Designing an OSR Game Part 2: Freeholds and Fatality

November 9, 2018

This is part two of a series on a new Old School Renaissance tabletop role-playing game that I'm designing. You can read part one over here.

Freeholds: Backdrop For Adventure

I'll get back to character creation in a bit. For a moment, I want to focus on another aspect of gameplay. After creating your characters, your group will need to create your Freehold. In the context of the game, a Freehold is an independent town of moderate size. It's self-sufficient, and large enough to be able to supply plenty of new characters should/when your original characters die. It's also large enough to have multiple concerns beyond simple survival.

Freeholds are living communities. When creating your Freehold, you roll for or choose its Assets, Pillars, Authorities, and Tensions. Each of these helps determine the fabric of the community your party is devoted to. They also change over time, not just in reaction to what your party does, but also in accordance with the community's own character and how it interacts with other Freeholds.

Assets are things that enhance a Freehold's abilities. They could include things like herds of cattle, skilled artisans, well-trained city guard, and so on.

Pillars are things that form the bedrock of the community, and would exist even without the Freehold itself. They could include things like gold mines, permanent magical spells, a calm natural harbor, and so on.

Authorities are things that drive the action of the community. They could include things like a major temple, a hereditary dukedom, a merchant guild, and so on.

Tensions are things that both drive the action of the community and constantly threaten to change its nature. They could include things like a religious divide, feuding noble families, a quarrel between guilds, and so on.

Each of these four facets of your Freehold help determine what is available to your characters at any given time, and what potential adventures your characters might be a part of. They also give your characters a reason to be invested in your community.

Fatality: Death Is A Constant

This world is dangerous. While the worst of the apocalyptic chaos is over, your characters will still need to deal with major threats. They may not be able to do it alone. And even when successful, the cost may be high.

Like games from the first age of role-playing, death in this one is easy to come by. Characters don't get much more individually powerful over time. This makes banding together far more important. This also drives the necessity for character creation to be quick and painless, so that when a player's character meets an untimely end, he can roll up a new one on the spot.

Unlike some popular fantasy role-playing games, death is more than just a speed bump in this game. Resurrections are so rare as to be legendary, and perhaps even feared. Necromancy is more common, but not without a terrible price.