Thursday, April 9, 2009

OD&D Hack - Choosing a System

One of my running projects is a D&D "hack," or set of house rules. I have extensively house-ruled AD&D in the past, but they no longer suit my new purpose of a playable, rules-lite testbed for ideas that I intend to fully implement (someday) in SEPTIMUS.

The question is -- what system to use as a baseline to work from? It should be simple, as its easier to add to something that is barebones than to carve away large chunks of something more complex. It should be inexpensive, so as to allow easy proliferation at the (virtual) table. Next, it should have a relatively streamlined mechanic. Finally, I need to like it, as I'll be spending some time with it.

I could use the original D&D rules from a favorite edition. However, with WOTC's pulling of all PDF sales, this is problematic for profileration. Additionally, the rules themselves were highly experimental in many ways, and anything but polished or finished. AD&D has a certain Gygaxian clockwork perfection to it, but even that is tenous, arbitrary at times, and difficult to play with. So, for a host of reasons, I do not think that original TSR publications are terribly appropriate.

I've also looked at a bunch of indie games. The problem with indie games is that they are generally tightly focused and have signature mechanics that do not always lend themselves well to adaptation. Additionally, many of them charge some money, which is also a limit to proliferation. So I'll pass on adopting an indie game for now, although I have seen many that are promising.

My project over the last few days to catalog "retro-clones" has allowed me to review each of the offerings out there and to read extensive reviews of all. Allow me to briefly touch on the options I considered:
  • Labyrinth Lord (LL) is a a very close reproduction of B/X D&D. It is quite thorough and includes rules for many topics. Unfortuanetly, this is something I want to avoid -- if I want to add something on, I'll add it myself. That is the idea of the project! Also, there's something about the presentation of LL that I don't care for. I think it would look great in a printed form, but in PDF format it just doesn't read well to me.
  • Basic Fantasy RPG (BFRPG) is another B/X D&D clone; it sacrifices faithfulness for some cleaned up mechanics. I prefer it to LL for this reason, but again, it is too "complete" for my tastes. Additionally, I think I want to steer clear of the decoupling of race and class for now, at least the way that BFRPG has done it.
  • MicroLite74. This was tempting, but it strays too far in some important ways for me.
  • OSRIC. This is an AD&D clone. Too complex for my purposes -- rejected for the same reason I rejected AD&D's original text.
After considering these and several other systems, I've decided on using SWORDS & WIZARDRY WHITE BOX as my baseline set of rules. First, they are as simple as you can get. Like, 3 LBB simple. If you skip the monsters & treasure section, they weigh in at about 30 pages. This makes it easy to add on as I see fit. Second, I really like the presentation and layout. They look clean on the computer screen and are nicely laid out. I also really like the "house rule" containers that the author has sprinkled liberally throughout. There's just a good vibe that I really like out of WB.

So, what does WB have rules for? What needs to stay, what goes, and what will be needed?

- Ability Scores
- Universal Attribute Bonus (rework)
- Starting Cash (possibly rework entire economy)

- Fighters
- Clerics
- Magic-Users
- Dwarves
- Elves
- Halflings
This covers the basics. There is plenty of room for switching things around here, possibly with the introduction of sub-classes. I also intend to introduce strongholds/ways for players to get involved with creating the game world.

I may or may not introduce a narrative system that helps in telling heroic fantasy stories.

- I may rework the economy altogether. I'll definitely be scrapping the ENC system.
- Magic items will need to be explicitly readdressed, too

- Time: May rework to introduce my concept of Customary Flavor for scales
- Movement Rate: May rework to introduce my concept of Customary Flavor for scales
- Hiring Assistants: I definitely plan on fleshing this out further for balance/economy of action purposes.
- Combat: The system presented here is bare bones and passable enough. I don't want to do anything too wonky, as this is a hack, not a new game in itself. So this may not need too much changing around.

- I am not sure how far I want to go in implementing a new spell system. I think it would be a big change and a lot of work. So, I may just apply several halfway patches to address my biggest concerns with Vancian magic and to test drive some concepts.

- Not too worried about these, honestly. I intend on introducing tiers of play and a "monster creation kit" that will allow baseline stats for monsters to be easily generated on the fly, a system that's coordinated with the armor and HP system as well. This is a major "back-end" change but shouldn't be too hard -- its just math!

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