5: Explaining the Changes
While I came into this with the intent of making a minimal number of changes I wanted to discuss why I made the changes I did and how I think they don’t deviate from D&D’s origins.
First and foremost, the original D&D Little Brown Books have lots of gaps in them (if you want to be fancy we can call them lacunae) where the GM is meant to develop their own rulings to cover what situations arose outside the rules, just as was done in miniatures wargames when people tried to do things outside the designer’s original ideas. The existence of those lacunae was expected by the people who wrote and first played the game, and led to a lot of different annexes built off the same house. This was what Gygax was trying to reverse in AD&D, but the Basic D&D rules set is still gleefully sparse.
My changes fall into 2 types: standardization & customization.
The Standardization changes start with applying the existing attribute adjustment scale to all six attributes, so Charisma isn’t the odd man out. I think I know why Charisma was different – it was applied to a 2d6 roll rather than a d20 – but I was already modifying that chart so no worries.
Next was applying the scale for number of retainers (is that at once? Ever? The book doesn’t say) to other attributes. I did this because I wanted a more granular encumbrance system with Strength and a “your spellbook has more than the one spell you know” system for magic-users and elves. I always liked that AD&D’s spellbook rules had more options for the risk of not learning something so I imported it here.
I reset a lot of the rolls from 1d6 or 2d6 to 1d12. Why? Because the LBBs used d6 and d20 since the other polyhedrals weren’t around. I am not so constrained, and I like d12s. The odds are easy to match to a d6 or 2d6 in any event. Rather than rolling a d6 against a rulebook set number I could have a “11+ on a d12+bonuses” take the form of a low budget standard mechanic and apply whatever bonuses I saw fit for the situation, with some set in stone like Strength to Open Doors or elfishness to detect secret doors.
Finally, I set AC to being 10+armor and dex bonuses; at this point it’s what all the players are used to, and it makes more sense to me to just pre-calculate what’s needed to hit. I toyed with having Armor vs. Weapon charts but since I never used them in the old AD&D days and they are absent from Basic in any case I ditched them. I also went with a version of “all attacks do 1d6 damage” which was an official rule I don’t think we ever used in our Basic days, but more on that in a minute.
The Customization changes are a little broader.
First up I removed Halfling and replaced it with Faun. This is done for a couple of reasons. First, I just finished running an explicitly Hobbit themed game, and see no reason to include them in this. They’re not a bad race, but I didn’t have any as PCs in the Shankill setting back in the day so I see no reason not to spike them. Second, I think Fauns in the form of Satyrs and Druads, make a cool character class and easily fill the ‘sneaky forest fighter’ niche. Finally, it was a way to have a Charisma centered class (as much as any class requires an attribute), which since I’m sticking with ‘3d6 in order’ might be handy.
Second, I added Centaurs. Why? Because I like them. And if fauns are the Charisma race, Dwarves are the Constitution Race and Elves are the Intelligence race Centaurs are the Strength race. They get a lot of advantages in terms of movement rates, inborn weapons and bonuses to lifting/moving/pulling things but since the game is going to center on a dungeon they have several not-deal-breaking hindrances with their size. Finally, the article in Dynamite Magazine that introduced me to D&D had an Illusionist casting Alter Reality to rescue a Centaur from Quicksand. Therefore this campaign will allow for Centaurs, llusionists, Alter Reality and Quicksand, just because, dammit.
Third, I got rid of Thieves. Why? In part because I drank some Old School kool aid and Thief isn’t in the little brown books, but there’s more to it than that. It’s mostly because thief is an exclusionary class – because it has rules for climbing, sneaking & finding traps it implies the other classes can’t do those things, which is bollocks. Now, the rules don’t state they can’t do those things but I remember many an AD&D argument about how Fighters couldn’t climb walls even though modern army training involves climbing over walls, and how stupid that rule was. But it’s not that the rule was stupid, it’s that we were, for treating the thief skills as exclusionary. I wanted to avoid that because I want all the PCs to know they have a chance to sneak, climb walls, etc. just as they always did. Short form I that Fafherd shouldn’t need levels in Thief, he’s just a dexterous fighter in light armor. The Thief abilities were always a dog’s breakfast, especially if you add in the assumption of actobatics training in the post Unearthed Arcana universe. For people who want to make real “Thieves” I am adding Scoundrel as an Expert Class to Artisan, and they’re classic thief types, even if they’re only available at 4th level and up.
Fourth, I added Artisan, which is clearly the replacement to Thief as the high-dex class. Their inspirations are Engineers from Dream Park, Swordsmiths from Earthdawn and Sparks from Girl Genius. Mechanically they’re force-multipliers, as their tools give their allies additional bonuses to do things, and a means to better avoid traps while still forcing the players to figure out how the traps work. At higher levels a way for me to work in the higher tech, genre-bending pulp fantasy stuff that I feel the game needs. This will necessitate more customization fo the setting at higher levels but I’ leaving it for now.
The next customization is the change to the Cleric Spellcasting. I’ve always like the idea of a unified miracle pool, drawing on faith in various ways rather than praying for spells, and this felt like a good place to implement it. This does makes the cleric more and less powerful as they have a lot more miracles at low level than they would spells, but they also have a cap how often they can turn undead. This seems fair to me. This mechanism also serves to make a clear distinction between arcane and godly spellcasting, which I also wanted for the setting. As I indicated the deity list was chosen to make the “life vs. death” theme of the campaign world plain enough while keeping Baldur, the only deity I remember a player having in my 1E AD&D days,.
Arcane Spellcasting had Cantrips added, some spells added and the levels of them restructured. I went out of my way to make logical ‘trees’ of spells identified by their ‘spell components’ while keeping the spell component list down to a manageable level. You need your staff and reagents, dagger and its powders and papers, your amulet or nothing physical to cast individual spells. Higher level spells might demand more, but that would be to enforce their rarity. Cantrips were selected to make them useful as utility items but not combat worthy so the Magic User has more options without being all firepower all the time.
Finally there’s combat: I added variable weapon damage only as a way to separate the fighter classes from the others and stop nitpicking weapon types. I’m very happy with the weapon/tool/ implement/unarmed division as it makes clear rules for drawing a sword vs. hitting someone with a barstool. I think it’s simple and has just enough color. Likewise the weapon styles are a way to pick a variable +1 bonus to damage, hit, AC or initiative that should strike a balance between being too nitpicky and colorless.
The last combat change is First Aid – I wanted one last ditch way to keep PCs alive that wasn’t as forgiving as the -10 HP rule from AD&D 2E. Essentially people have a 1 in 6 chance of surviving a ‘fatal’ blow if their friends are there to help them out during or after the fight (likewise with poison). It’s not a great chance, but it’s a chance. If the players complain I can always point out that the rules as written are even less forgiving.