AD&D H4: Throne of Bloodstone by dwarf74
Part 1Original SA post H4: Throne of Bloodstone, Part 1
Okay so let's review this piece of happy horse-shit, because somehow nobody has yet.
This is Throne of Bloodstone, which holds the dubious honor of being the highest-level adventure ever released for any edition of D&D. Zoom in real quick to that level range, why don't you.
Yeah, that's no typo. What, you didn't know AD&D had levels up to 100? Well ... it kinda doesn't, and the adventure will go to great lengths to reassure us of this fact. But have no fear, not only will we talk about how AD&D works at that level, we'll show some super-great pregenerated 100-level PCs as examples.
This is the fourth adventure in the "H" series, better known as the "Bloodstone" series. It's not so much well-regarded as well-ignored; the entire series is for high-level adventurers and each installment has a significant BATTLESYSTEMTM component. And although this adventure proudly proclaims itself as part of the Forgotten Realms, that's at least half bullshit. Let's take this one at a time.
First, BATTLESYSTEMTM? (OK, I'll stop, but that's how it's referred to every single time.) That was a big ol' box set released in the mid-eighties as AD&D's solution to mass combat. I had a copy, way back when - it was a gigantic mass of about a million cardboard chits of various sizes, some instructions on how to paint minis, and a collection of fairly detailed rules about how one might run mass battles and/or involve AD&D characters into them. I can't really comment on how well the game worked - I never once ran a fight in it - but I remember the intense feeling of irony as a game which arose from a mass combat system itself generated a mass combat system.
As for Bloodstone Pass and the Realms... The first Bloodstone adventure, H1 Bloodstone Pass (for Level 15+ characters) was released in 1985 alongside Battlesystem. It was a huge production - almost a box set - with a bunch of buildings and whatnot. It wasn't originally set in the Realms - it predates them, in fact, at least as far as official TSR publications go. The modules' generic setting of Vaasa and Damara (along with the titular pass through the Galena Mountains) was clumsily shoehorned in for the Realms' publication by melting a sizable glacier from Greenwood's setting. H3 was the first Bloodstone adventure to mention the Realms in any capacity, but this one - H4 - was the first Bloodstone adventure to bear the Realms' logo. Placing it in the Realms made no sense and no difference; nothing else in the adventures even pretends to be associated with that setting. I know vanishingly little about the other adventures; I never planned to run Battlesystem, so I never bothered getting them.
One more note - this adventure was published in 1988, in the very waning days of AD&D 1e. So there's a lot of stuff here which just didn't carry over into 2e at all. Assassins, Demons, the Abyss ... yeah, it's an ugly, chaotic mess. In a few ways it's honestly kind of glorious - it has a killer second act, IMO - but it's also a huge nightmare.
Next post, I'll go through the sizable introduction (tldr: "100th level characters aren't much stronger than 20th level, but be dicks to them") and probably skip straight to the pregens in the back.
Part 2Original SA post H4: Throne of Bloodstone, Part 2
Okay, so why not dive straight fucking into this thing.
The Bloodstone series has an actually-admirable goal, and the clear-eyed intro to this adventure puts it front and center: Although AD&D is written with the assumption that high-level characters become rulers and get castles and whatnot, most players prefer to ignore all of that and keep on delving into ever-more-difficult dungeons. So these adventures try to make rulership exciting by um.... still giving them a lot of dungeons, but also tossing in mass battles on the regular. Ah well.
And just so nobody worries that TSR has all of a sudden endorsed - gasp! - those dirty powergamers, Doug Niles reassures us...
I'm kinda tempted tbh
This is the first module written for people who run super-high level characters. Although we do not endorse the so-called "Monty Haul" campaign, there's nothing wrong in sampling what really high-level play has to offer!
As usual, the authors will be pleased to answer questions when accompanied by a stamped, selfaddressed envelope, mailed to us using the address on the back cover.
Then the module proceeds to give us many about the previous adventures in the series and the overall history of Vaasa and Damara. That is not what I am here for, and presumably not what you, gentle readers, are here for. We are here for bonkers extreme-level AD&D bullshit. Although I will note that H2 (Mines of Bloodstone) is apparently particularly loathsome, according to this stellar review from 1987.
Have no fear, H4 is every bit as bullshit and then some.
So without further ado, let's get straight to
RUNNING 100th-LEVEL CHARACTERS
First, they address the big ol' elephant in the room. Yes, the entire game line to this point - and the many words about running campaigns from Gygax and everyone else - told you to quash those munchkin impulses, kill that inner powergamer, and revel in the joy of moderately-powerful heroes. Mr. Niles provides a good rundown of why, which I will just go ahead and quote wholesale.
I mean, I'll be honest - except for maybe the second bit, this all makes sense to me. So then they tell us why they will be ignoring all that stuff for the next 90 pages. (Yes, this is a 96-page adventure. Please kill me.)
Heretofore, we've been encouraging you to moderate your lusts for power and play "ordinary" fantasy characters rather than the great heroes of myth and legend. There are, of course, quite good reasons for this.
First and foremost, game balance is much easier to maintain when the power level of players is kept to reasonable levels. Even an experienced Dungeon Master can be overcome by a party of aggressive, super-powerful player characters.
Another reason is our desire to maintain the illusion of reality - what science fiction writers refer to as the "willing suspension of disbelief." Within our fantasies we maintain strict standards of realism. Ultimately, if you as players and DMs cannot believe in our illusions, we have failed you.
Third, we have been suspicious of the desire to play super-high level characters. We tend to believe that most people who want to play 100thlevel characters are motivated primarily by the desire to have unkillable PCsthereby eliminating the challenge of the game. We believe that unkillable PCs and a never-ending supply of easy wealth may be attractive for a short while, but boredom with the game inevitably sets in, and the campaign eventually collapses.
Therefore, we advocate balanced games, where the rewards are given for heroism, skill, and excellent play.
...which is also completely true. As we've seen in Jerik's stellar Deities & Demigods write-up, TSR provided monster stats for gods all the way back in the earliest supplements. Monster Manual 2 has a tarrasque which you can actually fight. The Manual of the Planes portrays a ludicrously hostile set of locales for extra-planar adventuring which would kill an ordinary adventurer. For all that it shits on powergamers, a good chunk of the game-line is only useful to them. So they lay out the three big principles of 100th-level play...
In spite of these reasons, there are corresponding reasons why people want to play super-high characters legitimately. First, we believe, is the thrill of role playing great fantasy heroes - wizards with a seemingly endless arsenal of powerful spells, great fighters who can cleave an enemy from head to breastbone with a single blow, crafty thieves of ultimate skill and daring. There is also the desire to test the ultimate limits of the game system, to "max-out" a character with everything that the AD&D game can provide. And finally there is the desire to confront in battle those creatures in the various monster manuals that are beyond the reach of ordinary mortals.
I'll go over these in order...
100th-level characters are not 10 times more powerful than 10th-level characters; apply all the rules strictly; and never give a 100th-level character an even break.
1. 100th-level characters are not 10 times more powerful than 10th-level characters
OK so those AD&D character progression tables? Even if you think you can extrapolate, those don't extend to infinity, so you shouldn't. Magic-Users don't get more spells past 29th level, Fighters cap out attack and saves at 17th, and Thieves cap out around there too (or at 23rd for the Thief-Acrobat). By and large - with one enormous exception - the difference between a 100th-level character and a 30th-level character is something like 70-210 hit points. That's it. (Note: This idiotic. More on this soon. And that exception? Here's a pop quiz. In AD&D, what's the damage cap when a high-level wizard casts a fireball?)
Oh it also mentions magic items, but the easy solution there is to not use any homebrewed items and stick rigidly to what's been officially published (but not artifacts).
Oh and there's encumbrance, don't forget that! (except for all the ways characters can ignore encumbrance of course).
And yeah, there's ability scores to worry about - odds are they've pushed a lot of them really high. But wait! 25 is the cap for everything, and is 25 really that bad? Sure, Strength 25 is a lot, but really it's just +7 to-hit and +14 to damage. Yeah, Intelligence 25 gives you immunity to illusions, so just don't use illusions. Oh, Wisdom can make you immune to charm, so don't use that, either. And yeah, Constitution will give regeneration, but that's a paltry 144 hp per day if you think about it. And sure, with bonuses, some of those saving throws will get pushed below 0. Simple solution: give them saving throw penalties! Like, say, -10 or so. Bet you didn't think of that!
So basically the way to deal with 100th-level characters is to not give them anything except extra HP, and avoid any challenges which play to their strengths. Great advice, guys, A+
Oh! And that exception. You probably guessed it just by the way I asked the question, but in AD&D 1e, there is no cap to the damage of fireball, lightning bolt, etc. None at all. That came about in 2nd edition and carried over to 3rd, so for a lot of players it's just always been that way. It's the one area of the AD&D where there's just a formula presented with no table. So here, the authors can't just dumbly point to a table and pretend "extrapolation" doesn't exist - that the tables are meant to end there instead of just getting cut off for space or layout reasons. A 100th-level wizard's fireball does 100d6 damage.
see? it says X, assholes, not X as long as it's 10 or under
2. Apply all the rules strictly
I mean, yeah - this is very true and oft-repeated on these forums. AD&D balances Wizards out through making them jump through obnoxious hoops with material components and all that jazz. Make sure they use the DMG's potion miscibility table. Follow encumbrance. You get two rings. Oh, and don't identify magic items! Give them cursed shit!
The AD&D(R) game is very carefully balanced. It may sometimes seem to you (and has sometimes seemed to us) that some tiny little rules are unimportant nuisances, but we have discovered that those ostensibly unimportant rules turn out to be extremely important after all. Especially when running high-level characters, it becomes vital to apply all the
rules strictly and precisely.
Oh, and don't forget spell memorization/prep time; a max-level Wizard would need to spend 70 hours to get back their spells if they cast all of them.
So this is unquestionably more balanced, but balance through obnoxious bookkeeping is pretty shitty balance. This section is short, and it repeats stuff I've already harped on, so that's all I have to say about this.
3. Never give a 100th-level character an even break
Be a dick.
If your godlike PCs get dropped in a vat of acid or hit by a fireball, make them make item saving throws for all their magic gear! Spellbooks in particular can melt real easily! Give monsters rings of spell turning (note: there is indeed a monster in here with a ring of spell turning.) Put them in places like, say, the Abyss where they will be a lot weaker! (note: The bulk of this adventure takes place in the Abyss.) This is honestly mostly repetitive with the other two sections; it all comes down to "be super ruthless and put them in their place."
So yeah, that's the advice. I bet you could have predicted all of that, eh?
I will try and post the 100th-level example characters, but I am tired for tonight. I just have to note that the 100th-level Thief is a perfect encapsulation of this adventure's philosophy. He's a Deep Gnome (svirfneblin!) who has also attained the formidable 7th-level as an illusionist. Why is he only 7th level as an Illusionist while he's 100th level as a Thief? Because 7th level is the cap for Deep Gnome progression as an illusionist in AD&D 1e.
The characters may be 100th-level but there's rules dammit.
Part 3: What's a 100th-level character look like, anyway?Original SA post H4: Throne of Bloodstone, Part 3: What's a 100th-level character look like, anyway?
So yeah. Last time (it's been a spell) we looked at Doug Niles's advice about 100th-level characters. Fortunately, the adventure gives us 4 of them right off the bat! These are named after various figures from Greek myth, but they are not those same figures. We can even compare and contrast the two, maybe!
First off - Perseus!
So yeah. That's powerful, in AD&D terms, but not really absolute bullshit. He's got a selection of items (limited by a paladin's code, lmao) which certainly includes a Holy Avenger +5. I am just about positive he's got some variety of armor +5, and a Shield +5. So here's what we're looking at, in derived statistics... AC -10 (the cap - with his dexterity he only really needs Chain if I am doing my math right). With his 25 Strength (+7), a +5 longsword, and double-specialization in that longsword (+3), he hits AC 0 at -11 on a d20 or so. This means he hits AC -10 on anything but a natural 1. Damage-wise, he's dealing 1d8+22 (32 if the target is chaotic) with each of 2.5 attacks per round (2, then 3, then 2, then 3 - it's bullshit). So yeah basically he's doing a whole 50-75 damage per round. Also, importantly, with his Holy Sword he continually casts dispel magic at 100th-level which is frankly really great. And if he's somehow fighting kobolds or whatever, he can attack 100 of them per round.
Quick Note: If you're familiar with AD&D you might be wondering why he wouldn't go with the Dart-Master. Well. As a high-level paladin, the whole Dart-Master shtick will probably not work so well for him. He's got a cap on magic items, plus there are no magical darts in the DMG whatsoever - and non-magic weapons aren't useful at all at this level.
He's also got some spells I guess, but eh.
