Saturday, January 8, 2011

Most Anticipated OSR Products of 2011

There has been much recent OSR blogosphere talk about our abundance of retro-clone game systems, and some concern expressed about the originality or freshness of the kinds of products we're creating and buying. Michael Shorten kicked off the latter trend by asking:

Where's our EPT? Where's our Blackmoor?

Where is the truly different and unusual that will have people really rolling? The only one that really pushed boundaries, so far, has been Carcosa. No matter what you think of the subject matter, the point is that Geoffrey took D&D/OD&D and went somewhere very different with it. I loved it. I've used a lot of it as stuff to prod my games along. That's why I love the crazy and wacky from Fight On magazine. That's why I have orcs with guns, fallen shiny spheres, crazy creepy dolls and a whole bunch of other stuff that my players might never see, but it's there because I'm inspired to put it there. [. . .]

Look, I love the style of play that the original editions give us, but I also hope to see inspiration and movement to something that explores the places we haven't gone. OK, I may be derivative myself, but at least with Ultima RPG, Modern OD&D, I was trying for something new. That's why Tombs of Hultep Koa remain hidden. It's retread shit and I don't want that.

A number of bloggers responded to ChicagoWiz's post, either in the comments or on their own blogs. I recommend in particular Dan Proctor's and Johnathan Bingham's thoughts on the subject, but here I want to quote directly from James Raggi, who responded in a way I really identify with:

Fuck originality.

Give me interesting and well-done things that I can use for my existing campaign.

We're not making fine art here, we're making game-play aids. Too much originality reduces general usability. The imagination should be sparked more on the consumer's end than on the producer's end, really. It's why you make adventures with no definite "end encounter" or victory conditions, why you make rules without strict expectations of the progress of play.

As the content of The Lands of Ara should make clear, I am more or less in the same camp as Raggi, or even ChicagoWiz himself, who admits to having "derivative" tendencies in his own creative work. I know for a fact that I am derivative as hell. I am a collaborative creator. I need a genre framework or a set of rules within which to work. I don't even know how "creative" (let alone "original") I am within those frameworks, you'll have to ask my players.

And that last comment is revealing, isn't it? I simply want stuff that works well for me and my players at the game table. In the end, it is not my goal to be creative or original per se (thank the gods!), only to have a great time playing my game of choice once every couple of weeks.

That said, I am in awe of minds like Geoffrey McKinney's and am happy to own a copy of Carcosa. Do I use it much at the game table? No. Do I read it for inspiration? Absolutely. Same with many of Raggi's products -- I may or may not play them as writ, but I totally rely on them to get my own creative juices flowing.

So with all that in mind, I want to expand upon the comment I made on Grognardia a couple weeks ago, listing which products I was most hoping for in 2011. You see, I depend upon OSR publications -- derivative or no -- to read, riff upon, and hork concepts from. Furthermore, I am a bibliophile who loves to collect books -- printed books. So this will be my list of most-anticipated OSR products for the coming year, and as you will see, it runs the gamut between the tried-and-true and the new and weird. These are listed here more or less in descending order of my excitement about them.

1. Goblinoid Games' Realms of Crawling Chaos. Very recently unveiled here and here, this Labyrinth Lord Expansion now tops my list of anticipated products. Not only does its release coincide with my own first-ever reading of the works of HPL, it is designed by two of my favorite OSR authors, Proctor and Curtis. What's not to love?

2. Lamentations of the Flame Princess' Grindhouse Edition of LotFPWFRPG. The only reason I didn't buy the first print run of the LotFPWFRPG box set was a lack of funds. But how fortunate I am in retrospect for that temporary cash flow problem, for now I get to wait for the "adults-only" Grindhouse Edition! Until the recent announcement of that Crawling Chaos book, James Raggi's game system was at the top of my list for anticipated products.

3. Michael Curtis' Stonehell Dungeon Vol. 2. I am running my PCs through Stonehell Vol. 1 now, and even if they grow tired of the dungeon and move on to other areas of the Lands of Ara, I still greatly look forward to obtaining Vol. 2 (due out by the end of 2011) and reading it for my own edification and inspiration.

4. James Maliszewski's Dwimmermount. As James announced in November, his megadungeon, Dwimmermount, is slated for release in "the first quarter of 2011." I can't wait! I would in fact say that this product is tied with Stonehell Vol. 2 in terms of my anticipation of it, especially since I am just now beginning the process of constructing my own megadungeon. I welcome published examples from the masters!

5. Geoffrey McKinney's Isle of the Unknown, due for release (by LotFP no less!) this spring. The setting has been described by its author as "an island hex-crawl that can be plopped into any D&D campaign" -- a kind of Isle of Dread-meets-Carcosa type thing, I suspect. Sounds awesome to me! See McKinney's official announcement of the setting here.

6. Michael Curtis' "Dragonlance"-inspired old-school project, if it's still in the works. Michael mentioned it back in November, describing the concept thus:

My design goal is, stated loosely, “What if Dragonlance was done more as a sandbox for starting characters instead of a railroad that led to the Big World-Ending Evil?" I’ve got some ideas I think are nifty to bolt onto the Basic D&D/Labyrinth Lord framework without turning it completely into another beast [. . .]

