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

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.
People still almost certainly fudged, because 3d6 will only produce one 18 in 216 rolls. So you need to roll up 37 PCs roughly to get a single 18. 17s are twice as common, and 16s about 3x more common than that, but until you get into the 100's of PCs rolled up you are really unlikely to get even 2 ability scores of 17 and higher. You'd probably have a couple of characters with 2 16s, or a 16 and a 17. at 100 characters. You have to get into the 10's of thousands to be likely to have a character with 3 stats above 16. I wrote a code on my C64 to do it, even with 100k full PC rolls I only got 2 characters with double 18s IIRC (sorting all the results was the hardest problem).
 

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Yeah...that sounds about right...It seems like we would have about 50 characters rolled before you got a keeper. Players had their favorite dice that weren't loaded but definitely had a bias to roll 6's.
 

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). :)
Right, I certainly played a lot during the transition period. At that time we saw the Monster Manual as simply a deluxe encyclopedia of cleaned up monster descriptions replacing the horrible table-based format (with multiple addenda) of the original rules (and IIRC Holmes had also a similar format, though he might have cribbed from Gary). The 'Advanced Dungeons & Dragons' text that was on the cover didn't really mean anything to us, it was just an 'advanced' book (IE better than the old books). The Player's Handbook made it a lot more clear that AD&D was a kind of 'new version' of D&D, but we simply took it at face value as a canonicalization of rules that already existed. 1e really is NOT that different from classic D&D in rules structure. Especially if you don't have the DMG! So it was certainly true that we just (as far as I can remember) continued to roll 3d6 in order, or do whatever we were already doing.

Honestly, I never saw a group that consistently used anything but Method 1 either. Even before the DMG this method had already been floating around. We may even have used it ourselves, although I seem to recall that we just rolled 4d6d1 IN ORDER, and the DMG method where you got to arrange the numbers was kind of a revelation because it meant you got to PICK YOUR CHARACTER CLASS whereas before you pretty much got what you rolled (IE high DEX, you're a thief, maybe a fighter, high WIS your a cleric, etc.). Sometimes you'd get stuck picking a non-optimal class because "that's what we need today", but with choosing the order of stats, that was the biggy, because now you put the high number in STR or CON and even if your numbers were kind of crappy, at least you probably had SOME sort of bonus someplace, or could pick a favorite race, or something.

The DMG really did revolutionize play a bunch. Mostly it doesn't do anything radically new, but the combat system was MUCH better explained (it is still cryptic, but the old rules were utterly obtuse). Also the whole structure of how a campaign was imagined to be played was presented, even if most of us ignored a lot of it.
 

smetzger

Explorer
1) Troup Play - yes, I remember doing this. Also, if someone died your new character started at level 1, even if everyone else was level 8. If you lived you just leveled up that much more quickly.

2) In general we used 4d6 drop lowest arrange as you like for PCs. I do distinctly remember having a Dwarf Fighter that befriended a human boy and wanted him to be one of my followers. I really wanted him to be a Paladin. DM said ok, roll 3d6 in order... ended up rolling a 17 for Cha, so Paladin he was.

3) I am not sure what the point of the observation about gatekeeping is... Is it bad? I don't know, at the time 1e and 2e worked well enough for me. Traveller also had gatekeeping... your character could die in in character creation... so you had to weigh the benefit/risk of staying in for more skills and possibly dyeing or mustering out. This is just how the games were played back then, you rolled up and then role played what you rolled. Would it fly now, probably not. Was it wrong, bad, fun... not really.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
The DMG really did revolutionize play a bunch. Mostly it doesn't do anything radically new, but the combat system was MUCH better explained (it is still cryptic, but the old rules were utterly obtuse). Also the whole structure of how a campaign was imagined to be played was presented, even if most of us ignored a lot of it.

I think what many people don't realize is that OD&D is incredibly difficult for someone to play "out of the box" today because it was based on the assumption that, 1) you were well-versed in the wargaming and hobby aesthetics and gestalt of the era; 2) were familiar with other products, like Chainmail; and 3) kept up with various hobbyist publications or news (either hanging out at the local store, or Strategic Review / Dragon, or whatever).

Or you learned it from someone who knew! I mean, Holmes did a good effort cleaning some of it up, but that wasn't until near the end of the lifecycle.

