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Astounding Tales: Back to The Drawing Board

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My busy holiday season with a sick foster dog and relatives in town has kept me from posting much more about my ideas for Astounding Tales of Swords and Sorcery. I'm sorry to report that this may have been a good thing. We held a few playtest sessions with a couple of free members from my OD&D game. We discovered a number of problems.

Players consider the hit dice system "too fiddly". The magic system just does not work well. It is far too easy to cast high level spells as rituals. Characters have a good number of hit points, but players seem to watch them like they were 1st level Magic-Users with 1 hp. The varying number of hit points available each day seems to be partially responsible.

The major problem here is the hit dice system. As it is the core of the current Astounding Tales system, the fact that player find it "too fiddly", seem afraid to "spend" hit points to do things, and are confused by the new hit point total every day tells me that there is something fundamentally wrong with the game system. No matter how nifty a design is on paper if it does not work in practice or most players do not like it, it needs to go back to the drawing board. The system works pretty good (better than the magic system), but everyone who has playtested it has disliked it.

What does all this mean? I'm going to have to take a Astounding Tales of Swords and Sorcery back into the workshop, rethink things, and try again. This dashes my hope of releasing the rules as a 0e supplement in January. The project will probably go on the back burner for a while, at least until I can come up with a different core system to base things on.

Original D&D Set (6th Printing) Sells for Over $8000!

Now that I've given all the collectors over at The Acaeum a heart attack, let me add that this "sale" was at a charity auction. Regular readers of this blog may remember I had a fund raiser in July for our huge cancer-related bills (the joys of no health insurance in the US) and offered "whoever donates the most during this time period will receive the OD&D special: the three LBB (Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, and The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures -- sixth printing purchased without a box in 1979 or 1980, probably never used), Supplement I: Greyhawk (3rd printing but well-used) and Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardy (2nd printing, excellent -- but not mint -- condition)."

The largest donor was a small private foundation. They paid one of out bills completely and got the OD&D materials for this years charity auction. The theme for the auction was "20th Century Rarities." This wasn't the type of auction you have at ebay or at an estate sale, but what happens when you have a group of wealthy people vying to donate money to a cause they believe in. In other words, the people bidding aren't really interested in owning the item for it's value, it's just a fun way to donate a lot of money to a good cause.

I got an email from my contact at this foundation last night telling me the OD&D materials I gave them raised $8200 for them. Given that they have less than 1% overhead, that means about $8100 that they will use to help more people like my wife and myself. The D&D items I gave them actually raised more money for them than the bill they paid for us which I think is really neat. This was far from the largest "sale" at their annual auction last weekend. They raised over $250,000 from the sale of 18 items.

BTW, we are still accepting donations in any amount to help us pay the huge bills from my wife's oral cancer. While I don't have any more OD&D sets to offer, everyone who donates gets our Donor-only old school PDFs: you'll get pdf copies of the two issues of The Grimoire I published in the late 1970s (which I blogged about here: The Grimoire #1 and The Grimoire #2 a copy of The Second Grimoire of Pharesm the Bright-Eyed, a set of house rules for a BECMI campaign I ran at a game shop in the mid-1980s, and a copy of Microlite74 2.0 Special Digest-Sized Edition. You can donate by clicking the Paypal button below or via this link: Retro-Roleplaying Cancer Fund. Thanks in advance for any donations, they will make the holiday season here less stressful.





Astounding Tales: The Sorcerer Class

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The Sorcerer is one of the two classes in Astounding Tales of Swords and Sorcery (the other is the Fighter). The Sorcerer class is intended to represent both pure magic-users/priests and mental/scholarly professions that just might know a few spells. All Sorcerers have a background, a general area of expertise representing their pre-adventuring background or training. Some examples would be enchanter, hedge wizard, necromancer, priest, sage, healer, scribe, and exorcist. The enchanter, hedge wizard, necromancer, and priest backgrounds are pure sorcerer backgrounds. The others are examples of mental profession backgrounds. The player and GM need to agree on the basics of what expertise the selected background provides. The GM will take this expertise into account when the character does things within that expertise.

All sorcerers have 6 hit dice. Those with a pure sorcerer background roll D6s. Those with a mental profession background roll D8s. As will be explained when I cover hit dice, hit dice are rolled every day when the character awakens from sleep. Assuming a sorcerer gets a full night's sleep and hasn't taken any Long Term Damage Points, he will roll either 2d6+24 or 2d8+32 to determine his hit point total for the day. Some days you wake up with more energy than others. If the character had to stand watch for one-third of the night and had no Long Term Damage Points, he would roll either 3d6+18 or 3d8+24. More details on how hit dice are rolled in a future post.

Pure sorcerers have a base armor class of 9. Those with a mental profession have a base armor class of 8. They can wear any armor, but some physical profession abilities may be less effective in some types of armor (e.g. it is hard to move silently in metal armor). Casting spells is hard in armor and subtracts from the spell success roll.

Sorcerers can use any weapon and but aren't trained in the most effective way to use weapons to do the most damage so they are much less effective with weapons than a fighter. In a sorcerer's hands weapons do the following damage:

1d8--Two handed weapons
1d6--Heavy weapons
1d4--Medium weapons
1d2--Light weapons

Casting spells requires both hands to be free, although holding a wand, a staff, or special magical implement does not count.

Sorcerers have good saving throws against magic and fair saving throws against physical things. Sorcerers have a fair chance to hit, a THAC0 of 11. Sorcerers can cast spells and use many magic items.

Pure Sorcerers start knowing minor magic, arcane blast, and six spells (of any level) of their choice. Mental professions start knowing three spells (of any level) of their choice. Priests may get other special abilities instead of minor magic and arcane blast depending on the deity they follow. Initial spell choices may be limited by the GM. Additional spells may be discovered as treasure during the game.

Spells cost energy in the form of hit points to cast, 1 HP per level of the spell if the spell is considered white or gray magic. 2 HP per level if the spell is considered black magic. Black magic can either be any spell used to harm/control others without just cause or it can be a specific list of spells, GM choice. Spells only cost energy id they are successfully cast. Unsuccessful attempts do not cost any energy.

To successfully cast a spell, you have to roll the spell's level or higher on 1d6. Spending extra time, extra resources and the like add bonuses to this roll. Wearing armor and other disadvantages subtract from the roll. This means spells of 7th level of higher cannot be cast without taking special effort to provide bonuses.

Astounding Tales: The Fighter Class

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I've renamed my new "no level advancement" project. It's now Astounding Tales of Swords and Sorcery which should have even less chance of being confused with Matthew and Jeffery's upcoming Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea RPG.

The Fighter is one of the two classes in Astounding Tales and it is intended to represent both pure warriors and physical professions like burglar, woodsman, witch hunter, etc. All Fighters have a background, a general area of expertise representing their pre-adventuring background or training. Some examples would be archer, swordsman, knight, barbarian, burglar, hunter, seaman, and witch hunter. The archer, swordsman, knight, and barbarian backgrounds are pure warrior backgrounds. The others are examples of physical profession backgrounds. The player and GM need to agree on the basics of what expertise the selected background provides. The GM will take this expertise into account when the character does things within that expertise.

All fighters have 6 hit dice. Those with a pure warrior background roll D10s. Those with a physical profession background roll D8s. As will be explained when I cover hit dice, hit dice are rolled every day when the character awakens from sleep. Assuming a fighter gets a full night's sleep and hasn't taken any Long Term Damage Points, he will roll either 2d10+40 or 2d8+32 to determine his hit point total for the day. Some days you wake up with more energy than others. If the character had to stand watch for one-third of the night and had no Long Term Damage Points, he would roll either 3d10+30 or 3d8+24. More details on how hit dice are rolled in a future post.

Pure warriors have a base armor class of 5. Those with a physical profession have a base armor class of 7. They can wear any armor, but some physical profession abilities may be less effective in some types of armor (e.g. it is hard to move silently in metal armor).

Fighters can use any weapon and know how to most effectively use weapons to do the most damage. In a fighter's hands weapons do the following damage:

2d6--Two handed weapons
1d10--Heavy weapons
1d8--Medium weapons
1d6--Light weapons

Fighters have good saving throws against physical things and fair saving throws again magic. Fighters have a good chance to hit, a THAC0 of 15. Fighters can use combat stunts to trade accuracy for damage or the like. Fighters can command warrior hirelings, giving those hirelings a bonus in combat and to morale when they lead them into combat.

Under the Pyramid: A Megadungeon -- Level Three (Part One)

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I made the mistake of saying "Coming soon: Level Three" in my Under the Pyramid: A Megadungeon -- Level Two post on November 7th. Here it is -- or at least the first half of it. Better late than never, I guess.

The third level under the pyramid is a group of five major areas only loosely connected together. Many characters only discovered the major area with the serpent men and never found the other areas in the rush to get to deeper levels. This was a shame because most of the really good treasure was in the other areas -- and one of those areas could provide a strong ally against the serpent men. I'll describe the this level by areas.

