Death and Failure

Sometimes I think that the OSR has become too fixated on death.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of player character death. Or more specifically, I’m a fan of the threat of PC death. The constant danger of PC death is a cornerstone of OSR gaming, it gives the game an edge and adds weight to the choices players make.

However, both as a player and a dungeon master, sometimes I want characters with a little more durability. Maybe this comes from the natural evolution of the game, as the characters reach higher levels and gain access to magic powerful enough to keep them alive. Sometimes I want a break from the fragile low level characters. Sometimes even an OSR gamer wants to inject some, dare I say it, story into the game and to indulge the players who want an overly long and convoluted backstory. Sometimes I even want to have a plot framework that hinges on the PCs, a plot that would fall apart if they meet their ends too soon.

Sometimes I just want to give the PCs a better chance of survival.


I’m not talking about the complete removal of death as a threat and I’m certainly not talking about letting story take over the game, I’m talking about running a game that gives the PCs a better chance. Maybe it’s luck points, or magic items, or giving players at zero hit points a save vs death. Something that gives them an edge.

Can a game like that still be considered OSR?

Yes, because what creates the tension we like so much isn’t actually the threat of death, but the threat of failure.

Great fun can be had in seeing how PCs deal with failure. What happens when Modred captures the Grail, or the city falls to the orc hordes?

What happens is the next adventure.

Back in my undergrad days we had a long running hybrid 1st/2nd Edition game where our (surviving) characters had reached levels high enough that not much short of a total party kill would keep us down. We’d slugged our way through many tough campaigns until we were a well armed and battle hardened team. Our latest campaign had us fighting to prevent an elder god from being unleashed on the kingdom.

We battled our way to the summoning chamber deep in the heart of a lost city. The final guardians stood between us and closing the gate and saving the realm. The battle was joined and everything fell apart.

Good tactics on the villains’ part and merciless dice rolls proved to be our undoing and we watched in horror as the gate exploded open. We escaped the city and fled the kingdom as the elder god’s rot overtook the whole realm.

That was it. The campaign was over and we’d failed. The kingdom was lost, untold innocents were dead, and a massive evil threatened to expand its reach further across the Prime Material plane.

It… was… awesome!

The next gaming session, our characters reached sanctuary and began plotting our revenge. The campaign against the elder god took us through the next semester.

Every player was emotionally invested in the game due to that failure, an investment that was deeper because our characters survived. That failure bound us to the game in a way that would not have existed if we’d died and rolled up new characters. Our characters had a score to settle, we as players had a score to settle.

I’m not going to be hanging up my killer DM mantel anytime soon, but understanding that death is only one facet of game tension opens up a world of possibilities. So don’t be too hard on yourself if you let a character live once in a while.

Just don’t ever hand them a win.


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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Fantasy, Gaming


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Year Two

“They set a slamhound on Turner’s trail in New Delhi, slotted it to his pheromones and the color of his hair.”

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Posted by on August 17, 2014 in Blog News, Cyberpunk


More Dwimmermount

Speaking of Kickstarter,

Two years after the target date I now have the final .PDF files from Dwimmermount on my hard drive and I’ve seen pictures of the hard copy proof on the backers’ updates.

I talked a fair bit about this famous OSR megadungeon and the infamous Kickstarter project not too long ago. It became a major cautionary tale for Kickstarter projects in general and the OSR in specific. I’m glad that I may finally be holding this product in my hands soon, both because I love megadungeons and because of the impact Grognardia has had on my gaming. It’s also an amazing testimonial that Alexander Macris and the folks at Autarch have been able to keep this project alive and get it into the hands of the backers. That’s something that cannot be said for many other OSR Kickstarter fiascoes and for this they have my thanks.

I’m holding off on true glee until I have a physical book in my hands and there’s always the lingering concern that it won’t hold up to my hopes. I’m too jaded at this point for more than guarded optimism.

But guarded optimism is more than I had a few months ago.

And in the meantime I have my new Sentinels Tactics set to play with!

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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Uncategorized


Sentinels Tactics Has Arrived!


Yesterday I came home to a big box from Greater Than Games. My Sentinels Tactics set has arrived!

Wait, let me back up a little.

Sentinels Tactics: The Flame of Freedom and all my add-ons is in my hands four months early!

I don’t know what dark magic Greater Than Games has that lets them nail every Kickstarter project but I’ll donate a pint of blood to it in thanks.

Sentinels Tactics is the new tactical combat game based in the Sentinels of the Multiverse universe. Unlike the card game, where the players work cooperatively to defeat a super villain, Tactics pits the players against each other in comic book battles. This is the project I blew all my discretionary gaming money on so I could fund it at the $100 level, and boy was it worth it. I got the core game, the Uprising expansion, two boxes of miniatures, a deck of additional cards, and a fun art print of the Sentinels characters.

I’d hoped to be playing it for Christmas. Now it shows up right before I celebrate my birthday by having a bunch of friends over for a day of board gaming.

I can’t say enough good things about Greater Than Games. They put out high quality products, well designed, with good components, and great customer service. They have nailed the superhero genre in ways no other non-rpg tabletop game has. In my opinion better than Heroclix from the, “makes you feel like a superhero,” standpoint.

I can’t wait to get this game to the table.

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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Gaming


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Free This Week – Sketchbook Pro

I have returned from Pennsic War!

It was my first Pennsic for a while and it was a ton of fun. I’m still getting my feet back on the ground at home and work from the time off, but should resume irregular updates shortly.

In the meantime, Sketchbook Pro is the iTunes free App of the Week!

I’ve talked about this app a few times in the past. It’s an inexpensive drawing program for your iPad that works well for drawing dungeon maps.

It’s worth a look, and this week you can do it for free.

Happy mapping!


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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Cool Stuff, Dungeon Design, Maps


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Bundles Without Numbers

Greetings Programs!

Just popping in to plug the current Bundle of Holding collection. It’s a great stash of Stars Without Number books.

I’m a big fan of Sine Nomine’s books and the Stars series in particular. I’m currently running a campaign on G+ using the Hard Light book offered in the base level bundle and I already own most of these in both PDF and hard copy.

This is a great opportunity to get into the Stars system. If you’re still on the fence, download the free version of the core rules from Drive Thru RPG. The GM’s tools alone make it worth a look.

Okay, back to Pennsic prep.


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Posted by on July 31, 2014 in Gaming, Science Fiction


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Once More Unto The Breach

Vacation time!

Next week I’m off to Pennsic War!

This is the biggest event the Society for Creative Anachronism puts on. For the rest of this week I’ll be busy preparing.

Places to go, people to hit, packing to be done.

My old, faithful friend.

My old, faithful friend.

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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in Blog News, SCA


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