Wednesday, 11 April 2012

D&D Mine

A couple of people around the place have been talking about the idea of "D&D Mine" (or was it just JB?), and it's got me thinking. Now, I'm not interested in re-inventing the rules of the game in some fit of "fantasy heart-breaker"ism. Not at all. I'm very happy with the basic Labyrinth Lord rules which we've been using in my campaign for the last year and a bit.

I'm also not (particularly) interested in producing my own retro-clone / D&D book with house rules "baked in". It'd be a fun project, for sure, but I don't feel inspired to go down that route.

What I am interested in, however, is re-inventing the implied setting of the game. (This is for no big reason, by the way, just for fun.) As far as I see it, the flavour of the D&D world is communicated by several things:
  1. The classes and races available to PCs.
  2. The magic spells which exist.
  3. The monsters populating the world.
  4. The magic items which can be discovered.
(The so-called "Gygaxian building blocks".)

The classes I'm perfectly happy with. At least fighters and magic-users are generic enough to fit in pretty much anywhere. Thieves and clerics would simply exist (as adventurers) or not depending on the desired flavour, I guess. If I were to come up with something really original which merited work on new classes, then I might consider doing a Monte (q.v. Arcana Unearthed) and re-inventing all the classes as well, but I don't imagine it coming to that, and I wouldn't intend to do that just for the sake of everything being "new".

PC races are a bit of a bigger deal. One could either go for full fantasy and say that no humans exist in the world, or a human-centric (or perhaps even human-exclusive) world. I'd be inclined to do the latter, but if desired it's not hard to come up with a playable race or two. It would be very important for these to be unique, not just reskinned elves & dwarves, in order to avoid the standard D&D  tropes, as well as the inherited Tolkien tropes!

Spells are a big thing. Some of the PCs' most potent abilities are defined by the list of magic-user and/or cleric spells. Even something simple like removing the sleep spell, or raise dead, has a big impact on the game. Me being me, I'd completely re-write the entire spell list. Not a single "canonical" spell would exist in this hypothetical re-imagining of D&D. (I think it was my recent musings on an Unearthed Arcana only campaign which also partly inspired this idea.) I'd probably go with a simple spell list of maybe ten spells per level, maxing out at 5th level or so. I'd probably also want to do something to encourage spell research, as it's such a fascinating and under-used element of the game.

Monsters are also a huge deal in defining the flavour of the D&D world. Again, I think these would merit a complete re-write. That's a pretty big project, but I think even a list of 15 or 20 flavoursome creatures, plus the idea that humans (& kin) can provide a huge amount of monstrous / villainous entertainment, would go a long way. Personally I think I'd focus on dimension-hopping fey and demonic beings.

Magic items have, in my opinion, a slightly lesser impact than spells (perhaps because, in many campaigns, they're rarer), but they still do a lot to define the extents of what's possible for PCs. Personally I think I'd be inclined to strip them way back, probably polarising them into very low power items and extremely powerful artefacts. Any kind of "+1" (etc.) weapons / armour would be right out.

Now I'm not sure if I'll actually get around to working on any of this... like many such thoughts, it's a bit pie-in-the-sky. But I thought I'd put the idea out there, who knows -- it might gradually blossom.


  1. Working myself on my own D&D Mine, I agree with all.

    Classes: 2-4 classes, a possible change could be done in advancement speed according to race (in my games Elves level up faster as MUs than as FMs).

    Races: nothing to add, although Tropes are hard to delete unwillingly.

    Spells: IMHO you can choose either a full class list re-writing, a Rolemaster-ish re-writing or other solutions (I am using vancian slots with a Talislantan approach).

    Magic Items: personally I like no shades of gray, so I prefer as well cheap +1 weapons on a side and artifacts on the other; I often use also weapons of renown in my games (normal weapons becoming +1 against an enemy when overused against that same enemy, somehow similar to tolkenian orc-slaying weapons).

  2. "Tropes are hard to delete unwillingly."

    You're absolutely right there Hamel! I think that's why, if I were starting a new campaign world, I'd completely remove races which looked anything like elves or dwarves. I think perhaps animal races are a good way to go, as people have associations with them (i.e. people can imagine how a rat man and a cat man might be different) but they don't carry the standard Tolkien / D&D tropes at all.

    Spells: Yes, a completely new spell-casting system would of course be another option as well. Personally I think I'd stick to the classic Vancian system and just rework the spell lists. As I said, I'm more interested in changing the building blocks and the world-assumptions they bring with them, rather than the rules, if you see what I mean.

    I think D&D Mine is a cool concept though! I hope we see many editions of it :)

  3. I think perhaps animal races are a good way to go

    They are, but they somehow stick at least physically to the Tropes: I mean, catmen and boarmen could be just the animal version of Elves and Dwarves.

    Players could easily play them unwillingly the same way they used to play the original races (catmen as swift guys and boarmen as tough guys): different look, same play-style.

    IMHO the best way to delete Tropes is working hard on the background, separating the body type from the classic archetype: if you turn thick guys (aka Dwarves) into vulgar sea-pirates (removing all the clan's things) and slim guys (aka Elves) into wild carnivors, then you could go close to really kill the Tropes.

  4. I've finished my German stuff, but haven't updated the English part... Too bad!

    My motivation was not so much to change the implied setting but to provide a framework for my house rules and (eventually) a sort of miniature player handbook.

  5. Alex, that is great stuff! I especially like your character creation section, with the d8 tables of backgrounds per class, and the way spell books and masters work -- very cool!

    I notice you only give XP charts up to 5th level. Would you intend that to generally be the end of a campaign? I was also thinking for "my" D&D that it'd be focussed more on the lower levels.

  6. Well, I picked 5th level because that's the highest level my current players have reached, and because I felt that once they had reached 5th level, they had probably assimilated enough of the rules to switch between house rules and Labyrinth Lord book without a problem.

    I'm open to extending the campaign past name level, but we'd certainly no longer go dungeoneering. I'd love to look through the old high-level modules! :)

    Start here, for example:

  7. I think there's a lot of room for +1 equipment to be rehabilitated as a setting-specific type of superior materiel, whether it be Damascus or Dwarven forged or mithril or just this new-fangled forged steel business.

  8. Great post. I don't think enough people really break the game rules from the implied setting. We should remember that at one time all of what we consider to be classic D&D monsters, spells, classes and races were being added in organically in the creators' personal games to fill needs they had. We should probably all have our own "stuff" based on the needs of our own games!


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