I’ve been poking around the RPG scene for a while now, and I find the OSR tradition interesting. It’s neat to see how in a gaming culture which is embracing structured RP-based storytelling, there is still a strong desire for rule-governed emergent storytelling in a world whose story doesn’t revolve around the characters.
That said, OSR tends to get a little too “rules-y” for my taste. They get so obsessed with replicating the feel of old crunchy AD&D that they forget to use modern RPG techniques which have been pretty universally accepted, like fast skill resolution or character sheets which have less info than an accounting spreadsheet.
Vaults of Vaarn (DTRPG link) is the best balance I have found. It’s wild and creative, with a few solid rules to give a sense of structure. It’s gritty, but the rules apply to everyone pretty much the same way. Power can come fast and easy, but can be lost just as quickly. And it’s all wrapped up in an amazingly coherent-feeling phantasmagoric world millions of years in the future. Even if you read no further, the main takeaway should be that it is very fast to read, learn, run, and create with.
What makes the world feel so truly great is how it manages to make the mish-mash of tech levels, cultures, species, and religions feel coherent. The deserts of Vaarn are vast, and countless millennia of cultures have risen and fallen and risen again, leaving traces of their passing in the sand.
Characters can pass by obelisks which have withstood the ages, built for an unknown purpose by a long-forgotten culture. They can dig up super-weapons and rusted swords in the same dig site. They can compile books from a million dead authors in languages which no one can read.
In that way, the RPG is the best adaptation of the Wyrd Apocalypse genre I have seen. It is evocative of the art of Moebius or early Hayao Miyazaki, with its strange super-technology accepted as just a part of life, the designs of the clothing, and the feeling of a world which has gone through so much change that it barely registers as change anymore; it just is.
You can see the echoes of Miyazaki, Moebius, and others in the half-buried ruins, strangely ageless technology, and variety of cultures. Of particular note are the example cybernetics, magical gifts, mutations, and relics from previous ages which hint at the history without revealing anything in particular.
And this would normally not be enough (I have not picked up Numenera for this reason), but the mechanics are smooth, fast, they make sense, and are the proper balance of wild and reasonable.
It’s just really great, ok? If you love Wyrd fantasy/sci-fi, far-far-far post-apocalypse, or any blend of the aforementioned, Vaults of Vaarn is for you.
It’s real good.