Why yet another D&D clone?

This question was one of the very first questions I received after announcing ADOM RPG. It is a good question and a well deserved one so to me it seems to be befitting to take it as the topic for the very first post on the ADOM RPG blog.

The answer is: For reasons. And because ADOM RPG will not be yet another D&D clone. But it is actually a lot more complex 😉

First of all there is one answer steeped in history: ADOM, the roguelike computer game, on which the ADOM RPG is based, has been in existence for 27 years at the time of this writing. Despite this very long time (actually making it one of the oldest RPG campaign backgrounds actively existing) no pen & paper support existed so far (except for the highly limited print of the ADOM Lite RPG which originated from our 2012 ADOM resurrection crowdfunding campaign). Myself being a huge pen & paper RPG fan it seemed due time to finally fix this (especially considering that early discussions about a potential ADOM RPG started in public around 1997 or 1998 – well before 3rd edition D&D – but never were followed through due to lack of time).

But then why a D&D clone? Again: For rather simple reasons. D&D is the one rule system that is known by almost any roleplayer – at least on the surface. This factually provides a very string foundation for a game intending to last. I have been asked why I’m not using some other well known system like BRP or Genesys or why I’m not creating a system of my own. The reason is simple: Because all of them – especially an invention of my own – are totally niche. Just to take the examples: BRP is a wonderful system but it doesn’t lend itself very well to heroic or even legendary adventures because it is very deadly. And the skill-based approach puts a lot of pressure on the prospective roleplayer – it requires a lot of creative investment to create a well-rounded character. Which doesn’t make it well-suited (all IMHO) for new players… and I wanted a system that is as well-suited for new players as it is for experienced gamers. Genesys in many respects is much worse as far as I am considered – going so far to require special dice with weird icons to be able to play at all. Or in other words: It puts up an entry barrier that is much too high for little gain. There are countless more systems out there that could have been chosen but all have one in common: in the end they are totally niche compared to D&D. Recent statistics put D&D at a market share of 50+% (around 80% if you include all the variants). Thus by choosing D&D as a foundation – which nowadays is a great option thanks due to the Open Game License (OGL) – we immediately insert the ADOM RPG into the context of the most successful roleplaying system ever. And comfortably place it in the context of the Old School Renaissance (OSR), which seems highly appropriate if you look at the ADOM computer game and its history.

Another option we discussed: Why not make it a supplement to D&D 5th edition? With the advent of the DMSGuild this could have been seen as a very wise move marketing- and business-wise. But again the reasons are simple:

  1. The DMSGuild does not allow for publishing alternate campaigns. ADOM is firmly settled in the world of Ancardia with its own peculiar mythology and history and we definitely are not going to change this. So we’d lose the advantage of DMSGuild exposure right away because we wouldn’t be able to publish a 5th edition supplement at the guild but would have to place it elsewhere.
  2. D&D 5th edition is too complex for our tastes.

“What??? Are you kidding?” will probably be your response! 5th edition too complex? It’s so much simpler than previous editions and very old school in flavor.

Yeah, kind of. But not really. 5th edition still has tons of feats, lots of subclasses (funny complaint coming from an RPG that will have 22 classes), lots of fiddly detail rules (reputation anyone?) and more. Compare it to Basic D&D and you will see what I mean.

Thus evolved our vision for the ADOM RPG: A modern fantasy game with an old school soul.

What do we mean by that?

Basically we want ADOM RPG to be what a hypothetical sixth edition of the granddaddy of all roleplaying games might look like. Which also answers the initial question: ADOM RPG is not a clone – it is a continuation of a long tradition.

Fifth edition paved the way in many respects and its huge success is proof of being right (just see the comments on sales and usage numbers in 2017).

But besides commercial success and a huge player base there are more reasons for us to use the OGL as a foundation for our game:

Rolf, Last Emperor of Dwarvenkind
  • While some people find classes a constricting design I see them as the opposite: They are a wonderful means of introducing archetypes into the game. And let’s be honest: Fantasy is full of archetypes and most fantasy literature and movies can easily be depicted by the basic classes provided by D&D. Problems usually arise when characters from fiction start doing things that seem to require more than class. Multi- and dual-classing IMHO is the answer to that as well as a good skill system (and having grown up on basic D&D as well as 1st and 2nd edition AD&D I can vouch that a skill system was the one thing we spent most of our time either building ourselves or searching for in those days).
  • While we greatly enjoy the achievements of 5th edition D&D we find several shortcomings:
    • The well-beloved advantage/disadvantage system IMHO is a tad bit too oversimplifying because it doesn’t allow for stacking of advantages and disadvantages which can create many weird situations.
    • By strongly limiting bonuses (a great decision!) 5th edition introduced the need for all types of feats in order to differentiate characters – which in turn can get quite fiddly because stat blocks for characters and monsters alike become quite extensive. And players as a consequence have to memorize to many special rules.
    • Spellcasting still mostly is a slot-based system which doesn’t work well with ADOM.
    • We simply have too many different races and classes (mist elves, trolls, etc.).
  • For a moment we considered writing a 5th edition supplement instead of a new RPG system based on OGL but then we discovered that it actually would be a lot more work to write a 5th edition supplement than doing an OSR game because 5th edition works due to a ton of carefully balanced subsystems. ADOM being an old school game never overly cared about balance (although there is a price to everything). So if you want to play a troll fighter (who will be a far better fighter than any other race initially) go ahead – there is a price to be paid later on.

So in the end we decided to go for an OGL game that will be more like a hypothetical sixth edition than anything else thus deserving a standing of its own. Future blog posts will elaborate our design decisions.

Gilah Nan’Dramoth, Rogue Mercenary


  1. Did I read correctly that there’s no resurrection magic? I like that. Do you have any methods of keeping lower level monsters viable against higher level characters like in 5e or will the game be more heroic like in earlier editions?

  2. Author

    There is resurrection magic but it’s exceedingly rare.

    Generally ADOM RPG has less hitpoints for characters and monsters and as attribute bonuses also tend to be lower, usually characters won’t have excessive armor classes for a long while. So while a single orc is not much of a challenge for fifth level priest or paladin (as an example), 10 orcs are a very different story.

    Pure fighters are special in that they gain extra attacks against monsters with less than 2 HD – so a 5th level fighter can kind of walk through the orcs in many cases. But give him 4-6 gnolls as opponents (2 HD) and the story is a very different one.

    So I would say that characters are kind of heroic after a while but not superheroic.

    Also level progression is more like in 1e or 2e, so you don’t advance quite as fast.

    Combined with rules for critical hits (gain an extra free attack roll if you roll a 20 and would hit with less than a 20, repeat until you no longer roll a 20) larger numbers of low level monsters can be quite fearsome for many classes.

    But if you play it smart, use your environment to your advantage, rely on tricks and other special skills… well… it’s an open challenge.

    Additionally there are no constant healing surges and stuff like that – so your higher level character will have to be careful about how much damage can be suffered before things get ugly.

    1. Cool. I guess the crit rolling is part of the “upping combat deadliness so that a peasant can kill a dragon” stuff that you mentioned in the sampler. I like having optional rules to make combat what I want it be.

      1. Author

        Exactly. We don’t want to make the default overly deadly but we like having a few very simple rules for people who want a truly grimdark & deadly setting. So in the default setting, everything is dangerous with a 1-2 trivial extra rules you can change the game to be truly frightening.

  3. Quick question. I noticed that you have 9 spell levels for wizards. Will you get 9th level spells by 17-18th level like in D&D or will you spread progression to perhaps even 36th level?

    1. Author

      By 18th level you will have access to all spell levels (as a wizard). That’s far enough away to make reaching 9th level spells something very special but near to dream of eventually getting there. The way to 36th level is much longer…

  4. I’m curious to how orcs and trolls are treated in the game world. Are they tolerated despite their propensity toward evil and violence?

    1. Author

      Trolls and orcs are treated with suspicion but rarely outright hostility (unless there has been reason for such hostility in the recent past).

      By far not all trolls and orcs in the world of Ancardia evil (trolls even less so than orcs).

      Trolls are hugely powerful but rather dumb beings… if treated well (especially with food) they make for great workers or even mercenaries – unless you manage to arouse their bad temper. So people usually are very cautious around them but given that trolls are a rare sight in any case only communities with a history of warfare with trolls probably would be outright hostile.

      Orcs live in tribes of proud and strong warriors. While many of them side with evil, it’s by far not all of them. So “normal” (non-adventuring) communities usually will treat with utmost caution – as an aroused orc tribe is a very serious threat for most villages and even some smaller towns.

      On the other hand orcs and trolls visiting civilzed communities also will be somewhat careful as the line between caution and hostility might be thin at times.

      So all in all it mostly feels like a kind of uneasy truce.

  5. > There are countless more systems out there that could have been chosen but all have one in common: in the end they are totally niche compared to D&D.

    This is a dumbest thing I ever heard from a game designer. D&D being most popular tRPG is not a universal game and does not handle well, when you have to play anything other than killing monsters and exploring deadly dungeons with all high fantasy cliche. Well, this indeed may suit the gameplay of ADOM, but still far from truth.

    So far I see this project as classical “fantasy heartbreaker”. Does ADOM RPG have any unique mechanics or distinct gameplay that sets it apart from heartbreakers?

    1. Author

      It depends on what you mean with “unique” (almost anything has been invented by now and uniqueness does not necessary make for a good game). Distinct: yes. ADOM e.g. has its central Corruption mechanic which nicely models the influence of Chaos on all sentient life and tempts PCs and NPCs alike with the promise of quick power… for a price. In contrast to many OSR games we have a unified mechanism for all kinds of test inspired by 5e.

      We have racial level advancement (parallel to class advancement), a unified skill system for both combat and on-combat skills (but these things are neither unique nor very distinct – many other systems have them).

      As we aren’t trying to be totally unique or distinct but rather a cohesive, coherent and modern system ADOM RPG definitely is a system for you if you like OSR/D&D. If you despise either or both you probably should look elsewhere 😉 Unless you are a stout fan of ADOM that is!

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