I was going to write about the various Swords & Wizardry games today but then I had a better idea. Before I burn away all the goodwill my OSR introduction post earned me I want to tell you all about the best bit of the OSR.
OSR products are mostly small press, made by a small team or often just one person. This is most evident in the various weird and wonderful setting books which are available.
Yoon Suin: The Purple Land is an ancient land of sun baked mountain valleys, long winding trade rivers and steaming mangrove swamps. Each chapter details a different part of Yoon Suin, opening with a vague description and then detailing everything else with random generation tables. There are tables for what establishments are in the street, which patrons are in the tea House and what they want, including what jobs they might have for the PCs. There are tables for places to go, rumours, artifacts, friends to call on, cults to avoid, temples, exiles, villages, mines and of course, monsters. All of this neatly subverts euro-typical fantasy expectations and can be used either to add foreign detail to your game or to build a whole campaign as you play. Best of all, every time you use it you will get different results which gives Yoon Suin a sense of scale I’ve never seen in a published setting before. Yoon Suin on Lulu
The three Hill Cantons adventures (Fever Dreaming Marlinko, Slumbering Ursine Dunes and Misty Isles of the Eld) present a world where old adventurers approaching godhood linger in semi-functional ruins and vicious trippy SF elves harvest meat from worms big enough to be the defining terrain features on the map. Hydra Cooperative on drivethru
A Red and Pleasant Land is Alice’s Wonderland but in this surreal, timeless, lethal country-sized garden, the powers that be are waring families of vampires and all across the land you can find chess piece monstrosities fighting pack-of-card soldiers. A Red and Pleasant Land on LotFP
The Bay of Spirits it’s a beautifully illustrated guide to a Northern fjord kingdom. It feels like it shows every home in every town and every damp corner in every cave. The Bay of Spirits on Drivethru
There are others. I’ve yet to explore the Northlands from Frog God Games and there are many books for Lamentations of the Flame Princess which are effectively small settings: Veins of the Earth presents a truly alien underworld, while Carcossa is an actual alien world populated with thirteen species of human and all the Lovcravtian horrors. And there are many more yet. I am particularly looking forward to the recently kick-started Driftwood Verses.
None of these worlds feel like a retreading of old ground. None of them are committee approved to maximise audience satisfaction. They are the clear vision of their creators and often you can tell that these books have grown fully formed out of their home games, which gives them the quality of feeling both real and alien.
I’m not sure exactly why the OSR has nurtured so many unique and awesome settings, I guess it’s just the general attitude that everyone should be making what they want to be making and the general acceptance of PDF and POD making these niche products viable.
Something that definitely helps is that whichever specific OSR system these books are written for, they are all compatible. Combine that with the fact that these settings all detail their own corners of the world but leave anything beyond their maps up to you, and you can intermix all of these places and adventures any way you like to build exactly the world you want to run.