Monday, December 1, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 21

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Monsters & Treasure

Pages 3 and 4 offer up the comprehensive original D&D Monster Table. One of the things I’ve always liked about this original edition of D&D is the raw statistical presentation of the Monsters. There are but seven columns on this reference table, and one is of course the Monster Type (name). In regard to the columns, I really only make use of three of the six columns for each type of Monster; Armor Class, Move in Inches, and Hit Dice. I give very little consideration to Number Appearing, % in Lair and Type or Amount of Treasure, and I doubt I’m in the minority there as I pick and choose encounters and treasure for the most part. Those times I do use random tables for stocking dungeons, I rely on a version of the Volume 3 guidelines, but more on that in an upcoming post in this series.

The grouping of the Monsters is telling, as it is not alphabetical, nor by power, but by loose categories. Of interest to me is the placement of Men at the top. Men, being one of the two Monsters in D&D that might be Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic are somewhat unique, while the rest of the Bad Guys below them are primarily Chaotic, per Volume 1, p. 9. I’ll classify them with the Bad Guys for now, keeping in mind that many of them are not always Chaotic.

The Monster Categories:
Bad Guys: Men, Kobolds, Goblins, Orcs, Hobgoblins, Gnolls, Ogres, Trolls, Giants.
Dead Guys: Skeletons, Zombies, Ghouls, Wights, Wraiths, Mummies, Spectres, Vampires.
Save or Stoned Guys: Cockatrices, Basilisks, Medusae, Gorgons.
Monsters of Myth: Manticoras, Hydras, Chimeras, Wyverns, Dragons, Gargoyles, Lycanthropes, Purple Worms, Sea Monsters, Minotaurs.
Fairy Tale Miscellany: Centaurs, Unicorns, Nixies, Pixies, Dryads, Gnomes, Dwarves, Elves, Treants, Pegasi, Hippogriffs, Rocs, Griffons.
The Otherworldly: Invisible Stalkers, Elementals, Djinn, Efreet.
Icky-Stuff: Ochre Jelly, Black Pudding, Green Slime, Gray Ooze, Yellow Mold.
Monsters Mundane: Horses, Mules, Small Insects and Animals, Large Insects and Animals.

The Save or Stoned Guys are technically Monsters of Myth, but are in a subcategory based on their special power. I’m not sure whether Purple Worms are truly Monsters of Myth, but with Minotaurs as one of that category’s bookends, I’ll make that assumption.

Clearly, Treants are a Tolkienism, but again they are book ended by various Fairy Tale Miscellany entries, some of which are Monsters of Myth as well, but are differentiated from that category by a certain Lawfulness.

My point? None to be made, other than that there is a method to the seemingly hodge-podge feel of the table. The MONSTER REFERENCE TABLE is presented in the order you see above; all I have done is insert the categories.

Special Ability: “…it is generally true that any monster or man can see in total darkness as far as the dungeons are concerned except for player characters.”
A fine example of the wargamer mentality of early D&D. Realism is not the intent here. Placing obstacles and challenges before the players is the ultimate goal.

Attack/Defense: “…simply a matter of allowing one roll as a man-type for every hit die…a Troll would attack six times…”
Just to point out the obvious, the above only applies to those using the CHAINMAIL combat rules. As noted previously, I use the Alternative Combat System from Men & Magic, so this passage does not apply to my games.

I'll move on to Monster Descriptions next.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


David said...

So, with the alternative combat system, a troll gets.... one attack? For 1d6? That seems inordinately weak for a troll. In that case, a monster's sole advantage over any other monster is AC and special abilities.

Now, granted, I don't have a proper solution. Still, this struck me as a fault in the combat system in oD&D when I played the one game of it that I have.

How do you handle powerful creatures (and characters!), if not by giving them extra attacks and/or damage?

Sham aka Dave said...

The OD&D Troll is weak compared to say the 1e Troll, yes. In OD&D terms its fairly strong due to its regeneration.

You have to take all of the damage done in context. Characters and Monsters share d6 for HD. Most attacks deal 1d6/round. Ogres deal 1d6+2 due to strength, while Trolls, as strong as Ogres, deal less due to using claws and bites instead of weaponry, but regenerate nearly an average HD each round.

Again, you can pick up Greyhawk and use those supplemental rules if you like. Number of Attacks, damage ranges, and variable HD are introduced in that very first add-on.

Combat is abstract, so very few participants receive more than a single attack. Damage is increased over the course of melee by the ability to hit more often with experience, and by magic items which might add a few points to that d6.

Many Monsters deal 2d6 damage or more due to mass or strength.

If you are using the rules, and actually rolling the HD as indicated (for example, a Minotaur and a Myrmidon share 6 HD, the average of which is only 21 HP), I think 1d6 damage is balanced. When the PC's outnumber a Monster, no matter his HD, they can make short work of it.

