Friday, March 30, 2012

Armor Class Numbers?

Because you died when you were hit in Chainmail, we were using damage dice, hit dice and armor classes within about a month of our starting to play Blackmoor (winter of 1970-71). Dave Arneson told me he based the armor class system on an American Civil War Ironclad game, although I can not tell you what game it was at this point, though.” Original Blackmoor  Player Greg Svenson.

(As it happens, the Ironclads game was never published, but the rules were related to the Napoleonic game Don’t Give up the Ship)

It’s the special nature of Ironclad ships that requires different wargame rules.  The point of Ironclads weren,'t just that they were low to the water and hard to hit, it was also that the armor plating was famously hard to penetrate.  Arnesons' Civil War Ironclads game may have had ships with hit points ranging from 1-100, and a combat table or some mechanic indicating the chance to penetrate armor class by weapon type (6pdrs, 12pdrs, musket etc.), resulting in variable damage by weapon.   This is entirely consistent for both a ACW Ironclads game, and for Blackmoor.  In such a game, the hit points for a given type of ship/individual are fixed, but stronger attacks have a more damaging effect against weaker armors and vice versa, once a hit is successfull.   This would require two steps (presumably two tables) a chance to hit/penetrate step and a damage step - as with D&D.  Arneson might easily have translated Weapon type vs Armor Classs into attacker level vs Armor Class.  So as the character/monster levels up and becomes a stronger weapon on the table, they gain more attack/damage dice. 

It has been suggested (and repeated on Arnesons own website) that Armor Classes in original D&D reflect ship classes, i.e. 1st class ship of the line, 2nd class ship and so on..)

I’ve never seen a statement directly from Arneson confirming that "descending" AC numbers were his idea, but, on the other hand, there have been a couple from Mr. Gygax.  On the Troll Lords (C&C) forum Gary Gygax wrote:

“I rather stepped in it when I reversed the AC system in the Chainmail man-to-man rules for the OD&D game. Had I not, then better armor classes would have simply progresses in higher numbers.”  Sun Sep 23, 2007 4:47 pm

What Gygax points to is that the Armor Classes in D&D are identical to the categories for armor in the Man to Man section of CHAINMAIL, except, in CM the first category is Unarmored and the last (for people) is plate and shield.  So if one were to simply assign numbers or “classes” to those categories, Unarmored would be AC 1 and plate and shield would be AC8.

It’s not known if Arneson used the CM categories, (or, perhaps more likely the 8 categories of armor found in Domesday Book #7 that became the basis of those in CM), for AC from the start, or if he simply adapted them at some point, but it does look like he did originally equate unarmored with AC 1 and so on.  Consider this quote from the FFC:

"To figure out when you got to a higher level, you took the creature's Hit Dice (whatever it was on that level) and AC and multiplied by 1000 for the points needed to progress to 2nd level. After 2nd level, the creature would simply need 50% more points for each subsequent level: 2000, 3.000, 4500, 6,750, etc."

So a character with 1HD and an Armor Class of 9 (Unarmored) would need a whopping 10,000 points to get to second level!?  Likewise a 2 HD creature would need 11,000 points (2+9 * 1000).  It makes sense, however with an ascending, worst to best system.  If AC1 is the normal AC for an unarmored human and they start off with 1HD, then by Arnesons system (1+1*1000) they need 2000 XP to advance to second level.  This is exactly the XP a fighting man needs in OD&D for 2nd level and it is also the exact figure Arneson gives in his example of how the system works.  Indeed, the example he gives (“2000, 3.000, 4500, 6,750, etc.") would be a very unlikely scenario unless AC1 was typical for HD1 creatures.

That’s circumstantial, to be sure but that’s not the only reference in the FFC;

"Robots: I roll one 6-sided dice for Armor Class, and another dice for the number of Hit Dice."  Of course, this gives robots a AC range of 1-6.   Why not 1d8? Possibly this is a very old note of his, predating the use of polehedral dice.  Arneson doesn’t indicate anything to suggest anything other than AC1 through AC6 is meant.  AC1 doesn’t exist in D&D.

And yet:

In the FFC we are told that the first six levels of Blackmoor dungeon were re-keyed for the 1976 Gen Con tournament using the standard Original Collectors Edition print of OD&D.  Most of the monsters do indeed match exactly those found in Monsters and Treasures, but there are a few critters that aren’t from the M&T lists.  Of those, seven are given an Armor class of 1:


Conjuror
Magician
Warrior
Giant Scorpions
Thaumaturgists
Evil Priests
Giant Beetles

To me, it looks very much like AC for non-standard “monsters” was determined randomly exactly as Arneson advocated for Robots, which sometimes results in AC1.  Since AC1 makes no sense in OD&D, it might be that Arneson was simply comfortable switching between ascending and descending systems in his own head.  In any case it strains credulity that unarmored magic users and presumably lightly armored priests would have an Armor Class rating better than that of a Dragon or a paladin in full plate and shows again how much Arneson loved random elements in his games.

