• COMING SOON! -- Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition! Level up your 5E game! The standalone advanced 5E tabletop RPG adds depth and diversity to the game you love!
log in or register to remove this ad

 

D&D General On Powerful Classes, 1e, and why the Original Gygaxian Gatekeeping Failed

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Running Village of Hommlet in 1e, I noticed that Gygax's NPCs have pretty incredible stats, eg (from my blog, but I think unchanged) Fulnok of Ferd (Thief) ST 8 IN 14 WI 10 DE 18 (+3 -4) CO 15 (+1) CH 13 , Elmo the Ranger ST 18/43 (+1, +3) IN 15 WI 16 (+2) DE 16 (+1/-2) CO 17 (+3) CH 11. These are normal PC-equivalent NPCs and I got a pretty strong impression this is what Gygax expected PCs to look like.
I was glancing at the pre-gens in (either U1 or U2, I forget which right now) and noticed that out of 20 characters there were maybe two 18's among the lot of 'em, and not many 17s. Other than no-one having anything lower than a 7 anywhere (or if there was one I missed it) those characters could quite legitimately have been rolled using [4d6x1, rearrange to suit].
 

log in or register to remove this ad

I was glancing at the pre-gens in (either U1 or U2, I forget which right now) and noticed that out of 20 characters there were maybe two 18's among the lot of 'em, and not many 17s. Other than no-one having anything lower than a 7 anywhere (or if there was one I missed it) those characters could quite legitimately have been rolled using [4d6x1, rearrange to suit].
I'm pretty sure they're statistically anomalous, looking at U2. I mean, all four Fighters have STR 17 or 16, all but one has a DEX of at least 15, and a CON of at least 14. Oh I see Tenbar as well but he has 17 STR and 18 CON (he is a Dwarf so two 17s) and only 12 DEX.

The vast majority of the characters have 17 or 16 in their primary stat, with a few on 15 and a couple of 18s. Often their secondary stats are decent.

I haven't analyzed the numbers, but as you've already pointed out, there's no-one with less than a 7 and the sheer number of 17s in primary stats (most of them being stats you couldn't easy get bonuses to in 1E - STR/INT/WIS) is pretty high, and having rolled countless 4d6DtL statlines in my day, this looks to me like they rolled these up but booted any statline which didn't have at least 1 16 in it, or had any values under 7. I think it's plausible in the same sense that a player who rolls six sets of 4d6DtL stats and then picks the best of them has "plausible" stats for his PC lol.

You say there aren't many 17s - glancing at it and trying not to be confused by the HP having similar values I counted 11 17s and 2 18. That seems unlikely on 20 4d6DtL characters.
 
Last edited:

Zardnaar

Legend
I've often wondered what Gygaxs stats for Mordenkainen looked like.

Problem with default array in 5E is intelligence dump stat and it punishes some classes that are MAD eg Valor Bards.

5E can't balance the archetypes with each other let alone between classes so 1E different xp for the glasses doesn't look as bad lol.

B/X got the xp tables right though. AD&D was a bit funky eg Druid xp table and mid-level wizards.

I think each player rolling and they pick from the various rolled stats or the default array. Means you're guaranteed to get something viable and no one feels left out if they roll crap.

Bit of variety in the scores and nothing bad. No one feels left out either. If everyone rolls crap default array.
 

Voadam

Legend
The base methods for 1e wasn't 3d6 as alluded to in the OP, it was the now main stream 4d6k1 arranged to suit
"Method I: All scores are recorded and arranged in the order the player desires. 4d6 are rolled, and the lowest die (or one of the lower) is discarded." Although the other methods were just as valid, method 1 took rank just cos it was first!
In addition Gygax had this advice for PCs "Furthermore, it is usually essential to the character's survival to be exceptional (with a rating of 15 or above) in no fewer than two ability characteristics. " And that was in the PHB no less, so player's could reasonably ask for re rolls until they got that!
The default 1e stat generation is a bit of a nuanced question.

