19 December 2009

Borrowing from the retro clones 3: Swords & Wizardry

Mythmere Games' Swords & Wizardry (Free PDF download and modestly priced hardcopy versions. Link: http://www.swordsandwizardry.com/) is an OGL clone of the original D&D game, and while slightly different in rules mechanics than BECMI, it's close enough to be immediately useful. While, in my not-so-expert opinion, S&W collects, organizes and clarifies the rules for an OD&D style game, the core rules refrain from adding anything revolutionary or new. I think this is intentional, as the game also boasts a large community of fans online that produce a ton of supplementary material that does innovate.

Still, there's one section in the core rules that I feel makes a very important statement about DM design and strict adherance to some esoteric idea about rules canon:

Creating monsters
Monsters are not player characters, and their abilities are not at all determined by the rules for player characters — not even the stats for races that can have player
characters, such as Dwarves. The Referee decides a monster’s abilities, and he doesn’t have to follow any rules about this! Feel free to add wings, breath weapons,
extra hit dice, wounded versions, or whatever suits your adventure and your campaign. Toggle and tweak, imagine and invent! The rules aren’t responsible for the quality of the swords and sorcery in your game, you are! So don’t try to create monsters according to any sort of power formula. Create monsters based on how they feel and how they play at the gaming table. Create challenges for the players, not headaches for yourself. Your job is to imagine and create, not to slave at rulebooks finding out what you’re “allowed” to do.

While author Matthew Finch is, obviously, talking specifically about custom monster design, I think this reasoning can apply to any DM design task; magic items, spells, etc.

As the highlighted part of the citation reminds us, you are the game master, and once your campaign gets going, noone knows it better than you and your players, not even the most skilled of game designers. Feel free to tweak, ignore or add things to the rules wherever it suits your game.

S&W is a quality clone game, very nicely organized and presented, and it and its supplemental material are definitely worth checking out for inclusion in any old school game.

16 December 2009

Borrowing from the retro clones 2: Iron Sword

Iron Sword is another retro clone game from WeaselFierce's website (Free PDF download. Link: http://weaselfierce.webs.com/roleplaying.htm). Though similar in some ways to Caverns & Cavaliers, which we discussed last time, IS adds its own new twists and ideas, the most noteworthy of which is the lack of spellcasting classes! This is intended to recreate a sort of viking/visigoth type setting, where heroes are measured in their deeds, not necessarily their motivations.

Author Ivan Sorenson describes many different options that serve to promote social interaction and roleplaying instead of just combat, and a couple of these are what I've chosen to showcase for adaptation into BECMI. Consider these optional rules applicable to all PCs.

My Home is My Castle
A PCs home, be it a palatial estate or a humble room at a roadside inn, or even a secluded glade in a forest, represents more than just his base of operations during the campaign. Family, friends and the comforts of hearth and home are all to be found here, and this comfort and security manifests in a couple minor game mechanics ways:

1. All PCs heal an extra 1 HP of damage per night spent resting in their home, in addition to any normal healing rate.
2. The PC receives a +1 bonus to all saving throws made within his home.
3. The PC receives a -1 bonus to his Armor Class while in his home.

Blade Brother (or Sword Sister, for the female PCs)
PCs who fight together quickly learn each other's tactics, strengths and weaknesses, sometimes creating an almost supernatural bond that aids both of them in combat.
Any two PCs, regardless of class (the DM may require them to be of the same alignment, I do) may choose to become Blade Brothers. After this declaration, one game session must pass before any benefit is earned, as they study each other's combat techniques. Upon the next game session, both PCs receive the following benefits:

1.The partner who goes second in combat in each round receives a +1 bonus to hit if the first partner's attack was successful. No penalty is invoked if the first PCs attack misses, however.
2. At any time during a combat, one partner may supernaturally "loan" HP to his partner, though this is a full round action for both PCs. To transfer the HP, the partners must grasp hands and vigorously proclaim their battle cry, at this time, the PC giving the XP suffers 1d4 HP dmg, which is added to the recipient PC's current total, not to exceed his maximum HP.
3. If one of the partners is slain in combat, his partner suffers a -2 penalty to hit and damage for the rest of that session of play (or 1d3 days, if time is passing quickly that session) to reflect the supernatural loss and remorse. Avenging one's partner's death by defeating his killer in solo combat removes this penalty immediately.

A PC may only be bonded to one other PC at a time in this fashion, though he may choose another PC with whom to bond if his partner dies or retires, or the bond is dissolved. A retired partner inflicts no penalty on the remaining PC, although a bond with a new partner may not be forged for 1d4 weeks of game time, and the 1 session bonding period must then be repeated for the new partners. A bond that is dissolved mutually by the two PCs invokes the same penalties as the death of a partner, in #3 above, on both partners, but without the vengeance loophole.

I've renamed and heavily modified these abilities, but that's the whole idea, right? Take what you like from the clone games and twist it to enhance your game, no matter what D&D edition or clone version you play. Be sure and download a copy of Iron Sword and see what grabs your attention.

Borrowing from the retro clones 1: Caverns & Cavaliers

While I've unfortunately gained a reputation in some circles as being "anti-retroclone", I fully support the efforts of those who are producing OGL based games that expand and support BECMI and other out of print editions of D&D. I'm not a fan of those who (in my pig-headed opinion, I fully admit) try and replace OOP D&D. Anyway...

In the spirit of supporting the retroclone publishers, and adding cool ideas to BECMI, I've decided to examine each of the games in turn, and grab at least one idea to tweak for use in a BECMI game. I'll also, of course, provide links to the download page and/or storefront site where you can acquire the game in question, if my teaser piques your interest.

First up is Caverns & Cavaliers, by WeaselFierce (Free PDF Download, Link:http://weaselfierce.webs.com/roleplaying.htm). WF introduces an interesting idea called Traits, whereby every few levels, a player can choose from a list of bonus abilities to add on top of the normal class abilities. In C&C, this serves somewhat of a custom class builder option, since the base classes are a bit more barebones than in BECMI, but the abilities are fun and minor enough to use without ruining game balance.

I suggest allowing the player to choose one Trait every 5 levels, including level 1 (so, levels 1,5,10,15,20,25,20,35) from the following list. The DM may add or remove abilities from the list as he sees fit for his campaign.

Weapon Expertise+1 to hit with a specific type of weapon (may be taken multiple times, either stacking the bonus for one weapon, or choosing a new weapon
LinguistCharacter gains the ability to speak and read one additional language (may be taken multiple times)
Defensive Reflexes-1 bonus to Armor Class (may be taken multiple times)
Toughness+3 to total hit points (may be taken multiple times)
Fast HealerCharacter heals an additional point of damage per full nights rest (may be taken multiple times)
Lightning Reflexes+1 Bonus to initiative (may be taken multiple times)
Alertness-1 bonus to personal surprise checks (may be taken multiple times)
Brute+1 damage to melee attacks (may be taken multiple times)
Devout Hunter+1 to all Turn Undead checks (may be taken multiple times)
Eagle Eye+1 bonus to find secret doors checks
Lucky Locksmith+5% to find and remove traps checks (may be taken multiple times)

Caverns & Cavaliers offers a bunch of other interesting ideas, such as custom class templates and advanced classes for experienced characters, it's definitely worth downloading and taking a look.