Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Conceptually Speaking

I spent many hours this past weekend reading Tim Kask’s thread at Dragonsfoot. First of all let me say that in my Essentials & Concepts post last month I shortchanged Mr. Kask’s efforts in compiling Supplement II, Blackmoor. I have no doubt that assembling those random, disorganized notes that he received from Arneson was a Herculean effort. It’s just that aside from the Temple of the Frog, which Kask claims was the only section of Blackmoor actually written by Arneson, I find little use with the book. I’ve never been a big fan of the Monk, the Assassin, Hit Location or of marine adventures. There’s little to get excited about. The book surely reads well, but I’m in it for the options and suggestions, and aside from the aforementioned TotF adventure, I don’t much care for that supplement.

It’s quite clear that Tim Kask and Dave Arneson didn’t work well together. In reading Tim’s posts, one finds it obvious that he had an axe to grind in regard to Arneson. That’s some serious long standing ill will, over thirty years after the fact. I cannot question or dispute his assertions in regard to Arneson, and I have no reason to do so. I do however feel compelled to recognize the yeoman’s work that Mr. Kask apparently performed in taking a jumbled hodge-podge basketful of handwritten notes and transforming them into a published book.

While catching up on Tim’s posts I learned quite a bit about the history of D&D and TSR. Tim Kask has probably forgotten more on the two subjects than many of us will ever learn. Assuming everything within is true, I came away from the often scathing comments with what I feel is essentially confirmation of how I envisioned the Gygax & Arneson co authorship of D&D. I’ll not mince words here. Arneson was not gifted with the written word. Gygax, as everyone already knows, was not merely gifted, but was a master of the language. Furthermore, Gygax was uniquely talented at putting together gaming rules. Arneson, not so much, if at all. Dave’s Blackmoor games used many outside rules which were bolted on to the ongoing campaign, such as Chainmail, naval wargame tables, and Avalon Hill’s Outdoor Survival.

Arneson is quoted as saying that he didn’t write a single word for the original D&D. I don’t doubt this one bit, but I think this fact can be taken out of context. Arneson blended the essential elements that became D&D. I believe this is why Gygax felt obliged to include him as co author. Whether or not Dave actually “wrote” anything in the first three volumes is besides the point. Gygax developed and wrote D&D. You’ll notice I say developed. This, for me, is one of the key points to the entire Gygax & Arneson team, such as it was. Gary did not come up with this concept, Dave did. Gary took Dave’s ideas and formed them into a coherent, comprehensive format that was playable by the masses. Dave couldn’t do that, and was infamous for his disorganized notes and random ideas.

I don’t mean to diminish Gary’s role here. There are certainly major rules differences between D&D’s progenitor Blackmoor, and D&D itself. It was more than a simple compilation and light edit effort. Ideas were nailed down and fleshed out, and made into streamlined playable game features. Grey areas were defined and turned into actual tables and guides. Additional rules from Gary’s Greyhawk were meshed into the system. For example, the concept of Experience, that being the reward for surviving through ongoing game sessions, went from Arneson’s Flunky-Hero-Superhero cycle to Gygax’s actual Class Levels. The idea is the same, but it has been improved immeasurably with Gary’s input. The fact that so much of the Blackmoor game used Chainmail as a basis cannot be dismissed either. Many of Gary’s own conventions introduced therein were a large part of the Blackmoor game.

It seems Arneson was good at coming up with ideas but needed someone else to translate them into a readable and playable format. It strikes me that when Gygax handed that basketful of Arneson’s notes for Blackmoor over to Kask, he knew it was a path he had already traveled. Gygax was confident that Kask could turn them into a Supplement. The components had been there for both D&D and Supplement II, someone just needed to bring them out and make them shine. I’m glad that Mr Kask was able to plunder the Temple of the Frog from those notes, polish it up, and transform it into the first example of a D&D adventure. It was never my intention to belittle his efforts in compiling Supplement II. Considering what Tim apparently had to work with he deserves co authorship on Blackmoor in the same way that Gary did on Dungeons & Dragons.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


James Maliszewski said...

