Pre-3e mechanics vs d20 system mechanics

WheresMyD20

First Post
If you go all the way back to OD&D (before supplements), there are only two(-ish) core game mechanics in the rules:

(1) Roll a d20, add any modifiers, then compare the result to a target number found on a chart using your class & level vs. an armor class or saving throw category
(1a) Roll 2d6 and compare the result to a target number found on a chart using your cleric level vs. undead type (essentially the same idea as above, but using 2d6 instead of 1d20 - AD&D would change this roll to a d20)

(2) Roll 1d6 and compare the result to how many chances out of six something is likely to happen (surprise, find secret door, hear noise, wandering monsters, etc.)
 

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Tinker

First Post
If you go all the way back to OD&D (before supplements), there are only two(-ish) core game mechanics in the rules:

(1) Roll a d20, add any modifiers, then compare the result to a target number found on a chart using your class & level vs. an armor class or saving throw category
(1a) Roll 2d6 and compare the result to a target number found on a chart using your cleric level vs. undead type (essentially the same idea as above, but using 2d6 instead of 1d20 - AD&D would change this roll to a d20)

(2) Roll 1d6 and compare the result to how many chances out of six something is likely to happen (surprise, find secret door, hear noise, wandering monsters, etc.)

Were all the mechanic 1 checks the same in terms of whether you wanted to roll high or low? Were there ability checks? Just interested to know from a game history point of view, as I came in several years after OD&D and have never played.

Anyway, as I see it, that very early approach based largely on class-and-level tables had the virtue of simplicity. The non-weapon proficiencies and customisable thief skill percentages (among others) that came in during the late 1st and 2nd editions added a lot in terms of modelling more diverse skillsets, but lost simplicity. D20 seems to score well on both counts (maybe until you start adding too many different modifiers from feats, items, spell effects etc).
 
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...OD&D...Anyway, as I see it, that very early approach based largely on class-and-level tables had the virtue of simplicity. The non-weapon proficiencies and customisable thief skill percentages (among others) that came in during the late 1st and 2nd editions added a lot in terms of modelling more diverse skillsets, but lost simplicity. D20 seems to score well on both counts (maybe until you start adding too many different modifiers from feats, items, spell effects etc).
Nothing terribly simple about the use of attack and saving throw matrices, though 0D&D 'before supplements' was a period of what, a year maybe, before Greyhawk came out and moved the game away from using Chainmail for Combat, and introduced the Thief with it's % skills. IDK how simple using the Chainmail wargame for combat and Avalon Hill's Wilderness Survival for exploration may have been, heck, I've only heard rumors about the latter...
 

WheresMyD20

First Post
Were all the mechanic 1 checks the same in terms of whether you wanted to roll high or low? Were there ability checks? Just interested to know from a game history point of view, as I came in several years after OD&D and have never played.

Yes, all of the "mechanic 1" and "mechanic 1a" checks (attacks, saving throws, and turn undead) are roll high.

There is no official ability check mechanic described in the rules. However, it's worth pointing out that OD&D assumed a more "free" adjudication paradigm as opposed to the more "strict" adjudication paradigm that D&D has shifted towards since then.

By "free" adjudication paradigm, I mean that OD&D utilized a method of judging based on the "free kriegsspiel" model of miniatures wargaming as opposed to the "strict kriegsspiel" model.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kriegsspiel_(wargame)

Nothing terribly simple about the use of attack and saving throw matrices, though 0D&D 'before supplements' was a period of what, a year maybe, before Greyhawk came out and moved the game away from using Chainmail for Combat, and introduced the Thief with it's % skills. IDK how simple using the Chainmail wargame for combat and Avalon Hill's Wilderness Survival for exploration may have been, heck, I've only heard rumors about the latter...

Simplicity is a matter of opinion. The OD&D attack matrix for characters is only 8 rows by 6 columns. The matrix for monsters is 8x8. I typed up my own quick reference spreadsheet that I use when I run the game and the two attack matrices, the saving throw matrix, and the turn undead matrix all fit comfortably on one side of one sheet of paper. Those are all the matrices you need for combat.

