Archive for the 'Red Box Workshop' Category


Into the Woods We Go

In 1984, TSR published N2: The Forest Oracle, a module for characters level 2-4.  I hate it. It’s a ham-fisted, credulity-straining railroad laid down on a track of base Tolkien stereotypes. The landscape makes no sense, there are obvious PC choices that are entirely foreclosed on, and the event-driving NPCs seem to play by a completely different set of rules than the players. This isn’t even getting into a ridiculous table of mishaps borne out of falling into a river (“a magic item, or 200gp if the player has none”) or a comically blunt Raiders of the Lost Ark ripoff.

On the other hand, I also kind of love N2. It’s got a ruined castle camped by worg-riding goblins that would be perfect for putting Dyson’s Delve under. It’s got no less than 4 hidden groves/glades. It’s got what are basically the underpinnings for a nice little sandbox: A dungeonous cavern, lairs for creatures from the encounter tables, and a comically blunt Raiders of the Lost Ark ripoff.

So I’m trying to remediate the module by tearing it down and putting it back together again. I’m modifying the map- expanding it to the local (6-mile hex) ACKS regional map template, re-arranging and rationalizing it a bit. I’m also re-thinking all of it against the ACKS recommendations for building a campaign map, since it seems useful to have a swatch of low-level campaign fodder I can pull out of the binder when I need it. So this is like a kick-off post for that work.

Reworking and expanding a classic map

Reworking and expanding a classic map


The ACKS map template I’m using measures 15 x 25 hexes. If it’s a typically-populated realm unto itself, it would clock in as a principality of 100k-120k families.  However, I’m thinking of this as an agrarian/borderlands realm, I’m knocking that population down a rank to a duchy of 52k families. ACKS predicts right around 5200 families in settlements, with 1042 of them in the largest settlement of the realm (you can see it off the river near the bottom of the map above). That’s a Class IV market that brings in 617gp monthly income for the duke.

It doesn’t really sport any other settlements that even show up on a  map at the 6-mile scale: Its most notable settlements after the largest would be 6 villages of 75-170 families that center the counties of the duchy.  Because much of the map is occupied by somewhat hostile territory, I’m collecting two of them into one which brushes up against the Class V threshold for mapping (250 families) at this scale (it’s in the Southwest of the map near an intersection of roads and a freshwater spring in the nearby hills). The rest will probably end up on the roads out of the mountains and forests, which looks grim for the Count and Countess of Marshy Fens up in the Northwest and Lord Scrubland of the North. There’s a reason no one lives there.


One Page Dungeon: The Vault of Illusion and the Cube of Power

This is literally the only piece of the map I could post separately without giving away any important dungeon secrets!

I never seem to get my schedule matched up with the One Page Dungeon contest. In 2009, I drew up a dungeon, “Hilduin’s Vault of Illusions,” for the very first contest, but I got distracted and failed to turn it in by the deadline. Luckily the effort didn’t go to waste, since I was able to run my players through it for two sessions. And in 2010 and 2011, I completely lost track of the contest, finding out about the deadlines only after they’d passed.

But this year, fellow Mule author Greengoat posted his own doubtless-brilliant entry this past Friday. (I haven’t read Devil Gut Rock in hopes that I’ll actually have a chance to play it someday.) This gave me three whole days to produce my own entry! Fortunately, by recycling and updating my original entry — and with a brilliant artistic assist from Red Box New York player-cartographer Josh Krause — I’ve made the deadline and unleashed a horrid little package of tricks and traps onto the old school gaming universe.

For your gaming pleasure: The Vault of Illusion and the Cube of Power.

The Vault sums up, for me, a specific thread of old school play. It’s mean and unfair, but not in the sense that the referee has any personal animus toward the players. Rather, it’s structured to trick the players into getting themselves into trouble. While it’s not as vicious or deadly as the Tomb of Horrors, the same principles apply: the guy who built the place in-game (rather than the module writer, who built it out-of-game) did not have the adventurers’ best interests in mind!


