Friday, December 18, 2009

Adventure Design as Motivation to Alter Spell Choices. Also, Movement!

B/X Blackrazor talks about the water weird here. I haven't used one in a real game in quite some time (there is a Urine Weird in Green Devil Face #1 but I did advertise that it wasn't actually ever played...), but the key part of that post to me was: "Most players simply aren't carrying a purify water spell in their repertoire."

Too true. I know that most of the time when I'm presenting Adventure of the Week, spell selection looks like this for clerics: Cure Light Wounds, Cure Light Wounds, Cure Light Wounds, Cure Light Wounds (etc for as many level 1 slots available). For magic users: Magic Missile, Magic Missile, Magic Missile, Magic Missile (etc ditto)/Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep (etc ditto) (depending on whether it is expected to encounter Big Baddies or masses of Small Baddies). Strength gets taken for level two to enhance the fighter for fights. I suspect as soon as the magic-user gets a Lightning Bolt or Fireball, that'll get taken every time, but right now it's Haste.

Alternate spells are taken afterwards, on the second trip to a location if it is suspected they might be useful. But seemingly never on a first trip.

On one hand, this all makes sense. Perfect sense.

On the other hand, this only makes sense because the way I set up my dungeons and adventures allow it all to make sense.

So, is this "move in with combat spells loaded, scout out the locations and eliminate opposition, then show up tomorrow with the intel spells" pattern unique to my games because I suck at first-go-round dungeon/adventure writing? Or do other people see this happen as well?

Is it even a problem? As a referee, should I be concerned with this and come up with ways to discourage this way of going about things?

Let me rephrase. As a referee, should I be concerned with this and frequently come up with ways to discourage this way of going about things?

... and then, movement.

Movement in D&D and the clones is in many ways... weird. In Wednesday's Insect Shrine game, there ended up being a situation where combat happened where everyone was far, about 100' apart. And per-round (10 seconds) encounter movement for a heavily-encumbered (filled up to the gills with oil, etc) characters wearing plate mail armor is... 10'.

So there was a lot of problems with PCs getting caught out in the middle of nowhere (relatively speaking) and not being able to do anything because their immediate foes were eliminated and it was a long way to the next cluster of combat. Labyrinth Lord (the system we were using) was kind enough to have running speed (which someone looked up partway through the combat), which was full-turn movement in the round, with lots of exhaustion penalties.

There was some grumbling. And I felt bad at the time.

But you know what?

On further reflection... the good guys and the bad guys (or the PCs and the NPCs if we don't want to play hero) were operating with the same rules, and if you want the AC protection of plate mail, this slow-as-molasses movement is the balance. I didn't see the unencumbered guy with the greater movement trying to complain that his AC wasn't too great, you know?

I'm lax about enforcing encumbrance. Sometimes I'm positive that every PC has 6 weapons and 5,000gp worth of copper coins, 6 weeks of rations, 45 flasks of oil, and that 50 pound art object they just found all in their backpack and two sacks, and that's not counting the weapon, shield, torch, and ten foot pole in hand. Plus somebody's mapping. I want to keep things focused on what they're doing instead of what they're carrying and not be a hardass making everyone explain every last piece of equipment they're carrying. (this did cause a rather amusing situation one time where a player had "a backpack" that had everything the guy ever picked up in an adventure, including I believe three spellbooks... that became an issue when the thing burst while he was suspended over a body of water) Even if they are technically carrying an allowable amount of encumbrance (albeit heavy), there's doubt in my mind whether they could physically fit all this stuff on them.

So yeah, likely my players get away with hell equipmentwise. Or maybe I'm just being paranoid. Or maybe there's one character who isn't carrying squat compared to the others because the player is actually keeping track (this would be me if I were a player, incidentally).

I dunno. I'm trying to concentrate on the things I need to do during a session and trust the players to not cheat the living hell out of the game. I don't think I've ever looked at one of their character sheets between sessions. I drop the closed character folder on the table before the game and ask them to make sure all the sheets are back in there before they leave for the night.

So I don't think I've ever looked at any of my current campaign's players' character sheets... ever.

But I'm still not going to stress about it.

You know what else I'm not going to do? Put up with any complaints, should they come, about 10'-per-round combat movement.

And I'm going make it a point to put some (not constant...) situations where such things matter.

Not to be a dick.

Let me rephrase. Not just to be a dick.

But to make the choice of wearing heavy armor, and the choice of suiting up with every piece of equipment known to adventurerdom, a meaningful choice with consequences.


  1. Jeff Rients' house rules for Cinder didn't allow a character to take the same spell more than once. Now granted, I can see it going from "magic missile, magic missile, magic missile, magic missile" to "magic missile, sleep, shocking grasp, burning hands" but then, they also need to have access to all those spells, or they have to start picking up miscellaneous spells and be creative with how to use them.

