March 11, 2016

Skills in D&D and the philosophy of OSR

One of the big changes in D&D over the years has been the addition of skills. Originally, there were only a few skills: roll a d6 for finding a secret door, for example. Then our friend the Thief was introduced with his many skills. Now we could roll to see how well a thief hides or how silently the he moves.

Of course, there were people asking for spot and listen skills so they can try to find hidden things and listen for those trying to be silent. But that's not how older D&D works. If you're not a thief, you have no skill in hiding and you have no skill in moving silently and the DM and players just have to use common sense to find out if someone can see an unskilled character trying to hide. And characters can't get skilled in trying to spot hidden characters or listen for those silently moving. Everyone can see and listen the same. The real skill is in the hiding and moving so you can't be seen and heard.

That seems the basis for older D&D. Only the remarkable is made into a skill. Moving silently is really hard to do well. So is hiding in shadows or climbing sheer surfaces or disabling a trap. Older D&D gives percentages there but for everything unremarkable, there's no roll. You're an adventurer - of course you can do it! Roll a die if you think there's a chance of failure but it's not remarkable so we're not going to give a rule for it.

That's what I love about old school. I don't want rules for the unremarkable. I only want rules for the remarkable stuff. Let my game be made from the stuff of legends!

March 02, 2016

Making magic rare and adding technology

So my upcoming campaign is going to be based on Dungeon Crawl Classics with one big change. We're not going to use wizards. Instead, we're going to have scientists that will work like wizards in a lot of ways. Instead of spells, they'll have technological gadgets that will need to recharged. (This idea is taken from Warriors of the Red Planet.) Any ideas on how to map casting rolls and spellburn onto a scientist class?

February 17, 2016

My Upcoming Campaign

I love this. It's the implied setting of the original D&D books that came out in 1974 as detailed by Wayne Rossi in his blog. He says of it, "It is wild, and it feels profoundly like the world someone who watched every cheesy science fiction movie about giant monsters and every classic horror film would make."

That's what I want for my next campaign. I want fantasy and science fiction mixed together. I want the crazy tables of Dungeon Crawl Classics mixed with the crazy mutations of Mutant Future and everything in-between. It will start simply, with The Keep on the Borderlands. Who knows where it will go next?

February 05, 2016

Sourcebooks and fluff

I have a strange love/hate relationship with sourcebooks. I like cool new ideas, whether those ideas are rules ideas or adventure ideas. However, I don't like fluff. What's fluff? It's different for everybody but for me it's setting information that doesn't directly affect play. For example, I don't really care about the history of a setting unless that history is repeating itself somehow.

I traded for a bunch of sourcebooks recently and got the following (mostly AD&D 2e but the Survival Guides are AD&D 1e):

The Castle Guide
The City of Ravens Bluff
The Complete Book of Elves
The Complete Fighter's Handbook
The Complete Priest's Handbook
The Complete Ranger's Handbook
The Complete Thief's Handbook
The Complete Wizard's Handbook
Demihuman Deities
Dragons of Triumph
Dungeoneer's Survival Guide
Faiths & Avatars
Monster Mythology
Powers & Pantheons
Tome of Magic
Wilderness Survival Guide
Wizards and Rogues of the Realms

I did some cursory skimming of The City of Raven's Bluff. It's almost entirely a setting book and there's a ton of history in there that doesn't look like it affects current adventure hooks at all. I'm hoping I'm wrong and there'll be tons of adventure hooks that jump out at me when I read it in detail but i have a lot of reading to do and I thought I could ask for your help here.

What is fluff to you? Have you read the books above? Are they full of fluff or full of cool ideas? What are some examples of sourcebooks that you have read that are the best at being full of cool ideas? What are some examples of those are full of fluff in your opinion? What are you looking for in a sourcebook?

January 26, 2016

Basic Fantasy review

Basic Fantasy just turned 10 years old a few days ago. It's an amazing RPG that emulates classic B/X D&D but not strictly. For example, it uses ascending AC, which is really easy to convert from D&D modules: just subtract the D&D AC from 20 and that's the new Basic Fantasy AC. Also, it divides race from class so now you can be a dwarf thief or a halfling fighter if you like. There are a few other differences but pretty much everything else is classic B/X D&D and I love the simplicity. I love the flexibility and the race divided from class adds to the flexibility.

I've run D&D modules and AD&D modules with Basic Fantasy just fine. There also a bunch of free modules and supplements on the Basic Fantasy site. Everything is free and open source and everyone is welcome to contribute. In fact, many of the existing retroclones are based on Basic Fantasy. Take a look at their OGL section and look for the copyrights. That's the beauty of Basic Fantasy - it's a perfect base for you to build the RPG that you want on.

Also, because it is all non-profit, you can get the books at cost through Amazon or Lulu or RPG Now. The rulebook is only a bit over $4 for a softcover. The downside to doing everything for free is that all art is donated and it doesn't have the incredible art you'd get if you buy the latest edition of D&D. The art is good though and some of it is amazing. Please let me know what you think of Basic Fantasy!

January 21, 2016

My Favorite D&D

Dungeons & Dragons has had a lot of editions. It was first released in 1974 as a box of three booklets. Then in 1977, the first Basic set was released along with the AD&D Monster Manual, which was followed by the Players Handbook in 1978 and the Dungeonmasters Guide in 1979. The Basic version was further revised in 1981, then again in 1983, then yet again in 1991. AD&D 2nd edition was releases in 1989 and then revised in 1995. Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition, with its d20 system, came out in 2000 and then it was revised in 2003. After that, there was 4th edition in 2008 and then 5th edition in 2014.

Yeah, that's a lot. D&D is 42 years old this year (a special number for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fans). So which D&D is your favorite?

I first encountered D&D in 1980, when I perused my cousin's AD&D Monster Manual. Oh, what a picture in my head that gave me! Valiant men & women vanquishing strange monsters and rewarded with magical treasures! I then read through the Basic set in 1983 and by 1984 my friends and I were devising our own dungeons and running each other through them in our idea of what D&D was supposed to be like. I didn't actually get to play D&D, which was actually AD&D, until 1987. I branched out to other RPG systems and then tried D&D again in 2000, when the 3rd edition came out. I never played 4th edition and I recently got the starter box for 5th edition but I haven't played it yet.

I've been reading through the 3rd edition Players Handbook, 1st edition AD&D, and the 1983 version of the Basic Set lately along with a bunch of retroclones. I love the simplicity of the Basic set. Rolls are simple, modifiers are few, and everything seems streamlined so we get right into the play of the game. But then I also love all the options of AD&D and 3rd edition. More races, more classes, multiclassing, and even feats are fun additions to play. And I love the advantage system in 5th edition where you get to roll 2d20 and take the best result (or worst result if you are disadvantaged).

So what's my favorite D&D? I'd say it's Basic with the races and classes from AD&D and the some of the cool character options from 3rd edition and the advantage/disadvantage system from 5th edition and oh, maybe some of the cool stuff I've seen in Dungeon Crawl Classics. My favorite D&D is an amalgamation of a bunch of things and I suspect it's like that for a lot of people. I'd like to write up my favorite D&D sometime and let you all look at it so you can compare it to your favorite D&D.

So what is your favorite D&D?

January 14, 2016


I've been getting myself acquainted with the old school renaissance (OSR) movement lately, which is a return to RPGs like the older D&D rulesets. There are a lot of them out there. This site is probably the most comprehensive: Taxidermic Owlbear's D&D retroclones. I'll be reviewing many of these in the future.