This sounds just about right to me, except that I'm a little more fond of Supplement II than you are, but only a little. It's definitely a very weak supplement, especially when compared to Greyhawk and Eldritch Wizardry.

Tim Kask is a very interesting guy with a lot of great stories to share. He also seems to be a man who's either unable or unwilling to let go of past feuds and slights. I find it hard to imagine that anything Dave did 30+ years ago is deserving of the kind of bile Kask carries with him. Lots of other guys from the early days seem willing to bury the hatchet, at least in public; I wish Kask would as well.

Sham aka Dave said...

Agreed. I was taken aback by many of Tim's comments especially given that these events transpired so long ago. Hindsight is 20/20, but I wonder how many of these opinions were formed AFTER the Arneson lawsuits. That said, I wasn't there so I cannot offer comment.

Matthew James Stanham said...

I have a good quote from Gygax for you to add to your thoughts:

Dragon #7, pp. 7-8.

The reaction to the manuscript was instant enthusiasm. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS differed considerably from Dave’s “Blackmoor” campaign, just as the latter differed from CHAINMAIL: but, based on the reception given to the game by the others testing it, he had to agree that it was acceptable. Although D&D was not Dave’s game system by any form or measure, he was given co-billing as author for his valuable idea kernels. He complained bitterly that the game wasn’t right, but the other readers/players loved it.That is from June 1977.

Scott said...

I seem to remember you mentioning a past life as a competitive Magic player. There's a somewhat analogous divide in the Magic world -- some players are gifted at discovering combinations or synergies and building early iterations of decks harnessing the raw power thus discovered; some players are gifted at tuning and tweaking such decks into optimal configurations; some players are gifted at reading the metagame and making appropriate deck choices and adjustments for an individual tournament; and some players can take any deck you hand them, or any deck of a certain broad archetype, and pilot it to a good finish.

Most players are purely awful, and are good at none of these things. Players who are very good at several of these things, or extremely good at one of these things, are rare and invariably rise to the top.

Sham aka Dave said...

That's an excellent find Matthew, thanks for copying that over.

he was given co-billing as author for his valuable idea kernels.Now see, if I had access to all those Dragon issues maybe I wouldn't be making so many assumptions, even if they end up being fairly close to the truth. :-)

Scott: Yes, but it has been ages and ages. I've actually been meaning to eBay some of my older cards but haven't gotten around to it. I sold the Power 9 + 1 many moons ago for the now laughable sum of $1,800. Ugh. I wish I had kept them and sold the other stuff instead.

I understand your analogies, and played against and tuned decks with eventual National and Junior Champions back in the early days.

MtG is a fantastic game, but oh so addictive. I was never more than a second tier player. You really had to be immersed in the scene, and I could never devote the time and energy to becoming a professional.

K. Bailey said...

I am not sure I agree that Gygax was uniquely talented at putting together gaming rules. I think he was uniquely talented at something most of us never saw directly, which was the creation and running of his world of Greyhawk. His best work was taking from that and stamping it into print. His gift for language made the result viable, but it was still bound to be incomplete and inconsistent because they were shadows of something larger and more alive that could not be written down. Traveler was a true work of early game design excellence; OD&D, bless its soul, was more like a house rule and content dump. AD&D, being Gygax's more conscious, determined effort of creating a useable and public-ready ruleset, is not exactly lauded for its good rules design and clear presentation. In fact, I think if one reads Chainmail and AD&D one could fairly conclude that Gary sort of sucked at rules. Gary was great at content.

Anyway, given that OD&D was largely a snapshot of something they were actively doing instead of something they created out of nothing, it's reasonable to ask how they were doing it before they had published rules. And I think if you'd gathered up all those guys playing that unpublished dungeon-crawling "RPG" and asked them to point to the guy who'd invented it, I don't think any fingers would have been pointing at Gary Gygax.

In the end I think the outcome was appropriate. Arneson's name belonged on OD&D because it was pretty derivative of his unpublished creation, and so it's appropriate that he received some share of the money made by those who monetized his ideas. And it's also appropriate that Arneson's name came off, as D&D became its own thing. The only thing that seems regrettable about it to me is the rancor.

