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Decision Time: Microlite74 vs Swords & Wizardry

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As of 6pm this evening, the final vote from my players is in. They've been debating since early April whether to continue the current campaign under Swords & Wizardry or convert it to Microlite74. (For background see Microlite74 is "better" than Swords & Wizardry? and Small Things In Rules Apparently Do Matter.) The deadline for voting was 6pm today and all the players voted. The result was four votes for Microlite74 to one vote for Swords & Wizardry. One player abstained -- like me, he can't see that it matters as both games are basically OD&D.

So we'll be switching to Microlite74 2.0 with house rules from Swords & Wizardry with house rules this weekend. I'll probably put together a "Microlite74 Special Edition" rulebook for my players with all the house rules soon, but that will not be done in time for this week's game. I'm glad this is finally settled because the whole discussion was making my mind spin.

Small Things In Rules Apparently Do Matter

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Earlier this month, I posted than two-thirds of my Swords & Wizardry players preferred Microlite74 to Swords & Wizardry (see Microlite74 is "better" than Swords & Wizardry?). I was at a loss to explain this as the differences between M74 and S&W seem trivial to me and my players couldn't explain why they preferred one to other beyond that they thought m74 play was smoother and the rules got in the way less.

After two more game sessions and some discussion, those who prefer Microlite74 have been able to more clearly state why they do. The reasons surprised me and amounted to "we played 3.x and the crunchy bits of Microlite74 are more like 3.x than the crunchy bits of Swords & Wizardry".

You know how some old school gamers seem highly annoyed when ascending armor class is used even if the results of the die rolls are mathematically the same as if descending armor class were used? I look at this and just don't get it. It seems like it is a meaningless difference, yet it makes a huge difference to some players. The same thing seems to be going on with the 3.x players in my S&W game. For example, S&W includes both descending and ascending armor class rules while M74 doesn't, so M74 feels closer to the game they started with than S&W does -- and therefore less complex.

Microlite74 looks closer to 3.x in its few crunchy bits than Swords & Wizardry does, so they prefer it -- even though both games play very much alike and the few crunchy bits these games have give quite similar results.

What does this mean in the grand scheme of things? I don't know if it means anything. However, it may show that for at least some players, the little things in the rules are more important to player enjoyment than many of us might think. Perhaps, if the object of a new "old school" game is to attract new players to old school gaming, the game should be designed to use "modern crunch" (that new players are probably familiar with) to duplicate old school style where possible instead of "old school crunch" that old school players more familiar with.

Playing Card Combat System for OD&D

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I mentioned a playing card combat system in a post last week (There is No One True Way -- A Rant) and promised more information, so here we go. Unfortunately, I never saw this system in play. I was told about it by one of my players. One of his college DMs used it for his OD&D game. Unfortunately, my friend wasn't big on mechanics so I don't know exactly how it worked -- especially from DM's side of the screen.

The combat deck consisted of the court cards from one deck of cards, two jokers per player, and one deck of playing cards (numbered cards only) per player in the game. The cards were shuffled before each combat. Players drew a hand of cards -- three cards plus one extra card for every 3 levels (4 levels for clerics, 5 levels for magic-users). An attacking player would play one card:

If it was a number card, that number plus a bonus depending on the character's level and class was compared to the target's AC on a to-hit table to see if the hit did any damage.

If it was a court card, the player got some bonus (or his opponent got some penalty) depending on the specific card. (e.g. opponent knocked prone, opponent disarmed, etc.)

If it was a joker, the character automatically hit.

Multiple cards could be played if they formed a set (pair, three of a kind, four of a kind). This represented a flurry of blows. Each card was checked to see if it hit with every additional hit getting a +3 to hit (e.g. a three of a kind attack would would be three blows, one normal, one at +3, one at +6)

At the end of his combat turn, the player would draw one card from the deck. Discarding to reduce his hand to the number of cards allowed by his class and level if needed. (Yes, this apparently did mean that playing multiple cards reduced the size of your hand.)

When attacked, a player could could play a joker or a court card to parry a hit.

I have no idea how this worked from the DM's end. I was told the DM used cards just like the players did. However, I can't imagine the DM tracking a hand for each of ten or twenty monsters. Perhaps the DM had a single very large hand (perhaps determined by number of monsters)?

There is No One True Way -- A Rant

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There is no one true way to play D&D. Personally, I consider this the soul of "Old School" D&D. You bought the rules (be they Original D&D, AD&D, B/X D&D, or BECMI D&D) and you as GM get to do with them whatever you want. The rules are just guidelines for creating your unique campaign. If you want to base your game on OD&D but take what you like from AD&D, the Arduin Grimoires, Gamma World, Runequest, and a bunch of stuff from Dragon, White Dwarf, and Different Worlds and mix that with a heaping helping of your own house rules and call the result "playing D&D" that's fine. This is how campaigns worked in the 1970s and early 1980s. Very few people gave a damn about official rules and exactly what version of D&D was being played.

Some players who played D&D in the 1970s seem to have forgotten this and have developed a "rules purism" that would make many a "new school" player proud. I'm not sure where the "rules-purism" I see among some grognards today comes from. It was a (very tiny) minority position in the 1970s, IMHO. They seem to have forgotten how little people cared back when "old school" was the bright and shiny new game on the block.

Most people played OD&D with thieves (and most of the other classes from Greyhawk). Really, they did. But games that didn't have them weren't considered not really D&D. People modified the combat system all the time. This is why the argument over ascending/descending AC in grognard circles today strikes me as silly. I saw OD&D (and AD&D and other TSR D&Ds) played with all sorts of modified to-hit tables: ascending, descending, percentage, attribute-based, playing card based(!!), etc. My favorite weird one was probably the one a friend used where hit points remaining were used instead of levels in the to-hit table (so the more "wounded/tired" a being was, the less accurately they hit).

Yet I've gotten lectured in email on the evils of some of the optional rules for m74 I put in Ancients Aurguries and my post on Body Points and Hit Points for S&W -- claiming that such optional rules are "too far" from OD&D. This despite the fact that I was using an earlier form of the BP/HP split as early as 1977 or so. I haven't published the "spell point" part of my BP/HP system because I'm not in the mood to deal with the fallout. Spell points are evil, you know, and make OD&D not OD&D even though adding some type of spell point system was a very early and relatively common house rule for OD&D. ::sigh::

At times, I feel like I've walked into some alternate timeline where the various editions of TSR D&D were played very strictly by the book in the 1970s and 1980s, where the various TSR editions of D&D were so different that adventures written for one edition simply could not be used in any of the others without the DM spending days rewriting them, and where house rules that changed whatever someone thought were the core of D&D resulted in the offending DM being jailed. That's just not the reality I gamed in.

If you are telling others that they can't do x or use rule y in their D&D game and still be "old school" -- especially if things like x and y were done in some "D&D" campaigns back in the 1974-1984 era -- I have to question just how old school you really are. Sure, it is possible to drift into "new school" if you aren't careful but "old school D&D" can stand many more changes than many grognards seem willing to tolerate today.

Note: Since I wrote the first draft of this rant this morning, I discovered a post Dave at Sham's Grog 'n Blog made today: It's all D&D to me. This post makes a similar point. We called what we played "D&D" back in the day no matter how many different editions of D&D we borrowed ideas and rules from.

RetroRoleplaying Blog New Theme

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After failing several saving rolls during an attempt to change the RetroRoleplaying blog theme yesterday, I decided that a night's sleep could not hurt. I was right. When I tried this afternoon, I apparently rolled much better and managed to install the new theme without any major problems. Well, one major problem. I managed to wipe out my Blog Roll. I'm recreating it -- and adding a number of "Old School" Tabletop RPG blogs I've discovered since my last Blog Roll update. Minor tweaks and updates to the new theme will continue for the next few days.

Backgrounds and Attribute Rolls for Swords & Wizardry

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This post is one of a series of house rule posts for the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules. (S&W is a free 0e retroclone.) These posts are draft conversions of some of the house rules I've used in my campaigns for many years to Swords & Wizardry. Final versions of these rules will eventually be collected into a supplement for S&W that I can give my players. Comments are welcome. I realize that many people will hate one of more of my house rules for one reason or another. That's fine by me, but will not stop me from using them as in their original forms, most have worked well in my campaigns for many years.


