Random Sleep Deprived Thoughts

* What all are y’all hyped to play these days in small press-land? My Urban Shadows game is on extended hold (one of my players is unavailable and I really don’t want to proceed without him) so my next-play list so far looks like Fall of Magic, Blades in the Dark, Ryuutama and maybe Blood Red Sands by Ralph Mazza. I’m reading BRS for the first time and it’s interesting! More on it later.

* I’ve been thinking about OSR games a little lately, and a recent thread by Marshall Miller brought two resources to my attention: Brent Newhall’s OSR Handbook and another one called Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, which is a freebie on Lulu. I downloaded the Quick Primer and it’s kind of the nail in the coffin for me on OSR. There is literally nothing I’ve read out there — I haven’t read Brent’s thing yet! — that isn’t rife with ideological posturing. The Quick Primer is no exception: while it tries really hard to be even-handed and objective, the core problem is that every time the writer refers to “modern games” he’s referring to the most recent edition of D&D. It’s a completely unexploded perspective on where roleplaying is these days, so everything once again is couched in a strong us-vs-them reactionary way. So I think I’ll look at Brent’s next (it’s at RPGNow for $7 or something) and cross my fingers, but I think it’s gonna be just impossible to research the topic without the eye-rolling attached ideology.

* I was kind of skeered about starting up an RPG run with just two players, but as Jason Morningstar pointed out to me, that’s actually a pretty luxurious setup for certain kinds of games. I think it’s suboptimal in some ways, because the character interplay is pretty narrow, but the players get so much development and screen time. I think Blades in the Dark is gonna be juuuust fine with two. Ryuutama as well I think/hope.

* So I have this infrequent family RPG night I’ve put on a few times, right? My wife, my brother, his daughter and his girlfriend. It’s nice! Because two of them are noobs (wife and niece) and two are noobs to modern small-press game design (brother and his gf). We ran a couple sessions of Firefly, but lordy they could not get their hands around the widgets. I’ve always felt a little trapped talking about Firefly because I have both Cam Banks and Mark Diaz Truman in my world, and I think I’ll continue to be circumspect about this iteration of Cortex Plus except for this: I’m super interested in hearing what folks think is the very best iteration of Cortex Plus. Marvel? Smallville? I’m looking for like…the Platonic ideal of what Cortex Plus can accomplish, here. I feel like Firefly is not that ideal. 

* Hey so anyway, that family game night. Thinking I’ll put them through an evening of Urban Shadows. Super accessible theme (esp for a one-shot, which I have to assume it may be), a little mechanically fussy, especially for my niece, but I think the game runs well even when the players aren’t carefully managing resources and economies. Maybe even better! I’ve had some Urban Shadow shenanigans crop up with my supersmart play-optimizing regulars and they don’t break the game, but they push the game riiiight to the edge of it. It can be dizzying dealing with interlocking intimacy moves, corruption, and debts.

* I made the mistake of joining the Powered by the Apocalypse Community recently. There’s a ton of talk in there about how to do a PbtA western (Keith Stetson is working on one, but there are several other threads talking about it) and it makes me so itchy. I get itchy because I know they’re talking “western” in terms of literature and film. And my New American West history studies fire off a million alarms because western literature is almost completely unrelated to the actual history of the American West. I’m also working on a super-sekret PbtA western project, but it’s a rejection of the literary tropes in favor of actual history. And it’s hard to maintain excitement for the project when I know the buying public wants gunfights and stagecoach heists more than they want super-intersectional frontier communities and brutal colonialism. Hopefully there’s mindshare for both! 

Enough rambling. Y’all have an awesome and safe holiday.

0 thoughts on “Random Sleep Deprived Thoughts”

  1. Re OSR: This started with me looking at the Kickstarter to fund the 4th printing of Dungeon Crawl Classics. It’s so elaborate! So I thought, huh, I want to learn more about this. And I can find literally nothing online, nothing, that doesn’t come laden with ideological posturing. Nobody’s talking about DCC as a game. It’s a cultural icon, a banner, a manifesto.

