I rather expected my recent post on morale to raise some eyebrows because it's percentile-based rather than based on, say, 1D20 or 2D6. I have in the past expressed some unhappiness with percentiles in OD&D and many of my most recent house rules and other designs have purposefully avoided using them. I did this in an attempt to keep things "simple," on the assumption that using not just two dice but two new-fangled dice would somehow ruin my experiment in playing OD&D as the Ancients played it. I've discovered, though, that, much as I discovered through my use of only D6 and D20 -- another part of my experiment -- I miss the use of all the polyhedrals.
Again, I expect this may raise some eyebrows, but it shouldn't. The Dwimmermount campaign has from the start been partly an exercise in "ludographic archeology," which is to say, an attempt to understand early gaming by sticking as closely to its conventions as I could, right down to the types of dice I used. It's been absolutely wonderful in that regard, helping me to understand quite a number of things that I would not have if I'd just approached OD&D purely on a theoretical level. That's why I've always advocated that more people actually sit down and play these games we're all talking about. It's only through play that certain things truly become clear and clear in ways that are utterly impossible to predict.
A case in point is dice. Rolling dice is fun and rolling lots of different kinds of dice is even more fun. In the case of weapon damage, for example, I discovered that weapon choice seems more meaningful when different dice types are attached to different weapons. This is a small thing and, mechanically, it is. The difference between rolling 1D4 for a dart and rolling 2D6 take the lowest (as I had been doing for small and/or improvised weapons) isn't all that great, but it feels different and in ways that contribute greatly to player enjoyment of the game, at least at my table. The same goes for a myriad of little rules, sub-systems, and practices, changing any one of which, if I were to present it outside the context of play, might seem insignificant but that, in play, had an impact. A good example of this is the saving throw mechanic, something that I think feels better in its original form than in any of its revised versions.
That's the biggest insight that my months-long Dwimmermount campaign has given me thus far: what rules "work" and which ones don't often have very little to do with how "simple" or "efficient" or "intuitive" they are and everything to do with what they inspire and encourage in the players who use them. My Dwimmermount campaign's rules have evolved over the course of the fourteen sessions we've got under our belts. It's no longer a "pure" version of any rules set, but its "impurities" are the result of actual play, not out-of-game theorizing about what rules are "clearly better," to borrow a phrase. Many of the supposed flaws in OD&D -- or indeed most old school games -- are only flaws if you're looking at them in an overly intellectualized fashion divorced from actual and regular play.
That's why many things I'd originally thought just didn't "work" or were "impurities" have slowly crept back into my campaign and other things I saw as improvements are being jettisoned. I think I now have a better sense of how and why many things changed in OD&D from the initial release in 1974 until the publication of its last supplement two years later. I'm seeing many of the same changes in my own game and, rather than resist them, I'm embracing them. That's another thing I've learned: sometimes the game takes on a life of its own -- and that's a good thing. Indeed, that's what we all ought to be striving for.
And when that happens, when a campaign takes off to such an extent that it pulls you along with it, that's no time to be thinking in the abstract about whether something works or not. That's when you just pick up the dice -- even percentile ones -- and roll.