Monday, September 13, 2021

d6 Usage in OD&D

Red six-sided die

The d20, of course, is closely associated with the D&D game. But it's easy to forget that the early classic editions used the d20 in fairly narrow circumstances: just attacks and saves, in fact. Everything else about running an adventure was done with d6's -- it wasn't until the 3E version of the game that all of these other functions were replaced with the "core mechanic" of d20's for everything. 

There's something about that I really like, in fact. (And I've written about it several times.) The granularity of the game is usually at the d6 level, except when death is on the line (an attack or saving throw), at which point the detail "zooms in" to the d20 level. That's a bit like a movie slowing down when a character is in mortal peril, simulating the cognitive effect from increased adrenaline. When everything else is d6's, they probably don't show up to clutter the character sheets. There's a small enough list of modifiers that the DM can just remember them all. And when things go off-book -- like they should -- it's easier to correctly estimate the real-world chance of success out of 6 pips than out of 20 points. 

Here's an encyclopedic run-down of the use of the d6 for adventuring function in Original D&D. The majority of these cases appear in little brown book Vol-3, the DM's guide analog:

  • Damage from falling into pit: Occurs on 1-2 on d6 (suggested example). (p. 5)
  • Random dungeon stocking: Monsters appear 1-2 on d6. (p. 7)
  • Random dungeon stocking: Treasures appear 1-3 on d6 with monsters, or 1 on d6 without. (p. 7)
  • Searching for secret passages: Success 1-2 on d6 generally, or 1-4 on d6 for elves. Or elves can possibly find one 1-2 on d6 just by walking by. (p. 9)
  • Opening doors: Success 1-2 on d6, or 1 on d6 for smaller characters. (p. 9)
  • Spiking doors open: Success 5-6 on d6. (p. 9)
  • Traps activating on trigger: Occur 1-2 on d6. (p. 9)
  • Listening for sounds: Success 1 on d6 for humans, or 1-2 for elves, dwarves, and hobbits. (p. 9)
  • Surprise: Occurs 1-2 on d6 unless some signal prevents it. (p. 9)
  • Wandering monsters in dungeon: Occur on a 6 on d6, rolled each turn. (p. 10)
  • Monsters continuing pursuit: Occurs 1-2 on d6 when party passes a corner, door or stairs; or 1 on d6 when party passes through a secret door. (p. 12)
  • Castle occupants turning out: Occurs 1-3 on d6 within the castle hex, 1-2 at 1 hex distance, 1 at 2 hex distance. (p. 15)
  • Becoming lost in wilderness: Occurs on either 1, 1-2, or 1-3 on d6, depending on terrain type. (p. 18)
  • Wandering monsters in wilderness: Occur on 4-5, 5-6, or 6 on d6, depending on terrain type. (p. 18)
  • Castle inhabitants pursuing party: Occurs 1-3 on d6 if hostile, or 1 on d6 if neutral towards party. (p. 19)
  • Damage from fall off ship rigging: Occurs at one low pip on d6 for every ten feet fallen (more detail below). (p. 31)
  • Ship crew in melee obeying other commands: Occurs 1-4 on d6. (p. 32)

So let's take stock of what we have there for a "core d6 mechanic" sensibility. We've found 17 cases in OD&D Vol-3. We note that in 14 of the cases success is indicated by a low roll (82%), whereas in only 3 cases is success indicated by a high roll (18%).

Clearly, the fundamental instinct of the writer with these d6 mechanics is for the low roll to indicate success. That doesn't mean low is "good" exactly -- consider a trap being sprung or being surprised, for example. But generally some new-thing-of-note pops up with a low d6 roll -- a change to the status quo.

Of course, since most of these mechanics have a base success of 1-2 on d6, the inverse is in the majority, and we might say that's thereby the status quo by definition. 

The falling-off-ships-rigging case is interesting (Vol-3, p. 31), because it highlights that either side of the random occurrence could have certainly been phrased as the event of interest. In this case, the rules text is phrased in terms of taking damage from a low roll ("one chance out of six for every level fallen that damage will be sustained"), whereas the associated example is phrased in terms of saving with a high roll ("i.e. a fall from 40 feet will require a 5 or 6 to save"). 

And in the list above I'm not even counting cases from other books, like the end of OD&D Vol-2 (the monsters & treasure book), in which a roll of "1" on d6 bumps an individual gem in a batch up to the next-higher price level. Whereas, if you were in a different headspace, you'd likely think that a high value would indicate, well, a high value.

So where do the 3 outliers come from? To be clear, those are: (1) spiked doors failing, (2) wandering monsters in the dungeon, and (3) wandering monsters in the wilderness. Let's ignore the first of those for now. But the two wandering monster cases have a clear source -- that's exactly the mechanic in the earlier Outdoor Survival board game for the chance of a daily encounter (where the rule is itself optional). This is in contrast to all the other mechanics in Outdoor Survival, which are notably roll-low-on-d6 to break status quo -- e.g.: getting lost, finding food, or finding water (as allowed in some scenarios; finding food or water occurs 1-2 on d6 when permitted). Note that the lost/food/water mechanics are printed on the Scenario cards there, whereas the optional Encounters rule is in the separate rules pamphlet -- so they weren't synchronized with any core mechanic. And that's exactly why these rules appear in the same form in OD&D, since they were just wholesale lifted from that source & tweaked a bit. Examples below:

Outdoor Survival, Scenario 3: Search rules

Outdoor Survival, Rules of Play: Optional Encounters rule

So if I were going to get my rules-design steam press, and iron out the wrinkles in this particular system -- for both Original D&D and Outdoor Survival, because the system is at least conjoined if not identical at their root -- what I'd do is swap around the wandering-monster rolls and make them appear on low results on a d6, e.g., a "1" on d6 for encounters in the dungeon. Same for spikes failing, too. Taking the opposite tack and saying you're going to flip all the d6 rolls around so a high result is success entails a lot more editorial fixup-work (e.g., as Menzter tried to do with opening doors in BECMI; and I've also stumbled towards doing in the past myself).

In conclusion, there's also a number of things that are attractive about what I might call an "accuracy" roll-low core mechanic. Principally, it's that announcing a target number is simultaneously communicating the probability of success. (As opposed to a high-roll mechanic, where the conversion between the two requires subtraction and then an off-by-one adjustment.) I assume that's why the writer of OD&D fell into this habit; you don't even need to mentally distinguish which way you're thinking about it as you furiously pound out the rules text on your typewriter. Additionally, to my mind, the die-roll then has the feel of communicating the amount of "error" in your task attempt, which is a statistically robust concept; as opposed to (I guess) "goodness", implied by a roll-high mechanic. 

So there are days when I wistfully daydream of a D&D tradition in which all the mechanics were always roll-low by default, instead of the legacy we have. Imagine celebrating being "Number one!" on an attack roll with as much gusto as we now do a "Natural twenty!". (Although I suppose it might not be immediately as clear that an exotic die type was in play.) It would also synch up with the old roll-under-ability mechanic, which at one point seemed natural and obvious (rather than convert to a modifier, and now have many people ask, "why do we record ability scores anyway?").

Do you agree with the suggested roll-low tweak to wandering monsters in OD&D? Did I miss any notable d6 mechanics in the DM's rules for OD&D?

Monday, September 6, 2021

Series Review: D&D Master Rules Modules


Some time ago (awkwardly pulls at collar), I wrote reviews for the entire M-series of adventure modules produced by TSR for the Dungeons & Dragons Master Rules. This was the BECMI boxed set for ultimate-level, empire-building, planes-hopping PCs in the 26-36 level range -- written by Frank Mentzer and released in 1985. 

Sounds pretty awesome, right? But the execution was a mixed bag at best -- admittedly it's such a high and wide-ranging concept, it's a very tough design goal to try and satisfy. And in the case of the adventure series, production seemed rushed, quality-control was low, and the results were all over the map (literally). So I think it's an interesting case study in approaching the challenge of adventure design by a bunch of heavyweight D&D writers.

For ease-of-search purposes, here's a collected list of links to those adventure reviews. If you have time to read just one, the standout is the final entry, module M5 by Jennell Jaquays (whom I got to interview about it here). Enjoy!

Monday, August 30, 2021

OED Traps Digest

Yesterday on Wandering DMs we pretty much had a blast trying (not quite succeeding) at designing an entire dungeon adventure live in a single hour. This was not just wildly productive, it was so much fun!

Among the things you'd see if you watched that is that when push comes to shove, Paul & I use a mishmash of whatever resources are at hand to get the job done. Some OD&D, B/X, and AD&D books get involved. We use Matt Finch's Tome of Adventure Design to get some initial ideas flowing. Plus a couple of custom resources via OED Games, of course. 

One such resource is the OED Monster Determination charts, which gets used as drop-in for OD&D monster tables. That's something that compiles monsters from later D&D products (i.e., original D&D Supplement I: Greyhawk by Gygax and Supplement II: Blackmoor by Arneson), and also gives me a lot more confidence in the relative danger levels, because they've been assessed by a few billion computer-simulated melees (see more detail in that linked page). 

Note that we only got our dungeon about half-stocked in the hour, with our special DM-designed tentpole areas, and one or two random monsters to boot. (Arguably the delay was me being my usual chatty self.) As we talked about finishing the rest in a future episode, likely with some tricks and traps, the question was posed how we flesh out those pieces. 

Here's the answer: I have another custom batch of tables called the OED Traps Digest that I've used behind-the-scenes for about 8 years now. One of the things that frustrated me a bit with classic D&D is that there's plenty of mentions in the books, tables even, for what kind of traps could be included -- but with just a few exceptions, no mechanical stats for those traps!

