OSR Are There Any OSR (or OSR-adjacent) Games With Modern Sensibilities?

darjr

I crit!
The lack of a real advancement system is what made my players say no thanks to Traveller, which is a shame. But yeah, this kind of stuff is more important to many players than many would-be GMs realize up front.
if you ever get a chance to try it again consider telling them it’s power wealth and toys.
 

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Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
if you ever get a chance to try it again consider telling them it’s power wealth and toys.
"I pay a mortgage in real life. Why am I playing an RPG where I have to pay a mortgage on my spaceship" was a question posed to me.

And honestly, I couldn't argue with that. My player has had money struggles and he didn't find chasing pirates around space for the express purpose of his mortgage payments to be fun.

Obviously, there are other stories one can tell in Traveller, but I went with the classic one and it was not a good fit.
 
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You might also want to look at Arcane Library's Shadowdark RPG. It is basically an OSR game but with unified d20 checks for resolving everything and few other modern takes like advantage/disadvantage. The starter rules are free at the link with a kickstarter for the full game coming in a couple of months.

Personally, it really hits the sweet spot of keeping the OSR feel but ditching the clunky mechanical bits.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
"I pay a mortgage in real life. Why am I playing an RPG where I have to pay a mortgage on my spaceship" was a question posed to me.

And honestly, I couldn't argue with that. My player has had money struggles and he didn't find chasing pirates around space for the express purpose of his mortgage payments to be a good fit.

Obviously, there are other stories one can tell in Traveller, but I went with the classic one and it was not a good fit.
You are not alone. My players would often avoid every adventure hook to instead trade electronics and textiles or whatever they could do safely to make sure that payment was on time. Since I have adjusted that expectation by running Pirates of Drinax where the PCs are empire building instead of paying a ship mortgage. Im currently playing in a game where the group is living on a lab ship as a search and rescue medical team. It's way more interesting than being space UPS.
 

Aldarc

Legend
There is a D&D-inspired Apocalypse World hack; Dungeon World. There are two reasons I'm not recommending it so strongly as I am Apocalypse World although it's technically a better answer to the question you are asking:
Anyway I'm not sure Apocalypse World is what you want - but I'd definitely advise giving it a look.
I don't use Dungeon World to run Dungeon World anymore. At this point, I prefer using either Jason Lute's Freebooters on the Frontiers or more often Jeremy Strandberg's DW hack called Homebrew World. The former leans more into old school D&D tropes and aesthetics. The latter is a pretty good polish of Dungeon World, though it tends to focus on shorter campaigns or one-shots. I am also partial to Jeremy Strandberg's hack called Stonetop, which focuses on adventuring inhabitants of an Iron Age village and is being produced by Jason Lutes too. The village of Stonetop even gets its own playbook sheet.

That said, I'm not sure if I would recommend a PbtA game to someone looking for an OSR or OSR-adjacent game experience. There is definitely some philosophical overlap, since OSR and PbtA desire to resist/avoid GM-railroading like the plague; however, what OSR players and PbtA players hope to get out of the game, IME, tend to differ.
 

ilgatto

How inconvenient
One I think I couldn't immediately see in your list is how the game and its players are supposed to deal with character death.

One strong draw, to me, of OSR games in general and DCC in particular (since it's the only OSR game I've played/GMd extensively) is how it eschews the implied "social contract" between player and judge/DM that "your character is basically safe".

Put in other words, a huge net negative for me in late-era games such as 5E is how many safety nets there are to minimize the risk of something bad happening permanently to your character, and you the player having to deal with this.

One aspect of this you might not think of is system mastery. If the game is set up in such a way that a determined and reasonably competent player can plan out his character's "career" all the way from level 1 to level 10, 15 or wherever he or she thinks the campaign will end, then it's possible to say that the game encourages such behavior, since you unquestionably do get "better" results (minmax-wise) if you plan ahead and avoid making off-the-cuff decisions that easily are suboptimal.

After a player has done this homework, he can - and this part is entirely reasonable - expect to not let it all go to waste because he rolls one bad roll and his character is killed or permanently cursed or something.

More generally this is the rollplay vs roleplay discussion. The more mechanical bits the game offers for you to engage with, the easier it is for some players to "forget" about actually role-playing a fictional personality as a living breathing person, and just consider what "moves" yield the best outcome, basically treating your character as a collection of numbers and buttons to press to trigger abilities.

