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Old School

Old School Renaissance This page collects the my latest posts on the topic of old school D&D gaming. I follow the Old School Revisited and Why OD&D line of thought presented by Sham’s Grog ’n Blog:

  1. Decision of the referee is final – no rules lawyers
  2. A game of making the most of what you get
  3. Not about the power of the character
  4. Sandbox gaming (players decide how the campaign develops)

2008-10-06 Spells For Clowns

A list of clown themed spells created by Marco for his new character Pepe. Pepe is a wizard in our playtest for the M20 Hard Core rules.

1Pepe’s Scary ClownScary clown frightens a creature.A big, scary image of a clown appears. It is the stuff of children’s nightmares; it has sharp claws, long yellow teeth, and blood-red smeary make-up.

If affected, the target creature is frightened for 1d4 rounds. If not affected they are shaken for 1 round.

Creatures with at least 6HD are not scared of clowns, and are unaffected.

Has more or less the same affect as 1st level Cause Fear
2Pepe’s PianoFalling grand piano deals 1d6/level damage (max 10d6) to 5 ft radius.A grand piano falls falls from a height of 10ft/caster level (max 100ft) and lands on the target area, dealing 1d6/level damage (max 10d6) to all creatures in a 5-ft radius.If a ceiling is present the piano will materialise at highest possible point, dealing 1d6 points damage per 10 feet it falls.

Does same damage as 3rd level Fireball, except it has smaller range and cannot be effectively used indoors.

2Pepe’s Imolation1 creature/4 levels above 3rd take 1d6 fire damage/round for 4 rounds.Target creature bursts into flame, taking 1d6 points of damage per round for 4 rounds. Target may spend one full round putting themselves out to extinguish the flames. One additional creature for every four levels beyond 3rd (to a maximum of three creatures at 11th level) are affected.Does the same damage as 2nd level Scorching Ray. Creature can extinguish themselves, but deals continual damage (so good against mages).
2Pepe’s Squeaky HammerColourful squeaky hammer attacks opponents.A large, colourful squeaky-hammer appears and attacks opponents at a distance, as you direct it, dealing 1d4 bludgeoning damage per hit +1 point per three caster levels (maximum +5 at 15th level), plus an additional 1d4 sonic damage from the loud ‘sqeak’.

It always attacks the target you want it to attack, switching at will.

Does same damage as 2nd level Spiritual Weapon.

Average damage is slightly higher and deals multiple types of damage, but less effective as force damage (which also affects incorporeal creatures etc).

Switching opponents is a free action because there are no move actions in M20.

3Pepe’s Human CannonballConjures a human-cannon.A large, brightly painted cannon is conjured into existance.

The cannon is large enough for 1 medium creature to fit inside.

A string at the back of the cannon fires the cannon, ejecting whatever/whoever is inside the cannon at high velocity to any 5-ft square within 100ft + 10ft/level, or to a height of half the distance. This string can be pulled either by the person in the cannon, or by a ‘helper’ who is aiming the cannon. A colourful safety helmet comes with the cannon, which protects the ‘human cannonball’ from physical harm during landing, although they are shaken for 1 round afterwards. (The helmet does not protect from additional damage, such as being fired from a cliff, or being shot into a haymaker).

If an helper is operating the cannon, the cannon may be aimed and fired at any creature within range, dealing 1d6 damage per caster level (max 10d6).

The cannon remains for 1 round/level, or until it is fired.

Similar to 4th level Dimension Door, except only one person can be transported, range is limited, and line of sight is required. Extra damage-causing effect possible (requires someone to operate, aim and fire the cannon).
4Pepe’s Tar & FeathersCreature takes 2d8 fire damage +1/caster level (max 10), and receives -4 to attacks, skills, checks, and saves.From one hand a jet of hot tar bursts from the caster’s pointed finger, covering one creature with hot, sticky, tar. The hot tar deals 2d8 heat damage + 1/caster level (max 10).

Using the other hand, the caster throws a handful of feathers toward the creature. A huge gust of fluffy white feathers materialise and strike the target, covering him from head to toe. The target creature looks so rediculous he takes a -4 morale penalty to attacks, skills, checks, and saves.

