Blue Flame, Tiny Stars

To my first best friend,
Who showed me how to play this game 40 years ago.
That has made all the difference.

Following is an ordered index of select episodes from the category Anecdotes and Old Games. I omit entries that discuss origins, rules, and other aspects of D&D and related games of the era. Included here are only the anecdotes recounting my earliest experience with D&D—playing the Holmes Basic edition.

Blue Flame, Tiny Stars

Man, You’ve Got to Play This Game!


The Pale Blue Book


A Neutral Human Fighter

The Scroll of the Dead

Lava Caves, Clacking Mandibles, and Red Glowing Glands

Dungeon Sense

Further Adventures with Kaytar

Monsters and Magic Spells

The Wizard’s Castle

All the Difference

Blue Flame Tiny Stars

Atlantis of the Clay

A few months ago I was looking at some old Dutch maps—as one does, when I ran across an article called “Maps of Meaning.” In it, authors Meggy Lennaerts and Jan van der Molen of the University of Groningen Library tell the story of German cartographer Ubbo Emmius, who advocated for historical accuracy in mapmaking in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Incredible to us in our days of satellite imagery, half a millennium ago maps were rarely accurate and often based on less than fact. One such historical inaccuracy, which is discussed in the article, is the bay now called Dollart and the myth of the Atlantis of the Clay.

Sixteenth-century maps showed, correctly, the Dollart, an inlet that formed the west coast of East Frisia (Frisiea Orientalis). Today, the water is so shallow as to reveal the mud at low tide. Many early cartographers included an inset, showing the area of the bay as a lowland dotted with villages. The insets were labeled “the Reiderland,” and indicated a flood which occurred in the year 1277. The information was based on a 1574 map by Jacob Vermeersch.

“[Ubbo Emmius] criticized [established cartographers] for affording local folklore a credibility that it did not merit.” Emmius omitted the deluge in his 1616 map of the area, discounting fables and legends, preferring to rely on primary sources.

According to the myth of the Atlantis of the Clay, the Reiderland was submerged beneath the sea due to the transgressions of its inhabitants. We have discovered since that, while the land did indeed suffer inundation, the flood occurred in 1509—only 65 years before the first map showing it to have been three hundred years prior.

Tabula Frisiae Orientalis - Ubbo Emmius (1730)
Tabula Frisiae Orientalis, Ubbo Emmius, 1730.

What caught my eye was Emmius’s 1730 (posthumous) map. We see the Reiderland flood inset (lower right), added by the publisher after the cartographer’s death in 1625. We note, as well, nicely delineated borders dividing a landmass surrounded by an island-strewn sea. We remark additional insets in the upper corners: one a city (left), the other a fortress (right). When we identify these two, respectively, as base town and ruined castle, the historical map transforms into something more magic. That is, a map depicting an area we may explore in a fantasy adventure campaign.

When we identify these two, respectively, as base town and ruined castle, the historical map transforms into something more magic.

While the date is incorrect, and the flood’s cause may have more to do with nature’s whim than human foible, still, the Reiderland’s 33 villages lie beneath the silt of the tidal flat in this Atlantis of the Clay.

The Phalanx and the Shield Wall

In three issues of The Strategic Review, Gary Gygax describes the spear and its kin: the javelin, lance, and pike, for fantasy adventure gamers (Vol. 1, No. 1, 1975) and details several other pole arms, giving use, length, and a drawing of each (Nos. 2, 4). He revisits the topic in a 1979 Dragon article, “The Nomenclature of Pole Arms” (#22), which was reprinted in Best of Dragon Volume II (1981) and, as an appendix, in AD&D Unearthed Arcana (1985). The corpus is often called Gygax’s “treatise” on pole arms.

The Pandemonium Society recognized the early rendition as a useful resource. Study of the historical use of pole arms, notably the pike, leads inevitably to the phalanx formation and house rules such as those Phenster describes in “Phalanx Fighting.” When we realize we can get two or more weapons in the same frontage normally reserved for one, the tactical advantage is clear.

Phalanx Formation [E]

Whatever its historical meaning, a phalanx, for the Pandemonium Society, is a combat formation in which a spearman—or any combatant armed with a long, thrusting weapon—fights from behind an ally. The phalanx formation is best achieved when the opponent is prevented from closing with the spearman by some means, multiple allies in the fore rank for example.