So I found Kask's attitude--and the hint of a big dog/little dog dynamic between Gygax and Kask--very ugly in that thread. I guess I came out of it thinking the same words as I went into it: who the hell is Tim Kask, anyway?

Sham aka Dave said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, K. Bailey.

First edition Traveler essentially duplicated Gygax's OD&D model! That said, I agree that Traveler is a cleaner, more concise sci-fi version of OD&D.

Gygax was uniquely talented at putting together gaming rules is an observation on Gary's ability to define sound gaming mechanics. The fact that so many of the rules Gygax put into D&D have stood the test of time speaks for itself. The d20 combat system, the d20 saving throw mechanic, hit points, hit dice, experience point tables, class levels, spell levels, the vancian spell system, 3d6 ability scores, the list goes on.

I cannot disagree that OD&D is lacking in organization, or that the DMG is at times a rambling mess (although it is my favorite D&D book). I still contend that Gary could write some great rules.

You do raise some interesting topics. What was more important to the hobby, Gygax's rules treatment, or Arneson's concept that became those rules?

I've become a huge admirer of the concept which Arneson created, but I also believe that Gygax's ability to mold that concept into a collection of playable rules was a vital piece of the puzzle. Was it the concept or the rules that turned D&D into a smashing success?

riprock said...

Gygax was an entrepreneur. Gygax was a passionate salesman. Gygax was a poet.

Gygax was *not* an efficient auditor, a financial manager, or a logician.

Gygax's rules charmed the audience with poetry; they did not IMHO convince the audience with lucid communication or logical consistency.

Gygax was a master of the poetry of English, but he was not IMHO particularly gifted at unambiguous technical writing.

Marc Miller, by contrast, was a pragmatic man, a soldier, an organized man, and his Traveller rules are vastly more elegant and lucid than anything in AD&D.

I take issue with Gygax's side of the story: Although D&D was not Dave’s game system by any form or measure, he was given co-billing as author for his valuable idea kernels. He complained bitterly that the game wasn’t right, but the other readers/players loved it.Gygax was *not* IMHO objective. Gygax was good at getting his crowd at Lake Geneva to agree with him for a long time, but I think he mistook their obedience for enthusiasm. Gygax was convinced that the audience would love whatever Gygax loved, and that turned out to be false. Most gamers didn't care for Lejendary Adventures or Dangerous Journeys.

Sham aka Dave said...

So again the question remains, was it the concept or the rules?

I cannot dispute your observations, riprock. As big of a fan as I am of Gary's contributions, my sentiments are probably based on the point that K. Bailey makes; that Gygax's strongest suit was the world he conceived through his imagination and story-telling skills, Greyhawk.

Nonetheless, there are mechanics that Gary devised which have stood the test of time. Elegant? That's a matter of opinion. Miller's Traveler is indeed fluid and easy to understand, and I'm a big fan of the little black books.

There's a reason I enjoy Gary's DMG so much. It's Gary's verbose writing style, the very reason why I think others find it unwieldy. I don't want my games to read like technical manuals, to be perfectly honest.

In particular I have to agree with you that Gary was often lacking in ojectivity. There wasn't much room for it considering the drive, enthusiasm and creative nature Gary boasted.

No real argument here, though. I also take pretty much anything Gary says in regard to Arneson with a grain of salt. Make that a pound of salt.

shimrod said...

Well, the question of what has stood the test of time is at the root of the Edition Wars. How much of Gary’s design has stood the test of time? How much of it really works for new players? For how many years did we argue over ascending vs descending AC? For AC, at this point even in the retro-clones have come down to “agree to disagree”, with most of the retro games keeping descending, but one or two adopting the ascending mechanic for greater clarity and utility.