DCC is not that type of game.

It definitely is not a game where (most) monsters are markedly inferior compared to heroes, unable to do what the PHB gives player characters, and often entirely unequipped to deal with these abilities. It is not 5th Edition.

Neither is it a game where the publisher spends an enormous amount of effort on providing as many choice points as possible, giving you several character design opinion at each level, even if the vast majority of your decisions end up not significantly changing your character's abilities. It is not Pathfinder 2E.

Instead it is a game which celebrates heroes by putting them in real danger, so any accolades feel truly earned, rather than basically given to you unless you truly frak up. Behind every successful hero is at least one more now dead or diseased hero that paid the ultimate price.

At basically any time you can meet an evil necromancer or trigger some ancient trap, making your eyes melt or give you a tentacle instead of a leg.

The mindset of player entitlement, which basically says "since I've shown up, I can reasonably expect my hero to grow up to level 20 without needless interference, and I get to make any long-term decisions about his or her future", is replaced by a mindset where the players all cooperate with the Judge to write a novel or screenplay, and then play it out on stage or on screen, where one hero's downfall might be tragic for him or her, but overall a net positive for the story that is told. :)

Basically, when your character loses 6 Strength points, or your skin turns green, or you unceremoniously die in a gutter despite being level 7, you're supposed to take comfort in how you help write a memorable and affecting story, rather than throwing a tantrum because the DM and the game dared to "ruin" your carefully constructed plans for your hero! It's supposed to be good that these things happen, because it shows true courage from the heroes that despite real risks go forth and do heroics!
Brilliant. You've put something in words I've been trying to express myself but couldn't find the words for, so mille grazie for that. In addition, I've always rather liked old-school systems having a PC start out as "weak" enough to snuff it at the first mishap (1E magic-users anyone?), which forces a player to be creative in how to solve the problems the story throws at them and to use elements of that story rather than some stats on their sheet. It compels players to interact with NPCs and PCs alike, to pay attention to how the DM describes a situation, and to have their PCs participate in the story rather than be a pawn on a game board, so that they will actually feel a sense of achievement once their PCs get some flesh on their bones.
Anyway. Didn't want to make this about editions, so carry on.
 

SaltheartRPG

Villager
Hmmm..... I recently had someone take my pamphlet game from itch.io "BURN 2d6" and run it at the largest con in the UK... the feedback was great. It is a modern system that preserves story-telling, open world, and is rules lite. I have also run it for game designers who love crunch (crit tables) and they enjoyed the game for its liteness. So, yeah I am pitching here... try other systems, grab my pamphlet for $0 it will give you a sense for that system. If you like it pledge to support my KS in February.
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/burn2d6/burn-2d6-core-rulebook-an-indie-rpg-system
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
On the topic of PbtA, more about something that's already been talked about:

Flatland Games uses PbtA style playbooks with a ruleset that's half AD&D and half d20.

So you have one of the nice innovations of PbtA with the gameplay of D&D/OSR.

Each of their three fantasy RPGs are very much tuned to a specific experience:
  • Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures is about young people coming together on their first adventures to save their village, with the vibe of Ursula K. LeGuin and Lloyd Alexander's fantasy books. Not only does the group collaboratively create the starting village during character creation, adventures and even the larger campaign world are generated on the fly during play. It's an impressively polished game that gives a very AD&D experience, filtered through classic YA fantasy novels. It's a magical, fairy-inflected world. I've used this to teach people how to play D&D, and old timers found it perfect for what they wanted to do, while new players found it incredibly easy to pick up. Note that there's a ton of free and play what you want material for you to look through.
  • Through Sunken Lands and Other Adventures takes that system and applies it to sword and sorcery novels instead. There are playbooks that help you play someone like Elric or Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.
  • And finally, Grizzled Adventurers takes the system and applies it to senior citizen adventurers, still going (mostly) strong after decades of adventuring. The group rolls up experienced characters with rivalries, fortunes they've won and lost, etc., and then sends them into a quickly generated dungeon. There are small supplements that include more magic-user types and one that's about travel and old age. It's all done tongue in cheek (there are magic items to improve elderly characters' lost hearing and magic walking sticks), but it's very much geared to play at the table, with the travel and aging supplement having a table to explain what missing player characters are doing when their player misses a session and it refines the Beyond the Wall system, which wants everyone to roll up their characters at the same time, as the group is interconnected both interpersonally and mechanically, with a separate set of rules for "latecomer" characters, which BYTW doesn't really address in the version of the rules I have.
These are great games. I'll likely be running Grizzled Adventurers this weekend, in fact. I cannot recommend these books highly enough.
 
