Saturday, September 27, 2014

Thought for a Saturday Afternoon


Seeing someone try to defend the strange hyper-clothed prudishness of the 5e Player's Handbook on the grounds that it now makes D&D acceptable to play with their young child made me want to introduce an alternative (though faithful) definition of prudish:


Prudish: Taking such offense (real or feigned) at uncovered skin that one utterly loses sight of every other relevant thing.

'Daddy, I know what I want to be now."
'Yes, honey?'
'Can I be a transsexual devil-spawned warlock who made a contractual and romantic pact with Belial to offer him human sacrifices in return for magical powers?'
'Sure, darling, as long as you keep your knees covered.'

C.S. Lewis was right, more than sixty years ago (and how far we've come since then):

It's a bent world.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Clothed

I am of course referring to the art of different versions of Dungeons & Dragons--0e/1e, 4e and 5e.

Yesterday I argued that the cover of the 0e supplement Eldritch Wizardry, which features a fully nude figure, presents an interesting contrast with the art of the recently released 5e Player's Handbook, which features 100+ human and humanoid figures, virtually all of whom are almost fully covered, head to toe, in a manner that suggests rational outdoor attire in cold weather conditions or an irrational fear of sun poisoning.

Now, if you were to draw 100+ figures in different and varied contexts and situations, and they were all nude or close to nude, that would suggest a preoccupation with, well, nudity. 

But  if you were to draw 100+ figures in different and varied contexts and situations, and they were virtually all fully wrapped and draped in clothing that exposed very little skin whatsoever, that would also suggest a preoccupation with nudity, though a preoccupation of a different kind.

Back in the day, some would have called the first sort of preoccupation perverted. Then and even now, many would call the second prudish.

I owe use of the second very apt term to the astute comments of Paul Go. (See his comments on Google+). Note that 'prudish' is very often not defined as having a marked aversion to sexuality per se, but as a tendency to just be offended in general, or to be offended by nudity (defined in a neutral and not necessarily sexual way). A prude would for example be affronted by a prominently displayed loin cloth-attired Christ hanging from a crucifix. He would want to cover Him up.

Last night I said the 5e clothed thing was 'weird'. But tonight I'll accept that its prudish.

There are many who like 5e for a variety of reasons. Even many 'OSR people' seem to like it. It's understandable that if you like it, you're probably not going to like some upstart blogger calling it prudish, especially since these days, 'prudish' is thought of as about as bad a thing as, well, 'perverted' used to be.

That doesn't mean it's not true.

Now, two sorts of counter-arguments were given. The first was what we might call the moral argument:

1. Whatever else might be said, the art of 5e is morally preferable to, say, the John Norman, Frank Frazetta, chainmail bikini, women-exist-only-to-be-put-in-positions-of-peril (preferably while naked)-in-order-to-be-rescued-or-eaten style of fantasy art. That's sexist. it also doesn't give our daughters good role models.

The second is what we might call the practical argument:

2. The art of 5e more accurately or realistically represents what player characters actually look like, given the rule mechanics coupled with the equipment lists--in terms of armor, clothing and accessories--of the game. Whatever else one might say about the women (and men) in Frazetta paintings, they're not attired in the way any rational player would dress his or her character.

In what remains of this post I want to dispose of these arguments. Do not misunderstand. I'm not unsympathetic to the underlying views or motivations expressed in each. Indeed, I think they're reasonable.

But that doesn't mean they succeed in saving 5e.

1. Disposing of the first is easy. It's not an either/or choice. Just because you think that it's weird that very little skin of any kind is shown in the 5e Player's Manual, doesn't mean you want everyone to be nude, or all the women to wear chain mail (or non-chainmail) bikinis, or role-playing games partly intended for kids to sexualize our kids or provide bad role models for our daughters (or sons) or whatever. Selecting the cover of Eldritch Wizardry as the starting point of the discussion doesn't mean I want restrained nude women on sacrificial slabs to be the model for all of the art of the market leader in role-playing games. I can't even believe I have to say that.

2. The second argument or claim has two problems. First, the initial premise is just nonsense. 5e art is not more 'realistic'--in any of the meanings that term might have. The mechanics of these systems do not require that 5e (or any of the e's) mandate full body coverings for virtually all characters. They just don't. Should fighters often wear full plate armor? Of course. (And, incidentally, the 1e Player's Handbook has more depictions of full plate than 5e.) But do fighters ever take their plate armor off? Do they ever relax, at taverns and the like? And of course, aren't there other classes where armor is either not worn or not that important? Yes, yes and yes.

Exhibit A is the 5e Barbarian, above. For most of the various editions of D&D, barbarians were often the half-naked guys. They are, after all, barbarians--uncivilized and uncaring regarding the usual norms. They don't have access to effective armor or they prefer not to use much of it.

