Saturday, December 31, 2022

You Are Not Playing Our Game Right


You see this everywhere, from Wizards to Games Workshop.

When the games we enjoy become "Wall Street Money Makers," they cease to be our games anymore, and they become a way for a billion-dollar corporation to insert corporate control into your life. You don't own these ideas! We do! And you must pay!

You can almost smell the ink on the whiteboards at this point.

How do we increase monetization?

  • Release new rules!
    • Put them under a strict license!
  • Create a monetization portal!
    • Microtransactions!
    • Subscription portal content!
  • Design the rules to require character builders!
    • Forbid creating those in the new OGL.
  • Keep popular build options out of the SRD/OGL!
  • Heavily license 3rd party content! 
    • Barriers to market entry!
    • Royalties!
  • Use social media to stigmatize holdouts and people who play "other" games.

They don't say that last part, but a few paid influencers will get the ball rolling there. Stigmatization can mean saying things like, "You won't have anyone to play with," or touting "the industry leader," as well as outright mockery of people who are a bit different than what you like. And the crowd will follow along.

Diversity and inclusion include people who like different games than what you like. Even people who choose to play them differently or who choose and strongly identify with older versions of the game.

When I wrote the B/X Mod article discussing using SRD 3.5 feats with any B/X game, it hit me, and even in some non-mainstream games, you get this "designer hubris" going on. Don't modify the rules! We carefully balanced this! You take all responsibility for your own homebrew modifications! You know you won't be able to play this on a VTT! You will live alone and with cats if you change the rules!

Granted, this is also how most 5E players play, as everyone has house rules! From what I hear, house ruling is everywhere. And some great third-party books can enhance your game.

But I get the feeling with "One" way to play the game in the next edition, these days are coming to an end. We will have an officially supported VTT with the rules baked in. If you are playing that "old" edition, you are hurting the game and reducing the player base.

With the OSR, I can play any flavor of an OSR game and, with trivial effort, play at any table. The rules changes between editions are often flavor calls, and better yet, in the OSR, the game is truly yours.

You could even write your own if you want.

You can house rule all you want.

If I tell people, yeah, I allow D&D 3.5 feats, one every two levels, people who play will be like, "cool," or "that is an interesting way to play," or even "you do you." Even if they think it is silly and power gaming, I am not "hurting the game" if I choose to play this way.

It is "my thing."

And it is supported.

And better yet, if someone wants to take this idea and roll it into a new version of B/X, it is cool too.

All of us own this idea.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

The More I Read, the Less I Need

With B/X games, I started with my original preference, Labyrinth Lord. This hybrid mix of D&D and AD&D gave clerics a spell at the first level and had the best support with dungeons and expansions written for the game. This also had the -3 to +3 ability score modifiers I was used to and all my favorite AD&D monsters. The second edition of this is coming too, which is nice to see.

Then I was all over Old School Essentials. This had it all; the best organization, art, incredible presentation, and ease of use were second to none. The expansion classes are excellent and fresh takes on the classics through a B/X lens, including one of the best OSR bards.

It lacked the demons I expected, so it always felt incomplete - especially when Advanced came around, and this started to pull in AD&D concepts. The base game is limited to fantasy and generous with ability score modifiers. There is no percentage-based magic resistance.

This is still the best edition of B/X you can buy - especially if you are coming off of 5E and need to have rules support for many things. This is both a strength of the system and a weakness; if you need a rule - it is there. But B/X from earlier days was designed for you to just make it up as you go along. There is a difference in the B/X community between the "fully ruled" later editions and the "make a ruling up" earlier editions of the game. There is still much room in OSE to make up rulings; I just lean towards more freedom and my own rulings.

These days, I am gravitating back to Swords & Wizardry. This is a hacker's game, made to modify, and there are some genius-level simplifications here. A lot is left up to you on how to handle; where OSE will have rules for everything, S&W lets you make a ruling. This has the AD&D monsters, and it has percentage-based magic resistance. This also limits ability score modifiers to a lower range and limits STR bonuses for melee to fighters only.

Giving everyone ability score modifiers for every little thing pushes stat inflation. Straight 3d6 characters feel playable in S&W, whereas in many other games, they do not. The universal +3 modifier at 18 (for all classes) feels too powerful. I like fighters as the only class getting the hit and damage modifiers from strength. Late-era B/X had a lot of "gimmes" that I feel made the game too easy, and since the D&D game of that time was targeted toward kids, the B/X games that emulate late-era D&D feel like they give too much when they shouldn't.

The hardcovers are a bit tricky to find, but they are still being sold on Lulu.

Also, this is 100% compatible with White Star, and all that sci-fi goodness comes in, and you have a Starfinder-style magic and sci-fi game. This is awesome since I love the "science-fantasy plus magic" genre, and I have a game that does that and can pull from sci-fi and fantasy sources and have everything work with no conversions. Laser bow-armed space elves fighting space orcs in powered armor? It works.

The awesome Beyond Belief White Box-based "X!" minigames also play well with S&W, which are expansions to the game if you want them to be, or fun standalone one-shots. Mix those with any S&W material, and your game feels vast.

I need less to have fun with, and massive shelves full of 5E or Pathfinder books these days feel overkill. More is less. And the reverse is true. My imagination and game design skills are superior to "rules written in a book." I know, for some, the rules are a part of the fun - and if that is your game, Pathfinder 2 is a blast.

So I gravitate towards games that give me more creative freedom, with fewer rules written. This isn't "rules light," and I find some of the newer games are more rules heavy in that they impose so many "creative frameworks" on your imagination they limit your creativity and replace it with a rigid "author-approved system of creative play."

Astounding! Amazing! Incredible! Non-stop action using familiar rules! Who wants to read through reams of text just to get to the action? No-one right? These rules assume you know how to role-play. They assume you know about “Golden Age” comic book space fantasy adventures. (Sword & Planet rules through a retro lens). They assume you know how OSR products work. There, it’s done. You know how to play already. Just get on with it. Ray guns set to kill! Flash! Bang! Zoom!

Like the X! games say, and as the above excerpt from Jarkoon says, you already know how to play a roleplaying game.

Give me a box of Legos.

And watch me toss the instructions.

Monday, December 26, 2022

B/X Mods: 3.5 Feats in B/X

If your B/X game needs a few more character options, there are many easy ways to fix that for a modded game. One of the easiest ways to mod B/X is to add the SRD 3.5 feat system to all characters. This makes characters more powerful, but if you like that style of heroic game, this may be great for you and your group.

Above is a nicely formatted PDF that is cheap, or you could always look the information up online.

Set a rate of feat advancements, such as one feat every even level or one every level divided by three, depending on how many feats you want characters to have at maximum level and what level your game will run to. For games like White Star, where the maximum level is 10, or ACKS, where it is 14, I may grant one feat every two levels. For games where the maximum level is 24+ (and you plan on playing that long), then one every 3rd level is good.

