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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Whatever the Definition of the OSR is, It's Not "Scarecrow"



GeekNative is a fairly well trafficked blog of geeky and gamey things. Today, thanks to the eyes of The Badger, the latest GeekNative post was brought to my attention. It's titled:



Yeah, the title confused me too, but at least you can use the link to read the article in total as opposed to just the snippets I'll be responding to. And why is "OSR" referred to in the past tense? Where is the "the"?
I’m a roleplayer who’s preferred each generation of D&D over the one that came before. I did not like the original D&D sets and only started to play the granddaddy of the hobby until it evolved into 3e.
See, already I'm confused, as this statement initially infers he's played each edition of D&D, and always preferred each subsequent edition, and then states he only started playing with 3e. Yes, there is a reason that I point this inconsistency out.
I didn’t like all the inconsistent, often unnecessary, rules nor did I like the fact you were simply handled a randomly generated algorithm which you had to guide through algorithmically challenging landscapes. That’s to say; I’m not a min-maxer. I appreciate that’s the challenge for many gamers – building a character that survives the horrors the DM throws. It’s not for me; I need a sense of creation and ownership.
 I preferred 4e to 3e. Wow! Makes me a loner, huh?

This can't be a statement about OSR gaming, as it's pretty well accepted that 3e is not part of the OSR.
However, the OSR movement bloomed. I’ve no problem with OSR but I just don’t get it. I’ve asked many OSR fans what it is – and get different answers. OSR stands for (most of the time) Old School Renaissance. The concept is that RPGs have strayed too far from the path that made them great. It is time to go back to how they used to be.
First off, the author admits he doesn't get the OSR. It's not some much going back as it is continuing to play older rules, their clones and derivatives. New rules don't need to mean better, and old rules don't need to mean worse.

Next, we move on to a survey he conducted asking about different aspects of the OSR, and than uses each answer to show how 5e fits the same criteria. Read the original article for these bits, then return here. In any case, it comes back to this:
So, why do I think D&D 5e suggests that OSR is just a construct – a scarecrow of an argument to artificially create good and bad tropes? After all; there is no “New Style”. 
D&D 5e feels entirely modern and yet it appeals widely to many of the OSR stalwarts. It is one of the evolved RPGs in terms of flavour and rules. That said; D&D 5e draws on the previous editions of the game.
Does the author understand that the OSR predates 5e? Does he realize that folks have been playing the original rules since they were first published? The resurgence of old school play with the advent of the OSR clones has roots in 3e and the OGL, not in 5e.

But wait, heres the kicker. The author tells us the OSR doesn't exist:
D&D 5e isn’t OSR. It does not remind me of old RPGs; it feels entirely modern. This isn’t a step back but does carry forward the feeling of old D&D. 
I think D&D 5e rather proves that there is no such thing as OSR. There is nostalgia. There are gaming styles that suit certain game designs but those styles aren’t trapped in one time zone or another.
There you have it folks. 5e proves that the OSR doesn't exist. No more need to try and define it. Time to close the OSR community pages, blogs, publishers, forums and podcasts. Andrew Girdwood has just written the OSR out of existence.

Next post - what to do when your community is written out of existence ;)

62 comments:

  1. See, this post doesn't bother me at all because the person who wrote is admittedly baised. They do not enjoy earlier editions of D&D, which is fine - but it I feel like that makes them predisposed to not have the inclination to learn more about the OSR or have an objective understanding of those who are part of it and appreciate what it has to offer.

    Yeah, dude got it totally wrong - but that's fine. He's not hurting anyone.

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    1. He could easily have reviewed 5e without a biased comparison to the OSR. Actually, his most detailed comparison was to 3e.

      In truth, I probably would have ignored it, expect for his parting blow on the OSR: "I think D&D 5e rather proves that there is no such thing as OSR."

      That hooked me.

      Now I need to write a post that proves that 5e does not exist...

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    2. It's only undead if I can wave my Holy Symbol at it and the PHB either bursts into flame or tries to run away.

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    3. Douglas Cole: If your Holy Symbol is a flamethrower…

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    4. Wouldn't matter if it was undead, Minister would still roll a 1 and there would be no flames, no dramatic light, just a pitiful little puff of smoke followed b him shouting "Run!".

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    5. 5E undead? Cool! Next session my cleric is gonna try and turn it!

