I found these beauties (Dwarven Dice from Q-Workshop) under the tree on Christmas morning and thought I'd share them with you all as part of a general holiday greetings! Best wishes for a wonderful 2013!
Last week I had a chance to test-drive the new BareBones Fantasy roleplaying game from DWD Studios. I will post an account of that session soon (overall verdict: excellent!), but I wanted to get the following house rule written up and published . . .
Add the following bullet points to the character race write-ups provided on p. 8 of the rulebook:
1 free skill level in either Enchanter or Warrior.
1 free skill level in either Scout or Spellcaster.
1 free skill level in either Scholar or Thief.
1 free skill level in any skill.
Chosen during Step 2 ("Select Race") of character creation (p. 5), each of these free skill levels comes in addition to the one provided in Step 3 ("Select Skill"). However, characters cannot double up in a given skill before play begins and Development Points are earned. The free skill level provided in Step 3 must therefore be taken in a different skill than the one selected in Step 2.
Examples: Mike wants to play an Elven mage, so he takes a level of Spellcaster during Step 2. In Step 3, he cannot raise Spellcaster to level 2 but must instead take a level in another skill. He chooses Warrior. Bill wants to play a Human aristocrat, so he selects Leader as his free racial skill during Step 2 and then Scholar as his free skill in Step 3.
I developed this house rule in response to my players' concerns about a bottleneck in character creation. Because five of the game's eight skills can only be used with training, any character who wanted one of those skills had to devote their free skill level to it. The player who chose Spellcaster benefited from this bottleneck since his trained skill was also his primary attack skill; the player who chose Cleric was able to use his Smite ability to similar effect (when wielding one's deity's weapon of choice, Cleric skill may be used in place of Warrior skill). But the players of the Dwarf Scholar and the Human Leader weren't so lucky: they had to spend their free level in Scholar and Leader in order to be able to use any of those skills' sub-abilities and thus ended up whiffing their attack rolls nearly 66% of the time. No one put a level into Enchanter (since the game was a one-shot, not the Enchanter's preferred venue), but I suspect that beginning Enchanters are in the same boat as Leaders and Scholars.
By adding an extra skill level, character concepts involving Enchanters, Leaders, and Scholars are much more viable at the start of play. I decided to attach the extra level to Step 2 and character race to heighten the importance of archetypal origins. Dwarves' choice between Enchanter and Warrior and Elves' choice between Scout and Spellcaster pay homage to the races' folkloric traditions. Thief does much the same for Halflings, looking back to Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit; Scholar owes more to the Fourth Edition Halfling and that race's tradition of wandering. Humans got a second free choice (to go along with the one they got in Step 3) out of deference to the longstanding RPG tradition of human versatility. Because characters of all races still get the free choice in Step 3, however, no one is locked into a racial archetype. I.e., you don't leave the underkingdom without learning something about either enchanting or fighting—but you can also focus on leading or studying or stealing as well.
There's an obvious counter-argument here: beginning characters are supposed to whiff attack rolls much of the time. While I recognize that argument's force, I felt that the bottleneck didn't distribute the whiffing fairly across characters. Players who devoted skill levels to Cleric and Spellcaster were able to focus their efforts and give themselves 66% success rates (by combining the +10 from the free skill level with the +20 from the primary skill bonus); players who spent their skill level in the three remaining skills had to fall back on their untrained Warrior skill in combat. Adding the free skill level in Step 2 evens the playing field, especially once the prohibition against raising any skill to level 2 before play is considered. Finally, it only costs 3 Development Points (half of the average per-session reward) to buy a skill at level 1 so the house rule really only speeds up the characters' improvement by two hours' worth of play.
Every so often on this blog I mention or allude to the fact that I teach in the English Department at a flagship state university. My primary research and teaching area is medieval literature (with a specialty in early English drama). But I also routinely teach fantasy fiction. In Summer 2013, I'm going to be teaching a fantasy-focused section of our "Intro to Fiction" course. Syllabi for this course usually rely on a published fiction anthology filled with mainstream "literary" narratives. When genre writers do appear, it's inevitably their least genre-marked material that shows up: the primary example here is the ubiquitous selection of Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" instead of any of her equally excellent fantasy or SF stories. I've decided to buck this trend and will be teaching a syllabus entirely devoted to genre fiction. For the sake of coherence, I'm limiting myself to story and novel-length fantasy narratives. Here's the most recent draft of the course reading list:
Lord Dunsany, The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories
I had a number of Dunsany collections to choose from, but settled on this one from Dover. It's relatively inexpensive, and it contains many of my favorite Dunsany tales: "The Sword of Welleran," "The Fall of Babbulkind," "The Kith of the Elf-Folk," and "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth."
