Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Pontificatory Miscellany

In an effort to kick myself out of "panicky student" mode and back into "regular writer and blogger" mode, I've decided that I need to do a bit of catching up and cleaning up.  Thus, I shall now endeavor to wrangle together a list of all the topics and projects I've either recently addressed, had no chance to address in the last four months, or mean to focus on shortly.

Let's get started.

Dice: Last post, I talked about the possibility of the DM rolling all the dice as I run my Barrowmaze campaign.  I got the chance to try that out last night.  I liked it; I don't think it bothered my players too much; but in the end, I'd have to say that it didn't actually have any measurable impact on the speed of play.  So things will almost certainly go back to normal next week.

Mostly.  The one thing that did wind up improving the flow of the game was writing down the players' actions on the action declaration phase, before rolling initiative.  That was the key to keeping everything organized; that's what I'm going to keep on doing each and every time going forward.

"Roll the Bones!": Players who play with me regularly know to fear this statement from their DM.  You see, I've employed a longstanding house rule in my campaigns where if a character falls to 0 hp, they don't die instantly; but neither do they slide into negative hit points, roll a saving throw, roll a Constitution check, or do anything else that might depend on level or stats.  Instead, the player simply rolls 2d3, with double 3s indicating immediate death and any other result indicating a wound of some variable degree of seriousness.

As I've lately been on this kick where I don't want to clutter up my game table with too many dice, I've also been quietly pondering ways that I might do away with my game's dependency on non-standard dice such as d3s, and now I think I've found it.  Close enough to the same probability curve of 2d3 is 3m6, or the median roll on 3d6.  If we say that a character only dies when the result is 6 (the same as double 3s on 2d3), that will only happen when boxcars turn up on at least two of the three d6s.  This is slightly rarer (the chance of getting a 6 is 11% on 2d3 and about 8% on 3m6), but close enough.  And for some reason, I really really like the symmetric poetry of 3d6 giving a character life at character creation, and 3m6 heralding the character's death at the end of all things.

Speaking of 2d3: At some point within the last month, I was seized by the need to write up a rules-lite RPG, something that would be more suitable to one-shots than D&D (I've recently come over to the opinion that OD&D only works within the context of a full-length campaign), and yet more suited to my tastes than either Risus (which I still think is cool, but I don't like the death-spiral) or my other go-to lite game of choice, Altars & Archetypes (which is not as cool as Risus, but easier to learn and play).

To that end, I decided upon a mechanic that only uses d3 dice (or, with a slight modification, Fudge dice), and came up with this little mini-swashbuckler, which I've dubbed Three Bones:

Three Bones Full Rules
Three Bones Rules Cheat Sheet

I play-tested it for a session, it worked as I expected, and so I'm quite happy with it.  It's easily the best tool I have access to now for introducing total neophytes to "role-playing games" of the traditional, mainstream sort (which is to say, "RPGs" as most people now conceive of them, and not "fantastical wargames" like OD&D).

Revisions to my OD&D games: As my Barrowmaze campaign proceeds apace, I've had to make numerous tweaks to my house rules document, "D&D 2018," which lately received a major overhaul that buffed the orc, nerfed the monk (but in a way that makes their unarmed strike routines feel like combo chains in Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat!), and tweaked the druid just a hair.  So this is what it looks like now:

D&D 2018 (May revision)

On top of that, I also put together a revised D&D Basic thief class which could serve in a game that doesn't use a skill system at all.  (I like a skill system, so I generally don't use a thief class with built-in thief skills, but if I were ever to do so, this is what it would look like).

Revised Thief for OD&D games

On the Broad Usage of "OD&D": At least three times in as many months, I've had people go off on me on forums for using "OD&D" in the old pre-http://www… sense to mean TSR-published non-Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (everything from the 1974 booklets through the 1996 reprint of the tan box).  Nevertheless, I have yet to hear a convincing reason to defer to common opinion and change my preferred usage.  After all, the term "OD&D" was coined in parallel with and in opposition to "AD&D", and AD&D is not an edition, it's a game with at least two editions underneath its umbrella.  OD&D too is a game, and one that I would argue has at least two editions worth distinguishing (if "edition" is here taken to mean "a version of the rules" rather than "a printing of a certain book").  OD&D really has a 1st edition in white box and the original Basic Set by Dr. Holmes; and a 2nd edition made up of everything from Tom Moldvay's 2nd edition of the Basic Set and later (after which the rules do not significantly change).  In Holmes and earlier, one can use the same ability adjustments, the same alignments, the same rules for demi-humans; and in Moldvay and later, again, the ability adjustments are now uniform, the demi-humans are now solidly character classes of their own, and the spell lists are firmly fixed at eight or twelve spells per spell level.

