Tuesday, April 2, 2019

[D&D] More miscellaneous AD&D house rules

A few more miscellaneous AD&D house rule bits and pieces I've had sitting around. This material would've been included in the AD&D Companion except that I thought them up and wrote them down after I'd decided I wasn't going to make any further additions or changes to that book. But so that I don't forget about them, and since one of them is referred to in the AD&D Initiative Primer I posted a couple days ago, I figured it was worth making a post to memorialize them here:

Reach advantage: In melee where one combatant has a reach of advantage of 3' or more over the other, the individual with the greater reach receives a +1 individual bonus to initiative. This advantage persists until the individual with the shorter reach achieves a successful hit, at which point that character is considered to have closed in, the reach advantage is negated, and, depending on the comparative speed factors of the weapons involved, the characters with the faster weapon may be entitled to extra attacks (q.v. DMG p. 66). A character with more attack routines than his or her opponent (whether due to superior speed or skill) or any character with the advantage of surprise is always able to close successfully and negate superior reach.

When calculating reach, the character's size matters as well as the length of the weapon being used. Any individual 3' tall or smaller (e.g. a halfling, kobold, xvart, tasloi, pixie, brownie, etc.) has an effective reach 1' shorter than indicated by their weapon type (e.g. a kobold wielding a club has a reach of 2' rather than 3'). Creatures larger than man-sized add 1' to their reach for every 3' in height above 6', so a creature 9-11' in height (e.g. an ogre, hill giant, bone, horned, or ice devil, or solar) has +1' reach, one 12-14' tall (e.g. a stone, fire, mountain, or fomorian giant, ettin, yagnodaemon, pit fiend, or type VI demon) has +2' reach, 15-17' tall (e.g. a frost giant, Orcus) gives +3' reach, 18-20' (e.g. a cloud or fog giant, or titan) gives +4', and 21-24' (e.g. a storm giant) gives +5' reach. Thus a type VI demon armed with a greatsword has a reach of 8' and advantage over any melee opponent whose weapon does not have greater than 5' reach. Large monsters that attack by claws or biting, such as trolls and type III-IV demons, still apply their size bonus to their natural reach, so for example a troll's claws have a 3' reach and the fists of a massive goristro demon have a reach of 7'.

Space requirements: Medium-sized individuals (and dwarfs, who are short but broad) require 3' of frontage space, while small ones (e.g. gnomes, halflings, goblins, kobolds) require 2' of space, and large ones (e.g. half-ogres, gnolls, bugbears) require 4' (or more, for trolls (5'), giants (6'+), etc.). Space required for weapons is total, not per-side, and overlaps with the space occupied by the wielder (so a weapon that requires 1-2' to use is subsumed into the space occupied by its wielder). If there isn’t sufficient space for a weapon, it can't be used. If a character with a footman's flail and another with a two-handed sword are standing side by side in a 10' wide corridor, for example, only one of them can attack in any given round (presumably the flail, since it has a faster weapon speed). Weapons 5' or more in length can be used from the second rank (subtract 4' to determine their effective length when so doing, and all attacks made from the second rank are at -2 to hit unless the second-rank character is larger in size than all of the characters in the front rank) but require open space in the first rank. So, for example, a 10' wide hallway can fit up to five small individuals so long as all of them are using a weapon that require no more than 2' to use (hand axes, short swords, etc.). Or, if there are four such individuals in the front rank, then two individuals in the second rank can also fight with spears or stabbing pole arms that only require 1’ of space each. If three medium-sized individuals are abreast in a 10' wide hallway, all using weapons that require 3' or less of space, then one individual can fight from the second rank; two dwarfs with battle axes (i.e. taking up 4' each) can be backed up by two second-rank spearmen, and so forth. Spears or pikes of 9’ or more length can be used from the third rank, at -3 to hit, if there is sufficient open space in both the first and second ranks. That is the limit indoors, or for regular footmen, however trained pikemen in close formation on an open field of battle are able to attack simultaneously with up to five ranks of awl pikes 

Speed factor for natural weapons: Natural weapons (claws, bites, kicks, horns/antlers, stingers, etc.) have the following assumed speed factor: 1 for Small-sized creatures, 2 for Medium-sized creatures, and 4 for Large-sized creatures. This value is used both for breaking tied initiative rolls and also for determining bonus attacks against opponents with slower weapons. However, note that opponents with superior Reach (see above) will at least initially be able to hold many of these attackers at bay.

