Game system for classic D&D modules

What game system would you recommend I look at for playing classic modules (Saltmarsh, Dunwater, Keep on the Borderlands, Desert of Desolation).

D&D 5E has been disappointing me more and more, with inconsistent features and mechanics (ability checks vs saving throws vs other saving throws vs attack rolls vs whatever else there is). I also feel that more and more of my time at tables is listening to people argue about Actions vs actions, and come up with cheesy ways to cast spells while holding weapons and shields. Also, it's been three years and I still get players misunderstanding Bonus Actions. I don't know how much of this is the system's fault, but right now I'd like to look at other systems.

What do I want?

To run classic modules. I think this counts out the narrative-heavy systems (in particular Dungeon World, which I love). Perhaps I'm wrong? Let me know.

To run games longer than one-shots. In D&D 5E terms, a game that runs from levels 1 to 8.

A nero-to-hero feeling. I want the beginning characters to be better than zero-power peasants but not heroes. I want the characters to grow into the hero role.

Levels to mean things. I don't want a system where the players say, "Yay, a level up, that means I get, umm, slightly better at fighting I guess."
 

ccs

39th lv DM
Answer this question:
"My favorite edition of D&D/other D&Dish system is __."

Whatever you fill in the blank with? That's what you should use.


Right now? I'm prepping to run Desert of Desolation in PF2. :)
It'll be the first time I've ever kicked off a new edition by not using Keep on the Borderlands.
Well, that's not quite true.... I'm going to stick the Caves in a hex & re-skin it as an Egyptian style valley of tombs. If the players blunder across it. :) If they don't, that's also cool.
 

darjr

I crit!
I think all games could have similar issues but here goes.

Searchers of the unknown is a one page game designed to run those old classic modules.

 

aramis erak

Explorer
What game system would you recommend I look at for playing classic modules (Saltmarsh, Dunwater, Keep on the Borderlands, Desert of Desolation).
[snip]

What do I want?

To run classic modules. I think this counts out the narrative-heavy systems (in particular Dungeon World, which I love). Perhaps I'm wrong? Let me know.

To run games longer than one-shots. In D&D 5E terms, a game that runs from levels 1 to 8.

A nero-to-hero feeling. I want the beginning characters to be better than zero-power peasants but not heroes. I want the characters to grow into the hero role.

Levels to mean things. I don't want a system where the players say, "Yay, a level up, that means I get, umm, slightly better at fighting I guess."
D&D Cyclopedia would be recommend #1 for me... same rules as BX/BECMI (with a few important wording changes.)
Monster blocks require few or no changes. The optional rules for skills and weapon mastery are simple, but effective.
It's available via DTRPG

Second choice: Tunnels and Trolls.
Note that T&T isn't D&D, so conversion will be needed... but... it's fast, it's simple, and it's as light a game as I will willingly play..
MR is the one key stat for monsters... and there are three approaches I've used over the years, and all work reasonably well:
MR = HP - makes it fast and easy, but... monsters become a bit too crunchy
MR = 10*HD - also fast, and makes HD also the attack dice of the monster.
hybrid: MR = HP + 5*HD - more mathy, but...
If the monster has special attacks, make a judgement call on how many 6's are needed to trigger it.
If the critter has a tough hide, each point of AC other than from dexterity is 1 point of armor. (MR critters in T&T usually don't get armor.)
Spells: wing it. T&T 7, 7.5, & D uses spite for MR Monsters
If you get character stats, the scale is the same, and they operate exactly like PCs.
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
I'd suggest the most important thing is using a system you are familiar with, as that's going to make it much easier than learning a new system while playing with modules written for another one. On the other hand if you're willing to work around that I can suggest three non-D&D systems.

1. Fantasy Age. Probably the easiest to convert, with systems including class and level that are closer to D&D than some alternatives. A reasonable amount of the work to convert monsters has been done already either in the Bestiary or on the GR forums. You won't see the high rate of power inflation you get with D&D, but IMO low-level characters are probably a little stronger than in D&D even if they don't reach the same power level at higher points.

2. Pendragon, 4th edition (because that's the edition where PC casters are developed). Not an obvious choice, of course, lacking classes and levels and with most PCs being generated as knights. There's enough versatility in the system to make this a workable choice, but I'd also recommend getting the Pendragon Pass rules from David Dunham's site for a different approach to magic.

3. Conan, the Modiphius 2d20 version. It's the least conventional of the three systems and you'd need to design most of the monsters yourself (though there are some people working on D&D conversions on the Modiphius forums). There's a lot more character archetypes covered than in Pendragon but it's not class-based and there's a lot of freedom to make a character the way you want - or to generate them randomly and have a useful character. Magic won't be as immediately powerful as in D&D so that might work against some expectations at points in the modules, but there's more scope for useful magic that in Pendragon. It does have some systems that have been called "narrative", so that might be a point against it. There's a free version on DTRPG that is worth looking through if it sounds like you might like it.
 

Wolfpack48

Explorer
This:
 
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D&D Cyclopedia would be recommend #1 for me... same rules as BX/BECMI (with a few important wording changes.)
Monster blocks require few or no changes. The optional rules for skills and weapon mastery are simple, but effective.
It's available via DTRPG
Hands down my favorite “real” D&D (as opposed to a retro-clone). That said, Basic Fantasy is available in print really cheap ($6.25 for book + PDF) - you could buy a copy for everyone if you’re feeling generous. It resembles B/X, but with a few AD&D features and ascending AC.
 

aramis erak

Explorer
Hands down my favorite “real” D&D (as opposed to a retro-clone). That said, Basic Fantasy is available in print really cheap ($6.25 for book + PDF) - you could buy a copy for everyone if you’re feeling generous. It resembles B/X, but with a few AD&D features and ascending AC.
I was tempted to mention that one, but it also has other issues — as in, it's more like a version of the OE boxed set contents reworked.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
D&D 5E has been disappointing me more and more, with inconsistent features and mechanics (ability checks vs saving throws vs other saving throws vs attack rolls vs whatever else there is). I also feel that more and more of my time at tables is listening to people argue about Actions vs actions, and come up with cheesy ways to cast spells while holding weapons and shields. Also, it's been three years and I still get players misunderstanding Bonus Actions. I don't know how much of this is the system's fault, but right now I'd like to look at other systems.

What do I want?

To run classic modules. I think this counts out the narrative-heavy systems (in particular Dungeon World, which I love). Perhaps I'm wrong? Let me know.

To run games longer than one-shots. In D&D 5E terms, a game that runs from levels 1 to 8.

A nero-to-hero feeling. I want the beginning characters to be better than zero-power peasants but not heroes. I want the characters to grow into the hero role.

Levels to mean things. I don't want a system where the players say, "Yay, a level up, that means I get, umm, slightly better at fighting I guess."
A free copy of Modos 2 (see signature) would help you with some of these issues:

(Expand if you're not averse to indy games)
There are two types of rolls: contests and progress. An "attack" roll is just a contest with a bonus from whichever attribute you're using to attack, plus whatever skill would apply. A defense is exactly the same thing; there are no saving throws or ACs. The hero point is a d6, but it's not exactly a different type of roll because all it does is add a bonus to a contest (and let the player make his character cooler for a minute).

No arguing about actions. There's one type: actions.

A character in full plate armor wielding a bec-de-corbin can cast spells. Why? Because why not? But the first rule is that the GM creates a campaign theme to set standards for the entire game, which might include wizards not wearing armor. The rule before that is rule zero, and well, we know how that goes.

Running classic modules: would mostly require your ability to convert a level or attack bonus into an objective difficulty. For example, if your PCs encounter a trap suitable for level 12 PCs, you'd have to decide if that trap is, say, difficult, arduous, or impossible to overcome.

Zero-to-hero: all characters, even peasants, are created the same. One exception: PCs, as heroes, get hero points to spend on heroic things. Gain levels, get more hero points.

Levels that mean things: up to the player. Each level grants another attribute point, skill point, and perk. Instead of getting slightly better at fighting, the fighter could take a Magic skill point to learn Fire 1, and shoot a fireball after every sword swing. But there is the option to become slightly better in general, too.
 
Sounds to me, that any kind of OSR game is fitting. The simple ruling-over-rules and rule-of-cool approach might seem awkward and tasking at first, but it pays out in the end aka more fun, smoother game play, less rules haggling.

The good point about the mentioned games is, that you can get either a free-without-art version to test or they are even in print for very low costs. So basically no waste of money (and it supports the efforts of the designers). Also a lot of material is available for every system by many different folks giving it a twist and basically endless options for all editions previously published.

Personally I changed for the reasons mentioned back to those old type of games - too much too keep in mind as a master and too much monster book keeping (knowing all the feats, skills and special rules becomes a drag sooner or later) just to name a few. And I hate guiding my players through the system by reminding them, that certain actions are not possible in this situation, and similar blablabla. Such things just hinder the flow of the game.

So my recommendation: Try the games mentioned by others and find out what suits you best. And don´t forget: housruling is so much easier in OSR than in most modern game systems.

It might take time to find the system you like, but be assured, the change is not so big as you might anticipate. The biggest change is for the DM, since he is the one who makes up the ruling. But those first ad hoc rulings grow over time into a fixed set of game rules, that are as reliable as any big company product. Just get your players to be cooperative and patient with you as the DM and it will work out.
 
Most of the adventures you named seemed to be ones that originally came out under 1E. I'd suggest 1E or 2E first. If you're unfamiliar with them, and/or don't want to dive that deep into house rules (which 1E in particular begs for), I'd go 3E. And since you mentioned a level range of 1-8, IF you're not overly interested in levels above that I'd suggest considering following E6 or E8 with 3E, because I believe that solves the inevitable issues with EVERY edition of D&D of getting less manageable the closer you get to double-digit levels and higher.
 

Jer

Adventurer
To run classic modules. I think this counts out the narrative-heavy systems (in particular Dungeon World, which I love). Perhaps I'm wrong? Let me know.
Everyone else is throwing various D&D variants at you but I want to focus in on this. If you love Dungeon World and your players love Dungeon World too then the question becomes "can I run the classic adventures in Dungeon World and get a satisfying experience out of them"? I think the answer to this is "yes" and if its the game you and your players want to play, you should give it a try and see if it works for you.

It should actually be pretty easy to use the classic modules as a guide for your responses to what the players want to do. The player says what they want to do, you use the write-up of the room they're exploring or the NPC they're interacting with to decide what the stakes are and what happens. If what they want to do is a move then you have them roll for it. It's pretty much exactly the way I'd run those adventures in B/X myself, except the combat system would be different and there'd be a bit more die rolling outside of combat because the DW moves are somewhat better defined than checks in B/X were. The nice thing about DW is that conversion of those adventures would be minimal - you don't really have to worry about what values saving throws have or what stats the monsters have because you can just use what DW gives you for all of that. The game was kind of created to give an old school narrative vibe without the old school mechanical vibe (for those of us who think you can separate the two).

I ran a one-shot that used Into the Unknown that way using DW to test out the system and it seemed solid enough to me - the only reason we didn't go further with it is that my table is full of people who are not fans of "theater of the mind" combat and want to play with minis on the table when they play D&D and DW doesn't really support that style of play (so we play 13A, which is a bit better at the mix between the two styles). If you are all in on "theater of the mind" and you have a group that is into it too, I would think that DW should work well for it.
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
I'm probably biased, but I would recommend Gishes & Goblins. It's mathe-mechanically similar to 5E (at least, if you divide all HP and damage numbers by 1d6), but it's specifically designed to address those areas where 5E feels clunky: saving throws, ability checks (as compared to skill checks), and the action economy.

The driving goal was actually to reduce cheese as much as possible, so you never have to worry about the counter-intuitive option being the mechanically optimal one. There's no Healing Word trick or 0hp threshold to pop up from. There's no jumping out from behind a wall in order to fire an arrow, and then hiding again before anyone can target you (unless you're a rogue, and that's your thing). You especially don't have to cheese the spellcasting components, by dropping a weapon in order to free up your hand, and then picking it up again as your free object interaction.
 
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What game system would you recommend I look at for playing classic modules (Saltmarsh, Dunwater, Keep on the Borderlands, Desert of Desolation).
The games they were originally written for? Too obvious? I'm missing something, aren't I?

D&D 5E has been disappointing me more and more, with inconsistent features and mechanics (ability checks vs saving throws vs other saving throws vs attack rolls vs whatever else there is).
D&D's been /fairly/ consistent about checks all being d20+/-mods vs DC for goin' on 20 years, now. That's an odd issue to have, especially compared to the TSR era.

I also feel that more and more of my time at tables is listening to people argue about Actions vs actions, and come up with cheesy ways to cast spells while holding weapons and shields. Also, it's been three years and I still get players misunderstanding Bonus Actions. I don't know how much of this is the system's fault, but right now I'd like to look at other systems.
Which edition of D&D are, like, /most/ familiar with? Like second nature? Don't even have to crack a book to answer any question about it?
That one.

Failing that, what's the system you're most at home running? The most enthused about running?

What do I want?
A nero-to-hero feeling. I want the beginning characters to be better than zero-power peasants but not heroes. I want the characters to grow into the hero role.
That counts out 13A, otherwise a very good game.

To run classic modules.
To run games longer than one-shots.
Levels to mean things.
Every ed and almost any clone sound like they could do those three things. But, if you run each module in it's native game, no conversions, right... ? OK, if they're from different versions, you'd convert characters between modules?

I don't want a system where the players say, "Yay, a level up, that means I get, umm, slightly better at fighting I guess."
That's D&D, if you're a fighter, prettymuch, exception of 3e, I guess, every other level you're like, ooh, a feat!
But, yeah, aside from that, I just find myself circling back to "why not run the classic modules using the classic game?" Sorry, probably not helpful.
 

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