[It'd be very easy to want a class for everything in S&W (Thief, Ritualist, Ranger/Scout, etc). However, that would soon get out of hand. Backgrounds make it easy to create "sub-classes" of the major classes as needed, with little effort.]

Characters may select, with the approval of the GM, a one or two-word background that represents a broad base of skills and knowledge, e.g. Thief, Prospector, Lawman, Engineer, Scout, Merchant, Ritualist, etc. Backgrounds need not be related to the PC's class -- they can be seen as something the character used to do or does on the side. For example, a Cleric might have been a thief before he felt the call of gods.

The GM should consider the character's background just as he would the character's class when deciding if a character would succeed as an action. For example, a character with an Engineer background should have a much better chance of damning a creek or building a bridge over it than a character with a Merchant background.

Attribute Rolls

[This system takes into account Backgrounds as well as Class. It would only be used when the GM decides an action should be decided randomly instead of by GM decision.]

If the GM decides a random success chance is truly needed he will call for one of the following rolls:

Primary Attribute Roll:
Use: when a character is attempting something directly related to their class or background.
Roll: 1D20 + Attribute Modifier + (Class Level/2, round up)

Secondary Attribute Roll
Use: when a character is attempting only weakly related to their class or background.
Roll: 1D20 + Attribute Modifier + (Class Level/3, round up)

Minor Attribute Roll
Use: when a character is attempting something not related to their class or background.
Roll: 1d20 + Attribute Modifier + (Class Level/4, round down)

The Attribute Modifier is: (Attribute-10)/2, round toward 0.

When the GM calls for an attribute roll, he will declare the difficulty, type and attribute for roll, and any situational modifiers and the player will make a skill roll. Example: "Make an Easy Secondary DEX roll at -3 because it's pouring down rain." The player must roll higher than the target number set by the difficulty to succeed. Target numbers are Easy - 8, Normal - 12, Difficult - 16, Hard - 20, Very Hard -24, Legendary - 28, Unbelievable - 32.

Theme Updating Planned for Today


I'm planning to update RetroRoleplaying The Blog's theme this afternoon. The site may look wonky for a while with all sorts of sidebar stuff missing. If all goes as planned everything should be back to normal by this evening.

Update: Epic Fail. Nothing went right, so I gave up.

Megadungeon.net Available

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James Maliszewski has announced the Megadungeon.net website is up and running. Megadungeon.net is an "Old School" megadungeon project intended to produce a old-school megadungeon a bit at a time -- something like Monte Cook is doing -- except that this project is free and is based on the Swords & Wizardry (0e retroclone) rules set instead of 3.x. Of course, it should work just fine with Microlite74 or any other old school edition or retroclone.

James says "At present, what you'll find at Megadungeon.net is the structure on which the whole project will be constructed. There are maps, background information, introductions -- overview material, by and large. The "meat" of Urheim will start appearing over the next few days."

It looks good. I'll probably be contributing some small sub-levels to some of the lower levels: small pieces from my original Pyramid dungeon from 1976. Unfortunately, all I have left is a few sublevels that were printed in South Texas gaming club newsletters back in the 1970s. The original was lost sometime in the 1980s.

Dave Arneson, Co-Creator of D&D, Passes Away

The Arneson Family has announced that Dave has passed away.

Shortly after 11pm on Tuesday, April 7th, Dave Arneson passed away. He was comfortable and with family at the time and his passing was peaceful.

The Arneson family would like to thank everyone for their support over the last few days, and for the support the entire community has shown Dave over the years.

We are in the process of making final arrangements and will provide additional details as we work them out. We will continue to receive cards and letters in Dave's honor. We are planning to hold a public visitation so that anyone wishing to say their goodbye in person has the opportunity to do so.

Cards and letters can continue to be sent:
Dave Arneson
1043 Grand Avenue
Box #257
St. Paul, MN

Visitation will be on April 20th
Time: yet to be determined
Bradshaw Funeral Home
687 Snelling Avenue South
St. Paul, MN 55105

Ryan Dancey on WOTC's Decision to Pull PDF Sales

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Ryan Dancey has some interesting comments on what may be driving some of WOTC's weird decisions -- like the public relations fiasco with PDF sales this week -- in a comment on RPGPundit's blog. Even if you don't agree with RPGPundit's opinions, drop by to read Ryan Dancey's comment. It's speculation, of course, but it makes sense.