One Page Dungeon: Devil Gut Rock

This is cross-posted from my illustration blog last night. I’m sorry if this is bad form, but no one reads my illustration blog anyway and this is a free goodie for you loyal readers. I gotta do something to make up for my lack of talkie-talkie on the mule blog. – das Goat

So, in the interest of triggering more rpg game-playing in my recalcitrant friend, I challenged him to make an entry for the One Page Dungeon Contest this year. Although he is well versed in the nature of dungeon adventuring and RPGs from way back in his youth, he balks at currently playing for various reasons of time commitment and free time. However, he is quite keen on the study of structures and the creation of “game play objects” like miniature painting and particularly making war-game scenery. I knew he would be up for some dungeon design.

So I emailed him the link to the One Page Dungeon contest on a lark, realizing that we had just over a week to go before the submission deadline. But it would be fun to goad him into a competitive effort and the process would be good for my infrequent DMing as well.

After he took the bait and started discussing ideas with me, I started to look through the OPDC webpage in earnest and saw that there were actual prizes awarded and I got even more excited. And then I looked through the winning entries from the previous years and got a bit nervous. There was some good stuff, both from a visual standpoint and play-wise. It would be some stiff competition.

Oh well, I figured. I told him we should blast through the process, try and get them submitted and then take turns playing each other through the dungeons one night. (Maybe shouting over to Mrs. Greengoat about how much fun this was.) That would be the best part and I could use my entry for a future session with the notorious NY Redbox Crew.

So after too much time spent on inking my isometric map and cramming as much text as I could decently fit on a sheet of paper I was finished. I wanted a good playable dungeon and kept my visual extravagances limited for readability and clarity. Or maybe I tell myself that because the map is kinda bare.) It has inspired me to get into more isometric cartography in future endeavors.

Tools used: I inkjet printed an isometric grid straight onto Borden & Riley Paris Paper and penciled in the rooms. I used india ink with brush and pen straight over that and added the keyed numbers digitally. Wrote the text in Open Office and did layout in InDesign with free fonts. I should start using all open source software in the future. Adobe habits are hard to break. I listened to the Melvins.

Use and Enjoy:



Dungeon Notoriety and the 15-minute Workday

Recently over at the Greyhawk Grognard, there was a discussion of how to deal with “the 15-minute workday.” This is a situation in which PCs become so risk averse that they immediately retreat to a safe haven after expending any resources at all in the dungeon, nickel-and-diming their way through the even the shallowest dungeon levels.

In the comments, Talysman responded:

*Discourage* the players from returning to town every time they run a little low on resources? I’m trying to *encourage* them to do that! It doesn’t have to be easy, and things can certainly change between visits, but I think there should be a series of short expeditions instead of “hanging on until the last hp”.

I agree with Talysman that this behavior is precisely the kind of careful management the lethality of an old-school dungeon requires, but I’m sympathetic to Joseph’s concerns that the necessary risk of a dungeon expedition can be eroded if the PCs are risk-averse in the extreme. The solution I would suggest is to make the dungeon itself a resource to be managed: If the PCs appear to be hauling loot up risk-free, others will be emboldened to try their luck in the dungeon’s depths.

Flora's mallewagen, by Hendrik Pot

Download Dungeon Notoriety and Interloper Tables (PDF)

The linked document details what it is essentially a random encounter roll when treasure is brought up from the dungeon; the likelihood of encounter is modified by the secrecy of the dungeon’s location, the party’s health on returning, and the amount of treasure retrieved.  The latter is variable by market class (ACKS’s I-VI reckoning of market size, with I being global metropolises and VI being tiny hamlets), and based on the monthly wage of three heavy infantry and the number of said infantry on the market.  The translation of other ACKS-isms to B/X-like games should be fairly transparent.

