Core Rules Regarding Shields

SHIELDS ARE ANOTHER ONE OF those things which aren’t usually ran correctly. I think that the misconceptions about them have the Armor Class tables to blame, because it states on the table that the shield improves AC by 1, and that is all characters look at, along with the price guide, but this just isn’t so! I know that I personally have ran shields wrong for years, both as a Dungeon Master and as a Player, without even suspecting that it was cheating.

Shields are grouped by character size, a gnome who is using a shield which is small to humans, would treat it as a medium shield because of his size. Thus, if a fighter killed an evil halfling and took the large shield from his character, the human fighter would record it as a Medium Sized shield.


All Fighters (including Paladins & Rangers), and Clerics are naturally proficient in using the shield in their off hand, they don’t need to spend any Weapon Proficiency slots to acquire it, however a fighter can, at the cost of 1 Weapon Proficiency, Specialize in weapon/shield style.

A Wizard or a Rogue must spend a weapon proficiency slot to be able to use a shield. This is a skill, and once the initial cost is paid, then the character can use all shields, they aren’t broken down into different groups and don’t require additional weapon proficiency slots for each shield type.

Specialization in the Weapon/Shield fighting style enables you to have an extra attack. This attack is done with the shield itself, and has some penalties involved in it. The Shield Punch gives you a –2 penalty to hit with your weapon, and a –4 penalty to hit with your shield. If you spend another Specialization slot on it, then this penalty drops in half (-1 w/ weapon, -2 w/ shield). If you chose to use the shield punch in the round, you give up any AC it granted you from the point of where you make your shield-punch attack until the end of the round. The shield-punch does 1d3 (1d4 if spiked) + strength bonus in damage.

One more note in regards to a shield punch: If the player is using an enchanted shield, the + is only applied to AC and never to attack. This may sound weird, but it is more practical in actual play.


A buckler is a very small shield which is strapped onto the users forearm. It is small and light weight and doesn’t inhibit movement. Archers can use the buckler without giving up any attacks, fighters using two-handed weapons can attack normally, and two-handed fighting-style can be employed.

While the buckler is light-weight and allows freedom of movement, it doesn’t block as much damage. The user’s AC is improved by 1 for one attack per round. The player can determine which attacker he is going to use the shield against.

This is important, if a user is up against 4 goblins and a human leader, he can specify, before initiative is rolled, to use his shield against the human leader. Of course the human leader may not attack him that round, if this is the case, then the player can announce that he is instead going to block a goblin attack instead.

The attacker might have more attacks then one, in these cases the buckler attempts to block the first attack upon the character holding it.

The buckler is useless against missile weapons, and is two small to offer spikes.

Enchantment Note: If the shield has a + from enchantment then the player can either chose to block an additional attack per + at normal AC, or block one attack with all of the enchantment bonuses applied.


The Small Shield as a light-weight shield which is strapped onto the users wrist. It allows the user to hold something in his off hand, as long as it is not a weapon. This shield cannot be used with weapons that require two hands to use, and is incompatible with two-weapon fighting styles.

The Small shield can be used to defend 2 attacks per round of the characters choice. The small shield can be spiked (1d4 to damage with shield punch), but again, it just isn’t large enough to protect against missile, or ranged attacks and/or provide cover.

Enchantment Note: If the shield has a + from enchantment, then the player can either chose to block 2 additional attacks per + at normal AC, or block 2 attacks with all of the enchantment bonuses applied.


The medium shield is also strapped on to the users wrist, and offers a handle for the user to hold, but its size and weight doesn’t allow the user to hold anything except for the shield, thus two-handed weapons are again, not possible with this shield.

This shield defends against all attacks aimed at the users front and flanks, including missile, and other ranged attacks, but doesn’t offer any cover unless the character gives up all attacks and hides down behind the shield in a crouch.

Spikes can be added to the shield to give 1d4 + strength bonus in damage.

These bad-boys may not exist in your campaign, and when they do, they are so heavy that they are a burden to carry and you should always check your encumbrance if you’re playing with those rules applied.

This shield is massive! Covering from Chin to Toes. It is strapped to the wrist, and requires full dedication of the off hand to use. It offers superior cover, blocking all attacks from the front and both front flanks. It grants an AC bonus of 1 against all melee attacks, and an AC bonus of 2 vs. missile and ranged weapons. The shield also provides cover from breath-weapon and like attacks.

A DM is fully in his rights to demand that Shield Specialization is required to use the Body Shield, and it is up to the DM to determine exactly what your coverage is. A good rule of thumb is if he/she is using the shield and not making any attacks of their own, then they are 100% covered, and -25% per attack made in the round. (I am, of course, referring to TABLE: 59 COVER & CONCEALMENT MODIFIERS in the PHB)


The shield covers only a limited amount of space, this space, if you think about it, protects only the character’s off-hand side (usually his left) and front. Under this optional rule, all attacks coming from flanks not covered by the shield are able to bypass the AC bonus which they provide.

A shield never covers the fighters rear, a character can choose to strap a shield onto his back, which will grant the AC shield bonus, but will limit his movement at the same time, thus he will always suffer a –2 to attack rolls while wearing a shield in this manner.


It is assumed in the PHB, that the shield is made of steel. Of course we know that this might not be the case. Wooden shields are very popular, they are more light-weight. The wood is treated so that it is very very hard, a sword can’t chop it up in a couple of rounds. Of course, if a fire attack happens, then the shield is subject to its own saving-throw vs. the appropriate fire, if it fails, then the shield has caught on fire. It is a cool weapon for a while! However it is up to the DM to decide how long it will take for the shield to become useless if not put out right away.

I know in my campaigns, I like to limit the use of steel. This is still a dwarven secret which hasn’t been figured out by the rest of the races yet, thus most shields must be constructed out of some other metal, I normally use bronze, but careful readers will not that bronze items carry a –1 penalty to AC, so what do you do if the shields are made of bronze? EASY! You ignore it, and double the AC of steel shields to +1. Of course this isn’t from magic, so it doesn’t count as an enchantment. It is just how I keep everything balanced. Weapons are typically made of bronze or iron as well.

I check all of these things once a month, with modifiers for a players wisdom, to see if the item is still usable and find out what kind of shape the thing is in. I suppose that if this kind of book-working is not your bag, then you can just have the player make a wis check for each item every once in a while, and if he fails it, make a saving throw for the item against crushing blow, failure indicates that the next object that comes in contact with the blade or shield, the item will break.


The logic behind the Wisdom check is to insure that the user is properly taking care of the thing. Oiling leather straps, polishing the metal, keeping it painted to protect it, that kind of stuff. For each failure to properly maintain it, gives a penalty of 1 to the save vs. crushing blow, and since this is a shield, even if the opponent misses, then the item breaks to the point were it is useless.

Finding a shield typically means that it is in some sad shape. If the shield is so old that it is already falling apart, the DM can have the thing hold or break whenever he wants to.

Primary Use of the Shield

Besides offering a bonus to Protection, the shield also serves a more important function: It identifies you! Once you create a stronghold, you’ll also probably want to design a unique Coat of Arms, or a symbol which will identify all of your hirelings and followers. Naturally you’ll have to replace all of their shields to carry this Coat, but it allows them to identify each other at a glance, while engaged in combat.

A shield can announce a bearers kingdom, who he is loyal to, or even identify him personally. A Paladin, who is always required to identify himself at all times through heraldry, will typically have his loyalty and kingdom draped over armor itself, but his shield will display her personal coat of arms to identify who he is personally.

Of course there are other uses for a shield, creative players can come up with some off the wall things, from using them as sleds to carrying out treasure, not even to mention the tactics which a shield allows, beyond the shield-punch above. Tactics such as the Shield-rush, forming a shield curtain, or wall for even better protection while fighting lawfully, the possibilities are nearly endless, but I hope that I’ve given you a better idea of how shields protect, their limitations, and their usages during battle.

BONUS LINK: Shields Shall be Splintered by Trollsmyth This article really impressed me. Great brainfood!

Rules of Creating Humanoid Player Races

ADVENTEROUS DUNGEON MASTERS and players enjoy tinkering with every aspect of the game, making it theirs, and unique to them. This is the reason to play! But, if you take anything away from this blog, it is that this game is about cooperation just as much as it is an exercise in imagination.

One of the coolest aspects of the game is creating new player character races, this is a guide which will help you create your own, and lays down the guidelines to doing it. Of course I don’t know how crazy your game is! I don’t know if dragons are everywhere, or if beggars walk around with 2,000gp in their pockets, so I’m just going to assume that your world is as close to core as possible, so it’ll will have to be modified to fit your own standards of what your players are used to.


