Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Rulesets and Supplements Thereof

Last week, Jim Raggi posted a "rehearsal tape" version of his upcoming old school RPG rules. It's quite an interesting document and well worth looking at, if only to see where Raggi's ideas match up with one's own. I'm also intrigued by the fact that it's called a "weird fantasy" roleplaying game, although there's not much (to my mind anyway) evidence of that in the material that's currently available online. Perhaps that will be more apparent in later iterations.

I'm genuinely looking forward to seeing the publication of this game, though. I personally appreciate seeing lots of mutant descendants of Dungeons & Dragons, each one reflecting the idiosyncrasies of its creator. To me, that's where the hobby lies, not in unambiguous "official" rules that admit to only one interpretation and foster only one style of play. Confusing though it probably is to an outsider, I adore the crazy quilt nature of the old school movement these days, with all of its participants presenting their own eccentric takes on the game. That's why you'll never hear my complain about "too many old school rulesets" except to the extent that it's often hard to keep up with them all.

Despite this, I am of two minds about the possibility of ever publishing the rules I use in my Dwimmermount campaign. That's because the rules are mostly just tweaks to already existing rulesets rather than extensive rewrites. Likewise, they borrow from no single source but are instead a Frankenstein's monster knitted together from OD&D, Labyrinth Lord, and Swords & Wizardry, along with my own ideas and those I've borrowed from others. The result is a game that's at once not so different as to justify being called a "new" game but also different enough that I couldn't just point to already existing game and say, "Use these."

This is why, despite my criticisms of it, I am sympathetic to the fanciful reinterpretation of OD&D's supplements advanced by Geoffrey McKinney. I think it would have been terrific if each supplement to OD&D had in fact been one writer's take on the game presented through the lens of his home campaign. That's more or less what I'd love to do with a theoretical Dwimmermount supplement, since most of my "rules" are in fact rules changes. The basic structure of my game is still recognizably OD&D; it's the little nuances that are different and deserve mention.

But, as I say, the problem is that I'd prefer it if I could say, as Rob Conley did in his own Supplement VI, that Dwimmermount was a supplement to Ruleset X, but I can't. My baseline is OD&D rather than a retro-clone. I suppose it's fairly close to Original Edition Characters in many respects, so perhaps I could associate it with that. It's also similar to Swords & Wizardry: White Box, but since I refuse to include ascending armor class notations that option isn't available to me. In the end, it might not matter, since this isn't meant to be a mass market product and, in all likelihood, those who purchase it are probably more interested in the world and megadungeon I've created than in my rules variants. Still, something to ponder.


  1. My own changes and house rules are so fluid and changeable that if I were to print out an official copy of "My Version of D&D", it would be outdated almost immediately. I don't know if I am typical in this, but to me, adjusting and editing as needs arise and ideas emerge is one of the aspects that I enjoy most about OD&D.

  2. Aeschere, I'm the same way. My own CARCOSA is a snapshot of my favorite way to game in Oct. 2008. I've since "mutated" further. If CARCOSA were released today rather than 15 months ago, it would have some changes.

  3. I think it's important to differentiate between the clones and variants (people's house rules), as there still seems to be some confusion out there - even though the word "clone" should be a big hint.

    I love both. I love the clones for what they have and are doing for our branch of the hobby, and I love the variants for inspiring me in my own game by introducing new ideas and concepts. And yes, I like too that variants are often a window into someone else's campaing and gaming style, which is always fascinating.

    For me there can never be too many versions of the game. True clones by their very nature will (and should) be limited in number, but bring on the house-ruled variants. Love 'em. :)

  4. James, as you said so succinctly, the world and megadungeon are the draw, but a chapter--or even an appendix--of your own house rules would be greatly appreciated. I know you've covered them in your post, but it would be great to get them compiled so others could borrow or be inspired by them.

  5. Hey, man...I'm of the opinion that the "supplements" of OD&D were just that...supplements of one (or two) individual(s) particular game worlds. AD&D was just an "officializing" of one set of game rules...which is one of the reasons I'm leaving so much of AD&D out of my Companion rules. We'll see if it can live up to my mind's eye potential as a companion and expansion to B/X, itself a streamlined, codified version of the LBBs.
    : )

  6. James,

    I'd rather see you publish something analogous to Dave Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign -- not something really for "use" like a rules supplement but just a record of an interesting and fertile campaign. I suppose you'd have to wait until the campaign is over, or do as Arneson did and just leave out things his players hadn't figured out. Give the rules for your goblins and so on, a rogues gallery of the PCs/NPCs, living & dead, and rough outlines of some levels of Dwimmermount, and the background you & your players have created. Not so we can run Dwimmermount, but so we can see the innards of your campaign and get our own ideas.

    Oh wait, you're already doing that in the blog! How about cutting & pasting it all together and releasing it as a pdf? Formatted for "booklet printing"?

  7. Yes, you can say your baseline is oD&D. Nothing wrong with that. (Like this and AD&D.)

    If your lawyer disagrees, though, I think you’re right that it doesn’t matter. People will just hammer the bits they want to use into the shape of whatever mash-up of a system they use anyway.

  8. Don't associate it with any particular system, simply not it is for earlier editions of the world's most popular rpg. Everyone will understand that some tweaking will be necessary, just like we did back in the day.

    Best to you,

  9. I am really impressed that James included starvation and dehydration rules in the test draft!!