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Author Topic: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?  (Read 1610 times)

VisionStorm

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #15 on: April 28, 2021, 10:17:39 PM »
What's the value of a unified mechanic?

Being able to apply one modifier to most or all rolls. Say you want Dex to affect your ability to hit in ranged combat, and also to affect your ability to Pick Pockets. That's an easy example, since it's fairly trivial to convert a d20 mod to a % mod, but when the whole system is built from the ground up with a unified mechanic, you can apply them to a variety of situations.
That's not really a virtue, tho. For example, strength. Does a +3 on d20 roll really reflect the difference between a big, strong orc slamming into a door, and the small, frail elf? There are a lot of cases like that.

Interestingly pre-3e D&D didn't exactly reflect those differences very well either. WTF was the opposed mechanic even like back then? Roll-under 1d20, whoever roll's highest without failing wins? And the break doors number was this arbitrary value that didn't account for how strong the door was.

But we can find minor inconsistencies when dealing with some edge cases in unified mechanics, therefore ununified mechanics are better I guess.
They're not minor fringe cases, but nice passive aggressiveness.

I'm really looking for an argument why unified mechanics are better. Because a lot of people seem to think it's obvious they're better, but I almost never see anyone express why.

They are minor fringe cases. Strength is the one of the few one's I ever see come up. But in the vast majority of cases Attribute + Skill (or Attack Bonus, whatever) handles everything without problem. It's only in exceptions, like Strength checks that this becomes a problem. And exceptions by definition are "fringe" cases. And generally these are issues of implementation and how D&D specifically handles these things rather unified mechanics per se.

One alternate way I saw this handled somewhere else* was to make attribute and skill ranges identical, then use Attribute + Skill for stuff that actually relies on training or experience/level, or use double Attribute value for rolls based more on raw ability, like Strength checks. That way the maximum modifier range is identical, using basically the same mechanic (either Attribute + Attribute or Attribute + Skill), but the difference between raw abilities are more pronounced.

The reason this doesn't work in 3e is because 3e allows ridiculous ranges for stuff like Skills or Attack Bonuses that can get in excess of +20, which no human level Strength will ever beat, even at double modifiers. But in a game like 5e, where Proficiency Bonuses only get to +6 this shouldn't be an issue.

*I can't remember what game right now, or if it was 5e alternate rule I saw online. Maybe both.

Steven Mitchell

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #16 on: April 28, 2021, 10:21:24 PM »
Why did it take 26 years to make that happen?

Because the mechanics were not unified for a variety of reasons.  Some of those reasons made sense to be replaced with unified mechanics, others it is less clear-cut. The best way to think about is that D&D was not designed by a committee but had subsystems glomed onto it as needed for things that came up during play. Furthermore, most everyone involved had a war gaming background which implies a certain amount of comfort dealing with systems and odds.  Then the different shaped dice got introduced, got used, were fun--and that creates resistance to not using them. 

No one I played with in high school cared about unified mechanics as a thing because everyone that played was either good at math and systems or was quite happy to let the GM resolve those things for them.  When the GM is resolving a reaction roll behind the screen, does it even matter that it is 2d6?  Or more pertinently, does it matter enough to change it when maybe the GM well understands the odds on the 2d6 and is comfortable using it?  It's also didn't hurt that for most players it was roll a d20 for attacks and saves with just enough rolls in damage and other miscellaneous things to get to use those other funky shaped dice.  (You might think that doesn't matter, but I've had multiple players say that they liked some different game that we were playing enough to keep doing it, but that they did miss using the other dice.  I wrote a game that used everything but the d20, and they even said they missed that.)

On the other hand, the more you push mechanics onto players and the wider your player base becomes, then the bigger gain out of making the mechanics relatively simple.  Unified is one way to do that.  Of course, the biggest problem with unified mechanics is the actual meaning of "unity" gets taken strictly sometimes.  I think you get almost all of the benefits of moving towards unity and practically none of the drawbacks if there are 3-7 different mechanics used appropriately.  People can make a fetish out of unity if they aren't careful.  Don't use a different mechanic merely to be different, but don't unify a mechanic merely to move closer to unity, either.

