2022-10-03

On d6 Ability Checks

One of our Wandering DMs Patrons on our Discord server made a great observation: In AD&D Module WG4, The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, at one point Gygax calls for a roll-under-Dexterity-on-4d6 to avoid a net trap. More generally, it's been reported in play at tables run by Gygax and Kuntz that they would commonly call for checks in this fashion to roll 3d6 (you know, the same way you generate abilities in the first place for OD&D), 4d6, or 5d6 for tougher situations. 

Now most of us have probably at least heard of rolling d20 under an ability score as a classic check. Oddly, none of these ability-check methods were ever written into the core rulebooks for either OD&D or AD&D. (It does show up as one of the very last optional suggestions by Moldvay in his Basic D&D rules, 1981.) Was this one of those things that was so fundamental Gary overlooked ever writing it down? Or some other reason?

Anyway, the question was posed as to exactly what the success chances are with this method. Here's the result of a quick Monte Carlo program to estimate them (via C++ code on Github):

Chances to make a roll-under-ability-on-Nd6 check.

On the one hand, I personally like the theoretical elegance of a roll-under-ability-score (using some kind of dice) so very much that I often wish the entire system had been aligned to a roll-under methodology from the start, for every kind of check. 

On the other hand, a top complaint is that this makes ability scores too important in the game, whereas by the OD&D books you can legitimately play PCs with fairly unimpressive scores, because they make so little difference to the play of the game. Additionally, the chances for success are vanishingly small in many cases (less than 10% for scores 3-6 vs. 3d6; 3-8 vs. 4d6; and 3-12 vs. 5d6). As one of our top think-tankers wrote, "At which point why are you even rolling?".

A really short-and-sweet mechanic like this does whet my appetite occasionally. In this case the modifying number of d6s to adjust the difficulty seems neat and clean. Would you consider using a rule like this in your games? Or do you still use the classic roll-d20-under-ability idea?

2022-09-26

Compleat Character Creation Catalog: Unearthed Arcana

This is Part 3 of our exploration of different ability-generation methods in O/AD&D, and the chances for creating characters of different desired classes. The last installment was all about 1E AD&D according to the core books (PHB 1977 and DMG 1979). Today we'll be inspecting the Unearthed Arcana supplement that came out six years later (1985), the last year of Gary Gyax's tenure at TSR, as the initial D&D boom faded and the company was in dire need of a boost to income. As many AD&D players agree, that book overturned a bunch of apple carts. 

Boilerplate reminder on ground rules: We're looking only at entry possibilities for single-classed humans, not considering demi-humans with racial adjustments, multi-class combinations, etc. Statistics were generated from Monte Carlo-type simulations from my C++ program (and spot-hand-checked in a few cases and against other resources). You know the drill.

Ability Generation Methods

As an expansion on 1E AD&D, the Unearthed Arcana enhanced game obviously relies on the same stat-generation methods presented in the core rules. Recall the notable oddities there: (a) stat generation is not given in PHB, being locked away in the DM's book, (b) 3d6-in-order was disavowed as a generation method, and (c) the four methods that did appear were explicitly intended to make it easier for PCs to qualify for various classes of interest. You can see specifics on those 4 methods in the last post.

Even though Unearthed Arcana is just one volume, it's still split into separate sections for the player vs. the DM, with separate tables of contents, indexes for tables and charts, and everything. Presumably the player should not read the DM's section.

But if you do read that DM's section, you'll see that it starts with a proposal for a new Method 5 for ability score generation. They key point of this method is this: It guarantees access to any class that the player desires. ("subject to DM's approval", of course).

Specifically: The player chooses a class for their human character -- the rule explicitly says it can only be used for humans, thereby, I think, dodging the complications from multi-classing for the same reason we do in these articles. The DM gives consent, then turns to a table that specifies how many dice to roll for each ability score. For example, a Paladin will roll 3d6 for Dexterity, 7d6 for Strength, and 9d6 for Charisma (the maximum in the table). In each case you keep the best 3 dice for your ability -- and if you still don't have the minimum for the class, then it's automatically mulliganed up to that minimum. Pretty neat.

Two things about this new method occur to me. One is that Gygax here, precisely at the moment his official leadership of the game ends, completes a journey from OD&D being extremely strict about player entry to subclasses (e.g., less than a 2% chance to qualify for a Paladin initially), to making more-generous-allowances with the methods in AD&D (e.g., 24% to get a Paladin with Method 1), to completely expunging the randomness of that choice, and letting players take any class by fiat. That's obviously been the idiom of the game in later years, and was likely inevitable -- but there's at least a little tension in that generosity, which at the same time makes formerly-exotic options somewhat less special, and less worthy of the frenzied celebrations we once enjoyed.

The second thing is that, of course, Method 5 short-circuits the whole point of this series -- to analyze the chances of qualifying for various classes in O/AD&D with the different methods available. Using Method 5 the answer to that is, of course, 100% in every case ("subject to DM's approval"), and it basically time-stamps the moment when the whole topic became merely an academic issue. So I actually won't consider it further, and assume you're still only using one of Methods 1 to 4 for your AD&D character generation.

Classes and Requirements

What we do need to analyze are the additions and changes to the various character classes in Unearthed Arcana. While Method 5 is pretty clearly an optional variant (it's in the DM's section, it's one more in an array of method possibilities), the character class changes are all in the front-facing Player's section, and are presented in a way that they look like core changes for the play of AD&D (assuming you use Unearthed Arcana at all, obviously). Some of these are frankly hard to look at. Here's how the list of AD&D classes is now presented in Unearthed Arcana:

AD&D Unearthed Arcana Classes

So the first thing that jumps out is that whereas since 1975 we've had 4 primary classes (fighter, magic-user, cleric, thief) with their various subclasses, here Gygax brazenly sets forth the "Cavalier" as a new 5th primary class, and moves the Paladin subclass from the Fighter branch to Cavalier, with several class modifications flowing downstream as a result. Ugh. Gygax writes (p. 16):

The paladin is no longer considered to be a sub-class of the fighter, but is a sub-class of the cavalier. A paladin must have all the requisite ability scores of the cavalier, plus a wisdom score of at least 13 and a charisma of 17 or higher...

