Saturday, September 19, 2020

AD&D - Why Segments make 1-Minute Rounds Work for Me

I used to hate the 1-minute melee round length in AD&D. It felt way too long for what happens. It did match those swords and sorcery books, where Moorcock and Burroughs and the like routinely describe people fencing for 10, 20, 30 minutes - even an hour - before a telling blow is struck. Realistically ludicrous, given the speed at which you can execute a strike.

But now, having run AD&D several times in the past couple of years with 1-minute melee rounds but using segments . . . I don't dislike the 1 minute round anymore.

Segments make a big difference.

It's something I wish I understood back in the early 80s when I was running AD&D.

If you're not familiar with them, here is a brief description based on my understanding of the rules.

Segments are six-second increments of time in AD&D. 10 of them comprise a round. Actions taken in combat occur on a specific segment of a round.

How we run them - and I believe this is by the rules as written, is that you roll initiative. Higher die has the initiative. The other side takes its first action on the segment number indicated by your die, and vice-versa.

For example, the PCs have encountered some hostile ogres. Neither side is surprised, and both are hostile - the ogres because they're CE, the PCs because they're PCs.* They roll for initiative. The PCs roll a 3. The ogres roll a 1. The PCs act starting on segment one. The ogres, segment three. Thus the PCs get to go first, and have a bit of time to act before the ogres do. The ogres still have a lot of time to act, it's just they don't get priority like the PCs do.

You can roll a 5 for initiative and the monsters a 4, so you go on segment 4 . . . and move (1 segment), ready a weapon (1 segment), and attack (1 segment) and resolve that attack on segment 6. If all they need to do is attack (1 segment) or cast Magic Missile (1 segment casting time), they resolve that attack on segment 5 and beat you out.

If you roll tying numbers - say they roll 4 and 4 on the next round when it begins - you start your round simultaneously. Weapon Speed matters if you're using it** as does the amount of stuff you need to get done.

I find that establishing initiative and then having possibly interspersed, pre-declared actions makes for an easy to run but chaotic-in-effect melee, and it adds a lot of tension. It's not roll, tune out, listen for your damage, ask who's still up, and then make your rolls.

Other reasons I like segments:

- you can have abstract combat with non-abstract timing, which is something players eventually crave. They want to throw a flask of oil and then slam the door. They want to wait for someone to come melee them. They want to move, attack, and then move back. You can make all of those pieces of one shorter combat round, but given segments you can organize them into an overall whole and require the person doing more to take more time to do it. If you come up on segment 2 from initiative and have 3 things to do before you strike, and your foe is on segment 3 and only needs one . . . he's going to strike first. It feels organic and excellent.

- it builds in hesitation. Someone I always admired in 1st edition Twilight:2000 was the Coolness Under Fire mechanic and hesitations. You were required to take a few "dead" moments in a series of turns, based on your CUF rating. (Aside - I didn't like the 0-hestitation for a CUF of 0, which everyone tried to angle for and would mysteriously roll up if you turned your back. But anyway.) AD&D segments do this. There is a real difference between rolling a 2 for initiative and winning against a 1, and rolling a 6 and beating a 5. One gives you a lot of time to act; the other contains some dead time, wasted moments. Those can be critical in a situation with timed effects.

- it allows for actions that are too long for a round. You can always spill over to the next round. This combines well with the previous situation - if you start a spell on segment 6 that takes 6 segments (Disintegrate, say), it won't go off until segment 2 of the next round. If your foes go on segment 1, they can interrupt you. If they have a 2, it's tied, and it goes off simultaneously. If they go on 3, your spell beats them. It adds a lot of tension to a decision to move and cast, because your segment or two of movement can mean the difference between getting the spell off or not. Depending on initiative.

I don't think you need segments to make combat work, but if you dispose of them I think shorter combat rounds are the way to go.

I do also agree with the complaint that, if I can do XYZ and finally attack on segment 10 and get a normal attack, it's reasonable that I could attack multiple times. Start on segment 1 and get 10 segments worth of attacks if you're not moving and neither is your foe - shoot 10 arrows a round, say, or swing 10 blows. Yeah, that does make some logical sense. But I feel like you lose some of the above - the need to time things, the overlap of actions, etc. And you really end up with straight-up GURPS style overlapping turns, and really should dispose of per-round initiative as something of no value to the system. You lose out an the fiction-like approach of a few telling blows landing and lots of action going on in favor of maximized attacks and a lowered ability to non-combat things. "Hold them off while I pick this lock" is a one-round thing in AD&D; in GURPS it's a whole combat and you may as well just drop the picks and join in and pick the lock later if you win.

If you'd like to read more about segments, check out The Blue Bard's post on them. I found these after we started using segment-based combat in our run through of WPM. Or read ADDICT. Or both.

* Aren't PCs always hostile to things with treasure and/or worth XP? The whole idea of clearing a dungeon is centered around maximizing both.

