Monday 22 August 2016

Comprehensive List of OSR Games

I present to you a comprehensive list of OSR/D&D-esque games. Only those games qualified that are either (1) retroclones (presenting an older system with or without modification; e.g. Kazamaták és Kompániák and AS&SH), (2) belong to the OSR by consensus (games building off of D&D's mechanics in innovative ways; e.g. Mazes & Minotaurs and Ghastly Affair), or (3) old-school in gameplay (having the same or very, very similar gameplay to D&D but with a different system; e.g. Torchbearer and Dragon Age).

Mind you the list includes games that had to do with 3E and 4E as well, so it is not strictly pre-3E D&D, and even some edge cases are on the list, such as Zweihänder and OpenQuest, which are clones of WFRP and Runequest, respectively (but the gameplay patterns are notably still D&D-esque, and they fit the spirit of the DIY OSR community). I fancy the term broad OSR (because some people would argue Wayfarers or Radiance disqualifies), but that might as well be as inaccurate as narrow D&D-esque (but then where's Infernum and Warcraft d20, one might ask).

Saturday 20 August 2016

Thematic OSR Games

This is a taxonomic post; its goal is to establish a term referring to a subset of OSR products. Using the Pundit's terminology, these are a subset of third-wave OSR products, while in Dan Proctor's terms they fit the broader category of neo-retro games. Alternatively, you may just want to read further to find some cool games.

The OSR has many wonderful things to offer from straight-up clones (e.g. OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord) to neo-clones with refined mechanics (e.g. ACKS and AS&SH), from fantastic adventures (e.g. Slumbering Ursine Dunes and Deep Carbon Observatory) to innovative supplements (e.g. Red Tide and Vornheim). But one of the many kinds of products - one that I might enjoy the most - seems to attract less appreciation: thematic games.

Sunday 14 August 2016

Grim Tales, Playtest 1

We had our first playtest of Grim Tales (well, more like a proof of concept session), this dark fantasy thing I have been thinking about lately. It has been on my mind for quite some time, but reading Blood & Bronze (a fantastic sword & sorcery game) was the catalyst I needed to start fleshing out my ideas.

The basic concept behind Grim Tales was to give players certain unique tools, abilities that don't just enhance something they can already do but provide them opportunities they otherwise wouldn't have (possibly mitigating risks in some endeavours, thus rewarding pro-activity). This was done by introducing a list of unique backgrounds (a sampling of which can be found here).

Characters present:
  • Melvina Shabriri, a Cambion Witch
  • Wolfgang Tranquility, a Shadowtorn Warrior
  • N/A, a Nameless Scoundrel
  • Balthasar Corvus, a Skinthief Scoundrel
Highlights and stuff I've taken away from this session:
  • I didn't prep a proper adventure, just a bunch of loosely connected personalities, their goals, and the general environment, much like with my previous Vikings & Valkyries campaign. We started the session with a bogus mission of sorts (find the lost brother of some mayor), but ultimately the players found enough toys to play with instead of completing the quest.
  • The resolution system works fine (roll [Attribute] six-siders; count 5s and 6s; the more the better), although I'm not sure if it adds to the game (I might end up playtesting certain things used as an overlay onto B/X).
  • The players really liked their special abilities, although now I think the Backgrounds might be too exciting compared to the Classes. I think I want to keep the mostly mundane aspect of Classes, though, so I might just add more varied and flavourful items to their equipment lists.
  • The players got themselves involved in a religious conflict going on in the shadows. The village's priest had an artefact (a grail that grants sacrifical wine ale special properties) that he had hidden, and apparently some people (the priest's right hand man included) were conspiring to acquire it.
  • There was another artefact in the village: a small scythe's blade that when attached to the sacred (and, as it turns out, purely ornamental) scythe's handle, became a magical object (its capabilities yet unknown to the players).
  • The players, as they were trying to figure out who is against whom, switched sides a couple of times, basically ending up with most major participants dead. Except they know the priest tried to contact allies in the nearby town.
  • They went deep in the forest and witnessed a horrific ritual that bore demons into the world. Despite the session's generally jovial nature (and that's a huge understatement), this scene managed to invoke feelings of uneasiness, so not all was lost.
  • As it stands now, the Skinthief poses as the former under-priest. They claimed the forest people killed the priest, so they basically run the village now (although some elders might not like what they are doing).
  • The Nameless, although really flavourful as a concept, probably shouldn't work in a party if we take the ability to its logical conclusions. I think I can sacrifice immersion for the party's sake for now.
  • The Skinthief is really fun to watch in the hands of a creative and proactive player. Need to turn up the ability's cast time, though. Regardless, his ability alone can make so many shenanigans possible, it definitely stays.
  • The Shadowtorn is pretty sweet as is, but I'll keep a close eye on him to make sure its restrictions are clear but not overly limiting.
  • The Cambion mostly shined in providing moral dilemmas for the player (whether they should give in their darker self; it helped that as a witch she had opportunities to gain power in exchange for terrible things). It is certainly something the player was happy to play with, and had she chosen otherwise, the Background wouldn't have provided much in terms of gameplay, so I might need to rectify that.

Monday 1 August 2016

Review: Perdition

Disclaimer: I was an editor of the product, so I'll try to keep it brief.

Perdition is a game whose release I have been waiting for quite some time. It is an OSR game with a very specific setting in mind. The player characters are built of roughly the same mechanical widgets as in other D&D-esque games (attributes, skills, classes, levels, hit points, and armour class), and they will do very similar things (exploring wildernesses, looting dungeons, etc.). The setting is a sort of post-apocalyptic fantasy in a sense: the devils have conquered the material plane and become its rulers. Instead of barons and kings, it's now devil lords people owe fealty to.

What really sets Perdition apart from other D&D-esque games is its idea of introducing the setting through mechanics alone. Even though it is not entirely a new concept (cf. Bliss Stage, Rookvale, or Ghost Lines), it is certainly something no published OSR rules set has attempted (I mean, there is literally no setting description in Perdition; most thematic OSR games do include at least a page or two devoted to describing the setting).

Mechanically speaking, there are a couple of new things introduced, such as the following:
  • Hit points are split into physical and mental pools with matching armour classes. Thus, aside from charging and standard melee/missile attacks, taunting and intimidating an enemy are pre-defined actions.
  • Social situations are handled with a system similar to but much more simple than what On the Non-player Character has introduced (although it is trivial to use with Perdition).
  • Skills are handled with The Middle Road system.
  • There are detailed rules for summoning hellish entities and signing contracts with devils.
  • Magic uses an elegant dice pool mechanic instead of simple fire-and-forget.
  • Characters gain special abilities as they level up; they can be chosen from class-specific lists.
  • Characters also gain character points that can be spent to improve numerical stats (such as attack bonuses, hit points, skills, etc.).
  • Despite all the different mechanical bits, creating a character is very straightforward (the number of choices made at this stage is intentionally kept low).
  • Stats for unique creatures sorcerers can summon.
  • Devil patrons warlocks (or other foolish characters) can make a pact with.
  • Critical hit tables.
  • A variation of Brendan's overloaded encounter die.
It would be a fool's errand to go further into the mechanical bits and pieces Perdition offers, especially since devil's in the details (my bad). Suffice to say, if this has got your attention, you might want to check it out to see for yourself.