Pepe’s Tar and Feathers are extremely sticky, requiring a hot bath and lots of scrubbing to clean all of the tar off. The demoralization affect lasts until it has been scrubbed off.

Functions similar to 4th level Bestow Curse, however only one curse may be chosen and it is not permenant. This spell deals a small amount of additional damage.


Comments on 2008-10-06 Spells For Clowns

I <3 them.

AlexSchroeder 2008-10-06 10:58 UTC

HA!…I love clowns…

Reverend Mike 2008-10-06 18:57 UTC

hahahahaaaaa… I love our first hand made battle map! I treasure this one! Had a good laugh again on the tooth-eyed monsters…

– Moni 2008-10-09 10:19 UTC

Elsewhere, talking about clowns falling from clouds, somebody commented:

When I was a kid my uncle took me to the circus and when I asked about the clowns he explained that, ‘those aren’t real clowns… just men dressed as clowns. Real clowns are too dangerous, they live on islands in the Pacific and file their teeth into points… they can leap high into the air, bite your face off and use your blood to paint their faces. They’re waaaaay too dangerous even for a circus.’ – knobgobbler


AlexSchroeder 2012-12-03 11:22 UTC

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2008-10-01 Old School Fanzines

There are alternatives to Wizard of the Coast’s Dungeon and Dragon PDF magazines!

Thank you Moritz for reminding me.

Update: Check out 2012-03-04 Old School Fanzines.


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2008-09-22 Some Paizo GameMastery using M20 HC coming up

We had a talk about the impeding end of our Kurobano And The Dragons campaign. We started with the Kitsunemori setting and M20 rules, switched to D&D 3.5, played through the Tomb of the Forgotten King, Red Hand of Doom, Guardians of Dragonfall, and lots of little homebrew encounters. And we’re ready for a change. I’m ready for a change.

So I talked about M20 Hard Core, on how I hoped to change our game style because individually we all agreed on mistakes we made: Too much shouting, rules, magic items, spell lists, and buffs at the table, lots of arguing – just to name a few. I’m hoping that the new rules are familiar enough for us to just keep on playing but different enough to kick us out of our rut. That’s what I’m hoping for!

And today we decided on the adventures I want to run for our M20 HC playtest:

Yay!! :)

I also heard that they weren’t too keen on dungeons, so maybe I’ll have to postpone Castle Whiterock. We could play Rise of the Runelords instead!

But first, the M20 Hard Core playtest using the two GameMastery modules.

I’m looking forward to it.

I think I need to prepare a little list of in-game replacements for prestige classes and feats – background choices that will have in-game effects.

We also talked about character creation. I thought about the following:

  1. Roll 3d6 in order.
  2. Roll 3d6 and decide what to assign it to after each roll.
  3. Roll 3d6 and assign at will.
  4. Roll 4d6, drop lowest, and assign at will.
  5. Roll 4dF (Fudge dice) and use as your bonus (ignore the actual score).
  6. Point buy.
  7. Everybody picks their own stats.

I liked #2. One player liked #1. The others seemed to favor point buy. Oh well. I’ll have to think of a good point buy method.

I gave the monster list I have to one of the players who was interested in the numbers. I already talked about some of the rules with another player interested in them. I’m happy to see that things finally get going.


Comments on 2008-09-22 Some Paizo GameMastery using M20 HC coming up

Zum Thema auf dem - Total Party Kill Blog gab es gerade eben einen Artikel zum Thema: Point Buy - oder Würfeln?

AlexSchroeder 2008-09-23 14:04 UTC

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2008-09-11 Sandbox Games

Jonathan over at The Core Mechanic asks Defining SANDBOX Gaming: What's it to you? My Alder King is going to be such a game! And it will be taking place in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy.

I think the microlight variant of a Sandbox game is the most explicit about it:

  1. Take a hex map.
  2. Pick a hex in the middle. This is where the game starts. Put a safe haven there (city, village, inn).
  3. Pick or write a cool little adventures for every adjoining empty hex.
  4. Jot down some interconnections between your material (goblin caves contain a treasure map to the lonely mountain, wizard in his remote tower is friends with yeti warriors in the next hex).
  5. When the players move into a hex, go back to #3.

In my particular game, I’ve started with a hex map from the campaign setting, and I’m basically using the info for the various hexes as starting points. I plan to put a cool little adventure in every hex.

