Advice wanted: What is the best OSR system for RPG newbies?

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Edgewise

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My long campaign of gently urging my wife to try role-playing has finally borne fruit! Last night, I was reading to her select location descriptions of my own DCC adventure, The Magician's House. It's come a loooong way after many edits, to the point where I may put it out soon on DriveThru as a PWYW. Anyway, my wife has zero previous role-playing experience and was only recently experienced much in the way of sci-fi/fantasy/supers, but I've had a lot of success introducing her to new media and she she was surprised how interesting she found the descriptions.

So she spontaneously offered to grab a bunch of her co-workers for me to run through my adventure. They are all cool open-minded people and I don't think a single one of them has played a tabletop RPG before. Which I absolutely relish, but it leaves me with a small dilemma.

My adventure was written for DCC. I've run DCC plenty of times for people who have never played it before (almost everyone I ran it for, actually), but I don't think there were any who never tried D&D. So I think DCC may be a bit much to introduce to a bunch of absolute RPG newbies. I could do it if everyone was willing to play non-magical classes, but my wife has already announced her intention to run a wizard. In my mind's eye, I can see her eyes glazing over as I explain spellburn and corruption.

The solution is obvious: convert the adventure to a much simpler OSR system. The question is: which? I have three possibilities in mind, but I'm open to other suggestions. Currently under consideration are:
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  • B/X Essentials
  • Swords and Wizardry
As a side bonus, once I've made the conversion, I can broaden the appeal of my adventure by publishing that, too. That's a secondary objective, but it's worth keeping in mind.

So what OSR system should I run for a group of total RPG newbies?

EDIT: My original list included White Box, but I just realized that I meant Swords and Wizardry.
 
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Spellslinging Sellsword

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Of the three you mention I'd go with B/X Essentials (actually probably just use straight B/X since you can get it in PDF as T. Foster mentioned). I think B/X is a great version of D&D and simple enough that any adult will be able to grasp it.
 

Akrasia

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I like the Moldvay Basic D&D Rules a lot (what T.Foster suggested).

I also would recommend Swords & Wizardry -- either the 'White Box' or the complete version -- as it is free (PDF versions).

What is 'B/X Essentials'? (I've drifted away from the 'retro-clone' and OSR scene in recent years...)
 

Akrasia

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Thinking on this a bit more, if I were in your situation I'd go with the B/X rules (Moldvay Basic, Cook Expert).

For a campaign: B1+B2, followed by B10, then X1.
 

Edgewise

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Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game
I've been intending to take a closer look at this one.
The one closest to whichever version of D&D you started with, and/or the one you’re most enthusiastic about.
That's a tough one. I haven't touched the original B/X in 20 years, so I'm not as confident about running it. I'm probably most enthusiastic about Lamentations, but there are a number of mechanics I'd have to hack. I really can't stand old-school saving throws.
 

under_score

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I actually think that DCC is a great first RPG and the spell system can keep new wizards more engaged than most OSR games. You can play it pretty easily without spellburn and corruption is pretty rare.
However, if you want to go with something more streamlined, go with Swords & Wizardry. Classic B/X chassis with ascending AC. Can't go wrong.
 

Edgewise

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You can play it pretty easily without spellburn and corruption is pretty rare.
I agree about corruption, and even then, you don't really need to learn that because I as GM can explain it when it comes up.

But spellburn...man, that's one of the things that has made for many memorable DCC sessions. Have you read the effects of spell rolls in the upper 20's and lower 30's? It gets pretty insane even for first level magic. As long as the wizard is willing to be a physical wreck for the rest of the session (and possibly several more), spellburn makes it possible to break entire adventures in extremely entertaining ways.

In Bride of the Black Manse, the wizard in the party spellburned Enlarge and cast it on the warrior, turning him into something approximate as large and dangerous as a Stone Giant with Mighty Deeds. Next, the elf spellburned Animal Summoning and called up two Giant Vipers to fight for the party. Finally, the party waded into Mammon's banquet hall, crowded with minor demons and the archdevil himself.

That encounter was not designed to be winnable through combat. And yet, here we are.
 

spittingimage

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Swords and Wizardry has unified saving throws, which simplifies things a bit.