Not every feat will translate perfectly, and you can ignore "attacks of opportunity" - or rule a feat that gives you an AOO that gives you a "free attack" in certain situations. Improved Initiative is +4 on a d20, +2 on a d10, or +1 on a d6 initiative system. If a feat gives you a bonus to a skill check, make it a bonus to an ability roll in that situation. Fortitude, reflex, and will save bonuses apply when they should - reflex against dragon's breath, for example.

Some would need a little help, like a feat that lets you turn undead more "times per day" in a game where there are no limits to turning undead could just give a +2 bonus to turning them.

You could even rule giving up a feat pick would grant a character a +2 to an ability score if stat inflation doesn't bother your group too much. Or a +1.

If something makes no sense, don't use it.

If something breaks balance, tweak it or ban it for future picks.

If something makes the game annoying, toss it out or fix it.

Remember, what SRD 3.5 says is only a suggestion. You are free to modify or interpret it however you want, and the feat may change depending on the flavor of B/X you are playing.

If a player wants to make a new feat up, use the feat list as a guide and let them come up with something! You can work with the player if it needs to be balanced, but this is a fun way to make characters unique and let players flex their game designer skills. Maybe the player's dwarf wants "vibration sense" as a feat pick, and if it sounds fun - go for it!

I know there are "old school" feat products out there, but my preference is to take something that sort of works and translate it all in. This opens up the homebrew and custom player-created feats because having a perfectly balanced list gives you the impression you should "stick to the list!" This isn't how we did it in the old days, we had something that sort of worked with what we had, and we did the conversions ourselves and made up entirely new things to go along with the conversion.

B/X is your game. If you want to add some 3.5 flavors to your game (and avoid playing 3.5 entirely), just mod your B/X of choice when the campaign starts and see how it goes. You can always play the game unmodded next time.

But your homebrew could be cool and unique to your group, and then you will understand a little more about how we played the game in the old days.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The One D&D Mess

The above video is a calm, sane view of what is happening around One D&D and the (not so) OGL 1.1.

The anger around this issue is insane, so it is nice to see a logical discussion of what is going on and what we know. The title is clickbaity, YouTube is YouTube, but the video inside is excellent.

My feelings? I do not like where this is going.

I am ready to support Paizo 100% for "big box" fantasy gaming. They use open standards, anyone can publish and earn a living, and the workers there are unionized. I feel the OGL 1.1 is Wall Street's version of an "open" gaming license, and I feel it is not even worth considering or supporting in its current form. What happens when the badge program and registration website are retired? Does everyone have to pull their OGL 1.1 products and videos?

And the OSR is a superior publishing model and license, and all my OSR games will be free to play and publish, and it is just a model that supports the small creators much better. This feels like 4E and the GSL all over again. The pressure on YouTube D&D creators to fall in line will be huge, and their livelihoods depend on this all working out, and I feel sorry for both creators of 5E material and those who get income for covering the game on YouTube.

My feelings? Stick with old "open" 5E or a 5E clone, or better yet, go OSR, or play Pathfinder 1 or 2.

The sooner you tell yourself you aren't looking back at self-inflicted corporate drama, the happier you will be. Even if this does work out, you will have saved yourself endless worry and arguments and have more time to play something with a free and open license.

This is why free and open standards matter.

Every dollar spent in a closed system ends in disappointment, no matter how "free" they make it when it starts. Once you are locked in, they get you for as much money as possible.

If all this upsets you, and it does me to a level because I grew up with this game, just walk away.

That is my best advice.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Off the Shelf: White Star Galaxy Edition

I pulled White Star Galaxy Edition off the shelf recently. I have a great sci-fi game in FrontierSpace, so why do I need another?

I boxed up Starfinder recently, and I have a shelf full of Starfinder pawns that will just sit there or get boxed up with it. Starfinder is an excellent game, but for solo play, it is unmanageable tracking a small 4-person party of different species and classes. Starfinder is one of those 3.5 games with too many rules and books, and the rules for everything go into so much depth that a computer is needed to manage characters and know what is going on. Like Pathfinder 2, you need a group and players to fully understand their classes for fun to happen - and it takes work to manage all that solo.

I love you, Starfinder, but I can't play you alone.

So, I have a spot open in my playlist for fantasy slash sci-fi gaming. One where I can have tech characters and magic characters in a shared universe of adventure, and I can pull in a B/X dragon and put it beside a sci-fi game xenomorph. And I can use all my pawns and have some fun with space monsters and cool-looking sci-fi characters. A sci-fi mercenary can adventure alongside a "space cleric" and have cure light wounds cast on them in a pinch.

White Star, a game compatible with Swords & Wizardry and the excellent White Box Fantasy Adventure Game - smiles and says, "I am on the shelf, and you know how this game works already."

Yes, the OSR is fantastic, and all of B/X is cool. Do I have a ton of Swords & Wizardry stuff? Yes! Do I need a sci-fi game to go with it? Well, since I collect OSR, I have it already, and it isn't an expensive buy. Will Starfinder pawns work well with the game? I do not see why not.

The combat system works like S&S, attack bonus, ascending AC, one saving throw number, hit dice, and all the usual things I know how to use. Combat? Just like S&W.

The only change I will make is to have goblins be a more intelligent and serious race than their Starfinder counterparts, where they seem to be shoved into every other room as a cheap combat encounter you aren't supposed to feel bad for killing. They aren't "stupid idiots" you are meant to kill. I love Pathfinder and Starfinder; I just can't stand the goblins these days. Yes, they are cute, but there is a difference between an intelligent and malicious race and one that feels exploited for cheap combat thrills and laughs.

For me, White Star is the better game. Runs fast, simply uses all my stuff, and works excellently solo, and with large parties, one person can run them without that much effort.

Problem solved.

Friday, December 23, 2022

EZD6 vs. Index Card RPG

What a comparison. Two great games, but which one do I prefer for my rules-light game of choice?

To be honest, these two have wiped out almost every other rules-light game in my collection, including FATE. Savage Worlds is like a rules-moderate game since there are a lot of book-reference and special case rules to make that game engine work.

EZD6 is designed from the top down; what is fun at the table? Index Card feels designed from the bottom up; great mechanics create fun at the table.

ICRPG uses a complete set of polyhedral dice and keeps the incredibly fun d20 as the center of all the action: d20 for success, the rest of the dice for effort. EZD6 is six-sided dice only, and I was stuck in a hotel or airport where all I could get my hands on at a gift shop were a set of Yahtzee dice; EZD6 would be my go-to game. 

EZD6 is, by default, a fantasy game; I would love to see this go multi-genre in a second edition. The game feels easy enough to use for anything, but the default classes and lingo are more for fantasy than any genre. ICRPG is truly any genre, and it goes to town in the rulebook with examples of fantasy, sci-fi, weird west, superhero, and barbaric worlds and game support.

