Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dungeonspiration: Nit-Picking

Sometimes inspiration isn't about developing strange new worlds, or totally radically adventures. Sometimes inspiration comes from getting the law books out and digging through case files for precedents, just like on Paper Chase . . .

I've been following the discussion over at Monster and Manuals - specifically Piledriving D&D and I Blame The Children; Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Declaring Actions Before Rolling Initiative, with as much interest as my sick, overworked brain has allowed.  One of the things that noism is talking about is missing out or forgetting important rules in Old School D&D - and the effect it has on the game.  One specific example is Declaring Actions before initiative is rolled.

That has been pressing on my mind for a while.  A few months into our Labyrinth Lord game, I noticed that the combat appeared a bit clunky, and that things that mattered, like spell casting, didn't seem to be going the way that they should.  I began to pay more attention to how I was running the combats and discovered the shocking truth - I was very sloppy about the whole thing - not enforcing any sort of order of sequence.  Over the past few months, I've been slipping order back into the combat sequence - at a pace that my feeble brain could remember - and it seem to be working well.

Except . . .

Except I've got this big block on 'Declaring Actions.'  It doesn't seem right.  And Declaring actions before initiative just seems downright crazy in the head.  Not nonsensical - just foreign - alien - aberrant - Cthullic.

Noism seems to think it works just great.  But then Zak piped up about how in the ConstantCon, nobody declares nothing in combat until their turn in initiative, and people seem to 'just do it' without a break in their stride.

The whole thing bugged me, so I began to delve into every Old Schoolish D&D version that I had in paper form (okay, I skipped Hackmaster, so sue me.)  I started to chart out their Combat Sequences, and dumped them into Excel.  While I didn't have the Holmes version to hand, I did take a peek at what Matt Finch had to say about it in Swords & Wizardry: Complete Rulebook, for some historical perspective.

Here is what I came up with:


B/X (B23-27)
BECMI (DMR22-24)
AD&D (61-84)
Distance Check


Surprise Check
Surprise Check
Surprise Check


Distance Check

Reaction Check


Declare Intentions
Spell Declaration
Roll Initiative
Roll Initiative
Roll Initiative
Monster Reaction / Morale Checks
Morale Checks
Encounter Reactions
Movement
Movement
Missile, Magical Device Attacks, Spell Casting, Turn Undead
Missile Combat
Missile Combat
Magic Spells
Spells and Magic Items


Closing / Charge


Set Weapons Against Charge
Melee Combat
Melee Combat
Armed Combat


Unarmed Combat
Rinse / Lather / Repeat for Next Group / Player
Rinse / Lather / Repeat for Next Group / Player
Rinse / Lather / Repeat for Next Group / Player
End of Turn
End of Turn
End of Turn




Labyrinth Lord (50-56)
Swords & Wizardry Complete (36-43)
LotFP Grindhouse (R&M56-62)
Distance Check
Distance Check

Surprise Check
Surprise Check
Surprise Check


Distance Check


Reactions
Movement / Action Declaration
Spell Declaration

Roll Initiative
Roll Initiative
Roll Initiative


Each Character Completes Their Actions One At A Time
Movement
Movement and Missile Combat
Missile Combat
Magic Spells
Melee Combat and Spells


Melee Combat


Rinse / Lather / Repeat for Next Group / Player
Rinse / Lather / Repeat for Next Group / Player
Rinse / Lather / Repeat for Next Group / Player
End of Turn
End of Turn
End of Turn


It appears that declaring one's actions wasn't what you did in early D&D.  After some digging in the Dungeon Master's Guide, I saw that you are supposed to declare spells before you cast them, but it wasn't very obvious.  If AD&D had more on declaring actions, I couldn't find it.  The first time I found a version specifically saying that Actions (Intentions) should be declared - all actions - and before initiative, was the BECMI version of D&D - which I don't consider as 'early' - more like mid-morning.

And that completely explains why it felt so strange to me.  My D&D track is Holmes->B/X->AD&D.  No declaring there, except for spells - and that's probably something I overlooked then.  For the most part, we were just chugging along with a B/Xish AD&D variant.

That also gets my head itching about why Labyrinth Lord, with it's hooks firmly set in B/X, pulled out a BMCMI combat sequence.  Odd. :)

Oh, and Holmes was a complete odd-ball, seeming to be a heck of a lot more like d20 in it's combat sequence.  No offence, doctor - none at all.  Before your time, you were.

