TO OD&D: TURNS, ROUNDS, AND SEGMENTS -- OH MY!
Last year I began a series
of posts regarding my reactions to the original 1974 edition
of Dungeons &
Dragons. Recently a post
D&D Hotspot tweaked me to comment on one of the
issues I didn't discuss in the original series: The timekeeping and
Here's the most pertinent passage from Volume 3: Underworld &
MOVE/TURN IN THE UNDERWORLD:
In the underworld all distances are in
feet, so wherever distances are given in inches convert them to tens of
(distances given in Vol. 1) is in segments of approximately ten
minutes. Thus it takes ten minutes to move about two moves -- 120 feet
for a fully-armored character. Two moves constitute a turn, except in
flight/pursuit situations where the moves/turn will be doubled (and no
Melee is fast and furious. There are
ten rounds of combat per turn.
have now introduced close to two dozen people to the OD&D
This almost always involves walking them through the major cruxes of
the rules, but even in cases where a more rapid acclimation is called
for, I still make a point of reading this passage to them: That way
they can fully appreciate the archaeological
reconstruction of the rulebooks necessary to actually play
fact that "turn" and "segment" are used interchangeably is somewhat
confusing, but what makes the passage really tricky is that
they actually aren't
used interchangeably. If you can move the "distance given in Vol. 1" in
segment of 10 minutes, what does it mean that you can also make two moves in a turn
of 10 minutes?
this even more confusing is the phrase "120 feet for a fully-armored
character". The phrase "fully-armored" means absolutely nothing in the
context of the rules and the default speed for a character is 12" = 120
feet. So if you interpret that passage to mean that a character with a
12" movement moves 120 feet in two moves that take 1 turn, then it
follows that a "move" (in the context of this passage, anyway) actually
equals 1/2 the character's speed. Which would mean that:
1 move =
1 segment = 0.5 turns
that's probably not what it means. What "fully-armored" probably means
is the "speed of an Armored Footman (6"/turn) which is referenced as
part of an example in Volume 1. (Which is not, actually, the speed of a
character fully-armored character unless they're also carrying a bunch
of other equipment. Unless, of course, you decide to interpret this
example as a new rule that actually implies that armor alone --
separate from weight carried -- can affect the speed of a character.).
But that still doesn't clear up how:
= 1 move = 10 minutes
1 turn =
2 moves = 10 minutes
Can both be
true. (They obviously can't.)
TURNS vs. MELEE TURNS
But we're not done yet.
Although the title of this section as it
appears on page 8 of Volume
3 is THE MOVE/TURN IN THE UNDERWORLD, on the table of
contents for this volume it appears as "The Move Turn in the
This separate coining of the phrase "move
turn" could probably be safely ignored, if it wasn't for Supplement 1: Greyhawk.
In this supplement, Gygax casually introduces the term "melee turn".
For example, on page 6 the duration of the Monster Summoning I
spell is listed as: "Duration: 6 melee turns".
Furthrmore, on page 18 of Supplement 1,
giant snakes are given damage of "2-8/turn of constriction". The use of
the term "turn" here can't possibly mean 10 minutes, can it?
vs. FULL TURNS
And then we come to Supplement 2: Blackmoor,
which was written by Dave Arneson. On page 1, in describing the
abilities of monks, he writes: "...has a 75% chance of stunning the
opponent for from 3-12 turns". Much like the giant snake from Supplement 1, it
seems unlikely that Arneson means that the monk can stun opponents for
30 to 120 minutes.
this suspicion seems confirmed when, on the next page, he writes that
5th level monks can "perfectly simulate death" for a duration of time
equal to "a six sided die x level for the number of full turns".
we interpret "full turn" to mean something different than "turn" from
the previous page? Context certainly seems to suggest it.
therefore tempting, I think, to suggest that Arneson was using "turn
vs. full turn" in the same sense that Gygax was using "round vs. turn"
or "melee turn vs. move turn".
If this were actually the case, it would go
way towards explaining why this terminology is so hopelessly
confused in OD&D: You had at least two different
the term "turn" with at least two completely inverted meanings.
the central crux can be found when we hit Arneson's description of the
giant squid (page16): "Squids tire easily; there is a 50% chance that
they will withdraw after three rounds of melee, with a 5% increase each
Here Arneson displays knowledge of the term
"round", but does his use of the term "turn" in immediate juxtaposition
indicate that he's using the terms interchangeably? To my eyes it seems
almost certain, but perhaps others would disagree.
METHOD IN THE MADNESS
perhaps I'm simply trying to impose rationality onto something which is
fundamentally irrational. There's certainly a fair degree of evidence
that Arneson and Gygax simply used the term "turn" to mean whatever the
hell they felt like it should mean. For example, on page 43 of Blackmoor:
is a 1 in 6 chance that when entering passages marked with a dashed
line or when crossing one of the bridges that 1-3 trolls will be
encountered. Any fighting will bring an additional 1-3 trolls every
turn the fight exists.
Arneson surely can't
have meant that 1d3 new trolls should endlessly show up every single
round, right? There's no way such a combat could ever end.
Similarly, on page 18 of Volume 3 we can
read as part of the rules for large party movement:
Each move will constitute one day. Each day is considered a turn.
Which is, at the very least, suggestive
that they considered "turn" to be a useful catch-all phrase and that
its proper meaning is supposed to be intuited from context. (For
of the same, consider dungeon
levels, character levels, and spell levels.)
And all of this analysis ignores that
neither Gygax nor Arneson were the sole authors contributing to the
so often I'll see someone praise the "elegance" or "simplicity" of
OD&D. Whenever that happens, I think about passages like this
laugh and laugh and laugh.
Here's how we've been playing these rules:
1 turn =
10 minutes = 10 rounds = 2 moves
= 5 minutes = 1 move
matches the definition of "segment" to mean 1 move, but obviously
contradicts the definition of "segment" to mean 10 minutes. We picked
this interpretation because having a second term synonymous with turn
didn't seem useful, but there's potential utility in having a term that
means basically "half a turn" or possibly "an interrupted turn".)
is defined in inches according to the encumbrance table (which has its
own interpretative issues, but let's ignore those for now):
1 move =
speed x 10 feet
1 turn =
2 moves = speed x 20 feet
comes the tricky question of how far you can move in a single round.
The logic here seems pretty clear: A round is 1/10th the length of a
turn, ergo you can move 1/10th as far. Which mean that total movement
in a round is:
of combat = speed x 2 feet
In practice, we say that people get two
moves per round (just as you get two moves per turn), so:
1 round =
2 combat moves = speed x 2 feet
move = speed in feet
Further, we concluded that you could either
move twice or move and
attack, because why else would the rules give you two smaller
moves instead of just one big move? There must be some reason why you
can split them up like that. As an alternative solution, we briefly
played with the idea of giving each player two "actions" which they
could either use to move or attack, but eventually decided against it.)
How have others interpreted these rules?
Holmes's revision/clean-up of the rules in 1977 used the same values
for turn-based movmeent. But he radically revised combat. The 1977 Basic Set
states, "Each turn is ten minutes except during combat where there are
ten melee rounds per turn, each round lasting ten seconds." (Or is that
not a revision after all? Assuming that there's a "combat
turn" which lasts for one minute and is divided up into 10 rounds of 6
seconds each would be another way of resolving the inconsistent use of
the term "turn" in the OD&D manuals and supplements.) This has
minimal impact on how far characters can move in a single round, but
the exact values are no longer calculable from the base values:
"Movement (if any) is usually at a sprint; an unarmored man can move 20
feet per melee round, a fully armored man only 10 feet."
This retro clone of OD&D oddly chooses to explicitly contradict
OD&D movement rules by stating that a walking character
at speed x 20 feet) cannot map or observe their surroundings carefully.
