Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Math, Editions and New Players

During a session of your favorite rpg how much time is spent idle while one of the participants performs simple addition? Hemming and hawing their way through "fourteen plus three is seventeen.." "DM: You hit!" "...oh wait there that plus two so I got 19" "DM: You still hit roll the damage!"

I've got decent math skills, and I feel kind of bad saying this, but a lot of people do not perform calculations quickly, I blame our educational systems. It is grating waiting for someone hem and haw and fumble their way through simple addition.

In 3rd edition I came to ABSOLUTELY HATE Power Attack. It became a house rule in my game that you absolutely must have a workspace with the math for any variation of Power Attack you use made out beforehand. I can do it in my head no problem. Most people...um, it'll take a couple of seconds.

Those "couple of seconds" really add up. How much of your game should be spent performing math? Hey, I think math is awesome. And maybe if folks with weaker math skills can benefit from math-intensive rpgs than that is a good thing.

I call this "Processing Cycles," as in "Different players take different amounts of Processing Cycles to calculate their attack rolls," "Power Attack requires a lot of Processing Cycles," and "Since I inked my dice it takes way less processing cycles to read them!"

That's one of the reasons I love playing oldschool D&D. 95% of that crap is GONE. In AD&D you're probably not going to have any ability score modifiers!

That is one of the reasons I still cling to the Attack Matrices and descending AC. Less dang addition!

Regardless, I can still get down with the more mathematically advanced rpgs, math is pretty awesome after all. But I really wonder, assuming that your average person is probably not going to have the sharpest math skillset, how the heck the 3rd and 4th editions of Dungeons and Dragons would ever be considered a "Mass Market Product." Making a character is like doing your taxes!

There is absolutely no way that 3rd of 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons could be considered a "game" as opposed to a "hobby" as opposed to Heroscape for example. I described learning how to play it as "halfways between becoming an accountant and a lawyer." It requires a significant intellectual investment to learn even the basics of play.

How reasonable is it to expect a "Joe six-pack off of the street," your mom or some young kid to be able to make a character and pick up the basics of the game in a short period of time using 3rd or 4th edition, nevermind doing all of that math on the fly.

With oldschool D&D it is, as long you communicate well, pretty dang easy to show a greenhorn how to make a character. And as long as they play a Fighting-Man and there's an experienced party to adventure with (and whom provide decent advice) they're going to pick up the basics and be rolling in no time at all!


  1. Getting rid of as much math as possible to reduce all those processing cycles is a major factor behind most of the custom rules I've been posting on my blog.

    I'd rather ask a player to roll twice and take the higher result than ask them to roll and do some math. Similarly I'd rather ask them to roll a larger sized dice than do the math. Unless the game is about teaching math, it's just slowing things down. It's inelegant. We can do better. :)

  2. A lot of people have just never bothered, or are disinclined, to think through how to think math through. If you break larger numbers down to base tens and fives, calculating the single digits afterwards, then adding them back in, you can do math in your head, very quickly.

  3. Lateralization of brain function

    Left Hemisphere: numerical computation (exact calculation, numerical comparison, estimation)

    Right Hemisphere: numerical computation (approximate calculation, numerical comparison, estimation)

    People tend to have a preference in the same way they are right or left handed. Anyone can learn math, just like anyone can learn to use scissors with their left hand. :)

    There's also an indication that if you are strongly engaging functions localized to either the left or right hemisphere you may temporarily have less ability with the other hemisphere. This is why when people are "really into" drawing or painting (right hemisphere) they sometimes have a harder time talking (left hemisphere) -- eg. when teaching an art class.

    Word Verification: splt <-- haha

  4. I think it's just plain laziness. No matter what game I play, if there's a series of numbers that get added up relatively often - to-hit modifiers for my greatsword when I have flanking, say, or damage modifiers for my lance when I charge - I write them down somewhere easy to find. It's pretty basic.

    Someone who doesn't bother to do that kind of thing is going to slow down the game in any edition.

  5. Generally I agree, except for descending AC, which I think is probably more maths-intensive than ascending. It certainly seems so to me, and I'm quite good at maths, but I've always had trouble with it at the table.

  6. Descending AC only comes into it because thats how the attack matrix is laid out. It's a small thing to rewrite the numbers in reverse order if you really care that much, but its basically the exact same process.