Friday, March 9, 2018

Speed Metal D&D

This came from a discussion on Google+ where Michael Bacon was wondering about running a game of D&D as quickly as possible, primarily by removing the to-Hit roll and using just damage rolls. One thing snowballed into another and - well – here is my take (at least) on how B/X D&D could be run as fast as possible without breaking the thing into smithereens. So dig out your B/X books and play along kids!

(DM Lemmy says Roll for Initiative).

Character Creation

Everything remains pretty much as is with just a few changes.

Your Strength score provides a Muscle Power modifier or MP which works as you might expect. It provides a modifier for opening doors and doing damage with muscle powered weaponry (meaning everything except crossbows). We do increase its modifier by a point.

18 = MP +4
16-17 = MP +3
14-15 = MP +2
12-13 = MP +1
10-11 = MP -0
8-9 = MP -1
6-7 = MP -2
4-5 = MP -3
3 = MP -4

Is not optional, but it is different and it plays off of your Muscle Power. Every 400 coins you carry reduces your MP by 1, even if this means turning it into a penalty.

0 = MP -0
400 = MP -1
800 = MP -2
1200 = MP -3
1600 = MP -4

How encumbrance effects your total muscle power determines your movement rate. With Normal / Encounter / Running...

MP +4 = 240/80/240
MP +3 = 210/70/210
MP +2 = 180/60/180
MP +1 = 150/50/150
MP -0 = 120/40/120
MP -1 = 90/30/90
MP -2 = 60/20/60
MP -3 = 30/10/30
MP -4 = 15/5/15

If your fighter has a strength of 14 this will provide MP +2. Carrying 400 to 799 coins of stuff will reduce it to MP +1. It also reduces your movement rate to 150/50/150. If you were carrying 399 coins or less you would regain that extra point and it would boost your movement to 180/60/180.

There are no to-hit rolls so the missile fire adjustment becomes a damage bonus. However, you may not combine your Muscle Power with the Dex bonus. Use whichever one gives you the best bonus.

When range is a consideration, what was a to-hit roll is now a damage modifier. Short increases damage by +1. Long reduces it by -1.

Level Damage Bonus
No to-hit rolls? No problem! Characters gain a damage bonus based on their level.

Fighter Types (Dwarves, Elves, Fighters and Halflings) a +1 is gained for each experience level. A level 5 fighter gains a +5 on every damage roll.

Semi-Fighter Types (Clerics, Thieves) gain a +1 every other level.

Non-Fighter Types (Magic-Users) do not gain a bonus.

Monsters use their hit dice in place of a level, ignoring any add ons. A bugbear is a fighter type with Hit Dice 3+1. It gains a +3 on all damage rolls.

Before the game begins, be sure to add together what you can so you know what to roll when the time comes. This means....

Damage Die + Magic Bonus + Muscle Power + Level Damage Bonus

For a Battle Axe +2 in the hands of a 3rd level fighter with an encumbrance adjusted muscle power of +1 you would write down Battle Axe 1d8+6.

Reductive Armor Class
Armor Class is now reductive, meaning when you get hit you subtract your AC from the damage and anything left over it is taken as hit point damage. To make the conversion use the table below, B/X is on the left. The S/M value is on the right.

AC 9 = AC -2
AC 8 = AC -3
AC 7 = AC -4
AC 6 = AC -5
AC 5 = AC -6
AC 4 = AC -7
AC 3 = AC -8
AC 2 = AC -9
AC 1 = AC -10
AC 0 = AC -11
AC -1 = AC -12
AC -2 = AC -13
AC -3 = AC -14

Pop-Point AC
Or you might want to give Pop-Point AC a try. With this system AC is the number of points of damage it takes to cause one hit point to pop. If you get hit by 8 points of damage and have a pop point AC 3 then only 2 points of damage slip through to damage your character. To make the conversion the B/X is on the left and the S/M is on the right.

