Be aware and take care | Basic principles of successful adventuring by Lew Pulsipher


This is not an article about the secrets of successful fantasy role-playing, for the simple reason that there are no secrets. The qualities that characters, and the players of those characters, must exhibit to succeed in a fantasy adventure are founded on the ideas of common sense and cooperation; virtually all of the advice set forth in this article is derived from one or the other, or both.

The following text normally assumes that the players know each other and have played together at least a few times, although most of the advice applies equally well to a party of strangers. It also assumes that the objective is for everyone in the party to live and prosper. The adventuring party's best chance of survival occurs when everyone in the party survives. 


Elementary precautions. Make sure you have sufficient equipment and food for the trip, extra horses if you're riding, spell books, and se forth. Try to have a balanced set of professions (classes) and skills in the party so that at least one character can try at any problem you might encounter. Think defensively. As long as you stay alive you can "win" in the long run. In a choice between firepower and protection, lean toward the latter. Sure, the best defense is a good offense, but all the big-hitting spells in the world are no good if the enemy incapacitates you with his first attack because you lacked protection. In an AD&D game, for example, I like to have two or three dispel magic spells in a powerful party, in case one of the spell casters is charmed, possessed, or otherwise magically incapacitated. A dispel magic can be worth a lot more than a fireball or lightning bolt. You (?air always run away as long as all members of your party retain free will and free movement.

Whom do you trust? Let's hope you trust your fellow adventurers; but how do you know you can trust everyone in the party? I've seen players introduce new (evil) characters into a party and betray the rest at a crucial moment, if only by fleeing during a battle. And a subtle referee can introduce ringers, doppelgangers, or other evil types disguised to look like trusted party members. After all, your character can't constantly keep tabs on what other player characters do between expeditions, in town or elsewhere; there are many opportunities for Substitution. No one in his right mind will agree to adventure with someone he knows nothing about, but on whom he might depend for his life. In a world fraught with the pitfalls of possession, control, and disguise, who wouldn't at least informally test his "buddies"?

The methods used will depend on the rules. In the AD&D game, for example, know alignment is a great spell, as is detect charm. ESP is also very useful, but can be deceived in some worlds. Alignment language can be employed as a recognition code. And what happens when a character drinks holy water of the opposite alignment? Pass some around and find out. (Some referees will allow a character to drink holy water, or hold a sword of opposite alignment, and suffer injury without showing it in any way. Don't be too quick to believe that someone has passed your test.)

In games that don't provide such convenient tests, long conversations may reveal a ringer's lack of knowledge of "his" own past. Although it isn't likely, metaphysical or religious discussion might draw out an evil character. In some universes, asking a suspected character to pray aloud to his supposed god might force him to give himself away.

Similarly, if you "rescue" someone during an adventure, be suspicious. A doppelganger may look like a damsel in distress; a werewolf may look like a lost or victimized farmer; a prisoner of an evil character isn't necessarily good. Try putting silver manacles on the farmer; use detection spells; don't let that "damsel" get into a position dangerous to you.

Know your objective and stick to it. Each expedition should have a particular objective, beyond the typical desire to eradicate evil and gain a little gold on the side. Perhaps on a past adventure you found a treasure map or riddle; your objective could be to follow that map, or to acquire information which will enable you to solve the riddle (and thereby gain whatever advantages accrue). Or you may have stumbled onto an orc lair, or a dragon lair, on a past adventure. Organize your expedition, then, with the specific purpose of looting this lair.

If you don't have any information to lead you to a specific goal, then make this adventure a scouting expedition. But that means you should gather information, not get into fights. Your spells and the composition of your party should be arranged with a particular objective in mind, such as scouting; if you try to accomplish something else you'll have less than optimum chances of success. The worst thing you can do, from the standpoint of survival, is wander about with no particular purpose in mind. You'll manage the standard encounters all right, but when it comes to the really tough tasks, you'll be on the losing end.

Gather information. The more you know about the obstacles between you and your objective, the better your chance of success. These obstacles may be psychological, social, economic, or political, as well as physical. Show me a party that sets off for parts unknown as soon as the members are given a mission by the referee, and I'll show you a party that wouldn't survive in a tough world (including the "real" one). How you gather information will vary with the rules of the game. In any game, you (:an seek information from rumor-mongers and storytellers, from local inhabitants and sages, from libraries and old inscriptions. Even the bartender might know something important. Bits of information can add up to important revelations. Write down those bits, and look them over occasionally to discern patterns juxtapositions you didn't notice before.

