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Innovation in the OSR? Who Cares?

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Sign of InnovationThe latest "great debate" going around the OSR blogsphere is about innovation -- as in are OSR games and settings innovative enough and/or whether settings or rules should be the focus of innovation.

I'm going to be a curmudgeon and say that I don't give a damn if a game or setting is full of innovative ideas or 100% derivative. All I care about is whether or not the result is something I'm willing to actually use. I'd rather buy a game or setting that is 100% derivative of everything that has gone before if it is something I like and will use than buy a game or setting full of innovative ideas that either turn me off or require a lot of work on my part to learn and/or use.

Innovation for innovation's sake is pointless. If your innovative ideas make the game harder to play, take longer to do things, make it harder for those who aren't into system mastery, make it more work to referee, is simply reinventing the wheel without really improving the wheel, or the like I'm simply not interested in the innovations. The same goes for settings -- if your innovative setting requires a lot of effort to understand or get involved in, chances are few people will actually use it in play. Tekumel is often held up as a example of an innovative setting. I happen to be one of the people who loves Tekumel and has ever since TSR published Empire of the Petal Throne in the mid-1970s. However, I've seldom been able to play in a Tekumel campaign and have only ran a few short campaigns set there in all these years. Getting committed players for it is hard as it takes quite a bit more effort on the player's part to get into than a more standard fantasy setting.

Remember also that true innovation in rules is rare. Many rules ideas I have seen listed as innovative recently were actually first tried back in the 1970s and 1980s. Advantage and disadvantage are often touted as innovative by D&D 5e fans. I tried (and rejected as they made lots of extra work for the GM) very similar rules back in the early 1980s in one of my homebrew rules sets. The D20 roll with ascending AC used in D20 games was seen as very innovative when D&D 3.0 was published, yet I first saw such a system published for D&D in Different Worlds circa 1980 in a two-part article by John T Sapienza Jr ("D&D Variant: Vardy Combat System" in DW #6 and #7). Chances are fairly good that your "innovative rules mechanic" has already been done.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not against innovation in either rules or settings. I'm simply not interested in games or settings that try to be innovative as one of their primary goals. I want good rules and good settings, if they are innovative without reinventing the wheel or pointless complexity/change, great. If they don't have a shred of innovation but work well for my needs, great. If their main claim to fame is "being innovative", I'm not likely to be interested.

My advice is to concentrate on making your rules or setting work well in for OSR play. If that requires innovation, innovate. But don't innovate simply to please those who seem to think that innovation is the be all and end all of good rules or setting design. There is nothing inherently right about innovation nor is there anything inherently wrong with innovation. The same, of course, is true of being derivative. Make the best rules or setting you can and don't worry about whether it will be seen as innovative or derivative.

OSR Blogs, Product Announcements, and Reviews

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With the recent release of White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying and Petty Gods: Revised & Expanded Edition, I have noticed some complaints about OSR blog posts about these games (on threads in RPG.net and even theRPGSite.com). These complaints are that the posts about these games are softpetal posts instead of hard-hitting reviews like the review of White Star in this post on RPG.net.

I don't think the problem is that many OSR-bloggers are softpetalling their posts (although I'm sure a few do from time to time) so much as they are either doing one of these two things:

1) Writing Product Announcements for their OSR Audience: Posts that read like "Wow! I just noticed NiftyNewProduct on Drivethru, got a copy and it looks great" aren't intended to be reviews at all. They are just posts saying I found this product and like it, perhaps given a few reasons why they like it. Such posts are not reviews and are not intended to be reviews by their authors so faulting them for not being complete and objective reviews is silly. They are just posts saying blogger X got product Y and liked it.

2) Writing Product Reviews for their OSR Audience: Even when an OSR blogger does write a review, the blogger probably isn't writing it for a general tabletop RPG audience. Instead he's writing it for his regular readers who are likely almost all OSR people. Therefore, the blogger is unlikely to point out all the issues a non-OSR person might have with the game any more than a blogger with a D&D 4e blog is likely to point out all the issues a person who prefers TSR D&D is likely to have a 4e product he is reviewing -- as TSR D&D lovers are not his audience. Expecting an OSR blogger to care about things like how innovative the rules are or are not, how mechanically interesting the rules are or are not, how mechanically complete the rules are or are not, etc. is expecting too much as the blogger's audience doesn't care nearly as much about such issues as those outside the OSR often do. There are lots of things that those who aren't into OSR games would likely see as major problems (e.g. depending on the GM to make stuff up) with most OSR games that the an OSR blogger writing a review for his OSR blog would never mention at all (let alone point out as problems) because those things are things that are expected (and more often than not desired) by OSR gamers.

In both cases the key is that OSR bloggers are writing for an OSR audience. They are not writing for a general tabletop RPG player audience. In a review or even a good product announcement post for a general gaming site or publication, one would have a right to expect the writer to approach the review of an OSR game from general gamer point of view and detail some of the issues a non-OSR gamer would likely have with the game. However, OSR blogs are not general gaming publications so such expectations are unrealistic.

Fantastic Adventures: First Draft of The Scout Class

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Here's the Scout, the third non-caster class for Fantastic Adventures (see Fantastic Adventures: Initial Thoughts on Classes for more info). I posted the first draft of the Fighter and the Hunter earlier in the week.

Like the hunter, the scout is a good warrior. While he is not in the same class as the fighter, he is still quite competent in combat.  A scout starts with a +2 Combat Bonus and advances at +1 per two levels until his Combat Bonus is +8. This is about the rate of advancement for fighters in Microlite74. Hunters can use any weapon and wear any armor. They have special wilderness survival and stealth related skills that allow them to scout ahead of a military unit (or exploration party). In many ways they are a mashup of a ranger and a thief, but without some of the specific thieving abilities like pickpocket.

The material that follows is Open Game Content under the OGL. Note that this is a very early draft and will likely change (perhaps completely if it does not work out in playtest). I'm trying a different table format and this one seems to translate from Word to Blogger better. As with the drafts of the fighter and hunter classes, this is an early draft and has not even been really proofread.

Comments are welcome, of course.

The Scout


Scouts are warriors who are at home in the wilderness and are trained to be sent out ahead of a main force so as to gather information about the enemy's position, strength, or movements. While they are capable in combat their forte is stealthy actions and special operations. In addition to their military use, they make excellent guides, spies, and even thieves.

Scout Advancement Table

Level
Exp. Points
Hit Dice
Combat Bonus
Use Magic
Saving Throw
1
0
1d6
+2
12+
14
2
2,000
2d6
+2
12+
13
3
4,000
3d6
+3
12+
12
4
8,000
4d6
+3
11+
11
5
16,000
5d6
+4
11+
10
6
32,000
6d6
+4
11+
9
7
64,000
7d6
+5
10+
8
8
128,000
8d6
+5
10+
7
9
256,000
9d6
+6
10+
6
10
512,000
9d6+2
+6
9+
5
11
1,024,000
9d6+4
+7
9+
5
12
1,536,000
9d6+6
+7
9+
5
13
2,048,000
9d6+8
+8
8+
4
14
2,560,000
9d6+10
+8
8+
4

Scout Class Abilities

Weapon and Armor Restrictions: Scouts are trained in warfare and, as such, have no restrictions on the kind of weapons or armor they can use. However, if they are wear metal armor their chance of success with stealth activities is -4.

Cleave: After a scout kills an opponent in melee combat, he may immediately make another attack against any still-standing foe in range. The maximum number of attacks he can make in one round is equal to his level.

Back Stab: Any time a Scout attacks an opponent who is unaware of their presence, the Scout receives a +2 “to hit” bonus. If the attack is successful, the Scout may roll his weapon damage twice to calculate damage.

Stealth Abilities: Scouts possess a number of very specific abilities to assist them in their scouting duties. These abilities include proficiency at opening locks and disarming traps, moving without a sound, and using shadows to conceal themselves. They also possess a greater facility for detecting sounds and noises from beyond closed doors. To successfully use these abilities the player must roll 1d20 + any Dexterity ability modifiers and achieve a result greater than or equal to the target number on the Scout Abilities table.

Wilderness Survival: Scouts are most at home in the wilderness, among the flora and fauna of the world. A scout’s Wilderness roll may be used to track both humanoids and animals in natural environments. When in these natural environments, wilderness survival may also be used to remain both unseen and silent. Finally, when a ranger encounters a natural wild beast he may utilize this ability in an attempt to sooth and calm such an animal. A Scout may hunt for 1d4 hours and with a successful roll find enough food and water to feed himself and twice his level additional people and horses. To successfully use these abilities the player must roll 1d20 + any Wisdom ability modifiers and achieve a result greater than or equal to the target number on the Scout Abilities table.

Climb Sheer Surfaces: Scouts may climb incredibly sheer surfaces. As hardy adventurers, anyone may attempt to climb vertical surfaces but only the scout may ascend impossibly difficult surfaces or attempt unthinkable climbs. To successfully use this abilities the player must roll 1d20 + any Dexterity ability modifiers and achieve a result greater than or equal to the target number on the Scout Abilities table.

Scout Abilities Table
Level
Wilderness Survival
Climb Sheer Surfaces
Open Locks
Disarm Traps
Move Silently
Hide in Shadows
1
9+
11+
17+
18+
16+
18+
2
9+
11+
16+
17+
15+
17+
3
8+
10+
15+
16+
14+
16+
4
8+
10+
14+
15+
13+
15+
5
7+
9+
13+
14+
12+
14+
6
7+
9+
12+
13+
11+
13+
7
6+
8+
11+
12+
10+
12+
8
6+
8+
10+
11+
9+
11+
9
5+
7+
9+
10+
8+
10+
10
5+
7+
8+
9+
7+
9+
11
4+
6+
7+
8+
6+
8+
12
4+
6+
6+
7+
5+
7+
13
3+
5+
5+
6+
4+
6+
14
2+
4+
3+
4+
3+
5+


Saving Throw: Scouts receive a +2 bonus to any saving throw made to reduce or avoid the effects of any trap, magical or mundane (unless the alternative “Saving Throw Matrix” is used).

Magic Use: Scouts may attempt to cast spells from scrolls. To successfully cast a spell from a scroll the scout must be able to read the language the scroll is written in and roll against his Use Magic score on a D20, adjusting the roll by both his INT bonus and the level of the spell being attempted (- spell level). If successful, the spell functions normally and fades from the scroll. If unsuccessful, the spell fades from the scroll and the scout loses 1d6+2 hit points.

Establish Stronghold: At ninth level, a scout who chooses to build (or otherwise obtains) a castle or fortified manor is considered to have reached the rank of “Baron” or “Baroness,” bestowed by the local ruler or monarch. The character may choose to attract a body of men-at-arms, who will swear their fealty as loyal followers.

Experience Bonus for Dexterity: Dexterity is the Prime Attribute for scouts, which means that a Dexterity score of 15+ grants an additional 5% experience.


Fantastic Adventures: First Draft of The Hunter Class

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A few days ago I listed the six major classes I am thinking of for Fantastic Adventures in a post (Fantastic Adventures: Initial Thoughts on Classes). I have the non-caster classes written up now -- at least as early drafts. Yesterday, I posted the first draft of The Fighter. Today, I'm posting the Hunter. The Scout should follow late in the week.

The Hunter is a good warrior. While he is not in the same class as the fighter, he is still quite competent in combat.  A hunter starts with a +2 Combat Bonus and advances at +1 per two levels until his Combat Bonus is +8. This is about the rate of advancement for fighters in Microlite74. Hunters can use any weapon and wear any armor. Their studies of monsters give them special powers against them. They have the ability to force many types of monsters (undead, demons, devils, fay, supernatural monsters outsiders, etc.) to flee or even be destroyed or forced back to their own plane, provided he has whatever special items/circumstances are needed for a particular type of monster (for example, a holy symbol for undead). At high levels a hunter can raise a temporary mercenary unit to fight a particular infestation of monsters.

As I mentioned yesterday, all classes will have a chance to use magic scrolls in Fantastic Adventures, but only the two classes (the Magician and the Wizard) will be able to successfully use them automatically. The hunter is somewhat better at this that the fighter.

The material that follows is Open Game Content under the OGL. Note that this is a very early draft and will likely change (perhaps completely if it does not work out in playtest). It has not been proofread and as usual Blogger converted the table from its Word source in an odd-looking way but the info in the table is accurate. The Turn monster table seems to cut off at 10th level. I can't figure out a way to fix this, but the progression to 14th level should be obvious.

Comments are welcome, of course.

The Hunter


The Hunter is a single-minded individual whose has devoted his life to cleansing the world of evil, wherever it lurks. Usually called Vampire Hunters, Witchfinders, Demon Hunters or Monster Hunters; these people prefer to destroy evil by mundane means. While they are not against magic,  they tend to treat spellcasters with a degree of suspicion as spellcasters are the source of many of the evils they fight.

Hunter Advancement Table

Level
Exp. Points
Hit Dice
Combat Bonus
Use Magic
Saving Throw
1
0
1d6
+2
15+
15
2
2,000
2d6
+2
15+
14
3
4,000
3d6
+3
14+
13
4
8,000
4d6
+3
14+
12
5
16,000
5d6
+4
13+
11
6
32,000
6d6
+4
13+
10
7
64,000
7d6
+5
12+
9
8
128,000
8d6
+5
12+
8
9
256,000
9d6
+6
11+
7
10
512,000
9d6+2
+6
11+
7
11
1,024,000
9d6+4
+7
10+
7
12
1,536,000
9d6+6
+7
10+
6
13
2,048,000
9d6+8
+8
9+
6
14
2,560,000
9d6+10
+8
9+
6

Hunter Class Abilities

Weapon and Armor Restrictions: Hunters are trained to fight and, as such, have no restrictions on the kind of weapons or armor they can use.

Information Gathering: Hunters hear two rumors (only about local folk tales, legends or monsters) in a tavern whenever a drink is bought.

Smite Evil: Once per day, a hunter may attempt to smite evil with his normal melee attack. He adds his WIS bonus (if any, or +1 if none or negative) to his attack roll and deals 1 extra point of damage per level. He can also hit monsters that are normally only hit with silvered or magical weapons. At 5th level, he can attempt this twice per day and at 10th level he may attempt it three times per day.

Monster Lore: A Hunter is familiar with the details and habits (especially methods of killing/destroying/dismissing) of common and uncommon supernatural monsters with hit dice less than or equal to his level. Given research materials, on the scene investigation, and time he can discover the details of rare supernatural monsters or those supernatural monsters with more hit dice than his level. Supernatural monsters include the undead, demons, devils, fae, things mankind was not meant to know, etc.

Turn Monster: The hunter has learned the nature of evil and can use this against the monsters that plague the world. Through knowledge of a monster’s weaknesses the hunter can force undead, devils, spirits, faeries and demonic monsters to back away, or even to destroy them. This requires some knowledge of the monster’s weakness (garlic, silver, cold iron, sunlight, holy water, running water, the true name of the demon, etc.) and a way to take advantage of those weaknesses.

On the Turn Monster Table, there will be a dash, a “T”, a “D”, or a number corresponding to the HD of a monster and the level of the hunter. A dash means that the hunter has not attained high enough level to turn the monster type. A “T” means that the hunter automatically turns the monster, and a “D” means that the monster will be destroyed (dispelled, returned to own plane, etc.) automatically. A number indicates that the player must roll that number or higher on 2d6 in order to turn the monster. If this roll is successful, or there is a “T” in the chart, the player rolls 2d6 again and the result equals the number of total hit dice of monsters turned. A “D” in the chart requires the same roll to determine how many HD of monsters are destroyed. No matter what the dice roll result, at least one monster will always be turned or destroyed, as appropriate, on a successful use of Turn Monster.


Turn Monster Table

Hunter Level
Monster HD
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14+
1
7
5
3
T
T
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
2
9
7
5
3
T
T
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
3
11
9
7
5
3
T
T
D
D
D
D
D
D
D
4
-
11
9
7
5
3
T
T
D
D
D
D
D
D
5
-
-
11
9
7
5
3
T
T
D
D
D
D
D
6
-
-
-
11
9
7
5
3
T
T
D
D
D
D
7
-
-
-
-
11
9
7
5
3
T
T
D
D
D
8
-
-
-
-
-
11
9
7
5
3
T
T
D
D
9
-
-
-
-
-
-
11
9
7
5
3
T
T
D
10
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
11
9
7
5
3
T
T
11-12
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
11
9
7
5
3
T
13-15
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
11
9
7
5
3
16-19
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
11
9
7
5
20+
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
11
9
7

Saving Throw: Hunters receive a +2 bonus on saving throws vs. death, magic, and fear (unless the alternative “Saving Throw Matrix” is used).

Magic Use: Hunters may attempt to cast spells from scrolls. To successfully cast a spell from a scroll the fighter must roll against his Use Magic score on a D20, adjusting the roll by both his INT bonus and the level of the spell being attempted (- spell level). If successful, the spell functions normally and fades from the scroll. If unsuccessful, the spell fades from the scroll and the hunter loses 1d6+2 hit points.

Mercenary Unit: At ninth level, a hunter can raise a temporary mercenary unit from a friendly populated area to hunt monsters. The Warrior must spend 2d4 days doing nothing but spreading the word in the local region and rallying interest. On the morning following his efforts, the Hunter will have gathered together a fighting force of (his level + CHA bonus) x 5 men-at-arms. The GM may increase or decrease this number by up to 50% to reflect the population of the area.  The hunter is responsible for food and supplies for these men, and they will follow him so long as they are treated well and the threat the unit was created for still exists. A hunter may only have one such mercenary unit at a time.

Experience Bonus for Wisdom: Wisdom is the Prime Attribute for Hunters, which means that a Wisdom score of 15+ grants an additional 5% experience.