Along with Dave Trampier, there is one other TITAN of the old school D&D art, and that is the incredible Russ Nicholson, who brought to life the entirety of the Fiend Folio as well as gobs of other art for games throughout his career. While the original Monster Manual’s art was a huge inspiration, the Fiend Folio took both the monster designs and art to a new level.
Unlike Trampier, who quit doing any art in the early 80’s (and missed the MTG cash cow that he would have fit into perfectly), Russ kept on doing art for OSR modules, DCC and other games his entire career. RIP Russ!
Since Google+ and the OSR movement are going away in a year after G+ closes down, there’s a lot of pre-shutdown nostalgia already for the OSR, though the movement will go on for another year (until the day G+ shuts down for good, then it will be gone outside of Garycon and Gamehole con).
The questionnaire below was posted as a nostalgia piece that bloggers can fill out to have some feels together now at the end and for the posterity of the movement. The OSR had a good run, and G+ was entertaining to say the least.
In terms of content that the OSR produced, there were some good adventures but I think 90% of the ‘hacks’ people put together were in some issue of Dragon magazine from 1978 – 1985 but people were just too lazy to find them and tell the people that what they were suggesting had already been done before.
OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire
1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:
This is a post about people that made some cool shit that just came out. We’re all into the high end AAA video game titles and polished D&D 5E and 13th Age books, but today this post is about two titles that are not AAA by any means, very few people on the planet will ever notice them, but are still fantastic.
First is Venger Satanis’s Girls Gone Rogue, a companion adventure to his recent Space Station module, Alpha Blue. Because I got Alpha Blue along with another module of his that I just couldn’t put down (Purple Putrescence) I hadn’t looked at AB too much except reading it on the shitter here and there. It looks cool, and if you don’t want to use the game system in the book it would be a great setting for Runequest Star Wars (yes, this actually got made by Design Mechanism), White Star (even though the rulebook is the most fucking boring thing ever, the rules are solid), or if you haven’t already become completely disillusioned with FATE like any normal person, Bulldogs! If you are a fucking masochist, you could use Star Frontiers, but no one would do that would they?
That said, there’s not much adventure in AB driving the players. Lots of hooks, yes, and very interesting stuff as a setting, but no flat out adventure. GGR solves this problem where players are tasked with taking down a slutbot gone rogue. I haven’t read much yet but first, the HOOK is just fantastic and unexpected and the art– holy shit. Tits everywhere, alien orgies, some sort of vaginal… I’m not even sure what that is…where Alpha Blue was pretty tame with the art, GGR is gonzo with the nudity and space robot fucking. The names Satanis chooses are ridiculous and some of the charts are incredible. ie: What the Fuck did I do last night??!
All in all, along with Purple Putrescence, which is excellent BTW, GGR solidifies me as a Venger Satanis fan. He’s got a ridiculous sense of humor and he knows his genre and his slavering, sex starved middle aged, children of the 80’s audience as well. If I’m ever having a bad day at the fucking office, I can come home and read some of this crazy shit, and if the feeling takes me, I can run it and you know they’ll be cascades of space piss into your open mouths.
The second item doesn’t have any tits or nudity, but it sorta DID in it’s first printing. Palace of the Silver Princess is a pillar of D&D obscurity, the ORANGE cover version was pulled as soon as it was printed and few copies exist (since I grew up in WI, I know I saw one in person before, but can’t remember where or who had it or if it was on the shelf at the hobby store in Brookfield Square). Why was it pulled? Well there is a part of the adventure where 9 dudes are (maybe) tearing the clothes off a woman tied up. Remember when this came out. Early 80’s? Kids getting into D&D and not just old beardies? Yep. They pulled it even though AD&D and Fiend Folio had drawings of boobs right there for us to beat off to.
It’s unfortunate because the Orange version is better than the Green version that eventually came out because it details an entire area, not just the dungeon/palace. I’ve been thinking about running Orange for awhile (the PDF is around) but it’s got some of those ‘stock your own stuff’ rooms that I just don’t have time for. Christ no.
