Saturday, December 26, 2020

Save vs Dragon's Breath: 20 Themed Traps

Part four of five - 20 traps themed around Saving vs the Breath of Dragons!

1    Salt Wash
Centered in each tile of a tile floor are upward-facing nozzles, capped with corroded metal meshes to prevent intrusion of foreign substances. Several of the tiles - identifiable by the grout not actually adhering to the sides of the tiles - are faux and pressure plates. If a character steps on one of these pressure plates, the trap activates: blasting pressurized salt-mist out of the nozzles. Characters in the affected area must save or take 2d6 points of damage; half on successful save.
2    The Old Flame
Balls of Fire; Peter Newell
Flanking a chest or other iron-wrought container are two dragon heads, pointing in front of the chest at the point where someone opening said chest would stand. The chest has a simple lock on it, but also two hidden pinholes in the lower left and right corners: if the key (or an aptly applied probe) is placed into the pinholes, the chest unlocks and can be opened; if the key (or a successful lock picking) is applied to the simple lock instead, the trap is triggered, immolating the picker. The character picking the lock, and any characters up to five feet behind them, must save or take 2d8 fire damage; in addition, any flammable elements an affected character carries must also make a save or be destroyed.
3    Blob Lobber
In the walls on either side of a hallway are two slits, roughly two inches in height and two feet in width. Filaments hang from the ceiling - barely visible in torchlight - that will adhere to helmets, hair, or pauldrons. A character walking through the space and collecting enough filaments will trigger the trap.

Behind the walls are spinners beneath hopper-feeds of caustic baubles, exploding on impact and dousing whatever they touch. Any character in a 15 foot 45 degree arc from either side of the trap must save or be pattered - taking 1d6 acid damage and potentially damaging organic equipment such as leathers, sacks, scrolls, and the like. If appropriate, 1d4 eligible items should be determined randomly and allowed their own save against destruction from the acidic substance.
4    Hair Standing
The ceiling of the space is lined with a metal lattice. A light crackling can be heard in the air; characters in metal armor may feel their smaller hairs begin to stand on end. As the characters pass under, they may trigger the effect. A character entering the slope, and thus coming closer to the lattice, may trigger the trap. When triggered, a weave of electric bolts form a trailing nets below the lattice. Any character in the area must save or be electrocuted: 2d6 points of damage, or 3d6 for characters festooned with metal or in predominantly conducive armor.
5    Sleep Powder
Concealed in the frame of a sealed door (read, no draft) are pouches of a fine powder. If the door is opened, the pouch falls open, dumping the powder into the air, where it will be carried by airflow leaving the destination space on the other side of the door in a 15 foot cone: 5 feet wide at the door, 15 feet deep, and 15 feet wide at the end. Any character in this affected cone must save or fall asleep, as if affected by the Sleep spell.

Fell Into a Sweet Sleep; Louis Rhead

6    De-Evolution Wave
A hanging circular device adorns a wall or door: its exterior of exquisite craftsmanship - ivory - but at its center, a raw skull with runes punched into it bluntly. In the center, counter-clockwise, the craftsmanship appears to gradually degrade, as though different, less skilled carvers were responsible for different sections of its area, but the transition between them is seamless. The trap is activated if the device - or the element it is guarding - is disturbed: wherein a tangible wave, wet and warm, washes out away from it. Characters within a 40 foot cone of the device, as wide as the door at is start, 40 feet deep, and 40 feet wide at its ultimate extent, must save or be exposed to the wave. An exposed character devolves as follows:
  • Human characters become Neanderthals.
  • Halfling characters become Kobolds.
  • Dwarf characters become Troglodytes.
  • Elf characters become Pixies.
The effects of these changes are at the discretion of the referee - but at a minimum XP requisites per level should increase.
7    Exhaust Chamber
In the ceiling are several large circular openings, covered by blackened grates, inside which can be seen large fans. Beneath the grates are conic protrusions coinciding with the hub of the fan blades. If the conic protrusions make contact with any element that isn't the air around them, the trap may trigger. For 1d4 rounds, a whirring can be heard as the fan begins to turn. At the end of the count-down, a clunk is heard and a thick black substance blasts out from the orifice, scattering in all directions: characters directly under the fan are automatically affected; other characters in the room must save or be coated with the substance. Until it is washed off, the chance of encountering a wandering monster is doubled due to tracks left and a distinct aroma that seems to follow them.
8 Byzantine Ornaments No. 3; Friedrich Maximiliam Hessemer, John Burley Waring, Matthew Digby Wyatt     Hallucinatory Cloud
A room is painted wildly, with clashing colors on the walls, floor, and occasionally ceiling alike. Four fans with narrow blades - not spinning - are spaced evenly in the ceiling. When a door closes such that all exits to the space are closed, the mechanism triggers: three of the four fans begin to spin - slowly at first, and then more quickly - for 1d4 rounds. On any round at or above the 3rd, a mist is released from the functioning fans, coating the room as it slowly descends. Characters in the room must save or be affected by one of several effects:
  1. Fearful Visage: The victim sees horrific monsters conjured by their own psyche: the character will hide or flee from these monsters as though affected by the Fear spell.
  2. Closing Walls: The space the victim is in seems to them to constrict (or maybe they, themselves, appear to grow!): the character will attempt to exit the space in search of a larger section, believing that they will be crushed if they cannot find more cavernous spaces.
  3. Sworn Enemy: The victim sees a sworn enemy, or a monster type that is abhorrent to them: the character will attack and fight the illusion, making no ground, taking no damage, but causing a ruckus in the process for the duration of the effect.
  4. Hilarity Ensues: Though their fellows may be unsure of what the victim is seeing, whatever it is must be the funniest thing they've seen in their life: the victim laughs uncontrollably - unable to fight in combat, cast spells, or perform delicate tasks, but able to move at half speed - for the duration of the effect.
In any case, the effect lasts 1d4 turns: rolled uniquely for each affected character.
9    Nerve Agents
Three orbs sit atop three staves embedded in the floor. One of the three will open a trapdoor leading further in - the other two are trapped. If both hands are placed on the correct orb, the trapdoor will open; if one hand is placed on the wrong orb and one on the right orb, there is a chance the trap will activate; if both hands are placed on an incorrect orb, the trap will activate. When the trap activates, the orb activating begins to roll backwards, revealing a series of small holes. When it completes rolling up, it begins spraying an invisible gas into the air for 1d4 rounds: any character within 5 feet on the first, 10 feet on the second; or 20 feet on the third or fourth round must save or be exposed to the agent - on a success, the character is impeded: 1d3 of their abilities are halved, but will heal at a rate of 1 point per day of rest; on a failure, the character passes unconscious and must pass a second save - versus Death - on the following round and on each round the trap is still affecting them. If all of these secondary death saves pass, all of the character's abilities are halved, but will heal as above; if any of the secondary saves fails, the character dies.
10    Rockfall
Thin pillars line the walls of the space, two of which are tethered to a trigger line across the floor. If the trigger line is pulled, the two trap pillars give way, pulling down a line of stones from the ceiling with them. Characters caught in the affected area must save or take 3d8 bludgeoning and crushing damage.
Gust of Wind; Felix Vallotton
    Cold Rush

