D&D General TSR to WoTC shift--OR--the de-prioritization on Exploration spells/classes

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Thought exercise

The other day I had heard something from Joe the Lawyer about how spells like knock, wizard eye, etc were important in TSR era D&D because they allowed you to get to that treasure, and it really resonated with me in the debate between OSR (TSR era) and "modern" (WotC) D&D styles.

XP for Treasure
Many of you who have never played TSR era D&D have still heard how you were awarded XP for treasure. This was true. You might get 100xp for the monster, but 500-1000 xp for the value of its treasure. This changed with WotC (well, started to in 2e, but was still an optional rule). People tend to act in ways that foster the reward. Basic human psychology. We do things at work that we are rated/rewarded on. Same for games.

Result
What I saw happening as result was that combat was not only done more often, but it was expected. I saw a shift from "not every monster should be beatable" to "every encounter should be beatable" in attitudes as modern DnD took hold. There was an increased expectation from players that every combat encounter should be winnable because that's how you got your XP. Contrasted with TSR DnD, where most of us had an expectation of play that you avoided combat whenever possible (because it was so dangerous) and found ways to bypass the combat and go to the treasure (where the XP was).

With this shift was the de-prioritization of the Exploration pillar in at least two very prominent ways:

Spells
In TSR era D&D, utility spells were important, and often more important than combat spells. Most old school players knows how only a newbie Magic User takes Magic Missile at first level, the real powerful spell to take was either sleep or charm person. Spells like levitate, knock, teleport, invisibility, and dispel magic were very important. Sure, you also had combat spells, but crowd control was more important than DPR: hold person, sleep, stinking cloud, etc. If I were to make a guess, I'd say over 50% of your memorized spells were utility spells. Again, bypass monsters and traps (which there were a lot of), and get to the treasure.
In modern D&D, I'd say close to 75% of cast spells are combat encounter orientated. That's the style of play. Along with a philosophy of "every character should be able to overcome any challenge" (as opposed to how TSR emphasized a team niche aspect), there isn't as much of a need to spend your spells on exploration or utility spells--some other class has a power to help with that.

The thief
I've seen, many times, how modern D&D players look at the AD&D thief and think it's a woefully underpowered class. From a modern lens, I can see how that might be, because it's being viewed through the "combat all the time" lens. If the AD&D was forced to fight in every encounter, they wouldn't last long. Their specialty was getting out of combat (finding secret doors, sneaking by, etc) and getting that treasure and XP (PP, OL, F/RT). In AD&D, the thief more than held their own in gameplay based on the style as explained above. So when modern D&D came about, with the emphasis on XP for monsters, the design team had to beef the thief up significantly (like applying sneak attack/backstab damage once a round).

Conclusion
Anyway, it's an interesting thought exercise to see how much of the game changed by shifting from XP for treasure to XP for monsters. That design philosophy had a huge impact on the exploration pillar, spells, and thieves, and I'm sure a lot of other things as well. And it appears to my eyes at least, a trend that is continuing to shift even further in that direction. Things like being able to identify magical items just by spending time with it (no longer needing the detect magic or identify spells), going to full HP after a long rest, and repeatable saves if you get a disease are some examples.
 

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ECMO3

Hero
I was playing D&D in 1980 and I would disagree about the Thief.

The biggest problem with the Thief was they were not very good at job until very high level. Things like find traps could actually be done better by an Elf at level 1 (or a Dwarf for certain traps). Thieves were the only ones that could disarm traps, but many or most of the traps they faced would kill the thief and their chance to disarm was low until high levels. This meant if you actually used your thief to try to disarm traps he would last about 2 or 3 traps before dying.

You could multiclass thieves to be useful. A Fighter/Thief was viable and a Magic-User/Thief was in most cases better than a single class Magic-User because of the better weapons and very limited spells but as a single class character they were not very good IME.

Assassin was a Thief subclass and that was actually viable in 1E as they could explicitly use poision and they had a chance of outright killing anyone they surprised on a straight percentile die roll without an attack even needed. Poision was deadly in 1E too, a poison arrow could kill an ancient red dragon in one shot.

