Thursday, January 16, 2020

on tallking to monsters in BX

Very few canonical BX D&D monsters will automatically attack the PCs. Ghouls attack anything living. Zombies attack on sight. Goblins and NPC dwarves attack each without hesitation. Kobolds always attack gnomes. Tyrannosaurs will try to eat any creature man-sized or larger. But that's about it. (Displacer beasts always go after blink dogs. Frost and flame salamanders will go after each other. But those cases are rarely any of the party's business.)

Nearly every other kind of monster in the official BX rules is fully capable of exhibiting other behaviors at the beginning of an encounter besides attacking. Even berserkers don't mindlessly attack until they make an informed decision to mindlessly attack.

Additionally, unlike AD&D and its successors, the stat block in BX does not have a field for monster intelligence. Some entries specify the intelligence of a creature in the text, but many do not. There are a lot of monsters in the BX rules that I usually tend to assume are unintelligent only because I know their Monster Manual entry. The DM would be completely within the bounds of the rules as written to decide, for example, that an ochre jelly is smart enough to parley with. The text doesn't say anything either way. Even normal animals could talk in your campaign, if you wanted to give it a more fairy tale field.

Now, consider the existence of the Monster Reactions table (page B24).  Lots of monster encounters, especially wandering monsters, can be concluded without risking violence if the monster can be communicated with.  Furthermore, a roll of 12 on 2d6 gives the result of "Enthusiastic friendship", giving the party a big incentive for talking to a lot of monsters. If you are going to explore a hellish, trap-laden underworld, having some sort of big, scary monster as your friend sounds great to me.

A 12 on 2d6 occurs only 1 throw in 36, but high charisma modifies the die roll. A Charisma of 13-17 gives a +1 on the roll, upping the odds of friendship to 1 in 12. Furthermore, the worst result on the chart, "Immediate attack", is no longer possible. An 18 Charisma allows for new monster buddies 1 in 6 encounters.

So the next time you spot a carrion crawler, try asking it how its day is going.


18 comments:

  1. My BX players have yet to realise the importance of Charisma in reaction rolls. Most are happy when they roll average in that stat and, in those few occasions I've allowed them to swap two ability scores, they're eager to dump their Charisma in favour of a prime requisite. I don't blame them for wanting to be good at what their class is supposed to do, but it's fun to watch them try overcoming encounters in a nonviolent way with their mediocre Charisma stats.

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  2. I had a player navigate most of the Isle of Dread solo with the use of the spell "speak with animals." In the end, I think it was an earthquake that got him.

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    1. Or "how to suck the fun out of Isle of Dread without really trying".

      Really, nobody should be able to do this. Sure, there are situations where negotiation might can be helpful, but c'mon. Its not a get out of being eaten free spell. I'd say it must be your girlfriend running the PC, but I believe in you having a GF even less than the situation you describe.

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    2. I don't know, turning a dangerous jungle into a series of tense negotiations sounds like a lot of fun.

      Besides, as the above anecdote suggests, you can't negotiate with natural disasters or the weather. It's not like speak with animals can cure or prevent every problem.

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  3. As a Referee, I have taken full advantage of this, and it has radically shaped my home-brew campaign world. Talking giant spiders and a burgeoning stirge trade (because they are considered a delicacy) are some of my favorite unexpected outcomes because players were smart enough to realize that trying to talk first can be really rewarding.

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  4. Is there a note in B/X similar to the one in Men & Magic (OD&D) about the chances that a monster can understand the Common Tongue?

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    1. Page B13 says any monster with its own language has a 20% chance of speaking Common. Except dragons, who always speak Dragon and Common if they can speak at all.

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  5. Well said! A topic I have championed for a while.
    https://geekechoes.blogspot.com/2018/12/moldvay-musings-xiii-reactions.html

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  6. I don't use charisma modifiers for the initial reaction roll because I don't want to take combat off the table entirely. Even a group of seemingly friendly dwarves might launch into a frenzied melee. How would the monsters know how charismatic the PCs are without talking to them first anyways?

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    1. Charisma's not only about oration; it's about demeanor, energy, appearance, "swag", presentation, etc. You show up with a comically-long banner, feathers sticking every which-way out of your armor, and a team of hirelings, all wearing the same brightly-covered tunic you, *BAM* -- instant Morale check for the enemy before you ever open your mouth.

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  7. Yup... cant talk an earthquake down.

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  8. @Scott Smith
    Prescence, attitude, aura, simply not having a punchable face. Ability to hide or conceal or mimic stances/emotions. You know, all the 90% of charisma that is not verbal.

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  9. Anonymous1:27 AM

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  10. This is pretty much the core of Doom & Tea Parties style of play. Chatting with monsters is almost always the better option, though clearly being able to punch back when necessary means the monsters are more likely to not try to mug you.

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