Wednesday, March 03, 2010

the most important rule I overlook

From page B24 of Moldvay's Basic D&D:
MONSTER ACTIONS: Some monsters always act in the same manner (such as zombies, who always attack). However, the reactions of most monsters are not always the same. The DM can always choose the monster's reaction to best fit the dungeon, but if he decides not to do this, a DM may use the reaction table below to determine the monster's reactions (roll 2d6).

Monster Reactions
Dice Roll/Reaction
2/Immediate Attack
3-5/Hostile, possible attack
6-8/Uncertain, monster confused
9-11/No attack, monster leaves or considers offer
12/Enthusiastic friendship
When I don't use this chart my monsters immediately attack way more often than the 1 out of every 36 encounters suggested by the chart and they pretty much never act friendly. That's a damn shame, as it encourages the "we see it, we fight it" mentality that can really drag a good game down. And I really like the inherent instability in making friends with one of the chaotic dungeon denizens. That's a situation chock full of interesting possibilities.

It might be interesting to note that there seems to be a lot less demi-human/humanoid animosity in Moldvay Basic as opposed to AD&D. Dwarves still hate goblins and vice versa, and will usually attack each other on sight. But that's about it. A few monsters are specified as usually attacking anyone, such as minotaurs and gargoyles. But going by the monster entries in the Basic book it should be possible for any PC to befriend ghouls, gnolls, hobgoblins, lizard men, lycanthropes, orges, orcs, owlbears, shadows, skeletons, thouls or wights. Skeletons aren't noted as lacking intelligence or agency and nothing in the rules suggests that undead in general are automatically hostile to the living.


  1. Funny enough, I was looking at the 1e DMG the other day at the same thing - pg 63:

    Any intelligent creature which can be conversed with will react in some way to the character that is speaking. Reaction is determined by rolling percentile dice, adjusting the score for charisma and applicable loyalty adjustment as if the creature were a henchman of the character speaking, and the modified score of the percentile dice is compared to the table below:

    01 (or less)-05 - Violently hostile, immediate attack‘

    06-25 - Hostile, immediate action*

    26-45 - Uncertain but 55% prone toward negative

    46-55 - Neutral - uninterested - uncertain

    56-75 - Uncertain but 55% prone toward positive

    76-95 - Friendly, immediate action

    96-00 (or greater) - Enthusiastically friendly, immediate acceptance

    On pg 183 for Castle encounters:

    The reactions of the castle or other type of stronghold to the adventurer party are discovered as normally done. Friendly or hostile reactions will be dictated by the culture and society of the area. For instance, if you have the area as a typical medieval European fantasy one, a friendly reaction
    will result in the host party welcoming the adventurers, feting them, and offering an escort to the borders of their territory when they choose to leave (but meanwhile entertaining them royally with hunts, drinking bouts, etc.) A neutral reaction would be refusal to allow them into the place without facing one or more of their fighters in some form of non-lethal combat (such as jousting), and taking armor and weapons from them if they lose; or it could as well be a demand for a toll to pass through, meanwhile keeping the castle gates shut tight. A hostile reaction could be feigning good fellowship, getting the adventurers drunk, and then stripping them and imprisoning them for ransom; or it could result in immediate attack. You must decide.

  2. I have dirty forbidden love for the Encounter Reaction table. It makes me happy in my DMing place. :)

    Heck, I think it's one of the underused hidden treasure of the system and use it as the basis for an entire way of seeing the world. Any reaction (social, combat, touristic) not decided in advance gets 2d6-ed for.

  3. Oh my beloved reaction roll! How I love thee.

    It is my favourite subsystem in B/X and OD&D and the one I use the most. A quick 2d6 and you can determine all sorts of wonderful things. Just about any type of interaction can be determined with this mechanic.

    An example of this from a game session was when the magic-user went out to see the local mysterious magic-user, the Striped Mage, who has a tower just north of town.

    The magic-user spent 2 days trying to gain an audience with the Striped Mage. On the first day the reaction roll with the household guard resulted in him being told to come back the next day and his second visit (another reaction roll) saw him escorted from the property for being a nuisance. These were just the results for trying to gain an audience. If he would have met with the Striped Mage another reaction roll would have been made.

