Gates & Glamours Recent Posts
One of the most requested classes so far for BX Advanced is the Barbarian. It’s not found in either Labyrinth Lord or its Advanced Edition Companion — probably because the original class from Unearth Arcana was a bit over-powered and hard to play in a normal party with spell-casters. I’ve tried to piece together a Barbarian class suitable for BX Advanced from open game content sources and my own ideas. Here is what I have so far. Please note that it has not been really proofread, let alone playtested. However, as one of my players really wants to play a barbarian, I needed something to work from to use in tomorrow’s session.
You will note that I’ve toned down the barbarian’s issues with magic to make the character easier to use in a typical campaign. A Barbarian will adventure with arcane spellcasters types, if reluctantly, but he will not tolerate spells cast upon him. This should reduce the — frankly ridiculous — contortions often needed to play a 1e barbarian in a “normal” adventuring party while keeping the “distrusts magic” flavor.
I’ve also modified the Barbarian’s Battle Rage so that the Barbarian can end it at will (thus preventing the barbarian attacking his own party if a battle ends before his rage does). However, I’ve made the Barbarian’s rage exhausting, leaving the barbarian fatigued and weakened for 10 minutes per combat round the Battle Rage lasted.
Comments, complaints and ideas are welcome.
The character class (offset by a blue blockquote line) below is open game content under the OGL statement for this blog. Here is the addition Section 15 copyright references for this class:
First Edition Fantasy: Supplement #2, OSRIC Unearthed, Copyright 2007, Charles Rice; published by Ronin Arts
Barbarian: A Player Character Class for Labyrinth Lord, Copyright 2012, James M. Spahn
BarbariansRequirements: Str 12, Con 12Prime Requisite: STR and CONHit Dice: 1d10Maximum Level: NoneBorn in the wild and raised among savage nomads, Barbarians are warriors hardened by nature and able to survive in the wild with little more than a weapon and their own willpower. Their skill in battle comes not from training or discipline, but from sheer brutality and tenacity. The sheer unwillingness to fall in combat and drive a foe into the ground makes them fearsome opponents to even the hardiest of foes.Though they are not often found in civilized lands, some find their way onto the path of adventure. Whether they are the last remnant of a dying tribe, cast out for an act of dishonor, or secretly scouting the civilized worlds for invasion, the occasional barbarian can be found adventuring in more civilized lands.Barbarians are proficient in all melee weapons and may wear padded armor, leather armor, studded leather as well as use shields. Because of their savage nature Barbarians may only be Neutral or Chaotic alignment. Barbarians use the Attack Value and Saving Throws of a fighter.Sense Danger: Barbarians have an almost supernatural ability to detect danger. This gives them a chance to avoid surprise and to avoid traps after they are triggered. If a Barbarian is with a party that is surprised and they successfully Sense Danger, they are not surprised. That is they may take their actions as normal during the surprise round even though the rest of their party may not act. If a trap which would affect the is activated and they successfully Sense Danger, they may avoid the trap effects completely (leaping out of the way, etc.) so long as there is any physical way to avoid the trap. A successful Sense Danger roll will also negate any bonuses for attacking a Barbarian from behind (or from ambush, from invisibility, etc.)Battle Rage: Barbarians can fly into a rage at the beginning their action in a combat round. This grants the Barbarian a bonus to attack and damage rolls equal to the Barbarian’s level divided by 4, rounded up (e.g. +1 at levels 1 to 4, +2 at levels 5-8, etc.). The Barbarian gains temporary hit points equal to his level that go away at the end of Battle Rage – damage suffered during battle rage is taken first from these temporary hit points. Damage dice explode — that is, if the natural die roll is the maximum possible for the die type (e.g. a 6 of a D6, an 8 on a D8), the die is rolled again and the damage added together. If the second natural die roll is also the maximum possible for the die type, a third roll is made (etc.). Damage bonuses, if any, are added to the final. Barbarians using a ranged weapon when they go into Battle Rage will toss it aside and draw a melee weapon as a free action.Battle Rage lasts for 1d6 plus 1 per level combat rounds. A Barbarian may voluntarily end Battle Rage before the duration is up. When Battle Rage ends, the Barbarian