Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Uniqueness of Things

One pronounced philosophical trend I have seen in OSR circles is a general attitude in favor of what I would call the uniqueness of things. By this I mean the idea of downplaying (even radically so) the standard list of monsters and magic items, in favor of making each of them unique. For instance, in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, James Raggi purposefully omitted the standard catalog of monsters. And Jeff Rients has put out a call (which I contributed to) for unique artifacts and oddments to replace many of the "standard" magic items. But it's had me thinking.

Personally I will admit to feeling cramped by the number and variety of monsters usually available in Dungeons & Dragons. I've always been a fan of new monster collections, and of products like Raggi's Random Esoteric Creature Generator, which help to spice things up beyond the very plain set of creatures you normally see. I also agree with the sentiment that monsters should be monstrous, and not familiar.

But...certain things seem iconic to me, too much so to let go. To say it's D&D with no orcs, and no swords + 1, may be true but it's a somehow diminished D&D. It's like running without clerics or something - you can do it, and it may be great for flavor, but it's a difference. At the same time, there is shock value in the new, but I think it can wear out more easily than people have given it credit for. If things are always unique, then uniqueness itself isn't as special - it becomes the new normal.

So I see merit in both keeping our traditional approaches, and to varying it up. Which, to be honest, 3rd edition had by the bucket-load. DMs complained through the 3.x era that single encounters took longer to stat out than they did to run - and these didn't exactly fly by. I think that we have to learn from that, the lesson that making every monster totally variable simply takes too long to actually make it a practical solution to the problem of monsters being one-note. Templates, statistics, feats and so on are simply an overload for something that is at best a single usage.

All of these factors suggest, almost naturally, a solution. Unlike 3.x, which reveled in adding layer after layer to monsters, the old school does things straightforwardly. Most creatures don't have ability scores of any kind, or rankings beyond HD, AC, and their methods of attacks. A solution that I think really embraces this is to make monsters different in one dimension. This can be radically varied; a tribe of orcs may take half damage from fire, or an ogre may have a plague of rats at its command, or the giant rats might have wings, or a lizardman may have acidic blood that corrodes or destroys weapons that hit it. The thing to take away is one variation per monster, for most of the standard creatures that will be encountered. Big ones could use the "Random Esoteric Creature Generator" or similar; smaller foes can be traditional but with a twist.

Of course, this pretty much sets up how the book with the trap charts is going to develop - into a whole big book of stuff for your old school Dungeons & Dragons game. We'll see how it goes. Any thoughts on directions to go with this would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On Critical Hits

As I was reading the commentary on a recent Grognardia post about ignored rules, I came across this observation by Matthew Johnson:

And then there are the rules that EVERYBODY used that are actually nowhere in the books. For instance, I was amazed to find when flipping through the DMG recently that a natural 20 officially has no special meaning (in the example of play section -- you know, the one with the calcified bone scroll tube in the pool -- one of the characters rolls a natural 20 and it's nothing but a regular hit.)

This is one of the things that I'd embraced more or less every time I have run D&D: a roll of 20 has some special effect, double damage dice or max damage or whatever. I've always been pretty even handed about it, applying it to PC as well as monster rolls, but really - 5% of hits being critical is actually fairly frequent, and the simple system in OD&D wasn't really developed for it. Some kind of critical hit rule was extremely common in actual play, probably because the system is otherwise pretty bland as-is.

Unfortunately critical hits are the opposite of what D&D combat is supposed to be modelling. Hit points are, from OD&D right through to 4th edition, representative of something other than the raw physical capacity to take damage. A single to-hit roll represents, not a single swing of the sword, but a number of feints, parries, thrusts, slashes and so on, and 4 points of damage out of 10 may not represent any physical injury at all but rather exhaustion or draining of the endurance, luck, etc of the character. (In terms of the underlying system this also calls into question both magical healing and variable weapon damage.) Saying that a great hit results in extra damage may be dramatic but it creates dissonance with the underlying combat engine.

