The term NSR has evolved into something of its own, thanks almost entirely to the efforts and passion of Yochai Gal, but over the years I’ve gotten a few recurring questions about some of the points from my original NSR post. It feels like its time to come back and put all my thoughts from across the internet into one place. This won’t be everyones answers. They aren’t canonical. But they’re mine.
A Weird Setting – More palette than approach to play. It was a common recurrence among OSR and OSR adjacent games at the time I wrote the original post to draw from a similar well as the New Weird literary movement, or to lean into psychedelic mechanics and trappings, or simply to add a layer of the surreal. It was an explicit pushback against “vanilla fantasy”. I’m not quite as tapped into the scene as I was and I have no idea if this still holds, but back then it felt like a common enough trope to call it out explicitly.
A Living World – Sometimes in trad games, built for campaigns, or indie games generating everything contextually, it feels like the world warps around the characters. In NSR games the players far more often play protagonists of this story than heroes of THE story. Sometimes they’re just the latest trespassers. They’re the focus, but not the hinge the world turns on. Things happen in the background. Cities rise and fall. Kingdoms war and conquer. Life moves on. The world advances whether the players do or not. On the small scale you’ll commonly see this represented as wandering monster tables, sometimes tied to reaction rolls. On the large scale you’ll see this as things like faction turns.
Deadly – Maybe the term I regret the most from this list. I should probably have gone with “consequential”. Barring funnels and horror games, deadly combat isn’t quite what it appears to be. Many of these games care about resources, and HP just happens to be one of them. Monsters are moving traps. Resource drains. They’re excuses for creative thinking and smart planning and sneaking and diplomacy and… Monsters are dangerous because you should be avoiding them or talking with them. They’re disincentive. And more than that, the reasons behind a living world apply to your life and death too. That dragon isn’t a gold hoard with an HP value. Its a creature a thousand years old that plans to outlive you. Combine and you have a lot of tables that rarely see characters die. Although for what its worth, most of these games are rules light, chargen is fast, and if your character dies it takes less than 5 minutes to create a new one. So it goes.
Emergent Narrative – The story isn’t in the book the GM buys, and it isn’t in the narrative the GM presents. The story is what the players do. Players don’t play through a story, they create one through their actions. The only difference between this and what many indie games do is how much is pregenerated vs generated on the fly.
External Interaction – A long time ago I ran a Kingmaker campaign in Pathfinder. And every time they would enter a new scene, before I could describe anything at all, one particular player would roll their d20 and tell me what their perception check was. It was a mechanics first response. Compare to something like Into the Odd. In an ItO game I would describe a room and players would tell me what they wanted to do in the fiction. At the point where there was a question about what could happen or what was possible, only then would we look to the rules. So. External environment first instead of mechanics first. External interaction. Fiction first might have been a better description, but the term has historical baggage.
I haven’t had much in the way of questions for the others, but you never know what the future holds. Rasp of Sand automates the GM role for solo play. Stars Without Number isn’t always so rules light. Ideally NSR is flexible enough for it to adapt to trends, and I can update this post accordingly. If not? Something else will come along. It always does.
For those interested in a wee bit more historical context I found the original twitter posts that led to all this. Brian Bloodaxe and Necropraxis came up with the acronym to mean New Sworddream Renaissance and New OSR respectively. All credit where its due.