Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Review : D12 Monthly Issue 3

Cover Art by Dean Spencer
Issue #3 of D12 Monthly focuses on combat. It brings back the feature Location, Location, Location and has its random encounter table (this time "End Table" rather than "Corner Table"). Otherwise, it mixes up the formula with some different styles of material, including:

  • A history of how healing has been handled in various editions of Dungeons & Dragons
  • A simplified method of handling different kinds of attack vs armor (ex. Piercing vs. Chainmail)
  • A suggestion on how to modernize the concept of masterwork gear from Dungeons & Dragons 3e.
  • A method for handling monsters' responses to PC aggression over time.
  • A discussion of probability on random-roll tables.
  • A system for handling fleeing combat abstractly.

What I Loved

Includes guide to MAP Shorthand 

The MAP shorthand was a method for describing NPCs introduced in Issue #0 of D12 Monthly. It is smart, simple, and effective. They have used it in every issue of the 'zine. But, the further one goes from Issue #0, the harder it is to remember how it goes, or the less likely it is that a reader had read every issue.

This issue they tackled that with a short sidebar to refresh the reader about the MAP method.

The DEFCON System is a Great Planning Tool 

Using the DEFense CONdition alert status system as a model, YumDM gives us a tool for planning out how monsters respond to PC activity over time.

In effect, the article gives you a method for deciding how monsters plan for and defend themselves against human incursion, including a solid default model you can use for most humanoid lairs.


Masterwork items were a favorite concept of mine in D&D3e: items that were of a quality that made them better than normal weapons, without being magical... An intermediate effect between average fair and supernaturally good.

Masterwork could be used to add a lot of flavor and make really interesting treasure hoards. I thought it's disappearance in later editions an oversight. I am glad to see someone making an effort to resurrect the concept for new editions.

Weapon Type vs. Armor Damage Made Simple 

Making it so that different types of weapons are more or less  effective than others based on the type of attack (bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing) they make vs. the armor the target is wearing 

In AD&D this created massive tables that were a migraine to use. Each attack type changed the AC value of the armor worn. Piercing weapons, for example caused someone wearing chainmail -2AC... I know I discarded them after one campaign. Too fiddly. Too much to remember.

And most importantly, it added nothing to the campaign. Some levels of realism, while interesting to simulate, are not going to be appreciated or enjoyed by one's players if they create a hassle. 

The system proposed replaces tables with numerical representations with a simple binary: either the attack rolls damage regularly, or it rolls at disadvantage, taking the worse of two dice rolls. It is far easier to remember and execute. 

"Don't Tell Mr the Odds" Is a Useful Reminder 

This more general article on designing random tables and probabilities. I can see this article as possibly being one of the most useful to date for a beginning DM, as it covers how probability works in random tables using different dice combinations. I can likewise see that as being valuable during a writing project or game design. I am glad it was included. 

Growth Points 

I'd've Liked More Tension in Woodhove

The setting introduced in this issue is Woodhove, a town traditionally dedicated to wagon-making and lumber, headed by a family of wealthy wainwrights. In recent years, however, the town has begun to rely the proceeds of an arena that hosts bloody pit fights. Gladiator Houses brawling in the streets and massive tourism for the arena is turning the town from a bucolic country village to a rough and lawless boomtown. 

The NPCs detailed are the sleazy arena master, members of the family that runs the wagon making empire, ad the black sheep who is rejecting the family trade to seek fame in the arena. 

Its an interesting setting, and has lots of potential. I would have liked to see the central tension brought out a bit, though. When a town starts getting rough, lots of people, especially pillars of the community circle the wagons against new businesses and people coming in. Wealthy people like our wagon making patriarch will go to great lengths to try to stymie change and drive out the "bad element" before they change the local way of life. 

And the Arena, in this case, really is a bad element, it brings money, but also violent crime, gambling, and abuses of animals and monsters in the arena. Like other Vice, too. There ought to be a shadow war between the arena owner, his cronies, and the wainwrights and local religious community. That offers as many opportunities for excitement as the arena itself should. 

The Issue Intro Should Have Been the Guiding Star

The introduction to this issue was engrossing. It talked about turning a dull encounter with goblins into a memorable battle with extreme heat, lava spouts, bomb-like lava pots, and combat involving fire-resistant efreet-kin goblins that shove and pull PCs into fire. The intro describes building up an encounter by:

  • Introducing unique enemies, 
  • Making the battlefield dynamic,
  • Using environmental hazards, 
  • Disrupting player expectations,
  • Having enemies use tactics,
  • Adding tension through timers. 

I would have enjoyed a magazine that discussed each of these tools in detail to create killer combat encounters. As it is, none of them are covered and I feel as though the magazine lets down its amazing intro. Especially as the Masterwork, Probability, and Natural Healing articles are not really "Combat" themed articles. 

A Look at the Evolving Role of Combat Might Have Been a Better History Lesson than Natural Healing

I appreciate the articles that compare the rules in different editions of Dungeons & Dragons. I would not want them to stop. But I think that there is a massive missed opportunity: An issue on combat might have been better served with a broad discussion of combat itself and how the role and importance of combat have changed, with supporting evidence from the rules across history. 

I'm Not Sure Armor vs. Attack type is Salvageable (But the Damage Disadvantage is Cool)

Above I said that some levels of realism, while interesting to simulate, are not going to be appreciated or enjoyed by one's players if they create a hassle.  I will also add that sometimes those simulation elements will never be appreciated at all. 

Armor vs. Attack Type is fiddly, in many games numerically insignificant, and doesn't honestly add much to the game. Nor is it a good simulation, as it doesn't take into account creative uses of a weapon. Ex.: a longsword has disadvantage to hurting someone in plate armor a with a slash of the blade, but a Murther Strike with the cossguard ought to be a different matter.

At the end of the day it adds complexity that I doubt any Edition of D&D needs. But YMMV, it is a worthy addition if your players are highly Tactics-oriented. 

Retreat Rules Need Polishing

This issue of D12 Monthly offers a set of rules for retreat that turns escape into a roll to escape with gradiated successes. The level of success leads to rolls on a random table to determine what cost escape extracts, including lost gear, NPC allies, fatigue, damage, or depleted ability scores. The poorer a successful check is, the greater the cost.

The details of the escape check are kept vague to keep it edition-neutral. However, no matter the edition, the chances of escape having a huge cost are pretty high. So much so that I would worry about the PCs refusing to run out of fear of the cost.

Rules to make escape simpler should encourage PCs to do so. The cost should be possible, but serious losses ought to be rare, rather than likely.  Making escape DCs for modern D&D based on something other than monster HD (CR maybe balanced against Proficiency or saving throws, maybe?) and basing them on ability checks modified by difference on HD for Old School Games might be effective.


There is somg pretty useful stuff here: re-imagining masterwork items, The DEFCON rules, and a great guide to table design are worth the reader's time. The retreat rules will need some tinkering, but are a fantastic concept. But, after it's awesome intro I feel this one could have used a different focus. Hopefully we will see a Combat II or Encounter Design article that hits those missing notes. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review! It's great to get this level of feedback about my zine. I really appreciate the effort you put into these reviews and happy you are finding things of value. :)