What We Talk About When We Talk About The OSR

Regardless of the wishes of the OSR's prominent proponents, whatever they might be, the term OSR has become irrevocably applicable to a plethora of interrelated but distinct concepts. Necropraxis held a survey in 2018 where respondents rated how much they felt "OSR" referred to eight separate meanings. But eight is (necessarily for the purposes of a survey that folks will actually complete) reductive, compared to what I think the term encompasses, or rather, is applied to by individuals.

As they say, "ask a hundred people what "(the) OSR" is and you'll get a hundred different answers". So here's my stab at putting those hundred answers in one place. Though, this list sprang from my own mind, so I'm just one of those hundred. I'd love to know if anyone's done a similar analysis that identified aspects that I missed here.

Kircher's Tree of Life

I'm aiming to take a mostly-objective stance here; this is meant to be a resource for disambiguation and a reference point for other discussions. Any strong opinions I have I will be put forward in a separate post. This isn't particularly well-polished, barely more than my initial thoughts as I was formulating them (else this would never see the light of day as I tweaked it into oblivion). Likewise I'm not putting much effort into researching historical accuracy, so let me know in a comment if I have details wrong or have more context to share.

The only tidbit of opinion I'll express here, in the chance that I never feel comfortable participating more deeply in the discourse, is that in talking about changes in the RPG space, please, PLEASE try to use more precise language around what exact aspects of the OSR you're discussing. You don't have to use these terms, but I expect many disagreements and confusions to dissolve once all participants actually know what each other is talking about. Because it's not an atomic thing. It's a vast, amorphous concept, whether or not we want it to be.

Mothership: Backgrounds and Memories

Mothership House Rule: Spacer Backgrounds and Recalling Memories


Unless you're playing a one-shot, Mothership characters could use a bit of grounding, as it were. Here's a table to generate crappy backgrounds for roughneck spacers.

Where did you grow up?

  1. Asteroid mining station, among microgravity miners
  2. Itinerant labor ship, among career spacers
  3. Orbital junkyard, among weary shipbreakers
  4. Deep space waystation, among opportunistic scoundrels
  5. Agricultural station, among countless algae vats
  6. Military base, among bored marines
  7. Terraforming station, among vast cooling towers
  8. A subterranean moon city, among colorless apartment blocks
  9. A failing surface colony, among fatalistic family
  10. An industrial factory station, among lethal machinery

Where did you spend most of your life before your current career? (Roll again from above)

Why did you go there? (if the same result: Too poor to leave)

  1. Dragged along when parents had to change jobs
  2. To break away from your family
  3. Ran out of money while traveling to somewhere nicer
  4. Accepted a Company contract position
  5. Socially exiled, forced to leave
  6. The ads for it were so nice...
  7. Following a good friend and/or lover
  8. Relocated by The Company
  9. Kidnapped into forced labor by a crime syndicate
  10. As a refugee from disaster

Recalling Memories

Either at the end of a session, or once per session when things are calm, you can relieve 1 Stress by recalling a memory from your past.  Set in one of the places from your background, recall a specific person, place, thing, or event that stood out against the static of a generally shitty spacelife. How did it impact who you are today?

Conceptual Status: Caution - Only Preliminary Playtesting

Freya's Prospect from the 2010 AvP game apparently?

Commentary & In My Campaign

These are part of a game structure to support doing something weird (as is my wont) with Mothership: using Emmy Allen's The Gardens of Ynn as the alien-ness in this space horror game.

One of the main threats in Ynn is attacking the visitors' "Sense of Self"; eroding their personality and personal identity. In order for that to be effective in a game only a few sessions in, the characters need a personality and identity to erode in the first place. Mothership is pretty minimal in terms of PC identity, hence these backgrounds, and a method of the players filling in bits of their characters' sense of self, via recalling memories (incentivized by a free point of stress relief).

Related Resources

Dan at Throne of Salt does a ton of bespoke Mothership content

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere.

Long live the Blogosphere!


The majority of this dungeon came to me over a couple of days, lots of interconnected ideas around a central theme. I was aware of the Pamphlet Jam started by Nate Treme of the "Highland Paranormal Society" (some really cool stuff over there; I particularly like his recent Bad Frog Bargain one-pager). So as impetus to actually Make A Thing, I decided I'd cram all these ideas down into the pamphlet format. I also love self-imposed constraints to stimulate creativity.

The format necessitated a lot of paring down to the core components of what I'd generated. At the same time, I didn't want it to feel too simple, like a maze on the back of a cereal box. The core is still a fairly rigid puzzle, but there's room to turn it into more than a one-shot.

So it's still more of a puzzle dungeon than a toybox dungeon (though I'm keeping toybox as a descriptor since there is leeway for the Ocularia and other elements to be used beyond their nominal key-and-lock progression). To use the vidya game analogy, this is more similar to an old-school Zelda dungeon, or Myst or other traditional adventure game, than the "systemic" design of Breath of the Wild, which more closely embodies an OSR design philosophy that all but demands lateral thinking by default.

Keeping the "extra" stuff in also made it, for better or worse, a bit of a study in information density. It may be possible to run on the fly, but there are some intricate relationships between bits of the text that want to be read and correlated thoroughly.

I'm considering expanding this into a larger product, bringing back some of the discarded pieces, better visuals (maybe some commissioned art?), a bit more elbow room for exploration and player-generated shenanigans. So it would be interesting to redeem these sins of information design in a less cramped, format. At the same time, I'm a bit burned out on the concept and ready to move to other things, so... we'll see.

This is also the first thing that I have created entirely and then "published". I have not created many dungeons, and finished much fewer. I've read recent discussion that we should default to setting a price for things we make, so as an experiment I have made this PWYW. It feels surreal for someone (edit: now two!) to have given me money for a thing I have made. I think it's the first time? Anyhow, I encourage you to download it first, see what you think, and then PWYW.

Monster: A Naturalist Mimic - The Carcass Crab

The Carcass Crab

HD: choose or roll
     1: Squirrel, ermine, etc. Dmg: 1x1d2, 2x1d2
     2: Fox, wildcat, etc. Dmg: 1x1d4, 2x1d2
     3: Wolf, badger, etc. Dmg: 1x1d6, 2x1d2
     4: Goat, boar, etc. Dmg: 1x1d8, 2x1d4
     5: Deer, horse, etc. Dmg: 1x1d10, 2x1d4
     6: Bear, etc. Dmg: 1x1d12, 2x1d4
     7+: More formidable monsters Dmg: 1x1d12, 2x1d6
AC: As Plate (thick chitin)
     1xBite (damage as above) & if 5HD+ decapitate on crit if Gripped
     2xClaw (damage as above), and Grip
MV: 30' sideways scuttle (can only attack with 1 claw unless it moves 20' or less)
NA: 1
Treasure: HDx10x1d10 gp "pearl"

The Carcass Crab has elbowed its way into a very particular evolutionary niche. Most often found in areas of lush wildlife, each resembles a dead animal (usually a mammal), lying on its side, head missing, chest rent open, ribs protruding. The chest is in fact its wide maw; the ribs sharp teeth, jaw hinges capable of opening up to 120 degrees. The legs jutting out from either side are cleverly camouflaged clawed arms, used to grip victims if they narrowly escape the initial snap of the maw. It's real, multiple crustacean legs remain tucked under it, out of sight.

Completing the effect is the very real blood and viscera of its most recent kill, flies buzzing. The blood attracts further prospective victims: largely scavengers, but often curious predators. Even if it's too big to swallow whole, the crab will attempt to bite off its head (likely curious and sniffing near the mouth already), and consume the rest at its own pace. More agile escapees likely soon give up on piercing its hard shell.

Larger specimens may attract intelligent prey due to regurgitated weapons and armor, or its eyes, between rib-teeth, resembling shiny black orbs; perhaps the jeweled pommels of daggers, abandoned after the kill? A special gland, colloquially known as the Treasure Sack, accumulates smaller indigestible objects and material. As the crab grows, precious metals form pearl-like agglomerations, typically worth HDx10x1d10 gp.

The crab will molt multiple times during it's life as it grows fat on easy prey. Each phase resembles a slightly larger animal, maintaining verisimilitude. Its thick chitinous shell is detailed with fine ridges, mocking glossy fur, if a bit matted. Most phases appear headless, likely due to it being much easier to mimic asymmetrically than a full head.