New races are well known to actually break games. One of the biggest game breakers, in my opinion, is The Humanoids Handbook: This book allows players to play everything from lizardmen to trolls which some are good and fine, while others break the game. This handbook is a suitable reference for creating NPCs of abnormal levels, but as far as playing goes, I ignore it and don’t allow any of the monsters to be player races unless it is for a very limited time.

That said, lets create our own race! The first thing that we need is a monster which fits a specific standard.

The new race should be humanoid: Humanoids have two arms, two legs, 1 head. This is our basis, things without backs, bodies, or form are no good. Things with too many appendages are also to be avoided, players will demand that they get more attacks per round then what everybody else gets and we don’t want to go there.

The new race cannot possess any special attacks: This is another thing which players don’t seem to grasp. If one person can play the game by himself, then he is out of balance with the rest of the party. We don’t want any super-characters; the players should have to work together to reach their goals, having one player capable of everything breaks the game. No multiple attacks, no breath-weapons, no special attack forms, no shape shifting, no regeneration. All of it is cheating. Not to say that they can’t have special abilities! A race with gills or can see in the dark doesn’t harm the game, but special abilities which give an unfair advantage in combat should be off-limits. Some things are fine, but, we need to create disadvantages to each ability to keep everything balanced.

The new race cannot be extra-dimensional: It can’t draw on extra-dimensional powers, have true magic resistance, or have innate spell-casting abilities or spell-like powers not available to any of the other races. These skills always have to be earned through excelling in your chosen class and never gifted.

The new race must be cooperative: We don’t want to knowingly introduce a character into a party which will disrupt or destroy the party itself. Much of this has to do with role-playing and what is already in the party. If there is a paladin in the party, then you aren’t going to want to put some creature that is typically associated with evil. The alignment will of course still be up to the player, and it is cool to play a race which is typically associated as evil, but the player will have to think of a reason why this specific humanoid is the way he is.

If the character race that we want to introduce fits all of the criteria above, then we’ve got a possible new race! For an example, I’m going to use a race called Rakasta from the popular module The Isle of Dread. Of course, this is a 1e monster, so I’ll also have to update it to 2e, but this is crazy easy because these two systems aren’t all that different from each other.


Climate, Terrain: Tropical, Jungle
Organization: Tribal
Activity Cycle: Any
Diet: Carnivorous
Intelligence: Low-Average (5-10)
Treasure Type: M (special)
Alignment: Neutral
# Appearing: 3-30 (+ 1d8 sabre-tooths)
Armor Class: 6
Movement: 9 (3)
Hit Dice: 2+1
THAC0: 19
# of Attacks: 3 (Claw/Claw/Bite)
Damage: 1d4/1d4/1d4 (1d2/1d2/1d4)
Special Attacks: None
Special Defenses: None
Magic Resistance: nil
Size: M (5-6 feet tall)
Morale: 9

The rakasta are a race of nomadic, catlike humanoids. They walk erect, much like humans, but are covered with soft, tawny fur and have feline heads and features. The rakasta fight with special metal “war claws” fitted over their natural claws. Without these special “claws,” the rakasta claw attacks do only 1-2 points of damage each. The rakast can use normal weapons such as swords, but generally disdain them, preferring to use their “natural” weapons (the war claws).

The rakasta often tame saber-tooth tigers that are then ridden to the hunt or into battle. The saber-tooth tigers are controlled with knee pressure and heavy riding crops, and are fitted with special saddles that do not hinder their fighting abilities. These saddles also allow the rakasta to leap up to 20’ from their mounts and attack in the same round. The “tame” saber-tooths are too ferocious to be ridden by any creature other then a rakasta.

Rakasta settlements average 3d10 rakasta and 1d8 sabre-tooths, and are made up of many colorful tents and pavilions. Although they have type M treasure, the rakasta have rugs and tapestries of the workmanship, crafted bowls and drinking cups, and other bulky items of value, rather then gems and jewels.

Now, as you can see, most of the work has already be done for us. I had to convert some stuff over, but not much. Of course, if you are creating a totally unique player race out of your own crazy head, then you’ll need to fill in all of the fields above, which really doesn’t take that long. Your best bet is basing it on something that is in the MM. For instance, I drew some information from the great, cats entry, as well as goblins to give me a basis on information that I couldn’t find in the original material. I wanted it to be as close to what is already in my rule-set as possible so that it isn’t unbalanced.


Ability scores for PCs are always found the same way as the rest of the players; a number between 3 and 18, until we modify them.

Now, there are some hard rules about modifying ability scores, so that they don’t get completely out of whack with the world around them. These rules can be ignored, but I must point out that they are there for a reason, and again, this reason is BALANCE. If we make a character too strong, then he is going to start treading on the other players, and it is our job as the ref to not give him the excuse to do it.

Our first hard rule is in regards to strength. Strength modifiers are determined not by preconceived notions, but by size.

Tiny: -3
Small: -1
Medium: 0
Large: +1
Huge: +2
Gigantic: +4

Now naturally, you aren’t going to ever have a PC be Gigantic, this just shows us the general rules of how strength is dished out to monsters of different sizes. Under no circumstances should you ever deviate from this system. Our rakasta is a good example of this, just because he is a cat, doesn’t mean that he automatically should have strength bonuses, because he is still a Medium Sized creature.

The other hard rule deals with Intelligence. This information needs to stay uniform with the Monstrous Manual. Those listed in the MM as low intelligence suffer a –1, those listed as high gain a +1.

All of the other stats are open to interpretation, and can be fiddled with. Now, if you take something away, then you should give it back elsewhere: and the same applies for giving bonuses, for ever plus, there must be a minus. No creature should ever have a modifier greater then +2 to any stat.

Looking at our rakasta, They already have a –1 to intelligence, and I think that they should have a +2 to DEX. This leaves one more negative modifier to deal with, and since they are savage creatures, we’ll go ahead and place the –1 to Charisma.


We’ll want to set up a system of minimum and maximum numbers to qualify. Now this shouldn’t be as strict as class qualifiers, and should be something easy to do. Large creatures should have a minimum STR of 16, but since they are probably slower then most, the highest DEX they can get is 17. Dull-witted creatures have a cap on INT 16, which is still really really smart.

Bizarre combinations are going to happen, but that is the characters job to determine why they are so weird. For our rakasta, we’ll need to come up with our own min-maxs.

STR: 3-18
DEX: 9-19
CON: 3-18
INT: 3-16
WIS: 9-18
CHA: 3-17

A character must have a DEX and WIS of at least 9, and No higher then INT 16 before modifying to qualify for the Rakasta race. If this is met then we’ll add our +2 to DEX and –1 to INT and CHA.

Of course, we are going to cap these limits. A Rakasta cannot have a DEX of 20, he can only go as high as 19, that modifier will be lost if he rolled an 18. At the same time, if a player rolled badly for CHA or INT, getting only a 3 in those abilities, then he won’t have to deduct the extra –1 from the score, because he can’t go lower then 3 either.


It is up to the DM to determine what classes a new race can choose from. No race can do all classes, this is a human ability, and a human ability only!

Fighters: All races can become fighters.
Paladins: Only humans can be Paladins, no exceptions.
Rangers: If the creature is native to the woods, or other outdoor area, then he’ll qualify for this class.
Priests: If the new race has restrictions against WIS, they cannot be priests. The race may have clerics but they are typically powerless.
Wizards: New Races with restrictions to INT cannot be wizards.
Rogue: Races with restrictions against DEX and creatures of size Large or bigger cannot be thieves.

Other things to think about is multi-classing. The new race must have access to both classes, and have the minimum prime requisite score of at least 14. They also can’t be Fighter/Rangers, that is just crazy!

Rakasta can be Fighters, Rangers, Priests, Rogues, Fighter/Priests, Fighter/Rogues, and Priest/Rogues.


Only humans can max out at 20th level. Until our playtesting is complete, we’ll want to put some really severe level limits on them. The logic behind this is that their races are unsuitable for adventuring. Goblins live the way that they do because they have to! Same goes for Hill Giants, they don’t typically wander off and try to save princesses from evil dragons, it is just totally beyond them. After you’ve play tested something and work all of the kinks out, then you can up the level limits some, but only the DM can do this.

