How many choices does it take to make a cleric in OD&D, AD&D, and 4E?

Inspired by my previous post about character building in AD&D and 4E, I made a Google spreadsheet tracking how many decisions it takes to create a character in three different editions. Since the number varies depending on character type, I chose to focus on the human cleric I was making as a pregenerated character for my Anonycon AD&D and 4E games. I didn’t include choices like a characters’ name which have no mechanical effect on the game, and didn’t consider decisions about equipping a character.

To make a 1st level cleric in OD&D, you make decisions about your class (3 options), race (4 options), alignment (3 options),  and languages spoken (no specific options  given beyond “all other creatures and monsters which can speak have their own language”), for a total of 4 choices from among 10 options.

In AD&D, that same 1st level cleric requires 7 choices: class, race, gender (which has mechanical effects in AD&D, unlike any other edition), alignment, languages, and spells (1 because AD&D clerics have a spell at 1st level, and 2 more because this cleric has bonus spells from 18 Wisdom). Counting each multiclass possibility as a separate option, these selections are made from among 60 unique options (you choose 3 times from among the same set of 12 spells; this counts as a dozen unique options, not 36.) I didn’t include deity both because it has no mechanical effects and because the AD&D PHB says nothing about this choice for clerics or any other class, as far as I can tell!

In 4E, you make 23 separate decisions in the course of building a 1st level cleric: class; race; alignment; languages; class build; deity; point buy decisions for Strength, Constitution, Intelligence, Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma; four trained skills; two feats; a bonus ritual; three at-will powers, one encounter, and one daily.  If you’re just using the 4E PHB , you make these selections from among approximately 165 different options.

To make my 4E cleric I used the Character Builder, which includes all currently published material for 4E, and made a total of 27 decisions from among 780 options to choose from. It might be interesting to make a similar comparison against all AD&D material, including the roll-swap decisions from the DMG Appendix P and the non-weapon proficiencies from Unearthed Arcana. My suspicion would be that this would probably bring up the number of choices into the 4E range, but provide nowhere near as many options to select from.

The differences between editions are reduced when making a higher-level character is the focus of comparison. In OD&D, creating a 10th level cleric requires a total of 19 more selections (picking spells) from among 36 unique options. In AD&D, it’s 27 decisions from among 106 options.  In 4E, it’s 34 choices from among 193 new options. (Note, too, that these choices will stay more or less fixed, while the older-edition clerics could re-choose their spells each day).

What are these data good for?

One thing we can do is to quantify the oft-repeated maxim that in 4E, making a fighter is like making a spellcaster in older editions. In AD&D, making a fighter of any level only requires five choices (as long as you’re rolling stats in order and not using non-weapon proficiencies). We can now say definitively that making a first-level fighter in 4E requires about as many choices as it’d take to build a 8th level cleric in AD&D.

More generally, this confirms my intuition that 4E character creation requires making many more decisions and considering more options than in previous editions.  It also allows us to make conceptually dodgy but numerically-supported statements like “one character creation choice in OD&D is worth six in 4E” (if we accept the premise that, as with randomness, making fewer decisions gives each one a proportionally greater significance) or “4E’s character creation process is seventy-eight times deeper than OD&D’s” (if we accept that the fundamental unit of a game’s depth is the number of meaningful options it presents to the players).


13 Responses to “How many choices does it take to make a cleric in OD&D, AD&D, and 4E?”

  1. November 29, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    I look at it and say “ye gads! too much time spent building chars, how would I ever teach that in a pick up game with noobs. 4e is not the game for me”. Also would say same about AD&D now, and that was what I grew up with.

    But others will look at 4e as awesome building challenge and see OD&D as having all the same characters and boring.

    Still others …

    Bottom line is the games *are* different. They are not interchangeable, choice of rules matter. A particular game can be best for a specific gamer/group of gamers but none of those games is fundamental bad, just different.

  2. November 29, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Well said, Norman. I find it interesting to try to pin down what the differences are and measure them, but it’s not a value judgement. In fact I went back and edited the last paragraph a little to provide ways you could see more options as good, which may not have been necessary because most gamers feel like more choices in character creation = better.

    One thing that surprised me was how few choices there are in OD&D character creation. My house rules have almost doubled the number of decisions by asking people to choose three background sentences & a special power.

  3. November 30, 2009 at 12:51 am

    It’s not especially surprising that later editions have emphasized more “build” options, as that seems to be how the major role-playing publishers make money.

    It’s also kind of surprising that those three choices with ten options still takes us about 15 minutes to create a character, when someone shows up at the table.

