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Microlite75 Playtest Version 0.90 (Final Draft) Available

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What I sincerely hope is the final playtest draft of Microlite75 is now available for download from Mediafire. Each book is about 250K and is in PDF format.

Players' Book

GM's Book

There are a large number of typo corrections and minor changes from playtesting through these rules. There are, however, few major changes. I've added rules for gnomes and half-orcs, changed the optional weapon damage tables, added optional minimum strength rules for weapons, added the standard OGL20 range system as an option for use when exact distances are known (e.g. for those who want to use minis and battlemats), added a handful of new spells, added optional rules for "no level advancement" campaigns, and tried to clarify the fighting class/arcane class concept so that it is very clear which classes are in which group.

Microlite75 now going to move to the proofreading and final error checking phase. I do not plan to make any more rules changes or additions. Unless some major issue is suddenly discovered, Microlite75 is now "rules-complete." There is (finally) light at the end of the tunnel. (I just hope it's not a train.)

Coming Soon: Microlite75 Version 0.9

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Better late than never, I guess. The final draft (I hope) of Microlite75 should be out in a day or two. Real life has kept me very busy over the last month, as the complete lack of posts here has probably indicated. I have, however, been slowly plugging away at Microlite75, including more playtesting of the new saving throw system, combat, monks, and weapons.

The new saving throw system remains almost unchanged. We tried one complete alternative and several modifications to the current system and what is there really does seem, to work well. Some are still uncomfortable with the CHA-based Presence save because it does not seem as broad as the other three saves. It works and saving throw equality just isn't a major design goal. It's one of those things that make people who thing mathematical balance is important happy, but really does not affect gameplay that much except for those who like to min-max their characters. Microlite75 isn't a great game for min-maxers. I can live with that.

Combat and the Monk class have both been tweaked a little based on comments in the forum that lead to some more testing. The optional weapon tables have been completely redone and the concept of minimum strength has been added. If a character does not have the minimum strength necessary to wield a weapon, the character is at -1 to hit for every point of strength he lacks.

I've also added a few spells from my own house rules that players particularly like. I haven't added nearly as many as some wanted, however. Most might not fit other campaigns.

There have been other very minor changes as well, mostly typo corrections. With any luck, this will be the final draft and I can move to proofreading and publication. The game is already months behind my planned schedule.

Microlite75: An Update

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Between my mother passing away a month ago and a mostly do-it-yourself kitchen remodel, I'm afraid I haven't had a lot of time to post here. My Microlite75 Wilderness campaign picked up again after a couple of weeks break where I got to play T&T instead of GM.

Unfortunately, we've discovered a few things we aren't very happy with in the current draft of Microlite75. I had really hoped 0.60 would be the final draft version, but I've resigned myself to at least one more. There aren't many problems, but the ones their are seem to be show-stoppers. For example, my players aren't happy with the new saving throw system. While it works better than the OGL3.x standard system for old school gaming, there are some problems with it that we are attempting to resolve.

I've also decided that there needs to be some additional advice for the GM about differences between M75 old school and standard 3.x. For example, M75 assumes that armor classes range only from 5 (-5 cursed armor) to 30 (the old school AC of -10). ACs outside this range will not work well. This is "obvious" to those familiar with the original old school games, but there is no way a new GM would know this and it is poor rules-writing to assume he would know it.

I hope to have the -- hopefully -- truly final draft of Microlite 75 out by the end of October. I'm now aiming for a before Christmas release of the official "1.0" version. This is only five or six months later than planned.

Microlite20 OSS (Old School Style) Advanced Edition Available

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The first playtest draft (version 0.8) of Microlite20 OSS Advanced Edition is now available for download. Like the basic edition of Microlite20 OSS, this game is an attempt to make a version of standard 3.x based Microlite20 that is designed to be be played "Old School Style". The basic version is similar to Microlite20 in what it covers. The new advanced version takes the basic rules of Microlite20 OSS adds material from the Microlite20 Expert set (new classes, etc.) and has somewhat expanded combat rules. It also adds Microlite20 skills back to the game, but in a old school manner. A simple talent system is provided for basic mechanical customization of characters. Like Microlite20 OSS basic, you can use most published material from 3.x directly in your game.

This game needs a bit of editing and may have a few additional rules added, but it is 80% to 90% complete now. You can download a free copy of the PDF (about 80K) from Mediafire here: Microlite20 OSS Advanced-0.8.pdf

Comments on the playtest draft are not only welcome but desired.

You can find more on the Microlite20 OSS concept in this post: Microlite20 OSS (Old School Style) Basic Edition Available. The current edition of Microlite20 OSS Basic is available here.

G1 in Tunnels and Trolls Game Report, Part 1

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Okay, the Sunday game is over. As I mentioned yesterday, we played Tunnels & Trolls as a break from my M75 Wilderness game (as I'm just not up to running it at the moment). T&T characters going through a slightly modified version of the old G1 "Hill Giant Steading" module.

After a very rocky start, the session was a blast. The rocky start was half the party getting killed or severely damaged in the entry hall facing two giants. It was the GM's first attempt at T&T and she gave the hill giants far too high of a monster rating. To be fair, T&T 5 doesn't list any monster ratings for any type of giants, so she looked at ogres and made them stronger. This turned out to be a very bad idea. Two 1200 MR giants were a "bit" much, even 8th and 9th level characters -- especially for characters who don't have a lot of over-the-top T&T magic items like those given out in T&T solos.

No harm done, we reset the game to when we were entering the entry hall. This time we managed to dispatch the two giants without waking either of them. Their MRs were apparently much more reasonable. LOL. We pressed onward. I'll press onward with the story tomorrow (or the next day depending on real life), but now I have to clean up the play area and get the trash out to the curb.

G1 in Tunnells & Trolls

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As I'm still not feeling like running my Wilderlands campaign this weekend (see Delay of Game: Reality Intrudes), one of my players has volunteered to run the classic D&D module G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief in Tunnels & Trolls! This should be fun. I'm going to play Grog the Lucky, 9th level Warrior with a great big two-headed axe and a high Luck attribute. I'm looking forward to it.

Time and Learning New Roleplaying Games

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I just don't have the time to learn many new games well enough to play them, let alone GM them, any more. I'm 53, and have work, a house to maintain, family, and other non-gaming activities that all require my time and effort. Time for gaming is very scarce. I'd rather spend that time playing games rather than learning yet another new and different system -- especially a multi-hundred page set of rules.

I can run TSR D&D, Classic Traveller, Call of Cthulthu/Stormbringer (and other BRP style games) and Marvel Superheroes almost without having the rule books at the table, so why not run them rather than spend time learning yet another new system? I can make an exception for very rules-lite games, but other than that I just can't make myself bother.

This is true for playing as well as running them. If the players really need to buy the book and learn the rules to play, then I really don't have the time. That's what I like about many old-school games, you could play without reading the rules, let alone learning them or "mastering" them.

I know this isn't what the gaming industry wants to hear, but I suspect a lot of people are in the same boat I am or will be as they age and acquire more and more time-consuming responsibilities. The constant churn of rules may not be in the long term best interests of the gaming industry even if it does produce profits over the short term. Think about it, I could go to the store and buy the same game of Candy Land, Life, or Monopoly I played (rules-wise, at least) as a child and play them with my niece and nephew. However, with the exception of a very few games like Call of Cthulhu, I can't do that with the RPGs I played in the 1970s and 1980s. Even staples like D&D are so different (rules-wise) now that they might as well be different games.

Delay of Game: Reality Intrudes

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I've been missing the past week or so and probably will be for another week or two. My 90 year old mother came down with pneumonia last week and passed away yesterday. I haven't been in much of a mood for gaming or discussing gaming and it will probably take me a couple of weeks to get back in the swing of things.

RIP Ruth Marie Stukey (22 June 1920 - 2 September 2010). She was a wonderful person, a great mother, and she had 90 good years. Here she is on her 90th birthday last June (my sister took the picture).