Since returning to town from the dungeon is typically a call for a short break in the games I’m in, it should also afford me the opportunity to roll some dice and replace a defeated group of orcs with a NPC party eager to get in while the getting is good.


Standard Pack Comes Filled With Fresh Monster Gore

Be prepared! Preparedness begins with knowledge, to whit:

Edible items will have a small likelihood (10%) of distracting intelligent monsters from pursuit. Semi-intelligent monsters will be distracted 50% of the time. Non-intelligent monsters will be distracted 90% of the time by food. Treasure will have the opposite reaction as food, being more likely to stop intelligent monsters. (Gygax & Arneson, 1974)

This is all well and good, but how do you make sure to have both edible items and treasure always ready to provide a distraction? The New York Red Box has a solution!

Infographic by Scott LeMien, credited to an idea of Thaddeus's.

In the forum thread from whence I have ripped off this bit of practical advice, Ridiculossus further notes:

The jars are filled with fresh monster gore when you start, or other animal kill.

Pack cost (backpack) = 5g
Mini-loot drop = <20g
5 vials of oil: 10 gold
Clay jars (and padding) = 1g

It is to my great shame that I didn’t think to include this in my section on mundane gear and adventuring kits for Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium. I blame Scott, who should leave these ideas lying around ready to be swiped when I need them, not months later.


super-police procedural

For thirty-four years, America’s top scientists have failed to unravel the secret of this song’s incredible catchiness.

warning: 2000 words of obviousness

When I was maybe 8 or 9 years old I got a copy of the Marvel Super Heroes Role-Playing Game, loved it, but never really played it until eighteen months ago, at which point I felt confused and overwhelmed about how to run the silly thing.  After a whole lot of flailing around, I think I’ve cracked it, or at least have a set of solutions which are painfully obvious in hindsight.

One of the things I love about the Moldvay and Mentzer version of Dungeons & Dragons is that the rules instruct you how to build a dungeon.  The results may not be lauded genius like The Caverns of Thracia, or as atmospheric as Zak’s Library of Zorlac (tucked away in Vornheim) or minimalist masterpieces such as Antti Hulkkonen’s Den of Villainy (one of the 2010 One-Page Dungeon Contest winners) or Rob’s Vermin Hollow (ditto for 2011).  But even if the rules don’t produce works of genius, if you follow them, you’ll end up with something playable.  It frustrates me that there’s nothing analogous for super hero games, at least that I’m aware of.

dungeon = case

So my theory is that the super hero equivalent of a dungeon is the case.  This isn’t true for all super heroes in all decades, but is broadly true for Silver Age Marvel, the main period I’m interested in.  The case has a couple of basic elements:

Starts with a super-crime.  A bank robbery, which is how almost all super hero one-shots start IME, is not a super-crime.  A crime what is super, is defined by being either

  •  impossible (your classic locked-room murder mystery)
  • baffling (breaking into a bank to put money into the vault)
  • beyond law enforcement’s ability to handle (“Uh, sarge, how do we ticket a 40′ radioactive lobster that’s illegally parked?”)
  • visually or conceptually crazy

There’s some play in here about what constitutes a “case,” depending on what matters to your super-folks.  In the early days, the Fantastic Four were like, “Whoa, the Bermuda Triangle exists!  Let’s check that shit out!” and the X-Men were like, “Gee willikers, another mutant hit puberty somewhere, let’s come across way too strong so they won’t want anything to do with us.  Cyclops, are you wearing your hideous plaid suit?  Great!”  But my assumption is that we’re talking about criminal activity, just super-sized.

This super-crime is part of a plan.  Someone did it for a reason, and they’re not going to be satisfied until they take it to the next stage.  What does this super crime lead to?  And why should the super heroes care?  This last bit is important.  In the occasionally awkward but still very satisfying RPG With Great Power…, figuring out what the players value, and then drawing a bullseye around that, is actually the very first step of prep–so you know that, as a GM, you want to endanger Aunt May or challenge Tony Stark’s image as a hedonist, and work up some plan that puts those aspects at risk.

