Advanced Fantasy Dungeons: Pre-alpha reflection

If you’re walking in on the end of the Advanced Fantasy Dungeons series, there’s an index here.

That’s a wrap! Kind of, anyway, we have our rules sketched out. Advanced Fantasy Dungeons is the broadest, largest game I’ve written. Next, I’ll start laying it out into an alpha document so I can start limited playtesting at home, and with that I imagine will come more posts about how things change during layout, and also during playtesting, but I thought I’d pause a moment and reflect.

I went into this with a smirk, thinking I’d find a terrible game, full of flaws and failures. A game I loved as a child, but that I recognised was full of needless complexities even then. What I found instead was a challenging text, full of inconsistencies and implications, that lead me to consider that maybe it was more than immediately apparent.

I found it fascinating subtexts in examples of play, such as the Rath the Fighter examples in the combat chapter of the DMG, which revealed a gap left between the mechanics and the intended play style, and there were new concepts like ethos, that appeared to be intended to play a significant role in replacing older mechanics such as alignment. New proficiencies interacted with downtime in ways reminiscent of modern classics like Blades in the Dark. Planescape incorporated the precursors to inspiration and folded them into ethos; Birthright structured downtime and political play. There were many other surprises and they were side-by-side with legacy features, some half-addressed, leaving it unclear whether they were unimportant to the designers intended play or whether they were assumed knowledge.

Although I’d joked that I’d make a retroclone of second edition, I realised I really wanted to play this between-the-lines edition of dungeons and dragons, one with dynamic combat, with structured downtime systems, and variegated procedures for different phases of play. I called it a paraclone; the second edition that might have existed in a parallel universe. So I embarked upon writing it.

The process of writing a game, episodically, online, is one I haven’t tried before. It’s been fascinating developing something outside of a document, because it means revising something is both a finite act and a significant act, and also that it’s clearer what the implications of new developments are on discrete sections of previously developed texts. I’d recommend it, even though there hasn’t been much interaction with the posts.

The result is a game I’m very keen to play. I’m looking forward to GMing it in alpha, and I’m looking forward to opening it up to other GMs and pre-releasing it for broader feedback and development. I love that I’ve made it compatible with both B/X and AD&D 2e out of the box, I love the preparation tools I’ve drawn out of the OSR blogosphere to give clearer GM guidance.

More interestingly, it’s not the game the OSR typically plays. Most notably, here, combat is not a fail state, although okay is not super heroic. Random encounters still exist, but secrets develop into plots and the world changes as part of the system. This is more of a super heroic story game than B/X, or AD&D, but less of one than 5e, and on a completely different path than 3 or 4e. It’s exciting!

I’m still not happy with Advanced Fantasy Dungeons as a name, largely because I don’t feel like it’s “advanced” at all; but I fear that it’ll stick because I want a dull, functional name that befits the game it paraclones and I’m having trouble finding one with a similar vibe. Fantastic Medieval Campaigns, Old School Essentials and Dungeon Crawl Classics are my touchstones, and I feel stymied. Fantasy Dungeon Roleplaying, Ruins and Riches, Fantasy Dungeon Adventures, Second Wave Fantasy Dungeons are all options I’ve considered. Any other, similar names with naming conventions I’ve missed, please help!

There are a few optional subsystems I don’t want to add until I’ve playtested but are fairly essential to the second edition as a whole: A city pillar, a psionicist, monk and barbarian classes and a psionics magic system, all as examples of how to expand the rules in various ways. And as part of the tail of the alpha, I’m going to work examples of play, and prep throughout, hewing as closely to the ones in the original as I can. I want to work on 5e compatibility as well, at least from the adventure and spell perspective, the latter might end up challenging, though. A lot of my friends have played less with me as I’ve moved away from 5e, and that’s crushing, to be honest. I’d love this to remedy it.

On a personal level, I think taking a paraclone approach, even to a game so ill-regarded as second edition, has allowed me to build a game that I’m proud of and have been excited to play, in a way unconstrained development could not. I had been toiling at Infinite Hack’s complete edition for six months and three versions when I set it aside for this project, and I think I’m more excited for this weird, wonderful thing, and to a degree one that I’ve discovered and not created. Someone has made Advanced Fantasy Dungeons before: It was just never published, and no trace of it remained until its ghost visited me.

So now, to google docs, where I’ll start the process of pulling everything together.

17th June 2022

Idle Cartulary


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