Thursday, February 16, 2012

Goddammit, Gygax!

Oh, don't mind me...probably just in a crummy mood again. You know: the usual complaints. Not enough sleep. Not enough time to write (nor even blog). Too many games, too little time. Not enough money. Etc., etc.

The "not enough writing time" is the real killer. Not having access to my own computer at work means not being able to save anything. All I've been able to do is print the stuff I write, hoping to to transcribe it later (yeah, right...). Ugh.

And then there's Gygax's damn game.

Does anyone think about this stuff? I mean, am I the only one that gets hung up on the discrepancies? Jesus.

[yes, I know I'm not the only one that analyzes the snot out of D&D and I'm certainly not the only one tugging at his thinning hair over the inconsistencies. I'm just waxing rhetorical, folks]

Work progresses on D&D Mine, of course (work has come to a stand-still on my one "hopefully will be published soon" project. Waiting on artwork...again). It's turning out pretty which I mean, I am excited at the prospect of running it. I may even incorporate some Land of Iceisms into it (I'm thinking of the major wound table), though other things (like psi powers and weapon breakage) don't really fit the theme.

On the other hand, it's definitely going to include some very noticeable D&Disms: like variable weapon damage and Vancian magic and classes with different level limits. Hell, I'm even putting Thief Skills back in the game, and you know how much I've raved about doing away with those in the past.

That is to say, in all my B/X games of the last year or so I've allowed thief skills to automatically succeed (rather than requiring percentile rolls) with good results (happy players, happy DM, competent thief characters). Welp, playing in Randy's game recently has got me rethinking the whole thing...I can see upside to the random rolls and the occasional failure, not to mention the sense of accomplishment that comes from going up in level and increasing ability. The important part is making sure player characters don't SUCK...and I think I've figured out a way to do that. Basically, by borrowing a page from 2nd Edition AD&D.


But the downside of cramming "real D&D" into the game is I end up going over this stuff with a fine-tooth mental comb. And sometimes there are snags.

What I'm looking for is this:
  • Does it work within the game context?
  • Is it necessary to the play of the game (the way I want it played)?
  • Is it playable? How much time does it take away from the play of the game due to extra "rules crunch?"
  • Does it make f'ing sense?
I'll give a quick example of what I'm talking about: encumbrance and movement.

All right, that's not really one thing, but two...but in D&D the two are very much linked together. At least if you choose to use the variable at all. In B/X, encumbrance is an optional rule and player characters can all have a standard speed (12"). In the past, my general MO has been to simply assign movement based on gear carried (Chainmail? Okay, you move 6") rather than slow down the game by making players calculate every coin of weight. For the most part, the main reason I wanted to know the speed of characters was in case they needed to outrun some monster or other.

But is knowing exact encumbrance and movement useful and helpful to the game? Well, yeah, actually...a bit. In a game where time matters, especially at low levels (when you're relying on torches for example), it is important to know how fast and far characters can travel before their light burns down. Time, as yet another resource to be managed, is an interesting with all sorts of interesting consequences attached to it. And managing that time feels very much like Dungeons & Dragons. Removing spells like continual light from the game (which I'm considering spells should be permanent without being an actual, physical enchantment, like magic items) makes the game a whole different ball game. One I'm excited to play.

On the other hand, there can be too much of a good thing. When I played (briefly) in Alexis's on-line campaign, I had a blast adding up all the encumbrance of the various gear I carried, not to mention figuring out where everything was strapped on and tied down. It was a good, fun mental exercise, and I enjoyed doing helped me really visualize my character, and consider how he would move/behave. On the other hand, it took me a couple hours to complete the task, and that was using an Excel spreadsheet. That is the last thing I want players doing at the table when making a new character.

Then there's the movement rates themselves. They are soooo slow. And it does NOT slow one down all that much to be wearing a suit of armor (I know, I've done it), nor carrying a bunch of stuff. When I pick up my boy from the nanny and walk a mile to the bus, I've got a baby strapped to my front, a backpack full of books and laptop strapped to my back, a cloth grocery bag carrying my giant coffee thermos and lunch tuppers, and the baby's travel bag with clothes and diapers and empty bottles from his lunch...all of which is incredibly bulky...and my walking speed isn't slowed noticeably at all...and I walk at a considerable clip.

