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!


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?


Prep Time Poll Results

On March 28 of this year, I asked on the Facebook AD&D group the following poll question: "As DM, how much preparation time do you take before a single game session?". Over the next few weeks I got 310 responses. As you can see below, a bit more than 50% answered in the range of "Hours".

In the comments/discussion attached to that poll, there were a small number of people who answered with "years", or "my whole life", which are very interesting ways to look at it, I think. :-)

Edit: In Dragon #28 (August 1979), as part of the AD&D DMG rollout/promotional campaign, Gygax gave an interview in which he asserted, "For the amount of work that a DM has to put in — probably two hours for every hour of play — you’re going to get some real returns... "


Historical Costs Comparison

The following comes up regularly, and I think that it probably always will; given the incredibly kinked-up nature of the D&D economy, what's the best "correction" to bring it line with some kind of historical pricing basis? Or in other words: very generally, how do D&D costs compare to historical prices?

I'll look at this in three different categories: basic equipment, castle construction, and wages for men-at-arms. My primary resource for historical prices is the Medieval Sourcebook: Medieval Prices (MSMP), compiled by Kenneth Hodges, and currently hosted on a site at Goucher College. My primary strategy will be to run a linear regression between D&D price and Medieval Sourcebook prices and see if that tells us anything at all consistent.

First: Consider basic equipment. This may be the most tentative of the three classes, because it requires some subjective matching of item types, some of those have widely varying ranges and eras, there are many different possible horses and armor qualifications, almost no historical weapon prices, etc. While the D&D basic equipment list is fairly sizable, and so is the Medieval Sourcebook, there isn't as much overlap as I would have desired. The results are as follows:

As you can see from the chart, these prices are only vaguely linear related (R² = 0.57, moderate correlation). That said: the regression here suggests that if you take D&D price units and treat them, on average, as historically something like three-quarters of a shilling then you'll be as much in the ballpark as you can be (technically: 76% of a shilling according to this regression; feel free to round to a half-shilling or whole shilling according to taste, any of those could be fine). There's a lot of variation there -- the two outlying high points are the two armor types (mail and plate); those are distinctly undervalued in D&D. The two outlying low points are the prices for the medium war horse and the cart. Also removed from the analysis was the MSMP stated value for a 13th century war horse: "up to L80", which would be 1,600 shillings, far off the upper end of the chart here.

Second: Let's look at castle construction costs. There are a few values in the MSMP (a gatehouse and tower), and I've also found a number of documented costs for castle construction on Wikipedia. You can see here for the full detail on the first occasion when I looked at that. The displayed D&D prices are dependent on my assessing the constructions in question and pricing them piecemeal according to D&D (a task which I did before looking to convert the historical prices, to try and avoid as much bias as possible):

This regression seems to look a bit more dependable at first appearance (R² = 1.00, apparently perfect correlation). Note, however, that this is largely dependent on what I estimated for the D&D construction of the large Dover castle (an "influential data point"). That said, it has a perhaps surprisingly similar conversion to the basic equipment list above: each D&D "gp" converts to something like a half shilling (specifically, about 40% of a shilling's value). To me, that seems interesting.

Third: Consider wages for men-at-arms. Now, these values in D&D seem to be at a distinctly different scale than those for other things in the game (basic equipment, castles, treasure, specialists, etc.). Fortunately there are several classifications that seem reasonably easy to compare in D&D and the MSMP:

This also seems reasonably linear in relationship (R² = 0.92, strong correlation). Here if you take the D&D monthly "gp" and multiply by about 5, then you have something in the ballpark of actual medieval costs in shillings -- or in other words, the D&D units for men-at-arms costs are about a quarter of a pound sterling (i.e., roughly the value of an actual gold Noble coin; not something you can say about the units anywhere else in the D&D system).

In summary: With the exception of wages for men-at-arms, the money units in D&D seem to correspond (very roughly!) to historical units of a half shilling or something in that general order of magnitude. For me, it's been a number of years since I started interpreting the D&D price units in terms of historical silver Groat coins (one-third of a shilling each), and I'll probably continue to use that in the near future.

See also: my analysis of Support & Upkeep costs, where in the conclusion, we once again saw the gold piece → silver Groat conversion nicely matches up the OD&D upkeep costs for Name-level fighters with the incomes for real-word Barons and Earls circa 1300.

Download an ODS spreadsheet of the data and regressions seen above here.