Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Save vs. Simplicity: my conversion/ reversion to classic saving throws in D&D and a new rules set

Work commitments have combined with a few of my players moving away to put actually playing games on the back burner... again. This has given me some time to work on my game as a mechanical system rather than working on prepping for gaming sessions.

One way I have found to expand the pool from which I draw players is to include my daughter and a couple of her friends who seem to be pretty interested in dorking out with some d20s. As a DM I need to alter my game in two ways. First, toning down the content a bit while being more selective about who comes over to the house to play. The other consideration has to do with the game mechanics I use and their complexity. Though my new players are quite familiar with dragons, ogres, etc. they are not familiar with base-attack-bonuses (I use ascending AC), saving throws, etc. I need to cut out some complexity to make it easier for a party of beginners.

The first piece is easy. The second piece requires a little more work. I have been looking at the mechanics I use and have decided that they either need to be simplified, so that they do not slow down new players or that I need to be sure that the "work" is done on my side of the screen rather than on the players' side. That leads me to saving throws.

There has been a lot of chat in the OSR/ DIY D&D scene concerning saving throws (herehere, and here) and it has inspired me to take a deep look at how I approach saving throws. When I was first introduced to D&D I had no problem with the classic five-fold save system... other than knowing that every time I rolled a save I was trying to dodge a certain death. In fact the names of the saves were kind of evocative, and bizarre. When 3x hit the shelves I embraced the new universal d20 mechanic which yielded three ability score-based saves (basically three ability score checks). When I returned to D&D and discovered (or rediscovered) the OSR and old school D&D I dug around for a clone that would work for me... and found Swords & Wizardry and have adopted many hacks which have been bolted on to S&W and have created some of my own. The single save of S&W seems simple enough, And it is. But I do miss the classic saves... everybody dreads hearing their DM say, "save versus death!" The five-fold saving throw system is bizarre and even a bit cheesey (maybe), but it is D&D. After years of getting used to them and then pitching them for "modern" innovations, I am going back to the classic saves. They may seem kind of crunchy. They are not. It simply requires writing four more numbers on each character sheet.

So deciding on the classic saving throws also got me thinking about the clone I have been using. I do love S&W. I did the Kickstarter for S&W Complete and proudly show off my signed hardcopy. But S&W does not support the five-fold saving throw. Instead of just ripping them out of the Rules Cyclopedia I have decided to give Lamentations of the Flame Princess a try. It features the classic saves. LotFP is attractive to me for other reasons as well. Not the least of which is, like S&W, free PDFs are available so that my players can pick up the rules and get going with just a few clicks. The other components of LotFP which I am drawn to will be detailed in later posts.

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