AC 9 = AC 1
AC 8 = AC 1
AC 7 = AC 2
AC 6 = AC 2
AC 5 = AC 3
AC 4 = AC 3
AC 3 = AC 4
AC 2 = AC 4
AC 1 = AC 5
AC 0 = AC 5
AC -1 = AC 6
AC -2 = AC 6
AC -3 = AC 7

Pop or Reductive? If it was an easy choice you wouldn't be reading about both of them. Reductive is the current favorite, but it can easily lead to situations where a character is either un-hittable or too hittable. Pop point works well, guaranteeing that a creature can almost always be hit. Unfortunately, there is a huge difference between AC 1 and AC 2.

Exploding Dice!
Whichever AC system you choose to use, damage rolls should be allowed to explode, meaning that when the die rolls the best it can roll you get to roll again and add it in. If this second roll explodes then it will lead to a third roll and possibly a fourth, going off like a strip of firecrackers.

Magic Spells

Clerics, Magic-Users and Elves still have the typical limit to the number of spells they can have ready to cast, but in Speed Metal D&D there is no limit to the number of times those spells can be cast.
There is, however, a chance that the spell will fizzle. For each spell cast roll a 1d20 hoping to roll under or equal to the character's Intelligence (or Wisdom if a cleric) plus the character level  minus the spell level doubled.

Roll 1d20 -vs- Int + Character Level – (Spell Level x 2)

Fireball is a 3rd level spell. When cast by a 4th level Magic-User with a 16 Intelligence the character needs to roll (16 + 4 – 6 = 14) 14 or less. Roll a 15 or more and the spell doesn't go off. With a 9th level spell the same character would need to roll (16 + 4 - 18 = 2) a 2 or less. Good luck with that!

Since the only thing that is bound to change is the die roll, be sure to find your spell conjure scores before the game begins and write them next to the spell name on your character sheet. For the example: Fireball 14.


Initiative is found at the beginning of a battle and the same result is used round after round until a round passes where no one makes an attack. At that point the tide of battle may change so initiative should be rolled again.


Combat runs just as you might expect except no to-hit rolls are made. When your turn comes you simply point out the creature you are attacking and roll for damage.

Shmearing Damage. When it makes sense you should also be allowed to hit more than one creature at once (and they likewise), spreading the damage out like nutella over a warm bloody goblin sandwich. It is left up to the player to decide how much damage goes where.

Parrying Damage. In a similar vein, you can also use or reserve damage points for the purpose of parrying damage headed your way or in the direction of someone close to you. With 6 parry points you can stop 6 points of damage. The catch is that if you don't find something to do with your parry points by the end of the round they disappear. 

Monster Rolls. The DM should be encouraged to consolidate die rolls. No one wants to wait around while two dozen orc die rolls are made. If the creatures all use the same die roll? Roll once and let them use the same outcome. Randomly rolling a series of numbers in advance works too.

Why Is This Better?

Speed Metal D&D moves faster, duh. First and foremost it uses just one die roll with no table to look at or number to compare it too. Less noticeable is how this also cuts down on gamey conversation. There is no, “what do I need to hit?” being asked. You just reach out and smack that bugbear.
(And sometimes the bugbear smacks you back)

Whether you use reductive or pop armor class, the AC and all of its ramifications becomes something that the recorder of the damage needs to deal with and can be done quite quickly.

Last, but not least, Speed Metal D&D patches the somewhat awkward absence of a fighter's inability to do anything more than make one low-impact weapon attack per round. The fighter in particular becomes a damage generating machine, more meat grinder than meat shield and hopefully someone who will prove more useful all throughout the game.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Damage or No Damage?

Alright, I’m stuck and could use some help. For the last few months I have been on a rules writing binge, working on the core rules for four exceedingly different games.

High Octane - a miniature vehicles game.
Komo Dosr - an OSR-style adventure game.
Samurai, Swords and Seppuku - a mass combat system.

And most recently a new (and hopefully final) reincarnation of the Red EFT as a cooperative rules-light RPG. With the Red EFT there are (and has always been) two very important over-arching rules.

“What Seems Real Is Real” which basically means use your imagination to figure it out. And….

“The Game Master Is Always Right,” even when obviously wrong, which means the game master’s imagination is given the power to over-rule all others. The player characters may lead the game, but the GM has the ultimate say on what flies and what does not.

Those are not the problems.

Those are pretty much set in stone.

