Time for another visit to the comment section. At the end, one reader tells a true story of how the Satanic panic drove a group’s Dungeons & Dragons games into secret, and what happened when concerned citizens learned of the underground game.
Strong Moral Dilemmas in D&D and the Unwanted Kind that Keeps Appearing
In Strong Moral Dilemmas in D&D and the Unwanted Kind that Keeps Appearing, I contrasted the moral dilemmas that reveal D&D characters against the baby-orc dilemma that dungeon masters should avoid.
Dan wrote, “The thing with the baby monsters from Keep on the Borderlands is that Gary Gygax never intended for the to be a moral dilemma. He assumed that all party members would be agreed on cleaning the place out, paladins included. When asked about it on the Internet in later years, he was somewhat incredulous that it even came up, stating that a properly-played paladin should view justice from a medieval perspective and would take the stance that ‘nits beget lice.’”
Unlike Gary Gygax, today’s players often see humanoids as reflections of humanity. So tarring entire races of humanoids as irredeemably corrupt and worthy of extermination draws troubling parallels to the real treatment of real human groups.
Rasmusnord01 wrote, “I think of three things that can help avoid making the ‘baby-orc issue’ into a problem. (1) Have a leader of the group. In the hands of the right player, a designated leader can help resolve situations and keep the discussion from taking too long. (2) Avoid allowing mercy to come back to bite the players. (3) Make ‘evil’ humanoids more nuanced.”
Teos “alphastream” Abadia wrote, “A friend of mine who used to write for Living Greyhawk said to me once that a great adventure teaches you something about your character. Over the years, that advice has stood the test of time for me. Great adventures help me better see my character’s personality and where they stand, and touch me emotionally or at a visceral level in some way.
“Since that time, I’ve tried to write adventures where decisions (often but not always moral dilemmas) help you understand your character better. Maybe you swap bodies with someone else, so you see yourself from the outside and separate your personality from your frame. Who are you? Maybe you bring a spirit into yourself. What part of that personality do you accept or reject, and what is it displacing? Maybe you face a tough choice. Do you bring a child into battle if that child is an artifact? Do you sacrifice a few to save many? Maybe you have to choose between a sure thing that isn’t so sweet, and worse odds for a chance at something better?”
Three Reasons the Ecology of Monsters Can Make Creatures Worse
In Three Reasons the Ecology of Monsters Can Make Creatures Worse, I suggested that framing monsters as natural creatures sometimes stifled the imagination. Lots of readers agreed but reminded me that developing monsters as creatures in nature can also fire the imagination.
“It’s utterly absurd to suggest that natural creatures can’t inspire stories, because they have,” wrote greatwyrmgold. “And only slightly less silly to suggest that magical creatures can be more evocative than natural ones.
“This article presents a false dichotomy between the fantastic and the naturalistic, between the magical and the dull. Creatures can be magical and dull when they pull from the same library of stock monster attributes as every half-arsed fantasy story in the past 60 years, but they can be fantastic and naturalistic with a bit of effort by the author.”
Why Dungeon & Dragons Dropped Assassins and Renamed Thieves
An avalanche of comments to Why Dungeon & Dragons Dropped Assassins and Renamed Thieves noted that Assassins shouldn’t be killing for free and certainly not targeting their allies.
For instance, Carl Torvik wrote, “Assassins may the ONLY evil character you should allow in your campaign. They kill only when hired to kill. They have no reason to attack their party. They come with ready-made attachments to the NPCs and the world (guilds, contacts, associates of former targets, etc.) And they have a reason to want a gang of people around to protect them and occasionally even help them on a difficult hit.”
Alphastream told how, in the 80s, friction between thieves and other evil characters broke up his game.
“In my very first campaigns we had two players where one would play a thief. Before long, he would start stealing from us. The other would then back him up and threaten. It was a source of friction in our Temple of Elemental Evil campaign, but when we played Barrier Peaks, it escalated. Three of us tried to stop it and three wanted the freedom to do whatever they pleased. We separated, adventuring separately. That killed the game.