A pole arm at least eight feet long can attack through one rank; 12 feet or longer, through three ranks; 16 feet, four ranks; 20 feet, five.

Additional Weapons

Phenster’s article mentions two weapons not given in Holmes. For completeness sake, I give them here, each with its weapon class, qualities (see “Weapon Damage and Attack Priority”), and cost, the last of which I determined by my own fiat.

Short Sword [E]

Length: 1-1/2' to 2', weapon class: ordinary (damage: d6), weapon quality: short, cost: 7 g.p.

Long Spear [E]

Length: 10' to 15', weapon class: ordinary (damage: d6), weapon quality: long, two-handed, cost: 3 g.p.

Spear Against Charging Opponents [E]

Any spear versus a charging opponent adds 1 to damage. Set (as against the ground or a wall) versus a charging opponent, it adds 2 to damage.

Maximum Weapon Length in the Dungeon

Two options for limiting overlong weapons in the dungeon’s confines are given here. The latter gets tedious in execution, therefore, I put it in the [P] Pandemonium category (see “About the Reedition of Phenster’s”).

Maximum Length by Weapon Type [E]

In Greyhawk, OD&D Supplement I, Gygax prohibits weapons in the dungeon by type: pikes and pole arms “are not usable in dungeons as a general rule due to length” (15). This works well enough in a campaign with dungeons of usual dimensions.

Maximum Weapon Length Equals Ceiling Height [P]

Hazard’s ceiling height rule is more specific, and Phenster elaborates on the penalties. Carrying a weapon longer than the dungeon’s standard ceiling height is awkward and makes more noise. The DM should reduce the party’s movement to three-quarters normal rate and increase the frequency of wandering monster checks.

Close Order, Ranks, and Quarters

Phenster uses three terms that may be unfamiliar to adventure gamers without military or wargame experience. I define each as I interpret the text, though—still shy of the battle grid—I hesitate to give specific distances. Let’s assume that the normal distance in each case is five feet. The “close” modifier, then, implies some lesser distance.

Close Order: Refers to the distance between allies (left and right) in a rank.

Close Ranks: Refers to the distance between ranks (before and behind). A phalanx formation assumes close ranks.

Close Quarters: Refers to the distance between facing opponents—that is, they are standing toe-to-toe. The situation is achieved by move, when closing to melee, or maneuver, if already engaged (see Maneuver [E]). In close quarters, opponents may attack only with a short, thrusting weapon (a dagger meets these criteria). Otherwise, one or the other may step back by maneuvering (space allowing), or one may push the other (see Shield Wall, below).

Note: As “maneuver” occurs after the melee round in no particular order, when a combatant maneuvers into close quarters, the opponent, if space allows, may also maneuver to step away at the same time.

Shield Wall [E]

Multiple attacks against a single opponent may draw us into a phalanx, but in the shield wall the formation reaches its highest potential. After opposing forces have molested each other with pointy sticks, each side digs in to shove the other backward, employing the weight of its entire phalanx. The goal is to break the opponent’s formation. Once their formation is broken, troops tend to panic, leaving the field to the victors.

To form a shield wall, at least two shield-bearing combatants must be in close order, shields touching if not overlapping.

Shield Wall AC Bonus [E]

Each member of a shield wall, except the rightmost, benefits from the shield of the member on the right, gaining an additional +1 to AC.

Tortoise: Phenster mentions that rear ranks may hold their shields overhead against missile fire. The action is, however, cosmetic, as they would already count the shield’s bonus in their AC.

Shield Wall Push [P]

A shield wall, as described below, gets away with a lot of footwork. Previously eschewing Holmes’s static combat, Phenster allows a combatant, even while engaged in melee, to move but “just not very far” (L’avant garde #35, see also Maneuver [E]). A successful push can easily move both sides quite far. Perhaps the Pandemonium Society used other rules, unpublished, in addition to those in the article. As is, some extrapolation is required, which I do. For its ambiguity, I class Push in [P] Pandemonium. DMs should be prepared to adjudicate.

A shield-bearing rank, whether part of a phalanx or not, or an individual may, following the melee round (see Maneuver [E]), step into close quarters with an opponent and push the opponent backward.

