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This will be mostly of interest to my gaming group, it's an email I'm reposting here for archival purposes. People are free to comment regardless, I'm open to input.

The next campaign will be using a mix of the Basic Fantasy and Dark Dungeons retro-clones which together do a fine job of emulating the BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia D&D feel that I'm going for. I'm planning on starting it off with Keep on the Borderlands, and from there expand into other Mystara stuff, although I'm sure I'll also be inventing my own material and cribbing from other sources like A Pirate's Guide to Freeport. No rush on that, however, as Keep on the Borderlands is a pretty full campaign in its own right. I was also considering running it with Tunnels & Trolls, but while I love me some T&T, converting the Keep would be a bit more involved, and T&T, while old school, has a different feel to it than old school D&D, which is more what I'm interested in running at the moment. I'm now going to lay out what changes I will make to the Basic D&D rules in this campaign:

Basic Fantasy already has certain options built in like a separation of races (dwarf, elf, halfling and human) and classes (cleric, fighter, mage, thief). It also uses ascending AC. I'm mostly indifferent to whether we use ascending or descending AC. If I have a preference, it's for descending AC, simply because that's what is already used in The Keep and the other modules in my possession, but if the majority wants ascending AC, that's fine, it should be trivial to convert THAC0 to ascending AC.

We'll also need to decide if we want to use Basic Fantasy's simpler combat, or the slightly more involved one in Dark Dungeons, as it uses the optional weapon proficiency system from the Rules Cyclopedia as the default system.

I'm definitely going to keep the race/class separation, as it allows for a little more variety. The only restriction is that dwarves and halflings can't be mages, but the other classes are open. Also, humans and elves can combine fighter and mage if they want to go through the trouble of doing so and are willing to pay the combined XP costs of both classes.

If people want to play druids or monks (mystics, in the terminology used in the book), we can probably work something out, but both of those are pretty rare in the setting, being fairly specialized, and I'm trying to keep it as simple as possible. As far as I'm concerned, both of those can probably be settled narratively with the roleplaying itself, rather than crufting it out mechanically (druid being an elven cleric, a monk being a specialized thief, that kind of thing).

The whole reason I'm enamored of this kind of old school game is that the rules are pretty simple overall, and one can wing all the fancy stuff that later iterations seemed to have the need to quantify and codify into millions of feats and thousands of fiddly little rules for every situation. If there is an actual benefit in play, such as the added flexibility of my alternate magical system below, great. If it can be hand-waved mechanically with little impact, I'd prefer to do so.

XP progression: The demi-humans get various special abilities and bonuses, humans don't get those but do get a 10% bonus to XP earned via the Basic Fantasy book, so that's different enough that I'm fine with just figuring level progression by class. I will, however, be using the DD XP progression charts for the expedient reason that they're not a whole lot different (slight variations between clerics and thieves, fighters and mages are identical), and the DD chart goes to level 36, whereas the BF one goes to 20. Also, I will be using 1GP=1XP, with the understanding that the XP for gold doesn't kick in until the gold is stowed safely post- adventure, not as soon as one obtains it. The XP from gold is also the only XP that human characters will NOT get the 10% bonus on, everyone shares in the loot the way that the party decides to divvy it up.

The biggest change to the rules as written is that I will discard the asinine Vancian spell memorization scheme and replace it with an alternate mana system. In terms of actual spell availability, it will roughly correspond to the spell level slots in the regular system, I will just assign a certain mana cost per level, and let the mages or clerics decide how they want to spend them. The mages will still need to learn the spells they want to be able to cast individually, whereas the clerics will have them granted by their associated deities (meaning that they'll have more available as a rule), but since they won't need to be memorized or pre-cast and the mage spells tend to have more combat utility, I don't see this as a major problem. For the mages, when they level up, they'll be able to channel more mana and learn more spells roughly equivalent to the old default slot system, and those spells will come as part of the leveling process. The mages will be free to learn additional spells at other times, they'll just have to lay out the cash to do so. The clerics' corresponding mana-channeling (or however we justify the ability in game) will also go up as they level, they just won't be able to add to their repertoire of spells beyond what their deities are willing to give.

For example, under the old system, a 1st level mage could cast 1 first level spell at 1st level, 2 first level spells at 2nd level, 2 first and 1 second level spell at 3rd level, etc. Under the new system, what are now known as first level spells would cost 1 mana, second level spells 2 mana, and therefore instead of futzing around with slots, a mage gets 1 mana at first level, 2 mana at second level, 4 mana at third level, etc. This has the nice side effect of reducing the confusion between character level and spell level, as the spells will just have a mana cost to worry about, and the mage is free to spend his mana how he wishes. The clerics have a different progression, but it will convert the same way.

The other reason for my choosing to use Basic Fantasy and Dark Dungeons is that they are both completely free to download, and if one does choose to purchase a hardcopy of them, they are priced at cost, the creators have provided these as a labor of love, and have no desire or need to make money off of them, so they are very affordable. Here are the links:

Basic Fantasy site with downloads:

Dark Dungeons site with downloads:

I own them both in hardcover, but I'm a collector. B-)
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November 2012

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