Use of holy symbols: Holy (or unholy) symbols have differences in effectiveness depending on the material of which they are made. An iron holy (or unholy) symbol allows a +1 bonus to Turning Undead attempts made by clerics against chaotic evil undead (ghouls, shadows, ghasts, vampires, apparitions, coffer corpses, huecuvae, sons of Kyuss, and demons). Furthermore, any chaotic evil undead or lower-planar being struck by a properly-consecrated iron holy (or unholy) symbol (cf. Holy Symbol spell, UA p. 35) suffers 1-3 points of damage and must make a morale check or retreat for 1-3 rounds.A silver holy (or unholy) symbol has the same effect but with respect to lawful evil undead (wights, wraiths, mummies, spectres, ghosts, poltergeists, and devils) and lower-planar beings. A holy (or unholy) symbol made of nickel costs 10 g.p. and has the same effect against daemons and other neutral evil lower-planar beings and undead (liches, juju zombies). For purposes of striking, a holy symbol is considered to have a weapon speed of 2, length and space requirement of 1', no weapon vs AC adjustments, and does not require a proficiency slot for use. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

[D&D] Beating a Dead Horse

As anyone who's ever studied the AD&D rulebooks and tried to run a "by the book" game can tell you, and anyone who's ever discussed the game on online message-boards can emphatically confirm, the rules for Initiative in combat - determining the order in which events occur during combat - is a perennial headache: the rules as printed in the Dungeon Masters Guide are incoherent-at-best (and seemingly self-contradictory, and most likely cobbled together from multiple incompatible sub-systems that were never really intended to be used together), so they pretty much require each individual DM to house-rule something that makes sense and is usable, but that doesn't stop many online fans from tilting against the windmill of trying both to figure out the secret truth that makes the system as-printed usable without house rules, and to convince everyone else that their interpretation is the most correct and everyone else is Doing It Wrong.

I usually try to steer clear of these conversations, not always successfully. I've got my own way of doing things that works for my games, that I think is both consistent with the intangible "spirit" of the game, that flows well in play, and that has the added advantage that it's pretty close to the system used in the RPGA-sponsored games I played in as a kid in the 80s, including those run by TSR staffers (though I haven't attempted to adopt their simplified system entirely, and have re-introduced some of the more complex and flavorful options from the published system that I feel add to rather than detract from the fun and challenge of the game). I've had all of this fairly straight and consistent in my mind for years (if not decades) but had never bothered to put all in writing, because for I own personal use I didn't need it (I already know all of it), and because I'm not naive enough to think that there's anyone else would ever use all of my interpretations and house rules - that at best I might inspire someone to do one or two things differently than they had previously. I also don't like the idea of giving out such an extensive house rules document to players in my games, for a couple of reasons: I think it sends the wrong message and is a turn-off to players to hand them a big pile of house rules, and also because I prefer the players not to focus on the rules - that they remain largely a black box on the DM side of the table.

Nevertheless, in the wake of another round of message-board initiative discussions, and after an attack of masochism, I finally set down and put my collected interpretations and house rules for AD&D initiative into a formal document and made it available for download here and over in the sidebar. For the sake of the OCD crowd I've highlighted all of my "acknowledged" house rules - things I've deliberately added to or changed from the published rules, rather than just collected and interpreted. Many of those house rules will already be familiar to anyone's who has read my AD&D Companion.

As I said above, I'm not naive enough to expect anyone to adopt these rules in toto, but hopefully they might still be worth a look, to help shed a light on how I interpret some of the more opaque passages of the DMG text out draw attention to things that might have been overlooked (for instance, I've included some bits from Chainmail and Swords & Spells that aren't mentioned in AD&D but aren't contradicted there either so it seems a reasonable assumption that they're still in effect) and that someone reading this might be inspired to adopt at least a few of these "Advanced" options to add a bit more tactical complexity and flavor to their games. And at very least next time an initiative discussion comes up and I foolishly decide to weigh in, rather than spend time re-articulating my interpretations and preferences yet again, I can just point to this document. Or something...

Monday, January 21, 2019

[D&D] Reflecting on the Hall of Many Panes

Shortly after the turn of the century, Gary Gygax's posts to his email list and on message boards began talking about a new adventure he was running in his home campaign and was preparing for publication - the Hall of Many Panes. From what we were able to gather, the adventure concerned traversing a gauntlet of different dimensions and overcoming a variety of challenges there in order to free a trapped demigod. The premise sounded similar to both Gary's novel Come Endless Darkness and the summaries he provided of the unproduced D&D Movie screenplay he co-wrote with Flint Dille. Gary emphasized the variety and difficulty of the challenges, and described it as one of his proudest achievements, and when publication was announced by Troll Lord Games it was described as a boxed set and described as "an adventure of significant playing-length." This seemed likely to be an epic masterpiece, the next step following Necropolis, and a worthy substitute for the Castle Greyhawk dungeons, that were then in limbo after a rumored plan to publish them with Kenzer & Co. for their Hackmaster game failed to materialize.

Alas, when the set was finally released and we got to see it for ourselves it quickly became painfully obvious that it was, to put it mildly, not what we had hoped for. Even leaving aside the production and editing issues that are endemic to everything Troll Lord Games has ever published (among others things, the adventure was double-statted for both the then-current D&D 3rd Edition and Gary's own Lejendary Adventures game, which was handled very awkwardly and made things not only much longer but also much harder to read and comprehend) the content of the adventure was sorely lacking.

There are 49 panes, 7 colors and 7 shapes in every combination, and to finish the adventure the PCs must successfully complete all of them. Each plane takes the party to a discrete sub-plane, usually dropped into the middle of a scene where they first have to figure out what's happening and then what they need to do to escape (usually performing some task or defeating some enemy). Many of the panes put the PCs into other bodies - animals, monsters, other humans, and in one case even animated acorns. Some of them require solving puzzles of various types. Some are straight combat. So far, so good. But on closer examination some problems become apparent. First and most obvious is that there are way too many panes, and the requirement to complete every one of them shows that the "significant playing length" description wasn't kidding - actually playing through this adventure would likely take two years or longer. Second, too many of the pane adventures are too similar to each other, which is likely to become tedious. Thirdly, the entire thing is completely arbitrary: the situations are all random and unconnected, with no larger scale meaning or pattern, not that it matters since they have to complete all of them anyway. Fourthly is that many of the pane-adventures are significantly underdeveloped, more sketched and fully-written, with a requirement that the individual DM either add a significant amount of their own development or treat things in a very shallow and railroad manner - and the fact that every one of the situations must be played through in order to finish the adventure makes this a pertinent issue, because the DM can't just choose to skip over the weak or problematic entries. [There's also a technical issue in the D&D rules context in that, over the course of playing through 49 panes (actually 51, including two special panes that appear when certain conditions are met), it's inevitable that they'll gain several levels; since the panes may be entered in any order the party will likely be several levels higher for the later ones than for the earlier ones, which the adventure glosses over in what I consider to be a very unsatisfactory manner by simply recommending that the DM increase the difficulty of the encounters within the panes to keep pace with the PC levels. I can only assume that in Lejendary Adventure, the native ruleset under which Gary originally wrote and played this material, character improvement is on a shallower curve and this wasn't an issue.]

