[AD&D2e] Doing things for the first time

Started by way, January 30, 2012, 09:28:58 AM

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I've been DMing an AD&D 2e game this weekend. One of the characters was a poisoner/alchemist: I've created a quick modification of the mage class for him. Part of the class was the concept of components. The poisoner had a long list of recipes for potions and poisons, each requiring multiple components from a common component list. The list contained component types such things as (hot and cold), (pain and joy), and such. The recipes also had a quality rating required for each component.

Now there was a spell he could use to extract a component from interesting things: corpses of monsters, special plants and such. The component type and quality was decided by a dice roll, lower quality being a lot more frequent than higher quality. However, after he did this for the first time on something, he wrote the result into his recipe book. From now on, every time he extracted component from a giant corpse, he got the same type and quality of component. Funny thing is, the whim of the dice decided that the corpes of the common, lowly orcs became a source of a very high quality and very useful component.

This was a lot of fun and extracting everythig became a strong driver for the character, but it really got me thinking, in two ways. First, this might be the way how material components should have been working for AD&D mages all along. And more importantly, there might be a powerful tool lurking here: using the dice results on the first encounter to define a general characteristic of the world.

If you meet your very first kobolds, and due to the luck of the dice you had a very hard time overcoming them, this would somehow define kobolds to be fearsome and strong creatures in this campaign, mechanically. If you botch your first "Chance to cast spell" roll as a priest, your patron deity has problems with you being his priest. I don't know about the exact rules that could work, but this approach would give a very special importance for doing things the first time. That roll does not only resolve the task at hand, but also creates some permanent reality or truth in the campaign world.

This might be a trivial finding for some of you! That's good. I wonder if there are systems or rulesets that touch on this concept, and I wonder if any of you have found those interesting or useful.



That's pretty cool! I see that kind of thing happening all the time naturally in games I play - the first meeting with a member of a group defines what we should expect from the group later on, and such. A game-mechanics way to tie that in solidifies that relationship, though.

Making it an explicit mechanic has its problems - players could pull as much resources as they can any time they encounter a thing for the first time, which is iffy but still okay. Where this would break down and start actually being un-fun, I think, is if players start avoiding doing some interesting activity due to fear of failure and only engage in the familiar*.

Was either of these ever a problem in your game? If not, was there anything you think that contributed into it not appearing/not being a problem?

* I wrote that and I realized I recognize that behaviour, I see it all the time in real life! Mechanics like these support an emergent "home" type area for characters, which could be cool.

Callan S.

Not quite the same but in one game I set up I had the monster each have a small chance of having a quite powerful item or ability. This meant as GM even I didn't know the set up UNTIL it came time to play. As GM you get to know the stats and in a way, you start to know the outcome of combat in regards to any particular opponent you use. And so you can't help but railroad toward a certain result (victory/retreat/TPK), in a way. But with this, it was much more uncertain.


DWeird, it was a single (albeit very long) play occassion, and I have not yet met any of the downsides you mentioned. In the specific circumstances, there was no chance of failure: it always meant something (marginally or exceptionally) good for the player, so there was no incentive for avoiding discoveries. It was not a problem of being an instant resource generator either, because the action was bounded by the spellcasting/memorization rules. Using harsher  rules to have an emergent home area sounds interesting!

Callan, the thing I am curious about is that did the players know about this procedure? Did this roll happen in front of them and did they know the importance? I think that it was particularly important in my case that my players were aware of the world-defining consequences. They were looking forward to that!

I think the most important part of the rule above is that it has minor but long term consequences, written right onto the character sheet. Most things an AD&D player rolls for have major but short term results only. Also most things on the charater sheet a a snapshot of the current state of the charater. These component sources on the character sheet showed history, roots in the world and its happenings, the results of discoveries and victories: the very things my players enjoy in portraying a seasoned adventurer. I mean, you look a the sheet and you see something like "Fire giant corpse: essence of component X". "You remember, we actually KILLED a fire giant and extracted this essence from it! I still remember that fight at Red Stone Pass.". It's there as a record of the character's actions, without explicitly being designated as a log or chronicles.

I also think that the extra step of them being a component that has to be mixed with other components is important. They are not a direct resource that can be used when necessary: it depends on the other components available and also the recipes.

And now, here's another rule for some imaginary game that taps into the above. I think it would be cool to have a rule like this printed in a core rulebook: "If you suffer a fever, a sprained anke, a __________ or a ________, mark a light wound. If you suffer a broken bone, a ___________, or a ___________, mark a critical wound. If you ever suffer a new wound not covered here, you all together decide where it goes, and write it into one of the paragraphs before.". It's like house rules, but with an invitation! Wouldn't that give a strong sence of continuity for a game?

