Tag Archives: old school

The Old School industry is letting us down

I just wrote a review of Monsters & Magic that’s been published over at UK Roleplayers. See it here.


Most of the other reviews I’ve read are more positive than I was, and actually, I’m struggling to find many negative reviews of ANY of the OSR stuff that’s getting released. Fandom is great, but why not more critical analysis, or just a good old stock taking position?

The OSR market is now incredibly diverse, or, if you prefer, fractured. It seems all you need is a couple of house rules and a word processor and you can call yourself a designer and publish your game. Ironically, back in the actual old school days, people just used to write out notes and fling them in a binder, and call it their ‘campaign’. Wonder if those guys (and I was one of them) would have had the balls to call themselves games designers? It would have been a nice accolade, but no, I don’t think we saw ourselves that way at all. It was just the way we organised our campaigns.

I come back to that word again, campaigns. It seems to have been usurped by the phrase Adventure Path in recent years, but I never saw a campaign as just a string of scenarios, it had to include setting stuff and some house rules too (to be fair to Paizo, that’s exactly what their APs do). I also never had much time for those who would only do rules, but never actually play the game, or run it. Armchair DMs. Boo.

So I’m slightly confused and head scratchy about the proliferation of OS games currently available. I’m not the only one, you only have to check a forum of your choice to see regular requests for which is best, or which is most popular, or which is most like A, B or X. The choice can be overwhelming. I keep coming back to the same solution though: just pick one at random and play. There’s so much common language between them that you could always drop in stuff from elsewhere, or even excise whole portions of what you don’t like. Just play a few sessions first, and then muck about with it.

In order to play, you need an adventure, and I think this is where new (to OS games) DMs get troubled. Some OS games have no specific adventures available for them. I think that’s criminal frankly. Lets face it, we’re talking about TSR type gaming here and the one thing they did was get scads of modules into the hands of groups. If you have an OS game, and it’s got a twist on the classic format, you have to put adventures out there for folk to see what it is you’re getting at. Huge props here have to go to Goodman Games for regularly publishing great quality modules for their DCC line.

Here’s a music analogy. If you want to be involved in music, at more than just a hobby level, would you A) learn to play an instrument and join a band or B) learn how to make an instrument

Why aren’t the OS publishers getting some good tunes out there instead of concentrating on yet another slight iteration on B/X? We could argue about styles all day long, and have a happy debate, but really, should we be so focused on the systems after all this time?

They already built a great guitar, don’t make another, just write a different song.



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Why not Runequest?

I’ll do this totally from memory, no cheating and looking things up on the internet. 

My first exposure to Glorantha was with the GW imported RQ2 back in the early 80s. I’d not been in the hobby for very long, but even then I could get a sense of elitism. RQ was more serious than D&D (and a lot more than Tunnels & Trolls). I got a feeling it was for and by grown ups. This sense was heightened by White Dwarf, which was my only real view of the wider RPG world (apart from going to the Virgin Megastore on Oxford St). In WD, Glorantha looked mysterious and exotic. It got it’s own departments in the mag, with contributors like Oliver Dickinson and Dave Morris (later of Dragon Warriors fame). I read the Griselda stories and thought they were pretty cool. Grittier than the world TSR presented, almost Leiber-esque.


So a plunge was taken and I stumped up for the box set. As a 12(?) year old that’s a pretty big purchase. I thought it was well worth it, purely on quantuity of material. There were the rules with that female greek looking warrior fighting a lizardman. Great pic. On the inner covers was loads of errata. I took that as a good sign, and it added to the ‘grown up’ feel I got. The book was cool enough, and I enjoyed the saga of Rurik the Restless, but I didn’t get any sense of excitement of vim from it. Glorantha itself was described in really broad strokes IIRC. I liked the idea of it being a lozenge. The cults sounded weird, like they were for dirty old men. (I never got any of the old Satanism vibe from D&D, but I almost did from RQ).  

It was the maps that blew me away. First the world map which had a tiny boxed out area. That referred you to the map of Sartar and Prax towards the back. Pure distilled awesome. They still stand up today. It made my imagination spin, and at the same time I was intimidated by it. What was the Block? How would I find out? Certainly the core book didn’t give me any help.


The rest of the box had clues. There was FANGS, a set of monsters that were done on a dot matrix printer I think. I remamber Walktapus, the Jack O Lantern, the Broo, Scorpion men, and Aldryami. And Dragonewts and Trolls. They were very ‘Harryhausen‘ to my mind. No pictures that I recall. The Monster Manual had it beat.


Then, the scenario. I’ve always used published scenarios. I use them to help me get a grip on the setting and to help me understand how to put together my own adventures. Apple Lane was awful. The Village of Hommlet was bare bones, but Apple Lane seemed almost childlike in it’s sketchiness. The nearby dungeon was the Rainbow Mounds. It had corridors with turns so sharp you could cut yourself. Fling. 

I didn’t mind the ducks. I was reading Howard the Duck comics back then so I could visualise wise cracking feathered characters. I rolled one up and called him Killmallard. 

I still own that boxed set, and I’ve never, not once, played Runequest. 

I think many people did go down the RQ route, maybe ending up with Stormbringer, or Cthulhu or whatever. I think Glorantha left me cold, or intimidated by it’s scope, one or the other. But I chose the other fantasy path, the one with hit points, not hit locations. I think I made the right decision.


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So this is old school?

And if it was, why can’t we get some of that action for modern games? Political correctness gone mad…


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I thought I knew it all….

This time checking out Lord of the Green Dragon’s excellent ‘blog and this was buried in a long post about the old school movement:

"If you want to go really old school, who’s to say you shouldn’t roll your character’s hit points every morning when they wake up. So a fighter that rolled an 8 on that D8 yesterday may only start with a 1 today. Thus, the adventurers would need to consult with each other about how they’re feeling before deciding to sally forth, or else wait until tomorrow. Does anyone really want to go back to that excess? It’s how it was done for a period, and straight out of OD&D. "

I never knew that. You rolled your hit points every day? Wow.

And then I thought, how cool is that? I’ve never, ever seen such a thing in RPGs, but it makes a crazy kind of sense!

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