Saturday, February 6, 2010

Rientsian Wisdom

Over at Jeff's Gameblog, Mr Rients offered up this important insight in discussing his recent Empire of the Petal Throne con game:
I started by randomly distributing out my random pregens. Some of the best and worst of the available PCs came out right away, but most of the time I couldn't tell who had an awesome character and who was running one of the suck monkeys. In this way gaming is a lot like poker: a strong hand certainly helps but a good player can do more with a pair of deuces than a greenhorn can with a full house. Especially in a system with fewer mechanical points of contact.
This is, I think, a key aspect of old school gaming that's often forgotten in all the posturing about how the term is meaningless and unhelpful. The gambling analogy is a very apt one and I'd wager (ha!) that one's liking for the Old Ways is closely related to one's comfortableness with the fact that old school RPGs borrow equally from miniatures wargaming and games of chance in how they play.


  1. An interesting insight. I certainly learned in recent B/X games that kewl powers and high ability scores were completely superfluous to having success in an adventure (using a 2nd level cleric with one spell and a bunch of 9-12 attributes rocked, even though we didn't face a single undead monster).

    I've never really thought of character sheets as "poker hands" but having players keep their characters secret from each other could certainly cut down on the BS posturing that can occur around the table...interesting stuff to ponder.

  2. In this way, EPT is much more like a true game of chance than OD&D. Not only do the penalties for low ability, skill and magic rolls actually have a significant mechanical impact (and the benefits of high rolls likewise) but the method of generating all the stats and skills is a straight 1d100 roll, statistically just as likely to end up on the extreme low or high end as the middle.

    Compare this to OD&D with its nice bell curve generated by 3d6 (far more likely to end up in the middle than on either of the extreme outliers) and the comparatively minimal impact that even a 3 or an 18 in a stat has, and char gen in EPT is truly a game of chance!

    I am glad to hear that in actual play, player ability was able to cover up the wide range of abilities created by EPT char gen, because I am going to be running a by the book EPT campaign this summer and I had a little anxiety about the wide range of possible starting abilities of characters.

  3. Lawrence Watt-Evans' early fantasy novel, With a Single Spell, was all about playing a crappy set of abilities very well.

    If you've got a newbie who doesn't know what to do with abilities, you can always give some suggestions. A lot of this sort of thing can become good shtick as well, which will help them with roleplaying.

  4. @Carl
    though the method for rolling attributes uses a d100, it does NOT result in a uniform distribution of scores. The ranges are not uniformly spaced, and the resulting distributions are skewed. There is the same chance of rolling (or "shaking" as Prof. Barker says) "low" and "medium" scores, but the high scores are much rarer, on average about 1/4 the chance of low scores.