Saturday, February 25, 2012

Troll Fight Deconstructed - Gothic Greyhawk Game 55

Earlier this week, I made a post identifying all the things that stood out for us as "different" in AD&D combat (Playing AD&D Combat Like it's 1979) versus the classic editions we've played the most.  What motivated those observations is the fight described below.  Instead of the normal approach to a game report, I'm changing it up to include a round by round account of how this particular AD&D fight developed.

The party had camped for the night and deployed their standard watches; during one of the shifts, Moore (MU), Mordecai (Cleric), Shy (Fighter), and Digit (Thief), were sharing the watch.  The party typically can't be surprised when Moore is up and active, because his brownie familiar prevents surprise.  The watch men became aware of some monsters at encounter range, when a stench drifted into the camp and they heard the sound of claws clambering on rocks out in the dark.

The group won initiative, and adjusted their placement slightly; the fighter moved to the edge of the camp and "held his combat action", but the casters had no one to target yet and declared no spells; you can’t "attack the darkness".  The elf thief also passed.  They called out for everyone else to wake up; a handful of people started to stir (based on rolls).

One thing I mentioned in the combat post is that movement rates in AD&D are really big.  When the monster's turn came, they had enough movement to close to melee range from out of the darkness (and in AD&D, you can close slowly without giving the other side a swing).  As the monsters entered the firelight, the party saw it was a pair of trolls.

In round 2, Moore declared a fireball, and Mordecai declared a prayer spell.  The party won initiative, and Digit the thief moved off to the flank and ducked out of the light, attempting move/hide rolls.  Shy swung and tagged a troll.  The fireball was aimed so that it would roast the back of the trolls but not the character in melee with them - I make the player make a roll when attempting such finely aimed placement, and use grenade rules to determine the shift, so it's possible to catch your own guy in the blast.  But after reading how AD&D favors catching friendly characters in missile fire (because of the assumed movement during a round) I'm probably being too generous!

Meanwhile, characters that were still in their tents and under blankets started to clamber out and get to their feet in round 2.

On the troll's turn, Shy was targeted by both trolls doing their claw\claw\bite routines, and he took like 30+ damage.

For round 3, more casters were up, and all the arcane casters switched to magic missiles.  The rolled initiative was simultaneous, so spells would be delayed by casting times.  Previously, I said we'd use weapon speed to break ties in simultaneous combat, and the trolls had natural weapons, so their attacks would happen first.  Rolling multiple double damage crits, the trolls did enough damage to put the fighter well below -10 in a single round, killing Shy.  Whether Shy would have gotten a swing was immaterial to the result, but the group got upset that each monster's entire attack routine (like claw/claw/bite) all happens on the same initiative and doesn't get staggered down the segments like player multiple attacks.  Thus, I encouraged everyone to pour over pages 61-71 of the 1E DMG to get a handle on AD&D's combat system (and compare/contrast with how OSRIC streamlined things).

Digit had skirted the trolls and made a sneak roll to come up behind them; by now, other fighters like Leonidas and Kobra, who had clambered to their feet last round, charged the trolls on their turn.  Magic missiles went off a segment later, and the trolls were pounded by 3-4 magic missiles per caster (Forlorn, Moore and Konstantine all unleashed spells).

The fight ended on Round 4, with the party winning initiative and destroying the last troll.  They had plenty of wooden brands to thrust into the fire and cauterize the troll corpses.  Mordecai had been carrying a scroll with Raise Dead, and they decided to Raise Dead on the spot.  This generated a ruling; Raise Dead implies that a character needs a day of bed rest for each day they were dead; what if they were dead only a few minutes?

After seeing what a mess the AD&D weapon speed rules are (at least as presented in the 1E DMG), I'm fairly sure we'll be dropping them, and just using weapon lengths during a charge movement as a differentiator.  But the comments from the other day had some good suggestions, and I'm going to see how 2E suggested using weapon speeds and initiative.

One critique I have for the group's play is how they use the clerics.  We started this campaign using LOTFP (the original version) a long time ago; when the group got to the mid-levels and we agreed to work in all sorts of classic AD&D modules, we converted to Advanced Edition Companion (and now AD&D 1E) because AD&D's classic modules are combat-heavy and AD&D clerics fight as well as fighters - a big change from LOTFP's approach, where clerics never improve at fighting ability.  The group needs to keep that in mind; if the plate-armored cleric had supported the front line with Shy, it's likely they wouldn't have had to waste their Raise Dead.