The PH said the "The referee has several methods of how this random number generation should be accomplished suggested to him or her in the DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE. The Dungeon Master will inform you as to which method you may use to determine your character’s abilities." The Dungeon Master's Guide provided options for how to generate stats and the methods provided do not include 3d6 in order.

However the DMG did not come out until a year after the Player's Handbook. So there was a year of official AD&D characters with no official stat generation method.

The PH also said "The range of these abilities is between 3 and 18. The premise of the game is that each player character is above average — at least in some respects — and has superior potential. Furthermore, it is usually essential to the character’s survival to be exceptional (with a rating of 15 or above) in no fewer than two ability characteristics. Each ability score is determined by random number generation."

Roll 3d6 in order and reroll until you get at least two 15s is a reasonable inference from the information solely in the PH. Roll 3d6 in order and if necessary bump up stats to meet the two 15s would also be a reasonable inference and would avoid rerolling.

Particularly when the instructions from OD&D were "Prior to the character selection by players it is necessary for the referee to roll three six-sided dice in order to rate each as to various abilities, and thus aid them in selecting a role."
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I really liked your post, but I'm not sure this broke that many games. I found exactly 0 DMs that would allow me to use that method. 4d6-L was pretty universal in my experience. Even after the UA was released.

I think that the amount that it was used probably varied depending on the area you were at - it's hard to generalize. I didn't use them because I thought it broke the game (but I say that about pretty much everything in UA).

That said, I think it's pretty good evidence that Gygax was throwing in the towel in terms of those ability-score restrictions.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
The default 1e stat generation is a bit of a nuanced question.

That's exactly correct. If you were coming from OD&D and transitioning to AD&D, you likely used the 3d6 as a default and were just adapting the new rules.

The four methods of rolling in the DMG (which is why the UA method is, of course, Method V) are listed as alternatives to the assumed baseline of 3d6, in order.

After discussing how 3d6 can create marginal characters that might discourage new players, the DMG says "Four alternatives are offered for player characters:" (emphasis mine).

To put it more bluntly- AD&D is a codification and expansion of the OD&D rules (despite whatever certain lawsuits might have alleged). 3d6, in order, is the default, and acknowledged as such. The methods proffered in the DMG are alternatives to the default.

Whether it's because it was listed first, or because it's by far the easiest to implement, 4d6k1 became the alternative that most people were familiar with. Perhaps because rolling twelve characters and selecting the one you want sound annoying (Method IV). :)
 

Voadam

Legend
I really liked your post, but I'm not sure this broke that many games. I found exactly 0 DMs that would allow me to use that method. 4d6-L was pretty universal in my experience. Even after the UA was released.
I allowed it and players in my campaign used it. It was a good way to bypass that gatekeeping you out of the good stuff (stats and classes) that 1e had. I still ended up with a party including two drow and two Grugach in my long term campaign from then though.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I think that the amount that it was used probably varied depending on the area you were at - it's hard to generalize. I didn't use them because I thought it broke the game (but I say that about pretty much everything in UA).

That said, I think it's pretty good evidence that Gygax was throwing in the towel in terms of those ability-score restrictions.
I don't think he was really throwing in the towel. If you look at the PCs his players had, there were lots of 18s, 17s, 16s, etc. It was pretty clear that he wasn't practicing what the DMG preached for a long time prior to the UA coming out. Combine that with the UA being optional rules and I think it wasn't so much Gygax throwing in the towel, but rather he was giving DMs the option to play the game differently.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
If you look at the PCs his players had, there were lots of 18s, 17s, 16s, etc.
Did we ever see stats for the PCs in Gary's campaign? I ask because the only major source that I'm aware of is The Rogue's Gallery (affiliate link), and to quote from the product history on the sales page:

Of course, these character write-ups aren't entirely trustworthy. Gary Gygax later said that at least his character stats were "quite fallacious" because he wasn't willing to give information on characters that he was still playing to Brian Blume. It's one last insight into how different things were in those early days of roleplaying, when characters might actually be secret.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Did we ever see stats for the PCs in Gary's campaign? I ask because the only major source that I'm aware of is The Rogue's Gallery (affiliate link), and to quote from the product history on the sales page:
Dunno. I'm not sure where the stats I saw came from. Maybe @Rob Kuntz can shed some light on the stats of PCs in Gary's games. Not specific values, but whether they were generally higher than the DMG methods would produce, or whether they used the DMG methods.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I really liked your post, but I'm not sure this broke that many games. I found exactly 0 DMs that would allow me to use that method. 4d6-L was pretty universal in my experience. Even after the UA was released.
Same. I think we used it. Once. Cuz we were teenagers at the time. Then it was quite clearly broken and we never used it since.

Here is one my longest running PCs (created in 1981 or 82 I think; this character sheet is from the late 80s). Those are higher than normal stats for 1e, but IIRC, that's because most of my PCs that had lower than normal stats never survived (along with others that had normal stats or even some with high stats). But having a good CON and STR score definitely helped the survivability at lower levels.

merdock .jpg
 

As I recall, 3.X was the edition which made the biggest paradigm shift in terms of gatekeeping. High attribute requirements for certain classes, multiclassing limited to demihumans, class level limits for demihumans -- all that was discarded in 3.X. That was also the was also the first edition where an attribute of 12 was enough for a +1 bonus to the roll. It felt like a breath of fresh air at the time and in the spirit of the OGL era.

In the late 1980s (which was still the 1E era), we middle-school D&D players used that 9d6 UA method to roll for attributes. We used 9d6 for our main stats and "only" 5d6-7d6 for other attributes, lol. I remember my multiclass cleric/mage having the following stats --

Strength 15
Dexterity 18
Constitution 18
Intelligence 18
Wisdom 18
Charisma 17

Today this character would be banned from almost all tables while generating massive side-eye. But in those days it was how we rolled. :LOL:
Yeah, our entire extended group unanimously perma-banned all of UA, lol. I think maybe now and then we went back and cherry-picked a few ideas, but the only things we ever used on anything like a regular basis were a few spells and maybe some items, though I don't actually recall a lot about what was in there in detail at this point. My hardcopy of that book is in mint condition. I probably opened it about 4 times total. I think that was the moment where I stopped thinking that Gary Gygax was actually some kind of hot game designer, lol.
 


All too often, this is the missing piece of context that detractors of early D&D fail to understand.

Nowadays, the norm is that you play the character you want to play because that's your character, the singular protagonist of your singular story, and just like a protagonist of written fiction, there need not be any limits on who or what can reasonably be the protagonist of your story.

In early D&D, the milieu has priority over the characters. Ability score requirements are there to make the sub-classes rare, and racial class restrictions and level limits are there to enforce the genre (human-centric sword & sorcery). Add to that the fact that the fighter sub-classes were all basically fighters but better, and you especially needed for the paladins and rangers (and, I guess, barbarians and cavaliers if you were a heretic) to be gate-kept to make the common fighters, well, common.

Unearthed Arcana looks positively insane to someone like myself, who came into the hobby during the 2nd edition days, when Zeb walked back a lot of the excesses of 1st edition: scores rolled on straight ironman 3d6 in order (without even the option to adjust stats 2-for-1 like in Basic), the sub-classes all clearly marked in the PHB as campaign-optional and pending DM approval, constant exhortation in the text of 2e to prefer low stats over high and weak characters over strong because that was a mark of "good roleplaying", etc., etc. But even 2e kept up the notion of a human-centric milieu and the fact that most PCs should be human fighters, mages, clerics, and thieves—because that kept sub-classes like paladins, rangers, bards, druids, and specialist wizards relatively rare and therefore special when you managed to qualify for them. And that was something that we've lost along the way! The 2nd edition DMG warns that if you make a campaign-specific rule that gnomes can now be paladins, don't be surprised when your campaign is overrun by gnome paladins! (A sentiment which makes perfect sense in a game where gnomes have special abilities that humans don't, and paladins have special abilities that fighters don't.)

