Reading Original Dungeons & Dragons Part 2: Monsters & Treasure

In my last post, I discussed seeming rules inconsistencies in Original Dungeons & Dragons, and the reactions someone just opening those books for the first time in 1974 might have had from reading through. Now let's move onto the second volume, Monsters & Treasure. Remember, the conceit here is that we don't have 40 years of scholarship and play experience upon which to draw, without the benefit of the Internet, and without the benefit of having gamed with Messrs. Gygax and Arneson. Rather, this is someone opening a second or third-print woodgrain box (with all its early textual differences from later white box versions) and how they might have been driven to run the game.

Again, remember that I'm working from a third printing woodgrain box, and the books have different text than the later fourth through sixth print white boxes, so textual references may differ for those who have white boxes. Also remember that this is a thought experiement and nothing more; it's not designed to change current scholarship, though it might yield some "new-old" insights that have been overlooked or lost.



Previously, on Reading OD&D...

The first book, Men & Magic, yielded some interesting observations--specifically, that elves switch classes by adventure, not by day or gaming session; that humans can switch classes like elves if they have at least a 16 in the prime requisite of the new class; that anyone can play any kind of creature they want; and that attacks appear to do one point of damage on a successful hit. Let's see how these assumptions bear out while reading Monsters & Treasure. 


Monsters & Treasure

The second volume in the series is all of the monsters, magic items, and treasure types for the game. I'm wondering what, if any, insights it'll give me on the things I read in volume 1. We shall see, but I'm guessing I might have to get to Vol. 3 before I really get some solid answers. 

Move in Inches

Hm. Here we have another issue of what appears to be an assumption of miniatures, though the first book told us they were explicitly not necessary for anything other than spectacle. If that's the case, why am I looking at movement in inches? Surely this refers to tabletop measurements--I mean, I've played wargames before. Going to Chainmail, it indicates that one inch equates to ten yards. For now I'll assume that's what this means, but there's still another book to go, which seems to be full of rules, so we'll set that aside for the time being. 

Damage by Dice

As I start looking through the monsters book, the first thing that jumps out at me is, a-ha! In reading the various monster entries here, it seems that they deal damage in dice, not hits. That means that, in all likelihood, character attacks should deal damage in dice as well. Okay, so that's settled. Still, I kind of like the idea that a hit is a hit, and I'll have to keep that in my notes to maybe try out later. After all, isn't that the point of this, to try new things?

Here's Chainmail!

Second thing I notice: ah, here are direct references to Chainmail. Guess I'll need to keep that handy after all. So far, though, if I'm using the "alternate" combat system, it seems that most of them are just reference-based for extra context, and not things I'll actually need.

Hit Dice as the Primary Indicator

Monsters, it seems, are almost entirely predicated on their hit dice; that is, hit dice are the sole stat of real importance when it comes to monsters. They save based on hit dice, they hit based on hit dice, their special abilities tend to be tied to hit dice. One thing that's important, as I read through the descriptions, is to remember that apparently monsters can have class levels. Orcs, for example, can be said to have fighting men and wizards in their packs. That can add an extra level of complexity, but I like that an orc could potentially be a threat to a tenth level character. It's very Tolkien-esque. I assume that an orc with class levels would operate as that class instead of using basic orc stats. So an orc Hero would work as a 4th-level fighting man, and not as an orc in the reference table here.

The Question of Giants

Giants are a little confusing. They're stated to act as mobile catapults as in Chainmail, but the rules for siege engines in Chainmail are limited at best--more guidelines than rules. It even says that sieges are a difficult prospect. On page 12, catapults deal an area of effect, and anyone in the AoE is killed outright. That seems harsh for a game like this. On page 22, it states that catapults deal 2 points of structural damage to a wall. The entry on page 34 for Giants doesn't give me much to go on, either, as it just re-iterates that they're light mobile catapults. They deal two dice of damage on a normal hit because of their size, but two dice of damage from a catapult seems low, while instant-kill seems high. Then again, targets are being crushed by a boulder, so maybe that's not unreasonable after all. It makes giants very scary and dangerous. Maybe I could houserule a saving throw vs. breath weapon to get out of the way of a thrown boulder.

Holy Crap! Level Drain?

That's brutal stuff, these monsters that actually drain levels of experience. I can already hear my players complaining about that one, but you know what? These creatures should be scary. I'm cool with it. Man, vampires are brutal but I guess Dracula wasn't that easy to kill in the book. It seems a little weird that vampires drain levels on a simple hit rather than a bite, but I guess it's all an abstract representation--maybe a vampire that hits is biting. 

Magic Weapons

There's a little bit of confusion regarding magic weapons. Do they or do they not add their magic bonus to damage? Swords seem to indicate they only do so if the weapon is designed to affect a specific creature (page 30), while miscellaneous weapons seem to indicate that they always add their bonus to damage, except in specific situations which are outlined per weapon. It's interesting that to score a bonus to damage with a bow, you need a magic arrow. There's also the bit about Wraiths taking only one die of damage from magical arrows. This seemed confusing at first, as I thought weapons only did one die of damage. But now it appears to indicate simply that Wraiths don't suffer bonus damage from magic arrows--so a magic arrow is +1 to hit a Wraith, but doesn't confer its damage bonus.

This is getting to be a lot to keep track of. I wonder if it would hurt the game if I just had magic weapons either all confer bonuses to damage, or have none of them confer magic bonuses to damage, just to simplify things. 

Most of the other magic items and treasures seem straightforward enough. Okay, let's move on to book 3 and dig into the meat of this thing. Hopefully it provides a bit more context to some of this stuff....



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