The Blog Glatisant

Category: RPG Design (Page 3 of 3)

OSR-style, Simplified

I’ve been reading about the appeal of OSR (Old-School Renaissance) games over at Storygames. (For a brief primer on what sets OSR games apart from other RPGs, look here.) Since I usually run games for 5th graders in a fairly constrained time-frame, I’m always looking for ways to adapt RPG ideas to fit that mold. Here’s a brainstorming session. I’ll try and refine it later.

  • Focus on the tough, tactical choices.
  • Make the game ridiculously lethal so players are forced to be cautious and think creatively.
  • Character creation is quick and easy.
  • Everything you need to know is on your character sheet.
  • You can begin playing with very little rules explanations. The barrier for entry into RPGs is much to high. Break it down.
  • No character powers that require any reading.
  • Consequently, no spell lists. Perhaps this means no magic, perhaps it means a more free-form system.
  • No hit points. They’re too abstract. If players are injured they should know how that effects them.
  • You have a CON score, but you roll it to see how bad a wound is. You have light and mortal wound boxes, which have different penalties.
  • Character toughness does not increase significantly. You’re always close to death unless you think carefully.
  • Success is measured in power and fame within the setting. A high-level character never becomes superhuman in his abilities, but does gain property and influence.
  • Social Circles is a stat.
  • No classes. Players are all nobodies at the start. It doesn’t make sense for them to be specialized.
  • Careful tactical play is further rewarded by not rolling dice. If you are creative enough to set things up so that failure is extremely unlikely, then you simply succeed.
  • Creative solutions are key, so random tables to provide unexpected and inconvenient situations are a must.
  • Success in the game should feel earned by the players, because when players don’t work hard to earn success, they usually die. Dice are brutal, so find ways to avoid rolling.
  • Fleeing is a valid option, and recklessness is punished ruthlessly.
  • Character generation is random, but still fair. It’s hard to get 5th graders excited about playing a character who’s the worst at everything. The same array of opening modifiers gets randomly distributed among the stats. Keep it vast and unpredictable.
  • Everyone has a niche that they’re good at, and lots of stuff that they’re terrible at.
  • Players must cover each other’s weaknesses in devising plans to overcome obstacles.
  • Players are allowed to take short breaks to consult with each other before committing to a plan, even when they are surprised. Again, the focus is on rewarding intelligent, cooperative survival.
  • Combat runs in rounds where one side acts simultaneously in a coordinated attack. Affected targets can respond, one at a time.
  • Character sheets should have a tombstone on the back where you write how they died.
  • Campaigns should have a persistent graveyard where dead characters go. The death-happens aspect should be normalized.
  • You have to have a memorial service when someone dies.
  • Armor locks wounds, but degrades each time.
  • Everything wears out.
  • Detailed maps with simple crawling and encounter procedures.
  • The PC’s company has a fame stat.
  • Players are mercenaries and bounty hunters, pure and simple. There’s nothing noble about what they do, at least at first.
  • The players name their company. If all PCs die at once, the company has to start over. Otherwise, its legacy lives on.

Random Numbers Without Dice

If you want to generate random numbers but don’t have any dice, all you need is two people (with at least one hand each.) Since you’ll usually want to do this in a RPG setting, we’ll call one the player, and one the GM.

First Method

On the count of three, both people hold up one to five fingers. The player then counts up from his number to the GM’s number. If the GM’s number is smaller than the player’s number, the players counts up to 5, then back around to 1 and then continues counting up. The count between the two numbers is the result. If players both choose the same number, the result is the maximum number of fingers, in this case 5. So, for example:

Player: 1, GM: 4, Result: 3

Player: 4, GM: 3, Result 4

Player: 2, GM: 2, Result 5

This should make every result from 1 to 5 equally likely.

Change the number of fingers, and you can simulate any die on the fly.  Don’t have a d13? Well now you do! With dice bigger than a d10, I recommend both people shouting out the number at the same time. Not as clean, but it will work in a pinch.

This has some fun applications. If you use it to simulate a d6 twice, for example, you can add them together and generate the 2d6 bell curve. Play Apocalypse World without dice!

Second Method

If you want 1s to be easy and 5s to be hard, do this: Each player holds up one to five fingers. Subtract the smaller number from the larger number to produce your result. If the numbers are equal, the result is that number. For example:

Player: 2, GM: 4, Result: 2

Player: 5, GM: 1, Result: 4

Player: 3, GM: 3, Result: 3

Using this method, there’s only one way to produce a 5, three ways to produce a 4, five ways to produce a 3, seven ways to produce a 2 and nine ways to produce a 1.


There’s some interesting things going on with this method, assuming that the player wants a high number and the GM wants a low number. For example, if the GM always showed a 3, then he could prevent the player from ever getting a 4 or 5 result. Once the player caught on to this, he might also start showing 3, which would leave them producing a result of 3 forever.

So what if we disrupt this balance by making a 3 result slightly better for the player? Let’s take a page from Apocalypse World and say that a 4+ result means a complete success for the player, a 3 means success at a cost, and a 1 or a 2 means failure. Now, if the GM always shows 3, and the player also starts showing 3, then the player will always succeed at a cost. If the GM wants to open up the possibility for failure, he’s going to have to also open up the possibility for complete success.

This might cause too much of a headache, though. I’d say Method One is more promising.

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