So the Traps Digest gives me a set of tables -- again, in a format that drops into the same OD&D system for determining monster levels -- from which I can either tastefully select or randomly roll, depending on the situation. And there are short "stat blocks" that I can copy-paste into adventure and not distract myself from writing the high-level content I'm rolling out for a dungeon area. Is it perfect? Probably not, but it's definitely saved me time and focus. 

Since viewers kindly asked about it, here it is. What do you think -- and what edits would you suggest? Tune in and see what comes from this the next time we do a Dungeon Design Dash episode. :-)

OED Traps Digest

Monday, August 9, 2021

Meet the Tomb of Horrors at Cracked

Quick post today: Our good friend Stephen Buckley had an article on the Tomb of Horrors published at last week, and we think it's really nifty. Humorous, but also some serious and thoughtful points there, we think. You may even recognize some of the people he cites. 

Tell us all what you thought of that? Hopefully more like that in the future.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Monster Numbers Through the Ages


As focused as I usually am on O/AD&D (1E), I got to wondering how the listed monster numbers appearing evolved over later editions of D&D. Here, have a chart (above). To make this relatively feasible, I'm limiting this to the "normal"-type monsters, i.e., those with generally 1 hit die and appearing in some kind of large-scale society. Along the way here we'll wind up exploring the shift in sensibility around "random encounter tables", the "default ecology" built into monster descriptions and the core rules, and the connection to fighter "sweep/cleave" attacks.

Original D&D

In the table above, I've picked out the 11 "normal" monster types in OD&D, and kept the original order (which is: chaotic types 1st, lawful types 2nd, increasing strength in each group). These are all the monsters that have numbers appearing into the hundreds; and they're also all the types against which fighters get "sweep" attacks, since they're all in the 1-hit-die range. (Exception: you know that gnolls to have 2 hit dice, but in the pre-publication draft of D&D, they had 1+1, hence the high numbers we presume.) The "Bandits" stands in for the "Men" catch-all of Bandits, Brigands, Buccaneers, Nomads, etc.

It bears keeping in mind that the footnote to the table (Vol-2, p. 4), says the number appearing stat is "used primarily only for out-door encounters", and this detail is maintained in most of the editions we're talking about here. There is of course some amount of debate (given the sketchiness of OD&D; that's literally all it says on the issue) about the intent or utility of these huge numbers. Many people interpret it as only in-lair numbers; Arneson in First Fantasy Campaign kvetches a bit, and stipulates that only 10-60% of these numbers should be encountered wandering outside the lair.

AD&D 1st Edition

The numbers from OD&D above are almost all transcribed identically into 1E. Specially: 7 of 11 (64%) are exactly the same. Some minor modifications are made to bandits, nixies, pixies, and elves -- in each case in the downwards direction. Pixies in particular took a more severe cut than the others. 

The Monster Manual likewise says on the figure (p. 5): "It is not generally recommended for use in establishing the population of dungeon levels." The "sweep" attack rule is explicitly given to all fighters in these rules (albeit limited to under-1-HD types; PHB p. 25).

AD&D 2nd Edition

In 2E, designer Zeb Cook et. al. start to shake things up -- in a way that's inconsistent. In some cases they've dialed down the numbers appearing in the stat block significantly, and in other cases they haven't. Most of the monstrous types were reduced in numbers (exception: orcs), while most of the demi-human types were not (exception: gnomes). That said, even for the types that were downsized in the stat block, the text entry under "Habitat/Society" in every case specifies a lair group that's back to the 1E numbers. As a result: if you merge the 2E "Stat" and "Text" columns in the chart above (take the maximum in each case), then you perfectly recreate the 1E numbers.

For this survey, I'm looking at both the 1989 Monstrous Compendium (looseleaf binder) and the 1993 Monstrous Manual (hardcover book) products. The stats and descriptions all seem to be identical. Both of them still say the number appearing stat "indicates an average encounter size for a wilderness encounter... This should not be used for dungeon encounters". 

So it appears that Zeb & co. mostly just reduced the numbers of the hostile monsters you're expected to fight in random encounters in the wilderness (exceptions as above), while keeping the lair numbers the same as in 1E. Also, the given ratios of leaders, chieftans, wives, etc. seem to be identical as in the 1E text. Parallel to this: note that in 2E the fighter "sweep" attack mode becomes an optional variant for the first time (and kind of hard to find in the DMG). 

And this overall strategy is the same that Zeb used in his earlier D&D Expert set rules. While most of the low-level humanoids appeared in Moldvay's Basic rules (with severely cut-down numbers, and no text discussion of larger lairs), Cook fielded the Men entry, such as Brigands, Buccaneers, Dervishes, etc., and likewise pulled the same trick. For example: Nomad numbers are cut to 10-40 in the stat block, but the text description says, "tribes may have up to 300 fighting men gathered together in a camp", i.e., exactly the same as the maximum number back in OD&D.

Note the (*) in the entry for orcs in the table above. Uniquely, the "Habitat/Society" text has this bit of extra love for the orcs:

Orc communities range from small forts with 100-400 orcs to mining communities with 500-2,000 orcs to huge cities (partially underground and partially above ground) with 2,000 to 20,000 orcs.

Also: Did Jim Holloway illustrate every single monster in the entire Monstrous Compendium!? Holy smoke, that's a lot of art! I shudder to even think about it.

D&D 3rd Edition

Now, in 3E, the monster stat blocks tend not to have just one number appearing value, but several, for an array of different grouping structures. For example, here's the one for goblins:

Organization: Gang (4-9), band (10-100 plus 100% noncombatants plus 1 3rd-level sergeant per 20 adults and 1 leader of 4th-6th level), warband (10-24 with worg mounts), or tribe (40-400 plus 1 3rd-level sergeant per 20 adults, 1 or 2 lieutenants of 4th or 5th level, 1 leader of 6th-8th level, 10-24 worgs, and 2-4 dire wolves)
Sort of makes sense, and gives the DM some ecology-sensible different options for the situation that presents itself. In the chart at the top I've just taken the highest grouping for each monster. Note again that in a number of cases (4 of 11) this winds up being a restatement of the numbers from back in 1E, and in the others, the numbers are modifications on about the same scale. There's no strict consistency to the modifications: orcs go down, gnolls stay the same, hobgoblins go up, etc.

A major thing that changes with 3E is this: Whereas all the prior editions had a "baseline world ecology" baked into the core rules in the form of comprehensive wilderness encounter tables (which went on for many pages in various AD&D books), 3E ends that practice. Instead (DMG Ch. 4), the DM must build their own, with a guideline that each terrain type should have a constant Encounter Level (EL) range -- and the numbers for each monster filled in appropriately to meet that EL. There's no explicit tie-in to the Organization grouping from the Monster Manual either: the important thing is that the EL be right, regardless of other ecology issues. 

Jointly with the preceding fact, there's no need to state that the numbers appearing are wilderness-only -- they may or may not be, as the area-based Encounter Level requires. (In contrast, there are comprehensive default dungeon encounter tables given in the DMG.) In addition: These rules have no general feature of fighter "sweep" attacks (Fighters must choose to spend a Feat slot on either the Cleave or Whirlwind Attack ability for that).

D&D 4th Edition

The remaining editions are left out of my chart at the top for a simple reason: they just don't have any "number appearing" stats in the monster descriptions at all. And they also don't have any premade encounter tables of any sort -- either for the dungeon or wilderness. 

What 4E does have (DMG Ch. 10) is a brief section describing how DMs might randomize encounters on the fly, by first rolling a difficulty level relative to the PCs, then an encounter template specifying the "roles" of the monsters in question, and then picking from appropriate-level monsters on an ad-hoc basis from the Monster Manual. So at this point we have no broad sense of "ecology" for different monsters, except insofar as they interact in a balanced fashion when fighting against PCs (as represented by the 5 "[combat] role" classifications in the game). We don't even have the 3E recommendation that different regions have different native danger levels -- rather, wherever the PCs go, that's how strong the monsters are.

D&D 5th Edition 

Like 4th edition, the 5E game has no built-in stock numbers for monster listings, and no premade encounter tables. In fact, there's even less guidance on the issue than in 4E. There's only 3 brief pages on the issue (DMG Ch. 2), with no distinction between dungeon/wilderness, no guidelines to gauge danger levels as in 3E/4E, and even a broad discouragement against the very idea:

Not every DM likes to use random encounters. You might find that they distract from your game or are otherwise causing more trouble than you want. If random encounters don't work for you, don't use them. 

And with that, the whole presentation of a sample world "ecology", monster organization by type, and random encounters in general, seems to be pretty much dead and buried.


In O/AD&D, the very idea of a monster included an inherent (if sketchy) idea of the "ecology" in terms of some kind of grouping behavior for the type, at least in the wilderness. Admittedly these numbers were connected/balanced to the presence of the fighter "sweep" attack mechanic. With 2E, as the "sweep" rule became non-core, the default wandering numbers were generally reduced for hostile normal monsters (and the same in B/X), even while lair numbers were kept identical. Later editions continued to squeeze the whole idea out of the system, until the only important thing was how balanced any given fight was against the PCs, or maybe that random wandering monsters should be disposed of entirely.

How do your prefer your wandering monster number stipulations? Should each monster type have a default "ecology" in terms of its grouping in the wilderness in the core rules? Or should it be left to individual DMs and campaigns? Should the monsters appearing be based more on the monster itself, the region of the campaign, or balanced to the PCs in the game at all times?

