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OSR OSR Gripes

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
We eventually learned that a character was only going to be playable in the long run if:
Do we all here realize that there's a whole lot buried in "playable in the long run"? What does that mean?

There's an entire set of assumptions buried in this phrase about personal and group play styles and desires.
 
Do we all here realize that there's a whole lot buried in "playable in the long run"? What does that mean?

There's an entire set of assumptions buried in this phrase about personal and group play styles and desires.
Maybe...

Again, I'm assuming that there is a group of players who are more or less peers, and what the group is usually doing is having adventures, often in dungeons, against foes that at least occasionally challenge them, and that those adventures more or less resemble the sort that were published as examples of play commonly called 'modules'.

So yes, that's a lot of assumptions - not solo play, not focused on internal character introspection or exploration (what the character thinks about themselves and the world), not ensemble or troupe play where the player willingly plays a sidekick or ward of a the actual protagonist, etc. But considered we are supposedly talking about "old skool D&D" I don't think they are unreasonable assumptions.

Further, I've already sort of prompted for some possible rules changes or processes of play that would alter the math. For example, one take on the problem is that the DM could see that a particular character couldn't carry spot light or equal weight and so create for that character a story role and create party balance by DM fiat. For example, if some player insisted on playing a character with nothing higher than a 14 in a party that was evolving toward very strong and successful characters with high stats, then I could do something like say that the character was the long lost prince about which many prophecies spoke and that he inherited a +4 sword of sharpness which only could be wielded by one of the blood. Now, I've essentially gifted the player some character powers and party balance of the spotlight is restored. So yeah, I can get that there are ways around that, but what I can say is that while that's utterly obvious to me now I don't know of any DMs back then for which that sort of thing was utterly obvious, nor do I suspect everyone that I played with would have been happy about such "DM favoritism". Certainly that is a process of play that wasn't widely talked about at the time.
 
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Tony Vargas

Adventurer
The rules don't suck because we don't ever use them!
Stick a finger in it, like the Little Dutch Boy, and save your campaign from the suck.

What I am saying is that along with the fun I remember over the 10-15 years of steady play a grow sense that we could and ought to do better.
I'm with you there. I have the stereotypical D-ring binder stuffed with variants sitting a in a storage box to prove it. ;)

And for example, as a subtle case of me perhaps agreeing that a change harmed a play style, linear XP requirements compared to exponential XP requirements made the whole 'all new characters start at 1st level' pretty much something you couldn't do because new characters never caught up enough under a linear scale.
Linear XP is not a variant I recall encountering, it would seem problematic in exactly that way, though.

But much of the analysis from both the crowd I can hear and the crowd I can't, has nothing to do with rules and their effects and everything to do with the attitude of the participants - for which you don't need OSR. And no one so far has stepped on up and even offered as much of analysis as I just did talking about the change in XP to level and how it impacts how you can play the game.
Rules /can/ encourage a certain attitude, though, usually indirectly. For instance, the 5e "play-loop," which casually gives the DM license to narrate success/failure at whim rather than call for checks (under the rubric of uncertainty, a DM can also feel uncertain all the time and constantly call for checks - Empowerment, y'know), can encourage a comparatively old-school style of play in which the players carefully describe their intended actions (possibly going so far as to ask exacting/leading questions to set them up), to maximize the chance that the DM will make a call in their favor. The classic game didn't have the play loop, not formally, it just lacked rules that players could count on (or even have knowledge of) to give them a knowable chance of success by simply invoking a mechanic (which the DM might take behind the screen, anyway) - but it led to that style enough that 5e design also sought to encourage it.
 
Rules /can/ encourage a certain attitude, though, usually indirectly.
Totally on board with that.

What I typically find talking to the OSR crowd is the assertion that rules alone create the game, and there is some very tight relationship between the game created by 3e or 5e or OSR and a certain attitude of play. So for example, they'll make an assertion like, "Old games were more challenging than new games." when challenge is obviously a function of encounter design and not rule set. Played straight up by ruthless GMs, Pathfinder adventure paths are every bit or even more challenging that just about anything that was thrown at me or which I would have thrown at players, with brutal encounters that if you go in unprepared for are begging to be TPKs. Sometimes I think that's less to do with intentional challenge than just sloppy playtesting, but still, challenge is obviously not just a result of the rules. I've talked to CoC players that had spellbooks and regularly cast 'reanimate dead' and played CoC like D&D dungeon crawls.

