Friday, August 30, 2013

indie vs OSR, and the winner is...

I was just thinking about wandering monsters and how most of the time they are pointless and don't make sense. I was thinking about my last Dungeon Crawl Classics game which came to a screeching halt when the party got surrounded by jackals from a wandering monster table and there was literally nothing they could do to survive such an overwhelming encounter except by rolling their ice really well. I was thinking back to previous experiences where wandering monsters were simply used to soften up the party. I was trying to think of times when the wandering monster was used to help layer the atmosphere of the locale and I was coming up empty.

Then I remembered a wandering monster that was fun to fight. For me, at least.

It was one of my early gaming experiences, when I was too young to really know the rules and too naive to know how "the best" way to role-play was. I was gaming with older people, who perhaps tolerated my presence but otherwise didn't support it. My character was a wizard and a bear had broken into our camp. He was smashing tents and gouging his claws into horses and people. Everyone was running around, gathering weapons, and keeping their distance. The main fighter in our group got pinned and was being mauled, he needed to make a Strength check to break free at the start of his next turn, and my turn in the initiative came up.
"Can I jump on the bear's back and drive my dagger into it's shoulder blades?"
The surprised looks I got, and the advice afterwards, I look back on it now and think those people were fucking idiots and if I had known better I would have found a different group. "Wizards don't really rush into combat like that." "You don't really have the stats to pull it off." "A spell would probably be a better course of action." and similar such things.
I didn't care. "But can I? How hard would it be?"
I remember the DM saying "If you roll really high I'll let you do it, but that bear will probably turn on you next." Everybody was discouraging me from acting. I rolled high, an 18 or 19, impossible to deny success on such a roll. I was on the bear's back and I could roll damage, a whopping 1d4.
Most of the players clucked their tongues or shook their heads, because now the bear was going to attack me, but the fighter got free and in two more hits the bear was down and out. I had saved the fighter, taken a few licks myself, and turned the tables of the fight, all because I didn't follow some pre-programmed narrative for how I should play my character or what my skills were best suited for.

That group really sucked.

I think that the experience of playing indie games has helped rekindle my OSR gaming nostalgia far more than some of the other OSR games I've played. Dungeon Crawl Classics does a really great job of bringing back that old school flavor to a set of rules, but the "story first" dictates of Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Itras By, Lady Blackbird, and Monsterhearts is far more evocative of the time in my life when I could play a wizard and think it was totally appropriate for me to distract a bear from mauling the fighter by jumping onto the bear's back and trying to jam my dagger into it's ear.
What I'm really saying is that there is very little difference between the OSR and indie games. One is perhaps a little more brutal where the players are accepting of that inherent brutality as part of the story, and the other is more focused on survivability so that the same characters can thrive throughout the story. One is no better than the other, and each can be slightly tweaked to change the survival-brutal axis on which it sits.
As a GM or a player I want to be in a game that has the depth and details of an OSR game but with the flexible mechanics of an indie RPG. I believe a happy medium can be reached between the two.


  1. What specific aspects of an OSR game give the level of depth and detail you prefer?

    1. Definitely the magic systems. I love the DCC magic system, even if it is incredibly difficult to pull off amazing effects consistently.

  2. I think the "Random" is the most important part. I am not someone who typically loves combat in RPGs. But they are a necessary part of most games and i get that. Scripted plot driven battles seem to often have the opposite effect that they intend. They boil real and important plot charecters down to their numbers and it feels too much like looking behind the curtain of the wizard of OZ. In the Abberant game we played. Kelly made it clear that he believed there was a good reason why they never gave stats for Divis Mal or Cestus Pax and so we never really had to "fight" them. All contact we had (even if it was a combative nature) never entered full on "combat mode" (rolling initiative etc...) However... random encounters when done well can allow the PCs to roleplay to help flesh their charecter out. Your wizard here is a great example of that. Had you gone furthur with the charecter you probably would have discovered he had some sort of death wish... or was a hot head.

    1. Scripted plot driven battles seem to often have the opposite effect that they intend.
      And yet, you play a lot of 4th edition... ?

      Interestingly, when I am thinking about or discussing the "story first" nature of most indie RPGs I am reminded of your Kelly-GMing-Aberrant stories.