Monday, July 19, 2021

Surveys & Samples: Charm Person Redux

A few weeks ago, I shared the poll on charm person that I posed to the big 1E AD&D group on Facebook. Shortly after I did that, I also thought to ask the exact same question on the ODD74 forum ("What can a charm person force on an enemy fighter?", i.e., when ensorcelling an enemy in combat), thinking that the opinions might be very different. This actually got more responses there than any of my prior polls, I think (N = 32) -- and more importantly a really valuable ongoing discussion. (Link; account required.)

The results are given in the table above. Given that respondents could pick multiple options, the percentages shown aren't exactly right. Here are the corrected numbers, showing what percent of voters approved each option: 

  1. Attack former allies: 10 votes; 31% approval
  2. Defend the caster: 25 votes; 78% approval
  3. Surrender and disarm: 17 votes; 53% approval
  4. Flee the encounter: 16 votes; 50% approval
  5. Nothing: charm fails in combat: 2 votes; 6% approval

Now, the first thing that occurs to me is how surprisingly similar these results are the poll of AD&D players. Again in that case: there was clear majority support (around 80%) for "defend the caster"; around 50% support for fleeing or surrendering; just a minority (20-30%) that support "attack former allies"; and almost no support (6-8%) for the "nothing" option. 

That said, it's a bit awkward that the fleeing/surrender options consistently get around 50% support -- making that an issue of ongoing contention and no clear consensus. Personally, when I first created those options, I assumed that those were clearly weaker possibilities than "defend the caster" (participating in combat at all seems like more power to the spell, and seemingly more risk to the victim), and that therefore anyone picking the latter option would surely also pick the other two. Clearly I was incorrect. (Thanks to the Discord advance comments that coached me not to make the assumption that the options are all well-ordered.) 

On a personal note, it's fascinating to find out that I've been well off the reservation for most of my gaming career, because the option to "Attack former allies" was something I always enforced, reading the O/AD&D language as clearly permitting that (as well as almost any other direct control desire). But simultaneously, it did always bug me a bit as making for overly swingy combats. This is a case where I'm very happy to hear the voice of community experience. 

Also, one of the great parts of the ODD74 conversation was the observation of a fine distinction in the OD&D magic items of control. To wit: the potions of human, giant, and dragon control each refer back to the charm person/monster spells for their effect. But on the facing page, the ring of mammal control does something different: it says, "Control is complete, even to having the controlled mammals attack the others with it which are not controlled." See it seems like a compelling argument that the latter capacity ("complete control") is not included in the basic charm spells, or else it would not be so called out in this one case. (Big thanks to SebastianDM for picking up on that detail!)

So the next time I edit my custom Book of Spells, I'm pretty likely to edit in the limit against attacking former allies when charmed (or at least, you know, add a footnote on the issue). That would certainly have helped me on numerous occasions over the years in the past.

What's your justification for why fleeing/surrendering are considered by many to be less achievable than the "defend the caster" option?

Monday, July 12, 2021

Violence Inherent in the System (of Art)

Yesterday on the Wandering DMs channel we had the good luck to interview Goodman Games' Julian Bernick and Bob Brinkman, who gave us an inside look at their upcoming DCC Dying Earth boxed set (now on Kickstarter). One of the nifty things they highlighted was the achieved-stretch-goal of the "Supplemental art folio", which was of particular excitement to their backers -- including art from their all-star team of Doug Kovacs, Erol Otus, Russ Nicholson, and more. This brought a brief tangent to a thesis I've been developing for a while.

I've come to think that one of the biggest sensibility differences between old-school D&D art and and newer-school art is the amount of violence depicted against ostensibly player-character-types. I find that new-school illustrations are frequently "glamour shots" of presumed PCs. In these depictions, the adventurers look generally clean, rested, comfortable, and pretty.

In contrast, the art in early editions of D&D often depicted adventurers in general distress -- dirty, tired, surprised, shocked, terrified, fleeing, smothered, pierced, poisoned, and mangled. And the weight of the body structure was in realistic proportions that looked all-too-humanly fragile, not like models-bodybuilders-superheroes. Compare to actual medieval depictions such as in the Bayeux Tapestry (and the battle scenes on the far right side have a lower border literally covered with dying and dismembered bodies).

I won't argue that this was in all or even most of the art in classic D&D products. But it was frequent enough that flipping through any book you were bound to see a bunch of examples. It gave a signal that the PCs start out overshadowed by a world of lurking horrors, and weren't expected to come out victorious. The body count for early play could be remarkably high, and characters who did achieve levels above 1st were likely the exception, not the rule. 

I think I briefly posted this thought on social media a while back, and got some pushback on it. In the interest of providing citations for scholarship (as well as comment and criticism), here are some of the memorable pieces from 1st Edition AD&D products. (These are by no means comprehensive; in the interest of brevity I've rather painfully limited myself to a half-dozen per source.)


Monster Manual

Fiend Folio

Adventure Modules


So I think that's a pretty airtight case, that flipping through the earliest 1st Edition materials, you're going to get the idea that in D&D, player-character life is cheap. (Note that almost all the pieces above date from 1979 or ealier.)

Of course, the monster books tend to lean a bit more heavily on this theme, for at least two reasons: (1) they simply had a lot more art than other books, and there was close to a commitment that every monster needed to be separately illustrated, and (2) it was the stage for the monsters to "shine" and show off their most horrible features. The work in the UK-produced Fiend Folio is particularly gruesome.

Among the artists who amplified this tone (with several examples above) were of course Erol Otus and Russ Nicholson, who are still pumping out awesome work today (as in the DCC Dying Earth set).

While mainstream D&D has moved off from these possibly transgressive themes, other product lines like DCC and Warhammer maintain the root in Lovecraftian-inspired horror. (On the other hand, something like the work for Hackmaster, from what little I've seen, doesn't thrill me, as it seems to veer into horror-comedy. On the third hand, Erol Otus has successfully done work for it, as well as D&D and DCC, so it's impossible to draw a hard line in the sand on the issue.)

Do you agree that's a fairly stark distinction between early D&D art and the modern products? 

What are the pieces that stuck in your mind the most, that I overlooked here?

(And you might be interested in other discussions we've had about Art in D&D here and here.)

Monday, June 28, 2021

Trophic Encounter Tables

We had a fabulous chat yesterday on the Wandering DMs Sunday talk show about our favorite Content Generators, starting with the monster tables in Original D&D provided as a way to populate dungeons and wilderness with a minimum of DM effort.

On that note, here's another guest article by our friend Angela Black: can we use real-world Trophic levels as a way to structure our random-table ecology simulators?

I've recently become bothered by encounter tables that propose that a certain wilderness area might be infested with all manner of huge and lethal monsters. Perhaps I'm too literal, but when I see that this particular forest contains dragons and owlbears and displacer beasts and wargs and and and... I always ask myself, "what are the EATING?" I suppose the answer might be 'each other,' but that's oftentimes too glib for me. I frequently find myself wishing for a more 'realistic' model of what monsters live in a given area.

Fortunately, scientists are great at modeling all aspects of the real world, and this sort of thing is not exception. Ecologists use a concept called "trophic levels" to describe the flow of energy through a given environment, which incidentally gives us a nice model of the relationships between predators and prey. Without wading too deeply into the very complicated math of this fascinating concept, we can use it to gain some traction on a more realistic model of encounter tables for fantasy roleplaying.

To sum up the ideas at play very briefly, we can imagine a pyramid-shape divided into zones that are called Trophic Levels.

  • At the base, the largest level is Trophic Level 1, where we find plants that form the base of the ecological system. Plants are rarely - but not never! - threats to PCs, so we don't normally list all the plants in a given region on the encounter tables.
  • Just above this we have Trophic Level 2, where we find the herivores that feed on the lower level These tend to be small creatures and likewise not *usually* a threat to PCs, so we don't tend to put all the squirrels and rabbits and whatnot on the encounter tables, either.
  • Trophic Level 3 is for smaller predators that feed on the herbivores in Trophic Level 2, like foxes and weasels and whatnot. These are usually only threats to humans in the real world if they feel directly threatened or they are protecting their young.
  • The next level if Trophic Level 4, where we find predators who feed at least partially on other predators, like hawks that might eat foxes. The important observation here is that creatures that occupy Trophic Level 4 are accustomed to attacking other creatures that are in themselves dangerous, as long as those creatures seem vulnerable. That will be important for gaming!
  • Finally, at the very top, we have so-called "apex predators," who can and will prey on anything in the area. Not every region will have an apex predator, but if it does, the apex predator will present a clear threat to PCs!

Now, we can already make some observations that will inform our encounter tables. We can (for now) ignore anything that would live at Trophic Level 1 or 2 in our region. On the other hand, we must account for the creatures that live at levels 3 and 4, as well as the apex predator(s), if any.

But the populations at these trophic levels live in very predictable relationships - for instance, there can't be more creatures at level 4 than at level 3, unless the creatures at level 4 are vastly smaller (for some reason) than the ones at level 3. If creatures at level 3 were rare and creatures at level 4 were abundant, the creatures at level 4 would quickly run out of food!

Generally speaking, the ratio of creatures from Trophic Level N to Trophic Level N + 1 is 10:1 or thereabouts. This is a very rough gloss of the actual math, but it works for our purposes. This also assumes similar body mass, but we'll ignore that for now. This figure of 10:1 gives us a great starting point for roughing out an encounter table.

Let's start with creatures at Trophic Level 3, since anything at levels 1 or 2 will only present a threat to PCs under very rare circumstances. Let's look at the Temperate Wilderness Forest tables in the MMII to get some ideas.