As for players, I gave my players an initial mission: Drive away the humans from the forest. And I told them that the campaign will end somewhere between level nine and twelve. Other than that, I’m going to leave it to them. If they don’t want to drive away the humans, if they want to ally themselves with the humans, if they want to take over the forest, or travel and see the world, I want to take it, twist it, and roll with it.

I think jamused provided an excellent comment on RPG Diehard’s post Sandbox Play vs. Quicksand ... Box Play:

I’d suggest that it helps to give your character a goal that he’s actively working towards. Not just “When I get powerful and rich enough to retire, I’ll build a stronghold for my deity” but “I’m going to start scouting out a suitable place for the stronghold right now, make alliances with the locals, recruit people to my cause, amass wealth, get whatever dispensations I need from my church. As I get money I’ll start by building a road-side chapel, then I’ll add a round tower nearby to serve as home base and to protect the surrounding area from goblins” etc etc. Then, as you go on adventures and level-up (if it’s that kind of game) you can keep returning to advance your plans.

That’s much better than “I just want to hang out with some other adventurers and kick some ass” or “I want to bring balance to the force.” If one of the players has a strong in-game goal, it will automatically start dominating the campaign. That can be good or bad, depending on your players. I like it.


Comments on 2008-09-11 Sandbox Games

Many months later, Michael Shorten aka. Chgowiz writes Dispelling a myth - Sandbox prep and discusses his six principles:

  1. Just in time preparation
  2. One page dungeon levels
  3. Write it down - play it on game day
  4. Let the players flesh things out
  5. Broad brushstrokes to events and plots
  6. Don’t overprepare

I approve. :)

AlexSchroeder 2009-06-25 22:20 UTC

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2008-09-06 Kitsunemori Campaign Start

A long time ago I bought the Kitsunemori setting and started my Monday game in it. Here’s the setup I ended up with when characters were around level five. I’m proposing it for the next issue of Fight On! We were using the M20 rules at the time.

Player Map

Player Map
Player Map

Nikko is where the players start. They are on a pilgrimage to the Gassan shrine. A few farmers and fishermen live up here. The Chuzenji lake is very peaceful. There’s a shabby tea-house that offers a room for rent. Every night there’s gambling and drinking at the tea-house. The only merchant in town belongs to the Kawa clan that runs business along the Kako river.

Hakone is ruled by the Onishi clan. There’s a castle standing on an island in the middle of the river, connected to the city itself by a bridge. They hardly ever leave the castle. In addition to the rice farmers that work the inundated fields around the city there are a lot of lumberjacks that work the western forest.

Tobu is another little village belonging to the Onishi fief. There’s supposed to be a tomb to the famous warrior king Ueshiba in a swamp near the village. It is said that Ueshiba fought the last battle against the swamp things using a magic sword he had received from a tengu prince.

Kurobano is the regional capital three days to the south of Hakone. The Fudo temple in Kurobano is well known for the wisdom and power of its head priestess Katsuko.

Small Inari shrines dot the landscape.

First Adventure

First Adventure Map

A tengu (bird man) has kidnapped the merchant’s daughter. Up in the mountains the party can find a path leading up to the tengu’s mansion high above the Yunoko lake. In order to defeat it in combat they might have to befriend one of the two kitsune (fox men) living in the area. They are called Umisachihiko and Yamasachihiko and despise each other. Umisachihiko is interested in killing either the tengu, his brother, or both, or the party. Yamasachihiko is interested in helping the party but opposed to treachery and violence.

There are rumors of kujo (hill giants) to the north, but nobody knows whether there’s any truth to that.

Referee Map

Referee Map

Caves: The area across the river to the east of Hakone consists of swamp wilderness. There are reports of a black dragon living in the caves to the west.

Ruin: There is a ruined castle in the swamps to the north west of Hakone. As nobody likes to cross the Kako river, nobody has ventured there in recent years.

Hakone: The Onishi household is under the sway of a kumo (spider woman) that has charmed all the men. As the women are unaffected it might be possible to contact them within the village if the guards are distracted. The youngest son Shigeru has also been unaffected by the kumo’s charms and has been tied up in the tea house behind the castle, away from prying eyes.

Nikko: The Chuzenji lake houses several kappa that will attack anybody on the lake or on the forest roads at night.

