Monday, July 6, 2009

D&D 0.75

One of the lasting, if unfortunate, legacies of the Revised Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is the widespread use of version numbers when discussing the game's various editions. Thus, pre-Unearthed Arcana Gygaxian AD&D becomes 1.0, while post-UA AD&D is termed 1.5. Second Edition is termed 2.0 and the Player's Option books herald the arrival of 2.5. And so on. So ubiquitous has this usage become that gamers argue about whether the upcoming Pathfinder RPG from Paizo should count as D&D 3.6 or 3.75 or 3.9, depending on their estimation of just how much the game deviates from 3.5.

Though I'm guilty of using this scheme from time to time, I'm not a big fan of it. For one, I don't think the hobby gains much by aping the conventions of computer gaming. Indeed, it remains my contention that what the hobby ought to be doing is playing up the ways in which it differs from computer gaming, because, when it comes to direct comparisons of the things traditional RPGs and computer games have in common, traditional RPGs generally lose. As a friend of mine once famously put it years ago, "Why would I play D&D when Diablo has better graphics than my imagination?" Secondly, versioning assumes an evolutionary paradigm that I don't think has much applicability to RPGs. 2.0 is not simply a less fully-featured version of 3.0, but a different game entirely. I'd probably be much happier calling the current edition of the game Dungeons & Dragons IV after the manner of movie or video game sequels, since it doesn't carry with it any connotations of either evolution or improvement but only succession.

All that said, I was much taken with the comment by ckutalik to my earlier post in which he "yearn[s] for something like D&D .75 edition (for lack of a better term)." I know exactly what he means. One of the reasons I returned to OD&D rather than AD&D, despite my great love for the latter, is that, after the bloated mess of Third Edition, the last thing I wanted was another complex RPG and AD&D, while far simpler than 3e, is still more complex than I wanted. Futhermore, baseline AD&D has a much sharper power curve than I like in my fantasy these days. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's "munchkin-y," because that'd be hyperbole, but there's little question in mind that AD&D, with its "it is usually essential to the character's survival to be exceptional (with a rating of 15 or above) in no fewer than two ability characteristics," caters more to that mentality than does OD&D.

Yet, AD&D possesses a lot of great flavor. The ambience and trappings of 1e are far more to my liking than much of OD&D. And I find that, when it comes to inspirations and the practical matter of how I play, I feel a lot more affinity for the AD&D grognards than I do for the OD&D ones. That's why my Dwimmermount campaign has begun to borrow a lot more from the supplements to OD&D, laying the groundwork for the "proto-AD&D" to which I've alluded in the past. Like ckutalik I realize that I want a game that plays as fast and loose as OD&D but has much of the "chrome" of AD&D. In short, I want a kind of AD&D-flavored OD&D, which may explain why projects like Goblinoid's Advanced Edition Characters hold so much appeal for me. The thought of the clean, easy-to-use rules of Labyrinth Lord married to the flavor of AD&D is where I want to be these days.

Am I the only one?

62 comments:

  1. No, James, you aren't alone. :)

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  2. Same here. this is why i've been likeing Skathros' S&W Companion and I'll probably check out the Advanced Chars for LL as well for the same reason.

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  3. Oh, I just assumed everyone knew:

    "4e" is actually 10.87-ish.

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  4. "Am I the only one?"

    Certainly not.

    If I ever run a 'classic' D&D campaign again, something like "0.75" (or LL+ "Advanced Characters") would definitely be on the table.

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  5. I'm looking forward to AEC from Goblinoid Games as well. Life is just too complicated for complicated games - for me anyway.

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  6. Dear God in heaven please tell me someone did not seriously say "Why would I play D&D when Diablo has better graphics than my imagination?" .

    What happened to the old "We draw our graphics from the limitless imagery of your imagination - a technology so powerful, it makes any picture that's ever come out of a screen look like graffti by comparison". Sure, that's an Infocom ad and thus for a computer game but it applies to D&D, even 4th edition.

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  7. my imagination has a sweet graphics card

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  8. And to answer your question: no, you're not alone. I suspect 0.75 isn't too far removed from my Intermediate D&D idea about how we tended to blend Basic procedures with the PHB and MM.

    I also think some of the directions others went, such as Palladium (which my big post this week will be about) and other early D&D knockoffs.

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  9. @Carl Maybe that's the real definition of an old school roleplayer :) Imaginations with sweet graphics and lots of storage.