It instead creates a new half-speed category where mapping is
permitted. It also fails to provide any clarification of whether or not
one can move and attack in a single combat round. It defines walking
speed in a round as being equal to 1/10th walking speed in a turn, but
it also defines a "combat" movement rate equal to 1/20th the walking
speed in a turn (which would be equivalent to 1 combat move in my
(Looking through both Swords & Wizardry
and Swords &
Wizardry: White Box,
I'm actually really surprised at how many rules they just make up out
of wholecloth. Even more surprising are the number of rules which are
just flat-out wrong. I often talk about how open to interpretation the
OD&D rules, but S&W routinely ignores the stuff that isn't
open for interpretation. And even some of the stuff that is open to
interpretation is instead rendered in some completely different way
lying far outside the gray area of the original rules. I just always
assumed that the retro clones would look more like clones and less like
I usually don't get heavy into personal
biography around here, but I got married on Saturday. On the Wednesday
before that, my brother and best man ran a session of OD&D for
my small bachelor party. By means of celebrating my wedding, here are
(1) John H. roled up a cleric with 4
Intelligence. In addition to taking everything hilariously literally,
he was also convinced that he was actually a wizard. (Even going so far
as to dress up in pointy hat with stars on it.) He carried two wands --
his small wand was a stick he'd found on the ground; his big wand was a
mace ("a big stick with a big metal star"). Although he couldn't cast
any spells (being a 1st-level cleric), Andrew H.'s charcter (who was a magic user)
would cast spells for him, thus supporting his delusion.
(2) David P. played Enriquill. Enriquill was
a dashing fellow who insisted that the true joy of adventuring could
only be found in "savoring the finer things". For example, the
exquisite delicacy which are the sightless eyeballs of giant bats. (He
would also sample cave moss and lichen, leading us to discover the
crude goblin carvings describing three pits as "Deep", "Deeper", and
"Deepest".) When Enriquill died towards the end of the evening, with
his dying breath he gasped, "Eat my eyeballs..."
And we did.
(3) I played Matharl, a dwarf with golden
eyes, silver skin, and copper hair (which he would cut once every three
months for the profit). Matharl had once been a member of the Doge City
of the Imperial Emperor 362. (Yes, the 362nd Doge City of the Dwarven
Empire. We have delved deep. And wide. And also invested heavily in
surface real estate.) But after contracting the metallo curse, he was
(4) We also had a newbie at the table who
had never played an RPG before. He rolled some truly amazing ability
scores, but then balanced out his luck by rolling a 3 on 3d6 to garner
only 30 gp in starting cash. Trying to buy decent starting equipment
with such meager funds was an exercise the whole table contributed to.
We eventually got him decent armor (leather) and a weapon, but ran out
of money before we could get him rations.
(5) Our newbie had also shown up late, so
the rest of us were already in the dungeon. Our DM decided to start the
newbie back at town. When he was presented with, "You're in town. And
out of food. What do you do?" His response was, literally,
"Wait... This is
how we do this?"
He was pretty consistently awesome
throughout the entire evening. A little too eager to leap head-long
down dungeon passages, but Matharl eventually resigned himself to that
by simply keeping his ass as far back as he possibly could while the
suicidal little runt went on his rampages.
(6) I say "runt" because in filling out his
character sheet our newbie had created a 342 year old, 4' 3" , 184
pound human named Rico Suave. (Ricky II.) This was good, goofy fun. It
was also great because the upper level of the DM's dungeon was composed
of tight passages that we were forced to crawl through (with branching
tunnels that we eventually found led to the Deep, Deeper, and Deepest
shafts mentioned above). While he'd insisted that everyone except my
dwarf would be forced to remove their armor while crawling through
these cramped passags, Rico Suave had inadvertently ended up being
shorter and weighing less than I did. Ergo, he, too, was able to keep
his armor on. This allowed us to travel down the passages
(7) This prevented a repeat performance of
an early disaster in which gremlins -- little green balls with
red-veined legs -- had savaged Rico Suave from behind and stolen his
food. Actually, that encounter probably would have ended okay if I
hadn't set the tunnel on fire.
(8) The session started when we received a
mission from the sultan to rescue his harem. (A perfect scenario for a
bachelor party game.) He offered us a 1,000 gp and then gave us the
intel he had received from a palace guard who had followed the
"swarthy, humanoid kidnappers" to a cave 4 days from the city. We
couldn't question the guard because the sultan had killed him to keep
slanderous rumors from spreading about the loss of his harem...
