After finding out that some friends I have in the city I moved to a few months ago would be up for playing some D&D when they've never played before, I figured I wanted to try a new system of D&D I had been eyeing.
Adventurer Conqueror King, while an awesome version of D&D overall, had a few flaws. Most importantly, it's based on Basic D&D and so starting character are pretty fragile. That can lead to some cool moments of "run away! run away!" But people who've never played before, whose ideas of D&D are movies and kicking ass, generally seem to dislike being as weak as a goblin or modern man, and want some more heroics. The usual solutions of lots of henchmen is counterintuitive to them, so I wanted some more highly powered first-level characters. Starting at slightly higher level, like 3 say, is also unappealing because I still wanted a system where they move up. ACKS also has problems with a number of proficiencies I don't like, and I didn't want to mess with the list of those before starting a new group on a new campaign. I wanted to just be able to point at a book and say, "Pick from these." Finally, I wanted to use a Middle-Earth setting, for reasons I'll probably explain later, and ACKS would require alot of other modifications and house-rules to make me comfortable with that.
So, I decided to use a version of AD&D I found on the internet specifically modded to play Tolkienish Middle-Earth campaigns. I could have used one of the various Middle-Earth RPGs, like One Ring, but I after play-testing those in the past, I was highly disatisfied with all non-D&D (d20 if you will) based systems for gaming, especially for new gamers. The version of D&D I picked is called Balrogs & Bagginses, a homebrew, fantasy heartbreaker (for the unitiated: some dude's pen-and-paper fantasy rp game system, generally based on D&D) by this guy over on rpg.net. I messaged him once, but he never responded. Here's the basics of his system, and what I like about it.
1. It takes AD&D as a baseline so you can use your AD&D first edition or second edition materials with it. Including descending AC. I like using 2e stuff cuz it's what I played as a kid, and the spells are alittle more forgiving at first level (I'm looking at you Flaming Hands).
2. The classes are loose. In fact, in the rules as written, there are no classes, only roles. The way the mechanic works is that characters get 6 "abilities" that are things like Tracking or Divination. If you have an ability, you get to add your ability score bonus (say Intelligence for Tracking) and add your level to it. This mechanic is dead simple, easy to explain, allows creation of totally different "fighters" while retaining the "few simple choices" benefit of a class system. So, if you pick a Elven Fighter, like 5 of your "ability" choices are made for you by your race (generally requiring 2 picks) and class (3-4 default picks). Because many of the nifty class/race choices, like Ranger or Dwarf, simply require you to start with XYZ abilities, it allows the creation of unique archetypical characters, while giving those who want to create their own style alot of options (a man thief, for instance, has plenty of abilities to choose from). Abilities like Swords or Axes & Hammers allow for the use of an easily understandable group of weapons, add the level bonus like normal, and the use of associated armor types. It makes things a snap.
One thing I did to "improve" the game for new players was to force them to choose a role like warrior, thief, or wizard with certain restrictions I added in the game. For instance, Wizards can be men in my version of Tolkien's middle-earth, but they have to be like D&D wizards: no armor, no weapon abilities. Elves on the other hand, as naturally magical, could pick certain Elvish magic abilities (like charm and illusion) even if they pick a main class like Warrior, since, you know, elves have that shit. It's all intuitive and yet I get some of the benefits of class-as-race.
3. There's a nifty trait system ala Pendragon. Basically, all characters start with a couple of traits like Courageous, Greedy, etc. You roll a Wisdom/willpower save, which like all saves in the game is just ability score modifier plus d20 versus target number 12 (or 15 or 20 if rare high-difficulty saves). If you succeed, you can gain an advantage for the rest of the scene or combat. An advantage is to roll two d20's and take the better. The players loved this when we played it, it gave their guys alot of life. I added to the game a few set racial traits I felt appropriate, like Keen-eyed and Sorrowful for elves. When you don't want something to happen, like your Greed to cause you to get into deadly danger, you can see if your willpower will stop you. The trait system is also not too min-maxing, because its freeform and depends on what's going on in your game. It's like the best of The One Ring and Pendragon, but works with D&D.
4. There's slight fiddle on the combat rules. Weapons have some set qualities, like Hacking or Charge or Balanced, that let them do extra stuff. Like Hacking allows a +1 attack bonus versus enemies using shields. It's like a weapon versus armor type that's actually simple enough to use in game. Similarly, the coin rules in the game are awesome and irregular, like the there's four farthings (copper) to one pence (silver and the main currency), and 240 pence to one gold crown (a pony is like 3 crowns for point of comparison).
5. Experience points are at 500 XP intervals for all classes. I find this the best interval. I like simple experience rules, and like Zak S over at dndwithpornstars, I find that players just "go where the action is" anyway. I also like the scale of that threshold: I can dole out 10 XP here and there for stuff I think is cool without it breaking the system and without it being a meaninglessly small amount for the PCs. 100 XP for a major quest completion, like bringing back the head of an orc warlord from the wasteland, is also a big f'ing deal. I like the idea of cash for XP in theory, but in practice, it causes too much inflation for my tastes.
6. Magic rules. The author of the rules split everything into micoschools rather than Wizard/Cleric. So there's a Beast school, a Light of Valinor school and a Weather school. The schools he picked are very Tolkien-evocative, and although they're D&D spells, because of how they're broken down, the spells all seem to "fit" in a Middle-Earth setting. Sorcery, for instance, covers alot of the flash-bang overtly magical spells of D&D, but is reserved for villains and those under the sway of the evil enemy- a very Tolkien-reminiscent idea. Instead of slots, you roll to cast, and lose 1 hp/spell level, whether you fail or succeed. But you still need to go find new spell books and scrolls to actually learn a spell to which you have access because you "know" the spell school. So, I get to put in all the cool stuff from vanilla D&D where PCs hunt out old libraries and try to extract secrets from evil sorcerers and dragons. Yes please.
Now that I've got a regular face-to-face group again, the utility of blogging has returned in force. Expect to see some play reports, some reviews, and other musings coming in the next few weeks.