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Author Topic: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?  (Read 1611 times)

GeekyBugle

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #30 on: April 29, 2021, 12:15:35 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.

Nope, you're wrong, rolling 2d6, 2d10, 2d20 or 3d6, etc isn't the same as rolling one of whatever for whatever number of times.

Because everytime you roll the 2/3X yo have the bell curve built into each and every roll, while in the other case you don't, you ALWAYS have 1 in X chances of rolling any and all the numbers in the die.
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VisionStorm

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #31 on: April 29, 2021, 12:23:59 AM »
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.

You can say that exceptions are not fringe all you like, it doesn't make them not fringe. It just means that you're reiterating your point without explaining to me how the issue you brought up about Strength checks, for example (the ONLY solid example I've seen brought up so far), is not an exception to every other roll that works without issue using the same mechanic.

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?

I'm not sure what you mean by "open doors mechanic is a core mechanic in old school versions of D&D" or what that is supposed to be an example about, and I'm not familiar with GURPS or what you mean by any of this.

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.

It can be a factor in play when the vast majority of actions can be handled as a simple Roll vs Difficulty based on skill or attribute and I can just pull the difficulty out of a table with general guidelines for difficulty values. That disparate mechanics are supposedly not a burden compared to unified mechanics (according to you) does not change the fact that I don't have to deal with them if I have a difficulty table and consistent ability ranges.

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.

Which is again an example of how one specific edition of D&D fails at unified mechanics rather than a failure of unified mechanics themselves, because spell resistance could be handled 100% the same as an attack roll if they were based on a skill with a consistent range of values.

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.

Straw men against fictional alternatives are my specialty. Specially when I never said YOU said that. I merely offered it as a counter weight while taking different options into account, and also mentioning that you could also take a mix of both. But you seem to be taking it as a personal transgression and crying "straw man!" as usual.  :P

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

You still haven't explained why they aren't.
« Last Edit: April 29, 2021, 12:25:33 AM by VisionStorm »

VisionStorm

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #32 on: April 29, 2021, 12:28:15 AM »
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.

Right back at you!  :-*

Shrieking Banshee

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #33 on: April 29, 2021, 12:35:54 AM »
Id actually err with Visionstorm. Most explanations for why OSR mechanics are good are cyclical, insular and kinda elitist.

I can somewhat manage its arbitrary mechanics, but If I brought it up to any of my friends after playing a game with unified mechanics their responses are 'why isn't this unified'.

Pat

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #34 on: April 29, 2021, 12:37:10 AM »
Nope, you're wrong, rolling 2d6, 2d10, 2d20 or 3d6, etc isn't the same as rolling one of whatever for whatever number of times.

Because everytime you roll the 2/3X yo have the bell curve built into each and every roll, while in the other case you don't, you ALWAYS have 1 in X chances of rolling any and all the numbers in the die.
Nope, you're bad mathing.

Let's say you have to roll 3d20 to win a combat. That's roughly a bell distribution of let's call it damage.

Now let's say you need to do X damage to win a combat. You end up rolling 3 times to hit, and do damage each time. The damage you inflict, over numerous times, will be bell-curvish. If individual rolls combine into some cumulative effect, then they'll start to approximate a bell curve.

Pat

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #35 on: April 29, 2021, 12:39:07 AM »
You still haven't explained why they aren't.
Yes, I told you that myself. I wasn't making a positive claim. I was asking you to defend your position, because I wanted to see your reasoning.

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.

Which is again an example of how one specific edition of D&D fails at unified mechanics rather than a failure of unified mechanics themselves, because spell resistance could be handled 100% the same as an attack roll if they were based on a skill with a consistent range of values.
You're making my point for me. You're coming up with a mechanic, and making everything work in ways that fit that mechanic, rather than thinking about how things should work and then finding a way to express that in mechanics. That's the point I made repeatedly in the post you just quoted.
« Last Edit: April 29, 2021, 12:42:59 AM by Pat »

VisionStorm

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #36 on: April 29, 2021, 12:50:52 AM »
You still haven't explained why they aren't.
Yes, I told you that myself. I wasn't making a positive claim. I was asking you to defend your position, because I wanted to see your reasoning.

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.

Which is again an example of how one specific edition of D&D fails at unified mechanics rather than a failure of unified mechanics themselves, because spell resistance could be handled 100% the same as an attack roll if they were based on a skill with a consistent range of values.
You're making my point for me. You're coming up with a mechanic, and making everything work in ways that fit that mechanic, rather than thinking about how things should work and then finding a way to express that in mechanics. That's the point I made repeatedly in the post you just quoted.

Why should what's essentially a magic attack roll (spell resistance) use a completely different mechanic from physical attack rolls? I'm not just thinking backwards from my preconceptions, I'm just recognizing that most of these things are just "action rolls" and there's almost zero reason to handle action rolls differently--even attack rolls vs skill checks. Because attack rolls are ultimately just a task roll vs a difficult value, where the difficulty value is the target's defense. You can handle all of that within the same difficult/ability value scale.

