D&D General The Beating Heart of the OSR, Part 1

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
My guess is Moldvay didn't want to take up two different lines for Tolkien, and probably considered LotR an adult work, so he included The Hobbit along with it in the Adult Fantasy section.
That makes perfect sense.

Drifting back I was wondering about the animated movies and looked them up. The Hobbit and LotR released in 77 and 78. We never saw them on our home TV, but at some time in the 1980s WGN had them on semi-regular rotation because I remember seeing them at my grandparents a few times.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I'm not sure it was a great idea to run with race as class past the X book. I might have put a 4 or 8 page transition guide to AD&D in the X box instead of doing CMI (but that's probably because that's what I did instead of BECMI, and given some of the art in 1e might not have been a wise move for TSR).

So, my opinion has greatly shifted over time on this.

As a threshhold issue, I think the greatest mistake of BECMI was stretching out the levels. B/X has enough levels. More importantly, while it screwed over a few classes ... it just devastated the Thief. The B/X Thief is ... fine. The BECMI Thief is unplayable. Having a simple "C" to cap off B/X and have "domain" play would have been more than enough. IMO.

As far race-as-class (aka, archetype), it helps to remember that these aren't all the race- just the sample "adventurers" for that race. The whole point of B/X is to avoid complexity in character creation. You roll, and within 5 minutes (after you know the rules) you're adventuring. Easy. There is no mini char-gen game.

It's the distilled essence of play. I really appreciate that. If I want more complexity, I look to AD&D- I can add all the complexity I need. But when I just want to get down to the core "fun" bits, B/X might be unsurpassed.
 

bpauls

Explorer
So, my opinion has greatly shifted over time on this.

As a threshhold issue, I think the greatest mistake of BECMI was stretching out the levels. B/X has enough levels. More importantly, while it screwed over a few classes ... it just devastated the Thief. The B/X Thief is ... fine. The BECMI Thief is unplayable. Having a simple "C" to cap off B/X and have "domain" play would have been more than enough. IMO.

As far race-as-class (aka, archetype), it helps to remember that these aren't all the race- just the sample "adventurers" for that race. The whole point of B/X is to avoid complexity in character creation. You roll, and within 5 minutes (after you know the rules) you're adventuring. Easy. There is no mini char-gen game.

It's the distilled essence of play. I really appreciate that. If I want more complexity, I look to AD&D- I can add all the complexity I need. But when I just want to get down to the core "fun" bits, B/X might be unsurpassed.
Yes. It's important to remember the starting target age for B/X was 10. One of many reasons the Moldvay Basic set was so successful was because it gave pre-teens a rule-book they could read and understand in an afternoon, then immediately start playing with their friends. In the current era of complex character builds, the value of quick char gen is under-appreciated--perhaps because most newer players have never experience it.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
The B Thief is still pretty terrible. d4 HD and terrible thief skill success chances means they are flimsy and terrible at their niches. Using any weapon in a backstab is little consolation.

Well, all the TSR-era thieves (in the core rules ... absent homebrew, 3PP, or Dragon) are varying degrees of terrible. 2e comes closest to making them decent-ish.

But B/X is bad ... and then BECMI stretches the bad across too many levels, so it takes you forever to get to "almost mediocre." It takes a bad class, and makes it nigh unplayable.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
The Moldvay Thief is still pretty terrible. d4 HD and terrible thief skill success chances means they are flimsy and terrible at their niches. Using any weapon in a backstab is little consolation.
Thus Thief being a usual main target of house rules, perhaps third behind "max HP at first level" and "M-Us and Elves can add found spells to their books".

I like replacing the percentages on all the skills with the Hear Noise x-in-6 mechanic, and giving climb sheer surfaces a +2.
 

Voadam

Legend
Thus Thief being a usual main target of house rules, perhaps third behind "max HP at first level" and "M-Us and Elves can add found spells to their books".

I like replacing the percentages on all the skills with the Hear Noise x-in-6 mechanic, and giving climb sheer surfaces a +2.

I am a fan of Necrotic Gnome's B/X Rogue variant where percentage thief skills are replaced by feat like abilities.

It could use some more higher level gated abilities so that it does not fall into the diminishing return problem of taking the coolest ones first and only adding on increasingly lesser choices as you level, but overall a big conceptual improvement over standard percentage thieves in my book.
 

bpauls

Explorer
The Moldvay Thief is still pretty terrible. d4 HD and terrible thief skill success chances means they are flimsy and terrible at their niches. Using any weapon in a backstab is little consolation.
I allow B/X thieves to backstab at range, since the rules don't prohibit it--but I also remind a player who decides to play a thief that, at first level, they're basically "a backstab guy and a climb walls guy." Sort of like a B/X magic-user at first level is either a sleep caster, a magic missile caster, a charm person caster, or a read magic caster hoping to find some bangin' scrolls during the adventure.
 

bpauls

Explorer
I am a fan of Necrotic Gnome's B/X Rogue variant where percentage thief skills are replaced by feat like abilities.

