Spoiler Alert: I say “concision”

Over the past... I don’t know, week or so, I’ve been really diving back into Macchiato Monsters and Whitehack (and Troika! to a lesser extent – it’s super good, so expect a writeup eventually). I don’t know what taxonomy they belong to, but I’m going to call them “neo-OSR” because, while they definitely hew to the agendas and principles of old-school gaming, they don’t care about compatibility quite like, say, Labyrinth Lord does.

This is a good thing!

A big part of what charmed me about these games is their almost ruthless brevity and concision. Macchiato Monsters packs an whole-ass game into under 60 5.5”x9” pages – even a hex map generator tool and a whole bunch of tables to help a GM come up with something on the fly. Whitehack does something similar – full game with a solid bestiary, setting, starting adventures, and paper dice – all in just a small, slim book.

Now, to get to this aggressively lean end-state, the games ended up being a good deal different than stock D&D. You’re not going to find a spells-per-level table anywhere, and stats feel different – closer to percentage dice than old-school D&D’s (or Labyrinth Lord’s) more intricate tables of what, precisely, an 8 CHA means in play.

Again, these are good things!

Because the rules are so spare, they invite dialogue. Instead of pointing definitively at the Cleric’s Turn Undead table, GM and player hash out what, exactly, their faith gives them, and what’s asked of them in return. Games like these are, in my experience, more approachable too. Tables full of numbers and modifiers are often daunting for new players – these games don’t use them.

Coming from a game like 5E (which looks streamlined but hides its significant complexity), these games are a breath of fresh air. While I have a soft spot for more elaborate OSR games – I absolutely love Godbound – they’re still quite heavy. It’s in the slim, mean rules like Whitehack and Macchiato monsters that the line between orthodox OSR and indie, fiction-focused games blurs. It’s a good spot to explore.