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Codex Egyptium

Monday, November 23, 2009

Older Game Mechanics & d20

I've had a couple interesting conversations lately on older game mechanics, older styles of play, and the newer trend that focuses on a streamlined and unified mechanic (the d20) to resolve most tasks.  This is particularly important when one considers Castles & Crusades which is a blend of elements from the old and the new.

One of the chats I had was dealing with the notion of 'spot/search' checks.  You see, the recent digest module Arcana Creations released was 'The Ruins of Ramat' which was a conversion of a scenario that was originally designed for Labyrinth Lord.  As a conversion, I put in Challenge Levels to use with C&C.  However, in the Labyrinth Lord version, there were none of these.

Before 3rd Edition, if there was a secret door... panel... or whatever, true to the style of game it emphasizes, you would find no 'target numbers' or 'challenge levels'.  The GM could either hear the players out to see what their characters were doing to search the area.  A roll on the d6 was often suggested to find secret doors with a 1 resulting in a non-elf finding it or a roll of a 1 or 2 for the elf.  When D&D 3.x came about, characters could learn to hone their skills to spot or search for something and this was all done with a d20.

There are clearly advantages with both.

The classic method didn't usually become just another roll.  It really demanded player interaction and could also become a puzzle in itself to solve.  Successful players seemed more meticulous.  However, depended on who's campaign you were playing in or simply who you were gaming with, it could rapidly become tedious if the group dynamic didn't mesh well.

The streamlining that the d20 system brought about made certain things easier -- which may be why certain designers felt the need to complicate other aspects of the game.  ;)  In all seriousness though, it provided for a way that characters 'could' improve as they became more experienced.  This was great compared to the previous method since it wasn't necessarily dependent on the same odds on the die or the mere whim of a GM.  However, the situation probably got worse instead of better.  Picture an entire party controlled by players that all do a 'mandatory' roll per room and then moving on if nothing yielded a result.  The focus of this game quickly became a quest for combat as opposed to an adventure in exploration.

What about C&C?  Well, being that it adopted a d20 mechanic, the instinct for many might be to just make a roll.  This is despite the fact that the game doesn't actually have an itemized skill system.  However, Elves and Dwarves both get a bonus to find things merely by walking.  They would use a d20 and the Seige mechanic along with it.  This means that certain members of that race would be better than others -- especially if you consider the way Primary Attributes work.  Does that mean that humans can just make a roll to try and locate a door?  Well, not necessarily.  However, various other modules and sets released by TLG do give Challenge Levels for things like Secret Doors.  That means you need to roll right?


The heart of the issue here is that role play and logic should trump game mechanics and rules.  Obviously C&C will appeal to different types of gamers though.  Some players will come from an older edition of D&D perhaps and see a lot of C&C that they recognize and can relate to.  I'm certain those gamers won't be rolling the dice as often for certain tasks that others would.  By the same token, there will be those who come from 3.x and 4th Edition and are seeking something a bit lighter and different.  They may not necessarily know anything before 3.x and will run there games in a manner consistent with how they are used to playing.  Both are fine.

When Gygax worked on the Upper Works, there appears to be something of a compromise.  The text give various Challenge Levels to find certain things but in the introductory section of the set, he suggests the classic d6 for finding some of these.  He acknowledges that certain ones may be more difficult to find and further suggests using higher die types.

Since C&C does reach out to a diverse group of gamers, there will hardly ever be a perfect product released for it.  There is but one thing I can suggest:

"The Rules are your Servant, Not your Master!"

If the material presented suits you, then great... feel free to use it but don't neglect the contribution the players can make or underestimate your own abilities.  On the other hand, if you or your players don't need the 'safety blanket' of certain mechanics, continue doing what you've been doing for years... just ignore what doesn't work for ya and press on!  ;)


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