[it's the opening doors and performing delicate tasks that gets tough when over-burdened with the bulky...I'd want to drop a bunch of stuff if I was, say, in a pitched battle in an underground environment]

And yesterday, I was timing myself to see how far I walked a (guesstimated) 90' or 120'. At it just doesn't take very long at all. Even walking carefully, counting paces, pretending I'm studying imaginary architecture or just isn't a very great distance. At least not over a broken sidewalk (which I'd imagine to be fairly close to ancient flagstone). This is why, my Land of Ice supplement sets base movement at 12" (B/X maximum) unless severely over-burdened with treasure and fallen comrades. If I had an unconscious body across my back, then I'd be moving a lot slower.

Over time, carrying weight and bulk will slow your average speed due to fatigue and the need to rest...but that's not how D&D measures movement. They take the perspective of a guy hauling a couch on his back, when in reality a fit human can carry a lot of weight (like metal armor), properly distributed over the body, fairly unhampered...and pretty fast over short distances.

So I went back to OD&D to see what the hell is up. Whenever I run into something that looks "off" for one reason or another, I've taken to checking OD&D (and sometimes Chainmail) to see if I can glean any explanation as to why The Creators did as they did. I found this bit of weirdness:
In the underworld all distances are in feet, so wherever distances are given in inches convert them to tens of feet.

Movement (distances given in Vol. 1) is in segments of approximately ten minutes. Thus it takes ten minutes to move about two moves - 120 feet for a fully armored character. Two moves constitute a turn, except in flight/pursuit situations where the moves/turn will be doubled (and no mapping allowed).
It was that second paragraph that had me puzzled. I had to read it a couple times and then rearrange the sentences so that they made sense:

Two moves constitute a turn... takes ten minutes to move about two moves...
...120' for a fully armored character.

A "fully armored character" appears to be 6" (i.e. 60') from my reading of Volume 1 (it's a little convoluted, but I think it's clear the movement isn't 12").

So if I'm reading this correctly, the original rules had characters moving at about twice the normal speed of any edition that came after...because movement was allotted twice in each turn (or, to put another way, 1 move takes place over 5' minutes or half a turn). This would certainly make the running/pursuit speed closer to AD&D (where running is 5 times normal OD&D, running would be 4 times, i.e. "twice double movement per turn").

Ugh! One semi-mystery solved!

But that's not anything to get too worked up about...I mean, we knew movement and encumbrance and such was kind of mess anyway. Right?

No the thing that makes me exclaim "Goddammit, Gygax!" is the damn thief rules (again). How many times have I been asked by a player if their thief can jump into the shadows in the middle of combat? How many times have they asked me if (hiding) they can sneak up on some creature and backstab it? Only for me to point out, no you can't just "go a-hiding" and no you cannot move once you're hidden: the text in both the AD&D Players Handbook, and B/X (and probably other editions if I bothered to look...I know it's the case in LL also) is explicit in that the thief must remain perfectly still or motionless when hiding in shadows.

And then I look at Gygax's own combat example in the PHB (after the spell section) and what do I find? The thief jumps into the shadows in the first round of combat and maneuvers around a whole pile of orcs in order to backstab the Big Bad wizard in Round 2.

F you, Gygax! Why make my job any harder than it already is?!


All right, all I said, I'm just a bit grumpy this morning. I'm sure I'll be perked up in time for tonight's game.


  1. yes, movement rules are nonsensical in anything but a boardgamey way. In most editions, the fluff explains it away as accounting for careful mapping, etc... If that's the case, I should AUTOMATICALLY be getting my find traps, notice odd stonework, and secret doors checks.

  2. @ IG: And you probably should! If all you're doing is walking down a stone passageway (as opposed to scrambling through a natural subterranean cavern) the DM should just be checking every chance you might have found something, rather than just saying, "do you check this 10' section? How about the next 10' section? How about the section after that?"


    In a room or chamber it would be different.

