Sunday, May 27, 2012

Looking At Joseph Goodman's Words re: The OSR

With the following words in the back of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, Mr. Goodman sparked a small firestorm on a number of blogs.  Although I can understand why, I think we need to look just a bit closer at was was actually said:
To the many and varied OSR publishers, I offer one comment.As Grognardia marks its fourth anniversary in 2012,the OSR has re-published a plethora of variants on the coreD&D concepts. The target customer is offered no shortageof retro-clones, adventures centered on goblin raiders, excursionsinto the underdeep, and genre-based campaignsettings. I started work on the volume you hold in yourhand because I believe the time has come to break thechains of D&D convention and step back one era further,to the original inspiration of Appendix N, beyond the confinesof genre assumptions. DCC RPG offers a free licenseto third party publishers who wish to publish compatiblematerial. Even if you choose not to take advantage of thislicense, I ask you to consider moving past the boundariesof “TSR mimicry.” The time has come to offer our sharedcustomer something both new and old-school.
"The OSR has re-published a plethora of variants on the core D&D concepts."  - S&W Whitebox, LL Original Characters Edition and the upcoming Delving Deeper gives us three clones of OD&D.  Do we need more?   Have all the original pre-3e editions been effectively cloned yet?  (I believe 2e is in the pipes)

"The target customer is offered no shortage of retro-clones" - I'd attempt to list them, but I fear I'd miss a few.  There is a list of links for free ones on the left side of this blog.

"I started work on the volume you hold in your hand because I believe the time has come to break the chains of D&D convention and step back one era further, to the original inspiration of Appendix N, beyond the confines of genre assumptions."  This is where folks start getting pissy.  This is where Joseph does a little chest thumping.

"I ask you to consider moving past the boundaries of “TSR mimicry.” The time has come to offer our shared customer something both new and old-school."  And now Joseph throws down the gauntlet!

Still, look at the retroclones.  How many go beyond what they are looking to imitate?  Besides DCC RPG I can think of only two.  (Truth be told, Joseph should have given credit to those that came before him.  Each game has different goals, different directions, but they all broke the mold)

LotFP Weird Fantasy takes the White Box assumption and turns it on it's head.  Only fighters getting a to-hit advancement.  Thieves use a 6d for skills, and advance the skills with "pips".  Monsters are unique - there is no section for a Monster Manual.  It's high on atmosphere.  It broke the mold.

Adventurer Conqueror King System adds a whole section of a character's career that was often hinted at in earlier editions but never truly addressed.  The PC as a ruler, as a guild master, as that crazy wizard in a tower.  While Weird Fantasy effectively takes the game "to eleven" and so does ACKS, but in a different direction.

Which is what Dungeon Crawl Classics is doing, in yet another direction.  I can't fault Joseph Goodman for wanting to push the "Old School" envelope and hoping that others will follow DCC, WF and ACKS into the realm of "Old School" but more.  There is a lot of comfort in playing (and DMing) in my comfort zones - I grew up on AD&D and later B/E/C/M/I.  There is, however, more excitement for me, as a GM and as a player, when I can move out of that zone, at least partially.  One foot in and one foot out.  

"Old School +" is how I see these games.  


  1. Yeah I can see why those comments would cause a shitstorm. When I read the rules to DCC I never even saw it as a retro-clone, but its own beast. Unfortunately the rules didn't float my boat but I applaud him for trying something different.

  2. There's a reason why they're called "retro-clones." Harping on their lack of innovation and willingness to go beyond what they're cloning is to miss their point entirely. I'm constantly amazed by how many people don't seem to get this.

  3. Well, the cloners set out to do just that. Clone the systems. Mr. Goodman also said:

    "The target customer is offered no shortageof retro-clones, adventures centered on goblin raiders, excursions into the underdeep, and genre-based campaign settings. I started work on the volume you hold in yourhand because I believe the time has come to break the chains of D&D convention and step back one era further,to the original inspiration of Appendix N, beyond the confinesof genre assumptions."

    So, Carcosa, The Spire of Iron and Crystal, Fomalhaut, ASE1, Death Frost Doom and many other OSR products, which stretched the boundaries of "old school" play, apparently never happened.

  4. PS: And I like "goblin raiders," etc.

  5. @James M - the OSR is more than pure retroclones at this point

    @James S - my list of what came before is obviously lacking (god but I love ASE! and DFD). Joseph is definitely chest pumping, as I said. He is certainly not the first to go beyond traditional Old School

    Raggie (yet another James) could have thrown down the gauntlet that Goodman did, but I think Goodman has his products in the hands of more distributors, and offering a free license to those that want to produce products for DCC RPG doesn't hurt.

  6. yeah, he has a habit of throwing down arrogant shit like that. he's a lawyer too right? its odd because lawyers are usually humble as can be. remember this? i dug it up for a reply on G+ and had a good chuckle.


    as to your post though tenkar, i pretty much agree with all you said. I think LOTFP broke new ground moreso than ACKS. But ACKS is what 5e should be, according to the stated design goals. If WOTC were to buy ACKS and call it 5e, I would say they were successful in making a new product that did what they said it would do, and appealed to all audiences, while being modular enough to add onto.

  7. hehe. just added it because i forgot to check the "send me followup comments" box

  8. But I believe you guys hit it on the head :)

    (sorry...had to go there)

  9. As for chest thumping, maybe not so much...the same sentiment has become all but a mantra for myself and others as posted over at Bat in the Attic:

    The Old School Renaissance

    "To me the Old School Renaissance is not about playing a particular set of rules in a particular way, the dungeon crawl. It is about going back to the roots of our hobby and seeing what we could do differently. What avenues were not explored because of the commercial and personal interests of the game designers of the time."

