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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ease vs. Effort

There's a post over at Gothridge Manor asking whether differences between old school game systems really do matter when it comes to publishing adventure materials, monster manuals or other supplements. I commented that I think it's less a matter of actual system differences and more a matter of how much system-specific material an individual reader expects, vs. how much divergent material the reader will tolerate. I don't think I articulated this very well, so I want to elaborate here.

Let's start with something that is pretty much universal across editions: opponents have hit dice and hit points. The exact numbers may vary across editions, but these differences can be ignored. In old-school systems, you need to know hit dice to determine attack capability, so adventure modules will normally list a monster's hit dice. You *could* roll the hit points yourself, when needed. So should a publisher list hit points for individual monsters, or not?

My inclination is to leave them off. I never list hp when stocking my own dungeons, and find it kind of annoying to see long lists of hp totals in a product. But I've seen other people complain about products that don't list the hp for every creature encountered. This is a difference in our expectations: I find it extremely easy to just roll hp as needed, so listing hp seems unnecessary to me and wastes space; other people consider rolling hp for 23 goblins to be more effort than it is worth, so they object to authors who slack off and don't provide that information.

When you talk about actual rules differences, such as clerics getting a spell at 1st level in OSRIC but not in Swords & Wizardry, it's really not a question of whether it's possible to convert materials to another system, but whether a particular customer's taste is for having as much prep done as possible beforehand or for removing as much clutter as possible. Again, my preference is to not even list which spells a spell-caster has prepared except for those that matter to the caster's style. "The evil high priest will cast Silence as soon as he sees an enemy spell-caster." Other spells, I can improvise; if a particular spell seems like it would be useful, roll 5+ on a d6 to see if that spell was prepped. I don't need a whole list of prepped spells. Other people would freak if they saw an encounter written up that way. How do you know what the cleric can cast? And a subset of those people would gripe if it turns out the encounter listed too many spells, or not enough, based on the system they prefer.

It seems to me that there's no tried and true method for an OSR publisher to judge how much information needs to be included and how much can (or must) leave out. It's a matter of taste, not compatibility; you just have to guess what the typical taste of your average potential customer will be and cater to that.


  1. Must go over to GM and read the original post.

    I'm amazed that DM's need to have hit points spelled out. Why not just have hit dice and leave space the the DM to write down the individual hit point totals.

    Honestly, when it comes to rabble, I just make them one or two-shot monsters, why bother tracking individual hit points?

    As for spells, I think it matters what spells an NPC has if you want specific things to happen during an encounter. Otherwise, just say what level the spell-caster is and let the DM pick them or assign randomly.

    But i'm definitly of the old-school when it comes to pre-packaged adventures.

    Less is more.

  2. @Aaron: Just to be clear, the comments on the Gothridge Manor post aren't about rigidly defining hp or spells. Almost all those who commented thought that converting between old school systems is trivial, so they weren't really concerned about which system was used. I was just pointing out that there's another factor related to presentation of modules and supplements.

    I think people who complain about converting a module are really complaining about the effort to add the details that they expect from the product, not the specifics of the system used.

  3. > I find it extremely easy to just roll hp as needed, so listing hp seems unnecessary to me and wastes space

    Me too, for sure. Especially because I got a whole ton of d8 and use them to track damage, live.

  4. As someone who likes to over analyze things, I prefer to have a spellcaster's spells listed in published products. A list of spells can potentially give some insight into the persona of the spellcaster; is he a pyro? Afraid of falling? Does he have an inferiority complex? Or is he just boringly practical? If the spells don't match up with the version of the game I'm using I can work around that.

    As for hit points, they can suck it. If there are 23 goblins, I'd give 'em all 4 hp no matter what the printed dungeon had to say on the matter--unless there's a chieftain on hand or something. The last thing I want to do as a DM is track 23 (or even 10) different hp totals.

  5. Talysman said...
    I think people who complain about converting a module are really complaining about the effort to add the details that they expect from the product, not the specifics of the system used.
    I'd rather be adding things than having to delete them, just consider how bloated some recent 4e adventure products have become.

  6. I got a lot of interesting comments and was surprised in a way how one sided they were. I was thinking or releasing an adventure with S&W stats and then do another release with LL stats. Was glad I asked the question because, like i said, I was surprised how one-sided to the 'it makes no difference to me' there were.

  7. @Tim Shorts: You probably won't have much trouble with an S&W-only release. But yeah, the comments were very one-sided, and I suspect it's somehow a selection error: maybe people who read your blog are more towards the DIY end and thus would have no prob adapting S&W to LL on the fly. I've seen more of the other type on forums, and actually they may be the same group that complains about old school blogging.