All or Nothing (or Head-to-Head) Combat Rolls

On my walk today, I started thinking about variations on Blood & Treasure (and all the games it is based on, of course) combat. The traditional form is for one entity to make an attack roll against a static defense score, followed by its opponent (or opponents) doing the same, each success causing damage until somebody is out of hit points.

It occurred to me that a different effect could be achieved by each entity in a combat rolling a d20 at the same time in an attempt to out-roll their opponent. Whoever rolls the highest in this little duel wins the round and deals damage. Again, repeat until somebody is out of hit points.

The first step to running this combat is to calculate the entity’s total combat bonus (TCB, if you’re an Elvis fan).

Character TCB = Attack bonus + Strength modifier + Dexterity modifier + Armor bonus + miscellaneous modifiers

Monster TCB = Hit Dice bonus + Size bonus (Large +2; Huge +4) + Speed bonus (Fast +2; Very Fast +4) + Armor bonus + miscellaneous modifiers

The miscellaneous modifiers would be from magic weapons, special abilities, fighting with two weapons, or in B&T any tactical advantages a character manages to have.

When it comes time to fight, each combatant rolls 1d20 and adds their TCB. Whoever rolls the highest wins the round and the loser suffers normal damage (or other effects) from the attack form being employed by the attacker.

When multiple entities are attacking a single entity, they can either pool their TCB’s for a single roll, or each can take a tactical advantage and roll separately. If rolling separately, the defender must then roll against each of them, splitting his TCB as he sees fit.

Monsters with multiple attacks (including fighters or two-weapon wielding characters) can either direct each attack (with full TCB added to each) against multiple opponents, or concentrate attacks (combining damage) against single opponents.

This could be an interesting way to alter the generally accepted tactics of B&T-style combat. Things in this system could go badly very quickly, which might make things more “grim and gritty”. Then again, since its totally untested, this system might just completely screw up your game!

If you try this out, let me know how it worked in the comments or via email.

Dragon by Dragon – April 1979 (24)

April of 1979 – those heady days of stuff that was happening and things and stuff. Okay, I’m too lazy at the moment to look up what was happening back then, but hey – who cares, right? We know the Dragon was happening, so let’s focus on that.

What did the Dragon have to offer in 1979? More importantly, can we use any of this stuff now?

Lost Civilizations (A Fantasy Supplement for Source of the Nile) by J. Eric Holmes

When you see Dr. Holmes as the author, you know you’ve got some quality material in your hands. Hell, I’ve never even played Source of the Nile and I know this article has to have something useful in it. The article is all about adding some fantasy to the more realistic game of African exploration, specifically of the sort you might get in an H. Rider Haggard or E. R. Burroughs novel.

First up, I love the list of explorer types used in Source of the Nile: Missionaries, Doctors, Zoologists, Geologists and Adventurers. If you were doing an RPG of Victorian exploration, you have your class list right there.

His idea is that when you enter a completely uninhabited hex, there is a chance of it containing a lost city (a roll of 2-3 on 2d6). If in a desert, the city is uninhabited. Otherwise, it is inhabited by survivors of lost Atlantis. The people use bronze weapons and wear ornaments of gold and gemstones, and then you roll dice to determine the city’s organization. Roll 1d6; on a 1-3 the city is ruled by a warrior-king with 1d6 x 1d6 x 1d6 + 10 warriors; if the roll is 4-6 it is ruled by an evil high priest and a white goddess who command 1d6 x 1d6 x 1d6 + 5 warriors. I include this bit because it could be adapted to almost any hex exploration style fantasy game.

When exploring an uninhabited desert city for treasure, you roll 1d6: 1-2 he discovers that the ancient gods still live, his expedition is destroyed and he escapes completely mad; 3-4 traps kill half his askaris and bearers, but he escapes with a bag of diamonds and rubies worth $500 and the secret passages are closed off forever; 5-6 he loots the city for $1000 worth of gems and $200 worth of gold.

This brings to mind something I once did for a game. I was starting with characters above 1st level, and they were from various places in my campaign world (Nod – you might have heard of it). For each character, I came up with one past adventure for each level, each adventure leading them from where they were born to where the adventure was to start. In this way, I gave each player a bit of knowledge about the campaign world and some cool tidbits about their characters. Something to consider.

Keeping the Magic-User In His Place by Ronald Pehr

A classic of old Dragon (hell, a classic of modern articles as well, in as much as it addresses the idea of “balance” between characters). Ronald includes a few ideas of controlling these damn wizards so they don’t mess up the game. Interesting, because it introduces the idea of forced fairness to the game – i.e. I want the game to go one way, but the rules aren’t allowing that to happen. Think of the article previous – the explorer explores a lost city and you roll a dice and that determines what happens – amazing wealth or complete insanity. That’s it. Why? It’s a game, and those are the rules, and playing the game is more important than winning. Or, to state it another way, winning or losing should be a product of the game experience, not a preconceived idea that the game play must support. Why not have wizards who “ruin” the game with fireballs and charm spells? Let everybody have their time to shine, and play it smart. A fireball is a tricky thing, and over reliance on them might be a wizard’s undoing.

Chinese Dragons by David Sweet

One day, these fine monsters will appear in the Fiend Folio, and they were always pretty cool. In fact, it might be fun to do something similar with occidental dragons, replacing the red-blue-green-etc. dragons with ones based on the famous dragons of European myth.

Another Look at LYCANTHROPY by Jon Mattson

This article throws in the idea of different types of lycanthropes that a bitten character might turn into. They are as follows (in summary):

A. Turns completely into the lycanthrope that bit him; i.e. new alignment, etc.
B. Remains in human form, but takes on the mentality of the lycanthrope.
C. Character takes lycanthrope form, but retains his own mentality.
D. As A, but only changes under a full moon or great stress.
E. As B, but only changes under a full moon or great stress.
F. As C, but only … well, you know.
G. Under full moon or great stress, changes into a hybrid of beast and man.

Under option G, he actually writes, “This may sound something like the “Incredible Hulk,” but that is the general idea.” Love it.

There is also a percentage chance for figuring out the character’s new alignment. The new lycanthrope has half the character’s spells and abilities while in lycanthrope form and some modifiers to his ability scores.

Another great quote:

Note: To many people it may seem strange that a wolfs constitution would be better than that of say a bear, but remember that wolves often survive through incredible hardships such as hunger and cold, and I’ve yet to see a bear do as well.

What the?

Ultimately, this is a pretty cool article as it allows the chance that a PC can remain a PC and an interesting party member even after succumbing to lycanthropy.

Roman Military Organization, A Classic Warfare Update by Gary Gygax

An interesting article on the organization of the Roman army.

A Viking Campaign in the Caspian Sea by James E. Brunner

This is a nice history of an actual (well, I assume actual) Viking foray into the Caspian Sea for plunder. A sample:

“In the tenth century the Caspian Sea lay like a great pearl in an ocean of endless steppes and towering mountains. The prows that cut its placid waters belonged to poor fishermen and merchants from every land. Unlike the Black Sea that lay to the west, no northern pirate fleets had ravaged its shores and carried off its great wealth. To the north and the east lay the powerful Khazar Khanate whose capital, Itil, on the Volga Delta, controlled the major trade route to the north. Any merchant or pirate that sought wealth in the Muslim lands to the south had first to deal with the Khazar Khan, whose greed was legendary.”

Primarily interesting to me as it reminds me of Howard’s Vilayet Sea and the adventures had in and around it. When you find fantasy that interests you, take the time to find the reality that underlies it. You might find it even more inspirational.

The article also includes rules for fighting the Battle of Barda’a using Classic Warfare.