    Note that if you show up wanting to play a Cleric, in OD&D you only make one choice, your Alignment, as you’ve chosen your class and race already.

    Also, not including different scores on attributes like Strength and Dexterity, there are exactly 84 distinct combinations of race, class, alignment and 1st level Magic-User spell in the 3LBB’s.

  4. 4 maldoor
    November 30, 2009 at 2:26 am

    James beat me to it: clerics are restricted to being human, so the initial accounting of choices in the OD&D chart is generous. Of course the OD&D rules then go on to say that a player can be anything they want:

    “There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top, i.e., a player wishing to be a Dragon would have to begin as let us say, a “young” one and progress upwards in the usual manner, steps being predetermined by the campaign referee.”

    In the rules-as-written the choices offered to the player in OD&D are infinite, limited only by their imagination and the willingness of the referee to let them choose something outlandish.

    This reinforces Norman’s point, I think. These are different games once you look under the hood, not two versions of the same one.

    The OD&D rules outline very few mechanical choices for a starting player, but assumes that you will be making other choices related to role-playing, and allows for those choices to have meaning in the game.

    It seems to me 4ed provides tons more choices up front, but then locks out any game-meaningful player creativity beyond the mix-and-match of figuring out your optimal build. Who cares if your character is a former pest exterminator or the amnesiac heir to a kingdom if they have a standard defender build?

    While “fighting man” may seem too vanilla, I suspect it helps keep focus on characters known for personality instead of for build.

    I agree with Tavis’ point – this doesn’t mean one game is better than the other, but they are different games, and some people will be more drawn to one than the other. Lucky folks will like both and choose which one to play based on what they want to get out of the game.

  5. November 30, 2009 at 2:55 am

    Y’all are correct that some choices open or close other options, and that sometimes I account for this (I only counted options that the Character Builder offered me, which didn’t include those my human cleric couldn’t qualify for) and sometimes I don’t (I considered every possible multi-classing combination as an option for AD&D, although they’re not available to humans).

    Part of the idea I’m groping towards is that when you have only a few choices, each of them is more meaningful. I find it interesting, though, that regardless of edition some of your choices are more important than others (even if my analysis doesn’t pick this up). Choosing your class in 4E still has a huge impact on what your character can do, which is a major difference from a purely point-buy systems like Champions or GURPS where there’s no one decision that is as significant.

    “It seems to me 4ed provides tons more choices up front, but then locks out any game-meaningful player creativity”

    I think that 4E’s approach to character building is restrictive in two ways:

    1) The mechanical tightness of its design encourages choosing from discrete options, and its complexity makes it difficult to achieve a “virtually anything” openness. (We design new OD&D classes at the table; I’ve literally spent months doing so for 4E). 780 options is still less than infinity, so the comparison of options is kind of apples and oranges in the case of OD&D (it’s more apt in AD&D, which also seeks to limit the possibilities so that strangers share more common ground).

    2) The front-loading character build process forces you to make more choices before play starts. Another apples and oranges comparison is that an old-school cleric can re-do spell decisions every time they rest, while the 4E cleric can do so only when they retrain after going up a level. (This is good and bad; managing the daily spell memorization for a high-level cleric in 3.5 was a ton of work!)

  6. 6 maldoor
    November 30, 2009 at 4:12 am

    Two thoughts to add:

    1) Not to make this more complicated, but how would you add Traveller into this comparison? Would you say that the almost total lack of choice (you can _try_ to get into a service branch…) puts this at one end of the spectrum, where your few choices – many of which will be denied by the dice, makes them most important, or does it fall off the scale you are considering? (Context: I mean classic Traveller, since that is the only version I am familiar with).

    2) Based on my experience with several MMORPGs, I suspect that the 780 options you mention will quickly be reduced to 40-50. Games like Everquest and WoW have very similar systems that allow for generation of hundreds or thousands of different characters, based on initial choices made, skill trees climbed, etc. But in both games certain builds became fashionable at times, and so virtually all high-level archetypes look similar. Even if there is no “right” build, people decide that there is, or a popular product makes some builds temporarily more useful than others. (e.g., imagine if a Tomb of Horrors style of dungeons becomes popular, the builds gravitate towards detection, avoidance, and luck. If the popular modules are closer to Keep on the Borderlands or Horror on the Hill you get lots of builds centered on crowd control and AoE affects.)

    I know that is a cliche comparison, but there is truth in it. There is an ouroborus here where early computer game designers struggled to get a version of D&D to come alive online, and now the print RPG authors are in turn taking the ideas from the online games and things they have learned about making things fun, reward schedules and generating interest.

