Tuesday, June 28, 2011
B/X Weapons in the Hands of Monsters
3rd Level - What a Pain in the Ass
"Adventure writing." It's not something I've done for awhile. Well, never really, at least not to this extent...I'm more of a quick-scenario guy with less than half-a-dozen encounters and a big fat objective-target. As a kid, I'd rip off things I'd seen in movies/TV/books, or I'd draw sprawling maps populated with monsters I thought were "cool," caring nothing for balance or ecology or rhyme or reason.
ANYway, now I'm starting to feel like I'm getting the hang of it. And the method is all math and structure, mainly based on the Moldvay school of adventure design (one-third monsters, one-sixth traps, etc.), wrapped around a central idea/concept, and populated with enough loot to make it worth the players' while. And since I'm playing B/X, I am basing the encounter level on the wandering monster tables in the Moldvay book.
Not entirely, of course; taking a page from my old D20 days I'm throwing in a mix of 20% easy, 50% average, 20% hard, and 10% really difficult encounters. For example, the current adventure (designed for 2nd level characters) has half the encounters in the 2HD/2nd level range, 20% in the 1HD/1st level range, 20% in the 3HD/3rd level range, and 10% in the 4-5HD+ range. Of course, not all of the monsters come straight from Moldvay (some are found in my own B/X book), but I'm adhering to the same general guidelines. In an edition without "challenge ratings," level/HD is about the only way to gauge challenges for your players.
So, yeah, so far so good. Players are still getting killed (though not nearly in the droves they were before) and the treasure (and XP) has been accumulating at a brisk pace. Which is as I like it. So I was preparing to write up a NEW adventure for 3rd level characters (as that should be the average party level after completing the current adventure; a three-session excursion). And here's what I'm seeing on the Level 3 monster table in Moldvay:
Carrion Crawlers (1-3)
Driver Ants (2-8)
Ochre Jelly (1)
Tiger Beetles (1-6)
Any single one of these encounters would easily destroy half of the adventuring party.
I mean D6 dopplegangers? They have 4 hit dice, and do 1D12 damage (more than an ogre), not to mention being able to mimic the appearance of PCs (try shooting arrows into that melee). Thouls? Regenerating ghouls (with a better chance to hit). Ochre jellies are 5HD and can't be harmed by weapons. Tiger beetles (D6) are HD 3+1, AC 3 and do 2D6 damage...driver ants are the same except they're HD 4 and fearless (no morale checks once engaged in combat).
It's almost as if Moldvay wants to kill players before they get to 4th level. "You will never need more than my Basic book, because levels 4-14 shall never be open to you...hahahahaaa!"
Long time B/X players know 4th level is where things start picking up for players. Fighters attack better, clerics and magic-users have 3 and 4 spells, and even those D4 hit dice characters (like thieves) average 10 hit points...enough to survive at least one lucky damage roll. Those who make it to 4th level ("Hero" is the level title for most classes), are ready to leave the dungeon in search of bigger challenges in the wilderness. It's a real bench mark.
Should it be that rough to get to it?
But what's the alternative? Have PCs scour dungeons aimed at 1st and 2nd level characters, over-and-over again until they reach level 4 (or higher?)? So that those 3rd level challenges don't feel as tough? Heck, for me I think I'd want to be at least 5th level before taking on anything in the dungeon's 3rd level.
Crazy. But...waiting till characters are 6th and 7th level to throw these kinds of monsters at 'em takes away the real feelings of "toughness" for the creatures. I had a single gargoyle on the 1st level of my Necropolis dungeon (an encounter that is completely avoidable if desired), and the PCs went for it and took it down, but it was a pretty near thing (and one of the PCs was killed). And they were amply rewarded for it. Whereas, when gargoyles showed up in my B/X conversion of White Plume Mountain (for levels 5-10) they were pretty "ho-hum" and put to the sword rather quickly.
Still, do I really dare to make a dungeon populated with medusae?
Ah, will...I suppose they might all get killed before they finish the last third of the current adventure, anyway (I know some players are waiting for the other shoe to drop). So far, casualties have been light...only two party members killed, one by "friendly fire"...so I'm thinking the chance of majority party survival is pretty good.
Better get something prepared for 3rd level.
