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Creating a "Best of TSR D&D" Rulebook?

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D&D Books

Most old school D&D players realize that it is fairly easy to use an adventure written for one version of TSR D&D with the rules for a different version of TSR D&D. While each version (OD&D, Holmes D&D, 1e, B/X, BECMI, 2e, and RC) are different enough to be separate games, they have some much in common that it often takes little effort to use an adventure or setting designed for one version with another version. In most cases, many experienced GMs can convert adventures on the fly as they run them.

A lot of people used to mix rules in play as well. Many people playing AD&D were actually using the less complex systems from B/X D&D with the classes, spells, monsters, and magic items from AD&D. Others just added what they liked from second edition AD&D to their first edition AD&D games. And so forth.

This got me thinking, what would a "best of" set of rules taken from all of the versions of D&D TSR published look like. Naturally it would look different to different people because everyone interested in TSR D&D likely has different ideas of what the best rules in TSR D&D were. While I haven't given this the hours of thought I would need to if I were going to actually write such a set of rules, I can immediately list some of the important rules pieces that were be in my personal "Best of TSR" edition of D&D.

* I'd use the basic game systems from B/X D&D as they are clear and fairly simple.

* Race and Class would come from AD&D, mostly from 1e. The Bard however, would come from 2e. I'll probably also use the specialist priest material from 2e.

* Spells would come mainly from 1e. 1e has a somewhat larger selection than OD&D or B/X, but not the seemingly endless list that 2e plus supplements had.

* Monsters and Treasure would mainly come from 1e. Again, 2e just as too many.

* I'd take the domain and mass combat rules from BECMI/RC.

If you were designing a "best of TSR" set of D&D rules, what would you include?



New Old School Sunday Game Campaign Coming Together

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Pizza MeetingYesterday was the first meeting of what will hopefully soon become my next Sunday Game. Six potential players and myself met over all-you-can-eat pizza to discuss campaign and rules ideas. After several hours (and a lot of pizza and soft drinks) we've hashed out some ideas for my next old school campaign.

It will be set in a version of the Judges Guild Wilderlands -- the main differences from the Judges Guild "canon" will be religion and magic. Exactly where it will be set is still up in the air. People seem torn between starting in the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, starting in a smaller town, or starting in a sea port with pirates. There are two votes for each. Sigh.

Religion: The campaign will have only one true deity (an incomprehensible "creator") who interacts with the world and its people through thousands of demi-god-like avatars. While some of these avatars might be avatars of "evil" things like theft or murder, all are opposed to Chaos. Chaos is what is outside "creation" and seeks to swallow it up and destroy it (that is, return it to formless chaos). The main effect on the campaign is that there will be lots of little religions with most people praying to many deities depending on what they need. Clerical characters focus are more focused a single deity (but even they will pray to other Gods when they need help in their specific area of power. The game effects for clerical characters are that they can basically create the deity they want to follow and I will create 2 or 3 special prayers realed to that deity that their characters can access in the game. Clerical powers will tend to be low key because none of the thousands of deities worshiped inj the world are individually very powerful.

Magic: According to legend, before an ancient world-wide magical disaster, people could easily wield very powerful magic by making a few gestures, saying incantations, and imposing their will on the magical energy of the world. However, people somehow pushed things too far and let Chaos into the world and there was a huge backlash of magical energy that ended this "golden age" of magic and somehow changed the very nature of magic. Now, very little can be accomplished magically with just gestures, incantations, and a mage's will -- most magic has to be performed through lengthy and often complex rituals. Mage characters will be able to do some "wand magic" (probably something like minor magic in my current Microlite75 Extended rules), but most magic will have to be done through rituals. Players will be able to design rituals to do anything from charming a being long term to moving mountains around. Of course, the more powerful the effect, the more steps needed to do the ritual (e.g. research, special items, special times, sacrifices, magical energy, etc.).

Character Classes:

Fighter: A powerful warrior class that gets +1 to hit and damage per level, is skilled at commanding men-at-arms, knows all sorts of special combat maneuvers and combat tricks, etc. Fighters will be able to design combat tricks on the fly and they will not be penalized for trying using them -- if they critical hit, they do normal damage and impose the special effect from the trick, if they hit the defender can choose to accept the special effect or take the damage rolled. Highly skilled with weapons and armor.

Scout: A lesser warrior (+1 to hit per 2 levels) who is also skilled in outdoorsman and some thief-like abilities. Normal skills with weapons and armor.

Paladin: A lesser warrior (+1 to hit per 2 levels) who is also a priest/priestes of a deity. Paladins have a few standard prayers (healing, etc.) and a few special prayers determined by their deity. They can also repel/disrupt undead and some manifestations of Chaos. Normal skills with weapons and armor.

Mage: A minor warrior (+ 1 to hit per 3 levels) who is a scholar able to easily weild magic. Mages can use wand magic and know how to create and perform magical rituals to best effect. Limited skills with weapons and armor.

All classes will have the ability to try use scroll magic. Scrolls are ancient writings from before the magical disaster that contain magic energy and an incantation that will release their magical power when properly chanted aloud.

The game rules themselves will otherwise be 0e to B/X like. Now all I have to do is write enough of the first draft of the new rules needed so we can start playing -- Target date for the first session is August 6th.

How I Recruit Players for my Old School Games

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Recruting illoI occasionally receive email asking me how I manage to get so many players for my old school games -- giving that most potential players aren't familiar with them -- or if they are familiar with them do not have a very positive opinion of old school play. Given that the basement gaming area of my new house in Ohio is finally available and I'm currently recruiting players in yet another area where I don't know many people, this sounds like a good time to make a post on how I recruit players for my long-running old school campaigns.

First, let me say that I really don't have any good ideas for taking a currently existing group of players and convincing them to play in an old school campaign. In my 35+ years of gaming, I've never really done that. I never had a group of friends who are already playing tabletop RPGS and tried to convince them that they want to spend years playing in one of my campaigns. Instead of trying to convince a pre-existing group who are not playing old school games to play in my campaign, I simply recruit a group of people who want to play what I want to run. This is really my secret to success -- I find people who want to play what I want to run instead of trying to convince an existing group to play what I want to run.

Since I run an old school style game where players just tell me what they want their characters to try to do and I tell them whether they succeed, fail, or what to roll to find out what happens, I don't need to limit my search to people who already know the game system I am running. This also means I don't have to limit my search to people willing to buy and study the rules to play. Therefore, I can recruit people that many modern gamers would not have any interest in recruiting: people who might want to play but who aren't interested in studying and learning hundreds of pages of rules just to be able to play a character in an "elf game".

That said, I spend most of my time telling other gamers about my campaign. I tell them that it is old school where they are playing normal people who may become heroes, not people who are already awesome heroes. I explain that my campaigns aren't centered around combat encounters (or even encounters in general), but around exploring the campaign world, searching for and recovering treasure, and interacting with the world in character. I explain that player skill matters more than character skill -- and that running headlong into situations without any playing and preparation will eventually get their characters killed. I tell people I I do not have a story to tell, but that I run a sandbox campaign where the players can choose to have their characters try to do just about anything and the the campaign's story consists of what the players' characters do in the campaign world.

I'll be honest, most people's eyes get big and they quickly decide that they want nothing to do with my campaign. That's okay, because I want people who want to play in my campaign. However, generally about one in every ten or fifteen people seem actually interested in maybe giving such a game a try, I tell these people when the game is (or will be ran). If they are still interested I tell them how to join the campaign mailing list (or you could use a private Facebook group, etc.) where they can see the rules, learn about the campaign, and talk to other players (or potential players). Once I get a couple of people who are definitely interested, finding more becomes easier and these new players often have friends who they think might like the game and tell then about it. Often these people who friends who do not play RPGs for some reason or another, but they think would like to play in a game where they don't have to do anything but show up and say what they want their character to try to do. I generally want at least four players to start a new campaign. It generally takes me a month or two, at most, to get to that point from no players. I keep working a it even then, however, as I usually loose a player or two once the game starts due to time issues, the game not being quite what they expected, etc. Once I have a group playing, however, recruiting actually becomes easier and the current players and current game situation are generally better at generating interest then boring old me.

Will this work for others? I will admit that it seems to work for me better than it seems to for others. I'm not really sure why. Perhaps it is because this is the way I've always done it and so have gotten good at it.

The Microlite74 3d6 Edition is Now Available (Free Rules)

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Microlite74 3D6 Edition CoverThe Microlite74 3D6 Edition is now available on DrivethruRPG/RPGNow in a digest format -- perfect for printing out or reading on a tablet. This version of the Microlite74 3D6 Edition is "Pay What You Want". $0 (aka FREE) is a perfectly acceptable amount, although I hope you will consider a higher than zero amount as every dollar I receive means less time I have to work to pay medical bills and more time I have to work on projects this this one.

What do I mean by "3d6 Edition"? I been asked in the past if it would be possible to play a 0e-like game with only D6s. I've always replied that if you use the original (Chainmail-like) combat system in the 0e books, you have a system that only requires D6s. My answer hasn't be well-received as it seems very few people like the original combat system. I've been urged by some to come up with a system that is more like the D20-based system people are used to, but only uses D6s. This idea did not interest me very much -- or it did not interest me until I tried running a few sessions of Dungeon World old school-style last year. I liked the idea of partial successes but did not like the "your level has no effect on your chances of success" way Dungeon World did thinks. So I borrowed the idea of partial successes from Dungeon World. Instead of Dungeon World's 2d6 roll, I used a 3d6 roll for success and that allowed enough "room" for a level-based modifier to the success roll -- that is, like in real TSR editions, the higher your level, the better your chance of success.

I expected that the rest of 0e would need a lot of tweaking to make this work. I was surprised to find that it really did not. Substituting a 3d6 roll for a D20 roll had far less of an effect on the feel of the game than I expected it would. The odds of success were not the same, but the game played well without a lot of adjustments to hit points, damage or game procedures. It just took a session of two of play to get used to the effects of the 3d6 bell curve. Partial successes turned out to be a lot of fun in play -- so much fun that I revised the magic system to require a skill roll when casting magic with a partial success meaning the spell works and fades from memory like usual while a full success means the spell works and remains in memory so you can cast it again. Given that spells can now fail to work, this chance of being able to use a spell again does not seem to make magic-users and clerics too powerful.

The 68 page digest-sized PDF book contains the rules for the Microlite74 3d6 Edition, including:

  • Simple Character Creation Rules: Roll your attributes and select a race, class, and background.
  • Only three classes (Fighter, Magic-User and Cleric) but backgrounds allow an infinite variety of characters.
  • Simple and fast-playing combat system that tracks physical (body point) damage separately from luck/skill/fatigue (hit point) damage.
  • Hit points recover with a night’s rest. Actual wounds recover more slowly.
  • Casting a spell casting requires a successful action roll.
  • Rules for hirelings, monster reactions (not every monster wants to fight), morale (not every monster fights to the death), and more.
  • A complete list of spells and monsters.
  • Compatible with most other 0e based games and adventures.
The Microlite74 3d6 Edition is designed to be easy to play and rules light. Limiting the dice needed to play to D6s makes the game more accessible as almost everyone has a few standard six-sided dice around. While the Microlite74 3d6 Edition can be used with adventures and settings from early editions of the world’s most popular tabletop fantasy roleplaying game with few changes, using only six-sided dice along with partial successes means the experience of playing will be somewhat different lending a new feel to even well-known old adventures. These rules assume that the GM understands the basic concepts of roleplaying games, but provide information for both the GM and the players on the various “old school” styles of play.

You can get a copy of the new second edition of Microlite74 3d6 Edition on its page on RPGNow.

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.