Likewise, proposition filters that refuse propositions like "I make a search check" or "I make a diplomacy" check are not functions of the rules. They are functions of the meta-rules that I call "processes of play". How a table decides to apply the rules is a very complicated discussion, but to say that "carefully describing their intended actions after asking for clarification before acting" is a matter of the rules and not a matter of the processes of play is to IMO be utterly unreflective about how you play a game. I mean, that's how we play 3e and Pathfinder, something I'm frequently told by OSR advocates is impossible.

You are correct in some ways that the old games didn't tightly specific the processes of play, which is one of the reasons that they could play out so differently at different tables. On the other hand, I consider Gygax's example of play in the DMG one of the most clear outlines of the intended process of play in the history of gaming, and a standard modern games like FATE could learn from, not just because it explained what play should look like, but clearly described the game that the game intended to create in a way that I think FATE often fails (that is to say, FATE's creators intend to create one game, but often fail to realize that they created a different one, something that glares at me from their examples of play both in the book and when watching the game played).
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
... still, challenge is obviously not just a result of the rules.

Likewise, proposition filters that refuse propositions like "I make a search check" or "I make a diplomacy" check are not functions of the rules.
I think I follow you, but, isn't the complete lack of anything like a diplomacy check a case of a rule filtering out the proposition?

They are functions of the meta-rules that I call "processes of play". How a table decides to apply the rules is a very complicated discussion, but to say that "carefully describing their intended actions after asking for clarification before acting" is a matter of the rules and not a matter of the processes of play is to IMO be utterly unreflective about how you play a game. I mean, that's how we play 3e and Pathfinder, something I'm frequently told by OSR advocates is impossible.
It's certainly not impossible to play PF that way, it's just /also/ possible to just use the skill checks and fill in the details after the check determines success/failure.

One issue you run into when DMs start talking about why a system "doesn't let them" do something or "doesn't support the style," is not because it in any way prevents it, but because it also offers alternatives that are so much easier or better that /they can't keep their players on the reservation/.

I consider Gygax's example of play in the DMG one of the most clear outlines of the intended process of play in the history of gaming, and a standard modern games like FATE could learn from, not just because it explained what play should look like, but clearly described the game that the game intended to create in a way that I think FATE often fails (that is to say, FATE's creators intend to create one game, but often fail to realize that they created a different one, something that glares at me from their examples of play both in the book and when watching the game played).
Doesn't that include the "Caller?" I've never seen anyone play with a caller - usually all I get if I mention the concept is blank looks. Or is it the Party A/B example? (Where everyone in party A's name started with A... easy to follow if nothing else.)
 

ParanoydStyle

Peace Among Worlds
The whole OSR movement is something that I enjoy and find fascinating but I haven't actually ever played or run any OSR game. I have read through several, however. OSR games have the same problem as RPGs in general: there are too damn many of them and too few hours in the day. LotFP is super memorable for its attitude, and its system looks good, but I've seen or even own 2-4 other OSR systems that I've given a good once over and their systems seemed crisp and functional but I've never played them. I was actually working on my own retroclone, Halberd d12 for a while (I'd been exposed to 5th Ed and Pathfinder in rapid succession and was feeling very inspired to build "my" D&D) but I stopped work on the project for the same reason I went so long without starting it in the first place: there are just too many damn retroclones. The world does not need my very-slightly-different OSR fantasy heartbreaker. I have other games to make that are exponentially less redundant.


I guess if I have a thought here it's that the frustration with not being able to do things more than twice a day is not a problem unique to OSR style games. Right now my 5th Edition PC is a 3rd Level Warlock--well, she's female so I wrote "Witch" on the character sheet--it's my first time playing a Warlock in 5th Edition, and actually, I think probably ever. I can cast two spells a day and I won't be getting a 3rd spell slot per day until like 11th level. I mean, I must acknowledge that Warlocks do get other good stuff, like cantrips and invocations and various class features, but I had not realized it was not a "real"/"full" casting class until three sessions into playing one. My bad, but as I seldom get to PC--or more accurately, I plan on PCing seldom and DMing far more often--it is kind of a bummer.

I know it's not really comparable to playing a 1st level Wizard in OD&D, AD&D, or any retroclone, where you can cast two spells a day and also die in one hit to virtually anything.
 

Zardnaar

Adventurer
You know warlock spells recharge on a short rest? At level 11 you probably get 9 5th level spells a day assuming 2 short rests.
 
