Showing posts with label Gamers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gamers. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Rethinking Dungeons & Dragons: An Alternate "Original D&D" Combat System

As you might have noticed, I've been on a bit of a Dungeons & Dragons history and prehistory kick of late. My past two posts have discussed articles from the old British Miniature Soldier Society's Bulletin and the Society of Ancients Slingshot Magazine and how those relate to the early development of D&D. I'll be returning to that series of pre-D&D influences in the British gaming scene soon, but I recently read a very interesting conversation over on the OD&D discussion boards regarding the combat system for David Arneson's Blackmoor Campaign.

As most of you know, Dungeons & Dragons is over 40 years old and though the game has changed a lot over the decades one thing has remained the same. In every edition since the Little Brown Books first introduced the "Alternate Combat System" the basic mechanic of the game has been for players to roll a Twenty-sided die to determine success or failure when attacking in combat. That term "Alternate Combat System" has always intrigued me. While the original Little Brown Books recommend using Chainmail as the combat system for D&D play, it isn't evident that this was the system that either Arneson or Gygax were actually using in their pre-publication D&D games. Writers like Jason Vey, Jason Cone, and Daniel Boggs (as Alderron) have all examined how to run D&D using the Chainmail system. Jason Vey's Spellcraft & Swordplay Core Rulebook and Daniel Boggs' Champions of ZED: Zero Edition Dungeoneering have gone even further an attempted to create and play games that are similar in style to the game David Arneson may have played in the pre-publication days of D&D.

The recent conversation on the OD&D discussion boards was started by Daniel Boggs who was inquiring what David Arneson's post-Chainmail game sessions might look like. According to Boggs' post, Arneson's crew may have played using rules adapted from an Ironclads rule set Arneson had designed for American Civil War ship to ship combat. I initially confused Arneson's Ironclad rules with Tom Wham's Ironclad rules and some large sum of cash spent at Noble Knight Games later, I discovered that these were not the rule Boggs was referencing.

The discussion board conversation inspired me to play around with a "pre-D&D-esque" combat rules set of my own based on a system of rolling 2d6-2 for the combat rolls. If you read the Boggs' led conversation, you'll see that 1-10 rolls (or 0-10 rolls) might have been used by Arneson's team. My goal here is to open a conversation and get feedback before playtesting. I'm in the process of adapting the Chainmail rules outright, but this would be another alternative system.

The original Chainmail man-to-man combat system, as Boggs/Vey and others have pointed out Chainmail has at least 3 combat subsystems, uses a comparison of a person's weapon and an opponent's armor to determine the to hit roll. For example (looking at the table below), a person with a dagger would need to roll a 12 on 2d6 to hit a person wearing Plate Armor and Shield. Any blow struck kills the target, or deals 1d6 damage in D&D's adaptation of the rules.
This is a very workable system that has a lot of granularity and is one that I'm looking forward to playing with my regular game group, but it is also one that is more "fiddly" and combat table based than many modern gamers are used to in their games. If you look at the table above, you'll see that Chainmail used an ascending Armor Class much like the modern game. This was reversed in original D&D and Armor Class was rescaled so that lower Armor Classes were better and Plate Armor and Shield was given an AC of 2, while No Armor was given an AC of 10.

Under a d20 system, I have come to prefer ascending ACs as being more intuitive for players, but in the system I'm about to propose I'm going to recommend keeping the reversed ACs of the Original Little Brown Books.

What is my alternative system? It's fairly simple and is essentially what was discussed in the OD&D boards. I want to experiment with rolling 2d6-2 where the characters hit if they roll less than the AC of the defender. You can see a breakdown of the probability of success below. I've selected "less than" rather than "equal to or less than" because I want to have some potential for automatic failure.

You'll notice that this system makes it very difficult to hit opponents with a good armor class. A player would only have an 8.33% chance of hitting an opponent with an AC of 2 (Plate Mail) and only a 2.78% chance of hitting an opponent with an AC of 1 (Plate Mail and Shield). This won't be too big a deal if GMs ensure that such armors are expensive and doesn't give too many creatures an Armor Class that low. Such a strong defense should be limited to Dragons and the like.

Now that I've established the base to-hit numbers, I've got two D&D related questions to answer.
  1. How does level advancement affect to hit rolls for both monsters and character?
  2. How much damage is done on a hit?
Keeping the basic classes of the first three Little Brown Books (Fighting Men, Clerics, and Magic Users), I think that these classes improve in their ability to bypass armor as they increase in levels by having the ability to modify the Armor Class they are rolling against. In essence, higher level characters are more able to see and exploit the weaknesses in armor and thus can treat Armor Classes as a higher Armor Class as they gain levels. I would propose an advancement that looks like the one below. Fighting Men begin play with a slightly better chance to hit opponents than other classes and start with a bonus where other classes have to wait and have a lower total bonus at higher levels. Keep in mind that the Armor Class Adjustment is added to the Opponent's Armor Class and not to the die roll. Thus a 13th Level Fighting Man would attack Plate Mail and Shield (AC 1) as if it was Leather and Shield (AC 6) and would hit that 58% of the time. This may seem pretty radical, but keep in mind this is a very high level Fighting Man and that it is only a single hit.
The second question is what to do about damage. In Chainmail a single hit equals death, but "Heroes" and "Superheroes" are able to take multiple hits before dying. This is reflected in the Little Brown Books in two ways. The first is the "Hit Points" with which gamers are well familiar. The second is by counting characters as multiple "Men" as they progress. A high level Fighting Man might eventually fight with the ability of "8 Men" at the "Superhero" rank. Essentially, the ability to fight as multiple people is reflected in the Hit Points of the characters as they have a number of d6 Hit Dice that are essentially equal to the number of "Men" the character can fight as. Given that all weapons in the Little Brown Books do 1d6 damage, each successful attack does enough damage to kill a level 1 character (1 Hit Die of 1d6 vs. 1 attack of 1d6 damage), it doesn't really matter whether you want each attack to do 1 "Man" of Damage or 1d6 of damage. It's only when you add the rules for Magic, and this is D&D after all, that it becomes evident that the damage should be 1d6 per hit.

But how many "attacks" does a character get? Looking at the Fighting Capability, you can see the references to a number of "Men" for each class. That's what I would use to determine the number of attacks. Yes, this means that I'd have a high level fighter making 8 attacks against opponents. You might think that this affects game balance, except when you compare it to the damage that high level Magic Users are capable of dishing out I think it's more than warranted.

These are some preliminary thoughts on a Alternative to the "Alternative Combat System" that captures a bit of the miniature inspired play while being a bit more freeform than a strict adherence to Chainmail.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, August 06, 2012

13 Game Books You Must Own

A couple of years ago, I blogged about how every gamer should own a copy of Rick Swan's Complete Guide to Role Playing Games.  I still agree with this sentiment, but I would like to share another 13 books that every gamer should add to their library.  I'll be blogging about these books over the next few weeks, but I thought it would be good to point them out as a group now.  That way, we can hopefully talk more specifics later as I hope some of you will add a couple of these titles to your library if you haven't already.  These will by no means be the last books I mention, they just happen to be the handful that I grabbed off the shelf today.

