Surprise Surprise!

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , ,

While much of what I'll be talking about applies to Surprise in the Wilderness, this post is about Surprise in deep dark dungeons where monsters lurk in shadows.

This kind of surprise is not "Fancy meeting you here! Hang on while I unsheath my sword".  Surprise in a dungeon is a boogeyman, leaping out of the shadows and ripping out your liver before you can scream.

As a game mechanism, Surprise is actually more complex and more interesting in OD&D than in later editions.   Unfortunately, the rules for it are kinda scattered across a few pages, mostly in Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, and some of the details are often missed or misunderstood as a result.

Let's look at how it works in sequence starting with this from U&WA p9:

"A Condition of surprise can only exist when one or both parties are unaware of the presence of the other." 

In other words, you, with your torches shedding a dim halo of light, didn't know that thing was there, and then....

"...roll a six-sided die for each party concerned. A roll of 1 or 2 indicates the party is surprised. Distance is then 10 - 30 feet."

Surprise in the dungeon occurs very close by and whoever is surprised, is about to have the bejesus scared out of them.  So much so that....

"There is a 25% chance that any character surprised by a monster will drop some item. If he does, roll for the possibilities remembering that only those items held could be so dropped." (U&WA, p12)

Surprise is a "jump out and say BOO!" rule.  It could almost be called the "Startled" rule, except that the term "surprise" is really to be understood in a wargaming sense as "element of surprise". Nevertheless, because one side is startled, it automatically becomes the surprising sides turn to move.  "Surprise gives the advantage of a free move segment, whether to flee, cast a spell or engage in combat." (U&WA 9)

As a wargaming convention, surprise will most often unfold as a deliberate, if perhaps impromptu, ambush.  TSR's Warriors of Mars, by Gygax and Blume, published only a matter of months after D&D in 1974, defined surprise as "If one figure surprises the other (ambush, flank attack, rear attack, etc.) it strikes first. (p17) 

When it is monsters doing the surprising, as it usually will be, what happens next depends on the exact distance and the intelligence of the monster or the decisions of the Player Characters in the instance when they are the ones doing the surprising. 

"If monsters gain surprise they will either close the distance
between themselves and the character(s) (unless they are intelligent and their prey is obviously too strong to attack) or attack."

 The first sentence undeniably says monsters will either close the distance or attack. The parenthetical phrase qualifies the action of "closing the distance" to say that intelligent monsters won't do this in cases where they fear the party is "too strong to attack". It follows deductively that non-intelligent monsters will close the distance or attack. It also follows that the whole purpose of non intelligent monsters "clos(ing) the distance" is to attack, because they are too stupid to know better, unlike the intelligent monsters. 

Read carefully, that sentences gives three general alternatives: 
1) Intelligent monsters faced with difficult opponents will not close the distance between them and the PC's
2) Non-intelligent or clearly stronger monsters will "close the attack. 
3) "or attack" if they are already close enough to do so.

Okay, so for option 1, the intelligent monster who senses a difficult opponent, the next step is:

"...the more intelligent monsters will act randomly according to the results of the score rolled on two (six-sided) dice:  2 - 5 negative reaction; 6 - 8 uncertain reaction; 9 - 12 positive reaction" (U&WA 12)

Based on the intelligent monster's reaction, the referee must then decide if the monster avoids the encounter altogether (stays hidden or moves away silently) or decides to make their presence known in some way other than an immediate charge.  Note that a negative reaction might prompt a monster to attack with a distance weapon, but not rush in to melee.

The non intelligent or bigger and badder surprisor now has the first move, but if a monster has  to "close the attack... or attack", then clearly the whole 10 to 30 feet surprise distance doesn't mean automatic first strike attack, but some subset of it does. That subset is given to us on page 12 as: 

"There is no chance for avoiding if the monster has surprised the adventurers and is with in 20 feet, unless the monster itself has been surprised." 

This tells us clearly that a monster won't need to close any distance if they surprise within 20 feet, they can simply attack. Ergo the only time a monster would need to close the distance is if the surprise occurred at 20 to 30 feet.  So then at a distance of 10-19 feet the surprising monster can simply roll an attack roll on the startled characters (and in 3lbb D&D, a second attack roll would immediately follow since attackers have the initiative in every round).  If the Player Characters are lucky enough to have been surprised at 20-30 feet the monster will have to use it's surprise segment/free move to close the distance to attack.

