Writing up Eero's Primordial D&D



  • edited April 2014

    So then what did your "prestige classes" look like? I'm curious because you have all at once a bit of an aversion to specific "character builds", preferring more organic character development, but also, as far as I can tell, love developing unique "crunch" for your games. So it's hard to imagine what you might have done with your Deudeu "prestige classes".

    Also: I'd be up for some T&T, as an alternative experiment.


    Class advancement is funny in D&D, I think. The progression of abilities is relatively minor and slow (except for spell-casting, I suppose), while hit points increase very very dramatically. So, going from level 1 to level 2 or 3 dramatically changes the nature of the game because of survivability, but otherwise isn't a huge change (except that the characters accrue fictional positioning, equipment, and magical items, and the players tend to improve their skills, so the game transforms that way).

    In my own "house D&D" which I'm gradually collecting stuff for, I'm going to have a slower HP progression, which in turn allows more gradual and rapid "advancement". I like the implications of that, personally.

    Gambling with levels as being more fluid in play sounds interesting, but perhaps hard to implement under D&D rules "as written"! Worth exploring.

    I love the idea of the Commoner class, but I'm not sold on it mechanically just yet. Let's keep brainstorming this one. So far Eero's "Servant" class seems like the best pitch for this kind of thing.
  • edited April 2014
    Commoner, Servant... Dogsbody?

    I'm not particularly a D&D purist. The game we play isn't a prelude to "The Ultimate Version of D&D" one of us might write but one I feel happy exploring news ideas within as a separate table. That something might be hard to implement under D&D "as written" doesn't bother me any - we can temporarily suspend the rules it breaks or use get-arounds to bring the new prototype system to bare. Let's get inventive, let's gamble (our levels)!

    I like your ideas about slow HP gain, fast levelling.
  • edited April 2014
    So then what did your "prestige classes" look like? I'm curious because you have all at once a bit of an aversion to specific "character builds", preferring more organic character development, but also, as far as I can tell, love developing unique "crunch" for your games. So it's hard to imagine what you might have done with your Deudeu "prestige classes".
    They were mostly driven by D&D tradition, and by character speciation, and by needs of crunch. For example, having a paladin, ranger, bard or assassin prestige class makes sense in the context of reflecting ideas from AD&D and the history of D&D in general. Then again, a specific high-level character (comparatively speaking) might naturally suggest with their positioning choices the existence of a specific character class that falls outside the scope of existing options. Finally, some crunch ideas would only work as separate classes due to the mechanical basic assumptions of the campaign.

    An example of that last point is the "Duelist" class that saw some play. The campaign had a conceit wherein basic attack bonus from the Fighter class could not rise above +5 due to simple increase in competence; this was basically a realism-based scope thing, sort of saying that +5 is as far as mere skill and experience in swordplay can take you. (Attack bonus in this rules system is not an arbitrary number; we can directly calculate how much carnage each point translates to, when applied against e.g. an ordinary infantry troop. At some point you cross into the realm of the supernatural.) Such a limitation would apply to each separate type of attack bonus separately, where a class like the "Duelist" would come in - as a fighter specializing in elaborate tournament ground fighting the Duelist gets a +1 per level attack bonus against individual opponents (which one could do in the middle of a general melee, but doing so would imply leaving yourself open to particularly harsh flanking attacks or stumbling; the fighting style of the duelist presumes both reasonably even ground for fine footwork, and an individual opponent they can focus on exclusively). Due to being of different type from the Fighter's attack bonus, the Duelist's bonus could be piled on top of the Fighter's bonus - understandably this attack bonus -based pressure drove innovation in fighter specialist classes when characters got a few levels.

    (To be specific, that Duelist attack bonus is capable of being turned off - we used to talk of a "duelist stance". So you could choose combat round to combat round whether the situation was appropriate for the quick footwork and dainty special weapon grips and whatnot that differentiates the duelist's fighting style. If not, then he's just a presumably well-conditioned 0th level Fighter with potentially some pretty nasty special moves until the general melee subsides enough for him to start going all finesse on the opposition. Obviously enough the player of a Duelist would want to e.g. challenge the opposition warleader to a duel, or have friends cover his back as he launches himself at the enemy champion, or whatever.)

    The point of running a Duelist could be color (it's a recognized profession in the imperial lands of fantasy Europe, where judicial duels are still used in certain types of legal situations; also, sports-type boxers and such might be classed Duelists), exploration of cool special crunch (the duelist pretty much has access to all the specialized kungfu wankery that Fighters can only get at high levels, if then - except obviously colored with western swordplay terminology rather than the traditional Orientalism), or piling some extra attack bonuses on top after maxing out the Fighter class (that level bonus to attack would be cumulative with the Fighter's more general bonus). The Duelist's basic class feature is clearly weaker than what a generic Fighter gets (the Fighter's attack bonus is good for duels as well as other types of combat, whether ranged or melee or horseback or whatever), so their xp exponent is slightly less - 1800, if I remember correctly. An equal-level Duelist might be presumed to win a duel against a Fighter, appropriately enough, while being less flexible in many sorts of adventuring situations.

    As a prestige class you couldn't declare your character a Duelist to begin with except with a roll of 1/6 at chargen, so it's necessarily a rare type of character. A nice change of pace, though, and I enjoyed how it's sort of an alternative to the traditional D&D monk - same sorts of fanciful special moves, but instead of being more elite, it's sort of less elite in feel than the war-tested Fighter - a poor man's Fighter, sort of. Also, the way multiclassing works in this particular campaign framework makes becoming a Duelist at 6th level sort of sensible - characters who get to 5th level have the option of adding a "secondary" class, and for a Fighter speciation is pretty much the only way to continue min-maxing that all-important attack bonus :D

    Aside from the Duelist, other specialist classes that have come up at least in passing are magical specialists (illusionist, theurges, necromancers at least), other fighting specialists (paladins, rangers, monks, barbarians), various AD&D ideas (thieves, bards, assassins, druids), demihumans... as the basic classes are intentionally very generic (even more so than Basic D&D), there's plenty of room for lobbing off conceptual space for other classes. Of course this requires not having nerdy aneurysms at the thought of e.g. four holy warriors one of whom is build off a Fighter chassis, one out of a Hermit, and two out of Paladins and Monks. For me that sort of class overlap is not a contradiction or flaw in the scheme, so all's good.
  • Eero, do you have experience with Clinton's Donjon? If so, how does that game fit with "Eero's Primordeal D&D" or your more general assertion that many games (many D&D versions, T&T, etc) are basically the same game?
  • I know Donjon, have played a couple of sessions. Mike would like it, I expect.

