Dungeon Master Assistance

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D&D 5E vs. Old-School Essentials

Comparing D&D 5e to Old-School Essentials.

This is one of several reviews I am doing this year of various table top roll playing games. I am specifically comparing them to D&D 5e. I am doing this with the assumption that my readers are already familiar with D&D 5e. The following review is based only upon my reading of the rulebook. I haven’t played this yet, but I will be posting my opinion after I get a chance to play test it.

I am referring here to the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons as 5E and Old-School Essentials as OSE. This information is for evaluation purposes, it should not be considered official rules of the game. You can assume things that I don’t list here are basically like 5E with only minor differences.

In OSE the Dungeon Master is called the Referee.


Summary of the game system

Old-School Essentials is a popular game published by Necrotic Gnome. The original D&D game was published in 1974. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was published in 1977 and had 2 major revisions. The first was the Basic Set published in 1981 which covered character levels 1 through 3. The second was the Expert Set published in 1983, which extended it through level 14. OSE is based on the 1980s Basic and Expert sets. It is a modern presentation of, and 100% compatible with, those Basic & Expert Rules. OSE comes in 2 flavors: Classic Fantasy that contains all content from the Basic & Expert Rules and Advanced Fantasy that adds more classes, options, magic, and monsters. They do a good job of faithfully recreating those rules, while streamlining and clarifying them.


Primary differences between Old-School Essentials and D&D 5e

Character Creation

  • Basic Character Creation: The list of classes includes the list of races. Your character will be human unless you select a different race. That race is also your class. There is a separate page of information for each class (other than human) depending on whether you are using basic or advanced character creation.
  • Advanced Character Creation: You select your race and then you select your class.
    • Other than human, each race is restricted as to which class it can be, and the maximum level you can attain in that class.
    • As an example; if you are a Dwarf you can only be an Assassin (max 9th level), Cleric* (max 8th level), Fighter (max 10th level), or Thief (max 9th level). *At the referee’s option, dwarven clerics may only exist as NPCs.
  • Roll Abilities: Roll 3d6 for each in order. [same 6 abilities as in 5E]
  • Adjust Ability Scores: Each class has a Prime Requisite ability (see below). With certain restrictions, you can raise your prime requisite by lowering other ability scores, spending 2 points for every point you raise your prime requisite ability.
  • Ability Score Modifiers: Each ability has its own set of ability modifiers. For example, here are the ability modifiers for Strength:

           STR          Melee                 Open Doors

           3                 –3                           1-in-6

           4–5             –2                           1-in-6

           6–8             –1                           1-in-6

           9–12            None                     2-in-6

           13–15         +1                           3-in-6

           16–17         +2                           4-in-6

           18                +3                           5-in-6

    • Your INT determines how many languages you know. Your WIS determines Magic save bonus. Your DEX modifies your armor class, your missile attack rolls, and intuitive rolls. Your CON modifies your hit points.  Your CHA modifies NPC reactions and determines your Max # of retainers and their loyalty.
    • Your Prime Requisite ability (determined by your class) determines your XP modifier that is applied whenever you receive experience points.
  • Attack Values: Refer to THAC0 below.
  • Saving Throws and Class Abilities: Record your class abilities and your saving throws. If using the optional rule for weapon proficiency, record which weapons you are proficient with.
  • Hit Points: You have to roll your hit points at first level. No exceptions.
    • Modify by your CON modifier.
    • Optional Rule: You can re-roll a 1 or 2 (before applying any CON modifier).
  • Alignment: Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic
  • Known Languages: This always includes the common tongue and your character’s alignment language.
  • Background: Roll on a table to see what your character did before becoming an adventurer. 
  • Determine Secondary Skills (Optional Rule): Roll on the table, or select a secondary skill.
  • Starting Gold: Everyone starts with 3d6 × 10 gold pieces.
  • Purchase Gear: Purchase your equipment from the equipment lists.
  • Armour [Armor] Class: Determined by your armor and DEX.
  • Level and XP: Start at 1st level with 0 XP.
  • Name Your Character: Give him or her a name and you are ready to play.

THAC0 “to hit armor class zero”

  • When Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons came out they dropped THAC0. They were able to do this by completely changing armor class. Back when they were using THAC0, lower Armor Class scores were better, so bonuses decreased your AC and penalties increased it. To maximize compatibility with the earlier versions of D&D, OSE uses these earlier rules. When you attack, if the attack roll is equal to or lower than the opponent’s AC, the attack hits. When you attack a monster, you find your character’s THAC0 on the Attack Matrix and look across it to find the number listed under the AC for the monster to find the number you need (or lower) to hit it. You will want to copy this row from the table onto your character sheet for easy reference.
  • Ascending AC (Optional Rule): OSE has this optional rule so you can roll the monster’s AC or higher to hit [like in 5E]. So everywhere it lists an AC or THAC0 it shows the corresponding AC or bonus to hit in square brackets for you to use. It does note that “Using Ascending Armour Class results in very slightly different attack probabilities than when using the traditional approach of descending AC with an attack matrix”.


  • OSE Classic Fantasy: Your character can be a Cleric, Fighter, Thief, Elf, Magic-User, Halfling, or Dwarf.
  • OSE Advanced Fantasy: Adds Acrobat, Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Illusionist, Knight, Paladin, and Ranger.
  • Some classes have a minimum requirement. For instance, to be a Paladin you must have a minimum CHA of 9.
  • Each class has a hit dice, a maximum level, a list of the armor you can wear, and weapons you can use. And the languages you get for being this class.
  • A class may have other requirements. For example, a Paladin must be lawful. If a Paladin ever changes alignment, he loses all class abilities and becomes a fighter of the same level.
  • Each class has its own level progression table that shows: XP required, Hit Die, THAC0 and saving throws for D: Death/poison; W: Wands; P: Paralysis/petrify; B: Breath attacks; S: Spells/rods/staves. If the class casts spells, it also shows the number and level of spells you can cast at each level.
  • Each class also has additional features.

