Tuesday, November 18, 2008

D&D Cover to Cover, part 8

Being a series of articles in which the author reads the indelible words of Gygax and Arneson as presented the Original Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published by Tactical Studies Rules. Beginning with Men & Magic, and concluding with The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the author will consider those earliest passages, adding elucidations and interpretations along the way for your consideration.

Men & Magic
DETERMINATION OF ABILITIES

"Prior to the character selection by players it is necessary for the referee to roll three six-sided dice in order to rate each as to various abilities, and thus aid them in selecting a role."
The referee rolls the six character abilities, in order, using 3d6, and not the player. Based on this outcome, the player can decide whether he would like to play a Fighting-Man, Magic-User, Cleric, Dwarf, Elf or even Hobbit.

"The first three categories are the prime requisites for each of the three classes, Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and Clerics."
Indeed, these first three ability ratings do little more than determine whether the character receives a bonus, penalty or no modifier to earned experience.

"Strength is the prime requisite for fighters. Clerics can use strength on a 3 for 1 basis in their prime requisite area (wisdom), for purposes of gaining experience only. Strength will also aid in opening traps and so on."
Clerics, but not Magic-Users, may use this rating to increase their Wisdom score “for purposes of gaining experience only”. More on this later.

"Intelligence is the prime requisite for magical types. Both fighters and Clerics can use it in their prime requisite areas (strength and wisdom respectively) on a 2 for 1 basis. Intelligence will also affect referees’ decisions as to whether certain actions would be taken, and it allows additional languages to be spoken."
Again, it is noted that this rating can be used in a prime requisite area, this time by Fighting-Men and Clerics. This ability also helps the referee determine whether the actions of a player character (or non-player character) are feasible given the rating here.

"Wisdom is the prime requisite for Clerics. It may be used on a 3 for 1 basis by fighters, and on a 2 for 1 basis by Magic-Users, in their respective prime requisite areas. Wisdom rating will act much as does that for intelligence."
The last of the prime requisite abilities, Wisdom can likewise be added to the corresponding scores for Fighting-Men and Magic-Users. From these three descriptions, we can see that Fighting-Men and Clerics have primary, secondary and tertiary rankings in strength, intelligence and wisdom from which experience bonuses might be determined. This vague guideline has created much debate as to how exactly such a system plays out. For now, though, we can see that a Fighting-Man has strength primary, intelligence secondary (2 for 1), and wisdom tertiary (3 for 1). Clerics have wisdom primary, intelligence secondary (2 for 1), and strength tertiary (3 for 1). Magic-Users are, again, the odd man out here, having intelligence primary, and wisdom secondary (2 for 1). Strength, it can be assumed, has no bearing on a Magic-User’s experience gains.

"Constitution is a combination of health and endurance. It will influence such things as the number of hits which can be taken and how well the character can withstand being paralyzed, turned to stone, etc."
Aside from possibly having an effect on a character’s hit point total, constitution determines how well such attacks as paralyze and stoning are withstood. The definition of withstand is to be proof against, or to resist the effect of. Without jumping too far ahead of ourselves, we know that there are already saving throws in place for withstanding such attacks, which are determined by character level, and not constitution. I assume then that this ’withstand’ chance indicates whether or not a character survives the ordeal of missing such a saving throw, being so affected, and subsequently ’returning to normal’. In later editions this became system shock survival, and is, in my opinion, the exact meaning here.

"Dexterity applies to both manual speed and conjuration. It will indicate the character’s missile ability and speed with actions such as firing first, getting off a spell, etc."
Aside from giving a bonus or penalty to missile attacks, this is no more than a guide for the referee to help determine the outcome of questions arising concerning acting first in a contentious situation. I know dexterity is useful for aiding the referee in judging the outcome of certain unspecified undertakings by the characters, but the above only speaks to manual speed, missile ability, and spell-casting.

"Charisma is a combination of appearance, personality, and so forth. Its primary function is to determine how many hirelings of unusual nature a character can attract."
The above is expressing that there is no real limit imposed by charisma in regards to standard men-at-arms, only in regard to hirelings (defined as ‘unusual’ types, including actual adventurers and monsters). Loyalty of all of these types, including unusual and standard, is effected by charisma. Lastly, charisma apparently helps determine whether or not a character becomes a pig or a boy-toy when captured by a witch!

