09 July 2018

Recommended OSR Books


This list only includes things I consider to be of very good quality. I subscribe to Melan's "Aid, Not Replacement" perspective. Usefulness is the most important aspect of a book for me. I can think wild, creative ideas on my own, but sometimes I like using someone else's framework to put that in.

If you see something you'd like an opinion on, let me know, and maybe I'll write a review. I'm much more likely to do that if it's something I've used.

I intend to regularly update this list when it's possible to do so.

If you only want to own a few books so that you can become very familiar with them and use them to their fullest, I recommend any of the following collections:


Complete Sets

  • The Tome of Adventure Design
    A set of rules
  • Yoon-Suin
    A set of rules
  • Into the Odd (but read everything on the author's blog.)
  • D30 Sandbox Companion and D30 Companion
    A set of rules

A good monster manual is a great addition to any of the above but is unnecessary.



KEY
[x] = I have used this.
[_] = I have not actually used this at the table yet. I've read it and am thoroughly convinced it's among the best supplements anyway.

Rules

  • B/X Essentials is the best thing if you want to run the original game with a better layout and less ambiguity. [x]
  • The GLOG is what I use. It's the best thing if you want to make everything up yourself and want some modern mechanics, simple multiclassing, the best magic system, and for players to do almost all of the dice rolling. [x]
  • Knave [x] The simplest OSR-compatible system I've seen that still supports great gameplay.
  • Into the Odd [_]

Tools for Making Your Own Stuff 

Any one book from this list is all you need (other than a ruleset) to run a campaign for years. If you only buy one thing, buy one of these.
  • Yoon-Suin (This tool is very much like the Tome below, but it's focused on making a specific kind of setting with a certain sort of mixed-together Asian culture. The two books combine nicely though there's some small amount of overlap.)[_]
  • Tome of Adventure Design (This will trick you into designing adventures and dungeons and so forth. It does NOT do it for you. It's excellent.) [x]
  • D30 Sandbox Companion and D30 Companion. (These are similar to the old Ready Reference Sheets. I think they're much better as generic tools that can help anyone run a game. Some prefer the Ready Reference Sheets because the Ready Reference Sheets are weird.) [x]

Other Tools

  • The Metamorphica[x]
  • Monster Menu All[x]
  • The Wizard's Inheritance[x]

Magic

  • The Complete Vivimancer[_]
  • Theorems and Thaumaturgy[x]
  • Wonder and Wickedness[x]

Bestiaries/Monster Manuals

  • CC1 Creature Compendium[_]
  • BX Essentials - Monsters[x]
  • Monstrosities [x]
  • Veins of the Earth[_]

Cities

  • Fever-Dreaming Marlinko [x]
  • Vornheim [_]

Small/Short Locations

Dungeons

  • Tomb of the Serpent Kings (great for newbie players, newbie GMs, or anyone. Designed to lead into an even bigger dungeon or The Veins of the Earth.)[x]
  • Caverns of Thracia (Great for a lethal campaign start. Not quite a megadungeon, but could be treated the same way for a short campaign.)[x]
  • The Hyqueous Vaults [_]

Campaign Settings/Hexcrawls/Regions

  • Dolmenwood[x]
  • Hill Cantons (Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, Slumbering Ursine Dunes, and Misty Isles of the Eld)[x - I've only used Marlinko so far. My players haven't chosen to explore the other locations.]
  • Fomalhaut [_]
  • The Midderlands[_]
  • Ultraviolet Grasslands[_]
  • Veins of the Earth (combined with Skerples' fantastic Veinscrawl.)[_]

Smaller Regions

  • Fever Swamp [_]

Problematic but Good

These are very good, but I don't recommend making the effort to make them work for you unless you really want to spend a lot of time and effort, mid-game. It's too hard to keep them from getting in the way. Your experience may be completely different.
  • Maze of the Blue Medusa[x] I can definitely blame my issues on the book, but my issues are a big part of why the book might be amazing for you. It's good.

    This is SO much work to use. I spent a lot of time looking things up from various other parts of the book in order to understand how to respond to what happened when one of the endless, wacky "funhouse" rooms collided with various characters in the context of the history of the place (of which I had to determine what the various characters involved knew.) If this sounds amazing and fun, get it. The situations WERE really fun. It's well-designed to spontaneously create really great encounters and exploration. I just couldn't make it do that smoothly, even after making my own One Page Dungeon-style key to try to speed things up.
  • Hot Springs Island[x] Probably my problem, not the book's. It's good, and I'm still running a game from it. I'm fighting to make it work for me because the content is great and a ton of it is really handy, well-written, and useful.

    This island is FULL. It has so much stuff, all the time. It's made of treasure and magic. Want to level up? Just break off a few pieces of a dungeon. Everything is made of precious material.

    There is an encounter in every hex and every room (and sometimes several at once in the same room.) Endless encounters. That's even more work than it sounds like. I've had various other usability problems (like a secret door that can only be activated by a specific object but the GM isn't told what it is and there's no way for the players to find out either.) I think such things are intended to be gaps for the GM to fill in, but it always feels to me as if the reason Hurst is so specific about so much here is because things will be better if they're coherent in the way he intends.

    I probably just need to treat the book more of a source to create my own Hot Springs Island. Maybe that's what it's meant to be? I've asked Hurst about it a couple of times, but I think he prefers the reader to come their own conclusions, based on his replies. I don't know.
  • Prison of the Hated Pretender [x] grows stale after a few hours with most of my players. That might be my fault. They tend to hit a brick wall when they shouldn't and find it difficult, monotonous, and too full of the undead. I, on the other hand, really like running it, so I'm keeping it ready to go anyway.

Things that aren't books

  • Michael Prescott's Dungeons each fit on one sheet of paper and seem to all be wonderful.

Things I've read through and want to use

I've read these but haven't yet been fully convinced of their qualities.
  • The Peridot
  • The Monolith Beyond Space and Time
  • Tales of the Scarecrow
  • Thulian Echoes
  • A Single Small Cut
  • Death Frost Doom
  • The Pale Lady
  • Hammers of the God
  • The God that Crawls
  • Gathox Vertical Slum
  • A Red and Pleasant Land (Probably. It seems fairly impractical, but could actually be a very handy book.)
  • Spinetooth Oasis
  • Anomalous Subsurface Environment 1

Things I Want to Read

  • Megadungeon (zine)
  • The Tomb of the Iron God
  • The Darkness Beneath
  • Shadowbrook Manor
  • Better Than Any Man
  • Barrow Mound of Gravemoor
  • Gone Fishin'
  • The Ruined Hamlet: Terror in the Gloaming
  • Challenge of the Frog Idol
  • Red Tam's Bones
  • Hag Queen
  • Hubris
  • Perdition
  • Frostbitten and Mutilated
  • Mad Monks of Kwantoom
  • Red Tide
  • The Caves of Moreau County
  • The Midlands
  • Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival
  • City State of the Invincible Overlord

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