Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An Honest Question

If saying that I think the traditional "descending" armor class system makes more sense, both mechanically and philosophically, for old school D&D makes me a "fundamentalist," can I use the same epithet to describe Jonathan Tweet when he claims that "ascending" armor class is "just clearly better" without any qualifications whatsoever?

I ask because it's commonplace to claim that those of us who prefer the Old Ways are somehow deluded by nostalgia or fetishizing the past or just plain wrong, but to dare to suggest that guys like Tweet, who, if the aforementioned post is any indication, either doesn't know or doesn't care about either the history of the hobby or the motivations behind the old school renaissance, are themselves mistaken in some way is seen as yet more evidence that it's 1925 and the grognards are the gaming equivalents of William Jennings Bryan.

Call me crazy but somehow this seems a mite disproportionate.

66 comments:

  1. I don't see why descending armor class is better, and I do see an insistence on it as a fetishization of the old games.

    The mathematics of addition is easier than subtraction, so that's an advantage of the new system. I don't see any corresponding advantage of the new, besides backward compatibility, which is wrecked anyway because OD&D/BD&D and AD&D start at 9 and 10 respectively, so they are incompatible.

    I'd like a real explanation of why you prefer it.

    I definitely disagree on a number of other things he complains about: i.e. spellcasters playing differently from fighters as a bad thing.

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  2. Damn it...had to look up William Jennings Bryan!

    Leave off JM...why kick a man when he's already (apparently) down?

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  3. My previous point is distinct from the fact that Jonathan Tweet comes off as a jerk in this post, which seems unlike his other postings.

    I'm disappointed in his tone and responses in this post and his lack of appreciation for alternate approaches.

    I still love Omega World and reserve points, though.

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  4. I never get tired of this subject for some strange reason. I used to think the ascending armour class was more intuitive and simpler than the descending system, and Gygax seems to have felt the same way when he mentions in the DMG that he only kept it for the sake of continuity.

    However, I have since found that some people actually find the descending system easier to grasp, for whatever reason, a discovery that greatly surprised me. Up until that point I figured the best you could say were that they were equally easy.

    In more recent months I have come to realise that one of the advantages of descending armour class is that bonuses to armour class and penalties to hit can be expressed in the same way [i.e. as a minus], whilst penalties to armour class and bonuses to hit can also be so expressed [i.e. as a plus]. This means that all minuses and pluses can be compared and a final bonus found without even needing to separate the modifiers into "armour class modifiers" and "to hit modifiers".

    Anyway, Jonathan Tweet is happily wrong on this subject.

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  5. You might be overly sensitive if Jonathan Tweet's dislike of descending AC upsets you, but it doesn't necessarily make you a fundamentalist. I really doubt that Jonathan is making an attack on the old school, or has any dastardly scheme in mind, when he says he prefers ascending AC.

    I think you're a fundamentalist if you can only accept one way to play D&D.

    Frankly, I find it a little funny that this issue has you upset. You don't seem to have any issues with criticizing other folks, or supporting folks who make far more mean spirited attacks.

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  6. ...What? How does preferring something different from what you prefer make someone a jerk? You can disagree about whether rule X or Y is a "bad rule" or not, but why make it personal?

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  8. I dunno, doesn't fundamentalism in some way imply appeal to tradition? So you get to be one, but Jonathan has to be something more neophilic... a fiery reformer perhaps, nailing his thesis to the door of the old school church?

    At any rate, this is great little internet moment for me, because I am the DM of the S&W game that Jonathan is referring to. I ran three 2-3 hour sessions of it at Go Play NW, where the effects of one expedition were carried over to the next. There was only one character who went on more than one expedition, but it was still a very successful attempt at a "living dungeon" in a Con format (at least I thought so).

    More detail here

    I must say that Jonathan seemed to have a good time of it, whatever his takeaways. He spent a good amount of time flipping through the S&W book, chuckling and showing things to other people, and by the end he was excitedly waving his fist in the air, rolling dice, and cheering with the best of them.

    The dungeon in use was "The Upper Caves" of _The Darkness Beneath_ from Fight On! I actually had all the levels in my binder (including the marvelously "Madeleine L’Englesque" Crystal Hemisphere... kudos James). One expedition almost wound up in the Spawning Grounds of the Crabmen, but turned back when their cleric got KO'd by one of the eponymous inhabitants.

    I did use the ascending armor class, as I have been doing in my Twitter game, but I am actual contemplating switching my house rules around to use descending AC. This for two reasons:

    a) because it will make using the rules with non-SW material easier. I was having to mentally recalculate on the fly from the descending armor classes in the module. Not hard, but tedious.

    b) use of the Philotomy inspired d20+BAB+AC >= 20 (where BAB is increased by +1 over what is shown in the S&W rules) dovetails nicely with my Ability Check rule I've settled on (d20+Stat >= 20).

