Older School: Pre-D&D, 2nd edition

After working on the rules with friends, this is the latest incarnation of the Blackmoor/Arneson/Pre-D&D rules, as I interpret them. They now include the simple mass combat rules I’m using at my table. Ray Otus came up with the title “Older School”. I LOVE it.


  • Write down a few words about your character. 
  • Note one special power that allows you to do things others can’t. Special powers are defined before play by the ref and the player. By design, this is open to interpretation. The freedom in pre-D&D is its biggest strength and weakness (for modern players, who are used to hard and fast definitions) . One referee might say that “wizard” is already a special power. In another game, it might be different. 
  • Your character has no stats, but you may write down “strong”, “agile”, “tough”, “charming”, “smart” or “wise”. If this helps you in a situation, add +1 to the roll. 
  • Your character has 5 hit points; the referee may handwave hp and say your character dies if/when you screw up real bad. 
  • In mass combat, you roll 3d6.  


  • When the ref calls for it, roll 2d6: 
    • High = good 
    • Middling = does not change the situation, or negotiated/mixed results (fleeting success, success with a downside, failure with an upside) 
    • Low = bad 


  • Both combatants roll 2d6: The higher result hits. If we’re only 1 point apart, we negotiate: maybe we hit simultaneously, or we both lose our footing, or anything else that makes sense in the situation. 
  • Rolling a 12 deals +1 hit. 
  • Normal weapons deal 1 hit, 2-handed weapons deal 2 hits. 
  • Shields add 1 hp, light armor adds 1 hp, medium armor adds 2 hp, heavy armor adds 3 hp. 


  • Melee is simultaneous. Only the first row of combatants can attack, except for polearm/spear attacks from the second row.
  • Each figure may move up to one length of a pen in normal terrain. Difficult terrain halves movement. Very difficult terrain allows movement of up to 1/4 of a pen. Fast or slow combatants move farther or shorter than one pen — come up with your own rulings here.
  • First, Missles are fired, second, spells are started, third, combatants move, fourth, spells started in step 1 now take effect; fifth, archers who didnʻt move and havenʻt been engaged in melee may fire again, sixth, Melee
  • Using light weapons: roll 1d6 for every 3 men 
  • Using medium weapons: roll 1d6 for every 2 men 
  • Using heavy weapons: roll 1d6 for every man 
  • Using superheavy weapons, or mounted: roll 2d6 for every man. 
  • Attacking heavily armored opponents: 6 is a kill 
  • Attacking opponents in medium armor: 5, 6 kills 
  • Attacking opponents in light or no armor: 4,5,6 kills 
  • 1 hit kills a normal being. Monsters and npcs can take a number of hits depending on how many humans they’re equivalent to. E.g. A bear that’s as powerful as 4 humans can take 4 hits. 
  • Hirelings die first; player characters only start taking damage after their hirelings have died.
  • Check morale with 1d6 when a unit has lost 3+ figures, when a unit has lost more than half of its members, when a unit is attacked from behind or in the flank, or when friendly units are routing nearby.
  • If the unit rolls higher than the its morale number, it is routed and immediately turns in the opposite direction and moves as far back as it can. It will continue to do so till it reaches the end of the playing field; at that moment, itʻs considered defeated.
  • Morale numbers: under fire
    • Civilians: 3, Soldiers: 4, Veterans/Elite Soldiers: 5, Heroes: 6
  • Morale numbers: routing/other
    • Civilians: 2, Soldiers: 3, Veterans: 4, Elite Soldiers: 5, Heroes: 
  • A leader might be able to rally fleeing troops; roll 1d6 and stay at or under the leaderʻs Leadership Skill (1=uninspired, 2=typical, 3=talented, 4=superb, 5=tactical genius).
  • Modifiers to Morale: 
    • Attacked in flank -1
    • Attacked from behind -2
    • Leader close by +1
    • Double ranks (formation wider than deeper) +1
    • Triple ranks (formation wider than deeper) +2
    • Lost half or more figures in unit -2
    • Witnessed the loss if their leader in this turn -2
    • Lost a general -3

This way, 10 soldiers in leather armor and with swords fighting against 3 knights with war axes on horses roll 5d6, and 6s kill. The knights roll 6d6, and 5 and 6 kill.

4 thoughts on “Older School: Pre-D&D, 2nd edition

  1. It’s very simple. Which is not to say simplistic or unworkable. It looks good (pending some play testing.) and it feels old-fashioned. Not that I ever played CHAINMAIL or any other older wargame, just from historical accounts, but it feels right.


  2. Succinct, completely playable. Only one question occurs: what is a \”middling\” roll, exactly? On 2d6, is this 7, the average (a 1/6 chance), or is this 6-8? Or is the \”middling\” range also a question for the referee, based on the situation?


  3. Hi Andrei,thank you! It really depends on the ref and the situation. In my game, \”middling\” is usually 6 to 8, but sometimes (in \”tough genres\” like cyberpunk), I tend to expand this range. Does this help?


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