The Melee in D&D by Gary Gygax

Here, Mr. Gygax offers up some thoughts on how melee combat is supposed to work in D&D, specifically it seems to answer the complaints of folks who would like more realism in the system. A few important points:

– The game is mostly about creating fantasy personas and their adventures, and that means more than just fighting

– Hack and slash shouldn’t be the first resort of characters

– The system isn’t too unrealistic – it’s built to ensure relative speed of resolution without bogging the ref down in paperwork or creating a high probability of character death

Here’s a bit I found interesting:

“Don Turnbull stated that he envisioned that three sorts of attacks were continually taking place during melee:

1) attacks which had no chance of hitting, including feints, parries, and the like;

2) attacks which had a chance of doing damage but which missed as indicated by the die roll; and

3) attacks which were telling as indicated by the dice roll and subsequent damage determination.

This is a correct summation of what the D&D melee procedure subsumes. Note that the skill factor of higher level of higher level fighters — as well as natural abilities and/or speed of some monsters — allows more than one opportunity per melee round of scoring a telling attack as they are more able to take advantage of openings left by adversaries during the course of sparring. Similarly, zero level men, and monsters under one full hit die, are considered as being less able to defend; thus, opponents of two of more levels of hit dice are able to get in one telling blow for each such level or hit die.”

An article well worth the read.

DUNGEON – More Variations on the Theme by George Laking

This is a collection of extra rules for the DUNGEON game. Since it’s being published again, this might be a good article for folks who love it.

Armies of the Renaissance by Nick Nascati

This is the second part of an article from last issue (I think – too lazy to look at the moment). It covers The Swiss. I’ve long thought the Swiss would be an excellent folk on which to model dwarf armies.

Narcisstics by Darrel Plant and Jon Pitchford

Some monster humor of the disgruntled geek variety, statting up jocks and their female groupies as monsters. I’d convert them to B&T format, but the format in the article is hard to make out, and frankly they’re not just worth it.

Psionics Revisited by Ronald Pehr

This variant takes some of the random chance out of the powers psychic characters receive, tying them more closely to their professions (or so the article says). It appears to divide the powers into two categories: Cognitive Powers and Kinetic Powers, adding a few new powers to the game.

Disease by Lenny Buettuer

This is a set of tables for determining how long it takes a disease to kill a person, and what symptoms are suffered in the meantime. The fatality interval goes from immediate to 10 months, based on a percentile dice roll. Another table determines how many symptoms are suffered and a third what those symptoms are. Honestly – a great idea and one I wish I’d thought of. After all, why do I care what the disease is called? All I want to know is how long the adventurer has to live (more on this below) and what happens to him until he can receive healing.

The other thing I got from this article is the point of diseases in the game. There are many ways to die in D&D, and each should offer up different challenges to the players. Disease in this case becomes a race to be cured.

Bergenhome ’77: the CAT’s Test of American Armor by Stanley Schriefer

If nothing else, this article presents an interesting moment in the history of the magazine. The article is about how well American armor (as in tanks) did in a NATO competition. No stats here. None. Not tied to any game. Just military news that might be interesting to wargamers.

The Return of Conan Maol by Paul Karlsson Johnstone

Weird little article about bagpipers and such.

Choir Practice at the First Church of Lawful Evil (Orthodox): The Ramifications of Alignment by Lawrence Schick

Another interesting article about the three-tier alignment system and their relationship to gods and the powers of those gods. It also divides the three alignments into several “sects” or versions of each alignment. Lawful, for example, is divided into the following:

(A) Absolute Order (High Law)
(B) Harmony/Goodness
(C) Justice/Vengeance
(D) Knowledge
(E) Evolution (Social Darwinism )
(F) War

It then gives information on each of these versions of alignment – its tenets, its practitioners, it’s prime deity. Here’s one example:

Law: JUSTICE/VENGEANCE (Monks, Paladins, Assassins)

Tenets: Good (Law) must be rewarded and Evil (Chaos) must be punished. All creatures are judged impartially by weighing their “good’ and “evil” deeds. Transgressors will be punished according to the depth of their depravity. Criminals must be diligently pursued until brought to justice. (Examples of this alignment’s enforcers might include Solomon Kane, The Shadow, Mr. A., and Javert.)

Prime Deity: MARLY
AC: -4 HP: 300 MOVE:24”
MAGIC: Standard plus See Past plus Detect Truth/Lie.

Honestly – one of the most usable alignment articles I’ve yet read. A great take on the subject, and quite usable. Bonus: Nice piece of art!

Naming People, Places and Things in Petal Throne by G. Arthur Rahman

This article provides a random table for generating the rather non-European names common to MAR Barker’s campaign world.

Monty Haul and the Best of Freddie by James M. Ward

Another adventure in the annals of Monty Haul. A sample:

“The Bronze Dragon was of tremendous size for its breed, measuring over 80 hands long and able to rear to a height of more than half that. The creature had gleaming claws as sharp and damaging as scimitars; buffed with gold dust. Its fanged jaws were kept sharp by biting heavy platemail vests that were a part of its horde. Its massive scaled body rested regally on an altar made of its own gold and silver. Chalices of platinum and coffers of gems and jewels were all about, arranged to please the delicate sensibilities of the dragon. Its giant eyes, that had been but a moment before closed in dragonslumber, opened, aware of the tread of footsteps down the echoing marble corridor, designed for just that echoing effect.”

In Defense of Extraordinary Characters by Rodford E. Smith

A very quick bit about why high level characters make sense, giving as examples from literature Odysseus, Daedalus, Hercules, John Carter, Conan and “everyone’s favorite Kryptonian.” So there you go.

The Society for Creative Anachronism by Allen Hammack

An overview of the society and their doings. These days, this would be what we term a “web page”.

And there you have the April 1979 issue of The Dragon. Not a bad issue all told, with at least two or three articles that I think most folks would find useful.

A Weapon Damage System … Cause Everything Needs a System!

A system? For something as simple as weapon damage? Why?

Blog posts, baby. I need constant validation from you, the reader, and to get it, I have to make stuff up almost every day.

Seriously, though, when I’m writing bits and pieces for games or adventures and come across a weapon that doesn’t show up in Blood & Treasure or Swords & Wizardry, I have to eyeball it. What’s the weapon like – is it deadlier? Less deadly? Etc. This system works well enough – I’m never one to get hung up on the details when it comes to slaying dragons, but I have thought about doing something a bit more rational.

Weapon Damage

To start with, we need the most basic weapon known to man … the fist. Depending on your system, a human fist usually does 1d2 or 1d3 points of damage. For our purposes, we’re going to go with 1d2.

We’re then going to rate each weapon on its physical characteristics, giving a weapon points based on these characteristics. Each point increases the damage of the weapon by one step. The damage steps are as follows:

Points / Damage
0 / 1d2
1 / 1d3
2 / 1d4
3 / 1d4+1
4 / 1d6
5 / 1d8 / 2d4
7 / 1d10
8 / 1d12 / 2d6

That’s probably enough steps for our purposes.

Let’s now take on the physical characteristics of our weapons. The characteristics we’re interested in are those that make the weapon deadlier, since weapon damage really represents the chances that any given blow will result in a foe’s death.

We’ll start with what the material of which the weapon is made. For a weapon with a metal head and a wooden haft, we’ll count the weapon as being made of metal.

Flesh and bone or leather = 0 points
Wood / stone = 1 point
Metal = 2 points

Second, we’ll think about the weapon’s length. The longer the weapon, the more likely it is to land the killing blow.

