What's your OSR?


#1

I have noticed something interesting after listening to the Death on Reik Fear of Black Dragon episode. @jasoncordova mentioned that the module feels very pastoral, which I understood means it was unlike the OSR feel he is used to.

Now, I have grown up on Death on Reik and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1ed in general, so this is pretty much my old school gaming experience. When I stumbled upon OSR as a movement somewhere in early 2000s I understood it through this lens. When I read new OSR materials I run them in a similar manner, very mundane and grimdark. I often cut out combat encounters so the game would not be that combat focused. I mean, there is still magic and monsters, but they are the exception rather than a rule…

What I am getting at is that I think I was not running the same OSR as people who have grown up with D&D. The themes are similar, but the overall feel of the game might be different. I find it really curious.

So here’s my question to you - what do you understand by OSR? How do you play/run such games? Let’s skip mechanics here and focus on themes and “feel.” Is your OSR about heroes saving the day (even if they are not super powered like in contemporary D&D)? Is it vagabonds wandering from place to place in a more pastoral manner, stumbling upon adventure while knee deep in mud? Maybe it is something else?

It would also be great if you shared what was your first RPG system, and maybe where are you from (country is plenty if you don’t want to share personal info)… I sense some correlation here.


#2

Okay, I say this as someone who has looked at OSR stuff and not really had any interest in it (note this does not make it bad, it’s just not my flavour of fun if it is yours please partake deeply and freely), but I feel that it goes to the last point that you put up there. For me a lot of the drive feels like there it comes from a nostalgia love for D&D.

Which is something I always admire and get behind. I mean so many things we design are based around those types of feelings, you can’t help but get behind it.

My issue is that my first RPG was Cyberpunk 2020, and so I don’t have a lot of those same feelings. It was the same thing with Dungeon World which I thought looked good but did not understand why everyone was having feelings about it and when @Jmstar waxed poetic about childhood experience with D&D that’s when I understood why I didn’t get it in the same way everyone else was.

My possible addendum to this would be if someone has cyberpunk OSR stuff, I’d love to see it because that’s my nostalgia bag.


#3

I mean if you want to revisit that Cyberpunk 2020 material with a different system you really can’t beat Veil 2020 from Codex - Chrome 2. It’s is exactly what @Frasersimons designed it to do. It’s a great melding of The Veil, Whitehack, and WoDu.


#4

I do run OSR games, and the first game I played and ran was Basic D&D, for me though OSR is not about nostalgia. I’m not trying to recapture the games of my youth because the games of my youth were rubbish.

There are many different factors which make a game OSR, but for every rule you write there will be a game out there which breaks it.

The things that keep me running OSR are the variety of indie content which can all be mixed together, and the acknowledgment that player agency is king.

I don’t want to run a preplanned game. I don’t want to share the creation of my setting with my players. I want to set up an awesome fantasy world and then sit back and watch my players explore it.

To be honest, I guess there is a sort of connection to me as a young gamer: I am now running the sort of games I used to wish I knew how to run.


#5

I started with OD&D in the mists of time. What I liked about it was that there were fewer rules codified that meant you could (ironically) do more. I enjoyed the immersive ness of it (you didn’t “roll to search for something” you looked under the bed, unscrewed the bedposts, checked the lintel.

I know that isn’t for everyone, but that kind investigate the jungle/live in the town yin/yang of game existence was a lot of fun back then.

If I’m honest I’ve not looked at OSR rulesets in the last decade or so… but if I did, I’d be interested to see whether they still supported that kind of descriptive immersion which was so common back then.

I’m UK based, FWIW.


#6

That is a big part of a lot of OSR play.

WhiteBox is an update of oD&D and plays basically as you describe it. Even better though, check out Into The Odd or Maze Rats, both are even lighter than oD&D and are all about players thinking their way through situations, rather than rolling dice on an appropriate skill.


#7

@Jonathan CP2020 was almost my first system, but my xerox copy of the rulebook got stolen by some older boys :stuck_out_tongue: Still love cyberpunk. If you are looking for the DW of Cyberpunk, I can recommend The Sprawl. Veil 2020 is more WoDu of Cyberpunk :wink:

Anyway…

I think that captures it 100% for me.

Do you find that your OSR games emulate the feeling of your original games? Because I certainly do. Before today I thought OSR being more of a monolithic movement, back to the very roots of the hobby, but it seems on a personal level I am going back to the roots of my hobby.


#8

Yeah, I think that’s probably right. Every table’s OSR is different and right now I am running a slow apocalypse very similar to something I wanted to run back in the day.

Some people use OSR to revisit the pulp fantasy they read as kids. Others are going for a more Saturday morning cartoons vibe. Some just want Dungeons, but huge!