Monday, June 27, 2011
Sunday, June 26, 2011
B/X Weapons & Shields
"JB...if all weapons do D6 damage in B/X then what the hell's the point of purchasing different weapons at all? For a 1st level character, why aren't we just buying the cheapest weapon available (like clubs or daggers; the latter of which can be thrown). For that matter, didn't our primitive ancestors invent different weapons for different reasons?"
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Good Fantasy: Tron Legacy
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
I’m tired of people whining over aspects of the game that aren’t broke. There are plenty of things in the D&D game that are in need of fixing, but for me SHIELDS aren’t one of these things. That there’s even a debate on the issue (or rather, a consensus of complaint) irritates me…like a tick under the old cuirass, so it does.
For me, I find shields in the B/X game to be modeled just about perfectly.
God, where to begin, where to begin…the stupid splintered shields rule? The discussion on the limitations of the shield? Shields through the ages? Or the total bad-assedness of the shield rules as written? We’ll probably have to get into the abstract combat of B/X at some point, too, though I dread re-treading the same ground already covered.
Historically speaking, back when shields were a regular part of the field of battle (i.e. before gunpowder and plate armor, the latter of which forced warriors to switch-up to heavy two-handed weapons), they were generally made of wood and hide/leather. LIGHT wood…tricky enough to fight with one’s off-hand, but there was also the point about speed and arm endurance…you didn’t want to get tired out blocking blows all day.
And blocking shots is NOT what the shield was all about anyway. While crossbowmen might hide behind a tower shield for cover while re-loading, the average knight in the field (or foot-slogging infantryman) used the shield mostly for DEFLECTION…something to knock aside an opponent’s blow and (hopefully) create an opening for a killing strike. Shields are not a passive defense, but an active tool WIELDED by the fighter. Like an oven mitt used to get a hot item out of the stove, the shield was designed to maneuver something that would injure you if you used your bare hand.
Now I’ve put in a little shield-work, myself, in the past…15+ years ago, sure, but I remember the experience. Shields work great to deflect an incoming attack…until someone stronger and/or more skilled than you knocks it aside and clubs you. In individual combat (as opposed to a phalanx formation), shields are a happy little device, easily overcome by someone who knows what they're doing.
Of course, I’M no fighting man. If anything, I’m the equivalent of the Normal Human (maybe with 3 hit points, as I’ve been bicycling a lot lately). A +1 bonus to AC is about all I could hope and expect out of a shield…I would be MUCH better off wearing leather armor and helm (or hopefully, something heavier!).
Using a shield as an active defense is a grueling work, made easier and more effective by skilled use, by someone with COMBAT SMARTS. And how exactly are those things modeled in D&D?
Class and level, baby.
Hit Points, in other words. Who’s the most effective dude using a shield? A fighter. Who has the most hit points? A fighter. What do those hit points represent? Aside from actual physical health: endurance, conditioning, skill, and luck.
Take a look at my All Time Favorite medieval combat scene in film: the final judicial “trial by combat” in the 1952 film Ivanhoe, starring Robert Taylor. Ignore the clang of weapon on aluminum shields (the main historical inaccuracy of the scene) and go with the wanton brawl of an axe/flail fight that lasts three minutes (the equivalent of 18 combat rounds in B/X!). See those guys take a pounding on their shields? That’s not the equivalent of a “missed” attack roll…those are HITS that are subtracting hit points from each combatant’s profile.
Every shot that is not “actively deflected” is a blow that is absorbed, an impact felt through the wrist and arm and shoulder, a little more damage wearing the character down to where that final telling blow causes mortal injury. Because these guys are high level fighters they have scores of HPs to soak punishment…if it was me out there, I’d probably be clubbed senseless by the first blow struck, even if I got my shield up in front of my face!
Shields give you a +1 bonus to AC…it helps the exact same as having a Dexterity of 13-15. Interestingly, up until the AD&D PHB was published, there was never any mention of Dexterity being “agility”…in the LBBs and Supplement I and Holmes it is pretty clear that Dexterity is speed of hand and hand-eye-coordination. This is why it provides a bonus to missile combat (and determines “first strike” in Holmes). When Gygax gave fighting men (only) the bonus to AC based on DEX, it was due to the ability to dodge and parry attacks…hand-eye-coordination giving a bonus to defense for swordsmen.
