Monday, February 28, 2022

Havin' a Psionic Blast: How to read the AD&D rules Part XLVII. Psionics

Let's get this out of the way at the outset: on their own, I think psionics are pretty freaking' cool. Although almost universally ignored back in the day, psionics didn't fall by the wayside because they were too byzantine or clumsy or whatever, they withered on the vine because they seemed like you were playing a different game entirely. It was a fun game, but it just didn't fit with the rest of the D&D vibe.

Back when I was a kid, my gang's first batch of AD&D characters--all multi-classed elf munchkins with 19 Dexes and 18/72 Strengths--also miraculously succeeded at acquiring psionics even though elves are not on the short list of PC races that could be psionic (Humans, Dwarves, Halflings). We went around Psionic Blasting everything in town that we hadn't already Psychic Crushed. It was fun for a while but a few months later we graduated from munchkin gaming and psionics disappeared from our D&D experience ever after.

Enough of my self indulgence. Here's how to read the Psionics rules starting on pg 110 of the PHB:

The rules for acquiring psionix are actually pretty straight forward. You need an Int, Wis, or Cha (the psionic trinity) of 16 to have even a 1% chance of getting psionics. The author then lays out in analog form the possible additions to your roll, it woulda' been helpful to make a table like this:

Even if all three are 16, that's still only a 1% chance.

but he didn't. No big deal, at best, with 18s at I, W, and CH, you get a 9% chance of being psionically gifted. So even if you banish your best rolls to the classic dump stats, you still only had a slight chance of being rewarded. 

e.g. Ponce the Paladin has a 17 Cha (minimum for paladins at the time), 15 Wis and 12 Int. Because one of those scores is 16 or higher, he gets to roll for psionics. He needs a 00 roll on d100, and rolls a 99. Close but no cig--"Wait, I get a 1/2% bonus because of my 17 Cha." he pleads. The Book says to ignore fractions, but we're all gamers here, we can handle fractions: roll a 10 sider, if you get 6 or higher you're in. Ponce rolls and gets another 9! Welcome to the Psionix Club, Ponce.

So you're one of the lucky few who managed the roll, or, more likely, your Dungeonmaster just said "Fine, you can have psionics." Now what? You have to determine your psionic strength; this is done by rolling d100 and adding 1 for each point of I, W, and/or CH exceeding 12. If two of those scores exceed 12, double the total bonus, if all three are 13 or higher, quadruple the crap out of the number

Ponce rolls his 100-sider for psionic strength and gets a 25. To that number he adds (17-12=)5 points for his Ch, plus (15-12=)3 for Wis for a total of 8, doubled because 2 ability scores are >12 for a bonus of (2x8=) 16. 16+25 = 41.

Had Ponce's Int been 1 pt higher he'd have had a 9 base bonus, further, he would have been able to quadruple it for a total bonus of 36 to the d100 roll. Sadly, Ponce was not smart enough to be that smart so he's stuck with 41. This number is doubled to get total Psionic Strength, so Ponce has 82. It's called "psionic ability" in the PHB, but that strikes me as rather ambiguous, so I will be using Psionic Strength or Capacity henceforth.  

What do you do with your psionic strength? You attack people with it, you defend yourself [and maybe your cronies] with it, or you use spell-like functions called "disciplines" that allow you to do a lot of really cool things for just a few points of psionic strength per round. Given that you're probably not encountering other psionic beings every day, more often than not you're just using those disciplines to do cool things like telepathy, teleportation, telempathic projection, telekinesis, or maybe one of the disciplines that don't start with "tele-". 

But really what made Psionics cool was the combat, and I'm running out of room here so we'll get to that tomorrow in what will also be the 300th post here at DiceChuckles Entertainment.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

How to read the AD&D Rules Part XXIV.D

I got it way wrong. In case you haven't been reading, I spent a week or more passing along misinformation about AD&D Surprise rules. After a jolting bit of input from some folks the other day, I realized my mistake and decided to give Surprise the Alignment Language treatment. But on doing so, I wanted to make sure I covered all the required terrain, which lead me to read this sentence at the bottom of the left column on pg 62 under Factors Contributing To Surprise

"The overall result would not materially add to the game--in fact, the undue complication would detract from the smooth flow of play." 