Every gamer has an aspiration to design, and to design one must know what has gone before and get some sense of place within the hobby.  The following books are a great place to start:

  1. Thirty Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons: If you want a good glimpse of the game that launched our hobby, or at least the market for our hobby, this is a great place to start.  It is a "propaganda" piece, but it's still quite good.  I'll talk more about the strengths and weaknesses of this book when I get around to its post.
  2. 40 Years of Gen Con: Robin Laws and Michelle Nephew give us a good collection that discusses the biggest gaming con in America.
  3. The Complete Book of Wargames: Jon Freeman (aka John Jackson) gives an excellent overview of the War Game hobby at a time when that hobby was in an early transition.  By the late 80s, this hobby was nearly dead.  Today?  It likely has more players than ever, but its marketplace is very different.
  4. The Fantasy Role Playing Gamer's Bible: Sean Patrick Fannon's excellent entry into the "so this is role playing and you should love it" library.  Try to get the purple 1st edition, the stick figure cartoons make the book.
  5. Game Design -- Theory and Practice vol. 1:  There is no volume 2 to this book by Steve Jackson Games, but this is an essential addition to anyone's library.
  6. Wargame Design: If you want to know the history of the gaming hobby, from its early Wargaming roots, this is a must own book.  The staff of SPI give a great overview of the hobby's founding, and present some good design guidelines.
  7. A Player's Guide to Table Games: This is a great book to get your friends to bridge the gap from "mass market" games into "hobby games."  John Jackson (aka Jon Freeman) reviews and discusses everything from Monopoly to Sniper and the Sid Sackson revolution.  This book helps to demonstrate the Sackson/Euro link. 
  8. Family Games -- The 100 Best:  This is one of two books that end up with 200 recommendations that every gamer should have in their library.  Trust me, these books provide a great "core" collection.
  9. Hobby Games -- The 100 Best:  This is the second of the 100 Best books, and it contains titles that are less mainstream than in Family.  You should own every game in this book.
  10. Heroic Worlds:  This book is a very good overview of the role playing game hobby as of the early 90s.  It is a vital research resource, and a good checklist for completists.
  11. The Comprehensive Guide to Board Wargaming: Nicholas Palmer's essential introduction to the war game hobby.  It includes an overview of systems, and some puzzles to work out.
  12. The Best of Board Wargaming:  A second book by Palmer.  This one contains more detailed reviews of games, and a good discussion of Simulation vs. Playability.
  13. The Playboy Winner's Guide to Boardgames: Jon Freeman's reprint of John Jackson's book, and why I believe they are the same person.  You'll definitely read this one for the prose, as there are no pictures.  This book extends the discussion in Player's Guide to include RPGs and Squad Leader -- thus includes essay regarding Playability vs. Simulation.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What Every 40k Geek Needs: Warhammer 40k Lore in About a Minute

The Warhammer Universe is a rich environment that has provided millions of gamers with countless hours of entertainment.  The setting has been used as the background for role playing games, miniatures war games, board games, card games, video games, and a quite entertaining animated film written by Dan Abnett.  But a rich environment can be intimidating to neophytes.

For those of you wanting to know what this whole 40k thing is about, some wonderful chaps have created Warhammer 40k Lore in About a Minute. the Grim Dark Future of the 41st Millennium there is Only War.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Play an Unfamiliar RPG on Labor Day Weekend

Roleplaying games are a wonderful hobby.  The provide a great social atmosphere where you can hang out with friends and experience a combination wargame/improvisational theater.  Depending on your gaming group, it will likely tend toward one more than the other.

Though they are a wonderful hobby, roleplaying games are still arcane and mysterious.  If you haven't played a role playing game before, the presentation of statistics, abilities, powers, hit dice, skills, and combat resolutions systems can look as daunting as statistical notation.  Neither are actually difficult to understand when you know what you are looking at, but both are nearly incomprehensible to the neophyte.  Let's face it.  People who play roleplaying games are friendly, but roleplaying games themselves are sometimes elitist snobs.  This creates an obstacle for new players, and sometimes an obstacle to existing players trying new things.

How many people hate the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons partially because it has "new fangled" and arcane ways of handling things?  (ex. "What do you mean Fighters have powers?  They're Fighters, not spellcasters.)  How many people avoid the Indie RPG movement because if it's obsession with terminology like "gamist, narrativist, simulationist?"  Assuming x a person who hates/avoids based on the criteria given, I think the answer to both of those questions is:


Given that games themselves often present the obstacles to recruiting new gamers, or inspiring players to play new games, it is incumbent on us "the gaming community" to bring new people into the hobby or to try out new things.