This is not only a fantasy trope, but also has reasonable historical grounding. Here's an excerpt of the text from the great Avalon Hill wargame, Caesar at Alesia:

The Gauls were an altogether fearsome lot. Many wore long red and blond hair and mustachios in tight braids. Their horrendous battle-cries were literally stunning. The warrior males of a family often linked themselves together with rope so that whether they prevailed or perished it would be together. Some GauIs, attacked without garments of any sort but with their hair and beards worked into fantastic shapes with a mixture of grease and pitch.

As I understand it, they also sometimes painted their naked bodies blue. How’s that for a cool 5e character?

But not that guy above. Except for the axe, I see his type at Starbucks every morning.

What about 5e game mechanics? Well, barbarians have a skill or feat (or whatever it's named) called 'unarmored defense'. Sure enough, the barbarian above does not seem to be wearing much armor save perhaps light leather. His arms aren't covered by armor. They're covered by...

...a long sleeved shirt.

That's just one example, but it could be multiplied 50 times.

The second problem is this: Let's assume that obsessive body covering is more 'realistic' (it isn't but let's assume it is). Does that mean that the pictorial representations must track that precisely? Well, the history of, say, science fiction and fantasy paperback book covers say No. Those of us who read such stuff have all had the experience of reading a novel or story where the cover doesn't quite match up with what's described. (Ironically, the Conan stories are a great example of that--as was noted in the Google+ comments by Jeffro Johnson's sharing of yesterday's post.) Is that phenomenon sometimes silly? Of course.  But does it also often make things more interesting, romantic and, well, fun? You bet.

What's wrong with fun?

OSR Art Friday: Cover of Eldritch Wizardry


Okay, a controversial choice.

First, let's get this part out of the way. Is the above painting immoral, misogynistic, pornographic, inappropriate for teenagers (or anyone) or any other bad thing? For the purposes of this post and the following one or two posts I don't know and I don't care. Tonight and for the next few days I'm not interested in the probity of this piece. I'm just not. If that attitude itself annoys--if you think that that in and of itself places me on a particular 'side' or whatever, then go away. Go away right now.

If you're still with me, then let's proceed. The painting appeared on the cover of Eldritch Wizardry, published in 1976--the third and last of the 'regular' supplements to the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

It was drawn by Deborah Larson. Who was she? No one seems to know. As far as anyone is aware she didn't do anything else for TSR before or since. None of the contemporary sources that I'm familiar with knows anything else about her, including whether she is currently alive or dead.

If anyone out there has any additional information on the artist, it would of course be welcome.

So, in this Friday post I want to make one basic observation about the piece and how it relates to 'OSR' art, as well as comparing it to contemporary 'establishment' (read: Hasbro) Dungeons & Dragons art. I may make a few other points in the following days.

Look closely at the painting. What is one of the things (perhaps the one thing) that most stands out about it? Think hard.

The central figure is wearing no clothes.

(See, this is why you read this blog--for the incredibly incisive, deep, spot-on and smart analysis that you can get nowhere else.)

But here's a serious point. Pre-3e Dungeons & Dragons art was crammed with art that featured completely unclothed people, as well as three-quarter unclothed people and half-unclothed people. There was a lot of nudity, virtual nudity or partial nudity.

There was.

Here are some examples:
1978 1e Players Handbook: Shirtless Thief
The cover of the 1979 1e Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide:
An almost naked Balrog clutches an almost naked woman.
1989 2e Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 40: AC 9 Magic-User
These instances can easily be multiplied.

This phenomenon was partly due to the pulp roots of the game. But that's not all there is to it, as I'll explain in a moment.

Let's jump ahead to 2014. In the recently released 5th edition Players Handbook I counted 142 illustrations of player character types. Of those 142, here's the tally of, so to speak, visible body parts or sums of body parts, as it were:

Naked people: 0
Mostly naked people: 0
Half naked people: 1 (This was an extremely small representation of a shirtless Conan type attacking a Fire Giant or some such. The figure was so small I almost missed him. We only see him from the back.)
Bare chests: 0
Bare lower legs: 0 (I think)
Bare upper legs: 0
Bare shoulders: 2
Bare biceps: 1.5
Belly buttons: 1
Bare midriffs (without belly buttons): 1
Bare feet: 0
Knees: 1 (I think)
Bare elbows: Oh, I don't know, 3 or 4, if that.

Here's a typical example:
A Well-Covered 5e Character 
In truth, the positive numbers are 90% based on 3 and only 3 (out of 142) figures--that mini-barebacked Conan guy, a half-Orc fellow wearing shorts and a sort of t-shirt, and a female druid clothed with strips of fur. Virtually everyone else is almost completely covered with clothing or armor, with only hands (sometimes, when not wearing gloves) or faces (beneath caps or helmets) sticking out.

