Sarge's Advice: OED Player's Rules

Recently on the Wandering DMs Paul pointed out that the rules I write are very concise, with a lot of information packed into the smallest amount of text I can get away with. That may partly be a bit of a math-infection I have. It certainly differs from the direction that late/post-TSR Gygax went in, trying to hammer out every possible detail in the rules to prevent people from playing in a way he didn't approve.

So anyway, from time to time I get really good questions by email about the OED rules. As long as I'm writing responses that way, if my wisdom score was reasonably high, I would also post them here for general consumption. A good opportunity for expansion and examples that I wouldn't want to take space on in the written rulebooks. Here are a few questions regarding the OED Variant Rules for Original D&D.

So I recently picked up OED and I have just a few question about the wizards and thieves attack bonus: Wizards list a +1/2 attack bonus/level is it rounded up or rounded down? For thieves I can't quite figure the numbers so could you clarify on those please?

With the wizard base attack bonus, like most anything else, I round down. Say it's +0 at 0th-1st level, +1 at 2nd-3rd, +2 at 4th-5th, etc. Similar principle for the thieves base attack bonus of +2/3 per level (round down). So that generates +0 at 0th-1st level, +1 at 2nd, +2 at 3rd-4th, +3 at 5th, +4 at 6th-7th, etc. (I usually take a calculator, type in level ×2/3, and round down.)

And about multiclassing it says you roll hit dice for both classes. Does it happens when the character gains a new level in any of the two classes? And for the elves I guess you roll both at level 1 but only once is it correct ?

For multiclassing the novel thing we do is track the hit point for each class in separate "tracks" and then actively use just whichever is highest as the actual hit points.

Example 1: I make a new elf PC at Ftr1/Wiz1. Respectively I roll 1d8 for 5, and 1d4 for 2 hp. So I'm operating with 5 hp maximum on the first adventure.

Example 2: I have a Ftr3/Thf4. For the fighter at this point I've rolled 3d8 for a total of 15; for the thief part I've rolled 4d6 and gotten 16. So on the next adventure this character is operating with effectively maximum hit points of 16.

The sum rolls for each class track are recorded separately on the character sheet (along with the separate XP totals). Any time either level goes up, you roll added hit points for that class; only if that "track" is or becomes the maximum, does the PC then operate at higher effective health.

About general tasks resolution do you still use the Target 20 system or do you just handwave it whenever it happens? I ask this question because I'm still the "not confident enough" kind of GM and I prefer having a good outline of rules before I try to make my own.

I love this question about "general tasks". Personally I tend to only use d20 rolls for explicitly-defined things in the rules; generally combat where the results are life-or-death. If a "brand new" thing comes up (say: baking skill, something like that) then I revert back to a d6 roll -- like OD&D uses for listening, opening doors, finding secret passages, traps opening, etc. I feel like on an improvisational basis I can estimate a reasonable chance for success out of 6 (but not 20) -- as a default I give a 2-in-6 chance to succeed, like: roll d6, add some ability bonus, and a total roll of 5+ is success.


  1. Interesting to note that your 2-in-6 plus or minus ability modifier rule is approximately 1-in-6 more difficult than Holmes' ability check rule of rolling equal to or under your ability score on a d20. Did you ever consider the idea of a Target 20 roll where they add their entire ability score to the die roll, optionally with DM-imposed difficulty modifiers?

    Personally, I like how roll-under (or the Target 20 equivalent) gives the actual ability score some meaning, as opposed to just being a filter through which the actually meaningful value rules-wise (the modifier) is derived. If only the modifier is ever used, as is the case in 2E Skills & Powers and every subsequent edition, it feels kind of pointless even having a 3-to-18 score in the first place. Especially since the approximate bell curve of 3d6 rolling method was discarded as early as 1E, and the preference toward point-buy ever since 3E... if rolled stats are being used, I kind of feel like you might as well just cut out the middle man, roll percentile dice and consult a table to find out your modifier directly.

    1. Good question. I've definitely consider the (I think used briefly) the d20 + full ability score >= 20 method in the past. Paul Siegel does this regularly as his core mechanic, and its fine.

      My interest is (a) to hew a bit more closely to the OD&D text when possible, (b) to be close to a d6-and-d20 game (at least for the DM), and (c) recognize that my ability to improvisationally gauge new difficulty levels is cruder than the combat-defined stuff. (Also that out-of-combat is psychically less detail-attentive than in combat.)

      And of course I'm table-minimalist so I prefer the elegance of some d6's over a new table to lookup. YMMV. (Meanwhile on my desktop I have a method to replace the Star Frontiers d% ability table with an exponential formula method, so I'm consistent-ish like that.)

    2. Hm, but you need a table for the ability score modifiers under the current regime. You probably just don't think about it because you have the table memorized, but for someone who's new (and possibly already familiar with the 3E-and-beyond modifiers, which increase in different steps than your OED modifiers) it still requires a table lookup to convert the 3d6 roll into a usable modifier. So switching to a d% roll that directly produces the modifier would just be trading one table for a different one.

      As an aside, I think the fuzzy nature of improvisationally assigning difficulty levels is why the d20 system and its derivatives always make the DC a multiple of 5, which is actually even slightly cruder than a difference of 1 on a d6. Of course, it's your system so your preferences are king, but it would certainly be just as easy in practice to use a Target 20 roll and assign modifiers in multiples of plus or minus 5 - or perhaps 4, the key is just consistency and keeping the standard bonus/penalty large enough that there's no 3E-style deluge of +1's.

