Attending REAPERCON 2023; since the dissolution of PAX South, this and NTRPGCON are my nearest gatherings of nerdom. Here are just some quick thoughts:

  • While being part of the spectacle of is its own fun, I do think small cons are where it at. REAPERCON focuses a big part on miniature painting in addition to a pretty good stable of games

  • The hotel bar staff is pumped as they all have gotten into the ribbon getting and have produced 9 specialty cocktails for the event (will try to post those)-- a lot of thought has gone into them

  • A big thing about REAPERCON is the getting of badge ribbons. You can even get a ribbon for accidentally dipping your ribbon line in the toilet or if it touches the ground you get "DRAGON DIRT"
    • I found a tiny duck hidden in the con and got the WHAT THE DUCK! ribbon
    • Also quoted The Princess Bride to get another ribbon
    • Pick a free set of dice for DICE FROM DANI
    • HIGH LEVEL from playing some classic arcade cabinets they have here
    • I've brought two ribbons for players in my games and one that's just MOLDVAY BASIC: 1981- gotta rep my fav ruleset.

  • Also chatted with some of the pro painters
    • One does just basic techniques with basic Reaper models in online classes which is cool and he his dad was into Nepolionics.
    • The woman that I spoke with got into painting because she found her then-boyfriend-now-husband's box of old D&D stuff in the attic of his mom's house; she remarked on the very panicked look on his face initially; she's always loved small things and so got into painting
  • Met a Swedish guy at the bar who was fascinated by all the goings on and thought a very good documentary could be made about it

BASIC IS STILL EXPERT: At Introducing New Players To D&D

I got a text from a friend of mine that they were going to play their first game of D&D with 3 other people of which the designated DM has only played 1-2 times before.

Although not told the edition, I was 90% sure that they were going to play 5e and I was 95% sure how this attempt was going to play out. This group of four would sit down to learn 5e D&D, make new characters, and run out of time before even rolling a single die outside of character creation.

And that is exactly what happened.


Fifth-edition character creation with its myriad of options took the entire 3 hour period. My friend left with a pretty "meh" impression of the game. And it is my impression this is a likely common occurrence with 5e. 

When your friends agree to sit down to a game of D&D, they want to *play* D&D, not learn rules or have to make dozens of choices they don't really understand. That's nerd shit. They want to start having these thrilling adventures, funny moments, and participate in the experiences that they hear you rave about. Or maybe see in video or hear about on podcasts.

In fact, this is where a lot of video games have an advantage over pen-and-paper RPGs, you start the game and in roughly ~5-10 mins you, the player, are *playing* the game. You wiggle the joy-sticks and stuff happens. Often aided by helpful on-screen prompts that pop up as you are doing things.

I could not let this impression stand. D&D is just too fun. And I knew I could accomplish more in half the time.

YEAH! Let's kick some chthonic chinchilla ass!!
Maybe kiss that pointy-eared thing!!!
('cause I've played BG3)

When my friend was over a few nights ago I announced we were going to play D&D. Literally roll characters in ~15 min and then actually *play* D&D the rest of the time. 

So out came Tom Modvey's Dungeon & Dragons Basic Rulebook (aka 1981's BX D&D). We went 3d6 down the line, I briefly explained the available classes (fighter, wizard, thief, cleric, halfing, elf, dwarf), and players rolled on a d6 background & equipment table I for each class to give them a little flavor. 

The group ended up with a guard (fighter) and two grave-robbers (thieves). All written down on 5x7 index cards. And since I had a copy of the first level of inplacesdeep's Nightwick Abbey close at hand, I used that.  Next, to kick off the game, I asked two questions. For the guard: "What did you do to piss off the crown so much you were not killed, but forced to guard a hideous monument to hubris?" For the thieves: "What did you do previously that you own the Thieve's guild 2500 GP each?"

The players came up with a story that the two grave robbers attempted to steal from the kingdom of Bellagio, got caught, bailed out by shadowy benefactors, and now were bribing a hapless guard to abandon his post and let them down into the devil-besotted Abbey- for money. Deal!

30 minutes had elapsed at this point.

Down they went creeping through a terrible place, listening at doors, getting slimed, trying to figure out what the bas-relief of a shushing old man meant. Then, finally decided to move toward a door where incoherent screaming was coming from. A short combat later, where oil was thrown, backstabs were attempted, and thieves were bifurcated, the lone guard ran out of the Abbey. Game over. Smiles around along with playful accusations of who was to blame. This is a good time with D&D!

1.5 hours had elapsed at this point.

TLDR Takeaway

My big takeaway is still that the best way to get people to like D&D is to get them playing D&D in as short a time as possible. And by "playing", I don't mean sitting around in ye olde tavern shooting the shit. I mean making impactful choices and taking risks. And for me, 1981's Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rulebook by Tom Moldvey does that beautifully.

But its hardly alone. Into the Odd, Errant, Mothership, Cairn, Mouseritter, and Shadowdark are all capable of doing the exact same thing.

You can also get 5e to do it as well as long as you don't get caught up in trying to get new players to understand all the rules. But instead only as much as they need to know to get playing. I tried to summarize that here. In terms of what 5e might look like stripped back, look no further than Traverse Fantasy's latest blog post.

