Writing a "Reverse" OSR?

Sometime ago I wrote a blogpost (in Italian) on forests and mentioned Robin Hood and the Sherwood forest. One of the things that piqued my interest was the idea of a “reverse” OSR: in normal OSR games the party goes from civilization to wild areas, pillages a dungeon and then brings the money back to civilization, but Robin Hood lives outside civilization’s boundaries and steals from it (and then brings the money back to civilization). What would it be like to have a game were the PCs live outside civilization, steal from it and then keep whatever they steal to build their own base?

At first, I thought about using the traditional XP-for-GP system, but then realized that, without a civilization to spend it, gold is pretty worthless, so what would they steal? How would they build a base outside the cities and civilized world? I was thinking of just hacking a system, but I would like to start from a system which already goes in that direction. Any suggestions?

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If you take a step back and look again…
Is it that much different to the standard higher tier gameplay of older D&Ds?
I mean: the king recognizes your work and grants you some land without civilization.
Who says you have to “pacify” it? Why not raid your weaker neighbours and blame it on the goblins? If you’re witty enough, they might even help you eradicate this menace to their feodal security…

But I understand your point and this would be an excellent premise for a group of evil-ish characters.

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Instead of spending gold, you could get xp for giving it away to the people in the forest. This is a super fun idea.

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I already see the dilemmas:
Do we invest in portable balista or do we give away the money to bring Brother Chuck to lvl 3, like the rest of us?

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HAHAH, I agree this is a fantastic premise @thekernelinyellow. Something like the crew sheet in Blades-in-the-Dark could work really well for base-building.

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Oooo this is super interesting! For sure, the city needs to have something that the players don’t have, a reason for them to choose stealing from an urban center instead of living in nature or by themselves. (I would think this is analogous to how the OSR character tends to be an excess of society–the reason they’re adventuring is because they can’t slot into socioeconomic “harmony” with the rest of the world).

Maybe the city has exhausted all the resources outside of its walls, but inside they have vast stores of food and water and so on? And, either the characters have always been outsiders reliant on the resources outside the city, or they’ve been forced out of the city and they’ve lost their access to the city’s resources.

In the latter case, XP/leveling serves as a measure of how well-adjusted a character is to the world outside of the city. A LVL 1 character has just been thrown out of the city walls and left to fend for themselves. A LVL 3 character might be someone who’s reliable and competent enough to survive on their own outside.

Gold for XP might still be a useful measure, but like you said, it can’t be because the party finds gold useful (unless they are still enough a part of society to engage in exchange). Maybe instead, you refer to gold as a measure of society’s output that the party has successfully taken for themselves? Like, stealing a turkey leg is less valuable than stealing a wagon. But maybe a luxury wagon is not super useful for the players even if it’s socially valuable apropos the city–why would they steal it? You might have to work on a value system based on what’s useful/valuable for the characters, or rely on GM fiat to decide how valuable/risky a stolen item is.

This is a super interesting concept and I’m excited to see where you go with it! Maybe you could set up a game jam of various scenarios where the players exist outside of the city, to explore the concept thematically and logistically before committing to a system?

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I was thinking about that, or to take some of the settlement-building ideas that popped up in The bounds of OSR thread.

I should come out with some abstract way to measure the usefulness for the forest community of objects (as money does in the economy - but for people living in the woods away from civilization).

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The first role-playing game to reverse this was Monsters! Monsters! (1976), based on the ever-underestimated Tunnels & Trolls (1975). This wasn’t “OSR” but actually an old-time game. You played monsters raiding human settlements. It could easily be re-conceived as just about bad humans raiding good humans, or, if you like, good humans raiding bad humans. But is the latter any different from what players already do?

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That sounds fascinating. I’ve never heard of it but it reminds of videogames like Dungeon Keeper where you have to build a dungeon and stock it with minions and traps.

For me, reverse OSR would be something like Apple Lane, for RuneQuest. In this adventure, the PCs are hired to defend a house/dungeon; it’s the monsters who come lokking for treasure.

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Another source of inspiration could be this post about how disenfranchisement and resentment turns Halfings into Goblins. A similar setup could be arranged for the party as a reason to raid the civilized lands.

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I think the GP-for-XP system can work for a reverse/Robin hood style but a core question that should be asked is what reason/cause does the pcs have for going out and attacking civilization.

In addition, it is good to remember that beyond the city walls, there still villages and towns spread throughout the area. Maybe they have a base or sympathizers in these outlying towns who they give gold or pay for certain services for. The wizard may get new spells from the raids he goes on, but the spells he wants may only be found in a library he’s permitted/pay entry into.

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Here’s a thought, why not split XP by type? Warrior XP for stealing manufactured weapons, thief XP for stealing riches, etc. Characters could start out classless and level up or multiclass by collecting enough XP of the right type.

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There’s a cool XP system to build behind this idea !

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