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OSR Is there room in modern gaming for the OSR to bring in new gamers?

The problem with keys that present information inefficiently is that they’re hard to use at the table. It shouldn’t be necessary to prep the key to run an adventure. One should be able to use it as-is, which is unfortunately not true of many pre-written adventures. Technology won’t fix that.
This is interesting to me, in that i dont think ive ever seen an adventure where its entirety can be disseminated in the key? Hot Springs Island and Barrowmaze both break with their hex key to detail the dungeon complexes in room by room fashion. To me that suggests some hexes in the world are so flush with stuff and moving parts they require that part of the key to be prepped by someone. The hex map would then break down into areas simple enough to be run off the cuff, and areas the GM will want to prep in advance (likely a small fraction of the total map.)
 

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kenada

Legend
Supporter
This is interesting to me, in that i dont think ive ever seen an adventure where its entirety can be disseminated in the key? Hot Springs Island and Barrowmaze both break with their hex key to detail the dungeon complexes in room by room fashion.
Oh, I was mostly talking about dungeon keys. You did mention sandboxes though. I know the Alexandrian suggests sometimes keying dungeons in your hex key if they’re simple, but I prefer maintaining separate documents. Entering a dungeon feels like enough of a context switch that keeping the rest of the hex material available isn’t useful. For either type of key, I prefer the approach Necrotic Gnome uses.

Gavin Norman is working on a Dolmenwood hex crawl. I won’t ever run it, but I’m going to buy it to see if he has any interesting new ideas for writing up hex keys. Depending on your exploration procedure, there’s varying amounts of contextual information you need beyond just the hex contents (like wandering monsters tables, travel speeds, etc).

To me that suggests some hexes in the world are so flush with stuff and moving parts they require that part of the key to be prepped by someone. The hex map would then break down into areas simple enough to be run off the cuff, and areas the GM will want to prep in advance (likely a small fraction of the total map.)
I’d expect each hex to have something keyed in it beyond just the terrain type and wandering monsters tables. An empty expanse of wilderness is pretty boring. Depending on the size of your map, that can be a ton of work, and potentially a lot of wasted work, which is why I really like the tags system in SWN/WWN.

The way tags work in SWN/WWN is every tag comes with a description plus an enemy, a friend, a conflict, a thing, and a place. When you need some adventuring grist, you generate tags and blend their elements together to create it. There’s also a fractal adventure generator in the deluxe edition of WWN that can give you further ideas. For sandbox play, SWN and WWN have a lot of really good ideas tools. (Further WWN discussion probably ought to go in its own thread).
 

Oh, I was mostly talking about dungeon keys. You did mention sandboxes though. I know the Alexandrian suggests sometimes keying dungeons in your hex key if they’re simple, but I prefer maintaining separate documents. Entering a dungeon feels like enough of a context switch that keeping the rest of the hex material available isn’t useful. For either type of key, I prefer the approach Necrotic Gnome uses.

Gavin Norman is working on a Dolmenwood hex crawl. I won’t ever run it, but I’m going to buy it to see if he has any interesting new ideas for writing up hex keys. Depending on your exploration procedure, there’s varying amounts of contextual information you need beyond just the hex contents (like wandering monsters tables, travel speeds, etc).


I’d expect each hex to have something keyed in it beyond just the terrain type and wandering monsters tables. An empty expanse of wilderness is pretty boring. Depending on the size of your map, that can be a ton of work, and potentially a lot of wasted work, which is why I really like the tags system in SWN/WWN.

The way tags work in SWN/WWN is every tag comes with a description plus an enemy, a friend, a conflict, a thing, and a place. When you need some adventuring grist, you generate tags and blend their elements together to create it. There’s also a fractal adventure generator in the deluxe edition of WWN that can give you further ideas. For sandbox play, SWN and WWN have a lot of really good ideas tools. (Further WWN discussion probably ought to go in its own thread).
Makes sense, you remind me we actually had a spirited debate in my discord about expanding pf2e's hexploration actions chart to include higher speeds, and to redesign the unrealistically slow ships accordingly.

But tbf, im comfortable with the fact my hex map is going to have a lot of hexes that are boring by default, the island structure intrinsically makes it a cross between a node crawl (islands are natural points of interest) and a hex crawl (hexes are great for authentic feeling sea chart navigation, when used a player known structure) im planning on a random event chart applied to regions of ocean for random monster attacks and other things, and some ocean hexes will still be keyed deliberately to contain certain things. It should come alive when adjudicating long term chases, races, ambushes and etc.

