Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Magic of 3D6 in a Row (Dissecting D&D further ... it's also about LSotN))

The following problem occurred when I started thinking about armor class and attacks in Lost Songs of the Nibelungs: I disconnected ability scores from the bonuses. A player wants to have a bonus in an ability score, he needs to choose so during advancement (forming an individual class, of sorts, in the process). That's mainly due to the idea that I want my ability scores to be flexible as pools, so they will change somewhat during play (they are a resource).

Now, initially I wanted Finesse (think Dex) to be the Basic Armor Class for characters, but that would have been difficult with a static ability score to begin with (basically because of the range) and it's way too fiddly for a changing stat. Plus, the D&D combat system is not that much connected with the ability scores. I had to think around a few corners to get there, but here it is.

Basic assumptions

It's a classic trope of old school D&D: 3D6 for every ability score, from top to bottom, builds the foundation of a character. Sure, there are rules like the famous "use 4D6, drop lowest" and even a point-buy system or two, but in the end you'll have either distributed 3 dice per ability score or  a number that's an equivalent to that. Most of the time this is where it ends.

Because this isn't supposed to be a discussion about our favorite method of rolling stats*, but about how it all connects to everything else in the rules (like combat or armor class) and if it's possible to connect it even further, the question at hand needs to be: what else could be gathered from those 3D6? But first, a small digression.

About a dubious rule of "10 + armor bonus + ..."

That's how the armor class is determined in D&D 3E and, if you think about it, it's a strange beast. I am aware of the necessity to structure combat this way if you want to leave the attack tables from older editions behind you, but it also shows a (major? I'd say major ...) flaw in the design, as it needs an arbitrary number (the 10) to make it work.

They might have thought "We need that D20 for the attack, but how does that translate to an increasing AC?!", because that's most likely the problem they had. And I'm sure that 10 corresponds to some extent to the good old Attack Rolls Table (even so, why not take a 9 or a 12 ...). But those tables, too, are rather disconnected from the ability scores. I think the first mistake is to assume it's all about the bonuses.

I mean, you get a perfect number between 3 and 18 and it's reduced to + 1/+ 2/etc.. Whole skill systems have been based on the idea that all it needs are smaller numbers and more of them. 

I don't want this in LSotN. But what else is there to do?

3D6 can do a lot ...

So ability scores are a pool, that much I wrote in the introduction. They can be reduced to zero and even below that, but that comes with a price. Again, initially I thought it would be enough to assign a threshold (half the ability score reduced), but that's also somewhat arbitrary and a rule more that needs to be remembered. If it's something that directly corresponds to the creation of the ability score, it's more likely to get used in play. At least that's the theory here.

The solution so far is to take what's been rolled for the specific ability score and split the result in a meaningful way. So a player gets to roll 3D6. He adds the result and has (as usual) his ability score. To determine now the individual threshold of an ability score, he takes the lowest as one number and adds the other two. With a result of 2, 3 and 6 he'd get:


The 9 is the damage the ability score can take without dire consequences, the 2 is the threshold before it's reduced to zero (here a save is allowed to avoid further consequences). It's part of the character creation, it's easy to remember and it got some variety to it. Taking the highest two as the buffer (so to say) has also a nice distribution to it, so that's worth something. And I get more "connected" numbers to play with ...

Here's the connection:

That buffer will function on several other levels (at least for the physical attributes, the others will be a bit more difficult). A character's basic armor class is one of them. Here I got the fixed number I was looking for, it directly connects to Finesse (think Dex) and is not too high (but on average higher than just using 2D6, because it's 3D6, take highest two**). So a character will have a base armor class somewhat between 2 (very, very unlikely) and 12. Armor worn just stacks on that (this will be a separate post, though). It's also very well in the range of a D20 for attacks.

With this I can work.

And here's some eye candy, too (only loosely related, but anyway ...):

Poster for the world's first fantasy movie:
Die Nibelungen by Fritz Lang [source]

* Our house rule for the Rules Cyclopedia was to allow a player to roll 18D6 and assign three dice per ability score. Every six allows for a re-roll of a lower number. This way the players are somewhat flexible in what they got, the average is a bit higher and at it's core it's still 3D6 per stat.

**I'm going here loosely with an idea from the fantastic retro-clone Epées & Sorcellerie. If you've never heard of it (or not enough), a review I wrote some time back can be found here.

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