Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Different Direction for the OSR

I've been doing a lot of work on Emprise!™, specifically on the Players Manual, and one thing is become more and more clear to me as I continue the work. This is going to be flying in the face of a lot of the common wisdom about just what makes an Old School game Old School. Reading the latest draft of the LotFPWFRPG rules really made that point stand out in my mind.

This is not going to be a "rules lite" game. Where some of the OSR games go for a stripped down dune buggy that the owner can then bolt stuff onto, Emprise!™ is going to have everything from an mp3 player built into the dashboard to heated leather seats and one of those chrome skull trailer hitch covers with the eyes that light up red. And did I mention that it'll also come with tail fins you can attach yourself with a screwdriver?

The classes, for instance, are beefy and fiddly, as befits something that has the Unearthed Arcana rules grafted seamlessly into the old Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. Every class description is organized by its powers and limitations, and even the lowly fighter ends up with a list of five special abilities, each of which is treated as a power:
  • Experience point bonus
  • Exceptional strength
  • Multiple attacks per round
  • Weapon specialization
  • Establishment of a stronghold and attracting followers at high level
And there will probably be more as the editing process goes on; I could easily have included better melee combat tables as a power/advantage. Barbarians clock in with 13 abilities/powers/limitations/what have you. The new classes, too, will have a variety of powers, similar mechanically to how the thief-acrobat and my jester class are set up. Bards and mountebanks especially will have powers to persuade and misdirect, making them much more effective against intelligent foes (or marks, as the case may be). And there will be a skill system on top of everything else, but not enough of one to drown out the primacy of classes as archetypes.

There will be new spells aplenty for the bard, seer and mystic, of course, but Emprise!™ will be the game that Unearthed Arcana pointed towards. Lots of class-based special powers, quirky little exceptions (as we see for the use of whips in melee, for example, in UA), and a large variety of racial choices that have in-game consequences for both the game master and players (with more than half a dozen types of elves to choose from, for example, the game master has to understand the consequences of leaving them all in, or taking one or more of them out; a lot of that information will be included in the Game Masters Guide).

Monsters are going to be a little more "fiddly" too. Not only are you going to see the denizens of both Monster Manuals and the Fiend Folio, but the monsters themselves are going to have variable hit dice. Some will use a d4, some a d8, and so forth. Nothing near to 4E, with its strikers and commanders and whatnot, but still a step away from the simplicity of hit dice = d8.

Compare this with, for example, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, or the upcoming LotFPWFRP game. They deliberately go down a "rules lite" path. Limited classes, and limited powers within the classes. Few choices of race (and in some cases, races that function as classes). Minimal spell descriptions. They follow the school of thought that says the essence of old school gaming is minimalism; a simple framework that can be bolted onto. I'm taking things in the opposite direction; throwing the whole toolbox at you and saying "take what you like, discard the rest, but understand what'll happen if you do." Neither is "better" or "right", but I'll be curious to see how Emprise!™ gets received, once the time comes. Who knows? You often have to fly a plane straight into the headwind to take off.

My ultimate goal

This is the game I would have given my eye teeth to own in 1985. Much like CotMA was something I needed for my own campaign, and shared with the community, Emprise!™ is the game I've wanted to own for 25 years, and will likewise share with those who want to see what it looks like. That's my entire goal; not to nudge the OSR in any particular direction, or advance it in the direction it's been heading, or even to sell games. My goal is to have these books on my shelf. Period. If anyone else wants to have 'em there as well, they're welcome to come along for the ride, and maybe you'll find some things to insert into you own game as well.