Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Rantish - My Thoughts on Gatekeeping in the OSR

There was a comment made in The Tavern's Facebook Community yesterday that got me thinking about gatekeeping in the OSR. It essentially called the OSR clones "PDF edits of the originals with minor house rules thrown in" and proceeded to talk about the virtue of learning the original D&D White Box in middle school. Essentially, the clones have no value.

edit - For clarity, the original quotes: 
"we might actually have had to play with our original D&D books instead of derivative pdf files of minor edits to the original game. The horror!" 
"hard for new players? Most of us learned to play it in middle school!
Further edit: those that don't have access to the original books at an affordable price or would prefer to read a more modern presentation - in print or PDF - are effectively dismissed. That is my interpretation. YMMV,

A month or so ago, in another Facebook Gaming Community, a different poster went on a rant about Swords & Wizardry Light, where he wrote (not quoting exactly) he didn't understand why Frog God Games was putting so much time, money and effort into SWL, "the dumbing down of an already dumbed down game."

Gatekeeping is alive and well in the OSR, or at least the mindset is.

If it isn't the original rules, it has no value.

If it's easy to learn its been dumbed down.

Which are fine attitudes to have at your own table but not the ones needed to grow the Old School Gaming Community or even keep it viable, Those of us that started with "the originals", be it OD&D, BX,  BECMI, 1e, 2e and the like - we are getting older. If we want to bring others into our love of Old School Gaming, we need to be welcoming, not excluding.

When my niece, who was 5 years old at the time, saw that I had written a 4-page Swords & Wizardry Light ruleset she exclaimed: "Uncle, you wrote a 4-page Dungeons & Dragons? You can teach me to read 4-pages. You wrote this for me!" I guess I did.

When +Bill Webb decided to publish Swords & Wizardry Light (and +Matt Finch gave me his blessings), when Frog God Games decided to print thousands of copies to give away for free at conventions and via mail, its because they understood the value of making the entry bar to the OSR and gaming in general easier for potential players to cross, not harder.

The clones don't have the same nostalgia value for me that my original 1e books have - my entry to the hobby, but when I ran a 1e game a few years back I ran it using OSRIC - the organization was better, the writing was clearer and it was all in one book. Old school gaming meets modern day presentation.

I want the OSR to not just survive, I want it to thrive. I think many 5e players will find Old School Gaming an alternative (not a substitute) for the latest release of the D&D rules for the times they want a looser playing ruleset, but that's only going to happen if we welcome them, not exclude them.


  1. There is a lot we can learn from one another and a lot we can pass on to the nest generations as long as we are able to open our minds to the possibilities and not just stay mired in the past. Imagine what would be if the originators of the genre were as inflexible as we can be at times.

  2. Personally I love the retro-clones, I like to see what others come up with. Do I love every single game? No, some aren't to my taste, but that's OK, they still may have a nugget I can mine or someone else may love that interpretation. Just because it's not to my taste doesn't mean it's bad or worthless, at the very least I got a different point of view.

  3. I just think everyone who wants to play D&D (or whichever) should have the opportunity to play D&D, and easily understood rules are the most important part of that process. One day, when our generation is dust, all the old school players in the world will have learned on dumbed down PDF edits of the originals with minor house rules thrown in, and the world will be a better place for it.

    ...Too dark? It's lyrical and melancholy like an elven balled, okay?!

  4. Absolutely agree.

    And on the point of "If it isn't the original rules, it has no value": Aren't the original D&D rules, to some extent, Gygax's edited (i.e. house-ruled) version of Arneson's Blackmoor campaign rules? And weren't Arneson's Blackmoor campaign rules, to some extent, a house-ruled mash-up of the fantasy section of Gygax's Chainmail and Wesley's Braunstein?

    If we want to start saying that if it's not the original rules it has no value, where does the wayback machine stop? With Little Wars? Kriegspiel? Chess? Chaturanga?

    Bottom line: if people play it and have fun with it, it has value.

    1. When I get into this one the older edition forums. My contention that the lesson to be drawn from the beginning of the hobby isn't the specific rules to be used but rather the idea that you think of some fun type of campaign, scenario, or game you want to run and then assemble what needed to make it happen from whatever source you think best.

      Because we are decades into this we have a much deeper well of material to draw on. Not just in gaming but in literature as well due to continued research into past eras.

  5. What proponents of the original editions miss is the fact that with the vast majority of the OSR using open content that means EVERYBODY has the freedom to what they think is best for the material.

    In one person hands it means careful preservation of the original text or something close to it if the IP isn't open content.

    Another is a light version designed to make it easy to other to learn what this old school gaming is all about.

    In another it is a hybrid marrying older editions concepts with newer mechanics.

    Another still, it about re purposing classic editions to depict other genres and other cultures.

    For another it is a focus not on rules but rather how setting are formatted.

    And the list goes on. What important is that the tools are there so if you think the rest of the OSR is doing it wrong you can "fix" it by showing everybody else how it ought to be done. ;)

  6. I am *very* new to OSR, having only previously played a few 2e and 3.5e campaigns many years ago. What I love about the OSR derivatives are the perspectives that authors with upwards of 40 years of experience can bring to the table, especially in regards to streamlining the original texts.

    The original books are always there and are great (essential) reads for the history and flavor, but if I need a convenient, beautifully designed reference to turn to during a game, I'm going to go with a BLUEHOLME or a B/X Essentials - both available for free to anyone who wants them - over the real deal. There's just no reason not to.

  7. Wow this is like people who argue over a bible or religious text and having different interpretations of it and argue which one is right. I dont think the hobbies original books should be treated like the word of god, but what do I know I think 1E sucked, 3.5 was a lot of fun and burning wheel is better then the other two combined.

  8. How many of the "one true D&D" fundamentalists play using the Chainmail combat system, 20 players and with a copy of Outdoor Survival at hand?

  9. While its true I learned D&D in high school with the original white box set. It is more true that I learned it from my friends in spite of the white box, than because of it. As a example of the problem the white box only contains combat chart labeled alternate with target numbers versus a d20 roll (they assumed you had a copy of "Chainmail", only one of my friends did). I am not even certain the chart mentions using a dice to generate the numbers. We used decks of cards with face cards removed for first year I played. Every DM I played with then had a different interpretation of the of rules. Anyone who thinks D&D is understandable and playable merely by reading the original rules is unlikely to have actually done so.

  10. The first D&D edition I owned was Holmes. I couldn't understand it. When I got AD&D, I couldn't understand it. In the end, older & more experienced players had to show me the ropes. I see SWL and SWCL as stand-ins for those older & more experienced players who taught me the game. The reason I love SWL & SWCL and will not only play it but support it is that my children can understand the game as written. It exemplifies what is great about the OSR: taking the past, making it our own so that this hobby can continue into the future.

  11. There is no gatekeeping in the OSR. These are just aspects of how individuals wish to play Gygaxian D&D (1974-2000) and wish to state their opinion like it has authority. It is multi-headed hydra but every edition 0e to 2e, every retroclone has the same heart, lungs, stomach, legs, and tail. Some heads may be prettier but its still a head with large teeth. It comes down to arguments of shades of color along with number & size of teeth.

  12. Agree on all points! Well articulated, thank you Erik!

  13. Let the haters hate. The OSR is not, and had never been a single unified community. Therefore we cannot police ourselves. It's unfortunate because those on the outside can't know what it's like on the inside and they see the loudest people and take them as evidence for the whole. I don't know the answers, but for now you do you and let them do them.

  14. I get the Gatekeeper label. But I don't think its quite accurate (after all, who exactly are they barring?). I think a better term would be 100% Pure Distilled Grognard. The absolute essence of Grognard if you will.

    Grognard to the point of diminishing returns.

  15. I'm perfectly capable of still playing the Holmes Basic + OD&D box set I started with, and like it (though searching for rules in those books is a big distraction in actual play), and yet I write my own OSR variant Stone Halls & Serpent Men, bought Swords & Wizardry and Blueholme and like those for more "normal" play, and would like to see more weird stuff like Crimson Dragon Slayer.

    There's always going to be zealots who think whatever was published in an official book by Castles & Crusades Society/Tactical Studies Rules/TSR The Game Lizards/Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro/Paizo is the only possible way to play, and they won't like playing Calvinball with us heretics. Don't worry about it.

  16. Those of you who accuse me of being a Gatekeeper from one post I made are trying to stir the pot when no such intent was there.

    Besides, if you arent using the 1st edition weapons initiative rules you cant even be called a roleplayer, much less old school.


  17. "When +Bill Webb decided to publish Swords & Wizardry Light (and +Matt Finch gave me his blessings), when Frog God Games decided to print thousands of copies to give away for free at conventions and via mail, its because they understood the value of making the entry bar to the OSR and gaming in general easier for potential players to cross, not harder."

    I think there's a reason people who make these complaints don't run game companies or publish anything.

    And seriously, having read (but never played) the original White Box, it's a terrible document from a technical communication perspective. So many unnecessarily big words. So much passive voice. But judging from what I've read of the Traveller LBBs, these traits were common in 1970s RPG writing. It was a bunch of people trying to prove they were the smartest people in the room by showing off their vocabulary and demonstrating that they could write like a scientific paper. But if you want to actually sell something to the general public (or even have it adopted for free by them), ease of use is an issue.

  18. Gatekeeping? Yeah, the Basic Fantasy Project had a gate, once. We took it down and made a table out of it...

    Gatekeeping has no place in our corner of the OSR. Not only is it wrong, it's LAME. Seriously.

  19. I got into the OSR through Castles & Crusades. It's my go-to system for fantasy gaming. I learned D&D from 2nd edition (the black books), and prefer the simplicity of C&C-like games.

    Honestly, the ones that hew closest to the originals don't excited me, and I really don't like descending AC.

    1. I keep forgetting how cool Castles and Crusades is.

  20. I wouldn't even consider getting back into gaming if it wasn't for the OSR. S&W, OSRIC, LL are love letters. They are erudite treatises on the originals. Sure, we may lose a few things, like weapon speed, but those will still be there for scholars and purists to study and use if they want to. I do fret a little that the hobby seems to have moved away from wargaming and towards gonzo. I prefer fictions to somehow shed illumination back onto life here as opposed to flights of fancy run amok.

  21. I have to acknowledge that the populace of RPG is a fractious thing. FWIW, I started out reading Fighting Fantasy and played the FFRPG before D&D was a thing in country Australia. For me, Fighting Fantasy is OSR. I love Freebooters on the Frontier secretly, because it reminds me when I was starting out playing Frank's Red Box D&D. People won't even look at Freebooters and Perilous Wilds because of *reasons* related to Dungeon World and if you secretly scoffed at my Red Box D&D experience, well....

    But really, I'd love to be playing AD&D like I used to back in the 1980's and 90's, but then, I never really played AD&D: I played something that was D&D with the AD&D classes, but here's me trying to define how I rolled when I played whaybackwhen -- and all y'all can only empathise with me because all y'all rolled a similar, yet in a slightly different way. Vin Diesel Played Old School D&D...oh wait, no he didn't -- he played Arcanum 2nd Edition.

    But that is what OSR is. Well that is what OSR is to me; everyone's version of what they played back in the day. If SWL captures some or most of that, it is a way in for Dungeon Masters as much as Players into something larger. Maybe that DM will look at SWCL, or maybe Swords and Wizardry Core, or Complete. Maybe they'll look at Labyrinth Lord, or gonzo out on DCCRPG. Or have a love/hate relationship with OSRIC, or decide that Castles & Crusades is where it's at while having some skewed revelation that 3.5 is some sort of Advanced D&D version of C&C...


    OSR is a journey through one facet of RPGs, OSR is not a destination and people would do well to remember that the way I played is not the same as the way you did. But I'll play your game --because I know you'll be open minded to play in mine :)

    1. I never really played AD&D either, Andrew. Back when we all communicated by snail mail, you couldn't play strictly by the book; you had to house rule if you wanted keep playing while you waited 3-6 months to find out if they answered your question in Sage Advice.

      I think the internet has had a hugely positive effect on gaming, but the accessibility to designers and publishers has resulted in a fetishization of official material that bugs the shit out of me.

      Or maybe I'm just glossing over all the rules-lawyering I did as a kid. who knows.

  22. I'm not a fan of the endless amount of virtually identical retroclones. But I understand their value. More importantly, I'd rather hand a new player a retroclone or share a link with them than the originals (for obvious reasons).

  23. The real problem with the OSR is the constant rehashing of D&D over and over again. Make something new!

    1. So make something new and show the rest of us how we are doing it wrong. :D

    2. 5th Edition came out a few years ago, Brad.

  24. The proof to me that there is no "absolute" "pure" "complete" version of this game, is the fact that the creators themselves (Gygax, Arneson) modified the very game they first created. And they did so right away. Go tell them (though I doubt there is Facebook in Heaven) that they were not purists, that they're modifications had no value, that they're versions were dumbed down, that they're not roleplayers or "old school"...


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