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Subject: rec.games.frp.dnd FAQ: 9/9 -- Gamespeak 2: For DM's Eyes
This article was archived around: Wed, 01 Jan 2003 11:58:21 -0600
Last-modified: June 2002
Gamespeak 2: For DM's Eyes
* designates topics which have been updated.
+ designated topics which have been added.
For DM's Eyes
K1: What books do I need in order to be a DM?
K2: Which TSR campaign world should I use?
K3: 2ND: Stoneskin seems too unbalancing. What can I do?
K4: 2ND: What can I do about Bladesinging elves?
K5: 2ND: What can I do to prevent psionics from really unbalancing a game?
K6: How do you deal with critical hits?
A) Determination of criticals
B) Resolution of criticals
K7: 2ND: What can I do to make crossbows as useful as normal bows?
K8: How much do coins weigh?
K9: What can I do to make the hit point system more true to life?
K10: 2ND: The energy drain power of greater undead sucks. What can I do?
K11: 3RD: How do you apply multiple multipliers?
K12: 3RD: Is caster level a prerequisite for creating magic items?
K13: Where else can I look for info about being a Dungeon Master?
For DM's Eyes
K1: What books do I need in order to be a DM?
A: Unlike players, for whom it can be possible to play with just pencil,
paper, and dice (if that), a DM generally (with some exceptions) needs
a bit more in the way of rulebooks. The minimum needed by most people
to DM a satisfying *D&D game is: the DMG, the PH, and the Monstrous
Manual. These three references are the core of the game; everything
else just adds window dressing.
K2: Which TSR campaign world should I use?
A: Well, if you don't have the time, or don't wish to take the time and
energy to create your own world, TSR has come out with a plethora of
choices of worlds for you to campaign in. Here is a brief description
The Core Realms (Faerun): The main section of the Realms is
intended to be a generic *D&D world. It has many similarities to
medieval Earth. It also has enormous cities, many countries with
foreign flavors, hordes of NPC's, and more room to maneuver than
you'll ever need. There are also wild magic and dead magic zones,
where magic can surge in power (and unpredictability) or not work at
all. There are also a lot of supplements out for the core Realms,
and a lot more on the way. The "Baldur's Gate" and "Icewind Dale"
computer games are also both set in the Faerun of the Realms; the
former in the Sword Coast area, the latter in the far north.
Al-Qadim: This setting is located far to the south of the core
Realms, but can easily be placed on any campaign world. It
encompasses the genre of the Arabian Nights, with djinn, magic lamps,
Sinbad-like sailors, emirs, and the ever-present Hand of Fate. It is
intended that players in Al-Qadim use Al-Qadim characters, but it is
possible to take "normal" characters into the Al-Qadim setting.
Kara-Tur: This setting is located far to the southeast of the core
Realms, but like Al-Qadim, may be transported anywhere. It is an
"oriental" setting, with much of the flavor of ancient China, Japan,
and Mongolia. There are martial arts, intrigue, highly civilized
areas, family honor, and wild horse-folk. It is intended for use with
oriental characters, but "normal" characters can easily be worked in.
Maztica: This setting is located far to the west of the core realms
and, unlike the previous settings, can only be reached via a long sea
voyage. It is meant to represent the Americas during the time of the
Spanish conquistadors. While it is possible to play a "conqueror"
from the core realms, it is intended that native characters be
created. This setting has its own unique magic variant, which not
only changes the way priests and wizards operate, but many warriors as
Greyhawk is the first widely-known campaign world. Flip through the
PH or DMG--most of the "name" spells and magic items originated in
Greyhawk. The world is essentially a general fantasy-genre world,
similar in that way to the Forgotten Realms, but with its own very
distinct flavor. Since most of the modules published before the
arrival of Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance are actually set in
Greyhawk, there is a wealth of information out there for gaming
purposes. Also, TSR has begun using Greyhawk as a "default" world of
sorts, so that modules that otherwise would not be set in any specific
game world use Greyhawk's towns, deities, and NPCs. Additionally, all
of the examples in the new PH and DMG are set in Greyhawk, and
all mentions of gods and locales use Greyhawk deities and Greyhawk
The world of Krynn is fairly well-known, through the series of
novels and modules which started it. Gold has little or no value
there, as the world is on a steel standard. Clerics are relatively
unheard of as well, because the main focus for the world is the
ongoing battle between the deities Takhisis and Paladine; other
"normal" deities have been pretty much forgotten. In addition, as the
name might suggest, dragons are more active here than elsewhere, as
they are strongly polarized on the Takhisis-Paladine battle. There
are also several time periods to adventure in; the time of the War of
the Lance is only one. Dragonlance: Fifth Age takes place long after
the War of the Lance, and uses a completely different game system
instead of AD&D.
In a nutshell, Spelljammer is *D&D in outer space, but in more of
the swashbuckler pirate genre than a hard science fiction one. Many
of the typical *D&D races of characters and villains are present, but
many behave very differently from any you may have met before. In
addition, Spelljammer may include adventuring on many of the other
published game worlds, as spelljammers visit almost all of them from
time to time.