    Donjon's process is fundamentally different from D&D, as it operates off narration and fact-establishment rights; the creative issues in that game are similar to Once Upon a Time, all about pushing advantage vs. consistency of fiction. Donjon only has fictional positioning of the most rudimentary and implicit kind. I don't really see it as having any more to do with D&D than e.g. Dungeon World does; there is a yearning for the genre of D&D in there, but not for the game itself.
  • edited May 2014
    I feel like I get flack for being a gameist and a narrativist. Boogymen abound. ;D

    Donjon is a self-confessed D&D parody, I thought. Hunting for the genre rather than the game is the point, right? Dungeon World, now that's much more dangerous. I must confess I'm less infatuated with DW that the average Story Game poster, but have yet to put my finger on why.
  • edited May 2014
    I'm going to take a wild guess and say that Eero is referring to your stated fondness of D&D-standard genre conventions (green-skinned goblins and stuff like that). I could be wrong, of course! But Donjon, being a D&D parody (I think you're quite right there!) allows one to easily play with all those elements in a very colourful way, so it seems like you might enjoy that aspect.

    I'm also not as enamoured with DW as the average S-G gal or fellow. In fact, while I recognize that it's a good game, it's something I've given quite a bit of thought, and it's probably my *least* favourite AW hack out there. Here are some points which may or may not apply:

    1. A huge aspect is the Colour. I feel like DW removes all the flavour from D&D, leaving just the bare bones of recognizable D&D-isms, with no flesh on them. All the classes and races feel like totally generic versions of what they're supposed to be. If you make a DW Elven Wizard by-the-book, I can say, "He's pretty much your generic Elven D&D Wizard, yeah?" And you'd have a hard time disagreeing with that.

    At least in Moldvay D&D you run up against weird details like that character having bizarre stats (a Wizard with a Charisma of 5 and a Strength of 16 is quite possible, and suggests a lot about the character) or having a lot/not much starting cash, and that shaping the character somehow, and so forth. I feel like our characters in the Grey Sands game have been MORE colourful and interesting and unique than what I would expect to see in DW.

    I had the same issue with Red Box Hack (fantastic unique colour!) and Old School Hack, which removed much of that with more generic stuff. In Red Box Hack, you're a Snakeman, and you can create a homunculus of yourself and see into the astral plane. In Old School Hack, you're a Magic-User and you have an ability which allows you to attack with a damage bonus when someone is in an open arena. (Although I don't find it as bad as DW in this respect.)

    Instead of fictional creativity, it seems you get moves which are all about being different or more effective in combat. Which leads me to...

    2. This goes for a lot of the moves and the structure of the game: most character moves are things which increase your damage or your armor or your hit points... fairly few drastically change who your character *is*, as moves often do in AW or Monsterhearts - in those games, often taking a new move means your character has suddenly transformed into something entirely unexpected. All of a sudden you're a masochist or deeply in love or part of your brain is being eaten by the psychic maelstrom, or maybe you have a bunch of barbaric drug addicts who consider you to be a prophet following you around.

    3. If what draws you to D&D is the deadly and/or gamist aspect of play, challenging your wits and seeing how long you can survive against long odds, the basic AW engine seems to be at odds with that. I know some people disagree with me (we've had a long discussion about this here before), but I still feel this way. And DW's structure suggests long-term development and fairly low odds if losing or dying: those looking for hardcore challenge and a rough, deadly game where a single mistake will doom the whole party are going to have to work a lot harder for it than... say, us in Grey Sands.

    Mike, I'll be curious to hear if any of these resonate with you, or if you reasons are altogether different.
  • Eero,

    I'm curious about the development of your D&D-experience. Your earliest attempts are well-documented on your blog, so we get a sense of exactly how you went about things, and there are lots of details which are quite divergent from D&D as-written (e.g. freeform character classes*).

    Has your approach changed in the handful of years since then? If so, how so? And has it drifted closer to D&D-as-written, remained the same, or diverged further? For what reasons, do you think?

    (It's hard to get a handle on this when our own game is based on Moldvay, so I don't know if I can make assumptions about your style of play "at home" at all based on how we've been playing online.)

    *: Yes, I know that several early versions of D&D recommend that the players "can be anything they choose!", but the rigid format of class progressions and tables don't exactly make this user-friendly, so I suspect fairly few D&D players did this on a regular basis, unless they were into hacking the game anyway.
  • I think it's maybe beside the point, but I want to lodge a dissenting voice. I don't think Donjon is a parody or D&D. Not even a little. I think it exemplifies and makes explicit a mode of play that at least some actual old-school players used when earnestly playing Dungeons and Dragons. It has quite-different goals than e.g. the Greysands implementation of D&D.
  • edited May 2014
    Not even a little? Oh. You'd better wing an email to Wikipedia. I've never played but a glance at some information on the game suggests it's an... entertaining interpretation of D&D's premise?

    What are the goals here? I'm especially interested in what Greysand's goals are - maybe I've lost track.

    @Paul_T: Isn't everyone collecting for their House D&D? We should pool resources; I'm sure you have great ideas about stuff I'm stumped on and vice versa.

    You're probably right about my sympathies for D&D-as-genre. Goblins should be a ludicrous shade of green. Not because I hate Realism in my escapist fantasies (I do), but because I'm pretty committed to exploring the aesthetics of 20th Century American Fantasy as seen in D&D/early RPGs. This probably will annoy anyone committed to serious world building and the integrity of verisimilitude. This is why I'm interested in people's goals with Greysands - mine are oddly specific but I regularly drop them for the sake of play.

    Your thoughts on DW are pretty respectable and resonate with me. That said, I'm sure more experience with the style of DMing that *W demands would help me steer it closer to something that appeals, but until I find the energy and group to try again it will have to go underplayed and underloved. Your feelings about DW not being as dynamic or changeable as AW rang especially true.
  • I see what you're saying about the Wikipedia article. I also note that that was created by Jonas Ferry who might well read this and have comments.

    I would draw attention to what Clinton wrote as the first sentence of the second paragraph under What this game is about where it reads "I want to make it clear that this game is not a satire."
  • Anything that has to claim it isn't a satire is probably a dangerous satire of the highest order. ;D But point taken.

    I like satire. All D&D (including just about anything involving dungeons and dragons) is at heart, if viewed in the cruelest light, a satire of European medievalism by Men From The Future. This isn't the real experience of playing D&D, I appreciate, we're not laughing at the past - but there's always a comedic, self-deprecating side to the game. These sudden lurches into the absurd are a sure sign of imaginative players.
  • edited May 2014
    Yes, I think the warnings about satire are there for a reason, as Mike suggests. The basic abilities are called things like Virility, Adroitness, and Wherewithal, while other suggested abilities include things like "Be Worshipped" and "Look Like Slime".

    However, Clinton recommends discussing the seriousness level before playing:
    Dial: Seriousness level

    An important thing for the group to determine before play is the seriousness level of the game. Donjon is a very different sort of game in that the players have the ability to create as much of the outcome as the GM.