The Serpent People area is over half the level area-wise. There is a large cavern with a village of serpent people (and a temple to Set at one end). Over 300 serpent people (men with a serpent for a head like in the Conan stories I stole the idea from.) live in the village. All have a poisonous bite (save vs poison or paralyzed for 1d6 hours), can use minor illusions (change self type), and appear to be invulnerable (they take damage normally but look like they are never wounded until they fall over dead and the illusion fades). Most fight as 1st level fighters and favor wicked looking swords (that do 1d6+2 damage but shatter if a six is rolled). However, there are 30 "sergeants" who are second level fighters and 10 warleaders who are third level fighters. The two under-chiefs are 4th level fighters (their wives are 4th level clerics of Set who can use magic-users spells as well as clerical spells) while the chief is a 6th level fighter with two wives. They are human sisters and are the real powers behind the throne. One is a 6th level magic-user, the other is a sixth level cleric of Set. The chief and underchiefs (and their wives) have magic items, nothing super (plus +1 weapons, minor magic wands, etc.)

There are a number of rooms and chambers off of the cavern, including a prison and torture area, a "gatehouse" area where the sloping passage from level one terminates, a magic lab for the magic-using wives, a treasure vault guarded by a minor demon, a snake hatchery, and a small arena for combats.

There are no immediately obvious connections to other levels except the sloping passage from level one, a staircase going up to level two (also in the gatehouse area) and a staircase going down to level 4 in a room behind the large statue of Set in the temple. There are, however, hidden ways to other parts of the level. All but one are known to the Serpent people and are guarded either with warriors or traps.

Believe it or not, the Serpent People will be happy to let people who are not enemies (that is, are not known to have attacked and killed serpent people without cause) pass through their area for a nice donation. They make a good profit selling passage to level four for a 10gp per head donation to Set. Coming back usually costs 30gp per head, but if the returning party is badly damaged they may just try to kill them and take their stuff, depending on reaction rolls/prior history. Note that if a group fights their way out of this and returns, they will pretend like nothing happened and sell them passage again.

The Serpent people are meant to be too powerful for lower level parties to be able to wipe out. Stupid players will attack them, smarter players will treat them as a "passage tax" and wait until they are much more powerful to try to get rid of them.

Next Pyramid Post: The rest of level three.

New Project: Astonishing Tales of Swords and Sorcery RPG

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It's been a couple of weeks since I posted. My wife and I having to share a computer (as her motherboard died and cancer bills don't leave us enough money to replace it) accounts for part of why I haven't been posting. The main reason, however, is that I've been working on a new RPG, tentatively entitled Astonishing Tales of Swords and Sorcery (hereafter referred to as just Astonishing Tales). This game is a development of Microlite74 and Mazes and Monsters, well sort of, and like Microlite74 will be released as a free download.

Astonishing Tales is designed for swords & sorcery campaigns where magic is somewhat common, more like the Young Kingdoms of Elric than the Hyboria of Conan. Characters can be either Fighters or Sorcerers and start off as heroes rather than farm boys, but do not really increase in level as game goes on. In fact, there are no levels in the system at all. A Character's Reputation increases as they kill monsters and accumulate (and spend) treasure. Gaining a point of reputation does allow the character to increase slightly in power (something like the small level advances in Mazes and Monsters), but the main benefit is social. The higher your reputation, the greater the chance that others know of you and perhaps seek you out with missions and opportunities -- and the greater the rewards they are likely to offer to get you to take them.

I've always wanted to have a Classic Traveller like fantasy game when the characters started off fairly competent and gained in power more from the items they find and the connections they made rather than from continual increases in character level until they become fantasy superheroes. However, I never thought there would be much interest in such a system as "leveling" seems to be one of the main attractions to most even slightly popular fantasy roleplaying games.

All the players in my current OD&D game really liked the idea once I came up with the "reputation levels" with their small character benefits. So I hacked a quick system together, they created characters and we gave it a try. The first two games were a real trial of patience as we seemed to spend more time tweaking the rules than actually playing, but the game last week showed that what we hacked out works and is fun to play.

I hope to have a playtest edition available before Christmas, but cannot promise this due to our "two people who normally use a computer all day sharing one computer" situation. This edition will be written Microlite style, but if there is interest in the system beyond my group, a second edition will be released in a less terse/more complete style in 2010. I'll be posting more on how Astonishing Tales works over the next couple of weeks.

Free Old School RPG: Monsters and Mazes

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Sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, John Garwood wrote a small roleplaying game called Monsters & Mazes. It was published as a text file designed to be printed on a printer -- complete with "end of page" codes to break the file into its proper pages. Some mistook the game as a parody, but it actually plays quite well as an "old-school" RPG. Here is the description of how to play from the rules:

First thing read booklet. Second make characters (one for each "player"). Third have GM construct maze. Fourth "stock" maze. Fifth play.

Playing in this game means the GM describes the environment the characters are in or can see. In turn the characters ask questions,move,perform actions, fight monsters,collect treasure, and most of all have fun. Then the process repeats itself over and over till the Maze or "Adventure" is finished.

In construction of maze sertain tables may have a general skill modifier placed on roll done on that table. There is four"skill levels" that are suggested they are Beginner, Novice, Expert, and Difficult.

Those tables with a preceeding @ sign may be decreased and those tables with a preceeding ! may be increased.
Beginner........No modifier 0
     Novice..........+1
     Expert..........+2
     Difficult.......+3
Results that go off the table use the lowest or highest accordingly.

Using "miniatures" adds a lot of fun to the game. You can use a chessboard or vinyl mats for the grid. The GM simply redraws or exposes that portion of the maze that the characters can see or are in on the playing board. In combat place the monsters strategically and place the characters at the point where the characters first "see" the monster/s. Commence movement as each square = 10' so the movement rolls = number of squares the participants can move. Example if Goerge the fighter rolls a 6 then Goerge moves 6 squares (60') and may attack. You may use the rule that no 2 characters can occupy the same square at once and fight or cast.
There were 11 classes (Wizard, Conjurer, Magician, Ranger, Fighter, Martial Artist, Robber, Knight, Paladin, Cleric, and Holyman) and you could roll 2d6 to determine your class (with Fighter, Martial Artists, and Robbers the most common rolls) Class were distinguished by armor and weapons they could use and some special abilities. Spells were described in one line each. For example:
Spell          Dice  Durat.  Effect  Description
--------------------------------------------------------------------
Fireball       4d6   inst.   30'r   Exploding ball of flame
Ice Storm      4d6   inst.   50'con Cone of ice shards
Lightning Bolt 5d6   inst.   50'lin Bolt of electricity that bounces
*Mr. Sandman   n/a   3d6 rnd 30'con Puts all within asleep
Advancement was very fast, but each level only gave the character one new ability of the player's choice: a new spell, a new hit die, a better save, more ability with a given spell, etc. What advances were possible varied by class.

Combat was simple and abstract -- a hit and parry system. No minis were really needed. Critical hits and fumbles were included.

Monsters were simple and like spells were described in one line (although a special abilities list was needed). Here are some examples:
TYPE      TH/IH   HP      # ACTS TREA # app. DAMAGE/OTHER
-----------------------------------------------------------
Skeleton  8/6     2d6     1      n    2d6-1  wep/1d6
Werewolf  5/6     6d6     6      y    1d3*   2Cl 4d6,Bi 3d6
Zombie    7/5     2d6+2   1      y    1d6+2  wep/1d6+1,Dis.
TH was the "to hit" roll (on 2d6). IH was the "is hit?" (aka parry/defend) roll.

Treasure tables, random dungeon generation tables, and a character sheet rounded out this little game. A complete old school RPG in about 20 pages of ascii text. It is actually quite good and fun to play. If you'd like a copy, you can download it from the following link.

Download Monsters & Mazes (60K Text File)

M74/OD&D Play-By-Post (for Cancer) Idea

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As many of longtime visitors (especially if you visited the Retroroleplaying forum) may know, I have wanted to run a play-by-post Microlite74 or OD&D game for a long time. Unfortunately, my wife has vetoed this idea every time I suggest it as she does not want me devoting any more time to the computer than I do now. Until now, she has said that I could either run my Sunday face-to-face game or a play-by-post game, but not both.

We were discussing this a couple of days ago and she suggested that if I really wanted to run a play-by-post game I could if all the players made a donation to the cancer fund to play. I just laughed and said that no one in their right mind would pay -- especially the $100 donation she wanted -- to play in a play-by-post game no matter how good the cause. This was the wrong thing to say and I ended up in the doghouse.

To get out of the doghouse, I had to agree to mention this idea in my blog and forum to see if there was any interest at all. I did get her to compromise a bit on the donation size -- it's down to a slightly more reasonable $30. I still don't expect much (actually any) interest, but I want out of the doghouse so this idea is getting posted. If you are actually interested (and willing to donate $30) please post to this idea's thread on the RetroRoleplaying message board. (If you think this is a dumb idea, no need to say anything as you definitely aren't alone.)

Under the Pyramid: A Megadungeon -- Level Two

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Sorry for the delay, I had intended to do one level of the dungeon every day. Unfortunately, offline life is not cooperating. However, here is a description -- taken from my old design notes -- of the second level of my Under the Pyramid megadungeon from the 1970s.