From 3rd edition forward, the desire to center the player character as the focus of the campaign (which clearly most groups were already doing; 3e was nothing if not a response to the market demand of its day) led to a removal of all such restrictions and limits, but also a leveling of options—from then forward, humans had to be on par with all the other races in terms of advantages, and fighters had to be on par with all other classes. While the success of this endeavor has varied since 2000 (I don't think anybody would argue with the contention that the 3.0 martial types, the ranger especially, were all pretty terrible in terms of balance against the caster types), it has also resulted in a markedly different sort of game, and one that doesn't really support the same style of troupe play that really sings when you play one of the TSR editions in that style. But more notably, nobody who plays a WotC edition would ever argue that paladins and rangers are something special in the way they (ostensibly) were during the TSR era.

In the old days, having a special character was at least in theory supposed to be a rarity. Now it's the norm, and so The Incredibles maxim holds demonstrably true: when everyone is special no one is.
I think it has to be admitted that EVEN Gary saw the flaws in the original concept. His 1e DMG methods were an attempt to allow players to pick their class and race, nothing more or less. I don't think he cared much about 'power inflation', he just wanted it to be possible to say to someone "OK, lets see what sort of Ranger you can make, and then you can be recruited into The Order so we can do this adventure!" I mean, I don't know exactly what his motives and thinking were, maybe Rob does. I never really understood what the point of UA was, maybe he'd just got onto a kick to do high power S&S games and that was his way of doing it with D&D rules.

Anyway, I never saw 1e as 'getting out of control'. UA was pretty ridiculous but the other books were pretty much inline with the original core rules, and those only 'powered up' some classes slightly WRT the original game (clerics got a substantial boost, and fighters got a smaller one). 2e did mark a lot of stuff as 'optional', but since most of what was optional in 2e was pretty much standard stuff in 1e (albeit some was option in the sense of being in later books, like NWPs). So we never really thought about what those "this is optional" flags said. I mean, when I started rolling up 2e PCs (and that was only after we'd played for a good long while using our existing 1e PCs) I don't recall ever thinking "Oh, gosh I have to use 3d6 in order" I just read down to 'Method V' and saw that it was the same as 'Method 1' in 1e DMG and went ahead and used it, because anyone would be crazy not to go with that, it was the basic standard! 1e never ever even mentions 3d6 straight. It isn't even an option. So, yeah, 2e gives some GMs license to put screws on everyone, but I bet that not 1 in 1000 campaigns ever used that 'standard option'.

Frankly what annoyed me about 2e was that it STILL had all those other restrictions and minimums. I knew the style of play that theoretically supported them, but TBH I don't think troupe play NEEDS scarcity to work. I think experience has shown that players are a diverse bunch with a lot of different reasons why they want to play different things, and any option that is not truly stinky will see a fair amount of use. Moreover most players are more interested in using the standard archetypes much of the time. The logical outgrowth of that is to present the various options more as 'paths' that build on that. While 4e, for example, still has classes as archetypes, once you make a basic character it can incorporate a really wide variety of options to represent a unique vision. There is no such thing as "just a plain old fighter" at all.
 

So much to cover....

The elite characters were just that elite. High requirements was a kind of gate keeping as if these characters were rare in your campaign, as they should be, your campaign was healthy one.

Let me explain. I rarely had any paladins legitimately rolled in my campaigns, about 5 or so (maybe one less or more, it has been a long time). So, I never felt the need to armstring them into the lawful stupid some other DMs had to do. Three paladins, especially the UA variant, could disrupt a campaign in no time.

