Thoughts on Arneson's "Armor class"

Author: DHBoggs / Labels: ,

He said it lots of times, like this:

" I adopted the rules I'd done earlier for a Civil War game called Ironclads that had hit points and armor class. It meant that players had a chance to live longer and do more. They didn't care that they had hit points to keep track of because they were just keeping track of little detailed records for their character and not trying to do it for an entire army. They didn't care if they could kill a monster in one blow, but they didn't want the monster to kill them in one blow."  Gamespy Interview 2004

Yet when we look at all the old material from the First Fantasy Campaign, there seems to be no evidence of anything that could be construed of as an "Armor Class".  Certainly none of the monsters have any sort of corresponding statistic in any of the old material anywhere.

But then again, why should they?  After all "Armor" class in a ship game only applies to the actual metal or wood plating protecting the ship.  Think about that.  We are so accustomed now, 45 years after D&D was published, to think of "Armor Class" as merely a general term for defense quality, we easily forget that "Armor" normally refers to a defensive shell or jacket of some kind, not skin or fur.

Why would a monster have an Armor class unless it was wearing actual armor?
  
In D&D, monsters have an Armor Class because it is inherent in the d20 combat method.   The attacker's target number is determined by the targets AC.  Giving both characters and monster an AC number was a decision per design - a design for a method we find no evidence for in pre D&D Blackmoor.

Moreover we can say with little doubt that the D&D Armor Class system as it stands was put in place by Gary Gygax, modeled directly on his types of Armor listed in CHAINMAIL.  It's worth reposting here the quote I mentioned back in 2012.  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

Obviously then, for Arneson's statements to have validity, whatever he was doing in his game with Armor was something different.

We seem to have a good handle on how a character attacked a monster in early Blackmoor, and unlike in D&D, it had nothing to do with a monster AC.  Basically the player would roll 2d6 against their weapon score.  If they beat it, they would seemingly roll all their Hit Dice for a damage total along with any bonus.  Arneson also said he allowed a saving throw to avoid damage - probably only for Player Characters.

For the typical monster "Armor Class" played no role.

So, it is perhaps not surprising the FFC monster entries have no hint of Armor Class.  Even the Balrog in Blackmoor dungeon wearing a mail shirt has no special numbers attached in consequence.

So was Arneson lying or delusional regarding the claim that he added Armor Class to his early games?  Did armor have any mechanical meaning in pre D&D Blackmoor?

First, lets discard the notion that use of the term "Armor Class" or "Class of Armor" is somehow at all anything to care about.  A rose is a rose, to paraphrase.

What we are interested to answer is if Arneson had a method one might recognize functionally  as "Armor Class", regardless of what he may have called it at the time.

Further, we would be looking at this method as primarily applying to players.  That is, that Armor would usually only be worn by player characters, and usually only be relevant to characters in mechanical terms.

Further still, this application of "armor class" might be the key to understanding how monsters attacked player characters in early Blackmoor.  We've seen plenty of evidence suggesting that players attacked via their weapon skill score, but there is no evidence at all that monsters attacked characters that way.  In fact, lots of monsters don't use anything but tooth and claw, and it is clear that Arneson did not bother to roll up tooth and claw target numbers or  corresponding weapon skill numbers for any of the monsters that did use weapons,  They must have had some other kind of target number for determining hits.  

Initially, we might safely assume that Arneson continued to use the CM Fantasy Combat Table to determine a monster hit on a player.  However, that table is quite limited in scope, and Arneson does repeatedly insist it was dropped altogether as they added more monsters and character types.  So, if true, at some point Arneson must have introduced some other way for monsters to score hits on player characters, and that could certainly have been an AC type system.

I mentioned there is no hint of Armor Class for monsters in the FFC, or indeed any of the other early material, but there is one curious exception:



The robots entry appears in a list Arneson claims is of pre-D&D magic items.  They are in fact all sci-fi kinds of things like tricorders and Medical Units.  Dating this with any certainty is problematic, though non-standard references like +5 Magical Armor and "10-sided dice" make it feel later rather than earlier, perhaps well into 1973.  Nevertheless that 1-6 AC for robots is really odd.  For D&D 2-9 AC you would have to add 1, and even then you would be ignoring the possibility of AC 8 or 9.  Why not use a d10 and ignore the 1 and 0?  Taken simply at face value, it seems as though Arneson is saying he uses a 1-6 AC system.

