So the other morning at breakfast I was telling my kids a story about a D&D session from way back in the day. My daughter asked, “Why don’t we play that anymore?”
I went into the usual blah blah blah about not enough time and how her brother didn’t seem to like it as much and how our plans for a regular group fell through and so on. It all made perfect sense and was totally correct.
Then she said, “But you have so many great stories about your old adventures. I wish we had some great stories like that from our games.”
How do you say “no” to that? I mean, seriously?
So we’re going to dust off the books and get back at it. A little, anyway. Probably a very unorganized and loose campaign. Maybe not even a real “campaign” in the typical sense. We’ll have to see. At this point the key is to get back to playing regularly. We’re going to stick with 1e AD&D. PHB, DMG, and MM only.
I’ve been pretty much out of touch with the blogs and boards since spring. I’ll be trying to get back into the swing a bit and will probably do a little posting here. We’ll see.
Lead ‘graph from In Defense of Dungeons & Dragons:
A D&D session probably calls to mind the following: a group of overweight, awkward men who have no social lives. They spend weeks locked in a parent’s basement, blissfully unaware of reality.
As stupid as that is, it’s completely true. That it’s the stereotype, that is.
Anyway, the article is a little rough around the edges and the comments are, for the most part, even rougher.
Yesterday I noted that I’m planning on making dragons a lot more common in our AD&D game than I’ve made them in the past (read: virtually unused) and how having uberpowerful “name” dragons doesn’t have to mean that all dragons are uberpowerful.
While I’m basically onboard with dragons as they’re written in the AD&D Monster Manual, one thing that’s always bugged me a bit is the fact that the damage from their claw/claw/bite routine is the same across all age brackets and sizes. Regardless of what power level you want your dragons to be, the idea that a monster with very specific age and size categories causes the same melee damage regardless of category is more than a little disappointing.
I’m not the only one to be bugged a bit by this, of course, and an article called ‘Dragon Damage Revised’ in Dragon Magazine #98 by Leonard Carpenter had a very good and detailed system to fix it. Each dragon was given three sets of damage numbers for each of three age ranges, and this was further expanded to cover each of the three size categories for a total of nine sets of claw/claw/bite per dragon. I intended to use the numbers from the article in play, but I’m not sure that I ever actually did due to the extreme rarity of dragons in my campaigns.
However, I’ve long since embraced the “less is more” approach to gaming, and, even though it’s not easy to reconcile this viewpoint with my decision to go with AD&D, I’m trying to keep my tinkering and optional rules to a minimum. When I do make a change, I try to keep it as simple as possible.
So here’s how I’m going to handle dragon damage. The goal is to tone down the bite damage at the immature age (below Adult) brackets while tweaking up the claw damage in the mature age brackets. If the amount of adjustment between the two was about equal, I would have just as happily left them both alone and called it even. However, after spending some time playing with the numbers I decided that it was worth making tweaks to each.
So here is what I’m planning to do:
A couple of notes:
First, notice that in addition to the adjustments for age there is an adjustment for huge-sized dragons. It’s not a lot, but it’s a little bit of a kicker for the biggest of the dragons besides the extra HD and associated increase to breath weapon damage.
Secondly, it looks like the young adult category could easily have a small positive modifier for claws and a small negative modifier for the bite. In fact, when I finally settled on my numbers there was a +1 per claw attack and a -2 per bite. However, the minimalist in me pointed out that two +1s and one -2 pretty much cancel each other out, so I dropped both.
If I really want to differentiate while sticking to this minimal table, I could round the half damage bites down for very young dragons and up for young. But the point is to get dragon damage to be a little more reasonable without jacking anything up or requiring a lot of external look-ups. This could easily be penciled into the MM next to the age categories.
I’ve rarely seen dragons used, either as a player or as DM, and I think that’s a shame. From what I see online, it appears that many players have had similar experiences. A lot of it, I think, has to do with how they’ve been pumped up over the years into truly horrendous monsters who can wipe out everyone before you can say “TPK.” And this pumping up has a lot to do with how they’re portrayed in literature and film as the biggest, baddest monsters around.
No one wants Smaug to be killed by a party of well-equipped mid-level adventurers, of course, as a huge ancient red dragon could be in 1e. This is part of why, back in the day, I was strongly in favor of pumping up dragons significantly…the first time I ever placed a dragon in a dungeon, it was defeated in a couple of rounds. It was a blue dragon, I fudged hit points and dice rolls to make it tougher, and it was still killed rather quickly with only moderate harm to the party.
But I now believe that, rather than turning all dragons into supermonsters who are a serious threat to even the most powerful adventurers, the solution to the ‘Smaug Problem’ is not to beef up dragons across the board. Rather, it’s to decide that “name” dragons like Smaug and other legendary wyrms are exceptional examples of dragons, with their own special increases or extra abilities, but that most dragons conform to those detailed in the Monster Manual.
Declare Smaug a huge ancient red dragon with extra hit dice, a better AC (remember the gems embedded in his scales?), the ability to use his breath weapon five or six times per day instead of three, and a +2 on all saving throws. Just don’t do it for all huge ancient red dragons, scaling all other dragons upward similarly, because you need a Smaug-like dragon in your game to be a truly fearsome opponent. This will have a couple of benefits.