We're very likely to have players furnish the GM with a plotted course when the adventure is scheduled, so they can be prepared to check the shared GM-facing key if anything has been established for those hexes and islands. If the voyage is structured in a way that makes a preset course impossible (like having to actually search ocean hexes) the GM will at least know the general area of the hex map the players are navigating through.

This is all subject to change of course, i need to refine it to make sure its properly usable.
 

Mannahnin

Adventurer
This is why I've been saying I'd love to see a streamlined, nostalgia-inspired ruleset that doesn't have the low power levels of OSR. Because when we were gaming back in the olden days, it never felt that deadly. Maybe it was a different mindset, maybe we used house rules, maybe we weren't playing it "right" - but it didn't feel like tripping over your own feet would kill you; it didn't feel like a single kobold with a sling would kill you.
The games back then felt heroic, awesome, exciting. OSR doesn't capture that to me. I love the idea of it, but it's just not there.
Some of it is how you DM. The level of threats deployed, and how rarely you put deadly poison and energy drain in your game, for two examples. (I use them, but not all the time, and I signpost the danger.) Utilizing Reaction Rolls to increase the number of creatures which will negotiate instead of leaping to violence, and Morale rolls to ensure that at least SOME enemies will run after a casualty, or after the leader dies, or after the PCs hit them with a spell, or after half their number have fallen, also makes the game less deadly. You can also just utilize GM fiat there; lots of times it makes more sense for monsters to get the heck out of dodge rather than fighting to the death.

Some OSR rules sets DO start you a bit more powerful by default. As Kaneda has been talking about for a while, Worlds Without Number is an example. I might suggest The Nightmares Underneath as another.

And with the core basic D&D ones, the option is also certainly always there to employ a few simple house rules. Like automatically starting with max HP at first level. Or just starting the PCs at 3rd level (or the equivalent XP, if you're using a system with different XP charts; 4k or 5k are good numbers in OSE, I think). I find that in OSE, AD&D, or OD&D usually about 3rd level is where everyone but M-Us and Thieves has a good bit of durability and can take a couple/few hits before dropping, so it feels a bit more heroic and less scary.
 

Retreater

Legend
And with the core basic D&D ones, the option is also certainly always there to employ a few simple house rules. Like automatically starting with max HP at first level. Or just starting the PCs at 3rd level (or the equivalent XP, if you're using a system with different XP charts; 4k or 5k are good numbers in OSE, I think). I find that in OSE, AD&D, or OD&D usually about 3rd level is where everyone but M-Us and Thieves has a good bit of durability and can take a couple/few hits before dropping, so it feels a bit more heroic and less scary.
I dunno. I was playing a 4th level cleric with great HP rolls (the highest in the party) and great AC. He was dropped in a single round when a bear came out of nowhere and killed him. No chance to detect it, no chance to fight back.
My group has such a sour taste in its mouth about OSE right now, I don't know if they'll want to go back to any old school style game, regardless of level, house rules, etc.
But I assume that I'm taking over as DM tonight, so we'll see what they want to do. (Unfortunately, there won't be time to look over or adequately pitch any non-D&D systems with them.)
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I dunno. I was playing a 4th level cleric with great HP rolls (the highest in the party) and great AC. He was dropped in a single round when a bear came out of nowhere and killed him. No chance to detect it, no chance to fight back.
My group has such a sour taste in its mouth about OSE right now, I don't know if they'll want to go back to any old school style game, regardless of level, house rules, etc.
But I assume that I'm taking over as DM tonight, so we'll see what they want to do. (Unfortunately, there won't be time to look over or adequately pitch any non-D&D systems with them.)
The way things are supposed to work is you roll for surprise. If the bear was expecting you, it wouldn’t have to roll. Otherwise both sides have a 2-in-6 chance of being surprised. The GM also should have rolled for encounter distance. On average in a dungeon, it can’t get to you in one round (even if it does have surprise). It’s no wonder people are soured on the system when PCs are killed randomly with no warning.
 

Retreater

Legend
The way things are supposed to work is you roll for surprise. If the bear was expecting you, it wouldn’t have to roll. Otherwise both sides have a 2-in-6 chance of being surprised. The GM also should have rolled for encounter distance. On average in a dungeon, it can’t get to you in one round (even if it does have surprise). It’s no wonder people are soured on the system when PCs are killed randomly with no warning.
He also didn't use Reactions, Morale, wouldn't allow reasonable courses of action to succeed, listened in on our plans and had the enemies "magically adapt" to counter our plans. Traps could only be found and detected by thieves making successful rolls (we couldn't find them using procedure searches, logical ways to avoid them). Gave no treasure or magic items in nearly 9 months of play (we only got monster XP). It was not a good experience.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
He also didn't use Reactions, Morale, wouldn't allow reasonable courses of action to succeed, listened in on our plans and had the enemies "magically adapt" to counter our plans. Traps could only be found and detected by thieves making successful rolls (we couldn't find them using procedure searches, logical ways to avoid them). Gave no treasure or magic items in nearly 9 months of play (we only got monster XP). It was not a good experience.
That sounds horrible. It’s like your GM read the Principia Apocrypha and then did the opposite. 😱
 

