Another bandwagon I am compelled to hop onto is this meme about innovation in the OSR: rules or settings? First, let me get this out of the way: when hasn’t the OSR been innovative? Seriously. I will grant that we can look like a bunch of reactionary grey bearded curmudgeons, but from the get go we have been pushing rules written at various times in the 70s and 80s in all kinds of interesting directions. Why are people looking for the next Tékumel or Blackmoor when there are literally as many astounding worlds as there are bloggers?
For example: part of the “complaint” about innovation is getting beyond 2000 cp in a dusty room…a reference to all the whinging about the Dwimmermount experience. How wasn’t Dwimmermount innovative? I said this before and I will say it again — James Maliszewski pushed us all to deal with, understand and chew on the concept of the megadungeon. Regardless of what you think about how his Kickstarter was handled or whether or not you care for the final product, the whole experience has made the hobby better.
For myself, I was never much influenced by Tékumel or Blackmoor. I hold no special place in my heart for either of these products, nor do I have any real interest in investing much time on either product. The same can be said of most setting products. Those who read this blog know that I have never played a single game in either Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms. The guys I play with have always been DIY when it comes to world building.
On the other hand, new systems don’t really float my boat either. Look at me, my favorite system was written back in 1981 and, when push comes to shove, I’d be happy playing nothing but B/X for the rest of my life.
What do I really want in a product? I want to be able to use it at the table. This either means that I can easily plug and play with an adventure or have a product that gives me awesome ideas that are easily applied to my games. This is the best way to be innovative, because there are so many products out there that are not very easy to use. Let me give you a couple or three examples of what I believe are innovative products:
Demonspore by Matt Finch
This is one of the best adventure modules ever produced by the OSR simply because it is designed to be plugged into an existing dungeon. It doesn’t have to be, but it can and I did and it was brilliantly easy to do.
Realms of Crawling Chaos and Starships & Spacemen 2e both by Goblinoid Games
Both of these products are plug and play tool kits for Labyrinth Lord (though S&S 2e can function as a stand-alone game). Frankly, anything in the Labyrinth Lord line is designed to be modular so that if I want to do a Star Trek/Flash Gordon/Horror/Mutant Apocalypse mash-up without house ruling everything, I can. Indeed, I have yet to fully take advantage of all of the modular goodness provided in RCC and S&S 2e.
This whole discussion began with JB of B/X Blackrazor and his problems with the game White Star by James Spahn. Personally, I really appreciated JB’s perspective. I was pining over the game because of the excitement generated around this section of the internet, but my gaming budget is still Free. JB let me realize that I would have had buyers remorse if I’d scraped together the cash to buy it.
Like JB, I worked on my own version of a Flash Gordon-esque version of BX/0e but abounded it because it wasn’t a game I really ever wanted to play. Now, before I get accused to being bitter about Spahn’s success in the same way JB did, I have already shared what fruits came out of that whole experiment.
Way back when, I did a series of posts stripping the 0e spell list of special effects in order to create a system to build new spells based on 0e assumptions. I shared it as Ye Auld Skool Spell Creator. What may not be obvious is that this whole project began as an attempt to create a tool kit for creating Jedi-like powers for a sci-fi version of BX/0e so that my version of a Star Knight (or whatever else you want to call it) wouldn’t have to have Bless or Purify Food and Drink on their spell list.
Speaking for myself, this is not the best thing I’ve ever shared with this community; however, I do believe that it is the closest thing that I have ever produced that demonstrates what I want in terms of the Rules vs. Setting discussion. It is innovative in the way I want my OSR products to be innovative: I can use it at my table to create my vision of a sci-fi campaign or add cool new spells to my 0e-inspired games.
In other words, I don't need publishers to give the new Tékumel or Blackmoor, I want them to give me cool tools to help me make it myself.
16 hours ago