The problem lies in the damage system. As well as this clip of the Six Million Dollar Man fighting sasquatch.

Right around the 5 minute mark, Steve Austin - spoiler alert - rips Sasquatchs arm off to reveal that Big Foot is a cyborg much like himself. That is the crazy kind of thing I want to have happening. What I cooked up for it is the idea that when a fight breaks out, checks are made with a roll of the dice, the dice produce a strength and whoever rolls the greatest strength wins the battle and gets to describe the fight. This is the way the player controls its outcome. Limiting it is a strata of success determined by the difference between the two strengths. For an example....

Tied Difference = Steve and Sasquatch struggle but neither manages to beat the other.

Little Difference = Steve punches Sasquatch, knocking the beast off his feet.

Average Difference = Steve picks Sasquatch up and flings him down a hillside.

Great Difference = Steve tears Sasquatch’s cybernetic arm off.

Incredible Difference = Steve tears Sasquatch’s head off, killing him.

(hey, somebody's got to handle the menace)

When the attack roll is made we don’t really know what the characters are going to do. Should Sasquatch produce the greater strength, then it could be him tearing Steve Austin’s head off, or possibly beating Steve against a tree until his cybernetics start to shoot sparks.

All of that is fine too.

The problem lies in the damage done. Currently, the system I have in place has the player scribbling down a note of any serious damage taken and then being trusted to play around it as if it were real. When anything truly life threatening happens then a saving throw is made to see if this cannot be somehow changed.

The other option I have is to fall back on the original Wear & Tear damage system I designed a few years ago where characters have a number of damage points and five separate damage states (Active, Bruised, Crushed, Damaged, and Fubar) each of which makes it harder to operate. Attacks do a certain amount of damage which is them amplified by the strength difference. And it all works a lot like hit points.

In truth, I like them both. The first one is very versatile, but it requires trusting the players to treat their damage as if it were real in spite of having nothing more on the sheet than a reminder that it happened. Most people would slam the brakes right there, but the Red EFT is a cooperative game, not a competititve game. It is also one where you can easily run multiple characters, so it is not as if people will be vehemently cheating to protect their favorite Mary Sue. Hopefully.

The second method is cool too, except that it is beginning to slide back into that world of numbers and hit points and armor classes which I’m fine with in the Komo Dosr but I want to avoid in this game, possibly if only to have it be different. I mean, what's the point of creating two systems which are just going to mirror each other? On top of it all there is the problem of figuring out how much damage, “I rip your robotic arm off” actually does.

So which one would you choose?

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Getting Rid of the Hit Dice

I have found the deep end and taken a flying belly flop into it.

If you don’t know, and you probably don’t, I have been working steadily since last November on my first OSR game. Yes, another one! Because the world just doesn’t have enough of them!!!


Anyways, it’s called the Komo Dosr and it is not an OSR Clone. I have no interest in ditto copying the past. Instead, I have taken it upon myself to fix the past, to tackle all those things I have bitched about over the years (alignments, experience points, vancian magic, rolling 3d6 straight down the line, initiative, etc) and not get rid of them but see if there isn’t a better way of handling them without losing touch with what I like to call the soul of the original game.

So far it has actually gone quite well, up until possibly a few days ago when I decided to get rid of rolling hit dice for class level advancement.

One night, while out walking the dog, I found myself thinking about hit points, specifically what I could remember of Gary Gygax’s explanation of them. As I understand it, hit points do not represent the amount of damage a character can take. It is more like your luck running out. It is actually the loss of that last remaining hit point which injures and kills your character. Every hit point of damage leading up to it has been a blow which should have killed your character but didn’t because your experience in fighting has once again saved your bacon and caused the hit to barely miss.

(not that anyone ever thinks of it this way.)

But that is the rationale, and it does need to be there when you consider that D&D is something of a flawed system which doesn’t do a very good job of separating the ability to avoid damage from the ability to endure damage. When a character increases in level they become better at hitting in combat but there is nothing to make them better at avoiding damage other than that dramatic rise in hit points. It does work until you get into a non-combat situation where that bulk of hit points allows you to do ridiculous things like, I don't know, stripping down to your skiivies and wading through lava?