Ravenloft is a world of gothic horror. It is located in the
Demiplane of Dread, and fairly reeks of evil. Many who go there are
corrupted and never return. Some new mechanics are fear and horror
checks. A failed fear check involves running in abject terror. A
failed horror check, well, lets just not talk about that right now.
The mists of Ravenloft often gather up unwary travelers and take them
to the demiplane, from whence half the fun is trying to find an exit
which supposedly doesn't even exist.
Masque of the Red Death: This setting is based on Ravenloft, but
with a twist; it is set in the equivalent of the Victorian-era--but
in a world where magic has existed since the very dawn of time.
There is a much higher technology level than most *D&D worlds, and
like Ravenloft, terror is everywhere, now aided by the after-effects
of the Industrial Revolution. Every time a character casts a spell,
that character is drawn a step closer to the "Red Death," a powerful
force of evil in this world. However, "Masque..." is technically a
separate game from *D&D which happens to use the Ravenloft rules.
Therefore it is not intended to be a place that "normal" *D&D
characters visit. Not that that will stop many DM's from having them
do so anyway...
Athas is a metal-poor desert world, which by itself makes life quite
a challenge. Add to that the fact that almost everyone on the planet
has some degree of psionic ability, and you get a pretty lethal world.
Also, clerics are different from usual, in that they are either
templars who are granted spells by their sorcerer-kings or clerics who
gain spells by worshipping the elements around them. Mages, too, are
changed; all magic is powered directly by the life force of the world
around them, which tends to be a detriment to the continued existence
of any plants and animals in the area.
This is basically the 2nd ed. revamp of the Manual of the Planes,
but it is much more than that, as well. This setting is designed for
entire campaigns run on the planes themselves, with all the
interesting beings that may involve. Characters may belong to any of
a number of factions, which interact in a similar way to secret
societies in Paranoia. Adventures are typically set in Sigil, an
enormous city in the neutral center of the planes, and involve visits
to one or more of the other planes. It also comes with its own
lingo, so if you hear the occasional "cutter" (someone in the know)
or "berk" (someone not in the know) comments on the newsgroup, you'll
know where they're from.
Mystara is the world which used to be the setting of Basic D&D, now
altered to fit the AD&D rules. Like the Realms and Greyhawk, it is a
general high fantasy world with an individual flair. It is unique
from the other worlds in that several of its supplements also came
with audio CD's for sound effects and storytelling. The Red Steel
and Savage Coast lines are also part of the world of Mystara
Council of Wyrms:
Ever wanted to have a dragon PC? Well, now's your chance. This
campaign setting is located on a remote group of islands where dragons
and half-dragons reign supreme, and the other races are minor players.
In this setting, the players are characters of noble birth. They
must deal with intrigue, spying, wars, the occasional adventure, and
succession to the throne. Special powerful magic spells whose power
is drawn from the land one controls, as well as the possibility of
magical traits caused by royal bloodlines, are also thrown into the
mix. It seems to be a mix of "normal" *D&D, tabletop miniature
wargaming, and Diplomacy.
This setting is based on the computer game of the same name.
It is essentially a typical high fantasy world, with plenty of evil-
doers to challenge the heroes, lost treasure-hoards to uncover, and
the like. To this end, it has a greater-than-normal emphasis on
combat and the accumulation of wealth and magic, though it also
retains plenty of opportunities for character interaction.
K3: Stoneskin seems too unbalancing. What can I do? (2ND)
A: If the DM thoroughly reads the spell description, and uses a bit of
imagination, the spell is actually quite balanced, as there are many
ways to damage and/or quickly remove layers of protection from a
character with stoneskin. Some examples:
Damage: any magical (i.e. spell) attack, such as *Fireball*,
*Lightning Bolt*, or *Magic Missile*, drowning, noxious gas, being
buried alive, psionics, and *Pick of Earth Parting*. Many of these
also remove layers of protection; especially notable on this regard
are *Magic Missile* and *Melf's Minute Meteors*, which have the
possibility of removing multiple layers of protection per spell
No damage, but still affect the character with stoneskin: lasso, net,
mancatcher, and bolas. Once the character is tied up, netted, or
otherwise occupied, he is nowhere near as much of a problem.
Quickly remove layers: unarmed combat, burning, darts & other missile
weapons with high ROF's, contact poison, acid, overbearing, multiple
attackers, multiple attacks (especially creatures with more than four
attacks per round), falling down a steep incline, missed attacks.
Missed attacks do indeed remove layers of protection, as per the spell
description's use of the words "regardless of attack rolls" instead of
"successful attacks." Many people also include handfuls of thrown
pebbles, with each pebble removing one layer, but this is better left
up to individual DM's, as it has good potential for getting obnoxious.