ICRPG is more gear-based and uses a concept of "gear as progression." EZD6 is gear-light, with gear baked into the classes, such as armor.

EZD6's magic is to make it up as you go along. ICRPG is more list-based, with spells as loot, with defined spells you find and select for your mage. This is one of the enormous differences between the games! If you like to make up what your magic does in a given situation, EZD6 is your game. If you like spell lists, collecting spells, and lists of named spells, then ICRPG is your game.

ICRPG has more robust progression with mile-stone abilities and masteries. EZD6 uses story elements as progression and does not track experience.

EZD6 is almost a stat-less game, whereas ICRPG feels more traditional regarding stats and character abilities.

Both of them are revolutionary games.

EZD6 has this "what works at the table" design philosophy, and I think many games could benefit from this design style - especially OSR games. We tend to keep a lot of cruft "because it existed back in 198X" when it might not have been the best rule or way to do things at the table, but we keep it because of nostalgia. Some of those rules were half-thought-through and mistakes back then, not the most fun way to handle something at a table. EZD6 jettisons most tabletop RPG "best guidelines" and goes with what works at a table of excited and engaged players.

EZD6 is like the ultimate party RPG.

Index Card feels born from frustration and disappointment; even the cover has this twisted ball of intense and confusing feelings. ICRPG feels like "every RPG I bought let me down," and the game is a reaction born of mechanics. These solid mechanics will change the way you play other games if you adopt parts of them that rethink every RPG trope into answering the question, "What is the most fun to play with these dice?" Everything is turned into a challenge, gear is essential, and the flow of a game becomes a mechanic. Better yet, game mechanics and player choice are preserved and celebrated - for those who like rules and choices, these are here and beg to be used in games and character designs.

Index Card RPG is like the ultimate role-playing game RPG.

For me, ICRPG hits a lot of my mechanical preferences - especially when playing solo. EZD6 can be played solo, but like a massive stack of pizzas and a table full of soda bottles, it is better shared with friends.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Good Video: EZD6 Magik

I could not figure out the magik system of EZD6 until I watched this. Good stuff.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Mail Room: Iron Falcon

Iron Falcon is a cool set of B/X rules from the creator of the legendary Basic Fantasy. This is old-school, like Swords & Wizardry is Old School, but doing that free and low-cost model of distribution and printing. The paperback on Amazon is nine dollars at the time of this writing, and that is an excellent price for an entire game that models itself off the original "boxed set plus world expansion."

This is like a pre-B/X set of rules from the 0E days and a lot like Swords & Wizardry but with more original concepts retained, with the original save tables, old-school descending AC, and no cleric spells at first level. This is also a race-plus-class game with three alignments. The game has four races plus four classes, like Basic Fantasy.

Basic Fantasy has many 3E concepts, whereas Iron Falcon sticks to the original 0E source more closely.

And there is a monster book available for more fun.

I like this game; like Basic Fantasy, it opens the original game's experience to as many people as possible, like an open-source software project. It expands the hobby for everyone, with the free PDF available on the game's site.

Basic Fantasy was a game-changer for me and introduced me to the OSR, and seeing the original game rebuilt and recreated for the world is a great thing that pulls the world into the hobby.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Magic in D&D

Something gives me the feeling why we have seen so much Magic the Gathering in D&D is Wizards wants to "cross-pollinate" D&D with so much Magic: The Gathering so that D&D can't be split off from Wizards and sold. They also want some of the "Magic money" to drive interest in roleplaying, which from my experience in the 90s, never worked at scale - people left D&D to play Magic.

Magic was the "easier" D&D.

When you are talking about "getting players around a table for X hours," nothing does it as quickly and as profit-driven as a card game. Face it; everyone has to buy a copy of a spell, monster, and hero - and they don't all come in one book for everyone to borrow from.

Magic makes all the money and is really the only thing worth keeping for Hasbro. D&D is under-monetized, and you have to ask yourself, with this many years at Hasbro, why hasn't it been monetized? If it has failed at monetization this many years, the next question is, can it ever be monetized effectively?

And I can see beyond my love of the game and see Wall Street at work. Replace D&D with "Brand X," and you take the emotion out of the discussion. If a company has owned Brand X for years and failed to turn it into a profit center, it drains the company of resources and energy and should be turned into an asset through a sale.

The problem is, roleplaying games are terrible profit-creation machines. The entire game is given away in the first three books, or at least 90%. I can enjoy almost all of D&D with the first three books. Add-on books depend on your big splash and sell less and less as time goes on due to the required investment.

To make money the company wants to make with "Brand X: the RPG," you need to sell every magic item, class, species, spell, and monster in the game as a paid booster pack. I don't see digital services as a saving grace, only as a way to maintain current returns. You would need to get a considerable percentage of "invested players" - the ones in the current expansion book market - to convert to digital.

And once you convert to digital, you compete with mobile phone games a thumb press away. The cost of competing in that space is another huge cost. Digital services are not free, creating an expected "rate of growth" to justify the cost the company sinks into them.

Re-releasing the game as-is will only get a percentage of players to convert. Many will stick with what they own. It will take a disproportionate amount of marketing budget to drive acceptance of a new edition, especially when the old one is so loved. I do not see the marketing today, when the new version needs it most, so I need to see a strong vote of confidence.

D&D may need to be sold to someone who understands the market. Or can at least caretake the brand effectively at a lower profit level. Some brands feel like they are in curator mode and out of the Wall Street spotlight, and Battletech is an excellent example that feels successful and promoting cross-market initiatives (novels, video games, etc.).

But then again, the companies D&D could sell to would include a who's who of predatory ventures, and you risk the brand turning into a "DC Comics" sort of perpetual monetization failure, despite having some of the most iconic heroes in the history of comics.

One D&D feels like a "last gasp at monetization" to me. The game will always be around, and there is always the OSR, so this is more of a Wall Street money game being played here. The only fundamental mistake players can make is buying into a failed service. If it succeeds and is fun, congratulations, and I will be on board - depending on the value delivered for the money spent. The game will be fine, but the fandom and hype around it may be in for a rough ride.

One problem is that traditional D&D has been very cheap to enjoy.

Most everything is in those first three books.

You don't need to buy a card for everything and collect and resell.

And the most successful version of the game is out there in the wild.

It feels like an uphill battle not only against itself but against every other mobile game and distraction as well.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Double Zero Dungeons

I love these 00 systems, so here is a blog devoted to Barebones Fantasy - a great rules-light game that does an incredible job with a fantasy action economy. Honestly better than a lot of the single-attack d20 games out there, and AC isn't the sole deciding factor in to-hit and defense - player choice is.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Space Dungeons

I started the SPace Dungeons blog just to focus on a game and a setting I love, the Frontier Space rules, and the Star Frontiers setting.

