Friday, December 27, 2013

Ruminations on OD&D: 3d6 In Order and Level Limits

Now that the Christmas shipping madness has passed I might be able to get some writing done.

I have played with a LOT of people over the years that ignored these two simple guidelines. Of course, it was mostly AD&D 1st/2nd Edition mash-ups, but the principle still applies. I, myself, disdained them for a large chunk of my gaming life. It is only now that I have returned to my gaming "roots" that I really understand their intent. I will go out on a limb and admit that I think they pose a rather ham-fisted solution to a perceived "problem", but nevertheless, I do understand them, and the necessity for them.

They are demographic controls. Especially post-Greyhawk OD&D, with the introduction of Paladins, Thieves, and multiclassing, opened a flood gate of new classes and options that still continues. OD&D doesn't go to great pains to balance classes against each other. It is mostly achieved with the XP tables. Some classes are inherently more powerful, though, than a simple XP increase can account for. (ahem, Paladin, cough cough). So, the problem becomes "how to limit said class". Places strict attribute requirements and require 3d6 rolled in order. To play a Paladin you would have to roll a 17+ on Charisma, not just a 17+ in a group of 6 rolls. Other new classes have lower absolute requirements, but more of them.

So, if you don't have a particular problem with a party full of Rangers, Druids, and the inevitable guy who insists on playing a chaotic good assassin (one who has seen the darkness in his heart and now kills for a good cause), then you may safely ignore 3d6 in order and do it however you please. Seriously, there is no sarcasm in that. Maybe a plethora of supposedly-rare classes all functioing in a single group is not a concern for your game. All I'm saying is, I see the reasoning in it.

Same for demi-human level limits. This is the one I was really directing the "ham-fisted" remark at. This one is dirt simple. Who wants to play a dwarf when you top out at level 6? Well, somebody who really wants to play a dwarf. Who wants to role play a dwarf. Oddly enough, I've been in that boat where humans are concerned. I've played in games with virtually no restrictions on what I could do with my character.

In the group I played with most often, we rolled 4d6, dropped the lowest and re-rolled 1's. Arranged to taste. no racial level limits, any race could multiclass. If we wanted to be a certain class but didn't have the stats for it, the DM would tell us to put the best number we had on the stat and he would raise it to the minimum.We weren't middle schoolers min-maxing, mind you. We were just very player/character focused. As a group we shared DMing and we all wanted each other to play whatever we wanted. We didn't want to force anyone into a class/race they didn't want just so we could be in line with the rules. Ironically enough, I was typically the only guy playing a straight-up human fighter.

It seemed that with our high-brow way of thinking, we believed that we, as players, had to have maximum freedom to "design" the character we wanted to play or else it wouldn't be fun. We never explored the possibility of finding the fun in a character that we "found" through random generation. I think we missed more than we gained.


  1. I try to play 3d6-in-order but I have to admit it takes a huge amount of will power to do so as a player, especially if not all the players are doing it. Since rolling up a character only takes a minute or so, there's a temptation to say, "this character sucks" and roll another, and another, and another. Until the whole point is lost. Same with ability score minimums, just keep rolling until you meet them. We've all done that as a kid. The problem is that there is no downside to rolling high; no price to pay so to speak. A 17 is just better than a 16 in every way.

    Even if you decide to play the first character you roll, now you've got a character that you're hoping will die quickly so you can get another.

    Level limits. Well, those seem to violate the original spirit of the rules themselves:
    - "There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything," M&M pg 8
    - "There is no theoretical limit to how high a character may progress" M&M pg 18.

  2. I think "roll 3d6 in order" works with the three little brown books where ability scores don't matter all that much. Greyhawk/AD&D introduce two problems with it, of course; 1) As Gygax himself states in the Players Handbook (or is it the Dungeon Master's Guide?) the game is scaled such that if a player character doesn't have at least 2 scores (or is it 3?) of 15+, he's not going to have a good chance to survive, and 2) if you like the new classes, the odds that you will ever get to play most of them are pretty slim.