    Playing a game with high humor can be rewarding, but can also be grating if attempted with the wrong players. Likewise, some players may not enjoy the visceral horror of a grim rust-and-blood sort of game.

    This dial must be set before the game begins, and has the settings of: Monty Python and the Geeks (over-the-top), Slapstick (lots of funny), Tongue-in-Cheek (full of allusions to role-playing cliches taken deadly seriously by the characters), Black Humor, Serious, and Rust-and-Blood (fantasy horror). This dial should be set by agreement between the GM and players.
    However, from a different point of view, I'm not sure that playing Donjon as a "Serious" game does not constitute parody of D&D. It's just a serious parody, perhaps...
  • Mike,

    I'm definitely down to pool resources. But this is probably not the place for it. How would you like to proceed?
  • Parodies are always serious. If one genuinely perceived the subject to be as laughable as a parody suggests, then one wouldn't have parodied it - the subject would, in your mind, already be its own joke. The fact that Dunjon has a Dial, a thermostat to be fiddled with at will, is clear proof of its satirical intent - any game that wished to treat its subject with dignity would be clear on tone: Donjon attempts to satirise all computations of the D&D formula at once! That one of the options on the Dial is itself "Tongue-in-cheek" mustn't confuse us: denial of being a satirist is the surest sign of parodic intent and subversion.

    Sure, redefining the author's creative intention is an act in bad faith - but what's life without excitement?

    Perhaps, Paul, it'd be valuable to go off and talk a little about what kind of stuff we want to write and where our interests combine.
  • One of my characters took a perk to specialize in medical skills, and in the first session we had a serious injury to deal with, so I had to figure out what this meant. I did something like the following on the fly; now I’m formalizing it a bit so that I can see what others think, and so that others can draw ideas from it.

    This ruling fits into a very Eero-inspired version of D&D - I’m unashamedly taking lots of things he has said that seemed like excellent ideas to me, although we’re also diverging from those as seems appropriate to us. This means that what “serious injury” mostly means here is when someone would have died but the system has replaced it with what Eero calls a critical hit. It’s also a bit Apocalypse World, as I like the idea of surgery being about hard choices.

    When you try and use surgery to patch someone with a serious injury roll d20 plus applicable modifiers. For every 5 points, take 1 of the following:
    1. In the short term, they are less debilitated by pain and injury
    2. There is less risk of serious infection (both from the original injury and from surgery)
    3. There is less risk of them dieing in surgery
    4. The flow of blood is completely staunched (if applicable)
    5. You are able to save the limb (if applicable)
    6. With 3d6 weeks of rest, they make a partial recovery
    Surgery takes d4 turns (10 - 40 minutes).

    My thoughts on these:
    1. “Less debilitated” - I’m assuming that taking a critical hit like this probably knocks you out of the action for the rest of the dungeon. Perhaps they are able to give some advice through gritted teeth. Whereas if the doctor takes this option, they are up and about, albeit in lots of pain and moving shakily. (Lots of penalties to things).
    2. I’m assuming some kind of 1 in 20 for infection instead of 1 in 6. Normal disease rules.
    3. Again, something like the infection. I like this because it means that if instead of just trying to bandage someone up and leave them to heal badly you really try and fix them, this introduces a new chance of things going wrong.
    4. Tactical concerns here to do with things that follow blood trails…
    5. Limbs. They are useful (I have nothing to say here).
    6. What I’m thinking here is that lots of critical hits result in halved attributes, under the Eero-inspired rules. So if you take a big injury then your Dexterity may drop from 12 to 6. If the surgeon choose this option, then that stat jumps back up by, say, +2, after the period of rest. Also, maybe they lose the critical hit mark on their sheet, so they can take another one without dieing? Not sure about that.
    Thoughts? Comments? Obviously this makes injuries a more complex mechanical event, rather than a quick thing. My approach on this has been to focus rules on stuff that people take perks in - allow the players to spend the time on things they want to. If people are not interested in this stuff, they will create characters who are not so focused on surgery in the future.
  • All that seems good to me. I wouldn't allow a skill check to remove a critical mark (a death cross) myself, but that's largely a matter of how one views their strategic role. Specifically, my goal for high-level play is that characters naturally accumulate these marks, which are nigh-impossible to remove, and thus a high-level character won't necessarily have a huge margin in this matter; they might be able to carry eight crosses without perishing, but if they already have four from earlier adventures, they're not necessarily that much better off than a less experienced character.

    (For comparison's sake, consider the AD&D rule about resurrections, and how a character can only be resurrected a maximum of times equal to their Con score. The "cross count" is sort of similar number in strategic terms, in that it's a long-term health thing that is almost impossible to affect. A character might e.g. take a swim in a powerful healing magic pool to remove one cross, or take a break of 1d6 years from adventuring - that's the scale of effort I prefer for characters to take, should they desire to remove crosses.)

    Regarding the seriousness of the injuries, what you're representing here (excessive blood-loss, long recuperation period, field surgery) is typical in my game of injuries that result from failed saves on critical hits; on successful saves we see slightly less serious injuries, that are nevertheless tactically debilitating. So we sort of have three types of injury: mere hit point loss represents loss of stamina and fighting spirit, succeeding in a save vs. injury results in lesser wounds, and failure results in a cross plus effects similar to what your table here indicates. I mention this in case you want to make similar lists of concerns for those "lesser injuries", too. Stuff like -2s to attacks made with an injured arm, or whatever.

    Procedurally I think that your list approach is very good, and I also very much like the principle you mention at the end: there is a simple baseline rule that is only complicated through player choice to focus on that matter.
  • All that seems good to me. I wouldn't allow a skill check to remove a critical mark (a death cross) myself, but that's largely a matter of how one views their strategic role...A character might e.g. take a swim in a powerful healing magic pool to remove one cross, or take a break of 1d6 years from adventuring - that's the scale of effort I prefer for characters to take, should they desire to remove crosses
    This tallies with my thinking on the matter as well, but I wasn't sure, hence it's inclusion above. I think you've helpfully clarified my thoughts about this.
    So we sort of have three types of injury: mere hit point loss represents loss of stamina and fighting spirit, succeeding in a save vs. injury results in lesser wounds, and failure results in a cross plus effects similar to what your table here indicates. I mention this in case you want to make similar lists of concerns for those "lesser injuries", too. Stuff like -2s to attacks made with an injured arm, or whatever.
    Yes, this was my thinking. These are for mitigating the affects of a failed saves. We will presumably also have ways for a healer to mitigate the effects of lesser injuries from succeeded saves. I may or may not make a table for that - trying to keep things oral where possible and lazy-evaluated, so we can make just the rulings we need. I mostly properly wrote down the above for airing in this arena.
  • edited May 2014

    It occurs to me, particularly after running another session on IRC today, that there are some interesting side-effects to a "hygienic" approach based on aleatoric processes. The GM disclaims decision-making and leaves a lot of decisions to the dice: like, for example, which character a monster with no clear preference might decide to attack. This allows us to construct a really neat set of procedures for a GM to follow, and to create a certain play culture. This is all a really cool effect, especially on a longer or larger scale, as we've discussed previously.