There is actually a neat chart in the DMG which dictates Level Limits for humanoid races. The chart is based on the players Prime Requisite number, and the level limit starts at 3rd level max for a PR of 9 and improves on a 1 to 1 basis. Thus: 9-3rd, 10-4th, 11-6th, and so on until Prime Requisite ability score of 18 which is capped at 12th level. 12th is the highest that a humanoid can go.

An example of this is: Our Rakasta character is going to play a fighter and has a Prime Requisite of 13 STR, this will set his level limit to 7th level.

Now, once we’ve established our humanoids, say the Rakasta have explored beyond the Isle of Dread and have formed a true colony on the mainland. They get along with their demi-human neighbors, maybe they formed a deep friendship with the local elves, gnomes, and halflings in the forest, now they have achieved true demi-human status and new level limits can be set. Looking at our Rakasta ability limits will tell us that they make extremely good Rangers, this level limit should be set higher then the other classes.

Now, this hasn’t been playtested, so it is just an example.

Fighter: 12
Paladin: -
Ranger: 15
Cleric: 9
Druid: 12
Wizard: -
Illusionist: -
Thief: 12
Bard: -


Alignment: If a hard alignment is set, such as “Good” or “Lawful”, then the character must have that alignment, or close to it. For instance, if the typical alignment for the creature is Chaotic Evil, then naturally we might not want the player to play evil as it could disrupt the game, however we’ll keep the Chaotic aspect of the alignment, and this character can’t be lawful.

If the alignment isn’t set, then the player can chose any alignment that he wants to play, but try not to remove it to far away from the rest of the kin.

Hit Points: Hit points are dictated by class, however there is 1 exception to the rules, at 1st level, a creature of size L or bigger receives a bonus of +1 for every hit die that the monster would normally receive. As an example, an Ogre would roll his hp normally, and then add 4hp, because normally Ogres are 4 HD monsters. The reason for this is that Large creatures always take Large damage. This bonus only applies to 1st level! Once the Player gains a level, then he’ll roll hit points the same as everybody else does.

Level Advancement: This is always the same as everybody else. Players don’t get any bonuses to take their characters up to the level that the monster normally is. A PC ogre still has to play just as long to get to 4th level as everyone else. This shouldn’t be a problem with players, and if it is, then you probably picked the wrong player to play-test the new race.

Armor: Most races have a natural AC of 10, but if this isn’t the case with the new creature, then different rules apply. They too, are pretty simple, if a creature has a better AC without armor then 10, then determine the new base. Say, AC of 7. Armor which protects up to the creatures natural AC grants the character +1 to AC, thus if he were to put on Leather armor, this would drop his AC to 6. Of course if he put on Hide armor, the most he’d get out of it would still be 6. This modifier disappears if he buys armor which is better then his natural AC. Thus, anything AC of 6 or below would keep its AC value.

If the new races body is really different, then he’s going to have to have all of his armor specially made for him, this will cost more and take more time to produce.

Movement: The characters Movement rate is exactly the same as the one listed in the MM.

Attacks: The characters number of attacks goes by class, not by the number of attacks listed in the MM. Thus, for our Rakasta character, if he’s only given 1 attack because he’s a rogue, then he can’t use his claw/claw/bite. He can only either claw once, or bite once per round.

Size Problems Characters of large size will have other problems, ropes might not be made with them in mind, and will snap suddenly. He’ll be to big to sleep in a standard sized bed. This stuff is more DM heckling then a true restriction. All of that extra strength comes at a cost, and it’s up to you to extract it from him.

NPC Reactions: These will typically be worse then normal. People simply aren’t used to dealing with humanoids, and bigotry will be common.


And that is it! Now, granted, this is all rule of thumb, and the dumbest part of it is that the Humanoids Handbook pretty much broke every rule that it set up in the DMG. Can you tell that I’m not a fan of that book? I play-tested a few races from that book, and they are, for the most part, incompatible with my game.

I personally don’t see a reason for adding new playable races to a game, but they can be fun. Again, and it can’t be stressed enough, don’t let one player hog the spotlight! Let him know that this character is being tested only, and can be taken away from him or modified at any time.

It is best that you try the new race out on just 1 character, and only play test one character at a time, else you are in for a huge headache and you have nothing to compare it on.

Balance is always the key, and each of the established Demi-Human races have been play-tested to death and back again. It can take years to fine-tune a race so that it is functional and worthwhile to everyone involved in it, and if that doesn’t sound like your bag of chips, then I’d suggest not even trying it.

YEAR ONE: A Retrospective

It has been a whole year since the Chatty DM talked me into creating a blog. I debated whether to do it or not, and finally decided that there was a need for this kind of deal. 2e resources have dried up considerably since the release of 3e, and I knew that I wasn’t the only clinger to the edition. Besides, 2e is such a good system, that much of what I write about can work just as well with any foundation that your heart desires!

As with any project, this has been a very rewarding learning experience for me. It has forced me to change the way that I look at the game itself and how I play it. I always knew from the beginning, that I didn’t want to be one of those know-it-all webmasters, I don’t think that anybody ever takes anything all that valuable from those kinds of places. If I error, I won’t hide it. I’ll admit my wrongs and in this way I can improve them. I think that this attitude has helped considerably! Not just my game, but the collective who also chooses to come here with an open mind and a willingness to give and take.

I think that my biggest improvement has been in my attitude of the game. I used to be obsessed in storylines, and rather inflexible. 2e’s greatest weakness is found in its modules, they usually seemed geared to effecting the world you play in on a permanent basis, and I really don’t feel that this is their place. Other great webmasters out there have taught me the error of my ways, aiming me towards the older editions which were written by people who were gamers, not professional writers.

I have also gotten into the history of the game itself, information that I honestly never had access to before. Heck, 2 years ago I didn’t know who Gygax was, other then the strange name on the spines of my 1st Edition manuals. His death got a lot of us interested in a side of the game that most of us were not aware existed before that time. It put a human face to the miles and miles of corporate blather that TSR and Wizards put out, and it provides a hint at how to clear away what was created to sell books from what was created to make the game more enjoyable to play. Do I aid in this, or hinder it? Who is to say. I do enjoy finding rules which even hardcore 2ers have forgotten about.

Probably the greatest influence this blog has had on my personal game, is that I have abandoned my plans to create my own gaming world. Not because I am lazy, or don’t want the challenge, but because of Greyhawk. Like I said, I never had access to the history of the hobby before, and I had no idea just how important Greyhawk was to the game, nor even what it was. I ran Ravenloft exclusively, but wanted to explore more fantasy based ideas and games, but why create my own setting when my friends and I have never played Greyhawk?

Now, THAT, my friends, has been an adventure all in itself. I again have to thank Grognardia for pointing me in the right direction with the Greyhawk Folio post he put up earlier this month. I have acquired many of the files I need to get started, but for 60$ a pop, that is just beyond my budget for owning a hard copy. I’m still undecided about how I am going to handle this situation. The PDF scans I’ve got are rather crappy, to put it mildly, and the map that I’m using doesn’t even give me a sense of scale. I’d love to have a hard copy fold out map, but this is just one of the problems that I’ve got to solve. In the meantime, I’m reading up on the world and getting excited. Learning a new world is a very challenging thing, especially for an old hat like myself, I forgot how fun it can be!

This blog has introduced me to some wonderful people, new ways of looking at things, and I get to focus on two of my favorite hobbies, writing and Dungeons & Dragons. It’s been a great year! I am proud to be part of the “Old School Revolution”! But before I close, I do want to tell just a short story.

I had quit playing, like many people had. Life just got in the way and I wanted to explore new things. While going through boxes out in my garage, I discovered that I still had my old D&D collection, neatly packed away. Some of it I didn’t even remember buying! On a whim, I thought about selling them and decided to look on Ebay to see what they were going for these days. They were collector’s items after all, and all in great shape! I was horrified! Absolutely horrified! Sellers were putting up boxes of 1st edition books, things that I was positive was worth mint, but they were going for 4 or 5 bucks. BOXES OF BOOKS FOR 4-5 BUCKS!!!

I am a book horder. I have been known to buy books from the discount bin simply because I didn’t feel that they should be there, and I’m saving them! Books are important to me, and to see these old titles, which gave me so much joy and pleasure not worth the paper that they were printed on, well I was disturbed.

I felt that I needed to do something for the hobby. It had given me so much when I was young, and I knew that if this hobby was to stay alive, then I needed to give back to it, in some way.

I started looking though the books, and getting excited enough that I wanted to host a game . . . for old-times sake, you know? I got my wife in on it, and called an old friend who was jazzed about the idea, and that is what we did for a night, and we had a blast! Once word got out, other people started coming over and now I have a bigger gaming group then I did when I was a kid.