"Bonuses and Penalties to Advancement due to Abilities"
Upon this table we see the actual numeric values determined by prime requisite scores in regard to earned experience. Surviving/survival in regards to constitution and the aforementioned “withstand” has actual numbers indicating the odds of doing so. From these we can deduce that the formula for withstanding is [(constitution minus 3) times 10], yielding a range of 0% at 3, 10% at 4, and 100% at 13 or higher.

"Note: Average scores are 9-12. Units so indicated above may be used to increase prime requisite total insofar as this does not bring that category below average, I.e. below a score of 9."
This is where the primary, secondary and tertiary ability scores of the three classes gets thrown for a loop. My initial reading of the rules led me to believe that an actual reduction of those secondary and tertiary ratings could be taken by the player to his character’s ability scores, in order to increase the primary or prime requisite rating. Other readers take this to mean that one can formulate a modifier based on how high the secondary and tertiary ratings are above 9 (9 being the minimum such ratings can be reduced by when figuring this modifier) while not actually changing any of the three ratings as originally rolled by the referee. For example, under the first school of thought, a Fighting-Man with strength, intelligence and wisdom scores of 12, 13 and 14 could actually reduce wisdom on a 3 for 1 basis, and intelligence on a 2 for 1 basis in order to add to strength. This line of thinking is based on the above quote of “may be used to increase prime requisite total”. This Fighting-Man could end up with strength 15 (12+3), intelligence 9 (13-4), and wisdom 11 (14-3). Using the second method, which is based on the earlier passage under strength, (“for purposes of gaining experience only”), this numbers tinkering produces an effective experience modifier while not actually adjusting the three ratings at all. The result is still strength 12, intelligence 13 and wisdom 14, BUT, due to a derived modifier of +3 provided by the secondary and tertiary ratings, the Fighting-Man still has an effective experience modifier bonus of +10% (as if he did indeed have strength 15). The more I contemplate this, the more it makes sense that the second school of thought, or the effective modifier which is not realized by actually altering ratings, is how this was meant to be applied. The fact that, as I pointed out earlier, the three classes have primary, secondary and tertiary scores has led me to this theory. Being intelligent or wise helps every adventurer, and the fact that strength means little to a Magic-User in determining how effective he is at his profession just makes more sense to me now. Looks as if I have more house rules clarifications in the near future.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

22 comments:

Wayne Rossi said...

One point I'd make: the "withstand adversity" roll does not necessarily need to be limited to the later interpretations of "system shock." It strikes me as an unnecessary AD&D-ism to import the limited system shock to Constitution, and allow "withstand adversity" to act as a mechanic whenever it is necessary (for instance, summitting a mountain or surviving exposure).

Sham aka Dave said...

Great point! I was trying to lend some meaning to the use of the term withstand, because it could be construed as a replacement for saving throws against paralyze or stoning, and ended up bringing in an AD&D rule.

As far as your understanding of the term, I applaud your take on "withstand adversity". Thank you for reminding me to stop using my AD&D mind (it's difficult to do consistently!) when I read these books.

I'll have to include a blurb such as this when I sit down to reclarify my OD&D house rules.

Thanks, Wayne!

David said...

It sorta mildly annoys me how little ability scores really matter in OD&D. If you have 15, 16, 17, or 18 Strength, you are the same fighting-man. Your 10% XP increase doesn't change, you don't do more damage, you can't carry any more equipment, etc etc.

Similar examples exist for all abilities.

I suppose I was trained via 3.5e, in which ability scores effectively affect everything you do. Struck me as a bit odd to basically ignore them for most situations.

Badelaire said...

Never mind 3.5E, I learned D&D from the basic set and there you had modifiers from 13-15, 16-17, and 18 (with similar separations in reverse starting with 8).