Off the Shelf: FrontierSpace

Frontier Space (FS) is really such a great game. I like it better than the original Star Frontiers (SF) since the action economy is so good. The game is designed much better, and the entire combat system is fun. The character-building options eclipse the original inspiration, feeling modern while keeping that retro vibe - and even allowing you to DIY parts of the rules to your liking.

Want to do Star Frontiers the right way? Buy the POD copies of the original game and the adventure modules from DriveThru and play this. This game even does "Guardians of the Galaxy" style swashbuckling space adventure better than most of its contemporaries.

All of the original races in the original game are trivial to port in. The setting works. The modules convert easily. The gear and tech are even better and give you an "advanced setting feeling" to the original game.

If you like the starship combat wargame of the original, Knight Hawks (KH), it is not that hard to use that wargame with these rules - everything is percentage based in both games; simply make skill checks with FS and do the rest with KH. If you need the FS "starship ability scores," simply use the ones in FS, or use a modified skill roll by a character based on the ship they are flying. Freighters are slow and clumsy and throw a significant negative modifier on flying through an asteroid field compared to a starfighter.


You don't need many rules for much of this anyways, and making a ruling and moving on makes a better game system.

Want a collection of fantasy monsters and spells to do a Starfinder-style game? Pick up Barebones Fantasy (another excellent d00-lite system) and hack them. The monsters here could be reskinned to be FS alien creatures easily and give you ideas for special alien powers and attacks.

Frontier Space just does sci-fi easier and better than most systems. Many systems try to convert clumsy d20-style classes, level systems, and rules frameworks into space, and you get this mesh of rules and special conditions that feels like it should work better together than it really does. And what happens is the rules bloat and get incredibly huge. Only Stars Without Number breaks this trend, and they do it by throwing out most of the d20 wargaming framework and starting fresh.

Star Frontiers - as a classic setting - deserves better than it is getting today; with all the silly drama going on between a few companies that I care not to mention and the mess around Spelljammer. As a "star dungeon" genre game, Star Frontiers beats the pants off of anything from Hollywood or the big two game companies. The SF setting, and also the genre Frontier Space plays in, is this "modern space civilization" meets "John Carter of Mars" sort of mix that creates infinite heroic exploration adventures.

Very few games "get it" in this genre. You get games that want to be cyberpunk, space military, Alien, Star Wars, Star Trek, or any other "easy to emulate" genre. You go back to the origins of all of those, especially the black-and-white serials of Buck Roger and Flash Gordon, and you mix that with planetary swords and sorcery like John Carter - and you understand the genre. FS does all those genres too, but when you want to land your starship next to a strange alien ruin, get out the flashlights, grab your laser pistol, and go inside to check it out - no game does it better.

This is the ultimate "star dungeon" game with throwback nods to the 1980s and those great percentile systems.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Under Monetized

Hasbro on D&D...

"The brand is really under-monetized."

This should tell you everything.

The "brand" that is under-monetized is that credit card sitting in your wallet or purse.

Honestly, I can buy (or get for free) one OSR game and have years of adventures.

I do not need a constant digital content stream to play a tabletop game, nor do I need to pay a Wall Street company a monthly fee to enjoy roleplaying. Nor do I need to please other people on social media, listen to YouTube hype channels, and feel I am being "left out" because I do not spend enough money on a hobby.

As much money Magic and Warhammer fans pay monthly to participate in their hobbies, I feel all the One D&D players will be expected to pay. I feel everything will be a paid portal, and the game's design will force you to use their tools. I doubt there won't be many great "free" ways to play, or indie VTTs to use.

It is a trap.

I would rather be under-monetized and left out because I will have money to enjoy life with and save for the future.

And it isn't a bad thing to be left out of something I feel is predatory.

Alternatives, even OSR 5E, exist and are often better choices than the game that inspired them.

Labyrinth Lord Second Edition Preview

Labyrinth Lord Second Edition preview is up and FREE for download!

Check it out here:

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Good Video: DM Shortage?

This is a fantastic bit of analysis and thoughts considering the critical shortage of DMs for 5E.

This is interesting since One D&D is not focused on making the game easier to run, and One D&D feels like it may split the market between 5E and One D&D - making the situation worse.

Add to that the extraordinary pressure on DMs to be celebrity entertainers like famous YouTube DMs and a game that is already difficult to balance and run. You have a situation I feel Wizards needs to pay attention to and address.

An excellent video and one worth checking out.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Hak on ACKS

I am doing a sister blog for ACKS over here and focusing on that game in that space. If I play a game or want to dive in deeper, it is likely better I have one place focused on the games I want to write about.

ACKS is a really cool game, and also an incredible toolset for other games for domain management and a lot of other cool subsystems and ideas built into this system. It is a very flavorful and exciting system, different than most B/X variations, and since it is not a generic B/X implementation, it has a lot of great ideas and evolutions of the rules into a great system.

Mail Room: Covert Ops

Once upon a time, there was the old TSR game Top Secret, and you could roleplay James Bond, Mission Impossible, Mack Bolan, Able Team, or any "spy action commando force" you could imagine - even GI Joe.

That game destroyed our original Mystara D&D game. Roleplaying as a superspy or commando was way more fun than poking orcs with swords, casting the magic missile spell once per day, or hauling 700 pounds of silver coins into town and figuring out the exchange rate.

Our early fantasy roleplaying never recovered when Car Wars came around, and that was way more fun than superspies - since Roger Moore was getting old and James Bond was not that cool anymore. GI Joe kept going, but we switched from Top Secret to Aftermath, which just felt like a better "military sim" to us than the fiddly percentage calculations of the old Top Secret game.

Fast forward 40 years to DWD's Covert Ops game, and this is the great 1d100 system they use in their excellent Frontier Space game, and this does everything superspy and 1980s action movie fast, fun, and easy to play. This is the worthy spiritual successor to Top Secret, the 007 RPG, and many more modern attempts at superspy roleplaying.

All of DWD's games are great, and they feel so incredibly 1980s 1d100 roleplaying in that style and feel. They need a Gangbusters/Noir/Detective focused game, but I am sure that would be easy enough to hack with Covert Ops.

A great game, I love the company and rules, and this is one of those keeper games on my most-played shelves. More soon.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Traditional Ability Scores

I tried to design a rules expansion for OSR-style games, where you have mechanics that rely on the average 3-18 ability scores, and I started to realize how broken the modern 3-18 system has become. The OSR expansion had specific effects applied from failed ability score rolls, and while it tested well in the standard 3d6 generation games, it started to rapidly break down on games that used point-buy, epic scores, and 4d6 and drop lowest.

If a "16+" is required to play a class, using roll-under for ability score checks is difficult.

This is why we have saving throws. If a save versus paralysis was making an STR roll, that spell would hardly ever affect fighters. Castles & Crusades does a very clean sidestep around this issue by setting target numbers and primary and secondary scores, and it is the game that tackled this issue and solved the problem. Swords & Wizardry made a genius move by de-emphasizing stat bonuses, so while ability scores matter for RP, they don't matter for most mechanics.

Using saving throw charts is a way to sidestep how much of a mess the ability score system has become since the numbers are controlled and progress naturally, and the upper and lower ranges are controlled.

Many other OSR games have this issue; they make ability score modifiers highly desirable, offer ways to inflate stats to make players happy (4d6 drop lowest and assign to the desired ability score), and set up a stealth stat-inflation of required ability scores to play a class.

Why play a class with a primary attribute below 16? Reroll it. You are holding the group back. I dislike the min-max or entitled ability score feeling of many modern games.

You can play straight 3d6 rolls, but I still feel the generous ability score mods create a situation where most ability score rolls produce more unhappiness than happiness because most of your scores will suck. The few characters that roll well will be rewarded, and most will wish for better stats. It takes a lot of self-control and old-school chutzpah to play a straight 3d6 character because so many games are so generous and incentivize stat inflation by over-rewarding high scores.

But why do I feel they suck? The game designers were too generous with ability score modifiers. Plus, many modern games sadly balance games for scores 14 and over. Instead of a bonus, the high ability score becomes a required.

I am beginning to feel anything other than straight 3d6 down the line is broken. With 3d6 down the line, high scores really mean something. The scores are in the middle range, so it means more to roll against them.

But most games reward ability scores too much when they should reflect natural talents handled outside the rules where no guidance is given.

Indiegogo: Amazing Adventures RPG Last 72 Hours!

 Last 72 hours on the Amazing Adventures RPG!

Time to hop on board if you love Castles & Crusades and want a modern to sci-fi era game to go alongside that!

Sunday, November 20, 2022

ACKS: Neo-Clone or Fantasy Sandbox?

I heard the term "neo-clone" used when people talked about Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS), and a neo-clone is a game that uses the framework of B/X to create a new experience - and one not afraid to deviate from B/X compatibility to deliver gameplay improvements. You see this in games like Stars Without Number, Mork Borg, Dungeon Crawl Classics, White Star, and a bunch of other great B/X style games that start with what we are familiar with (B/X style rules) and then go their own way.

The retro-clones are games that stick to rules compatibility first. Even if an obvious choice exists to improve gameplay, they do not take it since compatibility with older materials is more important than new experiences or gameplay improvements. Swords & Wizardry, Old School Essentials, White Box, For Gold & Glory, and a bunch of other games fall into this category.

Labyrinth Lord is sort of a particular case; it is a retro-clone since it is backward compatible, but the "system" it emulates is a mix of D&D and AD&D books back when players assumed everything was roughly compatible. We all just hacked it to work together. The game still feels more retro-clone than neo-clone, though the system it emulates did not officially exist other than "this is what we all did back then." The game is based on B/X assumptions and makes a mix of content work well together.

The Castles & Crusades game feels like another system spiritually close to Labyrinth Lord. The system it emulates is AD&D, using a D&D 3-style framework. C&C is compatible with almost everything, but the experience feels like AD&D without much of the crunch and detail. The only other game that does this is Basic Fantasy, which is a recreation of the older B/X games through a D&D 3-style lens. I love these games since they are essentially the "best of" a specific edition but with gameplay improvements.

With strict retro-clones, you need to be sold on the original experience. And once you are in a retro-clone, the experience is about the same in any of them - with a narrow range of differences in mechanics. Castles & Crusades is more of a retro-clone emulator that throws away dozens of tables, charts, and needless cruft and unifying mechanics under the ability score. Of all of them, this is the easiest to run; you do not need a book or referee's screen full of tables, and characters can play straight from index cards.

With ACKS, I keep coming back to this system. It survived being boxed up and put on storage shelves many times, and it keeps finding a way to my "most played" shelves, where I keep the best games and the ones I love reading. One factor helping this game is it is a neo-clone, and while it is like a B/X game - it is not a B/X game in playstyle. There is a focus on the three layers of play: adventurer, conqueror, and king.

This is like one of those great JRPGs where the game starts innocently enough, with you going to shops, buying heal potions and gear for your party, going to nearby dungeons, and grabbing loot. And then, at a critical moment, the entire game changes. You and your friends find yourselves in a middle of a war or uprising, and you become important. The mid-level game starts, and you are finding your place in the world. You begin changing the world. And at the highest levels, you are ruling a kingdom or the world.

D&D 5 and many retro-clones are based on the flawed "adventure until max level" grind. The reason many games stop at low to mid levels is because things are more of the same and uninteresting. So what that your damage doubles and the monster hit points also do? So your loot is now more powerful, but you need it anyway to keep up with the challenge rating? It all gets boring after a while.

Hence this is why you see a lot of monster and treasure books with challenges and rewards that scale to the maximum level of the game. You need higher number-value monsters to fight higher number-value heroes! It all feels like a mobile game after a while, where your level 878 fighter and level 799 wizard are taking on some monster in the high-hundred-number monster rating.

The stories are always better than the rules in these games. I don't doubt that. But the rules with the scaling numbers are often atrocious and unnecessary for fun and only exist to give you that mobile game progression hit.

With ACKS, you have that "first-level" character experience three times during your character's path - once at every play tier. Your character is a beginning adventurer. Then, your character is a beginning conqueror. And finally, your character is a beginning king. The game uses a simple B/X-style system as its design language, but it stops there. It adds a few systems the game needs to deliver on the experience (proficiencies), simplifies a few things (encumbrance), and provides a balance of familiar classes and new ones.

The paths of higher-level pay are also expanded, with rogues being able to establish a thieves' guild, warriors having armies, constructing domains, divine classes gathering power and establishing temples, and magical classes with experimentation, crafting new spells, and creating magic items. There is much to do at higher levels, reasons to spend gold, and many sandbox-style options for changing the world around you. And at the highest levels of play, you are running a kingdom, building settlements, and engaging in epic world-changing adventures of great importance.

The issue with a lot of retro-clones and even newer games is the "adventure to max level" assumption and providing little or no options for sandbox play. You get put in the adventurer box, and you can never escape from it. ACKS feels like a fantasy "Grand Theft Auto" where at the lower levels you are running around a sandbox doing minor missions, and then as you gain influence and notoriety - the nature of the sandbox changes, and you are taking over the map, destroying enemy strongholds, and getting involved in new things to do. At the highest levels, you work towards changing the world, or at least a part of it, and establishing a kingdom or other organization that becomes a part of the world's lore.