However, if the spell still seems to unbalance your campaign, there
are many things you can do to tone it down a bit, any one of which
should be sufficient for your purposes.
1) Be doubly sure to follow the spell description where it states that
repeated castings of this spell on the same individual are not
2) Be sure to follow the official errata for the spell, which is also
the way the spell is described in the High-Level Campaigns book, which
changed the duration to 24 hours or until the requisite number of
attacks is reached, whichever comes first.
3) Make it Range: caster
4) Designate it as a specialist Transmuters-only spell.
5) Use the 1st ed. version of the spell (from UA); it is dispelled
after one attack or attack sequence.
6) Have the caster's skin change to the color of stone so that it is
painfully obvious that he is wearing a stoneskin.
7) Ban it altogether.
8) Enforce the material components option for this spell; diamond dust
is going to be very hard to come by at best, and may often be
completely unavailable. Even if it is available, it will be extremely
expensive, anywhere around 200 gp-1000 gp per casting is possible.
Also, the mage in question becomes a good target for pickpockets if it
gets around that the mage in question carries a bag of diamonds,
albeit in dust form.
9) Have every NPC mage wearing it as well.
K4: What can I do about Bladesinging elves? (2ND)
A: Simple. Bladesinger is a kit. Kits are optional. Put your foot down
and decide that bladesingers are an optional rule you do not wish to
follow. In fact, the entire Complete Book of Elves is optional, so
you may allow or disallow any portion of it.
Of course, you could just grin and bear it, or you could pull a DM
fiat and have some jealous dwarven god instantly strike dead every
bladesinging elf that appears and hope that the players catch your
If you actually go ahead and allow the Bladesinger, but later
regret it, here are some tips to remember:
1) Enemies can use ranged weapons, including spells, before the
Bladesinger can close.
2) Undead and other creatures with special touch attacks or area
effects (such as a dragon's *fear* aura) make good opponents, as the
Bladesinger must get within weapon range to combat them.
3) Many creatures have corrosive effects on weaponry, such as oozes,
puddings, slimes, and rust monsters; after all, what is a bladesinger
without a blade?
However, be careful in using these tips, as repeated use of these
techniques may lead to anger on the part of players who feel the DM
is making life harder for their characters than for the rest of the
K5: What can I do to prevent psionics from really unbalancing a game? (2ND)
A: Be doubly sure to have easy access to the Complete Psionics Handbook.
Read it through completely, and have any players who wish to play
psionicist characters do the same. You may also want to look for
The Will & the Way, a Dark Sun supplement that expanded greatly upon
the basics of the Psionics Handbook. Many people agree that, when
followed correctly, these psionics rules are neither impractical nor
imbalancing. (And, with a little work, they can work for 1st edition
games as well.) Here are a few things you should do to keep a
campaign with psionicists a happy one:
1) Many psionic powers seem incredibly powerful, e.g. Disintegrate.
However, the automatic failure on a natural '20' offsets this nicely.
No matter how earth-shattering the power of the psionicist becomes,
there's still a chance of the power backfiring and affecting the
psionicist himself instead. A Sage Advice column explained that the
'20' rule is always in effect, even if the character has a power score
above '20'; if a natural '20' is rolled, some sort of backfire occurs.
2) If the constant 5% chance for backfire, regardless of level, seems
to be a bit strict, remember that it does work to balance the innate
power of some of the psionic abilities in much the same way that aging
effects and exotic spell components balance out the innate power of
3) Remember that many of the "most powerful" psionics effects grant
saving throws to the victims. This definitely helps prevent psionics
from becoming too out-of-control in a campaign.
If you still think psionicists can still get too powerful, there are
a couple of things you can try to attempt to prevent this.
1) If you feel that a flat 5% chance for backfire, regardless of
level, is too rough, especially for higher-level psionicists using
powers they have had for a long time, feel free to improvise and
down- (or even up-!) play the results of a backfire, depending on what
works in the situation at hand.
2) Give saving throws whenever you feel it necessary, even for powers
that don't normally allow saves.
3) Using the d10+weapon speed individual initiative system (or even
just the plain d10 for each side system) allows for a good chance that
a psionicist's concentration is lost due to sudden blood loss thus
disrupting whatever power he was trying to use.
4) Scrap the system of granting a spectacular result on a Power Score
roll. This tends to make players unhappy unless you also scrap the
backfire on a '20' roll, but can work. Of course, scrapping both
systems can work just as well in some campaigns.
K6: How do you deal with criticals?
A: There are almost as many different ways of determining and resolving
criticals as there are players. Here is a selection of various
methods, in no particular order, gleaned from various postings on
rec.games.frp.dnd. The standard 3rd edition rules for determination
and resolution of criticals are included for comparison.
A) Determination of criticals
1) Backing a Critical: If a natural '20' is rolled, roll again. If
the second number would have hit, then the '20' is considered a
critical hit. If the second roll was too low, then the first was only
a normal hit. Also, if a natural '1' is rolled, roll again. If the
second roll is high enough to hit the creature, then the roll is
considered a normal miss. If the second was too low to hit the
creature, then the '1' is considered a critical miss.
