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The Way We Really Play, Really: Movement on the Board

Updated: Jun 14, 2018

I now have a premise for this blog.

When I returned to AD&D in the spring of 2015 I was under enormous pressure to perform as a Dungeon Master because my entire group had invested in modern systems. They were HIGHLY skeptical of moving to AD&D.

My players consist of graying but ultra-creative people from the video game industry who are (like me) surrounded by high-caliber personalities, great ideas and a constant pressure to make things "better". As a result I was terrified. My friends don't make time to play in a regular game just to be polite.

I needed to get this right, or I was going to lose all my players.

The first thing I did was join the OSR on G+

The OSR energy online was thrilling, but parts of the chant were unfamiliar to me. What was LotFP? Labyrinth Lord? What's that? I don't understand the Black Hack or the White Hack or who the heck Holmes even is. What's OE? I don't know anyone or anything. I'm a complete n00b in my own hobby! That's how I felt.

I'd never actually played OE so I found a local guy and crashed his table at a game shop in Austin (endless thanks to Nathan Jennings!). I began to slowly realize that much of OSR was an attempt to utilize the OGL to reproduce a more coherent version of D&D and to emulate the way we played as kids without getting into legal hot water. Thereby, new products could be added by new voices. On top of this came the various flavorings and syrups from adult-themed to horror to low-fantasy and so on.

Add to this the TSR alumni, each with their silver voice saying how things used to be. Robert Kuntz, bless his heart, proclaimed boldly from his page that there was a time when imagination was the only rule! Sounds cool and I'm a huge fan of Robert's stuff. But the problem I was running into was that I lacked the perspective of "being there" in the Dungeon Hobby Shop. For guys like Rob, and Ernie, and Luke, and so on—personal memories of how it felt to play at those seminal tables must be a pole star, which they can adhere to or detract from as they choose.

My only pole star was how it felt to read the DMG for the first time and try to muddle through the array of snippets from scattered paragraphs, piecing together how this game was supposed to work.

I also suspected that some of these luminaries might be trying to make a buck on their reputation, which is fine. They deserve that and I don't consider it dirty in any way. I also mused that some new authors might have cause to downplay the original rule books' useability in order to hawk simulacrums and wares that they had authored. Again, there's an OGL so, OK. 

But I decided quickly that I didn't want to go that route. I was going to risk it all. I was going to go BTB. I was going to study like this was a final exam and I was going to make an honest attempt to use all the rules from the AD&D books in what I felt was a blend of the letter and spirit of intent. And I was going to unquestioningly adhere to those rules as a test: to see if they held together. To see if they actually worked under the very real pressure that my players would put on them.

And when I say all, I mean ALL. 

I mean adjusted-to-hit AC Type; Weapon Speed Factor; Mind Blast Saving Throws; Optional incremented Fighter THAC0; potion onset time; system shock; spell cost; EXP cap; level training; 0 HP bed rest; 1 hp per night if you're lucky; small shield affects AC vs only 1 attack per round; missiles always fire first; encumbrance; charge once 1 per turn; full-on by-the-book madness.

Yes all of that is in the first edition DMG and I studied my ass off.

I had to take notes to piece it together in a way I hadn't done when I was 14. But I was committed. I memorized page numbers and charts. I made spread sheets. I made auto-filling character sheets for my players b/c I knew they wouldn't stomach the time it took to make a character and follow the rules the way I was going to demand. I told myself, "No math. Don't make them do any math." I made the sheet so that it would read their base to-hit and modify it against AC type for every AC. All they had to do was look at the page and they would know what number they needed to roll. 

I made my own DM screen.

Combat was the worst and, even though I believe I eventually did parse it, I admit to you now that I made concessions. Still, I'd argue that we play AD&D at my table not the way Gary played AD&D at his table but ALMOST the way he "claimed" to play it when he helped write the DMG. 

Yet there was another piece to the puzzle. I wanted to play with minis cuz, y'know, that tantalizing moment in E.T. when I was twelve had registered with me. And my players were moving off Pathfinder. I wanted to play with minis. I just didn't want the shenanigans of modern systems turning it into an endless dance of 5' steps and similar broken mechanics.

There were no rules I could find for running AD&D with minis, but interpreting the mechanics of the system proved fairly simple with the exception of movement during combat.

Long-story-short, I fudged a tad, added a couple house rules for things the players liked to do (like trying to force that goblin into the nearby pit) and wound up with what I feel is a very nearly BTB AD&D Miniature Figure experience.

I have retained my players and added more. And we have been playing this way for over 3 years.

As I put together this new website, I wondered what unique voice I could bring to the OSR and I think it is this: I am going to tell you how we really play AD&D (for realz) with miniature figures and attempt to show you how neither the movement of minis nor the "extra" rules (such as speed factor) slow us down from the fast-paced combat 1st Edition enthusiasts are accustomed to. In fact, I'd argue that the "extra" rules actually add seasoning to the otherwise regular rhythm of play.

I suspect the audience for this blog is very, very small. But here we go.

PART I: Movement on the Board

I credit much of my delve into the combat system of AD&D to the ADDICT.pdf compiled by David M. Prata in 2006. This document served as a field guide to the wilds of the original DMG and I pored over it with equal interest.

As I attempted to meld traditional AD&D's somewhat abstract combat (theater of the mind) with the more concrete tactics that become self-evident with the use of minis, I realized that the first really difficult problem was movement.

The Player's Handbook p. 102 did not help.

