I'm gearing up to run another campaign in a few months, or sooner. I've been reading so many of the various retroclones and other "nostalgia" games out there that I'm having a hard time deciding on which one, or if I may just put my own set together, stealing the best elements from all of them. I still dig Dark Dungeons (DD), the one I was running Keep on the Borderlands with, but even with switching to the alternate version, Darker Dungeons, it's just a little unwieldy, and I feel like switching it up (even if I kept with it, I'll be discarding the weapon mastery next time. It's not bad, I just don't feel like messing with it anymore). This post is mostly for my own benefit, while I think out loud about the elements to put into my next game.
I've been ambivalent about alignment throughout most of my gaming career, and while the memes are amusing, I've never had much use for the two axis alignment system where you get things like Lawful Evil or Chaotic Neutral. To me, if you're going to codify a character's morality, that's way too simplistic a way of doing it.
On the other hand, being a fan of Michael Moorcock and The Eternal Champion mythos, I do really like the 3 element system of Law, Chaos, and Neutral/Balance. But I keep these separate from notions of morality, to me they are all cosmic forces that one chooses to align oneself with, full of potential plot hooks at later levels (and at low, depending on what happens).
So for me, I'm going to continue doing what I started with my DD game, and use 4 alignments:
If you're a Cleric, Mage, or any other kind of magic-user, you have to choose an alignment, as the source of your power. My preference is that Mages and Clerics can both choose The Balance, but that Mages can only otherwise pick Chaos, and Clerics only Law, but I might be able to be argued out of that. I like the notion of having the different kinds of magic be aligned that way, but there's also something to be said for having priests of Arioch and the like.
This does mean that Fighters, Thieves, Rangers, Assassins, etc. default to Unaligned at chargen. They are perfectly free to pledge their loyalty to cosmic forces if they want to, but they won't need to, and they are free to do so later on in the game. I'll probably come up with a mechanic that makes it meaningful (or more likely, steal one from another game), something along the lines of the way Clerics can call upon their gods for favor in Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) in exchange for some service further down the line. I can definitely see this as a way for unaligned characters to end up serving forces greater than themselves:
Ragnar gazed around himself nervously. If Fingers had done his job correctly, he never would have fallen down that sliding chute, only to right himself in the dark, surrounded by glowing eyes, more than he could count. He still had strength in his arms, and his blade was sharp, but he couldn't tell what lay just beyond the shadows, and their numbers were great. If he was going to get out of this, desperate measures were required. He drew his sword, and readied his shield.
"Loki! I pledge my fealty to you! Aid my steel!"
He thought he heard faint laughter somewhere in the distance, and suddenly there was a sharp pain on his shield arm, as an eight-pointed star branded itself onto his bicep from some unknown source. The star remained glowing red, and he could see that his sword blade was wreathed with flame. His nervousness fell away, and he felt like shouting, laughing, and screaming all at once.
"Oh, I know I'm going to regret this eventually," he said to himself with a wry grin. He then saluted the shadows with his sword and got to work.
I've always hated the fire and forget "Vancian" magic system of D&D, but the quick and dirty mana conversion I did for my DD game would be very problematic at high levels. Another thing I'll steal is the alternate system I've seen in DCC and Spellcraft and Swordplay (S&S), apparently based on Chainmail, where instead of spells going off automatically and then going away, you roll to successfully cast, gaining either an immediate or delayed effect, or a failure, and the failure does make you lose that spell for the day (and botches get nasty). I like this a lot better. A character will still be limited as to how many spells per level he can prep, or what levels of spell are available, but fire and forget is gone. I haven't decided yet whether to use the Mercurial Magic stuff from DCC yet. While it's fun, I don't know if I want that much randomness. Most likely I'll show it to players and let them decide if they want to use it or not.
Race and Class
I will most likely keep them separated, Swords & Wizardry (S&W) style, albeit without level limits, and without too many restrictions. This was trivial to do with DD, and I don't see it being a problem. Most likely I'm going to use S&W Complete as my baseline, and tear things out and bolt things on as needed.
Saving Throws and AC
I'll definitely be using the more traditional 5 separate saving throws option within, rather than S&W's single one, just because I prefer it that way. I also prefer descending AC, but since the book provides it and ascending, as does the excellent Monstrosities book, this is trivial.
That's it for now, when more ideas along these lines occur, I'll post them. There's a vague notion of actually putting this all together into my own game and throwing it up on Lulu, but that's way down the line. First priority is to put it together for my own use and run it for people.