Robert E. Howard, Conan the Barbarian
Again, lots of choices here for editions. I settled on this movie tie-in volume partially because it's cheap but primarily because the table of contents allows me to hit all of my favorite Conan stories in a way that the otherwise wonderful Del Rey collections do not: "Tower of the Elephant," "Queen of the Black Coast," and "Rogues in the House" sit alongside "People of the Black Circle" and "Red Nails." Since Del Rey publishes this text as well, it's quite possible that the texts are identical to those in the REH Library series.
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Considerations of time were the primary factor in my decision to let The Hobbit stand in for Tolkien's work: there's just no way to teach The Lord of the Rings on the summer teaching schedule without basically abandoning the pretense of reading other authors. That said, The Hobbit is the book that turned me on to fantasy, and Peter Jackson's movie will have students primed to read the novel.
Patricia A. McKillip, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
I needed a novel from the 1970s to fill in the large gap between Howard and Tolkien's 1930s texts and the books I was going to be choosing from the 2000s. McKillip is one of my favorite writers, and this 1974 novel is one of her best.
Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories
Carter's 1979 collection of stories was the other book I picked to cover the 1970s. I selected it in large part because I've never read Carter's work, and this course seemed like a good opportunity to do so.
China Miéville, The Scar
My favorite New Weird novel: it's a big fat middle finger aimed at quest fantasy, and yet I love it just the same. If only this new UK paperback cover design was the American design as well! Sigh.
Ursula K. Le Guin, Voices
Le Guin was definitely going to be on the syllabus. I chose this book, the second in Le Guin's new Annals of the Western Shore series, because it brilliantly does everything Le Guin was trying to do with Tehanu and the second trilogy of Earthsea books but without any of the baggage that comes from revising an existing set of beloved books.
Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners
Like Carter, Link is a writer I've been meaning to read for some time. This is her major collection of stories, sitting right in the midstream of the slipstream between genre and literature. It's worth noting, though, that I have an alternate in mind if it turns out I don't particularly care for Link's stories:
Karen Russell, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
Russell has just exploded onto the scene recently, and whatI know of her work gives it a slightly more American feel than Link's work (i.e., Russell appears to be drawing on regional folklore as opposed to Link's more suburban and/or cosmopolitan feel). In the end, I'll go with whichever collection I like best.
So there you have the reading list. I've tried to strike a balance between American and British writers (four of each), short story collections and novels (four of each), and men and women (four of each). The books also make a decent historical survey of modern fantasy fiction: Dunsany is odd man out, sitting by himself in 1908, followed by clusters of work from the 1930s, 1970s, and 2000s. I'm looking forward to teaching the class and hope you've enjoyed this sneak preview of its contents!
. . . and it is one big book. Seriously, this thing would wear "husky" jeans if it was a human! I've gotten so use to the smaller format used by games like Savage Worlds or Wordplay that it's shocking to see a full-sized rulebook again. That said, I am very excited to have a hardcopy to hand.
I recently discovered John Matthew Stater's wonderful Blood & Treasure roleplaying game and have been enjoying its skillful blend of the Third Edition SRD and AD&D. Here's a test character that exemplifies much of what I love about B&T:
JORY WALKER LEVEL 1 HALF-ELF SCOUT
STR 11 (+0) DEX 16 (+2) CON 12 (+0) INT 10 (+0) WIS 14 (+1) CHA 12 (+0)
Abilities: Darkvision 30 ft., 30% magic resistance to sleep and enchantment spells, knack for trickery, backstab (x2 damage)
Feats: Magical aptitude (daze 1/day)
Armor: Studded leather (+3 AC) Weapons: Short sword (1d6 damage), dagger (1d4 damage, range 20/40), short bow (1d6 damage, range 90/200) Gear: Quiver with 20 arrows Treasure: 68 gp
First of all, Jory's class demonstrates the flexibility of B&T's approach to classes: "Scout" is a wilderness variant of "Thief" that swaps out the skills "decipher codes" and "pick pockets" in exchange for "riding" and "survival." Each class in B&T has a variant in the core rulebook (e.g., you can be an "Aristocrat" instead of a "Bard" or a "Beastmaster" instead of a "Druid"), and Tanner Yea of Pulpwood has put together Heroes of Lore, a free supplement containing dozens more. These variants open up the class structure of the game without losing too much focus (or necessitating the creation of entirely new classes to handle minor variations in archetype). B&T also opts for the three saves of 3E, one of my favorite features in Wizards of the Coast era D&D. Skills are based on the save system: each skill uses a class save as its base and then modifies it in accordance with a relevant attribute—another instance of streamlining. Finally, B&T includes a short list of (entirely optional) feats; these are nice additions to characters, providing for some additional customization without encouraging the optimization culture of the post-2000 game. Characters only get a single feat every four levels (with humans picking up an additional feat at level 1), so even the most powerful of characters (a 20th level PC) will have no more than five feats in total. I'm looking forward to creating more B&T characters and seeing what John Stater comes up with next for the game.
