Part 8

Gamespeak 1: For Player's Eyes

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For Player's Eyes

J1: What books do I need in order to play?

Technically, as a player, you need absolutely nothing. Nada. Zilch. A pencil, paper, and dice certainly are useful, but can easily be borrowed; rules can be explained by the DM or more experienced players.

However, it is usually move convenient to have a personal copy of the rules for easy perusal in and outside of the gaming sessions. To this end, it is advisable to get the Players Handbook (preferably the same edition which the group is playing). There are many other books that might also be helpful; your DM can tell you which, if any, would be good for you to acquire. Beyond that, it is just personal preferences. Nothing else is truly needed, despite what TSR's promotional material may say; however, many people like having a little more than just the PH by their side when they play.

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J2: Does the weapon proficiency "Ambidexterity" give me extra attacks? (2ND)

No, it certainly does not. By itself, Ambidexterity merely eliminates the "off-hand" penalty for using a weapon in your left hand if you are right-handed or vice-versa. By the same token, it allows characters to do tasks equally well with either hand, so that if one hand is lost, the other can easily take up the slack.

It is when this is combined with other abilities that things get confusing. Here is a handy-dandy little chart to aid in fathoming the mysteries of the interaction of ambidexterity with other abilities: [Select for Preformatted table]
to-hit penalty
normal ambidextrous
main off-hand main off-hand
Fighting w/ one weapon 0 -2 0 0
Fighting w/ two weapons* -2 -4 -2 -2
Fighting w/ Two-weapon Style spec. 0 -2 0 0

* The penalty for using two weapons is modified by the character's Reaction Adjustment, based on DEX; however, the penalty can never be lowered beyond 0 by either this modifier or ambidexterity (i.e., the DEX Reaction Adjustment may only lessen the effects of the penalty, not grant any plusses to hit). Any other modifers work as usual.

Ambidexterity does not grant extra attacks per round, but fighting with one weapon in each hand, whether or not a character is specialized in that style, does. The limit is that the one wielded in the off-hand (if a character is ambidextrous, he chooses an "off" hand, but has no penalties for using that hand, and can switch in which hand he uses which weapon) must be smaller in size/weight than the one wielded in the main hand, except when both hands wield daggers. This does not necessarily mean it must be a smaller size class, but that it must be smaller in length and/or weight, which makes for good use of the length/weight charts in the Equipment section of the Players Handbook.

The length requirement is eliminated when a fighter specializes in the Two-Weapon Style, thus allowing a fighter to wield a long sword in each hand. In the Complete Fighters Handbook, one weapon proficiency nets the character Two-Weapon Style, which removes the negative modifiers for using two weapons and also removes the length requirement. In Skills & Powers and Combat & Tactics, one character point nets the character Two-Weapon Style, but only gives the ability to fight well with two weapons; it does not remove the length difference requirement. A second character point must be spent in order to weild two weapons longer than a dagger and of equal length.

Here's a chart to explain the attacks per round of someone fighting with two weapons: [Select for Preformatted table]
1 weapon 2 weapons | 2 weapons Att/rnd
Character level Att/rnd Att/rnd | main off-hand
Fighter 1-6/all other classes 1/1 2/1 | 1/1 1/1
Fighter 7-12, 1-6 specialized* 3/2 5/2 | 3/2 1/1
Fighter 13+, 7-12 specialized 2/1 3/1 | 2/1 1/1
Fighter 13+ specialized 5/2 7/2 | 5/2 1/1

* "Specialized" refers to whether or not a fighter has specialized in the weapon being used in his main hand, not to "Two-Weapon Style specialization"

Neither the Ambidexterity proficiency nor Two Weapon Style specialization have any effect on the number of attacks per round. As the table shows, the number of attacks per round for the main weapon does not change when a second weapon is picked up; the second weapon only gets one attack per round, regardless of character level. For example, a character who normally has 3/2 att/rnd gets one attack during the first round and two attacks during the second round, alternating each round (the lower number of attacks always occurs during odd-numbered rounds). This character then picks up a second weapon. Technically, the character now gets 5/2 att/rnd, but it breaks down to one attack with the main weapon and one with the off-hand weapon in the first round, and two attacks with the main weapon and one with the off-hand weapon in the second round, alternating each round. A DM may allow ambidextrous characters to switch which hand is the "main" hand and which is the "off" hand during combat so that it is possible to change which weapon gets more attacks in a sequence, but it is likely this will be allowed only when an attack sequence has ended--at the end of any round for 2/1 or 3/1 attacks per round; at the end of any even-numbered rounds for 3/2 or 5/2 attacks per round.

