Tuesday, May 5, 2015

My Lulu OSR Wish List

Recently I’ve been exploring the Old School Renaissance movement (OSR) in roleplaying games. It helps me connect with my earliest days of dungeon-delving roleplaying and my continued preference for the Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons rules; it’s also providing inspiration both for game design and as options for solo and group play. I’ve acquired many free PDF rules online, but I can’t really enjoy reading them on the screen and don’t want to print everything out in cluttered loose-leaf binders or hastily stapled piles. I’m still a book lover; I can read a printed book cover-to-cover, even a game book, but can read only small portions of a PDF book on screen.

Since so many people have published so much OSR material through venues like Lulu and OneBookShelf, I need to establish a rationale to limit my purchases and keep them relevant to my interests and play style. Since the OSR looks back to the earliest days of fantasy roleplaying games, I wanted to find rules incorporating elements of my favorite edition of D&D, the Basic/Expert rules edited by Tom Moldvay. These included a number of elements that appealed to me: a generally more streamlined and better organized presentation than AD&D at the time; races as classes (sacrificing some player options for streamlining simplicity); and a comprehensive approach to the game, incorporating everything needed to play in one book. While I appreciate games with approaches different than my own rationale – and own and have enjoyed many – for future acquisitions I’m limiting myself to material that might best suit my own gaming style. I’m also looking for quality supplements to expand my OSR experience; these don’t need to tie into one particular rules set as much as offer inspiration for fantasy roleplaying games. I still need to do my homework. I have free PDF copies of some of the games that interest me, but I need to more closely examine many to see if they follow my rationale enough that I’d want to add them to my print library.

I’m looking to Lulu to satisfy most of my OSR urges since Lulu occasionally has significant across-the-board sales, especially around the winter holidays, but occasionally out of the blue the rest of the year (though I’m not averse to ordering print-on-demand material from OneBookShelf). But Lulu has no online wish list function for registered users (at least nothing I could find), so I can’t keep track of desirable titles to make finding and ordering them easy when Lulu announces discounts. So I figured I’d share with folks – and put down on “paper” (the electronic sort) – my list of interesting OSR product from the vast, hard-to-search Lulu offerings.

I’ve already acquired the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game with a few adventures (courtesy of a generous giveaway over at Tenkar’s Tavern) and Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox rules thanks to a recent Lulu discount. I’ve enjoyed reading both and appreciating their particular approach to classic fantasy roleplaying. Tim Shorts’ Starter Adventures (ordered with WhiteBox rules) offered a host of short scenarios tailored to individual classes plus a solid group adventure, all infused with his cutting wit and acerbic humor. I bought several OSR zines I enjoyed, yet another manifestation of the movement’s popularity and the spirit of creativity it inspires. After looking around on the web – and investigating leads from Taxidermic Owlbear’s “D&D Retroclones” insightful and comprehensive list – I’ve compiled a list of interesting OSR materials I hope to acquire with future Lulu discounts:
Dark Dungeons: This doesn’t seem as popular as some other OSR rules, but after looking over the PDF several features appealed to me. While it’s fairly long at 345 pages, it includes a comprehensive treasure listing, lots of monsters, and many, many tables. It hits most of the marks in emulating Basic/Expert D&D, being a retro-clone of the D&D Cyclopedia (an artifact I’d love to acquire someday). The weapon feats system looks like an intuitive enhancement to combat and character progression.

Labyrinth Lord: I’ve heard a lot of buzz about this game. It seems to offer the comprehensive material as Dark Dungeons in less than half the pages, yet for some reason seems twice as expensive on Lulu. In quickly perusing the PDF I noticed some brief setting and adventure material at the end, which I find tempting.

Swords & Wizardry Core Rules: I liked what I saw in Swords & Wizardy WhiteBox from a more streamlined point of view, so I’m sorely tempted to get a more expansive version of the game to include material based on more than the three main books from original D&D. Granted, these do not incorporate races as classes, but the popularity of these rules and my interest in examining its approach to the primary sources tempts me.

