Monday, January 5, 2009

D&D Cover to Cover, part 32

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.

Monsters & Treasure
EXPLANATIONS OF MAGIC ITEMS (continued)

ARMOR: Armor proper subtracts its bonus from the hit dice of the opponents of its wearer. If the shield’s bonus is greater than that of the armor there is a one-third chance that the blow will be caught by the shield, thus giving the additional subtraction.”
The above quite innocent looking passage is what I once considered one of the poorest thought out of all the guides in the first three volumes of the game. In later editions, the system was changed entirely to not only arrive at fluid Armor Classes, improving in their protective quality with various modifiers, but also allowing magic armor and shields to be additive. This is one of the last gaming conventions unique to the 1974 rules that I have come to accept. It has indeed taken me months to get used to the static Armor Class system of the original game.

To recap the original system, Armor Class is not only defined by the armor worn, but also defines what armor is worn. In other words, there is only one way to achieve AC 4; Chain and Shield. Protective bonuses of any sort do not lower, or improve, this rating. It is basically a code revealing the type of armor worn. This was a major departure for my 1e mind when I first took on this edition. I spent many hours working the system over and converting it into a simplified collection of formulae and shortcuts.

Then I saw the light. Now I have adopted the original Armor Class setup. It’s up to the player to remind the referee that his magic armor (or other items) subtract from the attack rolls of monsters, just as it is his responsibility to remember to add magic or other bonuses to his own attack rolls during melee. Inspired by the method used by David Hargrave to indicate Armor Classes greater than AC 2 in his Arduin campaigns, I have adopted the simple AC expression of X+X. For example, the above wearer of Chain and Shield, who was lucky enough to find a suit of Armor & Shield +1 (Chain) would then score his AC as 4+1 rather than 3.

Why not 4+2, you might ask? Simply because, as related in the above passage, these two magic items do not in fact “stack” or become additive. Plainly put, using these rules, there is no advantage to Chain +1 and Shield +1 when compared to Chain +1 and Shield. None. Homebrew to taste. In the case of Chain and Shield +1, the character’s AC would still be 4, but the character would have a 33.3% or 2 in 6 chance to increase to 4+1 during melee.

It is quite common to see this explained as a positional or tactical translation of the protection afforded by a shield; that it protects against approximately 1/3rd of the possible directions of attack. The rules do not actually say this, though. They say that 1 out of 3 attacks will be caught by the shield, giving the additional protection to those attacks only. If engaged in single combat, presumably, the shield would always be positioned properly. But the rules state that the shield must catch the blow to effectively add any possible higher bonus it might grant. Furthermore, using a tactical ruling such as this shouldn’t be limited to magic shields, it should effect all Armor Classes, creating more detail and positional concerns than I care for. Nay. I prefer the static AC defining what is worn. AC 4 is Chain and Shield, and Chain and Shield is AC 4. No splitting hairs.

While I have indeed accepted the original game’s methods for Armor Class, and the effects of magic armor, I’m still struggling with the 1/3rd business for shields with a greater magic protection than one’s armor. My options as I see them are to:

1. Run it by the book telling players to keep a d6 handy which they must roll against each successful attack upon their character who has a shield of greater magic bonus, or

2. Use the simpler “positional/tactical” interpretation which I am not satisfied with, or

3. Allow the two values to become additive, or

4. Do away altogether with magic shields, or

5. Make magic shields do something else entirely.

Of the above options, I have used both 2 and 3 in the past. I want to avoid bonus inflation though, and as I move toward an even more abstract treatment of melee, I find the positional interpretation unsatisfactory.

Now I am considering option 5. My thoughts are to allow magic shields to give a bonus to either missiles only, or to certain saving throws, but not to Armor Class at all. A magic shield might provide it’s bonus to saving throws against certain targeted effects or dragon breath, for example, but not poison or area of effect spells. A bonus that would be judged on a case by case basis, provided the player remembered to announce such a modifier.

I’ve managed to digress from the normal scope of my reading here, but this is a major difference between the original rules and later editions of the game. As with many of the perceived peculiarities of the white box, I might simply try the by the book method, telling players who fall into the category of having a shield of greater magic value than their armor to roll a d6 every time they are hit in melee. A roll of 1 or 2 means the shield comes into play, and might raise their AC just enough to turn that hit into a miss by catching it with their shield. I have often found that once these seemingly baroque differences of the original rules are tried in actual play, they aren’t nearly as bad as they might seem at first.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

5 comments:

Chgowiz said...

