Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Bits I like from Various Retro-Clones & D&D systems

This is an answer to Rob Conley's question about what I like from the various D&D-based retro-clones and old-era D&D systems.

What I like about the systems I'd consider:


- Power level. I like the HP levels. I have a strong dislike for d4 HP thieves and I like d10 fighters better than d8 fighters.

- Cleric spells. I like clerics getting spells at level 1, and bonuses for Wisdom are fine with me. I get why from a world-building standpoint the vast majority of clerics being level 1 and not getting spells makes PCs quickly become special . . . but I'd rather have them start with a spell.

- I like AC starting at 10, not 9 (but see below.)

- I like that 1 isn't always a miss and 20 isn't always a hit.

- Treasure Types that I have imprinted on my soul, so I don't have to go look them up when I read them.

AD&D Lankhmar

- I like the multi-classing approach of the Lankhmar supplement for AD&D for humans.

Advanced Labyrinth Lord

- a lot of the basic systems for exploration, opening doors, etc., hiring NPCs, etc. etc.

- Weapon weights.

- Encumbrance system seems actually workable.

Basic/Expert D&D (Moldvay)

- Morale. I love, love, love the morale system.

- Alignment. I like three-fold alignment. I could have gone with Good, Neutral, and Evil, too, but I think well of "You're on the side of order, the side of chaos, or you're on the sidelines." I think that's better than the nine-fold alignment system. It's easier to understand, it's clear you are picking a side, and you don't have to deal with the weirdness that comes from a party with a LG cleric, a CG ranger, a CN fighter, a N wizard. What does that even really mean? Endless words have been spent on defining what they are. Better you just choose a side, or to not have a side. (And potentially get shot by both of them.) LNC I think allows for more varied play, actually - GNE is tough because no one who chooses Good should be negotiating with Evil. But the forces of Law dealing with the forces of Chaos when that suits the results civilization needs . . . that's more plausible.

- The compact, two-books-do-it-all presentation.

- The reaction rolls/parlaying system.

Basic Fantasy

- Simplified stat bonus charts. It's just easier. I don't think you need to split bonuses. And I do like the idea that you get +1 to +3.

- Easy to use Attack Bonus system.

- free single book solution with cheap printed option.


- Single target saves. Modified by stat bonuses.

- free single book solution with printed option.

Stuff I'm neutral on in general:

- Ascending AC. I agree it's easier. I still understand AC 10 < 0 < -10 though, natively, without having to translate it.

- Multiclassing. I like the Lankhmar approach instead of dual-classing for humans, but I could live with a different one. It's easier if I didn't have to so I can use AD&D modules unchanged.

- Ability checks. I haven't really seen a system I love more than others. Lots of old D&D modules did roll-under on d20, which isn't bad. Target rolls on a d20+stat bonus would work, too, and I know some systems do that.

- Initiative. I'm actually okay with AD&D initiative as we play it, but I'd use another system.

Stuff I dislike:

- Race as class. This is a deal-breaker.

- Weird Saving Throw systems (AD&D).

- platinum pieces. I'd simplify treasure, for sure, to copper/silver/gold/gems/jewelry.

- SM/L damage splits. Just have weapons do one damage; too many monsters are much weaker because they're L and suffer extra damage from PC-popular weapons. We took two-handed swords because 3d6 vs. L sized creatures is just the boss.

- Crossbows being weaker than bows.

Some other systems have nice bits - ACKS and DCC for example - but they haven't really given me something I'd absolutely have to have in my own system. Grappling would be the system Doug and I made.

I suppose I could dedicate a huge whack of my like to make "Dungeon Fantastic Delving & Dragons" but I'm not really going to do that.


  1. "Alignment. I like three-fold alignment."
    "LNC I think allows for more varied play, actually..."

    Agreed. I lean towards "Civilized" and "Uncivilized", as what does "Chaotic" even mean as a //species//. I mean if your Elves are aligned with the Gods of Chaos (a Moorcockian Alignment approach) how do you even represent that? Do they live as hand-to-mouth tribal hunter-gatherers with a big-man 'communist' 'everyone-does-everything' ethos? Because anything beyond that and you're edging into dreaded organization... is it a 'spectrum' with "no rules, just action' on one side and 'stilted entropy' on the other with everything kinda falling somewhere in between?

    But you can have 'uncivilized' Orcs who still practice 'strong man' anarcho-fascism (where you do what I say or I pound you one) that understand that 'rules flow from the power of a clenched fist' or civilized 'strong man' tribal communism where they understand the rules are derived from the will of the group.

    But, yeah I completely agree that LNC allows for more freedom and grey area play without running into the nonsense of Lawful Stupid that LG to EC (or even just GNE) most often generates*.

    * Which you might have noticed is baked into the Holy Warrior's ability Higher Purpose. Higher Purpose is (and certain Disads are) where I'd see most conflict arising from in DFRPG.

    1. I think you can push "Chaotic" to a point of silliness, but you don't have to. One side is aimed at the breakdown of order, of peace, of prosperity, etc. and one side at supporting it. You don't need to make it entropy vs. order, either, to make for sides in a larger conflict.

      Lawful Stupid is its own problem - that's just bad roleplaying, just like Lawful Arrogant is, IME.

  2. I've kinda wanted to do a retroclone. Basically, the basic mechanical structure of 3e/later (roll vs. DC, high is good), the scaling of 5e, but the scope of B/X in terms of levels, spells, monsters, and magic items. One volume. Though if I marketed it, I'd have a level 1-3 Basic Set (some other stuff stripped out of that, like % in Lair), and I'd have an advanced book of higher levels and extra classes/spells/monsters/magic items.

    If you're sticking to alignment, LNC is the way to go, with alignment being the 3H3L for-or-against civilization.

    1. Three Hearts and Three Lions is exactly the suggested reading I'd have for any players.

  3. Can you specify where your grappling rules are? I've never found a good model for them; I'd like something I can integrate into regular melee, with the proviso that getting into wrestling range with a short blade should be an extremely lethal thing.


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