Keep a monster chronicle. A really avid player-tactician will keep a notebook of important facts about monsters. For example, the immunity of demons to certain types of attacks. While most referees don't allow players to consult rule books during play, they are unlikely to prohibit characters from keeping notebooks about monsters. At worst, the referee may require a player to keep a separate notebook for each character, putting in it only information gained through role-playing that character. in this case, the player's characters should frequent places where adventurers meet, in order to gather information. They should also search libraries for relevant memoirs and bestiaries.

Provide for rescue/escape. This is easier said than done, of course. The idea is to try to arrange with local politicos or with adventurers who aren't on the expedition to rescue you if things go wrong. Think about how you might escape if the expedition collapses. If you're hunting a dragon in an AD&D adventure, for example, you don't have any means of escape except teleport or (in some situations) dimension door. But if you're stalking gang of orcs in a dungeon, you might take along an apparatus which will enable you to shut a door as you flee through it; or you might take a web spell earmarked for blocking a corridor if you need to retreat.

Equipment. The most insignificant bits of material can save lives. For example, a hollow tube to breathe through under water could allow a character to evade pursuit. (Editor's note: For a discussion of specialized adventuring equipment, see the article "More than a Sword" in issue #69 of DRAGON* Magazine.)

Security in camps. In many campaigns, one of the worst ordeals is to suffer a night attack when encamped, because the referee won't allow anyone to sleep in armor. What can be done to minimize the danger of night attacks?
First, try to buy, borrow, or steal a magical sleeping bag that enables you to sleep in full armor! If necessary, commission someone to make the item. Anyone who has, in AD&D terms, fought in AC 10 or AC 7 instead of AC 0 or better knows how much difference armor makes, and there's no game in which the difference isn't significant.
Second, use alarm spells, such as magic mouths, set around camp or in the center if only one is available. Put a wire or rope perimeter around the camp, suspended about six inches above ground, with lots of small bells attached.
Third, don't make a fire - it attracts monsters - but keep some coals burning in covered pots or other contraptions so that a fire can be started quickly to drive off animals. It's a good idea to have the makings of a large fire ready to be ignited at need.

Fourth, put impediments around the camp. Barbed wire would be wonderful, but I know of no referee who allows it; anyway, it would be difficult to pick up in the morning. A number of beat? traps can at least indirectly provide some warning of attack, and may even incapacitate an attacker. Large caltrops can do the job. You can carry more caltrops than bear traps, but bear traps are easier to retrieve the next morning. In either case, you might be wise to leave at least one unobstructed path in the protective circle through which to flee unimpeded.

It would really be nice to build a fortified encampment as the Roman legions did, but unless you travel with a hundred slaves you won't be able to do much. You could dig some pits or foxholes around camp, but this requires time and effort sufficient to reduce your travel distance for the day.

Horses and other domesticated animals should be securely tied in a location within the protective perimeter of the camp. If anyone in your party is especially good with horses, say a druid or beast master, let him sleep nearest the animals. If you have some horses trained to fight, and other which aren't, separate them. You could tie the untrained horses less securely, since they're going to bolt anyway and are less valuable. Your hope is that the untrained horses won't carry the trained ones along with them if and when a stampede occurs. 


Behavior during the adventure

Avoid mental passivity in battle. While it's unhealthy to make bad moves, it's often worse to make no moves at all. Once a battle begins; a player may forget that there is still something he can do to improve the position of his party, to influence the battle favorably.

Much of this attitude is caused by overexcitement. When the battle begins, players are eager to throw the dice for the next attack, to heroically slaughter the enemy sword-to-sword. Unfortunately, they forget about other, usually more sensible options. He who lives by the sword ?when something else will work better ?will sooner or later die by the sword. And even in hacking and slashing, it is often possible to move more attackers into a line, or to fall back to gain a better position, or to sneak behind the enemy.

If each player controls only one character, options of this sort will usually be noticed by the players whose characters presently have nothing to do. But if, as in the majority of cases, each player controls two or three characters (whether player characters or NPCs), it is common for a player to forget about his characters who aren't presently engaged. When the dread diseases "diceitis" or "hackitis" strike, the player forgets even to move the character in the battle, let alone any others that might not be currently engaged.