  • Each side rolls dice equal in size and quantity to their total hit dice. All troops in the formation, no matter the number of ranks, are considered. In the case of large forces, the number of dice may be reduced proportionally. For example, 100d8 versus 80d6 becomes 10d8 versus 8d6.
  • The side with the higher result pushes the other side backward a number of feet equal to the positive difference. If a formation is pushed backward a distance equal to its combat move rate in a single round, or if it is pushed a total of three times its move rate, the formation is broken.
  • A broken formation must immediately make a morale check (NPCs only) with a -1 penalty. A failed check indicates a retreat: members run away (combat move ×3) and cannot defend (-2 AC). On a successful check, the force withdraws: members can defend (but not attack) while moving at combat speed to the rear. Once withdrawn, the phalanx is considered reformed at the beginning of the next round.

Phalanx Fighting

In his Letter from the Editor (L’avant garde #46, June 1982), Steve Ruskin introduces the following article with a backhanded compliment:

“And it looks like our young friends of the Pandemonium Society are progressing (or regressing) into wargaming. This time Phenster & Co. have dug up Gygax’s pole arms treatise to field a phalanx formation. I don’t recall that anyone in the [East Middleton Wargamers] Association has tried to do such a thing at man-to-man scale. Points to the kids for this admirable attempt. Typical for Phenster’s contributions, I’m sure there are useful rules in there somewhere. Up to you to figure them out.”

Phalanx Fighting

Ivanhoe gave us some old copies of Strategic Review, which is about D&D and some other stuff, like wargames. Ivanhoe said it's like Dragon magazine but from a long time ago. We found some articles about spears and pole arms, and Cypher looked it up in the set of encyclopedias she has at home, as she likes to do. She wrote a book report about what all she found out, and we added it to Cypher's Codex, which is a 3-ring binder we keep with all her research in it.


A normal spear is from 6 to 9 feet long. You can throw it as a missile weapon or use it hand-to-hand by thrusting it at your opponent. A long spear is between 9 and 15 feet. It's too long to throw, but with a spear at least 8 ft. long, you can attack an opponent from behind a rank of allies (which you can do with any pole arm, including halberds). A 12-ft. long spear can reach through 2 ranks of fighters.


A pike is a spear 15 feet long or even longer. It can reach through 3 or more ranks of fighters. We can't take pikes into the dungeon, usually. Hazard's rule of thumb is that we can use weapons equal in length to the dungeon's regular ceiling height or less but no longer. We tried it one time. We had 12-ft. long spears in a dungeon with ceilings 10 ft. high. They slowed us down, and we made a lot of noise. Then, when a bunch of goblins attacked us (because of all the noise) from the side corridor, we couldn't even get the spearmen into position to defend our flank.


We arm men-at-arms with plate mail (when we can afford it) and shields with spears and short swords. We put them in 3 ranks, 4 across, in a 10-ft. hallway. When we meet monsters, the 1st rank throws their spears if they have time. If not--like when we're surprised--they drop their spears and draw their swords. Once we're closed for melee, the 1st rank fights with short sword and the 2nd rank attacks with their spears. The 3rd rank replaces any wounded or killed in action.

If we go into a room or a wider corridor, the ranks can spread out to fill a 20' wide front (that's 5' per man) or change to a formation 2 ranks x 6 men, 30 feet wide. In close order (2 and a half ft. per man), you can't swing a sword. You have to use a short, thrusting weapon, like a short sword or a dagger.

(A sword needs at least 3' to use effectively. Most other big weapons, for example, a battle axe or a morning star, need at least 5'.)

When we're outside, exploring the wilderness or fighting a big battle for example (not in the dungeon), we can have many ranks (up to 10 or even 20) in a phalanx. We put missile weapons (javelins, slings, bows) behind the phalanx to fire over their heads at the enemy not in melee. But we have to protect the flanks with other troops (cavalry is best), because the phalanx doesn't maneuver very quickly.


A phalanx can charge, but it only moves 50% faster than normal. A spearman (or any armored fighter) gets a +1 bonus on damage due to momentum. If you attack a charging opponent with a spear, you get a +1 bonus on damage. You can also "set the spear" (brace it against a wall or the floor) against a charging opponent. Then you get +2 on damage.