(not that there is anything wrong with that)

In the Komo Dosr, armor is reductive. It nullifies damage and has nothing to do with whether an attack hits or not. Instead, when two combatants clash they roll the dice and whoever produces the greatest number is the one who wins the round and ends up doing damage. This way, your ability to fight works for both offense and defense. If you are the better fighter you could easily end up doing damage round after round to an opponent who can’t seem to place a finger on you.

The system is really cool and it runs really fast. The problem is that if your character has a hill of hit points to hide behind it can also run on forever. Really. Seriously. Forever. So I decided to get rid of the hill of hit points. What you have represents the actual damage your body can take and it comes from your abilities. For most characters this will range between 2 and 20 with an average of 9.

It is quite possible for a 1st level barbarian to have more hit points than a 9th level barbarian. However, the 9th level barbarian will get a +9 to all attacks and will probably slice through a 1st level barbarian like a cuisinart through a kielbasa.

(okay, you try to find something which combines cuisinarts with kielbasa)

The problem is the whole “keeping in touch with the soul of the original game” thing. As someone reflecting back on that golden age of RPG’s I miss the whole ceremony surrounding a level up, where everyone would stop and a ton of attention would hang on one die roll which might just change the course of the next few adventures. I remember once, playing a pirate-themed d20 game, where I rolled a 12 on a d12 for three levels in a row. We were ecstatic! Until I then followed it up by rolling 1’s for the next two levels afterwards. Luck has a funny way of balancing things out.

I say this time and again, dice rolls are more than just random number generation. On some primal level it marks an important event at the table. I think it conjures up deep distant cultural memories of cleromancy that we just don’t often realize that we have. I ran into the same thing with 3d6 down the line. For years, if not decades, I have bad mouthed this method of character generation. As is, it creates crappy oddball characters. Then I sat down to create the first 3d6 down the line character I have made in years...

So? Am I crazy?

Of course I am! I spend my free time designing table top role playing games. I am a certified loon.

But am I crazy to get rid of the hit point dice?

That is the stickler.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


A big fat vain-glorious dream I've had for some time now has been to pick up where Trampier left off with his Woimy cartoon and bring it to a climactic conclusion, something along the lines of Woimy having his treasure stolen by the trolls, finding himself owing big time to the storm giant, and putting together a band resembling AC/DC to win a battle of the bands competition (did I mention that I grew up in the 80's :-).

Well, the passing of AC/DC guitarist Malcom Young last week made me think about it again. That, along with Brian Johnson's problems, probably marks the end of AC/DC altogether. A sad moment in rock, although you never can tell when it comes to AC/DC.

Anyways, it's all just a dream I don't think I'll ever get around to, and even if I did I wouldn't know how to maneuver through all the legal hoopla surrounding copyright, intellectual property, trademarks and everything else. So. In honor of Malcom Young, David Trampier, AC/DC and my own dream band WO/MY here's some fan art I did as well as the lyrics to what would have been their break-out hit D-N-D.

Orc! Orc! Orc!
Orc! Orc! Orc!
Orc! Orc! Orc!
Orc! Orc! Orc!
Orc! Orc! Orc!
See me ride out of the castle
On your Dungeon Master screen
Out for all that I can get
If you know what I mean
Half-elves to the left of me
Half-orcs to the right
Got a monkey grip
And a mercurial great sword
Gonna role play tonight.
'Cause I play D-N-D
I'm a mystic knight.
D-N-D and I'll win the fight
D-N-D I kill giant trolls

Watch my Die Roll!!!
I'm dirty, mean and mighty unclean
Ain't no pala-dan.
Gencon registrant number one
Don'tchu understand?
A symphony of slaughter
A twilight knife
Cast dimension door
And run for you life
The elf is back in town
This is my battle ground.
'Cause I play D-N-D
I slay the wights
D-N-D and I'llllll win the fight
D-N-D I laugh at the gnolls

D-N-D (Orc! Orc! Orc!)
D-N-D (Orc! Orc! Orc!)
D-N-D (Orc! Orc! Orc!)
D-N-D (Orc! Orc! Orc!)
D-N-D (Orc! Orc! Orc!)