  2. My magic-user character does the same spell pattern. Combat loadout for recon, utilities for the second go. Although I always have a couple of spells reserved for "escaping."

    I don't see the phenomenon as a bad thing, it's just smart play. Although I find myself repeatedly cursing myself for not having Knock memorized...

  3. Also, the amount of encumbrance you're carrying should be an issue when trying to escape a disastrous situation. As a player, I make sure I'm always faster than someone else in the party.

  4. The combat loadout/recon thing is basically what we do in Trollsmyth's games. Although the other spell-caster in the Wednesday game is a witch, who doesn't have any traditional combat or healing spells at 1st level, so she actually did prep Purify Water on a whim at one point and it saved her life when she tried to row a boat across a Water Weird. ;)

    And I don't see it as a big issue. Cure Light Wound is the most all-purpose spell that clerics have; no-matter what you run into, there's a good chance you're going to take damage at some point. Magic Missile and so on aren't quite as multi-purpose, but combat is the hardest thing to get out of dealing with even if you are playing smart and cautious. So that's my two cents. If players aren't using the full spell list, that's an issue, but it's okay if they don't switch to the utility stuff until after the first go-round.

  5. I don't have any issues with movement and encumbrance. Though I'm not super strict on the rules, it does come into play during combat. And if your character is weighed down, that's your tough luck. You're just a slow moving target for ranged attack. Or maybe the combat is over before you even get there. That to me is game balance coming into play.

    I think all you have to do is to keep your spell-casters on their toes too. Challenge them with things that odd spells will help them with especially if they are lost in a dungeon somewhere. They'll always save a few slots for spells they 'might' need.

  6. Relating to memorized spells: In a gamist game of course the players are going to load up on what ever is the most effective at keeping the characters alive. Most of the time there really isn't an alternative, as most of the encounters or series of encounters range from difficult to extremely deadly.

    Regarding movement and encumbrance: Obviously these rules should be enforced, as they are part of the checks, balances, and resource management that make up most of OD&D. The confusion during the game rose not from rulings made by the GM as much as from lack of clarity in the LL-rules as written.

  7. Alas you have run up against one of the tragic weaknesses of old school D&D. Pre-picked spells are necessary to maintain the game balance, but force a general load-out rather than the right spell for the right situation. 2nd and 3rd edition only made it worse (40 first level spells to choose from and what’s the magic user carrying three Magic Missiles and Charm person).We always house ruled that one could switch spells by resting 10-15 minutes. Kept people from switching in combat, but enabled them to bring the Comprehend Languages and Knock spells on-line when needed. By the way why bother with a monster which is wicked brutal but the one right spell makes it total cake anyways? Of course the old school adventures will retreat, come back after they secured the one spell required and kick the monsters ass. Who wouldn’t?

    Concerning amour, I am not sure what Labyrinth Lord says, but in original D&D a man in plate can cover a hefty 60 feet per round in the Dungeon, and 60 yards in the wilderness. Fast enough unless you run into the dreaded Cavalry Ooze (Black puddings which also move at 60 feet a round). We only bothered figuring out encumbrance when trying to drag dead bodies back or shoveling out that 20,000 gold piece dragon horde.

  8. Oddly I also seem to be that player who tracks things.

    When I was GM though, I just ignored things like that, until I in the middle of a fight found it funny to remember it.

  9. Regarding the spells issue:

    Myself, I'm not too fond of the idea of repeated forays to a dungeon. I usually make some in-game reason to prevent this. Sometimes I don't, and then it's of course OK for the players to utilize the "open door, fireball, get out, rest 24h" tactics to the fullest. But generally, I'm not too fond of tactics like that. I like it when the resources are spent and the group has to get creative. And that's what I enforce with many kinds of in-game reasons.

    However, this would eliminate almost all use of utility spells. As you wrote, the only time a utility spell is going to get used is on the second foray, when the PC's know a little bit of the challenges to be faced. There's no point in taking anything but combat spells, healing spells (and augury) in the initial run. Anything else would be silly.

    Furthermore, I'm not too fond of the idea that when the PC's reach a puzzle that could be solved by the proper spell, they have to wait 24 hours to solve it. Even if they HAVE the right spell, it's not in the memory. I want them to have the opportunity of solving it right away - if they decide to take that out of their lethality potential.

    So what have I done?

    I've killed Vancian magic with a careful neck shot, dismembered the corpse, burned it and used the ashes as a fertilizer.

    You see, I hated Vancian magic in 1989, I hated it in 1999, I hate it in 2009 and I'm pretty sure I'll hate it in 2019. I love old-school D&D but I've got no love for spells that are in your spellbook but you can't use them.

    Spellbooks = cool, studying spells in the morning = cool, having a certain number of spells from each spell level = cool. But I let my players to choose the spells on the fly. Thus, if they REALLY need that Detect Magic in the dungeon, they can cast it, but it's one less Magic Missile or Cure Light Wounds then. It's their decision.

    Just something that I do :)