Open Source Roleplaying

A recent (private) thread from +Stacy Dellorfano and an ensuing comment from +Kiel Chenier got me thinking about what I like about these older, simpler rulesets. Bottom line up front: it’s the “simpler”, not the “older”.

Part of the appeal to some gamers of the “Old School Renaissance” is nostalgia. This is how they played when they were younger, and so (much like music), the games they played in their childhood or adolescence imprinted on them. I get this, not least when I see screenshots of old games like EGA Trek.


Credit: wrathofzombie

But I didn’t really play D&D much back at that time. We dabbled a bit in AD&D 2nd Edition, but I grew up in a conservative evangelical family that saw (sees?) D&D through the lens of the Satanic panic. So we quickly moved to science fiction or other non-fantasy games like MegaTraveller and GURPS. As an adult, I played lots of Star Wars stuff (primarily the RCR and Saga Edition), plus roleplaying in MMORPGs.

Labels don’t matter much to me. RPGs are my hobby, not my profession, and I like it that way. But the DIY ethos of the punk movement, which is reflected in the “open source roleplaying” interpretation of OSR, matters to me a lot. I have some of the slickly-produced 5e stuff, and it’s well done, but I also like my d30 companions and such. As previously noted, I like a “riffing” style in my RPGs. Other people can play however they want in whatever frameworks they want, whether that’s story games or ultra-crunchy tactical maneuvering or total freeform text RP. There’s no objective standard or judgment here – only personal preferences.

So, DIYpunk or dungeonpunk or D&DIY or whatever – bring it all on. Everybody’s welcome, as long as they “imagine the hell out of it!”


Rooted in make-believe


When I was a kid, seeing a movie meant more than just a couple of hours of entertainment. It meant hours or maybe days of material for playing “make-believe” or “pretend”. After The Goonies or Return of the Jedi or anything else I liked, the ideas and characters and settings and themes would inform my playtime for a while afterwards. (In the case of Star Wars, I guess that was true for years…)

Now that I’m a dad, of course, I’ve realized how normal this is. Kids watch an adventure movie, and then they go replay the movie in their own ways, either with their own dolls & “action figures” (i.e. dolls), or maybe they run around in the living room yelling and laughing and pretending they are the characters.

The more things change…

…the more they stay the same. After all, what are role-playing games but semi-structured make-believe? When I’m playing some computer game or reading a book for a while, I end up wanting to emulate that in my RPGs. Earlier this year, I played lots of Diablo 3. That led to making new lists of monsters, researching cathedral floor plans, working on archetypes and character classes for demon hunter-esque characters, and so forth. It didn’t lead to an actual campaign, though. Maybe the game prep was enough to satisfy that thirst for a while.

Now lately I’ve been listening to the audiobooks in the series A Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones) and I’ve reached about the midpoint, halfway through the third book of five. I love the intrigues and scheming far more than the battles and bad sex (don’t judge me). Any scene with Tyrion and Varys grabs my attention far more than another account of outlaws in the forest. So my solo Scarlet Heroes campaign has been all urban adventures. I’m trying to establish this character as something akin to a Master of Whisperers, I suppose – an information broker, eventually, but one who occasionally pulls out the short sword to get things done. (It’s a good method for world building, too, but that’s another post for another day.)

The bleedover goes in all directions, of course. Game of Thrones has led me to spend more evenings playing Civilization V again, going for diplomatic and culture victores. Actually, it’s circular, because playing D&D again drove me to fantasy fiction again like GoT and the Kingkiller Chronicles (Name of the Wind, Wise Man’s Fear, etc by Patrick Rothfuss).


Dungeon crawling is fun and still probably where D&D games shine the most, especially those based on older editions. My occasional game with my kids mostly consists of random encounters and some underground exploration so I can just keep pace with their insatiable curiosity and creativity.

It could be that this is actually where I’d like 5e more than B/X or Swords and Wizardry. Perhaps a play-by-post or text-based Roll20 game would provide the right medium for a game of urban intrigue and mysteries.

What I know for sure is that I’m having tons of fun even just with game prep I never use and solo RP and gaming with the kids. The 8-year-old in my heart is giggling once more.