    So I think the mechanical tightness of its design will become even more restrictive. The front loading somehow does not bother me as much. Like with Traveller, making choices up front means you have to find creative ways to live with those choices during play, which is a positive challenge.

  7. 7 Thasmodious
    November 30, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    It’s an interesting comparison, but I think you’ve weighted the choices a bit in favor of the hypothesis. For both OD&D and AD&D you assume an ability score distribution that allows for a cleric, so you don’t account for any choice there, with the default “in order” generation. But that method leaves a very high chance that a cleric won’t be a possible (or practical) choice. On the 4e side, counting each ability score as an independent choice is a bit off. It’s really one choice – how to allocate your points among your six scores. Also, in the 4e side of things, two feats and three at-wills are strictly for humans, normal is one feat and two at-wills. If human is a set parameter, than race isn’t a choice to be made.

    This is just nitpicking really, but it does lead to a significant different. 9-15 is a lot less significant a gap than 7-23.

    From the comments – this doesn’t make sense to me:
    “It seems to me 4ed provides tons more choices up front, but then locks out any game-meaningful player creativity beyond the mix-and-match of figuring out your optimal build. Who cares if your character is a former pest exterminator or the amnesiac heir to a kingdom if they have a standard defender build?”

    And? What game meaningful player creativity exists in OD&D or AD&D that doesn’t in 4e? The question at the end is as meaningful (not at all) to OD&D or AD&D as it is to 4e.

    I am not one to subscribe to the notion that these are all very different games. It’s all the same game to me. The mechanics change, shift and vary, but in the end, it all leads to the same thing.

  8. 8 Greengoat
    November 30, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    I think it was telling in Tavis’ previous article about the house rules we have tacked onto the OD&D whitebox campaign, thereby expanding the total options and choices available to players.
    The need for further individualization in the ongoing OD&D campaign seems to organically grow new options and choices to choose from. Much like the sandbox growth of a campaign story and setting, a play group grows it’s own rules through time.

    Where the older editions leave more to mechanical interpretation by the players and DM, is it not the main purpose of each newer edition to provide a type of codified Rosetta Stone for playing with other people out of the blue?

    I think the real change between editions is not so much about how the game is played at the table or how the creative element is expressed, but the ultimate change in theme as dictated by the rules. OD&D & Redbox seemed engineered to play like a sometimes sadistic black comedy, where 4E seems more of wrestlemania type of fun.

  9. November 30, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    Thanks for the comments, Thasmodious! Nitpicks are appreciated. James also raised the point that if we’re counting the choices to make a human cleric, neither race nor class count as choices because they’re assumed. Likewise, if you have an 18 Wis then it’s hard not to choose cleric!

    Let’s assume you’ve rolled up completely average ability scores. Neither OD&D nor the AD&D PHB discuss swapping stats (that’s in the AD&D DMG and Unearthed Arcana), so that’s not an official choice by the book (even if folks do it all the time). My experience in making these 4E pregens is that balancing ability scores takes longer than swapping rolled stats would in any case, especially since I often go back and tweak ability scores several times in order to try to qualify for this or that.

    OD&D doesn’t have stat requirements to enter any class, so you still have one choice with three options. AD&D will have more than one class you can enter with average stats, so that’s still a choice (although it’ll have fewer possible options).

    Removing the assumption of an 18 Wis will remove two choices from the AD&D column (you won’t get bonus spells), and removing the assumption of being human will remove two choices from the 4E column (no bonus feat or at-will).

    Re: it all being the same game, I’d like that to be true but so far I haven’t been able to make it so! If you run a 4E game that plays like AD&D, I’d love to check it out. Likewise, if you’llbe at Gen Con (or Gary Con, or Anonycon, or in NYC) I’d love to have you as a player in an old-school game. It’s always better to show one another the experiences we’re talking about than it is just to talk.

    Re: what kinds of creativity exists in O/AD&D that doesn’t in 4E, I’m thinking that for my Anonycon game instead of assigning magic items I’m going to give players an index card and say “Write the name of your most wondrous item, and a sentence or two about what it can do.” I’m confident that I can adjucate whatever players come up with, and find ways to challenge them regardless of what crazy bling they give themselves.

    Doing that in 4E would go against enough of the assumptions of the system that it’s hardly worth doing. Yes, you could use page 42 to adjucate how much damage it does, or what its attack roll or skill DC would be. But there are lots of things I can imagine a magic item doing that don’t fall neatly into the 4E categories of attack power, ritual, or skill.