One of my daughter's friends recently expressed an interest in learning to play RPGs, so I've been putting together a campaign that's both appropriate for and appealing to a group of girls under the age of 10. The friend is a big fan of the musical Wicked, so I settled on L. Frank Baum's Oz as a setting and F. Douglas Wall's Adventures in Oz as a ruleset. AiO is a wonderful little game with an elegant core mechanic, an experience system that supports Baumian stories (characters earn Oz points to improve die rolls and character abilities by helping friends and making new ones), and a surprisingly flexible set of character creation rules. Wall's blog includes stats for non-Oz characters as diverse as Twilight Sparkle (from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic) and Gord the Rogue (as a tribute to Gary Gygax). My daughter has made up her character, a glass bunny named Liana, and I'll be posting Liana's stats and character portrait soon (i.e., once I scan my daughter's drawing). In the meantime, I thought I'd take a shot at translating some sword-and-sorcery heroes into AiO terms . . .
Since Fafhrd and Mouser are more or less equal as combatants and adventure heroes, I gave them identical Athletics score. I was tempted to shave a point off Fafhrd's Brains to increase another score, but I decided in the end that people assume to their eventual dismay that the northerner is just another a dumb barbarian—and left his Brains at 2. The key differences between the two heroes, then, are Presence and Sneaking. Fafhrd's striking looks and height give him the edge in the former while the Mouser's slight frame and generally furtive nature argue for an increaser in the latter. Both men have the Deadly Weapon trait (which allows them to do physical damage in addition to the Wits damage that is the bread-and-butter of the AiO combat system). Fafhrd's bardic upbringing grants him the Poet trait; Mouser's mystic apprenticeship, the Humbug Magic trait. Each man appears on the other' Friends List, testifying to their status as boon companions. I've put Ningauble and Sheelba on the Friends Lists as well: Fafhrd and the Mouser can spend Oz points to get assistance from their sorcerous patrons, but of course there's always a catch.
The best part about writing up Fafhrd and the Mouser as AiO characters is that Leiber's own rules for Nehwon allow for the heroes to shift dimensions into Oz. I'm not sure if Oz would survive their sojourn there—but then again one could just as easily argue that Oz might put a premature end to the heroes' careers!
The Kickstarter campaign for SageKobold's Dungeon World RPG is now in its final week, and it would be an understatement to say that SageKobold has a hit on their hands. The original fundraising goal was $4,000. That was raised in the first hour of the campaign; since then, 1,645 backers—including yours truly—have contributed an additional $53,853 dollars. Stretch goal after stretch goal has been met: the backers are currently on the verge of adding Juntu's Floating Ice Hell, an adventure by Jason Morningstar, to the pot.
I'm posting about the campaign here for two reasons:
1. I selfishly want to get as much additional Dungeon World loot as I can, and more backers means more loot.
2. You can get an insane amount of great dungeon-laden stuff for the minimal bid of $5. To wit: PDF, EPUB, and HTML versions of the Dungeon World rules; the thanks of the developers in both the printed book and PDF; a wallpaper for your computer screen; two Kickstarter Exclusive Supplements (one full of monsters and another full of advanced character classes); a PDF of Dark Heart of the Dreamer, Jonathan Walton's planar adventure; a PDF of World of Dungeons, John Harper's "1970s" version of Dungeon World; a PDF of Number Appearing, Justin Wightbred's adventure and supplement featuring monstrous player characters; a PDF of War (tentative title), SageKobold's first "event" supplement for the game; and (assuming the campaign reaches $60,000 within the next six days) a PDF of the aforementioned Juntu's Floating Ice Hell adventure. Whew! Anyone who donates $25 gets softcover print versions of the Dungeon World rules, the two Kickstarter Exclusive Supplements, and Dark Heart of the Dreamer.