#9

I come to the OSR from a different angle; I always wanted to check out D&D or similar as a kid, but it never really happened. I had some friends that were into Vampire, but they did LARPing and for a teen who was very very insecure and concerned with hiding their inner dorkiness, I never took the plunge. My first exposure to D&D was looking through a bandmate’s AD&D 2E material, but I didn’t really play until well into adulthood when I played Pathfinder and then later 5E. I ran 5E a few times as well, after getting some feedback that I’d probably make a good DM. I think I’ve done a good job running 5E, but I didn’t really enjoy it. Or rather, there was a lot about it I did enjoy that felt undermined by things like running combat or setting difficulty classes and keep tracking of too many numbers. It felt like it was beyond the limit of my cognitive load. I was cognitively encumbered! Further, the kinds of stories we were telling weren’t that interesting to me. I kept wanting to make things weirder, and more difficult, and for some reason it felt like doing so was causing tension with the other mechanics. I didn’t want combat to always be the only option, and felt it should only very rarely be the best option. But D&D, for better and worse, is pretty much built entirely around combat.

I still enjoy 5E as a player in my friend’s ongoing campaign, but I realized running it just wasn’t for me.

Around the same time I discovered Dungeon World, which seemed to be ticking all my boxes. The focus on the fiction and narrative complications over binary skill checks was revelatory for me, and the idea that the moves on the playbook weren’t a menu of options but mechanics that may or may not get triggered opened things up; in 5E it often feels like you can only do stuff that correlates to your skills. In DW it felt like you could do anything.

And then I started exploring the various hacks of DW, and started to learn more about the OSR. The personalities and the seeming dogma of OSR as a community turned me off (since often it’s the loudest, most awful voices that are easiest to encounter) but checking out some of the various retro-clones, I knew this kind of play was more what I was looking for. Some of the particulars of some of them went over my head or past me, since I never played OD&D or b/x or whatever else, and it did feel obvious that some mechanics were only in there for purely nostalgic reasons. I still felt I was more into the narrative focus of DW, but there was no doubt these games seemed better geared to play around with the kind of gonzo nonsense that seemed most fun to me.

And then I happened into a playtest of @jasonlutes’ Freebooters on the Frontier 2E, which felt like it marries some of the best stuff from DW with the best stuff from the OSR. And while the playtest kind of fell through, I decided to run my own game, and seven months in, it’s been an incredible experience. Early on, one of the players reported back that “it feels like my level one character just happened into a high level campaign, and it’s awesome.” It was pretty much the best compliment ever.

So for me, it’s not about nostalgia, because I can’t be nostalgic for something I’ve never experienced. “My OSR” is about plunderers, in over their heads, traversing the dangerous wilderness in search of riches, being hopelessly outmatched at every turn. It’s dangerous, it’s weird, it’s got some creeping cosmic horror, and the fun comes not from being superheroes saving the world, but from surviving and forming community in a world that’s brutal and uncaring. And occasionally being heroes and getting involved in political conspiracies where they’re maybe even more in over their heads than when exploring dungeons and fighting monstrosities.


#10

@Von_Bednar the feel of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay seems like something pretty well represented in the OSR. There’s even a B/Xification of it called “A Small but Vicious Dog” (named for one piece of the rat-catchers starting equipment.) Grim and grotty low fantasy with heavy doses of dark humor is a common aesthetic. Trent B’s New Feierland setting, which was a big campaign on google plus and FLAILSNAILS had that aesthetic. The grotty and quirky aspect also shapes numerous other things from Troika to many of Michael Raston’s creations. Also WFRP had a metal/punk aesthetic with demon gods and mutations and dwarves with giant Mohawks, etc. These are common aesthetic impulses and themes throughout the OSR. To be clear, I like all that stuff but it isn’t the aesthetic at my table. For me It’s more Lord Dunsany and E.R. Eddison, dreamy sometimes romantic, but tempered by Vancian low cunning. (Among other things.)


#11

For me the OSR is less about nostalgia for D&D as it actually was and more about D&D as I wanted it to be as a teen.

As it was: Holmes Basic and Keep on the Borderlands, which had the vibe of the Hobbit animated movie, David the Gnome, or the non-metal parts of Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards. Later, 2E and its more heroic fantasy vibe. I ran these things pure gonzo, with bands of monkies ambushing the players on the way to the Caves of Chaos, an evil priest with a pumpkin for a head, and a Xenomorph invasion.

As I wanted it to be: Frank Frazetta paintings, metal album covers, the metal parts of Wizards. (For better or worse, I never got to play Dark Sun or Rifts as a kid).

Dungeon Crawl Classics, the Hyrda Cooperative stuff, the “aesthetics of ruin,” and the various “artpunk” stuff is what I’m drawn to. I have to say though, that I had a lot more fun running the very silly 1974 teenage-authored Rules to the Game of Dungeon, which ended up feeling a lot like the silly games I ran as a teen, than I did running Deep Carbon Observatory with Black Hack. Go figure.