Bam, then what happens? A bunch of the LotFP writers got together and rewrote the entire module, indoor, outdoor, upstairs, downstairs using the original maps! Raggi, Kowalski, Green and others that I don’t know, probably promising n00bs specially selected. I haven’t read this yet (I hate PDF’s and need to get it printed on lulu before I can read it), but there are good snippets I’ve seen. It lists the writers of each section so you’ll know if you are walking into something interesting and crazy (Raggi, Kowalski, Green) or something boring and pretentious that takes itself too seriously (won’t mention names) and you can then skip the overwritten or lame parts or revert to the original module as needed.
This is a link to a massive collection from an exTSR employee currently on eBay. If you are into the old school, there is some fucking awesome shit here at what could be low prices (since so much is up at one time).
Due to accidentally thinking I was running 13th Age Thursday rather than next week, I tried to haphazardly set up a session on the fly, which didn’t really work since the players had no idea it was happening. Instead of throwing in the towel, I ran another session of Into the Odd, which is pretty much made for this sort of thing.
This session saw our heroic gentlemen, Cisero Collingham and Ancell Warner drunk in a tavern by the docks when they were interuptted by a stout woman named Mable Curmudgeon and strapping thug named Peter Selle (Fart Saddle in French) who required them to accompany them on a voyage to retrieve some of young Severin’s entertainers left in the underground. Unfortunately for Ancell, he was the only one in the tavern at the time, so he was taken aboard a flatboat and headed into the sewers again. The group saved some hungry kids dressed in lobster suits who were lost and starving. Since they were just in the sewere, they brought the kids back to the docks before continuing further. Later they found a woman in a worm mask who begged to be taken aboard, she was an old whore named Gusta Sidebottom who complained about her crotch quite a bit. Heading into a massive grotto, they found a barrel bumping against the boat that contained non other than Cicero Collingham and his mutt who had boasted about their adventure to the underground the day before and were stuffed into the barrel and thrown into the sewer for their eloquence.
What’s more, an old rotting monk was found clinging to the side of the boat and he was brought aboard babbling about the Smogfather and offering stinking ale. No sight of the giant frogs with glowing eyes in the grotto this time…
Knowing that the lost entertainers were in the bubbling cavern, and after the boat survived the drop, the group searched that area and found a body, badly boiled and dead for some time. As they investigated further into the caverns a pack of horrible blood men assaulted them with poisonous millipedes and then charged with cruel axes. Selle was hewn to the ground and Ancell took a horrible wound to the leg and both had to be dragged back to the boat while the punt men fired a cannon into the pack of howling savages. Unable to continue the search, and sure that the remains of the entertainers were in some foul thing’s belly, they retreated back to the surface and found themselves popping out of a manhole cover covered in filth and coagulate gore on a busy market street on a sunny afternoon in July.
Weeks later, the Elder Severin wanted to have a chat with them…
I was pondering my own desire for a Great Simplification in my RPG playing and GM’ing over the last few years and it lead down a path of wondering what year was the height of RPG complexity across the board? Now, sitting in 2015, the OSR is going strong, Numenera’s cypher system is still rolling forward (and the Strange) and has some very simple mechanics, 13th Age has stripped away the grid of 4th Edition and created an extremely playable D20, people are swinging off the nuts of the extremely simplified, deconstructionist spoof of D&D: Dungeon World. What’s more, Hasbro’s D&D v5 released last year, and while still fairly complex compared to the latter three versions, it has also undergone a great simplification compared especially to the two previous iterations. The pendulum has swung to the simple, but when was it at it’s apex of complexity that gave the current trend momentum?
The year I feel people were playing (and had an appetite for) the most complicated RPG’s in the history of the hobby is 2009. Since that year, I gut-feel (I ain’t going to track down sources) like the RPG community, as well as myself has been yearning for a simpler style of play, one that invokes more imagination and less about mechanics and OPTIONS. Yet, in the early 2000’s, I firmly believe that myself and many other people wanted nearly infinite complexity in our RPG games, and anything less was ‘just fucking shit we played as kids.’
Where did this desire for complexity come from in the first place? Why did we need so many character/monster/spell options and all this minutiae? People designed and produced these complex games hoping they would sell, and there was obviously a market for each being as complex as possible. But why?
I’d like to divide RPG players into two (overly) broad groups. First, the 70’s set– people that were born in the 70’s and played OD&D when it was actually published. These are the Holmes, Moldvay, Metzner kids. The second group (again this is broad) are the Lord of the Rings kids that played or started playing D&D 3.0 when the LoTR movies came out. The boost of those films to D&D and RPG’s as a whole was simply huge and there is an entire generation of people that jumped into the hobby, starting again with fantasy, during this time. What were these two groups both influenced by to make them want exceedingly complex games in 2009? How did D&D 3.0, designed by the same guy that did Everway and 13th Age, end up being so complicated and by extension– all these other complex games!
Magic the Gathering. MTG had a huge effect on all gaming everywhere from 1993 on. I would say MTG had as big an effect as the creation and propagation of Dungeons and Dragons itself. What MTG did for gamers and game designers is to create a desire and acceptance of a vast array of asymmetric powers. A MTG deck is essentially a collection of powers that players need to know, memorize and combo. Not only do they need to know their own deck, they need to know as much about all the other cards in the game that may be played against them as well. Roleplaying games hence started having massive amounts of variable powers– especially Exalted and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (who even had all the player skills on cards). MTG primed gamers minds for mass asymmetry and a desire for the same in their RPG’s.
Anime, and fighting games. Especially Ninja Scroll for starters and EVERYTHING else since and by extension ALL Japanese fighting games. I spent food money in college playing Virtua Fighter and Samurai Shodown 2 and the adoration of those games culminating in Guilty Gear and Virtua Fighter 4/5 created an appetite for a system where your character fighting opponents gave the players tons of options, tons of character styles and special powers, conditions, everything. I believe fully that Anime and Fighting games were extremely responsible for the rise in complexity over the course of the 90’s and 2000’s. People eschewed the muddy murderhobos crawling around in dungeons for scraps with just a few stats and a single damage rating– they wanted heroes that could SHIN SHORYUKEN!!! Combat, never a strong point or focus of old D&D (despite how we played as kids) became absolutely critical to RPG system design. Once you understood what was going on in the fighting engine of King of Fighters or Samurai Shodown, it was hard to look at your PNP RPG combats the same way. Reinforcing the trend from D&D 2nd edition– anime propagated that characters should be ‘heroes’ and not just some git with a sword and some rope stealing stuff from a tomb or abandoned dwelling.
Vampire and the D10 system. This is called the storyteller system but compared to story games these days (Hillfolk, Fate, et al.) this was really a ‘universal mechanic’ RPG more than anything. The really awesome thing about Vampire, which no one had done before well, were the variable player powers based on caste/clan. Suddenly players were able to take a fairly straight forward (and broken until the Trinity version of the game fixed it) difficulty/successes system and layer in THEIR characters variable powers, and see how the whole mess worked together. As much as I am not a fan of the vaguely gay (remember it was still only the early 90’s–it couldn’t be blatantly gay which would have been much better!) vampire soap opera stuff myself, I, like many other, viewed the system with some sort of awe, but just wanted it to be turned loose on a genre that wasn’t so…. goth and metaphor for being a closeted gay dude. (this ended up being Trinity/Aberrant and Exalted). Because the system was easy to add options to–they did– so much…
Warhammer 40k/Fantasy: Especially the 70’s gamers started spending MASS cash on 40K and Warhammer stuff in general in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The game was extremely pervasive in game stores, being the bread and butter of many stores along with MTG. Warhammer is all about army/unit asymmetry and tons of variable powers for everything, with customizable characters to the nth degree (we rip on “herohammer,” but that shit is fun both on and off the table as long as it’s balanced). Since D&D was derived from miniatures games, 40K has a similar root. Warhammer is the natural hardcore extension of Swords and Spells and Chaimail, both of which are awful in comparison.
Now, there have been many complicated RPG’s before 2009, especially in the realm of ‘universal’ systems such as GURPS and the HERO system (starting with Champions) as well as, arguably, TMNT (actually a really good game for it’s time!) and Rifts which really wasn’t that complicated except for all the character options and SDC/MDC bullshit (and mass addons). Phoenix Command, Twilight 2000, Rolemaster from back in the day were all COMICALLY complicated simulationist style RPG’s. These last three are games that, if you accidentally buy at a gaming flea market for a couple bucks, end up not on a shelf or drawer for later ‘research’ fodder or toilet reading, but get fired directly into the recycle bin. Yet, these games came out of an era where I think no one knew jack shit about how to design an RPG in general, the medium being all so new after all, so you have to give them a bit of a break unplayable as they were compared to (most) games of today.