On the 10 (ish) Best Versions Of Dungeons and Dragons

You would think that would be a totally insane topic for a blog post. And yet somehow, the problem is chopping it down to 10!

10.) Adventurer, Conqueror, King: Taking the greatest gaming system of all time (B/X) and reconfiguring it to make sure the math makes sense all the way up to the domain level?

9.) Basic Fantasy: It isn't just the B/X inspired simple gameplay, or the modified sections such as race and class, it's the ridiculously supported online download section.
9.) Ambition & Avarice: This is the third wave OSR, the new wave. Taking modern design and layout sensibilities to a new product based on an old idea, comes a game that is really a fresh look.

8.) Castles & Crusades: D20 D&D simplified? It's greatest strength is that any d20 material requires no conversion. Fast, and the SEIGE system is pretty ingenious.

7.) Labyrinth Lord: The Gold standard in free retro-clones. One minor advantage over B/X is that all the text is in one book. Of course all the XP tables are redone. Labyrinth Lord compatibility is code for "This is compatible with D&D!"
7:) Lamentations of the Flame Princess: A beautiful treatise on the nature of Dungeons & Dragons. A smooth, intuitive ruleset. No hiccups, no bumps. Great for lower power, real world, weird campaigns. Metal artwork. The edition everyone loves to hate.

6.) Dungeon Crawl Classics: The edition of the game Goodman wants to play! Weird dice and weirder random tables makes, much like the game it ties with, for a game focused on "A good time at the table!" rather than rules that conceptually make sense or focus on verisimilitude.
6.) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: "Random chance plays a huge part in everybody's life." -Gary Gygax

5.) Original Dungeons & Dragons: Well, if this doesn't inspire you to do your own imagining. . .

4.) Pathfinder: This is the present of gaming. Pathfinder players are possibly the largest group of publically playing players of any edition, ever. How's that OGL working out for you now, WotC?

3.) BECMI: The version they won't put into print, because no one will ever need another version of D&D again!

2.) Hackmaster 4e: The first original retroclone does Dungeons & Dragons better than nearly any version ever released. Really! It is the greatest!

1.) Basic/Expert: There is no version that is both a better introduction to role-playing, an effective tool for use while playing, and something that supports your imagination.

On an Updated Index

Just a short note!

I've updated the blog index to be a through Table of Contents to the content that is on my blog. If you like it and you feel like Karma Whoring a little, feel free to pass it around on forums on the like. (Just kidding. SORT OF.)

If you feel like supporting the blog and the work I do here, pick up a copy of On the Non-Player Character and use it in your games! More is coming soon!

On the Ecology Of the Pseudo-Dragon

"Just don't upset it. It's not big enough to eat you, Slive. It is big enough to put you to sleep and tear out your throat" - Orphic, Human Engineer

Nomenclature:  Pseudo-dragon, Wizard drake, 

Things that are known:
  • They appear to be small dragons
  • They are known to have a poison sting