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  2. The author seems trapped in a number of assumptions that render the conclusions suspect.

    Political Correctness, for one. The notion that Old School = Rules Lite (I refer you to Exhibit A, your honor, AD&D 1st Edition. The defense rests). The idea that the OSR was a reaction to 4th edition (it certainly predates the release of 4E). And the flat-out inherent contradiction of:

    "It does not remind me of old RPGs; it feels entirely modern. This isn’t a step back but does carry forward the feeling of old D&D."

    I don't pretend to have a definitive definition for the OSR, but I can state with confidence that whatever the author thinks it is, it isn't.

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    1. 5e proves the OSR does not exist. Defining that which does not exist is pointless ;)

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    2. I do think that 4E helped the OSR as it turned a lot of people off, and they turned to older editions.

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    3. "It does not remind me of old RPGs...back but does carry forward the feeling of old D&D."

      Make up your mind. If it carries forward the feeling of old D&D, it must bring the feeling of that old rpg to mind.

      Delete
  3. It's just a weird tangent and has little or nothing to do with the 5e PHB. It's like tangential errors.

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  4. That which existed before my birth does not exist seems to be a common point of view of many of a certain generation.

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  5. He's trying to "disbelieve" a real dreagon.

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  6. Why even include OSR in that review? It seems nonsensical given his viewpoints. And it adds absolutely nothing to the article other than disparaging asides.

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  7. Perhaps the author has trouble with words and/or reality in general. I mean "The art is first class and liberally implied" suggests that they may be no art in the book, but rather the art is strongly there between the lines, as it were. But even so, it's really top notch art.

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    1. I think he meant to say "liberally applied" there. There's a number of errors in the post where the wrong word is used, such as "effect the study" instead of "affect the study" (although technically effecting a study causes it to happen...).

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    2. I thought maybe he meant "straw man" instead of "scarecrow" as well.

      "You've got to work on your cliches."
      -Crash Davis, "Bull Durham"

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    3. This was kind of my point -- he may not be saying what he thinks he's saying (more than just typos).

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    4. He used "straw man" incorrectly. Apparently having that pointed out caused him to read the Wikipedia page on the subject, for which reason I grant him a pass on it. Doing the research after the fact is better than never doing it at all.

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  8. "5e," said The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy quietly, "is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe.”
    "Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of the OSR.
    "The argument goes something like this: 'I refuse to prove that I exist,' says the OSR, 'for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.'
    "'But,' says Geek Native, '5e is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.'
    "'Oh dear,' says The OSR, 'I hadn't thought of that,' and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
    "'Oh, that was easy,' says Geek Native, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

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    1. You, sir, really know where your towel is.

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  9. First thought: Is this one of those articles that is trying to generate a bunch of hits by being incindiary, like every once in a while when some writes a blog about G+ being a ghost town?

    Second thought: That is somewhat poorly written, at least the snippets you copied.

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  10. I feel bad dissing a Google circle buddy (though I don't think we've ever met) but the article is poorly written, poorly argued and reveals a fair amount of ignorance as to the relevant history. And it's not witty or funny either. But the blog appears to be a popular one with 4,000+ Facebook likes, or whatever. I find the coincidence of those facts depressing. Maybe it was a bad day.

    Can someone point me to an articulate anti-OSR person or pro-New School person or whatever? Please. Just one.

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    1. Justin Alexander's the closest you're gonna get. Wouldn't call him anti-OSR (his work actually got me interested in the OSR and OD&D), and he wasn't a fan of 4e, but he's defended 3e plenty

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    2. I assume you mean the article discussed and not Erik's rebuttal.

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    3. I'm fairly sure Oakes wasnt referring to me ;)

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    4. Yeah. It was the other guy. In the kingdom of blog banality Tenkar would be a monster.

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    5. Kenneth Hite and Robin Laws, on the "Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff" podcast. Very New School focussed, very informed and aware, but annoyingly prone to digs at Old School gaming in which that categorize it as primitive and unsophisticated.

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    6. Coincidentally, primitive and unsophisticated describes my tastes in both food and wine... go figure.

