Monday, January 4, 2021

More Olde School Mutterings: Our Latest OSW Interview!

Recently Josh and I were interviewed by Dan "The GMshoe" Davenport of Randomworlds.

Dan does a great job sniffing out new, indie tabletop games and giving writers and artists a platform from which to talk about their projects. 

Check out a transcript of our interview on his blog here:

The Olde School Wizardry Kickstarter concludes January 7th, so any folks still on the fence have until then to get in on the discounted rate. 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

"Auld Lang Syne" or "What's in a Name?"

 "Olde School Wizardry" has been called by that title since we started playing more than eight years ago. 

However, when we began thinking about sharing our rules for cooperative casting and fully customized spells (range, duration, and effect) with the broader community, I had some doubts. 

By that point, I had become aware of a now-familiar movement in tabletop roleplaying games called the "OSR" (for "old school Renaissance" or "old school revival"). I appreciated the values and techniques of this philosophy, and Old School Wizardry certainly aligns with them, but the game isn't a full emulation of earlier rules sets, instead borrowing ideas from D&D, Marvel Superheroes, King Arthur Pendragon, and completely original ideas of our own.

What's more, OSR games and approaches have just as many critics as fans. Merely by having the words "olde" and "school" in the title of our game, would I be shutting some people out or turning them off before they had time to take a closer look at something very unique and special?

For a while, I flirted with calling it "The Nine Ancient Runes of Magic" for the nine different magical actions that wizards can take to initiate spells (Destroy, Enchant, Ward, etc.), but I was still attached to the original title for several very good reasons:

OLDE School Wizardry... 

...the primary theme of the game's implied setting is that those in power tend to prioritize maintaining control over doing the right thing. Since the PCs are hungry, scrappy neophytes, they are immediately in conflict with the arcane powers that be for access to spells, books, artifacts, and money. 

... also baked into the setting is the idea that wizards are usually petty, insecure, and arrogant. Just because the PCs are good at something doesn't mean they'll be picked for the job by prideful superiors ... they'll have to flatter and bargain. "Olde", with an "E", is pretentious and silly ... just like wizards. 

... the game is influenced by Tom Moldvay's 1981 Basic Dungeons & Dragons. There are six stats, rolled in order, using 3d6. D20s are used for physical combat and spell mishaps, but not for the far more central spell casting system. A game that's four decades old *is* a bit venerable. 

... all player characters are human, but there are other species in the wide world. One of these is the Auld--blessedly rare--they are as bewitchingly beautiful as they are cruel. The word "Auld" (old), though long familiar, pressed itself into my imagination after reading "Auld Lang Syne: The Story of Robert Burns" a children's book by Findon and Nasmith. Nasmith's ghostly images, spectral yet appealing, captured the feel of these otherworldly strangers. 

Olde SCHOOL Wizardry...

... Of the 300+ pages of campaign material offered to the GM to take or leave as she wishes, a healthy section describes the structure and doings of The Collegium Mysterium, that most ancient school for wizards. PCs can choose which student house they are affiliated with and the GM will find plenty of plot hooks here as the young wizards try to pay off debts, return favors, or work with fellow alumni. 

... as a public school teacher, I've been in institutions of learning, as a student or instructor, for over 30 years. My sense of how organizations do (or don't) work and how groups of well-educated humans behave when they take on problems has informed game mechanics for both dueling and determining a wizard's relative prestige as he competes peers for scant resources. 

Olde School WIZARDRY ...

King Arthur Pendragon is one of the best RPGs ever printed. It's not because of the game's organization or choice of setting, but because it accomplishes what it sets out to do so very well: namely, to emulate at the table one very specific literary genre. Like a Zen archer, it does one task with staggering precision. That approach inspired me to make Olde School Wizardry be about one thing: inexperienced wizards battling the odds. To that end, rules and systems for things like hand-to-hand combat or climbing ropes are brief (almost perfunctory). On the other hand, within the 60 pages of basic rules, systems for composing arcane texts, seizing control of another wizard's spell, or working as a team to craft a potent Enchantment are far more developed. 

So, as my friend and play tester Russ Wrightson pointed out, putting these factors together really leaves no room for Olde School Wizardry to have any other title!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Olde School Wizardry -- Musings in the Monastery

 Our Olde School Wizardry Kickstarter has marched onward, reaching over 150 backers.  That's tremendously exciting for Josh and I--the idea that people we've never met in person will find joy and camaraderie through something we've helped create is an amazing feeling.

This week, YouTube content creator and RPG expert Mildra the Monk was kind enough to interview me about Olde School Wizardry: The NIne Ancient Runes of Magic on his channel.

It's the first time that I've ever talked in real-time to someone beyond my immediate circle of family and friends about the game, and I think listeners can get a feel for the heartbeat of the game.

Have a listen if you like and leave Mildra a comment if you feel inclined.

