Thursday, May 23, 2024

Encounter Distance: Am I doing it wrong?

A while back I wrote a bit on the silliness that is the AD&D encounter distance rules. Basically, in case you don't know, when the dice determine that a random encounter happens, you roll to see how far away the randos are. 

I've never bothered to roll this because in every circumstance the distance is  going to be determined by the lay of the land. If you're in a room, the randos are going to come in one of the doors; in a corridor, they'll round a bend or wander into the edge of your torch light, etc. If they're outside, then they're either on the same road or laying in ambush beside the road or walking out of a tavern or what have you. It just seems a lot easier to figure out how far away this encounter should occur than roll the dice and then try to justify how the carrion crawler suddenly spawned 50' behind you. And yet, pretty much every version of Big D has a rule for rolling up encounter distance.

Even my new best friend Shadowdark includes this on page 112:

"If one or more wandering creatures appear, roll 1d6 for their distance from the group"

Here it is, still chugging along in the 50th year of D&D; Roll to see where the encounter takes place. And if you roll a 1, the encounter is "Close" to you (imagine Karen Carpenter singing here--Aaaaa-aahahahaa-Close to you...). How the hell did these randos get within 5' of you without you noticing? But Shadowdark can do no wrong, so clearly it must be me who is in error. 

Do people actually rely on the dice to tell them where the monsters are going to appear?

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Shadowdark: Thieves are called Thieves!

Cover art

[Pretending it's not already mid-May before I finally acknowledge my damn blog for the first time this calendar year] 

I'm about to start running a gang of nerds through the old Giga-dungeon I was working on back, oh, 12-ish years ago--I swear I wrote about it here on the ol' blog but I can't find any evidence to support this notion. 

Anyway, I was casting about for a good rule set, and I've settled on Shadowdark as the rules of choice. I'd toyed with many others--AD&D, HackMaster, Castles & Crusades, DCC, ICRPG, Mork Borg--but never felt like either a) it was a system I felt comfortable running or b) it was a system that my posse of gamers would be willing to play. Enter Shadowdark; the recent kickstarter phenom that raised a quarter of a trillion dollars in just under six minutes. It's a nice blend of old school stuff plus some of the modern bullcrap that kids these days seem to like; a game of the Nouveau Old School if you will. I like it for the lightness of its touch and emphasis on resource management; my players tolerate it because it looks like D&D. But most importantly, thieves are called thieves in this game!

I had reservations about Shadowdark, but they're mostly semantic. In particular, the name Shadowdark is reminiscent of "Underdark," a term used in latter-day Big-D that I've always found a bit cringey. But balancing that small misstep: in this game thieves are called thieves! 

Furthermore, the first thing you'll see in the extreme upper left corner of the inside the front cover is the weapons list. And the first weapon listed is the Bastard Sword! Thank you Shadowdark for bringing the bastard back to Big D. In an odd backward step, there is no battle axe, just a great axe. As there are no lesser axes listed, what is this greataxe supposed to be greater than? But still, thieves are called thieves!

Anyway, I made a half-assed effort at identifying the sources of many of the rules that are included in Shadowdark and wrote them down. Below is a list of games which I've identified as the source (probably mistakenly) of various rules for Shadowdark. Please accept this in lieu of an actual blog post.

Olden D&D (also Basic D&D)

  1. Tripartite alignment: Lawful-Neutral-Chaotic
  2. tripartite armor selection: Leather, Chain, Plate
  3. The 4 classic classes
  4. level titles (Footpad, Burglar, Acolyte, etc.) 
  5. thieves have d4 HD (BOOOOOOOO!)


  1. Bastard Swords!
  2. Race (aka ancestry) is NOT class (YAAAAAAAAY!)
  3. 1 minute melee rounds--KIDDING! Nobody ever thought that was a good idea


  1. level titles vary with alignment--I'm not going to be doing alignment so whatevs [still too old]
  2. roll spell checks to see if your magic succeeds
  3. 0-level character funnel (called The Gauntlet) 
  4. five spell levels (called "tiers")


  1. contemporary ability score modifiers
  2. roll with Advantage© 
  3. Death saves when ya' reach 0 HP
  4. roll a 20-sider for initiative; that might actually be from versions 2-4e


  1. Constant initiative; not just for combat anymore
  2. Close, Near, Far movement/range classifications
  3. Easy, Normal, Hard, and Extreme difficulty for your challenge s
  4. Ya' need to roll a 20 for a successful death save

All Reasonable Versions of D&D


Sunday, December 31, 2023

Happy New Year from the Dice Mines!


"Do you think they have Holmes-made pumpkin pie?"
A lot of you wrote in to inquire about yesterday's post [Does anyone believe me when I imply that I've received feedback or do you all see through these claims for the sham that they are?] I mentioned the baleful god of Blogger OCD without quite explaining the significance of it. You see, for the first several years that I maintained this blog, my end of year post count was always a number divisible by 6. I'm not sure when I became conscious of this, but I do know that I spent the last week of 2015 scheming to achieve 24 posts for the year. 