Rules Can't Replace Imagination: An RPG Rant I Can Agree With

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Kevin over at Kore RPG has a problem with the way some modern RPGs are designed that is very similar to one of my major pet peeves with them. He has a great rant that says what I feel much better than I could: Just one more formulaic CRPG-ification bullet into the imagination at the heart of RPGs. Go read it!

Frog God Games and Swords & Wizardry? No Thanks, Not for Me.

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Matt recently announced that Frog God Games will be producing Swords & Wizardry in the future. See this post on the Swords & Wizardry Forums: Frog God and Mythmere News!. At first I thought this was a good idea. Then Chgowiz, Bite The Bulette, and RPG Blog II pointed out a statement of Frog God's "about us" page which is very disparaging of the hobby that supports and created Swords & Wizardry....

We are not the guys who are going to offer bargain basement junk for a quick buck. We won't sell you hand drawn maps and clip art laid out by amateurs and posted up on Lulu.com as a cheap book that you look at and discard.

No thanks. I've already seen what companies who think hobbyists should be ignored in favor of "the pros" have done to the RPG hobby. I will not support another company who thinks great layout and high production values trump all. It's hobbyists who made Swords & Wizardry and hobbyists who make up most of the market for Swords & Wizardry products. Statements like the above at not the way to win friends and influence people in this market.

I sorry to say that I will not be purchasing or recommending to others anything produced by Frog God Games. They can have their apparent "we're pros and so much better than hobbyists" attitude. I want nothing to do with it as I've already seen the damage this industry attitude does to the hobby. Thank God that the Swords & Wizardry rules are OGL so anyone can change the name and produce their own version. The hobby lives, no matter how much the industry does not seem to like us (although they seem to like our dollars just fine.)

Natural Defense in Microlite75?

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Someone commented that they thought high level fighters had it too easy in Microlite75. The commenter pointed out that a 20th level fighter could easily have a +20 to hit (+10 from level, +5 from fighter bonuses, and +5 from magic items/other bonuses) and that very few monsters had very high armor classes. This meant a very high level fighter could expect to hit almost every time. Personally, I consider this a feature, not a bug. Very high level fighters should be able to hit just about anything they aim at most of the time. This helps to them "keep up" with high level spell-casters.

However, while thinking about this comment, I realized that Microlite75 doesn't really have that many ultra-powerful monsters intended to challenge very high level characters. This is pretty much standard for 0e and 1e as campaigns simply were not expected to regularly reach such high character levels. I figured I probably should add a few more high level monsters as high level play is much more common now than it used to be.

However, I have problems with ever-increasing armor classes. Monsters and characters with an AC of -10 (about 30 with ascending AC) are unbelievable enough in my book. Going higher just to make monsters tougher for high level fighters just doesn't make much sense to me. After a while, I came up with the idea of "Natural Defense." If you naturally roll (i.e. before any modifiers) the target's Natural Defense or less on the D20 attack roll, you miss. Except for extremely powerful beings, Natural Defense is always 1. As a natural roll of 1 always misses under the rules now, there is no change to the game for the vast majority of combats.

For exceptionally powerful monsters, however, having a Natural Defense of more than one reduces the chance of high level characters hitting them without having to raise their AC to the point that no one but a high level fighter has any chance to hit them.

For example, a powerful demon might have a Natural Defense of 4 and an AC of 25. Without the Natural Defense, a very high level fighter could easily hit 95% of the time (any roll but a 1). With the higher Natural Defense, the same fighter could only hit 80% of the time. However, as you don't raise the AC to get this reduction in hit chance, less combat-oriented characters still have a chance to hit the character.

Remember, there are no fumbles in Microlite75 (fumbling on a roll of 1 would mean one fumbled 5% of the time which unrealistically high for a trained character even at 1st level). All rolling a 1 (or below Natural Defense with the rules change) means is that you missed. You don't drop you weapon, stab yourself, or accidentally cut off your friend's head.

I'm going to try this rule in actual play next weekend with some high level NPCs my players will get to temporarily play, if it works it will be added to the M75 rules. It's only a few additional words in the Combat rules:

Attack Rolls: Add attack bonus to d20 roll. A natural roll equal to or less the target’s Natural Defense (which is 1 unless otherwise stated) always misses, otherwise if the result is higher than your opponent's Armor Class (AC), it’s a hit.
The bolded words above simply replace the words "of 1". A sentence about Natural Defense will be added to the rules for creating monsters and a few monsters will be added with a Natural Defense higher than 1.

Blog Problems and Campaign Updates

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I haven't posted in the last week because I've been having major problems with Blogger -- specifically, it's editor. Editing was normal so long as you did not preview or post. Line and paragraph breaks showed up fine while editing, but I'd publish the post and go from many paragraphs to one massive, unreadable block of text. It seems to be working right today, hence this post. However, I'm seriously thinking of moving this blog to the Retroroleplaying main site and running it through Drupal if this happens again.

I haven't had a campaign update in a few weeks. I'll try and post one today or tomorrow. For a brief summary, the players decided their characters would stay and defend the town (as they did not have to defend the vampires). (See Evil Vs Evil -- with the Party In the Middle) Things went so-so as they had trouble identifying the hired assassin/vampire hunter. The vampire hunter ended up capturing two children from the vampire-run school -- the son of one powerful area noble and the daughter of another -- in an attempt to draw the vampires out. They had to rescue them from the vampire hunter. They could not catch him in the process but they at least identified him and were later able to drive him away. They got a reward, an abandoned manor they can use as a HQ, from the father of one children they rescued. This, of course, turned out to have some drawbacks no one expected....

Thanking Microlite75 Sponsors; or Who Needs a Ransome Model?

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With the release of what I hope is the final playtest draft of Microlite75, I think it is time to formally recognize the people who have so far stepped forward to sponsor Microlite75 with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund or $25 or more. While there is still time to donate and get on the sponsor list, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the following individuals and groups who have sponsored the production of Microlite75 thus far:

Bronze Sponsors
Kristian Collins, Kevin Donovan, Robert Fisher, John Gaunt, Dennis Kadera, Michael McMenamin, Shane Morales, Ronald Pehr, The Reliquary, Martin Thomas, Richard Tongue

Silver Sponsors
Matthew Cooper, Marcelo Paschoalin, Scott Sandy

Gold Sponsors
Harry Duncan, www.miniaturewargaming.com

Platinum Sponsors
Sebastian Dietz, North Texas RPG Con, Jim Madale

Diamond Sponsors
Catherine Belaire, Ben Sugermann

In addition to the wonderful people listed above, there have been several additional sponsors who asked to remain anonymous. Thanks to you too -- you know who you are.

If you'd like to add your name to the list above (which will be published in all copies of Microlite75), there is still time to donate, however time is beginning to run out. If you'd like to sponsor Microlite75, get the usual donor downloads, and be listed as sponsor in Microlite75 and Advanced Microlite20 OSS, please donate now. $25 or more gives you are bronze sponsorship. $50 or more silver. $100 or more gold. If you want to donate a lot more, talk to me about platinum and diamond levels.

In addition to all the usual Retro-Roleplaying Cancer Fund goodies sponsors get (along with being listed as a sponsor), I also have a few NEW freebies to offer sponsors. I have a copy Holmes Basic Edition (booklet only) from TSR, one copy each of Modron, Verbosh, and the Gencon IX Dungeon from Judges Guild, and one copy of Apple Lane from Chaosium that I will be giving to randomly selected sponsors via a drawing held at my first Sunday game after the final release of Microlite75. Bronze sponsors get 1 chance, silver sponsors 2 chances, gold sponsors 4 chances, platinum sponsors 6 chances, and diamond sponsors 10 chances in each drawing. No person can win more than one freebie, however.

If you'd like to join the list of Microlite75 sponsors, you can donate via to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund Paypal.