Shield Wall

Another thing we like to do in a phalanx is make a shield wall. Short swords or normal spears only, because long spears need two hands to hold. When you make a shield wall, each man-at-arms stands shoulder to shoulder in close order formation. The front rank holds their shields so they overlap. A shield usually gives you 1 better armor class, but in a shield wall you get +2, except for the man on the right end. Ranks behind the front can hold their shields over their heads against missile fire attacks.

With a shield wall, the formation can push the enemy backward. We count the hit dice of every man-at-arms in the formation. The total dice are rolled and compared to the hit-dice roll of the enemy formation. (Add strength bonuses for characters too.) The difference in the two totals is the number of feet the winner pushes the loser back. If one side pushes the other side more than their combat move rate in one round, or a total of thrice their move rate, then the other side's formation is broken. The broken formation has to check morale (-1 penalty) to stay in the fight. When men-at-arms are pushing with their shields like that, they are in close-quarters combat. They can't attack, except with a dagger or their fists if they have a free hand.

Blue Flame, Tiny Stars Coming to e-Book

This month makes 40 years I’ve been playing D&D. Last year I wrote down all the stories from my earliest experiences with the game, playing Holmes Basic with my best friend. I am now at work editing the anecdotes together into a short book.

Blue Flame, Tiny Stars will be available in electronic format on DriveThruRPG this summer.

Blue Flame Tiny Stars

Missile Fire into Melee

In “Shooting into a Fight” (L’avant garde #39), Phenster addresses an age-old dilemma in D&D combat. I cover how the problem is handled in early editions and give my own solution in “Firing into Melee.”

On first reading, Phenster’s description of the “Friendly Fire Number” may seem complex. I attempt here to break down Hazard’s calculation into discreet steps. After some practice, I find it isn’t so difficult to do the quick mental math.

The task is less daunting if we remember the following points:

  1. Throughout the text, Phenster uses only even numbers up to the maximum of 8. So we only have four options: 2, 4, 6, or 8.
  2. We don’t have to take into account all figures in the melee. We only consider one or two friendly characters, between the shooter and the target, and only one creature as the target.
  3. Like Hazard says, “You don't have to get it exactly right.”

Missile Fire into Melee [E]

“Remember that spells and missiles fired into a melee should be considered to strike members of one’s own party as well as enemy” (Holmes, 20).

Holmes gives no further guidance on the matter. The following method may be used to calculate the chance of friendly fire.


  1. Determine the friendly fire number (below).
  2. Subtract the friendly fire number from the attack roll and add bonuses and penalties as normal to determine a hit or miss on the target.
  3. If the natural dice result is the friendly fire number or less, a friendly is hit.

Short Range: According to Phenster, missile fire into melee is only permitted from the weapon’s short range. (But see below, Hail Mary [E].)

Target Has Precedence: In the case where the natural result would hit a friendly, but adding modifiers hits the target, then the target is hit.

Which Friendly is Hit: Phenster doesn’t say how to determine which of two friendly characters are hit. You could dice for it based on the relative sizes of the two characters, but that takes an extra dice roll. When two friendlies are in jeopardy, I call one odd, the other even, at the same time I call the friendly fire number. The attack roll then determines which is hit.


Using Phenster’s examples, I extrapolate creature heights and add a couple other usual types.

Creature Sizes for Friendly Fire Number
Size Height Creature
Small Up to 3' Halfling
Man-Sized 4' to 6' Dwarf, elf, human
Big 7' to 9' Ogre, minotaur, troll
Giant 10' to 12' Hill giant*
Dragon Over 12' Dragon, other giants, purple worm
* Phenster says “giant,” but, depending on the type, a giant can be up to 24' in height. I think once the creature is more than twice man-size, the chance of friendly fire is null.

To Determine the “Friendly Fire Number”

I break down the scenarios into three cases by the shooter’s position in relation to the target and allies. The shooter is attacking either from behind allies in melee with the target, from the target’s flank, or attacking from the target’s rear while all friendlies are opposite.

From Behind Allies

In the standard case, where the missile fire attacker is trying to shoot into a melee from the same side as the friendly characters, consider one or two friendlies in melee with the target. We start with the base number, then add and subtract for friendlies and the target by size.

