It has been silent here at the Nerd-O-Mancer’s HQ for a while. RealLife™ has been taking up all time and RPG:ing has been limited to reading and thinking out cool adventures.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking of doing a series of blog posts about how I perceive some of the games in the now rather large OSR family. These are the games that I own and use. I’ll try to use a consistent format, or statblock for these reviews.
First out is the excellent Labyrinth Lord by Goblinoid Games
Type: Clone (B/X, and AD&D1E in the case of the Advanced Edition Characters book)
Availability: Free art-free PDFs, paid PDFs w/ art and print versions (soft- and hardback) at LULU. The game is also available directly at many game shops.
Form factor: Nice looking b/w books with old school fantasy art. Well written, clear and concise rules. Easy to pick up for new gamers.
Community: Good support with a somewhat sleepy forum at Goblinoid Games and a dedicated G+ group.
Product support: Excellent, with lots of 3rd party products from various small game companies and private initiatives.
Tinkerability: Excellent. Just mix and match. Adding house rules or elements from other OSR games is very simple.
Compatibility: Excellent. LL materials is easy to use with other old school games.
Flavor: Classic old D&D (or AD&D in the case of AEC). Easily modded for a more Lovecraftian or Dark fantasy feel.
AC: Descending (unarmored man is AC 9)
Saves: 5 (standard old D&D style)
Level range: 1-20
Race & Class: Race-as-class*
Classes included: Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Magic-user, Elf, Halfling, Dwarf*
Hit Dice: B/X style*
Monster Hit Dice: d8
XP charts: variable, depending on class
Demi-human class and level restrictions: yes*
Race & Class: Separate race and class
Races included: Elf, Halfling, Dwarf, Half-elf, Half-orc, Gnome
Classes incuded: Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Magic-user, Paladin, Assassin, Illusionist, Monk, Ranger, Druid
Hit Dice: Optional AD&D style HD
Demi-human class and level restrictions: yes
Blurb: Labyrinth Lord is a B/X clone, i.e. it emulates the 1981 Moldway/Cook version of D&D’s Basic and Expert rules in one book. As such, I was immediately reeled in, as I started out gaming using those rules. The book is well-written and simple to use. I miss an index, though.
Rules-wise, it’s the classic D&D thingy – race-as-class, simple but effective rules, short spell lists. Perfect for the group that want a simple and fun D&D experience. Old Basic and Expert D&D adventures can be run on the fly. Personally, I’m a bit sceptic to the race-as-class thingy, as both me and my players prefer those entities separate.
And this is where LL’s companion book Advanced Edition Characters (AEC) comes in. The book expands the game to include separate race and class, and adds the classes from 1st ed AD&D (except the Bard). With the AEC you still have the simple rules engine of classic D&D, but with all the cool options from AD&D. The book also adds most of the AD&D spells and contain lots of new monsters and magic items. You can also mix ”basic” and ”advanced” characters in the same adventure, which I find very cool. And to be honest, this is much how we used to play AD&D back in the day when we moved over from B/X – simple rules from B/X and ”cool stuff” from AD&D. After hesitating about what system to use – I like classic D&D as GM, and my players want the options of AD&D – I finally settled for LL, as it satisfies both parties.
If these class and race options feels too limited, there’s a wealth of home-brew, or 3rd party new races and classes on the internets, as well as books of new spells. For that Lovecraftian feel there’s Realms of Crawling Chaos that adds evil tomes and and a simple but good psionics system to the mix. And if you’re more into Gothic Fantasy à la Ravenloft or Warhammer, be sure to check out Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque by Jack Shear – there’s 3 books in that department.
LL also adds some excellent poison rules, that weren’t in the original books. Oh yeah, and the Cleric gets his first spell at level 1! Huge improvement in my opinion!
My actual gaming experiences with the system has been very good. It feels like ”D&D” as we used to play it back then. I even ran a reunion one-shot game for my old group, where they got to choose an old character (classic or AD&D) and we tossed these into a meat grinder of a 2-day adventure. No problems at all, except one player chose an old barbarian character made using the Unearthed Arcana rules. That guy was WAY overpowered. I had forgotten all about that… Anyway, he became the ”tank” and got to take on all the really difficult bad guys.
Overall, Labyrinth Lord is a very good rules engine for your classic D&D or AD&D games, whether you like vanilla high fantasy or gritty and dark gothic fantasy. Nothing new, but a fine representation of the early days of D&D gaming. And it’s free. And if you want real books on the table that’s available too. Another strength is that you can buy the game in gaming stores over the world. For me this was one of the reasons that Labyrinth Lord and Advanced Edition Characters became the first D&D clone on my game shelf.
There’s also the Original Edition Characters book, that brings the 0E flavor to Labyrinth Lord. I don’t use it, and I haven’t read it properly, so it’s not included here.