According to people who played in the original Greyhawk campaign, Gary didn't use Chainmail for personal combat, only mass warfare. The OD&D rules simply state that the referee could opt to use Chainmail or use the new system. This was done partially as a product tie-in for Chainmail and partially as a nod to the fact that Dave Arneson at one point used Chainmail as the basis for combat in his proto-D&D Blackmoor campaign.

OD&D suggests using the Outdoor Survival map as a map for wilderness adventures (i.e. hex-crawling). Given that hex graph paper probably wasn't easy to get back then, it's just a simple alternative to having to draw your own map.

As I stated at the beginning of my original post, I'm talking about OD&D prior to the Greyhawk supplement, so the thief class with its d% skills is outside the scope of what I'm talking about.
 

Simplicity is a matter of opinion.
Perception of simplicity is.
The OD&D attack matrix for characters is only 8 rows by 6 columns. The matrix for monsters is 8x8. I typed up my own quick reference spreadsheet that I use when I run the game and the two attack matrices, the saving throw matrix, and the turn undead matrix all fit comfortably on one side of one sheet of paper. Those are all the matrices you need for combat.
Compared to just needing to know who rolls (attack vs save), then d20+mods vs a DC from the opponent's sheet/stat-block, yes, determining which of you roll (attack or save?), looking up your stat and your opponent's, cross-referencing them in the corresponding matrix, then adding modifiers, is more complex. The matrices represented unneeded complexity that, 26 years later, 3e finally consolidated into the d20 core mechanic. For that matter determining attacker-rolls (to hit) vs defender-rolls (saves) was (and is) needless complexity.

As I stated at the beginning of my original post, I'm talking about OD&D prior to the Greyhawk supplement, so the thief class with its d% skills is outside the scope of what I'm talking about.
Yep, I noticed. While it's interesting in an historical context, the game expanded rapidly, the first three books in 74, Grehawk & the % thief in spring of 75, not even a year latter, when the game had still sold only a few thousand copies...
... 4 more supplements by '76, with AD&D getting rolling with the MM in 77.
 

WheresMyD20

First Post
Perception of simplicity is. Compared to just needing to know who rolls (attack vs save), then d20+mods vs a DC from the opponent's sheet/stat-block, yes, determining which of you roll (attack or save?), looking up your stat and your opponent's, cross-referencing them in the corresponding matrix, then adding modifiers, is more complex. The matrices represented unneeded complexity that, 26 years later, 3e finally consolidated into the d20 core mechanic. For that matter determining attacker-rolls (to hit) vs defender-rolls (saves) was (and is) needless complexity.

Attack rolls in OD&D have very few modifiers and very small modifiers compared to d20. There's no base attack bonus and no strength modifiers. Plus, you can write down the target numbers for the eight armor classes your character sheet. As a player, you don't need to consult the table. The DM tells you the armor class you're trying to hit and you look on your character sheet and try to roll the number listed. You might get to add a +1 to a +3 to your roll if you have a magic weapon, but that's about it.

If you convert OD&D attack rolls to ascending armor class, then you have to add a modifier to your roll instead of looking at a list of eight numbers on your character sheet. Some players find that easier, some won't. YMMV

Saving throws are even easier since there are usually no modifiers and no math involved. You just write down the five target numbers on your character sheet. The DM tells you the category to save against and you just try to roll that number or better on a d20.

At any rate, the point still stands that there are really only two(-ish) core mechanics in OD&D: one for attacks, saving throws, and turn undead (using 2d6 instead of 1d20); and one for everything else.

Yep, I noticed. While it's interesting in an historical context, the game expanded rapidly, the first three books in 74, Grehawk & the % thief in spring of 75, not even a year latter, when the game had still sold only a few thousand copies...
... 4 more supplements by '76, with AD&D getting rolling with the MM in 77.
Yet there are still people who play OD&D using the original three booklets and nothing else. There's even an entire forum dedicated to it. The fact that supplements and new editions exist doesn't affect one's ability to play the game as it was originally published.

And supplements and new editions don't change the core mechanics of the game as it was originally published.
 