3rd edition standard rule: A natural '20' always hits, but is not
always a critical hit. All weapons (including the natural weapons
of monsters, and spells which require a normal to-hit roll) have a
"threat range", usually of "20", "19-20" or "18-20". If a number in
that range comes up on the die, and the result is a hit, then roll
again. If the second roll is also high enough to be a hit, then the
first roll is considered a critical hit; otherwise the first roll is
condidered a normal hit.
Optionally, if you rule that critical hits result in double damage,
if the second roll is also a '20' then roll a third time. If the
third roll was sufficient to hit the creature, then the original
'20' is a critical and the damage is tripled. Continue the pattern
as long as you wish.
Also optionally, for certain powerful creatures, lower the reroll
number so that, for example, rolling a natural '19' or better
requires a second roll. If the second roll is good enough to hit,
treat as above. If you also use option 1B and the second roll is,
for example, a '19' or better, then the critical does triple damage,
and so on.
2) Always Hits: If a natural '20' is rolled, then that attack
automatically succeeds, and damage is rolled normally. If a natural
'1' is rolled, that attack automatically misses. No special critical
damage is awarded in either case.
A natural '20' always hits, with normal damage, and a natural '1'
always misses. However, in either case, roll again. If the second
roll is identical to the first, then it is a critical. If not, then
ignore the second roll.
3) Extra Attack: If a natural '20' is rolled, the character gets an
immediate extra attack with that weapon, no matter what kind of
weapon, save those such as heavy crossbows that take more than one
round to use.
4) Straight 20: If a natural '20' is rolled, and a '20' was not the
minimum number needed to hit, then it is a critical. If a natural '1'
is rolled, it is a critical.
5) Over the Top: If a 20 is rolled, roll again and add the two results
together. If the combined total is greater than the minimum needed to
hit by 10 or more, then it's a critical. If a 1 is rolled, roll again
and subtract. If the combined total is 10 or more less than what is
needed to hit, then it's a critical.
If a natural '20' is rolled, roll again and add the result to '19;'
the same end result as above is needed to hit. I.e., if a character
needs a '22' to hit, the character must roll a natural '20,'
followed by a minimum roll of '3.' A total of 10 higher than the
minimum needed to hit still results in a critical hit.
If a natural '20' is rolled, roll again and add the new result to
'19.' If the second roll is also a '20,' roll again. If the third
roll is a natural '20,' then it is considered a critical hit.
Combat & Tactics optional rule: If a natural '18' or higher is
rolled and the to-hit number, after any bonuses, is 5 or more than
the minimum needed to hit, then it is a critical hit.
B) Resolution of criticals
In all cases that result in a critical hit or miss, they can be
resolved by any of the following:
1) Chartbuster: Use your favorite chart; Best of Dragon V and
Combat & Tactics are good places to look.
2) Double Damage I: Double the damage on critical hits and damage
yourself on critical misses.
Combat & Tactics optional rule: Double the rolled damage, and do
any other multipliers necessary (such as for charging or
backstabbing), then add any damage bonuses.
3) Double Damage II: When a natural '20' is rolled, roll damage twice;
i.e., if damage die is 1d8, roll 2d8.
3rd edition standard rule: When a critical hit is rolled, each weapon
has a "multiplier" that tells the number of times to roll damage.
For example, "x2" means roll damage twice, "x3" means roll damage
three times (i.e., if damage die is 1d8, roll 3d8).
4) Double Damage III: A roll of natural '20' always hits, and damage
is rolled normally. However, if a character rolls the maximum damage
(i.e. '6' on a d6), no matter if it was a to-hit roll of natural '20'
or not, roll damage again, but subtract 2 from the second roll;
negative numbers are equal to '0.' If the maximum is rolled again,
roll again and subtract 2 from the third roll. Keep going until the
highest number on the damage die doesn't come up.
5) Full Damage: Do full weapon damage on critical hits and full damage
to yourself on critical misses
6) Random Multiplier: On a roll of natural 20, the player rolls
damage, adding any bonuses he might have. He then rolls a d6,
multiplying the damage done by the result.
7) Dexterity Check: If a natural one is rolled on an attack roll, roll
a DEX check at half DEX (or a number the DM assigns in the case of a
monster). If the check is made the attack simply misses. If it fails
a fumble occurs, and any remaining attacks for that round are lost. In
addition, every opponent who is in melee with the character who
fumbled and/or any opponent who is aiming a missile or hurled weapon
at this person gets an immediate free attack at +4 to hit, due to the
poor character leaving himself wide open.
8) Lose an Attack: On a roll of a 1, the attacker fumbles and misses
out on 1 attack. This means that a fighter with multiple attacks or
someone with more than one weapon loses the next attack that round,
and someone with only one attack per round may not attack during the
9) D10 Method: Roll 1d10. If the result is 1-8, then the weapon does
its maximum damage. If the result is 9-10, the weapon does double
10) On a roll of natural '1,' you lose your weapon.
