Showing posts with label Action Figures. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Action Figures. Show all posts

Monday, May 22, 2023

Weekly Geekly Rundown for May 19, 2023


Knave 2e is Coming to Kickstarter! - by Ben Milton

Analysis as Loose as OSR Mechanics

TL;DR — Ben Milton’s math is off, but it doesn’t matter. His game is great and is as compatible as he says.

One of the things I really like about original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is how varied and loose the underlying mechanics are. While the basic mechanic of “roll a die and roll high” tends to rule the day, there is not a fixed algorithm dictating how powerful all characters are at any given level, nor what the proper mechanical balance of monsters should be at a given level.

AD&D characters varied in their basic abilities based on their role in a party (I’ll be doing an article on this kind of balance soon as a response to Geoff Englestein's recent articles on balance soon) and there was not an effort to make sure that every character was equally proficient with their primary mode of attack as there is today. Similarly, there wasn’t an underlying math determining what the AC/HP/Damage Per Round output a monster should do to provide an appropriate challenge for characters of a given level. 

This doesn’t mean that people weren’t thinking about things along those lines in early gaming. Don Turnbull’s classic MonsterMark articles in White Dwarf magazine are a perfect demonstration of one such attempt. It’s actually a very good attempt, and one that DMs can use to good effect. The key term here is “can use.” They are one way to turn the power level dial in AD&D.

“Turn the power level dial?” you ask. “What does that mean?”

As a part of the tremendously loose underlying mechanics of AD&D, the DM and players had a lot more latitude with regards to how they wanted to tune the power levels of their individual campaign. A DM and players could work together to determine whether they wanted PCs to be average Joes and Josephines wandering the world, talented adventurers, or Godlike legends destined to bring down the gods. And this was all possible from first level in the older edition.

The rules as written provided dials that could be used to accomplish this. The first of these dials was the method you used for rolling stats. You could do everything from rolling 3d6 in order, which would tend to give you average characters, to the system in Unearthed Arcana which guaranteed very high stats in your class’s key statistics. The basic probabilities in AD&D didn’t assume player characters had good statistics and the benefits for them tended to be in the 2nd or 3rd standard deviation of a normal 3d6 distribution. This allowed for the higher statistics to have wildly different bonuses that were often affected by which class the character played (+4 hit points per level for Fighters of high Constitution for example or +3 to hit and +6 to damage for a Fighter with 18/00 Strength). The basic game didn’t assume you had good stats. It assumed your stats were average, but you could tune your game (without house rules or cheating) to allow for higher stats and thus different scales of game play.

Similarly, since there was no limit to magic item slots in AD&D. A DM might tell you that you couldn’t have a golf bag filled with a magical sword for each kind of challenge because you could only “attune” to a limited number of powerful items. You didn’t need to attune at all. Outside of some classes limiting the total number of items you could have, the level of magic in the game was entirely a negotiation between players and DMs. Besides, the Paladin’s limit on the number of magic items the character could use is meaningless when you realize just how OP a Paladin with a “holy blade” is in a game. Magic items could turn PCs into superheroes that were outside the normal expectations of a different scale of game and this was all down to the players and DM and the game they wanted to play.

Modern D&D is much more rigid. From the moment you start with the “Standard Array” of stats that ensures that you have either at +4 or +5 in your main attack, you know that there is a backed in power level that requires house ruling and the creation of new rules to bring about. AD&D offered rules for various power levels and you could choose to use them or not. Modern D&D has an assumed power level and its hard coded into all encounters, so changing it requires more work because that assumed power level is more stable and less swingy than AD&D. In an AD&D campaign, characters will vary wildly in capabilities and most players of that style of game doesn’t bother most players. Modern D&D characters are more equal.

This is neither a good nor a bad thing. All these games are good, but they are different. Which after a long digression brings me to Ben Milton of The Questing Beast’s recent video about the underlying mechanics of his Old School adjacent game KNAVE (he’s running a Kickstarter for the 2nd edition and I’m a backer at the Completely All-in level). In the video, he answers a question about how his game where there are no classes and where ability scores range from 0 to 10 instead of 3-18 (or -3/-2 to +3/4 if you only look at bonuses) can be compatible AD&D and D&D. His answer is “The 5% Rule” which he explains in the video below.

Ben’s claim is that in AD&D and D&D characters “on average” got 5% better at attacks and saving throws every level. But is this true? It’s certainly true of more recent editions of the game, but is it true of the early ones?

Ben begins his conversation by saying that “he’s done the math” and that if you compare the saving throws and attacks of the average character at first level to the average character at tenth level their rolls are about +9 (+45%) better. He states that the worst saving throw on average for a first level character is about a 16 (25%) (his starting difficulty). Let’s gave a look. I’ve taken the saving throws for first level characters, as well as the THAC0 (To Hit AC Zero) from every base class and listed them in both d20 and percent likelihood below.

So, what’s the worst saving throw? That would be the Fighter’s 5% chance of saving against a breath weapon. BTW, do you see how terrible the first level Fighter is at saving? Man. They suck, but at least they are better at hitting opponents in combat at first level right? Oh, they aren’t? Crap. As for the average, you can see from the charts above that the average worst saving throw is Breath weapons which have an average save of 17 (I rounded down .25 and rounded up .5 and higher for these numbers) which is a 20% chance of success.

