Tuesday, February 01, 2011

[Heroes of Karameikos] 4e Feel, 1e Rules -- It's George Strayton's Fault

I have been haunting the blogs of various members of the Old School Renaissance gaming community for some time now. Some of the ideas coming from that community are quite inspiring to the role playing game fan and I heartily recommend that you hunt down several of the many blogs devoted to the OSR movement. Start over at Grognardia as he has a wonderful collection of links to OSR sights and is a consistently good blogger on topics gaming and pulp related. Up until yesterday my interest in OSR gaming has been primarily as a consumer. I own the "Swords and Wizardry White Box," "Lamentations of the Flame Princess," and the "B/X Companion" in print and several other titles as pdfs, and have enjoyed reading them. Reading the works of these creators created a small spark in the back of my imagination, but that spark had no kindling to feed it into a flame.

That kindling came from reading George Strayton's excellent "Legends & Labyrinths" blog. Unlike many OSR gamers, and I'm not sure George would consider himself completely OSR, Strayton's blog wasn't devoted to using the OGL to create a re-envisioned version of the D&D of old with "old school mechanics." Those blogs often, though not always, have a certain disdain for 4th edition D&D in general and a special ire for D&D Essentials. Strayton's blog was a sharp contrast to the typical older edition nostalgia blog. His blog was dedicated to playing 1st edition style games where death is around every corner and adventurers aren't necessarily "heroic" using the 4th edition D&D rules set. His particular recommendation was to use Essentials as the basis, and his house rules as a modification to that core rules set. Most of his house rules are excellent and are finding their way into my regular 4e game.

He also inspired me to try to get my group to play Moldvay/Cook Basic D&D again. The group's session wasn't quite what I had hoped it would be. I measure the quality of a game session by how much fun the players have in a session, and one player felt particularly hopeless during the very first encounter. It wasn't a good start, and I blogged about that yesterday, but it did turn out fun for me as the adventure continued -- and I hope the group enjoyed it as well. The experience made me realize what I really like about M/C Basic and what I really like about 4e.

I love the archetype driven nature of M/C and its quick and easy mechanics, but I don't like its almost capricious lethality. Characters can die at a moments notice. While this is fine for a horror game, I don't like that in a High Fantasy game. My favorite D&D setting, Mystara, can in no way be considered anything other than High Fantasy and a capricious lethality seems out of character for the setting.

What I enjoy about 4e is the clarity of the rules set, how the actions of one player interact with the other characters in the game. The rules reward and encourage team play. The game also allows players to feel heroic, while still feeling at peril during combat. I have considered using Robin Laws' mark up system in Hamlet's Hit Points to highlight how 4e combats nicely follow plot beats, but others have already touched on the topic. What I don't like about 4e is the tremendous number of powers, feats, and magic items. Yes, they allow for creativity, but they also create so many combinations that a player can become lost examining the puzzle pieces and never get around to actually playing the game.

I've decided to take my love for these two systems and post my own modified rules set temporarily called Heroes of Karameikos. The house rules will be based on the Moldvay/Cook rules sets, but they will incorporate some of what I like from 4e. In a twist on the traditional "old school" line "New edition rules, old edition feel," my game rules will be "Old edition rules with a new edition feel." I'll try to post at least one Heroes of Karameikos update a week starting with character generation and moving on to each of the classes. For those of you wondering...

Yes Elf will be a Class!


Eric Lytle said...

Considering that three of your players have also played in George's 4E game with his house rules in effect this is hardly difficult for us to pick up.

Robert Saint John said...

What a great idea! I think I've been subconsciously doing something similar, but it'll be great to see someone formalize it. Consider me subscribed to both this and George's blog (which I had no idea existed, more thanks!)

Chuck said...

That is a fantastic idea. 4E just didn't quite do it form but I do admit that 4E has some good ideas.

Arkhein said...

I enjoyed your post. One way to help soften the insta-death of Moldvay/Cook is to sprinkle the Gygaxian AD&D death mechanic. Zero is unconsciousness and -10 is death, with a -1 hp bleed per round. It gives em a chance, at least, and is authentic and everything. :)

- Ark