Attack rolls in OD&D have very few modifiers and very small modifiers compared to d20.
Nod. Magnitude of the bonus you add to the d20 is not exactly a big contributor to complexity, though.
There's no base attack bonus and no strength modifiers. Plus, you can write down the target numbers for the eight armor classes your character sheet. As a player, you don't need to consult the table. The DM tells you the armor class you're trying to hit and you look on your character sheet and try to roll the number listed.
You do write your total bonus on your sheet in d20, and it's only one number, not 9 (8 ACs copied from your column of the matrix, and your bonus, if any).

Yet there are still people who play OD&D using the original three booklets and nothing else. There's even an entire forum dedicated to it. The fact that supplements and new editions exist doesn't affect one's ability to play the game as it was originally published.
Sounds like the penultimate for the purist grognard, but it doesn't make a complicated game simple, nor consolidating the several resolutions systems of 0D&D, that morphed into myriad ones in AD&D, down to a much simpler single resolution mechanic.
 

WheresMyD20

First Post
Nod. Magnitude of the bonus you add to the d20 is not exactly a big contributor to complexity, though. You do write your total bonus on your sheet in d20, and it's only one number, not 9 (8 ACs copied from your column of the matrix, and your bonus, if any).

Sounds like the penultimate for the purist grognard, but it doesn't make a complicated game simple, nor consolidating the several resolutions systems of 0D&D, that morphed into myriad ones in AD&D, down to a much simpler single resolution mechanic.

OD&D as originally published is a complicated game? Just because you have a list of 8 target numbers and no math vs. doing math against one target number? I wouldn't call finding a number in a list of eight numbers "complicated", but YMMV.

I think we've covered over a few posts now that there are only two core mechanics in OD&D as it was originally published, not "several". Whatever things morphed into later is completely irrelevant to the discussion.

I get the impression that you might be trying to argue from a standpoint of which edition is better. That's really not the point. The point is that the very oldest published version of the game only had two core resolution mechanics. There seems to be a prevailing impression around here that all of pre-3e D&D was a complicated mess and that really isn't the case- especially when you go all the way back to the very roots of the game.
 

OD&D as originally published is a complicated game?....
It was originally published as a wargame, but is now recognized as the first RPG. It was rapidly expanded and those expansions generally included (and expanded upon!) in all subsequent eds, so I don't think 'as originally published' means as much as you're making it out to.
Do you really think simplicity is what EGG was going for when he wrote it, for instance?
The point is that the very oldest published version of the game only had two core resolution mechanics. There seems to be a prevailing impression around here that all of pre-3e D&D was a complicated mess and that really isn't the case- especially when you go all the way back to the very roots of the game.
And d20 has only the one resolution mechanic. Yes, pre-3e D&D was a complicated mess, especially when there were three versions of it being published simultaneously - you can't get much messier than that. d20 is not remotely 'simple,' either.

The things that are called out when someone tries to call some past edition of D&D 'simple' rarely are. They may be comfortable and familiar, and thus feel simple...
 

WheresMyD20

First Post
It was rapidly expanded and those expansions generally included (and expanded upon!) in all subsequent eds, so I don't think 'as originally published' means as much as you're making it out to.

It means exactly that: "as originally published." The scope was set very clearly.

Do you really think simplicity is what EGG was going for when he wrote it, for instance?

Going by what I've read on the subject, I think he was trying to get a brand new idea down on paper. His Greyhawk and Arneson's Blackmoor used different rules. I think he was trying to distill the essence of the two rulesets into a single framework that could be used by someone to create their own campaign for an entirely new category of game.

Given the difficulty of the task, I think that getting the idea across in a hundred or so half-sized pages is quite the accomplishment. It's not perfect, but it is impressive.

I think that the concept and rules of the game could have been described more clearly than they were in the original D&D set. When you get right down to it, though, the concept and rules are actually quite simple, just difficult to explain when you're the first one to do it and there's no example to fall back on.

The things that are called out when someone tries to call some past edition of D&D 'simple' rarely are. They may be comfortable and familiar, and thus feel simple...

And I think that people tend to vastly overestimate the complexity. Much of it is nothing more than suggestions and optional rules.

3e adopted a "strict kreigsspeil" approach to rules that was different from the previous "free kreigsspeil" paradigm. Neither is wrong, but they are different. Using a "strict kreigsspeil" lens to view OD&D causes a distorted view of what was intended by the original author.
 