But when it comes to converting between the two versions, or moving characters and monsters and items between them, it takes about as much effort and care as moving between the 1st and 2nd editions of AD&D.  Really, it's quite the astonishing parallel: about the same amount (and in certain cases, the same kinds) of "stuff" changed between AD&D 1st edition and 2nd edition as between Holmes and Moldvay.  But it mostly involves stat adjustments and spell lists and a few monster details here and there.  In the broad strokes, you can move things between the versions of D&D with more ease than you can move between D&D and AD&D.  That is to say, a "lawful fighter" can be moved from white box to Mentzer and back with practically no conversion, and ditto for a "lawful good human paladin" going back and forth between 1st and 2nd edition AD&D; but moving that same character back and forth between AD&D and OD&D is going to involve some tweaking, and the translation will lose something somewhere (moving from one game to the other and back again would likely not result in the original being reproduced, for example).

This is why I consider "OD&D" to be one unitary game in a continuous and unbroken chain of minor revisions that stretch from the white box to the tan box; and why, if I had to accede to the hated and inaccurate practice of giving RPG editions "version numbers" that coincide with their ordinal edition designations, I'd probably have to call white box "OD&D 1.0," Holmes "1.1" (or "1.5" to the technologically inept), Moldvay/Cook "2.0," Mentzer "2.1," the black box & cyclopedia "2.2," and the tan box "2.3" (but I'm not actually going to do that, because it's stupid and dumb and stupidly dumb).

Next Time: When next I write again, I shall finally finish describing in the ins and outs of my Barrowmaze campaign; and discuss getting back into revising Retro Phaze!


  1. I very much liked your three bones rules. I'd like to give them a try sometime.

    I also dig your thief in that other characters can still try to do the thing,but they will never out-thief the thief. Also, your thief doesn't completely and totally suck at thievery at low levels. It's somewhat similar to houserules I've used in the past.

    ...and people really go off on you for "misusing" the term OD&D?
    I feel like there are worthier things to go off on people for.
    By and large, things like this are why I don't participate in internet forums (fora?) anymore.

    1. Regarding "Three Bones," one just has to keep in mind that it was built to mimic the pacing of campy action TV shows, which means that in fights, numbers matter (a dozen minions actually do have a chance of defeating a trio of full-blown heroes), and that fighting is likely to result in injury (unless the characters wear armor). PCs should be as discouraged from picking fights in "Three Bones" as in low-level D&D, and they don't have that much more long-term stamina. But it does open the door to the kind of creative thinking we like in our games!

  2. You're definitely not the only one who considers "Basic" D&D to be a later edition of oD&D; even DriveThru puts them in the same heading. I've seen many people refer to the two pre-WOTC game lines as "D&D" and "AD&D" (including the TSR books themselves), but now that there are many more versions calling themselves simply "D&D" - to the point that the 4e and 5e rulebooks don't even include their assigned version numbers on the cover - a better distinction is in order. "Basic D&D" works okay, except that it minimizes the Expert rulebooks and onward, while completely ignoring the LBBs.

    I like using oD&D as a blanket term; the different boxed sets definitely have traceable continuity between each other, even if the details differ.

    1. >"Basic D&D" works okay, except that it minimizes the Expert rulebooks and onward, while completely ignoring the LBBs.

      This, oh so very much. And, yeah, I still really don't know what to do about avoiding confusion between "Dungeons & Dragons" as original/basic/expert/companion/masters/classic vs. "Dungeons & Dragons" as WotC's great d20 System experiment, because, well, both are officially published under the name "Dungeons & Dragons" (and they couldn't be more different). Just saying "TSR D&D" tends to include "AD&D," and saying "D&D but not AD&D" nowadays makes more people think of 3rd edition and later. It's a problem, particularly given the relatively low profile of Basic/Expert D&D outside the well-informed circles of the OSR.

      I can't count the number of times I've had people come up to my group as I'm playing in the game shop and ask "what edition are you playing?" If you say "zeroeth," they look at you like you're insane; if you try to explain that original or basic D&D doesn't really have numbered editions the way AD&D does, they stare for a bit and say, "so you're playing [1st/2nd] edition then?"

      From now on, whenever that should happen in the future, I think I'm just going to sigh, look down, visibly give up all hope for humanity, and concede that I'm playing 1st or 2nd edition.