... Matharl instantly realized that if the
sultan was willing to kill his own guard for having even less
information than we would once we returned the harem, that we probably
wouldn't be seeing that reward. On the other hand, there were 8
beautiful harem girls in a cave.
Before leaving town, though, we made a point
of spreading rumors all over town that the sultan had lost his harem.
We even mentioned the reward and the location of the cave. We figured
there was a pretty good shot that other adventurers might show up,
clear out the upper levels, and leave us with a clear shot at the harem
(9) That didn't happen, but it did set up
the scenario by which Rico Suave joined the party. The DM staged a
scene in which Rico Suave heard our 4 Int pseudo-wizard talking about
the 1,000 gp reward. When he later showed up, though, we managed to
convince both him and
the 4 Int wizard that the reward was only 500 gp. (But we
would totally split it evenly with them.)
After several perilous delves, we descended
the Deepest shaft and found a metal plate. We knocked loudly and
waited. When it opened, a pair of glowing eyes peered out from the
darkness below. I wanted to know what it was, so I dropped my torch.
The DM ruled that it landed pointy-end first, rolled for max damage,
and ended up having the torch skewer the furry goblinoid straight
through the forehead. He plopped down dead.
Rico Suave, naturally, leapt down to the
corpse. He yanked the torch free and then looked around... to find
himself surrounded by a ring of more furry goblinoids and several
ettins, all looking at him in complete shock. Rico Suave looked up,
"Uh... guys. There are a lot of them down here. I think--"
And then he was torn limb from limb.
Thinking quickly, Matharl called out in
goblin, "Quick! Over this way! The vile murderer has jumped down this
I was able to convince the ettins and
goblins that Rico Suave had killed my father. We had pursued him into
these caves seeking vengeance, which we were grateful they had given to
us. They offered me the honor of chopping off his head. Which I did.
It turned out that they were in a
celebratory mood themselves, having recently "fulfilled the prophecy"
by sending a band to the "surface of the daybringer's bright light" to
capture "the veiled ones". We managed to get ourselves invited back to
a celebratory feast of prime Rico Suave meat. (Enriquill: "Always enjoy
the finer things.")
When we got to the feasting chamber, we
found four of the harem girls huddled in a corner and quickly confirmed
that the other four had already been eaten. (Apparently the dwarf girl
was a good cook and had been forced to cook her friends.) Rico Suave
wasn't quite enough meat for all of us, so the ettins were getting
ready to sacrifice another harem girl to the pot.
Matharl, thinking quickly, offered to first
perform a sacred ritual of his people to thank the humanoids for
fulfilling his vengeance and to bless their feast. Although one of the
ettins fell to arguing with itself over the matter and one of the
goblins looking a little suspicious, Matharl convinced them to kneel in
a circle around the cooking fire. He said that the ritual would bring
the power of the daystar into their hearts and then doused them the
And by "holy oil", I mean "highly flammable
With the monsters doused, everybody lowered
their torches and started a bonfire.
As we were leading the harem girls out, we
discovered that some cryptic remarks the ettins had made earlier
actually referred to sea serpents and green gelloid monsters. It was
during the final battle against these creatures, holding the line while
the harem girls escaped, that Enriquill fell.
But we emerged largely victorious. And
since Enriquill was dead, we each had a harem girl for ourselves. Since
the girls were pretty certain that the sultan was almost certainly
going to kill us (even if we hadn't let four of the girls get eaten
before we saved them), and they weren't particularly enthusiastic about
going back to him anyway, we decided that we'd heard some wonderful
things about the city of Waterdeep.
(The DM was surprised to learn that we had
been in the Forgotten Realms this entire time.)
I was never really able to take the ENnie
Awards seriously after they nominated the truly god-awful Pit of Loch-Durnan
in 2001: This early D20 product featured truly gorgeous cover art, but
everything else about it -- the interior art, the layout, the
cartography, the NPCs, the "plot" -- was atrocious. Imagine the opinion
you'd have of a new film award that nominated Gigli for Best
Picture in its first year of existence and you'd have a pretty accurate
gauge for my opinion of the ENnies.
however, I've found myself thinking that the ENnies have probably
refurbished their reputation in my eyes. It took the better part of a
decade, but the stink had definitely worn off.
not deserve to be shortlisted as Best Cartography of the Year. Not even
as an honorable mention. To do so is to, once again, turn the ENnies
into a joke.
