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Old School Design Idea: 99% of the Population are Zero Level Characters

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I have been thinking about my next game design and after much thought, I've designed I would like to take 0e and "redesign" it with some different assumptions.

The first of these different assumptions will actually be more like what the original designers probably expected. The game will be based on the idea that at least 99% of the population are 0 level characters who have 6 hit points or less. For example, normal humans will have a negative combat bonus and a saving throw of 20. Here's what I'm current thinking:

Level  Hit Points  CB  ST   WpnD    Talent
Child   1 hp       -3  20   1       -
Youth   2 hps      -2  20   1d2     1 talent (1 Good at)
Adult   3 hps      -1  20   1d3     2 talents (or 1 Expert at)
Master  3 hps      -1  20   1d3     3 talents (or 1 Master at 
                                               or 1 Expert at and 1 Good at)

While those with combat training will look something like this:

Level  Hit Points  CB  ST   WpnD    Talent
Milita  4 hps       0  20   1d3     1 talent
NCO     5 hps      +1  20   1d4     2 talents
Officer 5 hps      +2  20   1d4     2 talents
Cmdr    6 hps      +2  20   1d4     3 talents

where CB is Combat Bonus, ST is saving throw, WpnD is the damage they do in combat with any weapon, and Talents is the mundane skills they have.

This means a 1st level fighter with (as currently planned) hit points of 1d6+8 and a CB of +3, a ST of 16, and a WpnD of 1d6+3 is already head and shoulders above a trained and experienced human warrior, let alone a normal farmer or merchant.

Let's look at what this means with regard to monsters. A normal human only has a 5% chance of making a saving throw, this means that monsters with special abilities are truely a terror to the normal population. A first level fighter will have a 25% chance of making their save which is five times better than the vast majority of the population. Most 1 hit die monsters will do at least 1d6+1 damage which means they do more damage than even a trained and experienced normal warrior. The least healthly first level fighter will have 9 hit points, that is 50% more than the most experienced normal human with combat training and 3 times the amount the average adult has.

First level characters in this game will not be that much more powerful that first level characters in most OSR games, but because you will not normally have leveled characters as blacksmiths, innkeepers or villiage guardsmen, they are effectively (and noticeably) more powerful in the world. This means the 4th level fighters will truly be the heroes and 8th level fighters will truly be the superheroes that they were originally called in 0e.

Playing D&D 3e Without Tears

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A week or so ago, I mentioned that I was playing in a D&D 3e game -- a long running campaign that started as a 2e game in the early 1990s -- and that the campaign avoided most of the many 3e problems discussed on forums because the game was played as if it were 2e and used a few house rules to fix some of the more obvious issues. Naturally, I was asked what those house rules are. So this campaign is the subject of today's post.

The most important reason for this campaign's success with the 3e system (and note, it is 3e -- not 3.5 or Pathfinder) isn't the house rules, but the fact that the players and the GM play it as if they were still playing 2e. What does this mean? To start with, it means the group still has the 2e era zero-tolerance for players who are rules lawyers and/or min-maxers (now more tolerantly called "optimizers"). The rules as written are less important than the GM's rulings, the setting integrity, the house rules, and common sense.  This solves many of 3e's issues without any house rules at all.

After all, if you don't have min-maxers looking for rules issues to exploit, many of 3e's issues simply are not likely to come up at the table. Those that are stumbled on my accident are going to be handed by maintaining setting integrity or by a ruling from the GM. For example, an exploit that can be simply stumbled into without any min-maxing is the infamous (at least on 3.x discussion forums) bear summoning exploit where a druid always summons bears and all the bears are far more effective in combat than any fighter could be. In this campaign's setting, however, druids are servants of "Mother Nature" and are granted their powers by "Mother Nature" to be used mainly in the protection of nature -- just as they were in 2e. If a druid were to start summoning bears nearly every time combat is joined, chances are many of those combats aren't going to be about protecting nature. Therefore, "Mother Nature" is going to eventually stop providing bears when the rules-exploiting druid tries to summon them. This simple solution works because in this campaign setting integrity and common sense trump the rules as written.

A number of actual rules changes have been made, however. As I am not that interested in rules when I get a chance to play, I do not know all of them, but here are some of the major changes to the 3e system that I do know they've made:
  • While the standard 3e saving throw groups are used, they have been modified to work like they do in 2e. That is, they get better as you go up levels -- and for magic, the level of the caster has no effect on the save.
  • All spell-casters start with only a few randomly determined spells. The only way a spell caster gets more spells is to find them (in scrolls, books, etc.) in the game. Players cannot simply choose to know any spell in the spell lists. 
  • If a spell-caster is takes damage (or is otherwise distracted) before his spell goes off, the spell automatically fizzles. A concentration check is allowed to see if the caster retains the spell in his memory -- if the concentration check fails, the spell fades from the caster's mind.
  • Fighters can move and still make a full attack.
  • There are no attacks of opportunity -- and least not in the 3e style. Instead characters and monsters have what amounts to zones of control that one cannot just move through. (Combat is "theater of the mind" -- minis and battlemats are not used.)
  • 3e open multi-classing is allowed with two restrictions: 1) You cannot take an additional class until you have at least 3 levels in all of your current classes; and 2) Prestige classes are the sole province of organizations in the campaign world and training to advance in those classes is only provided by invitation of the organization in question. In other words, the GM controls which prestige classes, if any, are available to a character.
  • Skills (and especially skill rolls) are downplayed. For example, rolling without a reasonable description of what you are actually doing is simply not allowed. Skills effects are limited by common sense: Diplomacy, for example. If something is a task anyone could try with some chance of success, even those without the skill on their sheet can attempt it with a reasonable chance of success. Skills pointed per class have been modified. 
  • Many feats are modified. For example, any feat that RAW walls off some action that anyone should be able to attempt becomes a +2 bonus to the attempt for those with the feat. Some feats are eliminated or made harder to use (magic item creation feats, for example).
  • Morale rolls, reaction rolls, wandering monsters, random treasure and the like were retained from TSR D&D. 
  • Character advancement is slowed down to closer to 2e speeds. That is, a year of weekly play with the same characters will generally see those characters reaching about 8th level.
  • Healing has been modified to handle the higher hit points of 3e characters and monsters.
  • There are no Magicmarts. Other than common potions and scrolls with very common spells, magic items are seldom for sale.
I'm sure there are many other changes. However, as I said, when I'm playing in a game, I have little interest in rules that do not directly affect my character. I have to concentrate on rules when I GM, so when I get to play I just want to "be" my character and interact with the game world (and not interact with the rules any more than I absolutely have to).

I have been really enjoying this game -- much more than I thought I would when I was told it was 3e. Much of my enjoyment probably comes from the campaign and its old school style of play. Unfortunately, the GM's work schedule is changing in May and the game will be moving to a day and time I cannot be available for. I can't really complain, however. I will have had almost six months of playing -- which is the longest time I've been able to play in -- as opposed to GM -- a campaign in many years.

Easter Sale: New Microlite74 Ultimate Edition (and others) 25% Off

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Microlite74 Ultimate Edition CoverIt's Easter weekend and a great time for a sale. The new Microlite74 Ultimate Edition is now 25% off on DrivethruRPG/RPGNow. All our other products (that are not already "pay what you want") are also on sale at 25% off.

This sale runs through Tuesday April 18th at 9am CDT.

Microlite74 Ultimate Edition #1 Bestseller on RPGNow!

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I woke up this morning to discover that the Microlite81 Ultimate Edition, released yesterday, was number one on the bestseller list at RPGNow. I know it is unlikely to stay there long, but it was a pleasant surprise to find it there at all.

6am on April 6, 2017

The Microlite74 Ultimate Edition Is Now Available

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Microlite74 Ultimate Edition CoverThe Microlite74 Ultimate Edition is now available on DrivethruRPG/RPGNow in a digest and epub combo format -- perfect for printing out or reading on a tablet. Like the Extended version of Microlite74, the rules of the Microlite74 Ultimate Edition are based on the 1974 0e edition of the world’s most popular fantasy roleplaying game with its supplements and material from 0e magazine articles, some 0e third party material, some of the house rules the author used in the 1970s, and selected ideas from other roleplaying games. However, this Ultimate Edition combines the rules from Microlite74 Extended with the additional rules from first, second, and third Microlite74 Companion volumes, full treasure listings, some new additional rules, a sample setting, and several short location-based adventures in a digest-sized book.

This book contains the complete rules for the Microlite74 Ultimate Edition, including:

  • Simple Character Creation Rules: Roll 4 attributes and select a race, class, background, and alignment.
  • Standard Classes: Fighter, Ranger, Paladin, Monk, Magic-User, Illusionist, Cleric, Druid, and Thief.
  • Many Optional Classes: Barbarians, Swashbucklers, Necromancers, Beastmasters, Monks, Shamans, Delvers, and many more.
  • All the standard races plus many optional races.
  • Simple and fast-playing combat system that tracks physical damage (aka body points) separately from luck/skill/fatigue (aka hit point) damage.
  • Hit points recover with a night’s rest. Spells cost hit points to cast. Actual wounds recover more slowly.
  • Rules for hirelings, monster reactions (not every monster wants to fight), morale (not every monster fights to the death), and more.
  • Many optional rules: use none, some, or all.
  • A complete list of spells, monsters and treasure.
  • Gamemaster section with setting design information, advice, and a small, ready-to-use hexcrawl setting and three simple location-based adventures ready to drop into the sample setting or use in your setting.
  • Compatible with most other 0e based games and adventures -- as well as many designed for B/X, BECMI, and 1e.

You receive two files: a standard pdf and an epub file. The digest-sized pdf is 384 pages and is suitable for printing or for easy reading on a tablet. Unlike the "Condensed Type" editions of Microlite74, this pdf is formated in a single column and uses a larger typeface to make it easier to use on a tablet. The epub version of Microlite74 Ultimate Edition contains tables and many epub readers display tables in a single column unreadable mess. Epub reader software designed to display epub3 files usually have no problem with the tables. Calibre displays this epub file well on Windows PCs and Gitden reader displays it fine (if slowly) on android. There is an IOS version of Gitden Reader for Apple devices, but it has not been tested. Note that tables in epub files do not adapt well to small screen devices. Note that the epub file is not as "pretty" as the pdf version as the epub format was simply not designed for complex layouts, but it is usuable on devices able to handle the epub3 format.

You get both the digest-sized pdf and the epub version when you buy the digest/epub version of the second edition of Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery for $9.95. A "pay what you want" version without artwork will appear at a later date. I can't be more specific as converting digest format to two column format is a real pain and requires taking time from other more interesting projects. (I'm not good at layout and as I find it much more boring than playing or writing games, I never seem to get much better at it.)

You can get a copy of the new second edition of Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery on its page on RPGNow.

Microlite74 Ultimate Edition Arriving Soon

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This last year has been a bit hard with the move to Ohio, but I am finally getting back into the swing of things game-design-wise. The first project on the plate is the Microlite74 Ultimate Edition. It is finally complete and should be available in the next week or so. The Microlite74 Ultimate Edition is a 384 page digest-sized edition of Microlite74. It combined Microlite74 Extended with the first three Microlite74 Companion Volumes (Optional Rules, Treasure, and More Optional Rules) and adds a few new optional rules (like custom-designed feats) and an expanded GM section with an example hexcrawl setting and three basic location-based adventure settings. It's been over a year since I mentioned it, so I will not be surprised if everyone has forgotten it.

I've also started to work on a request for a "3d6 version of Microlite74." That is a game that uses 3d6 instead of D20 to roll for success (and in general, only uses D6s) that could be used to run old school TSR adventures. The (bad) working title is the 3D6 Fantasy World RPG. A very early draft of this game is available in the Donor's Download area for donors to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund. While this game has not received much playtesting yet, comments are welcome.

Due to all the remodeling needed to make our new house work better for my wife's disabilities (which seemed to take much longer up here than it did in Texas), I have not yet been able to start my Sunday game up here. Heck the bar area where we will play is just now starting to clear of all the stuff from other parts of the house we've had to store there. However, I have been fortunate enough to find a couple of bi-weekly games to play in. Given that I seldom get to play, this has been fun. The first game is a old school fantasy game using the Savage Worlds rules ran entirely "theater of the mind" and using some homebrew Vancian magic rules with slightly altered to fit Savage Worlds D&D spells. The second is a long-running 3e campaign -- and by long-running, I mean it started as a 2e campaign in the early 1990s. It avoids most of 3e's many issues with a few house rules to make it work more like 2e and by having players who play it just like they were playing 2e (and again, it's "theater of the mind"). I'm having fun with both although it looks like I may have to drop out of the 3e game as the group may have to change to a day I can't play as the GM's work schedule is about to change.

I hope to this message is the start of more regular posting on this blog.

Still Alive But Now in Ohio


I suspect (okay, I hope) that at least a few people are wondering where I've been the past four and a half months. I've been busy selling our house in Garland, TX and moving to Youngstown, OH. My wife's MS had reached the pointy where the high heat combined with the high humidity in North Central Texas was making her life unbearable. And there was no way we could afford the energy bills that would have resulted from keeping the house comfortable for her during our 8-9 month long "summers" ("summer" being when we would need the AC running to have any chance of keeping her comfortable. The real estate market in Garland was hot so we decided (pretty suddenly) to sell the house and move somewhere with a better climate for her needs, a lower cost of living, and saner politicians. We finally decided on Ohio. Winters will be awful but the rest of the year is bunch better for her. The cost of living in the Youngstown area is also much lower than in Garland.

We finally found a house here and sold our Garland house in late June. Movers arrived in late August, packed us up and arrived with our stuff on August 31. We drove up here over 5 days. Taking it slowly as long car rides are hard on my wife. The trip up was much easier than expected. Other than having to stay in Motel 6 because they are pet friendly, the trip up was actually enjoyable. We are currently in the midst of unpacking (and finally have Internet). It will be a few more weeks before regular posting -- and work on Microlite75 projects -- will resume. I hope to start a old school RPG up here late this year, so if you are in the Youngstown area and are interested in playing in a old school campaign, let me know. I have a long bar area in the basement that I plan to use for gaming so I will be able to accommodate a fair number of players.