Wednesday, January 31, 2024

New Salem: Renaissance. and the NSR vs. OSR

Nearly done with the first month of New Salem content on the blog, driven at a high pace from TardisCaptain's Character Creation Challenge for this year.  I originally laid out that New Salem was a stab at an OSR style of play, but having waded more into the nomenclature wars of the internet I'm not sure that's the right term. There's so much in the OSR space that ties directly back to D&D or games that ported the play principles over from D&D into other genre environments, such as Gamma World. 

I'm not trying to do that, because for all that New Salem is intended to instill a lot of the PC-driven rather than PC-reactive play concepts, it is still a comic-book super hero setting, and that carries a lot of different connotations than a exploratory/attrition setting from D&D. Hence the terminology move from OSR to NSR. This is very "inside baseball" for people who don't follow this, but it feels better to me. 

So what is NSR? This post lays out some basic design principles, and this one clarifies that a couple years on. For the purposes of New Salem V&V, that means the following: 

  • A GM: This is a Trad-style "GM builds the world, PCs interact with it and learn about it but don't take a part in defining it" style
  • A Weird Setting: Well, but not being D&D it's certainly weird! But also it means the rules of the comic book universe apply - there are the implicit physics of the V&V attack table, but also 
    • Secret Identities are worth maintaining; if you don't you will suffer for it.
    • Masks Work to maintain secret identities, as does minimal effort... unless you are captured. 
    • Costumes Are Advantageous, and not wearing one makes everything harder. 
    • Hyper-Tech Is Constrained and doesn't change the world
    • Extreme Skill, Hyper-TechMagic, and Mutation Events co-exist, for all that New Salem prefers origin stories in that order. 
  • A Living World: This is very true. While the appearance of the PC heroes is the inciting incident to create cascading change in the city, the city itself will change in ways that have nothing to do with the PCs. 


  • Rules Light: V&V is VERY rules light and highly flexible for a super-hero game, at a trim 48 page rulebook
  • Consequential: Super-heroes are hard to kill, but there are real paths to death in play. Plus New Salem deliberately avoids the 'reset to normal' of episodic supers media - there are real chances to lose and have to bring in a 'legacy hero' or just a new PC. 

and focus on

  • Emergent Narrative: Because the PCs are initiating the action, there are precious few times where the villain has a plan, which the PCs have to unravel, with multiple meetings, leading to a GM envisioned climax. Such villains are the equivalent of Wandering Monsters, and they disrupt everyone. The core events are driven by the reactions to the PCs actions, and how they react to that. There's no 'story' that the Players have to decipher that the PCs are destined to survive to the climax of. 
  • External Interaction: The joy of V&V stripped down mechanics, along with its "cause based" rather than "effect based" powers, means the interaction between the PC and the environment not the player and the mechanics is easier. 
  • Exploration: This not so much the exploration of the unknown dungeon/wilderness environment but the exploration of the criminal and corrupt structure of the city. It's the exploration of the enemy. The players aren't going to have to make maps of the buildings but of the relationship web. 

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