Toward a Leftist OSR - blog post


#1

Anyone else have thoughts on Humza of Hydra Co-Op’s new posting regarding the desirability, need and methods for a more Leftist approach to old school RPG play/design?


#2

Very interesting! I’ll have to give it a read.


#3

That is really interesting. I love base/community building in my games, but never looked at it from more of a socialist point of view - but it totally is :slight_smile:

On top of the games mentioned in the article, I would also include Stonetop and Mutant Year Zero in games that deal with community improvement.

As for the mechanical aspects of the post, I don’t really have a comment as to execution, as I don’t play straight OSR. It felt a little too cruchy for my testes, so I just glanced over the bulk of it (will come back to it later). Nevertheless, I think adding mechanics to community improvement is needed. I wonder what other similar systems like that exist currently?


#4

No Country for Old Kobolds is another community-centric RPG.


#5

What is it that spoke to you enough to post about it here? Are there specific points you think should be investigated further?

I also bet @Humza_K might have some further insights?


#6

I think the gameable content ideas on how to manage a domain game starting at low level that has a specifically revolutionary element is quite nice - useful and novel in that too much domain play focuses on the material aspects of domain from the top down - food, industry, troops and such through the eyes of a despot. The 1e DMG discusses it in those terms even for peasent revolts - and off course Hill Cantons has a wonderful post on playing revolutionary punk rock Greyhawk with those rules and all that Gygaxian simulationist fervor as a teenager.

All that’s cool but I’m more interested in the potential of rewriting a lot of the bad feeling and negative, exclusionary takes on and in the “OSR”. As some of you may know I shut down my blog, reject the term “OSR” in harsh terms, run 5e, and participate in few game spaces these days partially because of my disillusionment with the reactionary elements within that scene. Seeing efforts to place classic play in a Leftist context or even examine the possibility that TTRPGs have or should have a political valence to them is refreshing.


#7

Kingdom Death is very much in this vein, though I hadn’t thought of it in terms of collectivism or communism. Your characters can improve (or worsen from injury) during the game, but the real improvement comes from gear and growing your settlement: making new building, learning new skills. It’s a big part of the game. When you die and get a pick a new character the loss isn’t too bad because the gear and knowledge moves to them.

Brendan’s latest iteration of his homebrew ruleset leans into this idea a lot. The main downtime activity is community building.

I feel like this is an idea common to a lot of OSR games, though maybe people don’t stop and think about the political implications, if any, of front loading the “domain” game in this way.


#8

I didn’t know that Kingdom Death had an RPG, I only knew it from the very expensive board game.

Is the homebrew ruleset available anywhere? I would like to check it out.


#9

The settlement game is actually part of the board game. The game is split into three phases, the settlement phase where you work on your town and events happen, a hunt where you pursue a monster, and the the showdown which is like a skirmish game.

A lot of war games have RPG elements. This one had a few.


#10

I’ve gotten a lot of pings about Mutant Year Zero after this post! Unfortunately, I have not yet read any of the Fria Ligan games yet (because I have barely read any RPG materials in the past few years, aaaaa why is time). Had not heard of Stonetop or No Country for Old Kobolds, though - thanks for the pointers, folks!

@funkaoshi haha Kingdom Death is always this big strange space that I have never engaged with, for some reason. Haven’t seen Brendan’s post on community-building, though!


#11

He has some initial ideas on his blog. I think his current “Hexagram” game builds on top of this idea. He had a little mini game of sorts around laying out and building up different types of buildings and improvements. But I don’t think he is thinking about things in terms of socialist ideology.


#12

Well isn’t this well-timed!

First: Humza, thank you for your post. Fantastic read, and I fully intend to use some of those principles in my games.

To wit: my cousin (creator of DeScriptors diceless RPG) and I are working on a super-simple OSR game, likely coming out in a 6x9 zine-style form because it’s meant to be compact and fun to play off the cuff. That boring stuff aside, the key focus was on making an OSR-style game that reduced combat to an absolute last resort because the player characters would be very young heroes just starting out on their journey to help create a better world for their hometown. Thus, community and establishing ties with the wider world are the focus, rather than plundering dungeons.

Everything in this thread is exactly the kind of stuff we wanted to work toward!


#13

It dawns on my that no one has mentioned @lumpley’s Storming the Wizard’s Tower, which is framed around protecting the PC’s home town from threats and some of the treasures/rewards you get from adventures are improvements to the town itself. (It was absolutely an inspiration for Stonetop).