Shasarak

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #37 on: April 29, 2021, 01:04:04 AM »
What's the value of a unified mechanic?

About 1d20.
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Shasarak

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #38 on: April 29, 2021, 01:07:46 AM »
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.

Unified mechanics are better because they make it easier to learn the game and make playing the game faster as well.
There will be poor always,
pathetically struggling,
look at the good things you've got! -  Jesus

GeekyBugle

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #39 on: April 29, 2021, 01:20:43 AM »
Nope, you're wrong, rolling 2d6, 2d10, 2d20 or 3d6, etc isn't the same as rolling one of whatever for whatever number of times.

Because everytime you roll the 2/3X yo have the bell curve built into each and every roll, while in the other case you don't, you ALWAYS have 1 in X chances of rolling any and all the numbers in the die.
Nope, you're bad mathing.

Let's say you have to roll 3d20 to win a combat. That's roughly a bell distribution of let's call it damage.

Now let's say you need to do X damage to win a combat. You end up rolling 3 times to hit, and do damage each time. The damage you inflict, over numerous times, will be bell-curvish. If individual rolls combine into some cumulative effect, then they'll start to approximate a bell curve.

Nope, you can't into math:

If nyou have to make 3 different 1d20 rolls then it follows that in a 2/3X system you would have to make 3 different rolls of 2/3X. The bell curve is built into every single roll.

Every time I roll a 1d20 I've got 5% chance of getting any given number.

Every time I roll 3d6 I've got a bell curve distirbution of the probalities of getting a number because of the ways you can add to that number increase as you get to the middle and decrease towards the extremes.

Edited to add the mathematical proof of my assertions:

https://anydice.com/program/fb4

https://anydice.com/program/116

https://anydice.com/program/e6

https://anydice.com/program/28b

https://anydice.com/program/1e
« Last Edit: April 29, 2021, 01:27:20 AM by GeekyBugle »
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Kyle Aaron

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #40 on: April 29, 2021, 01:31:30 AM »
There are two arguments:

1. whether it is good to have a unified mechanic, and
2. if so, what that mechanic should be.

I thought the thread was about #1, it has become #2.

S'mon

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #41 on: April 29, 2021, 02:17:58 AM »
I think the answer is that pre-3e D&D was concerned with outcome, not process. So it used whatever looked to work best to get the desired outcome. Group morale checks using a bell curve roll (2d6 or 2d10) in BX-BECMI and 2e AD&D is a good example. Evasion checks on d%. Encounter tables using whatever dice look handy; maybe d8+d12 (MM2) for a flat-topped bell curve.

Philotomy Jurament

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #42 on: April 29, 2021, 02:50:56 AM »
I think the answer is that pre-3e D&D was concerned with outcome, not process. So it used whatever looked to work best to get the desired outcome.

Yeah, this.

Unified mechanics are superficially pleasing in an aesthetic kind of way, but I don't think they're strictly necessary or even that beneficial. The fact that the game marched on without them for decades and did just fine speaks to their lack of importance, in my opinion. I mean, really what you need is an approach for determining the probability of success for a given situation, and then some appropriate dice rolling. Sometimes different dice or combination of dice might make the most sense for a certain situation. And even when a game uses different dice or different subsystems, we're not talking rocket science.

I'm not necessarily against unified mechanics, but if a game lacks a unified mechanic I don't consider it a big deal, or something that needs to be "fixed." I guess that puts me in the "unified mechanics...eh...don't care about it" camp.
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VisionStorm

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #43 on: April 29, 2021, 03:34:26 AM »
To reply to this since I missed it earlier....

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.

Except that it wasn’t a unified mechanic by your own assessment in this very same post...

Quote
It's a completely different mechanic, disguised as the same "unified" mechanic.

As I’ve pointed out multiple times, you’re pointing out D&D’s failure to properly implement unified mechanics as an example of unified mechanics failing when in reality what’s failing here is that the mechanics aren’t even unified (by your own admission), when they could be as I already explained in my prior posts. It is perfectly viable to just handle spell resistance/penetration as a skill/attack roll if they just used the same ability ranges and characteristics, much the way do largely do now in 5e, where the Proficiency bonus applies to everything, including spell DC. But they didn’t, and that why it’s usually D&D 3e specifically that comes up in criticisms against unified mechanics, cuz critics insist on pointing out WotC’s failure to properly implement actual unified mechanics in that edition as examples of the limitations of unified mechanics as opposed to WotC’s failure to implement them.

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Re: Why didn't earlier editions of D&D use some type of unified mechanic?
« Reply #44 on: April 29, 2021, 04:48:02 AM »
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.

Unified mechanics are better because they make it easier to learn the game and make playing the game faster as well.


Yes.  I agree.
I need you to roll a perception check.