Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 25

Using the Combat Tables: This is one of the few things in AD&D that's really self-explanatory to anyone with a junior high school education, but it's nice of Gygax to explain. Basically, you cross reference your level with the AC of your opponent to get a target number to hit them.

This is where THAC0 makes its first (albeit disguised) appearence. Until the target number hits 20, progression to either side of AC0 is linear; that is, if you need a 9 to hit AC 0, you're going to need an 8 to hit AC 1, a 10 to hit AC -1, and so on. This linear progression plateaus at 20, which repeats 6 times across the board. We'll get to that in a minute.

Interestingly, this section says, "Penalties and bonuses may modify either the die roll or the number needed to hit, so long as one method is used consistently." much for "penalties and bonuses should always modify the AC, not the target or die roll."

Following this we have a sort of "Table of Contents" for the tables, which illustrates what's included on the next few pages (hint: COMBAT TABLES).

Next we have a table referencing Opponent Armor Class Description (If Armor is Worn). This is pretty much a reprint of the same table from the PHB, illustrating what types of armor grant what AC, from none (AC10) down to Plate mail + shield (AC 2).

Yes, originally in AD&D, AC 2 was as good as it got with armor. AC 1 and 0 armor didn't appear till Unearthed Arcana, much later.

Following this table is a blurb about how curses notwithstanding, AC cannot get worse than 10, but that through dex bonuses and magical adjustment it can "easily" get better than 2.

Next we have the tables themselves, covering attack matrices, assassins' table for assassinations, clerics turning undead, psionic combat, and saving throws. These and their footnotes occupy the following 6 1/2 pages. While one could argue that the various tables included here would be better served occupying specific sections of text that refer to them directly (the attack tables with combat procedures, for example), it's excellent having them all together in one place; quite easy for the DM that isn't fortunate enough to own the DM screen to flip back and forth quickly as needed (though if you've figured out the THAC0 trick, you'll rarely need to reference attack matrices).

Each table has useful footnotes, illustrating the penalties for attacking with missiles (clarified as non-magical missiles beneath the wizard table--Melf's Acid Arrow apparently has no such penalties applied).

The Fighter table has fighters advance effectively by +2 per two levels, but a handy footnote says if you want, you can advance them by +1 per level--a practice that by second edition would become standard. The fighter table is also tricky because it includes a "0-level" column that applies to regular folk. This occurs again in the saving throw table later, which can lead to fighters being a whole level worse than they should be if the DM's not paying attention.

The thief table neatly notes the damage modifier for a surprise backstab attack.

The Assassins' table for assassinations (say that 5 times fast!) also clarifies that it applies as well to attacks on helpless opponents by any character class. Excellent for determining in the middle of combat if that held foe dies or just suffers max damage, though it does seem to somewhat contradict the part of the rules that talk about how that works (see my earlier post about combat procedures).

Another footnote on this table gives brief advice on comparing the assassin's plan against precautions taken by the victim and adjusting the percentile upwards or downwards based on conditions, warning that a successful attack is going to deal damage regardless of whether instant death (assassination) occurs.

The Attack Matrix for Monsters sees the THAC0 trick break down a bit when critters hit 14 HD or so, and has a bit of (IMO) overcomplication involved as it takes into account bonuses to hit dice. A creature with 11+3 HD counts as an 11 HD creature, for example, while an 11+4 HD creature counts as 12 for referencing the table. The cutoff is +3; easy enough to remember, just a bit tricky. The rationale seems to be that since all creatures in AD&D had d8 hit dice, and 4 is the average roll on a d8, a +4 bonus equates to a full hit die for combat potential. +8, then, would equate to two additional hit dice (though I don't think there were any x+8 HD creatures in AD&D).

Tucked in the lower left hand corner of page 75 is a neat little bit that I'd nearly forgotten from AD&D, and was always a favorite quirk of mine.

Creatures Struck only by Magical Weapons can actually be hit by creatures without magical weapons, provided said creatures are of high enough level. To hit a "+1 or better to hit" creature, for example, you need a +1 weapon or you have to have 4 HD under your belt.

There are actually two ways to interpret this. I (and most DMs I've played with) equate character levels and hit dice, meaning this indeed applies to player characters. There's some precedent for this elsewhere in offhanded comparisons of levels and hit dice.

However, the book seems to imply on clarification that this is designed to "provide for magical properties and sizes of the attacking monster," citing hill giants and their great size and power, and gods.

In the end, the "this applies to monsters, not PCs" is probably the correct reading, but it comes down to how powered and magic-rich you want your game to be. Certainly allowing players to achieve this status is a great idea if you want to run a pulpy, low-magic, Howardian Sword and Sorcery game and still give your players a good fighting chance.

Next we have the matrix for [i]Clerics Affecting Undead, et al.[/B]. This is one of the few things that (up till 4e, which I'm sorry, I still don't personally consider a legitimate D&D successor--but that's an argument for many other threads) has never really changed. Even when 3.x came out and went to a unified mechanic for task resolution, you still had this fun, quirky little chart to determine what happened when your cleric held his holy symbol aloft and ordered the forces of the Nine Hells back from whence they came.

Speaking of which, one thing I'd forgotten that is different: in first edition Clerics of 8th level and above can banish minor demons and lesser devils just like undead.


Also, let's not forget the fun that can arise when your poor, brave 2nd-level Paladin faces down a 4th level evil cleric and is forced to pee himself and run in terror.

Following the explanations of "T=Turn, D=Destroyed," etc., there's a discussion of why the progression isn't perfectly linear, and what to do about that if you don't like it. Basically, they just added a "20" at the top of each level save levels 4-8 (the apparent so-called "sweet spot" for characters in first edition) to give you a fighting chance against those monsters that are out of your league. A 5% shot at true heroism for your cleric. It'll rarely come into play, I guess, but fair enough.

Now we come to it...

Psionic Combat

Believe it or not, this makes sense. Again, it's a subsystem, but oddly, I never had much problem with the idea that psionics, not being magic, don't work like magic. Here's the assumptions we're making, not having yet read the PHB:

1. Each player has pools of psionic points for Attack and Defense.
2. These pools of points must be spent to activate powers.
3. Successful attacks on adversaries drain points from them.
4. When attacking a non-psionic, you can only use Psionic Blast; no other attack modes are possible.

This makes use of psionics one of diminishing returns, as you're spending points to nail your opponent's pool.

Essentially, there are three situations for psionic combat: Psionic vs. Psionic, Psionic vs. Defenseless Psionic, and Psionic vs. Non-Psionic.

For Psionic vs. Psionic, you first add your Attack and Defense pools together. This gives you your Total Psionic strength. Then you choose an attack mode and pay the cost. The available Attack Modes (presumably you won't have all available but that's likely dealt with in the PHB) are Psionic Blast, Mind Thrust, Ego Whip, Id Insinuation, and Psychic Crush.

Your opponent, if he is able and aware, automatically uses the most effective defense against your attack that he or she possesses and can currently pay for. The available Defense Modes (again, all available all the time? Dunno yet) are: Mind Blank, Thought Shield, Mental Barrier, Intellect Fortress, and Tower of Iron Will.

You cross reference the two, and the resulting number is the amount of additional Psionic Defense Points they lose. The only exception is when the attacker is using Psychic Crush, which can give a % chance of instantly killing the opponent.

The opponent then attacks back, using their Total Psionic Strength from before your attack happened. This tradeoff of attack and defense (one each) happens simultaneously (hence why subtractions don't apply) and takes one segment.

After each side attacks and defends once, Total Psionic Strength for both sides is re-tallied and a new round begins (unless they break off combat).

If the defender reaches 0 Defense points in his pool, presumably combat moves to "Psionic vs. Defenseless Psionic."

Psionic attack against defenseless psionic either deals massive damage to the defender's psionic strength (deducted now from his attack pool, as that's all that's left), or imposes a condition such as confusion, dazed, idiocy, death, sleeping, loss of attack/defense modes, etc. The book is not clear on what constitutes a defenseless psionic, exactly; presumably if one has 0 defense points left, he's defenseless, but what about sleeping opponents? Are there other "defenseless" conditions? We'll have to see if the PHB answers those questions.

In this case, the Attack Mode chosen is compared to the Total Psionic Strength of the victim, and the table referenced for effect.

If the defender reaches 0 attack points in his pool, he starts taking physical (hit point) damage on a 1:1 basis. So if your attack drains 35 points from his defense pool and he only had 10 left, he'd lose those 10 and suffer a whopping 25 points of actual damage.

Psionic combat, apparently, is brutal.

Finally, we have what happens during a Psionic Blast Attack Upon Non-Psionic Creature. In this case, the creature gets a saving throw based on the range increment of the attack (given in the next table) and the creature's combined Int and Wis scores. Thankfully, there's a handy blurb later providing the range for creatures that don't have Int or Wis listed, based on their (Monster Manual) Intelligence category of Low, Average, Very/Highly, Exceptional/Genius, Supra-Genius, and Godlike.

So the Psionic pays the cost and unleashes the attack. The victim totals his Int and Wis scores, and the DM applies the range increment and checks the save target. The victim rolls a saving throw. If he succeeds, nothing happens. If he fails, the DM rolls percentile dice on a chart, and the effect can be anywhere from mild insanity lasting 1-4 weeks to unconsciousness for a few hours to outright death (this last only possible if the combined int and wis score of the creature is less than 13).

Attack ranges and Areas of Effect for Psionic attacks are given next, with a few clarifying notes following, explaining things like the speed of Psionic combat (segments rather than rounds), defenders always automatically using the best defense mode they can currently use, and the fact that while combat is going on the psionic can't do anything else, including use psionic disciplines (the psionic equivalent to spells; we'll deal with those when we get to the PHB).

It probably seems like a mess, but really like a lot of other stuff in AD&D, it boils down to me vs. you, and consulting a chart or table for the results. It's actually quite straightforward, despite the nightmare reputation psionics in AD&D have.

For those interested, I have done a complete breakdown of how psionics work in OD&D and AD&D, and how the two systems compare and contrast. 

OD&D Psionics
AD&D Psionics
Comparison of Systems


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