Now, the Cavalier's own stiff ability requirements are: Strength 15, Dexterity 15, Constitution 15, Intelligence 10, Wisdom 10 (resembling the Monk requirements quite a bit, actually; the only thing they don't have an explicit requirement for is Charisma). And then you combine this with the other Paladin requirements (Charisma foremost of all), and you see the Paladin now needs: Str 15, Int 10, Wis 13, Dex 15, Con 15, Cha 17. Yikes!

In addition to that, of course, Gygax has also added the new classes of Barbarian and Acrobat. Being held out as super-special options to spice up the AD&D game (and book sales), they too have very high ability requirements. The Barbarian (largely based on Gygax's earlier writeup of Conan for AD&D in Dragon #36) needs Str 15, Con 15, and Dex 14. They also uniquely have a maximum on Wisdom, in that it can't be over 16 -- which I've ignored here, as it wont make any visible different in the acceptance statistics. The Acrobat needs Str 15 and Dex 16. Note they're presented as a "split-class" (another early iteration on the "prestige-class" idea, like the Bard), in that you have to start as a normal Thief and then switch into the class after reaching 5th level. All of these new classes will be very hard to qualify for via standard dice-rolling methods.

Here are the combined requirements for all of the AD&D classes as given in Unearthed Arcana:

Class Requisites: Unearthed Arcana

Qualification Chances

Presented below are the results of our simulator program to find qualification probabilities for the various methods and classes in Unearthed Arcana. Recall the "No Class" row at the bottom is for the case of a PC have more than one ability in the 3-5 range, and thereby barred from picking any class due to a fluke in the AD&D fine-print rules (although that's basically negligible for any of the official Methods 1 to 4). Classes are presented in the same order as the book:

Class Access Chances: Unarthed Arcana
Recall that the instances of 0's and 100's in the table are the result of rounding -- e.g., the 4 original primary classes are 99.8% to be available to any Method 1 character.

Note that the Cavalier doesn't look at all like those other primary classes, does it? The chances to qualify for a Cavalier are, as expected, very close to those of the Monk -- at one time the hardest-to-qualify-for class in the game. Both are about 12% likely by Method 1, about 9% by Methods 2 or 3, and about a third of a percent chance by Method 4.

The new Barbarians and Acrobats are at about the same tier as the earlier Rangers and Illusionists -- about one-chance-in-three to qualify with Method 1, and less for other methods. 

But the standout result from Unearthed Arcana is that the Paladin (remember, it was the first-ever subclass introduced to D&D), with its sky-high stacking of various ability requirements, has once again returned to being the most extremely rare class in the game -- even harder to qualify for than the Appendix-quarantined Bard! It's approximately 0.9%, 1.0%, 0.8% likely by Methods 1, 2, and 3 (respectively), and less than 0.01% by Method 4. Rounding off, we can say it's pretty close to impossible to make a Paladin in 1E Unearthed Arcana -- unless you use the new Method 5, at which point you're guaranteed of your preference.

And that's where we'll end this series. It runs exactly parallel to the decade of Gary Gygax's direct involvement with the D&D game design, from 1974 to 1985. We've seen a progression from high rarity for subclasses from random ability generation, to open-access by player fiat, if you use the possibility of Method 5 generation mechanics. On the other hand, if you don't use that, we've seen the Paladin cycle from high-rarity to more-accepted, and back to maximal-rarity at the end.

What's you overall take on our compleat catalog? What bits and pieces would you actually want to use from Unearthed Arcana, if any? And what further topics should we discuss live at Wandering DMs?

2022-09-19

Compleat Character Creation Catalog: AD&D

This is Part 2 of looking at statistics for how likely various start-generation methods are to qualify you for desired classes in early D&D (partly inspired by our recent chat on Wandering DMs). Last time we looked at stat-generation in OD&D (3d6-in-order, maybe with a few point-swaps allowed) and the various sub-classes presented in supplemental material (ultimately resulting in the same list of classes that appear in AD&D). Here we'll look at the AD&D game and its very different matrix of possibilities for generating ability scores, and the ways it overhauled those classes and requirements.

A few reminders of ground rules: We're just looking at entry possibilities for single-classed humans, not considering demi-humans with racial adjustments, multi-class combinations, etc. Statistics were generated by Monte Carlo-type simulations from a C++ program (and spot-hand-checked in a few cases and against other resources). Today's entry is only dealing with rules as presented in the 1E AD&D PHB/DMG -- rules changes from 1E Unearthed Arcana (6 years later), will be considered in a follow-up post.

Ability Generation Methods

A wrinkle in the publication history of AD&D is that PHB came out in 1978, and it gave no rule for how players should generate ability scores -- it's one of several things locked away in the DMG ("The referee has several methods of how this random number generation should be accomplished to him or her in the DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE"; PHB p. 9). And the DMG didn't come out until a year later, in 1979. So I'm assuming in the intervening year players were still using the OD&D 3d6-in-order method by default?

When the AD&D DMG did finally appear, Gygax specifically calls out using straight-3d6 as a bad idea in these rules (p. 11):

While it is possible to generate some fairly playable characters by rolling 3d6, there is often an extended period of attempts at finding a suitable one due to quirks of the dice. Furthermore, these rather marginal characters tend to have short life expectancy -- which tends to discourage new players, as does having to make do with some character of a race and/or class which he or she really can't or won't identify with.

He then offers four alternative methods that can be used for the AD&D game, as shown below:

AD&D DMG 4 Methods for ability score generation

I'll rephrase those slightly. For comparison sake, I'll also include the OD&D method as "Method 0" to see how it stacks up against the AD&D methods. And note that while the book identifies them with Roman numerals, I'll use Arabic identifiers here, to more easily synch with my C++ code and its customary output:

  • Method 0: Roll 3d6 in order for the six abilities. (The OD&D rule, of course, not actually in AD&D for player characters.)
  • Method 1: Roll 4d6 and drop the lowest die, six times, and order to taste. (This is the default rule from 1E all the way to 5E -- and most likely 6E as well, which won't be changing that element, according to a draft Character Origins document released by WOTC the other week.)
  • Method 2: Roll 3d6 twelve times, take the best six, and order to taste.
  • Method 3: Roll 3d6 six times for each ability, and take the best of the six in each case. 
  • Method 4: Roll up twelve separate characters using 3d6 in order (i.e., as per the OD&D Method 0). Pick your favorite of the twelve characters.

(Yes, Virginia, there is a "Method 5" variant from the later Unearthed Arcana, but we'll address that next time.)

One thing to note is that the AD&D methods require exponentially more dice-rolling as one proceeds to the later methods:

Dice Rolls per Method

And, here are the base-level descriptive statistics differentiating the various methods:

Ability Method Descriptive Statistics

We see that Method 3 produces notably higher scores than the other methods -- it has an average of 14, while the other AD&D methods all hover around 12 to 13. Method 3 is also the most reliable in that it has the lowest standard deviation (e.g., the gold-standard for modern portfolio theory). Yet, we'll see later that, due to its lack of re-ordering to taste, Method 3 is not necessarily the best method in regards to the question of qualifying for certain classes.

I'll also note that for Method 4, I assumed that from the dozen characters generated, you pick the one with the highest sum (or average) of abilities -- although that too may not be the way it actually gets played, depending on the which character class one most desires. Again, we'll see the results of that further below.

Classes and Requirements

Recall that OD&D had no ability score requirements for the core classes in the LBBs, but did start using that as a mechanic to gatekeep the various sub-classes added in supplemental works. AD&D generally raised all of the requirements, in particular, instituting that any class had to have a score of at least 9 in their prime requisite (explicitly counter to the OD&D table of ability modifiers). Higher scores were required for sub-classes and even nonhuman racial choices.

And there's a further wrinkle in the fine print of the ability score rules that's easy to overlook: each of the character ability tables has a note for the 3-5 score range that restricts a character to only one particular class. For example, in the Strength table (PHB p. 9), it says, "Here or lower the character can only be a magic-user". Low Intelligence restricts you to Fighter; low Wisdom to Thief; and low Dexterity to Cleric -- while low Constitution mandates the Illusionist subclass, and terminally low Charisma restricts the character to being an Assassin.

So this results in an implicit "hopeless character" rule that requires re-rolling an AD&D character in some cases -- if you get more than one ability score in the 3-5 range, then the conflicting class mandates are not mutually satisfiable, and the character cannot pick any class at all. This gets echoed years later in the rules for D&D Basic; for example, Mentzer writes (Basic D&D Players Manual, p. 48), "If two or more Ability Scores are less than 6, the character may have problems later on. This type of character should also be discarded, unless the DM says otherwise." This is just a rephrasing of the same implied criteria in the AD&D PHB. (Also, I'm guessing that the 5E "no hidden rules!" dogma was motivated precisely in response to Gygaxian mechanics like this.)

This is a place where the otherwise excellent analysis of AD&D class access at Athenopolis.net made a misstep, I think -- they show the default ability minima to be 3 unless otherwise stated, when it's actually 6 by the AD&D ability tables (excepting precisely one 3 allowed for any given class). Fortunately, we'll see that in most practical cases this makes for only a small difference in our results.

A further interpretive assumption I'll make is that these very-low-score restrictions permit entry into an associated sub-class, unless otherwise stated. For example, if you have a 3 in Strength, such that the table explicitly says you can only be a Magic-User, then I'll assume you could alternatively be an Illusionist (if your other scores qualify). But that won't make a detectable difference either way you read this corner-case issue.

In summary, here are the requirements for the various classes in the 1E AD&D PHB as I see them:

Class Requisites: AD&D

Qualification Chances

So here's what our simulator reports for qualification probabilities across the various AD&D stat-generation methods. Numbers are all percentages, rounded to the nearest whole number. At the bottom there's an extra row denoted "No Class" for those unfortunates trapped by having more than one very low ability score, as described above. Classes are presented here in the same order as tables in the AD&D PHB:

Class Access Chances: AD&D
Note that the 0's and 100's in this table are all the result of rounding; nothing is guaranteed, but you get very close in many cases. In light of the inflated AD&D requirements, we see that we really had to progress to something other than the OD&D Method 0; many of the classes would be effectively impossible by that method (less than a half-percent chance to be accepted), our primary four classes now only have about 60% pass rate, and 13% of all characters are "hopeless" and can't enter any class.

Note that those primary classes, rolled under the OD&D method but with AD&D requirements, are really the only places where our numbers notably differ from those of Athenopolis.net (they show acceptance values about 10% higher than what we have here). These are the classes where the 6-not-3 default requirement affects the most abilities. Of course, this whole column is purely theoretical, because Method 0 is nowhere officially supported by AD&D -- unless we consider the one-year window between PHB and DMG when that may have been still practiced? All the other entries are usually less than a 1% difference in our mutual results.

By using any of the official AD&D methods, we see that the primary classes return back to near certainties (for example, you're 99.8% likely to qualify for a cleric, fighter, magic-user, or thief, using Method 1). It's actually Method 1 that generally has the best chances to qualify for a given subclass, with Method 2 generally a close runner-up -- these are the two methods that allow re-ordering abilities to the player's taste. If you're stuck with abilities in a predetermined order, as in Methods 3 and 4, regardless of how much they otherwise boost the numbers -- remember, it's Method 3 that generates the highest scores on average -- it's fairly unlikely you'll have the exact profile you need, and qualification rates are a lot lower as a result. Method 4 in particular, using a stack of a dozen Method 0-OD&D characters, is very bad in this regard (showing 0, 1, or 2 percent for a number of classes).

Let's focus mostly on that prominent Method 1 (there's a reason it was carried forward as the starting point for all later editions, while the other methods were mostly abandoned). It boosts previously very rare subclasses to more common occurrences: for example, about one-quarter of all characters qualify to be a Paladin or Ranger (compare to less than 2% in OD&D). Druids go from 6% to 78%. Illusionist was 9%, now it's 36%. Assassins scaled up from 5% to 94% (and, again, are even required in the case of very low Charisma).