Multiple Classes (Optional Rule)

  • A character may be of up to three classes, which are selected at character creation.
  • When earning XP, the total earned is split evenly between the per-class XP counts.
  • When the character has gained enough XP in one of their classes, that class increases in level.


  • OSE Classic Fantasy: You can choose to play a Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, or Human.
  • OSE Advanced Fantasy: Adds  Drow, Duergar, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, and
  • Infravision: All races except Halfling and Human have infavision [Similar to darkvision]. It allows you to see heat energy. Visible light and large heat sources disrupt it.

XP and character level advancement

  • Experience Points
    • XP is gained from treasure recovered and monsters defeated.
    • Your ability score in your Prime Requisite gives you a modifier that you add to your experience points as you get them.
  • Leveling Up
    • The class levels range from 1 to 14.
    • All non-human races, when chosen as a class, have a maximum level lower than 14, depending on the race.
    • Each class requires a different number of XP to advance to higher levels.


Each round of combat (10 seconds of game time.):

  1. Declare spells and melee movement: Players must inform the referee if they intend to cast a spell or move.
  2. Initiative: Each side rolls 1d6 at the start of each round. (Referee rolls for monsters and one of the players rolls for their side.) The side with the highest roll acts first.
    1. Ties: Either both sides may roll again or actions on both sides may be resolved simultaneously. (This means that both your character and the monster he is fighting might die!)
    2. Slow Weapons: Combatants attacking with two-handed melee weapons always act last in the round.
  3. Winning side acts:
    1. Monster morale (Optional Rule): Monsters have a listing for morale, rated from 2 to 12, which represents how likely they are to fight or flee.
    2. Movement:
      1. If not in melee combat: you can move up to your combat move rate.
      2. When in melee:
        1. Fighting withdrawal: You can move backwards at up to half your combat move rate.
        2. Retreat: You turn and flee, moving up to your combat movement rate. This round you may not attack; your opponent gains a +2 bonus to all attacks against you and you get no shield AC bonus.
      3. Missile attacks: Opponents must be more than 5’ from one another.
        1. Short range: +1 bonus to attack rolls.
        2. Medium range: No bonuses or penalties.
        3. Long range: –1 penalty to attack rolls.
  1. Spell casting: You can’t take any other actions or move this round.
    1. Line of sight: The target must be visible to the caster.
    2. Disrupting Spells: If you lose initiative and are successfully attacked or fail a saving throw before your turn, the spell fails and is removed from your memory.
  2. Melee attacks: Opponents must be 5’ or less from each other. You can move and attack on the same round. You normally get one attack per round. PC attacks inflict 1d6 damage. Melee attack damage is modified by your STR.
  1. Other side acts: In initiative order.

Healing and Death

  • Healing
    • Natural Healing: For each full day of complete rest, a character recovers 1d3 hit points.
    • Magical Healing: Magical healing and natural healing can be combined.
  • Death: A character or monster reduced to 0 hit points or less is killed.
    • Limits on Returning from Death (Optional Rule)
      • Number of Times: A character’s initial CON score defines the number of times that they can be returned from the dead by magic.
      • Chance of Success: The chance of resurrection magic succeeding depends on a character’s CON score.
      • CON Loss: Each time a character is brought back from the dead, their CON score is reduced by one point.

Magic and spell casting

  • A 1st level magic-user has one spell in their spell book, selected by the referee (who may allow the player to choose).
  • Spells in memory: The character’s level determines how many spells they can memorize at one time.
  • Reversible spells: Some spells are reversible; this is indicated in each spell’s description.
  • Memorizing Spells
    • Rest and time requirements: You can memorize new spells after an uninterrupted night’s sleep. One hour to memorize all spells you are capable of memorizing.
    • Duplicate spells: You may memorize the same spell more than once.
  • Casting Spells
    • Once only: When you cast a spell, knowledge of the spell is erased from your mind.
    • Freedom: You cannot cast spells if gagged, bound, or in an area of magical silence.
    • Line of sight: The target of the spell must be visible to the caster.
  • Spell Effects
    • Concentration: A spell might require concentration to maintain its effect. Performing any other action or being distracted causes concentration to end.
  • Arcane Magic
    • Memorizing Spells: Arcane spell casters memorize spells from their spell books.
    • Reversing Spells: The normal or reversed form of a spell must be selected when the spell is memorized.
  • Divine Magic
    • Memorizing Spells: When praying for spells, divine spell casters may choose any spells in their class’ spell list that they are of high enough level to cast.
    • Reversing Spells: Divine spell casters can cast the reversed version of a spell by speaking the words and performing the gestures backwards when it is cast.
    • Deity Disfavor: If the character ever falls from favor with their deity, penalties may be imposed.

 What you need to get started

Everything you need is available on Necrotic Gnome’s web site.

This site has a free copy of Old-School Essentials Basic Rules which has enough information to roll up some characters and play a low-level game.

Their site also contains character sheets, spell trackers, and other free downloads. It also has a complete online rules reference and more. Of course, you can also purchase their rule books, accessories, supplements, and adventures.

To play Classic Fantasy, you only need the single Classic Fantasy Rules Tome.

To play Advanced Fantasy, you need the Advanced Fantasy Players Tome and the Referees Tome. These two books also include everything from the Classic Fantasy Rules Tome, so there is no need to purchase that one if you choose to go with Advanced Fantasy.

