Sunday, January 09, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons

Somebody emailed me, asking my opinion of original D&D/AD&D. Here's my response:

I think that a role-playing game designer's job is to give players a set of rules to function as the physics of the game world, and to make those rules as simple as possible - but not overly simplistic to the point where stuff happens that just doesn't make sense.

And I don't think the AD&D rules strike that balance very well at all.

Here's one example. Having the amount of armor a character wears make them less likely to be hit, without reducing the damage they take when they get hit, is a simple rule that achieves the desired result of having armored characters take less damage over time. But it also leads to what I call the 'grapple problem': the chance of grabbing a character has nothing at all to do with how much armor they're wearing. Now, you can try to work around this by ignoring worn armor, and that's not too difficult when you know what the target is wearing - you can take that away, leaving just the target's natural ability not to get hit. But what if the target is a monster, whose natural armor and dodging ability are hopelessly jumbled together? Okay, then you can fake it. But the fact that the GM needs to shoehorn these extra steps back in, in order to work around this problem, means that the rules (in my opinion) are TOO simple.

There IS a good answer to the grappling problem, and that's to treat the ability to hit (or grab, or touch) a target and the ability to harm the target after you've hit it as two entirely separate things.

Other major problems with AD&D (in my opinion) are: character classes (which unnecessarily force characters into similar niches), experience levels (instead of a smooth progression of ability over time), and the fact that 'hit points' are treated as such a nebulous concept that you can't exactly say whether they represent injuries, or luck, or fatigue, or what - which makes it problematic to assign damage from falling, for example.

That being said, D&D was the first RPG, and so it gets a ton of special credit. It's also completely understandable that the first RPG would suffer from a lot of problems - they didn't have previous games to look at for ways to improve. I certainly don't say that Gygax and Arneson were incompetent. Nevertheless, later designers HAVE had that advantage, and luckily some of them have even taken advantage of it. That being the case, those are the games I prefer to play.