Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Maybe the OSR should be defined by classic D&D after all

In my recent post on defining the OSR I got some feedback from various people, including Tim Newman who suggested that my definition might be too broad, and that defining it in terms of early versions of and imitators of early D&D is the tightest approach to the concept.

My first reaction was of course, "that's not right," because of course I am one of many gamers who defined their experience in the 80's by games other than just D&D. However, the truth of the matter is...as I also pointed out, most of those games which still have surviving communities are still alive today, usually in forms quite similar to their original incarnations. Playing Call of Cthulhu or Runequest today is not far removed from how it was done in the early 80's. Playing T&T today is exactly the same as it was back then, or even in the 70's (we'll see how that holds up when the Deluxe edition arrives, though). Even GURPS, in it's 4th incarnation, would still be recognizable to a 1st edition GURPS player, albeit more organized and thorough. It took Hero System until 6th edition to slay even a few sacred cows, but nothing that would otherwise invalidate material from the original Champions.

So.....I guess what I'm saying is that in thinking about it, maybe the OSR movement as a definable thing today really is about what happened with D&D's identiy crisis in the 00's, and the effort of fans to get some version of the original (or close to it) back....and that defining the OSR as anything other than the "Old School D&D Revolution" really is muddying the waters.

From that perspective, it means maybe I'm not that old school, since I don't currently play any iteration of classic D&D or retroclone. When I want my SF I'll play actual Traveller, not Stars Without Number. When I play D&D I'll grab 5th edition because it works for what I want out of the game now. When I want practically any other genre of game I go for Basic Role Playing, Savage Worlds or GURPS.....and that's okay. These games have all kept good communities and remained active even in the face of the changing hobby.

So, I'll give you this: maybe the OSR really is defined by D&D and its retroclones, and that's okay, because perhaps they really did need to rebuild the community that had been lost by three editions of churn and change.

Add this post to the rocket ship to the sun. Thank yew!

(Side note: despite Tim suggesting it could, I think FATE is fundamentally divergent from any old school play style. Nobody, anywhere, was playing games FATE-style in the 70's and most of the 80's that I was aware of, and the very groundwork for FATE-like systems didn't even manifest until the 90's, with the nascent manifestation of FUDGE. FATE is so weird to classic gaming styles that it requires a very fundamental leap of faith to even grab on to it's intent and style, something I've tried and failed to do, despite putting a great deal of interest into learning how to do it. I'm not saying anything bad about FATE....but I am saying I think it's a very good delineator between old school styles and a new school of game design and play, something which emerged out of what came before but which is decidedly it's own thing. Sure you can apparently use FATE to play a hexcrawl, but that doesn't mean that the way that FATE-powered hexcrawl plays out will feel or look anything even remotely like an OD&D or T&T version of the same. I gotta draw a line in the sand somewhere!).


  1. Having sort of prompted this I probably should comment about it. Having started looking into definitions of the OSR after some discussion about it on Traveller mailing lists and boards, I've got to say I don't really see the OSR as something relevant to many games. The degree of continuity from edition to edition in other RPGS is much greater than it seems to be in D&D (though there are obvious exceptions when the game has transitioned to an entirely different system as happened during the D20 Craze or in cases such as Gurps Traveller). It's rather hard to persuade people of a need to "R" the "OS" version of a game when they're mixing material from all the different editions already. I don't know Runequest/BRP as well as I do Traveller, but I don't think I'd find much difficulty running Borderlands with recent versions even though it was written for RQ2. As such, I'm just as inclined to the view that a definition of the OSR that doesn't primarily reference early versions of D&D is problematic. Not least because the definitions based on mechanics or play-style that I've seen are almost entirely based on how older versions of D&D played, can't be applied to many other games from the era, and in more than a few cases are applicable to Fate.

    1. Your discussion on this is what prompted me to reevaluate my perspective on this....as you indicate, the Revolution part of the OSR is the issue...even if you qualify it as a Revival, plenty of other RPGs don't need a revolution or a revival; they never stopped being played in their various iterations. Even Traveller has consistency, and the closest Traveller came to jumping the shark (imo) was with The New Era, and possibly the latest T5. D&D, however, moved away functionally to an entirely different core mechanic twice in the last decade.