It could use some more higher level gated abilities so that it does not fall into the diminishing return problem of taking the coolest ones first and only adding on increasingly lesser choices as you level, but overall a big conceptual improvement over standard percentage thieves in my book.
Thanks for the tip. I just bought a copy and will check it out!. :)
 

mach1.9pants

Adventurer
I disagree with your numbers because you include The Black Hack et al as derived from OD&D. If you look at the rules, the claim that it uses the original rules as a base is pretty farcical. It has nothing that makes it closer to OD&D than any other non race a class rules version of the time. To me it is inspired by the era, not a specific rules set (unlike OSRIC, White Box, or S&W). There is no DnD that only had human character rules, yet that is black hacks default, for example. I would personally leave it out as too generic for a specific edition.
B/X is so very close to OD&D anyway. A key feature of the box edition OD&D is d6 for hit points and damage. Black Hack doesn't have that. But if you add in supplements that do have that, and the thief, then Black Hack is missing all the other extra bits and classes that make supplement OD&D very very close to AD&D!
Nice article tho, but the lack of concrete differences between those editions makes counting very hard. But maybe this is a point you'll be getting too in part 2
 
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I am a fan of Necrotic Gnome's B/X Rogue variant where percentage thief skills are replaced by feat like abilities.

It could use some more higher level gated abilities so that it does not fall into the diminishing return problem of taking the coolest ones first and only adding on increasingly lesser choices as you level, but overall a big conceptual improvement over standard percentage thieves in my book.
Their carcass crawler zine (issue 1) has optional rules for thief skills. Basically, all skills are converted into 1 in 6 chance, and then the thief gets points at 1st level and after to increase skills up to a max of 5 in 6.
 

teitan

Legend
I think DCC handles race as class better in that it doesn't leave the Halfling and Dwarf in a lurch as basically short fighter and weak fighter. The Halfling is a luck magnet that can spend, share and regenerate luck while other characters, except their roguey class, spend luck and hope they have a nice DM to give them some as a reward at the end of the adventure. Dwarves are the sword and board warrior, little bastiches with axes bashing people in the face and pulling off amazing stunts. The Rogue is also not the useless class of B/X/BECMI. He's effective even at low levels but not overtly so.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I think DCC handles race as class better in that it doesn't leave the Halfling and Dwarf in a lurch as basically short fighter and weak fighter. The Halfling is a luck magnet that can spend, share and regenerate luck while other characters, except their roguey class, spend luck and hope they have a nice DM to give them some as a reward at the end of the adventure. Dwarves are the sword and board warrior, little bastiches with axes bashing people in the face and pulling off amazing stunts. The Rogue is also not the useless class of B/X/BECMI. He's effective even at low levels but not overtly so.
I do think that DCC Halflings and Dwarves are neat, but the B/X ones are in no way weak. The level caps are the classes' only real downsides, and with Dwarves going up to 12th, that'll rarely come up for them.

The Halfling is functionally a Ranger class, and in most ways the Dwarf is just a better Fighter. It gets slightly slower advancement in trade for infravision, massively improved Saves, a pile of languages, and a couple of other useful special abilities. The weapon restrictions are trivial.
 

bpauls

Explorer
Ironically, I believe Sword and Wizardry originally WAS NOT based on OD&D despite it claiming that initially. I downloaded it early on and found that it was, in fact, based upon either B/X or BECMI which led me to send a scathing note to them and several comments elsewhere about how it was based upon something OTHER than OD&D.
I had no idea that was the history of S&W. Thanks for enlightening me!

I added the text of the article to the OP. :)
 

bpauls

Explorer
I disagree with your numbers because you include The Black Hack et al as derived from OD&D. If you look at the rules, the claim that it uses the original rules as a base is pretty farcical. It has nothing that makes it closer to OD&D than any other non race a class rules version of the time. To me it is inspired by the era, not a specific rules set (unlike OSRIC, White Box, or S&W). There is no DnD that only had human character rules, yet that is black hacks default, for example. I would personally leave it out as too generic for a specific edition.
Thank you for your reply!

What does and doesn't qualify as OSR at this point is highly subjective, which just goes to show how successful it has been. Like the GPL on which it's based, the OGL was the fountainhead of products that wouldn't exist without it--some very different from their source material. It's probably a discussion that's outside my wheelhouse, as I want to focus primarily on B/X, but your's isn't the only response I've received questioning the use of The Black Hack as a link back to 0D&D. That topic does touch on some thoughts I have regarding B/X, and do I expect to touch on it in Part 2. :)
 

mach1.9pants

Adventurer
Thank you for your reply!

