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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Non-Definition of the OSR

"There is no definition of the OSR. Basically people can declare they are either in the OSR or not. If they put out a product and declare it OSR, and it doesn't sell for shit amongst people who declare themselves to be in the OSR, then the product isn't OSR." +Joe D

This came up in conversation tonight. It's as accurate as any other definition (or not) that I've seen for the OSR.

Agree, disagree, expand?

26 comments:

  1. Disagree. It's too cynical.

    Then again, anyone who has been banned for life from EnWorld gets a medal and a permanent pass from me on all statements.

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  2. Disagree, because there can be lots of reasons not to buy an OSR product, even if you are OSR fan.
    For exemple you can produce a very bad or ugly OSR rulebook. Peoples won't buy it, but it is still OSR. And that's just one reason not to buy, it could be because of lack of originality, or lack of interest in the theme of the book....

    On the other hand, if you produce a wonderfully illustrated OSR rulebook, for exemple, it could be bought by non OSR-playing peoples who won't use it, but would buy it just because it is beautiful. Or free products tend to be downloaded by peoples who won't use them, just to have a look. And how are you going to know download numbers?

    And finally, there is no way to know from selling numbers if the products were bought by OSR self declared judges (and who are they anyway? peoples posting on the net? that's just a fraction of the gamers). And anyway, how many sales are needed to declare a product bona fide OSR? One? By Joe D? More? By peoples making a declaration on honor that they are OSR gamers?

    So even if the definition was right, it wouldn't be possible to use it to classify products by applying it. It seems more like a self promoting definition by a guy active on the net and giving guys active on the net a free pass to decide what is OSR or not.

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  3. Disagree, and strongly. As noted above by Bhoritz, it relies solely on sales -- and sales, or even interest in the case of free material, can be as much or more about visual impressions, assumptions or even cliques than any kind of actual "fact" about the material in question.

    I don't much fancy the idea of, yes, some clique essentially gatewaying what does or doesn't get the label of "OSR", either.

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  4. WWGB? What would Gary buy? Sadly I don't know his spending habits.

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  5. Yeah, the commercial success indicator feels off to me too.

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    Replies
    1. Agreed, especially since a lot of the community gives away their stuff for free because they love the OSR.

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  6. Given the amount of free OSR systems and supplements out there (I can't think of a single OSR rules set without a free, no-art version on the web) I don't think sales are a great indicator, compared to popularity with the OSR crowd. On the other hand, I'm also a little skeptical about just being able to declare your product OSR; the OSR has a very specific feel to it, and if you don't live up to that, your stuff just won't be very popular, which may have been Joe's point.

    Hell, I dunno, I use Dyson Maps for my DnDNext games, so burn me at the stake first.

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  7. Perhaps instead of purchases, the standard should "if someone else declares it OSR, then it's OSR".

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  8. While I think OSR is up to personal taste, there are a two things I see as being part of it. Open sourcing uncouples the game from the merchandise. While you never had to buy the latest to play RPGs this really underscores that. Where lots of repackaging or editions failed to bring me back, the sheer open air feel to the gamer blogs I've seen really appealed.
    Also there is a focus back on fiction as inspiration rather than video games or anime. Nothing wrong with those things but there is a lot of going back to the original sources going on here. All that said I will hesitate to make the definition more concrete. It is when you get to saying who is in and who is out is when you are asking for trouble.

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  9. "If you care about whether or not you are OSR, you are."

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  10. Disagree! As mentioned, anything based on sales is going to be skewed by a number of factors---marketing presence, author popularity, production values, fanboyism, etc. I mean Stephen King sold millions of copies of Bag of Bones, so there you go. You can have the best written OSR adventure of all time, but if it's not packaged well, you're new to the internet, and you don't know how to post a promo, you're not getting any sales.

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  11. He sounds like Stephen Colbert with his whole "market has spoken" shtick (although admittedly not as witty). If it doesn't sell, it could simply suck.

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  12. OSR is old school. Old school is D&D/AD&D. Where is the confusion?

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    1. Curious for your thoughts - are Classic Traveller, Runequest v1, or other contemporaries of AD&D also OSR? Perhaps "not as we use the term, but possibly if anyone bothered to retroclone them"?

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  13. To misquote Damon Knight:

    "OSR is what we point to when we say it."

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  14. How to determine if something is Old School? Show it to a story gamer and ask if he hates it; then show it to a D&D 4e player and ask if she hates it.

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  15. I'm a big fan of OSR stuff, but this kind of oddly narcissistic navel gazing (or that which this type of discussion usually leads to) actually makes it less interesting. Can't we just make/play/enjoy awesome old school stuff without caring/arguing if something is "legit OSR" or whatever? What is it about different factions and tastes that makes some people need to create bizarre litmus tests for entrance or acceptance? I appreciate the ability to categorize things, because it helps people find things and others who share certain values, but I think OSR is not a binary concept. It consists of a lot of different elements and traits. Maybe a product has some but not all. Maybe an OSR style gamer cares about certain ones, but not others. Who cares as long as it's fun and feels right? Certainly I think sales are irrelevant.

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  16. A definition of "OSR" is only relevant to me to the extent that it help me navigate the RPG marketplace in search of products that support my S&W Whitebox campaign with minimal fuss. That means an OSR fantasy adventure or sourcebook should be compatible with one of the early editions of D&D an appropriate retro-clone. Pretty simple, really. Beyond that, who cares?

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  17. JDigaetanoFebruary 9, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    "If you care about whether or not you are OSR, you are."

    I second this.

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  18. I find the debate about who is "in" and who is "out" unattractive to say the least.

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