If you look at the “Class Average” column, that’s the average saving throw for that class where the “Save Average” row is the average save value for that category for all classes. This makes the Class Average/Save Average column the average overall for the average by class value and that comes in at 30%. Ben’s not off by much, but he’s off by a lot “by class” and it’s a pretty large range of difference. Ben’s system is classless, so using the average of averages is fine but it does mean that Ben is adhering closer to the modern stable dial than the older wild dial.

So he’s both incorrect and close on his statement that the average worst save is 25%. It is for all classes except Fighters. Since his game claims to be a bridging of OSR and Modern games, this is right in line with what he wants to do. But what about that 5% increase claim? The one that he uses both a claim that the average best save is 75% at tenth level and that combat rolls also demonstrate this?

Certainly, the best THAC0 increase is +8 (+40%) which comes from the Fighter. Everyone else is lagging pretty far behind by tenth level though. Similarly on the saving throws, only one saving throw is at 75% and that’s the Cleric's save versus Poison/Paralysis and given Rasputin and all the times PCs are likely to fight undead like Ghouls these are artifacts of the role. The “average” increase is only 20%. That’s the increase in the average of averages for the classes. Similarly, the best save doesn’t actually increase by that much either. What we have here is that the difference between the average worst save (excluding Fighters) at first level and the average best save at tenth level is 50%. How much does the average worst save typically increase? It goes from ~ 25% to ~ 40%, an increase of only ~ 15%.

What’s more is that it varies based on which saving throw we are talking about and which class. I don’t want to go into a class by class breakdown, but you can see the differences pretty clearly. The same is true for combat ability, which follows a similar path. It varies wildly based on class.

So…Ben was WRONG in the particulars of his “doing the math” and that makes his claim that KNAVE is compatible with AD&D and D&D completely off base right?

Nope. Remember that long digression at the beginning regarding the dials of play and how there were various inputs that could be tuned (stats, ancestry, magic items, etc.) at will to create a particular level of play? Ben’s game, while it is rooted in a more conceptually modern consistent 5% increase per level, is perfectly achievable with those dials and AD&D/D&D were created with that dial as an assumption. Ben’s game is perfectly compatible with the older game. It’s also a unique game on its own that you should check out. I recommend backing the new 2nd edition, since he makes some significant changes to the first edition but the first edition is great too.

Action Figures from My 2nd Favorite Adaptation of The Tempest

Like any geek, and I geek out about a lot of topics, I get annoyed when people who get paid to write about a things I love write something that pushes one of my buttons. One of those buttons is when people compare (as David Weiner did for The Hollywood Reporter) the Disney film The Black Hole to Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I get it, they both take place on vessels (one a submarine and the other a space ship), but other than that they don’t have much in common. The Black Hole is far closer to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Dr. Hans Reinhardt, with his frightening companion Maximillian (Caliban/Ariel in one), has far more in common with Prospero than Nemo.

I probably wouldn’t mind so much when these comparisons are made, if they also mentioned The Tempest or Forbidden Planet (my favorite adaptation of The Tempest). I would concede that the screenplay is a high concept mashup and move on completely satisfied. But it bothers me when authors use the words “tempestuous” and “maelstrom” in the same story where they make no mention of Shakespeare.

Grumpiness aside, the folks over at Super 7 have decided that they want to turn my frown upside down and are releasing a set of the three robots featured in the haunting Disney science fiction film. I’m particularly excited about Maximillian. He haunted my dreams for years. The packaging and the action figures look great and I’ve preordered them.

Classic Movie Recommendation

I watch a ton of films and consider myself to be a cineaste, but there are still a ton of films I need to see and I keep trying to fill the gaps as I can. This week I filled a pretty major gap when I watched Terrence Malick’s (1978) visual masterpiece Days of Heaven. The film shares a lot of stylistic qualities with Malick’s earlier (1973) film Badlands, but it has a more solid moral core. To be sure, it is not a story about highly moral characters but it is a tragedy about believable characters you can forgive for their immoral actions because they are trapped in a world view. Oh, and because they end up having to answer for their moral failings. It’s still a quintessentially 70s film, so it has an absurdist ending, but it left me liking the people more…even those I don’t like.


Days of Heaven is a visual treat. There is so much craft in how the film is shot. The viewer goes from one mind blowing Andrew Wyeth influenced shot to another, but each is also given enough time to burn their way into your brain. The story is slow paced, but is a good commentary on perceptions of class in a way that would make it a nice match for a double feature with In Cold Blood.

DAYS OF HEAVEN - American Cinematheque

The acting is solid throughout and every actor is visually captured with the same care as the geography, that care includes long shots that require the expression of deep emotion. It’s a challenge that all the actors meet well.

The real treat of the film though is the sound design and editing. The use of sound in Days of Heaven gives it such a deep sense of verisimilitude that I was in awe of how brave many of the choices in the mix were. Trust me. I’m saying the sound design is the real triumph in a film that is a mind blowing visual masterpiece. That means it does some really brave and skilled things with the sound design and editing and those sound choices help reinforce several plot points, including the film’s tragic turn.