So what happens for the surprised party at the 20-30 feet distance?

That depends on the game you are playing.  If it is 3lbb's + Greyhawk, then presumably you are using d6 initiative checks as introduced in the D&D FAQ in Strategic Review  Vol. 1, No. 2. (Summer 1975).  Therein Gygax gives us an example of surprise at the further distance: "10 ORCS surprise a lone Hero wandering lost in the dungeons, but the die check reveals they are 30’ distant at the time of surprise, so they use their initiative to close to melee distance."

Here Gygax refers to the free move segment as "their initiative" a new term unknown to the 3lbb's.  Because the Hero is more than 20 feet away, the orcs must use their free move to close to "melee distance" which here means the melee contact zone/area of control of 10 feet.

Next round an initiative roll comes into play:

"lnitiative is now checked. The Hero scores a 3, plus 1 for his high dexterity, so it is counted 4. The Orcs score 6, and even a minus 1 for their lack of dexterity (optional) still allows them first attack."

Closing the distance, requires the use of the surprise initiative to use Gygax term, and allows the possibility that the one surprised could "avoid" the encounter - clearly they get a chance to take an action, although the Hero in this example didn't get that chance because he lost the initiative roll. 

So at 20'-30' an initiative check is made and that gives a bare chance to the poor startled Hero in this case to possibly regain initiative.

However, in 3lbb only D&D there was no "initiative check".  The surprised party automatically had a chance to move.

In either case, it is clear that when an attacker gains surprise but must close the gap to melee, the surprised party has a chance to "avoid".

That means those surprised at a distance of 20'-30' can try to do something like cast a spell, throw a bag of donuts, or RUN. (U&WA p12)

Running when surprised puts the runners at a significant disadvantage however because the aggressor gets that free move segment to close the gap.  This means the surprisor adds two moves minus the 3" gap to get the full distance they can travel.  For example, a character with a movement rate of 12" can normally outrun a monster with a movement rate of 9", but if that same character is surprised by the monster at a distance of 20'-30', then the pursuing monster will have an initial movement rate of 15" (9 + 9 - 3) and the runner will be caught unless something occurs to prevent it.

I'll just note here that surprise in the Wilderness functions similarly in this respect, except that the automatic strike range is 10 yards (30 feet) instead of 10-19 feet (U&WA 17).

So there you have it.  Surprise in the dungeon always causes a check to see if those being surprised were so startled that they accidentally dropped something in hand, and it always grants the surprisor the first chance to act, but if the one being surprised is just a little out of reach, at 20-30 feet distant, then an opportunity to avoid exists.  

Now the question immediately arises regarding Melee Range.  Because they are all within 30 feet, (3") aren't any surprised characters already to close to avoid an attack?  The short answer is no, because Melee Range only concerns existing melees and the area in which an existing melee is occurring.  (explaining all that would take a whole other post).

Blackmoor Taxes, Living Expenses and the Support and Upkeep of Hirelings in OD&D

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: , , ,

A good while back, I had a productive and interesting series of discussions with Alex of Autarch regarding economics and game design. You can see these here

ground-up literally



The Blackmoor base

In the latter, Alex wrote this about income in Blackmoor according to the 3rd Coot invasion data in the FFC:

"the City of Maus, it has a budget of 80,000gp, which comes from one city of 30,000 men (generating 30,000gp from 30,000 men), 20 villages (generating 2,000gp each from 3,000 men each), and various trading vessels, generating 10,000gp. That's the entire 80,000gp income, accounted for – there’s no need to assume Imperial funding, etc.
We know from the listing for Duchy of Ten (p8) and Egg of Coot (p9) that the income stated is income every 4 months. Therefore we are talking about a revenue stream of 80,000gp per 4 months. To compare this to ACKS values, we need to divide them by 4, to make them monthly. Therefore, Maus earns 20,000gp per month, and each FFC village of 3,000 yields (2,000/4) 500gp per month.
It wasn’t initially clear to me whether "men" in FFC means "adult men" or "people". However, the rules state that a a Fyrd of 450 men is available per 3,000 (p7, p8, p9). If "men" means "adult men" then the Fyrd is 15% of the adult men. If "men" means "people", and we assume 1 able-bodied man per 5 people (the historical norm), then 3,000 people would yield 600 men and the Fyrd of 450 would represent 75% of the adult men. Neither Greece nor Rome ever managed to have more than 33% of their adult men under arms, even during the Punic Wars, so we have to conclude that a 75% military participation ratio is unlikely to be what FFC intends. Therefore I have to conclude that "men" means "adult men". Therefore, 3,000 men in FFC is comparable to 3,000 families in ACKS, which have 1 adult man per family.
FFC therefore provides that 3,000 families yields 500gp per month, or 1/6gp per family" 

That 1/6 GP figure per family represents what the Lord collects in taxes,  Fascinating, I thought, and this has stuck in the back of my mind for a long time.   Turns out Alex wasn't quite right in his calculation because of what looks to be a typo in the Maus data. That 2000 GP from 3000 men (fyrd 450), should have read 3000 GP.  Notice the previous line says 30000 men generates 30000 GP (Fyrd 4500).  

That 's 1 GP per able bodied man (family) every 4 months and it is a pattern repeated in the other holdings:

Earl of Vestfold - 2000 GP per village, (15 villages = 30,000 "people" = 2000 per village)
"Also, two small forts with one village (10,000 men) and 10,000 GP income, fyrd of 150 each."

Minor Holding Duchy of Ten: 3000 GP per village every 4 months,.. (population) 3000 each village

Egg of Coot: "3000 GP per village/4 months....population of 3000 per village (450 turn out for fyrd)."

And in the Investment section on Farming:  20 GP invested yields 10-20% return (taxes) from 1 family of 5 persons, one of which is armed with a club and can fight.  In other words, 1 able bodied male farmer equals 2-4 GP a year in taxes, average of 3GP, i.e.1 GP per 4 months.

So I think it's clear that Arneson was collecting 1 gp per "person" (family - 1 able bodied adult male average) per 4 months or 1/4 GP per family each month.

That amount of income from taxation fits relatively well with the rest of Blackmoor's economy, but there is a problem, and it is one that Alex had pointed out in the posts cited above.  The issue is the pay that troops earn, which must be some subset of their cost.  It doesn't begin to meet basic needs according to the price lists for goods and services.

Lets take a single Heavy Footman as an example.  Heavy Foot, which is basically your run of the mill, leather or chainmail wearing infantryman, cost 25 GP to purchase according to the Coot Invasion tables.  "Upkeep" for soldiers in the Twin cities Napoleonics campaign was generally 5% of their purchase cost per year, plus a support cost that averaged also around 5% but would be doubled for cavalry or raised even more for some specialists and special equipment.  For and infantryman at Blackmoor prices, 10% a year works out to slightly less than a measly 2.1SP a month.  

Now even if the Heavy Footman were paid the whole 2.1 SP, he would have to save his entire pay for a year and three months to buy a simple wooden club (3gp) or 2 years for a weeks worth of food (5 gp) or a dagger (5gp), according to the price lists found in the FFC.  We could assume Blackmoor was different, and, like D&D has a monthly support and upkeep tax instead of a yearly one.  That would give our Heavy Footman 2.5 GP a month, but as you can see, it would still take him two months to buy a weeks worth of food. 

 Wages were equally low for laborers.   In an otherwise unexplained footnote among some very old FFC material more or less contemporary with the Coot Invasion phase of the game, we find "1/10 GP per day (8 hours) to hire workers." (77:36)   That works out to less than 3gp a month, and is right in line with the miserable pay the Heavy Footman receives.

Now, I grant you, troop pay will be supplemented with food and housing, but these guys couldn't afford to buy a single round of drinks at a tavern.