Final Thoughts

  • No Advantage/Disadvantage.
  • No proficiency bonus.
  • No feats.
  • No cantrips.
  • No spell slots.
  • No spell components.
  • No sub-classes.
  • No skill system – no ranks or skill points.
  • No opportunity attacks.
  • No inspiration.
  • No death saves.
  • Old-School Essentials is largely compatible with material published for any version of D&D earlier than 3rd edition and should be 100% compatible with the 1981 Basic/Expert edition.
  • I was playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons until Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition came out and I liked it better. I was very excited by Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition when it came out. I liked it better still. I didn’t care for4th Edition, so I never played that. When Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition came out, it was everything I had hoped 4th Edition would be. I have been happy playing 5E sense it came out in 2014. However, should I want to go back to playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons I would seriously consider playing Old-School Essentials. Those old rule books were a little confusing and OSE has done a good job of clarifying, updating and expanding on them.

D&D 5E vs. ShadowDark

Comparing Dungeons and Dragons to ShadowDark.

This is one of several reviews I am doing this year of various table top roll playing games. I am specifically comparing them to D&D 5e. I am doing this with the assumption that my readers are already familiar with D&D 5e. The following review is based only upon my reading of the rulebook. I haven’t played this yet, but I will be posting my opinion after I get a chance to play test it.

I am referring here to the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons as 5E and ShadowDark as SD. This information is for evaluation purposes, it should not be considered official rules of the game. You can assume than things that I don’t list here are basically like 5E with only minor differences. Where SD uses different terminology than D&D, I have noted the terms used in 5E in square brackets. As an example, “Ancestry [Race]” indicates that SD uses the term “Ancestry” where 5E uses “Race”.

 In SD the Dungeon Master is called the Game Master.

Summary of the game system

ShadowDark is a new game created by Kelsey Dionne. It is a rules-light table top fantasy role playing game with an old school feel, but it isn’t a retro-clone. She calls it a nostalgic-but-new adventuring system. It is currently (as of March 18, 2023) on Kickstarter and has over $900.000.00 pledged of $10,000 goal. She has my pledge and I can hardly wait. In the meantime this review is based on my reading of the ShadowDark free quickstart set.

Primary differences between ShadowDark and D&D 5e

Stats [Abilities]

  • Ability Scores: SD and 5E both use the same 6 ability scores.

Ancestry [Race]

  • You can choose to play a Dwarf, Elf, Goblin, Halfling, Half-orc, or Human.
  • These races should be familiar to you, but their descriptions are very short. For example, here is the entire description for a Dwarf.
    • Brave, stalwart folk as sturdy as the stone kingdoms they carve inside mountains.
    • You know the Common and Dwarvish languages.
    • Stout: Start with +2 HP. Roll your hit point gains with advantage.
  • No Darkvision: None of the races can see in the dark.
  • Speed: All races have the same move rate – During your turn, you can move up to “near” (roughly 30 feet).


  • Your character can be a Fighter, Priest, Thief, or Wizard.
    • Fighter:
      • You add your CON mod to your gear slots. (Refer to Gear Slots below.)
      • You add 1/2 your level +1 to attack and damage with one weapon type of your choice.
      • You have advantage on your choice of STR or DEX checks.
    • Priest [Cleric]
      • Turn Undead. You know the turn undead spell.
      • You serve a deity who matches your alignment (Chaotic, Lawful or Neutral).
      • You start with 2 tier 1 [level 1] priest spells and gain new spells with each level.
    • Thief [Rogue]
      • Backstab. If you hit a creature who is unaware of your attack, add 1/2 your level to the damage.
      • Thievery. You have advantage on these tasks [In 5E you would be proficient in these abilities]:
        • Climbing
        • Sneaking and hiding
        • Applying disguises
        • Finding and disabling traps
        • Delicate tasks such as picking pockets and opening locks
    • Wizard
      • You start with 3 tier 1 [level 1] wizard spells and gain new spells with each level. (No spell book required.)
      • You can also learn spells from spell scrolls.
    • Titles: Your character in each class receives a title based on his alignment that changes as he advances in level.
    • Talents: [Could be compared to feats in 5E, but much less powerful or complex.] Humans get one additional talent at first level.

Here is an example of the talents for the Fighter class:

2Gain Weapon Mastery with one additional weapon
3-6+1 to melee and ranged attacks
7-9+2 to Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution stat
10-11Choose one kind of armor. You get +1 AC from that armor
12Choose a talent or +2 points to distribute to stats

XP and character level advancement

  • Experience Points
    • XP awards not based on the monsters you kill but on the quality of the treasure and boons you gain.
    • The levels range from 1 to 10 in the quick start rules. I can’t find anywhere if that is the level cap that will be in the full core rule book.
  • Leveling Up
    • All classes advance at the same speed.
    • To gain a level, you need to earn your current level x 10 XP.
    • Once you reach a new level, your total XP resets back to zero.
    • You get any new title, spells, and talent improvements listed for your level. Your maximum HP increases, and you might also gain a talent roll.
  • Talent Roll: You gain one roll on your class’s talent table when you reach the indicated levels (about once every other level.) Duplicate talents stack unless noted.
  • Increased HD: Roll your class’s hit points die and add it to your maximum HP. You don’t’ add your CON mod and you must roll for each level’s HP.
  • Ability Modifiers: From a score of 2 to 18 the modifiers are the same as 5E. A score of 1-3 is -4, any score of 18 or over is +4 so there is no need to ever go over 18.

Character creation

  • Select a Background, roll Stats, choose an Ancestry, choose a Class, roll one class Talent, determine Hit Points, select an Alignment, roll for starting gold, and buy your Gear.
  • Abilities: Roll 3d6 six times and assign to abilities in order.
  • Hit Points: Equal to one roll of your class’s hit points die + your CON mod (minimum 1)
  • Starting Gold: Everyone starts with 2d6 x 5 gold pieces.
  • Purchase Gear: You must purchase your equipment from the equipment lists.

