Dolmenwood Core Rules

Following yesterday's announcement about Dolmenwood being a standalone game, I wanted to give some more details about what that looks like from a rules standpoint, compared with B/X / OSE. The reason for each change is explained below, the overall aims being:

  1. To streamline presentation and make the game easier for newcomers to pick up.
  2. To maintain compatibility with OSE and other old-school games.

Caveat: Everything written here is provisional / work in progress.

[Updated May 2023]

Core Rules: Mechanical Changes

Just one. Removing descending Armour Class / THAC0 / the attack matrix.

Reason: Ascending AC is a bit easier for complete newcomers to understand, is much easier to explain, and is already familiar to the vast majority of gamers (via D&D 3, 4, 5 and their associated ecosystems). The standard OSE dual format ("AC 8 [11]") looks arcane and confusing for new players.

Core Rules: Presentation Changes

Adventuring Skills

There are a bunch of X-in-6 based skills common to all character classes hidden away in B/X (e.g. listening at doors, searching for traps, the surprise roll, etc). Dolmenwood will present these as a skill system, rather than as ad hoc rolls. There will be 3 skills: Listen, Search, Survival. The underlying mechanic for these checks remains the same (i.e. X-in-6 chance of success, with certain races / classes getting an improved chance of success).

Reason: Explaining this "hidden skills system" explicitly makes it easier to understand and apply.

Saving Throw Categories

Dolmenwood will use slightly different names for the 5 save categories: Doom, Ray, Hold, Blast, Spell. The mechanic for rolling saves remains the same.

  • Doom: Effects that instantly kill or inflict ongoing physical malignities—for example, poison, disease, death magic.
  • Ray: Rapidly moving, directional effects that can be dodged—for example, energy rays, magic wands.
  • Hold: Effects that hinder or prevent movement—for example, paralysis, petrification, falling rocks that may crush or pin characters.
  • Blast: Lethal energy effects that fill a wide area—for example, wyrm breath, explosions.
  • Spell: Potent, directly targeted effects—for example, arcane or holy spells, fairy glamours, magic staves or scrolls.

Reason: This makes the save categories more broadly applicable (e.g. Ray instead of Magic Wand, Blast instead of Breath Attack), which makes them easier to understand and apply.

Movement Rates

Are noted in a simplified format: "Speed 40", rather than "MR 120' (40')"

Reason: Exploration speed (the "120'" in the example) rarely matters for monsters. It's just noise to include it in all stat blocks.

Hit Dice

Monster Hit Dice are being reframed as monster Level (to match PC level).

Reason: Hit Dice is an odd term that means pretty much the same as another term that already exists: level. Melding the two terms makes the game easier to understand.

Character Creation: Changes

Separate Race + Class

The race + class character creation method is the default, with race-as-class options presented in the appendix. Note that the method of character creation doesn't affect the core game rules in any way. A race-as-class Halfling created using the B/X rules can adventure alongside a race + class Grimalkin Hunter without issue.

Reason: OSE presents two methods of character creation: one based on B/X, the other based on AD&D. The two different methods make sense to people versed in D&D history, but are a really common point of confusion for newcomers. Zoning in on just a single method makes the game much easier to understand. The vast majority of players are already familiar with the race + class option, making it the obvious choice.

Standard Classes

Dolmenwood will include the standard cleric, fighter, thief, and magic-user  classes. (In addition to the following Dolmenwood-specific classes: enchanter, friar, hunter, knight, minstrel. A total of 9 classes.) Each of the standard classes will have some minor tweaks, tying it in with the setting and/or adding some common house rules. As noted above for races, a standard B/X thief will be able to adventure alongside a Dolmenwood thief without issue, should players wish.

  • Cleric: Can use any type of weapon, but only holy magic weapons. Chooses to be a member of one of 3 Dolmenwood holy orders, each granting a small class ability.
  • Fighter: Gain a combat talent every 4 levels, from level 2.
  • Magic-user: Use the AD&D style spell book rules (see OSE Advanced Fantasy). Roll or choose from a list of starting spell books. Gain detect magic as an X-in-6 class skill (each attempt takes 1 turn).
  • Thief: Use X-in-6 skills across the board, unified with the general adventuring skills framework. Optional point buy system for skill improvement.

