Tuesday, June 21, 2016

More exploration of Old School

I recently looked through my big list of Microlite Games and realized that although B/X is my favorite actually old version of D&D, I don't have Microlite81, which is the conversion of B/X into Microlite.  It was easy to track down copies on DrivethruRPG of the various versions of Microlite81, so I picked them all up.  Because I was pretty interested in Microlite74, I expected to be pretty happy with Microlite81; to find it even more interesting, honestly, than Microlite74 was.

One thing immediately comes to mind.  The author, Randall Stukey uses the same text that he used in Microlite74 to describe what this all is: "a trimmed-down, sub-miniature version of the Primary Fantasy SRD rules [...] that has been designed to be quick and easy to play."  However, those adjectives are belied by the length of the documents.  The "basic" m81 document is 46 pages long.  The "Complete" m81 adds a great deal of examples of play, more complete descriptions of monsters and spells, etc. and clocks in at 128 pages (comparable, I suppose, to the B/X sets combined both in page-count and in content.)  "Extended" is 60 pages long, and although it lacks the longer prose and descriptions, it includes a fair bit more "system" including long-running "author house-rules" that were also in the longer versions of m74, for that matter.  A number of these rules are optional rules that replace some of the original systems.

Finally, the "Advanced" version of the game is basically the system of m81—i.e., m20 converted to work like B/X, but with a whole ton of detail from 1e thrown in with regards to monsters, spells, etc.  It's 206 pages long, and maybe it more closely resembles how many of us played, where our systems were kinda hybrids of D&D and AD&D.

I have to admit, though—as much as I find the concepts of m74 and m81 interesting; fascinating, truthfully, I also have to admit that I'm not quite sure I see the point except as an academic curiosity.  Nobody can, with a straight face, call a 206 page rulebook a "trimmed down, sub-miniature" game in any objective sense.  Taking the admittedly "trimmed down, sub-miniature" basic rule-set of m20 and adding back in everything that B/X had to make them play like B/X, read like B/X, in many ways look like B/X, and be exactly as long, complicated and detailed as B/X, or as the case may be, a more derived RC-like version of the rules, or a D&D/AD&D hybrid with all kinds of stuff from all over the place—if you're going to that much trouble, what's the point of starting with a trimmed down, sub-miniature chassis in the first place?  The point of Microlite originally was to condense them 3e rules down to their "purest essence" (hence the name of that particular compilation of the rules); a complete game that was less than 20 pages long, and could have modular add-ons as desired, but didn't really need any.  When reading Purest Essence, it feels a lot like 3e; just without all of the rules.  If you're going to be using Microlite to make the game feel like B/X, shouldn't it do so while still maintaining the conceit of doing so with a small rule-set?

Now, granted—I like the m20 chassis.  A lot.  And I like D&D well enough, but I'm using m20 a little bit further afield than D&D when it comes to some basic constructions which inform the implicit setting.  But I'm a little curious; if I were to create what I thought was the ideal m20 version of D&D, how would I do it?  I'm honestly thinking that it'd be less like 3e and maybe more like B/X in some ways.

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