Sunday, April 16, 2017

Create Using the OSR Rules 'You Know" and Your Audience Will Find You

Over in The Tavern's Facebook Community, a discussion asking about the size of the Swords & Wizardry Community and whether it was a viable community to create for, slid in the direction of system preference (or more exactly in this case, system dislike)

Here's how I see it - all things being equal (size and activity of the various gaming communities, commitment of the publisher to support the material and the communities' support of the systems in question) write for the OSR system you know the best.

Not that surprising, it it?

Obviously for me that means writing my material for Swords & Wizardry Light and Complete. For +Pete Spahn that would likely be Labyrinth Lord. For +joseph browning it would likely be OSRIC. For +Chris Gonnerman it would be likely be  Basic Fantasy RPG+James Spahn S&W White Box or White Star. The list goes on.

The truth is, any DM worth their salt is going to convert adventures from one OSR system to the ruleset of their choice, with little difficulty and often on the fly, just was many of us used Basic and Expert adventures in AD&D back in the day and I do with DCC RPG Adventures to Swords & Wizardry today.

Some will say writing for the "hot" system of the day can help sales and I'm sure it did with White Star and third party publishers. I'm just not so sure that system loyalty is a driving point among the majority of the OSR community.

The question then becomes, is there an OSR system that is a sort of Rosetta Stone between the various clones. I'd suggest Swords & Wizardry Core for this, but it's more about the ascending / descending AC and perhaps single save than in being "Swords & Wizardry". Adventures written for S&W don't need an AC adjustment to be used with the other clones or original systems, but in truth, you could write an adventure for ANY clone and include ascending and descending AC in the stats and be 100% compatible with every OSR system.

There is a reason that the OSR graphic is popular to place on OSR products - its the OSR damn it!


  1. In general I agree with your opinion on writing for the system you know. I disagree in the specific case with your statement that S&W's AC system is any sort of "Rosetta stone" as the ascending AC figures in that game are different by 1 from Basic Fantasy. In BFRPG, an unarmored human is AC 11. I've noted this before on our forum as well as in my RPG Primer (which has a chapter on conversions, authorized by the authors of Labyrinth Lord, S&W, and OSRIC). So including ascending AC in an adventure will still result in compatibility with EITHER BFRPG or S&W. How, exactly, to convert AC is a FAQ on our forum, and the answer is simple... subtract from 20. An OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord AC 5 man in chainmail is AC 15 in BFRPG; for S&W adventures, we just use the descending number and subtract... or add one and call it good.

    Note, however, that our odds of hitting are equivalent, at least at 1st level, as our tables also differ by one.

    I guess I do have another point... your comments have to do with making sales. While I'm always pleased when BFRPG products sell, it is never a deciding factor in publishing anything. We are concerned only with creating things we can all use, and all benefit from.

    1. The original question was from someone that was looking to publish adventures / support material for S&W. My point was that in many was, system is irrelevant to the most part - quality trumps choice of ruleset every day of the week.

  2. I don't think there is a "Rosetta Stone" for the entire OSR. I think it's a matter of finding the game that serves as an entry point, then exploring. I came into the OSR via Labyrinth Lord. I love it and published LL supplements for years before discovering S&W White Box. (Which is funny, because I never played '74 era D&D.)

    I found WB to be fast, fluid and infinitely hackable. White Star was born when I said, "Man if I had found this game in a sci-fi version when I was a kid I'd have loved it!" So, I wrote the game ten-year-old James would have loved. Turns out Old Man James loves it too.

    And it's never about making sales for me. Never. Sales are nice, but my strategy for writing from day one has been "Man, wouldn't it be fun if INSERT PRODUCT existed?" If it doesn't, I write it. White Star was based on that premise. The Hero's Journey is really nothing more than S&W White Box with James's House Rules put into a pretty package.

    I'm a firm believer that if you write something enthusiastically and with a lot of love, that comes through to the consumer. If you're in the OSR (or the table-top gaming industry in general) just to make money, you're going to have a rough time. I say that as a successful independent publisher and as someone who has freelanced on some pretty big IP-based RPGs.

    So, no there is no Rosetta Stone - and there shouldn't be. The OSR is infinitely customizeable as a whole. The base precept of "Rulings, not Rules" precludes there from being the One Universal Game to serve as a launching point. Even early D&D has half a dozen interations. This seemingly endless tweaking and modification and the fact that the OSR encourages these things is a very, very good thing.

    1. I may have disagreed with the Brewmaster above, but at least he and I were discussing the same thing. He was talking about a game system for which you could write and expect your materials to be more or less instantly useful to players and game masters of any OSR game. He was not discussing a conversion matrix.

      To be fair, that table is pretty much useless to me. Basic Fantasy doesn't use the mechanics being converted, at all, nor as far as I know does any version of S&W, nor does LL, nor does OSRIC; at least, none do in "stock" form. Converting monsters from later editions to any of those is especially tricky, and the best thing to do for most of them is to start over with just the descriptive bits and work out the details in a way consistent with the target game. They are just too different.

      In other words, I think "Incorrect" is a bit of a stretch.

    2. I'm not even sure we are talking the same language at this point. Converting between OSR systems is pretty basic - converting between Pathfinder to OSR you are better off just starting from scratch, as Chris says.

      Any chart that makes the OSR less understandable isn't doing me any benefit ;)

  3. Replies
    1. That's what I've been saying for a long time now. Then again, I have long seen the difference between the publishers' O$R and the hobbyist/DIY OSR in these sorts of discussions.

      Two guesses which one I feel more akin to. First one doesn't count...

  4. I'd go further and say it's better to write for the game you're actually running. The proof of great game products is in the playing, and what often lifts them above interesting 'thought exercises' that fade after the initial attention-grabbing is that they're tried and tested.

  5. I believe dark dungeons emulates the rules cyclopedia. Not the B/X.

  6. More to the topic. I never had any trouble playing an adventure written for another OSR systems with my system of choice. I usually only change the stats of the monsters to what I have at the meeting moment, the magic effects that fit and some minor tweaks on the fly.
    It's no big deal and any DM with low to any experience could do the same.
    The only thing I never tried was to use some modules (non adventures) of other systems as written. That I believe would ask for a little more work, but nothing I couldn't do within a couple of hours pre-game.
    Said that, I would get modules from any OSR game, given I would use what fits me.


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