OK, so there’s a whole movement within the tabletop RPG hobby called the OSR, meaning Old School Revival or Old School Renaissance, depending on who you talk to. I don’t fully get it and definitely don’t feel qualified or interested in discussing exactly what it is or what qualifies. From what I understand, it tries to reach back to the early days of Dungeons & Dragons, but also updates things with more clear and smooth rules. Ultimately, I feel like looking back to D&D, any version of it, is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The game is the game. It’s good at the thing it does, and the thing it does isn’t what I enjoy about the hobby.
So, why did I even bother looking into Cairn? Frankly, I’m not sure. In part, I’m hoping to find a good, simple game that I can use to introduce folks to the hobby and that I can prep & run with very little effort. I don’t want a lot of math, or charts, or complicated variations. I just want a simple system that can easily stay out of the way of gameplay.
Is Cairn that system? I don’t know. It does seem simplified. It doesn’t feel as necessarily rooted in miniatures and combat as D&D is. What it does is actually somewhat similar to Basic Role-Playing’s percentile system, but it puts it all on 20 sided dice. It strips away some of the more fiddly bits. But I’ve got to admit, I still found myself bouncing off it a bit. I’d like to sit down and actually try it before I can say for sure.
The game has potential. I think if you’re into the whole OSR thing, it’s probably a good option. Otherwise, I’m just not sure. There are definitely a few rough edges I’d likely file off. Either way, it is cheap, so it might be worth checking out.
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