Armor Class

  • Unarmored: 10 + your DEX mod
  • Armor: There are only 3 armor types. The AC they provide are: Leather 11 + DEX mod, Chainmail 13 + DEX mod, Plate mail 15, Shield +2

Gear Slots

  • You can carry a number of items equal to your Strength stat or 10, whichever is higher. Most gear besides typical clothing fills one gear slot.

Luck Tokens [Inspiration]

  • These are used just like inspiration with one subtle change. Instead of using it to roll with advantage you can use it to reroll any roll you just made. (This is a common house rule in 5E.)

Crawling [5E doesn’t have a name for this. It is everything that is not combat]

  • Characters are in crawling rounds while not in combat. Everyone always acts in turn.
  • Round: about 6 minutes but it suggests that you use real world time for time passing in the game.
  • Turns: Each person takes a turn, starting with the GM and going clockwise.
  • Actions: On your turn in the round, you can move up to near (roughly 30 feet) and take an action, or move twice. An action can be anything you could typically do in 6 minutes.
  • Distances: Distances are broken up into close (5 feet), near (up to 30 feet), and far (within sight during an encounter or scene).


  • Round: about 6 minutes.
  • Initiative: At the start of combat, initiative is rolled as in 5E, then the one with the highest result goes first, followed by the others clockwise around the table.
  • Move: On your turn in the round you can move, splitting up your movement however you want, and take an action, or move twice.
  • Actions:
    • As your action you can make a melee or ranged attack, cast a spell, or do an improvised action.
    • You can also do small, parallel tasks on your turn, such as standing up, speaking, activating a magic item, or quaffing a potion. This doesn’t typically use your action.
  • Critical Hit: You deal a critical hit if you roll a natural 20 on an attack roll or spellcasting check. For a weapon, double its damage dice on the attack. For a spell, you may double one of its numerical effects.


  • Enemies who are reduced to half their ranks (or half their hit points for a solo enemy) flee if they fail a DC 15 Wisdom check.


  • Death Timer: When you are reduced to 0 HP you set a death timer. You set the number of rounds before you dye by rolling 1d4 + CON mod (min. 1).
  • Survive: On your turn each round before you dye, roll 1d20. If you roll a natural20 you rise with 1 HP.
  • Stabilize: An ally that is close to you can make a DC 15 INT check. On a success, you stop dying (but are still unconscious).

Magic and spell casting

  • Spell Tiers [levels]: These range from 1-5. I don’t know if there will be higher spell tiers in the core rule book.
  • Types of Spells: There are wizard spells and priest spells.
  • Casting Spells: To cast a spell, roll 1d20 + your INT mod if a wizard or your WIS mod if a priest. The DC to successfully cast the spell is 10 + the spell’s tier [spell’s level].
    • Critical Success: On a natural 20, you may double one of the spell’s numerical effects. This remains in effect on a focus [concentration] spell until your next focus check.
    • Critical Failure: On a natural 1, the spell fails. If it was a wizard spell, you can’t cast that spell again until after a [long] rest and you roll on the Wizard Mishap table. If it was a priest spell, you can’t cast that spell again until you perform a penance to your deity and complete a [long] rest.
  • Acquiring and preparing spells: You don’t have to prepare spells. You can cast any spell you know. You acquire new spells when you advance in levels. You can also learn new spells from scrolls.
  • Saving Throws: This is typically their Wisdom check opposed by your last spellcasting check.
  • Spell descriptions: Each spell is clearly described and easy to use. There is no option to cast a spell at a higher level.

What you need to get started

Everything you need is available on ShadowDark’s web site.

You can download the Quick Start Set for free that includes a one-shot adventure and character sheets.

If you decide you want to run a ShadowDark campaign, you will want to get the ShadowDark RPG core rulebook. It’s not available quite yet, but you can get it as soon as it is available by making a Pledge on their KickStarter page.

Final Thoughts

  • This is a deadly game. To quote from the book “Characters at zero HP die in 1d4 + Constitution modifier (minimum 1) rounds. Dead characters are retired from play!” So you had better hope you have a friend close by with a heal spell ready.
  • It is very rules-light and stresses rulings over rules.
  • No multiclass.
  • No spell slots.
  • No spell books.
  • No spell components.
  • No skill system – no ranks or skill points.
  • ShadowDark does use Advantage/Disadvantage rolls.
  • This is a newer style of game that still feels old school.
  • I like it (mostly). I will have to see how some of this plays at the table.

D&D 5E vs. Castles & Crusades

Comparing Dungeons and Dragon to Castles & Crusades.

This is one of several reviews I am doing this year of various table top roll playing games. I am specifically comparing them to D&D 5e. I am doing this with the assumption that my readers are already familiar with D&D 5e. The following review is based only upon my reading of the rule-book. I haven’t played this yet, but I will be posting my opinion after I get a chance to play test it.

Below I am referring to the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons as 5E, Castles & Crusades as C&C, and the Player’s Handbook as the PHB. The information below is for evaluation purposes, it should not be considered official rules of the game. Where C&C uses different terminology than D&D, I will tell you what terms C&C uses but will use D&D terms in the descriptions. You can assume that things I don’t list here are basically like 5E with only minor differences.

In C&C the Dungeon Master is called the Castle Keeper.

Summary of the game system

C&C is a popular table top role playing game published by Troll Lord Games that uses a modified d20-based system they call the SIEGE engine. It is a table top fantasy role playing game based on the D&D 3.0 system but it has an AD&D feel.

Primary differences between C&C and D&D 5e


  • You can choose to play a Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, Halfling, Half-Orc, or Human.
  • These are basically the same as in 5E, but they have more features and there are no sub-races.
  • Darkvision [Gnomes and Half-Orcs] & Deepvision [Dwarves]: Darkvision extends 60’ and Deepvision extends 120’. Neither can be used near a light source. They both require one minute before you can use it when the light source is extinguished.
  • Twilight Vision [Elves]: Can distinguish color and detail under starlight, moonlight or torchlight for up to one mile but only if they are outside.
  • Dusk Vision [Halflings]: Can see in starlight and moonlight just as a human can at dusk.