Then came December 2016. I started the month with an admittedly meager count of 18 posts on the year; all I had to do was sit tight until January and I was good for the year. But with one week to go, I decided to fly in the face of superstition; I posted an unlucky 19th post on Christmas day featuring Erol Otus's famed photo of the KEEP on the Borderlands, as seen above. Maybe I was trying to spur myself on to crank out 5 more posts in the week between Christmas and New Years--if so, it failed as inspiration. Or maybe I wrote that post months earlier, set it to auto-post for Christmas Day and forgot all about it. That was seven years ago, who can remember that crap?

The fallout has been tragic. Even though 2016 was my least active blogging year at the time, I have never achieved even that low standard in the years since. And only once have I managed to achieve another multiple of 6. True nerds will note that just last year I posted 13 times, missing the mark by just one post once again, but on that occasion, that 13th post came out in July; I had more than 5 months to come up with a few more posts, I just... didn't.

And so it is that, in hopes of fending off forces beyond my understanding, I am here typing this pointless, uninformative missive on New Years Eve. May the new year bring you all peace and prosperity, so long as it's divisible by 6.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Flame Princess review; or How to fend off the Baleful God of Blogger OCD

I started writing this post in 1973, but decided that the subject matter was a bit out of date already, so I never posted it. Now, with less than 32 hours left in the year 2023 and finding myself only two posts away from hitting a multiple of six posts for the annum, I need to squeeze out some content in a hurry. So here, read this if you want. Or don't, what do I care? I'm only posting it as filler.

On the advice of the dudes over at 3TRPG, I finally got around to buying Lamentations of the Inflamed Princess--holy hell that's a long-winded title. Even the abbreviation "LotFP" is too many syllables. If you're like me you can't even type LotFP without saying "Ell-o-tea-eff-pee" in your head. I could go with "LFP" but where's the sophomoric humor in that? Well, how about "LotFaP"? By adding one vowel I've shortened the name to a two syllable, completely innocuous, incorruptible word. Well done. Let's get to it.

Lotfap (snicker) is undeniably a good looking book. And a good size for a book. I was excited to see it on the shelf of my local gaming store, so I snatched it and ran home to start reading it. Don't worry, I paid for it first. 

Between the art, the reputation for dark subject matter, and the loquacious title of the game, I had expectations of a game that pushes boundaries. But once you start reading the book, you quickly notice that this is just an improved form of Basic D&D. Don't get me wrong, it's a pretty good distillation of D&D and an upgrade on Mentzer et. al., but, aside from the art, it's no more provocative than Labyrinth Lord.

Which isn't to say that LotFap has nothing to contribute; it certainly does. Following are the 11 coolest things Raggi's version of Basic D&D has brought to the world:

  1. Specialist: Raggi succeeds where D&D so desperately failed. While renaming thieves as "rogues" may have decreased the likelihood of idiotic players trying to pick the pockets of their adventuring colleagues mid-adventure, it is a catastrophically terrible name for a character class, and still implies that members of the class are inclined to not be team players. The specialist is vague enough that you have no problem running this dude as a straight and narrow type who would never mix with the Artful Dodger. Also, they get a wider variety of abilities to choose from--such as "bushcraft"--so they can be kind of like rangers too.
  2. Only fighters get better at fighting. That's right, every other class has reached their peak combat acumen on the first day they fill out their character sheet.
  3. No standardized monsters: no orcs or bullywugs or Type IV demons or even dragons unless you make them up for yourself. Every adventure gets its own custom set of critters to deal with. This does raise the question: if there are no orcs to slaughter, why are dwarves, elves, and halflings available as player races? Did Raggi give in to pressure from the demi-human lobby?
  4. Cool Art. No Peter Bradley.
  5. Much vaunted Encumbrance rules: carry 5 things and you're fine. Pick up more things and you're gonna slow down. Still not sure people will track this in play but it could be done pretty easily.
  6. Much vaunted naval combat and property ownership guidelines. Yes, they're a thing. Are they great? I'll try them out. 
  7. -11. Ha. I just made that up, there are only 6 things.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

If there are zombies in these rooms you all owe me a beer

Back in the 80s, TV personality Geraldo Rivera opened the supposedly as-yet unopened vault of Al Capone on live tv. Hoping to find the skeletal remains of Jimmy Hoffa, the Ark of the Covenant, or, at the least, verifiable proof of String Theory, instead the vault was empty and Geraldo was sealed inside, never to be heard from again.

Well, I'm doing the same thing here today, but in Blog form. You see, I just noticed this section of map from level 1 of the TofEE:

And its similarity to this section of map from the DMG sample dungeon--minus the back doors off of rooms a, b, and c:

Some of you might recall that I once surmised that the DMG sample dungeon and the moathouse in T1 are different versions of the same dungeon. And that those six chambers were once the homes of the same zombies skulking in prison cells under the moathouse in T1:

You can read all that tripe here if you want--I can't bring myself to re-read it so I will forgive you if you skip it.