Pat

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #17 on: April 28, 2021, 10:22:03 PM »
What's the value of a unified mechanic?

Being able to apply one modifier to most or all rolls. Say you want Dex to affect your ability to hit in ranged combat, and also to affect your ability to Pick Pockets. That's an easy example, since it's fairly trivial to convert a d20 mod to a % mod, but when the whole system is built from the ground up with a unified mechanic, you can apply them to a variety of situations.
That's not really a virtue, tho. For example, strength. Does a +3 on d20 roll really reflect the difference between a big, strong orc slamming into a door, and the small, frail elf? There are a lot of cases like that.

Interestingly pre-3e D&D didn't exactly reflect those differences very well either. WTF was the opposed mechanic even like back then? Roll-under 1d20, whoever roll's highest without failing wins? And the break doors number was this arbitrary value that didn't account for how strong the door was.

But we can find minor inconsistencies when dealing with some edge cases in unified mechanics, therefore ununified mechanics are better I guess.
They're not minor fringe cases, but nice passive aggressiveness.

I'm really looking for an argument why unified mechanics are better. Because a lot of people seem to think it's obvious they're better, but I almost never see anyone express why.

They are minor fringe cases. Strength is the one of the few one's I ever see come up. But in the vast majority of cases Attribute + Skill (or Attack Bonus, whatever) handles everything without problem. It's only in exceptions, like Strength checks that this becomes a problem. And exceptions by definition are "fringe" cases. And generally these are issues of implementation and how D&D specifically handles these things rather unified mechanics per se.

One alternate way I saw this handled somewhere else* was to make attribute and skill ranges identical, then use Attribute + Skill for stuff that actually relies on training or experience/level, or use double Attribute value for rolls based more on raw ability, like Strength checks. That way the maximum modifier range is identical, using basically the same mechanic (either Attribute + Attribute or Attribute + Skill), but the difference between raw abilities are more pronounced.

The reason this doesn't work in 3e is because 3e allows ridiculous ranges for stuff like Skills or Attack Bonuses that can get in excess of +20, which no human level Strength will ever beat, even at double modifiers. But in a game like 5e, where Proficiency Bonuses only get to +6 this shouldn't be an issue.

*I can't remember what game right now, or if it was 5e alternate rule I saw online. Maybe both.
Don't agree. It's not fringe cases, it's only fringe cases when you're looking at everything from the perspective of a unified mechanic, and assume by default that everything fits that distribution, rather than figuring out what distribution makes sense and finding a way to reflect it in the mechanics.

Also, even if everything could be defined by a 1d20 roll with consistent attribute modifiers, or 3d6 with the same, that's still not an argument for why you should use a unified mechanic for everything instead of disparate mechanics. The best argument I've seen so far is it's easier to remember, which isn't really true.

Lunamancer

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #18 on: April 28, 2021, 10:24:11 PM »
Why did it take 26 years to make that happen?

I can speak to my observations.

Like never once have I ever,  ever, ever  seen players  walk away from a great game session, glowing and heaping praise saying things like,  "Oh man, those mechanics were SO unified. Like WOW! Oh,  and when we were battling the BBEG.  When he used his special attack and the GM said to roll the exact same thing we've been rolling the whole session?  I nearly creamed myself right there!" It just doesn't happen.

I have, however,  seen times, for example,  where the GM calls for the use of the grappling rules  when a hound attempts to lock its jaws on a character.  And that contrast from the usual combat mechanics really drives home the feel that  you're not just fighting another character with a wolf's description,  but rather  you are engaged in combat with a beast that fights differently from a man.  And I absolutely have seen players praise that sort of thing after an intense encounter.


There is a sense in which D&D always had unified mechanics. Maybe not one rule to rule them all. But two.

Rule #1. Assign a probability and dice against it.
Rule #2. When there are co-dominant variables, use a matrix tookup to determine what you need to roll.

That's it. That's the whole game in two rules. I'm not quite sure when "mechanic" became a synonym for dice. Just because a dwarf rolls a d4 to detect a new construction hoping to get 1-3 and d6 hoping to get 1-4 to detect sliding or shifting walls does not mean those are two separate mechanics. You're just simulating probabilities.

Rule #1 is quicker and simpler than the modern D&D mechanic. You don't have to figure out how to express the probability to conform to the d20.
Rule #2 is quicker for those who are slow at math, slower for those who are slow at lookups.

So from a simplicity perspective, it's not clear to me that the "modern" way is an improvement.


And then I think about things like the 1E Strength table and the probability of forcing open doors or lifting gates. It's rule #2--a matrix look up. Here's your strength. Here's what you're doing. Okay, here's what you need to roll. If you look at it, there's not really a strong pattern to it. The only way I can make sense of it is, it's as if they were constantly applying rule #1, asking the question, "Okay. What's a reasonable chance for a character of this Strength to complete this task," and then running with it.

The key is, at every step you're asking "What is reasonable?" Not "What makes a pretty pattern I can write a sexy formula to?"

So from a cohesiveness perspective, again, it's not clear to me that the "modern" way is an improvement.


I don't deny that there is a certain perspective--a very common perspective--that streamlining the rules makes them easier to use. Learning and applying the rules can be a burden in a sense, and streamlining is about minimizing that burden. But speaking for myself, when I read through the 1E DMG through some obscure rulings, I find they inspire me. They're so oddly specific, they kick-start my imagination. To streamline them would be to generalize them--to make them generic. And that strips them of a lot of their power to inspire.

Okay, so my opinion differs from these other people's opinions. Big whoop, right? It's all subjective. Then I ask myself, would I rather game with a GM who cracks open a game book and tends to see work and complexity and burden and things that mess with fun, or one who cracks open that same book and tends to see imagination, inspiration, and all the things that make the game fun?

VisionStorm

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #19 on: April 28, 2021, 10:48:23 PM »
What's the value of a unified mechanic?

Being able to apply one modifier to most or all rolls. Say you want Dex to affect your ability to hit in ranged combat, and also to affect your ability to Pick Pockets. That's an easy example, since it's fairly trivial to convert a d20 mod to a % mod, but when the whole system is built from the ground up with a unified mechanic, you can apply them to a variety of situations.
That's not really a virtue, tho. For example, strength. Does a +3 on d20 roll really reflect the difference between a big, strong orc slamming into a door, and the small, frail elf? There are a lot of cases like that.

Interestingly pre-3e D&D didn't exactly reflect those differences very well either. WTF was the opposed mechanic even like back then? Roll-under 1d20, whoever roll's highest without failing wins? And the break doors number was this arbitrary value that didn't account for how strong the door was.

But we can find minor inconsistencies when dealing with some edge cases in unified mechanics, therefore ununified mechanics are better I guess.
They're not minor fringe cases, but nice passive aggressiveness.

I'm really looking for an argument why unified mechanics are better. Because a lot of people seem to think it's obvious they're better, but I almost never see anyone express why.

They are minor fringe cases. Strength is the one of the few one's I ever see come up. But in the vast majority of cases Attribute + Skill (or Attack Bonus, whatever) handles everything without problem. It's only in exceptions, like Strength checks that this becomes a problem. And exceptions by definition are "fringe" cases. And generally these are issues of implementation and how D&D specifically handles these things rather unified mechanics per se.

One alternate way I saw this handled somewhere else* was to make attribute and skill ranges identical, then use Attribute + Skill for stuff that actually relies on training or experience/level, or use double Attribute value for rolls based more on raw ability, like Strength checks. That way the maximum modifier range is identical, using basically the same mechanic (either Attribute + Attribute or Attribute + Skill), but the difference between raw abilities are more pronounced.

The reason this doesn't work in 3e is because 3e allows ridiculous ranges for stuff like Skills or Attack Bonuses that can get in excess of +20, which no human level Strength will ever beat, even at double modifiers. But in a game like 5e, where Proficiency Bonuses only get to +6 this shouldn't be an issue.

*I can't remember what game right now, or if it was 5e alternate rule I saw online. Maybe both.
Don't agree. It's not fringe cases, it's only fringe cases when you're looking at everything from the perspective of a unified mechanic, and assume by default that everything fits that distribution, rather than figuring out what distribution makes sense and finding a way to reflect it in the mechanics.

Also, even if everything could be defined by a 1d20 roll with consistent attribute modifiers, or 3d6 with the same, that's still not an argument for why you should use a unified mechanic for everything instead of disparate mechanics. The best argument I've seen so far is it's easier to remember, which isn't really true.

I don't know what to tell you. If something that is only an issue in specific situations that largely apply ONLY when playing D&D specifically isn't a fringe case maybe we're using completely different definitions of what "fringe" means. And if using the same mechanic to handle everything isn't easier to remember than a completely different mechanic for everything in the game then I guess we have different perceptions of reality entirely.

Why we should at least consider using unified mechanic is self evident. It streamlines the system and makes it easier to learn and to use, or to make things up on the fly. Could you try a disparate mechanic for everything? Sure. You might even use a mix of both: unified mechanics as a base, with disparate mechanics to handle special stuff. But unless you're doing it as a thought experiment or have something specific in mind you're just needlessly complicating things.

Pat

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #20 on: April 28, 2021, 11:04:40 PM »
I don't know what to tell you. If something that is only an issue in specific situations that largely apply ONLY when playing D&D specifically isn't a fringe case maybe we're using completely different definitions of what "fringe" means. And if using the same mechanic to handle everything isn't easier to remember than a completely different mechanic for everything in the game then I guess we have different perceptions of reality entirely.

Why we should at least consider using unified mechanic is self evident. It streamlines the system and makes it easier to learn and to use, or to make things up on the fly. Could you try a disparate mechanic for everything? Sure. You might even use a mix of both: unified mechanics as a base, with disparate mechanics to handle special stuff. But unless you're doing it as a thought experiment or have something specific in mind you're just needlessly complicating things.
You can say the word fringe as many times as you like, it doesn't make it true, or make your case. The open doors mechanic is a core mechanic in old school versions of D&D, but if you want another example, how about skill checks in GURPS? There's a huge difference in the range and surety of likely outcomes based on skill in different fields, but they all get lumped together with a simple nudge in one direction or the other, and that can get very weird at times if you think through the situation instead of taking a purely mechanistic viewpoint of what do I have to roll?

How does a unified mechanic make things easier to use? It streamlines, yes, in that you only have to write down the mechanic in one place. But that's not really a factor in play. It's one of those purely abstract types of streamlining that only matters on a page. But the game doesn't happen on a page, and learning one mechanic or two doesn't add a significant burden, so it's a nothing argument. That you think it's so obviously good that it should be self evident is fairly typical in these conversations. That's what I'm trying to get past.

And even the idea that is simplifies the text is often false, because there are frequently a lot of exceptions that have to be made, because not everything works the same way, which bloats up the page complexity again. A classic example is how different spell resistance is from an attack roll in 3e, even though they, at least superficially, use the same mechanic.

Also, you literally brought up a mechanic for everything as an argument in favor of a unified mechanic. That's a pure strawman attack on a fictional alternative, because nobody has argued that degenerate case. Look at a typical baseline example, old school D&D. If we stick with Moldvay, there's a d20 roll to hit, damage dice, another type of d20 roll for saves, a d6 for most routine dungeons checks, percentages for thief skills, 2d6 for morale, and a couple other less important cases. That's a trivially manageable set of disparate mechanics. People can easily wrap their heads around it.

And you still haven't explained why uniform mechanics are the better option.
« Last Edit: April 28, 2021, 11:22:57 PM by Pat »

Mishihari

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #21 on: April 28, 2021, 11:07:14 PM »
Why did it take 26 years to make that happen?

Because the existing mechanics worked well enough.  If it ain't broken, spend your limited time and energy elsewhere.

Eirikrautha

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #22 on: April 28, 2021, 11:08:48 PM »
Why did it take 26 years to make that happen?

I can speak to my observations.

Like never once have I ever,  ever, ever  seen players  walk away from a great game session, glowing and heaping praise saying things like,  "Oh man, those mechanics were SO unified. Like WOW! Oh,  and when we were battling the BBEG.  When he used his special attack and the GM said to roll the exact same thing we've been rolling the whole session?  I nearly creamed myself right there!" It just doesn't happen.

I have, however,  seen times, for example,  where the GM calls for the use of the grappling rules  when a hound attempts to lock its jaws on a character.  And that contrast from the usual combat mechanics really drives home the feel that  you're not just fighting another character with a wolf's description,  but rather  you are engaged in combat with a beast that fights differently from a man.  And I absolutely have seen players praise that sort of thing after an intense encounter.


There is a sense in which D&D always had unified mechanics. Maybe not one rule to rule them all. But two.

Rule #1. Assign a probability and dice against it.
Rule #2. When there are co-dominant variables, use a matrix tookup to determine what you need to roll.

That's it. That's the whole game in two rules. I'm not quite sure when "mechanic" became a synonym for dice. Just because a dwarf rolls a d4 to detect a new construction hoping to get 1-3 and d6 hoping to get 1-4 to detect sliding or shifting walls does not mean those are two separate mechanics. You're just simulating probabilities.

Rule #1 is quicker and simpler than the modern D&D mechanic. You don't have to figure out how to express the probability to conform to the d20.
Rule #2 is quicker for those who are slow at math, slower for those who are slow at lookups.

So from a simplicity perspective, it's not clear to me that the "modern" way is an improvement.


And then I think about things like the 1E Strength table and the probability of forcing open doors or lifting gates. It's rule #2--a matrix look up. Here's your strength. Here's what you're doing. Okay, here's what you need to roll. If you look at it, there's not really a strong pattern to it. The only way I can make sense of it is, it's as if they were constantly applying rule #1, asking the question, "Okay. What's a reasonable chance for a character of this Strength to complete this task," and then running with it.

The key is, at every step you're asking "What is reasonable?" Not "What makes a pretty pattern I can write a sexy formula to?"

So from a cohesiveness perspective, again, it's not clear to me that the "modern" way is an improvement.


I don't deny that there is a certain perspective--a very common perspective--that streamlining the rules makes them easier to use. Learning and applying the rules can be a burden in a sense, and streamlining is about minimizing that burden. But speaking for myself, when I read through the 1E DMG through some obscure rulings, I find they inspire me. They're so oddly specific, they kick-start my imagination. To streamline them would be to generalize them--to make them generic. And that strips them of a lot of their power to inspire.

Okay, so my opinion differs from these other people's opinions. Big whoop, right? It's all subjective. Then I ask myself, would I rather game with a GM who cracks open a game book and tends to see work and complexity and burden and things that mess with fun, or one who cracks open that same book and tends to see imagination, inspiration, and all the things that make the game fun?

Well thought-out, well-explained, and a well of information.  It's times like these I wish this forum had a "like" function.

Kyle Aaron

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #23 on: April 28, 2021, 11:16:09 PM »
I'm really looking for an argument why unified mechanics are better. Because a lot of people seem to think it's obvious they're better, but I almost never see anyone express why.
They're simpler. In theory, they make the game more accessible to newbies. In practice this just makes room for more complexity elsewhere.

People gave the example of RQ as having a unified mechanic - well not exactly, because the attributes were generated with d6es, the damage was done with d4, d6, d8, etc, and the actions with percentile. And - comparing to D&D, as well as your rolling to hit the opponent could roll to dodge or parry, which was a different level of skill to their attack, and then instead of armour making it harder to be hit, it subtracted damage, and... okay now we look at magic and... hoo boy... So they simplified one area and complicated another.

It's like how soldiers historically have always carried a total of about 35kg. When equipment is made lighter, their commanders just load them up with more of it.

Likewise, when a unified mechanic is brought into the game, the authours just add other stuff instead. So even as they "simplify" the game, the pagecount goes up and up.

Most games will have at least a certain amount of complexity and general fuckery. Choose the game whose fuckery you enjoy.
« Last Edit: April 28, 2021, 11:20:03 PM by Kyle Aaron »

Eirikrautha

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #24 on: April 28, 2021, 11:17:33 PM »
I don't know what to tell you. If something that is only an issue in specific situations that largely apply ONLY when playing D&D specifically isn't a fringe case maybe we're using completely different definitions of what "fringe" means. And if using the same mechanic to handle everything isn't easier to remember than a completely different mechanic for everything in the game then I guess we have different perceptions of reality entirely.

