Thursday, October 21, 2010

Behind The Screen Part 1: Rules and Supplements

I always love to see how other DMs operate; what charts they use?, do they use minis? what kind of houserules are being used? It's always insightful to see someone else's tools and techniques. The one great thing about blogging and the 'OSR' is that many people share their experiences, sessions, methods, etc. with ideas and creativity running rampant!

So I thought I'd share some of my methods and tools in running my sandbox campaign that we've been running for a year now.

So I'll start at the beginning with the foundation of any game, the rules.

I chose to go with Swords & Wizardry core rules as my foundation. I could've gone with Holmes' Blue Book or Moldvay's Red but I went with S&W because I liked the openness of the rules as well as the 'newness' and availability of the rules/product (a plus to using the retro-clones). I felt that, right or wrong, I might be able to find players to join in a session or two if the game wasn't grounded in the past; if it seemed like something new. As it turned out I had no problem finding players, in fact, the group has kept growing until there are now nine of us.

Let's face it, the rules for all 3 versions that I mentioned are pretty much the same with only minor variations between them. Subtle variations yet enough to give the games a different feel from each other. Moldvay has a clear and unambiguous description of the rules but, IMO, leaves the PCs stronger than I was looking for. Holmes and S&W, on the other hand, are a bit more rough on the PCs and pulpy in terms of that subtle nature called atmosphere. A pretty good match to 'cut and paste'.

Swords & Wizardry is quite open in it's rules, very much a broad-stroke that begs for the DM and the players to fill in some of the blanks. Not as much as OD&D mind you but, nonetheless, some thought needs to be put into it. Since I've been a huge fan of Holmes' version of the game, I used that as a starting point to help fill in the blanks, so to speak.

From there I sprinkled in some Labyrinth Lord & LL Advanced Edition, a little Basic Fantasy RPG plus a number of ideas from the Swords & Wizardry site itself and other blogs and forums. I put all these additions together into a type of Player's Handbook of the House-Rules.

Along with the Player's Handbook for the House-Rules, I also put together two reference spell books, one for Magic-users and the other for Clerics and Druids. These are quick reference guide for various spells that the players use as well as I. These are available as a free pdf download from Lulu or a pay for print version from Lulu as well and are digest sized. A perfect fit for the already cluttered table.

To round things out, I use the S&W Monster Compendium.

So on any given night, I have out on the table, the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules, the Player's House-rule Handbook, The Book of Wizardry and the Book of the Divine, as well as the Monster Compendium. I also keep a version of Labyrinth Lord around just for quick reference on some odd rule that may need a quick judgment on.

And speaking of rule judgments, I don't hesitate to discuss tweaking rules with the players if it comes up. Usually we get to a pretty good consensus quickly without any delays in gameplay or arguments. After all, S&W is a rules-lite system and we mostly just want to have a good time having adventures and killing things. As you can see from our recaps, I think we have succeeded pretty well.

Next, I'll chat about every DM's crutch, the DM Screen.


  1. Hey Bliss - Sounds like you guys have a lot of fun.

    I'm looking forward to your upcoming post on DM screens.

  2. Well, my preference is no charts, no minis, no screen. It's nice to have a whiteboard to sketch out an area, but beyond that I'll go with the players' descriptions of what they're doing and keep it fast 'n' loose.

  3. @Whisk - is that interest in possibly running a game I hear in your post? ; )

    @Dave - Yeah, I've become less reliant on the screen and now a days it seems to be more of a hindrance. I'll talk more about it in my next post. Fast n'loose is definitely a good way to go.

  4. Hey Bliss -

    Good question, I dunno if I would run one. I've helped Tim work on his adventures, and that was a lot of fun, writing-wise.

    I see these games similar to the fiction I write for kids. In sense of adventures, monsters, characters and zombies. I

    We're taking our Halloween vacation soon (10 days, woohoo), so I'm hoping Tim will run a game for me and I'll get to kill some zombies, with my very own pretty pink dice.

    Thanks for your post. I enjoy your blog. Happy Gaming :-)

  5. I don't DM anymore and only play in 3e games... due mostly to my own inertia, my fellow player's reluctance to play anything pre-3e, etc. I was playing in a game running "Dragon Age" but dropped out of that due to other commitments. I also had diminishing enthusiasm for learning another game, so I don't miss Dragon Age (although I miss the players).

    If I did run something(and I could get players who wanted to play something besides 3e), I would use Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry (probably LL only because I have the books) along with lots of house rules borrowed from my own head and every other game I have played in a gonzo Arduin-meets-Hackmaster style with critical hits, noses, hands, feet and genitals getting chopped off, eyes getting gouged out, etc., and horror movie goodness.

  6. You should get a game going 'cause it sounds like it'll be a blast! PC body parts getting chopped off is the best!

  7. I sometimes use a screen, but not consistently. One of my current player's is big into minatures, so now we use 'em, but in most of my gaming career I didn't. I tend to use a lot of pdf books these days, so I typically have my laptop.

  8. I wish I could check out the House Rules but the link is dead. Alas I am three years too late.