Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Setting vs Rules

Thinking about the last post, I'm wondering if folks have a preference for which rules support different styles of play better or worse?  Standard versions of D&D do fine in the High Fantasy and Swords & Sorcery space.  D&D and the clones are fairly high powered and need some surgery to work in the low magic space - those green 2E historical books always had a healthy chunk of things to cut out to make the game more grounded.

Regarding the new games, DCC RPG looks to live in that Swords & Sorcery place, with the wizard pacts and moral ambiguities that come across in the rules.  I can't see Gandalf slashing his arm to spill blood to Blodbu…  - whatever the frog god thingie is in DCC -  to empower one of his spells, despite how awesome it would be.  (Although as an angelic Maiar, maybe his patron would be a being of light - what do I know?)

LOTFP goes after the low magic style, with grittier combat and toned down spell lists.  Note that both games ditch the 9 point alignment scale to work with Alignment as Allegiance and not Alignment as Ethics, further getting away from the good vs evil vibe of standard D&D.

As a DM, I choose low magic more often because I can model more elements from the real world (ie, general DM laziness) without needing to project the massive changes to society that would come about due to Raise Dead, common magical healing, Plant Growth for mega crops, Continual Light, and all the other reality-bending things we can't even predict.

Players, on the other hand, want Swords & Sorcery.  They'd prefer loose alignments (if any) to maximize freedom of choice, tons of race and class options, and more powerful options all around.  Just generalizing, mind you - your players might be different.

Just an aside - does anyone know of a setting or treatise that take magic to it's logical conclusions in a D&D setting?    The closest ones I can think of were in the Known World Gazetteers - Glantri and the Empire of Alphatia.  Both were ruled by wizards, had magical construction on a wide scale, flying ships, changes to agriculture and the social structures due to magic, etc.  But the Known World (Mystara) also postulated meddlesome gods (immortals) that kept the world in line and reacted if any group got too powerful.  I never read Eberon, but I I know it featured quite a bit of magic-as-technology.


  1. The magic-as-technology thing is at the heart of the Iron Kingdoms too, which sort of cheat by placing a mechanical as well as social taboo on necromancy and healing (both are physically harmful to the caster, although the necromancy thing can be mitigated through a variety of technological means) and by replacing crafted items with mechanical devices that are merely powered by magic.

    Blackswords and Bucklers proves to me that low-magic D&D can work. I confess to being rather fond of it for that, as scaling back up to an appropriate level of magic for my needs is quite easy when I can pitch between it and S&W.

  2. I don't think any of these games create a Sword & Sorcery style of play in and of themselves--at least not in terms of literary models. I think some of them may imply a setting that is Sword & Sorcery inspired. Blood magic could just as easily be folklore/mythology as S&S, though--or for that matter some high fantasy.

  3. That's a big thing to point out - there's a big difference between the types of situations implied by a set of rules, and how they're actually implemented at the table.

    If there's one big gap in the OSR, IMHO, it's that there are plenty of folks generating new mechanics, and not a lot of "how to's".

    For instance, all the 'how to build a sandbox' type tutorials don't really help with actually running a sandbox game.

  4. Google indexing works fast... I just typed in "blackswords and bucklers" to see what Von was referencing, and his comment here was the #2 or 3 organic result.

  5. That looks like a typo... maybe meant Backswords & Bucklers, which is an interesting Swords & Wizardry variant. Here is the link:


  6. I think that LotFP tends towards quite gritty Renaissance/Age-of-Sail/Victorian horror-fantasy, as well as less the gonzo side of sword-and-sorcery. This is the way I like it - enough weirdness to make the game interesting, but not too much weirdness. And, better yet, weirdness that stands out starkly on the background of quite a realistic (and realistically flawed) society and culture.

    @Beedo - if you want to see good material for building and running a sandbox, try Stars Without Number - the entire game was built to facilitate sandbox play and does so magnificently IMHO.

  7. Stars without Number is on my (long) RPG to-read list - it looks great, and I'm intrigued by their other product, Crimson Tide(?) for Labyrinth Lord. Thanks for the recommendation.

    @Shane - I did find Backswords & Bucklers, the pdfs are (free) and $1.55, what's not to love?

  8. Ptolus was a pretty epic as far as D&D 3.0 was concerned. Monte Cook designed it to be the "logical conclusion" of the rules. Old schoolers might really like Ptolus because not olnly do you have a massive city to explore, but the size and scope of the "dungeon" beneath is insane. Basically, the entire planet is a prison world designed to hold a god who is chained deep, deep beneath Ptolus.

    I own it and pick it up from time to time. I think it'd take a year of careful study to try and pull it off correctly.

    So, yeah, there's one for D&D 3x.


  9. I'm a bit late to the party, but I felt like commenting on this part:

    "If there's one big gap in the OSR, IMHO, it's that there are plenty of folks generating new mechanics, and not a lot of "how to's".

    For instance, all the 'how to build a sandbox' type tutorials don't really help with actually running a sandbox game. "

    I wrote some thoughts on this here and basically what is needed, according to me, is adaptive players and a specific attitude. All those tutorilas you mention don't help with that. I claim they focus on the wrong thing.