A remedy to this is simply to slow down and make sure you look at the tactical situation, to choose the best maneuvers before you start the next round of attacks. A tactical display, with miniature figures or cardboard to represent adventurers and monsters, helps players see what they need to do.

Another remedy is to make a list of all magic items, or at least the major ones, the party possesses. Then, even if the owner forgets that he has an item which may be useful in a given situation ? and we all know this does happen ? at least one of the other players will notice it on the list. The list is a wonderful stimulus to creative planning. just look at the items and combinations, and all kinds of wild, but occasionally useful, plans come to mind.

Coordinate efforts. It should go without saying that the key to survival in most adventures is cooperation among the characters, with the group utilizing each character's skills to best advantage. In an AD&D adventure, for example, the party has the advantage of "combined arms" cooperation between offensive spell casters (magic-users), defensive spell casters who double as infantry (clerics), physical combat power (fighters), and stealth (thieves). If players spend more time suspecting one another than they do watching out for monsters, they'll be in big trouble in the more dangerous places. While some referees arrange their places of adventure to take suspicion and backstabbing into account, most do not.

Merely negative action - that is, not attacking each other - is insufficient. The characters must actively work together to achieve their ends. If the thieves wander away on their own, if each character does what seems to him to be the best idea at the time, the adventurers may get nowhere and they may even accidentally kill each other. Take, for example, a party of thieves, fighters and magicians on a plain of tall grass, encountering a group of men. Some of the fighters move into a nearby forest and then shoot anything that moves with their bows. The magicians turn invisible, move around a bit, and prepare to cast fireballs. The thieves and other fighters start sneaking through the grass, individually rather than in a group, trying to surprise the enemy. No rendezvous is set, no one knows what anyone else is doing. The enemy could leave the area and the party might still lose several members, as archers shoot at moving grass, thieves inadvertently backstab their own sneaking fighters or magicians, and the magicians burn up areas occupied by the sneaking characters.

Keep reserves in reserve. In a fantasy adventure fight, especially one outdoors, the side with the last surviving reserves usually wins. This is often true of great battles, but adventurers tend to forget the principle of reserves ? in particular, spell-casting reserves, who can remain hidden one way or another, then intervene at a crucial moment. Thus, at least one magic-user should become invisible and hang back, or work his way behind the enemy. At least one character, preferably two or three, with dispel magic spells should be free to use them if the party is hit with incapacitating magic. The reserve magician, meanwhile, should look for enemy reserves, particularly invisible ones, and should try not to reveal himself until he's sure he knows where all the enemy are. In effect, the main party is helping to "fix" the enemy in position, a la the Napoleonic French, while the reserves become the hammer striking the anvil. 

In this connection, a party of mid- to high-level characters in a dungeon in an AD&D game, or any other game with fireballs or the like, should maintain considerable separation between two or three groups, so that any detrimental magic will affect only one group. Why put everyone on ground zero for a fireball or web spell, for example? The likelihood of becoming permanently separated is relatively small, particularly if there's a thief in the middle area to help maintain contact. Signals with light and sound can be arranged, but generally the separation need not be so great that the two groups can't see and hear one another. The length of the separation depends entirely on the propensities of the referee. Some referees would never fireball a party, but love to divide it. Others never try to split up a party but have no qualms about tossing fireballs and lightning bolts. The party should stay much closer together in the first case than in the second.

Don't take separate routes. There's often a temptation to go separate ways; don't do it unless you have planned it from the start in order to defeat a known enemy, and only if you haven't suffered damage. The sum of the parts of a party is greater than the whole, because of 11 combined arms" cooperation. An 8?man party can be ready for anything, while two 4?man parties will suffer from severe weaknesses of position if nothing else. For example, if the only spell caster in your 4?man party is held, what can you do? If he's in an 8?man party, the other spell caster's) can use a dispel to free him. And how can you protect the "soft skinned" members of a 4?man party? There's no way to block both rear and front if the enemy wants to get at your middle. In an 8?man party you have enough armored characters to completely block both ends. (Inside a building or dungeon, anyway; the problem is more difficult outdoors.) In order to provide reserve capacity in case some party members are killed or unconscious, an adventuring party ought to include at least eight characters, unless the prescribed mission specifically dictates a different party size.

