Saturday, October 8, 2022

The Jeff to Patrick OSR Continuum

  • OSR stands for "Old School Renaissance"--a resurgence in interest in pre-90s RPGs that began around the time blogging became a thing online and influences products to this day by people who want to do something new and creative with RPGs but don't think D&D makes people into Nazis or want to hang out with people who do. A small community, perhaps, but one still capable of running a Kickstarter
  • While some products or creators or commenters that might be considered "OSR" existed before this, the most important person in the early OSR was Jeff Rients of the venerable Jeff's Gameblog. It goes all the way back to 2004. If you read it, you can see OSR ideas clarify themselves one by one in real time.
  • I--much influenced by Jeff--showed up gameblogging years later, in 2009.
  • Patrick Stuart--of the False Machine blog and Veins of the Earth etc.--showed up after me, saying explicitly that he was--in turn--much influenced by me, especially by Vornheim.
  • Since they were both really influential OSR creators with lots of ideas (and ones I liked and got along with), it always seemed odd to me that the two of them didn't talk much.

I have two points to make here:

1. I think of all OSR game products as existing on a continuum from Jeff-ish to Patrick-y.

2. By what is honestly coincidence, it could be fairly claimed that Jeff Rients created the OSR community and Patrick Stuart destroyed it.

The Continuum

The Jeff Rients' End

Jeff is an incredibly experienced DM (example) whose style reflects having run games for strangers and friends at home, in game stores, and at conventions for longer than many of us have been alive.

His blog, GM style, and game products reflect that experience: how to make sure people have fun.

On the other hand, his game products are few in number and relatively modest. His major thing out is Broodmother Sky Fortress, which is half awesome-adventure-with-tips-for-first-time-GMs and half best-of-Jeff's-Gameblog. The adventure's great but it's pretty short and compact.

Though both I and other people have spent lots of time asking Jeff to put out more product he hasn't--and he once told me his very Jeff reason for this: most of the dungeons he runs are composed a lot of old dungeons mashed together. It's the way he runs them that makes them work.

Jeff has lots of really good ideas for weird things to put in a game, but that's not the center of his aesthetic. The center is: make sure it's playable and fun.

I think a good example of the Jeff Rients aesthetic is the random hireling table in Broodmother Skyfortress: it's a d6 table.

Obviously, if this was a Zak table it would have 100 entries and if it only had 20 then I'd make some excuse like I was trying to fit it on the page with 9 other tables. And every entry would tell you like 4 things minimum about the hireling.

...but I also know what Jeff would say when you ask why it only has 6 entries (including pack-apes, which is cool): Jeff has run dungeons over and over and over and over and over and has found that 6 is enough--after that you get diminishing returns.

So that's Jeff's thing: doing a lot with a little to make sure you have fun.

The Patrick Stuart End

Patrick was not only capable of writing magnificent sentences, he really liked to show you that he was. When I created Maze of the Blue Medusa and wanted to save some time by not writing it all myself, I asked him to collaborate. He's good and has lots of esoteric ideas and the things he writes are brimming with exciting concepts.

On the other hand: 

He never rolls.

Last I knew: he lived alone in the middle of nowhere, UK, he's painfully isolated, his best friend is someone he's never met in real life, he's never had--as an adult--a regular RPG group he met with and doesn't even run his own stuff.

He once told me his favorite-ever session of D&D was one he played online. That's fucked up--and it shows in his work.

Patrick Stuart has not a clue how to make a functional game without help from a collaborator.

So that's Patrick's thing: Doing a whole lot with a lot but without a lot of clear ideas about how to make it fun.

Creating on the Continuum

Unsurprisingly, considering the timeline, I've generally tried to make things that are in the middle, or which have the strengths of both:

Esoteric and well-written enough to be interesting and new, but concise and considered enough to be playable. Whether I've succeeded isn't really the point--that's not up to me--it's just often a real thought I have in my head: "This needs more out-the-box playability--this needs a little more inspiring verbiage". 

That idea's in my head.

And It's Weird Because...

...the OSR kinda did begin and then end with these two guys.

Jeff showed up, wrote about playable things, handled shit right, and--to the degree he took responsibility for people or talked about other peoples' business--had a moral compass.

Patrick started out that way, but was fucking terrible at it because he had no real-life experience with real people. Around 2017 or 18 he started lashing out at basic 101-level rules of healthy human interaction like "Talk to people before assuming crazy shit about them" and "Don't lie".

Unfortunately a lot of creators followed his lead--the people he influenced took Patricks repudiation of things like facts and evidence as a cue that standards for how to treat each other were now lower--and they ran with it.

And now the OSR is not really a thing--creators and moneymaking entities are still here but the community is gone, because in a world run by Patrick rules, nobody is ever accountable for their actions and interacting with other creators is fucking dangerous.

The OSR reddit would, for example, rather just take down a critical post than figure out how to constructively criticize a game...

