Is there "Happy" NSR?

Definitely seconding picking up Tunnel Goons, it’s offshoots, and the accompanying adventures. I think a lot of Diogo Nogueira’s work, esp Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells (which has a grim-but-hopeful setting) and Lost in a Fantasy World are excellent examples of this, as are Romance of the Perilous Land and Necrotic Gnome’s Dolmenwood.

I also made Barrow Keep, which uses OSE or Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells as a base, but uses a Beyond-the-Wall inspired character creation and adventure generation. Though it started as “Game of Thrones but OSR,” it took several turns and ended up mostly being romantic fantasy.


That post is absolutely in line with what I think when I think Happy, Bright NSR. Vernal Fantasy. Is that a thing? May Brighthammer fit as well?

1 Like

I think a “vernal world” is possible in any fantasy game. It’s all about tone and emphasis and outlook. The Referee can set this up in any game just by starting with a narration emphasizing that the adventure begins now that the dark time has now passed, and the world is waiting to be rediscovered. Heroes have the monsters in retreat, and the PCs now participate in the rally against them, rooting out the pockets of chaos that remain. Add to this a good king or queen who presides over a realm of renewed safety, with whose blessing the heroes set forth.

This is by contrast with the dark world of ruins, overrun by monsters, in which a predatory government totally sucks, and evil dominates. In our cynical time, it will be very hard to set up a vernal world and not subvert it with the discovery that the good queen is really evil, and that everything is bad (not as it seems). That just shows how cynicism is deeply ingrained in our shared fantasy.

But I think any Referee can just “make it bright” by thinking about how to turn on the atmospheric light bulbs. You don’t need any special rules to do this! Just use your favorite rule set.

While that can be done, could it be done better with tweaks to the rules? Could you change something to really dig into that theme, and make it interesting? I have no answer yet except the shadow/hope thing I mentioned earlier. I believe system should somewhat represent the experience you are trying to emulate. And as said, art/presentation are a huge deal for me. I am not happy with just flavouring everything different, though that is of course totally valid.

1 Like

I think the answer to your question is Yes!

But whether we use system to represent experience is a matter of taste. What I am about to say is fully in line with FKR-oriented players. What is the atmosphere is the system, and the genre is the mechanics? That’s not the answer you wanted, though! :smile:

There are several ways to do this with minimal changes. The main one that comes to mind is the reward system:

  • Give experience points/rewards for doing good deeds, never for killing. Right there, every advancement-seeking (power-hungry) player will compete to be the kindest.

It’s not just system or flavor, either, I think. If the scenarios available entail choices about rescuing kids in danger, for example, or fulfilling a quest to allow Grandfather access to a peaceful death, the whole tone changes and it’s not just flavor, but the actions undertaken in the tale.

But if you want to go all out and have a system designed to foster positivity, and to do it through the rules, “storygames” programmed to give certain specific outcomes out of a range of designer-defined possibilities are the best way to go. This, though, is not something I understand too well, as I have not partaken in games like those (because the constraints chafe on my tender imagination).


All very sensible! And the “what’s the source of XP” is exactly what I am pondering right now too. I wouldn’t want to go as deep as story games go as I do not enjoy the strictness of fiction they are geared for, I also prefer more freedom. Some gentle nudges like different ways of earning XP, what HP represent, and what classes are called and described as in the setting can change a lot. FKR is great for those that vibe with it. I am more in the “light-medium crunch” zone of say a game like Cairn or Beyond the Wall myself.


I also think that for a happy OSR the lethality of the game should be questioned. I know this is a big point in OSR and fudging with it might almost be taboo, but I’m thinking of systems like wounds instead of character deaths or being taken out, captured, etc.

I like FATE in this in that it states that character death is optional, extremely rare and only if the player agrees that it would be an outcome that fits the story.

Then again, if the challenges are less combat oriented, lethality is less of a problem.


I think that your idea would not be welcomed by ardent OSR fans, who have built a popular niche style of RPGs hinging on high lethality (embracing the “pathetic level 1” feature of old D&D as the foundation). But this is not an OSR site, after all–although OSRians are warmly welcomed and included–so you needn’t have any concern about breaking taboos! :smile:

Personally, I like games to include the possibility of character death, without the approval of the player. This is one of those issues in which personal relationships among the participants, and above all trust in the Referee, are essential, more than any rules or ideals.


