Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games


When the players kicked in the door and barged into the room SWAT-team style, I suddenly had to deal with seven player characters and ten mercenaries on one side coming up against 28 rabidly bestial monster men. We have a limited amount of time to play, ideally you would be able to cover around six encounters or more within a single three-hour session. What to do?!

What I did was take a concept from Swords and Spells: treat homogenous monster groups as a unit, give the unit as a whole the sum total of each individual’s hit points, and then removing one figure each time the unit as a whole takes damage equal to the AVERAGE number of hit-points of the individuals within the grouping. Because after all, did I really need to make a list of 28 monsters, roll their hit-points separately, and then carefully track which ones are partially dead and which ones are mostly dead as the combat grinds on?

If you’re doing this “theater of the mind style”, you cannot track the individual locations of each monster and determine who is getting hit by what attack. AD&D combat is abstract enough that in this situation that you are going to be randomly determining who is hit by what anyway. Why not make a choice here that makes is a whole lot easier to manage all of this consistently?

It’s definitely fast and easy. But it also introduces some new side effects. The fellow that plays the notorious Macho Mandalf in Trollopulous breaks this down concisely:

I really liked the improvised mass combat application of damage to the 20+ enemy; save lots of time that would really not add to the fun if done individually. This method also implicitly allows a sort of ‘Cleave’ effect which is otherwise not in AD&D. Hit 3 times out of a possible 4 and did 25 Damage out of a possible 39. In normal combat that would probably kill three but in mass combat I guess it killed 5 or 6; so yes I do like it. :)

Do I mind rules interpretations that allow us to scale up the size of our combats even at first level? Not at all! Do I like approaches to the game that make fighters the premier class of the overworld? ABSOLUTELY!

What would I do differently next time? Well, I’ll tell you:

  • The men-at-arms group should have been treated the same way as the monsters. This levels the playing field with this approach while also giving peoples’ player characters an edge over monsters and hirelings.
  • The successful hits from the monsters would need one additional roll to determine whether or not the PC group or the hireling group took the hit. If the PC’s are hit, a random PC from the ones that were not specifically held back for spell-casting or poltroonery would be selected. If the hirelings are hit, a simple division of the total damage received will indicate how may of them remain in fighting form.
  • Note that under this abstraction there is no way to determine which of these hirelings would have merely been “dropped” due to the AD&D zero hit-point rule. To find this, simply roll a number of damage dice equal to the total number of hirelings killed. Any of these that come up as a “1” will indicate that this particular hireling will be able to recover.

Furthermore, the Druid’s Entangle spell should not be as effective in melee as the way we played it last Thursday night. If it is cast into a melee, it will affect BOTH SIDES equally a la Cornwallis firing grapeshot at his own men at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Its best use will be against units that are not currently engaged in melee. So Entangle will see use in scenarios such as these:

  • The player’s hirelings are engaged with the enemy’s front line troops. The druid player casts entangle at the enemy shaman that is currently being shielded from melee attacks by the throng.
  • The players are leaving the dungeon and believe they are being pursued. In order to cover their escape, the druid cases entangle on the winding passage that connects the second level to the first.
  • The monsters are too far away to charge the players, so the druid elects to cast entangle in order to prevent a charge the following turn. The monsters that make their save elect to flee the following turn and the players burn up the rest with flaming oil.

Obviously, entangle should NOT be a better offensive spell than the magic-user’s sleep. Last Thursday’s Finely Honed Murder Machine was clearly inconsistent with the overall intent of the game. (If any player says, “oh yeah we knew that we were just testing you” or “yeah, I tried to tell you that but I couldn’t get a word in on it during the game” then their characters will regret it. Maybe you should make an effort to help make sure game-breaking rules interpretations never get off the ground in the first place?! Bah!)

For more on player-reactions to this ruling, see the latest episode of Geek Gab!

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