If you've already contributed, thanks for helping out! If you've been thinking of trying out Dungeon World, definitely take advantage of the deal described above—it's possibly the best gaming package I've seen for $5.
Stop laughing, I'm serious! In 2009, Artisan Home Entertainment released the animated adventure Barbie and the Three Musketeers on DVD. As the nerd father of a young girl, I thought the movie would be a good Trojan Horse where cultivating a taste for action-adventure and swashbucklers was concerned. The movie is better than it has any right to be—which is lucky, considering the dozens of times I've had to watch it in the last three years.
In the film, Barbie plays Corinne, daughter of D'Artagnan (who is apparently dead). She leaves her mother and her Gascon home to head north to Paris; she plans to present Monsieur Treville with a letter with a letter from her mother encouraging Treville to make Corinne a Musketeer. Hijinks ensue as Corinne and her three serving maid friends struggle to defeat would-be usurper Philippe (played by Tim Curry) and the marshaled forces of oppressive patriarchy.
Needless to say, Corinne's Honor + Intrigue stats follow below.
Corinne, Daughter of D'Artagnan
Ambition (to become a Musketeer like her father)
Attractive (Bonus die in situations where looks matter—this is Barbie, after all)
Beast-Friend (Bonus die when dealing with animals; has animal companions—see below)
Born Athlete (Bonus die when performing athletic activities other than fighting)
Country Bumpkin (Penalty die in situations where street smarts matter)
Hot-Headed (Penalty die when attempting to suppress anger)
Epee (1d6 damage, +1 Parry)
Miette (Corinne's kitten . . . who apparently duels as well—don't ask!)
Alexander (Corinne's elderly horse, inherited from her father)
Honor + Intrigue is now available in PDF form (with print copies to follow). After a quick read-through, I'm incredibly impressed with what Chris Rutkowski has achieved here. My favorite rule so far is the maneuver "Return Weapon": if your hero uses his minor action to return his disarmed opponent's weapon (as is so often the case in swashbuckler duels), he receives a reward of 1 Advantage over his foe as well as 1 point of Fortune.
Now that I have the rules I can update my character sheet for Errol Flynn's Robin of Locksley as follows: Attributes
[No changes here.]
[No changes here.]
[Again, no changes needed.]
[Scores calculated now that I have the formulae for doing so.]
Longbow (1d6+2 damage, range increments of 110')
Sparkly Lincoln green tunic and tights
Sword (1d6 damage, +1 Parry)
[The weapons listed in Honor + Intrigue are seventeenth-century weapons, so I've had to improvise here. Robin's sword in the film is closest to the game's epee, and I've therefore given his blade the epee's stats.]
Crack Shot: Longbow (Bonus die on all damage rolls w/bows, range increments increased by 10', more Fortune points required to reduce effect of Robin's successful shots)
Favored by Fortune (permanent +2 increase to Fortune)
Laugh in the Face of Danger (Bonus die to Daring rolls to resist fear/intimidation, Social Combat/Repartee rolls against Daring have a Penalty die)
[A big change here: I dropped "Knighted" since the description of the Boon describes it as more of a reward for services rendered, and Robin is a baron and knight by birth in the film. Hard choices followed, though. The other boons that were the most logical choices for Robin—Attractive, Daredevil, and Favored by Fortune—are all Beginning Boons and can only be purchased during character creation. I decided that an early Fortune boost made the most sense for Robin at this stage of his career: he's often luckier than he should be, and that gets him out of jams.
Hot-Headed (Penalty die when trying to suppress anger; whenever anger gets Robin into trouble, he gains 1 Fortune point)
Hunted (whenever Robin faces off with the followers of Prince John, Guy of Gisborne, or the Sheriff of Nottingham, he gains 1 Fortune point)
[Another change here: "Obligation" is more of a specific debt or responsibility than a generic devotion to Saxon welfare. (Robin is also free of anti-Norman bigotry even as he opposes Norman tyranny: his battle for justice reflects a devotion to the virtue in general rather than to a specific ethnicity.) I therefore decided that Robin's in-play story begins after he escapes from Nottingham Castle and flees to Sherwood Forest; this gives him "Hunted."]
OK, the venomous pao's Strange Stones was two years old on Friday, February 3rd, and now it's Vargold's turn to be the birthday blog. What was going on back in May 2009 to give birth to these blogs in February 2010?
(Seriously, though, thanks to everyone who's followed the blog, commented on it, and/or added it to their blog roll—I appreciate it very much!)