I need to think about the "no direct resource" and the "minor but long term consequences" more. These might be useful in handling long-term changes that are usually handled either as an accumulating stat or as purely fictional positioning. Things like reputation, the love from your family or such. No concrete examples jump to my mind, though.


It was a minor effect? I'm not that familiar with D&D, so spell reagents seemed major at first glance.

Not saying this is actually an issue, because apparently it wasn't in your game, but the munchkin side of me would react not so much to minimize the bad but to maximize the good - I would engage with a series of encounters until I find one with a good return/investment ratio. Then I'd engage only or mostly with that single type of creature and direct my advancement towards the skills or stat that allows me to get the best return on other creautres. And only after I'm sufficiently certain that I will be getting good results from, say, fire giants, will I actually try and engage fire giants.

So I'm not avoiding new stuff because I won't get cool stuff from it, I'm avoiding new stuff because delaying engagement with it promises me better returns. My goal is to get fire giant essence every time I fight a fire giant, and avoid getting fire giant ash every time I fight a fire giant.

Not that that's an unsolvable problem ("it needs to be mixed with othe components" is one such solution!), if it needs solving at all.

Also, heh, this sort of thing could go some ways to simulate an arms race. Say you attack creatures as normal, but sometimes you score critical hits. Instead of being a one-time luck thing, these critical hits now represent a character's knowledge of the enemy's weak spots - if he does roughly the same thing he did in the fiction, say slash at the creature's guts, he's going to have roughly the same results as those of his critical. Which means those creatures are now fairly easy prey, unless they find/get a way to defend against these hits.

This kind of thing may go a good way emulating changes in real-life martial culture. Which is cool! It feels like this little idea has all sorts of mileage.

Callan S.

Sadly I didn't get to run that prep I mentioned. I think your right that players change only the short term effects/basically a shallow change to the world, while your component thing defines something deeper/more long term. I think killing monsters was supposed to be the deeper/more long term thing originally, that supposedly changes the world somehow if you do it. So it wasn't supposed to just be a level up thing, it was was as if it changed the world to do so. Except it didn't - the next dungeon has as many monsters as the GM wants. The past does not influence the present. It ends up being like world of warcraft, where the monster respawns five minutes latter. There's always another orc.

Actually what might be interesting is if you fight orcs (or whatever creature), record how many you beat and after a certain number you make a roll with low odds of getting a power up against them. The power up basically makes the orcs nothing to you. Or maybe it's phrased as only the weaker breeds of orc now exist, as the stronger ones were all killed off. So killing can have an effect.

I guess leveling does something like that, but it's not related to actions taken by the PC. If you never fight kobolds and get to level 10, kobolds are nothing to you, but not because you did anything about it.

QuoteAnd now, here's another rule for some imaginary game that taps into the above. I think it would be cool to have a rule like this printed in a core rulebook: "If you suffer a fever, a sprained anke, a __________ or a ________, mark a light wound. If you suffer a broken bone, a ___________, or a ___________, mark a critical wound. If you ever suffer a new wound not covered here, you all together decide where it goes, and write it into one of the paragraphs before.". It's like house rules, but with an invitation! Wouldn't that give a strong sence of continuity for a game?

I'm not sure this lends the same surprise of discovery as your component idea. Someone could formulate an idea for the particular wound early on and it's just a matter of getting it - there's no surprise there. What I'd suggest is compiling a list of candidates for those wounds, say five or ten, then at some point it's randomly rolled for and the rolled result is written in.

Dweird, if it becomes pure spreadsheet manipulation and the player can't see character choices within those manipulations, the issue is the player has turned off their imagination and is only using the logical/spreadsheet side of their brain.


A very good system, it's an extension of the randomly generated npc/other game element to the rules of the game itself. Another classic way people come across this is allowing people a roll to see if something is possible. If the roll succeeds, it is possible from then on, although possibly gaining ("revealing") limitations over time.


It's reminiscent of the quick-start character rules in FATE, where the player decides as challenges arise whether the character has any experience with them.

I could see it working well for a GM who wants to jump into a setting without much planning. How big is the city? [roll] 10,000 inhabitants.

If it's taken too far, I would see monumental record keeping for things that are slightly different than the standard rule-book versions. [This spell lasts longer; that monster is tougher, etc.]