Rumors and other whispers in the dark:
  • Pseudo-dragons ally with wizards to create their starting hoard. The pact between the pseudodragon and the wizard grants 50% of all earnings to the dragon
  • Pseudodragons are simply manifestations of a casters superego. A caster realizes when his mind begins to slip and tries to save itself by physically manifesting. It rarely does any good, meaning the presence of a pseudo-dragon is a good sign that the wizard is about to go off the deep end.
  • If you welch on an agreement with a pseudodragon they will make your life miserable, allying with your greatest enemy and sharing all the darkest secrets
  • The common lore about 'pseudo-dragons' is completely incorrect, they are actually firedrakes. The 'sleep poison' is actually magma injected into the body, which is so painful that few can remain conscious throughout the process of injection.
  • They are psionic creatures, with powerful telepathy
  • Though popular, they are quite annoying as pets. They have a rabid Napoleon complex, they attack and posture any opponent, claim to have kidnapped anyone who fits the definition of damsel, they sit on piles of coins and refuse to budge until coaxed away. These annoyances insure only the most anti-social wizards keep pseudodragon as pets
  • Pseudodragons are actually fae creatures that are bright enough to realize that if they chimerically represent themselves as dragons, demi-humans and humans will be too stupid to realize how intelligent pseudodragons really are
Tony DiTerlizzi
  • They are actually cats, and just project the image of being like a dragon into the minds of those nearby
  • They molt, just like other reptiles. An intact skin is a powerful alchemical reagent (granting essence equal to their hit dice)
  • They are actually attracted to spellcasters who are filled with youthful exuberance. Their death not only physically injures their owners, but increases the worlds content of poisonous cynicism
  • In fact the link with the pseudodragon between the wizard and his familiar is much stronger then other familiar types. When one body dies, the other becomes a shared vessel, if one soul is destroyed, both are
  • Pseudodragons are cats affected by drakkengheist weed. It looks like catnip, but turns cats into pseudodragons. Lions that eat the weed turn into dragonnes
  • They have a short lifespan (15 years) but that is because upon death they reincarnate into full dragons
  • Pseudodragons are considered to be plaugebearers, being that their favorite urban food is cats. With no cats to control the rat populations, clerics quickly become overwhelmed with the levels of disease
  • Pseudodragons are not the only pseudo-species
    • Pseudomedusa are tiny worm-haired dark fey, they paralyze with a touch
    • Pseudobeholders (ahrimana) are tiny demons. They have one eye and no mouth and long slashing talons and wee wings
    • Pseudoghosts are little people who cover themselves in sheets and try to scare away the living
  • Far away in the dark west in the realm where only the moon lights the land, there was a great mystic called Kadem Beastshaper. On a bet, he cut a dragon's egg from a dragon's womb and tied it in a mithril mesh. The resulting spawn was a pseudodragon. To the surprise of all, the first reproduced by parthogenesis and are susceptible to the thaumic energy that sweeps across those western lands. Soon, many were released to the wild
  •  Pseudodragons are just as fecund as their larger cousins, leading to the creation of the Tressym and other winged beasts
  • There is some discrepancy about the powers a pseudo-dragon confers onto it's master. That is because it is their choice which powers are transferred.
  • Pseudodragons are necessary for some wizards who explore dark and forbidden avenues of research. After having seen dark outer horrors, they become unable to sleep. The venom of a pseudodragon is the only sopoforic strong enough to allow the wizards to get the rest they need
  • You must be a virgin in order to have a pseudodragon familiar. If you are not a virgin, you are restricted to dragon familiars (and the requisite cost in horseflesh)
  • Speaking of, pack animals and pseudodragons do not get along. 
  • Sometimes they capture fairy princesses for ransom. As above, so below
  • They are shards of a dragon's ego, the tiny part of the greed that longed for a hoard of relationships and interconnectedness in community with others. It is proportionately tiny, to the greed for power and wealth, but just as jealous and greedy
  • Pseudodragon wings can be enchanted and mounted on a helm. If they are, they provide protection from mental detection, attacks, and deafening sound
  • Pseudodragons are magical constructs, homonculus or imps of the greatest dragon casters in their war on mortals. They can cast a powerful enchantment on men, that makes humans minions of dragons, inserted into the target while they sleep from the poison of the pseudo-dragon. This is still something the pseudodragons can do, but they are no longer used in this way. Perhaps the secrets of how to craft this ancient psychic syringe are lost to evel the eldest wyrms
  • The Queen of the Fay long ago gifted a tribe of sprites with pseudodragon mounts. The tribe was killed by their giant dragonfly riding rivals, and the pseudodragons survived beyond their original purpose. They long for companionship and do not know their own history. They have a great enmity against dragonflies
  • The fey creators created the pseudodragon as a small-scale practice sculpt before beginning work on the mighty dragon. The creature pleased the gods, and they build the dragons as commanded. Too proud to hide their process, they released the model to live on its own, with the power to mirror copy itself only granted the most ancient of creatures, lost to nearly every species
  • Because they are not true dragons, they are cold-blooded creatures, requiring many hours in the sun and sticking firmly to tropical locales. If they are in a cold area, they hibernate in hives in great numbers
  • Pseudodragon teeth are actually frozen tears
  • Pseudodragons are very reclusive because their scales, teeth and claws are very, very, sweet, tasting like candy if removed or eaten
  • A wicked wizard of a foul disposition served at court for decades, annoyed with the intrigue of romance and politics. For decades, he transformed the unfaithful into small decorative pets to be given to their heartbroken ex-lovers as a way to dull his irritation. They could not be caged always and they continued their cheating ways. Soon the court was overrun by wild pseudodragons and finally he created a massive winged panther to keep the population down. The kingdom is now long fallen, but there are still flirting, simpering pseudodragons flitting through the long ruined halls
  • They have the ability to alter the color of their scales to blend with their environment  This is also used in mating and is under control of the dragon
  • The greatest entertainment produced by the wizards of the shadow kingdom was the pseudodragon. Originally crafted for performing in shadowbox theaters and puppet houses, the little villains were such a hit, that they were sold as household pets. They were often the divas in these ancient tales and their vanity and taste for drama remains to this day
  • The might fae demigod, the Lord of the Vasial Woods, gifted the pixies with pseudodragons to be herd dogs for their sprite flocks
  • When the mighty dragon Bastaal was burning through civilized lands, adventurers managed to capture her three offspring. The wizards worked a mighty ritual to miniaturize them, and the little dragons were ransom; if Bastaal ever attacked civilization again, her spawn would be slain. That backed her off. In the meantime, the little dragons raged, but eventually grew docile over the centuries. They mated, and their spawn were affected by the neutralizing magics; a dozen generations later, they were reduced to pseudodragons. They are pests, but the memory of Bastaal staved off actively hunting them for a millenia. Now no one remembers where they are from, and they are actively hunted as vermin. Is Bastaal still alive somehow, out beyond the darkness? Could she return if her children's cries reach her?
  • Pseudodragons aren't dragons, they are called pseudo because they are actually just winged lizards of no special intelligence or skill
  • A mighty and wicked wizard cast a massive custom spell to summon a brutal dragon. Her experienced and powerful foe cast a counter to the spell. Both went sideways in the magic-sotted arena of their duel, and the summoning spell snatched this little twerp from somewhere. The winner kept the little dragon as a keepsake, and was surprised to find it was pregnant. The legend of the one who slew the wicked wizard only identified him as the man with the tiny dragon pet, so eggs of pseudodragons are in high demand among wizards thirsting for reputation
  • They are not telepathic at all, just good at reading non-verbal communication and assessing situations so that it appears as though they are. They may understand as much vocabulary as a 10-year old child
  • The pseudodragon is the shape of the animate dreams of the patron god of the fey
  • Pseudodragons love the inauthentic. They are drawn to queens and wizards of glam and glamour
  • They only look like dragons, being the result of convergent flying hexapod evolution, being more closely related to other creatures like the arumvorax than dragons
Special pseudodragon attacks

  • Distraction buffet: By flying right at a targets face and flapping and scratching a pseudo-dragon can cause the target to experience one round of confusion. This has the following effects: The attack is at +4 to hit if the target is not wearing a helm. It is at +2 if the target is wearing a cap of some sort, it has no bonus versus targets wearing a helm, and it does not work against any target wearing a full helm. If successful, the target's next action is randomly determined via Confusion as the wizard spell. The target takes 1-2 damage. Any attacks against the pseudo-dragon during the round have a 50% of hitting the target of the dragons distraction. While performing this maneuver, any attacks that _do_ hit the pseudodragon do double damage and knock it prone to the ground.
  • Tripping Targets: Pseudodragons are quite apt at tripping targets, and if not flying and in the targets space, they gain a +2 bonus to trip a target (offsetting the penalty for their tiny size).
  • Infernal Sprite: Pseudodragons are preternaturally agile. When flying, they can take the Total Defense option against one target and apply a +6 dodge bonus to their AC versus that target, by flitting and dodging around their body, applying only a +2 dodge bonus against other targets
  • Vicious bite: On a successful bite, the pseudodragon can latch on. The next round this bite does 1-4 -2 damage. This is extremely painful for the target, who must succeed at a save versus Paralyzation (Fortitude save (DC 10 + Damage Dealt)) or be shaken. This allows the dragon to strike with the tail at +2, but the dragon is considered flatfooted while latched. (The armor class is worsened by 3)

