Biblyon the Great

This zine is dedicated to articles about the fantasy role-playing game Gods & Monsters, and other random musings.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Surprise and initiative in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Jerry Stratton, June 13, 2018

Charles Marion Russell: Charles Marion Russell on Advantage in the fog of war

Initiative, surprise, who knows?

Last weekend I ran an AD&D game at the North Texas RPG Convention, a run through Karl Merris’s Fell Pass from Dragon Magazine 32. Fortunately, I also ran a playtest with my local group, because I’ve forgotten a lot about how AD&D worked. Much of what I didn’t forget was wrong. I’m pretty sure we always used d10 for initiative, for example.

When I started using Gods & Monsters, I planned never to run AD&D again; preparing for this game I began to remember why. It’s not that the rules are overly complex; it’s that they’re explained in bits and pieces, scattered throughout the text, with strangely-ignored edge cases.

Take surprise, for example. Surprise is basically very easy. Roll a d6 for the entire group. If you roll a 1 or 2, the group is surprised, and that’s the number of segments they’re surprised. Individuals with high dexterity can adjust that up or down.

That some characters are surprised only on a 1 on d6 isn’t a big deal either, because the group uses their most advantageous member for the surprise roll. And that some creatures (and characters) have specific rules for when they cause surprise also works surprisingly simply, though it could have been worded better. When a group with special surprise rules meets a group with special not-surprised rules, the range needs to be converted to a modifier from the standard, and then applied to the die roll. It seems like it would have made more sense to have it be a modifier to begin with, but that’s D&D.

But no mention is made of characters who roll a percentile die to be surprised. If their most advantageous character is a Monk, and they roll 19 on d100, this means they’re surprised. It cannot possibly mean that they are surprised for 19 segments, however.

I chose to read the Monk surprise as basically a 1 in d4 chance, so that if the most advantageous party member is a Monk, the party will only be surprised for one segment.

Initiative is easier. It doesn’t have edge cases, at least in the normal game. But the rules are spread over several places. I decided to use the weapon speed portion of the rules, because I had a Monk in the pregens, and Monks rely on getting extra attacks on initiative ties to be effective. Since initiative is rolled on a d6, ties are fairly common. Also fairly common is the player characters having one attack per round, fighting creatures with two attacks per round—this means there is no initiative roll. There were more rounds where no initiative was necessary than there were where we had to roll initiative.

I made up a cheat sheet for surprise and initiative (PDF File, 234.3 KB) for the game. I’m making it available here. It includes page numbers for where the rules are. If you think I’ve misinterpreted the rules, let me know where and why, as I’d like to have this be correct.

A more minor surprise was movement. I had remembered different movements for the demihuman races, but there is nothing about this in the rules for player characters. It makes sense. The movement rates in AD&D are so slow that they have to be more cognitive than physical. Characters don’t move at 120 feet every ten minutes because of their height. They move at that speed because they’re in an unfamiliar area and are trying not to be surprised or get lost.

I included ranges of light sources and rates for movement just because there was room on the back, and because this information is not on the Dungeon Master’s shield. If I played AD&D more often, I probably wouldn’t need a cheat sheet for light or movement.

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