Thursday, March 09, 2017

The Road to Victory

I think we can now unilaterally declare the OSR a success. Starter boxed sets are a thing once more, with both Pathfinder and D&D 5e having one. The 5e team not only reached out to OSR bloggers shortly after announcing 5e, but paid them to consult on 5e. In his design of 5e, Mearls openly embraced simplicity over completeness and the venerable Caves of Chaos were offered as a playtest testbed for the rules. OSR works have received the highest accolades of the industry and fandom, and we even have a few folks making a full-time living at this stuff. So I think we can safely say that, yes, from an outside perspective, the OSR has been shockingly successful.

Notice the caveat up there? From an outside perspective. That’s vital.

I’m writing this because I’m seeing other groups that appear similar to the OSR and have clearly been inspired by the OSR. Yes Pulp Renaissance folks (or whatever you’re calling yourselves), I am very much talking to you here. Because there’s one key aspect of the OSR that is vital to the success of any similar movement (and as I love me some Howard, Leiber, Wagner, etc. I’d really love to see you folks flourish).

As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back—
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

From the OSR’s inception, before Maliszewski started Grognardia, before anyone was even saying anything like “Old School Renaissance,” the OSR was about one thing: having fun playing RPGs. Fun, of course, is a very particular thing; what floats my boat might sink yours. Each of us was pursuing our own individual fun. Sure, we did it in groups (RPGing is largely not a solo activity), but those groups had very different ideas of fun. Maliszewski had his very Appendix-N-driven world-building with a strong emphasis on dungeon exploration while Raggi pursued a horror vibe in a pseudo-historical setting. Some pursued Gygaxian Naturalism while others preferred a more metaphorical experience via delving into a Mythic Underworld. Games were opened up to the whole world (well, all of the world that could get on Google Hangouts) via the Flailsnails linked campaigns while others were carefully cultivated walled gardens, specifically designed for the enjoyment of a small few. Some wallowed in the excesses of Gygaxian descriptive writing while others embraced the simplicity of the One-page Dungeon. Thieves were excised from games, or modified, or the original design was strictly adhered to. Some embraced the entirety of Appendix N for inspiration, others picked just certain portions (Dying Earth stories or Swords & Sorcery) while others looked to video games or anime.

Within the very loose framework of the OSR, each of us pursued our own fun. Each of us pushed the boundaries of what the OSR was and then we’d get together to discuss what worked and what didn’t. We tore apart the old games to see how each individual piece worked, how they interacted with one another, and then tried new combinations to see what would happen. When something worked and was fun, we shared it with each other. And so our toolboxes of fun-building grew, our games became more fun to play, and we had great times.

The reason for the caveat above, about an outside perspective? That’s because whether or not the OSR succeeded or failed hung entirely on a single question: did you have more fun playing RPGs? The OSR succeeded and failed hundreds of thousands of times for every individual who gave it a whirl. Nothing else really mattered. If we were not having fun, things were not right and had to be changed. So we changed and explored and each of us found our individual fun.

So far, so good, at least as far as those of us finding this personal success were concerned. But enthusiasm is infectious, and it’s easy to be enthusiastic about something that’s fun! The more fun we had, and the more we talked about our fun and shared it, the more other folks wanted a piece of our action. That’s what created the success of the OSR as an influential movement in the larger sphere of RPGs. Not any attempt to strongly codify what the OSR is, or an internally coherent logical structure, or deeply penetrating philosophy. Jeff Rients set the tone early on; fuck pretentious bullshit. Is it fun? Then do more of that!

Were there fights with outside groups? Yep. Internal fights that grew rancorous? Of course. That happens, especially when you lose sight of how individualistic the whole thing was. It wasn’t all fun and games. But the core of everything vital was, in fact, fun and games. The success of the OSR, both for the individuals doing it as well as the movement as a whole, was entirely built on a foundation of playing games and having fun. Everything worthwhile and good grew from that.

UPDATE: a variation on this theme from Zak.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

What the Heck is That?!?

I haven't found any solid rules in 5e D&D for adjudicating Nature and Arcana checks to learn more about monsters. My players (who for whatever reason haven't all run out and purchased a copy of the MM and memorized its contents; I suspect "not being a teenager" to be high on the list of reasons ;) ) ask for these rolls a lot. I certainly don't mind; part of playing under the philosophy that "it's not the DM's job to balance the encounters; it's the players' job to unbalance the encounters in their favor" is giving the players enough information to make intelligent decisions about which encounters they want to tackle and how.

So that means, whenever they encounter an unusual critter, they'll ask what they know about it and I'll ask for either a Nature or Arcana check. Which do I ask for? Arcana for the following creature types:

  • Aberrations
  • Celestials
  • Constructs
  • Elementals
  • Fey
  • Fiends
  • Monstrosities
  • Undead

All the rest us Nature checks; I'll take the highest of either Nature or Arcana for dragons.

So the players roll their dice (usually they all do this) and I start with the second-highest roll ("Ok, the bard knows blah-blah-blah...") and then move to the highest ("... and the wizard can also tell you blah-blah-blah.")

So what do I tell them?

On a roll up to 9:
I tell them they don't know much. I tell them maybe what the thing eats, and a rumor (that I openly label as such) that might be true and says more about the setting than the monster ("The shepherds down by Greenford have trouble with these things coming out of the forest and swiping sheep every three or so years.") and may or may not be true.

(In general, whenever the players make a knowledge check, I tell them something no matter how badly they roll, even if it's not immediately useful.)

Either an immunity or resistance, or one major attack or defense the creature has. If it has a defining characteristic (like a displacer beast's illusionary positioning) they'll get that instead.

All immunities, resistances, and vulnerabilities, plus one major attack or defense, and any not-obvious forms of locomotion. If they ask, I might tell them about senses, but not give ranges, as well as relative speeds (faster/slower than you).

All-of-the-above, plus highest and lowest stats, all senses and their ranges, plus their speeds.

Pretty much anything they want to know. If they roll above 30, I'm just handing them the book to peruse.