immediately loses all Battle Rage modifiers and becomes fatigued for 10 minutes for every combat round the Battle Rage lasted. While fatigued, the Barbarian loses the benefits of Sense Danger, suffers a -2 penalty to hit and damage, and moves at 50% of their normal rate.Superstitious: Barbarians are notoriously suspicious of magic from outside their experience (Barbarian clans will tolerate Clerics and Druids but Magic-Users and Illusionists will be driven out). If any Magic User or Illusionist casts a spell on a Barbarian and he successfully saves, he will fly into a frenzy and attack the spell-caster.While superstitious, the Barbarian is still a pragmatist; his primitive nature just sometimes gets the better of him. With regard to magic items, this means that a Barbarian can use most magic weapons and armor, since they are just better versions of standard items. The Barbarian would not use a weapon if he knew it could throw a spell though.The Barbarian is also pragmatic enough to suffer the use of such items or the presence of a Magic-User among his allies, unless a spell is cast upon him. In such a case the Barbarian will fly into a frenzy as discussed above and attack the source of the spell.Horde Leadership: As a Barbarian advances in levels he may attempt to raise a barbarian horde for revenge against a traditional enemy or if substantial loot is promised as described below:· Clan Leader: A Barbarian of 8th level and above has the respect of his clan, usually his family and some traditionally allied families who hail from the same area. The Barbarian can gather a small force of 1d6 1st level Barbarians times the Barbarian’s level (so 8d6 at 8th level, 9d6 at 9th level and so on), along with a war leader (a 3rd level Barbarian) and a clan Shaman (a 3rd level Druid). This force will stay together for the Barbarian as long as the goal he promised them remains within their reach (this is at the discretion of the game master).
· War Chief: At 13th level the Barbarian has an even greater reputation among his people and can gather a larger force, equal to 1d8 1st level Barbarians per level. This force is accompanied by two war leaders (3rd level Barbarians), two clan shamans (3rd level Druids) and one clan leader (8th level Barbarian).
· Warlord: At 18th level and above the Barbarian can summon a great number (often the majority) of his people to aid him in revenge or for the prospect of gaining treasure. This force numbers 2d10 1st level Barbarians per level, along with one war leader and clan shaman per 10 Barbarians and one clan leader for every 30 Barbarians.BARBARIAN LEVEL PROGRESSION
Experience Level Hit Dice (1d10) Sense Danger 0 1 1 14% 2,501 2 2 20% 5,001 3 3 26% 10,001 4 4 32% 20,001 5 5 38% 40,001 6 6 44% 80,001 7 7 50% 160,001 8 8 55% 310,001 9 9 60% 460,001 10 +3 hp only* 64% 610,001 11 +6 hp only* 68% 760,001 12 +9 hp only* 72% 910,001 13 +12 hp only* 76% 1,060,001 14 +15 hp only* 80% 1,210,001 15 +18 hp only* 84% 1,360,001 16 +21 hp only* 88% 1,510,001 17 +24 hp only* 92% 1,660,001 18 +27 hp only* 94% 1,810,001 19 +30 hp only* 96% 1,960,001 20 +33 hp only* 97% *Hit point modifiers from constitution are ignored.
Someone associated with Frog God Games just posted on following on the Microlite20 message board. As the board doesn’t get much use, I decided to report the info here. I’m personally not that interested in voice chat, but I know many gamers are, so this may be news at least some old school players can use. Frog God Games produces some very high quality (and often very expensive) stuff for Swords & Wizardry (and other games of much less interest to readers of this blog — like Pathfinder).
Howdy, Frog God Games the makers of Swords and Wizardry, Rappan Athuk, Tomb of Abysthor, and Slumbering Tsar just launched their official discord server. I would like to invite you to come join us to talk about Swords and Wizardry, 5th Edition, Pathfinder, Starfinder and other Frog God Game products.
We have voice channels for pickup games as well. Lots of free content and resources.
Step 1.) Go here https://discordapp.com/download
Step 2.) Click which is best for you Windows, Mac, Android, IOS, or Linux and download it.
Step 3.) Once it has finished downloading click the + button surrounded by a dotted circle on the left hand side
Step 4.) Click the Join a Server button and copy and paste this into it https://discord.gg/HKUZfUv
Side Note: Normally, I’d consider a forum post like this “advertising without approval” and delete it, but I decided to not to be a complete jackass of a “forum GM” and leave it up. This should not be considered setting a precedent — it is always better to ask first when when comes to anything advertising related on the forum (anf most other forums, for that matter).
