OD&D in beautiful: Among the various re-imaginations and re-tellings of the old school roleplaying games, one is often mentioned that goes by the name of “FMPM”, short for “Full Metal Plate Mail”.
It is, or seems to me, a very faithful re-telling of Original 0e Dungeons & Dragons, down to the comparable length and to the continued inclusion of the otherwise (Delta, Zylarthen, LotFP playtest, many many others) oft-cancelled class of the cleric. En contraire, the Cleric is not only not cancelled, the class is described in detail and including its own Chaos variant, the Anticleric, and what makes their spell selection different.
So how far does FMPM veer off from the OD&D of 1974?
In the game’s own words:
“Full Metal Plate Mail is a pen-and-paper roleplaying game based on popular rules from the 1970s. It aims at recreating these old rules in a clear format with some carification, but it is neither a facsimile nor a perfect simulacrum. However, as little change as necessary was made.”
The prose is evocative and creates an atmosphere of open admiration for mystery and wonder.
Just compare this text
Uniquely, there is a race of “bobbits”, who have, culture-wise, a large overlap with a certain other fantasy group that we know since “There and Back Again”.
Armor is not shown as a list of ACs, but as an invitation to calculate afresh from the “unarmored” state, with the number to subtract (Descending AC!) from the unarmored state given, and the subtracting left to the reader. This little extra difficulty is most likely done for legal reasons., like the little bobbit.
While some rules (like OSR Hobbies’ OD&D re-telling “Sword & Spell”) are shorter and simpler than the original three booklets or their Single Volume Cousin, Full Metal Plate Mail is a bit more verbose. For example, it makes a bit of a show out of discussing “races” as a separate chapter from “classes”, while actually changing hardly a thing. Still the dwarves can only be fighters and have no other skills or abilities than they have in the original. The only point of difference is that by reading it appears as if the Elves must decide if they are MUs or fighters, while in the original they are the first multi-classers.
Some fine print at a glance
With all 1974-adjacent games, there is much debate about who is the best and the most faithful, and I must admit I have some troubles following the reasoning at times. I.e., S&W is a great game, but it has only one saving throw. How people can say that it is the absolute most close following of the original rules is beyond me, but people say it and even argue about it. I am not an expert, I am just some dude, so I can only go by what I can see on the pages, and that’s it.
The combat procedure and mechanics are the same between OD&D and FMPM, summed up on page 19, with a combined combat matrix for all characters and monsters, on very small space: 1 table to rule them all, handy to have. One peculiarity: The exact way to handle a combat round and initiative is slightly ambiguously worded, so there are different ways to handle them at different tables. Full Metal Plate Mail has chosen its way and communicates it, while still verbose, with the utmost clarity:
- Surprise Check
- Initiative (Init first!)
- Statement of Intent (only after Init!)
- Movement and Missile attacks — BOTH sides in initiative order.
- Melee combat and spells — also BOTH sides. A spell that has been interrupted during casting is lost.
We have strongholds and their construction, we have Dungeon and Wilderness and Naval rules and Air combat, up to and including bombing attacks. The rules have some short reference to mass combat, but more a hint than a systemic approach, so these rules cannot solve the problem of a game that suddenly demands a battle between 300 and 200. But neither do others, so that is fine.
Shooting ranged weapons at short range gives a +1 and long range a -1, like in B/X, though, whereas the classic OD&D rules give a +2 for short and +1 for medium range. And there are, just like in Original D&D, but in a nicer layout, fine jousting rules in table 33, which compare lance aiming and body posture of both parties, and offer enough fine points to make possible a complete tournay.
Not that I had ever encountered a player who was keen on jousting against well-armored opponents for a chance to make a fool of himself in front of the lords & ladies, but hope dies last, and with this book I will be prepared when that fateful day comes knocking.
What has a relevant impact is that Full Metal Plate Mail mentions very clearly that the 120 feet per turn are considered to be counted twice in a turn. The same is said in the original rules, but there it is worded in a way that leads to debate, and later editions generally are played with one move per turn, not two. Thank you, Plate Mail, for being so unambiguous!
Much care has been given toward creating a fine, poetic design, and the picture world built from a variety of public domain sources supports the effort well, including the famous Henry Justice Ford, but also others. I would have loved to see the pictures individually attributed, but the print is small enough as is, the room is filled to the brim, so I understand that things had to be cut.
The pictures nevertheless deserve some looking at:
Spell and Monster Index
The spells are the same as in Original Dungeons & Dragons Single Version, with a slight re-wording here and there, and the monsters are too, although to be more complete, Goblin King, Hobgoblin King etc are entries separate from Goblin and Hobgoblin, with their own description, and Triceratops, Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex, and various Martians á la Carter are added, so as to more completely reflect the wild atmosphere of mixing literary sources and genres that was part of the spirit of Old School.
For ease of reference, Monsters as well as Spells are presented in two indexes each, one by alphabet, one by level. In addition, the book has a collection of encounter tables towards the end, to make for a practical ease of reference during a game.
Summing it up
Picking up Full Metal Plate Mail will present you with quite a different reading experience than OD&D, and you will not find things on the same page as everyone else, but you will find everything you need, and it will be almost totally compatible — only better looking.
You can get it at Lulu. And the PDF is free of charge, so you really cannot go wrong with it.