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Friday, March 9, 2012

Getting Back on the Horse

Getting back to blogging is harder than you'd think. I have been feeling better enough now for a couple of days at least to do this and just keep finding excuses to not do it. There are always more blogs to be read, I spent half the day yesterday arguing with political conservatives on the internet and getting really worked up over it; just for the record, it's an exercise in futility- you can not win, their minds are made up before the argument starts and no matter how many well reasoned arguments you make they will come back either with statements of "Nuh-uh", or pick a single sentence out of the many paragraphs you have written to take out of context offense to, and then attempt to refute that, usually while drawing in whatever other conservative issues they are passionate about to the argument. I am saddened by the fact that the average American has no ability to argue a point and is so close-minded that they are completely unable to even consider that the other side of the political spectrum might have something to offer.

While I was sick I did watch a lot of movies and TV series I have been meaning to get around to for a while, so I guess it wasn't a complete waste of time. I watched 16 Sharpe's movies, now I feel like I should probably read the books. I watched 10 Star Trek movies, all of the original series cast and Next Generation cast ones, my kids had never seen any of them, except one of them had seen The Wrath of Khan. I also got through half of season six and all of season seven of Deep Space 9 with my kids and all of the first season of Voyager and about half of the second. I am finding that I don't hate Voyager, which is strange for me since I hated it so much when it originally aired.

While I was sick I didn't get a whole lot of reading done though, so my awaited examination of the Cook Expert book is going to have to wait a little longer until I actually get myself disciplined enough to read through it again and take the necessary notes. I also haven't gotten very far into The Anarchy of Stephen and Matilda, which isn't exactly the book I thought it was when I pre-ordered it from Amazon. I thought it would be a history of the period, instead it's a historical novel, that's OK I guess, but I was searching history books on Amazon when I found it so I was a little surprised when I finally picked it up and started reading it.

On the gaming side of things, having completed the slightly altered Castle Caldwell, which I renamed Bodmin Moor Manor, I have made the momentous decision to send the party next to module B2- The Keep on the Borderlands. I am planning on starting a second B/X group with Darryl, and hopefully Chris and Lili, and whoever else we can scrounge together for a group in Liverpool. The second group I plan to start with "Knowledge Illuminates", technically not for B/X, but any OSR module is pretty compatible with any version of pre-3e D&D. My version of 1139 Cornwall is starting to gain a life of it's own. I like that the players are unfamiliar with the history of the period too, it makes things exciting for me, I can choose to let history run it's course or alter it as I see fit. I also have a Dawn Patrol game scheduled for tomorrow, so I'll let you all know how that goes.

Now, I'll weigh in on the great controversy of the week- Save or Die Poison- I am completely in favor of it. I don't think the players need to be mollycoddled with any nonsense about having their hit points be so low before the save or die mechanic kicks in or anything else. I honestly don't even get where this is coming from, I know the save or die went away in 3e, but poison was still possibly lethal and had negative effects. Ordinarily I would go out and get my 3e book and do a statistical analysis of how poison worked between all the editions I have available to me, I don't feel like searching through 3e for rules I don't really use or care about. Older editions of D&D that use the save or die mechanic have different rules for how poisons work, but they also have spells that are specifically targeted towards poison, and magic items too. From what I am seeing they want to make save or die only kick in if you are already significantly weakened, near death. Now, Saving Throws are not impossible to make, and if you are worried that Olaf the mighty, your 10th level Fighter might die because a Giant Spider got a lucky shot in, well, ordinary humans die from poison all the time, Olaf knew when he became an adventurer that the odds were against him and he'd probably end up in an unmarked grave or unceremoniously dumped in a ditch somewhere; but Olaf, being 10th level, has better odds on his side to make that save versus poison than an ordinary man, hell, he had better odds at 1st level. Assuming Olaf is an AD&D Fighter with no items that give him any bonuses to his saving throws, he needs an 8 is all to make that save. The odds are he'll make it, an ordinary 0-level man would've needed a 16. Making him only have to roll that saving throw when the chips are down and he's already near death is adding insult to injury and making poison not all that deadly to deal with otherwise. We're talking poison here.