Encircling an egress - a door, perhaps a cabinet-sized door opening into a storage area - is ringed by four blue orbs set in a circular brass frame. The orbs glow as a lantern and seem to have visibly circulating liquid mass inside. These orbs are a trap. If the frame is rotated to the left, the trap deactivates - but if the door is opened before the trap is deactivated, one of the four orbs will burst, sending a flood of freezing cold into the room. All characters in the room must save or suffer frostbite: dealing 1d8 points of damage and slowing the character for 1d3 hours: move speed is reduced by (30') 10' to a minimum of 0' (at which point the character is frozen solid) and they always go last in initiative order. The trap must be manually reloaded - as such, it can fire up to four times before being spent.
12    Laser Grid
Along two corners where the ceiling meets two walls are what appear to be clusters of horns; there are burn marks in a curving or warped grid pattern on the floor. The trap is pressure-triggered: when the weight on one side of the room exceeds that of the other by a fair threshold, the floor tilts in that direction as a see-saw, activating the trap. Lasers jet from the horns and fan downward, cross-hatching the floor along the pattern lines. Any character in the space takes 4d6 damage - save for half.
13    Roiling Suds
High along the walls, near the ceiling, are several large circular openings capped by iron bars. The floor is slick, but surprisingly clean. There are two egresses from the space - both of which have large circular dead-bolt mechanisms, accessible (but not able to be triggered) from the inside, and able to be unlocked from the outside via a leveraged wheel.
  • If both doors are closed, there is a chance the trap will trigger. When the trap triggers, a rumbling can be heard emanating from the openings - after which, thick foam begins to blast out of them. Enough blows through over the course of 1d6 rounds to cover the floor to a depth of approximately 6 inches and inundate the room with the scent of almonds and ammonia.

  • If ingested, it has an extreme, extreme bitter character; if swallowed, it will deal double damage as it ravages the organs. All characters in the room must save or be coated in the stuff - which deals 1d6 damage due to an incredibly high (basic) pH per round for 1d8 rounds or until it can be thoroughly washed off with water or neutralized with a weak acidic substance - such as wine or vinegar.

  • If a character is affected by the substance for 5 or more rounds, they will be blinded by it for 1d4 hours (if they survive the recurring damage).
In addition, a character coated in the stuff must save for their exterior (unprotected) equipment that's organic in nature lest it be damaged or destroyed; characters passing the initial save - and who are unable to come up with a clever way to prevent it - must only save for their shoes.
14    Boiling Oil
A ladder with several rungs missing and damage to one leg lies beneath a trap-door to an above level. The trap door has an odd, choking smell to it. If a character opens the trap door without first disabling the trap mechanism - a hidden slot in a far wall, such that a second character must insert something into it, depressing a latch, to block the mechanism - a character climbing up - on the damaged ladder or via a mechanism of their own - must save or be doused. A character doused in such a manner will take 1d6 damage per round for 1d8 rounds or until suitably cleaned/cooled. A character which is affected by the substance for 5 or more rounds (and survives) will suffer restrictive scarring: producing a permanent -1 penalty to reaction rolls and a permanent reduction in Dexterity of 2 points.
Ant Drawing; Thomas E. Hill
    Bug Dump
The floor is sandy, the ceiling seems mostly clay, held up by numerous beams. Hidden in small piles of sand - no greater than 4 or 5 inches tall - along the floor are kick-plates: characters walking through the area may trigger the trap. When triggered, the victim and any other characters within ten feet must save as a rain of sand and insects rain down on them. These insects may be of different character:
  1. Stinging Insects - the victim is covered by stings and stabs; they suffer immediately 1d4 points of damage: characters taking 4 points of damage from the attack must roll for system shock.
  2. Itching Insects - the victim is covered by itching bites; they suffer a -5% penalty to all skill checks, a 5% failure rate for all cast spells, and are double as likely to be surprised until the next morning.
  3. Devouring Insects - paper, wooden, leather objects, or rations carried by the character must save or be devoured by the bugs.
  4. Persistent Insects - the victim is covered by parasitic insects that will stick with them until they can be removed by magic or sophisticated medicine. During that time, the character is at a -2 penalty to all saving throws made.

It is at the discretion of the referee as to whether the bug type varies, is the same throughout, or is of mixed type.

