polling process, in that you've likely munged together two totally different categories of things, and instead should be dis-aggregating and measuring them separately.

In this case, the distinction is easy to determine: the big batch of super-high EHD encounters is precisely all of the humanoid bands appearing in numbers of hundreds (men, goblins, orcs, dwarves, elves, etc.). All of those kinds of encounters have average EHDs of 150 to 300 or so -- whereas the median for the overall set is only about 40. Likewise, the wilderness encounter subtables that have lots of these types (Men and Giant-types, i.e., humanoids) have average EHDs of 120 to 200, while all other subtables (Lycanthropes, Undead, Dragons, etc.) only have average EHDs of 25 to 50.

Earlier in 2021, I looked at Monster Numbers Through the Ages, specifically for the canonical wilderness encounters, and considered them in relation to the status of sweep attacks in each of those editions. A discovery there is that in some ways the numbers were pretty consistent from 0E to 3E, and then disappeared from monster stat blocks after that.

Start Sweeping

So recently I added a switch to turn on sweep attacks in the Arena Simulator on GitHub, and last week I presented that it has the effect of reducing the effective power of 1-HD humanoids to about one-fourth their actual hit dice (on average; and of course this varies enormously by the exact level of classed fighter-type they're facing off against). At some point, I went to the wilderness data tables from before, and dropped in those modified numbers. Here's what the distribution of encounter EHD totals looks like now:

Frequency of Encounter EHDs (with sweeps)
So: In one fell sweep, that solves the problem. The bimodal shape is gone, and now it kind of looks like a normal curve (after logarithmic scaling).

Some more details: The overall median is still around 40 EHD; but now the bands of humanoids have average EHDs in the range of 30 to 70 or so, that is, a much better match. Likewise, the subtable statistics become less jagged; mostly in the range of 30 to 50 on average (in other words, fairly spread around that 40 median). More on that later.

The difference in those two graphs is pretty much what single-handedly convinced me that if you're going to play an O/AD&D style, all other things being equal (like numbers appearing for humanoids), then it's pretty much a necessity to honor the classic sweep-attack rule.

Stones in the Field

But there are still a few exceptions: outlier encounters that have total EHD way outside the standard range of about 30 to 70. These are four specific cases that fall neatly into two classes:

  • Creatures with summoning abilities. When these creatures are encountered, they can summon other allies to help them, multiplying their strength (vs. their book hit dice, if that's all you were looking at when balancing the encounter size). With the summons respectively doubling or tripling their power, the average total EHD for Vampires is 140, and for Treants it's 360.

  • Creatures with 1 HD but a 2HD subtype. There are two humanoids with 2 HD, but are sub-types of a 1 HD primary creature class. Therefore they share the same high number appearing as the main type in the table (some hundreds), even though they're outside the range given for the sweep-attack rule. The average encounter EHD for Gnolls is 220, and for Cavemen about 310.

Let's be a little more specific about that latter category: In the OD&D Monster Reference Table, Hobgoblins and Gnolls share a single line jointly. The have the same AC, movement, % in-lair, treasure, and number appearing (20-200). But the hit dice entry says "1+1/2", i.e., Hobgoblins have HD 1+1, and Gnolls have 2. So while I'd interpret Hobgoblins as being in the range for sweep attacks, Gnolls would be out. In that regard, giving them the same numbers appearing seems to be a big mistake. This kind of gluing-together of types is in the tradition of Chainmail, where a lot of monsters were presented as tiny alterations of other classes. (In the past I've mistakenly said Gnolls were 1+1 hit dice in early drafts of D&D, but it turns out that was a typo in the later derived document called the Dalluhn Manuscript, so let's ignore I ever said that.)

Meanwhile, Cavemen don't appear in the table, rather being subsumed by Men, who have number appearing 30-300 and generally 1 hit die/man. But among the 9 different sub-types of Men described in the main text, Cavemen are uniquely noted as having 2 Hit Dice. (Actually, in the pre-publication draft of D&D, even that was ambiguous: the Guidon D&D manuscript says they "fight as 2nd level Fighting-Men", which could be interpreted a few different ways; when the LBBs were published, the entry was expanded to also say they "get 2 Hit Dice", apparently in response to some peoples' confusion. Thanks to Jon Peterson for personally answering a question about that.) Again, with this clarification, Cavemen stand outside the range of sweep attacks, but they still share the 30-300 number appearing like any other Men. 