That robot entry was something I've puzzled over for a long time, but more recently two key bits of evidence surfaced that may shed light on this and what may have served as an Armor Class target number in early Blackmoor.  The first is Dave Megarry's character sheets.  According to Megarry, the "square" numbers written on his character sheets applied to "hit class / armor class"  Across the 19 characters on the sheets, these numbers range from 0 to 4.  Regarding those "square" numbers, Megarry said, "The armor class dealt with what type of armor you had bought or acquired: no armor = 0; leather armor = 1; chainmail = 2; plate armor = 4."

A second bit of evidence for a numbering system like this is found in some curious pencil notes John Snider wrote on the side of his reference sheets (the ones that came with his original D&D boxed set), probably in 1975, since most of the notes added to the sheet concern the new material in Supplement II, Greyhawk.  However, the notes on the hit table are something else altogether:



What's particularly interesting is that John Snider doesn't seem quite sure where the numbers should go.  The number 3 is entirely missing and 4 appears across from Chain Mail & shield, but has a dash mark clearly connecting it to just Chain Mail.  What that hints at, is that the D&D/Chainmail armor scheme was not the same as the 0-5 system he is trying to map on to it.  In other words, two different and not entirely compatible ways of categorizing armor.



Megarry seemed to have the same difficulty with "3" in his description to me above.


 Perhaps that is a clue that Arneson's system was more general than the detailed CM armor scheme, something like what we see in older medieval rules with "half armor" and so on, such as this example from Don Featherstone's Advanced War Games of 1969:




A generalized scheme like this is a possibility, but we should also consider that Sniders notes were referencing a more concrete scheme.



These ideas are hard to test, but we do have some corroborating evidence, again from Megarry's character sheets.  One of Megarry's characters does list what armor they owned.


H.W. Dumbo, who's "square" number was 2


and who owned leather armor:


There is also another of Megarry's characters, the Scholaress, whose "square" number was 4,


and as Megarry remembered to me back in October of 2016, "I was not much into shields as they used one arm in combat and was hard to carry. I liked bow and arrow weapons and did not use shields. I did like leather armor as it gave a minimal protection for a relatively cheap cost. The Scholaress did have chainmail as she had money..."

Note that in both cases, the square number matches the number on John Sniders list; 2 = leather, and 4 = chainmail.  So in these two cases, there does appear to be a direct correlation between John Sniders armor numbers and the "square" numbers of Megarry's characters.

Intriguing as that is, it isn't essential to try to guess whether "Leather Armor" corresponded to "AC 2" or 3 or whatever in Arneson's system, because it need not have been a 1 to 1 correspondence of this nature.  It doesn't especially matter if it was or wasn't.   All we actually would need to know is whether he did in fact have a numeric range, somehow going from worst to best, or vice versa, functioning as an "Armor Class" in combat.  

With this apparent 1-6 Armor scheme in mind, our next question is whether there is any connection to Arneson's Ironclads game as he claimed.  So lets go back and look at some of the armor rules from the Ironclads game. Here is a table in Arneson's hand which shows what guns can penetrate what armor:


Without getting into the weeds on this chart, I'll just explain that it seems to indicate that type 2 through 5 guns (detailed elsewhere by caliber) are capable of penetrating the armor thicknesses listed up to 12" distant for rifled cannon and up to 6" distant for smoothbores.  The important point to take notice of here is that we again see essentially 4 grades of armor.

Otherwise, there is nothing about this table that seems readily adaptable to a single person melee game.  Sure you could translate caliber of guns into various hand held weapons - but let's not go down that rabbit hole.

Instead let's turn our attention to another section of the Ironclads rules which shows what score is needed by these same gun types at various ranges, from 36" distant, where only a wooden ship can be hit, to within 6", where all ship types can be hit.  There are several of these tables for different ranges.

Keeping in mind that we are considering applicability to hand to hand melee, distance effects on armor penetration are not the issue.  So we will look only at the close range table.

 Here then, is the table showing the scores needed to penetrate armor for up close fighting (up to 6"):

2-3-4-5-6 on wood
3-4-5-6 on 4” or less armor
4-5-6 on 4”-8” armor
5, 6 on 8”+ armor

We could rewrite that as follows

Roll over
D6
Roll equal or over D6

0
1

1
2
 wood
2
3
 4” or less armor
3
4
4”-8” armor
4
5
8”+ armor

Let me be clear about what I'm saying.  If, we take Megarry seriously and accept that the square numbers on his character sheet are "hit types/Armor Classes" and we take Arneson seriously that he derived an "Armor Class" hit system from his Ironclad game, we find a compatible expression of those two statements in the table representing armor penetration at 6" or less - which is of course where we would expect to find it.

