28 April 2012
In both Labyrinth Lord and basic D&D, dragons appear in the monster section of each rulebook. Dragons are an extremely nasty monster, even for experienced players. Can you even use them against a low level (1-3) party?
The weakest dragon type is a white dragon. Here is a quick refresher on its stats:
AC: 3 HD: 6 D: 1-4/1-4/2-16
Let's start with hit points. If the expected value of a 1d8 is 4.5, the average white dragon will have 27 hp. That hp amount is not out of bounds for a party of 6-8 well-armed 1 level players (q.v. the orge or minatuar in the Keep on the Borderlands). Three attacks per round isn't, by itself, a show stopper for beginning characters. Carrion crawlers/Carcass Scavengers get 8 attacks per round. However, the bite of a white dragon is pretty vicious with an expected value of 9hp. That's a death sentence for all classes by very harty dwarves and fighters.
But we haven't gotten to the really terror of dragons: their breath weapons.
If you have forgotten (and readers of this blog almost certainly have not), dragon breath weapons cause as much damage as the creature's remaining hit points. Even those that make their saving throws will take half that damage. If this weren't enough, note that breath weapon attacks are area attacks, that is, one attack affects everyone with a certain area. Yikes!
The Moldvay rules explicitly state that all dragons will use their breath weapon as their first attack! So, our average white dragon will spew a 80'x30' cone of frosty death for 27 hp of damage on the first round it attacks. Against our first level party, none of the affected PCs will survive. No first level character can have more than 11 hp. Assuming every PC saves, the breath weapon charitably does 13 points of damage.
Total party kill, indeed.
But there is an out: dragon age.
The Moldvay rules state that the dragon stats given are merely average values. Young dragons will have 3 fewer HD, while older ones have 3 more HD.
So the young white dragon will have 3 HD and, on average, 12-15 hp.
Now the breath weapon is slightly more survivalable. The 12 hp version of the draon will still kill all players who fail their save and most of the non-fighters who make theirs. That's pretty grim! But what is perhaps worse is that the drgaon still have vicious claw/claw/bite attacks. These attacks are not affected by age.
Our young dragon's bite IS worse than its bark/breath.
So should low adventures include dragons? I wouldn't rule them out. The Lake Geneva boys knew that dragons would be a challenge for new players. However, I can't think of a better "end boss" for a campaign. I suggest dragons would make a poor choice for wandering monsters though.
20 April 2012
I have done my part. There are great perks for contributing, not the least of which is a set of lead figures.
16 April 2012
«IT TAKES TOO LONG TO LEVEL!!!»
Who hasn't heard this refrain from their players or even themselves.
In B/X and AD&D, experience points from adventuring must be divided equally among the surviving members of the party. But to survive, especially at the lower levels, you need a fairly large party (6-10). Even if you weight retainers and NPCs less than PCs (as I do), that's still A LOT of kobolds, goblins and orcs to smite before even the humble fighter can see level two.
Let's make the math simple. An orc is worth 10XP. Fighters need 2035XP to get to level 2. A solo PC fighter will need to slay or banish 204 orcs to level. TWO HUNDRED AND FOUR ORCS mano-a-mano.
But since the survival rate of one fighter against this many orcs is vanishingly small, let's group 10 fighters into a party. That means to that the party must face 2040 orcs for each member of the party to become veterans.
That's nuckin' futs.
While I tip my hat to those players with copious spare time to do it the right way, I propose GRADING ON A CURVE.
Perhaps we could cut the XP requirements by a quarter or a half? Said another way, perhaps we could double the XP value of monsters? Would that really wreck the game?
I don't think so.
Let's evince some Vancian detachment from our PCs. Let 'em level quicker, play high level modules sooner and retire quicker so that we can play other PCs. That's not such a bad plan, is it?
Share your thoughts in the comments below or mouth off on your own blog. XP: slow and steady or petal to the metal?
15 April 2012
Too many interruptions from life have impeded my OSR blogging of late. However, a few notes.
I am pleased that Grognardia's Dwimmermount kickerstater raised %300 of their original goal. $50K is a lot of money to be throwing around. I wonder if this is on the radar of WotC. I suppose it doesn't matter.
I see that Jeff Dee has a series of kickstarters too. I wish to bring more attention to these, as I like to see the original art work restored.
