Ok, let's dive into this "Let's Read" for Knave 2e's Kickstarter Preview document! See my wordy series intro here, and the actual preview document here or here.
PAGE ONE/COVER PAGE:
This page lists some of the things to be added in the full - over 90-pages long - 2e document (the preview document only shows 17 of those pages). Described:
+ "75+ random tables (d100) for generating any feature of a fantasy world, including NPCs, regions, dungeons, monsters, spells, cities, and items." Knave's author, Ben Milton, earlier wrote Maze Rats - a 2d6-based game, not as short as Knave, and not as OSR-compatible as Knave - but distinguished by the many useful random tables crammed into its short space. It sounds like Knave 2e is taking the random-table-heavy approach of Maze Rats, super-sizing it, and then cramming that into the much more OSR-compatible chassis of Knave. That's a very cool thing. We'll need to wait to see just how useful the various tables are, but the few that are included in this Preview will allow some comment on their apparent utility.
+ Dungeon-Crawling and wilderness procedures. The preview includes the Wilderness travel rules, which we can comment on below.
+ Principles for GM and Players. Hopefully this will offer helpful articulation for newer groups, at least. This dovetails (for game-hackers, too!) with:
+ Designer's commentary explaining the rules. I enjoyed these in 1e.
+ "Dozens of illustrations by legendary OSR artist Peter Mullen." I have to say, the art included so far in the preview document is really nice; evocative, fun, and resonant with OSR traditions.
+ "Rules for constructing your own buildings, resolving mass battles, carousing, recruiting followers, gambling, training, and much more." None of that stuff is here in the preview document (at least in detail, yet), but this is getting interesting.
Despite its simplicity, Knave offers certain advantages compared to many other OSR rulesets. On the one hand - let's be honest - Knave is a bit generic. Therein lies its utility; it is genuinely easy to run with almost any mainstream OSR product, like an old TSR module or a modern 3rd-party OSR adventure. On the other hand, Knave borrows from more modern game design, offering a unified core roll-high mechanic that scales well as PCs advance. This is much cleaner - in my opinion - than the mish-mash of rules you get in most of the genuine OSR 'retroclones.' I can't remember where online I read the opinion that Old School Essentials offers "incredibly well-laid-out rules that are really unappealing." Without intending any disrespect to Necrotic Gnome's great achievement with OSE, I really have a hard time getting into the actual B/X rules framework!!! Knave feels much cleaner and simpler to run.
But...there remains that generic feeling - even more generic than B/X (Knave, for example, is classless). I quite like having some decent classes (actually, the rather dull baseline classes in OSE - especially the Fighter - are part of my antipathy to it and other retroclones). By omitting classes, Knave offloads most of the construction of interesting characters into diegetic achievements during play: what gear do you carry? what magic spells did you learn out in the world? what crazy things happened to you after Level 1? what crap did you drink in the dungeon? what title did the Duke of Fourth Everskull grant you last week?
The generic framework, by remaining highly compatible, also allows you to bolt on your own preferred retroclone or homebrew content. That's really good - class-free but not OSR-compatible is asking for trouble, but Knave allows as much tweaking as you'd like. Too much tweaking, however, and you might as well write your own retroclone heartbreaker. What did that solve?
That's where the many pages of new content coming in Knave 2e MIGHT prove really cool. Ben has described this content as 'modular.' It should all work with the game's core mechanic, but you can also sample to taste; don't like whatever his mass battle rules turn out to be? Then scrap 'em.
When I was running a bunch of Knave for a campaign rather than just a one-shot, I did start tiring of constantly tweaking and fiddling with my preferred houserules. The way Ben has described what's coming in 2e makes me hope that we're looking at something like the "Advanced OSE" version of Knave - not in terms of classes, of course, but in terms of rules for a lot of other common D&D-ish situations. Having rules ready to hand for most of those things should make an already powerful simple toolkit - at least potentially - a really powerful alternative to some of the larger retroclones.
That's my hope, at least. Of course, most of that content isn't visible yet, so we'll see.
PAGE TWO-THREE/Ability Scores and Character Creation
Right off the start-line, there are a few interesting tweaks to the core rules since 1e. The game still has the famous 6 Stats but - as in 1e - each of them is still important, warding off 'dump stat' syndrome. Roll +Strength for melee attacks, for example, but +Wisdom for missile attacks (it's like Perception). Everything is useful for something; your highest scores, the rules note, can determine what kind of character you are (a slight nod to Class, here).
How you get your ability scores is now different. In 1e, you roll 3d6 for each ability score, and take the LOWEST rolled result as your ability score modifier. As 1e noted, this means most scores will have a +1 modifier; it is possible - though very unlikely - to luck out massively, and get a quite high starting modifier (in the Knave campaign that I ran, we had a character who did, in fact, start out with a very high combat modifier - Strength, IIRC - which always made the rest of the party jealous from the get-go). In 2e, however, the method has changed. A brand-new PC has 3 points - just 3! - to allocate to ability scores. There's a fun method presented for randomly allocating them, if you wish, but the game also blesses letting players assign the points as they wish.
I really like this. It's point-buy, sure, but it's ONLY 3 POINTS! You're probably not going to spend too many hours agonizing over that allocation. This sweeps detailed 3.0+ min-maxing off the table, but still gives players agency to prioritize what they want to be good at. Feel like dumping all three points into melee-heavy Strength? No problem. You'll shine in a scrum, but not enough to break the game, and you'll feel the pinch everywhere else, but not so much that you should have stayed home from adventuring.
New PCs also "roll or pick" two careers from a list of 100 (!) background occupations. The game will later make allowance for granting advantage on Checks due to a relevant career background, so these are more than window-dressing. They also grant some starting equipment (for example, career #91 is: "Spy - caltrops, poison, forged papers"). Each character then has access to a small list of universal starting equipment which is, essentially, adventuring gear plus armor and weapon of your choice - if you can carry it. Recall that in Knave, your Constitution modifies how much you can carry. As we'll see in due course, tracking inventory is still simple, but has become even more central to the core rules in Knave 2e.
There is a note that "If the GM permits you to play a non-human character, they may grant you a special ability in place of one of your careers (e.g., Elves only have to sleep one watch per night)." Hmmm. That certainly makes sense. I can get behind the underlying assumption about human-only or human-centric settings. However, given the ubiquity of at least being able to play an elf, dwarf, or halfling/gnome in OSR circles, I'd appreciate seeing more explicit mechanical guidelines for the standard kinfolk types (no doubt someone will be along shortly to provide them once the game takes off). This is one area where a 'super-sized Knave" feels like, maybe, it should offer juuuuust that little bit more.
Having said that, the game notes that a player stuck for character inspiration might want to consult the various NPC-building random tables. We can't see these yet, but if they are expanded versions of the stuff that we had in Maze Rats, they should be very useful.