Anyway, I recently (it was 2 years ago now; I've been busy) bought the Goodman games massive 2-volume hagiography of everyone's favorite place of worship dedicated to alliterative evil. Which is to say that for the first time I have a hard copy version of T1-4 to study. 

You should also know that even though my obsession with Vill. of Homm. is well documented, I have never paid much--read: any--attention to the post-T1 portion of T1-4. Which is why I just noticed the similarly arranged cells now, the day before Thanksgiving 2023. But this gives me the opportunity to either confirm or deny my long standing theory here, live and in person, on the ol' blog. That's right, for the first time ever, I'm going to turn to the dungeon key to find out what the heck is in those cells. Cuz if it's zombies then all of you bastards owe me a beer.

Here we go, turning to the key for level 1... room 150/a-e and--I suspect that some of you already know what's in store, don't spoil it for the rest of us--let's see... 

"150. cells." Good start but not just any cells, these are "gaol cells"--nice bit of pretentiousness there. Each door has a small barred window, straw on the floor... chains on the wall.. fine. What's this bit: "the inside is found to be covered with a sheet of rusty iron." Huh, I wonder what that's about. Chekhov's sheet of rusty iron?

Eastern rooms--aka rooms a, b, and c--are neither locked nor barred..."but as long as they remain shut, their 'ragged human' occupants (three zombies in each) stay huddled in their straw"  

F*ck yes!

Monday, November 13, 2023

Dark Greyhawk: Why didn't I think of this?

Somebody came up with an incredibly cool idea that I really wish I'd thought to do: they've made a map of Greyhawk that illustrates the consequences if the PCs had failed at all the classic modules. Awesome, right? 

Side note: when showcasing someone else's work, I like to direct readers to the artist's site whenever I can, but for whatever reason, the direct link doesn't always connect from Bloogle. You can try it, click below: 

If that doesn't work, copy the text into your browser:

If all else fails (or you're just lazy) click on the image here.

The source of the Land of the Elder Elemental God where Veluna once stood is fairly obvious. Explicticus's Defile is awesome (N1). The Witch Queen has got to be Iggwilv of S4 fame. And we've got the giants and drow kingdoms from the G and D series in the Hellfurnaces and Sheldomar valley. That said, I'm not actually familiar with a lot of the other references: because it's in the Pomarj, I'm assuming the Earth Dragon has something to do with the Slaver series though I don't recall any reference to such in the original modules. The Kingdom of the Efreet brings to mind the cover art from the original DMG, but I'm guessing there's a module out there that explains this more fully. And I'm not sure why the Lendore Isles are now the Lost Isles and not something more assassin-y or Bugbear-y. And why are the Sea Barons now the Hold of the Sea Pirates? Anyway, neat idea. 


Thursday, November 9, 2023

How to Read the AD&D Rules: A Surprising rule about Encounter Distance

Remember this old gimmick where, in a fit of hubris, I tried to clarify and paraphrase the AD&D rules into a more concise text? Remember how badly I failed? 

It was pretty laughable, yes, but it also helped me understand rules that I never knew that I didn't know. Unknown unknowns, if you will. Most egregiously, I completely misunderstood the whole surprise segments thing. You can read the whole dreaded affair if you like. Or not, my feelings won't be hurt. (sniff)

In classic D-Chux fashion, I'm dragging this old pony out of the glue factory to abuse it some more, because I started reading the DMG again and, a few pages on from the surprise rules, I encountered the rules on Encounter Distance. Read on if you dare, my fellow dice chuckers...[pardon the horror show antics, this post was supposed to go up before Halloween but I overslept]


As in, how far apart two parties are when they come into contact. You might think this would be obvious based on the terrain, lighting, where the DM planned for the monsters to pop up in the dungeon, etc, but the DMG leads off the discussion with this sentence:

"When encounters occur, the distance between concerned parties will be 5"-10" (d6+4) subject to the following modifying factors..."

The author then lists off the following six factors: 

  1. Line of sight, 
  2. Noise, 
  3. Actual Area, 
  4. Planned or unplanned appearance, 
  5. Surprise, and 
  6. Light. 

Which is to say, use your head and figure out where first contact is most reasonably going to occur.  And because even a novice dungeon-master will be able to determine where contact will occur without even thinking to consult with the rules, this entire section has never been read by anyone.

And since no one ever read this section, no one uncovered this tidbit:

"Surprise can only be a factor in close encounter situations. If either or both parties are surprised, the distance must be either 1" to 3" or it must be less as determined by the actual area modifier." DMG, some page.

Or, as a loquaciousness-deprived person might put it: 

Parties must be within 30' of each other in order for surprise to occur.
Seems like a pretty important piece of information, right? But, even though Gygax just finished writing 12 paragraphs of befuddling text about surprise, he decided to obfuscate even further this crucial piece of information by placing it in a separate, and entirely superfluous, section of the book.