Against Greek Myth Perseus, he's expected to crush the 15th-level Paladin and 5th-level Bard in about 2 rounds.
So let's get to the main event - Circe!
Circe is amazing bullshit
Spell-wise it gets nuts from the word go because - like I mentioned in the last post, AD&D 1e doesn't cap magic-user spells at all. Let's look at some examples!
- Her Magic Missile spells 106" (that's 1,060' indoors or 1060 yards outdoors) and she fires 50 of them, each doing 1d4+1 damage and hitting unerringly. This is a tame 175 guaranteed damage divided up as you wish for a first-level spell.
- Unless someone has a Shield spell up - and she might as well because her Shield spells last 500 rounds (8 hours and 20 minutes).
- Her Fireballs can travel 110" and do 100d6 damage. This averages to 350 damage, or 175 if saved against.
- If she casts Fly, it lasts for over 16 hours.
- Her Cone of Cold stretches 50" and deals 100d4+100 cold damage to everything in a giant area.
That's just scratching the surface with some of the best-known spells in the game; this straight-up breaks the game. Or would if this adventure didn't shit on all of this hilariously in the final chapter.
Versus Greek Myth Circe, it's not even a contest.
I think that's all my brain can handle tonight. Next time, maybe the other two characters? 100th-level Cleric/23rd Level Druid is also hilarious. And Hermes the Thief is just sad.
Part 4: The Saddest 100th-Level CharacterOriginal SA post H4: Throne of Bloodstone, Part 4: The Saddest 100th-Level Character
Okay so last time we saw one perfectly serviceable 100th-level character, plus a completely ridiculous 100th-level character. This time, well.... it's sad. Let's do Artemis first.
So as a spellcaster, Artemis is likewise gonna be a bit on the ridiculous side, but not to the same extent as Circe up there.
Let's start with the 100th-level Cleric stuff. On the plus side, because AD&D gives bonus spells for high Wisdom, she can cast a ridiculous number of spells every day. On the minus side, most Cleric spells just have level-based ranges and durations; the damage and whatnot tend to be set by the spell itself and unrelated to caster level. Oh, and the spells themselves aren't anywhere near as spectacular
Still, she can cast 12 Harm spells every day, which will drop an enemy down to 1d4 hit points no matter where they were, and that's not bad. It's just not particularly better than any normal, non-100th-level Cleric with 25 Wisdom.
The only weird bit is that her god is probably like 20th-30th level.
And then there's the Druid side of her stat block. This is where everything starts falling the fuck apart. Why is she 23rd level? Because that's the maximum for a Druid, and still just absurd for normal AD&D play. Just like 1e Monks, Druids are level-capped and get wacky abilities at every level. As the highest-level Hierophant possible, Artemis can (or is)...
- Immune to all natural poisons
- Can alter appearance at-will
- Enter the Elemental Plane of Earth, Air, Water, or Fire at-will (which comes with an ability to survive there, because it's absurdly deadly)
- Conjure Air, Earth, Fire, Water, Magma, Ooze, Smoke, and Ice elementals
- Also enter the para-elemental planes and the Plane of Shadow
- Hell, all the Inner Planes including Positive and Negative and their quasi-elemental planes
- Live on the Plane of Concordant Opposition
- Roam the Inner Probability Lines (the 7th Dimension). I have no fucking idea what this means - but the Manual of the Planes tells us this is basically like astral travel, but only to alternate primes? Anyway it sounds in that 70's new-agey kind of way.
So that's a neat list of cool shit anyways, which is a lot more than poor old Hermes gets.
Poor, poor Hermes.
So look, I already went on my little rant about this but I want to reiterate. Everyone else is like some ungodly dual-classed monstrosity like a Paladin/Fighter or whatever, but Hermes is a fucking 7th level illusionist. Why? Because he's a gnome and he multi-classed, and that's the fucking level limit for gnome illusionists. I have no idea why someone thought 7th-level Illusionist powers would matter at all in this adventure, but ... Yeah, the guy can cast a few shitty spells at low level. He didn't even max out his Intelligence to let him exceed the level cap much more. It's complete nonsense, and showcases how this shit is broken from the word go.
He's also a 100th-level Thief. When your buddies can cast all the Detect Traps and Knock spells you could ever need, and the Fighter could just bash down anything resembling a barrier, this is rather less impressive than you might expect. He can hear noise two-thirds of the time. He can climb walls 85% of the time. If he uses a spell from a scroll, he still has a 1 in four chance of failure. This is a perfect showcase of how nonsense AD&D Thieves are; even at the top of his game, he's still really bad at some stuff. And - taking the adventure's advice - even the shit with >100% chances will still end up failing a bunch.
Ah, but what about his backstab? Well the adventure fucks with us a bit here. It says he gets 5x damage - but the PHB says it should be 1x extra damage for each 4 levels of experience. So Hermes should get a sweet 25x Backstab, but ... the text examples (it's not even a table) max out at 5x, so 5x it is. This makes me unreasonably angry, because it's not like his weapon damage is even that impressive. His Strength is a modest 18 (+1 to-hit/+2 damage) and with a +5, say, shortsword, he's dealing 1d6+7 whole damage.
Don't get me wrong, brosef here will still end up with a -10 AC and be quite capable of bullshitting through and around a bunch of stuff, but he just doesn't belong in the same party as the rest of these people.
So with that....
LABOR DAY BONUS CONTENT!
...But can they solo Cthulhu?
This is something of an unlicensed tie-in to Jerik's extremely fun Deities & Demigods write-ups. Can any of these 100th-level characters solo Cthulhu itself, one of the meanest bastards in the game?
First things first, here's Cthulhu.
Cthulhu is one bad motherfucker. He attacks as a "16+ HD creature" but has a 25 Strength. So, even though this is nowhere near a sure thing in AD&D's monster math, I'll put his THAC0 at 0 instead of at 7. His 30 attacks deal 1d10 damage each, and he can cast spells as a 20th-level Wizard.
I'll keep things incredibly simple here, mostly looking at math, so this is no kind of a simulation.
Perseus is a 100th-level Paladin with a Holy Avenger fighting a Chaotic Evil entity. So he's off to a good start already. He's got an always-on Protection from Evil spell, and automatically dispels all magic in a 10' radius as a 100th-level caster. Each of his attacks will deal an average of 36.5 damage, and he attacks 5 times every 2 rounds, missing only on a natural 1. On odd rounds, he'll do an average of 73 damage, and on even rounds an average of 109.5 damage. All things being equal, he drops Cthulhu's 400 hp in 11 attacks, or 5 rounds - but all things are not equal because Cthulhu regenerates 10 hp per round. So in those four rounds before the killing blow, Cthulhu heals back 40 hit points. Another 36.5 on the second attack in this odd-numbered round will leave Cthulhu hanging on for dear ... life or whatever ... with less than 10 hp. It will take a 6th round to vanquish the Great Old One.
Cthulhu, on the other hand, hits Perseus on a 10 or higher ... but gets a -2 to his attack rolls on account of the paladin's protection from evil aura. His spells can do jack shit, so tentacley death it will have to be. He'll hit an average of 13.5 times every round, doing a paltry 5.5 damage per attack ... but that shit adds up! He'll deal 74.5 damage per round, against Perseus's 390 hit points. It takes 6 rounds for Cthulhu to kill Perseus.
So yeah, it comes down to initiative, and that's basically bonkers.
Circe wipes the floor with Cthulhu from over a half-mile away, while flying. I mean, yeah, Cthulhu has what looks like a big, bad 80% magic resistance, but that works weird in AD&D 1e. You see, magic resistance is based on an 11th-level spellcaster. For every level below 11, the target's effective spell resistance goes up by 5%. For every level above, it goes down by 5%. Against a 100th-level caster, Cthulhu has an effective magic resistance of -365%.
Fortunately, all its saving throws are set at 2, but unfortunately it will only take three 100d6 fireballs or three 50-missile Magic Missile volleys to off the Great Old One.
Artemis ... Well, creeping doom will probably not work, because you need +2 weapons to hit Cthulhu. This is a shame, because it would easily one-shot him, or really almost anything else in the game. And I can't see Cthulhu sitting back and letting her cast harm for the full round. So my gut tells me that Artemis is toast without support, and her best bet is trying to gate in her god. (who is weaker than she is but probably better in a fight, at least.)
Hermes gets killed quickly, and it's not close. There's just no way he's got the damage output to knock 400 hp off Cthulhu, even if we gave him x5 backstabs every single round (which we could frankly not do).
Thank you for this exciting episode of bonus content. Have a happy labor day.