Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How Simple Do You Like Your Game

The philosophy of many OSR games is keeping it simple so someone can create a character in a few minutes and start playing. Or in golfing terms 'grip it and rip it'. The death ratio is fairly high, but making the characters takes little to no time and there is no shortage of handy tools out there created by all the OSR folks to help things along.

Simplicity of play is fun, but the group I run in likes a little more complexity. OMG. That's right. You heard me. I like a little complexity to my game. I prefer to be able to make my character unique not a cookie cutter class guy. I want options damn it. Maybe this is because I player GURPS for many years before getting involved with the more old school philosophy of play. For short run campaigns or one shots, the grip and rip it style is great, but when I am going to play a guy for a while I like growing beyond the narrow confines of a class definition.

I like being the fighter with that one little magical power that gives him a slight edge. Maybe all he can do is create a flash of light, but it's enough to give him a slight edge for a few seconds. Maybe a thief who is an expert at manipulating people, who can talk to people and get vital information for his next job. Or a mage who has contracted some horrible disease, he suffers from the physical scaring while most die from it. The sight of him makes others run for the fear of contracting the disease.

Can any of these be put into any retro clone game...sure, but the GM will need to statistically figure out the numbers. While other games have these different effects statistically figured out. Now brace yourself, but this does happen, some GMs, if it's not in the book they will not allow it.

I play more than I GM. GMs have all this room to play with to create new critters, cities, treasures of wonder and a new bagel if they choose. As a player I like to have a little room to move around also. Allow me to be creative and move my character into a direction not normally taken. Beyond the narrow scope of a class based system. I want to play in a large field and run this a way and that a way. Explore what my character can become within the world the GM created. I promise not to break your world.


  1. I keep thinking that there is a way to merge the simplicity of older D&D, the options and the customization of GURPS. That why I wanted to try Runequest that one time to see what it was about.

    D20 and Hackmaster Basic were successful in offering customization yet still remain in the realm of being a D&D style game.

    Maybe a rationalized D20 variant would do the trick. I don't know. If you think of a D20 class as a temple, and each level as a package of points. This combined with the idea that you can pick a new class when you level up, feats and it's skill system makes D20 an interesting approach to Customization.

  2. Have you ever looked at Castles & Crusades? I think it does a good job of combining the simplicity of older D&D with some of the mechanics of D20 (but the D20 stuff is more streamlined and simple as well).

    And C&C can be customized/house ruled, but I think it doesn't need much of's a great system almost as is. I think the fighter class is a bit restricted, though. I might allow fighters to have multiple attacks per round no matter how many hit dice opponents have, rather than multiple attacks just for opponents with 1 HD or less. And I will give fighters the option for "shield mastery" (increased skill/bonus to AC from shields) or two-weapon fighting at first level, depending on what kind of fighter they want to be.

    I am planning a campaign that I hope to run soon, and I am going to try to add in "feats" or what I call "talents" as options for players. I am not going to worry about game balance too much, and in the OD&D realm you really don't have to, right? Anyway, every few levels I will give the players options for feats to select, or they can come to me and propose a feat that they find in a game book (such as D&D 3.5 edition, etc) or one that they make up. I'll evaluate what they want, and figure out the mechanics, and go from there. I think this is really easy to tack on to an OD&D game, and allows for a bit more personalization/complexity.

  3. I think the game should run well without the details and that ading them should be optional at each step, so that the game will function smoothly with only a few selected additions, or the entire lot of 'Advanced' Options.

    I think that Ability Score checks do what they need to and that any elaborations on that theme should only be enhancements in the degree of detail.

    Everything else should operate off of existing guidelines in a telescopic sense of 'oh, yeah, I see why that works that way. That means it'd work this way in reverse.'

  4. I appreciate what you're saying, if I haven't had enough play time myself to actually grow unsatisfied with vanilla classes.

    I'm leery of complexity for two reasons though, 1) Although ostensibly about diversity, it's always really about becoming more powerful (does anyone pick a feat that makes them weaker?), so the rules become a sort of arms race. And 2) rules never seem to go away, if I allow you the option to have Flash of Light, then really, to be fair, all other fighters should get that option too, right?

    I think these two issues are what led to D&D 2e, 3e, and WoTC trying to solve the problems of those systems m in 4e.

    I think the solution, though difficult, is to give players more decisions and options while minimizing any new rules. Something like Bohemian's Good At system

    or Trollsmyths, The Shields Shall be Splintered

    or these simple combat maneuvers

  5. @ Rob> Yeah I definately think when you and I were talking that we were on the right path. I wrote this blog primarily from a player's point of view instead of a GM's. Most blogs are written from that POV.

    @Drance> Love C&C. Its a great game and sounds like you've done some interesting tweaking.

    @TS> I agree that a game should run smoothly bare bones, but as a player and this is just MHO, I like to have some variations of abilities as I advance. I've always worked with Rob with different variations and this help develop alot of depth to his campaign. Some stuff that didn't fit into his world I was always cool with. But its always good to ask.

    @Telecanter> Absolutely, too much complexity can make a game suck. Our group was all excited about playing HackMaster (4th Ed not Basic) but once we started making characters and figuring out body mass we lost our excitement quickly. In fact we didn't finish making the characters.

    I guess what I am saying is allow the game to be a bit flexable. You don't have to make a runle about a flash of light fighter, but if one is interested in it maybe there is a circumstance that this could happen.