The impulse for this is to create the really devastating death blows we read about in Conan stories or medieval romances, when a hero smashes an opponent in the face or rends them clean in half. (Le Morte d'Arthur and La Chanson de Roland are both full of people getting cut in half, sometimes to the point where it kills their horses too.) But I would argue that D&D already models this: when a character dies, it is narratively open how they actually meet their end. Just because you rolled exactly the 14 you needed to hit that orc doesn't mean you didn't hit the bastard right in his eye so the arrow went clean through his skull.

Still, the combat system leaves the impression of missing a certain something, and it makes sense to put it on that crucial roll of 20. But what is really missing from the D&D combat system? OD&D combat is lightning-fast and extremely deadly for most involved. What I am thinking goes like this: if a character hits and it's a 20, the target must roll to save versus paralysis (favoring Fighters) or lose their next turn. It's pretty simple, only adding 1 die roll, and to a saving throw chart. I think it does a good job of preserving that "nice hit" effect, in fact moreso as most combat you'll find in a good sword & sorcery yarn tends to have periods where one or the other combatant finds themselves incapacitated, but manages to come back.

Has anybody ever used a system like this? Can I (should I) simplify it any further, or spruce it up, or use it as-is?

Friday, August 20, 2010

What Trap Charts?

The title of this post references a classic Alarums & Excursions zine that ran in the very early issues. Certainly in my heart I hope it was an evasive denial of real trap charts.

I love charts in RPGs. One of my favorite gaming aids is the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets, and I've always loved the heaps of charts in the Dungeon Masters Guide. Some of the best products of the old school renaissance are the Dungeon Alphabet and the Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Roleplaying Games and Their Modern Simulacra.

I also love traps. I think Jim Raggi's Green Devil Face is fun, and I contributed to it. My first OD&D game included what I affectionately refer to as the "bear trap" (a room with a bear in it, which provoked a ton of discussion that I cut off by pointing out that there was a bear coming at the PCs). Even the cheesy fun of Grimtooth's Traps appealed deeply to me.

So I've decided on a project: trap charts. These are going to be detailed charts to give a wide variety of options for traps. Mainly because I want to use them myself, and I've been thinking of ways to spice up traps beyond arrow, pit, arrow, pit, teleporter, etc. These essentially boil down to a simple set of options; roll or pick from the charts, and now you've got a trap with 4 knives that fire from behind a tapestry when someone makes a noise in the room.

These charts are probably going to come down somewhere from 16-20 pages without artwork, and I will want to publish them. They're pretty system neutral and I'm not worried about what system you use or branding. So three questions:

- Would you be interested in buying these (almost certainly as a Lulu publication)?
- Would you be more interested in a "Trap Charts" product, or as a chapter in a broader product called "Old School Miscellany"?
- What should I do for the art (if anything)? I can't draw but my wife can, although she isn't exactly a D&D enthusiast, but I don't exactly have an art budget.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Magic in Anobrega

Anobrega has four groups of people who I see as having spellcasters: Calthi (Celtic analogues), Toreans (Roman analogues), Maradani (Roma analogues), and Elves. One thing I'd like to see, is that each grouping is more or less unique.

The Calthi are probably the most straightforward: they have druids. I don't think a second spellcasting class is necessary for them, and as it stands with them I'm leaning toward the druid class as written in Eldritch Wizardry. The other no-brainer for me are the Toreans - they have an order of Lawful clerics devoted to Deus Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun), the sun god in a militant guise. The cult itself is almost wholly military, based on the one fostered by Aurelian in particular, one of the best of the barracks emperors, and lends itself well as the sort of "templar" character embodied in the cleric. There are plenty of other priests - in Torean society as in pagan Rome being a "priest" is an honor conferred on some noble or other for ceremonial reasons - but a militant Lawful cleric is a member of this cult. Chaotic clerics are secret priests of Bacchus and have to keep their class under cover, quite different from the open military priests of Sol Invictus.

All that covers the religious casters, and I think the D&D standard is pretty good for my purposes. But then there are magic-users, and I'm a bit torn. Celtic magic is druidism, and I see no need to have Calthi magic users. Roman magic is a bit of a mixed bag, quite a lot of it had to do with divination (through all sorts of methods), while many reputed magicians had abilities that map better to clerics - miracles and the like. It was also low-status, definitely below religion in terms of overall prestige. The D&D magic-user is not a close match for this.

One thing I've been looking at is the Pyrologist, a class that Len Lakofka claimed in his fanzine was Gygaxian but turns out to have been his own work. I think the balance might be slightly off from the default magic-user, but there are two things that really draw me to this class. One, it comes from an old school APA-zine, and by one of the authors who contributed a lot to the AD&D era. Two, the elemental connection is thematically something I'm very interested in. The classical elements were more Greek but fit in well as a way that Torean magic could be something other than "stock D&D magic." I think it's more of a good jumping off point for a set of old school elementalists, though, each having its own replacement for the stock D&D m-u spell list, and also with its own unique not-quite-a-spell power (fire and air are light and wind, water is going to be purifying water, and earth is doing...something...).

Rounding out humans is Maradani, who are a great category to have witches, although this might wind up being an NPC only type using the classic "witch" NPC class, unless somebody can offer me a witch class that really would work well as a PC type. (The one I'm thinking of is from Best of the Dragon #1 and not quite so good for my purposes.) Witchcraft and curses are the direction to go here in general.

All of which leaves me with two classic D&D elements: the magic-user and the elf. I am seriously tempted to just shove the two archetypes together and say that a standard, no-frills magic-user is also a standard, no-frills elf, toss out level limits and the whole dual class / multi class / race as class concept for them. Elves will be either fighters or magic-users, single class. It's not a perfect match but there are things that can make it work. I'm thinking that the reason elves have the "default" magic is not so much that it takes certain races to do it, but that the physical process of learning magic takes so long that no other race lives long enough.

As usual I'm more than open to ideas, opinions, denunciations, and so forth.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Starting toward a setting

So I decided that I'm working on a setting after all, because the ideas I've been kicking around have finally gelled. Here's the historic precis of what I'm doing:

Two hundred years ago, the plains of Anobrega were sparsely populated by the Calthi, a human group of cattle herders not dissimilar from the Celts of Europe. They had no written language but a long tradition of myth, and a similar tradition of cattle-raids. South of Anobrega was the fortress town of Miradius, the furthest outpost of the Torean Empire. But then the Empire fell, and tens of thousands of refugees fled the violence northward. After some struggle, the southern part of Anobrega was settled by the Toreans, who call the area Ambrecus. They do not have kings; the nobility are ruled by a man called the Praefectus, although in fact only loosely, and in theory would be loyal to the Emperor in Torea if there were one. The Toreans look down on the Calthi, who they call the Galtheani in their own language. Toreans are dark, with olive skin and curly hair, and the men dress in solid colors; women wear flowing dresses with patterns. Calthi are fair, with light hair and eyes, and the men wear ostentatious checkered patterns. The Toreans particularly find their customary trousers to be "barbaric." Another human group, the nomadic Maradani, followed the Toreans north; they are outcasts and wanderers, but provide vital trade links between the Toreans and Calthi, and the lands beyond Anobrega. They wear colorful, loose clothing.

For demihumans: Elves are called the Shae (pronounced "shay") by the Calthi, and were the inhabitants of Anobrega in antiquity. Those who remain live in the western woods, and have no love for humans. Dwarves are considered great heroes; for nearly a thousand years they fought the great Goblin War, and they won four hundred years ago. The last of the goblin hordes was driven asunder and their confederation will never rise again. Before the war, Dwarves were great craftsmen and thinkers, but many of their bloodlines met their end in the victory. With their low fertility rates they will never be able to recover their old civilization; they are a dying race. There is no traditional hatred between elves and dwarves, but not precisely any love. Halflings are - well, something of a mystery. They attach themselves to the nearby human civilization, and live quietly in its shadow; most Halflings in Anobrega are from the Torean lands, but they are not of them. The only humanoids who live above ground are the orc tribes, which live in the west and rarely pass over the mountains. Goblins used to, before the war, but since then any goblin settlement above ground is destroyed without mercy.

I'm still working on the map; once I have it done I'll scan it in.

In terms of historical analogues the Calthi are the Celts and the Toreans are the Romans, with the Maradani taking up the part of Gypsies. I'm thinking I want the Toreans to have a unifying religion that isn't either Roman paganism or Christianity; maybe something with a Zoroastrian flavor. The Calthi are close to Celtic myth, and I'm thinking that they might have Druids rather than the traditional Cleric. The thing is, the D&D cleric is pretty specifically Christian. What do folks think of this? Is there any religion that these Toreans might have "gotten" in place of Christianity before the Empire fell? Or should they be straightforward Roman analogue pagans, or Christian analogue monotheists? I think the Cleric might work in a pseudo-Zoroastrianism, with the Lawfuls worshipping Ahura Mazda (or a lookalike) and the Chaotics Ahriman.

This setting accomplishes a few things for me. First, in terms of feel it's a bit more ancient, which I think is appropriate to a setting a little more like Conan or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, than the high medieval of D&D. The equipment list is going to be fairly harsh, in that I will probably wind up removing crossbows, plate armor and polearms; if anyone has a good ancient D&D equipment list I'd love to see it. Second, it gives me a good excuse to use Roman coinage, which I've started to collect, as the basis of game coins.

I'm throwing this out there for feedback - what needs more detail, what's cool and what's lame, and what should I look at for ideas? All sorts of thoughts are appreciated.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Defining D&D part 1 - The Hidden Map Game

There were a number of posts over at B/X Blackrazor, which I've been reading since the announcement of the author's B/X Companion, that culminated in this entry. Something about it was percolating in the back of my mind; I think it became solid as I was reading back over about Braunstein, the wargame scenario that led directly to the development of Blackmoor and from it Dungeons & Dragons. This will be the first of a short series of posts on how I define D&D.

For me, at the core of D&D is a hidden-map game. The dungeon is the hidden map; in the course of the game, the map becomes known and the characters find the things marked on its key - whether that means monsters, treasure, traps, puzzles, or anything else the referee has chosen to put on it. To me this emphasizes the fact that the exploration is the heart of D&D, and any game worthy of the name focuses on this.

The hidden-map game is not just one mode of play in D&D. It is the subject of a relatively simple set of rules: characters have well defined movement rates, there are rules about the rate of exploration, opening doors, listening at doors, setting off traps, finding secret doors, running into wandering monsters. There are a number of internal timers built into the game, including the time needed to search, various upkeep items (rations, torches etc), the break every 6th turn, and of course random encounters. And if you play OD&D, Holmes Basic D&D, first edition AD&D, B/X D&D, and as far as I know Rules Cyclopedia D&D, and you follow the dungeon exploration rules, you will be playing basically the same hidden-map game as any of these editions. Later games branded as Dungeons & Dragons didn't have this; they subsumed the hidden-map game into a larger "game system."

From the perspective of actual play, this simple set of mechanics was at the center of a very light game engine. Other systems were developed for things like fighting monsters, determining treasure, casting magic spells and so forth - but in the early days of gaming these were not front and center. This is sharply differentiated from 3rd and 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. 3rd edition was not about exploring the hidden map to find what was on it (and whether you'd survive), as much as it was a character-building game in which the DM provided combat-based "challenges" to the carefully crafted PCs. 4th edition is a tactical combat game at heart.

I bring this up first because, to me, the hidden-map game is the most fun part of D&D. I love drawing up maps of dungeons, with tricks and traps and twisting corridors and secret doors, and then having players progressively find their way through them, fighting or running, or tapping a 10-foot pole, and I also enjoy being on the other side of the table. It's a very evocative kind of fun and completely different from what you do in the modern games - and, to be honest, it's a game where combat is not the preferred option in most situations. It's unprofitable unless there's a mass of treasure to be had.

What I am not doing here is limiting what I think D&D is or does to the hidden map game. But that's the first major part of what D&D means to me. I'll post the second part later.