** I don't, but it's a post worth of explanation why not.

Friday, September 18, 2020

GURPS, AD&D, Might & Magic I, and Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

Two video games I've played a lot of remind me of two different tabletop role-playing games I run.

Might & Magic I is a lot like GURPS

In M&M1, Stats are very important. Your Might really does determine how hard you hit. A high Speed is critical to go first. Accuracy determines if you hit at all. And so on.

Each race has costs and benefits that more or less equal out. Some are better choices for certain classes, but all things being equal, it doesn't matter all that much.

M&M1 has a "fight economy." Each fight is very challenging. Generally, you can rest after each and every fight. Restore fully heals all HP, and restores all spell points (SP). It cures many conditions - sleeping, paralyzation, and blindness, to name a few. This costs you a unit of food for each character, and you can only carry 40 food each, maximum. A few conditions hinder rest - resting is bad while poisoned, and useless to help with being stone, dead, or eradicated (!).

Some places, it's too dangerous to rest. But if you can retreat to a safe spot, you can rest and recover.

Thus, each fight is a war of attrition between the PCs and foes. It's very easy for them to flee, and very hard for the PCs to flee. You have little incentive to do anything but just slug it out, and it's always worth deploying your best magic if there is any chance at resting after. Healing spells are just for keeping you going during a fight.

If a fight is tough, you usually have to slog it out because attempts to retreat waste actions and don't usually work.

If a fight is easy, you generally make it so by expending replenishable resources such as powerful spells.

You may have to use up some magic items to win a fight, but you can generally buy powerful consumables in town.

Only if a fight is trivial do you continue on - even a loss of a few spell points or a few hit points can spell the difference between victory and defeat in a later fight.

You drop at 0 HP, and only die if an mass-damage attack hits the whole party while you're unconscious.

That description matches my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game in many respects.

The only real difference is that GURPS has a few more cumulative losses and conditions that you cannot just rest and recover from. If you're used to the pace of DF, you're used to the pace of M&M1.

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord is like AD&D.

This isn't a big stretch, as Wizardry I is clearly modeled after D&D.

Stats are important for determining class and race. They seem to be helpful in play, but they're not really critical. They modify the class and the weapons and so on, they don't provide the basis for them.

Races and classes are different - some are just better than others. They're harder to qualify for. (Also, it has the first "prestige" classes every - classes you can't start as, but can eventually quality to switch to - Lord and Ninja.)

Wizardry has a fight economy, but not only do fights have an economy, so do delves. Given a fully-healed party, you never are any better off than you are the moment you step into the dungeon. Each fight costs. You benefit in an individual fight by deploying the biggest hammer you've got to smash your foes, but each time you do so you cost yourself the ability to do so later. You use up valuable spells you can't replace except by in-town rest, you use charges off of magic items you can't recharge (during a delve, sometimes ever), and you take damage you can't always heal.

You die at 0 HP.

This is very AD&D-like. AD&D delves are a race between expendibles and HP vs. your goals. Use up the former too fast, and you don't reach your goals. Use them unwisely, and the same happens. You need a combination of luck, skill, and appropriately powerful characters to win.

Just something that occured to me while I was playing M&M1. And it seems like CRPG Addict beat me to the punch on the comparison of games before, too! Oh well. At least I was able to tie it to GURPS and AD&D directly.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Rulings on GURPS rules - Fire & Large Area DR

This is a grab-bag of rules decisions I've made either in the past, or recently and will use going forward, for my current Dungeon Fantasy campaign. I'll use these two by default in other, non-DF games as well.

Fire & Breathing

One thing about DR in GURPS, and a one-second timescale, is that flame just isn't a big deal even with light low-tech armor. Against armor designed to deal with the threats PCs face, it's usually a non-issue unless it's a supernatural effect.

Even then, generally it only matters if you set someone on fire, and to do that you need a fair amount of damage (3+ or 10+, depending on the target.)

Being stuck in fire happens occasionally.

Mostly we get into discussions about how much air there is, how quickly the oxygen will be used up by the fire. But really, people tend to burn on the inside, as well, given a sufficiently hot or large fire or a long enough exposure.

I was reminded of a solution proposed my Mark Langsdorf a couple of years ago on the seemingly defunct blog No School Grognard:

Fire damage in GURPS should probably be reduced to 1d-2 or 1d-3, but being in or on fire should also be treated as an respiratory agent with an onset time of 5 seconds that does 1 bu, resisted by HT, with a symptom of -1 HT at 1/3 HP damage and -2 HT at 2/3 HP damage. Fire respiratory damage would also be cyclic for every 5 seconds as long as the victim is in or on fire.