David, it seems to me that you are attempting to enjoy OD&D, which I encourage you to continue to do, but that there are a few sticking points that keep turning you off. I might suggest that you very simply notate a few changes or house rules you wish to implement, and enjoy the creative potential afforded by the open-ended guidelines here.

Nothing says you have to stick with the abstract 1d6/round combat model.

John said...

You are correct in your placement of purple worms. If you realize that they were originally Purple Wyrms, that is, non-flying non-breathing purple dragons, things make some sense

Sham aka Dave said...

There must be some literary or mythological reference, or perhaps Minotaurs are out of place and Purple Worms and Sea Monsters have their own Big Fatties category.

Snorri said...

This 'number of attacks' issuee counts among the clues that makes me think that Od&d is truly clearer with chainmail, and 2d6 works finer than 1d20. It seems the whole d20 system, including saving thrown, has been added without a complete rewriting of the rules. I guess the fisrt saving thrown system was more or less tied to abilities, rather the 'abstract' alternative system.

Sham aka Dave said...

I agree, Snorri. In a world of Men fighting Men, I like the weapon vs armor and 2d6 Chainmail rules.

The Fantasy section of Chainmail is good as well, as it is able to cross-reference each type against one another.

D&D introduces experience, levels (HD) and items (armor, weapon, magic items) and the whole thing becomes far too complex to cross-reference every variable.

Without some major tinkering, Chainmail rules fall down somewhere along the way to being translated to D&D.

Dwayanu said...

Having more Hit Dice means that (within defined bands) a combatant dishes out more damage on average. It also allows taking more damage on average. In the context of D&D's rather abstract combat model, this makes sense; look at the outcome in the long run. It also keeps things simpler and faster-playing than multiple attacks.

Some monsters (e.g., ogres, giants, and -- via breath weapon -- dragons)do more damage per "hit," as do magic weapons. The rarity of this distinction makes it all the more impressive!

Sham aka Dave said...

Good points, Dwayanu. It's not always about what a character can do in a single round, but in the context of the entire melee/encounter. And I'd add something I've said along these lines before; give two trained fighters a few minutes to go at each other, and it doesn't matter whether they are armed with dagger or spear or battle axe. Meaning that any of the above can deal a killing blow in the right hands. In fact, from a tactical standpoint, the above foes might switch between those weapons based on the circumstances.

I also enjoy some variety rather than the min/max approach of 1e where every Fighter wanted a Long Sword and its 1d8/1d12 damage range.

Geoffrey said...

I greatly prefer all weapons doing 1 die of damage. As a referee it makes things a lot easier (such as not having to write down the weapons every single Deep One has). As a player, it's nice to be able to use whatever weapon I think is particularly cool, rather than hunting through the weapon damage lists (such as in the AD&D PHB).

Because I like variety and rolling all those pretty dice, my CARCOSA book has dice rules that make each weapon indeed do one die of damage. But any given weapon will sometimes do 1d4 damage, sometimes 1d6, sometimes 1d8, sometimes 1d10, and sometimes 1d12.

Sham aka Dave said...

my CARCOSA book has dice rules that make each weapon indeed do one die of damage

Speaking of which, I'll be checking the mail for my copy of CARCOSA this week! :-)

Dwayanu said...

"Such things as speed, ferocity, and weaponry of the monster attacking are subsumed in the matrixes."

Complications tend to be designed on the assumption that those things were not already factored in, and that it somehow makes sense to lay a blow-by-blow treatment on top of factors based on a thoroughly different premise.

Sham aka Dave said...

Great point, Dwayanu. I also think that players of later editions find it more difficult to embrace the OD&D Alternative Combat System as they often arrive expecting certain combat features. I count myself amongst such players, because my earliest house rules were aimed at adding depth to melee. I have since come around and realized that the original method is perfect for the type of games I desire.

Skydyr said...

While I have not found it written in explicitly, the one attack per HD rule seems to be where in later editions like B/X fighting men were able to have multiple attacks on 1 HD creatures (what I think OD&D might call normal men). This comes out of chainmail where, for example, a hero would attack as 4 men. I think it would make sense to allow this ability for monsters as well, in that when fighting 1HD players, henchmen, hirelings, etc. they have as many attacks as HD, but once they start fighting someone stronger, even 2nd level, they go back to one attack per round.

Additionally, one of the benefits that greater fantasy monsters like trolls have in chainmail is that normal men cannot hit them. One of the special abilities of elves is specifically the ability to damage powerful fantasy creatures. In the transition to the alternative combat system, a great deal of their special abilities are lost unless you import these from chainmail. Unfortunately, that is a pain to do directly, but a rule that normal men can't attack these creatures might work (I have not actually tried this).

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Il Male™ said...

I'm a little late on this, but I always thought Purple Worms were inspired by the desert worms in Herbert's Dune series. If that's true, they should fall in the "Monsters inspired by novels" category, which also features the various references to monsters of Mars scattered around the 0e (white apes, for instance). BTW, this series of posts is always very inspiring :)