Yesterday was the first meeting of what will hopefully soon become my next Sunday Game. Six potential players and myself met over all-you-can-eat pizza to discuss campaign and rules ideas. After several hours (and a lot of pizza and soft drinks) we’ve hashed out some ideas for my next old school campaign.
It will be set in a version of the Judges Guild Wilderlands — the main differences from the Judges Guild “canon” will be religion and magic. Exactly where it will be set is still up in the air. People seem torn between starting in the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, starting in a smaller town, or starting in a sea port with pirates. There are two votes for each. Sigh.
Religion: The campaign will have only one true deity (an incomprehensible “creator”) who interacts with the world and its people through thousands of demi-god-like avatars. While some of these avatars might be avatars of “evil” things like theft or murder, all are opposed to Chaos. Chaos is what is outside “creation” and seeks to swallow it up and destroy it (that is, return it to formless chaos). The main effect on the campaign is that there will be lots of little religions with most people praying to many deities depending on what they need. Clerical characters focus are more focused a single deity (but even they will pray to other Gods when they need help in their specific area of power. The game effects for clerical characters are that they can basically create the deity they want to follow and I will create 2 or 3 special prayers realed to that deity that their characters can access in the game. Clerical powers will tend to be low key because none of the thousands of deities worshiped inj the world are individually very powerful.
Magic: According to legend, before an ancient world-wide magical disaster, people could easily wield very powerful magic by making a few gestures, saying incantations, and imposing their will on the magical energy of the world. However, people somehow pushed things too far and let Chaos into the world and there was a huge backlash of magical energy that ended this “golden age” of magic and somehow changed the very nature of magic. Now, very little can be accomplished magically with just gestures, incantations, and a mage’s will — most magic has to be performed through lengthy and often complex rituals. Mage characters will be able to do some “wand magic” (probably something like minor magic in my current Microlite75 Extended rules), but most magic will have to be done through rituals. Players will be able to design rituals to do anything from charming a being long term to moving mountains around. Of course, the more powerful the effect, the more steps needed to do the ritual (e.g. research, special items, special times, sacrifices, magical energy, etc.).
Fighter: A powerful warrior class that gets +1 to hit and damage per level, is skilled at commanding men-at-arms, knows all sorts of special combat maneuvers and combat tricks, etc. Fighters will be able to design combat tricks on the fly and they will not be penalized for trying using them — if they critical hit, they do normal damage and impose the special effect from the trick, if they hit the defender can choose to accept the special effect or take the damage rolled. Highly skilled with weapons and armor.
Scout: A lesser warrior (+1 to hit per 2 levels) who is also skilled in outdoorsman and some thief-like abilities. Normal skills with weapons and armor.
Paladin: A lesser warrior (+1 to hit per 2 levels) who is also a priest/priestes of a deity. Paladins have a few standard prayers (healing, etc.) and a few special prayers determined by their deity. They can also repel/disrupt undead and some manifestations of Chaos. Normal skills with weapons and armor.
Mage: A minor warrior (+ 1 to hit per 3 levels) who is a scholar able to easily weild magic. Mages can use wand magic and know how to create and perform magical rituals to best effect. Limited skills with weapons and armor.
All classes will have the ability to try use scroll magic. Scrolls are ancient writings from before the magical disaster that contain magic energy and an incantation that will release their magical power when properly chanted aloud.
The game rules themselves will otherwise be 0e to B/X like. Now all I have to do is write enough of the first draft of the new rules needed so we can start playing — Target date for the first session is August 6th.
I occasionally receive email asking me how I manage to get so many players for my old school games — giving that most potential players aren’t familiar with them — or if they are familiar with them do not have a very positive opinion of old school play. Given that the basement gaming area of my new house in Ohio is finally available and I’m currently recruiting players in yet another area where I don’t know many people, this sounds like a good time to make a post on how I recruit players for my long-running old school campaigns.
First, let me say that I really don’t have any good ideas for taking a currently existing group of players and convincing them to play in an old school campaign. In my 35+ years of gaming, I’ve never really done that. I never had a group of friends who are already playing tabletop RPGS and tried to convince them that they want to spend years playing in one of my campaigns. Instead of trying to convince a pre-existing group who are not playing old school games to play in my campaign, I simply recruit a group of people who want to play what I want to run. This is really my secret to success — I find people who want to play what I want to run instead of trying to convince an existing group to play what I want to run.