0 to 1 foot = 0 points
1 to 2 feet = 1 point
2 to 3 feet = 2 points
3 to 5 feet = 3 points
5+ feet = 4 points

Finally, we’ll take into consideration a few miscellaneous characteristics:

Weapon is edged from tip to pommel (i.e. a blade) = 1 point
Weapon has more than one attack vector* = 1 point
Weapon launched by a short bow = 1 point
Weapon launched by a longbow or crossbow = 2 points
Weapon is especially thin or light = -1 point

* By attack vector, I mean a weapon that can be used as a piercing and slashing/chopping weapon, or maybe bludgeoning and piercing. Now, one can argue that a spear, for example, could be a bludgeoning weapon because one could strike with the haft or butt, but all we’re really interested in is the ways the weapon is intended to be used.

Now, some weapons are capable of special forms of attack. For each special form of attack, you can either deduct points from the damage, or ignore this step and reward the weapon for being well designed.

Can be set against a charge = -1 pointCan be used as a shield = -1 point
Can be used as a shield and weapon simultaneously = -2 points
Can be used to disarm, entangle or trip (i.e. hooked, or chains and whips) = -1 point

One reason to do the deduction is that it might stop players from arguing that the weapon their character wields has every special ability they can think of. If they want a spear that can be set against a charge, be used as a shield and weapon simultaneously and be used to trip people, agree and reduce the its damage by 4 levels.


So, let’s see how some basic weapons come out with this system. Note – I wasn’t trying to create a system to duplicate a particular game system, so don’t be surprised when they don’t.

Clubs are wooden weapons (1 point) that are about 2 feet long (1 point). That’s 2 points, which comes out to 1d4 points of damage.

Daggers are metal weapons (2 points) that are about 1 foot long (0 points) and are edged from tip to pommel (1 point). One could argue that they can be used as slashing and piercing weapons (1 point), which would give them 1d6 points of damage. If the dagger is only good for piercing, it would do 1d4+1 points of damage.

From the dagger, we can extrapolate with the other basic swords. If a dagger does 1d6 points of damage, short swords do 1d8, long swords 1d10 and greatswords 1d12.

Spears are metal weapons, at least the head is (2 points) and are about 5 to 6 feet long (4 points). Since they can be set against a charge, they lose a point, giving them 4 points and 1d8 points of damage.

A halberd is similar to a spear, but has two attack vectors (piercing and chopping), and so does 1d10 points of damage.

A rapier is a light longsword, and so would do 1d8 points of damage. If a player decides it can be used as a shield and weapon at the same time, it does 1d6 points of damage.

A flail is tougher. If it has metal heads (2 points) and is about 3 feet long from the tip of the haft, through the chain to the tip of the head (s) (2 points), then it does 1d6. If you decide it can be used to entangle, drop the damage to 1d4+1. If it is longer, increase the damage a step. If the flail has multiple heads, you might want to bump the damage one level higher.

A metal gauntlet gets 2 points, and thus does 1d4 points of damage.

A whip is made of leather (0 points). A short whip (like a riding crop) would maybe add a point and thus do 1d3 points of damage. A bullwhip might be very long (4 points) and thus do 1d6 points of damage. Since it can entangle and trip, you can knock the damage back to 1d4+1.

An arrow has a metal head (2 points) and is about 3 feet long (2 points) and is fired from a short bow (1 point), and so does 1d8 points of damage. If fired from a longbow or crossbow, it does 1d10 points of damage. If it had a stone point, reduce the damage by one level.

Dragon by Dragon – March 1979 (23)

I haven’t delved into an old Dragon for a while, so I thought tonight was as good a night as any to do a new “Dragon by Dragon”. What does March 1979 have in store for us?

I often like to start with an ad, and this one has a dandy for Fourth Dimension, the game of Time and Space. You get to play a Time Lord in this one, with an army of Guardians, Rangers and Warriors. No dice in this game – all about the strategy.

In terms of articles, the first one up is about playing EN GARDE! (love the days of capitalized game names) as a solitaire game. Folks might find a use in the Critical Hits table.

Die Roll. Result (Damage Points)
1-10. Light Leg Wound (Base 20 + 16-sided die roll)
11-20. Light Left Arm Wound (Base 20 + 16-sided die roll)
21-30. Light Right Arm Wound (Base 20 + 16-sided die roll)
31-40. Light Head Wound (Base 20 + 16-sided die roll)
41-50. Light Body Wound (Base 25 + 16-sided die roll)
51-60. Serious Leg Wound (Base 50 + 120-sided die roll)
61-70. Serious Left Arm Wound (Base 50 + 120-sided die roll)
71-80. Serious Right Arm Wound (Base 50 + 120-sided die roll)
81-90. Serious Head Wound (Base 50 + 120-sided die roll)
91-99. Serious Body Wound (Base 100 + 120-sided die roll)
00. DEAD

Love the 16-sided dice and 120-sided dice – not sure how that was accomplished, though I’m sure a dice whiz can inform us in the comments. If modifying for use in “traditional fantasy games”, you could maybe replace “Base 20 + 16-sided die roll” with 6 + 1d6 or something like that.

Next is some fantasy fiction by Gardner F. Fox – “The Thing from the Tomb”. The first paragraph goes thus …

“Niall of the Far Travels reined in his big grey stallion, lifting his right hand to halt the long column of riders who followed him across this corner of the Baklakanian Desert. In front of him, and far away, he could make out a dark blotch on the golden sands toward which he was

Jeff P. Swycaffer presents “Mind Wrestling”, a variation on psionic combat. To be honest, I still regret not throwing in a psionics appendix into Blood & Treasure. The idea here is that two people are attempting to push a cloud of power suspended between them into their opponent’s mind. The system uses a double track to represent the “field” of combat. Attackers secretly declare an outside or center attack, defenders secretly divide their Psionic Strength between outside and center defense, and then the attacker’s Psionic Strength (+40 or doubled, whichever is less) is compared to the defender’s strength. If a ratio of 2:1 is achieved, the marker is moved one space. If a ratio of 3:1 is achieved, it is moved two spaces. The attacker then has his psionic strength returned to normal and loses 3 points, and the defender loses twice as many points as his marker was pushed back. Simple system, and would probably be a fun game-within-a-game, especially for psionics-heavy campaigns.

Carl Hursh has rules and guidelines for water adventures on the Starship Warden. Lots of monster stats, including craboids and gupoids.

Michael Mornard presents notes on armor for fantasy games, maybe the first article to talk about how D&D armor and weapons is heavier than real armor and weapons.

Gygax’s Sorcerer’s Scroll presents the random generation of creatures from the lower planes – always a fun one, and I highly suggest people use it when sicing demons of various types on their players. You can either use it to generate additional “types” of demons, or use it to alter the appearance of existing types.

James M. Ward presents an article I’m excited about – Damage Permanency (or How Hrothgar One-Ear Got His Name). This system is used when a person is reduced to 1 or 2 hit points. When this happens, there is a 50% chance of no permanent damage, a 20% chance of needing magical healing to heal properly, and a 10% chance of being maimed unless wish or a 5th level or better clerical healing spell or device is used.

What follows are a number of tables – one to determine the area of the body damaged, and tables for each body location to determine what happens. Head damage, for example, is as follows:

1-12 Hearing Loss
13-24 Sight Loss
25-36 Speech Impaired
37-48 Charisma Impaired
49-60 Intelligence Impaired
61-72 Wisdom Impaired
73-88 Fighting Ability Impaired
89-100 Spell Ability Impaired

Of course, more detail follows. “Spell Ability Impaired” mean that the person loses one level of spell ability – i.e. a 3rd level magic-user would have the spells of a 2nd level magic-user.

The Design Forum features “Dungeons and Prisons” by Mark S. Day. Essentially, it covers the idea that dungeons should have some prison cells, and gives a few notions about how one might use them.

And that does it for Dragon in March 1979 – a useful little issue. One parting shot …

Ah – the good old days were just getting started in 1979!

