Fast forward to the middle of the pandemic: many of us are trapped in our homes, Netflixing ourselves to death, looking for social interaction that doesn't involve contracting a deadly virus.
At this point, I've already scrapped and re-scrapped countless drafts of OSR+ called "Spellcaster," and most versions are just ill-conveived fantasy heartbreakers that try to fix Dungeons & Dragons. Then, out of the blue, I have a conversation with my friend Jon and his wife Ali, that they're interested in trying D&D for the first time. Jon had played when he was a kid, but that was First Edition. Ali is as much as a nerd as he is, but has never played before.
Tools to Render Rulings
I jump at the opportunity, but how do I introduce them to RPGs? I don't want to use Second Edition anymore. I've already spent countless hours over the past year engaged with the indie RPG scene, discovering hordes of retroclones and OSR-adjacent games. I've considered PbtA but ultimately ruled it out, because I also want to roll dice as the Game Master. I play Dungeon World, MASKS, Pathfinder, and City of Mist with my local Game Master in Boston, but these are not the kind of game I want to run. I need something simple that gets out of my way as a GM, so I can focus on the people involved, and what they want out of the game, not the mechanics.
And when I say here mechanics, I also mean the mechanics of narrative (which are extra-present in PbtA games). I need tools to render rulings, and I need tools for my players to manipulate the fiction, that are simple enough to carry in their active memory without having to look back to their character sheet.
I stumble upon an extremely simple game called Warrior, Rogue, Mage from Stargazer Games, that uses a single d6 for its roll. It has 3 stats and no classes. It's simulationist at heart, and the GM gets to roll dice. I decide it's enough for me to get hacking.
Three years later, Advanced Old School Revival is the result of all that hacking. It's the result of deeply examining the spirit of the game I grew up loving—Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition. I wanted to marry its modularity and old school spirit of rulings over rules with the meta-narrative mechanics that enable PbtA games to capture genre-play, the sort of play that enables players to make narratively satisfying moves for their characters, without letting that meta-narrative take over the simulation.
Modularity & Power in OSR+
The game as it stands now has evolved considerably from the first alpha tests I ran with Ali and Jon. Out of our tests emerged the campaign setting A Quest of Queens, which our party is still playing to this day. OSR+ features a digital Character Creator that helps players and GMs get up and running in a matter of minutes. While there are "classes" and "levels" in OSR+, the terminology is one of convenience: classes provide a single ability, that when combined with kits and other options, result in a modular approach to building heroes. With OSR+ today, there are 4000+ combinations of characters from the combination of classes, kits, and origins available.
Similarly, "leveling up" is a matter of choosing a single perk that only marginally improves your character: in OSR+, you're about as powerful as you're going to be at maximum level as you are at character creation. This is because I didn't want you to have to wait a year in the real world to be able to cast a cool spell like Time Stop or be good enough with a sword to hack and slash your way through hordes of baddies in the fictional world. Although this is not to say OSR+ isn't deadly after the old school style: numbers are tightly bounded in this system, thanks to everything being run off a d6, and true power is derived from clever manipulation of the fiction, rather than the character sheet.
Outside of simulation, there are various mechanical tools for players to take control of the narrative on the basis of their characters' motivations, since, after all, my goal in creating this game was to be able to run satisfying narratives for all involved. To this end, session zero (and the particular way it is conducted in OSR+ in conjunction with story hooks) is a huge part of running an OSR+ game, because we want to bake those satisfying narrative conclusions into the game from the get-go.
Finally, on the GM-facing side of things, the game provides options rather than rules—simple, modular checks that the GM can take or leave as needed to arbitrate what happens. Just as in PbtA games, there are defined game modes that reveal the underlying actions the GM and players take to drive the narrative forward, except those actions are driven by the same unified attribute mechanic that underlies all the other simulationist rules in the system. You will find the extensive game master's guide (which as of the time of this edit, is being drafted) is very much just that: a guide to interpreting rules rather than following them, in the spirit of adhering to these two philosophies of play.
On Roleplaying Games...
All this being said... what would an RPG manual be without a classic chapter on "What is an RPG?"
I invite you now to read my own treatise on the subject.
What is RPG? And why do we play?