16    Methane Bubbles
On a bridge over a liquid surface, near the center is a false board which will break if stepped on, triggering the trap. When the false board breaks, the breaking character falls down (they are not stuck, but must expend movement to get their leg out of the hole created) and the liquid below begins to bubble uncontrollably. If the party is using flame-based light sources, such as torches or lanterns, the gas will ignite - the party must save, individually, or be caught in a flare - taking 2d4 damage. A character taking 6 or more damage in this manner must save for flammable items on their person lest they be damaged or destroyed. Flares will erupt in this manner immediately and every 1d4 rounds thereafter, until the party has cleared the area.

If the party is not using flame-based light sources, such as magic or infra-vision, they take no immediate damage, but will begin to suffocate as the gas replaces the ambient oxygenated atmosphere: necessitating a quick exit from the space. The bubbles, to an infra-vision creature, appear markedly colder than the surrounding liquid and atmosphere.
17    Firework Alarm
Along a corridor leading to a door, a trip wire connects along a pulley, such that the mechanism to be triggered is behind a group walking towards the door. When triggered, a spring-mechanism is activated: launching a rain of small paper pouches which pop audibly on impact.
Exploding Fireworks; Lucretia P. Hale
Automatically, when the trap is triggered, a guarding creature in proximity is alerted that the trap has been sprung: characters in the corridor must save, however, or be, themselves, struck by the poppers: which will deposit soot on their clothing and backpack. A character which has such been marked is easily track-able by the guarding creature - through scent or another predetermined mechanism: 5-in-6 accuracy on pursuit. Optionally, this may also impact the likelihood of wandering monster rolls.
18    Plague Blast
A large mouth, its lips appearing cracked and dry, sits embedded in a wall. Inside it may be a key, or other desirable element. This element is bait - when the mouth is broached, the trap may trigger: evidenced as contact with interior portions of the mouth. The lips contract and open slightly, releasing a cough or sneeze and bathing the room with a cone - 10 feet wide at the narrow, 30 feet long, and 30 feet wide at the far end - of visibly wet, stale air.

Characters within the cone must save or be exposed to a bacterial infection. Subsequent saves for the next 1d4 hours are at a -2 penalty: at the end of this incubation period, the character must then save versus poison or their physical stats (Strength, Constitution, Dexterity) will each be reduced by 1d12. They will recover at a rate of 1 point each per day - but if any one of these abilities is reduced to 0, the character will die without appropriate magical healing, such as by a Remove Disease spell. If said magical healing is applied in a preventive manner - during the incubation hours - the future save versus poison is automatically passed.
19    Halon System
Within a space housing documents, equipment, or other elements sensitive to flame, an open flame has a chance of triggering a fire-prevention system, which for the purposes of the adventure, operates as a trap. Torches, producing more smoke than other light sources, have twice the chance of activating the trap. There are metal nozzles protruding from the ceiling or high on the walls: when the trap activates, they begin spraying a grayish substance that is bitterly cold. Any character with a flame-based light source must save or said light source will be extinguished: additionally, if the area is a confined space, they will begin to suffocate - dying after a number of rounds equal to their Constitution scores unless exiting the space. No flame can be sparked in a confined space with this system: as such, the flame even of a successful saver will be extinguished after 1d3+1 rounds.
20    Spores in the Ceiling
Hanging from the ceiling of a space are wooden planters in which toxic mushrooms have been planted. Beneath the planters are small discs, as wind-chimes. Vibrations - such as talking or excessive clatter - have a chance to trigger the trap. When the trap is triggered, the discs resonate in harmony, passing the vibration into the planter boxes: causing the fungi inside to release spores in a cloud. Characters in the area of effect must save or be exposed: exposed characters go into paroxysms for 1d4 rounds: at the end of which, they must save again, versus death, or die.

Delve on, readers! 

Amanita Mushroom Drawing; Unknown Artist

Public domain art respectfully stolen from and Attributions in alt text.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Dead Troll Halls

Scale: 10 ft.
Click here for a PDF version of this adventure!

The ceilings are tall throughout this level; 12 feet in the hallways, 16 feet in the rooms if not otherwise specified, or around 50% taller than other dungeon levels if this is included as a wing to a larger structure. Doors and gates are likewise oversize.

A - Anterooms

Ai) West Room

Thick Spider's Web; Lancelot Speed
Thick white webbing spills out of the entrance to this room. The corners are especially thick inside the room. There is a pile of boulders and bones on the south wall, largely obscured by webbing. A lone rhagodessa (x38) lurks on the ceiling above the entrance.

Mixed among the bones and rocks are two purses, one with 20 gp and the other with 34 gp, and a bracelet worth 1,200 gp. Under the web in the center of the room on the floor, there is a chalcedony inlay in the shape of a triangle pointing west. It is mundane.

Aii) Middle Room

In the center of the room on the floor, there is a chalcedony inlay in the shape of a diamond. On close inspection, it flickers slightly on the corner that points eastward. Four chains from the ceiling - roughly six feet from each corner of the room towards the center, roughly six feet down from the ceiling. Any spell cast by a Magic User in this room has a 60% chance of being retained by the spell caster: that is, it does not escape their memory and can be used again elsewhere in the adventure.

Aiii) East Room

Refuse - rotted bone and other indigestibles - is piled up in this room. There is an icon on the floor in the shape of a triangle pointing east. 

In the center of the room on the floor, there is a chalcedony inlay in the shape of a triangle. It appears to be cracked, having had something heavy dropped upon it.

B - Altar of Skulls

The door to this room is sealed (counts as stuck). Wrapping the room, 5 feet from the walls to the south, east, and west, but 10 feet from the entrance door to the north, is a depression, roughly eight inches deep: the walls of the depression being iron mesh. Along the south wall of the depression is a platform - 4 inches tall by eight feet wide by four feet deep - on which is an oversize-altar, engraved with a toothless smile. 

Nightmarish Prologue Jester; Gustave Dore

On the altar are five electrum skulls, each with a horn between the eyes and each worth 20 gold pieces, as well as three gold bars worth 100 gold pieces each arranged in a north-pointing triangle and an ivory pyramid with platinum edges (100 gold piece value) in the center of the bars.