Download the Microlite75 Final Playtest Draft

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What I hope will be the final playtest draft of Microlite75 is now ready for people to download. No major changes in this draft, other than splitting the game into two books and adding an optional Vancian "Fire and Forget" magic system.

The first book is the Characters and Magic book. This book has the complete rules of the game, the spell and equipment lists, and an intro to old school play for players. You can download a copy from Mediafire here: Microlite75: Characters & Magic.

The second book is the Options and Monsters book. This book has the optional rules monsters, and advice for the GM. You can download a copy from Mediafire here: Microlite75: Options & Monsters.

Microlite75 is basically done rules-wise. I don't plan to add anything else or make any major rules changes. I'm going to go through this draft carefully and clean up any mistakes or less than clear text I find, then turn it over for proofreading. So if you have any rules issues, speak up now please.

Sponsoring Microlite75: If you look in the latest Playtest version, you will see that Microlite75 has a number of sponsors who have donated to the Retro-Roleplaying Cancer Fund. There is still plenty of room to list more sponsors, however time is beginning to run out. If you'd like to sponsor Microlite75, get the usual donor downloads, and be listed as sponsor in Microlite75 and Advanced Microlite20 OSS, please donate now. $25 or more gives you are bronze sponsorship. $50 or more silver. $100 or more gold. If you want to donate a lot more, talk to me about platinum and diamond levels. You can find out more here or donate via Paypal.

Help Design a Beginner's Microlite75 Dungeon

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As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I thought it might be fun to create a "starter" dungeon for Microlite75 as a group. Just take the next room in a comment and go to town, following the basic format I use for the first room.

Here's the first level of the dungeon. It was created with the "Random Dungeon Generator by drow" at http://www.bin.sh/.

Here's a map of the first level. My only complaint is the room numbers are fairly random. Room 1 is nowhere near the stairs into the dungeon. But we'll go with these numbers for now. I'll renumber for actual use.



This dungeon was built by a wizard under his tower ages ago. In recent years it has been used by goblins and later a small band of bandits. The bandits group was destroyed 8 years ago. Who knows what has moved in since.

Here's room one to start things off. If you don't have the M75 stats for monsters handy, don't worry. I'll add them in. Don't forget to include how you want the room credited in your description. Descriptions will be considered open game content.

Room 1: This secret room is full of broken bits of old furniture and other debris, including very large rat droppings. Webs fill the far half of the room. 2 giant spiders live in the webs (AC: 13 HD: 2d8+2 AT: bite +2 (1d8) ST: 17 MR: 8 S: bite causes paralysis via poison, surprise on 1-5). Chest in back of room appears to be trapped, but trap no longer works. (holds rotting clothes, 70 cp, and a jade pendant worth 50gp). [Room designed by Randall Stukey, http://www.retroroleplaying.com]

Microlite75 Help Needed

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I need help. There are several things I need help with.

First, I'd like to do a sample dungeon level for Microlite75. And I'd like to "crowd source" it here on the blog. I'd post a map from one of the random dungeon map generators (perhaps with a little editing to make it work better) and I'd post the first room. Then readers would post the "next" room in comments. (That is, if you saw rooms 1 through 10 done, then you'd post room #11.) Everyone would get credit for their room (including a link to their blog/web site if desired) and the dungeon level would be published (under the OGL) with Microlite75. Would there be any interest? Let me know if you'd be interested with a comment. If there is enough interest, we'll start this later in the week.

Second, I'm looking for simple (and generally small) line art for Microlite75. If anyone would like to donate a piece of art or two, please get in touch with me.

Yes, this means Microlite75 is getting pretty close to being done!

Finally, if anyone was thinking of donating to the Cancer Fund, now would be a great time to do so. (Thanks folks -- the immediate problem mentioned here yesterday is taken care of.)

The DDI Character Builder -- Why It is Not For Me

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Many people look at WOTC's DDI Character Builder and think it is a great idea. Even many people who intensely dislike D&D 4e like the idea of the DDI Character Builder and wish there were one for their favorite RPG. At least as implemented by WOTC, I disagree, it's a horrible idea -- at least for the type of campaigns I run -- and I would never allow its use in a campaign I ran.

A recent podcast with people from WOTC shows why something like the DDI Character Builder is a horrible idea. Here's part of a message on the RPGSite on this podcast:

It appears the whole "is Essentials a new (half) edition?" issue that vexes the forum is the wrong question to ask. Instead of asking what Essentials is when compared to 4.0, the question ought to be - what happens to 4.0, now that Essentials is coming out. The answer to that in the podcast is striking, and as follows.

Every power currently in the DDI will be brought in line with the Essentials bench mark. A huge swath of "updates" will ensue once Essentials is out. Every power will be screened individually and be brought in line. There will be mostly nerfs, or leaving powers untouched, but power-ups will be far and few between. In short, 4.0 will be removed from the DDI whole sale.

At that point someone in the audience asked about Magic Missile. Basically what's described in the previous paragraph is exactly what happened to an individual power like Magic Missile already. What no one knew so far - this is going to happen to every power in the game. The question was a very good one, as it applies not just to Magic Missile but to the Essentials overhaul across the board:

"Why do you change powers to line them up with Essentials? Why not have two powers on DDI, say Melf's Magic Missile and Evard's Magic Missile, so people on DDI can choose which one they want to use?"

To which Bill Slavicsek answered:

"There were two goals with Essentials. One is to introduce new players. The other is to make 4E a simpler, more streamlined and more accessible game. Having 17 versions of magic missile in the DDI runs counter to that."

If I ran a 4e campaign, this would be why I would not allow the DDI to be used to generate characters. I don't want to play in the WOTC D&D world. I want to run campaigns set in my homebrew world. To do that I need stable rules that do not change at the whim of WOTC (as at least some of those changes might affect/change my world in ways I don't want).

I've never been a slave to the published rules -- let alone the errata/updates to the published rules. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, using the DDI Character Builder makes you a slave to both. House rules can't be added easily and WOTC errata/updates replace original rules whether you want them to or not.

A software character builder can be be a great idea if done right, but the DDI Character Builder transfers control of the rules used in the campaign from the GM running that campaign to the company designing the game. While that may be great for some GMs, it is the last thing I want. A good software character builder would make it easy for the GM to add house rules (or rules from third party products) and would never change rules already in use just because official errata or updates had come out. A really good character builder (i.e., one I would be willing to pay money for) would handle rules errata and updates as like "revisions" in a wiki. If the GM did not like a change in a rule he could roll back the change for that rule to any previous version or replace it with a homebrew rule.

I realize a lot of people like the DDI Character Builder for 4e and would not try to run a 4e game without it. To me, it takes far too much control of the game from the GM to be allowed in the type of campaigns I run. I hope that other companies thinking of doing a software character builder for their game will remember to leave the final say over the rules used to the GM.

Free Microlite75 RPG Playtest Draft 0.5 Available Now

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The latest playtest version of the free Microlite75 RPG is now available for download. There aren't a lot of major changes in this version, other than Saving Throws, but there are a lot of small tweaks and minor changes from playtesting. Most of the rules are now in place. Planned additions are down to a few more spells and monsters, optional fire-and-forget magic rules, and an optional clerical turning system closer to the original 0e version. Once these are place, M75 will be ready for final playtesting and proofreading! I even have a volunteer proofreader in the wings.

You can download a copy of the version 0.5 playtest from Mediafire (a 430K PDF) here: http://www.mediafire.com/?eg2ejvzbcv7k1q8

D&D Essentials: Will It Make Me Take a Second Look at 4e?

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Several readers have asked me my opinion of the upcoming D&D Essentials from WOTC and if it would make be consider playing D&D 4e. I wasn't planning on talking about D&D Essentials, but as several people are asking my opinion, I will say a few words.

First, I have the original three D&D 4e books and I have played in a few games. Reading the books and playing in a few games only confirmed that I liked 4e even less than I like 3.x. My major complains about 4e are (and have been):

* Class abilities are almost entirely limited to combat, most of the non-combat abilities that classes had in every previous edition of D&D are gone.

