Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rules that Make You Go Huh?!

Timrod recently posted about the arbitrary way invisibility disappears when you attack something.  I'd forgotten about that one.  I think it would be interesting to list other wuh? rules from older editions of D&D.

Don't worry about association or whether it's possible to come up with some explanation, just think back to when you were a fresh-faced youngster coming into the game and you read a rule and thought, "that's weird."

And nothing newer than 2e, we beat on the newer editions enough already.

I'll start off with the way psionic powers would often have class restrictions-- like cell adjustment.  Wait, I have this awesome mental ability to heal myself but it's more powerful if I'm a mage than a thief?!


  1. Obviously, which alignment language you know changing alongside your alignment. And why are AD&D assassins able to speak other alignment languages especially?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The punching table and grapple rules, or is that to many?

  3. Jayson -- assassins are spies, and in a world with alignment tongues, you'd really need to be able to learn the shibboleths if you expect to go undetected.

    When I was learning D&D, it was AD&D by way of two slightly older and very know-it-all kids who insisted on wacky stuff like: an assassin backstabs as a thief 2 levels lower; backstab can only be done with a stabbing weapon, not a club etc.; and many other things that I forget.

    I remember thinking it was weird that dwarves and half orcs could be quite as strong as the strongest human, but shrugged it off.

    Come to think of it, I really never questioned the odd rules BITD, so much as struggled to make sure everything we did was by-the-book. Probably my Catholic upbringing -- the rules just are, and you gotta follow them!

    After a while cracks began to form when I realized how far off reality the weapon weights were, and then began to question attack adjustments vs armor for a few, then damage, and it all went to hell from there.

    1. cracks began to form when I realized how far off reality the weapon weights were, and then began to question attack adjustments vs armor for a few, then damage, and it all went to hell from there

      even as a wee stripling the profusion of armour types, each represented by its own place on the AC chart, looked fishy to me. My favourite equipment chart moment was in the DSG, when I discovered that a grappling hook was worth exactly its weight in silver. I wondered why you wouldn't make it out of something cheaper. Maybe forging iron is really really expensive? Also, someone out there is mass-producing hand axes. Or maybe they just never wear out.

  4. @ Jayson: I was just reading the 1e PHB description of that assassin language thing, and saw that at higher levels they can also learn class languages including Thieves' Cant ...? What? Why wouldn't a subclass of Thief already know Thieves's Cant, or at least pick it up at 3rd level along with thief abilities.

  5. mikemonaco: Sure, I get that--but if one's previous alignment tongue evaporates from one's mind as soon as one's alignment language changes, how are the assassins getting around that? If alignment languages are learnable, why does whatever power in charge of the brain-scrubbing bother? Minimizing mischief, I suppose...

    Spawn: That too.

  6. I'll add that alignment languages never made sense to me, though I know some folks like James Smith have given some decent arguments for their logic. I still don't buy it.

    1. I think that if you only loosely tie the alignment tongues to alignments, they can make sense if you think about them like Mordor's Black Speech, or the Abyssal and Supernal of latter day D&D (or whatever those languages are called).

      I've always thought alignment as behavior and morality was wonky. It took the OSR to show me how alignment can be interesting by treating it more as cosmic forces that one can participate it, but not really be.

  7. Okay, don't worry too much about trying to explain these-- I want to hear more.

    @Jayson: Yeah, I remember thinking why do they need to speak the same language, couldn't evil elves and evil dwarves just get a translator?

    @Spawn: I just get a visual of hobbits throwing gang signs at each other, to talk about Neutrality type issues, whatever those would be.

    @Brendan: I still don't like the idea of absolute Law or Chaos, I can see that if you're trying to model Moorcock, but there are a lot of other sources.

    @dragolite: I remember them being so complex we never tried to use them, but was there some specific aspect that seemed weird to you?

    Here, I'll offer up another one that bewildered a young Telecanter-- 1" = 10 feet indoors, 1" = 10 yards outdoors. o-O

    1. Oh man, I love the passage in the PHB where Gygax tries to explain why the 1 foot/ 1 yard thing is completely realistic.

    2. @Tcant: That is almost the EXACT analogy that James used, but he was talking about the difference between East Coast and West Coast Rappers.

  8. The Comeliness stat.

    Everyone sees the same type of ugliness and beauty? Please.

