In the comments to my post “Don’t Roll Your Hit Points Until You’re Hurt,” rafial suggests that the Old School Renaissance is recapitulating the process of house-ruling that led to the development of early like-D&D-but-not games like Runequest, and helpfully links to the Perrin Conventions that document an important step in that direction.
I feel that this mutation is a glorious thing and the natural next step in a movement that is well on the way to fully exploring all the possibilities of both retro-clones and even-more-back-to-basics-than-OD&D Arnesonian reconstruction. So my first thought was that to take part in this evolutionary leap, I’d need a manifesto like the Perrin Conventions! Modesty would ordinarily forbid me from naming said manifesto after myself, but if it’s good enough for Steve Perrin it’s good enough for me.
One of the things that’s remarkable about the Perrin Conventions is that, like the mutation that subsequently became AD&D, it emerged from a need to crystallize the creative ferment of houserules into a standard that could be used for tournament play between groups of strangers. Accordingly I think the character generation guidelines I just drafted for my middling-high-level Night of the Walking Wet midnight game at Gary Con II are, in combination with my hit point and magic armor rules, are a pretty concise statement of the way I roll at this point in time:
– Roll 3d6 in order for stats. Don’t calculate ability modifiers, except for # of followers; we’ll use house rules to assign descriptors that are used in place of bonuses. [OK, that looks like it’ll take another post to explain!]
Choose an alignment: Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic. These are more like nationalities than moralities; people who have an opposite alignment will assume that you’ll be on the enemy side when the war for the next era of creation begins, but may be willing to work with you in the here and now.
– Choose a race. The options are human, hobbit, elf, dwarf, or anything else you want to make up. To do so, take an existing race as your model, look at the abilities it gets (you can use AD&D or the 3E SRD as a guide; the racial abilities are hard to extract from OD&D and Chainmail), and decide which ones you want to swap out for the similarly-powered ones of your choice. The benefit of being a human will emerge during play instead of being rule-bound, and derives from the fact that humans were created to be the dominant race of this age of creation.
– Choose which class or classes you want to invest 30,000 XP into. The options are fighting man, cleric, magic-user, or anything else you want to make up. To do so, choose an existing class as your model (using its advancement and saving throw tables), and swap out which abilities you don’t want for those you do. Fighters: use missile weapons, use magic weapons and other fighter-specific magic items, use heavy weapons, fight with two weapons, use a shield, use all armors, make multiple attacks against lower-HD creatures. Clerics: use medium weapons, use cleric-specific magic items, use a shield, use all armors, turn undead, cast clerical spells. Magic-users: use light weapons, use magic-user-specific magic items, cast magic-user spells.
– Invent a special ability related to your class. Examples for fighters would be making a free attack in a round during which you drop an enemy; for clerics, doing damage to undead equal to your turning roll as well as turning them; for magic-users, having a familiar.
– Invent one or two backgrounds for your characters. These will be what we’ll use to determine who can do things normally possible only for someone who has special training. If you want to pick locks, take a background as a burglar; if you want to prepare horoscopes, take a background as an astrologer. The more specific you are about what your background involved, the more generous I’ll be with adjucating its benefits. (Feel free to invent details; if you decide you were a sin-eater for the Church of the All-Consuming Ooze, such a church will thereby exist.)
– Invent your greatest magical asset. For fighters this is usually an intelligent magic sword; for magic-users this is usually your spellbook; for clerics it can be a repertoire of unique prayers, or a holy relic with powers like detect evil, etc. All spellcasters know/can access all the spells in the OD&D core (I can send you a list if necessary), plus any ones they invent as magical assets. These inventions can be imported from AD&D or other editions, or made up from scratch.
– Choose three other magic items from ones listed in OD&D/AD&D, similar ones of your own inventions, or imports from other games/other editions. In my games threats that the party couldn’t hope to face outright are often defeated or avoided through the use of weird magic items the PCs have on their sheet somewhere, so an item with creative uses may be more helpful than +5 armor.
– Roll up stats for as many followers as your Charisma score allows. These will all be first-level fighters (veterans), although you can trade 2 of them for 1 second-level fighter, or 4 of them for 1 third-level fighter, second-level cleric, or first-level magic-user.
– Give as much mundane equipment to yourself and your followers as you can carry, including up to 6,000 gp worth of portable valuables and another 6,000 gp worth of coinage. Note that 10 coins = 1 lb.
Many thanks to the many players and DMs of the New York Red Box, in particular Eric, James, maldoor, flyingace, greengoat, Chris, and Mike; the many contributors to the Finarvyn’s OD&D 74 boards, in particular Zulgyan, geoffrey, jamesm, jrients, and philotomy; and the folks I’ve been inspired by at conventions, in particular chgowiz, JimLOTFP, and Kaskoid: may your characters have close shaves and your dungeons be full of creatures hairy enough to be susceptible to Tarnu’s Collaring Coiffure.