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Monday, March 11, 2013

How Large is the "OSR" and What Does it Encompass?

No, I'm not talking about the number of gamers that consider themselves to be under the "OSR" umbrella. I'm talking about the OSR itself.

OSR = Old School Renaissance = Old School Revival = Old School Rules = Oh Shit, Run!

OSR =/ Dungeons & Dragons

Fuck. I done did it, didn't I? I stirred up some shit. Follow along before getting bent, please ;)

Here's the thing

Tissues = Kleenex

Copy Machine = Xerox

RPGs = Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons has been the generic term for Roleplaying and RPGs since I first got bit by the roleplaying bug back in 1980 or so.

Didn't matter what rules we were using back then - D&D, AD&D, Traveller, Champions, MERP, Rolemaster, RuneQuest, GURPS, Swordbearer, The Fantasy Trip, DragonQuest, Chill, V&V, Tunnels & Trolls, Chivalry & Sorcery, Paranoia, etc - it didn't matter what the rules you were using actually were called - you were playing "D&D".

So why is it many folks out there in "OSR Land" get their britches in a bunch when folks occasionally talk about the OSR in a way that's more expansive than just the D&D and it's clones in their various flavors?

Are we that possessive of this "niche within a niche"? Does OSR actually stand for "Old School Redacted", where the other games from the era no longer count?

Hell, I'd love to get some RuneQuest 2 gaming going, time permitting, and that would certainly be OSR gaming (not sure I could say the same about AH RQ tho' - the sorcery rules confused the crap outa me). Maybe some LBB Traveller, where character generation had a good chance to lead to character death before a session was played. Talk about keeping it real!

I'll be the first to admit that I'm more attached to D&D in all of it's earlier flavors than any of the other games from my youth, but fuck if the old group and I didn't play the shit out of all of them back in the day. Most stand up to the test of time.

Their individual niches are smaller than what we historically have called the OSR, but taken as a whole, the RPGs of the 70's and 80's are large in number and many have devoted followings.

They are Old School too.


  1. Except, many of the fantasy games back then basically billed themselves as not being D&D. T&T and Runequest in particular took great pains to try to suggest they were so much better and more enlightened than D&D.

    The other problem with broadening terms is that they can lose all meaning. OSR meaning old school D&D (pre WOTC) can tell someone a lot. But if it means any game in the 70s and mid 80s, it really doesn't.

    When you see a product on RPG Now that says "OSR", if it means old school D&D rules, then it's much more usable to someone than if it's T&T based or say, Paranoia

    1. Valid points, but at no point does OSR spell out earlier edition D&D and it's clones. It has, however, become the accepted usage, much like D&D has become a generic term for "roleplaying".

      Would you suggest another term, such as Old School Gaming (OSG), which the Old School Renaissance (OSR) would fall under?

      Or is that just too many layers of abbreviations that have little direct relation to the game they are referring too? ;)

    2. Actually that not true when you do a Google search of Old School Renaissance circa 2006 to 2008 you will see it used near exclusively by people promoting and publishing for older editions. Then soon after people started bitching why aren't other older RPG old school. And so on and so on. :D

      Like all Internet and popular memes folks are certainly welcome to try to make OSR into something mean more than just older edition D&D. But at this point is probably more clearer to just state specifically what the project is for.

    3. I agree with Rob, back when the term "old school renaissance" was first used (in 2005) the "revival" or "renaissance" was that of seeing TSR D&D back in print for the first time since 3e D&D was published, with particular emphasis at the time on 1e D&D. The publishing of the retro-clones saw an explosion of new old school modules and supplements published and a corresponding growth in the online old school scene.

      The desire by some some to make the OSR more inclusive, bringing non-D&D games into the fold, is fine. It would be a shame however for the origins of the OSR to become victim to revisionist history, something I've seen happening over the last couple of years.

  2. I like it! For us in the late 80's early 90's it was Palladium (TMNT Robotech & Rifts), Mekton Star Frontiets and Car Wars - and it all got called D&D.

    These day I use the term ODD for B/X, AD&D and all the clones. Heck SWN is ODD to me - even if the term most often gets used for LBB.

    OSR though to me (likely alone?) is defined by the willingness to kit bash, house rule, allow character death and accept GM primacy over Rule primacy. Weird settings, tossing the trappings of Tolkien overboard in favor of Conan, Virconium and Bas-Lang. I bet one could play Pathfinder this way, and here folks I respect do - but that'd still be OSR to me.

    1. Yeah, I forgot Palladium Fantasy RPG and WFRP (we got into RIFTS after finding it at GenCon '93) both of which I ran for good chunks of time.

      If the OSR is a mindset and a style of play, it encompasses a larger audience than expected, but would also exclude some BTB gamers that consider themselves part of the OSR.

      This shit is like trying to nail a shadow ;)

  3. I don't think there's anything particularly controversial labeling Chivalry & Sorcery, or Boot Hill, or the Traveler LBBs, as being within the orbit of the OSR. The DIY ethos and anything-can-be-attempted play style are much more important than the specifics of mechanics or a precise cut-off in terms of dates.

  4. T&T and RQ2 are definitely Old School to me. The latter, in particular, when compared with the latest editions of RQ or with HQ, plays exactly the same role as the older versions of D&D vis-à-vis the most recent ones.

  5. I agree with Erik and Joseph. It's more about the play style than actual mechanics. There are many "retroclones' like Mutant Future or Openquest that are widely accepted as OSR that are based on non- "pure" D&D games.

  6. It feels like this dead horse has been beaten to glue, but that is clearly just my perspective.

    There is a poem that describes trying to categorize and clearly explain a woman, and that is compared to peeling all the layers from an onion; when you are done, the sad little core thing in the middle does not describe the whole glorious onion. The idea being, you have to kill something to dissect it.

    I'm all for clarity of language in substantive discussion, but... sometimes you just have to leave some mystery and flexibility in. You can't make an ooze a polyhedron, unless it is a gelatinous cube.

  7. Just to clarify RQ3 sorcery:
    First 4 years of running RQ3 only used divine magic with no priests or champions ever attained in play. When i finally got shamanism i loved it and realized most spells wouldn't even be noticeable in effect. I tend to play shaman types most of 90s. I didn't get sorcery till enough products with examples came out and the super handy Sorcery record sheet for characters to plan castings. The first of my players to get sorcery and use was a scientist. Sandy Petersen sorcery variant was the best version. Sorcery i like now because gm can easily control spells and disciplines and glorantha has cultural limits to cap power. Sorcery "cults" limit too - some forbid certain spells. Also you can hand out temp magic items that become ordinary after a while. The same scientist player worked out Arkat style you can ignore all systems and cults and just enchant your skin with spells and armour and HP. Then deal with the fact everyone brands you a heretic and godlearner.

  8. Well Black Vulmea makes some good points about the "way it is" for many people. I consider myself more traditionally old school in that I embrace a lot of games, not just D&D, but to be honest most other games changed very little over time. T&T, Traveller, CoC, Champions, GURPS and others were refined and revised over time, but never altered beyond recognition from their roots like D&D was, so the OSR movement at its core started because classic versions of D&D no longer existed in the mainstream gaming vernacular and people wanted them back. The OSR movement jumps the ship a bit when it starts trying to jam every genre and style into OD&D mechanics, however....that's where I think this idea of "D&D=all games" gets weird, because there are frankly a lot of good classic game systems out there that handle other genres much better than OD&D, which itself is suited to very specific tastes and needs.