Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sing To Me Of The Splintered Realm

This blog post's title has been echoing in my head for about a week. I’m not sure if it’s an invocation to the muse (Homer style), or the first line of a novel, or the preface to a game. Whatever it is, I can’t stop thinking about it.

I alluded in my last post to an OSR design I have been thinking about, and tonight Mary and I did our first ‘official’ play test of the new game system, so I’m ready to talk about it…

First, some back story. A few weeks ago, one of my students asked about classic D+D, and wanted me to tell him about it, since he knew I was a gamer, and he’d heard about it. He wanted to know about 3.5, but I talked him down, and I ended up bringing in my 1983 basic red books and demonstrating a few brief scenarios for him so he’d get a handle on how it works, and I think he quickly grew enamored of the game.

Of course, so did I. I forgot so much about Basic D+D, since I literally haven’t played that version of the game in nearly 20 years, and I have not played D+D in any form in about a decade, spending all of that time playing and developing my own systems.

After only two short sessions (we would play during lunch), I started to find rules that bothered me, and we started to run into inconsistencies (if I can surprise on 1-4 on d6, but I’m sneaking up on a creature only surprised on 1 on d6, how do we resolve that?) and wonky mechanics (why do monsters roll d6 to sneak up on things, but thieves roll percentiles?). And, I started upon the slippery slope of developing a handful of house rules. Then I went back and pulled out all of my old notes (and I have TONS of old notes) from when I was running D+D in the past, and started to dust off my old house rules. Then I went and read through Labyrinth Lord and Swords and Wizardry, and borrowed a few things from here, cobbling a few things from there.

And then the bug bit. The OGL taunted me, beckoning me to dip my toes into the water.

Oh, OGL, you cruel mistress.

Then I started to play ‘what if’? What if I was the lead designer on D+D Next? What if my only caveat was that I was to use the 1981/1983 B/X rules as my primary inspiration, but could draw upon anything that has ever been D+D for further inspiration? What if I was to design the game in the way that the game was introduced to me: through the core rules, the World of Greyhawk, and Keep on the Borderlands?

So… my tentative project was born. In my imagination right now, it looks like three books. Although classic D+D has the 8 ½ x 11 letter-sized volumes, I have grown enamored of the 6x9 trade paperback, and I absolutely love my HC Army Ants core rulebook. To my mind, the 160-page trade paperback and/or hardcover is the perfect synthesis of ‘full game’ and ‘I can manage this’. I look at something like Pathfinder, and I’m overwhelmed. I look at B/X and I say ‘now this is a game!’ The final product might be something like:

- Core Rules. A re-mix (not a retro-clone, because the goal is to streamline, unify and modernize mechanics from B/X while keeping the flavor and intent intact). This would retain the ‘general fantasy world’ vibe of B/X, along with general fantasy monsters and general fantasy spells. Nothing new or amazing here – just a streamlined and unified version of B/X with a slew of modern sensibilities layered in. And yes, race is still a class.

- World Book. A re-mix of World of Greyhawk (that awesome boxed set with the two-poster map) and the original Forgotten Realms book (similar vibe). These two books painted the world in broad strokes, but created a vast playing environment. This book would include a whole bunch of race and class options that are non-standard, including such things as gnomes as a playable racial class and a series of sub-classes for each class. For example, an arcane archer might be a sub-class of elf that uses his magic to (among other things) improve his archery skills. This would have more specific monsters and magic for the Splintered Realm itself.

- Campaign Book/Megadungeon. A close lens on a starter setting (a la Keep on the Borderlands) with the megadungeon it sits on top of, the region nearby, and a whole bunch of advice on the logistics of actually running the game.

At minimum, I see the core rules at 128 pages, and the world book/campaign book/megadungeon as a second book at 128 pages. Depending on how this project grows, I could see it stretching to the point where it becomes three books each in the neighborhood of 160 pages (my ideal), but that’s a rather big goal. This becomes my big project for the next year or two (while still producing Army Ants adventure journals with some regularity, and keeping the weekly webcomic going).

The working title for this project: Saga of the Splintered Realm.

Hey, I figure the blog name already sets me up for this… no need to re-brand or launch a new blog, right?


  1. This sounds pretty cool, particularly the "all in one small book" aspect. But it also kind of points up why people moved on to 3.5 and Pathfinder: the older D&D sets required everyone to house rule almost everything. To fix them you almost have to completely gut them and start over. Looking forward to what you come up with.

    1. Thanks! I'm not sure where the sweet spot is on layers of character abilities. Playing a fighter with no skills should be a viable option, but if you want to pick up alchemy and lore for your magic user, that should be an option as well. I want the rules to pretty clearly spell out how to resolve most common situations (in B/X you can't track, yet tracking is a relatively big part of the ranger class, and if you want to include a class or option like a ranger, you also have to figure out how tracking is going to work). How do I do this without adding layers and subsystems? How do I make this a simple overlay to what's already there? Beats the heck outa' me! (although I'm working on it...)

  2. The thief skill were on top of the normal surprise roll. If a thief successfully moves silently (and can approach a monster unseen) he automatically has surprise. Otherwise he rolls as normal.

  3. I am always interested in your designs Mike. Funny I was fooling around with Labyrinth Lord recently (Universal Adventure decks are pretty cool and why I was) but rapidly got disenchanted with the permanency of almost all your character's defining abilities. So I went back to Mythweaver the Splintered Realm through Reckoning Deluxe mashed them together and have really enjoyed myself. I am eager for your take on B/X.


    1. Oh perhaps the blog title is how Irra Rainwyn, Lady Mayor of Jurris' Crossing circa 813, starts a bardic song in the Red Brownie Inn