Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Reviews (and Indoctrination)...

Ok, so last week I read a review of Chronicles I: Roman Silver, Saxon Greed, our first published scenario for Barons of Braunstein.  Spoiler alert: while they kind of liked it, they felt it was too lethal because they thought Barons of Braunstein was too lethal.  That last part came as a surprise because no one's ever accused our old-school titles of being particularly deadly, quite the opposite.  Pits & Perils has a nice little cushion...

In Barons, it's literally impossible for a new character to die from the first successful attack made against them.  Not even with max damage from a greatsword.  Not even using the lethality provisions in Appendix II.  Now spending LUCK carelessly can change all that, but a thoughtful (read: restrained) use of said resource still leaves them a bit tougher than the average OD&D upstart.  And herein lay the confusion.  The reviewer in question assumed that Barons was basically an OD&D retro-clone because really, aren't they all?

Now I'm not slamming this person, who I happen to like and respect.  But all of this does speak to the primacy of D&D and the success of the OSR.  And it definitely speaks to how the old-school renaissance has maybe (unintentionally) indoctrinated us to assume that certain approaches are universal.  Lethal gameplay?  Dungeon crawls?  OD&D is classic - but it's far from the sole blueprint, especially when adventuring in historical settings.

Open-ended gameplay?  Strategy over builds?  Aren't these old-school as well?  This debate has been done ad nauseum, so I won't do it again except to say that aspiring to the early days of the hobby doesn't necessarily imply OD&D's approach - or rules.  But this is a totally forgivable impulse given that much of the OSR really is a cloning experiment - and it's not confined to rules either.  OD&D casts a long shadow over pretty much everything...

Case in point: our module features a realistic interior setting.  Suffice to say, it's not some fantasy dungeon where you can go room to room killing enemies without consequence, a fact we emphasize in the book.  Our reviewer called it a dungeon crawl - but is it?  Should we label every interior area a dungeon - much less a crawl?  Modern spy games are full of such places, as are historical ones where the term has no meaning.  The reviewer went on to suggest that our adventure fails because it can't be approached this way...

Full-on fighting or dull silence are the only choices - and the danger of the game, already addressed here and rightly put to bed, is seen as a bug, not a feature.  But is this bad design or just poor strategy?  I think it's a failure of the imagination, as the players have abundant choices once they climb outside the box.  Everything's on the table, whether recruiting locals to swell the party's ranks or staging lightning-fast raids.  If a frontal approach isn't possible, maybe they need to try something else instead.  This is never even considered. 

Again, indoctrination at work.  The OSR is great; but some quarters emphasize a mere fragment of its many possibilities, until every interior is a dungeon and door-to-door murder the only solution.  Now this is true for some, where gold equals levels; but soon enough, every problem becomes a nail to be pounded by a metaphorical hammer, and we forget that old-school could be so much more.  Especially the historical side, where reality reigns...


  1. Your statement "but some quarters emphasize a mere fragment of its many possibilities, until every interior is a dungeon and door-to-door murder the only solution." applies not to OD&D, but to the D&D versions that came after OD&D. OD&D emphasized the full range of many possibilities, and door-to-door murder is post-original game playing. That style was not the original play style, that style came later with the introduction of modules and the emphasis on XP for killing things. So while I agree with a lot of your points, none of them apply to OD&D. It is a grave mistake to equate OD&D play with the OSR, nothing against the OSR, but you should note that the OSR murderhobo trope is as far away from OD&D as you can get. And the murderhobo trope is as far away from the original game of exploration in the search of treasure as you can get. Originally if you could make off with the treasure without major battles, then you were smart players. That play style has disappeared for the most part.

    1. You're right! Back in 78', we avoided even a fair fight. I was mainly referring to OD&D's lethality (which is why we avoided battle in the first place), something our reviewer incorrectly attributed to Barons of Braunstein. As much as I love it, I blame the OSR for the whole murderhobo stereotype...

  2. Love this, and Halenar's comments, too.

  3. When I read the review a couple of weeks ago I didn't think comparing a historical building with a created dungeon was quite an apt comparison.

  4. Great article! As much as it pains me that this may be needed, but perhaps a half page or so talking about the intended game play, or at least blatantly pointing out the non-murderhobo options, would greatly improve the expectations of people who read your adventures? Including it wouldn't be hard, just riff off what you wrote here.

    The OSR and post OD&D games have collectively emphasised the "kick in the door and fight to the death" mentality at the expense of other strategies which were once so prevalent in gaming. Knowing these preconceived notions are so prevalent now, it makes sense to intentionally disrupt that line of thinking before it begins rather than simply hope readers will share your vision for the adventure.

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