Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Part 15


As with many sections of the DMG, this one begins with a cross-reference to Appendix C: Random monster encounters, waterborne encounters for determining monster encounters. Following this, we have a breakdown of the different general classes of naval vessels player characters may encounter. As with many games, these are abbreviated of necessity, but Gygax does a pretty impressive job of dividing different ships into classes. The classes he lays out are as follows:

Rowboat: 1-10 man small vessel, a lifeboat or canoe.

Barge/Raft: Long, flat craft capable of carrying 1-100 people.

Galley: Long, slender vessels with one or two masts and banks of oars. The type common in AD&D, he says, is similar to the Drakkar viking longship.

Merchant Ships: Cogs, carracks and caravels fall into this category. Generally single-masted.

Warships: Large, fast ships designed for battle, possessing 2 or more masts and multiple ballistae (remember, no gunpowder in AD&D), but often not very seaworthy.

The ships are further broken down, given a long paragraph for each, which is more than enough information to place any given ship you can think of into one of these classes.

Next we are given a "Hull Value" for each ship. This exactly equates to a vessel's hit points, and is expressed in a range which can be broken down into die rolls if desired (small merchant ships, for example, have 6-36 or 6d6 Hull Value). The section informs up that repairs can be made at sea so long as the ship doesn't suffer more than half its Hull Value in damage; otherwise, the vessel must put into port.

Next we have length and width of a vessel by class.

For Crew, we are cross-referenced back to the EXPERT HIRELINGS section.

Next up we have rules governing determination of Wind Direction and Force, and the effects this will have on a ship at sea, followed by rules for crew Exhaustion.

Finally, we have Movement and Speed of ships based on class by sail, oar, and wind force. That wraps up the basic "Ship at sea" rules, which are quite comprehensive and actually pretty simple once you have everything recorded.

After this, oddly out of sequence, we get combat notes. The first of these is Burn Damage of Controlled Fires, breaking down the circumstances under which burn damage must be determined (10 flaming arrows, one flaming catapult pitch, each 5 die (and up) fireball and each 8 die (and up) lightning bolt).

Following this, we have a conversion of base damage to hull damage on a table, followed by a description of the measures needed to contain such damage so that the fire doesn't spread out of control; if it does, the DM must then consult the next section, Ships' Burning Time of Uncontrolled Fires. It does not tell us what exactly the effect of this uncontrolled burning time is, but my reading is that this is how long it will take for the ship to be consumed by fire and go down, based on the fact that, for example, the burning time for a warship is given as 3-12 turns, or 30 minutes to 2 hours, about the real-world time it would take a ship consumed in flames to go down.

Following the fire damage, we get your basic naval combat rules, which are again quite fast-play and intuitive, though the current generation of gamers may have some issue with the amount of DM fiat involved. Rules included are Ramming, Grappling and Boarding, Melee (following boarding; mostly a blurb saying it's standard, but creatures like sea serpents and giant squids are at an advantage and directing the reader to the Monster Manual for specifics), Sinking a ship, Ships' Capture, and Swimming. For use of ballistae and siege weaponry on ships, the reader is directed to the appropriate section of the book (yes, an entire section is dedicated to siege warfare, and we'll get to that), but just for the sake of completeness, I'll add that use of siege engines is largely the same as any other sort of ranged combat, though with bonuses and penalties involved due to the complexity of targeting with siege engines and ballistae.

The final section here is a brief glossary of General Naval Terminology, an excellent "flavor" inclusion.

All-in-all, these rules aren't quite as evocative as the aerial combat rules, mostly because they're not as fantastic in nature, but are still amazingly well-thought and easy to handle. The more I read of this, the more I like it and the more convinced I am that first edition is just not the cluttered, overcomplicated mess a lot of gamers make it out to be. It may not be truly unified, but personally I think there's something to be said for taking each system as it comes and dealing with it the best way possible instead of shoehorning everything into one system. Both are valid approaches, and both work well if handled properly. And AD&D first edition, thus far, was to my mind and in my opinion handled quite properly.


Another really neat section that, much like the Aerial Adventures section, is evocative largely because of the fantastical nature of underwater adventures. Certainly this is something that we could do in a modern game no sweat, but in AD&D you don't have SCUBA gear and deep sea diving suits. Not to mention, in a fantasy game, as Gygax writes, "the ocean floor is home to numerous ancient submarine civilizations and dark, green realms of creatures half-man and half-fish...mountains of sunken loot that have been collected there over the centuries...pearls the size of a man's head...beautiful mermaids with green eyes and blue skin...."

Incidentally, for anyone keeping track...we're up to pages 54-57 of the DMG. Yes, we have a long way to go. Heh.

Breathing: The most obvious obstacle to underwater adventuring is discussed first. It reminds the DM of spells such as water breathing, airy water, wish, and even polymorph that can neatly solve the issue, as well as potions and magic items. The temporary nature of most magical water breathing methods can act to add an entirely different flavor to underwater adventuring than above, as players find the time they have to accomplish their goals drastically shortened. When adventuring underwater through the use of spells or potions, the party literally is racing against the clock, and if the party spell casters load up on spells to allow breathing underwater, they lose much of their utility in a fight.

Movement: This section deals with the obvious forms of movement underwater: swimming and walking. Yes, walking. The game is explicit that anyone wearing armor heavier than leather or carrying more than 20 lbs. of gear is going to sink like a stone and be forced to walk on the ocean floor. For simplicity's sake, movement rates are very basically adjusted underwater: they are the same as indoor and underground movement even though underwater is for categorization purposes outdoors; for those persons who can swim the environment becomes three-dimensional, much as with airborne adventures. One interesting tidbit: a ring of free action functions normally underwater, allowing triple underground movement.

Vision: This section brings a bit more complexity into the picture, differentiating between fresh and salt water, and depth to determine the distance one can see. Interestingly (and I'm not sure how accurate this is, or why) characters can see twice as far in salt water (100') as in fresh (50'). Characters can also see normally until they reach a depth equal to the distance of vision (thus, in fresh water, characters can see normally to a distance of 50' until they reach a depth of 50', after which vision is obscured). The book says that at this point the DM can choose to either treat characters as though they are in the dark, or for extra realism can reduce visibility by 10' per every 10' submerged beyond the base distance. So if a character in fresh water submerges to a depth of 51-60', his vision lowers by 10' to 40'.

Infra- and ultravision, the DM is instructed, work underwater, though shifting currents and varying temperatures will confuse and confound infravision to a degree. Ultravision becomes halved at 100' depth and is useless at 200' as there is no ultraviolet radiation penetrating that far down.

Finally, the book gives us a paragraph on physical obscurements to vision, such as seaweed, coral, mud, and schools of fish, and reminding the DM that light sources are useless to penetrate heavy clouds of mud, which despite the fact that it doesn't block movement, functions just like a wall for characters trying to see through it (they can't).

Combat: Given the resistance underwater, only piercing and thrusting weapons work (so your typical dwarf with a hammer and axe is hosed). Missile weapons do not function unless specially designed for use underwater (spear and harpoon guns, basically) which costs 10x the normal price.

We are given a brief bit of information about the use of underwater combat nets here, which teeters on the brink of being really cool, but falls short in that while we have some instruction on the use of nets underwater (-4 to hit unless you have a proficiency), we are given absolutely no mechanics for the effect of being entangled in a net, nor does the book follow up some of the suggested strategies (stretch a net between two characters to catch a charging merman, set up traps with nets that drop on foes) with mechanics on how these things should work. This is somewhat disappointing, though given the propensity of "save or die" situations in first edition, it's very possible the intent is that if you get tangled in a net, you're utterly helpless. For my money, I'd probably impose a severe penalty to all actions, but allow characters to fight to get free. In the end, this is the most disappointing bit of this section, as a bit more detail in the guidelines for the use of combat nets underwater would be extraordinarily cool. Checking the Monster Manual, I see little more detail under the "Sahuagin" entry--these are supposed to be the masters of the combat net. The entry under the creature in the MM simply says that their nets are barbed making it nearly impossible for an unarmored person with a strength of less than 16 to escape.

Underwater spell use: Finally, in this section we are given a laundry list of spells that either do not function or whose functions are altered underwater. This section is preceded by a bit of introductory text that includes a sentence which I have so missed in 3.x: "As Dungeon Master, you can alter whatever spell preparations and effects you deem necessary and reasonable."

To its credit, 4e appears to have a sight on returning some of the power to the DM that 3.x robbed by design, but yeah, it's nice to return to the days when the DM, and not the book, was the final arbiter of his game.

Instead of going down the entire list of altered and useless spells, I'll just say that a party who enters underwater adventuring without a lot of forethought is going to find themselves sorely surprised when that fireball just extinguishes without exploding, and the lightning bolt the wizard intends to cast from his extended hand instead charges the whole area, inflicting damage in a 2" sphere around him. Really neat and brutal stuff that will be horribly detrimental to PCs until they learn to use it, and then will in some ways make them even more brutal to their foes underwater (take Otiluke's Freezing Sphere, for example, which freezes a block of ice equal to 50 cubic feet per level of the caster!)

The one spell here I disagree with is the non-functionality of "Speak with dead." There seems to be an assumption that one can't speak underwater, which of course is not true. Speech is muffled, certainly, but is possible. If it weren't, no spell with a verbal component could be cast.


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