I'm troglodyte (Orc! Orc!)

D-N-D (Orc! Orc! Orc!)

And I'll win the fight (Orc! Orc! Orc!)
D-N-D (Orc! Orc! Orc!)
With a magic scroll (Orc! Orc! Orc!)



Sunday, November 12, 2017

Risk Rolling D&D

One of the many things that has always irked me about D&D lies at the core of the system. The d20 roll. If you have a character with a Strength of 3 arm wrestling a character with a Strength of 18, it’s pretty obvious who should win. Until you start checking their ability scores and comparing the totals.

The weaker character suffers a -4. The stronger character gains a +4 (according to 5e rules). That’s an eight point spread. To win the match all the weaker character has to do is roll 9 points better than the strong one - 20 vs 11, 15 vs 6, 10 vs 1 - all amounts to a win for the weaker character. This is where a lot of D&D’s goofiness comes from.

There is simply too much randomness in the d20 roll.


My answer is called risk rolling. It’s very simple but you need one six sider you can tell apart from all the others. This is the Sign Die. You always roll it in tandem with another die called the Risk Die which is the amount of risk your character is willing to take in order to succeed.

Little Risk = 1d4.
Medium Risk = 1d6.
Large Risk = 1d8.
High Risk = 1d10.
Big Risk = 1d12.
Huge Risk = 1d20.
Massive Risk = 1d30. 

If the sign die rolls an even number then the risk die becomes a bonus. If odd it's a penalty.

So Bob has a Strength of 14 and is trying to kick in a door. The GM says he needs an 18 or better to do so. Bob rolls the sign die and a 1d10 for the risk die. The sign die rolls a 4 and the 1d10 a 6 giving him a +6 bonus. Checkwise, 14 + 6 = 20. He beats the 18, passes the check and kicks in the door.

(not exactly Bob but you get the point.)

For combat you use your Strength score for melee attacks or your Dexterity for ranged attacks. Plus other related bonuses except for those normally coming from Str & Dex, of course. Defeat your opponent's ascending armor class and the hit succeeds!


The controlling factor in all of this is the critical fail. Any time you end up with a zero or less that is a critical fail. Bob could have rolled the 1d30 and had an easier time breaking down the door, but if he rolled a -14 or worse it would result in a critical fail. The farther below zero the score goes the more disasterous the fail. Just a few points below zero and Bob might have sprained an ankle. Ten or more points and he would probably break a leg.


For one thing, you are always rolling two dice which to me feels like a more substantial roll. There is something eternal about dice needing to be rolled in pairs. A single die roll just feels strange.

Risk rolling also seems more realistic. I don’t know of any formal explanation for what the d20 roll represents. I guess it is random factors that might come into play. But with risk rolling, the die roll is something specific, something a character has some control over. Risking it all in order to succeed. A certain tension arises as we watch to see what die a player picks as their risk die.

Also risk rolling frees people, players as well as the DM, from having to roll the dice for pointless checks. If you have an Intelligence of 15 there really is no point in rolling the dice to beat something with a DC of 15 or less. You simply succeed, end of story.

Last but not least! It also means there is always a chance you will succeed, however slim. It circumvents the problem of fighting a monster whose AC is too high to hit. Watch out evil Drow overlords, that d30 is coming for you.

(better make it two d30's)


Risk rolling is different and people generally don’t do different. The d20 system has been around for years and is dug in deeper than a tick on a stirge. You don’t have to actually think about what you are doing when rolling a d20. You just roll it and deal with it. Ho-hum.

Risk Rolling also involves subtraction. IMHO people love adding but are not so keen on subtraction, especially when the total drops below zero. It’s a minor annoyance but like a pair of new shoes it may take some getting used to.

Finally, there is no rolling a 20 and auto-succeeding. However, a good substitute might be exploding dice. Whenever the Risk Die rolls the best it can roll as a bonus you may opt to risk roll again. Roll high and it keeps going like a strip of firecrackers. Roll a penalty? That demolishes your lead, and that's why the exploding roll is an option.


Try it some time and tell me what you think!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Why Do I Care About 3-Hole Punches?