If a human-sized creature steps on the platform, it will slide down - releasing a toxic gas into the room. Any character in the depression will be exposed to the gas and must save vs poison or die.

C - The Dumping Hall

Masses of clothing have been piled up along the northern half of this room, east and west sides. Some sacks full of legumes and fungus are piled in the south-west corner. On the north-east side, a Doppelganger (B33) is repining.

  •  If surprised by the party, he will first shift into the likeness of a small troll - though after, depending on reaction, it may shift into human form as it realizes the party is not the normal inhabitants of the area.
  •  If he is not surprised by the party, it may retreat to hide, attempting to take the party by surprise.

The doppelganger carries a satchel with a citrine (10gp), two emeralds (50 gp each), an expertly cut amethyst (100 gp), two black sapphires (500 gp each), and a single diamond (1,000 gp).

D - Shrine of the Struggle

The entry to this space is a fence of iron bars: the door being a heavy locked gate. Inside are two statues: to the south, an armored humanoid; to the north, a robed humanoid. There are dark plants growing along the walls. The features of the statues appear eroded. 

If the party enters the space, they feel a warm buzzing sensation. 

If the party remains in the room for 1d4 rounds or greater, lawful characters will begin to glow a light blue color; chaotic characters will start to glow a slight orange. Characters of neutral alignment must Save vs Spells or have their alignment shifted to either Law or Chaos, determined randomly, after which point they, too, will glow accordingly.

The glow lasts for 1d4 turns and is the equivalent luminosity of a candle.

E - The Old Horde

The door to this room is hidden. A sign is given that the mortar in the wall is more reflective to an observant party when a light is held near it. If open flame is pressed to the wall, the grout crumbles and the door can be pushed open.

Inside appears to be a treasure horde - long since looted. Several empty chests; several empty, smashed crates; but remaining are 5,000 silver, strewn about the floor; 600 gold pieces, in a lockbox under one of the crates, and a pouch with oval rubies in it worth 150 gold pieces each; on the floor near an Ochre Jelly (B40) which is dissolving a set of splintered boards.

F - The Grill Room

On the east and west walls are tapestries depicting flame-beings across rocky surfaces. The room is warm and the floor is dark tile - the grout of which is hot to the touch, if the party checks. On the north side of the room, 20 feet from the door, there is a step up - along the wall hang four electrum chains worth 200 gold pieces each. Suspended between the four chains are three arming swords with silvered edges; as Sword, but silvered, and of value 100 gold pieces each. 

The central strip of the room - 10 feet north to south by 30 feet (the breadth of the room) east to west - is a pressure trap. If a man-sized creature walks across, there is a chance the floor, in 10 foot section, will fall through: dropping anyone in the section - forcing them to save or fall 30 feet down into a magma flow.

G - Procession Hall

A procession of 6 Trolls (X41) is moving west in this room. They are wearing primitive robes, tied with straps of what appears to be braided animal sinew. In The Cupboard; Henry Justice Ford The one in the lead carries a somewhat rotted boar's head.

H - Tomb to the Priest of Trolls

On the north wall is a sarcophagus - stone - buried beneath a wash of rotting vegetation. Atop is a statue of a troll-like figure, but it's face is oddly angular and elongated and with ears that seem to curve downward. The sarcophagus is actually empty, but it would require moving the giant statue to discover the fact.

Atop the sarcophagus, before the statue, is a plate. If a "food" offering is placed on it, the corners of the room begin to emit a slight green glow. All Chaotic characters will regenerate 1 hp per round for 1d6 rounds; neutral characters will regenerate half that much. Additionally, any chaotic hirelings receive +1 to any morale or reaction related checks for the next 1d6 hours. If the offering is of the flesh of a sentient being, the door to Room I will open. 

The magic is not bound to the plate and does not work outside the room.

I - Horde of the Troll Priests

The room is ringed by a curtain of slow-flowing green liquid, emitting from holes in the ceiling before consolidating and dripping down into a trench - 6 inches wide - on the floor. In the center of the room is a pedestal on which an amulet rests. The amulet - if worn - causes a character's skin to become rubbery and alien (imposing a -1 to reaction rolls), but - if worn for one full day - will bestow limited regeneration on its wearer:

  •  After three rounds, the wearer will heal 1 hit point per round until they reach maximum.
  •  Severed limbs cannot be controlled, but will re-attach and become useful again if stitched back on and allowed 1d3 days to heal.
  •  The amulet will not regenerate acid or fire damage - though the natural healing of the wearer is not hindered from healing as they would without the amulet.

Encircling the pedestal are five sconces braziers - but in lieu of burning fuel, they have been filled with gold: 7,000 pieces total.

J - Barracks

This space is lined with skins, furs, and foliage apparently pilfered from above. Eight Trolls (X41) repine in the space - 1d3 of them will be asleep; the others will be joking in the Chaotic tongue or casting bones. 

The smell is impressive.

Public domain art lovingly pilfered from and adapted for thematic use. Attributions in alt text.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Swords of Jordoba - OD&D* Actual Play

Actual Play Name: Swords of Jordoba
Where I Listened: Matt Finch RPG Studio
on Youtube
Where It's Available: Youtube exclusively,
it would seem
System: Swords & Wizardry
Chainmail (With Shield)

Thoughts and Review

Swords of Jordoba, the name of the campaign and YouTube playlist it's hosted on as well as a line of products produced by the referee, "Uncle" Matt Finch, and made available online in various media and media outlets, is a traditional campaign run using the Swords & Wizardry retro-clone of OD&D (although it is referred to internally as OD&D) played and aired through 2018.

There exists a Twitch channel - Uncle Matt's D&D - but it appears not to be in use. Likewise, there are other playlists on Uncle Matt's YouTube. The scope of this review is exclusively the 0E Swords of Jordoba campaign provided in the info table above.