Every edition of the game has progressively cleaned up and standardized the rules of the game, in an effort to reduce disputes, make the game easier to teach to new players, and allow the DM to more easily adjudicate novel situations based on logical precedents and universal mechanics. Sometimes other considerations have come into it too. 4th edition, for example, better supports cinematic action, getting the players further away from the “explore-retreat-rest-return” resource management game and allowing for more continuous action. Each time the people responsible for the revision have gotten more ambitious and more willing to divorce themselves from artifacts of the original design that perhaps were held onto more out of preference and for flavor, rather than for their practical utility and ease of use. The question of how far is too far is down to personal preference, but it’s somewhat telling how many Dragonsfoot posters (for example) clearly play BOTH old school games and the newer editions. If the old designs served all their needs, would they bother with the newer?

It’s funny that you mention the d20 combat system and d20 save mechanics, as that’s not what Gary’s really were. His OD&D and AD&D USE a d20 for both of those, but the mechanics are built into charts (an artifact of war games), as opposed to easily-remembered and consistent formulae. The combat system is pretty good, and made a great basis for the clearer and more comprehensive systems in 2nd and later editions. His Saving Throw system, though, while it oozes flavor and allows one to extrapolate the kind of threats one found in the original dungeons, is kind of silly, and creates all kinds of confusion. The 3rd ed system, by comparison, is much clearer and more logically set up. 3d6 abilities are another area that’s been altered or abandoned by (what seems like) the vast majority of players and DMs over the years, starting with Gary himself when in AD&D he recommended (IIRC) that a starting character needed two abilities at 15 or above. His alternate ability generation systems in UA went even further than most people’s comparatively less-ambitious alterations.

I love Gary’s prose, his content (of which the DMG is chock full; the systems for Sages, for Training, and for creation of Magic Items, for example, are clearly representative of particular worlds and mindsets, rather than generic systems which serve all needs), and his ideas. I love the concepts he adapted from Arneson and most of the ones he originated himself. But a lot of his systems design was kludging things that seemed to work well enough at the time, and then overestimating and/or outright exaggerating their quality, clarity and degree of refinement when writing and when talking to others. Part of this was his salesman side. Part of it was a justified pride and awareness of the originality of what they had produced. But some of it seems like misplaced pride, when you look at the stuff that DOESN’T work well, but that he hung onto and stubbornly defended.

AC is a classic example of the above. This is a reasonably elegant and logical system in Chainmail. The weapon vs. AC system worked too. When each AC integer value corresponded directly to a specific type or design of armor, it made logical sense. But once start adding in modifiers for magical equipment or Dexterity (even more so with AD&D), it starts to break down. The weapon vs. armor type modifiers have been abandoned by so many players over the years, IMO, because they had a hard time working out which modifiers to count and when. Or simply found it awkward to keep track of during play.

shimrod said...

Oh! Another thing I forgot to mention. It’s interesting to note that Gary worked on and endorsed Castles & Crusades, which to my understanding is basically a 1st ed/3rd ed hybrid game. So it’s clear that Gary himself clearly did not oppose at least some of the changes which came later.

Sham aka Dave said...

I should copy and post the comments here, they're much more insightful than the post to which they are attached.

You make some excellent points shimrod.

4th edition, for example, better supports cinematic action, getting the players further away from the “explore-retreat-rest-return” resource management game and allowing for more continuous actionI wasn't aware of this. I added many options along the way starting in the early 80's which served this very purpose. I actually have a series of optional rules that allow for what I dubbed Extended Crawling which should be found in Fight On! 5.

I don't follow the logic that homebrew or filling in the gaps by adding options indicates some inherent flaw in the system. We all know that it is not possible to provide rules for everything, and to attempt to do so is folly.

make the game easier to teach to new playersI have to strongly disagree that newer editions of D&D are easier to teach to new players. Individual rules might be easier to understand, but the sum of the parts displays a stark contrast between rules light and rules overload.

practical utility and ease of use

OD&D is abound with examples of rules which are drop dead simple to use. I don't find much if anything that feels awkward or fidgety. I'm speaking about OD&D specifically. Once you enter the realm of 1E I'd have to agree that some of the rules are downright clumsy (psionics, grappling, weapon vs AC table).

