New School Kitbashing

So, I think there are probably a bunch of other approaches that get practiced, but don’t have names or communities. One of which I have noted (because I do it) and cutely termed “New-School Kitbashing”.

New-School roughly as in, finding most of its mechanical antecedents in games after D&D 3rd edition (setting it apart from Old School) and/or in games influenced by Story Games and the Forge (and its Diaspora), that being a common “New School” era (Blade in the Dark, FATE, PbtA, etc, all go here). Kitbashing as in producing rules by or for mashing up such New School stuff, to the extent that you wouldn’t say you’re really playing any of the source games, though you might say “It’s based on”.

Rulings over rules, sure, but maintaining a rules heap of some depth. Mostly cobbled together from bits rather than invented whole-cloth, though likely to drift into being more and more its own thing. Potentially with an eye to making a new game but not necessarily.

I’ve just been thinking about this a lot, a lot! I don’t care for, like, the creation of Proper Nouns, but there’s something about the description of “NSK” that feels…cumulative across design principles or ethos that is very attractive. At least to think about as a paradigm, whether or not it sticks or is ultimately useful.

It’s unfortunate that “new school” means both “any game that’s not old school” to most people and “a weird, rules-light off-shoot of the OSR” to the rest of us.


Can people provide examples of this from their own experience? I don’t really understand what this is as a distinct phenomenon outside of the kind of hacking that goes on in almost all creative tabletop communities.

What comes to mind immediately is Snow Hack by Snow (though it seems like it has been taken down…I have a copy that I presume I downloaded from Itch) and bastards. by Micah Anderson and maybe Icon by Tom Parkinson-Morgan.

To me, it stands out from hacking because it uses parts of other games that can’t then be used by those original games or necessarily traced to one game or lineage of games :thinking:

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I’ve been Bastards curious for a whole, I suppose it’s time to for me to check it out…

About the “new school” bit… I mostly describe design trends/schools/phylosophies using the following terms, and usually find them clear and productive for my ends:

  • Old School designs
    Most anything up until, and including, AD&D 1e. The first 70s games, and their contemporary exact clones.

  • Traditional designs
    Pretty much everything from AD&D 2e to the vast majority of contemporary mainstream titles. Most games from the 80s onward all share a fundamentally identical game structure that departs in meaningful ways from the similar (but different) OS.

  • Modern designs
    The galaxy of games stemming from The Forge which, by definition (and most importantly in applied practice) break tradition with, well, the Traditional way to understand, craft and play RPGs. It exists from the early 2000s onward. Pretty much anything that breaks the Trad mold can be seen as Modern.

  • Old School Renaissance designs
    Also born in the early 2000s, it has gone through very different phases and has meant quite different things… each more or less influenced by the myths and remnants of the OS… but all things considered the results have mostly been direct offshoots of Traditional design culture and influences. In this frame the FKR is an especially radical distillation of Trad principles, while NSR tends (sometimes) to experiment with more Modern ideas. They all aim towards the ideal(ised) OS goal, but the tools they use trying to get there heavily influence the end result.

These are obviously very broad strokes I use as gross orientation points. Specific games can sport features leaning more here or there. It’s not meant to be a prison, as much as an initial base for communication, understanding and then further and more specific design analysis.

What @darren names “new school” is probably more or less what I call Modern,… maybe? Probably? You tell us :slight_smile:

About the “Kitbashing” part… man… to me it just sounds like plain old “game design” :slight_smile:
All games have multiple influences.
Some obvious, some less, some from other games, some from more diverse media.
Some games have one influence that is overwhelmingly preponderant, and sure, these you might call direct “hacks”… like all PbtA games are somewhat a hack of the original AW… but I don’t find it a particularly useful concept :stuck_out_tongue:

It doesn’t really matter where your mechanics and ideas come from. It matters how you make them sing together, how you implement them specifically in your game.
If done poorly it will probably look and feel like an incoherent Frankenstein. A result you will get even if somehow you use “all original parts” :stuck_out_tongue:
If done skillfully it will simply look and feel like itself, a new thing with its own personality and reason to exist.
Give proper recognition where it’s due… but don’t sell yourself short. That “Kitbashing” of yours sounds like a way to belittle what you do as “not real game design” when, if you ask me, it 100% qualifies as ye olde game design :slight_smile:

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Oh, I’m not naming anything. I’m mostly disinterested in these taxonomies. NSK is something Levi Kornelsen has come up with. I think you’re right regarding, like, a strict historical chronology that we might divide up; all of this is really quite modern and then we can nitpick with intention and source. I don’t think kitbashing is a throwaway, though. To me, it reads as distinct in the way mixed media artwork is distinct, despite using other techniques and materials that other art forms have already “claimed,” as it were. So I don’t think what Levi is gesturing at is just hacking or just design. I also don’t think it’s very easy to pin down, which may make it ultimately useless (or as useful as any other label)! I think there is, perhaps, something more nebulously punk about it than “just” hacking, which is perhaps what draws me to it.


Interesting :slight_smile:
Could you elaborate on that? Offer some examples?
And if Bastards and Icon are already examples, could you unpack them a bit? I’m not familiar with those two games.

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