- from It came from the GURPS forums: Low-Tech armor and fire damage

I think that would be a good way to handle it - I'll keep the fire damage the same as in the rules, just so I don't have to hunt down references, but adding the 1 burning injury respiratory effect is good. To put it in easier-to-read format:

Fire (Resisted by HT): 1 HP burning, -1 HT at over 1/3 HP injury and -2 HT at over 2/3 HP of injury; Respiratory agent; onset 5 seconds; cyclic, 5 seconds; Doesn't Breathe provides immunity, internal DR against fire protects normally.

Of course, Resist Fire helps normally, even against these kinds of burns. It doesn't help with smoke inhalation, however.

Overall: I think this probably favors the PCs a little bit, since they're the most likely to confine people in fires and use fire as a weapon routinely. It shouldn't be a big change, but it will matter for high-DR PCs and foes who are on fire and just ignore it.

(Morbidly, I was prompted to think about this by asking a kickboxing buddy, who I saw shirtless for the first time close up, about a scar. Turns out it - and others - were from being engulfed in flame when he was a young child.)

Large-Area Injury & Eyes

Recently we've had some issues where PCs were facing a cone effect that used Large-Area Injury (p. B400). The question is, what if eyes is your lowest DR?

A lot of PCs have exposed faces, because they don't want to deal with vision and hearing penalties. They're easy - face DR is usually low (generally 0). What about those guys head-to-toe in plate armor, but who have 0 DR eyes on their eyeslits?

And Shirtless savage barbarians, too, have "Tough Skin" that doesn't presumably include eyes. (Maybe it does, by a literal reading of the rules, but eyes aren't skin, so you can also ready it literally and call them DR 0, too.)

What to do for them?

My ruling is that in most cases, DR is the torso and the weakest exposed area, including the eyes. Flames, slivers of ice, negative energy waves, acid gouts, heat rays, etc. should affect the eyes.

However, in certain circumstances, the Large-Area Injury will not include eyes. This may be because of a specific type of effect that couldn't reasonably hit them, or because of the position and protection of the PCs (possibly having time to preemptively react by covering the eyes, say.)

But generally, face on vs. an area attack, expect to have DR 0 + torso = 1/2 of your torso DR (round up) against it. Facing away, you're much better off. But your backpack may not be . . .

Overall: I think this is a bit harsh, but it fits the wording of the rule . . . and eye protection shouldn't just be a high-tech way to avoid getting stabbed by a rapier. And it means that barbarians aren't taking DR 7 vs. everything and having it apply universally, large-area or not. Suddenly DR 7 is DR 4 and a high-end Fire Cloud hurts, and a 1d6 flaming explosion in their hex isn't totally ignorable. It just might turn up a 5 or 6 and light you on fire and injure you. I think this doesn't favor the PCs much but it does give another reason to throw explosions around.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Might & Magic I: Secret of the Inner Sanctum

Thanks to a deep-discount flash sale on GOG, I picked up another game I'd wanted to go back and complete: Might & Magic I.

I'm stalled on Ultima IV until I have a solid day open to spend on gaming straight through to the end. Lack of save in dungeons is a real issue when you're an adult with non-game responsibilities.

But I could use a game I could pop in to and play. This will do. It's like a more highly functional, much more forgiving Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord.

I'd had that back in the day, but I never completed it. Oh, I got obscenely powerful wandering around fighting monsters, so much so that it was rare even the Council of Dragons would stick around for a whole combat round without fleeing, but I never did get to the central quest. I'll do that now.

I have had a lot of fun with it so far, with two caveats:

- it's been cheap with monetary treasure. So much so that I only recently had my characters all leveled up, as most of the time I lacked the funds to train them up. I'm still almost broke - I spent a few times dead broke, almost out of food, and yet had magic items and piles of gems (used for spellcasting, mostly). I felt like my PCs in my Felltower game. I had to quit and restart in one session where I had 4 people who needed 200 gp each of healing, 200 gp each of training cost to level, and one of them picked up a "Large Shield +1" that turned out to be cursed. Removable in town to the tune of 1500. I had 27 gp at the time, and I was grateful for outdoor encounters that mauled me nearly dead but coughed up 30-40 gp per person sometimes. I just quit, unsaved . . . I was looking at 2300 gp just to restore my party to health, which would be 5 encounters with treasure-toting monsters if I got a reasonably good haul without getting further mauled. I mean come on, just give me a bit more cash.

- I forgot that spells are number codes. So I type "Cast" "1, 2" for Bless, "2, 5" for a Sorcerer's Levitate spell to avoid pits, and so on. I really need to find a good compressed table to print out, because I forget.

Aside from that PITA, it's easy enough of an interface.

By the way, is there a way to quit DOS BOX games other than Alt-Tab and then X-ing out the window? That seems to be how I have to do it. It's just weird. And it's either full screen, or a little box on my screen. It would be handy to resize it but have it windowed so I can do other stuff on my PC when I need to.

Oh, and M&M I might be a rare game in which the example characters are hard to beat. I spent a good 90 minutes rolling up PCs, and ended up keeping 2 of the 6 original characters and just renaming them.

I've heard II is good, as well, so I may follow with that. We'll see. I have I-VI now but no draw to play any so far but I.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

AD&D Rules Questions - stacking save bonuses, blindness

A few AD&D rules questions came up.

Consulting only the AD&D core books and Sage Advice from Dragon or similar sources, does anyone have a definite answer on these?*

Dexterity adjustments for Saving Throws

I don't recall ever using this, but a player pointed it out:

Defensive Adjustment refers to the penalty or bonus applicable to a character’s saving throws against certain forms of attack (such as fire ball, lightning bolts, etc.) due to dodging ability. It also applies to the character‘s parrying and/or dodging ability in missile or melee combat; in this case the penalty subtracts from the armor class (q.v.) of the character, making him or her easier to hit, while the bonus adds to the defensive value of the character’s armor class, making him or her harder to hit.

Like I said, I never recalled that coming up in play back in the day. I guess we never noticed it.

I can pretty easily make some judgment calls about when to apply it.

But does the bonus stack?

Halflings get a bonus to saves vs. Rods, Staves, and Wands, and Spells, at +1 per 3 1/2 points of CON. Dwarves get the same bonus.

Do these stack? If you attack a halfling or dwarf with a Fireball or Lightning Bolt spell, do they get both benefits?

It doesn't seem like a CON bonus should matter against a spell that is helped or hindered by DEX.

Blodgett the halfling - DEX 18, CON 16 - has a -4 AC adjustment and a +4 vs. rod, staves, wands, and spells. Dread Delgath uses his Wand of Fire to create a Fireball and catches Blodgett in the blast area. Does Blodgett save with a +4 (DX adjustment), +4 (halfling CON-based adjustment), or +8?

I can't seem to find anything in the PHB or DMG that makes this clear, and nothing useful turned up when I searched for it. My ruling on the spot was DEX only, since I can't see why a CON-based resistance to magic helps you duck the blast of a fireball or avoid the direct stroke of a lightning bolt.

Does the Wisdom bonus vs. Will-force spells stack with this? It might . . . it's much more plausible that they'd both affect magical spells that overlap in effect. But I'd likely rule as I would above - it's either/or, although in most cases it's likely you should get the better of them. Inconsistent, perhaps, but not terribly so - and if the inconsistently bothers my players I'll just go with Wisdom affecting will-based and CON affected all other spells.

I do think that the bonus from Wisdom should stack with the CON-based bonus. One is all spells, the other will-affecting spells - it's reasonable to me that a general resistance to magic changing or affecting magic should overlap with a willpower-specific one. DEX and CON, that seems iffy. But AD&D is really brutal, and a generous approach is probably warranted to help with that. I'd like to be rules-consistent, though.

Effects of Blindness

I can't seem to find any listing for the effects of being blind. We extrapolated from the penalty for an invisible foe (-4 to hit.) It seems like it should do more, but I can't see what the rules call out as an effect in combat. Looking at the Light spell, if you cast it on someone offensively, it causes a -4 to hit, -4 to saving throws, and -4 penalty to AC. I didn't remember that during play. That might have saved a few HP had the ape's AC been lowered from AC 6 to AC 10.

Is there a canonical rule besides that for blindness?

Aside: It's highly amusing that the 2nd level Illusionist spell Blindness cannot be undone by Cure Blindness, according to the Illusionist spell's description . . . yet Cure Blindness will counter the effects of Power Word, Blind, an 8th level magic-user spell. You need to be 16th level for that. The illusionist? 3rd level. It would seem more logical if it was the other way around. The Illusionist spell lasts until the illusionist ends it or you hit it with Dispel Magic.

* I say this because, yeah, I'll take a look at OSRIC, and I'm curious if AD&D 2nd edition makes this clear, and so on . . . but I want to know if AD&D 1st edition has a canonical answer.

Monday, September 14, 2020

AD&D Session 7: A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade, Part 1

Today we played our 7th session of AD&D, where we run through old modules as-written just because it's fun. We use AD&D as much as possible as-written, except where the rules are nonsensical (Weapoon Speed, say) or impeded play (Initiative). But generally we revel in them. It's a nice vacation from GURPS.

Today we played some of the first part of A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade, as part of a planned series of sessions that will eventually take us through the aerie (A3), and dungeons (A4) of the Slave Lords.

SPOILER ALERT! This will absolutely spoil chunks of the adventure for you.

Elwita, Dwarf F6 (J.D.)
"Ogre", Human F5 (J.M.)
Freda, Human R4 (M.L.)
Karraway, Human C6 (A.J.)
Blodgett, Halfling T5 (J.L.)
Dread Delgath, Human MU5 (M.D.)
Phanstern, Human I5 (V.L.)
Eljayess, Half-Ef C3/F3 (J.M. then J.L.)
Kayen Telva, Elf F4/MU4 (T.P.)