I do find the 3.X proliferation of stat modifiers to be a little extreme (esp. when coupled with stats that have no upper limit), but I think the classic 13/16/18 progression is a nice balance. Why it was done away with in 1E and 2E, I'll never guess.

Wayne Rossi said...

It sorta mildly annoys me how little ability scores really matter in OD&D.

I disagree, for two reasons. One, I don't agree with your fundamental premise that ability scores don't matter much. Two, I disagree that the de-emphasis on ability scores is in and of itself a bad thing.

On the first, I think it's an error to say that because the rules as written don't put much emphasis on ability scores, that you can't do whatever you want with them. Now, the play style that a lot of the "old school renaissance" has advocated doesn't involve a lot of hard and fast mechanics for things, but on the spot I have no problem with asking, for instance, for dexterity or strength or wisdom rolls (using the old "roll under score" mechanic). In fact, you're free to do it as a 3d6 roll or a d20 roll or whatever else you like. So I look at it as: ability scores take what role you want to give them. If you think ability scores don't matter enough, make them matter more. It's your game, after all.

On the second, I think that's a really good thing. When I've run other variations, ability scores came to dominate too many aspects of the game (particularly with Castles & Crusades). With OD&D, they have a role but it's not as hard-coded into the system and more flexible. If I wanted to give, say, a +1 to damage for high Strength I could do so, but I don't need to have high Strength dominating combat like in B/X or its derivatives.

Sham aka Dave said...

David: This mind-set is not limited to players of relatively modern editions. Anyone shifting 'back' to OD&D (and let me clarify I mean LBB or White Box) probably has the same opinion. I know it took me a little while to appreciate the original ability rules.

In 1976, Greyhawk added extensive (in OD&D terms) tables for modifiers which became familiar from then on to all D&D players. Basic D&D watered those down later, but the precedence was set in 1976. Many players consider Greyhawk a natural extension of the LBB.

If it's still a major sticking point, I'd suggest giving Greyhawk a look (but be warned, add too many of the supplements to OD&D and you'll end up playing a disorganized version of 1e AD&D).

Sham aka Dave said...

Wayne: You've nicely encapsulated why I enjoy the LBB rules in regard to ability scores (and many other rules, for that matter).

I'm all about having fun, and if after trying OD&D, which David has, it's still a major sticking point, one can take a look at Greyhawk (but I am not advocating simply meshing entire supplements without first considering the LBB for what they are). BUT...your reply gives excellent advice and is truly in the spirit I wish to convey; that with OD&D you are encouraged to 'look outside the (white) box' to make the game your own.

Badelaire: Lots of players enjoy the 13/16/18 uniform approach. I tend to think even that places too much importance on the ability scores, but that's a topic I've covered before.

The bottom line? have fun, and don't be a slave to the rules.

Sham aka Dave said...

you're free to do it as a 3d6 roll or a d20 roll or whatever else you like.

I've been known to do the d6 thing (not often, but it can be fun). It's also a handy device to use if you want to define the difficulty of a task...easy? make it 2d6, hard? make it 4d6.

ability scores came to dominate too many aspects of the game...With OD&D, they have a role but it's not as hard-coded into the system and more flexible.

Yes, I find the player hang-ups on ability modifiers to be tedious and distracting; to the point that people now think rolling 3d6 in order is a punishment.

Will Douglas said...

Yes, I find the player hang-ups on ability modifiers to be tedious and distracting; to the point that people now think rolling 3d6 in order is a punishment.

It's not just that. In the 3.5 game I was in, it became an arms race.

"What? You're a Wizard and you only have a 25 Intelligence? What a loser!"

Okay, maybe it wasn't that bad, but it felt like it sometimes. You had to keep going up to mean anything in the context of the campaign.

Whereas in real D&D, you get your stats and they don't change! They stay right there where they belong and you can get on with playing the game.

Sham aka Dave said...

You had to keep going up to mean anything in the context of the campaign.

I must really be a Grognard. I didn't know one could increase ability ratings in later editions. In my old AD&D hack, I allowed Wishes to increase abilities, but they were rare enough that player would normally reserve them for emergencies and not small modifiers.