We can be thankful for the fact that there are plethora opportunities for us to recruit new players or try out new games...without spending a dime.

That's right.  There are free games out there.

I'm not just referring to the many free role playing games one can download at 1000 Monkeys 1000 Typewriters.  Nor am I just referring to great free games associated with children's literature.  Though I am referring to both of those.

In recent years, there has been a wonderful event each June entitled "Free RPG Day."  The event is coordinated by an ad agency that gets game companies to sponsor the event by offering products.  These products often include basic rules of the game, and are often beautifully designed (textually and visually) professional projects.  If you go to your local game store on Free RPG Day, you can pick up Free RPGs.

But what if you missed the Day?

Thanks to the Internets.  Every day is "Free RPG Day."

You can download games from this year's "Free RPG Day" from the internet for free right now.   Why not use this as an opportunity to talk all of your friends into a crazy Labor Day Weekend gaming session?

Here is a list of games/adventures from "Free RPG Day 2011" that are currently available:

I highly recommend the DragonAge and Savage Worlds offerings.

Have some fun!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wizards of the Coast to Supportive Old School Home Gamers -- "Go to Hell!"

Those who read this blog know that I am usually a staunch defender of Wizards of the Coast. While others were complaining about Wizard's release of a 4th edition of D&D, I defended the idea. Since that time, I have become very excited about 4th edition and am in the process of putting together a campaign for my regular gaming group to play when we finish our current Eberron campaign.

I am eagerly awaiting the new Red Box, the Essentials product line (which is reaching out to "recession" gamers and new games), and even the controversial Gamma World. Many are concerned about the "collectible" nature of some the power cards in GW, but after seeing the Gamma World presentation at Gen Con I am excited at the prospect.

What I am not excited about is Wizards' next "Encounters" campaign -- KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS.

Let me rephrase that.

I am ecstatic about Wizards releasing a 4th edition version of KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS, but they have just told me to f@&# off by making it their next "Encounters" adventure.

I think that the Encounters "D&D Play" events are good for gaming in general, and good for local retailers. Having weekly single encounter adventures that are run at local game stores is wonderful and promotes the hobby. Never making those products available to the gaming community at large is an insult.

I'm sorry, but I don't have 2-4 hours on a Wednesday night to go to my local game store to play D&D -- let alone the afternoon. I am an MBA student, work full-time, and have two-and-a-half year old twin daughters. I game at home. My obligations at home, those lovely little girls who I adore more than anything, prevent me from gaming "away" from home.

I have been playing D&D for over 20 years and some of my fondest memories of D&D where when I was in high school. I didn't have a large gaming group yet and would spend my time running "solos" -- I would take multiple characters I rolled up through published adventures. The adventure I most frequently solo'd? KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS.

It is likely my favorite adventure of all time. I would love to buy a copy. But I can't, nor can I go to the store and play the "Encounters." What I will be able to do is read other gamers share their experience playing the adventure with deep envy.

By making this highly desirable product available to some gamers -- those who have spare time during the week -- and not to others, Wizards is flipping a big bird in my direction and I don't appreciate it.

If they ever make any of their Encounters adventures for sale to the general public, I will be overjoyed. I'm willing to give a 6-month exclusivity period to stores even, but until then I know that I and gamers like me are not high on Wizards list. It's too bad, since I have purchased one of every book they have published over the past decade -- sometimes more than one.

Yes...that includes all of the fiction as well.

Hook a supporter up please!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

You Can Take Our Money, But You'll Never Take Our DS's!!

Elizabeth Young, over at Forces of Geek, has a post that contains this video showing how gamers will let you harass them and take their money, but don't even think about taking their Nintendo DS's.

Then comes the smack down!