Pre-3e mechanics vs d20 system mechanics

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
I'm fine with either. A percentile system is no less of a burden to handle than D20 beat a DC so it works fine at the table, even mixed with another mechanic.
 

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Shasarak

Banned
Banned
Unified mechanics all the way. It's ironic that grognards who dislike the complexity of 3.PF would want to retain the old mess that was pre-3,0:

It is not really that ironic once you have learnt all the old stuff then it is probably easier to keep going then relearning a different system.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
Unified mechanics all the way. It's ironic that grognards who dislike the complexity of 3.PF would want to retain the old mess that was pre-3,0:

Low THAC0 is good, low save thresholds are good, high ability scores are good. Roll high when you swing your sword, roll low when you're picking a lock. Roll under your unmodified Dexterity score to catch the goblet that fell off the table (how the average DM would probably resolve something that wasn't covered by a non-weapon proficiency), roll under your ability score as if it was 3 lower than it actually is when trying to use this non-weapon proficiency, roll under your ability score as if it was 3 higher than it actually is for this other non-weapon proficiency. Roll a d20 when you swing your sword, resist the wizard's charm, or dodge the dragons's breath weapon. Roll % to disarm a trap or survive resurrection. Roll a d6 to notice secret doors. Roll a d10 to determine initiative.

For me the complexity was only from the shifting mods round by round due to feats and buffs. The core system was very simple.
 

Devil's advocate question: is that really harder to remember 3d6 for skill checks and 1d20 for combat than having different damage dice for different weapons? In other words, in D&D I know my sword does 1d8 and dagger does 1d4. So having 3d6 skill checks and 1d20 combat rolls would seem just as easy to remember(?)

I think it is harder, but I think that is mostly due to character sheets usually having an entry for the damage. For example, the character sheet will have a space for your equipped weapon that reads: 1d8+1 damage. So you know you need to roll a D8.

I suppose you could also list the dice needed for the check above the skill check, but that raises the question, why make it different in the first place?

This is a question that I kept asking myself as I was trying to wrap my head around the rules for the boardgame Lobotomy. In Lobotomy, every skill check is called an imagination check. The characters basically use their madness to imagine a solution. You roll a number of dice equal to your imagination score, and a result of 4 or higher counts as a success. Okay... makes sense. Ah, but unless you are doing a specific kind of imagination check, because then you need to roll 2D6 and roll lower or equal to your imagination stat. WTF?! But to make matters worse, combat also works differently. Your attack stat does not tell you how many dice to roll, like with the imagination stat, but what number to beat to achieve a hit. The number of dice you roll differs per weapon, unless it is an unarmed attack, then you always roll 3D6.

Now this is one ludicrous example, but it shows just how unplayable a game can get if the rules aren't consistent. It would have been very easy to just commit to one rule for all of these checks, and I really can't think of any compelling reason to do it different for each check. It makes it impossible to remember the rules.
 

Devil's advocate question: is that really harder to remember 3d6 for skill checks and 1d20 for combat than having different damage dice for different weapons? In other words, in D&D I know my sword does 1d8 and dagger does 1d4. So having 3d6 skill checks and 1d20 combat rolls would seem just as easy to remember(?)
It's not so much that it's more complicated, as it is that the complexity is less useful.

Rolling 1d20, or 3d6, is a way of getting a number between one and twenty (give or take) in order to determine binary pass/fail. Using 3d6 rather than 1d20 is slightly more complicated, and you have somewhat more control over the results. (Which is a perfectly reasonable trade-off, as far as game design decisions go.) If you're okay with using 3d6 for skill checks, though, then that's already a concession that you're fine with the 3d6 level of complexity. Using a piecewise system of 3d6 for some checks and 1d20 for other checks is more complicated than just using 3d6 for everything (since you have that extra step in determining which dice to roll, before actually rolling), but it gives you less control (since attack rolls still have the flat distribution). From a game design perspective, you could reduce complexity and increase control by just using 3d6 for everything.

To contrast, damage dice don't measure numbers in a consistent range. Rolling 2d6 gives damage roughly in the range of 1d12, but rolling 1d4 or 1d8 would not even be close. There's no simple way that you could resolve damage, and get numbers in those various ranges, while using the same die for everything. (I've seen systems where you effectively roll percentile to determine what fraction of the weapon's maximum damage you deal, but that's not nearly as simple as just rolling different dice in the first place.)