I'm wondering "where's the fun?" in OSR games like Labyrinth Lord/Swords and Wizardry?
Using your wits to avoid rolling dice, and solving situations through creative thinking. That's where the fun is. In OSR games, when you're confronted with a challenge, you don't look to your character sheet first; rather, you look to your own ingenuity first.
 
I think I follow you, but, isn't the complete lack of anything like a diplomacy check a case of a rule filtering out the proposition?
I'm inclined to agree that if the rules don't provide a 'move' then you can't directly reference the move, which is interesting and something I'm going to have to think about. But the reverse is not true. Just because the rules provide a 'move' doesn't mean that the table's proposition filter allows you to directly access the move without indicating the specific fictional positioning you are taking up.

However, 1e AD&D did have a diplomacy check and at times I used it as one. 1e AD&D had a reaction test, which could be made more generic than its specifically called out usages. And further, remember that most 1e AD&D tables improvised some sort of skill check at least some of the time as an ad hoc ruling. The most common of which was rolling an ability score or below. This procedure wasn't explicitly laid out in the rules, but it does critically show up in published examples of play - those modules that I was talking about. So conceivably you could have "old skool" tables where it was a valid proposition that a GM would have acted on for a player to declare, "I want to make a charisma test to convince the guard to let us through the gate after dark." Whether a GM allowed that, or whether they would have done something like my preferred procedure of RP in character first to earn your fortune test, or whether they would tend to prefer a procedure of IC conversation only, or whether they accept as valid a proposition like, "I try to convince the guard to open the postern gate by explaining we are on an important mission for the temple." is not something that the rules of the game really specified. It was up to the DM to decide what the proposition filter would be.

And frankly, it still is. That hasn't changed at all despite changes in the rules.

It's certainly not impossible to play PF that way, it's just /also/ possible to just use the skill checks and fill in the details after the check determines success/failure.
Yes, but as I just outlined, it was possible to play that way in 1e AD&D as well and I saw example of it - not used consistently, but certainly examples - as far back as the late '80s.

One issue you run into when DMs start talking about why a system "doesn't let them" do something or "doesn't support the style," is not because it in any way prevents it, but because it also offers alternatives that are so much easier or better that /they can't keep their players on the reservation/.
I don't have much sympathy for a DM that can't run his own table.

Doesn't that include the "Caller?" I've never seen anyone play with a caller - usually all I get if I mention the concept is blank looks. Or is it the Party A/B example? (Where everyone in party A's name started with A... easy to follow if nothing else.)
It's the example that's been retro named something like "The Monastery of the Order of Crimson Monks" or something of the sort. The one with the map.

Yes, it does have a caller, but if you look at the example of play Gygax only addresses the caller when the group is taking an action as whole (like do we go down this corridor and in what marching order). When individuals take individual actions, then Gygax doesn't insert the caller in between himself and the player, and instead goes through proposition->fortune->result loops directly with that player.

And this is genius, and I never understood how genius ("Why do we need a caller? I've never needed a caller!") this was until about 20 years later when I actually ran a group of 10-12 strangers. Suddenly you realize as a DM, "We need a caller." One of my biggest revelations about play in the last 20 years is that quantity has a quality all its own. I mean I always knew this in general, but I'd never really appreciated how it impacted game style and even game goals.
 
Using your wits to avoid rolling dice, and solving situations through creative thinking. That's where the fun is. In OSR games, when you're confronted with a challenge, you don't look to your character sheet first; rather, you look to your own ingenuity first.
Picking on you here Quickleaf because I know you are good about it, but this is exactly the sort of statement that doesn't have perspective that I'm mocking in my conversation with Tony.

"You'll find its really different here from other places. People around here really like to eat food. We're different that way."

This is an attitude of play, and not something that has to do with rules.

I'm getting a chance to be a player for the first time in a while, and one of the other players is pretty new to gaming and really his whole experience of play to this point has been playing a Paladin. Now, for a change of pace, he's playing a Rogue. And this is something I'm continually coaching him on - when you play a rogue it's very important when you're confronted with a challenge to use your ingenuity and to treat your skills like saving throws when your ingenuity fails you. So, you check for traps using your ingenuity as a player, and then you fall back to checking for traps using your skills as a character.

And this is Pathfinder we are playing. But that's always how it has been since 1e AD&D.

It's not a rules thing. I mean maybe the OD&D players of the 'one true game' didn't have a thieves "saving throws" to fall back on but it's not like thief skills are a new concept.
 
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Tony Vargas

Adventurer
I'm inclined to agree that if the rules don't provide a 'move' then you can't directly reference the move, which is interesting and something I'm going to have to think about. But the reverse is not true.
What a game doesn't do is as important to it's flavah as what it does do.
Just because the rules provide a 'move' doesn't mean that the table's proposition filter allows you to directly access the move without indicating the specific fictional positioning you are taking up.
Yep.

However, 1e AD&D did have a diplomacy check and at times I used it as one. 1e AD&D had a reaction test, which could be made more generic than its specifically called out usages. And further, remember that most 1e AD&D tables improvised some sort of skill check at least some of the time as an ad hoc ruling.
Aren't we talking about not-rules at that point, just like the OSR set. 1e didn't have diplomacy. It did have a reaction adjustment for CHA (and for Race), and a check - which, as usual, some tables used religiously and others were unaware of & everything in between - upon initial encounters. Not so much diplomacy as first impressions.

Yes, but as I just outlined, it was possible to play that way in 1e AD&D as well and I saw example of it
It was possible to run 1e that way, if you expanded the meaning/use of one rule, and added roll-under mechanics.

Yes, it does have a caller, but if you look at the example of play Gygax only addresses the caller when the group is taking an action as whole (like do we go down this corridor and in what marching order).
...and how they split up to investigate a room, IIRC.

"Why do we need a caller? I've never needed a caller!") this was until about 20 years later when I actually ran a group of 10-12 strangers. Suddenly you realize as a DM, "We need a caller."
Heh. What I noticed about the Caller is that, even though no one played with the idea of one, most tables had a de-facto Caller. whichever player was the most assertive, or friendliest with the DM.


One of my biggest revelations about play in the last 20 years is that quantity has a quality all its own. I mean I always knew this in general, but I'd never really appreciated how it impacted game style and even game goals.
Interesting.
 
It was possible to run 1e that way, if you expanded the meaning/use of one rule, and added roll-under mechanics.
Yeah, but groups may have independently invented the roll-under mechanics, but they are right there in the published materials from TSR.

If you read a bunch of TSR AD&D modules closely, one thing that quickly becomes clear is that a ton of different designers all independently found that if they expanded encounters beyond the 20'x30' room, they needed some sort thing we'd now call a Dexterity check or a Reflex save to fairly adjudicate the player interacting with the terrain. And they each made slightly different rulings. Some tended to prefer straight luck based percentage checks - flat 20% chance you fall off the cliff and die. Others used the roll under Dexterity mechanic. Others would call for a saving throw versus Paralyzation or against Death Magic, extending the notion of the saving throw to cover areas that wasn't covered by the problematically narrow and yet numerous saving throw mechanics of the official game which neither covered the whole space of challenges nor avoided partially overlapping (something that the rules itself had to use footnotes to handle the ambiguity of). Some would bounce back and forth between the different things depending on how they imagined the challenge.

In each case you have a DM's ruling - the writer of the module - turning into something like an official statement on how to play as an example of play in an officially published supplement. And the more popular versions of these things that look like extensions of the rules became more or less canonical at different tables.

So you could reasonably assert that 1e AD&D had no reflex save. But you could equally reasonably assert that it had several of them, at least two of which look like a modern skill based fortune test, but it simply lacked a unified guideline on when to apply them.

What it wouldn't be reasonable to say is that a AD&D referee calling out for roll under Dexterity or roll under Charisma was some how breaking the rules or playing the game in a way it wasn't intended to be played. After all, it's obvious from reading that everyone working at TSR played it like that at least some of the time, and encouraged customers of the game to play it that way as well.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
If you read a bunch of TSR AD&D modules closely, one thing that quickly becomes clear is that a ton of different designers all independently found that if they expanded encounters beyond the 20'x30' room, they needed some sort thing we'd now call a Dexterity check or a Reflex save to fairly adjudicate the player interacting with the terrain. And they each made slightly different rulings. Some tended to prefer straight luck based percentage checks - flat 20% chance you fall off the cliff and die. Others used the roll under Dexterity mechanic. Others would call for a saving throw versus Paralyzation or against Death Magic
There was a lotta that kind of thing back in the day, not just D&D, but the wargames that presaged it often had variants for a specific scenario.
But, IMHO, in this context, the author of a module corresponds to a DM, not a designer.

...In each case you have a DM's ruling - the writer of the module - turning into something like an official statement on how to play as an example of play in an officially published supplement.
I feel like it stays a DM's ruling, maybe with a little extra panache for being published, but not an 'example of play.' Likewise all the great stuff Len Lakofka published in The Dragon. Nice variants, but not actually 1e rules.

What it wouldn't be reasonable to say is that a AD&D referee calling out for roll under Dexterity or roll under Charisma was some how breaking the rules or playing the game in a way it wasn't intended to be played.
Mainly because it was intended to be played as the DM saw fit. I could call for roll-under at a 5e table and I wouldn't be deviating, either. ;)


(Actually, I like roll high, but don't go over, for stat checks - makes 'em more comparable laterally, allows for the equivalent of a DC.)
 
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I feel like it stays a DM's ruling, maybe with a little extra panache for being published, but not an 'example of play.' Likewise all the great stuff Len Lakofka published in The Dragon. Nice variants, but not actually 1e rules.
I agree that Len wasn't a TSR employee and that everything in Dragon was unofficial until republished elsewhere (such as the Unearthed Arcana, though I've heard of groups that never adopted the Unearthed Arcana).

However, there are edge cases. For example, in 'Isle of the Ape', Gygax published a very much needed extension of the 'to hit' table for monsters that extended the table up above 16HD so that things over 16HD actually stood a chance versus high level PCs. Was that actual rules despite appearing in a module? Or was that just a variant? And by your argument that the game was intended to be played as the DM saw fit, isn't everything a variant?

What Len however is a very important example of is the sort of discussion going on about problems with some of the rules that irritated people at the time.
 
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Tony Vargas

Adventurer
I agree that Len wasn't a TSR employee and that everything in Dragon was unofficial until republished elsewhere (such as the Unearthed Arcana, though I've heard of groups that never adopted the Unearthed Arcana).
But, you'll hear people talk about d10 initiative or another of his variants as if they were /the rules/ of 1e.

Was that actual rules despite appearing in a module? Or was that just a variant? And by your argument that the game was intended to be played as the DM saw fit, isn't everything a variant?
No, Yes, and prettymuch yes. Obviously, the stuff between the covers of an actual rulebook can be considered the baseline … when all that stuff agreed with all the other stuff between the same covers...

What Len however is a very important example of is the sort of discussion going on about problems with some of the rules that irritated people at the time.
Without the internet, it happened in the pages of The Dragon, yes. And considerably more politely.
 

the Jester

Legend
So by all means, explain how on the basis of the rules I'm wrong about the viability of characters. Or if I'm not wrong, explain what rules exemptions or modifications you used...
My experience was that almost any character, regardless of stats, could be fun to play, and that almost any character, regardless of stats, was one bad roll away from death or other career-ending disaster. So my favorite, and highest level, fighter that I played in 1e (he probably made around... 11th level?) had a Str of 16 and never had a strength-boosting item. Yet he was an awesome character and really fun, which certainly fits my definition of "viable".

Meanwhile, characters with great stat arrays would fail a save vs. Poison and die. Or catch a lethal disease and die. Or get exposed to yellow mold/green slime/toxic gas and die.

It really wasn't a matter of rules so much as attitude and style of play.

I'm trying to explain why fidelity to "old skool" rule sets is a misguided sort of fidelity.
Not if it's what someone enjoys. Even if the appeal is 100% nostalgia, if a game scratches that itch, if it is fun because of that, awesome- have fun. It's not for me to cry badwrongfun.

Remember, it is the OSR people that insist the rules create the experience of play, otherwise there would be no need to adopt "old skool" rules. Yet, it is equally the OSR people avoiding a discussion of why that is so that has any specifics in it. Instead, we get generic applies to any edition of D&D assertions like, "You really need to prepare for combat instead of blindly charging in if you want to succeed." or some other weak sauce statements that remind me of every small town in America's claim to have "world famous BBQ".
I'm not sure who is insisting on what here, but in general, I'd say that rules definitely inform the experience of play, and some rule sets definitely enable some play styles better than others. Sure, you can do the work to tweak any system for any style, but it's often easier and better to just work with something that is already suited to what you're after.

Anyway, I never found the range between two characters with differing stats to be game-breaking or fun-stopping. It just wasn't like that for me. Maybe some of that was DMs being more prone to fudge; maybe some of it was that we were a bit more cavalier with pc lives when one bad roll could end you and about half of all pcs died at first level.
 
My experience was that almost any character, regardless of stats, could be fun to play, and that almost any character, regardless of stats, was one bad roll away from death or other career-ending disaster. So my favorite, and highest level, fighter that I played in 1e (he probably made around... 11th level?) had a Str of 16 and never had a strength-boosting item. Yet he was an awesome character and really fun, which certainly fits my definition of "viable".
So, your favorite character - the one that got to your highest level - had a 16 in their prime requisite, and thus was entitled to a 10% XP bonus and a +1 bonus to damage. So, yes, just about any character could be fun to play - Ogdin Mudstump, Dwarf Thief, was fun to play for his short career. But it's not surprising at all that your favorite character was one that was at least on the playable side of the equation.

However, your favorite character would totally outclassed by one with two 17s or an 18 strength. I'm guessing that didn't happen (or you did actually have another score of 16 or higher). Your 11th level fighter only would have had about 47 hit points, and that's not really viable for a front line character when you are facing off against level X monsters. If that same fighter had say a 16 Strength and also a 17 Constitution, so that they have say about 74 hit points, now we are talking. Or if you had 16 Str but also a 17 Dex, so that with plate and shield at 2nd level and without magic you'd be in that all important negative AC range, that might make up for not having any hit points. As a practical matter, you'd get hit only about half or a third the time as the same fighter with a 14 Dex through those low levels because orcs and the like would need a 20 to hit you as opposed to say a 17. That's huge.

Meanwhile, characters with great stat arrays would fail a save vs. Poison and die. Or catch a lethal disease and die. Or get exposed to yellow mold/green slime/toxic gas and die.
Did you not have a cleric in the party?

It really wasn't a matter of rules so much as attitude and style of play.
Style of play can go a long way, as can having a group with a particular attitude.

Anyway, I never found the range between two characters with differing stats to be game-breaking or fun-stopping. It just wasn't like that for me. Maybe some of that was DMs being more prone to fudge; maybe some of it was that we were a bit more cavalier with pc lives when one bad roll could end you and about half of all pcs died at first level.
Half of all characters dying at first level was normal. A lot of the time players would start with two characters (if the DM allowed it) and use one as a meat shield for the better character. Or if the DM didn't allow that, they'd buy a dog (a 2HD dog would likely outclass a starting fighter in a lot of ways) or hire a man-at-arms if they could and have the NPC shield for their character. (Who says charisma is useless?) But if you had good stats you got out of that danger zone fairly quickly. The difference between a character with 16 CON and one without it is huge. The difference between a 1st level Ranger and a 1st level Fighter with no fighter bonuses for stats above 17 is huge, because you start with that second HD. The difference between a M-U that has a 14 Int and one that has an 18 Int isn't that great to start, but by the time you hit name level the differences in your chance to learn a spell and your maximum number of spells in your spell book is massive. In 3e terms, once you start hitting name level, the 14 Int M-U is a tier 3 character, but the 18 Int M-U is tier 1 because you can learn most of the spells you want to learn and you can learn enough spells to have a solution for any problem.

Characters with different ability scores in 1e AD&D were practically playing a different game. One of the reasons 4d6 drop the lowest is such a terrible method is that in a group of 6 people who aren't cheating, you'll one player that will be like 40 point buy in 3e terms, and another that will be like 15 point buy. The power levels of party members will be all over the place.

One bad roll ending a low level character was normal. One bad roll shouldn't end a high level character who is part of a party unless the DM is just throwing crap at the party left and right. Instant death save or die poison is not fatal if you fail your save, and you have a 7th cleric either in the party or as a henchmen - slow poison, neutralize poison, character is back in action. Don't travel without one.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Maybe...

Again, I'm assuming that there is a group of players who are more or less peers, and what the group is usually doing is having adventures, often in dungeons, against foes that at least occasionally challenge them, and that those adventures more or less resemble the sort that were published as examples of play commonly called 'modules'.
Yes, but do you realize how much variation in playstyle and play goals there still is/was between groups given those parameters? I mean, correct me if I am wrong, but a run-of-the-mill thief would not be considered viable under your parameters.

Do you actually think most of the rest of us who played found that to be true? If not, we ought to consider why others found it viable, and you did not.


But considered we are supposedly talking about "old skool D&D" I don't think they are unreasonable assumptions.
This has nothing to do with the assumptions being unreasonable. It has to do more with what your definition of "viable" really is. What are the expectations that mark the difference between viable and not?
 
Yes, but do you realize how much variation in playstyle and play goals there still is/was between groups given those parameters? I mean, correct me if I am wrong, but a run-of-the-mill thief would not be considered viable under your parameters.

Do you actually think most of the rest of us who played found that to be true? If not, we ought to consider why others found it viable, and you did not.
I played a thief pretty much at every opportunity. And no, they aren't viable. This wasn't something that was immediately obvious to me at first, and I certainly had lots of enjoyment playing a thief. When you first start playing, especially as a kid, this is all so new and wonderful that literally anything we did was fun, including monotonous hack and slash.

But the longer I played, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was playing a character that couldn't pull their weight. Again, this wasn't an immediate realization, it came about from having a lot of experience with the class both as a player and as a DM keeping track of things. Most of the time I played I was focused on my ability as a player and I just sort of had always assumed that also there was this character class that enabled my favorite play style. But my first big revelation was as a DM after I introduced a house rule that XP other than XP per hit point/damage inflicted was shared. (There were a few other ways I'd been allowing individual XP as well, RP awards, story awards, individually earned or stolen treasure.) It turned out when I started tracking it that the high strength fighter was doing more damage than the other 5 characters in the party combined, and after that revelation I noticed the thief in the group honestly didn't have much to do despite my attempts to provide utility. Whether the player was aware of this I couldn't say, but it changed the way I looked at the game.

And as a player I started to notice a few things, especially as we got to higher level.

a) Even in a round where I got a backstab in, I typically did less damage than the party fighter did every round. If I could backstab every round, I'd still be a bad fighter. I wasn't really helping in combat. In fact, the party would be better served by a reasonably skilled 5th level fighter henchmen than my 10th level thief. On average a fighter half my level was better in me in every single metric - hit points, THAC0, damage, and relatively quickly most saving throws.

b) All my saving throws at low level had been pretty darn good, but the class actually functioned more or less the opposite of a M-U in that as you leveled up you got relatively worse. You had a linear power increase that was much much slower than fighter classed characters. I had always just assumed without questioning it that this slow rate of advancement was made up for by the fact that I could level up more quickly, resulting in a balance. But then I noticed that at most I was keeping about a level ahead of even the M-U in the party, and my assumption of faster advancement was blown. Mathematically I needed to keep at least 2-3 levels ahead of other classes just to keep up with them, but that really didn't happen. For most played levels I was 0-1 level ahead of the party. And it also became obvious to me as a DM as I was doing encounter design that the thief had no good save. I had been looking for something to serve as what we'd now call a reflex save, but there wasn't an obvious candidate for that in the list. Some other class always had a better save than you. The best I could do was call for roll under Dex checks, but then no one really got better at those.

c) It had always been obvious to me that the success of the class was primarily based on the players wit. That was one of the reasons that I liked it (aside from I think normal youthful rebellion). At low levels your 'thief skills' were so unreliable and the consequences of failure so high, that the correct move was to almost never use them. As has been pointed out humorously in popular media, it would have been smarter to have the party fighter blunder into the trap and spend a spell to heal him, than risk a disarm traps roll as a thief with basically no hit points. So disarming traps was something I usually did without regard to the skill. But if I wasn't actually going to use the character's skills, couldn't I in fact do this job as a fighter? At higher levels, your thief skills became reliable enough that you could start to rely on them as a saving throw, at which point you could be a better thief than the party fighter. However, by this point your thief abilities had been completely and in all ways outclassed by the even more reliable abilities of spell-casters. For example, while I could climb a wall with some reliability, a M-U could cast spider climb to climb walls with utmost reliability and perform feats of climbing I could never really aspire to (like hanging upside down from the ceiling). Or a M-U could cast fly and climb without a wall. I could somewhat reliably 'hide in shadows'. But an M-U could cast invisibility and hide with utmost reliability, including while moving and without concealment. I could find traps with some level of reliability, but the cleric could cast Find Traps and find them with greater reliability. I could hear noise, but both the M-U and the cleric had a variety of divination spells that outclassed anything I could do. I could open locks, but the M-U could knock open doors reliably - including in situations where I had no real chance of success. I could disarm traps, but a M-U with an unseen servant had vastly better scope to disarm traps safely using their wit and better dungeon hygiene than I could ever manage. I could use wands, but by this level an M-U could in theory actually make a wand. For a while I justified to myself that I still had the valuable role in the party of conserving the spell-casters very limited spells slots. But none of the spells I listed was in fact a high level spell. They were all relatively minor spell slots, and after a while I started to realize that even if I could in fact conserve a spell-casters spell slots with good play, on an average day the number of spell slots I actually conserved were less than I would have were I an equivalent level spell-caster. If I was a M-U that specialized in the sort of magic I was trying to conserve, I'd not only do my job better, but be able to say throw out a fireball occasionally. I was in fact a bad spellcaster as well as a bad fighter.