I was looking over the internet to find resources, and nothing against later editions, but I find that I can’t grasp them. I’ve never been all that into what they are calling “Crunch”, if a situation comes up that you need crunch, then you can simply make it up! The more advanced combat is, the slower and clunkier it becomes, which in my opinion is bad. Different philosophies, I know, and I don’t look down my nose at others who are into that, but it makes finding incompatible mechanics really really easy, and stuff that I want to read really really tough. Back in the day, 2e was just as commonly found as 3e is today, and now it is all gone. Only a handful of obscure webpages dealt with it, thus I decided to put one back up. It isn’t exactly everything that I had in mind, but it is close. It is going into directions now that I didn’t foresee back when I was filling out the fields for Blogger, but that makes it a real webpage, doesn’t it.

The moral of the story is that prices for the older stuff is rising, I am not to blame for this, but I do like to think that I played my small minuscule part in it happening. It may be temporary, but then again, it might not be! Of course, I no longer wish to sell my books. I’ve got a full-time group of players, and it too is taking on a life of it’s own. I’ve given up my DM spot so that I can play for a while, before it’s my turn to do it again, and everything is happy!

Happy Birthday Advanced Gaming & Theory! And a special thank you to everybody who reads it! I guess that I could tell you about a new feature that I’ve added. I get comments from .0001% of my readers, which is fine!!! But I have made it easier for you to tell me how I’m doing without having to come up with some comment. Below you’ll see a Rate Me tab, just take some time out to let me know what you thought, it’ll just take a second and it will help me determine what works and what doesn’t.

Thanks everybody! And here’s hoping for another great year! Lord knows that I’m game. (Clink of Non-Alcoholic Champaign Glasses Here)

Animals & Morale

Our friend Timeshadows, has requested a follow up on the post “Moral Failure“. She wanted to know more about animal intelligence and morale, which could definitely be a huge factor in setting up encounters.

Of course the biggest factor of any encounter is DRAMA! And drama does, and should happen. Animals can, and do, go rogue. Rogue is defined as hunting humans for food or sport, this is only common with top predators (wolves, large cats, bears, etc.), rogue predators still have motivations for why they are doing what they are doing, but for rogues, I would go ahead and run them like average monsters. Rogue behavior usually starts because of a shortage of territory, the rogue animal sees them as intruders and will kill them for the purpose of defending their territory. Disease, starvation, and age can also play a factor in going rogue, a sick animal isn’t capable of hunting correctly, thus it has to change to an easier prey, which is usually vulnerable humans such as children or elderly people. They won’t attack large groups, or people who require much work. This is a desperate act, and they will typically flee if they can, but if they are too sick to even do that, then they’ll fight to the death.

Average animals will hide or run from people on sight, except in unpopulated woodlands, creatures who haven’t ever seen people or monsters will be more likely to investigate these things to see if they are friendly or dangerous, but once the party starts hunting, this behavior will stop and all of the animals will recognize the party for what they are, predators.

Animals have only a few major concerns which govern their behavior. They will only fight for a handful of things: To establish dominance during mating seasons, to protect their young, to protect themselves, and for food. Most animals, especially animals of prey, will only fight to protect their young, and males will attack during mating season, of course once you injure an animal, then it will instantly run unless it has been trained to do otherwise.

Some animals break the rules. Wolves, for instance, are one of the few wild animals which hunt for sport. During the winter, when food is scarce, they will follow large parties, hoping for a straggler, or to steal food. For single travelers, they will follow the traveler for awhile and hope that something better comes along, if it doesn’t then they will attack and kill the traveler and eat him. Of course, domestic animals are another story, they will kill these if given the opportunity, and once they have made a kill, it is very difficult to drive them off. Wolves will also kill for the joy of killing, they may not even be hungry, but attack and kill just for the fun of doing it, leaving the carcass for others to eat.

Bears also break the rules, these guys can be very temperamental, and for some reason, players always attack these poor things. If given the respect that they no doubt have earned, the party should just let the bear look at them, finish whatever if was doing, and then just let it move on. Once you anger these giants (usually with a bolt to the butt) they’ll attack ferociously! It is almost impossible to drive off an angry grizzly! Of course, if the grizzly is starving, then it will stalk and eat you. These creatures often fight until they are hurt very badly, and they heal faster then people do too. Animals with thick hides can usually treat damage caused by humans as 75% temporary, and 25% real, and are handled exactly like AD&D fistfights. Once the bear has been reduced down to 0, it will run away, and you best not follow it.

Snakes are also common monsters, poison and constrictor snakes still require motivation to attack. Poisonous snakes are generally more forgiving then non-poisonous, not wanting to waste their venom on something that they can’t eat, but if they believe that the threat isn’t going to go away, or if it will try and eat them, then they will lash out and defend their ground. If an adventurer slowly walks away, watching them, then they’ll gladly allow the retreat, but if the snake is big enough that it can eat you, well, god help you. A snake will kill for food, it will slay a man, and defend the body until it can eat it. If it is attacked during this time, then it will puke the body up and be right back on defense in the next round.

Study nature, and learn from it. This information can be directly applied to your game! AD&D gives most animals an INT of 1, however this honestly isn’t the case. Many animals do communicate with each other, they develop tactics and teach them to their young, they learn what is safe to eat and what is poison or dangerous, the learn survival skills that not even humans can rival! If you don’t know anything about the animal then go ahead and just assume that its INT is 1, and its alignment is True Neutral. But even INT 1 is capable of using its natural weapons to the very best of their abilities, and developing the tactics that it requires to survive, this could even be lawful tactics which requires a strict military-like order! Of course it will be a 1trick show. If you figure out a defense for a specific animal attack, then this defense will always work against them, unless drama or animal type dictates that they have another tactic.

This 1 INT should form the basis of how you handle intelligence in the game. I think that goblins have 9, this allows them to concoct bizarre and deadly traps, just imagine what a god of 19 INT can do!

Animals & Morale

Peaceful Animals have a diced Moral of 3, a predator who is peaceful at the time of the encounter would also have this moral.

Endangered and aggressive animals have the diced Moral of 7. But we really shouldn’t roll for moral with animals, if they do get any damage at all, then they will typically run. They only care about food, and they can no doubt get an easier meal else where, or fall back and wait for another opportunity. If the creature is defending its lair, then go ahead and roll it if the lair is being threatened, a creature is very protective of its home.

Animals are brilliant strategists. They know where they are all the time (or close to it), a predator is going to stalk, and attempt to lead its prey to where it wants to it to go, but all animals are pretty good about always knowing where an escape route is, this forces predators to attack with speed and strength. For this reason then it is usually safe to assume that a failed morale roll for an animal results in it running, and if it is much faster then the player characters, it may be able to avoid the attack of opportunity created when it does flee, this is completely up to the Dungeon Master.

As a general rule, animals will never fight to the death unless they are protecting their young or defending their lair, and deem the sacrifice of their life as an option. If you do want to randomize a morale check, then give the animal a percentage chance of escaping and running from a seemingly impossible situation; perhaps 75% chance for Small, 50% chance for Medium, and 25% for large. Of course this is just an estimate, and finding this escape means that the creature disappears, of course if it is bleeding or being tracked by a PC, then you’ll need to create new rules for hunting.

Animal Henchmen/Followers

Rangers and some characters may be able to attract animal followers, these are handled by the rules specifically written for them. These animals will fall under the standard moral of either 15 (henchmen), or 12 (monster with animal intelligence). The bond with the ranger or trainer is very close. Domestic animals are equally as loyal as long as they have been trained to be loyal and feel safe around their masters. All modifiers in regards to henchmen and followers still apply, they simply aren’t human.

ART Published for TRUE MEN STORIES (August, 1957) by Will Hulsey

Morale Failure: DM's Options & Running Away

MORALE REQUIRES CREATIVITY, and is this element which separates the mediocre Dungeon Master from the awe-inspiring. I mean, this looks simple, right? We check for morale when the tides of war are against the NPCs; and if they fail, then they run away! Not difficult, right? But how interesting is this? A failed moral check can mean multiple things for different types of troops which depend on situations, terrain, alignment, and natural intelligence.

Morale can signify a refusal to perform a task, utter betrayal, or simply a change of tactics depending on what, or who failed their morale check. Today we’ll look at a few more options. We can’t make a complete listing for every event, but we can get ourselves to the point were we are able to think outside of the box.


