House-ruling Ye Olde Fantasy Game – Part 1

Adventurers… Pic by Jared von Hindman

The power curve of Old School Games


Back in 1989, just before 2e came out, I decided to leave Ye Olde Fantasy Game for other games. Among other things I was tired of the whole level thing cycle: Start out as a loser ☛ Kill things and take their stuff ☛ Level up ☛ Restart cycle ☛ ad infinitum

However, coming back to rpg:s a few years back, the time limitations of adult life made me choose old school gaming in the form of Rules Cyclopedia for our comeback game. We played Judges Guild’s Caverns of Thracia just like when we were kids, and it was a ton of fun. Still, I do have problems with some of the assumptions of Ye Olde Game (as have some of my players), and that’s why I started to look at alternative and modded (or moddable) versions of the game. Hence the OSR-thingy. And my preference of the clones (or whatever you want to call them). And they, in turn gave me some inspiration and ideas.

(The other GM in my group went the other way, and chose Pathfinder as his house system. I’m a player in that game, and while I enjoy it a lot, I think it’s way too rules-laden and munchkin-y for my games).

So, this is going to be a loose series of posts where I discuss my ideas and suggestions to make the game fit my current tastes better.

I realize that this kind of talk is heresy in some circles, as I soon discovered over at a famous old school gaming forum when I tried to discuss these matters. So this is not to piss people off. It’s just me thinking aloud, and if you’d like to chime in or share ideas, you’re welcome. I’ll start with defining some of the problems I have.

1st out: Power curve

In Ye Olde Game you start out as a total looser. Weak, powerless and schmucky in general. And as you kill things and take their stuff you get points that you can use to buy a new level. A higher level means that you get tougher and better at doing your stuff and every few levels you also might unlock new powers. Just like that. And after ten or twenty levels you are much much more powerful than you were at start. Graphically you could depict this as a rising curve with a high degree of slope.

What I want, is a curve that (i) starts out higher up the scale and (ii) doesn’t rise as fast (and high).

2nd out – niche protection

Classes. What’s a class? It could be:

  • A profession
  • A species
  • An archetype
  • A character concept
  • Other…?

I  get the original classes. Coming from wargaming, the Fighter and Wizard makes perfect sense in a wargamer way: infantry and artillery. The Cleric is a combo Fighter/Wizard and the Thief might be some kind of Specialist (sniper or ranger maybe). Later on, the base classes were reinforced with a bunch of other classes. And – these classes are a mix of concepts, going from archetypes to professions and so on. Quite often, these classes have some new cool powers that’s not available to the old ones. And in order to make the game fair, a lot of artificial limits are imposed in the rules. Some examples:

  • Fighters can’t do magic
  • Wizards can’t fight
  • Only Thieves can do sneaky stuff
  • This also applies to the demihumans – as they get some benefits from being just that, they are automatically limited in class choices and capped at some arbitrary max level.
  • And so on.

What I’d like to see, is a looser system for characters. Not so hammered into a class, and highly moddable. More based on a player character concept and not some artificial class system.

3rd point: Experience points

In the old game you get experience points (xp) by:

  • Defeating adversaries and monsters
  • The acquisition of said adversaries hoarded wealth

And that’s it. So the incentives for going on an adventure is basically this: kill things and take their stuff.

This of course rhymes well with the dungeon delving scenario from the game’s beginnings. But not so, if you want to play more investigative or role-playing games. I would even go so far to dare to argue that Ye Olde Game is no pure rpg. Rather, it’s a fantasy table top or board game with some rpg seasoning. Of course, it’s the first rpg, but in it’s pure form I find it ill fitted for games outside the dungeon delving scene. Also, for the GM it’s a helluva lot of book-keeping computing xp and who gets what.

What I’d like here is a character development system that is at least a bit detached from the monster-loot thing and more depending on character achievements. And simple to administer for both players and GM.


Q: So why don’t you play some other game, then?

A: I do play other games. But I like the simplicity and feel of the old game, and I think with some small tweaks here and there, everyone can have the game they want. Based on a common rule base. 

The next post in this series is going to discuss some alternative ways of handling these matters.

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