“I can now look back on those events and understand what this was truly about. D&D was for me, as with many players, an escape from the social challenges of my normal life. When evil characters began to push their agenda, our D&D game ceased to become a collaborative escape from the everyday and became again a social challenge to which we had to respond. Bullying was again in my life, as were systems (here, the DM) that failed to make life better.
“The worst problem with evil PCs or thieves stealing from fellow party members isn’t the lost items or even a death. It’s the impact it has on us as individuals, and how it upsets the very reason we came together to play and tell stories. We can introduce aspects that allow for party conflict, but when doing so we should look to find ways to mitigate that at the player level, or the game will suffer.”
Quiiliitiila wrote, “Players who choose to create characters and then play them disruptively are to blame, not the classes. Any player who hides behind the class as a defense for their toxic actions is wrong and probably not suited to play in depth characters in the first place.
“In the end, D&D and AD&D may have started as a simple hack and slash board game, but it evolved into a truly unique role-playing game where you get to experience adventure as a wizard or a cleric or even a blackguard! How you choose to play those characters is up to you, it has never been dictated by the rulebooks or class descriptions.”
Alphastream agreed, but wrote, “As a designer I can choose to write mechanics that either bring people together for collaborative play or cause them to fight each other and disrupt party unity. I know which one I would rather see RPG companies design.
“David’s article is examining how important names and other design elements are for play. They are extremely important. Often more important than we may realize. Any individual player or DM may or may not react to the design, but on the whole we are creating incentives for certain types of play. Assassins might be terrible at one table and not a problem at another, but what is more important is how they play overall. Overall, they caused problems.
“When I design professionally, I’m often doing so for organized play, where I get to see how the design impacts hundreds to thousands of players. I can often see the impacts at a large convention and gain a really fascinating view into how the design works. Incentives that seem unimportant can end up being very important at that macro level. It’s good to go back and examine whether the design is encouraging heroic play, camaraderie, positive escapism, and other elements that routinely are cited by players as reasons to play D&D. Any individual group can always choose otherwise, but the overall design of D&D should point its incentives in that direction, because that’s what D&D is about.”
Alert reader Dan realized that much of this post revisited a five-year-old topic. “Wouldn’t it have made more sense to link back to your previous post on the topic instead of copying the first half nearly verbatim, picture included?”
Perhaps, but only about 1% of readers will follow a link to an earlier post. Reviving older posts sometimes helps me offer something every week. Many more folks read this blog now than did five years ago. Since few new readers browse my older posts, an old topic can still find interest.
I want to thank Dan and other dedicated readers who show enough interest in my posts to notice 5-year-old material. Your enthusiasm keeps me writing.
Sarah M Howard wrote in to identify herself in the post’s photograph. “The drow priestesses in the picture are Sarah and Kaitlin Howard.” Thanks Sarah. Your costumes and the life-sized Lolth combine for an unforgettable photo.
Why Gary Gygax Added Unrealistic Hit Points, Funny Dice, and Descending AC to D&D
The post Why Gary Gygax Added Unrealistic Hit Points, Funny Dice, and Descending AC to D&D brought up THAC0, which led Erïch Jacoby-Hawkins to offer a bit of history.
“Although THAC0 officially became a part of AD&D with the 2nd edition rule books, it was already being incorporated in some of the pre-2nd Edition modules in the mid to late 1980s, for example, modules I9 Day of Al’Akbar and I11 Needle from 1986 & 1987, respectively. I think THAC0 may have appeared in Dragon and Dungeon magazines around that time. The mechanic worked equally well in 1st as 2nd edition, as the AC system didn’t change, and the principle of the to-hit tables remained the same.”
Perhaps I should have included Day of Al’Akbar in The Dungeons & Dragons Books that Secretly Previewed Each New Edition. Can anyone identify the first appearance of the term THAC0?
Why Did So Many Classic Adventures Come From 7 Years of D&D’s 45-Year History
The post Why Did So Many Classic Adventures Come From 7 Years of D&D’s 45-Year History told how the outsized attention and influence of D&D’s earliest adventures elevated their reputation.
