Combining D&D, OSR and Old School with freeform play


OK, so you have some edition of D&D at home. Or another old school game, Traveller, Bushido, I don’t know. Or any of the millions of OSR games (hint: Chris McDowall’s Into the Odd/Electric Bastionland is da shiat).

But now you’ve taken a look at the rules, and you’re not sure if you’ll ever be able to play that game. How is anyone supposed to remember all those things? Page upon page upon page of rules. How?

Freeform roleplay to the rescue!

You can still keep your books, there’s so much inspiration in them, you’ll see. What you want to do if you’re overwhelmed by the sheer amount of numbers and rules and pages is this:

  1. Create a character with the rules set you have. Don’t sweat it, there’s no need to stick slavishly to the rules in the book. Follow the character creation rules as well as you can. Boom, your character is ready to leap headfirst into adventure (or into the mouth of a green-faced stone demon face, as the case may be).
  2. Read this blog post: It contains everything you need to know to start playing NOW. The founding fathers of our hobby played like that, and what was good for them is good for us.
  3. If you have time, read these two other posts, as well: and
  4. Understand that rules are only a necessary evil. What’s important is the game, is playing with friends and family at the table, moving miniatures around (or not), scribbling, planning, laughing, acting. That’s the important part. Don’t let your imagination be drowned by tons of rules. Early roleplaying games didn’t rely on any rulebook — because there were no rulebooks yet. Play the world, not the rules.

Darkworm Colt — an Epic Fantasy of Sword & Magic

I’ve been looking for a name for my new fantasy game. Didn’t find it, at first, but it was right there in front of my eyes, the whole time.

Darkworm Colt — an epic fantasy of swords & magic

This is not only the name of my blog, but also appropriately weird, hitting all the right notes. Darkworm Colt takes its inspiration from Bakshi films, Heavy Metal 1 and 2, and other 60s/70s/80s fantasy movies. It will will contain:

  • a system based on Into the Odd/Electric Bastionland, i.e., super quick and easy to handle 
  • 30 weird character classes 
  • 4 traditional old school character classes, with 
  • clerics coming in two flavors: traditional clerics and holy men/women/hermaphrodites. Clerics use clerical insignia (item-bound spells) to do magic, holy people use guru prayer beads that bestow a new temporary power upon their wearer every day. 
  • 300 spells (colluted from Chris’s list and Ben Milton’s knave) 
  • simple level-less magic system with magic dice a la GLOG 
  • probably tables to generate mood and appropriate descriptions

I’m pretty happy with how it’s developing at the moment.

Through the week with a Holy Man: details on the Cleric in my Into the Odd fantasy hack

I’m currently working on a game that uses the Into the Odd/Electric Bastionland rules, but transplants the action into the fantasy genre. Depending on your mood, you can either pick the “weird” classes the game offers, or stay traditional and play one of the backgrounds of the original D&D game: cleric, fighting-man, magic-user or thief.

When you decide to play a cleric, you have two options:

  • a) Play a traditional Cleric (uses item-bound spells, colored to fit their god)
  • b) Play a Holy Person (prays each day and rolls to see what special power their god grants them for the day)
Clerics start with one Holy Symbol (spell-item) and one permanent special ability, bestowed upon them by their god. Holy Persons choose to pick so-called Holy Numbers and intonate them properly. Then, they roll a d6 to determine what happens.
Let’s stay with a Holy Man for this post. 

He has STR 8 DEX 11 WIL 14 hp 2. He gets a blunt weapon (1d6) and armor 1. His god is a protective god. 

On day 1, he picks the Holy Number 7, rolls a d6 and his god grants him the ability to turn a target or himself immaterial for 1d4 rounds.

On day 2, he picks the Holy Number 5, rolls a d6 and gains armor 3 for this day.

On day 3 and 4, he picks the Holy Number 3, rolls a d6 and gains armor 3 for these days.

On day 5, he picks the Holy Number 7, rolls a d6 and his god forces a target to be spiritually fascinated by a piece of armor the Holy Man determines, effectively cutting any damage the target does does in half.

On day 6, he picks the Holy Number 8, rolls a d6 and, for this day, can either turn ten pieces of garment into Armor 1, or give ten targets Armor 3, or let ten persons resist poison successfully, or turn ten persons immaterial for 1d4 rounds.

On day 7, he picks the Holy Number 4, rolls a d6 and his armor and that of his companions permanently gain +1.

These results are all pretty generic. That’s intentional. The random effects still need to be dressed up in colorful description by the player. The Holy Man I wrote about here might see the effects of his god’s powers as divine light surrounding his body, while another Holy Man might be protected by the giant spiritual hands of his goddess.

Bottom line: I’m pretty satisfied with how the Divine Miracles of the Holy Persons work. More on this after playtesting.

Expedition through my rpg bookshelf: Part 1: Hush Hush

HH is a sourcebook for Unknown Armies 1st edition. An in-depth description of a clued-in cabal of mystics and the non-magickally gifted people following them. They’re calling themselves “the Sleepers”, and their self-ascribed job is to police the Occult Underground for abuses that might lead to exposure of real magick. Sounds cool. The concept certainly is, and that’s what pulled us into buying every single sourcebook for Unknown Armies.

But. BUT. BUT. 

Hush Hush suffers from the same problem that plagues all Unknown Armies (and more generally, all turn-of-the-millenium rpg) books: TMW. Too. Many. Words.

One “witness” account after another, one location after another, one mystical artifact after another, one historical tidbit after another, yadda yadda fucking yadda, ad nauseam. The endless stream of words, words, words just won’t stop.

My god, there’s even a chapter on “Gear & Weapons” in that book. For what? Does this help in any way? Does it really help that the following TEN pages describe firearms, non-lethal weapons, “tactical clothing” and miscellaneous equipment in detail? Does this anything to increase mood and setting? Or is it just pointless rambling filling page after page with boring descriptions? And, don’t get me wrong, every NPC, every location, every single fucking everything gets the same treatment. It’s a 128-page exercise in complete boredom.

How is anyone supposed to take anything away from that? Did the authors, did Atlas Games really hope someone would use this material in their game? How many hours does a day have?

Call me spoiled, and as a full-blooded old school and OSR DM I surely am, but OSR handles topics like that so much better and more efficient. Take a look at Zak S ‘s Vornheim, for instance. Or at Chris McDowall’s Into the Odd. Or at David McGrogan’s Yoon-Suin, or at Paul ‘Geist’ Gallagher’s Augmented Reality, or many others. These are all books filled to the brim with random tables, allowing you to create your very own version of a setting. And they convey facts about the setting in the most concise format possible.

Bottom Line: Interesting concept, lousy execution. 
One of five Indiana Jones hats.

Into the Odd fantasy game: Traditional class 2: The Fighting-man

Traditional Background: Fighting-man

You have learned how to fight.
You get: one-handed weapon (1d6), two-handed weapon (1d8, bulky), armor (1); In armed combat, roll 2 dice for damage, and take the result you want.
Sample Names:
Where have you learned how to fight?
In the best warrior academy of the land. When you kill an enemy, you immediately may attack another opponent.
In the School of Shadows. Make a DEX test to avoid damage from a ranged attack. This counts as an action, and you may not attack in the same round.
In the School of Hardknocks. Your toughened body absorbs damage like 1 point of armor even when you‘re naked.
In the School of Divine Serpent Fangs. If you roll a 1 for damage, roll again and add the result.
In the back alleys of your town. In unarmed combat, when you are hit, ignore damage that‘s 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12.
In the Courtyards of Dirt. You‘re carrying a rotting disease (+1d4 damage after a fight is over, and 75 percent chance your opponent will be infected).