Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blind to the obvious

Consider if you will Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition.  This roleplaying game is one of the biggest and most influential ones ever created and was by far the one I played most when I was young.  The game started out small with just 2 core books and a binder full of monster stats and eventually expanded to over 50 books of rules. You might think, given the immense amount of time and money that went into this system, that it would be polished and things in it would make sense.  You would be wrong.

I present as evidence:  THAC0.  This stands for To Hit Armour Class Zero.  The system for making an attack in AD&D2 is to roll a twenty sided die, add/subtract any modifiers, add the enemy's Armour Class and then compare the result to your character's THAC0 number.

Example: If I was a 3rd level Fighter my THAC0 would be 18.  So if I roll an attack of 12, add my +1 modifier from Strength and add the enemy armour class of 6 I get a modified result of 19, which is above my THAC0 of 18, so I hit.

Armour class starts at 10 and goes down, so a very heavily armoured target could have an armour class of -10 or lower.  This is a particularly bizarre system when you consider the system of attacking that followed it, which is simply that armour class starts at 10 and goes up.  You roll your die, add your modifier as before and then check to see if you beat the enemy armour class.  This system both feels more intuitive (higher numbers are better) and reduces the number of operations by one (no more need to add armour class in before comparing) but retains the exact mathematical properties of the old.

So why would you have a more complicated, bizarre feeling mechanic when you can have a simple, intuitive one?  Good question.  I think the answer is simply that once a system has been designed the designer is often unable to see alternatives to that system.  We blind ourselves by thinking that since we have solved a problem there can be no better way to solve it.

FMB had a mechanic with the same problem as THAC0.  The way it worked was that each player started with 18 gold and slowly lost gold throughout the game.  The person who ran out of gold first was the loser.  To achieve this I had players constantly acquiring gold but also paying out gold at a higher rate so that eventually someone would run out.  Two days ago Wendy suggested that instead of having people lose when they run out of gold I should simply have people win when they get enough gold.


Why didn't I think of that?!?!  I quickly redesigned the system to accommodate this new idea and it works much better.  I lower the number of transactions in the system, make the acquisition of resources more consistent and keep the numbers the same.  I also neatly avoid the issue of people forgetting to pay their gold costs each turn because there is no payment - only acquisition.  Anyone who forgets to take their resources for the turn is just out of luck and the system solves itself instead of requiring policing by the rules.

I find it so strange that even though I played this game a ton, revised the rules a hundred times and more and feel like my understanding of it is tremendous I missed a fundamental, simple change that would make the game better.  Add instead of subtract, nothing more, nothing less.  It certainly shows that there is real value in bringing in a second opinion from an outsider and being open to their suggestions.  Out of the mouths of babes indeed.  ;)

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