...considering one of the only things the OSR was ever good for was constructively criticizing games, this is pretty fucked up.

I hate it all and I want to die very badly.





Thursday, October 6, 2022

A Clue Sandbox

I put together a horror adventure for the Demon City backers and I'm making it available to y'all if you want it.

It's a "clue sandbox", meaning that there's some trouble and clues and people to ask about the trouble in every direction. There are dozens of NPCs fleshed out, along with their daily movements around the city and their (every-shifting) connection to The Horror. The idea being: the PCs can start anywhere and find their way (by hundreds of possible routes) into solving the murder--or becoming the next victim.

It's for Demon City, of course, but it's not a mechanics-heavy adventure so would be pretty easy to run in any horror system.

So far I haven't had any complaints from the backers, so...if you want one, email me: zakzsmith AT hawtmayle dawt calm. 20 Bucks.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Less Boring Gods Make Better Clerics

 There are the first 5 random gods I made using the new God Generator, now available in the Store.


Worshipped under various names in the Eastern half of the Cube, the Sister of Infinite Punishments is assigned the task of disciplining liars and oathbreakers. She is a patron to assassins, executioners, torturers and all who employ them in the name of justice.

The sacred frieze of ice sculptures  known as the Cold Jataka tells the tale of how she executed the Emperor who plucked out her left eye by infiltrating his palace with the aid of a magic cloak and hammering an icicle into his brain as he slept. In temples devoted to her in warmer climes, porcelain figures of the goddess with one artificial eye of pale sapphire and nipples of lapis lazulil hold wooden hammers, icicles carved of diamond or crysta, and cloaks of patterned silk.

She is said to devour any who do not worship her and her fearsome  devotees sacrifice night birds in her name. However, they must always be kind to children, as only an adult may break an oath.

Clerics doing her work in the world may choose Unseen Servant, Sleep. Cause Light Wounds, or a limited Detect Lie (only works on the last 10 minutes)  as a bonus spell at first level.


It is said that The Preposterous Grandparent sits on a black egg atop the highest peak in every mountain range in the Imperial Lands (no-one has ever climbed two disparate mountains simultaneously to check) and that anyone who can make the Grandparent laugh hard enough to fall off the egg will be granted the ability to raise one friend from the dead.

The Grandparent despises ogres, oni, and ogre-mages as they have no sense of humor and often insult the wood-spirits with whom he prefers to spend his time. The Grandparent battles these monsters with a pick-axe and will occasionally use his ability to possess worshippers to warn villagers if such a creature is nearby. In return, the Grandparent demands that these followers amuse him in various way ( they can only eat food if it is baked into pies and must spend at least one day a week intoxicated by mushrooms) as well as  sacrifices of mined gems. He has no time for anyone who does not appreciate him and his clerics cannot aid such infidels with their magic.

His followers may gain Charm Person, Command or Cure Light Wounds as bonus spell at first level.

Nyaa of the Two Temperaments

Sea Elves and Elves of the Drownesian Isles who wish to sail must seek the favor of Nyaa of the Two Temperaments, though she is deaf to all entreaty and will always do as she pleases. She is both toothsome and terrible, half-woman-half-scorpion, wreathed in a net that cannot hold her, with a toothed maw like a scar across her belly into which she feeds sailors who have drowned as she crawls the sea-floor, after stinging any who survive to death with her poison tail. All fish do her bidding and a cloud of scavenging flies follows her at all times. She carries a stoppered vial containing the tears of fisherman’s widows.

Clerics devoted to can gain Purify Food and Drink as a bonus spell or else gain the ability to become amphibious but in return they must never mention the sea without bowing in its direction, must always touch anything blue in sight (save the sky, a false god), must always cover their mouths with fabric marinated in salt water and, as befits a sailors’ god, can only travel, fight or work in heterogeneous groups (no two members may have both the same species and gender).

Strike Overlord

Typically depicted by the Elves of Broceliande as a displacing panther with a cestus in one forelimb, a decanter of wine in the other, and riding a living cloud (called Arhad-Riin) , this urbane god receives the prayers of those who would spite all quiet order and live instead by wit and steel. In the stories of the epic Threll Din Dydnyadd (usually translated in Broceliandaise as “Morally Complex But Largely Entertaining Exploits of a Feline Personage Who Insists On Being Called Strike Overlord”) this patron of both duellists and liars baffles the Goblin King, tricks the elder gods, drinks the Wine of Ceaseless Tumult, and defeats the first lion, tiger, lynx and leopard in single combat.

His clerics receive a boon of either a permanent +1 to hit with a melee weapon or Charm Person as a bonus spell, and in exchange the Lord of Duels asks that they wear a pattern of shifting stripes, offer kindness to children (who are too easy to fool or kill, and so represent no challenge), avoid music (bards suck), and dip all their food in the blood of a defeated foe before eating it.