Thursday, April 26, 2012

One or two rolls in D&D-variants?

Let's look at how (simple) combat works in (classic) D&D variants. There's an attacker of a certain level and a defender with a certain armor class. The attacker makes a roll, modified to take into account the attacker's physical capabilities as well as the situation the attack is made in. If the attacker hits, the attacker rolls damage which the defender subtracts from hit points. Not very complicated, is it?

Note that there's one roll for the attack and one roll for damage if the attack succeeds, that's it. Specifically, the defender does not make a roll to see if the successful attack can be evaded somehow. (And neither is there a roll to avoid some of the damage.)

Now let's look at how (simple) spells work in (classic) D&D variants. There's a caster of a certain level and a target of a certain level. (There are spells in which one or the other level doesn't matter, but that's besides the point.) Provided the caster doesn't get distracted while casting, the spell will be cast successfully. Now the target gets to make a saving throw against the spell. If the saving throw fails, the full spell effect applies to the target; if the saving throw succeeds, only some or none of the effects apply to the target.

Note that there's again one roll, but this time the roll tells us whether the defense was successful. (There may also be a roll for damage made by the caster, ignore that.) Specifically, the caster does not make a roll to see if the spell worked or fizzled somehow.

But now look at surprise. Surprise! There is both a chance to be surprised and a chance to surprise someone else. Details vary by which version of D&D you're looking at, but they all seem to maintain that both sides get to roll for both things. Having both sides roll dice in this situation but not in the other two situations seems rather odd. (I have no problem with the fact that the first two use a d20 and the third uses a d6, that's not the point.)

There are other places where a "let's use two rolls" mechanic has crept into D&D, for example when trying to disarm someone: You have to hit, but then the defender gets a saving throw to avoid dropping their weapon. There are also places where two rolls actually make sense in a way, for example for spells that require touching the target with a successful attack.

Now some people may just not care and some may say "different mechanism for different tasks are a-okay" or something close to that. But for myself, I would prefer a clear line throughout the whole system: Either use two rolls consistently, or use a single roll consistently, but don't jump back and forth. Opinions?

History of Greyhawk Wars PDF

It's difficult to explain exactly why I've done this, but in any case: I grabbed the old "Official History of the Greyhawk Wars" document that TSR posted on AOL in 1995 and converted it to LaTeX. I am probably not the first to do this, but I couldn't find another version anywhere, only RTF and HTML versions. I think my PDF looks great and reads better than the other versions I've seen. I made one tiny change compared to the original: I moved a paragraph from one section to another to get a more decent layout. Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Spell Progressions in D&D-variants

I've been reading some interesting stuff related to D&D-type roleplaying games recently. One thing I came across is spell progression: How do you translate from the wizard or cleric level to the number of spells of each spell level the character can cast? Apparently different incarnations of D&D used somewhat different tables over the years.

All of this reminded me that I never liked the spell progressions in D&D-type games: I never "got" them in the sense that they always seemed way too random to me. What was the unifying mechanic behind all these numbers? Hard to figure out, go ahead, try.

I use the following simple progression: 1 2 2 3 3 3 4 4 4 4 5 5 5 5 5 and so on and so forth. Read: You start spell level x with 1 spell, after one more level you gain a second spell, after two more levels you gain a third, after three more you gain a fourth, etc. And I use this for each spell level. Both wizards and clerics gain a new spell level every 2 class levels, and done: One simple rule explains it all.

Yes, there is some “fluctuation” in terms of which character levels get the most new spell levels, but it’s really not too bad to say “look, level 18 is really powerful because that’s where you realize the most about how the multiverse really works". And yes, there are certain levels where you gain absolutely nothing, especially as a cleric, but those are really high and I wouldn’t normally play there anyway.