The lost art of GMing?

Excellent post over at Vancian Magic about 4th edition D&D and the rush to make GMing a rote skill.

If there’s one fault of 4th Ed., then it is the sheer bloody laziness it instills in DMs… Has anyone say and looked at the encounter set-up pages? They are so close to eliminating the need for a DM now (and, please note, boast about this in the DMG!) because the whole tactical-combat-map&mini thing basically runs itself.

I’m sure for WotC this is a huge pat on the back moment. With the best intentions they make the task of refereeing a game easier and easier, quicker and smoother until… Well yeah, until the challenging art form is reduced to book keeper, and by 5th Ed. it’ll just be a computer doing that. Subscribe-a-DM… Fantastic. Yep, that’s absolutely great.

Now that’s bad, but the side-note of it is watching a 4th Ed. generation DM try to do something off his own initiative… He’s never learned how! For all that was lamentable with White Wolf games, at least they restored the spirit of “making worlds, crafting plots, LEARNING how to be a good referee…” something TSR had lost amidst crunchy nonsense by that point.

If there is one place where the Old School Renaissance is currently vital to the hobby as a whole is keeping this art alive (the Indie movement has some of it although auto-engines have a place there).

How far can you strech OD&D…

In reference to my space game post, I have considered already:

  • OD&D
  • Mutant Future
  • A homebrew based on late 70s RPGs like OD&D and Gamma World

After all, Star Wars Saga is a D20 game and therefore in the D&D tree. My campaign, like Star Wars, is essentially a fantasy game in terms of themes, archetypes, and world (but not plot because there isn’t one…this will still be some form of player directed game…if not true sandbox than a sandbox where the world has a running metaplot).

The biggest hurdle I see is the D&D power curve. I think it’s not appropriate here but something along the lines Gamma World/Mutant Future would be.

What do all the old schoolers reading this thing? Is D&D Supplement LV: Space Monks a bridge too far or another fulfillment of the promise of 1974?

As a brief aside, I was inspired to write this by James Maliszewski’s Epées & Sorcellerie. Specially this brief discussion of wanting as many retro-clones as possible.

How my brain works, gaming edition

A long, long time ago (okay, mid-2007) I read this thread which I prompted reposted/expanded here and while I did some ground work it withered.

After the success of Friday’s start to my old school D&D game I began thinking about running a second game using Traveller and then just as a space game. I remembered the thread above and realize I’d love to run it. But I wanted to remove all trace of its fore bearers. Where to get names/structure then?

So, today I’m read articles at The Pope Center and realize I never read part three of a series on post-literate students. I didn’t understand the reference to Iphigenia (not being exactly well read myself) which lead me to the Wikipedia article on her which sufficiently jogged my memory. It also got me reading synopses of the various plays concerning the tragedy of Agamemnon’s family from the sacrifice of Iphigenia to her rescue (or to the trial of Orestes depending on which dramatist you’re reading) and I realized here is a source I can twist to my story without carrying the preconceptions Star Wars.

The usurping Empress is killed by her son who fell in love with his sister who in love with his best friend. Close enough to the perverted SW to full the whole campaign. Now to read Oresteia of Aeschylus (Agamemnon, Choephori, Eumenides), the Electra of Sophocles, the Electra, Iphigeneia in Tauris, and Orestes of Euripides, and maybe Morning Becomes Electra of O’Neill as well as at least some of the Dune books again.

Oh, and find a system (not the old TSR Marvel…Star Wars Saga might work but would I fall back into my same issues)…also, keep lightsabers or replace them with mono-filament wire swords?

Player Handout: Ten Things to Know About the World After

This is a world without a sense of creation: While the one faith of man (The Church of the Holy Succession)looks back to a creator and redeemer known in the world before all people today know is that the devils tore down the old world roughly a 1000 years ago.  The idea of having any more communion with the origins and deities of the previously world is generally considered bizarre.  Members of The Church of the Holy Succession have faith that they can touch that divinity and the powers of their priests might indicate they can.  Others contend The Church are merely serving an unknown patron devil or demon (or several) or one of the current gods hiding their identity.

The World After is built on the foundation of a technological society destroyed by the inhabitants of something like Hell: That means this is a science fantasy game as much as a pure fantasy game and mutants, robots, ray guns, and other technological artifacts may appear from time to time.

