Category Archives: Random musings

Why play old-school D&D?

Dungeon Crawlers If you haven’t been living under a rock for quite some time, you probably noticed a growing trend in the RPG hobby: OD&D is back with a vengeance.

Ok, in most cases it’s not really the D&D from 1974 that Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created, but the various retro-clones that are enjoyed by gamers all over the world. A lot of those gamers are people who have been playing D&D since the 1970s and who are more or less affectionately called “grognards”. But a growing number of players enjoy the charm of OD&D (or its clones) without ever having played the game back in the day.

So, why should anyone play old-school D&D today, where there are hundreds of modern games available? If you are one of the “grognards” you probably just play the game you’ve enjoyed for decades. For others its nostalgia, because they first played D&D before moving to other games and for a few of us (like me) it’s actually a new and exciting thing!

My favorite retro-clone at the moment is Swords & Wizardry White Box and as far as I was told it’s pretty close to the original game from 1974 with a few improvements. One of these improvements is probably the option to use ascending Armor Classes (like in D&D 3rd Edition a lot of modern gamer have played). But if you wish you can of course play it with the classic descending Armor Classes.

So, what is the appeal of S&W? There are several reasons why old-school gaming can be fun and exciting even today. In a way, playing S&W White Box is like learning a new skill. The game is extremely rules light and the DM (or referee) has to make rulings on the fly very often during the course of a session. You don’t have rules for every situation that may arise, so thinking on one’s feet and improvising is necessary. Especially when you are used to rely on rules, this can be a new experience for any DM.

The players have to adjust, too. In most cases combat is much more dangerous, because a character usually starts with just 1d6 hit points. A good hit with a sword and your character is history. Picking fights carefully is very important if you want to survive. Another aspect of old-school gaming is that the players are often more challenged than the characters. If there’s a riddle to solve, the players will have to solve it. There’s no skill roll to solve that for you. Some people may not like this, but we enjoyed this a lot. And I have to admit that especially when social interactions and riddles etc. were concerned I always preferred player challenge over mere dice rolling. And if in doubt you always can combine the two methods (at least in modern games).

But the part that is the most fun (for the DM or referee at least) is the fact, that you can easily change rules you don’t like or add classes, items etc. at whim without the fear of breaking the game. In most more complicated games some small changes may have big consequences that are usually not easily foreseeable. In my opinion old-school D&D is a heaven for homebrewers.

If you try to play S&W White Box or any other old-school RPG like a modern RPG, you will probably not enjoy it. It just wasn’t meant to be played that way. But if you are willing to try out something different, you are in for a ride!

By the way, if you are interested in giving S&W a try, check out fellow RPG blogger Chgowiz’ Swords & Wizardry quickstart.

Confessions of a Gamer: In the Beginning

In the recent post about Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay I revealed a few facts about my gaming history including that WHFRP was probably the game that influenced me a lot in how I see roleplaying games today. So I thought it might be fun to tell you a bit more about how I became a roleplayer. These are my confessions of a gamer, so to speak. 🙂

It all started when my friend S (I’ve decided not to use the full names of people here, out of respect for their privacy) asked me if I wanted to have a look at Battletech. I think I was 15 or 16 at the time. I believe I already had heard about the game already mostly from the ads in books I’ve read at that time. So, I went over to his place, where we met R. I actually knew R since early childhood, but haven’t talked to him for years at that moment. He was also a few years older and already had his own car (which came in very handy). We then drove to a nearby town to meet the other Battletech players.

I believe it was a Saturday afternoon in 1990 or 1991 when I first sat down to play a game of Battletech. Although I was a pretty bad tactician, I enjoyed playing Battletech a lot and I made fast friends with the other gamers. We then met every Saturday to play a few games of Battletech where I ususally used a Rifleman mech, which was my favorite. Alas it usually ended with my mech being the first to blow up since I tried to go toe-on-toe with better armed and armored mechs. I think I mentioned that I was pretty bad at this back then.

Sometimes during our meetings the others talked about another game called Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I haven’t heard about it before and just found out that it was not a game like Battletech but a fantasy roleplaying game. I’ve heard of D&D of course, but I only new RPGs from the computer. My friend S was actually part of the group and I regularly begged him to tell me about the game and what has happened during their game session. I also begged and pleaded to be allowed into the group, but alas the GM didn’t want me to join until they’ve finished the adventure. I believe they were running “Death on the Reik” or “Something Rotten in Kislev” at the moment.

My first chance to participate in a roleplaying session came in 1992 when we went to PhanCon. My friends S, R and me decided to give Torg a try, since the GM seemed to be a nice guy and S has played with him on the day before. So I rolled up my first roleplaying character. It was a private detective from the Nile Empire. I don’t remember exactly what the adventure was about aside that it featured zombies and I belive we were in Orrosh. This was also the first time I encountered a gaming jerk. From what I remember he was the kind that kills the mood especially for the newbies by telling them what to do and he boasted with his knowledge of the background and robbed us of the opportunity to make our own mistakes. But nevertheless the session was fun and I was hooked on roleplaying.

You may have already noticed that I started playing at a much higher age than most US gamers. From what I remember tabletop roleplaying games weren’t as widely known back then and especially when you come from the country, you didn’t have a lot of opportunity to meet roleplayers. My first experiences with RPGs were on the PC with games like Ultima and Bard’s Tale.

I think it was in the same year when I finally joined the WHFRP group. We started playing “Power Behind The Throne” and I rolled up an Elf called Nimron Ellion who turned out a coachman. Ok, it was a bit strange to play an Elf wielding a blunderbuss and driving a coach in the Empire, but we made it work. In the course of the adventure we uncovered the plot to overthrow the current rules of Middenheim, made friends with the local celebrities, fought a lot of evil doers and in the end where knighted. So my Elf made the career change from coachman to templar knight. Usually a career change like that is not allowed in 1st Edition WHFRP rules, but it was made an exception because of being knighted.

So in many ways WHFRP was to me, what the original D&D is to a lot of US gamers. I’ve played and later run WHFRP for many years and aside from TORG it was the first roleplaying game I actually played. I think my love for grim and gritty settings and percentile systems comes from that time.

This concludes the first part of Confessions. Please let me know what you think about this new column in the comments. When you enjoy reading about my gaming history, I will try to post another Confessions post every week at least. And please take everything I write in this column with a grain of salt. The events I wrote about happened over 15 years ago and my memory is of course not perfect. Especially if you where one of the members of that group back then, please don’t be too harsh on me, when I get things wrong.

Follow-up on my Warhammer FRP 3rd Edition rant

WFRPI have to admit that in my last post about that topic I was really ranting and raving. The original WHFRP was probably the game that influenced me the most in my gaming career and it will always be one of my favorite game. So I was pretty much shocked when I saw that FFG is about to throw out the classic system in favor of a new system that features fancy custom dice, action and ability cards.

I am obviously not the only one who is more than skeptical about the upcoming game by FFG. Several bloggers commented on the announcement of this new edition of WHFRP including UncleBear and Gnognardia among others.

And it seems the announcement has even more ramifications. As the German blog “Rollenspiel-Almanach” reported, there will probably be no continuation of the German WHFRP 2nd Edition line. The German version of WHFRP was produced by Feder & Schwert who now confirmed that their license has not been extended, so that there will be no German translation of “Shades of Empire” and the “Career Compendium”.

These are bad times for fans of 1st and 2nd Edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. What do you guys think? Will they pull a WotC on us and remove all PDF products of older editions from the stores, too? Or will we at least complete our collection of 2nd edition books before the new game is out?