Since I run an old school style game where players just tell me what they want their characters to try to do and I tell them whether they succeed, fail, or what to roll to find out what happens, I don’t need to limit my search to people who already know the game system I am running. This also means I don’t have to limit my search to people willing to buy and study the rules to play. Therefore, I can recruit people that many modern gamers would not have any interest in recruiting: people who might want to play but who aren’t interested in studying and learning hundreds of pages of rules just to be able to play a character in an “elf game”.
That said, I spend most of my time telling other gamers about my campaign. I tell them that it is old school where they are playing normal people who may become heroes, not people who are already awesome heroes. I explain that my campaigns aren’t centered around combat encounters (or even encounters in general), but around exploring the campaign world, searching for and recovering treasure, and interacting with the world in character. I explain that player skill matters more than character skill — and that running headlong into situations without any playing and preparation will eventually get their characters killed. I tell people I I do not have a story to tell, but that I run a sandbox campaign where the players can choose to have their characters try to do just about anything and the the campaign’s story consists of what the players’ characters do in the campaign world.
I’ll be honest, most people’s eyes get big and they quickly decide that they want nothing to do with my campaign. That’s okay, because I want people who want to play in my campaign. However, generally about one in every ten or fifteen people seem actually interested in maybe giving such a game a try, I tell these people when the game is (or will be ran). If they are still interested I tell them how to join the campaign mailing list (or you could use a private Facebook group, etc.) where they can see the rules, learn about the campaign, and talk to other players (or potential players). Once I get a couple of people who are definitely interested, finding more becomes easier and these new players often have friends who they think might like the game and tell then about it. Often these people who friends who do not play RPGs for some reason or another, but they think would like to play in a game where they don’t have to do anything but show up and say what they want their character to try to do. I generally want at least four players to start a new campaign. It generally takes me a month or two, at most, to get to that point from no players. I keep working a it even then, however, as I usually loose a player or two once the game starts due to time issues, the game not being quite what they expected, etc. Once I have a group playing, however, recruiting actually becomes easier and the current players and current game situation are generally better at generating interest then boring old me.
Will this work for others? I will admit that it seems to work for me better than it seems to for others. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it is because this is the way I’ve always done it and so have gotten good at it.
I have been thinking about my next game design and after much thought, I’ve designed I would like to take 0e and “redesign” it with some different assumptions.
The first of these different assumptions will actually be more like what the original designers probably expected. The game will be based on the idea that at least 99% of the population are 0 level characters who have 6 hit points or less. For example, normal humans will have a negative combat bonus and a saving throw of 20. Here’s what I’m current thinking:
Level Hit Points CB ST WpnD Talent
Child 1 hp -3 20 1 -
Youth 2 hps -2 20 1d2 1 talent (1 Good at)
Adult 3 hps -1 20 1d3 2 talents (or 1 Expert at)
Master 3 hps -1 20 1d3 3 talents (or 1 Master at
or 1 Expert at and 1 Good at)
While those with combat training will look something like this:
Level Hit Points CB ST WpnD Talent
Milita 4 hps 0 20 1d3 1 talent
NCO 5 hps +1 20 1d4 2 talents
Officer 5 hps +2 20 1d4 2 talents
Cmdr 6 hps +2 20 1d4 3 talents
where CB is Combat Bonus, ST is saving throw, WpnD is the damage they do in combat with any weapon, and Talents is the mundane skills they have.
This means a 1st level fighter with (as currently planned) hit points of 1d6+8 and a CB of +3, a ST of 16, and a WpnD of 1d6+3 is already head and shoulders above a trained and experienced human warrior, let alone a normal farmer or merchant.
Let’s look at what this means with regard to monsters. A normal human only has a 5% chance of making a saving throw, this means that monsters with special abilities are truely a terror to the normal population. A first level fighter will have a 25% chance of making their save which is five times better than the vast majority of the population. Most 1 hit die monsters will do at least 1d6+1 damage which means they do more damage than even a trained and experienced normal warrior. The least healthly first level fighter will have 9 hit points, that is 50% more than the most experienced normal human with combat training and 3 times the amount the average adult has.