How far are you willing to lean away from retroclones? Because there's Knave. It was written specifically for introducing new players to OSR-style play and is compatible with material written for the other games mentioned here. But it simplifies or removes so many rules that it probably doesn't count as a spiritual successor to 1E D&D the way the others do.
 

dokel

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I really like B/X Essentials as a reorganisation of Moldvay/Cook. You can have multiple copies of the Classes & Equipment volume at the table for players to refer to.

If you want to go even simpler then I would recommend White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game. This is my personal favourite S&W iteration.
 

3rik

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(...) I would recommend White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game. This is my personal favourite S&W iteration.
Probably this one or LotFP.
 

The Butcher

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I'm probably most enthusiastic about Lamentations, but there are a number of mechanics I'd have to hack. I really can't stand old-school saving throws.

What is it that you dislike about old school saves?

Swords and Wizardry has unified saving throws, which simplifies things a bit.

And Castles & Crusades ability score-based saves may have inspired D&D5’s. I have a special place in my heart for C&C; if you want a streamlined AD&D1 emulator, you could do a lot worse. (I do fiddle with the task resolution mechanic a bit.)
 

Edgewise

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Swords and Wizardry has unified saving throws, which simplifies things a bit.
As I've been perusing it, I realized that S&W has a race/class division; I want to stick to the race-as-class versions so I don't go too far from the DCC model. Which is a shame, because I love the simplicity of the unified save.

So that also rules out Knave IIRC.
Beyond the Wall I think.
BtW is a really lovely game that I've always wanted to run, but I feel that character creation and sandbox adventuring are a big part of it. I'll have to take a look, though, just in case the mechanics otherwise suit these purposes.
I really like B/X Essentials as a reorganisation of Moldvay/Cook.
Yeah, I've been comparing these head-to-head, and it seems like there's no reason to favor (original) B/X over B/XE. The rules are essentially the same, especially at levels 2-3.
Probably this one or LotFP.
I've been starting to lean towards LotFP, but I feel the strong urge to hack the saving throws and leave the rest unchanged. As if converting all the adventure stats isn't enough...
 

Edgewise

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What is it that you dislike about old school saves?
It's entirely possible that I just don't get it, but the categories seem almost completely random, and end up having very little relationship to ability scores. Actually, I'd be glad to have anyone explain the rationale for the B/X saving throw categories:
  • Death Ray or Poison: I sort of get it; these are effects that kill (or knockout, according to LotFP) regardless of abilities. I feel that "Death Ray" is misleading, because it suggests something that might be dodged. But even so, I don't know why each class is equally good at resisting all such effects.
  • Magic Wands: Gee, that seems to cover range of effects which is both arbitrarily broad and narrow. LotFP at least groups this with other magic items under "Magic Device." It's all pretty counter-intuitive to me. Why not rings?
  • Paralysis or Turn to Stone: Again with the seemingly super-arbitrary. Effects that make you stand perfectly still? That's what LotFP says, which is strange considering that Poison is supposed to cover unconsciousness. And what about poison that paralyzes you? I know there are rules of precedence for determining which ones apply, but it's arbitrary all the way down.
  • Dragon Breath: Lamentations helpfully suggests that this is a stand-in for area effects. But I guess not when they are incapacitating, poisonous or immobilizing.
  • Rods, Staves or Spells: LotFP, by contrast, differentiates between magical devices and magical abilities. The seems more sensible, at least, than this weird B/X differentiation between wands and all other forms of magic. But I still struggle to imagine the reasons for even the Lamentations approach.
The more recent approach of ability-based saving throws is better, but if I went with those, I'd want to add a couple to the basic three. I'd have Luck (based on Charisma) and Perception (based on Intelligence). The nice thing about having five saving throw categories is that, for each class, I can simply take each value from B/X or Lamentations and apply it directly to a new category.

Another approach would be to take the old-school practice of having saving throw categories represent classes of threats (instead of methods of avoidance), but make those categories a bit more sensible to me. Here's what I could go with, off the top of my head:
  • Trickery: Traps, ambushes and deceptions
  • Magic: Magic
  • Combat: Attacks and maneuvers (e.g. disarm, grapple, etc.)
  • Hazard: Environmental threats
To map B/X or LotFP categories to these, I'd start by dropping the median value. The rest, I'm not sure, and I'm not entirely sure how to apply ability modifiers to these.
 

dokel

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Just to say that it is pretty easy to hack race-as-class into White Box: FMAG. There is even an optional r-a-c Elf xp table in the book. Plus single save, optional ascending AC, and imho a really nice d6 based Thief class.

The Black Hack uses ability-based saves ("attribute tests"). Personally I don't think I would use TBH to run anything but you could port the save system over to something else.
 
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Nobby-W

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[ . . . ]
So what OSR system should I run for a group of total RPG newbies?
How about Tunnels and Trolls? It's dead simple, about as old-school as it gets, and doesn't take itself terribly seriously. There's also a re-issue in the works and quite a bit of printed material for it.

I have an interesting story about Tunnels and Trolls - nothing at all to do with playing it. Pull up a chair ...

Back when I were a wee lad of about 8 or so, I had a teacher called Mr. McFadzien (I think this might be his LinkedIn profile). He was the outdoorsman's outdoorsman. The sort of bloke would spend a weekend installing a rope tow on a slope on a small club ski field somewhere in Porter's Pass. He went tramping, skiing, fishing, hunting with a .303; he swore that if you pushed hard enough you could get 12 rounds into the mag, which was enough for a weekend in the bush. This class was standard 2-3, about year 4, so most of the kids in the class would have been around 8 or 9 years old. He had a fibreglass cane that he called 'Montgomery'.

Anyway, one day in 1978 he mentioned that his friend had described playing Tunnels and Trolls to him. Apparently the incident involved the character encountering a dog in a dungeon, which peed on his leg, rusting his armour.

I first started role playing proper in 1982 with Traveller. His friend's secondhand anecdote didn't register until many years later when I first played a game of T&T.
 
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CRKrueger

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Since it’s written for DCC, just use DCC.

However, if she wants to play a Mage, I wouldn’t start her on Moldvay if the end result is to play DCC.If you intend on playing this as long as she wants to, possibly turning B/X into BECMI, and maybe never get around to DCC, that’s fine.

Forget the rules dump. Tell her no more than this and let her decide.

“Magic is a powerful and dangerous force. Mages do not wield their powers lightly for if they miscast a spell, it can open their bodies and soul to the corrupting power of Magic. In times of great urgency, a Mage can attempt to throw more power into a spell for a greater effect, but risks injury or worse when doing so.“
 

Endless Flight

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It's entirely possible that I just don't get it, but the categories seem almost completely random, and end up having very little relationship to ability scores. Actually, I'd be glad to have anyone explain the rationale for the B/X saving throw categories:
  • Death Ray or Poison: I sort of get it; these are effects that kill (or knockout, according to LotFP) regardless of abilities. I feel that "Death Ray" is misleading, because it suggests something that might be dodged. But even so, I don't know why each class is equally good at resisting all such effects.
  • Magic Wands: Gee, that seems to cover range of effects which is both arbitrarily broad and narrow. LotFP at least groups this with other magic items under "Magic Device." It's all pretty counter-intuitive to me. Why not rings?
  • Paralysis or Turn to Stone: Again with the seemingly super-arbitrary. Effects that make you stand perfectly still? That's what LotFP says, which is strange considering that Poison is supposed to cover unconsciousness. And what about poison that paralyzes you? I know there are rules of precedence for determining which ones apply, but it's arbitrary all the way down.
  • Dragon Breath: Lamentations helpfully suggests that this is a stand-in for area effects. But I guess not when they are incapacitating, poisonous or immobilizing.
  • Rods, Staves or Spells: LotFP, by contrast, differentiates between magical devices and magical abilities. The seems more sensible, at least, than this weird B/X differentiation between wands and all other forms of magic. But I still struggle to imagine the reasons for even the Lamentations approach.
The more recent approach of ability-based saving throws is better, but if I went with those, I'd want to add a couple to the basic three. I'd have Luck (based on Charisma) and Perception (based on Intelligence). The nice thing about having five saving throw categories is that, for each class, I can simply take each value from B/X or Lamentations and apply it directly to a new category.

Another approach would be to take the old-school practice of having saving throw categories represent classes of threats (instead of methods of avoidance), but make those categories a bit more sensible to me. Here's what I could go with, off the top of my head:
  • Trickery: Traps, ambushes and deceptions
  • Magic: Magic
  • Combat: Attacks and maneuvers (e.g. disarm, grapple, etc.)
  • Hazard: Environmental threats
To map B/X or LotFP categories to these, I'd start by dropping the median value. The rest, I'm not sure, and I'm not entirely sure how to apply ability modifiers to these.

One of the best things 3e did was convert the five into the three. Fort, Ref and Will much easier to deal with.
 

Simlasa

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For new Players I think the rules are far less important than who they're playing with, having a good patient GM... and you are a good GM.
If the only block on using DCC is Spellburn then I think I'd stay with DCC and just explain that magic is a bit of a gamble and that, in desparate situations, magic users can use their own bodies as fuel to power their spells. Kindasorta like going 'all in' in Poker.
 
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Nick J

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I don't think there is a "best, one-size-fits-all " old school style system; different players like different things, and none of the systems listed in this thread so far are so complex, or difficult to grasp (at least at low level) that they'd be a barrier to entry.

As long as the gist of the game is (from the GM's POV), "just tell me what you want to do and I'll tell you what to roll" I'm guessing that a bunch of newbies with a penchant creative thinking will take to anything like a duck to water. The biggest thing is to explain each system's "killer app:" DCC's magic system, Beyond the Wall's life path/play-books, Lamentation's horror-themed, early modern sensibilities, etc.
 

Simlasa

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The biggest thing is to explain each system's "killer app:" DCC's magic system, Beyond the Wall's life path/play-books, Lamentation's horror-themed, early modern sensibilities, etc.
I wonder if DCC's magic seems so odd if you don't come to it with D&D's magic paradigm already stuck in your head? I never much got along with standard D&D magic, the way it's precisely reliable/reproducible and the whole 'fire and forget' thing.
 

Nick J

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I wonder if DCC's magic seems so odd if you don't come to it with D&D's magic paradigm already stuck in your head? I never much got along with standard D&D magic, the way it's precisely reliable/reproducible and the whole 'fire and forget' thing.
I found it super refreshing when I stumbled on to it. But I've never really talked to an RPG neophyte about it, so I can only imagine what it looks like to fresh eyes. I'm guessing it would appeal to the kind of people that like to play blackjack or shoot craps. If you're not a gambling sort it might be kind of off-putting . . . And to those people I say, "play a warrior or a dwarf!"
 

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I've ran 1974 D&D for complete RP newbies (eg, they were at the pub for a meal with their friends before gaming started, and they didn't leave by the time I started running, so they got given character sheets and told to roll 3d6 in order - and then kept coming back) and it went fine, but...

Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game
...is a much nicer and easier to understand game.
 

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I agree with you Edgewise Edgewise that DCC seems a bit too complex for people completely new to D&D and RPGs.

I wonder about Into the Odd which is nicely stripped down with a clear and simple chargen system.
 

Spartan

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My initial suggestion would be Swords & Wizardry Basic with ascending AC, even if I prefer descending. To make a wizard more fun at lower levels, expand allowable weapons, allow padded armour for +1 AC, and give her some scrolls, or a wand that does X, Y times per day. Print the spells on index cards. I used to wonder why people bothered with them, but I use the WotC Bard deck in a 5e campaign I play in, and they're great. Definitely use max hp at first level.

Regardless, Keep it nice and simple.

Another good option for newbies is colour-coded dice. The d20 is "the green one", etc.

B/X, Mentzer, and FMAG are all great options too. You really can't go wrong with any of them.
 

spittingimage

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Another approach would be to take the old-school practice of having saving throw categories represent classes of threats (instead of methods of avoidance), but make those categories a bit more sensible to me.
This is where I'm tempted to use Knave saves, even without Knave. Each save is just D20+ability bonus vs target of 15 and it's:
  • STR for stuff you can resist with force
  • DEX for stuff you can dodge
  • CON for stuff you can endure
  • INT for stuff you can anticipate
  • WIS for stuff you can resist spiritually (eg charm, fear effects)
  • CHA for stuff you can be skeptical of
 

Edgewise

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Some very good advice has been given here, so I have a lot to think about. CRKrueger CRKrueger and Simlasa Simlasa have me wondering if maybe I can pull off DCC by walking the players through it as we go. I think dokel dokel is right that S&W can easily be refitted for class-as-race. I picked up Tunnels and Trolls on the floor of Gen Con last year, so I'm sorely tempted by Nobby-W Nobby-W's suggestion - the only thing that makes me wary is that I've literally never run T&T before. Likewise, Voros Voros's suggestion for Into the Odd is very intriguing - you know what a fan I am of rules lite, and everyone has been praising ItO since it came out. And finally, B/X (original or essentials) is still very much on my radar, because of course, so Ladybird Ladybird and Spartan Spartan's suggestions don't fall on deaf ears.

I don't think any of this has actually made my decision easier - quite the contrary! - but it's a lot of good food for thought.
One of the best things 3e did was convert the five into the three. Fort, Ref and Will much easier to deal with.
Yeah, I noticed that nobody has leapt to the defense of old-school saving throw categories. I saw a decent defense of them a few years ago; the idea is that there are many ways to avoid poison, for instance. A thief might nimbly avoid a poison dart, while a dwarf might just wash it down with an ale chaser. While I find that approach arguable, I still don't understand the sense behind the actual categories. Well, I think the real rationale is just that they were created early in the game's history directly in response to situations that required it, and never deeply reconsidered.
I never much got along with standard D&D magic, the way it's precisely reliable/reproducible and the whole 'fire and forget' thing.
Oh god, I really dislike the whole reasoning behind magic i.e. "forgetting" spells as you can them. Cribbing that mechanic from Vance without all the other colorful aspects doesn't really work for me, at least from a world-building perspective.

I keep the general mechanics but I often change its manifestation. I like the idea that you can cast any spell you want, but they usually take a lot of time to cast. You can get around this by storing spells in your personal magical foci (e.g. staff, amulet, ring, etc.). The number of available slots represents the total capacity of foci that a mage of that level is capable of maintaining.

It's not 100% identical, because I like the wizard player to actually list and describe foci and their various capacities, and these objects can be damaged, lost or stolen. And a mage can cast spells without foci, as long as they have sufficient time. But 95% of the time, these are not considerations during an adventure.
 

dokel

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Yeah, I noticed that nobody has leapt to the defense of old-school saving throw categories. I saw a decent defense of them a few years ago; the idea is that there are many ways to avoid poison, for instance. A thief might nimbly avoid a poison dart, while a dwarf might just wash it down with an ale chaser. While I find that approach arguable, I still don't understand the sense behind the actual categories. Well, I think the real rationale is just that they were created early in the game's history directly in response to situations that required it, and never deeply reconsidered.

My understanding is that the saves are a vestige of the fantasy wargaming/chainmail era. Certain units had special attacks and the way to defend against them was to make the appropriate save. The best argument for the original categories I ever heard was that "roll to save vs Death Ray" sounds kinda cool :smile:

If you want an alternative to Vancian magic and like ability-based saves then T&T might actually be a really good choice.

Alternatively, If you went the DCC route, could you perhaps run the pcs through a 0-level funnel 'prologue' ? (I assume The Magician's House is not intended for 0-level play.) That way you could introduce your newbies to the rules incrementally.
 

Nick J

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My understanding is that the saves are a vestige of the fantasy wargaming/chainmail era. Certain units had special attacks and the way to defend against them was to make the appropriate save. The best argument for the original categories I ever heard was that "roll to save vs Death Ray" sounds kinda cool :smile:

If you want an alternative to Vancian magic and like ability-based saves then T&T might actually be a really good choice.

Alternatively, If you went the DCC route, could you perhaps run the pcs through a 0-level funnel 'prologue' ? (I assume The Magician's House is not intended for 0-level play.) That way you could introduce your newbies to the rules incrementally.
If you skip the funnel, you're robbing players of one of the best parts of the DCC experience, and doing it wrong.
 