Allow me to be crystal clear on the nature
complaint: There's nothing inherently wrong with these maps. They're
clean, clear, and functional. (Quibble: The fact that the direction of
north switches between the first and second maps is unnecessarily
confusing and will almost certainly result in GMs having the PCs enter
through the wrong door.) They aren't bad maps. I mean,
if I thought they were bad maps I'd have to look at my own maps from The Complex of Zombies
and take myself out back for a good horse-whipping:
There's nothing wrong with
functional, workman-like cartography. But there's a reason that
"workman-like" and "award-winning" aren't synonymous.
On a more positive note, the adventure this
cartography is taken from -- Death Frost Doom
-- is very good. It's a little rough around the edges, but provides the
raw material for an incredibly evocative and haunting experience. If it
had been nominated as Best Adventure it wouldn't have even made my
eyebrows waggle. It probably would have even gotten a nod of satisfied
approval. I recommend that everybody reading this check it out.
think the most charitable interpretation of what happened here is that
the judges for the ENnies recognized Death Frost Doom's
as an adventure and ended up looking around for a category to stick it
into so that it would be "properly" acknowledged. This is slightly
better than being swayed by a pretty cover wrapped around dreck, but is
still pretty questionable behavior for any awards program that wants to
be taken seriously. It tarnishes the credibility of the awarding body's
judgment, calling into question the value of the awards lists
judging quality, and thus obviating the entire point of an award in the
I'm looking for an experienced web designer
who would be interested in designing a subscription-based website with
a roleplaying focus. For the moment I'm going to be deliberately vague
regarding the details of the project, but to give some indication of
Content would be accessible through (1)
chronological blog-style archiving / daily postings; and (2) an
alternative archival format accessed through a heirarchical graphical
interface (click on a specific location on one image to open a
sub-navigation page with another image that will take you to more
Preferably this would be the same content, just
accessed through different navigations systems.
Automated content drip and subscription
feeds probably go without saying, right?
A forum-system integrated into the site's
I also need to be able to deliver PDFs as
bonus material to subscribers. I would prefer to do this directly
through the website, but the twist is that -- unlike the rest of the
content -- subscribers would only gain access to a PDF if it was
released while they were an active subscriber.
It may also make sense to include a native
store for selling and delivering e-books, but at this time I would
consider that an optional feature.
I would like to launch this project some
time this fall.
I have a small development budget for this
project at this time, but the primary form of compensation would come
through a revenue share from the subscription fees.
If you're interested, please e-mail me
with some links to your existing design work and we can start chatting
Over the past few days quite a few people
have sent me e-mails asking about Legends
& Labyrinths, and it looks like my post from
earlier today about working on a different project has prompted a fresh
series of questions. I talked about this a little bit in the comments a
few days ago, but I've decided to front page it for people to know
what's going on.
Here's the situation:
The bulk of the rulebook is finished and is
essentially functional. What isn't done? Primarily the spell and
monster lists. The monster creation system also needs to be
tweaked some more. Also, final layout and (with layout) the SRS.
In other words, the game is in a completely
playable state. (Since it's 100% compatible with 3rd Edition, you can
just use the spells and monsters from the SRD or existing core
So why hasn't the book been finished and
published? Largely because the interior art portion of the project fell
apart and I don't have the budget to redo it properly. And I'm enough
of a perfectionist that if I'm going to do it, then I'm going to do it right. Particularly
if I'm expecting people to pay money for it.
Does this mean the project is dead? I hope
not. I've got a couple of ideas about how to raise the funds for the
interior art, and I'm hoping that I'll be able to tell y'all something
But the one resolution I've taken away from
the clusterfuck that happened around L&L is that I'm not going
to talk about a product until it is 100% done and ready to go. I do
this work for love on a shoestring budget. And hearts and shoestrings
both have a reputation for breaking.
So, once I have something concrete, you'll
be the first to know. And if I ever believe that L&L is never going
to happen (which would depress me terribly), I'll also let you know.