Because OSR maps are typically on a 10' grid and because I wanted to make movement easy to calculate and smooth to execute, I fudged. Why? Because this is BTB AD&D of course! (Irony intended) And therefore we use segments. Segments are the foundation of our combat structure and I will talk about segments in my next blog post.

But back on point.

PHB p. 102 doesn't even bother with the poor scrub moving at 3". It declares 6" = 60' per round and 6' per segment. The math is perfect. But it's miserable shit for minis on a grid. 9'? 12'?

No. Can't do.

But we can get close.

My chart for mini movement with AD&D looks like this:

  • 3" moves 5' per segment (30' per round max)

  • 6" moves 10' per segment (60' per round max)

  • 9" moves 15' per segment (90' per round max)

  • 12" moves 20' per segment (and so on)

I know, I know...already NOT by the book. And what about the Bulette or the Clay and Flesh Golems? Or the MONK!?!? But Shh-, listen my darling, this works well and is in the spirit of the rules. If the party wins initiative and has, for example, 3 segments to act before the monsters go, each character can move 3 x MV/seg listed above. Later, during the wrap-up part of the round, they can use whatever remaining movement is left.

Because you are handling minis and interacting with the board physically, this happens naturally and while we might make some occasional errors in tracking, it transpires quite smoothly overall.

From my Automated Character Sheet

Here's an example of what can happen during play:

A slow fighter in plate might lose initiative even though they won the die roll because their segments are taken up plodding toward the foe. Because the fighter cannot reach the enemy during their initiative, the initiative passes to the monster, who then finishes closing the gap by using only a single segment and then attacks. After the monster attacks, the fighter is finally able to swing. Players realize this quickly and begin making tactical choices like "I charge" because that doubles MV. Or, they will stand their ground and see if the monsters close instead. Or they will simply loose missiles if they know they cannot reach the target. These represent interesting tactical choices that occur naturally as a result of miniature use, without any additional rules being present. It also engages the players fully and keeps them off their phones.

But wait. What's that crap about the fighters only having 3 segments to act? How do you know that? Well, that's a dirty house rule whose filthy origin rises from the deepest, grossest pits of that abomination of a paragraph that spans p. 66 to 67 of the DMG. I warn you, it is a vile thing to read and the second table on p. 83 DMG must be immediately consulted afterward. Before I admit to (and explain) the reason for this transgression (in the next blog post) let me finish this post by recounting in quick order how we handle the other combat maneuvers listed in DMG:

Melee: Once melee is joined, the minis are "stuck" together and cannot separate unless

  1. One side flees (which allows the other side a full attack routine per DMG p. 70)

  2. One side begins a fighting retreat. In this case the other side is allowed to either automatically follow (press the attack) or disengage and allow the retreat.

We allow "skirting" around a melee. That is: moving a mini around the edges of the battle in order to re-position without incurring the penalty of "flight". However, breaking a melee on one side of the room to rush to the aid of a character engaged with a foe on the other will incur the above penalty.

Lastly, we have two simple house rules for the most common things that players with minis want to do:

Maneuver the Foe:

  • Trying to move an enemy mini can only be attempted ONCE PER ROUND.

  • The aggressor cannot both attack and maneuver during the same segments.

  • The maneuver is defended against with either STR or DEX at DEFENDER'S CHOICE.

  • 1d6 is added to the chosen ability score. Monster ability scores are determined by DM fiat.

  • DEFENDER wins ties.

  • If the aggressor wins, he may move the defender's mini at half MV speed (rounded up) in any direction and automatically follow. DM fiat may allow for saves or checks when the mini is forced off a cliff or into a hazard.

Pass Through the Foe:

  • Trying to pass through a space occupied by an enemy mini can only be attempted ONCE PER ROUND.

  • The action is defended against with either STR or DEX at the AGGRESSOR'S CHOICE.

  • 1d6 is added to the chosen ability score. Monster ability scores are determined by DM fiat.

  • AGGRESSOR wins ties.

  • If the aggressor fails, they must remain where they are.

That's it. So far, in nearly 4 years of miniature play we've not needed any additional rules. Our house rules are not designed to be incredibly realistic in terms of replicating the higher skill of a 10 HD fighter easily maneuvering a 1 HD orc; rather they are designed to make it fundamentally hard to move an enemy and equally hard to keep an enemy trapped in a corner: thus allowing PCs to escape even very dire situations.

Final Thoughts:

An obvious counter argument to my MV rate fudging is that moving 3' per segment for a 30' MV rate is easier to remember than my conversion above AND that my conversion allows for too much movement per segment while not delineating correctly for monks and golems.

My response to this is that MV in the DMG is already abstracted in the sense that melee can be joined automatically if participants are within 10' of each other. Additionally, while 2 segments of movement @ 3'/seg puts a figure at 6' and 2 segments of movement @ 6'/seg put a figure at 12', you must decide to either put the minis in ambiguous locations on the grid (or) you must round off which may or may not cause them to essentially have the same MV rate. Ambiguous locations create a snow-ball effect: "Erm, let's see...12' from this place between lines would be" So most ways you slice this, you will have to compromise. I simply choose to do it up front rather than on-the-fly.

With regards to monks and other non-standard MV rates, I simply round those rates to the nearest standard 3" increment and don't lose sleep. The caveat is that when the fighter (with 9") is running from the golem (with 8") I'm going to allow the fighter to escape.

Next blog post (a few weeks out): segments of the round: wherein I reveal my biggest transgression!

If you want to use minis in your game and have questions for me, feel free to comment. I can offer suggestions based on what we do at the table, but the guiding principle is to let the rules of AD&D instinctively guide the way you move things on the board.

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