Inspired by the method used by David Hargrave to indicate Armor Classes greater than AC 2 in his Arduin campaigns, I have adopted the simple AC expression of X+X. For example, the above wearer of Chain and Shield, who was lucky enough to find a suit of Armor & Shield +1 (Chain) would then score his AC as 4+1 rather than 3.

I understand the notation, but is the effect still the same, ie., if Bob the Fighting Man has say Chain Armor +1 (AC5+1), if using the Alternative System, would the effect be the 2HD monster has to score vs AC4 or the 2HD monster has to score against AC5 as a 1+1 monster (I'm trying to interpret the phrase: "Armor proper subtracts its bonus from the hit dice of the opponents of its wearer.")

P_Armstrong said...

I find that in OD&D the term "Hit Dice" is used in a few different ways. I think it is a symptom of having the game “taught” to new players in the old days instead of people actually learning from reading the rule book so care wasn’t really taken to harmonize the terms.

Hit Dice is used to mean the now accepted device to determine a monsters hit points but it is also used as a term for the dice rolled to hit ie. the d20 for the Alternate Combat.

So chain mail +1 would subtract 1 from the d20 roll.

As for making shields do something else, does it really have to be bonus to combat or saving throws? A +1 magic shield is boring. How about a magical shield that acts as a normal shield but acts like a light spell cast on it if the command word is uttered or has a swirling colored pattern on the front of it that acts as a Charm Person spell or is so shiny anyone that holds a light source and looks at the bearer is blinded? Far more interesting.

Sham aka Dave said...

Chgowiz: Aye, patrick hit the nail on the head. In the case of the widely used Alternative Combat System, hit dice, in this example, refers to the fighting capability of the attacker.

And yes, essentially it IS the same as just changing the AC by one, but then the immutable AC ratings are lost when modifiers are applied to what was originally a static value. I'm trying the game using the original approach, but as far as the numbers go, everything can be streamlined and tableless by using calculating some formulae.

Patrick: A +1 magic shield is boring. How about a magical shield that acts as a normal shield but acts like a light spell cast on it if the command word is uttered or has a swirling colored pattern on the front of it that acts as a Charm Person spell or is so shiny anyone that holds a light source and looks at the bearer is blinded? Far more interesting.

In a world where there might only be a single magic shield of each type, it wouldn't be so boring.

But I understand your line of thought here. I think such ideas are best left to the individual referees to homebrew and place in thier campaigns.

One could homebrew a magic shield that has a chance to absorb and store magical energy, then blocks the next hit upon the wielder once 10 spell levels or some such amount are absorbed.

Perhaps a table of magic shield properties would be in order, something simpler than my above example.

The game begs for this kind of stuff, so have fun with it.

Chgowiz said...

Ha! Thus begins the confusion:

Patrick: but it is also used as a term for the dice rolled to hit ie. the d20 for the Alternate Combat. So chain mail +1 would subtract 1 from the d20 roll.

Sham: In the case of the widely used Alternative Combat System, hit dice, in this example, refers to the fighting capability of the attacker.

I've always interpreted HD == level of monster == fighting capability.

Interestingly, it ends up being the same result if I drop an HD (literal interpretation of "subtracts its bonus from the HD") or if I take 1 from the dice roll, going off of pg. 20 of LBB-1) - but that breaks once we get past Level 9. Moving down a HD would equal a difference of 2 needed "to hit".

:scratches head:

Sham aka Dave said...

Ah, the joys of the original rules! I'll further ruminate on my interpretation. When using the Alternative Combat System, instead of throwing multiple six-siders to express fighting capability (ala Chainmail), a single d20 roll is used to do so.

To echo Patrick, hit dice in this case refers to the attack roll. The effectiveness of the attack roll is determined randomly, and cross-referenced with the target AC and attacker's own HD.

I made a poor choice of words in my comment, as fighting capability is as misleading in this context as hit dice!

Now, and I should have thought about this when writing today's reading, I can see how a referee might interpret it to mean that the actual skill level of the attacker is reduced. It does not say that the attack roll is reduced, so yes...it is open to interpretation.

It could very easily be read as actually reducing the combat skill of the attacker, and not his attack roll.

I'll have to revisit this with another post. I will say that it is widely accepted to subtract from the attack roll, BUT using widely accepted assumptions is not in the spirit of this series at all!

Thanks for pointing out a topic I managed to gloss over, Chgowiz.