    3. Yeah, that's all very reasonable. I get why the 5-point increments are used, but the mismatch in granularity between die and target gives me a little nails-on-chalkboard feeling. Another thing is I worry that some players will cringe at a possibly double-digit addition requirement, like 18 + 19 or something. (Unlike the combat bonuses which are practically all single-digits through mid-level games.)

  2. Oh man, that Mythus series was a major threat to my productivity today! Thanks for the link!

    Question that probably can't be answered: where do you draw the line between combat rolls vs. general task rolls? How would you categorize things like disarming attempts, rolling a boulder at someone downhill, shoving/tripping an enemy over a cliff, or climbing a monstrous creature to reach a (presumed) weak point, to name a few examples?

    Also +1 to Dan's question of why track ability scores if you're only using the modifiers after character creation? (you could change the Great Strength feat to +1 STR modifier to avoid referencing the base score there)

    1. Oh yeah, me too, totally! (Re: Mythus review page) I'm not a big drinker, but the Mythus drinking game is laser-on-target.

      Great questions. Novel in-combat stuff I tend to do a thing like: make a d20 attack roll, now we'll do an opposed d6 Strength roll. (e.g.: grappling, disarming, throw off a cliff/stairwell, etc.)

      So on the original ability score issue, partly it's just that I'm conservative and don't want to run too far away from OD&D unless it seems nigh-necessary (or other editions: even now with 5E they record the whole score). Another item that occurs to me is it gives added granularity for ability score changes (disease, magic like the Strength spell, monster abilities like Shadows -- really don't want to rewrite all of those).

      I also like that "10" is the average; e.g., I like to convert Int to IQ by just x10.

      But mostly it's conservatism, I don't see a big enough win for changing away from the raw 3d6 scores.

    2. Agreed, I only got through the first half-dozen, but that Mythus stuff was a hoot. On-topic, I never liked how things like the Strength spell had a random dice roll that (especially in AD&D) might give you no tangible benefits if you rolled poorly.

      I've also long preferred a more bell-curve-percentile view of ability scores. The Int x 10 = IQ never sat well with me because the low end generates values so low that it hurts my suspension of disbelief. Plus, I tend to think that having all IQs above 140ish collapsed into a single score (18) reflects the state of adult IQ scores fairly well - while extremely high IQs are strongly correlated with educational attainment and professional achievement at earlier-than-usual ages, increasing IQ above a certain point shows only weak correlation with overall lifetime achievement. That is to say, the difference in fame, wealth, prominence, and general level of accomplishment within their field between a neurosurgeon with IQ 140 and a neurosurgeon with IQ 160 could go either way, depending on a variety of factors, and their difference in IQ isn't a very reliable predictor by itself.

    3. I tend to go with "attack roll to initiate, save resists/negates" for most cases with direct opposition (like grappling, shoving, disarming, rolling a boulder downhill, or pouring boiling oil over a parapet) and handle more unusual stuff on an ad hoc basis (STR check for climbing a large monster, WIS check to quickly intuit an invisible creature's exact location from wet footprints, opposed open doors checks for trying to barge through a door someone's holding shut, flat x-in-6 chance to meet the medusa's gaze while trying to avert your eyes [where x = 6 - the penalty you'll take to your attacks for that round], or whatever else). It probably drives my players a bit crazy to keep changing up the framework, so I try to be mindful about helping them understand their odds and listening if they were expecting a different approach. I'd never thought of "attack roll to initiate, opposed open doors checks to resolve" before reading your post about having a session with a crazy amount of rulings (including the "charmed geased fighter with an intelligent sword" knot), but I've added it to my repertoire.

      Granularity, slowed progression of bonuses, and a comfortable scale are all fair reasons for keeping the actual score. That question was a bit of Socratic debate, for me. I like to have the scores, too, both for what I mentioned above and because I like handling poison and disease with ability score loss. 5E probably should've dumped them from a rules quantity perspective, since they aren't really used aside from calculating horizontal jumping distance, calculating encumbrance (foolishly overlooking the stone system ;) ), and trying to justify certain feats seeming weaker (I think gaining another saving throw proficiency is plenty good without an extra +1 stat carrot, but I digress), but I'm sure that would've invited too mich backlash to be worth it.

    4. Those all seem solid and reasonable to me!

      I should probably sidestep the IQ discussion. I'm okay with the fantasy world having somewhat more variation than the real world. I suppose it's an open question of what I'd do if a PC had an Int of 3 or 4 because it hasn't happened for me to date.

      It's funny with the stone encumbrance, because what 5E has is the closest possible translation one could make without actually using the word "stone". (Str x 15 max chopped up into 3 categories.) I flatter myself to think that the designers might have picked up on that here.

  3. Thanks for the clarifications!

    I printed a copy of the OED rules and the original rules. I'm still trying to figure out which pages/rules from OD&D are necessary, and which ones OED replaced.

    1. Yeah, that's a good question -- it's kind of all over the place. The combat tables are certainly replaced with the mental Target 20 formula. The encumbrance rule is replaced with the shorter stone weight table. The initiative rule is an insert for the fact that there just isn't any initiative rule in OD&D. Stuff like that.

  4. There's a compilation of Gary's answers in Dragonsfoot (Zagyg's Wisdom). That clarified some of the incomplete/confuse rules from OD&D. Here's the link (if you don't already have it):

    The elves, for example, were allowed to act as a fighter, wizard or a fighter/wizard in the sessions. In the latter case, the XP earned were equally splitted.

    1. Wow, that document is gold, thanks for pointing that out. I have it on my desktop now, hopefully get a chance to read in future days.

      One thing I'll point out (surprise, surprise) is that EGG seems to have at least two answers that contradict each other on whether the elf can use both sets of abilities together on an adventure (answers on p. 30 and 32).