Righto, the new British Old-School campaign is coming together. Last night, ahead of a rather boozy Delta Green game, I pitched the campaign to my players and, I’m happy to report, it was received with enthusiasm. The basic idea is a kind of sword & sorcery “Pratchettesque pirates” setup that I’m tentatively calling Blacksand Nights.
Basically, the game will be a medieval pirate sandbox, with players taking on the role of budding freebooters. They won’t start with pirate ships, however, and will probably have to loot Firetop Mountain (or win the Deathtrap Dungeon prize money) to afford their first cog. The system will be a modified version of the Dragon Warriors RPG. The setting will be Titan from the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks (specifically Northern Allansia, Port Blacksand and environs).
I think humour is a really important component of the British Old-School. Grimdark collapses under the weight of its own self-importance without levity. So, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books will be a big influence in terms of theme and tone (alongside Monty Python, Blackadder, The Young Ones, and 2000 A.D.). Ankh-Morpork and Port Blacksand have always blurred into one in my imagination, anyway.
In terms of gameplay, the biggest influence will probably be the Fabled Lands gamebooks, which strike an excellent balance between providing a structured framework of systems and missions on the one hand (e.g. trading, travelling, sailing, etc.), and freedom to roam and explore on the other. Obviously, a sandbox tabletop RPG allows exponentially more freedom than any gamebook, but I think Fabled Lands nevertheless has plenty of neat ideas to pinch.
As an aside, Dave Morris was behind both Dragon Warriors and (with Jamie Thomson) Fabled Lands, and I really do think we ought to have him stuffed, pickled, and publicly displayed as one of the most innovative British game designers of the last few decades.
Seeing as I want to evoke the sword & sorcery feel of Fighting Fantasy / Discworld, I’ll restrict my players to three classes:
That keeps things simple, and means that each class has its own niche (fighting, spellcasting, thievery).
For extra variety, I’ll keep all three core races from Dragon Warriors:
The Dwarf is able to craft magic weapons and armour from 4th level (originally 7th level, but I’m changing it to 4th level because I’ve cut the Mystics – which craft magic arms from 4th level – from the game, so Dwarves won’t be stepping on anyone’s toes).
Instead of the Dragon Warriors XP system, I’m using the classic “XP for gold” from old editions of D&D. I’ll add the twist that only gold spent on otherwise “useless” activities (carousing, donations to the church, purchasing luxuries, etc.) counts for XP.
I’ve renamed a bunch of terms that were probably originally changed by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson just to avoid lawsuits from TSR:
- Renamed “Reflexes” to “Dexterity”
- Added a “Constitution” score
- Renamed “Psychic Talent” to “Wisdom”
- Renamed “Looks” to “Charisma”
- Renamed “Armour Factor (AF)” to “Armour Class (AC)”
- Renamed “Armour Bypass Roll (ABR)” to “Armour Penetration (AP)”
- Renamed “Rank” to “Level”
I’ve also standardised the statistic modifiers based on Swords & Wizardry Whitebox (so a stat of 3-6 yields a -1 penalty, and a 15-18 gets a +1 bonus). This is simpler than Dragon Warriors out of the box, and yet should produce a flatter power curve than B/X D&D.
I’ve simplified which secondary attributes get modified by which primary attributes. So, Strength now modifies Attack and Defence, Intelligence now modifies Magical Attack and Magical Defence, Dexterity now modifies Evasion and Stealth, and Wisdom now modifies Perception.
Finally, I’ll probably use the d6 initiative system from Lamentations of the Flame Princess (which is quick and easy to use).
That’s enough for now!