The new and improved defender of RPGs!

Monday 26 June 2017

Classic Rant: On the Third Generation of OSR Products

There's been some talk on the OSR blogosphere lately about the question of just what is really valuable in the OSR, setting or rules, and about what the OSR is producing or may produce (or should be producing) in the future. That is to say, where shall the innovation be?

Tenkar (of Tenkar's Tavern) came out saying that he thinks the future of the game should be more products like Spears of the Dawn or Arrows of Indra, complete games where the innovation is the setting and "less reworks of greyhawk or the forgotten realms". While Rob Conley (who I'll note provided the excellent maps for Arrows of Indra) admitted that these are not really his cup of tea, and that his " preference is for bog standard fantasy world but with depth" (giving Harnworld or Ars Magica as examples).

The Greyhawk Grognard has pointed out that he thinks there were two phases in the OSR, the first being retro-clones and the second going off in "new directions". 

All of them made mention of this question of "where is the OSR's Tekumel?", and the impetus for this seems to have been the new White Star game.

I'd argue that in fact there are now three phases in the OSR.

The first was the retro-clones. This was to me by far the least interesting part of the OSR, though some argued a necessary part, and they are pretty much finished now (since we've cloned just about everything that could be cloned and a few things that maybe shouldn't have been, to the point that we're left picking through Dave Arneson's discarded grocery bills in search of mythical clues to some kind of lost UR-D&D).

The second phase is still going on, which is the largely rules-fronted OSR games: those games that are not retroclones but whose innovation and creativity is largely focused on rule-modifications of the standard D&D concept. These are games like ACKS, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or Fantastic Heroes & Witchery.
These could still go strong for a good long while, because there's way more room for creative maneuvering than with the retro-clones or even the almost-clones like Adventures Dark and Deep, as good as that is.

But now what we're just starting to see is Phase III: which is the products that are all about focusing on an old-school setting that obliges a new way of playing D&D; these will have rules that are different from the standard but what makes them shine is not the rules-difference but the setting-difference. I'm proud to say that Arrows of Indra is one of them (as is the aforementioned Spears of the Dawn), but I also think these are in some ways just the baby-steps (or easy pickings) of what will eventually become a huge new source of creative wealth for the OSR.

These types of OSR-games are exactly the kind I'm interested in making. Aside from AoI, within a month or two we'll see the release of Dark Albion: The Rose War. What will make it interesting and different from the two examples above is that AoI and Spears both got their inspiration from looking at D&D from the point of view of a cultural difference in setting; whereas Dark Albion is going to be, to slightly alter Conley's demands, "European Fantasy with depth". It will be D&D done for deep-historical gritty European fantasy, which will be closer in some ways to stuff like Ars Magica, Harn, or Pendragon than anything we've seen for the OSR thus far. Indeed, while it will be instantly familiar (and particularly appealing, I think, to any Game of Thrones fan) its 280-or-so pages of historical-fantasy detail will unlike any D&D setting I've ever seen.

The days where people could get away with the "10' x 10' room with 2 giant rats and exactly 2000cp" rut that the JMal-branch of the OSR nearly got stuck in is over. What's coming up now will defy anyone to think that there's a lack of creativity in the OSR, as if the second-phase products hadn't made that claim provably absurd already.


Currently Smoking: Ashton Old Church Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best

(originally posted May 22, 2015)


  1. Players: What are we going to play next?

    DM: Well, we can play D&D in space, or D&D in the wild west, or D&D in WW2, or D&D in ancient India, or D&D ....

    Players: Can't we just play D&D?

    This third wave OSR sounds like a dystopian future. Where everyone plays D&D except in the one setting where the rules of D&D actually make sense.

    If I want to play in a "historical gritty European fantasy", I'll start with Pendragon or some other game designed from the ground up to support that setting. As soon as you require a game to be a "new way of playing D&D" you've limited what you can do to support the setting to an absurd degree.

    1. Well, yeah. Pendragon offers a different experience compared to Dark Albion, which again is different from Dark Eye and Zweihänder and LotFP, etc.

      Nevertheless, if the gameplay of D&D is appealing to someone, there is a bunch of setting-variations one could devise (I argued about it here:

      Also, I myself made a similar post about such games:

    2. Not really. The trick with the OSR is that all the "new ways of playing D&D" are still so similar to each other as to be easily compatible.

    3. I'd always understood Pendragon was RuneQuest adapted to dark ages Britain.

    4. They are similar but Pendragon also has many new mechanics for passions and virtues and other things. I'd rather play Pendragon for any Dark Ages setting.

    5. Pretty much why I don't buy much "OSR" material. I didn't care much for D&D as D&D; I don't see much need to make D&D-Western, D&D-Space, D&D-Time Travel, etc.

  2. Does "Spears of the Dawn" use the D&D mechanics? (3d6 for the attributes, roll a d20 to hit, etc.) I'd like a good African fantasy RPG but not much of a fan of D&D rules.

  3. This retro post doesn't take into account the 4th wave. If I get time today, I'll blog about it.

    1. I'm pretty sure that's not a thing. But I'll be interested in seeing what you're trying to sell us.

    2. Internet sucks so bad here, it's like I'm living in a third world country! Finally got the blog post up:

    3. Haha, no. That's not a thing.

    4. Yeah, actually it is. There are many of us who've been steadily making the OSR that much more awesome with our work on the outer edges. You're welcome.

    5. You know, you could still make Alpha Blue an OSR product. It would be awesome if you did. For starters, you'd be able to stop making shit up.