Friday, May 28, 2010

Rules Cyclopedia Retro Clone - Dark Dungeons

Dark Dungeons is a new retro clone emulating the BECMI ruleset by way of the Rules Cyclopedia.  I hadn't heard about this, so I thought I would post about it in case anyone else hadn't either.  I downloaded the free .PDF and it looks really cool.  I have been looking for a good copy of the Rules Cyclopedia that wasn't prohibitively expensive and this just might scratch the itch I have been having.

The author answers questions about the game in this thread at  Also, check out his blog.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mike Mearls now the manager of D&D (the RPG) at Wizards

Interesting news: For one thing, Mike Mearls has been playing and designing adventures using OD&D rules of late and had some very good things to say about the kind of play using such a rule-set encourages.  For another, I was both intrigued and filled with a strange sense of unease at the news that there was now a D&D brand manager to oversee the whole brand, while Mearls is the head of the RPG.  Heroscape, novels, boardgames... in this post at Enworld, Mearls reveals that Bill Slavicsek is now the overall D&D brand manager.

I will leave you with two posts from Mike Mearls' blog ( that make me think this is tremendous news for anyone who likes old school play but is not completely turned off by the idea of D&D 4e.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I Am Not a Storyteller
My monthly AD&D campaign has confirmed something I suspected after observing my two 4e campaigns.

I am not a storyteller. I do not like establishing plots or events before we sit down to start playing. I like drawing maps and making notes about what lives where and why. I like sketching out NPCs. I like putting together fictional environments with all sorts of events on the verge of kicking off. But I don't actually like writing about those events, and I'll gleefully hack things to pieces and rearrange them to suit whatever idea pops into my head.

I am the god of this tiny, virtual universe, and if I decide at moment the characters enter the dungeon that there are three-headed kobolds there instead of the cyborgs I wrote about in my notes, there's no power in all the cosmos that can contradict me.

I DM because I want to see what will happen next, maybe as much as the players. Hell, probably even more than them. That interplay around the table, the unraveling of plans, the sudden bursts of inspiration, all of those things are what keep me coming back to the table.

That probably also explains why my #1 pet peeve is a player who quotes rules to me. Think the rulebook has all the answers? Then let's see that rulebook run a campaign!

The AD&D game really brought this all home to me. It's been a lot of fun, in part because I didn't take it all too seriously. It also helps that I have some great players. Erik Mona is a roleplaying MVP in my book. He's exactly the kind of player I like having at my table. His character is always doing something interesting, even if Stephen's character keeps murdering the NPCs he tries to interact with.

On another note, playing AD&D has been an interesting experience. I've found that I run it much like I did back in the day. The players use the character options from the Player's Handbook, I use the monsters and magic items from the DMG, but the rules I use behind the screen are basically OD&D/BD&D and lots of fiat.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Build Your Adventures in OD&D
As those of you who follow me on Twitter might know, I wrote up a dungeon for OD&D to run at this year's D&D Experience. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to run it at the con. However, I learned a useful lesson going forward: From now on, when I design an adventure I'll first approach it as if I'm running it using OD&D.

This approach might seem a little weird, but it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. OD&D keeps characters simple. They don't have loads of spells, abilities, or magic items. The monsters are built in a similar way. An orc swings its sword or fires its bow at you, and that's about it. Critters like beholders and dragons are a little more complex, but they're the exception, not the norm. There are no skills to roll, just descriptions of what a character tries to do.

When you pull those things back, you're left with only one option for making a dungeon or adventure interesting: Compelling locations, mysteries, puzzles, weird phenomena, *stuff* that the PCs can poke, prod, and inspect. These are all the things that make D&D compelling. They show off the spontaneity, immersion, and creativity that arise in the exchange among players and DM.

In Search of the Unknown is a great example of this effect in action. The dungeon in that adventure is empty of monsters and treasure. The DM is supposed to add that stuff. Instead, it features an overgrown garden of massive mushrooms, a chamber of mysterious pools, hidden chambers, details and color that suggest the dungeon's history, and other elements that make it an interesting place to explore. Reading the adventure, even without monsters and treasures, is fun. You want to know what's in the next room.

That's what this approach embraces, creating a dungeon environment that's interesting without any monsters around. It builds an environment that encourages the players to think of the scene from their character's point of view and act appropriately. It adds enough detail to get things started, and relies on the players choices, rather than the mechanics of skill checks or powers, to drive the action.

Once you have those details nailed down, you can then go back and add in monsters, treasure, skill DCs, and what not as appropriate. If you are running 4e, this approach has probably already yielded some interesting dungeon features that the monsters (and the PCs) can use when a fight breaks out, but you should also have plenty of areas for exploration and experimentation, nice changes of pace from the funhouse effect of one fight after another.
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