Guest Article: Encounter Building in OSRIC Part 2

Guest Writer: Dave Johnson

Encounter Building in OSRICv1.4


The Game Master ‘s Manual 1st ed FRPG rulebooks are replete with references to “balance” — Author Unknown

In OSRIC core rule book, the word  “balance” is mentioned on sixteen pages, so it too is important in the game — Dave Johnson

Some instances of  balance in  first edition RPG’s 1e, & OSRIC 2.2e:

1e Players Book p 6: “Classes have restrictions in order to give a varied and unique approach to each class when they play, as well as to provide play balance”(Gygax).
1e Players Book p 7: “The characters and races from which the players select are carefully thought out and balanced […]”(Gygax).
1e Players Book p 94: “Regardless of what is wished for, the exact terminology of the wish spell is likely to be carried through. (This discretionary power of the referee is necessary in order to maintain game balance […])”(Gygax).

1e Game Master ‘s Book p 7: “Limitations, checks, balances, and all the rest are placed into the system in order to assure that what is based thereon will be a superior campaign […]”(Gygax).
1e Game Master ‘s Book p 24: “It is of utmost importance to keep rigid control of alignment behavior with respect to such characters as serve deities who will accept only certain alignments, those who are paladins, those with evil familiars, and so on. Part of the role they have accepted requires a set behavior mode, and its benefits are balanced by this”(Gygax).
1e Game Master ‘s Book p 76: “If for some reason you must have an exact progression [for Turning Undead], follow the columns for levels 1, 2, and 3, correcting to the right from there – and thus rather severely penalizing the clerics of upper levels, but by no means harming play balance […] Do not otherwise alter the table as it could prove to be a serious factor in balance […]”(Gygax).

OSRIC A5 p 131:  The principle is that poisons in the hands of player characters change the balance of the game in undesirable ways, so players should be discouraged from using them”(Marshall).
OSRIC A5 p 147:  GM should speak frankly to the players and explain that while some degree of caution is good play, carrying things to extremes only makes the game less fun. Balance this against the lethality of the dungeon. In extremely dangerous areas, the players should not be punished for taking due care”(Marshall).

You get the picture. Balance is fundamental to good role-play. Gygaxian FRPG is dependent on the expectation that players choose their encounters that the Player Characters confront. Stuart Marshall7 explains,  If an encounter (either with a wandering monster or a planned encounter) occurs, the GM determines surprise, distance, reactions, and resolves the encounter normally (through negotiation, evasion, or combat).”

Wandering monsters, even in other environments, threaten to undermine this paradigm. E. Gary Gygax cautions players about wandering monsters early in the 1e Game Master ‘s Book (p 9):
[T]he rules call for wandering monsters, but these can be not only irritating — if not deadly — but the appearance of such can actually spoil a game by interfering with an orderly expedition. You have set up an area full of clever tricks and traps, populated it with well thought-out creature complexes, given clues about it to pique players ‘ interest, and the group has worked hard to supply themselves with everything by way of information and equipment they will need to face and overcome the imagined perils. They are gathered together and eager to spend an enjoyable evening playing their favorite game, with the expectation of going to a new, strange area and doing their best to triumph. They are willing to accept the hazards of the dice, be it loss of items, wounding, insanity, disease, death, as long as the process is exciting. But lo!, every time you throw the  monster die” a wandering nasty is indicated, and the party ‘s strength is spent trying to fight their way into the area. Spells expended, battered and wounded, the characters trek back to their base. Expectations have been dashed, and probably interest too, by random chance. Rather than spoil such an otherwise enjoyable time, omit the wandering monsters indicated by the die. No, don ‘t allow the party to kill them easily or escape unnaturally, for that goes contrary to the major precepts of the game. Wandering monsters, however, are included for two reasons […] If a party deserves to have these beasties inflicted upon them, that is another matter, but in the example above it is assumed that they are doing everything possible to travel quickly and quietly to their planned destination. If your work as a [GM] has been sufficient, the players will have all they can handle upon arrival, so let them get there, give them a chance”(Gygax).

Stuart Marshall explains wondering monster encounters on page 146 of the OSRIC core rule book,  Wandering monsters in dungeons should be appropriate to the environment both in type of creatures encountered and encounter difficulty. Traditionally dungeons are organized such that the deeper the dungeon level, the more numerous and deadly the creatures encountered—so a group of first level characters exploring the first level of a dungeon should tend to encounter first level monsters, with maybe the occasional second level one, whereas on the sixth dungeon level, characters might expect to meet third or fourth level monsters.”

Gygax-style 1e FRPG (as presented in the rulebooks, and as discussed in the RPG magazines of the period) is based around dungeon exploration. — Author unknown
The GM builds the dungeon, but the players are the ones who (via their PCs) scout it out and choose which bits to try and assault, which bits to avoid, etc. Note: Look at Gygax’s discussion of “Successful Adventures” on pp 107-9 of his 1e Players Book.

[S]et an objective […] Once the objective has been established, consider how well the party playing will suit the needs which it has engendered. […]Avoid unnecessary encounters. This advice usually means the difference between success and failure when it is followed intelligently. Your party has an objective, and wandering monsters are something which stand between them and it. […]The easiest way to overcome such difficulties is to avoid the interposing or trailing creature if at all possible. […] Do not be sidetracked. A good referee will have many ways to distract an expedition, many things to draw attention, but ignore them if at all possible. The mappers must note all such things, and another expedition might be in order another day to investigate or destroy something or some monster, but always stay with what was planned if at all possible […]”(Gygax).

The emphasis that Gygax was stressing is this; the players should set the goals or objectives. They should determine which monsters to engage by first using stealth while searching the dungeon. This is first and foremost. Hack and slash can be fun… but becomes stale after some time. I polled at random, RPG players from the Facebook pages, 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™(Uncensored) and OSRIC First Edition Adventure Games. The results of the poll are clear. Most players care about the story first. The encounters are a secondary value. A story driven adventure with many side-quests and a generous amount of monster encounters is a good formula for fun.

OSRIC doesn’t need exhaustive and scientific encounter building guidelines, other than the very basic idea that the 1st level of a dungeon should have mostly 1st level monsters on it.

Question:    How can I keep my OSRIC campaign interesting and engaging with minimal combat encounters?
Answer:    Create an adventure module based around diplomacy, exploration, puzzle solving, gathering intelligence, stealth, etc. Some combat is okay, but I don’t want the quest to revolve around it.

Question:    Can I make the monsters more interesting in terms of the encounter. Say, the encounter does not evolve into a fight.. The parties decide to talk or maybe a monster is captured. What then?
Answer:    We can make the monsters interesting by giving them some personality. This opens up a great amount of opportunity for role-play. The GM has the ability to play the part of the monster as a NPC. For a quick way to randomly choose a personality quirk, please consult the following tables:

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