    As a fan of rules elegance and often opposed to needless exceptionalism myself, I can understand some of Jonathan's feeling in regards to certain aspects of OD&D that are often clung to by more conservative elements. But certainly in the case of S&W the entirety of the rule set is so light that further streamlining would almost seem to lead to blandness. Exceptions are not always bad, a well deployed and carefully chosen bit of chrome can go along way toward imparting flavor. You just have to know when to stop.

    For example, I find his complaint that M-Us play differently than fighters puzzling. That seems to me one of the points of using S&W as a ruleset. For my own part I dearly love playing my 4e fighter, with all his switches and levers, but I also know that some people just want to be handed a sword and given an opportunity to swing it at something. To each their own.

    At any rate, James I just wanted to let you know that part of my inspiration and preparation for running my S&W games has been reading your site, and careful consideration of your opinions, before then applying my own unique biases. So in way, you are a direct antecedent to the comment by Jonathan which inspired your post. How marvelously self referential is the Internet.

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  9. James, I think you're begging the question here, rather than making a legitimate point. Sorry! :(

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  10. In general, the good things in life come in the form of "more is better". More money, more home runs, more vacation days, etc. When we count those things, higher numbers means better.

    Therefore, I believe it's natural to associate "better armor" with "higher numerical representation".

    I am also uncomfortable with the use of negative numbers for AC. AC -2 should be qualitatively different from AC 2, not just another number on the scale.

    Unfortunately, if lower numbers are better, you must either set a cap for the "best possible AC" or you will run into negative AC at some point.

    Taking these two issues together, I have to agree with Tweet. But as they say, your mileage may differ.

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  11. I have no preference for either ascending or descending AC. For 1E AD&D, I mainly paid attention to how much it deviated from 10.

    Back when I was playing a lot of 1E AD&D, we frequently houseruled out the use of the to-hit combat tables, weapons AC adjustment tables, etc ... Instead we replaced it with a "defense roll" which is rolling a d20 and adding (10-AC) to it, whenever a player or monster was hit. On the player's side, an attack modifier was added to the player's "attack roll" so that it was consistent with the to-hit combat tables for different levels and classes. (This was also done for the monsters).

    Basically if the attacker's "attack roll" is greater than or equal to the opponent's "defense roll", it was a hit. The "defense roll" essentially made the opponent's AC change every round. A high "defense roll" made it harder to hit the opponent, while a low "denfese roll" made it easier to hit the opponent.

    This mechanic speeded up combat significantly, and didn't require the DM to constantly look up the to-hit combat tables, and other tables like the weapons AC adjustment table. I always found it annoying and slow to have to look up the tables constantly, especially the weapons AC adjustment table.

    The down side of using this "defense roll" mechanic, is that it made combat a lot more deadly.

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  12. James, dropping a "William Jennings Bryan" reference here makes you sound like a D&D equivalent of Dennis Miller.

    Tweet does make a pretty good point there that S&W supports both AC's. Given that it's a pretty easy conversion between the two, this doesn't seem like a good hill to die on, fundamentally speaking.

    But please, keep posting your opinions. Always good stuff.

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  13. James, you missed the real bomb Tweet dropped:

    "For the record, the "bad stuff" I'm referring to is stuff like: too much arithmetic (5% XP bonus, copper pieces, etc.), wonky XP progression per class, too-random character creation, and poor class balance. It also has the problem that didn't get fixed until 4e: all spells are daily, which makes spellcasters play too differently from the fighters."

    Thank goodness 4E fixed everything!!!

    Honestly, my jaw dropped when I read that paragraph....

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  14. Badmike, I know, I mean, I almost typed out a response to that but...really...there is no response to that. I'm dumbfounded. It's either naive, calculated guerrilla marketing, or both.

    James, I'd just leave it alone. Let them be self conscious about 3e, 4e, 5e, the X-treme Edition, or whatever. We like what we like, no need to be self conscious of it.

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  15. I would not be concerned.

    I prefer ascending ACs (as found in 3 and 4e) and see the merits of it a designer.

    But if I am playing an old school game (original or clone) then descending AC is the way to go.

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  16. Well, getting so riled up by AC is just a sign that Jonathan Tweet is right when he say some people cling to much to silly old details.

    That being said, his idea that spellcasters shouldn't play different from a fighter is the real interesting thing. That is a gap of misunderstanding or difference in opinion that is very wide indeed.

    I love the idea of general resolution mechanics, but the idea of having character types being more alike is a different thing altogether. I wonder were he gets this idea from?!

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  17. Didn't Tweet design one of the original editions of Ars Magica? Talk about a system where "wizards" play differently than "fighters"!

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  18. When I worked for WotC, around the time of the release of 3e, I talked with Jonathan Tweet about the changes in the new edition. One of those was making armor class ascending. He told me he believed it made the math easier, by eliminating THAC0. It also harmonized AC with other stats; every other stat goes in ascending order (you want a higher strength, not lower); you intuitively understand that higher is better. Except for AC.