While EGG wrote this in reference to listing modifications for a variety of in-game situations that might lead to surprise it should really be extrapolated to encompass the entire sadistically convoluted segment-based AD&D Surprise Party. Never has a more apt sentence been written in description of not just the surprise rules, but also unarmed combat, psionics, weapon vs. AC modifiers, and a host of other rules chaff proliferated by the same pen that crafted this poignant quote.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Surprise Party Redux: Surprise rules part III

I'll admit that the 1 minute melee round renders a bit of sense from the segment-based Surprise Party. In all the other D&Ds that just give you a free round of surprise, the round is only 10 seconds or less, so you're effectively just giving them a free segment. If you ignore, for the moment, the "why?" of one minute melee rounds, having the surprised party stand inert for a full 60 seconds seems a bit ridiculous, and it also seems ridiculous that, with a full minute to molest the surprised party, the Surprisors would only get to attack once, so EGG broke it down to segments. 

Why not just give the surprisers one free segment to act? Well, with AD&D's ridiculously slow movement rates, on most occasions they'd be too far away to take advantage of it (again: please ignore the larger question), so Gary devised the multiple segment Surprise Party, allowing the Suprisors to charge into combat and whack away at the inert dupes. But then he realized that 4 or 5 segments of surprise could easily TPK even the most seasoned of gaming parties, as Quisling and Schlomo discovered last week, so he gives a Dexterity bonus in the form of the Reaction Adjustment to allow high Dexed combatants to get out of surprise early. Surprise was going to be somewhat less deadly for PCs who were crafty enough to fudge their Dex rolls, which, given the AC, missile attack, and [universally house-ruled] initiative bonuses affiliated with a high Dex, was most of us back in the day.

On a related note it strikes me as a bit odd that the Surprise Dice Difference table (above) in the DMG only goes up to 3 segments even though it should go up to 5 (6-1). There's nothing in the text that caps the Surprise Party at 3 segments, and the table doesn't indicate that you should do the math to figure out 5-1, 6-2, and 6-1 on your own, though, obviously, you can. It would have taken very little effort to add 2 more rows to complete the formula and yet they chose not to. Was Gary trying to subtly suggest that beyond 3 segments thar be dragons?

...or maybe the added rows would have forced the printers to shrink the already tight margins down from 1/8" to 7/64", and they just weren't willing to go that far.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Rift in time: Surprise! in action

While a lot of folks have commented that when they played AD&D back in the day they swapped out a lot of the more confusing gibberish for simpler rules cribbed from the Basic books. Well, probably because we didn't play Basic D&D long enough to actually learn the rules, my gang went a different direction: we did not use surprise rules at all. Unless one party was lying in ambush or actively sneaking up on the other, or one party was clearly distracted or drunk or asleep--surprise was not a state of being that existed. The side that got the drop on the other based on the situation had a free round to assault the stooges. Rolling for Surprise! at the start of every encounter seemed like just another complication in an already complicated rule set.

But the point of today's post is not to lecture you on the olden ways, but to deliver up a demonstration of Surprise! in action. Continuing on the example from last time when Schlomo, Quisling, and the rest of Party B were surprised by Party A...

 Example of Surprise

Six-siders are rolled for surprise:
Party A: 5
Party B: 1
Party B: is surprised for 5-1= 4 segments.

Today we're going to run the above scenario through as it might happen at the gaming table. Party A is a group of six gnolls patrolling their sector of the dungeon, and Party B is a group of six low level adventurers arguing about how to split up the treasure they just secured after killing the ogre in room 14. They are:

Schlomo Slow-mo, Cleric, Dex 4: -2 reaction adj.
Quisling the Quickling, Thief/MU, Dex 17: +2 reaction adj.
Spungoir the Spelliferous, MU
Furdok of Burd, Fighter
Kuburt, Monk
Rajoo, Ranger

As already determined the entire party is surprised for 2 segments after which time Quisling, thanks to his +2 reaction adj. will move out of surprise, except this time Quisling goes against his nature and actually stays loyal to his countrymen. Two segments later everyone except Schlomo will awake from their stupor. Schlomo, whose pitiful dex afflicts him with a -2 rx adj., will have to wait until segment 7 before he's paroled.

The Gnolls have a move of 9" and are 20' away so they won't even be in stabbing range until surprise segment 2. Wait a second, with a move of 9 inches you can cover most of 18 feet in 2 segments? Fear not, we'll have a How to... session on Movement in AD&D soon.

Segment 1: Two gnolls lob spears at Party B (not Cardi B) before advancing. One hits Furdok while the other bounces harmlessly off the wall. Gnoll 6 fires a heavy crossbow for 7 dmg. killing Spungor the Spelliferous--now the Lifeless. The rest of the gnolls move 1/10th of their move, getting 9' closer to the party. Yes, 9' in 6 seconds is p-a-i-n-f-u-l-l-y slow but there are probably several paragraphs somewhere in the DMG where Gary explains that movement in AD&D does not represent actual spacial displacement over time, but is a conceptual representation of  yada yada yada. 

