Friday, May 12, 2017

The Spanish Royals - Arneson's pre-Blackmoor Character Sheet

In their continuing documentary research work (Posted Here), the Secrets of Blackmoor filmakers have found yet another tantalizing clue to Blackmoor history, a character sheet or matrix, if you prefer, for the royal family of Spain, prepared for one of Arneson's iterations of his Napoleonic campaign.  In this instance, Spain was under the control of Dan Nicholson, and the artifact was found among his papers.




You might well wonder why a royal family in a Napoleonics game has a character sheet.  It is obviously not necessary for even soldiers to have character sheets in a wargame, let alone the heads of state, but the gaming going on in Arneson's Twin Cities group wasn't wargaming of the usual sort.  They were developing characters, and developing ways for those characters to be modeled by game statistics.

The idea of assigning characteristic and related statistics to leadership figures wasn't novel.  One could argue even chess does that.  Perhaps a better example from the 1960's is that of well known British wargamer Tony Bath, who developed a system for his Hyborian campaign and made mention of the idea in wargaming publications of the era.

The details of Bath's system weren't published until 2 years after the date of the Spanish Royals sheet, but more significantly, they also functioned in a very different way.  Using a deck of cards. Bath randomly generated different characteristics for different characters, and these he would use in a descriptive fashion to decide how an event might turn out.  For example a character who is the possible suitor of a widowed queen might be described as ugly and jealous among other things, causing his marriage proposal to be rejected.  The whole scheme functioned as  a descriptive aid for Bath to decide how his characters would behave. 

The Spanish Royals in Arneson's scheme are delineated very differently.  There is a fixed set of 5 characteristics each adult character shares (Looks, Brains, Sex, Guts, Health) and a sixth, catch-all Miscellaneous category.  Each of these characteristics is defined by a numerical value generated by a 2d6 roll.  That last bit can be determined mathematically.  The 42 entries sum to 289, giving an average of 6.88 - consistent as expected with the average of a 2d6 roll (7).

Let's take note of this: Arneson has created actual game mechanics applied to personality traits for gaming purposes.  We are used to that for D&D games, but for a Napoleonic campaign in 1971 that's something different indeed.

Some observations:

·         I noted before, HERE when discussing Pete Gaylord's sheet, how the arrangement seems to separate in to three categories - "ability scores", "skills", and "weapons skills.  Ability scores meaning, not actual abilities, but personal characteristics of the sort usual referred to as ability scores in D&D - Intelligence, Wisdom etc.    The Spanish Royals share most of the "abilities" found on Pete Gaylord and Dave Megarry's character sheets.

·         Moreover, the scores for these characters are generated exactly the same way, with the well familiar 2d6 roll.

·         The second (learned skills) and third (weapons) categories aren't present at all.  There's no horsemanship, leadership, or woodcraft, etc.,  nor are their sword and battleaxe, etc. categories. 

·         Order - If we compare the Spanish Royals trait list with that written on the Wizard Gaylord's sheet, the order of the characteristics given to the Spanish Royals is very close to that of Gaylord's character.  The first two characteristics are brains and looks, as on Gaylord's sheet, though the order is reversed,   "credibilty " and "strength" are missing but then we have sex, health and "guts" in exactly the same order. 
-          If we compare the Spanish Royals trait list to Dave Megarry's character lists, (Here) we see the traits are organized entirely differently.  There is no correlation to the order the way there is with Gaylord's.

·         I'd also note that "courage" on Gaylord and Megarry's sheet appears to be a terminology upgrade over "guts" on the Spanish Royals sheet.  

These points further support the idea that Pete Gaylords Sheet pre-dates Dave Megarry's.

However. we also see the "Miscellaneous" category again.  Miscellaneous, as we noted before, was clearly a later addition to Megarry's character sheet and not found on Gaylord's at all.  I presume a likely explanation is that Arneson at first thought that with all the additional categories found on Megarry and Gaylord's character sheets there was no longer a need for a miscellaneous category, but later decided otherwise.