  • Your character can be an Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Illusionist, Knight, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, or Wizard.
  • There are no sub-classes. Generally, the number of features that you get with your class doesn’t increase as you advance in level. Some features increase in power at certain levels.
  • Some classes advance in level faster than others because the number of hit points required is based on you class.
  • A character may wear any armor, but if the armor type does not appear in the list for their class, the character cannot use any of their class features while the armor is worn unless the description of the feature states otherwise.

Multiclass [optional rule]

  • The decision to multiclass must be made at level 1.
  • You can combine any two classes (any 3 classes if your character is human).
  • There are rules and charts to determine an average for things like starting gold and hit dice.
  • You get all of the features for each of the classes.
  • You are considered a single class and advance in levels as a single class.
  • The XP required to advance in level is calculated by adding together the XP required for each class plus an additional amount that increases with each level.

Class and a Half [optional rule]

  • The decision to have a class and a half must be made at level 1.
  • Pick a principle class and a supporting class.
  • Experience points needed for level advancement are determined by adding the XP of the principal class to one half the XP of the supporting class.
  • You will advance in the supporting class, and perform skill checks of that class, at half the rate of the principal class (rounded down).
  • There are some additional restrictions including restrictions on some features for each of the secondary classes.

Abilities [Attributes in C&C]

  • Ability Scores: C&C and 5E both use the same 6 ability scores.
  • Ability Modifiers: Each ability has a corresponding ability modifier. These numbers differ only slightly from 5E.
  • Primary Abilities: You assign one to be a “primary” ability based on your class. Then you select 1 or 2 other prime abilities. The others are considered secondary abilities.
  • Proficiencies: C&C doesn’t have proficiencies. Instead, in addition to your ability modifier you add your character’s level and racial bonus (if any) to your ability checks.

Difficulty Class (DC) [challenge level in C&C]

  • For ability checks, the Castle Keeper sets the DC which usually ranges between 0 and 10. He then adds 12 if the PC is using a primary ability or 18 if he is using a secondary ability .

Character creation

Roll abilities, choose a class, select primary and secondary abilities (see above), chose a race, choose an alignment, choose a deity (optional), roll starting money, purchase equipment, determine hit points, and give your character a name. These are all basically the same as in 5E except as noted below.

Roll Abilities: Roll 3d6 six times and assign to abilities as desired.

Starting Gold: The amount you start with is determined by a dice roll based on your class.

Purchase Equipment: Purchase your weapons, armor, etc. from the equipment lists.

Armor Class

  • Unarmored: AC 10 [like 5E]
  • Touch: AC 10 regardless of armor worn.
  • Armor: Each armor type has a specific AC adjustment which is added to your unarmored AC. Example: Leather armor is +3 so your AC would be 13.
  • Shields: There are 8 different shields.
    1. Bucklers, small steel and small wooden shields: Add +1 to AC against 1 foe each round.
    2. Medium steel or wooden shields: Add +1 to AC against 2 foes each round.
    3. Large steel or wooden shields: Add +1 to AC against 3 foes each round.
    4. Pavis: Made to be rested on the ground and fired over, like a mobile wall. Adds +6 to AC against all foes in front of the shield.
  • Helms: There are 5 different helms which provide different AC bonuses from +2 to +7. This is used instead of any other armor or shield to blows directed at your head.
  • Dexterity: Your DEX modifier is added to your AC if you can physically react to an attack.


Combat Round: 10 seconds.


  • The initiative die is a d10
  • Initiative is rolled each round.
  • Exception to initiative: In the first round only, a creature using a weapon with a reach of greater than 10 feet against an opponent with a weapon with less than a 6 foot reach, or a large creature fighting a medium or smaller sized creature, attacks first if the other creature approaches within ten feet.


  • On your turn in the round, you can move, attack, cast a spell, use a class feature [class ability in C&C], use an item, or perform a non-lethal or some other mundane action.


  • You can move 1/2 your speed [move rate in C&C] and still attack. If you take no other action, you can move your speed, or twice your speed (jog), or 4 times your speed (run).


  • You can move up to double your speed and then attack. A successful charge attack adds +2 to damage, but you have a -4 penalty to your AC for the entire round.

Melee Combat: Basically the same as 5E.

Ranged Combat:

  • Your STR modifier is added to the damage of thrown weapons and your DEX modifier of propelled weapons.
  • Range weapons have a close range listed. Attacks made at twice that (medium range) have a -2 on the attack roll, at 3 times that (long range)] are at -6.
  • If you miss, there are rules for possibly hitting something else in the path.

Unarmed Combat:

  • There are rules for grappling, pummeling, overbearing, and touch attacks.

Magic and spell casting

  • Types of Magic: In addition to arcane magic and divine magic, C&C also had illusion magic that is only casts by Illusionists.
  • Casting Spells: Spells are cast the same way they are in 5E.
  • Spell Slots: Basically the same as in 5E. The spell levels go up from level 0 to level 9. At each class level you get more spells, and higher level spells, than you do in 5E.
  • Level 0 spells: These are like cantrips but you don’t get unlimited castings of them.
  • Acquiring and preparing spells: Basically the same as in 5E.
  • Concentration: If something interrupts the character’s concentration while the character is casting, the spell is lost and marked off the character’s list of prepared spells.
  • Saving Throws: The DC to save against a spell is always the spell caster’s level.
  • Spell Focus: If a special focus or divine focus is required, it is unique to the spell and cannot be used as the focus for other spells.
  • Spell descriptions: Each spell is clearly described and easy to use. There is no option to cast a spell at a higher level.

What you need to get started

Everything you need is available on Troll Lord’s web site.

