OSR Format (roughly 1977 through 1983)
Using the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief as a template, the following format emerges as the traditional standard:
- Cardstock front and back cover with artwork/description
- Maps, typically on inside front and back covers (though sometimes at the end of the booklet)
- Booklet, staple-bound
- Short Introduction/DM Notes
- Fairly Short Background (Setting the scene, placement within game world, getting the PCs involved, etc.)
- Map Key, including wandering monsters, room descriptions, and descriptive artwork. Text within the map key was kept brief except where further explanation was needed.
- Appendices (New spells, monsters, treasures, player handouts and artwork, etc.)
Later Tweaks & Content Bloat
As the game matured, the format of adventures was tweaked. The biggest changes were in two areas: backround/story-related material (for Hickmanesque storyline-driven games) and in the quantity and bulk of text included in the product.
Once adventures became less site-based/sandboxy and more story-based, larger amounts of background and story material were required to guide DMs through various story flowcharts and matrices. NPCs, in particular, became much more fleshed out and given a life of their own. While the point of this was to enhance the "story" and dramatic aspects of the game, it undoubtedly contributed to content bloat within published adventures. It further made the products less adaptable for individual DMs -- more story details require more work to customize to one's own game-world.
The other content infusion of note was the addition of descriptive "boxed text." While the goal was laudable -- to provide greater immersion and verisimilitude -- the inclusion of subjective descriptors left some DMs (and many more players!) feeling that they were reading from a script and trapped by the content. If the author was not both brief and evocative, boxed text became a millstone around DMs' necks.
Other tweaks to the format included improved quality maps and experiments with different types of maps, such as the famous quasi-3D iso maps of Ravenloft.
One of the more irritating-to-grognards developments in late 3rd and most 4th edition adventures was the advent of what can be called "encounter format," in which everything needed to run a particular encounter was generally (though not always) on one page or two facing pages. Thus, a detailed dungeon room, its monsters (and their game stats) and all tactics and "developments" were listed in one place.
While generally hated by the OSR due to the "encounter" nomenclature and the size of stat blocks necessitated by later editions of the game, the encounter format has one big advantage -- utility. All of the traditional formats require a DM to juggle no less than three documents -- the map, the key, and at least one rulebook (usually the DMG or Monster Manual). The encounter format eliminated that juggling and allows a DM to focus on the players, the flow, and the game rather than shuffling papers about. This philosophy has developed its own subculture of sorts via the "One Page Dungeon" contest.
Building a Composite OSR Format: Goals
My mission statement, therefore:
OSR content should be adaptable, easy to use, evocative, creative, and customizable.I would further add that we, as consumers of said content, should value such publications on these merits alone and not, say, by its sheer size or bulk. Furthermore, OSR publications must by necessity adhere to the OGL -- requiring either close adherence to OGL rules or a more generic approach so as not to violate the license. I advocate the generic approach simply because everyone is seemingly playing a different game. Within the OSR itself there are at least three major subsets -- white box, Basic, and AD&D systems -- and substantial variation in basic game mechanics.
I therefore propose the following format for OSR site-based adventures:
- Background (brief)
- Small-scale overland map (optional)
- Unified large-scale map showing the entire site and labelling its sections
- Sectional small-scale maps done in "one page dungeon" style (i.e., "show me don't tell me") with clear links to other sections
For those wanting to inject a "plotline" into OSR adventures, a slightly expanded background section and a one-page story flowchart is recommended for in-game reference.
So what do you think? Would you consider buying and using a scenario in my format as described? How strong is the pull of sentimentality of the Gygaxian format? Is the size/bulk of a publication relevant to your perception of its value?