If we further assume that John Snider's notes represent an attempt to map Arneson's armor scheme onto the D&D/CM types, or something close to it, our table will look like this:
\
Roll equal or over D6
Armor Type
Ironclads
1


2
Leather
 wood
3
Leather and Shield*
 4” or less armor
4
Chain Mail
4”-8” armor
5
Plate Mail
8”+ armor

*Another way to express this would be to say that a shield adds 1 to "light" or no armor.



We can further speculate on how shields might have fit in, like this:


Roll equal or over D6
Armor Type
Ironclads
1


2
Leather or shield
 wood
3
Leather and Shield
 4” or less armor
4
Chain Mail
4”-8” armor
5
Plate Mail or Chain Mail and Shield
8”+ armor
6
Plate Mail and Shield


Alternatively, if we assume a more general scheme:

Roll over D6
Armor Type
Ironclads
1
Shield
 wood
2
Light Armor
 4” or less armor
3
Medium Armor
4”-8” armor
4
Heavy Armor
8”+ armor


We can play around with these numbers all day, but that's likely pointless.  In adapting Ironclads to his game, Arneson had no need of a formal table.  He had a mechanic in place: roll a d6 against a target number assigned to represent the armor.  As referee, he need only decide for himself if the chainmail hauberk worn by the character constituted the equivalent of the 4"-8" category armor in Ironclads.  It seems well within Arnesons modus operandi to have done exactly that sort of seat of the pants approximating.  Nevertheless, the evidence from Megarry's character sheets coupled with John Snider's notes do seem to show a correspondence between particular numbers and particular armor types.


The convergence of all these data points do appear to reveal a real system drawn from Ironclads, providing a meaningful explanation of Arneson's claim to have had "Armor Class" in his game, whatever he may have called it  


There are some other niggling bits of information this method would also serve to explain.  In my notes from a phone conversation with David Megarry in April of 2017, he said Arneson would ask your characters Armor class and then roll dice (d6's) to determine a hit.  The number of  "Hit Dice" rolled depended on the strength of the monster - bigger monster = more dice.

This has long bothered me because it makes no sense in terms of either the weapon based hit system we see on the character sheets, or any of the CHAINMAIL systems.  Even the mass combat table, which does incorporate rolling more dice, does so to increase the opportunities for the number of straight kills, without any concern for armor.  It is a different sort of system for a different sort of combat problem.

However, Ironclads does increase your armor busting dice based on "the strength of the monster", or rather the number of cannon you bring to bear on the target.  For the heavy guns, you get 1 die per gun, ranging to the lightest guns which are 4 guns per die.

Note, that these target numbers don't themselves change with the "experience" of the ship, which, translated into a character based system would mean the target number to penetrate a suite of armor in melee was whatever it was, the same regardless of the level of the character swinging the sword.  The increased chance for a hit would be purely in having more dice to roll.

In this context it is interesting to re-examine Richard Sniders dragons, as detailed in the FFC.  This section is not part of his campaign RPG rules - what we are styling the Richard Snider Variant.  Here Dragons are given levels and damage (hit point) ratings, with the weakest dragon starting identically to human fighters at 7, 14, 21 and growing.  Snider gives each dragon type "Hit Dice" per level, which he explains as:

The natural way for us to read this is to equate HD to damage dice, and indeed, that may be correct.  However, it is also possible that it means more than this.  The "Blackmoor System" need not have been some singular clean method.  

Perhaps characters and creatures roll all their HD when attacking, as suggested in the Ironclads derived method above.  In this case, the unarmored target would take the full number of hits indicated by the HD, possibly mitigated by a saving throw for no damage.

The armored target would only take as many hits as have successfully penetrated their armor.  In Ironclads, each hit resulted in 1 point of damage, however it would be possible to determine the amount of damage by the number of points above the armor roll or simply equal to the number rolled.  Alternatively one could roll a separate damage roll if needed.    All this works fine for monsters attacking characters.

But, player characters have weapon skills, and can roll against their weapon skill when attacking monsters to determine a hit.  So in this case, with successful hits, the player would roll all their HD for damage - a distinct advantage since it would seem to ignore monster armor.

