Day 21: What was the last OSR game you tried to play, but quit because you realized there’s literally no mechanical support for a storyline at all?

Tragically, it was Stars Without Number. I just noticed that my super-excited “we’re getting ready to play!” thread is still on the first page of story dash games dot com, which is wild.

Jeez, right? So I love all the sandbox stuff Crawford put into SWN. I generated sectors, oh lord so many sectors. I obsessively clicked on the sector generator tool at http://swn.emichron.com/ until I’ve got way more content than I can use. Lots of lonely fun prep time. I figure I’ve got this! The very first RPG I ever personally owned was Traveller, I’ve got so many years of running this kind of game.

And then I can’t make it work. I cannot get the thing up and running to my satisfaction. My players are antsy, I’m frustrated, folks are looking for something to grab onto. And I can’t get it together in a way that is appealing to me and them. Entirely, 100% my fault.

At some point, I lost not only my ability to run a sandbox but my desire to do so. Mind you, I’ve run sandbox-y stuff. But tastes change, some skills sharpen while others rust. Same with my players: they’ve come to prefer a clear fictional arc, and trusting that the things they do define the arc going forward. My local crowd, consciously or otherwise, calibrates everything we ever play against Burning Wheel.

I tried! I really did.

That said, James Stuart recommended Godbound last week, another Sine Nomine jam, and it looks like so much fun. I think Crawford’s just getting better and better, and I’m really liking what looks like his solution to the player-centered sandbox. I mean, power-level-wise, you’re playing Exalted demigods, so that really demands the world revolve around them. Then you’ve also got this thing where you stake out a goal, because demigods don’t just sit around smoking dope and watching Twitch videos. You can’t advance your character without investing your divine energy into your efforts, and one assumes those efforts are directed at your goals. It’s a good looking reward cycle and it’s got all the sandbox tools.

Will it generate stooooory? It will after the fact, of course. Having had some really good luck with “sandplot” (thanks Mark Delsing!) games like The One Ring and Mutant: Year Zero, this might be my sweet spot. Fingers crossed.

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20 thoughts on “Day 21: What was the last OSR game you tried to play, but quit because you realized there’s literally no mechanical support for a storyline at all?”

  1. Since I started GMing back in 1978 I didn’t feel the need, or desire, for a rules system to mechanically support the story aspect of the game. But if you do need that support, I have to wonder, why are you looking at OSR games for that? As far as I can tell the OSR is is a reaction against the Story-Game direction of the Indie-Revolution. So if you’re looking for games that provide mechanics for story development there’s plenty out there… but probably not in the OSR category. No? Maybe I’m missing something. That wouldn’t be at all surprising. :p

  2. Vb Wyrde oh I wasn’t looking for it. Not at all. That’s not at all what my story is about.

    I didn’t really know how I or my players would react until we were into it a ways. At least in 2012, which is I think when we started up SWN, I aspirationally thought I could run any game without bringing preference or baggage along. I couldn’t do that in 2012, nor could my players, but four years later I think we’re better at it.

    I have no idea what to say to what the OSR “is” or “isn’t.” TBH I haven’t dug that deeply. I’ve read Brent Newhall’s super-excellent Old School Renaissance Handbook as well as some other intro type stuff. I’ve been through a DCC funnel. I tried to run SWN. I’m gonna try and run Godbound at some point as well. But I have no horse at all in any kind of race to define terms. Games is games, and sometimes those games are not my jam. (Hence tomorrow’s question.)

  3. I didn’t even arrive to the “mechanical support” part.  Some of my friends wanted to play a dungeon crawl. I looked at some D&D-like systems.  I saw the tables, the pages of rules and my interest dropped like a stone. I ended up playing the dungeon crawl with The Pool

    (and i have to say that it worked much better than the last time i used D&D, decades ago…)

  4. I think the greatest asset of Godbound, is the pace at which the fiction moves. In other games its easy to get bog down in details and minutia. Where goals are set but don’t see fruition till several sessions down the line. But in Godbound, you’re demi-gods! These goals will be accomplished now, and we’ll move on.

    I think at this increased speed it’ll be easier to see what a sandbox game has to offer, as events build on top of each other.

  5. The fact that the demigod gets to manage a cult by level 2 makes me excited as well. It’s a great way to bring the players quickly into whatever you have going on in the faction turn.

  6. SWN’s greatest flaw, like several other OSR games, is its lack of a properly defined XP-generation formula to drive play. Anyone who knows the OSR well knows the classic D&D formula: recover treasure to win XP to make your character better at recovering more treasure. And that is a brilliantly elegant mechanic that provides clear narrative motivation, encourages players to push against obstacles and seek out exciting situations and clearly defines what play is about. And yet repeatedly OSR designs flake out in their own implementations of this established process, leaving XP awards entirely up to GM fiat with at best some benchmarks to aim for.

    I really like SWN, I’ve run it often, yet even I can’t really tell how to make all the products of those great sandbox-generation tools into attractive draws for the characters outside of a metatextual consensus that “adventurers go on adventures.” Or what the objective difference is between 100 and 101 XP. I strongly hope that when Kevin Crawford revises SWN next year, he addresses this problem.

  7. E.T. Smith oooh he’s revising? Iiinteresting.

    Looking back at my 4-year-old SWN thread on story dash games dot com, Kevin himself said he wasn’t satisfied with his XP schema and that Other Dust might maybe address it. I don’t have that one so I have no idea if he made good.

  8. I don’t know about Other Dust, but Spears of the Dawn and Silent Legions, both post-OD SWN-derived Crawford designs, use the same XP system, in fact the only development of note is language making the subjective nature even more explicit.

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