Friday, October 23, 2015

Notes on OD&D - Part 4

Continuing on with my reading of the original D&D booklets.  I'm up to Men & Magic, p11.  Please note - if you are reading this on a cell phone you may want to hold it sideways so that the bullet points sections don't squeeze the words too much. 

Men & Magic
  • p11 - Bonuses and Penalties to Advancement due to Abilities
    • Requisites scores are defined 
      • 3 - 8 Low
      • 9 - 12 Average
      • 13 - 18 High
    • Prime Requisite 15+ = Add 10% to Earned Experience
    • Prime Requisite 13-14 = Add 5% to Earned Experience
    • Prime Requisite 9 -12 = No Bonus
    • Prime Requisite 8 - 7  = Minus 10% to Earned Experience
    • Prime Requisite 6- = Minus 20% to Earned Experience
      • Note the imbalance here.  There is a much harsher penalty for low requisites than there is Bonus for high ones.  In fact it is double.  Given that this affects the character for the rest of the campaign, it is basically consigning low rollers (the GM, we should remember, rolls the dice) to the slow and agonizing Death-of-Faint-Praise, so to say.  
      • I'm not sure how much I like this rule from a design perspective, given that levels are also moderating growth by assigning different rates of advancement based on Class, which itself is affected by the Requisites.  So this seems like a redundant Bonus / Penalty system, and one that acts as a huge multiplier for the effect of poor rolling at the very start of the game.  
      • The other thing I'm not fond of is the extra complexity this rule introduces.  As a GM I want fewer charts and lookups, not more.  While it may well serve TSR's purposes to create an infinite number of charts (after all more charts means more Rules books, right?), but how well does it serve my interests as GM?  From the very beginning in 1978 when I looked over these rules I was immediately struck by the fact that the system seemed overly complex, and that the purpose was more so TSR could sell more rules books, and not really geared towards making my GMing easier or more efficient.  I never really understood why there were so many GMs later who were totally into the idea that more charts makes for a more interesting (ie - "crunchy") game, when I always wanted a simpler, easier, more efficient game.  Ah well, pet peeve territory here.  Take it as my personal preference.  At any rate as well, this was the reason that we GMs had in the days of yore created our own rules systems (aka - homebrew worlds).  
      • On the other hand, I should give it a chance.  The fact is that the combination of both the Levels Chart (number of experience points needed to level per class), and this Bonus and Penalties system may well have moderated advancement in a way that Gygax and Arneson really liked and felt was necessary for the balance of the game.  Remember, with a game of this complexity you can't really judge rules on an individual basis any more than you can judge the ingredients of a soup individually.  It is the blend that matters.
      • Still though - the imbalance in the Prime Requisite modifier to advancement seems a bit off kilter to me, just the same.
    • Constitution 15+ = +1 to each Hit Dice Roll
    • Constitution 13 - 14 = "Will withstand adversity" (heh... interesting)
    • Constitution 9 - 12 = 60% to 90% chance of surviving (?? wtf does that mean ??)
    • Constitution 8 - 7 = 40% to 50% chance of survival (???)
    • Constitution 6- = -1 from each Hit Dice roll 
      • Um ... wtf?  This chart is all over the place, isn't it?  I wonder what that rule means though... how do you use it?  Is the % chance of survival just kind of loosely informational?  Or are we supposed to roll at this point and see if the Character kinda dies in the cradle?  Hmmm... If so, then why have 6 or less simply give a -1 on each Hit Die roll?  So no, I don't think we use that information about the % chance of survival at all.  Must be just there for your ... um ... amusement, I guess.
      • I kind of see this section of the chart as an example of the obtuse mechanisms that lacked consistency.  A simpler clearer chart would simply have pluses and minuses.  Adding oddball informational percentages here is confusing, and kind of useless.  Not to mention, I can't imagine how in the world they could possibly know what the actual percents were, given the statistical complexity of the game overall.  Such probabilities could, I suspect, be calculated with accuracy by a Super Computer ... but not by Gygax and Arneson sitting in their basement.  Hell we didn't even have excel in those days.  Or computers at all, iirc.  I really doubt those percents are even close to valid.
    • Dexterity 12+ = Fire any missile at +1 (Attack Level)
    • Dexterity 9- = Fire any missile at -1 (Attack Level)
      • Another variant and this one is also a bit perplexing.  As noted Average score includes both 9 and 12, so why would Average get a + or a -?   Why is it not 13 gets +1 and 8 gets -1?   Also, why doesn't 18 get like a bigger bonus than a 12?  Why does a 3 get the same minus as a 9?  I'm suspecting there was a Wargame reason for this rule.  And I'm also guessing that in the Wargame context, it makes sense.  Just a guess, and I could be quite wrong about that.  
    • Minimum Score on any roll is a 1
    • "Note: Average scores are 9-12.  Units so indicated above may be used to increase prime requisite total insofar as this does not bring that cagegory below average, i.e. below a score of 9"
      • Um ... I don't understand what that last rule means, to be honest.  What?  No, I read it four times.  I totally don't understand what this rule does at this point.  Maybe it is explained in more detail later. 
  • p12 - Character Generation cont...
    • Languages
      • "Common" is the language known throughout the "Continent" and is spoken by most humans.
      • Monsters have their own languages, but 20% know Common.
      • Law, Chaos and Neutral also have their own Languages
      • While one can attempt to speak to creatures using the Alignment Language, if the creature is of an opposite Alignment to the one spoken they will know it and immediately attack.
      • For every Intelligence "factors" above 10 characters may learn 1 additional language
        • Um ... the use of the word "factors" here is a bit odd.  Factors, in math, implies something quite different than "points".  As in Factorials.  Or "Factors of 10".  I'm not sure, but I'm thinking they must mean "Points" here.
      • Magic User Spells and some items may also allow the speaking of other languages.
Languages are an obviously important mechanism at this point in the game's development.  I'm not quite sure why or how it played out, but I'm going to speculate.  Given the Wargame nature of OD&D, monsters were on the map in the same way that military counters were on the map in Blitzkrieg.  It seems expected that when you came in range of creatures you would do one of three things.  You'd engage in combat, or you would ally with them based on Alignment, or you would pass each other by.  Now at the outset players didn't know (unless they bought the rules) which monsters were of what Alignment.  They would therefore have to communicate with them to find out.  After all, they could potentially pick up allies if they were of the same alignment, increasing the size of their force and that could make a big difference in terms of winning the game.  Remember, the maps are pre-configured with monsters in known numbers at various locations on the map.  Think of it like a very sophisticated board game at this point.  At any rate, when a party encountered a monster for the first time (i.e. the players had no clue yet what alignment it might be) they could try to talk to it.  But under some circumstances, such as they're already wounded and trying to leave the dungeon, this would have entailed a certain amount of risk.  They might pick up a new ally who could possibly heal them, or help protect them on the way out - or they might be suddenly hurled into another combat - and all die.  All of which sounds like really fun stuff to me.  But, of course, having never seen Gygax and Arneson play, I'm left to speculate, but this is how I think it probably played out, and why I think the Languages rules were designed this way.  If anyone happens to know either way, I'd be curious to hear about it.
    •  Non-Player Characters
      • Player Characters are expected to "hire" NPCs.  "It is likely that player will be desirous of acquiring a regular entourage of various character types, monsters, and an army of some form".
        • Again strong evidence that the original D&D was a Wargame in which armies were in play.  Just like in Blitzkrieg or any other wargame of that period.
        • That said, most of the Wargames of that time were based on land battles, such as the Napoleonic Wars.  Very few, if any, were based on adventures in tunnels, caverns, and dungeons.  In fact combat tactics for dungeoneering are vastly different than that of land battles. This change in modalities suggests a couple of things to me.  It seems the game had not finished evolving from general Wargame to Adventure Party Game at this point.  My guess is that they played in both modalities.  Sometimes there were wilderness maps with perhaps a castle or some terrain like that, which would serve as a basis for land battles with armies (they do say that they expect armies of some form to be involved).  In other cases there are dungeon maps.  You can't, my friends, fit an army into a dungeon, for one thing.  Not to mention that even if you did, playing out a military style battle inside a dungeon is absolutely fraught with all kinds of problems from the General's point of view.  Archers?  Useless for the most part.  Calvary?  Nope.  So all you have are your infantry.  And Magic Users (and to some degree Clerics) who can act as a bizarre form of artillery.  If you are a General who is well versed in land battles, strategy and tactics, well, you're going to have to re-calibrate your brain completely for a dungeon-war.  It's totally different!
        • My guess is that what wound up happening pretty quickly is that small groups of adventurers delved the dungeons and left their armies at home when they did so.  And this, after a short time, became the mainstay of the game, and after some period of adjustment, the whole Land Battle aspect was basically abandoned.  
      • Only the lowest level character types can be hired. 
      • Messages can be sent to "Dwarfland" and "Elfland" to obtain hirelings of the appropriate roles (race and class) to what the players feel they need.  This has a cost in both money and time which is to be arbitrated by the Referee.
      • 100 Gold Pieces is the standard price for tempting hirelings into service.
        • Dwarves want gold
        • Elves and Magic Users want Magic Items
        • Clerics want "a house of worship"
      • Monsters can be "lured" into service if they are the same Alignment as the PCs, or they can be "Charmed" and ordered to serve.
      • Monsters includes Men found in dungeons.  In this way high level Characters can be "Charmed" into service, using a spell or Charisma.  
      • Some reward must be offered to monsters in service (not just sparing it's life)
      • A roll is made to determine if the monster "accepts" the offer.
        • Dice Roll  (2d6) is made
          • 2 = Monster Attacks!
          • 3-5 = Hostile reaction
          • 6-8 = Uncertain
          • 9-11 = Accepts the offer
          • 12 = Enthusiastic, Loyalty +3
          • "Uncertain" reaction leaves the door open to addtional rewards offers, but scores under 6 do not.
Ok that's as far as I'm going today.  Very neat!  I'm really enjoying this read through.  I should have done this years ago, obviously.  But then again, back in 1978 we had no InterWebz, and I could not have possibly shared this information with you.  And had I written down my notes in a three ring binder I can guarantee that by now it would have been lost, and so the effort would most certainly have been in vain, and I might not have bothered to attempt it again now.  So lets all just consider it fortuitous that I never really dug into the rules until a few days ago... ok?  hehe.  :)

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