Both these uses of "Hit Dice", as damage dice, or as "to hit" dice, can work together quite easily, and may well have been used that way in Blackmoor .



20 comments:

Scott Anderson said...

Seems like you could reconstruct this and make it into an alternative combat system for tabletop adventure games.

If you did, would you say weapon skill is class based? Like for instance FM get a 4, clerics and thieves get a 3 and wizards get a 1 or 2? And would you use something like weapon proficiency rules or what?

DHBoggs said...

Yeah Scott, with a little refinement I'm sure it could and when the time comes to revise Dragons at Dawn that would be the plan, I think. We will be looking a bit at class/level differences in an upcoming post on the RSV.

Jeremy "frothsof" Smith said...

Fascinating post with great scholarship. Thank you! I know others that might enjoy it so I linked to it today.

DHBoggs said...

Thanks much Jeremy!

phf said...

Have you considered that he meant he rolled 1D6 "for Robots"... but might use other ranges for other creatures? So Robots could never have worse than AC6.

DHBoggs said...

phf - Yes, in the sense that Arneson's information is specific to robots - that's all we can be certain about. However, as mentioned, it's weird. There is no AC 1 in OD&D, so that 1d6 range stands out as a curiosity. It's also not really Arneson's style to restrict a dice range on purpose, so my sense of it is that it is unlikely he was trying to restrict robots to a portion of the 2-9 AC range - but I won't say it's impossible. My only point here is that while Robot AC seems out of whack with standard D&D, it does fit the pattern seen on Sniders reference sheets, so it is worth considering as additional evidence for a different system.

phf said...

Adjusting armour (and weapons) by +/- 'x' has always been a feature of D&D, so AC1 is just another way of giving a similar armour bonus. Robots are a "tech" addition to D&D so it makes sense to me they would be harder to hit/kill, and wouldn't necessarily fit "normal" patterns. (When did "tech" start to be added? After MA?) In any case people often use different ways of speaking/expressing ideas so I think it is difficult to make assumptions on a few examples.

DHBoggs said...

phf>>>so AC1 is just another way of giving a similar armour bonus. Robots are a "tech" addition to D&D so it makes sense to me they would be harder to hit/kill, and wouldn't necessarily fit "normal" patterns...

Glad you are giving it some thought phf. In early & pre-supplement OD&D, AC was representative of a particular armor type to the point that names and numbers are interchangeable - changing the AC number to represent a "bonus" isn't how things were done. Nevertheless, it is possible Arneson had a "new" tougher than plate mail + shield armor type in mind, but as I said, it is weird to the point of being unique for the '73, '74 timeframe the robot is ascribed to by Arneson.
Perhaps the bigger distinction as I pointed out, is that there are no examples I know of where Arneson deliberately "gimps" a standard range (no AC7-9). Arneson was not a stickler for rules based verisimilitude. In fact, if we look at the other instance in the FFC where Arneson uses AC1 in his 1976 restock of Blackmoor dungeon (well post the changes brought on by the Supplements), we see he got it randomly by using a d8. Here - consistent with his style - he assigns AC without concern for the class or anything, so we find Magic Users in plate mail and shield and AC8 high ranked fighters. Thus, I find it doubtful, not impossible, but doubtful that he was trying to make tougher robots with the AC 1-6 thing. I agree that no assumptions or definitive claims should be made, which is why I'm simply pointing out that it appears to fit better historically with Sniders framework than with that of CHAINMAIL and is therefore worth considering in that context.

As for sci-fi elements, they have always been a part of the game. Robots, for example are mentioned but not statted in the original 3 booklets.

Tom H said...

Interesting reading and analysis, thanks. I always wondered how/why AC came about like it did. Interesting about monsters having no Armour Class..

GameDaddy said...

Hrmm? There are some key references regarding HP and AC that have been overlooked in the First Fantasy Campaign, namely in the Introduction, and I'll quote this here and now because it seems that this entire article is going into a place with Dave Armeson’s game design that is completely unfamiliar to me, and I spent a considerable amount of time talking directly with him about this, in 2004. I think you guys are overthinking this, and since we can’t ask him right now, we need to take a close look at what he wrote in his introduction for his Blackmoor game, in the First Fantasy Campaign in 1977.

Okay so, from the Introduction in FFC on Page 2,

“So it was with the dungeon of BLACKMOOR. It began with only the basic monsters in CHAINMAIL and was only some six levels deep. Six levels was chosen because it allowed random placement with six sided dice (no funny dice back then)(sic.). So even in the Dungeon it became quickly apparent that there was a need for a greater variety of monsters, more definition even within the type of monsters, and certainly a deeper dungeon.”

This tells me that Dave started with the Chainmail rules, which used a 2d6 versus a target number to hit when using the man-to-man combat rules, and a hit beating the target number in Chainmail results in a Kill, except with heroes, superheroes, and some fantasy monsters, who would receive a saving throw by rolling 2d6. If the attacker matched the target number then the defender was forced to withdraw by 3 inches.

I just want to note here, that when Dave is referring to placement, he isn’t talking about player characters, rather, ...what level of the Dungeon the various monsters will be placed into, when generating random dungeons.

Chainmail also featured mass combat rules, and every creature was treated as either light foot, armored foot, heavy foot, or whatever. Some of the enchanted creatures had some special kinds of attacks which were individually described. Basically a player would roll a d6 for each miniature that made up the unit, and a 6 would hit and produce a kill. There were some variations, for example medium horsemen could roll 2 dice per mini, with a 4,5, or 6 producing a casualty. Heroes rolled four dice, and superheroes rolled eight dice, with 6’s producing casualties. Units which took excessive casualties (more than 25%) would have to make a morale check. Heroes and superheroes that were hit, could make a 2d6 saving throw to avoid being killed.

Dave and his group, didn’t like the Chainmail system very much, because the mortality rate for the leaders (i.e. the player characters) was too high. The Players didn’t like getting killed, by just one hit from the monsters. It’s especially bad, when a like a single Orc scored a hit on a Hero or Superhero, and the Hero or SH failed the saving throw, and would die in the Dungeon, so just as he described, Dave adapted his naval rules from his ironclad games, but it wasn’t a straight transfer as you all are trying to recreate here in this article. The Introduction for FFC clearly described how Dave adapted the Naval rules for his BLACKMOOR game, to quote;

“So there were now different types of Dragons by size (With each HD the Dragon had, the player could now roll a dice for the Dragon to Hit, with a 6 producing a casualty in the mass combat system, and there was also 2d6 monster attack table for man-to-man melee in Chainmail when a player faced off with a monster in a one-on-one duel.) and other new creatures like Gargoyles, from standard mythology. AC was determined by the description of the creature creature (Hide, scales, etc.) and how impervious it was in the accounts given in mythology about it.”

GameDaddy said...

Here it very clear, that each creature got it’s specific armor class based on it’s skin type, as well as additional information, Hide was equivalent to armor, Scales to Chainmail, and Dragonscales to Platemail, and so on… with variations. So the GM was now keeping a monster table describing variable monster stats, Orcs had One HD, or one attack per mini, Kobolds ½ HD, or it was that two Kobolds miniatures were needed in any attack, to get that hit. Uruk-hai Orcs, 2 HD, So they would get two d6 rolls on the Chainmail table. In Man-to-man melee, they got two attacks, and so forth. The FFC Introduction at this point goes on to describe how the monsters were assigned Hit Dice.

“HD was determined pretty much on the size of the creatures physically and, again some regard for its mythical properties. For regular animals that were simply made larger, like BEETLES, a standard textbook provided interesting facts about the critters and all were given HD proportional to their size , relative to other Beetles, for instance. Insects were all given about the same AC with additions, again, for unique properties.”

A paragraph later Dave goes on to talk about combat;

“Combat was quite simple at first and then got progressively more complicated with the addition of hit location, etc.. As the players first rolled for characteristics , the number of hits a body could take ran from 0-100. As the player progressed he did not receive additional hit points, but rather he became harder to hit. All normal attacks were carried out in the usual fashion but the player received a “Saving Throw” against any hit he received. Thus although he might be hit several times during a melee round, in actuality he might not take any damage at all.”

