Saturday, July 2, 2011

Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Part 21

Congratulations! We're up to page 66 in the DMG...of 240. I hope I'm providing a comprehensive enough reading for everyone. Of course, some later sections such as Magic Items (pp 125-168) won't explore every single item; only a few iconics, and I'm not going to run down every critter in the monster tables from pp. 196-215, so we're further on that it seems....

Close to Striking Range: This just clarifies that if you move up to your base speed to engage an opponent, combat moves to the next round. A strange contradiction here; this section clarifies that if the opponent is over 1" (10 ft/yards) away, "Play goes to the next round after this, as melee is not possible, although other activity can, of course, take place such as that detailed above." But I seem to recall earlier (or perhaps later; I can't remember where, exactly) it clarified that one can move up to half his base movement and still attack.

Charging has several factors involved in first edition, rather than simply doubling base speed and granting a bonus to hit and penalty to AC (though in practice, once factors are accounted for, the end result is similar; it's just broken down differently and the rationale explained).

Now, here is the first place where the difference in scale outdoors vs. indoors actually makes a practical difference. Outdoors, with the 1"=10 yard scale, bipedal creatures increase speed by 1/3 for charging; quadrupeds increase it by half-again. The text references Swords & Spells, which is difficult to come by these days. I have a copy (and a PDF), but really, it's not necessary to have this reference here. Swords & Spells is simply a detailed fantasy miniatures mass battle system, and this reference is merely a reference to a table on page 3 of that document, which shows the 1/3 "charge bonus" to movement.

Movement indoors, on the other hand, sees base speed doubled, just like in later editions of the game.

Of course, an opponent must be with 1" at the end of a charge move for melee to take place.

Armor Class of Charging Creatures: in first edition, charging creatures lose their Dexterity Bonus to AC, which results also in AC being penalized by one. This is an important factor to remember, and should very likely be repeated elsewhere, but isn't. I'll repeat: Any character who loses their Dexterity bonus to AC also sees AC penalized by one (thus, AC 3 becomes AC 4). For a character with an 18 Dexterity, this is pretty brutal. What exactly the rationale is for this rule, I cannot say, unless AC granted by armor also counts in the armor's mobility allowance, though that seems off, as every kind of armor, no matter how light or heavy, effectively then grants 1 point of AC for dodging...hrm. Still, this seems to be upheld in the fact that "There is no penalty to AC 10 creatures for charging, however." (p. 66)

Melee At [sic] End of Charge: "Initiative is NOT checked at the end of the charge" (p. 66)... a strange statement, as one would assume that if you begin the charge, it occurs on your initiative turn. However, it goes on to clarify that the opponent with the longer weapon strikes first (a shadowy precursor of 3.x's Threatened Space and Reach). IF the charging creature survives a "first strike" by an opponent with a longer reach weapon, he gains +2 to hit.

Set Weapons Against [sic] Possible Opponent Charge: If an opponent with a longer weapon (such as a spear or pole arm) sets his weapon against a hard object such as a wall, or even angled into the ground, and scores a hit against a charging opponent, the set weapon deals double damage. I might prefer something a tiny bit more robust here, perhaps a contested roll to see if the weapons can be set in such a way that the charging opponent cannot avoid by breaking off the charge...but I suppose it works as-is. It's simple and elegant, and really, if a character decides to charge someone with spears or pole arms...I suppose that's just a risk you knowingly take.

Strike Blows
The first few sub-sections of this part deal with weapon speed, a much debated element of first edition AD&D. Most of us who use weapon speed, I daresay, have adopted some adaptation of the second edition formula, where weapon speed simply directly influences initiative. That's certainly the system I use. But I'll try and simplify and make sense of the actual first edition system here, which is actually not all that complex and would work just fine by the book.

Indeed, for those who often complain that first edition combat isn't robust enough, and just boils down to "hit, damage, hit, damage," these little fiddly bits may be kind of what's missing for you.

Initiative, as discussed earlier, is "the key factor as to which side strikes blows first each melee round. This is modified by creatures with attack routines, whether by natural or magical ability. It is also modified by weapon length when one opponent is charging into melee contact." (p. 66)

Simultaneous Initiative: Here we have the first direct reference to weapon speed. When two people have the same initiative, first strike goes to the combatant with the lower weapon speed. Thus, a short sword will always have first strike over a long sword, and a long sword over a great sword.

Weapon Speed Factor: This section expounds upon what weapon speed factor entails within the scope of play. It is, as one would expect, a number that represents the heft, balance, prep and recovery time to use a weapon. However, it is not normally figured into initiative due to the 1-minute melee duration, but only acts as a "tie breaker" for combatants who share the same initiative score.

