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Pre-3e mechanics vs d20 system mechanics

Tony Vargas

Legend
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.
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
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?
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
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.
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
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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