Basic Action Games is getting close to a release date for its swashbuckling RPG Honor + Intrigue. While the game will have rules for those who wish to mix some magic in with their derring-do, it's largely a historical RPG. Nonetheless, it has a place on this blog if only for its clever use of Simon Washbourne's Barbarians of Lemuria ruleset (one of my favorites and a mainstay of Vargold posts).
Basic Action Games owner and designer Chris Rutkowski has put copies of both a character sheet and a quick reference sheet on the company's Facebook page and challenged fans to start creating characters for the game. (The reference sheet includes a list of all Honor + Intrigue careers, boons, and flaws.) I obliged him by putting together this version of Errol Flynn's Robin Hood (from the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood). Once I get my copy of the actual rules, I may have to emend some of my choices (and finish stats I don't yet know how to calculate), but I think these stats do a good job of representing Robin of Locksley as he appears in his first scene in the film.
Although I've played D&D on and off since 1980, I have never been a fan of the "harsh reality" approach to first-level characters. None of my groups pre-Fourth Edition ever rolled 3d6 six times in a row for attributes, nor did they go by the rules-as-written when rolling hit points. Returning to Old School D&D with BFRPG has meant that I'm confronting these issues again. What I have in mind for the kids' first characters is the following:
1. For attributes, roll 4d6 six times, dropping the lowest die in each roll. Then assign the totals to attributes in whatever order is desired.
2. At first level, hit points equal the maximum result possible for the character's class hit die. CON bonuses still apply.
I'm also considering starting the characters off at 5000 xp, the minimum amount for a Magic-User to hit third level. I wanted any boys playing Magic-Users to have multiple spells to cast per day instead of being reduced to throwing daggers after using up their one first-level spell in the initial encounter. Third level gives any Magic-User a pair of first-level spells as well as a second-level spell.
5000 xp means that any Thieves will begin the game at fourth level, no problem since that starting point doesn't make using their thieving skills a cake-walk. Clerics will be 1000 xp shy of fourth level (and will have two first-level spells), while Fighters will be 3000 xp shy of fourth level as well. Elf Fighter/Magic-Users will begin the game as second-level Fighters with 500 extra xp and as newly-minted second-level Magic Users.
There won't be any "in-game" rationale for a third-level start. I.e., the characters will be fresh off the farm. The two extra levels (three in the case of any Thieves) are essentially a narrative convention granting the PCs protagonist status (and decreasing the likelihood of an early TPK).
Two additional house rules follow from these decisions:
1. When rolling hit points for second and third level, all results of 1 will be rerolled. Once play begins, though, hit points gained through level advancement will be generated by the rules (and thus results of 1 will be possible). Enhanced survivability remains the guiding principle here.
2. Should a player's character expire, his new character will enter play at third level as well. None of my old groups were ever great fans of the "return to play at first level, even if the rest of the party is eighth level" approach to the game. We always felt that it was strange for experienced heroes to suddenly adopt a neophyte in the midst of their travails. At the same time, I want to use the differentiated experience tables of BFRPG, so a Fourth Edition approach would be cumbersome. (I assume that averaging party levels would be the likely option here, but I'll pass on it.)
Have others made similar decisions when starting campaigns at third level? Also: what are good "first modules" for third level characters, preferably adventures that wouldn't require much work to fit into a forest setting?
The last few sessions have not gone well for my Fourth Edition mage Enric Crocker ("the Apprentice Who Lived"). Two weeks ago, he was down to his last death save courtesy of this recurring villain:
Yes, that's Loomis the Rat King, crazed rodent lord and plague of the Duchy of Boswin. He hit Enric with his "ratapult" (a slingshot that shoots rodents), knocking him down to -9 hit points. The timely arrival of reinforcements allowed the party's druid to stabilize Enric.
This week, the threat of death, while less embarrassing, was equally puissant. After tracking down a crazed peasant sculptor with a perhaps too uncanny skill at statuary, Enric was left alone by his compatriots to face this beast:
Alpha-striking with various dazing powers and action points was not enough to keep Enric from being bitten by Alis the Cockatrice. Even worse were his pitiful saving throws. In spite of a potential +2 bonus from his Delver's Leather Armor +1, Enric could not manage to roll higher than a 5. So "slowed" became "immobilized," and then, in a final indignity, a natural 1 meant "petrified." Dave the DM tried to console me with the information that Enric was now Resist 20 Damage and immortal, but I rejected his false sympathy—he's been trying to kill one of the party for weeks. Again the party druid saved the day, making his Nature roll with massive overkill to remember the bit of lore explaining how to cure cockatrice petrification. Unfortunately, the party now has a wagon-full of villagers in need of a Restoration ritual from Boswin's head cleric.
