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:
- To streamline presentation and make the game easier for newcomers to pick up.
- To maintain compatibility with OSE and other old-school games.
Caveat: Everything written here is provisional / work in progress.
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 ") looks arcane and confusing for new players.
Core Rules: Presentation Changes
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 4 skills: Listen, Search, Stealth, 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.
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.
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
Only the race + class character creation method will be presented. 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.
Dolmenwood will include the standard cleric, fighter, thief, and magic-user classes. (In addition to the following Dolmenwood-specific classes: friar, hunter, knight, minstrel, sorcerer. 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 at levels 1, 5, and 10.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
- Whether any of the changes listed above for Dolmenwood may appear in a future revised OSE is as yet undecided.
I just want to add, though I’m a bit disappointed for the project delay, I understand the reasonging behind it.
I’m really excited for the upcoming changes and I think it will make the game much more accessible to newcomers. I really like a streamlined OSR game, and I believe Dolmenwood does not need to be exactly the same as Old-School Essentials; both can coexist and cater to different audiences (or both!). I’m looking forward to the KS!
I’m really liking the direction this is going. When I first heard that Dolmenwood was going to have its own ruleset, I was somewhat ambivalent (I really just cared about the setting and wasn’t keen on losing pages of it to rules). Now that I see where you’re going with this, though, I’m even more excited about the books. BTW, I hope you’re not letting the complainers get you down. Some people just hate change, even when it’s for the better (which is especially silly, in this case, since I presume they could just use stock OSE with the books, anyway, if they’re so inclined). Your past work has inspired my confidence, and I trust your game design chops far more than I trust theirs.
I am disappointed with making Dolemwood a new game. I was excited by the idea of a new setting for OSE but now I am not sure I will buy in too Dolemwood.
Would it be possible to reopen the Patreon? A special tier where we’d have to pay something reasonable to get access to the material? For those who’ve missed their window of opportunity? Pleeeeaaaassssseeeee?!
On closer reflection, there might be unwanted negative side effects of presenting door listening, searching for hidden doors, searching for room traps, surprise rolls and foraging/hunting as a “skill system” with Listen, Search, Stealth and Survival. Although likely not intended, these categories invite broader applicability than the specific use-cases in OSE. A player coming from 5E may be excused for thinking of Search and Listen as subsets of a kind of Perception skill. Rather than describing their actions, the players may start expecting a roll. Likewise with Stealth: the risk is that the act of describing how you are being stealthy will be replaced by something like “I’m using Stealth”. Some referees, myself included, prefer to leave broad skill categories off the character sheets, so as to avoid player’s looking to their sheets for solutions or “buttons to push”. The advantage of these somewhat hidden d6 mechanics in OSE is that the Referee can choose how to apply them, more room for situational adjudication and rulings over rules. Also, door listening and secret door detection are intended to be referee-facing rools. So rules simplification is maybe not as strong an argument as it might seem. Personally I prefer to keep these mechanics in the dark for new players, unless they read the rules. I just say that elves have keen eyes and ears, for example. This might seem like a minor point of distinction but I consider the lack of overt skill systems, and the avoidance of generalised resolution mechanics, even if simple, to be a major philosophical and playstyle differentiation between OSE, various other OSR games, and newer iterations of D&D.