Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Reflections on Labyrinth Lord

I've now used the retro-clone for three sessions, and I'm beginning to question it's usefulness in my games. When I decided to try it out I defended it against repeated assaults from critics and naysayers, not because I had become a born again OSR fanatic, or because I was labouring under some naïve belief in the superiority of all things old. No, Sir, I went to bat for LL because I wished to go at it with an open mind, and because it forced me to approach my GM'ing in a different manner.

What I really like about LL is it's simplicity. However, this is also it's main weakness. I've said earlier that in some ways it plays similar to the Storytelling game system. I still hold to that statement, but with some qualifications. Just as ST, LL does not bind the players to what's on their sheets. Unlike ST however, LL does not provide much in the way of support for any type of play except combat. And herein lies the rub.

I want to run a game where the characters interact with the world they're in in more ways than by applying sword and spell. Skills, I've found, is key here, and LL has none. This is the reason why the system feels unfinished to me. Yes, I am aware of the arguments for role playing challenges instead of relying on rules to solve them, but if the players have to describe every single action they take outside of combat, it'll become quite tedious right fast. Conversely, I know that the lack of skills can be overcome by rolling modified ability-checks, but to me that only feels like masking a problem with a sub-par solution.

So, while I haven't pulled the plug on this experiment yet, the results are starting to come in, and when it is brought before the committee I would not be surprised if the old school is abandoned in favour of 3.X. Hell, I've already started thinking about which iteration of 3.X we should use.


  1. I had my suspicions this might be the case when you proposed this, which is why I suggested a couple of lighter symptoms that I thought might be more rules-robust in the non-combat/exploration arena, but I wasn't sure how it would turn out.

    I think, as you suggest, a lot of what a system needs to do is based on what sort of game you want to play. For what online foray into the City I'm planning I thinking of using Lorefinder the Pathfinder/GUMSHOE hybrid. While I find Pathfinder a little crunchy for my taste consensus seems to be that GUMSHOE falls down outside of the invesigation/mystery set up and I want a system that does action and mystery.

  2. Hey man, no biggie, chalk it up to experience and move on. Why waste time doing what you and the players aren't enjoying? I am a HUGE believer in the tight connection between rule set and style of play. Labyrinth Lord lends itself to a certain style of play that can be seen as being geared more toward combat, and it sounds like you and your players are not interested (at least at this time?) in the style of play to which it lends itself most readily. No harm done, just not what you are looking for. Pathfinder/3.X are fine, but could I perhaps interest you in some Castles & Crusades (of which I am something of a fan)? ;-)

  3. It's very cool you got behind it and gave it time. I know how hard it can be to find a game that goes beyond combat in any meaningful way. If my system is ever done, it might be just the thing, and whether or not you did actually like it, I'd certainly be recommending it right now. One of the pleasures and pains of gaming is the fact of it being a shared experience at the level of the group, the system community and the wider gaming world, and the compromise that flows from that. Chalking it up is no bad thing, and having had cause to do so could be a good one for all concerned.

  4. We can sympathize fully. The nice thing is that Labyrinth Lord is simple enough to add-on new sub-systems fairly easily, like we've done in terms of treasure-types, alternate experience/achievement, and revised spell-casting. We've kept out monsters mostly in LL format to make them compatible up until now, by we're seriously considering a move to a more robust system...we're just not sure which one is the right fit just yet...

  5. @Trey: Yeah, you get an "I told you so" here ;)

    @Drance: I may give Castles & Crusades a boo before I abandon the OSR. After all, I don't need feats and all the rigmarole that comes with 3.X/PF.

    @Porky: I definitely appreciate the experience, and the process has challenged me as a GM.

    @Garrisonjames: Yeah, I brushed up against the thought of zoning LL for extensive house-ruling, but I honestly don't think it would be worth the effort in my case.

  6. kewl, that you gave it a try, I have had just the opposite effect when I dropped Pathfinder in favor of OSRIC.

    The other day me and the guys went to build "Stars without Numbers" characters and even with its stripped down skill system, I had to struggle through groans and complaints! LOL!


  7. You might want to check out the Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS). It puts skills into an OSR style game

  8. @Eric: That's a good example of why there's no such thing as a perfect universal system.

    @Tenkar: Thanks, mate. I'll definitely check that out.