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Old School Microlite20

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I've just had an epiphany. If you simply drop skills (all four of them) from Microlite20, you should be able to easily run "old school" style adventures very similar to those of "pure" Original Dungeons and Dragons -- the three little beige books. Dropping skills from M20 leaves all characters with just their class abilities and their player's wits which is exactly what you have in OD&D. Sure the rules will be somewhat different, but the feel of the game in actual play should be much the same.

Original D&D: What Classes & Rules Would You Use?

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Original Dungeons and Dragons is more of a toolkit than a hard and fast set of rules. In addition to the three little beige books, there are additional rulebooks (Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, Chainmail, Swords & Spells) and important articles in The Strategic Review and early issues of The Dragon magazine (e.g. classes like the ranger and the illusionist, new monsters, etc.) with more rules and options to choose from.

If you were going to DM OD&D, which classes and rules would you use?

A Great Series of "Why OD&D?" Posts


Sham/Dave over at Sham's Grog 'n Blog has written an excellent series of four post on why he likes OD&D. They are definitely worth reading.

Minions are a New Idea?

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WOTC posted an article on minions in fourth edition D&D recently and it has gotten quite a bit more reaction than I expected on blogs and in forums. The idea of easy to kill hordes of followers is apparently new to many people. Perhaps I'm unique, but I've been using the minion idea since about 1980. I even called them minions (although one of my regular players always called them "mini-onions" as a joke).

You have to understand that I find combat boring -- especially combats that drag on and on. I don't mind quite a bit of combat in an adventure session so long as most of them are over very quickly. After a few years of streamlining combat to make it play fast, I "inherited" a couple of good players from another much more combat oriented GM. They liked combat with lots of opponents -- trouncing three dozen orcs in the temple of Orcus before they could reach the Evil High Priest was their idea of fun. Even though the orcs were not real threats.

Tracking hit points of a couple of dozen orcs was a pain and if they took two or three hits to kill, combat ended up taking up way too much time for me. This was especially true as the combat with those 30+ orcs was only there because they liked it.

It did not take me long to come up with the idea of monsters who were minions: the hordes of often fanatical, but minor followers of some important enemy. I started giving them 1 hit point per hit die. They still had all their powers, AC, etc. They could still dish out damage to adventurers and would be almost as much threat to non-adventurer "normal men" as the standard non-minion version of the monster. They just could be killed quickly by adventurers able to hit them with a sword or mow them down with a fireball.

It worked well. My two combat-oriented players could have the large battles they liked and the rest of us could have the fast combats we wanted. It did not really hurt realism. After all, if you are an evil leader, you are likely to hire bunches of weak troops because because they are cheap and use them as cannon fodder shock troops to delay the your powerful enemies while you and your important followers get away or get in position to turn the tables. Your minions may be cannon fodder to your real enemies, but normal people -- non-adventurers -- aren't any better so you can still use your masses of minions to take over villages and rob merchant caravans.

I continued to use minions long after those two combat-loving players had moved away because they made game much easier to run and much more fun for the players to play in. Therefore I find myself in the odd position of defending some fourth edition rules as a really good idea. While fourth edition minion rules apparently only give minions one hit point each so that one hit will surely kill them, that really isn't much different my 1 hit point per hit die minions -- one hit from an average character is all it takes to kill either of them.

The Expedition Into the Black Reservoir


The Expedition Into the Black Reservoir; a Dungeon Adventure at Greyhawk Castle

By Gary Gygax

To the east of the busy walled city of Greyhawk the land is forsaken, overgrown with thorns and thistles. Oozing marsh creeps slowly down. The copses are huddles of weird, bloated trees. The wiry grass seems to grasp at the feet of any who dare to tread upon it. In the center of this unwholesome place, on a rock-boned prominence, hulks the ruin of the grim Greyhawk Castle. Still a few of the bravest sort regularly frequent its precincts---one such as Erac, a spellcaster, Erac the Enchanter, Erac the ambitious, a paladin of Law.

This same magic-user now commanded a party of four bent on despoiling the wicked dwellers of the underworld beneath the castle of some goodly treasure. At Erac's side paced the lama Londlar. At the back of one was Nulfyke, a dwarf swordsman, while behind the other was the acolyte Ugubb of the Lake of Crystals. The fallen west gate of Greyhawk Castle was at hand, and through this mouldering portal the party passed. In a few moments they had entered the great central keep, heaved open an inner door, and carefully proceeded down a set of winding stone steps---steps worn with age and slippery with dampness. They had entered the dungeons.

Read the rest of "The Expedition Into the Black Reservoir"

I had never seen this before. The story was apparently originally published in a fanzine in the mid-1970s. It's a great example of "old school" adventuring -- and adventure I would have loved to have had a character on.