Old Bridge: There is a big guesthouse near the old bridge because it takes more than a single day’s journey to travel on foot between Hakone, Nikko, and Tobu. All pilgrims and merchants stop here.

Morioka: The other powerful wizard in the area is Morioka. He lives in his tower in the forest with two apprentices. His speciality is thunder and lightning. He is not interested in war and destruction.

Kappa Lake: The lake houses three kappa (turtle men) guarding some treasure and a magic cold iron weapon which they hate and avoid like the plague.

Bato is a small village by the last imperial bridge. They believe themselves to be the last civilized village this far north.

Gassan is a holy mountain. There’s a famous shrine at the top. A long and winding stair leads up to the shrine. The locals only come here in times of need. Apparently a hermit lives up here somewhere but it has been years since anybody has seen him.

Musashi: In the hills north of Bato is a hidden old ruin. Musashi has managed to attract about a dozen bandits and is robbing lonely merchants and pilgrims.

Logger Camp: To the east up along the small river you’ll find a camp of lumberjacks. They work for the Kawa merchants in Hakone. Their incursions into the forests aggravate the forest spirits and now they are being harassed day and night.

Owlbears: There are many owlbears north of Tobu, but they keep to the mountains.

Goblins: The goblins living in the hills separating Nikko and Tobu are a nuisance but a guard or two will scare them away so there has never been a need to actually clear them out.

Forest King: There is a powerful treant that rules the wild forests to the east. There are many kappa with naginatas (glaives) and kitsune archers with powerful yumi (composite longbows) under his command. Apparently the Onishi clan has appropriated a horn of animate trees – a unique magic item that belongs to the forest king.

Ueshiba’s Tomb: In the middle of the swamps to the west of Tobu is an old stone mausoleum. There are secret passages into the wet underground tunnels if searched for long enough, Ueshiba’s magic sword of air and light can be found down here.

Tengus: These winged master swordsmen live up in the mountains. They care little for the affairs of men. A long time ago tengus were allied with men and fought against kappas and kumos, and other swamp things. But that was a long time ago.

Imperial Road: The ruined road is still visible after all these years. It runs south up to the Niemon Gap (not shown) where a robber baron has taken up residence in an old imperial guard tower.

Hobgoblin Gap: Further to the north is hobgoblin country. They are supposed to be great armourers. The hobgoblins worship the minotaur god Mithras in underground labyrinthine temples. There used to be a big war in the past and legend says that the swamp near Tobu is full of dead humans and hobgoblins.

Manabu: He is one of the two powerful wizards in the area. He is a dreadful necromancer and is currently raising a small army of zombies and skeletons from the swamps of Tobu. The ones that escape his control are sometimes found in the area around his tower. He has recruited three evil clerics of Izanami to lead the attacks against Musashi’s castle, Tobu, and Nikko.

Old Bridge: There used to be an old bridge connecting the imperial road with the Temple of the Moon but much of it has crumbled and these days the bridge ends half-way across the river.

Tobu: Should any heroes serve Onishi well, they shall be rewarded with a yearly stipend. Effectively they gain ownership of a few peasant families around here.

Temple of the Moon: This is a remote haven of sylvan happiness. The priests have many contacts all over the country. They fear that the hobgoblins to the north might be trying an invasion sooner or later. Moonlight is also associated with graveyards and the undead, but nobody up here seems to harbor such dark secrets.

Yusukami: There’s another feudal lord living up here in the north. Lord Yusukami has a daughter called Fumiko that might make a fitting bride for Lord Onishi’s son Shigeru. There are agents at work that want to prevent this from happening, however.


Comments on 2008-09-06 Kitsunemori Campaign Start

I’d love some peer review & editor comments on this piece. Let me know what you think, help me out with my typos and my grammar…

AlexSchroeder 2008-09-07 11:55 UTC

There’s also the lizard men and the elves near the swamp which fly around on owls… a hydra has taken residence somewhere too.

Presumably it’s on a big continent, because there is a desert far to the south.

Spelling error under Tobu: Should any heroes serve Onishi well…

– Marco 2008-09-07 14:23 UTC

That’s right. The elves on owls and the hydra are material from Red Hand of Doom which I started weaving into the story around level five, so I can’t resubmit that for a magazine. :)

Thanks for the typo note.

