Monday, December 10, 2012

Character Sheet Clues, Part II

Continuing from the last post in September.


Looking at the non-weapon listings on the flip side of Peter Gaylord’s Blackmoor character sheet we find a fascinating list not wholly unrecognizeable to D&D players of even the latest post TSR versions.  The page itself is titled “personality” and there are two columns on the page.  In the first we find:

Brains
Looks
Credibility
Sex
Health
Strength
Courage

The second column has

Horsemanship
Woodsmanship
Leadership
Flying
Seamanship
Cunning

So, column one is fairly clearly personal characteristics and column two a list of learned skills.  “Cunning” is the outlier here but appears to have been added later to the bottom of the short column since it is apparently not written with the same writing instrument.  For this and other reasons soon to be mentioned it should thematically belong in column one.

That gives us 8 personal personality characteristics and 5 learned skills.  Other than being (mostly) in two columns, there’s no distinctions between them.  They both have the familiar 2d6 numbers written after them.  Several of the first column numbers have a line through them with a new 3d6 number written after, but we can safely assume this indicates a later transition to the 3d6 range familiar to us from D&D.

Thus, on Pete’s sheet we see a character has personal qualities and learned skills.  The learned skills are further separated into weapon and non-weapon proficiencies, to use a later terminology.  The weapon proficiencies we looked at in the previous post being on one side of the character sheet and the non-weapon proficiencies listed on the flip side next to the personal abilities.  How all these were employed in play should by now be of little doubt to readers of this blog.  So rather than again run through the litany of supporting evidence (the most obvious of which is statements from Arneson, Svenson, and the identical mechanic in AiF) I’ll simply say each functioned in the same way as a saving throw, roll under target number.   There may have been other uses perhaps, but that’s the one, I think, obvious to just about everybody.

Looking first to the personal skills list, these are what the 3lBB’s refer to as “ability scores”; (given therein as the familiar Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma ).

Astute readers will recognize BRAINS from Dragons at Dawn and the swords section of FFC (“throw a die and compare with Ego and Brains” 1980:46), but of the other personal skills, only strength is also known to us from the FFC.  Brains in the FFC is used interchangeably with Intelligence, so strength and intelligence are easily tied to early Blackmoor.

Some of the others are less obvious but equally ancient.  In the Beyond This point be Dragons (Dalhun) manuscript the personal traits are referred to both as “Personality Traits” and “Character Traits”.  Interestingly personality is used more often, clearly echoing the “personality” heading on Pete’s sheet.  The list in BTPbD is:

Intelligence
Cunning
Strength
Health
Appearance
Ego/loyalty

Here we see two more of the traits from Pete’s sheet listed – Cunning and Health.  Note that neither BTPbD nor Pete’s sheet mention Dexterity or any equivalent.

Cunning – the Prime requisite for Clerics BTPbD, is therefore synonymous with 3lbb Wisdom.
 
Health, likewise, is synonymous with 3lbb Constitution.  The description in BTPbD; “The measure of how well a person stands up under the strain of events…” is nearly identical to the 3lbb “withstands adversity” phrase.  It may be of interest to note that “Health” is also the term Arneson later used in AiF.

That leaves us with 4 personal traits; Looks, Credibility, Sex and Courage that are otherwise unknown from D&D, the FFC, BTPbD, or AiF.  However, Looks, Credibility, and Sex are all obviously aspects of Charisma/Appearance.  Somewhere along the line, someone thought it wasn’t especially useful to list these separately and simply collapsed them into Charisma.  So while there is no looks, credibility and sex in D&D there is Charisma, which rolls these three into one.

That leaves Courage.  Courage would seem to be a useful trait, basically being a character’s morale score, presumably.  We could speculate that courage was dropped from D&D under the premise that “This is a factor which is seldom considered. The players, basically representing only their own character and a few others, have their own personal morale in reality.” (Gygax D&D FAQ, Strategic Review)

There’s an interesting hint about the evolution of this trait though in the Dalluhn manuscript.  As mentioned above, one of Dalluhn/BTPbD’s personality traits is “Ego” a characteristic very well attested in the FFC and present, at least for swords, in the 3lBB’s.  BTPbD also equates “Loyalty” with ego.  Again we see an oft repeated process here in the development of D&D of merging, as with the Charisma trait (and as would also later happen with trimming BTPbD’s 6 saving throw categories down to 5 and merging several columns of the alternate combat table).   In the 3lbb’s ego is preserved only as a characteristic of magic swords, and loyalty is preserved as a 2d6 characteristic of NPC’s, but the description given to the merger of Ego/Loyalty for use as a player character trait in BTPbD suggests a hidden third trait – Courage – might have been part of that mix.  The last bit of the Ego/Loyalty description says “or the likelyhood that a player will risk his life for you in a dangerous situation.” BTPbD, Section II, pg 4.