Okay, so what I’m gleaning from this is that now is that Dave is using HP for characters, just like with his Naval Wargames, and he rolls a d100 to determine the hit points that a specific character starts with during Character Generation. This is a fixed number that never goes up or down. Note that Dave has just started using levels, for the player characters in Blackmoor. Dave is also now using Polyhedral dice, (which he discovered and purchased in the late 1960’s, not D6’s exclusively for his Blackmoor game at this point). At this point I believe that each successful hit delivers 1d6 points of damage, and that hit damage is applied against characters as well as the Monster HP, which were determined by the HD, which the GM (Dave) decided and recorded prior to, or sometimes even during the game, especially when he thought up new monsters on the fly, he wanted to throw into his dungeons. Note that with this system, some monsters instantly become much more difficult to kill as well (Like Dragons, Large Dinosaurs, and Giants, for example). Let’s continue though with the FFC Introduction though, to provide additional enlightenment as to how the original Blackmoor game was being played…

“Only Fighters gained advantages in these melee saving throws. Clerics and Magic-users progressed in their own areas, which might, or might not modify their saving throws. And so it went, Hit location, so that even the mighty Smaug could fall to a single arrow in the right place (very unlikely), Height Differentiation so that the little guys could run around more, and the big ones could kill more etc. Still these were guidelines, hit location was generally used only for the bigger critters, and only on a man-to-man level were all the options thrown in. This allowed play to progress quickly even if the poor monsters suffered more from it.”

Dave’s words here. The only thing I want to note right now, is from earlier where Dave said “As Players progressed he did not receive more HP, but instead became harder to hit.” So too with the armor class, Leather armor added two, to the number required to hit using Dave’s system, and chainmail added four, with Platemail adding six, and a medium shield adding one to the required

GameDaddy said...

number to hit. This was elegant, fast, and just in line with the kind of speedy play Dave wanted. He wanted one to-hit roll instead of a dice pool with counting, for determining hits to speed up man-to-man combat rounds. Because the players wanted more chances to be heroes, they were insta-killed much less often than with using Chainmail, with the Introduction of “levels” and “Hp”. All of this originated in Dave’s Blackmoor game and was adopted later in Lake Geneva. This also ties in with something Dave told me during my informal interview in 2004. He said that every time armor took a hit, he would reduce it’s effectiveness by one, unless the players spent money to fix the damaged armor, or repaired it themselves after the battle. A set of leather armor hit twice in a fight for example, would no longer provide any bonuses for the player wearing it. He said he preferred playing this way because it was simple, elegant, and e once he knew the basic to-hit roll required, the armor, and the magic to-hit modifier of the magic weapon, he could do all the math quickly in his head to determine what the player needed to roll to hit his foe, whether it be a monster, or another player wearing armor, or even magic armor.

Also from my informal interview with him, He didn’t like the whiff factor in the Chainmail rules where almost 2/3rds of the time most of the attacks had no chance of doing any damage at all. He lobbied to speed up combat by having the polyhedral dice included in the game, and switched to using a d20 instead of d6’s for combat to-hit rolls out in Minnesota, dropping the 2d6 saving throws that were being made, in favor of modifying the man-to-man combat tables with experience points and levels making it easier for Fighters to hit, for example, ...and more difficult for Magic-users to hit. Blackmoor streamlined Chainmail by making just one dice roll to determine whether the player was hit, and made his saving throw, which replaced making two rolls, using separate calculations. I’ll finish with the FFC Introduction, and have a couple of closing comments for you today;

“By the end of the Fourth Year (1974) of continuous play BLACKMOOR covered hundreds of square miles, had a dozen castles, and three separate referees as my own involvement decreased due to other commitments. But by then it was more than able to run itself as a fantasy campaign and kept more than a hundred people and a dozen referees as busy then as they are today. Whether there there will ever be a co-ordination of all the area dungeons in the future as they were way back in “The Good Old Days” is unlikely, but there are 20-30 people meeting every 4th Saturday to do BLACKMOOR and other Fantasy related areas, so who can tell… After all, the keynote is that ‘anything is possible’ just that some things are more likely than others.”

Dave Arneson
~1977

GameDaddy said...

When the Dungeons & Dragons White Bookset was originally published in 1974 one was supposed to already own Chainmail, because the rules clearly stated that you were to use Chainmail first to run combat. If you didn’t own a copy of Chainmail, then you could play Dungeons and Dragons using the alternative combat rules which were included in Book 1, Men & Magic. These alternative combat rules didn’t come from Gary’s game in Lake Geneva, they were the rules we just described that were designed by Dave Arneson for his Blackmoor game which were adapted from his Naval Wargame rules using a variation of the Man-to-man combat tables from Chainmail, and including a d20 with a single roll to determine hits and make the saving throw instead of using 2d6 and making a separate to-hit roll and a saving throw. D&D also used levels and HP, instead of the insta-kill rules of Chainmail which was a wargame. D&D was a roleplaying game with much drama because a player was unlikely to get killed receiving a single blow from a monster, instead he had a pool of HP, and could play conservative and withdraw from combat to spare his/her life and return another day, or risk everything, and take a fight right to a nail-biting conclusion.