* Combat takes far too long. In the old school versions of D&D I enjoy, the average combat takes 5 to 10 minutes. Most groups report D&D 4e combat takes as long or longer than 3.x combat, averaging 40 minutes to an hour, even longer for some groups.

* Combat requires all players to learn fairly detailed rules and use those rules tactically. Players who have little interest in doing so (or just aren't good at applying rules tactically) have no simple "I roll to hit" options that are effective enough given the assumptions in encounter design that all players will be optimized fighting machines nor any easy way to play a non-combatant character.

* Combat all but requires minis, battlemats, and lots of status markers.

* The rules are so "gamist" that lots mechanics are completely disassociated from the game world. Some people like this, I can't stand it.

From what I've read of the D&D Essentials line from the PR stuff WOTC has been releasing on the product line, D&D Essentials does little or nothing to fix any of the issues I have with 4e. Therefore, D&D Essentials is unlikely to interest me at all, let alone enough to play 4e. Does this make D&D Essentials a bad product? No, it just makes it a product I have no interest in buying or playing -- like 90% of the other RPGs on the market.

Swords and Sorcery -- In Wargaming

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Grendelwulf's Axe & Hammer blog reprinted an article by Gary Gygax from the May 1974 issue of Wargamer's Digest recounting a D&D adventure with Mordenkainen at 13th level and Bigby at 11th level. They are later joined (after things go wrong) by two fighters (Lords Yrag and Felnorith) and a cleric (Bishop Raunalf). In this adventure, Mordenkainen is turned to stone, Yrag dies, and Bigby is also turned to stone. Old school adventuring is dangerous. The article is a great read, you can find it here: Gygax Legendarium: Swords & Sorcery - In Wargaming(May 1974).

New Saving Throw Rules for Microlite75

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I mentioned a couple of weeks ago (in this post Microlite75 Saving Throws: Change Them Or Keep Them?) that I was thinking of changing the saving throws in Microlite75 to be more like those in 0e/1e as the older saving throws do not scale with the level of the opposition, only the level of the character making the saving throw. This makes it harder for magic-users to take over the game at higher levels.

We have now played two sessions with the following Saving Throw rules in place. They seem to be working well.

Saving Throws

When subject to an unusual or magical attack, characters generally get a saving throw to avoid or reduce the effect. There are three types of saving rolls: Fortitude (FORT), Reflex (REF), and Will (WILL). To make a saving throw, roll 1d20. A natural roll of 1 automatically fails. A natural roll of 20 automatically succeeds. Otherwise, add the appropriate attribute and class modifiers and any GM assigned situational modifiers and compare the result to your Save DC. If the result is greater than or equal to your Save DC, the saving roll is successful.

Save DC: A character’s Save DC is equal to 18 – (level/2, round up).

Kinds of Saving Throws: There are four types of saving rolls: Fortitude (FORT), Reflex (REF), Will (WIL), and Presence (PRE). Fortitude: These saves measure ability to stand up to physical punishment or attacks against vitality and health. Add STR bonus to Fortitude saving throws. Reflex: These saves test ability to dodge area attacks. Add DEX bonus to Reflex saving throws. Will: These saves reflect resistance to mental influence and many magical effects. Add MIND bonus to Will saving throws. Presence: These saves reflect resistance to fear, awe, and some “social” effects. ADD CHA bonus to Presence saving throws.

Optional Saving Throw Method: As class and attribute modifiers to saves seldom change, GMs may want players to adjust their Save DCs for each type of save (by subtracting the modifiers from the standard Save DC given by the Save DC formula) and record the adjusted number for each kind of saving throw on their character sheet. Saving throws are then made by rolling 1d20, adding any GM assigned situational modifiers and comparing the result to the appropriate adjusted saving roll on the character sheet. Rolls of 1 and 20 still have their normal automatic effects.

These rules try to combine the best features of TSR and WOTC saving throws. The do not scale with the opposition like TSR saving throws, but they use the somewhat clearer types of saving throws from WOTC editions. One additional kind of save was added (for emotional effects like fear), Presence. This also gives each attribute a corresponding saving throw which means there are no great "dump" attributes.

Each character class gets a bonus to different saving throws. In the rules this is listed in the character class description, however, I'll just list them here:

Fighters add +2 to FORT saves.
Rangers add + 1 to FORT and REF saves.
Paladins add + 1 to FORT and PRE saves.
Monks add +2 to REF saves.
Magic-Users add +2 to WIL saves.
Illusionists add +1 to WIL and PRE saves.
Clerics add +1 to FORT and WIL saves.
Druids add +1 to WIL and PRE saves.
Thieves add +2 to REF saves.
Bards add +2 to PRE saves.

Are these the perfect set of saving throw rules? Probably not, but they seem to work well in play and they keep make high level spellcasters powerful without allowing them to become demi-gods -- just as things were in 0e and 1e.

A Really New School Definition of Old School?

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There are a lot of discussions and some arguments on what exactly is and isn't "old school" but most of these discussions and arguments at least have people in the same chapter even if they aren't on the same page. However, a post I saw on Observations of the Fox uses the terms in ways that probably aren't even in the same series of books. "Old School", to the author of this post apparently means something like "all those games not designed according to modern GNS/Forge design standards".

From the post Old School vs New:

There are a lot of people getting on fine without new-fangled design principles. They are still playing the hit-and-miss game of offering the public things that they think are cool...still using the traditional GM-Player model, because that's what they've been doing for years and that's what they think roleplaying is all about.

Some are still going the old route of the kitchen sink (How do you tell someone who's never flicked through a RIFTS book that they are basically just creating a RIFTS heartbreaker?), some are tagging along with the old Fighter/Thief/Mage/Cleric party split (even if they are calling things by different names and trying to show a bit of originality in their flavour text and basic mechanisms).

But it seems that the old school is still firmly entrenched in the majority of the roleplaying field. People simply expect there to be a GM who will guide them through a story, it's almost like they expect their character concepts to be ignored in the face of the GMs plot. They think this is all a part of the game, and since they don't know about the developments in RPG theory, they neither know of better ways tp play, nor do they want to...it's worked relatively well for a over a generation (40 years), why change now?

If this doesn't make it clear that his definition of "old school" really is something like "not designed according to modern GNS/Forge design standards", this paragraph from later in the post should make it crystal clear.

The old school games like Pathfinder, D&D 4th Edition, and the numerous other products with a supplement treadmill are getting exposure in retail stores because the retailers see the opportunity for add on sales...it's good business sense. They look at a short indie game and wonder if it's worth the effort of filling up shelf space with a product that might move one or two units per financial quarter (if it's lucky), when the big guns might sell one or two core-books per week (and at least as many supplements).

I'm not knocking the author, I've just never seen "old school" in tabletop RPGspeak used this way before. I will admit that I don't follow The Forge as I think the GNS theory has major problems (especially the part that well-designed games will only be one of the three) and find most of the games produced under this design theory not at all to my tastes, so could someone tell me if this use of the term "old school" is common in Forge/Indie game circles?

And the (Palace of the Vampire Queen) Winner Is...

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I'm pleased to announce that the "drawing" for the Palace of the Vampire Queen was held last night during my Microlite75 game session. Drawing is in quotes as it was actually a die rolling. Every entry was assigned a number on a spreadsheet. Three players each rolled a d10 and the result was compared to the chart. The winner was Alicia. She's asked me not to use her last name as she doesn't want her husband to know she's the winner -- as she'll be giving him the Palace of the Vampire Queen as an anniversary present.

