Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Hargravian Oddity

I'm not an uncritical admirer of Dave Hargrave's Arduin Grimoire series. There's a lot of creativity in the pages of these books, but also a lot of nonsense. Despite that, I find myself regularly re-reading them, because, like the LBBs, I regularly find new things in them that I'd either not noticed before or that I had noticed and somehow had forgotten. Last night, when I was paging through the "General Notes on Monsters, Combat and the Like" from the original Arduin Grimoire, I came across this odd little note:
6. All fireballs and other offensive area effect weapons, have their damage points divided among all of those that are caught inside its limits. That means that if there are 4 people caught in a 6 dice fireball that does 20 points of damage on the dice roll, then each of the four takes 5 points of damage if they fail their saving throw, and 3 points (2-1/2 rounded up) if they make their save, NOT 20 point [sic] each!!!
Among old schoolers, Arduin has a reputation for being both gonzo and deadly, so I was bit surprised to read the passage above, because it severely weakens the power of spells like fire ball. It's also an interpretation of area effect damage in D&D that I don't think I ever encountered back in the day. That's not surprising, since I didn't start playing till late 1979, by which point AD&D had been released and this issue, among others, had been definitively clarified. But back in '77, using only the LBBs, Hargrave's interpretation wasn't implausible (though examination of Chainmail would have shed further light on the matter).

I won't be adopting Hargrave's interpretation in my own campaign, but I like reading about rules variants like this. One of the great things about OD&D is the way that it unintentionally demands judgment calls and interpretations to make it playable. And Arduin, for all the things about it I dislike, is nevertheless a terrific example of one referee's "deciding how [he] would like it to be, and then mak[ing] it just that way!" 

11 comments:

  1. Actually, thinking back, I'm pretty sure that's how we played it (at least for a while) back in the late '70s. But we were little kids then and didn't think through the logic of these situations. Can't see that 'ruling' making a comeback ;)

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  2. This is really a matter of how you define the damage mechanism. Is 6d6 the *total* damage produced, or the *average* damage produced. If the first answer is used, the Hargrave's method is correct, if the second, then all four people in the blast area take the full 20 points of damage.

    I prefer the first method. Because other wise you get into odd arguments about the effects of a fireball cast to destroy objects. The line of logic is "when I cast fireball at those orcs, and caught eight of them in the blast, each took 6 dice, so the explosive effect needs to be at least 48d6 against the door!" If you use the total method, the fireball does the same damage effect every time.

    I go a step farther and use explosion rules for things like fireballs. The target hex and the six hexes around get the full effect. Each hex further out the power drops by one die. It's a bit more accurate model of how explosions really work.

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  3. Hmm...sounds like artillery in Panzer Leader. You added up all the defense points of the units in the target hex, and then figured odds. So lone units were vulnerable to arty but groups were basically invulnerable.
    "Damn, the Germans have an 81mm mortar squad. Let's bunch up for safety!"

    Funny to think that the best way to use an area effect attack with that rule in place was on lone figures, and the best way to defend yourself was to bunch up so the damage got divided down too far to hurt anyone.

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  4. Hargravian, what great word.

    "The Hargravian militia swept through the capital of....."

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  5. I'm thinking that the main repurcussion of this would be that low hit point PC's can survive more fireballs. MU's gotta have a love/hate relationship with this (can survive fireballs, but own fireballs kill less enemies).

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  6. Hargrave's rule system was a constant work in progress. The best example is probably the hp system which from AG I through II is based on OD&D, but by AG III he introduced a new one nm based on the PC's con, race and class and was later used in it's entirely in the Arduin Adventure. Also Hargrave GM'ed two Arduin campaigns that were quite different then one another and that one to was more high fantasy/power gaming and the second was more balanced and low powered.

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  7. @gridlore: "If the first answer is used, the Hargrave's method is correct..."

    Actually, if that was the total damage, it should be divided by the number of squares/hexes effected, not by the number of targets. Hargrave assumes that all damage magically makes it to a valid target (making it suddenly and oddly a Very Bad Thing to be the only target in a fireball, rather than one of many).

    That sort of rule works well conceptually for magic missiles, acid arrows, power orbs, and other discrete seeking constructs. I don't buy it for are effect.

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  8. Also Hargrave GM'ed two Arduin campaigns that were quite different then one another and that one to was more high fantasy/power gaming and the second was more balanced and low powered.

    That's very useful to know! Thanks for sharing it.

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  9. "That sort of rule works well conceptually for magic missiles, acid arrows, power orbs, and other discrete seeking constructs. I don't buy it for are effect."

    Well, there is a argument that the fireball in CHAINMAIL was 2" in man to man scale, the same as the boulder thrown by a single giant (2 foot diameter), gygax attempted to put the fireball into mass scale with 0d&d with the introduction of a second type of catapult shot whic was 2" (20 yards or 20 feet) this catapult is described as throwing many small rocks over a wider area--therefore the d&d fireball should be thought of as a "cluster bomb" like effect.

    Honestly, fireball was poorly translated ffom CM to d&d and should have remainded a literal flaming catapult shot against a single target or object--it's original purpose was never to kill a host of orcs, but to knock down walls or chase a dragon from the sky.

    Returning the fireball to it's original size put it (and lightning bolt) in it's proper place with ice storm, cone of cold and other higher level spells.

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  10. I'll just drop in a reminder that Gygax also had a similar-ish "cap and trade" for fireballs and other area-effect damage in Swords & Spells -- take average damage times 5, and divide that among all targets [S&S p. 12]

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  11. Interesting to see that there are more than one Panzer Leader player in this gang. Some of us have seen massive amount of infantry crawl up on our fortified position while the mortar fire uselessly bounced off them...

    That rule I hated, and quickly houseruled away. Having artillery be useless against "powerstacks" was just too wonky for me. I have totally forgotten my rule for it, though.

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