GameDaddy said...

Oh, some corrections here, Platemail would only add five, not six to the "to-hit" needed roll. Bucklers and small shields would only protect against the first attack against the target, while a medium shield would protect against all attacks in a melee round.

DHBoggs said...

Hi Dirk, super great to hear from you again and thank you for taking the time to write such a lengthy and well considered response!

The first thing I would encourage you to do is to look back through my 'blog. There's a number of articles you will most likely find interesting, including some dealing with most of the issues you have raised here to various extents. I think you will also see that very little of the FFC has gone unnoticed.

That also applies to the role of CM in Arneson's games, particularly the early use of the Fantasy Combat table. I can see how you might think that has been "overlooked", if you have only read this one post, but if you read this post in context with those that have gone before, you will see the use of CM discussed fairly extensively.

One of these days I'm going to work the posts into a book collection to make it easier to find stuff.

Judging by the page numbers, your citations of the FFC appear to be from the 1980 reprint, so I will stick with that edition too.

>>> Dave and his group, didn’t like the Chainmail system very much, because the mortality rate for the leaders...

The comments from Arneson and others on the one kill deadliness of CM are, according to Arneson, in regards to the FCT table and reflect a very early stage. In fact the particular incident seems to have been the April 1971 "Troll Bridge" game - literally within weeks of the publication of CM - in which player Bob Meyer's hero was killed instantly by the Troll. Meyer was less than happy about it and let Arneson know in no uncertain terms. Meyer also reports that he refused to play the game for some time afterwards. Arneson switched from the FCT to his 2d6 Weapon Skill system shortly after this incident judging by the probable dating of Pete Gaylords Character sheet. See this post https://boggswood.blogspot.com/2012/09/chaaracter-sheet-clues-to-early.html

DHBoggs said...

>>> Dave adapted his naval rules from his ironclad games, but it wasn’t a straight transfer as you all are trying to recreate here in this article. The Introduction for FFC clearly described how Dave adapted the Naval rules for his BLACKMOOR game, to quote;
“So there were now different types of Dragons by size (With each HD the Dragon had, the player could now roll a dice for the Dragon to Hit, with a 6 producing a casualty in the mass combat system, and there was also 2d6 monster attack table for man-to-man melee in Chainmail when a player faced off with a monster in a one-on-one duel.) and other new creatures like Gargoyles, from standard mythology. AC was determined by the description of the creature creature (Hide, scales, etc.) and how impervious it was in the accounts given in mythology about it.”

I do understand what you intend here but this may be confusing to some readers. The quote you cite is from page 3 of the 1980 reprint, but the portions in parenthesis are your interpolations. The quote without them is "“So there were now different types of Dragons by size and other new creatures like Gargoyles, from standard mythology. AC was determined by the description of the creature (Hide, scales, etc.) and how impervious it was in the accounts given in mythology about it.”

So the original says nothing about what combat methods are being employed at the time(s) HD and AC are introduced. The methods you go on to describe in your comment (each HD equals one attack roll on a CM table) are possible, but I would caution against assuming particular CM combat methods can be reliably tied to the quoted statement. For example, I talked a bit about the Mass Combat table in this post. https://boggswood.blogspot.com/2017/07/blackmoor-as-chainmail-campaign.html

The quote itself is in the Introduction to the FFC written in 1977, and collapses a process of several years of gaming into a brief narrative - so it is not particularly useful for any fine grained dating. Nevertheless, the quote is completely consistent with what I wrote in the 'blog piece. For example, I wrote:
"He had a mechanic in place: roll a d6 against a target number assigned to represent the armor. As referee, he need only decide for himself if the chainmail hauberk worn by the character constituted the equivalent of the 4"-8" category armor in Ironclads. It seems well within Arnesons modus operandi to have done exactly that sort of seat of the pants approximating."

DHBoggs said...

>>> So the GM was now keeping a monster table describing variable monster stats...

