Playin’ D&D 1974 style!

If 6 stats are enough for a monster, shouldn’t it be enough for a player character? That’s the thought that Nicolas Dessaux, a.k.a. Snorri had in 2009. He then came up with a minimalist role-playing game on the basis of the old school versions of D&D monster entries. He called it Searchers of the Unknown (SotU).
In 2014, Stan Shin resurrected the idea with 1974 Style and gave it his own spin.
Both games are available for free.

Basically, you take a stat block from one of the older iterations of Dungeons & Dragons, for example: “AC 7, MV 9, HD 2, hp 9, #AT 1, D 1d8 mace” and make a game out of it. The short stat block was sufficient for monsters. Dessaux’ SotU didn’t really deviate from this base line and stayed strictly old school. For instance, in combat you need to roll under the Armor Class of an opponent. While this is recognizable for grognards it may be a bit strange for newer gamers.

The newer 1974 Style streamlines the rules so that “higher is better” when rolling and also incorporates the popular advantage/disadvantage mechanic from D&D 5 1.

1974 Style

Why should you play 1974 Style?

The author promises:

It’s a simple, minimalist and familiar way to run a quick pick-up game, Con game, or introduce new players to the tabletop RPG hobby. For those who don’t care for extensive rules or deep character customization, the rules are complete enough to run entire long-term campaigns. 2

I tested the game with Ruins of the Undercity (aff), a dungeon-crawling adventure generator (review here).

It just took a few minutes to create two level 1 characters as you don’t even have to roll their attributes. There are none. All you need to do is: choose a profession, armor, weapons and determine some derived stats. Keep in mind that resource management is not really important for the game so gear availability will be handled by the GM or a simple die roll.
Your armor (light, medium, heavy, shield) determines your Armor Class as well as your movement rate which is important for Initiative. Your weapon class (light, medium, heavy, elite and artillery) tells you how much damage you can do in combat. Last you need to roll your Hitpoints and then you’re ready. There is no race-class-system as in normal D&D. Instead, this is covered by professions.
All in all, you need only a few minutes to come up with your character.

Gameplay is equally fast and easy in 1974 Style. The system’s name is a bit misleading because the rules are more like the D20 SRD instead of the original old school rules. For example, you have individual Initiative and the attack roll is also roll over your target’s AC. However, the game aesthetics and monster stats are inspired by the 70s.

How do checks and combat work? Easy as a pie.
Initiative is: roll a D20 + MV (movement), an attack roll is d20+LVL/HD ≥ target's AC and saves/skill checks are d20+LVL/HD ≥ 10.
The basic rules fit on one page. Rules for magic are a bit vague. There is no spell list. If you want to cast a spell you need to talk to your GM. Spells will work according to the GM’s judgment.
I would have like to see more tangible rules. However, veteran role-players will surely find a solution, for instance, the magic system from Whitehack, the “Short and Concise Spell List” or “Boring Spells”.

As the ruleset is quite minimalist it’s on the GM to adjudicate situation-related rules and rulings. Here you can see the old school thought.

If you play short campaigns or one-shots there are no experience points. In other cases, you get 1 to 3 XP per session. Every 5 XP you can level up and get more HP and a higher bonus for rolls.

The second page of this free PDF has some optional rules. For instance, there is advice for adapting the game to other genres. I like the implementation of a simple skill system and the rules for mooks.

At the end, you have a short monster manual which covers most usual fantasy monsters. The game uses the OGL.

The great thing about 1974 Style is that it is compatible with all the OSR material!


The PDF has 5 pages total. There is an additional character sheet which fits on a 3×5 card and also contains a rules summary. There are no illustrations except the logo. The look is modern and sleek. It should be mentioned that the layout is very good. Important rules are highlighted, tables and headers are colored. You can see everything easily at a glance.


In my experience, 1974 Style is a great rules-lite D&D alternative if you like free-form games. The basic D20 roll is still the same, the rules are simple and familiar. The newfangled Advantage/Disadvantage-mechanic brings a breath of fresh air to the system.
The core rules are extremely stripped-down. The ease of character creation and the few rules go at the expense of customization.
Considering the “old school factor” the game is ambivalent. While the rules are based on the old school model and “rulings over rules” are emphasized the de facto mechanics are modern. Furthermore, the appearance is modern, too. Well, I don’t care how we call it as long as the game plays well.
Some further explanation on magic/psionic rules would have been nice though.

If you want an ultra-lite D&D-style role-playing game, look no further. 1974 Style can be used with all sorts of OSR material, it’s free and it’s easy. The system is very accessible to new players and clearly fits the bill of a pick-up game or an introductory game.
It delivers on the author’s promise with (1974) style! 😉

1974 Style
Searchers of the Unknown

  1. D&D 5 is not the first system to use such a rule (see Whitehack or Barbarians of Lemuria) but it’s the most popular one.