It means exactly that: "as originally published." The scope was set very clearly.
It's the relevance of setting such a narrow scope I question. OK, so the game was less voluminous before 5 supplements came out, but that was a period of barely a year in which only a few thousand copies were sold.

Going by what I've read on the subject, I think he was trying to get a brand new idea down on paper. His Greyhawk and Arneson's Blackmoor used different rules. I think he was trying to distill the essence of the two rulesets into a single framework that could be used by someone to create their own campaign for an entirely new category of game.

Given the difficulty of the task, I think that getting the idea across in a hundred or so half-sized pages is quite the accomplishment. It's not perfect, but it is impressive.

I think that the concept and rules of the game could have been described more clearly than they were in the original D&D set. When you get right down to it, though, the concept and rules are actually quite simple, just difficult to explain when you're the first one to do it and there's no example to fall back on.
Good points. Much as I loved playing it back in the day, 1e AD&D was very complicated, and looking back at it, so much of that complexity seems entirely needless. But, considering it was an immediate successor to, 0D&D a game of a type that hadn't ever quite been designed before, puts it in context.

Doesn't make it any less complex, but puts it in context. ;)

3e adopted a "strict kreigsspeil" approach to rules that was different from the previous "free kreigsspeil" paradigm. Neither is wrong, but they are different. Using a "strict kreigsspeil"
I can't find a definition of these terms that makes sense in context, just something about 19th century Prussians.

It sounds like you're trying to say "stop reading what the rules actually say and you'll see how simple they are."

And I think that people tend to vastly overestimate the complexity. Much of it is nothing more than suggestions and optional rules.
...lens to view OD&D causes a distorted view of what was intended by the original author.
Intent can be hard to divine. When judging rather a set of rules is complex or simple, I'd rather judge the rules, themselves. Early D&D is often credited with being simple, because the books are comparatively small, pamphlets, really, some of 'em. But dealing with an incomplete system can be plenty complicated, in itself. Likewise, punting to DM judgement does not create simplicity.
 
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WheresMyD20

First Post
It's the relevance of setting such a narrow scope I question. OK, so the game was less voluminous before 5 supplements came out, but that was a period of barely a year in which only a few thousand copies were sold.

We're discussing unified mechanics. There's an assumption that pre-3e didn't have unified core mechanics. The game as originally published used only two core mechanics. Not bad for the very first time someone published an RPG.

Rules expansions and new editions came out and added more stuff. If you played a thief, your skills used d%, so you had one new mechanic to learn. It helps to make thieves feel different and stand out from the other classes. Rangers use a d8 for surprise instead of a d6, but it's the same basic concept, just 2 chances in 8 instead of 2 chances in 6. There are other things that got added piecemeal until the big reboot/revision hit with 3e. Everything from OD&D to 3e can be looked at as 25 years worth of patches to the same core system. Still, the core system - OD&D - only had two core mechanics when it first released.

Good points. Much as I loved playing it back in the day, 1e AD&D was very complicated, and looking back at it, so much of that complexity seems entirely needless. But, considering it was an immediate successor to, 0D&D a game of a type that hadn't ever quite been designed before, puts it in context.

Doesn't make it any less complex, but puts it in context. ;)

AD&D 1e is essentially OD&D with 10 years worth of supplements and magazine articles baked into it. It wasn't a redesign from the ground up like 3e was. The thing with AD&D is that a lot of the content is implied as optional, but it's not always explicitly marked as optional. If you use all the bells and whistles like weapon vs armor modifiers, non-weapon proficiencies, etc. I'm sure the game would seem complicated. I wouldn't consider any of that stuff as "core mechanics" though.

Even in AD&D 1e the core mechanic is mostly roll a d20 plus modifiers vs a target number found in a chart listed by class & level. Attack rolls, saving throws, and turn undead all work that way. The "number of chances in six" mechanic was still there for surprise, secret doors, etc. Other mechanics got into the system via updates (expansions/articles) over the years.

I can't find a definition of these terms that makes sense in context, just something about 19th century Prussians.

It sounds like you're trying to say "stop reading what the rules actually say and you'll see how simple they are."

There's more info out on the internet, but to try to summarize in a nutshell:

The German/Prussian army back in the 1800s used miniature wargames as a tool to train officers. They called it kriegsspiel ("wargame" in German). At first, the games were run according to strict rules (aka "strict" kriegsspiel). Some officers found this to be unsatisfactory since it caused the game to play out much more slowly than a real battle and allowed players to game the system by exploiting rules loopholes.

A general came up with a novel idea: have an experienced officer referee the game and use his judgement to run the game. "Free" kriegsspiel was the result.

Let's use an example of advancing your soldiers towards the enemy line. According to the rules, your soldiers move 6" per turn.
Strict: You measure out 6" and advance your soldiers exactly that much.
Free: You tell the referee that you give the unit commander the order to advance. The referee eyeballs the map and moves your soldiers forward what he thinks is about 6".

The free kriegsspiel model not only plays faster, but better simulates the chaos and uncertainty of battle. Orders might get misinterpreted, soldiers might move faster or slower than you expect, etc. It also allows players to stop thinking about the rules of the game and focus entirely upon strategy and tactics: exploiting terrain, flanking actions, etc. Ideally, the players wouldn't need to know the rules at all. All of the rule-handling is done by the referee and he's free to use his judgement instead of the letter of the rulebook if he wishes.

There are better explanations out on the internet. "Strict" and "free" are two different methods of playing miniatures wargames. They both have strengths and weaknesses.

Player accounts indicate that Gygax and Arneson used the "free" model when running D&D. Players weren't supposed to worry about the rules, they just told the DM what they wanted their character to do. The DM handled all of the rules and exercised judgement when necessary.

Intent can be hard to divine. When judging rather a set of rules is complex or simple, I'd rather judge the rules, themselves. Early D&D is often credited with being simple, because the books are comparatively small, pamphlets, really, some of 'em. But dealing with an incomplete system can be plenty complicated, in itself. Likewise, punting to DM judgement does not create simplicity.

Intent doesn't need to be divined in this case. We have accounts from players who played with Gygax and Arneson describing how they ran the game. It's not a huge leap to assume they ran the game the way they intended it to be run.
 

We're discussing unified mechanics. There's an assumption that pre-3e didn't have unified core mechanics. The game as originally published used only two core mechanics.
I get it, for almost a whole year of TSRs quarter-century custodianship of the game, it only had twice the core resolution mechanics of d20.

It's a mildly interest perspective, but not in the least compelling as any kind of a come-back to the fact that d20 consolidation greatly reduced the complexity of the game - both that d20 remained very complex.

AD&D 1e is essentially OD&D with 10 years worth of supplements and magazine articles baked into it
The PH came out in '78, all those classes had already been out in the first 5 supplements. 1e was a complete, nightmarishly complex system with the release of the DMG in '79.
If you use all the bells and whistles like weapon vs armor modifiers. I'm sure the game would seem complicated. I wouldn't consider any of that stuff as "core mechanics" though.
They're in the core rulebooks.
And there's no 'seems' about it. If you're pointing out that DMs routinely jitisoned, ignored, and changed the rules, you'll get no disagreement. They did, and that reduced complexity, some.

idea: have an experienced officer referee the game and use his judgement to run the game.Ideally, the players wouldn't need to know the rules at all. All of the rule-handling is done by the referee and he's free to use his judgement instead of the letter of the rulebook if he wishes. "Free" kriegsspiel was the result.
There's a lot of problems with that, one of the more amusing ones is that, while the Prussians would have had no trouble finding experienced officers with extensive experience of the warfare of the day, DMs invariably have 0 experience casting fireball or fighting dragons.

But, it does work to mask the players experience of all that complexity, and can save an execrable game from it's own mechanics - plus any criticism of the game can be blame-shifted to the DM.
So it is a staple.

It's also totally how I run 5e.

But, it in no way means the needlessly complicated mechanics are simple.
 

WheresMyD20

First Post
I get it, for almost a whole year of TSRs quarter-century custodianship of the game, it only had twice the core resolution mechanics of d20.

I see your point. After a quarter century of game design examples, d20 was only able to eliminate one core resolution mechanic from D&D as it was originally published.

There's a lot of problems with that, one of the more amusing ones is that, while the Prussians would have had no trouble finding experienced officers with extensive experience of the warfare of the day, DMs invariably have 0 experience casting fireball or fighting dragons.

Game designers also have 0 experience casting fireball or fighting dragons. What makes the DM's judgement, who's aware of the facts involved in the specific case, worse than the game designer's judgement, who's trying to come up with a rule to cover it preemptively?
 

I see your point. After a quarter century of game design examples, d20 was only able to eliminate one core resolution mechanic from D&D as it was originally published.
Heh. See, it really is just spin.

The fact is D&D has always been a quite complex game. d20 consolidation on a single core mechanic notwithstanding.

Game designers also have 0 experience casting fireball or fighting dragons. What makes the DM's judgement, who's aware of the facts involved in the specific case, worse than the game designer's judgement, who's trying to come up with a rule to cover it preemptively?
Exactly, the premise of 'experience & judgement' with regard to the subject matter doesn't apply.
Instead you have designers experienced in making games and players & GMs experienced in using them.
 

WheresMyD20

First Post
The fact is D&D has always been a quite complex game. d20 consolidation on a single core mechanic notwithstanding.

It's never been complex. It's only complex if you let it be complex. The rules are your servant, not your master.

Exactly, the premise of 'experience & judgement' with regard to the subject matter doesn't apply.

On the contrary, a DM's judgement knowing the facts at hand is typically going to be better than a game designer's attempt at preemptively writing a rule.

Instead you have designers experienced in making games and players & GMs experienced in using them.

Being experienced in using a game means knowing which rules to disregard and when to disregard them.
 

The rules are your servant, not your master.



On the contrary, a DM's judgement knowing the facts at hand is typically going to be better than a game designer's attempt at preemptively writing a rule.



Being experienced in using a game means knowing which rules to disregard and when to disregard them.

None of those statements have anything to do with how complex a given system is.

Though, the more complex and unworkable a system, the more you GM sense will tell you to disregard it.
 



Tinker

First Post
Does it help resolve the discussion if I quote the post that started the thread, or will it just pour oil on burning bridges?

What are your thoughts on unified mechanics versus varied mechanics? For example, pre-3rd edition D&D had a mix of methods for determining dice results: roll over, roll under, d20 for combat & saves, d100 for thief skills, d6 or d10 for surprise, etc... while 3rd edition and onward all use the d20 roll-over mechanic for everything. Do you have a preference? Or does it matter at all? Perhaps your preference is determined by the style of game you're looking for?

So the full ruleset of AD&D, any edition, is legitimately under discussion here. I suggest we note that the first publication for OD&D had fewer rules, covering fewer things, than (OD&D with supplements) or any iteration of AD&D, and move on.

I find the strict/free kriegspiel analysis very interesting. I find there are attractions to both. Using the rules quite strictly enables more consensus in advance about how tactics are likely to work and cuts down on 'my character would know that would happen so actually, no, I don't do that'. Also it makes game tactics a nice crunchy mental exercise of grids and numbers, if you like that sort of thing.

On the other hand of course I (especially as DM) feel that the world and the play both should take precedence over the rules, and I reserve the right to adjudicate freely when I wish. Also I don't like a system that gets itself so caught up in grids and numbers that game designers forget to make game-rule actions and effects easy to imagine and believe as game-world actions and effects--an issue in parts of 3e and a deal-breaker for me in 4e. Actually, if you extend this to lists, tables and typologies as well as the dear old battle grid, then it applies to AD&D as well.

I think the challenge for game designers is to come up with a rule set that is as usable as possible. In the sense that the rule set is better the more the players and GM are happy with how it handles the action they want to imagine as part of their game. The rule set is imperfect to the extent that players and GM feel the need to go against or beyond the rules to play the game they want or (if they decide to follow the rules) are dissatisfied with the game outcomes and/or play processes imposed. No rule set is perfect and you can have great games with imperfect rules, especially if you're happy with a free kriegsspiel style and aren't into rule-play, but that doesn't mean there's no value in improving rules. Also obviously every group and every session will differ in how well they suit different rules, so there's no objective or permanent ranking of rule sets on this scale.
 

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