Bonuses and Penalties Due to Abilities p.6 Basic D&D, TSR 1977
This is part 2 of a lengthy discussion about how OD&D works.
The previous section can be found here:
The last installment seemed too long, I have decided that I will attempt to limit myself to smaller bites and present something shorter. Let me know what you think.
Abilities, Penalties, and Bonuses
My last post was on the subject of Classes and Attributes.
I covered how there are at least 5 different methods for how stats, or attributes, impact other mechanics, from how many hit points you have, to how well you hit, and even for how many languages you can know.
The one missing application for attributes in OD&D is the use of die rolls for determining things like how well you spot something, or jumping over a pit. This is the Arneson mechanic from the Napoleonic character sheet. I also proposed putting that back into OD&D when needed, but using them as a non binary ruling which I called Grey Rolls.
Be careful on using Grey Rolls as for the most part, I feel that any rolls that take agency away from both players and Refs are a bad idea. If you are a ref you are there to make judgements that fall outside the rules but fully within the story. You should be making a lot of calls based on reasonable outcomes.
This is perhaps a primary difference between what OSR players prefer and what newer edition players are used to. Play went faster because there was less die rolling and a DM would simply assume that it was reasonable to either see something, or not see something based on a player's described action.
No need to attack me, as I am merely making an observation. I do invite people to come play with me some time, as having played many different systems I believe the experience is entirely different.
As with all my articles I want readers to take away an essential concept. Last time I highlighted player experience or expectation, and the concept of saving throws, but really I was playing a trick on you and the whole discussion was on attributes. or was it?
Matrix for Men Attacking p.19 OD&D, Tactical Studies Rules 1974
Combat in OD&D
The reason for confusion about how OD&D is designed is because the combat bonuses are what I call Back Loaded. If you consider the sequence of events for combat as a front to back, or beginning to end process, the bonuses are all on the back end of the sequence for combat.
Step by step OD&D combat:
1. ATTACK ROLL TO HIT -- This is based on experience level for players, and hit dice for monsters, and is compared to...
2. THE PRIMARY DEFENSIVE SAVING THROW -- This is the defender's AC, the fixed value of armor class for everything.
3. A ROLL TO INFLICT DAMAGE -- A successful roll to hit causes damage points in the form of a die roll for damage.
4. THE SECONDARY DEFENSIVE SAVING THROW -- Damage received is subtracted from Hit points; a pre- generated type of defensive die roll.
A player feels active during their own die roll phase, or steps 1 and 3, because they are literally rolling a die to affect combat. You roll to hit and maybe you also roll to do damage - YAY!
Consider that all of their real bonuses reside in their defense, when they are not rolling dice. Players do not feel active based on their armor class, or how many hit points they have. Both these values are determined before play actually happens. they feel like fixed values.
If you look at the chart from Basic D&D there are no attack bonuses except for missile weapons, and the juicy bonuses go to hit points, it was the same for OD&D.
Additionally, the mechanisms for player uniqueness and heightened ability are hidden in the experience points in OD&D. Stats are mostly having an impact on how slowly or quickly players move up in levels. A character having high stats advancing faster in experience is such an odd approach that a lot people who played, either discarded the rule once the supplements came out, or felt that their stats weren't really doing anything for them at all. Interestingly the rule for Prime Attributes is still used, although expanded, in the Basic D&D set from 1977 and on.
Do you feel any better knowing this as a player?
Probably not, back loading is kind of weird.
Most players were not aware that their special combat bonuses existed in terms of defense rather than offense. Additionally, the attacker side Attack Bonus only came about upon reaching 4th level! Woot, you get a 10% better chance of hitting things.
There's more, the entire concept of THAC0 could not work perfectly in OD&D because the combat chart skips from +10% per 3 levels to +15% between levels 7-9, and then back down to +10% per 3 levels, and then again back up to 15% in the last column. It's not like an equation of +10% every 3 levels for fighters, it's quirky.