    So then I started looking into other ones and hoo boy problematic. Adventurer Conqueror King I think everyone knows about. Lamentations of the Flame Princess, also hard to research (and the chatter I hear around Vincent Baker​’s Seclusium module again feels ideological and gross), and then I kind of ran out of steam.

    Probably the most honest and level-headed take on all this is back when luke crane​ started running B/X and talking about it. But that’s going back to the ancient tablets. I don’t know if he or Thor Olavsrud​ really dug into the newly published stuff.

  2. Have I talked about DCC as an ideology? I think I have some posts about it here and there.

    I’m psyched to by playing Torchbearer and RuneQuest 6th edition!

  3. Curious to know how you see the ideology of the primer affecting the information content contained within.

    It was hugely helpful to me when I was discovering old school play around 2011, having only grown up with 2E AD&D in the 90s (+ a smattering of Rifts and Vampire) and also having skipped 3E.

    I agree it’s reactionary (in a good way, I would say!). I also don’t think it’s aim is to impartially survey all schools of thought on the topic and contrasting with the one mainstream, dominant approach seems reasonable for a document with its scope.

  4. In general DCC starts with an eyeroll-inducing chest thumping manifesto but everything after that is cool roolz. I’ll try to write more about it but after work I’m immediately hopping onto a bus for Thanksgiving with family so you might need to remind me.

  5. Oh and one more additional thought: I’m really getting tired of randos rolling into my public Collections with incomprehensible comments and bullshit. I’ve had a forum moderator gig, it’s no fun.

  6. I’m torn on Cortex Plus. By virtue of time and distance and not having any rights to ownership, I’m no longer the vocal champion of the game that I was, but I’m fiercely proud of the games I created. I think Marvel Heroic is my favorite, with Leverage and Smallville as runners up. I think Firefly is the game I was hired to create, and many people really think it’s the perfect distillation of Cortex Plus ideas. It’s possible they’re not wrong, but I suppose its attachment to a property I don’t really like colors it for me. Use it for Guardians of the Galaxy and I might love it all over again.

  7. I played Old School when it wasn’t old (early 80s), and sometimes I find the way that time is talked about, as if it was “holy” or something  (yes, I played with Odin, Zeus and Loki. It was Epic.) very funny. Other times… not.

    But the way it’s discussed is historically accurate. Even at that time it was all posturing, tribalism and no actual play discussion, ever.

  8. RE: OSR, I can’t do it. I even tried a couple times recently. I’m not into that system or game any longer. I like 5th edition D&D for D&D and that’s great. I think I like 13th Age even better. You can run either of those old-school style without any of the ideological nonsense. 

    I had this desire to dig out Rolemaster recently and that’s a fun minefield all of its own, but it’s also a really great game underneath the hundreds of feet of reputation it has. Except initiative, that totally sucks in Rolemaster.

  9. Just babbling here, but having just been to a con where the OSR track drew more participants than Pathfinder, I think it’s a super interesting phenom. The Goodman Games booth was way more product dense – and quite frankly friendlier than anywhere else in the dealer’s room, and I enjoy the spirit and enthusiasm of the OSR crowd at that con.

    There’s probably also the phenomenon that as a con with a Tekumel track, we draw in the OSR population for some of our games, while they look at us Petalheads as somehow being their slightly crazed uncles and aunts.

  10. DCC kinda is artisinal D&D. It makes a big noise about autenticity, and adds a lot of flourishes and embellishments to something fairly basic. Still, I don’t hate it. I just feel that I can get the same thing with less fuss.

  11. There’s something to be said John Till for feeling welcomed and/or being on the receiving end of friendly attention, no matter what the game or product is. It can explain the popularity of a lot of things, however it’s hard to judge a product’s quality by its popularity.

  12. Some point form comments:

    1. Blades with two players is a dream. I ran it for 4 (with an occasional 5th) and it can be hard to properly moderate spotlight time, because everyone is always scrambling to use their best skill, and flashbacking on top of flashbacks. I am a big fan of the game, and I think it’s developing nicely, but small groups make it much more manageable.