AlexSchroeder 2008-09-08 07:49 UTC

There was some story hook about this past shortage, and apparently someone is selling it on the black market. I remember we never went there…

– Marco 2008-09-22 15:10 UTC

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2008-08-07 Fight On

I got my first two issues of Fight On today. I like them! It makes me want to pull out my M20 Hard Core rules and start playing.

I also realized that my mapping skills with Inkscape are probably not so bad after all. Maybe I should submit some maps? My maps are easy to reproduce on black and white. Perhaps I should contact some of the authors and submit maps? Or contact the publisher and editor, Ignatius Ümlaut. (I wonder whether that’s his real name.)

Perhaps I should submit some of my maps I have on Flickr?

Also, things I wanted to add regarding the magazines themselves:

I really like the print quality. It’s black and white on the inside, with lots of text. It has little dungeons, wilderness maps, trait tables for dwarves (issue #1) and elves (issue #2) to use as inspiration for your own games, magic items, short interviews, reports on gaming in the 70s, and black and white art. It’s not professional – I think the art gives it away – but the amateur approach also has its charm. And I like the fact that this is overt: No glossy covering up. No, this is by gamers for gamers, with no art budget.

We who read and write for this magazine are a community of role-playing enthusiasts unified by our love of the freewheeling, do-it-yourself approach that birthed this hobby back in the 1970’s. – Ignatius Ümlaut, Publisher and Editor [1]

Anyway, the nice quality makes me want to switch my Kobold Quarterly subscription from PDF to print.

Another thing I noticed. You know me: I’m always interested in prices, shipping, etc. On 2008-07-28 First Lulu Order I wrote about the shipping cost: $10.06. Imagine my surprise when the magazines arrived via UPS! The delivery man said it himself: This would have cost around USD 200 if sent from Switzerland. This is amazing. They must have either a. made an expensive mistake, or b. have excellent purchasing agents.


Comments on 2008-08-07 Fight On

I vote yes. Submit away! :)

greywulf 2008-08-07 22:28 UTC

What’s the reason UPS should have cost $200(US) and not $10(US)?

AaronHawley 2008-08-08 16:55 UTC

Because there’s a person driving a druck to your door to pick it up, and a person driving a druck to the recipient’s door. I went to the UPS website and used the following information: From Switzerland to Spain (providing the appropriate zip codes), 0.35 kg, declared value EUR 20 (all taken from their invoice) and got two quotes:

  • UPS Express Saver → CHF 174
  • UPS Standard → CHF 152

The exchange rate between CHF and USD is about 1:1 at the moment. While not as expensive as my estimate, this is still far more expensive than your estimate.

Assuming this was not an error by Lulu, I can think of the following explanations:

  • UPS Europe is different from what you are used to.
  • Prices in Switzerland are over the top.
  • Lulu is not using a standard UPS service. Maybe they use them only for delivery.

AlexSchroeder 2008-08-08 21:47 UTC

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2008-08-06 Retro Clones

Well, somebody asked the question on EN World: Retro-clones - explain?

And Philotomy Jurament has a very nice answer [1]:

  • Swords & Wizardy (White Box) – OD&D74 without Supplements. Should be very close.
  • Swords & Wizardry (Core) – OD&D74 + Supplements. Mostly compatible with TSR D&D, in general.
  • OSRIC – 1e AD&D. Very close.
  • Labyrinth Lord – Classic D&D (similar to B/X). Very close.
  • BFRPG – not really a clone. Mostly like Classic, but more of a mix (separate class/race, d20-style AC, etc)
  • GORE – BRP (Runequest/Call of Cthulhu). Very close.
  • Mutant Future – similar to Gamma World, but not really a clone (awesome game, though)
  • ZeFRS – Conan
  • C&C – not really a clone, more like a via media between TSR D&D and WotC D&D, favoring TSR D&D, IMO. Or like the “AD&D 3rd Edition” that never was.

Thanks, Philotomy!

