Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Old School Charm, New School Taste

A few years back, I grabbed a copy of Castles and Crusades, a D&D-ish RPG that has the distinction of being approved of by one of the fathers of D&D, E. Gary Gygax. It's a D20-license game with some decidedly old-school flare. There are a ton of reviews around the web, so I'll gloss over almost everything. The core game system is very modern in implementation though - it's d20 vs. threshold numbers all the way down. What's different is that unlike modern D20 games, there are very few rules or "build" options. What is there is elegant and simple, and quite source-compatible with old AD&D modules and newer OSG products, like OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord.

But for some reason, I didn't go for it. I ran an adventure or two, and while the game system was perfectly workable, it didn't grab me emotionally for whatever reason. I can be fickle that way, like how I dig Pathfinder but don't like D&D 3e.

Anyhow, as is obvious from my other blog posts, my current fantasy RPG "fling" is Swords and Wizardry. It's a "restating" of pre-AD&D D&D, also called "OD&D". (Original, I guess, or is that supposed to be a zero?) OD&D had a lot of loose ends in it, and S&W tries to tie them up in a consistent and interesting way. For example, S&W takes a very strict reading of the rules on strength bonuses, and ONLY lets Fighters (not Rangers or Paladins) use the bonus, thus making Fighters a more viable class - one that truly specializes in fighting.

One of the advances in recent years (aside from ascending armor class, which fortunately S&W supports) is the idea that a first level Wizard should be more than just a young adventurer who knows "much that is hidden", and has the potential to become great some day, but an active participant in combat. In Pathfinder, these beginners have "Cantrips", or Level 0 spells which they can cast at-will to do things like detect magic or maybe cause 1d3 damage to something. 4e goes farther and gives everyone at-will powers that are useful attacks, but removes a lot of the RP specific spells, or turns them into "rituals".

I think at-will and other ideas do not fit well with my understanding of the OSG aesthetic. Wizards, in game terms, are defined almost entirely by their consumables (spells, scrolls, wands, etc.) much as Fighters and Thieves are defined by their innate abilities. (Though to be honest, I rather like the idea of rituals.)

I've considered giving Magic Users an "Arcane Insight" ability that is a very light version of Detect Magic. If an MU spends 1 turn examining an item or willing subject, performing certain minor rituals (similar to spell preparation rituals or using magic items - just things MUs know how to do, not "spells" per se) and then succeeding in a Save (+2 for magic being involved), the MU can evaluate the magic of the object. In addition, if the object is cursed, the curse only attaches if the MU failed his Arcane Insight save. Using Arcane Insight requires touching the subject.

Seems like a lot of rules, but I think in essence it should be simple enough and someone more talented as rule statement could probably explain it better.

Here's how I see it being used:

Fighter: There's a door ahead. I don't see a lock, but I can't force it open
MU: Here, let me take a look. (1 turn and a lot of gesturing later). Yep, it's magically locked. Luckily, I have a scroll that we can use....

and later...

Fighter: Hey, that's a fancy sword.
MU: Wait, don't touch it yet!
Fighter: You think it might be cursed?
MU: Could be. Guard the perimeter while I examine it. (1 turn and lots of unhappy mumbling later) Well, I'm not sure what other powers this sword has, but it's definitely cursed. I think we need to seek a Cleric....