Before I start, I need to add a bit of information to my description of the first level. In each of the goblin camp areas, there is a temple to a serpentine deity. One faction sacrifices a captive on the new moon, the other faction on the full moon. If there are no captives, a member of the tribe is selected at "random" so there almost always are captives. The altars have strange symbols that look like humans with snakes for heads.

The second level was a maze of passageways, open chambers, and hidden rooms. The passageways and chambers were empty except for wondering monsters (25% goblins from level one, 25% serpent men from level three, 50% random from the OD&D charts). Most of the many hidden rooms are empty except for odd remains of contents and former inhabitants. There is a 2% chance per person/per turn searching a room that some random bit a treasure will be found. There is a 1% per turn after the first spent in a hidden room that some party member will be exposed to a disease (save to avoid) that causes a loss of 50% of the character's HP to fever and exhaustion under cured by magic or a week's bed rest.

Most of the passageways and chambers have unnerving and even obscene reliefs carved on the walls in a one foot band near the ceiling.

One hidden room contains the statue of a young girl in the center of a fountain. If anyone drinks from the fountain they can hear the statue whispering insanely about evil monsters from beyond time and space. If a drinker makes his save, he will also be cured of 1d6 points of damage. Another hidden room will seal completely (the door disappears) once the party enters. The door will reappear in 1d10 turns. There is no way out of the room (short of a wish or divine intervention) while the door is missing. Random monsters appear in the room every turn the door is missing. They are illusions, however. One hidden room is a circular pit with a staircase winding down. It winds down several hundred feet before plunging into water. Fifty feet further down is a locked door that will not open without key found on level 5. Inside the room is the crypt of a vampire with lots of treasure.

There is a hidden complex of rooms on this level that is the former home of a evil cleric and his followers. They are now all ghouls. Very hungry ghouls. A second hidden complex rooms the lair of a pair of Ogres and their bugbear servants. They just want to be left alone. A diamond worth 10000 gp is hidden in a trapped chest behind a secret door. The Ogres aren't aware of it, but one of the bugbears is.

Several staircases lead down. Two lead to level three. One leads to level 4 and turns to a slide once everyone is on it.

Coming soon: Level Three.

Using Google Wave for Gaming

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Google Wave seems to be the new "must have" thing on the Internet judging by the buzz on sites like Lifehacker. Gamers are already thinking about how to use it in online games. So far, most people I've seen using it for RPGs are using it like a chat room and not taking much planned advantage of its special features.

Will Hindmarch had a interesting article on using Google Wave for gaming on his gameplaywright blog. Although his blog is aimed more at Story Games than pure RPGs, his ideas for using Google Wave in gaming are quite adaptable and very much worth a look: Playing On A Wave.

Under the Pyramid: A Megadungeon -- Level One

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The very first dungeon I created was a double pyramid. Imagine a diamond shaped building buried in the ground do that only a large pyramid is visible. As might be expected, this dungeon was awful. People had fun playing in it, but it was boring, packed with rooms to the point that it would have needed lots magic to keep it from collapsing in on itself, and far too random. So I blew it up when I created a new dungeon.

There was a huge explosion and pieces of pyramid went flying everywhere. When the dust cleared and people got brave enough to go to the site, they discovered a huge hole in the ground with a over 400 high colossal statue rising out of the pit so that only its head and shoulders were above ground level. The statue appeared to be of some unknown deity of chaos. While it never seemed to move while being watched, its stance would shift slightly with time. No one knew what it was. After a time the common story was that it was a forgotten deity of chaos somehow imprisoned in slow time -- slowed to where one year seemed like only a few seconds. Truth? No one knows, but it made a great story.

One could climb down the statue with some effort and equipment, but adventurers soon discovered that one of the giant teeth was a illusion hiding the entrance to a tunnel leading to a staircase spiraling down the center of the statue to a hidden door in the left foot of the colossal statue. Oddly, this stairway did not seem to make too many people doubt the frozen chaos deity story.

I did not draw out this dungeon on graph paper. Instead I mapped it the way we had made maps for the "Adventure" game on the DEC10 in college (called often "Colossal Cave" when it became one of the first text adventure games for home computers), circles for rooms connected by lines. The numbered room descriptions gave actual room dimensions and info on connecting corridors in a handful of words (e.g. "40x40 ft stone room, stone corridors north and east, locked wood door east").

The first level was huge and centered more or less on the statue. This level had been the home of a large goblin tribe, but the chief had died and the tribe had split into two factions that had their headquarters in the northeast and west respectively and constantly fought for control of the level. There were lots of empty rooms to fight over. One corridor leading from the statue room to the major staircase to the next level was magiced to repel goblins. A strange low level magic user with a item that let him create and control zombies lived in a hidden sublevel. He had goblin zombies, naturally. A staircase in a hidden room lead up as far as one wanted to climb but went nowhere -- yet there were persistent rumors of odd creatures using it to enter the dungeon. There were at least three magical fountains on this level, one in each of the goblin home bases and one that seems to move about randomly. According to the both groups of goblins, there was a hidden treasure room where their former chief kept his loot but he took its location and the secret way to enter to his grave. There were several ways down to lower levels -- including a fissure with a red glow far below.

Why am I describing this mid-1970s dungeon design effort? I discovered my notes on the dungeon in a file over the weekend and figured that others would be interested in what I did.

Coming soon: the second level.

October Cancer Fund Drive: Final Chance At the Giveaways

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Tomorrow, November 2nd, is the last day to make a Retroroleplaying Cancer Fund donation and have a chance at one of our October giveaway items (e.g.
rare Traveller fanzines (Working Passage & Imperium Staple) and the RPGA limited edition AD&D Modules R1 (To the Aid of Falx) and R2 (Investigation of Hydell)). All donors receive the usual PDF downloads every donor has access to.

The highest donation so far is well under $100. Unlike the July drive there are no huge $1500+ donations from foundations to compete with. This time around you don't have to be rich and give a huge amount for a good chance of receiving one of our giveaway items.

Send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal by midnight November 2nd for a chance at the giveaway items. My apologies for having to ask for donations and my heartfelt thanks to everyone who donates -- and a special thank you to those who donated items to our giveaway. If you cannot donate but wish to help, please spread the word about my request and offer. Thank you very much in advance.


Swords & Wizardry Coming Soon to a Game Store Near You!

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Matt Finch has announced that Swords & Wizardry will now be published by Black Blade Publishing. This should get Swords & Wizardry into game stores. The S&W PDF will still be free.  Here's the press release.

Black Blade Publishing to become Exclusive Publisher of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules and Knockspell Magazine

October 27, 2009 – Mythmere Games, developer and publisher of the ENnie-award winning Swords & Wizardry fantasy role-playing game, is pleased to announce an exclusive agreement with Black Blade Publishing to publish the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules and Knockspell magazine, and to lead the charge to get Swords & Wizardry into retail distribution. The first print releases under this agreement will be a softcover version of the 124-page Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook and Knockspell #3.

Working with Studio 2 Publishing as its distribution partner, Black Blade Publishing expects the Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook to start hitting the shelves of brick and mortar game stores by February of 2010. In addition, the in-print version of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook will be available for purchase directly from Black Blade Publishing or through select retailers by late-October, 2009.

Electronic copies of the Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook will be available immediately directly from Black Blade Publishing, and will be available very soon directly from Studio 2 Publishing, DrivethruRPG, RPGNow and YourGamesNow.

Print versions of Knockspell #3 are available for purchase directly from Black Blade Publishing, and issue #4 may be distributed to stores around February of 2010, at the same time as the core rules.

“The Swords & Wizardry fantasy role-playing game is about a lot more than a return to the way these games used to be played. Swords & Wizardry unapologetically throws off 30 years of re-imagining and so-called ‘fixing’ of the original rules, returning to the wonder and mystery of “free-form” fantasy gaming without complicated rules and long rulebooks. Black Blade Publishing is very excited to be publishing the key Swords & Wizardry titles from Mythmere Games. The quality of new products being introduced in the old school gaming community is amazing, and we are really excited to be a part of it.” -- Jon Hershberger, co-founder of Black Blade Publishing

Founded in 2008 by Matthew J. Finch, Mythmere Games is best known for the Swords & Wizardry fantasy role-playing game, the award-winning retro-clone of the original 1974 edition of the world’s most popular fantasy game. For additional information, visit http://www.swordsandwizardry.com.

Formed in 2009 by Jon Hershberger and Allan Grohe, Black Blade Publishing will begin publishing the Swords & Wizardry Core Rulebook in October 2009 under license from Mythmere Games. For additional information, visit http://www.black-blade-publishing.com.

Studio 2 Publishing has been serving the games hobby industry since 2004, serving game designers and publishers as a sales and marketing organization as well as providing fulfillment and inventory management services. For additional information, visit http://www.studio2publishing.com.

