Here’s a little nugget I stumbled across in a book on wargames. Georg Leopold von Reiswitz, the man who made the original wargame table for Friedrich Wilhelm III, and who also developed the rules in concert with other military staff.  He committed suicide for professional reasons* and his son later developed the rules further.  Anyway the interesting thing is:

A year after his death [i.e., 1828], a supplement** appeared that built on Reiswitz’s war game instruction manual without a single mention of it or him. Among the innovations of the supplement were the exceptional roll of the dice and an emergency die. If an improbable exceptional roll succeeded, the emergency die decided whether the exception took effect.  Because if the point was “not to exclude any case that is possible in war, even so improbable a case, the game must also permit exceptions to the rule that must, however, have their own rules in turn.”–War games : a history of war on paper / Philipp von Hilgers; translated by Ross Benjamin.  MIT Press, c2012.

So as early as 1828 game designers had the idea of ‘confirming’ improbable events.  This reminded me of ‘confirming’ criticals in WotC D&D.  I had no idea this rule had such a long pedigree.

Actually, the talk of “exceptions to the rule” “hav[ing] their own rules in turn” is pretty much a thumbnail sketch of 3rd edition as I understand it.  I’m beginning to wonder: is the divide between ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ D&D really a divide between which of the roots of D&D is more important (old school perhaps preferring the free-form Braunstein and new school hearkening back more towards the Prussian Kriegspiel)?  Maybe the influence of MMOs and collectible card games that old school edition warriors bemoan is less essnetial to WotC D&D than the echoes of Kriegspielers…

*That is, not over the game, but because his superiors passed him for promotion and gave him crummy assignments.  I will try to use the phrase “committed suicide for professional reasons” more though, it makes me smile.

**The anonymous supplement mentioned is cited as: “Supplement zu den bisherigen Kriegspiel-Regeln.” Zeitschrift für Kunst, Wissenschaft, und Geschichte des Krieges 13(4): 68-105. 1828.

Published in: on December 22, 2012 at 2:16 pm  Comments (5)  
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  1. I also love the term ’emergency die’. But I’d never want to implement somethingl ike what they’re talking about in the supplement — it would be as if you let the players roll the d30 of awesomeness and then have to ‘confirm’ the results with anonther roll. I suppose it would be a way to integrate d30s or awesome points or whatever into a more sober, realistic game.

  2. Interesting stuff! It seems to me, though, that if you need another die roll to confirm whether or not an improbable event specified by the dice actually occurs, then the (im)probability has not been correctly determined in the first place. Maybe this is a point in favour of d100 systems, where a finer grain of probability (e.g., the 1% chance) is built in. On the other hand, I suppose rolling d100 is effectively the same as rolling 1d10 and then rolling another 1d10 “emergency die”. Hmmm… *wanders off, scratching head*

    • Yes, the Kriegspielers were presumably using all d6s. I remember some older games from the 70s or early 80s used 2 d6s as a sort of % — ranging 11-66! I think Car Wars may have had some tables like that.

      • TOON definitely did.

  3. I think that whether a “confirmation” die is justified is a function of how exceptional the “special occurrence” would be, and whether you want the likelihood of it to be a constant. I first encountered the idea in the board wargame “Squad Leader” (technically in the “Cross of Iron” supplement), where a natural “2” on 2 dice when firing ordnance at a tank means a possible “critical hit” with almost certain armor penetration and lethality. The confirmation roll is a single die roll of half the original to-hit roll or less.

    I’ve used a similar confirmation roll for critical hits in d20 based systems — A natural 20 (assuming it’s sufficient to hit) means a possible critical hit. The die is rolled again, and any roll that would normally hit the target (with all applicable modifiers) confirms the hit as critical. A “miss” on the qualifying die roll means the “20” is merely a normal hit. I’ve heard criticism of this as overly complicated, but I don’t find a second die roll all that burdensome, and I like that it keeps critical hits from becoming more proportionally common against more difficult targets.

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