Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 22

I have said before, while AD&D may not look unified in practice, the design philosophy behind it is quite unified, in that the entire game is built around specific probabilities.
One can argue that all games are designed around probabilities--after all, that's what dice do; they simulate probability. However, the difference here is that probability was considered first and foremost in all situations, and the means for resolving said probability came later. In modern games, the unified system is the core design goal, and probabilities are then fit within the framework of said system. It’s a difference in overall philosophy.

Gygax, when working out the rules for AD&D, used whatever means seemed most accurate for resolving the probability of a given situation. In other words, instead of saying, "An average roll on a d20 is 11.5," then working probabilities with bonuses and penalties from that average, Gygax said, "There's about a 2 in 8 chance of this happening; roll a d8 and 1 or 2 succeeds."

At least, that's my reading of how design worked. I could be wrong, though it does seem to fit the language used in the early books, and explains the apparent schizophrenia of systems and subsystems.

I'm not arguing the merits or drawbacks of this outlook, just pointing out something that's becoming clear as I read. Again, this game could be fairly easily (though it would require a substantial investment of time) converted into an all percentile system.  Could be an interesting experiment, if ever one has more time than they know what to do with.
The book says it best. "Morale checks are used to determine the amount of will to fight in non-leader NPCs, and can be applied to both henchmen and hirelings of character types and groups of intelligent opponent monsters....Base unmodified morale score is 50%" (DMG 67)

This section, one of the shorter systems in the book, is actually a fairly straightforward and elegant morale system. Base morale for any creature is 50%. Morale checks are made (sometimes at a bonus or penalty) when a party faces a superior foe, loses 25% or more of their force, or loses their leader.

Making a morale check means casting percentile dice. The is then modified by circumstances such as enemy power level, enemy forces' strength, casualties inflicted, etc. If the modified result is under 50%, the check succeeds and the enemy stands his ground.

If the result is over 50%, the DM determines the amount by which the check failed and consults a table with four options: fall back fighting, disengage-retreat, flee in panic, and surrender.

I re-iterate once again that there's a great deal in AD&D first edition that is actually quite elegant. This being said, there is a problem here, which arises when viewed side-by side with the rules for...

Pursuit and evasion are split into two different systems: Underground and above ground. Interestingly, unlike the majority of other systems in first edition, Pursuit and Evasion of Pursuit underground is almost entirely diceless. The "system," such as it is, is more a list of conditions for successful flight than it is a set of game rules to determine success or failure. That is to say, it's fairly static. Percentages come into play when determining if pursuit will occur in the first place, or, for example, whether throwing food or coin down will distract pursuers. Other than that, it's pretty much a straight comparison of speed ratings between pursued and pursuer, accounting for things like barriers, distractions, multiple choice (which door do you want?), light, noise, and odors.

Pursuit and Evasion outdoors, on the other hand, is done with a percentile roll. The base percentage to evade pursuit outdoors is 80%. This base is modified by factors such as terrain, speed, party size, and light.

See the problem? With morale, it's the roll that is modified by condition. With pursuit it's the base. It would be an easy enough fix to modify the roll in pursuit rather than the base, but the wording of the rules lends itself to the criticism of AD&D being a mish-mosh and hodgepodge of systems. I can see why a new DM would have his head spin trying to remember which situations modify the base, and which ones modify the roll. And in cases such as morale, wherein the degree of failure counts, it's not exactly half-dozen/6.

An interesting addition, here, which is something of a departure from the OD&D roots of the game: Fatigue and exhaustion have no set rule effects, save that the condition "slows movement and reduces combat effectiveness." (DMG 69) In OD&D, one would reference Chainmail for the effects of fatigue and exhaustion (remember; OD&D was intended on its initial publication to be used with Chainmail for various and sundry details and conditional rules).

In AD&D, however, the exact adjudication of fatigue and exhaustion is left to the DM's call, with an admonition that primitive peoples were more inured to running than are modern people, and you should "not base your judgment on the typical modern specimen." (DMG 69)

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