We should start by picking out a handful of animals for Trophic Level 3. These are animals that feed largely on herbivores (though they may themselves be omnivores that also eat plants). Some good candidates from the table we're look at might be badgers, boars, poisonous toads, snakes, weasels, and wolves. That's a great start.

2Then we move on to Trophic Level 4. What are some creatures that might prey on (at least some of) those creatures? We should choose fewer of them, maybe about three or four. We'll pick bears, hawks, and - just to add a fantasy element - owlbears.

Finally, we should choose an apex predator (and it is recommended there not be more than one, but this rule can be broken with careful consideration). For fun, I'll say there are fire lizards in this forest. Found under "Lizard, Giant," in the Monster Manual, the fire lizard is essentially a drake, a very dragon-like creature that is not intelligent but more of an animal. It has 10 HD and can breathe fire so it can certainly fill the role of apex predator!

Now to create the table. Let's start by observing the ratios. Collectively, the creatures at level 4 should be approximately ten times more likely to be encountered than the apex predator, and likewise the creatures at level 3 should be approximately ten times more likely to be encountered than the creatures at level 4. Now, we can't quite accommodate that on a standard percentile table, but we can approximate with the following standard layout:

  • 1%: Apex Predator
  • 2% to 11%: all the creatures at level 4
  • 12% to 99%: all the creatures at level 3
  • 100%: everything else

This layout preserves a realistic relative frequency of encounters - it wouldn't make sense for fire lizards to be massively more common than, say, bears, or even wolves! Likewise, the creatures at a higher level should be more dangerous overall than creatures at a lower level.

If the DM wants to adjust some, a 1:5 ratio could be used without stretching credibility too much, leading to an alternate table layout as such:

  • 1% to 3%: Apex Predator
  • 3% to 18%: Level 4
  • 19% to 93%: Level 3
  • 94% to 100%: everything else

DMs may find this layout is more congenial to gameplay while still preserving the same general ratios.


  • The strength of the apex predator can be a guide as to whether the land is ripe for settlement or destined to remain wilderness for the foreseeable future. It should be assumed that humans in a fantasy setting will, as they were in the real middle ages, attempting to clear land into which they hope to expand. In fantasy settings, however, there are things which can easily repel even determined groups of humans, and if the apex predator in a given environment is sufficiently difficult to kill, certain areas may remain uncleared and unused regardless of the wishes of the local civilization! For instance, a region where the apex predator is the lion may present danger, to be sure, but can eventually be cleared for use by determined humans. Compare this to a forest where the apex predators are phase spiders!"everything else" is a useful catch-all for the rare, miscellaneous encounters from levels 1 or 2 that might actually prove dangerous to PCs. For instance, AD&D has numerous dangerous plants, like whipweed or yellow musk creepers. These plants cannot be exceedingly common, however, or there'd be no creatures from level 1 left to eat the plants! Putting such encounters in "everything else" is a good way to model this.

  • Placement of intelligent humanoids requires some judgment. If the area is truly wilderness, the humanoids must either be non-cultivators (like ogres) or exceedingly rare. For instance, if the DM wants to include human bandits in the woods, it's probably best to list them as an option under "apex predator," since if humans were in the woods in any greater abundance, they'd have cleared out the other apex predators and started to tame the land. Goblins, however, who avoid the larger creatures and mostly live by trapping herbivores and small predators actually qualify for level 4!

  • The level of the encounter is a fine guide to the behavior of the creature encountered.
    • Creatures in level 3 are non-confrontational unless desperate or frightened - they will fight if their homes are invaded, their young threatened, or they are backed into a corner, but that's it. It may be that characters experienced in woodscraft can "defuse" an encounter with a creature at level 3.
    • Creatures at level 4 will only attack with an advantage - if the target is smaller and weaker, if the target is injured, or if the target is outnumbered. Again, goblins make a fine level 4 creature, don't they?
    • Apex predators can and will attack anything they choose, and are frequently good at stalking prey and assessing the danger they present. Apex predators may hunt singly or in groups, depending on type and, if semi intelligent or intelligent, may present a massive threat to PCs.

Delta back here again -- Personally, I think that's pretty nifty, and the solid real-world math being used as a foundation is the kind of thing that gives me really good results in the past. Would you consider using that as a basis for your tables?

Monday, June 21, 2021

Spells Through The Ages – Wizard Eye

Wizard casting magic eyeball through door at evil figure

Let's do a Spells Through the Ages! Here's one we haven't surveilled yet: the magic-user's all-purpose lookabout spell, wizard eye -- or, in later editions, arcane eye. How has this 4th-level divination spell evolved?

Original D&D

Wizard Eye: A spell which allows the user to send a visual sensor up to 24" away in order to observe the scene without himself moving. The "eye" is invisible. It moves 12"/turn. Duration: 6 turns.

This is a spell that never appeared on the battlefield in Chainmail Fantasy, so we begin with Original D&D Vol-1. Unsurprisingly, the spell text is less than 3 lines long in this book. 

As we'll see, the one or two constants for the spell are laid down thus: The eye is invisible, and the caster can see through it. Here the eye is pretty zippy in its movement (as fast a normal man can move), but has a limited maximum range -- these details will change later on.

Recall the general custom at this time, per Chainmail, is that "In order to cast and maintain any spell, a Wizard must  be both stationary and undisturbed by attack upon his person". So arguably the "without himself moving" language is a slightly-redundant reminder of that fact (which will get more formal phrasing later).

Expert D&D

Wizard Eye  
Range: 240'
Duration: 6 turns

This spell creates an invisible eye through which the caster can see. It is the size of a real eye and has infravision to 60'. The wizard eye will float through the air up to 120' per turn, but will not go through solid objects or move more than 240' away from the caster. The caster must concentrate to look through the eye.

Cook's Expert rules keep the same effective speed and range as in OD&D. That said, this is the first place where the rules for the spell use the phrase "concentrate" (presumably a formalization of the "without himself moving" clause in OD&D). 

Also, there are two additions made which are also echoed in 1E AD&D around the same time (possibly from coordination with Gygax): (1) the spell is given infravision, and (2) it can't go through solid objects, neither of which were dictated in OD&D.

Note that the spell is depicted in this book with a nifty piece of art by Jeff Dee (at top of this article). It's careful to show the eye going through a cracked-open door to spy on the villain on the other side. The eye there looks as big as a man's torso, even though the text says it's the size of a normal eye (perhaps a trick of perspective).

1st Ed. AD&D

Wizard Eye (Alteration)
Level: 4
Range:  0
Duration:  1 round/level
Area of Effect: Special
Components:  V, S, M
Casting Time:  1 turn
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description:  When this spell is employed, the magic-user creates an invisible sensory organ which sends visual information to him or her. The wizard eye travels at 3" per round, viewing an area ahead as a human would or 1" per round examining the ceiling and walls as well as the floor ahead and casually viewing the walls ahead. The wizard eye can "see" with infravision at 10', or it "sees" up to 60' distant in brightly lit areas. The wizard eye can travel in any direction as long as the spell lasts. The material component of the spell is a bit of bat fur.

In Gygax's 1E AD&D, wizard eye keeps the standard invisibility and sight -- and as seen in the Expert rules, it gains infravision. However, that infravision is of very limited range (only 10'), 

A number of other key changes are made here: First, the maximum range seen in OD&D/Expert is removed; but on the other hand, the speed is much reduced to a very slow 3" (like a super-encumbered man), or even less when carefully scanning surfaces. If an 8th-level magic-user casts the spell (one more than the minimum level to cast it), and it last 8 rounds, then the maximum distance is 24" -- the same as it was in OD&D (but increasing for higher-level wizards, of course).

The next year, the DMG added its customary errata:

Wizard Eye:  The ocular device magically formed has substance and it has form which might be detected (cf. INVISIBILITY). Solid objects prevent the passage of a wizard eye, although it can pass through a space no larger than a small mouse hole (about one-half inch diameter).

So here we have the clarification that solid objects block the eye, and that a small "mouse hole" is needed for passage. Interestingly, one can have a debate about exactly what constitutes a "mouse hole", because mice are flexible and can pass through very small holes. So should that be the size of a pencil, a dime, a ping-pong ball? (We actually had a small debate about this years ago in the comments on this article.)

Consider also the reference to the "INVISIBILITY" rules in that book. As a standard rule at the time, high-level (hit dice 7+) and intelligent creatures had a percentage chance to automatically detect invisible entities -- including the wizard eye, presumably.

2nd Ed. D&D

Wizard Eye
Range: 0
Duration: 1 rd./level
Area of Effect: Special
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 turn
Saving Throw: None

When this spell is employed, the wizard creates an invisible sensory organ that sends him visual information. The wizard eye travels at 30 feet per round if viewing an area ahead as a human would (i.e., primarily looking at the floor), or 10 feet per round if examining the ceiling and walls as well as the floor ahead. The wizard eye can see with infravision up to 10 feet, and with normal vision up to 60 feet away in brightly lit areas. The wizard eye can travel in any direction as long as the spell lasts. It has substance and a form that can be detected (by a detect invisibility spell, for instance). Solid barriers prevent the passage of a wizard eye, although it can pass through a space no smaller than a small mouse hole (1 inch in diameter).

Using the eye requires the wizard to concentrate. However, if his concentration is broken, the spell does not end--the eye merely becomes inert until the wizard again concentrates, subject to the duration of the spell. The powers of the eye cannot be enhanced by other spells or items. The caster is subject to any gaze attack met by the eye. A successful dispel cast on the wizard or eye ends the spell. With respect to blindness, magical darkness, and so on, the wizard eye is considered an independent sensory organ of the caster.