Recaping:

Blackmoor to  D&D

Brains    =  Intelligence
Looks, Credibility, Sex = Charisma
Health = Constitution
Strength = Strength
Courage = N/A
Cunning = Wisdom
N/A = Dexterity

In conclusion, Peter Gaylords’ character sheet effectively has 5 of the six familiar ability scores while leaving off Dexterity and adding Courage.   Although “Ability” scores, seem to some to be almost irrelevant to the play of OD&D,they are arguably at the historical heart of the game and a vestige of the earliest mechanics of character based play.

Next post we will look at the learned skills.








Saturday, September 1, 2012

Chaaracter Sheet Clues to Early Blackmoor.pt. 1

Within the pages of Jon Peterson’s extraordinarily well researched book, Playing at The World, can be seen an illustration of the character sheet of Pete Gaylords’ wizard from early Blackmoor  (p367).  Though undated, we can be sure from the content that the sheet dates to the pre-D&D era (1971-73).  The sheet contains two lists.  On one side under Personality are what we would call “ability scores”, and next to it are a short list of skills,  on the flip side of the paper is another list under Weapon Classifications.  Both lists contain a thing followed by a number in the 2d6 range.  For the moment, I want to look at the list of weapons, and more on the other lists in another post.

To one familiar with D&D character sheets, the first impression of the Weapons Classifications list may be that of an equipment list.  Clearly this is not so, however, as no character could carry all 21 of the weapons at once, particularly the catapults, and weapons alone comprise the list.

What then is the purpose of listing all these weapons and what is to be made of the numbers following each weapon?  Another  guess might be that it is a price list, and indeed, Pete’s list does contain the same weapons as that listed in the FFC “Original Price/Unit Ratio list, except cannon are substituted for catapult and Pete’s list fails to include a standard bow.  There’s also stones shown in only Pete’s list but one can presume stones don’t have a presence in the FFC price list because they are free for the taking.   Even though the weapons in these two lists are near identical, the numbers in Pete’s list are entirely different from the prices listed in the FFC, which vary widely as prices do.  There’s really no reason then to think the 2d6 range found on Mr Gaylords character sheet represents a long list of weapons for sale at cut rate prices.

What then are the numbers?   Falling as they do within the 2d6 range, they appear no different from the numbers shown on the flip side for the ability scores and skills.  Of course, ability scores are familiar to us, we know they show relative talent in a given area.  It appears obvious that the numbers across from each weapon, must surely likewise be a gauge related to skill, in this case of use of the particular weapon in combat, giving us a clue to an early Blackmoor combat method.

Of related interest is the fact that Pete’s  list  unequivocally replicates the list given in the CHAINMAIL Man to Man combat table.  Pete’s sheet follows the CHAINMAIL list in order of weapons exactly, (see table below) except in the cases marked with an asterisk, which are nowhere present in the Man to Man list, but can be found elsewhere in CHAINMAIL in one place or other.  Long Bow and Composite bow would seem to break the man to man list order, but probably actually don’t, because Pete’s list appears in 2 columns and these two appear to be additions to the bottom of column 1.

The CHAINMAIL  Man to Man weapons list is, just like Pete’s list, followed by 2d6 numbers.  They are roll high target numbers in CHAINMAIL and unlike Pete’s list, where each weapon is followed by only a single number, the Man to Man table lists 10 separate columns of target numbers.  None of the columns match Pete’s numbers.  For comparison, I’ve listed Pete’s weapons and values side by side with those of the first column from CHAINMAIL (no Armor).
WEAPONS
Listed
#’s
CHAINMAIL VALUES
Vs. No Armor
Daggar
7
6
Hand-Axe
8
7
Mace
6
8
Sword
6
7
Battle Axe
10 +5
8
Morning Star
6
6
Flail
7
7
Spear
5
8
Hand Bow*
6

Composite*
6

Pole Arms
8
6
Halbard
8
8
2 Hand Sword
3
6
Mounted Lance
9
5
Pike
7
8
Arquebus*
7

Stone*
7

Crossbow*
6

Light Catapult*
4

Heavy Catapult
10

Bombard*
5


What can we make of this?  How were the numbers in Pete’s list meant to be used?  Could they be some kind of ThaCo’s?  Maybe.  But I can’t see anyway those numbers could be made to fit a 2d6 THAC0 scheme and the idea seems particularly unlikely to be the case in 1972. 

Given that the CHAINMAIL scores are 2d6 target numbers, we can reasonably guess that Pete’s numbers function as target numbers also.  They are too wide ranging to be much else.   But then we have the glaring problem of those multiple armor types from CHAINMAIL.  Is armor simply to be ignored in this early Blackmoor method?  It’s not impossible.  Arneson’s later Adventures in Fantasy game does actually ignore armor, except as an optional saving throw reducing or eliminating damage.

It is worth pointing out here, despite some claims to the contrary (including, unfortunately in Mr. Petersons work), that “Armor Class” in D&D, and as Arneson claimed to have designed it, is very conceptually different from armor (type, class, kind as you please) as it appears in CHAINMAIL.  In D&D AC represents a constant principle.  It is, as Arneson claimed, similar to the concept of ships armor as used in naval games such as that of Fletcher Pratt.  Arneson specified that he had followed Pratt’s idea when developing rules for a Civil War Ironclads game, which in turn inspired the D&D idea of Armor Class.  The principle being the thicker the iron used to plate the boat, the more difficult to penetrate.  Likewise D&D armor comes in fixed grades of least difficult to most difficult to penetrate.  Armor as used in CHAINMAIL is nothing like this.  Rather, individual weapons penetrate different armors at different rates.  There is of course a general rough progression, from no armor to plate armor, but significant variation occurs, such that a 2 handed sword is equally effective against an unarmed man as a man in plate, but a man in chainmail has a 1 pip advantage over either.  In CHAINMAIL then armor is a fluid factor of varying effectiveness.  

Applying instead the D&D concept of fixed gradients of Armor Class allows a possible means to make further sense of Pete’s numbers.  Instead of needing varying numbers for each weapon versus each type of Armor, only a single target number is needed.   To adjudicate attacks against different armors then, one of two methods could be employed.

1)     Each type of armor could modify the target number or the damage roll by a set amount.  Armor                       class 3 could, for example, modify the target number by 3 pips.
2)      Armor class could provide an opposed target number – a saving throw – to negate or reduce  damage.

The first faces the difficulty that we know of at least 6 armor types in early Blackmoor, and quite likely all 8 types of human armor as listed in CHAINMAIL, were employed, and the modifiers would therefore often so great as to make attacks either impossible or always certain. 

On the other hand, we do know that Blackmoor play allowed a struck player to roll a saving throw, a function handily served by AC 2-9 on 2d6, or 1-8 using 2d6-2 as in Dragons at Dawn.

The method employed then would be to roll against your target number when attacking.  So for example if Pete were attacking with a spear he would need a 5 or better if roll over, or a 4 or less if roll under on a 2d6 to hit.  If he lands that blow his opponent would then get a save, which might have been against their armor class, to avoid damage.  Basically, this is like the system of opposed rolls in Braunstein, with target numbers added.

While that’s a reasonably elegant method, the question arises of how level factors in.   Normally, skills may be expected to improve as the character grows.  We do see changes on Pete’s sheet.  His level went up at least once and some of the ability scores seemed to change from 2d6 to 3d6 scores.  None of the skills or weapon numbers appear to show changes however.

It’s worth nothing here that Pete’s average weapons score is 6.7, and 7 is the average score rolled on 2d6.  In other words, Pete’s weapon scores almost certainly don’t represent some basic starting list or some allocation of skill points.  They represent the random results of 2d6 rolls.  Just like the personality/ability scores.  So just as he rolled a 5 for his Strength Score, Pete rolled a 5 for his spear wielding prowess.  Neither score would change with level.  The FFC tells us only “As a player progressed, …he became harder to hit.”, with nothing said about gaining hitting ability, one way or the other.    

There’s one intriguing possibility though.  A single weapon in the list, the Battle Axe, has an unusual modifier; a +5.  Why? What does it modify?  Perhaps it is a damage bonus, or, in keeping with early magic swords, a  “to hit” modifier.  Another possibility is that Pete had a magical battle axe.  Such a weapon, however, would be very out of the norm for early Blackmoor where swords were by far the dominant type of magical weapons, particularly with such an unusually large bonus.  There’s also nothing about Pete’s weapon list to indicate any particular weapon is meant.  The scores are general, such that Pete has a 5 for any spear he wields, so likewise there’s no reason to think the +5 bonus applies to only one specific battleaxe, instead of any battleaxe he wields.  Arneson’s Adventures in Fantasy requires characters to train in weapons to be able to use them more effectively.  Going up in level won’t help you hit better, but training will.  Perhaps the most likely explanation here is that a similar principle is at work in this +5 modifier.  Arneson may have required his players to train in a weapon in order to improve the ability to hit with it.  It may be that Pete choose to train in Battleaxe and gained a +5 bonus (damage?) with it’s use.

Why choose the Battleaxe to train in?  Notice that Pete’s Battleaxe has the highest score of all his handheld weapons.  In terms of CHAINMAIL’s roll high target numbers, 10 would be the worst choice.  We do have that interesting statement that Robert Lionheart reported in Fight On! Magazine issue #2, 2008.  He reported that Dave told him in “his pre-1974 FRP system. It was proto-D&D but quite different: THAC0 is about rolling UNDER not equal or over. So if you had a THAC0 13, you needed to roll 12 or less to hit. 1s are crits and 20s are fumbles. This method of attacking also corresponded to your other ability and skill rolls.”    Obviously, a late, second hand statement of this sort is suspect.  The d20 THAC0 statement especially so.  But the underlying principle, roll under target number on attack, ability and skill rolls fits exactly what we see on Pete’s sheet.  Roll under target number is also the method employed in Adventures in Fantasy.  Pete Gaylord undoubtedly choose to apply the +5 bonus to his best weapon in a 2d6 roll under scheme.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Random Orc



… you can’t assume the orcs you’re going to find are the same old orcs and you can kill them in the same old way….  Too often you sit there and the player says, “well, we’ll just assume that its 2 hit dice and armor class 8 etc.” and I like to say, “well, okay that’s the little ones, but you’re fighting a big one.”, or  “You’re fighting the tribe from that side of the hill, not the other side.” – Dave Arneson, Mortality radio interview, July 9th, 2004.

Though this statement comes from near the end of Dave Arnesons’ life, the philosophy behind it is perhaps most evident in young Arnesons gaming.  Dave created random charts for generating wilderness encounters, magic swords, treasure, “protection points” for dungeon stocking, yearly and monthly events, and even for generating whole maps and features.

Dave played a random game. Perhaps the preference for randomness is explained by Dave’s commitment to impartiality as a Referee, letting the dice decide, virtually everything in the game, including the details of the adventure itself.

And, as the quote above implies, monsters too.

The OSR has seen the rise of advocates of randomly generating monsters, partly as a response to players being familiar with the stats or same old same old syndrome.  Yet once again, looking at Blackmoor dungeon in the FFC, we can see evidence of Arneson doing much the same with monsters in the first years of the hobby.

The Monsters of Blackmoor dungeon are curious things.

Although the maps never changed, Blackmoor dungeon was frequently restocked.  The FFC gives us two fascinating glimpses into it’s inhabitants at different times.  Dave seems to have taken a very early, pre D&D dungeon key for levels 1-10 and reworked the first 6 levels for the gen con tournament of 1976.  How much content of those first 6 levels remained from the earlier key, if any at all, is impossible to know, but what’s of immediate interest here is the monsters.

There’s lots of standard monsters in those first 6 levels.  They all have exactly the stats given in the 3lbbs – the “new convention set” (whitebox) as the FFC informs us.  For example,   Wraiths, AC 3, HD 4/15 HTK; strictly by the book.

But there’s also lots of giant insects and animals.  There are 2 kinds of centipedes, 3 kinds of spiders, 2 kinds of giant beetles, Giant hogs, 2 kinds of Giant Scorpions, 2 kinds of Giant Weasels, 2 kinds of Giant snakes, and giant toads.

The instructions for stating insects and animals in the 3lbbs, is basically to make them up as seems fitting for the campaign: “ If the referee is not personally familiar with the various monsters included in this category the participants of the campaign can be polled to decide all characteristics.”

But that doesn’t seem to be what Arneson did at all.  Looking at the stats Arneson gives, they appear quite random.  For example, one type of centipede is AC 4, 2hp, another is AC 7, 12hp; one kind of giant scorpion is AC5. 7HD, 25 HTK, another is AC1, 6HD, 15HTK.   

