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Forum Update: Stage One

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I have started to revamp the RetroRoleplaying Forum in preparation for an official Grand Opening. I've simplified the rules and started to revise some of the board ideas I originally had. The Retro Game Systems category now has the following boards:

Retro Fantasy: TSR Dungeons & Dragons
Discussions of various TSR editions of Dungeons & Dragons: Original D&D, Classical D&D, First Edition Advanced D&D and Second Edition Advanced D&D. It's also the place to discuss third party supplements for these games as well as simulacrum rules sets like Basic Fantasy Roleplaying, Labyrinth Lord, and OSRIC as well as house rules, etc.

Retro Fantasy: WOTC Dungeons & Dragons 3.x
Discussions of 3.0 and 3.5 editions of Dungeons & Dragons published by WOTC. This system dominated the fantasy roleplaying market from about 2000 to 2008 when WOTC replaced it in June 2008 with a new and mostly incompatible 4th edition of D&D and completely dropping support for the 3.x edition. While disliked by many who prefer older TSR editions, D&D 3.x has a large following who have no plans to move to an incompatible D&D 4. Fortunately, the OGL means that third party support need never end.

Retro Fantasy: Other RPGs
Discussions of out-of-print and/or out-of-style fantasy RPGs other than the various editions of D&D. While D&D has always dominated the market, many other Fantasy RPGs have been popular: RuneQuest, Arduin, Rolemaster, MERP, Ars Magica, Dangerous Journeys, and many more. Many are now out-of-print or have older editions which are out-of-print. This is also the place to discuss adventures, supplements, and house rules for these games.

Retro Science Fiction and Horror RPGs
Discussions of out-of-print and/or out-of-style science fiction and horror RPGs. Games like Traveller, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Aftermath, Call of Cthulthu, Cyperpunk, Space Opera, and Spacemaster are now out-of-print or have older editions which are out-of-print. There are many other games in this category. This is also the place to discuss adventures, supplements, and house rules for these games.

Retro Anime, Superhero, and Other RPGs
Discussions of other out-of-print and/or out-of-style tabletop roleplaying games like Anime RPGS (e.g. Robotech, Mekton), Superhero RPGs (e.g. V&V, Superworld, Champions) and all those RPGs that are hard to classify (e.g. Top Secret, Commando, TORG). There are many other games in this category. This is also the place to discuss adventures, supplements, and house rules for these games.

Modern Rules, Retro Feel
Discussions of modern games that have a retro feel/style, like Castles & Crusades and Lejendary Adventure, fan published "lite" versions of D20 systems like Lite20, Microlite20, or Core Elements: Toolbox Edition, or games like Dungeon Squad and its many variants. The hosts and staff have the final say on what games fit here.

Post away.

New RetroRoleplaying Site Design

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The RetroRoleplaying web site has a new site design. It still needs some work in places, but it is complete enough to be usable. I think it looks much better. Best of all, it is a much more flexible design.

This is also a good time to announce a slight change in direction for RetroRoleplaying. The site focus is changing from "Tabletop RPGs before D20" to "Out-of-Print and Out-of-Style Tabletop Roleplaying Games." I know this is going to upset some people because it means games like D&D 3.x will be covered (eventually) as well as older games. I've gone this route not from any love for D&D 3.x but from a desire to avoid further fragmenting the community of people playing out-of-print games.

I had been thinking about this for the last month and was leaning in this direction when I read this in a post by Warthur on theRPGsite:

The problem I foresee is that as more and more editions exist, the die-hard crowd gets more and more fragmented. The current edition of D&D will always have the advantage that it's the current edition, and I'd be inclined to suggest that barring truly grotesque mismanagement of the line it'll always be in the majority. Meanwhile, the die-hard crowd gets ever more finely-divided (Dragonsfoot, for instance, will never accept 3.X, and Knights-and-Knaves Alehouse even refuses to countenance discussion of B/X and BECMI D&D...).