I never owned or ran the original Dragonlance modules nor did I read the accompanying novels -- all that stuff came out just as I was drifting away from D&D and TSR -- but I am intrigued by the sound of Michael's idea, and would definitely buy it if it comes to fruition.

7. Goblinoid Games' updated, Labyrinth Lord-compatible version of Starships and Spacemen. I love Traveller and other Star Trekkish sci-fi settings, but have rarely played Traveller or any other sci-fi game. Having a "hard sci-fi" game like S&S Revised that is 100% LL-compatible might sweeten the deal for me, and would at least allow me to easily incorporate robots etc. into my current LL game.

8. Frog God Games, Swords & Wizardry Complete (Hardbound). I don't know if I will ever literally play S&W, since I am perfectly happy with Labyrinth Lord, but I own the Brave Halfling S&W White Box and would very much like to acquire a nice, hardbound edition of S&W Complete, once they're available.


  1. I think there is room for everyone. That's what I like about the current OSR / Indie movement. You wanna play straight old school? Done. Lots of excellent material around.

    And on the other end is complete conceptual gaming that many claim are not even games.

    We are not constrained by a CEO / CFO and a board of directors telling us how many units we have to move. We make what we love. You like orcs with guns? We got it. You like weird fantasy? Check.

    The list could go on. I am very excited by the people who are not only keeping the traditional approaches alive but the people breaking new ground. IT'S FUN AGAIN! For the first time in YEARS.

    All POV are valid. Play what you love and love what you play.

    And if this year is better than last year my head is gonna explode! :)

  2. In no particular order, my list is:

    1. Ancient Vaults and Eldritch Secrets - both the vs. Monsters and Mini-Six versions appeal to me.

    2. Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG - I REALLY like the rules I've read so far.

    3. Warriors of the Red Planet - Al will do a great job, I like the stuff he produces.

    4. Redwald - it's the best Whitebox fantasy variant I've yet to read and offers something new.

    5. Planet Algol - I live in hope !

    6. Urutsk: World of Mystery - as above.

  3. @AD&D Grognard: I agree completely! I feel very lucky to have tuned into this diverse and vibrant community this past year or two.

    @Geordie: I like your list; now that you mention it, Planet Algol, Warriors of the Red Planet, and UWoM are on mine,too.

  4. I am looking forward to Zak's Vornheim City Kit. The art alone is worth it (although I wish it wasn't in the A5 format, I'd love a bigger book).

    As for the originality-schmoriginality debate, in the last year my main goal with Old School gaming has just been to play the basic system (LL + AEC) as written (more or less) and really understand how the game is played. When I played as a kid my friends never really got all the mechanics down, ignored a lot of it, and played one-offs most of the time. So we were always at low levels, and rarely had extended campaigns, especially since we rotated DMing. Because of that:

    I still feel that the basic mechanics are interesting, the game with find traps with 1d6, hobgoblins, burning oil bombs, etc. is interesting. I don't feel that I've exhausted that "retread" stuff yet.

    And I think this points to something in the OSR that sometimes irritates me. There are folks that never stopped playing and many of those produced these clones and have their own campaign worlds that are hyper-intricate. I sometimes hear them poo-poo people that want (or need) to use modules. Well, I believe there is a segment of the OSR that actually wants the help in figuring out how to run games. These are newer players. The OSR needs newer players.

    Of course, ChicagoWiz then eventually backs down and admits he's derivative. And of course Raggi comes in and says he's not original, he wants the same old stuff. But in LotPF he made a point of not having a standard monster list like MM. He thinks that most creatures should be unique to the setting, and weird (or esoteric if you use his Random Generator book). As a result the PCs have no "Orcs" to encounter, and so they really have no idea how dangerous their opponents are. Folks have noted that knowing the general strength of some of the standard fare monsters allows the PCs to strategize attacks (or decline encounters) which makes for smart play. Point being, Raggi is just being his typical argumentative self, while basically still driving for more "originality". (Still this a far more interesting discussion than 'porn' or 'gender' or 'art'.)

    Our last session, where we totally whacked the hobgoblin army at Stonehell, was the smartest play I think I've ever been involved in, in any RPG. Maybe that puts me on par with a 7th grader in terms of D&D tactics, but that's where I'm at and I'm having a hell of a lot of fun within the existing (non-)constraints of the system.

    The end.

  5. @Spawn: You're preaching to the choir here. I agree; I have not yet become tired of all the classic (or "retread") stuff either, and I also agree that our last session was spectacular.

  6. "In the end, it is not my goal to be creative or original per se (thank the gods!), only to have a great time playing my game of choice once every couple of weeks."

    Amen, brother.

  7. What many don't realize is that gathered around that great table in Valhalla, where there are no lawyers, accountants or CEOs, only mead and tall tales, they have granted us the greatest gift of all-our own table of infinite size that everyone is welcome at.

    I didn't think gaming could ever be this fun again and I would like to thank not only the originators but those in recent times who freed us to create and build our own worlds and share them with others, and the creators of those new worlds.

    This rocks! :)