I have a few quick questions for readers.  I remember Raise Dead caused a 1 point loss in Constitution, but I couldn't find that in either the PHB or DMG; is that only a 2E and later rule?

The AD&D Monster Manual has curious phrasing about trolls and regeneration.  Classic D&D specifically says trolls don't regenerate from being burned with fire or acid; AD&D phrases it differently.  Trolls regenerate (no exclusion for damage types), but the only way to permanently kill them is applying fire or acid.  I read that to mean trolls regenerate from everything, but when they're at zero hit points, that's when burning keeps them dead.  Maybe I'm reading it too closely; maybe you can't read anything in AD&D that closely.

For folks that follow these game reports for the story side of things, here's how the group got to this point:  they had apologized to the gnomes, and through diplomacy, brokered a deal where they would tackle the Black Temple and the monstrous forces that were harassing the gnome vale, while the gnomes would patrol the lost caverns in the interim.  The two groups would use caged pigeons and speak with animals to keep these disparate forces in communication, since they'd be many days apart across mountainous terrain.  The troll encounter happened after days of travel, when the group camped not far from the Black Temple.  They're planning a scouting mission for the following day.

Here was one significant thing:  one of the meatshield rangers earned a name!   The party was tracking the monstrous raiders from the gnome vale across various mountain valleys, but on the third day, a drizzle started around 3am, and by sunrise, the tracks had taken a couple of hours of rain.  The chance to track was down to 5% and dwindling hourly.

Meatshield 1 took the lead and the player attempted a tracking roll - and made it with a 03%!  The group cheered, since they were actually near the Black Temple and found it that morning.  They gave him an immediate promotion to a fully named henchman member of BK Inc.

Meatshield's new adventuring name is "Bing McQuest"; he can find anything for which they're searching.  They debated calling him Yahoo or Google, but figure they can save those for future rangers.


  1. I find it interesting that the player of the Cleric considered the class defanged enough that he wouldn't engage the trolls hand to hand.

    One of my most memorable characters was a AD&D cleric... who traveled with another Cleric PC. The two would pretty much whoop ass with no fighters involved.

    Shoot off a spell or two, then engage. Heal, re-engage.

  2. I'm not sure if I was clear enough - under LOTFP rules, where the clerics weren't great at melee, the players complained that they needed that extra oomph for the clerics. So we converted, and the clerics still hang back most of the time.

    In the troll fight, since it was going to take the other fighters a few rounds to get out of their tents and bedrolls, it made more sense (to me) for the other melee guy in plate, the cleric, to take a front line role.

    I'm with you - AD&D clerics are beatsticks.

  3. I've read that only Fighters really progress in fighting in LotFP. It is interesting to see that mentality carried over into an actual fight, even though you had changed the system.

    Truth be told... as I recall when we played, everyone fought if they had expended all their other options. Even the lowly magic user. No one would just "wait for the other guy" to make it to the fight if one of our own was on the front line.

  4. I'm running a LotFP Grindhouse game on Google+ and the cleric gets in there and whomps on people. So does the magic-user. We have a problem with fighters, none of the players stick around much. All of my players have gotten away from the "wait for the other guys to fall" habit, which I like.

  5. "I remember Raise Dead caused a 1 point loss in Constitution, but I couldn't find that in either the PHB or DMG; is that only a 2E and later rule?"

    That rings a loud bell in my memory, but I remember it slightly differently: that a character can only be raised a number of times equal to his CON score. Perhaps it was in an old Sorcerer's Scroll or Sage Advice column?

  6. Raise Dead - check out PHB, pg 12, under Constitution. Max raise/resurrection equal to your starting Con, no reduction though. Yeah, I don't play AD&D but I know where the rules are - there is a great clarity that comes with distance. ;)

    Net/net, is switching to AD&D combat worth it, or would LL/AEC or OSRIC have been the way to go? So far, I mean?

  7. I greatly prefer the LL/AEC combat engine. It's closer to my mental image on how these imaginary fantasy combats should unfold. I'll post further thoughts this week after last night's game session.

    OSRIC and AD&D is the same with only minor differences; OSRIC dumps weapon speeds, but otherwise is the same (with clearer language). The biggest difference between AD&D and the classic engine is the massive movement rate in AD&D - guys are zooming all over the place - coupled with the limited ability to do other things in the same round (unless a combatant charges).

  8. I think the difference between D&D and AD&D trolls and regeneration is a matter of simplifying the DM's during-combat bookkeeping. If they regenerate all damage until brought to 0 HP *and* cauterized, you don't need to keep two running totals of damage per troll. It also makes them slightly more of a pain in the ass for the characters.