Art by the fantastic DiTerlizzi

In reading Marcia's review of her experience with Shadowdark, I contemplated on how I run my own OSE games. This is also fresh on my mind because I am running Miranda Elkins' fantastic Nightwick. Its all about distilling things down to the interesting choice and eliminating the non-interesting one.

Basic Equipment: I am thinking about charging my players a flat rate for all basic dungeoneering equipment that is rolled into weekly expenses-- so 7sp a week for expenses plus ~3-5sp for pick of equipment

  • Not interesting:  Cost of equipment, especially down to coppers
  • Interesting: Scarcity (what if there is no 50' rope this week?) and how many slots PC dedicates to basic equipment

Light: Due to torch cost and number per slot, it is easy to carry a lot of torches.

  • Not interesting: Carrying enough light to last 12-24 turns- easily done
  • Interesting: When torches extinguish-- like in the middle of a fight or when the goblins you are negotiating with get mad; how many hands in the party are occupied by torches
This is why I prefer to use the overloaded encounter die to simulate inopportune moments when a torch is snuffed out- gust of wind, dripping slime, bucket of sand thrown by a sneaky goblin. And with regards to hands, holding a torch potentially lowers AC, removes a weapon, or makes spell casting delayed (need both hands). One saving grace: torches are an improvised weapon that do 1d4 dmg and are on fire.

Stuck Doors: I now commonly interpret the 2-in-6 chance as a basic surprise roll. If they players fail it, they make a loud noise and alert anything on the other side of the door, but open it next round.
  • Not interesting: Rolling a d6 over and over again to see if PCs finally break down a door
  • Interesting: Seeing if PC get surprise on whatever is on the otherside; if additional equipment is brought to deal with doors
I usually like the idea that a crowbar allows and additional 1d6 rolled per individual with one.

Rations: This is similar to the situation with light, its easy to carry enough food/water for 2-4 hours which is more likely the time frame of a dungeon delve-- not a camping trip.
  • Not interesting: Tracking both food and water separately for nominal circumstances
  • Interesting: How many PCs carry rations; will rations be used for other things (like distracting monsters) or saved to avoid fatigue
For me the nature of rations are both food and water abstracted. So if a player want to use food as a distraction, mark off 1 rations. If a player wants to douse a small fire, use 2 rations as you frantically empty out a water skin and try to put out the fire consuming the spell book.

Secret Doors & Traps:  Two dungeon features that are opposite sides of the same coin. Really I think Chris McDowall has written some of the best bits on this that boil down to "traps are puzzles" and not really "gotcha".

  • Not interesting: Situations where the PCs have to pick the exact right spot and roll a 1-2 in 6
  • Interesting: Adding in environmental clues or other sources of information that allows discovery by players investigating the fictional environment
Now, I will keep both rolls as a back-up for either PCs not having a good idea and/or a back-up for perhaps me being unable to convey the fictional environment properly in the moment.

Weapons: I've yet to find a really good way to do weapons simply outside of 1d6 damage for all types. I don't mind BX's variable weapon damage. And I do like some old rulesets sorta "first strike" if your weapon is larger than an opponents other wise smaller, lighter weapons strike first in subsequent arounds.

So here is what I have got so far: Using a weapon two-handed is a +1 to damage, using an off-hand weapon is +1 to-hit, and a shield is of course +1 AC. I do like that fighters with bows can shoot twice if they did not move and the "cleave" ability.
  • Not interesting: Weapon factors that are so extensive they require a separate rules discussion, trigger player obsession, and/or orient the whole of gameplay to combat
  • Interesting: What PCs chose to do with their hands: more armor, more weapons, or more light
So that is it for now, if you'd like to see more of my house rules here is my post on the Serpent Song Hymnal. I hope to have a sorta player version created sometime soon but I'm still trying to dial-in what my go-to "french vanilla" D&D is like.


  1. For weapons I do this:
    Two-handing is a flat +1 to damage.
    Two weapons, you roll both damage dice and pick one.

    The next time I run basic, I'm going to try this: all classes can use all weapons, but they use their hit dice for damage. So a wizard can use a halberd if they like, but they will only do 1d4 damage, while a fighter's training is such that they do 1d8 even with a dagger.

    1. I have always been curious about doing dmg via HD, but I guess I worry it pulls a little more from the fighter.

    2. I tend to run LotFP where the fighter is the only one who gets a scaling to-hit bonus, so they do get a bit extra, but yes, I'd need to consider it for other B/X variants.

  2. > Using a weapon two-handed is a +1 to damage, using an off-hand weapon is +1 to-hit, and a shield is of course +1 AC.
    This is exactly what I've settled on in my ruleset I grew out of OD&D. I also use d6 for damage only. I'm a fan of only using the d6 and d20 to keep things simple for non-gamer types who otherwise struggle to tell the dice apart.

    Good article in general. I'm a big fan of "fail forward" for those dice rolls players are just going to repeat until they succeed. Whether that's no chance of surprise (for opening doors) or just costing extra time. I just have the crowbar give a +1 to the odds. I don't like the extra time that 'advantage' adds for players having to read multiple dice.

    1. Thanks for the read. Yeah in the end, as much as I wanted something more complicated +1 AC/ATK/DMG is super easy to convey and fairly meaningful.

      And second the just cutting to the key bit, again, especially in game with shortend time periods.

  3. I'd like to get a complete version of this simplified/minimalist B/X. Currently in my mind: how do you do PC death (and dismemberment)?

    1. I dunno if I'll go through every aspect of BX, but these are the ones I am currently thinking hard about. With PC death, I do use a Death & Dismemberment table at 0 HP its in my Serpent Song pamphlet