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Why Old School Gaming Needs New Players

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Earlier this week I was asked what type of new old school adventure modules would interest me enough to part with what little money I have that doesn't go to basic survival or paying off the huge cancer bills. I looked at the boxes of modules from TSR, Judges Guild, Mayfair Games, etc. I have from the 1970s and 1980s -- that's probably 300 or 400 modules -- (plus modules from old Dragon, old White Dwarf, and old Dungeon magazines) and realized that I would be unlikely to pay the high per page (and shipping) costs associated with old school modules today unless the module was something I knew in advance that I would love as much as Tegel Manor, Keep on the Borderlands, the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, etc. And there aren't many modules likely to do that.

About all I buy these days are PDF copies of magazines like Knockspell and Fight On! (as I can be pretty sure that there will be something in each issue that will be worth the money even if Sturgeon's Law applies to the issue as a whole -- which it hasn't yet) and PDF copies of rules that look interesting. I'd rather have hardcopies, but shipping them is too expensive for me.

Let's face it. I'm a horrible target for publishers. I prefer to homebrew my settings and adventures, I already have more published adventures I can could ever use even if I never created another homebrew adventure, and I have very little money to spend on new material just to support it. While most old school gamers aren't unlucky enough to be in my financial condition, I suspect the majority of us homebrew and already own more published adventures than we could ever use.

This means that as long as we are around, the hobby of playing old school style games isn't going to die even if no new old school material is ever created by the RPG industry. However, if a part of RPG industry is going to survive on publishing old school material, this means they probably need to really concentrate on getting more old school players into the the hobby.

To be honest, I get the impression that a lot of the success of old school publishers thus far has depended on a (relatively) small group of long time old school players buying material they don't really need because they want to support the publication of old school material. I know if I wasn't spending all my disposable income on cancer bills, I'd be doing just that. While this may be great for jump-starting things, it can only go on for a limited time before people burn out on doing this -- especially as more and more companies create old school material and try to sell it. If an old-school RPG industry is going to survive, let alone thrive, they are going to have to find a way to attract a good number of new players to old school play. New players will not already possess 10 or 20 modules (let alone a few hundred as I do), copies of every major rule system out there, etc. and would therefore be a much better market for new old school products than old grognards like me.

Note that I said the RPG industry needs to to that, not the old school hobby. The old school hobby can easily thrive with a slow trickle of new players, it's the industry who need a steady and larger stream of new players, therefore most of the work of getting those players is going to have to fall on the industry. I've recruited seven new old school players over the last year. That fills up my game, so I doubt I will recruit nearly that many this year. I don't need more, but the industry does if it is to have a real chance of thriving.

Dragoons20: The Cartoon Steampunk Fantasy World of Scallywags and Scoundrels

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I just saw this mentioned in RPGnet's Microlite20 thread, I've downloaded and printed a copy. I looks like it has some great ideas and some really genre-appropriate art. Be warned: I thought the TOON version of D&D was great.

Announcing Dragoons20 RPG
"The Cartoon Steampunk Fantasy World of Scallywags and Scoundrels"
Visit http://www.hoppsbusch.com/dragoons20/ to download the PDFs for free.
Based on Microlite20 and adding new humorous mechanics, races, monsters and classes.

Brown Box Giveaway Early Results

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I went to bed early last night thinking we had done well but were going to be about $200 shy of being able to completely pay off the lab bill. This morning's email proved a shock to my heart. Almost $1400 in donations overnight, including a couple of donations from people who had donated once before. This will pay off the lab bill mentioned the other day and most of the next largest lab bill -- they will be paid today. I'd like to thank everyone who donated, whether it was 5 dollars or 725 dollars -- every little bit helped. While we did not raise as much money as we did last July when foundations got involved, every donation came from a gamer and every giveaway item will go to someone who will enjoy it. I'd like to thank Jamie G. for making this drive possible with his gift of OD&D goodies to giveaway.