The ecology series is a crowdsourced series of articles, and contributors can be found on google+ under the hashtag #crowdecology. They are limited posts, but following me on G+ will allow you to see them. All artwork is credited where the artist could be found. Classic ecology articles from Dragon magazine are used both for reference and inspiration; the whole impetus of the idea was to create 'classic' ecology articles that are actually useful. Let's Read the Monster Manual by Noisms is also a source of inspiration.  

On the Review and the Quest for Sorrow

This Cover is Beautiful
So I'm going to talk about Crumbling Epoch and Adventure Fantasy Game, but not really.

Andrew Shields (G+) and Paolo Greco (G+) are unsung heroes.


To what acclaim do they work? Did you know about these products? If you've heard of them, have you looked?

Quickly then:

Crumbling Epoch:

  • Is a B/X reskin
  • Has 5 classes (Fighter, Lightbringer, Martial Artist, Thirster, and Wizard)
  • Has races from Jack Shear's Devilmount (Blooded, Grey Men, Lumpen-Ones) (Available only for Dwimmermount backers)
  • Has an random region generator
  • Has a new style of random dungeon generation using 5d6 of different colors with 2 different examples
  • Has a selection of spells from Wampus Country
  • Contains Pocket mod sheets
  • Uses the 5MORE system
  • "Superior patron/Divinity" interactions, with strange cults
  • Mana magic system with flexible and creative spells organized into schools (Goetia, Moon Hunters, Dendromancy etc.)
  • Tiers, accomplishments and the EXPERT improvement system
Are they both worth what the authors are charging for them? Yes, they are worth more, in consideration of the effort required to produce such documents. The total target market for such a work is perhaps 2000 people -- a miniscule fraction of the total people playing games. If you're not producing a supplement for Pathfinder, then your audience is very limited.

It isn't the money. Let me tell you a story:

A great man once wrote a game, and people played in that game. Some people played so much, that they had certain items or spells named after them. This man wrote a spell named after a certain person that when cast, would cause a normal item to glow, as if it were magical. The original item remained a broke-ass piece of shit, but that magic aura could make it seem like a golden treasure to grant you magical power.

Later, the person who had this spell named after him, wrote about some of his ideas. Many people gave him money. That money was spent on things other than making those ideas happen. Many people were sad.

Does this story have a bad end?

Andrew Shields said, "Oh, you know what? I can make that happen!" And he did.

Why? There was no money in it.

Paolo Greco writes:

"Gaming related stuff is making me sore. . . I’ve been doing too much gaming-related stuff recently, both writing and playing. Much effort. But results, especially writing, are extremely disappointing. In bad ways."

What kind of time went into AFG? In a personal message to me, Paolo said that he uses AFG for all his campaigns, several of which have run for years. It is a very flat power curve, quickly bringing you to the point of competence and then staying there. 

It is, in a very real sense, a system for Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks that is not the fighting fantasy gamebook system. 

I spent more on drinks today than either of these products cost (CE: Free /AFG: 5.99$).

That's not really the barrier. The real cost is time. Where will you spend your time. When Paolo says "Results. . . are extremely disappointing." What he is saying is a universal human lament: "Who will see the beauty of my labor! Why does no one speak of what I have done, in my limited time up on this plane" How painful is it to have all that extra work you do, on top of whatever job you do normally, ignored.

But that's the question isn't it. Is it worth the time? I am likely never going to have the time to run Crumbling Epoch or AFG. Is that because they aren't worth running? No. It's simply that we have an embarrassment of riches. 

This is a hard lesson.