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Edgar Ironpelt

Adventurer
One strong draw, to me, of OSR games in general and DCC in particular (since it's the only OSR game I've played/GMd extensively) is how it eschews the implied "social contract" between player and judge/DM that "your character is basically safe".
And I'm the opposite. I'm an old-school dissident who has embraced that "social contract" and who will kit-bash like hell to eliminate elements that cut against that social contract in any of the old or old-style rule sets I've run. Only they were often bright shiny new systems when I first ran or played them. (I started back in 1978.)

In fact, I could lay claim to being (in at least a minor way) one of the old-school rebels against the Old Ways who helped establish that social contract in the first place.

I've hated the idea of "easy character death" for decades, and I'm not going to change now. What I want is for the PCs to be the major characters in the story, not secondary characters or redshirts. I want the PCs to be characters "whose life is charmed, or else fate is sparing him for some other end." Even if a PC does die, "like Boromir in Lord of the Rings," I want the fun of that PC having years and years of exciting adventures while not-dying, first.

Also, I don't agree that a PC has 'earned' his heroism just because his player got lucky (or failed to get unlucky) with the dice, nor that a PC who dies from bad unlucky die rolls has 'earned' his ignoble death.

IMHO, the place to accept and embrace character death in the service of culturing an emergent Story is as a GM, accepting and embracing that one's NPCs and monsters will lose and lose and die and die. Now it is really annoying as a GM to constantly play the losing side, and I suspect that to be a major contributor to the desire to have the players accept some of the losses and deaths. I've noticed that online discussions skew toward being GM-centric, with discussions that often are subtly about making the game better and more fun for the GMs, while assuming that this will somehow be more fun for the players as well. But players and GMs do have a conflict here. I try to GM by the 'golden rule' of trying to run the sort of game that I'd like to play in, and while this can sometimes be a wearying chore, it is one of my GM's duties to accept that.
 

Ondath

Hero
And I'm the opposite. I'm an old-school dissident who has embraced that "social contract" and who will kit-bash like hell to eliminate elements that cut against that social contract in any of the old or old-style rule sets I've run. Only they were often bright shiny new systems when I first ran or played them. (I started back in 1978.)

In fact, I could lay claim to being (in at least a minor way) one of the old-school rebels against the Old Ways who helped establish that social contract in the first place.

I've hated the idea of "easy character death" for decades, and I'm not going to change now. What I want is for the PCs to be the major characters in the story, not secondary characters or redshirts. I want the PCs to be characters "whose life is charmed, or else fate is sparing him for some other end." Even if a PC does die, "like Boromir in Lord of the Rings," I want the fun of that PC having years and years of exciting adventures while not-dying, first.

Also, I don't agree that a PC has 'earned' his heroism just because his player got lucky (or failed to get unlucky) with the dice, nor that a PC who dies from bad unlucky die rolls has 'earned' his ignoble death.

IMHO, the place to accept and embrace character death in the service of culturing an emergent Story is as a GM, accepting and embracing that one's NPCs and monsters will lose and lose and die and die. Now it is really annoying as a GM to constantly play the losing side, and I suspect that to be a major contributor to the desire to have the players accept some of the losses and deaths. I've noticed that online discussions skew toward being GM-centric, with discussions that often are subtly about making the game better and more fun for the GMs, while assuming that this will somehow be more fun for the players as well. But players and GMs do have a conflict here. I try to GM by the 'golden rule' of trying to run the sort of game that I'd like to play in, and while this can sometimes be a wearying chore, it is one of my GM's duties to accept that.
You've articulated my problem with the eschewed social contract far better than I could! This was mostly the reason I put "assuming that the PCs are competent" in my wishlist in the OP. I like games that admit that the PCs are the main characters in one way or another. This does not mean that the PCs will have plot armour or that they will always succeed, but their failure should also be narratively meaningful (dying "like Boromir", as you say).

Are there any specific retroclones or house rules that you think really help reinforcing this social contract? :)
 

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