So what is the magic word? Player experience and expectation. Ok, it's several words.
Players wanted to feel active during a game and feel like they could get bonuses on attack in order to be more special. It didn't take long for them to get rewarded in the form of a strength based chart for attack, damage, and even door opening ability.
Matrix for Monsters Attacking p.19 OD&D, Tactical Studies Rules 1974
Fairness in OD&D
Players also want fairness. OD&D although a brutal combat system with high mortality rates, is very fair.
Players back in the early days of RPG's were more often than not coming from a War Game background. Their expectations were much different for how an RPG should work and what they could expect as a green troopie, or cadet. They didn't expect to be able to do much as a novice wizard either. What they really wanted was an even playing field. Thus 1 man fighting 1 orc has a 50/50 chance of winning, or losing.
This is how the fairness is built into the brutal OD&D combat system. In OD&D everything gets a certain quantity of d6 as hit points; roughly 1d6 at each level. All weapons do 1d6 damage. In each combat round all things happen simultaneously. I know this because I made recordings of Bob Meyer running a Blackmoor game and I was watching closely to see if he used initiative, or parallel actions. Since Bob is trying to preserve Blackmoor, my hunch is that Bob is ref'ing in this way because he learned from Dave Arneson way back before D&D existed.
There is no initiative, or getting a killing blow in before the bad guy hits you. Both sides of a combat get to do their thing and then everything is resolved. Once again, this is a war game concept; each side gets to attack and do damage. In fact, just as in real combat, it is possible for two adversaries to kill each other in the same round!
I know, you're probably saying - What The Heck! This is a crappy game, where is my DX for initiative, where is my STR bonus for attack, where is my STR bonus for damage, where is my INT based skill for special attacks?
All I can say is that although Gygax and Arneson were fully aware of the player experience as a game outcome, they were also probably very much obsessed with the idea of a simulation.
I cannot speak to Gygax's game knowledge as I am not a Gygax historian.
Arneson was certainly very aware of player expectation because he had been designing games since the mid 60's. If one reads his First Fantasy Campaign book, he speaks about having defensive saving throws in his Blackmoor campaign as a way for players to avoid hits. He also says that these die rolls made combat last longer, so he stopped using them in order to speed up play. Consider that play speed is a really important factor in player enjoyment.
I hope you enjoyed these observations and learned something about OD&D.
Next time I will talk about how even OD&D is NERFed in favor of the players and how we eventually arrive at the major change in attributes, classes, weapons, and combat.
Or, -- How the Wizard gets the short end of the stick.
Thanks for reading, Griff
My little quickly written out thoughts about OSR have garnered a bit of attention.
My post was a vague commentary on some recent articles like this one:
Of course, my title was a bit over the top, so are these proclamations that OSR is dead.
One Blog Post out of millions says: Kill the OSR, OSR is dead, and people freak out. I even got banned on one group for my words as someone reported it as hate speech. Uhm, we're talking about Elf Games here. It's not real.
I'll post these screen grabs because I think being banned for having an opinion is hilarious.
And then Greyhawk Grognard also posted this response on the same group:
So I thought: well, if he can cite my blog post in his post I can repost mine there too right?
It seems citing me is one thing, posting me is another.
Banned 'til Monday.
But, my post is still cited within Greyhawk Grognard's post.
I am not in any way angry about this and I don't want to promote drama. I generally want to promote hilarity and to me this is hilarious!
Ok, back to OSR things.
I get it. Joe doesn't want to be weighed down with a term that means just one thing. He likes OSR. Fine with me. I don't need to argue with Joe because we are actually in agreement. We also are both focused on promoting the older games because they are fascinating to both of us.
So let me state that, no OSR is not dead. Yet it may be stagnant. The article about OSR being dead did have some salient points. It stated that there hadn't been as much activity on the subject of late.
The post argues that an absence of products is why:
Interestingly one person in an online discussions mentioned that OSR is actually a marketing term.