And you can play good or evil characters and work towards any goal without the "shackles of the adventurer" being put around your wrists. Your goals are very sandbox-driven. Do you want to be an evil worshipper of the fallen ancient gods, discovering power, uncovering secrets, gaining followers, and destroying good kingdoms? Go ahead. Again, the GTA model applies here, be paladins or bandits, generals or merchants, divine clerics or cultists, rulers or destroyers, and you are even free to join the bad guys' side and rule over orcs and beastmen.

The default assumption of "playing an adventurer" is a lot of games rob players of control and agency. The upgrade tracks and paths in many games make "farming the treasure, power, and spell lists" the entire game. Traditional dungeon games make you the servant of the rules. ACKS is a fantasy sandbox game, and your motivations for "why you are here" comes from you.

And you can start new characters and adventure in a changing world and still go back to your rulers and play high-level adventures of great importance every so often (or set tax rates, deal with bandits and rebellions, and do all that cool 4X stuff). It does not do "lip service" to domain management like some games that merely say "and you can" - it gives you the rules to do all that cool stuff.

And since it uses old-school sensibilities, if you want to change a rule, add a system, or make a ruling on the spot that "X happens," you don't break the game. Does it fit the moment and story? Then it happens. Fun is more important than making something fit into the rules.

It is rare to find a B/X style game that "does it all," but ACKS is that game.

Friday, November 18, 2022

The Safety Brand

As IP becomes increasingly integrated with other brands and popular culture at large, it gets blander and blander. Taco Bell will not want to make the Forgotten Realms Nacho Grande if a game is associated with demons, horror, dark fantasy, or violence.

Welcome to the world of becoming a "safety brand."

It happens to everything that achieves a certain level of popularity in the culture. Bart Simpson used to be an alternative punk symbol and counter-culture icon, but then he started appearing on every product, from candy bars to video games, and became "uncool."

To make the most money with D&D, I feel Wizards must purge any controversial content and massively tone down the violence. I bet  part of the reason you see college life and other nonviolent expansions is because the "brand is changing" and "it needs to move beyond its violent past."

This is not me speaking; these are New York and Hollywood brand managers.

I have worked with these people before. They will come into a company with the "Wall Street agenda" and push to make your brand more like other successful brands, and work to increase the "synergy" and "cross-marketing potential" of your brand so you "play better with others."

And they will change your game, and try to leave their mark on it, make no doubt.

They would sit in those skyscraper conference rooms, put the words "dark and violent past" on a whiteboard under "problems with the game," and then ask the people who run D&D, "how are you going to address this?"

  • Do you have demons and a "Hell" in your game?
  • Your game leverages Christian beliefs in its divine magic system?
  • Does your game show blood or promote violence?
  • Are the spells and powers that take away consent?
  • Does your game have mysticism and magic?
  • Does your game include real-world religious parallels such as druidism, wiccanism, or paganism?
  • Your game includes horror elements?
  • Your game requires players to "kill things" to "level up?"
  • Your game requires you to "steal wealth" to "gain experience?"

China banned video games from using mysticism and magic, so while some of the above seem outrageous, they are not too far off the mark. I know "barbarian" is a frowned-upon word in some circles, and it does not feel too far away from "druid" and "witch" to join those "culturally sensitive" classes and be banned. Even "thief" became "rogue" in some games.

When a game goes pop and mainstream, this happens. It may not be how you and your group play, but the forces and corporate manipulation are always there.

A lot of players use roleplaying as a way to work through mental health issues and conquer fears. I love that games can sometimes dive into mature content to help serve as a "harmless fantasy exploration" of feelings and issues in players' lives. This is why we socialize and have communities - to help each other work through challenging and complicated lives. To ban that from our games is to tell us we aren't allowed to use fantasy to work through real-life issues.

This is also why we have systems to talk about the content in our games, know our players, and talk about things we are okay (or not okay with) within a game setting. But we are allowed to have them, the switches and toggles are there, and the game has not "written these options out."

This is part of why I like the OSR and these smaller indie-game communities. They do not have the smell of Wall Street and corporate meddling in the game's content, nor do they force you to avoid specific topics or exclude content from your game. There are times I feel in some games, the "how to play the game" writing approaches the level of "cultural police," and they put the expectation on players and DMs to "get people in line" or face ostracization from the community.

All in the name of profits.

And "push players to police their games" would be one of those solutions that would get written on the whiteboard.

DMs, please keep your players from doing anything above a PG rating because, you know, we need that Taco Bell deal, and we don't want people to think negatively about the game "we all enjoy."

Don't you want to be a "good" member of the "community?"

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Off the Shelf: Adventurer Conqueror King System

Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) is one of those games I just keep coming back to. On the surface, it is a strange B/X retro-clone with many custom modifications to the classes and spells to make them work better with the game's 4X-style domain management game. This means re-learning is needed, and double-checking magic spells "you thought you knew" to ensure your interpretation matches the game.

But this is B/X, not a new game, so the differences are minor, and the amount of "getting used to" the game is way less than an entirely new set of rules.

The game is also more Middle-Ages than Renaissance, and that is a fantastic thing since you can pull in the conflict between the older "Conan Era" of the world with old magic and the barbaric ways versus the "New World" of the state - with religion providing the counterbalance and driving force to rebuild lost empires into nations and vanquish the evil magic of the ancestors - and they will not go quietly. I love this fight of the barbaric era versus nation-building, which is an excellent background for framing a dominion game.

So why play a variant B/X game?

Because it is one.

ACKS has your standard B/X classes, so you can feel right at home, but where it shines are in the incredible collection of specialty classes and specialized racial classes that make those cultures come alive. Many B/X games (and even 5E, C&C, and Pathfinder 2) do the race + class thing, where you pick a shape and put yourself in a cookie-cutter class mold. Every fighter is the same, but your shape is one of a selection.

ACKS gives the races in the game unique and exciting classes that let these ansecteries do things "their own way." How elves fight and use magic is different than how humans do it. Dwarves have entirely different skill sets and professions than humans. And there is a class design system that encourages you to do the same, take a race, create a custom class for that ancestry, and come up with a new and different "non-human" way of implementing class mechanics the way it should be for an entirely different culture.

5E and Pathfinder 2, and frankly, most of the B/X race + class games? You are an elf-shaped fighter. All fighters work the same, and some games may have class specializations, so you can be one of a few subtypes. Only the older "race as class" B/X games do things similar to ACKS, but ACKS takes the concept and advances it into many race-as-class options - and encourages you to run with it. Old School Essential Advanced Fantasy also does new race as class options, but they typically have "one race per race as class" selection, and ACKS gives you many of them.

I love the base "human fighter" being the "human way of fighting" and other races having their own unique way of doing things. Elves may mix war-dancing or magic into their fighting and not have the "elf being a human fighter" option - but that is cool. The culture has its own way of doing things, and the game respects that.

You have a progressive distaste for colonialism, yet D&D 5 says, "all races do things the same way as humans" with their race plus class options. Forcing other cultures - that may have unique identities - into one "Western-culture-approved" way of doing it - is a form of racial colonialism. Being a fighter is one thing, and all races better fit in this mold and conform.