At the moment, I'm not sure if there are any ties. I know there aren't for the first three giveaway items, at least. I'll be contacting folks who are receiving a donor giveaway item or are in a tie this evening. Thanks again to everyone who donated, who spread the word, or sent us their prayers and good thoughts.

How Much Character Design Crunch is Too Much?

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One of the main features of modern versions of D&D seem to be complex character builds that delight min-maxers and lead to players who do not optimize their characters being looked down on in some player groups. Old school D&D manages to avoid this problem for the most part by having very simple character design systems that stress the random elements and really have very few choices to optimize -- at least compared to post Player Options versions of D&D.

Reading over CondorDM's Sessions journals reminded me that there is a middle ground. Second Edition AD&D had kits, for example. And while I remember reading a few that looked either way too weak or way too strong, most seemed to provide mechanical variety in characters without leading to the extremes of character optimization I read about in 3rd and 4th editions.

This makes the game designer in me wonder how much (and what types) of mechanical variety for characters one can add to the basics of "old-school" D&D before min-maxing and character builds suck all the fun out of the game for those not into such things? Is it one thing (say feats) or a combination of things (say skills, feats, and ease of multiclassing) or.... I have no practical need to know the answer, but I'm suddenly curious enough to think about it -- and to wonder what others think on the subject?

The Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Cancer Fund Drive continues for a few more hours (technically, until midnight tonight -- but actually, until I get up about 6am or so tomorrow morning[2/16]). For more information on this giveaway and fund drive see this post: Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors).Lots of donated D&D items to give away in a very good cause.





AD&D2e Campaign Reports

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The RetroRoleplaying message board doesn't see a lot of use, unfortunately. However, if you are at all interested in AD&D2e, CondorDM has posted a couple of session reports from his campaign: CondorDMs Sessions journals.

The Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Cancer Fund Drive continues for a few more hours (technically, until midnight tonight -- but actually, until I get up about 6am or so tomorrow morning[2/16]). For more information on this giveaway and fund drive see this post: Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors).Lots of donated D&D items to give away in a very good cause.





A Chess Master on D&D Edition Wars

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One of my regular players had relatives in town this weekend and brought his cousin Debra to our Sunday game. She had played AD&D2e in college in the late 1980s and had a great time playing Serge (the NPC sergeant in charge of the hirelings). During breaks in the game we were talking about "old school" threads on some of the gaming boards where many seem to put down old school play as either "nostalgia" or some type of refusal to see the supposedly obvious improvements each new edition brings to the game. It turns out the Debra is a master-rated tournament chess player. She says the same thing happens in chess. A few of the proponents of a variant form of Chess championed by the late former World Champion Bobby Fischer are equally obnoxious about people who refuse to see the "obvious advantages" of Fischer's new chess. I guess all those people still playing the old chess instead of Fischer's new and improved version are playing it out of "nostalgia."

The Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Cancer Fund Drive continues for a few more days (until midnight on February 15th). For more information on this giveaway and fund drive see this post: Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors).Lots of donated D&D items to give away in a very good cause.





Cancer Donation Brown OD&D Giveaway Update: 36 Hours Left

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As I write this, there are about 36 hours left in the OD&D Brown Box Giveaway Retroroleplaying Cancer Fund drive (see the Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors) post for more info. Technically, it ends Monday (February 15th) at midnight, but any donations made before 6am or so Tuesday morning (when I get up) will count.

I'd like to than everyone who has donated so far. There have been a lot of donations, mostly small, but they add up. As I write this post, we are within about $500 of completely paying off one large lab bill -- all out of donations. It would be great if we could pay this bill off completely (its the biopsy on the one-third of my wife's tongue removed during surgery), but even coming within $500 is fantastic.

