Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Damn You, Gygax! Part 2

A continuation of our if-you-love-someone-they-deserve-the-truth critique of some parts of the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide: Let's talk Ships. This one I'll do in reverse order (or rather: the order in which I, and many others, discovered them):


Advanced D&D, Dungeon Master's Guide: The AD&D DMG has a very enticing section on ships. Hot damn, do I love ships! I analyzed this section over and over in my years, looking for ways to play with it. It has real-world historical background, hull values, ship sizes, wind determination, movement, recovery from fires, and some fairly short, general notes on boarding melees. Sounds great. Here are a few sample tables:




Looks good. But when you try to use this information, numerous sticking points arise. Why are the ship speeds given in miles-per-hour? The basic outdoor action in D&D is supposed to be either daily-turn long distance movement, or round-based combat, and this matches neither of them; is anyone running hour-turn action for ships, for some reason? If we want to use this for close-combat action (which is really main attraction, after all), then we'll have to do a bunch of math on these numbers ourselves in order to produce a game-able scale on the tabletop. Or else, if you want to use it for daily long-range travel then you need to add some off-book assumptions about how many hours per day sailing/rowing is possible, and do math in the other direction. And there's no given way for the wind-direction generated to interact with the sailing direction (I wound up doing more math/research on sailing points myself); and there's also a mystery of what to do with all those wind speed categories, when the move table only mentions a single one of them (Strong Breeze). And the ship-size information is somewhat interesting, but it's missing the real main course: How many fighting men can I put on deck? Exactly how many catapults are mounted on those ships? How much cargo/treasure can I sail away with? All those key details for a freebooting adventurer's game are, frustratingly, missing.


Original D&D Vol-3, Underworld & Wilderness Adventures: I open up the OD&D little-brown-book analog to the DMG, and -- holy crap, it's all right there (moves in inches/round, etc.):





There's really not much more to say about it than that. OD&D has concrete, immediately game-able stats for men, movement, maneuverability, etc., scaled the same as the core game; the wind speed and direction tables interface directly with how the sailed movement table is set up; and so on. We now see that the AD&D ship section is a higher-order abstraction, with very general notes on how ships sort-of might function; but they're only fully usable as an add-on and expansion to the real thing that exists in OD&D. Why the OD&D ship-fighting rules weren't included wholesale in AD&D is a tragedy and a mystery that I'm utterly at a loss to explain.


Recommended: Look at OD&D Vol-3 if you want to do ship-to-ship combat in D&D. No ifs-ands-or-buts. It's the best, most coherent and concise group of ship-based rules for D&D ever written (and it even interfaces with Gygax & Arneson's earlier Don't Give Up the Ship! historical game if you look really, really closely). Use that, period.

17 comments:

  1. These two posts have been very interesting. Thanks for them.

    When I finally got my hands on oD&D—which was not that long ago—I was surprised by how many things—like waterborne adventuring—were covered from the very beginning. Never compared it & AD&D close enough to see that AD&D dropped the ball on some of these things.

    I never did any sailing under the AD&D rules, but I have used the rules from B/X. Which, if I’m remembering correctly, looked pretty much like the oD&D rules.

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  2. Like Robert, I always preferred the sailing rules in B/X. I didn't get OD&D until '95 or so ($50 at Imagination Games & Comics with a further 30% off!), and I, too, was struck by the breadth of material covered by the original game.

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  3. Something to note about the OD&D sailing rules: the sailing movement rates given in the naval combat section cannot be easily reconciled with the movement rates given in the wilderness travel section.

    Dividing inches per round by 30 gets you knots, and then multiplying that by 8 (for galleys) or 24 (for sailing ships) ought to give you miles per day (dividing by 5 to get hexes). But the numbers don't match up well, suggesting that the combat movement rates are intended to be all-out "as fast as possible" rates that cannot be sustained over a long period. Which makes sense for galleys but not really so much for ships. Ah well.

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  4. Robert & KenHR -- Totally agree on those points. I was very much in the same "boat", so to speak.

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  5. Glaurung_Quena -- The margin note in my book is to divide inches by 3.5 to get knots. I think you have a minor typo or math glitch, probably that you overlooked inches as 10's of yards. Like if I go to Google right now and type in "(10 yards/minute) in knots" then it gives 0.296241901, whose reciprocal (thing to divide by) is 3.37561971. This gives daily rates which are at least the right order of magnitude.

    But other than that, you're correct that the numbers don't link up perfectly. In particular, the sailed ships look generally faster than galleys in the naval combat table; but they look slower than galleys in daily travel (doubly weird if they're active through the night). Maybe if you swap galleys & sailing in overland travel it's a bit more correct. But it does look like those were probably generated separately.

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  6. Further fuel for my argument that the DMG is incomplete w/o Vol.III and that Uncle Gray wrote it thinking that every reader would already own Vol.III.

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  7. ^ I think that's a very compelling argument!

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  8. I'm going to stick out my neck and claim that go to OD&D for gameable content and to AD&D for a lot of "advanced" stuff that does not make sense. I'm also going to claim that it's because the former came from Dave's campaign.

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  9. ^ Think that's a totally fair conjecture.

    And another thing that springs to mind: Part of what really excites people about AD&D is the expanded class options in the PHB (a bit like a proto-splatbook publishing strategy, if you will). The DMG has some great essays, but frequently not immediately playable mechanics -- without even getting into the stuff Gygax personally disowned, like initiative, unarmed combat, and psionics.

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  10. Interesting. I think I need to crack open my PHB and take a peek at it with the view in mind. I might see the classes as more exciting than they usually are to me.

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  11. Delta, I owe you a life-debt for introducing me to the LBB rules for sailing with your Corsairs of Modero. Keep up the good work!

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  12. Excellent posts, very interesting.

    Are the distances in the OD&D table miles per day?

    3" per turn in the direction of the wind in a storm?? I can't make sense of that speed, can you?

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  13. Andreas -- Well, if you're not that excited, then you must think like I do. :-)

    Joshua -- I'm immensely glad! Thanks for the kind word.

    Kent -- Presumably it's tabletop inches, at the usual outdoor representation of 1" = 10 yards; and turns being melee turns = rounds = 1 minute (OD&D is sloppy about that stuff, but that's the standard and it's also realistic if you do the math to knots). I interpret the 3" in a storm as a situation where you have to take down the sail (or it gets shredded) and you just bob along helplessly 30 yards/minute in the same direction.

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  14. One follow-up for those interested: The exact same comparison could be made with OD&D's flying rules, which are again better, more immediately playable, and explicitly connected to an earlier game. See first post of this year.

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  15. OD&D really is an eye-opener. It's the only edition of the game to ever feature more rules for non-combat play than combat play. And it arguably contains more clearly constructed game structures than any other edition of the game.

    Viewed from a certain angle, the entire design history of D&D has been a long road of stripping utility from the system and replacing it with a bunch of fancy frillery.

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  16. Thanks been hoping you got into sailing rules!

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  17. Justin -- I think that's a great comment. It's just so epically weird that the big-business case (or whatever) for this game is to make it less efficient over time, and not more so.

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