The Search For An OSR System
NOTE: I started writing this around New Years not long before the whole WotC OGL situation got started. I was holding off on publishing it because I wanted to find a happier ending to send it off with. The longer I wait, the more certain parts are going to make less sense, so I'm going to get it out faster.
OSR games sound like a cool concept. I often see the people who play those games talking about all the virtues it offers, such as being easier to play than modern games, the flexibility that comes with fewer rules, how homebrew is easier, etc. I love the idea of tabletop rpgs giving you the freedom to make the game truly your own.
Most of my experience is with generic systems; my favorites being Fate and the OpenD6 variant MiniSix. I can do anything I want with these systems, but want to try others to get a more rounded understanding of game styles.
I decided I'd once again give OSR a try. I've tried to get into it a few times in the past, never succeeding. I couldn't remember exactly why, but I'm willing to give things multiple chances.
I have a clear goal in mind this time. I want a game system that:
- Let me quickly pick up any of the plethora of free adventures from Dragon magazine or OSR community and go on an adventure.
- Required little to no conversion to do so. (From D&D Basic and possibly AD&D.)
- Modified the system using lessons learned from the past to make it easier to use than the original clunky systems. (I'm looking at you, THAC0.)
The games would have no expectation of story, though one might develop naturally. It would be about simply surviving in new and exciting locations, using thinking to overcome challenges.
From what I've heard of OSR, these should be easy requirements to fill.
What is OSR?
The first step to looking for an OSR game was learning more about what OSR really is. Depending on who you ask, OSR stands for Old School Renaissance, Old School Roleplaying, or Old School Revival.
And here we already encounter the first issues with OSR; a lack of standardization. This stems from their being no single source that is the creator or maintainer of OSR, since it is entirely a community based movement with independent creators. It has started independently from multiple locations before each faction discovered each other and merged. I can appreciate diversity, but as a newcomer, it's very easy to get lost. I was expecting the community to at least have a homogenous understanding of its core concept.
Even ignoring what specific words make up OSR, the term itself is rather broad and can mean a wide variety of things. This causes the label to feel almost meaningless.
OSR *usually* refers to games that are inspired by or compatible with the early editions of Dungeons & Dragons. This can be done through a variety of strategies.
1. **Retro-clones:** Preserve the original rules of rpgs from the 70s and 80s as much as possible. These are games like Dungeon Crawl Classics, Old School Essentials, OSRIC, or D&D itself (anything before 3rd Edition).
2. **Retro-updates:** Update the old rules a bit with modern lessons to make the gameplay more streamlined or fix some perceived quirks. Basic Fantasy Roleplaying uses the D&D 3e OGL to rewrite a system which feels more like Basic, yet does things like split class and race and uses ascending armor class. Labyrinth Lord might also fit here, but is closer to category 1.
3. **Retro-reimaginings:** Create completely new rules that are still compatible with older content. (Scarlet Heroes, Knave, The White Hack)
4. **Retro-feels:** Create completely new games which maintain the feeling of playing the original older games, without worrying about preserving compatibility. (Maze Rats, Dungeon World, Torchbearer, Hackmaster)
5. **Retro-originals:** Games which use the old rules to create a new game feel, theme, or experience. (Stars Without Numbers)
There was once a greater need for retro-clones since the older editions of D&D were no longer being published. This is no longer the case with Wizard's of the Coast now making older material available on DriveThruRPG available as PDF downloads or print-on-demand. People may still prefer retro-clones since they change up the layouts for a nicer reading and reference experience, and might offer small tweaks such as ascending armor class which is easier to play with.
I'd argue category 4 isn't really OSR. They're simply new games inspired by the older ones. But since they're made by designers who do other work in the space, it often gets lumped together. If we consider any game written with inspiration from older editions of D&D as OSR, then the newer editions of D&D would count as OSR too, which feels against the intended meaning of OSR.
Some say other older games that aren't D&D also count as OSR, such as Tunnels & Trolls. That's a game that falls under category 4, being designed originally as a way to play a game like D&D with easier to learn rules. It's perhaps the oldest well known example of this, and was D&D's biggest competitor for a time.
Yet I've never seen anyone consider other older rpgs count as OSR. Boot Hill, Bunnies & Burrows, Traveller, RuneQuest, Villains and Vigilantes, etc. The focus is almost always purely on preserving the original style of game that came from playing D&D Basic or Advanced D&D.
