Monday, November 22, 2010

Reading Dragons at Dawn Part II

This time I'm going to talk about some of the basic building blocks of characters, and how they differ from your regular D&D game.

Classes and Traits
Like I posted last time, there are two different sets of classes. The Basic game only have Warriors and Wizards. This is something I find interesting, since it resembles Tunnels & Trolls. In that game there are more classes, but basically it's all Warriors or Wizards or a combination thereof. In sword and sorcery gaming that are the basic building blocks, right? The Expanded game in Dragons at Dawn have a bunch of more classes like Elf Mage, Merchant, Priest/Monk, Sage and Thief Assasin. The inclusion of Merchant and Sage is interesting, I think. One is capable of persuading and the other can curse his opponent!

The class everyone seem to have an opinion on is there, the thief. He has no more skill system than anyone else, and combines the feature of another class, the assassin. The latter and the monk both show up in the Blackmoor supplement to D&D. There have been some controversy about who wrote what in that supplement and at least the idea for the classes indeed seem to come from Minnesota.

The monk I find interesting. There are no indications that the monk had any of those kung fu powers he is equipped with in D&D. I sure wonder where that came from? I've never understood how they fitted in Blackmoor, which is as solidly in the mainstream of medieval fantasy as Greyhawk. Boggs notes that even though Priests were the first class invented (after the basic Warrior and Wizard, I gather) we have very little information on how those developed, more than the fact that "curates" did have spells. The information for Priests/Monks presented are based on inference from the Tekumel campaign and some later source of the class' ability. Considering M.A.R. Barker is still alive I can't help but wonder if someone asked him about it?

Stats, Traits or Abilities
These are the first things you generate in so many RPGs. Interestingly, in D@D you have six of them and you roll 2d6-2. Somebody with more skill at probability theory will have to chime in and tell me what kind of spread that will give you, and what the average is. Now, how you use those abilities is what really made me sit up and take notice.

Most things you do in D@D, you do by rolling 2d6-2 against your traits. This is the saving roll mechanic and the "skill system". Anyone who knows a thing or two of T&T will recognize that mechanic. Isn't it amazing that Dave used that mechanic with ability rolls, it never showing up in the published D&D and then Ken St Andre reads those rules and reinvent the mechanic? D@D feel like a interesting marriage for D&D and T&T sometimes. There are more of those quirks which I will make note of later on.

Next up is some more notes on characters, like my pet hate - alignment.


  1. The range of a 2d-2 roll would be 0-10, with an arithmetic mean of 5, which is also the median and mode. Mean, median and mode are three different ways of determining "average", so your average ability score would be 5.

  2. I never understood why the "-2" part, since you have to apply it both to the initial score determination and the test, why did Arneson bother to include it at all?

    Traveller used the 2d6 score generation system, which worked just fine without the extra math.

  3. Good question. Really good question in fact!

    Maybe the mean of 5 was important in a way which is not obvious to us?

    My guess is that Dave was re-using a mechanic that had been in use in some older game. On the other hand, I suck a probabilities (unlike, say, Gaptooth above) so maybe I ascribe my inability to make out a higher meaning unto Dave Arneson?

  4. Oh god alignments, everyones worst nightmare.

  5. Yeah, what can I say. It's part of the heritage.

  6. there isn't really extra math in 2d6-2. just count six as zero. imo, it's a neat way to get an elegant range of numbers.

  7. Count six as zero, you say. Interesting.

  8. Yeah, Svenson says reroll on a result of 0. Nobody knows why Dave did the 2d6-2 thing, but I strongly suspect it was so he could easily and quickly conver stats to percentiles (1=10%, 2=20% etc.). Arneson had d20's he picked up in England, but he was the only one who had them. So I think he was working under the reality that d6 were the dice everybody had but he wanted to use percentiles - which he did do entirely in Adventures in Fantasy.

  9. Sounds like a good hypothesis to me.


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