At that point I started to realize why my fun playing the class was diminishing, and my deeper understanding of how the game actually worked only increased the frustration further. My most beloved character was a multi-classed Thief/M-U, and that character was able to do what the thief class couldn't do on its own - provide me tools for my creativity that let me actually do far more creative things than I could ever do with just my wit. It also meant that I was no longer wholly reliant on getting the DM to rule favorably on my actions, because spells were packetized narrative force that let you essentially state thing about the fiction. (Of course, at the time I didn't have any of that language to describe why this was better.) So my agency and ability to succeed were increased by playing the more viable character.

And I certainly didn't need to play a non-viable character to prove I could succeed anyway and so self-validate in that manner. I'd had measures of success before I had system mastery/understanding.

This has nothing to do with the assumptions being unreasonable. It has to do more with what your definition of "viable" really is. What are the expectations that mark the difference between viable and not?
Well, I'm not sure I can put them into words succinctly, but I think I just did a very good job of explaining why the thief in particular wasn't viable. The close I can get to answering you is that for whatever your goal of play is, for whatever your aesthetic of play, there is a viable character that fulfills that goal of play better than a non-viable character. This is true even if your aesthetic of play is gonzo and you are happy to play comic relief, or if your aesthetic of play is casual and you just want to hang out with your friends and socialize. The only goal of play I can think of that is fulfilled by playing a non-viable character is if you actually want to experience and explore the frustration of failure and defeat, but that sort of thing doesn't require a bad character. Nor for that matter can you say, "I enjoy playing a character that has flaws and weaknesses so I need to play a non-viable character." There is nothing that prevents you from playing a viable character with flaws and weaknesses whether mechanical or imposed through your RP of the character (deliberately chosing less than optimal play in order to reinforce character traits).
 
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the Jester

Legend
So, your favorite character - the one that got to your highest level -
For clarity: He was my favorite fighter, not favorite 1e character overall.



...had a 16 in their prime requisite, and thus was entitled to a 10% XP bonus and a +1 bonus to damage. So, yes, just about any character could be fun to play - Ogdin Mudstump, Dwarf Thief, was fun to play for his short career. But it's not surprising at all that your favorite character was one that was at least on the playable side of the equation.

However, your favorite character would totally outclassed by one with two 17s or an 18 strength. I'm guessing that didn't happen (or you did actually have another score of 16 or higher).
The half-orc fighter who he adventured with for years had an 18/Something strength. (Probably in the 80's or 90's.) Yes, he was stronger and did more damage. That didn't make me have any less fun.

Your 11th level fighter only would have had about 47 hit points, and that's not really viable for a front line character when you are facing off against level X monsters.
And yet he was a front line character much of the time and managed to live to old age and retirement.

I guess I'm not quite sure what you mean by "viable"- I think you're using a very different system for evaluating what was viable. Your argument that thieves were not viable, for instance, doesn't match up with my play experience. Obviously, every table is, and was, different; what you say may have been true for your games. But no matter how many arguments you make, it doesn't make it true for my play experience. I'm not disputing that, if you stick to the numbers alone when analyzing early-edition D&D, you make some good points; but I think that kind of analysis is missing the forest for the trees. There's more to D&D than your ability scores.

Did you not have a cleric in the party?
Often, but not always. And the cleric didn't always have enough resources to prevent save or dies- imagine the (not uncommon) scenario of poison gas that gets the whole party (of 8ish!).

One bad roll ending a low level character was normal. One bad roll shouldn't end a high level character who is part of a party unless the DM is just throwing crap at the party left and right. Instant death save or die poison is not fatal if you fail your save, and you have a 7th cleric either in the party or as a henchmen - slow poison, neutralize poison, character is back in action. Don't travel without one.
We didn't use henchmen much. With ony pcs and porters, one bad roll was indeed enough.
 

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