For my purposes, I was searching for games based on D&D Basic or Advanced that fit into the second or third categories.
TSR Is Bad At Communication
The next hurdle in learning about OSR are the same difficulties that have existed since the early days of D&D. The people working at TSR, the company that first produce D&D, did a very poor job of communicating a lot of things about their games. It's a wonder how anyone ever got started with it. These issues persist today. I could not find anything in the OSR community that would help clarify these parts to a newcomer.
The origins of D&D are messy. Many inspirations and people led to the creation of what was eventually known as D&D.
Dave Arnseson created a setting and game called Blackmoor, which was a Braunstein style game which later became the setting for D&D. The gameplay of Braunstein games were largely based on roleplaying.
Another game, Chainmail, was created by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren. This game focused on medieval warfare with miniature combat. It focused on players following a single character, rather than the typical large scale combat games of the time where players controlled many units. I do not count this as D&D, but there exist retro-clones that intend to replicate it.
Arneson and Gygax worked together to combine concepts of Blackmoor and Chainmail to create a new fantasy adventure game, Dungeons & Dragons. Arneson's Blackmoor setting was reworked to fit into a tabletop roleplaying game with rules help from Gary Gygax. It combined the roleplaying from Arneson's game with the combat of Gygax's game.
The very first edition of D&D, retroactively now sometimes referred to as Original Dungeons & Dragons, was a mess. It was very challenging to learn how to actually play the game using the books from this edition. As such, anyone looking to make OSR content is likely not using this edition.
D&D Basic was a rewrite of the original rules, presented in a much clearer, easier to understand way, while also simplifying rules in an attempt to make it easier to learn. This is where wacky rules such as dwarf and elf being classes came from. (It could have started in OD&D. I couldn't find a copy of the rules to check.) They felt splitting class and race was too complex.
About a year later, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was released and ran concurrently alongside D&D Basic. The expectation being that people would start with Basic, then graduate to playing Advanced. AD&D had two editions, which are usually what people refer to as being the canonical 1st and 2nd editions. The numbering decision by TSR was likely part of their bid to write Dave Arneson out of the game's history.
Where it gets more complicated is that there are several versions of Basic, and at least a few editions of Advanced. In the OSR world you're likely to encounter esoteric phrases like B/X, black box, white box, Holmes vs Moldvay, BECMI, and more I'm sure I'm forgetting.
In the OSR communities, it's often assumed a person already knows how to sort out all this mess. After all, they grew up with it. It's now natural to them. It doesn't need to keep getting repeated after someone knows it.
It's only recently I realized that Expert edition is not the same thing as Advanced. It's actually an extension of Basic, and that's what B/X stands for: Basic/Expert.
I'm not going to even try to give a detailed overview of what all these terms could mean. To put it simply, they all refer to different updates and publications of the rulesets. Which specific box set the rules came out of, who was the person who wrote the rules, etc.
Overall, these distinctions are largely irrelevant aside from how the rules happened to be laid out. The actual rules themselves are largely identical within the same editions. All you need to know to get started is if the rules are based on Original, Basic, or Advanced. Those groups should be largely compatible with each other. I know now that almost everything OSR is based on the Basic rules.
A side note; people sometimes refer to OD&D, the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons, as being the "0th edition" of D&D, with Basic being 1st edition, Advanced being 2nd edition, then finally the well established 3rd edition being 3rd edition. However, this is not universally true. Trying to apply edition numbers to anything earlier than 3e is going to result in confusion.
Now that I finally figured out what kind of OSR game I want to play, and learned enough history to figure out which edition I want it to be based on, I could at last look for OSR games to try.
This still turned out to be more difficult than I thought. To avoid copyright disputes, almost every game is very hush about what they're actually based on. Instead they refer to it as "the world's most popular roleplaying game". I understand this is for legal reasons, but it creates its own issue. It makes it very challenging as a newcomer to figure out what system it's referring to. If you're going to do this in your game, please at least specify if it's based on the Orignal, Basic, or Advanced rules. (Example: "This game is compatible with the Basic edition of the world's most popular roleplaying game.") Not all of us have played the original game well enough to make the association based on the rules themselves.
The claim of "world's most popular roleplaying game" can be disputed. For a time, both Pathfinder and Call of Cthulhu were more popular than D&D. In other parts of the world, D&D is practically unheard of. A player from Japan could easily assume you are talking about Sword World.
