Do TTRPGs Need to "Modernize?"


Any model of weapons and armor is going to have some, because how that actually works is complex and to represent it well requires a level of detail virtually no game wants to engage with. I'll stand by the idea damage absorbing armor as a model has less problems that to-hit-reducing armor the moment you're anything but zoomed way out, though.

It works best when you have an assumption of parity or near parity going on and the only combats that matter are between those near peers. Fundamentally, Star Wars D6 uses the BRP model along with a wound track rather than a small supply of hit points. They work similarly. In both cases, things work out well when you have heavy constraints on the ranges that damage can come in and so can predict the results the armor will achieve and you've heavily constrained the armor that you can obtain. So for example, it works really well in Pendragon between typical foes and Pendragon has a bunch of meta that makes sure that foes will almost always be typical. Or, it works well most of the time in Call of Cthulhu where you have heavily constrained damage and armor on the investigators, but very open-ended amounts of damage and armor on the monsters because well, with investigator versus monster combat you just want investigators to go squish.

But it starts breaking down in situations where the meta is more open ended and anything can fight anything with anything in any situation. Pendragon gets away with it by having a meta where all fights are in armor against things pretty similar to the knight and all the fights happen where being in all that ironmongery makes sense. But that isn't going to work in D&D or generic fantasy, and in particular in addition it's not even HEMA. It's fantasy combat, and not all how armor actually works or is bypassed. In reality armor is bypassed by hitting the chinks in it, and as such a dagger is as good or better than a sword as a finishing blow. Swords don't really do more damage, they keep distance better. So you aren't actually modeling anything more realistic anyway.

One way you deal with it is the way D6 deals with it by having the armor roll also be random. But that adds complexity/time to resolution of combat and it wouldn't work necessarily for BRP/Pendragon where without that consistency combat would get excessively lethal very fast.

But pulling back a bit, regardless of which model you use, it's balanced on an assumption of on average X damage is done to the target in a round. What process of play generates that turns out not to matter all that much except in your head.
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Thomas Shey

But pulling back a bit, regardless of which model you use, it's balanced on an assumption of on average X damage is done to the target in a round. What process of play generates that turns out not to matter all that much except in your head.

I'm clipping a bunch because I just wanted to make it clear I was responding to you.

Except it does matter, the moment round to round success is likely to matter or when the amount of damage through is as important as getting damage through. D&D gets away with all-or-nothing because thoughout a lot of its play space, a single hit only matters if you're already heavily reduced. Its a very different beast in games where one full-power hit can be disabling or even lethal (possibly buffered by metacurrency and the like).

There are also secondary mechanisms that can make even cases of opponents with heavy armor less certain. High levels of armor in RQ are very helpful, but there's always a crit waiting in the wings; similarly while pushing up your Toughness is very useful in Savage Worlds, open ended damage means it isn't certain (though technically SW uses a third model, damage thresholding but there's nothing stopping a game doing it with a more conventional damage model).

The special and crit successes are the chinks in the armor in BRP, but there are a lot more variables in that the opponent can also crit their parry. An attacker must 1) succeed in an attack 2) obtain a higher level of success than the defender's block/parry/dodge 3) do enough weapon damage to overcome the defender's armor points. An unopposed crit ignores armor, and a special success doubles rolled damage.

It's a bit more complex than the D&D approach, but it models combat very nicely.


Victoria Rules
A close reading of the 1e AD&D rules finds that it was always intended that your armor class was composed of two things - your armor class (AC) and your bonus to your armor class (hereby called AB). To make the weapon vs. AC tables work, you have to start strictly separating AC from AB and recording the two separately - which 3e D&D pretty much does and in fact makes use of in its own way (touch AC versus flat-footed AC, for example).
Even in 1e I just use touch AC and surprised AC. 3e did get a few things right. :)
Now that you've set up the game to use the table, the second thing you have to do to make it playable is precompute a PC's to hit AC tables using their class, weapon, and standard modifiers (strength bonus, magical bonus, etc.). Write this down for every PC and weapon they typically use and pin it to your DM screen.
Given that people's strength and weapon modifiers change all the time (via Strength spells, using different weapons, etc.), and sometimes even within a combat, there'd be little point to this IMO.
I've never been one to sweat +1/-1 either way because there is a small chance it even comes up, and remember even if you do quickly precompute those numbers this is still going to be more efficient than looking it up in the to hit table every roll.
Oh, I worry about every +1/-1 because it's surprising how often that last point makes the difference. :)

Now that you've set up the game to use the table, the second thing you have to do to make it playable is precompute a PC's to hit AC tables using their class, weapon, and standard modifiers (strength bonus, magical bonus, etc.). Write this down for every PC and weapon they typically use and pin it to your DM screen.