First level characters in this game will not be that much more powerful that first level characters in most OSR games, but because you will not normally have leveled characters as blacksmiths, innkeepers or villiage guardsmen, they are effectively (and noticeably) more powerful in the world. This means the 4th level fighters will truly be the heroes and 8th level fighters will truly be the superheroes that they were originally called in 0e.
A week or so ago, I mentioned that I was playing in a D&D 3e game — a long running campaign that started as a 2e game in the early 1990s — and that the campaign avoided most of the many 3e problems discussed on forums because the game was played as if it were 2e and used a few house rules to fix some of the more obvious issues. Naturally, I was asked what those house rules are. So this campaign is the subject of today’s post.
The most important reason for this campaign’s success with the 3e system (and note, it is 3e — not 3.5 or Pathfinder) isn’t the house rules, but the fact that the players and the GM play it as if they were still playing 2e. What does this mean? To start with, it means the group still has the 2e era zero-tolerance for players who are rules lawyers and/or min-maxers (now more tolerantly called “optimizers”). The rules as written are less important than the GM’s rulings, the setting integrity, the house rules, and common sense. This solves many of 3e’s issues without any house rules at all.
After all, if you don’t have min-maxers looking for rules issues to exploit, many of 3e’s issues simply are not likely to come up at the table. Those that are stumbled on my accident are going to be handed by maintaining setting integrity or by a ruling from the GM. For example, an exploit that can be simply stumbled into without any min-maxing is the infamous (at least on 3.x discussion forums) bear summoning exploit where a druid always summons bears and all the bears are far more effective in combat than any fighter could be. In this campaign’s setting, however, druids are servants of “Mother Nature” and are granted their powers by “Mother Nature” to be used mainly in the protection of nature — just as they were in 2e. If a druid were to start summoning bears nearly every time combat is joined, chances are many of those combats aren’t going to be about protecting nature. Therefore, “Mother Nature” is going to eventually stop providing bears when the rules-exploiting druid tries to summon them. This simple solution works because in this campaign setting integrity and common sense trump the rules as written.
A number of actual rules changes have been made, however. As I am not that interested in rules when I get a chance to play, I do not know all of them, but here are some of the major changes to the 3e system that I do know they’ve made:
- While the standard 3e saving throw groups are used, they have been modified to work like they do in 2e. That is, they get better as you go up levels — and for magic, the level of the caster has no effect on the save.
- All spell-casters start with only a few randomly determined spells. The only way a spell caster gets more spells is to find them (in scrolls, books, etc.) in the game. Players cannot simply choose to know any spell in the spell lists.
- If a spell-caster is takes damage (or is otherwise distracted) before his spell goes off, the spell automatically fizzles. A concentration check is allowed to see if the caster retains the spell in his memory — if the concentration check fails, the spell fades from the caster’s mind.
- Fighters can move and still make a full attack.
- There are no attacks of opportunity — and least not in the 3e style. Instead characters and monsters have what amounts to zones of control that one cannot just move through. (Combat is “theater of the mind” — minis and battlemats are not used.)
- 3e open multi-classing is allowed with two restrictions: 1) You cannot take an additional class until you have at least 3 levels in all of your current classes; and 2) Prestige classes are the sole province of organizations in the campaign world and training to advance in those classes is only provided by invitation of the organization in question. In other words, the GM controls which prestige classes, if any, are available to a character.
- Skills (and especially skill rolls) are downplayed. For example, rolling without a reasonable description of what you are actually doing is simply not allowed. Skills effects are limited by common sense: Diplomacy, for example. If something is a task anyone could try with some chance of success, even those without the skill on their sheet can attempt it with a reasonable chance of success. Skills pointed per class have been modified.
- Many feats are modified. For example, any feat that RAW walls off some action that anyone should be able to attempt becomes a +2 bonus to the attempt for those with the feat. Some feats are eliminated or made harder to use (magic item creation feats, for example).
- Morale rolls, reaction rolls, wandering monsters, random treasure and the like were retained from TSR D&D.
- Character advancement is slowed down to closer to 2e speeds. That is, a year of weekly play with the same characters will generally see those characters reaching about 8th level.
- Healing has been modified to handle the higher hit points of 3e characters and monsters.
- There are no Magicmarts. Other than common potions and scrolls with very common spells, magic items are seldom for sale.
I suspect (okay, I hope) that at least a few people are wondering where I’ve been the past four and a half months. I’ve been busy selling our house in Garland, TX and moving to Youngstown, OH. My wife’s MS had reached the point where the high heat combined with the high humidity in North Central Texas was making her life unbearable. And there was no way we could afford the energy bills that would have resulted from keeping the house comfortable for her during our 8-9 month long “summers” (“summer” being when we would need the AC running to have any chance of keeping her comfortable. The real estate market in Garland was hot so we decided (pretty suddenly) to sell the house and move somewhere with a better climate for her needs, a lower cost of living, and saner politicians. We finally decided on Ohio. Winters will be awful but the rest of the year is much better for her. The cost of living in the Youngstown area is also much lower than in Garland.
We finally found a house here and sold our Garland house in late June. Movers arrived in late August, packed us up and arrived with our stuff on August 31. We drove up here over 5 days. Taking it slowly as long car rides are hard on my wife. The trip up was much easier than expected. Other than having to stay in Motel 6 because they are pet friendly, the trip up was actually enjoyable. We are currently in the midst of unpacking (and finally have Internet). It will be a few more weeks before regular posting — and work on Microlite75 projects — will resume. I hope to start a old school RPG up here late this year, so if you are in the Youngstown area and are interested in playing in a old school campaign, let me know. I have a long bar area in the basement that I plan to use for gaming so I will be able to accommodate a fair number of players.
One of my four Sunday game players was going to be out of town for business for the last three Sundays in April. Originally, I was going to run my Sunday game for the remaining three players running some of their henchmen as PCs. However, the week before this was to start, the subject of Dungeon World came up on the group mailing list with one of the players asking me what I thought of the game. After saying that he had thought it would be fun but after playing it decided he did not like it as it was too restrictive. However, his real issue with the game was that it was too narrative. While lists of names and weird rules about no more than one of each character class in the game were mildly annoying, the real problem was he had no interest in doing the GM’s job of creating the world and deciding what happens beyond what his character could control.
I said that I had heard a number of similar complaints from old school players who are there to explore the world as their character and want to play by saying what their character is doing in the world and have no interest in making decisions that their character couldn’t make. Players who aren’t playing to tell a good story but to “live” as their character day to day in the world. I pointed out that while Dungeon World is obviously written to be played as a narrative game, it would be easy enough to play the game like a standard early TSR version of D&D.
- Ignore the lists of character names, the limit of only one character of each class in the game, and the like. These hardly even count as rules changes.
- Ignore the bits about creating a world as a group and simply play in the GM’s world.
- When choices have to be made in the game that aren’t a choice the player could make in character, the GM simply decides what happens the way he would in a normal D&D game. For example, while a character could choose to use extra ammo to get a hit, he could not choose something like his opponent stumbles so he can hit him (any more than I could choose that you agree with everything I write in this post).
As for the poorly named (IMHO) “moves” which annoy many OSR players, there are really two types of Dungeon World “moves”:
The first type (the basic moves than anyone can do) are simply general situation resolution methods that the GM can use when needed — just like an attribute roll, a hit roll, or a saving throw in old school D&D. They are just methods of resolving actions that the GM calls for when a player has his or her character do something that needs that method of resolution. The procedure is just dressed up in a different language. Making a move is just doing something that the GM says needs to be resolved by that particular resolution system. Therefore players don’t need to even think about making these types of moves. They just roll when the GM asks them to roll, just like in old school D&D (but rolling 2d6).
The second type of move is a just a class ability description and the suggested method of the GM to use in resolving the use of that class ability. Moves of this second type are really no different than the class abilities of TSR-era thieves. For example the TSR thief ability “Hide in Shadows” is just like a Dungeon World class ability move: both describe a class ability and give rules the GM can use for resolving the use of the class ability when it comes up in play. Making these types of moves is just using a class ability.
In other words, if the GM and players ignore the narrative stuff and the GM runs Dungeon World just like he would run a old school D&D game, Dungeon World in play would be little different in play than old school D&D. The main difference would be the combat system which lacks the round by round structure of D&D, instead opting for a less structured handling of combat. I don’t see a lot of problem here, both Dungeon World and early D&D combat is highly abstract. With some work one could even use a more D&D like combat system.
