Friday, July 2, 2021

How to alter D&D, the be67 revision: Part 1 (Basic/Expert rules supplement, grindhouse style)

Lockdowns have us playing more D&D again (first digitally, recently in meat space, even!). If you know this blog, you know I have a set of house rules I'm constantly tinkering with. It's all spread over the last 10 years of posting. The last iteration is something I call be67 and it pushes the whole concept into grindhouse/splatter territory. It's basically a D&D RC/HackMaster 4E hybrid with a special twist or two. This is going to be a revised collection of all those ideas, in several parts, putting all of it into a D&D context. This will be a little booklet in the end, hopefully some time this year. Stay tuned, stay safe, stay healthy ...

A word on compatibility

This should work with all and any early versions and clones of D&D. Those games are build in blocks and some of it is interchangeable or added to without much fuss. The D&D RC and the Labyrinth Lord rules are what I've worked here with, but even AD&D could be modified accordingly.

However, you'll have to take into account that heavy changes might need additional rules or changes that accomodate those alterations.

Let me give an example here (a sketch to the detailed explanations below): this system will do way more damage than D&D would do normally. Not only can dice somewhat explode (Echo, see below), you will get additional and better damage dice if the die result allows for it and the players cooperate. To compensate for that, you need to allow for tactical decisions to where a character takes a small disadvantage to be harder to hit, for instance.

It might not be enough, though, which means you'll have to install more measures to counteract massive amounts of damage. It's why we introduced hit locations (you might lose a limb but not your life) and a luck pool (reduce your luck attribute to manipulate rolls) as standards. The result is that characters are harder to hit, might get maimed instead of killed and save their lifes by spending luck points (being unlucky in future rolls as a consequence).

All those alterations are minor, as the system stays intact, but crucial, as the system would fall apart without them (due to a VERY high lethality, of course). It's the rules of tinkering. Change something, see what it affects and introduce counter-measures where necessary ...

Adding to the rules being like ... [source]
What stayed the same

You still have six Ability Scores, although partially renamed (this has to work for the late 1960s, after all). The Saves are still there. I have been looking for alternatives, but have to say, beating the original 5 Saves system is damn hard. All the alternatives I have seen, even the 'official' ones, haven't even come close.

I know people see that differently, but I found they mostly ignore the flavor and sense of gravity the original Saves radiated (Save versus DEATH RAYS!). A character's passive reaction to their surroundings should be taken as seriously as their conscious interaction. Having just three Saves (or even one!) and without the flavor (Reflexes, blech) takes too much away from the game, imho. So the Saves stay.

Attacks are still 1d20 + modifiers vs. AC.

Classes are still there, although somewhat modified. The engine is the same (Fighter, Thief, Wizard & Cleric classes), but the chassis is quite different (again, as per the assumed setting, you'll need to have convicts, hippies, veterans and such). The approach is somewhat similar to what the D&D RC actually offers, as I assume that the canonical characters are nothing more but inspiration and should help informing a DM to build their own cadre of classes.

How far I'll push this in terms of level advancement, I can't quite tell right now. We are still testing options, and while it's nice to have something simple like later editions, I can't help but admire the subtlety a class bases advancement offers (thieves are weak, but advance faster, if played right, Elves take a really long time on paper, but a capable player will have no problem advancing as fast as the others, if the game is played RAW).

I wrote a post about this, if you are interested in my thinking here (go here). I'll leave my options on the table for now, but how xp are gained had a massive overhaul and might work as enough of an equalizer to allow for the same progression (I also like to see level advancement as a group endeavor ... maybe I should push more towards something down that road?).

Anyway. As many, many people have pointed out when deconstructing D&D, those are the core tenets of the game. All changes and additions are build with this in  mind and to achieve a very specific gaming experience: 60s grindhouse splatter. Compatibility is so high, you could easily use be67 to play Temple of Elemental Evil. You just have to find a way to have those hippies crash in the Hommlet ...

Not the Europe you had imagined, though ... [source]

So this has lots of options to play the same game with a very different tone. Maybe a bit like as if Tarantino had written D&D instead of Gygax, but today and with the 60s grindhouse features in mind and gallons of blood. Could also be Wolfenstein: The New Order as a role-playing game.

Let's start talking about how to make that happen, following the example given above. In a way this is also a 'Best of the Blog'-feature, as we are turning 10 years old here :)

Step 1: Hacking HackMaster 4e to run with D&D RC

This is basically a back engineering of AD&D 2e (revised) to work with B/X. The main features in HM had been (1) exploding dice, (2) a big HP buffer for more hacking, (3) a honor system that allowed for a meta system where characters by sacrificing their honor could gain benefits from rerolls to actually surviving a deadly attack, (4) a complex and detailed advancement system with goodies for everyone and (5) critical hits that may leave you maimed instead of dead.

Most of them established in AD&D 2e, all of them good things to have in a game of SPLATTER, but also rather baroque and extensive (that honor system alone ... man, it took me ages to wrap my brain around that one).

AD&D 2e at the end? [source]
As I said in the beginning, took me 10 years get the fine-tuning done for this, but I did manage to translate ALL of that into B/X somehow:

(1) EXPLODING DICE are Echo now. This means, if a player rolls the maximum on a die, they may roll the next lower die and add the result. There is no die lower than the d4. IMPLICATIONS: it opens up the game in places where people tend to roll often, which would be mostly combat, and that means more damage. This was to be expected, so measures have been implemented with randomized hit locations and by opening up the Funk ability score (originally Charisma) as a luck pool players can drain to alter results effecting them. Limbs are lost easily, but this being the grindhouse genre, alternatives are gained easily enough (see The Rule of Cool). RESULT: Characters are maimed easily, but it's not that hard a disadvantage.

(2) THE HP BUFFER is regulated through rules for dodging and cooperation, as well as randomized hit locations and Funk. The origin of the rules of dodging are based in the necessity of gun play and the lack of AC in the game, playing in the 60s and all that. Therefore it became necessary to make it easier to gain protection from the surroundings and the support from your fellow buddies. IMPLICATIONS: It made a point-based initiative system necessary that actually made it possible for people to support each other in various ways. They can now protect and help each other, ideally overcoming enemies with ingenuity before they are seriously getting hurt themselves. Additionally they may gain via advancement a Second Wind Pool that allows for some fast regeneration. RESULT: Those rules will automatically have people change position and support each other. If still hit, it might be a limb or it might be modified by Funk. People get hit less often, but harder, which then can be negotiated to some degree with the tools provided.

(3) THE HONOR SYSTEM was reduced to Funk. Easily enough, Funk can be reduced by the points needed to alter some result effecting a character. All results can be altered, but always only the last result effecting the player (you can't just wait how it plays out and then alter the combat die after damage has resolved, for instance). Low Funk will result in disadvantages, as all low ability scores would. Which element of the game is effected is determined randomly at the beginning of each session and Funk regenerates every time a character advances. Furthermore, players can decide to start a Funk Pool with level advancement whre each point collected allows for a reroll. IMPLICATIONS: Since Funk has such strong implications for the game, it became rather necessary to make the same true for all other ability scores. There are no dump stats in be67, instead players will have to make meaningful decisions during character creation. RESULT: As characters progress between levels, their Funk usually will take a hit or two, but those decisions are ALWAYS dramatic and will fit the genre quasi automatically.

(4) THE ADVANCEMENT SYSTEM is reduced, but more detailed than what B/X offers. Characters not only gain HP and occasionally an additional attack or maybe some skill points, they can also attempt to gain a benefit associated with the ability scores. Each Ablity Score stands for another aspect relevant to the game (the Second Wind and Funk Pools are already mentioned, Weapon Mastery as well as skill points and better initiative are also options). Another heavy focus was on HOW experience is gained. This changed mostly towards xp for damage, in several variations. Usually, all damage made or taken during the game is collected and multiplied by 10. However, dismemberment, high damage and instant kills are worth a higher multiplier. IMPLICATIONS: While being totally in tune for the genre, this lends itself easily to an award system as one would know it from first person shooters. As a consequence, the whole advancement experience adapted towards that approach. The group collects special xp awards over the course of a session and check, if the awards stack towards a higher goal (combos, flawless attack, you name it). RESULT: The game resolves about the art of SPLATTER in a way that translates a computer game experience into D&D, very much with the same effect. People will cheer a gory insta-kill just as they would with your favorite FPS. What's more, everytime characters advance, something happens. Small changes, for sure, but still meaningful to the players.

(5) CRITICAL HITS, finally, are directly connected to Echo (as are fumbles, but reversed), so the result of the d12 that is rolled after a natural 20, will have additional damage implications with rising severity. Furthermore, the damage system has been altered. Instead of having weapons with specific damages, characters have Weapon Mastery in different categories and damage dice associated with that. How high the Damage Die is relates to class, level and cooperation, how many dice are rolled is determined by the attack result. IMPLICATIONS: This is quite gory to begin with, which means the critical hit tables need to offer an additional aspect to the table (it can result in nicknames, for instance, and signature moves against specific enemies, if the results are high enough). Damage is also now tied to how well a player knows the system (as well as to high rolls), and since all of this is connected with gaining xp, there's another incentive to use rules that help manifesting the genre at the table. It all loops rather nicely. RESULT: Characters can be as deadly with their fists as with their guns, which, again, is quite like you'd know from the grindhouse features. Big gun makes big bang, but the kung fu master will have organs explode with their attacks. It's all quite satisfying, actually. Even more so when players start cooperating for higher results.

And that's that. The beauty of it is, not only is it a great deal reminiscent of HackMaster 4e (to me, at least), it's also less clunky and fits the D&D RC rules (or Labyrinth Lord or Basic Edition or any other clone) rather well while emulating the genre, as you can see.

That's already a lot, right?

With the basics established like that, we can go into the specific rules next and talk about how they alter the original rules and to what effect in detail. Step 2 should be something like "Altering B/X classes to fit the 60s", Step 3 should handle combat, Step 4 everything else (Skills, Saves, the lot). Step 5 would be about advancement and Step 6, finally, will adress what DMs have to keep in mind when DMing be67 ... I'd say that's some posting for the foreseeable future.

The high art of improving the basics ... [source]

That said, what do you guys think so far? Was I able to explain how the changes apply and what they alter? Or that it's all still D&D? Are any HackMaster afficionados among you that can appreciate (or hate?) the design choices alluded to above? As always, I'm happy to read your thoughts.


In other news, I managed to publish a cyberpunk role-playing game and you can check out a free preview of the book right here (or go and check out the first reviews here).

If you need convincing, maybe this post will get you there. If you already checked it out, please know that I appreciate you :) It'll certainly help to keep the lights on here ...


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