Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Revisiting Rulings not Rules

In Matt Finch's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming the first zen moment is Rulings not Rules. He describe how in the absence of mechanics or guidance the referee has to rely on his common sense and experience to come up with the mechanics to adjudicate the actions of  a character.

Since I started actively refereeing Swords & Wizardry several years ago I come up with some handy concrete guidelines that help make up a ruling without staddling the game with overly complicated mechanics.

First off I look at Swords & Wizardry and the classic editions to see what tools I can come with.
  1. There is the to hit roll.
  2. Saving Throws
  3. Modifiers 
  4. Some type of roll based on a characteristic.
  5. A skill roll.
The To Hit Roll
This is best used when the ruling involves throwning, swinging, or hitting something. If it is just about hitting the target with no real damage I usually set the target number based off AC 10 (or 9 depending on the edition).  The same with targeting a piece of floor or a specific section of a wall. If just hitting a large building, wall, rock, etc. Then I will add +2. I will also use the range guidelines for darts and other thrown weapons as a guide to when to impose range modifiers.

Saving Throws
I use saving throw to resolve actions where player is attempting to have his character do something non-lethal to another character. A character wants to do disarm or trip an opponent. I will generally say he needs to hit the target and the target gets a save. If the save fails then the character is successful in his action.

The implication is that it harder to do certain things against higher level character or monsters. I feel this is OK as in my mind higher level or HD represent characters/monsters with more points or build in other systems.

Modifiers 
The benchmark I go by here is that it is -4 to hit an invisible opponent or to fight in complete darkness. Generally this means modifiers range from +4 to -4.
There is also the issues with modifiers granted by characteristics. Some editions like ADnD have extensive modifiers while other don't. I found I was happy with this chart.

18 +3
15-17 +2
12-14 +1
9-11 +0
6-8 -1
3-5 -2

Some type of roll based on a characteristic.
I don't use this a lot myself but other referees. The basic options are
1) Roll under the characteristic with a d20
2) Roll a d20 add the characteristic and get 20 or higher
3) Multiply the characteristic by 5 and roll under the number with percentile dice.

A skill roll.
With the introduction of the Thief class skill rolls became part of DnD. The original class used percentile dice modified by race and dexterity. This is something I never really liked.  I preferred something similar to 3rd Edition version which is a d20 roll and beat a target number. I consider skill rolls valuable because they allow the creation of character class that are better at various non-combat things. Ultimately what I adopted was roll a d20 and equal or beat a 15 modified by the relevant characteristic and any bonus given to you by your class.

However the spirit of the oldest editions make for a game where characters can attempt anything. So instead of skill I added abilities. That way anybody can still try to pick a lock but burglars are better than anybody else.

By combining these various elements I can come with the mechanics needed to adjudicate just about any a players wants to do in my campaigns. With the virtue of still making the game feel like you are playing a classic edition.

7 comments:

Geoffrey McKinney said...

"I use saving throw to resolve actions where player is attempting to have his character do something non-lethal to another character. A character wants to do disarm or trip an opponent. I will generally say he needs to hit the target and the target gets a save. If the save fails then the character is successful in his action."

That's brilliant in its simplicity. I'm going to start using that.

Rob Conley said...

Thanks Geoffrey, I got the idea after reading spells for the nth time. There are the usual save to avoid dying, burnt, etc but the spells are also littered with saves to avoid non-lethal effects. So it makes since to apply that to non lethal combat or actions.

Gavin Norman said...

"I use saving throw to resolve actions where player is attempting to have his character do something non-lethal to another character. A character wants to do disarm or trip an opponent. I will generally say he needs to hit the target and the target gets a save. If the save fails then the character is successful in his action."

I've also been thinking recently about a simple system to handle "combat manoeuvres" of that kind. The trouble I always come up against is that wearing armour (i.e. the target value for a normal hit roll) doesn't provide any defence against being tripped over.

Rob Conley said...

Then have the player roll vs AC 10 or AC 9 depending on the edition. Modify for DEX if that rule is part of that system.

Gavin Norman said...

"Then have the player roll vs AC 10 or AC 9 depending on the edition. Modify for DEX if that rule is part of that system."

Yes, that would make sense. I like it!

amp108 said...

Saving throws for combat tactics are what I go for, myself, although I think there should be some kind of penalty to the roll based on the level of the attacker; a 10th-level fighter is going to be a lot better, I'd imagine, at tripping up an enemy than a half-hit-die kobold. For simplicity's sake, maybe use the difference in hit dice.

Make sense to you?
Also, I'd recommend using different systems based if there is a degree of success implicit in the roll. In other words, if you roll really well, does that affect the outcome, or do you roll a second die (as in combat) to determine the degree of success?

So if I were making some kind of an attribute roll, if it was straight up, yes-or-no success, I'd roll d20 vs. the attribute, or a target # with the attribute modifier; if it's something where degree of success matters, I'd roll 3d6 (or more) vs. the attribute and use the difference between the target and what I rolled as a subsequent modifier.

Herb Nowell said...

However the spirit of the oldest editions make for a game where characters can attempt anything. So instead of skill I added abilities. That way anybody can still try to pick a lock but burglars are better than anybody else.

For this I've become very happy with the system you find first in Pars Fortuna and then slightly modified in Blood and Treasure.

For anything you can be unskilled, have a knack, or be trained.

The last one, trained, means your class can do it and is tied to a saving throw (with a stat bonus in B&T). Unskilled is against a fixed target that is generally worse than any 1st level saving throw but also with the stat bonus. A knack, which you tend to pick up as a feat like thing, has a fixed value better than unskilled and generally around 1-3rd level saves.

It's quick; it's easy; it lets anyone try something while preserving "my class is good at this".