[Don't forget that rare Traveller fanzines (Working Passage & Imperium Staple) and the RPGA limited edition AD&D Modules R1 (To the Aid of Falx) and R2 (Investigation of Hydell) are available (for Cancer Fund Donors) -- addition to the usual PDF downloads every donor has access to. There is still plenty of time to make a donation and get in on the giveaway which ends at the end of October 2009. Thanks much to those who have already donated.]

The Microlite74 Report: October 2009

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I am occasionally asked what is going on with Microlite74? The answer is nothing. People are still downloading the game (close to 3000 downloads of Version 2 so far) and, more importantly, playing the game. Version 2 seems to be far less "buggy" that version 1 was. That is, it comes able as close as a Microlite20 based system can to the feel and play style of 0e. As far as I can see, the game is pretty much finished.

The Ancient Auguries supplement added a number of optional rules and shows just how easy it is to customize M74 -- even with rules from 3.x. Optional rules for a Specialist class, Special abilities for fighters, magic-users, and clerics, a Skills system, Ritual Magic and Metamagic, Vancian magic in two forms (memorized spells and a full fire-and-forget magic system), Combat variants (Simple and complex combat stunts, no initiative rolls, overwhelming opponents), and Hit points and body points (a replacement damage and healing system) are included in this supplement.

I really can't think of much else to add. However, if you see problems in the basic Microlite74 rules or have some ideas for widely useful optional rules, please let me know. I'm not abandoning Microlite74. I just don't see a need to continually release new material for it. After all, one of the main features of an old school game is that it is easy to modify to fit your campaign and your players. You don't need an Official Supplement(tm) from The Game Designer(tm) when you can do it yourself.

I'm still considering a version of M74 which only uses six-sided dice (see Microlite74 with 2D6?), but am leaning toward making this a separate game as it really would not have much to do with the Microlite20 gamesystem.

[Don't forget that rare Traveller fanzines (Working Passage & Imperium Staple) and the RPGA limited edition AD&D Modules R1 (To the Aid of Falx) and R2 (Investigation of Hydell) are available (for Cancer Fund Donors) -- addition to the usual PDF downloads every donor has access to. There is still plenty of time to make a donation and get in on the giveaway which ends at the end of October 2009. Thanks much to those who have already donated.]

Trick or Treat: October Cancer Fund Update

Just a quick update to remind readers that our October Cancer Fund drive is still going. Any donations sent before November 2nd will be eligible for our donation giveaway:

* Traveller Items: Working Passage Fanzines, The Imperium Staple Fanzines, and Classic Traveller items

* D&D Modules: RPGA Modules R1 and R2 from 1982

I'd like to again thank thank the folks who donated these items and agreed to extend this drive through the end of October.

In case you are wondering what this is all about: My wife is recovering from oral cancer. We are some of the 40 to 50 million people in the US who do not have health insurance and do not qualify for government aid as we live in Texas and have no children. The cancer treatments and related expenses have cost over $110,000 so far. While over half of this has been absorbed by hospital foundations and the like (and some of the rest was covered by our July Donation Drive), we still owe a lot of it.

We have established a RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund for donations. Everyone who donates anything at all (even a dollar) gets access to a few special downloads (like pdfs of two 1970s D&D fanzines, a special edition of Microlite74, and more) as described on that page.

To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. My apologies for having to ask for donations and my heartfelt thanks to everyone who donates. If you cannot donate but wish to help, please spread the word about my request and offer. Thank you very much in advance.


Which Edition of D&D Should I Play?

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Believe it or not, "Which edition of D&D should I play?" is probably the most common question I'm asked. In some cases it is because the person asking the question wants to argue with my choice, but most of the time the questioner seems to sincerely want my opinion. Unfortunately, I can't really answer the question -- because there is no "one true answer." The best edition of D&D is the edition that best fits your needs. The answer for me may not be the answer for you as what you and your group want out of your game may be much different from what I want out of my game.

That said, I will list the various editions of D&D in the order I personally rank them based on how well they meet the needs of the types of games I like to play in and run. Your list may be much different than mine -- and that's as it should be. There really is no one best edition for everyone. Those who tell you there is are probably trying to sell you something.

1) Original Dungeons & Dragons with the Supplements: Fairly simple rules with a lot of room to make the campaign and the game your own with house rules. OD&D with the supplements is a lot like playing AD&D but without all the complex stuff AD&D added. Combat is fast and abstract -- just the way I like it.

2) BECMI Boxed Sets/Rules Cyclopedia: The Rules Cyclopedia (The BECM boxed sets in one hardback book) is probably the best version of D&D ever printed in hardback. It is a complete in one book, well-explained game that one can play for years without much modification, yet it is simple enough to easily house rule to fit your own group and campaign. Like OD&D, combat is fast and abstract.

3) Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert Boxed Sets: Later expanded into BECMI, this earlier edition only takes characters through 14th level. That is its only major disadvantage compared to the BECMI rules, but it is a great set for those who prefer low level play.

4) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (First Edition without Unearthed Arcana): If you want more complete rules to reduce the amount of GM rules decisions, First Edition AD&D is the way to go. Compared to later editions, it is still rules lite, but it is much more rules dense than previous versions and has a number of rules designed to better balance character classes -- although not is the same way people seem to see "balance" today. Combat is more detailed but still abstract and fast.

5) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (Second Edition -- Core Rules Only): This is a cleaned up and slightly simplified version of AD&D, it really isn't all that different from first edition, but it lacks the character of Gygax's writing (which is a bad thing in my eyes, but is a good thing to some).

6) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (First Edition with Unearthed Arcana): All the advantages of first edition with some extra classes and spells. Unfortunately, some of these extra classes turned out to somewhat overpowered.

7) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (Second Edition -- Plus the Kit Books): The kit books basically add a large number of subclasses to each standard class. This provides a lot of mechanical variety in characters at the cost of extra complexity and having to buy a large number of rule books.

8) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (Second Edition -- Plus the Kit Books and the Skills and Powers Books): The skills and powers books add a great deal of complexity to AD&D. They also start the trend of needing minis and battle mats to play out the complex and slow combats. As I like fast and abstract combat and am bored to tears at combats that take more than 10-20 minutes max to resolve, this is where D&D and I began to part company.

9) Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 This is the last edition of D&D that really feels like the D&D game I started playing in 1975 to me. While there were a lot of changes and additions, all the basics of D&D were still there and had not changed so much that they were something different with the same name. Combat is slow and tactical, it's hard to run without minis and battle mats. The designers tried hard to make a rule for everything and to reward players who mastered the manipulation of those rules. Not my cup of tea. GM prep time is unreal if the GM cannot or will not simply wing it. Houseruling can be hard as the game systems are tightly interrelated, changing something can have expected side effects in other areas of the game.

10) Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Lots of changes to spells and other areas: the names are often the same but the effects can be completely different. Minis and battle mats become almost required and combats are even slower. GM prep takes even more time, but there is a rule for almost everything any character to ever want to do scattered about the many, many volumes of rules.

11) Dungeons & Dragons 4e IMHO, this is a tactical minis skirmish game with roleplaying interludes between the battles given the D&D label. It has very little in common with any previous edition of D&D besides names. 4e character classes and monsters are extremely well-balanced for combat -- and if that is what is important to you, D&D 4e is probably the only edition you will want to play. However, it's not for me at all.

[Don't forget that rare Traveller fanzines (Working Passage & Imperium Staple) and the RPGA limited edition AD&D Modules R1 (To the Aid of Falx) and R2 (Investigation of Hydell) are available (for Cancer Fund Donors) -- addition to the usual PDF downloads every donor has access to. There is still plenty of time to make a donation and get in on the giveaway which ends at the end of October 2009. Thanks much to those who have already donated.]

Amagi Games Site is Back

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The Amagi Games site is back. In spite of a couple of abortive attempts to return, Levi Kornelsen's Amagi Games site has basically been down since a nasty crash months ago. The site is a collection of interesting rules systems designed to be plugged into other games. Levi describes the site as "a site for tinkering with tabletop roleplaying games."

Many of the rules systems on this site are quite unusual. For example, The Soap Opera plugin is a way to turn a game into a soap opera. Like most of the rules systems on this site, the actual rules for accomplishing this are short and sweet. While I probably would not actually use many of the rules systems presented here because they just do not fit the style of game I run, I find them very interesting and thought-provoking reading.

The new Amagi Games site is hosted on Google Sites which should make it less likely to crash and burn the way the original site did early in the year. You can find it here: http://www.amagi-games.org/

[Don't forget that rare Traveller fanzines (Working Passage & Imperium Staple) and the RPGA limited edition AD&D Modules R1 (To the Aid of Falx) and R2 (Investigation of Hydell) are available (for Cancer Fund Donors) -- addition to the usual PDF downloads every donor has access to. There is still plenty of time to make a donation and get in on the giveaway which ends at the end of October 2009. Thanks much to those who have already donated.]

Old School D&D vs New School D&D: The Combat Divide

From talking to players in my old school campaign and players at the local game shop, I've decided that, locally at least, the main divide between liking old school D&D and new school D&D seems to be the player's opinion of combat. Players who like fast, narrative combat are interested in older version of D&D while players who like using miniatures and battleboards for tactically detailed combat are interested in newer versions of D&D.

