The OSR in Vivid Colour: The Fellowship of the Bling

I know some people here are curious about the “OSR”, which is about a lot of different things. One of those things is returning to older versions of games and trying to play them “by the book”.

Here’s a wonderful Actual Play account of such a game over on RPG.net: a group has decided to take on this challenge of playing an old version of D&D rules as “by the book” as possible. They eventually start naming all their characters using names from the Lord of the Rings, which adds to the fun.

Not only a great transcript of play (concise and focusing on the important bits), but also a good discussion as well as a really entertaining read.

It’s fun to see this group discovering and re-discovering certain elements on old-school D&D play. (Although some of their solutions, like what they do with prime requisite XP bonuses, are downright brilliant.)

If you’re curious about this sort of thing, take a look:

B-X-Misadventures-in-randomly-generated-dungeons

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To someone curious but short on time, here’s a “Reader’s Guide”:

Introduction

(From page 1; otherwise nothing important there.)

Finally got to run some B/X DnD–playing pretty much btb–3d6 roll and keep, rolled HP, wandering monsters, death at zero HP, etc. Not so much a series campaign as straight dungeon crawls using a few of the really cool random adventure generators at Wizardawn and Dunjon.

[…]

I lightly chronicled some of the misadventures and will post them here for your analysis on how B/X plays straight by the book. It is pretty brutal–had a bad streak of low HP rolls at character gen. Plus some of the traps in the random generators are really deadly.

  1. Page 4 has a brief “rules” overview and discussion:

https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?676099-B-X-Misadventures-in-randomly-generated-dungeons/page4

  1. Page 8 is where the Fellowship is formed, and the magic begins!

https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?676099-B-X-Misadventures-in-randomly-generated-dungeons/page8

The Fellowship met at Rivendell to discuss the cursed One Ring.

Elrond, “It must be taken to Mt. Doom and destroyed, but unfortunately, you are all first level and have no hope. You will have to first delve dungeon after dungeon, accumulating gold, because as we all know, hoarding treasure somehow makes us more powerful.”

“Yes,” said Gandalf, “This is known to be true.”

And so the Fellowship of the Bling was formed with one goal–Grab the loot so someday, maybe they could think about making a plan to destroy the one ring. Many, many years from now.

And so the Fellowship of the Bling descends the stone steps into a dark and damp corridor. Gandalf holds his lantern aloft, and they soon come upon a door and a south easterly bend in the passage.

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  1. It gets particularly interesting around here, with an overview of how play has felt so far, and some high and low moments:

And I guarantee that player will remember the day Frodo died in the Secret Tomb of Darkness for decades.
https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?676099-B-X-Misadventures-in-randomly-generated-dungeons/page36

An interesting moment after Strider’s death, a few pages later:

[…] to move the game along I cut them a deal–sell off all the surplus, the silver daggers, the holy water, and spend all the coin, and the clerics of Gygax will resurrect Strider.

This sparked an all new debate. Spend the money to raise Strider or save it in case Merry or Gandalf should fall?

Merry because he is the single greatest hope to hit level 2 soon. He has also been a stalwart and brave adventurer–the keystone of the Fellowship’s front line. And for a longtime, he has carried the heavy burden of everyone’s hopes and dreams for level 2 (both at our table and for the readers of this thread. No one, and I mean no one, wants to lose Merry).

Gandalf because he is the only character with a charisma bonus and the party’s only reasonable shot at a level 2 wizard any time soon. Also the Gandalf character is beloved at our table because of the way his very capable player handles him.

But Strider is also a table favorite–great character in the book, great actor in the movies, and beautifully played at our table. This poor guy faces the worst the dungeon has to offer day after day without complaint. On top of that he’s halfway to level 2–so Strider is all that and a bag of lamprey pies.

So ask yourself–given the choice to resurrect Strider or save the money in case Merry or Gandalf should fall–What would you do?

Enjoy part 4 of the Unholy Shrine of the Gorgons tomorrow.

