Posts Tagged “OSR”
Art by David S. La Force
This is the eighth installment of my continuing series on the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide, written by Gary Gygax. This post begins with the section “Saving Throw Matrix for Monsters” on page 79, and continues through “Gaining Experience Levels” on page 86. It’s been several months since the previous installment of this series, so I will reiterate: my purpose is not to review the DMG. It would be arrogant of me to think I could make a meaningful assessment of this book’s quality. I am merely going through it as a modern gamer, learning about the roots of Dungeons and Dragons, and making note when I see something surprising or interesting, or something which could be adapted for a modern game.
You can read all posts in this series under the Gary Gygax’s DMG tag.
Saving Throws: Ultimately there’s not a lot of new or surprising information in this section. It merely details why the saving throw exists, explains how it functions in the game world, and provides advice on how the GM should implement saving throws within the game. This section highlights something I’ve found I really love about Gygax’s style of writing. The way he communicates the game’s rules. In Pathfinder, the saving throw mechanic receives only a few paragraphs on page 180, which barely cover the mechanical necessities of how a saving throw functions, along with a brief description of what each of Pathfinder’s three saving throws are used for.
Here, Gygax devotes perhaps three or four times the amount of space that Paizo allotted to describe the concept of a saving throw. He addresses criticisms of the concept, and explains exactly what a saving throw means within game terms. This is a huge criticism I have of D&D 3.X. Not enough attention is given to educating the GM, and teaching them to think diagetically about their game. Instead, 3.X stressed what is commonly called “System Mastery” – a comprehensive knowledge of the rules. While in fact, I think understanding the spirit of the game is far more important to being a good game master.
Hit Points: This section strikes me as a little strange, since much of it just retreads information which appeared earlier in the DMG. However, I like that Gary addresses this issue:
It is quite unreasonable to assume that as a character gains levels of ability in his or her class that a corresponding gain in actual ability to sustain physical damage takes place. It is preposterous to state such an assumption, for if we are to assume that a man is killed by a sword thrust which does 4 hit points of damage, we must similarly assume that a hero could, on average, withstand five such thrusts before being slain! Why then the increase in hit points?
That discussion could easily have been moved earlier in the book, and saved some space. But I’m none the less happy he acknowledged this.
Effects of Alcohol and Drugs: I had one takeaway from this section: get your hirelings drunk. Sure they’ll take penalties to their ability scores and attack dice, but bonuses to hit points, bravery, and morale are worth it. It makes perfect sense, and I can’t believe I never considered it before. It’s particularly effective if you just get hour hirelings buzzed without letting them get drunk, because they won’t take penalties on anything you care about. Who actually wants hirelings with high wisdom in the first place?!
I’d be curious to learn if this has any historical support, like generals giving their men a round of beer before a battle. I’m sure that’s happened a few times, but was it effective?
Insanity: These are respectably game-able, but they’re not particularly inspired. None the less, it’s good that they’re included, and it’s good that they’re grounded in reality rather than being completely fantastical. I much prefer the type of fantasy world where characters suffer from Melancholia, rather than something ridiculous like “Devilbrain.”
Division of Experience Points: I was very interested to read that 1st edition AD&D actually had a primitive, clunky version of the “Challenge Rating” system found in D&D 3.x, and perfected in Pathfinder. The amount of math involved in this process is ridiculous. I don’t see how anyone could compare it favorably to challenge ratings as seen in Pathfinder, or even as seen in 3rd edition. Personally I’m not fond of any of these, as they all complicate the process of converting player achievement into experience rewards. None the less, Pathfinder is far superior in this regard.
Experience Value of Treasure Taken: Holy shit this is way too complicated. I am glad that people I know who base experience gain off of treasure stick with a simple 1gp = 1xp model. This rule would suggest that a 1 to 1 exchange should only be used if the treasure was appropriately difficult for the adventurers to recover. If the treasure is too easy to get, Gygax recommends “5 g.p. to 4 x.p., 3 to 2, 2 to 1, 3 to 1, or even 4 or more to 1.”