First, the special “name” dragons will seem a lot more exceptional. Smaug won’t be just an ancient huge red dragon, he’ll be “Smaug” and will have special abilities to go with the name.
Secondly, it will keep non-name dragons normal. And this will allow them to be placed into dungeons and the wilderness much more frequently without killing off every last living thing in a five mile radius. They’re tough, for sure, and at the apex of the predator pyramid. But they won’t throw the entire game out of whack if their numbers are bumped up a bit.
Dragons in the original D&D game were quite weak, even compared to the 1e AD&D versions. And, I’m guessing, not nearly so uncommon as they weren’t the thermonuclear supermonster that they became in later editions.
Who wouldn’t like to see more dragons in the game?
UPDATE: All this said, I do think the claw/claw/bite numbers could stand a little fiddling. I will have a follow-up post on how I’m going to do that.
Locklar burst into camp, spooking the horses and upsetting the pot of stew that was simmering on the fire.
“Zombies!” he called.
Mortigan looked up from his spellbook. “Zombies?” he asked.
Delsa picked up her bow and quiver. “How many?” the elf asked, a gleam in her eye. “And how far behind?”
Locklar pointed back the way he had come. “There are four or five of them,” he said, trying to catch his breath. “A couple of hundred yards.”
Mortigan chuckled. “A couple hundred yards? So we have time to eat first, you’re saying?”
At that moment, five slavering figures entered the clearing at a dead run. They were headed straight for them, rushing at them in a pack and leaping over or around anything in their way.
Mortigan stood up. “Are you sure those are zombies?” he asked.
NO. APPEARING: 1-20
ARMOR CLASS: 10
HIT DICE: 2
% IN LAIR: Nil
TREASURE TYPE: Nil
NO. OF ATTACKS: 3 (claw/claw/bite)
SPECIAL ATTACKS: see below
SPECIAL DEFENSES: Nil
MAGIC RESISTANCE: See below
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic Evil
PSIONIC ABILITY: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil
Frenzy zombies are an ultraviolent form of undead, being humanoid corpses animated by an evil magical disease into mindless rage. They will attack any living thing they see, fighting to the death without regard for their safety or needing morale checks.
Due to the ferocious nature of their assault, frenzy zombies gain a +1 to-hit on all attacks and on initiative rolls. Their berserk behavior provides no protective measures, however, and they will have an armor class of 10 regardless of any armor.
Clerics can turn frenzy zombies as normal zombies, but with a -1 on their turning roll due to the single-minded rage of the creatures.
Any victim bitten and killed by a frenzy zombie is 90% likely to rise as a new frenzy zombie in 1-6 rounds; only beings with more than 3 hit dice or levels are allowed a saving throw to avoid this fate. Elves, half-elves, and paladins are immune to these effects.
One of the things I’ve found the most tedious about calculating experience in AD&D is the per hit point part of the creature’s value. I understand why a creature with more hit points is worth more than one of its fellows with fewer, but what a pain. A huge deal? No. But I don’t think it adds enough to the game to be worth it.
So I’ve decided I’m going to shortcut it. Rather than doing the calculation for every individual monster, I’m going to calculate out the value of one of each with average (4.5 per HD) hit points and use that for every copy encountered. I roll out HD normally, so the results should be perfectly fine.
For example, three gnolls I just rolled have 11, 6, and 11 hit points. The listed XP value is 28 +2/hp, so they should be worth 50, 40, and 50 XP respectively, a total of 140. Using my method we have 2 XP per hit point TIMES 4.5 hit points per HD TIMES 2 HD PLUS 28 EQUALS 46 XP per gnoll for a total of 138.
Another example: Gray ooze (3+3 HD) is 200 + 5/hp by the book. The gray ooze I just rolled has 16 hit points, so it is worth 280 XP. My method is 5 XP per hit point TIMES 4.5 hit points per HD TIMES 3 HD PLUS 15 (for the three extra hp at 5 per) PLUS 200 EQUALS 282.5 or 283 XP.
I’m making a list of monsters as I use them and adding the value to Appendix E in the DMG, though I might write them into the Monster Manual as well. This is an example of what I mean when I say we’re trying to play “mostly-by-the-book”: We don’t want to change anything if we can possibly help it, and when we change or houserule something it’s going to be with as little distance from BTB as we can manage.
Note: Sometimes, such as with the gray ooze example above, you end up with a half XP. I always round this UP in favor of the players. But then I’m a softie pushover DM like that.
I’ve never really cared for the fact that AD&D figures that 60% of dungeon rooms are empty, at least according to Appendix A: Random Dungeon Generation (DMG, pg 170-172). Sure, I could make my own table or use the percentages from B/X (my personal favorite), but I’m trying to play a mostly-BTB 1e game, and that means only using house rules or rules from other editions only when absolutely necessary.
So it dawned upon me tonight while rolling up some room contents that if the result “1-12 Empty” is re-rolled when it comes up and the second roll it kept, it comes out to about what I desire.
Here is how Table V. F.: Chamber or Room Contents (DMG, pg 171) looks:
This has roughly the same number of empty rooms as those populated with monsters (36% vs. 40%). Seems about right to me and I didn’t have to mess with anything. Plus, it knocks down the number of traps, which is just fine with me.