Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Can We All Agree on What the OSR Is NOT?

Defining the OSR is nigh impossible task, as many (if not most of us) that consider themselves part of the OSR have our own definition of what the OSR "IS". We've gone down that path before, and in that direction lies madness.

It is easier, I think, to define what is NOT OSR:

Dungeon World is NOT OSR. Anything built off of the Apoc World engine is not OSR.

- Torchbearer isn't OSR either, but it is purty.

- D&D 3x and 4e are not OSR. 5e might be OSR friendly, but will not be OSR

- Any of them new fangled games that define themselves as"storytelling" aren't OSR. Doesn't matter if     you put a sword in their hand and drop their ass in a dungeon - they are not OSR.

- If the game uses "aspects" and uses words, not numbers, to define the strength or weakness of your       abilities, it is not OSR.

- If it doesn't have "Hit Points", it's not OSR

- If it emulates a game from the 3x era on (2000), it's most certainly not OSR. Emulating a game from     the era prior to 3e doesn't guarantee that a game is an OSR game either.

- If PCs can't die, it's not OSR

Alright, that's my eight thus far. Feel free to add more to the comments.

TheShadowKnows won the internet:
Personally I would omit all references to specific mechanics and systems and just say the following: "If ANYTHING ELSE is more important than THE GAME, it's not OSR". So if "plot" - or "story", or "narrative", or "character arcs", or the "adventure path", or whatever - takes precedence over the game mechanics, it's not OSR.
I would add - there is not a rule for everything. Trust in the DM / GM is paramount, and the group must be comfortable with DM Fiat. Less predestination of the adventure / campaign / character (although that would kick the Dragonlance campaign out of the OSR - I never found it all that good anyway)


  1. "If it doesn't have 'Hit Points', it's not OSR" - but it may use Constitution as Hit Points as with Tunnels & Trolls.

  2. Replies
    1. DCC is OSR in my eyes, as it plays damn close to how AD&D felt back in the days.

      It could more accurately be an OSR / 3X hybrid of sorts, but without feats and skills, Its heavily weighted to the OSR.

    2. DCC is OSR not because of mechanics but because Goodman Games choose to immerse themselves into the OSR community, solicit comment from the OSR Community, and playtest it (a lot!) with the OSR Community.

      They just didn't declare it to be an OSR games, they earned it by active participation.

  3. Okay, but it seems like you are saying that the OSR IS based on D&D mechanics. Is that assumption true, when it comes to your thoughts? Does anyone disagree with that? I'm not asking to be a d-bag, I'm just asking because I know I've seen mention that other, non-D&D games (like Tunnels & Trolls, Traveller) are part of the OSR. I'm asking because I'm not really interested in learning too much about non-D&D games considered part of the OSR, but a little education in that area is okay by me...

    1. not necessarily.

      T&T and Traveller have HP or a variation of such, have stats, characters can die, etc.

      I would define them as OSR BUT many others would not. I can understand the respect the arguments going both ways.

      For me, I played a shit ton of RPGs in my youth, not just D&D. WFRP, Traveller, Rolemaster, MERP, Chill, Timemaster, Star Frontiers and more. To me, they are part of the OSR. To others, they are not.

      The arbitrary cut of date for Old School games corresponds to the release of 3e

  4. So far GURPS and Champions qualify - if breaking HP into Stun and Body still counts. Is a point buy system a deal breaker? How about advantages/disadvantages? Do you need classes and levels or does their absence eliminate you from the group?

    1. I have Man to Man and the first GURPS boxed set as well as the 1e Champions boxed set and played such in high school.

      To me they are Old School / OSR. Others may not define them as such. Which is why it is easier to agree on generalities of what isn't, than the specifics of what is.

  5. Man. I have to say, I normally like your articles, but I think you've gone a bridge too far in trying to decide what is and is not OSR. Firstly, I don't think that's a reasonable or useful thing to do. What is the point of standing atop one's blog and proclaiming who does and doesn't get to be in the club?

    Secondly, I think some of your criteria are dubious.