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  10. I have to say I agree with you. Now, I usually don't agree with you, I simply respect what I think is a reasonable position. But no, on this one I agree with you, especially that RPGs should be stressing their distinctions from computer games. This in fact was a major reason I abandoned a one time interest in 4th Edition.

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  11. "Am I the only one?"

    Asking this question of YOUR readers is kinda' shooting fish in a barrel, sir. Isn't that kind of the whole impetus behind the OSR?

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  13. @JB - Tastes vary widely within the OSR, I don't believe you can pigeonhole us so succinctly. However having said that, I'm another one who'd love to combine my decades-long passion for 1e with my current desire for a simpler style of gaming.

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  14. I suppose that the part of the brain responsible for imagination (as well as the ability to focus and pay attention) is underdeveloped in children who grow up playing video games; when the video card does all the work, that part of the brain just doesn't develop. I've seen brain scans of people playing video games, and the frontal lobe is very inactive, while the visual centers are activated (I guess that's why the 4E books are done in such bright colors).

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  15. I've cooled considerably on AD&D. My favorite published version of D&D is the 1974 rules plus much (but not all) of Supplement I: GREYHAWK.

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  16. This post expresses my feelings almost exactly!

    S&W very nearly does the job, but it retains some of the uncomfortable quirks such as race-as-class. And in some places it is a bit too much leave it to "GM fiat" or interpretation (just read the Initiative paragraph).

    The Rules Cyclopedia, while unnecessarily wordy, is the closest thing to "0.75 edition".

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  17. Wouldn't the Basic/Expert/Companion/Master series or even the Rules Cyclopedia count for such a concept as D&D .75?

    The rules for those games hew closely to the OD&D rules with fleshed out details in regard to the rules, and are complete as a set. At the same time, those rules are not as complex when compared to AD&D.

    I think such a game already exists, we're just getting thrown off the track because of the various and sometimes tortured naming conventions we use to try and sort out the entire history of the D&D rules sets.

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  18. Wonderful post.

    I must confess the X.X numbering system drives me nuts, and for many of the same reasons. Pen and paper RPGs are not computer games, and the implication in this system is that they somehow "evolve" and thus outdate earlier iterations. I remember reading the comments on RPGnet to a review of Labyrinth Lord were it was said that the game couldn't possibly earn a substance rating of higher than 2 (out of 5) as it was "such primitive technology." Technology? I defy someone to demonstrate that Monopoly is superior to Chess because it is more recent.

    In fact, in your honor, I think I might just start referring to these games as D&D II, D&D III, etc in sequel fashion, as this is more accurate. Cheers!

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  19. I once fell for the misconception that "higher numbers meant later evolution". I was first introduced to D&D through Baldur's Gate and it's AD&D2e ruleset; I naturally thought 3e was an extension of that. I now know better.

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  20. YES, exactly how I feel. That's probably why I like S&W, but I'm not huge on it. LL is probably a bit closer to my taste.

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  21. I think people often use the term 'complexity' in different ways. IMO there's a significant difference between complexity of play and complexity outside of play. I for one like some complexity outside of play, but expect the game to run quickly after we sit down at the table.

    Having the option to play a number of races, classes, and multi-classes doesn't slow things down at the table. Similarly, large spell lists, numerous magic items, many monsters, etc., leads to diversified play, but doesn't slow play once you sit down.

    That's why I've never understood the adversity to thick rulebooks. For me, it's all about what is in it. I'd never turn down 10 more pages of cool magic items. 10 pages of grappling rules, -not so much.

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  22. Dear God in heaven please tell me someone did not seriously say "Why would I play D&D when Diablo has better graphics than my imagination?".

    To be fair, he later regretted saying so and his point was really that, if all one wants out of a RPG is endless combats and treasure seeking, computer games can do it much better than a tabletop game can.

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  23. We've been playing a little bit of everything "old school" from S&W Whitebox to Core Rules to LL and even a little straight out Holmes.

    If I had to play "by the book" without house-rules, I'd be inclined to pick LL too. Class-as-race is one of those things that I personally find too limiting, but luckily for me (being that S&W is our most frequently played game) we just house-rule in the bits that we think we need.

    I suppose there's a purist or two out there that wouldn't approve of "tweaking", but I play for fun, not to "re-enact the Gygaxian era".

    Okay..y'all may now commence with the stone-throwing. :D

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  24. Asking this question of YOUR readers is kinda' shooting fish in a barrel, sir. Isn't that kind of the whole impetus behind the OSR?