After reading this, I decided that the poster was correct, we don't need further fragmentation into web sites and forums that only discuss the hosts favorite old RPGs. Those who want such communities already have some excellent sites. There really is no need need for yet another. RetroRoleplaying is going to be a web site that welcomes all players of out-of-print RPGs -- even ones I personally might not want to be caught dead playing.

Comment Emails MIA

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Sorry if I've missed any of your comments over the last few weeks. I somehow turned my comment emails for this blog off by mistake. I discovered (and corrected) this today when I noticed comments on some older posts that I had not seen and wondered why I had not gotten an email on them. I could say I failed my saving roll, but I'll be honest and admit that this was "user error." My apologies.

Think Like an Adventurer or Like a Rules Lawyer?

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I may have finally put my finger on why later versions of D&D not only don't feel much like D&D to me but simply do not get me excited enough to want to play. Mike Mearls, one of the main designers of the upcoming 4th Edition of D&D ran a game of OD&D for some of his officemates earlier this year and posted some reports and comments on the game at the Original D&D Discussion board. A comment he made in this post about the difference between OD&D and current versions hit home as soon as I read it:

A lot of the fun parts of the session (the talking skull; the undead and their bargain) were possible under any edition of D&D. However, I think that OD&D's open nature makes the players more likely to accept things in the game as elements of fiction, rather than as game elements. The players reacted more by thinking "What's the logical thing for an adventurer to do?" rather than "What's the logical thing to do according to the rules?"

Pay special attention to that last sentence: "The players reacted more by thinking 'What's the logical thing for an adventurer to do?' rather than 'What's the logical thing to do according to the rules?'" I think this sums up my deepest problem with the WOTC editions of D&D. These editions encourage and reward being a "rules lawyer" -- a type of player that most of us who started playing long ago abhor even more than power-gaming munchkins. The type of player who has memorized every rule in every rulebook and loves to argue those rules (and their most obscure interactions and combinations) with the DM and other players in order to wring every possible rules advantage for his character out of the system he can.

If I wanted to play a game where memorizing rules and their interactions were the way to play, I'd just play something like chess where one's ability to win comes from having memorized the rules and thousands of standardized opening sequences and the like. When I play in or run D&D I want my fellow players to be thinking like adventurers, not like rules lawyers. If one needs to keep a dungeon door open, I want my fellow players to have their characters looking for rocks or spikes or the like -- what a person actually in that situation would be doing. I don't want them trying to think of what rules pulled from eight or nine rulebooks and supplements and combined will give them the best chance according to the rules of keeping the door open.

Sadly, I have come to believe that WOTC purposely designed the rules this way for a couple of reasons that have little or nothing to do with the good of those playing the game:

* To encourage more people to buy lots of rulebooks. In previous editions of the game, the DM was really the only person who needed a copy of multiple books. Players only needed a copy of the Player's Handbook. Worse, from the point of view of selling lots of books, one copy of the Player's Handbook could easily be shared between several players as there was little need for it except when creating characters, advancing a level, or selecting spells. Players did not really need to know the nitty-gritty details of the rules, let alone think in rules.

* To encourage the purchase of adventures and campaign settings over creating your own. Complex and very detailed rules make it harder for DMs to create their own campaigns and settings as it greatly increases the amount of work needed to do so at all, let alone do so well. When you repeatedly hear DMs talk about it taking several hours to prepare for each session of a pre-written, store-bought module, you can easily see why they don't have time to create their own adventures.

While lots of players seem to like later editions of D&D, please give me "Old School" games where players are expected to think like an adventurer instead of like a rules lawyer.

Bob Bledsaw RIP

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James Mishler has a sad report to make this morning:

It is with great sadness that I must pass on the news that Robert Bledsaw, founder of Judges Guild, creator of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, died this morning in Decatur, Illinois.

Bob was at his son's home, surrounded by family and loved ones, and passed on to the Great Adventure peacefully.