This divide seems to be nearly universal among local D&D players I've talked to and seems to be a better "determining factor" for interest in older version of D&D than other factors (such as save or die, level drains, character skills vs player skills, or GM fiat) I see talked about on RPG forums and blogs. Players who enjoy the long, tactically rich combats of 3.x and 4e show the least interest in trying older versions of D&D while players who do not like long, tactically rich combats are much more open to trying older versions of D&D.

Is this universal? I have no idea, but I've discovered recruiting players locally is much easier now that "discovered" this.

[Don't forget that rare Traveller fanzines (Working Passage & Imperium Staple) and the RPGA limited edition AD&D Modules R1 (To the Aid of Falx) and R2 (Investigation of Hydell) are available (for Cancer Fund Donors) -- addition to the usual PDF downloads every donor has access to. There is still plenty of time to make a donation and get in on the giveaway which ends at the end of October 2009. Thanks much to those who have already donated.]

Engines & Empires: Labyrinth Lord (D&D) in Victorian World

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Swords and sorcery meets technology in in a Victorian world in the new Labyrinth Lord variant Engines & Empires. It's over 200 pages of D&D goodness in a free PDF -- or you can buy a printed copy from Lulu for the very reasonable price of $9.99 plus shipping. This review is of the free PDF download so I can't comment in the print quality.

The blurb on Lulu describes Engines & Empires as "...a campaign setting designed for use with the LABYRINTH LORD fantasy RPG. Sitting at the crossroads of heroic high fantasy and Victorian gaslight romance, E&E pits magic and science against an ancient darkness intent on once again enveloping the world of Gaia... along with all the Free Folk that now dwell thereupon." This does not do the game justice.

Engines & Empires is much more than a campaign setting, it is a complete set of variant rules for Labyrinth Lord (a retro-clone of B/X D&D) which expand the game system with new classes, new ways of looking at magic, Victorian era technology, and more. Over 160 pages of new rules -- all open content -- before reaching the setting, the world of Gaia which has an additional 70 pages of content. It's very well thought out and simply but professionally presented.

Character Classes include Boxer, Expert, Halfling, Faun, Fighter, Dwarf, Centaur, Sylph, Mage, Fay, Scholar, Elf, Merrow, Tech, and Gnome. All classes have 36 levels (like B/X D&D's successor, BECMI D&D). The classes look to be well thought out. Expert and Tech are the most unusual.

"Experts are human characters who turn normal, 'civilian' professions into unique adventuring skill-sets." This can be anything from a burglar to a noble to a master of some craft or obscure lore. Naturally, this requires a bit of discussion between GM and the player of an Expert character, but it looks like it should work well.

The Tech "is a living symbol of the modern era. By combining the two complementary arts of science and engineering, techs can build a machine or brew a chemical for any occasion." As a Tech advances in level he learns new technological principles that he can use to create tech items. I've seen a number of attempts to a "Techno" character class to D&D (starting with the first Arduin Grimoire back in the 1970s). In my opinion, none have really worked well. To be honest, most have not worked at all. The E&E Tech class looks like it should at least work okay and prehaps every well -- although I'd have to see a few played by an inventive player to be sure. There are three fields of technology: biology, chemistry, and physics. Each field has 12 degrees. These degrees which have to be earned in order within a field, but the player can choose to specialize or generalize.

Characters can also learn skills. There are 12 skills and they are handled in a old-school manner by rolling 1d6 and trying to roll under your skill rank. Like BECMI, the game is divided into stages which include ruling dominions and going on epic adventures at higher levels.

The last part of the book deals with the world of Gaia. I can't do justice to it here. However, I can say that reading about the world gives me all sorts of idea for adventures and makes me want to run the game -- which is exactly what a good campaign setting should do.

If you have any interest in "Old School" D&D variants or just like the idea of mixing swords, sorcery, and technology in a Victorian setting, you need to download a copy of the Engines & Empires Campaign Compendium from Relative Entropy Games' page on Lulu. The download is free and well worth a look.

[Don't forget that rare Traveller fanzines (Working Passage & Imperium Staple) and the RPGA limited edition AD&D Modules R1 (To the Aid of Falx) and R2 (Investigation of Hydell) are available (for Cancer Fund Donors) -- addition to the usual PDF downloads every donor has access to. There is still plenty of time to make a donation and get in on the giveaway which ends at the end of October 2009. Thanks much to those who have already donated.]

Armor for All Classes in OD&D

One thing that really seems to sit wrong with some players in older versions of D&D are the armor and weapons limitations on classes. Some players really want their magic-users to wield swords and wear armor. While I've never felt this way, I did come up with a system back in the late 1970s that allows any character class to wear any type of armor while doing a fair job of maintaining the "balance" of each class.

Base Armor Class: Each class has a base armor class that is in effect anytime the character is conscious and not tied up to the point they can't move at all. This base armor class takes into account the character's combat training which allows him to dodge and parry blows.

Fighting Man -- Base AC of 5
Paladin/Ranger/Monk -- Base AC of 6
Cleric/Druid/Bard -- Base AC of 7
Thief/Assassin -- Base AC of 8
Magic-User/Illusionist -- Base AC of 9

Any character who is unconscious or heavily restrained has a Base AC of 9. Other classes should be slotted in on the level of the character that makes the most sense. ONLY the fighting man should get a Base AC of 5, however. Other fighter classes/subclasses should come in on the Paladin/Ranger/Monk line at best. The Monk is a special case, the AC by levels given in the monk class chart simply need to be replaced, starting with AC 6 instead of AC 9.

Armor: Armor adds to the character's Base AC when worn. Armor may have side effects for some classes. (Remember that a plus to AC in older versions of D&D reduced one's AC.)

Leather Armor: +1 to AC. Magic-Users and Illusionists cannot cast their highest level of spells known while wearing Leather Armor.

Chainmail Armor: +2 to AC. Magic-Users and Illusionists cannot cast their two highest levels of spells known while wearing Chainmail. Thief abilities are halved while wearing Chainmail.

Plate Armor: +3 to AC. Magic-Users and Illusionists cannot cast their three highest levels of spells known while wearing Plate Armor. Thief abilities are unusable while wearing Plate Armor.

Shield: +1 to AC, only when character is concious and mobile. Magic-Users and Illusionists cannot cast their highest level of spells known using a shield -- if they are using a shield and armor tthe shield adds 1 to the levels of spells they cannot use.

Examples: An unarmored OD&D fighting man is AC 5. The same fighting man in plate armor and using a shield would be AC 1.

An unarmored 10th level (OD&D) wizard would be AC 9 and could spells normally. If that tenth level wizard wears chainmail, she would be AC 7 but would not be able to cast any of her 4th or 5th level spells. A 1st through 4th level magic user wearing chainmail would not be able to cast any spells at all.

This system was playtested with OD&D and AD&D 1e rules (reduce base AC by 1 as the worst AC in AD&D is 10 instead of 9) in the late 1970s and worked well. I did not use this much back then and probably would not use it today, but a number of groups in South Texas were using these rules back in the day as they were published in a local gaming club newsletter.

[Don't forget that rare Traveller fanzines (Working Passage & Imperium Staple) and the RPGA limited edition AD&D Modules R1 (To the Aid of Falx) and R2 (Investigation of Hydell) are available (for Cancer Fund Donors) -- addition to the usual PDF downloads every donor has access to. There is still plenty of time to make a donation and get in on the giveaway which ends mid-October 2009. Thanks much to those who have already donated.]

RPGA Modules R1 and R2 from 1982 Added to October 2009 Cancer Donotion Drive

I received an email from a former gamer who wishes to remain anonymous offering a copy of the first two RPGA modules (R1 and R2 for AD&D) for donors to my current October 2009 Cancer Donation Drive. As these modules were limited editions available only to RPGA back in 1982, I've never seen these modules in their original form, although they were reportedly the basis for the first part of generally available I12 module (Egg of the Phoenix) which is one of my favorite mid-1980s modules.

R1 (To the Aid of Falx) was written by Frank Mentzer and is in "pretty good condition with only a few pencil marks -- some hit point notes and a few folded page corners". R2 (Investigation of Hydell) is also by Frank Mentzer and is in "fair condition too with some pencil marks, a pen doodle on the inside of the back cover, some folded page corners, and a slighted faded back cover". Condition descriptions provided by donor.

The top donor in this cancer drive will now have his or her choice of the Traveller fanzines (Working Passage and The Imperium Staple) described in this post or the D&D RPGA R1 and R2 modules described here. The runner-up with receive the other item. The third place donor will now receive the first printings of Mercenary and High Guard for Classic Traveller. The fourth largest donor will now receive the second printing of Supplement 2: Animal Encounters for Classic Traveller. The fifth largest donor will receive an old adventure from D&D from my collection. These items and this donatyion drive were described in more detail in this post: Rare Traveller Fanzines (Working Passage & Imperium Staple) Available (for Cancer Fund Donors).

