Brian’s OSR Overview: Basic Games

(Following on from Part 1 yesterday)

There are a lot of OSR games, and until you’ve actually read a bunch of them they all look pretty much the same, so I’m going to run through a whole bunch of the more accessible or interesting options and I’ll try to explain why you might chose to read each one. I’m not going to try and cover the whole scene in one post, today I’m just going to talk about those games derived from Basic D&D. I’m starting here because Basic was always D&D’s sweet spot; all of the rules you needed without any of the extra details and complications of AD&D. If I was going to introduce someone to D&D, I’d use one of these games.

Basic Fantasy RPG is I think the best entry point for the OSR. It is essentially Basic D&D recreated with the d20 OGL. It gives authentic old school play and only differs from it’s inspiration where they have tidied up some legacy systems. Combat mechanics have been simplified (THAC0 replaced with an equivalent d20+Attack mechanic) and Players are free to chose any Race and Class combination they like for their characters. The Basic Fantasy corebook is clearly presented and well written, and includes everything you need to run and some excellent advice for both OSR games and RPGs in general. The book is free in PDF and very cheap in print at Amazon, support is good too with a fun monster manual, loads of very old school dungeon-based adventures and a whole pile of character options to download.
– Well presented, accessible.
– Nails the Basic D&D vibe.
– Tidies up some of the quirks of Basic D&D.
– Free PDFs, cheap books.
Basic Fantasy Downloads

Labyrinth Lord is one of the better known OSR games. It’s a faithful clone of Basic D&D (specifically Moldvey/Cook B/X) and so it covers much the same ground as Basic Fantasy above. Actual Basic D&D adventures are 100% compatible and because Labyrinth Lord was one of the earliest OSR games, many OSR adventures and settings have been written with Labyrinth Lord in mind. That said though, pretty much all OSR books work well enough together so you don’t need to worry. The Advanced Edition Companion adds further character options from AD&D to the mix if you want them. Both books are available, without art, for free in PDF.
– It’s Basic D&D
– PDF available free
Labyrinth Lord Downloads

Lamentations of the Flame Princess was the first game I saw which I thought was really pushing the boundaries of what D&D can be. Mechanically it’s another Basic variant, but it’s USP is it’s brutal and unforgiving dark fantasy adventures which really embrace the fragility of D&D characters and the dubious morality of adventuring. Of course these adventures will work well with any of the other systems on this page, so what does the LotFP system offer? Well it’s stripped back as far as it can go, with a simple d6 skill system replacing the old percentile mechanics and probably the best encumbrance system around. Classes are more specialised than in most OSR games and mages get some very powerful but very dangerous spells. As with LL there is an art-free PDF available for free but the books themselves are gorgeous little A5 books, provided you don’t have a problem with the occasional gore-porn.
– Streamlined Basic D&D
– Great adventures
– Adult content
– PDF available free
Lamentations site

Beyond the Wall & Other Adventures is my favourite of the Basic OSR games, it’s also probably the most progressive. It’s focus is young heroes defending their village in a hostile world. Characters are generated by choosing a playbook (Maybe the Would-Be Knight or Heir to a Legend or the Initiated Magician) and then rolling on the tables inside which detail the character’s life growing up in the village. Each roll gives the PC some points in stats and some skills or abilities while also adding detail to the home village and some relationships between the characters. By the time all the players are finished you will have a party of unique and well rounded adventures and a detailed village that your players care about. The GM can then take a scenario pack and randomly generate an adventure using the NPCs the players just created. It’s great stuff.
System-wise Beyond The Wall is another clean rewrite. Each PC gets a couple of class based abilities to make them more distinct. Magic-users have cantrips and rituals in addition to their usual memorised spells, so at low levels they have much more to do between naps. Another addition is Fortune points which players can spend to avoid fatal damage or to re-roll failed checks. All of these changes add up to starting BtW characters bring significantly more competent and less fragile than in most other OSR games. Free pdf supplements add loads of new PC playbooks and campaign packs for the GM. The Further Afield supplement adds a system for collaboratively creating the setting around the home village and seeding it with adventures.
– Excellent character generation
– Integrated adventure generation
– Unique atmosphere
Beyond the Wall site

If you managed to read all of that, you’ll see that all these games are pretty similar. Mostly this is because Basic D&D itself is still a perfectly playable game. These OSR games are all simply tweaking that system to play in certain ways.

To sum up: Basic Fantasy RPG is a great option if you want something easy to jump on with. Use Beyond the Wall if you want a more personal campaign.

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