Which retroclone to use?

edited April 2010 in Story Games
Last night I had dinner with my new neighbours, and discovered that one of them, despite being a pretty solid nerd, had never played a tabletop RPG, and that several of his friends had been bugging him to play some D&D with them. The other guys have all played before, but not in probably a decade or so, and none of them felt confident enough to run a game.

Now, I own D&D4E and also FantasyCraft (which for my money is a VASTLY superior continuation of 3E than Pathfinder) but I'm tending toward running something rules-light, so that the first session doesn't have to be all about teaching, and instead we can just throw together some characters and get adventuring. I also have a sinister motive of getting them into gaming enough that I can make them play Dogs in the Vineyard with me, since that's basically always my objective with a gaming group, so I prefer to start with something that's a little story-gamey, while still being able to say "yeah, this is D&D".

My instinct is to run Red Box Hack, but I'm wondering if that might be too far from the D&D they remember, so I come to you for suggestions.

My objectives, in order:
1) Make sure everyone has fun;
2) Get out of setup and teaching into basic play quickly;
3) Make sure the former D&Ders recognize elements of the game we are playing;
4) Subtly lay the groundwork for story-gaming.

Thanks for any leads.

Comments

  • That is a difficult set of parameters.

    We are currently playing Basic Fantasy Roleplaying, which was Clinton's suggestion based on a desire for old skool flavor and open content. It meets #1 and #3 very well.

    For #2 it is a little too old skool for comfort. Something like Barbarians of Lemuria might be a better bet.

    I categorically reject #4 as a goal. Play what is fun without ulterior motives.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarI categorically reject #4 as a goal. Play what is fun without ulterior motives.
    A fair point. Consider 4 to be "optional, if opportunity arises". A "bonus objective", if you will.
  • I say go DIY.

    If you know exactly what you want an old-school D&D game to do, and you know D&D pretty good, it's easy to just make up your own retro-clone. Which, naturally, will EXACTLY fit your groups' parameters.

    I made this version of old-school D&D for a game. I stole some art from the internet, flipped through the 1981 copy of basic D&D I had handy, threw out anything I didn't care about, and threw in some stuff I remember liking from 3E.

    Plus it was totally fun to make.
  • Just to add on to what Jason has said about Basic Fantasy, you might consider starting them out at slightly higher than first level, giving them some gear and maybe some back-story. Go easy on the random encounters- make what they do interesting and meaningful. Nothing kills newbie enthusiasm like watching your characters go into the random encounter meat-grinder over and over for hours...

    Also, to address #2, you could generate a whole pile of nameless characters (stats, classes, equipment, etc.) and let them choose whichever ones catch their interest.
  • Posted By: Brian MinterIf you know exactly what you want an old-school D&D game to do, and you know D&D pretty good, it's easy to just make up your own retro-clone
    Sadly I don't know D&D very well at all. I started playing it quite late in the AD&D2E days, and then wrestled with 3E for a while, and have spent more hours playing 4E as a tactical boardgame than as an RPG. I wouldn't know where to begin with retrocloning.
    Posted By: Steve SegedyAlso, to address #2, you could generate a whole pile of nameless characters (stats, classes, equipment, etc.) and let them choose whichever ones catch their interest.
    Hey, there's an idea! Give them a chance to get accustomed to the rules before embarking on character creation.
  • That's an awesome idea. The stuff that hung me up as a relative novice was calculating saving throws, attack bonuses, and the like - stuff that can easily be pre-calculated. When they are ready to level up, you've already got some investment and are more willing to sort it out.

    Initially skipping character generation makes Basic Fantasy Roleplaying fit #2 as well. It also gives you a chance to kick-start relationshisp and backstory.
  • I've done this several times - playing light D&D with a new group in a one-shot, that is. My solution is to explicitly discard the notion of any specific rules-set, and rather just start with something ultra-simple and add detail later. I wrote about this a few years ago... ah, here: Primitive D&D. The basic theory behind the idea of doing it yourself in play is that D&D actually does not mandate most of its mechanics insofar as the game's design goes. 85% of the stuff you can actually ignore safely while playing, which leads us to the idea of just taking the mandatory bits and reconstructing the rest through play.

