Sunday, June 30, 2013

AD&D Thief Climbing Distances for a Given Risk - (By The Book)



The tactical considerations arising from AD&D concepts such as movement, encounter distance, surprise and initiative, when enriched with the advantages accorded to the Ranger, Thief and Assassin and my own stealth and special forces classes, have always closely engaged my players over the years. Since we all come form a Science or Maths background nothing in gaming is considered complicated.

I have been thinking about how a Thief might appraise the risk involved in climbing and think it is reasonable he might categorise an entire climb for himself as say Comfortable, Cautious or Reckless with probabilities of success of say, 95%, 85% and 50%. The exact numbers are irrelevant; it is the approach that is important. Then according to both his level and the conditions of the surface there is a distance he could cover at that level of risk following the descriptions in the PHB and the DMG. I have simply transferred a per round risk to a distance covered at a risk, for example in the table the risk for all kinds of conditions and experience is cautious 85%. I also have tables for 50% and 95%.

This, at least to me, is a more natural and realistic way for climbers to get to grips with hazard. The distances and probabilities are all by the book.

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8 comments:

  1. These remind me strongly of the climbing charts in the Survival Guide books, which had a goal very similar to what you describe here. I keep those charts at hand during play since they account for the possibility of classes other than thief attempting hazardous climbs, but haven't had a chance to use them yet in twelve sessions. I don't have them at hand to see how closely your version matches up- did you take those into account or are these wholly your own innovation?

    I find the chief difficulty in making use of such rules is that it requires the DM to map in precise detail certain terrain-based obstacles, walls, cliffs, etc. This naturally requires a thorough knowledge of which encounters are most likely during a game if planning time is to be used fruitfully. The kinds of chase scenes and improvised acts of derring-do which make the best use of these rules are notoriously difficult to predict in my experience.

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  2. No I haven't done more than glance at the 'Survival Books'. They cover concepts that I think a DM should adjudicate without necessarily developing rules for. I refer to the PHB, DMG & MM to remind me exactly how the best gamer we have had, by some distance, went (or thought) about his business but I make my own game as much as anyone using just the 3 OD&D booklets, except that I develop detailed rules for those aspects I enjoy and don't see any virtue in a simple game.

    What do you consider as your core texts and do you personalise the rules?

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    >>requires the DM to map in precise detail<<
    >>The kinds of chase scenes and improvised acts of derring-do which make the best use of these rules are notoriously difficult to predict in my experience.<<

    I don't understand what you mean though I imagine you have some point. I would decide on the surface conditions only at the moment a player desires to climb in the same way I visualise the absolute reality of an environment when the players arrive there.

    Gygax's divisions are self evident and practical.

    Incidentally, I sense that readers don't understand the information in the table and how useful it is. A thief of 1st level or 12th can glance at the table and immediately see, from experience, what height of wall, tower or cliff he might climb with a 1 on d6 chance of falling. He does not blindly begin a climb with no insight into how far it is safe to go and keep climbing till he falls. The drastically shortened distances under wet conditions would best be referred to for thieves coming out of a tunnel on a cavern wall and wishing to crab their way to another tunnel nearby, or between windows on a tower in the rain.

    I would tend to treat non-thieves as 1st level at best, but rangers, mountain outlaws and certainly adventurers and dungeoneers would have a level appropriate to their exposure to and success in climbing particular kinds of surface.

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  3. >>What do you consider as your core texts

    The "big three" of course, the PHB, DMG and MM. Beyond that I suppose only the two additional monster books would count as core in the sense I think you mean it. I like using the game's original monsters unaltered, though I enjoy adding new ones of my own devising.

    My present campaign makes heavy use of, in addition to the AD&D core books, Fantasy Wargaming: The Highest Level of All (from which I take a number of handy charts and mechanics, altered to serve my campaign), Runequest 2nd Edition (from which I take the ability score training rules and philosophy of character development as the end of the game in itself), and Deities and Demigods. The last I use as a reference for which gods can cast which spells, as bargaining with these entities for such favors happens at least once per session. Some of the old Judges Guild stuff is really excellent for deriving handy charts from, as you well know. I myself have adapted the Keen Sighting chart into a chart detailing the distance at which wilderness encounters take place, as well as the presence of obstructions and most importantly hiding places.