The adventure began with the nine PCs inside the curtain wall tower fortifications, having climbed up inside following the advice of a slave who'd escaped. It was empty, and dusty, but the two clerics felt a sourceless unease.

The PCs forced a nearby door and went into a guard structure. It was lit by moonlight from the arrow slits.There were stairs up and down and a door to the east. There was dust, and tracks in the dust coming from the stairs to the door they'd entered from. They debated checking the far door, but Karraway argued their mission was the slave lords, not clearing every room, so he wanted to avoid distraction.

Blodgett check the stairwell and saw the up section was bricked up, the down had tracks from a barefoot human leading toward a wooden door. Blodgett checked for traps, and failed badly, and proceeded down the stairs.

He set off a trap that dropped a globe that shattered with a bright flash, blinding everyone. He was also hit with something for a few points of damage, and then they heard rattling noises as some small things hit the floor. The guys in back pretty much all tried to back out of the room at once, blindly, and got jammed up in the doorway. Blodgett carefully turned around and crawled up the stairs, feeling round things everywhere - they'd turn out to be glass beads. After four minutes, the effect wore off. They could see the stairs covered with glass beads, all the way down to the door below. Blodgett swept them aside with his hands and they went down the stairs carefully, and unlatched the door.

(Per the module, the slave just got lucky and missed the traps. Odd, because the chance to set it off is 100%. Yay, unfair!)

From there they found themselves in a courtyard. As they stood in the shadows scanning for guards, a breeze kicked up and slammed the door behind them shut. They heard the latch fall. They hid as best they could, but after a moment the crickets started singing again and the guards just kept on patrolling in the darkness. They found this odd.

They sent Blodgett over to scout the gatehouse, which was blocked by a big patch of mud in front of the gate. The gate itself was jammed a few feet up, so you could crawl under. He got close, but not too close, and then waved the group over. They carefully moved over. Suddenly, the crickets stopped singing. They stood around and waited to see why. A round later, an ankheg burst out of the mud and attacked. It bit Elwita for 16 HP of damage (on 3d6). They fought back, as Karraway cast Silence, 15' radius on the mud near the ankheg. They meleed it for several rounds, wounding it, and then got a flurry of hits and killed it. In the melee Freda accidentally shot Elwita in the back for 1 HP of damage. After the battle "Ogre" slathered himself completely with mud. They were all caked with it from the waist down, at least, and anyone in melee got it everywhere.

Silently they crawled under the portcullis, and found the tunnel lined with boxes, barrels, and sacks of bits of twine, wood chips, dried rags, and like materials. Blodgett wanted a ball of twine and wasn't happy there wasn't one to take. They looked up but couldn't see if there were any murder holes. In any case, they moved through and out the other side, still undetected. They heard hobgoblin voices speaking, but couldn't make out too clearly what was said - but they hadn't detected the PCs.

On the other side was a parade ground. They sent Blodgett over to the other side to scout an archway leading to an internal courtyard. He did, and waved them over. They ran over and moved into the courtyard. It was lined with bushes on the sides, had a trellis around the sides, two trees, and a central fountain. The party sent someone over to scout the fountain - Blodgett. He reported it full of algae'd water with a trickle of water coming down. They sent half the group over to the fountain to wash the mud off, which was drying and slowing down their actions (-2 "to hit" rolls.)

Blodgett, Dread Delgath, Phanstern, and Eljayess took a position near, but not in, the bushes against a wall. Blodgett and Eljayess kept an eye on the roof of the keep in case guards came here.

(I had mentioned the mud caking into armor joints, on weapons, etc. and the magic-users assumed that didn't include them. Lesson - ask!)

As the others washed off, carefully, having taken the time to move to the fountain as quietly as possible, Eljayess and Blodgett spotted hobgoblins coming out onto the roof! (Their alertness reduced the change of surprise from 1-4 to 1-2, and I rolled a 3.)

The fighters declared they were getting out missile weapons, and we rolled initiative.

The hobgoblins won, and two of them tossed a fishing net over the four muddy PCs waiting by the entrance. They were caught and tangled up, unable to attack or cast spells. The other two hobgoblins loosed arrows and missed their targets.

The next round, as the PCs were ready to fight, more hobgoblins appeared - a total of 12 - and they started loosing their arrows at targets chosen at random. The PCs shot back. The netted PCs took out daggers (Eljayess her sword as she lacked a dagger) and started to cut the net. Despite needing only four hits vs. AC 9, and 2 attacks per round against it, it took them almost 6 rounds to get free.