A super villain has a stake in the plan, and therefore in the super-crime.  Committing or planning the crime (by far the most likely), discovered it accidentally and is now exploiting it (best for weird-phenomena type cases), opportunistically using it to discredit the super heroes, whatever.  If you need more than one super villain, okay, but keep it simple.

The super villain isn’t worried about law enforcement.  The classic explanation is that her powers make her seemingly unstoppable (bulletproof, travels too fast to catch, teleports out of jail, mind-controls the jury, etc.), but simply paying off corrupt cops, intimidating witnesses, or having a great hiding spot are reliable standbys too.  Don’t blow past this step carelessly, because you’re basically posing a puzzle to the players, and they’re going to MacGuyver up some crazy solution.

If the super villain has any sense at all, she’s anticipated the most obvious counter-moves to her cop-trumping advantages, and worked out a way to keep her ass out of jail.  If the super villain is super-duper-smart, she’s also figured out a way to incorporate obvious counter-moves into the plan itself.

One thing I’m toying with, for the plan, is to steal the “countdown clock” technique from Apocalypse World.  For those who don’t know it, the idea is that a threat is divided into 6 scheduled segments (0 to 3 o’clock, to 6 o’clock, to 9 o’clock, and then to 10, 11, and midnight; these times are figurative rather than literal).  Once the plan hits 9 o’clock, it can no longer be prevented, you’ve just gotta brace for impact.  Segments are ticked off as the plan approaches completion.  (Marvel Super Heroes Advanced Set actually has some decent rules on how long it takes for people to build doomsday weapons, so that may take the place of this little clock thing.)

can we play yet?

Anyway, that’s the super-crime related stuff.  Once the players get wind of the super-crime, it’s off to the races.  (Actually, making the players aware of the crime is something to think about too.  Many great super hero comics begin with the crime in progress, and the hero learns about it afterward, and is like, “Gee, I missed it, but I’ll look into it anyway!”  This works because a comic book can switch between viewpoints, but most RPG’s don’t.  So don’t waste your cool visual for the super crime if no player will be around to see it.)

So you open with the super-crime, and maybe if the heroes are on the scene there’s a fight.  If the super villain is on the scene at all (maybe she’s not) then she should have some way to cope with being captured or even killed.

what Morrison intends as irony, is all too often how play proceeds

You’re then left with something resembling a police procedural.  The super heroes investigate the super-crime, looking for clues as to the villainous plan, how to prevent it, and how to capture the super villain.  On TV and in real life, this involves interviewing witnesses, interrogating suspects, painstaking examination of physical evidence, stake-outs, undercover work, shadowing people, and so on.  In a police procedural on TV, the investigators are gonna get the necessary clues; the only question is how the search leads to other dilemmas and sub-plots.

In an RPG session, this is probably going to involve skill checks or similar mechanics.