What I Like

The first thing that stands out tremendously regarding this actual play is its use of physical miniatures, despite being played on live stream. The referee has an extensive collection of old-style minis in addition to a set of physical terrain - such that a small camera can follow the party around, showing the dungeon as they see it - in miniature. This lends itself to some very interesting challenges that the referee handles spectacularly. Note, some of the YouTube playlists include instructions on obtaining, 3D-printing, and painting terrain as used on the actual-play. If you, the watcher, like what you see on Uncle Matt's table, I would encourage you to check them out! Among these unique challenges is combat proximity - there are no "squares" so the position of combatants is all relative: a player indicates that they wish to charge or otherwise engage an enemy, the referee informs them of challenges that may prevent it, or informs them of its success, and positions the miniature accordingly. Additionally, players interacting with the environment - climbing on top of things to get better views, ducking behind or into alcoves to avoid detection: all of it is theater of mind, where the mind is assisted by the perspective of the models on camera: a virtual tabletop on a physical table. Watching the game pace - exploration, combat, parlay - in miniature while simultaneously observing the unique and interesting ways that the ref tackles things like lighting conditions while keeping the viewer informed as to what's going on at the table is a truly special experience: and, more importantly, one that novice or prospective game masters can benefit highly from: gleaning from Uncle Matt's experience.

In a similar vein, a novice or prospective OSR player can benefit from the experience of the majority of the player pool. Despite being exposed to physical layouts visually, the players draw maps on paper: then, in future episodes, refer back to their maps so as to guide their descent into the campaign's "megadungeon" - that is, a lower section of the city of Jordoba which has been sealed off and is home to monsters and treasure. Additionally, the players interact with the world leveraging an element of player skill coupled with the mechanical rules: that is, there isn't simply an, "I check for traps" so much as an, "I run my hand along the frame looking for a tripwire" - or, upon the discovery of a trap, efforts are made to disarm it using narration: not simply a percentile roll. A percentile roll is applied on occasion - but a note, the Thief class did not exist in OD&D, being introduced later in the Greyhawk supplement. This element of player versus dungeon is key to understanding the enjoyment of an old-school dungeon crawl. Player skills (knowing where to look, what to expect, and recognizing patterns) are more important than character skills (that is, numbers on paper).

Lastly, Swords of Jordoba is a strong, strong example of procedural play. The referee reads room descriptions, encountered events, and narrates the results of party actions in a manner lock-step consistent with the examples of play provided in the booklets. The phases of combat - morale, movement, missile, magic, melee - are enforced. Torch-tracking is a real concern, even for the party as it advances in level.

What I Don't Like

Like most live-streamed events (recorded and retained thereafter), technical difficulties can get in the way of the presentation. This is a recurring theme early on and manifests itself in a couple ways: one being the freezing of cameras, one being the dropping of player connections, one being the playlist, itself, is out of order (though - as evidenced by experiences with prior reviews, that last one might simply be that I don't know how to operate the YouTube app on my phone). To its credit, the audio of the stream is level, even, and consistently not a problem. If you are listening to the stream as you might a podcast while working on something else, you wouldn't know they were having technical difficulties excepting when the players mention them as having been commented on by stream viewers.

The banter level of your average D&D table is fairly strong - one of the advice points I give aspiring referees is "Don't include intentionally humorous elements" (or, at least, don't include them very often), as the table will naturally be a ring of jokers doing everything in their power to turn their motley band into Monty Python's King Arthur. The Jordoba table is no exception - the players joking and enjoying themselves on air - and for the most part, it doesn't detract from the experience: however, it is in such abundance that on occasion, the viewer is impelled to skip forward on the track to see if actual progress has been made: on one occasion, a full 50 minutes pass in real time before the game actually begins. While weeding through episodes isn't a common pastime, it will on occasion arise for a listener whose purpose in listening is to learn the rules.

Lastly, I don't recall hearing, while listening through the episodes, the party utilize wilderness adventure procedures. It's possible that I missed it - I have not watched and taken notes on every video on the channel - and it's also possible that it simply didn't come up, as the campaign is primarily an urban-crawl and the player characters do not advance high enough to afford a stronghold or warband to perform a wilderness excursion: but knowing that S&W has wilderness procedures, I would like to see Uncle Matt run them: as, based on his expertise in dungeon crawling, it seems impossible to imagine his mastery of the wilderness crawl would not likewise be educational for new players and referees. To the channel's credit (and this probably belongs in the "things I like" section, but whatever), I do recall at least one video in which the mass-battles system from S&W is used - including a clash between woolly mammoths: so the breadth of the AP is not limited to just dungeons.

Things to Note

The game is repeatedly in the stream referred to as "OD&D" when - and usually, when Uncle Matt says "OD&D" he immediately clarifies this - they are technically using Swords & Wizardry, as indicated in the heading. This isn't a bad thing - but be aware, if you are reading the LBBs and they start talking about something that doesn't appear to be present in your booklet, that's why. S&W is a good representation of OD&D, but it is much more expansive.

5e? Really?

More seriously, there are some minor house rules designed to improve character durability. Specifically, the referee back-ports some of the rules from newer editions that he considers to be superior to the way OD&D (and conversely S&W) handles them. The one that comes to mind is "Death and Dying" - wherein he allows the characters to drop below 0 hit points and make a "death save" to avoid dying: where, in RAW, a character dies at 0 (or -1, per S&W). There is nothing intrinsically wrong with keeping players alive in combat, as save-vs-poison or save-vs-death occurs in the campaign and player characters do die and get replaced (on one occasion, several characters belonging to the same character in the same session), but it's something to note, as it may not translate over into a game you join.

As one versed in newer editions might expect, they use the alternative combat system in the traditional way it's interpreted, contrary to the example of play from The Strategic Review that I ranted about last week. Lends some credence, I think.

