Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thoughts on Ascending Armor Class

      A lot of people like the Ascending AC thing. I'll admit that, on paper, I like it. It grates against my Old Fart sensibilities, but I'm open minded, so I had decided to use it (should I ever actually run a game of WhiteBox).
     Then one of the tenets of old school play came to mind. In order to facilitate player engagement, and a sense of control over one's own fate, players have more and more claimed the right to make all the rolls for their characters. It was not always thus. In fact, in the LBB (Pg 10 of Men and Magic) under Determination of Abilities, it is laid plain that the referee actually rolls player character stats:
     "Prior to the character selection by players it is necessary for the referee to roll three six-sided dice in order to rate each as to various abilities, and thus aid them in selecting a role."
Isn't that a fine kettle of fish?
     Of course, DMs were expected to roll anything the character could not immediately determine the success of, such as hiding and moving silently.
     What does all that have to do with Ascending AC? In a word: unpredicability. With AAC it is assumed that the player always knows what he needs to roll in order to hit. That's the whole point of it, to streamline combat by establishing a more intuitive method for determing what the player needs to roll. But that doesn't leave much room for the mysterious or unpredictable, now does it?
     Descending AC, or more to the point, an actual to-hit table, is a horse of another color. With that the DM tells the player that the bandits are wearing leather armor, except the chief who has chain. Great. So, they know what they normally need to roll to hit chain, and smack him one, or so they think. Let's say they needed a 15 to-hit, and rolled spot on. They gleefully reach for the damage die, and you say "Nope. No good. You missed."
     Wait a minute, they think. What the hell just happened? One of two things. Either this guy is slippery as hell, or that chain is magic. But who knows for sure?

     The new games and systems have their own design goals. The designers set out to deliver a certain experience at the gaming table, and their designs reflect that. It is always important to remember that. They are trying to deliver to you their vision of the best system, and therefore, experience, that they possibly can. If your vision jives with theirs, then great. If not, then I ask, is newer really better? In this case, I think I'll be coming up with something that allows me to inject some mystery into opponents. Maybe not exactly the Descending AC system, but something similar, to be sure.
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