  • If the players succeed, hey, great, give them a clue.  You should have lots of clues, and they should be legitimate.  Giving players a fake-ass clue is sadistic, because studies have repeatedly shown that the act of sitting down at a table to play RPG’s lowers people’s IQ by 50 points.  Your players are spastic lunatics with 7-second attention spans.  If you give them a fake clue, they will forget the 120 other real clues and drill down on that fake one, and it will be aggravating for them because nothing makes sense and aggravating for you because they’ll just sit around arguing (more so).
  • If the player fails the skill check, consider giving them the clue anyway at a price.  I’m stealing this idea from Mouse Guard, where the heroes can succeed at the cost of being made Hungry, Tired, Angry, Sick, or Injured, each of which is debilitating and difficult to remedy.  In Marvel Super Heroes, the likely targets would be a hero’s Health, Karma, Resources, or Popularity: present the player with a situation where they can get the clue but at a risk to one or more of those values.  So, for example, this witness will talk–but only if the super hero looks the other way regarding his gambling (failing to arrest someone means loss of Karma).  The condition ought to make dramatic sense in the fictional situation.
  • Alternately, if the players fail the skill check, not only do they fail to gather a clue, the situation gets dramatically worse via a twist.  (Again: stolen from Mouse Guard.)  Naturally, you should only use these if they’re appropriate to the fictional circumstances–which means keeping an eye out for these opportunities during prep.  Here are some classic twists:
    • God damn it, Human Torch, this is our case!  Leave us alone!  Some idiot super hero decides to tackle this case himself, which by the laws of super heroics means fighting you for it.  This gets old after a while, so you probably want to keep an eye out for really short-tempered super-types who don’t always see reason–unless nobody knows each other yet.
    • Freeze!  You’re under arrest!  The police somehow get their signals crossed and think that the super heroes are to blame.
    • Uh… why are you wearing that costume?  Somehow, a super hero’s secret identity (or some other sensitive bit of information) is at risk.  This doesn’t have to be widespread knowledge or wind up in a villain’s hands – sometimes it’s enough of a twist for your wife to find out what you’ve been doing at night when you said you were working.
    • They struck again!  While the heroes were screwing up with this clue, the super villain or her minions went out and did it again.  This enables the plan to ratchet forward another step along the “countdown clock.”
    • It’s a trap!  Oh no, what looked like a clue was actually a fiendish death trap.  I guess that means I have to figure out death traps in a later post.
    • Let’s fight!  The super villain gets tired of the super heroes’ interference, and so sends a gang of goons, or a trusted lieutenant, or something, to fight them.
    • Chase Scene!  Man, somebody’s getting away, time to bust out the vehicle rules and give them a work-out.

if i break your wrists, james, will you please stop typing?

At some point the players will get tired of fishing for clues, and decide to make a run on the super villain, and/or wait around at a likely target to intercept her. Remember that the super villain has probably anticipated the most likely responses, so the players might need to first call in a few favors, or build a special gadget, and that process may cause the plan to ratchet forth another step toward midnight.

  • You’ll need a map of a villain’s lair – the Marvel Advanced Set has some stuff on building a super heroic headquarters that would work for lairs as well – or the scene of the next crime.  Make sure this place is just bursting with “interactivity”–ropes to swing on, exploding barrels, clueless civilians milling about with no clue of the danger that’s about to go down, trapped tunnels, nuclear reactors about to go critical, escape subs, and so on.
  • You should also think about what the super villain wants to accomplish.  Fights are boring when all that one side wants to do is clobber the other side.  Does the super villain want to delay the heroes long enough for the final countdown to go off or reinforcements to arrive?  Maybe imprison and brainwash them?  Make it look like they committed a murder?  Seize and hold territory?
  • If a super villain takes some pretty serious licks (in Marvel, health is reduced to Endurance rank value or less), she’s gonna bolt, fake her own death, or give up with the knowledge she can easily escape.  Preferably, the plan keeps marching along.

Important point: do not cheat to keep the super villains or their plans going.  If the players get lucky, or play very well, totally let them enjoy their accomplishment.  You’ve got new super villains every month, some of whom will try to learn from the failures of their peers.  In comic books, the status quo never changes very much, because of publishing demands.  This is deadly for RPG’s.  Keep things unstable and moving along.

Anyway, that’s my current thought on this thing.  It’s all incredibly obvious in hindsight but I had to clear some mental blocks first.


strahd gangbang

Neisseria, the Medusa navigator by Scott LeMien

With the help of my Medusa navigator, I crashed the spaceship into to the mouth of the enormous ghost-robot that hovered over Swamp Town, and we disembarked to rob the spoiled teenage were-tiger picnickers…

Oh wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

we killed strahd, you missed it

Well actually, it looks like Beedo’s gang did it too, but they had more people involved.