The fight was basically that for most of the first six rounds - the PCs loosed arrows (and Elwita crossbow bolts) from by the fountain vs. the hobgoblins. They were behind the roof's protection so they had AC 2, not AC 6, thanks to cover. The PCs missed more than they hit. The hobgoblins just kept up random targeting, shooting at whoever seemed like the best target at the moment. After two rounds Karraway cast Hold Person on three of them; two failed their saving throws and one made it against a 17. The PCs eventually killed most of the hobgoblins, but also loosed almost every arrow - "Ogre" all 20 of his, Kayen Telva many of his, Freda all of hers plus one of her Arrows +2. Everybody took arrow hits in the fight, often multiples, including the magic-user and illusionist and thief. After a time Kayen and Karraway ran over to help free the netted PCs, and Karraway managed to shield Blodgett and cast Cure Light Wounds for (IIRC) 5 HP. They decided to run for the double doors into the keep. They did, and killed one of the held hobgoblins and the last non-held one on the way. At the trees, two carnivorous apes jumped down and attacked. Two more followed as the group caught up. Blodgett snuck around the back, having hung back the whole time and off to the side in cover. The other hobgoblin stopped being held by this point and started to shoot, pausing only after the apes attacked. He was killed shortly after by someone's archery. Dread Delgath threw a Magic Missile spell into the fray and put three missiles into one ape and wounded it.

As the melee went on Dread waded in with a staff, and missed a lot. Phanstern wanted to cast Paralyzation and just position it to catch the apes but not his friends, but it was a melee, not a ranked combat, so he could not do so. He cast Blindness on one ape, instead.

In a steady melee they killed the four apes, but not without loss. Blodgett moved up silently (Boots of Elvenkind) and tried a backstab on one, but missed despite the +4 to hit. The ape randomly chose one of the 5 guys who attacked it to attack back - the dice said Blodget. It got him for enough damage to put him to -2, dropping him (and taking him out of the adventure, per DMG p. 82, under Zero Hit Points:) They scooped him up and moved to the door.

They briefly discussed healing in the courtyard, despite the alarms and sounds of hobgoblins moving to reinforce the fallen one, "Ogre" couldn't force it and it was clear it needed multiple people. Kayen Telva used Knock to open it, and they headed inside. There they found a corridor, heavily trafficked (according to Freda) to the east which ended in a door, with very little ever going west, where it also ended in a door. The hallway was lit by torches in brackets on the south wall.

They used up a potion and their remaining Cure Light Wounds spells here, and then headed east, "Ogre" strapping Blodgett to his back, after they divided up his magic items. They checked the door for traps, but without Blodgett there wasn't much to see. "Ogre" opened the door, they heard shrieks, and a giant grizzly bear standing on its hind legs pounced on them!

It turned out to be a taxidermy'ed bear on a wheeled carried down a short ramp, and it fell on Elwita for minor damage. They pulled Elwita free. They checked the group, and found that their back ranks were gone - Dread, Phanstern, Kayen Telva, and Eljayess.

They'd fallen down a pit, the sound unheard under the metal shrieks of the wheels and the rumble of the bear down the ramp, and the L-shaped trap had slammed the "wall" down to the "floor" and trapped them.

They yelled, "pit!" and "help!" but couldn't hear anything. Dread cast Light and they formed a human pyramid, so Kayen could tap the ceiling with a javelin to get attention.

In the hallway, the PCs weren't sure - teleportation? Paralyzed and surprised? They felt around for them, called to them quietly, noted with interest that all of the dust on the floor near where the PCs had been was gone, now, and discussed using a Potion of Clairaudience to listen for them . . . but Karraway decided that was a waste and decided not to. They figured out the best thing to do was re-trigger the trap and see what happens. So they set the bear back up, closed the door, tied Blodgett's rope to it, and stood where the others stood . . . and set the trap off.

They fell down a pit. The "human pyramid" was hit by the spinning wall and knocked down, but it did keep the trap from fully sealing. They figured out what happened, and spiked the pit walls in place with two iron spikes, put Freda up with a human pyramid, and then climbed out. Everyone had taken some damage from the fall, the "human pyramid" guys all took 4 from getting hit with a wall, and they went into the room beyond. Blodgett was almost dead by this point - he's at -7 HP, and they stabilized him. He's not looking good to make it.

They found a rough "office" with a table, a barrel, a chest, a used but clean fireplace, some wood, and two doors - south and north. North was locked and barred from the other side, they determined. The south door was not. They spent some time checking the chest, and found it was empty. So they stacked up and forced the door. They saw 110' of corridor ending in a door, lit by torches.

The far door opened, and three mummies staggered out, moaning! Freda shot an arrow at one (Kayen had given her his arrows.) It spanged out of the air roughly 30' short of them. They halted. The mummies advanced slowly. The PCs waited, mostly ready for melee and debating how to use Wall of Fire - they realized a Fireball would fill up a huge space, and might include them. The mummies advanced maybe 10-20' and waved their arms, moaning loudly and angrily. The PCs wouldn't budge. Karraway tried Turning the mummies, but was unsuccessful. After a while, the PCs backed off a bit and the mummies back up a little, too. In the end, they both ended up going out the doors and the PCs closed theirs.

