Three Thoughts from Last Week’s Game

I’m currently running my 4th edition D&D conversion of the classic AD&D adventure G3: Hall of the Fire Giant King. My players have run through G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and G2: Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and assuming everyone’s interested, G3 will lead to conversions of the D1-2-3 and Q1 modules as well. The conversions have been performed using  my Dungeon Crawl system, which makes high paragon and epic level play much faster, but most importantly, the system allows for a more realistic approach to dungeon crawls, wilderness treks, or other DM stories that make the 15-minute adventuring day seem ridiculous in both 3rd edition D&D and 4th edition D&D (and probably others).

There were three things that came up in that game that I thought were worth noting here.


Here’s the set up: The PCs are opening a door. The door makes noise. There’s no way to stealthily enter without the NPCs being aware of their presence. However, there’s no reason for the NPCs to be on guard. They’re busy working in the armory, so the door opening won’t necessarily be alarming. They might not even look over, meaning the PCs could still get the drop on them (i.e., gain surprise).

Under those facts, whether the PCs gain surprise is really a matter of luck, which is always handled with a die roll. So, I reached back into my (fuzzy) memory and recalled that surprise in AD&D was handled with the roll of a d6. I told the players that I wanted a d6 roll, and on a 1 or a 2, they’d gain surprise. Knowing my tendency to roll low, they asked me to roll the d6, so I said, “Fine, but you gain surprise on a 5 or 6, then.” They said they’d accept that, because they knew my rolling curse wasn’t a matter of always rolling low, but rather always rolling poorly. I rolled a 5. The PCs gained surprise.

My memory was indeed flawed. AD&D surprise was determined by rolling opposed d6s. From the DMG,

Surprise is determined by rolling a six-sided die for each party concerned, modifying the result by using the most favorable member of the party concerned, i.e., a ranger, surprised only on a roll of 1, will represent the whole of a group of other character types. Note, however, the effect of dexterity as detailed below. The same holds for mixed types of monsters. Of surprise is indicated for both parties concerned, the party which has lesser surprise subtracts its result from the result of the greater to find the number of segments the latter are inactive. Nonetheless, it is possible for both parties to be surprised equally — with surprise having no effect.

Surprise is usually expressed as a 2 in 6 chance for all parties concerned . . . . Each 1 of surprise equals 1 segment (6 seconds) of time lost to the surprised party, and during the lost time the surprising party can freely act to escape or attack or whatever . . . .

There’s more, including a table, but that’s the gist of it. Refer to the AD&D DMG for more.

DM Screen

At DDXP a couple of years ago, I was in an official WotC seminar. DDXP is great because the seminars are small but give you access directly to WotC personnel. (Whether this will change now that WotC has pulled out of the Ft. Wayne convention in January remains to be seen.) I mentioned to Chris Perkins that, despite the 4e DM screen being printed in landscape orientation, it’s still too tall. I like having certain information at my finger tips, but even an 8-1/2″ tall screen blocks too much of the battle map. If I can’t see what’s going on, I’d rather ditch the screen and just rely on a player to look up a rule if necessary. The one thing I can’t live without (for 4e D&D) is the DC chart, but as I provided in one of my Protection from Chaos articles, Protection from Chaos, Part IX: For My Conversion of an Adventure, What May I Publish?, I include that in the footer of my adventures.

Bloodied? How Boring

I’ve always used different words to describe a character as bloodied. (For non-4e D&D players, this refers to a character who’s been reduced to half their normal hit points.) For example, mechanical constructs don’t have blood, so it doesn’t make sense to call them “bloodied.” Instead, I call them oily reflecting that oil, not blood, is spewing from their bodies upon taking a certain amount of damage. Not all constructs, however, are “mechanical.” A stone golem is nothing by stone animated by a spirit of some sort, so stone golems get “gravelly.” Here are some of my favorites (YMMV):

Flame creatures steamy (as if doused with water to put out the flames)
Ice creatures watery, wet
Incorporeal creatures (e.g., ghosts) misty
Insects, demons, and devils ichory
Oozes, water creatures low viscosity

As you should always do, I’m just making the game my own. In my case, that means making the game a smart-ass.

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