The first thing to look at when pondering what a failed check indicates, is a character’s alignment. This is typically your best tool! It tells us instantly their outlook on life and gives us an idea of how they’ll react in dire circumstances.

Lawful Alignments: These characters are typically honorable and organized. They will not break ranks and only during the most extreme circumstances will they simply run away. Lawfully aligned troops will have a backup plan if the battle isn’t going there way, only in the worst case scenario will they attempt a withdraw, and only if they think that they can get it to work. When fighting lawfully aligned enemies, it isn’t rare to call for a surrender, or at least a stop to the fighting so that the leaders can discuss a more suitable way to solve the current conflict. Battles are expensive and no general of a lawful alignment is going to want to risk the lives of fine soldiers over something stupid, or that can be solved by just having the best company fighters fighting each other 1 on 1 and the winner takes all.

Chaotic Alignments: These characters are typically incapable of fighting as one with their peers, however they also are under more pressure to deliver results. A loss to a chaotically evil army is unacceptable, and their masters will deal more harshly with the failure then simply fighting until honorable death by combat will ever give. Chaotic troops are easier to force a retreat, however they are disorganized and rarely do a tactical withdraw, if they do retreat they run, unless they know that they can’t get away; at this point they’ll typically start groveling and begging for mercy. Chaotic Good creatures will surrender if they feel that their enemy is honorable, they’ll also setup escape plans in advance and be able to follow through with them, hit and run tactics are common with chaotic alignments.

Neutral Alignments: These characters are always unpredictable. They use tactics that work best, they aren’t honor bound, however they do know how to fight as one, or breakup into smaller groups to spread out attacks. Granted, you won’t see any brilliant tactics which are common with the lawfully aligned, but they will use tactics that they’ve seen before. If they themselves except surrender terms, then they will usually allow their enemy this courtesy. They also see the waste of troops and value individual lives in truly bad situations and won’t typically fight any more once they know that they are going to lose, unless the thing which they are fighting for is worth it to them.


Intelligence is a huge factor for dictating a reaction to a failed morale check. The more stupid something is, the more likely it will be that it will simply run away regardless of if it can make it or not.

Animals for instance, can be run differently then humans. If a creature has been cornered, to where it can’t run away, or if it is smart enough to know when it can’t retreat, then it may become berserk! It may faint, or, if it’s small enough, attempt to run through the line.

Dumb creatures are more likely to grovel and even they may try to reason with attackers, especially if they feel wronged by the deal. Player Characters are well known to try and solve all of their problems with blades, you can really put a wrench in this system by having a goblin tribe call them murderers and no good humans, especially if the Goblin tribe was peaceful and just looking for a place to live where they won’t be bothered by anybody. If they haven’t harmed anyone, and just been seen by locals, the players could be summoned to hunt them down before they launch an attack. Imagine their shock when they discover that they are acting like villains!

Average Intelligence is 9. Anything above a 5 is probably going to be able to tell if they can run away or not and come up with some other method to survive the encounter. The more intelligent that the creature is, the less likely it is to actually run away, if you want to test this theory then quickly do ability checks against WIS or INT, whichever one is higher, a failed Moral and a failed ability check probably indicates that the thing will try and run for it. I wouldn’t use this method for large armies, but it works really well with single creatures, or mixed parties of different alignments.


Withdraw: Of course the most logical effect of failed morale is the retreat. Intelligent creatures will attempt a withdraw, this doesn’t change anything defensively, but the creature focuses all attacks on defense and will not make any attacks of his own, and instead will move at 1/3 of his movement rate away from the situation. Of course this works best when the person can somehow put a stop to the enemies advance. This can be done by either having fresh troops move to the front, or by effecting the battlefield in some way which blocks the opponents advance.

Retreat: Simply running away gives your enemy a free attack if they wish to use it, Lawful creatures may or may not take this attack, and allow the enemy to retreat unless they are extremely hated, or if they stand to lose more by allowing the retreat to happen. Running characters can move at their full movement rate as dictated by the terrain. The fleeing character drops his defenses, and loses all bonuses to AC due to high DEX and shields. If the enemy is slower, then this will work, however the fleeing character will still be a target to any missile attacks while still within sight and range.

Full Surrender: An opponent can wave a white flag or signal to the enemy, that they wish to stop fighting at any time. It may take a couple of rounds before the general or leader sees it, and decides to allow the surrender or not. Naturally, not all enemies are going to allow such a method, and some Players may have to be taught that this is an option.

A full surrender means that you put yourself into the custody of the enemy. Weapons are dropped and all soldiers assume positions of submission, such as kneeling with hands behind the head. The general will walk upon the field, bow and offer his sword to the victor. At this time the enemy can make his demands such as leave the field, or take all of the warriors into custody and put out a ransom to the opponent’s superiors so that they can buy them back. Of course an enemy can also slaughter the opponent, too. But, this will typically result in more fighting which is more savage then ever.

Negotiations: A full surrender is not always the best idea. Generals can call for a halt to fighting, which is fairly common during wartime. This is an uneasy peace which gives both sides a chance to collect their dead and injured, and rest. A time will usually be agreed upon for the battle to resume, but until that time it is not expectable to attack an enemy.

If the death toll is too high, or if both sides agree that it would be in their best interest to avoid bloodshed, then the generals can produce their greatest warriors, maybe knights or an exceptional warrior. These two men will fight on equal terms and to the death. The loser will give up their arms and clear out of the area, or perhaps even join the enemy army under a contract, if that is what the battle is about.

Tactical Change: A failed Morale check could also indicate that the general or leader has determined that what he is doing isn’t working and change tactics, this can be anything as subtle as moving frontline troops to the back, and filling their ranks with fresh troops; to something as advanced as calling a partial retreat of your front line to focus entirely on archery fire.

Evil troops with a win at any cost attitude can use some dirty tactics which are brilliant but destructive, even to their own side. Tactics such as causing a stampede of large beasts to mow through the battlefield is highly effective, even though it butchers your own side as harshly as the enemy, but for these people, a win is still a win. The more shocking and destructive a tactic is, the better. Setting fire to a village can keep a party of heroes from focusing all of their rage on them, taking innocent hostages, all of these things can count as a reaction to a failed morale check which is more suitable to chaotic evil alignments then simply running away.

Finding Options

The best time to come up with tactics isn’t at the table, it is during prep. Identify the encounters that will benefit from using advanced tactics, and jot down notes. Players can also benefit from this with their own troops, setting up backup plans which are easy to follow so that troops are confident in shifting to them when they get the orders.

Granted you don’t want to do this for every encounter, and no matter how good your intentions are, they won’t always cover all situations. Logic is your best friend here, say you are setting up an encounter with PC’s charged with protecting an NPC merchant vessel at sea, and your enemy will be 3 pirate ships. We of course need to identify the goal of the pirates: To take the treasure.

Their original tactic will be to immobilize the merchant vessel with the largest pirate ship, and the other two ships will focus on trying to steal the PC’s ship without injuring her. Their backup plan will be to sink the PC’s ship with the lead ship, and have the two smaller vessel attempt to board and take the merchant’s galleon. If this doesn’t work, stick with the plan of boarding the merchant vessel, but only loot the ship for 1 turn, then sink both ships. Forth, abandon all plans and flee, perhaps setting up an ambush on another day.

That is 4 morale checks before the enemy actually flees. It is a pretty versital plan and these options can change if the pirates fail the moral checks or not.

It is up to the PC’s to plan their side of the battle, and since there might not be any contact between the two ships, this plan has to be known by both ships in advance, if they failed to do this, then we have to decide what the merchant vessel will do. Will they run? The pirate ships are faster, and if the pirates can separate the two convoys, then the galleon is an easy target.

But, if the players tell the ship to form a formation, and can board the galleon with a few strong fighters before the pirates, defending both ships as one, they can fire cannons at their full radius and defend her from being boarded more easily, completely ruining the pirates plans and forcing a retreat much quicker.

Different situations can also cause different effects in morale and tactics. If the pirates have a wizard on board, then they may not even have to keep the ship afloat, they can sink the merchant galleon and simply use magic to retrieve the treasure. All of this stuff should be thought out in advanced, thus making the battle as dynamic and as fast as possible.

Of course you can force a morale check to fail, no intelligent enemy is going to keep using a tactic if it clearly isn’t working. Having more options in front of you helps your game considerably, but we only want to use this for big battles, else we’d be spending more time prepping then actually playing!


