D&D is old-school, Chainmail is new-school

This entry is part 3 of 18 in the series New Schooler Reads OD&D

OD&D? Pah! The REAL Fantasy game is Chainmail. And it is way ahead of its time. Here’s why.

As a new-school D&D player, there’s a lot of D&D history I’ve missed. Editing Cheers Gary, gaming with Mike Mornard, and illustrating the AD&D Dungeon Generator have helped, but there’s a lot in D&D that I still don’t understand. I’m going back to the OD&D texts to see whether they can help my new-school game. Right now, I’m reading Chainmail.

Chainmail has Dice Pools. When you attack some Light Foot with your Medium Horse, you roll 2d6 per horseman, and you get a success (kill) on a 5 or a 6. The dice pool mechanic wouldn’t be seen again until Shadowrun in ’89.

Chainmail has ascending Armor Class. Sort of. Chainmail man-to-man combat is run by crossindexing things on matrixes. On the melee table, there are headings for the different types of armor (No Armor through Plate Mail and Shield). On the Missile Fire table, the armor types are replaced with ascending numbers: 1 for No Armor, 2 for Leather, up to 8 for Plate Armor and Shield.

Chainmail has at-will spells. There are no spellpoints or rules for Vancian casting in Chainmail. A wizard can throw a fireball once a turn, if he likes.

Chainmail has rules for counterspells – and they’re simple: when an enemy wizard casts a spell, roll a target number on 2d6 to counter it. D&D 3e had counterspell rules that no one ever used because they involved readying an action. I don’t think any other edition has counterspells as part of the core rules.

Chainmail has rules for spell failure. A weak wizard (a seer) can try to cast a difficult spell – they just have a chance of failure. This was taken out of D&D, and generations of fans have tried to houserule it back in.

Series Navigation<< a new schooler reads ChainmailOD&D: tax paradise >>


6 Responses to “D&D is old-school, Chainmail is new-school”

  1. LS says:

    I always figured counterspelling should be much simpler. That’s really not a bad method at all.

  2. Jack says:

    I haven’t read Chainmail (except vicariously through you), but I think you’ve got that a little backwards. The fact that “new school” games are arguably moving further from role-playing and closer to tactical miniatures (wargaming) is more likely the association you’re picking up on.

    That being said, I’d be interested in implementing some of those mechanics in my game (particularly the counterspelling and spell failure). I wonder what we could do between casting checks and Vancian casting that would still be balanced. (X *successful* spells per day?)

  3. […] D&D is old-school, Chainmail is new-school at Blog of Holding: The original Chainmail rules introduced some concepts that are common in more modern games. […]

  4. This is interesting, I need to read Chainmail sometime – however I’m pretty sure dice pools pre-date Shadowrun anyway. Star Wars and Ghostbusters for a start and Tunnels & Trolls before that… but it’s interesting to hear that Chainmail pre-dated all of them! I must admit I find the OSR dogma that Gygax et al knew what they were doing and nothing should be touched from x-edition, when they themselves constantly tinkered with the game with increasingly disastrous results.

    I like the counter spell idea… makes sense and doesn’t 5e have magic missiles at will? Now that is starting to sounds pretty old school to me!

  5. required says:

    It’s not dice pool because you may kill two light foot per medium horse. Each die is a separate attempt to attack.

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