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OSR What are your thoughts on the success probabilities of pre-3e versions of D&D?

vivsavage

Explorer
With regard to the success probabilities of attacks, thief skills, the damage outputs of various classes at various levels, NWPs in 2e, and anything else you wish to discuss (spell progressions, XP requirements for levelling up), do you find that pre-3e versions of D&D have a good balance between success and failure, as well as comparitive power levels between classes?
 
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kenada

Legend
Supporter
I prefer that players know their chance of success, which older editions handle naturally with percentile or x-in-6 approach to skills. I also like that there is concrete progression. You’re better overall and not just able to do about the same versus stronger challenges and monsters.

The consequence of this approach is that the chance of success at lower levels can be pretty bad. Depending on your style, that can be a problem. It’s not like the modern approach developed in a vacuum. I think that’s fine for my game, but I know it’s not for everyone.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
With regard to the success probabilities of attacks, thief skills, the damage outputs of various classes at various levels, NWPs in 2e, and anything else you wish to discuss, do you find that pre-3e versions of D&D have a good balance between success and failure?

Overall, I like it immensely, especially the idea that levelling in general makes you overall better (at combat, at all saves) which IMO feel more right than the ability score treadmill.

That said, as @kenada points out, it does mean that lower level characters are underpowered. In addition, depending on what you require rolls for, certain classes (cough Thief) can really suffer from the prolonged curve to get better at their abilities.
 

One thing I liked about those older editions (and the retroclones that would follow) is that you sometimes needed to roll high (attacks, saves), sometimes needed to roll low (ability checks). So you wanted to have dice that were truly random. Whereas now, you want dice that roll high, because you're always going to need to roll a high score.

Thief skills, ugh! I've grown to hate how they were done, and the middling chance of success that a thief must run the gauntlet of for many levels. Generally speaking, a thief in 1e's purpose was to find and remove traps and scout ahead. When you're terrible at those things, and stay terrible for a while, your role makes it unlikely that you'll survive to get good at those things (see also how a failed poison save generally meant death).

Yes, they shouldn't start out good at everything, but they should at least have the option of being passable at one thing (other than climbing walls) - that's why I liked how kits in 2e interfaced with the thief class.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
NOTE: while my comments below broadly refer to all pre-WotC versions of D&D, they stem specifically from 2nd Edition.

I'm not sure how a "good balance" would look, but I know that nobody I ever played with had issues with it. In retrospect, I like the different mechanics necessary for different tasks; there was basically the Proficiency/Ability Check system (roll low) and the Combat system (roll high). The variation was a challenge for some folks, but essentially unifying everything behind the combat mechanic was a net detriment to the game IMO.

Thief skills were always rough, especially at low levels, but probabilities were very easy to visualize (since the the probability literally WAS the mechanic). Saving throws, similarly, were easy to parse because the target number was right in front of you before you rolled. They weren't always intuitive in their application, but you always knew what your target number was.
 

Voadam

Legend
Thief skills were terrible, the biggest narrative class feature of the skill class was terrible chances of success for a long time. 2e with their specialization of where to put points and getting decent at a specialization or two at lower levels was an improvement in my eyes. BECMI reducing the thief skill advancement from the rate in B/X instead of expanding thief abilities was a terrible disappointment. I would have preferred always on or very competent thief skills from the get go.

The low chance for PCs to hit in B/X was not super to my taste. I did like how a volley of arrows from bad guys was not necessarily the PCs getting fully peppered though. B/X and AD&D felt super swingy design wise for the most part on whether you hit all the time or never. It made things like percentile strength in character generation and magic weapons and weapon specialization a really big deal, which I did not care for.

NWP in AD&D 1e and 2e were design swingy based on stats. A low level character could have great stats and be good at their skill which I liked, however a high level character with modest stats would always be not so great. A mixed bag, but felt good in the higher stat games.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Thief skills, ugh! I've grown to hate how they were done, and the middling chance of success that a thief must run the gauntlet of for many levels. Generally speaking, a thief in 1e's purpose was to find and remove traps and scout ahead. When you're terrible at those things, and stay terrible for a while, your role makes it unlikely that you'll survive to get good at those things (see also how a failed poison save generally meant death).