    1. #1: As you say, this quote is from AD&D (not OD&D), where the class stat requirements are _higher_ for a given class, compared to OD&D.
      #2: This misses/ignores David Smith's point—the stat requirements are _supposed_ to make those classes infrequently played.

      3d6 in order works fine in OD&D, just as 4d6-drop-the-lowest but no rearrange works fine in AD&D (even though it's less generous than AD&D method 1).

    2. I totally agree. I'm very partial to both the initial instantiation of OD&D (pre-Greyhawk), as well as rolling 3d6 in order with no re-rolls and a minimum of classes (the 3+3 in Men & Magic). But IF you're going to spend 6+ pages describing, say, Druids, Paladins, Rangers and Illusionists, to say nothing of spending an additional 20+ pages for Druid and Illusionist spells, it seems weird to hold the odds of anyone ever qualifying for those classes as respectively: 1 in 30, 1 in 1000, 2 in 1000 and 4 in 1000.

    3. Unless I'm missing a detail on how to determine likelihood of qualifying for one of those OD&D classes, the odds are actually 1 in 17 for druid, 1 in 54 for paladin, 1 in 77 for ranger, and 1 in 11 for illusionist. (Maybe you are showing the odds of qualifying for the AD&D versions of those classes with 3d6 in order?)

      Also, a quantity of pages does not necessarily entitle anyone to use them. There are many pages of very high level spells and very potent magic items, yet nobody is entitled to get to automatically acquire those.

      We're talking about supplements that are going to be used by many, many groups, so _some_ players will manage to qualify for those classes, even if others don't. There are many other parts of the relevant supplements that are still useful, even if a group never qualifies (or is never interested in) those classes. And they can always be leveraged by the DM as NPCs.

    4. Yes, I was doing the math for the requirements set out in the 1e Players Handbook.

  3. I call the old approach "balance through rarity". Sure, 18/00 strength is great, but the odds of getting it are infitesimal (what, one in 21,600?). Same with paladins and the CHA requirement. But the more they put that stuff out there, the greater the temptation to find some way of shade your chances of getting those goodies. Eventually you arrive at the goofy chargen techniques of UA. Sigh. But the aggravation of having things in the game that likely no one will get to use can't be doubted. (I played AD&D for about eight years before someone rolled up a paladin--who then died in the first few hours of his existence.) I think that kind of thing works better when you have a regular group playing the game for many hours each week, with a high mortality rate you'll see some good characters and some bad ones. But who has that luxury anymore? People talk about playing the game 'the way gygax and arneson intended" but a key part of that intent was that you played it A LOT.

  4. Excellent points all 'round. I'm not really sure I had much of a point with the post, more of a simple observation, really. Just me working out the why's and wherefore's of the design theories behind class stat requirements and demi-human level limits. Personally, for myself, if I had a group and was DMing, I would be prone to letting my players play what they wanted. The reality of my life is that I might, MIGHT, be able to get together twice a month. If that is the base dynamic of my campaign I want it to be built on a foundation of players playing the characters they want to play (including rare classes and demi-humans without limits) and I want them to have some survivability. We play for fun, not so we can subjugate ourselves to the whims of platonic solids.

    In point of fact, I find it a bit ironic that one of the cornerstones of "old school" play is the sandbox, where the characters have absolute freedom in the direction of the campaign, yet the player has no freedom when it comes to his character. And, no, I do not consider a restricted range of options "freedom".

    1. Constrained character creation actually creates _synergy_ with sandbox play. (This may not be obvious until you actually play this way.) If players don't automatically get everything they might desire with their character, the DM is blessed with sandbox seed ideas, plus implicit motivation. "Oh, you wanted to play a paladin but had to settle for a fighter because you rolled a low charisma? Well, legend says that Aphrodite will bestow grace upon anyone who avenges the death of Thales, one of her illegitimate sons ..."