Thursday, January 5, 2012

In Praise of Home-Brewing

I run a heavily home-brewed version of Swords & Wizardry. Many in my gaming group, as well as myself, enjoy the process of home-brewing, and even those who don't actively involve themselves enjoy at least some of the fruits of our home-brewing. As a result of over a year of home-brewing, we're starting to have a system that fits our group better than any game could when run "as-is," in much the same way that (I hear) tailored suits fit better than any store-bought, "as-is" suit ever does.

In fact, in much the same way that I think New School players are playing (rather than preparing for playing) when they work on their character builds, home-brewing, for at least some of us in the group, is an enjoyable activity in and of itself, not merely preparation for actual play sessions.

There is a downside to home-brewing, though it is, in my opinion, far outweighed by the benefits. This downside is decreased compatibility with just about everything else other people are doing. Probably the best example for my own game is the fact that, as far as I can tell, NOBODY except the publishers of Dungeonslayers and myself uses the metric system in Old School D&D. Distances are usually pretty easy to mess with: five foot squares are two meter squares and a mile is two kilometers- hardly exact, but good enough when exact conversions aren't needed at all. More fiddly is weight, especially since we use a kilogram-based encumbrance system. I generally can just say that two pounds is about a kilogram, but when goods are sold in lengths, weights and volumes, that requires conversion. I've received a refresher course in my middle school Home Ec classes just by having to figure out how to convert different Imperial volume measurements into liters.

The end result of all this non-compatibility that is most an inconvenience, though, is character sheets. With all the systems and rules we've bolted on- a small skill system, movement and encumbrance being done in metric, distinguishing race and class, and only slightly non-standard rules for hirelings and henchmen- plus the fact that no other game I know of uses a single save system like Swords and Wizardry does, it's little wonder that I've had to create a character sheet for us to use. It's nothing pretty, but it works and works well. On a lark, I'm posting a link to it here; it probably won't be terribly useful to anyone but it might be interesting, especially if you've wondered about the execution of some of the home-brewing I've discussed on this blog. Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to get my character sheet into a version I can post on this blog, but, thanks to Google Documents, you can find the PDF version here.


  1. Uh, that's weird. I usually go with the "10 feet = 3 m" assumption I learned from my (Italian) D&D manuals.

    BTW, house-ruling is a go!

  2. Cool! Someone else uses metric! (I do have to admit that I thought someone surely did- surely someone plays Dungeonslayers, right?- but I've never heard of anyone actually playing D&D with metric until now.)

    I usually use maps with a 5 foot scale instead of a 10 foot scale, so that's probably where the difference comes from. Making a 5 foot wide hallway into a 1 meter wide hallway is… kind of mean to the players. ^__^

    These Italian D&D manuals- were they official D&D manuals? On my last post about using the metric system I had comments about D&D in metric-using countries still being published with Imperial measurements. Did your manual convert everything to metric or just include a note about how to convert Imperial to metric and then just have everything in Imperial measurements for the rest of the book?

  3. I have tried to think in metric when playing rpgs, but a certain country with medieval ways of measuring things are kind of dominant in the field, if you know the few languages I do...

    Now I think of those 5 feet as as 5 schamogas, since they have no real meaning for me anyway. :)

  4. I'm intrigued, what's the reason you've changed over to a metric system? (In real life I prefer the metric system, but as all D&D materials ever are in feet I can only imagine it being a world of hassle to convert!)

  5. I've got a few reasons. One is that I spent the first 14 years of my life in Japan, and one of my players spent the first 18 years of his life in Japan as well, so we are not only used to the metric system, but like it. Another is that I hope to be a teacher one day and sponsor a roleplaying club in whatever school I teach in; I'd like to use roleplaying to teach lots of things to the club members. Roleplaying already teaches teamwork and creative problem-solving, but, with some tweaking, I see it teaching budgeting and balancing a checkbook ( and, with using the metric system, teaching kids the basics of the metric system, or at least just getting them used to the terms. A third reason is that we've found that the kilogram is a good level of granularity between the coin and the stone as a unit of measure for encumbrance, so far as preferences in our group go.

    I realize that none of these reasons apply to most gamers, so I certainly don't begrudge others continuing to use Imperial units; I also understand how using Imperial units adds to the nostalgic feeling of D&D, especially Old School D&D. Switching to metric, though, makes our game "fit" us that much better.

    So far as a hassle goes, yeah, it can be a hassle to convert, especially liquid volume measurements. I'm currently, slowly, converting the Wilderlands Price List ( into metric for our gaming group. Once that's done, I don't think we'll have too many problems anymore- it's easy enough to just rule that a mile is close to two kilometers and three feet is close to two meters, and most adventures don't mess with much more than distance when it comes to measurements.

  6. Some interesting reasons -- as you say, very specific to you and your group! Thanks for the explanation :)