I think everyone reading this is probably acquainted with the works of Gavin Norman, if not the name. Although he's been producing quality work for more than a decade, Old School Essentials is really the product that has made his name a watchword for excellence in rpg design. OSE has since become the go-to system for many of the 3rd party publishers putting out fantasy products (including my own BX Advanced Bestiary Kickstarter that is in its final days). Gavin was kind enough to answer my questions.
Question: First, I'm going to ask the question that I'm sure everyone is wanting me to ask: will we see another issue of Wizardzine? Okay, maybe it is just me wondering that, but that 1st issue [and sadly only] is, I think, a real masterpiece of content. How has it been for you to make the transition from shorter, more compact products like Wizardzine and Wormskin to the larger scale projects you've been creating? Did you, for instance, envision releasing Dolmenwood as a single book when you started writing Wormskin?
Answer: Ha, Wizardzine! Great to hear that you dug it. It was a lot of fun to write and I would very much enjoy producing something like that again, though I don't think I'd continue with Wizardzine specifically, or indeed with a zine solely devoted to magic. Material like that would more likely appear either in the general OSE zine, Carcass Crawler, or in specific supplements (e.g. you could imagine an OSE supplement for aquatic magic, including new classes, spells, magic items, and monsters).
About shorter vs longer products in general, there are real pros and cons to both. Shorter products are obviously a lot quicker to produce, so the delay between writing and the excitement of actually seeing something go on sale is pretty short. Bigger products take much longer, but I think in the end are more satisfying, as they can be developed a lot more deeply and provide much richer, more expansive content. There are definitely long dark nights of the soul though with very large projects, haha. That's why I always have a bunch of smaller projects on the go in the background, so I can work on something else when I'm feeling burnt out on the main big thing of the moment.
About Dolmenwood: yeah, actually the original plan (pre-Wormskin) was to publish the setting in the form of 3 books: a player's book, a monster book, and a referee's book. It soon snowballed into such an epic project that I decided publishing it piecemeal via a zine would be more feasible. Hence Wormskin was born. A few years down the line, the pitfalls of trying to publish a deeply detailed, cohesive setting via a zine were becoming clear and I decided to return to the original vision of the setting in 3 books. Now a few more years down the line that's finally coming to fruition. I'll be finishing the books over the next few months, and we're planning a Kickstarter for hopefully early next year. It's been a real journey but I'm so proud of the end result!
Q: Another shorter series that you did, before OSE, was the B/X series, with each release featuring a B/X-style class but with expanded options: your B/X rogue, especially, is held up as an excellent thief class for people who don't like the standard B/X thief abilities. Can you talk a bit about your decision to publish OSE as a straight clone of B/X, instead of using B/X as the engine and using the B/X series as the building blocks? Along these lines, if you ever do a 2nd edition of OSE, is there anything you would change?
A: The B/X Rogue and B/X Warrior were also really fun books! I always viewed them as optional supplements though, rather than being a potential for a complete rules system. Despite my love of tinkering with new classes etc, I've never really had a strong urge to create my own new rules system. My passion is for B/X and creating new material for that game system (now in the form of OSE). So when it came to writing OSE, while I did initially consider including some little house rules of my own, it soon became a love letter to the original B/X -- my attempt to preserve the rules as closely as possible while presenting them in a clearer, easier to reference format.
As to a 2nd edition of OSE, I don't envisage a full rules revision (e.g. like AD&D 1e / 2e / 3e) happening, as that would defeat one of the main aims of the system (i.e. 100% fidelity with B/X), but there are definitely things I'd like to expand or clarify in the future. One thing I'd love to add at some point is some more explanatory and introductory content, e.g. examples of character creation, examples of play, examples of dungeon creation, and so on. I decided to leave that stuff out originally, as the OSE fan base largely consisted of experienced old-school players who don't need any introductory material. As the game grows, though, more and more new players are coming in, so I think some more introductory material would be useful. Not sure whether that would potentially be added to the core books in the future or done as a separate "starter kit" type product.
Q: I know one question you get a lot is when you're going to write an OSE Companion book for higher-level characters. Over the years I've come to view the 14-level max of B/X to really hit the sweet spot of character progression, old-school lethality, and less super-powered classes. Can you talk a bit about your thoughts on the current level cap, and how you see that affecting world and adventure building with OSE.
A: I agree with what you say about the level caps in B/X hitting a sweet spot. My feeling is that simply continuing character progression in the same way -- i.e. more XP, more hp, more spells, better attack and save probabilities, etc. -- up to levels 20, 30, and beyond probably isn't super satisfying. I say "probably", as I don't have personal experience of levels beyond 14, so I'm really just speculating. From everything one hears, only a tiny fraction of gaming groups ever approach the maximum levels of B/X, let alone progress beyond.
In terms of world building, one really important thing, I think, is that demihumans stay relevant and powerful. A 12th level dwarf or 10th level elf are just as strong as high-level human characters, which implies a world where powerful NPCs could equally be humans, dwarves, or elves.
Q: Finally, feel free to talk about any upcoming projects you have coming up. I'm sure readers will be interested in the progress of Dolmenwood, as well as some of the other projects you've mentioned. What's the best way for people to follow you for news?
A: Dolmenwood is the big focus at the moment, building up to the Kickstarter we have planned for early next year. So that will be 3 big hardcover books: the Dolmenwood Player's Book (around 100 pages), the Dolmenwood Campaign Book (around 400 pages), and the Dolmenwood Monster book (around 100 pages). (This blog post I wrote a few months back has a good progress report on the 3 books: https://necroticgnome.com/blogs/news/dolmenwood-campaign-setting-update.)
Along with that, we're developing a Dolmenwood referee's screen (with front-panel art by the fabulous Pauliina Hannuniemi!) and three new Dolmenwood adventures (The Fungus That Came to Blackeswell, The Ruined Abbey of St Clewyd, and Emelda's Song -- titles not necessarily final). Those will be available as part of the Kickstarter, along with all sorts of extras like maps, posters, T-shirts, etc.
Once Dolmenwood is complete, one or two of my many back burner projects will move fully to the front burner. Most likely that will mean serious development of OSE Post-Apocalyptic. I'm really excited to get into working on that, as it's something that's been on the back burner for a long time and is already probably half written. It'll be a toolkit for post-apoc games in the vein of Gamma World, Mad Max, Fallout, etc, 100% compatible and balanced with OSE, so you'll be able to freely mix and match classes, equipment, monsters, and treasures from the fantasy OSE books and the post-apoc book (wizards on motorbikes? barbarians brandishing ancient alien tech?). By "toolkit" I mean that there won't be a campaign setting baked in, but the book will provide guidelines for referees to create their own settings. (In the same way as B/X doesn't include a built in setting.)
We'll also have more generic (i.e. not set in Dolmenwood) OSE adventures coming out and more issues of Carcass Crawler. We have two fantastic authors writing new (as yet unannounced!) adventures currently and Carcass Crawler issue 4 is approaching half written. And of course we'll have 8 short adventures (also generic) coming out -- those were stretch goals of our last Kickstarter. So there's a lot going on!
The best way to keep up with news is to follow the OSE newsletter! We send it out roughly 1-2 times a month (whenever there's enough news to share, basically), and it's a great way to keep up with new releases, Kickstarters, sales, and so on. You can sign up at necroticgnome.com.