Old School Renaissance Handbook: This isn’t a game book as much as a book about games; frequent readers know I maintain and add to a small shelf of such “reference” or “academic” materials to broaden my horizons. Brent Newhall’s monograph remains tempting as one of the few documenting the OSR movement at a fixed point in time. It might provide an interesting insight into the contemporary popularity of the OSR and a good comparison of the different systems (yes, I know I could get this in PDF, but I like physical books, especially ones that might deserve a place on my shelf of books about gaming).

Mythic Gamemaster Emulator: I occasionally find time to dabble in solitaire gaming, often wargaming, but sometimes in trying out new roleplaying game systems and settings I like. I’ve seen some interesting online tools but thought the Mythic Gamemaster Emulator might offer some other approaches to enhance my solo gameplay. Books with lots of random tables to provide inspiration have tempted me recently for both group and solitaire play (see Dungeon Dozen and Beyond the Wall below), so this product seemed a natural choice to explore a new technique.

Dungeon Dozen: I used to follow Jason Sholtis’ The Dungeon Dozen blog regularly; although it’s since passed from my active radar to my passive scan, I still find his random d12 tables bountiful resources for ideas. Sometimes his material seems a bit “gonzo” for my own medieval fantasy play style, but his Dungeon Dozen collection of random d12 tables provides a quick reference easier to page through than numerous blog entries. This title caters to my growing affinity for random tables related to fantasy roleplaying settings for both on-the-fly adventures and solitaire play.

Old School Adventures Accessory CC1: Creature Compendium: Stand-alone bestiaries don’t usually hold my interest; I expect a rulebook to include a comprehensive list of monsters populating the setting, making up any special ones for personal adventures as needed. But I saw samples of the page design and artistic style and couldn’t help being tempted at how the Creature Compendium revels in the style of an old first edition D&D bestiary. I also admire how it provides stats for both “Oe/1e” and “BX” D&D-style games.

While Lulu offers periodic sales to tempt me – and certainly has a huge inventory of OSR titles in a difficult-to-search site without means of putting titles on a wish list – it’s not the only print-on-demand venue catering to gamers seeking print OSR material. Certainly OneBookShelf has several interesting OSR titles available for print-on-demand that aren’t on Lulu. Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures is one of these, as it caters to Basic/Expert D&D-style gaming and relies on numerous tables for generating character backstory as well as adventures on the fly. Exemplars & Eidolons looks like a concise, bare-bones OSR game; granted, it doesn’t provide significant monster and treasure listings, but seems like a solid framework with which to customize one’s game experience (and the free electronic download offers a template for creating a similar game book along with a PDF annotated with layout notes). The more I see samples from the page layout and hear about the OSR approach to space opera the more I want to see what James Spahn has done in White Star, a sci-fi interpretation of the popular Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox rules (and this coming from a dedicated Star Wars D6 gamer).

All this wishful thinking about what OSR games I want to acquire in print naturally raises a question: how many systems do we need, especially when so many derive from the similar six-stat, class-and-level source? The real appeal – at least for me, though I suspect it also applies to many gamers – is seeing how others interpret and modify the source rules to achieve different mechanics and play styles (though I also take an interest in a book’s graphic design). I often wonder about a core “operating system” in gaming, a central system everyone can learn on their own and play with anyone else familiar with those rules. Some might argue that’s the current iteration of Dungeons & Dragons, others might prefer less popular but no less enjoyable games, like the D6 System. But even within iconic games the concept of a “core system” evolves at the individual gaming table, as gamemasters and players modify existing mechanics into “house rules” to better suit their play style and campaign setting. In some ways the OSR emerged from this urge to customize a game with “house rules,” so surveying OSR games to glean new ideas for one’s own game table only seems logical. There’s a lot to celebrate in the OSR. If a game fits a reader’s budget and play style, it can only add to the overall play experience, whether as a core set of rules or as source material to mine for new elements to add to a preferred system.

What are some of your favorite OSR titles or preferred game elements? Want to start a civilized discussion? Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.