    1. of course some of the criteria is dubious - as it's from a personal perspective - and again, easier to define what falls outside the circle than what's in the circle.

      it's a post meant for discussion - and to remind folks that there really is no definition of what is OSR - sure, we all know what "it is", but few can agree on what "it is"

      on that note - if it NEEDS a grid and minis (optional is fine, but if falls apart without grid an minis), it's probably not OSR ;)

    2. Nathan I don't think Erik is proclaiming who does and doesn't get into the club. Without a definition of what is and is not OSR there is no club.

  6. Personally I would omit all references to specific mechanics and systems and just say the following: "If ANYTHING ELSE is more important than THE GAME, it's not OSR". So if "plot" - or "story", or "narrative", or "character arcs", or the "adventure path", or whatever - takes precedence over the game mechanics, it's not OSR.

    1. I think you may have a definition there less of OSR than of RPG. What you're excluding are storytelling games and I've contended for some time that it does both RPGs and STGs a disservice to lump them together.

    2. Gotta agree with Jason here. The new school seems mostly split between storytellers the CharOp community, so maybe that could be a starting point. The OSR's about role-playing, not storytelling, and doesn't focus on builds, though OSR games may feature customization. It might also characterized by an adherence to "fate" (that is, let the dice fall where they may)

    3. This works for me as the most succinct distinction between OSR and modern games. Certainly in my view of OSR, the narrative is there to give players a context for their in-game choices, rather than the rules being there to add structure to the narrative.

      I'm not sure that STG's aren't just a subset of RPGs, considering that many games that are clearly (to me) RPGs (like Numenera) have strong STG elements (Intrusions, in this case).

    4. Could someone give me an example of storytelling games in this context? I have a hard time figuring out which RPGs are defined as such by the community...and also quite what the distinction is; that is, I've always seen every RPG as a "storytelling" game but apparently some are more specifically this sort of game than others. I assume the definition tries to delineate a game where the narrative itself takes precedent over the organic growth of an experience (would that be right?) but the only game I can think of that might be what we're talking about is FATE....which is a system I 100% do not grokk.

    5. I have a bit of trouble with that definition. As someone who has played the early editions we improvised a lot and I broke or changed rules a lot. I think plot, story and narrative have become to broad a set of terms and actually confuse as some use some way and other in quite a different way.

      Here are a few quotes from Arneson that start off with story being the heart of a good game. It also brings up some good points regarding good old dungeoneering and wit over muscle in encounters. Something I enjoy from low level characters.


      What is at the heart of a good game?
      Arneson: As far as I am concerned it is the story. It can make or break a game quite easily.
      What do you enjoy most about designing games? About playing them?
      Arneson: Watching the players interact and do things that were not planned by the poor referee.
      What do games mean to you?
      Arneson: The mental challenges, not just rolling the dice.
      Rules… strict or loose?
      Arneson: I like loose so you can change things that are not working. I dislike “Rules Lawyers” intensely. I regard them as the enemy.
      What role does improvisation play in game design in general?
      Arneson: Lots. The rules cannot cover every possibility. And frankly speaking, they shouldn’t. The referee needs the freedom to keep making the game fun.
      What makes for a really great encounter?
      Arneson: That the players overcame the obstacle by wit and not muscles.

    6. I'm not sure I understand this interpretation. By your definition, Monopoly is OSR.

    7. Marty, Monopoly's not a role-playing game, so it can't be OSR

      Gerardo, only the first thing Arneson said had anything to do with story gaming (and he might not be using that in the same sense as, say, White Wolf; the rest of the quote seems to suggest this, in fact). Mental challenges, improvisation and all that have definitely played a part in non-storytelling games

      Nicholas, I'm not sure I can be much help since I don't play storytelling games, but my understanding's been that much of White Wolf's products fit that definition, as does Dread by The Impossible Dream. Action/hero points would be an example of the kind of mechanics storytelling games exploit. I haven't read this article in awhile, but I recall it being pretty illuminative on the topic. I highly recommend reading his articles on associative vs. dissociative mechanics as well

    8. ProfessorOats, I too believe that Arneson is using story gaming in a totally different sense. I believe that to him a story is about a kid who lives in a desert planet with his uncles and then one day two droids show up. What happens next who knows. He might end up blowing the Death Star or he may not.

      Story gaming as used today is about the same kid who meets the droids and then has to end up blowing up the Death Star one way or the other. So all events and encounters are rigged for that to happen.

      I believe this is what TheShadowKnows means by the story taking precedence over game mechanics. If R2 misses the computer hack roll we'll just do something so they don't die crushed in the garbage unit and the story can continue so they can blow up the Death Star.

      Which leads me to ask if this is even a game. If you've got the story all laid out and you're just rolling dice to fill in the detail, is it a game at all or are we just figuring out which stormtrooper dies first? In this context "storytelling" is an euphemism for "railroad adventure".

    9. I think you may be missing an important element in your interpretation of how Arneson used the term story, though I could be wrong as I (unfortunately) didn't play with or know the man personally - make sure the players leave the session with a fun tale to tell. Throw in theatrics, tension and all that jazz. It's a very improvisational storytelling that respects the players' autonomy and the fact that this is, first and foremost, a game

      Also, absolutely agreed that the railroad you described is not a game. There are, however, storytelling games out there, though I would still exclude those from the OSR. These would have to be improvisational, as a strict plot would prevent them from being a game in the first place, but players could control things on a higher narrative level beyond just their characters. A loose plot might still be acceptable, if reaching important plot points are used as win conditions for each session

  7. That's a pretty D&D-centric vision of OSR. And only one possible way to look at D&D, basically. So, I don't like that definition, it isn't "old school" - to me. Just call it D&D revival. Or game-that-must-not-be-named revival. Because anything but a clone of OD&D, D&D and AD&D need not apply... Too narrow for my taste.

  8. Folks, the problem here is that there is a community of gamers who like playing, publishing, and promoting classic editions of D&D and close variants. This group exists regardless of what label is applied to them. It is a large group because classic editions of D&D had a widespread reach.

    The Old School Renaissance or OSR is the name that this group was tagged with and many of us willingly adopted it. Like or not the Old School Renaissance is centered around gamers promoting, publishing, and playing classic editions of D&D.

    However there is a ongoing renaissance in old school gaming that extends much further then the group of gamers playing, publishing, and promoting classic editions of D&D. But this is not the OSR (note the all caps).

    This has drive people nuts since the beginning of its use both within and without the OSR. My personal choice to adopt OSR as a shortcut so I don't have to keep typing gamers who play, publish, or promote classic editions of D&D and close variants. Whatever you follow me in that choice is up to you. Just like it up to me to make it in the first place. I acknowledge there is a larger osr (note the small letters) that encompases Traveller, the Fantasy Trip, Runequest, and many other older games and older play styles.

    And here a blog post where I document the emergence and growth of the use of OSR.


    1. This right here. Thanks Rob, I'll pick up your definition as the best one so far.

  9. Simple, foolproof, completely objective definition: Anything that came out before I graduated high school, or which reminds me of those games, is OSR.

  10. I'm not sure what is trying to be accomplished here. It seems like there's enough room under the OSR label to include people who publish the endless variations of OD&D and the games built in the spirit of that but use more contemporary game design.

  11. Here's another stab at it: When you sit down to make a character, you let the dice tell you what the character will be. But if you fudge, push, squeeze, or ignore the dice, you are not making a character but an avatar. OSR uses characters. Other games use avatars. And this is what syncs with the story vs. rules outlook, I believe.

  12. If you take the O from OSR, you can't exclude the other games. Then at least in the beginning there was no coherent playstyle. OD&D itself was too confusing. T&T for example can be understood as a house-rule-variant of D&D (and wasn't called T&T until published).

    But who says OSR is a specific game system, it could encompass certain game styles too. I've read much about megadungeoneering the last months and I feel I now understand the hobby better. Now I am playing megadungeons with T&T. I guess even if I would play another game but in an OSR-style and if I find help in OSR forums then it is OSR.

  13. Cross-posted from G+:

    The OSR started out with a simple idea: old games are still worth playing. It is a radical idea given the prevailing gaming atmosphere that I grew up in, and that prevailed throughout the 3.x era, that old games were quaint and outdated and bad and new games are awesome and fresh and good.