The Firecracker Cancer Drive was a huge success, raising far more money than either my wife or I expected, thanks to some large and a few very large donors and many, many $10 and $20 donors. Thanks to a couple of extremely generous donations in that last 24 hours of the drive, we have been able to pay off the surgeon's bill I mentioned last week and make a substantial payment on the next smallest bill. I will be contacting the largest donors one at a time over the next few days to let them select their items from the list of donor items. Largest donor gets first pick, then the second, etc. If I am reading the email I got with the donation from one of the largest donors correctly, he may not want any items. If so, they will just be passed down to the next person on the list. If this happens there will be a tie for the final place, which will be broken by a multiple choice "quiz" on old school TSR games.

I'd like to thank everyone who donated, who wished they could afford to donate, who said a prayer for my wife, who told a friend about this drive, or who helped in some way I've forgotten to mention. Thanks to you, some our large cancer bills got paid. Gamers and their friends and relatives are great people. Thank you.

Chgowiz's Siege Perilous Downloads Return

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Like its author Siege Perilous has returned to the web for free download. Siege Perilous is a reworking of Swords & Wizardry for the setting of the early (first three) Ultima adventures. The two volumes of rules are available for download from Mediafire. Thanks for putting this back up Chicagowiz!

http://www.mediafire.com/?n5d0dje4mdw - Players Handbook
http://www.mediafire.com/?nlmlqmykmgy - Game Referee Guide


The Firecracker Cancer Fund Drive is on (through July 16th). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win a copy of Wee Warriors Palace of the Vampire Queen (the first D&D module published -- in 1976). Highest donors will also divide a huge list of other RPG items from the 1970s and early 1980s (including more rare publications). You can see the complete list of 10 items and read more about this fund drive in this post: OD&D Wee Warriors Goodies Available (For Cancer Fund Donors). This is in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned Firecracker items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!

The Long Stairs -- Modern World (Or Post Holocaust) Megadungeon Exploration

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I've discovered a very interesting (not to mention, very long) thread on RPG today titled "Voices From Below and the Long Stairs." It's a setting thread of what I can only describe as a modern world megadungeon. There are a lot of interesting ideas here.

Here's the setup from the first post (written by Bailywolf). Well over 1000 posts follow in the first thread, then there is a second. Lots and lots of good ideas in this thread, many of which could be used with just a bit of modification in a standard fantasy megadungeon.

Influences: old school Gygaxian D&D, Stargate, hell from the Hellraiser movies, Alice in Wonderland (and the most escellent JAGS Wonderland), The Atrocity Archives, The Cube, Aliens, The Bourne films, Species.

In 1963- post test ban- a nuclear detonation under the Nevada desert knocked a hole in reality.

The bomb was something new- and still classified- but what it did was stab through the fragile skein of normal spacetime the whole visible universe occupies, and opened a hole into something stranger.

The Fed put a door and a lock onto the hole- ninety tons of steel and titanium strong enough to bounce nukes. They kept it secret too. The place the hole opened into was just to weird for people to know about or deal with. It's variously called The Basement, Downstairs, and for those who hide behind terminology, the "Subterrestial Operational Theater".

In the late 70's, one of the young computer boffins working on the project called it "Gygaxland".

By the 90's, everyone was just calling it "The Dungeon" despite the term being officially verboten.

The name fits though. Under reality, in realms so strange they defy scientific models to explain, someone or some thing built tunnels, chambers, traps, lairs... but also filled it with wonders and treasures- including objects and devices which could quite simply, do the impossible.

Project: LONG STAIR was born.

Efforts to map the Dungeon proved difficult (and extraordinarily dangerous) for the Marine and special forces survey teams sent down. The place seemed to change, slowly but inexorably, and entirely unpredictably. Maps go stale, get rancid.

The dangers from the cruel and arbitrary traps (and the constant minefield stress they engender) is bad, but the inhabitants of the dungeon are worse. There's no other word but monsters. Alright, there IS another word- "Xenofauna"- but nobody uses that except in reports.

Most don't live long when brought Upstairs- weakening and dying in minutes, days, weeks. Some of the more impossible creatures just evaporate when they cross the threshold. Others are more insidious in their efforts to escape the Dungeon. Some of the survivors of early delves came up changed, infected.

Compromised agents were first studied (for "studied" read "vivisected"), but some proved somewhat stable psychologically, and demonstrated an intuitive understanding for the Dungeon and its ways. The NATIVE SONS program sought to use these hybrids as trackers and guides in the hostile new frontier, and teams accompanied by them showed dramatically higher success and lower mortality rates. The hybrids are stuck between upstairs and downstairs though- if they spend too much time in either world, they'll start to degenerate or sicken, go mad, or transform into something worse. They need to delve to survive.

The Americans poured money and men into the Dungeon, extracting from it miracles. Impossible devices. Unique wonders. After JFK's assassination, ever US president wears a talisman which renders him immune to gunfire. Reagan's near-assassination was the result of its removal at the behest of Jerry Falwell who declared it to be ungodly. Reagan’s tendency to let slip information about LONG STAR was a constant aggravation for the project’s controllers, but the president loved the project and pushed his allies in Congress to fund its cover programs massively through is two terms. His fear of what the Russians might do if they had access to the Dungeon drove him.

And with good reason.

LONG STAIR wasn't the only place the Dungeon impinged on normal reality- the Soviets punched a similar hole in 1984 under Degelen Mountain.

Then, through the 80’s and 90’s, following close on the heels of nuclear weapons proliferation, new portals to the Dungeon were opened in China, France, and the UK. Following on their heels, Israel (though, never officially confirmed), India, Pakistan, and most recently North Korea (though, the North Korean portal is unstable, small, and dangerous to pass through).

The secret proliferation of subterestial technology (dungeon devices, monster tech, or ‘magic items’) has flowed out through the military industrial complexes and intelligence communities of the nations controlling Dungeon access- scrying bowls guide missile strikes, rings of invisibility hide black-ops wetworkers, and in a top secret lab adjoining Los Alamos, a team is working to unlock the secrets of a gnarled staff of ancient wood which in the hands of a panicked soldier, incinerated hundreds of attacking sunterrestials.

The collapse of the Soviet state saw the huge stockpiles of dungeon artifacts broken up, looted, stolen, sold off. Now keeping a lid on the stuff is getting harder and harder, and more is leaking out all the time.

Perhaps worse, every breach into the Dungeon has been followed by an increase in so-called fortean phenomena. Nothing as overt as monsters in the street, but probable hauntings, psychic events, missing time, UFO sightings, and even some semi-credible criptozoology. The most common are the voices- weird, semi-audible hallucinations which almost makes sense. Those who hear them are usually labeled schizophrenic, but they don’t respond to medication. And every year, the voices get a little louder, and a little more intelligible. Those who recognize them as a dungeon-linked phenomena are extremely worried.

The world is getting stranger.
This thread and its follow-up are well worth reading in you have any interest in megadungeons. I might even be able to run this in Microlite75 if I add some modern era stuff in a future supplement. However, I suspect with a slight modification setting to make it take place "after the holocaust," this would be a great setting for a combination Mutant Future (for the surface world) and Labyrinth Lord (the Dungeon) game using the rules for combining the two in the back of Mutant Future.


The Firecracker Cancer Fund Drive is on (through July 16th). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win a copy of Wee Warriors Palace of the Vampire Queen (the first D&D module published -- in 1976). Highest donors will also divide a huge list of other RPG items from the 1970s and early 1980s (including more rare publications). You can see the complete list of 10 items and read more about this fund drive in this post: OD&D Wee Warriors Goodies Available (For Cancer Fund Donors). This is in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned Firecracker items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!

RetroRoleplaying's Firecracker Cancer Fund Drive -- Friday is the Last Day!

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Tomorrow, Friday July 16th is the last day of our Firecracker Cancer Fund Drive, raising money to help pay my wife's cancer bills and giving away a number of old school gaming items, some fairly rare -- including Palace of the Vampire Queen and The Dwarven Glory from Wee Warriors, Geomorphic Mini Dungeon Modules from Fantasy Art Enterprises, Legacy, Tegel Manor, and many more. Donations made before I first download my email on Saturday morning will count.

