Embarrassingly enough, I am guilty of one the most pervasive and (in hindsight and for others) frustrating Piledrivers in our game group’s history. During our Warhammer 40k play era, my favored tactic was to load highly specialized Eldar forces into Wave Serpent troop transports, deck them out with holo fields that made damaging them more difficult, fly across the battlefield at breakneck and dump off each set of specialists in the place they were needed most. It worked wonders! Heavy weapons fire rolled off my fast and tough transports and sheltered my lightly armored specialists. There was one problem: the defensive cornerstone of my tactic, the holo field, could not be equipped on Wave Serpents. This mistake over nearly a dozen games certainly taints the resulting victories and rightfully frustrates the vanquished victims.
What's interesting for me about the Piledriver is how frequently such instances occur in D&D, and how they have warped the game for probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. The reason it happens so frequently in D&D is obvious - it's a disorganised mess, whatever edition - but this raises an even more interesting point: the most popular RPG ever, by far, is also probably the least correctly played RPG ever made, too. Whether this is a good or bad thing, I'm not sure, but it certainly feeds in to the whole "D&D is a toolkit" discourse that you sometimes encounter on the blogosphere.
What are some Piledrivers in pre-WotC era D&D? Some examples from my own checkered playing history are:
- Not realising that Hold Person in 2nd edition AD&D lasts 2 rounds per level - we thought it was 2 turns per level.
- Totally misunderstanding casting times. If the casting time for a spell is 1 round, it takes place at the end of the round in which the caster begins casting.
- Always forgetting to use speed factors for weapons.
- Memorising spells takes 10 minutes per spell level and the caster has to have had a restful night's sleep. Often treated as "you get to memorize however many spells at the start of the day" in my experience, no matter what happened during the night.
- You determine initiative after announcing what your character is doing, not before. Important for disrupting spells: if you announce your magic-user is going to cast a spell and then it turns out you're last in initiative, tought shit - there's a good chance the spell will fizzle. This aspect of our game was missing for years.
- There are modifiers to initiative depending on the surroundings and situation, and also optional ones depending on the type of attack and various other factors.
- If you have more than one attack, your second attack occurs after the first initiative cycle has gone through for everybody in the combat.
- For years I used to roll a d20 on random encounter tables rather than d8+d12.