Although, to be fair to the Devil in this example, the independent damage die is considered to be unnecessarily complex within certain circles of gaming. Many games try to simplify the whole process by using flat damage for each weapon, or by otherwise tying the damage roll into the attack check.
 

vivsavage

Explorer
It is not really that ironic once you have learnt all the old stuff then it is probably easier to keep going then relearning a different system.
I don't really have a preference between consistent & varied mechanics, but I must admit that, having learned RPGs with B/X and AD&D, I still think of things in those terms. You want to roll low for ability checks and high for combat. I still think of armor class as running from 10 to -10. It could be pure nostalgia as well, but I do think there is an undefinable flavor and character to those old messy mechanics. I don't recall having a hard time learning when to roll high or low, or that you use a d6 for surprise and a d20 for saves. But that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
 

houser2112

Explorer
Shasarak said:
It is not really that ironic once you have learnt all the old stuff then it is probably easier to keep going then relearning a different system.
I don't really have a preference between consistent & varied mechanics, but I must admit that, having learned RPGs with B/X and AD&D, I still think of things in those terms. You want to roll low for ability checks and high for combat. I still think of armor class as running from 10 to -10. It could be pure nostalgia as well, but I do think there is an undefinable flavor and character to those old messy mechanics. I don't recall having a hard time learning when to roll high or low, or that you use a d6 for surprise and a d20 for saves. But that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

I didn't have a hard time learning them as well, but 3.0's unified mechanics were a breath of fresh air nonetheless and I didn't miss the old ways one bit.
 


KenNYC

Explorer
Rolling under your stat was the simplest of all. Your strength is a 14, roll under that on a d20. The End. No calculating proficiency or consulting a sheet to see what your modifier is, just roll the die and see the result. The problem is now having stats higher than 18 sort of kills the whole idea of that roll. However, it is far easier to just say your Dex is a 15 and you rolled a 12, therefore you passed, then as a DM wondering if this should be acrobatics or atheletics, what level you are and add the 2, did your character choose that at the start for extra proficiency, and so on.

The thief's progression table was slightly more complicated, but the trade off is the class got something unique just for them. They have a 59% chance of hiding in a shadow, well nobody else does, and that sort of implies their background as a sneaky thief and years of training. Now everyone can pick a lock or do whatever, so the thief lost some atmosphere and charm.

That is one thing I would say the new editions got wrong: vanillafying and making everything equal and fair. Everyone sort of lost a little something to make everything uniform. All they got to replace the missing theme was more dice damage and extra attacks of some sort.

I would say the best system would be to use both concepts at whim that serves the story best. For a simple dex check the roll under system works at lower levels. For grappling and whatnot, the new system works better. Plus, having no consistent system will keep the min maxers at bay.
 

Rolling under your stat was the simplest of all. Your strength is a 14, roll under that on a d20. The End. No calculating proficiency or consulting a sheet to see what your modifier is, just roll the die and see the result.
It runs aground on relative difficulty. Are you opening a stuck door, lifting a portculis, bending an iron bar, a bronze bar, an adamantine bar? Roll under with a bonus? Roll under by X, so rolling 1 is your best effort?

I settled on roll high w/o going over, so that a higher roll was a greater success, as long as it was w/in your abilities.

But, fun as it was to practically make up the game as we went along like that back in the day, it's convienent using a less baroque system that mostly sticks with one core resolution mechanic.
 

Tinker

First Post
I'm a big fan of the single mechanic, for the reasons stated by others. Some of the early mechanics really didn't work very well. Surprise was OK, for example, until a character with a higher-than-normal chance of surprising an opponent encountered one with a lower-than-normal chance of being surprised. Some didn't even roll d6s.

I've also noticed the pointlessness of ability scores, as opposed to modifiers. I'm planning to try getting rid of the scores and just using the modifiers. After a brief phase of nostalgia for ability checks, I much prefer the greater openness of d20 to varying difficulties in ability checks, skills and saving throws, compared to the AD&D roll-under-x approach.

I'm tempted to try moving away from the die you roll always being d20. It bugs me that the random factor is so big; I don't think it is realistic that an average commoner should have a 10% chance of missing a 3ft long jump, but also a 10% chance of making a 19ft jump, for example.

But I do recognise the complexity issue if you don't have a standard die roll. You could reduce the random factor by using 2d10 , 3d6 or 2d6+3, for example, and it might be better for resolving Jump checks. But probably that isn't random enough for a hit roll or a reflex save, where so many factors that might make a difference are not specified in the game mechanics. Realism would suggest wide, flat outcome distributions for some situations, and tight, humped distributions for others. But that means remembering what dice to roll when, and you're almost back to having a different mechanic for everything. So I guess I'll stick with d20 for the foreseeable.
 

Rolling under your stat was the simplest of all. Your strength is a 14, roll under that on a d20. The End. No calculating proficiency or consulting a sheet to see what your modifier is, just roll the die and see the result. The problem is now having stats higher than 18 sort of kills the whole idea of that roll. However, it is far easier to just say your Dex is a 15 and you rolled a 12, therefore you passed, then as a DM wondering if this should be acrobatics or atheletics, what level you are and add the 2, did your character choose that at the start for extra proficiency, and so on.
Determining whether it's Acrobatics or Athletics is no different than determining whether it should be a Dexterity check or a Strength check. It's the exact same amount of effort for the DM, and it's the main reason why every skill is tied to exactly one ability score, so you never have to worry about Strength + Acrobatics or Con + Athletics or anything like that.

As far as the player is concerned, checking that your Strength score is 16 is the exact same amount of work as checking that your Athletics modifier is +5, so that doesn't save any work either. So far, it's the same work for both systems, and it just comes down to which one you're more comfortable with.

The only real difference is that the DM doesn't have to determine a DC for the check, when you're just trying to roll under the value. You can go straight to success or failure, whenever you make a check, because you don't have the step where you compare the check result to some DC that the DM had to make up. Between the DM not needing to determine the DC, and the player knowing immediately whether it was a success or failure, it actually does save quite a bit of time and effort to just roll under. Of course, the trade off there is if you want some checks to be easier or harder than other checks, in which case it's significantly more effort to try and modify that roll in order to account for such a thing.
 

KenNYC

Explorer
it actually does save quite a bit of time and effort to just roll under. Of course, the trade off there is if you want some checks to be easier or harder than other checks, in which case it's significantly more effort to try and modify that roll in order to account for such a thing.

The DM can just say to add a +2 to make it harder, or a plus 10 even if so inclined. The roll under is just so easy and requires so little effort, whereas the roll over requires checking your list of 35 different proficienciies to find your plus in question. I would say it still should be used except it is so easy to get higher than 18 now, as to make the roll under method obsolete.
 

The DM can just say to add a +2 to make it harder, or a plus 10 even if so inclined. The roll under is just so easy and requires so little effort, whereas the roll over requires checking your list of 35 different proficienciies to find your plus in question. I would say it still should be used except it is so easy to get higher than 18 now, as to make the roll under method obsolete.
It's true that there are a lot more skills than there are ability score, so it can take a little bit longer to find the right one on the list. That's a fair point.

Even with saying that the DM can add +2, though, it's still not clear what you're actually saying. If you add +2 to the relevant stat before you check it, then that would actually make it easier to roll under. From context, you probably mean adding +2 to the die roll, before comparing it against the stat; so if you roll 15, against a stat of 16, then a +2 penalty would actually mean you fail.

I'm not sure whether the humor in my previous sentence is coming through, but it's the kind of sentence that can give some people a headache. And it might sound like I'm just being deliberately obtuse, but I'm specifically remembering the "armor adjustments by weapon damage type" table from AD&D, which I literally couldn't figure out because it was just a list of bonuses and penalties to certain attacks, and it never gave an example or specified whether it was modifying the attack roll or the Armor Class.

One of the really great things about the d20 system, from 3E and onward, is that it's very straightforward about allowing easier checks to low-level characters and harder checks to high-level characters. Because setting the DC is a deliberate step in every check, it means the DM can set out DC 10 checks around the low-level characters and DC 30 checks around the high-level characters. Instead of your level 2 thief having exactly 10% to pick any lock in the world, unless the DM remembers to give you an extra 50% chance on easy locks because otherwise you're worthless.

If you did want to adapt that system to 5E, though, you shouldn't let the occasional Strength 20 fighter stop you from doing so. After all, there's nothing wrong with letting them succeed all the time on unmodified Strength checks, as long as you throw in the occasional hard check at -2.
 

Rolling under your stat was the simplest of all. Your strength is a 14, roll under that on a d20. The End. No calculating proficiency or consulting a sheet to see what your modifier is, just roll the die and see the result.

True, but its also not a very flexible system. With a skill point system, you can create challenges where specialization in a skill matters.


However, it is far easier to just say your Dex is a 15 and you rolled a 12, therefore you passed, then as a DM wondering if this should be acrobatics or atheletics, what level you are and add the 2, did your character choose that at the start for extra proficiency, and so on.

I think this is silly. I've never heard of a DM having any trouble deciding what kind of skill check a player should make. I play 3.5 a lot, and I just ask my players for a jump check whenever they need to make a jump. If it's a normal jump, then the number of feet determines the DC. If there are complications, then 15 for moderate challenge, 20 for hard, 30 for very hard.

Sometimes there is more than one skill that could be used for the proposed action, at which point I just let the player decide which skill they want to use.
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm with [MENTION=82504]Garthanos[/MENTION] - the biggest change is not the way of generating probabilities and comparing them to target numbers!

Uniformity has an obvious simplicity to it, and saves having to muck about with lots of dice. But there are issues with making everything have the same granularity.

