My subconscious mind’s take on OSG

Last night I had a dream that I was recruiting players for a game of Basic Fantasy. In the dream, I was talking to a guy and explaining some of the tropes of “old school games,” in particular the notion of “heroic vs. superheroic.”

“The difference is, ” my dream self said, “that in some games you’re a superhero. In old school games you’ve got a bachelor’s degree and a few self-defense classes at the YMCA.”

I don’t know if dream-me has it or not, but it is fun to think about. I’ve got the kernel of an adventure idea at work in my head. Here’s the premise:

The PC’s find themselves traveling through a war-torn land. A large conquering (but mildly
sympathetic) army has been slowly making their way across the territory driving out the native peoples.

A portion of that army is resting in the city the PC’s are currently visiting. One night at the bar they are approached by a grizzled old veteran with a story to tell.
Not far from the city lies the palace of a minor princeling of the native people. The nobleman was reputedly very wealthy, but fled as the army approached, taking as much of his treasure as he could throw together. In his haste, however, he left some treasure behind. Some was taken by plundering soldiers from the army, but the veteran met a former servant from the palace who claims that even more is hidden away within secret rooms in the palace. The army has been ordered to leave the area to reinforce another brigade elsewhere, but the soldier was hoping that the PC’s might be interested in helping him get to the palace and take what has been left behind, including a rumored gem the size of a hen’s egg. The veteran thinks he can get away the following morning (he is only on supply detail) so the PC’s have overnight to stock up on necessary supplies. If the PC’s agree, he will reveal that he has a map the servant drew for him of the palace which includes some possible locations of the treasure.
Any inquiries about the servant will only be met with a knowing, vicious grin from the veteran and the assurances that the servant won’t be a problem.
The following morning, the PC’s travel to the agreed meeting point, but the veteran never arrives. If the PC’s investigate, they will discover that the veteran has died in his sleep. Now they must figure out how to get a hold of the map in the dead veteran’s belongings, make their way past the sentries watching the city, cross the wilderness, and investigate the half-destroyed palace. The palace itself will be populated with wild animals, scavenging humanoids, and of course traps to protect the treasure. If the PC’s wait until the army leaves, they will find the native people moving back into the area, and the treasure even more difficult to recover.


Old School Gaming

A while back (when I was looking into SYW wargaming) I wrote about my encounters with the notion of “old school wargaming,” what that meant, and how wargaming grognards tended to behave.  I’ve amended that last notion based on some very positive interactions with some old school guys.

Lately, I’ve been browsing the websites of “old school (RPG) gamers,” guys who don’t even like the term “RPG” because it didn’t really come into vogue until the some of “old school games” had already gone the way of the dodo.  What’s an “old school game”?  As far as I can tell, the answer is (arguably) the early editions of D&D (possibly ending before 2nd Ed), Traveller, and Empire of the Petal Throne, with games like Champions out there as sort of auxiliary members.  What makes an RPG “old school” aside from its early release date?  As far as I can tell, a “toolbox” mentality meaning little pre-determined background, a light ruleset, and a low production value (okay, kidding on the last one).

Why am I mentioning this?  Because I’m on vacation (hence the lack of updates) and I’ve been spending my vacation dithering around about D&D 4e.  While I was bonking around the forums over at, I began to see references to the old school gaming, and that took me to places that I’d heard mentioned over at the C&C forums at Troll Lord Games: dark, low production forums full of snarling, random creatures much like the dungeon crawl of old.  In all seriousness, what I discovered was essentially three D&D 1e clones: OSRIC, Labyrinth Lords, and Basic Fantasy.  If Castles & Crusades can be considered a 2e clone with some 3e tweaks, then Basic Fantasy is a 1e clone with some 3e tweaks (biggest one: AC goes up when it gets better and there’s some stat bonuses in there).  OSRIC and LL are basically 1e published cheekily under the OGL.

What’s the appeal?  First, they are all free.  Two, they have sentimental value, something that is often ridiculed on  Three, they are about as low-crunch as cream of wheat.  Four, they are really not genre-linked (aside from the whole Tolkein thing, which isn’t insignificant).  But it is the mentality that got me really thinking.  Yesterday I was watching this stage production of African storytelling and there was this bug-themed shaman character.  I thought to myself, “hey, that’d make an interesting NPC.”  But how to do it?  Why not just have her possess the normal range of spells, but instead have them all with an insect-related “special effect” (ala Champions).  No real rules impact (although you might imagine certain counter-spells being very effective, like gust of wind).”  That’s the “toolbox” mentality that I think old school gaming still possesses, that C&C tries to get into with its open SIEGE engine.

Anyways, I am still waiting on buying 4e, not the least of which because I got burned on the 3-3.X move.  Also, because I am being reminded once more that a good imagination can make a game a lot better than a new rule.