Note that none of these, even in the case of such creatures as the giant toad or giant beetles, conform statistically to the “new” creatures of the same name found in Supplement II Blackmoor.

It’s worth noting that these aren’t “new” monsters.  They’re all in the 3lbb’s (and BTPbD).  They don’t appear in the monster descriptions, but they do appear on the encounter charts; named but undefined.

Arneson doesn’t say anything about these beasites, and there’s no way to know how he really came up with the stats, but I’d bet dollars to donuts he let the dice do it for him.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cleric Magic


The “Vancian” magic of the OD&D magic user is a hot topic for discussion.  Funnily enough, cleric magic hardly gets a mention, but then, it hardly gets a mention in the 3lbb’s either.  Many Dungeon Masters seem to assume it’s just the same memorize, fire, forget as Magic-user spells, with the possible exception – as revealed in Supplement I: Greyhawk – that the "memory" of the spell comes from a deity rather than a spellbook.
One of the very first Cleric player characters was played by Mike Carr in Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor campaign.  Mike had this to say about his character;

“I also recall having the ability to cast one or two spells and having the ability to help heal minor wounds, but in retrospect it's obvious my character was low level and not particularly impressive.” (Carr interview, http://blackmoor.mystara.us/forums/viewtopic.php?p=5550)
So from that we basically know that clerics had spell like abilities from the start, and while that might not seem like much, it does tell us something.  Remember, that in early Blackmoor, wizardly magic was alchemical, typically involving balls of Superberries.  Clerical magic in Blackmoor was apparently not alchemical but neither would it have been Vancian, as that was something Gygax introduced during playtesting - long after the debut of the Cleric.  The first Clerics could apparently simply cast the spells they knew, and if Mike is correct they could expect to acquire more spells as they advanced.
In fact, 3lbb magic for both Clerics and Magic-users can be read almost the same way.  We are really only told that each class level gets a number of spells they can “remember” for an adventure  and that no spell may be cast twice in 24 hrs (M&M:18).  So a 3rd level Cleric can cast two spells “in an adventure”, but they can’t be the same spell in a 24 hour period.  How or when the Cleric or Magic user renews spells is vague, but would seem to have to take place between adventures.
We are also told that spells are kept in spell books, (although Gygax later explained spell books were only meant for Magic-users), so this could be presumed to be the source from which spells were “remembered”.  
Beyond This Point Be Dragons says nothing at all about remembering spells and alters the 24 hr rule by telling us the number of spells a Magic-user or Cleric is given on the Spells/Level table indicates the total number of spells that can be cast in 24hrs.  So a 3rd level priest could cast 2 First level spells every 24 hrs.  That would seem to allow a more freeform renewal of spells than the 3lbb’s and add the possibility of casting more spells in an adventure that lasts more than a day.
Even so, in both BTPBD and 3lbbs, Magic-user spells and Cleric spells would seem to work in an identical fashion, until we look at spell reversal.  Anti-Clerics (evil) are given the power to cast reversed Cleric spells.  “Evil” magic users aren’t given a similar option.  There seems to be no such thing as reversing a MU spell.  Yes, MU spells can be countered by a second casting while chanting the same spell backwards, according to the Rock to Mud and Stone to Flesh spells, but If you have “Slow” memorized you can’t simply decide to cast “Haste” instead.  These are separate spells for Magic-users.
So Cleric magic and MU magic is somewhat different after all, but is it a difference of just reversal, or of how they are acquired and renewed also?
While Gygax’s Supplement I Greyhawk is predominantly a game changer for OD&D, it also contains some clarifications of meaning that are meant to clarify, not alter the original.  “All cleric spells are considered as "divinely" given.”, (page 8) seems to be one such clarification.  
This is further explained in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.  "It is well known by all experienced players that clerics, unlike magic-users, have their spells bestowed upon them by their respective deities. By meditation and prayer the clerics receive the specially empowered words which form the various spells...." Gygax, DMG:38.  Very, very rarely will I look to anything in AD&D for clarification of OD&D, but this quote seems to be a reasonable exception, given that the “experienced players” Gary refers to could only have been experienced OD&D players at the time it was written.