I don't have a good solution for this. The best option would be to be specific and say "based on D&D Basic", but alas, the fear of Hasbro's wrath is not unfounded. Were talking about the company that will hire a private mob to threaten someone over legally buying their products. It is fully legal to describe a game this way, but the legal system will not aid in protecting you for this right.
There are a *lot* of games out there toting themselves as OSR. I ended up creating the 5 categories described above as I was digging through them all to help me keep them straight. Below are some of the ones I dove deeper into.
A lot of OSR games.
I have of course not tried every system out there, and I don't feel the need to write about every system I've looked at. I went for systems that were highly available. I'm only going to go over what I felt were the more important systems I looked at.
Basic Fantasy Roleplaying
Basic Fantasy Roleplaying website
I really like the goals about openness the creators of Basic Fantasy Roleplaying strive for. I figured that openness would also help with creating my own homebrew when I got to it.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. Weird balance makes coming up with homebrew very challenging. Things seem to be put to values with little to no sense. There's a different mechanic for handling everything, which makes it a challenge to figure out what the relative strength of abilities is meant to be.
A dagger deals 1d4 damage, and a kick deals 1d4 damage too (with a -2 penalty to hit)? I'm really meant to believe that getting kicked and getting stabbed with 4 inches of steel hurt the same? I decided to replace that with Basic's 1+Strength for unarmed damage.
The system does some good things. I appreciate the split between race and class. It uses ascending armor values. The design is more about creating the feel of how someone playing the older games might have actually played them, rather than preserving the rules as-is.
I dislike their approach to custom race balance. It's assumed humans should always be the most powerful, and other races should be slightly underpowered in relation to them. Why can't we have everything at the same power level instead? I think this is to discourage power creep, and make players more inclined to choose humans. This just makes humans always the obvious power-gaming choice, which is discouraging variety and roleplay. I don't see any reason playing in a fantasy world should prioritize playing as humans.
They do provide a surprising number of extra race options to choose from. Many systems do not do that. I went with a Gnoll, even though it has the peculiar balance decision of starting at level 0 and negative XP, requiring reaching level 1 to be able to select a class.
It's completely missing any guidance for conversion or compatibility between other systems. I caught a comment from the creator under a Youtube video mentioning how they'll not be adding an option to use descending armor class, because that's easy enough to convert by subtracting it from 20 to get the ascending armor class value. That little tidbit would have been really nice to have included in the rulebook.
To test the OSR scene, I decided to see if anyone had made a playable dragon race. I figured this would be an obvious sort of thing for homebrewers to have started making, considering the old game literally had "Dragons" in the title. But I could not find any such things, in Basic Fantasy or elsewhere. (Surely I'm just looking in the wrong places? I could find multiple supplements for modern systems.) I decided to try making it myself to see how hard making my own homebrew might be.
The concept was simple. A young dragon who's in the age range to be about human sized in mass, too young to have the full power of their older counterparts. Give them some natural dragon traits like dangerous claws, protective scales, wings, and a diminished breath weapon. How hard could it be?
Hard. Very hard.
I referenced and cross-referenced the abilities between the existing races, the weapon damage, armor values, monster abilities, dragon abilities. Rules, rules, more rules. Every fiddly system from combat to saves to skills (which don't exist, except when they do).
I read threads about creating races which had unhelpful advice like "balance is more of a gut feeling than a science". A lack of unified mechanics to balance around will do that. Still, I tried to understand what techniques the creators of approved supplements used.
I had to make a difficult decision about if the race should be allowed to fly or not. I really wanted flight. They're older than a hatchling, so they should be able to. Yet, many players feel flight of any kind is overpowered. I disagree. Most challenges an adventurer might face are not ones you could simply fly over. So, I decided to keep that as a feature. I put a heavy penalty on dexterous actions during flight to alleviate the concerns people may have about flying being abused with ranged weapons. (Imagine trying to aim a bow while doing the breast-stroke with a second pair of arms.) After sharing with a friend, they encouraged me to reduce the penalty, given all the tactics and ranged weapons enemies would have access to, as well as fall damage.
I believe the inclusion of this one feature seems likely to be enough to prevent it from ever getting accepted in a more official capacity. A bit discouraging to think about if I ever mean to share it, but I'm writing it for myself.
Finally, hours later, I felt the "Dragonling" race was usable. A race I felt would encapsulate the flavor of playing as a dragon without overshadowing everything else. I created a sample character. A young dragonling rogue looking to get an early start on their hoard before they're powerful enough to start taking it by force.
