It’s difficult to pin down exactly what the Old School Renaissance (OSR), or the Old School Revival, is all about. To some people, it means playing a role-playing game, usually one inspired by D&D, in a particular way. Focusing on a player’s skill as opposed to their character’s numbers. Adventuring in a fantasy setting injected with aliens, ray guns, and other set pieces that wouldn’t look out of place in Heavy Metal. Loot, not story. Rulings, not rules. To other people, OSR is merely playing older editions of D&D. While nostalgia can be an element in why players enjoy “old-school” role-playing, it’s not the end-all, be-all.
D&D has been around for the last 40 years, which means I’m a relative newcomer to the hobby. I was a mere glint in my father’s eye when the Advanced and Basic split happened. I was busy sitting too close to a TV screen while all the arguments about how 3rd edition was too much like Diablo were going on. And I hope this isn’t coming off as one of those comments you see on a YouTube video for a classic rock song that says, “I’m 13 and I like this song.” I like new things as much as any American does.
Since I got started with tabletop RPGs, I’ve been lucky enough to play a wide range of games. While I can’t define OSR, I can say that it’s the do-it-yourself nature of the style that attracted me. The rules are flexible, and game masters are encouraged to create their own content. In fact, many have. All you have to do is Google ‘osr blog’ and you would find more content than you know what to do with. OSR’s other strong point is how accessible it makes tabletop role-playing. OSR takes the bare-bones ideas of the past and updates them with modern sensibilities. It does away with clunky mechanics like AD&D‘s Exceptional Strength. It clears away everything we don’t need when we’re playing pretend. Of course, not all OSR games exhibit these characteristics, but that brings us back to the definition problem.
The point of the long-winded introduction was so you would know what I mean when I say, “It’s one of my favorite games created in the OSR style.”
Freebooters on the Frontier is a game by Jason Lutes, and yes, I know his name appears in this blog more often than my own. It’s one of my favorite games created in the OSR style. It’s about playing the poor sods who choose to become adventurers to escape everyday peasant life. It’s about being smart with the hand you’re dealt and hoping you make it out of the dungeon alive, because somewhere down in its depths is your golden ticket to glory.
The only way it could be more of a rags to riches story is if it was about a struggling rapper.
Freebooters is also meant to be used with the Dungeon World rules, and as such makes the world-building a collaborative effort. This game takes it a step further by making the players create the starting map before the game even starts. The result is that the group ends up with a bunch of locales that speak to what the players are interested in exploring. While I don’t agree with having a win condition—if a character amasses 10,000 silver, they get to retire—it really drives home the point of the game. One of my favorite mechanics above all, though, is the lack of a spell list. The names of magic spells are randomly generated. The effect of a spell is what the player can come up with.
So, we’re going to show this off by rolling up a Magic-User.
Name: wizard name is “Jutoomb,” real name is Ogethas
Appearance: bald, forked tongue
Traits: benevolent, gluttonous, prejudiced
Strength 13 (+1)
Dexterity 11 (0)
Constitution 14 (+1)
Intelligence 11 (0)
Wisdom 9 (0)
Charisma 16 (+2)
Luck 12 (0)
Hit Die d4
Max HP 2
Ogethas up there was rolled completely randomly, right down to her name. Her appearance leads me to believe that her family tree includes a member of some snake people race. Instead of hair, maybe there are some scale-like growths up there. Maybe she’s prejudiced against those without a little snake in their blood. Or, the more likely case, maybe discriminating others is what her frustration over being named Ogethas turned into. Other than that, though, she is a very nice quarter-snake person, although you want to keep your lunch away from the company fridge when she’s around.
Her stats tell me she would have made a better bard than a wizard, but the heart wants what the heart wants. She’s certainly as fragile as you would expect a wizard to be. There’s a luck-burning mechanic Freebooters uses that she could have used to increase her HP, but she’ll need all the luck she can get once she starts adventuring. Since Ogethas is Chaotic, she can earn experience from sowing discord, or destroying a symbol of order. This might mean a statue of the God of Law, or a to-do list.
At level-1, Jutoomb the Magic-User gets two spells. They are Elyalto’s Blessing of Salt and Salt Voice. I promise I didn’t go for the condiment theme on purpose.
I imagine that Elyalto was actually the assassin who commissioned the creation of the spell. Their blessing could make any substance taste like salt. Now, if you’re stuck out in the woods with a fresh kill and nothing to season it but dirt, then you’re in luck. On the other hand, if you have a target and you need to disguise the taste of the poison you’re slipping in their food…
That leaves Salt Voice. I was ready to go to Wikipedia and use some obscure salt factoid to help me out, but it turns out I didn’t need to. If Jutoomb casts this spell, the next few sentences out of her mouth come out as a bunch of salt. If someone were to get ahold of this stuff and dissolved it in water, then they’d be able to hear what she said by listening closely.
Together, these two spells would be interesting in a political intrigue game, but I don’t know how they’ll fare in a dungeon. Hopefully, there are some warring factions down there that could make use of Ogethas in some espionage.