I Guess I've Never Been a "Conscientious" DM

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I just read an article about D&D4's treasure and economy over on the WOTC web site. Excerpts: Economy & Reward wherein I was told that "conscientious" GMs figure out how much treasure the characters in their game should get while advancing from their current level to the next and carefully divide that up between the 10 encounters needed to go up a level in D&D 4 (or 13-1/3 encounters needed in 3.x). In 4th edition this has been made so much easy because the DMG lists 10 "treasure packets" for each level and you just assign them to the encounters as needed.

I guess I've never been a conscientious DM. I've never worried that much about how much treasure a party might get or that the right mix of level-appropriate magic items were included. Monsters were scattered around dungeons and wilderness areas -- with treasure appropriate to the monster -- and characters would go do their thing. If they somehow managed to kill a red dragon at first level and cart away all its loot, they were very rich second level characters with a lot of loot to protect from people more powerful than they were (and probably end up loosing a lot of it). If they encountered a bunch goblins in their lair at 9th level, they would probably not find much loot and certainly not the level appropriate loot WOTC editions seem to expect them to find.

I guess "Old School" really was a completely different style of play.

Update: I see I'm not the only person to comment on this WOTC article. Here are links to a few other blog posts I've seen on this today:

Most of these posts are far less kind than mine.

Best Criticism of WOTC D&D Art I've Read


RPGpundit has an interesting post on his blog talking about how the dungeonpunk art style in WOTC D&D products misses the boat. While many "old school" gamers don't like this style, this is often put aside as generational differences. RPGpundit points out that it is also ignoring where the main interest in fantasy is in the film and book market today:

Is it not the height of retarded that, given the massive success of traditional fantasy in recent years (LoTR, the upcoming hobbit movie, narnia, all the blockbuster fantasy movies, not ONE of which has featured dungeonpunk or WoW-esque styles), the people at Wizards would be doing everything they possibly can to try to make D&D as un-mainstream-fantasy as possible?

No matter which side of the WOTC art debate you are on, RPGpundit's post is interesting reading.

New Microlite20 Site Coming Soon


I was just over checking Greywulf's Microlite20 Fundraiser page. I see the fund raising has been successful (with over $90 raised in just a couple of days), so a new and more stable web site for Microlite20 should be on the way.

To that I can only say "Yeah!" as Microlite20 really needs a stable site so people can easily get the rules and for a community to grow up around.

Tunnels & Trolls Dungeon Generator


I discovered (thanks to a post on Dragonsfoot) a Tunnels & Trolls dungeon generator. I've tried it once and am initially very impressed.


What's Wrong With Not Liking Current RPGs?

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I had to remove a comment on this blog this morning. I don't think it was up long and with Google's on and off again server problems today, I doubt many people saw it. Thankfully. It was a diatribe against people like me who do not support current editions of D&D. Normally, I would have left such a comment up and replied to it, but the comment was made to my post on Gary's death, almost 10% of the words in the post were profanity, and there were insults to Gary in the comment.

However, I'd like to toss out a couple of the arguments made in the comment -- stripped of their childish profanity and rude tone -- for discussion. The poster's argument was basically that those of us who refuse to "get with the program" and abandon older editions for the latest edition from the current publisher are harming the D&D hobby by:

  • not buying current books which hurts the profits of WOTC and Hasbro making it less likely that they will continue to publish D&D materials.
  • fragmenting the hobby. When everyone plays the same edition and plays it by all the books, it makes it easier for players to find games. The more people refuse to upgrade to the latest version every few years, the more fragmented the hobby becomes and the harder it is to find players.
The poster had a few other arguments, but they were incomprehensible to me as written (e.g. "the [profanity omitted] Coolness factor you [profanity omitted]") or were really just attacks on Gary for not strongly supporting newer editions.

I don't know about you, but I don't feel any obligation to keep WOTC or Hasbro in the black and I feel that the second argument makes as little sense as saying that American Football fans should stop watching their favorite sport and support Soccer (Football to the rest of the world) because Soccer is the more popular game.

What do you think? Are we fans of older versions of D&D hurting the hobby by our refusal to fall in love with, buy, and play the current edition of D&D?

Microlite20 Needs a Website -- Your Donations Will Help.


Greywulf has decided that he's had enough of the server currently hosting Microlite20 -- which is embarrassingly down more that it is up. He wants to move to a new host/server with a good uptime record and greatly expand the site with features like a Microlite20 message board. He needs at least $90 in donations to pay the server costs for two years. (He's just over 50% of the way there as I write this post.)

Donors will even get a few extra benefits, according to Greywulf,

Donaters will get first-tier access to the site, meaning they can host blogs, write story hours, and post House Rules and Variants directly onto the site. While the exact details aren’t yet set in stone, Donaters will get a level of content control over and above that of regular registered (and unregistered) users.

IMHO, Microlite20 is one of the best things to come out of the OGL and the D20 gamesystem. It's not a retrogame rules-wise, but it is a retro in its style and in the ease in which it can be played and modified. Please donate a few bucks to Greywulf via Paypal so he can get this site off the ground ASAP.

You can find more information on the Microlite20 Fundraiser page of Greywulf's blog.

