Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Some Further Thoughts on Why I see the OSR in General as "Underserved"

So, in Sundays interview by Erik Jensen (posted here at The Tavern yesterday), we ending it with this comment and response (edited for pertinence to this topic:
Tenkar - I see the OSR as an underserved market that deserves more respect. 5e is huge for the OSR because writing product for 5e and converting to the OSR is much easier than going from 4e or Pathfinder. There is synergy between 5e and the OSR. Some folks want to see new clones - I want to see new hacks. Hack SWL or the Black Hack or some other OSR game and give us a western, supers, space opera, sci-fantasy, godzilla monsters - whatever! I think the future of the OSR is finding new genres and not new systems. Or I could be totally wrong. But I think the OSR is just going to grow in the number of players at this point and we have 5e to thank for it.

Jensen -  Underserved?  Huh, I don't think that's a word I would've used to describe the OSR market; I often wonder how much 'product' the OSR market can actually bear.  I'm not sure it's all that much.
Now, if you firmly have your feet set in the DIY (do it yourself) corner of the OSR that very well might be true. Because really, what do you need besides some random tables and some time? More time than many of us have but time none the less.

However, the OSR as a whole is a largely untapped market. 5e is certainly bringing players in to the OSR fold and they are not mutually exclusive rulesets - you can play both and can certainly enjoy both.

Forgive me for saying so, but the OSR largely consists of older gamers who, by my experience, have more disposable income than younger gamers. The market is there, so why isn't it being targeted as much as it could and probably should be?

Well, there is the perception that OSR gamers are cheap. We want our gaming inspiration and material for nothing, or close to it. I personally think that is approaching things from the wrong direction. I think content creators for the OSR are extremely generous. As a community, we have evolved with community driven (and written) rulesets that can be grabbed for free in PDF (and occasionally print). I can say that my experience with the OSR Extravaganza Sale is that OSR gamers WANT OSR gaming material but no one bothered to cater to them prior. No one said "Hey, we know you are a tight community, here's a sale aimed and your wants and desires."

Sale numbers suggest to me that the OSR has been overlooked and underserved. Maybe that will change going forward. I sure hope so.

If the OSR is to continue to grow - and if we look at convention attendance of conventions such as Gary Con, NTRPG Con and Gamehole Con over the past few years, you see the number of attendees is steadily increasing each year, the OSR market should take the opportunity to grow along with it.

I'm not suggesting we need the glut of the D20 era, but with POD that's impossible anyhow - today's OSR market is largely PDFs and POD. Having a warehouse full of goods might be doable by the larger companies, but smaller publishers don't need that overhead nor investment, and that is good.

Do we need more rulesets? I dunno. As I said above, I want to see genre hacks of existing rulesets, but in the end, the community will decide. You'll be surprised at how far a little respect goes. I'm sure RPGNow / OBS is happily surprised at how well the OSR sale went.

Here, I'm going to make an open suggestion to the powers that be at OBS - you know how you have tracks for Hottest Titles, Newest Titles, Hottest Small Press and the like? Well, add a track for Hottest OSR and you will see sales jump for OSR releases. Often, OSR releases get lost in the noise of general releases.

No need to thank me. Just doing my service to the OSR Community ;)

(if you think I'm full of shit or off my rocker, feel free to add your thoughts. Heck, add them even if you do agree, as I doubt you'll agree on all my points)


  1. I hope you are right about the OST community not being cheap. I am heartened that Dark Wizard Games (formerly Maximum Mayhem Dungeons) can charge $20 for a module and get it. $20 - $30 for a 16-32 page black and white adventure with color covers inside and out should be priced in that range.

    However, OBS strongly pushes publishers into the $4.99 bracket because that is where they see the highest quantity of sales. Not sure what that means for your statement, and unless OBS and Mark Taormino release their sales figures I'm not sure we'll ever know.

  2. My experience has suggested that the OSR market is small (a few hundred strong) but dedicated (they will buy everything OSR). That's the corner with money and a collector's interest....presumably there are as usual many more players who buy nothing but maybe the core rules they need.....if even that, since it is usually possible to get free PDFs of most of the popular OSR rulesets.

  3. Y'know, it's interesting. I hadn't really considered that DIY is not typical of the OSR; I started with Moldvay Basic, and as much of my gaming experience has been spent dreaming things up as playing. It was just a natural part of the RPG experience for me, but I'd always assumed it was common to the OSR, and the lack of DIY (The D was for Doing this time, it's grammatical) was an effect of fiddly new school systems rather than just, like, modernity. It hadn't occurred to me that dreaming junk up and assigning gaming stats to it was a skill I'd been honing for, like, my entire life.

    I guess I'm saying that I hadn't realized how underserved the OSR is, looking at it from the inside. You know what could really help to popularize the OSR? If an experienced gamer with enough time, say a recent retiree, could put together a accessible, streamlined version of a popular OSR ruleset, and oversee a magazine to provide supplementary materiel for people just getting into the OSR.