You can download the Quick Start Rules for free that includes a one-shot adventure and pre-rolled characters.

There is a free official C&C character sheet.

There is a free official D&D 5 to C&C conversion document .

If you decide you want to run a C&C campaign, two books (Castles & Crusades Players Handbook, and Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure) get you all you need to play up to level 12.

You will want to have the Castle Keeper’s Guide for higher level play.

Final Thoughts

  • Ability checks don’t scale well at higher levels.
  • Setting the DC for ability checks could be made much simpler. You could set the challenge to between 12 and 22 in the first place and simply have the player add +6 to his roll if he is using a primary attribute.
  • C&C has no skill system – no ranks or skill points.
  • C&C has no feats.
  • C&C has no Advantage/Disadvantage.
  • C&C has no attacks of opportunity.
  • C&C has no critical hits.
  • This is a newer style of game that still feels like AD&D.
  • I like it (mostly). I will have to see how some of this plays at the table.

D&D 5E vs. Pathfinder 2nd Edition

Comparing Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons (D&D 5e) to other Table Top Role Playing Games (TTRPG) – Key Features and Differences

I am going to be reviewing several TTRPGs. These reviews are going to specifically compare them to D&D 5e. I am doing this with the assumption that my readers are already familiar with D&D 5e. But I am not assuming any knowledge of earlier editions of D&D.

I have already reviewed Index Card Role Playing Game (ICRPG) and Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC).

These different game systems will all be in the same “Swords and Saucery” genre, what many refer to as “classic” high-fantasy, with warriors battling monsters alongside magic users in a medieval setting. They all focus on fantasy combat, with exploration and opportunities for social interaction. This will include some ‘old school’ retroclones harkening back to the early days of Dungeons & Dragons. They all include comprehensive rules set that cover character creation, spells, combat resolution, weapons and equipment, monsters, treasure and the key dice and play mechanics tying it all together.

Their primary system mechanic is rolling a die (typically a d20), but this varies somewhat. These should all be easy for the current D&D player to understand because they all have many of the same basic features although the specifics may vary. These are things like: races, classes, ability scores, experience points, class levels, weapons, armor, hit points, magic spells, etc. So if you know the current version of D&D most of the rules for these other games are using concept that you are already familiar with.

For each game system, I intend to provide a basic summery of each of these topics:

  • Summary of the game system
  • Primary differences to D&D 5e
  • Races
  • Classes
  • Stats
  • Character creation
  • Character sheet
  • Combat
  • Magic and spell casting
  • XP and character level advancement
  • What you need to get started


After saying all of that, I’m not doing it for the most popular alternative to D&D, which is Pathfinder 2nd edition. The reason is that I am not interested in doing that. Here is my opinion of Pathfinder.

The Pathfinder role playing game is, in my opinion, better that Dungeons and Dragons 5e in almost every possible way. I’ll say that again. Pathfinder is a better role playing game than D&D. However, it is not a game that I enjoy playing. This is because of its massive rules bloat which, for one thing, results in combat being too slow.

As an example;

Here is a Pathfinder 2E Cheat Sheet:

Compare this to my D&D 5e Combat Reference Sheet: https://olddungeonmaster.com/2016/02/06/dd-5e-combat-reference-sheet

D&D 5E vs. Dungeon Crawl Classics

Dungeon Crawl Classics Role-Playing Game attempts to recapture the feel of the original 1970s version of Dungeons & Dragons, with modern game-play rules.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Wizard’s of the Coast’s OGL controversy – here is a link to a post by Matthew Rossi that covers it very well:
After controversy over changes to the OGL, Wizards of the Coast backs down offers D&D content via Creative Commons

My reaction to all of this is two fold:
1) Depending on the Wizard’s of the Coast’s behaviour between now and the time the next version of D&D is released in 2024, and my opinion of that version, I will not be buying any Wizard’s of the Coast products.
2) I will be reviewing, and play-testing a variety of other table top role playing games (TTRPGs).

The vast majority of my readers play Dungeons and Dragons 5e. I am still playing it and it is still my favourite TTRPG. In addition to posts regarding that game, as I review alternatives I will be posting my opinions on them along with the differences between them and D&D 5e. I will attempt to give you enough information to assist you in comparing them to the rules you currently use, and perhaps some additional materials to assist you should you want to play-test them yourself.
I previously posted an ICRPG Conversion Guide If you want to check that one out.

This is my first “5E vs. Alternative TTRPG” post.

You can download a free copy of my 5 page PDF “An Introduction to Dungeon Crawl Classics for D&D 5E Players” HERE. It also contains Combat Reference Sheets.

Here is a summery:


• The FUNNEL: DCC has you create three of four zero level characters.
During the first 0-level game, it is expected that all but 1 of your 0 level characters will die. The survivor will becomes your level 1 character
• DCC does not have:  Feats, Hit Dice, Spell Slots, Inspiration, or Skill Points.
• Rather than Proficiencies: You are trained in certain skills.
• The classes are: CLERIC (human), THIEF (human), WARRIOR (human), WIZARD (human), DWARF, ELF, HALFLING. Yes, Dwarf, Elf and Halfling are classes.
• Clerics turn creatures that are unholy to their religion. This may include creatures other than un-dead.
• All spells are cast with a spell check. Each spell has a unique chart that adjudicates the spells results.
• Wizards may lose access to a spell after a casting it. If he rolls a low spell check.
• Clerics that roll a low spell check may increase his chance of failing on subsequent checks.
• You can spend ability scores to enhance dice rolls. All characters can burn Luck, and wizards and elves can burn other abilities.
• ABILITIES: 1. Strength, 2. Agility (like Dexterity), 3. Stamina (like Constitution), 4. Personality (like Charisma), 5. Intelligence (like Intelligence and Wisdom combined), 6. Luck
• WEIRD DICE: DCC uses a standard polyhedral set, enhanced with a d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24 and d30. Stringing them all together creates what DCC calls a “Die Chain”.
• The Die Chain: d3-d4-d5-d6-d7-d8-d10-d12-d14-d16-d20-24-d30
• Instead of ADVANTAGE/DISADVANTAGE: Whenever the rules specify a bonus of +1d, the die to be rolled moves one step to the right on the chain (or one to the left for a -1d). Multiple steps can switch the die type two or more steps.
• SAVING THROWS: There are three types of saving throws: Reflex (Ref) Is 10 modified by the Agility modifier. Fortitude (Fort) is 10 modified by the Stamina modifier. Willpower (Will) Is 10 modified by the Personality modifier.
• CRITS & FUMBLES: Natural 20s automatically hit and you roll on a crit table, your Luck modifier is added to this roll. Natural 1s are automatic misses, and and you roll on a fumble table. The die rolled depends on the armor you are wearing.
• DEATH: When a PC’s is reduced to 0 HP, he is dead or bleeding out. They can survive up to the number of rounds equal to their level. They can be healed during that time but will suffer a permanent loss of 1 point of Stamina and gain a terrible scar from the wound. If a level 1 or higher dead character’s body can be recovered within 1 hour, the dead PC may test their Luck, usually by rolling a d20, and rolling equal or less that the dead PCs Luck score. If they succeed, then the character was badly injured, but survived their wounds. The survivor will have 1 hp, takes a -4 penalty to all rolls for the next hour and one random physical ability (Strength, Agility, or Stamina) will be permanently reduced by 1 point.
• ALIGNMENT: The 3 alignments are: Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic.
• LEVELS: Your character can advance to level 10.
• INITIATIVE: An initiative check is conducted by rolling 1d20 and adding the appropriate modifier: Agility modifier, and, for warriors, class level. A d16 is used instead of a d20 for characters wielding two-handed weapons.
• ACTIONS: On their turn, a character may move up to their speed and perform actions. A typical PC may attempt one action. Some non-combat actions also count as an action. Some actions may be performed while moving.
• HEALING: Wounds heal with rest. A character who gets a good night’s rest heals 1 hit point. If the character gets a day of bed rest, he heals 2 hit points per night. Critical hits that inflict penalties other than hit point damage heal when the associated damage heals. Some critical hit results may create permanent injuries which can only be healed by magical or extraordinary means. Ability score loss, except for Luck, heals at the same rate: 1 point with a good night’s rest, and 2 points with a day of bed rest. A character may heal both ability score loss and hit point loss on the same night’s rest. Luck, however, does not heal. Except for the special abilities of halflings and thieves, a character who burns Luck does so permanently.
• LUCK: A character can permanently burn Luck (reduce his luck score) to give a one-time bonus to a roll. A character can only burn Luck to affect his own die rolls (except for halflings). Luck is typically used to affect a character’s attack rolls, damage rolls, spell checks, thief checks, and saving throws, but it can also be used for other purposes. A character can declare his intent to burn Luck before or after his die roll. He then specifies how many points he will burn. But he can only burn Luck once per roll.
• WITHDRAWAL: If a character or monster withdraws from an active melee his opponents immediately receive a single free attack. (This is similar to an Attack of Opportunity in D&D).
• TWO-WEAPON FIGHTING: A character can wield a light-weight secondary weapon in his off hand while using a sword or other primary weapon in his natural hand. The character typically attacks using a smaller die.
• TABLES: There are tables – lots of tables. Every time you roll a natural 1 or 20 on an attack, make an ability check, cast a spell, and other times, you might then roll on a table to see what the results are.

If this sounds like something you might want to try, Dungeon Crawl Classics has a free “DCC RPG Quick Start Rules & Intro Adventures – PDF” that contains everything you need to learn the rules and play your first game.
They also have a great deal on their “First Time Fan Kit” that contains everything you need to start playing DCC for $40.00. I got this and had to pay about $20.00 shipping for the 5 pounds of goodies, but it was definitely worth it. These products alone have a suggested retail price of over $90.




D&D 5E – Quick Play Character Folios

Ready-To-Play First Level Character Folios

If you want a ready-to-play first level character for fifth edition dungeons and dragons, simply select the class you want, download the filled-in character sheet/folio and you will be ready to play.

Down your free first level character sheet/folio here:
Artificer (Gnome), Barbarian (Half-orc), Bard (Half-elf), Cleric (Dwarf), Druid (Elf)
Fighter (Dragonborn), Monk (Halfling), Paladin (Human), Ranger (Human), Rogue (Halfling), Sorcerer (Half-elf), Warlock (Tiefling), Wizard (Elf)

This is an update to the Quick Play Character Sheets I posted in 2020 (find them HERE).

I completely overhauled them, primarily by putting them onto the latest version of my form-fallible character sheet/folio (find that HERE). You may want to download the box by box instructions that are also on that post.

While I was at it I corrected mistakes and added more information.

I used the suggested quick build from the Player’s Handbook as a guide to fill in the information. I used my best judgement to create what I thought would be a “typical” race and build for each class.

You can easily modify these. Simply use the PDF file for the class you want to start with.

To change the race:
This folio clearly identifies where each feature, skill, proficiency or modifier comes from. Delete the ones that came from the race and replace these with the ones that come from the race you prefer to use.

To change the background:
Same as for the race, delete the ones that don’t apply and add the new ones.

To change the starting ability scores:
On the “Skills and Abilities” sheet (page 3), in the “Abilities” box, the line of ability scores at the top labelled “Base” are the original unmodified ability scores. You can re-arrange these or replace them if you choose to. All subsequent adjustments to the scores and the modifiers will be applied automatically.

To start at a higher level:
I suggest you add one level at a time, choosing the class for each level and adding the new features as you go.



