Thursday, December 30, 2010

Finding My Own Personal Proto-Game

Recently, I read the news that Frog God Games is releasing a new "complete" edition of Swords & Wizardry. Though I do not currently play any edition of S&W, part of me really wants to. So, in order to find out what this new "complete" edition was all about, I started searching around for reviews and ran across this lovely bit of fandom.

This got me thinking about my own recent experience with Ye Auld Game and my attempts at exploring the roots of this hobby. This has primarily involved running my Lost Colonies campaign, which began as an experiment on two fronts.

Firstly, I was interested to see what would happen if I introduced an older edition of D&D to a bunch of players who cut their teeth on 3.5. In this sense, the experiment has been wildly successful. The campaign has been going on for 18 months(!) and has outlasted three concurrent 3.5 campaigns played by the same group of players. In addition, several of these same players have started running their own older-edition games.

Secondly, I wanted to reach back beyond my own experience to try and find an edition and a way of playing the game as it was somewhere in the late 70s. In this sense, my experiment has had mixed results. The campaign started with just the three core classes, and a few wrinkles based on the Chainmail rules. Both of these have long since been jettisoned. Something interesting happens on the way to the gaming table from the intellectual exercises that try to imagine a "purer" version of the game. In short, everyone at my table is more interested in having fun than adhering to some kind of rigid definition of what is "D&D." In process, we all gravitated toward that wonderful space that exists somewhere between the LBBs, Holmes, AD&D and B/X.

Which brings me to the real point of this post. For a variety of practical and fiddly reasons, when I chose to begin this experiment, I opted for Labyrinth Lord as my ruleset. At the time, I saw it as a compromise with my players that I wasn't entirely happy with (mainly, because it didn't meet with the exacting parameters of my own intellectual exercise). This decision, however, has turned out to be a huge blessing.

If, as has happened over the course of our play, by either design or by accident one wants to find that proto-D&D one might have played somewhere between 1977 and 1983 that shamelessly borrowed from the LBBs, Holmes, AD&D and B/X, Labyrinth Lord is a fantastic vehicle to get there.

The genius of Dan Proctor's design is modularity. Taken together, Labyrinth Lord (LL), Original Edition Characters (OEC), Advanced Edition Companion (AEC), Mutant Future and even (hopefully soon) Starships & Spacemen offers a plethora of compatible options for a slew of different campaigns. It is a very easy matter to use the OEC Cleric with the AEC spell list as written. There is no need to convert anything, no need to house-rule this stuff — it is all there in black and white just ready for anyone to mix and match.

In other words, LL is very capable of re-creating whatever version of D&D we old grognards played as kids. I know this because it is this proto-version of the game that has emerged from playing LL with my Lost Colonies campaign. I had almost forgotten what this proto-version was over the course of all these years since my mom came home from Target with the Holmes edition. LL not only made this kind of game possible, but easy to find.


  1. It's very gratifying to see that my intent has succeeded! I want LL to be very flexible for emulating any flavor of the game. I'm glad you're enjoying it.

  2. I can only agree. Originally, LL seemed like a nice retro of B/X. And it still is. But Dan has been amazingly clever in introducing the flexibility of adding other parts while still keeping the B/X system. I was actually kind of stunned when I first looked at AEC. "Wait a minute - I can run AD&D stuff but keep the B/X system!"

    My actual play has also backed that up. The GM wanted to run straight LL and I was good with that. But we added new players (young punks who had never played a TSR-version of the game) and they wanted doo-dads like Druids and whatnot. So, alright, in with the Druids and no problem.

    Cheers, Dan. So...when do we see the S&S?

  3. Aw man. I had this big glowing comment written up, but my internet connection dropped and the comment was lost in cyberspace. Short version: I'm very, very happy with LL. It's not only allowed me to recreate the "home version" of D&D I love best, but also to continue the positive evolution of ideas and elements (like science fantasy, weird horror, etc.) without having to worry about rules.