Old trad modules with indie systems?

There is a couple of very interesting classic modules (TSR, and also Hungarian modules for our D&D equivalent MAGUS) which i would like to run, but I dont want to use their original trad system because... you know. I'm not talking about open sandboxes á lá Judge Guildes, I'm talking about The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh or Queen of Spiders for example.

1. Theoretically speaking, is it possible to run their content with a Story Game system without breaking one or the other? If yes, how would you do that? What are the possible dangers and pitfalls?

2. Also a subquestion about railroadish modules. Do you know any game which help you to run them? Which can give the players fun but help you to elegantly maintain the prewritten plotline? There is an infamous MAGUS module for extremely high level characters. The story is very grandiose and plotted. I've always wanted to give it a try but never know how.


  • It depends... do you want just the "feel" or "story" of it (IE atmospherics etc)? Then you can use Dungeon World, Redbox Hack / Old School Hack.

    If you want more the challenge, and more old-school Dm/Player feel, then OSR is place to look, something like Lamentations or another. They're actually very good, don't let fear of trad scare you off.

    But in any case, first and highest recommendation is to use something that has at least a little trad elements, instead of a total new-school story-game...
  • edited August 2015
    My advice would be to "isolate" fiction portions (settings, plot events, ...) that need to be preserved (calling them constraints) over which GM authority is total, meaning that everything impacting the constraints is opposed by the GM and decision is by authority ("No. You can't." "Why?" "Because it's a constraint for the plot. And I decide so.")
    Everything else may be subject to modification and may be handled with an appropriate system (or even flexible changing system).
  • It depends. I'm not familiar with the modules in question, but most of the old stuff that I remember was basically a flimsy setup for a whole bunch of fights/dungeon exploration/traps. That... doesn't really lend itself particularly to storygames, because there's not really much to connect to there. I mean, you could run it in Dungeon World or something, but I think it would end up being fundamentally unsatisfying.

    If on the other hand, you've got something that has a sort of railroady story behind it (because we've sortof ruled out sandboxes, so I'm not sure what other kinds of modules we could be talking about here) then you might be able to do something with it depending on how attached you are to staying on track but I don't think a lot of storygames lend themselves super well to that. You'd probably want to go the participationist route and sit down with your players and say "Look; I want to run this module. It's super railroady. Can you guys play along? It should be fun, but there really isn't much of anything off the tracks."
  • There are a few basic go-to solutions depending on what you're looking to do, exactly.

    Elfs is a classical answer to this very question from Ron Edwards, a humorous game in which the PCs are elves (as in, Christmas elves or garden gnomes) with lusty, greedy and stupid personalities. They stumble, cheat, steal, fuck and murder their way through old school D&D adventure modules, which are handled with a focus on character roleplaying of any particular denizens of the dungeon (so you try to get some interesting dialogue out of the monsters, rather than just see if they can kill the PCs), and the amusing ways the elves can get into danger in these dangerous environments.

    Dungeon World is an obvious tool for doing this sort of thing, too. Others are more qualified to comment on that, I'm sure.

    There are also lightweight D&D variants you could use to run old school or middle school D&D easily enough; there's no reason why you would have to make it difficult for yourself to play these modules. Just grab something sleek and streamlined, and do it. Deeds & Doers comes to mind as something perfectly usable and modern, at least as long as what you have is an old school adventure without significant railroading elements.

    Alternatively, if you want to have some meat to the game and an interesting perspective on how to run the occasionally relatively railroadish middle school material, grab Dragonpact plus a Mentzer-like D&D chassis - LotFP would serve, for example - and you'll have something pretty interesting in story gaming terms, yet still fully compatible procedurally with running these old modules.

    Regarding a system that truly supports getting the bang out of the railroaded epics, to my knowledge there is no productized solution that I would recognize as such. This is obviously unfortunate, considering how very popular e.g. Pathfinder railroad epics are; I'm sure many people would be interested in some tools that'd make it easier to get the value out of this sort of stuff. Right now the best bet is to be an amazing GM of whatever ilk you're interested in being, unfortunately - stuff like the aforementioned Dragonpact helps, but it's not the entire solution yet.
  • edited August 2015
    I've played in Dungeon World inspired by Stonehell. But we never got to any stonehell parts because DW took over :)

    Monsters & Magic is explicitly designed to be what you want. Do check it out even if I'm not that fond of it myself. She originally ran old modules with DW but wanted something else.

    ”Burning Thac0" and Torchbearer is definitely a thing, but requires lot of investment in a very challenging system.

    Me? I'd use D&D 5e. Love it so much. Story gamey enough for my tastes. Last Saturday was four hours of deception and debate, clashing beliefs, intrigue and corruption. Amazing game.
  • edited August 2015
    I wish I had read the OP more better. I only heard SSoSm as not being so railroady but I haven't read it myself. Q definitely is.
    What game to help with these?
    All the game systems I know were invented to help you NOT railroad. Except… I know, GUMSHOE! And its "multiply by three" cousin, Numenera.
    Gumshoe was invented to help you railroad! Even though a lot of amazing and non-railroady modules were invented for it later. The reverse evolution to most games.
  • In Gumshoe, the drives push you forward, the auto investigative remove obstacles and with enough refresh you can beat any fight.
  • That's a good point, Gumshoe is actually a solid contribution to the railroad-play question. I suppose I forgot about it altogether in this context because of the way it has everything hinge on the investigation story structure; the traditional fantasy adventure game railroad is more of a road trip + commando raid than an investigation. I think one could probably apply the Gumshoe precepts to some degree to something like that, but ultimately it doesn't do anything to help with the railroading in the parts where an adventure game actually needs it the most, such as when the party needs to decide to trust someone and do what they say, or when the party needs to succeed in combat or fail and get captured or whatever the script says.
  • edited August 2015
    It does at least attempt to adress both issues. The trust thing can hook into the drives. And the monsters capturing you is a matter of refresh and / or just make it a cut scene.
  • Disclaimer: I have never successfully railroaded in my life.
  • GUMSHOE dungeoneering would actually be pretty hype, I feel like. You reframe the dungeon crawl to be about "investigating" the dungeon and unraveling its threats. Instead of Investigative Abilities, you might have Dungeoneering Abilities.
  • 1. Thank you for you recommendations! I know Dungeon World and I think playing with that would definitely break the plot or the agendas/principles. I was thinking about personalized Word of Dungeons but you all gave me good ideas where to look first.

    2. About the helping railroading topic. I was thinking about something like Swords Without Master's Rogue phases, along with rgrassi ideas.

    A) Giving explicit constraints ('This scene is about this.' 'You should try to reach that.' 'Show us why are you trusting this NPC')
    B) Giving some space to players, so even if the characters cannot make decisions, they can decide about the hows, so the railroad moment could feel personal ('Why do you trust him and how does it look like?')
    C) Maybe using past tense and foreshadowing to convey it's already happened, it's a tale. ('Trusting him was a very bad idea but that time it's seemed to be the best option for you. Why were you thinking like that?')

    I know these are not really rules but principles, but maybe we can turn them into moves or something.

    What do you think?
  • Yeah, adding in some 3:16-like flashbacks to soothe the pain. But honestly I don't see the point in playing the worst of these modules. I get the nostalgia / closure factor of finally experiencing the "classics” of Ynev but I don't know how to make it worth it. Maybe gamify some other aspect, such as a super interesting but ultimately low-stakes combat system. I've often wondered what the actual intent was/is behind these railroady adventures.
  • I know these are not really rules but principles, but maybe we can turn them into moves or something.
    What do you think?
    I think you're on the right way.
    And these are not just principles but the game system you're building up.
    Be aware that if you play in "full flashback" mode (meaning that all the history is played in retrospective), you're setting constraints "in the future" (for instance, all the characters are alive and will not die during the adventure).
  • Have everyone read the module beforehand. Then play GMless, with one player playing the hero and the others playing important NPC:s. Scrap the plot but use the prep. The NPC:s are usually more main characters than the heroes in these modules, anyway.
  • I think Simon's idea is very good if the module is that type.

    rgrassi, thanks! I think you can play retrospectively and let the 'present' be open.

    Sandra, I didnt know you are familiar with Ynev, you are even cooler than I've thought :)

    I think I need to deconstruct these modules one by one to see what can I do with them.
  • Familar yes, fan no :)
    I'm pretty read up on the entire Drakar & Demoner / Der Schwartze Auge / M.A.G.U.S. tradition of roleplaying because it's what I first encountered but what I've never understood or constructively engaged in.
    GURPS is probably the Western equivalent and its just as baffling.
  • Or, y'know, AD&D 2e with all the heaps of complicated player options combined with super detailed world books combined with super railroaded modules (of which I am most familiar with Ruined Kingdom because I attempted to pick it apart for locations and encounters, but ended up just running B4 instead). It all just becomes so dissonant to me. Truly a dark age for our hobby :p :)

  • I've never understood or constructively engaged in.
    I feel the same.

    The majority of Hungarian roleplayers only play MAGUS, it's their framework for roleplaying. There's another big faction which hates it and blames it like a witchhunt. I'm kinda middleground. I think there are very interesting tidbits about the world and it's aestetics which I would really like to appreciate but it is not easy. I succesfully did it with a lot of storygamey tweaking, but not with modules.

    GURPS is probably the Western equivalent and its just as baffling.
    So true :D
  • Here in "Drakar" country, story games have made a big splash. Drakar and Mutant have even been remade as story games, the latter being translated as "Mutant Year Zero".

    I'm living in an OSR bubble but on the west coast, and a little to the south of here, it's all-PbtA, all the time. Further south is ACKS land, or so I hear, but that's because my contacts there are American ex-pats rather than native Skånebor.

    It's also because this is a much smaller place... in the LotFP group I'm playing in, one guy made Eon (he's also into PbtA these days though, and is working on a Kult port) and one made Symbaroum (and posts on these boards!). I think there are like twenty people who are into RPGs in this whole land, and they all have their own groups that they jealously guard. And all these DMs get together once or twice a year and exchange notes and make games. Because the world is so small, story games could make a big dent.
    That's how I met Simon (great guy btw!).
  • I had fun running DL1 using DW. But that's not as railroady as the rest of the DL series.
  • The DL series is a mixed bag in this regard, some modules are horrible. One is actually an X10 like war game. DL8 I think. The biggest railroading is the meta-concept that the modules are chained together.
    But some are pretty horrible. "If the party goes in this direction, Ogre them til they die."
  • edited August 2015
    Here's another thought:

    Use D&D, or GURPS, or whatever system you like, really, so long as it has a clear "points gained = leveling up" economy of some sort.

    Rewrite the XP rules so that they're all about being successfully railroaded, then set the players loose chasing the XPs.

    "Fulfill objective defined for PCs in Chapter 5. +500 XPs"
    "Allow yourself to be captured by an important NPC. +250 XPs"
    "Trust an obvious spy/infiltrator. +1000 XPs"
    "Meet important NPC X. +200 XPs"
    "Buy the Item of Plot Importance in Chapter 3. +100 XPs"

    Basically, go through the module, and award XPs whenever the players do something they were supposed to do, go to a place they were supposed to go, and so on.

    Then give the players total freedom. They can do whatever they like, but they only get XPs for doing stuff that's in the module. (Which you can telegraph to them very obviously, or not at all, or somewhere in-between, whatever seems like the most fun.)

    Each time they do something that's described in the book, give them XPs.

    This makes it pretty obvious that you're all on the same page, but still presents a fun "game" for the players to engage in. When they reach a crossroads, they can debate which way they are "supposed" to go according to the module, and then see if they got it right.


    If you want to put a fictional veneer on it, explain that the heroes are in the hands of Fate, and their actions fulfill an ancient prophecy. Each time they follow the tracks of the prophecy, they can sense a feeling a divine "righteousness" as they flow with the directions built into Fate itself, and they grow stronger and stronger.

    (This possibly implies that the XP gain the players received is also somehow felt by the *characters*, as divine power or glowing eyes or just a sense that everything is falling into place.)

    Give them whatever limited means to consult the "future", and then set them loose. For extra fun, you can include NPCs, spells, or other sources which allow them to ask about the future, like consulting a divine oracle.

    If you're going for a nostalgia kick anyway, use the original rules (D&D?) which were supposed to be used with the modules in the first place. If you're not, just use a game you like which seems to fit the fictional veneer of the modules (and ideally one where it's not TOO easy to die, unless you want dying and starting over to be an option).

    (On a fun note, I'd say most of the solutions suggested in this thread are pretty clearly Right to Dream-supporting, if we're still wondering if such a game can exist...)
  • edited August 2015
    No, GNS is dead
  • (I am the cemetary gate that keeps CA in the ground.)
  • The typical way many railroaders in the D&D and Pathfinder world give out xp is to ignore xp but give out whole levels when the players reach the next chapter. This motivates them.
  • True, but it doesn't give a clear sense of progress - you don't necessarily know what you are supposed to do (what makes for "playing well") and what you're not supposed to do (what makes you a bad or unproductive player). I think atomizing those XP gains (or maybe even making them public*) could be a valuable tool.

    *: In this case, you could design some "signposts" which you would then post publicly. They would effectively be "mini-quests":

    "Find the lost treasure of Amun-Ra. 250 XPs."
    "Fight a cultist of the Dark Temple. 50 XPs."
    "Listen to a priest's stories about his dreams. 30 XPs."
    "Lose an important artifact to a dangerous foe. 150 XPs."

    You could design these nicely to fit the tone and style of the module and then set them out as "achievements" which players collect as they play.
  • Ah, now I get it. I thought they were all post-hoc.
  • Oh, yeah, it's a feedback mechanism. You could even say that it's "felt" by the characters themselves, as I suggest later in the post.
  • I love it, Paul. I'd also suggest operating under a No, You Can't Die Because You're the Destined Heroes paradigm, but docking XP for times when they should die, i.e. if they fight stupidly. Keep some interest in playing intelligently.

  • "Find the lost treasure of Amun-Ra. 250 XPs."
    "Fight a cultist of the Dark Temple. 50 XPs."
    "Listen to a priest's stories about his dreams. 30 XPs."
    "Lose an important artifact to a dangerous foe. 150 XPs."

    You could design these nicely to fit the tone and style of the module and then set them out as "achievements" which players collect as they play.
    I like this a lot. The inclusion of "storyline" achievements as well as for specific in-genre actions (like in Night's Black Agents) is something I hadn't considered before.

    Console games usually have a mix of open and hidden achievements, which might work well here too. Open achievements give you something to aim for, hidden ones are a pleasant surprise when you get them.
  • I'm living in an OSR bubble but on the west coast, and a little to the south of here, it's all-PbtA, all the time.
    Hey, I'm on the west coast (Gothenburg), and we're running a big drop-in story game thing with loads of people every week and we never play PbtA games (except Dream Askew, but that's GMless and diceless and you need to squint pretty hard to call it PbtA). Probably because I don't like AW and never found a way to have fun in it. :) So it's not all PbtA over here.

    Sorry 'bout the OT.
  • edited August 2015
    I thought Goethenburg was all pbta all the time with, yes, Dream Askew as the number one game.
    Sorry to misrepresent you guys. I blame [name deleted, but a guy I like who lives in your city and is into pbta]
  • Deliverator, that's great too! XP loss for death (perhaps a level lost, if D&D) could work well.

    The "reward XPs when they do something that's in the book" is also interesting because of a potentially emergent form of gameplay:

    Finish the adventure/goal/module with the LEAST amount of XP possible. (Which would presumably make it like playing on Hard mode, both because the characters aren't as powerful as they are supposed to be, and because you'd have to be very creative in order to do so.)
  • I'm reviewing this thread, in light of my recent interest in D&D. I still think the "railroad achievements" could be a really interesting sort of "twisted play", and potentially really fun. I would even consider putting up a big award for the character to end the game with the lowest XP total. :smiley:

    Definitely use a mix of "open" and "secret" XP achievements, which is your main homework before running the module, and then just make sure that character death isn't incentivized (via XP loss or XP reset, for instance). Fun!
  • I think that you might be able to take a heavily railroad-y module (like, say, the Dragonlance modules) and open them up a lot by changing the plot points into Lady Blackbird style Keys for the PCs.

    This character is supposed to betray the others, but by giving it over to the player, they can decide when and how it happens, or even buy off the Key and do something else instead.

    This would let the story somewhat follow the know, railroaded path, but also allow it to go off the path somewhat.

    I also wonder about making railroading into fixed points of destiny, like you get in Archipelago, that all players are working to have happen int he most surprising way possible. Not sure how to make that satisfying, unless you have a lot of flexibility in how you arrive at the end point.
  • Torchbearer is a good indie system for character-driven adventures in old modules.

    - Play is driven by player characters' goals and informed by their beliefs.
    - Things like inventory, light, and terrain have 'chunky' enough rules to be used consistently. These systems are transparent enough that players can plan ahead. (8 torches will give 16 turns of light, so they know when they have to start heading back to the surface).
    - Helping rules get players involved in each other's actions.
    - Recovery tests allow for moments of character introspection in a challenge-based environment.
    -Support for a range of conflict types (Drive Off, Kill, Convince, Trick, Capture, Riddle, etc).
    - Lethality is largely driven by player choice (death is only on the line if the party chooses to engage in a kill conflict, so murdering every goblin you encounter is not a sound approach) and is generally well-foreshadowed (if a player presses on while injured or sick, the GM needs to tell them when a failed test could end in death).
    - Characters change over time, gaining new traits and wises (area of expertise) based on their exploits.

    Potential Pitfalls:
    - Torchbearer focuses on granular detail, each fight feels significant. You need to remove most anonymous monsters off the map, keeping only plot-significant enemies. Other monsters etc should only appear as the result of a twist (from a failed test).
    - System mastery is valued. Ideally, players are at least willing to read the description of all their skills and work to understand how things like Nature, Wises, and Checks work.
  • I’m not very familiar with it, so I don’t know if it will translate well, but isn’t Pendragon very linear/railroady, in that certain events are just gonna happen, no matter what? Again, not remotely an expert of the game, but perhaps others could agree or disagree and point out why (not)?
  • @hamnacb
    3 years have passed since my comment.
    If you want, my indie game system to play also the old trad modules is here:
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