Dave Arneson Makes Save vs Death

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It looks like earlier reports of Dave's death were a bit premature. I got the report of Dave's death from a close friend of his, but now have a message from his family that he is alive (as of this afternoon) but has been moved to a hospice. Good news, especially on a week that has started out with rotten news. I'm still praying for you, Dave.

RIP Dave Arneson, Co-Creator of Dungeons & Dragons (Apparently Misinformation)

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[Important Update: According to a message I just received from Dave's family, he's still alive but was moved to a hospice. See Dave Arneson Makes Save vs Death for more info.]

I just opened my email to some sad, but not unexpected, news. Dave Arneson has lost his battle with cancer. He died at age 61. I don't have a lot more information at the moment. Dave had been battling cancer for some time but things seemed to be looking pretty good. Then he took a sudden turn for the worse in the last week.

In some ways, Dave was more important to my personal gaming than Gary was. Temple of the Frog in the original Blackmoor supplement was the first dungeon I ever saw designed by someone who was familiar with the way D&D was supposed to be played. First Fantasy Campaign from Judges Guild was the first chance I had to see how a full blown campaign was set up and ran by one of the original designers. Gary may have provided most of the rules we used and Judges Guild the Wilderness setting and City-State we played in, but Dave provided the first examples of a complete dungeon and a complete campaign that I had. He provided the spark that became the soul of my campaigns.

Thanks again, Dave. I say "again" because Dave, like Gary, remained accessible to those playing the games they created until the end. I got to tell both Gary and Dave directly how much what they did way back in the early 1970s did for me.

WOTC, PDFs and My Table Rules

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As everyone reading this probably know, WOTC pulled another public relations disaster yesterday, suddenly yanking all PDFs from sale because they discovered some were being pirated and sued the pirates. What a way to do business, punish paying customers to stop non-paying pirates. Especially when all you've done is force everyone who wants a PDF to pirate instead of pay you. More evidence that "corporate intelligence" is far lower than "military intelligence."

My reaction to this latest bit of "paying customer be damned" from WOTC is simple:

First, I've decided not to buy anything else published by WOTC new. If I really want it, I'll buy it used. That way none of my money ends up in WOTC's corporate pocketbook. In so far as possible, this will also apply to any products put out by a Hasbro-owned company.

Second, I am removing my "do not used pirated PDFs/illegal copies at my gaming table" rule from the "player info sheet" I give new players. I've never played copyright police unless someone was stupid enough to brag about their pirating in front of me, but now I will not even go this far. While I'm not going to pirate stuff myself, I will not longer stand up for copyright owners at my gaming table unless they pay me very large sums of money to play "copyright police" for them. I'm tired of doing it for free only to be stabbed in the back by the "corporate masters." From now on, if they want my help, it's not free -- and I set the price and the terms and conditions, both non-negotiable.

Microlite74 is "better" than Swords & Wizardry?

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I needed to test some optional Microlite74 rules and talked my S&W group in playtesting them this weekend in place of our regular game. Several of my new rules need more work, which was not unexpected. What was unexpected was two-thirds of the players said they strongly prefer Microlite74 to Swords & Wizardry. They thought the game played more smoothly and the rules got in the way less. I really can't figure out why they feel that way. To me, M74 and S&W are such close cousins that it would be illegal for them to marry in many US states. The differences are so minor to my (jaded by years of house rules) eyes that I just can't see enough difference between them to say one is smoother and more rules-lite than the other.

However, now I'm curious. Have any others who have played both Microlite74 and Swords & Wizardry (or OD&D, for that matter) found they strongly prefer M74 over S&W or OD&D? If so, could you explain why you have that preference in a comment?

Microlite74 2.0 -- Almost 1000 Downloads

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One month after its release, Microlite74 2.0 has had 996 downloads. The first supplement, Ancient Auguries, has had 260 downloads in the three weeks or so it has been available.

News: There will be at least one more supplement featuring Druid and Illusionists spells.