Friday, April 29, 2011

Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Part 5

Spying: This section details another class function for the Assassin: that of a spy. Now this one, I really, absolutely cannot comprehend why this information is not in the Player's Handbook, as it apparently represents a core function of the assassin class.

That being said, I also think this moves (or at least should move) the assassin out of the "must be evil" realm, as it's now possible to have a character who was trained in the arts of killing and stealth, but focuses on espionage, killing only if absolutely necessary. I also can see this being a function of the thief class; it seems to be solely restricted to assassin as an attempt to further differentiate the assassin from the thief (and let's face it, the two classes are more than a bit redundant overall).

Now, onto the system. It uses the percentile resolution, setting up a base chance of success based on the spy's level and the difficulty of the task, following this table up with examples of what constitutes a simple, difficult, and extraordinary task. It gives a few quick guidelines discussing the idea that multiple checks may need to be made depending upon the mission, and is overall a pretty good, straightforward system. Used properly it could combine a great amount of roleplaying with a mechanical system nicely.

Even better, failure does not blanket mean "BUSTED!" There's a spy failure table that helps to determine whether you just didn't get the info, whether you've been played by those you're spying upon, or whether you're caught and never seen again.

It might be a bit much for those who prefer not to reduce such an event to dice rolls, but think of it in a similar manner to Matrix running in Shadowrun. Sure, you can play out all the intricacies of running the matrix, and that's great...for the hacker and GM. Everyone else sits around twiddling their thumbs. So the books give you a quick-resolution dice mechanic. Same general concept, and yes, there's definitely room for a "somewhere in between" approach.

The further I read in the DMG, the more convinced I am that first edition was a good, robust rules set overall.

Thief Abilities: Here again, we have supplemental information on the various thief skills and their application. Much of it is redundant; some should really have been in the PHB, such as the "Wall climbing table, feet per round of climbing."

Some other bits, however, contain good (and amusing) DM advice on how to adjudicate situations. For example, when a thief tries to hide while under observation, the book advises, "allow the attempt and throw dice, but don't bother to read them, as the fool is as obvious as a coal pile in a ballroom."

Much of this section is designed towards controlling abuses of thief abilities, such as hiding under observation, attempting to read a language the thief has never even seen before, climbing smooth, sheer, or slippery surfaces, etc. It's stuff that for modern GMs with decades of experience upon which to draw (and let's face it, even if you're new, forums like this provide that decades of experience) is old hat but in 1978 constituted good tips.

Assassination Experience Points: a breakdown of how much XP an assassin should get for a successful job. This is completely out of place here, and belongs in the experience section, where monster XP is explained.

Assassins' Use of Poison: This section is a breakdown of how to adjudicate an assassin character learning to brew and utilize poisons. It's generally good stuff, but is an instance of something the 1e DMG does a lot: putting the responsibility on the player's head. What I mean is, the book expressly instructs DMs to not inform players that they can learn to brew poisons, for example, but to give them the information if they decide to explore the option on their own. This is similar to the way Attacks of Opportunity are intended to work in 3e, where the DM does not have to remind players when they get an AoO: it's up to the player to remember. Different situation, similar concept. The idea is that players should be thinking as well, and exploring all facets of their character development.

From here it gives a breakdown of the different types of poison, be they ingestive or insinuative, their effects and saving throw bonuses and penalties.


  1. You know I had forgotten all that about spying and other thief skills.

    I love the old DMG, but organization was not it's strong focus.

  2. I really liked your article. I am currently re-reading the 1e DMG for the first time in about 30 years ... and about to start an old school campaign up this weekend. Your overview has kinda put things in perspective a bit, and helped me from feeling overwhelmed...