Monday, May 17, 2010

What do you mean I dropped Excalibur?

There is a 25% chance that any character surprised by a monster will drop some item. If he does, roll for the possibilities remembering that only these items held could be so dropped.
From D&D's Book 3 "Underworld and Wilderness Adventures", discuss...


  1. Why not?? Some of the finest memories I have are from Stormbringer and its critical fumbles table. We had a newly-bought 2H sword snap off like a dry twig and a bow flung back behind the archer who held it.

    Ah, good times, good times.

  2. I dunno... somehow I don't see Gimli dropping his axe, pulling up his chain skirts and squealing in surprise and fear just because some goblin jumped out from behind a rock. That 25% seems exceedingly high, particularly because it doesn't distinguish between newbie adventurers and seasoned veterans.

    I might do something like 10% chance to drop something if character is surprised and is successfully attacked by the monster surprising him.

    Or probably better is to allow a save against dragon's breath (reflex save) to avoid dropping an item. That would at least capture the notion that experienced dungeon delvers haven't survived as long as they have if they don't develop a little steel in their nerves.

  3. I don't know. This rule has more to do with cartoons of the maid dropping the breakfast tray, than with actual human behavior in dangerous situations.

    Weapons are dropped in flight and surrender, not surprise.

  4. I like it.

    With the current rage for balancing encounters in such a way that the players expect to win unless they are really unlucky, it's nice to see that once upon a time careless fools would occasionally start their battles blind and unarmed!

  5. Flip, maybe you need to work harder on making your goblins scary!

  6. @Jeff

    Goblins can be scary if you want, sure. But just one goblin should rarely, if ever, cause a high level fighter to soil his armor. If EVERYTHING in a world is terrifying, then nothing is.

    Or if you really like to have crazy-scary goblins, then substitute any less-threatening monster. Let's say instead of a goblin, Gimli is startled by Bambi. My point is that PCs (particularly as they go up in level) deserve a little more credit than this rule gives them. It feels more like a contrivance aimed at injecting more tension in surprise encounters. There's nothing wrong with wanting to pump up the excitement, but doing it in so blatant a fashion makes it more of an annoyance for the players than an addition.

  7. I thought it was stupid when I first read this, I'm beginning to warm to it. It's a gamest mechanic, to make encounters riskier in varied ways and to make encounters different by complicating the trinary kill/parley/flee with "light source dropped now it's dark", "leaving behind magic weapon if we flee", etc.

    In the extreme it's diff between perfectly "built" characters grinding through combats with well-oiled/rational/predictable sucess to Wahoo! Crazy, nobody knows what will happen, the combat is *the fun* rather than the chore in order to get xp/treasure.

    Surprised means characters are not ready. Think beyond the literal rule "drop carried item" to the spirit "when surprised there's a chance character is not perfectly ready for combat" Maybe drinking some water, passed their sword to men-at-arms in order to adjust armor, bent over fixing a shoe strap, mesmerized by the cleric's bikini chainmail, pants down taking a leak, etc.

    "Dropped item carried" is the simple version of the rule. It can be complexicated and embellished as much as needed to fit in with similationist world-view "hero's may not squeal like girls and drop Excalibur, but they sure as hell need to take pee breaks".

  8. If the reaction to the monster is to flee, then why wouldn't you pick up the dropped item and then flee? If the reaction is to attack, you pick up the item and thus waste your first round.

    So it seems like a variant "lose first round if surprised" rule. In that case, we could use it as a critical failure for a surprise roll: if you roll a 1 on 1d20 for surprise, you drop something in addition to the normal penalties for being surprised.

    This also lowers the chance to 5% per encounter. If you're susprised 33% of the time per encounter (2 in 6) and then drop your item 25% of the time you're surprised, then it's 8.25% per encounter. So 5% still seems high.

    I personally don't have a critical hit or miss chart. I use a baseline of "critical miss means you lose an action or movement, critical hit is double damage". But what exactly happens is based on referee whim. To lose an action you could drop your weapon or fall down, or your horse rears up and clops around to recover. Perhaps instead of double damage to one very weak opponent, your attack blasts through and injures the creature behind (1x damage to one, 1x to the other).

    Anyway, perhaps a fumbled surprise roll (1 in 20 is a fumble, 6 in 20 is surprised) means that you dropped your weapon, or perhaps that you had just sheathed your weapon to take a drink from your wineskin, or that your torch had just guttered out and you were about to light a new one, or you were adjusting the straps on your shield and it's loose right now. In any case, it's a lost action to take care of the problem. By making different failures possible, dropping your held item could happen 1 time every 5 surprised fumbles, reducing the chance of dropping a held item to 1%.

    What you don't get from this is the "dropped torch douses" which is nice. But since it's referee fiat, do whatever is within reason on a surprise fumble, just try to be impartial.


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