Page by Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG Part 7

Gary Gygax's DMG - Curved Sword by David C. Sutherland III
Illustration from the DMG by David C. Sutherland III

Wow, it’s been almost two months since I updated the Page by Page series! I’d like to apologize to those who have been following this one. I really let it get away from me without noticing. This is the seventh installment of my continuing series on the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide, written by Gary Gygax. This post begins with the section “Special Types of Attacks” on page 70, and continues to the end of page 79.

To recap:  This is not a review of the DMG. I am not attempting to evaluate its quality, nor the quality of the AD&D system. I am merely going through the book as a modern gamer, learning about the roots of RPGs, and making note when I see something surprising or interesting, or something which could be adapted for modern games.

Attacks With Two Weapons: I found this a little odd. “Characters normally using a single weapon may choose to use one in each hand (possibly discarding the option of using a shield).” The way I read that, it sounds as though characters who choose to dual wield might need to give up using their shield, but might not. Would they somehow wield two swords and a shield at the same time?

I’m not entirely sure what Gygax meant by this, but I find the imagery amusing. Perhaps he was making allowances for forearm mounted bucklers which don’t cover the wielder’s hands? Those existed, right?

Breaking Off From Melee: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Attacks of opportunity? In my first edition? Apparently it’s more likely than I thought! I realize this isn’t exactly as comprehensive as the AoO in 3.x/Pathfinder, but it functions in much the same way. For so long I’ve heard old-school players complain that attacks of opportunity are part of the needless complication of the modern game’s battle system. And yet here I find pretty much exactly that. How curious!

Monk’s Open Hand Melee: I like this idea a great deal: a monk’s unarmed damage is only really functional against human sized, human-weight opponents. It recognizes the limitations of the human body, thus preventing monks from becoming wholly supernatural beings as they are in Pathfinder. Unfortunately, the way this limitation is notated is awful. Listing a max height and weight in the first place is too much work for the GM. I much prefer the kind of size categories seen in Pathfinder. And then, on top of that, to have the max height and weight increase incrementally at each level, two inches by two inches, is just obscene in my humble opinion. What is the difference between a 6’6″ humanoid and a 6’8″ humanoid?

I do quite like that undead who cause negative effects by touching their foes will inflict that effect on a monk who punches them. Gary seems to have envisioned the monk as a very interesting, but still grounded class. Using your fists as weapons has advantages, but there’s no attempt to make a monk’s fists as effective as a sword could be in the name of balance.

Actions During Combat And Similar Time-Important Situations: There’s a lot that I dislike about this section. I can understand and enjoy a game where the GM curtails excessive strategist by having events move forward around the players. Brendan frequently does this in our weekly OD&D game, and it keeps us from getting off track. It also adds a sense that the game is happening in real time, which is fun. Here, though, Gygax seems to recommend penalizing even slight hesitations on the player’s part. As a player, I try not to waste anyone’s time. But sometimes I need a moment to decide what I want to do on my turn, and I’d prefer not to be pressured into acting immediately.

But really, that’s just a nitpick compared to this passage:

In a similar vein, some players will state that they are going to do several actions, which, if allowed, would be likely to occupy their time for many rounds. For example: “I’ll hurl oil at the monster, ignite it, drink my potion of invisibility, sneak up behind it, and then stab it in the back!” How ambitious indeed. Where is the oil? In a pouch, of course, so that will take at least 1, possibly 2 segments to locate and hurl. If the potion is in the character’s back pack, 3 or 4 segments will be taken up just finding it, and another 1 segment will be required to consume its contents. (See Drinking Potions.) Now comes the tricky part, sneaking up. Assuming that the potion has taken effect, and that our dauntless character has managed to transfer his or her weapon back to his or her hand (for certainly all the other activity required the character to at least put the weapon in the off hand), he or she is now ready to creep around the fringe of the combat and steal up behind the foe to smite it in the back. If the space is not too crowded (remember, his or her friends can’t see the invisible character either) and the monster not too far away, the time should only amount to about a round or so. Therefore, the character’s actions will fill something over two complete rounds.

As DM, simply note these actions, and begin them accordingly. Then, when the player starts to give instructions about additional activity, simply remind him or her that he or she is already engaged in the former course, and that you will tell him or her when that is finished and new instructions are in order.”

No. I’m sorry, Gary. I love you, but that’s dickish GMing. To simplify the advice being given here: sometimes players will not understand the limitations of an action. If that happens, act as though they can do what they said they want to do, then pull the rug out from under them on their next turn.

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what is being prescribed here. Maybe all Gary is saying is that the GM should be prepared to enact a player’s plans over the course of multiple rounds. If that’s the case, it’s a little bit odd, but whatever. Perhaps I don’t have a sufficient understanding of how combat works in AD&D. But this just doesn’t come off as good advice to me.

Example of Melee: For some reason, this is way more interesting to follow than any of the play examples I’ve read in modern books. Go figure.

Non-Lethal and Weaponless Combat Procedures: I like the idea that attacking players and defending players each get to roll a secret die, and then choose whether they’d like to apply it as a bonus/penalty to the “to hit” roll, or if they’d like to apply it as a bonus/penalty to the “damage” roll. That makes good sense to me as part of brawling combat. When somebody is kicking you in the balls, you can either bring your leg up to block it, or you can cup your hands over your balls and hope for the best.

Though, may I just say, this is more complicated as the grappling system in D&D 3rd edition. That system got a lot of grief, and rightfully so, for being obtuse and difficult to remember. But There are nearly two full pages about grappling here. None of this looks any easier or more enlightened than the mess which was 3rd edition grappling.

Thank goodness for Pathfinder’s combat maneuvers!

Combat Tables: Tables, tables, tables, tables, tables, tables, tables. On and on, from page seventy four through page seventy nine, filled with matrices to determine how difficult something is to hit.

I don’t like excessive matrices. They just strike me as poor design.

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10 thoughts on “Page by Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG Part 7”

  1. I’ve never found the need for anything more complicated than “you do nonlethal damage” when in unarmed combat (unless you are a monk or martial arts type character, in which case you can do lethal damage if desired).

    The abstract combat system really doesn’t need anything else. (Maneuvers like grabs can, of course, be handled by ruling if desired, just like for weapon combat.) I’ve never really understood the tendency of D&D people to create baroque subsystems for unarmed combat.

    I think you will find “disengage from combat attacks” in many old school games (they’re pretty common, and as you point out are a limited for of opportunity attack). I have already by habit used them once or twice in Pahvelorn, though I didn’t use any special terminology so it might not have been noticed.

  2. On actions during combat, I think you are misunderstanding. The way that I read the passage, the DM is to note down the actions the player has requested to take and play them out over the appropriate number of rounds, even though the player has stated them all in a single round. I agree that it’s dickish to not inform the player ahead of time that their requested actions will take more rounds than one, but it does appear that it would help move the game along rather than having to divide a complex maneuver over multiple rounds and spell outreach round’s action.

  3. No. I’m sorry, Gary. I love you, but that’s dickish GMing. To simplify the advice being given here: sometimes players will not understand the limitations of an action. If that happens, act as though they can do what they said they want to do, then pull the rug out from under them on their next turn.”

    It was a different time and people didn’t understand what they were playing.

    Imagine Gary at the head of a table. Imagine 8 or 10 players looking at him. He asks for their actions. One of the players replies:

    “I run up to him and cut both his legs then flip over the other person here and zap the troll with my wand of lighting, then drink my potion of flight and shoot darts at the rest of the people in the room!”

    This is the third time this has happened this combat. Instead of taking the time to patiently explaining to new players that they simply must select one action, Gary takes the classic approach and just makes it happen for the player! This way they are not instructed by lecture, but experience. They know what they say they are doing is what they are doing. It also lets players know to think about what they are doing before they do it. It lets advanced players know they can use this to save time and eliminates the behavior from the new players.

  4. Regarding attacks of oppurtunity, I think you are missing the bitch that OSR folks have with them. This one attack for withdraw is totally acceptable. It is the other long list that began in 3rd edition that gets under peoples skin. Not to mention that it made it possible to get a plethora of such attacks in a round (which is detailed in 3E as 6 seconds.) A rouge with a 20 Dex (not impossible and actually likely in that edition) with the proper feat can get 6 such attacks in a round, on top of his/her normal set of actions (all in 6 seconds.) Therein lies the problem.

  5. What R.J. Thompson said.

    My problem with 3e style AoO is not the existence of a free attack but the implementation and rules-bloat that comes with it. (And the implied reliance on a grid.)

    You turn away from your foe? Free attack! That’s simple, intuitive, and quickly resolved.
    (Plus: You do something clever to divert your foe? DM ruling, probably no free attack.)

  6. Yes, and I have to speak up for the attack matrices. How those constitute bad game design is beyond me. These games have enough crunch in them, much of which I don’t need to be focusing on when trying to run an exciting combat. That goes along with the hate on AoO and feat bloat. All of it bogs the game down, and at worst discourages improvisation.
    As a game aid, the matrices on a DM screen are quick and efficient.

  7. Matricies were for people who couldn’t remember progression-by-level for the different classes: Remember that 1.0 was a codified version, not the first version.

    Also, the “attempt and punish” mentality is a common one. A guy wants to try to smash through a door and engage something on the other side? Cool: He’s now engaged in combat, and if he fails his door-roll, he loses his turn when the orc behind the door simply opens it and smashes him in the face with a hammer. Part of being a DM is making your players better by letting them see the natural consequences of their actions.

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