If the old designs served all their needs, would they bother with the newer?I think you're right in some ways here, but I believe that this is a function of players wanting to play. With a limited selection, it is only natural that many players who might prefer the older editions are simply not afforded the luxury of picking and choosing editions.

the mechanics are built into charts (an artifact of war games), as opposed to easily-remembered and consistent formulaeIf you convert the tables to their inherent formula, the system is the same, regardless of whether AC ascends or descends. Many old school DMs did that very thing, including me, using the tables in order to devise an easy to remember formula. More than a few of my players were confused by this devised mechanic, and found that cross-referencing on the tables was much easier. Stange but true (and as has been noted before, the preference seems to have something to do with how one's brain is wired).

As far as Saving Throws, I had forgotten how 3E uses a different mechanic. In essence the new system is still the same idea. Different types of threats can be avoided, and the chance to do so increases with experience. The change was in categories of threat, and now ability scores factor into the equation. You still have to roll higher than a target score on a d20. It's the same rule, just handled differently.

3d6 abilities are another area that’s been altered or abandonedHow so? If you mean the methods or options employed to determine the 3d6 ability scores, that's nothing new at all. In saying 3d6 ability scores, I mean the range of 3-18 used for the six character values. As far as I know this has not changed. Many modifiers have been added to inflate these numbers, but that began in OD&D with Supplement I, Greyhawk.

The weapon vs. armor type modifiers have been abandoned by so many players over the yearsNo argument here. We never used it. I prefer the OD&D Alternative Combat System. It doesn't make use of the cumbersome weapon vs AC table from Chainmail. For whatever reason, Gygax felt it was appropriate for 1E. Some old schoolers will disagree, but I think it is a valid example of epic failure in D&D for the very reasons you indicate. Although I didn't subscribe to it, it actually does work better in OD&D than AD&D because of the indelible AC found in that edition. There were no modifiers to AC, it was a code which indicated what armor was worn by the target. Modifiers were applied to the roll to hit, and not on the listed AC.

Of course this works fine for man-to-man melee, but falls apart in my opinion when incuding monsters and their AC to the mix.

So it’s clear that Gary himself clearly did not oppose at least some of the changes which came laterAt that point in his career I think Gary was just satisfied that role-players would pay for anything with his name on it. Gygax was compelled to change his stance eventually, he was not able to write for D&D, and in order to remain viable his offerings had to embrace change.

I may have missed some points, but let me say that I am not trying to defend Gygax, moreso some of my opinions. For the most part I agree with many of your examples. Presentation wise, OD&D and AD&D were lacking when viewed through the lens of three decades of RPGs.

Gygax had nothing to use as a basis as D&D was the first published RPG. Marc Miller did, and he copied Gary's OD&D blueprint to a tee. Yes the Traveler rules were different, but they had to be else it was simply going to be D&D in outer space.

I think it is easy to pick apart Gygax's system once game developers have had 35 years to improve upon the model.

I continue to contend that many of the rules remain from Gary's OD&D, they just aren't employed verbatim. Players tinkered with them all in the earliest days, but they are still present even in 4E.

If I construct a set of game rules that use all of these classic elements, but change the methods used to determine and employ them, is it really a new game? By today's standards I suppose the answer is yes. To me, it is still D&D at its core.

Whew. Anyhow, I appreciate your insight and comments everyone. You're certainly providing me with plenty of web log inspiration here. :-)

shimrod said...

Awesome dialogue, Dave. And I will certainly agree with some of your points. OD&D, as an inherently simpler rules set, has a great potential for quick “pick up and play”, assuming your DM understands the text in the first place. ;) This is the greatest value of the old school rules for me (beyond sheer nostalgia), and part of why I recently introduced some of my players to Labyrinth Lord, which is a near-identical clone of the Moldvay/March/Cook Basic & Expert D&D rules. I wasn’t just recapturing the spirit of my childhood adventures with those rules, I was enjoying them as an adult for their virtues as a different, simpler game.

