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Next Old School Project: BX Advanced?

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Basic/Expert D&D Books imageI've been working on Microlite74 and its many variants since 2008 During these nine years, I've produced:

  • The original Microlite74 (and two revised editions, the second of which has three separate versions: Basic, Standard, and Extended)
  • Five supplemental volumes for Microlite74 and the original Microlite75 (which became Microlite74 Extended in the third edition of Microlite74)
  • Microlite74 Swords & Sorcery Edition (An "E6-like" set of Microlite74 rules aimed at swords and sorcery campaigns)
  • Microlite74 Light vs Dark (A version of Microlite74 designed for low -- but common -- magic campaigns with summonable spirits and two opposed deities)
  • Microlite78 (slightly modified Microlite74 rules with the spells, monsters, and treasure of the first edition of the "Advanced game) 
  • Microlite81 (The B/X version of the game given the Microlite74 treatment in three different versions: Standard, Complete, and Advanced). 
  • Microlite75 (A revised version of Microlite74 using the standard experience system instead of the Microlite20-based system of Microlite74, also in three versions: Basic, Standard, and Extended) 
  • Microlite74 Ultimate (nearly 400 tablet/digest-sized pages combining 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)
  • Microlite74 3d6 Edition (a version of Microlite74 that uses D6s (and only D6s): 3d6 are rolled when a D20 would be rolled in standard versions) and the system includes partial successes as well as success and failure)
That's a lot of games from something that originally started as a quick project to do a small Microlite20 version of the original 1974 "0e" whose only intended purpose was to help people used to 3.x try "old school" play to see if they liked it. (Take a look at Microlite74 1.1 to see this version of the game.)

The only game I've published during this time that wasn't somehow based on that original Microlite74, is Tarnhelm's Terrible Tome which provides my "standard" house rules in a form suitable for the original 1974 game, Swords and Wizardry, Delving Deeper, and other versions of 0e. Tarnhelm's Terrible Tome also includes a version of the Magic-User, the Mnemonic Mage, which uses a system closer the original magic system used in Jack Vance's early Dying Earth stories.

You can view (and download) these games on RPGNow from this link -- most are "Pay What You Want" (and free/$0 is fine if that's what you want to pay).

While I have several Microlite75 variants I am supposedly working on, I'm not making a lot of progress. I suspect a large part of my very slow progress is that I am somewhat burned out on working with the Microlite74/75 systems. Like I said, I been working on Microlite7x/8x systems for nine years now. I've considered try taking a break and working on something not based on Microlite20/7x/8x rules before, but have never really done so because I did not have any others ideas that interested me enough to actually work on for more than a few days or weeks.

However, my post a few days ago "Creating a 'Best of TSR D&D' Rulebook" saw several people commenting that really like the B/X systems with the AD&D classes, spells, treasures, etc. and would really like a set of rules that combined the rules of Labyrinth Lord and its Advanced Edition Companion in one rulebook. As the vast majority of the text of both is Open Game Content under the OGL, this would be relatively easy to do. I suspect that only reason its never been done is because everyone likes Goblinoid Games and therefore no one wants to do step on their toes by publishing such a product. That's certainly why I've never done it, even though I did a primitive combined version for my own use years ago.

Thinking about it, however, I realized that I would not feel about about publishing such a product if I added a lot of other material to it: optional rules, optional classes, optional monsters, optional treasures, optional spells, a domain system, etc. In other work the kind of optional extras I've added to my Microlite7x/8x games and have been writing seen I started to play OD&D back in 1975. Thinking some more about it, I noticed that I was actually interested and even excited about such a "BX Advanced" project. Excited enough, in fact, to start making notes and outlines of what I would need to do and ought to write. While I'm not 100% sure I want to do this, I've just about convinced myself that a BX Advanced of some type should be my next game design project.

What do you think?

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.