Concentration of attacks. How should individual attacks be directed in a large skirmish? Ordinarily, each character ha. little choice but to attack whatever is in front of him. But let's say that there's more freedom of movement ? perhaps an archery duel out in the open with little cover. Typically, a player will have his character shoot at "whichever one shot at me" or "whoever plugged me last round." The effect is that each character fires at a different target in most cases. Now this would be fine if the targets were battleships, insofar as accurate fire would force the enemy out of the battle line and throw off its aim. But if the target is a human or monster, the incoming missile is unlikely to affect his shooting unless the referee is one of a small minority who takes such things into account.
If it will take two or more successful shots to kill one opponent, spreading the party's fire among many targets means that it will be a while before any target is incapacitated. A better method is to concentrate attacks on one target at a time, or two if there are many attackers, until that target is taken out. Then all adventurers should shift to the next target down the line. (In an archery duel, for example, everyone shoots at the nearest enemy, or the leftmost enemy if all are equidistant. Granted, this method may waste a shot or two if the target is hit several times simultaneously. But by concentrating attacks, you assure yourself of eliminating one enemy as soon as possible, and that means one less adversary shooting at you. The sooner you shoot down an enemy, the sooner the enemy group as a whole may be subject to morale failure.

The same principle of concentration of attacks applies in melee combat. For example, if you're fighting two giants, and you can send three characters against each or four against one and two against the other, the four-and-two tactic is likely to finish off one giant sooner than otherwise. In either case, each giant is going to attack just one character. A possible drawback of the concentration scheme, as employed here, is that either of the two characters fighting the one giant is more likely to take damage than any one of the four characters fighting the other giant; and after several rounds of battle one of the pair of characters may have to drop out of the fight, leaving just one character to face that giant.

You can't beat everything. This is axiomatic, regardless of the style of your referee, because there's always somebody stronger, if only the gods, and sooner later you'll run into this somebody. 'A you do, recognize that you're licked, cut your losses, and run. But this needs to be a group decision. The worst thing that can happen to any party is that half stay to fight while half run away. Both groups are much weaker, confusion reigns, and death will probably follow. The single quality that most separates good tactical play from bad is the ability to recognize when the odds are too much against you, when it is time to avoid a fight.

Sometimes a situation which is too difficult for a partially depleted or unprepared party can be adequately dealt with by the same party after the members have rested and prepared. You might not have memorized the right spells to use against a particular menace. If you go away, to return later with different spells, you're much more likely to win through. Or perhaps the menace requires lots of hand-to-hand fighting, and you have a party with lots of magicians. Go away, come back with a fighter-heavy party, and slay the enemy. Furthermore, if you leave the first time without alerting the enemy, you can gather information (from storytellers, commune spells, etc.) that may make a difference between victory and defeat when you try again.

Get out while you have some "bottom." In most fantasy games, the ultimate power is the magic spell. Don't continue your adventure after you've begun to run out of useful spells, and be sure to take a spell inventory frequently. The temptation to try just one more room, or go over just one more hill, kills as many adventurers as anything else. You must always assume that you'll have to fight at least one battle after you leave the place of adventure but before you reach a place of safety or replenishment. When you're down to one-battle-capability in spells, it's time to head for shelter. If your fighters are heavily wounded, get out.

A party is like a boxer. A punch which wouldn't hurt much at the start of round one could knock out the tired, hurt boxer in the thirteenth round, Your "boxer" should end the adventure before late-round vulnerability sets in.
Never flee into unknown areas. In my campaign, the only time an ochre jelly (which I rarely use) ever killed anyone was when a party fleeing from undead ran down an unexplored corridor, rather than back the way they'd come. Before they could stop, two magicians ran into the jelly and died. When you're exploring, your escape route should be straight back the way you came. If you have good reason to believe that there's a shortcut available to your pursuer, you could try to take it yourself, but in most cases the only safe retreat is the route you already know about. Also, when you plan an attack make sure that each attacker has at least one escape route, and preferably two, in case something goes wrong. If you're in tunnels and need to flee into unknown territory, follow a definite pattern of travel so that you can find your way back. Alternately turning left and right is better than always turning in the same direction, which is liable to take you in circles.

Don't back yourself into a corner. In virtually every case, it is better to have too many options than too few. This is related on one hand to the military principle of alternate lines of approach and action, of contingency plans. On the other hand, it is related to the fundamental idea behind good play in any game ?that a player should control the course of the game, not let the game control his actions. As long as you have alternative courses of action, you can hope to control your fate. When you are reduced to only one choice, you are probably in big trouble.
Guard your spell casters. This seems elementary enough, but some parties don't seem to practice it. It won't help to have spells left if your spell casters can't use them. The magicians, in particular, should not be in the front or back line indoors, or in the outer line outdoors. Magicians are your last resort, your "out pitch" when the bases are loaded against you. If you let the enemy get to them, you've taken the first step into the underworld (that is, death). And it's not enough to guard the front and rear. Intelligent enemies know who in a party is most dangerous, and where they're likely to be. If possible, they'll drop someone into the middle of your party to kill magicians, or at least stop spells from being cast. Keep a decent melee-capable character in the center of the party to fight off such intrusions. In an AD&D adventure, for example, a cleric or brave thief will do.

Make lists. The more things you think about and write down ahead of time, the fewer problems you'll have during a game. I have a list of special and not-so-special equipment to give to the referee before the adventure; a list of reminders for questioning prisoners or talking to charmed monsters or characters so that I don't, for example, forget to ask him who his boss is or if he knows where any treasure is; a list of creatures I might polymorph into, with the advantages of each form; and a list of precautions I customarily take when staying in a city, town, or a place where I can't expect to be protected by other adventurers keeping watch. (This last I put together after a friend, who had taken no unusual precautions while staying alone in an inn, was assassinated.) Also, I have a checklist of pre-adventure and post-adventure safety checks, used much as an airline pilot uses his checklist. Finally, in games using wish spells, you should write down a wish ahead of time, in case you're suddenly given the chance to make a wish provided you do it quickly.

Other precautions. There are some seemingly minor precautions you can take during an adventure, rather tedious but occasionally life-saving. For example, always look for evidence of regeneration, even if the creature you've just killed doesn't normally regenerate. As a general practice, it doesn't hurt to cast remove curse on the body of an irrevocably dead comrade, lest lie return as all undead. Precaution now call prevent catastrophe later. 


Staying alive after the adventure

One of the more dangerous times for the adventurer is the period directly following the "end" of an adventure. Tile character has relaxed, and is looking forward to rest, recuperation, and remuneration (for treasure found). He is off guard, and his friends have spread throughout the village, town, or castle to attend to their private concerns, This is the time when secret foes and hidden dangers encountered during the adventure may manifest themselves. One of the party may be possessed or charmed; all enemy who escaped may send all invisible stalker or all assassin after the party; a slithering tracker might be following tile party. Now, the enemy strikes one adventurer at a time.

There are ways to avoid some of these dangers, and other problems which may occur after the adventure. A cautious party should go through a routine to try to root out these problems before the members split up. This routine can be divided into three sections: the search for enemies, the search for hidden treasure, and the examination of magic items. Tile examples below use spells from tire AMD rules, but other games also have spells that are useful after the adventure.

Search for enemies. Gather in a large clearing. First, use know alignment and detect charm oil all party members to ascertain that they are riot doppelgangers, polymorphed demons, or possessed/charmed friends. ESP might help. Be ready for a fight if the enemy realizes that he's been discovered. Next, use detect invisibility and detect evil to search for nearby hidden enemies. If you're in a clearing during this action, the enemy might watch you from out of spell range, so you might want to move into some terrain that will force the enemy closer. In some situations a detect magic might reveal something.

Now try to get back "home" (if you're riot there already) by a devious route which will help you lose any pursuer. At some point, stop and set up an ambush for the hypothetical pursuer. A dusty area that will reveal the passage of a slithering tracker or all invisible monster is ideal. Depending on how your referee interprets all invisible stalker's prowess, spilling lit oil a river or across a lake might help throw such a monster off your trail, but generally this is too bothersome unless you have reason to feel that one is after you. 

Search for hidden treasure. This will take several days, but who's in a hurry? Ideally, you should check all the coins you've obtained for numismatic value. A "mere" copper coin might be worth 50 gold pieces to a collector, if your referee has been diabolical enough to create such "treasures." Check random coins for counterfeiting or gold plating over copper. Cast detect magic (and possibly detect illusion) on the entire monetary treasure. Some referees create magical coins or gems which are mixed with ordinary treasure. Look for secret compartments in what appear to be standard magical items. (I once found a magic ring in the handle of all otherwise ordinary war hammer. If I had tried to use the "magic" hammer against a monster, it would have been a waste of time.) Detect magic may help you discover dangerous treasure.

Examination of items. Cast detect evil oil swords and other items which may be intelligent. Cast neutralize poison on items you haven't touched yet, as all antidote to contact poison. Cast remove curse on scrolls, and other items, for that matter? and don't forget to look for explosive runes. When someone must pick up an item to test it, you have two choices: strip him of his equipment and tic him up so that he can't do anything to harm the rest of you, or load him up with gear so that lie] I have a chance to take care of himself if he is suddenly transported elsewhere or must fight a monster single-handed. If there's a ring of regeneration around, the magic-tester should be wearing it. Always ESP the tester to ascertain whether he retains possession of his own mind.

The foregoing discussion assumes that you're not crazy enough to try to test, or even touch flesh to, magic items during the adventure (if it's a one-day trip), and that your referee hasn't been soft-hearted enough to provide you with cheap, reliable, and wholly trustworthy analysis by a local magician or alchemist. If you do use an analyst, remember that a powerful magic item may tempt him to try to switch it with a look-alike. 


Using magic wisely and well

Never employ magic to accomplish something that can be done safely by non-magical means, unless time is short. The spell you use now may be greatly missed later. For example, in a variant of the D&?D game that I recently played, magic-users were allowed to choose spells at the time they cast them, rather than memorize them before the adventure. During the adventure, a magic-user was told to open a stubborn secret door with a knock spell. He refused; soon afterward, the door was forced. Later, the magician used the spell capability he had retained to cast a web which saved the party from an orc horde ? and this was his last spell. If he had wasted it by casting the knock spell, at least some adventurers would have died.

Deception in place of magic. Whatever game you play, you should be able to devise ways to duplicate the effects of magic by using weaker magic, or no magic at all. My favorite ploy of this kind is a fake truth potion. Carry with you a liquid mixture of oddities in a standard potion container (if there is such a thing). Use a bit of blood, rust, oil whatever to make it look, feel, and smell like a real magic potion. If possible, add a mild drug so that the "potion" actually makes the imbiber feel abnormal.

Now, when you take a prisoner, try to get him to say something, even if you think lie's lying; at least, loosen his tongue. You may want to give him quite a grilling if there's time. Then feed him tire potion. (Hold his nose so that he can't breathe and he'll have a hard time not drinking, if he wants to live.) Now tell him, in the most positive manner you can muster, that he has just ingested a truth potion. As long as what he says is true, he'll live, but if he lies, the potion will kill him inside of 24 hours. The prisoner now faces a horrible dilemma, especially if members of your party have made the whole thing more believable by remarking about how much fun it is to watch the potion kill a liar, or perhaps talking about how they'd rather torture the prisoner. (Good-aligned characters might argue about how un-good it is to condemn the prisoner to a slow death.) The prisoner can either tell the truth, take his life in his hands and lie, or say nothing at all. The latter will be harder to do if he's already been talking. If too many prisoners take the last opt then tell the next prisoner who drinks your "potion" that he must tell the truth; if he keeps silent, the potion will kill him anyway.

The potion trick will be more likely to succeed if you can confront the prisoner with the appearance that another prisoner has lied and died. For example, before the intended victim returns to consciousness or enters the room, render another prisoner dead or unconscious without leaving evidence of how this was done. Strangling might do in some cases; poison is best. (Of course, many characters will be unable to go to these lengths, owing to alignment or personality.) Use a potion bottle that is half empty. Then bring in the prisoner, give him the remaining potion, and show him what the potion did to someone who lied. Imagine yourself presented with such a scene, and think about whether you'd lie.

The success of this ploy depends on how the referee plays his part (usually, that of the prisoner). But it helps if you can be sure that no one who is questioned in this manner lives to tell of it, because once someone lies and gets away with it, the story could get around. For this reason, you should use the trick sparing if your characters cannot allow prisoner be killed in cold blood.

The more realistically your referee plays the monsters and non-player characters, the more effective "deception magic" is likely to be. For example, if your party lights some colored candies, the more thoughtful non-players are going to wonder whether these are magical, and perhaps hesitate or waste time dousing them. The unthinking NPCs will just dash ahead. Why, you might even be able to block or delay pursuit merely by lighting some funny-smelling candles, or by throwing colored flour ("dust of sneezing and choking") on the floor. On the other hand, sometimes the best tactic in a sword-and-sorcery fight is to dash in before the enemy has a chance to prepare his magic; so who knows when these tricks will work?

