Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Encounter Rules

Apologies for everyone who's been following this series.  I've only got a couple more posts to do before the Player's Manual is done, but with the new baby, I've had little time or energy for blogging recently.  Until this week, anyway.  So I'll get this post in tonight before going to bed, and I'll try to get the next couple posts up soon.  However, my new semester of grad school starts on Monday.  Posting may then also depend on how much reading I have to do each week in addition to everything else.

Encounter Rules

In this section, the new player is introduced to the finer aspects of an encounter: Surprise, Initiative, Pursuit and Evasion, and the Combat Sequence.  And all in just one page. 

Surprise - What it means to be surprised or to surprise monsters is explained, with examples referencing back to the starter adventure.  As we know, both sides roll a d6, with surprise happening on a 1 or 2.  If you're surprised, you get to do nothing while the other side may talk, attack, run away, etc.  If the other guys are surprised, you can do the same.  And if both sides are surprised, both sides stand gawking for a few seconds before anyone does anything.

There are two points of interest in this section. 
1. Confirmation of the idea that the surprise roll can cover as a 'stealth' roll for the party. 

There is more to an encounter than just walking into a room and seeing a monster. For example, you might have sneaked up on the creature - or it might have sneaked up on you!  (p. 58)
This idea is further supported later in many monster entries, where creatures with natural camouflage or sneakiness are given greater chances to surprise.  Anyway, yes, according to the rules, Fighters, Clerics, Magic-Users and demi-humans CAN sneak up on someone.  They've got a 1 in 3 chance to do it, too. 

2. Did Frank intend for surprise to work like it does in AD&D?  He's admitted many times on Dragonsfoot that he has always preferred AD&D as a rule-set.  The fourth paragraph of the first column begins in this way:

In group adventures, you roll to see who is surprised, and by how much. (p. 58, emphasis added)
By the rest of the rules, surprise never lasts longer than one round.  Yet this appears to imply that it could last longer (as it can in AD&D).  Perhaps Frank intended to do it the AD&D way, then changed his mind (or Gary decided it was too complex for the simpler version?) but this sentence didn't get fixed. 

Initiative - Who goes first?  Both sides roll a d6 and the higher number wins, simultaneous action on ties!  Simple, right?

Again, while the rules explicitly state that you can do anything you want on your initiative, including talking to the monsters (and that monsters will usually either talk or fight), it also implies that by rolling for initiative you are entering combat.  At least that's the impression I got from the rules as a kid.  And I got into D&D before I was heavy into video games, so the "monsters just attack" trope of NES games wasn't yet clouding my judgment. 

Reading it now, I see how it says to roll initiative at the beginning of an encounter to see who gets to do something first, separate from the combat sequence.  In my experience, players usually get to do what they want first when encountering monsters.  Initiative on first contact is a good way to shake things up, and could keep players on their toes as a monster or group of them get to decide to talk, attack, run away or wait.

Pursuit and Evasion -  If one side runs and the other decides to follow, use these rules.  The faster side gets away if they know where they are going.  If you're running away and the other side is faster (or knows where it is going and you don't), then it's suggested to drop some food or treasure that the monsters might stop to pick up.  This gives a 50% chance of evading the pursuer.  Nice and simple.

One of my favorite pictures in the book.
Combat Sequence - In order to manage combat easily, follow the following procedures (listed in chart form for player reference):
Roll for initiative
Winning side acts
  • Morale Check (monsters/NPCs only)
  • Movement
  • Missile Fire
  • Magic
  • Melee Combat
Losing side acts (as above)
DM adjudicates any special cases (retreats, spell effects, etc.) as necessary
Rinse and Repeat as needed

In actual play I've tried to keep to this order before, but often it's easiest just to go around the table and have everyone say what they will do in any order. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Deathstars and Droids

A gaming idea.  Probably not the first to suggest this, but...

How to run a Star Wars game with OD&D, BX, BECMI or Labyrinth Lord.

Jedi = Cleric
Sith = Elf
Droid = Thief
everyone else = Fighter

Species is more or less irrelevant.  A Star Wars human is roughly the same as a Rhodian or Zabrak or Mon Calamari.

However, for especially tough, strong or large aliens like Wookiees or Gamoreans, use the Dwarf class (unless a jedi or sith).  Likewise, for small species like Jawas or Ewoks, use the Halfling class.

lightsaber = 1d10 dmg
blaster pistol = 1d6 dmg
blaster rifle = 1d8 dmg

Wing everything else.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Work in Progress for Halloween 2014

Last year for my kindergarten's Halloween party, I made myself a Ghostbuster costume, while my son went in a store-bought Black Spider-Man costume.

This year, he's got the DIY bug, and wants me to create a costume for him.  So for the past couple of weekends, we've been working with scrap cardboard, hot glue, and tape to build a basis.  Then, this evening I stopped by the "dollar" store and picked up a few things to add to the design.  For 2000 won each, I got a black plastic jump rope, an LED flashlight, and some novelty sunglasses.  Turns out the LED is too heavy, so I'll have to go back and get a smaller one.  But so far, the costume is shaping up well.

Here are some pics:
The basic helmet/mask and shoulder pads.

The dollar store purchases.

 Sunglass lenses in the eye sockets.

Cut up jump rope for dreadlocks.

Yep, my boy wants to be a Predator for Halloween.

While it may not look like much yet, I think it'll look pretty good when I get done with it.  And I've still got plenty of time to work on it.  Here are the pics from last year.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Well, posts have been slow, and I'll show you why...

Yep, we've got a new baby!  And yes, I'm reading him The Hobbit even though he's not even a month old yet.  Never too early to start.  I actually wish I'd done this when our first son was born, but in the moves from Japan to Korea to the U.S. and back to Korea, I got rid of my old paperback copy, and by the time I finally got around to ordering the hardback edition seen above, my son didn't want anything to do with a story that didn't have big bright pictures on every page.

Anyway, I'm not sure when I'll get back to work on Chanbara (I've got ideas, just not much time to work on them) or to running the Isle of Dread game.  Especially since I've got the final semester of grad school classes starting soon, and then a dissertation to tackle. 

I also came up with an idea for a Flying Swordsmen set of adventures using the 5-Room Dungeon format, thanks to using some of them for the Hi/Lo Heroes game I'm running with one of my private English students. 

Anyway, enough blathering about me.  If you're also on Google+, check out +Jez Gordon's Anti-GenCon events this weekend.  Lots of online games to play (and not just OSR stuff) this weekend.  I won't have the time, I figure, but hey, you might!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

You've come into possesson of a map...

Last night we started off our 5E Isle of Dread game.  I had three players, Jeremy as Mr. Jones the Drow Fighter (criminal background), Michael as Quaiblar the Elf Rogue (scholar background) and Prester John the Human Cleric (soldier background). 

We realized after the game that we didn't get a few rules right, and some of the play test options we used may not be balanced against some of the stuff in the Basic Rules pdf, but it was pretty fun.  5E has new school mechanics but an old school feel to the way it plays, like several of the retro-clone games out in the OSR.  While it's mechanically more streamlined, it also feels very similar to 3E in the way it plays.  I think I'd agree with the online consensus that it meshes 2E adventure/design philosophy with 3E mechanics philosophy.

In the adventure, our three heroes (well, the drow is actually evil, which is a refreshing change and the reason I allowed a drow to be played - never want to see another Drizzt clone at my table again!) found a journal and map by R.B. telling of the Isle of Dread, the friendly inhabitants in the southern peninsula, the Great Wall, the dangers beyond, and rumors of a "city of the gods" and a "great black pearl of the gods" to be found there.  The map had the coastal areas and the friendly peninsula mapped out.  This was enough to get them preparing an expedition.

They each hired an NPC warrior to accompany them, bought supplies and wampum for trade (yes, the politically correct police can come and arrest us, insensitive stereotypes were abused in this game), and set sail.  A week later, they arrived at the Isle of Dread.  They successfully navigated past the reefs and made landfall at Tanaroa village next to the wall.

The villagers were friendly, and the chief Mira of the Hawk and zombie mistress could both speak Common, so they were able to trade a bit, get some information, and prepare to head out past the Wall.  Just as they were about to head out, there was a commotion in the village.  Some of the natives were informed by arrow-message from a boat that Chief Mira's brother and his men were taken prisoner by pirates, and would be sold into slavery unless they were paid 500gp. 

Well, our intrepid heroes took up the challenge and decided to borrow some outrigger canoes to start sailing west around the coast, looking for the pirate camp while their ship sailed around the peninsula to meet them.  The first day they made landfall on a rocky coast and spent the night in the ship, with the elf and drow taking turns at watch up on land.  Quaiblar discovered a raw gemstone in the cliff and took it. 

The next day they continued around the coast, moving out of the jungle area into some volcanic wastes.  That night, while on watch, Mr. Jones heard the distant sound of simian growls and hoots, and while distracted a giant spider attacked.  This spider shot beams of energy at him before he was able to take it down with his whips.  Quaiblar joined him, and they found another spider in the lair, which hit Jones with a web attack, but Quaiblar was able to take it down with his bow and then a sneak attack.  No treasure, however.

The day after the ship caught up with them, and they all set sail at a faster pace.  That night they made landfall on a small volcanic island where a starving baboon attacked, but was easily dispatched.  While serving it up for dinner, Jones commented that it tasted like human (he's also been constantly surveying the natives, trying to decide which ones will make good slaves if he can convince some to return to the mainland).  Well, the sailors didn't take kindly to talk of eating manflesh, and were going to murder the Drow, but Prester and Quaiblar stepped in to prevent it. 

Another day's sail brought them around several more small islands and another reef.

The next day, early, they sailed past an uncharted bit of coast and found the pirate camp.  At first they thought it might be only natives, but the three warriors Mira sent with them to rescue her brother made it obvious through sign language.  Hoping that no pirates were up early and on watch, they continued to sail past.  After a brief discussion about whether to sail around that island or continue on to the next and camp until dark (drow being disadvantaged in daylight), or to try and just pelt the camp with arrows, they decided to beach on the next small island and return at dusk to battle the pirates.

And that's where we called it for the night.

The Isle of Dread update adds in some ideas for linking the various adventure locations on the island, which is useful. 

As I expected, the plentiful self-healing of this edition (hit dice spent during short rests, total healing during long rests) meant that the PCs were always at full health. 

The cleric didn't get much combat action this game because the encounters were random and at night while the elves were on watch, so he never had to cast a spell or swing his mace. 

Character generation was more involved than Classic or AD&D, but also a bit more evocative, as mixing backgrounds, motivations, and personality bits can give characters a little more flair before they enter play.

Monster ACs are low, and both the Fighter and Rogue are optimized for combat.  The battles were quick and far.