This divine granting of spells explains something else about the 3lbb's.  There's no Read Magic spell for Clerics.  Magic-user spells can only be understood with the use of a Read Magic spell.  If Clerics were expected to memorize thier spells from spell books and scrolls as magic users do, and if their magic is basically the same, then Clerics would need a Read Magic spell too.
So we do see an intended difference in 3lbb spell acquisition even from the start.  Magic-users memorize (remember) spells, whereas Clerics simply know them via divine inspiration.  Clerics therefore can simply pray and renew any spells they cast every 24 hours, and this could possibly be true even during the course of an adventure if you stretch the 3lbb rule.  Magic-users must however study a spellbook to remember the spell and, according to the 3lbb’s, can only memorize spells between adventures.
This, by the way, is exactly how John Erich Holmes interpreted the rules for his “blue book” introductory D&D rulebook.  Apparently to rationalize the "during an adventure" rule, he added the detail that spell books are giant tomes that can’t be carried on adventures, thus necessitating the MU to return to his study to renew spells.  But for Clerics, Holmes says “Since clerical spells are divinely given, they do not have to be studied to master them. A second level cleric can call on any first level spell he wants to use, thus the entire gamut of spells is available to him for selection prior to the adventure.  However, only that spell or spells selected can be used during the course of the adventure.” Holmes D&D:17.
This difference in Cleric and Magic-user magic is interesting in another way also.  OD&D Cleric magic, being non-vancian, looks very much like it preserves a simpler spellcasting system from Blackmoor.  Cleric spells are essentially an inherent ability of Clerics; they are just limited by how often they can be cast, and which spells can be cast by Cleric level.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Difference between Dragons at Dawn and Champions of ZED

I get asked this question from time to time, so I wrote up a "pat answer" to point to:

Dragons at Dawn focuses on Dave Arneson and the Minnesota group of gamers. It deliberately tries to build on the quirks and unique things happening there while excluding more familiar game elements - so there is a Merchant class and a Sage class, in D@D for example; the magic is alchemical, combat involves saving throws to avoid damage and so forth.
Dragons at Dawn also looks to a lot of the root elements found in Adventures in Fantasy that were present in early Blackmoor, the combat modifiers, and elven song magic, for example.
Dragons at Dawn is set up around a core game of two ability classes (warrior, wizard), in the basic game, to which everything else can be added or ignored without affecting play much.

Champions of ZED on the other hand, has none of that "experimental" or quirky stuff from Blackmoor and AiF. Wherever possible, CoZ hews as close as good play and the law will allow to a combined and collated version of the game information found in the 3lbb's, Beyond This Point Be Dragons, CHAINMAIL, the appropriate sections of the Fist Fantasy Campaign, Supplement II and Gygax and Arneson house rules and comments from interviews and web posts, etc. My efforts are to make the game what it was meant to be in informed compromise between Gygax and Arneson and nobody else. Hence, only two or three little bits from Greyhawk.

There are some points of agreement and crossover between CoZ and D@D of course, but those using Champions of ZED will generally find themselves in much more familiar D&D territory with interesting twists and turns they probably never heard of, whereas Dragons at Dawn is its own game entirely.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Ghost of Arneson and D&D Next


I’m not in the playtest.  I’ve got much too much going on with CoZ and have no interest in getting into a rules NDA.

My feelings in general to “brand D&D” have been dismissive.  TSR is long gone and the company who bought the rights to the name and product was an entirely different animal and the games they made were different genras altogether.   I have a hard time recognizing the meaning of any of the 3e, 3.5 4e. etc crunch I read, even when the odd identical term is used, the numbers are nonsensical.  D&D is on the fender but under the hood is a different machine.  So D&D next held no more interest to me than any other RPG I don’t find attractive.

But a casual read of the buzz floating about has led me from having no interest to slowly being surprised and intrigued.  So I read Mike Mearls recent reddit conversation and that’s what prompts this post.

I’ve been seeing things in the 5e discussions that are making me blink, and wonder if the ghost of Arneson is haunting the design team (although I’d be very surprised if Mearls and co realize in the slightest who’s design ideas they are echoing.)

Here is what I’m talking about:

Mearls:
“…it's OK to do different things with D&D.  One of the things I really want to do with Next is build in different group and DM styles, and make it clear that those are just ways to play the game. Like, if you're group likes to make optimized characters the DM runs the game in Nightmare mode and that's fun, or the group that hates combat uses story-based XP and never fights anything.”

Arneson:
“D&D at its start was a simple system with guidelines that could be tailored to the players. The game was a co-operative effort by the players (Each having strong points and weakness.) to overcome the obstacles (Problem solving.) set up by the DM, The skills (Such as found in my AIF game.) allowed you to build your character. As each edition came out new layers and more/different ruled were added. Some good, some bad, always more restrictive in some way even if it was a more 'simple' game.