Simlasa

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I'd also mention that I like the new magic system for Lamentations of the Flame Princess that Raggi has previewed in their last couple Free RPG Day books (Vaginas are Magic and Eldritch Cock). No spell levels, multiple castings, risky casting and spell miscast tables... a bit DCC-lite in flavor.
 

Edgewise

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The best argument for the original categories I ever heard was that "roll to save vs Death Ray" sounds kinda cool :smile:
Heh, I like that.
(I assume The Magician's House is not intended for 0-level play.)
It would be a stretch. The adventure was designed so that, in theory, it could be completed without combat and purely by cleverness. But I haven't had a playtest yet without combat. It's for second level, which is quite a bit tougher in DCC than in most other OSR games.
I'd also mention that I like the new magic system for Lamentations of the Flame Princess that Raggi has previewed in their last couple Free RPG Day books (Vaginas are Magic and Eldritch Cock).
System-wise, I think it's pretty cool, but the specifics are a bit wacky. Wonder & Wickedness has a pretty good system for levelless spells, although it sticks with the idea of preparing specific spells.
 

3rik

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Just to say that it is pretty easy to hack race-as-class into White Box: FMAG. There is even an optional r-a-c Elf xp table in the book. Plus single save, optional ascending AC, and imho a really nice d6 based Thief class.

The Black Hack uses ability-based saves ("attribute tests"). Personally I don't think I would use TBH to run anything but you could port the save system over to something else.
Can't you just plop any r-a-c race into FMAG, say from Labyrinth Lord material?

I'm fine with FMAG's single Saving Throw but using Attribute Rolls sounds fine as well.

Is there a clear-cut way to convert multiple Saving Throws to a single one, like taking the average or something?
 

Edgewise

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Been ruminating more about this...I'm currently torn between going straight-up B/X or hacked Lamentations. Part of me says that it could be an interesting exercise to go 100% old-school by-the-book, just to see what unappreciated gems lurk therein. The other part says that a LotFP conversion would be more popular when actually releasing this, and I really like many of the Lamentations sub-systems.

The main hack I'm considering would be to replace saving throws with ability-based saves: reflexes, fortitude and willpower, plus toughness (strength-based, for combat-related saves to avoid things like grapples and disarms), perception (intelligence-based) and luck (charisma-based).

I might also have a mechanic whereby any save can be re-rolled as a Luck save, until it fails. If I wanted to go full DCC, I could let the thief re-roll any roll with a Luck save, and the halfling could let any ally re-roll a save using the halfling's Luck save.

Also, I'd hack magic a little bit. In Lamentations, the cleric has access to all cleric spell to prepare. I wouldn't force clerics to prepare spells; instead, they could just spend slots. With wizardry, each spell must be learned, and it takes time equal to the spell level in hours to cast. Spell slots would be allocated to arcane foci like staves and amulets to contain a cast spell until needed.
 

robertsconley

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Actually, I'd be glad to have anyone explain the rationale for the B/X saving throw categories:

Odnd_saves.jpg

If you look at the OD&D save chart look at the different between Death Ray/Poison versus Staves/Spells. It is easier to save versus Death/Poison than Stave/Spells

If you look at the five categories they are organized in order of ever worsening saving throws instant death being the best on the left, to the rest of the spell being the worst saves on the right.

The categories exist the way they do because while Gygax decided to cut his players a break on save or die effect. Just guessing here probably figure wands are too convenient and thus made save versus wands easier. Considered being turned into stone midway between regular spells and save or die. Probably wanted to make fighter and magic-users/clerics a bit different when it came to spells and dragons. And last since magical staff were written to be capstone magic items, he made their saves the same as memorized spells.

Arbitary but when looked at this way they have a logic to them.

As for figuring out what save to use for your custom effect. I would use the following procedure.

1) Is it similar to a save or die effect? Then use Death Ray/Poison
2) Is it a save or severely incapacitating effect? Then use Stone. The effect should incapacitate the character to the point where they can't play and something very specific and not common is needed to reverse the effect.
3) Otherwise use the Staves/Spells unless fighters can resist the effect better than Clerics/Magic Users then use Dragon Breath.
4) If #2 or #3 and the effect is produced by a wand then use All Wands.
 
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