    I don't think Tweet ever considered the historical dimension; for him it was all about aesthetics. For that reason alone, I believe, he thinks ascending AC is "better."

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  19. Negative numbers for harder to hit targets seem intuitively correct to my point of view. Negative = denial = difficult to achieve = harder to hit = higher armor class.
    Didn't I read the negative number ac scale came from napoleonic tall ship wargaming?

    Also, has anybody else noticed that old schoolers generally use blogspot, and new schoolers often use live journal?

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  20. "fetishization of the old games."

    ...is something I gleefully engage in and approve of 100%.

    Anyone who wants to insist on a stigma to be applied there is not someone with an opinion worth my time.

    So tired of peer pressure on "old-schoolers" to deny or beat themselves up over a some harmless, joyful nostalgia.

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  21. There are times when I spend a lot of analysis on 3E rules, come to a point and say, "Oh, I see why they did that... why didn't they put a sidebar explaining their reasoning?" (Example: Balancing all classes across all levels, for tourney play.) Then I read some unthinking blurt-out like this, and am convinced that there was truly little or no analysis put into it in the first place.

    Descending AC is one thing. "Too-random character creation" is probably worse than that. But "Spellcasters play too differently from the fighters" is either just complete horseshit, 4E marketing dogma, or some mix of the two.

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  22. Computantionally speaking, the difference between the two is inconsequential. If you are going to do the calculations on the fly, it might be the case that ascending AC is slightly easier to calculate (depending on how it is implemented) but if you use lookup tables, it hardly matters.

    Intuitively, it makes sense that AC 2: second class armor is better than AC 4: fourth class armor.

    Originally, each AC represented a particular type of armor, and all to hit adjustments were made to the die roll, not the armor class itself. This allowed for the possibility of weapon vs. AC types, since AC 5 meant chain mail (except when it meant scale + shield, in 1st Edition AD&D's badly-implemented and seldom-used weapon versus armor rules). Negative AC only became an issue after modifiers such as dexterity and magic adjustments were applied directly to the target's AC instead of modifying the attackers to-hit roll. Before that, there was no such thing as negative armor class.

    I learned to play D&D using Mentzer's Red Box basic when I was ten, and I had no problems whatever with the AC rules. I have a difficult time believing that an adult should have any trouble mastering the same concept today. Ascending, descending, or straight lookup matrix can all be implemented to play out with equal ease.

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  23. I am something of an old-schooler at heart (having started with the D&D boxed set in 1979), but - of all the changes made in Swords & Wizardry - the inclusion of an Ascending Armor Class is perhaps my most favorite.

    As Ross mentioned above (on behalf of Mr. Tweet), it is more aesthetically pleasing to have an Armor Class score that parallels other numerical scores in the game. After all, attributes are positive numbers, hit points are (generally) positive numbers, levels are calculated to the positive...

    Thus, in my mind, an AAC only makes sense.

    Of course, as it was already mentioned, adding is easier than subtracting... and I'm all for easy. Consulting a table to see if my fighting-man hit the ogre is a pain in the butt, but rolling the d20, adding my bonus "to hit," and comparing that to a number is... well... it's just better.

    I have a great appreciation for old school. In fact, I cling to many other remnants of old school. However, descending Armor Class is one thing I am happy to see go the way of the dodo.

    MJB

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  24. @Inaki: "I don't see why descending armor class is better, and I do see an insistence on it as a fetishization of the old games... I'd like a real explanation of why you prefer it."

    Because the algorithmically simplest of all math-equivalent combat resolutions is to do d20 + HD + AC + bonus >= 20 (and can be universalized to saves, skills, and ability checks). I've been doing this since 1E. Turn AC increasing and you remove my ability to use that simplest-possible-procedure.

    @MikeMearls: "You might be overly sensitive... I really doubt that Jonathan is making an attack on the old school, or has any dastardly scheme in mind, when he says he prefers ascending AC."

    Tweet did not just say that he "prefers" ascending AC (which would be an enormously weak argument if he had said it). James is correct, Tweet in fact wrote, "... the 10+ system that they have to include because it's just clearly better." Which is at best a joke, and at worst propaganda.

    Probably worse than that is the scornful introduction that acts like the OSR was some cargo cult: "I played in a rather odd RPG at Go Play NW. It's a third-party version of the original, three-book D&D rules set. There are apparently several such innovations..."

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  25. @Kuni, just to clear the air a bit, James did call the post "An Honest Question," so it seems that was his intent--to start a conversation.

    That said, I read Tweet's posts and I took away that he did enjoy playing S&W, but seemed to misinterpret some of its key aspects. The bad attitude was perhaps misdirected or poorly communicated sarcasm(?). In any case, it came off more harsh than I think it was meant to be.

