Monday, February 13, 2012

Why WotC Will Never Understand the OSR

I've been reading a crap load of Monte Cook's articles leading up to and after the announcement of D&D 5E. It's given me some decent insight into what Monte (and by extension Wizards) sees as the essence of Old School D&D.

Before I even get to that, and before anyone starts pointing fingers at me saying I'm bashing Monte, let me just state that I think he's an excellent game designer and tinkerer of rules. The Books of Experimental Might, Phtolus, Arcana Unearthed, Dungeon a Day (well, maybe not DaD, as I found that lack luster and soon forgot to even go to the site as a subscriber) - the man knows his rules.

That being said, he has no idea what Old School gaming is about. It is not about simple stats. Okay, it is to some extent, but that just made things easier to house rule.

Greg Gillespie, author of the megadungeon Barrowmaze, put it best when he referred to the OSR as "Oh Shit! Run!" That IS the essence of Old School play. Knowing when you are outmatched and have to leave shields and valuables behind in the hopes out outrunning the nasties that will kill you and your companions otherwise. It's the thrill of outsmarting your adversaries (not necessarily outsmarting your DM, but surprising him doesnt hurt). It's thinking out of the box.

I'm kinda hooked on "Oh Shit! Run!" at the moment. Maybe if Monte looked past the rules and mechanics and actually looked at what makes Old School play different than New School, he may have a better chance at succeeding with Dungeons & Dragons 5E. If nothing else, I'll give him a +2 situational bonus to his skill roll to determine his success. DM Fiat for the win ;)


  1. Let me be the Devil's Advocate for a bit and turn this to:

    Does it matter if he knows it or not?

    Given the latest post D&D is not designed at all to be a "best of" rule system. It is still going to be a new rule system flexible enough to allow a variety of play styles.

    IF it does not scratch that OSR itch then I have to ask, "Should it even try?". After all I ahve the old games still, I have the new-old games. I can still buy things or get them for free.

    I don't expect Star Frontiers to do the job of Doctor Who. So why should D&D5 do the job of OD&D?

  2. It only matters because Monte has decided that the essence of each edition of D&D is based soley on rules complexity.

    WotC and Monte himself, are selling 5E as a game that will suit the play styles of players of all editions. I just think Monte is failing to understand (intentionally or not) that the different editions differ in more then just rules complexity.

    Personally, I think WotC should drop this whole "play your 0e Fighting Man with your friends' 2e Paladin and 4e Eladrin Warlock bull shit" and just produce the best game they can make, insteadof this D&D stew they are working on, using previous edition leftovers like they are going to satisfy players of older editions.

  3. "oh sh*t Run!" does an excellent job of describing new school versus old-school. Years back i was playing a 3e campaign and i baffled my fellow players by running away or at least looking like I was running away to be able to maneuver to encircle or draw out opponents. they also couldn't grasp," he who runs away, lives to fight another day".

    Planning minutes or days into the future is just too much for folks mired in the details of 6-12 seconds away.

  4. "Oh Shit! Run!" Heh. I like that.

    Just routed a party today. It was glorious. I was pleased they were able to escape and they once again realized that the number one treasure you want to bring out of the dungeon is your own skin.

  5. Erik,

    I can't disagree with you. They really just need to focus on doing the best D&D5 they can do.

  6. To respond to Tim's first point...

    WotC has been explicit from the outset (now this may just be lip service, but they keep saying it) that one of their goals is to bring D&D players back. The OSR has to be considered a reasonable contingent. Even if we aren't in numbers, we certainly are in voice and action. That's enough to get you noticed.

    If they hadn't been so explicit about incorporating players from previous editions then I'd say you are right, but they just haven't done that.

    Don't get our hopes up and then piss us off - that will just solidify the OSR even further. This edition represents an interesting opportunity, I'm pretty sure they will drop the ball.

  7. I like the Oh! Shit! Run! thing too. I had completely forgotten about the days when we carried rations. Not to eat (or track, bleh) but to toss in front of monsters pursuing us as we ran valiantly away. We would also separate a small amount of treasure into a small sack tied to a belt, ready to be jettisoned in case the pursuer was too smart to stop for food.

    I think if Monte, or Wizards, or even a hobby designer, tries to create an old school game by ruling it so, they are doomed from the outset. They can suggest or even foster old school playstyles, but they can't hardwire into the rules.

  8. I'm going to hold my conclusions until I actually see a draft of the product. But I suppose speculation has it's place.

    From some of the things I have heard you will be able to run an Oh Shit Run style of game. I think they are trying to design a basic system that allows (and requires) a group to being their own style to the table. As long as the system allows you to run your style of game, should you really care if they allow a different group to run a different style?

    As for Monte and his writings, he can only cover so much area this soon into the process. Maybe what your looking for is in the works and he hasn't gotten to the topic yet...or maybe he is completely ignoring that which you desire in the game. I think its too soon to tell.

  9. This is incredibly simple.

    We have:

    Original D&D (OD&D or 0)

    OD&D+Expansions (0.5)

    B/X D&D


    Holmes D&D

    Cyclopedia D&D

    At least 3 box sets of intro to D&D

    AD&D 1e

    AD&D 1.5

    AD&D 2e

    AD&D 2.5

    D&D 3e

    D&D 3.5e

    D&D 4e

    D&D 4.5e


    Stop pissing in a Coke can and calling it Coke. It is not.

    Stop making up something different every 2 years and calling it D&D.

    Call It Fantasy Combat Simulator 2.0 or something but stop calling it D&D.

    They have all the D&D they could ever hope for and people who want to buy it.

    It's like walking into a newly opened store, all bright and shiny and fresh and the shelves are bare.

    Through large glass windows in the back of the store you can see racks of awesome product.

    And the door is locked.

    And people ask the store manager 'why are the shelves empty when you have all that goodness locked up in the store room?' and the manager just sorta stands there, brain dead.

  10. Did you catch the Combat as War vs. Combat as Sport conversations on EN World & Google+?

    Combat War vs. Sport

  11. I have to agree with ADD Grognard. The fact that things have come full circle and they're now mining earlier editions for ideas of how to bake this latest attempt shows that it's time to stop tinkering with the rules and just let the game be. The problem goes back to TSR's original sin of thinking that D&D can be a perpetual profit maker, which of course demands that it be perpetually reinvented and resold.

  12. Are you causing a shit storm? hehe

  13. This blog entry baffles me. Does it mean you think there are not plenty of "Oh, shit! Run!" moments in the Third and Fourth Editions? Because monsters, dungeons and traps can easily challenge and defeat a party in any system: all up to the dungeon master and his story and ruthlessness.


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