"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Am I Part of the OSR?

- Warning: this is part good natured rant and part stream of consciousness self examination -

I have been mulling a couple of questions over since my last post.

1. Is there actually an Old-School Renaissance-Revival-Revitalization-Rebirth...?
2. If so, am I part of it? -and-
3. Is it doing anything to help me enjoy my gaming more?

My thoughts:

1. Is there actually an OSR?
This question came to me after reading some comments on Joethelawyers blog about the OSR happening in an echo chamber. I think this is a very real question. I have no doubt that the vast majority of old-school and/or new-school players do not read forums or blogs and have no idea that there is any talk of an old-school revival.

I do believe that the publishing of Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry have opened some players eyes to old school gaming. But what proportion of their downloads/sales have been to people that were already playing old school games versus those that are trying it out for the first time? I have no idea but my guess (completely unsubstantiated) would be most are already playing old school games.

I fear that the OSR is happening in a cavern. Every once in a while someone might wander in but for the most part its just us Morlocks talking amongst ourselves.

2. Am I part of this OSR?
My answer would be "kinda". I consider myself an old school gamer but I have a few reasons why I would consider myself on the periphery of the OSR:

A. I have no real interest in developing/publishing anything. My focus remains on finding some people with whom I can enjoy playing these games. I think this is why my work on the Pit of Tortured Souls keeps stalling. it is not something I am going to be using in a game any time soon so it just doesn't make it to the top of the to-do list. It seems to be that in this "online cavern" you need to be trying to write something to be considered part of the OSR.

B. Old School style games are not the only ones I read and enjoy. The only face-to-face gaming I have done recently has been with 4th edition D&D. I enjoy reading ChattyDM's recent posts about his game where he started seeing the power of player goal driven adventures. My second favorite edition of D&D is 2nd Edition. I enjoy reading how games like Burning Wheel or Agon use their mechanics for different effects and I like to contemplate how I might incorporate various aspects into my games. All of these things kind of make me feel like an oddball in the OSR.

C. I prefer the original rulesets to the retroclones. I play B/X not Labyrinth Lord. I would likely play OD&D instead of Swords & Wizardry and I would play 2nd Edition AD&D instead of OSRIC (I know this is not strictly apples-to-apples). Now I have no problem with any of the retroclones - I think they are all very fine games and more power to those that play them. I just prefer the originals and I find it easier to explain to people that I play the old basic/expert version of D&D instead of explaining what Labyrinth Lord is. I think that the term OSR is now, for all intents and purposed, used for those using retroclones and publishing new material for those games - it doesn't really refer to those of us who just play old D&D and don't publish stuff.

3. Is any of this helping me enjoy playing?
And I ask this in a larger context than just "does the OSR help me enjoy playing?" but also do all of the forums, blogs, publishers, etc connect with the OSR help me enjoy playing?

I enjoy my blog and putting my random thoughts about gaming out there to discuss with other like minded people. I also really enjoy reading other peoples' thoughts about gaming. However, does any of what I say here or what I read on other peoples' blogs or forum posts help me enjoy my games more?

For me this is a two-pronged answer - yes and no.

Yes - I have met others through my blog that I have had the opportunity to game with that I would not have been able to otherwise - see the Online B/X game for instance. I have found online resources that I use in my games that I would not have found. I also have incorporated new techniques into my DMing that I think make the game more fun. Honestly though most of these new techniques are in fact "new" they come from newer and even "indie" games.

No - Sometimes I find myself thinking that things were easier and more fun "back in the day" before all of this online stuff. While I still love to play I am beginning to think that all of the best gaming moments are behind me. I hope that I am wrong and that I have a whole group of great gaming moments ahead of me with my kids but who knows.

With all of the blogs and forum posts I now find myself constantly thinking and worrying about things that the OSR holds as ideal that I would never have worried about before. Pretty lame I know.

Is a pure sandbox the only "true" way? Why can't a campaign have a big bad guy with a story? Honestly, until all of this online talk about sandbox vs story I never thought about it - sure my games were more sandbox focused than plot-based but they had plot elements in them and it wasn't something I ever worried about. It was just the way I played. And you know what - they were fun. We can all agree that railroads are "bad" but I had a great time playing Keep on the Borderlands and the Time of Troubles trilogy. B10 Nights Dark Terror is a great module even though it has a plot.

I know it is just me being insecure (I get if from being a non-type-A person who was in the investment banking industry, populated by the epitome of type-A people, for 10 years) but I often find that I feel like I am being graded for old school pureness when I game - whether by others or just myself critiquing how "pure" things are. Who the hell cares?

Why should I feel defensive if I consider converting a Paizo adventure path to B/X or 2nd edition? I have no idea! Who cares if I prefer 2nd edition to 1st? What is the big deal if I come up with a campaign idea that involves having to find a mcguffin before continuing - hell, the whole G-series does this. So what if I use D&D's task resolution mechanics but instead use them as conflict resolution mechanics and have the players do some of the narration? The OSR seems to take issue with these though.

I would enjoy playing B/X, 2nd edition, 4th edition, Savage Worlds, Agon, Burning Wheel, RISUS, FUDGE, In a Wicked Age, Castles & Crusades, and all of the other games listed on the lower right hand side of my blog.

I think I would enjoy running or playing in a well run campaign using Paizo's adventure paths or Dragonlance.

