Friday, May 22, 2015

Why Wizards Suck on the Battlefield

  Hey, everyone, sorry I've been gone a lot.
  I was relaxing a bit the other night and talking gaming with someone I have not played a lot with when I ran into another variant of the discussion I call 'not this again', but is sometimes called 'linear fighters and quadratic wizards'. The basic argument is pretty old and is roughly,
  "At low level fighters easily outshine wizards but at high level wizards are like unto gods while fighters are just mildly better fighters."

  As I've mentioned before, I don't agree with this assessment at all. I did my usual response of pointing out that at any level a fighter, cleric, or thief will almost certainly just flat-out kill a wizard of the same level one-on-one. 
  Disagree? OK, let's look at the numbers:
  [of course I am talking about 1e/OSRIC/etc! They are my favorites!]
  13th level magic-user Abelard the Average. H.P. 30 A.C. 2 (magical stuff)
    Abelard has a total of 25 spells, 2 scrolls, and such
  13th level fighter Mendacus the Middling. H.P. 59 A.C. 0 (cool armor)
    Mendacus has a nice sword and something that gives him extra damage, like ogre gauntlets

  At average encounter distance for a dungeon assuming no surprise Abelard has time to cast a single spell before Mendacus closes. Further, the spell had better be 3rd level or lower because of initiative rules.  We have no idea what spells Abelard has gotten, blown, etc., but let's assume that one of them is a Fireball. Average damage for Abelard is 46 h.p. - not enough. And since Mendacus will probably save it is only 23. That's insulting.
  So Mendacus closes and with 2 attacks a round will almost certainly prevent Abelard from casting (by hitting him about 19 times out of 20). It will take Mendacus about, oh, 2 rounds to cut down Abelard.

  It is similar with clerics and thieves; Abelard must have the right spell, use it at the right time, and his foe must be very unlucky or the mage dies.

  "But that's not what I mean!" said the person I was talking to, "I mean that the mage can cause a LOT more damage to foes than the fighter can!"

  That depends on what you mean, actually. Look at Abelard; if he has a lot of luck and the right access, etc. he could cast Death Spell, which has the potential of killing up to 80 creatures of 2 HD or less! That is pretty serious. Fireballs and Lightning Bolts do a lot of damage, too. 
  But then the spells are gone. And once his spells are gone Abelard can't deal out that damage like that until he gets a good night's sleep and a fair chunk of time to re-memorize.

  Mendacus can slaughter until he needs sleep. With a great deal of luck (rolling a lot of maximum numbers; the goblins standing shoulder to shoulder, chest to back, etc.) Abelard could kill 400 goblins in 10 rounds. With average numbers Mendacus will kill 120+ goblins in the same amount of time. Abelard will be out of spells; Mendacus will still have a sword.

  So while the wizard can, indeed, drop a lot of death in a short period of time, the fighter can easily surpass it over time. 

  I am not saying that fighters are better than wizards or anything like that! I am just pointing out that they each fulfill their respective parts of the Four Roles well. Without all of the roles filled any party will suffer.

  That is when we entered slightly different territory. The person I was speaking with said,

  "But you must admit that even from medium level the wizard is much more effective on the battlefield"

  That got me to thinking about the mass battle I recently ran for my Blackstone campaign. In that one I had pointed out what I have learned from that and other mass battles.

  What I have learned, in a nutshell, is that Wizards Suck on the Battlefield.

  "But Rick!" you say, "All those spells! He can fly! Tturn Invisible! Cast Fireball! Cloudkill!



  When you are talking about armies taking to the field, and I mean armies with forces of hundred to thousands or more per side, wizards are very limited.

  Let's take a look at the big scary, Fireball. Wizards get it at 5th level so its range is...
  150 yards.

    I know a lot of people keep all spell ranges at 1" in the book = 10', but I follow the rule that missile weapons and spells switch to 1" = 30' outdoors/on a battlefield, just like Gary intended.

  The edge of short bow range. Medium range for a heavy crossbow. A salvo of heavy quarrels at a 5th level mage is probably going to disrupt his blood flow, let alone his casting.

  And the Fireball is only 40' across. Plenty big for a dungeon, pretty small for a battlefield. it is going to catch at most somewhere between 12 and 26 foes, typically. If those foes are normal orcs, goblins, etc. they are going to die.