That's really weird.

Is that a rejection of the pulp roots of fantasy? Of course. But it's also a rejection of 2,000+ years of Western art. Art is often about people. People usually inhabit, well, bodies. Therefore, bodies are often the subject of art. I'm not talking about sex per se here. I'm just taking about life. Bodies (sometimes partially, or more than partially unclothed) are, from the point of view of artists, just...interesting.

Though not for the artists (or their superiors) of 5e.

For perspective, I attend a Traditionalist Catholic Church--the sort of place that is often caricatured as being 'anti-sex' or 'anti-sexiness' or whatever. My wife was once yelled at by a fellow parishioner for being dressed in 'tempting and inappropriate' clothing (she was wearing a mid-length skirt or something). But you know what? There are a lot of naked or partially naked people in there. Jesus on the Cross is almost naked. Mary cradles her almost naked son. The cherubs are completely naked. Most of the saints have flimsy cloaks. And so on.

Hey, we might say again, it's life.

The artists of the 5e Players Handbook want their subjects to wear layers.

Current 'official' Dungeons & Dragons art seems to have this odd sort of problem with, well, 2000+ years of art history. Or we could say that it's uptight about the human body.

Original Dungeons & Dragons art and current OSR art did not and does not seem to have any such problem.

Is there more to it than just the matter of clothing? Of course. There is the matter of that completely boring and uninteresting, and totally minor side-issue...sex. I'll try to address that in the next few days. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Seven Voyages of Zylarthen Character Sheets

Creating a Character
Doug over at Smoldering Wizard put together a nice-looking character sheet for Seven Voyages of Zylarthen. As well, his blog features a section containing character sheets and other resources for a diversity of old school games including X-plorers, Swords & Wizardry and Delving Deeper.

I created a rough character sheet for Zylarthen a few months ago. It's boringly presented (I thought it would be fun to make it look like I typed it on a typewriter in 1975--that doesn't mean it's not boring ) and its busyness probably contrasts with the simpler vibe of the game itself. But the sheet, along with the 'sample' included with it might possibly be helpful in highlighting aspects of the game--such as the encumbrance system--that are slightly different from its relatives. I have placed both Word and PDF versions of it in the public section of my Dropbox account.

Smoldering Wizard Blog Click Here
Smoldering Wizard Player and DM Resources Click Here
Smoldering Wizard Seven Voyages of Zylarthen Character Sheet Click Here

Spalding's Seven Voyages of Zylarthen Character Sheet (Word) Click Here
Spalding's Seven Voyages of Zylarthen Character Sheet (PDF) Click Here

As always, suggestions are welcome and encouraged.

Friday, September 19, 2014

OSR Art Friday: The Adventuring Party

This piece was one of the first published by the artist and game designer Tom Wham, who joined TSR is 1977. It first appeared in the 6th printing of the original 'White Box' edition of Dungeons & Dragons, replacing the section of text that in previous printings had described the Balrog--excised due to legal pressure from the Tolkien estate. It also appeared on the front page of the 1979 bluish 'wizard logo' Character Record Sheets.

Here they all are--the Fighter with his sentient magic sword, the conical-capped Magic-User hiding behind him, the Thief in the process of picking the Magic-User's pocket and the beneficent Cleric (is he trying to gently dissuade the Thief or naively oblivious to his action?). To me, they are united in having an almost maniacal look about them, as if to say, this is what the lure of treasure does to everyone.

Wham would do many other drawings for TSR and later other companies including his own, often combined with game design such as in his brilliant Awful Green Things from Outer Space. Most of his drawings were comical or light-hearted in style but not all of them. He also composed the Monster Manual's Beholder. (Though, now that I look at it again, even that awful creature appears ever so slightly comic.)

In a blog post contrasting his work with that of David Trampier, Matt Finch references the above drawing while aptly describing Wham's contribution:

...Tom Wham's picture is an adventuring party seen from the outside, from the perspective of the gamer looking in. Because let's face it, most of our gaming sessions have plenty of Tom-Wham-adventurer moments in them. Quoting Monty Python? That's the Tom Wham guys. Dancing around the table when your roll for dexterity comes up triple 6's? That's the Tom Wham guys.

Quick quiz: In what fundamental ways does 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons differ from 1st edition? THACO and skills would be possible correct answers, of course. But here's another one:

There are no cartoons in 2nd edition AD&D.

