Sunday, June 3, 2018

Number Resolution


Actually it does.

In fact, most paint dries with greater excitement than the matter of number resolution, but it’s still something I tend to think about far more than I should. And that is pretty much what I write about around here.

Number Resolution. It’s like the screen you’re looking at. The greater the number of pixels the computer manufacturer packs into the display the finer a picture you will recieve, and yet the more work it demands of the computer processor to project it up there. With tabletop RPGs - for me at least - number resolution does the same thing. It comes in three flavors: High, Medium and Low Resolution.
1d100. This is the truest view of what is going on with most core mechanics. You have a number range from 0 to 100 with 50 being the universal average. It’s high resolution because it allows you to add something as small as a +1 for an ultrafine adjustment of character chances. It’s also the most demanding. Quick what’s 87 - 36?

That took you a little while now didn’t it? And here is the problem with high resolution, unless you are of a mind-set which easily swims through seas of numbers the game is going to grow tedious and exhausting for most people. The game needs to truly be special to justify the math. Of course, you could resort to using just 5 point blocks, but if you’re going to do that you might as well use….
1d20. 2d10. 3d6. This is where most games reside. Those 5 point blocks become single points on the range from 1 to 20. Quick! What’s 17 - 7?

That was a whole lot easier. This is the same problem from above changed from high to medium resolution and rounded down (because we always round down). Some of the fine granularity has been traded in favor of greater speed and die rolling possibilities. And yet it still has enough variance to let things like the difference between a sword and an axe matter to its players.
1d10. 1d12. 2d6. Roughly speaking every 10 points of high resolution have been reduced to 1 point of low resolution. Quick! What’s 8 - 3?

Wait for it. Come on!
You can do it!
I believe in you!!!!

Note that the answer is half of what it was in medium resolution and a fifth of what it was in high resolution. Unfortunately the game is getting pretty chunky at this point. A +1 matters immensely, but because of this you cannot simply throw them around without good cause which will cause a loss of distinction.

We could go lower, and there are games out there which have done so. Rolling just 1d4 or flipping a coin to determine an outcome, but for me this loses the whole point of replicating reality and the influences that things have upon each other.

That is the hard part. It’s actually something I’ve been wrestling with right now. As a game designer I love the idea of high resolution. I’d love to create a game where you could actually build your own suit of armor with greaves (+3), different layers of mail (+2 +2 +2), full helmet (+8) or possibly just an open faced helmet (+4) and it all adds up to your armor class. But. That takes a hell of a lot of time to design let alone play and most players are fine with picking a suit - chainmail, platemail, scalemail, etc. - and moving on. There is also the matter of what people are expecting from the game itself. I think of TOON from SJGames.

(Because I always think of TOON, the screensaver of my mind)

TOON is a great low resolution system. You could convert the number system to a high resolution 1d100 experience but it would slow down the action to the point where you might feel like an animator drawing an actual cartoon frame by frame. You would probably have to pay people to play the game at that point. Even as a medium resolution game TOON could still be overbearing. TOON is good for one night single-shot events. Nobody turns to it looking for the long evolved campaigns that D&D provides. TOON campaigns are measured in hours, not days. TOON runs on 2d6 and speaking as someone who has played many games of it, I’d say it does so perfectly.

Most games don’t talk about why they choose to use the dice that they do. I’ve heard a lot of people defend the use of d6’s by saying “they’re common dice, they can be found anywhere, most people have some laying around the house and they will be more likely play my game if I use them!”

You’re so cute….

But think about this for a moment. Dice of different shapes and sizes are more prevalent now than ever before, and the sad fact of the matter is that most people will gravitate towards the major label games and possibly spend years there before they ever bother with the minor label games that (presumably) you and I produce. This means our players will probably already have a big bag of dice at their disposal.

There is something to be said about the tactile affair of rolling dice. The d6 does a very nice job coming to a stop after a roll, which is probably why the d30 never caught on. It also has a home-spun feel to it, which can work for or against the system at hand.

Then there is the matter of the number of dice involved in the roll. I’m not a big fan of the single die roll. I think it feels strangely weak and insubstantial. Meanwhile the thunder-like clatter of seven to ten dice hitting the table all at once may sound impressive but it is also kinda of annoying trying to pick through the results. And yes, I have not even begun to address the matter of dice pool games, but hasn’t this blog post gone on long enough?

So ultimately, between the three resolutions I think high resolution is the most ambitious but also the most risky as far as the time it takes to design the game and people’s reluctance to play it. Maybe for hard sci-fi games which can play off the technical appeal of large numbers.

Low resolution is just the opposite. It can come together quite quickly an be fun to play, but like an 8-bit video game from the 1980’s people may be willing to play it once but I can't imagine them playing it too many times. People are going to want such games to be small and limiting oneself in such a way is not always easy.

Medium resolution? Well, there’s a reason it is the industry standard and it’s not just because it was there first. Medium resolution does a good job balancing simulation with playability. But. There are so many medium res games out there that you need to offer something truly special to separate from the pack.

So what do you think about all of this? Why does your game use the die roll that it does? Am I spot on or totally off my rocker?

Oh, and just because I can. One of my favorite bits from Ren & Stimpy. Remember kids, play with dice, not electricity!

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.