Lethality is an interesting subject! I think there’s a lot of variation (even with in the vague osr-o-sphere) on how people look at it, use it, and what they mean by it.

I think depending on what your going for, you could run a bright game with death on the table! or without death on the table! or with death on the table but perhaps players have greater say in how it happens! All I think could work for a bright game, just depending on how you want to work it yourself. Personally, when Im running more light fare games I like to use the procedure that there should always be one chance between players and death (a chance to do something, so like if a player falls off a cliff they might grab onto a ledge or whatnot)


Nate’s game Prole also fits the bill for “happy NSR”:


Late to the party (completely missed this thread) but here some random thoughts:

  • Rules & aesthetics do convey the general mood of a game. Apart from artwork and layout, if you write down rules for a lethal combat, you implied a certain tone to it
  • For this reason I believe that it is absolutely possible to convey a sense of lightness in the game, as well as with the appropriate aesthetics also through the use of “mitigating” rules and with the introduction of equipment and encounters tables that reflect this

I agree with @zeruhur that rules and aesthetics play a part in setting the tone of the game even if it’s theoretically possible to use a certain ruleset to play very different kinds of games. So, in that way, a game that has very mechanically fragile characters implies that deadly risk is a big part of play.

I also think, esp if you’re playing in an ultralight or FKR style, where rules don’t necessarily have a set form, the circumstances that your group decides to involve themselves in can have the biggest impact on death’s role in the game. Like, you can still have death as a potential on the table, but if your game circulates around, say, running a fantasy restaurant, it could remain practically a very, very distant possibility.

In fact, in those instances potential character death could even be consistent with a more optimistic or quiet game, but treated in a very different, much more eventful and emotional, way. Death not as grimdark, everyday reality, but as a hard part of even otherwise happy lives and stories.


Differing rules for experience:
and cough. :wink:

Btw, I’m loving coming back to this thread and seeing more thoughts about happy games. Puts a little spring in my step just to see it.


Sweet! I love the examples and guidelines to writing your own. It also reminds me a lot of Dungeon World and it’s triggers. Not just the bonds, but also the alignment and race had their own specific xp triggers. Just making it an immediate advancement is pretty cool too. I’m keeping this in mind!


Thanks, great posts!


While not NSR this was just released and captures what I am looking for well. Great idea for a setting too. Astraterra The Explorer's Guide - Ironspine Press | Role-playing games and adventures | Astraterra RPG |

1 Like

Indeed, there’s a lot of variation to be had in how death fits into a story! I find, also, that procedure (which is related to rules (kinda the superstructure to rules)) is very handy indeed for how a game feels tonally, setting up what gameplay loops will look like and how players will interact or do things has a big effect even mores (or perhaps equally) to the bare mechanics.


Since “happy” is subjective then I would encourage play group discussion around celebration. What elements of your character’s life do they want to celebrate? What rules can you use to achieve new “levels” of celebration? Then apply those rules to define metrics of success.

The NSR framework is super modular. All the tools are already available to achieve this. Simple reframing of HP to fit whatever range of available ability to work towards a character’s goal is one idea. Another is flipping the debt mechanic into a savings account to achieve a goal. If combat is a part of your world explore how combat changes a character’s life not how it ends it. Lean into cooperative actions leading to greater success.

Where the real work happens is how to represent struggle if you discard long toothed snarling beasts. Monster manuals are simply mechanical obstacles. So we ask, in our pursuit of “happy” what stands in the way of our goals? I do not have any concrete examples to provide here, but my mind is now considering a wider range of representing adversity. Thanks for the inspiration!

Celebrate the achievements that bring more happiness into your world.


That is absolutely great. Thank you for that post.


I’m really enjoying this thread. I’m currently planning on running a game in a pretty darkest dungeonesque setting (the main setting element is literally a metaphor for anthropogenic global warming), but I still want the players to A) have fun and B) get invested, neither of which really happen if you regale them with endless misery.

1 Like