For those of you crying "munchkin!" to all of this, there is a simple limiting factor: a fighter, for example, only has four starting weapon proficiencies (modified by intelligence via number of languages). The weapon of choice is one, specialization in that weapon is one, ambidexterity is one, and two-weapon style is one, taking up all four of the initial slots; if one is using the expanded weapon proficiency rules in Combat & Tactics, this combination requires five proficiencies (two-weapon style is split so that it takes an extra proficiency to use weapons of equal size). In Skills & Powers, this combination requires all eight of a fighter's initial weapon proficiency character points (two each for weapon proficiency, weapon specialization, two-weapon style specialization, and use of weapons of equal size) and four of the average fighter's eight initial nonweapon character points (for ambidexterity). This quickly turns the character into a Johnny One-Note. If there are any other weapons he wishes to use without penalties, he'll have to use any extra language slots from intelligence or left over racial or class character points, which takes away slots from potential non-weapon proficiencies. Without those extra NWP's, the character will be extremely limited in what he can do besides just fight. Alternatively, the character can go with only the single weapon proficiency and gain those extra NWP's; if he then finds himself in a situation where he cannot use his weapon of choice, he will not be very helpful to a group unless the player does some good roleplaying. Skills & Powers also introduces some DM-enforceable drawbacks which may be used to gain more character points and round out the character; these drawbacks then serve to counteract the power this combination can grant and tone down the character to average levels overall.

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J3: Is the use of poison automatically an evil act?

If depends on how the DM rules. Some DM's feel that use of poison is an inherently evil act, and its use by a character causes an alignment switch. Others feel that, while it is not a particularly good act, it is not particularly evil, either, and can be used with caution. Still others feel that poison is just a weapon, as is any other, and thus may be used by any and all characters with impunity. There are equally persuasive arguments for any of these positions, and it is really best left to individual DM's. Here to help with the decision are three of the various points of view.

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J4: What about slitting throats? Anything else?

Once again, this is really a decision for individual DM's. However, there are hardly any situations where slitting a throat could be considered a good act. In most cases, it requires having an otherwise helpless victim, one which good characters should be trying to reform or turn over to the proper authorities for suitable punishment. Killing someone in cold blood, regardless of their past actions, is an action which any character should seriously think twice about. Killing in the heat of battle is one thing, but in cold blood (and especially if premeditated) is something else altogether. A character who consistently does this sort of thing should do some serious introspection on his outlook on life and consider an alignment change to something more suitable.

Nevertheless, there are a few situations where slitting a throat might be a necessity. Mercy killing is one, as the onset of death is quick. Dealing with guards who would otherwise raise an alarm is another, but more questionable one. In either case, if the action does not haunt the character for a long while, then it is quite possible that the character is a closet sociopath, and therefore is not actually of his stated alignment.

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J5: Are all orcs inherently evil? What about orc babies?

The "inherently evil" question is best left to individual DM's. Some campaigns work best with definitive divisions between black and white, much like many old westerns. The good guys are always heroically good, and the bad guys are always detestably and thoroughly evil and corrupt. In these games, all orcs are evil, regardless of age, period. However, some campaigns thrive on shades of grey, where the line between good and evil isn't always obvious. In these games, orcs might be misunderstood, might have some good tribes falsly accused of wrongdoing by nearby townspeople, or might have a wide range of alignments, but with a higher percentage of evil alignments just as a high percentage of elves are usually seen to be of good alignments but not all elves are good.

The question of orc babies is a tough ethical question, and is a curve which many DM's like to throw at their players. After a party sacks an orcish camp and completely annihilates the entire adult male population, they are left with the women and children. If they kill them, they are denying that orcs have any chance at all at redemption, regardless of whether or not the orc in question is a newborn. If they do not kill the orcs, then the party is leaving behind a future horde of orcs who want revenge for the slaughter of their fathers--and almost definitely will thirst for revenge if the DM has ruled that all orcs are naturally and automatically evil beings.