The material component of the spell is a bit of bat fur.

As is customary, Cook's 2E AD&D revision sticks very closely to the 1E rules text, and incorporates the extra language previously seen in the DMG. He again uses the word "concentrate", like he used back in the Expert D&D rules (but was not used in Gygax's 1E). The movement and infravision range are still very low. The necessary "mouse hole" size has doubled from a half-inch to a full inch (roughly the size of an actual human eyeball -- did Gygax previously assume the wizard eye was squishy and could squeeze through a hole smaller than itself? Think of me kindly when you reflect on that this week.)

The 2nd paragraph here adds more details to handle various exceptional cases: Gaze attacks can pass detrimentally through the eye. The eye itself can't be buffed or blinded by other spells (except via dispelling). And it looks like a wizard can use this to get around themselves being blinded, because it is stipulated as being an "independent sensory organ".

3rd Ed. D&D

Arcane Eye
Level: Sor/Wiz 4
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 10 minutes
Range: Unlimited
Effect: Magical sensor
Duration: 1 minute/level
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

The character creates an invisible magical sensor that sends the character visual information. The arcane eye travels at 30 feet per round (300 feet per minute) if viewing an area ahead as a human would (primarily looking at the floor) or 10 feet per round (100 feet per minute) if examining the ceiling and walls as well as the floor ahead. The arcane eye sees exactly as the character would see if the character were there. The arcane eye can travel in any direction as long as the spell lasts. Solid barriers prevent the passage of an arcane eye, although it can pass through a space no smaller than a small mouse hole (1 inch in diameter).

The character must concentrate to use the eye. If the character does not concentrate, the eye is inert until the character again concentrates. The powers of the eye cannot be enhanced by other spells or items (though the character can use magic to improve the character's own eyesight). The character is subject to any gaze attack met by the eye. A successful dispel magic cast on the character or the eye ends the spell. With respect to blindness, magical darkness, and other phenomena that affect vision, the arcane eye is considered an independent sensory organ of the character's.

Any creature with Intelligence 12 or higher can sense the arcane eye by making a Scry check or an Intelligence check (DC 20). Spells such as detect scrying can also detect the eye.

A major change in 3E is that wizard eye gets renamed arcane eye -- at the same time that the class previously known as "Magic-User" is renamed "Wizard", and other classes are given access to the same spells, such as the new "Sorcerer". (So: the spell isn't just for wizards anymore.)

Otherwise, the language of the spell is largely the same as in 2E: it retains basically the same sight, invisibility, low speed, no range limit, concentration requirement, vulnerability to gaze attacks, etc. Even the "small mouse hole (1 inch in diameter)" requirement is identical. 

One thing that you don't see here (unless I've been blinded) -- the infravision (now, darkvision) has been removed from the spell description for the first time since OD&D. Isn't that maybe highly limiting in a dark dungeon? Perhaps it's expected that the caster can magically give themselves darkvision to get around this issue -- re: "the character can use magic to improve the character's own eyesight" -- and yet doesn't that permission itself contradict the "independent sensory organ clause" retained from 2E?

Finally, note the last paragraph on highly-intelligent creatures getting an Intelligence (or Scry skill) check to detect the sensor. This mechanic is a replacement for the prior general rule that high-level and intelligent creatures can sense any invisible objects.

This spell doesn't appear at all in 4th Edition D&D (so far as I can tell), so we proceed to the 5th.

5th Ed. D&D

Arcane Eye
4th-level divination
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 30 feet
Components: V, S, M (a bit of bat fur)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour

You create an invisible, magical eye within range that hovers in the air for the duration.

You mentally receive visual information from the eye, which has normal vision and darkvision out to 30 feet. The eye can look in every direction.

As an action, you can move the eye up to 30 feet in any direction. There is no limit to how far away from you the eye can move, but it can’t enter another plane of existence. A solid barrier blocks the eye’s movement, but the eye can pass through an opening as small as 1 inch in diameter.

Commendably, 5th edition edits back the spell text a bit, in contrast to the bloat it received in editions 1-3. It's still invisible, slow, no maximum range, and has the exact same "1 inch diameter" requirement first seen in 2E. It returns the darkvision capacity that 3E removed. The extra corner-case language around independent-organ status, gaze attacks, etc., etc., has been removed, and left for adjudication by the individual and empowered DM.


Wizard eye is a spell that had its biggest shakeup in Gygax's 1E AD&D rules (changing speed, removing range, adding infravision, setting the "mouse hole" requirement, etc.) The extra bloated corner-case language circa 2E has come and gone. For me, I'm not fond of the 3E name change to arcane eye -- that kind of increased abstraction loses a lot of visceral feeling for me (here, replacing the imagination-catching "wizard" that anyone would recognize, for an in-game keyword "arcane" that only IP-trained players would fully understand).

Given the notable shift between Original and Advanced D&D, what are your preferences for wizard/arcane eye?

  • Fast or slow movement?
  • Limit to range or not?
  • Magical darkvision or not?
  • And how big is a "mouse hole", anyway?


Monday, June 14, 2021

Ever-Bewitching Charm

Following up on the charm person survey from last week, I asked a similar question on the ODD&4 forums (account required). A fascinating discussion ensued, and our colleagues over there have old-school research capacities that far outstrip my own. Here's a few of the remarkable insights that I felt should get a bigger amplification:

SebastianDM observes:

The interpretation of this effect seems to be one of the earliest issues of D&D. I was just reading some of the old issues of Alarums & Excursions and found that the very first discussion of the very first issue is related to this very issue. I read that the content of this issue was mainly reprinted from APA-L since it was the first issue, so I guess the discussion is from 1975 at the latest.

Debate in 1975 over charm person

Our friend Zenopus of Zenopus Archives points to Dragon Magazine #52, where J. Eric Holmes (author of the Original D&D Basic set) reviews the newfangled Moldvay B/X rules:

A charmed Magic-User is too confused to do magic? Boy, that last rule would make a dramatic change in the conduct of my game, where the player characters would be apt to yell, "Don’t kill the evil magician! Let me try to charm him first, then use him to wipe out the rest of the monsters on this level."

Poster acodispo points out that charm person is heavily baked into the OD&D rules section on hiring new NPCs (Vol-1, p. 12; before the nominal explanation of the spell itself), such that one could easily and solidly interpret it as an "instant hireling" spell:

Monsters can be lured into service if they are of the same basic alignment as the player-character, or they can be Charmed and thus ordered to serve. Note, however, that the term "monster" includes men found in the dungeons, so in this way some high-level characters can be brought into a character's service, charisma allowing or through a Charm spell. Some reward must be offered to a monster in order to induce it into service (not just sparing its life, for example). The monster will react, with appropriate plusses or minuses, according to the offer, the referee rolling two six-sided dice and adjusting for charisma...

Perhaps most interestingly, this thoughtful discussion is actually prompting some people to flip their prior interpretations, such as poster ampleframework here:

I think I'm starting to lean back towards the "total mind control" camp after seeing some of these arguments. It kind of makes sense. Magic was unbalanced in an awesome way in 3lbb. Maybe it's better to not invent limitations or justify later ones in this context. 

Fascinating stuff! Has the way you rule on charm person changed or evolved over the years?

Monday, June 7, 2021

Surveys & Samples: Charm Person

I've struggled with the D&D charm person spell for some time (c.f.: Charm Person Through the Ages). Partly that's due to what appears to be one of the most radical de-powerings of any spell in the first 3 editions or so. In OD&D it started out with the stated effect of:

... come completely under the influence of the Magic-User until such time as the "charm" is dispelled (Dispell Magic)... (Vol-1, p. 23)

But this "complete" control and infinite duration was rapidly nerfed with recurrent saving throws (Supplent I: Greyhawk), language that the victim merely considered the caster a "trusted friend and ally" (AD&D PHB), bonuses to saves in combat and other restrictions (AD&D DMG), etc. By the time of the 3.5 edition revision, it merely lasts 1 hour/level, and requires an additional Charisma check to convince the victim to do anything they wouldn't normally do anyway. 

Now, some claim that this is broadly the way it always was intended (but boy, that seems like a huge shift in the language to me). E.g., Mike Mornard, who played in both original campaigns by Gygax & Arneson, recalls:

"Charmed" means "Charmed, I'm sure." The person is now your new best friend. They are NOT your mindless slave. That's how Dave and Gary both played it. (ODD74; account required)

On the other hand: In the section on hiring NPCs, it is written: "... or they can be Charmed and thus ordered to serve" (Vol-1, p. 12); and charm person was also ability ascribed to monsters such as Vampires, Dryads, etc., who could dominate and, indeed, "enslave" a victim (see: Vol-2, Nixie) for a year or more each. In the AD&D DMG Gygax tried to carve a distinction between those abilities and the spell of the same name, saying they were very different; which seems more like a retcon than consistent intent. 

Related to this wide variation in power of the spell over the years, one of the things that really bugs me about charm person is how often it turns into a debate at the table over what its effect should be -- and how often players are surprised or disappointed at an effect they didn't expect. For a 1st-level spell, I dare say this is unique. Other low-level spells generally have a very clearly qualified effect that the caster will be aware of in advance. But here we have charm person at 1st level -- frequently the very first offensive spell that a new magic-user will take -- and it usually turns into a dispute or a "gotcha" upon casting it. 

For the brand-new D&D player, it seems likely that their first impression of magic is that it's all based purely on fiat rulings by the DM and how much you can sway them through argument. 