Why not celebrate differences?

Why can't a race mix how they fight with magic, divine power, or even thievery? And that is how things are done in these lands. ACKS has dwarven machinists, craft priests, delvers - and a whole bunch of dwarven specialty B/X-style classes, and it makes me excited to play them. This inspires me to spin up a dwarven party of specialists and take them through B/X adventures - which is something many B/X games do not inspire me to do. Am I going to play a game with a generic dwarf-shaped fighter or a game with a dwarven fury or vault guard? I will pick the latter every time since that sounds cool.

I feel that many games are copying other games - because that is what people are used to. As a result, we get a lot of bland options with no discernible differences or class options. Background means little, and it is just a shape plus class choice.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

One D&D: No OGL, No Thank You

There are rumors that One D&D is dropping the OGL. This could be pre-marketing hype where they eventually "reveal it anyways" and expect praise, or it could be a trial balloon to altogether drop the OGL.

If they do drop it, I am not buying or covering the game. I will cover 5E alternatives. I will support Pathfinder 2. I will continue to support the OGL.

To have a monopoly on the tabletop RPG market and cut out dozens of third-party publishers, I feel, is selfish, unfair, and downright wrong. You will put hundreds of artists and writers out of work. I feel this is what an exploitative mobile game developer would do, not a tabletop RPG publisher. 

This rumor could be 100% wrong, so take it all with a grain of salt.

They did mess with the D&D 4E license, so this would not surprise me - but we need to give them the benefit of the doubt and wait and see. I just hope they don't get selfish and lock the game down tightly since everything around it - even "let's play" videos, could get copyright struck, and the game (and the community it exists in) is changed forever.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Paizo Honestly Does a Better Job

Honestly, Wizards, I feel Paizo does a better job at inclusivity and sensitivity than you.

I have been gaming all my life, so not a lot bothers me or gets under my skin, and I like for writers to have more freedom and not be second-guessed. If you hire good writers and artists and tell them your audience expects a certain level of tolerance and inclusion, like Paizo, then you will not make these stupid mistakes and need to hire yet another reviewer before your work goes out the door.

Which will add time and cost to all Wizards' products.

And also, frankly, water them down to something worse than AD&D 2e's level of mass-market, safe-for-everyone, non-controversial "pop fantasy" mush.

You wait, demons and angels - removed.

Humanoid races - removed.

Alignments and the notion of evil - removed.

Death - removed.

Even spells like "hold person" will be scrutinized as a "non-consensual interaction" mechanic and instantly become problematic.

Once everything is fixed, these consultants will try to keep their jobs and find new things that are problematic. It does not stop, and it will not stop.

We head down the AD&D 2e road again, folks, and I get this feeling this is a huge mess and possibly the high-water mark for D&D before it begins its decline. Everything will be hyper-analyzed and picked over, not just by consultants but by the public and media. Everything will be potentially problematic. Any release will have problems, and they will constantly be backtracking and revising books.

This feels like the moment we point back to and say, "This was when the game started to go downhill."

But it doesn't have to be that way.

A better team of writers and creative professionals can create a better product and still be inclusive while allowing players to take the training wheels off. And you don't need layers of sensitivity consultants because, guess what, that is what your writers and artists are supposed to do.

Paizo has lots of controversial content in their game, and they do a better job at inclusivity and representation than Wizards. They don't need to publicly shame themselves. I disagree with how far Paizo sometimes goes because I feel it draws in too high of a technology level for a fantasy game, but that is not a slight against inclusivity. It is a nitpick with design and them going "too steampunk" for my tastes. And Paizo gives you the freedom to include "sensitive topics" because - you know - horror gaming is a thing. And Paizo treats the subject maturely and talks about how you can include things like that in your game if your players are cool with it.

And Paizo's fans are highly progressive, and I have not really heard of any controversies with their game and how it is set up. The door is at least open with Paizo to run an edgy game. They still understand adults are a part of the audience and that adults have free will and can make choices for themselves. Paizo feels like the more progressive company that respects freedom and free will better, and Wizards feels like the creative team that needs "detention monitors."


I feel bad for Wizards, because I know where this comes from. I feel Wizards embarrassed Hasbro with Spelljammer. And I feel the company "got them on a call" and "forced them to publicly address the issue."

This happens.

This is Wall Street.

There is no freedom or creativity here, only profits and not rocking the boat.

But honestly, I feel Paizo and Pathfinder 2e do all of this right. And even better, they allow you to turn all the "safety switches" off and let you play the game how you want.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Indiegogo: Amazing Adventures - New Printing!

Very nice, a 3-book set for the Amazing Adventures game? And they are making this more "multi-genre" than "pulp" themed? They are doing new artwork and reorganization, folding in all of the options from expansions, and creating three traditional books (player book, GM book, monster book) for the game.

Since I love Castles & Crusades, I am all-in on this one.

More soon and this is a definite look forward to release!

Castles & Crusades: Play Without the Book

Castles & Crusades is one of those genius games where I do not need to open the book to play. I tried getting back into Savage Pathfinder, and I was amazed at all the supporting rules needed to make the dicing system work. Savage Worlds works exceptionally well, but it does require a pretty substantial framework of supporting rules to keep everything working and to provide enough options to keep players happy. There are many things to keep in my mind when playing Savage Worlds, and it feels like I have to "load the operating system" and keep a ton of things in mind when I play the game.

Savage Worlds is great, but it is a lot to process and memorize, and there are a lot of "minigames" baked into the rules, which require extra toys and items scattered about the table to play. Everything in that game is terrific and works together like a well-tuned game, but at times I just want to focus on the story and characters rather than the mechanics. They are great mechanics, though, but sometimes my mind does not want to spend time working through them.

Give me a character sheet, and I can make C&C sing. I don't need to open a book to play. Everything I need is on my character's notecard. This is not "me knowing the rules"; this is more "there are no rules to reference" - the entire framework and model of the system is built into the ability scores and Siege Engine.

Castles & Crusades is very iPhone-like. A lot is hidden from you, and the best, most configurable parts are exposed to the user. The things you want to change are there. The pointless things people associate with "power users," such as charts, tables, math, and paragraphs of rules, are not.

One of the other games like this for me is Tunnels & Trolls, one of the best "beer & pretzels" RPGs where you grab a bucketful of d6 dice and roll a Saturday afternoon away. This is another game where "no book at the table" is needed, and you can play from your head without referencing rules.

I can play many B/X-style games in my head, but a few B/X games are more "rules-y" than others and require constant book reference. Swords & Sorcery, with its single saving throw, hits my sweet spot, and games like Old School Essentials are great - but at times, I feel B/X is more about your interpretations and inspiration than a well-organized reference book. B/X is not centered around organized A-B-C rules - it is a game where you and your interpretations are 50% of the game. I still love Old School Essentials as a reference guide, but games that slow down and give me a lot of flavor and inspiration call to me more these days.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Too Much OSR?

