Greetings, in my last post I said that I would discuss the so-called “options” of later editions of D&D and how I’d emulate them via OD&D. I tried to introduce my old D&D group to Swords & Wizardry Complete but in the end they wouldn’t bite, and the group imploded there after. They thought S&WC was “Dumbed Down” or “Simplistic” 2e AD&D. They preferred 5e D&D, 3.5 D&D & Pathfinder; because of the options they gave players and mechanics to implement them. The mechanics & options in those games were so restrictive to me, but wasn’t sure why until I started looking into the OSR starting with Castles & Crusades, then Labyrinth Lord & Basic Fantasy in 2008. But even then I was too stuck in my old mentality.
Once my old group imploded I started to explore other OSR games trying to find the rule set I wanted. It wasn’t until I joined Ruins of Murkhill in February 2018 in search of Scott Anderson’s Referee Guide for his Treasure Hunters OSR game. It was via this community I was inspired to get OD&D and fell in love with it & its clone Delving Deeper by Simon J. Bull. It was also via the Ruins of Murkhill community that opened my eyes & heart to true Old School role playing & the concept of “Making Shit Up” (thanks Rob Kunst & Gronanofsymmeria for driving that into my head).
In newer editions of D&D a lot of what you can do as a character is listed on character sheets – often two or more pages of stats, racial and class abilities, plus skills and feats. Many of those feats are either skills, old racial or class abilities made general for all characters. Also many of those feats needed to be taken order to “open up” branching “Feat paths” which leads to a build mentality in players, where they can “customize” their character as it levels up.
But are they needed? Are they real options or simply restrictions on ones creativity & options in roleplay. Many of the feats & skills replaced things players were meant to roleplay in game and made into a mechanically based roll. Instead of describing something you checked your character sheet to see if you were capable of doing and also straightjacketed a referee in how they adjudicated things. Sure they could just make shit up but that could and often did lead to arguments about the “rules” and what was “allowed”.
But I said I’d discuss options so here we go:
In “Modern D&D”: You check and see if you have the required Feats to do it, compile bonuses and roll & the Referee decides if you succeed or not.
In OD&D: You simply describe what you desire to do, your referee then lets you know if it is difficult or not and the players chooses to do the action or not. If they do, they roll a d20 & the referee adjudicates the action based upon the situation.
It seems more complex but it isn’t in practice. If the enemy is larger & stronger than the character they’ll likely not succeed but can try. I’d rule that Bull Rushing a Giant or dragon is not only ill advised but likely impossible or dangerous to try. Whereas if the character was Bull Rushing an Orc or a few Goblins standing in front of him or her in a tunnel be simply a successful hit that shoves them back or off to the side maybe into a drop to one side of the tunnel. On a roll of a Natural twenty they maybe knocked prone and/or stunned.
Another example is “running towards a foe, hurdling a wall or table and striking the foe”.
In Modern D&D: You like the Bull Rush need to not only have the required feats possibly needed to perform the task but the referee must decide on the difficulty of the various actions and decide if it is possible.
In OD&D: You describe the above, the referee decides how difficult & relays that to the player & often the player than rolls maybe under their dex & if successful the player rolls their attack.
I’d rule that if the rolled a Natural One on their Dex Check they get a plus two to their attack roll. If successful in the attack and the foe survived but the player rolled a Natural Twenty I’d grant the player a second attack against the same foe. Otherwise the players turn is over and if the foe succeeds and has initiative they can fight back.
In both examples the same action is possible but in Modern D&D you first need to see if your character has the appropriate Feats and the referee decides on if you should be able to do it. You also have to toss in Tactical restrictions such as Threatened Squares and other potential mechanical restrictions the rules impose on the situation instead of just allowing the referee adjudicate based on the situation and how the character has been role played and style of campaign being played.
As you see in both examples in the Modern D&D you have two very different mentalities at play, one very tactical and where the players and referee need to micromanage every potential situation via options and mechanics. In OD&D you just need a competent ref and group of players who trust each other and would rather role play combats and other situations.
Another common complaint against OD&D & other older editions of D&D and AD&D is the lack of Class or race options. You’d be correct in OD&D, at least if you are limiting yourself to the Three Little Brown books (3LBBs) and not using the supplements. But this is not really true as in the OD&D rule book it even states Players can play anything they desire, they just need to discuss it with their referee and he/she needs to house rule ways to do so.
Say you only have OD&D’s 3LBBs and a player wanted to play a human Warrior-Mage, you can either use the Elf as a multi-class Fighter/Magic-User just minus the elfin abilities or reskin the Cleric discarding the Turn Undead ability & replace the Cleric Spells with Magic-User spells. The new Cleric based Warrior-Mage would have no spell at 1st Level & not have access to 6th Level spells a Wizard has access to. The Warrior-Mage would benefit from weapons & armor, plus spells but could be limited in combat prowess (such as no multiple attacks).
Options in OD&D are only as limited by your imagination and the competency of your referee; if you have a garbage referee just find another more competent one instead. I know often the pool of good referees and players are limited but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try or try to cultivate your referee so they’ll grow into a better ref and you as a better player. I know that I’ll strive to be the best referee for my future group deserves. I’ll see you next week with part 4 of this series of posts.