Choosing a Direction

Readers have probably figured out that I am quite streaky when it comes to posting here, ripping off a post a day for stretches lasting weeks or even months, then going almost totally silent for periods just as long. That is no way to run a web site, and I apologize. I knew when I started this that I didn’t really have time for it, and I was right.

Anyway, my game playing, sadly, runs in the same sort of cycle. When other demands aren’t hogging all of the discretionary time (and then some), we usually make an effort to play more and, as a result, I end up creating all sorts of new material and posting some of it here.

Over the past few years, I’ve waffled on just what we’re going to play when we have time, and just how we’re going to play it. My initial plan to play Labyrinth Lord by the book and Swords & Wizardry White Box heavily house-ruled gave way to reality and the lack of time to play two different systems, let alone one that required a lot of tinkering. So we decided to go All Labyrinth Lord All the Time, with the idea that we’d incorporate a number of house rules and ideas that we had planned to use in our modified S&W White Box game.

My guess is that what happened to us happens to many gamers. Once we started tinkering, we couldn’t stop. A plan to make some adjustments led to the need to create modified rule outlines and accompanying tables, and once we crossed the line into creating our own material we failed our save vs. “houseruling.”

Our separate experiment with Five Color Magic resulting in a desire to incorporate this system into our game, and at that point, needing a fully-written player’s guide, we were looking at a totally separate system. Which is what I had been trying to avoid.

So here we are in 2011 and I am again looking at the options and wondering how to proceed.

Do we play a mostly-by-the-book Labyrinth Lord? If so, with or without the excellent Advanced Edition Companion? The advantage here is that it’s virtually 100% compatible with nearly everything else out there, including most OSR clone material and original TSR D&D material.

Do we play a heavily-modified Labyrinth Lord? If so, do we worry about our modifications breaking easy compatibility with standard LL? Giving thieves d6 hit dice or letting clerics use swords is no big deal. Re-organizing all spellcasters into five color-based classes or changing all monsters to use a one-roll lower-damage attack is. This is closer to what we want but not nearly so compatible.

Or do we play our homebrew Five Color Wizards & Warriors game, with two only two classes and five versions of each? We are 90% done with the rules guide, and we’re liking what we see. The problem, of course, is that no one else plays this game. The only ready material that exists is what we’ve written, and a lot of what I create won’t be terribly useful to blog readers, at least not as-is.

The freedom to create your own professional-looking material is a blessing and a curse. Back when the options to “publish” your own stuff was limited, my willingness to tinker was was limited to a few sheets of houserules that I’d photocopy. Things are so much better now that you can incorporate your changes directly into the text of the rules and print them up nicely, but that capability removes a reason to minimize your alterations.

What’s the best way? Whichever way gets you the game you want to play the most and gets the most use.

For us, that looks like our homebrew game.

We’ll always have the option to play another system, of course, but we’re going to throw our effort into this. Our playing has languished and that needs to change. I think our little creation gives us the best chance to do that, so that’s the plan.

What I post on the blog will probably remain fully-compatible with standard systems so as to be most useful to readers. I’m also left with the dilemma of how to proceed with the Forbidden Jungle. I’ve got a fair amount of work into it already and it’s looking pretty good (if I may say so myself), and I know that there are at least a few readers interested in seeing more FJ material. But how to make that material most accessible to those not playing my own little game? Not to mention the possibility of considering it for publication some day.

We’ll see.

UPDATE: I should add that the dilemma of “which game to play” is sometimes a contributing factor in our lack of playing. Without a clear direction, our effort has sometimes been splintered between things and we haven’t settled down and just done it. Time to do so.

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16 Responses to Choosing a Direction

  1. Erin says:

    Glad to see you come up for air 😉

    I hear you on all points. My B/X ~ RC game ‘suffered’ heavy change. On the plus side, the system did what we wanted and it was fun. On the down side, it wasn’t D&D anymore, and thus very hard for us to share or for other people to use ‘out of the box.’

    I decided that it had to be published. Not sure how I got there, but it wasn’t enough to just post articles on I wanted rulebooks, ostensibly to keep all the material in a nice, bound package for use at the gaming table, but really to distribute the material outside our group (for profit, perhaps…?). That turned into Chimera, which is still undergoing tweaks years later.

