OSR Experiments #8: Real Game Differences

Last few posts I've been rebuilding and converting B/X D&D example dungeon “The Haunted Keep”. Into my own game Dark Dungeon 2nd Edition. It proved to be fairly easy, but it also re-opened my eyes for the large differences between the two games.

Dungeon vs Scenes
D&D in the Basic set is really a dungeon search and destroy game. Or search, loot and destroy. Not necessarily in that order.

Dark Dungeon is a game of scenes. A fight in a tavern. The exploration of a ruined castle. An eyeballing encounter with pirates. A puzzling problem to solve in a complex library. A journey at sea with fellow heroes and an enigmatic captain. A combat with a group of Orks. Being caught in a storm on the road. Finding a dead man in a canal, just before the police arrive and think you are the killers. Visiting a foreign Queen and having to make sure she does not fall in love with you (which she will).

D&D and DD are really different games. That doesn't mean you cannot exchange the rules for combat, or for stats, or for skills. I just found you can. And then you can try to play D&D with DD stats. There might be a change in the game balance, toward the survival of the heroes if you go from D&D to DD. And combats might feel a bit more real.

Treasure and Killing Experience
But many of the D&D conventions make even less sense than normally, once you use DD rules. You won't receive experience for treasure or killing monsters anymore. So why endanger yourself if you don't need to? D&D heroes would burn the green slime from last post just for points. DD heroes would close the door and proceed. I think that's good. But maybe you feel different.

When I look at the gaming example on B59 in Moldvay, I see more differences. Here the party listens at one of the doors in a hallway, and decides to break down the door once they hear there are goblins inside.

My typical DD party would be more focussed on avoiding the monsters and finding the prisoners for example. They might not have broken down the door with monsters behind it – because they could proceed without fighting down the corridor. Actually a typical party would attempt a true search and extract the prisoners mission. Except maybe for the dwarf, who would try to find any excuse to clobber a goblin or two.

Sudden Death
The death of Black Dougal is even more striking. No way that a Dark Dungeon hero would die this way – pricked by a poison needle trap. Probably he would make his own “spot traps” roll on his search skill, not leaving the dice to the Game Master. And even if he missed his save versus poison (a Constitution check in Dark Dungeon), he would be allowed to use a luck point to save his life. Only if he ran out of luck points (and he'd only have two or three, so it's not impossible), he would really die.

And even if he were dead, Sister Rebecca might try to save him. Praying to Saint Raphael would give her a 10% chance to raise him from the dead, if she really made work of it. Or if she tried to undo the poison before it killed him, she might even save him at 9+ or 12+, with her skill level 6 resulting in 80% or 50% chance of rescuing her colleague.

Sister Rebecca would also not allow any fighting or killing if she could at all help it. Because she is morally obliged to do so for her faith. And because her faith would no longer work if she did not. A strict game master would penalize her with the DD rules if she slacked on that part. Or if she actually killed or maimed a monster without utter regret. Maybe D&D clerics also should be like pacifists. But usually they are just against bloodshed, and mangle your bones with a heavy mace instead.

Dump Stats and Money Bags
Charisma is a real dump stat in D&D. Most of the time. Not in my typical group of DD. Maybe that's because of how I game master the game, rewarding higher Appearance scores. Maybe it's because my players like to play more charismatic types. Maybe it's because there are more social, non-combat encounters. In any case it's yet another difference.

Treasure is of much less consequence in most of my games. In D&D you need treasure to proceed in levels, so you haul in as much as you can. But in DD you need an amount of income, and once that's settled, most characters are no longer particularly interested in treasure. Except magickal treasure, but that is of a different order. Once money is in ample supply, my players don't go about dragging coins.
Maybe they are much like heroes of level 10+ in D&D...

Or... are differences just minor?
But exploring a Dungeon otherwise might be very much the same. If you want to search, and not go into details as player and GM, then you'd roll on the character search skill. Or perhaps you'd use the Intelligence ability instead (but with a more difficult check). In D&D the DM would be rolling a d6, and decide if you find something. The difference is not too great.

So you can use the DD rules in a Dungeon romp. It's just not really made for such. It will be a different sort of adventure. A little more realistic, maybe, if that's the right word. To see if there are unexpected advantages apart from the differences, I'll do a simulation in another post.


  1. Hate to be a pedant but from a gamemaster's "bare bones design" standpoint there's no actual difference between a series of dungeon rooms and a series of scenes. I mean other than in the players' perception (which is another case entirely.)

  2. @JLC: So I'll do a rooms adventure next friday then?