Replacing Experience Points in D&D

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When reading forums devoted to D&D, I often hear players and gamemasters complaining about experience points. Sometimes it's that they are a pain to calculate (especially in later editions of D&D). Other times it is that they seem very biased toward combat as the only way to earn "enough" experience points. I replaced the standard experience point system in many of my D&D/AD&D games in the 1980s with a very simple, activity neutral "adventure point" system. Adventure points are given out in much smaller numbers than experience points and are given out to characters for mainly for participating actively and contributing to the session in accordance with their abilities.

The first thing you need to do to use adventure points is to decide how many game sessions, on average, you want it to take for characters to advance a level. Let's say you want it to take 5 sessions and you usually play for about 4 hours a session. 5 times 4 is 20, so you have a base of 20 adventure points to go up a level. For each hour or part thereof a character participates in play to the extent the situation allows, the character earns one adventure point. When he has 20, he can spend them to advance a level.

Of course, you can make things a bit more interesting with special AP award categories. For each such award category you want, you add an extra hour to session length for the purpose of determine the number of adventure points needed to advance a level. For example, you might want to have two special AP award categories: one for playing in character (or within one's class/niche) and another working well with other characters. This would add 2 to the number of hours in an average session for the purpose of determining the number of number of adventure points needed to advance. Continuing with the example above, 5 times 6 is 30 so with two special AP award categories, 30 adventure points would be needed to advance to the next level.

Awarding points in special award categories is easy. If the character did average in the category, she gets one adventure point for the award category for the session. If the character did well below average, he gets no adventure points for the award category for the session. A character who does well above average for the seesion earns two adventure points for the award category for the session. The default is average, give the character a point.

You can also give an overall bonus point or two to everyone if the session was more fun that usual, accomplished some major campaign goal, or the like.

Some versions of D&D have experience point advancement requirements that vary by class. You can simulate this with adventure points by have a different amount of adventure points required to advance a level for each class. An easy way to do this is to come up with an adventure point total based on the above system. Then use 110% (round up) of it for classes that require more experience points than average to advance and 90% (round down) of it for classes that require fewer experience points than average to advance.

The main advantage of the adventure point system is that it is a heck of a lot less effort for both players and gamemasters. There are also a couple of important secondary benefits:

1) Successful adventuring is no longer mainly defined as defeating monsters in combat. You can get just as much advancement effect from avoiding the monsters, bargaining with them, intimidating them, fighting them just enough to make them run away, etc. Also time spend in non-combat activities is just as helpful to character advancement as time spent in combat.

2) It is much easier to have mixed level parties as the opposition can be targeted to the party without have to worry about giving the higher level characters less experience points than they need due to less challenging opposition.

This adventure point system is simple, but it can easily be made more complex if you want a bit more rule crunch.

In the City-State: Game Lizards


I was going through some of my old Judges Guild stuff and came across this addition to the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, located in an empty building on the Street of Crafts. This writeup dates from around 1979-1980 as I recall.

WARY EYEJAX      C:MU AL:LN LVL:3 HTK: 14 AC: 4 SL: 5 S:8 I:17 W:8 CON: 12 DEX: 12 CHA: 16 WPN: Staff+2

Sign: A Lizardman rolling dice

This small shop is stocked with all manner of exotic games. There are strange, extremely complex games of elven design (25 to 500gp -- need an INT of 14+1d4 and many hours of careful study to understand a game's rules) and finely crafted dwarven games (20-120gp), but the main feature of the shop are roleplaying games created by Wary himself. Wary claims to have created the very idea of roleplaying games, and no matter how many generations of children have played "bandits and caravans" or "knights and knaves" it is best to just agree with his claims as his pleasant manner turns somewhat testy if you don't. Wary's new-fangled roleplaying games are extremely popular with the young and well-off. Game Lizard's sells Papers & Paychecks (40gp), Alpha Plane (15gp), Empire of the Stars (35gp), Guildlords (15gp), and Realms of the Future (65gp), all designed by Wary. Hand-carved and painted miniatures are sold at 2-20gp a figure. Wary loves to talk about his latest, soon to be published, roleplaying game: Payoffs and Kickbacks, set in a improbable world where people elect their own leaders and even kick them out of office if they get too powerful or annoying. Most of the actual work (but not the game design) is done by 20 slaves (3 HTK). Rumors: The Overlord is going to ban Realms of the Future as it implies the corruption of his decendents lead to the conquest of the City-State by the World Emperor. (F) Wary hates Ben vonAndrew of Running Turtle Games as he thinks his games are just ripoffs of his designs. An irate traveller has taken over the Royal Falcon Inn.
Gary lives on in my version of the City-State, still turning out games and occasionally saying something that causes some controversy. If only that were true in our universe.

Blog Roll Coming


I just realized that I don't have blog roll for this blog. I plan to fix that this weekend. Seesh, I know where my mind has been the past few months (my wife's cancer treatments and her very slow recovery there from), but I didn't think I was that forgetful of something so easy to do.