Thursday, October 26, 2017

Observations on what is Dungeons and Dragons

 After working with this stuff for a decade I observed that there are common elements in the RPGs that are consider compatible with one or more editions of DnD. I found it useful while working on my Majestic Fantasy Rules to keep these in mind as I develop various subsystem.  There is no right or wrong way of doing this but it is helpful to have a starting point. 

My view of what constitutes a minimum set of mechanic for a DnD related RPG are:
  • Six attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma generated on a 3 to 18 scale with 10 being human normal average.
  • Saving throws to avoid bad things.
  • Armor Class as a target or an index to a chart to see if damage is scored.
  • A d20 to-hit roll
  • Difference races/cultures that offer a package of attributes bonuses and abilities.
  • Experience is represented by higher levels. 
  • Classes that are a package of abilities arranged by levels.
  • A character's health is represented by Hit Point when brought to zero incapacitates or kills the character.
  • Creatures can have hit dice instead of levels.
  • Creatures at a minimum have hit dice, hit points, movement, armor class, and a list of special abilities including attacks.

Beyond this anything is fair game. As long the above list is implemented it will be highly likely that the game will be seen as DnD compatible.

The Numbers
The interplay of the numbers used for the to-hit roll, armor class, hit points, and damage is a large part of what gives a specific edition their flavor.

You need to keep this in mind because the numbers work out differently for ODnD, ODnD+Greyhawk, ADnD, ADnD+Unearthed Arcana, Holmes Basic DnD, B/X DnD, BECMI DnD, ADnD 2e, ADnD 2e + Skill n Powers, DnD 3.0, DnD 3.5, PathfinderDnD 4e, and DnD 5e.  The good news it is not rocket science. Just need to figure out what edition you want it to be like and go from there.

Simplifying things even further the above can be grouped into broad categories:

  • Classic DnD (ODnD to ADnD 2e)
  • DnD 3.X (DnD 3.0 to Pathfinder)
  • DnD 4e
  • DnD 5e

The Stuff
If you noticed I didn't mention anything about specific classes, spells, magic items, lists of monsters, etc. To me these are setting details, either specific settings like my Majestic Wilderlands, Tekumel, Blackmoor, or Forgotten Realms. Or the generic fantasy that the core books of most editions of DnD assume.

With stuff like Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Eberron, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Arrows of Indra, Spears at Dawn, and other worthy works, I think it been established a RPG can be considered DnD even if it depicts a radically different setting or different vision of the fantasy genre.

For most of these games this was accomplished by having a different set of class, items, monsters, and even different systems of magic.

The point of this post is to offer a useful starting point from which to develop your own take on the world's most popular roleplaying game.


Scott Anderson said...

That's a very good list of attributes of D&D. May I also suggest Alignment? I think Alignment is something that is integral to the D&D-ness of a game. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

When describing the taxonomy of the several D&Ds, I would split off the Arensonian D&D from the Gygaxian AD&D as well. They are different enough to warrant distinction.

Holmes would probably be the touchstone: it is like OD&D, like B/X, and like 1e. It's also got some CHAINMAIL genes. So my taxonomy would look different than yours. But that's one of the fun things to argue about, isn't it :)

Also: I'm totally not a robot

StevenWarble said...

I like the list, but I don't think that all the items listed are necessary, just a preponderance of them. For instance, I can imagine a D&D with 7 attributes instead of 6, or even 5 attributes. A D&D without saving throws would be possible. Each missing or changed item would be a step away from core D&D, but a game with a few changes would still be recognizable. In my opinion.

Robert Conley said...

Alignment is a setting detail either specific or in general. OD&D had Law-Neutral-Chaos. AD&D had the classic nine alignment. Both worked as a D&D game. Adventures in Middle Earth is recognizable D&D 5e but doesn't use alignment. Rather there is a Shadow mechanic that works like Call of Cthulu Insanity mechanic or Pendragons Virtues.

As for Arensonian D&D there no published version of it. Dave Arneson was a seat of his pants referee who recorded notes in a binder. And from the various accounts his Blackmoor campaign rules didn't align with Gygax's Greyhawk campaign rules. And OD&D what playtested in Greyhawk. But if you want to referee Arnesion D&D then just use any minimal set of rules and start up a campaign. Record your ruling in a binder.

As for OD&D vs Holmes vs B/X vs AD&D the difference are there but inconsequential in terms of using material made for one edition in another. If you want to cater to fans of a specific edition then learn how the numbers works for that edition and adapt your material accordingly. If the work is well-regarded fans of other editions in the same broad category will readily buy it.

Robert Conley said...

@Steven Warble. My view it isn't a black or while rather a continuum. My list is where I observed that vast majority of RPGs that incorporate those items are considered part of the D&D family of RPGs. There of course other RPGs that omit one or more items on the list. But the chance of them being considered as D&D related RPG drops off considerably.

Drain said...

As someone currently intent on hacking away at fifth edition until it abides to a more OSR style of play (it's been hard going...), I look at all the things that I didn't touch and it pretty much overlaps with this list, so I think you're on to something.

Charles Saeger said...

@RSC Having played with one of the original Blackmoor players this weekend, that's pretty much right. We rolled 2d6, higher was better. And ... that was pretty much it. The GM (Bob Meyer) did mention that the players were happy to get their hands on D&D when it first came out so they could at last see the rules, or something like them, so there was some kind of connection, though he made it clear that, aside from one or two early sessions, they didn't use Chainmail.

Scott Anderson said...

Thank you for your thoughtful response!

To clarify: by Arensonian D&D, I mean B/X - BECMI - RC rather than his FFC and Blackmoor which are different.

So maybe I should say, Basic D&D rather than Arenson D&D.