Characters have a base 1-in-6 chance to notice something is wrong from outside of bite range.

Conceptual Status: Warning - Untested but Play-Ready

Mythic Underworld creatures are all well and good, but rarely can I resist considering how something resembling them could be plausibly evolved. The absurd degree of mimicry that real-world insects achieve almost makes me accept traditional mimics as-is, but having been exposed to enough biology (see the wonderful Endless Forms Most Beautiful for some truly mindblowing revelations about how life works that I, at least, didn't hear about in school), I fail my save to suspend disbelief.

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere.

Long live the Blogosphere!

Souls-like Knave Hack Alpha

Here's a thing I've been working on recently; side project sixty three of eleventy seven. Yeah yeah, too much design, not enough play, I know. Get used to it.

This is a Souls-like hack of Ben Milton's lean Old School ruleset Knave. Bits of how Knave works are really suitable to emulating the digital games, such as stat-building and tight equipment management.

Conceptual Status: Warning - Unfinished, Untested, Ungrounded Notional Design

It deserves a more interesting name, but this certainly gets the idea across.
Feel free to comment on the doc with suggestions!

Gameplay Assumptions
Note that, in service of emulating the digital games, this is much more of a mathfinder-style thing than my usual fare. While Knave is created for and suited to Old School Style gameplay, Knave Souls embraces aspects of its inspiration in ways that don't always align with that set of principles.

The most notable differences: Combat is the central focus and more Sport than War, with a crunchier action system to support rich decision-making in that context. Character stats are upgraded early and often, and building and optimizing stats and inventory loadout are major factors. The world, environments, and options for progress may be less open-ended, but also more dungeon-like. The Referee and group must decide the amount and nature of play outside of combat encounters.

Development Progress
I have no real intentions of making a big production out of this and no firm plans to proceed with developing it, so feel free to rip out and reuse bits as you see fit. It will likely return to the backburner while I get distracted by shinier things. But the next step might be to run some solo combat simulations to root out the most obviously broken parts in the stat/combat system.

Of course, if you're inspired to actually put it in play for some testing, I'd be delighted; please do report back.

This is yet another of a long line of Dark Souls-y RPGs and hacks thereof. A few that were influential to this instantiation:

There have also been many great pieces written about the intersections of RPGs and Souls-like gameplay that I'd love to assemble in one place, but my threshold for bloating this post has just been crossed.

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere.

Long live the Blogosphere!

Quintessential BX

Quintessential BX is a trimming and tweaking of Gavin Norman's B/X Essentials, itself a revision of Tom Moldvay and David Cook's Basic/Expert edition of the Original Fantasy Adventure Game. It includes a few refinements, additions, and options from myself, Gavin, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, such as ascending AC, a reasonable Encumbrance system, and various new options in combat. QBX is intended to serve as a solid base upon which to layer other, modular rules; it does not include classes, monster stats, or spells. These can be referenced from original or new sources, or created yourself. Season to taste.

Suitable for printing as a zine-style booklet

Italian Translation by Zeruhur

Google Doc to copy for your own customization (keeping OGL in mind)

The primary differences from BX are ascending AC, consolidation of some fiddly bits like ability score adjustments into standardized modifiers, and trimming of some things I see as extraneous like prime requisite XP adjustments, extensive rules for water and air travel, and encumbrance by tracking the weight of every item (two new Encumbrance options are added).

Special thanks to Gavin for both taking on the endeavor of creating B/X Essentials, and for conferring with me on attribution. It should also be noted that Gavin is further refining, compiling, and re-branding B/X Essentials to Old School Essentials, and the new editions will include Ascending AC.

As a side note, this (along with the original version of Principia Apocrypha) also serves as an example of how one can wring decent-looking, printable zine-booklets out of Google Docs. I might eventually write up a guide and templates for what I've learned.

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere.

Long live the Blogosphere!