Again, this is another aspect of the game which requires a DM to judge. A rule of thumb for figuring out XP is the amount of fighting that the players had to deal with. If they avoid combat at all, this could be worth more XP then actually killing them! But when dealing with large scale wars which are commanded by and fought by player characters, or in situations where the players are vastly outnumbered, then they may qualify for XP for all of the creatures they fought, even the ones that they didn’t kill.

Say the players defend a village from an Orc army of 35, they were able to slay 10 of them out-right, but the others either surrendered or ran away, the party would still qualify for the full XP of all of them since they defeated them.

If the party were defeated themselves, and were forced to surrender or retreat, they still gain XP from the enemy numbers that they did kill.

On the other hand, if the players are leading an army of 3,000 and meet an enemy of 6,000, and were able to manage to convince the other general to settle the fight with a joust between a player knight vs. the strongest NPC knight, and win, and the enemy excepts this loss and leaves the field under the terms agreed upon, then the players wouldn’t get all of the XP for the 6,000 soldiers that they didn’t fight, but they will get full XP for the knight they did slay, and the general they defeated, plus whatever bonuses that you decide to give them for saving so many lives on their own side. Perhaps a few hundred enemy soldiers will join the players cause? That will be a benefit all in itself.

Running NPC Hirelings, Followers, & Henchmen Responsibly

NONE-PLAYER CHARACTERS ARE the heart and soul of the game. Some are stagnant (meaning that they never change) while others are mutable (meaning that they grow and react to and with the player’s characters). Today I’d like to focus more on three types which are very important to the success of the players, namely hirelings, followers, and henchmen. New Dungeon Masters and inexperienced players probably ignore these NPC’s, which is cool! Learning the basic rules are important when first starting, but eventually you want to explore more complex situations and exploit the more advanced rule-sets. This is where these NPC types sit.


Hirelings are defined as anybody which you hire to perform a service for your character, this can be short term, long term, or permanent. All hirelings are either skilled or unskilled workers, anybody from a serf (who isn’t paid but is still considered a hireling) to NPC wizards are hirelings. Anybody that the players pay to perform a service, and donate time solely to them for a wage. This can be anybody who your heart desires, and the basic reason why we keep these guys around is to bleed money from a players coffer, and the players like them because they gain their services.

This definition is very broad, but we’ll be focusing more on expert hirelings, and what the player who hires them is responsible for.

Soldiers: Sometimes, especially in advanced games, players need to amass an army. This is expensive, and can get you into trouble because if you don’t have permission to raise an army from whoever is ruling the area in which you got them, then somebody is going to be really angry with you. Soldiers are a limited resource, and while you can bribe them away from their current posts, they aren’t going to be there if there services are required at home, and yes, enemies do pay attention to that kind of thing.

Technically, you can pay as many as you can afford, assuming that you gain permission from the local lord, and he can tell you how many that he can spare. They can do any job which you feel like giving them, within reason of course. They can perform guard duty (guarding treasure from looters, wagons and camps while you play in the cave, patrol areas and borders, etc.) or can be lead to fight battles.

Of course we don’t want NPCs to do all of the playing, it is still up to the players to fight their own battles. Hireling armies will help, but they won’t do all the work! Nor will they blindly give their lives to every cause which the players deem as important, after all, they are only getting a salary out of this deal! Armies do have moral checks, these are checked anytime that they are asked to perform some dangerous job, when they are getting clobbered, or anytime when they are at risk or tempted to do something which they aren’t ordered or paid to do.

It is the hirelings job to have all of the tools that they need to perform their function. They will have their own weapons, armor, and mounts if that is required by their trade, of course the Player can provide upgrades to equipment! But upgrades are still considered property of their owners, and not the soldiers themselves.

Hiring a soldier requires more then just paying them their wages (wages are listed in the DMG), an employer is responsible for supplying them with food and shelter, if they have mounts, then they are responsible for caring for these as well. They don’t have to do this personally! Unskilled hirelings can be paid to perform these duties, but the money must come from the employers pockets.

Soldiers, as a group, are not entitled to a share of XP, nor treasure. Though, if an employer is in a giving mood, they certainly won’t refuse such gifts! Happy soldiers are easier to manage then unhappy soldiers, which makes sense, right? As far as XP goes, hireling soldiers never raise levels, a second level fighter is always going to be a second level fighter, he is static, thus, he does not get any XP. More powerful soldiers may be attracted to more powerful PCs, but this is completely up to how giving the DM is feeling so it wouldn’t hurt to bribe him from time to time with delicious snacks and name-brand cola. Not to say that this tactic will work! But, mind you, it certainly won’t hurt your odds either.

Skilled Trade Workers: Armorists, weapon smiths, miners, and their types all have the tools that they need, but require the employer to provide food, shelter, and supplies. Workers are never expected to fight, and employers are expected to also provide protection to them. Any profit made by them is the property of the employer, and many skilled workers who are employed to build or construct items such as weapons and armor are required to make ability checks to determine the quality of the item that they constructed.

It is probably also worth noting that employers are responsible for providing a work station. This can be a tent to a permanent structure. These hirelings are different from contractors, as they are full-time employees. Contracting a hireling to build a full-plate armor suit, for instance, doesn’t require you to pay for food, board, and the site, that’s his responsibility to furnish everything that he needs, and the cost of the armor itself pays for everything.

A good rule of thumb to determine employer responsibility, is if the hireling is mobile or not. An employee whose job it is to manage an employers inn, for example, is paid a set rate per month and is responsible for supplying his own food and shelter, but those on the road all the time need the employer to provide these things.


Any hirelings are specialists, but a few demand different treatment because: A. They are too expensive to hire on a full-time basis, and B. There could be considerable risks involved in hiring them.

Spellcasters: Low level mages are typically considered to be soldiers, but high level wizards and clerics employed to cast a specific feet of magic. These guys should not be abused, nor should they ever get over involved in what the PCs are doing. They will charge considerable sums, require the adventurers to perform some task, or both! The key here is to make their services so expensive that they don’t want to rely on them.

Sometimes the players are tempted to try and get the NPC to play the game for them, in cases like this you can easily get out of it by saying something like, “Oh sure, I’ll help go ahead and go on down to the underdark and de-troll the cavern, and I’ll let you handle the tanari invasion of the North Core, it’s only 430 demons capable of engulfing the entire planet in a matter of days. Does that sound good to you?”

Assassins: These guys should always be dangerous, risky, and if it gets discovered that an adventurer hired them, or even tried to hire one, then it will effect their reputation.

Finding an assassin should be an adventure all in itself, these guys aren’t like soldiers, you can’t advertise for them, typically they find you, and it could just be a trick because one of your enemies hired him to kill YOU!

Again, we don’t want to encourage this kind of behavior, and refuse to let the players try and make NPC’s play the game for them. There is no set wage for these guys, but it should be considerable, and if we are willing to let this happen, just outside of their current means.

Assassins are always paid for upfront, before any assassination takes place. Once they are hired, then you have a judgment call to make. How is this going to effect your game? If it was just to do a simple task, then simply determine if it works or not, however if it is for a specific task which could change the game considerably, then we’ll have the players actually play the roles of the assassins, and play it out as an adventure. This adventure should be as lethal as humanly possible, and the DM should actively try to kill these temp characters. If the players can accomplish the goal with the temp characters, then congrats to them! They get no XP but they did eliminate the target.

It is up to the assassin to determine what his employer is responsible for furnishing and charging him for these things up front. After a job is finished, he may also demand more money for unexpected charges, or just plain old blackmail; it’s up to you.

Sages: Sages are scholars and wise-men who look things up for a living. If you read this blog regularly, then you’ll notice that I am a big fan of these guys! Sages can be required to discover information about elements in the game which the players may not have access to knowing any other way, or to give an edge to those who have money. Say a magical item is discovered and the party wants to find out about it, they can hire an expert who can look at it and discoverer its history and maybe a power or two. If you are playing with an artifact, you definitely want to give the party access to a scholar!

Sages can also give hints or clues to an adventure, provide maps, release rumors, whatever you want! They are very versatile NPCs. It is best if they have a couple of days to work on the problem, and success can either be determined by you, or can be determined randomly if it comes to questions which you didn’t expect. Success is not always given, because a sage can only know what you as the DM knows.

Even a diviner or gypsy fortuneteller is considered a sage, hiring them should be expensive, but they should get what they pay for.

Sages expect to be paid something up front, and the rest of the cost is decided once the information has been gathered but before they reveal what it is that they have discovered. Sages may work for money, services, or both depending on how difficult or exact a question is.