  1. The group struggles to achieve second level:

B/X DnD is a journey rather than a destination. Though the players have been on level 1 for a long time–look at the variety! There is so much content you could almost just play te game permanently on level 1. If you read back over all the old adventures–even pre-fellowship–you’ll notice a whole world of varied events and even now its still surprising and delighting.

The lycanthropy was yet another unexpected turn of events that had yet to occur in all these weeks of gaming–so to some degree, the lower levels should be savored.

And all of it with essentially ZERO prep.

I went back and looked and Fellowship started on 2-24: which would put us at about a month of weekly gaming long sessions. Of course, if Merry, Strider, and Gandalf get killed–time to reach level 2 will go WAY up. But we all really, really hope this doesn’t happen.

By page 57, the tension for someone managing to make 2nd level without dying is going through the roof, for players and readers alike.

With new, beast-man companion coming along, the Fellowship returns to the octagonal entry chamber.

Gathered in the entry chamber, Gandalf reconsiders the marching order and battle formation.

“I would like to put your Morlock on the front line,” Gandalf says to Saruman, “and move Merry to the back flank for the time being.”

“Why should we have to risk our sausages on the front line while Merry plays it safe in the rear?” Archade demands.

“He’s a short timer,” Strider cuts in. “That’s why.”

“I understand,” Archade says. “I had a brother in my homeland who was a mere 20 coin from reaching level 2. Then that damned yellow mold–” Archade breaks down for a moment, reflecting on the tragic loss of his brother to the deadly yellow spores.

  1. Mailer reflects on the campaign so far on page 62:

[…] on the gonzoness of the random generators: This has been a net positive actually. As I get more skilled at it, I am able to take the results and narrate and improvise in such a way that they seem pretty logical–but it’s main feature:

The stories! Because its so random, it forces the story in unexpected directions that I just wouldn’t have written otherwise. The tragic turn of events with the wererats turned the story 360 degrees and ended up being a poignant moment at the table. Or the rogue Hobbit hideout, and even the piercers. Lots of animals end up in non-ideal environments, and these guys have actually provided a bit of comic relief.

Beyond all that though, from the “game” point of view, the unpredictability provides a tough but fun, brain-blistering challenge that prevents the party from settling into rote tactics that they are able to use over and over again like an efficient machine. They have to work with the 3d6 characters fate gives them, while entering a fully, unknown, unguessable dungeon. There are no “best” tactics when facing that it keeps things dynamic with a lot of juicy variety.

You have to admit, these random dungeons really keep a Hobbit on the edge of his seat–I get excited to see what’s next and I’m the dungeon master!

For instance, another poster says:

I’ve been playing with the generators for a couple of days. The biggest potential treasure I have run across yet was a trap: a room that turned characters (with a save) into gold statues. If one didn’t mind melting down one’s erstwhile colleagues, they would be worth 26,000gp each. Due to the nature of the geomorphology, though, it ended up as a sealed chamber with no entrances, so you’d have to dig to get there…

  1. It is finally on page 84 that one of the adventurers achieves second level. It’s a hard-fought victory!

“Show us!” Saruman orders. Urk reaches into the chest and removes the contents, turning and holding it up for everyone to see.

“Oh my,” says Fatty Bolger.

"I believe this is the part, " Archade says, “where Strider would say, ‘Jackpot’.”

The Hobgoblin holds a magnificent golden necklace–set with gems–in its filthy fingers.

“Give!” Saruman orders, holding out his palm. The Hobgoblin obeys, placing the ornate piece of jewelry in the eager wizards hand.

“It is enough,” Gandalf says. The old wizards eyes well up with tears, “It is enough.”
Gandalf wipes eyes on sleeve and collects himself, “Everyone! Surround Merry! Allow no harm to affect a single, curly hair on his head! We depart immediately!”

The Fellowship forms a protective shell around Merry.

“Guys,” Merry says, “no need for all this fuss. I am perfectly capa–”

“Quiet, hobbit!” Thorin growls. “You are walking out of this dungeon today if it costs everyone of us our lives!”

The Fellowship moves rapidly through the domed chamber, past the shallow pool and the dust covered room. They emerge into the sunlight, where Strider rests against a tree.

“Did you find any treasure,” Strider asks.

Saruman presents the ornate, jeweled necklace. Upon seeing the valuable item, tears race down Strider’s face.

“It is accomplished,” The ranger weeps, “By Gygax, it is accomplished!”

[…]

And there is much feasting and much drinking. Elrond–drunk as a Dwarf on Gygaxmas–staggers over to Merry.

“So Merry,” the elf lord slurs, “How does it feel to finally become a man?”

This last quote from:

https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?676099-B-X-Misadventures-in-randomly-generated-dungeons/page84

You can sense the incredible sense of accomplishment when this milestone is reached, even from the readers.

There’s also lots of interesting business later, including a Charmed Ogre, but I will leave that up to those of you with the time and interest to discover yourselves.

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This is great, @Paul_T! Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

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Thanks, Jason!

What really strikes me about this, in particular, is how much fun these people are having playing this game - despite the incredibly low level of effort involved in setting it up. The GM doesn’t even bother saving the dungeons from session to session; there are no real character concepts or details, the characters have jokes for names… so many of the things that would normally ruin a game for me are in effect here, and yet it’s clearly a blast to play. (I should also make it clear that none of these are true for the “typical” OSR game - this is a very particular and unique approach this group has taken.)

I know that rediscovering old school D&D has been a surprising journey for a lot of gamers, and this is a potent example of that. Given this ruleset and these limitations… it’s a great surprise to see how much fun it can be.

I love feeling their excitement on the pages of these write ups (and even from the readers of the thread!).

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Doesn’t seem all that classic play to me - at least as far as I’ve read. Sure it reminds me a bit of playing B/X in elementary school - alone - it’s so heavily combat focused. Adventures seem to consist of a room with a random number of enemies fought via direct confrontation without thought or planning. The PCs don’t run, use doorways or otherwise take steps to interact with monsters, and I’m not sure how Morale and Reaction are being used (they appear to be involved sometimes).

Now perhaps this is because the GM is coming from Dungeon World (and the players as well?) - working to with different expectations and play style, but if doesn’t read like any of the games of B/X or B/X derived play that I’ve played, (Ok there was one drop in game that was like this), run, or written up actual plays for since 2011 or so.

It’s not to say you can’t play B/X as a monster combat simulator, or that the mechanics here aren’t being run by the book, but it does seem a bit like all they are running is the mechanics.

As I wrote above, I’m not trying to say that this is in any way representative of the OSR as a whole. But it is a nice illustration of a handful of people discovering or rediscovering the joys of playing with these rules despite the heavy and particular limitations they’re operating under.

If you read further, you’ll see their play developing in various ways, but the focus remains quite limited. How much joy they get out of the game, even with those limitations, though, is truly remarkable!

(I have no idea why you think these people are coming from Dungeon World… is there some mention of that somewhere?)

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There was a mention somewhere in the middle that DW was the GM’s regular game and his B/X jaunt was a test and sideline thing.

Now, I agree that the folks involved seem to be enjoying themselves, but as far as classic games actual plays go this feels very sparse and mechanically focused. In other words it exemplifies a relatively simplistic and proceduralist effort at playing B/X. It’s largely classic play reduced to RAW or perhaps classic play with the design principles and play ethics of a contemporary trad or perhaps dungeon crawl genre emulation game.

Even the delight in the high lethality mechanics seems to me to come from more of a genre emulation viewpoint. I.e. “Player death in combat is fun because it’s how old D&D is played, and that’s humorous.” Now I don’t know where the line between this and “Character death is a mechanism for narrative development for the surviving PCs” is, but if I’m allowed to interpret intent from these reports it feels a lot like the joy at a system making the expected story then at setting and character development through risk, loss and clever escape.

Gus,

I don’t think that any of what you’re saying is wrong. However, the limitations you are describing are, first of all, very consciously chosen, and, second, something the group is really enjoying. There’s nothing wrong with trying out a game “by the book” and enjoying what it has to offer, particularly in contrast to other games. I think one of the cool things about a good OSR ruleset and module is how much fun it is to simply run through the procedures, and that’s what this group has been discovering. That’s remarkable, and worth celebrating.

This is not the first account I’ve seen which had the same experience, and I think it’s likely pretty typical of anyone encountering OSR-style play “cold”. Celebrating the fun inherent in the barebones play available here is not a bad thing at all!

Their play is limited, compared to many more “typical” OSR campaigns by their choices - specifically, no real “outside the dungeon” play, and the use of randomly generated dungeons. That means less character development, less world development, and an entirely missing strategic layer to the game, which makes their play a fairly “primitive” version of what the game is capable of.

However, that’s one of the reasons I love this actual play report. Not only is it amazing how much fun and investment results from such a barebones report, but we can see the group develop and explore as they go along. As they play, page by page, there is greater interest, increased character investment and development, more variety or encounters, storylines, and developments, more skillful and less random play by the players, more strategic approach to the game overall, and so forth. They explore the game and the genre and start to discover more and more. They explore the rules and the system, they start hiring henchmen, they carefully consider how XP awards, Morale rules and other bits fit together, and so forth. Eventually they start using published modules, as well (like Caves of Chaos), which enriches their game further.

I think that’s part of what is so special about this account: for someone unfamiliar with OSR play, it’s a good introduction to the playstyle, one step at a time. These people aren’t skilled and experienced D&D-heads playing in a familiar way; no, they are exploring new territory somewhat naively and discovering all kinds of exciting new toys to play with, spending a great deal of time with each one, and then moving on the next. That is what makes this account so interesting to read, to me.

I don’t read their excitement at things like high character lethality as a parody or tongue-in-cheek, ironic enjoyment of a trope, as you do (perhaps), but as a genuine process of joy and discovery: “Hey, this is a lot of fun! Let’s keep playing. What’s going to happen next?” I don’t think they would have stuck with this game for as long as they did, or delved into it as deeply as they did, if they enjoyment wasn’t genuine.

One can well imagine this group eventually ending up with well-established, three-dimensional, high-level characters who build strongholds, a fleshed-out campaign setting, and other “long form” trappings of successful D&D play. Watching that in progress is really cool, I think! I’d imagine that most people encountering D&D “out of the blue” (like people picking up the game back in the 70’s) would graduate through a similar learning sequence, and, so, in that sense the thread has great educational value. D&D is one of the few games that you can start playing in a rather “silly” or “arcade-like” mode and then graduate slowly to more meaningful and in-depth play, and that is, to me, one of its unique, main selling points (when compared with other games). This play account showcases that very nicely.

(I also found the mention of Dungeon World - you’re quite right about that!)

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IIRC correctly, that’s also a game where the GM actually does hand out the XPs for simply encountering and interacting with critters fairly freely, rather than requiring the critters to be defeated/exterminated to get it.

It’s a weird, minor, but useful variation on the concept of monster XPs in B/X

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If I have an objection it’s not to either that the play report describes people having fun or that there’s anything wrong with playing B/X mechanically - it’s that it isn’t representative of the majority of the games I played or ran when I was part of the “OSR” (Roughly 2011 - 2016). Hill Cantons, Pahvelorn, HMS Apollyon, Anomalous Subsurface Environment, Dungeon Moon, Ultan’s Door and others: while they may have had sessions that included this kind of blunt combat focused play, it wasn’t common.

You may have had a different experience, and that’s fine, but to present these reports as somehow representative of classic play isn’t something I can agree with.

Oh, yes. It’s a very particular and unusual setup. I’ve tried to be very clear about that from the opening post.

E.g.

I do think it’s probably fairly representative of “naive” old-school play: what happens when a group of people picks up something like B/X D&D and, without prior experience, tries to follow the procedures in the books. My own early experiences with D&D were similar and I’ve seen many other instances. In that respect, I think this series of actual play reports is really instructive and serves as a good illustration.

Like I said above, it’s fun to watch the evolution of the game during those 100-or-so pages. I’m sure it would continue to evolve (or has continued to evolve) further beyond that point.