And lastly there’s this memory from original blackmoor player John Snider:

 “Armor .. I thought it was 1-8, my Boozero character started at 1 if I remember correctly” (personal correspondence)

Who can say for sure?; but it does look like the first AC system was ascending. unarmored at AC1 to plate and shield at AC8.  As far as I know, there are only two games that incorporate an AC system that is identical with what seems to be Arneson’s original: Spellcraft and Swordplay and my own Dragons at Dawn. 

Basic Fantasy, it should be mentioned, is almost identical, except it adds 10, so that, instead of AC8, in BF it’s AC 18.

ACKS, unfortunately, really missed an opportunity here for a nice symmetrical homage to both Arneson and to CHAINMAIL.  ACKS also has an ascending AC system like Arnesons, but instead of starting with AC1 as unarmed, they went to AC 0.  So ACKS is “wrong” by one point, which is not hard to add, of course.  Shame that the designers let that one slip by.  (I brought it up during development, but as often happens, I feel like a voice howling in the wilderness).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Matter of Inches

Tomb of Horrors room 13 “They are fast (12” move) and will continue biting…”
Once upon a long time ago there was CHAINMAIL.  When Gygax and Arneson discussed the creation of the OD&D rules, they agreed that it should be tied to CHAINMAIL, a game that many of their wargamer friends played.  This is referenced throughout the 3lbb’s such as in the statement “…functions are generally as indicated in CHAINMAIL where not contradictory to the information stated hereinafter…” Monsters and Treasures:5
Just about all the monsters in the CHAINMAIL fantasy supplement were ported into D&D, along with the movement stats for most of them.  For example,

critter
Chainmail Movement
OD&D Movement



Dwarf
6”
6”
Elf
12”
12”
Ent
6”
6”
Giant
12”
12”
Ogre
9”
9“
Orc
9”
9”


There were a couple tweaks (trolls were made a little faster) but for the most part, there you have it.
So, to know what 12” means, you simply convert to the scale:
“…the ground scale is 1":10 yards, and one turn of play is roughly equivalent to one minute of time in battle.” CM:8

Okay, an elf moves 120 yards in one minute, as do Longbowmen and swiss pikemen.  Orcs, Heavy Foot, and Turkish Bowmen move 90 yards a minute.

Real life average walking speed per minute is about 270 feet/90 yards (9”), but varies with age and gender, of course, so that a healthy, unencumbered man walking at a normal pace will cover about 120 yards (12”) in a minute.
CHAINMAIL’S rates are pretty realistic, and so by extension are D&D’s.
Except….
It seems that the majority of D&D players in the early 1970’s never owned CHAINMAIL or made much attempt to incorporate “not contradictory” information.
The 3lbb’s tell us that 1” equals 10 yards as in CHAINMAIL, but only outdoors.  In dungeons and so forth we switch to 1” equals 10 feet.  Okay so far…
Movement on the other hand has a special new rule:

“Movement (distances given in Vol. 1) is in segments of approximately ten minutes.  Thus it takes ten minutes to move about two moves — 120 feet for a fully armored character. Two moves constitute a turn, except in flight/pursuit situations where the moves/turn will be doubled (and no mapping allowed).
Time must be taken to rest, so one turn every hour must be spent motionless, and double the rest period must be taken after a flight/pursuit takes place.” Underworld and Wilderness Adventures:8
The introduction of this 10 minute turn, seemingly to require characters to rest once an hour, brought in a number of side issue and convinced many a D&D player that those 10 combat rounds must be a minute long each, since there was nothing to tell them otherwise and no indication of how long a combat round should be.
This new length of a Turn would be no big deal, except, nothing else in the game was set up with a ten minute turn in mind.  Problems arise.  For example none of the spell durations were changed.  Suddenly a one use detection spell lasting at most 6 minutes, now lasts for an hour.   A lot more could be said about this, but that’s not the horse I want to beat at the moment.

The problem of more relevance here is what happens to movement.  I’ve been forced to think through this stuff lately because I’ve been converting monsters from various eras to use in my OD&D games.  All of D&D from Holmes to the 1991 Blackbox, uses  a feet per 10 minute turn movement rate.  From the quote from UW&A, we see that a character in OD&D is supposed to move their movement rate in a 5 minute Move (1/2 ten minute Turn).   A fully armored character has a rate of 6” so that’s doubled to 12” in a 10 minute turn or as UW&A puts it "120 feet " underground.   Okay, this doubling of movement rate is only specified for character movement, but it’s as likely as not that the same rule would apply to all monsters and NPC’s as well.
Therefore:
To convert D&D rates to OD&D movement rates should be a matter of cutting the D&D rates in two and droping the zero.  120’ ought to directly port to 6” in OD&D and vice versa. 
AD&D is fairly straightforward; AD&D also uses the ten minute time interval and so its rates probably ought to be doubled too.
As it happens, it don’t work this way.