This is a perennial problem which each character must sort out on their own. However, it is much easier for evil characters to make a decision than neutral, and somewhat easier for neutral than good; but knowing this does not make the decision simpler.

One question which good characters should weigh in their minds: Is it better for me to not kill in cold blood, or better that the potential for future difficulties be taken care of while the solution is easily accomplished?

In third edition D&D, morality is absolute rather than relative, so orcs are almost always evil and their society is geared to raising children who grow up to be evil themselves-- though there can be individual orcs who are exceptions to that rule. Also, certain creatures (such as demons) are always evil, without exception.

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J6: Can mages wear armor? (2ND)

This question has been endlessly debated. First of all, if he is not casting spells, any mage can wear any armor he wants to, unless the armor in question is magic and only wearable by warriors, but that's a different story. Whether or not he gets an AC bonus from that armor is also another matter altogether.

The question arises when a mage attempts to cast spells while wearing armor. For a more in-depth survey of the rules, potential reasoning behind the rules, some house rules, and some possible ramifications of those house rules, see Joel Hahn's Mages and Armor treatise. In brief, while the core rulebooks state that wizards may not wear armor while casting spells, many players do not like this rule, both because lack of armor gets many a mage killed and because they can't think of a logical in-game reason behind the no armor while casting rule that doesn't also have some major negative or illogical ramifications (e.g. if it is because it is too constrictive, so is heavy winter clothing and that has no penalties; if metal disrupts the magical energies, then wrapping all captured mages with chains becomes standard and mages could have problems casting while standing on a metal grate, etc.; if it's because wizards aren't trained in wearing armor, then fighter/wizards belie the rule, since they have been trained in wearing armor). Here are several possible quick solutions to this situation:

  1. Create an elven fighter/mage who wears elven chainmail, as that is a method by which a mage can wear armor and cast spells at the same time under the core rules.

  2. Any and all bulky clothing hinders casting. A mage wearing anything heavier than what one would wear on an average autumn day cannot cast spells. Mages who, for some reason, are smothering beneath something along the lines of a large pile of cloth, several bodies, a trapper/lurker, etc. also cannot cast spells.

  3. If non-magical iron or steel encircles a mage and is in very close proximity to the mage, the mage is incapable of casting spells. Anything from handcuffs up to full plate armor has this effect, as would a chain wrapped once around the mage. However, being placed in a metal coffin or standing on/below a one ton block of iron would not.

  4. All mages may wear any armor, with no penalties, whatsoever.

  5. No mage may wear chain mail or better armor, due to the interference of the metal with magical energies.

  6. All mages may wear any armor, but doing so incurs a possible chance of failure. The wizard must roll percentile dice to see if the spell successfully goes off. The roll must be equal to or under 50% plus twice the armor's armor class. For example, a mage in chain mail must roll (50+(2x5))=60% or lower each time he casts a spell to see if the spell was successful. If the roll is not successful, the spell fizzles. For armors with negative AC, either the AC is doubled and subtracted from 50 to find the target number, or, since anything better than 0 is enhanced armor anyway, just use 50% as the target number.

  7. All mages may wear any armor, but wearing any mass of metal causes the mage to check to see if a wild surge occurs every time he casts a spell, due to the interference of the metal with the magical energies.

  8. Fighter-mage dual- or multi-classed characters may cast spells in armor, as they have learned to move in armor and thus can make the necessary gestures to cast spells.

  9. Elvish chain can be worn by any wizard without penalizing spell- casting at all. This may be due to either the mail's comfortability allowing easy movement or its inherent magical nature not disrupting magical energies.

  10. Mages may wear any armor, but certain rules apply. A mage in armor may only defend himself or flee, period. No spellcasting, no attacking, etc.; doing so results in a loss of xp for that playing period. Also, if the armor is magical, the armor's magic does not work if it is specifically intended for some other class.

  11. Create a mage character using the system outlined in the Skills & Powers or Spells & Magic books. The price is to not have access to some spell schools, but a mage willing to go through the trouble of accustoming himself to regularly wearing armor should be willing to put up with the sacrifice.