But beyond that, I hope you'll all bear with me while I do my best to avoid doing a Harlan Ellison impression.
Back in 2009 I posted a seriesofessays on my work translating The Seagull by Anton Chekhov. This essay was written, but apparently I forgot to actually post it to the website. Whoops.
In Act III of The
Trigorin threatens to leave Arkadina for Nina. Arkadina, driven to
desperation, succeeds in seducing Trigorin and convinces him to stay
with her. ("He's mine now," she says to herself. And she's right.)
Trigorin then opens the small notebook that he keeps in his pocket and
jots something down.
Аркадина. Как хочешь. Вместе, так
Тригорин записывает в книжку.
Утром слышал хорошее выражение: «Девичий бор»... Пригодится.
(Потягивается.) Значит, ехать? Опять вагоны, станции, буфеты, отбивные
Which can be literally translated as:
Arkadina: As you
wish. However, both together ...
writes in the book.
This morning heard the expression: "Virgin forest" ... Handy.
(Stretches.) So, go? Again, cars, stations, buffets, chops, talking ...
The key phrase here is "Девичий бор"
-- "virgin forest". It's pretty easy to look at the juxtaposition of "I
heard an expression" and "virgin forest" and leap straight to the
common English phrase: "virgin wood". And, indeed, a casual survey of
translations of The
Seagull reveals that virtually everyone goes for the easy
there is a problem here: Trigorin jots it down as something worth
remembering; an oddity that must be recorded. Generations of
English-speaking actors and their audiences have struggled with making
sense out of Trigorin's seeming unfamiliarity with a common phrase.
quick search of Russian sources, on the other hand, reveals what I
suspected: Unlike "virgin wood", the phrase "Девичий бор" is virtually
unknown outside of The
So one can immediately intuit that there is an important context for
"Девичий бор" which is being lost when we translate it simply as
My next step was to pull open a
maiden (girl's, maidenly, virgin, maidenish, maiden-like)
chemical element; forest, thicket
think we can safely discard the "boron" definition. But this may
suggest that we should be wary of putting too much weight into the word
"virgin" here. "Maiden" has a very different connotation to it.
around the Russian Google for awhile, I dig into a few of the obscure
non-Chekhovian uses of the phrase. One is a 1939 book called Montenegrin's Tales (Черногорские
сказки), which appears to be a collection of folklore by P. Stiyensky
(Стийенский Р.). One of the stories has this phrase as the title, but
I've been unable to find out any details about it.
"Их было четверо, девичий бор, кружок, тайное общество, можно сказать.
Учились в одной школе." In English: "There were four in theдевичий бор;
a circle, a secret society you might say. They studied together at
school." And the phrase is used again in the same work, once again to
describe this small group of girls.
is intriguing to me because it suggests that the use of the word
"forest" or "grove" or "thicket" might be the metaphor in this phrase
(rather than "maiden" or "virgin"). In other words, it is not the wood
which is being described as virginal, but rather the maidens who are
being described as like a forest -- like a thicket of trees grouped
And, looking at the context of the scene, it
make sense why Trigorin would suddenly be struck by such a phrase: He
has been beset in rapid succession by Nina and then Arkadina. He feels
pulled this way and that by the women around him. They are a thicket
penning him in.
I have now defined the parameters of the
I need a catchy turn of phrase which is (a) original rather than
proverbial and (b) invokes the imagery of a covey of women.
I eventually came up with was "girlish gaggle". I was unhappy to lose
the sense of "forest" or "trees" from the phrase, but I think it
nevertheless strikes closer to home than "virgin wood".
(EDIT: Intriguingly, a reference that
has cropped up on Russian Google since I originally translated the
script seems to suggest that Девичий
бор might be a "paraphrasing" (typo?) of девичий вор -- which can be
translated as "maiden's burr" or "girl thief". I wish I had a better
understanding of Russian to fully appreciate the argument being made,
but if I accept it at face value then it raises the interesting
possibility that I had it backwards: Is Trigorin actually referring to
himself as a burr which catches upon women? There is invocation of both
injury and clinging which I find intriguing.)