You gotta problem with that? ;)


  1. The MATRIX no longer has you.
    --You are free.


  2. Great post. Play what and how you enjoy. Life's too short to do otherwise.

  3. Anyone who is spewing 'more-gamer-than-thou' or 'more-old-school-than-thou' needs to stuff it! I like to think of it as an empowering thing, sort of a buzz about sharing the love and experiences with all kinds of games. I hope there's no hidebound definition of what is and isn't old school - the important thing is to take from it (or from the Indie scene, or Magic the Gathering, etc) what helps, what makes your head spin, or even just edification or somesuch - from everywhere!

  4. It should first and foremost be about having fun. Everything else is secondary.

  5. Man, now I feel bad for getting you all depressed...

    Just have fun.

    I don't know the answers to your questions. They are all too personal. But as to the OSR, regardless of it exists or not, or if there is an echo chamber or not, I hope that S&W and LL get on bookshelves because I think that they are the best introductory systems to RPG's. Whether or not there is an audience for such games anymore is a different story. Hopefully there is.

    As for me, my brother has 4 kids. We both can't wait until they are old enough to play with us.

  6. @Joethelawyer: I was recently running a game with some cousins and brother's-in-law. They roped me into DMing for their kids and mine. I had 10 kids between the ages of 8 and 12 at the table.

    It was fun, but boy, did it take a lot of patience. Just a cautionary tale!

  7. Oh, don't worry. I'm not depressed.

    As mentioned - the fun is the thing - I am still having lots of fun! I am just trying to figure out how to "maximize" my fun.

    Keep those things that add to the fun and get rid of or ignore those that don't add or take away from the fun.

    Reading comments arguing about whether the OSR needs this or that doesn't do anything for my fun.

    Printing off one of Dyson's maps/adventures (http://rpgcharacters.wordpress.com/) and playing - that adds to the fun.

  8. As someone who plays RPGs (new, old and in between), all that matters is the fun.

    Or, as Berrin so aptly put it recently "Don't drink the kool-aid" http://unclebear.com/?p=4032

    And thanks for the ego-pumping in that last comment. :)

  9. Good post. I agree there may be too much naval-gazing right now in the blogosphere concerning this issue, with a lot of the posts completely missing the point....

    My advice is not to overthink it. I rarely wonder during either my face to face or Skype game exactly if what I'm doing would get the "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" among the OSR community....everyone is having fun and that's all the counts.

    I find a lot of hypocrisy and backtracking among the OSR movement; I don't have much in common with many of the old schoolers, truth be told, even thought I've been gaming since 1978 or so. It intrigues me that some of the more vocal in the movement don't even seem to have a game of their own going on, yet offer opinions on everything from sandboxes to retro-clones, and are pretty strident in their proclamations. I actually laugh when I'm told my gaming experience can't be enjoyable since it's not "authentic" enough.....

    A round-about way of saying, don't sweat it.

  10. Oh, Pat…it’s just that (Virgoan) time of the year where people spend their time turning inwards and scrutinizing all that creativity they were expressing back in August. The year works in cycles…wait till November when we get into a Scorpionic period and people REALLY start stinging themselves (and others).

    I had to go back and read my own intro to my own blog just now to remind myself why I started…because I wanted to reminisce and talk about my gaming life and because I was inspired by some of the blogs of the Old School (ESPECIALLY yours and Grognardia). Like it or not, I consider you a part of the Old School Renaissance in the sense of renaissance as a “period of revived intellectual or artistic achievement or enthusiasm.” YOUR enthusiasm for B/X (your 25+ reasons why “B/X Is My Favorite”) is refreshing and inspiring and is a starting point for thought on both gaming and design…even if you aren’t actually publishing/writing anything.

    You game. You play old (out o print) games. You share your experiences.

    By doing these things you contribute to the OSR.

    Don’t sell yourself short…in my opinion you’ve been doing just fine, and there’s no reason to feel defensive. Discussing your experience with 4th Edition (or 3.5 or Paizo) THROUGH THE EYES OF SOMEONE OPEN TO OLD SCHOOL GAMING lends fresh perspective on what might otherwise be just another AP post from a WotC forum.

    As I said, it’s the Virgo time of year (still haven’t gotten around to writing my astrology & role-playing essay, dammit!) so everyone is going through the “analysis-paralysis-two-step.” We’re all trying to figure out a way of communicating just what the hell we’re doing and what we think about it…but you know what? That’s the PITFALL of the season. What we should be doing is simply refining our technique.

    Don’t worry…Libra rolls around in a couple weeks and then everything should be networking and gaming and finding out who we are by our reflection in other folks. Just keep the faith, man!

  11. I would enjoy playing B/X, 2nd edition, 4th edition, Savage Worlds, Agon, Burning Wheel, RISUS, FUDGE, In a Wicked Age, Castles & Crusades, and all of the other games listed on the lower right hand side of my blog.

    It is amazing, and a bit bizarre, how ripples of angst work their way through the blogosphere. I find that I have to repeatedly remind myself that my norm and standard is "Play what I like. Like what I play." Hobby to many, obsession to some, religion to a scattered few, underneath it all, they are games.

    I personally love reading about games I am not playing so I hope you hit all the games on your list (and then some) and live to write the tale.