Friday, July 16, 2010

riffing on "Strength is for Fighting-Men"

James M. over at Grognardia posts so much that it's easy to forget that this post was only a week ago. But so it was.

One of the things that has never, ever sat well with me, in any edition of Dungeons & Dragons (except for 3-book OD&D and Holmes basic), is that Strength gives bonuses to hit and to damage. It's far too important of a stat, especially in AD&D where "Exceptional Strength" charts remain one of my least favorite things about the game. Even the "milder" B/X variant irks me. Strength is just a big thing in most editions.

But I've been mulling over what to do with Fighting-Men. And I think giving them +1 to damage in the style of OD&D that I like (with my matrix that simplifies the Greyhawk weapons vs. armor table instead of giving weapons variable damage) for Fighting-Men with a Strength of 14 or more fits in the category of where I want stats to be in the overall scheme of things. It doesn't go too far with emphasizing Strength but it does give Fighting-Men a bit of variability.

All of which leaves me torn between what else to do with Fighting-Men, because I do find them to be a bit less impressive than the other classes in OD&D by the book. Aside from multiple attacks, which are a given and I just have to figure out their form, I was also considering a mulligan rule to prevent Fighting-Men from whiffing on damage rolls. Nothing extreme, just saying that Fighters and only Fighters get one re-roll when their damage die shows a 1. Statistically that pushes every other result up to 7 in 36 and pulls 1 down to 1 in 36. Dunno how this would work combined with the extra damage, though.

Just wanted to put that down. Sometime soon I'll be working on level design (I have an idea for an entrance to the mega-dungeon, a "ruined temple" access point, that I've been kicking around in my head) and will get to posting about that.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ritual magic

One of the things I've been thinking about is the "Utility Spells" in D&D. Basically, until a M-U has more than 3 spell slots available, why would he or she memorize Read Magic instead of Sleep or Magic Missile?

The house rule I have been thinking about is allowing certain spells to be cast as rituals. Fantasy literature has no lack of ritual, and it makes sense to me to allow this to happen in D&D. The rules I'm thinking of include:

- Magic-Users may cast any eligible spell in their spellbook that they could memorize, as a ritual, without memorizing the spell.
- Clerics may cast any eligible spell that they could normally memorize, as a ritual, without memorizing the spell. First-level Clerics may cast Protection from Evil as a ritual but no other spells.
- Rituals take 1 turn to cast plus 1 turn per level of the spell being cast. Any interruption in the casting disturbs the spell and it cannot be cast again in the same day.
- Casting a ritual spell requires material components on the following scale. 1st level: 10 GP; 2nd level: 100 GP; 3rd level: 1,000 GP; 4th level: 10,000 GP; 5th level: 100,000 GP; 6th level: 1,000,000 GP. These should be appropriate to the spell being cast and must be purchased in advance.
- Any spell may only be cast as a ritual once per day, and characters may not in any case cast more than 3 ritual spells in one day.

Eligible spells
1st level: Detect Magic, Read Magic, Protection from Evil
2nd level: Locate Object, Detect Evil, Continual Light
3rd level: Dispel Magic, Protection from Evil 10', Protection from Normal Missiles
4th level: Remove Curse, Polymorph Self
5th level: Conjure Elemental, Contact Higher Plane
6th level: Reincarnation, Anti-Magic Shell

1st level: Detect Evil, Protection from Evil, Purify Food & Water
2nd level: Bless, Find Traps
3rd level: Remove Curse, Cure Disease, Locate Object
4th level: Neutralize Poison, Protection from Evil 10', Create Water
5th level: Dispel Evil, Raise Dead, Create Food


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Additions and embellishments

One of the things that I have never been quite so happy with in the Old School Renaissance is the extreme tendency toward simplicity in character types - after all, in a humanocentric OD&D game, you're basically a Fighting-Man, a Magic-User or a Cleric. That's fine for one off gaming, but as players want to do different things it can be a bit monotonous.