Amen!
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
One thing I liked about those older editions (and the retroclones that would follow) is that you sometimes needed to roll high (attacks, saves), sometimes needed to roll low (ability checks). So you wanted to have dice that were truly random. Whereas now, you want dice that roll high, because you're always going to need to roll a high score.
Completely agree!
Thief skills, ugh! I've grown to hate how they were done, and the middling chance of success that a thief must run the gauntlet of for many levels. Generally speaking, a thief in 1e's purpose was to find and remove traps and scout ahead. When you're terrible at those things, and stay terrible for a while, your role makes it unlikely that you'll survive to get good at those things (see also how a failed poison save generally meant death).
I don't look at it as the Thief being terrible, instead I look at it as the Thief having a realistic chance to do these things at all where others generally don't. Even 20% is a whole lot better than 1% or 0%. :)
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I think there are two things to consider.

1. The OP specifies 2e, which is much different than every other TSR edition in regards to thief (and bard) skills. You could be pretty successful at lower levels as a thief if you dumped your points into a specialization.

2. Remember, thief skills weren't the % chance of success for regular tasks. EVERY class could attempt to hide, pick a lock, etc. Those skills were only used for exceptionally tough scenarios where non-thieves would have no success at attempting. So a lower score didn't mean they could ever find a trap or pick a lock, only that for exceptionally hard tasks, the thief still had a chance. It goes back to player skill vs character skill.

So in that context, yes. They were balanced.
 

My experience with pre-3e is limited compared to post-3e. The first word that comes to mind with my experience there is "inconsistent".

2e low level: You're not going to succeed.
2e high level (with splat books): You're going to be so overpowered it's impossible to fail.
BD&D modules: We're going to hold your hand and make sure you succeed.
AD&D ToEE: You're going to die.
 

Voadam

Legend
With regard to the success probabilities of attacks, thief skills, the damage outputs of various classes at various levels, NWPs in 2e, and anything else you wish to discuss, do you find that pre-3e versions of D&D have a good balance between success and failure?

I think there are two things to consider.

1. The OP specifies 2e, which is much different than every other TSR edition in regards to thief (and bard) skills. You could be pretty successful at lower levels as a thief if you dumped your points into a specialization.
The OP mentioned 2e in discussing NWPs, the rest is general pre-3e discussion.

Even in 2e the percentages all start at 15% or less except for climbing. You got 60 points to add (no more than 30 in a single one) at 1st level and 30 points (no more than 15 added to a single skill) to add per level later.

So as a level 1 ninja/scout who hides and moves silently or a dungeoneer who picks locks and finds traps you start with a 40/35% chance for success which can go up to 85/80% in these two areas by 4th level to become decent at two out of the eight thief skills. It will take another five levels (9th) to bring a second pair of skills (not counting climbing) up to that level.

This is by far the best thieving option for success at a thief skill in pre-3e D&D.

In B/X a thief has a 10/15/20% chance to find traps at levels 1-3. All characters in B/X have a 1 in 6 chance (so thieves' percentage surpasses that baseline at 3rd level) to search for traps in an area (dwarves get a 2 in 6 success chance).


2. Remember, thief skills weren't the % chance of success for regular tasks. EVERY class could attempt to hide, pick a lock, etc. Those skills were only used for exceptionally tough scenarios where non-thieves would have no success at attempting. So a lower score didn't mean they could ever find a trap or pick a lock, only that for exceptionally hard tasks, the thief still had a chance. It goes back to player skill vs character skill.

So in that context, yes. They were balanced.
They were hardly balanced in my opinion.

They were originally designed along the magic-user class chassis but instead of using spell slots for knock and invisibility they had never-expended uses of specific thief skills that did not automatically succeed like spells did. They got backstab, leather armor, and a few more weapon options than an MU to compensate for having no offensive or defensive spell equivalent skill capabilities. This later expanded to a d6 versus an MU d4 HD as well in AD&D. In AD&D demihumans could generally be unlimited level as thieves while limited in others and could multiclass thief with other classes. Thieves generally required fewer xp than other classes to level. I do not feel the thief skills or other mechanical benefits make them balanced with other classes in various versions of pre-3e D&D.

