Making the Game Our Own

Over the past year I’ve bounced back and forth between several games I’ve wanted to play. Initially, as I’ve written about several times previously, I planned to play a mostly by-the-book Labyrinth Lord game and a houseruled-and-modified-to-the-hilt Swords & Wizardry White Box game. Time limitations and a great deal of respect for the B/X clone Labyrinth Lord made me drop the White Box plans. I was disappointed about the missed opportunity to tinker with the lower power curve of White Box, but I was relieved to have one game to rule them all. And it was a simple one with enough options for all the gaming we’d ever need.

Then the Advanced Edition Companion came. By taking what I liked most about the 1st edition of AD&D and porting it over to the Labyrinth Lord engine, it was truly just about the Perfect Fantasy Game. A couple minor house rules, and we’d be set forever.

But a couple of my ideas for the White Box game have kept gnawing at me, particularly an alternative experience/advancement system, the possible use of ascending armor class, and the greatly simplified way that monsters are handled.

So I began work on my custom advancement system and decided that we’d give it a try in our Forbidden Jungle game. To simplify things for others, I decided to put together class charts listing advancements, and I tacked on an attack bonus to use with AAC. As most of the hard work was done, I decided to add in the rest of the class information into my level tables, as well, to replace the default pages in the Labyrinth Lord book. This way we could work in some of our house rules, such as d6 hit dice for thieves and magic-users getting bonus spells for high intelligence the same way that clerics do for high wisdom. We also tinkered a little with weapon damage values, so those would have to be updated as well.

It was somewhere in there that the trouble started. Because I was re-doing the tables, I began to tweak a few more things. Just here and there as needed. Thief skills needed a little kicker, and the read languages was just not quite right. Fighters needed a slight advantage in attack progression over rangers and paladins, and all three fighter classes needed to begin with better to-hit numbers than the other classes. We’re going to use retainers/henchmen heavily, and I decided to up the maximum number a couple for each point of charisma. And so on.

With my son’s help, we’ve pretty worked our way through the player’s section (except spells) and re-worked everything into our own customized Labyrinth Lord. I have a few reservations about this, as it means we’ll be playing a different game than everyone else who plays LL. But we’re trying to be careful as we go, making sure that none of our tweaks and re-interpretations are drastic.

I think we’ve succeeded so far, and a fourth-level fighter in our game will be analogous to a fourth-level fighter in anyone else’s game. We want our game to be considered “compatible” with other LL or old-school games. Just because our clerics are a bit different in the details than standard clerics won’t really matter. Just because our characters advance using a different system won’t invalidate what it means to be X level. There will be little fiddly bits that are at odds, but there already are in nearly everyone’s game that uses any house rules and I’m not concerned with a conflict over what a seventh-level thief’s pick pockets percentage is.

Now I’m doing monsters, building what is essentially a customized Labyrinth Lord version of the combined monster table from OD&D. I’m tweaking things as I go, with a significant change being the elimination of multiple attack routines and replacing them with a single attack. Many monsters are also undergoing a slight “de-powering” during this process, something which is related to our efforts to make the game slightly more survivable. But if a dungeon we build has “three bugbears” in it, it will be perfectly usable in standard campaigns by simply putting three standard bugbears in it.

This is all sort of a grand experiment. The fun has been upped by my son’s participation and the final product will certainly be the better for it. Will we finish it? Who knows? My ultimate end state would be a printed and coil-bound full version of our game for use in play. That’s a long ways off, as today we’ve got a bunch of tables with simple notes listed in between. But we’re moving ahead a little bit every day, and we’re playing as we go.

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5 Responses to Making the Game Our Own

  1. Lord Gwydion says:

    Very similar in method to what I’ve been going through. I also started out just writing up my “expanded” classes–making the Mentzer Druid and Avenger/Knight/Paladin available from Level 1.

    Then I wanted to write up all the classes to have them all in one spot. Then I wanted to use ascending AC and attack bonuses. Then I wanted a few more classes. Needed spells for those new classes. Added spells for all the classes. Added equipment. Added some notes for new players, since I’ve got a few.

    Then I decided to re-do the monsters into a set I want to use, with a few changes/additions, and magic items as well.

    I just need to write up my “how to play” DM notes and I’ve got my own 3 Little Books based on Mentzer with splashes of Moldvay, Holmes, OD&D and AD&D (and I suppose 3E with the ascending AC/BAB thing, but don’t tell the grognards!).

    In my opinion, this is the future of the game–taking it back to its roots and letting each DM customize it to taste, but with the ability to easily publish and share what they’ve done, unlike in the old days.

    • Kilgore says:

      Heh. Sounds VERY similar.

      The thing I’m trying to avoid (and it sound like you have, too) is making any changes that wreck compatibility. It’s great that everyone has their “own version” of the game with its own tweaks and adjustments, but if the dialects get too separated it will reduce the ability to use things from one in another.

      Fortunately, the old-school games are A) all so similar to each other and B) so relatively simple that really destroying compatibility is actually a difficult thing to do.

  2. I too cannot resist wanting to tinker with the LL system, even though my first official game with it hasn’t started yet (Play by Post, still in character creation).

    And this is after already having come full circle from a whole bunch of other non-D&D systems (The Moldvay basic set was my first ruleset).

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