DATING


On page 4 of The Corner of the Table newsleter, Vol III no. 5, we are told about several upcoming events.  Included is this,

"On Saturday May 22, 1971 at 1300 hrs (1 PM) there will be a meeting of the Napoleonic War simulation commanders ALL of whom have been sent invitations for this meeting.  Interested parties are asked not to attend, unless they have been invited, due to space limitations.  Please bring your cards so that we can check off your attendance when you pick up your Campaign Suppliment put out by C.O.T.T.

On Saturday May 22, 1971 a Brown Stein-type game set in the Middle ages will be hold at Dave Arneson's home after the Napoleonic Campaign meeting is completed.  All those attending the Napoleonic meeting are invited to stay for this game."

On the top right hand corner of the Spanish Royals sheet is written: "received May 22, 1971".   

We can confidently conclude then, that Dan Nicholson received his Spanish Royals character sheet at that May 22nd meeting - the very same day Arneson ran what appears to be his second medieval Braunstein.  The previous issue of C.O.T.T. had announced plans for a Medieval Braunstein on April 17 involving a poker game under the troll bridge. These medieval Braunsteins were, of course, nascent manifestation of the game we have come to know as Blackmoor.


Given that Arneson's first known medieval Braunstein occurred a month earlier in April of '71 (shown above, Vol III no. 4), we are faced with the question of whether Arneson first developed similar character sheets for his medieval games, and then transferred the idea to the Napoleonic campaign, or vice versa.   As it stands, the current evidence points to the Napoleonics campaign as the birthplace of the concept.  In either case, this character sheet lies at the root of the D&D character ancestry.  The 2d6 fixed trait scores of Spansih Royals sheet is clearly directly related, and almost certainly directly ancestral to the Blackmoor PC 2d6 fixed "personality" scores which are themselves the direct ancestors of the D&D 3d6 fixed ability scores. 

In the long run, what may prove most important about the Spanish Royals sheet is that it is indicative of both growth and continuity in character focused game play within Dave Arneson's circle of gamers.  The fantasy content was novel in Blackmoor, but the style of character based play in Blackmoor, and even D&D were not new.  Dave Arneson had said several times that "the Role Playing" came first and a number of the original players had expressed identical sentiments, such as when Greg Svenson discussed the transition between Blackmoor and D&D, "I thought it was one and the same thing with what we had already been doing for several years. So, I didn’t really see much of a difference."  (source)



Friday, March 31, 2017

How to Create and Manage a Monster Character.


This discussion is a re-think of Arneson's notes from his first fantasy campaign on the topic of monster player characters.  By re-think I mean looking at the general principle rather than the specific formula Arneson gives.

" There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top, i.e. a player wishing to be a Balrog would have to begin as let us say, a "young" one and progress upwards in the usual manner, steps being predetermined by the campaign referee. " Men & Magic, 74:8

In the section Titled "How to Become a Bad Guy" (pg 78 of the 1977 edition, p52 0f the 1980) Dave Arneson tells us that the "facts" he's about to give us on "bad guy" monster characters were specifically for "small group...Hero Type" monsters. 

Nothing is said at all regarding large group monsters.

Likely, this is because "large group" monsters - aka "normal" types, need little or no new rules.  They can and should be treated just the same as the "large group" monsters that are already player character types - I'm referring here to elves and dwarves.  Similar, low Hit Die tribal monsters, like orcs and goblins and what have you, can be treated the same as dwarves or humans, more or less, and be played as any of the usual classes you allow. Tweak as you please, but definetly  have non-heroic monsters progress in classes exactly the same as men, or elves, or dwarves.