The same could be said for rangers. They were a bit more common, but not by much. Against giants and humanoids, they were devastating. Especially with the haste spell, their damage bonus vs giant class was making any fights against giants a pure joke. And giants were the most common foes for high (11+) level play. Limiting them to three rangers in a party was a good move.

And I could go on with the druid, assassin, bard and even the illusionist. Many were dismissing the illusionist as a weaker M-U with high requirements but many forgot that to have a save vs illusions, you had to take a round to actively disbelieve an illusion. With some illusions, it would be the death of the character or NPC. So illusionist were powerful as they had access a bit faster to the powerful illusions.

Even races were in a form of gatekeeping. To make some races, you had to meet a certain minimum in certain stats. And that was before you could add the racial bonus. It was entirely possible for a DM to say:" No, Dave. You can not do that elven ranger. You do not qualify either for elf, or ranger." More than once have said those dreaded words. And for those that would just play recklessly in the hopes of dying and rolling again, I would say that starting a level behind the lowest character alive was not appreciated. Most players would avoid this at all costs.

1ed was a great game, but it works on a different level of thinking. 1ed goes with the mindset that if something is restricted, it is more powerful and thus, more desirable. This creates a kind of trepidation when you finally roll your elf ranger/M-U or your paladin. This however, can lead to some frustration as the rolls might (and often do) prevent you from exploring certain character concept because you do not meet the requirements. But, it also make special characters special just by the fact that you rolled them. For other classes/races, your uniqueness would come through role play and your adventures. The journey would be what would define your character.

5ed works on the assumption that it should be the player that makes his character special, whatever that character is... This however allows much freedom but also brings a lot problems. At a certain point, how do you differentiate two paladins from one another? Race can be a start, then background then subclass. At some point, the sheer number of subclasses makes everyone special, which in turn makes sure that no one is special. The more subclasses you get, the less special your subclasse will appear. This is a vicious circle that 3ed fell into with the prestige classes... a pitfall that sooner or later 5ed will reach, if it is not reached already...

Both mindsets are valid. 5ed ensure that a group will be balanced from the get go. 1ed forces you to deal with what you were given and might force a group to hire NPCs to compensate for what the group might lack. I much prefer the later, but I do appreciate 5ed approach too.
 

The only people I remember playing T&T were playing Solo...Played a lot of Melee/Wizard by Metagaming bought The Fantasy Trip but never played. The major influencer of D&D outside of TSR and Judges Guild preAD&D in my area was Arduin Grimore by Dave Hargrave. I remember the levels going to astronomical levels, it was very popular with the Monty Hall games...
Yeah, I don't have a copy of Arduin Grimoire at this point. It was very popular on the West Coast, not so much back East or in the Midwest. Anyway, it didn't seem to stick around past about 1979 when 1e was completed, there were no rewrites or new editions to polish it up, etc. I guess you could say that the 'Immortals' rules of BECMI were somewhat a response to it, but that didn't come out until years after AG was dust.

Judges Guild was influential in terms of supplementary material, but they published very little in terms of additions to the core rules. They had the City State/Wilderlands material, and some adventures, etc. I think there was a bit of a tacit understanding there with TSR about not treading into the rules area and thus not getting into a legal tangle. Anyway, ICE soon began to carry the torch of both JG and AG in terms of creating a more expansive and detailed rule set that could be meshed with D&D, as well as some campaign material you could use with it. RM proper didn't come out until 1980, so it didn't influence 1e directly, but maybe the 'Law books' might have, slightly. Honestly I never got the impression that Gary even read other RPGs, at least not back in those days.

T&T was big in some places. It has the virtue (at least early editions did, I have not seen anything published since the late 70's) of being incredibly easy and quick to create a character, and combat can often be resolved in a single toss of the dice. Likewise other situations could be resolved pretty quickly, although you could really get as detailed as you wanted to in terms of RP situations, and the game has a pretty well-developed set of character abilities. I think one issue with it was simply that D&D was more prevalent, and T&T caters to a very similar sort of fantasy genre and milieu. One of its main forte was PBM, and Flying Buffalo managed a large number of PBM games.
 