    . . . What, Tenkar, why are staring at me like that?

    1. As one gets older, money is more disposable but time is more valuable.

      To be honest, I rarely run any purchased adventure as written. I tweak it with my 35+ years of experience as a gamer, primarily as a DM, to fit the style that fits me.

      If the OSR were to stop producing more material for its community, that community would stop growing or worse.

      I personally love the idea of a thriving and growing OSR Community. It makes me smile. Seriously.

  4. On the matter of, "Well, there is the perception that OSR gamers are cheap. We want our gaming inspiration and material for nothing, or close to it.", I think those that realize that the truth is actually the opposite (Frog Good, Goodman Games) are doing a hell of a business. Almost every OSR based kickstarter from them that I have been a part of has been extremely successful.

    They make good OSR products that are not by any means cheap, and they are in demand.

  5. It wasn't until I lost my job and started back at school that I realized how much of my money dice and OBS ate :P I've started a Youtube channel lately, but I don't have much OSR stuff planned for that yet.

    I'm curious, do you simply mean the OSR is under-represented in Published material? or in General? Does the OSR need yet another podcast?

    1. Its under-represented in the market place and in the minds of those that distribute gaming material.

      I think there is a dearth of general OSR podcasts

    2. I was going to argue that I knew of several... then I noticed that most of them seem to be defunct.

      Maybe I'll do more OSR content. I've been trying to put myself out there more. Maybe some more White Star, Starships and Spacemen, X-Plorers, and Metamorphosis Alpha would do the trick... Brainstorming time. If there is anything anybody would like to see let me know.

  6. The following is copy/pasted from a recent ENworld article about heartbreakers...

    "With OGLs available, people think less about their systems. They consider what's out there to be close enough, tweak it, and run with it. Then they end up with a system that, in many cases, doesn't really fit their setting material (unless that setting is a close replication to the setting the OGL derives from, if there is one)."

  7. It's interesting when I see this looked at from the market angle... There's DIY and fanzine ethos, but it still ends up being a market. Sometimes interesting ideas come out of reversing ideas... so, what if we don't look at the size of the current market, which could technically be ascertained by some lead publishers giving us figures.

    It can't be that small because Goodman Games seems to have more people on staff than the Wizards would consider to push out their own 5e content (ignoring freelancers here because staffers are the mouths you are expected to feed every month). Yes, they do have a 5e line, but their only Pathfinder product seems to be the niche game XCrawl.

    So, if these guys gave us numbers we could ascertain the size of the OSR market. The Frog Gods, Goodman, the Troll Lords, somewhere between them they have the reach to take a lion share of the D&D-centric OSR money for themselves.

    More interesting I find the other number we could not possibly hope to find out. The truly DIY guys. The guys that buy one or two rulesets and roll out their own campaigns and never look back. They are no market. Some of them are truly old school as they started back in the day and never stopped. Some of them have dozens of worlds lying around, are writing rulesets of their own, that kind of thing.

    Now, not claiming these are vastly outnumbering the buyers of OSR products. Because we cannot know that. But these guys are the non-market segment that won't show up in any market-derived statistics but might even consider themselves part of the OSR if they know about it.

    It's the same with the few people I know that show up at cons and offer old games. They are the tip of an iceberg, a sort of a dark net of roleplaying. Because I keep on finding out who plays RPGs here in my home town and most of these people never know about each other, maybe changing group about once or twice a decade if ever. Just by wearing RPG-themed shirts and talking to my local FLGS owner, looking across forums and player-search sites, advertising with posters, etc, I have gotten a notion of how much bigger the scene really is than is actually known. People keep looking for games, people keep trying to offer games, they might never materialize. But there's many people out there not part of any community, or still playing what they liked. Old editions of anything, lots of 90s stuff.

    There's a lot of disconnect between all these groups. People might be in one of them, people might overlap into several groups. Roleplaying is like an underground activity because you only need a book or two, dice, and a few friends, and nobody else will ever know. Many players might never consider themselves roleplayers but just people who show up to play with a friend without considering it part of their identity in any way.

    Having said that, I could possible conclude that a lot of the whole RPG "scene" is an underserved market. Some people keep buying stuff because that's how they run games. I belong to the group that buys stuff that sounds interesting but I might never use it. People buy stuff for their analog or digital shelves. People collect. Some people never buy stuff again and game the shit out of what they have. Some people only go to their FLGS, some only shop online.

    So, I think we can't say for sure it's an underserved market, I guess. But it's one of the most complicated markets out there. If you sell screws, people might buy them for all kinds of reasons, but they won't roll their own or only buy one pair and work with that forever. I think it could drive some economists positively mad, to be frank. Could be a fun exercise. ;-)


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