Much as I love RPGs, and especially the old ones, with few exceptions the rules for magic and spell casting leave a lot to be desired.
If you are not familiar with Original D&D, you can take a look at the original Basic D&D by Holmes here:
Gonna go out on a limb and claim that SJGames, The Fantasy Trip: Wizard may be the only well functioning magic system I've ever played. It derives ideas from Tunnels and Trolls, which is much more interesting when it comes to magic spells than D&D, except the spell names are a bit goofy in T and T. The Fantasy Trip is a light weight Path Finder style game with simple elegant design features.
If you are into home brewing and haven’t played either, I highly advise you get a copy of both.
TFT: WIZARD - https://warehouse23.com/products/the-fantasy-trip-wizard
TUNNELS AND TROLLS - https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/108306/Tunnels--Trolls-Rules-4th-Edition
Within the original style of games most gamers are coming at Fantasy Role Playing, or FRP, from a literary perspective. i.e. Most of these gamers who play Old School grew up also reading a variety of fantasy novels which had a huge impact on the collective ideas for setting and power levels for player characters.
Consider, most early games tend to be low magic. Sure, you can find magical artifacts and you can cast spells, but you will need more than magic to solve most situations you run into. Thus, what I am talking about today may not apply at all to anything published later than about 1997 when WOTC acquired all the assets of TSR including the D&D trade name.
Original D&D was comprised of 3 little booklets. Each being around 66 pages long. It had enough in those booklets to inspire any group of gamers to create entire worlds. Some of these worlds are still being explored today still using the most simple of rules.
Yet, the simplicity of the system left many desiring to expand the game system. The end result often has problems, most notable of these problems being that complexity and supposed increased realism, makes the games play slowly. *Cough Cough* (Path Finder)
To add onto the pile of garbage that Original D&D is (Yes, I love it, but I can see what a pile of garbage the rules are.), original D&D introduced another magic type system called Psionics.
I’ve made up characters and tried testing the psionic rules for both OD&D and AD&D. I found them a bit over powered. I can’t really wrap my own mind around the concept of having a world setting with ordinary magic and psionic power. For me, it breaks setting to have both as they are both magic. I feel they need to be merged together. Thus some of the ideas for things like psionic mental attacks could be shoved back into the regular magic realm as spells.
Lately I have been fiddling my game system some more. I have pondered how to keep the game simple, yet, add more flavor to the game's magic spells.
Like all my other modifications I am fine with publishing rough ideas that may not work. If you dig through this blog you can find rules for spell points in OD&D, as well as rules for weapon damage based on size comparison. Neither of the articles presents a fully playable set of rules. I am just throwing out some ideas. You can take those concepts and run with them and do your own thing. If you publish based on my ideas a citation would be nice though. I always try to cite other people who had interesting ideas that I riffed on.
In OD&D spells are just simple gotchas that always work. Although they tried to fix some problems by creating a hierarchy for some kinds of spells it just leaves a bit to be desired. Many of the spells seem either under powered or over powered.
As my own campaign moves into a more refined state I am seeking simple home rules to upgrade with. Simplicity is key. We have several game systems being developed in our house group and one thing that happens in the beta test first round is how obviously over ruled our games are. We keep having to chop all of them down and remove die rolls and actions to stream line play.
Let’s talk about the sensing and control spells.
Detect Evil and Charm Person are a perfect example of spells which could use a bit more definition as well as a bit of refining as Charm is way too powerful.
And then we get the spells such as E.S.P. which really seem like extensions of the two previous spells.
All of these spells have to do with behavior that is a lot like Psionics. I would add that D&D Psionics really feel more like something to be used in sci fi games, I’ll leave that for you to ponder.
I see these spells as easily categorized like so:
1. Feeling/sensing consciousness as a pre-lingual experience for a caster “You sense that a malevolent being is nearby.”
2. Reading/Listening as an ability to understand another’s verbal thoughts, or perhaps to see through the subject’s eyes and ears.
3. Telepathic conversation which could be sending a message and or even allowing for two way conversation.
4. Psychic control or compulsion as per Charm, or perhaps even Geas. (Should charm be two spells, one is an influence on reactions and the other is full on mental control.)
5. Psychic attack as in a kind of mental battle that can cause unconsciousness and or death.
Each of these grades of power has both an active and passive form. It makes sense that if you can cast one of these spells, then you also know the passive/defensive version of the spell. (This is discussed in OD&D if I recall correctly.) Thus a Magic user might cast a spell to mask feeling and sensing during a secret raid on an evil wizard or priests domain. And, a wizard might cast one of these on a party member to keep them from being attacked or controlled by an enemy during a battle.