One thing that jumps out at many of us when we first see this is that the Monk is actually even harder to qualify for than the much-treasured Paladin class -- it's about half the rate of Paladin success in both Methods 1 and 2. But the truth is that getting 3 scores of 15+ is harder than getting a single score of 17+, which are the critical requirements in both OD&D and AD&D. It's probability, kids!

Then you have the totally overhauled Bard class (also removed to PHB Appendix II), which is the only class in the book with explicit minimum requirements for all 6 ability scores (needing at least four 15's, one 12, and a 10). This is an overwhelmingly challenging prospect, with success rates of only 2% for Methods 1 and 2 (but oddly 4% with Method 3, making Bards the only class that Method 3 is better for). Contrast this with the gentle requirements in the OD&D version which gave it the highest acceptance rates for any subclass there.

Forgive me for a rabbit-hole on further weirdness with the Bard regarding the topic at hand: As any AD&D player knows, you can't start as a Bard (unlike the OD&D version); you have to starts as a Fighter, get to at least 5th level, switch to a Thief, progress to at least 6th level, and then switch to the actual Bard super-class (in the direction of what 3E would later identify as "prestige classes" in immense profusion). Note that among the several 15's the text says a Bard needs for their abilities, one of those is Dexterity. But: the core rule for humans switching classes ("The Character With Two Classes", PHB p. 33) dictates that one needs a 17 or 18 in the prime requisite of the class you're switching into -- in this case, Dexterity, when you make your first switch to Thief. So how do those rules interact? I can see arguments for (1) the core switch-class mechanic still apples, so you have a "hidden rule" that a Bard really needs Dexterity of 17+, or (2) the specific description of the Bard class overrides that, and Bards-to-be have a special allowance in their class switching. With that latter rule I can imagine a case where some rules-lawyer says they're aiming for Bard, double-classes as Fighter and Thief with only Dex 15, but then later reneges (a very niche case, to be sure). Nonetheless, for this analysis I've gone with option (2) and assumed the Bard truly needs only Dex 15. (If you instead rule that they really require Dex 17, then the chance to create one drops to approximately 1% for Methods 1 to 3, and less than 0.01% for Method 4.)

Finally, as we see in the last row, the "hopeless" no-class possibility that we outlined above is really a nonissue using any of the AD&D generation methods. With Method I the chance of this happening is only 0.06% (6 times in every 10,000 characters rolled), and with other methods it's even lower (less than 0.01% each).

What surprising things do you see in those results? Would this analysis make you re-think what method(s) you'd want to use in a new AD&D game? Next time: in what ways Unearthed Arcana stirred stuff up a few years later.

2022-09-12

Compleat Character Creation Catalog: OD&D

On the Wandering DMs a few weeks ago, we had a neat conversation about the history of generating ability scores for D&D across the various editions. This brought to mind a post I've wanted to make for a long time: in early D&D, what are the odds of qualifying for desired character classes, given the various methods presented for generating abilities? 

A few folks have worked on this problem previously. Probabilities for the 2E AD&D game rules were given by Ed Friedlander in Dragon Magazine #153, January 1990 (thanks to Dominic Brown for tracking down the reference!). One of our viewers pointed out that the Athenopolis.net blog had done basically the same thing for 1E a few years back. Actually, I think that was extremely helpful, because it gave me a nice opportunity to double-check my results -- we mostly agree on the major stuff for 1E. However, there are a few fine-print rules I think they overlooked there, and I've added more statistics, commentary, nearby editions, and so forth.

To avoid an overly long post, I've broken this up into separate articles: you'll see OD&D, AD&D 1E, and Unearthed Arcana (UA) 1E variant rules. Some opening ground rules: For simplicity, as others have done, we're basically only looking at the raw ability scores generated for single-classed human characters. We're not considering the after-the-fact racial adjustments from AD&D, the chances to qualify for multi-class combinations, dual classes, etc. All of the statistics you'll see were generated by Monte Carlo-type simulations from a C++ program, which you can see on my Github: ADnDClassAccess repository. Having noted that, let's begin:

Ability Generation Method

It probably bears without saying, Original D&D has only one way of generating ability scores, the classic 3d6-in-order procedure for all six ability scores. But some things that may be surprising about this: The rulebook says it is the referee that should be making these rolls (proto-pregens, perhaps?). There is a vague point-swapping method that allows you to trade a few points into your prime requisite, maybe (more on that in a bit). And despite many people's incorrect memory, this method was not supported in any way by the 1E AD&D books (although it was carried forward into the D&D Basic line).

The statistics for the standard 3d6 roll are fairly well known. (For example, it's the default sample roll for Torben Mogensen's excellent Troll dice roller and probability calculator). It has a symmetrical bell-shaped curve, with an average (mean, median, and mode) of 10.5, and a standard deviation close to 3 (2.958).

Okay, so about that point-swapping rule: Descriptions of the abilities say things like, "Strength is the prime requisite for fighters. Clerics can use strength on a 3 for 1 basis in their prime requisite area (wisdom)...", which would get me thinking this purely an additive bonus thing. But then the next page says, "Units so indicated above may be used to increase prime requisite total insofar as this does not bring that category below average, i.e., below a score of 9", so that makes it seem more like a points-swapping mechanism. But then the 5th printing of OD&D (at the same time as the Greyhawk supplement presented more advanced ability modifiers) added the clause "... for the purposes of gaining experience only", so maybe it's not meant to be a factor for class qualifications or combat bonuses? 

In short: the status of point-swapping rule is very unclear. As noted above, Holmes with his Basic D&D line took this as a key rule, and made the points-swapping explicitly permitted (and it was continued forward by Moldvay, Mentzer, etc.). But Gygax gave no hint of its presence in Advanced D&D. Recall that at best it's only for the very limited purpose of swapping a few points into one's prime requisite -- which as we'll see, is usually not really a requisite at all...

Classes and Requirements

Here's another thing that might be a tad surprising to longtime players of AD&D, say: in the Original D&D LBBs, there aren't any ability score minima to qualify for any of the classes. You can definitely enter any of the Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric, or Thief (from Sup-I) classes, regardless of what your ability scores are. In fact, the one example of a character being created highlights the player not picking the class according to their best ability. Moreover, the table of bonuses and penalties from ability scores includes the line, "Prime requisite 6 or less: Minus 20% from earned experience", so while that stings, it's clearly not prohibited -- and demonstrates my point that "requisite" isn't quite the right word for it (yet). 

Xylarthen: Example PC magic-user fo OD&D

Then, in the various OD&D supplements (I through IV) and The Strategic Review zine articles (issue #1 through #7), we sequentially start adding all of the various sub-classes that we ultimately see collected in AD&D. This is where ability-score minimum gateways come into existence, starting with Sup-I stating that lawful fighters with a Charisma of 17 or higher can gain "paladin status". Note one detail: even though Strength is their "prime requisite", there's still no actual minimum requirement for it -- under those rules you can roll all-3's but a 17 Charisma and still be a paladin. Some later sub-classes, like the Ranger (TSR #2, by Joe Fischer) and Illusionist (TSR #4, by Peter Aronson), continue to give no minima in their prime requisite, while other ones do add such a requirement.

This further highlights that swapping points into the prime requisite wouldn't make any difference in most cases for qualification purposes, while there's no allowance for swapping into the other abilities that do have requirements (like the Paladin's need for a 17 Charisma). So in conclusion, due to the great unclarity of the status of the rule, and the overall low impact on the question of qualifying for classes, we won't be considering that rule further here: it's just straight 3d6-in-order for us.

When all is said and done, here are the various classes indicated in OD&D and its supplements, with their ability score requirements, as best as I can read those rules (presented in order of publication of the classes):

Class Requirements: OD&D

Qualification Chances

At last, we can run our simulator with the straight-3d6 method against the OD&D class requirements, and derive the following chances for any new character to qualify for a desired class: 

Class Access Chances: OD&D
As noted above, we see the 100% values for the four primary classes, because there's no ability-score restriction on entering those classes in the LBBs. On the other hand, the sub-classes are all generally very hard to qualify for, usually in the range of 6% or less. There's less than a 2% chance to get the divine Charisma of 17+ that qualifies you for Paladin status (justifying many of our memories about the intense celebration that would erupt if anyone ever got to play a Paladin). And the Monk is even more insanely difficult, at just a third-of-a-percent chance (thanks, Dave). Although surprisingly for AD&D fans, the OD&D Bard has fairly gentle entry requirements, and so is actually the easiest subclass to enter, with 14% of any PCs qualifying (and you can do so immediately: no need to level up through other classes first). All of this will change when AD&D overhauls the rules, of course. 

I suppose, in review, given all the complicated methods that came later to give players more fine-tuned control over the starting abilities of their characters, there's some charm in the germ of the idea that's already in Original D&D -- allowing for limited points-swapping following the straight-3d6 rolls. Say we streamlined it and made it always at a 2:1 ratio (drop 2 points in one ability to gain 1 point in another), as we see in Moldvay, not to reduce any ability below 9. We could then pick from a few options for swapping allowances: (1) only from Str, Int, Wis, Dex into one's prime requisite, (2) from any ability into one's prime requisite, or (3) from anywhere to anywhere, at the player's discretion. A rule like this has the elegance that brand-new players can simply take their 3d6-in-order without further consideration, while expert players can dig into the customization possibilities.

Anything surprising to you in those results? Are there any OD&D rules that you interpret differently than I did? Would you consider using some form of the streamlined 3d6-with-point-swap rule outlined above? More fun with AD&D next time.

2022-09-05

OED Expanded Edition

Original Edition Delta: Verbose edition

It's been over 10 years that I've been maintaining, testing, and refining my OED House Rules for Original D&D, which you can find at OEDGames.com. Over that time, I've gotten lots of great feedback from readers & players via this blog and other sites. One of the guiding principles of that work, based on my own proclivities of course, is for it to be exceedingly minimalist -- just the barest of facts polishing up OD&D in some ways, taking up the smallest amount of page space it possibly can. Maybe sometimes it's even too minimalist.

Recently our chief aide-de-camp over at Wandering DMs, Baquies -- supporter, archivist, live-chat moderator, clip artist, etc., etc. -- created something I think is pretty amazing. For those people or places where my OED work was too sketchy or ambiguous or possibly fraught with confusion, he's written a completely expanded, "verbose" edition that lays out everything greater clarity than I had inclination to write. My few pages for Players and Judges rules have blossomed into an almost 50 page comprehensive ruleset  -- complete core rules, racial and class information in table form, equipment lists, spell rosters (from the OED Book of Spells), treasure tables, encounter tables, complete monster rosters, traps lists, and so much more. He's even added a Forbidden Appendix of his personal design that includes (gasp!) an option for Clerics and other stuff.

It's clearly your one-stop shop for all things OED. At prices like this (totally free), we've got to be crazy!

Baquies & I thought it best to host this document over at Github, in a completely open format (Open Document Text), so players can download it and modify it to taste. And make public edits, too? If you have a Github account (and know how to use it), feel free to make edits & pull requests and see if they become part of our OED campaign going forward. We're excited to see what happens next!

To view the OED Expanded rules, click the following link, then OED-Expanded.odt > Download:

OED Expanded at Github

2022-08-29

OED Reviewed at Papier Und Spiele

Miniature tokens on a green grid

It was recently brought to my attention that our OED Rules system was reviewed late last year by ahabicher at the delightful Papier Und Spiele blog. They write some very nice and thoughtful things, in my opinion -- they're a connoisseur of elegantrules for mass combat, so, a natural ally, I think.

From Original Edition Delta:

Original Dungeons & Dragons, or ODnD, has various clones or houseruled re-imaginings. One of those is Original Edition Delta, which has a very good reputation (at least as I could observe in several independent cases) and openly calls itself “houserules”, but, in general basis, follows the Original DnD; even the spells are hardly distinguishable from the original, just adding various spells, like Magic Missile and Shield at level 1. Re-rolling HP at 1 or 2 is usually optional, here it is the norm...

And from Book of War – Playtest:

The system fails when it handles less than 100 combatants, but with 600 or more is works very well, and it is so closely related to Old School DnD that the transition from one to the other is, while not seamless, so still easy enough … If a full battle session is fine for the players, one can only recommend the Book of War of Original Edition Delta.

