The Saving Roll and Replacing Treasure Experience

OD&D is not the only old school fantasy RPG.  Not only is Tunnels and Trolls at least as old school as OD&D and Holmes I’ll contend it has retained that nature much longer than D&D did.  Given most old schoolers think AD&D, B/X, or BECM is the last of the old school and T&T stayed old school through at least 5th edition (which lasted past 2000 as the most recent) it’s hard to argue.

In many ways I like T&T more than D&D.  It’s much, much loser than any version after Holmes for one thing.  It has been my convention game for a year now.  Ken St. Andre is a huge Lin Carter fan (as am I).
Why don’t I adopt it as my primary game?  Three reasons, in order of importance: increasing stats, tone, and combat.  T&T uses wholesale stat increases to convey experience, raising stats either by the new level number, half of it, or twice it (depending on what stat you choose).  That can quickly get silly.  The tone of the game itself is silly, more silly than I’d prefer.  Finally, and least important, is its system which is much more group than individual combat.
However, it does have two things I love.  First, there is no xp (adventure points) for treasure as it is its own reward.   Second, there is its saving roll (SR) system.  They also combine to give an alternative to playstyles from OD&D.
Instead of saving throws, ability checks, or skills (those show up in 5.5 but use the same system) there is a unified saving roll system.  The GM gives you a level of saving roll to make. As explained you roll 2d6 and subtract it from the SR value (20 for 1st level, 25 for 2nd, and so on).  If your luck is greater than the result you pass otherwise you fail.  Of course, this is the same as luck + 2d6.  But what if you have a luck of 7?  Well, you still have a chance because doubles explode.  So in theory a loser with a luck of 3 has a chance to make a 7th level throw with a target of 50.  You can also see why those increasing stats are important.
However, there is more than just a luck roll here.  The rulebook mentions using other stats and it is a convention in T&T play that a character may get a SR for any attempted action.  Finally, SR garner experience points, succeed or fail.  In 5th edition the amount of xp is the roll time the level while in earlier editions it was the amount rolled for success and twice the amount missed by for failure.  Here is where the two systems converge.  OD&D rewards thought and trickery by giving xp for treasure obtained regardless of combat.  It encourages relatively safe action to get experience.  T&T encourages daring doing by rewarding attempting risky actions.
I’m thinking of adding SR to my S&W variant rules allowing the characters to add their level as well as the stat and rolling on 2d10.  Lower levels will be a tad easier but without the stat increases higher levels may be harder.  I might try 2d6 as well and see where we go.  Of course, I will remove treasure xp in favor of SR xp if I do use SR.  I think it will encourage more of the game I want to see.

City States of the Apopcalypse

And so we have a name for the new old school campaign.

Tomorrow’s long post will go a ways to explaining why I threw out “Swords of the Red Sun” for this take, but here’s the bullet point version of the new setting:

  • It’s our world several centuries after a mid–21st century biblical apokalupsis eschaton brings our era to an end.  It comes about, in conflict with prophecy, due to the willfulness of man.
  • The world is mostly blasted waste from man’s war with the minions of Hell.  The war was a success in that the demons were limited in their ability to rule but the world was destroyed in the process.
  • Most people live in isolated city states separated by the blasted wastes.  Some are close enough to war over the fertile land around them.
  • Among institutions that survived was the Church.
  • Tech levels have fallen and vary from low medieval to late antiquity/late renassance.
  • The except on tech is surviving fire arms.
  • The wastes still have military caches, demon hordes and nest, mutants (magical, radiation, and chemical), and plenty more to explore.  Of course they also have raiding tribes and barbarians.
  • Due to man’s disruption of prophecy the world itself may be undermined and denizions of a new underworld are chewing at its foundations, which troubles everyone.   
  • Characters are generally going to be drawn from the freebooters who seek old tech in the desert, anti-raiders who hire out to rescue kidnapped wealth citizens of the cities, mercenaries who fight the cities’ wars, and similar.
So, nothing hugely original but it pushes my buttons.  The goal is to create the science fantasy version of what comes 200 years after the punk rock mutant rebels of 70s/80s after nuclear war movies.  It provides an outlet for my facination in the kinds of esoterica Ken Hite has made a living writing about while providing an old school, free-booting D&D kind of setting.

The to hit table I’ve always wanted…

So, this isn’t exactly a holy revelation but something I like.

One thing I’d like to include in a old school style game is the Chainmail type to hit charts: Weapon vs. AC instead of level.

If you take the following three things:

1. OD&D’s alternate combat tables (well, S&W’s actually)
2. Greyhawk’s weapon vs. AC chart
3. The 3rd edition method of noting combat advances
4. The OD&D use of magic defenses: they subtract from attack roles

you could build such a chart for OD&D easily.

Take the 1st level numbers for 1-9 and use them as the base to add the Greyhawk numbers to. Viola a chart for any level 1 character to hit based on weapon and armor class.

Take the first edition charts and work out a by level to hit bonus for each class and you’re done.

Some advantages

1. It basically gives you Greyhawk’s system without two chart look-ups and the “okay, you’re AC-3 due to magic but the armor is leather..”.

2. You can give magic armor it’s own type on the chart…hell, you can go pure descriptive and get rid of numbers. Want Mithril chainmail to be very effective against points and sharps but, due to it’s lightness, even worse than regular chainmail against blunts, just add a column. If you’re looking to do a science fantasy game this helps a lot.

3. More interesting shield effects are as easy as just treating any shield as a -1 to hit.

4. Giving new classes their own to-hit progression is much easier.

The biggest downside I can see the 5 20’s from later versions would be hard to do.

I’ll try to have my first pass up later tonight.

This week’s fun reading…

Another new feature for this blog. Each week I trend to be reading three things: a professional book, a serious book, and something fun and light hearted. Most weeks the last is something that would be good gaming inspiration.

While I have read some Conan (both debased and raw) I will admit to the (in old school D&D circles) sin of not being a huge Howard fan.

That said, I am a huge fan of sword and planet stories from the classic (Barsoom) to the pastiche (Jandar) and the massive (Dray Prescott…I own the entire DAW run) to the unique (Gor…look, there are lots of other words but I wanted something neutral).

That Howard had written one escaped my notice until the past couple of years when Pazio’s Planet Stories line opened with one (you are buying those, right). So far, I’ve only read the introduction, but I am looking forward to it. I’ll probably just sit down on Thanksgiving and read it in one session.

Inspiration: A book and a painting…

What if, for the hell of it, someone paid a black magician to let all the demons out of Hell for just one night?

Then, what if they didn’t go back? In fact, what if the result was a judgement day won by the Devil?

The premise alone is a great campaign idea, but reading Blish’s classic novels on the subject, Black Easter and The Day After Judgement Day adds lots of new inspiration.

However, if one has “hell on earth” as a theme one must have an idea what hell looks like.

I remember the first time I saw Bosch’s triptych. I thought the painter must be a modern one, a contemporary of Dali probably. But Hieronymus Bosch gave us this image of hell at the dawn of the 16th century.

Too bad he didn’t have a heavy metal band to sell the reprint rights for an album cover.

So, for the serious side of my new game world I have a principle literary touchpoint: Blish’s idea of a failed judgement day brought about in the now by man’s arrogance…or perhaps just the idea of being on the wrong side of it. For the picture of hell I want to paint I have a primary image of a late medieval hell.

Later, we’ll look at how we can make a sandbox, old school game world out of them.

Semi-new direction

I’ll be taking a different approach to this blog with the renewal.

I’m going to post a regular long essay each weekend, normally Saturday morning. It will be about philosophy of RPGs at some level. Most will be about either what I want to revive from old school gaming back when I started. Some will be about the new school things I think are worth adding to old school.

During the week I’ll post shorter bits about the new campaign I’m trying to build. I was going to call it “Old School Take 2” but I think that’s mis-leading. While I consider it old school and certainly it draws on my first 5-10 years in the hobby (1978 to mid-80s) I think it will be very different from what most think is old school. I think a primary element of that will be a strong divorce from the main literary thrust of the OD&D era even though I’ll retain what I consider key principles of old school roleplaying as opposed to old school D&D.

As an aside, I suspect that difference as much as nostalgia is behind much of the reaction to Carcosa billing itself as Supplement V. To me the differences it has from the other four (as discussed by James Maliszewski) put it in that part of the old school that was breaking away from the literary (and other) inspiration that informed OD&D and early AD&D. While I have yet to obtain my copy (a full review will come when I get it) from what I have seen to me Carcosa may be a vital injection of the rest of the old school into the current old school movement.

Back after an absence…

So, my retro-game, actually my gaming life in general, died about the time of my last post. Hurricane Ike wiped out our local gaming convention (although we weren’t hit directly) and the let down (I was on staff working it for almost a year) combined with other things lead to a general gaming “blah” for a couple of months.

However, reading some old fantasy literature (longish post coming) and some time away has re-energized me.

I setting a goal of one post per week, probably on Saturday or Sunday with more as warranted.