Saturday, April 28, 2012

Terminological Oddities

One of the many fascinating things about reading early RPGs is discovering peculiarities in their vocabularies. For example, lots of people have commented on the use of the word "throw" for "roll" in games like Empire of the Petal Throne and the Holmes-edited Blue Book. In between all my Dwimmermount writing, I came across another one.

I've been reading my copy of The Complete Warlock, published in 1978 by Balboa games explicitly as "a major D&D variant." The Complete Warlock is a codification of house rules that originated at the California Institute of Technology in 1975, making it one of the earliest variants of OD&D and thus a window on the dawn of the hobby.

While I'll have more to say about Warlock soon, one of the things that struck me about it was its use of percentile dice, which it calls "00-99" dice. What a strange formulation! Equally strange (to me anyway) is that the rules consider a result of "00" as the lowest possible result, below "01." In combat, for example (which uses a percentile system), a roll -- or should I say "throw?" -- of "00" is always a hit, while a roll of "90-99" is always a miss.

It's a small thing, admittedly, but completely contrary to my own experiences. In the Blue Book, there's a section on how to use dice and it explicitly identifies as a roll of "00" as being "100." That's why pretty much every game I ever played back in the day did it, but then I didn't start playing till late '79, by which point even D20s numbered 0-9 twice were already fading into the mists of history.

20 comments:

  1. I encountered this way of reading a d100 in Leading Edge Games' "Phoenix Command" roleplaying game (from 1986). Because the game is heavy on tables it's not intuitive to houserule this to the (now) standard way of reading a d100.

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  2. Actually, the big percentile games I played always counted "00" as the best result possible, (zero rather than one hundred), but they were also all "roll under target number on percentile dice to succeed", which is, I think, the more logical wa yof dealing with percentiles, as you don't need to translate "I have a 12% chance to hit" into "I need to roll an 88"... you just need to roll a 12 or lower.

    Also, what about "casting" the dice? Is that not done anymore either? :)

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  3.  Addendum @ Johann: most of the percentile based games I played were, in fact, also made by Leading Edge. Also, I have a good group of friends who still get together to play, although somewhat irregularly.

    I highly recommend their adaptation of 'Aliens' if you can find a copy.

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  4. I’m pretty sure I saw that somewhere in the eighties, but I can’t remember where. I know I toyed with it for our home game, because it removes the “read the digits normally except   when both are zero” special case. Instead of “roll less than or equal to”, the instructions can be “roll less than”; a 10% chance is successful on a roll of 00 to 09. Conceptually easier, except that 0-0 == 100 was second nature to most experienced gamers, so I didn’t use it much if at all.

    When I came back to gaming about 1999/2000, I thought about it again, but discovered that percentile dice now have an explicit tens die, making the roll now not 0-0 but 10-0, which is easier to read as 100 than as 0.

    What will they think of next?

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  5. On those newfangled dice, a roll of 10-0 is 10, not 100. A roll of 00-0 would be 100 (and a roll of 00-9 would be 9).

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  6. Im still very much in Love with my d20 marked 0-9 twice. Love em! Nobody else in my group does though. Silver ink for 1-10, red for 11-20. "Red for Dead" I say.

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  7. Hm… I think I see my entire worldview crashing down on me. This is of course true.

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  8. Probably written by programmers or mathematicians, used to arrays indexed from 0 to n-1, rather than 1 to n

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  9. Actually it makes a lot more sense mathematically as there is no longer a discontinuity between "01" and "00."  This allows you to do useful tricks with the unit die as well (such as comparing it to either the "tens" die or the skill of the user to get a finer gradient of the level of success without needing to actually do any arithmetic.

    There were a number of games (both role-playing and wargaming) that made use of this facet in their resolution system (including some that still exist today).  For example, in a couple of games, rolling a "0" on the unit's in a couple of game systems indicated a critical success (if the roll was successful), whilst rolling a "9" on the units die indicated a critical failure (if the roll was a failure).  Some of them are still around today.

    To test a percentile chance of success you simply have to roll less than the stated value, rather than less than or equal to.   It simply seems unnatural to many of us because we are so used to the D&D way of doing stuff.

    It does look stranger on a table though (unless you are computer programmer) because the first element on a table has the array value of "0."  But that's because we tend, in English (and in fact most European languages), not to actually consider "0" to be a number (remember how it had to be historically imported from India as "arabic numbers") so seeing something labeled as "0" (or more correctly "00" seems very unnatural to us.  Language shapes how we view things.

    Related Aside: It really is quite useful.  In my modified BRP games I now add "10%" to everyone's skills at character generation (if they don't have the skill then it isn't listed and doesn't get a bonus*).  I then make people roll beneath the listed value for success.