Facebook Poll

Wondering what the majority opinion was, I thought to ask a poll on the sizable Facebook AD&D group. Questions were first reviewed & edited by Patrons on the Wandering DMs Discord channel (thanks!). Here's the result:

There were a total of 158 different voters (note participants were directed to pick "all that apply", so generally multiple selections). Of the options presented, the vote totals were as follows:

  • Defend the caster -- 126 (80%)
  • Flee the encounter -- 80 (51%)
  • Surrender and disarm -- 68 (43%)
  • Attack former allies -- 35 (22%)
  • Nothing: charm fails in combat -- 12 (8%)

So only two of the given options received majority approval: Defending the caster seems clearly to be allowed, and fleeing the encounter gets the nod from a hairs-breadth over half of the respondents. Other options like surrender or go on the offensive for the caster got the thumbs-down.

I must say I actually am quite heartened by the interpretation that an enemy charmed in combat doesn't immediately start fighting on the magic-user's side -- even though that's how I always ruled it by default historically. That seemed to me to be following the letter of the rule, but it felt incredibly swingy. Losing any party member to a spell is one thing, but then the other side gaining the same figure, of course, makes for an immediate 2-person swing which can be quite brutal (esp., again, to a 1st-level spell; and moreso with modern small party sizes). 

(Contrast, though, to an example like the magic-user in J. Eric Holmes' Basic D&D sample dungeon: he has a fighter he holds under a charm person spell, and the first thing he does in an encounter is "(a) direct the fighter to attack", albeit probably not former allies. Or likewise the one in Frank Mentzer's Basic D&D dungeon; when the player misses a save vs. charm person, they immediately abandon the cleric with whom they were adventuring -- and who earlier referred to the effect as, "He has probably cast a spell on the goblin to force it to serve him".)

Other Suggestions

As is common, a large number of other intriguing suggestions were added in the discussion, as well as some objections to the premise of the poll in the first place. The most common redirection is that the effect of charm person is indeed entirely context-dependent, and will only be known after the result of role-playing interactions between the player and DM. (Which if you recall is part of my grief earlier). Some examples:

John D.
None of the above! The magic-user can't force the fighter to do anything. They can only make suggestions and the fighter will respond as if they viewed the caster as favorably as possible. All of these would depend on the context.

Keith W.
Can't force anything....but with some good roleplaying, I'd allow some of those. Nothing that causes harm to him or his allies, but I could see him trying to talk them out of killing the caster as they now view you as a friend.

Drew B.
This is where the magic user has to come up with some strong role playing for the spell to work.

Troy O.
Great opportunity to let player role play dialogue and the more convincing the “story” the better chance it will work to charm but not force. For example go kill dragon now vs spun story of why fighter needs to go kill dragon might work. Of course DM final say...

Adam V.
I think it depends on the charisma of the mage

And so forth. A few other interesting takes:

Chris T.
The big problem is how does the charmed fighter square the circle that his best friend and allies want harm / kill each other?

Daniel N.
Since the spell says you could convince someone to hold off a dragon (and surely die) I’d say it’s pretty powerful, level one or not.

Alan S.
How good is group communication and how noisy is the fight?...

Mark B.
Just bc he regards the caster as a dear friend doesn't mean he stopped regarding his former allies as they were. He wouldn't likely attack them for any reason

Jay G.
Mark B. you’re assuming the charmee likes and trusted his former allies. Why is that necessarily true, especially for evil opponents? And even if they do...when the charmee trusts the caster totally, if he tells him “your comrades are really evil doppelgangers! We need to kill them!”, why wouldn’t he believe him?


As noted earlier, I'm quite uncomfortable with the "depends on roleplay" interpretation, because ultimately it depends far more on DM attitude or mood that any comparable, frequently-used, low-level spell. My instinct is that lower-levels spells should be clearly defined and known quantities to the player. Higher-level spells I'm a lot more comfortable transitioning to murky effects that may surprise the player or have an effect unique to a particular DM's game world. Charm person at 1st level with a hugely slippery and unpredictable effect stands out as "proud nail" unlike anything around it.

I actually feel very prone to write explicitly into my effect for charm person, following the poll results, that it can definitely make a victim play defense/shield-man for the caster, or withdraw from the encounter -- but not throw down their arms, or attack former allies. The items on the far ends I'm most comfortable with; the ones near the 50% I'm just somewhat more sketchy about, but not unhappy to follow a consensus on those.

What do you think about those results?

Monday, May 31, 2021

Maim is the Name of the Game

Last week we looked at the status of "cleaving" type attacks through the ages of D&D editions -- and were somewhat surprised to find it listed in the core rule books (maybe as an optional rule) of every edition to date! Okay, except the 80's Basic line, but everything else.

A side-point we've made there, and in the Wandering DMs chat on the subject, is that since the core books from Original, 1st, and 2nd editions never gave any identifying label to the ability (fighters getting multifold attacks vs. very-low-level enemies), a crazy kaleidoscope of different names sprang up in supplements, video games, 3rd-party works, the OSR, etc. My recent work made me pursue what the most recognizable name would be among those many options. 

Here's the poll I ultimately asked to the big Facebook 1st Edition AD&D group:

Poll for sweep attacks name

A total of 146 votes were cast here. As you can see, by far the most popular option there was simply Multiple Attacks with 94 votes cast (64% of the total). However, I am incredibly not fond of that as an option, because it explicitly gets used in the rulebooks multiple times for other types of abilities in both OD&D and AD&D. For example, monks are described as getting multiple attacks in their first appearance in OD&D (Supplement II, Blackmoor, p. 1):

... monks of higher levels may make multiple attacks during a melee round (see STATISTICS REGARDING CLASSES)
And more definitively, here for creatures hostile and benign in the 1st Edition AD&D Monster Manual (p. 5):

Multiple attacks usually indicate the use of several members such as multiple hea[ds] or two paws raking with claws and a bite from the monster's jaws.

Clearly, none of these are what we're talking about in regards to the fighters-versus-mooks mode of combat, so using the term for that would only cause confusion, I think. 

That aside, the next most-favored choice by a large margin is Sweep Attacks, garnering 30 votes (21% of the total), noted in last week's blog as recognizable to anyone who played the very popular AD&D Gold Box video games circa 1990. This is what I plan to call the ability myself in my classic-D&D materials in the future.

Other options, like Cleave Attacks, Heroic Fray, Fighting the Unskilled, and Combat Dominance only garnered between 1 and 5 votes each. (Note that there's a possibility of bias in the poll, since Facebook only shows the top 4 options at any time, and participants need to see and click on a "Show More" button to access the rest.) 

As part of our research, I think we compiled a pretty interesting list of names used in a variety of video games and OSR materials, for this or closely related abilities:

  • Heroic Fray (2nd Ed. AD&D Combat & Tactics supplement)
  • Heroic Fighting (Hyperborea)
  • Fighting the Unskilled (OSRIC)
  • Combat Machine (Swords & Wizardry; previously "multiple attacks")
  • Combat Dominance (Castles & Crusades)
  • The Cuisinart (Wizardry video game)

Furthermore, the Facebook AD&D group poll has the option for "something else" which generated yet a larger and growing list of options -- some serious, some in jest, and some in a range of good taste. A selection the examples include (generally just a single mention each):

  • The Cuisinart (gaining 4 mentions)
  • La Machine (French analog to the Cuisinart)
  • Meat Grinder
  • Lawnmower Mode
  • Mowing the Grass (despite "Mowing" being unvoted in poll)
  • Weed Whacking
  • Snicker-Snack
  • The Aragorn
  • Minion Attacks
  • Rabble Attacks
  • Fight the Horde
  • Shredding Mode
  • Pest Control
  • Zero Level Attack
  • Cutting the Chaff
  • Spartan Attack
  • Full Auto Attack
  • The Mouli
  • Cinematic Attacks
  • Hackmastery

Notably, eminent D&D author Frank Mentzer (creator of the entire BECMI line, which is the only edition to expunge the rule) offered "Slice & Dice" as his term of art for the ability which he explicitly disliked so much (see prior post for details).

Frank Mentzer: slice & dice

Are there any other prominent names that I still haven't discovered? What's your favorite?

Monday, May 24, 2021

Cleaving Through the Ages

Medieval fighter in combat with piles of bodies

One of the things that I love the most about our Wandering DMs project is that we've had the happy accident of assembling a crack D&D research team from among our patrons and followers. Maybe the best? When we gather together for any Sunday afternoon show, we can usually get questions about the history of the D&D game, for any edition, answered live in a couple seconds flat with a citation down to the page and paragraph. It's pretty amazing.

In this vein, when we were prepping for our show a few weeks back on Sweep Attacks, my initial impression was that they'd basically died out after 1E AD&D. To be clear: I'm talking about the ability of classed fighters to get a large number of attacks against very weak opponents -- traditionally 1 hit die or less. (Since 1E didn't have a label for it, many different names have proliferated: Sweep, Cleave, Heroic Fray, Combat Dominance, Fighting the Unskilled, etc.... see the video for more.) In conversations in that show and afterward, it's turned out -- to my great surprise -- that some form of the rule has been in the core books of every single numbered edition.

Amazing. And I'd have never known that without the generous help of our viewers. Because of that community spirit, I think I can say this is first "Through the Ages" post that covers every edition from 0E to 5E. Thanks, everyone!

Chainmail Fantasy

HEROES (and Anti-heroes): Included in this class are certain well-known knights, leaders of army contingents, and similar men. They have the fighting ability of four figures... 

SUPER HEROES: Few and far between, these fellows are one-man armies! (Particularly when armed with magical weaponry.) They act as Hero-types in all cases, except they are about twice as powerful...