Soon, I’ll review the latest adventure offering from Tim Shorts – Knowledge Illuminates!

Dragon by Dragon – December 1977 (11)

Merry Christmas 1977! I would have been five, having my first Christmas in Las Vegas and opening, well, I have no memory of what I received for Christmas when I was five. I’m sure I was stoked. What were Dragon magazine subscriber’s opening?

First and foremost … best cover yet. A wagon of startled doxies pulled by God-knows-what is accosted by a red-robed dude and his captive troll while the triple-flail-armed driver looks on. Nice! Painted by Elrohir.

Second … an ad for newly released miniatures of the various demons plus Orcus and Demogorgon. The Type VI looks more like “naked guy with wings” than they are typically portrayed, which I think makes him creepier than the “OMG DEMON!” look.

Big announcement from Tim Kask … Dragon is going monthly! Oh, and they’re finally sending checks out to authors and artists! He also announces coming fiction in The Dragon from L. Sprague DeCamp and Andre Norton, as well as fiction from Fritz Leiber in this issue.

Gygax now chimes in with a defense of TSR defending its intellectual property from cheap and crappy imitations and outright theft in the form of reprints of D&D material. He has some nice words for GDW, but seems to be telling everyone else to piss off. He also mentions the coming release of the AD&D Monster Manual and future release of other AD&D material.

Enough announcements and editorials … let’s get to the gaming.

Rob Kuntz presents a system for Brawling (The Easy Way “Out” in D&D) which, at first glance, is way more system than I need. Brawling and grappling are always a problem, it seems, because they offer the chance of knocking someone out or disabling enough to make them an easy kill, thus tons of extra rules. This one compares ability scores of the fighters to get a modifier, and then a dice roll to score “damage” to one of the ability scores. Grappling, for example, involves averaging the dexterity and strength of both combatants and comparing them on a grapple table, then rolling 2d6 to discover how it works. Punching is similar, but determines the amount of damage.

Tony Watson then explains how to stop good old O.G.R.E. (not the monster, the mega-death machine) – basically tips and tricks for the game. I played it once, O.G.R.E. won, and my yen to play O.G.R.E. was satisfied.

In the Design Forum, Thomas Filmore, who opines on the value of role playing in D&D, as opposed to just wargaming. Pretty common blogpost material here, but perhaps a rather new concept back in the day, when many characters did seem to be more about puns and action than deeply invested backgrounds (i.e. the good old days).

Archive Miniatures has an ad for Star Rovers – 25mm miniatures. I dig the names of the figures, all of whom would be at home in a game of Space Princess: Planetary Scout, Funky Robot, Andromeda Annie, Bianca Snow, Doc Crock, Galactic Centaur, Alien Lizards, Walktapus (pre-Runequest?) and Sassanid War Elephant. Wait, Sassanid War Elephant? Why not.

MAR Barker continues answering reader questions in his Seal of the Imperium article.

Next up are some expansions to the Snits game that was featured last issue. Apparently the snits took the world by storm.

The Sorcerer’s Scroll is a new feature, and this first one is written by Rob Kuntz. Here, he mostly goes into the new Monster Manual (with “stupendous art by David Sutherland, David Trampier and Tom Wham”) and the eventual release of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS (I forgot that it was always written in all caps (“Fighters will now take 10-sided dice to determine their hit points and clerics 8-sided, etc.”). He also mentions Judge’s Guild, who continues to “saturate the D&D market with new variants” (and that TSR has undertaken to “make their new rule variant/additions … much more refined and interesting to the hard core D&D player” – I don’t like the sound of that). He has some kind words for Chivalry & Sorcery, but explains that it falls short due to its “smallish” print.

Fritz Leiber is next with Sea Magic. An excerpt:

“On the world of Nehwon and in the land of Simorgya, six days fast sailing south from Rime Isle, two handsome silvery personages conversed intimately yet tensely in a dimly and irregularly lit hall of pillars open overhead to the darkness. Very strange was that illumination — greenish and yellowish by turns, it seemed to come chiefly from grotesquely shaped rugs patching the Stygian floor and lapping the pillars’ bases and also from slowly moving globes and sinuosities that floated about at head height and wove amongst the pillars, softly dimming and brightening like lethargic and plague-stricken giant fireflies.”

Ral Partha’s new releases would make a nice random encounter list:

2. Gremlin War Party (3d6 winged goblins with spears)
3. Dwarf Lord (6th level dwarf fighter with chainmail and battle axe)
4. Satyr (Pan) (1% chance the encounter is with Pan, otherwise 1d6 satyrs)
5. Centaur Archer (1d8 centaurs armed with shortbows)
6. Land Dragon with Captain (treat land dragon as wyvern without wings, captain is 5th level fighter with splintmail, shield and lance)
7. Land Dragon with Lancer (lancer is 1st level fighter with breastplate, lance and shield)
8. Witch (female magic-user level 1d4+2; males must pass Will save or be fascinated with her breasts)
9. Monk (1d6 first level monks armed with staves)
10. Sprite War Band (3d6 sprites with swords led by 3rd level sprite fighter on fey mount)
11. Imp War Party (2d6 flying monkeys with sword or axe, shield and breastplate)
12. Were Bear (1d4)
13. Wing Lord (winged 3rd level fighter with spear and scale mail)
14. Paladin (dismounted) (5th level paladin with war harness (+2 AC), shield, pole axe and HUGE wings on his helmet)
15. Armored Knight (dismounted) (4th level fighter with platemail, shield and halberd)
16. Roomen War Party* (2d6 roomen with shield and spear)
17. Earth Demon (combo of stone giant and earth elemental)
18. Undead War Band (3d6 skeletons armed with swords, scythes and spears)
19. Woman Plunderer (1d6 levels of female barbarians with swords and chainmail)
20. Roll two times on table

* They’re freaking mutant kangaroo warriors!

Roomen (N Medium Humanoid): HD 1+1; AC 13; Atk 1 weapon (1d8) or kick (1d4+1); Move 40; Save F 13, R 15, W 15; XP 50; Special: Bound 60 ft. as charge attack.

James M. Ward now presents Quarterstaff Fighting Rules. This is like a mini-game that could be integrated into a normal game of D&D – somewhat like the jousting rules from Chainmail.

In Tramp’s Wormy, Wormy asks a bunch of dwarves “What wears chainmail and looks like black pudding?” – any guesses?

In Fineous Fingers, the adventurers discover that the evil wizard Kask has forced the local hobbits to try to conquer the city by capturing their princess.

The issue ends with a withering critique of NBC’s The Hobbit, by Rankin-Bass. I know, not the best adaptation, but I dig the design on the wood elves.

Overall, an issue that leaves me of two minds. I’m a big fan of Leiber, so the short story was cool. The EPT and O.G.R.E. stuff is not really aimed at me, so no complaints there. The brawling and quarterstaff fighting are nice mini-games/sub-systems, but probably not things I would include in my regular D&D game. Strangely enough, it’s often the ads that I’m enjoying the most – little snippets of creativity with no rules/stats attached. There’s the suggestion that in 1977, the creative energy of D&D is slipping away from TSR – they have some pretty good modules left in them, of course, but things are becoming more controlled and professional, and that carries with it a price to pay.

Dragon by Dragon – October 1976 (3)

Three issues into The Dragon and we have our first sci-fi cover! What lies within? Well – not much sci-fi …

First up we have an editorial by Tim Kask about fantasy. He brings up at least one good point – your ability to imagine something is predicated on your past experience. To my mind, that means get out there and experience as much as possible, even if it is just through art. The more you have seen, the more you will see and can imagine. Tim then goes on to remark that fiction, in future, will be better laid out (people complained), but that The Dragon will still feature fiction.

Next, Gary Gygax asks “Does Anyone Remember War of the Empires?” If he was asking me, the answer would be “I’ve never even heard of War of the Empires, Gary, tell me more.” The game was a very early sci-fi wargame (circa 1966) that seemed geared to postal play, pitting Terran commanders against one another working for either the Greatest Empire or the League of Worlds. He goes on to tell the tale of its demise (twice) and the difficulty in running such a game. These days, it would probably be a snap. Alas.

The next page has a sweet illustration in an advert for Starweb, a PBM sci-fi game.

Dig it!

The next article is one of my favorites, for no other reason than it defies belief these days. Len Lakofka explains how one can play … a female!!!

What can the ladies do in D&D? They can be fighters, magic-users, thieves and clerics. They can do just as well as men in magic and can surpass them as thieves, but they are behind men in all ways in terms of fighting … though they have “attributes their male counterparts do not!” (God, it hurts a little writing this). Elven female clerics can rise to especially high levels. Because, you know … elven females are just really good clerics. I guess.

For attributes, women roll 1d8+1d6 for Strength, 3d6 for Wisdom, Intelligence, Dexterity and Constitution (and any woman with a 13-14 in Strength adds +1 to her Con score) and roll 2d10 to determine Beauty (not Charisma). Beauty is apparently important to thieves, fighters and magic-users if its exceptional (15+), but may not be used by clerics if they are lawful or neutral.

He then goes through all the level titles and XP requirements for women (which are different from men) – and honestly, I do dig the level titles, which feature Battle Maiden, Shield Maiden, Heroine, Valkyrie and War Lady for fighters, Superioress and Matriarch for clerics, Witch (in place of Wizard) for magic-users, and a few cringe-inducing titles for thieves (wench, hag, jade, succubus, adventuress, soothsayer, gypsy and sibyl).

Female adventurers have slightly different stats than their male counterparts – most especially in that high-level thieves and fighters who are particularly beautiful learn to cast some spells – which mostly boil down to charming and seducing men and tarot reading.

Simply put, this is one hell of a sexist article, entertaining only in the context of how far gaming has come since then.

“Garrison Ernst” continues with another part of “The Search for the Gnome Cache”. You know, I did enjoy his Gord the Rogue material – I’ll have to read through these one of these days.

Brad Stock and Brian Lane present some nice birth tables for D&D – 30% chance of commoner, 55% chance of merchant class, 10% gentleman and 10% noble, then you roll for sibling rank and then more rolls to determine you “sub-class” and initial money, monthly allowance from family (a neat idea) for first year of adventuring or until 3rd level, whichever comes first) and starting skills. A very wealthy noble, for example, starts with 400 gp, a monthly allowance of 60 gp and four skills from group 1, three from groups 2 and 3. He might, thus, end up with the following skills: woodsman, miner, jeweler, sailor, mason, normal merchant, scribe, artist, adventurer (3rd level fighter) and Don Juan. Not sure if it really makes sense for nobles to have so many skills.

There are several other tables for nobles and some for rolling one’s race randomly, including “half-goblin/half-orc”, “half-elf” and the infamous and lawsuit-inspiring “hobbit”.

Page 17 has a Fineous Fingers comic strip … I think this might be the first one in The Dragon. We also see the first letters page “Out on a Limb”, which in retrospect really isn’t a play on dragons or fantasy. Garry F. Spiegle writes maybe the best line concerning Gnome Cache – “the writing was so good about a subject so terrible”. Scott Rosenberg was pissed that they wouldn’t let him Xerox tables for GM’s and sell them (at cost). Lewis Pulsipher doesn’t like all the ads and illustrations (waste of space) and writes a critque of that “Three Kindreds of the Eldar” article that’s about two or three times longer than the original article, made even longer by a response from Larry Smith who, believe it or not, disagrees with Lewis. The exchange reminds me of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s answer to the question, “What material was Han Solo frozen in?” – A: “Who gives a shit?”

Next: “A Plethora of Obscure Sub-Classes”, including the Healer by C. Hettlestad, the Scribe by David Mumper and the Samurai by Mike Childers (modified by Jeff Kay).

Larry Smith offers a “New View of Dwarves”, with some sweet level titles for dwarf fighters (dwarf – warrior – spearman – dwarf hero – swordbearer – axewielder – champion – dwarf lord – dwarf king) and the revelation that there are only 7 dwarf families 😉 and thus 7 dwarf kings, the tribe of Durin being the most prestigious. They have some rules for dwarf clerics and thieves, and my favorite two lines:

Dwarves as Magicians, Assassins, Monks, Paladins, Illusionists, Rangers or Sages.

The above is not allowed.

We round it out with John Pickens’ Berserker, Gordon Davidson’s Idiot and Charles Carner, William Cannon and Pete Simon’s Jester.

The issue ends with a table of “Combat Modifications for Dexterity” by Steve Cline, with percentile ranges for high dexterity. These include modifiers for melee attacks, ranged attacks, damage and defense.

Dragon by Dragon – August 1976 (2)

August of 1976 – A month after the bicentennial, and Marvelites were grooving to such titles as Planet of the Apes, The Champions and Black Goliath, the Seattle Seahawks were playing their first game, Big Ben breaks down in London, Viking 2 enters orbit around Mars, the Ramones make their first appearance at CBGB, and The Dragon’s second issue hits the stands. So what did the gaming geek of 1976 get for his money?

John M. Seaton devises a procedure for “monkish” promotional combat (i.e. knock off the master to assume his level). I love this kind of thing, and given the recent popularity of FlailSnails Jousting, I wonder if there isn’t a market for FlailSnails Monkish Combat.

The procedure would be similar – write up 6 rounds of combat, denoting your strike, kick, block or other maneuvers, and then we see where it goes.

Lots of fiction in this issue.

The second installment of Gygax’s Gnome Cache is in this issue. I’ll freely admit this here – I almost never read the fiction in Dragon. I probably missed out on something.

Speaking of fiction, Jake Jaquet gives us the conclusion to “Search for the Forbidden Chamber”. Didn’t read this either.

Gardner Fox (you might have heard of him) has a short story in this issue called Shadow of a Demon which is covered very capably at Grognardia.

Another installment of “Mapping the Dungeons”, wherein DM’s of the 1970’s try to hook up with players via The Dragon. St. Louis appears to have had a surplus of DM’s looking for players – 8 of them in this issue.

Some dude named Paul Jaquays was running the Spring Arbor College Dungeoning Society in Spring Arbor MI. Wonder if he ever amounted to anything.

Through the magic of Google, I found the following DM’s online:

Keith Abbott of Muskegon MI

Michael Dutton of Mountain View CA might have done some art for WOTC – could be a different guy

Bill Fawcett of Schofield WI kinda founded Mayfair Games

Karl Jones – could be this guy?

Drew Neumann – maybe a composer of film and television scores – he was at Wylie E. Groves High School in Detroit at the right time (Class of ’77). Could have known Ellen Sandweiss, who was in Evil Dead. Did music for Aeon Flux

Scott Rosenberg of Jamaica NY – has a couple issues of The Pocket Armenian floating around online.

Ed Whitchurch has achieved some level of DM’ing fame

Joe Fischer gives us more tips for D&D Judges. He covers interesting entrances for dungeons (i.e. under stuff you don’t expect them to be under) and “friendly” traps that aren’t necessarily harmful. He also provides a random table for treasure chests that are, 50% of the time, trapped thus …

D% Trap
0-30 – 1d4 spring-loaded daggers fire when chest is opened
31-50 – Same as above, but daggers are poisoned
51-65 – Poisoned gas released when chest is opened
66-75 – When opened, chest acts as mirror of life trapping
76-85 – When opened, chest explodes for 1d6+1 dice of damage (wow!)
86-90 – When opened, an enraged spectre comes out [which can be read a couple ways, either of them endlessly entertaining]
91-95 – All characters within 5 feet lose one level [after the first use of this trap, I guarantee everyone will give the thief plenty of space when opening chests]
96-98 – All characters within 5 feet lose one magic item
99-00 – Intelligent chest with abilities of 2nd – 9th level magic-user [nice!]