payn

Hero
He also didn't use Reactions, Morale, wouldn't allow reasonable courses of action to succeed, listened in on our plans and had the enemies "magically adapt" to counter our plans. Traps could only be found and detected by thieves making successful rolls (we couldn't find them using procedure searches, logical ways to avoid them). Gave no treasure or magic items in nearly 9 months of play (we only got monster XP). It was not a good experience.
Oh man, I had a GM that was horrible about the plans thing. As players we had a habit of overthinking things. I was like Dark Helmet always telling my Col. Sanders group to just go and stop preparing. One time it didnt go well so now they are once bitten twice shy and want to spend entire sessions going over plans. The GM then of course always has our plan fall apart at key moments that are rather suspicious. It got to the point Id ask the GM to leave the room while we planned our approach. He'd still screw us. Some GMs just like kicking their players in the junk.
 



Mannahnin

Adventurer
He also didn't use Reactions, Morale, wouldn't allow reasonable courses of action to succeed, listened in on our plans and had the enemies "magically adapt" to counter our plans. Traps could only be found and detected by thieves making successful rolls (we couldn't find them using procedure searches, logical ways to avoid them). Gave no treasure or magic items in nearly 9 months of play (we only got monster XP). It was not a good experience.
I'd say I can't believe you played that crap for 9 months, but I know group dynamics can be tricky things.

Everything you've listed there is directly opposite of standard or best practices for running OSE / B/X.
 

Retreater

Legend
I'd say I can't believe you played that crap for 9 months, but I know group dynamics can be tricky things.

Everything you've listed there is directly opposite of standard or best practices for running OSE / B/X.
Yeah. When you've got a passionate GM who really wants to run something, it's hard to speak up. In the dynamics, I'm usually the GM, and I can come across as a very set in my ways GM (so I'm not the best player). My complaints kind of looked like an attempt to wrest control from the GM.
 

Oh man, I had a GM that was horrible about the plans thing. As players we had a habit of overthinking things. I was like Dark Helmet always telling my Col. Sanders group to just go and stop preparing. One time it didnt go well so now they are once bitten twice shy and want to spend entire sessions going over plans. The GM then of course always has our plan fall apart at key moments that are rather suspicious. It got to the point Id ask the GM to leave the room while we planned our approach. He'd still screw us. Some GMs just like kicking their players in the junk.
I'd say this is the main reason OSR-style play fell out of favor in the first place: the quality of the dm is everything, and the books tell the dm to do whatever they want, ignore what they don't like, etc. Even d20-era games tended to treat changing the rules as something that should be thought out before diving in, gave (bad) guidance on appropriate challenges, etc. Indie games don't mess around: the whole appeal of PbtA is how bluntly is spells out the right way to gm a session. This is all a reaction to a real problem with older books.
 

Yeah we were looking into SWN for a sci fi system, my players were thinking it was neat right up until they got up to the HP values in the game's combat example, and then vetoed it HARD. They've heard about DCC's funnel and think the game would make for a novelty one shot, but wouldn't be something they'd want to engage in over the long term. I feel less strongly about it since I'm more inclined to align myself with the game's assumptions, especially before I've seen how it actually feels, but it feels more like something I'd be putting up with than something I'd actually value.

Meanwhile I'm reading Barrowmaze and slavering over the exploration, environmental storytelling, treasure hunting, and world-lore heavy play it espouses, and looking at how to redesign the incentives so that it can function in a game I'd like to play, one that doesn't ask my players to sporadically roll against death. Only thing is that the way random monsters are handled feel important, but also relies on a game with rules lite speed to not bog down super hard, so I need an alternative setup to 'punish' players for taking too many risks and making the dungeon feel dangerous and overwhelming.

I actually have some ideas, Victory Points as a fungible basis for subsystems are a truly wondrous addition, I'm wondering if I might be able to (theoretically, I'm tempted to actually run it, buts thats a commitment I'm not prepared to actually make) distill the consequences of things like bashing down walls, or searching for too long, into a consequence point system.

Consequence points could, in theory, advance a centralized 'danger level' of the area up and make encounters harder, or trigger a random encounter at a more controlled rate than the traditional dice roll by having it occur at predefined point values, OR even provide a list of 'bad stuff' the GM could spent the points on. Each design would have its own implications on the feel of the dungeon, and none would feel like a proper Labyrinth-Lord-or-similar-OSR-game run of the module (although there's a 5e version being sold by the author as well, so obviously there's play there anyway.)

I wonder if we might start to see more 'new' gamers (I started with 4e in 2010) turn to the OSR, but to adopt some of its practices, rather than to fully assimilate into its cultural expectations of what play should look like. There's already a big culture of that for DND 5e, in places like Youtube and the Alexandrian and such.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Yeah we were looking into SWN for a sci fi system, my players were thinking it was neat right up until they got up to the HP values in the game's combat example, and then vetoed it HARD. They've heard about DCC's funnel and think the game would make for a novelty one shot, but wouldn't be something they'd want to engage in over the long term. I feel less strongly about it since I'm more inclined to align myself with the game's assumptions, especially before I've seen how it actually feels, but it feels more like something I'd be putting up with than something I'd actually value.
FWIW, there are heroic character rules in SWN if the default gritty is too much. Anyway, SWN is full of system-neutral tools that can be used elsewhere even if the system is not one’s thing.

Meanwhile I'm reading Barrowmaze and slavering over the exploration, environmental storytelling, treasure hunting, and world-lore heavy play it espouses, and looking at how to redesign the incentives so that it can function in a game I'd like to play, one that doesn't ask my players to sporadically roll against death. Only thing is that the way random monsters are handled feel important, but also relies on a game with rules lite speed to not bog down super hard, so I need an alternative setup to 'punish' players for taking too many risks and making the dungeon feel dangerous and overwhelming.

I actually have some ideas, Victory Points as a fungible basis for subsystems are a truly wondrous addition, I'm wondering if I might be able to (theoretically, I'm tempted to actually run it, buts thats a commitment I'm not prepared to actually make) distill the consequences of things like bashing down walls, or searching for too long, into a consequence point system.

Consequence points could, in theory, advance a centralized 'danger level' of the area up and make encounters harder, or trigger a random encounter at a more controlled rate than the traditional dice roll by having it occur at predefined point values, OR even provide a list of 'bad stuff' the GM could spent the points on. Each design would have its own implications on the feel of the dungeon, and none would feel like a proper Labyrinth-Lord-or-similar-OSR-game run of the module (although there's a 5e version being sold by the author as well, so obviously there's play there anyway.)
That sounds similar to danger clocks in Blades in the Dark. Since Victory Points are pretty similar to progress clocks, that’s not too surprising. The way it works in BitD is that ticking the clock is a possible consequence for an action roll. You can also tick a clock as part of a devil’s bargain. There are some other things that BitD does that PF2 does not (such as letting characters resist consequences at the cost of stress), but I think what you propose should work pretty well.

I wonder if we might start to see more 'new' gamers (I started with 4e in 2010) turn to the OSR, but to adopt some of its practices, rather than to fully assimilate into its cultural expectations of what play should look like. There's already a big culture of that for DND 5e, in places like Youtube and the Alexandrian and such.
It’s possible. I started with 3e, but I borrowed ideas for years (more so from Grognardia than sites like the Alexandrian). I eventually came to realize that what I wanted to run was OSR, which is what prompted a Pathfinder group to try Old-School Essentials.
 

FWIW, there are heroic character rules in SWN if the default gritty is too much. Anyway, SWN is full of system-neutral tools that can be used elsewhere even if the system is not one’s thing.


That sounds similar to danger clocks in Blades in the Dark. Since Victory Points are pretty similar to progress clocks, that’s not too surprising. The way it works in BitD is that ticking the clock is a possible consequence for an action roll. You can also tick a clock as part of a devil’s bargain. There are some other things that BitD does that PF2 does not (such as letting characters resist consequences at the cost of stress), but I think what you propose should work pretty well.


It’s possible. I started with 3e, but I borrowed ideas for years (more so from Grognardia than sites like the Alexandrian). I eventually came to realize that what I wanted to run was OSR, which is what prompted a Pathfinder group to try Old-School Essentials.
Your links have actually gotten me into Grognardia, I hadn't seen it mentioned before earlier posts of yours bringing it up.

I'm more decisively torn, in that I love character optimization, characters that are long for the world, and some of the power fantasy elements-- but I love the idea of sandboxes with mechanical procedures in place of trad sequential storytelling, environmental storytelling, treasure hunting, organic and authentically dangerous adventuring spaces, and the re-emphasis on adventurer slice of life and more personal stories that come with it. But that mostly comes from the scenario design, so its a matter of reconciling the incentives. So this leads me to combine them, and I have faith that they can be, and well.

I had actually bought Blades in the Dark a few weeks ago, potentially to run it and learn from it, I've definitely been enjoying the read.

Depending on what I do I should be able to get a few different vibes-- an overall danger level that makes encounters more active (as opposed to generating them) and harder would make the dungeon itself feel like a vast and terrible beast stirring as you disturb it, for instance. Whereas a build-and-spend format would give me the same effect as a conventional wandering monster, while limiting how often it can happen and leaving me with explicit control of the pacing to avoid scenarios where unlucky rolls devour session time completely into monotonous random encounters (which is a problem to solve, because speed of combat and combat-as-failure-state is an aspect of OSR that enables you to spam those normally) I could also use it to create different things for myself, like "Spend to increase encounter difficulty by a category" or "Aim an encounter of x difficulty at them" which I feel isn't out of ken for OSR, given Barrowmaze's suggestion that ignoring the breakable walls too often should cause the GM to arbitrarily generate a skeleton ambush-- which in turn sort of speaks to the whole tension of GM fiat vs. procedural impartiality that seems to exist in this community.
 

I'll chalk it up to his running OSE with more a modern DM mindset. I don't think he was trying to do it wrong, but he also wouldn't listen to our feedback, which was the main failing.
That's not a modern mindset. It is the logical consequence of the values advocated by the Old School Primer when the DM isn't good. And part of the point of most of the various more modern mindsets is to get away from this sort of nonsense.
  • Rulings not Rules was followed to the letter with the DM making rulings in place of reactions and morale rules.
  • Player Skill not Character Abilities - IMO the only arguable point on this list. He didn't seem to have much time for character abilities...
  • Heroic not Superhero - he was killed by a Random Act of Bear. A superhero would have coped.
  • Forget game balance - part of the point of game balance is so Random Act of Bear doesn't kill people out of nowhere. And another part is that RPGs aren't balanced to a 50% win rate - they are balanced to where the designer thinks they are most fun. "Forget what the designer considers fun" is not good advice
To me this is obviously a failure mode of an old school mindset (and a good reason the old school fell out of popularity back in the day) just as much as wandering around watching the NPCs solve everything while you did fetch quests for them was a common failure mode of both White Wolf and 2e adventures, and being buried under a morass of rules and stopping to look everything up was a failure mode of 3.X.

One of the reasons I like a lot of the games I do is that they go out of their way to model good practice and when I look at the OSR there is a massive survivor bias. One of the reasons I want good practice modelled is that running a game of Stars Without Number is extremely different from running a game of Apocalypse World in many ways while in others they are closer than running a neo-trad Adventure Path is to either and if I try to run any one as if it was one of the others I expect a disaster. So I want each game to tell me how to run it - which is pretty much the opposite of both "Rulings not rules" and "Forget game balance".

And this ties back to the original question. "Is there room in modern gaming for the OSR to bring in new gamers?" Of course. A sufficiently enthusiastic and charismatic person can bring people into e.g. stamp collecting. But the assumption that DMs are good and should be above the rules rather than people that have to be trained to be good and should be supported by the rules means that the scope is far more limited than it should be. And before someone points out 5e, 5e has a minor GM shortage and it also has Matt Mercer to demonstrate good DM in a specific style that works well with 5e at a level of popularity no other game matches.
 

Democratus

Adventurer
Check out Necrotic Gnome’s adventures for Old-School Essentials. Excellent keys (including adversary rosters on the maps for many of them), Jaquayed dungeons, and some pretty weird and interesting stuff. I converted Winter’s Daughter to PF2 for my group, and they loved it.
Agreed. A number of OSE adventures I have run (Winter's Daughter, Tomb of the Lizard Kings, Hole in the Oak) have been absolute revelations.

Their formatting and presentation (in particular how they handle the DM map) is beyond anything I've seen in WotC/Paizo publications. Tomb of the Lizard Kings is the single best module I've ever run - from a layout, organization, and information standpoint.
 

Mannahnin

Adventurer
Agreed. A number of OSE adventures I have run (Winter's Daughter, Tomb of the Lizard Kings, Hole in the Oak) have been absolute revelations.

Their formatting and presentation (in particular how they handle the DM map) is beyond anything I've seen in WotC/Paizo publications. Tomb of the Lizard Kings is the single best module I've ever run - from a layout, organization, and information standpoint.
Lizard Kings? Is there a new one? I'm only finding Tomb of the Lizard King as an 80s TSR module.
 

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