#12

This is a super interesting observation to me! This makes me think about the OSR maybe being imbued with or underpinned by this sort of caricature of masculinity based on teenage ideals–and I think this makes sense to some degree, and what was some of what turned me off to the OSR when I first started investigating it, not that I could have put a name on it. I think about the entire aesthetic of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and so much of it feels wrapped up in that sort of teenage edginess and envelope-pushing.

Does that make sense, or is it off-base?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that stuff can’t be cool. I love Frazetta, and a lot of metal, and there are a number of elements of that kind of aesthetic that appeals to me. And I don’t mean to judge anyone who is into those things, either, so I hope it doesn’t come across that way. I think about some of my favorite DCC adventures which are absolutely ridiculous but totally freakin’ awesome at the same time. I think it can be more of a “both, and” situation.


#13

I think it depends on the specific LotFP product, but I don’t think you’re far off. DCC has a sort of earnest embrace of the ridiculousness of its Appendix N source material, while at the same time trying to temper the more problematic elements of that. A lot of artpunk stuff seems to be more interested in subverting old tropes. But there’s plenty of stuff in the OSR that just leans into adolescent edginess with no effort to correct or subvert.


#14

There is a lot of that for sure. Both in Lamentations and DCC and others too. Some of it is more Saturday Morning Cartoons and would rather be awesome in its weirdness than edgy.

Some of it though is so much more than that. Yoon Suin is so special because it’s a truly new place which begs you to explore it, and because it’s all procedural, the only way to explore it is to play it.

Into The Odd presents a post industrial revolution sprawling city just a few steps to the left of anything you know, and then it tells you to go and create something new to use in it.

So it’s certainly not all edgy. Some of it just wants surprise you by taking you places you haven’t been before. This might seem odd since the mechanics are routed in the past but no one planned that and maybe it makes it easier to explore a new place if the rules are already familiar?


#15

And this is the stuff I’m here for.


#16

@jexjthomas I can see how you might say that about some Lamentations stuff, since it’s rooted in a (supposedly) transgressive aesthetic of gore splatter, body horror, and so on, and the products are mainly written by men. Also about DCC which is aesthetically based on the art work that was airbrushed on vans in the 1980s. But I think this not what’s going on at all with a LOT of OSR stuff. Think about Emmy Allen’s Gardens of Ynn which is a sort of art nouveau through the garden door aesthetic, or Patrick Stuart’s the Veins of the Earth which involves an aesthetic of the horror of deep geological time. Or about the goofy slavic socialist aesthetic of The Hill Cantons.


#17

This is fair. I was definitely painting with a broad brush/speaking in generalities. I appreciate you taking the time to point out the flaws in that, and talk more about the products that are something other than that and have a lot to offer. I’m particularly interested in hearing more about The Hill Cantons because that sounds up my alley–though hopefully we’re not getting too far off-topic.


#18

I’m not sure if we’re getting off topic, but I’m always happy to talk about The Hill Cantons. The setting is a mythic slavic setting. A Church of the Sun (a stand in for you know what) has conquered the pagan Pahr people, pushing back a weird wilderness loosely based on slavic pre-Christian sources of inspiration. Here’s some visual inspiration for the setting:

Here’s the sort of beings one might stumble upon in the weird:

The first thing he released was The Slumbering Ursine Dunes, a point crawl through massive dunes running down to the Persimmon Sea. Chris’ sense of humor runs to the goofy and satirical. In addition to the stuff I’ve just mentioned, it has interdimensional shenanigans and evil space elves modeled on David Bowie.


#19

That point about D&D “as you wanted it to be” resonates with me. A guy I know in the Oldhammer community said the same thing about what Oldhammer meant to him: “I want to play these impressive games with these beautiful models like I wanted to when I was a kid.” Not like we did when we were kids.

I never played a lot of D&D when I was younger, but I did play other fantasy RPGs, and I had the same response, which was that I could feel this weird and mysterious thing just out of reach but games never quite worked out that way in practice. I don’t know if I’m OSR enough to be OSR – I just use stuff from the modules in 5e games – but that’s the thing that I think of as OSR. Even the more explicitly retro-recreationist aspects of the community, which don’t do anything for me personally, I think are trying to recreate the feel of a time when dungeon exploration was a journey into the unknown and not a day at the office.


#20

I definitely agree with this.

4e was my first RPG, so I don’t have any nostalgia for old-school games.

But I love the feeling of putting impossible challenges in front of my players and watching them use cleverness and twisted logic to overcome it.

I’ve also had groups that struggle with the PbtA structure. E.g. they don’t have a good sense for story-telling and just want to kill shit and overcome challenges. OSR has been perfect for those groups.