What does and doesn't qualify as OSR at this point is highly subjective, which just goes to show how successful it has been. Like the GPL on which it's based, the OGL was the fountainhead of products that wouldn't exist without it--some very different from their source material. It's probably a discussion that's outside my wheelhouse, as I want to focus primarily on B/X, but your's isn't the only response I've received questioning the use of The Black Hack as a link back to 0D&D. That topic does touch on some thoughts I have regarding B/X, and do I expect to touch on it in Part 2. :)
The Black Hack is certainly OSR feels, like things like Torchbearer. Trying to get the play/feels of old school games, without the same rules. But I really can’t see how it is OD&D, it’s very much just ‘that era’ rather than ‘that specific ruleset’
Looking forward to part 2!
 

I always assumed OSR was anything before 3rd edition--people wanting to play 3rd just play Pathfinder.

I think it probably is the 'basic' thing--if you want to go rules-lite B/X has the shortest rulebooks apart from OD&D, which is much less polished. Makes it easy to learn and fits the 'rulings not rules' philosophy.

I never liked race-as-class--feels a bit too stereotypical for me--but I did like how Adventurer, Conqueror, King had different classes for different races, reflecting the different cultures' approaches to magic, fighting, etc. (Of course theoretically a race should have multiple cultures, but then the book starts getting too thick I guess...)
 

Egon Spengler

"We eat gods for breakfast!"
I had no idea that was the history of S&W. Thanks for enlightening me!

I have no idea what GreyLord is talking about. The first printing of S&W is very clearly based on LBB D&D. The "white box" edition retains the d6 hit die progressions for all classes, while "Core" and "Complete" use Greyhawk (not B/X) hit dice (just to cite one example). There's an elf class given in the "white box" edition, but (like all the house rules in S&W) it's clearly labeled a "variant" and an alternative to the original rule (FM up to 4th/MU up to 8th).
 

GreyLord

Legend
I have no idea what GreyLord is talking about. The first printing of S&W is very clearly based on LBB D&D. The "white box" edition retains the d6 hit die progressions for all classes, while "Core" and "Complete" use Greyhawk (not B/X) hit dice (just to cite one example). There's an elf class given in the "white box" edition, but (like all the house rules in S&W) it's clearly labeled a "variant" and an alternative to the original rule (FM up to 4th/MU up to 8th).
The one I downloaded years ago was ABSOLUTELY based on B/X or BECMI. The creator obviously THOUGHT they were creating it off of OD&D or what they THOUGHT was OD&D, but it was not. It had race as class for starters.

I raised a fit about it.

I'm not sure if my statement was what changed it, or what happened, but it DID change. The white box today is NOT the original that was released originally.

They weren't the only ones, if I recall, but others changed what they stated while S&W changed the game and pretended it was like that all along. IT IS now like what it claims, but originally, I WAS MIFFED when I downloaded what I thought was an OD&D claim and it was anything BUT that. That original feeling actually sort of irritates me to this day with S&W because there's never been any apologies or anything to those of us who got caught in that.

IF OD&D has more OSR games based on it, it COULD be that some of them were the miffed downloaders of the original S&W who WANTED an OD&D clone but got something other than that (no evidence that this is the case, but it would not surprise me).

NOW, S&W is probably one of the bigger OSR games that IS based off of OD&D though.

PS: NOW some say that the original download was different, NOT because it was not based on OD&D, but due to many houserules they added in and put into it rather than keeping it true to the original. IT MAY BE that this is true and what drove me to think it was based on something different, because the way they had put items into it and houseruled items MADE IT APPEAR more as a BX or BECMI document than an OD&D document.

A prime example is the elf variant where you have the elf advance as a fighter and magic-user (like BX or BECMI) at the same time. Others that came out would be other variations that made it closer to BX than OD&D. it was an odd mix that definitely did NOT ring the OD&D bell for me. I HEAR it has changed to be more representative of OD&D these days (I admit, I was so upset with the initial d/l that long time ago that I've never downloaded S&W again), which I accept. I just didn't like it giving that false sense of being based on OD&D when it had so many differences that seemed to me more akin to BX or BECMI than OD&D.

If the original document reminded me of BX, the CORE RULES seemed they were absolutely based on BX or BECMI. They had Elf as class, Dwarf as class and various other BX or BECMI isms. It seemed blatant...BUT, I have read that some claim that it was only houserules (houserules that were suspiciously a LOT like BX or BECMI) that the makers had added in to S&W early on.
 
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teitan

Legend
I had no idea that was the history of S&W. Thanks for enlightening me!

I added the text of the article to the OP. :)
My copy of Swords & Wizardry core is pretty 0e, even my old pdf from when it first launched, I have compared it and it has some house rules. No thief, no race as class, outside of the elf variant. It lines up very much with 0e without supplements. I think it's more surprising how similar B/X is with 0e and AD&D than it being based on B/X. The variation is Thac0 was a B/X innovation adopted by AD&D later but was a common house rule before it was part of B/X anyway. The similarities in S&W with B/X are a result of the SRD and what one could legally do in those restriction. My understanding is that it was built off of OSRIC as Matt Finch was an author on OSRIC as well as S&W.
 

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