He also mentions intelligent gold pieces that scream when removed from a room, or replacing real gold pieces in a dragon’s horde with chocolate coins (though as valuable as chocolate was in the “olden days”, that might actually be a step up). He also brings up the idea of creatures with odd alignments (chaotic dwarves, for example).

A couple more spotlights (Joe Fischer rocks!)

Monster Gems are 500 gp gems that can be commanded to turn into monsters (per rolling a wandering monster) for one week – when the week is up, or they are killed, the gem is destroyed as well. It might be fun to rule that every gem worth 500 gp (exactly) is a monster gem.

Hobbit’s Pipe (by Marc Kurowski) – Clay pipe, when smoked, gives ability to blow multi-colored smoke rings (4 per turn, moving at 4” (40’) per turn – love the specificity). The pipe can be smoked 3/day. He also offers up five magic pipeweeds, a bag of infinite wealth, helm of forgetfulness, and ring of infravision.

Lynn Harpold give a long account of Quetzalcoatl and his cult in Central America.

Creature Features gives us the remorhaz. Love the “stat block”:

Move: 12”
Hit Dice: 6/10/14 (8 sided) dice
% in Lair: 20%
Type Treasure: F
Bite for 3-36 points
Breath for 3, 5, or 7 dice of fire damage
Magical Resistance: 75%
Low Intelligence
Number Appearing: 1 (1-4 if in lair)
Description: 30’ long. Blue Hued underneath, wings & head backed with red.
Armor Class: Underside: 4. Back: 0 plus special. Head: 2.

Apparently, the standardization bug had not yet bitten.

Jon Pickens presents the Alchemist, a new D&D class. They don’t label this one as an “NPC Class”, so I guess it is fair game for all you D&D-ers out there. I’ll roll one up quickly for FlailSnails:

Xander Wort, Neutral 1st level Alchemist (Student)
Str: 5; Int: 13; Wis: 16; Dex: 16; Con: 7; Cha: 10
HP: 2; Attack: As Cleric; Save: As Fighter (+2 vs. poison and non-magic paralyzation)

Max. AC is 5
Can use one-handed weapons (excluding magic swords)
Use poisons and magic items usable by all classes
Psionic ability as fighters (replace Body Weaponry with Molecular Agitation)

Special Abilities:
Detect Poison 20%
Neutralize Poison 10%
Neutralize Paralyzation 15%
Identify Potion 5%
Read Languages 80% (one attempt per week)
Prepare poisons (strength level equal to their level; costs 50 gp and 1 day per level) and drugs (as poisons, but knocks unconscious for 4 hours)
Prepare a potion of delusion

None – until 3rd level (Scribe)

His bit on poison is pretty cool. If the HD of the poisoner or level of poison is equal to or greater than the victim’s HD, they must save or die. If at least half their HD, they are slowed until a constitution check is passed, trying once per hour. If less than half, there is no effect, but the poison accumulates in the blood until it’s enough to slow or kill the person. A very nice system!

This is actually a very groovy class. The hit points are low, so I don’t know how long Xander would have to live, but he can wear some decent armor and load up on poisoned darts and a poisoned long sword and might just make it to 2nd level.

Jon Pickens also presents optional weapon damage, allowing fighters and thieves to gain mastery in different weapons, increasing the damage they deal with them (except with dwarf hammers, military picks, pikes, pole arms and arrows). Fighters master one weapon per three levels, thieves one weapon per four (and are limited to sword, dagger and sling). Those with a Dex of 13 or better can gain mastery with a combination of two weapons, gaining the ability to strike with both weapons per round or with one weapon and treat the other as a shield. Sword and sword or flail and morningstar combos require a Dex of 16 or better.

Another good system – very clean and simple to use.

All in all, a pretty good issue. Lots of neat rules ideas and some good pulp literature.

Deathbot Battle Redux

When last I pitted the Deathbot in battle against Captain Triumph, I had to admit that the good Captain, a 30,000 XP character, was a bit outmatched. I wondered then how the Deathbot would fare against someone more powerful – enter Superman.

Superman is built using 150,000 XP and I assigned his ability scores to make him just about as tough as I could. Truth be told, you just can’t roll this guy up in Mystery Men! using the rules  you bump the number of starting ability dice – an option I plan to include in the finished rules.

Here, then, are the stats for the Man of Tomorrow … and of course, these stats are not intended to infringe on or threaten DC Comics’ intellectual property or copyrights.

Str 30 (+9)
Int 8 (+2)
Wil 10 (+3)
Dex 30 (+9)
Con 30 (+9)
Cha 4 (+0)

XP: 70,000
LVL: 20
HP: 288
DC: 23
FB: +9
SPD: 7 (8 flying)

Powers (All Permanent)
Energy Ray (Heat) – 30’ range, 4d6 damage, ranged attack vs. DC 10+Dex
Armor – +4 DC
Endure Elements – comfortable in hot and cold environments
Stoneskin – damage reduction 3
Super Strength* – +4 Str
Super Dexterity* – +4 Dex
Super Constitution* – +4 Con
Super Speed – increase speed by 5

*I assigned the ability scores, but still figured he should have to pay for super strength, dexterity and constitution

And yes, Superman probably has about 100 other powers – I’m hitting the old tried and true with this list.

The last Deathbot was toned down a bit – Superman is going to face off with a fully powered giant robot with the following stats:

HD 18 (100 hp); DC 30; Attacks with 2 slams for 4d6 damage; Speed 1; XP 6450; Powers: Darkvision, energy bolt (from eyes, ), iron body.

This battle will take place on a street in a major city, and Superman will begin the battle in flight. Let’s fight …


Initiative Order (1d10 + Spd + Dex): Superman [22], Deathbot [6]

Superman is always going to win initiative against the Deathbot, so we’ll forgo future initiative rolls to speed this up. Because of his speed (7) is seven times higher than the giant robot, Superman gets 3 actions per round.

In round one, Superman is first going to charge into the Deathbot and attempt to knock it down. This will give him +1d6 damage for the attack, but reduce his DC by 3, to 20. Superman rolls 1d20 + FB + Str and gets [32], scoring 1d6+9 + 1d6 damage and rolling [17] and scoring only 12 damage due the robot’s iron body. He follows up with a blast of his heat rays and then another wallop from his fists (or fisks, if you happen to be Popeye). He rolls a [41] for the heat rays and a [26] for the punch, scoring a hit from the heat rays. He rolls 13 damage. The Deathbot rolls a feat of constitution and gets [25], enough to cut the damage in half to 6. The Iron Body power of the Deathbot cuts that in half again, to 3.

The Deathbot strikes back with his own energy bolts (electricity). He rolls a [25], enough to hit Superman, and causes 72 points of damage. Superman rolls a feat of constitution to halve the damage and gets [17], not enough to save.

We end the round with the Deathbot having 85 hit points and Superman reduced to 216 hit points.


Superman has three actions again. The heat rays were pretty ineffective, so he’s going to focus on grappling the robot and lifting it. He can lift 100 tons without difficulty, so I would rule that he could do it. To grapple it (i.e. grab it) he’s going to have to beat the robot’s DC of 30 by 5, i.e. he needs to roll a 35. Even if he just beats the DC of 30, he’ll manage to cause some damage. This round, he rolls [33] and then [42] for his first two actions. The first attack scores [13] damage, reduced to 8 due to iron body. The second attack scores [14] damage, reduced to 9. The second attack beats 35, so he manages to grab the robot. He’ll use his last action to fly the robot about 1 mile up (he could go up to 50 at his speed, but 1 mile should be sufficient).