D&D 5E – Character Sheet and Folio

Character sheet – Top half (Above the Fold)
Contains all the information you typically need to reference during play.
Character sheet – Bottom half (Below the Fold)
Contains a list of all your Traits, Feats, Features and Proficiencies as well as all your armor, weapons, equipment, treasure and magic items – tracking your wealth and weight carried.

Download your free 8 page “D&D 5E Character FolioHERE.
Download complete box by box instructions on filling in the folio HERE.
If you need more room for trait, feat or feature descriptions, a separate “Traits – Feats – Features” page can be downloaded HERE.
Go to the “D&D 5E – Class Reference Sheets” page HERE to download your Class Reference Sheets. These were created to be companion sheets to the character folio.

This Folio provides you a way to track each entry on the first page “Character Sheet”. Everything on that page can be described and tracked on the following pages. This includes all the information required to come up with all the values and modifiers as well as information as to what character level you were when you received it and where it came form.

You can fill them out by hand.
Although you will be missing out on the automatic calculations, if you choose to print out blank sheets and fill it all out with a pencil you can. The instructions walk you through every box with instructions on how to fill them by hand as well as on a computer.

It works for any race or background.
You can use any home-brew race or background. It makes no assumptions based on race or background.

It works for any subclass.
You can use any official class (including Artificer) but it makes no assumption regarding subclass, so you can use subclasses from any source or home-brew.

This works just as well for single class as it does for multi class.
Most character sheets (including the previous ones I have made) that are made for multiclass are more complicated than necessary for a single class character. And those made for a single class don’t work at all for a multiple class character. I tried hard to make this one work for both and still remain simple for single class characters.

You can fold them or cut them in half.
These pages are sized to print on 8 1/2” x 11” paper. There is a horizontal line in the center of each page. You can fold the page along this line, or cut the page in half along this line turning these into 8 1/2” x 5 1/2” sheets.

You can turn off the lines.
On each page, wherever you can enter notes, there are lines you can use. These lines are on a separate layer for each page. If you are not filling these pages in by hand, you may want to turn off these layers. (How to turn layers off varies with the PDF viewer you are using – you can look up how to do that on-line.)

You also need a Class Reference Sheet.
In addition to this Character folio, I recommend that you also use a separate sheet for spells and other information in regard to your specific class and subclass. I have created “D&D 5E – Class Reference Sheets” as a companion to the Character Folio. You can find them on the “D&D 5E – Class Reference Sheets” page HERE.

Quick Start
I will soon be posting a set of ready to play first level Character Folios, one for each class.




D&D – Upcoming changes to the OGL

This Is Important!

In a post I made in 2021D&D 5E – How to Publish D&D ContentI gave an overview on the Open Gaming License (OGL) and the System Reference Document (SRD). It looks like recent developments by Wizards of the Coast will be changing all of this.

If you haven’t heard about the upcoming changes, I refer you to these excellent posts.

here is a good overview by Noah “MyLawyerFriend” Downs 

And here is An open letter to WotC

D&D 5E – Class Reference Sheets

D&D 5E – Class Reference Sheets

These “D&D 5E – Class Reference Sheets” were created to supplement my new “D&D 5E – Character Sheet and Folio” (You can find it on the “D&D 5E – Character Sheet and Folio” page HERE.) but you may find them useful regardless of the Character Sheet you are using.

There is a separate file that you can download for every subclass in the Player’s Handbook (PHB). There is also a “Generic” sheet for each class for you to use if you haven’t yet decided on your subclass – or if you are using a subclass from some other source. There are also files for the Artificer Class published in Eberron: Rising From the Last War. I have tried to keep each of these to one page, but several are two pages.

Artificer: Alchemist, Artillerist, Battle Smith, Generic
Barbarian Path: Berserker, Totem Warrior, Generic
Bard College: Lore, Valor, Generic
Cleric Domain: Knowledge, Life, Light, Nature, Tempest, Trickery, War, Generic
Druid Circle: Land, Moon, Generic
Fighter: Champion, Battle Master, Eldritch Knight, Generic
Monk Way: Shadow, Four Elemens, Open Hand, Generic
Paladin Oath Devotion: Ancients, Vengeance, Generic
Ranger: Beast Master, Hunter, Generic
Rogue: Arcane Trickster, Assassin, Thief, Generic
Sorcerer: Draconic Bloodline, Wild Magic, Generic
Warlock Patron: Archfey, Fiend, Great Old One, Generic
Wizard School: Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy, Transmutation, Generic

These will calculate spells known, cantrips known, spell save DC, spell attack modifier and other things for each spell casting subclass. It also calculates things like rages, bardic inspiration, channel divinity, wild shape, Ki points, divine sense, sneak attack, sorcerey points, arcane recovery, and more.

For it to do the calculations, you must enter your character’s class level. Note that if your character has levels in multiple classes this will be the levels you have in this class and not your total character level. For some calculations you may also need to enter your proficiency bonus and an ability modifier.

There is room for you to list your spells. There should be enough room for more than just the spell name. What I do is enter a symbol to indicate if the spell is (C) concentration, (R) ritual, or sometimes (T) casting time. If the spell isn’t from the PHB there is room to indicate which book it is in. For the Cleric, and some others, when you get to higher levels there may not be enough room to list all available spells, but there should be room enough to list the ones you use the most.


5E MultiClass Character Sheets (with Artificer)

After many requests, I finally got around to adding the Artificer to my MultiClass Character sheet.

Download your free 17 page MultiClass Player Character Sheet HERE.

This has 4 general pages plus an additional 13 pages – one for each class.

I posted the single class Artificer Character Sheet a couple of years ago. You can find it HERE.

This can all be printed blank and filled out with a pencil, or you can fill in the forms on your computer and most of the calculations will be done for you. You can download box-by-box instructions on filling this out HERE.