In Conclusion

The referee of this actual-play literally wrote the book (and the guide on what to expect!) on OSR gaming. How on Earth are you rating this Chainmail with Shield?

Dungeon crawling procedure is strong with this channel. Watching the referee ref and watching the players play is an exquisite resource for new players and aspiring OSR referees. That is without question. If I were to express any one disappointment with this channel, it would be that it hasn't updated in a year or so, as of this writing - and I would like to see more of it. Truly, the only thing keeping me from fanboy-ing Uncle Matt into the stratosphere are the interruptions to exposition resultant from technical issues and lengthy banter segments.

To conclude, this channel is truly refreshing - I have enjoyed the sub-set of its playlists that I have consumed - and I recommend it to anyone looking to watch and learn OSR. Who knows - maybe the shield is a magic one. Will have to fight a combat and see.

Thank you for reading - and delve on!

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Strategery '75 (More Chainmail vs the ACS)

A copy of TSR's Strategic Review of Summer, 1975, was recently brought to my attention partly in conversation but also partly in response to my position on using Chainmail in OD&D. In this issue, a play example of OD&D using the ACS (which it specifies is the recommended approach) is provided. This example of play is printed as follows:

Strategic Review, Vol 1, Issue 2; p. 3

Constructive Criticism

The author of the actual piece being unknown to me (something I'm sure I could find out, but am not keen to spend energy on) and the editors, both, of the review having passed into eternal rest, the constructive nature of this criticism may be somewhat moot. So on a less constructive note, though the combat example is provided does elucidate the method of combat better than the original Men & Magic booklet, it introduces as many ambiguities as it edifies.

First, not touching the dexterity and initiative comment.
It is implied in - but not stated directly - Men & Magic that a Dexterity modifier applies to the initiative roll. This being an errata, this inclusion is fair and a clarification.

Second, what happened to the grapple?
The orcs have two successes when they attempt to subdue the hero; the example specifies then that the hero must roll back - struggling on a tie or throwing them aside if he succeeds. The orcs have two successes - and then the hero... strikes two of them with his weapon. Did he succeed in throwing them off off-screen? Roland's Descent; Gustave Dore Must be - when determining the target of his attacks, eight of the ten orcs are said to be eligible to be hit. Presumably, as it mentions, two orcs are stunned: as it says they are stunned "for 7 turns [rounds, to use B/X terminology] between them" - but it doesn't specify where the 15 and where the 8 came from to determine that 7! Does the hero roll four dice, per his "attack ratio" and compare those successes to theirs? Does the hero roll four dice (and of what size? Six-sided, a la Chainmail; or 20-sided, a la the ACS?) and pool the result, comparing it to the damage roll the orcs then rolled (again off camera) for what would in later publications be called "subdual"? The example does not say!

Third, shields and attacking from behind?
At no point in the LBBs is it indicated that shields are not applicable if attacked from behind. Likewise, nowhere in the LBBs is it indicated that an attacker who is attacking from behind (future editions would inherit "flanking" from this precedent, presumably) grants a bonus. Chainmail does have rules for flanking actions, which affect how well Mass Combat units fare defensively - and in Man to Man, it references attacking from behind, which primarily affects initiative. This represents - in my opinion - the introduction of a new rule: not the explanation of an existing system.

That all said, I do believe this combat exposition is a net positive - I will hate on it no longer. If the rules or procedures that I reference do exist, or are clear, in the original texts, please correct me. But from my perspective - the perspective of a third party consumer, as would have been people coming into the game afresh in 1974 - the clarifications provided in this combat example are equally as exemplary of the necessity of a follow-up edition with wider page margins to accommodate the missing rules that were here "clarified."

How This is Interesting

At no point in the LBBs is the concept of "grappling" given rules. Truly, there is no reference to grappling in the original D&D game nor its supplements as it pertains to man-to-man wrestling: Punishment; Albert Robida there are references for grappling ships together during nautical combat, or for special monsters who have a grapple attack - but the rules, themselves, for grappling are absent: delegating the process of the grapple to referee rulings. This is very exciting to me - as the combat example explicitly attacks grappling: illustrating a method wherein the author, refereeing a game, would use the ACS to resolve it - with "hits" providing a sort of "grapple points" intended to subdue the hero. This simple, elegant solution - which I may be biased about, knowing it's a system I've seen in newer games on actual plays and have complimented outside this article - reinforces the concept of streamlining play. Simplicity of mechanics, reduction of sequential rolls (that is, when dice are rolled, roll once or - where necessary - roll in parallel action rather than one after the other, results contingent on the string of results preceding), promotes a smooth experience and focus on the game rather than on the rules. This taps directly into the spirit of the OSR, the spirit of the early hobby, and into the underlying zeitgeist behind the emergent wash of "rules lite" systems.

Thus, this combat example provides a system - an errata - for an element that had been omitted: sticking to a simple, quick solution that can be applied to games using subsequent editions, clones, or competing products.

Secondly, and truthfully the first element of this example that struck me: the referee running the example rolled multiple attacks for the hero - a number of attacks proportional to their Fighting Capability by level. Suddenly, the +1 and -1 make sense: as though they were designed for the ACS: where +1 or -1 on 1d20 has significantly different impact than it would on Chainmail's d6-based systems: dice pooled Mass Combat especially. La Rixe (The Brawl); Charles-Melchior DescourtisMore importantly, though, this - like the use of Chainmail's mass combat - massively increases the effectiveness of the Fighting Man in combat. Where at first level, the Fighting Man is rolling once to hit with a +1 bonus, by 10th level, the Fighting Man is rolling eight attacks per turn, all at +1 to hit. The Cleric is similarly active, essentially lagging merely a -1 behind: at first level, a Cleric rolls to hit with no bonus where at 10th level, the Cleric rolls to hit a similar eight attacks per turn at -1 penalty to hit. Magic Users get the short end of the stick - both fighting less effectively, RAW, and in rule clarity - they fight as an unmodified man, one d20 attack, at first level (as Cleric); then by 7th level they fight as Hero with modification, so four attacks; but then at level 10, they begin to fight as "Wizard," which in the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement fights as "Two Armored Men"... fewer attacks than they would have been entitled to at level 9 - but surely they make up for this with spells, themselves not actually being designed as a combat class.