Which is why AD&D (1e), and the DMG, was really the first codified way to play the game. That's why the DMG preface starts thus:
What follows herein is strictly for the eyes of you, the campaign referee. As the creator and ultimate authority in your respective game, this work is written as one Dungeon Master equal to another. Pronouncements there may be, but they are not from "on high" as respects your game. Dictums are given for the sake of the game only, for if ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is to survive and grow, it must have some degree of uniformity, a familiarity of method and procedure from campaign to campaign within the whole.
(emphasis mine).

So as cryptic as 1e often was, it was really a massive clarification, elaboration, and standardization of OD&D.
 

3) I am not sure what the point of the observation about gatekeeping is... Is it bad? I don't know, at the time 1e and 2e worked well enough for me. Traveller also had gatekeeping... your character could die in in character creation... so you had to weigh the benefit/risk of staying in for more skills and possibly dyeing or mustering out. This is just how the games were played back then, you rolled up and then role played what you rolled. Would it fly now, probably not. Was it wrong, bad, fun... not really.
There is a big difference in Traveller though, older characters are not NECESSARILY stronger. You could keep going through more 'tours of duty' and probably boost your skill ratings, but you would CERTAINLY get older and your physical stats would degrade, and those were vital because they are your hit points. A character that spent 8 terms (32 years) in his career would have lost several points in CON/DEX/STR (and they were 2d6, so that would be pretty significant).
I think the dying part was more to make the career system more fun as a mini-game. You got to 'gamble' and if you got unlucky, then you had to go back and start again. We spent endless hours just rolling up PCs because it was FUN. Eventually you'd get mustered out/layed off and then you'd have to go play the actual RPG, which I think was the real point of that rule. So, yes, really excellent characters were a random, and more uncommon, occurrence but it is more just "this is the random distribution of rolling dice" vs "certain things are walled off." I mean you could ALWAYS be a Space Marine, you just said "I'm going into the Space Marines!" You might get booted after 1 term with nothing but basic weapons training, but at least you wouldn't have aged, and you were an ex-Marine, which was probably the RP you were after.
 

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.
In both our games either as co-Dms or DMs, we used a 4d6 roll for PC stats and dropped the lowest die roll,; in addition to this we sometimes rolled over on 1's, and sometimes we used 3d6 roll over on 1's, and/or on 1's and 2's. NPCs were always 3d6 straight up. Note: this is part of a House Rules document that I will publish someday which includes my use of opposing dice checks long before T&T came up with the system, and other such tweakings.
 

ehren37

Adventurer
If you’re familiar with that story, you know why it’s disingenuous to call it a rare.
[/QUOTE]

I'm sorry, but if you get it instead of the card in the rare slot, what would you call it? You also intentionally miss the point. Rare cards arent remotely balanced amongst themselves.
That’s just silly. Obviously that would be an absurd card. Rarity is a balancing tool in a limited environment. Rarer cards are able to be more individually powerful when access to them is not guaranteed. In a constructed environment, where players have unlimited access to the entire card pool, rarity is not a balancing tool, because no card is actually any less accessible than any other.

Sure, it's a balancing tool. A naughty word one. You can also "balance" on whoever has the longer beard, or is the older player, anyone who rolls doubles is kicked out of the group.

I don't get the rose colored navel gazing fascination with 1e's awful design.
 

ehren37

Adventurer
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.
This is typically spouted by those who want to ensure someone else isn't special so they get to feel special. Feel free to lower your scores or not level up. I don't show up to a game to play the BMX Bandit.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
In both our games either as co-Dms or DMs, we used a 4d6 roll for PC stats and dropped the lowest die roll,; in addition to this we sometimes rolled over on 1's, and sometimes we used 3d6 roll over on 1's, and/or on 1's and 2's. NPCs were always 3d6 straight up. Note: this is part of a House Rules document that I will publish someday which includes my use of opposing dice checks long before T&T came up with the system, and other such tweakings.
Thank you for your response. Re-rolling 1's and sometimes 2's makes a difference. You'll qualify for the harder to reach classes more often.
 

Thank you for your response. Re-rolling 1's and sometimes 2's makes a difference. You'll qualify for the harder to reach classes more often.
That's right. But this is our games only. When we did Greyhawk Supplement #1 which intros the Paladin (and Thief) this left it up to straight rolls from players in other games. By then it was becoming intuited, I feel, that some of these rolls had to be discarded. The "Argh" Rule by both Gary and myself was when players rolled 3 1's, "Just roll that over" was our staple response.
 