 It is only heroic type monsters that need special considerations beyond the normal class system.  Those large hit dice creatures - the Balrogs and the trolls and the ogres etc. present a special case.  Here is where Arneson tells us to start:

"...divide all  HD by 1/2 (AC and the rest stays the same). "

At face value, this isn't very practical.  If you want to play a 13 HD Herex (giant insect), as you well might, starting off as a "first level" 6 HD monster is wonky at best, a game wrecker at worst.

So here's where I want to start throwing out some specifics and just look at the principles. 

If a hero is 4 times the strength of a normal man, then shouldn't a 1st level fantastic "hero-type" monster also be 1/4 the strength of usual monster?  That would mean dividing HD by 4 instead of 2 to get the base, starting HD, and that is certainly far more workable.  Our Herex will now begin life as a 3 HD character.  Powerful compared to a human, but not outrageously so.

Let's look at what Arneson says next.
" To progress to the next level (which in Blackmoor meant getting 50% more HD per level, although our combat system did not really use HD).  To figure out when you got to a higher level, you took the creature's Hit Dice (whatever it was on that level) and AC and multiplied by 1000 for the points needed to progress to 2nd level. After 2nd level, the creature would simply need 50% more points for each subsequent level: 2000, 3.000, 4500, 6,750, etc.  A creature could never become more than ten times as powerful as its 1st level type."

The formula Arneson gives here for XP is nonsensical.  I won't go into why but the gist of it can be found here LINK HERE

It can be made workable if you reverse the AC numbers so 9=2, 8=3, etc., but whether you try to follow this formula to come up with the XP requirements or create them through some other means, what is most important to note here is that Arneson is talking about RACE AS CLASS.

The principle here is that all hero-type, small group, fantasy creatures are a CLASS unto themselves, and each one must be handled separately as a new class by the referee, with its own custom XP chart and its own power progression.

Arneson then tells us, by way of example, to have a look at Richard Snider's dragons found in another section of the FFC. (page 83 in the 77 print)  There are 6 dragon types listed there and each type has 10 levels - apparently a reflection of Arneson's never "ten times more powerful" rule.  Snider's dragons are not meant to be player characters, so there are no experience points given, but it would be easy enough to create an XP table to go along with the dragon level table.

There's not much point in reproducing the dragon stats here, but what we do see in them is an increase in HD, in the damage and range of their breath weapon, in the speed of flight, and in size, with each increase in level.


That progression is all custom designed by Richard Snider, and that's the lesson really.  Any monster, even a dragon can be made into a player character.  For tribal type, low hit die "normal" monsters they can simply progress in the normal classes, but when it is a fantasy creature, a "small group Hero type" the dungeon master will have to design the level progression themselves on a customized basis.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Making Sense of Encumbrance in OD&D

The guidelines for Encumbrance in OD&D can be found primarily on page 15 of Men and Magic.  They are quite sparse.  We are given the weight that can be carried in GP for three movement rates per turn.  The slowest rate is 6" carrying a weight of 1500 coins or 150 lbs - equivalent to Armored foot rate.  Heavy foot rate (6")  allows 1000 coins/100 lbs, and light foot movement (12") can be achieved with up to 750 coins/75 lbs of weight.

These same values apparently apply to all characters, and while that's certainly simple, it seems a bit strange that someone with the strength of a child can carry just as much as a barbarian warrior. 

In order to add the sort of granularity that would distinguish wimp from warrior within the existing guidelines, we would have to know exactly who the M&M figures are supposed to be for.  Specifically, are they representative of the typical Strength 10 character or are they representative of the strongest possible Str 18 character?

In cases like this, I will sometimes look for clarification in Dave Arneson's  and Richard Snider's Adventures in Fantasy(TM) game from 1978.  AiF is d100 based, so a direct correlation shouldn't be expected, but there is often a principle that can be brought to bear.  In this case, Arneson says "...roughly 2 lbs of weight can be carried without difficulty (the maximum being 200 lbs. for a character with a strength of 100.)  Without physical training the character can only use 75% of his strength rating."  (AiF Bk1 p2,3)   The training referred to here is a special weightlifting training detailed in the book.   So, unless your character is a professional weightlifter, the most even the strongest of men can carry without suffering a steep fatigue penalty is 150 lbs.  That's just the same as the maximum weight in Men & Magic.  