    2. Leverage is my personal favourite Cortex Plus system. It has nice, easy character creation based on splats that are pretty close to PbtA playbooks, and I think it has the clearest rules for when to add advantages and what they do.

    3. “[S]uper-intersectional frontier communities and brutal colonialism” in an RPG is basically all I want these days. It doesn’t even have to be a “western”. I’d be happy with that in basically any historical setting (with my particular fondness being for pre-American Revolution colonialism in Canada and the 13 Colonies).

    4. Old-school; man, do I ever love their passion. It’s like Eli Roth fans (in response, not necessarily in content): clearly what’s happening is making people really happy, but it is just not a thing I respond to or comprehend.

  13. Speaking as someone who has a toe in OSRland and is often trying to reconcile my fondness for games in very different camps, I myself find it extremely hard to contrast gaming experiences without sounding vaguely insulting to one side or the other.

    I think it’s because a) people are really touchy about preferences, and b) it’s really hard to discern real play phenomena from the murk of my preferences and local play styles.

  14. Blades blades blades. You should play blades. Ignore all that PbtA trash. Blades.

    Also, I’m with Cam on Firefly as an iteration of Cortex Plus: it’s designed to serve a particular portion of the market (Firefly fans) with all the baggage and opportunities that come with that market. For my money, I think Marvel is the most fun iteration of the rules, mostly because you don’t need to remember all the bells and whistles for the game to work properly.

  15. In regards to your first bullet: I’ve got at least four folks rounded up for character burning on Dec. 5th. Burning Wheel, here we come! I know, I know, I’m really late to that era of small press. But damnit, gotta start somewhere.

    As for OSR, I don’t even know enough about what it is other than reactionary posturing. At least, that’s all I see in my G+ feed (what little there is anyhow). Not to say there isn’t anything inherently good about that, but my knowledge about OSR is awful even in comparison to PbtA or Bully Pulpit or the like. If you find any good reading for the OSR noob, let me know. I’m keen to understand.

    Additionally: all I’ve seen of Lamentations of the Flame Princess is pretty ladies (sometimes naked) being devoured by ghoulish monsters or beheaded by angry warriors. No idea what else it’s about.

  16. Adam Day while this list is not without it’s share of polemics, these articles are what I have found particularly useful:


    If I had to pick the three most insightful articles out of that list for someone that wasn’t extra tuned in to the online community or not necessarily concerned with specific technique, in no particular order:




  17. Paul Beakley​ Into the Odd, Beyond the Wall, and Crawford’s games like Spears of the Dawn and Stars Without Number come to mind as interesting OSR projects.

  18. I like your idea of western. Honestly, the idea of a gunfight as a character scares me. I would avoid that as much as possible! Literally as a player I avoid combat unless it is the last and only option left.

    Let the history be told!

  19. “Like B/X only grindhouse” is pretty much what LotFP is. A lot of OSR projects seem to just pick their D&D expression of choice and then dump a few house rules onto it, which isn’t far off from what many of us did in the 2000s or what Fate/PbtA fans do now.

  20. I don’t even think the Quick Primer is useful as a counterpoint to Pathfinder and 5E. But DCC is my jam. (Oh, and Blood Red Sands is pretty awesome.)

  21. DCC is a spectacular game and is well worth playing. You can ignore the manifesto sections with no loss of fun. You may want to stay out of the G+ OSR community, though.

    Very much looking forward to seeing your actual–historical-Western PBTA game.

  22. To your first bullet, Project: Dark, if it ever comes out. I’ve ran the beta; I want to try the full meal deal now. It is mechanically very interesting, but I like how it has played socially for the sessions I have ran. I really want to see how the role of the Inspector functions (is it just Gumshoe light for the GM, or is there more to it? How does it affect players? I don’t know.) Also, the creators of both Project: Dark and Blades in the Dark mentioned melding the two games…. somehow. I don’t have any info on Blades yet (which is another I would like to try when it gets released upon the world).

    Also, I don’t know if this qualifies, but playing Little Wizards with my goddaughter sometime. We will see if that happens.