Of course, I could be completely wrong with my analysis of the combat sequences - or my understanding of exactly what noism said or meant.  It was only a few hours worth of work, anyway.  But the exercise has gotten me very interested in WHY the editions picked the combat sequences they did.  I'd say that I'm so interested, I'm INSPIRED. :)

So, go pick an idea in role playing that always seemed kind of fuzzy - and go do some deep dive research on it.  You just might find a whole mess of interesting stuff you didn't dream of.  And who knows, your game might even be better for it!

- Ark

8 comments:

  1. Aha! That's really interesting, and I'll have to update my blog about this. It seems I was right when it came to BECMI, and also AD&D 2nd edition, which I notice you didn't include, but not AD&D 1st edition.

    Nevertheless the thing about spell declaration still stands, and is really important in mitigating the ability of spell-casters to skew combat in their favour.

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  2. I'm thinking different DMs will be more comfortable handling different levels of complexity. One thing I found myself doing to handle the chaos of 6-8 players and hirelings is 1) initiative by seating arrangement (and alternating the direction of order) or 2) initiative by map position (closest to the fray go first).

    For me personally to use an initiative system that would have every player shifting their order of play every time, and keeping in mind their choice of missile weapons or spell, I would need some kind of whiteboard or one of the players helping keep track.

    I know I'm being a big doubter here, but I can only think that someone who runs initiative in these more complicated ways is either 1) gifted with a brain more data oriented than me, 2) running combats way slower than me, or 3) running half as many players.

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  3. You beat me to it. I had to go back and read the DMG last night to get a bearing on this.

    Side note but I wonder just how much of a percentage of the rules were played by the book by anyone--let alone us feeble 12 year olds. Randomly paging through the book I almost always find whole sub-systems I don't remember even having read before.

    To wit would be the two-page write-up on infectious diseases and parasitic infestations. Did you know that you are supposed to roll monthly for each on two separate tables for each to see if characters contracted some horrible malady?!

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  4. @noisms - I didn't' do 2e because - um - I don't have it. Humiliating, I know, but I never played it. I was too pissed off at TSR at the time. :)

    Spell declaration does make perfect sense, given the system, and that's why I think it appears to have changed in between the B and X of B/X, and thus aligning with AD&D.

    @Telecanter - I've seen DMs handle initiative in games in a lot of different ways. The one I'm most impressed with is Matt 'Mythmere' Finch. In the game I played with him, which had about 14 players, Matt simply stood up in his chair, thrashed his arms about, and yelled louder than anyone else. Constantly. Through the entire game. I know it sounds odd, but it was bloody brilliant, and the combat sequence, with all of its complexity, went off without a hitch. :)

    @ckutalik - You know, I remember reading through the DMG and thinking - awesome - gotta do that - great stuff - yeah - that is a cool way of handling X or Y or Z. Then when the game actually started, all of those good intentions about actually following the rules fell to the wayside and I pulled completely made up ruling out of my ass at a constant rate. My 'rememberer' and my 'makerupper' function at drastically different rates.

    - Ark

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  5. In Moldvay Basic, defensive movement must be declared prior to rolling initiative (B24).

    Basic also contains an allusion to the idea of needing to know whether a spell is to be cast prior to the initiative roll in the Example of Combat (B28): "The DM warns Silverleaf that if he wants to cast any spells this round, the hobgoblins will be able to attack him before he can do so." (Admittedly, this is neither concrete nor conclusive proof as to the intent of Basic.)

    And as Arkhein said, Cook/Marsh Expert makes the declaration requirement explicit. Though it's still only applicable for defensive movement and spells.

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  6. @Guy - Ah - good catch - declaration of defensive movement actions. That's the only definite pre-initiative declaration I've seen in B, but there could be more.

    I got the total opposite feeling from the Silverleaf example. See my explanation in comments over on noisms blog if that interested. :)

    I get the feeling that the "B" team and the "X" team were not talking to each other as much as they should have been during development. :)

    - Ark

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  7. In the sense of trying to understand what unwritten assumptions some authors and/or players of the day may have had which colored the way the games were written and taught, something else of potential historical importance is the Perrin Conventions, which imposed a declarations phase prior to initiative.

    The questions are who/when adopted it strictly, and whether any of those people could have had it in mind when authoring B/X.

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  8. @Guy - I hunted the Perrin Conventions down after you mentioned them and they've given me quite a bit of food for thought. Fascinating stuff. Thanks.

    - Ark

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