Monday, December 05, 2022

the OSR as a subject of scholarly inquiry

The other day I was wondering how Nicholas Mizer was doing. He played the elf Celumir the Bald (I hope I'm getting that PC name right) in my first FLAILSNAILS campaign, the one set in Wessex. If I am recalling correctly, Nicholas was the one who solved the Mystery of the Blue Lobster.

Around that time he did a crowdfunding campaign to raise some funds for his PhD research on tabletop RPGs. Out of the blue last week it occurred to me that I wanted to see what had come of that.

First of all, I found his dissertation. So congrats on finishing, Dr. Mizer. Also, he has a book out now, which I am going to try to convince my school library to buy.

I also found a couple academic articles Nicholas authored and a book review that was interesting to me professionally (Turns out there's an edited volume with chapters on RPGs and education. I smell a new faculty workshop in my future.). I forwarded a co-authored piece on an economic game to my buddy who teaches behavioral economics. He was pretty stoked, as the piece had been published in an anthropology journal and he had not seen it before.

Nicholas's 2014 article "The Paladin Ethic and the Spirit of Dungeoneering", published in The Journal of Popular Culture, is a really compelling piece. The conclusion contains what I suspect is one of the first mentions of the Old School Renaissance in an academic journal. 

Now I was down the rabbit hole. I decided I needed to know if there were any more recent articles about the OSR. I found one, "Old School Renaissance as a Style of Play" by Tommi Brander of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The analysis is a little bit water-is-wet to anyone who actually plays old school style, but water-is-wet research is important. Playing isn't the same as documenting for the outside world, after all.

Anyhoo, I thought you all would be interested in who from the scene is cited in the article:

Alexander, JasonJaquaying the Dungeon at the Alexandrian
Baker, D. Vincent
The Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions (cited as example of a failure to understand OSR as a style of play)
Blacky the Blackball
Dark Dungeons (Am I right in thinking this is a Rules Cyclopedia retroclone?)
Bowman, David
article on the entourage approach in Open Game Table anthology
Brockie, Dave and Pittman, JoeTowers Two
Cone, JasonPhilotomy's Musings (cited multiple times)
Crawford, KevinGodbound
Finch, Matthew J.Old School Primer (multiple citations)
Kemp, Arnold
Goblinpunch post on "rulings not rules" being insufficient
Lynch, Brycetenfootpole review of Seclusium
Maliszewski, James2009 escapist article on the history of the OSR
Maliszewski, James"Time in the old school campaign" from Grognardia
McDowell, ChrisInto the Odd
seminal dungeon mapping post from ENworld & dragonsfoot
Milton, Ben; Lumpkin, Steven et al.Principia Apocrypha (cited multiple times)
Princess, Scrap and Stuart, PatrickFire on the Velvet Horizon
Raggi, James Edward IV
Guide to Adventure Writing in Open Game Table anthology
Raggi, James Edward IV
Lamentations referee book (the old one from the boxed set)(cited multiple times in article)'
Raggi, James Edward IVLamentations player's hardback
Schroder, Alex
blogpost comparing Seclusium to Moldvay dungeon stocking
Strejcek, BrendanNecropraxis article on the R in OSR
Strejcek, BrendanNecropraxis article on OSR Attributes
Strejcek, BrendanNecropraxis article on his OSR survey
Strejcek, BrendanNecropraxis article on OSR survey participation
Stukey, Randall S.
Microlite 75 (cited as a possible alternative approach to OSR play)
Tuovinen, Eero
multiple forum threads about D&D (cited multiple times)

There are some pretty rad people on the list above. I am, of course, jealous. These are only the old schoolers mentioned in the piece. (Also appearing: Vincent Baker.) 

What is a little more alarming is the amount of GNS in the article. John H. Kim, Brian Gleichman, Ben Lehman, and especially Ron Edwards are cited in this regards. Brander uses the threefold model to analyze old school play, which is totally legit to me. What concerns me is that a non-specialist, even an academic who studies mainstream D&D for a living, could easily conclude from this article that GNS and the associated people are part of the OSR.

But to circle back the the beginning: nice work, Nicholas!

Saturday, December 03, 2022

TURN by Traverse Fantasy

Many moons ago Brendan over at Necropraxis wrote a very smart blogpost called Overloading the Encounter Die. Marcia B. of Traverse Fantasy took the concept, expands it a bit, and remediates it into a threefold pamphlet called TURN. Since both original post and pamphlet are super short, I will not summarize them here. Although I found Brendan's idea to be very good at the time, I never implemented it. I'm not sure why. But in pamphlet form as TURN, I find it much more compelling. As in, I want to make it standard for my next dungeon campaign.

Some ideas just need the right packaging to speak to some people, I guess.

Traverse Fantasy also has a restatement/reinterpretation of OD&D called Fantastic Medieval Campaigns, but I haven't read it yet. Also, I discovered while writing this post that Marcia B. has a Traverse Fantasy blog and this post is an absolute winner.

Friday, December 02, 2022

The Orcs of Asgard

I've talked about Asgard Miniatures a few times in the past. They used to run great full page ads in Dragon back in the day. I'm fond of several of their 25mm adventurers, particularly the Looter, their half-elf, and their magic-user. The latter is actually wearing a backpack and has some coiled rope. Not enough dungeoneering minis are properly equipped like that.

Today I want to talk about their amazing line of orcs, sculpted by Jes Goodwin. He went on to do big things with Citadel and Games Workshop, but his vision of orcs do not align with Warhammer big green goons half-inspired by the Incredible Hulk. Check these dudes out:

Many of the figures of the line are hunched over. Between that and their long, disproportionate limbs, you get a real inhuman vibe off of them. Yet their faces are at least as expressive as any human mini of the era. These orcs are uncanny not-quite-men. 

Some of Goodwin's orcs are bent so far forward so as almost to be prone. Tolkien's idea of orcs as degraded elves almost radiates from these poses. Yet they also possess a weird suppleness. It's almost sensuous, like the serpent in Eden.

These pictures are from, which seems to be selling the Asgard fantasy line at 1980's prices. Of course, the website design looks like state-of-the-art 1992, so it may just be hopelessly out of date.

Here's a pic of some painted Asgard orcs I found just googling for additional photos:

With those poses I can readily imagine the lot of them lurching forward like Gollum or the feral boy in the Road Warrior flicks. Also, I love the choice to use human skin tones here! I've often fantasized that--if I ever got into Warhammer Fantasy--I'd paint up an ork army in Caucasian skin tones just to troll my opponents.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

a major network in BX


Elf and dwarf PCs in BX D&D begin play speaking three monster languages each, as shown on the chart above using arrows with solid black lines. That means you are taking away a class ability if your campaign doesn't include those monsters (or, say some books or inscriptions written in their tongues).

The BX write-ups for four of these six monsters mention other monsters. These are the monsters in the blue boxes.  The red arrows with the dotted lines indicates belligerence.  The purple arrows with dashed lines indicates that these creatures figure into the gnolls' reputed origin story. The orange arrows with dashed and dotted line points to a buddy that sometimes hangs out with the monster.

It is my opinion that these relationships define the core monsters of a by-the-book BX campaign. Well, these folks plus the undead (so the cleric has something to turn).

An Old Conundrum

If dwarves "hate goblins, and will usually attack them on sight" (B35) and goblins "hate dwarves and will attack them on sight" (B36), then why does every dwarf PC start play fluent in goblish? This is a question I have taken too seriously off and on for 40 years now. (Related question: If a PC party has six PCs and one of them is a dwarf, will a wandering group of 5 goblins automatically attack?) 

The first answer I landed on back as a kid was that dwarves liked insulting goblins in their original tongue and found it handy for interrogating goblin-prisoners.

The second answer I arrived at back when I started digging into OD&D and Chainmail: The quotes above are holdovers from the early fantasy miniatures campaign. I.e. these "attack on sight" indicators are meant for massive of troops in battle. If one side brings dwarves and the other side brings goblins, don't expect to be able to control those troops. They'll be too busy annihilating each other like matter and antimatter. The rest of the time there may be tensions between the two peoples, but they don't automatically boil over into hostilities.

My most recent answer builds on the second: Demi-humans and humanoids interact peaceably a lot more than I suspected as a kid. That's why elves and dwarves speak so many humanoid tongues. But recently something horrible has happened between gobblefolk and dwerpeople. This bad blood is new and raw. Determining the source of this rage will help you shape your campaign.

Friday, November 25, 2022

circumnavigating Miskatonia

So for the past couple of days I've been playing Minima, a tiny homage to the early installments in the Ultima series built for the PICO 8 environment. You can play this game in your browser, which is how I've been doing it.

Yesterday I attempted to finish the game, but the tower of the villainois Faxon repulsed me. I needed some time to think through what I missed earlier in the game, so I decided to hop in my ship (acquired from pirates, of course) and start mapping out the continent of Miskatonia. Here's what I've got so far.

That blank spot in the middle can be filled in with some overland travel. The little bit of land in the southwest is an island only a few tiles bigger than shown, as I visited it earlier in the game. The main issue with completing the map will be the volcanic archipelago with Faxon's tower. It's somewhere in the ocean out of sight of the coast, in the southeast I think. But the map wraps around both east-west and north-south, so you could put it darn near anywhere so long as it shows the right number of squares to the mainland.

Given the large amount of open water around the continent, I suspect that the overland map is actually slightly larger than the 64 tile x 64 tile map of Sosaria, the setting of Ultima III. Which feels wrong. Miskatonia seems a lit smaller. But Sosaria had a much higher land to water ratio. And heavy woods and mountains don't block line of sight in Minima, so you can see much farther in many places. Also, the tiles are literally smaller in terms of the number of pixels used. 


The browser-based version of Minima may be a tad unstable, as it crashed on me and lost my save game. 20 levels down the electronic drain. What can you do? But I was able to finish the land map.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

I keep forgetting to mention this.

Many moons ago Settembrini, Germany's foremost old schooler, ask me for some material that could be translated into German for the gaming periodical Abenteuer. I sent him a level of my old Wessex dungeon all typed up and an entirely new piece on a magical soda vending machine.

I really dig Betty Baindl's illo of my dumb idea.

DriveThruRPG has the PDF of the issue, if you are interested and can ready German. In all probability, the Gabor Lux material is oodles better than mine. 


Thursday, November 03, 2022

time to get weird

Sunday, October 30, 2022

for the Encounter Critical fans

Random Vanthian Adventurers Tattoos (d100)
A 5th dimensional leprechaun holding a tankard of ale in one hand and flipping the bird with the other.
A Beautiful Gjenie Emerging from a Bottle
A Broken Sword Captioned WE REMEMBER
A club-wielding cave primitive smashing a robodroid, captioned BRUTE FORCE
A Grey Alien Holding An Ice Cream Cone
A Grimacing Goblin Carrying an Anarchist Bomb
A Hand Where Each Fingertip Is A Creature Head: Cobra, Goat, Lion, Eagle, Dragon
A Mushroom Cloud with the Caption OVERKILL WORKS
9Ace of Spiders
Amazon in Black Leather Armor Wielding Lizard-Hide Whip
An Astronaut Among the Phoenix Asteroids
Anarchy Symbol
Bat with a Goblin Head
Battlestar Pegasus
Bee Girl Stinging an Orc
BLOOD & GLORY in classic Klengon, slightly misspelled
Bottle of Saurian Brandy
Bozo the Clown as a balrog
Butterfly with Dracula Head
Centaur that is Part-Fembot, Part-Motorcycle
Chainsaw Sword with ABSLOM DAAK FAN CLUB on blade.
24Chess Knight
Clock Face Showing that it is 13 O’Clock
Colonial Warrior Insignia
Cosmic Starchild
Crossed Swords
Cyclops/Satyr with a Unicorn Horn
Denebian Slime Devil
Devil Girl in a Skimpy Maid Uniform
Devil in a Three Piece Suit Carrying a Briefcase
Earth Directorate Flag
Eightfold Arrow of Chaos
37Eye of Horus
Eyeball with a Fiery Comet Tail
Eyeball with Batwings
40Flying Saucer
Frothy Mug of Ale
Godzilla Arising From the Sea
Gremlin Smoking a Cigar and Holding a Sawed-Off Shotgun
Grim Reaper on a Surfboard
Hammerhead Shark
Hooded Executioner with Bloody Axe
Hourglass Gripped by Skeletal Hand
Hula Girl with Medusa Hair
50Infinity Symbol
KEEP ON TRUCKIN’ with the Usual Art
Kraken Attacking a Castle
Martini with Tiny Skull Instead of Olive Captioned IT’S ALWAYS 1700 SOMEWHERE
Mermaid with Skull Face
Mime Impaled on Stake
Mirror Ball Captioned DISCO LIVES
Mushrooms Growing from a Skull with the Cryptic Caption LIFE OMEN
Open Treasure Chest Full of Jewels Captioned LOOT FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER
59Orc Jester
Pair of Numbered Dodecahedrons
61Peace Symbol
Pennyfarthing Bicycle with the Number 666 Imposed over the Larger Wheel
Pyramid on the Back of a MegaTurtle
Radiation Symbol
Rebel Alliance Starbird
Remember Alderaan on a Banner
68Ringed Planet
Sabretooth Tiger with Caption I HATE MONDAYS
Scuttling Crab Captioned with Short Word in an Unknown Alien Script
Serpent Entwining a Black-Bladed Dagger
Sigil of the Galactic Psi Knights
Skeleton Playing Pinball
Skull & Crossbones
Skull with Batwings
Smiling, gap-toothed lad captioned WHAT, ME WORRY?
Snail But Its Shell is a Spiral Galaxy
Space Amoeba Engulfing a Planet
80Spiral Galaxy
81Stylized Atom
Teddy Bear Holding a .38 Special
The First Hundred Thousand Digits of Pi in Nearly Microscopic Numbers
The Formula e^iπ+1=0
The God Huron Smiting a Smog Monster
The Hook and Cross, enigmatic sigil of the Cult of the Azure Clam
The Letter Omega
The Magic Word MWOWM in Gothic Letters
Three Crucified Robodroids
Two Planets Colliding
Unicursal Hexagram
Vorpal Bunny with Blood Dripping From Fangs
Vulkin Centaur Armed with a Phasic Rifle
Vulkinian IDIC Symbol
Winged Dragon
Wizard Giving Two Thumbs Up
Wooky Bodhisattva in Lotus Position with Third Eye Open
100Yin Yang