    I can add nothing to the OSR discussion except that I still play them because they are systems everyone I play with knows and are comfortable with. We are currently tackling Shadowrun 5E, which has been scratching the cyberpunk itch.

  23. Paul Beakley i totally get you. I like the Moldvay edition for similar reasons: it’s innocent of ideological and political nonsense by the simple consequence of it being 33 years old. I try to parse the new school osr stuff and I’m instantly bored and annoyed. They make every specious claim about “How it was” and solve none of the thorny game design problems presented by the genre.

  24. The ideological posturing is part of the quirky appeal of the OSR to me

    It’s kinda like hip-hop, always gotta be frontin’, but no-one but the asshole contingent takes it seriously

    Whether or not “its a little bit fun to pretend to be a huge dick about this thing with zero actual stakes” is a thing you can enjoy with a grain of salt is probably up to personal taste

    I would have hoped that the posturing in DCC was so blatantly tongue in cheek as to be obvious, but then there are always a lot of assholes out there who have to ruin it by not being so

  25. The further 4eD&D recedes in the rearview mirror the shakier a lot of these manifestos seem. People really felt hurt that they decided to do spellcasting slightly differently for the first time in 30 years.

  26. I stopped playing D&D with AD&D2, so can’t be sure that there is not something concrete in the D&D4 hate-fest, but my impression is that it’s only posturing.  Not only from the players, but especially from TSR.

    First: at the time, in D&D, nobody cared a shit about “rules”. To this day the OSR is all about “ruling, not rules”, and at the time of D&D4 (and D&D3) the general reply to any critique of a rule was “if you don’t like it change it” (with corollary “D&D is perfect, because if something doesn’t work for you, you should change it”, and “all you need is a god GM, rules are irrelevant”)

    I saw the effect of this at the time of the publication of D&D3. At the time I was heavily into usenet discussions about rpgs, and one recurrent discussion was about the rules of the games I was playing (at the time, as synchronicity dictated, I was playing Ars Magica) against all the clunky bits of D&D like THAC0, decreasing armor, etc.

    Then, D&D3 came out, and it removed a lot of these clunky bits, putting in a lot of bits from Ars Magica (really, in many way D&D3 was a Ars Magica hack more than a D&D one), and from one day to the other, acting as one single person, every one of the D&Dfan I was arguing with started declaring not only that these new rules were much better, but that they had always said so, and that these new rules were “the true D&D as it always was”.

    At the time I finally understood that really, in D&D the rules are totally irrelevant. Nobody who plays D&D ever follow the rules in the book, anyway. It’s simply not done. The important thing is not the rules, it’ the “D&D” symbol on the cover. It’s the assurance that you are still playing “D&D”.

    With the amount of ads and promotion that WotC (with MTG money) put into work at that time, you could have put a “D&D” cover on Universalis, and nobody would have blinked. They would have said “it’s the same D&D as always, look at the cover, and who cares about the rules?”

    Why this did not happen with D&D4?

    Look at this video:

    Maybe they wanted to be auitoironic, but the effect was insulting to a lot of players that had a firm faith into “D&D rules are perfect because all you need is a good GM”. D&D is in a lot of ways a faigh, a religion, and you NEVER make fun of people’s religions, if you don’t want to have a “holy war” declared against you.

    There was a “holy war” declared against D&D4, and it had nothing to do with rules (D&D rules, to tell the truth, always sucked, any edition, any version, it’s no wonder that they say that rules are not important….), it was against the way the edition was presented and promoted. (and the 3.5 open license allowed 3.5 to survive as a kind of “I will prove my loyality to the faith by buying this” new game)