You should download Crumbling Epoch:
  • If you are running B/X. The modifications are extremely interesting. 
  • If you are looking for Wampus county spells, Devilmount races and you aren't a backer of Dwimmermount, or you are looking for an excellent region generator.
  • If you are interested in some modern permutations of random dungeon generation for solo play. 
You should purchase AFG:
  • If you are interested in a fast, easy to run system that contains the flavor of the old fighting fantasy gamebooks. 
  • If you are interested in a game that is complete in one book and compatible with D&D style supplements.
  • If you are interested in a unique and yet not overpowered magic system based on mana.
Also: These might be of interest

By Andrew Shields
Right. Did you see where I wrote 'total system conversion for old school hack' 'totally metal death dwarves' and 'hand-bound book of spells'? This is from people who just produce usable content and never open their mouths to bitch about who sells panties where or what monsters people are wrong for publishing.

That is all I can do.

On the Summer of the OSR

Gaming is a seasonal activity.

Posts, traffic, discussion, campaigns, all drop off during the summer months, when people are on vacation, outside, riding rivers, seeking pleasure from the world.

Then as temperatures cool, the leaves change, and students return to school, talk of exploring new realms, solving crimes or causing them, or fighting dragons returns. One campaign is run over the winter, or perhaps two short ones.

Gaming is a pretty big part of our culture at this point. Currently gaming on the whole is on an upswing, due to a variety of factors. The OSR has been sending out a concise message that has been heard, if the stated approach to 5th edition is any indication. B/X is in print (Welll, .pdf anyway).

We are in the summer of the OSR. Megadungeons are being published. You can go purchase more than one playable megadungeon in a useable format! You can purchase basic, expert, the original boxed set, 1st edition, and content is being produced across the board for all editions (Yay!). Themed random dungeon generators have been published.

What was once lost, possibly forever, has been found.

But summer doesn't last forever.

The time is now to think about what remains to be done. The idea that a society, technology, or experience grows infinitely is a flaw of human thinking. Ask any railroad owner in 1860, or ancient roman citizen. Things are done, knowledge is lost, and we are left to subsist on what remains.

What tasks remain for us, who follow giants?*

Collation and Organization. Find an article you like? Link to it on Links to Wisdom. Someone have a table you like? Put it on Abulafia. Have you written a blog, but it's winding down? Consider creating a "best of" .pdf or printed book for distribution. At the very least, back it up or contact someone who's willing to host, rewrite, or continue to present the content.

Innovation. The best of a thing can often happen near the end of a thing. The greatest minds act, the thing diminishes, and what is left pales. We already have a usability study in Vornheim, and a new format for dungeon presentation in One Page Dungeons, used to great effect in Stonehell by Michael Curtis. We can do more, better. I've personally talked to people solving the problem of interesting and quick random generation for solo play, campaign design, new strides in dungeon usability overcoming the limitations of the one page dungeon. Look for new dynamic ways to present, store, and use content while the resources are available, so that those that come after will have examples of greatness themselves. Zak mentions visual indexes, character sheet as character generation guide, and weapon tables.

Research. More than one person has a series detailing their thoughts on the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide. I can link to several places that review each issue of Dragon. But how many people even played Oriental Adventures 1e/3.5, much less picked the book apart for useable information? There remains tremendous analysis left, and a joy in discovering lost secrets and sharing that knowledge with the world.

Play. Glorious, glorious, play. G+ is 90% of a face to face game, and in some ways is better. I've found that the difference between my experience on the forums and my experience on blogs/G+, isn't that blogs are ego oriented, but that bloggers are playing games, while forum browsers are mostly just reading about them [Tweet This]. Test what you play. Want to play Spelljammer? Al-Qadim? Shadowrun 2e? Harnquest? Odds are low of finding a group in real life excited to do so. Having people enthused about being in a specific setting changes the entire tenor of play. Or pick a class you love and have them visit the FLAILverse.

*Any group of people (Gygax, Jackson, Arenson, et. al.) who generated this huge amount of comment, commentary, and play; impacting the lives of millions of people for the better qualifies them as giants. Come to me with your critique of calling them that after you have to run through 10 printings of your game and I'll listen. 

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