Friday, March 19, 2010

Favorite Obscure AD&D Rule

One of the things I most enjoy about the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide is that it's possible to open it randomly to almost any page and there's a good chance you'll come across a rule you've either never read or don't remember having read. Sometimes those rules help clarify some other aspect of the rules and other times you wonder what the heck Gary was thinking when he included it in the book.

Over the years I've become something of a connoisseur of these kinds of rules, so it'd be hard to pick a favorite. If pressed, though, I'd probably go with the following little gem, which I would have actually used, had I noticed it back in the day:
Helmets

It is assumed that an appropriate type of head armoring will be added to the suit of armor in order to allow uniform protection of the wearer. Wearing of a "great helm" adds appropriate weight and restricts the vision to the front 60° only, but it gives the head AC 1. If a helmet is not worn, 1 blow in 6 will strike at the AC 10 head, unless the opponent is intelligent, in which case 1 blow in 2 will be aimed at the AC 10 head (d6, 1-3 = head blow).
Interestingly, I have yet to find a comparable rule in OSRIC, but the Advanced Edition Companion does reproduce it.

So what's your favorite obscure rule from AD&D? Bonus points if you actually use it in play.

33 comments:

  1. Interesting. I remember the first portion (we never used it) but not the part about the number of blows aimed at the AC 10 head. That could have changed a few combats.

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  2. If I was trained with edged weaponry, I don't know that I'd risk going for the head 50% of the time if my opponent was reasonably trained themselves. The arms and legs with their vital arteries would seem a much safer target, even with armor, assuming I was wearing it myself.

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  3. The first thing that comes to mind is that most monsters should appear to PCs with infravision as a pair of "very brightly glowing red" eyes in the darkness. p. 59:

    "Creatures with infravisual capability of unusual nature, such as those which see infrovisually to 90', are actually emitting infrared radiation from their eyes and seeing what is within this visual range by receiving the reflected radiation. Such creatures can easily distinguish floor, ceiling, wall, and other areas, as well as furnishings within an area. The eyes of all such creatures will appear as very brightly glowing red when observed by any other creature with standard infravision. Most monsters inhabiting underground areas will have this form of infravision."

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  4. Although someone on DragonsFoot found this bit the other day; I almost posted it on my blog as a "favorite rule", PHB p. 104:

    "A potion cannot be found, opened and swallowed while a giant is beating upon the character with a club."

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  5. I'll take those points. We used that for awhile in the early 80's.

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  6. I used to stick little post-it notes on certain pages to allow me to find obscure rules on the fly, back when I was dedicated to running AD&D as written.

    It's a strange, quirky game in a lot of ways, which is what I love about it.

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    1. Post it notes were not invented when I started playing

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  7. "A potion cannot be found, opened and swallowed while a giant is beating upon the character with a club."

    "I'll take those points. We used that for awhile in the early 80's."

    Yes, because using such an obscure rule now would be backwards and foolish ;)

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  8. I like that rule, but it's bit more than I want to manage in my game.

    I really like Philotomy's OD&D Musings about helmets: wearing any suit of armour without a helmet will give your enemies a +1 bonus to hit you.

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  9. My current favourite is the rule that the first time a PC ever rolls to hear a noise, if they succeed they are "keen eared" and henceforth have a higher chance to hear noise.

    DMG p60

    One of my current players has a keen-eared character.

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  10. My favorite little rule is about weapon speed factors: If your weapon's sped factor is five higher than your opponent's, then you get to place two attacks to the opponent's one. This gets deadly when a thief with a dagger is rolling on the ground with a man at arms holding a spear. He could only use his spear as a staff, holding the shaft with both hands (and THAT at a penalty once the opponents are grappling) OR he can try to go for his dagger while fending off the blows with his off hand. Either way a bad situation for the man at arms.

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  11. I have someone playing a low level assassin in my game who infrequently has access to class A insinuative poisons.

    There is an 80% chance that an opponent will immediately recognize the poison on his blade. DMG p20.

