Friday, August 26, 2011

What rules do you play, and why?

If you don't care about other referee's naval gazing about rule sets, skip this lengthy and somewhat rambling post. Fair warning....

For the last couple of months, I've played ad hoc rules while trying to decide between totally custom house rules (based on Torch and Sword), pure 1974 LBB OD&D, pure Labyrinth Lord, OEC Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Core Swords & Wizardry, or Whitebox Swords & Wizardry. I know that the choice of rule system matters surprisingly little during actual play, but for some reason it's something I think about a lot. I established these criteria:

  • A living rule set relatively free of intellectual property entanglements, which unfortunately rules-out OD&D
  • Something that looks more like LBB OD&D than any other edition, which eliminates OSRIC (with which I've been increasingly impressed), Labyrinth Lord, and (to some extent) Core S&W
  • Something I can tell people I play by name, without having to qualify with a million house rules

I'm looking forward to Delving Deeper and Champions of ZED, but for the time being the above criteria directed me to Swords & Wizardry Whitebox. Labyrinth Lord Original Edition Characters was also in the running at that point, but I chose Whitebox because I like many of the new rules like AAC, and Whitebox leaves more room for referee rulings (compare the spell descriptions, for example). The only problems I have with Whitebox:

  • The 6x9" format of the PDF is great for Lulu, but makes it hard to print a quick copy on 8.5x11" (or 4.25x5.5")
  • Marv's prose style is slightly too conversational and verbose to suit my idiosyncratic minimalist preferences. That's nothing against his great work, it's just my Strunk-n-White-ish bias.

I took the Whitebox RTF and created a LaTeX document that gives me tremendous flexibility in output format—I can easily output an 8.5x11", half-page booklet, or whatever other format I want. It also lets me split the rules into as many booklets as I want; I decided on a player booklet and a referee booklet. I made some minor edits that satisfy my stylistic leanings without modifying any rules.

I still want to make a lot of house rules, but I've decided that I'll isolate those changes to the referee book. Amazingly, I only felt compelled to make a couple of minor changes to the player booklet.

"Languages: For campaigns that give each race its own dialect, Dwarves should be able to speak with gnomes, goblins, orcs, and kobolds."

I changed to:

"Dwarves speak the dwarf, gnome, goblin, and kobold languages."

"Languages: For campaigns that give each race its own dialect, Elves should be able to speak with gnolls, goblins, orcs, and hobgoblins."

I changed to:

"Elves speak the elf, gnoll, hobgoblin, and orc languages."

Those are the only actual rules changes to the player rules. The next most dramatic change was to the wording for alignment.

"Alignments in the game are described as Law, Chaos, and Neutrality. In general, Law also corresponds to being “good,” Chaos corresponds to being “evil,” and Neutrality simply means that the character is indifferent between the two moral polarities. It is quite possible for the Referee to make the alignment system more complex: perhaps Lawful only means that you are in favor of centralized hierarchies in society, in which case you could actually be Lawful Evil as well as Lawful Good. It is a matter of preference if you want to make the alignment system more complex."


"Choose an Alignments: Law, Chaos, or Neutrality. Law promotes the order of human civilization, while Chaos favors a world beyond human reason."

Everything else in the player rules is very minor grammar/style stuff. The changes to the referee booklet will be more dramatic.

In short, you could sit down and play with me using the stock S&W Whitebox rule book without any problem, and I can publish stuff without having to explain or standardize a bunch of house rules.

The only thing that would be better would be if I could distribute my house rules with art (although I understand why Matt put that stipulation in the license). I'd love to commission or license a few pieces from Peter Mullen, Stefan Poag, and John Larrey.

If anyone wants the LaTeX files or PDF sans art, just let me know. Most likely, I'll publish the referee stuff that deviates from stock Whitebook here in the coming weeks.

UPDATE: Here's a ZIP file of the PDF and LaTeX files for my house rules player booklet.


  1. For now, I've settled on the S&W:WB rules for the same reasons. There's something that feels much more approachable when distilled down to its level, and anything more stripped down wouldn't be D&D. It's a framework that I feel much better about tacking things onto than I would in having to subtract from something. I don't know why, but there it is.

    I'd love to take a look at your LaTeX files btw.

  2. I run 2e with some OSRIC/1e houseruled in for my home table top games. For example, I will allow half-orcs and assassins. Most of the stuff I design is geared with OSRIC in mind though.

  3. I prefer BFRPG, though I also like S&W White Box.

  4. I too feel better about starting with a light framework, bulette. I updated the post with a link to my player booklet. I'm working on getting art I can distribute.

  5. Take a look at Microlite74 from

    In some ways you're going to say it's Not D&D: it only has three statistics, it's AAC, and it uses a spell fatigue system rather than Vancian fire-and-forget (although there are alternate rules for fire-and-forget). I play with no thieves. MU, Cleric, Fighter; a dwarf is a fighter with a couple of tweaks, and an elf is an MU or a fighter, pick at each level. Hobbits are short humans with a couple of tweaks, not that we have any in my game. I also play with no mechanical alignment: play your character with the personality you want, and entities you encounter will react appropriately.

    It's what I am using to run my players through my mini-megadungeon (yes, yes, that IS just "a dungeon").

    The thing is: it plays like greased lightning. To me, at least, it also feels like fast-and-loose OD&D. The character sheet is one side of one page, and there's very little to slow it down.

  6. I'm not opposed to such thing, Adam. I even toyed with running attribute-less D&D (it works fine), but for this I want something with the comforting familiarity of D&D for my players.

    I have been thinking about trying to write a one or (at most) two page complete version of D&D. I think it can be done with some judicious trimming.


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