I quadruple-checked it against the existing expanded race options once again to be absolutely sure it's balanced. I noticed there were more races in the "Showcase" section I had overlooked. One of those was a draconic humanoid race called Drakkanor. And this race has almost all of the same features I had settled on for the dragon race, some of them even being a bit stronger. Oops...
If I had known about it earlier, I could have started there and reflavored it. That could have made this a faster process. But the point still stands that creating something original is a lot of work in this system. I kept wishing I was using a generic system like Fate or MiniSix, because it could have been done in minutes; not hours.
I'm not sure it would be worth cleaning it up for a proper release and joining the forums to try and share it there. What I came up with is close to something that already exists. The concept doesn't work for the world they want to create. And the inclusion of flight is probably enough to have it removed. Still, if you're interested, I'll share it here. Fair warning: it's not playtested.
BFR Dragonling Homebrew
Out of the games I looked into, Scarlet Heroes fulfills my needs the best.
It accomplishes this by abstracting away most of the technical mechanics into more general narrative mechanics in some rather clever ways. This means way less rules and more freedom to play how you want.
I was a bit disappointed in this though, because I've already had a lot of experience with narrative focused systems. I wanted a chance to try some games with a more technical focus. This isn't a fault of the system, of course.
I actually *do* want to play a game where I'm counting down my arrows and keeping track of how many rations I have left. I want that survival aspect.
The transparent design of Scarlet Heroes actually makes it no challenge at all to take in parts of other systems and incorporate it. I can replace parts of it with systems from the other games, and it works surprisingly smoothly. At that point though, I'm now homebrewing a hybrid system and am disappointed something like it did not exist from the start.
The simplicity and consistency also make homebrew shockingly easy. For example, there's a very clear pattern for how races are built, so you can follow that pattern yourself. Use the Human template and use one or both of the free traits to assign something related to the race. It's a lot like how you'd use an aspect in Fate to describe a race. For my gnoll character, I went with "Gnoll senses" to represent their dark vision, enhanced sense of smell, and hearing. This mimics how they used "Dwarf senses" to represent similar things for the dwarven race.
I was not a fan of the built in equipment charts. 30 gold for a pointy wooden stick (spear) is just way too much. Why would it cost as much as a giant metal war hammer? I get this was done to simplify weapons, and more damage then costs more gold to obtain, but it feels narratively silly. Fortunately, it's very easy to swap out using an equipment list from another system.
It's the first system I looked at that included a section on how to convert existing content to work with the game. This alone makes it one of the most usable systems for my purposes.
The game uses descending armor class in an unexpected way, which makes importing armor more difficult, though it is covered. I'd have liked to see some examples here, because it talks about rounding values, which confused me. I don't see how you're ever going to need to round things when you're doing integer subtraction, which makes me feel like I'm missing something.
The biggest downside of Scarlet Heroes is that it's not an open-licensed game. I won't create custom content for a non-free game. But I could make something for a "generic OSR compatible system" and it should be fine to run in Scarlet Heroes.
$15 for what's a rules light PDF feels like a relatively hefty price. I don't personally care to use any of the custom setting stuff that came with it.
Fortunately, there is a free Quickstart guide available. It skips the custom lore and gives almost enough to get playing. Supplement in your preferred equipment lists and spell lists. Then you're on your own for figuring out compatibility. For some reason heroes start with 2d10 silver instead of 3d6*10 gold?
After looking at so many systems, I was starting to get fatigued and forget what exactly my original goal was. I decided to take a look at the Basic rules to see if perhaps it would not be as difficult to run as I remembered, and consider if perhaps I could tweak the parts I dislike myself.
I chose to reference the Rules Cyclopedia, since I happen to already have a copy of it available to me. This is the one time the D&D owners decided to assemble all of the rules into a single book, instead of spreading it across 3 or more books. I wish they kept that trend.
My suspicions were confirmed that I really do not like the system. Lots of rules that create complexity without creating new gameplay opportunities. Does not look like a fun time. Too much of it is baked into the core mechanics that changing them to better fit my style would mean creating a completely original system anyways. It's surprising to see just how little is often changed from these editions in OSR games.
Knave takes the best elements of rules light systems and dungeon crawling games and combines them into a small yet powerful package.
I like how it uses more unified mechanics as learned from modern design. This is the primary reason it's so lightweight.
