A table-top roleplaying system that's a hack of a hack of the original Red Box version of a certain popular hack-and-slash fantasy game. That's a lot of hacking.

The Intersection of Fiction and Mechanism

Thu 10
Posted by at 11:16 am. Filed under: Design Notes

The beta release has generated some wonderful critique and reaction across the internet, most of it is overwhelmingly enthusiastic (thanks!), some of it is delightfully constructive, and only a little is dismissive, which is fine.

It’s the constructive criticism that interests me the most, of course, and I’m very appreciative of people taking the time to not only look over the game but also offer feedback and try to improve it, for which there’s always room. I’m not leaping on the computer right now to make changes for a new revision; focusing instead on some personal gaming but proof of a labor of love is that it’s always fizzling away in the back of your brain, regardless, and I’m sure I’ll be back in the personal bliss of Old School Hack designing eventually.

Some people are interested in seeing Old School Hack a little more fleshed out mechanically – There are certainly some balance issues (which I sometimes foolishly claim are purposeful) and there’s certainly room for a couple more pages of explanation as to what some of the magic items do specifically and what exact sorts of special effects you can achieve with Awesome Points and so on.

Others appropriately note that OSH is actually a pretty significant departure from the more fiction/narrative base that Redbox Hack employed – some of what made me fall in love with that particular game is how delightfully broad and stylistically encompassing many of the RBH talents could be: “You can do anything you could do normally, except you can do it while running!” or “You can use any mirror like a cell phone – a video cell phone!” and the like. The kind of stuff that just opens players up to a really exciting panoply of possibilities without directly affecting any of the math inside the game engine.

The current “in-the-middle” (or so I like to think) level of rules looseness is largely a mixture of personal preference and simple unwillingness on my part to delve too deeply into nuts-and-boltsiness in the fear of losing that kind of stylistic fictional flavor that I love so much (is creative laziness a factor as well? Perhaps.). I’ll freely admit that I’m of the slightly heretical bent that believes that class balance in gaming is a little overly-focused on since in practice –at the actual table– spotlight equality and shared awesomeness are inevitably the only things that really matter (to me, at least). Class balance is still important, of course, inasmuch as character creation should provide a nice array of mostly-equally-awesome-but-different-sounding options in order to encourage players to try to maintain diversity from each other.

In the end, I probably do believe that engaging in “encouraged” compelling fiction should ultimately trump the joy of mechanical optimization (which is probably totally obvious from any scrutiny of this game) but I hate that these two conceits are in competition in any way and really believe that they shouldn’t be. I’d like to think that OSH brings some level of harmony to this interminable design challenge but at the end of the day like all gaming it’s probably how you play and who you play with far more than it is the ruleset.

Happy gaming! If people are interested in more design thoughts, let me know and I’ll be happy to share.