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.

Equipment

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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75 comments

I love the changes to OSE to make it more Dolmenwood. It matches the system I always wanted to play on the OSR. So looking forward to this KS. I was initially worried about changes to the OSE ruleset but after what you have shown I don’t need to look elsewhere for it. Thank you for the update!

Luis

Hi Gavin,

I understand that the shifty behaviour of WoTC leaves any creator with a sense of unease, and it makes a lot of sense for OSE to move away from the OGL. So in that sense you have my support and I think the support of the majority of people that enjoys OSE.

One thing, since now the dolmenwood timeline has shifted for 3-4 months, would you consider re-opening your patreon, so new people (like me) that has recently entered the orbit of OSR be part of your creative endeavour?

Francisco Morales-Rodriguez

The changes sound great, i am really stoked for the Kickstarter.

Apologies people are having such a meltdown over this!

Jason

The whole point of me buying OSE was to have a clean, well edited BX ruleset that was backwards compatible with BX and related supplements, adventures, and settings. Remove that and my business goes with it.

Derpomancer

After moving from 3.5/Pathfinder to 5E (a relief, as DMing a high level campaign almost killed my enjoyment of gaming) I enjoyed the ease and simplicity, which reminded me of my old AD&D days. So for me hearing the changes intended puts Dolmenwood even more in my ballpark than OSE would, so personally I am even more happy. However, as it is clear that many OSE fans have supported Dolmenwood up to this point it may be better to consider options of offering both within Dolmenwood. I can understand their disappointment. Please consider Dual stats (or adding an extra section at the back of the book with OSE info).As I have no previous investment in Dolmenwood or OSE until now please take my points as an objective, outside opinion. If you intend to only offer one option then whilst I would prefer the new options you are considering I would still be more than happy to have Dolmenwood in OSE only.( one caveat, ascending AC please)

Kevin

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