  27. I have heard it said that the Old School Primer is mainly aimed at 3+ ed D&D, FWIW I’m also dubious of its utility.
    However I have had a lot of fun with OSR stuff of late. Dungeon World (not OSR!) was my gateway drug (despite strongly preferring AW to DW), Luke’s B/X stories and some of Eero’s posts at story games got me really looking.
    I mainly played B/X or Lab Lord and flirted with Lamentations but I do think that DCC is very functional on a rules basis rather than just bluster. There are many rules tweaks that increase playability and generate story/plot/events during the course of play and thus ease the GM’s workload. The modules are often fun/weird but so far have tended too far (for me) towards a list of things to hit. Despite this I have gravitated back towards B/X just because it is less rules. Brendan S writes smart stuff too about streamlined/effective procedures.
    Two nice things, for me, about OSR are the DIY ethos of many proponents and the focus on making things that are effective in play. This contrasts, for me, with much design-oriented discussion that seems isolated from play.
    Having said all this I don’t think that I could have even understood how to use OSR sandbox-style procedures without having played/read AW. This is despite cutting my teeth on AD&D 1E in the early 80s and moving on to lots of other games before 2E arrived.

  28. I don’t know how much of it can really be laid at the feet of WotC marketing vs RPG mechanic NewTech, but the OSR is indeed deep into “Culture of Play” and can be very anti-procedural at times.

    4e felt like a rules lawyering playground and the crusty dads of the OSR just wanted a looser game of heavy metal album covers and airbrushed van paintings of wizards.

    Relatively hippy dippy stuff, all things considered.

  29. D&D3E had a LOT of Rolemaster and Ars Magica in it, unsurprisingly because it was written by Monte and Jonathan, the former a former Iron Crown writer and the latter one of the creators of ArM.

  30. Damn, there’s a cartload of comments. Are they all about westerns? I assume so, as that was the most important bullet point.

    The thing about the western is, as you hinted at, it can mean a lot of different things. Most people probably do want all gun fights and horse tricks. My interest in the western is largely as a metaphor or allegory, which sits on a weird point of the historical-media axis. I suppose I’m most interested in how and why the former became the latter.

    Oh, and I’m actually the guy trying hard not to fall into the trap of writing a PbtA western. It’s just everything I am writing is a western (mostly)

  31. Keith Stetson what form is this writing taking? Game or essays or what?

    Honestly a literary western I think would not be hard to build. I have no trouble envisioning an Unforgiven game but holy cow do I need to narrow my focus if I want to get into real history.

  32. If you’re looking at two-player games, definitely check out Tim Koppang’s Mars Colony and 39 Dark. I can’t vouch for them directly, but I’ve played his Hero’s Banner a few times and it’s wonderful.

    Ref: http://www.tckroleplaying.com

    Re: Cortex Plus, I’ve had loads of fun with Marvel. I’ve played a little Leverage and Firefly and enjoyed them a lot, but Marvel has the Doom Pool, which is the coolest GM tech ever.

    Re: OSR, my once-fervent interest in it has cooled a lot recently. I now care less about the OSR as a whole and more about specific games and creators: Tékumel, Kevin Crawford, etc.

  33. Paul Czege​ holy crap that website for Sol is terrible! It’s like a best-of collection of everything you don’t do to explain your game. How on earth did you ever get hooked into it? KS I assume?

    Mark Delsing​ haha, no, when I say two player there’s also an implied GM in there.

  34. Kickstarter indeed. The game is this politically and culturally complex and alien world, but it’s trickled out throughout the text, so reading it is like a puzzle of piecing its themes together in your head. The game system itself is rules light, trad.

  35. Paul Beakley Reflecting on all the +1s to my comment… It strikes me that my attempt to solve with game design many of the problems i see in this genre of the hobby is your least favorite game of mine.

  36. Oh yes, hyped to play: Freebooting Venus, starts next Wed. Killed off my urban shadows game, not that keen on the genre. (I then started another game of US with my kids where the action all takes place in our neighborhood and they play like its Rifts – “cool, I’m a vampire and he’s a demon and we’re fighting the local gods”. I probably need to make the gods robots of some sort 🙂

  37. Paul Beakley I keep writing western games. The one I’m working on right now, Seco Creek Vigilance Committee, takes media tropes to their Platonic ideals and examines the consequences.

  38. Related to OSR, I play weekly with a friend who is super into it. Regarding rules and differentiation, he compares it to variations on a theme like you’d see in a very specific niche of poetry – you can write endless interesting sonnets, even though every. One. Is. A. Fucking. Sonnet.

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