Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why the Switch?

JB from B/X Blackrazor asks in a comment to my recent Dwimmermount post, "Has your game now switched over to full-blown LL-play thanks to the AEC? Is this something that was purposefully adopted by your group or just your interpretation of where you now stand with 'gradual gaming evolution?'" JB isn't the first person to ask me this, either in comments to my Dwimmermount posts or in private emails. In fact, it's something I've been getting asked a lot lately. Given that, I figured I might as well make a post on the subject and explain myself a bit.

Let me begin by saying that I have been for some time reluctant to make a post like this. The reason is that, as it is, things I post here often get read in the worst possible light by some people and the last thing I want to do was become involved in a dispute about the merits of the various retro-clones, with my decision to switch to Labyrinth Lord being used as "evidence" that I "hate" this game or that one. Laugh if you will but I often worry about such things.

As some of you may remember, when I began the Dwimmermount campaign nearly eighteen months ago, I was using only the LBBs of OD&D. Indeed, that was part of the point in starting the campaign in the first place: to see what it would be like to play with only those three rulebooks. Since none of my players owned the LBBs as I did, I decided to use Swords & Wizardry, as I saw it as the most readily available alternative. This worked very well and I was largely happy with the result. My main frustration was S&W's use of a single saving throw mechanic, which somehow didn't "feel" right to me and that I decided I wanted to change to bring it more in line with OD&D.

As time went on, in response to needs, real or perceived, I also added other house rules and adopted material from the Supplements. This continued to push the campaign more and more into the "proto-AD&D" realm, which I didn't really mind, as, despite my frequent protestations to the contrary, Gygaxian AD&D is in fact what I instinctively think of when I hear the words "Dungeons & Dragons." At the same time, I still find AD&D in its fullness too complex for my liking, which is why I never switched the campaign to those rules (or to OSRIC).

Then, along came the Advanced Edition Companion and I felt like I finally had a way to bridge the gap between the mechanical simplicity of OD&D and the flavorful breadth of AD&D. At first, I didn't intend to adopt Labyrinth Lord in its entirety. I figured I'd just use the AEC as I had the Supplements with S&W. Over time, though, I found myself referring back to LL itself rather than either the LBBs or S&W. And given that I was already dissatisfied with the single saving throw, the shift toward LL was a natural one.

There were a couple of other factors that entered into my thinking too. First, my 10 year-old daughter is playing in my game. She loves reading my old AD&D books, particularly the Monster Manual, which she prefers to any of the later versions I also own. She showed no interest in reading either OD&D or Swords & Wizardry, but she likes Labyrinth Lord. (In a similar vein, Brother Candor's player has a young son and is thinking of one day introducing him to D&D and also finds LL much more congenial for this purpose).

Second, I plan on publishing old school products. My first such product, The Cursed Chateau, is selling very well and is written "generically," which is to say, it doesn't explicitly connect itself to any existing retro-clone, instead adopting a mechanical "Rosetta Stone" approach similar to what Fight On! and Jim Raggi use. I did this in order to make The Cursed Chateau as broadly usable as possible, but, ironically, it is, along with the cover, one of the most criticized elements of that product. Gamers seem to prefer specificity, even when it means having to do some conversion work on their end. Since I have no interest in making my own retro-clone, that means I need to choose an existing one to use for future products and Labyrinth Lord is the best fit. It's got the AEC, multiple saving throws, and descending AC, all of which are great boons in my opinion.

When you tally all these issues up, the arguments in favor of switching to Labyrinth Lord are powerful. My decision is simply that, though: my decision. It shouldn't be read as a rejection of any other retro-clone or of straight OD&D nor is it any kind of veiled condemnation of other preferences. For me and my players and the kind of game I've been running, LL is the best fit. Likewise, LL is the retro-clone with whom I can declare compatibility without any hassles or the inclusion of something I don't like, such as ascending AC. It's really as simple as that.

38 comments:

  1. God forbid you should make your own D&D. ;)

    It sounds like you are a having a lot of fun coming up with what you like which is the point after all.

    From this and your other campaign posts I am looking forward to seeing what you come up for a Dwimmermount supplement. I am sure it will be general interest to the entire OSR regardless of what ruleset they use.

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  2. For the record, I like the cover of The Cursed Chateau. I agree that too many people try to ape 1970s RPG graphic design just for the sake of doing so.

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  3. Funny thing: I remember my first encounter with Rosetta-stone type supplements, and rejecting them out of hand because they had no stats I had to convert. It wasn't until Grimtooth's Traps that I realized how silly I had been.

    But I also acknowledge how there might be a fair number of people who resist the de-statted (or watery statted) descriptions of generic supplements.

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  4. I too noticed when LL's cover appeared in your "What I'm Playing" graphic. Having followed your posts though, I assumed what had happened was pretty much as you just described.

    Of course, we're both 40-ish raised in Maryland gamers who started with Holmes in the late 70's and moved to a 1e-ish game as the hardcovers came out, so it's not surprising that there's SOME overlap in our thinking. ;P

    MARYLAND: The Thinking Man's Deleware!

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  5. You're going to end up playing 2E with the option books in a few years, mark my words.......!

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  6. You have to play the game that suits your present interests and play style. That's never static.

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  7. When I started my magazine, I thought it prudent to select a system to base everything on and signal compatibility with other clones/originals. I went for Labyrinth Lord because it was what I'd been playing for a few months, but also because it seems to be the most popular. However, I'm also pretty apolitical towards the whole thing and certainly wouldn't dismiss modules or supplements because they are not for 'my' system or don't have any stats.

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  8. Didn't you know ascending armor class is "just clearly better".

    If I wasn't using Swords & Wizardry then Labyrinth Lord would likely be my retro clone of choice too. As much as I admire OSRIC, it retains too many of AD&D's flaws (like inconsistent adjustments for abilities). But it is still a nice reference work.

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  9. Frankly, I like that cover. Then again, I like ascending ACs and saves based on stats, too, so perhaps my taste is questionable from an OSR perspective. :)

    I'm interested by the evolution of your taste in game rules, and I think it's as much a part of the experiment in discovering the Old Ways you've undertaken as anything else. One question: can AEC be cherry-picked for the parts one likes to graft onto LL, or must one use it whole?

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  10. I, too, like the cover for Cursed Chatuau. I like the more modern, graphic feel to that book.

    I am saddened to see that my illustration in it is by far the most conservative and pedestrian one in the bunch. Sigh, my hipness factor continues to drop...

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  11. I wouldn't see the need to comment on the cover of CC, given how everyone else already has, if it weren't for the fact that the cover practically sold me on the book!

    I don't have any trouble with generic writing, myself. I read CC fine and don't expect to have any trouble using it in the future no matter how I ultimately choose to do so. The advantages of a specific system are equally valid, of course. I may not be as big a fan of LL as I am S&W, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't be able to put future products to use. Flexibility of systems is one of my favourite aspects of the OSR, anyway.

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  12. @ Anthony

    The AEC is, to all intents and purposes, a pick 'n' mix supplement. The only thing that might potentially clash, if you mixed characters between AEC and nonAEC games, would be increased Hit Dice for some of the classes. Although, even in the AEC, these are listed as an optional rule.

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  13. I know just how you feel. I had S&W and LL once on my shelves. Only LL remains.

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  14. S&W is definitely a great game when you want just the absolute basics, but I think LL and AEC really dose the job of taking all the things I like in OD&D and AD&D and porting it into one system. Plus the art is just drenched with gruesome coolness! Once a co-worker walking by looked over my shoulder at the cover of my copy of LL and gasped", oh my god that's horrifying! What the hell is is it?

    I had to chuckle at that one ;-)

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  15. I'll say this about CC: If I didn't know about the project from following this blog, and saw it on the shelf, I'd think "White Wolf product" and never even give it a second look, nevermind a flip-through.

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  16. @Editor: Thanks much. :)

    Regarding "generic" supplements, I'm fine with them as along as they give some sort of guide to the power of the characters and monsters encountered. Among my favorites are Flying Buffalo's "Citybooks," which use a percentage system that's easily ported to other games.

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  17. Cursed Chateau gets lots of criticisms for being system-neutral? Wow. I never would have suspected that. To me, system-neutral is a plus.

    Live and learn.

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  18. You're going to end up playing 2E with the option books in a few years, mark my words.......!

    You have my permission -- and my thanks -- to put me out of my misery should that occur.

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  19. However, I'm also pretty apolitical towards the whole thing and certainly dismiss modules or supplements because they are not for 'my' system or don't have any stats.

    I don't really care myself. One of the great things about most of the clones is how readily compatible they are with one another. I'd certainly never turn my nose up at something written for another related system if I thought its content were good.

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  20. Didn't you know ascending armor class is "just clearly better".

    I've been regularly told this, but somehow it just doesn't sink in. I must be brain damaged in some way.

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  21. Cursed Chateau gets lots of criticisms for being system-neutral?

    "Lots" is a relative term. All the reviews and comments I've read about the adventure have been positive but the two points of limited criticism I've read concerned its cover art and its lack of rules specificity. I was as surprised to discover this as anyone but there it is.

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  22. "I don't really care myself. One of the great things about most of the clones is how readily compatible they are with one another."

    Plus, here's another thing: These games are relatively simple and when you know them from years of experience, you can easily (easily!) make up "stats" in your head as you go along and the players will be none the wiser. "Stat" are, without a doubt, the easiest thing for a DM to come up with on the spot ever. I'd rather have to improvise an entirely new monster's stats on the spot anyday than answer something like "What do we find in the hobgoblin larder?"

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  23. This is the first time I've ever seen the cover for The Cursed Chateau, and I really like it. Frankly, I like the fact that it doesn't try to mimic the crappy covers of yesteryear for nostalgia's sake.

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  24. 'However, I'm also pretty apolitical towards the whole thing and certainly dismiss modules or supplements because they are not for 'my' system or don't have any stats.'

    I think we're on the same page as the above should read 'certainly wouldn't dismiss'.

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  25. "Frankly, I like the fact that it doesn't try to mimic the crappy covers of yesteryear for nostalgia's sake."

    Rather, it mimics the crappy covers of today! Excelsior!

    :)

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  26. I think we're on the same page as the above should read 'certainly wouldn't dismiss'.

    Yes, it should read like that. I hate the comments of Blogger. There's no way to correct mistakes like that unless you just delete the original comment and rewrite it.

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  27. Rather, it mimics the crappy covers of today! Excelsior!

    I think it's fairer to say that the really problem with the cover is, as Jeff Rients and others have said, is that it's not apparent that it's a fantasy adventure module at all, old school or otherwise. That's a criticism I'm taking to heart and will be addressing with the Dwimmermount book when it's released later this year. I still won't be taking any cues from the graphic design of 1978 but you can be sure it'll be much more clear that the book is intended for use with a fantasy RPG.

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  28. I do understand, James. I just don't like the false dichotomy of "1980 TSR module mock-up" versus "anything at all else."

    I hope that we can still have differing opinions within those extremes.

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  29. I hope that we can still have differing opinions within those extremes.

    Absolutely. I am in fact very fond of the old TSR look but that was TSR's look and I'm much happier to see modern old school publishers strike out on their own and find their own looks. One of the things I love about the revised LL, for example, is the way that it firmly establishes a distinctive look for the whole line, one that's not like anything we've seen before and yet is clearly consonant with the old days. I want to see more of that kind of thing instead of imitating what TSR (or any other published) did back in the day.

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  30. Is there a list anywhere which outlines the ruleset differences between Labyrinth Lord and the Moldvay + Cook basic and expert D&D box sets?

    A lot of my early D&D games was with the B/X box sets. I thought B/X was a lot easier to read and figure out, than the Holmes basic box set.

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  31. It was more interesting when innocuous posts of yours lead to shitstorms from pole to pole of the bloggosphere. But, I suppose it's not nearly as fun from your end.

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  32. It was more interesting when innocuous posts of yours lead to shitstorms from pole to pole of the bloggosphere. But, I suppose it's not nearly as fun from your end.

    No, it's not much fun, but it's also par for the course, which is why I won't be surprised if I wake up tomorrow morning and discover that this post has generated a controversy of some sort. I especially like the controversies where I am simultaneously pilloried for hewing too closely to the past and deviating too much from it; those are my favorites.

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  33. "I especially like the controversies where I am simultaneously pilloried for hewing too closely to the past and deviating too much from it; those are my favorites."

    I think they demonstrate your overwhelming OSR power: you can be the supreme evil from any angle.

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  34. Thanks for the explanation post, JM!
    : )

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  35. I, too, really like the cover to The Cursed Chateau...it's very fitting in a Lovecraftian way. I also like that I was able to buy a print copy from a shop here in the UK!

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  36. Re: The Cursed Chateau cover/covers generally.

    One of the great successes of the TSR aesthetic was the front cover image. The image represented a "scene" from some point in the adventure. It was always fun to say "look here you are fighting the ant-men!" or whatever. It highlighted combat, backdropped against some sort of dungeon crawl. There are other aspects involved, but my point being the image - like a frontispiece - encapsulated the adventure. That is something worth leaning on. The image needs to be populated in some way, have action, and provide a call to adventure.

    For my own non-fiction book I had to remind a very large press of this same point. Thank goodness I did as their first mock-ups were brutal vis a vis the content.

    Also, instead of "ape" can I humbly request, for the purpose of an inclusive discussion, that we find an alternative, unladen term?

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  37. Generic is better, IMO.

    I have always been omnivorous when it comes to source material and I found the more generically-statted products to be easier to translate into my system. I could make assumptions that fit my system, locale, and PCs.

    I, too, have never moved to ascending armor class.

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  38. I just use AD&D. I have to say I'm still confused by the "retroclones." I'm not totally clear on why they're necessary instead of just using the originals, which are actually less expensive, best I can tell.

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