Grotty PC Relationships

Your PC's relationship with the PC to your right:
  1. You're connected quite literally, by ten feet of chain, shackled to an ankle each.
  2. You're revolted by them, but somehow they're the only thing keeping your shit together.
  3. You're old friends, but always take credit for their accomplishments.
  4. You both know damning secrets about each other. Like, really bad.
  5. You stole their Wand of Self-Pleasure after finding them asleep with it in an alley.
  6. You both ripped off a crime boss in The City and owe them way more coin than you'd be able to earn in a lifetime of honest work.
  7. You discovered you both collect something gross, and have only confided in each other since.
  8. You were both somewhat accomplished adventurers, until the incident. One of you lost their shield-hand, the other half their face.
  9. You really look up to them. They always overlook you. Seriously, you're way shorter than them. But, figuratively, too.
  10. You're positive they covet your pig (loyal, obedient, and loving).
  11. They look very much like the face on a bounty poster you found. The others don't see the resemblance.
  12. You grew close in the trenches of The War. Very close. Whether you can even stand each other now is another question.

Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. The duo on the right were inspiration for R2D2 and C3PO.

Conceptual Status: Warning - Untested but Play-Ready


I have vague intentions of running some fast, loose, funnel-style OSRish one-shots at local pub game nights. The system would be pretty rules-light, and character creation would be dead-simple and lightning fast to get into the gameplay ASAP. These would probably be on cards, along with two other character aspect cards, randomly selected.

I want these and the other related character aspects to...

  • Not be as boring as most PC relationship tables ("18: Siblings.")
  • Give the players something to grab on to RP-wise, when everything else is also random and they're plopped into a weird situation with little context
  • Give the players reason to interact among themselves in the absence of external pressure to do so, because this is where a big chunk of the fun of one-shots always seems to arise
  • Encourage a wee bit of PVP, or at least dramatic irony, which are likewise generally good in a one-shot
  • Naturally generate "leading questions" without forcing them
  • Establish an appropriately grotty tone and aesthetic for the flavor of modules I want to run, and that your characters are not Heroes
  • Let it be clear that they're free to lean-in to the Murderhobo instinct

Related Resources

Somewhat inspired by:

Do you know any other really good, flavorful tables for PC relationships?

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere.

Long live the Blogosphere!


Dinosaurs, played straight, annoy me. Something about the dissonance of them existing alongside rust monsters and bulettes. If a module calls for a dinosaur, I intend to reskin them with this.

In rough order of increasing weirdness (adjust die size accordingly)

1. Too many horns
2. Big, sharp, scissor-like beak
3. Mouth too wide, splitting down the neck or torso
4. Proboscis tongue, flicks out with startling speed and range, injects strange toxins
5. Head like a giant reptilian claw
6. Moth-like antennae, communicates with static sounds, limited intelligence
7. Big faceted gem-like eyes that shoot frickin' laser beams
8. Articulated exoskeleton, can fold up into egg like shape for protection like a crab
9. Elongated body, 1d4 exploding extra sets of limbs
10. It never evolved limbs, remove them
11. Thick, gummy, rubbery skin and meat, cartilaginous skeleton, lower damage but higher HP, lose weapons in it
12. Encrusted in crystals, longest on the back where they don't get broken off
13. Fed by the heat of a radioactive heart-stone, exposed to the air through the ribcage for thermal regulation
14. Glow-in-the-dark skin, with that gross pale translucent quality in normal light, absorbs magic
15. Still mostly a fish; replace limbs with fins, somehow gets along on land
16. Saurotaur - replace head with an intelligent humanoid upper body
17. Take the 1-4: front, 5-6: back half of it, jam 2d4 of them together like a starfish
18. Crudely simple skeletal structure and body plan, too few joints, like a children's drawing, viscerally unsettling
19. Badly made; mouth sealed shut, webbed digits and limbs indistinct from trunk, seam-like lines, eyes seem painted directly on flesh
20. God's plaything; composed of glazed porcelain with gold embellishments, moving in clay-motion, cracking, flowing, re-firing itself as it moves

Youtube video "11 worst dinosaurs in my collection"

Conceptual Status: Warning - Untested but Play-Ready


I tried to add things that might give these creatures a slightly-to-highly gonzo charm, reminiscent of that of the original D&D monsters, which Gygax based a number of on knock-off toy "dinosaurs".

Speaking of that brand of charm, I don't think I've seen a monster resource that comes closer to reproducing it than Roger GS's Varlets & Vermin (and that includes the Creature Compendium). It's straight-up D&D canon, in my book! And free. Print it. Put it on the table.

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere.

Long live the Blogosphere!