Of course, everyone who donates gets access to the special PDFs (The Grimoire #1, The Grimoire #2, the Microlite74 2.0 Special Edition booklet, etc.

To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. My apologies for having to ask for donations and my heartfelt thanks to everyone who donates. If you cannot donate but wish to help, please spread the word about my request and offer. Thank you very much in advance. (And again, a very special thank you to Scott R. for donating the fanzines for this giveaway and to the anonymous donor of R1 and R2.)





Three Solitaire Role-Playing Games Using Regular Playing Cards

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Many years ago -- and long before computers became common household items -- I thought it would be really neat to design a solitaire "Role-Playing Game" that used nothing more than a deck or two of regular playing cards, a sheet of paper, and perhaps some dice. I spend a good number of hours fiddling with cards trying to come up with a system that worked and felt enough like a RPG to be a fun way to kill some time alone. Alas, I never succeeded and finally just gave up.

I was out at the Card Games web site this evening looking for a new two-player card game that my wife and I could try. I was going through the Invented Games section and was quickly sidetracked by three solitaire "role-playing" card games. I haven't had a chance to try any of these yet, but they all look interesting.

CardRPG is a relatively simple solitaire "roleplaying game" credited to "Ray of Ash". It needs a regular deck of cards, three six-sided dice and paper and pencil. As one might expect it is more a combat-fest than a role-playing game, but it is short, simple, and looks like it might be a nice way to kill some time. A couple of paragraphs at the end present a two-player version.

CardRPG - Advanced (Link is to a PDF file) is an expanded and extended version of CardRPG by Stephen Rogers. This 12 page PDF adds more powers and abilities -- and lots more dice. It looks like this version might feel more like a "roleplaying game." Rules for more than one player are included.

Hebrac's Dungeon is a dungeon exploration RPG by Luc Miron. This game uses two or more decks of regular playing cards. Some of the cards are used to form a level of the dungeon which is then explored. Each room has two cards, a monster and a treasure. You have to defeat the monsters to get the treasure. The object of the game is to find all four magical treasures (a ace of each suit) before you die. Different cards represent different monsters and treasures -- each with different abilities. This game looks like a lot of fun and I'll probably try it first.

Of course, these games are more like a simple computer RPG than they are a real face-to-face game. However, given that they are something I thought would really be nifty back in the early 80s, I'm excited to find them. Does anyone know of any others?

Now it's back out to the Card Games web site to resume my original search for an interesting new two-player card game.

[Don't forget that rare Traveller fanzines (Working Passage & Imperium Staple) are available (for Cancer Fund Donors) -- addition to the usual PDF downloads every donor has access to. There is still plenty of time to make a donation and get in on the giveaway. Thanks much to those who have already donated.]

A New Look at Attribute Saves in D&D

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I've used attribute saves (roll 1d20 and roll under a selected attribute) in D&D to handle actions that aren't covered by the rules but that I feel need some type of random element is needed since 1976 or so. It's simple but it has some issues that I've never liked: it gives too much reward to high attributes (and too much penalty to low attributes) and it does not take into account the player's level.

As I'm starting a new OD&D campaign, I decided to give rethink this procedure. Here's what I've come up with. Comments are not just welcome, but desired.

Attribute Saves: When the DM calls for a save versus an attribute, the player rolls 3d6 and adds the following die modifiers:
1) the bonus for the attribute (from the attribute tables in the game)
2) if the DM says the task falls under the characters class or background, the player adds a bonus based on his character's level (1-3, +1; 4-8, +2; 9-15, +3; 16-24, +4; 25+, +5).
3) any situational modifiers assigned by the DM.

If the result is 8 11 or higher, the character succeeds at whatever is being attempted. [Updated: Thanks to Daniel for noticing the 8 should have been an 11.]

This system greatly reduces the bonus or penalty from high or low attributes and takes the character's class level into account if he is trying something that falls within the boundaries of his class. This should take care of my main issues with attribute saves. Using 3d6 instead of 1d20 means that rolls are more likely to be near average instead of all results being equally likely -- which seems to make sense given the way I use attribute saves in my games. It is also easy to explain and use. What do you think of the system?

Note: I don't use attribute rolls as skill rolls. Players can't say "I'll make an INT save to try X." They have to tell the DM (me) what they are trying to do and if I think a die roll is needed, I will tell them the save they'd need to make to succeed.

[Don't forget that rare Traveller fanzines (Working Passage & Imperium Staple) are available (for Cancer Fund Donors) -- addition to the usual PDF downloads every donor has access to. There is still plenty of time to make a donation and get in on the giveaway. Thanks much to those who have already donated.]

Rare Traveller Fanzines (Working Passage & Imperium Staple) Available (for Cancer Fund Donors)

Scott R. has donated copies of Working Passage and The Imperium Staple (Traveller fanzines) as giveaways for the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund. As many of you know, my wife is recovering from oral cancer and that I worked on the original Microlite74 as way to cope during her recovery from 6 weeks of radiation treatment last year. We are some of the 40 to 50 million people in the US who do not have health insurance and do not qualify for government aid as we live in Texas and have no children. The cancer treatments and related expenses have cost over $110,000 so far. While over half of this has been absorbed by hospital foundations and the like (and some of the rest was covered by our July Donation Drive), we still owe a lot of it.

We have established a RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund for donations. Everyone who donates anything at all (even a dollar) gets access to a few special downloads (like pdfs of two 1970s D&D fanzines, a special edition of Microlite74, and more) as described on that page.

Special Donor Goodies for October 2009 (Rare Traveller Fanzines)

While I had not planned to have another special giveaway for a good while, I received a package from Scott R. today with some nice Traveller items: ten issues of Working Passage and three issues of The Imperium Staple -- rare Traveller fanzines from the 1980s. He specifically requested that I give all these items to the top donor in the first half of October 2009. Who am I to say no to a generous gift like this one? Thank you, Scott R.

For those who aren't familiar with Traveller fanzines, Working Passage and The Imperium Staple are two of the most popular Traveller fanzines ever. I saw a complete set (of 12 issues) sell for over $300 on eBay once even though the description said some of the issues were probably photocopies. A set of the first ten issues of The Imperium Staple reportedly sold for over $1000 -- in perfect condition I assume. So Scott R. has set a very nice top donor package.

The ten issues of Working Passage are #0 through #9, published in 1984 and 1985. The three issues of The Imperium Staple are #2 (April 1986), #5 (July 1986) and #6 (August 1986). Some so-so pictures I took are attached at the end of this post. Working Passage issues are filled with short articles on Traveller, mainly Classic Traveller from what I see. The are lots of short articles per issue. The Imperium Staple #2 includes major articles on Laser Weapons, Martial Arts and the Standard Configuration Starship (part 2, unfortunately). The Imperium Staple #5 includes major articles on Psionic Additions, Circular Meson and Particle Accelerators in Traveller, and Starship Maneuverability. The Imperium Staple #6 includes major articles on Low Berth Naval Duty, Robot Agility and Robot Programs, Hunter Character Sketch, and the Raidan Subsector.

Thanks to Scott R., whoever donates the most between now and the middle of October will get all of the Traveller fanzines listed above. The second place donor will receive first printings of Mercenary and High Guard for Classic Traveller. The third place donor will a second printing of Supplement 2: Animal Encounters for Classic Traveller. The Classic Traveller books are used -- but in good shape -- and from my Traveller collection.

Of course, everyone who donates gets access to the special PDFs (The Grimoire #1, The Grimoire #2, the Microlite74 2.0 Special Edition booklet, etc.

To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. My apologies for having to ask for donations and my heartfelt thanks to everyone who donates. If you cannot donate but wish to help, please spread the word about my request and offer. Thank you very much in advance. (And again, a very special thank you to Scott R. for donating the fanzines for this giveaway.)






Working Passage Fanzines

The Imperium Staple #2


The Imperium Staple #5


The Imperium Staple #6

New Campaign: OD&D Set in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy

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The Swords & Wizardry/Microlite74 campaign I've been running since early in the year (some 17 sessions) last Sunday. My players had looked through The Gray Book the previous weekend and told me then that they might want to convert the campaign to OD&D. What I wasn't expected was three of their friends deciding they were interested in playing as well -- provided I would allow thieves and set the campaign in the old Judges Guild Wilderlands of High Fantasy.

After some email discussion of this late last week, we decided that our Sunday session would be a chance for me to meet their friends and discuss starting a new campaign. Between this discussion and Sunday, one of the three potential new players learned that OD&D -- despite many comments to the contrary online since the release of fourth edition -- is not a tactical miniatures game and decided that it was not for him.

All five regular players and the two new potential players showed up Sunday. The new players had already heard about what I expect from players behavior-wise and what type of campaigns I run, so my player info sheet wasn't a surprise to them. We decided to start a OD&D campaign set in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy with the new players on "probation" for their first few games to make sure they fit in.

After a lot of discussion, we decided the campaign would start in Thunderhold with the players heading toward the City-State of the Invincible Overlord with a few adventures along the way. This was a compromise as some of the player really wanted to start in the city-state, but I think it is more fun for the characters to start elsewhere and discover the city-state for the first time as their players do -- especially when none of the players know much about the City-State.