Because of all of these issues it was obvious that I would never actually run this adventure, so it went off into the closet and was pretty much forgotten about. Which was unfortunate, not only because it so badly failed to live up to my pre-publication expectations, but because despite the overall disappointment of the product as a whole there were a few episodes that did capture moments of the old Gary magic. Those feelings were exacerbated when Gary died a few years later and this was left as his last major legacy (since the later Castle Zagyg series was both left incomplete and was in large part the work of Gary's co-writer). So, from time to time over the years since I've pulled this out again, or at least thought about it, convinced that this could have been better.

Eventually, I sat down with the adventure for a couple of hours and pulled together the following, my ideas and notes for how to extract the actual Gygaxian classic buried within the mess that was published.

My first recommend change is to reduce the number of panes significantly. Instead of 49, I've settled on 25. My second change is to tie the panes together thematically by both color and shape, as follows:

SHAPE (Challenge Type)
Rectangle - combat
Square - helping
Oval - puzzle
Disc - transformation
Hex - misc
Star - false finale
Diamond - finale

COLOR (Setting)
Red - underground
Orange - misc
Yellow - desert/plains
Green - woodland
Blue - mountains/boreal
White - false finale
Violet - finale

Combining the two, I came up with the following "best of" panes list.

Red Rectangle - Pane 35 (Key)
Orange Rectangle - Pane 30
Yellow Rectangle - Pane 19
Green Rectangle - Pane 3
Blue Rectangle - Pane 11

Red Square - Pane 47
Orange Square - Pane 27 (Key)
Yellow Square - Pane 44
Green Square - Pane 17
Blue Square - Pane 4

Red Oval - Pane 20
Orange Oval - Pane 48
Yellow Oval - Pane 21 (Key)
Green Oval - Pane 5
Blue Oval - Pane 16

Red Disc - Pane 10
Orange Disc - Pane 46
Yellow Disc - Pane 22
Green Disc - Pane 1 (Key)
Blue Disc - Pane 13

Red Hex - Pane 8
Orange Hex - Pane 15
Yellow Hex - Pane 45
Green Hex - Pane 36
Blue Hex - Pane 23 (Key)

White Star - Pane 50 (appears when all of one color + one of each type (or vice versa) completed)

Violet Diamond - Pane 51 (appears when 5 key panes completed)

The "key" panes (one of each color + shape) become the only mandatory ones needed to activate the final pane and complete the adventure, so a group of players who are paying attention can figure out and exploit that pattern. In order to draw further attention to the key panes and emphasize the pattern of them, I also recommend that the first four completed key panes also provide the party with special useful tokens:

Special Tokens (gained upon completing first four key panes; one use each)
1. Lens - view a pane before entering
2. Reset - return to pipe without completing a pane
3. Extra Life - killed in pane respawns in pipe
4. Phone a Friend - commune with Zagyg

This doesn't solve all of the issues with the adventure - not all of the selected panes neatly fit the challenge or setting categories I've placed them into, and many of the pane-adventures are still underdeveloped (and of course to actually run this I'd also need to convert all of the stats into a game system I know and use) - but I feel that it solves the core problems, and transforms the unusable mess of the published version into something that I could use in a game, an adventure that would be challenging and memorable to the players without overstaying its welcome, and that would actually feel like it was rewarding player strategic planning and attentiveness and not that they were just passengers on an inevitable train ride. Something like this would be, I feel, a much more fitting legacy to Gary Gygax's memory than the unfortunate product that Troll Lord Games actually released.

P.S. Lastly, the backstory of the adventure - the trapped deity, the reason why he was trapped, and why the PCs are sent to rescue him, involves the machinations of various deities. In the published adventure, these deities all come from Gary's Lejendary Earth pantheons. If the adventure is instead adapted to the World of Greyhawk, I recommend the follow deity substitutions:

Gwynn = Baalzebul
Bili = Belial
Arianrod = Fharlanghn
Llew Llaw Gyffes = Pelor
Amadan Mors = Zagyg
McGreggtim = Heward