We screwed up.

I wouldn’t realize this until a few decades after the fact but yeah - back in the day - my friends and I made the same mistake that everybody seems to have made with the D&D boxed sets, specifically B/X D&D. We assumed that “Basic” was code for “Baby” and “Advanced” was code for “Adult.” And by being in Junior High, we weren’t interested in playing anything that had been made for us. We wanted the real deal! The true unfiltered raw reality of tabletop fantasy! We wanted to play the adult version of our favorite game and had little tolerance for anyone interested in Baby D&D.

(we weren't too keen on muppet babies either)

Being this way we totally missed the point that B/X D&D was an improvement of AD&D, a filtration of it, a purification of it. It only seemed natural that the best version of the game should be the one bound up in hard covers. Books were special. A hard bound book was one you would be proud to display in a bookcase. Its presence in your home marked you as a fine upstanding citizen, an unpretentious intellectual, a pillar of the community.

Paperbacks are trash!

Lurid titles sold on dime store racks, destined to end up in a basket beside the toilet before finding their true destiny in some sea-gull infested landfill. Nothing good ever comes wrapped in paper.

And so, many of us came to the hobby through our B/X boxed sets, fell in love with the game and “moved up” to playing AD&D just as quickly as we could afford to. In so doing, we not only missed out on a better version of the game but we also missed something else, something a bit more sublime that no one ever seems to mention. Something which would not work with a hardcover.

The B/X books had been drilled with a 3 hole punch and designed so you could take them apart and keep them in a binder. As it says on page B3, at the front of the basic rulebook…

“Each rule booklet is drilled with holes, so that if desired, the pages may be cut apart and rearranged in a ring binder. To cut the pages apart either scissors or a razor knife and a ruler may be used. Whenever possible, the other rule booklets will be divided into the same eight parts to make them easy to combine into one larger set of rules. Every page of the D&D BASIC rules are numbered B#, and each page also lists the section it is from.”

Sure enough, each page tells you what section it belongs to, and this was carried over into the Expert manual. As well as a caveat that T$R is not responsible for you damaging your own books by following their advice. As a kid, I noticed the three hole punches. I even went on to massacre many of my other gaming books by trying to punch holes in them, sometimes rather messily.

(hey, give me a break, I was only in the 6th grade)

But somehow I missed the part about taking the books apart or why anyone would ever want to. I just popped whole books into a binder and beamed with a genuine lack of clue.

Then I moved onto AD&D.

Because it’s Advanced!

Assuming my hunches are true, the grand vision wrapped up in these punch holes which we may have missed is the idea that the game should grow with the group that plays it, that people should be home-brewing rules and tailoring what they have towards their own use, without any regard to how people may be playing it across town, out of state, or around the world.

For most people in the early 80’s, games still came in a Parker Brothers box. They were iconic, unmoving, unchanging, oblivious to the desires of the people who played them. The kids who played SORRY! in the 1950’s would play the same exact game as senior citizens many decades later.

(yes, Sorry! Teaching generations of kids that it's perfectly okay to be total dicks to each other just so long as you apologize afterwards)

D&D was different. It didn’t have a board. It could go anywhere and do anything. B/X D&D took this one step further by creating a rule book which was just as unbound as the rules themselves. If we had bothered to slice apart our rulebooks and added to them as we went, this would have created a tome, a grimoire filled with tabbed separators for magic, monsters, treasure and characters. There would be pages hanging out of it like lunchmeat in a dagwood sandwich. It would grow to become a crazy rag-tag representation of the world, a unique artifact of our imaginations at work held together by glue stick, mucilage and page reinforcement rings. And that would be a good thing.

Think of the way people approach tabletop role playing games. Someone on the B/X design team must have noticed this right off the bat. Beginning players want simple games. Give me a pre-made character, tell me what dice to roll and I will pick up the rest along the way. This is the reason why traditional characters begin at first level and work their way upwards. It’s not because 1st level is the easiest (it isn’t). It 's because first level is the least complicated of all the levels to run. Here is the rub though, as rules are acquired and come to be understood they also lose their compelling nature. People start to wonder what else can be done with the game. How about swimming, spelunking or wilderness survival? How do I raise an army? How do I manage a kingdom? What other creatures are there besides orcs, goblins and skeletons? Being a fighter is boring. What other classes can I play? Races? Multi-classes?

