Blog - Retro Rulemaking

It turns out that I’ve been interested in game design since my very earliest days as a gamer. Back in 1975 I read a review of Dungeons & Dragons, couldn’t afford a copy, so wrote my own rules that I played with my brother and some friends!

Throughout the seventies and early eighties my friends and I devoured all the RPGs we could find, and there were a few that we settled on as our favourites. While playing games like D&D, Runequest, Bushido and Traveller, I added or changed rules to experiment with making each game a little more to our liking. I recently found the exercise books in which I wrote these, and thought it might be fun to include the headings (and perhaps a few additional notes) about the rules I produced for each of these games.

Each of these variants was between half a page and a couple of pages of rules to cover them.

D&D Variant Rules (AD&D)

  1. Brawling rules (overly complex narrative brawling rules!)
  2. Random castles (random tables for castles, their occupants and guardians)
  3. Mineral resources (random tables for mineral riches which you can mine)
  4. Mines and their values
  5. Medieval style social background tables
  6. Accommodation costs
  7. Ceremonial magic (ritual magic that anyone can attempt with enough people to help, but with severe backlask possibilities)
  8. More fearsome dragons (bigger, tougher, nastier. Much needed in 1e days)
  9. Magic user subclasses (this is in the days when illusionists were the only official ones!)
  10. Large scale battles
  11. Good outsiders
  12. New magic staves
  13. new magic rods
  14. New magic rings
  15. Eagle riders
  16. Piratical dragon riders
  17. Additional prismatic wall layers
  18. Alchemetic gemstones (cribbed from Chivalry & Sorcery, I think)
  19. Wealth by craft and guild status
  20. Table of monster activities
  21. Dragon encounters
  22. Balrogs
  23. Running a business
  24. Tombs and crypt contents

Campaign world specific

  1. History
  2. Magic item families
  3. Politics
  4. Seasonal events
  5. Weather
  6. Encounter tables
  7. Terrain travel rules
  8. Languages
  9. Elves, Dwarves, Drow and Sahaugin
  10. Societies and social classes by nation
  11. National clothing

Runequest Variant Rules

  1. Healing plants (finding by environment and season)
  2. Group Fighting tactics (advantages for a team fighting together)
  3. Battle strategy effects (when two forces both pick a strategy, cross reference on a table to see which side gets what kind of advantage for that battle)
  4. Runemaster Followers (table for special followers when one becomes a priest or rune lord)
  5. Grappling rules (special rules for pinning and throwing)
  6. Combat variant - who is on the offensive? (alternate combat system where one has to gain the offensive position in order to attack)
  7. Net combat (using nets in combat)
  8. New Diseases (more magical ones)
  9. Wizard rules (inspired by Earthsea, allows for artificers, enchanters, conjurers, thaumaturgists, necromancers, symbolists and power-word wizards, each associated with a particular rune)
  10. Truestone properties (table)
  11. Effect of extreme weather (very hot or very cold weather will make life harder!)
  12. River crossings (number of swimming rolls to cross rivers based upon season and size)
  13. Weapon vs armour modifications (giving weapons a small bonus or penalty to damage when facing different kinds of armour)
  14. Variant time to draw a weapon (rather than +5SR for everything, smaller and shorter weapons are quicker to draw and thus take fewer SR)
  15. Bravery characteristic (a new experimental ability score)
  16. Drinking and drunkenness
  17. Getting lost in the wilderness
  18. Brawling and non lethal combat
  19. Large scale battles
  20. Serious wound charts by location
  21. Unusual weapons (boomerang, bolas, whip)
  22. Additional Elf types
  23. Lovecraftian monsters
  24. Miscellaneous items table
  25. New runespells
  26. Archipelago setting ‘the twilight isles’
  27. High elves
  28. Heights and weights
  29. Fast Town generation
  30. Cult spirit familiars
  31. Some D&D monster conversions
  32. Alternate post-magic setting


  1. Variant Budo rules for using practical arts (basically slightly better for yakuza and ninja)
  2. Torture rules modification (making it easier to accidentally kill someone. Don’t do torture, it doesn’t work!)
  3. Entangling weapon modification (making it slight less easy to bind someone up in combat)
  4. Seppuku-lite for Yakuza (gangsters can cut off a finger and gain all the benefits of seppuku without the dying)
  5. New Okuden (for ninja families campaign)
  6. Parrying Rules (rather than just increasing defence, these rules allow a parry to completely block an attack)
  7. Status in Ryu, gangs, families, clans, Shogunate. (rules for accumulating status point with different groups. A table indicates whether actions are good for some groups and simultanously bad for other groups)
  8. Ninja families (and their preferred okuden)


  1. Patron encounters
  2. Prospecting
  3. Hunting expeditions
  4. Space combat variants (to try to bring the excitement of asteroid belt chases into space combat)
  5. New gun types
  6. New missile types (stealth missiles and jump missiles)
  7. Aristocracy (privileges that come with rank and status)
  8. Port facilities tables
  9. Planetary encounter tables
  10. New alien races
  11. Space combat software improvements (more kinds of software to run)
  12. Attacks on ATVs
  13. Fuel to energy exchange ratios
  14. Ship construction variants
  15. Special brawling stunts
  16. New electronic equipment

Cover Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash