Wednesday, August 31, 2022

World Replacements: Greyhawk, Lost Lands

One of the most underrated experiences in the OSR right now is all the work Frog God Games put into Lost Lands, Swords & Wizardry, and the old-school adventures they put out regularly. This is a fantastic collection of work, easily exceeding the original Greyhawk module series releases. And every one of these is a classic old-school adventure, anchored by the fantastic king of the mega-dungeons Rappan Athuk.

The world has some Gygax content with the Necropolis adventure, so the world has a pedigree from the master himself. If you play Castles & Crusades in this world (like I plan to), you have even more Gygax-ian charm since he was involved in that game as well, to a certain degree.

And one after the other, the Frog God Games adventures fill in the blanks and eliminate the need to replay the A-series, S-series, or others (I love them, but they have been overdone and need to be put in the Hall of Fame). There are years of old-school adventures here with options of Egyptian-style adventures, Norse, pirate, and many other themes. I dare say the "theme park" elements were done more complete than their Pathfinder counterparts, with complete campaign support for each. And again, Castles & Crusades has Norse and Egyptian sourcebooks, so you can take the flavor and game of these lands to the next level with lore and system support, should you play C&C.

It is a fantastic world, and if you are into the OSR with any game and not taking a look, you are missing out. And since S&W is 99% B/X compatible, any OSR game you prefer will let you jump right in. Even the current OSR king of the hill, Old School Essentials, can drop right in and play here with no changes at all. If I were to play straight OSR, I would do Swords & Wizardry as my first choice, just because of the lessened reliance on modifiers, the magic resistance, and the AD&D-lite feel of the game. Otherwise, I play Castles & Crusades because I can run dozens of party members in various groups with little record keeping and hassle, and the system runs super smooth.

And we have a resident mega dungeon here, too, with the fantastic Rappan Athuk. This is all the mega-dungeon you need for one world, a massive tome, and incredibly expandable with thousands of adventures and stories locked within this book. And there are a few expansion books to this massive tome, with wilderness adventures and even deeper levels.

What Do I Lose?

Well, the classic Greyhawk dungeons. I could always toss them in here if I really wanted since the original modules were never really tightly tied to the Greyhawk setting, with Temple of Elemental Evil likely being the one with the most substantial ties. Still, those can be tweaked and changed to fit a little better. If I put those adventures in the world, I would change them extensively. I might as well; they have become a bit cliché as it is and need reimagining. Some have been horribly over-revisited, such as the Tomb of Horrors. Otherwise, put these dungeons in the Hall of Fame and give me cool new ones.

I was never a part of the Living Greyhawk crowd, so I am not profoundly tied to most of the world. We based our games on Greyhawk City and the Almor region. I can't say I would miss any part of this world since we came to it so late in 1985, and it never really took off with us.

We lose the Greyhawk Wizards Council, which we never really saw a need for, and they tended to be troublemaking Elminsters in our world anyways, no significant loss. They saw the need to brand a few of the spells as their own out of ego too, which was like, bleh. Characters-wise, I can't think of many beyond a few NPCs that we loved that I would want in the new world. They are not official ones, so they could jump quickly.

Greyhawk City was almost entirely populated by high-level adventurers in our world, and it was sort of uninteresting aside from a few hangouts.

What Do I Gain?

An entire unexplored world without as much baggage and botched reboots. I am getting dozens of fresh OSR adventures, many of them hundreds of pages long, and an old-school world that feels Greyhawk authentic.

I hate feeling like I am dumping on Greyhawk since it was never really given a chance. When Gygax was forced out of the company, the world was abandoned. It never really recovered without a champion and driving force of creativity. All that is left are the original classic modules, and even those are becoming like songs that have been remade by different artists too many times.

Because TSR and Wizards never gave Greyhawk world love, the modules were used for reboots repeatedly, and the company never really took care of the land where these came from. And as a result, nothing grows there anymore. Sustainable farming means you will always have food. Sustainable product management means taking care of your game worlds, so they will always produce fun for future generations. You can't milk nostalgia forever.

So I find a game world that is taken care of and has many adventures and support for OSR fun on the level of a Goodman Games, and I say, here is a place and a company that cares.

This is the easiest choice I had to make with finding replacement worlds since the level of OSR support and flavor of the adventures as old-school dungeon crawls fit perfectly. And I have played none of these, so this is like finding a classic game collection you have never experienced.

Lost Lands is my Greyhawk. Frog God Games is my adventure source.

Castles & Crusades and/or Swords & Wizardry are my games.

And I am excited about this change.

Monday, August 29, 2022

World Replacements: Forgotten Realms, Aihrde

If you are playing Castles & Crusades, this is an easy one. The modules Troll Lord Games put out are very character-based, with travel, exciting locations, light to moderate dungeons, roleplay, mysteries, and lots of problem-solving.

They feel exactly like how we played the Forgotten Realms in the 1990s and give me that feeling of playing through one of the novels of that time (which we skipped). We always did this mixed travel and story gaming here, which felt more pulp-action, very character based, and with fantastic set-piece dungeons that were more movie sets than the typical OSR mapping hazards.

And Toll Lord has a ton of these presented in a sort of "adventure path format" with five paths you can get to play through, plus one Celtic-themed and many standalone adventures.

I don't have many fond memories of Forgotten Realms modules in the 1990s since most were book tie-ins, many were railroads, and we had fun with whatever the basic set included. I could easily take the characters we loved from the Realms and drop them in here, use the ones from the modules, and have my own world free from the messy history of the Forgotten Realms, plus publisher-supported adventures out on a regular schedule - for this world.

I feel that is my reason for wanting to make the jump away from a "classic gaming" world and move on to a new one. I could keep living in the past with the old Forgotten Realms boxed set or use my time, money, and attention to support a new project with a ton of great art, work, and design put into the adventures and move on. They are writing adventures for this today, and people are making a living off of these, like fresh produce - and the classic stuff will always be there, like canned goods.

I would rather play and share in a space that is a living, actively producing community.

I loved the boxed set collections of the A-Series, they come with maps and all sorts of cool stuff, and they are premium collections and sets to have. There are quite a few of these in print, and they are not that expensive to get them in print with PDF.

The only thing I would add to this world is a classic mega-dungeon to anchor the world. There is a blog that chronicles the classic Barrowmaze dungeon played with C&C, and they are up to 118 sessions now, over 400 hours of play, and 3 years of gaming. Wow. One of these massive constructions is enough for a world and years of gaming, and they are still not through everything in this chronicling. I love Barrowmaze, and it is 95% compatible with C&C; I may just put it in this world when I start playing as a tribute to the other blog recording this adventure.

What Do I Lose?

Well, there are a few characters I would like to keep, and most are pretty relocatable with a few tweaks. I lose the Waterdeep setting; which is not a big loss since we never really based games out of there. Neverwinter, again, is not really a significant loss since we were only up there a few times, and I have the videogames in case I ever want to revisit the world.

We based most of our games around Immersea and Arabel, and finding a nicely mapped and NPC'ed small town would fit the feeling of my game, and I am sure there are plenty of those in the Troll Lord Games modules.

One thing I always felt about the Realms was there was never a strong enough place in the world for other races, such as dwarves, elves, and others. The Realms always felt way too "human" for us, which gave it that classic fantasy feeling, but given the world, I felt a solid elven and dwarven presence was sorely needed. Plenty of drow were there, though. The world felt off-balance.

And if I wanted a reason for the classic Realms characters to be there, I could just say the original AD&D Mystra Goddess of Magic did not die during the Time of Troubles and took a copy of her heroes and left the world in disgust. Ugh. Do not make me talk about the AD&D to AD&D 2e jump and how they messed up and wrecked the world with an official module series. There were clerics of "the assassin god" crying in the street because TSR took their god away, and it just shattered immersion and made it seem like we were playing through a module called "The Satanic Panic 1990: TSR Censors the World."