"It's a marketing term to sell RPGs to the older crowd who doesn't like the feel of more modern RPGs. It does serve a purpose for that reason alone. Kind of how "Alternative" music used to mean an alternative to the mainstream, and then it became mainstream so calling it by that name was kind of absurd, but it still served a marketing purpose even if dumb." - I won't post the author's name publicly for privacy reasons.
The comparison to Alternative Music as a term is dead on. what the hell does this mean once the product is a slice of a huge market?
I poked around the web and this popped up.
I still wonder what OSR means too. If a person is new to gaming the acronym means nothing. If you tell them it's Old School Game Rules, that sort of means nothing as well.
I talk to gamers all over the world and they usually surprise me. For instance, Poland is likely one of the great bastions for older edition RPG's. I recently met a gamer in Croatia and chatted about games. The entire tone of the conversation was about DIY and older editions, to which I responded: Oh, you must be the same age as I am. Well, I was wrong!
Age has nothing to do with it either.
There is nothing old about gamers who play earlier editions of games. It's like calling yourself an Old School RISK player because you own a board from the 70's; never mind when the game was originally published.
My focus is always on behaviors. What is it about OSR that is OSR:
1. People who are OSR play older editions of RPG's and not just D&D. Praise must be given to other early RPG's like Tunnels and Trolls, E.P.T., Rune Quest, and many others.
2. OSR players love the old Adventure Modules.
3. OSR players are DIY and play their own worlds and adventures (oh oh, what about behavior #2?)
I could probably make up a million other definitions. As you can see points #2 and #3 reveal the flaw in trying to define this beast. It means something different to everyone. And I will say that is why Greyhawk Grognard likes the term.
If OSR is dying, and I say IF, then it's the fault of those who play in the old ways failing to understand how to communicate what they do effectively.
Consider my experience of joining a Path Finder group several years ago. I rolled up a character, the party needed a wizard, and lo and behold my dice made an awesome one. Since I was the noob, I was told to take the Path Finder: Core Rulebook and just make up my character while the others played. My first experience with PF was sitting at a table for hours poring over a highly complex system in order to create my wizard as others played an adventure.
Being an old Grog, I play a very goal oriented style. You don't have to always kill the beastie. I played PF enough to realize that Obscuring Mist wis my friend and I could cast 2 in day. I used it to get our party past a room full of arrow slits and into the treasure room unmolested.
I mention this because I played PF in the old way that all of you who have experience are familiar with. For the most part, the game group was always doing hack and slash battles, because the rules heavily favor it. Yet it is possible to play a new game in a traditional style.
Consider a new player arriving at your session. I would assume you would explain a bit about what you are doing.
I can't tell you what and why you are playing your games, but it may be worth considering it yourself.
Why do I play the system I am playing over other newer games?
What is the intrinsic difference about the game I play that makes it different?
And also, is this concept I have defined for myself the essence of why I would define myself as an Old School Role-player?
RPG as a term has gotten bandied about as a way to market games for some time now. I personally do not consider a computer dungeon crawl to be an RPG, as I define it. And then I see the use of Old School as some way to define certain RPG's, yet there are a lot of old RPG's I would never play.
My reason for playing the old games is based on actual game mechanics. I play games where the game play is not limited by the rules. In fact, there are no rules for Role Playing. The Mechanic for the older, or traditional RPG is that the referee describes reality to the players and finishes by asking - What do you want to do?
The beauty of the original editions is that a person off the street can play this game, because we all know how to play make believe. A new player doesn't even need to know what the rules are at all.
David Wesely calls RPG's Collaborative Story Telling. His Braunstein game is the jumping off point for what has become D&D, and then every other RPG we play. it's a clear line of invention from him to Dave Arneson.
As far as we know, Dave Arneson created the play style that is used in RPG's. It is different from a Braunstein. The play style is somewhat watered down in a game such as Path Finder, becoming more like a war game with battle mats and minis for game play. And i use PF as an example and am not vilifying the game, if you like it play it!