[Edit] To cap this post off better. The reason why this matters to me is that at a time when more and more people are exposed to D&D (Stranger Things, Critical Role, the movie, & Balder's Gate 3), its seems we've landed on an edition and adventure design that doesn't easily move potential players from a state of interest in the game to a state of actively playing the game sans veteran intervention. Seems like a lost opportunity to me.

[Edit 2] So what could be done to help accelerate interest-to-play with 5e? Well, I think some sort of document or section of the Player's Handbook that was written with the same brevity as Here Is Some F%*^&ing D&D. Just enough to get players equipped and going as I did with BX. Then a ~25-room looped dungeon with some interesting takes on monsters, traps, treasures, and aspects of Arnold K's dungeon checklist. But could be prepped in ~30 min.

THE D&D IN MY HEAD: In Only 6 Load-Bearing Numbers

art: Mark Tedin

One of the most frustrating questions for me to read is, "Is X-OSR system compatible with Y-OSR adventures?" or "Can I use BX rules with AD&D modules?" or "Can I use OSE with Dolmenwood?" (Good lord! Y'all! Dolmenwood = OSE = BX)

I find these questions frustrating because while there are differences in all those systems they are very minor. And those differences will influence gameplay by 0 versus the "chaotic" nature of a d20 roll at crucial points in gameplay ✤ . 

Meaning, it doesn't matter if your save vs Death is supposed to be a 13 or 14 given you'll have to roll a d20 against it. Fight me math nerds, but better to be off by 1 or 2 points in some score than never get the game to the table out of fear of "doing it wrong". 

This agonizing also tends to sorta soft-lock away what is otherwise exciting and amazing content (Lair of the Lamb looks cool but I don't play GLOG, I play BX) and reinforces the idea that the math in D&D (and most other RPGs) needs to be so finely balanced for fairness or to make sure the game is not broken (Sigh...I want to run the dungeon but I need to write down stats for every monster and what how do I do traps again? And what if it asks for a save, my system doesnt use those)

Being confident enough to run things "just good enough" to get to the playing of "D&D" is an important skill of any DM. Once you hit that point it is very freeing because your brain power is not chewed up agonizing over system rules and details and can be put to more creative things.

And the next time someone says "Oh I've always wanted to play D&D but never got the chance", you can cannibalize their board games for dice and minis, download a Dyson Logos map, and start playing right there at their table.

To play roughly 0D&D, "Holmes Basic", BX, BECMI, 1eAD&D, & 2eAD&D and by extension the retro-clones White Box, Delving Deeper, Sword & Wizardry, LotFP, Basic Fantasy, and my fav OSE or to run adventures made for one of these with the rule systems of the other, you really only need to know 6 things:

✦ Marcia over at Traverse Fantasy also has outlined a similar "unified language" for D&D with clearer language than my back-of-the-envelope-scrawl; she also discusses unified procedures which I avoid here for breavity ✦ 

Roll for stats using 3d6 down the line and determine where you get the +/-1 bonus: 

  • 3d6 down-the-line (Or roll a d4, d6, d8- its still the same 3 to 18 range)
  • Easy to remember is this pattern:
    • 18 (+2)
    • 17-13 (+1)
    • 12 to 09 (+0)
    • 08-04 (-1)
    • 03 (-2)

1 HD Monster = Level 1 Fighter

  • So a 4 HD monster is the same as a level 4 fighter; 0 level people are 1d6 per HD
  • A Monster HD is d8 and monster damage is d6 and a Fighter HD is generally a d8
  • If you ever need anything for a monster, look at the fighter class for suggestions
  • Whatever math you give a monster, you give a fighter the same; so if a 3HD gnoll hits with a +2 then a 3rd level fighter should also get a +2 to-hit

Classes are basically: Use all weapons/armor no magic or Use magic no armor/small weapons:

  • Fighting types use all weapons and armor and have the biggest HD; advance on with (X)xp
    • Cleave: If you kill an opponent, move 1 square and make another attack; repeat equal to your level; I really started to feel this helps give fighting types a little
  • Magic-types use only small weapons, no armor, and have the smallest HD, but cast spells; advance with (X*1.25)xp
  • If you combine both broad abilities (sans Cleave) into one class, a la the elf, advance with (X*2)xp
  • X is experience points, coins, monster heads, or "completed adventures", seasons ect

Weapons and Armor: Damage 1d4-1d6-1d8; AC 10, 12, 14, 16

  • Small weapons (dagger) 1d4, Average weapons (sword) 1d6, Large weapons (battle axe) 1d8
  • Or simply, weapons 1d6 dmg: sword (melee), spear (reach), bow (range)
  • Roll a d20 vs the following target armor numbers: None is AC 10, Leather/Gambeson is AC 12, Chain is AC 14, and Plate is AC 16; shields are AC +1

Saves: 14 is the number of fate and the gods ✤✤

  • The middle number for saves in D&D is 14
  • "Death" saves are 12 (because you want to make it easier to avoid a one-shot kill) and most "Spell" saves are 16 (because you want most spells to take effect)
  • So basically: Death (12), Trap (14), Spell (16); Hardy or lucky backgrounds like "Dwarf" or "Halfing" or whatever your fox-based original class is lower their saves by -4.
When in doubt, its a 1-2 on a d6 (or 30%) that thing will happen
  • Open a stuck door
  • Check if the PCs/Monsters are surprised
  • Some random chain reaction happens
  • Want to compress all the thief skills into a single roll (mod by DEX)
  • Want to know if a character's background helps them (mod by WIS)