    And no, I didn't agree with a thing he said either

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  26. Tweet's comments are unusually snarky here, but I think I see his logic here (though I don't agree with it): since ascending AC is not an OD&D feature, there must be some other reason for including it in S&W, and that reason is that ascending AC is better. The other commenters here have already pointed out why that's not necessarily so.

    The comment about magic-users playing differently than fighters rests, I think, on the unfortunate presumption that a character's powers are the only way that character can contribute to a party. By this logic, since first-level fighters can fight in every encounter while first-level magic-users can use one spell per game session, the magic-user is obviously much worse and no one should want to play one. This attitude overlooks role-playing opportunities (what might a better-educated, more magically knowledgeable character do better than a warrior besides casting spells?) to concentrate on "roll-playing".

    (Excellent blog, BTW.)

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  27. I think there is more than enough labeling in our culture, why do we need it in our gaming? Next thing you know, we'll be arguing over what "old-school" means or maybe even what "is," is. :)

    Play what you want.

    By the way, I live in William Jennings Bryan's hometown - Salem,IL. We have statue with a garden dedicated to him as well as the house he grew up in.

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  28. I also learned descending AC, copper pieces, and 5/10% bonuses when I was ten... I never understood what the big deal was. Likewise, I was, and continue to be, puzzled by players who can't deal with THAC0.

    I do remember encountering ascending AC for the first time in Gamma World 4th edition, and my then twelve year old self immediately noticed that all the armor bonuses are pretty much exactly the same.

    I don't know... I have a lot more gripes with 3e and 4e and ascending AC, personally.

    I also think that Tweet's post is fair... we here in the grog-blogosphere take petty shots at 3 and 4 E all the time. (Try it! It's fun!) I say let him swing back. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, and I very much doubt either side will convert the other by blog alone.

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  29. Holding on to any mechanic that's less usable at the table and no different in flavour is...dumb. 'Fetishization' implies certain motivations. I think they apply in your case, James, but they don't necessarily have to. ('Fear' works just as well, for instance, as does the more diplomatic 'security,' etc.)

    Ascending AC makes more intuitive sense to, I'm guessing, every nongamer ever, and the math rolls off one's tongue. End of debate from my perspective.

    It's not analogous to preferring, say, a command-line interface to a GUI. Just isn't. This commenter has it -

    Of course, as it was already mentioned, adding is easier than subtracting... and I'm all for easy. Consulting a table to see if my fighting-man hit the ogre is a pain in the butt, but rolling the d20, adding my bonus "to hit," and comparing that to a number is... well... it's just better.

    Lookup tables are for saps: if you're modeling a dynamic system, use dynamic methods. That's called 'scalability,' or 'modularity,' or 'expandability,' and young gamers expect it. Lucky little bitches.

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  30. "Holding on to any mechanic that's less usable at the table and no different in flavour is...dumb."

    How about one that's exactly as usable and different in flavor? That would be much closer to on-topic here...

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  31. "Holding on to any mechanic that's less usable at the table and no different in flavour is...dumb."

    How about one that's exactly as usable and different in flavor? That would be much closer to on-topic here...


    Sure, except even 'grognards' admit that descending AC is 'slightly' easier to pick up. Which matters a hell of a lot if (and only if) you care about introducing new players to games. It is simply not as usable for anyone except those previously forced to use it. Hence my comment about nongamers - the basic D20-system mechanic is trivial to pick up, and old-school D&D mechanics are too various, arbitrary, occasionally silly, and certainly intimidating for people who don't already self-identify according to geek-culture norms and such. I'm no slouch at math, but I prefer a clean mechanic that's intuitive even in a non-expert frame of reference. AAC is that. No biggie.

    The DM of Tweet's S&W game said:

    Exceptions are not always bad, a well deployed and carefully chosen bit of chrome can go along way toward imparting flavor. You just have to know when to stop.

    This is very sensible - the first pro-DAC argument I've heard that hasn't smacked of nostalgia. Hell, I buy it. But there are plenty of flavourful, clean mechanics, easy for new players to pick up. I tend to think complaints about THAC0 are whining bullshit, but you can dodge the whole thing - tables, mental subtraction, and THAC0 hinkiness - and layer on some chrome elsewhere. I'm all for it.

    (It's also weird to hear resentful hobbyists dissing a dude with Tweet's design cred and analytical mind - but I won't go on about that.)

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  32. Personally I find that Ascending AC is better. Much like I find that three saves is better than six and one save is even better than three. I do respect the older rules but I think better ways have came along since then.

    However I won't quote them as gospel as one persons innovation is another persons frustration. If I had to sum up a point it would be that you can have a 'classic' style game ( I hate the term Old School) with any rules.

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  33. I didn't like descending AC because it went negative. That was just weird to me - you're measuring a quantity(defensive protection), and suddenly you have a negative amount.

    Also, THACO becomes really arbitrary, because AC 0 isn't the best AC you can have. I mean, why not have THAC7? Just in case a lot of orcs have AC 7, it would make things really easy.

    If AC 0 were the absolute cap, then I think it would make more sense. I suspect it was the limit when they first designed the game...

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  34. Our AD&D group adopted ascending AC in 1981 or so. So to me, ascending AC feels very old school!

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  35. "Sure, except even 'grognards' admit that descending AC is 'slightly' easier to pick up."

    I suppose, in the way that a five letter word is easier to learn to spell than a four letter word. Once you're nitpicking "complexity" to the level of 1 plus 1 versus 1 minus 1, you're splitting hairs at the very least. It's the most basic of grade school math in any case.

    "(It's also weird to hear resentful hobbyists dissing a dude with Tweet's design cred and analytical mind - but I won't go on about that.)"

    Disagreement is not a "dis." I would challenge you to quote one personal insult against the man in these comments.

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  36. Delta's insistence that Tweet is a propagandist (or horseshit shoveler) for a company he no longer works for is pretty close to personal insult territory.

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  37. "Delta's insistence that Tweet is a propagandist (or horseshit shoveler) for a company he no longer works for is pretty close to personal insult territory."

    Or maybe just an honest mistake. There are good reasons to expect people to speak up in support of companies they still work for. :)

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  38. Oh, and for what it's worth, I myself see nothing in Tweet's comments that I have reason to find insincere.

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  39. The notion that higher AC needs to be better because higher everything else is better is utter nonsense, because AC is qualitatively different from a character's other stats -- it's not rolled like ability scores, hit points, and gold, it's a fixed value that's looked up and copied down from a table. The same goes for saving throws, THAC0, and cleric's chances to turn undead, which are (OMG!) all of the other values where having a lower number is better in OD&D. Anyone with even a modicum of sense should be able to understand that something you roll with dice and something you look up on a table are different types of things that don't need to follow the same rule, especially because, when those values are actually used in play you still want to roll high, just like when you were rolling to determine your ability scores, hit points, and starting money! The die-rolling, not the fixed value copied down from a table, is the important part, and the die-rolling is consistent.*

    In fact, because these (AC, saving throws, THAC0, clerics vs. undead) "confusing" lower-is-better numbers are all fixed values from tables, there's actually no need for the player to have them on his character sheet at all -- a 1st level cleric has the same saving throws, THAC), and chance against undead as any other 1st level cleric; a character wearing chain + shield has the same AC as any other character in chain + shield. The player knows that when he's rolling to attack, or to avoid a deadly effect, or to turn the undead that higher is better; he doesn't need to know exactly how high. Likewise, it's easy (downright "intuitive," I daresay) for a player to understand that light armor is better defense than no armor, medium is better defense than light, heavy is better defense than medium, and carrying a shield is better defense than not carrying one, and the actual numbers can be left up to the referee (who, admittedly, does have to understand that lower is better for AC and THAC0 and saving throws -- but you know what? anyone incapable of grasping that concept probably isn't going to want to be the DM anyway...). If a player is likely to be hopelessly confused and turned off the game by seeing a column of numbers on the left side of the sheet that were rolled on dice and where higher is better and a column of numbers on the right side of the sheet that were copied off a table where lower is better (because, when rolling the dice, you want to roll higher than that number), then there's no need to confuse them by giving both columns -- everything in the second one is fixed and the referee can handle applying it as necessary (and as an aside, note that the original 1975-76 D&D character sheets by TSR didn't have spaces for AC, saving throws, "to hit" charts, etc. -- the only entries on those sheets are for the results of die rolls (ability scores, gold**), player choices (name, class, alignment, equipment, languages, spells), and "score" (treasure, XP).

    And in use, ascending vs descending AC is a total wash as far as ease of use, with the deciding factor being, most likely, what you're more used to using. d20+mods+BAB > AC and d20+mods+AC > THAC0 is the same formula, only the former uses bigger numbers than the latter -- some people find adding bigger numbers easier than possibly subtracting small numbers; I don't particularly: subtracting 3 from 12 to determine if the result is greater than or equal to 10 is just as easy to me, possibly a little easier, than adding 9 to 12 to determine if the result is greater than or equal to 22. YMMV, but anybody who finds one impossibly difficult or onerous is likely to feel the same way about the other and, again, probably isn't going to be the DM (who is, again, the only one who actually needs to know this formula -- for most players it's sufficient to know that the higher they roll the better).

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  40. Footnotes to the previous comment, posted separately because with them the previous post was deemed too long.

    *well, mostly consistent -- lower is better when attempting to hear noise or spot a secret door, but if always having higher die roll = better for the players is really that important, it's trivially easy to change those two rolls: humans hear noise on a roll of 6, demi-humans on a 5-6; non-elves spot secret doors on a 3+, everyone else on a 5-6. Done!

    **there's actually no spot for hit points on these sheets, and there should be. Some have interpreted this as meaning that HP were fluid in those days, re-rolled each session, or even each encounter. Gary Gygax confirmed, however, that it was just as error on the sheets...

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  41. In summary, the two main advantages of descending AC over ascending AC are:

    (1) Smaller numbers are easier to manipulate than large numbers. As proven by psychology experiments. The descending-AC system is always single-digit, while the ascending-AC system is necessarily double-digit all the time.

    (2) Round numbers are easier to compare than odd numbers. Again, a result of established psychology experiments. The descending-AC system allows use of the "Target 20" all-additive algorithm:" d20 + level + AC + mods >= 20, whereas the 3E system ends with comparison to variable odd numbers, like AC15 or AC27.

    A longer presentation on my blog today.

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  42. @Delta: Fair enough. I have to admit some (obvious) bias here, since Tweet is someone I know. He does have a reputation for a blunt force method in presenting his views, so I can see how his comments could grate.

    He didn't work on 4e, though, nor does he work at WotC. He hasn't worked on D&D since 2001, IIRC.

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  43. I have a slight preference for the traditional lower-is-better approach, for reasons I describe in my musing on THAC0. However, higher-is-better isn't a deal-breaker, for me.

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  44. I find Attack-AC = Target Number, then roll, to be easier than Attack+d20, compare to AC; which is to say I find descending AC easier to work with, at least until you get negative ACs. I suppose deducting Atack Bonus from AC to get target number would work out the same, but it's not part of the 'culture' of ascending AC.

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  45. I prefer ascending AC myself. I loved it when I saw it first in Gamma World 4th edition and I loved it more in 3E. Addition is easier and faster then subtraction.

    That and a higher number is just more 'cool'. :)

    Adherence to what I view as a mechanically weak game element is a strike against 'old school' games. You can maintain an old school feel, without regressing mechanically.

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  46. I personally use ascending AC, and think championing the opposite often comes down to a bit of fetishism (although for most people, comfort would likely rank higher), but Tweet's comments on classes and memorisation were a genuinely jaw-dropping moment. I see no problems with preferring a more uniform class system or spell points, but it seemed that Jonathan did not understand that classes playing differently could be a good thing.

    And that's a game design 101 issue - hell, computer games like Team Fortress have very different "playing pieces", and so does chess - or we could even say that in real life, a SWAT team would approach a situation differently than a tanker crew or a marine squad. This variety, as I understand it, is the spice of life and gaming, and I am genuinely baffled by schools of thought that seek to streamline the playing experience in favour of a unified design (or a unified understanding of "fun"). Why have classes if all of them are functionally equivalent?

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  47. All of the Sound and Fury defending DAC does lend an air of Fundamentalism. It's the way some (many/most) Classic-Play gamers have run things, and that's the way they like it. That's adherence to tradition. Not that there's anything wrong with that. ;)

    Personally, since I dig having folks active even in the 'getting _swung_ at' stage of combat, I use a Defence Roll, and AAC.

    Hardly conniption-worthy, in either case, but by all means, defend tradition to your heart's content. I thought the point was having fun, and possibly adding new players to the sub-sector of the hobby.

    > shrug <

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  48. "That's adherence to tradition. Not that there's anything wrong with that."

    Nothing wrong with that? Tell that to the the rest of this comment thread.

    Makes me recall some upstart group called "TARGA."

    I wonder what the "T" stood for...

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  49. I have to agree with Mike Mearls on this. James, I think that equating 4E with "Mary-Sue fan wankery" is a mite disproportionate as well, and yet you supported James Mishler when he put up that chart of his. The whole debacle leaves a sour taste in my mouth; there are clearly intelligent guys on the side of both old and new school, but apparently no empathy whatsoever towards the other side.

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  50. "...the grognards are the gaming equivalents of William Jennings Bryan."

    Would that be during his bimetallism phase? Or during his Scopes Trial swan song?

    It is the year 2009, and the grognards are still arguing over THAC0. Somewhere up there Gary and Dave are hooting with laughter. ;)

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  51. Seems that when someone criticizes the old systems this mean no respect for the Hobby history... but if you look at hobby history you can see AC was not created just for D&D, but borrowed from a wargame on the American Civil War. The first D & D is far from being a perfect system, there is nothing wrong with admitting that it has some inconsistent rules. It's normal, since the creation of the game by Gary and Dave was always on going, and often they took the inspiration to rules from wargame they were accustomed to use. In the end I can only agree with Jonathan, a increasing AC is more consistent and clear (so to me better), with all due respect for the hobby history (and continuing to use the original system in my OD&D game)
    PS Then we can discuss if consistency and clarity are real benefits in a game.
    PSS "Didn't Tweet design one of the original editions of Ars Magica? Talk about a system where "wizards" play differently than "fighters"!"
    Sorry, but I don't belive D&D is a game centered on mage covenants...