    The simplest D&D from my viewpoint at right this moment is the one where you give every player a simple character sheet and ask them to roll 3d6 in order for all the abilities. After that you let them choose their character classes among Fighter, Sage (Wizard/Mage, whatever), Adventurer (Thief/Rogue, whatever) and any other character classes you might fancy for your impromptu setting. If a player asks to play a Paladin or Ranger or some such, feel free to allow them. The effect of being a specific class is that you get a bonus equal to the character's level (+1 to begin with) for anything the character might choose to try that lands solidly within the purview of the character class in question, and +½ per level for anything that's only sort of related. Have the players equip their characters by listing anything reasonable on their character sheets; if they try something that seems suspect, feel free to ask for a Charisma check or whatever to see if they've managed to wheedle the piece from somewhere. Once the characters have stats, class and equipment, start the adventure. Whenever something is uncertain, call for a d20 + ability + class bonus check against a difficulty number; 20 is the default difficulty, 25 is challenging, 30 is really hard. Advance characters on levels whenever they achieve something remarkable, or track xp if you want. In combat have the players roll against 20 (or 25 for armored or insubstantial enemies, whatever) and take any excess outcome out of the target's Constitution. For a more complex (and more pleasurable to me) take have a "first degree success" (result 20-24) cause a "scratch", a -1 to all subsequent checks, a second degree success (25-29) a "injury" for -5 and a third degree (30+) success immediate death (Constitution saves); apply those penalties to both attack checks and the defense score of 20 when the opponent attacks, so that you have a steep death spiral that keeps combats short.

    The above one paragraph has basically everything you need to begin with. The rest depends on your own tastes and the group's willingness to entertain complexity - note that I explicitly don't have rules for encumbrance, hit points, effect of weapons on fighting, magic, saving rolls or other such downers; those'll come only if you need them. For instance, you might complexify the character classes and include traditional D&D ideas by giving each character a trait per level out of a prepared GM store of neat ideas. The GM picks a trait when the character levels based on what seems appropriate to the character and his class, but the player can deny the choice and seek teachers to learn something else, instead. In chargen the same thing: the GM picks, but if you don't like it, you can start the game without a trait, and it's the GM's job to include opportunities for learning something else into the adventure. Examples of what I mean by "trait":

    Fighter: Gain hitpoints. Unlike everybody else, this character gets d6 hitpoints at the beginning of any combat. The player can spend the hitpoints to lower opposing combat check results on a 1:1 basis to avoid injury. The hitpoints are rerolled for each combat, and the character gets d6 per fighter level.
    Fighter: The character gets to attack several times per combat against lesser foes. Specifically, he gets to distribute 1+[fighter level] of attack levels against targets so that each target takes 1+[their fighter level] attack levels. For example, a 3rd level fighter could thus attack four civilians or two 1st level fighters at once. A 5th level fighter could attack one 2nd level and one 1st level fighter. If the math starts to annoy, let the GM eyeball this.

    Sage: Know spell. The character knows a specific magical spell described by the GM. Casting it takes time, resources and appropriate conditions, but is not otherwise limited. The spells are primarily defined in real descriptive terms; their effects are adjudicated into rules mechanics at the moment of use by the GM, not in advance by the rules text.
    Sage: Memorize spells. The character can bind a spell into his head so that it can be released later at a moment's notice, even in combat, the way D&D magic works. He gets one extra memory slot per sage level. Any ritual requirements have to be fulfilled at the time of memorization. The character needs to know the spells to be memorized, or needs to have their master or some such NPC perform the magic to be memorized.

    Adventurer: Know a skill. The character masters a specific skill appropriate to their background. The player gets to roll Xd20 in Ability checks and pick the highest result, where X is equal to the character's adventurer level. If this is too strong, perhaps have the rolls be sequential instead of simultaneous, or have the player arrange multiple skills into a priority list, with only the most important one getting the full bonus.
    Adventurer: Be cool. The character gets to take 10 instead of rolling in a one roll per scene. Whether success or fail, the character will look cool doing it.

    As can be seen, fighters are bad-ass in my simple D&D, while wizards need to choose between knowing a spell and being able to memorize it on the first level. I'm evil like that, but it's really up to you to decide what you want as the GM.

    More importantly, the above fast-and-loose system wins over any of the usual suspects for me because it does not require the players to pre-learn anything, and it leaves the GM with a full range of tools in developing the system to whatever direction seems necessary in play. Furthermore, I like the math and the mechanical aesthetics of the above. Perhaps the most important property here, however, is the fact that the above system is not prescriptive of the relationship between the fiction and mechanics; the GM can adjudicate and adjust as necessary in play.
  • That's pretty much brilliant Eero and really about all I'd want from D&D.
  • Non self serving me says go with Red Box Hack; it is fast, easy and leaves a bit of a story game feel.
    Self serving me says Microlite20 or one of its many hacks! It is fast and easy and has an active forum who will be all for riffing things with you.

    Seth Drebitko
    The adventure's just begun!
  • It sounds like maybe I should wait and talk to the other potential players first, and find out what kind of expectations they have. I'm sure they'd be OK if I came to the game with a pdf rulebook, but it might spook them if I just started right into something heavily "imagination-driven" like Eero is proposing (I personally love it. That would be my ideal version of D&D, for sure).

    I've also had suggestion to try Swords & Wizardry. Can people offer comparisons of BF, S&W and Microlite20?
  • Well, back in 1980, we played a lot of Melee, Wizard, and In The Labyrinth, so I recommend blending the two current retro-clones of The Fantasy Trip: Dark City Games' Legends of the Ancient World with Chris Goodwin's Warrior and Wizard. I like the skill system and simplicity of Legends, but W&W has way more breadth.

