Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Changing Face of the OSR

Yesterday the Swords & Wizardry Complete 3rd Printing Kickstarter launched. For reasons there has been talk about its cover:

The cover is a major departure from the last printing, which featured an Erol Otus original:

The Otus cover speaks strongly to me, but the change has me reflecting on the change in the OSR. We've gone from the original Labyrinth Lord:

To the art book that is Maze of the Blue Medusa:
Okay, that's enough showing pictures. I think it illustrates the basic point, which is that there is a shift afoot in the OSR away from old TSR and toward a very different and current aesthetic.

As much as I like the Otus cover for S&W Complete, it's a cover that ties the game back to TSR. As much as it's a fresh piece, it has intentional echoes of the cover for the Moldvay Basic box - and that leaves it in what is now effectively the OSR's past. Fewer and fewer OSR modules feel the need to consciously emulate TSR's look and feel, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess has been the leader here.

By severing the TSR connection, Swords & Wizardry has a chance to be its own game. I think that's particularly important for S&W to move forward, since effectively Frog God has just treated it as one of several options along with Pathfinder and 5e D&D. It doesn't have a strong identity, and if it could gain one outside of bog-standard fantasy, I think that would be a wonderful thing.

Look at the Kickstarter, by the way - the layout of the book is also getting a radical overhaul. I'm most excited for monster illustrations by Gennifer Bone, the artist who worked with Rafael Chandler on Lusus Naturae. Gennifer is one of the most exciting artists in the OSR right now, and I'd recommend you back her on Patreon.

It's kind of a funny coincidence to me that my recent game, set in the megadungeon I am slowly working on, used Swords & Wizardry Complete. More than any other OSR system, S&W really benefits from a strong vision on the referee's part, and I think giving the book a new look and adventures outside of the Gygaxo-Arnesonian tradition is a move toward that. LotFP, after all, is not far off from B/X D&D in the text of the rules but the actual play experience is far different. I'd like to see where Swords & Wizardry can go.


  1. I think your comment on product identity is spot on. My favorite games, Dungeon Crawl Classics and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, have very concrete identities, even if they're difficult to elucidate. However, the identity of both products can also be tied to their companies' strong offerings of adventure products.

    Unlike the other two games, Swords and Wizardry doesn't seem to have a line of adventures with a distinct flavor. Maybe this is just my perception though. I noticed that there are two new adventures being offered with the new Kickstarter, so maybe this is a sign that FGG is going to try and develop such a line.

  2. A kickstarter would be a great opportunity to have multiple cover options including Old school (the OS in OSR) and new.

  3. You're right, art has a huge influence on the feel of a game. Dark Sun without Brom ain't Dark Sun. Planescape=Diterlizzi. Pathfinder is Wayne Reynolds and there's no BECMI without 'ol Elmore.
    I hope though, that Erol Otus draws these silly games forever.

  4. #1: welcome back to blogging, I missed you

    #2: With the art echoing and emphasizing the changes between the covers as well, OSR is becoming something no longer strictly throwback in nature. We are no longer just looking at the past as some cargo cultists might look to the sky.

    It takes time for art movements to evolve. We're maybe (?) a decade into the OSR. Maybe it's time to put down a marker and name the new world of RPGs something new.

    Which is not to say we throw away what's come well before. But this is becoming something different, don't you think?

  5. "S&W really benefits from a strong vision on the referee's part,"

    This is an interesting insight and one I'm not experienced enough to share. Could you elaborate?

    1. That should probably be a post on its own. :-) I've found that Swords & Wizardry out of the box doesn't either give a very strong "retro" feel like you get from Labyrinth Lord or a very distinctive difference from generic D&D like Lamentations of the Flame Princess does. Until the referee adds their own bit of style to it, it's in danger of just being vanilla fantasy. But when you want to add that flavor, it's very light and malleable.


Comments on posts older than two days will not appear until approved.