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  11. Are you sure his name isn't Trevor? ;)

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  12. So, this is what I wrote over there. I don't know if anyone else is going to agree with me on it, but it's how I think about these things:

    " I appreciate what you seem to be trying to grope toward here, but it is seriously undercut by your apparent misunderstanding of what the OSR and old school gaming is in the first place. It isn't nostalgia, or at least that is not a major component of it for most people. There is, indeed, an identifiable "New Style", or rather several new styles, that can be contrasted with an Old School way (or, again, several old school approaches, possibly related to each other) of playing roleplaying games. No one has yet categorized all of them, and of course individual people will frequently play in ways that incorporate aspects of more than one identifiable approach. Some examples of the new styles can be described as "story games" (distinct from "story-oriented roleplaying", which is another new style, though it dates back to a very early period), "role-based gaming" (the sort you mention which is derived from the "roles" identified in MMO games, typified by 4E), and so on. The names I give them shouldn't be taken as definitive or even necessarily nominative, but merely descriptive of elements that I see in them. Old school games are generally not built around stories, preferring what is now termed "sandbox play", where the players can choose freely and so are not constrained by plot considerations outside of elements present within the game setting itself. The idea of party-based "roles" is not present either. Character classes in old school games are based around approaches rather than roles, and at least in theory any player can perform any party role to one extent or another, depending on how they choose for their character to act, not (again, at least in theory) constrained by concepts like "niche protection" and so forth. There's a reason that the earliest games (before D&D even saw publication) had only two character classes: people who use magic and people who don't.

    Which is not to say that any particular element (such as the two-class system of the earliest games) is necessarily "old school". Within the old school of roleplaying, there are a number of approaches that were and are used. I pick particulars only where I think that they illustrate ideas I am trying to convey."

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  13. It's a poorly phrased article, ignorant of the early editions it seeks to comment on, but taking the points made charitably I read it as saying - "The OSR isn't a mere preference for system, it's a set of GMing techniques that are universally applicable - to new school games, to 3E and to 5E". He likes 5e because it is a streamlined system that doesn't aim to be pretentious - both categories he thinks define the "OSR".

    I can totally live with a dude that wants to say "I like 4e, but you gotta twist it up, mod it, drain the pretense, make it clean to play, and I don't really want to play B/X". That's what I get here - he likes the "OSR" ethos as he understands it but thinks it's universal, and if it's universal the OSR isn't a niche thing or a genre of play it's a set of best practices for everyone.

    We can all edition war though if you' all like - I'll state, everything after B/X is overly complex poop, and I think B/X is questionable because it uses variable weapon damage and excessive stat bonuses. Also Booklet 4 is crap,cause the assassin class is unplayable and druids are just too much.

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  14. I enjoyed reading your assessment Erik. It would be great to have a guest post from you for Geek Native. Do you fancy the OSR proof? A post that conclusively defines what an OSR game is via its attributes, style and flavour? I feel a post like that would be a valuable addition to the debate.

    I've updated the original post to clarify that clearly the OSR community exists. I remain uncertain whether the OSR proof exists though. If there was an OSR rule book then I don't think &D 5e followed it.

    It would be great to have your thoughts or rebuttal as a post for the site.

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    1. I feel like you are asking people to define the OSR in a way that doesn't do it justice, like those people who tried (eventually successfully) to define punk as a particular marketable style of music instead of an artistic approach, defining bands like Talking Heads, Television, the Voidoids, DEVO, and so on out of the circle.

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    2. Andrew,

      Considering that Mike Mearls, the lead designer of D&D 5e hired on a number of consultants (including the RPGPundit who you interviewed for this article) who are involved in the OSR and also made statements discussing the OSR in public back in 2009 and beyond, I think it's fairly safe to say that there's a significant element of proof for OSR games and their influence in D&D 5e design:

      http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?462123-Why-I-Like-the-Earlier-Edition-Games&p=10606726#post10606726

      You made a point in your article that many people define the OSR in different ways and that touches on what faoladh says above: getting a definitive definition of it, something snappy and 20-second sound-bitey, is not going to happen. It's many things to many people.

      Additionally, Erik has stated on this site and G+ multiple times what his opinion about what the OSR is and isn't. It's not his job to refute your badly written post. It's your job to correctly research before you write and publish such a self-contradictory piece of long-form text. There's plenty of documented proof regarding the OSR being in existence. That you failed to find it, process it, and include it in your article lies only at your feet.

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    3. "This is a return to a “spell slot” system to magic – harking back to D&D that oldies like myself will remember."