    However, it occurs to me that leaving a lot of decisions to the dice increases the random factor in the game. Let's consider, on one hand, a hypothetical game where the number of encounters, and the threat level of each encounter, is carefully crafted to match the capabilities of the adventuring party. (I've heard of such a D&D... but never played it.) On the other hand, we have a game where a random encounter can include anything from a miraculous find of a great treasure to a surprise attack from an all-powerful demon from hell. That's a significant range!

    In the same vein, reaction rolls and morale checks and similar essentially 50/50 decisions can have HUGE ramifications on a character's survival. They're all low on hit points, when the monster which could wipe the party misses a morale check and flees. They meet the most dangerous monster in the game, and the reaction roll says it's friendly. Phew! The GM wonders if the sketchy NPC might choose this particular moment to betray the PCs and leave them stranded... and rolls low. Stuff like that.

    How do you think this interacts with the stated goal of challenging the players' wits and strategic and tactical decisions? Is there a danger to this kind of process creating so much randomness that it overwhelms the value of strategy in the game?

    (I'm imagining a sea adventure, where a small boat sails for many days and then hits a random encounter, which comes up with the result of a whale or similar large sea creature. A reaction roll is made, and the creature is determined to be actively hostile. Then a surprise roll is made, and the PCs are surprised. Finally, the GM decides there's a X in Y chance that the creature will just try to crush the boat with a blow of its tail. This effort succeeds, and all the PCs are in the water, a long way from land. What are the odds that sharks find them? We roll, and they do. How cold is the water? We roll, and it turns out it's so cold they won't survive more than five minutes. And so on: now they are all dead, no matter how carefully-planned and executed the expedition was originally. I hope that illustrates my question!)

    (In retrospect, the careful limitations of the typical dungeon environment put some upper and lower bounds on this, compared to wide-open "world exploration" D&D. That's interesting, too. Factors like dungeon level and monster level also build in certain limitations, if you use those in your game. Anyway, that's neither here nor there.)
  • If I may attempt to answer:

    First of all D&D has a stated goal of strategic and tactical decisions, yes, but it also has a goal of gambling and pushing your luck. It's not a perfect information game. Would it be better to leave the dungeon now with the loot you have and brave an extra journey overland and back? Or should you push just a bit further? The players can debate what they know, but ultimately there's a lot unknown and random, and part of the thrill of D&D is taking those kinds of risks and seeing them have real consequences.

    So say then that the point is not to have randomness overwhelm the strategy, nor the strategy overwhelm the gambling.

    Secondly, I think this comes back to good design of your situation, whether that be at the level of the campaign world, dungeon, or room, and how well you communicate it. If the ocean has marauding whales and sharks then setting sail in it is a very dangerous prospect as you have outlined. So long as the players have some knowledge, though, about the world around them, they can make sensible strategic risks. Even if they can't ask questions about, for example, incidence of whale attacks, they may be able to find out: does anyone else sail this sea? Regularly? Or is it an activity considered fraught and deadly?

    Ultimately, though, it's true that even with good situation design and communication, the dice can fall unpredictably. Maybe there's a a 1% chance of whale attack, and so the PCs hear it's pretty safe and go for it, but get unlucky. I think that's desirable though - the risks are always real, the decisions really count. All the players can do is minimize risk of defeat and increase risk of victory and then roll the dice.

    (Aside: Is this man-eating whale cousin to the one Eero was playing during the first voyage of the Silent Dusk?)
  • edited May 2014
    Edit: Martin says it all more succinctly above.
    It occurs to me, particularly after running another session on IRC today, that there are some interesting side-effects to a "hygienic" approach based on aleatoric processes. The GM disclaims decision-making and leaves a lot of decisions to the dice: like, for example, which character a monster with no clear preference might decide to attack. This allows us to construct a really neat set of procedures for a GM to follow, and to create a certain play culture. This is all a really cool effect, especially on a longer or larger scale, as we've discussed previously.
    Two things about this characterization: first is that it is not the case that the GM does not make decisions. The second is that "randomness" is not the same thing as flat and unpredictable random distribution - not unless you've renounced that decision-making. I think that characterizing hygiene as abrogation of decision-making responsibility is a caricature of the actual ideal state; it is not a question of flipping a coin stupidly in every situation, but rather about making decisions with the correct unbiased mindset.

    If the GM truly did nothing except regurgitated stupid random results, then you could indeed encounter a dead deer as easily as a great and powerful demon. After all, making the constructive and intelligent setting-creation decision that demons are almost never encountered just wandering about randomly (they are rare, that is) would be making a choice about it, so the hypothetical "randomness only" GM would certainly never presume. Instead, they'd give each ludicrous impossibility the exact same chance so as to not be biased. In fact, their random encounter table would fairly only ever have once-in-a-lifetime impossibilities, because there are so many different ways to be impossible than there are to be ordinary.

    Hygienic decision-making uses randomness as a tool for getting through moments where bias would otherwise be more difficult to avoid; these are situations where the GM does not have a compelling causal deduction available from known information regarding the setting. This is not the same thing as "the entire monster manual is in my random encounter table". Most of the time the GM works with his own understanding of the setting, with his own aesthetic vision about it, and so on. This is the reason for why the wilds are habitable in a reasonable setting: the GM is perhaps letting the PCs encounter a bit more exotic and adventurous things than the boring non-protagonist whose actions we are not observing in hopes of adventure, but they're still acknowledging that verisimilitude prevents them from having a demon in every bush (unless the setting really is like that: if it is, presumably the NPCs never leave town, either).

    What this means for your question about player skill is that the players can use skill, because they can make those deductions about the setting as well. D&D is essentially a blinded deduction and risk management exercise where the GM has all the puzzle pieces to deduce from, and the players don't. This doesn't mean that the GM is always ahead in reasoning, but he often is, particularly when the GM can hear and judge the reasoning of the players. (This latter is a good thing, not a weakness: if the GM is ignoring some aspect of a situation, but hears the players reason about it, then he knows to improve his own reasoning, creating a dialogue. After all, the principle of realism is not that the GM is somehow magically always perfectly correct a priori; it is merely that we strive to be correct, and ultimately achieve the best choices our collective wisdom and skill makes possible.)

    As for the scenario where an adventuring party plans a sea voyage according to all of the acknowledged best practices of the setting and its naval technology, and their ship sinks anyway: I fully realize that this would be much too much for many people as a scenario, and they would "fix" it to make it so the players would be rewarded for their correct choices. For me such would be anathema, because I believe that even correct choices should not always work in D&D, the ultimate game of risk management. ("Risk management" does not mean avoiding all negative consequences ever, by the way - it means accepting a certain degree of risk as being worth it for the stakes at hand.) In the real world, and in true to life scenarios, even the best choices will occasionally fail due to reasons outside your own control. If you truly do not ever want to sink with your ship, then do not leave port in the first place. That is truly, genuinely the only way, and few PC parties have magic that ensures that they could only ever sink at sea due to their own mistakes instead of bad luck. The very choice of taking a trip by sea has an inherent risk to it, with no way around it for most.

    (The naval example is actually a very good illustration of the issue of "should PCs be able to fail even if they've made no mistake", because sailing is historically a human endeavour that has a major natural attrition factor: ships have sunk through human history despite the highest professionalism due to reasons outside human control. This is literally why "acts of god" clauses were developed by insurance companies, because several percent of the ships still sunk in the age of sail due to storms and whatever despite all imaginable human effort. The only way to avoid that is to not sail.)

    Of course I am not in favour of the idea that it's a good idea to make all of the events in your campaign acts of god because some element of that is a realistic strategic consideration; I'm sure that's the next question, but you'll just have to get used to discovering the golden mean :D Specifically, there is such a thing as coordination of gameability, or "discovering challenge" as I like to put it; this process is seen in the fact that PCs are far more likely than would be statistically probable to stumble upon exciting adventures. A GM who justifies an ungameable setting set-up with realism has forsaken the actual goal of GMing.

    Perhaps this helps think about the GM's responsibilities: when the players declare that they want to take a trip by sea, the GM's job is to figure out the real challenges and risks involved in that. If something truly brilliant occurs to him, something the group would love to deal with as content of play, he will hook that - negotiate about it with the players, or on occasion simply decide that this content is on the likely route their ship will take, for good or ill. (And no, I would never negotiate about whether you'd like to have a storm, in the abstract. That's necessarily something that PCs will do their utmost to avoid if they can. The best I could do would be to have a magical ever-present storm surrounding an adventure location, so they'd have a reason to sail straight in there and I could have my cool storm encounter.) All the possibilities and concerns that are not specifically chosen for might or might not emerge through random friction processes, but the point is that the session of play will have a "beef" to it because the GM makes conscious choices about seeing and recognizing challenges.

    The GM should not be an idiot dice-bot; rather, he should be a curious scientist, intrigued about seeing what this particular party of primates might do when faced with the prospect of sailing the Gullet of Winds in a ship loaded with turtle soup. This attitude involves a mixture of unbiased decision-making, aesthetic inspiration (somebody had to invent that Gullet of Winds in the first place) and randomness.
  • Thanks for this back-and-forth, guys. Interesting to hear and improve my understanding. Having spectated your game last night, Paul, I would say there are certainly places where you could compute with dice less and drive a little of your vision of the unfolding scene into the game. Dice are randomisers to inform blossoming fiction, as soon as they give you a thread you can follow that to the most reasonable/justifiable place. But that's my two cents.

    In regards to the Whale situation, I think I would kill the PCs right then and there, inform them of the bizarre set of circumstances that let to this Bizarre First Turn TPK then make the players some kind of offer where, seeing as they acted impeccably in their planning and would likely to the same again, we simply "take two" and replay the encounter. Ideally, this is with newly rolled/established PCs to replace the dead, but if that's just going to be two rounds of character gen one-after-the-other, what's the point? I'll suspend hygiene here for the sake of playing the game itself.

    On a different topic, could we talk a little more about Save Vs. Injury? Would it be possible to suspend the HP economy as-is and replace with a Save Vs. Injury roll (which I imagine is number to roll against that's a rolling together of AC, HP and some tactical positioning)?
  • I’ve been following this awesome thread and its twin, [OSR Actual Play] Greysands Campaign - call for IRC players because I, too, am interested in these hygienic techniques and OSR procedures. Thank you all for sharing!

    I’m blogging about my new campaign in which similar issues come up all the time – the discussion here couldn’t be more on topic!

    I’ve posted a collection of Eero’s best quotes & most useful advice from this thread, too (as well as some of my own theories).

    Regarding the (rather theoretical) Whale situation, I hope I’d have the guts to let the result stand. It seems so phenomenally unlikely that if it did happen, it would be fondly (eventually, at least) talked about for years (and cement trust in the DM’s commitment to impartiality). Well worth rolling up a bunch of new characters and starting over.
  • Some things that could help you try and let the result stand, besides having the risks remain real in the seting:
    -PCs have already made impact on the world, make that important, let the new PCs hear about their misadventures, you can even re-name that part of the sea after them (Unlucky Whalefood Cape) and ask players to have their new characters somehow connected to either the incident or their old PCs somehow.
    -Even if unfinished, make their participacion into a good story for bards all around. Bards tend to exxagerate and make up facts to embellish stories after all.
    -Maybe now their opponents would low their guard, thinking they won't be bothered anymore. Maybe new PCs can steal their identities to scare their opponents, making them think they are inmortal.

    The main thing is, yep, characters died, the risks are real. However, their input still keeps it's value, has already changed the world and can be built upon.
  • edited May 2014
    Sounds sensible, WM! Really, I think we're all very much on the same page here (different paragraphs, perhaps, but the same page!) - the death has to happen, it's important to the central premise of play, just different ways of dealing with the fall out. Players generating *more* fiction even in death is always good!

    I applaud Johann's selection of Eero Quotes on his blog. Perhaps it could be an idea for us to dig out those pieces of advise most useful and offer them up for the record?
  • Excellent responses, everyone! That was a pleasure to read.

    I have lots to say, but I have to be at work shortly, and so I'll have to be really brief:

    1. Johann: thank you for linking to that! Excellent stuff. It's fun to see how any given reader might get more use out of one principle or description or another!

    I applaud Johann's selection of Eero Quotes on his blog. Perhaps it could be an idea for us to dig out those pieces of advise most useful and offer them up for the record?
    This made me laugh! I think this is a good idea, of course. However, it seems funny to be bringing this up on the seventh page of this discussion: wasn't that the goal of this thread in the first place? :)

    2. I really like the idea floated by here in the last two posts, about making character death a springboard for further play (thanks, WM!). More on this later...

    3. I think my favourite line here is Eero's characterization of an OSR GM as a "curious scientist". That describes perfectly the type of feeling I most enjoy when playing this kind of D&D, on both sides of the screen. As usual, Eero has a knack for finding just the right term for the occasion.