In OD&D - if this example is to be believed - the intention of the Fighting Man was to maintain the incredible melee effectiveness of a Chainmail Hero or Superhero character: something that would not have been done away with until AD&D, where fighters were given a second attack only at higher levels.

So, it would seem everyone was playing D&D wrong - including me and everyone I'd seen in the present day playing the elder edition! This example brings into focus the motive for AD&D: that is, to bring the game together (or attempt to) in a cohesive manner - by promoting continuity of rules, cross-pollination of players to referees (and from home settings into competitive or public forums), and thus growth of the hobby as a whole, becomes operable.

Great times!

How Does This Clarification Affect Damage?

In OD&D, all attacks deal 1d6 damage. Variable weapon damage would be introduced a year later in the Greyhawk supplement. Knowing that, using the example provided in the review, a Fighting Man of a given level can expect to deal damage as follows under the ACS:

vs. Armor Class
Ftr. Lvl. 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1 0.875 1.05 1.225 1.4 1.575 1.75 1.925 2.1
2 1.75 2.1 2.45 2.8 3.15 3.5 3.85 4.2
3 (3 Men) 2.625 3.15 3.675 4.2 4.725 5.25 5.775 6.3
3 (Hero-1) 2.1 2.8 3.5 4.2 4.9 5.6 6.3 7
4 4.2 4.9 5.6 6.3 7 7.7 8.4 9.1
5 (Hero+1) 4.9 5.6 6.3 7 7.7 8.4 9.1 9.8
5 (5 Men) 5.25 6.125 7 7.875 8.75 9.625 10.5 11.375
6 (Hero+1) 4.9 5.6 6.3 7 7.7 8.4 9.1 9.8
6 (6 Men) 6.3 7.35 8.4 9.45 10.5 11.55 12.6 13.65
7 11.2 12.6 14 15.4 16.8 18.2 19.6 21
8 12.6 14 15.4 16.8 18.2 19.6 21 22.4
9 14 15.4 16.8 18.2 19.6 21 22.4 23.8
10 16.8 18.2 19.6 21 22.4 23.8 25.2 26.6

Again, the focus on Fighting Men not due to lack of love for Clerics or Magic Users, but for the sake of relative brevity; likewise, I exclude the percent chance to hit versus armor class because, having printed it in several other posts, I assume you, the reader, trust that I've done the To-Hit percentages.

The averages above reveal a couple interesting points:

It's better to fight as a group.
At three levels - 3, 5, and 6 - a fighting man has a choice to fight as a Hero with modifier or as a number of men. On all three occasions, the Fighting Man will do more damage per round, on average, if they choose to attack as the corresponding number of men - as the chance of hitting an adversary on 1d20 is modified so little by a +1 or -1 modifier compared to Chainmail's six-siders, having an additional die is much more likely to cause another hit to connect: thereby inflicting another 1-6 points of damage. On one occasion - level 6, you actually do less damage on average than you would do at the previous level.

Motionless, Steel-Clad Figure; Howard Pyle
What is the purpose, then, of the Hero option? 

  • In Chainmail, it had implications on the Fantasy table - but using the ACS, said table wouldn't come into play.
  • When fighting a higher AC adversary, it could be argued that the bonus to hit could make a difference. However, +1 makes such a small difference on the range of 1 to 20, the absolute highest required roll on Men Attacking table needed to hit being 17, the chance to roll twice always makes for better odds than rolling once at a target number one point more favorable.

As such, I can think of no reason to be a Hero With Modifier.

The required roll to hit, by level, matters.
At level 10, the Fighting Capability of the Fighting Man does not change - but the average damage per round does. Why is that? Because level 10 is a tier point: at level 10, the required To Hit rolls for the Fighting Man go down. Additionally, the progression of average damage is nominally smooth, with the exception of a noticeable jump in damage at level 7. Arguably, fighting against mid-range AC, there is likewise a jump at level 4. Is this intentional? Is this thematic? Potentially - potentially not: but it is a peculiarity of the system, one that results from those required roll To Hit tiers: which appear at exactly the point where damage output increases. Level 7, in particular, sees a 3-point jump - compared to level 4, which - unlike level 4 and level 10: which only see improvements of 2 points on the chart.

Do I see an automatic hit at higher levels?
Although not reflected in the table above - as I stop at level 10 - but there are entries for level 16 and above on the Men Attacking table. At level 13 - one tier up from the 10th level where I stop, the required roll to hit AC 9, No Armor or Shield, is 1; at level 16, this increases - a level 16 or better Fighting Man hits AC 6, Leather & Shield, on a 1 or better. Is it possible to roll less than a 1? Yes - for example, using a cursed weapon - but interestingly, at no point in the Men & Magic book does it say rolling a natural 1 on your d20 attack roll automatically fails. Does this imply otherwise?

How does this compare to damage dealt in, say, B/X?
As established in the previous post, damage dealt in B/X is a bit more nuanced - as though variable damage is an optional rule, in modern vintage, someone running without the optional damage rule is an aberration - however, for comparison, provided is the damage a B/X Fighter can expect to output per turn using a 1d8 weapon:

vs. Armor Class
Ftr. Lvl. 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1-3 0.9 1.125 1.35 1.575 1.8 2.025 2.25 2.475
4-6 1.35 1.575 1.8 2.025 2.25 2.475 2.7 2.925
7-9 2.025 2.25 2.475 2.7 2.925 3.15 3.375 3.6
10 2.475 2.7 2.925 3.15 3.375 3.6 3.825 4.05

Preference for 1d8, partially, to represent a sword - the most common eventual weapon of Fighting Men in B/X - but partially also to give a slight edge over 1d6 in terms of average damage. Even with that edge - the difference in damage output is interesting: at first level, the B/X Fighter has a slight edge against the OD&D Fighting Man - but then from level 2 onward, rolling only one attack per turn, the B/X Fighter immediately begins to lag behind. At level 4, the OD&D fighter does quadruple the average damage; by level 10, the difference is in the vicinity of seven times the damage output. A Spluttering and a Splashing; John Dickson Batten While arguably damage output is not the only measure of a character - it can be fun to do other things, like grappling, disarming, or otherwise disabling or interfering with an enemy - the sheer size of the difference in average damage per round can't be ignored.