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  12. Kent, Assassin is an interesting class for me. I like the way AD&D 1St Ed treats them as a separate class. I don't like the "Assassination Success Table" however, I'd rtather role-play it as a mini-adventure. I don't disallow them, but poison weapons fail on historical grounds: Amazon natives were able to coat wooden darts with curare, an organic alkaloid. Europeans had no such craft. Assassins in Italy isolated the toxin from the Death's Cap Mushroom and put it in ignorant people's food to deadly effect. Assassination prone, onthe otehr hand, used SILVER utensils, and those deadly poisons tended to ozidize bright silver dark, thereby warning the savvy gourmand of the attnpt on his life. It was a difficult engineerign problem to coat metal blades with lethal doses of poison, and only in 1944 were SS able to demontsrate the use of poison bullets - they some prisoners in the leg, they went into convulsions and died 5-15 minutes later. During WWI German artillery was able to infect their shrapnel with Tetanus germs, but even there, the feat required engineering finesse - thinsg like screws had to be used for shrapnel - grooves in the threading was what held the disease agent in sufficient quantities to sicken and kill the injured. My approach to role-playing is that I require a player to figure out a way of doing it before it works int he game. So, a hypothetical assassin layer will have to go ona quest to Amazon-type natives to learnt he secrets of the blowguns and the curare poisons, before being able to use poisoned arrows in the game, and even then it will have to be wooden "peasant hunting" arrows unless player solves some additoonal engineering problems. I am sure it violates that self-censorship code for TSR writers of D&D, but who cares. See, we can make this ecperience historically educational!

    Word verification: Matingui - lycanthropic transofrmation ritualized into a self-empowerment ritual by participants.

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  13. One of these days, I'll actually draw the comic strip I wrote about this rule.

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  14. I always like the weapons vs. AC charts where certain weapons had bonuses or penalties to certain ACs.

    Don't have my books in front of me though to tell you where it was.

    Ignored by many, and gone by the time 2nd Ed came on the scene.

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  15. We DID use the helmet rule in play. However my favorite (and most often used) "obscure rule" is the one for two-weapon combat found in the DMG...a convenient "work-around" for non-fighters to get multiple attacks in a round.

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  16. "Scrolls not read to determine contents immediately are from 5% to 30% likely to fade..." (DMG p. 127)

    WTF!

    Can't claim to have ever used it, but it's way up on the list of favorite obscurities.

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  17. Hey, another 'glowing eyes' follower! I LOVED using that on my players!

    There were so many cool rules...I admittedly loved all of those matrices and tables. Couldn't get enough use of them. The Zero Hit Points rule concerning recovery, scarring, etc was in play. I could never follow the logic of some player character pouring a healing potion down another character's throat and said character just 'pops' up, right as rain, ready to go.

    My faves would be a toss-up between types of insanity and earned experience. Your character levels at what they ACTUALLY do. I had a player with a cleric always trying to attempt thieving abilities. So, when it came time to level...Bang! Welcome to a multiclass Thief, baby. Now you need even more XP to get higher.

    Ah, so many cool rules, so few player characters...

    Ciao!
    Grendelwulf

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  18. I'd go with the weapons adjustment vs. armor type; I use that all the time (and it works as long as you realize it's armor *type*, and not armor *class*).

    I also use the weapons speed, but not in the way the rules state, so I guess you could chalk that up to using an obscure statistic, rather than using an obscure rule.

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  19. Wow, interesting to realize the different takes on what counts as "obscure". I would think that the weapon-vs-AC and speed factors are kind of in-your-face in the PHB charts. :)

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  20. '"Scrolls not read to determine contents immediately are from 5% to 30% likely to fade..." (DMG p. 127)'

    What I especially like about that is the implication that you roll 5d6 in order to determine the chance of failure: a roll to determine the kind of roll you make.

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  21. "So, a hypothetical assassin layer will have to go ona quest to Amazon-type natives to learnt he secrets of the blowguns and the curare poisons, before being able to use poisoned arrows in the game..."

    One can assume that the Assassins' Guild has already done this.

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  22. Personal favorite obscure rule? Cleric spells require different levels of divine contact depending on the spell level. 1st or 2nd requires no special contact, 3rd through 5th require contact with divine minions and if you want a 6th or 7th level spell, talk to God - literally. That could be so much fun in a campaign.

    - DW

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  23. "What I especially like about that is the implication that you roll 5d6 in order to determine the chance of failure..."

    I would think 1d6x5.

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  24. "Personal favorite obscure rule? Cleric spells require different levels of divine contact depending on the spell level. 1st or 2nd requires no special contact, 3rd through 5th require contact with divine minions and if you want a 6th or 7th level spell, talk to God - literally. That could be so much fun in a campaign."

    Definitely. And it has HUGE implications in high-level campaigns where the DM might rule that interplanar travel distance has an effect on cleric/diety telecommunication ability.

