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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reactions in OD&D

Looks like there were a bunch of side issues raised in my previous post about armor, since everyone has a different interpretation of how reaction rolls are supposed to work. Let's have a discussion about the way it's used in practice... I'm going to set things off by discussing some practices, making sure to distinguish "what's in the books" from what people have done past and present.

There are two sections on reactions in the three original rulebooks. Book I (Men & Magic) has a section on non-player characters, pages 12 and 13, in between the section on rolling up ability scores and the section on buying equipment. Obviously, this is because hiring mercenaries, torchbearers, and porters is seen as an important part of creating a character. The section on ability scores sets up the NPC section by defining how many hirelings of "unusual nature" may be hired, based on Charisma; ordinary men-at-arms are specifically exempted from this limit, but not from the effects of Charisma on loyalty.

The NPC section points out several things:

  • The only NPCs you can hire outright in town are normal men (as mercenaries and labor) and low-level classed characters;
  • Monsters, including higher-level humans found in the dungeon and wilderness, can be lured into service (limited by alignment) or charmed (no limit);
  • Luring into service requires an actual offer, not just sparing the monster's life, although a monster that is subdued or surrenders can be offered treasure and lured into service;
  • The 2d6 reaction table is introduced as a way to determine if a monster accepts an offer to serve;
  • If hirelings or monsters agree to serve, a 3d6 loyalty check is made, which determines modifiers to morale rolls;
  • GMs are given the option to use Chainmail's morale system or the 2d6 reaction table to check morale.

The second section on reactions is in Book III (Underworld & Wilderness Adventures,) near the bottom of page 12, just after a section on avoiding monsters. The setup here is that monsters will automatically attack or pursue any adventurer they detect unless an intelligent monster encounters an obviously superior group of adventurers. The rules then state that such intelligent monsters will act randomly and offers a simplified version of the 2d6 reaction table (three possible reactions, instead of five.)

What's clear here is that the reaction table is not meant to be used for most monster encounters; the reaction is predetermined ("hostile".) What happened in practice is that GMs started rolling more frequently for reactions, to make things more interesting; not every monster attacks immediately. Another change in practice, endorsed by Gygax in AD&D, is for negotiations with merchants.

There's also a change in the way alignment affects reactions, spurred by a change in the way alignment is interpreted. Originally, alignment was just a side or faction, which is why there were only two sides and a neutral, unaligned middle ground. Alignment limits which monsters will accept offers to serve an adventurer; there's no explicit guidelines, but my interpretation is that opposed alignments have a default reaction of Hostile (and will not serve,) while any any mixed alignment interaction will have a default reaction of Neutral. When alignment changed to a behavior guideline instead of a faction, GMs start using modifiers for specific alignments; there's a table of modifiers in the DMG, for example.

There's some more I could say about judging monster reactions, but I'd like to open this up to examples of how everyone actually uses the reaction rules. Do you roll for every monster? Predefine all reactions? Only roll for certain kinds of offers or behaviors?


  1. I haven't used them much yet, as they haven't met anything in the dungeon that wasn't hostile (oozes, giant rats, goblins, etc. - my campaign has just started recently). I did use it once for a group of foresters that they randomly encountered, and upon determining a neutral reaction, interpreted the roll to mean that the foresters were suspicious, but polite. I was wondering why the reaction table wasn't in S&W Complete, this makes a little more sense, now.

  2. I do reactions thusly (which probably has no relation to OD&D).

    Roll whenever DM doesn't know what's "suppose to happen" which is most times.

    2d6 2 bad, 12 good, "doubles" are special/funky. Player rolls one die, DM rolls other in secret. (this way player has some idea of what reaction might be)

    Then ask players, "whatcha doin". wait, parley, attack, flee?

    I don't remember often enough to use even though they're right there in my DM book. "Unintelligent Monster Rampage" table for Arduin Grimoire. "What are Monsters Doing" table from Fight On! #2. "Attack Reasons" Table from JG Reference Sheets.

    Here's my actual reaction chart. Doubt this will format well...

    ==== ========== ======== ======== ==============================================
    2d6 Reaction Monster Pursue Hireling Offer
    ==== ========== ======== ======== ==============================================
    2 Real bad Attacks Yes Declines offer \*
    3-5 Bad Hostile Yes Declines offer
    6-8 Neutral Reroll Reroll, possible +1 mod if deal sweetened
    9-11 Good Friendly Agrees to offer
    12 Very good Allies Agrees to offer \*\*
    ==== ========== ======== ======== ==============================================

  3. I use the 2d6 method whenever I'm not sure how the NPCs/monster would react (usually depends on the PCs reaction, the location and whatever notes I've made). I always like to roll for random encounters, just to see what result comes up. I've not yet had any henchmen or hirlings decline, preferring to just have they say yes; although that might change if the PCs go to a larger town or city to recruit.

  4. @Simon: One thing I'm wondering, especially after reviewing the rules for this post, is whether hirelings in general are supposed to make reaction rolls. There's no mention of a reaction roll when the procedure for finding hirelings is described; it only shows up when luring monsters into service is brought up.

  5. I think in lieu of reaction rolls tou have "weeks of posting and searching" at a cost of 100's og GP per week that takes it's place. It's a "reaction" of sorts to how long it takes you to raise your force of heavy foot mercenary company etc.

    Once you've got them though, the DM will randomly determine the forces loyalty score which then informs their also randomly determined morale.

  6. Great post. Your description of the original intent of alignment as "just a side or faction" really helped me crystallize in my own mind the distinction between the two approaches. Thanks for that!