This is why a lot of the big games these days still suck. They go mainstream, and the mainstream pressures kill the game. The game, because of Wall Street, Twitter, and Hollywood, has to be as noncontroversial and censored as possible to avoid "bad press," and we get these watered down and censored. White-bread games are designed to cause as little controversy as possible from the current crop of complainers.

Anytime a game "goes mainstream," the game is guaranteed to suck later. It happens repeatedly, and the suits will get their hands on it and slowly ruin everything people love about the game. It has never, ever stopped - and this is not new. D&D 6E, meet AD&D 2e, your spiritual partner. 6E will probably be a good edition (we loved 2e), but we knew the game was heavily censored because of pop-culture influences such as Stranger Things and the D&D movie.

And I hope Wizards can break the even-number edition curse this time.

And then the final nail in the coffin for the Realms came during D&D 4, and they nuked the world, advanced the timeline, collapsed the Underdark, and shoehorned in all of the official D&D 4 cosmology races (which have become the game's identity in 5E; any world, these races). A lot of the changes just felt mean and spiteful. The Forgotten Realms was dead, at least to us.

We never adventured in 4E Realms. That place was like Twilight: 2000 to us. A destroyed world that never made the jump into the new regime, and nothing important ever happened there. D&D 4E's default "planar adventures past level 10" did not help either, and the base worlds felt like MMO starting zones.

What Do I Gain?

Well, five incredible adventure paths from Toll Lord Games. A world to drop OSR adventures in, but more of the story and location-themed ones. For the old-school dungeon crawls, I may want to save them for a world built on that type of adventuring, such as a Greyhawk-style world.

Why do two worlds? Why not put everything in one? Just have one world to rule them all?

We always felt a thematic difference between Greyhawk-style worlds and Realms-style worlds. Realms-style worlds are story-based, with sweeping movie plots, fewer mazelike dungeons, and plenty of interesting characters. They have a pulp feel, like classic swords & sorcery adventure movies.

Greyhawk worlds are lost deep in mazelike dungeons. We don't need plots, characters, or pulp action. All we need to know is great treasure is sitting in that hole, and we are taking it for ourselves. Certain OSR adventures are more Greyhawk, and others feel more Realms. If I found those story-style adventures, I would add them to this world in a heartbeat.

Barrowmaze is the exception, but since that dungeon's layout is more distributed across a large area, it feels like a better fit for a pulp game since the dungeons you can find in that massive space are episodic and can have stories woven into them as "the reason to go in" such as a kidnapped priest, lost artifact, or other story reason an important NPC can come up with. I would "pulp it up" to make the mega-dungeon less a grind and clear and use each location as a story setting that ties into events in the greater world.

And since I am playing C&C, I can pull in adventures and dungeons from other OSR games easy.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Looking for a World Like You...

While having the original Campaign set and books for the Forgotten Realms is excellent, what Wizards did to this world is beyond the pale. It feels hard to go back to this world knowing not one but two world-ending apocalypses are coming - one which collapses the entirety of the Underdark and destroys a continent, which makes no sense geologically.

And they are not making terribly much new for this world anyways.

Greyhawk? Same feelings, different world. Yes, it is very cool to have a collection of classic modules and even the original rules (with so many typos, ugh, please care about your books and history, Wizards).

And they are not making much new for this world either. Yes, there is the Ghosts of Saltmarsh adventure, which is nice to see, but I do not feel there is an effort here to build and support a single campaign world. It feels like we are back in the D&D 4 days with, "Here is an adventure; put it anywhere in your world!"

Mystara falls in the same boat, a fantastic world, the one we started in, but really only the home of the B and X series modules and nothing new being made for the setting.

So I boxed up my classic modules for all these words and am looking for new worlds to play in, like these in feeling and spirit. And another requirement is that the new worlds need to come from publishers supporting the worlds with new adventures and experiences.


I believe those struggling to make a living doing what they love should be paid and rewarded for their hard work and dedication. At this point, buying "classic settings and modules" feeds a dead IP that a parent company sits on, milks profits from, and will never really be committed to supporting. Those new adventures written by those who love the game need to be read and loved by me, and I need to put the past away and stop re-playing the classics.

Nostalgia feels good, but it isn't anything new.

I also use Castles & Crusades as my set of rules of choice. For me, the game is easier to support and run than B/X since it does away with many supporting systems and builds the framework for the rules around the basic six ability scores. The number range is old-school, too, good old B/X hit points and damages, and the AC and the to-hit system are compatible with B/X. I can use small 3x5 character cards for dozens of characters and run them very well without a ton of paperwork.

I could use any OSR flavor, but C&C plays like a modern game while simplifying play on a level where the game is easier to manage than B/X for me. If I find I want an occasional "perception check," I can easily add that via the Siege Engine - or not - as the game plays how you want it to.

The next few articles will lay out my "replacement" worlds for the classics, why, and how you can make them better than the originals with a few tweaks here and there while still retaining the flavor of the original worlds you want to experience again, but support today's creators in doing so.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Swords & Wizardry: No Stat Bonuses? No Min-Maxing.

One of the great things about Swords & Wizardry is possibly one of the things I initially disliked the game for. The game does not really have robust stat bonuses for ability scores. Fighters are the only ones who get STR bonuses to hit and damage. Other ability scores come into play with a single class only or some particular situation.

Other than that, 3d6 down the line is fine.

Compare that with today's games where an "18 in a prime stat is required to play," and I am tired of it. I don't care if my STR 16 cleric has no to-hit or damage bonus; just get me in a game away from the optimization crowd. If an 18 is required for a class to work correctly, put it in the rules somewhere, "If you pick this class, your prime attribute is 18, and two related secondary scores 16," and please stop the lie of being able to roll dice for ability scores.

This has even crept into B/X style games, where by default, every score matters and gives a bonus to this and that. That "we must be able to optimize" feeling has crept into some games, and it is impossible to root out or get under control; someone somewhere will say, "It isn't fair, they get a bonus, and I don't!"

The STR bonus for fighters in S&W is the class feature. No one else gets it. They aren't fighters.

Some B/X games have these weak and uninteresting fighters as a result, where the only real difference between a fighter and a cleric is a d8 vs. a d6 for weapon damage and a 5-10% of to-hit bonus. I would rather have someone who can fight and heal. And since that cleric gets the STR bonus anyway, what is a fighter's point? A few points of to-hit?

I will take the character who can bring people back from the dead if we have a choice - two of them.

And when this happens, fighters are the generic NPC hireling class that carries the torches.

I feel many of the things early D&D did to "make it fair" were not always good decisions. They made changes, too, to eliminate assassins and demons from the game for public relations reasons. Later versions of the fighter paled against the original game's design. Giving everyone ability score bonuses and creating bonus charts for ability scores opened the door for optimization, and linking that bonus to all sorts of activities started to remove role-playing from the game and turned it more into a gambling or odds game where high stats meant better success. AD&D really was the game that opened the door for stats and the bonuses they give you, and it got worse from there.

I like the early game where your choices matter more than your stats, skills, or anything on that character sheet.

Player skill matters.

Listening to the game master matters.

Your choices are more important than your character sheet.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

One D&D: Rules Lawyer Video

Here is an excellent review of the new One D&D presentation and summary from The Rules Lawyer over on Youtube. Admittedly, this video is more of a Pathfidner 2e perspective of the changes, but he makes some very good points and is very fair.

This is worth checking out, and it does give me a new perspective on Pathfinder 2e. Especially how this was constantly revised and play-tested to the highest levels when the game was in development, and how many of the systems changed.

And all of this change just makes me happy I am sticking with OSR, Pathfinder 2e, and 5E-like games for now and waiting for the final 6E books are out to make a decision on jumping in. As it sounds, I see more things I dislike instead of like, such as player-only crits and the rules for automatic success and failure. It also seems like DM-ing is getting worse instead of better.

There also seem to be a few worrying things with Wizards dictating changes in a series of books and articles instead of them taking player feedback and setting up a proper playtest and community commenting structure for the new rules. To do this without official feedback, playtests, and the structure of community involvement is very troubling.

If Wizards feels a bunch of lead designers knows best and community feedback is not being considered, then my interest in a new edition does not have a lot of confidence. Mind you, this is still very early and they could announce playtests and feedback structures as a part of the plan, but not mentioning them and not reassuring players of a process in place is very worrying.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

One D&D: Waiting for the New Edition

Sorry, Wizards, I've been through these rolling playtests before with D&D 4 Essentials, where you progressively release books, tweak the rules, adjust monster stats, and make the game a tangle of rules patches introduced in later books. After a while, we are begging for a new edition to clean up the mess.

I would rather wait for the new 6E core books instead of trying to play a taped-together game.

The same thing happened to me (a few times) when I bought into a playtest and had a shelf full of late-lifecycle books I could not use.

The "One D&D" name is also not great and feels exclusionary to me, almost like a billionaire-run tech company trying to eliminate choice and competition. Please don't turn into a Meta/Facebook/Whatever where forcing people onto a platform or game becomes more important than having fun with friends.

Please support the diversity and choice of how people want to play tabletop games.

The hobby is bigger than one game, one company, or one way of thinking and playing.

D&D is for all.

Not one.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Swords of Cthulhu

BRW Games has been killing it lately. I am a massive fan of the underappreciated Adventures Dark & Deep, and this is an excellent "alternate future" AD&D-style game. If you want the high-level OSR game, there are very few AD&D clones out there to fill the need, and this is in my top four:

  • Swords & Wizardry
  • Castles & Crusades
  • Adventures Dark & Deep
  • For Gold & Glory

Today the PDFs for the Swords of Cthulhu dropped for Kickstarter backers, and this is one of the best Lovecraftian OSR resources out there. You can also get the PDF on DriveThruRPG today, which is fantastic.

This is a great resource for any OSR Lovecraftian game, valuable for fantasy, pulp, modern, or sci-fi games involving the twisted magic and worlds of the Old Ones.

Coming Back to Old School Essentials

Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy (OSEA) is interesting because it goes beyond the source B/X material in some significant ways. We have classes from AD&D and AD&D 2e, such as the acrobat, illusionist, and bard. We have drow, and a few new Unearthed Arcana (UA) races as player character options - either class or race plus class options.

The game is a Labyrinth Lord-like mix of B/X and AD&D 1e and 2e. It is a great book, instantly playable and inviting, having the best organization and fantastic art. The only fault is the game's best strength; the descriptions are concise. This is perfect for reference and fast play, but sometimes I want to read a long paragraph about a monster and get inspired by the description and flavor text. If they made an expanded optional monster manual with longer descriptions, more art, and monster options, I would be all over that. Same thing for treasures and spells.

The maximum level is 14, which means magic-user spells cap out at level 6, and cleric spells at level 5. Given most campaigns rarely go that high, it is not really a problem. Of all the OSR games, this one feels the most modern to me, and it goes beyond traditional OSR-style games to do its own thing - which is fantastic. I love seeing OSR games expand and create unique experiences with the old-school base but completely new things to play with.

Labyrinth Lord goes up to the 20th level, so you get the full 9th level magic-user and 7th level cleric spell lists and progression. You also don't have all the expanded class and race options, so the world is a little more traditional, and that AD&D (minus UA) plus B/X is more of an early 1980s experience before the AD&D expansion books appeared.

Labyrinth Lord feels the most traditional of the group, sort of stuck in that early 1980s when we all started with D&D and used AD&D books as expansion content. The simple ways of D&D are preserved, though, and the AD&D complexity and escalation of damages and hit dice are ignored. Labyrinth Lord is also packed with flavor text. If you want to read the traditional ecologies and exciting information about monsters and magic items, you can get lost in this book and find a lot of inspiration.

There is no maximum level in Swords & Wizardry, and they tell you how to expand the spell charts after the 21st level of experience. I did a double-take here; yes, it is possible to have a 50th-level fighter in S&W. The game plays more like AD&D-lite than B/X, as some of the AD&D changes (magic resistance) have been preserved, but many of the minutiae of AD&D have been removed. The game uses a single saving throw (modified for different circumstances) and gives less direction on handling things - preferring the referee and players to make up most of the rules and how things in their game.

S&W is a more straightforward game than either LL or OSE just because the game goes out of its way to leave as much as possible up to the group's imagination. You do not need that much reference because the rules for all this stuff simply do not exist, and it is up to you.

S&W has a lot of excellent flavor text, has the best collection of monsters (with the expansion books), and plays a lot like classic AD&D, minus the confusion and complexity. Of all three, this is still the OSR game I keep returning to, just because of the AD&D-like feel and all the incredible supporting material - monsters, adventures, and worlds. All three games are insanely compatible, so adventures and game materials convert over; just keep character creation to one book, and you are good to go.

It leaves OSE in a strange place, at least for me. I suppose I am more a fan of the AD&D-like games than the B/X ones if given a choice. I like the darker and more dangerous setting, with demons and devils actively trying to destroy the world. In basic D&D, because the game was more focused on a younger audience, you did not have that focus on the more fantastic battle between the heavens and Hell. In AD&D, this "endgame" is built into the game. I know a demons & devils book is coming for OSEA, and I can't wait.

But once I narrow my games down to that AD&D endgame, I have the following left:

  • Swords & Wizardry
  • Castles & Crusades
  • Adventures Dark & Deep
  • For Gold & Glory
  • Labyrinth Lord

The first four have magic resistance as a game mechanic, and Labyrinth Lord does not. Now, why is that important? If Orcus, demon lord of the undead, shows up, I do not want him being owned by high-level casters. I want those powerful magic spells to have a chance of failing outright before a saving throw is even made.


Once you look at the LL version of Orcus (125 hit points, save as fighter 22) and a lightning bolt spell that does 20d6 at a caster level of 20th level, so an average of 70 points of damage. Orcus will likely make his saving throw (6+ vs. spells), so 35 damage 75% of the time. All demons take half-damage by electrical attacks too, so this will either be an 18 (75%) or 35 damage (25%) hit.

In S&W Orcus has the same 125 hit points, but saves on a 3+. S&W demons are immune to electrical-based attacks, but let's say that the 20d6 spell is like any other damage spell that mages could have and use this as base damage for magical attacks. But Orcus has 75% magic resistance, so 3/4 of the time, the spell does not even hit. Orcus has a 90% chance to take half damage, so we are down to 35. Orcus in S&W is not immune to fire (I know, I would house-rule this to half damage since AD&D had it this way), so this is typically an 18-point hit landing 25% of the time - not good.

Oddly enough, the C&C version of Orcus (120 hit points, all saves primary at +22, 13+ MR) and most all demons do not share the blanket half-damages of their AD&D counterparts, and this is an immediate house rule for me. His magic resistance is 60%, so that 20d6 lightning bolt, plus the half damage, plus the saving throw, is knocked down an 18-point hit, landing 40% of the time.

Adventures Dark and Deep mirrors AD&D in many ways for Orcus; the blanket immunities are here, the magic resistance, the good saves - and this version comes out the toughest without house ruling in the missing parts. This is probably the best implementation rules-wise among all these, with the most care and thought put into the design. With house ruling, S&W is my second favorite, with C&C following close behind. LL comes in fourth, but the system needs magic resistance to equal the playing field.

The Boss Monsters

For endgame battles, I need an AD&D-like system with all the advanced parts. There are some great rules in AD&D meant to balance high-level fights and keep the boss monsters from being pushovers. When you start introducing blanket half damages and immunities and rules like magic resistance, you avoid the silly hit point scaling of D&D 3, and higher - high-level monsters can have reasonable hit points but take less damage from almost everything. You can also keep some damages as-is, such as magic or iron weapons and holy water - and those attacks shine.

Granted, not a lot of campaigns reach the epic levels. Most all games will just be the under-level 14, which OSE supports, so those high-level stat and balance tweaks are unnecessary. Our games back in the day lasted over 10-20 years, longer than the life of many game editions these days, so I am used to high-level fights and love to see thought put into them.

AD&D 2e had the best high-level balance by far since the newer edition tried to clean up a lot of the issues players of AD&D 1e had with higher-level play.

All are Great, Endgames Differ

For any other type of game, OSE, and OSEA, work fine. Old School Essentials is preferable when you factor in ease of use. Any of these games really work great for play at the low and mid-levels.

For boss battles in OSR games and high-level play, I like the advanced rules and concepts much better.

For the classic zero-to-hero game, OSE works incredibly well and has the options and flexibility I like in a generic OSR game.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Too Much Dependence on Rules

Modern versions of D&D, when Wizards took over from version 3 on, and by extension, Pathfinder and Pathfinder 2e, feel overly dependent on rules. D&D 5E is a step in the right direction, but I look at the game today, and it feels like it has fallen into the expansion trap late in its life. Yes, I can play with the core books, but that is not the current "language" of the game.

Everyone plays with a complete set.

So should you.

I did my time, and I played that game in Pathfinder 1e. I collected a great set of books that still hold endless adventures. But I look back, and since I paid for them all, I can say too many rules. Way too many rules. And few of them really made the game that much better. The game has so many rules playing it feels impossible. I don't feel I have any freedom to make up a ruling without breaking a rule in one of the books. I know, rule zero, but even the character options, spells, and amount of choice weigh the game down on the opposite end and it feels impossible to play.

As a player, I love all the options.

And immediately after that, choice paralysis sets in.

I can get through a session because I started when the game came out, and I learned this all a book at a time. But asking anyone else to commit that much time to learn feels like too much to ask. If you know the game or love it, yes it is easier. But still, even I do not have a use for this many rules in a game.

But if we back up a step, the design of D&D from D&D 3 feels like it has always been too dependent on rules. They make some of the same mistakes Rolemaster did in the 1990s, with way too many rules for everything. And with every book I buy, it feels like it gets worse.

Striking bargains, persuading monsters or nonplayer characters to do things, and getting out of trouble using wits, are all essential parts of the game. Do not replace them with dice rolls! Using dice to determine a monster’s initial reaction before negotiations start is fine. Still, use player skill (or lack thereof) to decide how far the adventurers can improve a monster’s initial reaction. This is not a matter of “my character ought to be really persuasive” — this is one of the places where the player’s skill, not the character’s, is tested.

When I read Swords & Wizardry and hit this excellent piece of advice, I smiled. This is how it is done. You do not roll for roleplaying. When you search or move carefully, you say so, and there are no such things as "search rolls" or "passive perception." If you are moving carefully, then it is up to the referee to decide if you see the trap. Even the thief does not have "trap radar." They must look for it to roll, which is only in mechanisms. Even a dwarf has no "trap radar" roll; the ability is given, and if you want it to be 100%, that is what it is.

Old school games go out of their way to get rid of rules and let the group decide how the game works. A lot of power is given to the referee, but since the game is played together, the skills to be a great referee are developed jointly with a group of friends.

And yes, it is the player's skill that matters.

And that skill is not "knowing a rule." It is "playing smart."

And that is where I feel modern D&D and Pathfinder fall short. The designers replaced a lot of player agency with rules knowledge. The more modern editions with passive skills offload player agency onto the referee to act as "skill radar" for anything in the adventure. While yes, you can play old-school games and ignore all the rules and skill radars. The way the game teaches you runs counter to that, and the heavy reliance on skills takes away player agency and puts players in the mode of "does my skill do it for me?"

D&D 5 goes in the right direction, but I feel the game needs to move back towards player skill and away from rules reliance and the overuse of skills - especially passives. One player in the group builds the party's "passive trap radar" and invalidates needing to play smart for the entire group, and the burden is shifted to the referee to "tell them what they find." It forces a player into this role, which removes choice and replaces the "group healer" required role (that they got rid of by giving most every class healing options) with the "group radar" one.

Pathfinder 2e leans into the rules heavily for a battle chess-like game, so it feels like a different game entirely (like D&D 4), outside the old-school experience, and more like a fantasy "role-playing" wargame. Since it is a wargame, wargames need those layered and complicated rules. I have difficulty getting into this game because of its depth and choices. The rules are not complex; how each piece works is, and that complexity adds up quickly, especially if playing solo.

I just don't have time for games with this many rules anymore, and the games that streamline and simplify are the ones I choose to play. Castles & Crusades eliminating all skills and saving throw systems is a remarkable design achievement. Swords & Wizardry's "single save" is genius, plus how the game keeps all the AD&D improvements (magic resistance) and presents the game in an "AD&D light" format. Savage Worlds is a great game, streamlined for fast play. Other games like Index Card RPG experiment with challenge, structure, advancement, and change how you play.

More rules and more choices do not make a better game.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Amazing Adventures: Character Creation

Wait, hold up, what's next?

If there is one thing peculiar about some of the early versions of some of the Troll Lord Games is the patchy and out-of-order methods of character creation in some of the games. Some of the earlier Castles & Crusades versions had the lists of character races after the class section, and this was always a little confusing to me. It is a great system and my favorite fantasy system of all time, but I am a fan of the step-by-step character creation process where everything is laid out clearly.

Amazing Adventures has a few issues in this regard as well. For the most part, creation is the beautiful 3d6 pick-a-class sort of style game, but there are a few points that made me do a double-take and stumbled when I hit them. Now, all of these are listed in the "advanced action heroes" section of the book, so they are optional rules, so use this if this is how you play.

Generic Class Abilities

Pages 57-62 list a number of generic class abilities that you can swap any class ability with. Want to be an ace pilot? Find a class ability you don't want and swap it out. This is a cool rule and allows a good deal of class customization, so it is not that hard to figure out.

Now, these are strange when mixed with the SIEGE Engine, since if you were to swap out a class ability for the medicine generic class ability; medicine is now a class ability for your character, and you get to add your level to SIEGE checks when performing medicine. Even though your class may be a gumshoe, perhaps you are a medical investigator who can also be a doctor. That medicine skill can be used with all SIEGE ability checks (INT, WIS, DEX, etc), and your level adds a bonus to the roll.

This is very different than the base C&C game and adds some fluidity with skill checks with the SIEGE engine that is not as cut-and-dried as the base C&C game, so it is worth taking note of.

BYO Classes?

Given Generic Class Abilities, above, would I allow a player to swap any class' ability into another class? Wow, um, possibly. Talk to me and give a good reason, and we can do a custom class easily. Classes in AA feel more fluid than their C&C counterparts

Bonus Languages are Knowledge Skill Picks?

The book does not tell you half of your bonus languages (2x your INT bonus) can be swapped for knowledge skills. So do not pick 6 languages right off!

In addition, every class gets a free knowledge skill in their class. These are not your traditional "active skills" like perception, but knowledge only - useful for recalling information or knowing facts, and give a +3 to the roll if they can be used. These also improve +1 per four levels, so at level 4 the bonus is a +4, a +5 at level 8, and so on.

Knowledge skills are funny since if your gadgeteer were trying to repair something, that is a class ability and not a knowledge skill use. Knowing what a piece of junk was? Yes, knowledge skill check. The same thing with the medicine knowledge skill, you could identify procedures and possible ailments, but not treat them.

With knowledge skills, this only applies to situations where a player asks, "does my character know something?"

Knowledge skills never apply to, "My character does something."


Backgrounds represent the character's pre-history and interests before becoming an adventurer, give a +2 on the roll, and improve by +1 every 5 levels. These can be applied to any skill roll they could assist, such as a law enforcement background applied to a search roll. They can also be used as a knowledge skill too and provide information. There can be special cases where knowledge skills and backgrounds overlap and provide a bonus for each, but that usually isn't the case.

I would require roleplaying to use these and gain the bonus on the roll. If a character had a law enforcement background that is not a blanket +2 to hit with ranged weapons, search rolls, interrogations, or any activity where this could apply. If the character was trying to get a hostage taker to surrender, and the player roleplayed this like a police negotiator, then the bonus clearly applies. If they don't roleplay, then no bonus.

So with backgrounds, roleplaying is required to get a bonus on any action. It is a small requirement, but I feel that +2 is a huge bonus and it should not universally apply for free.

And these can be used for both knowing and doing.

Fate Points

All characters start with 10 fate points, easy, but this is not like C&C at all since we are in a pulp game. These go up by every level by half the new level number, with optional GM awards for heroism or dramatic play. You can cheat death once per level for 3 fate points, so these are pretty powerful resources, but limited. Given you are in a modern world, with a B/X hit point scale and guns, I can see these being used a lot.

Mana Energy Points

AA uses a mana-point system in addition to the normal spells per day, equal to d4 + CON bonus + primary spell casting attribute bonus, plus 1d10 a level. I would probably skip this rule since "spells per day" covers spellcasting nicely and aligns better with C&C. I would use this as an optional rule for worlds with "exhausting magic" only, such as a Cthulhu-style game world.


The game has a system of optional traits which are trading a +1 and -1 of two sets of actions, like the abrasive trait giving a +1 CHR bonus to intimidate and a -1 CHR penalty to being diplomatic. The -1 seems like a very minor bonus and I feel a +2/-2 is a better feeling modifier.

A Great Pulp Game

If a pulp game is taking attention off Savage Worlds for me it is a great game. Amazing Adventures hits a sweet spot of D&D-style progression and challenge levels, the classic low-to-high level play, and it uses basic B/X style stats and dicing. The characters and character sheets are half as complicated as Savage Worlds, there aren't as many "tricks" to the system, and it plays like straight B/X with fate points, and it works well from the classic pulp era, to modern, to sci-fi.

I still love Savage Worlds, but if I want that classic B/X and OSR feel and gameplay in a pulp game, this is hard to beat. Again, the C&C style rules simplify everything down to a few ability scores, eliminates complicated skill systems

And remember, referee rulings are still the gold standard rule here, so if a player is saying, "I have 30 hit points, there is no way a gun to my head would hurt me!" They are likely wrong, and this - for any PC or NPC - could be ruled lethal. This way of thinking is purely created by more modern rules systems where you start needing rules for everything and the book gets to be a 600-page monster.

If something feels like it is not survivable in the game world, then it probably is not.

If you have fate points left, you can "wake up later" or miraculously survive, but then again, this is also dependent on the lethality of the world and referee ruling.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Maximum Mayhem Dungeons: Reprints Special #2

Another fun Kickstarter I am following is a reprint collection of OSR modules (9 for OSR, 1 for 5E) that look fun and have a lot of classic art and inspiration inside them.

These look super fun, sort of a cross between OSR and Dungeon Crawl Classics crazy and zany, and the art and presentation are spot-on with some classic fantasy artists in the books.

I am always on the lookout for great OSR adventures, and these look perfect.

The project is backed and I put a link in the sidebar.

Does This Come in an OSR Version?

I love OSR versions of products. It makes me wish I could go back in time for half of the 3rd-party Pathfinder 1e books I own and have OSR versions of all of those great books. I can pick up a book written for Labyrinth Lord, Old School Essentials, Swords & Wizardry, and most any other OSR game and use it with any one of the others. All of my old D&D and AD&D modules are usable as they are written.

Sure the above was written for Labyrinth Lord, but I can play this with anything from Swords & Wizardry to Castles & Crusades. Old School Essentials. Crypts & Things. Hyperborea. White Box. Basic Fantasy. The list goes on and on.

Why not play the AD&D or D&D Rules Cyclopedia reprints? I choose to support indie creators and communities. The more OSR games we have out there, the better the entire OSR community gets. This is about supporting diversity and choice, everyone should be able to play the game of their choice, or even create a game that captures their imagination. While having the original books is nice, ultimately they are limited and games that will never really expand or thrive with new adventures and experiences.

I can go to DriveThruRPG and find hundreds of OSR modules written for dozens of OSR games, written by small and indie creators with a love of the game. The original D&D and AD&D are still very closed-source games, and I support open-source projects because they benefit the world and help the individual over the corporation. I can buy a $60 mega-dungeon hardcover and have it be good forever, and usable with dozens of games.

My D&D 3.5, Pathfinder 1e or 2e, D&D 4, and even the few D&D 5 books I have are all tied to one game system. When I box up a game for storage, these books go with them. My OSR books stay out and they are always ready for whatever game I choose to play.

I know creating space for OSR stats in 5E books takes space and the market isn't that big, but it means a lot to us OSR enthusiasts. It also means I can use the book after D&D moves on an edition or two. The few 5e books I have I know will likely need updates when the game changes again, and I like a set of rules that really stays the same.

I did the "big consumerist" thing with Pathfinder 1e and collected all the books. To force me to collect another edition and double the size of my library feels wasteful. I would rather have OSR books I can use with many games than a book written for a specific edition of one game.

While I love my Pathfinder 1e books, there are books I can say "they were just trying to sell you another book" in that collection. There is a ton of waste in there, repeated classes and feats, same-enough spells, and really a sell-sell-sell mentality took over the line when it got hot. I can say the same about 5E these days, a lot of books, even from Wizards, you do not need and they reduce your enjoyment of the game.

If someone in the community writes the OSR game "Bad Dungeon" and it takes off huge, all my OSR books still work fine. When 5E or Pathfinder 2e go away, they go away, and you need to buy an updated book or hope things convert well enough. The old books do not go in a closet.

They stay out, ready to be played.

And also from an environmental perspective, having books that work forever and with each other is way better than supporting a consumerist model. Traditional books do not need electricity, and storing PDFs on phones or in the cloud takes electricity and resources. You are not reprinting the same content in "an updated version" and reselling those every 10 years with all the damage printing, transporting, selling, and tossing out an old edition books causes. I get tired of this "Amazon culture" of continuously selling you books, and then continuously replacing them with a new edition. Multiple starter sets. Reprinting monster manuals. Toss out the old, buy the new. Constantly consume. More, more, more. Bigger games! More options! More books!

Especially when there are a ton of single-book OSR games that just do it better with less.

It is funny, I go back and look at a lot of these games and see how the OSR is superior. If I want mages to do alchemy, I just house-rule how it works if it makes sense. In other games, I have to buy a book, read how it works, slow down the game to sort through dozens of pages of rules, often make one die roll and say it takes "X weeks and Y gold to make Z potion" and guess what?

If I would have house-ruled it I would have had an answer in 5 seconds, save $40, and keep my game streamlined without another book of rules to reference or carry around. All for an edge-case situation.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

OSR: Weak Cleric? Strong Church.

Most OSR games have clerics who get zero spells at level one. That is a tough life for the cleric, even compared to AD&D, which gives clerics one level one spell at level one. You may have players who don't like this and want to gravitate towards games that are a little more generous.

Actually, I love the OSR cleric since it opens the door to a little world-building for me.

The Setup

So let's say you have a group of players in Old School Essentials or any other game where clerics get the "bag of rocks" at level one, no healing spells, no cure light wounds, no nothing. So you send them straight to the dungeon, and all the cleric prays for is reaching level 2?

Not exactly.

I would have a messenger from the cleric character's temple show up, and say, "Could you come to the temple before you go? We wish to speak with you a moment."

And leave it at that.

When they go, have the person in charge of the temple give the spell-less cleric three healing potions to use, just because they want to be sure their follower gets back safely. Normally, I would go with scrolls, but since scrolls depend on spell levels you can cast, it has to be healing potions at level one. No price, no charge, just free.

There is your level one healing.

Now, why do this? Well, churches are typically charitable organizations, and you can use this to your benefit. Every so often, throw a few potions or cleric scrolls every so often to make up for the difference. Does the temple want to see the cleric grow into a powerful here? You bet they do, but within means and resources, of course. If the rest of the party starts pulling ahead in magic gear, have the church give the character a few items to help them keep up.

Yes, for free.

The Payoff

After a while, the church starts making requests of the cleric and the party of adventurers. We heard of trouble at a farm, reports of a desecrated shrine, or evil creatures spotted on a hill. This is a perfect way to deliver adventure hooks to the party, and it gives them a source of missions and good deeds to do.

Now you have a cool way to deliver information and adventure starts to the party.

As the good deeds pile up, the church increases in power and influence, and the missions become higher stakes. Not all the party's time should be spent on church tasks, but it should come up every so often - especially during slow times or when the party has no next adventure to go on. The stronger the local temple, the more they can offer the party.

Don't overdo it! The party should not feel hassled by the local temple, just every once in a while and don't pile things on with multiple requests while other big things are going on.

And, of course, if the party has unwanted magic items or extra treasure to donate, that would be appreciated too. The church could sell the party higher-level parties cleric scrolls and potions at a discount, and that would also be a good way for the group to spend money and keep the cleric's power on the higher end of the curve with plenty of healing spells tucked away in a prayer book and enough healing potions to pass out in a pinch.

The "weak" OSR cleric is easily fixed by making up for it with world-building and roleplaying, and, in fact, the cleric with benefits is probably stronger than their "go it alone" counterparts in more generous games.

Doctor Jones...?

Also, place some important objects, statues, books, icons, and other holy items as "treasure" in a dungeon that are worth gold, but worth a lot more if returned to the church. Recovering relics and other artifacts is very important and would generate greater favors for the party. Sure, this 3,000-year-old gold statue of the goddess is worth 5,000gp if sold for the metal, but do you know how valuable it is to the temple?

Yes, I know the thief says to sell it and split the money, but please have faith!

Returning that may just be repaid by allowing your party's healer to upgrade from +1 chainmail to a brand-new +2 set. You don't need to put the treasure the cleric wants in the dungeon, just put a relic and let the character pray for the new gear when the item is returned. The player has complete gear choice, and you don't have to guess what the player wants and leave it in a 10x10 room somewhere.

Worldbuilding Solves a Lot of Problems

Any time you have a perceived "weakness" in a game or set of rules, it is very easy to patch with just a little bit of careful thought. In this case, I like the weaker OSR clerics better since it lets me start the game by getting players used to helping their local temple and followers. I started a lot of games with strong clerics and never gave them a second thought, please go it alone! You have that cure light wounds, you are good to go!

This is even doable with druids and the area's druidic order. Paladins too. In a pinch, thieves or mages could have organizations that can provide help for a little later assistance.

And with cleric scrolls, the difference between the number of spells cast at a particular level is a minor problem. Creating those takes money, and just be a little more generous to make up for that and have the cleric spend downtime crafting scrolls or crafting potions. Maybe even donate your unused ones to the church or the scrolls that are too low-level to matter anymore.

Maybe another level party of level one adventurers could use them.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Mail Room: Lost Lands Campaign Setting

Why do we need all these world settings? Well, for one, they are a unique brand of fiction, especially if they are someone's campaign world for 40 years. It is almost as if you get to sit at someone's table and read through decades of their gaming history, and somehow, across space and time, join in the fun and get to play with them.

The Lost Lands is the Frog God Games and a system-neutral setting, though 5E and Swords & Wizardry seem the best supported in the adventures they publish.

Since this is someone's home game world, they had to pull a few things out that would break copyright, possibly other campaigns and places puled from fiction, other games, and movies, and put in their game world. All of them I am sure replaced with suitable and copyright-free alternatives, but borrowing and expanding is what all of us did back in the day - so I get it. The world as it feels like a lot of material was made system neutral (and the adventures converted from Pathfinder 1e to 5E and S&W), and it feels like a classic AD&D-style world.

This world has all of the AD&D-style standards running about. We have drow, demons, strange extra-dimensional aliens, dragons, elves, dwarves, halflings, and all your favorites as big players and important parts of the world. Some worlds feel more human-centric, such as Forgotten Realms for my group always felt more human-centric and tied to the AD&D 2e lore and style of play. The Realms also felt more like "a world built as a fantasy novel series setting" than a place that focused on dungeons, which is why I bet the huge GMNPC problem cropped up there.

The modules of Lost Lands are old-school and great, and the world is home to the Rappan Athuk mega-dungeon. It is a world that feels like it could house many mega-dungeons. The best thing about Greyhawk is the classic modules, but this is also the worst thing about this world since they stopped making them. If all you are going to do is reboot them and ride off nostalgia, I am not interested. Sorry, I love them, but there is a point where reboots deny us the chance to see a new creator's Tomb of Horrors or Temple of Elemental Evil for this generation.

Put those dungeons in the Hall of Fame, please.

Time for new stuff.

Which is what we get here. Since I skipped all the original Pathfinder 1e adventures from Frog God (sorry!) I am experiencing them for the first time as OSR adventures, and they are great. The company converted them all over from an unsupported system and rebuilt them for S&W and 5E, which is a bold move that I support. Having the OSR versions makes them good forever since OSR games will always be with us, and games like Pathfinder and D&D will not always be the same year after year.

I know they promised 6E will be 5E compatible, but things do change, and big corporations do what they want to do regardless and expect you to follow along with your money because of the chains of nostalgia. 7E will likely be something completely different when we get to it, and we will see it in our lifetimes. Pathfinder 2e is already dramatically different, a great game but way too much for me to handle (not in math, but the number of choices plus the complexity of the rules runs counter to why I play games).

So I buy the S&W versions of these adventures and I am free to use them with the OSR system de-jour that is hot this year. This is sort of how the OSR works, you get a dominant system that lasts for a few years, it fades but never really goes away, and you get a new community darling that captures everyone's imagination for a while - and it may go huge or it may not and we are onto the next one. People buy everything since it all works together anyways, so there really isn't a strong "us versus them" system wars thing going on, and no money is wasted if a game falls out of favor.

My Labyrinth Lord adventures can still be played and are still valuable. All of these new S&W adventures can be played with anything from Old School Essentials to Castles & Crusades. Or even Labyrinth Lord. Or whatever else comes out from the OSR in the future, it will all work with very little modification. Or with a tiny bit of work, convert it to 5E.

There really isn't a comparable world with so many OSR adventures outside of Goodman Games and DCC. But this is more of a traditional AD&D-style fantasy set of rules than it is gonzo Appendix N, so Lost Lands feels grounded and classic.

And the Lost Lands setting is home to all these adventures and feels like the version of Greyhawk they promised us but we never got. The one where adventures would continue to be written, the system supported for years, and a place where your players could call home and know that somewhere out there adventure is waiting. The world is built for old-school dungeons and adventures, and it does not care for being a homer for a grand fantasy adventure novel series and assorted author GMNPCs.

More on this soon!

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Swords & Wizardry: Monsters

I swear Swords & Wizardry has every other B/X version beat for monster types and statistics. The basic game comes with a standard assortment of the classics, but when you start to add the volumes of bestiaries Frog God and Mythmere Games put out?

You have a game that is unmatched in variety, types, and support for the various bad guys and creepy crawly things in the world. You have a collection that arguably matches Pathfinder 1e in just choice, with all the classics you expect, plus hundreds of others players have never seen before.

Frog God also has permission to print a few monsters outside the OSR in these books, so you are getting a few classic monsters, not in the OSR but with stats and printed here for your use.

And given these monsters all have the needed stats for running in any B/X game, including entries for ascending AC, you have an invaluable resource for any B/X game you run, from Old School Essentials to Castles & Crusades. All of them are 95% compatible and ready to use.

This is really a great level of support I have not seen since Labyrinth Lord in terms of the books you can buy, use, and collect. And since these use S&W stats, they have the magic resistance numbers that AD&D, ACKS, S&W, and C&C support.

I know OSE gets a lot of attention and some of the newer games like Hyperborea and Crypts & Things, but whatever you play, these books are a great resource for them all.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Encumbrance Battle!

People generally hate encumbrance systems. Very few of us love creating per-pound loadouts and carefully tracking weight carried. Encumbrance is a staple of OSR play since there is typically a difference between the lightly loaded weights of a party going into a dungeon, and the weights when the party is trying to haul hundreds of pounds or loot out of the dungeon when wounded, exhausted of spells and resources, with monsters sometimes in pursuit and wandering monsters lurking about.

Let's say a party needs to walk 600' to get to the final room of a dungeon. At 90' per turn that is about 7 turns of movement, but when entering that is going to take much longer due to exploration and combat. Walking out of the dungeon through "cleared rooms" let's say the party is loaded down and can only move 30' per turn. That is 20 turns of movement. At a 1 in 6 chance per turn of wandering monsters that is a difference of (on average) one wandering monster encounter walking out unencumbered and three walking out encumbered.

Can your party handle those three extra encounters when walking out? How many resources do you save to get out of there? Will you get lucky and not have one encounter? Can you avoid contact (or parlay) with the encounters you do have? Do you throw down food to distract wild animals? Can you get a good reaction roll with intelligent creatures and possibly pay them to let you be?

This is one of the fundamental differences between modern roleplaying games and old-school ones, and this can drive some players crazy who have their expectations set by newer games. In an old-school game, beating the boss in the last room is not typically the end of the story. Modern games have this "movie mentality" where the boss fight happens and not much happens after that, and tripping random encounters after that fight can feel "mean and unfair" to some players.

And let's not get into why you can't really "rest" in a dungeon. We will get to that later. Short rests just took the "travel back to town" part out of the 15-minute adventuring day trope.

In an old-school game, when your party decides "people, we are leaving!" then an entirely new survival game begins. Hauling that loot out and surviving becomes a mission in itself. You can do the newer stories in old-school games and assume "everyone gets out okay," but the "endgame" of hauling loot out and surviving is also a classic experience that adds to the drama and tension of a dungeon run. People tend to skip this part of the mission since typically as the night goes on people need to go home, but saving a little session time for escaping with the loot is well worth the time and effort to try to make room for.

That said, here is a summary of encumbrance rules in various OSR games and my thoughts on them.

Old School Essentials

Please do not make me track gear weight! Only count my weapons and armor! Everything else is the coins of treasure I am carrying!

OSE exists in a post-encumbrance world, and they do not even give you the option to do detailed weight tracking. No equipment weights are given, and strength does not modify carrying capacity (which feels wrong). OSE is a great system that simplifies a lot to just the essential concepts, but at times I wish I had more options to play the way I want to and do detailed weight tracking.

OSE's encumbrance system feels a bit oversimplified, sort of like a video game, but I get it - a lot of people hate tracking weight. The only improvement I would make is adding a strength mod for carrying capacity, since some players may expect this and wonder why their 18 STR dwarf can carry as much as the STR 8 wizard.

  • Weights in coins.
  • Weapon and armor weights only.
  • No gear weight.
  • Basic encumbrance: Based on armor and if carrying treasure.
  • Detailed encumbrance: Based on total coins carried of weapons, armor, and treasure (no gear).
  • Strength does not modify carrying capacity.

Swords & Wizardry

Please do not make me track gear weight! Only count my weapons and armor! Everything else is the coins of treasure I am carrying! And yes, strength modifies carrying capacity!

Swords & Wizardry is a lot like OSE, but there is a 10-pound assumed gear weight for the "everything else" an adventurer wants to carry. They also track weight in pounds. I do miss having gear weights still, even if they are not used they are nice to have. In these ultra-simplified systems, they omit gear weight since they want to avoid confusion.

  • Weight in pounds.
  • Weapon and armor weights only.
  • No gear weight.
  • Basic gear weight assumed to be 10 pounds.
  • Encumbrance is calculated on total pounds carried.
  • Strength modifies carrying capacity.

Basic Fantasy

I am fine tracking weight!

Basic Fantasy does old-school weight tracking, which is cool. Every item you can buy has a weight. You put together a basic load. The big difference here is carrying capacity is tied to race, dwarfs, humans, and elves have a higher carrying capacity than halflings.

I can see how players unused to encumbrance tracking would be a little intimidated by a system like this, though you could easily house-rule it to the Swords & Wizardry "armor and weapons only" standard, and assume a weight for random gear, and let the rest be for treasure.

  • Weight in pounds.
  • All items have weights.
  • Strength and race set weight category (light or heavy load).
  • Strength modifies carrying capacity.

Iron Falcon

I am fine tracking weight! But please let's do it in coins!

Iron Falcon is just like Basic Fantasy, except the race modifiers to carrying capacity are gone and the game just uses one chart, modified by strength.

  • Weights in coins.
  • All items have weights.
  • Encumbrance calculated on total coins is carried.
  • Strength modifies carrying capacity.

Labyrinth Lord

I am fine tracking weight! But please keep everyone the same!

Another simple weight tracking system, but this time not modified by strength. A great equipment list in this book makes it a great resource.

  • Weight in pounds.
  • All items have weights.
  • Encumbrance is calculated on total pounds carried.
  • Strength does not modify carrying capacity.

Adventurer Conqueror King System

Please make weight tracking simple! And I mean simple!

ACKS does an abstract encumbrance system where nothing has listed weight but everything is converted into "stones" of weight. Random items are tracked six per stone.

  • Abstract encumbrance system.
  • No items have weights.
  • Item weights in "stones" (10 lbs.).
    • 1 stone per point of AC
    • 1 stone per 6 items carried
    • 1 stone per heavy item (8-14 lbs.)
    • 1 stone per 1000 coins
  • Encumbrance based on stones carried.
  • Strength only modifies maximum capacity.


Please make encumbrance as old-school as possible!

ORSIC is another hardcore system for encumbrance and gear weights. The game uses a single chart, but "carried" weight can have an amount subtracted from it depending on strength.

  • Weight in pounds.
  • All items have weights.
  • Encumbrance is calculated on total pounds carried.
  • Strength modifies weight carried.
    • Strength bonus subtracted from weight carried to determine encumbrance.

Castles & Crusades

I want an abstract encumbrance system with no guesswork!

C&C reminds me a lot of the old Aftermath encumbrance system, where items all have individual encumbrance values, and those are added up to get a carried total.  What you can carry is equal to strength, plus bonuses for having primary scores in either STR or CON. It is a simple, elegant system and one I am a fan of.

  • Abstract encumbrance system
  • All items have weights.
  • Item weights in "encumbrance value"
    • EV based on size and weight or item.
    • 10 lbs. or 160 coins = 1 EV
  • Strength modifies weight carried.
    • Base ER limit = STR score
    • STR and/or CON add + 3 to max ER
    • ER based on categories (1x, 3x, more than 3x)
  • Overburdened characters lose DEX bonus to AC.

Dungeon Crawl Classics

Encumbrance? I should be worried about surviving!

Toss the encumbrance system out the window, we are in DCC. Heavy items, such as armor, slow movement and give penalties to actions. There is a carrying capacity of "half body weight" and that is good enough.

  • Casual encumbrance system.
  • No items have weight.
  • Armor slows movement.
  • Maximum pounds carried is equal to half body weight.
  • Strength does not modify carrying capacity (but will factor into referee decisions).

What a Load!

Wow! A lot of work, and I hope all of that is right. Every game does encumbrance differently, no surprise. The expectations they put on players are different enough to matter, and I can see how some games are a reaction against the old per-pound system of the older games. The thing is, you go back far enough to games that take inspiration from pre-AD&D sources (S&W), and they were not that concerned about encumbrance either.

There was this time when "advanced" meant "more record-keeping" and even we felt it was a bit too much when we played AD&D. I thought S&W would differ dramatically from OSE, but really the two games are nearly identical with the only real difference being tracking weight in coins instead of pounds (OSE), and strength modifying carrying capacity (S&W)

Of all the games on this list, I like C&C and S&W the best. C&C does the best abstract encumbrance system and it is based on ability scores. S&W is the OSE modern standard, but it adds a STR mod to maximum load, which I can see house ruling into OSE easily. If I had to pick one game, despite OSE's options and organization, it would be S&W just because the game plays and feels tighter, and it retains the AD&D rules options that I feel are critical for playing a game that feels like the original.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Swords & Wizardry: Just, Good

Reading through Swords & Wizardry (S&W), I can see why there is a desire to go back to the original 1970s versions of dungeon gaming. I see a lot of house-ruling in B/X and BECMI that frankly, I started with and feel normal to me. There are some changes in B/X I feel are a bit too generous to hand out to everyone, and I can see why S&W does not give hit and damage bonuses for STR to any other class but fighters.

Just because everyone has house-ruled something does not always make it the best choice. Putting money in a pot for landing on Monopoly's Free Parking space is a popular house rule, but it imbalances the game and is not official.

You see the damage later on, when AD&D introduced a special 18/01-00 STR system, just for fighter classes, and this rule tried to bring the original bonus back but just made an 18 STR a requirement for fighters and inflated statistic generation. It is funny because at times I feel the changes made in later versions of the game were trying to patch mistakes or issues that existed as time went on, and we have OSR games emulating the patch instead of going back and cleaning up the mistake and unifying the experience.

With that hit and damage bonus, fighters feel interesting again. This bonus applies to ranged weapons. Combine that with attacking creatures with less than 1 HD at one per character level, and you have a really cool fighter. I read some B/X games and it feels like fighters do not have that much to them. I get this feeling with thieves and a straight double-damage backstab modifier.

Other Games

Some games do things better. I like Labyrinth Lord's (LL) equipment lists, especially in the advanced book. Old School Essentials (OSE) and Swords & Wizardry omit weight values for a few items, like crowbars, backpacks, and the like (S&W assumes a 10-pound "other" gear load). I picked up an OSR equipment list called the Adventurer's Catalog, and that works nicely (but there are a few differences between LL damage and S&W damage).

Castles & Crusades (C&C) does a nice job simplifying saving throws, class abilities, attribute checks, and skills into the Siege Engine. I like the system a lot, and they also do a great job with equipment and gear with an abstract encumbrance system. C&C is admittedly a simplified D&D 3 retro-clone since the class power unlocks feel very modern in design, but it remains OSR compatible with its AC, hit point, and damage scales. Like D&D 3 and AD&D, you are a step more heroic in C&C than the 1970s flavor of the game.

I don't like the loss of a unified attribute modifier table in S&W, but the STR to-hit modifier one works fine. A lot is left up to you like the original 1970s rules, and how you check abilities is also left to you, or if you even do it at all. You can use saving throws modified by ability score modifiers. You are supposed to make a lot up, not roll dice for roleplaying, and just wing it outside of combat. A lot of OSR games tell you to roll-under ability or give you no guidance at all.

If you need the structure of the ability and skill checks, play C&C.

Oh yeah, and clerics get no spells at level 1. This is the old school, and the price you pay for having a character that can bring others back to life.

LL & OSE do not have an AD&D-style magic resistance mechanic for monsters, and I miss this. S&W and C&C have this. In the base ACKS book, only the lammasu has a MR value (and some cacodemons have it in the heroic book). I consider magic resistance a core mechanic, so my two go-to games as S&W and C&C.

Improv Needed

S&W requires a high level of rules improvisation. I can see why a lot of the B/X games today emphasize structure and organization since people coming from modern games feel more comfortable when every rule is spelled out and easily referenced. S&W does magic, classes, and combat and leaves most of the rest up to you. A lot of gamers and referees can't handle that much freedom, so we want guidance and systems to help guide our actions.

An S&W referee could rule anyone with an INT higher than a 14 can decipher a rune. Or allow a roll-under check. Or just allow a spellcaster to read it. Or everyone rolls a d6 and hopes for a 6. Or just tell them what it is. Or not. Or require reading magic or comprehending languages. Or if you speak elf. Make a saving throw modified by INT. Whatever. You have complete freedom in handling this.

Frog God Games also has one of the best collections of S&W OSR modules and adventures around, designed like the classic dungeon modules of AD&D, and all very cool. They are still producing new ones, and you could play these with OSE, LL, S&W, C&C, or whatever game you love.

I hear the S&W license is moving to Mythmere Games, and they are already moving things over to their own store. I hope they do POD reprints of the adventures, but I am not sure what is being moved from Frog God to Mythmere. Whoever has the rights, please make POD copies available for some of these old adventures, please.

Some said that S&W is a Rosetta Stone-style game, like C&C, meaning it can play anything and everything converts out of it well. I can see the truth in that. Where the games are different is in the adventures written for them. C&C has a lot of story adventures, with good-sized dungeons and a lot of story encounters, more like an AD&D 2e or Forgotten Realms feeling. With S&W, you get lots of hardcore dungeon content written in that OSR style.

Style & Emulation

Some games are more emulators, where they emulate mistakes and design inconsistencies. If a class was weak in the original game, it will be weak in emulation.

Other games are more curated experiences, where they are not so faithful to the source but focus on delivering the best experience. Labyrinth Lord is a great example where it pulls in material from many games to deliver the homebrew experience of playing back in the day.

S&W is a rollback to the original rules that takes it forward in areas that make the game playable, such as the original rules not having a combat turn structure, or offering ascending AC as an option. S&W is technically an emulator, but it goes back to the original source and avoids the changes made in later versions.

It is funny since the different versions of D&D back in the day had different target markets, changes for legal reasons, and presentations of the same material. The base D&D game was more targeted at kids, while AD&D was created to change the rules enough to avoid royalties and the game was targeted at an older audience. Some rules felt like they tried to roll back bad decisions. Other changes felt too broad and weakened some classes. Some changes simplified things too much or tried to add detail that wasn't needed. All of the older market targets were rolled back to AD&D 2e, which went 100% all-in on making the game for a younger audience due to controversies in the media.

So we have emulation games emulating less-than-ideal choices and version changes that change the game, some not even for gameplay reasons.

There are lots of great games in the OSR world, and really anything you choose is great. Different games have different source inspirations and styles or presentations, little differences, and they all make choices depending on the goal of the game and the source material they are trying to emulate.