Thursday, September 17, 2009

compatibility is a two way street

Last month I wrote a little piece called "On System" that quite some good responses out of people, but also drew some criticism for my refusal to discuss any official WotC version of D&D. Some folks thought that was an attempt to slur those versions by way of omission, but I just wasn't sure whether or not I had anything useful to say about them. After all, I have more experiences with TSR D&Ds than I can remember, stretching back to the early eighties. In comparison a dozen 3.0 sessions, 20 months of 3.5 and two or three 4e games just doesn't seem like enough data to draw sound conclusions beyond "hey, I'm not digging this as much as that older crap".

However, after some thought I would like to respond directly to one criticism. Settembrini brought up the issue that he can easily use TSR D&D stuff in his 3.x game:
Really, everything you can do in A/D&D you can do in 3rd. It´s all there, and the real differences are one of module design culture and player expectations. Culture, and that´s what you DIDN´t want to get into the differentiation debate, no Also: I use stuff from all editions in my 3e games every week. So are you telling me that this actually doesn´t work? Or that I´m doing it wrong?

Please, your Electro-Skeleton was transfered DIRECTLY from the FO! incarnation, as were several modules/situations and artifacts.
I'm not sure everything I can do in AD&D is supported in 3e. Stronghold establishment and henchmen recruitment immediately spring to mind. I know there's a section devoted to weather in 3.x, but I don't recall rules for your ship getting lost in a storm or being shipwrecked. I could be wrong though, seeing as how I sold off all my WotC materials. But for most folks these are fiddly details in the vast sweep of D&D and not worth getting stuck on.

But the big thing in Set's comments that stuck with me is that he imports stuff from earlier editions into his 3e game. That's awesome. My question now is whether or not that works both ways. Any Gameblog readers ever try directly (i.e. no conversion) importing 3.x stuff into their game run on an older edition or a retroclone? I have not. Maybe it's time I finally tried running an adventure made specifically for 3.x under Labyrinth Lord just to see what happens.

My other concern is cross compatibility of characters. At this point someone could show up to my open-to-all Wednesday night game with a character sheet in hand and I would feel like I could accomodate a PC from many different versions of D&D. Unearthed Arcana cavalier or barbarian? No sweat. Some god-forsaken kit-based beast from 2nd edition AD&D? I'd do my best. A rune weaver from Arduin? Bring it on.

I don't feel the same level of confidence dealing with visitors from 3.x universes. I got nothing against those versions of D&D, but I went back to the old school scene for a reason, you know? Adjudicating a PC with three custom-selected classes and maybe a template or two, with a handful of feats that are designed around the flanking and attack of opportunity rules sounds like a one-way ticket to Pain In The Ass City. Am I talking crazy talk here?


  1. Anonymous12:35 PM

    It's all in the approach and what or how you are trying to convert. Castles & Crusades is very close to AD&D in many respects and I have frequently taken a 3rd edition modules and used them for my game and converting everything on the fly.

    Having done this a few times, I know I could do the same with AD&D.

    It doesn't involve trying to convert feats though -- I mean why bother? If a feat is basically a maneuver or special move, just do an attribute check to attempt what ever is a bit out of the ordinary. Or simply ignore those details and focus on the ones that impacts your regular game.

  2. I'll echo what invokation said--that's why I've stuck with C&C despite being strongly tempted by some of the more recent retro-clones. It has a foot planted both in 3e-era stuff and older editions too, so it's pretty easy to port in pretty much any pre-4e adventure I'd chose to. Since I have a fair amount of adventures in PDF form (downloaded before WotC shut all that down), I like having that range of choice available.

    And like invokation said, feats just translate into "combat tactics" or else get ignored completely.

  3. Sett seems to like the added complexity and customization of 3.0. In much the same way I like GURPS. I am not sure what his deal about comprehending why people like to play older edition. Probably he like my friend Dwayne. He simply can't stand that two 1st level cleric are esstentially the same rules wise. My friend Dwayne (of Gamer's Closet) has the same issue except he goes further in despising levels.

    You would think that of all the people in the world DMs would be the more understanding of these type of things because the requirement that we need to get into the heads of our NPCs to roleplay them. (shrug)

    As for me, I like complexity, but I understand why you and others like the approach of older editions. Before I started writing professionally I had an intellectual appreciation of this. But writing Badabaskor drove the whole thing home for me. The module itself was great but writing those *!@$!! statblocks I really did not like doing that. The rest of the Eostros team kept staring at me like I had two heads. I gritted my teeth and got through that. When it came time for Citadel of Fire, and Dark Tower they began to understand what I was talking about. (shaking head)

    So while I still play and run GURP and Harnmaster, I love writing for older editions. I feel you focus more on the big picture than all the fiddly bits like writing for D20, GURPS and other mechanically complex system. Which is why I prefer as the system I write for.

    Sett is right that you can run anything with anything. It is a matter of how much work you want to put into it. But he misses the point that personal taste matters as well and that there are actually good reasons for it.

  4. In my game we go back and forth from (a stripped-down version of) 3.5 to a (fairly straight) 1E AD&D using the same characters for the quaint reason that all our AD&D stuff is in New York and the 3.5 stuff is in Los Angeles and we have to fly a lot for work.

    So, the major translation issues are:

    -My girlfriend plays a tiefling. So, she can Cause Darkness once per day (eerily mirroring her powers in real life). This doesn't dangerously unbalance the game, though it does make the AD&D paladin look at her funny once in a while.

    -Experience points. This is kinda major. Pretty much we just use the AD&D tables, and the AD&D versions of the monsters.

    -The big difference is, of course, 3.5 feats and skills, which we mostly ignore. However, if the thing the character wants to do is reasonable enough, you just roll it as an ability score check (roll under dex or whatever on a d20) and add a +1/per level bonus if it's somehow germane to the character's class. Haven't gotten to high levels yet but I suspect when we do I may switch it to + 1 re-roll of the dice per level if it ever comes up (which it doesn't much).

    -Armor class is easy to convert.

    -Saving throws and to-hit rolls are one way in LA and another way in New York and that's life. No biggie.

  5. Converting 3.5 stuff to older editions is easy in my eyes. But I focus on a thematic conversion instead of a mechanical conversion.

    Monsters are easy - either replace with the old version, replace with something else that would suit the encounter, or ignore all of the stuff in the new stat block that you don't need.

    Characters are a bit trickier - if it is a triple multiclassed + prestige class mess, just ask them what their three favorite abilities are and tack them on the old base class then tack on a 20% XP penalty.

    I find the hardest part of converting 3.5 adventures to old school is the treasure. The two systems work off of very different assumptions for monetary and magical treasure. But even it is just a matter of rolling up new treasure either ahead of time or on the fly.

    word verification = prient... I thought it was jrient?!?!?

  6. I've done some 3.x conversion to B/X D&D...

    You have to do a lot of ignoring of stat blocks. Just make the orc a regular orc, and ignore class levels, feats, and what not.

    Some things you just have to take the idea and generate something essentially brand new that does about the same things. This happens more and more frequently from about 4th level on, as monsters get more templates, npcs get more prestige classes, and so on.

    I've found a low level 3.x adventure may be reasonably "face value" converted. Once you get to 3rd or 4th level, converting from 3.x to B/X D&D isn't really any different from converting from Palladium RPG or Runequest or etc. You're just taking the locations and concepts, and making the stats up from there.

    There are also a lot of subtle differences that can have unexpected consequences... different casting times for spells, different movement rates, and so on... that can make adventures play very differently between editions.

  7. I have converted the first instalment of Paizo's Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign to Labyrinth Lord, and from a mechanics standpoint, it flows quite well. You have to drop skill checks, or turn them into a basic d6 roll or something, but everything else is essentially the same across editions, just more detailed in 3.5e.

    I haven't actually run it yet, though, and that's where I suspect the wheels will fly off, as the experience and treasure rewards are probably not enough to advance LL characters at the same rate as 3.5e types. I think it will make for a much tougher slog under LL.

  8. I think there's a huge compatibility divide between 3e and 2e (and by extension, all the editions prior to 2e).

    The gap is in terms of using the rules -- obviously the fantasy itself is directly portable if you don't mind re-doing stats.

    I myself find it a lot easier to re-do stats using the earlier editions, but it's probably exactly the other way around for someone who's playing 3e and not the earlier stuff. So, for me, I could easily take a complex 3e character build and zap it into a character class or an NPC for 0e or 1e. Not easily the other way around, where there are fiddly rules for the way a class needs to be constructed.

    But the fantasy is directly portable. Like Eberron? Easy to make a 1e Eberron campaign. Like Dark Sun? A 3e version is easy to create. Harder to attempt a direct conversion of the original stats into the new system, though. It's easier to start from scratch using the general guidelines of the concept, but not the numbers themselves.

  9. Aw, heck, I realized I just said almost exactly what P_Armstrong said already. Thematic conversions work, mechanical conversions are much more fiddly.

  10. I personally have found it very easy to use 3rd and 4th edition monsters in my Mutant Future campaign. This is probably made easier by the fact that I long ago abandoned experience and treasure tables and went with a more free form approach to rewarding xp based on how much was accomplished during the session, not on how many HD of monsters were killed. Incidentally, nothing promotes crappy roleplaying IMO as much as xp for killing critters. That road just leads to needless slaughter in the name of leveling up. I want my players to feel more rewarded if they figure out a way to accomplish things without killing or even fighting anything they don't absolutely have to!

    As far as using the creatures, I take HP and attacks and damage as is, convert the AC from ascending to descending and use skill ranks as a guideline for how sneaky or athletic, etc., a creature is. It is really easy to convert a skill or special ability over if you do not worry about a mechanical way to express it and just put the effects of that skill or ability into words. 4e powers are even easier to do this with than 3e skills because the power specifically states all of its effects in its description.

    The beauty of earlier editions (and I include Mutant Future in this) is that they don't attempt to mechanically simulate everything. You can just narrate a creature hiding or attempting to bluff or radiating darkness or what have you.

  11. I should add that using HP, attacks and damage as is makes a creature much more dangerous when used in an earlier edition due to the power creep that has been happening. I see nothing wrong with this; if I was running a straight labyrinth lord game and the players were fighting some orcs, if I wanted to throw in an orc champion I might take one of the orcs from the 4e monster manual and throw it in there as a challenge. I find it more unrealistic to expect that ALL orcs will fall like wheat before a blade than to think that some of them will be a match for mid level PCs.

  12. in response to Carl's last comment:
    I really like that as an idea...

    "Kneel before me, humans!"
    "Why should we?"
    "Because I am a 4th Edition Orc!"
    "Well... crap"

  13. I *routinely* use adventures from 3.x in my B/X campaign.

  14. I've read alot of "I take new and put it in old" and sure, I do that, too, but I have, mostly because of gamer preference in my area, more experience in the reverse.

    I've converted more than I can recall into 3.x from B/X, AD&D, etc., because that's what is needed, and sometimes with little or no fiddling...with most of what I do have to fiddle with being humanoid npcs who require class levels. Otherwise, if I find a monster that needs a boost, then I just add a fitting pre-existing ability or come up with something Random and Esoteric for my monsters, if you know what I mean.

    Conversion from 3.x to older editions comes just as easy to me, so I guess what I'm trying to say is that maybe it does make it easier if you are playing/familiar with the system(s) currently.

  15. When I convert from radically different system to fairly combatible older edition systems I don't personally aim for accurasy in mechanics, but try to build the the conversion from cratch.

  16. I ran a Call of Cthulhu adventure out of the book once for three 3.0 characters, one AD&D 1 character, and one Traveller character. No time to convert so we just adjudicated on the fly.

    Jeff, there's some cool 3e content that can easily be converted back thematically to old editions. If you're willing to countenance such a thing in the name of comity, even a planetouched dwarf wizard/monk can be converted with a couple of ad hoc special abilities and rule exceptions.

    - Cal

  17. "planetouched dwarf wizard/monk" = "gnome illusionist."