IMO, experience and the benefits that come with it are reflective of the character's increasing capabilities. Raising ability ratings (and the modifiers that might bring) only adds another layer of power creep to the game.

Matthew James Stanham said...

Why it was done away with in 1E and 2E, I'll never guess.

If I understand my D&D history correctly, it was not done away with for 1e, but introduced four years later in the Moldvay version of basic. I suspect introducing the 13/16/18 split was a subject of considerable debate for second edition, but the mandate for it to be backwards compatible probably won out.

Will Douglas said...

I must really be a Grognard. I didn't know one could increase ability ratings in later editions.

In that case, don't ever read the rules for 3.0/3.5. It'll just make your head spin.

David said...

I must really be a Grognard. I didn't know one could increase ability ratings in later editions.

Coming out of a campaign where every (yes, every) PC in the party had a strength of over 30, even the wizards, I'll attest to the fact that adjusting ability scores leads to insanity.

Certainly it stems from the usefulness of ability scores in 3.5, so I can see where it's reasonable to prefer the older method that didn't emphasize them so much.

Sham aka Dave said...

Coming out of a campaign where every (yes, every) PC in the party had a strength of over 30, even the wizards

You know, I have the three volume 3.5 rules some (kind soul) got me for Christmas several years back.

I've simply got to read some more of it. I skimmed it after the fact and shelved it, but now I'm interested in reading it again. Don't worry, Will, I'll be sure to do it while sitting down! :-)

Badelaire said...

"Coming out of a campaign where every (yes, every) PC in the party had a strength of over 30, even the wizards, I'll attest to the fact that adjusting ability scores leads to insanity."

I'm sorry, but let me interject here with a hearty "WTF???".

Blaming 3.X for letting your PCs descend into the very darkest depths of ass-hattery is like the hacker blaming his computer for the crimes he commits. Yes, the system places no explicit caps on statlines. Yes, characters start the game with a tendency towards the mid-to-upper teens in terms of ability scores, at least for their more important class abilities.

BUT, any fool who lets his players crank their PCs to the point where EVERYONE has stats of 30+ shoul have all his gaming books taken away and only be allowed access to an XBox.

That's not a fault of the rules, that's the fault of a sloppy DM who didn't keep a rein on his power levels and let things get moronically out of control.

I've played in two fairly lengthy 3.X campaigns, and my characters had perfectly reasonable ability scores. Yes, a little high compared to "old school" power levels, but nothing outrageous. And guess what - the world didn't fall down, I didn't wade through my enemies like a scythe through wheat, and I certainly never hit even a 20 in anything, never mind a 30, nor would I even know how.

Ability score modifiers, taken in moderation (which I usually feel is the 13/15/18 split), don't give that much of an advantage, and anyone who thinks they do needs to get back to their math. An 18 gives you a +3, which on a d20 is a paltry fifteen percentage gain. Big deal. If you really care that a PC with maxed stats is fifteen percent better at something than an average PC, I think you're clutching your pencil a little too tightly.

And if your point of real contention is in the areas of hit points and damage delt - I give a resounding "meh". There are so, so many ways to deal with this, I really don't know where to begin.

All right, I've carried on long enough. All I can say is that I think the extremists on both sides are wildly over-exaggerating the whole issue.

Badelaire said...

"I've simply got to read some more of it. I skimmed it after the fact and shelved it, but now I'm interested in reading it again. Don't worry, Will, I'll be sure to do it while sitting down! :-)"

Dave, I don't mean to offend, but it'd probably be better if you didn't bother. Or at least, if you do, please avoid the "Oh my god I have to write a 20-part blog post about how out of control D&D 3.X is!" response.

It's been beaten to death countless times, it came out eight years ago and is now officially OOP. If you're going to focus on "Old School Gaming" (which is totally cool - I've been reading your blog for a long while now), I suggest you just continue to focus on that and not contribute to further negativity.

You are, of course, free to do whatever you want, and I'm sure I'll read it, but just take the above as a hopeful suggestion. That ship has sailed, fought it's battles, and been decommissioned - I'd keep focusing on what you're best at.

Sham aka Dave said...