    I enjoy looking at other books from TSR and other sources for precedent and inspiration. The Wilderness/Dungeoneer guides are largely awful but I like to read about how the author says avalanches should be adjudicated before coming up with my own way which gels better with the scenario I'm writing.

    >>do you personalise the rules.

    Very much so. I view my detailing of new systems (created wholly by me or adapted with changes from other gaming material) as an integral part of the ongoing campaign. I am learning how to run the game I am running as I do it and virtually creating my own rpg system which grows outward from the most important parts of the PHB and the DMG (classes, combat charts, spells). It is still basically AD&D, of course, but adapted to do what I want it to do.
    If you are at all interested in seeing how my game runs I could add you to my blog reader list. It is just a reference for my players and hence not public, but if you wanted to get a sense of how I game I think it provides an accurate picture. I admit it is very humble compared to your material.

    >>I don't understand what you mean though I imagine you have some point. I would decide on the surface conditions only at the moment a player desires to climb in the same way I visualise the absolute reality of an environment when the players arrive there.

    When faced with a situation I didn't expect and plan for ahead of time I prefer to have some objective method of deciding favorable or unfavorable conditions external to the player character. Detail provides wonderful texture integral to making the game interesting for me, and I suspect most players, but deciding that a garden wall is twenty feet high and covered in ivy (providing something to grab onto) but also made of rotting brickwork (which will pose problems unless carefully inspected before climbing is attempted) on the fly isn't as engaging to me as knowing so beforehand or having this information provided impartially say, from a rolled-upon chart if the scenario arises unexpectedly. In the end I confess it matters very little. Interesting systems should be able to "throw" results even the DM doesn't expect but ultimately human judgment is needed to make sure scenarios are coherent and pleasing. I love every chart in the Judges Guild Ready Ref sheets/Wilderlands of High Fantasy but wouldn't use any without alterations.

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  4. >>Fantasy Wargaming: The Highest Level of All<<

    Good recommendation. I didn't pay much attention to this before and while I have all but stopped reading rpg material I have ordered a copy as they are going cheap. This thread is useful if you haven't seen it:

    http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=12045&sid=0d5f2a3262b689cb2e4d42bf03801805

    >>Deities and Demigods. The last I use as a reference for which gods can cast which spells, as bargaining with these entities for such favors happens at least once per session<<

    Sounds like a high level game, what is the average level of the party?

    >>f you are at all interested in seeing how my game runs I could add you to my blog reader list<<

    Sure, send me a link. It might be handy to see where you are coming from.

    >> I myself have adapted the Keen Sighting chart into a chart detailing the distance at which wilderness encounters take place<<

    The first round of combat and particularly all that leads up to it are the most interesting part of a fight encounter. In fact Im thinking of doubling the damage inflicted in the first round which would tend to favour that side which has been more skilled in the lead in to the encounter.

    >>Detail provides wonderful texture integral to making the game interesting for me, and I suspect most players, but deciding that a garden wall is twenty feet high and covered in ivy (providing something to grab onto) but also made of rotting brickwork (which will pose problems unless carefully inspected before climbing is attempted) on the fly isn't as engaging to me as knowing so beforehand<<

    I still don't understand why. As DM I create the world on both the large and the small scales and describe it to the players only during the game. Anything written down before them game is just an aid to this. You said before you were put off categorising climbing surfaces because you would have to decide for all surfaces before the game. That is time consuming, inefficient and probably a legacy of over-reliance on third party modules where everything is written down in advance of play.

    I think you are suggesting that a more transparent impartiality is a virtue. The idea that I (or any creative DM) would suspect my own impartiality or the players would or that this hands-off principle is as important as a faithfulness to the design of my own setting is a notion that has me scratching my head.

    I don't rely on random tables unless the matter is exceedingly complex so I begin a game with a coherently architected environment within which it is second nature to furnish with detail. So providing detail such as the climbing surface immediate to the players is an appeal to the grand design and not player convenience or inconvenience although I have to admit even the latter is more interesting and preferable to me than onerous mechanical preparations.

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  5. I think you would enjoy Fantasy Wargaming, a lot of your rules remind me of the spirit in which it was written. I could especially see Metaphysical Acuity being at home in Fantasy Wargaming. Great book.