    The reason I do this is that I use variable dice according to difficulty, (with "d60" being "average").  The added "10%" to the skill chance simply means that I don't have to subtract 10 from the unit die all the time (although it does make the use of d20 less easy; but at that difficulty it's best consider it to be automatically a success anyway), so a "d60" result actually goes from "10" to "69."  A "d100" roll in this system actually goes from "10" to "109."  [The test I use is less than or equal to the indicated "percentage" value, which is actually giving everybody a (shock, horror) free "1%" boost in ability, but well, if you think that actually matters you could simply add "9%" instead of "10%" or roll strictly less than.]

    People were very chary of it at first (because it wasn't what they were used to), but they soon found the value of it, especially when it comes to ease of actual play. Because the skill values are arbitrary measures, it doesn't matter if they start at "10" rather than "1" or "0." [The mathematician, physicist, computer scientist, and engineers did accept it fairly readily; the musicians, poet, actor, tradesmen, accountant, and writer didn't until they actually used it in play at which point they quite liked how it worked as it gave them much finer control on their choices during play.] 

    [In actual fact it is convenient when using the MRQ/Legend version because you track someone's progress in learning an Advanced Skill simply because they have a value of less than "10%" in the skill ("1%" for every skill point they put into it until they reach the magic value of 10% and it becomes a "real" skill).  Convenient as it means the player/gamemaster can actually track their progress in acquiring the skill and it doesn't spring full-formed out of their head.]

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  10.  [Just for clarification:  The dice comparison I use in my BRP mod is "less than or equal to" (mathematically it should be "less than"), but people are so ingrained with the idea of rolling the stated value or less I decided it was much to difficult to do otherwise ("1%" being trivial).  But because of the lack of discontinuity it does allow me to use different dice rather than assigning arithmetic penalties, which was the point I was trying to make.  Now I need caffeine to wake up properly...]

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  11. I like 00 = low roll because we use place-value notation to represent numbers.

    With 00-99 the dice are generating the coefficients a1 and a0 in the formula a1a0 = a1(10^1) + a0(10^0).http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positional_notation

    In particular: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positional_notation#Base_of_the_numeral_system

    If all dice started at 0 and ended at n-1 then we could generate numbers using different radixes without having to mentally subtract 1 from each die roll.

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  12. When it's time to  roll, save, check, or cast the dice it all comes down to fickle fate no matter what.

    I recall Cyborg Commandos had D10xD10 dice rolls for it's main resolution system but I don't recall what that dice method was called.

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  13. When I first encountered d100 rolls, I assumed that "00" = zero, until my elders told me to read it as "100". In '75, I remember playing a microarmour game (maybe Brian Blume's Panzer Armies from TSR?) that used two d6s: one for the tens column and one for the ones column, giving a set of non-contiguous results from 11 to 66. That was really hard to wrap my head around, but hey, I was ten years old.

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  14. "D20s numbered 0-9 twice were already fading into the mists of history" by late '79? We played with a borrowed numbered 0-9 twice for quite a while, and when we finally shelled out for our own set, probably in late '83 or early '84, and it was also 0-9 twice. To my recollection that was still the standard (at least in our neck of the woods). A couple of years later I finally bought a 1-20 set but I remember having to sort through to make sure it wasn't 0-9 twice because there were still a lot of those and they were all mixed together.

    My knowledge of what was out there was pretty much limited to what was in the one hobby store we got to about once a month, so maybe it was just the stock they carried. Did 0-9 twice fade out earlier elsewhere?

    As to the d00 being read 0-99, the idea that the material was written by computer guys makes sense. Or maybe the guys just misunderstood and had always played that way, not realizing that most everyone played 1-100.

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  15. I'm a fan of d66, used in Traveller for a few things. Some of my own material from back in the day used it or even d88. Good stuff.

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  16. Maybe D20s number 0-9 twice were still being used widely after 1979, but I know that, by 1981 at least, they ceased to be standard in new games. TSR, for example, was using D10s in all of its percentile-based games by that point. Perhaps they were simply early adopters?

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  17. Quite true. Warlock was the product of engineers at CalTech,

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  18. Ah, I think I misunderstood. I was speaking to d20 0-9 twice vs d20 1-20 and not about d10 at all. Our sets ALL had a d10, and we used the 0-9 twice d20 as the "tens" in a d00 roll.

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  19. Note: In Fortran, a very popular programming language amongst engineers and physicists, indexes start on 1.

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  20. Interestingly enough, that is how I used the percentile in my own game design. The way I wanted to determine critical success and failure actually worked out better with 00 = zero instead of the normal 100. Cool to see that someone else thought of it too.

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