Badelaire: No worries! And thanks for the kind words and insight. As you know I've been following T&B for a long while, as well. I'm 'done' with edition wars. After actually playing OD&D, I realized I can replicate that dungeon crawl fun-filled old school feel with pretty much any of 0e, 1e, Holmes, B/X, whatever...probably even 2e (and those are just the TSR ones that come to mind).

I might spout off from time to time about why I enjoy the LBB, and slip into empty comparisons here or there, but I think my readers know where I am coming from normally.

My interest is piqued a bit, and those 3.5 books are just, ya know, sitting there...or I could just wrap them up and regift them, after all Christmas is fast approaching!

Badelaire said...

"My interest is piqued a bit, and those 3.5 books are just, ya know, sitting there...or I could just wrap them up and regift them, after all Christmas is fast approaching!"

I'd say go ahead and give them a perusal. Despite what everyone says, it's not the end of the world, it's not "unplayable", it is a "real" game. I played in two campaigns using 3.0 and 3.5 and had a lot of fun. The vast, vast, vast majority of the real "problems" I see discussed that might make the game a total wash are when the cheesemongers go nuts and just abuse the game till it cries (refer back to the 'even the wizards had 30 Strength' scenarios).

Anyhow there are far worse RPGs out there guilty of far more heinous crimes. This game just had the unfortunate luck of being called Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition.

Done and done. Glad to see you back to posting regularly! This blog was pretty quiet for a while.

Sham aka Dave said...

Done and done. Glad to see you back to posting regularly! This blog was pretty quiet for a while.

I honestly didn't think I'd return to frequent posting as quickly as I did. I do unfortunately tend to do things in frenetic waves, then move on to some other fascination. I always return to D&D, though. It's been that way for three decades. And Thanks!

David said...

Badelaire:

Yes, yes. Look, I was DMing that campaign. The problem is that my group consists of a half-dozen computer programmers. They tend to see rules as just that: rules. Not malleable by the DM, and none of my players would have fun if I placed a pile of random DM-mandated constraints on them.

The wizard of the party found a set of polymorphing spells that allowed everyone to simultaneously and nigh-permanently become both Ancient Gold Dragons and look like humans/elves/whatever.

Thus, everyone had the physical stats of gold dragons, parts of mental stats due to other spells, and the physical forms of humans. Therefore, yes, they all had high strength, among other stats.

Was this my fault? Possibly. Sure, I could have told the guy that the spells didn't work that way. He would promptly state that they were listed that way in the book. The only response is some heavy-handed "Well screw you, I don't want you to use them that way" sort of response.

So yes, I'm blaming the system for, possibly, my faults as a DM. However, to be honest, it's also a fault of the system that the spell combo existed in the first place. I'm not saying that the system is broken for certain types of players, but for those that are both borderline mathematicians and currently work something like 15 hours a week, as the player of that wizard, the game is breakable.

Now, granted, with such a player, any system is breakable if the DM doesn't want to just arbitrarily tell them that all their research and math was useless and that he is deciding to not allow something that should be possible in the ruleset for the universe that it was created in. The player, for his part, had the creativity to find the loopholes and combination of effects to allow some insane abilities; isn't creativity a fairly core component of the hobby?

Anyway, sorry if the above seems rantish, but I can't hear "as DM you shouldn't allow it" sort of things. Arbitrarily limiting people who are good at mechanics is somewhat brutish and irritating, as well as likely to make most of my players quit.

Badelaire said...

David,

Sorry I was rather brutal in my judgment call, however this is an issue I feel very strongly on. So strongly, in fact, that I'm going to stop taking up space on Sham's blog here and post my own column over at the T&B on this issue.

YOu can find the article here.

Regardless, you have my sympathies. Life behind the screen is never an easy one.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else see that this sentence:
"Prior to the character selection by players it is necessary for the referee to roll three six-sided dice in order to rate each as to various abilities, and thus aid them in selecting a role."
could be read as:
"Prior to the character selection by players it is necessary for the referee to roll three six-sided dice so as to rate each as to various abilities, and thus aid them in selecting a role."
?
John.