Or at least there aren't in the 2nd edition Dungeon Master's Guide. Contrast this with the multiple cartoons (with captions!) liberally sprinkled throughout the original DMG:

P. 34:

P. 35:

P. 44:

So here's another difference between the old school and newer editions (for those of you still keeping count). The old school had a sense of humor. Newer editions often give off a ponderous air of humorless self-importance, as if to say, 'don't laugh, it will break the spell'.*

Also, prestige classes aren't funny.**

Recently Jon Peterson unearthed and published a sort of variant or possibly even proto-version of Dungeons & Dragons, played in Minneapolis in 1974. Among other things it featured giant carnivorous meatballs. I think many of us would agree that 'official' OD&D was wise not to go that far, though if you wanted more of that sort of thing, there was always Tunnels & Trolls.

However, in the Golden Age of the game, there was a sense (at least at some level) that things shouldn't be taken that seriously, partly because we all were well familiar with how the game was actually played. Despite some of the fantastical depictions in the media--like Tom Hanks and friends sitting around a spooky table that featured candles and crystals--we all knew that in the end we are all just a bunch of pimply kids getting potato chip grease on our graph paper and riffing about Monty Python or Doctor Who in between rolls.

The game was cool. No question about it. But what was wrong with laughing with it and at it from time to time, as well as (on occasion at least) laughing at ourselves?

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

*2e was still old school in many ways, and to be fair, I liked much of the art in 2e, but on some things the vibe had already changed.

**Unless you say some of the names aloud to your wife. For the list of over 800 prestige classes I published a few weeks back (stolen from Wikipedia), I stuck a few phony names into it--such as inserting 'Swiss Burger with Bacon' in between 'Swift Wing' and 'Sword Dancer'--to see whether anyone was paying attention. My wife, at least, thinks I'm a funny man.
'Wearer of Purple.'
'That's hilarious. You're a funny man.'
'I didn't make that up. It's one of the real ones.'
'You're lying. You made that one up.'
'I didn't.'
etc.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Randomly Generated Dungeon for Seven Voyages of Zylarthen


Or rather, the 1st level of one. There are 50 rooms:

1. Empty
2. Empty
3. Empty
4. Empty
5. Monster: 4 Bats
6. Empty
7. Monster: 2 Black Knights
8. Empty
9. Empty
10. Empty
11. Monster: 4 Skeletons
12. Empty
13. Empty
14. Empty
15. Empty
16. Empty
17. Empty
18. Empty
19. Empty
20. Monster & Treasure: 3 Elves, 4000 SP, 100 GP, 1 Gem (10 SP value)
21. Monster & Treasure: 2 Snatchers, Dagger +1, +2 vs. Goblins and Kobolds, Scroll of 1 Spell: Pass-Wall, Mail +4 (carried)
22. Treasure: 9000 CP, 1 Gem (10 SP value)
23. Monster: 3 Crocodiles
24. Empty
25. Empty
26. Empty
27. Empty
28. Empty
29. Empty
30. Monster: 6 Bandits, 60 CP (carried)
31. Empty
32. Empty
33. Treasure: 1 Jewelry (600 SP value)
34. Empty
35. Empty
36. Empty
37. Empty
38. Empty
39. Monster: 2 Giant Dragonflies
40. Monster & Treasure: 6 Vikings, 36 SP (carried), 1100 SP
41. Monster: 2 Gargoyles
42. Monster: 9 Red Martians, 90 pi coins (carried)
43. Treasure: 500 SP
44. Treasure: Scroll of 7 Spells: Animate Objects, Contact Higher Plane, Magic Jar, Telekinesis, Wall of Stone (2), Animate Dead, 1 Map to treasure horde of 1300 GP (97 miles away)
45. Empty
46. Empty
47. Monster & Treasure: 1 Boar, 800 CP
48. Monster: 2 Berserkers, 8 SP (carried)
49. Empty
50. Monster: 3 Half-Elves

Notes:
1. I used the guidelines on p. 4 of Vol. 4, The Campaign, figuring that 1 in 4 rooms would contain monsters, 50% of monsters would have treasure and 1 in 6 unoccupied rooms would have treasure.
2. Monsters were generated from the tables on pp. 9-10.
3. Magic Items and spells were generated from the tables in Vol. 3, Book of Magic.
4. For treasure hordes, I used the treasure class tables on p. 38 of Vol. 4. But I multiplied the results by 10% (11000 SP became 1100 SP, and so on) on any roll of 1-5 out of 6. Perhaps I should have let the CP numbers stand just to give the player-characters more to carry. 
5. For unguarded treasure or monsters without a treasure class, I randomly chose from treasure classes 1-3.
6. Amazingly, the total treasure value (if you include the horde referenced by that map) comes out to approximately 15,000 SP--well within the guidelines on p. 4.
7. I didn't cheat (not once). I suppose the scroll of 7 5th level spells in Room 44 might be adjusted, as well as (maybe) the Mail +4. Then again, the party might need some of those spells for a few of the monsters (1 magic dagger against 2 Gargoyles is tough).
8. Many of the monsters seem easy for 1st level characters, but obviously a few of the monsters are very powerful with serious TPK potential. This is a good dungeon level to teach players how to pick their battles (if they can) and when to hide or run away. Similarly, making friends (there are obviously a number of potential allies) or at the least not making enemies will also be paramount. You don't want those 9 Red Martians (all presumably armed with Radium Pistols) to have a problem with you.
9. I have no idea how the Boar got in there.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Girl With Sword Revisited: Wednesday Evening Comments on an OSR Art Friday Post


Last week's Girl With Sword was one of this blog's most well-read posts. No wonder. It's a great painting.

I wanted to make two more comments. Or, rather, one correction and one comment:

1. The girl is the Flame Princess. Apparently, in a post or interview somewhere or another, James Raggi confirmed this. But all you have to do is look at her hair, which is clearly Flame Princess orange-red, in contrast of course with everyone else's 'normal' hair.  This obvious fact eluded me, at least initially. Three things are implied:

a) Spalding can be an idiot (well, that's not really news, but still).
b) She survived.
c) Presumably this is the beginning of the story as to how the Flame Princess became the Flame Princess.

2. Some have said that the painting puts the viewer in the position of being the attacker or attackers. I understand this point of view, and in saying what I'm about to say, I don't mean to personally criticize those who hold it.  But I don't buy it. If I did buy it, I would of course hate the piece. For the record, before I originally posted, I asked a number of my friends and co-workers whether they felt the painting put them in that position. And no one said that it did. That isn't by itself completely determinative of course, but it does mean something. I believe the painting is set up as it is because the artist believed it to be about the girl, not the bandits or monster, or even about the girl plus the bandits or monster. And the only way to do that was to frame it from that particular angle. As I see it, the girl (and the woman with the baby) isn't looking at me, but someone or something slightly over my shoulder. Okay, so Raggi may revel (!) in showing a sexy Medusa doing what sexy Medusas probably do (if you really stop to think about it) or graphically portraying an adventurer being horribly slimed to death. Or whatever. But I don't think he wants us to look at things from the perspective of a child murderer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

OD&D Attack Progressions Compared (Originals and Clones), Part III

'The Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game' (1994)
The painting above is from the cover of the last 'non-Advanced' Dungeons & Dragons edition to be published before the special category was discontinued. A few years later TSR would be sold to Wizards of the Coast and the Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons lines would be folded into 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons--a game quite different from what had come before. The Dungeons & Dragons line (as opposed to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons line) had itself undergone a number of changes--from the introductory 'Holmes' edition in 1977, to 'Moldvay/Cook' in 1981, the revised 'Mentzer' edition of 1983 and the various permutations of 'Basic', 'Expert', 'Companion' and 'RulesCyclopedia' versions which followed. However, one thing that stayed almost precisely constant during that time was the attack progressions of the various classes. The sequence of 2, 3, 2, 2, 3 point increases per step (for Fighting-Men a step was three levels, for Clerics and Thieves four levels and for Magic-Users 5 levels) was modified slightly to change the 3 point increases to 2 point increases. But otherwise the algorithm presented by Gygax and Arneson in 1974 remained the same (at least on the 'non-Advanced' side) for twenty years.

So, why do such things matter? In two previous posts here and here, it was hinted that perhaps they didn't. Virtually all old school originals and clones have numbers that are similar, with all following the same general pattern: It gets easier to hit as you go up in levels but different classes get better at different rates. Fighting-Men progress the fastest, followed by Clerics and then Magic-Users. Thieves are sometimes like Clerics and sometimes like Magic-Users.

One way to get a handle on the question is to look at an example of one of the most extreme variations between some of the games (again excluding the outlier,  Lamentations of the Flame Princess)--the attack numbers for mid- to high-level Magic-Users in 1e, OSRIC and Swords & Wizardry--and ask whether even that matters. A 10th level Magic-User in 1e or OSRIC needs a 17 to hit AC 2. In Swords & Wizardry Complete she only needs a 13 to hit AC 2. Another way of putting that is a 10th level Magic-User in Swords & Wizardry Complete is twice as effective on the attack as 10th level Magic-User in 1e or OSRIC.

One can I suppose see the justifications for each. High level Magic-Users are so powerful that they need to be taken down another peg in relation to the other classes (so goes the thinking behind the 1e and OSRIC numbers). Or high level Magic-Users are so pathetic in melee (having so few hit points and using such relatively ineffective weapons) that they need a bit of help (so goes the thinking behind Swords & Wizardry Complete).

But again, does the difference matter in the scheme of things? Are mid- to high level games in 1e and OSRIC going to differ very much from mid- to high level games in Swords & Wizardry Complete simply because of the above difference in attack numbers? I would say obviously not. Whatever your attack number, you don't want your 10th level Magic-User engaging in melee very often, and if she is unfortunate enough to find herself in a melee engagement, she'll probably be toast pretty soon anyway, whether or not she has a 20% per turn chance to hit the monster with her dagger or a 40% chance.

So I think it's clear that at a particular level, whether a particular class needs this number or that number to hit (as long as the numbers aren't too different) is really not that earthshaking an issue.

But I think the overall question of attack progressions does matter, or rather matters just as much as any other piece in the puzzle as far as rules sets go. I think it matters largely for aesthetic reasons. Contrast two attack progression tables, one from the three little brown books and the other from OSRIC.

First, the three little brown books:


Now OSRIC:



Actually, OSRIC has nine such tables, one for each class!

Now, to me, the first example is simple, elegant and intuitive, at least after one grasps the step thing. The second looks like something out of a Cal Tech Warlock variation. But the point of the exercise is not to be snarky against OSRIC. I'm sure there are some that prefer the granularity of the OSRIC table and like dealing with charts that look like that. That's okay. (Indeed, some would say that the attack progression presentation in my own game is almost as Cal Techy-looking as OSRIC's).  I'm simply trying to show that even though the actual numbers end up being pretty similar in practice (and even when they don't--such as for 10th level Magic-Users--the practical effect in play is minimal), the different presentations help to create different sorts of effects. The three little brown books are the three little brown books and OSRIC is OSRIC partly due to things like this.

And when I say aesthetics, I don't merely mean the direct visual look on the page. That's important, but there's also the lasting effect on one's assumptions and perceptions with what's going on in the game. OSRIC seems more 'realistic' or even 'naturalistic'. It's important to get these things right, the authors* seem to be saying. Since (presumably) Fighting-Men get better gradually, we should represent this process accurately.* That sort of thing helps to set the overall tone and vibe for the game.

*Of course with OSRIC the authors are to some extent trying to emulate the presentation and substance of 1e, so a bit of the blame (or praise) concerning these things should be placed on Gary Gygax.

A friend of mine commented that he liked discontinuous or 'chunky' progressions because he thought they discouraged a sort of annoying attitude he believes develops in some players--they expect to get a little something for everything, every time. That may or may not be true, or at least may or may not be true for some groups. But the fact that my friend--a very intelligent player and critic of game design--was thinking about it, shows that that sort of thing can matter.

Personally, I think the sort of symmetry exhibited by the three step, four step, five step algorithm--whether presented in table form as above, or in bonus point form as in my own game--fits the non-naturalistic vibe that I prefer. We're not, as it were, looking though a telescope at this world and then charting the results--oh, Fighting-Men progress at this rate, ah ha, Magic-Users progress at this rate, etc. Rather, we're defining these heroic archetypes clearly and simply with the algorithm that we've presented.

No, I don't believe I think too much about these things. But yes, it is wonky. Is there some way to get paid for it?

Monday, September 15, 2014

OD&D Attack Progressions Compared (Originals and Clones), Part II

Cook Expert
First, some quick notes on the tables in the previous post:

1. I didn't use Holmes because it only goes through 3rd level. Since it follows 0e, there's no variation in attack rolls for those levels. (I just noticed Zenopus said pretty much the same thing in his comment on the previous post.)

2. I left some major old school offerings off the list, such as Castles & Crusades, Basic Fantasy and Dungeon Crawls Classics. I did this partly because I am less familiar with these systems but  more importantly because they are not really 'clonish' of 0e, 1e or Basic/Expert.

3. I chose to look at only the first 10 levels because 10 is a round number and because it encompasses most of what I think referees and players are interested in when they look at these games. Also I just didn't feel like adding any more columns to the already somewhat squished ones of the five tables.

Now for my observations and thoughts on the results:

1. After I put the tables together I wrote an excited email to an OSR friend of mine--one of the only people I know who can occasionally be even wonkier than me on these sorts of matters. He wrote back:

Hmm... it looks like a bunch of numbers that are all very similar.

So there it is. The great anticlimactic lesson here is that, with one obvious exception, there isn't really that much difference between the attack progressions of the various editions and clones. Comparing the to hit numbers by class and level from one edition or game to another rarely yields a difference of more than 2 points or 10%.

2. The obvious exception is Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Here, James Raggi made the decision to give Fighting-Men a to hit bonus at 1st level and to increase this bonus at each level, while at the same time never giving to hit bonuses at any level to Magic-Users, Clerics or Thieves. This certainly pumps up Fighting-Men (at the expense of the others). I suppose it's either amazingly brilliant or spectacularly dumb.

3. There seems to be a big change between 0e and 1e, especially for Magic-Users and Thieves. However, part of this is illusory, or rather merely a natural consequence of expanding the normal armor class range such that it went from starting at AC 9 to starting at AC 10. Essentially 1e added an extra armor class at 6. This is because there was a spontaneous movement among the masses to give Studded Leather or Ring Mail plus Shield OR Scale Mail a unique armor class rating*. But if you expand the armor class range from eight ratings to nine ratings but at the same time keep the to hit progression at a smooth one to one, then either you must make it one easier to hit at AC 10 or one harder to hit at AC 2. Gygax elected to go with the latter. So, even though it looks like 1e makes everyone an average of one point worse in their to hit rolls, this difference would have disappeared if we had looked at AC 10 instead of AC 2.

*Not true.

4. 1e is quite tough on Magic-Users and Thieves--the toughest of them all if you exclude LOTFP.

5. On the other hand, if your dream is to be a melee-mad Magic-User, find a Swords & Wizardry Complete game.

6. In the differences among editions and clones, Clerics and Fighting-Men vary the least and Magic-Users and Thieves vary the most.

7. 0e has some interesting results in places. For example, in 0e a 6th level Magic-User has precisely the same to hit numbers as a 6th level Fighting-Man.

8. Basic/Expert precisely tracks 0e.

9. Of the clones (with the exception of LOTFP), all except Swords and Wizardry either precisely track their originals or closely do so. This is to be expected, of course.

10. There's a bit of controversy over what is legally required (or prohibited) in terms of emulating the attack tables of earlier versions of the original game. This is partly because the Systems Reference Document does not contain a protected template for this. Is the mathematical pattern behind an attack table a non-copyright protected rule, or copyright protected substance? Interestingly, OSRIC precisely tracks 1e in three out of the four classes (Fighting-Men differ slightly). Labyrinth Lord and Delving Deeper make small changes from their originals. But they are not necessarily random twiddles. For example, the author of Delving Deeper has a complex but logical, fascinating and satisfying rationale for why the Delving Deeper progressions are in a certain sense faithful (perhaps even more faithful than the original numbers) to the mathematical theory behind the 0e progressions, based partly on what they owe to Chainmail. For my part, in Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, I followed the 0e algorithms precisely but presented them (in my view) quite differently from the original and from the other clones. Thus, for example, instead of a chart containing rows of classes or class levels, my central attack table references weapons (which, if you will, is part of why I think I 'get away with it').

So given 1, above, what difference does any of this really make? Why did I agonize for days over my own attack progression scheme?

(No jokes please.)

With your indulgence, I'll try to answer that tomorrow.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

OD&D Attack Progressions Compared (Originals and Clones), Part I

Moldvay Basic
A comment on the last blog post made me want to do this.

Here are the attack progressions to hit Armor Class 2 by level for ten games--the three major OD&D versions and seven contemporary clones:

Dungeons & Dragons (0e) (1974-78)
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1e) (1979)
Moldvay Basic/Cook Expert Dungeons & Dragons (B/X) (1981).
OSRIC (2006)
Labyrinth Lord (2007)
Swords & Wizardry (2008)*
Swords & Wizardry White Box (2009)*
Lamentations of the Flame Princess (2010)*
Seven Voyages of Zylarthen (2013)*
Delving Deeper V4 (2014)

Those with an asterisk list things in attack bonus form rather than table form, but for the sake of this comparison all will be listed in table form.

For OSRIC I used version 2.2. I assume the numbers are the same across all versions but I may be wrong on that. For Swords & Wizardry I used the recent 'Complete' edition, which may or not have different numbers from the original 2008 edition. The numbers for Delving Deeper are from the most recent edition, which differ somewhat from those of earlier editions.

I hope I didn't make any mistakes.

Looking at the tables a number of things leap out. Some things were not surprising. Some were.

I'll make some comments tomorrow. But I welcome any comments or observations anyone would like to make.

(If you turn your phone sideways, I think these will exactly fill up the screen. You probably already knew that. But I didn't.)