I'll say that ahabicher tests Book of War in ways that I never anticipated (including mixed units, figures splitting off from units, even use of firearms!), but that's fine -- Book of War is at its root meant to be so minimalist that you can spiral off in a bunch of different ways, and honestly that's great to see it tested here. 

Recommended: reading the whole reviews at the links above. And if you want to see more of Book of War being playtested, check out our playlists on YouTube for Book of War: Season 1 and Season 2 in the last year or two. And we're planning to have more live plays coming up this fall, so watch for us on the Wandering DMs channel! Plus, more news bout OED coming next week.

2022-08-22

Previous Next D&D

You may have seen last week that Wizards of the Coast announced draft rules and and call for playtests and feedback on the Dungeons & Dragons edition to follow 5E. Some excerpts from the release:

One D&D is the codename for the future of D&D... One D&D will take what we love from fifth edition and create an experience that is not only backwards compatible with the adventures and supplements you enjoy today but that will evolve the game for years to come. You’ll see updates to just about every facet of the game, from player classes to backgrounds and even to how we lay out books and present game information. Our goal is to improve on everything that has made D&D the best tabletop roleplaying game in the world...

I can't help but recall how much of this announcement resembles the one for 5E almost exactly 10 years ago (including the plan at the time that it wouldn't be called 5E, but rather "D&D Next"):

The Next Edition for D&D is currently on open playtest. Wizards of the Coast decided to create the next edition hand to hand with players, in order to create a game that would appeal to most. They have stated that the next would not be called "Fifth Edition", though they have not yet stated what they will call it, simply referring to it as "D&D Next". The game plays very similar to the 3rd Edition, though maintaining the simplicity that made 4th Edition appealing."

 IGN

On January 9 [2012], the game's publisher, Hasbro-owned Wizards of the Coast, announced that they have begun development of the fifth edition of the Dungeons & Dragons rules. A rewrite of a not-even 40-year-old game might seem trivial, but Wizards' has set an ambitious goal: To create, with the help of their fans, a "universal rule set" which unifies all players under one single system. "We're focusing on what gets people excited about D&D, and making sure we have a game that encompasses all different styles," says Mike Mearls, group manager for the D&D research and development team. "Even if you haven't played in 20 years, we want you to be able to sit down and say, 'this is D&D.'"

Forbes

When it does finally arrive, expect the game to look something like a "classic" version of D&D. Mearls and his team have spoken repeatedly about their desire to emphasize the core D&D experience --adventure, exploration, and storytelling. Early versions of the playtest rules featured simplified rules and stripped down mechanics. That said, fans of newer editions of the game shouldn't fret: Mearls has also been aggressive about promoting the new rules' "modularity," which should allow players to plug in or drop out rules to match their preferred style of play."

Forbes

Obligatory comic (you knew this was coming):

Xkcd comic: How standards proliferate

xkcd

2022-08-08

How I Started with D&D

Our friend Ash reminded us about David Chapman's RPGaDAY 2022 over a his Autocratik.com blog. In particular, the daily prompt for Wednesday of last week (the 3rd of the month) asked, "When were you first introduced to RPGs?" -- which leads to a short anecdote I've been meaning to share for some time. (Also, it answers a handful of other questions for RPGaDAY 2022 at the same time.)

I've said a number of times that the stock dogma of, "everyone needs a mentor to learn D&D" doesn't apply in my case -- indeed, I learned from the printed books and nothing else. Here's the full story:

By September/October of 1978 (when I turned 8 years old), my great uncle was laid up after a medical scare, and someone had given him a subscription to a new publication, Games magazine. He lived in a house nearby with his two elderly sisters, and they already had a good stock of puzzle books, math texts, games, and the like. Supposedly at some earlier time he'd been a pretty sharp poker player -- and his sister was one of the first women in the country to get a higher degree in math, wrote questions for the first SAT test, etc. (I still have her copies of college algebra & calculus texts dated 1929 and 1933, now with handwritten notes from both of us all through the margins). So all that's pretty well in character.

Anyway, my uncle was handing off his issues of Games to me once he was done with them. At this point TSR Hobbies was running full-page ads for Holmes Basic D&D on a regular basis... it caught my eye, but very conservative with money as we all were, it would take more than that to make the jump. This came in the November/December 1980 issue when the editors included it in their first-ever Games 100 feature of their current favorite games. Dungeons & Dragons was included on their alphabetically-ordered list. Here's the entirety of what they said about it:

D&D is actually a series of books and rules to help players design a fantasy world replete with treasures and perils. A Dungeon Master (DM, or referee) creates the world, which players explore under his direction. The more players, the merrier.

Dungeons & Dragons photo and blurb from 1980 Games 100 in Games Magazine

That clinched it -- I asked for this particular game for Christmas, and did indeed unwrap it that holiday. (Complete with chits -- this being the crunch where dice weren't available - so for quite some time I was spending hours pulling paper out of cups, with the idea polyhedral dice still only a flight of fantasy in my mind. At some point my mom surprised me with a set of dice and that still might be the best, most unexpected gift I ever got.)

Anyway, to this point in my community I was the only person who's ever heard of Dungeons & Dragons. I read the Holmes rulebook & Gygax's inserted Keep on the Borderlands adventure intently, and -- never imagining there was any other option -- started running my friends through games based on those books, teaching everyone I knew how to play. Everything I knew came from the printed text. 

As I look at that 1980 blurb for D&D, I'm a little surprised but how deeply that exact pitch is still the root of what I expect from a D&D game today -- "a fantasy world... treasures and perils... DM or referee... creates the world... The more players, the merrier". Also, it bears reflection on how much harder it was to discover, learn about, and acquire niche media like D&D in the past -- often taking several years, as it happened for me. But it was worth the wait!

Ad for D&D from TSR Hobbies in Games Magazine, Sep/Oct 1978
Ad for Dungeons & Dragons from TSR Hobbies in Games Magazine, Sep/Oct 1978

2022-08-01

Pool of Remonstrance

Beat-up bandit leader

As I play through the well-loved 1988 AD&D computer game, Pool of Radiance (which launched the very successful "gold box" line of games), on the Wandering DM channel late nights Thursdays -- I'm reminded of the hard fact, for computer game developers, of how many ambiguities in classic D&D the programmers need to hammer down judgements for and back-fill in to complete the software. And this in turn leads to many surprises in store for the player who's become used to particular table rulings with their friends. I'm sure there's a similar phenomenon when players move between different human play groups. That's somewhat ironic, as AD&D was partly held out as a unifying solution to exactly those problems.