  9. System Shock & Resurrection Survival rolls. So ludicrously "unmagical". So anti-climactic.

  10. Thieves being unable to try to open a lock after they've failed one attempt. It never made much sense, especially since real-life safe crackers often have to try and try again.

  11. Oh lord there are so many, I pretty much have to just substitute faith for critical reasoning or somehow rewire my brain to think DnD.
    Although that's inevitable with every game system, I find DnD's internal logic more fugitive/impenetrable than most - I feel like if I'd ever met Gary or Dave we would've just talked right past each other.

    Pills I find I just can't swallow:
    - alignment (the languages strike me as a daft but pragmatic workaround to the whole problem of language, but my brain doesn't rebel at them the way it does at the alignments themselves)
    - psionics (tout court, including the name)
    - unarmed combat
    - the planes (diagram, ethereal/astral split, functions, point of it all)
    - non-human level limits, stat limitations
    ...and that's off the top of my head.

    Some day I think it might be fun to try to play a game that's ONLY made out of these indigestible bits.

    OK, here's an old favourite that makes no sense to me, although I understand the gamist rationale: weapon and armour restrictions, specifically the weapons MUs can use. IIRC the magic line between a dagger and a shortsword is 15" which makes me wonder if there's some wavelength to magicforce which is canceled out by any length of metal beyond 14.9" - maybe swords work as aerials?

    1. Yeah man. It's like a lightning rod, but in reverse. A wizard with a brain bristling with mana draws a sword and raises it above his head and ZAP! Spell banks empty. It's not so much a "wizards can't use swords" as "you can't use a sword and be a wizard". Cool thing though is you can use chains to short out wizards if you can lasso them and get a good connection. This is why wizard dudes wear floppy robes even when out and about. Makes it hard to fizzle them out because they can wriggle free.

  12. Length of a combat round - especially the 1 minute standard. I'm pretty sure this was the thing that bothered me most when I was 11. Nowadays I use Jeff's compromise - a combat round is "as long as it needs to be for you to do one thing," but getting there has been a bit like defocusing to view "magic eye" pictures.

    And so many weird waffly ideas hang on the abstract 1-minute-of-spectacular-fencing-you-have-to-imagine paradigm: adding strength bonus to your to hit roll; casting times; readying weapons; talking being a free action etc. And then that same paradigm is broken left and right - claw/claw/bite attacks, because the monster has 3 natural weapons, surprise attacks/backstabs, but worst of all, bows.

    I am a crap archer. I fumble arrows, take a long breath to steady my hands, have to resight along arrows multiple times, but I can still shoot at least 3 times in a minute. I'd allow 1 minute reload times for arquebuses.

  13. Not precisely a "rule" as such, but anyway:

    I find that new players tend to raise their eyebrows and scratch their heads on being told that their 1st-level fighter, fresh off the farm, with zero XP, is a Veteran.

    1. "Veteran" makes sense when you think about these people embarking on a career of becoming larger-that-life, however. They've already seen combat--that's why fighters start with up to ten h.p., whereas normal folks only have 1d4. They're not, in other words, "fresh from the farm."

    2. Oh aye, I get that, but I've noticed it always makes new players go "Eh?" (The British equivalent of "Huh?") and I still think it's a poor choice of term. Not all fighters are soldiers. But it's D&D's wargaming roots showing, I suppose.

  14. Thanks a bunch, folks. Some more good examples.

    You realize this could provide a ton of blogging material. You post about one of these, what problem you think it was trying to solve, and then invite everyone to offer up the best possible house-rules to solve that problem in a non-huh?! way.

    Here's another example of a rule I can see the reason for but was a head scratcher back in the day-- the fact that humans can only dual class but demi-humans can multi-class.

    It was also like hyper-anti-race-as-class because almost all demi-humans in 1e seemed to have more than one career going on.

  15. Oh, just remembered percentile exceptional strength. That one comes out of left field for me.

    1. ditto. And then never any percentile anything else.
      That bothered me in so many ways, but first of all because it assumed you were going to roll a bunch of 18 str characters (cf Nostack's series on how lucky you have to be to roll a paladin).