Well, this is a point of disagreement I've had with several folks and it boils down to an absence of evidence, despite a fairly robust pool of documents to draw from. Sure, such tables do exist after Gygax gets involved and D&D is written, but in all the evidence we have of early Blackmoor, there is not a single monster listed with anything that can be construed as an Armor Class rating. Monsters are statistically described in terms of level/HD and/or Points but not an AC stat. So when Arneson says " AC was determined by the description of the creature (Hide, scales, etc.)" I take him to mean exactly and precisely what that says, i.e. he used the verbal description of the monster to "determine" an "Armor Class" as needed in play - pretty much what I said in the piece.

>>> and he rolls a d100 to determine the hit points that a specific character starts with during Character Generation. This is a fixed number that never goes up or down.

Separate topic, but it's less than clear what Arneson had in mind here with "the number of hits a body could take ran from 0-100." That could refer to the fact that most CM creature had less than 100 HP and so he capped the possible range for any and all creatures at 100 (no monster in the FFC has more). He could also be thinking of how things will be in Adventures in Fantasy. In any case, the 0-100 thing was not used for characters in most of Early Blackmoor, if ever. We know exactly how HP worked because we have Greg Svensons notes from 1972. Have a look at this post.
https://boggswood.blogspot.com/2014/08/on-creation-and-evolution-of-hit-points.html

>>> These alternative combat rules didn’t come from Gary’s game in Lake Geneva, they were the rules we just described that were designed by Dave Arneson for his Blackmoor game....

Well, I don't know about that. Maybe. We know the d20 "Alternative" system with descending AC and a cross referenced table as found in D&D was designed by Gygax, but it is an open question as to whether Gygax adapted (by using the CM AC types and reversing the numbers) a d20 method Arneson came up with or whether Gygax created it whole cloth. I'm inclined to agree with you that the idea of a d20 roll against a TN derived through some kind of formula starts with Arneson, but evidence is scant.

In any case, it's great to hear you talk more about your interview with Arneson and there is some really terrific details there to talk about, but I don't want to go too far afield in this comment post, but maybe we can discuss by email?

Sebastian DM said...

Dear Daniel. I have for a time been very interested in Blackmoor and Pre-D&D mechanics and therefore stumbled upon your blog. It is very interesting material! I have read all your blog posts and I want to say thanks for doing the work and publishing it here. You do some great analyses and I really like that you keep an open mind. If you have the time, I would be glad if you could point me in the right direction of further reading.

Regarding this post, I found it very exciting. Not only does it bring a lot of genuinely new things to the table, but the mechanics also seem great. I love the idea of AC only modifying the damage roll as it would make combat quicker, not having to include the AC of the opponent for every attack.

I also have some questions. In your previous posts you discuss the strength/attack and hit point/defense "values" and the doubling/tripling etc. of these. How would these affect the system as presented above?
Also, if monsters attacking characters is only determined by the HD of the monster and the AC of the character, how would a character become progressively harder to hit (as Arneson is quoted as saying)?

DHBoggs said...

Hi Sebastian, great questions and comments, and most of all thanks for the kind remarks regarding my blog.

Likely you are already aware of these sources, but for places to look for more Blackmoor goodness there is the Secrets of Blackmoor blog https://www.secretsofblackmoor.com/blog
The Comeback Inn forum: https://blackmoor.mystara.net/forums/
and the ODD74 Blackmoor forum: http://odd74.proboards.com/board/11/dave-arnesons-blackmoor

>>> In your previous posts you discuss the strength/attack and hit point/defense "values" and the doubling/tripling etc. of these. How would these affect the system as presented above?

The doubling and tripling of defense values seems to apply to hit points and saving throws - as in Temple of the Frog. Armor Class wouldn't be affected. After all, in the system discussed above, AC is a number applying to an inanimate object - armor.

>>>if monsters attacking characters is only determined by the HD of the monster and the AC of the character, how would a character become progressively harder to hit (as Arneson is quoted as saying)?

I don't think a character would become harder to hit in this method.

Don't be surprised that I would say that. Arneson was a lifelong designer who of course, developed new ideas over time. The "progressively harder to hit" idea was something that Arneson seems to have developed while playtesting the D&D draft. He very definitely incorporated the idea into AiF, but in early 1972 when Arneson says he brought in AC from Ironclads he may not yet added level advancement for fighter types, and even if he had it would only have been hero to superhero, so harder to hit as you progress wouldn't have been much of a concern.

Unknown said...

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