In the transition from normal Chainmail mass-combat, to the individual scale Fantasy combat, the basic implementation of high-powered fighters is simple: they just roll more attack dice. Noting that the Chainmail system is entirely d6-based, in a fight of equal-class normal units, each figure rolls a d6 and any "6" kills a figure. In this same situation, a Hero rolls 4 dice, and a Superhero rolls 8 dice. Elegant, yes? Of course, when D&D evolved from this system, 4th-level fighters were called Heroes and 8th-level fighters titled Superheroes. 

Now, there's a totally separate system added on for when Heroes fight fantastic monsters, in which only a single dice-roll was thrown against some target number on 2d6. Thus began the legacy of a distinctly different attack mode against basic-level types vs. higher-level opponents. 

It bears noting that in the introduction to the Fantasy rules, Gygax writes that:

Man-sized figures include: ghouls, heroes (including anti-heroes and super-heroes of the "Conan" type)... (p. 25)

And then near the end of these rules, under "Combination Figures", he observes:

There are certain natural, although rare, combinations. A good example of this is Moorcock's anti-heroish "Eric of Melnibone," who combines the attributes of the Hero-type with wizardry, and wields a magic sword in the balance! (p. 35)

Which gives some helpful literary references for exactly what Gygax had in mind for these mechanics.

Original D&D

Finding the rule in OD&D is unexpectedly tricky, to the extent that it eluded me for several years. There's this in the Monsters & Treasures book:

Attack/Defense capabilities versus normal men are simply a matter of allowing one roll as a man-type for every hit die, with any bonuses being given to only one of the attacks, i.e. a Troll would attack six times, once with a +3 added to the die roll. (Combat is detailed in Vol. III.) (Vol-2, p. 5)
That's basically the same as the mechanic in Chainmail Fantasy -- but arguably only given for monsters. (Some but not all monsters in Chainmail worked that way: ogres, trolls, giants, etc.) Plus I've definitely never seen anyone run classic D&D that way for monsters. But, here we find it more explicitly in the D&D FAQ from the Strategic Review #2 (by Gygax in Summer 1975, one year after D&D's debut), in a combat example where a Hero fights ten Orcs:

Assume the following dice score by the Hero. Note that he is allowed one attack for each of his combat levels as the ratio of one Orc vs. the Hero is 1:4, so this is treated as normal (non-fantastic) melee, as is any combat where the score of one side is a base 1 hit die or less. Hero: 19; 01; 16; 09. Two out of four blows struck... (TSR #2, p. 3)

And in addition, it's somewhat cryptically given as an essential basis for the system in Gygax's Swords & Spells 1:10 scale mass combat rules for D&D another year after that -- given on page 1, in the second paragraph of the Introduction:

At the scale of these rules a single man can be represented by a single figure on the table. So if one opponent has a lone hero (4th level fighting man) facing several figures of men-at-arms (or orcs or similar 1 hit die creatures), an actual melee can take place. The hero will inflict .40 of the damage shown for a 4th level creature on the combat tables and sustain damage until sufficient hits are scored upon the figure to kill the hero. Similarly, if a 12th level fighter is involved he will score 1.2 times the damage shown and so on. (S&S, p. 1)

Again, it's not entirely clear here, but I have marked in the margin of my copy there so I don't forget any more -- Why would a 4th level fighter get 0.40 damage multiplier in this situation? If the tables are designed for 1:10 scale play (they are; you can check the math), and it's a "lone hero", then shouldn't they only get 0.10 of the listed damage? Ah, but the solution is: they're getting a multiplier to attacks equal to their level (4), exactly as in the FAQ example. And likewise the 12th-level fighter is getting 0.10 × 12 = 1.2 damage multiplier for the same reason. Puzzle solved. 

Note that in both the FAQ and the Swords & Spells text, the attack mode is applicable to "1 hit die creatures", with an explicit example of it being used against Orcs. This sometimes unsettles players of later editions, where the benefit threshold was reduced to a lower value (see below). 

Another thing we might observe, from the 12th-level example above, is the assumption of something like theater-of-the-mind combat happening here. If we required immediate adjacency of man-to-man scale figures for attacks (something required in later editions; see further below), then there's no way that a 12th-level fighter could be adjacent to 12 enemies all at once, and thus get a multiplier of 12 attacks every round. It's more likely there's an implied walk-and-chop-and-walk-and-chop going on here.

In conclusion (although I resisted it for quite some time), given that the rule is clearly in Chainmail, in the OD&D FAQ and supplementary materials, as well as in the later 1E AD&D, I'm now convinced that Gygax's intent was to have this rule consistently present throughout all those versions of the game.


Note: This [the standard fighter attacks-per-melee-round table] excludes melee combat with monsters (q.v.) of less than one hit die (d8) and non-exceptional (0 level) humans and semi-humans, i.e. all creatures with less than one eight-sided hit die. All of these creatures entitle a fighter to attack once for each of his or her experience levels (See COMBAT). (PHB p. 25)

In 1E, the rule is explicitly given as a core mechanic (although still easy to miss, buried as a footnote to a table at the bottom of the page after Rangers). It's applicable to any member of the Fighter class, including all of its sub-classes (so: Fighters, Paladins, Rangers; and later, Barbarians from Unearthed Arcana). And as alluded to earlier, a critical lowering of the threshold has occurred: no longer "1 hit die creatures", but here, strictly "less than one hit die". So the ability is usable against, say, Goblins, but not the Orcs used as the canonical example in OD&D material. 

Occasionally there's some interpretation made here that, in terms of battling man-types, this represents fighters gaining an advantage over completely untrained combatants (hapless peasants), as opposed to trained soldiers. But, by the rules in the 1E DMG, mercenary soldiers also fall into this category -- including, for example, archers, pikes, and heavy horsemen:

Note that regular soldiers are 0 level men-at-arms with 4-7 hit points each. (DMG p. 30).

It should also be pointed out that near the end of this era (and overlapping with the next), TSR licensed the Advanced D&D brand to SSI to make their well-regarded Gold Box video games, and throughout those games this ability of the Fighter classes was referenced onscreen by the shorthand label, "Sweep Attacks". Players of those popular games are thus likely to remember the ability by that name.

2E AD&D 

As an option, a warrior fighting creatures with less than one Hit Die (1-1 or lower) can make a number of attacks equal to his level (i.e., a 7th-level fighter can make seven attacks). These attacks are handled in order of initiative. (DMG, p. 57)

Here's the same mechanic in 2E AD&D, now given as an optional rule, appearing only in the DMG. Again, it's distressingly easy to miss it, because it's tucked in at the end of a section titled, "Multiple Attacks and Initiative", and still not given any memorable label. Otherwise, it's identical to the mechanic seen in 1E (a fairly common situation for this ruleset). 

It also bears noting that in the 2E Combat & Tactics supplement, among the extra optional rules given, there's one called "Heroic Fray" which gives a modified mechanic: when outnumbered by 1-hit-die types, fighters get double attacks, plus one more if holding a shield. I mention this because (a) it's given an official label here for the first time, which some players used thereafter, and (b) possibly because of that nifty label it sticks in people's mind, and some folks think that's the only place it appeared in 2E. (The OSR Hyperborea game calls the attack mode "Heroic Fighting", probably as an homage.)

3E D&D

CLEAVE  [General] You can follow through with powerful blows. Prerequisites: Str 13+, Power Attack. Benefit: If you deal a creature enough damage to make it drop (typically by dropping it to below 0 hit points, killing it, etc.), you get an immediate, extra melee attack against another creature in the immediate vicinity... (PHB p. 80)

You can wield a melee weapon with such power that you can strike multiple times when you fell your foes. Prerequisites: Str 13+, Power Attack, Cleave, base attack bonus +4 or higher. Benefit: As Cleave, except that you have no limit to the number of times you can use it per round. (PHB p. 82)

3E D&D introduced the concept of "Feats": special powers that may be chosen as characters advance in level. Fighters get additional, bonus Feats (more than any other class), and the two listed above are on their Bonus Feat applicable list. That said, not every Fighter gets the power; they must make a deliberate choice to pick up the ability. At the earliest, a Fighter might have Cleave at 1st level, and Great Cleave by (you guessed it) 4th level.

Most of us interpret this as a reworking of the rule from earlier editions; if a Fighter (with the Feat) battles very weak creatures, then they're likely to get a chain of attacks that puts many of them down. And many of us prefer the continuity of this mechanic -- unlike in 1E, where there's a huge quantum collapse between fighting "up-to-7-hp" creatures vs. "up-to-8-hp" creatures, the benefit here will more smoothly be usable against 2 HD or 3 HD creatures, just less frequently.

In addition, there's another high-level Feat in these rules called Whirlwind Attack which gives one melee attack against each adjacent opponent in a round, which I think would be equally eligible for the "heir to sweep attacks" title. But in hindsight it's the Cleave terminology which got the most mind-share (e.g., note the title of this blog, and see more below). 

4E D&D

Cleave | Fighter Attack 1
You hit one enemy, then cleave into another.
At-Will | Martial, Weapon
Standard Action | Melee weapon
Target: One creature | Attack: Strength vs. AC
Hit: 1[W] + Strength modifier damage, and an enemy adjacent to you takes damage equal to your Strength modifier. Increase damage to 2[W] + Strength modifier at 21st level. (PHB p. 77)

Sweeping Blow | Fighter Attack 3
You put all your strength into a single mighty swing that strikes many enemies at once.
Encounter | Martial, Weapon
Standard Action | Close burst 1
Target: Each enemy in burst you can see | Attack: Strength vs. AC
Weapon: If you’re wielding an axe, a flail, a heavy blade, or a pick, you gain a bonus to the attack roll equal to one-half your Strength modifier.
Hit: 1[W] + Strength modifier damage. (PHB p. 79)

Surprised to see me covering 4E (I think for the very first time)? Yeah, me too. Again, thanks to the wonderful WDMs helpers to lead me here. 

