Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Playing AD&D Combat Like It's 1979

It seemed like such a good idea a few weeks ago.  "Hey, you know what fellas?  AD&D is being reprinted!  We're already playing Labyrinth Lord with the Advanced Edition Companion - it's practically AD&D now, so why don't we just convert all the way?"

Let me tell how you that's working out.

First, the good news.  I still have a group of players, and the game hasn't blown up, but then again, I haven't sent out invites for next weekend's game.  (We'll see who shows up).  After a few days of pouring over pages 61-71 of the DMG this weekend, the general consensus from the guys seemed to be, "WTF, Gygax?"

I consider EGG a creative genius; I love his adventure modules, especially those classic high level AD&D romps from the 70's, with their blend of exploration and intricate, tactical combat.  But his gift was not the art of clear and understandable rules.

Here are our observations on how AD&D by-the-book differs from the beloved editions.

There's a requirement of calculating how much the surprised side lost the roll, because they get punched in the face over and over again for that many segments - just bam, bam, bam, straight rights, to the kisser.  Luckily, I don't foresee this happening often; the group has 2 ranger meat shields and a Brownie familiar named Packer, so they usually can't be surprised, and since they clomp around in plate mail holding continual  light spells, the only monsters they can surprise are already deaf and blind.

The high roll wins initiative, but then you calculate the number of segments between the two rolls to determine when the other side gets to go.  So when the party rolls a 5, and the monsters roll a 2, the party actually goes on 1, and the monsters actually go on 4.  Perfectly clear.

My house rule is that the winner is the low roll, and the sides act on the segment showing on the die; in the example of a 2 and a 5, the 2 wins initiative and acts on segment 2, the other side starts on 5.  It keeps the spirit of the rule without the awesome math.

One of the characters was getting double teamed by a pair of trolls last game, and wasn't happy that all 6 attacks were happening at the same time.  Of course, I knew there was a rule calling out "attack routines" like claw\claw\bite as a single attack sequence (and not the AD&D definition of multiple attacks, which happen staggered later in the round), but of course I couldn't find it mid-game.  (It's here in the section on initiative).

Random Missile and Melee Targets
When firing into a melee, you randomly determine the target - including friends.  It turns out you randomly determine the opponent for  a melee swing, too.  No more tactics around "let's whittle down the wounded monster".  Random, I say!

Closing to Striking Range
In classic D&D, every combatant can move 1/3 of their speed each combat round and still make an attack; the typical plate-wearing fighter can move 20' and swing.  Players get used to being able to move and attack.

AD&D handles things… differently.  First off, you can move your entire movement (60' - or should I say - 6") and then neither side gets a swing for the rest of that round.  Monsters that move 12" can cover a gigantic chunk of terrain - that's like the next zip code.  Then they move in carefully the last few feet and ensure neither side gets in an attack.  One of the guys likes this, from the perspective that winning initiative is no longer a penalty - you can saunter up and tie down the front liners.  Everyone else, not so much.

If you really want to move and attack, it's got to be a charge - you lose your AC dexterity bonus, run like mad, but you get a +2 to the swing.  However, the guy with the longer weapon gets the first attack when the charger enters melee distance, and you better hope they don't have spears or pole arms.

I don't mind the AD&D approach to closing to striking range, but the players hate it.  Most of the time, monsters are coming out of the dark, and the party doesn't even see them until they enter the lighted up zone, and then the monsters tie down the front line because they "closed to striking range".  Roll a new initiative.  Muhaha.

Weapon Speed Factors
Weapon speed factors are not very coherent.    I was using speed factors to break the tie in simultaneous combat, but after a closer reading of that section, I saw that it actually says you only use speed factors when both guys are using weapons!  So a natural weapon wouldn’t count, and you wouldn't break out weapon speed factors when fighting monsters armed with claws.  But then the very next sentence goes on to point out that fist/punch (a natural weapon that uses a weapon speed of 1) would strike before a dagger, at speed 2, if there was a tie, and I was back to being thoroughly confused.

I won't even go into the next series of paragraphs, which speak to how one combatant with a really fast weapon might get a bunch of swings before the other guy gets a single swing, all in the same round.  I have no idea how that's meant to interact with multiple attacks, attack routines, and who knows what else.  Everyone should be swinging daggers!

Luckily, there's this quote over on Dragonsfoot where Gary, in later years, had this to say about weapon speeds:

"Aargh!  Forget weapons speed factors. I must have been under the effect of a hex when I included them in the bloody rules."

When the boss says a rule is bunk, I'm glad to drop-kick it.  Hey, what are the odds that WOTC takes a Sharpie to the weapon speed factor section of their reprints and puts Gary's quote in the margins?

OSRIC to the Rescue
Let's say you want to jump on the AD&D bandwagon, like us.  The new books are coming out, and in a euphoria of gamer attention deficit disorder, you too retcon your campaign.  Don't end up with edition beer goggles!  There's no need to wake up in the morning, your hand draped over the 1E DMG, reaching for aspirin and alkaselzer and wondering if you went to one of those Elvis chapels to get permanently hitched to that efreet cover.

OSRIC dumps the weapon speed factors (per the boss's quote up there) and restates the AD&D combat rules simply and clearly.  You get all the perks of running AD&D combat without having to cross-index the text, like a Biblical scholar, and deal with the obfuscation.  Plus, the OSRIC pdf is well-hyperlinked and tablet friendly; you can get your own copy here:  OSRIC.  I can truly appreciate the awesome job those guys did!

The 1E DMG is a great read, but it's not the best reference for use while actually running a game.  I'm reminded how I started with Moldvay BX, and all those years playing "AD&D" back in the 80's meant that we were really just using the BX combat system with the player's handbook and monster manual.  Judging by my player's reactions, they're encountering the AD&D combat system for the first time as well.  Wish us luck as we continue to play (mostly by the book) as if the Moldvay BX edition was never printed in 1980.

I do think the players are *really* enjoying spell components and casting times in melee.  I've got a nose for these things.