I have bitten the bullet, and finally (after much heartsickness) bought a digital version of Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics. Why the pangs? Well, I should have just borne the cost and purchased a hardbound version so that I can lay awake at night in bed giggling like a 12-year old. It is strange to see what I remember about 1st ed. D&D and the Red Box set (I always add "pre-Unearthed Arcana") lovingly captured and improved upon with mechanics that add to rather than subtract from the spirit of the thing. I think this is the D&D that I have carried around in my head for 25 years, given form. It's not the same as the 1st ed., obviously - I think Labyrinth Lord is awesome in that regard. But it allows a knowledgeable DM with experienced players a wide amount of leeway to play a game that is what AD&D tried to capture, I think. Without all the damn 18/00-25 baloney. It leaves rules out to avoid MinMax builds and rules-lawyering and all the stuff that wearied me about role-playing in the late 90's after I grew to love D&D and gaming in the mid 80s."Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes." - H.P. Lovecraft, "The Festival"
I love the Luck mechanic, and the burning of it to add spice to the statistics and chance. And the Warrior and Thief rules are great. The Halfling and Dwarf classes are included, of course, for historical accuracy. Each class has a niche that has something to commend it. Except maybe the Elf - I could always do without elves, but hey, YMMV of course. The cleric rules (and to a lesser extent the alignments of all characters) draw you in to the machinations of the gods and demons that run the show. However, I think the game really shines in the vast amount of material that is included for the Wizard.
I mean, you can't read through the book without understanding that the magic system is intended to be mysterious and baleful and dangerous. The fate of the magician is sealed almost from the start. That being, harnessing the power of magic is bad news and should be avoided at almost all costs and can only end in tragedy. The patron system and spell duels are nice touch that I can't wait to see unfold in an actual game - something that's often portrayed vividly in fantasy fiction but not always done well in gaming.
Anyway, once I've read through it again, I will post a few hooks and a patron daemon or two. I have already progressed a funnel group of 4 hapless peasants through their adventuring careers to end with a benighted Chaotic Necromancer, vainly struggling to undo the damage his tinkering with awful powers has done his body and soul. He is accompanied by a foul-mouthed and cantankerous Neutral dwarf sidekick (started as a apothecarist) who has a nose for gold and rare herbs that keep his benefactor preserved and on just this side of the brink of liquifaction. They move from place to place one step ahead of a former colleague and friend, a witch-hunting monomaniac bent on vengeance. Their patrons constantly put them at cross-purposes in the manner of the old Elric of Melnibone stories that I loved so much. Maybe they both loved a fair-haired elven lass who saw her fate in the stars before either of these figures was born - who knows? Did she set the whole tragicomedy in motion with her studies long ago? When they meet now, the air around them boils with mutual hatred and the figures of their patron gods and demons clash in the air around them and they leave waste and ruin behind
It's a well thought out system, and I like it. Now I need to meet up with some like-minded folks and let some d7's and d16's fly. Or not - the thing is worth reading and thinking about on its own merits as a stimulus to cloud my brain about reality. I am choking on the air around this election, for Vecna's sake.
I just thought of a "Vecna for President 2012" T-shirt that I should have thought of months and months ago. Dammit.