The OSR in Vivid Colour: The Fellowship of the Bling

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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It may be precisely that the “OSR” as a community developed some novel ways to play old systems, and that these are lacking in the RPGnet play reports. I says ways and not mechanics because largely I think I’m referring to design principles and ethics of play. Here’s what I’m not seeing in the RPGnet reports:

  1. Exploration play - Engagement with the environment and puzzle aspects of it as a primary focus of play. This is perhaps impossible because of the random methods of location design used. It’s hard for a GM to build puzzles of any sort into an adventure when generating it entirely on the fly. This appears to lead to the singular obstacle in play being direct confrontation with randomly derived monsters. It also remove the larger puzzle of level based design, where spatial orientation is a key part of game play - figuring out how the location works as a fiction space becomes impossible when the GM doesn’t even know because the structure is being constantly revised and invented during play.

  2. Direct Confrontation - “Combat as sport” is you will, the appeal to the RAW to resolve combats and monster encounters without fictional positioning of even a tactical variety, let alone the strategic.

  3. Lack of social and moral play - It doesn’t seem like reaction mechanics are being consistently used, or if they are the players are electing to attack almost every creature encountered. Again this likely comes from the random nature of dungeon generation, lack of a dungeon ecology or factions.

Together these create a game that doesn’t feel like what I know from using the same system, or what I see in say those ASE reports (the dungeon they are using is the author’s setting - but yes it was later published). Now if pointing out a lack of those things is being uncharitable I doubt I can meet your definition of charity - but they are things which I find are key to understanding classic play, at least as I enjoying playing it.

I mention the Dungeon World past of the RPGnet play reports because I am trying to understand where the players and GM in them got their design principles and play ethics? It’s not that they are bad or having the wrong kind of fun, it’s that it’s not my experience with “OSR” and I don’t think I’m alone in that or that my experience with these kind of games is very atypical.

As described it really does seem much similar to an early (also D&D derived I think) Roguelike ASCII CRPG, and one without the complexity of say Nethack or ADOM. Now there’s a chance this is just from the similarity of using randomly generated dungeons - but the main CRPG constraint of a lack of tools for parley and social puzzles isn’t shared? Where does the combat focused play style come from, because I do think it’s conscious, if not fully intentional. Did the RPGnet players set out to play a certain kind of game?

If not, how do did their experiments with B/X end up so differently then say Pat Wetmore’s (linked above: Henchmanabuse & ASE)? So different from Chris’ Hill Cantons? So different from Brendan’s with Pahvelorn and 0E? So different from mine?

If it’s simply that the constraints involved (random dungeon generation) create a certain sort of game experience that’s interesting, but it doesn’t change that these play reports don’t feel typical to someone who has played a lot of that style of game. Should I say they do simply to be “charitable”? 'Cause I can lie to you in the service of comity.

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Ah, good! We’re pretty much on the same page, then, or at least much closer to it than I thought. Excellent.

I think that 90%+ of what you’re describing is a direct result of a limited timeframe and randomly generated dungeons. Much of the considerations you’re describing simply don’t come into play with such barebones and simplistic dungeons - as you say, figuring out the purpose of a certain layout or the ecology of a certain monster population is simply impossible when they don’t exist in the first place.

They do very consciously use Reaction and Morale rules, and make allies, friends, and worry about moral concerns when they come up. However, those elements are also limited somewhat by the material they are exploring (e.g. you won’t find a tribe of humans turned into tormented slaves by an otherwise well-meaning sorcerer in a randomly generated dungeon of this sort).

The remaining 10% is a question of taste, I think. I think my interests and preferences are very similar to yours when it comes to this style of gaming. I like to involve a lot more monster ecology, tactical considerations, and other complex factors in my dungeon design and play, as a way to give the game more depth.

Where we differ, perhaps, is that I see those as more advanced concerns. Given that attitude, I’m not going to be judgemental about a group of strangers operating with different tastes or to look down on their play. I like to enjoy those things in my games, but I don’t have a problem with other people enjoying a more simple style of play. (And, arguably, the vast majority of D&D play in any edition or type is likely just a sequence of combat encounters with little context - I’d assume that, like any other activity or art form, most of what is happening out there doesn’t reach heights of artistry. I’m sure that the limitations you’re pointing out would apply to the vast majority of play “out in the wild”.)

I think that the way they are playing is arguably precisely what the ruleset is built to do (e.g. the example dungeons and generators used in most old D&D texts produce this type of material as well) and the “natural” form of old school D&D play. I’d fully expect a random group unfamiliar with D&D to end up with something like this if they were given those texts and asked to figure it out for themselves.

To me, that’s precisely the charm of these play reports: seeing just how much fun and pleasure these players are having without making the game into a much more advanced and artistic affair. I think it showcases the strength of the ruleset and this mode of play in a way that is highly revealing. Kind of like how a food connoisseur might enjoy a simple margherita pizza made in a traditional style for its own merits, rather than complaining that it doesn’t have truffle oil or an original and exciting combination of rare ingredients that no one has ever tried before along with a carefully chosen wine pairing.

I also believe that it’s natural for this kind of play to evolve over time into a more interesting and developed style with many of the features you’re describing. As much fun as it is to risk your life against random opponents in a nonsensical dungeon, it’s natural to start to look for variety, depth, and to push the limits of the playstyle over time. I see this group doing this over the course of these reports, and I see no reason to assume that over time they wouldn’t progress to more evolved forms of the same material, as well. Again, I see that as a feature of these reports and find it charming: the reader gets to experience that journey along with the players, from simple, basic play to increased moral complexity and more varied material. I think that’s part of what makes this series of reports such a lovely introduction to the playstyle.

However, even beyond that and despite that, it’s remarkable how engaging and exciting the material is, even to people who are not experiencing the game itself. By the end of the thread, there are multiple readers hanging on every word and on the edge of their seats over Merry’s survival or the fate of the Charmed Ogre. There are people saying that they refresh the thread every 30 minutes because that’s how invested they are in the developing events.

I think that’s remarkable as well as highly entertaining!

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I think this is a very, very interesting comment that I hope you won’t assume malice on my part by digging into it.

Because I have to ask, if we approach any ttrpg, what can we reasonably judge other than the rules? We can presume that some amount of interpretation is required to run systems, but unless the system explicitly states “I am not comprehensive, you must rely on the GM for additional arbitration” you can’t say someone is running a game “wrong” when they are following RAW.

I am by no means saying having an external philosophy and community around a game or style of game is inconsequential, but unless the philosophy developed by the community is codified in the games they make, I don’t think it makes any sense to fault a group for playing a game by the rules presented to them without input from the community around the game.

Oh I don’t see any malice in that question at all. One of the phrases I use a lot is “ethics of play”, which is my way of describing the ideas that build up around a play style but are rarely spelled out. This is different to me the “design principles” which are intended play style, with or without mechanical support. Finally there’s the mechanics.

As a topical example I’d say “RAW” as it’s usually invoked is an ethic of play that at its core elevates the written rules as an arbitrator above the GM. There are other effects of this - principally placing a high value on system mastery, rules lawyering/textual interpretation as a primary means of resolving disputes, a comfort with or ven encouragment of antagonistic GMing and ultimately a belief that player limitations are themselves the rules and that the mechanics create a hard limit on the possibilities of play.

In classic play there’s been time for various sets of ethics of play to predominate, but because of the game genres largely organic (as opposed to intentional) evolution these haven’t been codified so much. I’d say there are sort of “Braunstien” set of freeform ethics that one can still see in very early D&D adventures (Temple of the Frog, Steading, and even Tomb of Horrors) that becomes increasingly simulationist as the Gygaxian influence comes to predominate. This later evolves into story first Hickmanism and the overly technical play of late TSR.

“OSR” as I understand it, or at least the weird little offshoot I was fond of wasn’t as concerned with the nostalgic rediscovery of Gygaxian simulationism - the details of AD&D, but with even more free form play - aided ultimately by gamification of exploration play elements. It’s not that this was a literal return to the ethics, principles and mechanics of very early (pre CRPG say) D&D, but rather new principles and mechanics around exploration play seeking to support a possibly mythical set of ethics of play.

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