On a single dungeon run, players are likely to acquire gold from numerous sources, each of which may be more or less difficult for them. Using this methodology, the GM would need to note each acquisition of treasure separately, and the ‘exchange rate’ beside it. Combined with the ridiculously complex rules for calculating experience points from monsters, and you almost need to hire an accountant to ensure you’re awarding XP properly!
Art by Will McLean
Special Bonus Award to Experience Points: This started out sounding very reasonable . Of course if you’re running a mid or high level game you’re going to want to give your low level players some way to catch up to their higher leveled counterparts. I never really expected Gygax to recommend XP for dying and being resurrected, though. That strikes me as extremely odd. Particularly considering that resurrection most commonly comes with an XP penalty.
Gaining Experience Levels: It seems as though I’m finding a lot to dislike today, and I’m afraid this is no exception. Here, Gygax suggests that the GM should monitor their player’s role playing, and grade them based on whether or not they stuck to their alignment, and acted in keeping with their character class. I find this strange. Stranger still is the idea that gaining new levels is not something which a character is entitled to upon gaining sufficient experience. Rather, it is suggested that characters gain new levels at the GM’s discretion, and that they should be made to wait an appropriate amount of time (based on their role playing ‘grade,’) before they are allowed to move up.
Sometimes, Gary, I just don’t know what to think.
Favorite Quotes from this Section
“These adventures become the twice-told tales and legends of the campaing. The fame (or infamy) of certain characters gives lustre to the campaign and enjoyment to player and DM alike as the parts grow and are entwined to become a fantastic history of a never-was world where all of us would wish to live if we could.” -Gygax, DMG, Page 80
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Posted by LS on Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 at 6:45 am
Categories: Old School Dungeons and Dragons
Tags: Book Review, Gary Gygax's DMG, OSR, Page By Page
While participating in Brendan‘s weekly OD&D game, Vaults of Pahvelorn, I’ve become enamored of the role hirelings once played in D&D. In Pathfinder, it’s uncommon for a player to seek out an NPC companion. And when they do, they need to take the Leadership feat first. In previous editions of the game, it’s more common for every player to have at least one hireling, while many have several. This makes a lot of sense. From a practical standpoint, one doesn’t need to be a particularly good leader to pay someone to perform basic tasks. All you need is money and a sense of superiority, which adventurers and retail managers both have in spades, AMIRITE?
Despite my respect for the hireling system’s elegance, I’ve noticed a potential weakness in the way they are handled. It’s not a flaw; it doesn’t break the game, nor does it render hirelings less effectual than they ought to be. But it’s an area where I feel as though the presence of hirelings in the game could be strengthened to the game’s benefit. Namely, every hireling is a robot that does what it’s told except when a completely random die roll determines that it should do otherwise. They have no personality to them which makes them individual or interesting, despite the fact that players often try to ascribe personalities to them.
To my understanding, Hirelings in OD&D are handled very simply. (Bearing in mind that I don’t actually know how hirelings are handled in Vaults of Pahvelorn. The machinations of loyalty are kept hidden from the players). When the player character orders a hireling to attempt something which the hireling might object to, the GM rolls against a “loyalty score” which the player has earned with that NPC. On a successful roll, the hireling will do what they are told. On an unsuccessful roll, the hireling will refuse the order. It’s a simple and effective means to differentiate between the PC (which the player controls directly) and the Hireling, which is an NPC that the player can only control indirectly.
In my weeks playing Vaults of Pahvelorn, however, I’ve noticed that my fellow players and I often try to impart personality traits on our hirelings. They’re not quite members of the party, but we still view them as more than cannon fodder. I suppose the closest analogue you might draw is that the players view their hirelings as pets. They want to get to know them a little bit, and the simple nature of the loyalty score doesn’t allow much leeway.