Bryce Lynch parsed a word choice in Dungeon magazine’s list of 30 greatest adventures. “I note that the use of the word ‘greatest’ avoids the implication that they are actually good.” Bryce pens a series of entertainingly cranky reviews where he holds adventures to impossibly high standards. His consistently looks for three qualities: “Usability at the table. Interactivity. Evocative.”
The lack of accolades given to more recent adventures led to my list of the 10 greatest adventures since 1985.
The 10 Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985
The author of number 10, The Gates of Firestorm Peak (1996), offered more on his classic adventure. Bruce Cordell wrote, “Thanks for the review! Much appreciated. If you’re interested, I wrote about designing the Gates of Firestorm Peak a few months ago, and the associated creation of The Far Realm (which certainly got its name in Gates, but which I further highlighted in later adventures to strengthen its importance).” See http://brucecordell.blogspot.com/2019/03/origin-of-far-realm-in-d.html.
Teos “alphastream” Abadia praised number 6, Madness at Gardmore Abbey (2011) and recommended a follow up. “I love this adventure, especially in how it showcased how varied 4E adventures could be. I would also mention the prequel, Siege of Gardmore Abbey by Steve Townshend. Here, Steve takes us back in time to when the abbey first fell. It has a strong innovative take on a prequel with a variety of fun encounters built for a convention one-shot. It also has some super-fun pregens, some of which have great conflicts that are revealed during play. It’s amazing design. Siege can be found in Dungeon 210.”
Teos also commented on number 5, Dead Gods (1997). “It’s also worth comparing it to other adventures of it’s time. It’s incredible how often adventures that should be amazing/fantastic (such as nearly every Planescape adventure) manage to be mundane. ‘Sure, you are in Sigil, now here is a guard duty assignment.’ More adventures need to really deliver on high fantasy.
“I liked Vecna Lives for toying with some of those concepts (the opening scene is insane, the advice on running horror is incredible), but it stops short of attaining what it could. Same with Ruins of Castle Greyhawk. In 5E, Dungeon of the Mad Mage has some very strong parts, especially given the source material.”
I admire that even the first-level adventures for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG include big, fantastic elements. Those adventures avoid caravan duty and rats in the cellar.
Responding to my list of The 10 Greatest Dungeons & Dragons Adventures Since 1985, Andrew wrote, “A key to the (good) 5e adventures is the Internet communities and third-party add-ons. By the book Tomb of Annihilation is good but falls apart here and there, but thanks to Facebook groups, Reddit and the great companion PDFs sold you can customize it with great ideas and fix weak bits really easily. Doing that back in the 1e days was quite daunting. Even a great module like Barrier Peaks was nearly impossible for me to run as a kid without any help.”
Wraithmagus challenged my list’s methodology. “I am bewildered why you would create a list like this based on POPULARITY of all things, which is by far the least useful metric. If such a list is going to be useful, surely, they should be overlooked adventures, so that readers can have their attentions drawn to buried gems. Saying ‘Let me tell you about crap you already know about just so everyone can argue about how overrated it is is as unhelpful as it comes.”
Although I did weigh each adventure’s reputation in my ratings, I consider that different from rating popularity. In the end, I cast my own judgement. My ratings won’t match anyone else’s, but a list like this needs to track the opinions of D&D fans closely enough to seem authoritative. As for finding buried gems, many readers had never heard of classics like Dead Gods and Night’s Dark Terror.
In Making the List of 10 Greatest D&D Adventures After 1985, I considered future lists of great adventures for high levels, from Dungeon magazine, and branded for a campaign setting.
Alphastream suggested some candidates. “The greatest high-level adventures from any era: I have to go with Throne of Bloodstone. While the design in many places is not exceptional, for a 1988 adventure it does a great job of showcasing how a truly awesome high-level plane-spanning adventure can work. It was very enjoyable as the end of my college campaign and took us to level 32-36 in AD&D play!
“The greatest adventures branded for a campaign setting: For Dark Sun, Freedom does one of the best jobs at capturing a setting and introduces player well to the momentous events in the boxed set with the fall of Kalak. The same is true of the adventure included in the boxed set, which captures outdoor survival very well. Play those two and you get what Dark Sun is. Compare this to Dragonlance (or later Dark Sun adventures), where you feel like you get a bad version of the novels while the real stars are off doing the cool work.”
Queen of the Demonweb Pits Opened Dungeons & Dragons to the Planes
The post Queen of the Demonweb Pits Opened Dungeons & Dragons to the Planes led Thomas Christy to write, “Great article! Check out these amazing maps by Jon Pintar! If I get to run this in the future, they will be great!”
Alphastream recalled playing Q1 in high school. “The dungeon was very so-so. It did feel like a boring zoo or even a boring dungeon until the final level. It was then fantastic. The final battle was brutal. The party had a character with psionics… and Lolth does too. The old psionic combat rules had never been used until then. We looked them up, and basically everything happens in the first segment (part of a round). Party walks into Lolth’s room, psionic character drops dead as Lolth handily wins, and regular combat ensues! That was exciting!”
Sharpshooters Are the Worst Thing in D&D, But That Speaks Well of Fifth Edition
A few readers responded to Sharpshooters Are the Worst Thing in D&D by describing the historical superiority of archers.
Todd Ellner wrote, “Think about it in the real world. The horse nomads of Central Asia from the Scythians to the Mongols pretty much swept all before them and replaced the style of warfare wherever they went. The life of the samurai wasn’t ‘The Way of the Sword.’ It was ‘The way of the Horse and Bow.’ Missile weapons are that much of a game-changer.”
Although I like the historical perspective, D&D isn’t history, but a game where characters do fantastic deeds for the fun of players. A focus on fun leads designers like Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax to favor unrealistic, but fun things like hit points over realistic, not-fun things like sepsis and sucking chest wounds. Fifth edition pairs the intrinsic advantages of ranged attacks with the game’s two most overpowered feats to encourage situations where the sharpshooter player has fun and everyone else wonders why they showed up.
Some commenters raised the canard that archers tend to be “squishy,” lightly armored and vulnerable to attack. In this edition, fully-armored fighters also make the most efficient sharpshooters.
Some compared the damage dealing of sharpshooters to spellcasters. Certainly, spellcasters can shine for their ability to clear hordes of foes and for their utility. But most spellcasters really are squishy, and their spell slots force players to watch their resources.
Some cited certain melee fighting styles that can approach the damage output of sharpshooters. But melee types foster interesting fights because they stand in harm’s way and must move to attack. Meanwhile, monsters can surround their boss with enough protection for the mastermind to act before the barbarian can cut a path. Sharpshooters just turn potentially interesting encounters into point, shoot, and now it’s over.
Readers who see the trouble with sharpshooters offered advice to managing the archetype.
LordJasper wrote, “Start enforcing ammunition tracking. A lot of DMs let players get away with ‘forgetting’ to track their arrows and crossbow bolts. Make archers keep track of every bolt they fire.” The limit comes when archers capable of emptying a quiver in just a few rounds need to carry every missile.
Unfortunately, a 1 gp quiver of 20 arrows only weighs a pound, so players will argue they can easily carry 20 quivers totaling 400 arrows. Dungeon masters who rule otherwise will UNFAIRLY DESTROY an entire character concept—or so players will say.
“This is where game mechanics poorly reflects reality,” Jason Oldham wrote. “Drawing on personal experience, an average quiver MIGHT hold 20 arrows. They are bulky and need to be packaged with at least some consideration for the delicate bits. Bolts are slightly more accommodating but only slightly. I personally enforce some rather strict house rules as far as how much a player can pack around and how readily accessible equipment may be. But that’s just me, I like to make my players suffer just a little bit.”
Some readers suggested spells that hinder archers.
Oniguma wrote, “I’ve found one little, often overlooked spell that does wonders to diminish the potential of ranged attackers: Slow.”
Sapphire Crook elaborated. “Slow is a rare spell that doesn’t require sight. You just pick six targets in a pretty large cube, and they have to pick a god and pray. Fireball can kill, but Slow can save lives.”
