Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gutting The Rules Cyclopedia

I have previously mentioned my love of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia here on Dungeonskull Mountain. I did recently acquire the much-admired Moldvay/Cook D&D sets from the early 80s, and they do have a lot of charm, but the RC remains my favorite incarnation of "basic" D&D, mostly because it's got literally everything you need (and then some) in one place. It collects pretty much all of the info from the Basic-Expert-Companion-Master-Immortal series (except, sadly, the art and layout, which is a step down from both Moldvay/Cook and BECMI).

Still, it's far from perfect. There are tons of things there that don't make much sense to me. I imagine Aaron Allston, the person who compiled the RC, might have been tempted to fix some of the problems, but that wasn't his job. Many people houserule old-style D&D pretty heavily, usually supplementing it with stuff from AD&D. I'm no different: there are a lot of things that I would tweak, rearrange, and dump entirely. Off the top of my head, here are some changes I'd make:
  • As written, neutral fighters can become knights at 9th level. You get nothing for being a knight, other than having to do what your king tells you. Compare that to what lawful and chaotic fighters get, and the knight quickly looks pretty lame. If paladins and avengers get neat tricks, knights should get them too. Maybe look at AD&D's cavalier for ideas?
  • Dump the cleric and the magic-user as written. Put all their spells into a pile, then divide them into "white" and "black" magic. Write two new classes - let's call them "magician" and "sorcerer" for now - based around those revised spell lists. Make sure neither of them are armored holy fighting guys... that's what the paladin does.
  • Rework thief skills somehow.
  • Either let the demihumans reach the same level as humans using the optional rules in the appendix, or drop them entirely. None of this half-assed "enforce a human-centric world by dicking over non-human player characters" garbage.
  • Give elf characters access to the druid's spell list, instead of the magic-user's.
  • Either drop the druid, or make it a class you can enter at first level.
  • Drop the mystic class. It's mechanically borked and doesn't really have the right feel anyway.
  • Write up a ranger-type class - probably one without spellcasting abilities.
  • Tone down weapon mastery a little, but KEEP IT. Maybe make it exclusive to fighters, or make it so knights get more masteries?
  • Keep skills, but make the skill list about 75% shorter.
  • Define alignments as sworn allegiances to the otherworldly powers of law or chaos. The vast majority of humans are neutral. Change the alignments of a lot of the monsters accordingly.

And that's just for starters! Judging from what I read of other people's "basic" D&D campaigns, I imagine the choices I'd make aren't the ones many would go with, but that's the beauty of houseruling.

(On an unrelated note, I got my DragonRaid boxed set yesterday. I haven't read any of its contents yet, but I can say that it is BIG.)


  1. Part of the joy of the Rules Cyclopedia is that it's so darned fun to hack and house rule around with it. The RC is the one role-playing book I'd want to take with me to a desert island.

    I reckon the best way to do it is to keep things campaign centric; ask what your campaign needs *now*, and just do that. It's a more evolutionary approach and means you don't end up working on changes that either don't get used or end up redundant further down the line.

    Looking forward to hearing how you get on!

  2. greywulf: "Looking forward to hearing how you get on!"

    Sadly, I'm not really planning on running it any time soon - if I had a chance to run something, it'd probably be Dragon Warriors.

    This is really more of an "if I was going to run it, I would do this" post.

  3. I like your suggestions. I just posted something about modifying the Thief skills (and others) to all use d6. I haven't taken a close look at RC since I always just used the B/X or BECMI rules (well, B/E anyway...).

    I like the suggestion about white and black magic. New players can never understand the reasoning for Magic Users not being able to do any sort of healing magic.

  4. I find myself nodding along with most of that you've posted blizack. I've long thought that the RC needed to be either 30 pages longer (to expand on some of its' content), or 100 pages shorter (trim the skills system, drop the 'advanced' classes and setting bumpf, etc.)

  5. What pains me about the Cyclopedia and BECMI when compared to Moldvay/Cook is the thief skills. Thief skill advancement in Moldvay/Cook tops out at level 14 (with every skill at 99%, and Pick Pockets at 125%), whereas the BECMI thief gets close to these numbers at level 25. The poor thieves in BECMI really got shafted skill-wise.

    With that one exception, I've always enjoyed the set.

    However, regarding the demihuman level limits, it's not just to enforce a human-centric world, it's to give them something of a penalty in exchange for the beneficial abilities they are given for their race.

  6. rpgcharacters: "However, regarding the demihuman level limits, it's not just to enforce a human-centric world, it's to give them something of a penalty in exchange for the beneficial abilities they are given for their race."

    Elves are pretty powerful, but dwarves aren't really much more so than a fighter. Halflings, likewise. I'd rather not slap them with level limits - there are better ways to balance them out, in my opinion.

  7. Blizack - I agree. Their XP per level should just be increased and it works fine, IMO.

  8. I agree with a lot of these things, particularly keeping weapon mastery but maybe toning it down just a bit. (Deflections, in particular)

    The more I read about bloggers removing the cleric, the more I want to give it a try. Maybe next campaign, though...

  9. I bought a copy of this book today at a yard sale for $1. I am so darn lucky. This book reminds me of the 4th edition Gamma World game, one stop shopping for a set of game rules.

  10. In my campaign, I've halved the weapon mastery THAC0 and damage pluses and removed the increased weapon damage (I'm using all 1h weapons doing 1d6 and 2h weapons doing 2d6). I keep any AC modifiers and other weapon abilities.

    The Cyclopedia is very suited to being adjusted to fit your own game.

  11. I'm still working on a little bit of hackery with the RC on my neglected blog. I'm going through it one page at a time and trying to find interesting inspiration/house rules for each page. I still have a few unposted drafts somewhere that need polishing, but real life (and gaming) sadly decided to interfere.

  12. A bit late to the party but here's my opinion on the demi-humans. Have you ever compared their saving throws vs. lvl. 0 humans or lvl. 1 humans. They get the benefits on the front end and lose out on the back end. That's the trade. You'll survive stuff a lot better at lvl. 1-9 but come level 36, the humans will be a lot more indestructible than you. Also, last time I checked a dwarf at lvl. 12 gets a new sword mastery point per 200k exp, while a human fighter is going to have to earn between 360-720k to get his next one. Finally, demi-humans don't have weapon restrictions, they don't pay for basic weapon skills, ever.

    As for mastery points, there is I believe a section that limits how for your mastery can go per your INT score. You want to be a dumb fighter, you get to go up to skilled, if your an INT 16 fighter, well, you get more options.