To Hit Armor Class 2:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
FIGHTING-MAN
Level
Avg.
Avg.
Avg.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
1-5
6-10
Total
0e
17
17
17
15
15
15
12
12
12
10
16.2
12.2
14.2
1e
18
18
16
16
14
14
12
12
10
10
16.4
11.6
14.0
B/X
17
17
17
15
15
15
12
12
12
10
16.2
12.2
14.2
OSRIC
18
17
16
15
14
13
12
11
10
9
16.0
11.0
13.5
Labyrinth Lord
17
17
16
15
14
13
12
12
11
10
15.8
11.6
13.7
S&W Complete
17
17
16
15
15
14
13
12
11
10
16.0
12.0
14.0
S&W White Box
17
16
15
15
14
13
13
12
11
11
15.4
12.0
13.7
LOTFP
17
16
15
14
13
12
11
10
9
8
15.0
10.0
12.5
Seven Voyages
17
17
17
15
15
15
12
12
12
10
16.2
12.2
14.2
Delving Deeper
16
16
15
15
15
15
12
12
12
12
15.4
12.6
14.0
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
MAGIC-USER
Level
Avg.
Avg.
Avg.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
1-5
6-10
Total
0e
17
17
17
17
17
15
15
15
15
15
17.0
15.0
16.0
1e
19
19
19
19
19
17
17
17
17
17
19.0
17.0
18.0
B/X
17
17
17
17
17
15
15
15
15
15
17.0
15.0
16.0
OSRIC
19
19
19
19
19
17
17
17
17
17
19.0
17.0
18.0
Labyrinth Lord
17
17
17
16
16
16
16
15
15
15
16.6
15.4
16.0
S&W Complete
17
17
17
16
16
15
15
14
14
13
16.6
14.2
15.4
S&W White Box
17
17
17
17
16
16
15
15
14
14
16.8
14.8
15.8
LOTFP
18
18
18
18
18
18
18
18
18
18
18.0
18.0
18.0
Seven Voyages
17
17
17
17
17
15
15
15
15
15
17.0
15.0
16.0
Delving Deeper
17
17
17
17
15
15
15
15
15
15
16.6
15.0
15.8
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
CLERIC
Level
Avg.
Avg.
Avg.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
1-5
6-10
Total
0e
17
17
17
17
15
15
15
15
12
12
16.6
13.8
15.2
1e
18
18
18
16
16
16
14
14
14
12
17.2
14.0
15.6
B/X
17
17
17
17
15
15
15
15
12
12
16.6
13.8
15.2
OSRIC
18
18
18
16
16
16
14
14
14
12
17.2
14.0
15.6
Labyrinth Lord
17
17
17
16
16
15
15
15
14
14
16.6
14.6
15.6
S&W Complete
17
17
16
16
15
15
14
14
13
12
16.2
13.6
14.9
S&W White Box
17
17
17
16
16
15
15
14
13
12
16.6
13.8
15.2
LOTFP
18
18
18
18
18
18
18
18
18
18
18.0
18.0
18.0
Seven Voyages
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
Delving Deeper
17
17
17
15
15
15
15
15
12
12
16.2
13.8
15.0
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
THIEF
Level
Avg.
Avg.
Avg.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
1-5
6-10
Total
0e
17
17
17
17
15
15
15
15
12
12
16.6
13.8
15.2
1e
19
19
19
19
17
17
17
17
14
14
18.6
15.8
17.2
B/X
17
17
17
17
15
15
15
15
12
12
16.6
13.8
15.2
OSRIC
19
19
19
19
17
17
17
17
14
14
18.6
15.8
17.2
Labyrinth Lord
17
17
17
16
16
15
15
15
14
14
16.6
14.6
15.6
S&W Complete
17
17
17
16
16
15
15
14
14
13
16.6
14.2
15.4
S&W White Box
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
--
LOTFP
18
18
18
18
18
18
18
18
18
18
18.0
18.0
18.0
Seven Voyages
17
17
17
17
15
15
15
15
12
12
16.6
13.8
15.2
Delving Deeper
17
17
17
17
15
15
15
15
15
15
16.6
15.0
15.8
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
AVERAGES
Level
Avg.
Avg.
Avg.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
1-5
6-10
Total
0e
17.0
17.0
17.0
16.5
15.5
15.0
14.3
14.3
12.8
12.3
16.6
13.7
15.2
1e
18.5
18.5
18.0
17.5
16.5
16.0
15.0
15.0
13.8
13.3
17.8
14.6
16.2
B/X
17.0
17.0
17.0
16.5
15.5
15.0
14.3
14.3
12.8
12.3
16.6
13.7
15.2
OSRIC
18.5
18.3
18.0
17.3
16.5
15.8
15.0
14.8
13.8
13.0
17.7
14.5
16.1
Labyrinth Lord
17.0
17.0
16.8
15.8
15.5
14.8
14.5
14.3
13.5
13.3
16.4
14.1
15.2
S&W Comp.
17.0
17.0
16.5
15.8
15.5
14.8
14.3
13.5
13.0
12.0
16.4
13.5
14.9
S&W WB
17.0
16.7
16.3
16.0
15.3
14.7
14.3
13.7
12.7
12.3
16.3
13.5
14.9
LOTFP
17.8
17.5
17.3
17.0
16.8
16.5
16.3
16.0
15.8
15.5
17.3
16.0
16.6
7 Voyages
17.0
17.0
17.0
16.3
15.7
15.0
14.0
14.0
13.0
12.3
16.6
13.7
15.1
DD
16.8
16.8
16.5
16.0
15.0
15.0
14.3
14.3
13.5
13.5
16.2
14.1
15.2