In the 4E rules, if you don't know, every character class gets a menagerie of powers to pick from, about as deep as the wizard's spell list. In the Fighter's case they're called "Exploits". Note that the very first Fighter Exploit listed in the book is that "Cleave" ability. If chosen, this can be used every round at will; it provides the ability to make a normal hit against one target, and then get some more damage, equal to the Strength bonus, against a second adjacent enemy. At first blush, that may not seem like much, but recall: 4E has a rule for "Minions" where low-level types are all assumed to have 1 hit point by default. So in this use-case that Cleave ability is basically always a 2nd free kill. (Thanks, Ash!)

And the next thing that strikes my eye is the 3rd-level power "Sweeping Blow". Of course, the name of this exploit hearkens back to those AD&D Gold Box games. Note the attack type is given as "Close burst 1", which means that the attack effect is applied to every target immediately adjacent to the Fighter in question. To me, that seems like the closest analog to the original ability. (And the ability in the AD&D Gold Box games also required adjacency, as characters were portrayed miniature-style on a grid.)

There are other powers at higher levels which expand on this ability: "Come and Get It" (7th level), "Shift the Battlefield" (9th), "Thicket of Blades" (same), "Vorpal Tornado" (17th), "Devastation's Wake" (19th), "Warrior's Urging" (23rd), "Cruel Reaper" (27th), etc. -- these work in a similar "burst" fashion, and add on effects like allowing the Fighter to move between attacks, to pull more enemies into their burst, to add conditions like more damage or paralysis, and so forth. But I feel like "Sweeping Blow" is the basis for this system (the first available "burst" attack).

(Now, it's possible that I may be misinterpreting those listings! Please leave a comment with a correction if you have any.)

5E D&D

Cleaving through Creatures

If your player characters regularly fight hordes of lower-level monsters, consider using this optional rule to help speed up such fights.

When a melee attack reduces an undamaged creature to 0 hit points, any excess damage from that attack might carry over to another creature nearby. The attacker targets another creature within reach and, if the original attack roll can hit it, applies any remaining damage to it. If that creature was undamaged and is likewise reduced to 0 hit points, repeat this process, carrying over the remaining damage until there are no valid targets, or until the damage carried over fails to reduce an undamaged creature to 0 hit points. (DMG p. 272)

In 5E, the status of this rule somewhat reverts back to that of 2E; it's only an optional rule, but if utilized, then every Fighter in the game has it by default -- well actually, every character has it by default here, even non-Fighter-types; but my point is that PCs don't pick it from a list of options as in 3E or 4E. 

Other than that, the mechanic is quite different from early editions. 5E tends to be amenable to giving PCs two attacks per round, maybe three at most; but tries really hard to otherwise limit the number of attacks or rolls made in a turn. In that light, the possible multiple-hits are all adjudicated off a single d20 attack roll, and spreads out a damage roll only to creatures that are all insta-kills. There's an echo of the 4E version of the Cleave Exploit here (as well as other higher-level powers). 

Note that the option seems to be reserved only for "player characters". That's not generally a clause you'd find in a rule from classic editions, and Gygax (at least in his writings, e.g., around saving throws or critical hits) would frequently emphasize giving monsters a fair-shake, i.e., grant any general benefit that PCs get to monsters as well. In any case, this flips one possible reading of OD&D Vol-2, where monsters get the benefit and PCs don't.

Basic D&D Line

Let's not forgot that through the 1980's and into the 1990's there was a parallel ruleset, the "Basic D&D" line, being published alongside the flagship Advanced D&D line. This includes the Holmes Basic, Moldvay/Cook B/X sets, and Mentzer's BECMI line. All of those were boxed sets that could be sold in mainline department and toy stores, whereas the AD&D rulebook line was all hardcover gaming books, generally for specialty stores (broadly speaking). The Basic line, I think, is concurrent with the biggest "spike" of incoming players in the D&D boom-fad circa 1980-1981. There are a few Dragon articles by Gygax around the time where you get a whiff of surprise/grief that the Basic line is far outselling his magnum opus AD&D line. 

Anyway, my point is that lots of classic D&D players started with the Basic set and are most familiar with those rules (assuming they didn't mix-and-match to the point where they can't tell the difference). Where is the cleave/sweep rule in that line?

Well, in this one case there isn't any, no matter where you look (and I've looked in all those dozen or so revised rulebooks trying to find it). Why is that? I'm not totally sure. You could say as a principle that while other editions were usually fairly generous about giving Fighters some way to get multiple attacks per round, the Basic line simply wasn't (outside of magic like haste). Maybe that's because the initial Basic set only covered levels 1-3, and such a benefit wouldn't really show up at those levels. Or maybe because Holmes was mostly just copying text directly from OD&D and its supplements -- not looking very much at Chainmail or AD&D, even for things that might be implied in Gary's mind by reference (also e.g.: dragon fear & detection abilities) -- and the one and only place the cleave/sweep rule is not given explicitly to PCs is in the OD&D LBBs. 

I asked Frank Mentzer about the status of the "sweep attack" type mechanic in his games on Facebook, and he kindly replied:

Menzter uses swep attacks in AD&D, but not in BECMI.

So Frank is (1) quite intentional about the rule status, (2) faithfully applies it in an AD&D game, (3) doesn't like it, and (4) tends to be sensitive about monsters getting equitable rule benefits compared to players (likewise as noted for Gygax above).

As an aside, you really have to hunt in Basic/BECMI to find any way for PCs to get multiple attacks without magic. There's a loosely suggested rule in Cook Expert (p. X8), pending release of a future Companion rule set, that Fighters might get a 2nd attack starting at 20th level (and more at 25th and 30th; maximum 4 attacks per round). But that rule is not part of the Companion rules when Mentzer finally publishes it.

What Mentzer's Companion Rules set (for PC levels 15-25) does have is the following. Fighters who have sworn fealty to another ruler (either to serve as a wandering Paladin/Knight/Avenger, or as a ruler in a feudal network) get this combat option:

Multiple Attacks: The character gains this ability at 12th level. Demi-humans gain this ability at certain XP levels, as given in the class descriptions. If the character can hit an opponent with a Hit roll of 2 (calculated including all adjustments), he may make 2 attacks each combat round. At level 24 and higher, he may make 3 attacks; at level 36, he may make 4 attacks each round. This applies to ideal circumstances, and the character may use movement or some other action instead of an extra swing. (Player's Companion, p. 18)

I suppose if you squint really hard, this ability -- only usable if the PC basically auto-hits the target -- kind of has whispers of a more-attacks-against-very-weak-enemies concept? But of course it's based on armor, not hit dice or hit points, and the number of attacks given is still really very small. (Compare: In Swords & Spells a 12th-level fighter can get a multiplier of 12 to attacks; here it's just 2.) It does echo Cook's earlier proposal in that it has a top-level limit of 4 attacks per round. 

Up in the Master's Rules (for levels 26-36), there's an option where the DM might just let a character get one extra attack by wielding a second weapon in the off-hand, at a -4 penalty and loss of one mastery/specialization level there. And there's also an added piece of specialty equipment: a shield with one of various attached weapons (horn/knife/sword), which permits one extra attack per round with it. (Frank is really stingy with the extra attacks.)


I've been focusing on this lately because (1) honestly I overlooked this rule in my OD&D games for a long time, and (b) I now think it's the single most essential mechanical difference between the Basic and Advanced D&D lines from the 80's. 

In Original and Advanced D&D, the standard monster numbers appearing (by default for wilderness encounters per the texts there) zoomed up into the hundreds for humanoids like men, kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, dwarves, gnomes, and elves -- all types that were originally 1 base hit die. Anything else only had numbers up to 20 or 30 at most. There's fairly good statistical evidence that was done as a balancing factor in light of high-level fighters putting down many such targets per round. In fact, we're told that Arneson specifically used the listed numbers appearing as the trigger for fighter cleave/sweep attacks -- if the numbers were in the hundreds, then fighters got their turbo-attacks. 

On the other hand, in the BX/BECMI line, where the cleave/sweep rule is absent, then the designers (starting with Moldvay/Cook) were compelled to radically reduce the humanoid numbers appearing. This averaged by a cut of roughly 1/10th from the O/AD&D wilderness numbers (a division factor of from 3 to 13 depending on type). The most numerous monsters are goblins and orcs, who may appear in an outdoor band of up to 60. (Note that Holmes dodged this by not listing any standard numbers in his stock monster list; and the Expert rules have some text notes that camps of men, et. al., may be in larger OD&D-scale numbers.)

Anyway, players who switch between the Basic and Advanced games (and it was very common to mishmash the rulebooks together in play) are likely to be the most surprised by the sudden appearance or disappearance of the critical cleave/sweep rule. In our video discussion (at top), this was true for me & Paul, with me coming from more Advanced play, and Paul having more Basic line experience.

But it's a core part of how combat and encounters were structured in the root of the game back in O/AD&D, and that legacy is so strong and deep, that indeed it has appeared in some form in every edition since, up to the current day (Basic offshoot excepted). 

For my games going forward, I do need to make a decision for my brand of OD&D games: Incorporate the sweep/cleave rule for fighters, or some variant, or do some radical surgery on balancing encounter numbers (like the cuts done in B/X)? Which form do you like best? 

(And phew, thanks for reading all that. There's been a lot of editions at this point!)