I'm still in the early phases of Pool of Radiance, but here's a small sampling of things that have jumped out at me as a surprise, many cases of which I've needed viewers to helpfully point out the novel ruling before I got in too much trouble. Keep in mind this is even while the designers and programmers have in very many cases been huge sticklers for hewing to the 1E books as written:

  • Initiative is in a different order for each party, and intermingled between parties, on every round; i.e., it seems to have an individual initiative mechanic. (To me the 1E DMG seems clear that party-based initiative is in order.)
  • Attacks against the back are determined not by position but by number of attackers -- one or two count as front attacks; the third or more attackers, or thief across from an ally, count as rear attacks. (This somewhat conjures the 3E flanking rule, abstracting where the "back" is on a figure. The 1E DMG kind of wants it both ways, arguing in some places for fully abstracted randomized-opponent melee dustups, and in others very exacting charts for the angle of flank or rear attacks. A chronic problem in D&D.)
  • When in melee, you can actually run circles all the way around an opponent without triggering free attacks -- the free attacks only occur when you step fully out of contact. (Which is a legitimately narrow reading of the DMG language, but perhaps doesn't make sense in the spirit of the tactical game.)
  • You can exchange items in hand -- weapons, shields, scrolls, etc. -- freely within any round. (This seems to butt up against the examples of rummaging in a pack or exchanging weapons in a fight; see 1E DMG p. 71.) Likewise you can thoughtfully look at all your gear and select any number of items to drop at your leisure within a fight (counter to the harrowing tale of Dimwall & Drudge in DMG Appendix O). 
  • Diagonal moves on the grid are measured 1-2-1-2, etc., spaces. (There's no whisper of this rule in 1E; prior to playing Pool of Radiance, I thought that was a 3E novelty.)
  • There's a "guarding" action option, in which you give up your action, but get a free attack if any enemy thereafter comes in contact with you. Likewise one can "delay" and wait for others to go first in a round. (Again, these are mechanics I associate with later editions.)
  • One can cast spells freely in melee contact, except if you've taken any damage previously within the same round. (This is sort of the reverse of the DMG rule on p. 65 which dictates advance declaration of spells, before rolling for initiative, and then the results of that initiative possibly allowing interrupting attacks. Like Pool of Radiance, I actually do prefer not dealing with advance-casting; but I wouldn't want to track who took damage at what point in a round.)
  • On the other hand, no missile attacks can be when one is adjacent to any enemy. (Which is quite sensible, but not in the books, and easy to confuse with the spell-casting rule which cuts the opposite way. You can't even shoot a missile if you're next to a sleeping enemy!)
  • Having had to painstakingly fight the trolls on the 1st level of the dungeon, I'm still not sure if fire is needed only as the final blow, or at some point in the combat, or what, to prevent regeneration. Also: preventing troll regeneration by standing on the body is not a ruling I think any DM would come up with (although maybe necessary here just for the issue of not having multiple figures active in one space). Also: having a downed troll get back up with full hit points was a real shock to me! (But: It seems basically in tone with Poul Anderson's original regenerating troll encounter, and I actually plan to have trolls play possum like that until fully healed in my future games -- watch out.) And of course trolls breaking morale, so critical to that fight in the Pool of Radiance slums, is exactly opposite to where they're labeled as "fearless" in classic D&D texts.
  • Also there's flaming oil which can be freely thrown, but there's no splash damage from misses (per the DMG). 
  • Training to advance a level costs a fixed 1,000 gp (as opposed to the greater expense by level in the DMG; a saving grace in Pool of Radiance).
  • The "option" the let characters go below zero hit points and possibly be resuscitated is in use (making combat much more survivable that if it was not). But the DMG dictate that a week's rest is then required is not used (although healing a downed PC in a fight does not let them get active again within that encounter). 
  • Casting hold person allows you to individually select the multiple targets (whereas Gygax said more than once that spells of that nature would affect random targets). 

I could go on. None of these are bad rulings -- it's just that it provides a neat opportunity to re-experience the game as a "new" player at a fresh DM's table, in some sense, and think about all the ways I get to be surprised and think about different legitimate ways of running classic D&D.

Of course -- the thing that grabs my attention the most sometimes is 1E's very wonky relationship with scaling of distance and time. Pool of Radiance almost manages to hand-wave that away, but not quite. AD&D "inches" of scale directly convert to "squares" in Pool of Radiance for movement and missile fire. Many spells follow the PHB ranges and areas, but others were significantly modified. For example, the sleep spell in 1E PHB has a range of 3" + 1"/level, but I've discovered that in Pool of Radiance (without any ranges being listed in the game manual), the range is 3" + 4"/level. That's a big difference, and would probably have changed a few fights if I knew my Nirjarini, my 3rd-level magic-user, could cast it 15 squares, instead of the 6 that I expected.

Furthermore: Simon Wood on YouTube helpfully pointed out that the Pool of Radiance Clue Book (which I'd been avoiding) has a Spell Parameters Chart on its last page. I observe that the range given for every spell there exactly matches what's listed in the 1E PHB (except in two cases of 0-range spells, the area is swapped in instead: i.e., prayer and friends). So now I wonder: Are there other spells than sleep that are secretly off-book? Was the Clue Book author working directly from the 1E PHB and not the game, or an earlier design document? Is the sleep spell range change a conscious design decision, or an outright programming error? (Note that 4 is directly above 1 on a numeric keypad.)

Finally, exactly how big is a battlemap square in Pool of Radiance? Consider the following. A one-square wide corridor in the strategic view converts to four-squares wide in the tactical view (i.e., 4 characters standing abreast). So how big is that corridor, really? If we think it's 10' wide (standard for 1E dungeons), then the tactical squares are 2.5 feet wide. Or if we say the corridors are 20' wide, then the tactical squares are a 5 feet each (in line with later edition sensibilities). But neither of those options are present in the 1E core rules. Of course, the 1E PHB states that all indoor ranges and areas are a scale of 1" = 10 feet, whereas the DMG says that 10 feet will be represented by 3 actual inches on the tabletop (i.e., 1 inch = 3⅓ feet). So everything's up in the air with that math, as usual.

