Sunday, December 25, 2011

OSR Cycle of Innovations & Critique Criteria

Fantasy Heartbreakers and militant OSR purists aside, the indie OSR movement has -- in concert with other industry-wide learnings and trends, of course -- produced a lot of quality material. Few are perfect, and of course different people will have varying opinions on the products, but there are best practices that are added to the body of OSR work grows.

Because of the exercise of RPG product review, I've realized several things about my preferences in source material:
  • Dealbreakers - there are certain things that make the product irredeemable or just not worth my time to find out if the content is worth it; this includes layout decisions that make it a pain to read through the material, or painfully inept writing or editing. Bad art, it turns out, I can forgive.
  • Consistency of tone - I don't mind informal writing of source material, nor do I mind material that's meant to evoke a certain emotion or atmosphere (even if done badly). I do mind writing that alternates between the two, especially if the informal tone tends to break the so-called fourth wall. If you're going to poke fun at the atmosphere you're trying to build, just start off informal.
  • Synergistic Crunch and Fluff - I don't think there's a magic ratio of crunch to fluff; I do believe that key elements of your setting demand crunch -- even if you have to say: use the crunch in some other RPG sourcebook. I hate floating pieces of fluff that are ill-defined and yet are intimated at being an "encounterable" bit of fluff.
  • Organization matters - group useful bits of info together, stick them in some place close to where they're mentioned, do it consistently and I'll be happy. Throw in some indexes and I'll be even happier.
I have more, but I realized it might be good to build up a list of this criteria AND to get some folks talking about what they felt worked and didn't work in various source material according similar lists of criteria so that there's a large amount of talk about what makes an RPG sourcebook good aside from just the material in it. And perhaps how certain source material can overcome key failings, break the rules, and become must-haves -- while others languish in the hell of mediocrity.


  1. I would tend to agree with those points, though of course, there's a degree of opinion in defining them with individual products. I'm allowing of a break in tone or voice if products have different sections: say "in character" peices and "behind the scenes" sort of stuff. The different sections should be clear delineated, though.

    Also, I think there can be potentially encountered bits of fluff that aren't game definied. For instance, a Wind and the Willows rpg might describe how an ecounter with Pan might work, but to concretely state him out would miss the point. Still, such "mysterious encounters" should be the exception,

  2. I think that that's one of the weird and wonderful things about "best practices" -- they're guidelines that you can violate if you can somehow make it work.


That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.