We agreed to use OD&D with most of the additional classes and rules from the supplements (a la the Gray Book). Initiative would be a simple d6 roll on both sides not the complex DEX-based initiative rules used by Holmes and The Gray Book. I added a few minor house rules and warned them that more would be introduced with time. Everyone heartily approved my max hit points at first level house rule.

Next came character generation. We ended up with the following PCs:

Grimaxe, a dwarf fighter who favors axes.
Zal Green, a human ranger who favors bows.
Henry Knot, a human fighter who favors swords.
Rose, a human thief who was making a living as a dancing girl/pickpocket
Father Anthony, a human cleric of Thoth
Ian, a human mage
Farsinger, an elven fighter/magic-user

The players decided that they all knew Grimaxe and that he had persuaded them to travel with him to the city-state where he hoped to get his axe enchanted to slay goblins. Rose knew a courtesan from the city-state who had been stranded in Thunderhold when her lover was killed in a drunken fight over a crooked game of cards and convinced her to hire the party to escort her back to the city-state safely. The pay isn't much, but as they are going that way anyway, they decided they might as well take the job. As they went around Thunderhold buying things they thing they will need for their trip and trying to find a few men-at-arms they can hire cheaply to provide some extra muscle, they occasionally noticed that some strange shimmering in the air was following them. Next week, the campaign proper starts with the characters beginning their journey to the City-State of the Invincible Overlord.

I'm really looking forward to this new campaign. It's been a long time since I've ran a campaign in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy or used the City-State of the Invincible Overlord. This should be fun.

1976 OD&D Articles by Gary Gygax and Len Lakofka Available

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What many people have forgotten is the Gary Gygax was involved in the wargame hobby long before TSR and D&D. Gygax used to participate in wargame fanzines that were common in the era. They were one of the main ways gamers -- especially Diplomacy gamers communicated in the days of expensive long distance and no Internet. Starting in 1976, D&D articles by Gary Gygax and Len Lakofka (separately and together) started appearing in Lakofka's long running Diplomacy zine, Liasons Dangereuses. I saw one of these issues back then when someone had a copy of then current issue at an ancients game I was involved in.

I was surprised to discover that many issues of Liasons Dangereuses have been scanned and are available at the Postal Diplomacy Zine Archive as free PDFs. Warning: The site is a bit slow and the scans are not always the best (probably because the reproduction on the originals was not always that good). Here's a list of the issues I found with D&D articles of possible interest:

Liasons Dangereuses #70 – April 28, 1976 has a short article by Gary that talks about how D&D and the first two supplements did.

Liasons Dangereuses #72 – July 17, 1976 has "Women and Magic" by Gary and Len. This appears to be an early version of The Dragon article.

Liasons Dangereuses #73 – August 18, 1976 includes Expanding the combat tables in D&D and a long article about dungeon doors and some material from the Blackmoor campaign (I think).

Liasons Dangereuses #74 – September 27, 1976 has an article by Len and Gary "The Pryologist: A Study in Magic" -- a fire mage sub-class for D&D. Also "Capture and Bondage in D&D" -- rules for tying people up. Errata for some previous D&D articles.

Liasons Dangereuses #75 – November 10, 1976 has an article by Len and Gary on "Scrying in Dungeons & Dragons".

Liasons Dangereuses #76 – December 14, 1976 has an article by Gary and Len entitled "Dwarfs & Hobbits & Magic" with magic-using classes for dwarfs and hobbits.

Liasons Dangereuses #77 – January 26, 1977 has an unreadably light article on Metamorphosis Alpha and an article by Gary and Len on "Special Damage in Dungeons & Dragons".

Most of this material was new to me. I expect it will be to most OD&D players. Enjoy.

There is More to OD&D than the Three Little Beige Books

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Some of the comments to my post on The Gray Book yesterday that The Gray Book was too much like AD&D to be considered OD&D confused me. The only reason I can think is that the 1e retroclones have given people a very limited idea of what OD&D included. Swords & Wizardry, for example, mainly emulates the original three book set of OD&D. Swords & Wizardry include the different die types for hit dice and weapons -- and some of the new spells -- from the first OD&D Supplement, but ignores most of the addition material in Greyhawk and seems to completely ignore the additional material in Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, and the issues of The Strategic Review published in 1975 and 1976. Most OD&D campaigns played in the 1970s used a great deal of this OD&D material that currently available 0e retroclones ignore.

Here is a list of the major material added in the three OD&D supplements and in issues of The Strategic Review:

Greyhawk added:

* more bonuses and penalties for attributes, including exceptional strength for fighters and number of spells knowable per level for magic-users
* More class options for non-human characters
* Thief class
* Paladin fighter sub-class
* different die types for different weapons and class hit dice
* weapon vs armor type modifiers
* multiple monster attacks
* more spells, including levels 7-9 for magic-users and levels 6-7 for clerics
* many more magic items, including lots more miscellaneous magic items
* many more monsters (including metallic dragons)

Blackmoor added:

* Monks as a cleric subclass
* Assassins as a thief sub-class
* Hit location during melee
* new monsters (mainly aquatic)
* new magic items (mainly water related)
* underwater adventure rules
* specialists (sages)
* diseases

Eldritch Wizardry added:

* Druids as a cleric subclass
* Psionics
* Segmented melee round
* new monsters (mainly psionic monsters and demons)
* Magical Artifacts (Mainly from Greyhawk)
* new outdoor encounter tables

The Strategic Review Added

Issue #1 (Spring 1975)
* the Mind Flayer (non-psioniv version)
* Solo Dungeon creation tables

Issue #2 (Summer 1975)
* Rangers a a fighting-man subclass
* D&D FAQ explaining a number of rules poits that weren't clear

Issue #3 (Fall 1975)
* new monsters (including cllasics like Shambling Mounds, Piercers, Lurker Above)

Issue #4 (Winter 1975)
* Illusionists as a magic-user subclass
* Ioun Stones

Issue #5 (Dec 1975)
* a few new magic items and monsters (including prayer beads and the Trapper)

Vol 2, No 1 (Feb 1976)
* Two Axis Alignment System (Law/Chaos, Good/Evil)
* Bard class

As you can see from the above list, there is a lot more to OD&D than current retroclones have elected to include. Groups that used most of these rules -- and most groups I knew of in the 1970s did use much of this material -- were playing a game very similar to what was later published as AD&D -- just without all fine detail and complexity of that came with the longer and more detailed AD&D rules. However, the game they were playing was still OD&D.

The Gray Book includes most of the additional OD&D material published by TSR in 1975 and 1975. This makes it look more like AD&D to those unfamiliar with the OD&D supplements, but the rules are still OD&D. The lowest armor class is 9, not 10. The hit tables are those of OD&D not those of AD&D (where 20 repeats five times), there are no material components or XP costs for spells, spell and monster descriptions are usually very short, etc. Most people who played OD&D in the 1970s would look at The Gray Book and see the D&D rules they used, just in one book instead of in six booklets and six newsletters.

Comments on The Gray Book

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I mentioned a nice compilation of the OD&D rules here a few days ago (see The Gray Book: OD&D Compiled). I printed out a copy and the players at my Sunday Microlite74 game looked it over while we played.

The general consensus is that The Gray Book is the best "revised" version of OD&D and supplements yet. It is well-organized. While it incorporates a lot of text taken straight from the various OD&D booklets, it clearly written and easy to understand. Part of that clarity comes from having everything related to one subject in one place instead of scattered across many booklets, but the editor added additional text here and there which simply explains things better.

There is one major flaw with the system, IMHO, it uses the Dexterity-based initiative system from the Holmes Basic Set. I've never liked this as it requires the GM to roll (and track) each monster's dexterity. As far as I'm concerned, that's far too much work for too little gain. However, it is easy to substitute a different initiative system into the game.

The Monk character class from Blackmoor and psionics and artifacts(from Eldritch Wizardry) are missing from the rules, as are some optional rules that few people used such as weapons versus armor class and hit locations (from the Blackmoor supplement). Illusionists and Rangers have been added from OD&D supplements, and articles in the The Strategic Review and The Dragon. The Ranger also has a lower-powered version of spells for Rangers from AD&D. A few other minor things have probably been taken from AD&D as well, but for the most part The Gray Book seems to have drawn on OD&D. It take little effort on a DM's part to add material written for either OD&D, B/X, or AD&D 1e. This makes most of the material from early issues of The Dragon and White Dwarf or from modules by TSR or Judges Guild available.

This will probably be my "go-to" version of OD&D for the future. It will be easy for players to print out if they want a copy. It uses OD&D hit tables and saving throws. It includes the classes and other material from the OD&D supplements -- or at least most of the material in common use. It is well-organized and easy to understand. Unlike Swords & Wizardry, all the advice on creating dungeons and wilderness adventures from the third OD&D booklet is in The Gray Book.

