I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Saturday, February 26, 2022

My favorite D&D (and OSR) likes and dislikes - what are yours?

If I were to choose a "pound for pound champion" of D&D, it would be Moldvay's Basic* -  the best ratio of great content per page. On the other hand, my "single book" champion  would be the Rules Cyclopedia* - greatest amount of cool stuff in one single book.

Both books are remarkable because of that, IMO; other D&D books would get more extensive with time. Redundant stuff was added and some important content was nearly lost with time (reactions, morale, hirelings, etc.). 

However, when I started writing my list of likes and dislikes I realized how extensive the latter is. And these are not details - they are fundamental things about my favorite games. I am still a bit unsure about how to explain this - maybe my "likes" have a bigger weight than my dislikes here. Or maybe "dislikes" are just easier to list - if I were to list my 5e dislikes, for examples, I'd include "too many skills, too many spells, too much repetition and redundancy", but when I write about old school positives I just say "simplicity".

The funny thing is that all my "dislikes" have been fixed in 3e, 4e, and 5e, but I still find that B/X and the RC are better (although early 5e is almost there IMO). Maybe it is just because I find adding half a dozen things to a game is easier than subtracting dozens of things between hundreds.

Pound for pound champion!

Anyway, here we go. I'll use B/X as an example because it is my favorite.

- Simplicity, usability, conciseness, lack of clutter.
- Focus on reaction, morale, hirelings.
- Easy to house-rule.
- Monsters are easy to run.

- Race-as-class.
- Different XP tables for each class (including different XP limits), which makes XP useless for some characters for  a big chunk of the game (unless multi-classing etc.)
- Byzantine XP math, including ability bonuses and dividing the XP by your level or something.
- Attacks and saving throws tables.
- Thief skills using d6 and d100 (also, d100 in increments of 5% instead of d20)

- Domain building - I like it as long as you actually use it, which I haven't seem in my games.
- Descending AC.
- Vancian magic.
- Lack of "streamlined mechanics".
- Lack of generalized skills for non-thieves.

My preferences have not been changed even after playing multiple versions of D&D. I even wrote my own take on B/X (Dark Fantasy Basic), changing everything I dislike.

I do realize this is a matter of taste. However, most of the I've mentioned as "dislikes", I also find to be:

- Arbitrary (see the cleric post for an example).
- Justifiable if we don't use them ("sure, Halflings stop at 120,000 XP, but we never play high-level campaigns anyway") or use optional rules.
- Only make sense in the wargaming context (if you had a "XP budget" to build your troops, for example).
- Relics of Arneson/Gygax's original campaigns that do not make sense in 99% of our campaigns.

If you'd like to discuss this, I am curious to hear your opinion about:

- What are your likes/dislikes and, if different from mine, why do you like/dislike this.
- Are there any important likes/dislikes that I'm missing?

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  1. These days, 1974 OD&D is my jam, but B/X is great too. My likes and dislikes are largely centered around creating a very simple, abstract game in a more grounded, human-centric fantasy setting. And in general, I like fewer player-facing mechanics and character options. I'm fine with attack matrices and save charts because I prefer them on the DM screen instead of the character sheet. I completely agree about preferring to add in a few house rules versus taking out over half the rules and player options. Here are my likes and dislikes.

    - Three character classes (clerics, fighters, and magic-users)
    - Human PCs only
    - Light backgrounds (i.e. burglar, farmer, hunter, physician, etc.) that might give a bonus to a related activity
    - PC dice rolls largely limited to attack and damage rolls, saves, turn undead, and maybe a couple d6 rolls
    - d6 "doors" checks for non-combat skill/task/ability rolls
    - Abstract combat (no called shots, critical hits/misses, etc.)
    - d6 hit dice and weapon damage
    - Combat/save progressions in class-based level groups (fighters every three, clerics every four, m-u every five)
    - 2d6 reaction and morale rolls
    - Holmes scroll rules
    - '74 xp rules: 100 xp per enemy hit die, 1 gp = 1 xp

    - Demihuman and monster PCs
    - The traditional %-based thief class
    - Campaigns where magic is commonplace and accepted by the general populace
    - Bloated and generic monster lists that aren't curated for a setting, leading to a kitchen-sink fantasyland
    - Player-facing social mechanics
    - Player-facing knowledge and intuition mechanics ("I want to roll to see if the NPC is lying" as if they have ESP)

    - Side-based initiative versus individual initiative
    - Vancian magic
    - Alignment (although I dislike the 9-pt scale)
    - Battle mats and miniatures

  2. These days I am running two games and playing in none (which I miss but whatever). One is a modified 5e and the other is a modified BladesInTheDark system. I'm running both in Roll20 since we still aren't gaming face to face yet (sigh). Lets see Likes and Dislikes.. I will do 5e since it would be most in line with what we are talking about.

    -The players know the system (this is huge, it's a freaking chore to break people out of and into a new game).
    -Pretty easy to hack mechanics (I have a bunch of house rules that make the game run the way I want it to).

    -5e is set up for an almost superpowered setting, pc start tough and get crazy tougher as they level.
    -Too many choices for players, the wealth of choices makes it hard for players who aren't focused to figure out what they should do at any given time.
    -A lot of the new spells are pretty imbalanced in my opinion.
    -Alignment. I prefer the alignments from Rifts and similar but really alignment seems do that useful.
    - Player-facing knowledge and intuition mechanics ("I want to roll to see if the NPC is lying" as if they have ESP)..LOL yah this is dead on. The best the players can get is "he seems to be hiding something" or "he keeps looking to the door"
    -Same with social skills as opposed to roleplaying the scene. I do use those to get initial reaction of NPCs though if it's not obvious.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Completely agree with "player-facing knowledge and intuition mechanics" and your other points. 5e is a decent system, not hard to hack, but it has too many rules and options.

  3. I get that simplicity with more skills is a trade-off, but I think that something distinct from raw ability (NWP or anything else is still good). Considering that setting a DC isn't difficult in a 5e setting, just using the skill system (with condensed skills) is fine by me.

    I will say that some hybridization of 5e and B/X combat would be good, since it allows more..."hamminess" in my experience compared to B/X. Even if it's a streamlined list (combat manoeuvres instead of battle master manoeuvers).

    Skills would expand the general abilities of Exploration, and using a morale system as a social system could strike the balance there.

    I get the point of too many options, but I wonder if a balance can be struck with simple system to develop custom character ideas (not unlike a skill point system, I guess).

    I dunno. There is a lot I like from my B/X games, and a lot I like from 5e, so I find myself torn.

    1. Yeah, I feel the same. Somewhere between B/X and 5e is the perfect D&D...