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.

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