20 March 2017
Swords & Wizardy & The OSR & Me
So, 22 APR 2017 is Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day. According to Geek & Sundry, 29 APR 2017 is International Tabletop Game Day. I plan to be doing something for both.
As I've mentioned before, I used to really groove on crunchy games. Rolemaster, GURPS, even the Leading Edge house system and Millennium's End. But somewhere in there I realized that there was still room - in fact, more room - for simple games. My first RPG was Red Box D&D, BECMI in all its glory. I've since collected and played Moldvay, Holmes and the original White Box. I've played at the table with guys like Dennis Sustare and Frank Mentzer. I've learned that sometimes, less rules is more. Sometimes the DM just making stuff up as the game goes on can be a lot of fun.
Now, I played a lot of 3.x during its heyday. But nowadays those books kinda gather dust on my shelf. And I don't even own more than a Pathfinder core book that hasn't seen play. Most of the time that amount of "builds" and feats and crunch aren't what I want anymore. Paradoxically, there are situations where I want something with tight rules and math, like 4e if I want to run my Final Fantasy-inspired game, or Spycraft 2.0 when I want the players to try to synergize their character abilities. Most of the time, though... I want to keep it simple. I run Basic D&D or 5e, I look lovingly at older games with a lot of wiggle room like Traveller, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Gangbusters... And then there's the OSR.
OSR, or Original Source Rules, represents games that go back to the original 1974 D&D formula. Arguably the best and most visible example of this is the excellent Swords & Wizardry from Frog God Games. Go ahead, click and download, the game is FREE. Swords & Wizardry comes in many forms, it's kinda like Linux for roleplaying. There's Complete, there's White Box, and now, thanks to Tenkar of Tenkar's Tavern, there's Swords & Wizardry Light- a complete RPG levels 1-3 on four pages. Coming soon will be Continual Light, a rules-super-light version going up to 7th level. So... what's the deal with Swords & Wizardry? Much like OSRIC did for AD&D 1e, Swords & Wizardry puts a rules set out there to make it possible for publishers to create new material for various versions of Original '74 or Basic D&D. But it's now a rules set many people are playing and writing for in its own right. NTRPGCon's Mike Badolato has also started the creation of an appreciation society for S&W Light and Continual Light called the Swords & Wizardry Legion. I might add that one of the authors of Swords & Wizardry is Dr. Dennis Sustare, creator of Bunnies & Burrows among other games and an officer of our gaming club... small geek world, isn't it?
I have over the last year collected and played Swords & Wizardry material and other OSR games. The folks at Night Owl Workshop have done some neat work creating their "What if?" games. "What if Gary Gygax had been into superheroes? Sci-fi? Planetary Romance? Pirates? Indiana Jones-esque Archaological Adventures?" What they've done is applied the D&D '74 rules to each of these genres, creating small games that cover these in a fun and digestible manner. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of Guardians, their supers game, and I look forward to getting some play out of Raiders! for some Indy-like adventure.
So, what's cool about OSR stuff? Well, first of all, it's familiar. Six Ability Scores rated 3-18(ish) with Armor Class and some kinda THAC0/BHB. From there you go... anywhere. And that's the cool part. I've looked at using the Agent class from Guardians to do GI Joe. Operation White Box plus Guardians gives you Captain America, Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos. Raiders! plus Guardians can give you the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Swords & Wizardry plus Warriors of the Red Planet plus Guardians can give you Masters of the Universe. Need some monsters? Borrow them from any D&D edition from OD&D through 2nd Edition. Ditto magic items.
Being a father of two and trying to get my writing and teaching careers off the ground means I don't have as much time to game (or blog) as I'd like. So I have to do things a bit off the cuff a lot of times. These games are PERFECT for that. I used Displacer Beasts and Hook Horrors in a Starships & Spacemen game. Could be done just as easily with Stars Without Number.
So... I have a lot to appreciate come Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day. The OSR movement is something that speaks to the gamer I am now as well as the gamer I was way back when I rolled up my first BECMI character. There's so much that can be done with the basic framework of the OSR, and the best place to start is any of the Swords & Wizardry sets. From there you can go wherever you want too. You can add complexity, you can go for any genre, you can borrow shamelessly from other OSR authors for your home games. The game gets out of the way so you can play and tell stories. And that is what I want at this stage in the game. (I say that while still having a deep and abiding love of Shadowrun, a system that doesn't get out of the way... but that's another blog post.)
Check it out. And play some on the official Appreciation Day. It'll be fun. We'll party like it's 1974.