  And the 5th level mage's lone Fireball is gone.

  OK, how about a 9th level wizard? One with the bane of the battlefield, Cloudkill! I mmean, Cloudkill is terrifying; 40' wide, 20' deep and tall; instantly kills anything weaker than an ogre; can kill virtually annything (read your DMG).
  It's range is 10 yards.
  30 feet.
  Within short range for a thrown dagger at battlefield scale.
  It lasts (in this case) 9 rounds, creeping forward at 1/12th the speed of a walking man. In this case it stops after going a total of - 100 yards. In the meantime an entire pike square could move out of the way or even split up to let it pass. Great way to blunt a wild charge, yes, but very, very dangerous to cast and if the conditions aren't just right it is mainly useful to make formations move or break up.

  So if Abelard is 9th level and has the very best mass combat spells and takes those spells by preference to all others he could kill about, oh, 80 foes and either break up an enemy formation or stop an enemy charge. This will take him 5 or so rounds.

  That's pretty nice, but in a battle with 2,500 men on each side not as big a deal as you might think.

  What about 9th level Mendacus? How is he going to do? Well, against goblins he's going to be the the Angel of Death. He has 9 attacks per round against them (the 'fighters vs. less than 1 HD humanoids' rule) and will really only miss 1 in 20 times and if he has a magical sword each blow will kill an average goblin. In the five rounds it takes Abelard to kill 80 goblins Mendacus would kill about 43 goblins, round down to 40. Half as many.
  But Mendacus can keep going on. Assuming Mendacus has an Armor Class of 0 and is facing roughly 10 goblins a round he will be able to fight for about 17 rounds before he is at half hit points and needs to retire for healing. In that time he would potentially kill 145 goblins.

  Yes, yes, there are a lot of assumptions going on; Mendacus will have to close with the goblins, keep up with them, etc. But the point still stands.

  While wizards have the capability to do a great deal of damage in a short period of time, the fighter can do much more damage over a long period of time. The total potential damage of a fighter over the course of a day is much higher than the total potential damage of a wizard over the course of a day.  

  Since large-scale battles are much more about attrition over time the fighter is better suited to that particular type of encounter. This is easily forgotten if a particular group, DM, campaign, etc. focuses mainly on dungeon crawling or similar actions because those types of encounters are often about delivering damage quickly. It is also "concealed" by the habit of parties to pull back, rest, and regain spells; they essentially base the pace and rhythm of adventuring about 'recharging' the mages.

  An aside: This is one of the reasons I keep track of encumbrance, components, rations, random encounters etc. It isn't just 'utilizing/taking advantage of the resource management aspect' nor is it just a way to vacuum gold out of PC's pouches. These things are there to also set the pace and rhythm around overall party supplies, 'throttle' the wizard's ability to deliver damage, and allow fighters to shine more as they deal with encounters after the wizards are out of spells.

  As I noted in my post on the mass battle in my campaign I linked above, wizards are very good at some elements of the battlefield; for example, they are very good and eliminating enemy siege engines.

  Many years ago I remember a number of people commenting negatively about something Gary wrote, in Dragon I believe. As  I recall he was speaking of a large battle among Northern barbarians and noted 'the spell casters largely neutralized each other'. People were very upset and spoke a great deal in print and at conventions that this was inaccurate, that wizards would be a key element of the battlefield.
  At the time I thought it unlikely that the man who derived AD&D from his rules for mass combat would get it wrong.
  I don't think he did. One of the key roles of the wizard on the battlefield will be to neutralize enemy wizards.

  'But Rick,' you say, 'Didn't you just way that wizards suck on the battlefield? Why would wizards deal with each other, then?'

  Great question! In addition to wanting enemy wizard's spellbooks and wands, this is because of the thing wizards are good at on the battlefield other than Fireballing catapults;
  Taking out enemy leaders.

  Remember Mendacus and his ability to slaughter 145 goblins before he stops for some gatorade? Abelard dumping a Fireball to kill 30 goblins seems less effective. But dumping it on Mendacus to force him off the battlefield is a great idea, especially if it catches the troops guarding his flanks. So if Mendacus has a wizard ally you can bet his goal is to prevent Abelard from forcing the Angel of Death to the sidelines.