The Deathbot is in pretty serious trouble, but being a robot he focuses on the task at hand. He’ll attempt to make two slam attacks against Superman, rolling [37] and [24]. He scores two hits, rolling [8] and [13] damage. Superman’s stoneskin power reduces these to 5 and 10.

At the end of Round Two, Superman has 201 hit points left, the Deathbot has 68.

Last round of combat, most likely. Superman is going to let the beast fall. Falling damage, like in the original game, is 1d6 per 10′, with a maximum of 20d6. On the way down, I’ll let the Deathbot make a final energy bolt attack. He rolls a [21] and then rolls [59] points of damage. Superman makes a constitution feat, rolling [15] – not enough to cut the damage in half. When the Deathbot hits the ground, he takes 58 points of damage, reduced to 53 because of iron body. The Deathbot gets a dexterity feat to take half damage from the fall and rolls a [7], failing. Technically, Superman still has two actions left, so he’s going to use one to fly back down and the other to punch the Deathbot. This will count as a charge. He rolls a [44] to hit. Since he wasn’t using any other special attack, beating the ‘bot’s DC by more than 5 means double damage. He rolls 2d6+18 plus another 1d6 for the charge, getting [19], which is reduced to 14 because of iron body.

At the end of Round Three, Superman has 142 hit points. The Deathbot has 1 hit point. Tough little guy, isn’t he.

Nothing fancy this time. Superman is going punch, punch and punch. He rolls [28] [25] and [35]. All three punches do damage, and the last punch does double damage. He rolls a total of 55 points of damage, reduced to 40 because of iron body. More than enough to finish off the Deathbot.

Superman outclassed the Deathbot, but only at 150,000 XP. Reduce his starting XP to 100,000 and his level drops to 11 – that means far fewer hit points and a reduced attack bonus, and Superman is in for a far tougher fight. Given that the giant robot is supposed to be a useful monster in the game, I’m definitely going to knock him down a few pegs – specifically the DC, probably to 25. I also think I’ll cap the energy bolt, in fact all damage from powers, at 10 dice.

Image by Erik Doescher from comicartfans website.

Mystery Man Test II – Captain Triumph vs. Thugs

Last time we witnessed Captain Triumph outclassed by a giant Deathbot (yeah, I still need to stage a combat between the Deathbot and Superman or Thor – not enough time in the day …). Today, we’ll pit him against five humans to see how one vs. many works out in Mystery Men!

The Setup
Captain Triumph sneaks into the island headquarters of Doctor Death. While moving through a large audience chamber, he sets off an alarm and is attached by four thugs armed with machine guns and their leader, a ninja.

The Bad Guys
The thugs are human warriors: HD 2 (9 hp each); DC 12; Attacks with fists for 1d4 damage or with handgun for 2d6 damage; Speed 2; XP 200.

The ninja is a human elite: HD 3 (18 hp); DC 13; Attacks with fists for 1d6 damage or with sword for 1d6+2 damage; Speed 2; XP 300.

Round One
Initiative Order (1d10+Speed+Dex Mod): Triumph [9], Thugs [8], Ninja [6]

The thugs stand at the end of the room, blocking its only exit, the ninja behind them. We’re going to pretend that Triumph has already used his Invisibility I power this turn, and thus cannot use it during this fight. He decides to charge (+1d6 damage, -3 DC) at one of the central thugs and belt him. He has the same speed as these combatants, so only gets one attack per round. Triumph’s attack roll is 1d20 + Attack Bonus of +8 plus Strength Bonus of +5. With a total bonus of +13, Triumph cannot miss against the thug’s DC of 13. though the Referee might want to use the roll of a natural “1” as an opportunity to introduce a complication to the situation. So, Triumph rolls a [31] to hit (why couldn’t he do this against the Deathbot more often?), slugging the thug for 12 points of damage and knocking him unconscious at -3 hp.

The remaining thugs open up on the charging hero with their gats – dangerous, but they know they’re facing an ubermensch. I’ll rule that on a natural roll of “1”, the thugs hit one another with their bullets. The thugs roll 1d20 + Hit Dice (2), getting rolls of [8], [8] and [10]. Even at Triumph’s lower DC (because he charged), they don’t hit him, but they don’t hit one another either.

Question: Bonus for attacking at Point Blank Range? Have to think about that.

The ninja takes a swipe at Triumph with his sword. He rolls 1d20 + Hit Dice (3), getting a roll of [23]. Since he’s striking to kill, he scores double damage for beating Triumph’s current DC of 14 by 5 or more points, and rolls 11 points of damage.

At the end of the first round of combat, there are three thugs and a ninja left unhurt, and Triumph has been reduced to 84 hit points.

Round Two
Initiative Order: Thugs [11], Triumph [10], Ninja [10]

The thugs roll high initiative this round, and do the same thing as last round, rolling [20], [4] and [10]. No friendly fire this time, and Triumph takes 8 points of damage.

Tied initiative goes to Triumph, since he has the higher Dexterity score (since average normal human Dex is 3 and max normal human Dex is 6). He leaps at two of the thugs and attempts to clunk their heads together. This counts as making a multiple attack (i.e. one additional attack), so he suffers a -3 penalty to hit. He rolls [18] and [26], scoring two hits. No double damage, because Triumph isn’t attacking to kill, just stun. He rolls [6] and [7] for damage. Because he beat their DC’s by more than 5, and was attacking to stun, the thugs have to make feats of Constitution to avoid being stunned. They roll 1d10+2 and need to beat a 9 (5 + Triumph’s Feat Bonus of 4). They each roll a [5], failing the feat roll and becoming stunned – i.e. cannot move or attack next round, drop their guns, etc.

Final attack goes to the ninja, who rolls a measly [7] and misses.

At the end of this round, we have an unharmed ninja and thug, two stunned thugs with 3 and 2 hit points and Captain Triumph with 72 hit points.

Round Three
Initiative Order: Triumph [14], Ninja [12], Thugs [7]

Captain Triumph now goes for the third thug, again attacking to stun. He rolls a [30] and scores 8 points of damage. The thug rolls a Constitution feat and gets a [5], failing. He’s now stunned.

Our ninja sees the writing on the wall. He throws a smoke pellet (Fog Cloud) and backs out the door.

No thugs can attack this round – the other two were stunned last time, and the third thug is stunned now.

Combat round ends with two thugs clearing their heads (they have 3 and 2 hit points, respectively) and the third thug, with 1 hit point, just starting to shake things off. The ninja is gone, and Captain Triumph still has 72 hit points.

Round Four
Initiative: Triumph [12], Thugs [7]

Round four begins with everyone caught in a Fog Cloud. It lasts three rounds. Nobody in the cloud can see anyone more than 5 feet away, and suffer a -4 penalty to attack the enemies they can see.

Triumph decides to smack the thug he can see – the one he stunned last round. He’s going to attack to stun, and decides to forgo his Strength bonus to damage to avoid accidentally killing the guy. He rolls a [10] due to the fog, and misses the thug.

The thug dropped his gun when he was stunned, but he decides to take a swing at Triumph. He rolls a [10] and also misses. The other two thugs decide they’ve had enough and use the fog as cover to run away.

For all intents and purposes, this fight is over. If Triumph can’t defeat a simple thug with 1 hit point, he doesn’t deserve the name “Triumph”.