I've been playing a bit of Classic Traveller lately - it uses mostly uniform rolls (2d6, occasionally 3d6) but the modifier can be different depending on the task. It's superficially uniform, but the varying mods modify the granularity of resolution.
 

Did 1e/2e have a need for more consistent/unified mechanics? Undoubtedly. Did 3e throw out the baby with the bath water? You bet. 3e, rather than looking at each situation where a random roll was to be used (as well as IF a random roll ought to be used) instead seemed to have said “We are the Dice Borg. Here is the single overwhelmingly common mechanism we will use. All situations will adapt to service this mechanic. Variation is irrelevant. System mastery will derive not from knowing the variations in the system but from knowing how to push this single, monotonous mechanism to breaking as often as possible.” 1e, for all its faults in having too many needlessly varied and ill suited dice mechanics was still better than having one all-powerful force controlling EVERYTHING.

Some die rolls will need lots of modifiers. Some don’t. Some need fine degrees of success, others are simple, unmodified pass/fail. Sometimes what is attempted should succeed or fail without a random die roll element at all. Some need more granularity than a d20 - MANY need a lot less.

Unified mechanics is good but is not the be-all/end-all bill of goods that 3e et.al. propagandizes it to be.
 

The DM can just say to add a +2 to make it harder, or a plus 10 even if so inclined.
Aside from the intuitive hurdle of '+' being bad '-' being good, that's not any different from just rolling to hit a target number with a more intuitive bonus or penalty.
Uniformity has an obvious simplicity to it, and saves having to muck about with lots of dice. But there are issues with making everything have the same granularity.
And the same uniform distribution. Some resolutions might benefit from a normal distribution, for instance.
Did 1e/2e have a need for more consistent/unified mechanics? Undoubtedly. Some die rolls will need lots of modifiers. Some don’t. Some need fine degrees of success, others are simple, unmodified pass/fail. Sometimes what is attempted should succeed or fail without a random die roll element at all.
There could be a solid argument for mapping each dice mechanic's result distribution to the nature of the task. It might be complex, but it would be a complexity with a purpose, as opposed to the needless complexity we saw in the early game.
 

Tinker

First Post
It's true that there are a lot more skills than there are ability score, so it can take a little bit longer to find the right one on the list. That's a fair point.

The other, and probably more significant part of this point, is that ability scores (especially pre-3.0) are quite stable. They don't change every level, which (alongside there only being 6 of them) means you can easily memorise them for your character. Whereas skills/proficiencies change in the course of a career and so (also thanks to there being a lot more) it is hard to memorise them. So with ability checks you can completely cut out the step of looking them up on a list.

Of course that's only an over-riding argument if simplicity and speed of play is your over-riding criterion. Personally, I think choices about skills are an important part of character building, and improving skills is an important part of character growth. So I'm a big skill point fan.
 

Tinker

First Post
Aside from the intuitive hurdle of '+' being bad '-' being good, ... complexity with a purpose, as opposed to the needless complexity we saw in the early game.

Absolutely. You can have the simplicity advantages of the core mechanic without any of the complexity of specific skills and DCs.

If you're a fan of ability checks and don't want to remember any fiddly skill modifiers, you can just make every skill check an ability check. If you don't want to worry about setting DCs, have a default DC and depart from it as rarely as you like.

If you want to do this entirely within the d20 framework, then a default DC of 16 or so is probably the closest you can get to the older skill check, in terms of a PC with a high ability score succeeding nearly all the time.

If you want to modify the mechanics a little more to completely recapture the probability curve of older editions, then add the raw ability score to the d20 roll, and set DC to 22. For example, if I have an ability score of 11, I succeed at an old-school ability check on a 1 to 10, ie 50% of the time. Using raw score vs DC 22, I succeed on an 11-20, 50% of the time. If I have ability score 18, I succeed at an old school check on a 1-17, 85% of the time. I succeed at a DC22 check on a 4-20, also 85% of the time.

I think* it is easier for a total newbie to get playing fluently if all the rolls are d20 plus mod vs DC, than if some of the rolls are d20 where you want under your stat (ability or saving throw) whereas others are d20 where you want to exceed a number you look up on a table (to-hit, turning undead) and others are a d6 (surprise, mostly) or a d% (thief skills) etc. etc. (my memory of AD&D is failing me after this but I'm sure there are more). Obviously those who are still fluent in AD&D (not me evidently, it has just taken me five minutes to check what the mechanic was for turning undead--but let's not get started on how the books are organised and indexed!) will find their use-worn tools sit well in the hand.

*for a teenage or adult player, able without trouble to mentally sum two numbers each up to 20. I suppose if you're playing with young kids or others still grappling with basic arithmetic then 'which number is bigger' is an easier ask than 'add your mod to your die roll and then see which number is bigger'.
 
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