Monday, January 7, 2013

Scions of the OSR

Yesterday's post presented a definition of OSR gaming - it’s about identifying the great bits about 1970's sandbox gaming, beyond just D&D, and applying what we've learned in 30 years of table top gaming to add improvements to that style of play.  Various DIY publishers have been leading the charge for a few years now.  So what kind of products have pushed the state of the art?

This megadungeon was one of the first OSR products I encountered a couple of years ago, and it taught me to love the 1-page dungeon format with minimalist descriptions, leaving a lot of room for DM improvisation.

LOTFP Adventures
The various Lamentations of the Flame Princess site-based adventures show complete contempt for game balance and will treat your home campaign with reckless disregard - long term consequences are thrilling and liberating.

Stars Without Number/Red Tide
Sine Nomine has developed a system of using simple descriptors, "tags", for quickly generating sandbox relationships and complications in a way I'd never seen before.  Plus, the publisher adapts a class and level system to some new genres (science fiction, post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk).

Hex crawls and dungeons are heavily dependent on maps and predefined content; Vornheim is full of alternative techniques for presenting fantasy cities on the fly.

Points of Light
The Points of Light supplements were born out of Bat in the Attic's step-by-step sandbox creation guides, and are excellent examples of putting theory into practice.

ACKS (Adventurer Conqueror King) is a retro clone rules set that adds campaign rules and some 3E style feats and combat options onto the classic D&D chassis to extend old school play beyond exploration, into the character's long term career arc.

There are tons of high quality adventures, hex crawls, and small rules supplements that have been written using the OGL for the retroclone games; I'm not listing them here because most of them present their maps and content in a way substantially similar to TSR's content - there's more of it, and many of the books break out of the cliché settings (like Carcosa, or Anomalous Subsurface Environment).   I highlighted the books above because they're the ones that opened my eyes to totally new or different ways of doing things.  The OSR is more than mimicking the 1970's; it's about distilling what rocked in those early game styles and evolving it with appropriate ideas from the full spectrum of games.  It also means adapting modern technology and methods, like the G+ hangouts or the use of crowd-funding.

My list can't be exhaustive - I'm one guy, and clearly can't speak for all - what do you see out there that's been a game changer for how we run our old school games?


  1. I strongly agree with the selections you make with which I am also familiar, i.e., Stonehell, LotFP, and Vornheim.

    Is it too boring to add Labyrinth Lord? For me, Proctor's iteration of the B/X rules is the chassis upon which all my OSR gaming experiences have been built, and I really appreciate Goblinoid Games' commitment to ongoing LL support via their excellent website, forums, and free downloads. I don't know if LL is a "game changer" but it is surely a "game enabler."

  2. I agree about LL as a "game enabler".

    Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) by Goodman Games and the aforementioned Vornheim are the most impressive products in my book. They ooze old school atmosphere but approach things from a fresh perspective -- Zocchi dice, Urbancrawling and all.

  3. Everything you've said Beedo, plus

    1. Matt Finch's Old School Primer, The Dungeon Alphabet, the mythic underworld, hex crawl discussions, appendix N literature, and general "inspirational" hobbyist discussions.

    2. Sham's "Shields Shall be Splintered" and Delta's "Target 20" rules.

    3. Delta's miniature combat rules.

    4. Vertical dungeon geomorphs.

    5. Drop tables and "additive" Tables (e.g., roll d6, then d20)

    Just a few out of many.

    1. Delta's Book of War is a fine wargaming supplement that is often overlooked, in my opinion. Short but complete.

    2. Just for posterity's sake, I'll point out that "Shields Shall Be Splintered" was Trollsmyth, not Sham. :)

    3. @David
      As soon as I hit "publish" I knew I'd gotten that one wrong. Thanks!

  4. I left off the clones that are just trying to duplicate the old games, although you can make an argument that OSRIC got the whole thing going (and really did a fantastic job of reconciling all of 1E's contrary rules).

    DCC really does an interesting job in taking the old school play experience in a different direction - I need to just make the time to give it a thorough run sometime soon.

  5. I'll definitely second The Dungeon Alphabet, and maybe add The Miscelleneum of Cinder. Collections of random tables, while they existed before, weren't really taken very seriously, I think, until those things came about. I'd definitely add Loviatar, which kicked off the new 'zine mini-explosion, especially 'zine adventures like Knowledge Illuminates, Zogorion, Lord of the Hippogriffs, or The Veiled Invocation.

  6. And Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, of course.