Friday, May 10, 2019

Thoughts on searching

One of the rules which almost always tempted me to fudge dice rolls was the roll for finding secret doors.

Moldvay states: The DM should only check for finding a secret door if a player says that the character is searching for one and is searching for one in the correct area. (emphasis in original)

What's wrong with that? Choosing when and where to search for secret doors is something of a skill and an art. Searching every ten-foot section of wall in the dungeon is wildly impractical at best; players must be discerning in deciding where and when to search. I don't know about you, but it's always a huge disappointment to me when my players, through some turn of cleverness or deductive reasoning, suspect a secret door, and search the very spot, and the dice dictate they remain oblivious. And if you roll only when there's a secret door there in the first place, you immediately provide the player with that knowledge, while the character is forbidden to act upon it. Although each character is explicitly stated to have only one chance to find a given secret door, the dice roll is practically an invitation for everyone in the party to try until someone succeeds or everyone has failed, which could become a rather tedious exercise.

This is an instance in which I think player skill should absolutely trump random chance, and if player skill is to be rewarded, then there is no point at all to rolling. Instead, if you pick the right spot and spend a turn scrutinizing it, and you'll find whatever's there to be found. That doesn't necessarily mean that you must announce, "You find a secret door!" There just has to be something for the players and characters to interact with, whether it's some feature of the door itself or the hidden trigger that opens it. "You find a seam in the wall," or "One block is of a slightly different shade than the rest of the wall" will do nicely to prompt further investigation or action.

The same principle serves well for most dungeon searches, not just secret doors. (Searching for something in the wilderness or other large area is a whole other can of worms.) Though perception checks and the like aren't a formal part of classic D&D, I know many DMs use them for all manner of searches and observations, and I think that's also a mistake, and an unnecessary complication to boot.

According to Moldvay Basic, searching a 10'x10' area takes one character one turn (under TIME, page B19,) a rule of thumb that works equally well whether the area in question is vertical or horizontal. (For a secret door search, the wall should NOT be considered part of the adjacent 10'x10' section of floor, and vice versa!) Presumably, since no dice mechanics are given, under most circumstances the task should succeed automatically, and the character finds whatever is there to be found. No silly perception checks or search rolls needed; you just automatically reward the player's action with information. As above, it's often more interesting to name interesting features the character may further interact with rather than immediately drill down to the bedrock. A small wooden box may be found without immediately disclosing its contents, for instance, or a rack of many stoppered glass bottles may be noted without listing what's in each one. The further investigation implied may or may not take another turn beyond the initial search (if the player chooses to pursue it, of course.)

Of course, it is just a rule of thumb, and may be tweaked when necessary, though this should be the exception and not the rule. For instance, if the party discovers a very cluttered 20'x20' storeroom, you might decide it takes a character two turns to complete a reasonably thorough search of each 10'x10' area. The party might decide to assign two characters to a particular 10'-square area, and thus complete the search in a single turn. (I personally wouldn't allow extra manpower to ever reduce search time below one turn, for ease of timekeeping, and because of the "too many cooks in the kitchen" principle.)

Is a dice roll ever appropriate? In fact, I'd argue that sometimes it is. Sometimes the players may wish to conduct a very hasty search, and the chance of success could be reduced proportionately with the time spent. If they want to spend only a turn rifling through a 200-square foot room, perhaps they'll have a 50% chance to find an important feature or item. Again, for the sake of timekeeping, I wouldn't allow even a hasty search to take less than one turn; the party could just search a larger area in the same amount of time. It would be simple enough to add a modest bonus for high Intelligence or Wisdom (logical or intuitive sense for where items might be hidden) or for characters like thieves, making them a little more effective at hurried ransacking.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Monster Manual II: Shadow Mastiff

When it comes to monstrous canines in D&D, there are wolves and dire wolves, staples of wilderness adventure thanks to their long history of real world notoriety, blink dogs, which I don't think I've ever used in actual play, and hellhounds, which in my opinion don't live up to their name (Big dogs that breathe fire? So basically a small furry flightless dragon. Yawn.) Then you've got the shadow mastiff from the MMII, a creepy, otherworldly beast that can howl at the moon in my campaign world any time. They have a nice Hound of the Baskervilles feel to them that really stokes my imagination.