In the meantime, Enric has decided to hire a meatshield, er, henchman to guard his flank.
I'm guessing that this image from today's LA Times Hero Complex post on Peter Jackson's version of The Hobbit is the moment that Bilbo names his Gondolin dagger: "I will give you a name . . . and I shall call you Sting." An awesome picture of one of my favorite moments featuring my favorite sword in all of fiction!
So my hardcopy of Dungeon Alphabet arrives today from Goodman Games, and I discover for the first time (having only owned the PDF version before) that Peter Mullen's stunning endpapers are in AD&D module-map blue! Frabjous day, calloo callay! Why is Peter Mullen not selling prints of his work? Or am I just too lame to find the place where he is selling prints?
Robot 6 has a new interview up with Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan, the writer-artist team on Dark Horse Comics' relaunch of Conan. There are some nice sample pages included with the interview. The first installment of "Queen of the Black Coast" hits next month.
The setting I'm going to use for the boys' BFRPG game is Three Moon Forest, a setting originally developed for a 4E game that never came off. As its name suggests, Three Moon Forest is a massive woodland region. It may not literally take three moons' worth of time to cross from one end to another, but it sure feels like it. At the current moment, I have the following elements in mind for the setting:
1. Seven Forges - A dwarven settlement at the foot of the Kalderstones, a mountain range rising up out of the forest. The dwarves of Seven Forges ship their ore south, but lack easy access to river transport. So they move the ore overland to . . .
2. Last Landing - A human-dominated settlement at the highest navigable point on the Rusty River, a river flowing down out of the Kalderstones. Halfling-crewed barges take the dwarves' ore down river to other settlements while returning goods from the outside world up river.
3. Naddersfork - The next human settlement down river, located at the point where the Snake River flows into the Rusty. A stopping-over point for the barge crews.
4. The Hobshaws - The Rusty flows past this forested upland en route to Naddersfork. Since the Hobshaws are inhabited by numerous goblin tribes, that's a problem for trade. The goblins closest to the river have learned that toll-taking is a more profitable venture than outright raids, but there are always tribes further back in the hills looking for a piece of the action or trying to sneak a raid in when the river tribes aren't looking.
5. The Song Stones - Scattered across Three Moon Forest, these clearings contain ancient menhirs and serve as meeting sites for the elves of the wood—a more or less dispersed population with no fixed settlements of notable size.
What I'm missing is an adventure site. In the 4E version of the setting, there's an eladrin city that world-fell into the forest: its shattered remains are full of nasty fae creatures. Not sure how well that works as a mega-dungeon (or if I want to do the work of mapping it out). I'm not adverse to dropping in an established dungeon, but I would prefer one that isn't a meat-grinder for PCs: that's a portion of the Old School experience that I didn't care for as a teen and don't want to inflict on the boys. Thoughts?
(The image for this post is a shot of New Zealand's Pureora Forest.)
Since 2008, I've run a number of RPG sessions for the children of friends. Most of these sessions have been Fourth Edition D&D games: the boys have proven quite capable of handling that level of character detail without too much handholding. As a DM, though, I'm a bit worn out. I'd also like to move away from the battle mat and the token management that goes along with it. (When I put on my playing hat, though, I continue to love the tactical combat of the current edition.)
So I looked into the various retro-clones and simulacra of D&D for a game to run in place of Fourth Edition. I came into the hobby in 1980, receiving a copy of the Holmes Basic boxed set from my grandparents for my eleventh birthday. OD&D clones were therefore a non-starter: I had no real interest in attempts to replicate a game I never played. My background with AD&D prior to Second Edition was minimal, so I passed over those games as well.
In the end, my choice was always going to come down to one of the games based on Moldvay's B/X and/or Metzner's BECMI—the flavors of D&D that I played the most as a lad. There are some excellent BECMI clones out there, but I never really liked where Metzner took the game after level 14. Labyrinth Lord is a wonderful take on B/X, especially when Steve Zieser's atmospheric art is factored into the equation. But LL still preserves too many of the features that drove me away from D&D as a teen: level limits, race-as-class, energy drain, descending AC, and so on.
The last game standing was Chris Gonnerman's Basic Fantasy Roleplaying Game, a simulacrum preserving what I liked in B/X while jettisoning most of what I didn't like. I've put in an order for the hardcover edition of the book and am actively looking for a good low-level module that isn't a dungeon-crawl. Suggestions?