Recall that up above I mentioned with sweep attacks, most of the wilderness subtables had average EHDs of 30 to 50. But I should point out that there's two notable exceptions: The Men (Mountains) and Giant subtables are both elevated up to around 90 instead, and that's entirely because those are the only tables with Cavemen and Gnolls (plus Treants) in them.

(Now, one might theorize that's evidence that 2 HD creatures should be in the range of sweep attacks, too. But there's even even more monsters on the reference table with 2 HD that have small numbers appearing: e.g., Zombies, Ghouls, Dryads, Pegasi. If we allow sweeps on them, then their EHDs plummet below the normal range, and you have an even worse problem. Also: most Horses and Mules are at the 2 HD level, and allowing whirlwind-slaughterhouse attacks against them just doesn't feel cool to me.)

So I do think that the numbers appearing in the four outlier cases are oversights and should be fixed. For Cavemen and Gnolls, following the idioms on the OD&D monster table, I'd recommend making their numbers 3-30 (as for skeletons/zombies), or 3-36 if you want to use Platonic dice, which of course you do, because you're a person of excellent taste.

Meanwhile for Vampires and Treants, I'd recommend lowering both to the smallest-appearing die of 1d4. This places Treant encounters at an average of about 80 EHD (still one of the highest), and Vampires at around 100 EHD (thereby making them the #1 most dangerous wilderness encounter). I'd actually make Vampires 1d3 if it weren't for the fact that it appears nowhere in the original table. Either way, this solves the eccentric subtables and related problems.

Wilderness Encounter Levels

All told, here's our revised estimate for encounter levels in the OD&D wilderness. Again, this assumes an eight-person, all-fighter party. When we started, we estimated that the tables present, on average, a balanced encounter for 10th-level PCs (with a huge amount of dangerous variation). By merely flipping on the sweep-attacks switch, our estimate drops to one appropriate for 6th-level PCs (and quite a bit more predictability in the danger, even you're still dicing for exact numbers in each case). What a huge difference that one rule makes! 

In both cases, this danger level is pretty consistent across all terrain types. Furthermore, if you make the adjustments to the monster numbers for the outliers I mentioned above -- even though that's only four entries -- they're influential enough to further drop the estimate down to 5th-level PCs. And that's pretty darned close to what many of our intuitions say (e.g., from the D&D Expert set rules) about what level wilderness adventures should be happening at in the first place.

One of my favorite things in the world is when two apparent problems cancel each other out, in that they're actually the mutual solution to each other. And for me, what appeared to be the bizarrely wonky variable danger of the OD&D wilderness encounter tables, and the mystery of whether sweep-attacks for PC fighters were really intended within the OD&D mechanics, is just such a satisfying case.

Just One More Thing

So sweep-attacks are the solution to the specific problem of big humanoid numbers in the wilderness. And yet separately, I'm still somewhat sympathetic to Arneson's idea in the FFC of having only around one-third of the given numbers actually show up wandering around in the wilderness (with the rest holding down the fort, or lair) -- applied universally to all monster types, not just humanoids. In some ways that cools the numbers for mythic monsters down to something more in line with what I have in my head for fantasy tales (what feels better: 4 dragons, or unicorns, or 1? 6 balrogs or 2? 8 giants or 3? 12 pegasi or 4?). And it also adjusts for the smaller standard (non-convention?) party sizes we might be dealing with now. If you reduce monster numbers appearing to 1/3 listed, and party size to 4 (instead of 8), then the average wilderness encounter in OD&D in fact seems to be balanced for 4th level PCs (exactly in line with the Expert rules expectation).

Appreciate any of your thoughts on that!

Wilderness Wandering Analysis 1.0.3 (ODS spreadsheet)