In our game of I6: Ravenloft, the four remaining PC’s had found all these curiously specific items of Strahd-slaying, but the best weapon was, of course, a mule to the face.

Our Normal Magic-User negotiated with Strahd to return a painting of the vampire’s little girlfriend–and threw a mule (from a robe of many things) through the painting right as Strahd was examining it.  “A mule to the face would at least be distracting,” so our Kryptonian Assassin got a backstab  with the Sun Sword.  I ended up facing the vampire lord for a round or two of single combat, and then Sensible Half-Orc blasted him with a mystic amulet or something.

The Ravenloft module was entertainingly and ably run by “Naked Sam” on the Red Box site, and it was a nice change of pace.  I think the four players that night all agreed that while we had a fun time, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1e was a laughably pretentious game with little to recommend it over LBB, B/X, or BECMI.  I practically cried reading the “Gaining Experience Levels” section on page 86 of the Dungeon Masters Guide.

Forget Strahd: somebody needs to run a stake through Gary Gygax for sucking blood out of gamers with that nonsense.  Ugh.

the necromancer is dead, so what else is new?

A couple days later, I swung by Tavis’s game, where we had the aforementioned Medusa-navigated spaceship crashing into the ghost-colossus to rob teenage lycanthropes having a picnic on pickled robo-dwarf.  You know: Tavis’s game.

we are here for the picnic (art by Jedo)

One of our off-screen enemies, going back to the days when I was a regular player, was a necromancer named Ashur-Ram, who keeps Wraiths and Spectres imprisoned inside crystal phials which he throws as grenades.  We never have enough priests to turn back these level-draining undead, so we usually gave Ashur-Ram a lot of latitude.

But it turns out he was on board the ghost-colossus when we smashed into it.  This precipitated a panic when long-serving members of the party realized the danger we were in, especially after Ashur-Ram’s Dragon killed all of our meat-shields. “Quick,” said the other party members, “the necromancer appears willing to pay us to leave him alone!  We want to leave him alone!  We want to get paid!  Let’s take the offer!”


Now, it may be my -2 Wisdom modifier talking, or the fact that I was playing a brand-spanking-new character in contrast to guys who had invested for 40 sessions in their toon.  But when you have an insanely wealthy necromancer by the throat and you outnumber him 8:1, and he’s already spent some of his best spells, you strangle that fool.  And so for once I exploited our consensus-driven process by refusing to give in until everyone else got sick of arguing with me.

We killed the necromancer, who had filled us with dread for like 30 sessions, in like 3 rounds.  Nobody took damage except for one guy who got drained two levels and who had been staunchly opposed to fighting this guy.  (Sorry, dude.)  But we are now even more ridiculously wealthy than we had been, and I’m sure fixing the level-drain will be fairly easy.

Plus I think some dude got it on with a Sphinx.

big bad encounter design in old-skool D&D

Both of these episodes are related.

What surprised me about the big fight with Strahd is that there was, in fact, no big fight with Strahd.  We encountered him three times, and it was no biggie each time:

  • Our scout teleported away without any lasting harm thanks to a magic item
  • Our Assassin decapitated him with a single attack (no lasting harm to Strahd)
  • Mule to the face!  And then super-death.
  • Before we got to Strahd the last time, we fought a Nightmare.  The Nightmare put up a better fight.

My impression of this fight, and the hit on Ashur-Ram the necromancer, is that the Many versus One fight is really hard to get right in D&D.  Either the adversary is going to be way out of your league, in which case you need to run like hell, or it’s a plausible foe at your level in which case the group of you will crush it easily.

Furthermore, in order to be taken seriously as a fictional adversary in the world of Dungeons & Dragons, you need to cast spells–which means that you can’t get punched in the face even once if you want to cast, but now there are like 4-8 people surrounding you.