      "I did not like the original D&D sets and only started to play the granddaddy of the hobby until it evolved into 3e."

      Eh?

      Andrew I think your idea that an OSR rulebook could and would exist is why you just do not understand what OSR is about.

      5E didn't have to take anything from a official definition of OSR. By it's nature it is a little closer to older versions of D&D than 4E or 3.x. THAT is why OSR fans are giving it props, more so than they would to 3.x or 4E. Does that mean 5E IS OSR? Not necessarily.

      There is no official definition of the OSR, as much as self-centered people like RPGPundit will try to define it. There are no true gatekeepers. So no, there are no list of things to make something OSR. But OSR exists because we can say what types of things can typically be considered OSR, whether it be clones, new games based on old school mindsets, etc.

      What the hell does OSR proof even mean? There are truck loads of rulesets, adventures, blogs, etc. there for you to see. All you have to do is spend 30 minutes google searching.

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    4. the proof that the OSR exists is right here in the comments to this post - those that identify themselves as part of the OSR community (and it is but a very small sampling of that community)

      the more tangible proofs, if we can call it that, are the sheer number of retroclones to be found, many for free: http://taxidermicowlbear.weebly.com/dd-retroclones.html

      As for a universal definition of "What is the OSR?" that is much like herding cats - many in the OSR community have their own ideas, but they are all OSR.

      My definition on the matter would be no more authoritative than that of The Pundit, Matt Finch, Jason McCartan, Rob Conley, James Mal or anyone else.

      You may not relate to it, you may not appreciate it or necessarily like it, but it's there. Defined by a herd of cats...

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    5. totally off track, but i read that last line as " defended by a herd of cats" .

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    6. Jack, you're nor far off track at all, brother...

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  15. Replies
    1. Yes, but only if I also exist to validate your existence. So, maybe.

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  16. I haven't had time to read the entire thread/comments here but it appears that there is a decent and fair exchange of ideas or concepts. Good to see (I'm not really qualified to participate) and generally I agree with Fao's comment above regarding defining "Punk" or "Heavy Metal" or marriage, career, faith, et cetera.

    Nice to read point and counterpoint without screaming, cursing and whining.

    -Rick

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  17. To his credit, the author restated his stance on the OSR. It seem he did not mean that "it does not exist" but instead was noting that it was hard to define and even elements within the community have differing definitions. He just didn't state that point very well or clearly.

    His clarification is a bit more on point. Even OSR sites have had this very same debate in the last couple weeks with every site putting in its two cents on how it defines the OSR.

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  18. "I did not like the original D&D sets and only started to play the granddaddy of the hobby until it evolved into 3e."

    I KNEW IT! Damn ascending-AC-lovin' hipster!

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    1. I happen to like ascending AC... but then, if I had thought of it in 1982, I'd have used it then. I just wasn't that smart.

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  19. First Annual "Define the OSR" Symposium

    http://goo.gl/Df3GRA

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  20. I will add that it is not Mrs. King either.

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    1. Glad I'm not the only one who thought that. I was too chicken to post it, though. :)

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  21. poor writer. I stopped reading when he used "until" to mean "after."

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  22. "I’m a roleplayer who’s preferred each generation of D&D over the one that came before. I did not like the original D&D sets and only started to play the granddaddy of the hobby until it evolved into 3e."

    I don't get it. Why would you keep reading after that paragraph?

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    1. Hell, he doesn't even know to use "each subsequent generation starting with 3rd edition" rather than that convoluted way of saying what he means, or what "until" means. I don't think English is his first language.

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  23. Does this mean the Dragon Wars of Tryath was not a real OSR publication? Someone should let those folks over at Epic Quest know...

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  24. As a networking engineer, I often watch movies that use hacking, networking, security, intrusion prevention, and firewall terminology. Listening to actors recite lines written by writers who are knowledgeable of entertainment but not networking technology is comical. They don't use the terms quite correctly, expect things to work in ways they don't and see solutions where none actually exist. As a longtime and active member of the OSR community, that's exactly what reading the linked article felt like. This guy simply has no idea what he's talking about. He's making comparisons and statements as best he can about a subject he simply doesn't understand. It's like listening to actors trying to describe how they just thwarted a DoS attack. I don't blame him or need to attack him. I'm simply stating the obvious. His opinion is valid, but it's based almost purely on misunderstanding.

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