Showing posts from October, 2023

How Difficulty Class and the D20 engine ruined roleplaying

It seemed revolutionary at the time. 3e came out and made a unified mechanic. Roll 1d20 against a target number to see if you succeed. In combat, AC is the target number. For everything else, it's a Difficulty Class [DC]. That's it.  Some of those DCs are calculated as a function of level, opposing ability score etc. But what we also got from this system was a way of ad hoc determining the difficulty of something and then simply saying "roll against that target number to succeed".  In its core form, this is wonderfully simple and intuitive. All you need to internalise is the size of the numbers on a d20 in relation to overall difficulty and then you can resolve basically anything with it. The part about size of numbers has proven to be a bit of an achilles heel for d20 over the years, but that is a different point I will address further below. No, the real point here is that there's an unintended side effect to DCs as a unified mechanic. There are other downsides

Ability Score Improvements have been a terrible addition to D&D

This is going to be one of them rants I fear.  It relates to my previous meditation on the heft of levels across various editions  and my recent contemplation on ability checks in B/X , specifically my desire have the unmodified numbers mean something in and of themselves, rather than something purely to derive other numbers from that do  have mechanical relevance. In a way, this posts is like a concluding remark on the heft of levels in TSR vs WotC D&D. To summarise, if the mechanical relevance of ability scores are almost always somewhere on a scale of -3/+5, why do we bother with rolling 3-18 instead of just using the derived numbers to begin with? Why has that never changed? And why do I have a firm impression that there'd be a great outcry if it were ever changed in a future edition? And it occurred to me that ability scores do have a relevance in the unmodified form, one that has remained across all editions - They are the formative narrative components of the character s

Using Ability Checks in B/X

One gripe I have always had with D&D ability scores is - what are they for? Regardless of edition, they are only ever used for deriving other numbers. It would be much clearer if it were simply a -3/+3 stat since that is how it actually gets used. And yet, no one wants that. We all love our 3-18 rolls that we end up never using. It annoys me that such a prominent feature of PCs mechanically means so little. The exception of course, is the ability check in TSR D&D, introduced in B/X and which achieved peak infamy with 2e non-weapon proficiencies. The mechanic where you actually get to roll against your ability score. To begin with, let's acknowledge that there are many good old school reasons not to roll for ability checks in B/X: Most things that DMs in later editions require rolls for,  shouldn't require a roll in the first place as long as the players can describe what they are doing properly - And the ability score should be factored in by the DM in those cases an