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Yes, komradebob!

One of the many useful minor innovations or hacks they’ve come up with in this game. I’ve adopted that house rule for my own D&D games and found it really useful.

Depending upon how you do it, it also makes solo scouting without combat or even stealing/looting viable as a way of advancing a character. Overly curious hobbits and other burglars who take a little time and risk to talk to the dragon may actually advance a level or two fairly quickly if they’re sent off alone regularly and survive the experience.

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Generally speaking, the XP awards for monsters in this kind of ruleset are so low that they’re unlikely to affect your advancement dramatically, but they serve as a nice tracker of your willingness to explore and to expose yourself to danger.

I’ve also considered (but never tried) XP awards for traumatic experiences (e.g. being the only survivor of a TPK, or being cursed).

However, you make an interesting point that exploring so as to find truly high-XP value monsters and surviving the experience could become a source of “scouting” XP for a low-level character under this rule. That’s interesting to consider! There’s definitely a Bilbo-from-the-Hobbit analogue in there…

Not sure if it’s actually RAW or not, but when we played some B/X a few years back at least attempting to play mostly RAW, we used the rule that XPs were split evenly among all survivors.

So, well, yeah, if you are the only survivor of a TPK, those XPs are all yours, no special rules needed.

Now, how that could interact with some solo scouting but also team work is kinda up for interpretation.

Also, although low amounts of XPs, it does justify exploration, Good/Lawful alignment behavior, and just lain stopping by and saying hello to new folks.

Also, I think Red Dragons ( Smaug) are what, 8 HD with two special abilities minimum in B/X? That puts their XP at…1750. Halflings need 2000 to hit second level. Surely the dragon won’t miss just one small, fairly high value item from its hoard to make up the last 250 XPs once the conversation is over?

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Sounds about right to me, @komradebob!

I’m not sure how to handle the XP awards for scouts. I’m tempted to say that they are not shared with the group - makes the scouting job as appealing as it is terrifying, in a way.

As for the Bilbo-analogue: I think that if you manage to find and meet a Red Dragon and steal something from its horde, you well deserve that second level! As in the book, I’m sure it would be one hell of an adventure.

Yeah Paul, I’m not trying to be a bully or a grump about this (and I am a grump at best), but I can’t see these play reports as entirely a completely innocent, “B/X Brut”, naturalistic approach to classic play. This GM is consciously running an experiment, and doing so from the frame of a different (Story games, DW specifically) place. I don’t say this to attack the guy, but he’s got an ethos of play that he is aggressive excising - but it still seems like one the encounter based design and combat as a locus of play with ethics that militate towards direct facial confrontation with antagonists is leaking through (from where one wonders).

Adventure here is delving into randomly generated, non-persistent dungeon environments to murder the inhabitants in open combat. That’s not the games I’ve played or ran using the same rules.

That’s not my “OSR” (and I feel dirty, soiled and rotten for admitting to having one - I now hate you for making me do so - in a purely rhetorical way). Of course my “OSR” is itself a singular and perhaps false experience … but … I think I was involved, and maybe even a tertiary figure in its 2011 - 2016 development. As benighted a shitflurry of crypto-fascists, sex creeps and all around bad men as the OSR was/is/will be I may be starry eyed about it’s methods and mechanics. I don’t see them in those play reports.

Alternatively I may be part of my own weird sub-sub category of TTRPG folks that think about risk/reward based dungeon crawls using classically influenced systems. Most people may be chucking dice in a simplistic murder-a-thon.

Still these play reports are so entirely different then say the ones on Henchmanabuse or my own experience, and presenting them as a paragon of classic play in a space largely hostile or dismissive to that play style seems … well … in need of push back. Check out…

I gotta repeat say this isn’t naive play - it’s some DW folks playing B/X as if it was DW and then discovering that they are okay with it despite the oddity.

Maybe no one can have an unadulterated experience with TTRPGS now 40 years on, but if that’s the case I can only say that if one is gonna play an “OSR” (though please for the sake of my soul and your reputation [not the least with me] use a different phrase to describe it) game - maybe look at some of the blogs or other sources (B2’s advice is fine, B/X and AD&D have more) for the ethics of that play, because it varies a lot from contemporary CPRGS and TTRPGS.

We will find no common ground here, but all the same thanks for linking this stuff. I should add that switching between ethics of play and systems is hard. My own efforts to design and play modern story games have been disastrous. My Trophy contest submission is pedestrian and includes random tables because I can’t comprehend the joys of genre emulation, and my two sessions of Torchbearer play left me scratching my head in confusion because I can’t but try to game a unified mechanic. Play is of course what one makes of it, and if the folks on RPGnet in 2013 were enjoying themselves playing B/X as if it was Sword of Fargoal (for the C64) then that’s great. I just buck at the idea of presenting this as prototypical B/X play or perhaps as model B/X play.

As a counter-counter-point, Lord of the Bling is very similar to the kind of B/X experience I had as a tween, circa 1981.

Fascinating, Gus.

I’m not sure what to tell you; I’m not at all seeing what you’re seeing when I read these reports. I simply don’t see the things you’re reading into this.

It makes me wonder if you’re projecting some kind of strange unspoken motives onto a bunch of people enjoying a game experience and excited to post about it online, or maybe you happened to read a small portion of the reports and you’re assuming all 100 pages are more of the same.

It seems to me that the playstyle we are seeing described here is EXACTLY what you get if you pick up something like the Moldvay rules and follow the instructions. (As komradebob says!)

Out of curiosity, I read the last six or seven posts on the blog you linked. There’s some great stuff!

Here’s a good sample report:

Now, the module they are using is more creative and involved. But, aside from that difference (which I’ve discussed earlier) it seems to me that this play report is EXACTLY of the same sort as the ones in this thread. There is even the same tongue in cheek writing style and dialogue! The same concerns, the same dangers, and similar
outcomes. A very similar style and mood, even, of the way the report is written!

Compared to any other sort of gaming I am familiar with, these are clearly very close cousins. This isn’t a parlor LARP. It isn’t a modern, combat-as-sport fighting game. It isn’t a “for the feels” story game. It’s not Critical Role-style D&D. It isn’t high thespian Call of Cthulhu. It isn’t freeform romance courtly intrigue. It isn’t simulationist historical drama. Etc, etc.

If I look at any list of “OSR characteristics”, it seems to match all of them. Random character generation, high lethality, focus on player skill and exploration, XP for treasure, heavy focus on random generation of material, solid use of Reaction and Morale rules, the GM as impartial referee, character development in play instead of at chargen, let the dice fall as they may, a basic focus on risk-reward management as the fundamental player skill, exploration through interrogation of the fictional environment rather than mechanically testing character skills and abilities, emergent story from combinations of random outcomes (rather than preplotted), etc, etc.

The lacking strategic layer - entering random dungeons without outside context is a VERY strict limitation! (1) - is pretty peculiar to their game, but the remaining factors are all intact.

What do you see in the report I linked, above, that’s missing in this thread? Is there some aspect of play they’re missing that makes this feel like it’s “not my OSR” to you? If you can identify some specific features, that would actually be a really exciting conversation for me, and I’d love to engage in it with you.

Otherwise, though, I’m left with the sense that you’re just saying either a) “these are story gamers playing my games ironically and that makes me angry!” (which seems entirely unfair and unfounded as an assumption to make about a group of strangers having fun with an RPG - and even assuming they are “story gamers” seems like a major assumption which may not true - or, if true, hardly relevant: they could be television screenwriters or wargamers for all we know), or b) “well, MY games in this style are far more in depth and highly evolved!” (which is very likely the case, but, again, making a big deal of it seems rather uncharitable - we can all play more or less “serious” games from time to time, and doing so occasionally is hardly a crime).

I’d like to hear if there are some structural elements you feel are really important to successful OSR play that are missing in this group’s campaign; that would be a far more interesting discussion to have, in my opinion.

(1) : They do move on to some regular modules later on in the campaign, like The Caves of Chaos.

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