Monday, February 11, 2013

Top 5 Weirdest Charts in the DMG

Gary Gygax was nothing if not thorough.  Recently I revisited the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide (Right up there with the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract as the key books of my formative years) and I was blown away by the massive amount of charts and tables that occupy a substantial portion of the book’s 240 content crammed pages.  There seems to be a numerical representation of just about anything that one could imagine. Fortunately for us, Gygax thought of it first and saved us the headache about wondering on this stuff. Of course, the important stats like Attack Charts and Saving Throws are in there, but I am much more interested with some of the more odd content in there.  Has some of this stuff ever been used?  Was Gary trying to micromanage every game of D&D played around the world by having a hand in seemingly every event that occurred everywhere? Was he worried that some bizarre situation would arise and the DM would have no idea what to do? 

I went through the book and chose my favorites.  Here are the Top Five Weirdest Charts in the 1st Edition DMG:

5) Type of Harlot. There is a section in the back of the book that contains numerous charts for randomly determining NPC’s that the party may come across in an urban setting. Okay, I’m with you here, there is some purpose to that and it could be fun.  A nighttime roll of 44-50 means the party has come across a Harlot! Sounds exciting!  The odd thing is that the Harlot roll further yields a secondary roll that goes into more detail for the specific type of harlot. (Along with Drunk it’s the only NPC type that gets a roll for more info. That’s odd. And telling.) Among the Harlot subtypes available for perusal are the Slovenly Trull, Brazen Strumpet, Saucy Tart, and Aged Madam. That’s quite a list! And I am also slightly suspicious of Mr. Gygax’s vast knowledge of the world’s oldest profession.  I guess adventurers need to do something to blow off steam after all those lethal dungeons crawls. 

4) Maximum Height of Opponent that Can be Stunned by a Monk.  The poor Monk, as if it’s d4 Hit Die and bizarre set of abilities isn’t rough enough (not to mention that at high levels Monks are required to fight one another to the death in order to keep advancing), now there is a set in stone guideline for how tall someone can be if they are going to be stunned.  Considering the types of giants and heavyweight monsters out there, it’s not all that good.  A monk needs to be 10th level to stun someone that is 8 feet tall. Which pretty much includes any type of giant, troll, dragon, ogre, etc…

3)Spy Failure Table. I’m not sure I understand this section of the DMG at all.  There is a chart showing an Assassin’s chance to successfully spy on something based on level and difficulty.  But the better chart is the one that shows what happens to the spy if they fail.  If they are caught and a roll of 81-95 turns up the spy is caught with proof of their spying and then they are tortured.  This then leads to another chart that details the torturing of the worthless spy (1-2 dead, 3-4 reveals everything, 5-6 turncoat). Of course there is an additional note stating that if they spy was fanatical he will just kill himself instead.  I don’t know about any of this. Isn’t that an adventure? Shouldn’t all this stuff be roleplayed out? Where can I hire a fanatical spy?

2) Unexplained Sounds and Weird Noises.  This is located in the Dungeon Dressing section of the DMG, just some details to spice up an otherwise randomly built dungeon.  I do feel that this chart is a bit of an oxymoron.  I mean, the title says that they are Unexplained Sounds, but then it goes on to explain what they are.  Okay, let’s see how this works. 

DM: You are walking down the dimly lit stone passage and you hear a noise.

Player: (worried) What does the noise sound like?   

DM: (rolls dice) A gong. 

Player: What sort of gong?

At this point the DM would then consult the type of gong chart located on the next page.  I’m kidding about that, it’s actually located in the DMGII.

The entire Dungeon Dressing section is absolutely bizarre and remarkable in it’s thoroughness.  There is a chart that describes the Air Currents in the dungeons.  Yes, 15 different types of Air Currents are detailed including such diverse items as “Breeze, slight” and “Breeze, slight, damp”. 

1)Damage Taken by Lycanthropes During Transformation Due to Armor Worn.  Wow.  I don’t know what to say about this.  Does it matter? Does a DM really need to consult a chart for this? Is it important to know that a were-tiger will take 2-5 points of damage if they are wearing splint mail when they begin to transform? I really hope that somewhere in the long annals of D&D a character has died from this damage.  That would be the ultimate tribute to Gygax, for both his legendary lethality and his superhuman attention to detail.    