Eric Bohm suggested Wind Wall. “‘Arrows, bolts, and other ordinary projectiles launched at targets behind the wall automatically miss.’ I don’t like using it because it is such a hard shut down, but it is useful for letting the rest of the party contribute.”
The prospect of using Wind Wall against a party dominated by archers excites me. Still, many commenters blamed any trouble with sharpshooters on DMs who fail to prepare custom encounters to thwart the archetype. I prefer to avoid D&D games where the players bring scissors, and then the DM always prepares rocks. That approach creates an adversarial dynamic and robs the game of variety. DMs who run Adventurers League can add total cover, monsters, and hit points as I suggested in the post, but we can’t remake adventures to vex archers.
Number Monsters to Stop Wasting Time Finding Them on the Battle Map
In response to my advice that DMs number monsters to stop wasting time finding them on the battle map, Scott suggested using a 3D printer to make numbered bases that cup miniature figures.
The Two D&D Feats Everyone Loves (For Someone Else’s Character)
My post on The Two D&D Feats Everyone Loves (For Someone Else’s Character) ranked the popularity of D&D’s feats.
The relatively low popularity of Resilience surprised some commenters. For spellcasters who try to stay clear of attack, Resilience (Constitution) beats the most popular feat, War Caster. By the way, according to the letter of D&D rules, if you take Resilience for one stat, you can’t take it again for a second, different ability.
The popularity rankings of feats invited comparisons to each feat’s actual power. Thinkdm wrote, “Here’s some poll results I ran to break them down into tiers. You see the ‘broken’ feats aren’t even the most popular. Likely because they are suited to specific play styles. But, it’s still interesting.”
Little-known D&D classics: Fez
In reply to Little-known D&D classics: Fez, Matt wrote, “I’ve never been to Gen Con, and in fact only came to AD&D when I was in middle school in the early 1990s. I found the Fez adventures about ten years ago when I was combing Amazon for out-of-print, non-Wizards of the Coast, and pre-d20 game materials.
“They immediately changed my world.
“I would spend the next decade reading, absorbing, and preparing to run Fez with my own group of gamers whose frame of reference for D&D only begins around the year 2000 or so. I’m happy to report that we finished the first Fez adventure back in May, and I’m preparing to go into Fez II, which is really the best in the series, in defiance of the law of sequels.
“When I ran Fez I, I modified the game to accommodate some of their expectations: The players saw their characters’ stats, but they began as amnesiacs. Still, even with that change, the Fez formula engaged them immediately.”
“Fez has become one of our most memorable adventures. I highly recommend that anyone out there with a gaming group pick up these gaming classics and run them.”
The True Story of the Cthulhu and Elric Sections Removed from Deities & Demigods
The True Story of the Cthulhu and Elric Sections Removed from Deities & Demigods prompted a funny exchange.
Joel Orsatti: “Any idea why the Finnish mythos was dropped?”
Brent Butler: “They may have simply run out of K’s.”
More likely, TSR dropped the mythos to fit the abbreviated book within a smaller number of signatures—groups of pages printed together.
The Media Furor that Introduced the “Bizarre Intellectual Game” of Dungeons & Dragons to America
In The Media Furor that Introduced the “Bizarre Intellectual Game” of Dungeons & Dragons to America, I explained why Gen Con in the 80s came to ban live-action games, and the change in attitude since. Spoiler: Today, some folks accept that playing D&D can prove beneficial.
Alphastream (again. Thanks, Teos!) wrote, “I wish I had a screen shot of an old post on the Wizards of the Coast forums by Mike Mearls during the 4E era. 4E era, mind you! That’s long after this event. In it, he briefly mentioned that when WotC was looking at the design for 4E organized play, there was a push to eliminate LARP and town-fair style play. It was due to the effect it has on the perception of the game.
“I mention this not because I think WotC was necessarily wrong. (Okay, they were, but they were trying to gain acceptance for the game.) I mention it because LARPing was still seen as problematic as recently as 4E. And, because it is ironic that what has helped RPGs become mainstream during the 5E period is acting, both on livestreams and in media (Stranger Things, etc.). It is now very welcome to have people in costume, and WotC staff get in costume for livestreams and big events such as the Descent marketing event. It’s a remarkable change that has come only very recently.”
Timothy Park shared his positive tale of clear-headed parents, pastors, and teachers seeing the game’s value and encouraging play.
“There were a great many people using their intelligence and common sense and noticing and saying good things about D&D. They and their reasonable perspective won out. If it hadn’t, well, would you have this blog?”
“That story, the positive side, needs more press than the sensational bits.”
As for the sensational bits, I finish this post by relaying the account from chacochicken.
My hometown was a regular hotbed of D&D and Satanic panic. In fact, the dangers of D&D was still a contentious point there until not that long ago.
I come from a small town in rural West Virginia. Evangelicalism had completely overtaken the town in the 50’s and 60’s. My grandparents moved there in 1952 and were not church going types. Strike one. My mom was an unwed mother. Strike two. My uncle got the Holmes basic set while he was in the navy and introduced my friends and I to the game. Strike two and half. It was an open secret that my navy vet uncle was gay. Strike Five.
To set the scene, it was summer 1986 and my friends and I (fortunately most kids don’t care much about the above nonsense) played a ton of D&D, but we had to keep it a complete secret from basically everyone. Our town was small enough that everyone mostly knew everyone’s business. A ring of people were in charge. The bank manager was the pastor. The pastor’s brother was the county sheriff and the high school baseball coach. Nepotism all the way down. Well these folks decided that they were going to control the behavior of the whole town more or less.
So we played that summer. A few other kids knew but none of our parents at that point. We were known to have played before, see above uncle, so everyone was wary of us. My friend Dustin, yes his name was Dustin, his parents ransacked his room and found his character sheets, dice, and some D&D ads torn our from his comic books. I’m not exaggerating, they burned all of his toys, all of them, on the front yard as he basically had a nervous breakdown. He was not allowed to speak to us again and they couldn’t risk us meeting at school so the next year he was home-schooled.
We were torn as to whether to play anymore or not because we were afraid of the possibility of punishment. Our defiance won out and we kept playing in the loft of an old barn next to my uncle’s house. He vouched for us playing regular old board games, fishing, and running around in the woods.
Then terror struck. A dog went missing somewhere close. Then a second. Then an older man “disappeared.” People went crazy. “It was Satanists!” The Panic hit full bore. The school confiscated anything to do with heavy metal music. Prayers before baseball games asking for protection against the devil worshippers that invaded our town. D&D was the primary suspect.
To be fair, as kids, we were scared too. We just knew D&D didn’t have anything to do with it. My uncle reassured us that most of the town were a bunch of crazy backwards hillbillies. He wasn’t wrong. He made a critical mistake however. I’ll never forget what happened on August 2nd 1986, a Saturday. My uncle threw a big BBQ for some of his navy buddies. We were invited to so we got some food and headed over to our barn for D&D by lantern light. My drunk uncle let slip to a friend’s wife that we were playing the devil’s game and she called her father, the aforementioned county sheriff.
We were right in the middle of the game when the sheriff and four deputies arrested us at gun point. They pointed guns at 5 kids playing a game. They were sure we were a Satanic cult cell. They put three of us in one car and two in the other. The entire drive they kept asking us about Satanism and if we killed the dogs. They didn’t take us to our parents or the police station, they took us to the church so the sheriff’s brother could rebuke us while we were in handcuffs. It was completely insane. There were 5 of us and we were all terrified except for my friend Nathan, who thought this was hilarious. His laughing and mocking the pastor helped a ton actually. We got our wits back and demanded to see our parents and told them they had just kidnapped us and we were going to call the FBI.
The sheriff took us home after that with a stern warning and a veiled threat asking me and my friends if my uncle had ever touched any of us. The next day my mom filed a formal complaint and my friend Matt’s father challenged the sheriff to a fist fight. He did not accept. The old man that “disappeared” wasn’t dead. He was on vacation in Maine or some such that summer. One or both dogs were found. We took a break from D&D for a while, but picked it back up when the Forgotten Realms grey box came out the next year. The pastor finally died in 2012 and the newer younger pastor now let’s kids play D&D other TTRPGs and board games in the church annex on Thursday nights.