I’ve played LL before (→ 2008-04-20 Palace of the Silver Princess) and decided at the time that I didn’t like it because of the high attrition rate. My hope is that the next time I run an old-school one-shot I’ll be using one of the adventures that actually made it into the various best-of lists out there. [2] [3] [4]

When I started my current gaming in late 2006 I used GreyWulf’s M20 rules – they are basically D&D 3E (very!) light rules, not a true retro game. Then again, at least one person has rewritten these rules to be more old-school resulting in M74.


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2008-07-30 Old School

The following started as a post on the M20 site: M20 can be old school. Check out Editions of Dungeons & Dragons and Robert Fisher’s overview if the following is too confusing.

I’ve been reading Grognardia which is all about old school gaming. He mentions OD&D a lot. It occurs to me that we can just replace OD&D with M20 and skip all the nostalgia (because I certainly didn’t play D&D in the seventies).

It’s a philosophy of game design and game play that emphasizes loose rules, the sovereign authority of the referee, and player skill over notions of “balance,” “story,” or “fun.”

Once we accept that, then the following essay is probably of interest: Quick Primer for Old School Gaming by Matthew Finch talks about the difference between running a very old edition of D&D and more recent editions. I think the essay is just as interesting for M20 players.

It seems to me that the step from M20 to even older rules doesn’t really add any benefits:

  • Different dependencies on stats – M20 has dependencies that don’t rely on tables, which makes for better rules.
  • More saving throws. I guess I prefer the three 3E era saves (Fortitude, Reflex, Will).
  • d6 for everything. I sort of like this. :)
  • XP tables.

I also found a thread in The Grognard’s Tavern about electronic copies of OD&D. The replies linked to a compilation of the Original D&D rules by Bruce Mohler.

Mohler writes in the introduction:

This web page is only concerned with the Original D&D Rules as contained in the 3 volume set, Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, and The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, plus the Greyhawk supplement. At the present time, it does not include material from the Blackmoor book or later supplements. It also eliminates references (and dependencies where possible) to the prior work, Chainmail.
Little material from the 3rd book (“The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures”) was included because so much of the emphasis was on random dungeons and the emphasis in my campaigns is more on story-telling.

The thread also had a link to something called The Gray Book edited by Steven J. Ege.

Ege writes in the introduction:

I started out by trying to compile all the rules presented in the Dungeons & Dragons® rules and supplements into one cohesive whole. Based on Bruce Mohler’s prior work, I aimed to present this book as if it were the book that Eric Holmes had written all along, before severe editing pared down the rules to the 48 pages that exist today. The largest difference between Bruce’s work, this work, and the original rules is the absence of both the rather poor Greg Bell art, and references/dependencies to Chainmail®. A major goal was to complete what Bruce had started, but as work progressed, the book was steadily becoming less a “Dungeons & Dragons compilation” and more of an “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Light”.
The original material has been edited for readability and reorganized into a cohesive whole. However, this work is more of a cosmopolitan whole than the original rules, in that things from virtually every edition of the Dungeons & Dragons rules make an appearance here. The presence of this very book hearkens back to the recent past, when people used the words written in the books as guidelines, and not hard and fast rules.

Interesting. I guess that projects like OSRIC (an OGL product based on AD&D 1st edition) and Labyrinth Lord (an OGL product based on the Mentzer version of the D&D rules) remain the rules to use if you want some retro gaming. Some time ago I used the Labyrinth Lord rules for 2008-04-20 Palace of the Silver Princess.

But if I want to play something along the lines of Quick Primer for Old School Gaming by Matthew Finch I think I’ll stick to M20. Simple, rational rules – I don’t need weird lookup tables and crazy details for old school gaming.

Microlite 74 (M74) tries to “recreate the style and feel of that very first (’0e’) fantasy roleplaying game published back in 1974”. If I were to use it, however, I’d scrap the part about light weapons and two-handed fighting.


Comments on 2008-07-30 Old School

I found the thread where the M74 author announced its release. He writes: “It’s been a long time since I published anything RPG-wise and I can’t wait to hear feedback. So far, I’ve heard very little – but it’s generally positive. If i do a second edition, I may need to include an equipment list – or at least some of the old school items like 10 foot poles that seem to have been dropped from later editions.” [1]

When I tried to post some feedback, I got a database error. That’s why I’m posting my text here so that it doesn’t get lost. :)

I wrote:

Yeah, a little equipment list would be nice.

