Is there "Happy" NSR?

Ultraviolet Grasslands is happy!
Electric Bastionland is happy, really!

Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods is not only happy, it’s quite funny.


I like more swashbuckled-y games for that reason they’ve got that room for motivation based in like debt or want for treasure or stuff, but a much more fun and cheery tone. Honestly there’s not enough of em in my opinion, hmmm maybe I should make one (instead of just running em).


I am a little tired of the typical OSR “The Land Where Everything Is Really Weird And Bad” setting. They kind of gel together in my head.

I ran a game of Knave set in the Ninth World of Numenera a while back. I thought it was a good old-school type setting, but full of more wonder than horror, and with characters who at least partly want to reclaim lost knowledge for the good of humanity.


Like many (apparently!), I too get bored with the endless grimdark nom-nom-nomfest of much indie design. To paraphrase The Incredibles, when everyone is utterly miserable, no one will be utterly miserable…That being said, here are a few more concrete thoughts about these issues. Apologies in advance for heretically mixing up OSR and NSR in my prose.

Some time ago I had a bit of an epiphany about play cultures (rather, other people had already had the epiphany, and I got around to reading about it). It involves ideas caught up between two different online conversations:
Six Cultures of Play:

Flavors of D&D:


These discussions drove home a few points for me:

  • the archetypal OSR playstyle, including its oft-vaunted lethality (notwithstanding its real benefits, many of which I value highly) is NOT a true representation of the universal Ur-form of roleplaying in the early days, before the great fall from grace.
  • if you want to care about who can boast historical precedence, the ‘trad’ style has arguably as much clout as the OSR (dare I say NSR too).
  • aesthetic tastes in gaming, including things like the edginess and amoral grayness of much current play, shift with the winds of cultural change over time.
  • Although I enjoy some of the grittier stuff for a one-shot, my long-term play preferences gravitate a lot toward the so-called “Paladins and Princesses” or “Misfits and Mayhem” styles, rather than some of the styles that are more commonly touted in OSR contexts.
  • And that’s fine. Whatever vibe currently dominates player pop culture (even in an indie niche) needn’t determine my own preferences.

Anyway. I found these a helpful set of articulations of the real diversity of taste on these issues, across the history of the hobby.


Yooo! I love the inclusion of the carbuncle! :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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This is right on! Not only are Gundobad and the sites he links to correct about this, it’s demonstrable, from the earliest D&D zines, that the earliest D&D players mostly did not use the “OSR” priorities. Even the idea of “grim and weird” that has come to predominate as the OSR aesthetic (and which is the topic of this thread) is very far from the prevailing tone of many of the earliest D&D players’ games–which could be pretty darn silly and inconsistent by our concepts of fantasy adventure today: elevators in dungeons, wandering ninjas and rabid dogs in dungeons, characters turned into giant cockroaches, lots of breaking of the fourth wall, and more along these lines. After all, the earliest players were weaving new genres out of various old materials.

If I can audaciously quote myself from a year and a half ago:

OSR, then, was not old-school. It was innovation clad in retro gear, like so many other pop culture products, like “punk bands” in the 2000s. OSR was a “new-school” rejection of current mass-marketed trends. It found inspiration in older iterations of D&D that antedated the features OSR proponents disliked. This was not possible without the Open Game License that Wizards of the Coast created, giving entrepreneurs the right to repackage and resell old goods. But nostalgia was a powerful source of appeal.

Writing this kind of thing, that “OSR” is a misnomer, earned me the label of “revisionist” for a few vocal OSR fans, but my point was that the OSR is “revisionist” if anything is. It overwrote the actual written record with its own priorities, to promote itself against the Big Corporation.

The first people that said “the OSR is dead,” in 2011, were complaining about the commercialization of the “movement.” That’s what made it die, in their view (before any of the scandals blew up). The point is that they noticed it had instantly become a commodity, even though it had begun as a reaction against corporate mass commodification of the hobby. I would add that it was the sense that you could buy “authenticity” for your game (and sell it!) that made the OSR successful. Not that I oppose supporting independent producers of cool, fun games! (To me, what makes the NSR scene fresh is the abandoning any inkling of doing what was “original” and just doing what is fun in a rules-lite way instead.)

So, I’m in full agreement with those here who use the rules-lite systems they enjoy for light-hearted or hopeful or fanciful imaginary adventures with their friends, instead of using the game as a reminder that a horrible death can strike at any moment, and that investing in roles is not worth it, so just play the game as a game. If that’s your style, go for it–it can be lots of fun–but nobody needs to sign an oath of allegiance to grim, dark adventures to “do it right,” with any rule system.


If I may quote Cummings,

old age sticks
up Keep

youth yanks them
cries No

youth laughs
old age

scolds Forbid
den Stop
n’t Don’t

&)youth goes
right on
owing old


Absolutely agree, and, in that vein, I think we have seen an exploration of different tones and vibes that break with the pitch black tone that dominated a lot of 2010s OSR. And I’d like to see even more of that space explored.

Hopeful but dangerous, occasionally scary but also fun and funny, more wondrous than horrible, is the space that I most like to play in. I think Cosmic already described the vibe that I most often default to haha :slight_smile:

And I’d love to see more NSR-type stuff exploring that territory (it’s what I’m working on atm, as well)

In terms of other game recs, I would also check out Tunnel Goons, the many many TG hacks, and Nate Treme/Highland Paranormal Society’s stuff, in general. Great, rules-lite system, and a very lighthearted attitude. (I’m a big fan of Yokai Hunter, but that’s just one of the many many cool TG hacks out there): Tunnel Goons Resources — Highland Paranormal Society


I’m interested in what other mechanics you could introduce into a game to replace “losing HPs ends the game for your character” since pretty much all OSR games keep rules for this even when they throw away many other traditional rules.

A game where physical (or mental) trauma isn’t one of the main things a player is managing would be very interesting to me. I would still want players to be caring about some aspect of their character’s state, and playing the game would involve choosing actions that respect whatever economy this state implies. Something like ‘influence points’, say. The economy would obviously depend on what type of play you want to encourage or type of setting you seek to emulate. The tricky bit, I have always thought, is to find something visceral enough to track… HPs (or similar) imply violence, which implies drama, which is just so… primal.


In Dungeon World you would take the “Last Breath” move, which basically looks like this:

When you’re dying you catch a glimpse of what lies beyond The Black Gates of Death’s Kingdom (the GM will describe it). Then roll (just roll, +nothing).

  • On a 10+, you’ve cheated Death — you’re in a bad spot but you’re still alive.
  • On a 7–9, Death himself will offer you a bargain. Take it and stabilize or refuse and pass beyond the Black Gates into whatever fate awaits you.
  • On 6-, your fate is sealed. You’re marked as Death’s own and you’ll cross the threshold soon. The GM will tell you when.

Call of Cthulhu with its Sanity points comes to mind first (along with alternatives to that mechanic in games emulating it). But if you are looking for something not traumatic, there is the effect of growing old in the saga-emulating game Pendragon (or Ars Magica, I suppose). But decline due to old age certainly lacks the visceral quality, doesn’t it?

What if there were a game in which the number of times a character could use a heroic power was finite–maybe large, but still finite–and when that power was exhausted, so was that character’s potential to be a hero, or at least to be extraordinary in that way?

A game with some economy system could end in bankruptcy or retirement, I suppose.

There’s the old way of post-heroism retirement going back to Arneson’s Blackmoor, where the dungeon adventures and annual wars ultimately were the back-story to the generals’ careers at the wargaming table.

Just throwing out ideas! Others, people?


I like to write procedure around the idea of negotiating consequences of failure with the players, as such you can make failure stuff fun things ranging from ‘you get thrown out of the inn into a puddle’ to ‘you fail to lift the rock, its very embarrassing’


Yeah, the “nice” thing about violence is the stakes are universally understood. It’s personal and visceral, as you say. Here’s half an idea though:

Something my friends and I have talked about for a long time is a scientific expedition RPG (usually with a sci-fi aesthetic, exploring a planet or something). Something purely exploration based, with natural obstacles and logistical challenges (how do we cross this ravine? How do we survey this hex before the Radiation Storm rolls in?).

I could see the “HP” economy of this kind of game being based on funding. You have to spend your funds to launch experiments or exploratory missions, and you have to show project to increase your funding.

Injuries and other trauma are expensive, requiring both expenditure of funds and delay of expeditions, and possibly loss of confidence in your mission as a whole. It could lead to really dramatic moments where characters go into the field on stretchers to avoid letting the funding agency know they have injuries until they can secure continued support, stuff like that.

Combine it with a purposeful mission of discovery, and I bet people would treat losing backing as terrifying as losing life and limb.


What sort of procedure do you write? Are dice involved?


Dice are usually involved ye! Currently as of now Im working on writing up the procedure for running Ghibli adventure/semi-swashbuckling games in the manner I enjoy. So the procedures about like how to setup consequences to roll and whatnot, to facilitate such a style (ex: I wrote a thing about coming up with extra complications and opportunities like handholds to grab, ropes to swing, etc in the moment of play) and so forth. Kinda using procedure here as a catch all for advice and tools for the ref and players to use.


Gotcha. Sounds good.

Glad to see so many great replies! Good ideas abound and it’s nice to see I am not alone feeling this.

I have been thinking about it, and I would definitely keep HP as hit protection, because I do like combat. However I also think there should be another thing to track. Morale? Empathy? Light? Something that gets diminished every time you encounter the dark and evil and could force you into retirement. But there are ways to replenish this. I think the Hope/Shadow balance from The One Ring is an example of a mechanic like this. Something that can leave emotional scars, but you do have ways to heal them. By companionship, happy family, witnessing other good deeds and things like it.

I also had a long think about scars and dismemberment. And they are dark things but I also don’t think they should be labeled as bad either. Disfigurement ≠ Evil. A way to portrait that without too many gory details would be good. Bad things happen to good people. It should change them but not make them unplayable. Having a player be “dead” and having a chance like Dungeon World where it could leave a scar but leaves you alive wouldn’t be totally out of tone. Or would it? One could also simply take death of the table completely but it’s note quiet my jam.


Seems like Insight from Cthulhu Dark could be an inspiration for you as well?


I really need to look into that, the game has been recommended to me a few times for various reasons already.

Diff’rent strokes for all, etc., but I find removing death an unnecessary and unhelpful tactic even for aiming at a ‘Ghibli-esque’ story brighter than many indie rpg settings. I mean, death (and other, magical, debilitating fates) is very much on the table for many of Miyazaki’s characters - it’s the tension of serious consequences in contrast with the power of friendship, love, and hope that I think offers such a potent and inspiring perspective.