I propose a random chart which defines a hireling’s personality. Not in a role playing or aesthetic sense, as -C has already covered that exhaustively and there’s really nothing more to be said on the matter. Rather, this chart would define personality on a mechanical scale. A character’s fears are going to make them less willing to engage in certain kinds of questionable activities, while they may feel more confident about others. To demonstrate what I’m talking about, below is a sample chart which I’m sure could be expanded and improved upon. Each personality trait is the result of two rolls:
(1) The character is terrified of… (Takes a -3 penalty on loyalty rolls associated with…)
(2-3) The character isn’t comfortable with… (Takes a -1 penalty on loyalty rolls associated with…)
(4-5) The character is pretty comfortable with… (Receives a +1 bonus on loyalty rolls associated with…)
(6) The character happy with… (Receives a +3 bonus on loyalty rolls associated with…)
Edit: Brendan has pointed out to me that OD&D loyalty checks are made using 2d6, not 1d20. Oops! I’ve modified the bonuses and penalties to work better with that number range. That’ll teach me to try and write a homebrew for a game I’ve never GM’d!
(1) Being left alone in to stand guard in a dangerous place.
(2) Being sent ahead to scout in a dangerous place.
(4) Magic and Magic Users
(9) Monstrous Humanoids
(11) Demons and Devils
(14) Near death experiences
(15) Being asked to participate in battle with a ranged weapon.
(16) Being asked to participate in battle with a melee weapon.
(17) Dangerously cold weather.
(18) Dangerously hot weather.
(19) Large scale battles.
(20) High places
The GM could roll for an individual hireling as many times as they like, ignoring any contradictory results on subsequent rolls. The GM is also strongly encouraged to work a hireling’s trait into their personality. For example, a hireling who is comfortable with fire might have been part of the fire fighting volunteer squad before they joined up with the party. If they’re happy to confront fire, then perhaps they’re even a little unstable, with pyromaniacal tendencies.
There are some potential problems with this idea. Aside from complicating a simple system (and thus, potentially, making it less effective) it adds to the amount of information the GM will need to keep track of. I do like the idea, though, and I’d be curious to hear other’s thoughts on it. I’m particularly curious what oldschool GMs think, since my only experience with OSR gaming is as a player.
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Posted by LS on Wednesday, October 10th, 2012 at 5:45 am
Categories: Old School Dungeons and Dragons
Tags: Homebrew, OSR, Vaults of Pahvelorn
Illustration from the DMG by David C. Sutherland III
Wow, it’s been almost two months since I updated the Page by Page series! I’d like to apologize to those who have been following this one. I really let it get away from me without noticing. This is the seventh installment of my continuing series on the 1979 Dungeon Master’s Guide, written by Gary Gygax. This post begins with the section “Special Types of Attacks” on page 70, and continues to the end of page 79.
To recap: This is not a review of the DMG. I am not attempting to evaluate its quality, nor the quality of the AD&D system. I am merely going through the book as a modern gamer, learning about the roots of RPGs, and making note when I see something surprising or interesting, or something which could be adapted for modern games.
Attacks With Two Weapons: I found this a little odd. “Characters normally using a single weapon may choose to use one in each hand (possibly discarding the option of using a shield).” The way I read that, it sounds as though characters who choose to dual wield might need to give up using their shield, but might not. Would they somehow wield two swords and a shield at the same time?
I’m not entirely sure what Gygax meant by this, but I find the imagery amusing. Perhaps he was making allowances for forearm mounted bucklers which don’t cover the wielder’s hands? Those existed, right?
Breaking Off From Melee: Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Attacks of opportunity? In my first edition? Apparently it’s more likely than I thought! I realize this isn’t exactly as comprehensive as the AoO in 3.x/Pathfinder, but it functions in much the same way. For so long I’ve heard old-school players complain that attacks of opportunity are part of the needless complication of the modern game’s battle system. And yet here I find pretty much exactly that. How curious!
Monk’s Open Hand Melee: I like this idea a great deal: a monk’s unarmed damage is only really functional against human sized, human-weight opponents. It recognizes the limitations of the human body, thus preventing monks from becoming wholly supernatural beings as they are in Pathfinder. Unfortunately, the way this limitation is notated is awful. Listing a max height and weight in the first place is too much work for the GM. I much prefer the kind of size categories seen in Pathfinder. And then, on top of that, to have the max height and weight increase incrementally at each level, two inches by two inches, is just obscene in my humble opinion. What is the difference between a 6’6″ humanoid and a 6’8″ humanoid?