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  6. >>Sounds like a high level game, what is the average level of the party?

    Fifth level. I decided that I wanted divine intervention to be pervasive. This began with the idea that PCs would be petitioning minor saints for low to mid range cleric spells, but expanded quickly due to one of my PCs being a dwarf and following the Norse gods. I allow every PC character to attempt requesting divine aid once per "adventure." It is risky and can result in quests/geasa or retribution for impertinence.

    >>The first round of combat and particularly all that leads up to it are the most interesting part of a fight encounter. In fact Im thinking of doubling the damage inflicted in the first round which would tend to favour that side which has been more skilled in the lead in to the encounter.

    I am only recently revisiting the idea of using surprise segments as described in the DMG after dismissing them as overly brutal on my first reading some years ago. What you describe sounds extremely lethal for the PCs, but I imagine it scales better with level than many of the things which make the first two levels so engaging. Now that I think of it, double damage for set polearms against chargers is similar to what you describe.

    >>I think you are suggesting that a more transparent impartiality is a virtue. The idea that I (or any creative DM) would suspect my own impartiality or the players would or that this hands-off principle is as important as a faithfulness to the design of my own setting is a notion that has me scratching my head.

    Impartiality, or the appearance of it is only part of it. I enjoy the presence of elements in my games which are tonally appropriate but which I didn't plan for. I have heard this referred to as "emergent gameplay" and it is an element the AD&D (and OD&D) rules encourage. I believe you mentioned in the past that you use some kind of chart to indicate the presence of obstacles or detritus in Aione. When I talk about good useful and tasteful random charts I am largely thinking of the excellent DMG appendices. Do you use wilderness encounter charts? May I ask how you would handle an extended journey in the wilderness? If I wanted to travel from the Hoa-Poa to the lair of Tiresias in your High Wilds, do you have encounters in mind and would you roll dice to see if I met those encounters? (Edit- I just now looked back at your map of the high wilds and saw that you put certain creatures' names on the maps- do these indicate the encounters one has in that area?)

    I do take your point. I recall that in the last session I ran I wrote up an encounter frequency chart (as per the MM2) for the environment my players were traveling through (walking upon a glacier), but discarded it in favor of choosing suitable encounters off of the list after dice rolls indicated something I felt would only waste time and be uninteresting to myself and my players.

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  7. >> I allow every PC character to attempt requesting divine aid once per "adventure." <<

    Sounds good.

    >>What you describe sounds extremely lethal for the PCs<<

    The players like assassin or ranger type roles so the advantage tends to be with the player party if they are careful.

    >> I enjoy the presence of elements in my games which are tonally appropriate but which I didn't plan for.<<

    I think much of the over-use of random tables (not you) is entertainment for the DM in the form of uncertainty, giving a sense that he is 'playing too' but this is a poor substitute for invention which a richer form of discovery or 'playing'.

    >> I am largely thinking of the excellent DMG appendices. Do you use wilderness encounter charts?<<

    No. I think they are wonderful though and did use them as a teenager when learning about AD&D, and I played more intensely as a teenager than any time since.

    >> If I wanted to travel from the Hoa-Poa to the lair of Tiresias in your High Wilds, do you have encounters in mind and would you roll dice to see if I met those encounters?<<

    That is about five days travel. I would probably have one set piece encounter per day, heavily dependent on actors and activities in that region. The plot has to thicken at a steady pace around the players to provoke them to urgent inquiry. In addition I would probably choose a non-integral bestial or human encounter which characterises the kind of landscape they are moving through to help create a vivid map for the players.

    If I explicitly use chance it will be to vary the manner of the encounter, so one or other side might avoid contact or be more or less murderous or helpful than I initially considered.

    In practice from experience it is the interaction and relationships *between encounters*, the history of contact, the knock on effect of one encounter on another and *player unpredictability* which moves a game into a sequence of events of undeterminable complexity that resembles life.

    >> I recall that in the last session I ran I wrote up an encounter frequency chart (as per the MM2) for the environment my players were traveling through (walking upon a glacier), but discarded it in favor of choosing suitable encounters off of the list after dice rolls indicated something I felt would only waste time and be uninteresting to myself and my players.<<

    Sure. Your thought processes and choices are random from the point of view of the players unless you are a machine.

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