11) If a natural '20' is rolled, the attacker rolls again. If the
second roll is higher than the attacker's level/HD, then it is a
normal hit. If the second roll is lower than the attacker's level/HD,
then the defender rolls. If this roll is lower than the defender's
level/HD, then the hit does maximum damage. If this roll is higher
than the defender's level/HD, then roll on your favorite critical hit
chart for the results.
12) Free attack: If a natural '20' is rolled, damage is resolved
normally. However, the character immediately gets a free attack,
unless a natural '20' was required to hit in the first place. If a
natural '20' is rolled on the free attack, then the character gets
another free attack, and so on.
13) When resolving crits where another dice roll indicates whether
extra damage is done, STR bonuses, magical weapon bonuses, etc. are
added after the "extra" damage has been added to the rolled damage.
14) On a roll of natural '1,' the attacker must make a DEX check at -1
to -4, depending on the situation, or drop the weapon and lose
initiative for the next round. If the DEX check is made, the
character simply loses initiative for the next round.
15) Any combination of any part of 1-14.
K7: What can I do to make crossbows as useful as normal bows? (2ND)
A: If you wish to change the damage value of crossbows, here is a
suggestion, averaged and smoothed out from many responses to the
issue, and relatively balanced with respect to other weapons:
Hand 1d4 1d4-1
Light 1d6+1 1d8+1
Medium 1d8+1 1d10+1
Heavy 1d10+1 2d6+1
The Combat & Tactics book of optional rules deals with this
situation in a similar manner; the hand crossbow is 1d3/1d2, the
light crossbow is the same as is listed here, there is no medium
crossbow listed, and the heavy crossbow is the same as is listed
under medium here. It also adds the pellet crossbow, which fires
a pellet which does 1d4/1d4.
If you wish to change the entire way crossbows are handled, here are
a few suggestions to mix and match:
1) Make longbows 2 proficiencies to learn and 1 to specialize.
2) Change the nonproficient penalty by +1 for crossbows and -1 for
long bows. Thus the to hit penalties for bows become:
Warrior Wizard Priest/Rogue
Longbow -3 -6 -4
Short bow -2 -5 -3
Crossbow -1 -4 -2
3) Make all crossbows +1 to hit, due to ease of use.
4) When resolving a hit with a crossbow, treat all armors with an AC
of 4 or less as if they were AC 5 (add any magic bonuses after doing
this). This can also be used for longbows.
5) When resolving a hit with a crossbow, treat all armors as if they
were three slots worse, to a maximum of AC 10. This can also be used
6) Give all crossbows and long bows relative strength values; use the
Strength to hit and damage bonuses when using the bow. For longbows,
the strength value is also the minimum strength needed to draw the
string. For all bows, use the respective damage dice listed in the
7) Use the optional rule for weapon type vs. armor type from the PH
and treat all crossbow quarrels & longbow arrows as "piercing"
weapons; remember that the number is a bonus to hit only, not a bonus
to damage as well.
8) When using the damage dice listed in the PH, treat crossbows as
arquebuses for the method of determining damage; i.e. if the maximum
damage is rolled, roll again and add the results. Keep doing this
until a lower number is rolled. This method may be used for any
missile weapon that does not involve direct muscular effort, i.e.
crossbows, ballistae, and atlatls could work this way, but short and
long bows, and hurled weapons would not.
9) Use the optional armor penetration rule for light and heavy
crossbows from the Combat & Tactics book, which worsens the AC of an
armored opponent by 2 at medium range and by 5 at short range.
K8: How much do coins weigh?
A: In first edition AD&D, ten coins weighed one pound, regardless of
what metal the coins are made of. In second and third edition AD&D,
fifty coins weigh one pound, regardless of what metal the coins are
made of (DMG2, p. 134; DMG2R, p. 181; PH3, p. 96). This should result
in coins of different sizes, with copper pieces being much larger than
gold pieces due to the weight difference between the two metals; while
there is no mention of any such distinction in the second edition rules,
the third edition rules directly state that all standard coins are the
Historically speaking, coins of different denominations were of
varying weights and sizes--making an accurate scale a merchant's best
friend--and you may wish to introduce this detail into your campaigns,
as well as naming the different denominations something other than "gold
pieces" and "copper pieces", in order to add more local flavor.
K9: What can I do to make the hit point system more true to life?
A: The *D&D system intentionally simplifies combat as much as possible.
See the previous Section for details and suggestions for combat in
general. If you are concerned about a higher level character's
good chances of surviving an attack by a mob while wearing nothing
but a loin cloth and while tied to a stake, or surviving at ground
zero of a thermonuclear explosion, read on.
The hit point system works as is, if you keep a couple of things
in mind when dealing with characters with hit points to spare.