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  52. James, I think that equating 4E with "Mary-Sue fan wankery" is a mite disproportionate as well, and yet you supported James Mishler when he put up that chart of his.

    You're right; it is and I won't defend that, as it makes plain a mean streak in me that I need to keep in check better. I've since deleted my post expressing agreement with it and here offer my apologies to anyone offended by my having done so in the first place.

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  53. but if you look at hobby history you can see AC was not created just for D&D, but borrowed from a wargame on the American Civil War.

    Actually, it was borrowed from Chainmail and reversed. The question has always been "why did Arneson reverse AC?" The answer is fairly obvious when you realise that everything is calculated from the attacker's point of view. All defence "bonuses" are applied as minuses and all attack bonuses are applied as bonuses. All defence "penalties" are applied as bonuses and all attack bonuses as bonuses.

    Once you grasp this simple idea it all slots into place rather easily. Only later were magic armour "bonuses" and dexterity "bonuses" calculated into the fixed "armour class", and often only conditionally.

    As to the "it's simpler and more intuitive, even grognards accept that", I think you would be hard pressed to show that, and in any case there are people who find descending armour class easier than ascending from first introduction. It surprised me too, but it happens. The trend is towards more people finding ascending armour class easier, but that is a different measurement.

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  54. I'm actually kind of floored that you guys have nitpicked for pages about ascending vs. descending AC when the *real* 400-pound gorilla Mr. Tweet talked about has received so little discussion.

    "Classes play too differently"? Seriously? I've always believed having several classes result in different styles of play is fundamental to the core of D&D. It would certainly be a much poorer game if the whole group played the same way.

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  55. Rob,

    You're absolutely right. That is a far more astounding comment, all things considered. I just rankle whenever someone, especially a game designer, claims a certain rule is "clearly better" than another one.

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  56. I agree entirely with Rob Iannacone about the postcript by Tweet being almost unbelievable. Not liking the difference in play between classes seems like a fundamental dislike of complexity in the game that was designed that way on purpose. Tweet doesn't get (or pretends not to get) that that was the point, along with MU's being weak to start with and getting stronger. (One of the things I dislike about thieves mechanically is that they were weak the whole way through the levels.)

    Delta:

    d20 + HD + AC + bonus >= 20 for DAC is no different algorithmically than

    d20 + HD + bonus >= 20 - DAC = AAC

    I don't see a difference at all mechanically, and in the later case, there is no subtraction necessary for negative DACs - it is a straight comparison.

    For your later points, I can counter 1 with a simple statement that addition is easier than subtraction, and at precisely the point where AACs go above 20 (your default target number), DACs go negative, forcing a subtraction. So I don't see a mechanical benefit from DAC at all.

    I read your discussion on your blog, but it completely ignores the issue of subtracting negative DACs. I also find CFTs comments quite persuasive for non-mechanical reasons.

    T.Foster:

    THAC0 wasn't in OD&D as far as I remember. It's an innovation from AD&D. You're missing the point that there is no need to look up attacks on a table when you no longer have fixed Armor Class as a type of armor. If you like THAC0, fine, but THAC0 isn't OD&D and thus can't be defended as hoary tradition, particularly for those of us who never played much AD&D.

    The rest of your comment is personal preference and doesn't persuade me in the least.

    I don't understand the Target20 system for saving throws, which vary by level and mods, as opposed to just rolling above the Saving Throw value. Seems like way more complexity.

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  57. " "Classes play too differently"? Seriously? I've always believed having several classes result in different styles of play is fundamental to the core of D&D. It would certainly be a much poorer game if the whole group played the same way."

    The too much arithmetic quote is what got me. You are talking to a guy that made straight A's in high school yet almost failed one subject: Math. I've somehow managed to play D&D and other "Math Intensive" games for 3 decades....without a calculator at hand!

    I do believe the lead story was buried under the "Great AC Debate". Lead story being, comments being made by Tweet were indicative of someone without a clue about the roots of the hobby. I hope James takes the time to dissect that entire paragraph from Tweet.....

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  58. Inaki: THAC0 wasn't in OD&D as far as I remember. It's an innovation from AD&D. You're missing the point that there is no need to look up attacks on a table when you no longer have fixed Armor Class as a type of armor. If you like THAC0, fine, but THAC0 isn't OD&D and thus can't be defended as hoary tradition, particularly for those of us who never played much AD&D.

