[MUD-Dev] d20

Brian 'Psychochild' Green brian at psychochild.org
Mon Aug 13 12:05:15 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

A bit of a tangent.  I hope the readership will indulge my rantings on
this topic.

Michael Tresca wrote:
> On Monday, August 06, 2001 8:00 PM maddog at best.com posted:
>> I am still not convinced that D20 is the ultimate game mechanics
>> for computer-based (or should i say "mediated"?) fantasy
>> role-playing.  Do you guys think so? I did spend 4 nanoseconds on
>> a translator for D20 to D200.

> Rather moot, really.  That's like saying, "I get bored with the
> Windows environment so I will not develop my game for it."

Which is what people do every day.  There's these things called

I've heard the one called "Playstation 2" is pretty popular with the
kids these days.
> It's easy to put down a game system.  They all have flaws.  But
> the assumption that you should develop for only the QUALITY (game
> system, platform, etc.) is to assume that the general populace has
> enough knowledge to know what's good and bad.  This is simply not
> true in the majority of cases.  The market ends up being flooded
> by folks with more advertising money than the folks who make a
> rival quality product.

This assumes that the market for traditional paper RPGs is like the
market for paperback books.  (Un)fortunately, the market for paper
RPGs is generally made up of mostly math-capable geeks.  A new
system isn't going to scare the mainstay of the market.
> One of the Gen Con seminars about starting your own game company
> was very insightful.  As the panel put it, "if I slap the D20 logo
> on my RPG and I see sales double, what do you think I'm going to
> do?  Want to be different and poor?  Be my guest."

I think it's a bit premature to say that sales will double for a
paper game that used the d20 system.

Let me start by saying that I like AD&D.  I played a bit of 1st
edition, some 2nd, and have even played (and run) some 3rd edition
(which uses the d20 system).  The d20 system works well for AD&D
because it fits the metaphors of the genre.  Going out, killing
things, gaining experience, etc, all work nicely.  You can even
branch out a bit and do some interesting political games using the

But, in some cases, the system just doesn't work.  Take the new Star
Wars game released by WotC recently which uses the d20 system.  I
won a copy of the core rulebook at GenCon myself, and thumbed
through it.  In short, the d20 system is terrible for the Star Wars

Why?  Because it doesn't capture the flavor of the Star Wars movies.
I didn't see Luke go train with Yoda, then yell "Ding!" as he gained
a level.  "Cool!" says Luke to Yoda, "I just got 10th level as a
Jedi Guardian.  I get +1 to my attack roll, blah, blah blah."  I
didn't see Chewie throw up his furry hands after a battle and yell
"Arararaghhh!"  (Wookie for "Ding!")

What I did see was character progressing and getting better at what
they did.  In this case, a skill-based system works much better.
You get a better feeling of controlling your character in a
skill-based system.
> D20 may not be the ultimate game mechanics system for
> computer-based FRPG.  It does, however, have a recognized presence
> in the pen-and-paper RPG world.  If you want those customers to
> play your CRPG, it may be worth exploring.

ObMUDNote: The problem is this ignores one very important thing:
computers can handle much more difficult computations than a player
can.  It's important to remember that more complex computations
don't have to be less intuitive.

For example, in the d20 system, your attack bonus is made up of a
number of elements which are simple to consider.  Your base attack
roll, attribute modification, feats, spell bonuses and weapon
bonuses.  When it comes down to it, you roll a d20 (wow!) to
determine your attack's success.  Yet, the d20 is a tool with a
fairly low granularity.  Since a 1 always misses, you will always
miss 5% of your attacks, no matter what.

Why cripple yourself with that sort of low granularity?  Why not
increase the granularity to something that people rolling dice would
find unwieldy?  For example, use percentages.  Come up with
reasonalbe rules for automatic misses and critical hits.  Something
that isn't limited to steps of 5% granularity.

For example, in Meridian 50 we used a "d1000".  We had several
factors that weren't quite so easy to calculate, but that were still
intuitive to the player (IE, having higher weapon skill allowed you
to hit more often.)  Using a d20 based system would have made the
combat system worse, IMNSHO.

In summary, I'm not saying that you shouldn't use the d20 system.
But, remember that it is a tool.  The most important thing a
developer can do is to use the right tool for the right situation.
Perhaps my space-opera MUD won't benefit from the system as much as
your fantasy-based paper RPG.

"And I now wait / to shake the hand of fate...."  -"Defender", Manowar
     Brian Green, brian at psychochild.org  aka  Psychochild
       |\      _,,,---,,_      *=* Morpheus, my kitten, says "Hi!" *=*
 ZZzz  /,`.-'`'    -.  ;-;;,_   "They're not bugs, they're 'place-
      |,4-  ) )-,_..;\ (  `'-'    holders for code that works.'"
     '---''(_/--'  `-'\_)         - Andrew Kirmse, Meridian 59 creator
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