2020-03-27 Ancient School Rules

Yesterday we had our first session for the new campaign. I’m the referee, two of my friends are players, they brought some of their kids along, one of the kids brought along their girlfriend and the girlfriend brought along her little brother. Perfect! 😃

We did a small intro of all our characters, and I asked them all to list the following:

  1. name
  2. profession (anybody can do it, but you cannot change it)
  3. a skill (anybody can do it, and you might learn new ones in-game)
  4. a special ability (you may learn new ones from teachers in-game)

I was basing my rules on Norbert G. Matausch’s Landshut Rules, the interview he did with Bob Meyer on Ancient-School Roleplaying, and very simple Dungeon World alternatives like World of Dungeons (including the German translation of World of Dungeons).

Charakters can take three hits. Light armour grant an extra hit but prevent spell casting. Heavy armour grants two extra hits but prevents spell casting, sneaking, climbing, running, and swimming. A shield grants an extra hit and also prevents spell casting, sneaking, climbing, running, and swimming.

We ended up with the following roster:

NameProfessionSkillSpecial AbilityHitsEquipment
MiaAnimal magicSmartAnimal friendship3
KinguEarth magicLegendsProtection3
Fo PiFire magicFireball3
NonuruAir magicArcherAir control3Bow and arrows
NataschaWater magicWave, icicle3
BorisWarriorSwordfightingGuard6Heavy armour, sword and shield
RothilionScoutArcherSneaking3Bow and arrows

As you can see, we have a lot of magic users! 😅

I’ll also note that Kingu’s player wanted healing and hiding, too. But it’s a bit much, I feel.

Natascha has two special abilities: the wave spell and the icicle spell. The character learned the second spell during the session.

I think that’s actually an excellent way to handle advancement: Just hand out one kind of improvement to one character per session, if appropriate based on the events during the game. I’ll see whether I can continue doing this. I don’t want to count experience points and we’d still have some sort of advancement for the characters that are playing. This is important to me as I don’t want to advance characters that aren’t playing.

I’m feeling a bit weird about having “being smart” available as a skill. Isn’t that what the players should be doing? I’ll try and handle that as a “6th sense” for dangerous situations, an early warning system.

The same is true for “legends”. The character knows many legends and prophesies. Perhaps I’ll handle that as an invitation to info dump setting material? But then again, I wouldn’t hold back with setting material the characters would know in-game, I think. Weird. Well, we’ll see how it goes.

As you can see, not all characters have their slots filled. It was hard for the kids to pick things. Specially the newbies and young ones didn’t know what to say; often their dad would speak up immediately and offer suggestions, predetermining what their kids would then say. I tried to step in whenever I saw that happening. I’d rather leave things open and let people choose later.

As for the rules, I’m using a simple 2d6 vs 2d6 system. This is unlike the Powered by the Apocalypse games: the referee still gets to roll. I mean, on average the difficulty is simply the average 7 but by rolling 2d6 it can vary wildly. If we roll the same number, I try to introduce a new fact, or change the situation in some non-obvious way. This isn’t always easy in the midst of combat, but I try.

People get a +1 or +2 to their rolls if they can bring their profession, skill or special ability to bear. During the game I didn’t always remember all of these so I fear on a few occasions players only got a +1 when they would have deserved a +2. When I ran the orcs, attacks by ordinary orcs got +0 and attacks by the boss got a +2.

If you win the opposed 2d6, you deal damage. If the difference is small, you deal one hit. If the difference is larger, let’s say three or four, you might deal two hits; more than that and it’s a “special effect” (blown back, injured, taken out, depending on the kind of attack).

In a fight of many against many I used the following rule: whoever wins the opposed roll does damage and picks the next character to attack, thus their side “keeps the initiative” and that means they get to choose who attacks whom. I think it doesn’t really make much of a difference mathematically but it definitely feels different.