It would be great if PRe-3e thief skills were super powers of ninja coolness or swashbuckling panache or trickster misdirection but they are generally very specific and restrictive and a bit mundane.

In 2e move silently is at 1/3 your movement, which is fairly slow for scouting and is specifically called out to be generally useless if in plain view of their enemies. Hiding in shadows if successful they remain hidden so long as they remain virtually motionless, so useful for hiding when a bad guy comes by, but arguably not when you are trying to sneak past someone or escape. Find traps only works on small traps and alarms and specifically does not work on ceiling deadfalls or crushing wall type traps.

Halflings and elves in 2e who are not in metal armor move so silently (automatically) that if they are not within 90 feet of noisier types they gain a bonus on surprise.

Dwarves have a 50% chance to detect stonework traps in 2e.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
They were originally designed along the magic-user class chassis but instead of using spell slots for knock and invisibility they had never-expended uses of specific thief skills that did not automatically succeed like spells did. They got backstab, leather armor, and a few more weapon options than an MU to compensate for having no offensive or defensive spell equivalent skill capabilities. This later expanded to a d6 versus an MU d4 HD as well in AD&D. In AD&D demihumans could generally be unlimited level as thieves while limited in others and could multiclass thief with other classes. Thieves generally required fewer xp than other classes to level. I do not feel the thief skills or other mechanical benefits make them balanced with other classes in various versions of pre-3e D&D.
I have never heard of this before. Do you have any source that confirms this? It seems odd the thief would be later expanded to have a d6 HD when it had that in 1978 (designed at the same time Holmes basic)

Also, you seem to have ignored the point I was making, that being thief skill% were for skills no other class could reasonably have a chance of being successful at. That's an important part. That part that makes it balanced, because no other class could do those things. That was the intent anyway, and natural progression. I admit it's ambiguous in the rules, but back then (1977) gamers were coming from OD&D and it was still very much learning from existing DMs, so it was as unwritten rule sort of that that is what those skills were for. Player skill mattered. For most attempts at hiding or picking locks, or whatever, anyone could try that. You narrated your actions to the DM. Maybe they had your roll under an ability score (a common house rule back then). But the actual thief skills? Reserved for those things that non-thieves wouldn't have a chance of succeeding with.

Honestly, that right there should have been a big red flag for WoTC when designing 3e. I.e., unless you're clear that anyone can attempt any skill, players will assume that unless you have a skill for it, you couldn't do it. What happened in 1e and 2e when you had new players join en masse, that word of mouth expectation and understanding of the rule got lost, and people started assuming you had to make those rolls for everything not just tasks that other classes couldn't do. When viewed that way, of course the % skills look weak. They were never intended to be used that way.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I have never heard of this before. Do you have any source that confirms this? It seems odd the thief would be later expanded to have a d6 HD when it had that in 1978 (designed at the same time Holmes basic)
Wikipedia for Rogue says: The thief class was introduced in the original 1975 Greyhawk supplement. They had 4-sided hit dice under the new combat system introduced in that supplement.

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Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Wikipedia for Rogue says: The thief class was introduced in the original 1975 Greyhawk supplement. They had 4-sided hit dice under the new combat system introduced in that supplement.

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No, I knew that. I meant I never heard they were originally built on the MU class. I don't believe Gary Switzer (the person who showed Gary the class in teh first place) ever mentioned that's what he did. I could be wrong but I never heard that.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
No, I knew that. I meant I never heard they were originally built on the MU class. I don't believe Gary Switzer (the person who showed Gary the class in teh first place) ever mentioned that's what he did. I could be wrong but I never heard that.

Doh, sorry. I took your first line as wondering about the d4 hit die.

The part about the "originally magic user" is at The Manual of Aurania - Wikipedia
More at The Manual of Aurania (1977)
 


Voadam

Legend
The d4 HD thief is in OD&D Greyhawk and Moldvay Basic and continues through Basic Rules Cyclopedia.

I do not have a link but it was discussions about the original guy who came up with the thief class and how I believe Gygax said it was different than the percentage skill system and how he had changed it from a more spell like system.

I have not seen a write up of the pre-Greyhawk thief directly but structurally the OD&D thief looks like it was built up from a magic-user base with a few skills swapped in for spells then bumped up a little across the margins.

Similarly the cleric looks like it is a combo based off of the fighter and magic user classes with a little tweaking for flavor and a new vampire turning ability.

It all seems to originate with fighting man and magic-user as the true base options with everything else being adaptations and incremental new stuff added on to those starting points. Arneson has the vampire hunter which becomes the cleric, this other guy develops the thief, both off of existing stuff.
 



R_Chance

Adventurer
I have never heard of this before. Do you have any source that confirms this? It seems odd the thief would be later expanded to have a d6 HD when it had that in 1978 (designed at the same time Holmes basic)

Also, you seem to have ignored the point I was making, that being thief skill% were for skills no other class could reasonably have a chance of being successful at. That's an important part. That part that makes it balanced, because no other class could do those things. That was the intent anyway, and natural progression. I admit it's ambiguous in the rules, but back then (1977) gamers were coming from OD&D and it was still very much learning from existing DMs, so it was as unwritten rule sort of that that is what those skills were for. Player skill mattered. For most attempts at hiding or picking locks, or whatever, anyone could try that. You narrated your actions to the DM. Maybe they had your roll under an ability score (a common house rule back then). But the actual thief skills? Reserved for those things that non-thieves wouldn't have a chance of succeeding with.

Honestly, that right there should have been a big red flag for WoTC when designing 3e. I.e., unless you're clear that anyone can attempt any skill, players will assume that unless you have a skill for it, you couldn't do it. What happened in 1e and 2e when you had new players join en masse, that word of mouth expectation and understanding of the rule got lost, and people started assuming you had to make those rolls for everything not just tasks that other classes couldn't do. When viewed that way, of course the % skills look weak. They were never intended to be used that way.
Thieves HD were a D4 in original D&D in 1975 (Greyhawk iirc) , and went up to a D6 in 1E AD&D (AD&D PHB 1977). The percentages for skills (except climbing at 87% iirc) always sucked (10-25% for most with racial and dexterity bonuses added). And players were always asking why they couldn't climb at all. Most thieves skills were pretty unusual / professional for the class, but climb was the odd one. Of course it was meant for shear surfaces, but it rolled over to a lot of other things (trees, natural rock walls / surfaces etc.).

I came up with an alternative skill system based on the combat charts but people wanted "percentage skills" (can you hear me grumbling :D ). In the late 70s my players had complained D&D had "no skill system" (Runequest and Traveller were out by then). Well EPT (1975 with it's D&D based mechanics) had one (with percentages even) based on it's chance of spell success / failure. I tried that and then came up with (I thought) a better idea. Use the combat charts, and have skills be primary, secondary, tertiary (as in EPT) for each class and advance in levels like combat. Just assign a difficulty rating (similar to AC) and there you go. It gave a fair chance of success at low levels for simple tasks and hard ones were more difficult / impossible until you gained levels. I thought I was terribly clever :)

My players still wanted "percentages". I imagine you can gear the tooth grinding and deep grumbling by now :D So, I stuck with EPT system and later used the NWP system. Sigh.

I am planning on trying my idea in an OSR type game in my campaign soon. Start with no AC / low difficulty = 0 and go up. Ascending AC (difficulty) is a godsend for this. Just know your number and add the difficulty. Have a bonus / penalty for every ability and skills have an associated ability. Combat is just another skill (AC is the difficulty number) Strength is the ability for melee and Dexterity for missile / thrown. Skills go up in groups of 3 levels (primary), 4 levels (secondary) and five levels (tertiary) depending on the class and how you gain the skill. Trying to do things for which there is no associated skill is a "Task" (not original I know) and I based the probability on the to hit for "zero" level characters.

And now that I have that off my chest, and my finals are graded, I can get back to working on this. I am looking forward to some face to face gaming soon. With old geezers like me. I can spring this on them because 5E is not on their radar and they are interested in a game :)
 

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