Complexity adds interest.

Yet, it is only a percieved complexity brought about by that ever-increasing binder of stuff. Someone new to the group, shown the teetering collection of “rules” would probably run away screaming and rightfully so. But for those who had been there from the start, who slowly waded into the system, picking it up in bits and pieces, it all makes perfect sense.
(just don't try to play it like jenga)

Alhough it doesn't say it anywhere, B/X D&D is a game designed to be added to by its players. In theory, you could even reset the B/X D&D system, to let a new and different game world grow out of it, one very different from the one before. All you needed was another booklet to slice apart and a new binder to keep it all in.

Of course, none of this would have made T$R a dime. It may have even cost them money through production fees and complaints about kids destroying their own books probably didn't sit well either. From what I’ve been able to gather from the internet (and thanks to everyone who responded to my queries) The punching began just before B/X D&D with a number of what you might call support modules for AD&D notably the Rogues Gallery and the Monster & Treasure assortment. My copy of the Rogues Gallery was published in 1980 and it mentions B1.) In Search of the Unknown but doesn’t list B2.) Keep on the Borderlands on the back cover, so I think it’s safe to assume that the Gallery came first. Some copies of Star Frontiers came with three-hole punching but there is nothing in the rules which acknowledges it or recommends taking the book apart (aside from some reference material in the center of the expanded rule book). The last punched product from the golden age seems to be the Dungeon Masters Adventure Log from 1983, which on the first page states...
These sheets have been drilled for use in a three -ringed binder but have not been perforated for removal. Do not tear these pages out. It is intended that all pages remain together to proveide an ongoing history of a campaign.
Yeah, there must have been complaints. After that you have to skip ahead almost a decade to get to the Monsterous Compendium for AD&D 2nd edition. I missed this one. Many claim its pages were weak and the books were prone to falling apart. So, so much for that.

All of which makes me think of the endless sluice flow of gaming material that floods the market on a regular basis. As I write, people have started to show some fatigue with D&D 5e and many are making the leap onto that bright and shiny new thing from Paizo called Starfinder. Just a few months out of the gate and there are at least fifteen different books you can buy for it. Financially, I'm sure it is essential for the companies to produce as much as possible as quickly as possible before the buzz gives out, yet I'm just not sure if it is all that great for the games themselves. There is no wading into it, no personal involvement. Like a trip to Disney world, it's not actually something you helped create. It's just a nice looking place you had some fun at while away on staycation.

There's definitely something missing.



Maybe what we need is not another great new game system or a revamping of an old one, but just a better binding system for the one we have been playing. A better way to organize all the stuff that goes into the games we love. One that won't fall apart if you drop it in the hall.

I’ll have to think about that.

Quick Addendum! Tim tells me not to forget that the Rolemaster Standard System books were drilled for holes. Oh. Wait. Just like he's written down there in the comments section. Okay, so, nevermind.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Why Are You Playing By The Rules?

This blog post was inspired by something said in a vblog over at Shaun Plays White Plume Mountain Notes #10. Spoiler alert!

Shaun is talking about DM-ing a party which has just encountered the vampire at the end of the mud room - the one with the giant discs hanging from chains. The encounter went well enough for the vampire, not so well for the players who were forced to rout.

After the encounter was over, one of Shaun’s players wondered if the vampire’s charm powers should have worked on his character because he was a dwarf and dwarves are short while vampires (of the - Vlad vants to suck your blaad - sort) are typically tall. The DM did mention the need to make eye contact for the power to work and the two were not exactly standing eye to eye.

Around minute 33 in the video, Shaun gets exasperated and says roughly this, “so, remember your players are a lot of the time thinking from - they’re taking in all of these realistic factors - you know I’m coming at it from the rules. They’re coming at it from you know, ‘would this really have happened’ players are always looking for an advantage for their characters, let’s just be honest, so I just kinda thought about it, and there is nothing which says different sized characters cannot look each other in the eye.