    I think these clearly answer #1, #2, and #4.

    #3: I made an version of Vancian magic that your former D&Ders may like :).

    Dark City also has a couple free solo adventures you can download which contain the rules.
  • As for 1) what do you and the other players find fun?

    I've run through a bunch of the retro clones so I have some recommendations.

    ara
  • I think Donjon would be a great pick.
  • Posted By: akooserAs for 1) what do you and the other players find fun?
    I've never met them. They are friends and coworkers of my neighbour.

    Me, I'm pretty easy to please. I like my fantasy adventure to be just-slightly-over-the-top. I like heroes to be mortal, but more awesome than normal people. Conan-level, I guess. I generally prefer to play games where the rules help build fiction, but I can't deny I love the simple "I bash the orc in the head with my mace! 3 damage!" style of play.

    All that said, these are all going to be guys in their late-20s or early-30s that played D&D in or university and nor much since. I'm going to guess that they remember the fun parts of pretending to fight trolls and discover treasure, without recalling much of the intricacy of dice-rolling and chart-referencing. So what I want to bring to the table is something that will remind them of the good stuff they remember from the old days, reintroduce them to the hobby, and have a bit of leeway for us to go off-the-rails and react to what they find fun as we play. Does that help?
  • edited April 2010
    Swords & Wizardry. It has so far found the most favour as far as I can tell of all the retro-clones for people coming back to the game or people who have heard about it and want to give it a try. It's also very open-ended. If you really want to go old school, you can try the White Box version, which is even more paired down.

    I'd go with Barbarians of Lemuria second. It would work for a group that isn't interested in the tropes of D&D (certain classes, specific spells, that sort of thing), but wants some consistent, light rules that capture the flavour of sword & sorcery fantasy roleplaying.
  • Yeah, that does help. If the players are somewhat familair with D&D I'd stick with one of the following and add in rules you find neat from other retro-clones:
    Swords and Wizardry - Core Rules
    Swords and Wizardry - White Box
    BFR has already been mentioned
    Labyrinth Lord

    Once you figure out which one you like I'd recommend using Eero's challenge based adventuring framework
    Also you can check out Eero's AP HERE to see the method in use

    Tony Dowler posted some stuff on this as well for the AW meets AD&D Here


    Hope that helps.

    ara
  • What about Questers of the Middle Realm? It's PDQ-based, sort of a light hearted homage to D&D. The rules are simpler than D&D/S&W (from what I can tell by skimming S&W) and PDQ has story hooks and what-not, so it's a good lead-in to story gaming.
  • Posted By: wburdickWhat aboutQuesters of the Middle Realm?
    I think I want to stay away from anything that isn't recognizably D&D. I don't want the players to spook.
  • Posted By: wburdickWhat aboutQuesters of the Middle Realm? It's PDQ-based, sort of a light hearted homage to D&D. The rules are simpler than D&D/S&W (from what I can tell by skimming S&W) and PDQ has story hooks and what-not, so it's a good lead-in to story gaming.
    I do agree that I don't think this game will be appropriate for the deadlytoque's situation. But Questers of the Middle Realms really looks neat! I just read the preview and it has some pretty cool setting material and a fun attitude. It's kind of like a PG-13 Metal Earth. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
  • Hey Adam,

    My current consuming fascination is Dan Boggs' reconstruction of the game rules Dave Arneson was running before ever introducing them to Gary Gygax: Dragons at Dawn.

    Lord Kilgore here is a good starting point.
    Geoffrey's review here for a look at what you missed by starting your gaming with published D&D.

    Paul
  • I'd second Dragons at Dawn as well. I don't really know how to describe it but it would be recognizable to D&D players.

    ara
  • Posted By: wburdickWell, back in 1980, we played a lot of Melee, Wizard, and In The Labyrinth, so I recommend blending the two current retro-clones of The Fantasy Trip:Dark City Games'Legends of the Ancient World with Chris Goodwin'sWarrior and Wizard. I like the skill system and simplicity of Legends, but W&W has way more breadth.
    Hummm. Can you say more about the differences between the two? I'm a sort of ex-GURPSie with an interest in simple traditional fantasy games.
  • Legends is very tiny, compared to Warrior and Wizards. The solo adventures contain the entire rules set. I like Legend's mechanics better than Warrior and Wizards'. When I ran an adventure, we used Legends as the basis, but Warrior and Wizards to flesh it out. Even so, W&W doesn't have absolutely everything that is in Advanced Wizard, so if you have access to that, you may want to use that for the "holes". I seem to remember that both Legends and W&W fixed some balance issues with some of the spells. Legends also uses staffs as the "strength batteries" that were in Advanced Wizard.
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