    To me that means virtually the same thing. It is time to grow out while supporting the roots.

    I certainly couldn't top the clones that exist. They have done a helluva job bringing it back and should continue to be supported.

    But it's also time to recognize the young turks who want to bring more to the playing field without it being a 'consumer product' decision but one based on fun and innovative gaming.

    Why do you think I have went on so much about giving WotC money when there are new and exciting things happening all the time. I know in this day and age most of us are not made of money and I want mine to go to the innovators. Just my feelings.

    If someone wants to go the other way that's fine, but when they start telling me that I need to go their way and 'get with the program' they can kiss my ass.

    Hats off to those who work everyday to bring us new and exciting ideas and worlds to play in.

  10. For me the phrase, "Appendix N gaming", is a narrower and more apt description the types of games I want the "D&D" rule set I use to cater to.

    The OSR, despite it's broader meaning to others, has always meant that to me. Although, I didn't realize it until reading DCC RPG.

  11. I agree with James Smith: Goodman is describing the beginnings of the OSR, but the OSR has moved past that and is doing a lot of innovative stuff.

    Also, I think using Appendix N for inspiration is just another form of TSR/Gygax mimicry. As Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque shows, focusing on a different literary genre is another good way to bring something new to the game.

  12. I believe he has a point. Some product niches are over-saturated; there are clone systems for every conceivable D&D version, and yes, there are so many "bucolic fantasy village threatened by rampaging humanoids" modules it is actually hard to name them because they start to blend into one another.

    I am starting to feel that applying the (simplified understanding of the) Castle Greyhawk formula to megadungeons is beginning to wear thin -- if your room entries are like "10 giant rats munching on a dead adventurer, Hp 1, 3, 2, 1, 2, 4, 1, 2, 1, 2" and "here is a fish-shaped fountain that (1d6) 1) heals 1d8 Hp, 2) polymorphs the imbiber, 3) contains deadly posion, 4) contains holy water, 5) is secretly made of green slime, 6) is empty and cob-webbed, a skull hiding a miniature giant spider (1 Hp)", you might want to rethink your product plan, because there are already more than enough modules like that. (Mad props to ASE1 for being something different!)

    Meanwhile, I believe there is still a lot of potential in
    - "creativity aid"/utility supplements like The Tome of Adventure design, City Encounters or Vornheim;
    - well-designed and rigorously playtested city supplements and city adventures that aren't railroads;
    - good wilderness adventures;
    - planar stuff;
    - supplements which do not alter the underlying game but bolt on interesting new ways of play (like ACKS)
    - applying the D&D game structure to under-explored genres (The Metal Earth, Tales of the Grotesque and the Dungeonesque etc.)

    And of course everything is okay if it is done well. A new Keep on the Borderlands is splendid if you can add something to the formula. A new evil temple is wonderful if it involves colourful imagery and weird rites. Maybe someone could even do something with fantasy villages that feels interesting.

  13. There is also a lot in "Appendix N" that goes beyond the usual understanding of "Appendix N". Brackett, Zelazny and Merritt, anyone?

  14. @Eric- The one game the appeals to the ENTIRE OSR are the classic editions of D&D. Everything else will appeal to a subsegment. The OSR is the D&D club. A very large majority of OSR gamers like old school games in general, just like many chess club member like other types of boardgames. RPGs, like the DCC RPG, that appeal to old school sentiments will find some success marketing to the OSR. But have to be realistic in remembering that the OSR is about playing a classic edition of D&D and really dislike those that tell them that they need to move on.

    The way to avoid this is simple,just explain that your product or game IMPLEMENTS YOUR vision. While Joseph Goodman has his comment about the OSR it also obvious by his marketing, and how he wrote the book that he is implementing HIS distinct vision of appendix N. Not what he thinks D&D should be.

    Compared to one badly worded paragraph that sentiment is what dominates the DCC RPG. And I have no problem with that.

  15. @Rob Conley - When Brave Halfling finally pushes Delving Deeper out the door I'll have 3 clones of ODD to go along with my ODD CE. When it comes to rulesets in the OSR that just repeat the original rules I think we are reaching saturation.

    I stated that when DD was anounced. Didn't stop me from preordering 2 sets either. ;)

  16. Yeah, I don't get why folks are getting upset. Goodman says "he believes" and then makes some rather innocuous points that have appeared in many blogs. Further, he does so in the context of a work whose old school bonafides are beyond question. This is someone who obviously loves DnD.

    All th hoopla about this suggests to me that some folks feel that they "own" the OSR, or at least speak for it. That's crazy. The OSR is fundamentally a hobbyist movement. It doesn't belong to Jeff R., James Mal., Rob C., Michael C., Philotomy, Finch, or anyone else. It belongs to everyone who wants to have creative fun with old school RPGs.

  17. Thank you very much for this post, as I was just thinking about this very topic today.

    I am a gamer with a great fondness for the OSR and old school gaming; my favorite edition of D&D is BECMI / Rules Cyclopedia, for example. (I really tried to like D&D 3e/3.5/4e, but each time I felt disappointed at the unnecessary complicated flddliness of these games.)

    Yet many of the games I play and run aren't OSR games. Two of my go-to systems are Savage Worlds and FATE in some of its many incarnations. And while I do not think that change is always the same thing as positive evolution (as the comments of many 4e players in many forums seem to imply), I do think that some changes in gaming over the years have been excellent. (As a minor example, with regard to D&D, I LIKE ascending AC; I'd even go so far as to say it's simply better than descending AC. I've been active in introducing teens to gaming for about 7-8 years now, and ascending AC is far easier for them to grasp than descending AC and consulting a chart.)

    In any event, your term "Old School +" resonates well with me, and I think I'll be making use of it.


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