At one point the characters were fighting two spectres, later they were fighting ten orcs and an orc leader. Here’s how I did it:

  1. every D&D hit die is a hit they can take
  2. determine their attack bonus (+0, +1, +2)
  3. determine special moves they could make (suck your soul... happily averted)

The notes I took during combat were super simple:

Image 1

Basically the ten ordinary orcs acted as a single ten hit monster with a +0 to attack, the two spectres acted as a single twelve hit monster with a +0 to attack (but with a scary special move if they land a lucky blow).

In this system, if the orcs “have the initiative” they just keep attacking whomever the want until they miss, and at that moment the players keep choosing who gets to attack whom until they miss. Missing automatically means that the other side hit you instead! Of course, the party tries to involve the warrior quite often and I think they picked the earth magic user just once, at the very beginning, to cast their protective spell. I think I’m OK with this; it all gets worked out somehow at the table. People will want to act, but acting also entails the possibility of getting hit.

It often was not clear that magic was super effective in a fight. In D&D, a hit with a fireball kills many weak enemies. But what about a fight with two spectres? I just handled it by appropriate descriptions with little mechanical effect. The fireball hits the spectre as the opposed 2d6 roll is much in favour of the magic user and thus the explosion is big, blowing the spectre back down the stairs into the mausoleum, giving the party a moment to regroup and decide what they’re going to do – in addition to the regular two hits it dealt. We’ll see how that develops. I think I’m OK with fighters being good at fighting and magic users being good at ranged combat and other kinds of tasks. I’ll just have to make sure that there are a lot of challenges that cannot be dealt with by simple fighting.

While we’re at it, I also ruled that being a warrior allowed you to cover an ally every now and then. So when the orcs attacked the water magic user at one point, the warrior said they wanted to cover he and I agreed. Apparently, being a bodyguard is the warrior’s special ability. 😃

As for the setting, I used Hex Describe. I did note some usability issues. I wanted both an HTML export and a Markdown export, but it wasn’t immediately obvious how to do it. When I tried to print the HTML to a PDF file, I realised I had nearly 140 pages of material! 😲

I guess I will use the PDF on my tablet while running the game, and I will paste snippets of the Markdown onto the campaign wiki map as we uncover more and more of the setting. My players probably won’t be reading it and therefore I think I can keep it all in English.

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Comments

Alex, I’m happy to read this! Ancient school rpg FTW!

Norbert Matausch 2020-03-27 14:04 UTC


Thanks for blogging about it. 👍

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-27 16:57 UTC


Excellent, 2d6 rules!

Wanderer Bill 2020-03-27 17:00 UTC


Re: the “legends” skill: If you are already inviting your group to participate in world building (which is a great thing!), why not have the “legend” skill grant the ability to establish a small fact about the world on the go, once per day? The Burning Wheel RPG has something like that.

E.g.: DM: The bushes around you have berries in all the colors of the rainbow. Player with legend skill: I know from ancient stories that if you eat the berries in the sequence of the rainbow’s colors, you heal your wounds.

K.T. 2020-03-28 07:34 UTC


Good idea. Got to get into the habit of asking players for input. 👍

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-28 11:23 UTC


Is there a PDF version of these rules? I love them but would also love to see some more description, in maybe an easier-to-read format.

Mardov 2020-03-30 01:14 UTC


Not yet. But you can get Norbert G. Matausch’s Landshut Rules as a PDF.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-30 05:10 UTC


I’m happy to be able to read about your game and Norbert’s rules in action - thanks for sharing! @K.T. Fantastic idea, I’ll definitely give it a chance in our next campaign!

Metwiff 2020-03-30 19:06 UTC


For now: Just Halberds. 🙂

Sources are available.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-31 21:09 UTC


So cool and written for beginners and OSR-friends alike... The last page - to me - is most important: whatever the issue - talk about it and have fun! Thanks and regards from my little Cov19-isolation, Metwiff

Metwiff 2020-04-01 11:09 UTC


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