Base Number:

  • No matter who’s in the fight, the base number is 4.


  • Subtract 2 for small friendly.
  • Add 2 for large friendly.
  • Add 2, 4, or 6 for second small, man-sized, or larger friendly.


  • Subtract 2 or 4 for larger target.
  • Add 2 for small target.

Other Considerations:

  • Assumes the friendly character is directly between the enemy and the would-be shooter. If the shooter is off to one side, but not flanking, subtract 2.
  • When two friendlies are before the target, the shooter may move to one side, space allowing, so only one friendly is in consequence.
  • The DM may add 2 or 4 for friendlies not in melee but masking fire in the middle field.
  • In no case should the friendly fire number be lower than 2.

From Flank

In the case where the attacker is flanking the melee without a friendly in the way, we consider all friendly figures on any side of the target as a group. The number is predetermined, no additions or subtractions.

  • Friendlies on one side: 2
  • Friendlies on two sides: 4
  • Friendlies on three sides: 6

Another way to think about this case, is simply 2 per side.

All Friendlies Opposite

When all friendlies are beyond the target, we calculate the number for one or two friendlies in the line of fire (as in From Behind Allies above), then subtract 2.

Modifiers to Mitigate Friendly Fire or No?

Hazard doesn’t count any modifiers in the chance to hit a friendly character. Should a shooter’s high Dexterity help to avoid friendly fire? How about a magic bow? Should a high-level shooter have a better chance?

The answers to these questions may depend on how high a Dexterity bonus can be in your game and how much magic treasure comes into the campaign. Another consideration may be the calculation required. It’s easy math for sure, but that extra step in the players’ minds takes a little of the immediate impact out of the dice roll. I like for everyone to know immediately when the dice stops whether the aim was true or somebody needs to make an apology.

The following rules take modifiers and high levels into account. You can use either or both with Missile Fire into Melee [E].

Add Modifiers to Mitigate Friendly Fire [E]

Use the modified dice result to determine friendly fire.

Add Level “Steps” to Mitigate Friendly Fire [E]

Add 1 to the attack roll for each “step” above the first on the attack matrix, one step being three levels for fighters, four for clerics and thieves, and five for magic-users.

Caveat: Using both these rules, a 4th-level fighter or a 5th-level thief (second step, +1) with a +1 Dexterity bonus for a score of 13 or more and a +1 magic bow at short range (+1), has a +4 on the attack roll, which allows them, in the standard scenario, to shoot into a melee with impunity. Careful.

Hail Mary [E]

It’s risky, but in a game where anything is permitted, players may want fire into melee at medium or long range. In this case add 4 to the friendly fire number for each longer range: medium +4, long +8.

No Shooting Into Melee [H]

“Once the party is engaged in melee, arrows cannot be fired into the fight because of the probability of hitting friendly characters” (Holmes 20).

“…and then melee is joined, after which no missile fire is permitted because of the danger of hitting friendly forces” (21).

In two of three mentions, Holmes interdicts missile fire into melee. Unsatisfactory as this may be, the easiest way to handle the situation is to disallow it. I include this option to remove any ambiguity, should the DM provide a list of house rules to players.

Handmade Leather Dice Bag

A friend asked me for my mailing address. He wanted to send me something. Strange how we don’t generally have folks’ mailing addresses anymore.

Trans-Atlantic shipping can take a while these days, and, wonder as I might, I couldn’t think of what he might be sending. So I waited. My patience was rewarded by this small marvel.

Handmade Leather Dice Bag  Sunnyland Gifts
Handmade Leather Dice Bag, Sunnyland Gifts
Shown here with sets of five, six, and seven dice, which fit inside with room to spare. Fifty dice fill the bag to about two-thirds capacity.

It’s so beautiful I had to ask where he got it. Turns out, his daughter Lela makes them—by hand!

The leather is goatskin. The toggles and laces are cowhide. The polyester thread is braided and beeswaxed. Lela uses the saddle stitch method: a pair of needles weave a locking stitch that resists unraveling. No logos, stamps, or decoration, the style is simple and elegant.