While we have Labyrinth Lord and the house rules this game is more about rulings than rules:The most important thing is having fun and being creative so don’t be surprised if situations are arbitrated outside the rules.  If you fall in a pit instead of taking xD6 damage we may decide you lose no HP but break your arm.  By the same token the whole point of the Saving Roll system is to give you a way to try anything.  In fact, trying things not explicitly covered by a rule will greatly increase your chances of making second level.

You are extra-ordinary: Not everyone in the world has levels and among those who do most don’t go very far .  Don’t let this go to your head, though, as the urge to adventure marks you as outsiders in many places including, probably, your own home.

Leaving home isn’t safe: Man has rebuilt his world in little to medium sized enclaves separated by devil scourged wastes and wild areas overrun by the beasts of the After.  Strangers are usually viewed with suspicion, especially outside of the few large cities.  Even the handful of merchants and traveling circuses as viewed as possible thieves and easily blamed for strange happenings.  That said travelers are also the only source of news and new stories.

Who are you: While designing this game I thought characters were generally going to be drawn from the freebooters who seek old tech in the wastes, anti-raiders who hire out to rescue kidnapped wealth citizens of the cities, mercenaries who fight the cities’ wars, and similar.  You clearly aren’t limited to this but it gives you an idea of what I was expecting.

This is a world of City States and villages:There are no grand kingdoms. Too much of the land is wasted still from the war and people are too few to provide for centralized kingdoms.  In fact some small villages have no real overlord except for whatever bandit is currently extorting enough crops from them to survive, at least until the next time a city state needs an army and promotes him from bandit to mercenary.

You start in a region called Hors Urbis: It is a series of towns and villages centered culturally around the White City, a large port of about 13,000.  An inland sea lies mostly to the east with the coast extending north and turning east roughly at the southern boundary of Hors Urbis.  To the north are wastes and to the west the Seas of Grass.  Southeast along the coast of the inland sea a strip of fairly civilized lands runs around the southern boundary of the sea.  Due south are mixed lands with a few scattered villages that have begun to be cleared and settled in the past 100 years.  To the Southwest lies a close bank of a great river.  The river has many inhabitants along its length and even on it.  The only major traveled routes out of Hors Urbis are south east along the sea shore (by both boat and overland) and south west to a river port.

This is a sandbox game: Yes, there are “plot lines” but there isn’t “the plot” for you to find and run through.  As you discover things happening you can choose to get involved and change things.  You can also choose to ignore them and choose some goal or goals of your own.  I am here to provide a world and the people in it, not to give actors scripts to act out.  I won’t even give you a reason to be together so you can come up with your own or just not have one (or a mix of both).

The two player rule: If at least two people show we’ll play…and come up with reason why you weren’t there.

I listened to a lot of metal while designing this game

A random selection of inspirations for the game: The novels Black Easter and The Day After Judgement> by James Blish (a few years ago available as The Devil’s Day in a single volume).  The Nightwish album Once and the Within Temptation album Mother Earth.  Memories of many Tunnels and Trolls sessions in the early 80s.  Three on-going urban fantasy book series one of which is Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty novels and the others would be telling.  Ken Hite’s GURPS Cabal and many columns from Supressed Transmission.  The movies Heavy Metal and The Warriors of the Apocalypse (oh, and a tiny touch of Night of the Comet…well, not really but if you’re renting bad movies to get ready for the game it’s a classic).  The various Horseclans books.  The full range of D&D (not AD&D, which 3rd and 4th edition continue without the A), Judges Guild, Arduin Grimoire, and modern simulacrum games designed to fit the 80s vibe., The World of Thool (and it’s predecessor Wilderlands of OD&D), Grognardia, Lair of the Flame Princes, Monsters & Manuals, Philotomy’s OD&D Musings, The Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope, and

Obtain and read: “With old new eyes” @ The Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope and “Quick Primer for Old School Gaming” by Matthew Finch (free on Lulu).

And finally a quote:In the Good Old Days, the days of the original three books of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® game, the number of variants on the rules was roughly equal to X, where X was the number of players of the game.– Paul MontgomeryCrabaugh in Dragon #109 towards the end of the silver age of D&D

House rules:

The first of my three players handouts (edited for the stolenborrowed revised thief from Grognardia):

Task Resolution

Saving Roles (borrowed from Tunnels & Trolls):

This system replaces the ability check rules from LL.