Segment 2: The gnolls now move into melee range and start swiping at Party B. The two who tossed the spears last time choose to charge the party allowing them to cover twice their movement and still get an attack. This makes the other gnolls wonder why they didn't do that in the previous round. [It's probably because they're following this blog series and we haven't covered charging yet.] Anyway, there's one gnoll for each party member because Gnoll 6 is hanging back reloading the heavy crossbow at 3x the normal speed. Let the slaughter begin!

Segment 3: Quisling--"Quiz" to his friends, at least to the ones he hasn't betrayed yet--is no longer surprised, so Gnoll 3, who had attacked him the previous segment can no longer get in those sweet "telling blows." They have to roll initiative at this point, even though everyone else is still involved in Surprise. 

                Quisling: 4, Gnoll: 2. 

Quiz gets to swing first, rolls a 5 and misses with his short sword. Gnoll 3's turn but she says "Screw that, if I attack you I'm done for the round. There's a guy standing next to you who'll be surprised for at least 2 more segments, I'm attacking him instead." She cuffs Schlomo up side the head with a morningstar.

Segment 4: The gnolls keep whaling on the still-surprised party members, some of whom are not looking so hot. Quisling has shot his wad bolt, um, you get the idea, for the round and should, by standard melee protocol, be feinting, parrying, and dodging blows from Gnoll 3 for the next 54 seconds. But Gnoll 3 chose instead to attack a still-suprised party member and therefore remain involved in the Surprise Party. Quisling has fallen into a rift in the melee continuum: he has already used his one attack for the round, but his co-combatant has decided not to return the favor. Does Quisling have to dance around pretending to dodge and parry blows that no one is delivering? That's preposterous. Does he get to deliver another blow on Gnoll 3? Gnoll 3 isn't surprised so segment-based telling blows do not apply, but they do apply to his surprised comrades--don't do it Quisling! He resists temptation and wanders away from combat. [No kiddies, opportunity attacks do not exist in AD&D; for all its flaws it at least has that going for it.]

Segment 5: Everyone but Schlomo is now un-surprised. If not for Slo-mo Schlomo, we'd start a new round here, but since he's still got 2 more segments of inaction, the Surprise Party continues and we're gonna' use the same initiative roll from segment 3. That's ok by Party B since Quisling won that roll; they start retaliating for the punishment they've taken. Most of the gnolls now engage in normal melee, Gnoll 5 drops Furdok of Burd with a blow from his zwei-handed sword, but Gnolls 3 & 4 are still attacking poor Schlomo rather than join the regular initiative. Quisling, still occupying the rift in the space time continuum, takes this opportunity to cast a 1 segment spell, magic missile, at Gnoll 3.

Segment 6: There are still 2 gnolls who insist on beating on poor Schlomo, and Gnoll 5, having used his regular melee attack to kill Furdok during the last segment, decides he wants to go back to the Surprise party and attack Schlomo too. The players all cry foul but the DM persists and Gnoll 5 swings at the beleaguered cleric anyway, hitting for 3 pts of dmg. Schlomo--shockingly--withstands the blow and, even worse for the DM, the players will absolutely use this decision against him in the future.

Segment 7/New Round: Yahweh smiles on Schlomo today, for he has miraculously survived 10 attack rolls from the gnolls and is finally unsurprised. A new round begins and initiative is rolled, much to the chagrin of Gnoll 6--remember her?-- who has finally finished reloading that stupid freakin' crossbow. She will certainly be razzed for this in the mess hall tonight. The PCs, who are busy filing a meta-gaming complaint against Gnoll 5, lose the initiative. Rajoo and Kuburt both fall under gnollish battle axes leaving just Quisling and the sluggish and heavily battered Schlomo to face off against six gnolls. Quisling regrets not betraying his chums when he had the chance.

Friday, February 4, 2022

"The Telling Blow" or, How to read the AD&D rules Part XXIV.A: Combat, Surprise

Since no one wants to read a spell by spell re-cap of AD&D, I'm skipping ahead to the meat of the matter: Combat. We're now looking at the DMG folks, page 61. Huge chunks of text in full-justified paragraphs; I have as much difficulty wading through this stuff now as I did when I was 11. 

Paragraphs 1, 3, and 4 all go on about the 1 minute melee round; as long as you understand that melee rounds in AD&D are 1 minute long then you need not read them. And paragraph 2 starts out: "As has been detailed, hit points are not actually a measure of physical damage..." so you can stop reading there if you don't need to hear that sermon again. Just like that we're at the bottom of the page where we find the first step for encounter and combat:


  1. Determine surprise: each party rolls a d6, if either or both parties roll a 1 or 2 then the party that rolls lowest is surprised. 

So, surprise dice are rolled and:

Party A: 6
Party B: 3
Neither party is surprised. 
Party A: 1
Party B: 3
Party A is surprised 

That seems simple enough, right? Too simple for a game called Advanced D&D so Gygax wrote 12 freaking paragraphs of obfuscation on the matter, ensuring that all but the most tenacious of rules lawyers would look elsewhere--like Basic D&D--for a simpler rule or ignore surprise rules altogether. 

Now, I can condense Gary's Compleat and Comprehensive Treatise on Inflicting Surprise on One or More Parties During an Encounter in the Strategic Fantastical Roleplaying Game of Advanced Dungeons, and/or Dragons to a couple of paragraphs for you [Edit: No I can't.], but even that will be painful to read so for those not wanting to waste another moment of their lives on this topic, rest assured that most folks just gave the surprisers 1 free round of action while the surprisee's stood/sat/lay their in stunned silence.

Diehards Only

Have we got rid of all the lightweights? Good, let's dig in:

Like I said, each party rolls a d6 for surprise. If one or both parties roll either a 1 or a 2, then the party that rolls higher is supposed to subtract the low-roller's dice roll from their own, the result is how many segments of free action they have before the surprised party can react, segments being 1/10th of a round which, as Gary has just spent 3 very lengthy paragraphs explaining, are 1 minute long.  [A segment is 6 seconds long, equal to a round in modern D&D, so you 5e kids are finally in your comfort zone]. It looks something like this:
Party A: 5
Party B: 1
Party B: is surprised for 5-1= 4 segments.
The surprisers, in this case Party A, have 4 segments to act. During each segment of surprise they can move 1/10th of their full movement rate, avoid, parley, and, yes, melee attack the crap out of your ass as if each segment was an entire round! As Gary puts it, because the surprisees are inert, the surprisers can get in "telling blows" in just a 6 second window. This gets back to all the dancing around and feinting and what have you that goes on in a 1 minute melee round.

We're not done yet though because each surprised individual modifies its time in the surprise zone based on their Dexterity. Remember attack/reaction adjustment? Attack is clear, add that to your to hit roll when attacking with missile weapons. This is where the reaction half of he equation comes in: if your party is surprised, each individual adds its dex adj. to the surprise roll for determining how long they are surprised. As an example:

Only 2 members of party B (above) have exceptional dexterities: 

Quisling the Quickling, Dex 17, +2 rx.

Schlomo the Slow-mo, Dex 4, -2 rx adj.  

  • Note: because of Schlomo's egregiously low Dex, we know that he is a cleric. We can surmise from his name that he is likely a rabbi.
  • Further note: it is unlikely in the extreme that anyone would willingly put a 4 on Dex because that would also give you a |3| AC penalty,* i.e., Schlomo's chainmail and shield would give him an AC of 7 instead of the typical 4. That's bad, new schoolers.

*When you're digging around for the "absolute value" symbol you truly appreciate what a pain in the ass descending AC is.

Quisling adds 2 to the surprise roll, which was 1, so: 1+2=3, less than 5 so he is still surprised, but only for 2 segments. And, true to his name, he uses the segments gained to sell out the rest of his compatriots before they can become un-surprised.

Schlomo on the other hand subtracts 2 from the surprise roll; he is surprised for 6 segments and is the last to understand the treachery of his erstwhile colleague.  

Missile Fire During Surprise

In the PHB discussion of surprise Uncle Gareth informs us that 

"Physical attacks during surprise are also possible on a 1 segment basis, whether the form is by weapon, projectile, or method intrinsic to the creature." 

which sure seems to imply that you can launch missiles at a rate of 1 per segment. However, by the time he wrote the DMG he must've realized that just because you can get in more telling blows when your opponent is in a state of stunned surprise doesn't mean you can crank a heavy crossbow 20 times faster.

Instead, the DMG informs us that during surprise you can launch missiles at 3 times the normal rate. Sadly, rate of fire for missiles is given in rounds not segments, so we're going to have to do some math. There are 10 segments in a round and 10 isn't divisible by 3 so the math is not going to be pretty. Stop making up excuses and get on with it DChucks:

You can launch 2 arrows from your composite short bow per round so in a surprise situation you can fire 3x2 = 6 per 10 segments which simplifies to 3 per 5, or 1 every 1.666 segments or, basically, 1 arrow every other segment. Now do the same for the rest...

If Gary didn't hate us so much he would have just made a handy table like this:

How much damage would a heavy crossbow
have to do before you would consider using one?

Did I cover everything? I'm not sure, so next time I'll run a sample surprise encounter to see how this all works in action.