Tuesday, November 8, 2022

In Case You Missed It, volume 1

 I am a relative latecomer to the OSR, and it means that I have missed a lot.

Blissful Ignorance

For decades, I enjoyed my gaming hobby in relative isolation. I have never been to a convention.  I only read Dragon for a brief stretch from 1992-1995, I have only played a few sessions of Shadowrun Missions at my FLGS. And while I was pretty active on the official D&D forum for about three years, I didn't pay much mind to hobby news, and didn't stay with it when they migrated the servers in 2005. 

In general I have been content to play Dungeons & DragonsRIFTS, GURPS, Mage, and Shadowrun  (with the odd game of HōL) with close friends and family, and be done with it. You can be very happy in this hobby ignoring what is going on behind the scenes.

When Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition came out, WotC let slip on a podcast that two years worth of D&D3.5e products: the second round of Complete X, Races of X, the PHB II, and The Book of Nine Swords had all been just playtest material for 4th edition; they had used the culture of heavy rules chatter they'd fostered in the forums to turn them into a test lab, and had never really intended to support the material in those books after the edition rollover. I was incensed, and started looking for alternatives to D&D. I opted for Patfinder because it was familiar and compatible with my 3e collection. 

I didn't discover the OSR until I had two small children, and couldn't get very much gaming in. I found that 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons was simply too cumbersome a system, and you couldn't actually accomplish a lot in the little time that I had for gaming. I wanted a game where you could get a lot more done in the time I had. And I remembered how quickly things moved back when I was a kid playing AD&D I'd remembered hearing about Labyrinth Lord,  and started looking for mire info. And so it was just a few weeks before I started this blog that I got interested in the OSR. But this means that I have missed over a decade of cool stuff.

A Decade of Cool Stuff

Thanks to some great Twitter conversations with people like Samwise7RPG, I've been turned on to a lot of great older OSR books. Obviously, reviewing an older game might be useful, but giving a full review to an older sourcebook would be laughable. 

But I am also not the only guy who has missed a pile of awesome stuff by coming into the OSR late. So, a pointer towards some of the cool books from the early days of the OSR could be really helpful. So this is Volume 1 of my "In Case You Missed It"  series:

Cover of Petty Gods,
Art by Thomas Denmark
Petty Gods

Petty Gods: A Compendium of Weird and Unusual Minor Godlings, Revised & Expanded Edition is an O.R.C. release. O.R.C., the Old-school Role-playing Community, was a Google+ driven group that compiled, edited, and shared books of content from the OSR G+ circles. These books were generally compiled and edited by volunteers. They were released for free in PDF or hardbound at just above cost on Lulu.

Prtty H9ds was the brainchild of Blair Fitzpatrick,  and compiled by James Maliznewski (of Grognardia) then edited by Peter Gifford. An expanded edition was then put together by Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr., Matthew W. Schmeer, and Greg Gorgonmilk. The art and content comes from dozens of Contributors.

Petty Gods details almost 330 minor deities  of things as simple as turnip farming, crop rot, or waste disposal, mixed in with great old ones, demons, Immortal heroes, and comedic gods of hirelings, 10' poles, and mis-aimed area effect spells. It imitates the format of the AD&D Deities & Demigods supplement. 

These can be used for unusual encounters,  minor cults in remote locations, powerful antagonists, or maguffins. It includes a great essay on changing your definition of God's to something more flexible than a small pantheon of remote all-powerful beings, which can have a great benefit to your campaign. 

After the impressive section on Gods, there are monsters, magic items, and spells that tie into the entries.

The Appendices include the essay "Create a Religion In Your Spare Time for Fun and Profit: A Discussion of Religious Considerations for Realistic Fantasy Role Playing Games" by M.A. Bar, which has been one of the most reproduced and shared essays in the OSR on deities for good reason,  as well as a pretty solid essay on the religions of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom, among a few fun oddities.

It is still available for about $30 on Lulu, and while it is no longer distributed on DTRPG the PDF is freely available online


Narcosa Cover

Another compilation of the work of dozens of contributors, Narcosa offers a surreal, psychedelic approach to Dungeons & Dragons. It details, drugs, gods, magical rites, cities, factions, and locations, each of which is inspired by the weird, wonderful psychedelic drug culture of the 1970s. It is like diving into the world of Alex Grey's Art, the vibrations of Terrence McKenna True Hallucinations with a side trip into Timothy Leary's brain, while riding the vibrations of Emerson Lake & Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery. With a side of hanging out with the Illuminates of Thanateros.

Most of Narcosa's content is plug-and-play into any campaign: you could put Astral Moth Liquor into any jungle, and a Death-Kitten of Rah-Tlu could be included on any sufficiently gonzo encounter table. The book's content is unified as a demiplane-like setting: Narcosa which is a realm to which characters might be translated to in the throes of powerful entheogenic substances. 

Narcosa could be used as the primary setting for s campaign, but is probably,  like t by e book itself, overwhelming unless taken in small doses.

The book is full of references to drug culture and the occult that have repeatedly made my day. Any D&D book that references Brion Gysin is an unlikely delight.

Narcosa is free on DriveThruRPG (listed as $666 and permanently discounted to $0.)

Creature Compendium 

Cover, Creature Compendium
Art by Richard J. LeBlanc
Speaking of psychedelia, CC1: The Creaure Compendium is another book edited by Richard J. LeBlanc , and released under his New Big Dragon Games Unlimited imprint.  It is a collection of 200 strange, surreal, and bizarre monsters.

Only a few of the creatures in this book look anything like a beast from folklore. While a few from myth like Linnorm, Draugen and Recaps seem like standard D&D fare, there are far more monsters out of real-life myth, like the Dover Demon are from the weirdest breed of crazy and surreal American folklore.  The majority of the monsters herei are modern creation that feel like escapees from a fever dream or a Jack Vance novel.

Every creature is presented with two stat blocks: one for AD&D derived OSR games like OSRIC and another for B/X derived games like Labyrinth Lord

The monsters in this collection are there to take a break from the ordinary in Dungeons & Dragons and instead give us something weird and extraordinary. Most of them will be totally unexpected by the most jaded D&D player, and in the process it will establish a strange, gonzo vibe that works beautifully with OSR gaming in general.

The Creature Compendium is available free on DrivethruRPG and in paperback on Lulu.


  1. I'm with you here! I was blissfully unaware of the OSR as well. I happened to pick up the Rules Compendium about 10 years ago and never realized there was an entire industry built around the old games...anyway, I like this "in case you missed it" feature, because I certainly did!

    1. I couldn't believe how much cool stuff was just sitting out there free or extremely cheaply from these creators. I am probably averaging reading a role-playing manual a week right now, and stuffing the best stuff into my campaign notes for the Xen Campaign.

      And there is always so much more!