    You’re a tweaker. And that means you’re highly unlikely to use any game without some houserules. It also means that you’re always considering what the rules can do better, or what new stuff (monsters, classes, spells, etc.) you want the rules to cover.

    Ultimately, you have to be honest about what you’ll be happy running. Is it LL out of the box, a heavily modified version, or a homebrew? No matter which option you choose, you’ll always gravitate toward the one you prefer. But don’t just stick with your choice–nurture it.

    That might mean a players guide that isn’t compatible with LL canon. But it will be portable, and you can share it outside your group. And you can expand upon it as your tastes expand and new ideas occur to you.

    First priority is fun with your group. If a players guide facilitates that, go for it. If you’re worried about sharing with other LL people, create a conversion guide–if nothing else, it will help you convert cool LL stuff other people create.

    Also, FJ = yes, please. 😉

    • Kilgore says:

      Very well put. I have tried a number to times to go “100% by the book, no changes” but it never lasts long. As in, it usually never makes it to the start of the first session.

      With our homebrew, I’m going to put together a rulebook, more of a collection of guidelines, and have them printed up nicely for use as a “real” game by the players. It’s mostly done, and it’s a basic framework-type thing, very little in the way of examples or fluff or in-depth explanation. It’s more like a collection of tables and lists with very bare description.

      I plan to have a wiki or something that will collect examples and clarifications and rulings, etc, but I want the book to be 8 PC levels, all spells (levels 1-4), monsters, and magic in 48 full-size pages. It looks like we’ll make it.

      I do not plan to do any sort of real publication of this. It will be just for our use. Though I do expect that I’ll publish a lot of the pieces on the blog over time.

      Though our game is a departure from oldschool D&D, it’s not THAT far removed, and conversion won’t be too difficult, I think. As I publish stuff on the blog from our game, I should figure out a pretty solid way to convert to “standard” systems, and that will help me learn to convert bigger fish, such as the Forbidden Jungle stuff. Though all the FJ material I currently have is a mishmash of LL, S&W WB, 1e AD&D, and our homebrew. What a mess.

  2. Bombshelter13 says:

    I think Erin’s on the right track: Publish your game. Put it up on Lulu so eager buyers like me can snap it up, and soon enough you’ll have at least a handful of others with which to share the game.

    Additionally, games like yours would fill a somewhat empty niche in the OSR scene – I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d love to see more games that take heavy inspiration from the classics but go in a new direction with it, rather than trying to be a faithful clone.

    As much as I love classic D&D, I don’t wanna play it (and it’s clones) for the rest of my life – it would thrill me to no end to have more new games to play that take the philosophies of the OSR and old school gaming and do new and wonderful things with them.

    • Kilgore says:

      (Oops, I got confused about who I was replying to…I moved my original comment here in reply to Erin.)

      Well, I appreciate the sentiment, but I doubt our homebrew will see actual publication, even on Lulu. Though I would have no qualms about making it a freely available PDF if there was interest. I haven’t bothered worrying about things like OGL and rights and stuff for our personal use, so I would not even want to think about trying to make it clean. (And the cover I’m putting together for our version is just flat-out stolen…)

      Our game is very much inspired by the originals, sort of an OD&D take on LL’s version of B/X and AD&D, with revamped classes and spells. It’s de-powered to an extent, and uses a few departures from norm, such as the Roll to Advance scheme I cooked up instead of traditional experience points to gain levels. So while it’s quite a bit different, it’s “still D&D” in most ways and very recognizable. Sort of D&D’s crazy cousin from out of state come to visit for the week.

  3. Timeshadows says:

    I would suggest you see W&W through to the end and then let us decide if we want to play it over S&W or LL, etc.
    –Everything I’ve seen of W&W recommends it.

    But, I don’t want that to be a kiss of death endorsement.

    I think you may regret not seeing it through, more than feeling that it wasn’t worth while after having brought it to fruition.