    In 2006-2009, the period when clones and print on demand became a thing, "OSR" became a Lulu publishing group that people putting out old school books used to list all their materials together. In 2009 or 2010, Lulu got rid of publishing groups and that went away. But the point is - it went from being an idea to being a marketing category.

    In the process, the OSR - which had always intended to be about non-D&D and non-TSR games as well as old D&D - became mostly focused on old D&D. More specifically it became focused on variants of Gygaxo-Arnesonian D&D. This actually happened in large part because the popular games of 35 years ago are mostly in print - Traveller, Runequest, etc.

    What has driven the OSR and its focus on D&D (and peripherally on a few other games that are very close to D&D, like Mutant Future as a mutated clone of Gamma World) is the fact that OD&D, AD&D and classic D&D are all more or less interchangeable. Sure, a module using full Unearthed Arcana rules will need some pruning for OD&D, but the basics all work. And now there are a bunch of clone games that have their own wrinkles but are basically compatible with those versions of D&D.

    The other thing that has gone on is that we've rediscovered a lot about how people played in the very earliest games. That has driven game design, and at the same time people have taken a great deal of the attitude and ideas that they had 30 or 40 years ago and brought it back to life, so to them the OSR is more of an approach to gaming.

    For any given member of the broad community and cottage industry that has grown up around the OSR, the term means some combination of old games, compatibility, publishing or play style - and that meaning is different for all of them.

  14. One good definition might be non current editions, some might even apply a date such as death of TSR, or even dawn of dragonlance. Id like to include other games because i was absent from larger gaming community for twenty years and im still playing old games because they are not broken. Making new editions for cash is broken. Games with trademark adaptions of non game products will always be broken eventually when licence expires. Someone pointed out 1980 era art and more amatuer look of art and zine style design has a bit of DIY and invites you to create and hack it. Superslick newer editions and societies that abide by same rules globally are against this spirit.

  15. I really think that OSR is more about the attitude/process toward the game than it is about the specific rules, though I will agree that the very definition of the "O" part of OSR at least implies that the games being considered must be published a while back (let's say, during the last century as a tentative cut-off date). For example, I like to play The Fantasy Trip (the old Metagaming precursor that led eventually to GURPS), and I consider that to be very much an "OSR" type game. Why? Because the attitude and procedural approach are more akin to the original D&D in terms of how the players and DM interact with each other and the world the DM creates than the newer versions are. The focus is really on "role-playing" vice "story-telling" or plot arcs or any of that stuff. Further, the combat system does not require a month to handle a skirmish with three Orcs, nor does the magic system require a month to figure out what a spell does. Nor is there a "feats list" that requires a PhD and several hundred hours of study before you can even begin creating a character. The idea is "create some characters and get out there and do stuff;" a process that should be quick, relatively intuitive, and allow you to get right down to cases in the game. But then, that's just me....

  16. Replies
    1. Yes, but look at how much attention it got. So I'd say no, for what the post intended (to generate responses/interest) it wasn't pointless at all.

  17. I dont know. When you come to a trap do you have players role (mech) or berbally try to figure it out (storyish). The later is far more in keeping with Old school to me.

  18. I'll point out that while OSR comes into play a lot with the games of the 70's and 80's it seems like we all tend to cut off the OSR at 1990 or thereabouts (which does mean AD&D 2E slides in right under the wire). In fact I haven't seen a single game from 1990 onward branded as OSR by anyone that I'm aware of.

    1. 2e is definitely not OSR. I never saw anything for 2e that didn't have a railroady story behind it.

      It's much more how you do it than what you do that makes the difference. 2e and 3e could be OSR in all but name, but generally aren't played that way. 4e requires loads of set pieces, so there's no changing that.

    2. That's one opinion, but it isn't shared by all. I grew up on 2e, and consider it very much old school. :)

  19. That would be verbally.

  20. If you can't sit around stroking your beard and saying "well back in the day...." it's not OSR

    1. This is the best definition I've seen so far. :)


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