Spies: Spies are as touchy as assassins, and you don’t always know what you are going to get. Besides, players are usually put in position where THEY are the spies, however if you deem it necessary then you can go ahead and grant their wish to have a spy, but, like assassination, if this is a short term mission, go ahead and have them play a very very dangerous game with temp characters, if this is a long term thing, then you’ll have to figure out a way to determine the spies success in infiltrating his targets operation, and check his continued success and moral regularly. Also keep in mind that this is a very dangerous occupation, and that if the spy is caught or exposed, then he will no doubt be murdered or worse, thus his wages are going to have to compensate him for this risk and will also cover all of his needs. An employer could also be forced to extract him once his mission is over, but this all depends on how you want to DM the situation, it should be an adventure all it’s own.


Followers are similar to hirelings, with the exception that they didn’t have to be hired, they came of their own free will. Followers are not free! They all should be paid a monthly wage, they will bring their own equipment, but it is always a good idea to upgrade this equipment as soon as possible. Followers don’t expect any shares from treasure or XP, but they do require food, water, shelter, and supplies.

It should also be noted that you will never get any more followers, if they fall, then their numbers aren’t necessarily replaced. Followers have better moral, they are more loyal, and they are capable of feats which the average soldier wouldn’t dream of doing. For this reason an adventurer should never take them anywhere! Followers serve best as a defensive force, protecting the adventurers property. Unlike regular hireling soldiers, followers do acquire XP, but on a different scale then PCs do, a system which is totally up to the Dungeon Master, so again, keep the snack dish and the fridge full. Another advantage of followers is that they don’t have any contract, they will continue to serve the PCs for as long as their needs are met and they are well treated.

Some followers, namely those who are attracted to Rangers, and aren’t human are treated more like henchmen, but don’t count towards a characters henchmen limit.


Once you start employing Henchmen, then you will realize how advanced a game truly can become! Henchmen are hirelings who for whatever reason have become close friends with the PC and serve out of loyalty.

Henchmen will risk their own skin for their friends, well as long as they are taken care of and treated right. They do have a different set of needs, Henchmen are considered almost equals with the player’s party. They expect a half share of XP, and a half share of treasure. The player isn’t allowed to borrow money or magic items from them . . . well, I guess that they could, but this will effect their overall moral.

Henchmen, unlike followers, will adventure with the PC on a full time basis, though he may expect to be furnished with living expenses until he can acquire the funds to pay his own way. And unlike any other kind of NPC, this one is ran by the player. The player is responsible for updating his character sheet, and gets to run him during combat, however the DM always has the final say on anything which he deems necessary.

The number of henchmen that a player can have is determined by his Charisma score, and this number is the total amount of henchmen that he can have in his life, not at one time. Thus, if a fighter’s CHA gives him 3 Henchmen, and all 3 of them died grisly deaths he will never get any more. EVER! Not even a wish spell can change this. It is like CON and resurrection, you can get a better CHA score at some point in the game, but you’ll still only get your original # of henchmen in your lifetime.

One final word on henchmen, if at any time the henchmen excels the player in levels, then he will leave forever to find his own path. Naturally a DM can give a PC some time to restore level draining attacks, but as a rule of thumb, the henchman will feel that it is time to move on.

Henchmen are definitely valuable, and should be cherished. There are no rules concerning just when a hireling becomes a henchmen, but that is probably a good thing. Judgment calls are always the best way to DM anyway. At least that is the way that I see it.

ART TITLED, “Won’t You Come In?” OILS, BY: Dean Morrissey

Surprise! A DMs Guide to Judging Ambushes

I THINK THAT EACH AND every DM has one stupid problem that goes undetected for years, well, at least 1, honestly we all probably have many, but there is usually at least one, that when you find out about it then it makes you feel really dumb.

My problem was the Surprise Roll. I just never understood it! I don’t know if it just wasn’t described clearly enough in my books, or just what the problem was, but I did it incorrectly for years. Today’s post is about Ambushes, and how to run them fairly, but of course the biggest element of an ambush is that the ambusher gain the element of surprise.

Surprise Rolls

To check for surprise, we as the DM, have to first determine a number of factors. First we have to figure out how far away the monster is, and second, we have to roll a 1d10, an unmodified check is 1-3 on a 1d10, thus surprise happens less then half of the time, when enemies bump into each other, but some creatures have a bonus, or a penalty to their surprise roll.

Lets take a gator as an example: Alligator’s are masters of ambushing. They pick lairs where it is easy to hide, typically swamp water with lots of cover. They always impose a –4 to surprise rolls, This means that the gator can surprise the PC on a roll of 7 or below. At the same time, alligators are very hard to surprise, the average person is incapable of such a feet! We know this because the gator’s –4 also works in its favor, and is used to determine if the adventurer surprises it, thus even if we roll a 1 on our surprise roll (1d10) the gator still isn’t going to be surprised.

There are, of course, modifiers such as being invisible, or what the weather is doing, which you can find in the DMG. Being suspicious helps a bit, but you have to be suspicious of a specific spot in order to benefit from the bonus.

A major factor in gaining surprise is DEX. Those with high Dexterity are much harder to surprise, and it may be impossible for them to be (DEX of 18 are only surprised on a 1), while those with low DEX scores are very very easy (DEX of 3 are always surprised on a 1-6).


Surprised characters get no attacks for one round. They are totally off guard and vulnerable. They get no AC bonus for high DEX, and their attacker also gains a +1 to hit them!

The attacker can’t cast spells, but some monsters can use spell-like abilities, and the surprised persons all suffer a penalty to their saving throws, thus a monster like a Medusa could really do some damage to a party, all of the opponents didn’t expect her to be there, and their odds of stupidly looking at her dead on is very high!

We, as Dungeon Masters, must also consider what we can let the players and the monster get away with. This is a judgment call! And it probably will depend on the situation, but I know that I personally allow the use of magical treasure. Say, a wizard has a wand; I go ahead and let him use it, but this also means that I let monsters have full attacks, and what one can do, so can the other; so enemy wizards with wands of their own get to use them as well, of course assuming that the casting time is instantaneous.


Gaining a surprise is a definite element to properly ambushing other parties, but the difference is that ambushes aren’t determined randomly, these are always set up before hand, and it is totally up to you, as a DM, to decide if they are successful or not!

Of course this should work fairly consistently, PC characters can set up an ambush just as easily as enemy NPCs, so it will always be a judgment call as to if they are successful or not.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: 2nd Edition actually has two different rules for ambushes. The original 2e method (the PHB with the warrior on the horse) says that ambushes are exactly the same as surprises, and are handled in that method, including the surprise roll at the beginning of the encounter. But, when it came time to reprint the books (the Black PHB with the warrior busting the door down), they changed this to a different method which I think works much better.

Ambushes give the attacker a bonus round of attacks, then surprise is checked, then the combat is ran normally.

Let’s make an example: The PCs are following a well used road, but are about to be ambushed by bandits.
There are 8 archers hiding in the woods, and 4 fighters pretending to be tired woodsmen walking towards the players. The players can see the woodsmen but not the archers, but the plan is that once the PCs are in range, the archers are going to fire at them, the woodsman are going to yell “Bandits!” and run towards the party and appear to be joining them for everybody’s mutual protection, however once they get within melee range, they will be attacking as well.

This is a multi-layered ambush, and it will work because we said so. (We are Dungeon Masters, hear us roar!) Thus, the archers get a free attack, all of them can shoot two arrows at the PC’s before the second wave hits them, after firing their weapons, they’ll drop them and grab their swords.

About this time, the PC’s learn that the woodsmen are enemies, and they, the woodsmen, get a free attack! Now we check for surprise. There are over 10 members in the enemy party, so that is a +1 to the favor of the PC’s (surprised on a 1 or a 2). But, the enemy was camouflaged, pretending to be something that they weren’t, -1 to -3 depending on how the PC’s reacted to it, lets say, to avoid arguments, that we totally snowed the players, and the attackers get a +3 (Surprised on 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5), however, the party is now aware of their folly, and are either panicking or ready for an attack, again judging their reactions as players. If they are panicking they are in trouble! (Surprise on a roll of 7 or less) but if they are ready, they get a –2 (Surprise on 3 or below).

Characters with High Dex can deduct their bonus from the Surprise Roll, thus a roll of 3 will still surprise their peers, but not them, they get to roll initiative and attack that round, but for everybody who is surprised, the ambushers get another free round to attack! The woodsmen attack first, and then the archers armed with swords join the melee and also get a free attack before any initiative is ever rolled.


