Today I read an interesting post on Kotaku, called Dungeons & Deceptions, about the role Dave Arneson had in the development of D&D. According to Rob Kuntz and others, the commonly told story that Gary Gygax was the main influence behind the roleplaying hobby is not the whole truth. In fact it has been Arneson who actually came up with what we now know as “role-playing”. The article gives a lot of interesting insights into the early days of the hobby and shines a light on some of the unsung heroes. The article also mentions the recently-released documentary “Secrets of Blackmoor” which tries to basically answer the same questions.
Dungeons & Deceptions is actually the third in a series of posts on Kotaku about the history of D&D. If you are interested in delving deeper into this mystery, you should check out these articles as well:
Aside from these articles I can also highly recommend checking out Shannon Applecline’s Designers & Dragons which is probably the most comprehensive picture on the RPG hobby from the 1970s to the 2000s. In my opinion it’s a must-have for everyone interested in learning more about the people and stories behind our favorite games.
Over the last decade or so, playing older editions of D&D or their modern simulacra has been pretty popular. Back in the day people wanted to play like in the old days, but since most older editions were out-of-print this was much harder than it is today. So eventually D&D fans started to make use the OGL in order to recreate their favorite editions of D&D.
Early examples where OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord and to a lesser extent Microlite20, which had an old-school variant called Microlite74. Over time the focus moved away from meticulously recreating old editions of D&D to creating something new. People put their own spin onto things, included house rules, or rebuilt the whole game from the ground up. Today I want to have a look at two less well-known OSR games worth your time.
The first game on my list is James Spahn’s “The Hero’s Journey”. It is based on Swords & Wizardry Whitebox, but deviates a lot from it. The first major change from regular D&D-based games is that it uses an additional attribute, Appearance, and changes Wisdom to Willpower. Armor doesn’t change one’s armor class (only shields do), but reduces damage caused. The game also uses variants on the standard classes, which helps to give it a different feel from most other D&D-based games. Last but not least “A Hero’s Journey” has an interesting mechanic to create magic items. Weapons and armors can get magical properties if used in heroic deeds! As a cherry on top “The Hero’s Journey” is an extremely well put together product with great art (including art pieces from Larry Elmore!).
A game I’ve actually mentioned before on this blog is Runehammer Games’ Index Card RPG. Even though my experiences with it were mixed, I still think it’s one of the most creative and interesting old-school-inspired titles out there. Check out my posts about the Index Card RPG here and here.
Both games are pretty inexpensive especially if you get the digital versions. Both games are also great examples on how you can take 40+ year-old concepts and still create something new with them. Both deviate from what people usually expect from a D&D-based game, but both do it in different ways. If you haven’t done so, you should definitely check out both games. I am pretty sure you won’t be disappointed.
Recently I decided I should finally give BECMI a chance. I asked a couple of friends if they were interested in creating characters to which they agreed. We initially planned to meet two weeks later to start playing, but we had to reschedule. At the moment the game is still in limbo.
In the meantime I worked on a simple adventure to get started while also thinking about the bigger picture. Since the first planned meeting fell through I thought I might have enough time to start working on a campaign world of my own. Since previous attempts have often ended up in flames, I decided to follow Michael Shorten’s example and start with just three hexes.
During my two-week vacation I planned to sit down and do some prep work, but I ended up playing Elder Scrolls Online with my wife. That was a lot of fun, but I didn’t come any nearer to my goal of creating an interesting campaign setting to play in.
In the meantime I was also invited into Michael’s Ultima-based PbP game which borrows mechanics from Swords & Wizardry Whitebox, which is among my favorite retro clones. It’s simple, elegant, easily hackable, and I can pretty much run it without having to look up rules all the time. Reading these rules again made me question my decision to play using BECMI rules. There’s a certain charm to these rules, but I just feel much more comfortable with White Box. *sigh*
At the moment I am torn between sticking to BECMI and changing to White Box. I guess I could probably use S&W Whitebox as a base and borrow concepts from BECMI if needed. My players probably don’t mind either way. Sure, we might have to reroll characters but that’s probably done in something like 10 minutes. While I am trying to make up my mind, my anxiety also comes knocking. My fear of failing as a GM is so high that it totally paralyses me sometimes.
My gut feeling is to switch to Whitebox since it’s the easier system of the two. I am also quite familiar with it, while I haven’t really run or played BECMI yet. Last but not least there are the issues with the descending armor classes, THAC0 etc., which I find a bit cumbersome. It’s no real deal breaker but just something which may cause stumbles. If you were in my shoes, what would you do?
A Roleplaying Games blog
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