Thursday, August 30, 2018

BTPBD Missile Fire

Follow-up to the last two posts, in which we reflected on how incredibly scrambled the D&D man-to-man scale has been from its inception, especially highlighted by its rules for ranged combat (which allow a person to hit another individual at incredible distances).

But let me present a case that comes further over the top than even that. Some of us have had the opportunity to look at the manuscript titled "Beyond This Point Be Dragons", which based on textual analysis is widely believed to be at least derived from a pre-publication draft of D&D. Here is that work's Table 30: Missile Fire:


Notice that each missile weapon has two rows: The second row exactly matches the Chainmail target numbers, which give rolls needed to score an instant kill. (Note that this is identical to how the Chainmail table for melee is used -- providing chances for instant kills, after a hit is first scored by normal D&D-type mechanics.) It is the first row that gives chances to score a simple hit, and these numbers are (obviously?) lower and easier to score than the instant kill numbers -- specifically they give, for most weapons against unarmored men (AC 9), automatic hits at almost every range (e.g., for light crossbow, longbow, composite bow: 2-2-3 on 2d6). And here there is no ambiguity about the implied range increments: the note to the table says this is definitively in tens of yards, up to 240 yards for a composite bow.

So whoever wrote this table thought it was reasonable for a longbowman to have a 97% chance to hit an active individual man at 210 yards, or a heavy crossbowman a 100% chance to hit at 240 yards, etc. Which I think we can all agree is outrageous lunacy, granted that grand-master champion archers in England today actually have about a 1% chance of hitting a like-size immobile target at distances like that.

Whatever errors were made by the earliest D&D author(s) in terms of mundane activities, the misunderstanding of man-to-man missile fire was surely the most thoroughly broken concept on the table.


10 comments:

  1. I'd be curious if this is the result of someone not understanding/checking the probabilities, or this person liked the numbers and did not care for "realism"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm guessing it probably has to be "both" for something this egregious.

      Delete
  2. Just as a historical note BTPbD was edited together By Mark Bufkin, who was a player in a spin off group run by one of Dave Arneson's players (Chuck Monson). He used a photocopy from Arneson of a D&D draft (the GD&D draft) to create BTPbD. I'm not sure if it was Bufkin or Gygax or who that made the Missile Fire Table.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's great to know -- do you have a citation for that? I thought studious folks at OD&D Discussion still held that in debate, but maybe I've missed the key reveal.

      Delete
    2. One easy-to-link citation is Jon Peterson's post on the subject: http://playingattheworld.blogspot.com/2017/07/the-dalluhn-manuscript-and-contax.html

      Delete
    3. That's very cool, although I don't see Bufkin's name anywhere in that particular post.

      Delete
  3. Any chance those are the numbers to hit a mass of troops at range, and whoever wrote these rules, just decided to use the same numbers for targeting individuals?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think basically not. The "to kill" numbers are transcribed verbatim from Chainmail Man-to-Man "Individual Fires with Missiles" table. The mass tables are very different (in fact, they use 1d6 instead of the 2d6 seen here).

      I think the best explanation is that the Chainmail M2M tables were very broken, and this derived modification simply compounded the error even worse.

      Delete