Reason: Cleaning things up a bit, better tying things in with the setting, and adding a few extra abilities to classes that are commonly house ruled.

Referee-Facing Stuff

Monster #Appearing

Will be listed in a simplified format. (The exact format isn't yet finalised.)

Reason: The B/X #Appearing format is very weird and confusing.

Treasure Types

These will be replaced by a new system of letter codes and treasure tables separately listing Coins, Riches (gems, jewellery, art objects), and Magic. Each list will be sorted in order of average value, making it easy to choose a treasure type by looking down the list. (There'll be a 1:1 conversion guide from the B/X treasure types, for those who need it.)

Reason: The B/X treasure types don't follow any kind of pattern, making them difficult to understand and use.

Monster Tags

Monsters will be listed with "tags" noting their size (small, medium, large), creature type (fairy, undead, animal, etc), and intelligence (mindless, animal, low, etc).

Reason: This simple addition clarifies a lot of other rules, for example which monsters count as "larger than human-sized" for the sake of small characters gaining an AC bonus.


There'll be a bunch of tiny changes and additions here and there, such as:

  • Slow weapons: Removing this rule as virtually no one uses it.
  • Rations: Stating how long rations of each type remain fresh.
  • Crossbows: Making them armour piercing (+2 to attack vs metal armour), to counteract their Reload downside.
  • Battle axes: Now one-handed.
  • Silver: Specifying the cost of making silver weapons of any kind (i.e. not just daggers and arrows).

Reason: Adding useful little details, clearing up minor rules.

Old-School Essentials

Just to reiterate from yesterday's post: our intent with OSE is as follows:

  • Continue reprinting and publishing the game in its current form.
  • At some point in the future (perhaps 2024?) start work on a revised, non-OGL version. (Despite WOTC's current stance on the OGL v1.0a remaining in place, we feel the best approach in the long run is to move away from it, to avoid potential future rug-pulling attempts.)
  • The non-OGL revision will just involve re-editing the text to remove verbatim wording derived from Open Game Content material. The game itself won't change.
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Really great thing, I guess standalone Dolmenwood can be the best full-pack intro to the true and not oversimplified old-school gaming.

About changes the most of them I really like, Descending Armour Class / THAC0 is really obsolated, new Saving Throws looks great, legacy Treasure Types are indeed unintuitive.

But I have few doubts about others:

1. Adventuring Skills – I think that old school ad-hoc d6 rules is not just legacy, but really important part of OSR playstyle. If you have a unified task resolution system, it encourages the referee to ask for some kind of “ability check” every time of doubt. But if you have only something like “force doors”, “listen doors” or “foraging”, it will stimulate the referee to rule more in the spirit of “yes/no” or “at the cost”, or “lets say there are 1 in 6 chance of something bad”.

2. Separate Race and Class – I think that concept of races-as-classes is really powerful and underestimated. If we use separate races, all the elves and dwarves become “just a bit different another humans”, but race-as-class Elf or Dwarf is something different that do not pass into human categories. Also it’s better in terms of class balance – Magic-User can cast spells, Elves have glamours, Thief have own skills, Fighter should be the best at fighting etc.

All the other are fine, combat talent or d6 thief are not common, but it can be good implemented in OSR spirit.


I really like these changes. I am glad you are making this its own product with some quality of life and setting alignment adjustments.

David Nielson

This sounds amazing! I’m even more excited for this now! I think OSE does a great job at emulating the various fantasy genres of original D&D. But this has a narrower scope, a more folkloric/Grim Brothers vibe, which I think warrants its own system. And honestly, as much as I have nostalgia for my old BX books I do think they can be improved upon. Blasphemous I know!


These are great changes. I really like how this game is shaping up to be more friendly to new players. I really disiked how the two methods of character creation were presented in the OSE Advanced book. Very confusing to new players. Presenting race + class in the main part of the book, and placing race as class in an appendix, is a fantastic solution.


I am a big fan of all of these changes! It is actually very close to the homebrew rules I was going to use when I run Dolmenwood.


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