So that’s the story of how D&D destroyed the brains of the people of my town for two decades because of the the media furor.
You have a lot of great stuff on this blog but I think you really continue to miss the mark on your assessment of Sharpshooter!
Really the main reason not to worry about it is that it’s not all that powerful. That’s why people draw comparisons to spellcasters and better melee builds. Those options are just so much more powerful that even if they have downsides or are more interesting mechanically, they force you to deal with them in encounters or be utterly steamrolled.
A Battlemaster Fighter with Polearm Master and Sentinel is locking down melee enemies leaving them unable to even reach an enemy to attack, dealing noticeably more damage (due to opportunity attacks and/or riposte), and actually fulfilling the role of the tank in the party. A stock wizard (let alone an optimized Sorceror) laying down fireballs might literally be hitting 5+ targets, totally clearing a room of lower level enemies. Or casting wall of force to lock down the boss monster without requiring even so much as a saving throw (this is really where I struggle as a DM, designing encounters that can’t be bypassed by Fall of Force OR Fireball). A cleric of light can toss out fireballs like the wizard while maintaining a higher AC than a Sharpshooter and only slightly lower hit points, and even a stock cleric can dish out a lot of damage with their usual suite of spells.
In contrast, in a normal group, the Sharpshooter can literally be ignored. It’s not even a snub to the player; if they choose Sharpshooter they are intentionally choosing a build that trades some damage output and other utility for mobility and elusiveness. So as a DM I respect their playing style by simply focus firing on other more effective party members and saving them for last. And in my experience, when other party members start dying, a little mobility isn’t usually enough to save you from a fight that has gone South.
So… what’s the problem here?
My group is just about to finish our long running 5E Realms campaign. My players are 20th level now and quite powerful overall with some strong magical items. They are almost all seasoned veterans of D&D and clever players in general. At 17th level they engaged in a massive battle, (they had the foresight to gather lots of info and by extreme measures up to the minute intel on the possibility of a second wave). They discovered an ancient blue dragon had been enlisted to fight the them but it would be arriving roughly a minute later.
At first they seemed concerned about this development. They were in Zhentil Keep, a hostile city, facing several tremendously powerful foes (vs. 7 PCs & 2 hirelings) and now an ancient flying dreadnought. “I’ll handle the dragon” says the party’s champion fighter/trickster rogue sharpshooter (6/11?). “I just need 2 things, swift quiver and holy weapon” Bard and paladin provide said spells and our sharpshooter drinks a potion of flying and flys to the tallest building, the bell tower of Bane’s black cathedral. The PCs tell him to hurry up, they need him for the rest of the combat.
PCs and I all know sharpshooter is their most powerful damage dealer. I randomize the dragon’s appearance and it shows up 4 round early (the earliest it could) I, however, don’t yet realize it yet but the dragon is already doomed. I should mention this PC has an Oathbow which gives him most of the abilities of sharpshooter against his sworn enemy (which will be this dragon)
Fighting, potent magic etc. The sharpshooter is targeting what enemies he can from the tower (arrow, -5/+10, holy weapon, sneak attack critical 19/20 600′ effective range) Easily avoids by total cover or evasion virtually all attacks targeting him.
Dragon appears, flying in from the north as expensive intel declared. Sharpshooter swears oath attacks at first opportunity —Round 1 Sharpie vs Ancient Blue Dragon. Dragon has initiative flys 160′ toward battle.
Sharpie w/swift quiver 4 attacks—first hit is a 19 on the die, critical hit, does 115 points of damage (most single damage attack done in our 5E campaign until later broken by same character at level 20 with 121)
Sharpie rolls well (has advantage due to oathbow so -5/+10 every time) hits twice more averaging 40 on a hit w/o sneak attack. Wait, action surge two more hits, another critical ! totalling another 100+ points of damage between both. 300 points of damage in 6 seconds. Dragon has a difficult decision to make. Fly away in fear after being almost bloodied (gave ABD additional 200 hp over base stat block) in a single round or barrel toward new lone target? Poor dragon.