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J7: I don't like the spell memorization system for clerics & wizards...

Take a number and get in line. There are a seemingly endless list of solutions to this "problem." The ideas differ for clerics and wizards, though.

For priests, the solution is simple. Have the character pray for miracles, and let the DM decide which spells the cleric gets that day. Level doesn't matter, and the deity is seen to be more omniscient if he/she/it can provide in advance the spells which are most likely to be needed.

For mages, there have been several good solutions posited. One is to do away with the memorization time. Another is to use some sort of mana point system. A third is to let the mage cast any spell in his grimoire, without memorizing it first, but with a chance of spell failure. There are an infinite number of variations on these and other themes.

Rewriting the entire spell system is a task not fit for a FAQ, but it is not too difficult to construct your own based on the rough ideas above, or to just take a system from some other game and transplant it into your campaign.

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J8: What does "Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic Good/Neutral/Evil" really indicate?

Good/Neutral/Evil should be fairly obvious, but Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic is often trickier to pin down. The easiest way to remember it is that Law is more concerned with the letter of the law than with the people. Chaos can be anti-law, but it can also merely not require set rules of conduct. The PH contains a good description of each of the nine alignment's typical mindsets, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many variations on each alignment that it is very difficult for any two people to agree on even the vaguest definitions. However, if in need of a standard, use the PH stereotypes.

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J9: Is alignment really necessary?

For many people, no. For just as many others, yes. Alignment itself is not meant as a straitjacket, but as a tool for playing the character. There are as many different ways of playing a LG character as there are LG characters, so the argument that the alignment system stifles creativity doesn't hold water. However, there are just as many characters who don't fit any alignment whatsoever, and should not have an arbitrary label forced on them. Whether or not to use alignments is a question for the entire group to decide, and not one that should be handed down from above.

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J10: Can paladins have an alignment other than Lawful Good?
The by-the-book paladin cannot be anything other than Lawful Good; this paladin is derived from the romantic historical notion of a holy warrior fighting for law and order and all that is good, and who, as a reward for his unfailing service to the church and state, and as a result of his pure, saintly behavior, gains some "miraculous" abilities.

Over the years, many people have expanded this concept to include other varieties of "holy warriors"--especially evil counterparts to paladins--and several varieties of anti-paladins and demi-human paladins have sprung up over the years. The most-often cited (and looked for) article on the subject appeared in Dragon #106; it was titled "A Plethora of Paladins" and was written by Christopher Wood. This article detailed paladins of every alignment except Lawful Good ("true" paladins) and Chaotic Evil (anti-paladins, covered in an article in Dragon #39 and Best of Dragon, vol. 2). For those looking for a copy of this article, but who haven't managed to turn up a copy of Dragon #106, you can find it on the author's web page, in a somewhat revised version.

The third edition DMG includes a special class called the Blackguard that is similar in many ways to an "anti-paladin"; otherwise, third edition paladins still must always be lawful good, even if this puts the character in conflict with the default alignment for his race.

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J11: What is a morning star?
This is a perennial question both here and on There are essentially three schools of thought on the matter:

  1. A morning star is an elongated mace
  2. A morning star is a spiked ball, no matter what it's attached to
  3. A morning star is a special type of flail, or "chain-mace"

According to TSR's Arms & Equipment Guide, p. 82, the AD&D morning star is #1 above. This is borne out by the arrangement of the Tight Groups on p. 59 of the CFH and the description of the weapon on p. 140 of C&T. (Note that this is true for 1st edition AD&D as well, as evidenced by the description of bugbears on p. 12 of the MM and the illustration of Hruggek on p. 105 of DDG.)

Sources that support this description:

Description #3 appears to have come into use in the early to mid-19th century. Many sources that use this interpretation can be apparently traced back to a German treatise on medieval weaponry written around 1850 by F. Kottenkamp. The section on morning stars was based on an English work written around 1830, and seems to suffer from a number of mistranslations, as that page has a number of incongruities and contradictions.

Description #2 is a recent effort, constructed in an attempt to reconcile the first and third interpretations.