In some ways the sheer volume of rules used in 3rd edition and 4th edition can be intimidating barriers to new players. But the clarity of presentation and the consistency of the systems they use, IME, usually offset that factor. Even when there are a lot of rules, the use of comprehensive indexes and standardized terminology make the longer books easier to use. When I think of my play experiences with 3rd and 3.5th editions, the sheer number of questions easily and quickly answered by reference to the list of Conditions, or the general chapter on Magic which preceded the spell descriptions, was incredible. In earlier editions there was much less consistency, and much greater dependence on the DM to make rulings. Now, this too can be preferred by many folks. “Ruling, not rules” is another watchword of the old-school. And with a great DM, it can make for easy adventure flow and less referencing of manuals. But most DMs (IME) are not great DMs, and are supported better in becoming so if they have a clear and consistent structure on which to build their mastery of the game. James M is having a wonderful time building a bigger, purpose-built structure of additional rules onto the skeleton of Swords & Wizardry. For him, the experience of creating the additional rules he needs is part of the old-school charm. But for many groups, that’s not so appealing.

shimrod said...

If you’ll forgive me for burning even more bandwidth, I’d like to respond more specifically to some of your responses to my comparisons. ;)

Re: 4th edition and the ability to “press on”. IMO whether this is a flaw in the older designs or an optional extra depends on what you want out of your game. IME most players I have encountered want their characters to more closely resemble the heroes of films and books which inspire them. In those sources, you rarely see a group of adventurers retreat in the middle of the mission for extended periods of recuperation. And you don’t see heroes completely dependent on the presence of a cleric in the party for ongoing survival. In my experiences of AD&D (1st and 2nd) and D&D 3.0 & 3.5, both happen a lot. This isn’t inherently bad. Many people accept it as part of D&D’s own unique genre. But I found it was more usually considered a drawback and a limitation.

Re: charts. One of the reasons I referred to the combat system more approvingly than the ST system is because the attack matrices can largely be converted to the same kind of structured progressions 3rd uses. I still maintain that the attack charts include some progressions that are (IMO) illogical and less enjoyable/practical than they could be. Like the Cleric’s jumping 2 points at a time, as opposed to being given a smoother progression. Re: Saves, I have to utterly disagree with you. Just because you’re rolling a d20 and comparing it to a target number doesn’t make the systems the same. OD&D and AD&D use arbitrary categories which inherently leave other kinds of mishaps or attacks without an obvious or intuitive Save associated with them. Whether or not you associate ability scores, the classification of Fortitude, Will, and Reflex saves gives you a system which is simultaneously simpler and addresses more game situations more comprehensively. This is (IMO) a clear advance in design.

Re: 3d6 abilities. Okay, we have a range of 3-18, originally structured around a bell curve, with very low and very high scores pretty uncommon. The original system allowed minimal modifiers, basically breaking down to “high” “medium” and “low” in terms of mechanical differentiation of those scores. The system itself did not inherently make much use of the actual numbers, though DMs were free to improvise additional task resolutions (common ones being rolling a d20 or 3d6 and trying to score equal to or lower than the appropriate ability for some feat of strength or dexterity). As the game (and similar derivative games) have progressed over the last 35 years, this structure has been substantially built upon. Just within D&D, AD&D added many more modifiers and elements which ability scores modified. Though again, usually you needed to have a fairly exceptional score (low or high) for a substantial change in your capabilities to register. This is probably part of why Gary suggested two abilities of 15 or above. In many scores, you needed that much just to get a modifier that meant anything. Which is kind of silly when you think about it. If only the very top and very bottom of the ranges actually mean something, you don’t need such a range. This is, IMO, one of the big refinements of 3rd & later editions. The entire range of ability scores actually mean something. Only the 10-11 range is perfectly average, with an 9 or below or a 12 or above providing modifiers, in a logical and incremental progression.

Sham aka Dave said...

the experience of creating the additional rules he needs is part of the old-school charm.

Indeed it is to many, myself included.

In regard again to Saving Throws, the rule/component itself, whether the methods used to figure it have changed a little or a lot, is still the same game component Gygax (or maybe Arneson) devised. In the end we still have the threat, and a player rolling a d20 against a score which is figured based on the type of threat and the character's experience level. The major change between editions I see is, 1. the inclusion of ability modifiers, and 2. the renaming and organization of the threats into neat categories.