Deciding it was some kind of trap, they checked the north door again. They started to hack it down with Kayen Telva's hand axe (this takes 1 turn.) After a few rounds, the south door opened, revealing hobgoblins with swords. The PCs were surprised for 2 segments, -1 for being prepared, and -1 for Freda being a Ranger with solid DEX. One in the back shot a sling stone into the room and missed Freda. (Who normally wouldn't be included in a surprise round, but I'd ruled it a random shot into the crowd, not a melee vs. a foe, so she was fair game.) Freda shot an arrow the next round, then the hobgoblin shot her and wounded her, and then the hobgoblins slammed the door. The PCs rushed the door, but it took 3 rounds to kick it open (bad rolls.) No hobgoblins at all - just 110' of corridor. They closed the door.

They heard noises from outside, making it clear the fortress was really alert. They finished hacking down the door, and saw some corridor. From the sounds they heard - swords being drawn, armor being put on, boots, grunts and growls and oaths - it was clear they'd broken into a barracks area. "We can't leave this behind us!" someone opined (I think Phanstern.)

It was late, so we ended there - the PCs in a room with a stuck trap on one side, some mummies down a long hallway to the south, and a hacked-down door leading to a lot of hobgoblins to the north. Last time they were torn between going west from the double doors, or going north towards the hobgoblins to fight them. We'll see where it goes.


- rules-wise, one thing we did this time was split up multiple attacks - especially including the ROF 2 bows - into two phases of fire per Initiative for Creatures with Multiple Attack Routines from DMG p. 62-63. I thought it might be clunky, and we never did it back in the day. I was reminded of it reading a post about high-level AD&D play. It turned out to be really interesting, especially when both sides had split fire (so Initiative mattered) and when only one side did (so they got arrow shots off before initiative was determined.) I can't wait to see how it works in melee when we're playing with 7th level characters.

- we used the proficiencies and languages assigned last time, and the decision to make Blodgett a "mixed" halfling with 30' infravision. The player running him argued to be a full Stout halfling but honestly, I should have just gone with a normal no-Infravision halfling.

- almost immediately, the players decided the mission was "free the slaves." Er, no, it's defeat the slave lords. Freeing their slaves is great for the slaves they have no, but the mission is clearly to deal with the heads of the operation.

- immediately, my players dismissed the handout with the physical description of the fort as being useless, confusing, filled with jargon ("curtain wall"), and just proof that it needed an illustration and TSR was too cheap for one.

So it was with glee that I quoted from it at length to answer questions they asked as we played. "How tall is this wall?" "Is there a second courtyard?" "Is the keep one story or two?" Gee, maybe it's in the handout that I told you to read and you dismissed as useless?

Also, amusingly, I described the stairs on in the first room, saying "At the foot of the stairs, partially hidden in the darkness, is a barely discernible wooden door." And was promptly asked, "Where is the door?" and "We should check the bottom of the stairs to see what it is" and "I'll check the door by the stairs while Blodgett goes down to see what's there." I re-read the description - door at the bottom. At the bottom, I was asked, is it locked? "It's latched on the inside." "Is that on our side?" Yes. Geez, you simply cannot pick the perfect wording for descriptions to answer questions unless you get incredibly detailed. If you do, like the description of the fort, people stop listening or don't read it.

- Blodgett's player wanted a 6' staff to check for traps. I said, no, you have what you have on the sheet. We started inside the stockade, per the tournament start, and I wasn't going to allow for "and I have a ________" addition to the sheet. Use what's there, that's part of the challenge, even if you the player would have brought A, B, and C to do X, Y, and Z with. It was a nice thought, but one to save for during the session or for a game where the PCs get to equip themselves.

- my players wondered, and I checked - there doesn't seem to be any explanation of why there is an ankheg right in the entrance area. It's not mentioned as being charmed, so the explanation might be that it just burrowed up to that area to try and grab something to eat. It's clearly there as an obstacle for tournament play, but an explanation would have helped.

- the Silence, 15' radius spell use was critical to getting in without getting mauled by guards. Unfortunately, they took too long at the fountain being careful, and were spotted by alert guards. Had they gone right in, washed up quickly, and hurried ahead . . . they'd have avoided a lot of the difficulty. Sometimes "slow and cautious" costs you.

- one of my players live-blogged to his friends, who were baffled by the idea that apes and hobgoblins were on the same team. What the hell? I said, "Tell them to check the Monster Manual." It was a thing . . . later editions of D&D may have removed it, but that doesn't make it weird or nonsensical. If you played AD&D, you'd suspect carnivorous apes were around if you ran into hobgoblins.

- Never, never, never grind out an ambush. Never.