  10. November 30, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    “Let’s assume you’ve rolled up completely average ability scores. Neither OD&D nor the AD&D PHB discuss swapping stats (that’s in the AD&D DMG and Unearthed Arcana), so that’s not an official choice by the book (even if folks do it all the time).”

    It’s an official choice by the book in Red Box D&D, neener. Though of course you don’t provide that as an option. Editionist!

  11. November 30, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    You’re right – even in OD&D I think you could choose to swap points from a non-primary stat into a primary one at a 3:1 ratio or so. I’ve never seen it done in play, and left it off the White Sandbox quickstart character creation guide: an interesting case of our houserules taking away a choice the rules provide.

  12. 12 Thasmodious
    November 30, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    Re: it all being the same game – I do feel it’s true, and I think if you played in my 4e sandbox you’d find lots of familiar ground, as I would playing in your AD&D game. The trappings, some mechanics, some basic assumptions change a bit from here to there, but not as much as I think we like to imagine in the too human need to create these vast gulfs between groups. My experience is that the type of game a group of gamers is playing has little to do with the system choice and much more to do with the dynamics of the group and what they are looking for. I’ve DMed since 1980 and never ran a sandbox game until my 4e campaign (which I would say plays, in spirit, more like B/E than AD&D; B/E is my all time favorite edition of D&D) and never played in a megadungeon until my groups other DM’s 4e game. I preferred story and narrative. One common thread I’ve always found among gamers is that we don’t let the rules dictate to us what kind of game we “should” be playing, and instead play what we want. I houseruled the hell out of 1e and houserule the hell out of 4e. That said, I do think discussion of the inherent assumptions and changes from edition to edition is valuable.

    I do appreciate the invite and if I do make it to Gen Con this year (I am either going there or Dragon Con), I’d love to play.

    Re: creativity by edition. I will certainly cede that magic items have lost a lot of their interesting allure and wonder in 3e/4e, where the mechanics of the item take front and center. However, I am also confident that I could adjudicate player-created wondrous items. In general, I love to do things like that, get players involved and invested through some shared narrative control. I think the confidence comes from knowing your preferred system as well as one typically does. I know 4e inside and out and am confident I could handle about anything coming my way, as I am sure you are with AD&D. One of the things that drew me to 4e the most was, as I felt, its return to the older ways of allowing the freedom and flexibility of choice versus 3es rigid need for mechanical justification. As in older editions, I can make a weaponsmith or a painter without having to dump points into craft/profession skills to justify it, so the player and DM are free to decide what game effects and storylines arise from those choices, they are given meaning through that freedom.

  13. November 30, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    My degree of rules mastery is actually a lot higher in 4E than in AD&D, both because I’ve spent more time playing it and because even if they both have a design goal of being understood clearly by everyone the same way, 4E achieves that goal much more completely (in part because it’s willing to eliminate sources of ambiguity).

    My confidence that I can adjucate open-ended magic items in AD&D is based not on rules but on the likelihood that a bunch of strangers who sign up for an AD&D game at a con will accept my adjucation. In other words, I assume that they will value imaginative flexibility enough that they’ll be willing to trade off the certainty of knowing how things work. I assume this because so many things about the system support that playstyle, from the rules (which don’t cover a bazillion things that it’s assumed DM/group adjucation will cover) to the presentation (which put things like magic items, combat, and the sketch of a skill system in the DMG rather than the PHB).

    I assume that people who show up for a 4E convention game know the rules (they are in the PHB, after all) and put high value on using them to predict the consequences of their actions and ensuring that the DM and the other PCs are all on the same level and transparent playing field. If I start introducing things that can only be resolved by adjucation, that works directly against the things I imagine players expect (and that I think 4E does well). I’d expect that players would wonder “why did I spend all this time figuring out what my powers do if Joe just made up a rod of wacko that does everything I can do and more?”

    I’m not trying to create gulfs between people; we all like Super Awesome Pretend Time, and everything else is minor. But I do think that different systems are good for different jobs, and in my experience the D&D edition that people play says a lot about what they expect from a game (either because they choose that edition because it suits their style, or because they come to adopt the assumptions that are built into the system).

    So especially because it contradicts my experience, I’d like to hear more about your experience houseruling 4E and how your group accepts it! Have most of the players also been playing since 1980? (Most of my 4E gaming has been with people whose play experience is primarily with 3E, a category that includes myself since I played less D&D in 1980-1986 than I have from 2000 until now). How long have most of y’all been playing together and building up shared assumptions?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Past Adventures of the Mule

November 2009
« Oct   Dec »

RPG Bloggers Network

RPG Bloggers Network

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog & get email notification of updates.

Join 1,052 other followers


%d bloggers like this: