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OD&D Since we have all those threads about old editions- Moldvay/Cook.

Gorg

Explorer
Yes, I suck at thread titles...

Anyhow, since I was reminded of it, I thought I'd read through the old Basic and Expert rulebooks. Which gave me an idea or two. It got me thinking about our old house rules, and how I'd approach it a bit differently if that game were to come out now. Sort of blend in a few extra Character options, while maintaining the original feel and simplicity.

The question is: For those of you who are ancient enough to have actually played this, what combo of optional rules and house rules did you use at your tables? (and yes, I AM that old...)

Our OG house rules as far as I can remember 40 years later:

1) Variable weapon damage option.

2) We did away with racial level limitations entirely. Afair, we extrapolated the required XP for additional levels beyond those in the charts. As I recall, it was appx 10k more xp per level for an Elf vs a single classed fighter, due to the dual classes. We found the significant lag in level vs humans more than made up for the extra class options, and single classed human characters were still the most popular amongst the players.

Other than that, we mostly played it strait. We also allowed 1's on ability score and HP rolls to be re-rolled.

As for what I'd do now,

Character creation: Ability scores: 4d6 6 times, and arrange to taste.

max hp at first level.

High Constitution always boosts HP, regardless of class.

This is to address the often excessive mortality rate of low level characters.

Classes

Give humans some sort of special ability along the lines of those given to Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings. Like an ability score bonus, and a bonus to earned xp (like give them the bonus for a high prime requisite baked right in. This way they'd still advance faster than their demi-human compatriots.)

Halflings: Can choose to be a fighter or a thief.

Dwarves. Can be a fighter or a cleric. (as Moradin and his pantheon play such a big role in Dwarven society, this just makes sense.)

Elves. can choose the standard Elf class OR advance as a single classed magic-user.

ALL classes can advance to 36th level.

I'd also consider giving magic-users proficiency in light crossbows or something. Just to give them some ability to contribute to a fight or dungeon crawl after they use their one freaking spell at first level. OR, maybe use the bonus spell rules for high intelligence from AD&D. This would also apply to clerics- so a first level cleric with a high enough Wisdom score would get a bonus 1st level spell at first level. Again, the mortality issue. Having access to a cure light wounds at first level could help!

This, of course, is for the style of game our group typically plays- with the emphasis on the adventure, exploration, and monster mashing aspects of the game, rather than the political intrigue or in town type stuff. I know the character development and ROLEplaying types would probably not like our games as much, but hey- they made us happy.
 

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Jack Daniel

Engines & Empires
Well since I just wrote about this very topic over on Dragonsfoot, I s'pose I can just copy–paste what I wrote over there. :D

Jack Daniel said:
The last time I ran a Classic D&D campaign (a Barrowmaze campaign set in the Kelvin Moor region of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos), I noticed a curious phenomenon: my house rules started falling away, one by one, as the months went by. The campaign lasted a little over twenty months, and by the end of it, I had fewer house rules than I'd started with. Which is an unusual reversal of the ordinary course of events for me.

I recently decided to collate what remained, and I found to my surprise and delight that everything fit on a single sheet of paper! (Front and back, but still…)

The few things that I still couldn't stand to do by the book included thieves with percentile skills, level-draining undead, and five saving throw categories. And, sure, there are a few other, minor tweaks here and there; but those items, plus the inclusion of a fourth demihuman character class (the orc) are the big ones.

The saving throw categories are just a matter of personal and aesthetic preference, I guess. I'd rather have one number on the character sheet than five mostly arbitrary categories. I'm well aware of the fact that poison and death saves are supposed to be a little easier for characters to make and spell and breath saves a little harder, but in practice, I've never noticed the simplification to meaningfully affect the game. One save number just makes life easier for me when I'm reffing.

Level-draining undead are just no fun in D&D, and I'll die on that hill. Never mind the volumes of theory and exegesis on the matter filling the OSR blogs. Yes, it's an "associated mechanic," and yes, losing a level may be better than dying. I don't care. I'd rather have my undead imitate their literary and cinematic sources than serve as a vehicle for a single game mechanic that nobody likes. I'll leave level drain to my AD&D campaigns, thank you very much.

And then we come to thieves… and this is just heartbreaking to me, because I dearly love thieves as an archetype. And yet, because of the thief skill mechanics, I've been playing D&D entirely without a thief class for decades. I have always heretofore replaced it with a generic rogue or expert class and allowed all thieving skills to be handled through a general skill mechanic that any character of any class can access. What that does, of course, is to allow any character who wants to be a sneak or a pickpocket or a burglar to study that on the side, and so instead of a strong thief archetype, you wind up with a game where most everybody learns how to sneak and search (because those skills are universally valuable), and maybe one or two characters specialize in lockpicking or trap-disarming, but nobody plays a genuinely archetypical thief. On top of that, the skills always remain "mundane"—there are no provisions for foiling magical locks and traps, hiding in plain sight of a crowd, scaling sheer overhangs, or any of the things you'd expect that a high-level master thief should be capable of.

So I decided to fix that, and I did so by entirely re-writing the mechanics for thieving skills in a way that was more satisfying to me, because I could scale it from the mundane to the mythical without difficulty.

Anyhow, this introduction has gone on long enough. Without further preamble, here are:

• My D&D House Rules Document (as distinct from the one I'm using for AD&D)
• An article explaining the design intent behind my redesign of the thief
• And finally, a collected booklet of attack and save tables which converts all d20 rolls to a "roll-under" method (which I consider to be less of a house rule and more of a "table convention," as none of the math actually changes).
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Is OSE topical, or are we limiting discussion to the original B/X? Sadly, the original was before my time. I grew up in the ’80s, but I was more into video games (though we did play HeroQuest).
 

thirdkingdom

Explorer
Note that racial level limits are used to massage the XP requirements to their given levels. Each restricted level reduces the base XP needed (to go from 1st to 2nd) by roughly 200 XP. Rather than being arbitrary they do serve a purpose.
 

Jack Daniel

Engines & Empires
Note that racial level limits are used to massage the XP requirements to their given levels. Each restricted level reduces the base XP needed (to go from 1st to 2nd) by roughly 200 XP. Rather than being arbitrary they do serve a purpose.

I don't think that tracks. The racial level limits for dwarves and halflings at least are clearly just doubled from the white box. Hobbits could originally make 4th level as fighting men and dwarves could make 6th, so those limits were doubled to 8th and 12th in B/X. (Elves are less of a certainty since they could become 4th/8th fighting men/magic-users, but their new limit was probably pegged at 10th because it looked aesthetically pleasing to have the elf neatly split the difference between the halfling's limit and the dwarf's.)

The XP requirements, meanwhile, are pretty clearly derived from the classes themselves, unrelated to their level limits: dwarves are fighters with benefits, so they advance as fighters with a +10% bump in required XP; halflings are fighters with benefits but also a reduced hit die to balance them out, so they just advance like the fighters they are; and elves advance one level behind a fighter because that approximates AD&D-style multi-classing without making things complicated.
 
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thirdkingdom

Explorer
I don't think that tracks. The racial level limits for dwarves and halflings at least are clearly just doubled from the white box. Hobbits could originally make 4th level as fighting men and dwarves could make 6th, so those limits were doubled to 8th and 12th in B/X. (Elves are less of a certainty since they could become 4th/8th fighting men/magic-users, but their new limit was probably pegged at 10th because it looked aesthetically pleasing to have the elf neatly split the difference between the halfling's limit and the dwarf's.)

The XP requirements, meanwhile, are pretty clearly derived from the classes themselves, unrelated to their level limits: dwarves are fighters with benefits, so they advance as fighters with a +10% bump in required XP; halflings are fighters with benefits but also a reduced hit die to balance them out, so they just advance like the fighters they are; and elves advance one level behind a fighter because that approximates AD&D-style multi-classing without making things complicated.

I'm not sure if the math was ever done originally when XP classes were calculated -- in fact, I'm pretty sure it wasn't -- but I reverse engineered all the classes in OSE Core and the Advanced Character Guide when I was writing my book Classing up the Joint, a Guide to New Class Creation in OSR Games, and accepting that level limiting classes results in a XP reduction track very closely with the demi-human classes, with the exception of elf, which is waaaay overpowered for it's XP requirements. I'd have to dig up my notes, but even with the elf level limits their actual base XP requirement should be somewhere in the 5,000-6,000, not the given 4,000.
 

Voadam

Legend
I always used the variant damage but that is the only thing I remember being different from the base.

Maybe ignoring morale rolls and just roleplaying monsters and not really using reaction rolls?
 


Voadam

Legend
When I have thought of how I would do things now the house rules I would consider would be:

More starting hp, maybe +5 for everybody.

Give Magic-Users a cantrip at will attack with an attack roll to do 1 hp damage. Much more flavorful than a 3e style crossbow or B/X throwing daggers. Possibly a cantrip daze type effect to impose a -2 on attacks in the next round.

B/X Rogue feat type options instead of thief skills.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
I know ACKS' Player Companion used restricted levels as a way to balance classes that had high XP multipliers or stronger racial abilities.
 

Gorg

Explorer
Is OSE topical, or are we limiting discussion to the original B/X? Sadly, the original was before my time. I grew up in the ’80s, but I was more into video games (though we did play HeroQuest).
BECMI is essentially the same game, just re-edited and with the promised companion rules, plus masters, and immortals rules added. So, yeah they're included. (including Rules Cyclopedia, too!) I'm not familiar with any of the third party rewrites.
 

Voadam

Legend
BECMI is essentially the same game, just re-edited and with the promised companion rules, plus masters, and immortals rules added. So, yeah they're included. (including Rules Cyclopedia, too!) I'm not familiar with any of the third party rewrites.
For third party stuff:

Labyrinth Lord (LL) and Old School Essentials (OSE) are basically retro clones with add on supplements to redo AD&D options in a basic format power baseline and a lot of support products (Labyrinth Lord in particular has tons of modules).

Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS), Basic Fantasy, Beyond the Wall, Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP), and Scarlet Heroes are basically systems very compatible with Basic D&D. There are others too.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
BECMI is essentially the same game, just re-edited and with the promised companion rules, plus masters, and immortals rules added. So, yeah they're included. (including Rules Cyclopedia, too!) I'm not familiar with any of the third party rewrites.
Cool. @Voadam covered the different retroclones. We’re coming to OSE from newer editions of D&D, so some our house rules reflect that experience.
  • Separate classes and races. OSE has an optional rule in its advanced fantasy genre rules that separates race from class. I use a homebrew setting with none of the traditional races, so this was table stakes. I’ve converted my homebrew races over to OSE. I like the power level of basic. There are differences between the races, but they aren’t extremely.
  • No racial level limitations or class restrictions. Given the way my setting works, it doesn’t make sense to have restrictions. I’m also too lazy to figure those out even if it did.
  • Ascending armor class. Everyone’s used to ascending armor class from playing 3e and newer editions, but I’ve also coupled it with the combat matrix (e.g., see my custom character sheet). The math is slightly different in certain edge cases with AAC (and THAC0) compared to the combat matrix, but this hybrid approach fixes that.
  • Variable weapon damage. We’re used to this, so it was a given. There have been some house rules I’ve seen with using d6s depending on fighting style (two-handed weapons = highest of 2d6, etc), but variable weapon damage is already in the book, and we’re used to it.
  • Other advanced options. We’re also using a few of the other advanced options OSE ported over from AD&D: combat options, wizards can use staves, multiclassing, extra classes. As a rule of thumb, I avoided anything (other than the raise dead restrictions) that added restrictions to classes (like the magic-user spellbook stuff or the changes to turning).
  • Character creation. We ported over a method we used in Pathfinder. Instead of rolling dice, we draw cards. We shuffle a deck of cards (334455677899) and deal out two cards for each ability score in order. My players like this approach because it feels fair compared to rolling. Characters come out somewhere between 3d6 and 4d6 drop lowest in terms of power. We’re also using a modified version of this approach to pick out gear because people spend way too much time trying to figure out what they want (and miss out on things they should have).
  • Rolling hit points. Characters get max hit points at 1st level. When they level up, they can choose between taking the average (rounded down) or rolling for hit points. This is another house rule I ported over from Pathfinder 1e. Surprisingly, more people than not choose to roll for hit points.
For the most part, I want to keep things as close to the original game as possible (while diverging in a few places I feel are important). We’re new to the game and still learning, but I also don’t want a lot of additional complexity. For me (as the referee), that’s the appeal. Too much extra stuff just creates problems.
 

thirdkingdom

Explorer
I always used the variant damage but that is the only thing I remember being different from the base.

Maybe ignoring morale rolls and just roleplaying monsters and not really using reaction rolls?

In my opiniot morale and reaction rolls really define OSR play more than anything else, and B/X play in particular, almost as much as retainers. It makes Charisma more than just a dump stat.

For hit points I use a system where all Hit Dice are rerolled at each level. If the new result is higher if it used, if the old result is higher the old total is used, adding one to the total.

Example. A fighter has 1d8 hp at 1st level. They roll and get a 5. At second level they have 2 HD, so roll 2d8, and get a 10. This is their new hp total. At 3rd level they roll 3d8 and roll low, getting a 9. Their new total is 11 (10+1). At 4th level they roll 4d8, etc.

I also give PCs the option of spending a week carousing once per level to reroll their hp as per the above method.
 


cavalier973

Explorer
My 1st house rule is roll 2d6+6, in order, for Ability Scores when creating a character.

#2 has been "for 2 handed melee weapons and crossbows, roll 2d6 and pick the higher number for damage". Since I recently purchased the Rules Cyclopedia, though, I want to implement the "Weapon Mastery" rules.

For thieves with a DEX bonus, use the higher row corresponding to the bonus. A level 1 thief with a +2 DEX bonus would use the level 3 thief skills row.

Magic users and elves get "Read Magic" + one other spell at first level.
 

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