Which, by the way, explains why the AC bonus provided by DEX was never affected by armor worn (well...until later editions, that is). Wearing chainmail or plate doesn’t hamper your ability to use your weapon for deflection and maneuver, it only hampers your movement when trying to run (which is accounted for with encumbrance). Shields, then, AID in the deflection/parry of incoming fire, just like having a higher dexterity.
“But what about arrows? Look at those films where a wall of shields holds off a huge flight of arrows.” Okay, first off, have you ever tried to deflect/block an incoming arrow/crossbow bolt with a shield? Have you ever tried to catch a bullet with a baseball glove? There are two reasons why a wall of shields is SOMEwhat effective against missile fire (as opposed to being incidentally effective for carrying a heater), neither of which has to do with Hollywood's dramatic license:
- A bunch of people in formation means massed ammunition being divided amongst multiple targets…there's less chance that YOU are the one being hit.
- Large enough shields in a stable formation can provide some amount of COVER (and such cover rules may be found in the B/X rules on page B26). While a single shield is NOT considered cover, a phalanx of steel shields or a two-handed tower shield might be considered such, depending on the DM’s judgment.
So having put all THAT out there, maybe you’re starting to come around to my way of thinking…that a +1 AC bonus for carrying a shield is just fine and dandy. Perhaps your next question is, why the heck would anyone want to carry a shield for a measly +1 bonus when I could be hitting folks in the mouth with my two-handed war sledge?
Because they are hella’ effective, that’s why.
I’m going to tell you a story first, and then I’ll give you some math. Back in the Way WAY Back History of my youth, I had a long-running AD&D campaign that featured characters of nearly every class and stripe: elves and half-elves, dwarves, thieves, barbarians, acrobats, assassins, bards, clerics, illusionists, drow…even classes/races out of Dragon magazine like half-ogres and archers and healers. The ONE combo that was almost completely missing was the lowly, drab, totally boring human fighter.
We had ONE in our group…a character that had been grandfathered into our AD&D campaign from our B/X days. She still had D8 hit dice, and while we probably converted her for “weapon specialization” sometime after the Unearthed Arcana was published, I don’t remember ever using it. Fact of the matter is, she didn’t need it. With plate mail, shield, and a broad sword she outlasted and out-fought every other power player in the game. She was a frigging juggernaut, eventually relegated to the role of an NPC that would occasionally make cameo appearances. As a kid, I never understood why she was so much more durable than the 18 CON barbarian or the 20th level bard…or the demons and devils and beholders she might encounter.
When fighting against weapon-using opponents (like humanoid monsters), the addition of a shield can add ROUNDS of survival to your character. Assuming average hit points and average DEX, the difference between plate and plate & shield breaks down like this:
Against goblins/orcs/1st level fighters:
1st level – 1 extra round of survival (on average) when using a shield
2nd level – 3 extra rounds
3rd level – 4 extra rounds
4th level – 6 extra rounds
5th level – 7 extra rounds
6th level – 8 extra rounds
7th level – 9 extra rounds
8th level – 10 extra rounds
9th level – 12 extra rounds
What good is an extra round of survival in combat? Just he difference between life and death! Using my dopplehander weapon rules, the damage output over time is equivalent (the two-handed weapon does roughly the same damage in a shorter survival period as the one-handed weapon in a longer survival period), but what do those extra rounds really mean?
- Time to run away (if necessary).
- Time to be healed by a party cleric.
- Time for a buddy to jump in and spell you/save your bacon.
- Time for you to spell a buddy about to get killed.
- Time for the monsters to break morale and surrender/run.
- Time for you to get in that lucky blow that ends the fight.
Against gnolls/2nd level fighters:
1st level – 1 extra round of survival (on average) when using a shield
2nd level – 2 extra rounds
3rd level – 2 extra rounds
4th level – 3 extra rounds
5th level – 3 extra rounds
6th level – 4 extra rounds
7th level – 5 extra rounds
8th level – 5 extra rounds
9th level – 6 extra rounds
And these extra rounds of survival are gained simply by using a NORMAL shield. When a character sports a magical shield, survivability rises considerably, quickly out-pacing the over-all damage output of a character with a similarly enchanted two-handed weapon.
Now before you shield-wielders run out there feeling all Captain America and invulnerable, it’s important to realize and understand the limitations of the shield. First off, you’ve only got ONE. That means its most effective against one defender. Secondly, it was designed for ARMED COMBAT…i.e. combat against sentient, weapon-users.
What does this mean? That your character’s survivability decreases when faced with multiple attackers or creatures with multiple attacks (like owl bears and ghouls). If you think a shield is going to give you “extra rounds of survival” against the mauling of a grizzly, you may be in for a rude awakening (not that the guy without a shield is going to do much better…). But check this out:
Against THREE (3) goblins/orcs/1st level fighters:
1st level – NO extra rounds of survivability
2nd level – 1 extra round
3rd level – 1 extra round
4th level – 2 extra rounds
5th level – 3 extra rounds
6th level – 3 extra rounds
7th level – 3 extra rounds
8th level – 3 extra rounds
9th level – 4 extra rounds
So if your character is a 1st level fighter that gets surrounded by three goblins, it doesn’t matter if you have a shield or not…it takes the same length of time to kill you with one as without (and by the way, that IS counting the +1 shield bonus against all attackers…you’re assumed to be whirling and twirling in the chaos of melee). Three adversaries are just a lot tougher to face down as a lone warrior: one guy beats your blade, one guy tries to pin your shield, and the third stabs at your eyeballs…a nasty business. Back at the Caves of Chaos a few weeks ago, our barbarian was sporting chainmail and a +1 shield; but he got isolated and surrounded by a bunch of spear-wielding kobolds and went down hard because of it.
The point here is, you still have to be SMART…pick your point of attack, find a choke-hold, buddy-up with your shield-wielding companion(s) and form a mini-phalanx, etc. There ARE tactics in D&D, even the B/X edition.
All right, that’s enough for now. I’m sure there will be dissenting opinions, and this may need a follow-up post for things I've forgotten. However, I want to say one last thing regarding the “shields will be splintered” rule. If you want to keep this “get out of jail free card” for your players, fine. If you want everyone to start with a couple potions of healing, you can do that, too. Personally, I figure shields are “splintered” when a character gets killed (as is armor, for that matter…ragged, tattered, and useless). You know what broke nearly as often as shields back in the “old days?” SWORDS. An individual using a weapon as often as the average D&D adventurer would probably need to purchase a replacement every 1-2 game sessions (at least one per 6 or so combat encounters). Why don’t y’all model that?
While shields ARE breakable (wood and cloth, remember?) if you’re breaking ‘em too often, you’re probably using them wrong. Again, they’re designed to deflect and turn blows, NOT absorb every swing.
On the Nature of Humanoids
Intelligence in B/X play is a little less spelled out than other editions. For my games, I categorize monsters (that is, any non-PC species creature) into four categories of intelligence:
Sentient beings are the equivalent of humans: they have language and reasoning ability and the potential for writing and inter-species communication…they may be dumb or clever, but they can put together plans.
Beagle intelligence is the equivalent of my beagles: they don’t really have language, though they have means of expressing themselves and they are clever enough to open doors, climb fences, hide (themselves and their possessions), and exhibit behavior other than simple instinct. Creatures like ghouls, rock baboons, and B/X troglodytes fall into the “beagle” category.
Animal intelligence is based on biology and instinct, generally categorized by terms that begin with the letter “F”: food, fear, fire, fight, flight, and f**king, etc. Bears and owl bears fall into this category, as do insects and slimes, alien though their particular drives may be.
Non-intelligent creatures are those that have no capacity for self-generated thought; these are programmed automatons like statues and zombies and golems. They only act as they are commanded by their creator/master, and without command they do not act.
Sentient beings are the only monsters that are “tool users;” if a lesser brained monster wields a weapon, it is either entirely incidental (like a baboon wielding a tree branch “club”) or was equipped by someone other than the creature itself (for example, a skeleton wielding a sword or a lion with metal-shod claws). Conversely, any monster described as using weapons or being “highly intelligent” (like vampires) can be considered sentient.
Sentient humanoids up to “ogre-size” (i.e. HD 4+1 or less) are assumed to have an intelligence of 9-12, according to the description of the spell Charm Person (page B16 of the Moldvay rules). They’ll speak their own language and any other that the DM deems appropriate for their species (or mentioned in their description). Creatures larger than ogres (minotaur and giants, for example)…well, their intelligence will need to be determined by the DM. As Intelligence affects nothing but languages and literacy in B/X, it’s really a matter of how often you want such a being to receive a saving throw versus Charm Monster.
The orc is the baseline monster in B/X.
Orcs deserve their own post for another time, but for now we’re just looking at its fighting stats. An orc warrior (the standard antagonist PCs will encounter, not the non-combatant women and children) is the equivalent of a 1st level fighter/man-at-arms:
AC 6 (leather and shield), Hit Dice 1, average hit points 4.5,THAC0 19, damage 1-6 (as a weapon in other words), average damage 3.5 per hit. True their morale is better than baseline (and worse than baseline without a leader), and they have both infravision and daylight penalties, but for the most part they are the equivalent of a 1st level fighter with 9-12 in all categories (including strength and constitution).
[the normal human described in the Basic set is the equivalent of what Conan would sneeringly refer to as a “civilized man”]
With orcs as a baseline, one can put the other humanoids in their proper pecking order of humanoid tool users:
- Kobolds (average hit points 2.5, THAC0 19, average damage 2.5 due to general “shrimpiness”).
- Goblins (average hit points 3.625, THAC0 19, average damage 3.5…equivalent to a 1st level fighter with a CON of 6-8).
- Orcs (as stated: equivalent of the average human 1st level fighter)
- Hobgoblins (average hit points 5.5, THAC0 18, average damage 4.5. Gygax’s version of Tolkien’s Uruk-Hai, these are the equivalent of fighters with STR and CON of 13-15).
- Gnolls (average hit points 9, THAC0 18, average damage 5…equivalent to a 2nd level fighter with a STR of 13-15).
- Bugbears (average hit points 14.5, THAC0 16, average damage 5…equivalent to a “goblin hero,” a 4th level fighter with a CON of 6-8 with a STR of 13-15).
- Ogres (average hit points 19, THAC0 15, average damage 5.5…equivalent to a 4th level fighter with a STR of 16-17).
- Minotaur (average hit points 27, THAC0 14, average damage (with weapon) 5.5…equivalent to a 6th level fighter with a STR of 16-17 and a +1 attack bonus, perhaps due to ferocity).
Okay, great…so why do I bother writing all this up? Aside from the “fun of it,” this is just the set-up for my post on SHIELDS.
***EDIT: I realize that Hit Dice originally come from Chainmail (like ogres being worth four men "+1"), a game system I still haven't managed to acquire. Please forgive my reflections from a B/X-centric perspective.***
AMOUNT OF DAMAGE: All weapon attacks by characters (PC or NPC) will do 1-6 (1d6) points of damage, adjusted by Strength and magical bonuses, if applicable. If the Variable Weapon Damage system (hereafter) is used, check the weapon type to find how much damage each weapon will do (adjusted by Strength and magical bonuses or penalties).
Whenever a two-handed weapon is used (including pole arms), the attacker cannot use a shield (this may reduce the Armor Class of the attacker) and will always lose the initiative, whatever the roll (see page B23).
WEAPONS (Optional)Two-Handed Weapons. Heavy two-handed weapons (flail, battle axe, pole arms, etc.) may strike once per round, but strike last in the round, regardless of initiative.Crossbows. Crossbows may be fired once every two rounds, taking one round to load and one to fire.
- Two-handed weapons strike last in a melee (already standard in my games).
- Two-handed weapons do D8 instead of D6 damage (already implemented; worked great in my "B/X Shadowrun" game as well).
- Two-handed weapons enjoy a +1 bonus to attack rolls (to represent damage penetration).
Monday, June 20, 2011
Fat Frog Challenge Winners!
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Final Thoughts on "Bear Week"
Friday, June 17, 2011
New DM Mascot
Sometimes the bear goes hungry...
Thursday, June 16, 2011
While black bears can grow very large, they average only around 135kg or so (about 300 pounds), and while capable of killing or injuring humans, in general they do NOT attack humans, except perhaps over food (and unlike the brown and polar bear, human is not really considered fair game for black bears). While they have been hunted themselves for food and sport, black bears have the closest thing to a live-and-let-live relationship with humans as one finds within the bear kingdom. Exceptionally intelligent and dexterous, they can open latches and lids and unscrew the tops of jars; tests have found they learn some things faster than chimpanzees.
It is because of their intelligence and temperament that black bears end up as trained animal acts, circus performers, and mascots more than any other type of bear (Smoky, Yogi, and Winnie were all modeled after black bears). They are also relatively easy to hunt and trap (rather than hunt and kill) compared to other bears.
For a fantasy game like D&D, who doesn’t want a trained attack bear?
B/X doesn’t give stats and prices for trained animals, though one CAN retain the services of an animal trainer (500gp per month, Cook/Marsh Expert set page X21). Now while some wealthy adventurers might decide it’s worth the cost to hire a "Bear Master" to wrangle their furry mercenaries, most adventuring parties are just looking for a single bruiser that knows the command “Kill!” Let’s talk about BOTH.
Animal trainers cost 500gp per month, specialize in a particular type of animal, and can handle up to 6 animals at a time providing on-going training (as well as, I presume, feed and care). There’s no mention of whether or not animals need to be purchased separately or not…I would figure that in a large enough (or strange enough) fantasy city, one could find a bear master with a string of black bears ready for adventure. While the 500gp per month covers the price of the handler’s services, one has to consider the cost of the animals.
A black bear eats 30+ pounds of food per day, and one that it is in captivity is not out hunting/grazing, rations will need to be provided for it. Even considering a poorer quality of rations than the average adventurer consumes, I’d still budget 50gp per month per bear for food (standard rations are 5gp/week x52 weeks /12 months x4 times the normal weight, then reduced for quality). A bear master (if available) will already possess 1D6 black bears in his care; in addition to the bear master’s fee, the employer must pay the food costs of all bears in the handler’s care (the bear master will not voluntarily part from any of his bears). Fees of course are subject to market demand.
The bear master himself is a normal man, albeit one with maximum hit points (4) from his rough and tumble lifestyle. He will try to avoid combat if at also possible, but will direct his bears to fight for him (or as his employer commands).
Purchasing an additional wild bear for the bear master is a matter of finding a bounty hunter or trapper skilled in the live acquisition of large game (perhaps for the local gladiatorial games). Such an animal would 400-800gps depending on size and scarcity, and would require at least one month’s work with the bear master to learn even the simplest commands. A young black bear would be worth 2 to 5 times that amount (D4+1), both because of their extra trainability, and the danger involved of confronting an angry mother bear in its den!
A young black bear can be trained for domestication from an early age. Sold in adulthood, such an animal requires no bear master but costs 2000-4000gp, again depending on size and scarcity. For the character wishing a “pet bear” without hiring an animal trainer, this is the only option other than using magic.
A black bear trained from an early age and purchased as an adult will be only moderately useful to its new owner, knowing the commands “attack,” “stop,” “come,” and “stay.” Regular feeding and care will eventually ingratiate the bear to its master (in 2D6 weeks); prior to that, the owner will need to make a Reaction roll every time a command is given (Charisma modifiers apply as usual). The DM can further modify the reaction rolled based on circumstance as normal (a half-starved bear is more likely to “attack,” but less likely to “come” unless food is being offered).
PC adventurers are NOT animal trainers, and no PC can ever own/handle more than one bear at a time. Such a “pet” counts against the maximum number of retainers a PC can have (based on Charisma). However, a bear companion can become a loyal and lifelong friend. Bears never gain XP or grow in “level;” they heal at the same rate as adventurers (D3 hit points per day, though bed rest is NOT required and light activity does not interfere with healing), and can be affected by curing and blessing spells. As a domestic creature, the owner WILL need to provide it with sustenance at the standard 50gp per month rate (see above).
Black bears are excellent climbers and very fast (25-30mph at a dash…fast enough to chase down that pesky goblin running for help!). They cannot wear armor (at least, nothing that would improve their AC; they can still be “decorated”). With regular food and activity, a domesticated bear will spend much less time in hibernation (if any time at all), though they will still be lethargic during certain months.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Sometimes the Bear Eats You…
Somehow I seem to have missed the scene where the bear eats the buddy. Wow!
While a blogged about the abomination of monsters eating people before, sometimes one forgets that those cute, cuddly bears we love to protect from extinction do sometimes eat human beings (yes, I HAVE seen the film Grizzly Man; no comment on Mr. Treadwell at this time). To be fair to bears, they eat everything…including each other and their own young!...when they’re hungry enough, and they require quite a bit of sustenance to keep them going. I don’t consider bears to be an “abomination” as I do orcish or goblin cannibals. When all is said and done, bears are still a part of nature and are just doing that “natural thang.”
What’s more interesting (to me) is the idea of the “man-killer” bear…that a bear that has killed (and eaten) a human develops a “taste” for man-flesh. Or (to put it another way) that an animal normally not overly-concerned with human interaction has now redefined its relationship with people as “predator and prey.” I have no idea if this is simply an urban myth or if it the reason why bears who have killed humans (like the grizzly that killed Treadwell) are in turn destroyed by wildlife rangers. After all, I don’t think we’re killing the bear as a form of “punishment” or “capital judgment;” bears know nothing of human laws, only obeying the law of nature. Why then destroy an animal that has done that which “comes naturally?” I can only guess that there IS something to the “man-killer myth”…or at least there is a FEAR that there is something to the man-killer story.
For the purpose of a fantasy RPG like D&D, I say “err on the side of myth.” Duh. When you’re dealing with dragons and harpies and ochre jellies, of course you’re going to take the mythic/Hollywood angle!
According to the Moldvay Basic set (page B24), unintelligent monsters will cease pursuit for dropped ration 50% of the time (a roll of 1-3 on a D6). This is actually a pretty simple, easy-to-use rule and I’m inclined to use it as is, though I’d add +1 to any roll involving a grizzly/polar bear and – 1 to any roll with a black bear. Here’s what the roll can mean for a pursuing bear:
Roll 1-3 (stops for food)
- Bear is hungrier than it is upset/aggravated and will stop to eat food
- Bear only attacking because it’s hungry; food good!
- Bear only defending territory; combo of party’s removal from territory and food (positive) incentive is enough to break off attack
Roll 4-6 (ignores food)
- Form of rations dropped doesn’t appeal to bear
- Bear enraged beyond reason by party presence/encroachment
- Bear is a man-killer and will only stop to eat dead adventurer
And regarding that last one, if a party flees after a member has been “downed” (i.e. killed) it should count as the party dropping rations. That is, the DM should make the same roll as if the party were throwing food to the bear…in a very real way, they ARE. Something as big as an adventurer should be worth a +2 to the food roll (only a bear enraged beyond reason would pass up such a large meal).
However, even should a party evade the pursuit of a man-killing bear they’ve got a bigger problem: the bear may very well decide the party is prey worthy of being stalked.
Even after eating the party’s dead companions, a bear may continue to hunt a party within its territory, though it probably won’t get hungry again for a few hours. A male bear’s range is LARGE, hundreds of square miles, though they won’t travel any faster than a normal unarmored man on foot (probably a maximum of 6 to 12 miles per day through a forested, mountainous region like Alaska). Bears can smell for miles, and will track the scent of food and blood (wounds) looking for a kill to scavenge. Unless, the party can reach civilization (bears will generally avoid large groups of people) or find some horses, chances are a man-killer bear is the only “wandering monster” the party will need to worry about once it’s picked up its trail (with an automatic daily or evening encounter).
Black bears, by the way, are much less aggressive than other types of bears, and will often attempt to climb trees or run from encounters with large groups of humans (unless hungry and food is present and available). In general, I would avoid including “man-killer” black bears…only brown, polar, and cave bears have the temperament to come looking for trouble (brown bears will even hunt the smaller black bears, as well as stealing/scavenging their food). If a black bear is encountered as a wandering monster in the wilderness, it probably shows us during a party’s “meal break.” Use common sense here.
Okay, back to the mean ones…REGARDING PURSUIT, a brown bear has an overland movement speed of 30-35miles per hour at a dash. This means it’s faster than ANY adventurer not using magical speed enhancement. Polar bears are just as fast, though it’s slower (in general) to run over snow…polar bears can also swim around 30km/hr. I have no stats for a cave bear, so I’d probably just use the speed listed in the Basic set.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? It means that a party that runs from an aggressive bear withOUT leaving food for it WILL be brought down from behind. Find the slowest member of the party, and make your attack rolls on that poor sucker, including the +2 attack bonus from behind and no shield penalty. If in doubt of who’s the slowest, I use the character with the shortest legs (dwarves, usually). Bears generally won’t split their attacks…they are a predator that focuses on bringing down one animal (for the purpose of eating, usually). Once it does manage a kill, it will most likely focus on eating/protecting its meal, unless the party continues to piss it off.
