Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Notes on OD&D - Part 13

Onward and forward with my exploration of OD&D... notes, analysis and commentary...

Men & Magic 
  • p20 - 21 ... Saving Throw Matrix.

 The Classes are mixed in by level so it makes it a little hard to read. Here's a picture of the chart.


The idea here is pretty simple (I hope).  You look up the class and the level and cross reference that to the type of spell or power being used to find the number that must be rolled (or above) to be "Saved" from the full effects of the damnable whatsit.  So at 1st through 3rd Levels Fighters need to roll as 12 or better to be saved from Death Ray or Poison, and a 13 or above to be saved from Wands, and so on.  Magic-Users, on the other hand, between the Levels of 1 through 5 need a 13 or better to be saved from Death Ray or Poison.  And so on for each class at each level grouping.  Reasonably straightforward, except perhaps for the caveats as listed below the chart which talk about the exceptions.  That reads as follows:
"Failure to make the total indicated above results in the weapon having full effect, i.e. you are turned to stone, take full damage from dragon's breath, etc.  Scoring the total indicated above (or scoring higher) means the wpaon has no effect (death ray, polymorph, paralyzation, stone, or spell) or one-half effect (poison scoring one-half of the total possible hit damage and dragon's breath scoring one half- of it's full damage). Wands of cold, fire balls, lightning, etc, and staves are treated as indicated, but saving throws being made result in one-half damage"

I had to tie the programmer in me up and put him in a closet for the next section. Dr. McCoy has given him a hypo-sedative and Mr. Spock is standing by with a nerve pinch in case he tries to escape. He's gone full loco on this one. At any rate, lets take a look at the Saving Throw Matrix. First thing to notice is that this is a bit of a sloppy chart. My usual quibbles come to mind immediately.  Foremost, the structure of the thing is kind of horrid as it mixes both Level Groupings and Classes in a way that makes the chart hard to read, though I can understand the logic of why they did so;  save space.  If they broke it out logically (as I will do shortly) then it would be three charts, not one.  And the Level Groupings would be easier to distinguish.  With the chart as it is, I can imagine that there's been many a time where the GM thought their eye scanned the correct line, but didn't, and the numbers were off.  Since the Referees roll (according to the rules in this book) and not the players, the players would of course never be the wiser.  Yet with a chart like this the chances of making mistakes is unusually high.  That said, it does achieve the goal of saving space, and so I think we can forgive the fledgling TSR on their wish to save some money on printing costs by making charts as tight as possible.  Sort of.  I guess.  Maybe.  Hmmm... obviously, I'm really not so sure about that.  

I notice that the chart uses "Fighting-Men" only once, and then changes to "Fighters" which is the first time in the book that term is applied, so I now feel comfortable referring to Fighters going forward.

Lets take a closer look at the spreads.  Once again we have entered the Erratic Zone.  To make the analysis a little easier I once again translated the chart into Excel, and broke it down into a more detailed form so that it can be analyzed properly.  Not that there's that much here to analyze really, but it might turn up something of interest to do so, that might not be noticeable at first glance, especially given the rather horrid structure of the chart (yes, that the programmer in me shrieking from the closet, but try not to let him bother you).

Here's the chart in it's more detailed form:


You will notice that I split the chart into one for each class, and delineating the Levels, and also included at the bottom the differences between the Saving Throw values for each level grouping below each chart.

It's a bit hard to tell, but looking at the bottom set of charts you can see that in some cases the difference is 2, in some cases 3, in one case there's a 4, and in one case there's a 5.  I won't go through the usual pet peeve I have about this kind of erratic number jumping as I already covered that in previous posts. The programmer in the closet will just say "Yuck!" and we'll move on.  I might go on to also suggest my theory that not every GM who has used OD&D has necessarily noticed the number jumping, and I think this would be likely if they simply used the chart to do the fast look ups and never really scrutinized the chart carefully for variations in point spreads.  When you look at the chart as it is presented in the book it is not readily clear that the points spreads jump around the way they do.  This, again, has to do with the fact that the structure of the chart makes it a little hard to read.

Lets take a look at the graphs that show the differences.


So what we can see here is the spread is erratic.  We know that.  But what does this information tell us about how Gygax and Arenson conceived of the Saving Throws?

1.  The three classes are very distinct from one another in terms of Saving Throws.

2.  Fighters usually advance 2 points for every level and against every type of attack, except for Stoning and Dragon's breath.  This suggests that for Fighters stoning and dragon's breath are a bit easier for them to defend against than the other types of powers, though to be honest, in that case I'm rather surprised that Death Ray and Poisons didn't make the grade for that distinction.  I wonder why?  I would think that Fighters would have a better chance being heartier with higher hit points and a better constitution ... in particular vs poisons.  Hmmm... ok.  Maybe it was arbitrary.  Or maybe I simply don't quite understand the logic behind the distinction.  That's the more likely explanation, frankly.

3. Magic Users get a really big boost vs Staves and Spells.  Well, that makes sense.  Against everything else its pretty much even across the board.

4. Clerics are a bit more jumpy, but it looks like at certain levels they get advantages over Fighters, but Magic Users still trump them.  So Clerics are in between Fighters and Magic-Users, except that Fighter get their bumps at different levels than Clerics.

5. The bumps for Fighters and Clerics seem distributed between the levels randomly, sometimes being in the second levels grouping, sometimes in the third or fourth.  Magic-Users seem to have a steadier bump pattern at least, where the biggest bumps are at the highest levels.  To my mind that actually makes the most sense.  If I were going to redesign these charts to make them conform a little bit more to my ascetic sense I would try to pack the larger jumps into the higher levels.  But again, as I mentioned before, the purpose of these jumps may be simply to give the players something to say "Oh Yeah!" about at certain levels.

Ok, that's probably good for today.  We've managed to advance to page 21, but the next section is the spells list, and that's probably going to be something I want to discuss at length.  Maybe. We'll see.
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