Sunday, January 5, 2014

Players: What you need to know to play

It's really fun having players new to the game in our campaign, though (continuing the sentiment of my previous post) it holds me responsible for ensuring that everyone has a basic understanding of certain things about AD&D in order to play. The following is a relatively short list of things I'm classifying as "need to know":


Your ability scores (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha). The six abilities represent how physically and mentally talented your character is. Many of the game's mechanics take ability scores into consideration, and scores of 15 and higher typically yield significant advantages.

Your THAC0 (To-Hit-Armor-Class 0). This is the number you need to roll on a twenty-sided die (d20) to hit an opponent of armor class 0. The higher the opponent's AC, the easier they are to hit. For example, if your THAC0 is 18 and your opponent is AC 5, you only need to roll a 13 (18 - 5 = 13). Other bonuses or penalties can also apply to your roll (for example, when using a magical longsword +1 or attacking an invisible opponent). THAC0 decreases over time as a character gains levels, based on class.

Your armor class (AC). Armor class represents how difficult you are to hit. The main things that influence AC are quickness (Dexterity score) and the type of armor worn. The base AC for anyone is 10 and gets lower the better protected they are.

Your hit points (hp). Hit points measure how much damage you can sustain before being knocked unconscious or killed (this happens when reduced to 0 hp or lower, see here for details).

How many attacks you can make in a round. Low-level characters only make one attack normally, however bows (short and long bows only, NOT crossbows) can fire two arrows every round (rate of fire/ROF = 2). This makes bows ideal when attacking at range, though they can't be used right next to an enemy and suffer a -4 penalty (as all missile weapons do) when fired into a melee.

How much damage your weapons inflict. The weapons on your record sheet have numbers like 1d6 or 2d4 next to them. These are the number and type of dice you roll for damage when you hit with an attack.

Ability checks. Often, I'll ask you to make a check against one of your abilities, which means you want to roll equal to or lower than the value of that score on your record sheet using a d20. This is a simple way to determine success/failure for arbitrary feats like jumping onto a moving horse (Dex) or finding a marble in a pile of weapons (Wis).

Any special things your character can do. You shouldn't feel like you need to memorize a rulebook to play D&D, but you always should read the full description for your character's race and class in the Player's Handbook. This will tell you what extra things your character can do, like cast spells, backstab, and turn undead.

That some enemies require special or magical weapons to be damaged. When you swing your run-of-the-mill sword at a ghost and it passes right through, you don't deal any actual damage. That's because ghosts (along with many other creatures, particularly magical ones) require special or magical weapons (or spells) to hit. For example, that simple dagger you're holding won't do a thing to that werewolf if it's not coated in silver. Also, the DM won't tell you when this is the case for an opponent you're facing - you typically have to figure it out through trial and error.

That some enemies are perfectly capable of wiping out the entire party. Never assume, just because you're up against something, that you're likely to come out victorious. Part of what keeps the game "real" is the idea that sometimes the characters are simply outmatched. When this happens, find another way to deal with the situation or, if all else fails, RUN! It's usually fairly obvious when the party doesn't stand a fighting chance, though the characters ultimately need to decide for themselves.

That some enemies can kill a character with a single attack. Last session, Dowding died from poison after only being hit once. That wasn't because his hit points were reduced to 0, but because the specific attack forced him to roll a "saving throw" (a last-ditch effort to avoid a horrible fate, which he failed), or die. It's not always easy to predict when these kinds of attacks are coming, but you should definitely be aware that they can happen.

That sometimes good vs. evil is not absolute. Not every person or creature you meet in the game will be cookie-cutter good or evil. Sometimes bad things result from good intentions, and vice versa. Sometimes what's good in one person's eyes is malevolent in the eyes of another. Sometimes motivations are conflicting and blurred. Subjectivity is a remarkable thing.

That you can try [pretty much] anything you can think of. Don't ever feel restricted by the numbers and abilities on your character sheet. If you can imagine it, you can try it in the game. That doesn't mean everything you try, however, will work. I'll typically use a combination of attack rolls, ability checks, and common sense to figure out if your attempt succeeds.

That I'm not out to kill your character. It's pretty easy to come to the conclusion that my job as DM is to make the bad guys kill everyone in the party. Nothing could be further from the truth. My primary responsibilities are to adjudicate the game fairly, preserve the realism of the campaign world, and (most importantly) help make sure that everyone has a great time playing. I actually feel terrible when a character dies. That said, it isn't fair and takes away from the challenge of the game if I start fudging decisions or dice rolls to keep it from happening.

Trust me, if I wanted your characters dead, they would be. ;)

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