As an aside Clerics were the other class we had difficulty getting people to play. Usually they would play Cleric/Magic Users or Cleric/Fighters to be more viable.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Conclusion
Anyway, it's an interesting thought exercise to see how much of the game changed by shifting from XP for treasure to XP for monsters. That design philosophy had a huge impact on the exploration pillar, spells, and thieves, and I'm sure a lot of other things as well. And it appears to my eyes at least, a trend that is continuing to shift even further in that direction. Things like being able to identify magical items just by spending time with it (no longer needing the detect magic or identify spells), going to full HP after a long rest, and repeatable saves if you get a disease are some examples.

Good thoughts. I would add to this-

Exploration used to matter because:

1. There was a reward, part 1. XP for GP.

2. There was a reward, part 2. GP used to matter! GP was required to level, it was required to buy things that mattered in the game ... you needed the cash. Getting a lot of money wasn't just "ooh, cool," it was "oh, I better have Tenser's disk ready to get this money out of here."

3. There was a reward, part 3. Character power and differentiation was defined by magic items you found (through exploration), not so much by class abilities.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Good thoughts. I would add to this-

Exploration used to matter because:

1. There was a reward, part 1. XP for GP.

2. There was a reward, part 2. GP used to matter! GP was required to level, it was required to buy things that mattered in the game ... you needed the cash. Getting a lot of money wasn't just "ooh, cool," it was "oh, I better have Tenser's disk ready to get this money out of here."

3. There was a reward, part 3. Character power and differentiation was defined by magic items you found (through exploration), not so much by class abilities.
Yes, points 2 and 3 are also very important as why there is a difference!
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I was playing D&D in 1980 and I would disagree about the Thief.

The biggest problem with the Thief was they were not very good at job until very high level. Things like find traps could actually be done better by an Elf at level 1 (or a Dwarf for certain traps). Thieves were the only ones that could disarm traps, but many or most of the traps they faced would kill the thief and their chance to disarm was low until high levels. This meant if you actually used your thief to try to disarm traps he would last about 2 or 3 traps before dying.
I understand how many folks played this way, but that's not actually how the rules in 1e worked. Anyone could find traps, pick locks, etc. The thief skill % was only there for those tasks that would have been impossible for other classes to attempt due to difficulty. I blame this on poorly written rules. I know most people just saw the % and applied it to every scenario (after all, that sounds reasonable), when it should only have been applied to exceptionally difficult scenarios that couldn't reasonably be resolved by any character.
 

I've seen, many times, how modern D&D players look at the AD&D thief and think it's a woefully underpowered class.
Because it was! Unless you took the "actually, these are superhuman abilities" approach, which I never even heard until the last ten years or so, your thief abilities stank! In practice, you were really good at exploring yourself into trouble, because you were incompetent.

ETA: @Sacrosanct has jumped in with precisely this. I can only say I find this no where in the rules, and despite playing with everyone from clueless teenagers, to GenCon Open moderators, to first-gen grognards, I never saw this interpretation prior to the last few years.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Because it was! Unless you took the "actually, these are superhuman abilities" approach, which I never even heard until the last ten years or so, your thief abilities stank! In practice, you were really good at exploring yourself into trouble, because you were incompetent.

ETA: @Sacrosanct has jumped in with precisely this. I can only say I find this no where in the rules, and despite playing with everyone from clueless teenagers, to GenCon Open moderators, to first-gen grognards, I never saw this interpretation prior to the last few years.

Since I started playing (mid 80s), I've encountered (primarily) 3 styles.

1. The DM had very player focused puzzles/traps. These relied on PLAYER skill and ingenuity, the thief had little to nothing extra to contribute.

2. The DM ONLY let the thief do the "thief" stuff (Disarming traps etc.) Which was fine, but because the actual chances of success were so low, the result ended up that the party avoided this stuff like the plague and just ended up (for the most part) end running around them.

3. The DM didn't like player focused puzzles/traps but also didn't like traps that just forced a roll from a specific character. End result being the campaign avoided traps and the like entirely - making any thief's skills in that area completely useless.

Similar to @ECMO3 , I found (at least in our games) single class thieves were rare.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I understand how many folks played this way, but that's not actually how the rules in 1e worked. Anyone could find traps, pick locks, etc. The thief skill % was only there for those tasks that would have been impossible for other classes to attempt due to difficulty. I blame this on poorly written rules. I know most people just saw the % and applied it to every scenario (after all, that sounds reasonable), when it should only have been applied to exceptionally difficult scenarios that couldn't reasonably be resolved by any character.
I mean, technically? You could set off a trap with 10' poles, and use Dwarves or magic to find certain traps. But the ability to open locked doors? Here's what the AD&D DMG has to say:

1eDoors.jpg

Just so we're clear, rolling a 1 on three 6-sided dice is a 0.463% chance. Yeah I'm going to go with "a Thief is needed to pick locks for a thousand".

Silent movement is impossible, the AD&D PHB makes it clear that characters always attract noise; Thieves alone can move silently. Characters can, however, listen for noises.

As for climbing, well, it took until the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide for it to be clarified that all characters have a base climbing chance of 40%; if you didn't own that book, I have no idea how you were meant to decide if non-Thieves could climb at all!

*Yeah, rope was in the PHB, but it wasn't described how it worked; again, the DSG clarifies that "rope and wall" adds +40% to your climb chance. And of course, like any other AD&D-ism, if you fail your climbing check, you can never climb that wall.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Conclusion
Anyway, it's an interesting thought exercise to see how much of the game changed by shifting from XP for treasure to XP for monsters. That design philosophy had a huge impact on the exploration pillar, spells, and thieves, and I'm sure a lot of other things as well. And it appears to my eyes at least, a trend that is continuing to shift even further in that direction. Things like being able to identify magical items just by spending time with it (no longer needing the detect magic or identify spells), going to full HP after a long rest, and repeatable saves if you get a disease are some examples.

Players certainly do what they are rewarded to do (mostly).

What about the current push toward Advancement through goal completion? Where xp is given for completing certain tasks (regardless of monsters fought or treasure gained) or dispensed with entirely (milestone advancement) and levels are just given at certain points? That should encourage a different style of play than xp for gold OR xp for monsters.
 

DarkCrisis

Legend
Gold was spent to raise in level. Train. And the DM could/would give out XP for completing quests. But yeah, finding treasure was a big draw.

But of course characters back then where made as "For gold and glory". Going and clearing out dungeons not saving the world.

Thieves were still very valuable because they could climb walls thus helping other to cross gaps or get to high places. Like with a rope. Also, listening at doors for threats on the other side plus finding secret doors.

Traps could be dealt with ingenuity. 10 foot pole. Iron Gauntlet. Etc. Less rolling and more thinking around corners. I do stuff like this in 5E groups and it befuddles them. Why risk a failed roll when I can just safely set off the trap?
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Players certainly do what they are rewarded to do (mostly).

What about the current push toward Advancement through goal completion? Where xp is given for completing certain tasks (regardless of monsters fought or treasure gained) or dispensed with entirely (milestone advancement) and levels are just given at certain points? That should encourage a different style of play than xp for gold OR xp for monsters.

That tends to reinforce a narrative (small n) approach- the Hickman design.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
Scouting things out went even further than spells like Wizard Eye. It was possible to seek out and hire sages, who had % chance of knowing things; all used to plan dungeon tactics more effectively.
Maybe this was partially linked to roots in wargaming?
 

Yeah, the fact that the default of poison was frequently save or die, and that even a 5th level thief was rocking no more than a 50% chance to even find a trap, let alone disarm it, stacked things against thieves. A 1st level fighter probably could survive that attack by a goblin, but a 1st level thief being told to go check a corridor for traps? Better hope that there's not a poison dart trap ahead or that the dice really, really like you that day. When I ran a 1e campaign a few years back, the first character to die was the thief.

I was playing D&D in 1980 and I would disagree about the Thief.

The biggest problem with the Thief was they were not very good at job until very high level. Things like find traps could actually be done better by an Elf at level 1 (or a Dwarf for certain traps). Thieves were the only ones that could disarm traps, but many or most of the traps they faced would kill the thief and their chance to disarm was low until high levels. This meant if you actually used your thief to try to disarm traps he would last about 2 or 3 traps before dying.

Back in the day, XP for treasure definitely pushed people to explore beyond just looking for monsters to fight. Monsters frequently had treasure, but if you look at the random dungeon tables in the 1e DMG, you certainly could come across a room with an unguarded treasure chest.

But one thing that we've seen since then are story awards, starting with 2e and continuing to 5e. You can get XP for challenges other than combat, even if there's no treasure to be had at all. And if you look at how milestones are set up in official adventures, those can also incentivize exploration. Adventures will have stuff like "the party gains a level if they discover XX location."
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
3. There was a reward, part 3. Character power and differentiation was defined by magic items you found (through exploration), not so much by class abilities.
There was also the magic items that you created (once your wizard or cleric was high enough level to do so), which were a source of adventures in-and-of themselves.

For instance, if you really wanted a wand of fireballs, you paid a sage to spend a few weeks researching what exotic ingredients were necessary to create one, because that's what it took to make magic items; gold and a few spells weren't enough. Once the sage figured out that the recipe included a phoenix feather, the blood of a noble efreet, and the scales of an ancient red dragon, then guess what? You now had three new adventure hooks for the party.
 

Spells
In TSR era D&D, utility spells were important, and often more important than combat spells. Most old school players knows how only a newbie Magic User takes Magic Missile at first level, the real powerful spell to take was either sleep or charm person. Spells like levitate, knock, teleport, invisibility, and dispel magic were very important. Sure, you also had combat spells, but crowd control was more important than DPR: hold person, sleep, stinking cloud, etc. If I were to make a guess, I'd say over 50% of your memorized spells were utility spells. Again, bypass monsters and traps (which there were a lot of), and get to the treasure.
In modern D&D, I'd say close to 75% of cast spells are combat encounter orientated. That's the style of play. Along with a philosophy of "every character should be able to overcome any challenge" (as opposed to how TSR emphasized a team niche aspect), there isn't as much of a need to spend your spells on exploration or utility spells--some other class has a power to help with that.
One of my biggest pet peeves with "modern" DnD design (4E and later) was the move away from spells as general utility. Yeah both editions do have utility spells, but nowhere near the emphasis as earlier editions.

I had an elven Fighter/Wizard/Thief that prepped almost no pure damage spells (burning hands was a staple of his). Only buffs (haste and blink were faves), scouting spells, or spells that could be a diversion (so many encounters won due to ventriloquism or forget).

And for experience awards, I think the movement of encounters towards a CR actually hurt non-combat awards some. As a DM I try to make sure my players know defeating a challenge isn't always a case of stabbing a monster more than it stabs you and award XP for overcoming challenges (regardless of how), but I feel almost like there's a general feel of "if there's no CR then there's no XP" to modern encounters/adventures. Granted I know that there are exceptions, but that's the feel I get with modern design.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Result
What I saw happening as result was that combat was not only done more often, but it was expected. I saw a shift from "not every monster should be beatable" to "every encounter should be beatable" in attitudes as modern DnD took hold. There was an increased expectation from players that every combat encounter should be winnable because that's how you got your XP. Contrasted with TSR DnD, where most of us had an expectation of play that you avoided combat whenever possible (because it was so dangerous) and found ways to bypass the combat and go to the treasure (where the XP was).
Based on my experiences, the idea that players explored to avoid combat because they got more XPs from treasure tends to be overstated. At most tables I played at, people still engaged in combat because it would get you more XPs than just making off with the treasure.
Spells
In TSR era D&D, utility spells were important, and often more important than combat spells. Most old school players knows how only a newbie Magic User takes Magic Missile at first level, the real powerful spell to take was either sleep or charm person. Spells like levitate, knock, teleport, invisibility, and dispel magic were very important. Sure, you also had combat spells, but crowd control was more important than DPR: hold person, sleep, stinking cloud, etc. If I were to make a guess, I'd say over 50% of your memorized spells were utility spells. Again, bypass monsters and traps (which there were a lot of), and get to the treasure.
In modern D&D, I'd say close to 75% of cast spells are combat encounter orientated. That's the style of play. Along with a philosophy of "every character should be able to overcome any challenge" (as opposed to how TSR emphasized a team niche aspect), there isn't as much of a need to spend your spells on exploration or utility spells--some other class has a power to help with that.

The thief
I've seen, many times, how modern D&D players look at the AD&D thief and think it's a woefully underpowered class. From a modern lens, I can see how that might be, because it's being viewed through the "combat all the time" lens. If the AD&D was forced to fight in every encounter, they wouldn't last long. Their specialty was getting out of combat (finding secret doors, sneaking by, etc) and getting that treasure and XP (PP, OL, F/RT). In AD&D, the thief more than held their own in gameplay based on the style as explained above. So when modern D&D came about, with the emphasis on XP for monsters, the design team had to beef the thief up significantly (like applying sneak attack/backstab damage once a round).
Thieves in AD&D were underpowered. They had saving throws that tended to be terrible (they were the only class with a category that stayed about 10 at best value). They had a bad THAC0 that hampered them in any fight in which they weren't successfully backstabbing. Backstab itself was kind of weak because it required surprise and had significant limitations on what could be affected - both of which many DMs ignored to make it more useful. The only thing they really had going for them was a fast XP progression table but good luck managing to get the rest of your party to leave a dungeon to let you level-up faster. That is IF you had the cash for it in the first place.

Exploration spells were also problematic in the sense that they tended to auto-accomplish what thieves had to roll to do - and roll with a lot of luck for lower level thieves. In AD&D, this wasn't a huge problem but once the magic item creation rules came around in 3e and wizards could relatively cheaply make wands/scrolls of utility spells, that thief niche really sucked. Thankfully, their combat abilities had increased substantially.

For my money, the best improvement in making exploration oriented utility spells more worthwhile has been 5e's spell prep rules. Not having to devote specific spell slots with prepped spells, I can have a little more freedom to respond to needs that come up while still having a few options prepped. This is one reason I'm very much NOT in favor of OneD&D's play test rule changes about spell prep so far.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
One of my biggest pet peeves with "modern" DnD design (4E and later) was the move away from spells as general utility. Yeah both editions do have utility spells, but nowhere near the emphasis as earlier editions.

Problem with utility spells is they made magic the goto for just about anything. To the point where (IMO and IME) a 3e/3.5 wizard could make a rogue near superfluous - unless the DM was big on non PLAYER interactive traps and the like, and most DMs were not.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Based on my experiences, the idea that players explored to avoid combat because they got more XPs from treasure tends to be overstated. At most tables I played at, people still engaged in combat because it would get you more XPs than just making off with the treasure.

In all the tables I played at, this wasn't the case because combat was so dangerous. Not worth that extra 10xp if it killed you, especially since you were getting 100 or more XP from the treasure.
Thieves in AD&D were underpowered. They had saving throws that tended to be terrible (they were the only class with a category that stayed about 10 at best value). They had a bad THAC0 that hampered them in any fight in which they weren't successfully backstabbing. Backstab itself was kind of weak because it required surprise and had significant limitations on what could be affected - both of which many DMs ignored to make it more useful. The only thing they really had going for them was a fast XP progression table but good luck managing to get the rest of your party to leave a dungeon to let you level-up faster. That is IF you had the cash for it in the first place.

Thieves also leveled faster than any other class (being 1-2 levels above at any given time), and didn't have the harsh level limits for demi-humans. Cash in those old modules was not a problem. 1e modules were rife with treasure.
 

andrewlichey

Explorer
Problem with utility spells is they made magic the goto for just about anything. To the point where (IMO and IME) a 3e/3.5 wizard could make a rogue near superfluous - unless the DM was big on non PLAYER interactive traps and the like, and most DMs were not.
I'd agree with you in 3e/3.5, by that point the balance of the game had shifted heavily in favor of spell casters being able to solve just about any situation. At least Wizards and Clerics. But in earlier editions, for much of a Wizard's (Magic User's) career, you had strict limits on the number of spells you could cast. You needed to be judicious about when to do them.

3e added the ability to specialize in a school, which granted you additional spells. It also made crafting scrolls and such much easier. 4e added always available attack cantrips, and 5e gives you the ability to recover spells throughout the adventuring day.
 


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