That's right. But this is our games only. When we did Greyhawk Supplement #1 which intros the Paladin (and Thief) this left it up to straight rolls from players in other games. By then it was becoming intuited, I feel, that some of these rolls had to be discarded. The "Argh" Rule by both Gary and myself was when players rolled 3 1's, "Just roll that over" was our staple response.
And yet the only PCs that are long remembered from the earliest days of my campaigns (the mid 70's) were exactly the ones with some horrible stat, like Gilladian the Dwarf, with, IIRC a 4 INT and a 3 WIS (but survived to max level for a dwarf fighter) and was stupider than the party Mule, technically. There was also 'Grog' the half-orc (I think later it was retconned to half-ogre) that was equally dim, but had 18/00 strength. I honestly cannot even remember the names of the supposed 'good' characters, except there was one that was so ridiculous it qualified for 1e Bard and ended being almost godlike in power due to the way hit points for bards worked (you could get well over 100 hit points without much trouble if you had high CON).
 

And yet the only PCs that are long remembered from the earliest days of my campaigns (the mid 70's) were exactly the ones with some horrible stat, like Gilladian the Dwarf, with, IIRC a 4 INT and a 3 WIS (but survived to max level for a dwarf fighter) and was stupider than the party Mule, technically. There was also 'Grog' the half-orc (I think later it was retconned to half-ogre) that was equally dim, but had 18/00 strength. I honestly cannot even remember the names of the supposed 'good' characters, except there was one that was so ridiculous it qualified for 1e Bard and ended being almost godlike in power due to the way hit points for bards worked (you could get well over 100 hit points without much trouble if you had high CON).
Well, I made no claim to best stats/worst stats. In Brian Blume's short-lived game (late '74) I elected to play a dwarf and proceeded to roll a 4 intelligence for him. Brian said I could roll over but I decided to keep it and name him "Dorf". I RPd him to the hilt. Many funny parts, such as sneaking into the inner palace and Dorf is asked by the sentry what the password is, etc. Short-lived PC/Game, lots of fun and a few sterling memories.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
I'm sorry, but if you get it instead of the card in the rare slot, what would you call it?
It was a card on a single common sheet that got left in the set by accident when the change was made from a standalone set with a different back to a standard set. It was not a rare by design, so it does not support your argument that rares are not designed to be balanced with each other.
You also intentionally miss the point. Rare cards arent remotely balanced amongst themselves.
My argument also doesn’t rely on rares being balanced against each other. The point is, in the context of a limited format, rarity is a balancing factor. Rare cards are able to be more powerful and “bomby” because they are more rare. You couldn’t have a card like Jace the Mindsculptor at common, it would ruin limited. But at rare, it’s a powerful bomb that certainly helps someone who pulls it (if their pool supports a double blue at CMC4, which is far from a given) but it isn’t going to make your deck the best in the pod by itself.

Sure, it's a balancing tool. A naughty word one.
In a play format where rarity doesn’t actually limit access? Absolutely. If there’s nothing stopping you from getting as many copies as you want of whatever cards you want, rarity isn’t a factor at all. This is analogous to the way D&D is typically played, where you can re-roll stats until you’re satisfied with the array you get, or use alternate stat generation methods that give you a better chance at higher scores. In this case, stat requirements are a non-factor. And if the stat generation methods are strictly enforced, it can in fact be very unbalancing. Like if everyone just got a single card from a Magic pack, obviously the player who got the one rare in the pack would have a big advantage over everyone else.

However, in the context of something more like limited, it can be an effective balancing tool. For example, in troupe play (which is what Gary’s group originally did, and what he was likely designing for), where each player has multiple characters, all of whom are generated randomly and any one of whom might or might not be involved in any given session of play, tracking experience separately, it absolutely works as an effective balancing tool. Sure, one player might get a character with way better stats than average, maybe even enough to qualify for a more powerful class with higher requirements. But that was just one character in their stable, and likely wouldn’t even be the best in their stable, as other characters might be higher level, or have better magic items (which were also acquired by way of random roll, with the more powerful items being rarer).

You can also "balance" on whoever has the longer beard, or is the older player, anyone who rolls doubles is kicked out of the group.
What are you talking about??

I don't get the rose colored navel gazing fascination with 1e's awful design.
1e’s design was deeply flawed, I don’t deny that. It was highly idiosyncratic to the way Gary and his group played, and there is value in trying to understand why he made the decisions he did. The question is not “is this objectively good or bad design?” It’s “what was the context in which this design choice made sense to Gary?” Context is extremely important to game design, as what is “good” or “bad” depends very heavily on what you are trying to accomplish. Rarity as balance didn’t work for the way most people actually played D&D, just like it didn’t work for constricted Magic: the Gathering. But, the way most people actually played D&D wasn’t the way Gary imagined them playing it, just like the way most people actually played Magic wasn’t the way Richard Garfield imagined them playing it. And that’s ok! WotC was smart to move away from that type of design in favor of balance between each individual characters, because that was what their customers wanted. But it’s still valuable to understand the context Gary and Richard we’re designing for and why they made the decisions they did. Because, hey, maybe some folks want to play Limited, or a troupe game, and maybe in that context, some of the old designs would actually have merit.
 
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Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
1e’s design was deeply flawed, I don’t deny that. It was highly idiosyncratic to the way he and his group played, and there is value in trying to understand why he made the decision last he did. The question is not “is this objectively good or bad design?” It’s “what was the context in which this design choice made sense to Gary?” Context is extremely important to game design, as what is “good” or “bad” depends very heavily on what you are trying to accomplish. Rarity as balance didn’t work for the way most people actually played D&D, just like it didn’t work for constricted Magic: the Gathering. But, the way most people actually played D&D wasn’t the way Gary imagined them playing it, just like the way most people actually played Magic wasn’t the way Richard Garfield imagined them playing it. And that’s ok! WotC was smart to move away from that type of design in favor of balance between each individual characters, because that was what their customers wanted. But it’s still valuable to understand the context Gary and Richard we’re designing for and why they made the decisions they did. Because, hey, maybe some folks want to play Limited, or a troupe game, and maybe in that context, some of the old designs would actually have merit.

For posterity we have Gary's answers on several questions asked in this thread under the user name Col_Pladoh:
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I don't get the rose colored navel gazing fascination with 1e's awful design.
Because it's fascinating for what it says if you read between the lines, at least to me.

Recently, I went back and re-read the AD&D 1E PHB, DMG, MM, and Deities & Demigods for the pertinent information about orcs, and realized something that I hadn't fully grasped before. Both the DMG (page 38) and Deities & Demigods (page 9) outline how clerics and druids receive higher-level spells from progressively more powerful sources. 1st- and 2nd-level spells come from their religious teachings alone, needing no higher faith. 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-level spells come from the servants of their deity (which Deities & Demigods tells us may be as strong as demigods themselves). 6th- and 7th-level spells come from their deity personally (which D&Dg also clarifies further, saying that lesser gods can grant 6th-level spells and greater gods can grant 7th-level spells).

So far, so good, right?

Now, the Monster Manual is silent on the issue of orcs and divine spellcasters. But D&Dg only has one god for orcs, that being Gruumsh. In fact, this is the case for all PC demihumans, since they wouldn't get their pantheons expanded until a series of articles from Roger Moore in Dragon magazine in 1982. So what you have is a large number of human deities who are very interested in currying favor among humans, but none of whom are actually the racial creator god of humans; contrast this with the small number of demihuman creator deities who don't care very much about their creations.

Why do I say that they don't care about their creations? Well, let's look at the PHB and DMG. The DMG section on Tribal Spellcasters (p. 40) notes that, at most, shamans will be able to cast clerical spells of 4th level. So in other words, the indicated races - bugbears, giants, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, lizardmen, and orcs - are basically being given a few spells by the servants of their deity, with their deity apparently not wanting to personally bother with them. Even the divine servants seem begrudging in what they grant, since the section specifies that only certain spells will be given. (Ettins, ogres, troglodytes, and trolls are disregarded even by their gods' divine servants, since they can't become shamans of greater than 3rd level, which means they can't progress above 2nd-level spells, which you'll recall are granted from religious practices alone).

Now, take a look at the level-limit restrictions in the PHB (page 14):

RaceCHRT2.jpg

All of a sudden, we can see that there's a lot of subtext going on here! While it's no surprise that all the gods want human servitors, most don't seem to trust half-elves very much, with their servants barely granting them access to 3rd-level spells; only nature gods are content to fully welcome them into the fold (i.e. as druids).

And half-elves are the success story among demihumans. No god wants halfling clerics at all for some reason, and the servants of nature gods will only give them modest spells. The same thing is true for elves, dwarves, and gnomes who become clerics (and can't become druids at all); apparently their gods can't be bothered to give them any divine magic, and their servants will only grant them a modest number of spells (albeit a wider selection than humanoid shamans receive); that they can only be NPCs (that's what the parentheses around the numbers means) suggests that those demihuman gods have religious strictures against adventuring, to boot.

But half-orcs? They're shut out by everyone. Only able to progress to 4th level as clerics, they can't ever receive more than 2nd-level spells, the kind you get from religious rites only. Even full-blooded orcs can coax a few spells out of Gruumsh's servants, but half-orcs are apparently too human for Gruumsh's servitors, and too orc for those of the human gods.

Half-orcs, under the game rules, are spiritually unclean.

It's a fascinating look at the world as presented under the game rules, far more than a bland "anyone can be any class to any level" take that later editions have, and this kind of reading between the lines to reveal hidden truths about the game world is why I still hold earlier editions of D&D in such high regard.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
For posterity we have Gary's answers on several questions asked in this thread under the user name Col_Pladoh:
I mean... The question was rhetorical, we pretty well know the answer.
 



Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Because it's fascinating for what it says if you read between the lines, at least to me.

Recently, I went back and re-read the AD&D 1E PHB, DMG, MM, and Deities & Demigods for the pertinent information about orcs, and realized something that I hadn't fully grasped before. Both the DMG (page 38) and Deities & Demigods (page 9) outline how clerics and druids receive higher-level spells from progressively more powerful sources. 1st- and 2nd-level spells come from their religious teachings alone, needing no higher faith. 3rd-, 4th, and 5th-level spells come from the servants of their deity (which Deities & Demigods tells us may be as strong as demigods themselves). 6th- and 7th-level spells come from their deity personally (which D&Dg also clarifies further, saying that lesser gods can grant 6th-level spells and greater gods can grant 7th-level spells).

So far, so good, right?

Now, the Monster Manual is silent on the issue of orcs and divine spellcasters. But D&Dg only has one god for orcs, that being Gruumsh. In fact, this is the case for all PC demihumans, since they wouldn't get their pantheons expanded until a series of articles from Roger Moore in Dragon magazine in 1982. So what you have is a large number of human deities who are very interested in currying favor among humans, but none of whom are actually the racial creator god of humans; contrast this with the small number of demihuman creator deities who don't care very much about their creations.

Why do I say that they don't care about their creations? Well, let's look at the PHB and DMG. The DMG section on Tribal Spellcasters (p. 40) notes that, at most, shamans will be able to cast clerical spells of 4th level. So in other words, the indicated races - bugbears, giants, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, lizardmen, and orcs - are basically being given a few spells by the servants of their deity, with their deity apparently not wanting to personally bother with them. Even the divine servants seem begrudging in what they grant, since the section specifies that only certain spells will be given. (Ettins, ogres, troglodytes, and trolls are disregarded even by their gods' divine servants, since they can't become shamans of greater than 3rd level, which means they can't progress above 2nd-level spells, which you'll recall are granted from religious practices alone).

Now, take a look at the level-limit restrictions in the PHB (page 14):

RaceCHRT2.jpg

All of a sudden, we can see that there's a lot of subtext going on here! While it's no surprise that all the gods want human servitors, most don't seem to trust half-elves very much, with their servants barely granting them access to 3rd-level spells; only nature gods are content to fully welcome them into the fold (i.e. as druids).

And half-elves are the success story among demihumans. No god wants halfling clerics at all for some reason, and the servants of nature gods will only give them modest spells. The same thing is true for elves, dwarves, and gnomes who become clerics (and can't become druids at all); apparently their gods can't be bothered to give them any divine magic, and their servants will only grant them a modest number of spells (albeit a wider selection than humanoid shamans receive); that they can only be PCs suggests that those demihuman gods have religious strictures against adventuring, to boot.

But half-orcs? They're shut out by everyone. Only able to progress to 4th level as clerics, they can't ever receive more than 2nd-level spells, the kind you get from religious rites only. Even full-blooded orcs can coax a few spells out of Gruumsh's servants, but half-orcs are apparently too human for Gruumsh's servitors, and too orc for those of the human gods.

Half-orcs, under the game rules, are spiritually unclean.

It's a fascinating look at the world as presented under the game rules, far more than a bland "anyone can be any class to any level" take that later editions have, and this kind of reading between the lines to reveal hidden truths about the game world is why I still hold earlier editions of D&D in such high regard.
Haha wow. With how passionate people get these days about orcs just being always-evil. Can you imagine how a setting where all this was made textually explicit would be received nowadays?
 

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