After discussing this a bit on the mailing list, I was asked if I could demonstrate it. So we’ve played a non-narrative version of Dungeon World for the last three Sunday games. When you drop the narrative stuff, it does indeed play much like early D&D. Of the three players in the three sessions, everyone thought it was okay but not something they’d want to use instead of my Microlite7x rules in our regular game.
I however, was impressed by how well class abilities (aka the special moves each class gets) worked in Dungeon World. I may experiment with adding a DW-like resolution system to at least some class abilities in a future Microlite7x variant.
I posted about the nearly five year long campaign I ran in Waco (and that is still going under new GMs) recently on a forum. I received an a PM asking how I could run a game that used basically OD&D rules (filtered through Microlite74) for over 150 sessions without being bored by the simple and uninteresting mechanics.
The answer is pretty simple. I am not interested in the mechanics as mechanics. I want the mechanics to work and to be simple, easy to remember and easy to use so that they fade into the background. I don’t play tabletop RPGs because I want to fiddle with mechanical rules toys. I play (and run) tabletop RPGs to explore settings, situations, characters. When I’m playing, I want to immerse in my character and “manipulate” the setting as my character as directly as possible. That is, I don’t want to have to decide I want to do “X” in the campaign and then have to worry about how to use the rules toys and widgets to do “X”. I want the rules to be simple enough that I can just say what I want to do without using “rulespeak” and the GM can tell me if what I want to do is a success, a failure, or what I need to roll to find out. I don’t want a lot of “interesting in and of themselves” mechanics to come between me and the setting.
Since I’m not playing RPGs to interact with the rules/mechanics, I tend not to get bored with game systems that work for me. If the system lets me immerse in my character and interact with the world without having to deal with fiddly mechanics, I’m going to be as happy with the mechanics in the 150th session as I am in the first session. New mechanics may (or may not) have to be added along the way for new aspects of the campaign, but I’m not going to get bored with the rules because I’ve been using them for years. I’m simply not there playing for the rules but for the setting.
I understand that some players play because they enjoy mastering rules and finding ways to manipulate the mechanical widgets in the rules. I can understand how such players might get bored with their current rule set and want new and different rules fairly frequently. I’m pretty such that such players drive the current practice of a new edition of D&D with radically different rules every five years or so. However, new editions with completely different rules turn me off, so I stick with rules that have worked for me for many years because they do what I need them to do. I see no personal need for new rules when the old ones I do the job I need them to do.
Original D&D from the mid-1970s has finally been released in PDF form on DrivethruRPG/RPGNow. As most readers of this blog know, I started playing D&D back in 1975. OD&D was my first RPG and is still one of my favorites today. This is a short post with my suggestions for what you need to buy to play OD&D and what additional items might be nice to have.
The only rulebooks you really need to have a copy of to play are the three little booklets originally sold as a boxed set: Dungeons & Dragons Original Edition (0e). This is a scan of the sixth printing rules as cleaned up for WOTC’s expensive Collector’s Edition in the wooden box.
While playing with just the three little booklets is popular in some old school circles today, back in the 1970s, most people played with material from the OD&D supplements TSR published. Everyone I knew or played with in the 1970s at least used material from the first supplement, Greyhawk. For example, Greyhawk added the thief class, different hit die sizes for the various classes and weapons, expanded options for non-human classes, added lots or new spells, monsters, and magic items, and more. Even if you elect not to use everything, you really need this book to understand how OD&D was usually played back in the mid-1970s.
The second supplement, Blackmoor, is a mixed bag. It adds the assassin and the monk classes, hit locations (which no one I knew actually used), underwater adverting rules and monsters, rules for specialists and disease, and a few other minor things. The star of the Blackmoor supplement, however, was the detailed writeup of one of the adventure locations for the Blackmoor campaign: the Temple of the Frog. This was the first complete example of a dungeon that most player and GM of the time ever saw. Is this supplement necessary for play? Unless you want to do underwater adventuring or add the assassin and monk classes, probably not.
The third supplement, Eldritch Wizardry, is one of my personal favorites. The psionic rules therein allowed me to play in a setting I had been creating for a novel I wanted to write since the late 1960s — the Empire of Arn. The novel never did happen — be thankful as I can’t write fiction worth reading. The Empire of Arn setting, however, has been by go to setting for D&D — used in about 60% of the campaigns I’ve ran over the years. In addition to the psionics rules (which most people consider unplayable at best and incomprehensible at worst), there are rules and spells for the Druid class, some new monsters (including demons), and rules for magic items of great power: artifacts and relics. Like Blackmoor, however, this supplement is only needed if you need some of the material in it.