  And this isn't to say that magic is not going to have a profound effect on how battles are fought! One of the most obvious is having teams of archers tasked specifically to attack enemy spell casters. Someone suddenly turns visible? A streak of light blossoms into a Fireball? A guy in robes is flying over the battlefield? Scattered teams of 10 troops with missile weapons target them immediately.

  Another would be to have elite troops in reserve and mobile so they can respond quickly to holes in the line caused by spells and, as importantly, engage guys like Medacus and his sword arm! Just having some hobgoblin mercenaries engage Mendacus (and thus dropping his number of attacks per round) makes a huge difference.

  There will also be some minor changes to battlefiel practice: pikewalls will probably have 3 densely packed rows and then reserve pikemen will be further back and scattered to reduce the damage of spells; Missile units will be broken into smaller groups and more widely dispersed to both dodge spells and react to spell casters; Cavalry units might well have a screen of light cavalry sweep out in front of a charge to check for illusions, spells, and to attempt to trigger magical attacks.

  I will write more about this topic soon.

Next Time: Why Wizards Don't Suck on the Battlefield

Monday, May 11, 2015

DM's Play Report from Blackstone I: Assault on Tolmar- Last Days of a Seven Year Campaign

  The War against the Redcaps is Won!

Previous update is found here.

The Campaign
  Seven years old. AD&D 2e Skills and Powers.

The Players and Characters
  Je.: Stardust, 13th level Thief. Armed with a pair of +3 Daggers of Returning and a sneaky disposition. Party scout.
    - Deacon Samarr,  6th level cleric henchman. Rescued from a Hill Giant slave pit, he is loyal to Stardust and her friends. Focused on healing and abjurations.
    - Sir Raleigh the True, 4th level fighter henchman. Gained from a Deck of Many Things, he is perfectly loyal. A halberd specialist and armed with a +7 halberd!

Ja.: Mournglow, 11th level mage. A true generalist and the party's planner. The list of NPCs who owe him favors needs to be printed in 8 point font. Double-sided.
    - Whitestar, his Arcane Servant familiar.

A.: Doomsman the Destroyer, 12th level Fighter. A barbarian and grandmaster with the two-hander who is skilled in a number of melee combat styles. One of the deadliest men on the planet. His magical scabbard carries both Gatekeeper, the sword of that seals the planes, and Magekiller, which is just what it says on the tin. Lord of the North, Guardian of the Pass, and party leader. He thirsts for combat.

S.: Ember, 11th level Fire Elementalist mage. Wields a flaming silver short sword of shapechanger slaying. A true master of fire magic he is the hot-head of the group.
    -Flint, his Fire Spirit familiar.
    -Redfire, 5th level Fire Elementalist henchman. He has died three times, each from a giant's boulder.

N.: Darkwalk, 8th/9th Cleric/Magic-user. Also a skilled fighter, he is the voice of caution. He carries an Talisman of Ultimate Good that keeps reappearing in his backpack each time he tries to give it to the Pope.
    -Suregaze, his Elven Dragonling familiar.
    -Starwing, a 3rd/3rd/3rd fighter/cleric/magic-user henchman. Leader of the henchman, she has a calm demeanor and a knack for leadership.


  The party has spent 3 days lurking about the ruins within the city of Tolmar. In addition to the major attacks (detailed in the entry at the link near the top) they have ambushed a patrol or two. So far, all of their activity has been limited to the northern half of the city, formerly called Upper Tolmar. The party has been hiding in various bolt holes within the city while their henchmen strive to make it appear the party is camping outside and making repeated assaults over/through the walls.

  After resting and regaining spells the party decides they must strike at the heart of the enemy. The former Main Square of the city is now a hub of evil; the four corners of the square now hold the Tower of Necromancers (northwest corner) the Temple of Unlife (NE corner), the Fortress-Cathedral of the Slaughter-God (SE corner), and the High Church of the RotLord (SW corner). The party decided to assault the Temple of Unlife.

  As the party began to leave Upper Tolmar, divided from Lower Tolmar by a wall and a 20' escarpment, there was a minor fight as Whitestar, Mournglow's familiar who was scouting, was attacked by an imp. The party arrived in 3 rounds to find Whitestar wiping ichor from his miniature sword. Darkwalk healed up the Arcane Servant and the party continued.

  The party crept up to close sight of the mausoleum-like Temple of the Ghoul God to see - the low-level acolytes gather outside! The ritual of Blotting Out the Sun was about to begin. The party waited until the doors opened then struck with a Fireball. This wiped out the acolytes as the party charged inside. The party was met with mid-level priests just inside the doors, forcing them to halt their assault and fight. The High Priest of the Undead Demiurge stood by the foul altar wearing his Crown of Worms and guarded by 9 of his top priests. While the guards wielded the ceremonial bardiches of the deathpriests the High Priest wielded the infamous Staff of Death, a foul artifact carved from the thighbone of a shadow dragon.

  Doomsman hurled his Maul of Thunderbolts and struck the High Priest - but the Maul spun away instead of returning! The thunderclap revealed a shimmering aura cloaking the entire altar area and the casters decided to refrain casting attack spells on the leadership!

  As the party fought a swarm of 40 ghoul-rats poured through slots in the floor. Darkwalk turned most of them and Ember dealt with the rest as Doomsman cut down evil clerics like he was playing whack-a-mole. Stardust did her thing and threw her Daggers of Returning at the High Priest - they, too, spun away instead of returning! Stardust made her Awareness check and realized that the troops of the Temple of Slaughter were formed up and preparing to charge. She darted to the main doors, shut the massive portals, and dropped the adamantite bar into place just in time!

  The evil priests were casting nasty spells left and right, including one using a Spectral Hand from a magic item!  The party was using counter spells, Magic Missiles, and Cures at a prodigious rate.

  In the meantime Doomsman had fought his way to the steps of the altar, shrugging off a bolt of negative energy from a priest, making saves versus 4 more spells, and generally rolling 18+ on every d20 he touched, the jerk. Mournglow and Darkwalk both cast Dispel Magic on the protective aura around the altar, bringing it down in a flash of foul smoke. Doomsman was hacking his way through the evil hierarchy and now the High Priest was the target of spells. The next round the High Priest was struck down by magic!

  And the Staff of Death lashed out, striking on the the Death priests. That priest turned to ash and the High Priest laughed in delight as he was returned to full health! The High Priest then triggered the power of the Crown of Worms, blasting Doomsman and Stardust with a Mind Blast. Doomsman finally failed a save and was...
  [roll the dice]
  Enraged! Wait, what? The one save he failed made him better at fighting!
  What a jerk.

  The Staff of Death pattern - the High Priest was struck down, the Staff of Death drained the life force of another Death priest fully healing its owner - happened again before Doomsman finally faced him in melee and all the other priests were dead. Doomsman hit with a flurry of blows, the High Priest's staff lashed out and touched Doomsman!

  And, yet again, he made his save. He did, though, lose 1/2 his full hit points (really messing with him, as he had taken damage) and this was enough for the Priest to be at full health. Doomsman repeated his attacks, struck down the High Priest for the FOURTH TIME! The Staff of Death lashed out and -

  Doomsman parried it! The Death Priest fell.

  It was a great moment for the players!

  The party quickly caught his body on fire, not caring to touch any items on his body.

  Stardust searched the ground floor, quickly finding and sealing two side doors. Moments later something big tried getting into one of them. The pounding on the front door indicated the troops of the Master of Massacres had brought in a battering ram. The party gathered around and Mournglow cast Teleport.

  He made the targeting roll easily, landing them back in their hidey-hole where they could see the Tower of Flying Beasts, which they had destroyed days earlier. As everyone got healed up (and Darkwalk used scrolls of Remove Curse on everyone because Death priests). the party observed the beehive of activity around the Death temple, including the Champion of the Slaughter God flying around fearlessly directing searches.

  Acting on a hunch the party sent a Whispering Wind to the Champion, offering him something they felt he couldn't refuse - a duel of honor. As the Champion began flying, alone, toward them, Darkwalk used a long-cherished scroll to cast Regenerative Heal on Doomsman (he normally has no access to this spell).  

  The Champion landed and the terms were agreed upon: if the Champion fell his arms and gear belonged to Doomsman; if Doomsman fell his companions could keep his weapons, gear, and body but must depart Tolmar and never return. Then the battle was joined.

  Now, to repeat - Doomsman is a 12th level Fighter and Grandmaster in the two-handed sword/greatsword. He has 3 attacks per round, gets a free parry per round (from a style) and does one die larger damage. His was using the sword Gatekeeper, which is +4 normally. He is wearing a Girdle of Stone Giant Strength (+5/+10). he has a magic item that can cast an automatic Heal if he is reduced to 0 or less h.p. once per month.

  The Champion was built as a 13th level specialty Cleric using Skills & Powers/Spells & Magic/etc. He has THAC0, hit points, etc. as a fighter, is a grandmaster in the long sword, and fights with a +4 longsword and a +3 short sword of quickness, giving him 3 attacks per round with the long sword and 2 attacks per round (one in 'segment 0') from the short sword AND a free parry from a style. Essentially, he gets a 'free' attack before initiative, a parry, and 4 attacks, allowing him to theoretically parry every one of Doomsman's attacks and still strike twice, once with the short sword and once with the long sword. He wears Gauntlets of Might (+4/+7). He Regenerates 7 h.p. per round and has the innate ability to go Berserk (+4 to hit, +6 to damage for 10 rounds and +20 h.p., but no parry) 3 times a day and has a blessing of the evil War God so that once per week if he is reduced to 0 h.p. or less he is instantly Healed.

  I made this as closely matched as possible. While the Champion hits more often when Doomsman hit he does more damage. 

  The fight lasted 8 rounds, a long time at this level. Doomsman's dice deserted him for the first 5 rounds; he hit as often as math decided but his damage was low and he was getting hit a lot. Then, well, he hit. A lot. And did a lot of damage, enough to trigger the Champion's Heal. Then the Champion hit a lot and triggered Doomsman's Heal. And then the dice turned and two rounds later the Champion is dead. 

  The entire party agrees it was the toughest, closest fight of the 7 years of the campaign.

  The party immediately beheaded him and then burned him, after getting his gear. 

  After healing up Doomsman again the party was essentially out of most spells (except for Ember's "backup Fireballs". Yes, multiple). They decided to mix it up and leave the city and camp beyond the walls. As they are setting up camp they hear a horrifying roar/bellow from the city. 

  The camps under watch when - there is another  horrifying bellow/roar right by the camp and a cloud of black mist envelopes them. Everyone makes their saves but still lose some hit points. OK, for some of them a LOT of hit points. As the mist clears they see - the Horned One!

  Aside: The party has long assumed the Horned One is a hobgoblin chief with a horned helm. I have gently encouraged this. In truth, he is a hobgoblin, but one born of two survivors of whatever-it-was that destroyed the capitol of the Emerald Empire centuries before; a being born and raised in the Shadow of the City, the area of fear and darkness that festers many miles northwest of Tolmar. The thing before them, however, is 7' tall, has massive goat-like legs ending in cloven hooves, and a set of horns growing from the sides of his head. 

  Everyone but Stardust was sleeping and no one has had a chance to learn spells. Doomsman, sans armor, grabs his sword and wades in. The Horned One wields a two-hander in one fist and they start fighting. Mournglow activates his Wand of Conjuration, Darkwalk is digging into his packs for scrolls, Stardust is hurling daggers, and Ember is prepping his few spells.

  The beginning of round 2 the Horned One breathes on Doomsman and paralyzes him! Luckily the Wand of Conjuration goes off and summons a Stone Golem. Darkwalk rushes up and drags Doomsman back out of melee and begins to pour an Elixir of Health down his throat. Ember fires off a Magic Missile, Stardust is looking for an item to help out, and the golem misses.

  In round three Ember gets off his go-to max damage spell, Torrential Fireball. This is sto-, uh, borrowed from HackMaster 4th and is, essentially, just like Fireball except d8 damage per instead of d6. Under 2e rules once per day a fire elementalist may ad 1d4 to the effective level of a Fire spell they cast and my modified honor rules mean you can guarantee that this adds 4. So when the chips are down Ember can do 14d8 fire damage.
  Like now.
  He didn't mind including the golem because everyone knows stone golems are immune to fire. Unfortunately, this is how he learned that the Horned One is immune to fire.

  By the end of the round the Horned One has destroyed the stone golem! The party has done very little to the Horned One.

  Round three: Doomsman has been un-paralyzed by the Elixir and wades in again. He and the Horned One trade a lot of damage. Ember and Mournglow both toss more Magic Missiles. Stardust keeps throwing daggers. At great personal risk Darkwalk casts Stoneskin on Doomsman.

  Round four: The Horned One bellows again, this time surrounding the entire area with Solid Fog. The party is convinced they are in trouble.

  Round five: Darkwalk casts Dispel Magic; the Fog parts to show the Horned One finishing a potion.

  Round six: The Horned One charges Doomsman and hits, tossing him 30'! The Stoneskin saves him from certain death, but is used up. Another flurry of missile weapons and everyone but Ember is now out of spells.

  Round seven: Doomsman closes again and hurts the Horned One a lot, but bot enough. The Horned One's first counter attack knock Doomsman to 3 h.p. Before he can strike again Ember uses his last spell, a Magic Missile and the Horned One dies.

  The party rejoices.

  They use a lot of charges, scrolls, etc. to heal everyone at least a bit and then camp until dawn again.

  Darkwalk burns most of his Cleric spells to heal everyone and they begin to investigate. The Horned One is now - a big, tough-looking hobgoblin in armor that cloaks him with an illusion and makes him immune to scrying. He is still obviously heavily mutated by magic, though. And, luckily, still very dead. They discover that he had placed a magic item on one of the Champion's swords and used that to track the party.

  There is obvious fighting in the city and they see scattered groups of humanoids and even a few individuals slinking from the city. They grab a few for interrogation and learn a great deal;

  - After the attack on the Tower of Flying Beasts a number of goblins and hobgoblins had defected.
  -The head of the Necromancers had died suddenly the morning of the assault on the Temple of Death (they realize whose imp Mournglow's familiar had killed), throwing the necromancers into confusion and internal fighting for leadership.
  - After the Champion's body was found Alzozel ('Creepyhead') had ordered the Slaughter God troops to leave and then flew off himself.
  - During the confusion the priests of the Plauge God had simply vanished.

  The party had been working on the Horned One's power base for years; destroying the alliance with the Giant Lords; wiping out the Band; slaughtering the Pack; the capture of the northern fortress; the death of the Lord of Necromancers; the assault on the Temple of Death; the death of the Slaughter God's champion. The Horned One's only chance of maintaining his power had been to destroy the party himself, something he had almost pulled off.

  The party returned to their real base, gathered their henchmen and hippogriffs, and flew to the Horned One's fortified island. It was essentially deserted. Stardust and Darkwalk made quick work the the various physical and magical traps and the party got to the treasure vault to find quite a bit of loot. The highlights of the haul were:

  -about 350,000 g.p. value of treasure
  -a slew of minor (+1/+2) magical weapons and armor
  - A Mirror of Mental Prowess
  - A Book of Infinite Spells
  - a +7 two-hander
  - the Sceptre of Goodly Might

  The party was very happy that the in-game 15 year, real life 7 year, quest to break the power of the Redcaps was complete. They are concerned that so many villains got away, of course, but the general agreement was that the entire party will now "retire" to run their various feudal lands.

  I must admit - it was an emotional afternoon. The Blackstone 1 campaign has been running for over 7 years and was the primary campaign. When we began my oldest son was 11; he starts his first full-time job this week. Our fourth son practiced penmanship re-writing his character sheet. This campaign has covered nearly 1/3rd of my marriage! It was a big day!

  And Good Triumphed!

Monday, May 4, 2015

An update and, well, a Bleg

  OK,so about a month ago I was suddenly laid off, no warning, along with the entire division I was in. This came hot on the heels of two major car repairs and medical bills so we were already virtually broke.
  The company used various methods to avoid their separation policies resulting in me NOT getting a severance package as promised in my contract.
  I have a new job, thank heavens, but it is straight commission - long term? I think it will be great.
  Short term?
  I don't get paid for weeks.

  I am settled in enough that I will start putting out new content soon both here (hopefully later today) and on RPGNow, etc. So I am hoping that people will look at my highly-reviewed OSRIC-compatible products and buy some! My publisher's page is here;


  and here;


  I hope to have fresh, new product up this week, too!

  I am also considering selling my very extensive library of D&D 3.5 books if there is interest. If you want/need a 3.5 book ask - I probably have it.

  Sorry for the quiet, but it is about to end!

PS: Yes, I have a donate now button on my sidebar.