It's one of the few OSR games I've seen licensed under Creative Commons. Very nice.
Character creation uses the "roll 3d6 in order", but with a twist which normalizes things. Instead of adding them together, you take the *lowest* die, which is used as your modifier bonus. Then add that to 10 to get a defense value, which replaces the standard attribute value found in other games. I like how this gives all parts of the ability score a purpose, rather than being some extra fiddly math to work around.
Knave is primarily a skill based system, rather than class based. This is a welcome change, since I've never been a fan of class based games. Your character's abilities are largely handled by what gear they have available.
I dislike rolling stats in order, since it interferes with creating a character concept that I already have. I understand it's a way to force players to not stick to a single character type, but trust me, I'll do that eventually on my own. Since I've been trying to recreate the same characters across systems, I'm going to ignore that part and assign what's rolled to the appropriate stat.
Creating my gnoll character again, I gave them their spear as their starting weapon. I used the random tables for starting equipment, following the rules appropriately. I got lucky on armor, having gambeson and a shield. The tools, I got a bear trap, which felt appropriate to the character who's meant to do some trapping. But the 10ft pole, grappling hook, and dice set do not really fit my vision for the character.
I could instead roll for gold and purchase items from the list, but rolling is faster and I didn't think I'd be committed to the system enough to start playing with it. If I were instead making a character from scratch, the items rolled feel like enough to inspire some original character ideas.
Knave claims high compatibility with "OSR games", which earlier I learned secretly means "it probably works fine with anything designed for D&D Basic". Not all OSR games are created with the same balance and design goals.
Along the rule descriptions, it does sometimes include a tip on how to translate rules to work with Knave. The four kinds of saving throws are nicely wrapped up into just a 'saving throw' which is roll d20 + relevant ability vs DC 15.
Unfortunately, it makes the assumption that we already know what the correct relevant ability is. The game does describe what the different ability scores actually represent, but I'm still in the dark about what Basic's saves mean, even after reading Basic's rules. Knave offers no guidance on what the categories from Basic would translate to. "Save VS Poison" I can reasonably guess would use Constitution. Saves vs breath weapons, wands, paralysis/stone, spells; I have no idea.
Knave does not give me enough knowledge to run the game for the purpose I want. As interesting as it looks, I'm going to have to put it on hold until I can find that knowledge elsewhere.
There's a second edition of Knave currently on Kickstarter. Perhaps more aid for newer players will be added.
Knave RPG: Second Edition Kickstarter
The original Microlite system, Microlite20, was written using the D&D 3e OGL content with the intent of being a lighter version of the rules stripped down to the bare minimum, allowing for fast, easy play that's still compatible with 3.X edition games.
The system has had many, many variant rules created (boasting over 100 systems, though I wouldn't count swapping a few house rules as being completely original systems). Included in that are the retro-compatible systems that tweak the original Microlite20 rules to be compatible with earlier editions of D&D.
I really appreciate that the designers included a description of what edition is compatible with what on each of the download pages. But I still felt lost in how many sub-versions their are for the systems. I'd like to see complete bundles, such as was done for Microlite20.
They sometimes use edition numbers. In this case 1e refers to Advanced D&D 1st Edition, which initially caused some confusing while trying to tell the difference between Microlite78 and Microlite 81. I ended up skimming those two to see which I'd rather try.
To give an example of how confusing the editions can be, let's look at Microlite 81. It comes in 5 different versions:
- Microlite81 1.0 Silver
- Microlite81 Extended 1.0 Silver
- Microlite81 Complete 1.0 Silver
- Microlite81 Advanced 1.0 Silver
- Microlite81 Tablet Digest Edition
If I want to download a copy with all the rules, which one should I get? I thought that would be the Complete edition, but that's wrong.
The first one has the core rules, presented in a slimmer, basic format. The Complete version has the same rules, but with richer descriptions and examples of play. The Extended version has the slimmed down rules of the first, but with the addition of optional house rules you may want to use. Then the Advanced edition is a version of those original rules mixed with things from Advanced D&D in a way I don't understand. And finally, the Tablet edition is the first slimmed down rules again, but formatted differently to be easier to read on tablets.
The issue here is that the same rules are provided 5 times. They all contain the first version. The "Silver" tag doesn't seem to mean anything. To get all the rules, you need to redownload the same rules at least 3 times. Once you have it, there's a lot of redundancy to dig through to find those unique rules, which slows things down and results in larger file sizes.
