Wednesday, November 18, 2020

OD&D Notes, Book 3: The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures

Part 4 of a series where I read OD&D for the first time and take notes on things that surprised me (parts 1, 2, and 3).
Dungeons are supposed to be constructed as a set of linked levels.  Multiple paths between levels / non-linearity implied; it's present in the example, and "numerous levels that sprawl in all directions, not necessarily stacked neatly above each other in a straight line" in the text.

I'm not sure if this bit about "having levels [of the dungeon] under construction" refers to in-world or out-of-world.  It could be a pretty funny encounter for PCs to meet the fiendish construction crew.

The sample level is fairly small, only 8 keyed entries and a total of maybe 40-50 rooms across 5ish clusters of rooms.  There are slides to lower levels, corridors at non-right-angles, a basilisk, and a two-way teleporter to wherever (the moon is suggested as a destination).  It's very funhouse.

The internal structure of the level is not very jayquayed - it's more tree-ish, except for the mess of tiny connected rooms in one of the five clusters.

The fear of 'death', its risk each time, is one of the most stimulating parts of the game.  It therefore behooves the campaign referee to include as many mystifying and dangerous areas as is consistent with a reasonable chance of survival (remembering that the monster population already threatens this survival).
The various tricks and traps that immediately follow seem to be more about messing with players than killing their characters - false stairs, teleporters, illusions, dead ends, one-way doors, things that are hard to map.  Which is rather funny.

"As a general rule there will be far more uninhabited space on a level than there will be space occupied by monsters, human or otherwise".  Not just 20-30% of rooms empty - far more space.

Recommends a hybrid approach to stocking between planned and random - place several important treasures and their guardians intentionally, then randomly generate the rest.

50% of rooms with monsters have treasure.  Does this indicate that 50% of monster rooms are lairs?  Looking back at the monster table, the % in lair on most of these is higher than I'm used to; 50% is not uncommon.  I don't think these dungeon monsters are lairs, though - there's a separate treasure table here from the treasure table in Men and Monsters which specified that it was only for lairs.  Maybe there's no conception of dungeon lairs yet, and lairs are strictly a wilderness thing.  Maybe stocked monsters are present in the same numbers as in the wilderness, and then only random encounters are supposed to be small (scaled to party size), so every room keyed with monsters is effectively a lair.  That would square with the advice to have lots and lots of empty space.
Curiously, no copper pieces in dungeon treasure.

There's a section on "maintaining freshness" of a dungeon level that has been mostly cleared - suggestions include blocking passages and making new ones, extending the boundaries of the map, replacing/restocking monsters, "reversing directions" ?, and adding a sublevel.  It's interesting that of these I only really ever do restocking.  I also love that this was an established, normal things in the ref guidance and got a full half a page.

Aha, here's the ground scale of one inch to 10 feet.

Ten minutes lets you make two moves, 120 feet for a fully-armored character.  So that's twice as fast as in B/X.  And four moves per turn in flight/pursuit, which forbids mapping.  I could see why this rule might have been dropped though - you would need really big dungeons, as players could cover a lot of ground.  On the other hand, if really big dungeons were the norm, it might make a lot of sense, so that players could cover all that ground.

Rest turns are here, along with two turns' rest after a flight/pursuit.  No penalties are listed for skipping it though.

Exploration actions may take fractional turns! (Using ESP takes a quarter turn, searching 10' of wall for secret passages takes a full turn, ...).

Ten rounds of combat per turn, so one-minute combat rounds.  Huh.

Elf secret-door-finding lets them know that something is there, but not necessarily how to open it.

Evil doors are already here.  Iron spikes may slip out and allow them to close again.

Traps fire 1/3 of the time when passed through, rather than 1/6 in Basic.
Hearing noises is on d6.  Humans have bad ears.  Silent undead, haunted rooms and corridors that make disembodied noises.

Light - no surprising monsters except through doors.  Monsters lose infravision when characters hire them, lol.

Fireballs and lightning bolts used indoors bounce back, reiterated from book 1.

Dungeon encounter distance is shorter (2d4x10 feet vs 2d6x10 feet in ACKS/OSE).  Surprise shortens that distance to 1d3x10 feet.  I like that, adjudicating random encounters with surprise using B/X's default encounter distance of 2d6x10 feet was always awkward.

1 in 6 chance of wandering monster per turn, not every other turn.  Direction it's coming from is explicitly random as well.

Number of monsters encountered is a function of the size of the party.  Huh!

Three hobgoblins can fight abreast in a 10' corridor.

Characters surprised by monsters have a 25% chance to drop an item they're holding.  Ouch.

Burning oil will deter many monsters from pursuit, but no rules for throwing it at individual targets.  Treasure and food are also mentioned as distracting pursuers.

Reaction roll is very crude, 2d6 with ranges for negative, neutral, and positive reaction, but only those three outcomes, not five.

The Caller is mentioned in an example of play.  The description of the passages is very terse!  Loading coins into backpacks took four turns.  While a combat took place, it is not described play-by-play as the exploration was.

Wilderness prep - have a map of the surface area around the dungeon and of the nearest town.  Towns are not exactly safe - "Venture into the Thieves' Quarter only at your own risk!"

"The terrain beyond the immediate surroundings of the dungeon area should be unknown to all but the referee."  The old masters already knew: don't show them the map!

Inhabitants of castles aren't very friendly.  They collect tolls, challenge you to jousting matches, put geases on you to go get treasure for them, and all kinds of stuff.  Although considering the average D&D player, if a castle held by a PC had a random encounter with a lower-level adventuring party, those all sound like plausible outcomes.

Wilderness movement speed is listed in hexes, and then terrain can make a particular hex cost 2x-3x more.  Large parties take a penalty to their hexes/day.  This is nice.
You can sail boats through swamp hexes, up to and including war galleys.

Dragons need to sleep a lot after traveling overland.  That's amazing.

"Assume the greatest distance across a hex is about 5 miles."  The day is the unit of time in the wilderness.

Getting lost is...  hard to parse.  You move in the direction indicated by a d6 roll, "and may make only one direction change from that direction.  When exploring the referee should indicate which direction the party is lost in."  What does that mean?  You roll a d6 and move in a random direction, but the ref tells you which direction you moved in, and you get to make up to a one-hex-side change from it?

Wandering monster check per day, twice a day if traveling by air or by water.  So that's a lot less work than checking per hex.  I like this.

You get lost a lot in swamp and desert, a fair bit in mountains and woods, and only occasionally in clear terrain or on a river.  Random encounters frequent in swamp and mountains, less frequent in woods, river, and desert, and infrequent in clear and city.

All kinds of weird stuff on this encounter table.  I'm a little surprised that none of the John Carter of Mars monsters made it into later editions, except that the references to them here are totally unintelligible to someone unfamiliar with the source (eg, me) so I could see why people would ignore them and they wouldn't be propagated.

Pursuit and evasion - I think probability of escape might be intended to be based on the fraction of the max possible size of the random encounter?  So like if orcs are 1d10 * 30, and you're being pursued by 180 orcs, that's 60% of their max number encountered and that would give a party of (say) 4-9 characters a 50% chance to evade.  So that's definitely different from the Basic branch, where chance to evade depends on relation between the sizes of the evader and the pursuer.
Two random encounter rolls on rest days.

I like the drawings in the castle construction section.

Hirelings - armorers are not profitable, unlike OSE.  Only fighters can hire sages?  Spies and assassins charge per mission rather than per month, which is neat.

Men-at-arms are cheaper per month than ACKS, but hiring them is more expensive.  Sort of splitting the difference on cost up front, maybe?

Lifestyle costs - "Player/Characters must pay Gold Pieces equal to 1% of their experience points for support and upkeep, until such time as they build a stronghold."  ...  per what unit time?

Clear a hex, and then a 20-mile radius around it is considered clear due to habitation.  You get 2d4 villages, each of 1d4*100 inhabitants, each of whom yields 10 gp/year, so drumroll 12500 gp/year average domain income for a PC baron.  Not terrible, really.  Investing into your territory is very vague.

Land combat: use Chainmail.  Aerial combat: gets two and a half pages of a 40-page book, uses written/secret orders.  Naval combat follows, 1:1200 scale, again written orders, fatigue tracking for rowers in galleys, sailing vessel speed is based on wind direction and points of sail.  This is as wargamey as Classic Traveller starship combat.  Ships have speeds up to 32 inches per turn - you'd need a big table.

Commanders can only issue orders in a range based on Cha score in naval combat, and lieutenants extend that range.

Drowning doesn't pull any punches: "Plate: 100%.  Chain: 80%."  And if you survive, it's because you got the chainmail off and it sank but you didn't.

Ramming mentions damage to the ship ("The rammed ship suffers from 10% to 60% damage"), but I can't find anything about how much damage ships can take?  Is it a percentage reduction in speed, like a galley that has taken on water?

There's a rule about it taking a certain number of sailors to take in sail or unstep masts, but it's not clear what the effects of that are?  If you can't take in sail and you change your heading, does your speed suffer?

Here's the dragon turtle, under "Monsters in Naval Adventures".

I really enjoyed the naval rules.  I sort of skipped over the aerial rules because I wasn't interested but I imagine that there are people whose eyes would light up reading those too.

Abrupt transition to natural healing.  1HP per day of rest after the first.  Slow by design.

Timekeeping in big campaigns with 20 players - "It is suggested that a record of each player be kept, the referee checking off each week as it is spent."  A dungeon expedition takes a week, a wilderness expedition takes a day per turn, and a week of real life takes a week of game time if you're not on a wilderness expedition.  It does mention that it can if you're in the underworld (dungeon), though - is that why iron rations, explicitly for dungeons, exist?  You go into a dungeon and can't get out by end of session, so a week of both real life and game-time passes and you eat your rations, then pick up where you left off?  Is this part of the mythic underworld dungeon thing, that it messes with time?

Both the slow healing and having people out on wilderness adventures be out of play for long periods of campaign-time seem like they would encourage people to have multiple characters.

And that's all she wrote.  Huh.


  1. Lots of discussion of the time scale and movement scale issues on Delta's D&D Hotspot blog. E.g. His blog is really a treasure-trove for people interested in making sense of the OD&D rules.

    1. "Surprise shortens that distance to 1d3x10 feet. I like that, adjudicating random encounters with surprise using B/X's default encounter distance of 2d6x10 feet was always awkward."

      I use a houserule for ACKS based in part the way OD&D did it; but also morphs surprise with encounter distance into one roll. The biggest snag is that one has to raise the chance of being surprised by +1; but you roll 1d8, 1-3 it's surprise and the distance is whatever is on the die, likewise 4-8, but with no surprise.