What to make of it?  It is very clear that Arneson is modeling his taxation and income economy on the conventions developed in his Napoleonics campaign and the wargames he played at the time.  If we look at some of the wargaming club notes of his and those of his fellow gamers, we see exactly tho sort of troop costs and population figures given for the Blackmoor Coot Invasion.  We can see Canada, for example, with an income of 80,000 Pounds and a manpower of 21,644, and elsewhere we see troops, such as line infantry at a cost of 5 Pounds and Lancers at a cost of 13 Pounds plus upkeep.

That all works fine for costs of manpower and taxation in wargames, however roleplaying introduced the need to come up with prices for all sorts of things not normally dealt with in wargames, such as the cost of torches, backpacks, and ten foot poles.  These sort of costs also bear directly on the value of a treasure.  Just what will a bag of 100 GP get you at the marketplace?

That's where there seems to be a real disconnect in the Blackmoor system.  No doubt, Arneson had some real world model in mind, possibly Napoleonic, when he assigned prices to goods and services, but regardless of how Arneson came up with the cost of a barrel or a cudgel, its obviously unrelated to the income of common individuals, be they a soldier or a worker.  (Note that I'm stressing soldiers and laborers here - Arnesons FFC costs for the wages of specialist actually do fit the cost of goods)

The problem isn't entirely an obscure one for OD&D players.  The prices of goods and services are only slightly adjusted from the original Blackmoor lists.  If we take bows for example, in OD&D we have these prices: Short Bow 25, Long Bow 40, Composite Bow 50. and in Blackmoor we have: Standard Bow 25, Longbow 40, Composite 40.  At the same time we see troop and labor costs in OD&D increased only slightly in most cases.  On the troop cost table on page 23 of Underworld and Wilderness Adventure,  Light foot costs but 1 GP a month and Heavy Foot costs but 3 gp - an increase of only one GP over the price found in Blackmoor and CHAINMAIL.  That means a heavy footman would spend a month's wages to buy a  set of 3 stakes and a mallet, and nearly two months' pay would be required for a weeks worth of rations.  How is it, in any economy where a laborer ("non-fighter" U&WA p23) earns only a single GP a month, that every starting character is carrying around 3d6 x10 GP?  That's the equvalent of 3 to 15 YEARS worth of earnings for a peasant laborer!

Arneson himself seems to have at least partially grasped the discrepancy.  As mentioned above the costs for the services of specialists, even low status specialists like hunters, fit within a reasonable range.  Hunters, for example would earn an average of about 11 GP a month.  We can see it even more clearly in the aforementioned Investments section of the FFC.  This section was prepared sometime after D&D had already been published - possibly as part of the material prepared for Supplement II that got cut. We can tell this because of the use of the terms Cleric, and Paladin as proper D&D class names, post dating the publication of Supplement I Greyhawk in 1975.  In the Investments section we are told road workers will be paid 1-10 sp a day.    Assuming an average of 5.5 sp being paid 6 days a week for a month, the typical road laborer will be earning 13.2 GP a month, and that fits pretty well with a low wage peasant job in an economy were it would cost you 5 GP a week to buy all your food from a vendor, or a month's pay to buy a decent sword.  Similarly, 12 GP a month is the figure Alex settled on for the monthly cost of a Heavy Footman in ACKS, for example. 

Okay, if we think about how to fix the situation to where wages match reasonable well with expenses and the values of treasures in D&D, it should be obvious that reworking wages is a much easier and less impactful change than adjusting prices and treasure values.  That's pretty much what Alex did for ACKS, but I of course wanted to stay true to the OD&D and FFC numbers to the extent I could.

The easiest solution by far, I believe, is to change the frequency of "support and upkeep" pay.  If instead of being paid monthly, our Heavy Footman were paid weekly, his pay per month would increase by a factor of 4 from 2GP to 8 GP.    

I think that works well enough; problem solved.   It's actually not even a new idea.  In the BTPbD manuscript it says "Players must pay living expenses and wages for themselves and hirelings. Costs in the Underworld are assessed on a weekly basis, but in the Upper Land the same cost applies on a monthly basis.." (Book II:7)  What I'm suggesting is that we drop the "upper land" half of that rule and go with a weekly assessment all the time.

We can even backport this idea into the tax and income model provided by the Blackmoor Coot Invasion.  Instead of collecting 1GP per family every 4 months, to derive the income of any given polity, 1 GP can be collected each month.   

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