Robert Bohl asked for examples of innovation in the Old School Renaissance (OSR) and there were some good answers in his thread. Sadly, it got deleted and so I’m collecting the comments I liked on this page.
New settings, monsters, classes? Arnold K.'s blog, for example.
(All of Arnold’s blog posts pulled from the OSR Links to Wisdom Wiki which has nothing but links to blog posts I liked...)
Personally, I also enjoy the blog posts that talk about the fine details of how to run games. These posts aren’t sweeping innovations but they rather feel like reports from a community of practice. People like Brendan S or Ramanan S write posts in this genre, for example. Are they “innovations”? Perhaps they are, but they are small innovations, not “disrupting” innovations.
The very small innovations I was thinking of include Brendan S’s Hazard System, for example. There, he devises new procedures for game play based on the random encounter mechanics. This pushes the boundaries of the existing game in interesting ways without making big changes. Small, incremental innovation.
For myself, “prep” is a topic that keeps changing. Thus, where as the rules themselves might not change as much, there’s still plenty of space for innovation in the game procedures, social contracts and the like. For myself, again, contact with Dungeon World has made me rethink campaign developments using fronts (Using Fronts, Fronts). “Innovative?” Maybe not. But the field is still changing.
One could argue that changing the setting and moves from Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World to Jason Morningstar’s Night Witches with flying in the Soviet airforce in WW2 is pretty “disruptive.” It would seem that the only change that you could make in the Powered by the Apocalypse field would be to stop using the rules and use something else entirely? And thus when people take the classic D&D rules and use them to do science fiction like Traveller (Kevin Crawford’s Stars Without Number), or when they keep the existing rules but add a domain game like Kevin’s An Echo Resounding, or when they keep the existing rules but add a wilderness development procedure involving tags like Kevin’s Red Tide, then those a pretty significant changes.
Let’s take a deeper look. What sort of domain game innovation is there to see? I guess in the seventies, people would have used Chainmail to fight mass battles. The Rules Cyclopedia had a different rule called War Machine where you assembled all your troops and threw a percentile die with results weighed based on the troops on each side in order to determine winners, losers and losses.
JB then wrote his B/X Companion with Mass Combat where units battle units and instead of rolling a d20 you just look up how much % damage you do based on to-hit and armor. Ian Borchardt pointed out that this is the mechanism of Swords & Spells (TSR), the unofficial 5th supplement to D&D, so perhaps that doesn’t count as an innovation.
Robin Stacey had written a similar thing for M20 using “combat scale” where damage done is multiplied using a non-linear scale. A copy is still available.
At the same time, the Adventure Conqueror King System also worked on that, but instead of using abstract points of Military, Social and Cultural “power” it just extrapolated the D&D gold piece economy to the max. If you’re interested in a comparison between the two, the designers discussed the different approaches on a forum.
All of these developments look at how a classic D&D campaign reaching name level might develop and offers essentially various house rules to run these games.
As for wilderness development, there have been various attempts to work this out. The one I remember best is by Erin Smale. I even wrote some mapping software to use it. I also remember Rob Conley’s discussion of How to make a Fantasy Sandbox.
All of these involve quite a bit of work and don’t solve the basic problem of generating new ideas. Kevin Crawford’s Red Tide has the following usage example on page 103. As you can see, Kevin provides tables that interact with each other, helping you fill that wilderness with life.
“The first step is to determine the kind of settlement it will be. Having no preferences, the referee rolls 1d10 and comes up with “Country Estate”. Evidently, it’s a remote, fortified manor owned by a rich merchant or powerful noble.
With that established, the referee decides to roll twice on the site tags table to see what qualities make this manor all that interesting to adventurers. The results are “Faded Glory” and “Hell King Cultists”. Well, now. It looks like this humble country seat may not be the safest waystation for the PCs.
The referee turns to the site tag list and reads over the elements associated with each tag. After some reflection, he decides that the country seat won’t seem to be dangerous at first glance. Whatever’s going on at the estate is subtle enough that wayfarers won’t be instantly attacked as potential sacrifices.
Since the country manor is a little like a noble court, he rolls on the Court Site tables to get the roles of the three most important people at the estate. According to the dice, the three big names there are the Noble, the Spouse, and the Noble’s Child. A roll on the random NPC tables in the back of the book shows that the Noble is a woman and the Child is a daughter. Recourse to the random name tables give their names as the noble Daifu Tanaka Rei, her husband Tanaka Hengest, and their daughter, Tanaka Maiko.
Now the referee looks back at the tags and decides to start creating adventure hooks. ...”
Each tag comes with a paragraph of text helping you push towards adventure hooks.
Judd Karlman wanted to hear more about adventure layout and said that information was hard to find in the text and the where as maps are beautiful the players usually don’t get to see them. And I concur! Anybody reading the reviews by Bryce Lynch knows that there is a long tradition of suboptimal usability in adventure design, to put it mildly.
I tried to explore a different way of writing high level adventures for my Caverns of Slime but I’m sure there’s a lot more to be done, here.
This is also why I was very excited to read about Perilous Wilds and Perilous Deep by Jason Lutes. His classic D&D Dungeon World cross over is a way to go I might want to pursue in my games as well. Or, as Ramanan S put it:
“The book introduces new rules and mechanics to Dungeon World games for travel, making camp, scouting, etc. These could be moved whole hog into a game of D&D. My plan is to do just that in my Carcosa game. The mechanics of Dungeon World are quite simple: roll a 2d6 and you either succeed, succeed with a complication, or fail and face a tough complication. You could model all reaction rolls in D&D on this formula, I suppose. The rules taken together add a structure to wilderness travel that feels lacking in vanilla D&D, and is apparently glossed over in Dungeon World.”
Anyway, those were my thoughts on innovation within the Old School Renaissance.