1) Overbearing: As outlined in the PH & DMG, overbearing is an
excellent way for a group of low or 0-level characters to
incapacitate a tougher opponent (such as a high level PC who can
take a blow or four from any normal weapon and ignore it). Once
incapacitated (pinned to the ground by sheer weight of bodies),
the victim can be knocked out, tied up, gravely injured, or even
killed with much less difficulty than normal, as there is a +4 to
hit bonus for prone characters. Even a high level fighter will
think twice about trying to take on a group of people single-
handed after suffering such an ignominious defeat; his high
number of hit points will do him no good.
2) Entanglement: Some weapons are excellent for entangling a
character's limbs, thus preventing normal actions, or even resulting
in a fall. Chains, ropes/lassos, and nets are good examples of this.
The Combat & Tactics book outlines the "Pull/Trip" maneuver, which
is one method of achieving this; it also describes the game effects
of several "non-standard" weapons (like chains & lassos). Since
these attacks do not have much direct effect on hit points, a high
number of hit points will not be nearly as important as in one-on-one
combat. Also, if a victim is completely entangled and tied down,
the DM may rule that that counts as "held", and thus all attacks
3) 2ND: Sap: A sap is both a maneuver and a specific weapon; both are
described in the Combat & Tactics book. When using the weapon,
or anything similar (like the flat side of a sword), one makes
a called shot to the head, with -4 penalty for a called shot (an
additional -4 if the victim is wearing a helm). If the attack
is successful, there is a 5% chance per point of damage done (40%
maximum) that the victim is knocked out for 3d10 rounds. Due to
the to hit penalties, this is best attempted in conjunction with
one of the above situations, as then there are bonuses to counter
the called shot penalty, as well as the opportunity for more than
one character to attempt a sap per turn, increasing the possibility
that a knockout is achieved. Once knocked out, the victim is
considered "sleeping", and all further attacks automatically
3RD: Strike to Subdue: A strike to subdue is the same concept as the
above "sap" maneuver, but with different resolution. Instead, such
attacks do "subdual" damage; if the amount of subdual damage a
character has taken is ever more than his remaining hit points (not
total hit points), the character is knocked out. Subdual damage goes
away at the rate of 1 point per hour per character level.
4) Missile attacks: An attack by a single bowman may not faze a
character with a lot of hit points much, but a group of longbowmen or
crossbowmen at medium range, or in sniper positions, will cause any
intelligent character to fear for his life. If enough arrows are
fired into a given area in a single round, chances are that some of
them will hit. If this continues for multiple rounds (which is a
good bet if there is any sort of range between the bowmen & the
character, or in the case of snipers), any character, no matter
how many hit points they started out with, will not feel so hot.
Crossbows have the additional bonus of being able to punch through
armor, according to the optional Combat & Tactics rules. This is one
of the quicker ways to reduce hit points.
4) Be sure to watch out for situations that may result in automatic
or near-automatic hits. The above are some examples of this; there
very well may be others.
5) Memorize the combat bonuses table, and apply them judiciously.
Many otherwise "intolerable" situations would be helped if the PC had
a greater chance of being hit.
6) Intelligent opponents: Be sure to play opponents intelligently,
unless the situation dictates otherwise. Villagers should know that
going toe-to-toe with a grizzled war veteran is not a smart move,
and thus will take actions accordingly if they wish to attack him.
Mob actions, sniper fire, and deadfalls are all examples of
tactics 0-level characters can use. Creatures or characters fighting
on their home turf should know exactly where to stage pitched battles
and when to flee to a more favorable combat arena. Higher ground and
staircases are prime examples of this.
7) Fudge: Either keep track of all hit points yourself, or
retroactively add on to or subtract from opponents' hit point
totals, and thus make battles last as long or as short as seems
appropriate. If you are keeping track of all hit points, then
players don't get cocky from knowing that they have enough hit
points to grin and bear an attack.
8) Remember that any character who receives 50 or more points of
damage from a single attack and survives must immediately make a
fortitude saving throw (2ND: save vs. death) or die from the sudden,
However, if you decide that the system simply does not work for
you as is, there are a number of options you might try.
1) Assign a certain percentage of the character's hit points to the
torso, head, and each limb. Then use hit location rules. This
works best with no increase or slow increase in character hit
points. It also increases the effectiveness of called shots.
2) Whatever a character rolls for hit points for 1st level are
that character's "body points"; all others gained through normal
advancement are "fatigue points". Certain types of attacks &
certain spells automatically affect only the body points;
otherwise, the fatigue points are affected first. When all fatigue
points have been lost, the character loses consciousness; when all
body points are lost, the character dies.
3) As for #2, but rather than having certain attacks target the body
points, one body point is lost for every (Level) points of damage
taken. The rest is subtracted from the fatigue points.
4) Don't give increases in hit points for level advancement.
5) Reduce the hit point increase for level advancement, giving
characters an extra hit die at every other level or every third
6) Hit points are rolled as normal. All hit points up to the
character's CON are "body points" and the rest are "skill points."