The ST in OD&D has evolved, and is now cleaner, slicker and easier to use without pondering whether or not Cloudkill forces a ST against Poison, Death or Spell, or if it affords any ST at all. It's all there in black & white in newer editions. In otherwords, arriving at that target ST number has been made much easier.

Other than renaming and recategorizing threats, and dispensing with tables again (ala combat), I'm left wondering how exactly the new ST is better or for that matter actually different than the original ST? I'm not a WotC D&D expert, so you might have to fill me in as to whether my take on this is correct.

I think we could continue with this theme indefinitely.

I'm making the point that the concepts and rules/components from OD&D are still in 3X-4E. Essentially they are the same, whether or not they have been tinkered with or cleaned up.

From what I gather, you are saying that Gygax's rules needed cleaning up, rethinking and were often lacking logic and sound presentation. Fair enough.

When you say the new rules are improved, I say they are not new rules. When I say the old rules stood the test of time, you point out that they have been changed.

Rules as Components vs. Rules as Methods. Methinks we are debating this from different angles.

I do concede that OD&D needed cleaning up, and that many of the rules were not presented in the most logical fashion. The components themselves are what made the game good.

As far as Ability Scores, the OD&D method of 3d6 to acheive a range of 3-18 was, from what I've read, based on Blackmoor's 2d6 or 2-12 range. The topic of how important Ability Scores are or should be is an entirely different matter. I won't debate one way or the other here, except to say that the minimal amount of modifiers in OD&D is often troubling to players of virtually every other edition (and Gary added more almost right away with Supplement I). Nevertheless, the 3-18 range is still used in D&D.

Thanks again for the insights. I respect your opinions, and value the fact that you are able to speak to this topic by bridging the gap between OD&D and newer editions.

shimrod said...

Hey Sham, I have to say I really have been enjoying the opportunity to share ideas and opinions with someone whose creations I admire so much. Thanks for being open to the discussion.

I agree that the core concept of Saving Throws can be boiled down to an essence which is very much the same in all editions. It’s in the development and execution that the differences are significant. To tie the discussion back in with the original topic, you could also describe Dave Arneson’s original game and D&D, or even Dave Wesely’s Braunstein, in such a way that you boil them down to a common essence. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t real and significant differences between them. In flavor, in how they are used, in ease of application, etc. It seems obvious that Gary’s game was more accessible and served a wider variety of situations and players than Arneson’s game. In a similar mien, the later ST system is more accessible and covers a wider variety of situations than the older system. Also, as regards the 3-18 scale, remember that it was opened up on the lower end (particularly for animal intelligence) and on the higher end for more powerful creatures. In 3rd edition and later, racial and magical modifiers can (and frequently do, at least for higher-level characters) bring abilities up above the 18 range. The system is designed to allow for this though, in a balanced fashion.

I have a great deal of respect for Gary’s early achievements in game design and development. He was a pioneer, and those of us who are (as you pointed out) working or judging with the benefit of more than three decades of RPG development to compare with cannot seriously claim that we could have done better in his place. I just sometimes find myself compelled to point out that not all progress is bad, and that there are many valuable and good ideas in the later works; that it’s not a case of the original rules having been handed down from on high; perfect and unable to be improved. Not that I perceive you as advocating such a view. But some others in the community often seem to be working from such an assumption.

Matthew James Stanham said...

Interesting continued conversation. I want to take up three points here:

Gygax and C&C: According to his comments at EnWorld, his only real contribution to the system was in saying "no" to a lot of things.

Armour Class: Until recently I thought there was no difference between ascending and descending armour class. I have discovered, though, that descending armour class has an advantage in terms of modifiers. that is to say, a negative modifier is always a negative whether applied to hit or to armour class. Not so with ascending armour class.