This being said, "When weapon speed factor is the determinant of which opponent strikes first in a melee round, there is a chance that one opponent will be able to make multiple attacks." (p. 66) This means that the only time you get multiple attacks due to weapon speed is when you share the same initiative as your opponent and strike first as a result of having a faster weapon.

In this case, if your weapon speed is half that of your opponent's, you can strike twice. If your weapon speed is at least ten less that of your opponent's, you get to strike three times: twice before your opponent, and once simultaneously with him. Suddenly, despite the reach, a short sword vs. a pike or halberd is a very attractive option indeed.  Remember, however, that as explained earlier, reach is also important, as an opponent with a longer weapon gets first strike as you close to within striking distance.  Thus, an attacker with a short sword against a defender with a pike would see the pike wielder striking first, as the short sword wielder closes; the short sword wielder would then attack twice before both he and the pike wielder attacked simultaneously.

Other Weapon Factor Determinants: This section details how the math works on determining when a weapon strikes with respect to a spell's casting time, but it's not very well explained and can be a headache. I'll try to clarify it here.

The formula given is simple enough: First subtract the losing initiative die roll from the wielder's weapon speed. Then subtract the adjusted weapon speed from the spell's casting time. Ignore the odd statement "treating negative results as positive," and rather assume that a negative result means, "comes x segments after the spell completes."

Thus, a character wielding a long sword with a weapon speed of 5 who loses initiative with a roll of 1 is attacking a wizard casting fireball (casting time 3). 5-1=4, and 3-4=-1, The sword would attack 1 segment after the spell completes.

If the sword-wielder had rolled a 2 for initiative, we have 5-1=3, and 3-3=0. The blow would land at the same time as the spell was cast.

If the sword-wielder had rolled a 3, we have 5-3=2 and 3-2=1. The positive result indicates the sword blow strikes 1 segment before the spell completes and disrupt the spell (provided, of course, the attack is successful).

And so on and so forth.

As a side note, this seems to somewhat contradict the earlier statement that spell casting is resolved with missile fire before melee begins.

In my house system initiative is rolled on a d10, adding dexterity bonus and subtracting weapon speed, then proceeding from highest to lowest, with initiative score indicating the segment on which you act. Results over 10 and below 1 function as tie breakers. Missile fire and spells are resolved first, proceeding in order of initiative. Thus, spell casters always begin casting on segment 10, with casting time determining what segment the spell activates on (though I do allow casters to choose to delay casting until they are in regular melee passes, such as with a cleric who anticipates the need to cast a Cure Light Wounds on an injured companion during the fight). In the case of the fire ball, the caster begins on 10 and the spell activates on 7. Any character--missile or melee--who acts on segment 7-10 can disrupt the spell. But that's just how I roll, and no, it ain't perfect!

Striking to Subdue: Interestingly here, there is no penalty to attempt to inflict subdual damage with a bladed weapon as there is in later editions. One simply decides to strike to subdue, and 75% of damage done is then temporary damage, with 25% being "real." This particular section doesn't break down how temporary damage works.

Special "To Hit" Bonuses: I really sort of wonder why all this information under "Further Actions" was not placed under the "MELEE" section on page 69, but it is what it is, I suppose. Here we are told that off-balance or encumbered opponents grant a +2 to hit; stunned, slowed, or partially bound opponents grant +4; and sleeping, held, paralyzed, or otherwise immobile or helpless opponents can be automatically hit (and, the book states, automatically slain). This is something roundly missing from later editions. In 3.x, for example, one needs to actually roll to hit an opponent (albeit with a huge bonus) to perform a coup-de-grace. It always seemed rather ludicrous to me that it's possible to miss an opponent who is laying there motionless...or that one could somehow fail to, say, slit his throat.


  1. Jason sez: In 3.x, for example, one needs to actually roll to hit an opponent (albeit with a huge bonus) to perform a coup-de-grace. It always seemed rather ludicrous to me that it's possible to miss an opponent who is laying there motionless...or that one could somehow fail to, say, slit his throat.

    Having played with those who were exposed to both sets of rules, players always prefer the rule that does not allow them to be instantly slain. I think that's the fundamental origin of the revision for 3.0/3.5.

  2. I, too have played with both sets of rules, and have found that it's not an issue if the DM isn't a rat bastard. Also in AD&D, it's not possible to simply slay outright in the middle of combat--in the middle of combat you simply automatically deal maximum damage to a helpless opponent. Needing to roll to hit someone who is unconscious and bleeding out is just stupid.