I think it is important to be clear in how one describes these things. If OSR is old school rules, then everyone must be playing Braunstein games. Of course this isn't true. Yet it's worth thinking where exactly in the evolution of these games you are planning on existing.
You can call it what you want. If you play in the traditional manner as presented by all the early games from the 70's, then you are actually playing Dave Arneson's, Blackmoor Role Play Method. Well, BRPM doesn't serve to promote or explain what this is either.
Perhaps those who say OSR is dead are correct, as OSR is dead in terms of being a useful description for an era of RPG's.
I call what I do traditional role playing. If you ask me what that means, my answer is simple: come over and play a game with us and you'll know.
The only way to define these games is through in-game actual play experience. You can't convince a new gamer who plays D&D 5e that your game is different without a demonstration. And trying to qualify your game with words like, it's better, it's true to what Gary and Dave wanted, or it's a real RPG, aren't going to engender good will from other gamers either.
Yup, call it what you want as a rose is a rose is a rose by any other name.
Exactly how OSR are you?
Do you even recognize the image I've posted?
What is OSR?
I actually thought it stood for Old School Rules.
If it's a movement how come most people don't even know what it stands for?
How come everyone who does claim to be into OSR can't really define it for you either. The main point of it seems to be that they are OSR and you aren't!
Ås we researched Role Playing while making Secrets of Blackmoor it became apparent that we needed to invent a system for defining what is, and what isn't, a role playing game. We also noticed that there are a lot of types of RPG's.
We came up with definitions and terms that did not pigeon hole anything too rigidly, because RPG's are hard to define by nature. It reminds me of the old farmer who is talking about art and says: I can't draw water from a bucket, but I know art when I see it.
Consider that, the only way for someone to get a feel for how older games are different is to actually play in an actual game.
It seems pretty clear that some games have different degrees, or types, of role playing in them, so the arguments that erupt all over the internet about Role Playing are not very productive. If you've seen one of these online battles, you'll know what I mean. i.e. You aren't Doin' it Right, and I'm the only one on the planet who is doin' it right!
Michael Mornard has been known to post this during the middle of a flame war online -
"You're Arguing About Elf Games!"
Maybe it's time to dump the OSR label for good. It seems to have done the opposite of what it should be doing. It is somewhat elitist and it's a turn off for some people.
What do we really want?
The real purpose behind wanting to promote older style games is that they really do use different play methods. We certainly do not want to alienate anyone who plays a game with slightly different play in it. Going onto social media, or a gamer forum, and ranting is a jerk move. No one wants to be told: your game isn't an RPG and my game is, and you should only play the games I tell you you can play.
A more polite way to introduce the subject is to use a question, and use words that are not an imperative.
Try this out some time:
-Have you ever considered playing a game that uses traditional RPG play in it?
- I play the same system, but I have introduced Traditional Role Playing into it.
If the person bites and wants to know more, ask them to come play in a game sometime. It seems much more inviting to say: We play with X rules, and we use Traditional Role Playing while running it.
Lets get rid of OSR as a term and as a way of excluding people, and move forward with a much looser definition. Something will grab the attention of gamers as a new label. I would propose a term like Traditional Role Playing, and I would avoid turning it into an acronym. Acronyms are for corporations and people who want to be part of a special club that other people can't be part of. If you run games at conventions, start to put the term Traditional Role Playing in your game descriptions.
The Bards of Greyhawk have invited me to play some HackMaster this weekend. I expect I will be playing a game that uses Traditional Role Playing Methods in it, ;)
All righty, I got my flame suit on - I can take any criticism you can throw my way.
(Image Courtesy the Dave Arneson Collection)
When Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax worked on the drafts for Dungeons and Dragons in 1973, they were exchanging sections of the rules for commentary and play testing.
(Image from the Movie Secrets of Blackmoor
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