#14

@Jeremy_Strandberg, I was thinking about StWT a lot in this thread! Ultimately I decided it was too obscure and not OSR enough to mention. But it’s a great inspiration and a fun game (so long as you don’t use the messed up “rules fix” that eventually caused it to get scrapped; the rules prior to that work great).


#15

This is all rad, both literally and figuratively.

One thing I have been thinking about, and am interested in exploring, is how to create a leftist OSR without excising a lot of my favorite parts of classic D&D gaming.

Which is to say, is there a way to do leftist OSR play without shifting the game into a primarily urban environment? (I’m conflating OSR and D&D a little here.)

Some of the things I love about OSR play are delving into mysterious, uncharted territory, braving the wilderness, traveling from place to place encountering strange people and monsters, recovering lost treasures, etc.

It’s obvious that a lot of this is rooted in our ugliest colonialist myths and libertarian ideals, but I really want to believe it can be reworked/redeemed, rather than just accepted or ignored.

I don’t really have any good answers yet for what a leftist hexcrawling, dungeon raiding game looks like yet, but maybe someone else does?


#16

Yeah, I have two thoughts about this: “yes” and “good.”

I don’t think that community-building mechanics in rpgs are inherently socialist or even leftist, BUT it’s a start. It gets you way closer than gold-for-xp and map exploration does, that’s for sure.

(Also I was gonna mention this on twitter and forgot so thanks for the reminder.)


#17

It’s not OSR (it’s a Dungeon World hack), but this describes Stonetop pretty well. The PC’s home town is a small, isolated village (about 300 souls) with no official government and a “everyone contributes, everyone shares” culture. The game procedures generate threats to the village, or opportunities to improve the village, and those threats/opportunities push the PCs to explore the wilderness and ruins nearby, or travel to the nearest communities.

The “civilized” communities are far from each other (the closest one from Stonetop is 4 days away). The region is littered with remains of the Maker’s (ancient civilization of giants). The Things Below are stirring. There are vast tracks of unexplored land, sparsely populated by strange creatures and strange peoples and strange-and-dangerous artifacts.

So you’ve got all those elements you cite, but the adventures are always about protecting your home or building it up. And the PCs are almost always returning home, and seeing how their successes or failures affect their loved ones and neighbors.

Again, it’s a PbtA story game instead of an OSR game, but you could do something really similar with, say, Beyond the Wall.


#18

The basic premise of a sandbox is that you can go anywhere on the map and get involved in whatever is going on there simply because you have an interest in doing so. Which is not only some of the whitest, colonialist bullshit ever, it’s neocolonialist too, and you can see it perpetuated in the business of tourism all over the world.

So, to get away from that, look at other models. Because it doesn’t HAVE to be like that all the time.

First, there’s the Why: are you travelling long distances so you can get to the capital of the people invading you, and find out who they are? Are you raiding dungeons to recover culture and technology that will help your own community thrive? “I just want to know what’s there” is a fairly privileged motive for something that isn’t a game.

But there’s also the How: In real life, you can’t just show up to a community and be the white saviour of movies. You have to learn the language and the customs, you have to meet people, and you have to show up with something to offer. You have to spend time and effort, which is a combo that rpgs tend to skip over so we can get to the drama.


#19

Jeremy,

I’m anxiously awaiting Stonetop! It looks like it scratches a lot of my gaming itches, and I’m not so picky about OSR vs. PbtA.


#20

You raise a lot of good points, Johnstone!

I’m not entirely ready to concede that “I just want to know what’s there” is privileged (though maybe I’m wrong), just because so much of academic study, research, and exploration starts from that place with an understanding that, usually, “wanting to know what’s there” leads to something valuable. But otherwise, I agree with your assessment.

I think your point about languages and customs is particularly interesting and something I’d love to see more codified in adventure games. Skipping those conflicts to get to the “drama,” to me, often feels like skipping the drama altogether to get to the fighting.

I think you’re also circling around something important, which is acknowledging that even in D&D-style adventure game, humans are still fundamentally social creatures, and playing up that aspect — whether by giving PCs ties to a home community with distinct needs or giving NPCs/enemies rich cultures with their own needs and values — would probably have a huge, postive impact on an adventure game, even if, from a zoomed-out vantage point, the game is largely the same: traversing wilderness, encountering new people, delving into ruins, etc.

The challenge here is that creating these social structures is… not easy on a GM. Drawing a dungeon map and filling it with monsters to fight is a lot easier than designing ruins that have layers of history and culture that PCs can slowly make sense of and gain tangible benefits from understanding.