What Did I Learn?
I think this combat went pretty well. It made sense and the rules seem to support the kind of combat I would associate with comic book heroes. Triumph outmatched the thugs just as much as the Deathbot outmatched him, but the fight still took four rounds (well, five technically, if we assume Triumph knocks out the last thug in one more round), and the thugs had a chance to resist the stunning attacks. I could have made the ninja more impressive, but that would really involve building him like a comic book villain rather than as a minion, and I’m going to save the hero vs. villain fight for next time.

Captain Triumph vs. Giant Deathbot

The following is a test of the Mystery Men! combat rules. If this were an actual game session, all of the rules would work perfectly …

When you’re attempting to place a giant laser on the Moon, curious heroes can really get in the way. To keep Captain Triumph occupied, Doctor Death decides a rampaging giant robot is in order …

Hit Dice: 15 (90 hp)
Defense Class: 20
Speed: 1

Attacks: 2 slams (4d6 damage)
Powers: Darkvision (P), Energy Bolt (P), Iron Body (P)

Energy Bolt: Deals 1d6 damage per hit dice (i.e. 15d6)*
Iron Body: Ignores 15 damage per hit, half damage from acid and fire, vulnerable to rust.

* Just noticed the damage was missing in the rules – another piece of errata and proof that play testing is necessary!

I’ve modified this giant robot to put it closer to Captain Triumph’s weight class, so to speak. I’ve reduced the Hit Dice by 3 and the DC by 10.

This fight will take place on a city street flanked by tall buildings. Police, fire and rescue have cleared most of the civilians out of the way, and the giant deathbot is mostly just causing property damage – it’s trying to draw the hero in and waste his time while Doctor Death launches a rocket into space. Captain Triumph will enter the combat flying and invisible

Initiative: Each combatant rolls 1d10+speed+Dex bonus. That means 1d10+1 for the giant robot, 1d10+5 for Capt. Triumph. Since Triumph begins the round invisible, I’m going to give him a free attack in the first round. Since his speed is double that of the giant robot, he gets two actions per round against it.

Capt. Triumph: Triumph knows that tackling this metal monstrosity is going to be tough. It’s hard to damage (too hard maybe – I might need to revise Iron Body) and the Energy Bolts are quite deadly (they cap damage in d20 – I might need to do the same). For his first round of combat, he’s going to use both actions to roll special attacks, trying to trip the thing. He’ll be invisible for the first attack, gaining a +2 bonus to hit.

So, special attack rules state that you make a normal attack, but if you beat the opponents DC by 5 or more you pull off the special attack. Unfortunately, this means Triumph needs to roll a 25 or better to trip the deathbot. So, Triumph is going to roll 1d20+Attack Bonus+Strength Bonus, or 1d20+13 for melee attacks (plus an additional 2 for the first attack, because he’s invisible). He rolls a [17] and [24]. Both attacks fail to trip the deathbot, but the second attack does beat the deathbot’s DC and inflicts damage. Capt. Triumph rolls 1d6+5, getting an [11] – not enough to score damage on the deathbot, because of the Iron Body power. Now – Capt. Triumph should be able to inflict some damage on this thing – the damage reduction for the Iron Body power has to be reduced. I’m going to make a command decision here and drop it to a 6. That keeps somebody with Iron Body impossible to damage by a normal human using their fists. So, with our revised Iron Body power, Capt. Triumph scores 5 points of damage on the Death Bot, reducing its hit points to 85.

Initiative: Deathbot rolls [11], Triumph [15] – Triumphs attacks first.

Triumph: Triumph is standing behind the deathbot, and wants to avoid those eye beams. So, he’s going to fly up to the deathbot’s head (one action) and then try to pound away at it (second action).Triumph rolls a [23] to hit, and causes 9 points of damage. With the deathbot’s damage resistance, it comes out to 3 points of damage, reducing the deathbot to 82 hit points.

Deathbot: The deathbot needs to get Triumph off his back, so he’s going to attempt a grapple special attack to grab him. For attacks, he rolls 1d20+18 and needs to beat Triumph’s DC of 17 [yeah, just noticed I put AC on the character sheet – old habits die hard!] by 5 or more to grab him. With a roll of 29, he grabs him easily, scoring 10 points of damage in the process, bringing Triumph’s hit points down to 85.

ROUND THREEInitiative: Deathbot rolls [3], Triumph [8]

Triumph: So, with his two actions, Triumph is first going to try to break out of the deathbot’s grip – this is treated as a special grapple attack. Triumph rolls a [20] – enough to score damage (4 points), but not enough to break the grip. With his second action, he tries again, rolling a [24] and missing his goal yet again. He rolls a [6] for damage, which isn’t enough to harm the deathbot. At the end of his turn, Capt. Triumph has now reduced the deathbot to 78 hit points.

Deathbot: The deathbot now unleashes some lightning bolts from its eyes. Triumph needs to make a feat of Dexterity (1d10+7) vs. a 20 – meaning he has no shot at cutting the damage in half [do I need to reduce monster feat bonuses to half their hit dice?]. The robot rolls 15d6 and scores [57] damage, reducing his hit points to 28. One more shot like that, and Triumph joins his ghostly brother in the afterlife.

Initiative: Deathbot [5], Captain Triumph [6]

Triumph: Triumph still needs to break the robot’s grip, so he tries another special grapple attack, rolling a [30] this time, scoring damage (2 points) and breaking the grip. Deciding he needs something heavier with which to do damage, he flies 200-ft down the street (out of the energy bolt range and behind the deathbot) to find a handy wrecked car he can use next round. The deathbot now has 76 hit points.

Deathbot: Well, sucks to be slow. The deathbot turns around and lumbers toward Capt. Triumph, closing the distance from 200 to 150.

Initiative: Deathbot [5], Captain Triumph [8]

Triumph: Fortunately for Capt. Triumph, he continues to beat the deathbot on initiative. He picks up a car (his strength allows him to lift 4 tons, so a car is within his capabilities) and flies directly above the deathbot’s head with his first action. With his second action, he launches the car straight down at the lumbering robot. We’ll call this a ranged attack, which brings up a couple items that need to be addressed in the rules. I now notice that I include ranges for some weapons, but no discussion about how range influences attack rolls. Range for hurled items should probably be based on Strength – for now I’m going to punt on this rule and impose no penalty – I want to think about it a bit more. The second issue is one of damage – how much damage does a car inflict? Knives do 1d6, arrows 2d6 and bazookas 6d6 – I think given the weight of the car, 6d6 sounds about right – but I’ll also make a note that thrown objects need to be covered in the rules (’cause heroes like to throw things in comic books!). So, Triumph rolls a ranged attack with the car (1d20+11) and gets a [25]. Since he wasn’t using a special attack, beating his opponent’s DC by 5 nets him double damage, or 12d6. He rolls a [36], dropping the deathbot’s hit points to 40.

Deathbot: Deathbot figures that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. He picks up a car of his own and hurls it at the flying Triumph, rolling 1d20+18 to attack and getting a [28] – that means double damage as well. The deathbot rolls a [54], sending Triumph into Valhalla.

1. I need to work up some range rules, especially for hurled objects.
2. I need to work up some damage guidelines for hurled objects.
3. Iron Body needs to be revised and Energy Bolt needs to have damage added to its description.
4. Giant robots, as written, are deadly as all get out. I should probably revise those stats, or maybe include a lesser and greater version of them. I definitely learned that even a weak giant robot is too much for a single 35,000 XP hero to survive. I might work up some stats for Superman, Thor or Hulk and do this battle again to see how it would play out.
5. In playing this out, a smarter player might have started hurling cars earlier in the battle, and thus might have survived and won. Tactics should be at least as important as statistics in affecting the outcome of a fight.

Image by Joel Carroll. All rights reserved.