If you play in the old way, Character Attributes are best viewed as potential whereas class level is actual training and ability. In a game this can get a bit blurred as some things about human beings, real human beings, seem more innate than actual trained ability.
Success or failure with these spells should not be a binary die roll as in a combat attack. A player should never be too sure how successful they are.
For sensing you may want to do a combined mechanic of both range and level of caster. Thus a player could get 1d6 X 10 feet per 3 levels of ability. As a Referee I might be a bit fast and loose with results and a creature sensed just outside of range might lead to telling the player “You feel there is something angry, but the feeling is very feint.”
I prefer to simplify my games, thus if a M.U. casts the passive, or defensive, version of mental sensing it just works. Enemies won’t know you are there.
This is the thing about magic spells. Most game descriptions are vague and they often act as a ‘anything in range’ kind of spell. I often feel like the specific situation requires a referee judgement to interpret what a result is with players not knowing the full picture ever. I understand if some referees and players find this fog of war approach too chaotic. Yet, the fog of war approach is how you create a truly mystical experience for players during a game.
As you move to more difficult spells in their active and more invasive forms you may want to use some modified simple die rolls. We need to know if the subject notices they are being mind read, or if they are able to defend against being controlled, or attacked.
This is where I feel every RPG since OD&D gets it wrong.
The beauty of OD&D/Holmes Basic D&D is in the simplicity. It’s possible to clear half a one page dungeon level in one session.
Consider how you want to mechanize these spells. If a challenge is required, do you simply use the saving throw chart?
Maybe a M.u. can only control a quantity of hit dice equal to their own level, thus a 1st level wizard can’t go around charming higher level players.
Maybe you do a mutual challenge roll with modifiers based on class and level?
Perhaps the caster and the defender each roll a D6 with the higher number winning. All ties mean the subject is aware someone is psychically attacking them.
Certainly the psychic attack needs to be a 6th level spell. Maybe for this one each player rolls a d20 and the caster has to exceed the defenders die roll by 5 to succeed in knocking the subject out, and by 10 to outright kill them.
What kind of mods would you have? Barbarians might be more vulnerable to this kind of attach than other classes.
I know a lot of you want some kind of strict guide for your rules. I am still testing these ideas, thus I am merely tossing this out there for you to consider as a home rule in your own game.
Let me know if you try this out and how you decided to rule each of the spells as they are all quite different and may require a different rule for how they work.
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Thank you for taking the time to read, Griff
Since the numerous HASBRO/WOTC debacles of late, a great deal of you are starting to move away from D&D 5e. Some are choosing heavily ruled games such as Pathfinder and others have begun a long journey into the older play style which goes all the way back to when Dave Arneson began running his Blackmoor campaign in 1971.
To all of you D&D 5e players - Welcome to the wider community of RPG gamers!
For me, it is wonderful to see a new exploration of older games. The simpler game systems that are not heavily mechanized to the point that referees have little space to individualize have a lot to offer.
I also really want to avoid any kind of edition war sentiment. Whatever system was available to you when you started gaming is going to be your 'comfort food' game system. You know it inside out and it is easier for you to use than anything else. Keep playing what you know, but also consider other RPG games.
I always urge gamers to go back to the older games for inspiration by finding a copy of Original Dungeons & Dragons, Tunnels and Trolls, Empire of the Petal Throne, Rune Quest, TFT: In The Labyrinth, or even Traveller. All of these games offer an entirely different game experience from what may be familiar to you and may add to your already existent campaigns.
Now is the chance to become a much more well rounded RPG gamer and also, exploring other systems doesn’t have to be costly. Old games can be found on Ebay, or as PDFs. In some cases they are even being reprinted today. Some are even free.
A copy of Basic D&D is on the web here:
If you are a gamer without a group, I will even leave these links to the rules and a wonderful solo adventure for Tunnels and Trolls - yes, even solo play can be fun.
The original rules:
A very good solo adventure to play through:
There is the blanket term of OSR for anything that is not the current D&D edition. I would add, 5e is now part of the OSR realm of D&D editions. And, of course, there are many non D&D fantasy games, as well as an endless supply of non fantasy settings that one can explore.
For someone who began with newer editions, beginning around 3rd edition, the constantly evolving low ruled style of the early games may be a bit confusing. The premise that Arneson described when he demonstrated his Blackmoor game to Gary Gygax for the first time of “There are no Rules” may seem entirely alien.
What did Arneson mean by that comment? How can we play a game that has no rules?
An Adventure Game is not a computer program. Not all situations can be handled in a realistic manner by simply rolling some dice and tabulating the result with a cross referenced attribute. Rob Kuntz is known for stating, “You cannot rule reality.” What he means is that in an ever changing real fantasy world experience there are too many variables to track and you can’t model a reality with simple die roles according to simple one size fits all rules. What you need is a Referee, or Judge, who is fair and impartial that can make decisions about what is happening in any situation and can apply these decisions to the game play.
The earliest editions of RPGs had rules which covered player attributes, movement, how to conduct battles, how magic spells work, and some very basic rules for listening at doors, opening doors, and finding concealed objects. Everything else was up to the Game Master and players to work out amongst themselves.
The minimal rules led to a greater level of flexibility for the referees. It allowed them more freedom to create things ahead of time that the players could then discover. It also led to having unique encounters creating a truly magical feeling for the players.
Perhaps the greatest difference within traditional play is how weak players are to start out with. New characters are like young adults, or even teens, who are setting out to make their way in life. Thus your ability is limited and the situations and creatures encountered are often deadly. Players will often choose to avoid some encounters.
Wandering into a dungeon or wilderness away from civilized society is a terrifying experience. Everything one encounters is mysterious and enchanting in its own way. Yet, as mentioned before, it can also be deadly for your characters.
The older D&D basic set I linked is only 44 pages long, yet it contains everything you will need to play up to 3 levels of a game. It has a sample dungeon, but you can easily create your own. My advice is to read the sample and them make your own because it is easier to run something you made up yourself and you will also need a bigger 3 level dungeon anyway.
There is a reason the old games were so popular. They ware fast playing, and also, a lot of it was very Do It Yourself. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun exploring a magical RPG world with the older games.
Of course, another way to learn how to expand how you play your RPG is by watching Secrets of Blackmoor:
Until next time, Griff
Finally back from Gary Con. I managed to get sick on the return drive. It made the trip into a hallucinatory journey for me. But I am now fully recovered.
Today is the house game group day. YAY, I can look forward to playing tonight. Thankfully, Bob Whelton will be running something so I can take a break. I’m not burned out, yet, I put a lot into doing the annual Gary Con games I run for people.
I do not run a massive schedule of games. An aerial war game session over Blackmoor, a movie screening, a large naval battle, and the annual descent into a Blackmoor dungeon with Tonisborg.
Each session requires its own particular kind of energetic investment to have the game, or event, be enjoyable.
This year only one person came to the Battle in The Skies over Blackmoor. Thus I offered to show up and talk about the game rules and also gave away a book and a T-shirt.
As we chatted an original Blackmoor player I had never met wandered up to the table. To be precise, Paul Stormberg dragged him over and introduced us. The failed game session turned into a long discussion about original Blackmoor. This is why I go to GaryCon, I always meet interesting gamers. This time it was Phil Grant.
The Fletcher Pratt Naval War Game was a huge success. Despite someone not showing up, another someone off the wait list decided to stop in and see if there was an open slot, thus I had 12 players.
PRO TIP: If you go to a convention and the schedule is full for a game you want to play - make sure to show up anyway!
People who spotted the game being played showed interest as well. A lot of experienced players were asking me if there was another session scheduled because they really wanted to play. Next year I will add another session to the schedule.
The movie screening was lightly attended. Yet, the audience was really appreciative. One person came up and described being in tears by the end of the film. And yes, everyone got a gift for being there.
Giving things away seems to be a theme for us. In previous years I have given away boxes worth of old games from the 80’s and 90’s. This year we gave away our own game books, T-shirts, dice bags, and Emergence of Blackmoor maps. Oh, and imported candy from Croatia.
I have a box of old valuable games and may bring some old TSR modules to give away next time. I hate to see good games sit in my house unplayed. I’d rather know they are getting used by a game group and being fully enjoyed.
Chris commented that our events are like parties where everyone gets a prize just for being there. After all, it’s GaryCon and it should be special, as the event honors Gary Gygax without whom TSR and all the games we still play and love would not exist.
Gary Con takes a lot of effort and energy.
Just now, I was sitting outside sipping my morning coffee and it came to me that although I am fully immersed into my campaign creation to the point that I doubt I could write everything I think of down, I need some time to gather my referee energy before I can run a game again.
Sure, I can run a game. Running a game is easy. I’ve been doing it for over 45 years now. What I want out of running the world of Blackmoor is a feeling I get when I do it well. I do not want to go through the motions. I want game sessions where everyone involved feels they have done something unique and that on some level the communal energy while playing transcends the ordinary.
This is no tiny pondering about gaming, it is one of those deep think times where you realize you had a new insight.
I often hear gamers say such things as, “Oh, when we play our game we are story tellers!”
It is a mantra new gamers tell themselves and others all the time, usually while trying to convince you they are doing something special.
Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story
Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story
Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story
Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story Story
Well, sure, but I feel good referees do more than convey stories.
I know the best games I have ever played are more about state. What are we doing to our mental state. Are we transporting ourselves into a dream?
Story is the launching point. A good story puts you in a different state.
We enter the dreaming. And the RPG dreaming is not something you can simply conjure up without the combined play between the players and referee. You need everyone involved mentally present and also a bit of luck!
I wish I could claim to be the greatest referee out there. I work hard at creating something special for every session I run. Sometimes it will fly, other times I end up with an “oh my god the humanity” Hindenburg moment. Some of you will likely know what I mean by this.
I will say I do try to make every session feel unique for myself. The last thing I want is to feel like I am phoning it in. If I ever feel I have run out of referee magic, I will likely hang up my dice bag and stop playing. No game session should feel ordinary!
This is the struggle for referees who chase the dreaming. You have to try out strange ideas to keep your sessions feeling fresh for you and your players. New approaches for how you present your world to your players. You also need players who engage with what you are presenting. Passive players who expect the referee to dole out gaming joy will never experience the dreaming.
Another aspect to the dreaming is the game environment. There is a reason most gamers play within controlled room environments. Distracting spaces can ruin the dreaming.
Much as I love conventions, the big rooms full of tables full of gamers full of roaring voices, ruins the dreaming. I could never run a game in a space like that because I can’t do what I do when I run my game.
One game that I suspect is very successful at Gary Con is the Order of the Owl. It is a game that gets played in a little corner of the convention; tucked away in a stairwell of all places. Although there is a lot of traffic going through the area, where the game takes place is off to the side and very quiet and intimate. What is most interesting about it - it is a walk up game. Anyone can play. There are always extra chairs and you can just jump in and play. The referee runs the game nearly non stop for days on end. It is just there for anyone to take part in.
For my one annual game session GaryCon lets me use a conference room where we can close the door and enter the dreaming.
Somehow, this year, I ran one of the best games I have ever run. The players were engaged and I felt like I as referee had entered the dreaming. We could switch between game talk about mechanical things and dreaming the experience of being in the dungeon together without effort.
I always feel like I run good games at GaryCon, but this group of players had some kind of mojo going from the very beginning. They were there to be together as a team. I did not have to herd them into good play technique. They were the ones who decided very quickly on a party leader who did most of the talking with me, and would discuss situations amongst themselves before taking actions as a party. The entire game ran smoothly as the players helped me to focus on my duties while they focused on theirs.
I was impressed to have the players create a marching order with the halfling moving forward to scout and explore. It was understood that aside from the alteration of having the halfling do scout work, if anything was encountered, the marching order was also the hallway combat order.
They picked up on my DM cues. At one point a player was interested in examining something and I said something like, “It seems ordinary…”
The player took my cue and we moved on without role playing the details of a non event that would have wasted game time.
When something needed adjudication on the fly I asked for a grey roll and then told them the results. No one questioned what I was doing, since they can’t know what the roll is, or how it works. They trusted my judgement as referee.
At one point in the game I ran a combat that was very large. A party of 14 characters, one mule, and a pet rat v.s. 21 Kobolds. Because I run original rules, it is entirely a make believe experience without miniatures. Due to the collaboration between players and referee it was over in about 7 minutes!
As a game being run in the open format of Original D&D, the focus is exploration. No time was wasted on narcissistic drama about “My character is a special…”
We only had 4 hours of game time. The players were there to forge deep into an old dungeon to grip it and rip it. Exploring was job number one.
I am still amazed at how well the game ran. I suspect everyone was an experienced player as all the in game suggestions were good ideas, with everyone being polite in voting for or against party actions.
I am still scratching my head over the game session. A room of 10 strangers and me, their referee, managed to coalesce into a well oiled gaming machine that played a near perfect game.
I’m not talking about perfect in terms of tangible goals either. What I mean is that everything ran smoothly even when the party was being T.P.K.ed by wraiths in the final encounter of the night.
It was the overall experience that was perfect.
I can’t know if everyone felt as I did. My hunch is that everyone had an exceptional game session. Most of the players stayed until the very end with only one leaving a mere 15 minutes before the end of the session.
Original D&D play is a collaborative game form. Everyone in the session has to do their part and contribute to making each session be extra-ordinary. What can you do to make your own experience flourish? It isn’t about being the best or in any way competitive. Is it simply about being fully engaged in the moment?
What can we do to raise the bar in our own game sessions?
HERE IS A LINK TO PART OF THE LIVE STREAM OF THE GAME SESSION:
Thanks for reading and pondering with me - Griff
Please share my article, tell your friends about Secrets of Blackmoor, and perhaps be kind to each other.
The Lost Dungeons of Tonisborg is published which is wonderful, yet, there seems to be some confusion regarding the purpose of the book.
Dan and I had assumed most users of the book would understand the underlying premise being this:
Although the book is about the old dungeon maps, the only way to understand the maps is via a tutorial on play methods and a set of rules specifically designed for the play style for the time the maps come from.
Very simply, if the maps had been published as the section on history along with the maps, and without any of the other sections, the maps would have lost what they need most, which is context.
The only way to fully achieve the context within which the maps can be understood is through play.
Today I came across this review which appears on Reddit with a link to a blog review.
The Reddit post:
The Blog post:
These days people tend to get angry when confronted with criticism. I work to avoid reacting emotionally and engage with what I see in a review such as this. After all, I may be wrong and the reviewer may have a point after all.
What I think I see is a simple misunderstanding.
What follows is my response to the reddit post, which I am duplicating here:
The big complaint seems to be about the extra junk.
A lot of thought went into producing that book. The analysis of play technique was extensive. There are even new items and examples I have not seen anywhere else.
The rules draw extensively from pre-publication drafts, OD&D, and Gygax and Arneson house rules. Dan spent years on his rules and I expect as with all RPGs he is still updating his work.
My greatest concern is play technique. It is a dying art. I've watched people play RPGs and it seems like everything is more of a video game on paper - Tonisborg preserves the old ways, which are a verbal tradition for play that has been handed down player to player.
My background with D&D:
I started with Holmes Basic in '77 although I had played D&D on computers as early as '75. I actually thought DnD was originally a computer game and was delighted to discover a paper version. How clever to take a computer program and turn it into a game you play at home when you are away from the PLATO mainframe at CERL.
You can still play it at cyber1.org
The real treat on that system is the first multi player StarTrek battle and take over the universe game, Empire.
Most RPG gamers shy away from the kind of game I like, which is Grip it and Rip it computer gaming and war games. Yet, if you are interested in Empire, we need players. Get a Sign On and I will personally teach you how to play.
We are the oldest Multi Player Computer Gamers in history and our player base is literally dying. We can only muster about 6-8 players for the Sunday "Griff War" anymore.
Back to Holmes...
I bought a copy of the 5e start set. I was curious, What is this game?
I could not make heads or tails of it. It is so poorly written and organized. It is nothing like my Holmes edition which gives you everything you need to know on how to play D&D in only 45 pages!
Tonisborg is a very old artifact that is very incomplete without an explanation on play and a set of rules.
Thus, the entire Tonisborg book has to be the way it is. For anyone who was not playing RPGs in the first 10 years there is no context for what Tonisborg is. To most gamers today it is just another set of maps. To publish it without a way to revive it would be a travesty as people would entirely misunderstand it.
Most of what exists in an RPG is what I call Informal play. It is the exchange between player and referee that is not covered by the rules. This is what the entire book discusses through example. Idealy, anyone purchasing the book will attempt to breath life into an old dungeon and play it. This is when the maps become what they truly are, which is a living thing as a game environment.
Old Refs will read the How to Play section and know all of those tricks. Yet, it is likely they will come upon something they used to do and for some reason stopped doing. Thus even an old hand may treat the play section as a refresher course on how to referee a solid game.
Champions of Zed - Dungeoneering Edition provides a complete system for resurrecting Tonisborg. Yet, Tonisborg is easily played with pure 3 LBB with or without supplements, all the way up to BX. I am about to do a TFT:ITL adaptation.
I can see why the reviewer has so many issues with the book. As the authors we have worked to provide an entire Time Machine Gaming Experience back to 1973 between the covers of Tonisborg.
The 3 sections are inseparable, or Tonisborg has no historical meaning that can be carried into the future.
To the author of the review:
Consider that your experience and knowledge may seem like common information on how to play an RPG, yet, what you do in a game resides within an oral history and tradition that could be lost. If the second and third parts of the book seem redundant to you, then the book has succeeded in preserving even your game methods for posterity, and they will now continue to be passed down through generations of gamers because you are part of this living game as well.
Thanks for the review - Griff
That's all I have for now.
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