“My emphasis was always on the story telling and problem solving, “(OD&D Forum)

“Just combat alone is boring a lot of the time. But I usually prefer story and plot over a lot of combat anyways.”    (Kobold Quarterly)

“They all pay lip-service to the roleplaying part, but they all end just having you roll different dice for different situations. There again, that has taken away from a lot of the spontaneity of actually roleplaying. When I do my games, I give roleplaying points for people staying within their character. If they want to go out and kill things, that's easy to do, and a lot of referees that's all they do, but there's more to it. The richness is not in just rolling dice, the richness is in the characters and becoming part of this fantasy world.”  (OD&D Forum)

Mearls:
“We're looking at skills right now and trying to determine if skills make you better than you are (a flat bonus that adds to your ability check) or strictly make you good (a flat bonus that takes the place of your ability modiifer). So, the 8 Wis rogue with perception training might just be at, say, +5, rather than at +3 added to a -1 Wis check.”

Arneson:
“I also wanted to get in something on educating your character so one could learn different skills.” (Pegasus magazine issue 1).

Skill in Arneson’s Adventures in Fantasy RPG are acquired through an Education system or as part of your character background.  Interestingly, skills in AiF both give a flat bonus to an ability check or give a flat bonus/target number in place of an ability score modifier; which depends on the nature of the skill.

Mearls:
“You can see this in how we've handled themes and feats. A theme is like a kit, in that it represents something in the world of D&D. You train as a healer, or study to become a magic-user.  Themes are built from feats, the mechanical expression of the theme's story.  A player can take a theme because he's more interesting in his character's story and role in the world. The mechanics are part of that choice, but the key thing is the story element and the roleplay opportunities it offers.”

Arneson:
“D&D at its start was a simple system with guidelines that could be tailored to the players. The game was a co-operative effort by the players (Each having strong points and weakness.) to overcome the obstacles (Problem solving.) set up by the DM, The skills (Such as found in my AIF game.) allowed you to build your character.  As each edition came out new layers and more/different ruled were added. Some good, some bad, always more restrictive in some way even if it was a more 'simple' game.  My emphasis was always on the story telling and problem solving.”   (OD&D forum.)

“A lot of the changes between 2nd edition and third edition are actually changes in so far as what I originally wanted to do with the D&D system.  For instance with the different classes and the different fields you could learn.  I wanted to do that originally, but it was considered too complicated and people couldn’t handle it.  Well now that’s come back, you can do that.  You could really make a unique character class with the variability; and I always wanted to do that and I do that in my original campaign even today.  So I feel vindicated because a lot of the stuff I wanted to do has now been added.  People don’t realize that I came up with it way back when.  You have to look at an early first edition to even get an idea of that.  So, I’m happy.”  (Mortality Radio interview.)

Mearls:
“Backgrounds are not linked to class, so a fighter can choose the criminal background to become stealthy or good at picking locks.”

Arneson’s Gaming:
This is a fair description of the “merchant Mafia” and “bandit” characters in Dave Arneson’s campaign.  (it is also a feature of my Champions of ZED, by the by)

Mearls:
“We definitely want to avoid making it abusive, but I think it's kind of funny that getting drunk and charging into a dungeon might be a good idea.”

Arneson’s Gaming:
A familiar theme in Arnesons games including the wizard Bozero from  original player John Snider and this one reported in one of Arnesons gen con games, “We finally chose one such corridor (with some trepidation; walking single file can be dangerous!) after a drunken fighter named Richard leaped into a linen closet and tripped….Finally we came to an open stairway with circular stairs down which we heard music playing. Richard stumbled down the stairs immediately. The rest of the group halted and tried to decide to follow him or not” (Alarums & Excursions #15, October 1976)

 
Mearls:
“We're looking at capping at level 20, but giving a set of options for uncapped advancement beyond that.”

Arneson:
 “There have been two other players {Bob Meyer and Richard Snider) that have reached 20th level (getting  them a free dinner, pat on the back, and retired character), but they have gone to a higher plane.” (First Fantasy Campaign 1977)

Mearls:
“We want magic items to feel awesome. I want the +1 or +2 to be something that you might even gloss over, and part of me wants to try designing the game without them.
I'd much rather have a hurricane flail that generates buffeting winds, knocks arrows out of the sky, and summons an air elemental than a +1 weapon. Key is - how many people agree with that? Are +X weapons/armor/etc iconic to D&D?”

Arneson:
“We’re trying to capture a different flavor of how you do magic and how you implement magic… Too often it seem like these magic user they run around with spell books the size of semi trucks and they just crank them out like some kind of assembly line; and were trying to put a little bit individual variation into the spells and how they are used.  Again, just to catch the flavor of a fantasy world where you can’t assume the orcs you’re going to find are the same old orcs and you can kill them in the same old way.  I had a big argument way back when about dragons because they came out with all these different color dragons and to me they are just cookie cutter dragons.  I always thought that dragons should be huge blusterous things that, each of them, are unique.  Too often you sit there and the player says, “well, we’ll just assume that its 2 hit dice and armor class 8 etc.” and I like to say, “well, okay that’s the little ones, but you’re fighting a big one.”, or  “You’re fighting the tribe from that side of the hill, not the other side.”  Magic is probably one thing that is the most unique aspects of fantasy worlds. “ (Mortality radio interview.)

It’s important to note here that first magic items Arneson designed for play were intelligent, aligned spell casting swords.  He made a list of each one and it’s powers.  Magic items in Dave’s campaign were always of the quirky and unique variety with a story behind them.  Not simply a generic flaming sword +2 or what have you. “The Magic Swords of mythology are varied creatures that can give great power to their owners, who sometimes are helpless without them.” (FFC.)

Mearls:
“In the closed playtest we ran before the open one started, we had a lot of feedback that healing was too limited. With hit dice, we tried to introduce a more robust mechanic for natural healing to give characters more healing overall.”

Arneson:
“Hits are usually recovered at a rate of 1 to 2 per day for lower level creatures, and more for those with more hits to lose.  The amount is up to the Referee, but it should not be easy to recover from near-death blows.”  Beyond This Point Be Dragons


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Saving Throws in BTPbD


There are 5 Saving throw categories in D&D from the 3lbb's to 2nd edition AD&D.  They are

Death Ray or Poison
Wands (all)
Stone
Dragon Breath
Staves and Spells

Beyond This Point Be Dragons has 6 categories.  However that is because Death Ray, and Poison are seperate.

Champions of ZED has 6 categories.  They are Type I through Type VI.

Now you might well ask, if CoZ aims at always being true to designers Gygax and Arneson, what is up with the "Type" business.  First, the Saving throw category names are intellectual property and not OGL material, so the exact labels could not be used in CoZ.  I could have come up with clever similar names, probably, and maybe (or maybe not) done so within the bounds of the copyright restrictions, but those sort of hoops aren't necessary.  I used Types because the Saving Throw categories were always intended to be flexible tools for the DM to use when and as needed.  Each Type is described as being related to certain kinds of things and based upon a certain quality a character may posses at that particular moment, such as limberness or blind luck. 

Now there are some who might protest, under the conviction that each saving throw category is specific and not meant for anything else; that Dragon Breath is only for dragon breath and should characters be attacked by a mad bomber or exploding gas or some such, none of the given saving throw categories apply.  Consider this statement regarding saving throws from Gygax in the Dungeon Masters Guide p 80:

"Yet because the player character is all-important, he or she must always - or nearly always - have a chance, no matter how small, a chance of somehow escaping what otherwise would be inevitable destruction."

Since player characters must nearly always be given a chance, and since the 5 (or 6) named categories can't possibly cover every type of "inevitable destruction", the given categories must be stretched to include "things like" poison and  "things like" dragon breath and so on. 

Gygax goes on to write:

"Imagine that the figure, at the last moment of course, manages to drop beneath the licking flames or finds a crevice in which to shield his or her body, or finds a way to be free of the fetters.  Why not?  The mechanics of combat or the details of the injury caused by some horific weapon are not the key to heroic fantasy and adventure games.  It is the character, how he or she becomes involved in the combat and how he or she escapes - or fails to escape - the mortal threat..." 

So saying a saving throw category is a "Type" tied to a quality of the character at the moment of the threat is precisely in line with Gygax's explanation.  Allowing a Save vs. Dragon Breath (a Type V in CoZ) in a field of exploding gas is entirely within the intent of the and spirit of the rules.

For reference, I've characterized the Type V saving throw in CoZ as involving situational awareness, the ability, at that last second to see the danger and a way out (into the crevice, beneath the licking flames or out of the fetters).