Monday, September 21, 2015

Surprises from Second Edition

So my Church of Al-Qadim (i.e. SundAD&D) game is up and running, and four brave souls are letting me run my dream Al-Qadim game (with a few modifications to fit their points of view). Its been a bit rough so far, because I forget how much work it can be to run a game, in this case stitching a number of Al-Qadim and non-AQ adventures together into a nice sandbox. So I haven't even given out all the background info I was hoping to, and might need to recommend a couple changes to characters still, but things are coming along fairly well I think.

However. I had a few surprises with the second edition rules.

First off: random wilderness encounters. I mucked it up a bit and ran the dungeon rules for the wilderness, but I'm not sure it affected all that much there. But afterwards when I sat down to really read through the random encounters rules I see this:
Unlike the dungeon tables, those used for the wilderness are not so neatly organized according to deadliness or power. One principle of wilderness adventuring (which makes it more dangerous for low-level characters) is that virtually any creature can be met—and often in sizeable numbers. This is a risk the players should be aware of before they take their characters out into the untracked forest.
This really hit home after killing one PC and rolling for a 10-hit die giant snapping turtle (6d4 damage with a successful bite means it would be virtually guaranteed to kill any of the PCs with one hit).

Second off: Death's door. After killing a PC, I used the obvious Hovering at Death's Door optional rule. I shocked myself a little, as PCs can't recover more than 1 hitpoint for a full day (and are basically useless that whole day). This is definitely a lot gritter than the rules in modern D&D where there are cantrips to stabilize people and warlords can yell people back on their feet. I definitely like it, but I wonder if there's a role for letting high-constitution characters get off a little easier. Though maybe it could just be you're officially dead when your negative HP hit your constitution score, rather than -10 for everyone. This rule also makes me feel a little justified with my proposed 5e house rule of assigning a level of exhaustion if you get to negative HP.  Second edition also made it a bit easier than first edition, where it can take a whole week of rest before the injured character can adventure again. I suspect we'll find the pace of healing a lot slower too unless the priestess uses all her spells for healing constantly. Makes me think a little about whether I want those second level healing spells in the game or not: priests can't heal as much if there are no healing spells at a particular level.

Third off: Crazy spells! The save for Charm Person might only be made in spans of weeks, not days or hours. I kind of knew this but didn't actually read it before we played. Animal Friendship is basically indefinite (though there's a limit to how many you can have at any given time), which we discovered right before we started. These are all basically hidden class features (much like Eldritch Blast & Hex or Hunter's Mark or Find Steed in 5e).

Fourth off: Ability scores! I didn't know dexterity didn't modify initiative (probably cause it was hard on group initiative which was the early standard). Instead it modifies your likelihood of being surprised (you might not surprise everyone in a group). Likewise both dexterity and wisdom have broad impacts on classes of saving throws (dodge-able and mind-affecting spells) and everyone gets a constitution bonus to saves versus poison (though dwarves and halflings get a bigger bonus for their race). I like some of this and you can see how it prefigures the fortitude, reflex, and will saves/defences of later editions.

Overall, I'm liking it. It definitely seems to be working for a gritter game, is easy-ish to modify some aspects, and it would be a bit harder to get 5e to do some of this as well as second edition seems to be (not to mention I have all this second edition stuff, I doubt they'll ever actually convert Al-Qadim to 5e).


  1. I've been thinking a bit about Sunday's session and realizing that it was a bit disorientating, and some of that was getting used to 2nd Edition rules, playing the first session of a new campaign and whatnot but a lot of that was figuring out how Roll20 implements 2e.

    Here's what I struggled with:

    Uneven spells - It's been a long time since I've played a game where spells of the same level didn't even pretend to have a power balance (my random spell selection and the array of other characters and spell-casting hirelings in the AD&D/OSRIC game I played basically made that character a 0th level peasant rather than a 1st level mage). After catching the Animal Friendship potency, I'm realizing that I should go through all my 1st level spells to see if there are other powerful/long lasting spells that I should be abusing rampantly.

    Healing/Death – While you like the grittiness, I’m finding it a little frustrating that not even magical healing works for characters those 24 hours after they are brought back to 1hp after being reduced to 0 hp. If magical healing doesn’t help then what is the point of magical healing spells? This might be less of a problem if I was playing a good aligned cleric willing to take Cure Light Wounds as all my spells and cast them liberally during combat, but for a Lawful Evil priestess planning on just using healing when absolutely necessary, I foresee lots of issues arising. Because if we’re racing to get to an artifact before another individual or group then Thema’s not going to want to wait 24 hours on an injured companion and at that point there will be no point to spending the spell slot to return them back to 1hp to begin with when using it will just cause a 24 hour delay. I’d almost rather ditch the Death’s Door and let 0hp be dead until/if the party decides to raise that PC from the dead and just implement a more ruthless game where the expectation is you might play several characters if you’re unlucky, but right now the mostly unspoken understanding is that we spent 3 hours struggling to make these characters and to come up with backgrounds and drives for them so we don’t really need to worry about having a backup character for when things get deadly.

    Roll20 – After the ease of Roll20 for 13th Age, I’m finding using it for 2e a real struggle. The character sheet is poorly laid out, the Thief Skills show on my character sheet even after I check the box to hide them and things that seem like they would be simple or implemented, like summing up weight, aren’t (or are arcane enough that we can’t determine how to make them work easily). I actually spent time during the combat searching for a help guide, but there’s no AD&D 2e system guide for Roll20 and very little to help figure out why I have to click over to my token on the screen to have my initiative automatically show in the turn tracker as linked to my character when I was clicking the button on my character sheet. And with the default attack roll macro from the character sheet requiring 3 prompts, two of which say “don’t adjust” and then the 3d dice not showing for the players keeping us from seeing what we rolled unless we hover over the output and decipher the two sentences of bonuses and calculations gibberish it was very frustrating and I spent most of the combat with my attention partly elsewhere as I tried to find a guide or a forum post that would explain how things work or how to improve them. Given how easily and transparently the 13th Age Roll20 implementation was to jump into, this was a real shock.

    1. So I definitely agree that the sheet that's made for 2e on roll20 is clunky. I think we can make some macros to do a lot of of that work fairly easily.

      For the Death's Door thing, what it looks like is any magical healing means someone reduced to 0 hp can be mobile (but not combative) right away. That means they can at least slowly move under their own power. That's the bonus. If you just stabilize them, they may be left at -4hp, unable to travel, and only regain the 1hp per day for resting. So without a healing spell they'e really out of commission for a long time depending on how far down they really are. Someone with the Healing (or Healing and Herbalism) proficiencies (like an Al-Qadim Barber) could get people regaining 3hp per day but even a little magical healing is still useful. On the note of liberal use of cure spells in combat though, by the book that's a bit of a crap shoot as you should be making a touch attack (i.e. vs AC 10) if they're doing any combat activities cause you might not quite reach them. Which seems a bit harsh, but maybe it makes magical healing just so crappy that its not worth focusing on really. Which, in a way frees you to take those non-healing spells anyway..?