Copyright © 2003 Chris Gonnerman
Distributed under the Open Content License version 1.0

Project 74 vs. Kamikaze

Below is my point-by-point solution to each of Mark Hughes' gripes about AD&D, as implemented in the Project 74 (2003.4) rules. I have organized this list in the same order as his web page for ease of reference. I have skipped sections having mostly to do with Mark's battles with AD&D fanatics.

Metal and Magic and Multiclassing - The main complaint has to do with the mumbo-jumbo rules for wearing armor and doing magic. In the Project 74 system, mages simply can't work magic effectively in any armor more restrictive than leather. It doesn't matter what race you are, or if you are multiclassed or not. The only exception is elven chainmail, which has long been established as lighter and less restrictive than more common forms. Elven chainmail is also understood by most to be uncommon and virtually never made to fit a non-elf.

There is a second gripe here also, about the level limits applied to demi-humans. Well, Project 74 omits them. By allowing all races (including humans) to multiclass, these rules can safely remove the level limits without trashing game balance.

Core problems with AD&D - Most of this complaint has to do with the battle-happy nature of AD&D. The original Project 74 rules offered an alternative experience system which was story-based rather than combat oriented; this is now presented as an alternative rule, as I have found that the traditional experience system fits my game better than the story-based system.

Lucky Constitution - This item is mostly about the unfair advantage given fighters with respect to Constitution bonuses; it also touches on the problems of abstract hit point and abstract armor class. My personal complaint has always been that combat becomes tedious with high-level characters because of the ridiculous number of hit points they have. Project 74 has maximum Hit Dice of 7 rather than the 9 or more of AD&D and gives all classes the same Constitution bonus to hit points. Hit dice are also smaller in Project 74, being more in line with the classic D&D editions.

Abstract Saving Throws and Working Within the Abstraction - Project 74 changes the saving throw system somewhat; in particular, ability scores directly set the required rolls. Some abstraction seems unavoidable, but I feel the system I present in these rules is at least an improvement.

Son of Abstract Hit Points - This complaint is really mostly about the abstraction of Armor Class, which in D&D and AD&D affects the chance to hit (for damage) rather than absorbing or reducing the damage taken. Initially I agreed with Mark on this matter, and the explanation for this item read as follows:

This complaint is solved rather simply... in Project 74, every successful "to hit" roll lands, and every unsuccessful "to hit" roll missed outright. Armor works in these rules by absorbing damage, not by changing the "to hit" roll.

After actually playing with those rules for some time, I became dissatisfied with them. I wrote the following email to my players:

One of the things I've been thinking about lately is armor, and I want your opinions on this.

I'll start with an example. Say you are playing a fighter, and you are fighting an NPC. For some reason (fumble, perhaps) you have lost your sword and are reduced to a dagger (1d4). He has plate mail armor on. Ignoring Strength for the moment, in Project 74 he has 4 point armor; your maximum damage is 4, so he takes just 1 point if you do 2+ damage, none if you roll a 1 (an average of 3/4 HP damage per hit). If we were using AC, it would be harder to hit him but you could do more damage.

In real life (yes I remember that), imagine the fight. You hit him for damage, so you must have found a hole or weakness in his armor. If you stick the dagger in up to the hilt, isn't that just as good as if you did it to an unarmored man? In other words, max damage.

So maybe armor class isn't so bad.

Let's look at this another way, namely from the game standpoint. When you roll to hit in Project 74, you tell me what your total is and I compare that to the enemy's Defense. If you hit, you roll damage and I subtract the armor rating from the damage, then subtract the remaining damage from the enemy's hit points. If we used AC I would only need to know the enemy AC and Hit Points, and I'd only subtract once. Since I'm using mark-off sheets most of the time now that would mean that I wouldn't really have to subtract at all. Result: faster flowing combat.

So the question is, would you be willing/interested in changing to an armor class system? If you both decide you'd like to, I'll do all the legwork, changing your character sheets for you. We would use a rising AC system similar to the d20 system (i.e. D&D 3rd edition):

                       AC    Old AC
    Unarmored          11       9
    Shield Only        12       8
    Leather Armor      13       7
    Leather and Shield 14       6
    Chainmail          15       5
    Chain and Shield   16       4
    Platemail          17       3
    Plate and Shield   18       2

So there would still be no table lookups during gameplay (a feature of our current game which I like a lot); you just roll the d20, add your bonuses and announce the number. If it's equal to or higher than the actual AC number you hit.

The only other thing I'd have to change to support this is the combat rating advancement rate; it's too fast for a game without a matching defense rating. Fortunately, I have already figured out the correct progression for such a game as part of an article for the Footprints e-zine.

An added bonus would be the removal of most of the Parry rules (which nobody uses anyway) since they are there mainly to support shields.

Monsters like the enormous spider would be less of a challenge (not a lot less, but less), but monsters like stirges that are symied by high AR's would be more of a threat (i.e. more like they are in the classic game).

So tell me your opinions. Change or not?

The reply was unanimous: change to the Armor Class system. As I said above, perhaps Armor Class isn't so bad after all.

Wizards and Evil Characters - I'm not sure why Mark Hughes put these items (written by Mark Green) on his page; both contain such major factual errors that I can't believe he posted them.

Experience Points for Treasure - This gripe is about a 1st edition AD&D rule that was mostly dropped in 2nd edition; Project 74 explicitly drops it too.

Thieves - This item has to do with non-thieves using thief abilities. For those abilities where it makes sense that non-thieves could use them, Project 74 explicitly allows it. Thieves gain bonuses to their special skills much faster than other characters can, but anyone can learn those skills. Also, the liberal multiclassing allowed in Project 74 means that a fighter with 15 or better Dexterity might actually be a thief also... and just not mentioning it in polite company.

The Nanomunchkin - A humorous complaint about the custom character class rules of AD&D 2nd edition. Project 74 doesn't need such frippery.

Conan - A complaint about the fact that AD&D can't be used to create Conan, a warrior who does a lot of moving silently. As previously mentioned, that sort of character is easy to create in Project 74. For that matter, the Grey Mouser type of character... a fighter (or was it thief? Doesn't matter...) who is also a mage, but who improves his magic level infrequently, is easy to create in Project 74. You just need a thief, or fighter, or whatever, with a 15 or better Prime Requisite and a 15 or better Intelligence to qualify for multiclassing as a mage. Okay, so not everyone will do that well rolling up a character, but then there can't be that many Conan or Grey Mouser type characters around, can there?

Alignments - Don't have them. Individual DM's can use them if they like, but Project 74 recommends leaving them out.

It Costs Too Much To Get A New Game - Dude, this one's free too!

Unoriginal Settings - Can't argue with this one. The different magic rules, character development, etc. of Project 74 make it a very different game, but it remains true to the D&D/AD&D "world" types. That was the purpose of these rules... to keep the feel of AD&D but throw out the crufty rules.

Honestly, though, I am finding now that my "old school" original game world is way more fun than any of the worlds I created later. I doubt I'll change again.

Infidelity to the Genre - Actually, AD&D is its own genre. With popular books as well as thirty years of game tradition, it has made its own place.

Still, it's a valid complaint in other ways. Project 74 does, in fact, try to reproduce "combat reminiscent of Conan," but does not have quite all the other stuff. The magic system is slightly revised, and in my opinion much better explained; it isn't so much "Dying Earth" style. There are only thieves' guilds if the DM wants them, and by now you can have your monsters in any style you want. Alignment is out (as previously mentioned) unless the DM likes it that way.

Inconsistencies - The complaint here is with regard to the weight and/or encumbrance of magic armor. Project 74 does have explicit rules for this.