What I discovered is that after I did that second step, my games actually sped up rather than slowed down. Players could just flat report the number that they rolled on a D20 to hit, and they wouldn't waste time doing the math in their head to do something like 14+2+3 = 19 every single attack. It saved seconds on every attack roll and that added up big time over the course of a combat and a session.
I did something similar. It really wasn't onerous to implement, once the initial matrices had been written down. And there is the satisfaction of switching from a bardiche to a military pick when facing off against heavily-armored opponents. Fighters would tend to allot their initial proficiencies to effectively address a variety of armor types. The system was far from perfect, but certainly injected some flavor.

I think that it required strict monitoring of cost and encumbrance rules to achieve a kind of "balance" (within 1E's framework), as the two-handed sword, longbow and heavy crossbow were brutally effective. As with many of 1E's combat mechanics, the "balance" point is really at 1st level; the higher the level of the character, the more it diverges. Which makes sense, given its wargaming roots.

As most characters died at 1st level anyway, it wasn't really ever an issue. :LOL:
Last edited:

aramis erak

Given the plethora of games and game systems out there, it is relatively difficult to understand why a person would keep harping on D&D as a specific example.
D&D is the most played RPG in the world.
As of yesterday afternoon in Pacific Time, there were between 15000-15100 RPGs in the RPG Geek database. And new ones every week.

The plethora is so much than 99.99% will never get discussed by more than a few dozen people in any detail.

not every problem is a knowledge check, if you discuss your strategy / options / etc. no one is rolling to check whether the Barbarian is able to come up with a good idea, they just do
That depends upon the GM and if INT and WIS are dump-stats for the character.
If the IQ180 player is playing an Int 3 Wis 4 big dumb brute, and comes up with a plan the barbarian couldn't reasonably have come up with, it's time for an Int check. (I've had that happen. They failed. Everyone laughed, and then did the in character thing and ignored the idea.
I starting doing that for social with CHA because the glib player would dumpstat CHA...
Likewise, if the IQ 90 Player stops to ask if their Wis 15 pC would think their planned action is bad, on a successful roll, I'll tell them honestly, and on a fail, tell them nothing. Wis Save vs Player is an old standard from having mentally damaged folks at game. One player had lost about 30 points of IQ after a traumatic head injury while in the Navy. He literally wasn't as smart as his characters, so we cut him some slack. And let him just declare and roll when others had to narrate, declare, and roll.

Much like with Odd-like games, we are seeing other games like the recent MCDM RPG question the need for attack rolls or if characters should just automatically deal damage.
T&T did that in 1975... Skipping to-hit is one of the oldest divergences from D&D.
As is Armor reducing damage, not making to-hit harder, as, again, T&T did that in 1975,
Skills instead of classes - Traveller ('77) and Runequest ('78)
Unified resolution mechanic: 1978 - RuneQuest.

Much of "Modern" design is harkening back to the mid 1970's mechanically, & 2010s textbook design..

It's because of modernization that we lost gold for exp, racial level limits, 3d6 stats rolled on order, the commoner class, material components, d4 hit dice, and true Vancain casting. How much more lost can we stand???
D&D Vancian doesn't match what Cugel does in Vance's writing. He memorizes one spell, and then casts it several times without forgetting it.
Um, that is a drastic misreading of the situation.
No worse than yours.
OSR is not based on 3e. At all. Instead, OSR is based on the OGL.
Wrong. See below
OSR was formed because people were unhappy with the direction that 3e took, and used the OGL to recreate the TSR experience.

3e was "responsible" for OSR in the sense that people didn't like 3e, and started the OSR movement.
Only partially correct; most OSR games using the OGL also use the 3.0 SRD for the core attribute list and explicatory text, as well as the distinctly D&D terms, and often the spells. Essentially, "Protection from Lawyer."
While technically, the OGL wasn't needed, it was a sense of security that one could go for a purely judicial decision by motion practice alone... The SRD was that much less to paraphrase.

Plus it fails to mention the then-stated reasons for starting the OSRIC projects - AD&D 1 wasn't supported and hadn't been for almost a decade, and people's books were often falling apart. And replacements were nigh-impossible to get. And people wanted to release works compatible with CoC and with AD&D 1e, but couldn't indicate that directly - the OSRIC mark indicated AD&D 1E compatibility; the GORE mark CoC compatibility... without violating US Trademark law.

Noting that, if they were in the US, the mechanics are quite literally unprotectable, as long as you can paraphrase them; using the OGL actually reduced your rights, but giving peace of mind, and much more rapid development.
I'm basing this upon having watched the OSRIC and GORE development projects from not long after formation of the projects to initial release. And that the SRD is referenced in the OSRIC notice...
It mentions the OGL and the SRD, and the older editions which inspired the SRD, and a bunch more.

Oversimplification to the level either of you did is not good; you both are partially correct and largely wrong, because you're leaving out many important factors.

I don’t know about that, that sounds like more complex = better, and I see no reason why that would be true
As I've said in many places all else being equal simpler is better. I would however say that the "classic" TSR era saving throw system is more complex than the modern one but that complexity lead to a better game.
We talk about popular games, or at a minimum games we like. Not sure modern is an attribute at all, what makes a game modern? Can you rank PbtA, Dungeon World, AGE, 5e, 4e, 3e along a modern axis, and what would that look like?
I don't know AGE. But in terms of modernity from least to most:
  • 3.X is a very 80s game with lost of grit and fiddly player elimination and rules that take a lot of time. Least modern.
  • 4e and 5e are about equally modern with minimal player elimination, and both of them suffer from long turn lengths and bullet sponge enemies (5e more than 4e as there's much more tactical depth to 4e)
    • 4e is much more cooperative, and with fortune in the middle much of the time
    • 5e is more streamlined with fewer modifiers to track, many of which were redundant
  • Dungeon World is D&D kludged with Apocalypse World
  • I went into why Apocalypse World is very modern here
To me narrative games are modern, but only because they were more recently invented, I am not sure their design is more modern than say MCDM RPG will be. It’s just a different emphasis
I look forward to that with some scepticism. But expect to have a lot to loot.

What if I'm not trying to tell just one story? What if I'm not trying to tell any story but instead just want to let play go where it will? What if my goal is that the game/campaign goes on as long as anyone wants to play in it?

Hard-coded end points fight all of these, and all of these are things I want from any not-one-off game in which I'm involved.
For the record I can think of only a very tiny handful of games with hard coded end points, and most of those are (like Dread or Montsegur 1244) designed explicitly for one shots.

To take an entirely different game Blades in the Dark has two designated in character retirement options; you retire from your life of crime having made and banked your money or you get too traumatised to continue (shades of oD&D here where characters either reached name level and mostly retired from adventuring or they died). The real difference between this and oD&D is how many sessions it takes (a fair few fewer) and how much character development there's been in that time (with the Trauma rules in Blades in the Dark encouraging characters to change and take risks and each roll being meaningful there's a lot more character development per session). But the retirement is far less hard coded than reaching name level is in oD&D

Meanwhile Apocalypse World doesn't settle your "go on as long as anyone wants to play it" requirement because the setting is created round the PCs. There's no hard coded end point but most campaigns seem to naturally run from half a dozen to a dozen sessions in my experience with significant character growth in that time and no one being the same at the end they were at the start.


I skipped some middle pages, so forgive me if this is already said.

Been playing Baldur's Gate 3, which is "based on" 5e. I'm aware of all the divergences, that's not the point. The point of bringing it up here is the DCs - and something 5e tried to accomplish with "bounded accuracy". And that's the idea that the difficulty of most things doesn't scale with level.

Comparing to previous editions, for example, a tough lock to open might be DC 15 initially (the PHB purchasable lock), 25 in mid-game, and 30+ (with magical protections and consequences) in late levels. In BG3... most locks are DC 10. some are Hard, DC 14. Some are Very Hard, DC 18 or 20. Then there's the "nope" locks at DC 30, and ULTRA SUPREME VAULT LOCK (DC 99... do the fricking puzzle or find the key! .... or nat20 it because Larian, not 5e). So my githyanki Fighter can actually pick many of the locks we encounter (DEX 14, trained in Sleight of Hand due to racial bonus) on a 6 or better (then 5, then 4 as she levels). and that's okay - the lock is still difficult for my paladin (DEX 10, no training).

If GMs can get their head around non-scaling difficulties, then the players can all participate. "The Barbarian with no social skills" (from a previous response) isn't useless at the party, just maybe "-1" on rolls against DC 10 or 12. Yeah, he's in trouble if he starts talking to an inquisitor (DC 16), but he can still mingle and learn things. That paladin doesn't have to wear his full plate to follow the rogue on the scouting mission - his "Stealth +0" just means he shouldn't be darting between tents and campfires like the rogue! Instead, he scouts the edges, looks for sentries, perhaps identifying unexpected religious paraphernalia the rogue isn't paying attention to.

This, I think, lends to party participation. No player left behind. Becuase that is a hallmark of "modern games" that I do really appreciate. I hate Hate HATE waiting 30 minutes until it's my turn again - whether it's an RPG or a board game. Either let us all take our turns at the same time, or have us all be involved in the actions of the other players. 5e tries this with Reactions in combat, but the GM needs to facilitate it in "now the rogue scouts / bard shmoozes" situations. And Reactions aren't really enough - once it's spent, you can walk away while the other 10 foes and your 5 allies go. For that reason I like the "players do all the rolls" ideas of 5e Optional Rules and many other TTRPGs - the player rolls defense, instead of (or in addition to) the monster rolling to hit.

Lastly, for the "Wizard can't harm the magic resistant high-AC creature"... I liked something I saw in Dragonbane, what they call "Improvised Weapons". (Really, terrain features you can "use".) The core mechanic that I liked is that it is (as far as I saw) "an automatic hit" (which may or may not be dodgeable or parryable, depending). For example, that hapless wizard might grab a burning log from the campfire and shove it in the golem's face. The wizard "hits" (even if the golem tanks some or all of the autodamage), and successfully causes a distraction for a round.

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads