Monday, February 15, 2016

Genres that Need an OSR White Box Treatment

At the beginning of January I was thinking that a good forecast for this year was that we'd see more innovation in OSR rule sets with unique settings, but I wasn't thinking big enough...I focused on subgenres of fantasy and muddied the waters. My total conversion to a White Star sort of gaming focus lately had me realizing we need other non-traditional fantasy genres to get the White Box treatment. Right now we have White-Box/0E inspired games for science fiction (White Star), planetary romance (Warriors of the Red Planet), starship troopers (Colonial Troopers), super heroes (Guardians), fairy tales (Bloody Basic Mother Goose Edition), Totally-not-Warhammer-40K Space Hulk (Hulks & Horrors), espionage and X-Files (White Lies), urban fantasy (Skyscrapers & Sorcery), and no doubt others I don't know about or own. Some genres are well-represented (such as pulp adventures), just not with the White Box style.

Here's five genres we don't have represented properly yet, that I'd really like to see (followed by a mess of other suggestions):

5. Cyberpunk "White Hack"

Actually there is Stark Space, a sourcebook for White Star, that provides a nice expansion to cover this genre. But an actual dedicated Cyberpunk genre ruleset is not in the mix right now, anywhere. If I want to run guns as a solo or fixer in Night City, there's really no ideal system to handle this right now without grabbing White Star, Stark Space, and maybe White Lies and duct taping them all together with some classic CP 2020 for setting material.

4. Zombies "White Death"

The only OSR-styled zombie tome out there is Rotworld, which is actually a rendering of the classic Pacesetter game system in zombieland. It's a good straight-forward treatment of the genre but it is not what I want: a White Box treatment. A tome with some survivor classes, tons of equipment/salvage/survival rules and a load of cool GM tools for hexcrawl survival in zombieland would be amazing.

3. Post-Apocalypse "White Fallout"

Shockingly there's no real competition out there for post-apocalyptic emulators outside of Mutant Future, which of course is the Labyrinth Lord system with a very heavy coat of Gamma World colored paint. I like Mutant Future, but would love to see a White Box version in the same style and feel as White Star or White Lies, or possibly Warriors of the Red Planet.

2. Time Travel "Doctor White"

There's nothing like this anywhere for a classic OSR style. Instead we can look to the reprint of Time Master, or maybe Time Zero for Savage Worlds....but a White Box approach to time travel could make for a really interesting sort of setting. The challenge would be in figuring out how to handle a scenario generator for multiple timelines, and work out an over-arching set of general themes for the GM's toolbox...sort of how Dr. Who style time travel is one flavor vs. Star Trek or Quantum Leap type time travel. I feel like this could be a really interesting project for the right brave soul (not me, alas).

1. Cosmic Horror "White Doom"

Right now the closest effort at horror in OSR is Silent Legions, which is a Sine Nomine book so we know it's good, and closely aligns in general with the 0E aesthetic for the most part. But Sine Nomine is known for thick tomes with lots of elaborate detail and implied background....contrast Stars Without Number to White Star, for example; the former is like an encylopedia of procedurals and the latter is like a VCR loaded with Star Crash....if you've only got a couple hours to kill option #2 is going to be much preferred. The horror genre needs something like this in a White Box with a bunch of ready to rumble monsters, quick and easy rules for evil magic, some investigator classes, and maybe some efficient setting rules for a few key eras to help the GM along. I could really use a White Box styled horror game, is what I am saying....

And the Rest....

Absent from this list is the steampunk genre, which I'm not personally fond of, but I suspect someone could make a great OSR White Box game out of. I've also omitted genres that are not represented right now but which may be better served by other game systems' styles, such as schlock horror which is usually best with one-shot session systems. A wide range of OSR White Box games could easily spring out of an effort at adapting all sorts of historical settings into the system and style, however. Imagine an Imperial Rome White Box book, or one focused on ancient Greece. These have the disadvantage of requiring the proper level of work and research....and sometimes the effort spent in documenting the setting for use in an OSR system can make it hard to show restraint in the design, making more complex iterations of the game more suitable to the job at hand. That said, I'd love a good, clean White Box style book like "Ruins & Ronin" but exclusively for ancient Greek adventures, or Norse adventures...or Roman, Egyptian or even later periods. How about a Caribbean Adventures White Box? Think The Legend Pirates sourcebook, but actually useful.


  1. There's already a very good rule-light OSR cyberpunk RPG on lulu : Nanochrome2 (it's in French though).

    1. Intriguing...I wonder if there's a chance it would ever get translated....

  2. Post-apocalyptic games do not have to be Gamma World-type. "Harder" apocalypses are possible, not to mention the huge gaming potential of STALKER-type treasure-hunting in a contaminated zone which is essentially an open-air megadungeon with actual mini-dungeons in it...

    1. Completely agree. I'm personally leaning for something Metro: 2033ish in feel, and STALKER would also be a very cool premise for a paper and pencil post-apoc tale.

    2. will this even require a full-scale separate game? This could easily be a STALKER supplement for White Lies. no need to reinvent the wheel...

    3. I suspect to do a proper post-apocalypse genre game you would want a full book (i.e. the game will give you the tools to emulate anything from Fallout to Metro to The Last Postman). But if you want a specific genre emulation, a sourcebook could do it, sure. My theme here is the idea that a full-treatment game will generally be a more complete, rounded experience overall; so when I'm talking post-apocalypse, I'm not talking any one flavor (be it Gamma World, Aftermath or Stalker) but rather a book that lets you do all of that....or as close as feasible. White Lies, as a good example, currently gives enough content in its book to support James Bond, Top Secret, Mission Impossible, Kingsman, X-Files and more....but it's not tied to any single genre angle. A sourcebook focused on Stalker would likely work fine, but if you write a more general post-apoc. setting you'll probably end up with a full rulebook, anyway....and there are enough special rules for post-apoc to make it worth the extra effort, I feel. Especially if you want to make it cover a wide array of subgenres for the post-apoc field.

    4. To contrast--look how big Mutant Future is and all it's doing is emulating a specific kind of fantasy-science post-apocalypse. A genre book aimed at something broader, or with more "dials" for realism is going to need all sorts of special detail. Probably as much or more than Mutant Future offers just doing a Gamma World reskin. Heck...I think I'd be happy with a game that did Aftermath, but in a mechanically simple package. Aftermath is a great example of how old school mechanical complexity to support genre emulation could get waaaay out of hand.