I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

AD&D DMG cover to cover - part VIII, pages 100-114 (NPCs, CONSTRUCTIONS and CONDUCTING THE GAME)

We´ve been reading the original DMG - the ultimate DM book! - but from a B/X and OSR point-of-view.

Check the other parts of this series here

Today we discuss EXPERIENCE and THE CAMPAIGN!

— FACTS 101
— TRAITS 101
— Additional Attack Forms 109
— Demi-Gods And Gods 112
— Sixguns & Sorcery 112
— Mutants & Magic 113


The first section is mostly a collection of random tables for creating your own NPCs, and tips on how to run them. 

The tables are mostly good, not great. They provide much (maybe too much) detail, and not always interesting. The author uses 1d10 in places where 2d6 or 1d100 might work better, but this is a minor issue. 

In short, they became obsolete in face of more interesting and automatized tables (this version seems almost faithful to the original except for lacking alignment, but I think this one is somewhat better. Here is my version, FWIW).

Here is one example from the first link:

Appearance: youthful, unkempt
Sanity: neurotic
Traits: violent, obsessive, kindly, studious
Personality: rash
Bravery: brave
Disposition: haughty
Intellect: ponderous
Interests: collector of fauna

Other curiosities include ability adjustments due to class (which is a sound idea IMO and could be used for PCs) and the fact that every laborer and mercenary is kinda tough. Giving a minimum of 4 HP, +1 STR and +3 CON suggests starting PCs could be a bit stronger.

Details include average age and height, which seems redundant with corresponding PC tables. 

There is also this table appearing out of the blue with no further explanation.

After the tables, we get some DMing advice,  including a distinction between henchmen, hirelings and monsters. 

Overall, it is decent advice with the occasional INSANITY such as "Dealing with all such NPCs should be expensive and irritating." [referring to "merchants, shopkeepers, guardsmen, soldiers, clerics, magic-users, fighters, thieves, assassins, etc."]

After all, we all like expensive and irritating! Right?

Then we have a table for the costs of various spells, which varies immensely (which seems better than just "100 gp per level", if more complex). At least the prices are negotiable.

Attack spells are not shown in order to discourage hiring of spell casters for such purposes. As a general rule, no specially hired spell caster will ever accompany a party on an adventure of any sort, except in circumstances planned and directed by the Dungeon Master.

Fair enough, wizards will not act as mercenaries.

The there is this:

It is also worth mentioning that NPC spell casters are NOT going to take continual interruptions too kindly, even if the party so doing is of the same faith and alignment and pays well. At some point the spell caster will get fed up with it and begin raising rates. (The players should not rely upon those outside their group to keep their members viable. They must learn self-reliance or else pay the price one way or another.)

It seems that NPCs are an anti-social bunch and do not appreciate people of similar alignment that pay them well. How dare they?

MONSTERS AND ORGANIZATION has some advice on roleplaying NPCs and adjusting their actions when the PCs are not around.

The intelligence and wisdom of concerned monsters are principal determinants of their actions and/or reactions. Consider also cunning and instinct. It is also important to remember that lawful indicates an organized and ordered approach [...]

Good stuff, and similar to my own approach, that I might have inherited from here somehow.

A lengthy list of examples comes next, showing you how and when to re-stock dungeons/places depending on the type of monsters that inhabit it. If the PCs come back to a place one week later: skeletons will not have been replaced (unless commanded by an evil cleric or similar), giant ants might have breed and repaired some tunnels, attacked towns might have sought reinforcements, bandits will probably be gone if the PCs are strong, etc.

All things considered, this is sound advice, carefully explained for beginners.

USE OF NON-HUMAN TROOPS basically tells you what happens when you try to command goblins, orcs, trolls, etc. - even at the same time. This is not a thing that happens in my games but sounds useful if you're running a campaign with wargaming aspects (such as Chainmail or Warhammer).


This section describes construction of dungeons and buildings in great detail.

It starts with a table calculating the "CUBIC VOLUME OF ROCK PER 8 HOURS LABOR PER MINER". Curiously, when I played GURPS people would make fun of the system for having rules for digging holes, and this seems even more complex.

The REASONS for building a dungeon in the first place are sorely lacking.

Next, you've got tables for building castles, including doors, towers, arrow slits, etc. Each part is described in detail. It sounds like a fun exercise to build your castle bit by bit, but for me a general table like this with costs would be even better:

Then we get various siege engines like catapults, ballistae, etc. They require a regular attack roll (and do NOT use the table on page 108 to determine “to hit” probabilities, despite what the text says), which might give fighters a chance to shine here. Spellcasters, on the other hand, can use various spells against structures, as described in this section.

Each structure has its own "defensive points". What are these? well, simply not described here. Probably akin to hit points.

I notice we are again in wargaming territory. Different types of doors, for example, do not seem to change the chances of a PC forcing them. Individual AC makes no difference against siege engines.

So, although individual PCs can be target and participate in some ways, the focus here is in bigger battles, armies against armies.

In short, an interesting section that I am not sure I can use.


Finally we get to the DM advice!

This chapter starts with a curious authorization for fudging die rolls - with some parsimony

I'll just paste the entire ROLLING THE DICE AND CONTROL OF THE GAME section here. 

Emphasis mine:

In many situations it is correct and fun to have the players dice such things as melee hits or saving throws. However, it is your right to control the dice at any time and to roll dice for the players. You might wish to do this to keep them from knowing some specific fact. You also might wish to give them an edge in finding a particular clue, e.g. a secret door that leads to a complex of monsters and treasures that will be especially entertaining. You do have every right to overrule the dice at any time if there is a particular course of events that you would like to have occur. In making such a decision you should never seriously harm the party or a non-player character with your actions. “ALWAYS GIVE A
Examples of dice rolls which should always be made secretly are: listening, hiding in shadows, detecting traps, moving silently, finding secret doors, monster saving throws, and attacks made upon the party without their possible knowledge.
There will be times in which the rules do not cover a specific action that a player will attempt. In such situations, instead of being forced to make a decision, take the option to allow the dice to control the situation. This can be done by assigning a reasonable probability to an event and then letting the player dice to see if he or she can make that percentage. You can weigh the dice in any way so as to give the advantage to either the player or the nonplayer character, whichever seems more correct and logical to you while being fair to both sides.
Now and then a player will die through no fault of his own. He or she will have done everything correctly, taken every reasonable precaution, but still the freakish roll of the dice will kill the character. In the long run you should let such things pass as the players will kill more than one opponent with their own freakish rolls at some later time. Yet you do have the right to arbitrate the situation. You can rule that the player, instead of dying, is knocked unconscious, loses a limb, is blinded in one eye or invoke any reasonably severe penalty that still takes into account what the monster has done. It is very demoralizing to the players to lose a cared-for-player character when they have played well. When they have done something stupid or have not taken precautions, then let the dice fall where they may! Again, if you have available ample means of raising characters from the dead, even death is not too severe; remember, however, the constitution-based limit to resurrections. Yet one die roll that you should NEVER tamper with is the SYSTEM SHOCK ROLL to be raised from the dead. If a character fails that roll, which he or she should make him or herself, he or she is FOREVER DEAD. There MUST be some final death or immortality will take over and again the game will become boring because the player characters will have 9+ lives each!
I got to admit I was a bit surprised to read this (although another part already recommended a similar thing regarding encounters). 

The DM stops being an impartial referee and becomes someone who can occasionally protect good players from bad die rolls. A PC who should be dead can be simply knocked unconscious!

Suffice to say, I do not like fudging in general, and I think things like death, losing an eye etc. should be part of the rules and not DM's fiat. 

But I'll admit fudging is quite popular nowadays, especially in the modern/5e crowd, and deserves a lengthy post of its own.

(Another curiosity you might have noticed is that players are not necessarily assumed to roll their own attacks - notice that matrices are included in the DMG and not the PHB - although I'd bet players both knew and rolled their attacks most of the times).

HANDLING TROUBLESOME PLAYERS has advice on this topic, ranging from common sense ("ask them to leave") to “blue bolts from the heavens” striking the offender’s head (the PC's head, I'd assume).

INTEGRATION OF EXPERIENCED OR NEW PLAYERS INTO AN EXISTING CAMPAIGN has decent advice on the topic, but again it boils down to common sense (PCs should not be too weak nor too strong, check magic items, etc.).

Experienced players without existing characters should generally be brought into the campaign at a level roughly equal to the average of that of the other player characters.

So, you do not necessarily start on level 1. From context, it feels like the first few levels are training wheels of sorts (as also indicated by Gygax house rules).

I'd agree with that. First level PCs are just too frail (compare them to 0-level mercenaries, for example). Starting at level 3-4 allows you to have an heroic campaign from the beginning while still being threatened by a dozen mercenaries.


Each must have its own personalities, goals, etc., and not serve as mere paws for the player.

In campaigns where there are only a few players, or where only a few of the many players are really good players, it is likely that each (good) player will have several characters.

In short, several PCs are EXPECTED; if there are few players, each should control multiple PCs.

INTERVENTION BY DEITIES is rare but possible in the direst of circumstances:

If the character beseeching help has been exemplary in faithfulness, then allow a straight 10% chance that some creature will be sent to his or her aid if this is the first time the character has asked for help. If 00 is rolled, there is a percentage chance equal to the character’s level of experience that the deity itself will come [...] 

Good enough for me. Reminds me of Elric, of course.

THE ONGOING CAMPAIGN deals with metaplot; i.e., campaigns are not entirely random or picaresque.
Furthermore, there must be some purpose to it all. There must be some backdrop against which adventures are carried out, and no matter how tenuous the strands, some web which connects the evil and good, the opposing powers, the rival states and various peoples. This need not be evident at first, but as play continues, hints should be given to players, and their characters should become involved in the interaction and struggle between these vaster entities. Thus, characters begin as less than pawns, but as they progress in expertise, each eventually realizes that he or she is a meaningful, if lowly, piece in the cosmic game being conducted. When this occurs, players then have a dual purpose to their play, for not only will their player characters and henchmen gain levels of experience, but their actions have meaning above and beyond that of personal aggrandizement.
This is interesting advice and something that I like using in my own campaigns. The PCs do not see the entire forest for the trees at first, but it becomes obvious as they go, possibly culminating in a final battle.

Again, it is curious to see such advice in the DMG, as these "story arcs" are usually a mark of modern play.

Occasional humor, silliness and side-quests are recommended to give some spice and levity to this epic struggle.

This section ends with conversion notes and ideas for BOOT HILL (western) and GAMMA WORLD  (sci-fi) games.

The book discuss not only the mechanics but also gates between worlds, the usefulness of spells and artifacts in different settings, and mixing genres.

What have we learned today?
While there is not much here I can use in my B/X games, it was a very interesting read from an historical perspective. 

The long section about conducting the game was a surprise to me, as it goes counter to most OSR advice I've read. Same for the "epic struggle" that should emerge after a long campaign.

Multiple PCs per player is an idea I like, but still didn't manage to convince my players.

And mixing genres is something I certainly enjoy, despite never having played Booth Hill (or Gamma World, except maybe for one or two sessions decades ago).


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