While the original OD&D booklets cannot really be replaced, The Gray Book comes closest to being a usable replacement, at least in my opinion. Unfortunately, it's definitely a "gray market" item. It's free but it is a definite copyright violation as, unlike the retroclones, it is not covered by the OGL. However, as I said in an April post, since WotC pulled the legal PDFs of older versions of D&D from the market, I no longer feel the need to play unpaid copyright police for them at my game table.

The Grey Book: OD&D Compiled

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I've just discovered another collected compiled version of early D&D available for free on the web. Steven J. Ege's The Gray Book is a collected, re-organized and slightly edited version of the OD&D rules and supplements (with some additions from The Strategic Review, The Dragon #1, Holmes D&D, Basic/Expert D&D, and even AD&D).

In spite of the additional material, The Gray Book has a house-ruled OD&D and supplements feel. The only major feature I noticed missing from OD&D and its three rules supplements is psionics. I could have easily used The Gray Book back in the late 1970s to run my OD&D games instead of OD&D, Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry.

Like the AD&D "3rd Edition" Books, The Grey Book is probably one big copyright violation. Grab your copy while you can. It's a free 4.2 meg pdf download and provides 146 pages of old school RPG goodness. If you would like to try OD&D with all the supplements, They Grey Book is a great way to do so without having to track down and buy the out of print original booklets.

Searchers of the Unknown RPG

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Thanks to a post on theRPGsite, I've just discovered the Searchers of the Unknown RPG. A one page set of rules for playing old-style (aka early TSR) D&D modules. Here's the concept from the rules pdf:

A typical old-school D&D module stats list for a monster looks like this: (AC6, MV9’, HD 1, hp 4, #AT1, D1-10 by halberd). The idea is that, if it’s enough for monsters, it should be enough for PCs too. This light-rule system enables to play these modules in that way.
The game looks like it would work fine provided everyone already knew the basics of "playing D&D." You can find a downloadable copy of the rules here.

S&W Module Playtest Session: Epic Fail?

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I mentioned that I was having a playtest of a rough draft of a Swords & Wizardry module I'm writing in my Saturday post. Even though I only had two players, the session was enlightening.

The bad news is that both players found main part of the adventure, the barrow dungeon, boring. Worse, they thought even the brand new players the adventure is aimed at would find it boring. The good news is that they loved the small town they started out in with its two opposed but friendly lords and the ghosts that live in the town completely more or less accepted by its residents. (The town is just outside the "valley of the dead" of an ancient civilization.) Both of my players think that the adventure should be set in the town instead of in some old tomb in the valley as the town is much more interesting than any tomb.

The adventure is aimed at beginning GMs and players and was intended to provide a ready to run adventure in an area that the GM could expand into a campaign -- and do so in about 16 published pages. That's probably 10-12 pages of text which would leave room for illos, maps, etc, in the final product. The classic beginning adventure is a "dungeon" not a town -- and for good reason. Dungeon adventures are much easier for new GMs to handle than town adventures as there are far fewer possibilities for the GM and players to deal with.

I'm not sure what to do here. Keep the town but make the starting adventure exploring something in the town (like a just mysteriously ruined building)? Rework the burial mound dungeon to try to make it more interesting? Make the town less interesting so the dungeon seeming more interesting? Scrap everything and come up with a new adventure?

Swords & Wizardry Wins an ENnie

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Chgowiz has reported on the S&W Forum that Swords and Wizardry has won an ENnie: "Silver Award for Best Free Product! (2nd Place)." Congratulations to Matt Finch (Mythmere) and everyone else who has helped make S&W a success.

Speaking of S&W, I haven't posted recently because I've been working on a module for the game. I've scheduled a playtest for the very rough draft for Sunday. I'll only have two players (everyone else is out-of-town or busy -- which is why we canceled the regular campaign for August), but I'm still interested to see what the reaction will be.

Microlite74 with 2D6?

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I've been asked if I could create a version of M74 that used 2d6 instead of 1d20 so that the game could be played with six-sided dice only. This would be relatively easy to do. For example, the primary die roll would be 2d6 + modifiers with an 8 or higher indicating success.

Here's a combat example: a 3rd level Fighter attempting to hit a human bandit wearing light armor (+2 AC) would roll 2d6+1 (+2 for Physical Combat Bonus, + 1 for Fighter Bonus, -2 for opponents armor) and would hit on an 8 or higher. If the GM wanted to have keep the opponent's armor secret, the player would not subtract the armor and would just call out the result which the GM would compare to 8 plus the opponent's armor -- equal or greater would be a hit.

Saving throws could work as they do now except that 2d6 would be rolled instead of a D20. DCs would have to be lowered however -- exactly how much would require some testing. However, it might be better to redo the saving throw system to use the primary die roll mentioned above.

Other than a few minor details (like subtracting 10 from all the monster ACs), that's probably all the major system changes needed for a 2d6 variant of Microlite74. However, it would be tempting to rewrite the game to make the gam a bit more 2d6-centric. For example, attributes could be rolled on 2d6. An alternate/optional spell-casting method could be added where spells do not cost HP, but require a success roll to fire (2d6 plus caster level/2 minus spell level with an 8 or higher meaning the spell was cast successfully). Etc.

I don't see the need to produce an entire new version of M74 with just the basic changes needed to use 2d6 instead of a D20, although I might add a few paragraphs on how to do it to a future supplement. However, it might be fun to create a new game with the spells, monsters and style of M74 entirely based on a 2d6 system. I'll have to think about this.

[Don't forget that Original Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Are Available (for Cancer Fund Donors). Today (August 1, 2009) is the last day to make a donation and get in on the July 2009 giveaway. Thanks much to those who have donated -- and there have been quite a few of you.]

What I Look For in a Set of Fantasy RPG Rules

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I been asked many times why I don't like later editions of D&D and still play older editions. I think this can best be answered by listing some of the major things I look for in a set of fantasy RPG rules.

1) I want rules-lite. I'm not interesting in hundreds of pages of rules. I don't want to waste time have to look up everything instead of just making a ruling on the spot. I don't want players to feel they have to study the rules to play well. I don't want them to even feel like they have to buy a copy of the rules to play.

2) I want simple, fast character generation. Character generation should take 5-10 minutes for a experienced player -- and not much longer for an inexperienced player with a more experienced player helping him. Players should not have to make lots of decisions at character generation. They especially should not have to make many decisions that, if they choose incorrectly, will hobble their character far into the future. I don't want a character building subgame -- especially one that gives a major advantage to players who buy, study, and master the rules.

3) I want simple, very fast playing, abstract combat rules. If minis and battle mats are needed or even strongly suggested, the combat system is probably too detailed and tactical for what I want. Players should not need to learn rules-oriented tactics for combat. Again, I want my players to be able to play without having to study and master the rules. Combat rules do not need to simulate reality exactly, but they should be easy to map to reality. Disassociated combat rules are probably the most annoying type of disassociated rules. Average combats should take 10-20 minutes maximum.

4) I want distinct "classes" that vary in ability and skills both in and out of combat. In other words I want magic-users, rangers, fighters, etc. to be actually different in play. I don't want every class equally capable in combat. Not everyone is interested in combat and combat is not the center of my games. Combat is also fast (see 3 above) so those who aren't good in combat (or who just do not find combat all that interesting) will not get bored in long, drawn out combats.

5) I wanted limited "skills" Many things like finding traps, negotiating with others, etc. should be actually role-played by the players. Saying "I check for traps," rolling a die, and announcing the result is boring. If skills are in the game they should not be usable to short-circuit actual role-playing.

6) I want easy to modify rules. I run my campaigns set in my own homebrew worlds. I change the game rules to match the needs of my worlds. I do not change the worlds to match the needs of the rules. This means the rules need to be easy to modify and not so tightly integrated that almost any change will ripple across the rules with unexpected side-effects.

7) I want generic rules. As I said, I'm interesting in running my fantasy RPGs in my own worlds. That means I want the rules set I use to be as generic as possible. I don't want the rules tied too closely to a specific world or even the designers' favorite style of play. The narrower the focus of the rules, the less likely they are to meet my needs.

8) I need verisimilitude. My game worlds need to feel "realistic" -- verisimilitude as opposed to actual realism is fine. Rules that clearly don't feel real (like only NPCs being able to buy magic items in AD&D or powers that work regardless of circumstances where logically they would not like tripping a gelatinous cube in D&D4e) are annoying. All rules sets have some rules that break verisimilitude (the feeling that the world is real), but the more such rules there are in a game, the less likely the game will meet my needs. Players should be able to easily describe what they are doing in terms of the world, not in terms of the rules. If they have to speak on think in "rules" then the game probably isn't going to work well for me.

What I look for in a set of fantasy RPG rules may be very different from what you look for in a set of fantasy RPG rules. There's certainly nothing wrong with that. However, I think what I look for in rules explains why I prefer older TSR editions of D&D to the WOTC editions. Just as what you look for explains why you prefer the games you do. There is no one true way nor one true rules set.

[Don't forget that Original Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Are Available (for Cancer Fund Donors). There is still plenty of time (over a week as I write this) to make a donation and get in on the giveaway. Thanks much to those who have already donated.]