Inside Seams  Saddle-Stitched by Hand
Inside Seams, Saddle-Stitched by Hand

The toggles were a little stiff on the laces, so they didn’t slide easily. I took the bag to the guy at my local shoe-repair shop—mostly to show it off. In addition to resoling my sandals, Stephanos can do anything with leather. I thought maybe there would be some drop of oil that would loosen the toggles. What do I know. Stephanos said I just had to work it a little. A couple minutes pulling the toggles back and forth on the laces did the trick.

This is most beautiful dice bag I ever had. I love it!

I realize this article reads like an advertisement. Other than the above mentioned social connection, I am in no way affiliated with L & M Productions or Sunnyland Gifts. I do LOVE this dice bag!

Help Defeat Real-Life Demons, Game Therapy UK

Are you a military veteran? Are you also a Game Master? Would you like to run role-playing games as a therapeutic tool for fellow veterans suffering from psychological trauma?

Game Therapy UK is starting a pilot project you might find interesting. It’s a volunteer project. They are to offer several training modules, from basic through advanced, including mentorship.

From their website:

Game Therapy UK is an exciting new charity providing innovative, evidence-based therapeutic games (“Dungeons and Dragons Therapy”) to groups across the UK, including people experiencing homelessness, people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and military veterans exposed to psychological trauma/PTSD.

Military veterans of any country are eligible to participate, whether it’s to run games or to play.

For more information, visit Game Therapy UK and sign up for their newsletter.

Defeat demons with D&D!

Shooting into a Fight

Shooting Into a Fight

Sometimes you want to shoot a missile weapon into a melee combat. The rulebook says that you CAN'T do it in one place and that you CAN do it in another place but with a chance you might hit a friendly character. Plus, friendlies between you and the enemy give cover to the enemy even though they don't mean to. Ivanhoe has a method that he uses at the Game Hoard where he does a lot of math to figure out the chance that a friendly character is hit. Hazard didn't like it because it takes too long. So he made up his own way to do it, which I'll explain.

When you want to shoot into a fight, Hazard calls out a number that does TWO things:

1.) You have to subtract the number from your missile attack roll to see if you hit the enemy.
2.) If you miss and the attack roll is the number or less without subtracting and no bonuses, then you hit a friendly.

We call it the Friendly Fire Number. Hazard estimates the number based on the size of the enemy, which is the target, and the friendlies in the way. The normal number is 4, and the maximum number is 8. You have to be in short range for your missile weapon.

So, when Beowulf "the Bully" was fighting hand-to-hand with Mangus Magne (evil champion), and Cypher tried to fire a crossbow, the number she subtracted was 4, and she rolled a 3, and she hit the Bully instead of Mangus. Then Danydain Scrubfoot joined the fight, and Hazard said if Cypher wanted to shoot again, the number would be 6, because Danydain was a halfling. If he was a human, it would have been 8.

If the enemy is a small monster, let's say a goblin, add 2 to the number. If it's big, like a troll, the number is 2 less, and if you're shooting at a giant, it's 4 less. A dragon is so big, there's no chance to hit a friendly.

When you're flanking an enemy with no friendly characters on the other side of it, the number is just 2. The size of friends and enemies doesn't matter. If your friends are on both sides and still no one is on the other side, the number is 4. And if at least one friend is also on the other side, like when you gang up on an ogre, the number is 6.

Now, if all your friends are only on the other side of the enemy from where you're shooting, they don't give cover. In fact, the enemy gives them cover, so you take the normal number for friendlies and subtract 2 from it, no matter the enemy’s size.

Hazard only ever counts 2 friendly characters. He does the calculation all in his head. He says you don't have to get it exactly right.

L’avant garde #39 (June 1981)

Campaign Names

“All our adventures together make a campaign. We all made up campaign names that we use for our heroes and wizards.”

—“Welcome to PARADIGM LOST,” Paradigm Lost #1 (April 1980)

In the Pandemonium Society, a player usually invents his or her own “campaign name,” which is a nickname used for the player as well as for the player’s characters. Society players tend to have a stable of characters.

Perusing issues of Paradigm Lost and Phenster’s articles in L’avant garde, I’ve gleaned a few things about “campaign names” and how the Pandemonium Society uses them. Though there are no strict rules, the Society does seem to adhere, more or less, to the following guidelines.