    There's an interesting trade-off in play, I find, between random procedure and principled decisions. I think a very profitable line of thought here might be to tease out various principles which allow GMs to make decisions outside of the random matrix.

    The basic negotiation of challenge at the table (as formulated by Eero as the foundation of this style of play) is a good basic principle to always return to, I think.

    Ideas like "make character death a generator for future fictional details or colour" also make fine principles, as do things like "if high risk exists in your challenge-negotiation procedure, reflect the risk in the state or behaviour of the fictional world" (awful phrasing, but I'm referring to things like a highly deadly encounter table for an area being reflected with NPCs never going there out of fear, or common stories of death if they do anyway). I'd love to say more on this, but I'm out of time!

    4. On the topic of "Save vs. Injury": this is something I've given a fair bit of thought. I think the nice feature of D&D-style hit points which is hard to replicate with a "Save vs. Injury"-style mechanic is, perhaps ironically, the predictability of physical harm and injury.

    For instance, take a typical first-level D&D character. Let's say she has an average or better HP roll (e.g. 4 or 5 hit points).

    If she gets hurt by some kind of attack or trap (typically 1d6 damage in our game here), she will mostly like survive the first blow, and almost certainly be killed by the second. There is a chance the first blow will kill her, yes, but that's a minority of situations. Similarly, her odds of surviving three blows are extremely low. (If she has 4 hit points, for example, the chance of her surviving three successful attacks is 3/216, or about 1%!)

    With almost any kind of Save vs. Injury system, you will always have a decent chance of dying from any given blow, and often characters will be able to survive many, many attacks, due to lucky rolls.

    Whether that's desirable or not is a good question. But it certainly feels very different.

    (Yes, you could replicate this effect somewhat with Injury saves with increasing penalties, but then you just have hit points in a different form - the growing penalties - with an added randomizer on top.)

  • 4. On the topic of "Save vs. Injury": this is something I've given a fair bit of thought. I think the nice feature of D&D-style hit points which is hard to replicate with a "Save vs. Injury"-style mechanic is, perhaps ironically, the predictability of physical harm and injury.

    For instance, take a typical first-level D&D character. Let's say she has an average or better HP roll (e.g. 4 or 5 hit points).

    If she gets hurt by some kind of attack or trap (typically 1d6 damage in our game here), she will mostly like survive the first blow, and almost certainly be killed by the second. There is a chance the first blow will kill her, yes, but that's a minority of situations. Similarly, her odds of surviving three blows are extremely low. (If she has 4 hit points, for example, the chance of her surviving three successful attacks is 3/216, or about 1%!)

    With almost any kind of Save vs. Injury system, you will always have a decent chance of dying from any given blow, and often characters will be able to survive many, many attacks, due to lucky rolls.

    Whether that's desirable or not is a good question. But it certainly feels very different.

    (Yes, you could replicate this effect somewhat with Injury saves with increasing penalties, but then you just have hit points in a different form - the growing penalties - with an added randomizer on top.)
    Good point. And the hit points are a simpler mechanism to apply that increasing penalties. Also, hit points are simpler to have a variety of ways of recovering them.


  • Those are fine points that Paulo has there about how an unfortunate adventure can act as fodder for further campaigning.

    I am reminded of the fact that I have GMed not one, but several adventures that have basically skirted the nature of that hypothetical whale encounter. In play these are not in any way remarkable, because this caricature idea that players never got to make a single move is never entirely correct when you're playing in a sandbox and the characters actually get to choose their poison. You always feel like you had at least some input. I guess that might be different with an aggressive in-medias-res opening, but then the players presumably wouldn't mind a quick death - it's not in-medias-res if you're not already on the brink of disaster when it starts!

    One of the closest examples in this regard involved a mysterious dungeon, a large stone block, and a more or less total party kill in the first danger of the dungeon. It was, as Paulo says, an important tempering experience for our campaign at the time: not one of the teenagers participating in that session left it without believing that the stakes are real and the GM really will just let you die in the most ignomious, stupid, funny way if you bring it on yourself.
  • I'm a bit leery of "Save vs. Injury". I fear that it would slow down combats with many participants (e.g. the adventurers and 30 goblins) unless it was very abstract (see below).

    Warhammer 1e - the RPG, not the wargame - uses hp as a buffer before resorting to critical hits at 0 hp or worse. Characters might survive unscathed but usually, they lose their lives or limbs. This system adds a ton of flavor and tension but does slow things down (you have to check whether victims bleed out every round and so on).

    There is a simplified abstract table with only three results (unaffected, flees, killed) for minions and/or mass combat but I'd rather avoid deciding who is important enough to be treated like a PC.
  • I haven't found save vs. injury to slow down the game, but that's in an environment where the saves come in only when the hp run out (so not like e.g. Mutants & Masterminds, where each attack triggers a save procedure), and monsters almost never go through the saves thing.

    If whatever one is using as a saves mechanic is too slow, consider another one: when a save-vs-die strike hits home, roll 3-in-6 to save against it; make that 4-in-6 against unarmed or otherwise relatively puny attacks, and 2-in-6 against particularly lethal attacks. Assuming adept dice-handling (which I tend to assume; our local culture basically expects and trains for adept mechanical performance - these are guys who've played plenty of 4th edition D&D for fun), that's practically instant.
  • edited May 2014
    Yes, absolutely. No reason the check or procedure can't be made as simple as desired (after all, we already do a damage roll and then subtraction from hit points with every hit, and presumably that's sufficiently simple).

    I like Mike's earlier d6 roll for damage/survival, which I believe we hashed out in this thread. [Edit: Here's a direct link.]

    Still, however, the issue with save vs. injury/death mechanics tends to be an increased randomness in character survivability. Is this desirable for your game or not? That's your call.

    There's a big difference between a D&D character with hit points who can pretty reliable be killed in one or two hits and a "save vs. death" character who could conceivably still be standing after five or fall from the first. You have to remember that this also affects your monsters (assuming you use a similar system for them): do you like the idea that a lowly kobold (or whatever) might, on a good day, survive five blows and keep hacking at your PCs, and that your giant Ogre might fall from one arrow, or not?

    (I feel like I hit my own sweet spot with my hit point hack for the moment: there exist odds of a 1-hit kill for any character, but the odds are incredibly low. Then again, I'm using standard D&D hp for monsters, as well.)

    Edit: Here's a potentially fun way of doing survivability in a D&D system - assume that base hit points at first level represent physical fortitude, and only that. A 2-point wound is a 2-point wound, a gash of a particular size, on anyone. They're based on physical size and resilience. However, with experience, characters get faster, luckier, more resilient, whatever. This means sometimes they can get hit and just shrug it off, or just dodge out of the way, or whatever.