The MMII states that they're found mainly on the Plane of Shadows (whatever that is) but in my mind they fit perfectly well in any forlorn, shadow-haunted place in a campaign world. Dark forests, foggy moors, gloomy mountain passes, the dreary halls of some abandoned fortress ... I would have no qualms about deploying a pack of shadow mastiffs in any of them.

They're listed as semi-intelligent (the same rating as normal dogs and wolves) and of Neutral alignment with evil tendencies. Obviously they're not going to be hatching evil plots, so I interpret the evil leanings as a mean or cruel streak. Maybe they take pleasure in killing, inflicting harm, and spreading terror, rather than simply hunting for survival.

Led Zeppelin wrote a song about me, but never mentioned me in the lyrics.

The shadow mastiff is remarkably simple and straightforward for an AD&D creature. It's not wildly overpowered or loaded with a laundry list of spell effect powers "usable once per round, one at a time, at will" or any such complications. It's an easy conversion to B/X.

Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 4**
Move: 180' (60')
Attacks: 1
Damage: 2-8
No. Appearing: 1-8 (4-16)
Save As: Fighter:2
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: Nil
Alignment: Neutral

Shadow mastiffs appear to be large, shadowy-black canines. They are able to blend into shadows, surprising on a roll of 1-4. In dim, shadowy conditions, they can attack and then retreat into shadows on a roll of 1-3 on 1d6 so opponents are unable to attack in return. They hate bright light, and are unable to hide in shadows in well-lit conditions. Bright light also reduces their movement by half and they suffer -2 to all attack rolls; their morale drops to 6.

Shadow mastiffs travel in packs. The baying of a pack (at least 4 mastiffs) causes fear and panic in a 120' radius, forcing any creature of less than 4 HD that fails a saving throw vs. spells to flee for 2d6 rounds.

A shadow mastiff lair may contain 2-5 pups, who are non-combatant and at the DM's discretion may be trained or sold for 100-400 gp each.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Monster Manual II: Korred

Here's another creature for those fey-haunted woods of a campaign world. Besides being incredibly strong for their size, korreds as described in the MMII have some rather peculiar habits. They love to dance, and they are noted to always carry bags containing shears, hair, and unspecified other items. Why they carry around such a collection of oddments is left to the imagination of the DM. It could be either an odd compulsion or some practical habit -- perhaps they're the jolly barbers of the fairy court? Maybe they fulfill other functions of medieval barbers, too, and thus stow things like strong alcohol, medicinal herbs, pliers, and teeth. (Could they be the source of the legends of tooth fairies??)

Setting aside all the possible reasons why they tote around those bags, they are able to cause their hair clippings to weave into animated ropes to bind and immobilize foes, which is a pretty cool power. The one that always comes to my mind first, though, is their ability to stun opponents with their laughter. I always imagine it as a great jovial booming laugh, as if even being attacked can't diminish their mirth, but it could easily be sinister, derisive, or maniacal too. Their listed alignment of Chaotic neutral makes just about anything a possibility. It also seems to indicate that they could potentially be friends, foes, annoyances, or comic relief to a party of adventurers on any given day.

Now go away, or I shall taunt you a second time!

Here's my take on a B/X korred.

Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 5+1
Move: 90' (30')
Attacks: 1
Damage: 3-8
No. Appearing: 0 (1-4)
Save As: Fighter: 5
Morale: 9
Treasure Type: See below
Alignment: Neutral

Korreds are a dance-loving woodland folk of small stature but immense strength, with wild hair and beards and goat-like legs. All korreds carry cudgels (clubs) and bags containing shears, hair, and other curious odds and ends. They may weave locks of hair into animated ropes and snares, each having AC5 and 4 hit points, which can immobilize a man-sized opponent if a saving throw vs. death ray is failed. In combat, a korred attacks with either its cudgel or shears, and may also throw small boulders to a range of 90' for 3-8 points of damage. In the hands of a human or demihuman, the korred's weapons do 1-4 points of damage, as an ordinary club or dagger.

A korred may laugh three times per day, stunning all foes within 60' who fail a save vs. paralysis for 1-4 rounds. There is a 1 in 4 chance that any group of two or more korreds has gathered to dance, and anyone interrupting them must save vs. spells or join the dance, losing 1-4 hit points per round from exhaustion until they fall unconscious for 1-6 hours, they are restrained, or the korreds flee.

Korreds normally collect no treasure, but if the items in their sacks are sprinkled with holy water they turn to solid gold of 50-300 gp value.