Party in a 1-square corridor in Pool of Radiance strategic view.

Party fighting NPCs in that corridor, with both sides packed 4 characters across.

I think the Pool of Radiance manual almost managed to expunge any reference to "feet" distance, except oddly for two spells interacting with invisibility -- detect invisibility and invisibility, 10' radius both have their area of effect stated in terms of feet, not squares. (I mean: obviously it's embedded in the name of that latter spell. But for the former, the 1E PHB & POR Clue Book give the range as 1"/level, while the manual says 20 feet per level instead, so that seems like a conscious addition by the video game designers, and another thing not reflected in the Clue Book?) So when I get higher level I kind of want to prioritize acquiring invisibility, 10' radius so I can test how many squares its 10-foot radius area encompasses. Maybe someone's already done that?

Edit: I got to use silence, 15' radius as a test case, and found that it has a radius of 1 square in each direction around its target. So that suggests each space is intended to represent 10' -- which matches a lot of the 1E book rules, but contradicts the rule that one can fit 3 figures across a ten-foot span (1E DMG p. 10). It also means that the "standard" corridors, as shown above, must nominally be 40' wide. As I've often said, the inconsistency and weird scaling of 1E rules always make something unsatisfiable like that.

2022-07-25

Dragon Inflation Through the Ages

In the Wandering DMs aftershow chat last Sunday, several of our patrons started swapping classical illustrations of dragons with us. The moral: Dragons have undergone a radical inflation in recent years with the rise of the mass-market fantasy game. Here's a quick perusal over the last few centuries (everything to 1914 being depictions of the same scene, Saint George and the Dragon):

Anonymous, Ms. of Legenda aurea, 1382 

Bernat Martorell, 1434

Albrecht Dürer, 1501

Johann König, 1630

Unknown, early 1700's

Gustave Moreau, 1889

Briton Rivière, 1914

J.R.R Tolkien, 1936 (Bilbo the Hobbit on right)

1st Edition cover to Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight, 1968

Clyde Caldwell, Dragons of Despair, 1984

Jaime Jons, 2014 (5E D&D Starter Kit cover)

My, how quickly they grow up!


2022-03-21

Saved by Rolling Rock

Statue of Sisyphus rolling a rock

Our friend Baquies asked a question that I like very much: my OED Traps Digest has a 10' diameter rolling rock trap, which I basically lifted from Moldvay's Lost City adventure (module B4, area 39), and he probably swiped it from Raiders of the Lost Ark the prior year. 

Now, I stipulate that after the boulder comes to a rest, it can be pushed aside 1 in 6 by a normal man. Is that reasonable?

Looking at the Rockhound Resource website, one of the examples in a table there includes a rock that's "Car sized | ~10 ft" weighing in at at about 86,500 pounds (and I double-checked the calculation: assumes about granite density).

An answer to a Quora question (by Charles Collins -- no relation, I assume) says that the optimal coefficient of rolling resistance on level ground is 0.10 (for a car with inflated tires, or a plane bearing). For our rock this gives a critical force of 86,500 × 0.010 = 865 pounds.

Can a man push that much? That's something I suppose a gym could answer. I think it's pretty common to bench press 100 pounds or so. An answer on Reddit here says regarding a leg-press machine, "People can easily hit up to 400-600 pounds or more on these machines, I would design for a force of 1000 pounds to have some safety factor built in."

So maybe we should dial down our rock a little bit, say to about an 8' diameter -- thereby letting it roll a bit more freely down our standard corridor, and also reducing the weight by half, to about 44,300 pounds, with a critical rolling force of about 443 pounds. This seems to put it squarely in the range that a fit man could roll, if he had his back against one wall, and pushed with both legs.

(And our friend Seeker points out that the easiest rock to carve for this purpose would be limestone, so let's say that's the material, which increases the weight a small amount, i.e., by 2% or so.)

What are your thoughts on that? Will it make Sisyphus happy?

2022-03-14

OED House Rules v.1.0.7

OED Player's Rules Cover

Presenting the state of the OED House Rules for 2022: we've bumped up both the Player's and Judge's rules documents to version 1.0.7. Some of the more important edits you'll find there:

Player's Rules

  • Combat Feats have been reworked & rebalanced for a better overall distribution. (In particular, Rapid Attack is no longer the hands-down best choice.)
  • Sweep Attacks are noted as a universal ability for all Fighters, as opposed to the ambiguous state it was previously left in (and the Cleave feat consequently removed). See numerous analytic posts in which we researched this issue in 2021; in short, if you're going to play with O/AD&D listed large numbers appearing for low-level monsters, then players need this ability to stay competitive.

Judge's Rules

  • Mechanics based on a d6 roll have been synchronized to follow a low-roll for success model, following the majority of the instances in the LBBs. See here for the analysis on that.  
  • Slime/ooze monster mechanics were edited to match results of recent polls we ran (to be presented in the near future).

Monster Database

  • At least as important as any of the above, we've recently significantly expanded the Arena simulator program to include common wizard spells, magic-using and exotic monster types, etc. EHD (Equivalent Hit Dice values) have been modified to reflect that; basic monsters (giant-types, etc.) mostly stayed the same, while some outliers had large changes (e.g., vampires, golems, etc.). 
  • All monsters now have a justified EHD listings (previously some special or spell-using types were left with a null entry). 
  • The database has been expanded with more monsters from the OD&D supplements (now over 200 listed!).
  • Quick copy-paste stat blocks are now at the OEDGames site; the complete database in spreadsheet format is kept in the repository at Github.

We'll plan to post more updates and reflections on lessons from that recent simulator work in the coming weeks. Big thanks to the Wandering DMs patrons for kicking around and giving invaluable feedback and motivation on most of these issues. If you play around with these rules, tell us how they play for you! 

OED House Rules v.1.0.7 at OED Games