    Clearly this is represented by hit points and damage in D&D, so let's keep that principle. As a character advances, then they gain the ability to ignore a certain amount of damage. Maybe a 2nd level Fighter develops the ability to ignore 1-point hits, just shrugging them off. A 6th-level thief can just dodge any blow of 3 points or less. And so on. We have a small possible range (0-5 points, assuming a system where all attacks are 1d6 damage), but that doesn't bother me. It's simple and doesn't require an extra roll, plus it allows us to differentiate a solid hit from one that was avoided due to heroic ability (important for stuff like poison effects).

    You could have a more heroic way (subtract this number from incoming damage), which gives high-level characters lots of resilience, or a less heroic way (low-damage attacks are ignored, but stronger attacks deal damage normally). Both methods have a few quirks but are otherwise clean and pretty D&D-compatible.

    We could even specify "how" these hit points work, should we want to. Maybe the fighter always gets them, but the thief must be mobile in order to benefit from the advantage, and the wizard only gets hit points equal to the number of spells she has memorized, as the magical energy helps protect her from injury.
  • edited May 2014
    In terms of the question of randomness that I brought up here, I think the interesting distinction is between different ways of challenging player skill. I remember Ron Edwards used to have a term called "the Gamble" to refer to a particular form of Gamism - that always stuck with me.

    On one end of the spectrum, we have deliberately deterministic games, which are non-random and therefore interact with player skill directly. (A good example is Chess - although there is a single minor random element even in Chess, in terms of who plays white and who plays black.)

    At the other end we have the total gamble: we ante up something valuable and then flip a coin to see who gets it.

    It's my hypothesis here that increasing hygienic behaviour in D&D via aleatoric procedures (such as morale checks for monsters, for example) moves the game of D&D further along this spectrum towards the "gamble" end. We can look at D&D as a game to challenge the players' skills, but sometimes the game turns into something not unlike a venture into a casino: you can venture in and choose which slot machines to play, how often, and how much to spend, but other than that, your skills are pretty irrelevant. Your job is to estimate the risk and then pull the lever, but the game is set up so that the risk doesn't vary a whole lot.

    (I've seen modules like this, with undetectable traps which include save-or-die effects in every room of a dungeon, or similar.)

    I'm curious if you, kind readers, agree with this assessment or not. (I'm testing it out, you see, not stating it as a settled fact.)

    I'm also curious what kinds of devices or techniques move the game closer to the former end of the spectrum (chess-like). I'll brainstorm a few:

    * Less random construction of encounters, using information set in stone instead (e.g. using pre-written modules)
    * The concept of "balanced" encounters, "balanced" treasure, and so forth
    * Principled fictional or adjudicative decision-making (a la Apocalypse World - for instance, a principle like "always include a chance of success, however slight, in any situation", or "whenever there is a significant chance of death, telegraph it to the players somehow" - for example, if there is a death trap down a hallway, put a skeleton or a bloodstain, or let the players know that all the locals say that no one ever goes there for some reason)
    * Non-random determination of outcomes (i.e. "roleplaying" through the disarming of a trap rather than rolling, referee making "sensible" calls instead of randomizing along a spectrum - the monsters flee when their leader is killed of when they see their net is destroyed, not when they fail a morale check, that kind of thing)
    * Less random character abilities or resolution procedures (e.g. all characters start with 6 hit points, all monsters do 5 hits of damage, etc.)
    * Resolution of events based on research/trial ("to see how likely it is that you could throw your axe through the hole, let's use the doorway here, stand at an appropriate distance, and make ten throws and see how many make it through")
    * Pure negotiation of outcomes based on fictional positioning (rather than making the game like Chess, this makes it like Poker, perhaps)
    * Etc.

    This is interesting: some of these are mutually contradictory, others impractical, yet others very difficult to apply in a hygienic fashion.

    Some lead to their own undesirable outcomes or situations. (For example, making "balanced" encounters undermines the players' ability to choose the level of risk they wish to engage, which makes a lot of player decisions irrelevant.)

    What are your experiences with this?
  • that is the job of the magic-user: the best spells, and almost all of them in OD&D, are ones that avoid mentioning things like HP and morale. They let the player rewrite the terms of an encounter to turn the numbers to the benefit of the fighters who actually use them.
  • (I don't want to distract from my question up above, but since we've had all this discussion of save vs. injury and hit points, I wanted to mention that hybrid systems are also possible. For instance, consider a system like this:

    * Every character has a "combat readiness" or "hit point" score, in the range of a regular ability score (typically around 10). It could be based by class, with a Constitution modifier, and plus the character's level, or just equal to Constitution + level, or whatever.

    * When they're hit, they subtract the damage received from this score and make an ability check against the new score.

    * On a success, they're fine: they got out of the way, the blow didn't really affect them, they got lucky, they shrug it off.
    * On a failure, it's a real wound: they got hit, but they can keep fighting. Nothing game mechanical, but this is important if there's poison involved or it's duel to the first blood. He's been hit; that's significant fictionally if not mechanically.
    * On a failure by 5 or more, it's a serious wound: it takes them out of the fight.
    * On a failure by 10 or more, the wound is fatal.

    Say our cleric has a Con/HP/whatever of 10. He's hit by a goblin spear for 3 damage. That means his score goes down to 7, and he must make a check against it, rolling a d20. On a 1-7 (35%), he shrugs it off. On a 8-11 (20%), the spear got him but he can ignore it for now. On a 12-16 (25%), the wound is bad enough that he's on the floor, incapacitated. On a 17-20 (20%), he's been run through.

    If he rolls well and shrugs it off, the next blow will still hurt: Let's say the next attack is 4 damage. Now his HP is 3, so a roll of 1-3 is him getting lucky (15%), 4-7 is a non-important wound (%20), 8-12 (25%) is a debilitating injury, and 13-20 (40%) is death.

    This is a little complex, but combines the positive features of hit points and save vs. injury mechanics, with the additional feature of letting us have high hit point characters who seem to dodge blows all the time as well as a distinct way to tell whether they did so or not with each attack - something you can't normally do if hit points have to do with reflexes and luck.

    Is it worth it? I don't know. It doesn't feel very D&D to me anymore, and the procedure's starting to feel like a lot of work.)
  • I've been running an OSR campaign for a few weeks now, and I wanted to write about it on my blog. But I didn't think the readers of my blog would know what I was going on about if I just launched into talking about the concerns of OSR play. So I have first attempted an explanation of what makes OSR different from the kind of games they may be familiar with, using some quotes from Eero to help me along.

    It's not very good, but I thought I'd post a link in case it was of interest or use to anyone here. Feel free to comment on it there or here.
  • I think that's a very clear and to the point description of your campaign's creative goals, Martin! On occasion you find yourself quoted in the Internet in contexts you'd rather not be, but in this case I'm proud to have been of help here. I hope your campaign will continue to grow in depth and satisfaction :D
  • I agree: this is a very nice and accessible description of a game, but succinct and honest. It would make me excited me to play, as well as very hopeful about the level of communication and fun to expect with that particular group.
  • Well, now that I'm feeling all buoyant from these compliments, I think I can stand a bit of criticism, so let's try improving what I have written. Are there any major aspects of this kind of play that you think I have missed out? I know we may not all agree on what's important, but still: In addition that challengeful creative agenda, the organic rulings, the strategic concerns, and the player-negotiated challenge, is there anything else that is really key that a full explanation would include?

    Please note that my blog is creative commons licensed (see the footer), so whatever I write there you can use under the terms of that licence.
  • Eero, what're your thoughts on swinginess when deciding how to resolve a situation? (If they're generalizable...)

    I was participating in this discussion on G+ about how to adjudicate a chase and it was pretty clear that most of the participants favored a greater role for chance than I thought was necessary. I started wondering if your style of operation has a built-in opinion on the matter or if it's just case by case.

    What I've seen in Graysands seems like you're willing to give unlikely stuff a greater than "realistic" chance of happening but I'm not really sure about that.
  • I'd like to hear more about this, too. I'm kind of surprised that people seem to consider it to be a bit of a non-issue: it seems to me that, in this style of "challenge-based adventure gaming", the random element present in various considerations affects the gameplay dramatically.

    Consider the difference between a GM who uses a procedure like "roll a die to see which character gets attacked by the monster this turn" versus a GM who says, "this monster attacks whoever is wearing the colour red".

    Chase rules are another good example, as Christopher points out, with a coin flip at one end of the spectrum and a simple comparison of movement rates (as in B/X D&D) at the other end.

    At any point in the resolution process, the level of randomness involved will, it seems to me, dramatically change how the game is played and how it feels. Consider something like Morale checks in B/X D&D, for example. Here's a basic spectrum of more- to less-random approaches to handling monster morale:

    1. Every round of combat, flip three coins. If all of them come up "heads", the monster flees.
    2. Every round of combat, roll a d20. If the monster's roll is below its "morale" score, the monster flees.
    3. Roll for morale when one of their number is killed, and again when half of them are killed. If the roll is lower than the monsters' morale score, they flee.
    4. Roll for morale when appropriate conditions are met; add 1 if the PCs have encountered these monsters and defeated them before, subtract 1 if the monsters defeated the adventurers.
    5. Each monster will fight for a number of rounds equal to its morale score. After that, it flees.
    6. An Orc will flee if it is reduced below half its hit points. Goblins will flee if at any point in the fight they are outnumbered. A lycanthrope will flee after being struck with a silver weapon for the first time.

    The question becomes: are there principled ways to decide where along the spectrum we wish to place the "randomness" dial, and is it something we can see fluctuating in play, or should it be uniform and predictable?
  • Randomness is used for so many purposes, and in such nuanced ways, that I can't off-hand perceive any snappy general principle in there; rather, I feel pretty certain that trying for an "uniform" amount of randomness would be a mistake, as so many of the random elements in the game are unique artistic choices made in a complex organic context. For example, the focus of the game on different issues influences the use of randomness heavily, as does the GM's particular style and the nature of their currently available methodological tool-set.

    As a practical example, I generally allow players to make various types of knowledge checks to find out whether their characters know anything interesting or relevant about various topics, and once we find out whether they do, I whip up the actual content in combination of referencing my own notes and thinking up interesting details on the spot. This is a highly unique procedure that combines my personal habits and strengths as a GM with the campaign premise that knowledge almost always matters, and it is a diffuse, organic thing that cannot be sufficiently modeled by simple info-dumps. Many D&D campaigns - the majority really - do not share those particularities, but that doesn't make them methodologically erraneous, despite the outcome being that they use randomness differently in relation to player/character knowledge.

    An attempt at a general analysis of the matter would be to note some of the most important reasons for using randomness. Most of those can in my thinking be classified under the motivation of "glossing" or "abstracting" or "resolving", which are all slightly different ways of saying that we need to establish how a fictional situation resolves into another fictional situation, and our particular limitations as human beings (as opposed to gods, who would presumably play their games of divinity on the canvas of the world as ancient Greeks had it) cause us to need methods that simplify and ignore highly complex processes into something manageable. Thus, instead of carefully calculating the location and trajectory of each discrete body involved in the fictional situation, we pinpoint some important teleological outcomes and randomize between them. Instead of simulating the arc of an arrow, we roll against odds to find whether the arrow hits anything important.

    Note that almost anything can be either abstractly glossed or established in detail in a D&D type game - it would be a mistake to think comfortably that the game's traditional rules and procedures somehow depict a necessary reality, rather than a conventional one. For example, it would be entirely feasible to replace the equipment purchase element in the game with a gloss where each player decides their character's encumbrance level (how much stuff they brought with them to the adventure) and purchase price (how much money they spent on it) at the start, and then we roll dice against those amount & quality factors whenever we need to find out whether a character happens to have an useful piece of equipment available for a given situation. This would radically alter a particular procedure that is almost never altered in D&D, replacing consideration and skill with randomness. It has advantages and disadvantages that I would characterize simply as "artistic", as described above. There's no clear way to say out of context which procedure might be better for a given campaign.
  • edited June 2014
    There's no question that, on a theoretical level, all these approaches are valid. I'm curious how you (or anyone else reading) has found this balance in play, whether it occurs more so in certain situations and others, and whether your approach to it has changed over time.

    (The randomized equipment is a great example of this! There's no particular reason that we choose to randomize character ability scores but not class; starting wealth but not the actual equipment; the rate of advancement - via prime requisite bonuses - but not starting experience level, and so on.)
  • I'm curious if this discussion is still rolling. A lot of interesting threads still to follow.

    Paul, I don't know if this qualifies as a skill-based mechanic, but you could run combat like the bidding in Nobilis.

    Ex: When you make an attack, you bid on your attack bonus while the opponent bids on their defense bonus.

    The resources available for this bid could utilize a number of methods:
    - Each player has a hand of playing cards numbered 1 - 10. Cards 2 - 9 are spent until you use them all, but you can always take back card #1. The DM's cards perhaps apply to an entire group or faction he's playing, but maybe he gets more cards (* the number of players, perhaps)
    - A secondary resource pool (an effort pool) that is also replenished with resting along with Hit Points. Maybe this is where attributes could come in. So a fighter's resource pool would probably be Strength, or Dex for ranged attacks. A wizard's for spells that require a roll would be Int, etc.
    - Combine the two above (you use up cards, but how many you get is based on your stats)
    - You bid your hit points. On a successful strike or defense, you get half of them back. (The game would need to provide more HP to accommodate this)
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