Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Something the OSR is missing?

One of the new players in my S&W game brought his 1E (Tramp cover) PHB with him, and was flipping through it during character generation, finding stuff he liked and then looking for its closest approximation in the S&W books. He kept in front of him throughout the session with his dice, sheet, map, etc.

It reminded me of how much I enjoyed my 1E PHB, and the seemingly endless possibilities it presented. It not only included all the class and race info, but lots of adventuring advice, lengthy equipment lists, and so on. A lot of content, but not a single combat chart or stat block, and was a constant means of engagement with the hobby. All the number crunching and magic items were a mystery.

It made me wonder: could this be something the OSR is missing? The three "big" retros at least, S&W, LL, OSRIC, are all a complete game in one book. But no Player Handbooks.

I'm going to assume this is due to expediency: one book is a lot easier to produce than three. I'm sure it also has some roots in the original point of the retros, which was not to replace the original games they were modeled on, but to facilitate the publication of new supplemental materials for those original games.

But now I have a nagging feeling that there is at least one cool aspect of the hobby that retroclone players are missing out on. You either don't get your own book at all, or get a book with all the game's statistical mysteries revealed.

My first instinct is to just print up some home-made PHBs, maybe the character and spell sections of the S&W rulebook .pdf with Matt's Primer for Old School Gaming thrown in, but I can't help but think there could be more to do with this.

I spotted a stack of five or so 1E PHBs at a local game store a few weeks back. I'm thinking I might go back and buy them all, so I have them if I ever decide to play 1E again, and want everyone to have their own PHB. The secondary market supports their fairly easy acquisition right now, but who knows what the future holds?

What do you think? Would you like to see some retroclone PHB's? Do you make your own already?


  1. Well, the shortest path to this would simply to print and bind Chapters 1-3 of OSRIC. That's all the player stuff and it weighs in around 145 pages.

  2. Al, this is a really important point.

    The division between 'DM' and 'Player'...

    Much easier to create mystery when the players have only the raw materials (data) that they need to run their characters.

    Need to crunch on this, but I think you've struck theoretical gold.

  3. Forsaken Souls (the beast that has been occupying all my free time project-wise) will have a core book standard starting with the Player Handbook-Basic Edition, then the Gate Master Strategy Guide-Basic Edition and concluding with the Bestiary Codex.

    It works psychologically as well. People new to RPGs take one look at say the Pathfinder core with 600 (?) pages and feel intimidated.

    Notice how one of the best received system in ages, the Dragon Age PnP, follows the smaller book theory, then combines the second release into one hardback.

    Plus I believe, just like old school style, that players shouldn't be privy to all information, just that necessary for players.

    It is also a cost saver for those who just want to play.

    So, yes, player handbooks are a great idea.

  4. Agreed keep the game a mystery to the players.

    Also I don't like is spells in the players handbook, 5th level spells should be a mystery to be found, not a shopping list of powers. Sure by now we all know them but think how great it would have been to not know them and discover them through play.

  5. Several years ago I bought 5 or 6 extra PHBs with the intention of having them around so that as soon as I convinced the people I play with of how much fun they could have with this 'old' rulebook, we could be off and running. Some of them are somewhat tatty, have stranger's names and phone numbers written in them and some have the pictures colored in or notes in the margins... all look like their previous owners used the hell out of them.
    Sadly, the hoped for enthusiasm never manifested ---- I have said numerous times, "How 'bout an old school game... give it a try...I've got enough books for everyone..." and they all say, "No thanks... but I have a boner for Savage Worlds... Oooooh... Dragon Age! It's new and shiny!" And there the PHBs sit, on the shelf, all that potential just wasted.

  6. I've made and printed my own House-rules book for the players. It has all the classes, equipment, campaign info etc that the players need. I've also compiled Spell books and printed those for Clerics, Druids and Magic-Users which I called Book of the Divine and the Book of Wizardry. This is all for my S&W campaign and the players flip through this frequently (you can check them out at my blog). It was quite easy to layout (I used Open office) and print in digest format.

    I think the reason that there isn't one be-all-end-all PHB is that there are so many house ruled games (which the retro clone rules work great with) that it might be hard to cover everything. I think it's mostly up to the game master to create at this point.

  7. The trend has definitely been toward consolidation of rulebooks--not only easier to produce, but much more portable. TSR tried to address this with 2nd Ed. but failed miserably by adding to the problem.

    Plus the need to distinguish content for players and GMs doesn't seem so relevant now. Especially with retros--most of the players already know the GM bits anyway (at least in mid-level, if not detailed, terms).

