Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Romance of the Perilous Land: OSR Meets British Folklore

It’s almost a roleplaying game cliché that Dungeons & Dragons and its many retro-clones from the Old School Renaissance (OSR) often focus more on hack-and-slash dungeon delves than more story-driven fare. Mechanics in these games primarily focus on characters’ abilities in overcoming combat-oriented obstacles – armor class, hit points, to-hit bonuses, saving throws, spells – with other elements like thief abilities intended to safely grab treasure. What players do with these rules remains their own business; some engage in “murder-hobo” rampages in the full hack-and-slash mode, while others seek to infuse their games with more story elements despite the combat-oriented mechanics. Yet Scott Malthouse has deftly integrated old-school mechanics with more heroic, story-based themes from British folklore in his OSR game Romance of the Perilous Land. As a pay-what-you-want game it’s worth picking up to check out the setting-influenced innovations to OSR mechanics. Having recently featured the Kickstarter revision of the classic Prince Valiant: The Storytelling Game, I think Perilous Land offers a similar game experience with the legendary trappings in an OSR-friendly package.

Perilous Land covers the usual old-school bases – ability scores, character classes, armor, equipment, spells – with some nice adjustments, combining some original interpretations of OSR game mechanics with some previously seen innovations. Unlike other “grinder” games the characters in Perilous Land are heroes with a solid set of rules designed to help them survive at lower levels and give them a sense that their actions matter even if they’re only first level.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Customizing the OSR Experience

Resources like Brent Newhall’s Old School Renaissance Handbook and Taxidermic Owlbear’s overview of retro-clone systems remind me of the OSR’s amazing diversity in mechanics. Each new OSR game provides the author’s own interpretation of the classic Dungeons & Dragons game system based on a beloved early edition, an amalgam of preferred mechanics, new innovations on those systems, or other inventive derivations. (And I’m not even mentioning setting interpretations incorporating those mechanics....) Although I like a single unifying “core mechanic” in my games – such as the dice-pool roll against a difficulty number in the D6 System – I grew up with the amalgam of different mechanics in the Basic/Expert D&D and Advanced D&D games. “Core mechanic” systems allow for a some degree of interpretation in fine tuning within the scope of the basic rules, yet so does D&D with its numerous individual rulings for resolving the host of situations that arise in the course of a game. D&D established the foundation for fantasy roleplaying game mechanics; the OSR demonstrates just how variations and innovations can vary to produce games with different play styles.

The process adjusts individual mechanics within the game to find the right balance of game play. Take a look at individual systems and notice how gamers can alter nearly every one for a particular play style or rules preference. Since roleplaying games focus on characters, many of these elements appear on the character sheet; many trickle down to other systems, particularly in handling monsters .Designers have adjusted existing rules to their liking, but for some they’ve devised original ways of handling mechanics while still evoking the spirit of early roleplaying games:

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Tips for Kid-Friendly Games

Our recent experiences at Historicon brought to light more tips for running games for kids. The more we game with kids – as parents, participants, even onlookers – the more we discover what works for engaging them in all kinds of adventure gaming: miniature wargames, board games, even roleplaying games. Noting what was and wasn’t done at some of our Historicon games offers some first-hand inspiration; we signed up for games based on my son, the Little Guy, and his preferences and ability levels. I’ve discussed some strategies for running kid-friendly games at conventions before. These brief tips add to those earlier observations to help stock the arsenal of ideas for those engaging kids in games. With some consideration for specific situations these tips can apply to games in the home and at public venues like library events and game conventions. They’re more for younger children sampling games than older tweens and teens who have a better sense of comprehension about more complex games; but don’t hesitate to adapt these for running games with adult newcomers to the hobby.

Some of these tips require planning beforehand; others one can implement at the gaming table. And while these emerged from my own personal experiences, they’ might not reflect your particular situations, so feel free to ignore or modify them to best suit your own games with kids:

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Prince Valiant Returns

Nocturnal Media plans to release a new, full-color edition of designer Greg Stafford’s Prince Valiant: The Storytelling Game through a Kickstarter campaign. The news inspired my nostalgic memories of the game back when it was first published. I found a copy shortly after its release, immersed myself in its rich Arthurian legend and vivid artwork, and used it to satisfy my established gaming group and entertain a few casual gamers. It’s an oft-overlooked introductory game that uses basic yet elegant mechanics, offers a rich setting, and provides plenty of suggestions for novices. Although I’m on the fence about backing the Kickstarter edition, I heartily recommend it to anyone seeking a light roleplaying game with a legendary setting ideal for both experienced gamers and those seeking to explore the roleplaying game experience.

The original 128-page softcover rulebook looks pretty standard for games of the late 1980s and early 1990s, with a few outstanding innovations that still resonate today. After the “One Page Prince Valiant” rules – an almost scripted walk-through of a brief adventure using pre-generated knight characters – the book covers the usual territory: the obligatory “What Is A Storytelling Game?”; the basic game rules (including character creation, core mechanics, and the “Fame” section central to the game); a good guideline section discussing player goals and lots of useful storytelling tips; advanced game rules for experienced gamers to add greater depth to their experience; and a reference section covering the Prince Valiant setting and its major characters. As introductory game rulebooks go it’s fairly traditional, going into detail expounding about rules and specific situations even within the basic game chapter...and yet it all still works, at least in the hands of a seasoned gamemaster.