Bob was a good man, a creator of worlds, and a great friend.

I knew Bob had terminal cancer, that's what sparked my desire to reread old Judges Guild magazines (see this post from February Judges Guild Magazines Bring Back Memories). However it is still a very sad to lose him. I'll be the first to admit that Judges Guild product quality was quite variable, but it was there when nothing else was. Judge Guild adventures -- not to mention the City-State of the Invincible Overlord and the Wildnerlands of High Fantasy campaign setting -- jump started many Original D&D and AD&D campaigns back in the late 1970s.

Even Gary Gygax and TSR recognized this. Gary said this in the first edition Dungeon Master's Guide:

Bob Bledsaw of Judges Guild must also be given credit. He and his associates have certainly contributed to the overall improvement of fantasy adventure gaming, making the undertaking easier and encouraging still more interest in role playing.

We've lost of two the tabletop roleplaying game founders is less that 60 days. 2008 is shaping up to be a sad year for roleplaying gamers, especially oldtimers like me whose remember the early days of our hobby. My condolences to Bob's family and his many friends.

Microlite20 -- I Think I'm in Love

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The more I fiddle with Microlite20, the more I like it. It's an extreme simplification of the 3.5 edition fantasy system that lets one use most of the interesting material (adventures, monsters, etc.) with little effort, but without all the work or most of the annoying features like battle mat combat and feat chains from hell. The basic rules are 2 pages. Microlite20 is VERY easy to modify to fit your view or your campaign world -- much like Original D&D was.

Combats are abstract and fast so they don't get in the way of the adventure. Combat-oriented adventures can fit in many more combats in a 4 to 6 hour session and non-combat-oriented adventures can still have a few battles without taking up lots of time needed for roleplaying. Like older versions of D&D, Microlite20 does not have long lists of skills and feats. Instead, players are free to have their characters try just about anything the DM considers reasonable without needing to have a specific skill or feat. It's a very nice system. The main Microlite20 site (which is unfortunately down a lot) has a large number of user-written options and alternative rules. This site has copies of the core rules and early/major expansions if the main site is down.

There are several interesting threads at EnWorld (long original thread, second thread) and at RPGnet. These threads show how easy the system is to use and modify.

I think I'm in love with a set of RPG rules for the first time since the Mentzer boxed sets of D&D came out in the 1980s. (Before that it was Original D&D in 1975).

Free Medkemia Press PDFs

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I discovered two classic (early 1980s) Medkemia Press books available for free download on their web site (unintentionally well-hidden). Medkemia Press is best known for their Cities supplement and for having Raymond Feist designing stuff before he before became a big name author. The two modules available are:

  • The Black Tower 49 pages of dungeon goodness (1.6 meg PDF)
    The Black Tower is a fully populated castle designed for use with THE TOME OF MIDKEMIA Fantasy Role Playing Game and with some modification it is also compatible with most of the currently available fantasy role playing games and (with more modification) with science-fiction role playing games. It is especially designed as a companion to TULAN OF THE ISLES by Feist and Abrams (MIDKEMIA PRESS). The Black Tower is part of the First Midkemian Campaign along with other MIDKEMIA PRESS playing aids, including THE CITY OF CARSE (by Abrams and Abrams), and CITIES (by Abrams and Everson), as well as TOWNS OF THE OUTLANDS (Edwards, Divin, and Young), JONRIL: GATEWAY TO THE SUNKEN LANDS (by Abrams and Feist), HEART OF THE SUNKEN LANDS (by Rudy Kraft) and other products coming soon. THE BLACK TOWER is a separate game in itself, however, and can be utilized with any game system.

    THIS BOOKLET CONTAINS:
    1) Information about the history and current situation in the castle.
    2) Map enlargements of each floor of the castle, delineating each room. The pages following each enlarged map contain information on each room within that
    section, including descriptions of monsters and treasure, and traps within those
    locations.
    3) Extended descriptions of a large number of new monsters, with a complete listing of abilities.