    Maybe an underappreciated high-level counter-balance to the famous strength of the cleric class?

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  25. This is kind of interesting, and reminds me of the way shields work in Dragon Warriors, but I'm confused about what effects being hit in the head actually has. I mean, AD&D doesn't have HP by location or anything like that...

    DM: Let's see, you've got no helmet, so... [rolls a d6]. Yep, the bugbear hit you in the head with his morningstar. You take 5 damage to the head.

    Player: To the head? What does that mean, exactly?

    DM: The bugbear hit you in the head.

    Player: Right, I got that. You said I took "5 damage to the head". So, that's just 5 hit points off my total of 13, right?

    DM: Yeah, but it's in the head.

    Player: Whatever. [Crosses off 5 HP.]

    You see what I'm saying? In D&D, with abstracted combat, what difference does it make *where* the damage is applied?

    (Word verification: "mirdsest". The vilest crime imaginable.)

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  26. blizack,

    The idea of the rule, I believe, is that if you're not wearing a helmet 1 in 6 attacks against you will be made against an AC of 10 instead of whatever your armour otherwise is.

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  27. Kevin,

    Aha. Yeah, okay, that does make sense - somehow I'd glossed over that. I doubt I'd ever use the rule, but thanks for pointing that out.

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  28. Sjan (assassins guild can have the secret of the curare poison))

    Aah, but that woould take away from character development and player - setting interaction, wouldn't it? But that's meta-gaming.

    As far as my camapaign goes, the Assassins Guild is perhaps the most outlawed organisation in the game world (if they even exist). Identified assassins are lynched and burned at the stake (literally and figuratively) with everyone's popular blessing. Assassing guilds and mixed thieves-assassings guilds are wagiung a war against the thieves guilds and the whole world. They are very deep underground because any kind of exposure will lead to death and destruction for anyone associated wiht the guild. Why? Official reason is that assassins murder for money, so they are the bastards everyone can safely hate. The real reason is that their ability to speak the "Alignment Tongue" and essentially impersonate other alignments. Gygax wrote that alignment is soemthing that is deeply intimate and personal adn any attempt to discuss another charater'sd alignment would be met with hostility. By learning to "speak" other alingment tongue, the Assassins are breaking a deeply seated major tabboo in the D&D universe thsat puts them on everyone's "it list".

    As towhether the assassing guild has the secret of the curare poison, the big question is if they would share it with the layer, and if the player character would be foolish enough to ask for such a high maker of trust. Assassins Guilds will aggressively subordinate the player characters and the rest of the player charaters in the group to serve the guild. Any resistance will be viewed as treason punishable by death or denunciation to the authorities as a paid killer. Players are given enough warning as to the type of group the Assassins Guild is, and any players playing assasin characters will come to learn to keep the guild at arms length and not to ask tjem for any favors, becuase the demanded payback will be a dangerous adventure that is liabvle to cost players their lives. So, the amazon jungle adventure still stands.

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  29. Mirrors: Remember, mirrors must have a light source in order to function.

    Or something like that.

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  30. The think the mirror bit is kind of like "A potion cannot be found, opened and swallowed while a giant is beating upon the character with a club."

    Not so much a "rule" as a really forehead-slappingly goofy piece of advice. :)

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  31. "Golems and dopplegangers cannot be affected" by a monk's open-hand stunning damage. In our game: "You can't karate chop an iron golem."

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  32. "If a helmet is not worn, 1 blow in 6 will strike at the AC 10 head, unless the opponent is intelligent, in which case 1 blow in 2 will be aimed at the AC 10 head"

    Interesting. I play in a campaign that mixes 1st and 2nd ed rules, with some from 3rd (movement).

    Does this rule assume that the PC's head does not get a DEX bonus to AC? As if the character cannot move it out of the way?

    Also, shouldn't un-helmed opponents take the same penalty, PC's hitting them in the head 1 in 2, assuming the PC is intelligent?

    We play with a "called shot" rule, where you can take a -4 penalty to hit, but with special consequences. Let's say that the party was being attacked by Giants. A PC proficient in the bow could attempt to blind a giant by called shots to the eyes. If successful, the Giant gets -4 to its attack rolls, and PC's get +4 to hit. Also, the DM might determine that the arrows do damage as normal, automatic full damage, or even double or triple damage, plus have the giant make a save to see if the head trauma is enough to knock it out (not likely, since it is a giant).

    It's all about creating fun in the role playing.

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