My first step in planning my OSR campaign was simple to imagine, but surprisingly complicated to achieve. I had to choose a system to run the game in, of course. I'm going to walk you through how I did it, and why I made the choice that I made. There's a lot of different systems, and a lot of different options in OSR gaming.
It's 2017, so I of course googled around to find some discussions of different retroclones and their qualities. There's not actually very much substantial discussion out there that I found, at least not recently. There's always new retroclones, and maybe I'd missed out on the right game for me! (Remember, I'm starting this as "the game I've always wanted to run," so I'm picking what I like.) The only good resource I found was the grand list of retroclones of all shapes and sizes, which is here.
With little discussion I could use, I had to figure this out for myself. If I'm going to find the right system, I want to find one that fits the game I'm going to run. Nothing hurts more than fighting a system to make it work for the game you want to be playing (and I usually run Pathfinder, so I know that pain very well.)
Stripping down my campaign idea, I want these qualities:
- I want simple character creation. There's going to be PCs dead a plenty, and I'd like something where someone can roll up a new character in 5 minutes and get thrown back into the action Paranoia clone-style.
- I want a relatively simple, clean ruleset. Something easily digestible. I have a lot of players who like me as a GM, and would like to play whatever I run. Which is why I'm not worried about having people to play whatever game I come up with - but they might not necessarily be familiar with the system, and I want them to be able to play easily.
- I want something for relatively traditional fantasy-style play. Part of what I like about the OSR is the endless inventiveness, the unwillingness to settle for the usual goblin or elf, but I don't know how far I'm going to go with that. I do know that there's going to be swords and monsters in a dungeon, so it should support the classics.
First place to check for options was my own OSR folder. Second place was the list of retroclones I linked above. Third was asking some people on a cool OSR Discord server I hang out on. (You can join it here!) My general list of options after that was: Adventurer, Conquerer, King System; Beyond the Wall; Castles and Crusades; Dungeon Crawl Classics; Hackmaster; Labyrinth Lord; Lamentations of the Flame Princess; OSRIC; Swords & Wizardry; and The Black Hack. I did a cursory skim of all of these to winnow them down a bit, and pulled these out as not suiting what I wanted to do:
- Adventurer, Conqueror, King System. ACKS is really notable for its extended, detailed rules for high-level play. It's got developed trade rules, strongholds, mass combat. But I'm not anywhere near that. I'm thinking goblins, dungeons, level 1. And ACKS' higher-level emphasis involves a campaign focus with long-lasting that I'm not sure my death trap will ever get to.
- Beyond The Wall. Developed to emulate some novels that don't fit what I want to do with my game.
- Castles and Crusades. Too detailed, too much stuff to it. If I wanted a bunch of supplements, I have my Pathfinder stuff.
- Hackmaster. Even more detailed. Way too much stuff. Cool game, but I don't think I have the fortitude to actually run it.
- OSRIC. A straight conversion of 1e seemed a little bland-ish for me. I've used OSRIC before and it's fine, but it was a bit too much with not as much reward.
- The Black Hack. Way too simple. I don't want things simplified that much; I do want something recognizably D&D in both feel and actual rules. I've run Dungeon World before and hated it; this wouldn't be quite the same but I don't think it would be fun for me.
- Dungeon Crawl Classics. Pros I actually have this in hard copy, and I really like referencing actual books. I really like the gonzo, table and crazy-dice heavy style. Cons This is a big book, even just for players. All those tables add up. It has some great support, but its support is mostly prewritten adventures, and I want to do my own thing. I'm not sure how the funnel would interact with a lot of changing players.
- Labyrinth Lord. Pros Great support, with the Advanced Edition Companion if I really need more player options. All of Chris Kutalik's Hill Cantons stuff is for this, as well as some other highlights (Dwimmermount, Stonehell, Barrowmaze, ASE.) Nice, succinct rules. Cons Uh, not much. Looks a little drab?
- Lamentations of the Flame Princess Pros Amazing horror-fantasy style, and the game definitely lives up to the art. Reasonable core rules. Plenty of support in all kinds of ways, from game industry luminaries like Kenneth Hite and D. Vincent Baker. Cons Amazing horror fantasy style might be a bit too much for a lot of people. I like black metal, but I'm not sure how many people would want to join me in that kind of game. There's a lot of confusing different versions of the core rules, and it might be difficult to find a single one to refer players to. LotFP also has a fairly strong implied setting that I might not want to include.
- Swords and Wizardry Pros The third printing core rulebook is gorgeous and with amazing representation. I look at those sample characters and I want to play them all. Plenty of good support, and I like Frog God's stuff a lot already from using it in my Pathfinder games. Nice, clean core rules. Cons Suffers a bit from the lots of basic rules versions problem as LotFP, but a reliable usable version is available for free. I'd want to try to show people third printing though, because OMG.
Back to considering house rules now!