Archive for August 14, 2011

I think it would be good to spend a little time here writing about some of the cool game mechanics that are included in Old School Hack. Initial observations begin with “this ain’t so old school” as you might think. I know Old School. And while there is something to be said about it, I think that in general, old school often means old-fashioned. Some think that is means simple, easy.

My background with RPGs begins in the 70s with Dungeons & Dragons and Tunnels & Trolls as a grade-schooler in Scottsdale, AZ. I was the one who gathered friends and introduced them to the game. I was always the DM. I learned the rules first and taught them to others. These pioneering games were not “easy” because they were foreign. But by most standards, they were pretty simple. There were only a few options, and you just picked between them, and were happy about it. As the industry developed thicker and thicker books hit the shelves that gave you virtually limitless options. And with that came complexity and slower games and combats.

Some people harken back to simpler times, when you could just sit down at the table with some graph paper and pencils, dice, and a single-sided character sheet–and just have some fun. In the quest to provide the ultimate system for your gaming experience, to present the most realistic, or genre-true, game mechanics, we have found ourselves sitting down at the table with stacks of reference books, giving the “walking encyclopedias” and “rules lawyers” a distinct advantage over everyone else, even the DM. I think many a comic strip has illustrated this very issue.

So here I am looking at a simple set of rules. I was able to read in very quickly (literally just minutes), much faster than the original D&D rules when I was a kid–which actually took re-reading several times before starting a game, and referencing often during play because it was so new to me.  Actually the experience of reading the original D&D rules was a lot more like my experience reading D&D4e rules.

So OSH was very easy for my experienced game brain to take in, except for just a couple of the mechanics that I needed to take a little longer to absorb. The easy and familiar included:

  1. Class-based characters, where race *is* a class.
  2. Levels. The game covers Levels 1-4.
  3. Rolling Attributes, but they are only recorded as their “bonus” -2 to +5 by consulting a chart.
  4. Attack rolls, modified by attributes, and Armor Class (AC is target number to beat)
  5. Attribute checks, rolled and modified by the applicable attribute.
  6. Minions as 1-hit foes.
  7. Awesome Points, which are spent by players to get bonuses, avoid damage, etc.

The easy and new ideas included:

  1. Different attack rolls for different kinds of monsters
  2. Minions use a different to-hit roll, and another kind of roll when they can gang up.
  3. Attack rolls are made with 2d10 (or 3d10 in some cases, keeping the two highest).
  4. Attack rolls include one die as a “face die” which means you hit them in the face if you roll at 10 on that die.
  5. Turn sequence – 7 phases each round, with initiative being rolled only when necessary.
  6. Damage is either 1 hit or 2. A face hit adds +1
  7. Awesome Points, as experience, which must be spent in order to level up. Spending 12 APs let’s you level, but *all* players must spend 12 because the party must level together. This is my favorite mechanic because it makes teamwork FUN.  🙂

The new idea that needed a little time:

  1. Arenas. I kept seeing that as “areas” in my head. And when I corrected myself, I kept seeing gladiators in my head. I might have liked to call it Zones instead, just to avoid that bit of distraction.Arenas were hard to get until I ran a mock battle in my head. It’s just a way of splitting the field of battle up in to different places. This is a core element of fighting in the game that has a great deal to do with making combats dynamic and interesting…and manageable.

    This is actually an element that could and maybe even *should* be translated into other game systems. It has changed the way I think about combats in general, and when I am thinking up settings for combats, it becomes an important design element.

    Players are encouraged to narrate new arenas as well, adding additional dimension to each fight, and creating a “new place” to take the battles to. Ranged attacks can fire from one arena to adjacent arenas, but melee is confined to one arena at a time. Archers could then move to “high ground” such as “I climb the tree, moving to the treetops arena so that next round I can fire my bow in the arena below.”

    The concept of Arenas would make T&T infinitely more interesting to play. It would improve game play for a lot of systems I think.

    A single-arena combat becomes droll and boring. This is the single biggest drawback to using arenas. Normal dungeon crawls become significantly more uninteresting.

    I am reworking this old adventure I am running for my kids (Bellicose Keep) to give more varied settings and arenas, and thereby making combats to be had there much more interesting. I’ll post more about my changes later. Until then, happy gaming!