    Or maybe if I'm feeling extra ambitious, a psionic dwarf assassin.

    That's the kind of "conversion" I generally do and why I say conversion from 3+ D&D to OOP D&D is pretty much as easy/hard as the conversion from pretty much any other fantasy rpg.

  18. "planetouched dwarf wizard/monk" = "gnome illusionist."

    Or maybe if I'm feeling extra ambitious, a psionic dwarf assassin.

    That's the kind of "conversion" I generally do and why I say conversion from 3+ D&D to OOP D&D is pretty much as easy/hard as the conversion from pretty much any other fantasy rpg.

    Exactly. Moving characters/rules between game systems is like translating poetry: you want to get across the sense of the original, its music, but at some point you have to make the text into a different thing in order for it to work as poetry, at all, in the destination language.

    And again, I'll point out that 4e's monster/trap/NPC/encounter design were clearly designed in part to make this kind of translation possible. Hence the much-ignorantly-maligned 'roles' for PC's: they're like a bridging language between editions and systems. Instead of redoing a 1e druid as a 4e druid in a one-to-one way, abilitywise, you pick the class or combination of classes that captures the flavour, using roles as a guideline. 'Class' is a half-silly game construct in the first place; 4e's class/role framework is built to accommodate a wide variety of 'plugin' characters.

    As for going backward: 0e/Basic characters are assumed to be able to do a wide variety of things; 3e/4e characters are defined as being able to do them. Assume what 4e would define, roll dice when there's a conflict, how goddamn hard is any of that? In a game culture where 'balance' is explicitly rejected as a design goal, it's disingenuous to complain that new-school mechanics don't translate. If old-school games are anywhere near as flexible as apologists claim, they can handle 3e/4e hybrids and variants without trouble.

  19. @Wally - your comment about being flexible isnt completely accurate. For example OD&D really isnt designed to handle something like Dragonmech or Eberrons Warforged without a good amount of bashing rules or stats to fit descriptions and quite a bit of swearing and grumbling. And all of that is due to one reason - changes in inherent assumptions and styles of play.

    OD&D assumes certain things to be true - for example a 0e wizard starts out weak and can become unbelievably powerful, which is a different progression from 4e's wizard. In many ways its like comparing a toned down Gandalf to Harry Potter - yes they are both wizards but they use magic in vastly different ways.

    If I take a fighter from generic fantasy worlds using any of the D&D rulesets he will basically fit in with minimal effort - mostly just things like skills and combat maneuvers being changed - because what he is assumed to do stays basically the same. However trying to do the same with say a Bard is a much different experience, because what a bard was envisioned doing has changed so dramatically. The initial incarnation was almost triple classed while the more modern 3e version can be summed up with Order of the Sticks character.

    In my experience with 4e the new approach to monsters hamstrings conversions far more then it helps them. (Keep in mind Im speaking purely from the core 3 books, not the more recent additions, which I have not even touched) Gone is the clunky but intuitive template system that 3.x Monsters were built under - like adding a level of warrior or fighter to an orc to create more of a boss type monster. Now admittedly there are rules tucked into the DMG for doing the same thing, but the additions of powers dragged that to a crawl in my experience.

    For all the complaints I have with 4e there are several things I will be lifting for use in all my future, especially the skill challenges, though adapted to whatever ruleset I play with.

    And just to prove compatibility is a bit of a two way street - I'll be running a Dark Sun campaign using Barbarians of Lemuria - so it will be D&D play without D&D rules

  20. Stronghold establishment wasn't supported in the core rulebooks, but acquiring henchmen was. The section on weather was actually quite encyclopedic and comprehensive. There were rules for ships and for getting lost on long journeys, the combination of which would be relatively trivial.

    And I agree with Set: It's relatively trivial to use pre-3rd Edition material in 3rd Edition. In fact, I think 3rd Edition generally works better if you use the old school methods of encounter design instead of the "new school" of encounter design that, IMO, arose from misreading the 3.x DMG.

    4th Edition, of course, plays like the completely different game it is.