    It is funny how a couple of random results can give an NPC some character. After that the Striped Mage was considered a bit of a pompous jackass.

    I find this system also puts a premium on charisma. Using the reaction roll and stressing the importance of hirelings keeps this attribute very important.

    Now not everything had to be completely random. Special steps can be taken by the party to, if not ensure the result, at least put the odds in their favour. For example, a well placed bribe could have swayed the Striped Mage's guard.

  4. I use it quite often.
    Thanks to this (and retainer's morale)Charisma becomes less of a dump stat.

  5. "...nothing in the rules suggests that undead in general are automatically hostile to the living"

    The mummy wants hugs!

  6. Absolutely. I was keen to encourage the possibility of parley in my campaign; luckily several of my players are already inclined to talk first--even when it's unlikely to work.

    Heck, one of the best unexpected NPCs--a kobold named Donny--joined the group thereby.

    There's a great little Jim Holloway spot illustration from Module B4 that is my poster child for Encounter Reactions: Two elves are conversing with three orcs--and everyone looks relatively relaxed, all things considered.

    "It's ok-Gary sent us!"

  7. I have been using the reactions table and really enjoying it. It has made the PCs more likely to attempt a parley. Parley’s sometimes lead to more interesting results than just a fight until someone fails a morale check. (Literally for the monsters; figuratively for the PCs.) Although, failed morale checks sometimes lead to a reaction check as well.

    On the “hostilities” thing, I believe the Expert booklet lists the prices for hiring goblin troops as well.

    I haven’t actually done it, but I’ve always wanted to create a D&D Mos Eisely where humanoids, humans, and demihumans mixed even if uneasily.

  8. The Zieser pic on page 43 of the Labyrinth Lord core rule book (revised). Is one of my favorite tableaus of this. The wizard chatting with morlocks at the intersection of hallways.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. @ Robert Fisher: Yes! Using the morale rules (which we rarely used as kids) has led to much more interesting encounters and situations for the new group.

    And I too want to stick a species-neutral spot in my campaign somewhere, as part of my interest in exploring humanoids beyond the usual raid/kill/run paradigm.

  11. Anonymous1:58 PM

    'nothing in the rules suggests that undead in general are automatically hostile to the living. '

    That's why you find them in the city on the OD&D encounters table ;)

  12. The 2d6 reaction chart has become my go to roll for any "social skill" type adjudication - intimidation, bargaining, etc. Adjust for charisma, adjust for circumstances, roll. It's perfect for it.

  13. Anonymous5:23 PM

    Great post, Jeff. Another thing which furthers your point:

    If even a single PC has a charisma of 13 or higher, he will get a bonus to the reaction roll. Thus, monsters will never (randomly) automatically attack such a party. There's no reason for a party to ever have to fight if they don't wish to.

  14. I was recently looking through the DMG 1e as well and, as often happens when looking through this book, I found something quite interesting I had not noticed before. On the page for Encounter Reaction (pg. 63) there is a somewhat disapointing sentence under the Paraleying section: "It is common for player characters to attack first, parley afterwards. It is recommended that you devise encounters which penalize such action so as to encourage parleying attempts - which will usually be fruitless of course!".

    I really wish they had left off that last bit, as the tone suggests that the majority of encounters should end in combat, and that only a small minority will be otherwise. Compare this to Mentzer: "Reactions can make the game much more fun than having fights. With some careful thought, a good DM can keep everyone interested and challenged by the situations that can arise." That along with his 3 stage reaction chart points to a difference in playstyle between the two authors.

  15. I love the encounter reaction table for the same reason I love random tables in general - it's proof against the one thing that wrecks a story (any story) instantly: predictability. Monsters that always attack are predictable - read: boring. This marvelous table keeps things interesting, for me as well as the players. Win-win. Thanks for another great post, Jeff.

  16. The reaction rules really put the lie to D&D as a game of "kill things and take their stuff". There's a lot more to the old games, if only people throw away their teenage gaming habits and read the rules!

  17. I never used that... I'm not even sure I ever really saw it. Thanks for the post! Oh, and it inspired my latest post too!