I have several PDFs of retro clones or summaries at home, but I don’t really know how D&D played in 74. For example: Should clerics be allowed to wear heavy armor? Conversely, does the limitation on not using edged weapons make sense at all? (Perhaps it only makes sense with respect to a tradition of having powerful magical swords and no such maces.) If we keep the name magic-users, should we also keep the name fighting-men? Shouldn’t creatures and player characters die at 0 hp instead of -STR? Should old school mechanics use no stat bonus for melee attacks? Perhaps get rid of them for ranged and magic attacks as well. You need magic attack bonus for ranged and melee touch attacks. Do the old rules have that? Just use saving throws always. Do we need two weapon fighting and light weapons in the rules? Maybe add a note that clerics don’t get any new spells at level 12.

Nitpicks: I’m not sure whether one capitalizes the word after a semicolon; I think one usually doesn’t. (Noticed that in the list of special abilities for races.) Because I’m anal about such things, I’d fix the capitalization of MIND vs. Mind in the text and change all instances of “Mind bonus” to “MIND bonus”.

I love your designer’s notes!

I like the new racial abilities.

I like the lack of extra attacks.

I love the rule on getting XP for money spent in “frivolous ways”!

AlexSchroeder 2008-07-31 23:25 UTC

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2008-04-20 Palace of the Silver Princess

This was also posted to EN World [1].

B3 Player Map Today we spent a few hours playing through the orange-cover Palace of the Silver Princess available for free from Wizards of the Coast using the Labyrinth Lord rules. These rules are a “retro-clone game system” designed to take us “back to the basics of old-school fantasy gaming”. The rules are dedicated to Tom Moldvay, author of the Basic Set. Check out the nice list of D&D book covers by Robert Fisher to get some context.

The party managed to steal the ruby in the end!

I had three players. We started with Belfin the elf, Darn the elf, and Marcus the cleric, all on first level. Belfin hired three retainers and promised them that they got to keep the padded armor and short sword he bought them if they came along for this adventure.

Beflin got replaced by Solarus the cleric, Darn got replaced by Darn the second, also an elf, and Marcus got replaced by Wilford the Witless. Later Solarus got replaced by Grump the dwarf, Darn the second got replaced by a nameless cleric, and Wilford got replaced by Archibald the Wise. We lost count of the retainers we lost. Often the party had as much as nine people in it. Ordinary humans came along for armor and weapons, elves and clerics came a long if they got a share of the treasure. Many a cleric died before being able to cast a single spell. More than one retainer ended up turning into a PC. The system is DEADLY.

The last party got to level up in the caves by popular vote of the players. Not much later they found the lair of a harpy that owned over 6000 gp. Remember how the orange book had many empty rooms that you had to stock yourself. I had added this one myself, thinking that the random treasure I had rolled would help them level up. Well, the nameless cleric ended up on level three, so hopes were up again.

The rules left me with some questions. Maybe somebody can help me out.

  • Oil flasks turned out to be the most powerful weapons requiring no to-hit roll and doing an automatic 1d8 for two rounds. I guess the second 1d8 was unnecessary. How was this handled in the old days? I ruled that burning oil worked against kobolds, skeletons, orcs, weird amoebas, harpies, and ghosts.
  • What would you think was a fair share of treasure for retainers? I ruled that elves, fighters and clerics would come along for half a share of the treasure. Later, when the party had brought the harpy gold back to town I ruled that they’d also come along for arms, armor, and 200 gp. Ordinary humans would come along for as little as 12 gp (padded armor and a short sword). Just curious to hear how others handled this.
  • XP due to treasure was a lot more important in terms of XP than monsters defeated. Did I hand out too much treasure? Consider that the goal of the adventure is a ruby worth 10’000 gp an I had thought that the harpy would make a nice early stop if we did not make it to the ruby.
  • Is the attrition rate typical? One player character died in the last fight against the ghosts, so he would have created his fourth character that day.
  • The adventure has an encounter with two ghosts guarding the ruby having AC 7. At the end of the book ghosts have AC 1.

