Thursday, December 23, 2010

Rethinking My Stance

Last year, when I was trying to get the Board Game Group to play D&D a bit more, there were more than a few grumbles about my 'old school' approach.

Not everyone minded rolling 3d6 down the line for ability scores, but some did.

Not everyone minded the lower power level of starting Classic characters, but some did.

Not everyone minded the less heroic style of play, but some did.

Well, yesterday I was re-reading this old post over at Cyclopeatron.  In it, he posted some house rules Gary Gygax used in an OD&D game in 2005 (originally chronicled by folks at K&K Alehouse and Dragonsfoot, and collated by Robert Fisher on his old Infogami site).  I'll repost them here:
  • Not using the supplements. Only the three little books.
  • Ability scores rolled as best 3 out of 4d6. Arrange scores to taste.
  • All PCs get 1d6 hp/level. HP rolls are rerolled on a 1.
  • Fighters get +1 HP/die. All PCs get +1 HP/die if Con > 14.
  • Fighters do +1 damage if Str > 14.
  • Dex doesn't affect AC. (It does affect missile attack "to hit" rolls.)
  • PCs started at 3rd level.
  • PCs are unconscious at 0 hp. They can go as low as level +1 before death. (A 4th level fighter can be brought as low as -5 hp & just be unconscious.) A healing potion or cure spell restores them immediately.
  • 1d6 for surprise. 1=1 round. 2=2 rounds. 3 or more=no surprise.
  • PCs must declare actions before initiative. Casters must declare the specific spell being cast.
  • 1d6 for initiative. A tie means simultaneous.
  • A casting caster who loses initiative will lose his spell if hit.
  • No training necessary to gain a level.
  • To acquire new spells: Casters must find scrolls, spellbooks, or a friendly higher-level caster.
  • Clerics don't need spellbooks. (The original books can be read to imply that they do.)
  • Gary IDs most magic items immediately (charging large sums of money when they return to town to rest & recuperate for this service). (This is because the players are anxious to get back into the dungeon & don't want to bother with in-town adventures.) Potions must still be tasted to ID, though. Unusual items require a trip to the striped mage.
Reading this again made me rethink some of my current ideas.  While I think it's fun playing in a more 'hard core old school' way, the guys I've got to play with don't all agree.  And since we're playing to have fun, and I'll have fun DMing no matter which forms of character generation we use, what level we start at, and whether or not there's a high mortality rate among PCs.

I can always try to find some players like me in the future.  For now, I know I'd be playing more D&D if I instituted some (possibly all) of the following rules:

  1. Ability Scores: Roll 4d6 drop the lowest (re-roll 1s), or possibly 2d6+6 (no re-rolling of 1s).  Arrange to taste.  I'd keep the normal Classic D&D ability bonus/penalty spread, though.
  2. Hit Dice/Hit Points: I already allow Max HP at level 1 and re-rolling 1s, but I might consider upping the die types to match AD&D (something I've considered in the past).
  3. Level: Not sure if I'd want to up the starting level to 3rd or not.  I kinda like the low levels of play.  I'd likely just try to make them go quicker by being generous with rumors of where the phat lootz are hidden.
  4. Spells: Use Labyrinth Lord Cleric spell progression (spell at 1st level).  Allow a bonus spell for Wis 13+ for Clerics/Druids, 13+ Int for M-Us/Illusionists, 13+ Cha for Bards.  Magic Users and Illusionists bonus spells would not need to be prepared, it could be anything from the spell book, cast as needed.
  5. Death's Door: No negative hit point crap, but 0 HP is knocked out/incapacitated from wounds.  Any attack on such a character would then be an instant kill (like with a sleeping victim).  [not sure about this one, that might be going too soft...]
  6. Magic Items: Back in the old days, I usually just told the players what magic items they'd found.  It was simple, and didn't ever detract from the game.  I'd likely go back to that (of course, cursed items like potions of delusion or swords -1 would not be revealed until used).
  7. Encumbrance, Schmencumbrance: Yes, the logistics of hauling half a ton of gold up out of a maze may be fun for some, but it can also be a pain in the butt for others.  You find the gold, you've earned the gold if you can get out alive.  Realistic, no.  Fun, yes.
With these rules, I think my friends would be happier at my table.  Too bad I'm not gonna have time to DM much in the next few years.  I'm going to start taking grad school courses at night in March, so DMing will definitely be out.


  1. It's frustrating to see the things we like to do go by the wayside for our careers. Hope you manage to squeeze in a little time for D&D during grad school!

  2. Times move on and gaming is a social activity so compromise between lovers of new and old is always going to be important. It can be hard to deal with, but your ideas seem a step in the right direction. Useful post!

  3. IMHO

    When a character’s hit points score is reduced to zero (or less) then he is unconscious. A character at negative hit points is in shock (bleeding out) and loses one additional hit point every minute until first aid is properly applied. If the absolute value of current negative hit points exceeds a character’s Costitution score, he is dead.

  4. A shame. Rolling down the line is just awesome.
    It's the character quirks that make role-playing fun.
    D&D is already too much of a numbers game. And I really hate power gamers who try to cook the books and use every supplement known to man (official or otherwise) in order to twink out their characters...

  5. Paul--if anyone wanted to roll 3d6 down the line, I'd totally encourage them. Just saying I'd get fewer complaints and more gaming done if I didn't insist on it. :D

    Lydia--don't worry, I'll still have time to play. Just not to run the game myself!

    Clovis--I used that version of Death's Door with 3E. It works, but I want something simpler. In my games there will be no such thing as negative hit points. A 1hp character who takes 2 damage and a 25hp character who take 50 points of damage are both in the same boat, at 0. No bleeding out, no need to keep track of some arbitrary basement of hit points. Just if someone gets a chance to finish you, they can. Otherwise, your buddies can revive you and nurse you back to health in time (or with magic).

  6. Good note taking! Most of these issues lead directly to house rules. I'd like to see a follow up with your House Rule for each concern listed.

    My Master's took a bite out of my family and gaming time as well. Hope you keep posting, at least.

  7. I've been doing 3d6 down the line, with a single swap between any two stats. I find that this is quicker than arranging all six to taste, and produces some surprises in creation, but still lets the players feel like they have a little control.

    For 0 hp, I've been using Trollsmyth's Death & Dismemberment table (based on Robert Fisher's original, of course). My players have generally been lucky, with no deaths yet and two adrenaline surges so far. However, we did have an arm torn off last week, and the party's cleric is nursing some broken ribs. It works for me!