    If you wanted to preserve mystery for the players, I think a 1-page primer on chargen and setting details ("What everyone knows") would be more useful than a separate rulebook.

    Just my 2 cents...thanks for provoking my thoughts.

  8. One of the considerations is just that with the way printing works, with most of the cost being the setup, the cost of a much shorter players' Handbook would be almost the same as the complete book. While its true that there's a lot of psychological power behind a player book, for many reasons, I really don't think that players (as buyers) would be very psyched to pay 90% of the price for 50% of the content.

    It might be worth it for OSRIC, where the page count is high enough to actually make a difference in the pricing (and size), but for the shorter games like Swords & Wizardry I can't see doing a printed copy. However, Swords & Wizardry is clearly divided between a player section and a Referee section, so it wouldn't be hard just to cut the pdf off at the end of the Player section if you're printing the pdf at home. No actual reorganization would be necessary (except maybe including the character sheet from the end of the book).

  9. "What do you think? Would you like to see some retroclone PHB's? Do you make your own already?"

    Yes, yes I do. .)

  10. I've always preferred to keep the mechanics behind the curtain. Glad to hear there are a few lost souls who feel the same way. All the moving bits out in the open really interferes with player immersion.

  11. But what is 'immersion"? You'll get as many different answers as you will respondents.

  12. I think you are on to something. I'm playing with a hybrid of S&W and LL and BECMI for an upcoming campaign. I'll have most iconic classes, such as fighters, barbarians, rangers, wizards and so forth and players will get a paragraph overview of each profession...however, there won't be an experience or ability chart--the details of precisely what a ranger gets for skills and special abilities and the parameters of said abilities and when he or she receives these things will be revealed through play. A combination of traditionally leveling and stuff that emerges during the heat of play. I've experimented with it already in minor ways such as giving fighters a deflect ability after eithwer 4rth lvl or attempting something like it in battle. The ranger discovered she could talk to animals for an hour a day if she chewed some leaves and conducted a little fireside ritual. Players seem very keen on this revelatory process.

  13. When I was DMing in the early 80s, most players had no books. A handful had the Players Hanbook, but it was rare. They didn't know the mechanics, nor did they care. I did all of the heavy lifting out of sight.

    During my 4e DMing stint, the rules were so numerous and changed so often by the powers that be that I never could keep up, and one player would be the expert on one section of the rules, and another on a different section, and we all sort of hashed out the as a collective group while we played.

    It was gross and made me want to take a hot shower.

    - Ark

  14. I've made PHBs of LL (first 60 pages) and S&W Complete (first 74 pages). The BHP White Box first two books were the "player" books. Still haven't gotten the group to try any of these games, but I have quite a collection of PHBs now!

  15. I prefer custom char sheets with spells, turn charts, to hits, weapon damage etc right on them. Maybe supplemented with a 1 page rules. I also tend to use lots of props (spell and magic item cards).

    99% of game is tell me what you want to do or look up some number off your char sheet. (the other 1% is char creation/advancement) If you need a book of rules for players your game has too many rules ;)

  16. I wholeheartedly agree about the desirability of separating the things that the players and game master have regular and expected access to during a game. Adventures Dark and Deep, my "Gygaxian Second Edition" has a separate Players Guide, Game Masters Toolkit, and Bestiary. (Currently in free open playtest... ahem.)

    For various reasons, I decided to put the combat tables in the Players Guide-- it's one of those core systems that the players are going to be referring to a lot, and experience has shown that the players knowing the combat table isn't going to ruin a whole hell of a lot of the mystery. I think having the players know when they move up on the combat table or on a saving throw doesn't spoil too much of the "immersion".

    Magic items and monsters, however, are definitely not something that the players should have access to during play. Sure, the GM can go out of his way to stymie them with "blue goblins" and such, but he really shouldn't have to.

  17. Players should have player books - why not? They read them at home anyway. Because nobody plays as written, it doesn't matter whether they have the books or not

  18. I couldn't agree more. I currently hand out a single sheet of paper in our B/X campaign that explains how to create a character. We frequently have guests who have never played an RPG and it is written with that audience in mind. After making the character, I then basically explain the rules of the gameby saying something like "pretend you are Stabb the Invincible--do anything you want to do." But, it would be nice to later hand players a resource to prime the imagination.

  19. I've been working on this very thing for several months now - an OSRIC Player's Guide.

    It will have all new art, which is what is taking so long, since I don't get a lot of time to draw these days.



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