So from the perspective of at least one of D&D's creators 1500 coins/150 lbs. should be the maximum a Strength 18 character can lug around without a fatigue penalty. 

Now, in D&D terms, the point spread between 3-18 is 16 pips of course, so if we accept that 150 lbs is the maximum weight a person with a strength of 18 can carry (without fatigue penalties) then we have a figure of 9.375 lbs (93.75 coins) per strength point for D&D.  

The table derived from this approach would look about like this:
Strength Score

Full Strength Load Foot Movement (6")
Up to 2/3 strength Load Heavy Foot Movement (9")
Up to 1/2 Strength Load  Light Foot Movement (12")

COINS/LBS.
COINS/LBS.
COINS/LBS.
3
94/9
62/6
47/5
4
188/19
125/13
94/9
5
281/28
185/19
141/14
6
375/38
248/25
188/19
7
469/47
310/31
235/24
8
563/56
372/37
282/28
9
656/66
433/43
328/33
10
750/75
495/50
375/38
11
844/84
557/56
422/42
12
938/94
619/62
469/47
13
1031/103
680/68
516/52
14
1125/113
743/74
563/56
15
1219/122
805/81
610/61
16
1313/132
867/87
657/66
17
1406/141
928/93
703/70
18
1500/150
990/99
750/75


It is important to stress that these encumbrance figures are not a measure of how much a character could lift or even carry for a short distance while staggering under the weight.  They are how much a character can carry without undue difficulty and becoming fatigued.  

There are no real guidelines for Fatigue in OD&D, but there are in CHAINMAIL.  For Champions of ZED, I combined these with fatigue rules Arneson gave in his Garbage Pits of Despair adventure (part 1, M3), as follows "Strength and Dexterity suffer a -1. Fatigued characters must also subtract 2 from all attack rolls and damage rolls, drop 1 Morale Condition automatically, before any throws are made, and drop to 1/3 normal movement rate."

No doubt, some player at some point will try to have their character limp, grunt and puff along at 4" per turn carrying as much as they possibly can.  If the referee is inclined to allow this - for comedy if nothing else, AiF does give some guidence regarding both the maximum load possible and how quickly fatigue sets in as follows "(at) 25% or more of his normal burden, the fatigue rate is doubled, and at 50% it is tripled.  A character cannot carry more than 150%..."(AiF Bk1 p2,3)

In D&D, a character can normally travel 5 turns without fatigue.  Thus applying the AiF rule, a character overloaded by 25% could travel 3 (2.5 rounded up) turns normally, and a 50% burden would allow only 1 turn of unfatigued movement.   
And even the strongest of the strong couldn't take a step if they were trying to carry 375 pounds or more. 

Now as a side note, I've mentioned before that I'm a fan of Gus L's encumbrance method, Details Here  so I've also worked up a table listing the 2/3 and 1/2 amounts of the Strength score itself .  This way players using Gus's method having a character with a strength of 10 will know they can carry 5 "significant things" and keep a movement rate of 12" or 7 significant things and move at 9" per turn.


Strength Score

Full Strength Load Foot Movement (6")
Up to 2/3 strength Load Heavy Foot Movement (9")
Up to 1/2 Strength Load  Light Foot Movement (12")

# Significant Things
# Significant Things
# Significant Things
3
3
2
1
4
4
3
2
5
5
4
3
6
6
4
3
7
7
5
4
8
8
5
4
9
9
6
5
10
10
7
5
11
11
8
6
12
12
8
6
13
13
9
7
14
14
9
7
15
15
10
8
16
16
11
8
17
17
11
9
18
18
12
9