    I'm not defending THAC0 as "hoary tradition" by any means, I'm defending it as something that works, in the formula d20+mods+AC >= THAC0. Saying that I can't use something in my OD&D games because it wasn't in use in the 70s (though IIRC THAC0 was actually first adopted by a UK fanzine c. 1977) is way more of a fundamentalist head-in-the-sand notion than anything I advocate, just like those folks on other sites who suggest "how dare these people act like they prefer OD&D now when I know they weren't playing it back in 1976!" Also, in OD&D as I play it, AC does = fixed type of armor, and adjustments for magic, cover, etc. are made to the attack roll (the "mods" part of the formula) -- +2 armor is a -2 adjustment on the attack roll, rather than a -2 to AC. It's simpler and works better for me to do it that way, and makes not a whit of difference if that's what they were doing back in the 70s because, contrary to popular opinion, I'm not hidebound to tradition or "what the old guys say goes" -- if I were I'd presumably be playing Lejendary Adventures instead of D&D, since in his last years EGG was consistently insistent that he thought LA was the superior game.

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  59. I also agree with Rob about what the real nuclear bombshell was ("classes too different"). I hate continuing on the sidetrack, but here goes...

    @Inaki: "d20 + HD + AC + bonus >= 20 for DAC is no different algorithmically than d20 + HD + bonus >= 20 - DAC = AAC"

    The two are equivalent mathematically. However, the two are indeed different algorithmically.

    Be careful how you're using the word "algorithm" (which means "instructions performed in a prescribed sequence to achieve a goal", American Heritage Dictionary). If the order of steps is different, then you've got a different algorithm. The search for mathematically equivalent procedures, that are algorithmically more efficient on whatever hardware you're using, is the subject of computer science. That's what's of interest in my last blog entry.

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  60. In pure OD&D, with only 8 armor class values (AC 9 to AC 2), little to cero mods, number as armor type, and the cool game style of keeping the most rules invisible, I think the decending works just fine, no need to change it. It could even have been letters and it would work the same.

    In my homebrew spanish game with is more AD&Dis, I use ascending because most of my players are used to that.

    IMO, it's the same, no big deal at all.

    80 comments on the subject. Wow, just wow.

    Anyway, I lost any gaming respect I had for Tweet.

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  61. Johnathan Tweet simply doesn't "Get it".

    It's OK that he doesn't. Lots of people don't. He shouldn't feel ashamed about it, or feel it necessary to denigrate something he clearly can't understand, but again that's something a lot of people do as a defensive measure.

    I think Johnathan would be better off playing Blue Rose or maybe a White Wolf game. It'd probably hurt his feelings less.

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  62. I'd actually argue that neither of you are fundamentalists. Both of you are using a convenient interpretation of the rules.

    Take a look at the original definition of Armour Class in the alternative combat system in Men & Magic. Each is a distinct band with no overlap, which is why Greyhawk could add specific weapon mods by armour class. It really is based on the Armour Class from Chainmail.

    The clincher is the rules in Monsters & Treasure for magical weapons and armour. Go read them. Armour is specifically listed as "subtracting it's bonus from the Hit Die of the opponent." Think about this for a moment. The bonus from magical armour does not affect Armour Class!
    A set of +2 chainmail is not the equivalent of plate mail. [If played as written,* it is actually something quite distinct; Think about the different effect that +2 magical armour has versus a fighter (who advances in catagouries of 1-3 hit die) vs a magic user (who advances in catagouries of 1-5 hit die).]

    Now the problem is that these combat matrices are constructed with a relatively simple formula that are obvious to the casual observer. Both sides of the argument are taking the information presented by the matrices and then creating your own formula to determine the appropriate probabilities of success.

    The AC increases as it gets better school is using the easier mathematical model (since they don't need to calculate the base THAC0), but in fact neither school of thought is actually using the system as originally envisaged.

    You are both guilty of making approximations and reading into the rules. <grin>

    <ducks thrown brickbats>

    [* And no one ever uses the 1/3rd chance rule for magical shields, either.]

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  63. Actually, Greyhawk does eventually roll the bonuses from magical armour and shields into armour class (pp. 15-16).

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  64. [* And no one ever uses the 1/3rd chance rule for magical shields, either.]

    Some of us do. Or rather we would if we had any magical shields in our campaigns. When the players in my game finally find one, I certainly plan to use those rules.

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  65. Declining AC was just one of those harder things to wrap my 12yr old brain (circa 1982) around. So I wonder if it is the same thing for today's gamers. I remember only studying integers in Gr 9 and understanding then...so when I was 14yrs old. So it really depends how you see the function of the Old School...

    If it is to bring the excitement of different adventures that require that you fly by the seat of your pants more than looking up the rule that covers that exception to younger gamers...then we have to make sure the rules conform with their understanding of the world.

    Or if it is to provide pleasure for Older People (like I am hitting 40 this year) then we have to design a game that satisfies their needs.

    For me Old School must cater to the First audience, for us grognards need to teach otherwise and some of those old rule systems are archaic even for us, as we mapped over top numerous house rules to make it work. So it is with AC, a reconnaissance with what younger gamers are actually learning would make the old school stronger.

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