Brian’s OSR Overview: Games Defying Categories

I’ve tried to cover all the major facets of the OSR by discussing the Basic level games, the settings and the Swords & Wizardry games, but there are plenty of other OSR books which don’t fit into those categories. Today I’m going to look at some of the most interesting of these oddities.

Wolf Packs & Winter Snow is a game of prehistoric hunter gatherers. It uses the distinct class definitions of Lamentations of the Flame Princess to ensure that the classes here each have their own niche. Hunters can fight the many creatures of the wilderness, Experts can learn many skills, while Neanderthals and tough and less social but better able to survive in the wilderness. This games take on Magicians though is genius; they function with the same rules that most D&D Mages use but their spell book is the walls of their cave. While in their cave they can perform their rituals and cast as many spells as they like, when they leave their cave they can only cast those spells they have chosen to memorise. It’s an excellent use of old school mechanics which sometimes don’t seem very logical. Mechanics like this, as well as things like the fragility of all the equipment make for a unique, well crafted experience. The Wolf Packs & Winter Snow Revised PDF is available on Drivethru for $5.

The Nightmares Underneath takes the base concept of adventurers clearing out dungeons and builds an entire world around it. Here the Dungeons are incursions of Chaos into the Kingdoms of Dreams, the human world where Law prevails. Entrances to these dungeons can form in forgotten alleyways or dark cellars and if someone doesn’t go down there and clear them out they will grow and spread and more of the world will be lost to chaos. Gameplay alternates between desperate dungeon delves and equally detailed social activities of life in this world. The rules cover all of this in detail and every aspect reflects this encompassing struggle between Order and Chaos. Being a blend of Basic OSR combat and spell casting with Apocalypse Powered skill checks though, these rules never feel heavy. The Nightmares Underneath is available as a free PDF on drivethru and also as a paid pdf or book with full art content.

Far Away Land is a wonderful light weight fantasy adventure game. It isn’t based on the usual D&D rules conventions but it is very much OSR in style. The system pares everything back to the essentials: just three stats, a small list of skills and no classes. The d6 pool system is used for all rolls and the whole attitude is a very permissive one encouraging players to do whatever they think is cool. This anything goes attitude is carried on through the adventures where players will find themselves fighting alien warrior nuns, giant psychic house cats and ambulatory clown plants. The whole game is the creation of Dirk Stanley, including all the artwork which has a very fun Adventure Time vibe, and this gives a very consistent tone for such a gonzo package of ideas. There are many products in the FAL line including the free quickstart rules and the Tome of Awesome which collects the core books into one volume.

Into The Odd is D&D stripped down to it’s barest essentials. Characters are treasure hunters in Bastion, a city out of time where any crazy adventure might be found at the end of an alley. Combat is simplified down to just damage rolls, encouraging players to avoid it altogether. OSR really doesn’t come any more pick-up-and-play than this. (PDF on drivethrurpg)

Dungeon Crawl Classics is OSR turned up to 11. Characters are supposed to survive a level 0 funnel before they can even be considered a level 1 adventurer. The rules are simple, but the rulebooks are elaborate and massive. Every spell has it’s own effects table to roll on when cast, making magic easy to adjudicate but very random and often hilarious. If you like your dice, DCC uses the standard seven polyhedrals but also d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24 and d30 to easily differentiate levels of ability. DCC also has a vast library of very well regarded adventures. (Quickstart PDF with two adventures for $2)

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