  16. I agree with most of the rules cited here.

    The bigger weirdness about all this, to me, is the fact that they created rules with the intention of establishing/maintaining "game balance." The invisibility rule you mention first is a perfect example of that: it is difficult and potentially imbalancing to have a truly, persistently invisible foe in a melee. This results in "logic" being applied after the fact to rationalize why a certain rule (or set of circumstances) exists in-world.

    It has always made for a flawed rule-foundation in D&D, afaic. I'd rather see a rule set grow out of a coherently-conceived-of world setting, than have "rules" (disappearing alignment languages, etc) explained after the fact with pretzel logic.

  17. I am a descent marksman
    and with single-action (old west) firearms
    I can fire 24 shots from four different guns
    (shotgun, left revolver, right revolver, lever action rifle) with 90+% accuracy in
    36 seconds . . .
    the fastest in our group routinely accomplish
    this feat (with perfect scores) in less than
    15 seconds

    1. I don't want to poo-poo on your ability as a marksman as I have ZERO experience with firearms, but I'm going to make the following assumptions about the situation in which you make your 24 shots:

      A) You are not moving.
      B) Your target is not moving.
      C) Your target is not shooting back at you.
      D) The shooting range isn't lit solely by torches.
      E) Two of your friends are not standing within arm's reach of the target trying to poke it with swords.
      F) Your target doesn't have six or seven allies trying to kill you and your friends.

      All of these variables are possible in a dungeon crawl and any one of them would be reason for quality of aim over quantity of lead in the air.
      I think the abstracted combat rules of D+D are geared towards one or two carefully aimed shots per round instead of letting loose with an entire quiver.

    2. you paint a pretty picture but it's exactly one bowshot in a minute, and there's no way you can keep a yew bow drawn and aiming for even half that time.
      ...which is all moot anyway - we've demonstrated that at least some people are made to go huh? by one minute rounds.

  18. Jeesh! This one's easy: armor and hit points in any edition.

    Yeah, I've heard the rationales and seen some alternate systems. But to my young self (and even now to some degree) the things that most made me question the system were "all or nothing" armor effectiveness (i.e. as opposed to damage resistance) and "survive a nuke" hit points at high levels.

    For years I felt like these two details were the elephant in the livingroom of D&D.

  19. This week the thief PC in our current B/X game reached 4th level. A character who has previously shown no competence at linguistics (his Int of 8 allows him, according to the rules, to "write simple Common words") now has an 80% chance of reading languages. Including dead languages, apparently - the game world equivalents of Old English, Latin, Akkadian, etc.

    Er, what? Seems like that boy's been making unseemly deals down at the crossroads.

  20. Thanks, ClawCarver, that's a good one if not obvious from just reading the rules. A case of class abilities not matching up with stats.

  21. Rules - "Weapons Permitted for [CLASS]: [weapon1], [weapon2], etc...

    Me - "Permitted? By whom? How 'bout I pick up this pokey morning star I'm not permitted to carry and cave your skull in?"

  22. 1E - Cleric level titles come from different religions (generally the level titles from other classes are alright).

    Horses sometimes can't carry a human in platemail and wear plate barding (IIRC).

    1E/2E - Why would anyone use most of the polearms and several weapons like the Military Fork or Pick - why are the Longsword and Longbow basically the best weapons?

    Buy a Spear and snap the end off - often you'll end up spending less than you would on an actual Dagger but you also get a 6' pole in the bargain. The same trick frequently works with 10' ladders being turned into two 10' poles plus some firewood. Slinging silver pieces as ammunition. Just weird weight vs. cost issues on the equipment lists.

    2E - Bronze Plate is totally a whole point of AC worse than iron plate mail? What the heck, bronze? I thought you were cool. Also hide armor (that is, leather not boiled and hardened) has better AC - equivalent to Scale Mail (which is metal plates attached to boiled and hardened leather). Gotta love all those lame cultures that spent all those resources developing armorsmithing but hadn't yet gotten to chainmail, wasted effort since a hillbilly wrapped in bearskins had the technological advantage.

    Padded Armor ... a Thief is worse off in Padded Armor than in Leather ... I just don't even.

    Unearthed Arcana 1E - Gotta love the expression on the wee Fighter who opens his birthday presents and finds a suit of magic scale mail, magic buckler, magic hook-fauchard-glaive-guisarme-bohemian ear spoon. Either Santa didn't get your letter or you've been very bad to your henchmen this year.