That means that you could take Olaf and drop him naked with a dagger into a pit of Cobras (Snake Poisonous MM II page 111, assume they are the deadly 20 on the d20 roll -3 to saving throw, failure means death), they have 2+1 HD, so an average of 9 HP, Olaf is a 10th level AD&D Fighter, so he has 9d10(+Con bonus, if any, but probable, so let's call it +1)+3, average the 9d10 rolls to 45, add 9 for his Con bonus, that's 54, plus 3 for 57 Hit Points, and to be charitable to the Cobras we won't give him a Dexterity bonus to AC. The way I read this, they want to base the amount of Hit Points you have to be reduced to to be vulnerable to the poison to a function of the Hit Dice of the Attacking creature, these Cobras have 2+1 HD, so let's assume you become vulnerable to their poison when you reach fewer then the maximum Hit Points that 2+1 Hit Dice can give you, or 17 Hit Points. That means that the Cobras have to do 40 points of damage to Olaf before he has to start making Saving Throws. We'll also assume Olaf is proficient with but not specialized with the dagger and it's an ordinary dagger. How many Cobras will it take statistically to kill Olaf? Olaf gets 3/2 attacks per round, and probably has a Strength bonus, he is an AD&D Fighter after all, so his highest ability score roll probably got put there, and it was probably an 18, which is bad news for the Cobras since he then gets percentiles Strength too, I'll call it 51%, which makes him +2 to hit and +3 to damage.

Now, the Cobras are AC6 and Olaf is AC10, but Olaf is 10th level and has a Strength bonus, so he only needs a 4 to hit them, meaning he hits 80% of the time and does 4-7 points of damage an average of 5, he is probably doing 10 points of damage in the rounds he gets 2 attacks, which probably kills one Cobra. The other round he injures one to about half it's Hit Points probably. The Cobras are pretty lucky too, they only need a 6 to hit him, so they hit 70% of the time, but sadly they only do 1 point of damage per hit. I really don't know how to calculate how many Cobras are in the pit, they are only supposed to appear in groups of 1-6, but I have to assume these ones were captured and deliberately placed as a form of entertainment/execution, but they picked the wrong guy when they picked Olaf, because unless they are getting an unrealistically huge number of attacks per round or the pit is literally swarming with Cobras, I don't think they stand the chance of getting him down to the 17 HP threshold where he has to start making his Saving Throw, which would be an 11 for a 10th level Fighter against their deadly venom. I don't see the problem.

Look at it this way, at first level, Olaf almost certainly dies here in this Cobra execution pit, even if there are only the maximum of six of them, one would more than likely do the job, it's tougher than he is and it's poisonous. Olaf at 5th level is still scared, even of just a one, this is a deadly scenario. Olaf at 10th level shouldn't shake this off either, when you get dropped naked into a pit with Cobras and a Dagger, you aren't expected to win. 10th level Olaf has a shot, if there are few enough Cobras and his luck holds; he hits more often and saves easier.

Save or die is one of the few mechanics in the game that levels the playing field a little bit for everyone, not only is it an injection of realism into the game, but it keeps people from becoming complacent and assuming that they are larger than anything else in the campaign world, that they are superheroes or demigods walking around among the mere mortal NPCs. Save or die is the RPG that takes out the PC tank every now and again, it doesn't always do it, but the presence of it reminds them that they are mortal and there are things out there to fear, even small things sometimes. Large Spiders are classed as "Common" monsters in AD&D, they have a Save or Die poison, it's "relatively weak" so you save at +2, but they appear in numbers from 2-20, they are a 1+1 HD monster, so you find them pretty early in your adventuring career too.

I once killed half of a 1st level party in an encounter with two giant centipedes because the party was unlucky, they couldn't hit and they couldn't make their saving throws. They weren't super happy about the experience at the time, but they all still remember it to this day, and they all came out in favor of Save or Die poison staying exactly as it is.