The PCs actually did better than I thought combat-wise against the hobgoblins, eventually wiping out 11 of 12 (and then killing the 12th) along with four carnivorous apes. However, the +4 AC the hobgoblins enjoyed made turned a large number of what would have been hits vs. AC 6 into misses vs. AC 2. So they expended most of their arrows - Freda had to resort to Arrows +2 just to hit. Ogre shot off all 20 arrows, Kayan 12, Elwita shot off 8-10 bolts, I think, and Freda shot off 12 arrows and at least one Arrow +2.

They won the fight, but ended it mauled:

Elwita at 32 out of 54 HP, "Ogre" at 22/45, Freda 23/40, Blodgett -2/25, Dread Delgath 15/25, Phanstern 4/25, Eljayess 14/25, Kayen Telva 9/25. They lost a few HP earlier and Elwita took a bite from the ankheg, but most of that was from the fight.

Had the hobgoblins been ruthless about shooting less-armored targets and the netted folks, it would have been a massacre of at least 1/3 of the party, possibly more. Their tactic of randomly shooting whatever target seemed opportune helped a lot.

Personally I think a GURPS mentality took over - hunker down, grind it out, you'll win the fight and heal up and it'll be fine. The wizards couldn't cast, but Dread could have used his wand . . . Pyrotechnics could have covered them with smoke. No one took cover, although me not marking it on the map probably didn't help. Not until people ran out of arrows did anyone try to go help the trapped PCs. Had the tournament provided for reinforcements, it would likely have just ended there. This is why I think A2 is unplayable as a "dungeon delve" for the levels allowed for . . . 3rd to 6th level PCs just can't assault a fortress and live, and the slave lords won't just sit there and absorb repeated attritional attacks. But anyway. The point is that this fight could have been a "oh crap let's all rush over, free the mages, take cover, and force our way inside!" and it became "let's kill everyone and then get out of here." It works in DF, it's disaster in AD&D. For all that people say HP are a resource, you just can't get them easily. If you play in a more generous campaign with lots of short delves, long times between combat, and higher frequency of healing potions (purchased in town, say, with your plentiful cash), you're really not in practice ready to assault a fortress with three Cure Light Wounds spells, one Potion of Extra-Healing, and one Potion of Healing. That's 59 HP of healing maximum, 8 HP minimum, and 34.5 HP on average back. They lost half of that with one blow from the ankheg.

- The briefly discussed idea of using Clairaudiance to listen for the missing PCs being dismissed was priceless. It would have worked. They checked a lot, but never did listen at the floor to hear anything.

I briefly considered using the saving throws for items table but decided it was just mean at that point.

I'm not certain the adventure pictures the trap the way I did, but my way was funnier. They reset a trap and set it off on themselves, and left no one in safety. The module is very clear - you cannot hear yells from below at all. You can hear tapping if you listen for it, but they checked the walls, the door, etc. but no one asked to listen at the floor . . . they all stood and talked and walked around.

- Early in the session, people were very good about declaring actions. By the last 1/3 of the session, people started to declare actions out of order, roll for actions as they declared them even before initiative, etc. It got messy. I think practice will improve that.

- My players were pretty good with gathering information. I've noticed the ones who've played with other GMs tend to ask the same question a few ways around, trying to feel for a different answer. Generally, I repeat what I said. I'm not that great with giving clues, I think, but I do my best to provide the best information your senses can give you. If you hear things and I don't specify what direction, it's because you aren't sure. If I say you see a vaguely human shape in the darkness, I'm not concealing that it has a second head, or a two-handed sword, or whatever. It's what I said. I do my best to not have trigger words. Sometimes you need to be specific about your actions, but I try to ensure senses give you everything they should without needing additional wordage.

- The "mummy fight" was interesting. Pretty much, the PCs refused to advance (or throw a fireball, since it would fill 33 squares with fire) and waited it out. When they didn't come, they decided to hack down the door. The hobgoblins came and attacked, but when the closed the door and the PCs finally forced it and found them gone, they closed it again and moved on. They're clearly done with the mummies, but managed to cut their way into the hobgoblin barracks. You'd think "barred and locked." So I'm not sure how next time will go. You have to love hacking a door down, then saying, hey, this doorway is insecure, we have to go through it and fight what's on the other side because there is no door to stop them!

Fun session overall, although I'm disappointed that so much time was spent on that big, possibly critically-costly battle in the courtyard such that we couldn't finish it. I'm genuinely enjoying running AD&D . . . I may have to give some thought to actually running it as a side thing. Yes, it would have been better to decide that in March when I had more free time coming to me, but when I offered doing a fantasy game as a side thing was shot down categorically. So here we are . . . I may have to run it, after all, for whoever wants in.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

A2 Session 1 pre-summary

So, we didn't get through all of Part A of A2 today, but we did get some solid gaming in.

We had:

- a big Silenced fight.

- lots of arrows expended

- yet another lesson in not playing "grind your way to victory"

- people setting off a trap . . . twice

- ruthless determination to make problems grow, grow, grow!

- and a lot of fun.

Details tomorrow.
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