Designing an OSR Game, Part Four: Alignment, Treasure, and Exploration

Over a month has passed since I last posted about Mysteries of a Broken World. Much has changed since the last time I wrote about the game here. The last three posts in this series are below:

The rules are much more solid now. As I mentioned before, you can view the current state of them here:

Mysteries of a Broken World Playtest Rules

This time around, I’ll talk about some changes that have happened as a result of actually digging into the rules.

Alignment

Previously, I somehow completely forgot about alignment. I didn’t write about it in blogs or even think about it in notes. Then I started to write monster entries. Since I was using the D&D Rules Cyclopedia as a starting reference point, I hit “Alignment” under the monster statistics and it dawned on me.

So alignment got added, but it’s a little different from other role-playing games. Instead of reflecting your character’s outlook on life, it reflects primal outside forces’ influence on your character. There are four alignments in the game. They are Chaos, Destiny, Void, and Equilibrium. Chaos is not the anarchic evil of old D&D. It’s impulsive and mercurial, sure, but not evil. Destiny is closest to old Lawful, but again, it’s not “good” like in the old game. Void emphasizes purity and clarity. Equilibrium enforces a balance between all opposites.

Refining Treasure

Treasure in Mysteries of a Broken World is the focus for gaining experience. Monsters have no experience reward, whether for killing or avoiding them. Most monsters, however, will have treasure either on their person or in their nearby lair. Unlike Dungeons & Dragons, treasure is not listed for monsters in abstract classes. Monster entries have a line for “Treasure Type,” with values such as “Meager,” “All That Glitters,” and “Warmonger.” Treasure Types still have a table of what they contain, but this named system tries to give Game Masters a better idea at a glance of what the monsters in a given module might possess.

Beginning to Rethink Exploration

Now that the core rules are more or less codified, I’m starting to think about where I want to take exploration. Some games make it a core feature, and others try to sweep it under the rug in favor of more visceral action. In Mysteries, I want exploration to be a primary element of the game. This requires developing rules that encourage focus on exploration.

I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do this yet. Exploration has to be interesting, which means letting players make choices. “We travel by horseback northwest for three days” is pretty boring. Turning that same journey into a game-worthy experience will require thought.

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Designing an OSR Game, Part Three: Names, Backgrounds, and Playtests

This is part three in a series of posts about designing a new OSR game. You can find the previous two here:

Since the last post, I’ve been doing a fair amount of work on the OSR game. Enough that it now has a title: Mysteries of a Broken World. The logo above is the official one for the line.

That first bit of news is probably the most milestone-y. I’ve also fleshed out more of the rules, mostly around character creation. While it’s going to be a work in progress for quite awhile, you can view the latest playtest version of the rules here:

http://playtest.silvergryphongames.com/mysteriesofabrokenworld.pdf

The above document is regenerated every time I make a change to the manuscript. It has the generation date in the header, for reference.

Everything is still in flux. I have the classes and races roughed out, though I need to work on all of them. I ended up throwing out the magic-via-spellstones idea in favor of a more traditional spell list system. Each magic-using class only has a handful of spell lists that they can access. The lore rationale for this is that some people are attuned to a specific kind of magic, and only those attuned to it can understand and use it.

I added “backgrounds” to the game also. It’s meant to give a little color to brand-new characters, and can offer some inspiration for a character’s non-adventuring abilities. I may add descriptions for each background to the rules for further inspiration, or I may leave it as just a table. That remains to be seen.

The method of rolling ability scores is firmly in the game now. They are as follows:

  1. Roll 3d6 for each ability, in order.
  2. You may:
    1. Swap two numbers once, OR
    2. Reroll all six numbers once
This gives what I feel is an appropriate amount of randomness, while also offering a way out for awful sets.
I’m toying with the idea of having an appendix in the rules that lists out several tables for random generation of character attributes like personality traits and so forth.
For the last bit of news, I’m going to start looking for people to playtest Mysteries soon (in the first couple weeks of December 2018). For inquiries on that, write to ben@silvergryphongames.com with a subject header of “Playtesting Mysteries of a Broken World.”

Designing an OSR Game, Part Two: Freeholds and Fatality

Medieval Town by Rhys Griffiths.

This is part two of a series on a new Old School Renaissance tabletop role-playing game that I’m designing. You can read part one over here.

Freeholds: Backdrop For Adventure

I’ll get back to character creation in a bit. For a moment, I want to focus on another aspect of gameplay. After creating your characters, your group will need to create your Freehold. In the context of the game, a Freehold is an independent town of moderate size. It’s self-sufficient, and large enough to be able to supply plenty of new characters should/when your original characters die. It’s also large enough to have multiple concerns beyond simple survival.

Freeholds are living communities. When creating your Freehold, you roll for or choose its Assets, Pillars, Authorities, and Tensions. Each of these helps determine the fabric of the community your party is devoted to. They also change over time, not just in reaction to what your party does, but also in accordance with the community’s own character and how it interacts with other Freeholds.

Assets are things that enhance a Freehold’s abilities. They could include things like herds of cattle, skilled artisans, well-trained city guard, and so on.

Pillars are things that form the bedrock of the community, and would exist even without the Freehold itself. They could include things like gold mines, permanent magical spells, a calm natural harbor, and so on.

Authorities are things that drive the action of the community. They could include things like a major temple, a hereditary dukedom, a merchant guild, and so on.

Tensions are things that both drive the action of the community and constantly threaten to change its nature. They could include things like a religious divide, feuding noble families, a quarrel between guilds, and so on.

Each of these four facets of your Freehold help determine what is available to your characters at any given time, and what potential adventures your characters might be a part of. They also give your characters a reason to be invested in your community.

Fatality: Death is a Constant

This world is dangerous. While the worst of the apocalyptic chaos is over, your characters will still need to deal with major threats. They may not be able to do it alone. And even when successful, the cost may be high.

Like games from the first age of role-playing, death in this one is easy to come by. Characters don’t get much more individually powerful over time. This makes banding together far more important. This also drives the necessity for character creation to be quick and painless, so that when a player’s character meets an untimely end, he can roll up a new one on the spot.

Unlike some popular fantasy role-playing games, death is more than just a speed bump in this game. Resurrections are so rare as to be legendary, and perhaps even feared. Necromancy is more common, but not without a terrible price.

On Gryphons and their Kin

Gryphon, by Kate Pfeilschiefter

As one of the founders of Silver Gryphon Games I have a fondness for gryphons. It seems only natural, then, that I write up a few variations of the standard gryphon (or griffon, griffin, or gryfon, as you like) for OSR uses.

Gryphon

Common

Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 7
Move: Normal move: 90′ (30′); flying: 240′ (80′)
Attacks: 2 claws/1 bite
Damage: 1-8/1-8/2-12
No. Appearing: 1 (1-2)
Save As: Fighter: 3
Morale: 9
Treasure Type: V
Alignment: Neutral

Gryfalcon

Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 6
Move: Normal move: 90′ (30′); flying: 280′ (100′)
Attacks: 2 claws/1 bite
Damage: 1-6/1-6/2-8
No. Appearing: 1 (1-2)
Save As: Fighter: 3
Morale: 9
Treasure Type: U
Alignment: Neutral

Opinicus

Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 7
Move: Normal move: 120′ (40′); flying: 240′ (80′)
Attacks: 2 claws/1 bite
Damage: 1-8/1-8/2-12
No. Appearing: 1 (1-2)
Save As: Fighter: 3
Morale: 9
Treasure Type: V
Alignment: Neutral

Demigryph

Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 7
Move: 120′ (40′)
Attacks: 2 claws/1 bite
Damage: 1-6/1-6/1-10
No. Appearing: 1 (1-2)
Save As: Fighter: 3
Morale: 9
Treasure Type: U
Alignment: Neutral

Hippogriff

Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 7
Move: Normal move: 90′ (30′); flying: 240′ (80′)
Attacks: 2 claws/1 bite
Damage: 1-8/1-8/2-12
No. Appearing: 1 (1-2)
Save As: Fighter: 3
Morale: 9
Treasure Type: U
Alignment: Neutral

Gryphons are powerful predators, but generally avoid fights unless very hungry. They are found in all manner of climates, but tend to prefer mountainous areas. All variations of gryphon except the demigryph will build their nests (called aeries) in high-up places that are easily defended and difficult for non-flyers to reach. Gryphons are social, intelligent creatures and will sometimes be found in small communities of gryphons. They mate for life, and if their mate dies, they will rarely take another mate, instead living the rest of their life alone. Some cultures use gryphons as fighting-beasts or as mounts. Because they are intelligent creatures, gryphons in this capacity are usually willing participants in this arrangement, but not always. A person having a gryphon as a mount will usually have a strong bond with that creature, and vice versa.

