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.


8 comments:

  1. As always, very intriguing studies in gaming archaeology! Thanks for sharing!

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  2. I couldn't make much sense of those weapon numbers myself. The single +5 for battle axes also intrigued me. The hardest thing to explain is why a Wizard would be wielding all of these different weapons in the first place...

    On one small ancillary point, about armor class, it's a matter of simple historical fact that the term "armor class" is a Chainmail term and that its usage there carried over to OD&D. How fundamentally it changed is more complicated question. Yes, the Chainmail "Man-to-Man" table matrixed a list of weapon types against the armor classes, while OD&D matrixed a list of levels and classes and monster types against the armor classes. The Chainmail system seems to be oblivious to skill, whereas the OD&D system is oblivious to potential differences of efficacy in weapons for various targets. Obviously the introduction of the OD&D level system motivated that change.

    However, a quick look at the Chainmail "Individual Fires with Missiles" table shows the "class of armor worn by defender" quantified up from 1 to 8, and the behavior of each missile weapon getting worse as you go up in armor. It's true that this system has 1 equal to the worst armor and 8 equal to the best, rather than 2 equal to the best and 9 to the worst. But this doesn't seem so different to me.

    This is why I think we're safe in saying that armor class existed in Chainmail. It wasn't consistently applied, but, then again, it isn't in OD&D either. You can still find places in OD&D where "armor class" is listed not by a number, but by a descriptor of armor worn (look at the various human "monster" types at the beginning of M&T, for example the Berseker). You also didn't increment or decrement armor class in OD&D when you put on magic armor or a Ring of Protection - these detract from hit rolls against you rather than decrementing your armor class. But OD&D needed an abstraction of armor to model the various monsters that had natural armor, and hence the numeric classifications from Chainmail return in OD&D.

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    1. Thanks for the reply Jon. yeah, I agree there's not much to be made out of 1-8 worst to best as in the Man to Man table vs 2-9 best to worst as in OD&D. Its much the same either way. Elsewhere, i've argued that 1-8 may have been the current form in early Blackmoor particularly as the "how to become a bad guy" section makes little sense otherwise.

      The FFC swords are permitted to wizards, and the Ran section of Infamous characters has those who have levels in both "warrior" and "magic", so there doesn't seem to be any weapon prohibitions for wizards. Weapon restrictions seem to be a D&D innovation.

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  3. Concerning that +5 Battleaxe, I remember an old rpg.net post by a guy who played in a Blackmoor game run by Arneson in 2006. Heres what he had to say about Arneson's "+" weapons:

    6) The +X on a magic sword represents the amount of positive magical energy in that weapon. When you meet a AC -3 creature, you need to make your THAC0 roll and you must have a +3 weapon because you need that much "positive" magic to counter the "negative" magic that protects that creature - thereby allowing your physical weapon to hurt things like ghosts and stuff. Part of going into dungeons was to retreive these things and most monsters would not weild magic items because they were "positive" magic.

    http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?286043-Dave-Arneson-Blackmoor-and-Me

    Maybe that's what was meant?

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    1. Hi Fred. Thanks for digging in to that. The comments that you mentioned there are actually by Robert Lionhart and are also a part of the Fight On! article I mentioned. I don't think it likely that the bonus is a reference to a particular magical weapon since it is written right after the general score in the column. If Pete had a special magical battleaxe we would really expect to see that listed seperately and with a few more details. As written, the bonus apparently applies to any battleaxe Pete uses.

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  4. Oddly enough I always thought that the positive magic weapon bonuses would have added to the d20 to-hit roll, not subtracted from it; While the Positive Armor bonus on Magic Armor should have added directly to the armor class increasing it (as opposed to decreasing the d20 to-hit roll as though it were a negative value/ like the Dexterity bonus to hit with missiles and avoid being hit as positive numbers).

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  5. This wizard is 8th level and he has, apparently, a +5 bonus with axes. An 8th level OD&D wizard has 5 hit dice. Coincidence?

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