    My question was more about whether there are others who want a a specific combination of elements -- "AD&D Lite, so to speak. I know quite a lot of OD&Ders who wouldn't want such a thing, since they aren't as enamored of the Gygaxian vision as I am.

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  25. The Rules Cyclopedia, while unnecessarily wordy, is the closest thing to "0.75 edition".

    It's definitely a good rules set, but I prefer more character classes, multiclassing, and some other elements of AD&D.

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  26. For me, it's all about what is in it. I'd never turn down 10 more pages of cool magic items. 10 pages of grappling rules, -not so much.

    Very well said.

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  27. I want a game that plays as fast and loose as OD&D but has much of the "chrome" of AD&D.

    Given that, I'm a bit surprised that Castles & Crusades doesn't appeal more to you.

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  28. C&C, while a fine game, still feels a bit too much like 3e for my tastes. Plus, I find the SIEGE Engine tends to "break the frame" when it comes to emulating the old school. I like my game mechanics a bit quirkier.

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  29. Having started, along with most of my friends, with the original three book box set, we didn't actually make a distinction between this and Advanced D&D. It was probably how the game was released (Monster Manual, Players Handbook, then Dungeon Masters Guide), making it a set of resources that slotted in well to existing campaigns. [After all, it was easier to look up something in one book than seven (although I still have my collated edition of the old game (written on a manual typewriter).]

    Like most of the OD&D gamers of the time, we used AD&D, not as a complete game, but rather as a selection of lists we could add to our existing game. Similiar to all the fan written stuff, Judges Guild, etc. We'd steal from anywhere if we liked it.

    What I'm trying to say is that it is natural to evolve into a more advanced mind set. This is because there really wasn't enough in OD&D to base a continuing game on of. It gave the foundation, and laid excellent ideas, but people would then improvise on top of it.

    About the only time we ran "Dungeons & Dragons" was when we ran tournaments for local gamers (and even then we had meetings to ensure all the gamemasters were on the same page with regard to the nature of the game).

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  30. I hate version numbers with a vengence.

    For a OD&D like game with some more chrome I already have T&T! :)

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  31. So when can we expect your retro clone? Or the Grognardia conversion document?

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  32. I don't have a big problem with the generally-accepted "version number" system when used as a quick shorthand method of communicating what it is/was you play. That being said,, even in computer software higher versions don't necessarily mean "better" or "improved", though they usually mean "bigger."

    As for LL + AEC, after some initial "if I wanted AD&D characters I'd play AD&D" it dawned on me that the AD&D we played back in the day was a lot more like B/X than "true" AD&D anyway, and that was without ever playing B/X.

    We've been loving Labyrinth Lord so far, but unless AEC is lame we're probably going to shift over to it for characters while keeping the LL play rules.

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  33. So when can we expect your retro clone? Or the Grognardia conversion document?

    Not anytime soon. In the meantime, I'll probably release bits and pieces of things I develop for my Dwimmermount campaign through the blog as I have already been doing. Besides, it's not as the world needs another retro-clone when there are already so many excellent ones out there.

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  34. Lord Kilgore,

    You have the right of it. Back in the day, we made no distinction between the various shades of D&D and gleefully stole from everything. My own "AD&D" campaign was actually a mix of 1e, Holmes, and Moldvay, along with house rules and ideas swiped from Dragon.

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  35. I find the SIEGE Engine tends to "break the frame" when it comes to emulating the old school. I like my game mechanics a bit quirkier.

    I agree. Moreover, there are times when the SIEGE Engine just doesn't create the probabilities one is looking for.

    Still, I go back and forth between using S&W as my base game and adding all the things I want (races, classes, combat options/abilities) and using C&C as my base and reigning in the SIEGE Engine (replacing many rolls with a simple 1d6 determination, using Arneson's saving throw scheme, etc.).

    Somewhere in between those two is my ideal version of D&D.

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  36. "Holmes" Basic might be 0.75 lite

    The Rules Cyclopedia isn't 0.75 it is 3 or 4 steps from 0e.

    Oe -> Oe + supplements -> Holmes basic -> Basic & Expert D&D -> BECMI D&D -> Rules Cyclopedia

    AD&D is more closely related
    Oe -> Oe + supplements -> AD&D

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  37. I used to get aggravated at the version numbers attached to the game. After becoming a computer science major I fin myself referring to all of my work by version number.

    In the files I use to save drafts of essay's and homework they all have a version number attached to show where I am at in the process and how many times I have revised said piece.

    In this day and age I think it has just become part of the jargon. Intended or not I don't think it is going away.

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  38. Solution:
    We just use the word "Type" instead of "Edition".

    Type 1 DnD, Type 2 Dnd, Type 3.5 Dnd

    There. I solved everything.

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  39. In the immortal words of David Bowie:
    You're not alone
    ;P

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  40. I appreciate your position.

    Castles & Crusades is a lot like this, in terms of its mechanics - unfortunately its presentation is not 'clean' like Dan Proctor's Labyrinth Lord, it's verbose and messy; with some poor editing at least in the early printings. Also spellcasters get too many spells at 1st level IMO. Still, its presentation of the Fighter & other classes is worth looking at.

    My personal preference now seems fixed on Labyrinth Lord as my core game, without much AD&D chrome. I think it's easy enough to call a Lawful Fighter a Paladin, or a nature-Cleric a Druid, without needing new rules.

    Maybe I really should look at Advanced Edition Characters, though...

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  41. I'm working on a supplement, and I was going to use the slogan "a graphics card for your imagination" - there's nothing new under the sun I guess :)

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  42. I know that I've certainly felt this way at times. I have developed -for some B/X games I've run- rules for things like demihumans with "human" classes, new classes, etc. But I still usually come back to -to borrow a phrase of yours- "warts and all" B/X-LL.

    From the perspective of giving players some more flexibility, I think the AE supplement is a good thing, but I often worry that such trappings draw attention away from actual "play" and more on the tweaking of character "builds."

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  43. I do prefer LL race-as-class, it's a very good mechanism to maintain a humanocentric setting. I never like 1e's all-Elf parties.

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  44. "but I often worry that such trappings draw attention away from actual "play" and more on the tweaking of character "builds."

    Don't worry so much. I work under the assumption that my fellow gamers can walk and chew gum at the same time... ;)

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  45. Isn't OSRIC the AD&D .75 people are looking for? It's AD&D minus things like weapon speeds, weapon v. AC, psionics, etc., etc.

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  46. I shall have to go against the grain here. When I started the curent game, I fleshed out the Haunted Keep and intially wanted to run an OD&D game, even got the three original books and all of the supplements (for a pittance!!!). Then I re-read the Moldway basic rulebook and liked THAT one better (the one I started gaming with) wanted to run a Moldway/Cook Basic/Expert game, but then I re-read the AD&D Chapters on Combat and I liked the AD&D character class structure more, so, original AD&D it became!

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  47. When I think of D&D .75 I think of Basic Fantasy Roleplay. It has everything I love about classic, AD&D and 3E.

    Classic - Quick playing rules.
    AD&D - Separates race from class.
    3E - Ascending AC.

    It hits my sweetspot when I want to play a fast and loose D&D game.

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  48. "Holmes" Basic might be 0.75 lite

    Like a lot of people round here, Holmes comes veeeerrrryy close to being my ideal version of D&D.

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  49. Isn't OSRIC the AD&D .75 people are looking for? It's AD&D minus things like weapon speeds, weapon v. AC, psionics, etc., etc.

    OSRIC is very good, but it's still a bit ... heftier than I want. The ability modifiers, spell and monster descriptions, combat sequence, and so forth are slightly more detailed than I have any need for. That's not a knock against OSRIC, just a comment on my own preferences these days.

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  50. If Paizo would be willing to consider a Pathfinder Basic, I truly think that would be a great version of D&D for new and OD&D style players.

    Drop feats. Reduce skills down to only a small set of class specific ones. Keep the basic D20 mechanic and the full range of race and class options.

    The "White Box" version of S&W shows the possibility of how this could work. It just needs more options.

    Simple rules, plenty of options, would be my version of D&D.

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  51. There was actually talk in Dragon during the development of 2e of having a version number system that would reflect how many of the optional rules you were using.

    It really bugs me when people don’t realize that the dots in version number scheme for computer software are merely separators, not decimal points. That’s why you can have version 3.0.1. That’s why version 2.9 is followed by version 2.10. But marketing geniuses in the software industry (along with some lazy developers) are the real culprit there. I was so embarrassed when Apple put out “System 7.5”. (I was working there at the time.)

    Anyway...one of the things I realized when I first discovered Dragonsfoot is that my old AD&D group never really played AD&D. We were playing Expert D&D with the AD&D books. (Which is what a lot of others have said was their experience as well.) Which seems to me like what you’re wanting.

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  52. You're definitely not alone. As someone who is dabbling in (or slowly converting to) earlier editions after more-or-less starting with the Fourth Edition, I am relatively torn between my love of much of AD&D except for most of the gritty mechanics.

    Labyrinth Lord has been my go-to for "Older D&D" recently, after a short affair with Swords & Wizardry. It's right where I personally need the rules to be right now, minimal but not minimalist. There's always that nagging voice in my head whispering in a slow, chaotic drone: OSSSRIIIIC, OSSSSRRRIIIIIIC. I have to agree that the flavor of AD&D is right on, right down to the language of the books themselves.

    Pity about all those fiddly rules, though. Put me down as excited for Advanced Edition Characters, whether I ultimately use it or not.

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  53. I've never understood what it was about C&C that smacked so of 3e to you, James, the only real thing that occurs to me is ascending AC, and to be frank that's entirely cosmetic. Of course a more thorough explanation might help me to understand but I'm not going to demand one.

    I shy away from this scheme as well, except in the case of 3e vs 3.5. I am fond of telling people when they bring it up "Every time you say x.y, some WOTC executive thinks about revising fourth edition and pops a boner."

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  54. I am very excited about AEC for exactly this reason. I like the rules-lightness of LL, but for some reason I [b]hate[/b] having races as classes. And I like having more choices for character classes. So LL + AEC might be exactly what I'm looking for.

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  55. You are not the only one who seeks elegance and atmosphere in the same package. I got closest when I used the philosophy of cutting, not adding, elements in the rules and campaign setting. I boiled it down to a couple pages of charts. All was taken from AD&D (1.00000). The emphasis shifted from books and paper to dialogue, imaginings and the dice. With less dice rolled, each became more important. It was great.

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  56. 1e AD&D is my preferred system. However, in play, I've always pared it down a bit so in effect it would be closer to OD&D play wise.

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  57. I've never understood what it was about C&C that smacked so of 3e to you, James, the only real thing that occurs to me is ascending AC, and to be frank that's entirely cosmetic. Of course a more thorough explanation might help me to understand but I'm not going to demand one.

    It's the SIEGE Engine primarily, which tends to weaken the class system by making ability scores far more important.

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  58. I see SIEGE as a complement to the class system. Making things far easier to adjucate than in the the older systems.

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  59. Late to the party, but -- the idea of D&D 0.75 is enormously compelling (as can be seen by the post count here). Like many, I think of "3 booklets plus the good parts of Greyhawk" when I hear that.

    I continue to be surprised that none of the retro-clones have attempted that. Instead, they're all stuck on replicating either the 3 booklets, Moldvay, or AD&D, each with odd core mechanics changes, none of which have scratched my itch.

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  60. I thought S&W was doing the original three books plus best of the supplements thing.

    In general, though, my experience is that when you get two or more people working together on a “best of” system, you quickly find out that—when it comes to the details—everyone has very different ideas about what the “best” is. Striving to stay as true as possible to a well-defined specific edition is much, much easier to do.

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  61. When in my teens, I used to play a lot AD&D. I've still got very vivid memories of the adventures we had, whereas - though I played a lot of video games since - I did never encounter anything even remotely resembling tabletop RPGs. What's more, the worst games - the most boring ones - are IMHO these calling themselves "role-playing"... Playing the role of a lump of pixels? Oh, come on! You just can't beat the power of imagination...

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  62. I'm not big on numbering rules sets. But, I guess I do see the point when rules are dramatically changed, but the game name stays the same. Equally, even though D&D 3 got the D&D 3.5 after some rules changes, personally I didn't think it warranted a .5 add-on, but WotC had a different problem than most other rpg companies don't have, a giant customer base.

    I only play C&C now, as it is the closest that I want in a rules system. They have dramatically improved on their presentation and through various printings have added things that needed work, clarified things that needed clarifying or altered things that needed altering. Editing is no worse than any other rpg out there, as each printing learned from the previous printings and were fixed. I have the 4th printings and could never figure out why TLG had such a bad rep. Looking at the earlier stuff I could see why. I think it is unfair to judge what they are doing now as opposed to years ago. They've learned a lot since then.

    So, 5 printings of the PH now, some altered rules since 1st printing but never was C&C added the edition numbering.

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