Monday, May 27, 2024

Introduction to The Fantasy Game, part 2

As I covered in my previous post, I've been working on a retro-clone of the original 1974/1975 era Dungeons & Dragons rules titled The Fantasy Game. That post describes the first book, the Basic Player Guide, which covers rules for character creation, combat, magic, and exploration, which is roughly equal to Men & Magic, volume 1 of the three LBBs (little brown books) in the original boxed D&D set.

All work shown here is considered work-in-progress and is not final.

The Fantasy Game: Expert Referee Guides

My next two books in The Fantasy Game series are designed for the referee, transforming and re-editing the information found in Monsters & Treasure, volume 2 of the LBBs of OD&D.

Monster Menagerie

Expert Referee Guide: Monster Menagerie

This guide collects information only for the creatures and monsters described in the original Monsters & Treasure book. The only monsters that were not included from that book are the poorly described "other" monsters, such as titans, cyclopses, juggernauts, living statues, robots, golems, and androids (listed as "self-explanatory"). However, I did include the briefly mentioned salamander monster.

Monster Menagerie excerpt: Guide to Monsters

I created a custom stat block for monster information that collects the important data found in disparate locations of the original rules, like the Monster Reference Table (Monsters & Treasure), the Character Alignment, Including Various Monsters & Creatures table (Men & Magic), extrapolated Morale quality values (Chainmail), and other information found in monster descriptions (Monsters & Treasure, Chainmail). The original game has scattered rules for certain "types" of monsters, such as undead, person, giant, and elemental, (especially with turning, charming, and controlling magics) so I explicitly specify if a monster fits a certain type in its stat block.

Now that I've posted the excerpt above, I've spotted a few spelling and formatting mistakes that I have already fixed.

Monster Menagerie excerpt: Griffon to Hobgoblin

Yes, a hobgoblin is a "person" (as clarified in the description of the charm person spell in Men & Magic) and a griffon and a hippogriff are both considered to be "chimeras" (as per description of CHIMEREA (s.p.) in Chainmail).

Trove of Treasures

Expert Referee Guide: Trove of Treasures

The first section of Trove of Treasures consists of random treasure tables for use in determining the belongings of any monsters described in Monster Menagerie. Each monster is given a treasure type code of a letter between A and I. Type A is for bands of humans (such as bandits, nomads, or pirates) and varies by where they live (land, desert, or water). The other letter codes are generally more valuable as they go up in the alphabet, with varying chances of coins, gems, jewelry, treasure maps, and magic items.
Trove of Treasures excerpt: first page of Magic Swords descriptions

The majority of the book is dedicated to the descriptions of various magic items that may be found. The largest section details the rules for magic swords, which runs 3 1/2 pages. Magic swords in the original rules are incredibly powerful in comparison to any other editions. Every magic sword, even a lowly +1 broadsword, has an alignment with some level of intelligence and a chance to get into an ego conflict with its wielder. About half of all magic swords can communicate in some way with its wielder and has mental powers (such as detect magic or fly). Other miscellaneous types of magic weapons, even the mighty +3 war hammer, do not have these special attributes.

Magic swords truly seem to be the balancing factor of power between the original three classes. Clerics and magic-users learn to cast more powerful spells as they increase in levels, but fighting-men (or the later standardized "fighters") are the only ones who can wield the full power of magic swords. That is, until the thief class was first published in summer of 1974, ruled as being "able to employ magic swords and daggers" (Gary Gygax, The Thief Addition, 1974).

Trove of Treasures excerpt: Artifacts

Later OD&D supplements (Eldritch Wizardry and Gods, Demi-gods, & Heroes) include rules for specific artifacts and relics that would become part of the D&D product identity or hail from literature and legend. The original LBB volumes briefly mention names for possible artifacts with no descriptions, such as teleportation machine and stone crystallization projector. In my version, I researched and collected a list of example artifacts found in legends and literature that have served or could serve as inspiration for items of powerful magic in a fantasy RPG campaign.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Introduction to The Fantasy Game, part 1

As I posted about briefly in my last post, I am currently co-teaching a History of Role-Playing Games course at Drexel University. The course is a mix of lectures about the history and evolution of RPGs, written reports about specific RPGs, and with in-class activities to create characters, monsters, campaign locations, and play through an adventure using the original 1974-1975 Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D) rules.

This brought something of a dilemma - how do I distribute copies of the game rules to my class? Most of the activities would be in class, but I also wanted them to have the rules to refer to outside of class. I could theoretically distribute PDFs of the rules, citing fair use, but I am wary of the appearance of copyright infringement. The original rules are available for purchase in pdf for the 1974 price of $9.99, but I prefer to offer my students an option that does not eat into their pizza funds. Besides, I didn't want to burden them with the task of understanding how to translate those original, unedited rules.

Retro-clones were the way to go, but which one? I offered Swords & Wizardry White Box, since the creators have graciously made the older versions of the rules free to use. Marcia B.'s critical and thorough Fantastic Medieval Campaigns is nearly ideal, and even includes Chainmail, though I found myself disagreeing with some of her interpretations of the rules (not to disparage her work, these are matters of personal opinion). After the course had already started, The Basic Expert release another OD&D retro-clone, Wight-Box.

These were all good options, and all essentially compatible with one another, but I knew I wouldn't be satisfied unless I crafted my own retro-clone for the class. This would also be an academic research project to finely analyze, comprehend, clarify, and disseminate the earliest of RPG rules.

The Fantasy Game: Basic Player Guide

I set to work rewriting those original 1974 role-playing game rules with a modern sensibility. I adapted the layout of another "fantasy heartbreaker" project of my own design that I'd been working on. For that project, I'd also collected a vast amount of public domain artwork from the classic era of book illustrations (in true retro-clone fashion) that work well for this implied fantasy world. Unlike most other retro-clones, each illustration is credited with the name of the artist (if known) and the publication it was printed in. Much like the 1974 rules, I created 3 rules booklets, though the contents of my books differ somewhat from the 3 LBBs.

I decided to incorporate a few rules that were added a short time after the original game's publication. I did not want to incorporate Greyhawk rules for ability score bonuses, hit point and damage adjustments, and other changes. However, I did adapt the "open doors" rule from Greyhawk (based on strength) into a general rule useful for "ability checks." The common ability check method (roll d20 under you ability score to succeed at a task) is somewhat maligned for being too easy to succeed at (average ability score has more than 50% chance to succeed) and not fitting with other OD&D resolution systems. The open doors check, however, gives an average character a 2-in-6 chance to succeed, and up to 5-in-6 chance to succeed for an 18 strength. I adapted that rule into a feat check to succeed at any test of strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, charisma, or constitution.

I also added the weapon effectiveness charts from Greyhawk (otherwise, there is almost no difference between weapons that all do 1d6 damage), the thief class rules from The Thief Addition (with a nod to fellow Californian Gary Switzer and his Aurania campaign group that came up with the idea),  The Strategic Review FAQ, some equipment weights in Warlock, clarifications on spells and combat from Swords & Spells, and the ability for 1st level magic-users to scribe scrolls from the original Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set edited by Dr. J. Eric Holmes. Otherwise, the rules were as interpreted from the 1974 rules and from Chainmail.

Character Creation and Combat

Basic Player Guide: Character Creation and Combat

The character creation rules were the most critically important rules for my students as they would be rolling up new characters in the second week of the course. That includes how to roll up ability scores, species and class descriptions, alignment, money, equipment, and magic spells. I also wanted to include rules for exploration and combat, which consists of to-hit charts, saving throws, time and movement scales, order of combat, reaction rolls, and morale. The combat rules may end up in a separate booklet later, but for now, they are in with character creation.

I call this a "basic" player guide as the rules only cover characters up to 4th level of experience ("from zero to hero"). This saved me a lot of time in writing up spell descriptions.

Doing Things in the Game

Character Creation and Combat excerpt: Doing Things in the Game

The book needed to start with a guide to when you roll dice, what dice to roll, and why. Analyzing the OD&D rules, I determined there are several basic ways to "do things" that require a dice roll to determine if they happen or not.

Roll d20 and meet or exceed a target number: to-hit rolls and saving throws.

Roll 1d6 and roll low for a thing to happen: find secret doors, fall into a trap, get surprised, and the afore-mentioned "feat check."

Roll 2d6 and roll high to influence someone: reaction rolls, turn undead, and morale checks.

Roll d100 less than or equal to skill rating: most thief skills.

Roll several d6 and add them together, attempt to beat another character's roll: this covers the unusual grappling rules included in the Strategic Review FAQ, something I call a contest roll.

Other Changes

Character Creation and Combat excerpt: Character Classes

Fighting-man and magic-user changed to fighter and wizard.

Race changed to species. On that note, the term hobbit is replaced with halfling.

Order of combat is derived from Swords & Spells, clarifying who acts first in a mixed combat of missile weapons, magics, and melee attacks.

I derived the morale rules from Chainmail, just like the original rules recommend, but the question is: which morale rules? Chainmail has no less than three different morale systems: "post melee morale,"  a morale check for "instability due to excess casualties," and a morale check to "withstand a charge by mounted men." Chainmail's The Fantasy Supplement has specific Morale Ratings for different fantastic creatures in post melee morale, but that rule nigh unusable in an RPG combat. I adapted the "instability due to excess casualties" and had to extrapolate the melee values for various non-human combatants.

Coming soon, I'll write about the other books in this series.