If you wish to use descriptions #2 or #3 in your games, that is your decision, and is something that many people have done over the years. It may not follow the rulebooks, nor necessarily history itself, but on your own campaign world, you can declare that the grass is purple and the sky is chartreuse, if that works for your world. Just be sure to label this as the way things are done IYC when discussing the weapon on the newsgroup in order to avoid flames.

For handy reference, here are brief descriptions of the various weapons of the affected types (flail and club):



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J12: How do Attacks of Opportunity work? (3RD)

Attacks of opportunity simulate what happens when a character momentarily takes his mind off of actively defending himself from an opponent in order to cast a spell, pull something out of his backpack, turn his back and flee at top speed, etc. Specifically, anyone standing near enough has a chance of whacking him while his concentration is elsewhere. One very important note for attacks of opportunity is that they are one of the few ways by which you can cause an enemy spellcaster's spells to fizzle.

All characters can potentially attack anyone within a certain range, depending on the weapon weilded. For example, most standard D&D weapons have a "threat range" of 5 feet, and most pole-arms have a threat range of between 5 and 10 feet. If an opponent in that area drops his guard, you can attempt to take advantage of that by making an attack of opportunity.

The PH lists many actions which, if done while you are in a "threatened" area, allow any opponent(s) who "threaten" that area to attempt an attack of opportunity, in addition to your normal number of attacks per round. Basic movement and casting spells are the most commonly seen of these. Note that movement only incurs attacks of opportunity as you leave a "threatened" area (especially important for pole-arms) or if you move around inside of a threatened area. Exceptions to this are discussed in the next question.

Standard characters can only attempt a single attack of opportunity per round, no matter how many opponents within range drop their guard; the Combat Reflexes feat increases this to a number of attacks equal to your Base Attack Bonus, with the exception that you can never attempt more than one attack of opportunity on any given opponent more than once per round. Also, you are not required to attempt an attack of opportunity if an opening presents itself; since most characters only get one attack of opportunity per round, you may want to save it in case a more important target gives you the opportunity later in the round.

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J13: Ouch! How can I avoid attacks of opportunity? (3RD)

There are three primary methods of avoiding attacks of opportunity.

  1. If your total distance moved in the round is five feet, then that movement does not cause you to incur attacks of opportunity. Think of this as making a small adjustment with your feet while keeping your guard up. If that five-foot step takes you into an area that is not threatened by any opponents, then you can also attempt any other actions--as long as they do not involve any movement on your part-- without any chance of incurring attacks of opportunity.

  2. If you take a "double move" action--not a run--and do nothing else that round, then the first five feet of movement do not count when checking whether or not opponents can make attacks of opportunity. (Note that, since you do not have to always move your maximum distance when you move, a double move can cover any distance from five feet up to your maximum movement distance times two.) Think of this as a fighting withdrawal; your concentration is still on your opponent(s) while you spend the entire round cautiously moving out of their reach.

  3. Certain feats protect you from attacks of opportunity in certain circumstances. (The Spring Attack feat is one example of this.) Likewise, if you have a certain amount of cover (such as when trying to fight around a conveniently placed tree), you are protected from attacks of opportunity from anyone on the other side of the cover.

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    J14:When can I take a five-foot step? (3RD)

    Anytime during your turn, as long as you have not, and will not physically move at all during your turn. You will not incur any attacks of opportunity for that movement, and if that step takes you outside of a threatened area, any subsequent actions on your part will not incur attacks of opportunty. Note that, even though "move-equivalent" actions count as movement for the purposes of what you can normally do in a round, they do not count as movement when determining whether or not you can take a five-foot step.

    Some DM's may make an exception to this if you are hasted or something similar--since in that case you can make an extra partial action in addition to your normal actions and movement that around--in which case, they might rule that you could take a five-foot step as part of your normal action sequence and then move as your partial action. However, this is an exception; under the standard rules, even when hasted you are limited to a total movement of five feet in one round if you want to avoid in that manner attacks of opportunity caused by movement.

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    J15: What is "stacking"? (3RD)

    Stacking is how the 3rd edition rules determine what bonuses and penalties can be used together. Every bonus and penalty has a type, such as "armor", "dodge", "enhancement", and so forth. (The various types of bonuses are described in the DMG on p. 177.) With some exceptions, if two bonuses or penalties have different types, you can add them together ("stacking"); if two bonuses or penalties have the same type, only the higher one counts.

