Sometimes I think nobody at TSR knew what they were doing

When you pay a little bit of attention to discussions about rules interpretations in old D&D systems from the 70s and 80s, you run into people all the time who say things like “this is the way to do it, because that’s how Gary did it”. And Gygax created the game, he must know what’s best.

When you look at OD&D and the AD&D rulebooks, I find that very hard to believe. And if you pay a bit more attention, you also very often come across people saying “Oh, you should just ignore those pages from the DMG. Gary never used those rules himself.” I believe Gygax didn’t really have any clue what he was doing. Which isn’t to say that anyone else did either. For one thing, this new Fantasy Adventure Game was a new concept with pretty much no pre-existing foundations to build on and compare to. There was very little data to work with, and also no real established procedures for designing such games. And those early designers literally worked out of their living rooms.

But sometimes I see things that just make me grasp my head in disbelieve. Why did anyone think that was a good idea? The completely backwards math to roll against Armor Class is the obvious black sheep. But sometimes there is also stuff that makes me feel absolutely certain that nobody ever playtested it before it went into print. And possibly the writer didn’t even check how the math works out.

What I am looking at in particular right now are the wilderness movement speeds in the 1981 Expert rules. I am generally a huge fan of Cook’s work, he’s probably my favorite of the TSR designers. But this overland travel system? What the hell was he thinking?

To determine the speed of a character, you first need to look out the base movement speed based on Encumbrance in the Basic rules on page 20. Then you go to the Expert rules on page 20, which has a list that tells you the miles traveled per day based on the base movement speed. Then you have to go to another table that tells you the speed is 2/3 the normal rate in forests, 1/2 the normal speed in mountains, and 3/2 the normal rate on roads.

Why not simply give us a table like this?

It’s so easy. With this table we could easily travel along our 6-mile hex map (as implied on page 56).

But what do I spot there? 27 miles per day? 9 miles per day? 16 miles? 4 miles? Those aren’t divisible by 6! Did nobody notice this when the Expert rules were written? Did they notice it and not thought about maybe changing the system so it works with 6-mile hexes?

At least the movement rates for ships are all in 6-mile increments. But I think for sea travel, I’d rather use 30 mile hexes instead.

7 thoughts on “Sometimes I think nobody at TSR knew what they were doing”

  1. and the value themselves … 36 miles per day ? almost 60 km … that is heavy force marching, and cannot be sustained for a long time. And you get really exhausted.

    They never walked to their mall, did they ?

    1. It is for no armor and light load. And over a time of 12 hours or so. That’s three miles per hour. For two or three people walking on road with good health and training, that’s certainly doable. Question is for how many days in a row, but it’s not too outlandish.
      The world record for 50km is under 3 hours, and people have managed 160km in a 12 hour race. While on adventure, parties are going to have considerable encumbrance and probably put in some rest days, so the actual distance covered will be significantly lower.

      However, what is unrealistic is that travel times are based entirely on base creature speed. Humans have freakishly high stamina when it comes to endurance walking. While any horse with four working legs can outrun a human for ten minutes or an hour, at the end of a full day, humans can keep up with them with little trouble. There are even mixed 100km races between human runners and horses, and while the best horses pretty much always finish first, many horses get beaten by human runners. And those are still specially bred and trained race horses.
      For calculating overland travel speed, horses and such should count as having a speed of 40.

  2. I’ve always felt per hour was more useful than per day. With miles per hour the hex size is irrelevant and partial days (hunting/foraging or hiding from weather) and rough terrain is easier.

    1. I’m preparing for a new campaign right now, and working out a complete unified travel system (with supplies, encounters, ships, and so on) is part of that.
      I’ll be posting it when it’s all finished.

  3. There are some weird choices. The AC being one of the worst since combat happens frequently. No authority is greater than the Game Master. He is the game.

  4. I think your table is awesome! And it’s perfect for a 6 mile hex.

    Think about the road march with no armor. How many 6 mile hexes per day? 12 miles over 8 hours or 2 6-mile hexes per day, with 8 hours for sleep and exploration.

    Forest? 1 and 1/3 6-mile hexes. That’s just the 2/3rds popping up the answer. You could do the armorless road march value by the 2/3 forest value to get 2*2/3. Different math, but same answer. Compare the heavy armor in mountains to the unarmored road value. It works out to 36 by a third by a 1/4. Crazy!

    It this other way of doing math in your head that makes it seem weird. Back in the 60’s they were teaching “New Math”, which is probably what you and I grew up with. The math above is “Old Math”, pre-60’s. “New Math” was as maligned as much a common core because it made things “harder” than “old math”.

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