Turning Through the Ages
In our last session we played with the B/X Changelist I posted earlier to see what it was like. It was pretty good, but last session was dominated by a visit to town, so I’ll give it another session before really calling a verdict. We did discover a few small problems, and one big one. One of my players who plays a cleric asked if we would use the B/X turning chart or the LL one. I hadn’t realized they were significantly different — turns out they are.
I decided to also look at other versions of the turning chart to get some historical insight on how the chart has changed over time. I was surprised to see that it changes radically from one edition to the next. Rather than post all the charts here to compare, I wrote up a spreadsheet (in open office) that you can download. I also have that as a PDF for easier reading. In both the first page is the raw charts from various editions of D&D, and the second page has them all translated into percentage values, as some editions use different size and numbers of dice. Below is some discussion about the key differences I discovered in various editions:
Always the starting point, OD&D looks pretty similar to the charts I’m used to looking at from B/X and Labyrinth Lord. It’s a 2d6 chart based on level vs. type of undead. In my pdf I include the HD of the undead in parenthesis, as later systems will convert to HD based rather than call out specific monster types. One thing that is interesting here is that the HD of some common undead is lower than I expected. Skeletons are only 1/2 HD, and zombies 1 HD. More on that in the B/X section.
B/X gives us exactly the same chart as OD&D, but the HD of the lower level monsters has changed. This gives us the odd presence of two rows for 2 HD monsters (zombies and ghouls). Of course, anyone that’s ever fought either will tell you that ghouls are way tougher than zombies and kind of deserve their own row. Frankly, I kind of think OD&D did it right here from a mechanical vantage of having a unique row per HD, but on the other hand I just can’t seem to swallow skeletons having the same hit points as goblins.
In AD&D we get the switch to a d20, which forced me to convert all the charts to percentages so I could actually compare them. (Probabilities for 2d6 shamelessly stolen from this site.) The other thing AD&D introduces us to is a wider band of possibilities. This is likely due to their also adding many more same-HD entries (look at how many 4 HD rows we have!) Another oddity is the sometimes presence of a 19 value (levels 1-3, 9-13). Also note that compared to B/X, AD&D is much slower to grant destruction. A level 8 B/X cleric can destroy a 4 HD wraith, the same ability is not granted in AD&D until 14th level.
The 3.0 SRD switches us to HD based rather than specific monster based rows. It also introduces a modifier to the roll, based on Charisma for some unknown reason. For comparison’s sake I assume a cleric with no modifier, which essentially turns all those 22’s into not possible. Given 3.0’s permissive ability rolling, I suspect this is probably not realistic. Another interesting thing to note is the algorithmic autoturn. In fact, I had to extrapolate this entire chart as the SRD just gives equations based on HD of undead and level of cleric. The interesting is that by the chart auto-turning happens if the cleric is more than 2x the HD of the monster. Given the presence of a “1” entry in the chart though (which is also essentially an auto-turn, except for you clerics with a very low Charisma), this means that auto-turn is basically non-existent until level 9.
Labyrinth Lord is very interesting. Here we revert back to a 2d6 mechanic, but expanded from B/X to include a wider band of chances. Compare 5th level for example. At 5th level a LL cleric has an 8% chance of turning a 7 HD monster, a power the same B/X character won’t get until 6th level. On the other hand, the B/X 5th level cleric is automatically destroying 1-2 HD undead (skeletons and zombies), which the LL cleric won’t get to do until level 7. It’s like the LL cleric gets a more gradual curve, with low chances (but still a chance) of turning more powerful undead earlier, while the B/X cleric has a sharper curve that automatically turns or destroys less powerful undead sooner. Also of note, LL has special text in the ghoul entry noting that it turns as if it’s a 3 HD undead, but still only counts for 2 HD when totalling HD turned. This is a curious ‘fix’ for the lack of a special ghoul row in the chart.
So I’m not seeing a clear winner here. AD&D and 3.0 are just too far different to even consider. OD&D and B/X are virtually the same, while LL is what we’ve been using to date and is better in some ways and worse in others. I think ultimately I’m tempted to go with B/X for no reason other than it’s one less thing to put on the changelist.