Saturday, November 30, 2019

AD&D: When to Just Say No

It's been a while since I've posted anything here. In truth, my AD&D campaign has been going well and work has otherwise kept me busy. We've finished off the first two levels of G3: The Halls of the Fire Giant King and now the players wanted to give their characters a much-deserved break to train henchmen, write scrolls, do some spell research, etc. So the party carted all their ill-gotten gains in one form or another from their safe base some distance from the Halls to their base in Quasqueton on the other side of the mountains.

We've debated for many sessions about how the players are supposed to actually get all that treasure home. We struck upon a solution that I think has merit and might have precedent in the earlier games in Lake Geneva. Our resident wizard has the teleport spell - a tricky thing when cast upon oneself as there is always a risk of transporting too high or too low. This risk is minimized by teleporting to a known location. The party has a djinni servant who can make soft goods (like sacks) by the armload each day. So, as the party gets its treasures, they pack them into large sacks and get them ready for transport. The teleport spell has a weight limit and a range of touch, so I deemed that it could be used on treasures so long as the container can be touched. The wizard prepares 3 teleport spells (her max) and, when the party comes back with a large haul, she spends some time teleporting these treasures to their "vault" room in Quasqueton. In this instance I said "yes" to the solution of treasure transport.

Our resident druid, always looking for a way to weaponize spells, has been experimenting with his high-level spells (he can cast spells of any level now) and keeps trying to make the utility spells more offensive. I tried explaining to him that not every spell needs to cause damage - and druids are not wizards. He disagrees. He pushes the boundaries on what he thinks the spells should be able to do, and I have to pull back on the reins to keep the druid from dominating the campaign or breaking it altogether. He has the "win at all costs" mentality, so when something doesn't work as he wants it to, he stops casting the spell and thinks it's useless. We've also changed a few druid spells based on his analysis of level and damage output or usefulness in combat situations. For example, we changed call lightning to allow him to call a bolt each ROUND instead of each TURN, but he must maintain concentration and do nothing else while the spell lasts (duration changed to 1 round/level). We also changed produce fire from causing 1d4 points of damage for 1 round, to lasting for 1 round/level. It is, after all, a 4th level spell and should be more than a 1 minute deterrent to pursuers. The problem is that he keeps trying to set creatures aflame with the spell. At what point does this happen? What are the results of being set on fire? The rules say nothing. I keep coming up with ways to say no to this, but eventually I cave in and allow it.

Our resident ranger, now a Ranger Lord, has reached the level of acquiring followers. We rolled and he got the max number (24), unfortunately locking him into only getting humans and demi-human followers (he was so hoping for a pegasus mount). The rules imply that he gets the followers when he builds a fortress. But the party is living together in Quasqueton - their own jointly-owned fortress. Rumors of their adventures have spread far and wide in the area of Selenica, so I had the followers begin to turn up. Since they all have levels determined ahead of time (and most were higher than 1st level), I assumed that these followers could gain experience as a form of henchman. They are NOT restricted as henchmen in the number he can have at any time based on Charisma, and he already has a henchman (a PC demoted to henchman status when the player could no longer participate). So he now has an army of 25 henchmen at his disposal. What does he want to do with them? Nothing. He dislikes the idea of followers that just show up and become a monetary drain for him to house, feed, and train. He has accepted the ones that have already showed up - we decided to nix the others for now until he retires and establishes a place to settle down permanently. He might change his mind later, who knows. He also does not want to support them monetarily. He wanted them to "get jobs" in town and keep their eyes and ears open for "trouble" in the region, and then wants them to "handle it." I tried telling him that these are HIS followers and he has to support them or they will leave. He doesn't understand what use they are since the party wants to keep the existence of Quasqueton a guarded secret, despite inviting guards from Fort Hobart to use the outer works as a forward base for their scouts and troops against the orcs in the region. I had to say "no" to the ranger's solution of what to do with the followers. He was not pleased, and is still confused as to why followers are even in the game. I keep trying to explain that D&D grew out of wargaming - armies and wars. Men and followers were a measurement of the strength of one's forces: the more you had, the stronger your army. The higher the quality, the better your chances of success. Rangers had high-quality (higher-level) followers, and thus were great skirmishers in the woodlands where they could fight lesser-quality, more numerous foes better.

I like to run my games as close to the book as possible. However, we've discovered some flaws in the game that have been solved in later editions, or completely omitted in later versions of the game because they don't fit the style of play or the rules of a non-wargaming campaign. I like to use the rules as the basis for all my decisions to prevent my decisions from becoming arbitrary. I allow the players to try just about anything but I also counsel them that the game has predetermined assumptions of how things are supposed to work and bypassing them has effects on other aspects of the game. For example, if a magic-user is rolled without using the rules in the DMG on beginning spellbooks, then they all become carbon-copy magic missile blasters. We modified the spells cast/day based on Intelligence to allow 1st-level magic-users more than 1 spell cast per day. But now that the magic-user has reached Wizard level, the number of spells she can cast is becoming somewhat overwhelming in the encounters. She also found a 1st-level pearl of power, so she memorizes only magic missiles for her 1st level spells, and all slow spells for third level. In fact, I find that magic-users tend to select only those spells that are useful in all situations. My former DM used to keep this to a minimum by stating that no spell may be prepared more than once per day - this gave more value to spell scrolls that had spells the character's already possessed, and made wands more useful as well. I personally found this restricting, especially for clerics who could memorize only one cure light wounds spell for a party of 7-9 characters! It's also not in the rules, as can be seen by anyone who has ever run an AD&D module. Followers are a part of AD&D in that there is an endgame, a point at which the characters have accomplished enough and seek to retire. Their followers then serve to protect their lord and his holdings, when he is present or when he is away. Since none of my players want to follow the usual paradigm, they are becoming frustrated dealing with these rules.

My final word is to touch on when the characters just say "no" to the next adventure. For example, the party I have has spent several long years in real life battling the giants in the G-series of modules. They assume that this is the last adventure in the series (not realizing that the D-series is next, culminating in Q1). They assume that beating back the dark elves is enough to accomplish their goals. This is OK. I'm not going to push them into participating in an adventure that they clearly do not want to enter. They don't like the idea of facing the dark elves on their "home turf" or being so far from an escape route back to the surface. I've already placed some hooks to entice them into the Underdark and the druid flat out stated that he had no interest in going underground for any extended period of time. They'd rather spend hours of time beating up on orcs and goblinoids in their home region, despite the fact that I told them that they would likely never make another level! However, it is their right to say no to the adventure if they don't want to pursue an obviously deadly path into the unknown. They've achieved levels higher than any other characters we've played in a campaign that has been ongoing for nearly 20 years now. They have a vested interested in keeping these characters alive and want to see the endgame, whatever that may be. My problem now is how to challenge the players if they are unwilling to take risks!

1 comment:

  1. I spent a while this summer looking at ranger followers, and they really do split into bands mostly-mundane and mostly-monstrous, depending upon that first roll. I can certainly imagine a player being disappointed with a mundane result, knowing what's possible among the monsters. I built an app to generate a set of followers to explore this (try it here: - I'm curious to know if it will work for others).

    I'd be very tempted to give a player a few rolls at followers, maybe maintaining a DM's veto in the unlikely event they get 5 12 HD treants (a possible outcome!) and are thereby weaker than their followers. I realize that re-rolling isn't Gygaxian as he wrote, but it might be in the spirit of the way he played. I don't sense that a ranger's followers were ever meant to be a nuisance or hardship the way a cavalier's were, and while some followers are clearly superior to others, unless the player re-rolls just trying to max out levels on humans and demi-humans, I don't think you're risking much.

    Coming back to this specific player's problem and possibly addressing it through allowing re-rolls to skew more monstrous, you don't need to worry about keeping giant owls (or the other monstrous followers) busy and employed, they can just be out there, keeping an eye out for interesting developments and bringing back adventure hooks.

    In fact, and maybe this is just me, I'd always believed followers served without compensation. The DMG refers to them as "fanatically loyal" or "stalwart admirers," and, I don't think, ever addresses compensation for them. Please tell me if I'm missing something. The PHB points out that monk followers "require no support, upkeep, or pay of any sort," but the PHB isn't written so tightly that this sentence means other classes' followers do require same.

    Also, I don't see a tie between a ranger attracting followers and building a stronghold - the PHB just says they attract followers at 10th level, and that they *can* construct a stronghold, independent of level.

    One last thought on this: the DMG takes the PHB warhorse-calling of the paladin and adds some challenge and detail to it. Perhaps you could justify the ranger's ability to have some influence over his followers as seeing them in a vision in need of rescue, and they're serving after that...?

    Anyway, thanks for the great blog!


AD&D: When to Just Say No

It's been a while since I've posted anything here. In truth, my AD&D campaign has been going well and work has otherwise kept me...