My superficial question is essentially “what game systems do you recommend for the new GM wanting to run a variety of published OSR adventures?” But I think that really only hints at what I’m interested in discussing.
Feel free to skip to the end for the TL;DR version.
From time to time I see people commenting on various game systems and stating that they support the GM or that they wish that the system did a bit better at supporting the GM. What does this actually mean in practice? Does it have to do with the way heavier systems go into detail in laying down rules and guidance on managing the system’s bits and bobs? DCC’s core book is something close to 500 pages. Knave is what… 7? And out of that approximately half the page count belongs to tables and the spell list. Personally, I’m really attracted to low-complexity systems that do what they need when needed but otherwise stay out of the way, so I’ve been looking with interest at a lot of the rules light systems. But I’m also really inexperienced and suspect that while a rules-light system might be ideal for me in the long run, they might leave me floundering as I learn the basics of running games. What should I really be focusing on to make life and learning a new skill set easier?
Related to this, I read a post on The Alexandrian blog titled “System Matters”. It discusses how, “Arneson & Gygax spelled out a very specific procedure for running dungeons in the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons” and then contrasts that against the current D&D5e beginner adventure, “The Lost Mines of Phandelver.” The author claims that Phandelver does a great job for the new DM in many areas, but then:
…the step-by-step instructions for how you’re actually supposed to use this material? It simply… stops. The designers clearly expect, almost certainly without actually consciously thinking about it, that how you run a dungeon is so obvious that even people who need to be explicitly told that they should read the boxed text out loud don’t need to be told how to run a dungeon.
And because they believe it’s obvious, they don’t include it in the game. And because they don’t include it in the game, new DMs don’t learn it. And, as a result, it stops being obvious.
My own experience was an attempt to run a D&D5e adventure for my teenage kids. The kids had fun. I had fun. That’s a success, right? But, despite the immediate fun of the session, the experience left me really dissatisfied in a number of ways—the juggling of monster stat-blocks, the focus on balanced encounters, and the struggle that new players have in terms of learning to use their character mechanics, to name a few—and motivated my discovery of Dungeon World, PbtA, and—off on the distant horizon—old school games. DW and AW brought into focus a lot of GM ideas that which were completely new to me despite having spent a couple months reading up on how to run a D&D5e session. From there Jason Lutes’ DW supplements introduced me to some old school ideas, like higher lethality, lower-fantasy, and more exploration focused adventures. Finally I’ve been dipping into the weird and less stereotypically fantasyland material of OSR modules and it’s been really exciting. But I haven’t a clue how to approach learning to run this stuff.
The resources for learning how to run PbtA games are readily apparent, both from the books, themselves, and from supplementary materials within the community. But approaching old-school RPGs isn’t as clear to me. I guess what I’m looking for is insight into the following concerns from an OSR & OSR-adjacent perspective:
- Support for beginning GMs
- Which systems provide a greater or lesser degree of it?
- What supports exist, or what does it actually mean for a system to be easier to run?
- Running of published old-school adventures with minimal adaptation
- What things make a system more amenable to running existing modules?
- Trade-offs between rules light systems vs more traditional retro-clones
- What’s going to make a module easier or harder to run?
- I absolutely love the madness of Silent Titans, but I have a feeling it would be a brutal experience for a new GM.
- Tomb of the Serpent Kings states that it’s primarily a teaching dungeon for new players rather than new GMs.
- What makes it less suitable for new GMs?
- What are some adventures that are more suitable for new GMs?
If you’re still here, thanks for reading. And thanks in advance for any insight you share.