That's part of what I like about Holmes, which adds the Thief class. It can probably use a bit of polish, but without the Thief you pretty much have no options for the player who wants to be something like the Gray Mouser. I'm okay with the Holmes Thief at this point, really. The "character skill" aspect of this is avoided elegantly by noting that Holmes has a "Remove Traps" skill rather than the later "Find or Remove Traps" - the others are mechanical (Open Locks, Pick Pockets, Move Silently, Climb Sheer Surfaces, Hide in Shadows, and the already existing Hear Noise). This integrates tightly into the D&D I already prefer to run.

But the "basic 4" classes leave a real niche uncovered that I think should be filled. I think the Ranger type, somewhat modified from the original presented in The Strategic Review (it's a bit powerful despite its claim otherwise), fits it. The Thief is good at some dungeon tasks, and I'll probably add scroll use for extra Gray Mouser flavor, but a tracker / archer type is really what the game demands IMO. I've run into more issues with OD&D when players got frustrated trying to play a lighter-armored archer than anything else. The ranger fits with the loner hero type; Aragorn is the obvious inspiration, but I think you could find a lot of rangers in post-apocalyptic fiction (Hiero pretty closely fits, I think, despite the fact that he's technically a priest). And it has a clear place in the game, which I think is very important.

For me the watchword remains "don't repeat AD&D, or do AD&D lite." I think a lot of the restraint with regard to classes is based on this, but we shouldn't kid ourselves. It was relatively rare in golden age (pre-1979) play that people didn't bolt on any and every character type that they could get their hands on. I think it has more to do with forethought and planning; I think the Ranger is a good fit for the kind of D&D I want to do, so I'm tinkering with the class. It's one thing to go back to basics at first, so you can figure out what your style actually requires, but to enshrine this as a principle is mistaken.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Further on Holmes

So I'm still looking seriously at Holmes D&D as a basis for a campaign, and digging up my megadungeon maps and working them into a new, bigger design. Particularly I think Holmes is more suited to the campaign dungeon than the wilderness sandbox, and I'm primarily interested in the dungeon environment anyway. (I'm not much of an artist, but I certainly can make dungeon-lookin' shapes on a piece of graph paper.)

Still, there are a few concerns with Holmes, mostly in the short combat section. Initiative based on Dexterity - I leave that to long time Holmes fans to make the case to me. Honestly rolling 3d6 and counting down Dex scores sounds cumbersome compared to my preferred initiative method, which is each side rolls 1d6, high roll wins it, ties occur simultaneously. (This blog is, after all, named after a long run where the PCs lost the initiative in every fight.) But more worrisome are the rules for weapon speed.

Basically, daggers are said to roll twice per round, most one-handed weapons go once, and two-handed weapons go once every other round. There is no "weapon type vs. AC" chart, and everything does d6 damage - so a two-handed sword means you're rolling to hit 1/4th as often as a dagger with no benefit. In fact, everybody but clerics (who have to use maces) should be combat gods according to this comparison.

I've been thinking about raising the damage dice for other weapons and lowering it for daggers, but that still doesn't work. To actually have a better average effective result as a dagger, with the dagger doing 1d4 twice (average 2.5 x 2 = 5), the long sword would need to do 1d10 (average 5.5) and the two-handed sword would need to be rolling a d20 (average 10.5 / 2) for damage.

Looking at the actual data, I think the solution lies in relative effectiveness, which can be done without the high degree of complication present in Greyhawk or AD&D. If you say that daggers do 1d4 damage and suffer a -2 penalty against characters with AC 7 or better, they are deadly effective against unarmored characters, but their impact goes down dramatically with lower ACs. If you say that 2-handed weapons have 1d12 damage and take the opposite effect, treating AC 7 or better as two categories higher, e.g. AC 7 becomes AC 9 and so on, they become more effective, on the whole, than standard weapons in the d6/d8 range. I'm envisioning 4 "classes":

Light weapons - daggers, mainly - 1d4 damage, Fighting-Men and Thieves get 2 attacks / round, -2 to hit versus AC 7 or better.
Normal weapons - maces, spears etc - 1d6 damage, 1 attack per round.
Heavy weapons - swords and similar - 1d8 damage, 1 attack per round.
2 Handed Weapons - two handed swords and polearms, 1d10 or 1d12 damage, 1 attack per 2 rounds, +2 to hit versus AC 7 or better.

