Kyle Mecklem asked:

What should a game have to possess the “spirit” of old school Dungeons & Dragons?

Good question!

D&D-nature is about exploring some area (possibly a social graph, as seen in B6), call-response interaction with the Referee (see those early examples of play in OD&D and Holmes), and deadly results from bad luck or bad decision-making, with just enough rules to handle the common cases.

There are no fixed rules.

  • Six stats? Many games have 3 stats, or 7 or 8, and are still D&D-nature.
  • Group initiative? OD&D used Chainmail’s individual weapon-rank initiative system. Holmes basic used individual Dex-rank, rolls for ties.
  • Hit Points? Chainmail just had alive/dead results from combat, and it was the official combat system of OD&D. There are later games that have no HP and only survival rolls, which seems VERY D&D-nature.
  • Descending AC? Most retro-clones have ascending AC, and they seem to have D&D-nature.
  • XP? Metamorphosis Alpha has D&D-nature and no experience system.
  • Theatre of the mind combat? Well, mostly, but some people do run D&D-nature games with minis, tho I think that’s poor form.

In fact, I don’t see any rules that can’t be thrown out and still have D&D-nature, and for example Ken St. Andre, M.A.R. Barker, James Ward, Greg Stafford, Kevin Siembieda, and Dave Hargrave recognized that and made their own things which are still D&D-nature. Venger Satanis‘s Crimson Dragon Slayer is D&D-nature, even though it’s basically Over the Edge (I was going to say “with swords”, but there’s few guns on Al Amarja, so… it’s OTE)

Where it stops is when you’ve codified everything and forbidden people from screwing with the rules, or nerfed it so nobody can have a stupid death.

  • AD&D does not have D&D-nature, not so much because of the excessive rules as Gary’s rules-as-written edicts from convention games.
  • Obviously some forms of D20 have D&D-nature, even if 3.0, 3.5, and Pathfinder do not.
  • 4E did not, it’s arguably not even an RPG.
  • 5E kinda does, but it covers every surface in Nerf® and makes sure mommy will kiss your owies and give you back a hit die when you take a popsicle break. Has anyone ever died in a 5E game? Is a TPK possible?