Thursday, July 16, 2009

Two Brief Comments

First: the point of my question was not my personal preference for the traditional AC system -- which is a preference, albeit one I can explain rationally, as others have done. You'll note I didn't say, as Tweet did, that my preference is "clearly better," only that I believe it makes more sense for old school D&D, where there is no unified mechanic and where "lower is better" is not an anomalous concept restricted only to armor class. My only point was that, generally speaking, when I champion my preferences, I get hit with the much-dreaded "fundamentalist" label, whereas when Tweet does even more than that, he's speaking truth. That's what bugs me, not that someone dared to say they prefer something I do not.

Second: for a topic that's supposedly so inconsequential, it sure does generate a lot of commentary. I'm not the least bit surprised, but then I think the choice of armor class system is more than just a question of mathematical pedagogy or even adherence to or dissent from tradition. Go figure.

25 comments:

  1. When someone says "I like descending AC better because that's what we've always used and we're used to it" it's a completely rational and valid reason.

    When someone says "I like AAC better because it seems a bit simpler and I don't like to reference tables" it's completely rational and reasonable.

    It's when someone starts seriously arguing that one system is clearly or obviously better than the other that things start to get crazy.

    Look at 90% of the "this way is good, that way is bad, period" arguments and you wonder if any of them (and I mean both sides) can do simple math.

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  2. If you need a 14 to hit the orc, you need a 14 to hit the orc. Is the math used to get there really a dividing line between this school and that?

    Give me a break.

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  3. I understand why one might dislike being called a fundamentalist, but if anyone is a D&D fundamentalist, James, you are.

    The whole point of this blog is to get back to the fundamentals of the hobby by studying the founding texts and rejecting most (if not all) innovations as deeply misguided. You even refer to AD&D as a paving the road to perdition. I understand it is meant as a joke, but the attitude of this blog is deeply fundamentalist in outlook, particularly in its attitude toward innovation.

    That's ok though - you're not likely to plunge Europe into decades-long wars over the question of ascending versus descending AC.

    I'd encourage you to embrace the label - it does describe you quite accurately, I think, in this case, even if many of your other tastes are more catholic.

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  4. I'm with Inaki. I think that, in this case, fundamentalist doesn't need to be an insult.

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  5. That's ok though - you're not likely to plunge Europe into decades-long wars over the question of ascending versus descending AC.

    Be careful it's early yet! :)

    It's weeks like these that you remember how many "third rail" subjects there are in RPGs.

    Remember folks, it's usually a bad idea to bring up the Ascending v. Descending AC debate and posts about the economic decline of the RPG industry in polite company.

    They're interesting subjects, but they're also ones people can have a great level of investment in. Passions end up boiling over, and before you know it, we have a 30-years flame war going on.

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  6. Well, I answered JT's post, although my real focus was not on ascending/descending AC but on the general distinction between the two different gestalts of the earlier and later games. Free-form rules vs. algorithm rules are equally valid but completely different styles of gaming.

    All I said on the AC issue was to correct JT's assumption that I put it in there because it's better. I put it in there to broaden compatibility. I play with ascending AC myself, but I don't think one system is inherently better than the other.

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  7. James isn't a D&D fundamentalist, he's a radical. I like him.

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  8. Is this seriously worth posting about? Guess what, people on the internet tend to get bent out of shape over ridiculous things. Do yourself a favor and don't get worked up about it.

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  9. I found your original question interesting, James. The fact that people stuck on, and obsess so, the question of AC is something that confuses the hell out of me. I truly think it's inconsequential. I freaking hate the discussion. But, I guess you're right that the choice seems to matter more than that (the visitor activity to my own blog proves it). I just don't understand why, and I'm not sure I care.

    The problem with Jonathan's post was obviously his "fundamentalism" attitude. That and his quip about fighters and M-U are the odd parts.

    I did resent Mr. Tweet's attitude and not Mr. Maliszewski's even though I happen to agree with the former on AC.

    Why can't life be simple?

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  10. I must confess a couple things before getting to the point of my comment:

    1) I didn't read all 50-something comments on the earlier post, so maybe this has been addressed.

    2) I am utterly indifferent to AAC v. DAC.

    I do have a question, though. A player in my LL game asked why descending AC was used to begin with and I didn't know. I told her I assumed it had its roots in wargaming, but that was merely a guess. Can anyone provide a (hopefully) brief explanation of this mechanic's origin and rationale? Or possibly point to a link on the subject? Thanks much.

