What makes a great old school D&D/OSR supplement?

edited November 2010 in Story Games
Over in the thread about what's the cream of OD&D material on RPGNow JDCorley voiced the following:
Posted By: JDCorleyI have a bunch of stuff, including Fight On!, I just can't really tell what I'm looking for in terms of what makes something high quality. What makes a great supplement in this area? What makes a crappy one?
Since I'm just getting in on the old school D&D/OSR thing I'm eager to her some thoughts on this as well.

So, in your opinion, what makes a great supplement in this area? What constitutes quality?


  • This is a good question, and I've been trying to think of what draws me to certain OSR materials, and not others. I think the thing that first drew me to Fight On! in particular was a certain kind of raw, unpolished creativity that I hadn't realized I'd been missing until I saw it again. It's something, that when you see it sparks ideas that you wouldn't have had otherwise, but isn't so completely finished and worked out in all details that there isn't room for you yourself to pick it up and add your own spin.

    At the same time, even with the rawness of the imagination, there's room for polish in the presentation. One of the things that attracts me to the S&W products is that I really enjoy their artistic aesthetic. Conversely, the Labyrinth Lord products, while what I've seen of the rules texts is really good, I'm completely put off them by the presentation. It's nails on a chalkboard to me.

    In the vein of being inspirational, the kind of stuff I'm on the lookout for includes interesting spells and magic items and adventuring environments. I'm less interested in stuff like new classes, since one of the things I like about OD&D is the idea of applying a small number of options creatively, rather than having specialized rules for everything. That said, a really elegant sub-system that fits philosophically with the core D&D mechanics is certainly of interest to me. I'll cite the LotFP encumbrance mechanics as a specific example. Since OD&D is also ultimately about building your own house system to taste, i do enjoy seeing others takes on rationalizing the core ideas of OD&D, so I gleefully collect rulesets like S&W, LotFP, and Spellcraft & Swordplay. Each has unique insights, some of which go into the pot of creating my own personal homebrew.

    As for adventures, I like stuff that hews to the principle of enough to provide direction and character, but not so much that I can't bring my own ideas to the table. I perfect example of this are the various levels of The Darkness Beneath that are being published in Fight On! Most of them I find really appealing, but either the third or fourth installment (can't remember off the top of my head) was about 3 times as long as all the others and came with a huge roster of NPCs and a complex backstory.

    I don't know that any of this rambling has produced any more of a definitive answer to what's "good", but hopefully it gives a little insight into what I've been finding inspiring.
  • Posted By: DeBracySo, in your opinion, what makes a great supplement in this area? What constitutes quality?
    Obviously, there are as many answers to this question as there are old school gamers to answer it, but I think a common thread is that a "great" supplement is one that inspires the reader or, more precisely, does something that the reader would have been unlikely to ever created himself.

    Let me explain: I think the "do-it-yourself" aspect of the old school gaming is often overplayed for rhetorical purposes, but there's no question that DIY is a major element of the old school renaissance. A lot of us prefer to create our own stuff rather than buy someone else's creations. However, I'm also keenly aware of my own limitations, most especially my tendency to plow the same fields over and over again. Any supplement that helps me break out of that rut is a good one in my estimation. That's why I like Jim Raggi's stuff so much -- it's not the kind of thing I would, left to my own devices, have ever created. Other people might have different ruts they want to break out of and so find different products inspiring.
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