At the moment, there are a lot of ties for giveaway goodies. As announced, those will be broken by an OD&D quiz that I will email to those involved later this week. Giveaway items should be mailed next week -- assuming everyone who gets a quiz answers fairly quickly. The quiz questions will be on general OD&D/early D&D knowledge. There will no "what is the third word on page 4 of the second printing of Greyhawk" type questions -- as I couldn't even answer post of those. Once the quiz has served its purpose of breaking any ties, I will post it here on the Retroroleplaying blog so everyone can take a crack at it if they wish.

The Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Cancer Fund Drive continues for a few more days (until February 15th). For more information on this giveaway and fund drive see this post: Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors).Lots of donated D&D items to give away in a very good cause.





Action Points in OD&D?

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My players have asked if we could try an action point/hero point system for our OD&D game. I can hear the screams now. However, unlike many old school players, I'm not automatically allergic to the idea. To me, action points (by whatever name) are just another (very) limited resource for the player to manage. They don't represent some innate "heroic" quality, but rather the ability almost all humans have to summon up their resources and push themselves into giving it "their all" when they really need it but feel they are falling short. It's the extra strength Conan would summon to succeed when he felt like he was going to fail, etc.

So I'm willing to test action points in our game. Here's how I've decided they will work -- at least initially. Characters have 1 action point per level/2 (rounded up) available each game session. Spending an action point BEFORE a roll is made allows you to adjust it by 1d6 in the character's favor and costs the result of the die roll in hit points. The character is making an extreme effort and that has a physical toll. Spending two action points immediately after a roll is made allows you to adjust the roll by 1d6 in the character's favor and costs twice the result of the die roll in hit points. Action points can only be spent on rolls that directly affect the character and are based on actions the character is aware of.

This will probably send some readers away screaming, but I'm willing to give it a try and see how it works out in play. I doubt it will have a major effect on the campaign, other than to let the players succeed slightly more often than they otherwise would. If it causes trouble, it can always be tweaked or even dropped.

The Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Cancer Fund Drive continues for a few more days (until February 15th). For more information on this giveaway and fund drive see this post: Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors).Lots of donated D&D items to give away in a very good cause.





Spell Descriptions in Microlite75: By Level or Alphabetical?

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After over a month of computer problems (and catching up with real world work delayed by those computer problems), I'm finally starting to work on Microlite75 again. If you are interested in Microlite75, I have a burning question I'd like your opinion on...

Should spell descriptions be listed by level as they were in TSR editions of the world's most popular fantasy RPG or should they be listed in one big list in alphabetical order as they are in 3.x (and many other RPGs). I've always liked descriptions group by levels as it makes it easy to compare spells of the same level (but hard to find a spell when you only know its name), but I know a lot of people who really prefer one big list of spell descriptions in alphabetical order. Even a lot of old school gamers who otherwise don't want much change in their games, prefer the big alphabetical list.

For Microlite74, I just went by my personal preference for lists by level. For Microlite75, I'm asking for your opinion in the comments. Which do you prefer I use in Microlite75 -- and why?

The Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Cancer Fund Drive continues for a few more days (until February 15th). For more information on this giveaway and fund drive see this post: Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors).Lots of donated D&D items to give away in a very good cause.





Reasons Magic-Users Did Not Dominate Play in Early Editions of D&D

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I often hear complaints about how spell-casters dominated play in D&D 3.x -- especially at higher levels -- and that preventing this domination was one of the reasons that spell casters are limited far more than they ever were before in 4e. This makes me glad that I never got into D&D 3.x, because spell-casters did not dominate the game in earlier editions of D&D (before the Skills & Powers "upgrade" to 2e).

Before D&D 3.x, magic-users were very powerful at high levels, but they seldom got to those levels (as they were very weak at low levels) and other character classes -- especially the fighter -- were far more effective at high levels than they were in later editions. There are several reasons for this:

* High level characters and monsters had very good saving rolls -- especially at high levels -- so spells were less likely to be fully effective and save-or-die spells cast against high level/hit dice opponents resulted in "save" more often than not. Fighters had very good saves versus spells in general.

* If a spell-caster took damage in combat, his spell did not go off AND he lost it from memory just as if he cast it. Spell casting, especially of high level spells, was not fast which meant non-magical opponents of a a magic-user casting a high level spell often got their chance to attack before the spell was finished. If they hit, the spell was disrupted. There were no special abilities like "Concentration" in early editions to prevent this. Prevention was other characters preventing the monsters from attacking the magic-user.

* Spells selection was much more limited, especially in core 2e and earlier editions. There were simply fewer spells available to use which meant that intelligent opponents would have a very good idea of what spells were likely to be used against them and could plan accordingly. Also, magic-users did not get to select whatever spells they wanted to learn every time they went up a level, spells had to be found by the character in the game.

* There was no 15-minute work day. When magic-users ran out of spells, they had to make do with their daggers and staves. The rest of the party was unlikely to head home just so they could recharge their spells (as the absence of magic spells was not as telling as it became in later editions) and even at high levels the MU did not have spells that would reliably get him home on his own. Spells also took a long time to re-memorize -- a high level wizard who used all her spells would need days to re-memorize them all.

* Clerical magic in early editions was pretty much non-combat. Clerics were almost as good as fighters in combat, however. And their undead turning ability was one of the most useful powers in the game -- turned undead could not drain levels.

* There were very few "buff" spells and most of those that did exist were not overpowering. The few very powerful buffs usually had an "Achilles heel" that would negate them fairly easily.

* Monsters had far fewer hit points which meant weapon hits still did a sizable amount of damage so wizards were seldom as absolutely necessary to take them out as they became in later editions.

* Fighter classes were the only characters who got multiple attacks in early editions of D&D. A high level fighter could mow through low level opposition each and every round while a spell-caster -- no matter what level -- could cast only one spell per round.

The Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Cancer Fund Drive continues for a few more days (until February 15th). For more information on this giveaway and fund drive see this post: Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors).Lots of donated D&D items to give away in a very good cause.





OD&D as a 4e Adventure Design Tool

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I just saw a blog post by Mike Mearls, Build Your Adventures in OD&D, where he suggests doing the initial design work for 4e adventures as if the adventure was being written for OD&D. According to Mike, because OD&D characters and monsters are simple without a lot of flashy powers and abilities to steal the show, designing for OD&D leaves the designer "with only one option for making a dungeon or adventure interesting: Compelling locations, mysteries, puzzles, weird phenomena, *stuff* that the PCs can poke, prod, and inspect." In other words, this approach forces designers to create a dungeon (or other adventure setting) that is interesting in and of itself, instead of slipping into dependence on tactical combat as the sole major source of interest.

I don't often agree with Mike these days, but I think he has a good idea here. An idea that almost every published adventure I've seen for 4e could have really benefited from. For those 4e GMs who would like to try this but don't own a copy of OD&D, either Swords & Wizardry or Microlite74 would probably do just as well.

The Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Cancer Fund Drive continues for a few more days (until February 15th). For more information on this giveaway and fund drive see this post: Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors).Lots of donated D&D items to give away in a very good cause.





OD&D Wilderness Campaign: Hired by a Dragon at a "Generous" 15% of Treasure Found

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Just before my OD&D group took our holiday break last year, they had managed to get on the wrong side of a (fortunately not too bright) young red dragon. They had stopped in a village for the night and learned that one of the village maidens had just been put out as a sacrifice to a red dragon that afternoon. The characters decided that this could not be allowed and slipped out of the village to try to free the girl before the dragon ate her.

Unfortunately, they arrived just as the dragon did. The dragon was fairly young and (as its reaction rolls to what the party did indicated) not too bright. The dragon assumed the PCs were there to serve him the sacrifice and ordered them to feed her to him. The players hesitated and the dragon got upset, threatening to burn "their" village to the ground if they did not feed him the girl now. One of the players had an idea and told the dragon that he had arrived too soon as they had not had a chance to cook the girl so that she would be not only more tasty but so that he could not catch any diseases from her. I rolled a great reaction roll. The dragon thought this was a wonderful idea and demanded that they cook the girl for him immediately. This reaction roll basically told me that this fire-breathing dragon was not very bright and I played him as pretty dumb from then on. They took the girl away "to cook her" -- after telling the dragon that she had to be slow-cooked for extra taste -- and fled. The session ended some game hours later with the dragon finally deciding that he had probably been had and starting to search for them.

The first session after the holiday break had the party and the very thankful sacrifice fleeing in the general direction of the City-State (which had been the PC's goal since the start of the campaign). Near the end of this session, just after a battle with an orc patrol, they sighted the dragon and hid in a cave.

Last session started with the dragon trying to figure out how to get into the cave as its opening was too small for him to fit through. After wasting one fire breath, he decided he should talk. The party convinced him that they had simply taken his sacrifice to this cave to properly cook her. While this discussion was going on, Geenglo (the party's magic-user) was studying his spell book to learn a phantasmal force spell. He used this to cast an illusion of the girl, cooked well done, on the body of an orc. They disguised the real sacrifice in a hooded robe then presented the orc version of the "sacrifice" to the dragon. The latter ate it in a couple of bites. Then he just sat there.

When the party tried to leave, he would not let them. He asked if they were adventurers as well as cooks. After some delay, they said they were cooks out looking for adventure. The dragons eyes lit up. "Very well," he said. "I need treasure to get any respect from other dragons. So I will hire you to help me get a huge pile of treasure and to cook my sacrifices. I'll give you 15% of any treasure you find me." The dragon would not take no for an answer, so the party is now the dragon's official treasure finders and sacrifice cooks. They are going along with this for now -- as they have no choice. Of course, they are already plotting to try to subdue the dragon the first chance they get and sell him in the City-State. The dragon is young and really dumb, so they might even be able to pull it off. Future sessions will tell.

The Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Cancer Fund Drive continues for a few more days (until February 15th). For more information on this giveaway and fund drive see this post: Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors).Lots of donated D&D items to give away in a very good cause.





January Cancer Donation Brown OD&D Giveaway Extended

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My old computer died about an hour after I posted on the Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors) on January 20th. Between having to come up with money for a new system on short notice and AVAST 5 ruining my new system last Friday just as I completed getting it set up and all my immediately needed software installed (see my Frustration thy name is AVAST post from last Friday.

I'm finally back up and -- knock on wood -- able to use the new system for real work again. However, this is only two days before the OD&D Giveaway Cancer Drive was scheduled to end. Unfortunately, I promised Jamie that I would really plug this giveaway and since I've been mostly offline from an hour after I first announced the OD&D giveaway until now, I have not been able to do this -- it isn't even mentioned on the RetroRoleplaying home page. Jamie has asked me to extend the deadline and plug the giveaway more -- as I originally promised I would.

Jamie wanted the giveaway extended through the end February, but doing so would push the end of the giveaway into a time when my wife will finally be able to get dentures to replace her lower teeth. This will be done in Dallas (as it is much less expensive there: $900 vs $1500 and done by a dentist her mother uses instead of a dentist picked out of the yellow pages) and will take a couple of weeks. This means I would probably not have time to mail out the giveaway items until the end of March. Therefore, we compromised on the 15th of February. This will give me a week to plug the giveaway, but allow it to end in plenty of time for me to send out OD&D quizes in case of tie donations (of which there are a good number at the moment), get replies to those and get the giveaway items mailed out before I have to start getting my wife to Dallas to do the lower plate thing -- and she will be able to eat her beloved Wheat Thins for the first time in over two years.

The Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Cancer Fund Drive continues for a few more days (until February 15th). For more information on this giveaway and fund drive see this post: Brown Box Dungeons and Dragons Goodies Available (for Cancer Fund Donors).Lots of donated D&D items to give away in a very good cause.