I'd like to thank everyone who has already donated. We just a few more donations we will be able to completely pay off the remaining part of one of the surgeon's bills! (And it's not a small bill.) Thank you all very much. If you'd like to donate see the info below or see this post: OD&D Wee Warriors Goodies Available (For Cancer Fund Donors).


The Firecracker Cancer Fund Drive is on (through July 16th). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win a copy of Wee Warriors Palace of the Vampire Queen (the first D&D module published -- in 1976). Highest donors will also divide a huge list of other RPG items from the 1970s and early 1980s (including more rare publications). You can see the complete list of 10 items and read more about this fund drive in this post: OD&D Wee Warriors Goodies Available (For Cancer Fund Donors). This is in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned Firecracker items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!

Greyhawk Grognard on Marketing the OSR

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I don't usually post just to plug another blog post, but the Greyhawk Grognard has an interesting series of four posts on Marketing the OSR. He has some interesting points. I'm not sure I'm in 100% agreement, but I think his points are pretty much on target:

Marketing the OSR, Part 1 of 4: Compatibility
Marketing the OSR, Part 2 of 4: Innovation
Marketing the OSR, Part 3 of 4: Three Target Audiences
Marketing the OSR, Part 4 of 4: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Go read them!


The Firecracker Cancer Fund Drive is on (through July 12th 16th). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win a copy of Wee Warriors Palace of the Vampire Queen (the first D&D module published -- in 1976). Highest donors will also divide a huge list of other RPG items from the 1970s and early 1980s (including more rare publications). You can see the complete list of 10 items and read more about this fund drive in this post: OD&D Wee Warriors Goodies Available (For Cancer Fund Donors). This is in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned Firecracker items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!

Bah Humbug, or The OSR Debate, Microlite7x, and Me

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Another great debate on the OSR has swept a good part of the OSR blogsphere over the last few days. Jim Raggi said something about TSR on his blog a few days ago that got some members of the old TSR crew upset. Both sides posted on their respective blogs (Jim at Lamentations of the Flame Princess and the TSR crew at Lord of the Green Dragons). Many other old school bloggers have commented on it. I haven't as it did not interest me much as it was focused on the industry where I focus on the hobby.

Jim and the TSR crew seem to have different views on how a RPG company should be ran and what it should be doing. I could care less. If you want to put up some money and start a company to publish "old school" material, you are welcome to do so and welcome to run it any way you want.

I'm not interested in being part of the OSR industry. I'm a hobbyist with a pile of old industry stuff and years of experience. I'm part of the OSR hobby. I produce what is interesting and useful to me. If others like it, that's great. If they don't, that's fine by me. It doesn't cost me a penny of front money to produce, after all. I could care less that what I produce probably isn't going to revive the industry nor is it likely to lead the hobby to the next great thing because of my innovative designs.

I wrote Microlite74 as a easy way to introduce 3.x players to old school gaming. It tries to capture the essense of 0e in a lite rules system that is familar to 3.x players. It's worked. Thousands of copies have been downloaded. People play it, both at conventions and in regular campaigns. People talk about it on forums. People recommend it to those trying to grok old school games. It has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. Many people have played M74 and then switched to another "real" old school game or retroclone. Others are using it to run campaigns. The tabletop gaming hobby is probably a very tiny bit better because Microlite74 exists. I will admit that it is not at all innovative and that it hasn't done anything for the industry. I don't care. Being "innovative" and helping the industry be more profitable weren't in my list of goals for Microlite74.

I'm not writing Microlite75 to be innovative or set the industry on fire either. Microlite75 is my current take on 0e/1e filtered through Microlite20-based rules. It's rules are more or less the way I played during the 3 year transition between 0e and 1e -- including many of the house rules I used (at least those that worked) -- combined with a few things I like from later game systems. It will be my personal "go to" rules system for fantasy gaming in the future. From feedback from the playtest editions, I expect a number of other gamers will like Microlite75 as well. It's old school but fixes a number of problems many had with 0e/1e era rules. It's easy to use with adventures and campaign settings designed for any edition before 4e -- even 3.x with some adventure reengineering. However, it isn't innovative and isn't likely to do much for the industry. Oh well. Those are the goals others hold. If they don't like Microlite75 because it does not even try to meet goals they think are important, that's okay by me.

I wish those involved in the OSR industry the best, but I'm happy being just a hobbyist. If for no other reason than as "just a hobbyist" I don't have to care about all the OSR debates that go on amongst those in the industry.


The Firecracker Cancer Fund Drive is on (through July 12th 16th). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win a copy of Wee Warriors Palace of the Vampire Queen (the first D&D module published -- in 1976). Highest donors will also divide a huge list of other RPG items from the 1970s and early 1980s (including more rare publications). You can see the complete list of 10 items and read more about this fund drive in this post: OD&D Wee Warriors Goodies Available (For Cancer Fund Donors). This is in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned Firecracker items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!

Microlite75 Saving Throws: Change Them Or Keep Them?

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Microlite75 currently uses the same variant 3.x saving throw system that Microlite20 has. At low levels, this isn't that different in effect that the saving throw system in older editions. Because it adjusts for things like the opponent's level it plays out much differently at higher level play. For example, in older editions a high level fighter had a pretty good saving throw against magic. That save did not vary with the level of the spell caster. This meant that high level fighters were far less likely to be affected by so-called "save-or-suck" spells that the same level of fighter would be against a high level magic-user in 3.x. In my opinion the change to the saving throw system was one of the strongest contributors to making magic-using classes over-powered at high levels in 3.x.

I used the 3.x based saving throws of Microlite20 in Microlite74, but I'm thinking of changing this for Microlite75. Saving throws would be simple. Roll 1d20 and add one-half your level. If the result is higher than 15, you made your saving roll. Each class would get a +3 bonus to one type of save. For example, Fighters might get the bonus to the FORT save. I haven't decided if high or low attributes should affect saves in this system.

What do you think? Should I change the saving throw system in Microlite75 to one that works more like those in older editions. If so, what do you think of the system proposed in this post?


The Firecracker Cancer Fund Drive is on (through July 12th 16th). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win a copy of Wee Warriors Palace of the Vampire Queen (the first D&D module published -- in 1976). Highest donors will also divide a huge list of other RPG items from the 1970s and early 1980s (including more rare publications). You can see the complete list of 10 items and read more about this fund drive in this post: OD&D Wee Warriors Goodies Available (For Cancer Fund Donors). This is in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned Firecracker items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!

Evil Vs Evil -- with the Party In the Middle

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I've been asked for occasional updates on my Sunday Microlite75 campaign. Unfortunately, I don't do these well. However, I will try to provide one every once in a while.

This session started with some general messing about the City-State. The characters were looking for a stolen sword (and the thief who snagged it). They were not having much luck and finally stopped at the Red Axe Inn that evening for crocodile steaks. While there they were approached by a gentleman recruiting guards for a magic school. The party thought he meant one in the City-State and were surprised to find themselves magically whist away he they agreed to take the job.

They found themselves in a huge old manor in a heavily forested valley. They were taken to the headmaster where they learned this was an exclusive school for young mages of noble birth and that several of the teachers had been threatened with assassination over a very old grudge. They were being hired, not to protect the teachers as they could take care of themselves, but to protect the town that supported the school with food and supplies. The assassin hired had a history of killing innocents to confuse things and give himself opportunities to slay his real targets.

They are taken fed, meet the teachers and students, and taken into town later that night where they are put up in the towns two inns. They met the town guardsmen who are put under their command. They take watches with the guards that night and plan their defensive strategy the next day. Several weeks go by with only false alarms, (and one fight with a huge bear where they save several townspeople) but the characters are becoming suspicious of the school. From odd bits they pick up from townspeople, they learn that the instructors are part of some magical immortality cult and many live for hundreds of years. Investigating, they discover that most of the instructors are vampires. Worse, the townspeople know this and serve them willingly in the hope of gaining immortality (that is, becoming a vampire). The expected assassin is a infamous vampire hunter, one who follows a twisted and evil god of death who hates undead even more than he hates the living and will kill anyone and everyone if needed to get to and destroy vampires.