critter
OD&D Movement
D&D Movement
AD&D Movement




Dwarf
6”
60’
6”
Elf
12”
120’
12”
Ent
6”
60’
12”
Giant
12”
120’
12”
Ogre
9”
90’
9“
Orc
9”
120’
9”


So you can see there’s been a little bit of fiddling, but the only rate doubled is the Ent, and that only in D&D.
I take this to mean the “5 minute move” rule in OD&D conveniently applied only to characters (or else everybody just forgot it.)
I also take this to mean that to convert D&D movement back to CHAINMAIL rates the most that ever has to be done is drop a zero…. 
It’s been a perennial complaint that D&D time and movement rates are flawed, but it turns out they are dead easy to restore if you want to.  Probably the simplest is to ditch the snail pace ten minute turn and consider all turns to be 1 minute long.
For whatever reasons, Gygax liked the ponderous movement rates and coded them into his AD&D.  That’s history, but knowing what the intended movement rates were when they were first penned down provides the opportunity to put some verisimilitude back in the game.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

You Can’t Win.

There was a question, several years back, on Finarvyns forum asking about characteristics of a Dave Arneson dungeon design.  Not a lot was said in response, but we did talk about architecture and monsters and such.  Something else just occurred to me; with the exception of the tournament module Haunted Lighthouse, more often than not, you can’t beat a Dave Arneson D&D dungeon, nor are you supposed to.
If you compare Temple of the Frog (1975), Blackmoor Dungeon (1977), Glendower (1977), Temple of ID (1977), The realm of the Egg of Coot, The city of Father Dragon (1977), The City of the Gods (as described in Robilars adventure), the sample Dungeon in AiF, Garbage Pits of Despair, or even the Comeback Inn (1986), The only one of these that a standard, mid-level party of adventurers could reasonably clean out was Glendower.
The rest were designed as limited objective, hit and run adventures.  There was no attempt to “balance” the “challenge level” to the party.  To truly take on these challenges would require a proper army (and a sandtable to play it out on.)  Instead, like the plot of many a commando and sci-fi movie, the small band of adventurers was expected to get in and get out with as much loot as they could manage.
No wonder one of the first things Dave came up with was the pursuit and evasion rules….

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hit Points and Fatigue Rules

A Paladin in a Citadel posted a thoughtful essay today on the lack of fatigue in D&D play.  He makes the case that this is a significant shortcoming and lays the blame on Gary Gygax for characterizing fatigue/stamina as a function of Hit Points.  As discussed last month here on this blog, Dave Arneson never had any intention of hit points representing fatigue. 
So why didn’t Dave give Gary a set of fatigue rules to work into D&D?  As UWSguy pointed out in a comment on Paladin’s ‘blog, the default fatigue rules for OD&D were assumed to be those of CHAINMAIL.  In CHAINMAIL, fatigue sets in after 5 turns (minutes) of movement, charging and moving, or  3 rounds of combat.
Fine as far as it goes.  However, the effects of Fatigue are very much in CHAINMAIL terms and have to be translated for D&D use.  Figuring out how to aplly “They attack at the next lower value (heavy foot = light foot).” (CM:11) isn’t exactly straightforward.

Also factoring in to the fatigue problem is OD&D's convoluted "Accumaltive Hits" paragraph which suggests the DM decide any side effects of damage.  Whether sustaining accumulative hits will otherwise affect a character is left to the discretion of the referee.” (Men and Magic:18)

As it happens, in Supplement II Blackmoor, Dave answered that question, but again not with fatigue, with actual physical effects.  In his Hit Location system a hit could result in loss of movement, loss of dexterity and continued loss of hit points if left untreated.  This again illustrates Gygax had a very different concept of hit points than Arneson intended.  Supplement II’s hit location system suffers from unwanted complexity and the fact that with so few hit points to begin with, any such system will be extremely lethal.  Nevertheless, fatigue plays no role in Hit Points for Dave.

Unbeknownst to many, Dave Arneson in fact actually did provide specific rules for fatigue in combat for D&D.  Trouble is, he didn’t get around to doing so until 1986 and then published them in the obscure adventure Garbage Pits of Despair as follows: ”..reduce all movement by 1/3rd.  The men will all suffer a -1 on Dexterity and Strength for the duration of the combat.  These effects can be reversed by the usual magical means if such means are available.” (GPoD1:M3)
For the Fatigue rules in CoZ, I have combined those of CHAINMAIL with GPoD.

A Paladin in the Citadel's original post is here: http://apaladinincitadel.blogspot.com/2012/03/combat-fatigue-and-failure-of-gygax.html