“One kid dropped what he was carrying so much, we made him carry the 10' pole. When we saw a monster, he had to drop the pole anyway. We started calling him Jinx, and we didn’t let him hold the lantern either.”

—“Rules the Pandemonium Society Doesn’t Use,” L’avant garde #35 (December 1980).

A campaign name is malleable. It may change according to events in game play or by player whim.

“My character is Phenster Prime, a magic-user…”

—“Riposte Like Fencing,” L’avant garde #43 (February 1982)

To distinguish a particular character, a second name may be appended to the campaign name, either before or after. The secondary name corresponds to a normal character name and is often inspired by the character’s experience. For example, Cypher, a thief, becomes Jule Cypher after she pulls off a risky heist, thereby acquiring a valuable cache of precious stones (L’avant garde #54).

This is not often done before the character has survived a few adventures. Exceptions are difficult to spot in the source material. One may be “Friar Jack Hazard,” who makes an appearance in an adventure run by Phenster (Paradigm Lost #2). It’s just as likely, though, that other of Friar Jack’s adventures are not recorded.

“Now, Mithrellas (her campaign name used to be Cypher) is the most powerful character in the campaign. She’s a wizard of the Seventh Order in the Banelore Cabal.”

—“State of Pandemonium,” Paradigm Lost #5 (October 1985)

There are some instances where the campaign name is dropped, and the character comes to be called strictly by the secondary name. Moreover, there is one clear case, cited above, where the player’s campaign name changes to a character’s secondary name.

When a retainer becomes a player character, it acquires the player’s campaign name. An example is Jinx, who has the habit to name hirelings after their weapon preceded by an ordinal number: e.g., First Halberd, Fifth Spearman. Appearing late in the house-rules series is a “Jinx Second Sword” (L’avant garde #74).

May well there were other cases in Pandemonium Society play that, not having occasion to be recorded, are now lost to posterity. We have license to adapt campaign names to our own purposes.

Parry and Riposte

These rules are paraphrased from Phenster’s article “Riposte Like Fencing,” L’avant garde #43 (February 1982).

Like Hazard says, the parry rule in Holmes (21) is useful if the opponent is invulnerable to your weapon. We might also employ the parry when we have to fill a hole in the skirmish line and the opponent’s AC is so high that we have little chance to hit, or if we want to convince an attacking monster of our friendly intentions in order to parley. In any case, it’s an interim tactic. We don’t want to be deflecting attacks without a counter blow for long before we follow Jinx out of Dodge.

Riposte [E] increases the parry’s usefulness without making it too advantageous. A knock-on effect, exposed in Phenster Prime’s single combat with Beowulf “the Bully,” is that fighters are encouraged to arm themselves with a variety of weapons.

Riposte [E] and Chance to Break Weapon [E] require some classification of weapons into heavier and lighter. A table of weapon classes by weight: light, ordinary, heavy, and extra-heavy, is given in Damage Dice by Weapon Class [H].

Parry [E] only integrates the Holmes parry into the initiative order with Hold Action [E].

Note that when using Multiple Attacks per Round [E], the parry and riposte count as one attack.

Parry [E]

To parry, the defender must hold an attack until the opponent’s count in the initiative order. A defender whose count is lower in the initiative order must hold the action until the opponent’s count in the next round. As in Hold Action [E], the defender’s initiative count becomes the same as the opponent, unless the defender then ripostes (see Riposte [E]). The parry rule from Holmes is otherwise unchanged.

Chance to Break Weapon [E]

Concerning the possibility that the weapon breaks, we assume Phenster makes no change in the Holmes parry. I make the following amendment, taken from Chainmail’s Man-to-Man Combat (25-6): Only a lighter parrying weapon has the chance to break. If the weapon breaks, the defender cannot riposte.

Riposte [E]

Though a parry is always possible, a riposte is allowed only when the defender fights with a weapon lighter than the opponent’s weapon or when both combatants wield light weapons. A riposte is a normal attack, which may be made immediately following a successful parry. The riposte takes place on the initiative count after the parry.

Phenster’s Examples

Taking both examples from Phenster’s article, I detail actions in each round and add commentary. In both examples, the match ends when one combatant scores three hits.

Aside, I note in the single combat example that the Pandemonium Society uses a system for multiple attacks that would seem to match Nils’ rule printed in L’avant garde #33 (September 1980).

Fencing Duel

According to the group’s fencing rules, the referee halts the combat after each hit. Mandykin, with the higher AC, goes before Jinx.

Rounds 1 and 2:

  • Mandykin holds her attack, parries.
  • Jinx attacks, misses.
  • Mandykin ripostes and hits.
  • [Halt]

Round 3:

  • Mandykin holds her attack, parries.
  • Jinx attacks, misses.
  • Mandykin ripostes and misses.

Round 4:

Because she riposted, Mandykin’s initiative count in this round is after Jinx.

  • Jinx attacks, misses.
  • Mandykin attacks, hits.

Both Sides Parry

Phenster doesn’t mention the possibility that both sides might parry. To cover the case, we carry the example further. Let’s say, in round 4, Jinx parries, holding the action until Mandykin attacks. When, instead, Mandykin holds her action to parry, both sides have the option, according to Hold Action [E], to execute an action before the end of the round.

One way a DM might handle it:

  • Inform the players that both combatants are holding an action, ready to parry: “You’re both ready to parry, what are you going to do?”
  • Allow a beat, maybe two: “One, two…”
  • The first to say they attack, does so versus the other’s parry. If the parry is successful, the defender may riposte.
  • If neither commits to the attack, the actions are held to the next round…

Imagine, when also using Maneuver [E], the two combatants, weapons raised, circle around each other, looking for an opening… Might be an opportunity to feint.

Single Combat

Phenster Prime, armed with a dagger, faces Beowulf “the Bully” with his two-handed sword. The Bully has the higher Dexterity.

Round 1 (0-0):

With the two-handed sword (long quality), Beowulf attacks at the beginning of the initial round, while Phenster, with the dagger (short), attacks at the end.

  • Beowulf charges, hits.
  • Phenster misses.

Round 2 (1-0 Beowulf):

Now engaged in melee, the light dagger gets first attack and usually gets three attacks per round against the extra-heavy two-handed sword, which goes at the end of the round. But, because Phenster wants to parry Beowulf’s attack and the other has the higher Dexterity score, he holds his second attack until the end of the round when his opponent swings the larger blade. The parry succeeds and the riposte hits, but the round ends and Phenster loses the third attack.

  • Phenster misses.
  • Phenster holds action to parry.
  • Beowulf misses.
  • Phenster ripostes, hits.

Note that, against an untested foe, a combatant may be ignorant of the other’s agility (i.e. place in the initiative order) until later in the melee. If Phenster had taken his second attack, he would not have been able to parry Beowulf’s swing, though he could have made his third attack afterward.

Round 3 (1-1):

Phenster’s riposte, end of round 2, puts him immediately after Beowulf in the initiative order, so, at the beginning of this turn, the situation is the same. Even so—as if convinced the parry should work to his advantage—he executes the same sequence of attack and parry. But the parry fails, Beowulf hits, so Phenster cannot riposte, nor can he make the third attack.

  • Phenster misses.
  • Phenster holds action to parry.
  • Beowulf hits.

Round 4 (2-1 Beowulf):

Because the parry failed in the previous turn, Phenster’s initiative count this round is the same as his opponent’s. The dagger man can take the second attack normally, then parry with the third attack, which is simultaneous with Beowulf’s attack. With two hits this round, Phenster Prime wins.

  • Phenster hits.
  • Phenster misses.
  • Phenster parries.
  • Beowulf misses.
  • Phenster ripostes and hits.

“No more room for mistakes…”

After twice losing his third attack, Phenster seems to recognize a tactical error. While taking a chance to lose the second attack to a failed parry in the second and third rounds, he was sure to lose the third attack, because the exchange with the two-handed sword occurs at the end of the round. In the fourth round, he gets all three attacks only because the exchange of blows is simultaneous.

Even cursory analysis shows that a simple 10% less chance to be hit is not worth the certainty of losing an attack. Whether it’s worth the possibility of losing an attack (odds of the parry failing) is less clear. Without working out all the calculations, it’s fair to say that we shouldn’t “just parry willy-nilly.”