Consistently across the Microlite ecosystem each release is the same rules with minor tweaks. It would be so much easier to work with if they were assembled into a full release with variant rules.
I started off reading Microlite81 Extended since it is specifically curated towards Basic, which I expect is more likely to show up.
There are minor typographical errors, but I am here for rules.
I dislike some of the choices, such as removing skills entirely. D&D Basic has skills (not the same way as 3e+, but still). It's trying to follow the OSR idea of player skill over character skill, but this is further from the classic D&D experience than I was hoping.
An extra attribute is added to compensate the loss of skills. An attribute is basically a general skill anyways.
I was considering a house rule that makes the system classless and turns the classes into the skill list. You would raise these skills as you would through standard leveling. Multi-classing allowed. For rolls, you add both the relevant attribute and the most relevant class. I decided to put the idea on hold and wait to learn more about the balance before before committing to making houserules.
Later I reached the section on skill rolls, and my idea is what they do anyways. You add your stat bonus + class level. They complicate it further by having primary, secondary, and minor skill rolls which need additional math to calculate how much level applies to your roll. This seems like unnecessary complexity. (Thinking about it more, it might not be so bad if you calculate those ratios ahead of time.)
It's likely a quirk caused by attempting to adjust from Microlite20 where a characters level is always added to a roll, which is the primary power progression instead of increasing stats.
Later they add "talents" anyways, which provide a bonus the same way skills would.
It merges race and classes, which is one of my least favorite design decisions of D&D Basic. I'd rather avoid that.
I jumped over to Microlite81 Advanced to see if the race/class split was something they included as part of merging with Advanced rules, but the combined rules remain. They've backported 'classes' such as Dragonborn, Tieflings, and Warforged, which is nice to see.
I dislike the decision to make spells cost HP rather than spell slots. It is simpler, but drastically changes the lore of the world. A simple workaround might be to give magic users spell points instead, and lower their starting HP. There is an optional rule to use traditional spell slots.
This is the first game I read that talks about managing things like time and light levels. It gives you a lot to go off of when considering dungeon, wilderness, and ocean exploration. They kept rules for strongholds; a feature often forgotten.
The system gives the most complete advice on how to actually run an old school game that I've ever seen out of any OSR system. It's an even better introduction than some products I've looked at that were written specifically as introductions.
It also provides all the information you need on how to convert existing content to be compatible.
I really want to like this system, but parts of it feel strange to me. Perhaps with more time I could look through the house rules and find some workaround for that.
It's a very complete system, despite being marketed as "micro".
I briefly skimmed Microlite78 next. It supports compatibility with both Basic/Expert and Advanced, which isn't that common in OSR.
I didn't notice anything particularly different about the rules other than layout, but I didn't give either a complete read. 78 is longer, so there might be more there.
Dungeons of Fate
Dungeons of Fate
Dungeons of Fate caught me off guard. I'm unsure if it should be considered OSR. It's a hack of Fate Accelerated that makes it quite simple to convert D&D material into Fate. I'd categorize it as a retro-feel, but it does so in a way that's more removed than usual.
It was written by the same person who wrote *The Lazy Dungeon Master,* and is meant to embody their way of playing D&D.
It's written in an abridged way that makes it easy to understand if you are already familiar with Fate. If not, it will be a challenge to follow. The rules it uses are available for free to read either on the SRD or by downloading the PDF on Evil Hat's website.
[Evil Hat] Fate Accelerated
It simplifies the game through narrative abstractions in a more extreme way than Scarlet Heroes. I believe this would make it compatible with any edition of D&D, all the way from the earliest editions to modern. However, the updated version focuses on 5e a lot more.
I might actually prefer using the older version still available on the SRD. It's closer to the Fate Accelerated rules, which could make it easier to make compatible with other Fate materials and concepts. In particular, the loss of free aspects in the new version feels like it cramps available character creation options.
[Fate SRD] Dungeons of Fate
Another example, some might find the abstraction too much of a simplification, but it wouldn't be hard to pull in more concepts from the rest of the Fate system. Personally I'd like to give monsters stunts that match with their original descriptions. This wouldn't be that much of a challenge for someone familiar with the system, and could be improvised sufficiently on the spot.
I'd change how some of the pre-made stunts work for my table, but what's available is a substantial starting list to help with character creation. The stunts in the newer version feel less interesting, being mostly a bunch of +2 under certain conditions.