Monday, February 4, 2013

2nd Edition Fighter revisited

Having recently written about the Pathfinder changes to the3.5 version of the Fighter class, it got me thinking about how these character classes evolve over time.  RPG’s seem to be constantly changing in both theme and mechanics, to the point that there is even a semi recent trend of retro style games. Have the martial classes always been outclassed by the magic users? Has the Fighter ever been anything other than a guy in armor, or was he originally imagined to be more? So I decided to go back and check in on the 2nd edition version of the Fighter and see what the signature armed combatant of the D&D world looked like in the late 80’s/early 90’s, back when I started gaming. And what I found was a class that fills the melee role better than the later versions does. 

Like all 2nd edition characters, the Fighter has a lot less going on than it’s 3rd edition successors.  The entire entry in the PHB is barely a page, and the vast majority of it is a chart that shows the types of followers that they can attract when they become 9th level (a “Lord”). The main benefit of the class is the ability to use any weapon and armor and some additional weapon proficiencies.  I like that just because the Fighter is allowed to use all the weapons, that they don’t automatically know how to wield every instrument of death that there is.  This is a 1st level character, they probably haven’t had the opportunity to use military picks, all swords, as well as the guisarme-glaive and man-catcher.  The amount of weapon knowledge that characters have in 3.5 has always seemed a bit ridiculous.  A young rogue off the street is trained to use well over a dozen weapons effectively. That seems unlikely.

Reflective of their martial nature, all Warriors (which includes Fighters) have the most favorable THAC0 progression in the game and also have percentile Strength (with an 18 they get bonuses above what a non-warrior receives) and a better hit point bonus from a high Con.  I’m fine with all of this. Does it make sense that a Cleric can never be as strong as the strongest Fighters? Not really, but lots of things in fantasy roleplaying don’t make sense, like monks falling from ridiculous heights but not taking damage if they are sort of close to a wall.  I really don’t know what that is about.  I feel that hurting things through brute force is the domain of the warriors of the game and they should excel at it.

The thing that really sets the Fighter apart from just any old person with a bastard sword is Weapon Specialization, an ability that I feel makes the 2nd edition Fighter superior to the versions in the other incarnations of the game.  Weapon Specialization allows the Fighter to be a legit expert with a specific weapon type (it costs two proficiencies, so the Fighter can continue to add to this list as they gain proficiencies, there is no limit to their mastery). It’s also an ability that is only available to Fighters, not their brethren in the Warrior group (Rangers and Paladins).  Specialization with a weapon gives the Fighter +1 to attack, +2 to damage, and a significant increase in the number of attacks with the given weapon.  Additionally, specializing in a bow also grants the use of a Point Blank category that gives another +2 to hit on close ranged attacks.  For example, a 1st level Fighter with a 16 Strength specializing in the long sword is going to have a +1 to attack and a +3 to damage, and also attack three times every two rounds. Chances are that none of the non-warriors in the party are going to have any damage bonuses (in 2nd edition a 16 is needed in Str to get any sort of bonus), nor can they attack more than once a round. This long sword wielder is going to be doing significantly more damage in melee than anyone else.  It definitely serves to more clearly define the role of each character type. It you want to have a pretty consistent damage dealer in melee, the Fighter is going to be your man.

I think it would sadden the 2nd edition Fighter to see what became of him in the 3rd edition.  In an effort to streamline rules and make multiclassing and customization more accessible, the Fighter lost the edge that he had.  (Sure, there is still Weapon Specialization in 3rd but it sort of sucks.)  And I’m not even one of those people that feels that the Fighter in 3rd edition is horrible. But because of all the crazy spell options, the rogues sneak attack, classes like the Duskblade and even the Barbarian, the Fighter somehow lost his way as the master of combat and instead became a foot soldier better served to be cutdown by a PC, rather than a warrior of legend.  In 2nd edition you can still see the badass that he was meant to be. Or at least a warrior that isn't overshadowed by those around him.