When you attempt any action not covered by class abilities you will generally have to make a Saving Roll (SR). Describe you intended action to the DM and he well set a level and attribute. Roll 2D6 and add the attribute and your level to the roll. Doubles add and roll over. The target number is 15 + (SR Level x 5). Except for those things restricted to other classes you may try anything and request a SR.

For example, you try to jump over a chasm. The DM decides this is governed by how strong you are and tell you to make a level 2 saving roll versus strength. Your strength is 8 (you’re a wizard) and you’re second level. If you roll two “1s,” you may roll again and add the “2” you already have to the new number; if you roll two “5s” on your second try, you roll again, adding 2 + 10 plus the next result; assuming your result on this third roll was a 5 (a “2” and a “3”), your total would be 2 +10 + 5 + 8 (your strength) + 2 (your level) = 25. Given it was a level 2 SR your target was 25 and you passed (barely). Had it been a level 5 SR the target would have been 40 and you would have failed.

When you make a SR, regardless of success, you score experience points equal to the SR roll total time the level. In the above example you would have gotten 50 XP. Had it been a level 5 roll you would have gotten 125 XP even though you failed.

There are two special SR: bad luck and good luck. They are made against your lowest attribute and your highest attribute respectively.

For those wondering, a first level character with straight average attributes of 10.5 will succeed on a SR1 a little over 1 in 4 times (any initial role of 9+, double 4s, and double 3s are auto success and double 2s and double 1s can succeed over half the time).

Increased Difficulty for Class Abilities:

A variety of class abilities operate as 1-x on a d6. Situations may exist that are harder than normal. In these cases the DM may tell you (or roll on for secret rolls) a d8, d10, d12, etc. Some circumstances may use a d4. Some weird cases, such as monsters who surprise on a 1-3 against characters only surprised on a 1 will be handled by taking the defensive advantage (here chances are 1 lower than normal) and subtracting it from the advantaged party’s higher probability.



The alignment system is the system first published in Strategic Review #6 and the Holmes D&D book. It represents the mid-point in the evolution from Law-Neutral-Chaos to the full blown nine alignment system of AD&D. It has the four corners and true neutral but lacks the X-neutral alignments:

Do the creatures (titles?) in the corners and the planes mentioned exist? Good question.

Bonus Spells (a house rule from Gary himself):

Spell casters with Primary Attributes (intelligence for magic users, wisdom for clerics) of 15 or more can cast 1 extra first level spell per day.

Talents (based on T&T 7th Edition):

D&D has had a variety of skill systems of various utilities. The biggest knock on them in the old school community is they limit what characters can do via “do I have the skill” thinking. The idea behind talents is to allow individualized abilities beyond the class system without creating a set of limitations. At all times remember the key idea of the SR system: you may try anything not restricted by class abilities and request a SR.

Talents are a free form ability such as gambling or persuasion or a type of lore such as demons or the cities of Arabis rated 1 or above. Once the DM has assigned the level to a SR you can offer up your talents as being applicable and if the DM agrees you can reduce the level of the SR by the level of the talent (but never below 1). Describe something to me, let me set the SR, and then try and apply the talents or include the talent in your description but never just say Don’t say “I use X to do Y” because I’ll just say “can’t do it”.

At first level and each level after you may take a talent OR raise an existing talent one level. Thieves gain two per level as well as starting with two.

Character Classes:

Unless stated otherwise other class abilities are not changed from standard LL rules.

Magic Users (text taken from Spellcraft & Swordplay by Jason Vey with minor editing):

Arcane Spells: Wizards maintain a spell book full of the arcane formulae by which they make their way in the world. From this book a Magic-user is capable of holding the magical energy of a certain number of spells, determined by level, in his mind for discharge whenever he needs them. Every morning, the Wizard must spend one hour studying his spell book or the magical energy begins to fade and he forgets. As a general rule, any morning that the Wizard does not study, he loses one die worth of spell levels from memory, with higher level spells vanishing before lower level ones. Spells are organized by complexity, or spell level, which is different than character level. To cast a spell, a Wizard rolls 2d6, adding his intelligence ability check modifier, and attempts to equal or better a casting threshold based upon the complexity of the spell (See Wizard Table 1: Spell Casting). Three results are possible:

Spell Level Magic User Level (Immediate/Delayed)
1 2 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 15 16 17 18 19 20
1 11/8 10/7 9/6 8/5 7/3 6/2 5/2 4/2 3/2 3/2 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/-
2 N/A N/A 11/8 9/6 8/5 7/3 6/2 5/2 4/2 3/2 3/2 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/-
3 N/A N/A N/A N/A 11/8 9/6 8/5 7/3 6/2 5/2 4/2 3/2 3/2 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/-
4 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 11/8 9/6 8/5 7/3 6/2 5/2 4/2 3/2 3/2 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/-
5 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 11/8 9/6 8/5 7/3 6/2 5/2 4/2 3/2 3/2 2/- 2/- 2/- 2/-
6 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 11/8 9/6 8/5 7/3 6/2 5/2 4/2 3/2 3/2 2/- 2/-
7 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 11/8 9/6 8/5 7/3 6/2 5/2 4/2 3/2 3/2
8 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 11/8 9/6 8/5 7/3 6/2 5/2
9 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 11/8 9/6 8/5 7/3 6/2 5/2 4/2
  • If the spell casting roll achieves a result of “Immediate”, the spell goes off immediately, at full effect, as intended.
  • If the spell casting roll achieves a result of “Delayed,” the spell will go off one round after casting is complete.
  • If the spell casting roll fails (rolls lower than the target for a delayed result), the spell fizzles and is erased from memory. The spell cannot be used again until the Wizard engages in his daily spell book studies the following morning. Note that even if a Wizard is guaranteed success, such as a tenth level Wizard casting a first level spell, an unmodified “natural” result of 2 on the spellcasting roll still results in the spell being forgotten, though in his case it will function normally before being erased.

Wizards begin play with 4 spells of first level in their book. These spells are determined randomly or can be chosen by the player costing two spells per spell choosen. Thereafter, at levels 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10, the player adds from 1-3 (d6: 1-2=1, 3-4=2, 5-6=3) new spells of any level that he can cast to his book. Other spells must be researched.

Read Magic: Wizards can read the arcane script used to create scrolls, wards, and runes, and which is used in the writing of spellbooks. Only Wizards can read this writing.

Spell Research and Magic Item Creation: Done using the rules from GAZ 2: Principalities of Glantri. The key points for low level magic users are research costs 1000gp per spell level at a minimum and require a library of magical books with costs starting at 4,000gp for a basic library (which can only allow research of 1st level spells). Magic books found adventuring will have a GP value assigned and, if kept, can be used towards said library. MU players can see me for a copy of the complete rules.

Thieves (text up to talents taken from Grognardia by James M with minor editing):

Thief Abilities: The following replace the abilities listed under Thief Abilities. Those listed under Additional Abilities (read languages, creating a hideout, and read scrolls) are as presented in Labyrinth Lord.

    • Backstab: When attacking from behind, a thief may roll two dice for damage and take the highest result. At fifth level, he may roll three dice and keep the two highest results. At ninth level, he may roll four dice and keep the three highest results.
    • Extraordinary Climbing: A thief can climb sheer surfaces without the need for special equipment. His chances of success are 1-17 on 1D20. This chance increases to 1-18 at fifth level and 1-19 at ninth level.
    • Observant: At first level, a thief detects secret doors and hear noises on a roll of 1-2 on 1D6. This increases to 1-3 at third level, 1-4 at sixth level, and 1-5 at tenth level.
    • Sneaky: Beginning at first level, a thief gains a +1 bonus to surprise when alone or operating with thieves of similar experience. Otherwise, a thief’s surprise chance is equal to that of the least sneaky character in the group. This bonus increases to +2 at fifth level, and +3 at ninth level.
    • Tools of the Trade: When possessed of appropriate tools, a thief can open locks and disable small mechanical traps on a roll of 1-2 on 1D6. This increases to 1-3 at third level, 1-4 at sixth level, and 1-5 at tenth level.
    • Wary: A thief can only be surprised on a roll of 1 on 1D6.

Move Silently, Pick pockets, Hide in Shadows, and Find Traps (as well as removing traps not covered in “Tools of the Trade” above) are lost. They can, however, be obtained as talents.

Talents: Thieves gain two talents each level instead of one.

Well, it might not be…

pulp fantasy but the dungeon being created for the beginning of the City States of the Apopcylypse campaign is Dres’s Den. One sub-level will be the abode of the Baroness San, a half-vampire (infected but has never feed, a la “The Lost Boys”).