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  11. My understanding is that it comes from wargaming, in particularly, Civil War naval wargaming (not sure if board game or miniatures). Maybe a Dave Arneson thing? I would happily be corrected on this.

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  12. I do have a question, though. A player in my LL game asked why descending AC was used to begin with and I didn't know. I told her I assumed it had its roots in wargaming, but that was merely a guess. Can anyone provide a (hopefully) brief explanation of this mechanic's origin and rationale? Or possibly point to a link on the subject?

    It is unknown for sure. In Chainmail, armour class is ascending, so it was definitely a change. In the AD&D DMG Gygax mentions that he has kept descending armour class for continuity, so likely it was an Arneson innovation.

    It has been suggested in the past that this convention was imported from other war games, but that remains resoundingly unproven.

    If you look at how modifiers are calculated for OD&D, however, it quickly becomes apparent that everything is conceived of from the attacker's point of view. A negative modifier is always bad for the attacker and a positive modifier is always good for the attacker. This is important when one considers that dexterity and magic modifiers were expressed as being penalties to the attack roll.

    At some point during play it seems that these negative modifiers were rolled into the target's armour class for convenience. That pretty much explains descending armour class as an evolution.

    This is, of course, speculation, but it fits all the data without having to resort to mythical games or assuming the designers were just eccentric.

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  13. Matthew has the right of it, to the extent that we really know why armor class is the way it is in OD&D. As he says, it's explicitly a change from the way it was done in Chainmail (a change not adopted in Spellcraft & Swordplay, which cleaves closer to Chainmail), but precisely why the change was made we can only surmise and I think Matthew's supposition has some textual support in OD&D itself.

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  14. Hmm. My comment got eated. I'll try again.

    You are right, I missed the point. Sorry.

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  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  16. Originally in Chainmail, the types of armor were classified as 1 through 8 (no armor up to plate and shield). The numbers didn't mean anything other than a signifier to refer to on a chart. It could have been A though H. Alpha through Epsilon. Whatever.

    The 9 through 2 change came via Arneson between Chainmail and OD&D, supposedly by way of a naval war game. But, by the time it became part OD&D's "alternate" combat resolution method, whatever significance the numbers had, had been lost.

    I've seen it speculated (and I can't remember who first hypothesized it - it was either TFoster or Finarvyn) that the 9 through 2 was the score or less needed to hit on a 2d6. That works roughly well with Chainmail's 2d6 system. It also almost corresponds to the "Normal Man's" to hit percentage if you use it with a low roll on a d20.

    Originally in OD&D, you didn't alter AC for reasons of Dexterity, magic, and what not. It was a static number. And thus what you called each class of armor didn't particularly matter.

    The Supplements followed by AD&D screwed everything up. AC stopped being static, armor types overlapped, so forth an so on. But even then things weren't all that awful. In those early days, ACs tended to stay in the 10 to zero range. "Negative" ACs were pretty rare, and aesthetically, a nice symbol that you were dealing with a major bad ass. It still wasn't something you plugged into a formula, but just a marker to refer to on a chart.

    It really wasn't until I started playing the Balder's Gate video games that I started seeing common place negative ACs. As I wasn't playing 2e at the time, I don't know if this was something peculiar to the video game or was indicative of the way 2e was going as a whole.

    But AC stopped being a fairly small range of numbers, which meant that it simply didn't make sense to start at 10 and go down to zero. Rather, when AC is something that can be a wide range of numbers, it makes more sense to start at a low number and go higher.

    It also made more sense in 2e, and later 3e+, which had a strictly linear "to hit" matrix, to tie AC into the number needed to hit.

    Which is all just a long way of saying descending AC made sense in the beginnings of the game (or at least didn't not make sense), but the other changes in the game made the switch in AC desirable. The change in AC is a reaction to other changes, not a necessary change in and of itself.

    When playing OD&D, it simply doesn't matter how you arrive at it, so long as the 1st level fighter is still hitting foes in the equivalent of plate mail and shield 20% of the time, chain and shield 40% of the time, and so on. Those playing their modifier crazy 3e and 4e will probably want to stick to ascending AC.

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  17. There really isn't a "better" AC system. My reply exploded in length and became post on my blog, in summary, it really just depends on players and DMs to understand what the numbers in their game mean.

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  18. It really wasn't until I started playing the Balder's Gate video games that I started seeing common place negative ACs. As I wasn't playing 2e at the time, I don't know if this was something peculiar to the video game or was indicative of the way 2e was going as a whole.

    It was pretty much peculiar to the video game, but the more powerful monsters in AD&D/2e tended to have negative armour classes. The other side of it was that "armour type versus weapon type" modifiers had become armour class modifiers, so anybody using that optional rule was likely to see more negative armour classes.

    The glossary for AD&D/2e describes AC −10 as the best possible armour class because it is the result of Full Plate +5 and a Shield +5. This obviously does not include penalties to the attack roll from spells like curse, and could be read not to include other modifiers not directly related to armour. There is a significant passage describing more or less the same thing in the armour section.

    On the whole, AD&D/2e shows a better understanding of the benefits of Arneson's system than AD&D/1e does, especially in the removal of the "repeating 20" rule, though I personally dislike the replacement "20 always hits".

    It should be noted that the class numbers in Chainmail are not merely signifiers, but have been reversed around the axis of AC 5 (Chain Mail) and retain their incremental significance. An adjustment was made to bring the "shield" in line with other armour types.

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  19. Here is a link to the portion of the Arneson interview that I was only vaguely remembering. In the interview he makes reference to both HPs and AC coming from a naval wargame "Ironclads." You can read the rest and decide for yourselves:

    http://pc.gamespy.com/articles/540/540395p3.html

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  20. There're a lot of interview where Arneson said the same. I was referring to http://www.dignews.com/xbox/xbox-features/dave-arneson-interview-feature
    in my post in the previous topic.
    However, Jonathan clarified in his LJ about what he mean when he said "clearly better". It's the difference between judgment (subjective) and measurement (objective).
    In my opinion the judgment depends a lot on what do you think is important in a game system: coherence, oddity, fun, speed, simplicity, etc...

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  21. Indeed, but he can only be talking about the genesis of the idea, since the armour classes of iron clad ships can hardly map onto individual body armour types. Possibly this is wrapped up with the "who invented D&D?" legalities (Ironclads, as I understand it, was an unpublished war game that Arneson himself wrote), but the AC 5 of Chainmail and 8 classes of armour is very coincidental to say the least. It could have, of course, been a Gygaxian edit, but it is almost certain that the "descending armour class" idea is Arneson's, whether he initially conceived of it for Ironclads or Dungeons & Dragons.

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  22. "When playing OD&D, it simply doesn't matter how you arrive at it, so long as the 1st level fighter is still hitting foes in the equivalent of plate mail and shield 20% of the time, chain and shield 40% of the time, and so on."

    I have to disagree. There are easier algorithms and there are harder algorithms, producing the same mathematical results, which can be sussed out by well-established psychological experiements.

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  23. Just wanted to jump in and say that even though I'm not at all an old-school gamer, I do love this blog for the insights that show up in the posts and comments regarding the (non-crazy) origins of systems like DAC that have always seemed crazy to me.

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  24. "It's just clearly better" rankles, and I see it come up often in attacks on old D&D. Beyond the fetishism of methodologies (such as big-number AC), there is a tendency to judge the game as if it had "failed" to be the same as WotC's D&D -- a (perhaps honestly ignorant sometimes) dismissal of the fact that it was designed to be something else BY INTENT, not by mistake.

    I prefer using a visual matrix to adding (and/or subtracting) modifiers to each roll, regardless of whether they are called "AC" or "BAB". That, in my experience, is not terribly unusual among war-gamers; that it should be so different among RPGers is curious.

    That said, the high AC might be more convenient for those who like to have players do maths without knowing the target's rating.

    I have an even more elegant solution (which I will not detail just now), however -- so Mr. Tweet's puffery about his does not impress me.

    THE #1 reason, to my mind, for including traditional D&D AC is that was the standard for a quarter century. Perhaps some S&W players will choose to use the rules with "d20 System" products, and the additional inclusion of "ascending" AC is a convenience for them (and for those who may use BFRPG modules).

    However, the majority of D&D editions, and (I think still) the majority of D&D materials produced commercially or otherwise, use what was once effectively the "lingua franca" of the RPG hobby.

    Certainly most "old school" materials use the long-established conventions of the game for that simple convenience, however much more "sensible" the metric system or hexadecimal notation or the abolition of hit dice or character classes (or whatever) might be in some other context. It's D&D, not RuneQuest or Traveller -- OF COURSE people are going to use D&D terminology!

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