Gygax as a designer: I would love to know who cam up with the idea of relating hit dice to attacks and saving throws. More interestingly, it seems the idea of progressing from "normal man" might have been his, as the same article cited above he comments that "hero" was a more common beginning in other campaigns. Difficult to figure out what is what, that is for sure. Judging him as a designer is pretty hard considering the legal obscuration. I would agree that he talked up his designs more than they were probably worth. His "letters of response" in Dragon magazine were often extremely arrogant.

Sham aka Dave said...

Thanks, shimrod. I think we are in agreement on a lot of this, in particular the "streamlining" of those older rules. I'm not ignorant of improvements, and I consider them a natural evolution of game development. I was tinkering with the rules back in the early 80s. If a more logical method is devised to determine outcomes and satisfy one of D&D's component parts I'd have to be stubborn to dismiss it. I don't think rules improvements are the underlying reason why some players prefer the earlier editions. Not for me, at any rate.

Thanks, this has been a thought provoking series of comments.

Sham aka Dave said...


Gygax and C&C: That's funny. Is Gary then the Arneson of C&C who didn't write a single word of it?

Armour Class (there you go again flaunting the King's English on us ignorant Yanks): I'm not quite grasping what you're saying here. Isn't a negative modifer to descending AC actually a "plus", increasing its score from say, AC 5 to AC 6? OK I think I've caught your drift while typing this. A +1 Sword can add one to the RTH, OR to the target's AC, and the result is the same. A Cursed Sword -1 can deduct one from the RTH, OR from the target's AC, and the result is the same. Do I get a cookie (or a biscuit)?

Gygax as designer: I too would love to know who put the notion of improved chances based on Levels/HD into the components of combat and saves. Experience and its effects are one of the vital features of D&D. I assume it was influenced by Gygax's own Chainmail, based on nothing more than the Man-Hero-Superhero format (substitute Man for Flunky in Blackmoor). I get the impression that Gygax came up with the idea of experience points and numeric levels; a more defined method of advancement.

I laugh now when I read many of Gary's old articles, and got a good chuckle out of plenty of them even back in the 80s. I don't think too many people actually took him that seriously, whether he believed it or not.

Matthew James Stanham said...

Gygax and C&C: Heh, heh. Aye, here's the link for you:


Armour class: Correct! Have a Guinness foreign extra, or a Brooklyn black chocolate stout, your choice. ;) Notice that what this means is that you can add all positives and negatives to find the final modifier from both sides. Where it does not work is for magical armour and shields (pluses are minuses in that case), and of course that is the very subject they spend an inordinate amount of text in OD&D trying to explain what to us is seems a very simple concept (but to them was obviously a problem area of design).

Gygax as designer: Indeed! The six attributes, hit dice, levels, saving throws, fighting ability, and Vancian magic are key components of what makes D&D "D&D". The fighting-man and magic-user are not quite as fundamental in my opinion, being the "hero" and "wizard" of Chainmail.

Sham aka Dave said...

I'll take the Guiness Foreign Extra, thank you! And I failed to mention that you've made an interesting observation in regard to descending AC, thanks for sharing that. You deserve a pint as well. :-)

DHBoggs said...

Just as a point of clarification on Arnesons material; Temple of the Frog, and the Disease section were straight from Arneson with only light editing by Kask. (I asked him). The hit location was perhaps a little more closely edited but was also from Arneson. The Assasin , including the assasination table, was "reimagined" from Arnesonian material to conform to "standard" Greyhawk D&D. The rest of the material came from other people.

Sham aka Dave said...

Thanks for clarifying that, DH. What I wrote was based on Mr. Kask's own posts at DF, but I have no doubt that you are correct with your information here. I've heard mention of a Hit Location system in Arneson's games, as well as tidbits in regard to the Monk and Assassin.

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

"I don't follow the logic that homebrew or filling in the gaps by adding options indicates some inherent flaw in the system. We all know that it is not possible to provide rules for everything, and to attempt to do so is folly."

I was wondering how your house ruling for D&D compares with your house ruling for your three other favourite games (Traveller, Call of Cthulhu and Gamma World)?

They all date from around the same time, do you house rule them as much? In different areas?