An effective ambush also changes a few other rules. An ambushing wizard can cast spells. They are ready, and as long as they know that an enemy is approaching, and when they will be within range, they can go ahead and attempt to cast. They may have to pass a WIS check to do it! But they can still attempt to try, and the opponents saving-throw will be modified in the spell casters favor, receiving no bonuses for DEX and imposing the appropriate amount for surprise.

The first attack of an ambush will be done with an automatic +1 bonus to hit, ignoring AC bonuses for high DEX, and continues if the party is still surprised on the following round. Now keep in mind that depending on the time of day, and what the adventurers were doing all day, they might not be wearing their armors at all either! Won't that be fun?


Naturally, forethought is needed to make an ambush work, and it might not! It is completely up to the DM. Characters may get mad and claim bizarre things to try and weasel their way out of the effects, but we have to plan for this too. Thus, in order to make a successful ambush, it is probably best if we don’t give them any reason to suspect anything, or add some form of misdirection so that the players themselves fall for it. If the party has been fighting goblins all day, then the chances of them falling for an ambush could be so slim that they won’t fall for it. But we can trick them into it, say by having 3 goblins act as bait: The players see them, and if they give chase, they round the corner and are surprised by 10 goblin archers who pepper them with arrows. But what we have to ask ourselves, as DM, is: Is this truly an ambush, or is it just catching the party by surprise? Depending on the situation, we may get different answers for this. If this was planned by the goblins, then it is an ambush, but if these 3 goblins just happened to turn the corner and warn the others that they are being followed, then it could just be a surprise. The goblins don’t really have any plan set up, now if they had set up a trap and given this encounter some forethought, THEN we have the elements of an ambush.

Thankfully there aren’t too many rules which dictates what is what, thus the over-all decision is ours to make. Granted, we don’t want to use ambushes every game, else they will lose their impact when we do plan them! But we also want to make them beneficial to whoever is pulling it off. Players can also utilize ambushes, but we need to judge when it will work, when it won’t, and if it really is an ambush or simply catching an opponent off guard.

ART By: Jeff Easley

A Player Gone,

In the past I have been asked why I do all of this for free, and that I could charge folks for it, but that really betrays what I think that this is about. However, I do have a huge favor to ask of you now. It isn’t for me, but for a friend of mine.

His name was Steve Coffman, and he was a huge nerd who really loved this game and much of the other things that we geeks find pleasure in. Steve had always wanted a family, and after many years of trying he was finally blessed with a little one who is but a year old.

Well, last week he died of an infection which filled his lungs up. He was only 30 years old and believed that he had his life ahead of him. Times were tough so he had cancelled his life-insurance policy, now his wife doesn’t know what she is going to do. Everybody wants money up front to bury him, and there just isn’t anything left, even her paycheck is gone. We, her friends and family are doing all we can to help and make sure that she and the baby don’t starve, and trying to make her as comfortable as can be possible, but I’m sure that you can sympathize with how hard this is on her right now.

I don’t normally beg for money, but Steve was a really good guy who has always been there for me and everybody else who needed a hand. I am very angry about his death, and I want to do all that I possibly can to help his wife through this. I know that money is tight for everybody, but if you could donate just a little I assure you that it will go to a good cause and into the hands of somebody who wouldn’t ask for it themselves.

This link has nothing to do with myself, or Advanced Gaming and Theory, nor will I even see the money or retrieve any amounts given, I am simply bringing this to your attention because Steve was a friend, and he was also a fellow gamer who loved role-playing with a passion equal to our own. I am deeply hurt by his passing and I would really appreciate any help that you can offer.

Thank you for reading this, and if you do find it in your heart to help a stranger, then God bless you.

Please Visit Steve Coffman's Memorial page.

Managing Treasure Successfully

HERE IS THE DEAL! An adventurer who can’t pack is a worthless fellow. This stuff is learned over time, little tricks like protecting breakables with packing them in blankets or extra pieces of cloth, picking up protective cases and chests before you need them, and, this is a big one, never tie ANYTHING to your back. Backpacks are all good and well, but if . . . nay, WHEN you get attacked, then you’re gonna be a sitting duck, trying to lug that thing around with you. Not to mention fires, fires can happen at anytime, but they have a good knack of happening when you don’t want them to. If an item can’t be dropped instantly, then it has a high probability of getting you killed!

Note: It is assumed that adventurers know how to pack their bags, but in times of stress, such as melee combat, getting these items out can prove to be too much of a challenge. The placement and location of all of the items that you own should be written on your sheet. If the bag has too much stuff in it, the DM can require you to make a WISDOM check to retrieve an item. Digging in you bag is an action, its exact cost to initiative depends on how full the bag is, and if you are being attacked. Of course you can speed this process up by totally dropping your guard, giving up all AC bonuses due to high DEX, and shield, instead relying on a peer to cover you, and then this is much faster. A failed WIS means that you failed to find the item this round, but will find it on the next round. Success means that you have found it, and can use the item at the end of the round after everybody is finished with their own actions.

Now, we are all hunting the same thing. Magic items! But I must say, how you manage the treasure is just as important as where you pack it. An inexperienced Adventurer who lacks the common sense to manage treasure distribution wisely is just asking for trouble. But, I’ll tell you what. If you go and buy old Grizzler another mug of ale, then I’ll let you in on some trade secrets. Now that’s a fine boy!


Now, this is a common mistake. It sounds like a good idea! All treasure found is first the property of the team’s quartermaster and he hangs onto it all until everyone is out of danger and all of the loot can be distributed evenly and fairly. Great idea, right? the quartermaster or the biggest and meanest member of the party carries it around! Well, take it from old Grizzler, you’re wrong! I don’t care how mighty your quartermaster is, back home there is an old saying which warns, “Don’t put all of the eggs in the same basket.” If you give all of that loot to one guy, and something happens to him, then not only is he lost, but so is all of your treasure! Everybody should carry the treasure, back when I was a young bruiser, much like yourself, we learned this one the hard way. We usually keep the coins we found and just filled our pockets on the way there, but with items, you really have to spread these things out among the crew.


Most items can be used for specific reasons; however one has to use their brains to pick out who should get what. I mean, take a cleric for an example. What would he need a Potion of Healing for? He won’t! Not as much as a fighter on the front line would, anyway. Same thing with arrows, why give enchanted arrows to the fighters in the front when you can give them to the thief who stays in the back! He can gain more from it then the warrior can.

If a magic item can perform the same skill as a specific crew member, then don’t give it to them! They don’t need the help, and see if there isn’t anybody else that can benefit from holding onto it. Spellcasters don’t need as much from potions as the guys getting bloody do, guys in the front should get the tools that are good in direct combat while ranged weapons can be better served in the back. Say, could you be a pal and get me one more ale for the road? That’s a good boy.


Now some things is easy to identify as magic, but others can be a bit tricky. We was lucky enough to have Mestephonus the Mage as a companion, and that bloke was good at this even way back then! Wizards, clerics, and bards are all good at identifying the hard to identify, but everybody can figure out what some stuff is.

Potions is fairly easy most of the time. They are usually kept in glass or metal tubes, just find some good light and first look at the stuff, some folks think that it’s funny to put oil in drinking flasks, and it is! Unless of course it is you that’s doing the drinking. If it is oil, then it is probably the kind that you put on items, but if it is a potion, then just stick your pinky in there and give it a little taste. Usually you can feel a little of the power buzzing through you, and if you get good at it, then you can identify it somewhat.

DM NOTE: This method requires a secret INT check done by the DM, if it is passed, then you can give them some idea of the type of power that the potion utilizes. If the check is failed then that person can’t identify the potion, unless it was a natural 20, then the player will identify the potion incorrectly.

Of course for some potions, simply opening or taking even just a little is enough to activate it, always make sure that you check with the items description before the character gets his hands on it.

Rings are gonna have to be worn for a while, but beware, cause some are just evil! We had old Mestephonus identify them first, but to be honest, we’ve also just put them on and hoped for the best. It takes awhile before the power, if it’s got any, is figured out. See this scar above my eye? I got that from putting on the wrong ring, but everything in adventuring comes with risk, now don’t it. Heh!

Well, the moon’ll be up soon, and I’d best start wandering home. Thanks for the company young man! And if you’re ever in this part of town again, then just look me up again. Old folks like me gotta live through you young ones these days. Now don’t forget what I told you! Be a shame if ya didn’t heed my advice and got yourself killed.


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