Blue dragon has no way to manage full cover and can’t clear long range (I started him at 550′) 4 more attacks 3 hits another 120ish points of damage.
I won’t bore you with the rest but a PC wizard managed to cast haste on the sharpshooter. His swift quiver ran out the but he flew toward it and killed the dragon in the next round. He did use his breath weapon but sharpie saved and evaded. He killed an ancient blue dragon in about 4 rounds without taking damage.
In the penultimate battle the sharpshooter was doing his artillery barrage and a spell caster only had meteor swarm to target at the sharpie’s distance. “The sky begins to fall on you as fiery meteorites slams into the ground everywhere you look. Roll a dexterity saving throw.” “How much damage is that?” “40d6 – 117 points” “I got a 28 + evasion so no damage. Can I tell which wizard cast that spell? I’m going to take him out in the next round.” Proceeds to hide then swears oath then critically hit said wizard and rolling the new 121 record mentioned above.
The 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide (1979), pg. 196, Appendix E, “Alphabetical Monster Listing,” has a column labeled “To Hit A.C. 0”. This appears to be the first official reference to THAC0 in a D&D rulebook.
Our games stayed at least semi-secret through high school but after our “arrest” everyone knew. I remember thinking, foolishly no doubt, that if only we could better explain the spirit of the game then the adults would understand it wasn’t any sort of threat to our sanity or salvation.
I spent a lot of time as a teenager trying to explain the game to various adults and I could never bridge the gap. I tried to formulate a convincing argument but usually stalled when teenage me would say “there aren’t really rules, I mean there are rules but only for some stuff” and “You don’t win. Well you do win like fighting monsters but everyone is supposed to work together and you play later but do different things”
Ultimately, I think the best I managed to do was convince several people that the game was just stupid and not dangerous.
Having named devils in the Monster Manual did not help.
“Can anyone identify the first appearance of the term THAC0?”
1979: Look at the monster stats section in the back of the 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. There is an entire THAC0 column on each page.
“So that’s the story of how D&D destroyed the brains of the people of my town for two decades because of the the media furor.”
Most Christians did not follow the lead of Pat Robertson and the 700 Club.
My own church, likely one of the most conservative in the nation (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod), had no problem with roleplaying games. Maybe it was a coincidence but they also opposed Prohibition a century ago.
The satanic panic struck close to home for me in the mid-80s. A friend who was into heavy metal and D&D like many of my friends in suburban Atlanta at the time. Over the summer we lost touch with him, he just seemed to disappear. I don’t think any of us knew exactly where he lived, we just met at the local convenience store or at school.
One day after school we found him smoking outside the building. Seems his parents were worried about his choice in music and D&D and shipped him off to a religious/military school in Florida over the summer. He was back for a few days and asked if he could stay with one of us as he was running away. He stayed with a friend, secretly, for a couple of days, and then headed downtown. Last I heard he was staying in an abandoned warehouse across the street from an old punk club downtown (the neighborhood got cleaned up and is now mostly a big park dedicated to the olympics). I never saw him again. I don’t know if went back home and then to Florida, or if he jus moved on.
All because parents and other community ‘leaders’ over reacted and blamed scapegoats for unrelated social problems.
“The horse nomads of Central Asia from the Scythians to the Mongols pretty much swept all before them and replaced the style of warfare wherever they went.”
This is pop-cultural and very narrow view. I’m by no means an expert of history, but even I no it’s not true.
Neither Pechenegs nor Cumans managed to sweep Russians or even change their style of warfare. Russians, along with all Europe, started with standard germanic heavy infantry and replaced it with noble heavy cavalry, essentially knights with some local specific. It was enough to successfully compete with your magical horse archers. Moreover, Mongols conquered Russians, but also failed to change their style. Russians relied on knights until the reign of Ivan the Great in the late 15 century.
I can’t speak for other periods and places, but I highly doubt that Russians are unique.
I’m also pretty sure that nomad successes are based on their ability to field massed cavalry armies, not horse archers per se.