I’m not here to hop on Shaun. I have really enjoyed his adventure coverage, and I do agree with him in that a vampire could easily stoop down to look the dwarf in the eyes. What interests me here is the disconnect between reality and the rules and how Shaun has chosen to handle it. With every intervention of reality he heads to the rule books to see how they say it should be handled. This is something which has irked me from the very beginning, as in from the first game of D&D I ever played. It’s something which has always been there and simply never seems to go away.

Here is the problem as I see it.

Players often don’t know the rules of the games they play and this is a good thing. It doesn’t take too much knowledge of “the way the game is supposed to be played” to turn an ordinary player into a rules lawyer who will suck the life out of a game quicker than any vampire. In my world, the perfect player understands what is on their character sheet and how to make it work within the context of the system. After that they do what many of us old school gamers have been doing since the latter half of the last century - we play by way of what we know of reality to handle the rest.

(The Rules Lawyer Rises from his Stack of Books)

Dungeon Masters - it is assumed - do know the rules or at least are willing to stop and look them up when needed. This is great, except that every time a DM does this it is like hitting the pause button on a movie everyone is trying to watch. It wastes times and sparks contention, especially since what the DM often finds is still something which needs to be jury-rigged to fit the situation at hand.

So why bother?

Because of his need to play by the rules, Shaun wasted valuable time and mental energy milling over everything he knew of the game, searching for something which might apply before going with the obvious: the vampire stoops down to look the dwarf in the eyes.

If this were my game, the dwarven player would probably have squeaked out, “I close my eyes and look away!” Which is where I would think - sure, why not?, if it works for a medusa why not a vampire - and say, “alright, give me a dex check to see if you can do it in time, and realize that you are now fighting blindly.”

The dwarven player, knowing a to-hit penalty is hot on his heels would then say, “um, but isn’t this corridor super narrow? If no one can get past me to help fight him, how could I miss with my attack. I mean, he’s right there in front of me.”

To which I would say, “alright, nix the blind fighting but you’re still going to have to give me a dex check.”

Reality beats rules.

Consider how much time it would take to go through the books and find justification for every little needling thing mentioned in my expansion on this encounter. It could easily turn a few seconds into an hour without returning any extra value to the game.

So, why do we play by the rules?

Consistency? Fair play? Time honored tradition? Learned reflex action? Bragging Rights? Is it because we are afraid that if we make it through White Plume Mountain without playing Rules As Written people will accuse us of cheating?

If you are playing - reality beats rules - you are still playing by way of some very serious rules, aka all that we know of reality. If anything, playing this way more than validates your claim to conquest than does someone who finagles their way to victory through loopholes and oversites haphazardly printed in the rule books.

Yes Gerry, I am talking about the Dust of Sneezing and Choking.

I have not forgotten.

We play by the rules in the books because many of us, especially the old school guys, are instinctively tuned to treat this kind of play as a sport. Yes, it has been written over and over that there are no winners or losers in role playing games. Which, of course, does nothing to explain why good old fashioned AD&D was fraught with competitive modules and modules with tournament rules assigning points to actions so at the end of an adventure we could all look back, tally up our numbers, and figure out who the best player was. But whaddyagonna do?

(In truth, I hate the whole obligatory lets pepper the blog post with images only remotely related to the text so it doesn't look like a big wall of wordage, but whaddyagonna do?)

Maybe a case can be made for playing Rules As Written in order to experience a game as it was originally conceived. Maybe the system itself has an underlying pattern of rule interactions which will be disrupted if one of them is left out. But, is it really worth it?

The biggest enemy of the table top role playing game, aside from people being unable to show up, is time suck. White Plume Mountain is one of my all time favorite adventures. I played it after-school in Junior High during the early 80’s. It probably took us four or five sessions to clean the mountain out. Did we play by the rules? I’m sure we thought we did, but with AD&D you never could tell. Shane is currently on his eleventh session and his players haven't even gotten to the crab bubble yet. Knowing who we were at twelve and thirteen years old, if we had played that closely to the rules and taken that much time to get through the mountain, I fear we would have died of boredom before it was over.

And that is not the way to win these kinds of games.