Common: The common variety have the body, tail and back legs of a lion, and the head, wings, breast, and front legs of an eagle. They stand roughly 6-7′ high at the shoulder, making them a little larger than most horses.

Gryfalcon: Gryfalcons are very similar to common gryphons, but instead of bearing the likeness of an eagle, resemble a falcon. They are typically smaller and more lithe than their common kin.

Opinicus: The opinicus has the full lower body of a lion, including the front legs, and the head and wings of an eagle. Unlike common gryphons, they do not have tufted ears. Opinici tend to be slightly more aggressive than other gryphons.

Demigryph: A demigryph (or keythong) looks very similar to a common gryphon, but has no wings. Demigryphs are fonder of plains and hills than their kin, and are more likely to interact with humans and other sentient species.

Hippogriff: Hippogriffs have the body, back legs, and tail of a horse instead of a lion. They are otherwise similar to common gryphons. These creatures are rarely seen outside of forested mountains.

 

Designing a new OSR game

Photo courtesy of Alex Chambers

So lately I’ve been delving back into the world of OSR role-playing games. In my past several years of playing only modern games, I’d forgotten what it felt like to play an OSR game. I miss the simplicity and the speed of combat. I especially miss the very real sense of danger that my character would die, and I’d have to start over from scratch.

I decided to look at the original source material, a few recent entries into the genre, and some other inspirational material and come up with my own OSR rules.

This blog post represents the first part of that journey.

Simplicity

One of the core themes of OSR games is simplicity. Character classes have very few details to them, and certainly not a deep progression arc. The game is less about characters becoming more mechanically powerful and more about putting these characters into new situations and seeing what they do. In that sense, at least, it’s a role-play heavy style.

Another expression of the theme of simplicity is in the resolution mechanic. If you take into account the optional rules from the original game (and here I’m referring specifically to Moldvay Basic), there were attribute tests, but they were simple d20 roll-under-ability-score affairs. There were no bonuses to such rolls. Combat was a little weird with the AC to-hit scheme. I don’t miss that part, at least.

A New Game Begins

So for this post, let’s say that this game of mine will begin with the basics and riff on that. The original game included only a handful of classes, and three races were classes in themselves. In my game, let’s make this a little more complex.

There are classes, and there are races. Classes remain very simple, with only a couple special abilities to give them a bit of flavor. Races are added to the mix, so that each character has both a race and a class, but they also are very simple. This gives any given character less than half a dozen special abilities from both choices, and this doesn’t change beyond first level.

“What about spells?” I hear you say. Well, in this system, spells are going to be treated much like equipment. Each spell is a limited-use magic item, probably in the form of a spell-gem or something similar. Magic-using classes will be able to collect and use these in different ways. Non-magic-users won’t even be able to hold the things.

“Does that go for divine magic too?” No, divine magic – called miracles in this game – uses something much more freeform. A user of divine magic prays to a deity to enact a miracle through them. This will be a unique roll – I’m toying with a few ideas here.

Most tests not covered by special abilities or other game rules will be roll-under ability score tests. I’ll use the original game’s 3d6 ability score generation, and d20 roll-under test. That seems just fine.

Saving throws are reduced to a single type. It’s basically a hail-Mary play that can save your character from something awful by making it less awful, but still bad. It’s also a roll-under target, but it’s set, not random. You also only get one per game session.

I like weapons all doing the same damage, so we’re going back to that. We’ll make things more interesting, though, by making all weapons have a special feature. That will keep them from feeling same-y.

More on these topics is coming in further blog posts.

Playing Characters You Hate

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/@pixabay

When you play a role-playing game, you adopt the persona of someone other than you. In American RPGs, this often just means that you’re running a fictional version of yourself with a different race and a lot of swords, spells, or guns.

But what if the character you play is intentionally your anathema?

For example, what if you personally believe wholeheartedly in giving others second chances, but your character believes that if someone fails, they are irredeemably flawed?

For your next character, instead of reaching for your comfort zone, try out something brand new. Imagine the group of people you most hate in the real world. Take the second worst after that, and build your character’s defining traits based on them.

This is not new advice. But here’s where it gets interesting:

Figure out why your character genuinely believes they have the best possible outlook. Play them that way. Their defining traits that you hate so much may change in subtle ways. Or they might not. Either way, you might gain an interesting insight into the “other side.” And even if not, you’ll be exploring something that might teach you something new about your own beliefs.