The fourth supplement, Gods, Demigods, and Heroes, contains brief descriptions of deities from a number of pantheons, with a few magic items used by those deities. This fourth and final supplement isn’t all that useful. It was written in part to counter the “California” style of play with its ultra-high level characters. From the forward: “This is our last attempt to delineate the absurdity of 40+ level characters. When Odin, the All-Father has only(?) 300 hit points, who can take a 44th level Lord seriously?” It failed, as most people who really used this supplement were the “California” style players and GMs who just treated the deities in this supplement as powerful monsters to try to defeat and take their stuff. It can be fun to read, but is probably the least necessary to have of all the OD&D supplements.
TSR did not actually publish any adventures for OD&D. The original version of B1-In Search of the Unknown and B2-The Keep on the Borderlands were included in the Holmes Basic Set (B1 in early printings, B2 in later printings). Unlike the Basic D&D sets of the 1980s, the Holmes Basic set was intended to be an introduction to OD&D. Therefore these two modules work quite well with OD&D. I’ve often used both to start a campaign: starting at the Keep but placing the B1 dungeon nearby and planting a few treasure maps leading to it in the B2’s Caves of Chaos. Both these modules give a lot of good GMing advice.
I strongly recommend one third party product from Judges Guild to all OD&D GMs: the Ready Ref Sheets. This is a booklet with copies of the combat tables from OD&D/Greyhawk, quick monsters lists and lots of useful random tables from early Judges Guild products: character social levels, poison types, metal and gem types, civilization and technological levels, non-player character cutups, construction and research guides, movement obstacles and wilderness terrain, beggars, shock recovery, crime and punishment, guards and garrison troops, resurrection results, special encounters, and more. I use my hardcopy from 1978 in games I run today. It’s one of the useful third party supplements I’ve ever purchased.
Judges Guild also published a number of adventures for OD&D. They are a mixed bag that I hope to cover in a future post. However, I have gotten a lot of use out of City State of the Invincible Overlord, Wilderlands of High Fantasy (note, you need to buy the maps separately), The Book of Treasure Maps I, Modron, Castle Book I, and Village Book I. Unfortunately, many of the other JG OD&D products I like aren’t available in PDF — at least not in their OD&D forms. The Caverns Of Thracia module is available in an edition rewritten for 3.x, but the original version is much easier to use with OD&D.
Finally, you might want to consider picking up All the Worlds’ Monsters. This is a three volume collection of monsters written by many different GMs published in the 1978s by Chaosium. The monsters are a varied bag and are of all power levels. The first and second volumes are better, at least in my opinion, than the third volume. However, I have used monsters from all three volumes over the years. Some of these monsters are completely original, others are adapted from folklore and literature.
All the Worlds’ Monsters Vol. 1 (includes 265 monsters)
All the Worlds’ Monsters Vol. 2 (includes 243 monsters, The “Perrin Conventions” for D&D combat, and a T&T conversion guide)
All the Worlds’ Monsters Vol. 3 (includes 238 monsters and an index to all three volumes)
Note All product links are affiliate links.
Around the OSR
About This Site
RetroRoleplaying.com started out as a site devoted to out-of-print, unsupported, and/or out-of-style tabletop roleplaying games (and modern “retro-clones” of those games). While we have over one hundred pages devoted to this, as of 2010 we are probably better known as the publisher of free Microlite20 variant games designed to reproduce the feel and style of “old school” editions of the “worlds most popular tabletop RPG” including the popular (and free) games Microlite74, Microlite78, and Microlite81.
While it may surprise many people, the earlier editions of classic RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons sold many more copies than the newer D20, 4e, and 5e versions. These once very popular games are available in hardcopy via Amazon or eBay (and many are available in PDF)– and are still being played today. Retroclones are much less expensive, however (often free in PDF form).
Many people prefer older tabletable roleplaying games because of their less complex, easier to modify rules and their “feel.” While many 3.x and 4e games feel more like playing a computer game around a table with much emphasis on optimal character building and detailed tactical combat, pre-D20 games feel more being in a movie or novel — the emphasis is what the characters do in the campaign world as opposed to what skills and feats are on their character sheet.