I have to admit, I have OSR games I bought and don't play. I heard a feeling that there are too many OSR games, and the market needs to be straightforward and provide information about choices. But then again, this is the OSR; it all works together anyway, so there really isn't a problem.

Are there too many OSR games? I don't know. I don't really feel there are, and I have a few favorites - but it is nice to have a choice and for everyone to pick their favorite games. With the 5E world, you have many players but little choice. With the OSR, you have infinite choices and fewer players. But honestly, with 5E you are playing fantasy most of the time.

I do see a lot of niche OSR projects on Kickstarter, and my interest in them has waned just a little. I have everything I need for OSR and games closely aligned with the movement. This is not because my interest in the OSR has lessened, I just have so many OSR games that fit my interests the new Kickstarters do not seem to offer much new - except art and various book formats.

But I am sorting through my collection and boxing up games I don't play. My current best of the best OSR games that have survived multiple shelf shufflings and boxings are as follows:

Swords & Wizardry

Most of my Swords & Wizardry material are adventures played with Castles & Crusades. The base game is still my go-to OSR game since it does all the right things:

  • Magic resistance mechanics
  • Awesome fighters
  • Less reliance on ability score modifiers
  • One saving throw number (genius)
  • Meant to expand and improvise rules
  • Feels like AD&D Lite

Now, Labyrinth Lord and Old School Essentials are in storage - although I love those games, Swords & Wizardry does it all, feels like classic 0E plus AD&D, and does the job cleanly. I still play C&C instead because that game is more straightforward still and has way more options for the time you invest.

Old School Essentials is an incredible game if you do straight B/X, and highly recommended. Parts of it, I feel, are a little too simplified for my liking and almost too bare-bones in the class implementations. The game has a wealth of options for character types; it is just inside those options I prefer a little more detail to the classes.

Labyrinth Lord is coming out with a 2nd edition (according to the creator and his Facebook page), and I am very excited about that. Until then, I will wait and see and spend the time with other games.

The single saving throw number in this game is a genius-level simplification. It eliminates the odd and arbitrary categories and allows classes and races to specialize in an area with just a modifier (save vs. poison at a +2). It can also be used as a back-door skill system, again with modifiers if you want. You can apply ability score modifiers to a save if needed. If I play B/X and AD & D style games, I want to record as little as possible on a character sheet.

Castles & Crusades

My D&D replacement game for all editions. Is it OSR? Not really, but it does OSR so well it belongs on this list. I spent 3 hours creating a 5E character when I could have spent 3 minutes creating a C&C character and the rest of the time playing an adventure. Seriously, there was a point where I felt I was wasting my time with complex systems that did not return enough fun for the time invested.

Best of all, C&C stays out of the way as much as you want. You can play this "5E style" and do a skill check for every situation, or ignore the Siege Engine and let player actions and referee judgments run the game without dice and do things "OSR style."

Or mix the two.

Mixing classes gives you hundreds of possible multi-class combinations and can express any character you have in your head easily.

This game replaces Labyrinth Lord and Old School Essentials for me as well since this game does all the classic dungeon action without the saving throw tables, thief percentage tables, undead turning tables, and other strange charts you need to write down on your character sheet.

Save versus wands? Not in this game. Honestly, that is a save versus spells with a bonus to the roll. Not everything in the B/X era is worth keeping around. In 40 years of gaming, my group has never needed to save versus wands, yet here I am writing down save categories for situations that do not cover 100% of the hazards in a dungeon and go too granular with a few cases when a broad stroke is needed.

Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS)

Wait! Is a game with the save versus wands on this list?


This game has survived many reshelving attempts and even being boxed up twice. It delivers on the realm-management promise, which very few other games do. And when you take a deeper look, the game has some deliciously gonzo and crazy treats for mages. Building a dungeon to farm monsters from and, maybe, lure adventurers to their deaths? Check. Creating mutant monster-human or monster-monster races in genetic breeding experiments? Check. Creating golems to fight for your army or crush your enemies? Check. Create an evil thief guild? Check. Make your cleric convert a population to their god? Check.

You could run a Game of Thrones game here with no problem. Good or evil kingdom. Good or evil characters tearing down the opposite side or conquering the wilds and building a new kingdom.

The game is like Civilization VI combined with a B/X roleplaying game, and it rocks.

Dungeon Crawl Classics

I have a small shrine to this game in my gaming room. Yes, there are 3E-style saving throws, thief percentage tables, and all sorts of stuff to write down. Despite all the flaws, it is clearly an S-Tier game.

The game screams in the night for you to break all your preconceptions about fantasy. Fantasy these days is this "uni-genre" and a safe, non-controversial, all-ages, talking cartoon shapes, safe for Twitter, meant to win, bucket list checkbox, fantasy fulfillment game.

And it sucks. It is a gray blob of goo that could be anything. It recycles the same old gnolls, orcs, beholders, ogres, mind flayers, dragons, displacer beasts, gelatinous cubes, cute goblins, blah, blah, blah, same old tired monsters. The spell effects are the same. The classes are the same. Everything is so stereotyped the entire game is a parody of itself.

DCC breaks the perfect box of crayons and tells you that you are never getting them back.

And you end up having more fun without all the junk and "product identity" they tell you "you can't have fun without," and you realize that trademarked and copyrighted content sucks and removes your imagination.

Every DCC module breaks the mold, and they rarely - if ever - reuse monsters or use the "old standards." The bad guy this time? Um, evil hairless and skinless rabbits were reanimated by the gas from a meteorite. What do you think they could do? What special powers do they have? You don't know, and they are not in a monster manual. How about fighting them and finding out?

And at that moment, you feel alive; you don't know what is around the next corner, what this next room hold, what that item does, and the magic and excitement of why you play role-playing games - comes back to you instantly.


You may notice a pattern here in my picks. They are not straight B/X implementations. They all do something unique, are the best in ease-of-use (C&C), perfectly hit all the right notes (S&W), or do something no other games do (DCC & ACKS). I am way beyond the vanilla B/X game.

Swords & Wizardry is probably the closest to B/X on my list. It earned that spot for being the most like AD&D feeling while doing all the right things. The game also pares back out-of-control ability score modifiers and puts player decisions and roleplaying ahead of stats - a refreshing change of pace.

Castles & Crusades is so easy to use, and it makes running 20 characters solo a possibility. It tosses many charts and rules, and you can play this straight from the character sheet like the classic Star Frontiers game. Everything is right there; roll and play. No other B/X games do this, and they are all super reliant on charts and writing down many lists of numbers on character sheets.

ACKS is a 4X game disguised as a B/X game.

And DCC is pure rock and roll.