Now the players have a choice. Do they help the evil-by-definition vampires who hired them or the apparently even more evil vampire hunter or do they quietly slip out of town and try to travel a few hundred miles back to the City-State or...?

They have this week to decide.


The Firecracker Cancer Fund Drive is on (through July 12th 16th). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win a copy of Wee Warriors Palace of the Vampire Queen (the first D&D module published -- in 1976). Highest donors will also divide a huge list of other RPG items from the 1970s and early 1980s (including more rare publications). You can see the complete list of 10 items and read more about this fund drive in this post: OD&D Wee Warriors Goodies Available (For Cancer Fund Donors). This is in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned Firecracker items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!

Another Old School Primer: A Different Introduction to Old School Play

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If you are interested in old school gaming, you may have read the Quick Primer for Old School Gaming by Matt Finch. It's "a quick introduction to playing Original D&D or Swords & Wizardry (the 0e retro-clone). This booklet is designed for the modern-style gamer who's planning on taking the old-style rules for a trial run -- because open-ended rules like 0e are USED very differently than rules are used in modern systems." While I think Matt's guide is a good description of how old school play started when OD&D came out, I believe it gives a limited vision of old school play in general. Old School play branched out in a number of directions in the 1975-1979 era. Matt's excellent primer really only covers the starting point. I wanted to describe the diversity of play in the 1970s when I described what Microlite75 is designed for. So I wrote "Notes on Old School Play" as an appendix for Microlite75. I'm posting the current draft here as I think it is interesting enough to stand on its own -- even with the references to Microlite75 in the text. Comments are welcome and can influence the final version.

If you haven't read Matt's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, you really should. You can download a free pdf copy here: http://www.lulu.com/content/3019374



Notes on “Old School” Play

While Microlite75 is designed using tried and true “D20” systems filtered through the Microlite20 rules, it is designed for a completely different style of play than many players who started to play in the last 20 years or so may be used to. This section will give a brief overview of “old school” play.

What is “Old School” Play?

As mentioned in the Introduction, there are two major styles of roleplaying games. The first (and older) style says “Here is the situation. Pretend you are there as your character, what do you want to do?” This style has been superseded over the years with a style that says “Here is the situation. Based on your character's stats, abilities, skills, etc. as listed on his character sheet and your knowledge of the many detailed rules of the game, what is the best course of action to solve the situation?” Old school play strongly favors the first style and frowns on too much of the second.

Here are some major points where old school play is different:

No Skills: Unlike most modern RPGs, there aren’t any skills in Microlite75, not even the streamlined four skills of Microlite20. Players are intended to have their characters act like adventurers. So don’t search your character sheet or the rules for the perfect solution in Microlite75. Instead, you just tell the GM what your character is trying to do. If you need to keep a door open or shut, you might tell the GM your character is using a spike to keep the door open or closed. A ten foot pole is your friend for checking for traps. Searching a room means looking in and under objects, not rolling a skill check. While this may seem strange at first, you will quickly learn to appreciate the freedom it gives you. No longer are you limited to the skills and feats on your character sheet, you can try anything your character should be capable of trying. You might not succeed, but the rules generally will not stop you from trying.

No Assumption of “Game Balance”: Old style game sessions aren’t about carefully balanced characters (who are all able to shine equally at all times) who only run into situations carefully designed by the GM to be beatable by the characters presently in the party and to provide treasure that fits their current level. Instead, part of player skill is learning to evaluate situations so situations well over the party’s current abilities or which will waste the party’s resources for little gain can be avoided. Don’t assume that you can beat every monster that you encounter, running away from monsters too tough to handle can mean the difference between character survival and character death. You can also get creative in how you defeat monsters. Perhaps those goblins you bypassed could be talked into (or tricked into) attacking that giant you know you can’t beat, perhaps killing it for you or at least softening it up so your party has a chance of defeating it and living to tell the tale. Also remember that treasure can be turned into XP, even if you can’t kill the monsters, perhaps you can still acquire some of their treasure. Part of the skill of playing “old school” style is coming up with creative solutions when a direct attack is likely to fail.

It’s Not All About Combat: Many modern fantasy RPGs have made combat the star of the system, combats in these systems are time-consuming and very crunchy with rules for everything. Microlite20 avoids this by having a fast-playing abstract combat system. Microlite75 takes this one step further, combat isn’t intended to be the main source of fun in the game. The game is as much about exploration and treasuring finding as it is about combat. Sure, you are going to have to fight things to explore and find treasure, but always remember that combat may not be the best or safest way to handle every situation. Think before you rush into combat. After all, it’s not the only way to earn a good pile of experience – and monsters don’t have to be killed to be defeated (and get XP for them).

Forget “Rules Mastery”: Player skill in “old school” style games isn’t about mastering the game rules so you can solve any problem by knowing the right combination of rules from 20 different rule books. Microlite20 is designed to be rules light and Microlite75 tries to stress this even more by encouraging GMs to make rulings on the spot taking into account specific circumstances instead of trying to hunt up special cases in the SRD or a stack of optional rule books. It’s faster and helps players immerse themselves in their character and the game world instead of in rule books. Both players and GMs should remember that these rules are a tool for the GM. If something herein does not work right in your campaign, change it. The object is to have fun, not be a slave to rules or to players who think being a rules-lawyer is the way to get ahead. In many roleplaying games, the Rules As Written (RAW) are often considered sacrosanct or at least somehow better than those a GM can come up with himself. This is not true of Microlite75.

Styles of “Old School” Play

If you read some “old school” blogs, forums, and web sites, you might get the impression that there is only one “old school’” style of play: a style with expendable player characters who spend all their time in dungeons designed in the style of the old “Tomb of Horrors” module where an adventuring party is only one slipup away from death. This style of play is often shown in early modules.

What most people forget is that these early modules were designed for tournament play where the party that lasted longest and make it deepest into the dungeon was the winner. While a few gaming groups did run their regular campaigns like this and enjoy it, most people did not enjoy such games and the GMs who ran them were often referred to as “Killer GMs” (who often found themselves without players). Instead most home campaigns were a mixture of the following four styles – some campaigns stressing one or two styles over the others.

Power-Gaming: Many players start out playing in this style. Many soon get bored with it and add more and more of other styles. A power-gaming campaign is all about character power. Characters are known by their class, level, special items, and amazing powers and deeds. (“I killed the Demon King with my 15th Level Fighter/Magic-User/Druid. It only took two hits from Thor’s Hammer to knock him out. Then I cut off his head with my vorpal blade.”) There is often a lot of player competition for the most powerful character in campaigns that stress power-gaming. A lot of people look down on this style, but it can be a lot of fun to play a pure power-game in a group of players who all like the style.

Wargaming: This is probably the style old school rules were originally written for. The wargaming style of play is a competition between the player group and the GM. The GM sets up tactical battles, puzzles, and the like and the players solve them for treasure and experience. Fudging die rolls and ignoring rules (either for or against the players) is frowned upon as it detracts from the challenge and fun of the adventure. Characters in pure wargaming campaigns often were expendable and had little personality or goals (beyond staying live and getting rich) as a character with such might be tempted to do things dysfunctional to survival. Published tournament dungeons like Tomb of Horrors could be considered examples of extreme forms of this style. Once the RPG hobby became known outside of the minis and board wargaming community, pure forms of the wargaming style quickly became uncommon.

Role-Playing: A pure role-playing campaign is almost the opposite of a pure wargaming campaign. Player skill, tactics, and rules aren’t really important. What is important is the player’s character and that character’s life in the game. In a pure role-playing campaign, players create the personality of their characters in great detail and players generally have a large emotional investments made in them and do not consider their characters expendable. Players tend to have their characters act within their personalities and within the beliefs they're supposed to hold – even when doing so is not the best thing to do at the time within the game. The object is to live your character’s life in the campaign world. You “win” be having your character achieve his goals, goals which may or may not have anything to do with the game’s goals of exploring and accumulating treasure and experience points. The modern computer game The Sims is an example of this style of play.

Story-Telling: While all campaigns tell a story after-the-fact (that is, you can tell a story based on the characters actions in the game), in a story-telling campaign, the GM has worked out a story in advance and the player characters are the protagonists. The campaign world usually has a detailed background and back story behind it. Knowing this background may be more important than knowing the rules. Some pure story telling campaigns are little more that single-line railroads where the characters play their almost pre-scripted parts in the story. In other cases, things are more free-form with story flow and events created by interactions between the GM's basic outline of story events and the actions of individual characters during the campaign. Some people consider the more pure forms of story-telling campaigns boring straight-jackets while others love the idea of being a major part of a real story.

These four major styles of play appeared early in the history of role-playing games. They were first mentioned in a general circulation publication in Glenn Blacow's article “Aspects of Adventure Gaming” in Different Worlds #10 (the October 1980 issue).

The important thing to take from this section isn’t the four styles or their labels (as there are other systems for describing this with their own labels), but the idea that there were many different styles of “old school” play back in the “old school” days – not just the single style stressed in some “old school” blogs, forums, and web sites. Don’t let those sites make you believe that you aren’t playing old school right if your campaign isn’t strongly in the wargaming camp. Most successful campaigns back in “old school” days were a mixture of all four major styles – and a heaping helping of minor styles.

Advice for the New Old School Gamemaster

If you are comfortable running a rules-light game like standard Microlite20, you’ll probably have no trouble running Microlite75 as you have already learned to run a game without having hundreds of pages of rules detailing how to handle every situation that might possibly arise in the game. You’ve already learned to just make a ruling that you think fits the situation and keep the game moving.

The greatest change between Microlite20 and Microlite75 is the removal of all character skills. If you are used to just allowing players to just say “I’m searching the room. What do I find?” and make search skill roll or just say “I’ll try to persuade the baron to loan us a catapult.” and make a persuade skill roll, running without skill rolls is going to require as much change to your thinking as it will to your players’ thinking.

First, you need to get your players to tell you what their characters are actually doing in the campaign world, instead of talking in terms of what skill they are using. Then you need to learn to listen to what they say and decide if there description of what they are doing a) would most likely solve the problem, b) wouldn’t have a chance of solving the problem, c) might not immediately solve the problem but would provide more info that would help solve the problem, or d) would not definitely solve the problem but has a fair chance of doing so. Only d would require a die roll.

Let’s take checking a chest for traps as an example. Get the players to describe in general terms how they are going to check the chest for traps. Note general terms are enough, the idea is to see what the characters are doing, not to require them to describe every single muscle and eye movement they make. Having to “click on one exact pixel on the screen” to succeed is boring and frustrating in a computer game, the verbal equivalent of it is even more frustrating in a tabletop game. Don’t fall into the trap of doing it as it turns players off fast.

Let’s say a player says “I’ll look the chest quickly over for obvious traps, paying special to the keyhole, clasp, and anything that looks out of the ordinary. I’m not touching it yet.”

If the chest had a poison needle near the clasp or some holes for poison gas or needles to shoot out of, this should be enough for the character to notice it without a roll, even if he isn’t a Rogue or the like. However, if the chest if set to explode (or shoot daggers out of the opening when opened, such a search is not going to discover the trap – again no matter what the character’s class or background as such a trap isn’t visible from the outside. If you are feeling generous, you might have a Rogue make roll and if she makes it tell her player that while she doesn’t see a trap, something still doesn’t seem right about the chest.

If the character had said he was then poking the chest with a pole instead of rushing to open it, he might hear something strange if the chest had the above-mentioned dagger trap. Of course, unless he is a Rogue or has some strange background, chances are he would not associate the noise with a trap, but rather just that there was something loose in the chest. Again, you might give a Rogue a roll, especially an experienced Rogue.

As this example shows, it really isn’t hard – unless you choose to make it hard. It’s just different. After a few session both you and your players will find that it really isn’t as hard as it looks.

Some players, however, really want die rolls. Because of previous bad experiences with poor GMs, they just can’t trust the GM enough to handle some decisions being made without die rolls. If your players are like this, you can use “skill” rolls as a safety net. The players will still have to describe what their character does to solve the problem just as above. Once the player describes what his character is doing, the GM calls for a class/background based “skill” roll as described in the skills section of these rules. The results are determine by your opinion as GM of the action described and the skill roll. There are basically two situations:

In the first case, you feels that the player has a good plan that should likely succeed. Therefore it will succeed regardless of the result of the roll, but how well it succeeds is determined by the skill roll. A failed skill roll is a minimal success, the character succeeds, but just barely. A successful skill roll means the character's plan succeeds without any major hitches.

In the second case, either the player obviously knows less than his character does about the situation or just comes up with a bad idea that you feel is unlikely to work. You let the skill roll decide the result. A failed roll means the plan fails, while a successful roll means the plan somehow worked after all, but probably not perfectly.

Players who refuse to even try to come up with some type of rational statement about what their character is actually doing but just want to let the skill roll decide automatically fail.


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Multiclassing in Microlite75?

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Multiclassing was possible in 1970s versions of D&D, at least for demi-humans. Human could dual class in AD&D1e. Microlite75 does not yet have any rules for multiple classes, either for demi-humans or for humans. This is because I can't decide exactly how I want to handle it. Here are some of the major possibilities. I'd love to have comments on them:

OPTION 1: Demi-humans can start with multiple classes. They advance in all classes at the same time. They need XP equal to the total of XP needed for the next level in each of their classes to advance. The classes they can multiclass in vary with race (that is, they add the Experience base of all their classes together). Humans cannot multiclass, but may switch classes once. They start at first level in their new class, but keep the abilities, HP, etc. of their old class. They can never gain levels in their old class again. This is similar to how it was done in 1e.

OPTION 2: All races can start with multiple classes. They advance in all classes at the same time. They need XP equal to the total of XP needed for the next level in each of their classes to advance (plus a penalty for multiclassing). That is, they would add the experience base of each of their classes together and then increase it by 5 if they have 2 classes and by 15 if they have three classes.

OPTION 3: Do it like 3.x, let people switch classes at will at any level change. This would be complex as the experience base varies with class, but it could be done. While 3.x fans might love this, would probably be more complex than it was worth as there is no way I will switch to a single XP advancement rate for all classes. Worse, it would have all the problems multiclassing does in 3.x -- at least if the DM doesn't ride herd on it.

OPTION 4: No multiclassing, but have a system for custom-designed character classes similar to onr one in Dragon for BECMI D&D or the improved version published in OD&DITIES #7. This would probably be more trouble than it was worth. Not because it would be hard to design, but because it would be a min-maxer's wet dream.

OPTION 5: Just don't bother with multiclassing.

OPTION 6: I'm open to other ideas.

Comments and opinions are welcome. I've been thinking about this for months and am not really any closer to making a decision than I was when I started.


The Firecracker Cancer Fund Drive is on (through July 12th 16th). Every $10 donated gives you one chance to win a copy of Wee Warriors Palace of the Vampire Queen (the first D&D module published -- in 1976). Highest donors will also divide a huge list of other RPG items from the 1970s and early 1980s (including more rare publications). You can see the complete list of 10 items and read more about this fund drive in this post: OD&D Wee Warriors Goodies Available (For Cancer Fund Donors). This is in addition to the usual PDF downloads and other benefits of a donation to the RetrpoRoleplaying Cancer Fund. To get help us pay our cancer treatment related bills (and to get access to some special downloads and possibly the above mentioned Firecracker items), send a donation in any amount -- small or large -- to me via Paypal. Thank you!