[note: contains swearing]

Mildra and Jarrett talk Olde School Wizardry


Saturday, December 19, 2020

Olde School Wizardry: Milestones

 My friend J, who was a U.S. Navy veteran and master craftsman, was also a gamer. In fact he introduced me to the boardgame Wiz-War, one of the major influences on Olde School Wizardry.

When J died unexpectedly in 2008, his friends decided to honor his memory by gathering for an annual weekend of games, food, and friendship so that we could remember him, swap stories, laugh, and stay in touch with each other. 

At one of these gatherings, Russ Wrightson, another man remarkable for his generosity, intelligence, and patience, stood in the driveway at about 2 A.M. while I pitched the idea of playing a RPG that focused solely on the antics of incompetent, adept wizards. Amid all the fancy Euro board games and gorgeously painted miniatures, would anybody even be interested in some old school pencil and paper role playing?

Life, a new career as a teacher, and two little kids at home had really crowded table top gaming out of my life to the point that it was only for special occasions or rare gatherings. I felt the absence keenly, but would other people be willing to commit the time?

Russ's advice: "Go for it." If I made the effort to prep a campaign, he'd be in.

Last night we met for our 200th session of Olde School Wizardry: The Nine Ancient Runes of Magic.

That's a considerable milestone ... consider that we play about 25 times per year for an average of four hours ... through job changes, moves, deaths, and new relationships, this game has remained a way to love, laugh, tell jokes, think through puzzles, and stay connected to each other. 

This week Olde School Wizardry went live on Kickstarter, funded, and has received backing from over 70 supporters ...  60% of whom are people with whom Josh and I don't yet share any connection beyond a love of gaming.

It's my hope, as this project moves out into the wider world, that it will draw other folks together and help them laugh, tell corny jokes, and stay connected to one another.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Off Like a Shot!

The Kickstarter for Olde School Wizardry: The Nine Ancient Runes of Magic, my very own table top fantasy RPG, is now live!

And what a first day we had, too.  We tripled our goal within the first 12 hours and, last I checked, we had only 5 of the book's original art pieces left for our upper tier backers.

I feel a bit like this guy at the moment, as old friends from high school, college, and points beyond come out of the cold, sleety night to give their well-wishes and express support for this quirky passion of mine.

It's all very humbling, and I hope that Olde School Wizardry is able to spark some joy and community for other people the way that it has for me over the last eight years.

You can follow our progress or preorder your own copy of the game here:

Olde School Wizardry

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Evolution of a Fantasy Heart Breaker

With my first hardbound copy of Olde School Wizardry finally in hand, a Kick Starter offering pre-sales later this month, and print-on-demand coming in January, I was inspired to look back at some earlier incarnations of the book.

Olde School Wizardry has always been the game that we played ... not a rules set at first, but a collection of rulings arrived at by congenial consensus through the course of play.  The mechanics evolved ad hoc, right along with the story lines.  

While there are notes going back perhaps a year earlier, here is one of my first efforts to compile them for reference with some vague idea of sharing them beyond our own gaming table.

The "Nine Ancient Runes of Magic" had already taken shape by this point.  Most of the mechanics also fit nicely into about 20 pages.  The game mechanics, now with art on nearly every page, still only occupy only the first 60 pages of the book; the remaining 312 or so being devoted to scenarios, monsters, and charts to springboard stories. 

 Pictured above is part of the glorious mess that becomes Magical Formula ... the aspect of the game that allows wizards to tailor each spell in terms of range, effect, and duration.  This replaces the conventional or "Vancian" approach to spell casting where casters learn entire magical spells as fixed blocks of effects.

Within a year, things had grown enough that a Table of Contents was in order!

Oddly, it was when Josh grabbed a Gustave Dore image to create a front cover mock-up that the idea of seeing Olde School Wizardry all the way through to some sort of publication finally clicked.  It wasn't the right image ...    

... but I knew what the right image was ... a public domain illustration by Gustave Dore, created for Ariosto's 16th century epic poem Orlando Furioso.  

I had seen it in only one place: the July 1987 issue of Dragon Magazine where Art Director Roger Raupp oversaw its use to illustrate an article by James A. Yates, "The Mystic College".  

I couldn't remember anything about the article except that I thought there was perhaps a map of a pyramid ... which I disliked ... and this brilliant image of tottering men, dwarfed by the very institution that they helped create.  I could hear them wheezing and gabbing and arguing incessantly over minutiae ... and that sense cemented in my brain what a college of wizards must be like.

And so the Collegium Mysterium and its absurd customs, rival houses, rites of initiation, and other idiosyncrasies wax large in the book's campaign source material.

While we were still hammering out art and layout, I managed to get a couple spiral bound copies printed for use at the table and in games club with some of my middle school students.  I love the practicality of spiral bound books at the game table ... but man are they ugly on the shelf!

It wasn't until I felt the heft of our own hardbound copy that I was fully sold on the chunky hardbound format.  

Anyway, that's a quick glance backwards at the eight years or so that describe the evolution of Olde School Wizardry from collected notes to nerdy magnum opus!