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:


The second column has


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:


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.


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.