Other stuff I noticed:

  • Charm person is essentually permanent unless you manage to save. If you’re smart you get to save once a day.
  • Sleep is really powerful. We never had the situation that wizards announced their intent to cast a spell and enemies then gaining initiative and the ability to silence the spellcaster.
  • As the system was so deadly, Cure Light Wounds was not used a lot. If you got hit at first level, you usually didn’t survive.
  • The maps were hilarious.
  • Monster distribution was not totally crazy. As the orange-cover edition was missing room descriptions for two rooms on the entrance level, I looked at the edition reworked by Moldvay and used Troglodytes. It’s unclear how these got into the caves in the first place, however. Interestingly enough, my players did not mind.
  • The random encounter list featured some acolytes that were listed as having AC 2. I rolled up four of them, which gave the party awesome plate mail. Yay!
  • Soon enough two player characters fell into a 50 ft. pit filled with murky water. The table on drowning specified a 95% for drowning in plate mail. As one of their friends managed to stay outside, I granted them a 10% bonus, but they didn’t make it. That was short.
  • I didn’t like the empty rooms I was supposed to fill with stuff.
  • I liked Jean Wells’ original story better. Nobody really knows how the castle ended. Nobody really knows why the tinker has a suite of plate armor in his bedroom. Nobody knows where the dragon went. Nobody knows why the two lovers turned into ghosts. I wanted to expand on it for future adventures, I could do that. And none of the Protector magic, none of that happy ending by releasing the lovers from the ruby.

It was fun for a one-day adventure. We’ll be happy to return to D&D 3.5 in our next session.

The following is stuff I didn’t write in my EN World post.

If I were to compare it to D&D 3.5 directly:

  • I liked simplified combat. No talk was wasted on move actions, standard actions, full round actions, spell casting time, damage reduction, incorporeal creatures, and so on.
  • I liked the lack of various buff spells.
  • I liked how abilities were mostly not significant. As we rolled 3d6 in order, character creation was really simple.
  • I didn’t care for the attack tables but in actual play it was no problem.
  • I was able to resolve all skill use situations by eyeballing it. Cool.
  • The surprise rule worked really well. Each side rolles 1d6. On 1-2 they’re surprised. Never had a problem.
  • Thieves are practically useless at low levels when it comes detecting traps.
  • The system is very deadly at first and second level. Strangely enough nobody died of poison. But with the average character having between two and four hitpoints, surviving a hit or a fall into a pit was rare. That sucked. If somebody tells me they want grim and gritty, I’ll tell them to play first level characters in a game where you roll 3d6 in order and roll for hit points at first level and die with zero hit points.
  • Third editions with the skill system makes me feel like I have to support every decision with a rule reference. I’m also bored by the character optimization mini game in later D&D editions. This never came up.
  • The arms and armor list is still a weird collection of things.
  • I like how encumbrance doesn’t depend on your strength, but with many items having weight, this makes weight book keeping boring. Just ditch it, or round less than five pounds down to zero. Or just say that you may only take 10 items with you. A quiver with 20 arrows, a box with 10 bolts, 12 spikes, 8 torches, or a bag with 50 coins count as a single “item”, of course. But I’m drifting off…
  • Too bad we didn’t get to test the chase rules.
  • It’s tricky for a thief to get a backstab. I guess no creature is immune to backstabbing…


Comments on 2008-04-20 Palace of the Silver Princess

Definitely less treasure than the last time I played BECMI D&D. Then again, it was a total Monty Haul campaign, before I knew it I was 9th level and building a keep and taming a dragon to use as a mount.

I definitely think that D&D has evolved for the better. I will readily admit that I like playing heroes, growing to mythic or superheroic levels. I like growing attached to my character, and having a long, successful run in a campaign. I like PCs that are the central protagonists of the game’s evolving storyline, and not grist in a mill, to be ground down by all the deadly horrors that lurk everywhere. I like the tactical richness and character optimization of 3.x, and not the arbitrary monotony of Basic/AD&D combat.

But that is just me – perhaps I am not as hardcore or old skool as I’d like to think :)

– Adrian 2008-04-21 13:50 UTC

w00t – they get about 16500 gp on their first session!! :D

AlexSchroeder 2008-04-21 21:54 UTC

Today I found a note on Mike Hensley’s blog linking to a post in the Help Me Wrap My Head Around Classic thread on Dragonsfoot. The post’s author was Frank Mentzer and it said:

D&D Characters Die Frequently.

Indeed. :)

AlexSchroeder 2008-05-22 18:44 UTC

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