The stunt "Trapsense: You always know when traps are nearby" seemed overpowered at first (may be why it was removed), but if you take it more literally, it's actually not that bad. You can let the player know there *is* a trap, and no more details than that. It's then up to the player to identify it safely. This feels similar to how elves can easily identify illusory walls just by walking past it.
Fate is far removed from the style of gameplay often considered OSR style. I'll leave it be for now, but it's an interesting concept I might return to later.
Hopes for the future of OSR
I hope OSR will continue to move away from any official branding or works associated with TSR or Wizards of the Coasts. To break away as Pathfinder did. I want to see it become a fully self-sustaining community of independent creators each making and improving on fun ideas.
(Youtube) DnD doesn't need WotC anymore
I want to see more material to help guide new players through the confusing mess that is the OSR space. Some creators like Questing Beast do attempt this, but there's still a lot extra to learn, and even learning what needs to be learned can be a challenge.
Beginner's Guide to Old-School DnD Rulebooks
I would like a less dogmatic requirement to stick so closely to the old rules. To see more mechanical innovations. This does help with inter-system compatibility, but can we move on to instead using agreed TN ranges, damage, and things like that? As long as they still fit in a range the old system would have, it should remain compatible. (Scarlet Heroes does this quite well, for example.)
I want people to stop using the WotC Open Gaming License and instead use CC BY or CC BY-SA. (The variants with the "No Commercial" and "No Derivatives" clauses are NOT open licenses.) I've been advocating for it since before the OGL incident occurred, and hopefully since that has happened, it will be the kick people need to switch to it.
The Creative Commons licenses
I understand OSR a lot more this time than on my previous attempts to learn about it.
I found a lot of contradictions between what is promised from OSR and what is actually there. For example, "rulings over rules" is because the rules are designed for such specific uses, you are required to invent things on the fly to keep things running smoothly. You're given no assistance on how to make those rulings, so it often comes down to how generous the GM is feeling in the moment. Otherwise, there are a *lot* of specific and weirdly fiddly rules in classic D&D, which is "rules over rulings".
The lack of something as basic as a skill check presents an interesting gameplay challenge. It feeds further into DM fiat, which is a style I dislike. There's been many attempts in the OSR community to insert skill checks into the game, so I must assume I'm not the only one who feels pure DM fiat is an unsatisfying solution.
This video demonstrates a straightforwards 2d6 skill system that can be added to Basic. I feel this sort of house-ruling is the backbone of new OSR systems. I hope more will continue to add features like this.
[Youtube] A 2d6 Skills System for Basic (OSR) D&D
When people say "OSR is easier", they mean "in comparison to later editions of D&D", not in comparison to other simpler systems that deliver the same premise. OSR is still more complicated than most rules-light systems, and even some rules-medium systems. In many ways, I think D&D 5e is actually easier than OSR games. What someone finds easier is going to be based on personal preference.
I believe games which focus on universal, unified mechanics make it much easier for a GM to come up with rulings in the first place which feel more fair and less arbitrary. It gives an intuitive direction to go with rulings. D&D's high number of unrelated subsystems do not provide this.
I think there's value to be learned from the OSR community. Perhaps mostly, the game style they curate unrelated to the rules. They've had a lot of time to perfect a very specific style of tabletop roleplaying, and if you want to build a campaign of that style, there are a lot of resources available for free.
But I also feel many of those lessons have already been learned in other rpg communities. Again, "rulings over rules" is just as easily applied to any rules-light rpg. There's a community based around making single page rpgs, for which which this concept is practically required. But it can be helpful to see a different perspective on the concepts.
The idea that a player should think of what to do based on the situation in the game rather than what the rules or your character sheet says you can or cannot do has been better explored in fiction-first style roleplaying games. Descriptions of OSR playstyles often tip-toe very close to the idea of fiction-first without quite reaching it.
After all the considerations, the game I'm going to start with is Scarlet Heroes. Ignore all the setting stuff and play through some classic modules.
It's not perfect. I had some character ideas which would be impossible to create in the system, but those characters wouldn't be possible in any OSR system I've seen (except for Dungeons of Fate). But overall the system does best at what I'm looking for.
I'd still be tempted to simply improvise while using OpenD6 Fantasy or Dungeons of Fate instead. But I will avoid that for now to fully try the OSR experience. I may come back to it later.