The default 1e stat generation is a bit of a nuanced question.

The PH said the "The referee has several methods of how this random number generation should be accomplished suggested to him or her in the DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE. The Dungeon Master will inform you as to which method you may use to determine your character’s abilities." The Dungeon Master's Guide provided options for how to generate stats and the methods provided do not include 3d6 in order.

However the DMG did not come out until a year after the Player's Handbook. So there was a year of official AD&D characters with no official stat generation method.

The PH also said "The range of these abilities is between 3 and 18. The premise of the game is that each player character is above average — at least in some respects — and has superior potential. Furthermore, it is usually essential to the character’s survival to be exceptional (with a rating of 15 or above) in no fewer than two ability characteristics. Each ability score is determined by random number generation."

Roll 3d6 in order and reroll until you get at least two 15s is a reasonable inference from the information solely in the PH. Roll 3d6 in order and if necessary bump up stats to meet the two 15s would also be a reasonable inference and would avoid rerolling.

Particularly when the instructions from OD&D were "Prior to the character selection by players it is necessary for the referee to roll three six-sided dice in order to rate each as to various abilities, and thus aid them in selecting a role."
At my table, you couldn't roll by yourself. Someone had to witness the rolls. You could retire a character if the rolls sucked (they went off to become a farmer). We used 3d6 and you could pretty much keep rolling until you got a keeper or someone would witness for you(which wasn't very long for 15 to 17 year olds) . It was expected that you would have at least one 18, or a couple 16 and 17, but you probably had one to two very bad rolls. Don't remember if we ever implemented the 4d6 because I let them retire undesirable characters, I do think I let them pick where they wanted to put the rolls.
 

The plan is that eventually there will be discrete higher & lower level PC groups adventuring at different times, but I expect this will be a challenge for me to implement. Players like having multiple PCs but I expect some resistance to 'you must be this tall for this ride'. :) OTOH if players with high level PCs want to shepherd newbies until they're viable, I guess that's ok.
Yeah, I was going to say, 5e's power curve is no more steep, maybe less steep in some respects, than say 1e, which was explicitly in favor of mixed-level parties. Weaker characters simply hung back. Often they were brought as 'extras' packaged in the guise of henchmen. That way nobody was stuck running one as their only character, but if Mr Big happened to bite it, you had another guy who could step in. Otherwise said weaker character just took front in other parties that were more his level, maybe benefiting from some cast off loot he earned from the higher level PCs (often they would end up with now-redundant gear to give out, or at least "master's hand-me-downs").

Of course Dave and Gary practically LIVED running RPGs on a daily basis, it was basically Gary's day job. So they could have dozens of parties lying around, and at worst it was just managed with the almighty calendar he mentions as 'vital' in 1e DMG (so you could take enough of the powerful PCs out of circulation often enough to keep a wide mix running without needing 100's of players). I sort of suspect books like UA reflect when reality caught up and he was too busy for that, so things devolved down to a small number of super powered PCs instead.
 

That's still a terrible balance mechanic, if it even can be called such a thing. Rare cards weren't even remotely equal. I mean... Arabian Nights had a MOUNTAIN as a rare card.

By that logic, a card that automatically let you win not only the game, but the entire opponent's deck, would be balanced, because it was rare.
Yes, and there actually WAS SUCH A CARD! (well, not their whole deck, but still that was the idea). You can understand why this and a couple other equally crazy cards were the first things banned from tournament play, like even before there were restricted card rules.
 

You know I had a couple of friends who played with Gary during the early 80's. They are mentioned as playtesters for S4(The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth) and WG4 (The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun). I never asked them how they rolled their characters or if they played pregenerated characters for those sessions. I've lost contact with most of them.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top