Phantasmal forces and illusions work best when they reinforce expectations of the observer. For example, if you use a knock spell to blow open a door from a distance, and follow it directly with an illusion of someone pushing the door, the image will be more believable and may draw enemy fire. Once, I (my character) put a skull in a sack at my belt; when I met a chimera, I cast phantasmal force and pulled the skull, now looking like medusa-head, from the bag, averting my eyes at the same time. What happens then depends on the referee, but it can be interesting.
Given the variety of spells available in most games, it should be possible to misinform potential but unknown enemies, such as assassins hired by those you've (despoiled, "gunslingers" looking to make a reputation, and ordinary thieves. For example, you might want a false rumor to be spread. You could simply ask friends or acquaintances to spread the word around, but in some cases the rumor will be so unbelievable that your enemies might use magic or other means to check its accuracy. Why not, then, hypnotize your agents so that they truly believe what you've told them? When the enemy checks, they'll find that your agents are telling the truth ? as they know it.

Imaginative use of spells. Read through the spell descriptions of your game's rules to look for new ways to use magic. For example, take the minor globe of invulnerability in the AD&D rules, If you have a wand of fireballs or lightning bolts, you can become a one-man wrecking crew by casting the minor globe on yourself. Enter an enemy lair, accompanied by a couple of fighters to keep the opposition from hitting you, and dump fireballs all about. It'll be messy, but the enemy won't last long, arid you arid your friends will be safe. Or, cast the globe and polymorph into a flying creature to scout the enemy lair or to get into position for I P Violent business.

If you don't know one spell, you may be able to duplicate its effects with another. For example, if you don't have Nystul's magic aura, which creates a bogus dweomer on an object, you can do the same thing if you turn it invisible, then paint it. Or, put a magic mouth on it with orders never to speak ? some referees rule that a magic mouth does register when detect magic is cast.

Use magic to save effort. For example, charm an orc, then polymorph it into a more powerful monster: If it retains the orc's mentality, won't it still be charmed? You can also try tricks like charming rodents or dogs in order to polymorph them into big monsters, A friendly cleric or monk can speak with the "dog" using speak with animals. If you have a pet dragon or griffon to feed, polymorph an insect into art elephant or a horse; why spend a lot of money?

If you have powerful magic you can use it for protection in the wilderness. Spells of hallucinatory terrain, plant growth, or semi-permanent walls of stone or the like (arranged in a circle), will protect against most unintelligent menaces.

In some worlds adventurers never have. trouble getting through doors or gates, but in others some guile and magic is required when strength is unavailing. For example, passwall your way through, or use a knock spell. Polymorph into an ant, black pudding, or other creature that can go under the door. Dimension door will get one or two party members through. Presumably, once someone is through, he can open the door from the other side by pulling the lever, unbarring the door, or whatever. A gaseous form potion or something producing etherealness will also get someone through. Lacking these means, something more destructive might serve. For example, turn an area of stone beside or below the door to mud (transmute rock to mud) and quickly dig around the door or gate. A conjured earth elemental is a last resort.

Some spells can help troops of slaves build fortifications faster, for example wall of stone arid conjure elemental. For a hiding place, use a passwall arid dig out a small room at the end. It is sealed when the passwall expires, and can only be reached by use of that spell or by dimension door. (I've heard of referees who allow characters to create a passwall in the floor under an enemy, then use dispel magic to get rid of it, leaving the enemy entombed in solid rock. In my opinion, this goes too far to be allowed.)

Use spells in new ways to affect the morale of opponents. For example, cast invisibility on a person, but not on his armor. The "ghostly" apparition of an animated suit of armor may frighten savages and others ignorant of magi(. A skull in conjunction with a ventriloquism spell can accomplish the same purpose ? the skull is a "demigod" or some such.

Dimension door or teleport capability is great for getting behind air enemy, not just for getting away. I have a magic-user character who levitates with magic boots, puts a magic broom between his legs, casts invisibility arid other protections, arid finally dimension doors into the air well behind the enemy, while the main party comes at them through a tunnel or other narrow access. The magic-user can look around for enemy reinforcements hiding out of sight of the tunnel, their either cast spells or move around with the broom. It's not the safest of maneuvers, but it seems to work well.

I've heard of a group of characters who like to put explosive runes on paper, fold the paper into an airplane, and throw it at the enemy. If an opponent looks at the runes, boom. I would rule that nobody in the world knows how to make paper airplanes, not, would they even think of the idea, but others might be less strict.

Some readers may feel that treating air adventure as a tactical exercise is somehow wrong. We don't ordinarily see the hero of a novel planning ahead in this way, calculating every move, so why should our characters do it? Well, the literary heroes are heroes partly because they take these precautions naturally, not even having to think about them. And, let's face it, literary heroes are incredibly lucky, much luckier than our characters can expect to be. The average soldier of fortune must look for every trick to keep himself alive; must strive for every advantage, however small; must always be thinking. To the average player, it's just a fun game; to the character, it's his life. In short, the suggestions made here are a summary of how a smart, wary character would approach an adventure, not merely a litany of good moves in a game. This may be too realistic to fit some ideas of heroic fantasy, but that doesn't make it wrong. 


Adventuring and referees

The advice given here cannot possibly take into account the preferences ? perhaps demands ? of individual referees. One referee may expect or require player characters to act in order to succeed in a manner which would be suicidal if performed with another referee. One referee may set up his adventures with the preconception that the players will always go forward, regardless of how difficult the opposition seems to be. This referee will, in all likelihood, take good care of the player characters by fudging things so that they will survive. A different referee may expect his players to withdraw, regroup, arid return with a more suitable force if and when the opposition looks too tough. In such conditions, if players continue forward despite evidence that their characters are in above their heads, those characters will probably die or be captured.

In either case, players should always take the course more likely to result in survival: pull out. Unfortunately, a referee of the first type may be so annoyed by this reaction that he'll double the enemy's strength in tire interval before the characters return. He may even ambush them on tile way back, as "punishment." In many other ways, some as fundamental as this, referees differ in what they consider to be good play. Consequently, the first rule of good tactics in role-playing may be to "Know thy referee."

in connection with this problem of differences between referees, you may come across a referee who is air habitual "fudger." He tends to set up a vague adventure and then alters and adds to it as the game progresses in order to make the adventure easier or more difficult. Frequently he fudges in favor of, rather than against, the player characters in order to enable them to survive an adventure in which an objective observer would say they should have died. This kind of referee discourages good tactics, because regardless of how well or how badly you play, the outcome is roughly tire same ?you survive.

How can a player accustomed to pursuing good tactics cope with this kind of referee? First, continue to try to use good tactics. Complain when the referee may be fudging against you, trying to help the monsters when your tactics are too good for them, And most of all, "play the referee." Whether you'll want to say flat out that he fudges is up to you. But when things don't seem to be going well, it, ' think of events which might occur that would help your side. Talk about them ? try not to be too obvious in suggesting them to the referee ? and perhaps he'll adopt one as a "piece of fudge" to be used in your favor. Keep talking; do your best to convince the fudger that your side needs help, that the adventurers are in bad shape, so that he won't help the monsters. When something occurs which might be a fudge for the enemy ? the fortuitous appearance of additional monsters, or of a secret door the monsters use ? then work on the ref by hinting that he's being unfair. And when you're really in dire straits, think of anything that might help, even if it sounds a little silly, and meanwhile complain about how impossible the adventure has been.
The most blatant "fudge" I've experienced was when a referee allowed a few war horses to start a fight with a group of su-monsters after all the adventurers had been knocked out. The horses managed to drive away the surviving su-monsters and save the party. In this case the referee knew he'd been too tough, and was looking for a way out. When a player happened to ask if the war horses were going to attack on their own, that was all the referee needed to get started.

You should never give up until you're dead and gone in any game, but especially not when the referee is a fudger. And hardly any referee never fudges ....

Another example: A character was captured, partly his own fault. The enemy, which is to say the referee, asked the character if there was anyone who might pay a ransom for him. Obviously, the referee was looking for a way to keep this experienced character alive. The player controlling this character should have lied, hemmed and hawed, thought of other reasons why he should be kept alive, anything to give the referee a chance to fudge - anything but his actual answer, which was "No." The enemy executed the character, of course.

Any role-playing game is a verbal contest as well as a game. You'll find that you can help your character by purely verbal means, by subtly influencing the referee. This works with any referee, not just a fudger, insofar as virtually any referee doubts that he's always fair to the players. You work on those doubts. For example, in a situation not defined by the rules, the referee must decide what is likely to be the result of a given action. If he's unsure of the matter, or is groping for a word, and you can supply something that sounds reasonable, lie may accept your suggestion. If you wait for him to come up with something, chances are it's likely to be worse than what you
would have suggested. 


back to games index 

built by unclefester | sternzwischen | updated 14-05-29 23:15:25