    One of the things I like to do when I run a campaign is give a player one special thing. Something beyond their classes. And this is if I am running a heroic type campaign. One player got a highly intelligent horse, another was blessed by fey, he could travel freely from realm to realm, another had psychic power. Did I have any rule for these? Nope. I had a general guideline that I went by but he player if the player wanted to try something. I was always happy to see what happened.

  6. You should try Randall Stukey's Microlite75. The current rules are still in playtest draft, but I'm amazed by the amount of detail in such a tiny package. It even includes the differentiations you mention in your post, so I'm sure you'll like reading those rules.

  7. I like the ad-hoc little benefits you mentioned in your comment. I do the same thing, but usually I require a little quest. One of my goblin players wanted to ride an animal such as a wolf. I offered him a griffin instead, if he was willing to convince the party to travel with him to the Tirillion tower once held by the elves of the Great Roaring Jungle and tame one of them. Taming the beast involved sneaking in, feeding them, defending the area, and staying there for a week or two (playing a different character for a session or two) and that was it.

    I've been playing a handful of FATE sessions lately. It uses aspects and fate points for a more structured approach. Basically characters can have a number of free-form aspects that grant a well defined benefit after rolling dice (a fixed bonus or a re-roll), if you spend a fate point. You gain fate points by accepting deals to your character's detriment offered by the game master. Anyway, it's a totally new direction that I'm considering.

  8. I just read through bohemian's Good-At system and the super-simple combat maneuvers Telecanter suggested. I like them both! Very free-form. :)

  9. Telecanter> Thank you for those links. Great stuff.

  10. Tim, I know I don't have to tell you this, but what you are doing sounds good, if it works in your game! I see no harm in giving these little quirks for characters. heck, you can even make it a merit/flaw thing, where if a player wants to have a special ability of some sort, they have to take some sort of negative aspect on as well in order to "balance things out." Maybe the fighter with the flash of light ability also has a stuttering problem ;-) I'm not joking! Seriously, something like this sort of pushes the idea of roleplaying for a character. Just brainstorming here...

  11. What you're saying about GMs preferring Rules As Written, I understand. What you say about wanting "Something Special," I understand. Usually the RAW crew (like myself) only allow the SS people to get a freebie after a campaign has been up and running for awhile...and I totally get that this can be frustrating to the player that wants "something cool...NOW."

    However, I hate the idea of creating a game that codifies a bunch of "something cool" ideas into the system (you know, like a merit/flaw system?) as I find it over-burdens the whole thing...not to mention, once it's been codified, there are still some players that want to be outside THAT box...again.

    Would you be satisfied with a retro-clone (or some similar simple, streamlined game) that provided an abstract rule (optional or not, negotiated with GM or not) that allowed for this extra customization? Or do you want to see an actual list of things like "fey blood," "magic talent," "smart horse," "heirloom weapon" and the like?

  12. I agree with you JB with having an entire system decorated with SS. In the campaign I was describing where I did this it was GURPS and if you know the system a 100 point character has skill and not '1st level' so to speak. So what I did was speak the players before hand and discussed their histories and develop what they would have earned up this point. Would I do this for Swords & Wizardry, nope.

    I guess what I think is a good practice is GMs being flexiable with their system. Allowing alterations to classes if the experience and situation can justify it.

    Usually I run grinding realistic campaigns with a a bit of magic thrown in. But even then if a player would like to expand beyond the confines of their class, I say let's role play it, figure out what happens.

  13. I'd recommend MyD20 Lite, as I wrote it as a "second generation" retro-clone that keeps it simple but offers a selection of class abilities at 1st, 4th, and so on. Characters thus get some distinctive and unique flavor, avoiding the cookie cutter class experience while keeping with the simple character creation methodology of Old School retro-clones.

    For a review:

    Hope This Helps,

  14. Sorry for the late additional comment-- I was in the wilderness with no wifi.

    I just wanted to apologize if I came off a little too strident, like the Complexity Police or something.

    And hey, rulings, not rules, so if a DM can give a player something, why not.

    The examples you gave in your comment were different than what I expected, too, though. For one, they could apply to all classes, which reduces complexity and, especially for the horse, they could have built in drawbacks. So they wouldn't be just about power inflation but add interesting possibilities for players with some costs.

    Jeff Rients has new characters draw from a deck of random things to make them a little different

    I don't see why you couldn't have a list of perks you'd thought about to let players peruse and pick from. This is assuming a player, especially a newer one, might not have an idea off the top of their head of what perk they might want.

  15. Telecanter> No offense taken at all. I like it when I get some dicussion in the comment section.

    I like giving players lots of options in game. If they can come up with a way to maybe get an extra ability their class may not normally have then I'll go with it and figure out what they'll need to do or the cost involved.

    I played AD&D from like 79' to about 86' then our group switched to GURPS. So from 86' to early 09' when I started getting interested in the 'OSR' I was playing GURPS. A system that pretty much allows you to be any combination you want. And I am, clumsily at times, trying to bring some of that in my OSR game.

    But please never fear for coming across too strident, harsh or rude. I do this for fun and take any comments under advisement because a lot of times people will mention something I hadn't thought of. That's why I enjoy my blog.

  16. @ Tim: This post inspired me to do a quick "B/X fix" for you. Check out today's post @

    : )