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OSR Guide for the Perplexed: My Take

OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire From Zak S.

  1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:
    All Hail Max!
  2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:
    Stop looking at your character sheet for answers.
  3. Best OSR module/supplement:
    The Dungeon Alphabet This is a really  hard choice, because there are so many amazing supplements like Vornheim, A Red and Pleasant Land, Yoon-Suin, The Umerican Survival Guide, Sailors on the Starless Sea, Death Slaves of Eternity, and on and on.  But the thing I actually get the most practical use out of is either The Dungeon Alphabet or one of Richard Leblanc’s d30 companions, and in all honesty  I think about using the latter more than I actually do consult them.
  4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):
    Death and Dismemberment tables by Trollsmyth.  I know a lot of folks go for Shields must be splintered! (also Trollsmyth), and it has its merits, but I use Death and Dismemberment or a variation for every non-DCC D&D-like game I run. To me the former solves more problems with D&D combat than the latter. They both make combat a little less lethal, which is fine, but death and dismemberment also addresses the somewhat bloodless abstraction and the lack of long-term effects, while splintering only solves the somewhat esoteric complaint that shields aren’t as useful in D&D as they seemed to be historically. That said, any good critical hit table (not boring stuff like double damage) like Arduin or DCC have accomplishes pretty much the same as Death and, while good reasons for shields are harder to squeeze in without making big changes to how combat works.
  5. How I found out about the OSR:
    Through Jeff’s Gameblog, and specifically his post “I’ve got your threefold model right here, buddy!”  really resonated with me and led me to his other posts, and Gary Gygax day led me to wanting to run a straight up game of D&D in his honor.  That didn’t go very well, actually, because over the years I’d lost a lot of my chops as an old-school Referee, relying way too heavily on mechanics and rules-as-written, which led me to things like Philotomy’s musings and Grognardia to figure out why the lightning had seemed so easy to get in that damned bottle in 1975.
  6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy:
    Purple Sorceror, and the wonderful generators, plus the Crawler’s Companion app.  I probably would have read DCC and thought, well, that’s probably ok but it’s way too much work looking up stuff in tables if it weren’t for Jon Marr’s site.  Now that I’m steeped in it, I can easily make do without, but it lowered the bar to running DCC and running it well down to the floor.
  7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:
    G+ might still be it, for a while, though the ship is obviously sinking.  MeWe seems to be the place to jump to currently.  I don’t know of any forums that I think are worth the time to log into, but you can find a ton of blogs via The OSR OPML file at Save vs. Total Party Kill. It’s possible you can find stuff on reddit or tumblr that’s worthwhile, but I’ve not found the discussion to be very high quality on any topic I’ve pursued so far.
  8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:
    1. MeWe
    2. I’ve got strong reservations about Twitter, but I’ve dipped my toe back in as @Logomacy.
    3. Still on G+ as Joshua Macy for however long they keep it open
    4. I’m on Tumblr as Majyc, but honestly I almost never remember to even look over there.  It is set up to reblog Rambling Bumblers, though, so if you like Tumblr you can see this stuff there without having to mess with an RSS reader or anything.
  9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:
    If only people had called it “Roll to Hurt” instead of Roll to Hit, it would have been completely obvious to everybody why heavier armor making the number you need to roll higher is a great abstraction.
  10. My favorite non-OSR RPG:
    Not counting my own stuff, I suppose D&D 5e.  I used to be quite fond of Savage Worlds, but lost my taste for it. The farther I get from “the rules should be the physics of the world” the less patience I have for systems that try to nail down not only all the details but how they mechanically interact.  To me the important kernel of Rulings not Rules or Rule Zero aren’t that the referee should just make up whatever whenever, but that as little effort as possible should be spent on nailing down bizarre edge cases.
  11. Why I like OSR stuff:
    The thing I like about the OSR is the DIYness of it all.  It’s baked into its very bones that in order to make it work, you have to make it your own.  Nobody could play white box D&D “rules as written”, there were just too many gaps; nobody could play without making up their own adventures, it was four years before TSR even published their first module.  Eventually there would be enough published stuff that you could play only official setting material, but despite playing RPGs for my practically my entire life it wasn’t until the past couple of years I even played a published D&D module (we did do one or two Call of Cthulhu scenarios back in the day, and that odd Judges Guild Traveller adventure aboard the abandoned alien base).  Now, when so much of the hobby is embracing “Adventure Paths” and other such prefab campaigns, it’s OSR folks that are carrying the flag for hacking up published material to make your own thing.  Even though there are plenty of OSR modules, most of them seem to me to be designed to drop into your own setting, or pulled apart for their components, and not presented as “Here’s a complete campaign for you to run, no imagination necessary!” Heck, the two best settings-in-a-book I know of for the OSR (Vornheim and Yoon-Suin) are both kits, not completely mapped out spaces or strung-together adventures.
  12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:
    1. Delta’s D&D Hotspot – a game blog about original edition D&D, that really tries to dig into the rules and figure out  how they work, how they compare to the real world (e.g. when it comes to the distance or accuracy of archery fire) or sometimes how they might have worked if Gary and Dave had been better at math (scale and time).  It might sound dry, particularly if you’re math-phobic, but it’s really not, and the result of it is probably my favorite restatement/clone of white box D&D: Original Edition Delta.
    2. Hack & Slash – Courtney Campbell’s blog.  Courtney is way more into nailing down and turning what happens in every aspect of an RPG into a mechanical procedure than I am, but even when I think he’s wrong, I think he’s wrong in interesting ways that are worth chewing over.  And sometimes he’s very right, and you can improve your game by adopting something he’s written.
  13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:
    TenFootPole – by Bryce Lynch
  14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:
    Roll M – turn any web page into a click-to-roll random table with this handy Chrome extension.
  15. I’m currently running/playing:
    • Running Dungeon Crawl Classics every other Sunday, with  my  home group.
    • The other Sundays I’m playing a game set in the Warhammer 40K universe but using my Zap! rules that my friend Dan is GMing.
    • I’m also running DCC at work every Wednesday night
    • and playing in a 5e game every other Saturday, with the same coworkers
    • Every month or two I’m a player in a long-running AD&D game. It used to be almost every Friday, but has gotten less and less frequent now that the GM’s kids are grown up and have gone off to college…we mostly play when one or more is back in town for a weekend.
  16. I don’t care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:
    They’re mathematically equivalent, and I can show anybody how to convert them on the fly in about a minute:  Roll a d20 and beat AC, or roll a d20 and add AC and see if that beats 20.  Apply mods to the roll or to the target. It just doesn’t matter.
  17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:

    4Ob6nia

    image by Stefan Poag

 

featured image “Keep Calm and Roll Initiative” courtesy of Armor Class 10.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

So, the 1st level Sleep spell in D&D bugs me. I don’t actually mind that it’s an encounter-ender for low-level characters… in fact I regard it as a bigger problem that 1st level MUs don’t really have any other spells nearly as worthwhile. Maybe Charm Person, at least outside of a dungeon, but that’s about it. But being awesome once a day isn’t a deal-breaker. No, what bugs me is the ritual of going around and killing all the sleeping foes afterwards. Not only is that particularly unheroic (granting that not everybody needs to play a heroic character) it just doesn’t feel particularly like the magic in stories that inspired it.

Over the years I’ve played with a number of DMs that had various solutions to this: some made you roll for damage against the sleeping foe, and if you didn’t kill him in one blow he woke up. That mainly served to make players more cautious about arranging a gang-stabbing of any multi-hit die creature they slept and sometimes the spell being wasted; not trying to kill the creature almost never came up. A free round of attacks was basically the best chance you were ever going to have, and chances are you’d be meeting it again. One DM made you roll to hit as well, though at least she applied bonuses. I think I recall one in the early days of playing who would count it as an alignment infraction if a Lawful (or maybe */Good… can’t recall which edition) character killed a sleeping foe; hardly anybody played Lawful characters at his table. A couple have removed Sleep from the game, or made you start with random spells and by the time you found a spell book with Sleep you likely had better mass-murder spells. Some have allowed saves against sleep in addition to the max number of creatures affected (not necessarily horrible if you extend the same thing to the PCs). But nothing I’ve encountered really did more than make the process of casting Sleep then slitting throats a bit more risky and likely to fail.

So I’m considering the following house rule: if you try to attack or move a magically slept creature, you fall under the spell as well.  No save, no limit on the max HD.  To me that feels a lot more like the sleep spell in literature, including spells like abandoned castles with all the inhabitants sleeping for a hundred years.  The 1st level Sleep spell would just be a lesser version of that.

Another version I considered would be the spell would be broken on all sleepers if any of them were attacked, but that seems like it leaves too much room for rules-lawyering it.  E.g.,  trying simultaneous attacks, tying them all up and throwing them off a cliff all at once, smacking your own companion with a small attack to wake the rest, and so on.  They could all probably be patched, but I think the result would be a multi-paragraph list of conditions like a 3rd edition spell.

One thing that I think is attractive about this, besides having more of a fairy-tale or fantasy feel, is the way it makes Sleep a very different spell, with different purposes, than something like Fireball or Cloud Kill.  You always need to think about what you’re going to do when they wake up… are you using it to cover your retreat, give yourself time to burgle the place, pass deeper into the dungeon and figure you’ll deal with them on the way out, or what.  You can’t count on clearing the level one sleep spell at a time.  And on the flip side, if an enemy spell caster uses sleep on you it’s no longer time to roll up a new character unless the GM is having the monsters be far more merciful than the players ever are.

I guess my one worry is whether it’s just too different from the way players are used to using Sleep.  The whole reason for using D&D instead of something like Zounds! is because of the instant familiarity and buy-in.  There’s definitely a certain amount of tweaking and house-ruling that just the way D&D works, but there’s a point beyond which you might as well play something else, and changing one of the most reliable 1st level spells gives me some pause.