I do quite like that undead who cause negative effects by touching their foes will inflict that effect on a monk who punches them. Gary seems to have envisioned the monk as a very interesting, but still grounded class. Using your fists as weapons has advantages, but there’s no attempt to make a monk’s fists as effective as a sword could be in the name of balance.
Actions During Combat And Similar Time-Important Situations: There’s a lot that I dislike about this section. I can understand and enjoy a game where the GM curtails excessive strategist by having events move forward around the players. Brendan frequently does this in our weekly OD&D game, and it keeps us from getting off track. It also adds a sense that the game is happening in real time, which is fun. Here, though, Gygax seems to recommend penalizing even slight hesitations on the player’s part. As a player, I try not to waste anyone’s time. But sometimes I need a moment to decide what I want to do on my turn, and I’d prefer not to be pressured into acting immediately.
But really, that’s just a nitpick compared to this passage:
In a similar vein, some players will state that they are going to do several actions, which, if allowed, would be likely to occupy their time for many rounds. For example: “I’ll hurl oil at the monster, ignite it, drink my potion of invisibility, sneak up behind it, and then stab it in the back!” How ambitious indeed. Where is the oil? In a pouch, of course, so that will take at least 1, possibly 2 segments to locate and hurl. If the potion is in the character’s back pack, 3 or 4 segments will be taken up just finding it, and another 1 segment will be required to consume its contents. (See Drinking Potions.) Now comes the tricky part, sneaking up. Assuming that the potion has taken effect, and that our dauntless character has managed to transfer his or her weapon back to his or her hand (for certainly all the other activity required the character to at least put the weapon in the off hand), he or she is now ready to creep around the fringe of the combat and steal up behind the foe to smite it in the back. If the space is not too crowded (remember, his or her friends can’t see the invisible character either) and the monster not too far away, the time should only amount to about a round or so. Therefore, the character’s actions will fill something over two complete rounds.
As DM, simply note these actions, and begin them accordingly. Then, when the player starts to give instructions about additional activity, simply remind him or her that he or she is already engaged in the former course, and that you will tell him or her when that is finished and new instructions are in order.”
No. I’m sorry, Gary. I love you, but that’s dickish GMing. To simplify the advice being given here: sometimes players will not understand the limitations of an action. If that happens, act as though they can do what they said they want to do, then pull the rug out from under them on their next turn.
Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what is being prescribed here. Maybe all Gary is saying is that the GM should be prepared to enact a player’s plans over the course of multiple rounds. If that’s the case, it’s a little bit odd, but whatever. Perhaps I don’t have a sufficient understanding of how combat works in AD&D. But this just doesn’t come off as good advice to me.
Example of Melee: For some reason, this is way more interesting to follow than any of the play examples I’ve read in modern books. Go figure.
Non-Lethal and Weaponless Combat Procedures: I like the idea that attacking players and defending players each get to roll a secret die, and then choose whether they’d like to apply it as a bonus/penalty to the “to hit” roll, or if they’d like to apply it as a bonus/penalty to the “damage” roll. That makes good sense to me as part of brawling combat. When somebody is kicking you in the balls, you can either bring your leg up to block it, or you can cup your hands over your balls and hope for the best.
Though, may I just say, this is more complicated as the grappling system in D&D 3rd edition. That system got a lot of grief, and rightfully so, for being obtuse and difficult to remember. But There are nearly two full pages about grappling here. None of this looks any easier or more enlightened than the mess which was 3rd edition grappling.
Thank goodness for Pathfinder’s combat maneuvers!
Combat Tables: Tables, tables, tables, tables, tables, tables, tables. On and on, from page seventy four through page seventy nine, filled with matrices to determine how difficult something is to hit.
I don’t like excessive matrices. They just strike me as poor design.
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Posted by LS on Sunday, August 26th, 2012 at 9:45 am
Categories: Old School Dungeons and Dragons
Tags: Gary Gygax's DMG, OSR, Page By Page