What Does Night Shift: VSW Bring to the Old School Table?

(This blog sort of dovetails off of an earlier one regarding what's innovative about Night Shift.)

What Does Night Shift: VSW Bring to the Old School Table?

Whenever a new game using old school mechanics is released, people very justifiably want to know what it brings to the table? What makes it worth buying? It's a totally legit question--let's face it, the old school table is stuffed to bursting with games, rules systems, and different takes on the way the earliest games were supposed to be played. When this whole thing started we had Castles & Crusades, followed by OSRIC, followed by Swords & Wizardry. A few others followed, including my own Spellcraft & Swordplay

Now we have Labyrinth Lord, Old School Essentials, Basic Fantasy, Dark Dungeons, Mazes & Perils, Blueholme, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Champions of ZED, and a litany of other games, all good, all solid, all astonishingly fun and created by outstanding designers and great guys. In the end, however, at our core, all of us are doing the same thing--looking back at the core of early gaming and putting out our own versions of those days, trying to address our vision and how we think the game should be played based on our own scholarship. 

This has led to a whole world of creative output but it has also, inevitably, led to burnout on the part of consumers. They rightfully want to know what one game offers that the games they already own don't? Is this just another re-presentation and re-working of the B/X rules? If so, why bother? Naturally, people have the same questions about Night Shift: VSW. 

The good news is, we do bring something new and (I think) worthwhile to the table. Let's dive in. 

The Design Intent and Meta-Setting

One thing many folks have started to do is take these old school rules and apply them to non-fantasy settings. We've seen that with games like Kids on Bikes, Stars Without Number, and Dark Places & Demogorgons. Night Shift: VSW applies this old school mindset to adult urban fantasy and horror gaming in a way that hasn't been done before, and it's completely compatible with your other old school games. It can sit on the shelf right next to your B/X rules and be used right alongside them. The statistics that went into the probabilities and character class progressions have been calculated to closely match those from the Original and B/X days of gaming, so there should be no problem there.

Obviously, we don't claim to be the first ones to offer alternate-genre takes on those old rules. The games I already mentioned above did it first. But we're the first to tackle this kind of broad approach, I think, where you can dive into just about any sort of modern gaming you want, from a game inspired by modern alien conspiracies in the Alphabet Soup organizations to that cheerleader who is chosen to hunt vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness to a succubus fey who refuses to sell out to one of the courts, to demon-hunting brothers in a muscle car to a sorcerous private eye with a talking skull, and beyond. 

The Toolkit Approach

Tim and I both enjoy old school play, but we are also very much into the rules lite new school approach, having both worked together on many Unisystem books throughout our careers. Our DNA is all over this game and we took a toolkit approach that's not quite like anything else that's been done. We have added options for a skill system, for character backgrounds, for madness, for exorcism, Fate Points, and a litany of other options. The forthcoming Night Companion will offer even more, including weapon classes, variable damage, and others.

Beyond this, however, we've built three levels of play into the game: the standard (which we call "realistic"), the gritty, and the cinematic. These three levels apply in different ways across most of the rules mechanics, and can be mixed and matched to create a custom game that suits your specific tastes. If you want cinematic healing but gritty and deadly firearms combined with the standard attack and class ability mechanics, just pick the options you want and go. You can even start with one level and change it out as the heroes grow in experience--perhaps you want to start off with Cinematic healing to give your players more survivability at low levels, but then you switch to realistic at mid-levels and gritty at high levels. 

That's the toolkit approach. 

Codifying the Game

We also did something that no one else has done yet: we took the three basic mechanics that are already in play across all the different versions of that original game, through its second edition, and simply spelled out in a codified form how they work. I talked about this in a blog I did over at my Wasted Lands blog a year or so ago, which was one of two blogs there that led to Night Shift: VSW being written in the first place. 

So we've taken the three mechanics that have always driven old school versions of play, and instead of scattering them throughout the game here and there to be figured out as you go, we've split them up and defined exactly how each works in the context of the game. It is my opinion that this forms a sort of Rosetta Stone for old school play. The O.G.R.E.S. system can actually help you better understand the workings of old school fantasy games. 

That may seem a grandiose claim, but I really think it stands. 

So there you have it; that's what NSVSW, as we like to call it, brings to the table. I hope if you're on the fence, you'll head over to my website and check it out


  1. I don't really think of Kids on Bikes as an old-school system - was going to suggest Dark Places & Demogorgons instead, but you already included it.

    At any rate, I'm looking forward to delving deeper into the book.

    1. It's a different kind of old school, but it certainly does fall under the old school in its basic approach and mindset. Old school encompasses a lot more than D&D derivatives (though admittedly most of what I listed here are in that category). I probably could've clarified that a bit more.


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