Damage will be taken from the skill points first, unless the to-hit
roll was 5 or more than needed or a saving throw is missed by 5 or
more, in which case the damage is split evenly between the skill
points and the body points. Skill points are recovered at
(character's level/day); body points are recovered at
(CON bonus+1/day, maximum of 3) starting the day after all skill
points have been recovered.
7) Change the hit dice used for each class; for example, reducing
all classes by one die, with mages getting 1d3.
8) Give damage bonuses or even multipliers for some situations, such
as those listed in the PH & DMG as giving to hit bonuses. Possibly
even give damage bonuses or multipliers to some weapons, such as
bows or crossbows used at point-blank range.
9) Reduce the availability and/or effectiveness of healing magics, so
that when a character gets hurt, he won't be immediately up to full
strength for the next encounter, and may start thinking twice about
head-on combat. Lasting injuries (scars, wounds that refuse to heal,
and the like) are also good ways of keeping characters humble.
10) Critical hits: If you are concerned about characters with a lot of
hit points shrugging off combat as too easy, start using a critical
hit system. Most include ways for even 0-level characters to do
significant amounts of damage with one good hit. Those systems that
have location-specific results will increase the effectiveness of
called shots, and increase the chance of a character losing the use
of his sword arm, for example. Smart characters will think twice
before charging into combat.
11) Make characters who lose more than half of their hit points in
a single round roll for system shock, losing consciousness if they
12) Any combination of the above.
A warning for options 1 through 5: if you take one of these options,
you will most likely have to rewrite the damage dice for weapons table
as well as the damage done by certain spells, such as fireball, which
could then kill every character every time, regardless of whether or
not a save was made.
K10: The energy drain power of greater undead sucks. What can I do? (2ND)
A: You bet it does. That's part of the problem, you see. In any case,
the chief out-of-game reason that is ascribed to this ability is so
that there are some creatures out there that characters will fear,
and rightly so, each and every time such creatures are encountered.
Also, just as hit points are a measure of health, levels are a
measure of the soul's vitality or some such ephemeral quality. As
in normal combat, 0-level characters won't last nearly as long on
the average as high-level characters will.
The chief in-game explanation is that the touch of an evil
creature with such close ties to the Negative Material Plane has a
profound effect on a character; in much the same way that a
character in a campy horror film gets permanently white hair and
stutters and shakes uncontrollably after a ghostly encounter, a
*D&D fighter has his confidence shaken by feeling the touch of death
and the loss of soul energy that goes with it and so can't fight
quite as well, a wizard can't quite keep his thoughts straight enough
to cast higher level spells, a priest has lost some confidence in his
deity so that some spells just won't work, a thief's hands shake when
performing certain activities, and anyone so affected is generally
unable to perform at their past level of achievement, even to the
point of 'unlearning' many things, due to the severing of pathways in
the mind by the momentary connection to the Negative Material Plane.
Also, all affected characters lose some of the vitality & energy they
once enjoyed, so they don't quite move as fast or as well, are
somewhat more susceptible to disease, and can't take nearly as much
damage before blacking out. With time and experience, confidence and
composure can be regained; however, it is not uncommon for such
experiences to deeply scar a character, possibly even to the point of
giving up their previous life and becoming a hermit or the town
lunatic or mystic.
An alternate (or parallel) in-game explanation is that level-
draining undead have strong ties to the Negative Material Plane, and
are essentially negatively-charged objects, and void of life. Living
beings' souls are charged with the positive power of life; gaining
experience increases the positive charge. When something with a
positive charge comes in contact with the undead being by being
struck by the undead creature, part of the positive flows into the
void of the negative, leaving the positively-charged being with a
lower charge than before (fewer levels), and partially filling the
void in the undead (so it can "feed" on the energy gained). Any
knowledge that was gained with the energy that is drained is also
lost. Further experience or magic can be employed to recharge the
character and relearn abilities; otherwise, the energy level will
remain at the current level. Lower-level characters have lower
starting levels of positive energy, and so can be drained faster
than characters with higher levels of energy.
However, many players believe that these lines of reasoning do not
make sufficient sense; these people wish to find some other way of
expressing the effect that strong undead should have on characters.
If you are one of these people, here are some quick suggestions (note
that in all cases with alternatives to level drain, *Restoration*
automatically reverses all effects):
1) Drain stats rather than levels. CON is usually the best choice,
but STR & DEX are close seconds. Different types of undead may
drain different stats.
2) Drain hit points, which then don't heal as normal. Either
make the hp drain is permanent, or increase the time for natural
healing by a factor of 10.
3) Give the character a curse, which changes from undead to undead.
Vampires might bestow a lesser form of vampirism, wights a taste for
human flesh, spectres a case of magical gangrene that becomes
insubstantial as it rots, and so on.
4) Age the character, the number of years depending on the type of
5) Have energy drain affect hit points and saving throws as per
normal, but not THAC0, proficiencies, and spells. If hit points
are regained over time rather than with magic, subtract one from each
roll for more hit points until the previous level of experience has
6) Keep track of hit point gains for each level, and subtract the
number that was initially gained (including CON bonuses) for the
particular level that was lost.
7) Have the character make a system shock roll or a save vs.
paralyzation. If the roll is failed, the character loses a level.
8) Make the drain only temporary. Lost levels are regained at a
certain rate, such as (xp lost divided by 6) per month, or one level
per one month of compete bed rest.
9) Have all skills return automatically, without need for training
again, and give bonuses to any rolls to relearn spells.
10) Alter the non-corporeal undead, such as wraiths and spectres,
so that instead of draining levels, they can ignore armor; all
opponents are treated as AC 10 plus any DEX adjustments. Magical
armor adds only its plus to this number. Thus, a character with a
15 DEX wearing *plate +1* would be treated as having an AC of 8 when
facing a spectre.
11) Instead of being drained of existing experience levels, the
victim receives a cumulative -10% xp penalty each time he is struck
by level-draining creatures. (Stronger or weaker undead may cause
this penalty to be larger or smaller.) If a the penalty reaches 100%,
the character dies. The penalty is reduced by 10% for each level the
drained character gains thereafter, as the character naturally
overcomes the effects of the soul drain. The *Restoration* spell
instantly reduces this penalty to 0%.
K11: How do you apply multiple multipliers? (3RD)
A: Since multipliers aren't actually "multipliers," but rather represent
extra dice, they do not work the same as they would with normal
mathematics. "x2" does not mean "multiply the damage by 2", but rather
means "roll damage an extra time"; "x3" does not mean "multiply the
damage by 3", but rather means "roll damage two extra times".
To figure out the proper multiplier to use when several of them
affect a single damage roll, subtract one from each multiplier, add
all of the results together, and add one to the total. For example,
if you are using a lance from the back of a charging horse (x2) with
Spirited Charge (x2), and achieve a critical hit (x3), the result is
(2-1) + (2-1) + (3-1) + 1 = x5. Another way to do the math is to take
the first (or highest) multiplier as is, subtract one from all of the
others, and add the results together. In the above example, this
would be 2 + (2-1) + (3-1) = x5.
K12: Is caster level a prerequisite for creating magic items? (3RD)
A: Not directly, no. The "Caster Level" listed for magic items is
the default level used for level-dependent effects (such as duration)
and dispelling of magic items for random magic items found over the
course of an adventure. (It could, if the DM chose, also be used for
determination of saving throw DCs, but the normal rule for that is
to use the minimum needed for the spell.) The Caster Level for a
/Pearl of Power/ is 17th, which is the default caster level (for
dispelling, and similar purposes) for random /Pearls of Power/ found
in dungeons. (In this case, it is 17th in part because that is the
level needed to cast 9th level spells and thus be able to create any
/Pearl of Power/.) Some magic items also have caster level
prerequisites; this information is then also listed in the
"Prerequisites" section of the description.
For a single character doing all the work of creation, the minimum
caster level necessary to create a magic item is the level required
for the necessary item creation feat, or the minimum needed to cast
the highest level spell listed as a prerequisite, whichever is
higher. Thus, a wizard creating a /Pearl of Power/ for 1st level
spells must be at least 3rd level to do so, as the item requirement is
the ability to cast 1st level spells, and the minimum level at which a
wizard can gain the feat is 3rd.
However, that's just the price for entry; the person creating the
item can then set the level the item acts at as high or low as is
desired and possible. A wizard creating a /Wand of Magic Missiles/
must be at least 5th level to do so, as the minimum level to cast the
spell is 1st level and the minimum level at which the wizard can take
the feat is 5th. If the wizard in question is 9th level, he can set the
"caster level" of the wand at anything between 1st and 9th, with all
level-dependent effects being set accordingly. If he picked 9th, to
get 5 magic missiles per charge, the "Caster Level" listing of the
magic item description would be 9th, even though the minimum necessary
to create the item was only 5th. If he picked 1st, in order to save on
costs, the "Caster Level" listing of the magic item description would
be 1st, even though the minimum necessary to create the item was
If multiple characters are working together to create an item, then
the minimums vary by which task each character does; the one who
supplies the feat must meet the feat's minimum, each one who provides
a spell must meet the spell's minimum, and so forth. The end result
can then have any "Caster Level" within the limits of the spells
involved and the level of the character who is the primary creator.
K13: Where else can I look for info about being a Dungeon Master?
A: There is a very interesting FAQ about DMing, complete with tips,
tricks, and things to do & not do, with something for any level of
experience as a DM. Written by lucifer (No, not that one,
firstname.lastname@example.org), it can be found at
***End Part 9***
Aardy R. DeVarque
Feudalism: Serf & Turf
Rec.games.frp.dnd FAQ: http://www.enteract.com/~aardy/faq/rgfdfaq.html