Holmes does have one other "hole" in the combat system - specifically it says that Fighting-Men get more attacks but doesn't go into detail. I'm considering that at Hero level, they get 3 attacks per 2 rounds, with the 2 coming in round 2, with normal weapons, 3 attacks per round with light weapons, and 3 attacks per 4 rounds (essentially skipping a "rest" round) on 2-handed weapons. When they reach Super-Hero, this goes to 2, 3, and 1 respectively; I realize that the consistent thing would be 4 dagger attacks per round but that's just silly. Holmes rounds are 10 seconds long, not the 60 second abstraction of AD&D.

I think I like the dynamics of the house rules listed above. It doesn't complicate things too much, it differentiates weapons without giving too much advantage to one type or the other, and it's mathematically sound. Any thoughts?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Why I'm looking at Holmes D&D

I'm looking at getting a campaign ready between now and September, since we will have a big enough apartment that playing at home would be more feasible, and I've been looking hard at various systems that are available for doing so. Of course there's what I had been running, OD&D with supplement content as needed, but it doesn't really have the same appeal for me that it did.

What I'd been considering is Labyrinth Lord or Rules Cyclopedia D&D - just because both are complete in one book and reasonably straightforward. But the steps they take beyond OD&D - race-as-class, ability scores becoming emphasized, and the slow growth of subsystem bloat that eventually overtook RC D&D - don't appeal to me. So I think I've found my solution: the 1977 Blue Book edited by J. Eric Holmes, although with significant amounts of house-ruling.

Holmes was unique, in that unlike anything else produced it documented D&D as it was played before it became AD&D. People used the handful of things that it added from Greyhawk - magic missile, the Thief class etc - much more than the clunky quasi-Chainmail system. The rules work pretty well, although there are a couple of obvious issues, the biggest being the lack of rules above level 3. I'm going to plug that hole with the Holmes Companion, which to be honest is basically just extrapolating out the extra data from Men & Magic.

Most of the other issues are fairly simple and involve things I had issues with in OD&D anyway. For instance, I found that plate mail has a really heavy distorting effect on certain things, as PCs immediately start off with AC2 for any but the poorest fighting-men and clerics; my solution is to come up with an expanded equipment list where plate is more expensive, throwing in a handful of goodies taken from Arduin just for fun. (It's actually pretty sane stuff, like grappling hooks, crowbars and a couple more ranged weapons - although Arduin also has prices for gladiator nets, aerial saddles and spider-silk ropes.) I also fully intend to actually use the 3/4ths of the Ready Ref Sheets I haven't gotten around to implementing, like the sweet poison rules, and to spend the next few months cribbing stuff I like from other gamers and other games.

To be clear, this is a philosophical choice. In the first five years of D&D, the game was not really played "as written" by the majority of the groups that were out there; the sketchy nature of the rules and the creative nature of the hobby scene meant that everybody was coming up with their own take on everything, and that was all for the good. And this is really the vision I've always had of classic D&D: it's part of a make-your-own-RPG kit, where a game that is uniquely yours could be constructed from bits and pieces, some of your own devising, some from commercial products, some from other referees. I think Holmes, more than 3LB OD&D, is open to that interpretation, mainly because it's a straightforward and well thought out presentation of the rules, and it includes things like thieves that were cut from OD&D for space.

Thoughts on the above thoughts are appreciated!

Saturday, July 3, 2010


...for disappearing off the map! I got married last fall, and life was really busy, and I'm moving this summer and gaming (and therefore attention devoted to it) has been something that's been put off for upwards of a year.

Anyway, I'm thinking of doing something maybe Holmes-based after the move and I might start putting up thoughts. Feel free to let me know of any really cool stuff I've missed.