    • Kilgore says:

      That’s a great point. I was really having trouble with the idea of giving up on it at this point (90% ready to roll) in order to play something else. It certainly doesn’t have anything like the amount of work your system has in it, but it is still a lot of effort and we did it because we LIKED the ideas.

      At the same time, I didn’t want to cling to it just because of all that work and not because it was a better fit for us. Trying to make a rational decision about this was tough.

  4. jcftao says:

    I’m currently using LL/AEC which is well suited for me. Have you looked at Delving Deeper by Brave Halfling Publishing? It looks promising. Compatible with Labyrinth Lord yet allowing the whole “tool box” functionality that homebrewers enjoy.

    • Kilgore says:

      The concept of Delving Deeper sounds GREAT, and I look forward to seeing it. I also like the idea that BHP is going to make a point to commonize terminology and a few other things with the LL style, making cross-platform compatibility even easier.

      As for using it as our game of choice, though, I suspect that we’d simply start hot-rodding it the same way we do with every other game we touch. I almost think the starting point is not important, as long as the framework is a good foundation for what we’re going for.

      We’ve pretty much done this to S&W White Box, LL, and LL/AEC, but the final product looks very similar in all three cases. Part of that is due to the fact that all of the OSR and TSR versions of the game are so similar, and part of it is that we’ve got a core set of ideas and concepts that we like and always gravitate toward.

  5. Jack Colby says:

    I’ve found the ideas you shared regarding your homebrew game rules to be really interesting. Whether they are compatible for the rest of us shouldn’t be the point, playing should be. And I think most of us reading your blog find your rules changes interesting anyhow.

    • Kilgore says:

      Thanks for the kind words, and I like the feedback when I post about some crazy scheme or other. It’s not so much that I’m worried that no one would want to use some of my stuff (though I’m always flattered when someone does), it’s that I don’t want it to be difficult to do so.

      For instance, I don’t want our magic system to be so different that spells I post aren’t easy to use with LL or S&W or B/X or AD&D. I’m not so concerned about direct duplication of stat blocks and such, but I want things to be easily useful.

  6. David Macauley says:

    Many of the house rules you have developed on this blog have ended up in my current game. If you continue to do what you’ve done in the past, which is to explain “why” you have made a particular house rule, then I don’t see any dramas in posting stuff that may deviate from the established norms of D&D. I don’t think you’ll lose any regular readers as a result, but will continue to inspire instead.

    • Kilgore says:

      Well, I try not to do anything without having at least a little bit of a reason and little bit of logic behind it. 🙂 So, yes, I’ll always be sure to include a bit of that.

      I don’t mind posting stuff that ends up being too far “out there” for a lot of players (Roll to Advance) or is controversial for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me (Magic Blast). But I also don’t want to be “that guy who changes things so much he might as well not play D&D.”

      Because for all of our tinkering and hot-rodding and flat-out changing of the game, we still consider it “D&D” in the broader sense.

  7. I’ll just echo the crowd in urging you to see W&W all the way through to completion, LK.

    Even if you wind up just putting it on the shelf and switching to some other game (which needn’t be part of the D&D family tree – getting away from that might actually help you reach your gaming goals, but that’s not the point, so I’ll drop it) down the road the very act of having accomplished completing a project (inasmuch as these things are ever complete) is so utterly worth it. At least, I assume it is. I’ve complete some non-RPG projects that felt good, but I can’t claim to have completed any RPG stuff yet. So I could just be full of crap 🙂

    • Kilgore says:

      Thanks, VP. To be honest, I’m pretty surprised that there’s any interest at all. Personally, of course, I’d like to “finish” it and not have yet another “thing we worked on for a while” sit in a box incomplete.

      But I also want to make sure that we finish it for the sake of playing, not just to tick it off the to-do list. I’m confident at this point that we’ll actually play it, so things are looking good.

      • Oh, it’s definitely worth finishing to play and not just for finishing’s sake. But at the same time, finishing’s sake (again, I only know this from my music projects, not gaming stuff) is a pretty powerful thing, too 🙂

        Play, though, really is the key as you well know. If I were getting to play half as much as I am dorking around with blog stuff I’m sure I’d be a happier man. Not that I’m unhappy, mind. I’d just be happier 🙂

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