While I love to look at AD&D modules for ideas, I really do not like the ruleset. There is way too much to track in an AD&D game for my tastes. I realize I am not in the majority here. I continue to marvel at the simplicity of the Moldvay '81 rules, which Labyrinth Lords mostly copied (and improved upon: Plate Armor really should be expensive!)
I am late to the party, but I recall seeing a round of discussion on OSR blogs about initiative. In my world, initiative happens at the start of combat only. Then, each side alternates. Is this realistic? Nope, but it is simple. So far, I have had no complaints.
I hope to find more goodies in my Dragon expedition, but I still have tax stuff to deal with. Where is my +4 Battleaxe vs. Bureaucracy when I need it?
02 April 2012
You will pardon my hiatus. A perfect storm of illness, work crises and lethargy keep me from my RPG rounds. Also, I have been playing the rather nifty Realm of the Mad God, a Flash-based MMO with NES style graphics.
While I am not generally a fan of MMOs, this one is about my speed. There is no back story worth discussing. You spend almost no time rolling characters. And, most importantly, PC death is permanent! Sound familiar?
As I have previously posited, D&D is a kind of wagering game. Players attempt to achieve goals by betting their PCs life. Like RotMG, PC death is very hard and expensive to overcome which is what makes their pretend lives meaningful.
Jason McIntosh has written about the trend in modern games to lessen the sting of the death of the player's avatar. In many ways, the death of video game avatars is a legacy of the co-op arcade origin of modern games. I certainly enjoyed CRPGs more when characters could be raised from a premature death (like in the Might & Magic series).
With real PC death, even World of Warcraft starts to look interesting. PvP anyone?
01 April 2012
I am a big fan of the work James Maliszewski does over at Grognardia. After his Dwimmermount campaign, I suspect his next biggest legacy will be is classification of the history of the D&D hobby into various "ages."
For me, the interesting bit is where to draw the line between the Golden Age and the Silver Age. Which is another way of saying, when did TSR turn up the suck knob on this hobby? And who is to blame?
One obvious fracture in the history of TSR is the ouster of E. Gary Gygax at the end of 1985. TSR products took on a very different sheen after that; a sheen I did not ken to.
A lot of blame of the suckage gets dumped on Dragonlance, the work of Tracy and Laura Hickman. Certainly, I thought that series was unctuous and boring. However, I enjoyed the heck out of the Desert of Desolation series, which apparently is not universally loved. Heck, I think the original Ravenloft module is entertaining (if not exactly what I would want from a Vampire module).
Dungeon hacking is fun, but it does get old. Give the Hickmans some credit for trying some new.
Being older and having seen real companies grow and change. Leadership really does matter, as Apple is about to find out (and Microsoft has already learned after a decade of failure from Balmer).
So if the Hickmans rose in ascendance at TSR, might Gygax be to blame? After all, that dude was busy in the early eighties. He was spinning up various media deals and spending a lot of time in California. There is little question that Gygax was a real content producer and visionary in the 70s, but perhaps he was grooming others to take on that mantle.
Certainly, later Gygax products for TSR were mediocre. Unearthed Arcana should have been called The Best of Dragon, IV. Oriental Adventures was unfinished as a system and felt more like fan-fiction. And he pretty much farmed out the completion of the Temple of Elemental Evil to poor Mentzer (you might not like the product but at least he got something published). Any wonder why the Blume brothers might have been looking for a replacement for Gygax and a content visionary?
One last point I would make is terms like "golden age" are always misleading, tinged with nostalgia, and willfully forget the terrible bits of the time. 1975-1983 was a crazy time for a hobby trying to define itself. Great things certainly were produced during that time (a time when frankly adults seemed to have read a lot more pulp fiction than they do now). When I look back at that time, I can't but see the Zeitgeist of the times. Despite the paranoia and disillusionment engendered by Watergate, there was still a lot of optimism in this country that is absent today. That's why radically dystopian games like Gamma World and Paranoia could still have a light sense of humor.
Mostly, what was good about the Golden Age was that no one knew what D&D should be. This allowed for a lot of influences on the game that would later be filtered out.
I realize that as hobbists, we owe a lot to Gygax, Arneson, and company. But as adults, we can be more critical and honest with ourselves. Luckily, D&D has been "open sourced." We can make of the hobby what we will.