While we're on the subject of doing other things - grappling, disarming, interfering... - the round is assumed, per the game's authors, not to represent a single blow by blow, but instead a flurry of activity: feints, parries, thrusts, and maneuvering - but elaborates little on how to accomplish these things: until this combat example, that is. Want to disarm? To subdue? Why not roll and compare values - if you have more hits than they do, or if your d6s are greater than theirs, succeed? Simple and elegant - the epitome of an on-the-spot ruling.

How does the ACS, with this development, fair against Chainmail?
Again, in the spirit of relative brevity and giving the edge to the competition over the ACS, a Fighting Man can - assuming they are armed and armored "as Armored" - expect to damage to first level foes, based on their infantry categorization, as follows:

OD&D and Chainmail: As Armored
Ftr. Lvl. Armored Heavy Light
1 1.17 2.33 3.50
2 1.75 3.50 5.25
3 1.75 3.50 5.25
4 2.33 4.67 7.00
5 2.92 5.83 8.75
6 3.50 7.00 10.50
7 4.08 8.17 12.25
8 4.67 9.33 14.00
9 5.25 10.50 15.75
10 5.25 10.50 15.75

While Chainmail seems to similarly allow a Fighting Man to deal a large amount of damage compared to B/X, compared to the ACS as clarified by the example from The Strategic Review, Chainmail seems curve-bound. Looking at the damage output to lightly armored opponents, Chainmail starts out dealing more damage than the ACS, but increases more slowly - such that the two meet around level 3 or 4 and the ACS deals more damage going forward: significantly more at much higher levels. The trend is the same for heavily armored opponents - Chainmail starts out more lethal, but the ACS overtakes it by level 3 or 4 and then proceeds to outpace it ever onwards. 

Curiously, the difference in damage dealt at a given level is flat rather than proportional: that is, for example, at 10th level, the difference between average Chainmail damage and average ACS damage is about 10 points - regardless of armor level. In B/X, the difference increases more exponentially rather than geometrically, as observed with Chainmail. Makes sense - however: as, using the clarifications provided, both Chainmail and the ACS use dice pools (or, at least, multiple attacks) - compared to B/X, where the Fighter is limited to a single attack per turn: and no matter how accurate that attack is, there is only so much damage a single d8 hit can do.


I'm going to run the game the way it best works at my table. If the verbal irony had not translated in text, despite this being an official publication by TSR, I don't believe this is how the game was played, nor really how it was intended to be played: if indeed an intention was there at the time OD&D hit the shelves. For me - however - as this article still is a eureka moment, as was reviewing Chainmail: and that moment is proof positive that the purpose of AD&D is to run tournaments; the purpose of OD&D is to run games

Chainmail addressed several of the elements of D&D that I don't really jive with. I don't get "hit points" - how you're 100% effective until you die - even abstracted as "luck" and "fatigue" mixed with meat, it doesn't make sense why they take so long to come back, apart from stretching campaigns out to prevent the case of the 20th Level 20-Something. Balls of Fire; Peter Newell I don't get how a level 1 fighter and a level 10 fighter wearing the same armor are equally likely to take a hit in a fight - it doesn't make sense, from the perspective of learning the skill of swordsmanship, that you'd never improve your ability to parry, but become an absolute expert at finding knicks and holes in the sturdiest metal armors. Likewise, it discourages Sword and Sandals play - or Conan-In-A-Loincloth games - which make up a great deal of the Appendix N material and thus deserve to be represented. Chainmail does that for me - and sure, I'm likely to houserule it - but who doesn't? That's the point of keeping the rulebook booklet sized. The motive of the article might have been to clarify, but the motive of the authors is clear: they cared more at the time that you, as a gamer, played a game that worked for your table and that made a memory worth making. Regarding the example provided and the numerical analysis, I don't think they went into it as deeply as I might have here when they originally playtested and published: I think they threw stuff against the wall, watched what stuck, and then packaged it together as a box set - knowing all the while that what stuck to one wall wouldn't stick to others, but at the same time seeing the value in having a common ground - a central rule and lingua franca - to use in congregation.

The final question in my brain, why did the TSR team later settle on not throwing around handfuls of d20s? To be truthful, in part, it would not surprise me to hear that - all non six-sided dice sold actually being educational tools for the illustration of Regular Polygons - they simply didn't have that many of them. 

And who wants to slow down play by rolling the same one over and over? If someone else knows the actual answer - again - please post it: I'd be eager to learn!

Delve on, readers!

Citations and Fair Use Disclaimer

Quotations and rules from the following copyrighted works are included herein for illustrative and educational purposes and remain the intellectual property of the copyright holder - as of October 2020, Wizards of the Coast LLC. Neither the author nor Clerics Wear Ringmail lay claim to the verbiage nor mechanics quoted but instead encourage the reader to engage with and enjoy the product referenced for their intended purpose.

Gygax, E. Gary, & Blume, Brian (Eds.). (1975). Questions Most Frequently Asked About Dungeons & Dragons Rules. The Strategic Review, 1(2), 3–4.

Public domain artwork retrieved from or the National Gallery of Art and adapted for thematic use. Attributions in alt text.

Red Tree Hollow

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