  3. I dare you to walk 120 feet in 10 minutes. Even wearing armor. You couldn't move your feet that slow.

  4. Game walking speed is in full equipment in an unfamiliar dangerous dark dungeon while mapping. I've always felt like I understood why the rate was so slow compared to normal real world walking speeds.

    In my experience, backstab got used 100x more in 3E/4E than in earlier editions when they made the requirement to simply be flanking an opponent.

    In older editions, it's an awesome-sounding class feature that every new-to-the-game thief wants to use continually, but DMs rarely allow it (by the book). It's a setup for disappointment.

  5. Writing at work: since you do have a computer, is it connected to the internet? Even at the privacy conscious VA hospital, I was able to open a browser (Dropbox was blocked, didn't think to check Evernote) and email myself any writing I was able to do (usually clinical but without patient-id info).

    Encumbrance, the time it takes to calculate it vs the character building benefit (in the sense of building a vision of your character, not in the 3.x sense) : what we do is just start off play after buying the stuff. Every few sessions, before the game the DM announces an encumbrance audit. The players calculate all that before they get to the table and get that benefit of visualizing their character without taking time at the table. I think we stole the idea of audits from Hackmaster.

  6. Just to add a little bit to this, FWIW:

    #1 - I recall some source, and I've always used, that the movement rate does reflect checking for traps, mapping and all the other stuff - that is part of why so slow.

    #2 - Walking 120' over broken pavement is completely different from moving 120' over slippery, convoluted, twisting cavern spaces - with dropoffs, balance issues, etc. Which of course is different from moving over nice level roads etc. I think 120' gives you a nice simple working number unless you want to get into the minutia of differing rates for differing surfaces.

    #3 - giving you this as a combat veteran based on reality. You move a HELL of a lot slower when you're looking at every possible turn & corner as a possible ambush or booby trap - and that's in daytime. When you're moving at night (particularly without night vision goggles/"infravision") in an unfamiliar area it slows to almost a crawl. I've done patrols in the jungle environment where moving 1000 meters in an hour was a good rate. Just a bit of perspective.

  7. @ The Captain: I hear you, but there's a difference between walking down a fairly smooth 10' wide corridor and spelunking through the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth...especially if you've got a nice big globe of CONTINUAL LIGHT keeping things all nice and cheery.

    But I will definitely take your notes under advisement.

    @ Fumers and Red: Wow, I don't know why blogger keeps eating comments...and then keeps letting the spam ones through. Obviously, someone is slacking as a gatekeeper.

    @ Luke: Yeah, I hear you...especially the promise of QUINTUPLE DAMAGE. Knowing you, you'll probably feel my own take on the skill to be "nerfed." But hopefully it will at least be useful.

    (as if you'd ever play a thief!)

    @ Red: All I can say is it's tough, man. If I could I would. But no, no email even.

  8. For what is worth: the bit about "the time to move takes into account lots of minor activities" etc. comes from Mentzer.
    Also, Mentzer increases the amount of stuff you can carry for a given speed category.
    Regarding the example in the PHB: I have always understood (and ruled consequently) that a thief can move into shadows in combat, as long as the enemies are properly "distracted" doing something else. This has often resulted in interesting tactical choices by the players.

  9. @ Antonio:

    Yeah, well, I've tried playing the 'distraction' card in combat with my last two DMs (one a rank novice and the other a 30 year pro) and both have veto'd the idea, saying my opponent is already aware of me.

    That's what I get for playing an assassin, I guess.

  10. Hey JB, Spoiler Alert:
    Assassin is a pointless class. ;)

  11. Although I can't place the reference, I've also always played as though that 120' move assumes an attempt at stealth -- faster, and you lose all chance of surprise.

  12. The "discrepancies", opaque guidelines and arcana are Gygax's way of always reminding you "DON'T BE A SLAVE TO THE #&@#*# RULEBOOK!"

  13. "...and both have veto'd the idea, saying my opponent is already aware of me."

    Really? No matter how many other friends and foes are maneuvering, how much noise there is, the blow they barely deflected, the fireball that went off and set the tapestry on fire.

    As a DM, I've allowed sufficient distraction to allow combat hiding. But they have to reroll every time they change location, and make a successful "Move Silently" roll to boot. And the enemy may just catch them out of the corner of their eye anyway.