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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

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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.

Dungeon World Hits My Microlite7x Sunday Game Group

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Dungeon World coverOne of my four Sunday game players was going to be out of town for business for the last three Sundays in April. Originally, I was going to run my Sunday game for the remaining three players running some of their henchmen as PCs. However, the week before this was to start, the subject of Dungeon World came up on the group mailing list with one of the players asking me what I thought of the game. After saying that he had thought it would be fun but after playing it decided he did not like it as it was too restrictive. However, his real issue with the game was that it was too narrative. While lists of names and weird rules about no more than one of each character class in the game were mildly annoying, the real problem was he had no interest in doing the GM's job of creating the world and deciding what happens beyond what his character could control.

I said that I had heard a number of similar complaints from old school players who are there to explore the world as their character and want to play by saying what their character is doing in the world and have no interest in making decisions that their character couldn't make. Players who aren't playing to tell a good story but to "live" as their character day to day in the world. I pointed out that while Dungeon World is obviously written to be played as a narrative game, it would be easy enough to play the game like a standard early TSR version of D&D.

You could:

  • Ignore the lists of character names, the limit of only one character of each class in the game, and the like. These hardly even count as rules changes.
  • Ignore the bits about creating a world as a group and simply play in the GM's world.
  • When choices have to be made in the game that aren't a choice the player could make in character, the GM simply decides what happens the way he would in a normal D&D game. For example, while a character could choose to use extra ammo to get a hit, he could not choose something like his opponent stumbles so he can hit him (any more than I could choose that you agree with everything I write in this post).
As for the poorly named (IMHO) "moves" which annoy many OSR players, there are really two types of Dungeon World "moves":

The first type (the basic moves than anyone can do) are simply general situation resolution methods that the GM can use when needed -- just like an attribute roll, a hit roll, or a saving throw in old school D&D. They are just methods of resolving actions that the GM calls for when a player has his or her character do something that needs that method of resolution. The procedure is just dressed up in a different language. Making a move is just doing something that the GM says needs to be resolved by that particular resolution system. Therefore players don't need to even think about making these types of moves. They just roll when the GM asks them to roll, just like in old school D&D (but rolling 2d6).

The second type of move is a just a class ability description and the suggested method of the GM to use in resolving the use of that class ability. Moves of this second type are really no different than the class abilities of TSR-era thieves. For example the TSR thief ability "Hide in Shadows" is just like a Dungeon World class ability move: both describe a class ability and give rules the GM can use for resolving the use of the class ability when it comes up in play. Making these types of moves is just using a class ability.

In other words, if the GM and players ignore the narrative stuff and the GM runs Dungeon World just like he would run a old school D&D game, Dungeon World in play would be little different in play than old school D&D. The main difference would be the combat system which lacks the round by round structure of D&D, instead opting for a less structured handling of combat. I don't see a lot of problem here, both Dungeon World and early D&D combat is highly abstract. With some work one could even use a more D&D like combat system.

After discussing this a bit on the mailing list, I was asked if I could demonstrate it. So we've played a non-narrative version of Dungeon World for the last three Sunday games. When you drop the narrative stuff, it does indeed play much like early D&D. Of the three players in the three sessions, everyone thought it was okay but not something they'd want to use instead of my Microlite7x rules in our regular game.

I however, was impressed by how well class abilities (aka the special moves each class gets) worked in Dungeon World. I may experiment with adding a DW-like resolution system to at least some class abilities in a future Microlite7x variant.