The Nightmare alluded to above was pretty much Many versus One (there were some Hellhound minion-types), but the Nightmare had the advantage of an insanely low Armor Class (like -4 or -5) plus an aura of nausea that made it even harder to hit.  As a result, the Nightmare could afford to stick around for a while and dish out damage.  I realized after leaping onto its back to attempt to tame it that it could run away to some Hell-Plane any time it wished and simply ditch me there, so in trying to avoid its weaker attack I accidentally opened up its special killer move.

But Strahd, and the poor Necromancer, didn’t have great defenses (anti-magic would have worked as well) or an infallible yet deadly escape plan.  Run like hell.

So how do you make the Many versus One fight work?

My advice would be: you don’t.  Give the Boss Bad Guy a retinue of henchmen, maybe appropriate to the Charisma score, and have them follow the Boss around at all times.  (Works for world leaders!)  And failing that, no enemy of any brains will stick around to fight on someone else’s terms: if you’re caught at a disadvantage–like, say, eight adventurers crash a spaceship into your bunker and polymorph your Dragon into a flounder–then you retreat, regroup, and get revenge at a time of your choosing.  As someone said at the end of the Necromancer caper, by the time the adventurers reach your throne room, you’ve already lost.

Extremely intelligent NPC’s should probably auto-fail their morale checks in such circumstances, and should think twice before attempting to negotiate with murder hobo’s for safe passage.

But eventually that confrontation is gonna happen, at which point your Boss NPC has to do several things very quickly:

  1. Protect against melee combatants blitzing you
  2. Knock out enemy casters
  3. Cancel any on-going status effects the party’s got going
  4. Take out as many targets of opportunity as possible

It’s hard to say which of those four is the most urgent, though taking care of #1 early hopefully will buy you some time.  My thought is that debuffs can wait a bit since players may try to keep tossing them on as the fight progresses.  You probably shouldn’t waste time buffing yourself, because (a) it takes up time that you need to spend taking care of other things, and (b) the players will just hit you with a dispel anyway.

One helpful trick, though it is sort of unfair: design your throne room in a way that takes care of at least one of these problems for you: maybe you get to drive around in an armor-plated Pope-Mobile or your throne levitates 20 feet off the ground so melee guys can’t reach you.  Or there’s 3 feet of sucking mud all over the place which basically cancels out any haste spell, or a constant rain of cinders that inflicts steady damage so casters can’t rely on getting a spell off.

Relatedly: divert attention with a MacGuffin, hostage, dead-man switch, or some other strategic necessity so that the players can’t get away with killing you immediately.  The problem here is that your distraction probably won’t keep everybody occupied, and things will likely escalate into a very non-standard combat encounter, which favors the players’ hive-mind.

I’m uncertain as to the best timing of summoning help, such as from demons or conjuration spells.  It’s good to have somebody running around taking the heat off you, but they’re mainly just meat-shields.  (I think we summoned 8 Goblins to help us fight the Nightmare.  All they did was get in the way, though we did propose a variation on our beloved Baby Armor, namely Goblin Sponge Armor, to ablate the vampire’s attacks.  Alas they faded from view before we could get our armorer on the case.)  Summoning help costs at least one round, and it’s probably only going to buy you two at best, unless the enemy absolutely must put down your helper.  Bringing two Wraiths into the fight sure didn’t help the Necromancer.

(Related question: why is Animate Dead such a high-level spell?)

My short prescription would be something like slow (surprisingly, does not exist in the B/X version of the game!), confusion, growth of plants, or wall of ice to keep attackers at bay, followed by (say) hold person, darkness, silence, or feeblemind on enemy casters.  Cause Fear is a nice spell for either purpose, though it only affects one target.  I also like casting a charm person on a Cleric: it not only saves you from a melee attacker, it also steals the players’ buffs for your own use.  My general thought is that while invisibility is a pretty good spell, it’s a pain in the neck to run because you’re always sweating whether your next action will blow it.

Any other thoughts on the Many versus One spellcaster thing?  What am I missing?

Past Adventures of the Mule

February 2017
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