    WELCOME TO CASTLE TULAN, AND 'WARE THE BLACK TOWER!
  • Towns of the Outlands 79 pages (2 meg PDF)
    TOWNS OF THE OUTLANDS is a collection of six fully populated, predominantly human habitations designed to be compatible with any of the currently available fantasy role playing games. With some modification, they are compatible with science-fiction games and modern military role playing in games. It is especially designed for optimum enjoyment when used with the CITIES rules published by MIDKEMIA PRESS. TOWNS OF THE OUTLANDS is designed to be used in conjunction with other MIDKEMIA PRESS playing aids, but can be utilized with any game system. TOWNS OF THE OUTLANDS is part of the FIRST MIDKEMIAN CAMPAIGN, which also includes THE CITY OF CARSE , by Abrams and Abrams, TULAN OF THE ISLES , by Feist and Abrams, T H E BLACK TOWER by Guinasso and Abrams, and THE CITY OF JONRIL by Abrams and Feist, as well as other games by MIDKEMIA PRESS.

    THIS BOOKLET CONTAINS:
    1) Information about the history and current social situation in the towns.
    2) Map enlargements of the towns, delineating each building.

    The pages following each enlarged map contain information on the buildings within that town, including descriptions of those who reside within those locations. While the businesses are developed, the Gamesmaster can easily individualize as few or as many as needed. Should the Gamesmaster not wish to do so, TOWNS OF THE OUTLANDS is sufficiently complete to be used without modification. The six towns contained in this book have been assigned general locations within the campaign. For those Gamesmasters not using the First Midkemian Campaign, general descriptions of the environments are given, allowing each Games Master to place them in any existing campaign as needed. The history and social situation of each town will hopefully provide a rich source of ideas for the Gamesmaster to draw upon, to keep players interested, and to provide 'established' towns, without feeling 'brand new'.
You can find these pdfs on the Medkemia Press website. Select "What's New" on the left menu. At the bottom of the framed page that appears when you do is a link to the page with the PDF links. They are found at the bottom of this third page.

Pulp Fantasy D&D

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Interest in versions of roleplaying games seems to be growing -- and coming from places one might not expect. For example, James Maliszewski has just started a new blog, Grognardia: An exploration of the history and traditions of the hobby of roleplaying The second post therein starts by saying:

The second purpose of this blog is to develop what I've taken to calling "pulp fantasy D&D." The idea for this began on my LiveJournal shortly after the announcement of the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. I felt then, as I feel even more strongly now, that, whatever the relative merits or flaws of 4e, "D&D," as an idea, has now moved so far beyond what it was originally intended to be that, when most people use the term, it's meaningless. At best, it's purely positivist: whatever the current holder of the trademark chooses to call "Dungeons & Dragons" is Dungeons & Dragons. I find that approach remarkably unsatisfying and, as I studied the history of the roleplaying hobby more, I came to the inescapable conclusion that D&D was now, both conceptually and mechanically, not the same game Gygax and Arneson published in 1974.

This is a conclusion I came to long ago, about the time of the revised 2nd edition of AD&D with its seemingly unending flow of option books full of kits with special character powers and the like. When I heard about 3rd edition, I was hopeful. However, these hopes were dashed by actually reading the third edition books. Third Edition was recognizable as D&D, but it pushed the game further away from the beginnings, codifying much that I did not like about the revised second edition into the core rules. 3.5 was much less like the D&D I knew and loved -- and 4th edition looks to have little in common with the original versions of D&D other the name and the general idea of fantasy roleplaying. It is interesting to see others coming to a similar conclusion: current editions of D&D may be fun games but they aren't much like the original.

Edited to add: I've just discovered that James has quite a few posts on "Pulp Fantasy D&D" on his Livejournal all tagged pulp fantasy d&d.