Bears are good climbers and have no problems running down hills or swimming, but a closed door will usually be enough to deter them if they can’t smash it open with a single blow (heavy iron-bound oak with a cross-bar is good for this).
However, if you feed a bear (either by throwing it rations or leaving a dead buddy on the ground), it is LESS likely to leave you alone in the future. Dropping food for a bear is a short-term solution to pursuit…it will continue to come back to the gravy train whenever it gets hungry. Stay in a locked cabin or barricaded cave long enough and it will get bored and wander away (probably to look for other food), but it will continue to come back as long as the adventurers are in its territory (see above) and it thinks it can get some kind of meal out of them.
Regarding crowds: bears will be discouraged from attack by large numbers of VISIBLE people. When a wandering bear surprises a party, or a pursuing bear chases a group into a populated area, a DM should check morale before making any kind of attack if there are a bunch of humans/demihumans milling about:
Black bears: more than two to three people
Brown bears: more than four to five people
Grizzly/Kodiac*: more than six to seven
Polar bears: more than eight to ten
Cave bears: don’t need to check morale to attack
*Any brown bear with 30 or more hit points can be considered to be a North American grizzly; these monsters attack and do damage as a polar bear rather than a standard brown bear; they award XP as if they had 6HD.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Bear Hug My Ass
If a bear (of any type) hits with both paws on the same victim in one round of combat, the bear has hugged its victim and will cause 2-16 (2d8) additional points of damage in the same round as the attack.Okay, let’s get something straight right now: bears don’t hug.
They just don’t; look it up. There’s no known documentation of a bear ever hugging someone as a form of attack. It is a pretty silly idea.
A “bear hug” is a move in Greco-Roman wrestling in which the arms are wrapped around an opponent, the hands are locked, and the opponent is held tightly to the chest. It is also something I give my wife when she’s been out of town for a few days and I’m meeting her at the airport.
The only way in which the term “bear hug” has ANYthing at all to do with bears is that it has the word “bear” in its title. It is not something bears do when fighting…neither to humans, nor each other.
And yet it’s been such a part of D&D lore that every edition (with the exception of Holmes) features some form of bear “hugging attack.” The first mention of “hugs” I can find is in Supplement I in which it is noted both werebears and owl bears may “hug” for an additional 2D8 damage. By the 3rd edition Monster Manual, this has morphed into something called an “improved grab” attack. As with most things in D20, it’s ridiculously complex.
[you know, I was actually thinking of taking a stab at running a D20/Pathfinder game the other day? Yeah, really. But then I remembered what a PAIN IN THE ASS it is to DM the game due to the bullshit stat blocks of monsters and quickly came to my senses!]
Now to me, a bear is a dangerous animal. While I can buy the heroic fantasy of a knight in magic armor and a flaming sword besting one in combat, bears should be capable of killing your average two to three warriors on foot, plate mail or no. The hug attack has been a great way to model the sheer destructive force of a 1700 pound beast (both brown and polar bears are capable of that size, by the way, though the polar bears ON AVERAGE are the larger of the two). In wrestling, the bear hug is a “take down” move, designed to bring a foe to the ground. While bears don't hug opponents, they are plenty strong enough to overbear opponents (from which vantage point they can readily maul the poor target). It is not, then, my goal here to remove the "extra damage" attack from the game of D&D.
I just want to clean it up a bit.
Here's how I'd re-work the bear hug for B/X:
If a bear (of any type) hits with the same opponent with both paw attacks in a single combat round, the beast bears its opponent to the ground and inflicts an additional 2-16 (2d8) damage as it mauls its victim.
It would, of course, be assumed that any character surviving such an attack would scramble away and regain its feet for the following round. If the victim does NOT survive the attack, well...it might be time for the rest of the party to sneak away and leave the animal to its meal.
Werebears would have the same mauling ability (when in bear form)...owl bears have a "tear and rend attack" that works much the same way should they get their talons on an opponent.
But let's leave the hugging out of the mix, huh?
Monday, June 13, 2011
Kicking Off "Bear Week" at B/X Blackrazor
Black bears are usually not aggressive, brown bears are, and cave bears are quite aggressive.
Bears are well known to all adventurers.