    The exceptions to stacking are standard armor and shields (which both provide armor bonuses, yet stack with each other though they do not stack with any other armor bonuses), enhancement bonuses on standard armor and shields (which still stack with each other, but not with enhancement bonuses that affect other armor bonuses), enhancement bonuses on ranged weapons and their ammunition, and dodge, synergy, and some circumstance bonuses (which stack with any other dodge and synergy bonuses, and any circumstance bonus not caused by the exact same circumstances).

    Bonuses and penalties are always totalled separately, then each number is applied to the character, regardless of type. Cursed armor provides only an armor penalty (rather than an armor bonus and an enhancement penalty).

    Some examples:

    A fighter with a 13 Dexterity, +3 chainmail, a +1 shield, bracers of armor +2, a ring of protection +1, who has just drunk a potion of haste and a potion of maximized cat's grace, has an AC of 26.

    • Dexterity: +1 (ability)
    • chainmail: +5 (armor), +3 (enhancement--armor)
    • shield: +1 (armor), +1 (enhancement--armor)
    • bracers of armor: +2 (armor)
    • ring of protection: +1 (deflection)
    • haste: +4 (haste)
    • maximized cat's grace: +5 (enhancement--ability)

    The cat's grace adds +5 to his Dexterity, making it 18, and thus changes the AC bonus from Dexterity from +1 to +4. The shield and chainmail's armor bonuses stack, as do their enhancement bonuses. The bracers of armor do not stack with either the chainmail or the shield, so the chainmail's higher bonus is used and the bracers' bonus is ignored. Everything else stacks, resulting in a +17 AC bonus and a total AC of 26.

    Note that the bracers of armor aren't completely useless to this character because they provide a "force" effect. If he finds himself up against an incorporeal creature (such as a spectre), the incorporeal creature's attacks bypass all armor that is not made of force or that does not have the "ghost touch" ability. Against such a creature, the fighter's AC bonus would lose 8 for the chainmail and 2 for the shield, but would gain two for the bracers, resulting in an AC of 18.

    A wizard with a Dexterity of 13, Intelligence of 18, a headband of intellect +6, and a scarlet & blue ioun stone, who has drunk a potion of maximized fox's cunning and a potion of maximized cat's grace, has a total Dexterity of 18 and Intelligence of 24.

    • headband of intellect: +6 (enhancement--ability)
    • ioun stone: +2 (enhancement--ability)
    • maximized fox's cunning: +5 (enhancement--ability)
    • maximized cat's grace: +5 (enhancement--ability)

    The headband, ioun stone, and fox's cunning all provide enhancement bonuses to the wizard's Intelligence, so they do not stack; only the highest, the headband, is counted. Even though cat's grace provides an enhancement bonus, since it does not enhance the same ability as the other enhancement bonuses, it takes full effect.

    Note that the ioun stone and fox's cunning aren't completely useless; if the headband of intellect is destroyed while the others are in effect, the +5 from fox's cunning immediately applies, and the wizard's Intelligence only drops from 24 to 23. Then, when the duration runs out on the spell, the +2 from the ioun stone immediately applies, and the wizard's Intelligence drops from 23 to 20. (The wizard's memorized spells may be significantly affected, however, as fox's cunning and a headband of intellect have different effects on memorized spells.)

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    J16: But medieval combat wasn't anything like the way it is in *D&D!

    You're right! Congratulations, kid; you win the kewpie doll. The combat system in *D&D is a gross simplification of real combat, designed to streamline the process of determining the outcome of such a situation. Many arguments about the reality of such-and-such a weapon's speed, damage, use, size, etc. are often seen on, usually based on personal observations and/or on SCA tournaments. One thing to keep in mind is that this is just a game; it is not real life. It is not meant to be extremely realistic. There are other, more detailed combat systems out there in other games, several of which take hours to determine one simple combat.

    The best thing to do, in any case, is find a system which the group prefers to use and stick with that. If the group doesn't feel like taking the time to learn a new system, then the current one still works just fine for thousands of players, especially with a few house rules to customize it to the specific campaign.

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    Continue on to Part 9

    Copyright © 2002 by Joel A. Hahn