Why we should at least consider using unified mechanic is self evident. It streamlines the system and makes it easier to learn and to use, or to make things up on the fly. Could you try a disparate mechanic for everything? Sure. You might even use a mix of both: unified mechanics as a base, with disparate mechanics to handle special stuff. But unless you're doing it as a thought experiment or have something specific in mind you're just needlessly complicating things.
You can say the word fringe as many times as you like, it doesn't make it true, or make your case. The open doors mechanic is a core mechanic in old school versions of D&D, but if you want another example, how about skill checks in GURPS? There's a huge difference in the range and surety of likely outcomes based on skill in different fields, but they all get lumped together with a simple nudge in one direction or the other, and that can get very weird at times if you think through the situation instead of taking a purely mechanistic viewpoint of what do I have to roll?

How does a unified mechanic make things easier to use? It streamlines, yes, in that you only have to write down the mechanic in one place. But that's not really a factor in play. It's one of those purely abstract types of streamlining that only matters on a page. But the game doesn't happen on a page, and learning one mechanic or two doesn't add a significant burden, so it's a nothing argument. That you think it's so obviously good that it should be self evident is fairly typical in these conversations.

And even the idea that is simplifies the text is often false, because there are frequently a lot of exceptions that have to be made, because not everything works the same way, which bloats up the page complexity again. A classic example is how different spell resistance is from an attack roll in 3e, even though they, at least superficially, use the same mechanic.

Also, you literally brought up a mechanic for everything as an argument in favor of a unified mechanic. That's a pure strawman attack on a fictional alternative, because nobody has argued that degenerate case. Look at a typical baseline example, old school D&D. If we stick with Moldvay, there's a d20 roll to hit, damage dice, another type of d20 roll for saves, a d6 for most routine dungeons checks, percentages for thief skills, 2d6 for morale, and a couple other less important cases. That's a trivially manageable set of disparate mechanics. People can easily wrap their heads around it.

And you still haven't explained why uniform mechanics are the better option.

You are wasting your time.  Based on previous interactions about this topic, the poster you are responding to isn't actually interested in discussion.  He has a very strong bias against early editions of D&D that dominate his responses to any subject that touches upon them, to the point that he is either unwilling or unable to even admit there might be differences of opinion.  I can only liken it to the difference between talking about a subject with a friend versus talking about it with a prosecuting attorney.  The friend is usually sharing different perspectives and ideas in the hopes that you and he might understand each other's thinking and attitudes.  The attorney is just trying to elicit responses to be used as a bludgeon against you vis a vie whatever crime he has already decided you are guilty of.  There is no dialogue... just rhetorical traps and willful misinterpretations, with a sizable helping of motte and bailey thrown in.
« Last Edit: April 28, 2021, 11:21:23 PM by Eirikrautha »

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #25 on: April 28, 2021, 11:17:37 PM »
Why did it take 26 years to make that happen?

...cool stuff...

Well thought-out, well-explained, and a well of information.  It's times like these I wish this forum had a "like" function.

I'll second that.  Good post Lunamancer!
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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #26 on: April 28, 2021, 11:33:00 PM »
That's not really a virtue, tho. For example, strength. Does a +3 on d20 roll really reflect the difference between a big, strong orc slamming into a door, and the small, frail elf? There are a lot of cases like that.
That’s more an argument that the bonus or die type used for the unified system isn’t a good fit than one that unified mechanics are bad.

For example, swap out the presumption of a d20 (flat-distribution) for 3d6 (bell distribution) and suddenly that +3 can make a significant difference on edge cases.
Then are you going to swap out the dice roll every time you run across a situation with a different natural distribution? That's no longer much of a unified mechanic.
Not at all. I'd just use a 3d6 consistently for that system's unified mechanics because d20 is much too flat in its distribution to model anything resolved by a single check. Using 3d6 for combat rolls will cause less swingy-ness than a d20, but its better for single check results overall so If I were unifying mechanics, I'd either use 3d6 for everything or, as another way to provide a more bell-curve distribution, I'd make every check an opposed one, even if the target is something static, because what is effectively 1d20-1d20 will also produce more of a bell curve where smaller bonuses will matter more often.

If the majority of tasks in the system are going to be resolved with singular checks then I'd never build a unified system using a single d20 (WotC retained it because of the whole legacy of rolling d20's, but even they added the kludges of Take-10/20 to it to at least try and smooth out some of the probability madness the d20 creates in one-off checks. They work well at modelling combat only because you're making multiple rolls over the course of a battle so the overall outcome of the battle becomes a bell curve distribution with the drama of linear results on individual checks.

You know, sometimes I feel like there's a whole chunk of people in this discussion who've never even seen any task resolution system outside of OSR and WotC's d20... because there's a whole larger world where 3d6 or 2d10 or dice pools are used as unified resolution mechanics with no issues at all and yet all people against unified mechanics can bring up is WotC's d20 System and its variants.

Pat

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #27 on: April 29, 2021, 12:03:20 AM »
I'll make the argument I was avoiding, because I really did want to hear a good defense of unified mechanics, and didn't want to derail that. But it seems to have stalled.

One strong argument in favor of disparate mechanics is that they give a mnemonic device that tells players they're switching to something that's handled very differently. When they roll 1d20, they know how that works. They add ability bonuses, for instance. But when they switch to a d6, that's a tactile and very strong cue that things are going to be resolved differently. That they're no longer supposed to add ability bonuses, to continue the example. Just the dice change alone makes that easier to remember.

It helps with partitioning. What to do I add to what?, and what applies to this roll?, is one of the things that takes a while for newbies to grasp, and it can get confusing when things look similar but are handled differently. But if you have to roll different dice, or just roll or handle the dice in different ways, that's a clear signal to players that they've shifted to a different mechanic.

That also works from a world perspective, because it allows you to have different mechanics for things are fundamentally different, underneath. If your core mechanic is a 3d6, most rolls will end up in a tightly constrained approximation of a normal distribution. If your core mechanic is a 1d20, the distribution will be flat. But while a lot of human potential falls along a normal curve, it doesn't work well to represent things that are very binary, or that have a flat curve, or that have a broad head and a long tail, or vice versa.

Disparate mechanics can be done well, or poorly. AD&D1e went a little overboard with all the disparate systems, for instance, and there are others that are probably a little too similar despite being quite different. The argument can be made for saves and to hit rolls, perhaps. But the counterargument is that they're both pretty simple and they're used all the time, so it's already pretty easy to mentally separate them.

To provide an example in a more unified system where a disparate mechanic would be useful, consider spell resistance in 3e. The standard mechanic in d20 is 1d20 plus bonuses, vs. a target number. Frequently, you add an attribute bonus. And spells are usually resisted by using the spell level as a DC. But spell resistance is 1d20 + caster level. The mechanic is superficially similar to the basic d20 roll, but all the parameters are different. You don't add attribute bonuses, and you don't use the spell's level, but instead use caster level (roughly double spell level). It's a completely different mechanic, disguised as the same "unified" mechanic. And it's not used as often as the other systems, so it's not drilled into the players' heads to the same degree. It shouldn't be any surprise, but in practice, it confused a lot of players. It eventually got sorted out as SR checks became more common, but it was a fairly rocky road. If they just kept the old percentile check, I don't think it would have been nearly the same problem.

Too many different mechanics to remember is bad, but so is trying to force everything into a single mechanic, and using different dice or methods is a good way to subtly but powerfully communicate those differences.
The same die roll, the same ostensible resolution method (roll high, beat a target number), but it has very different parameters on both sides of the equation. IME, it just confused people, especially since spells are handled so differently with other similar mechanics (DC 11 + spell level no caster level, for instance). Having a unified mechanic, in this situation, was bad design. It hurt player understanding and retention.

Pat

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #28 on: April 29, 2021, 12:09:08 AM »
That's not really a virtue, tho. For example, strength. Does a +3 on d20 roll really reflect the difference between a big, strong orc slamming into a door, and the small, frail elf? There are a lot of cases like that.
That’s more an argument that the bonus or die type used for the unified system isn’t a good fit than one that unified mechanics are bad.

For example, swap out the presumption of a d20 (flat-distribution) for 3d6 (bell distribution) and suddenly that +3 can make a significant difference on edge cases.
Then are you going to swap out the dice roll every time you run across a situation with a different natural distribution? That's no longer much of a unified mechanic.
Not at all. I'd just use a 3d6 consistently for that system's unified mechanics because d20 is much too flat in its distribution to model anything resolved by a single check. Using 3d6 for combat rolls will cause less swingy-ness than a d20, but its better for single check results overall so If I were unifying mechanics, I'd either use 3d6 for everything or, as another way to provide a more bell-curve distribution, I'd make every check an opposed one, even if the target is something static, because what is effectively 1d20-1d20 will also produce more of a bell curve where smaller bonuses will matter more often.
Let's say you have to make a d20 roll. That's a flat distribution. But what if you roll two d20s at a time? That becomes a triangle curve. Three? If you roll 3d20, the distribution starts to look bell like.

What happens if don't roll 3d20 at once, but instead roll a 1d20. Then later, another 1d20. And then another 1d20? What exactly happens will depend on a lot of ancillary mechanics, but if the results are cumulative to some degree, those three 1d20 rolls will tend to normalize. You'll get something like a bell curve, even though you didn't roll them all at once.

That's how combat works in most games. All those1d20 rolls you make in combat? Yes, they're flat. But in toto?

You're worrying about a bell curve at the wrong level of abstraction.

GeekyBugle

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #29 on: April 29, 2021, 12:11:44 AM »
That's not really a virtue, tho. For example, strength. Does a +3 on d20 roll really reflect the difference between a big, strong orc slamming into a door, and the small, frail elf? There are a lot of cases like that.
That’s more an argument that the bonus or die type used for the unified system isn’t a good fit than one that unified mechanics are bad.

For example, swap out the presumption of a d20 (flat-distribution) for 3d6 (bell distribution) and suddenly that +3 can make a significant difference on edge cases.
Then are you going to swap out the dice roll every time you run across a situation with a different natural distribution? That's no longer much of a unified mechanic.
Not at all. I'd just use a 3d6 consistently for that system's unified mechanics because d20 is much too flat in its distribution to model anything resolved by a single check. Using 3d6 for combat rolls will cause less swingy-ness than a d20, but its better for single check results overall so If I were unifying mechanics, I'd either use 3d6 for everything or, as another way to provide a more bell-curve distribution, I'd make every check an opposed one, even if the target is something static, because what is effectively 1d20-1d20 will also produce more of a bell curve where smaller bonuses will matter more often.

If the majority of tasks in the system are going to be resolved with singular checks then I'd never build a unified system using a single d20 (WotC retained it because of the whole legacy of rolling d20's, but even they added the kludges of Take-10/20 to it to at least try and smooth out some of the probability madness the d20 creates in one-off checks. They work well at modelling combat only because you're making multiple rolls over the course of a battle so the overall outcome of the battle becomes a bell curve distribution with the drama of linear results on individual checks.

You know, sometimes I feel like there's a whole chunk of people in this discussion who've never even seen any task resolution system outside of OSR and WotC's d20... because there's a whole larger world where 3d6 or 2d10 or dice pools are used as unified resolution mechanics with no issues at all and yet all people against unified mechanics can bring up is WotC's d20 System and its variants.

While I love 3d6 as a resolution mechanic over a d20, when you try to model probabilities a single mechanic isn't good enough, you'd need to find a way to map X in 4, X in 6, etc. and not all of those are that easy to do.

Now, one advantage 1d20 has is to simulate getting better at X, roll under or over you can do this better than with a bell curve, because the bell curve will ALWAYS congregate in the center, making the extremes always as hard to get.

So you need to have an increasing value for the modifiers, to try and fix this.

The other solution is dice pools, those do work great, and aren't something everybody likes.

There's people that swear for the d20, others for the d100, others for the 2d6, 3d6, 2d10, 2d20, dice pools etc and absolutelly hate anything else.

This has nothing to do with either the OSR or D&D nor is it esclusive to ppl that like those games/systems.
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