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OSR A Historical Look at the OSR

Chris Currie

Villager
Simpler combat, high chance of death?
2e core books were fundamentally the same as 1e core books and I used 1e modules with the 2e ruleset.
2e was where "death at -10" started, right? That was a massive jump in survivability, effectively giving every first level wizard the HP of a 5th level 1e magic user.
 

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Jack Daniel

OD&D Referee
I mean to say tomb of horrors

Ah, that makes sense. I don't think anybody would dispute that a killer dungeon from 1975 is old-school.

I did wonder, though, whether you were talking about the TSR Indiana Jones game, which had a "Temple of Doom" adventure published for it in '84. Thing is, I've never played that system, so I have no idea how "old-school D&D" is or not. (But I have played the WEG MasterBook and d6 Indiana Jones games, and those are very, very, very trad.)
 

Jack Daniel

OD&D Referee
2e was where "death at -10" started, right? That was a massive jump in survivability, effectively giving every first level wizard the HP of a 5th level 1e magic user.

No, that rule is only optional in 2e, and it comes from a similar but much more convoluted rule in 1e where a hit that brings a character down to as low as −3 might be survivable with some maiming/scarring and −10 is identified as absolutely dead no matter what.

2e "isn't old-school" for the reasons well-articulated by the author of the posted article: even though the mechanics didn't really change all that much to actually support and facilitate protagonist- and narrative-driven play, all the surrounding play-culture and textual advice constantly harped on how that's what the AD&D game was "supposed" to be (and what "everyone was already doing anyway" in spite of the old, maladapted rules).
 


bennet

Explorer
even though the mechanics didn't really change all that much to actually support and facilitate protagonist- and narrative-driven play, all the surrounding play-culture and textual advice constantly harped on how that's what the AD&D game was "supposed" to be (and what "everyone was already doing anyway" in spite of the old, maladapted rules).
tbh I have no idea what you are talking about. what was there in the DMG or PHB 2e that wasn't in the 1e which supports and facilitates protagonist/narration drastically more than 1e.

all I see is that there were 2e modules that did that like dragonlance, but what does that have to do with the ruleset, certainly dragon lance had no effect on my campaigns or how I ran them.
 


LoganRan

Explorer
...

As a finer-grained distinction, there is also (going back to the early parts of the OSR movement, starting around 2005 or so) the debate over when the D&D Old School ended. Some folks include 2nd ed AD&D due to its large degree of compatibility with 1st ed, but I'm generally in the camp that considers the old school to have largely ended once the Hickman Revolution launched in TSR with products like original Ravenloft and especially Dragonlance. Dragonlance was more or less the beginning of the Adventure Path concept, and essentially the point at which old school exploration and treasure hunting-centered play really left the spotlight, and heroic adventure questing/fantasy novel emulation became the more central focus of D&D design and play. In this interpretation, the Old School of D&D was basically the first ten years, around '74 to '84
I agree with this sentiment 100%.

I'm sure Tracy Hickman is a wonderful fellow but, for my money, he did more to "ruin" the game of D&D for me than any other individual. He started the beginning of the end and the Unearthed Arcana rules supplement put the final nail in the coffin on the mechanical side.
 

LoganRan

Explorer
Though the OSR is a little clearer, you can still run into issues where some people will at least defend it applying to retroclones of games of the same era (Cepheus Engine to pick a particularly stark example since unlike some of the others its not based on a one-time TSR product), but it gets particularly gritty when the people who expect "Old School" in general to only apply to D&D, with others using it, as you note, for things like RQ, Traveler, and Villains and Vigilantes.

(For particular fun, in a group about that, ask them if Champions (originally published in 1981) is Old School in the earlier versions (and make no doubt, there's a distinct sort of cultural break between people who never liked a version later than 4e (or sometime 3e) and people happy playing 5e or 6e); you can sometimes get resounding silence).
It's funny but I was thinking about whether or not Champions (aka the HERO system) would qualify as 'Old School' while reading the OP. I LOVE Champions but in all honesty I'm not sure it would meet my criteria of 'Old School' as it violates what I consider to be a central tenant of Old School play: character creation/advancement must be very simple. Champions most definitely does not meet that criteria.
 


MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
For me only 1e or earlier feels "old school" when talking about D&D. But that has more to do with my subjective, personal history with the game.

It feels "old school" to me when you have that awkward but magical combination of wargame chocolate mixed into your collaborative story-telling peanut butter. The dice are not ONLY just randomizers to facilitate improvised story telling, they also serve to inject chance into math-informed tactics.

I like some "old school" elements like deadlier play, XP for GP, somewhat crunch--but greatly abstracted--tactics, looser exploration and social pillars, etc., but I can play that just fine--easier in fact, with 5e.

When I think back to how D&D was played by most people I had exposure to playing with back in the 80s, I think video games made a lot that outdated. Detailed and complex charts to resolve combat are better handled by computers.

Of course, that just opens up a different can of worms, because a lot of that complexity was brought into the game with 1e. So 1e really isn't representative of how the game was originally played. But if you take the small-group/individual-level war game crunch out of it, its not the same candy.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I was going to upvote this comment and then, sadly, I remembered that EGG was responsible for most of the junk in Unearthed Arcana which, as I stated in an earlier post, was the death knell for 'Old School' gaming.

I just died a little inside. ;)
Gary Gygax is special and worth celebrating...
  • Not because he was a master game designer - he was informed but was also learning by the seat of his pants. Before you can have improvements someone has to put something out to be improved upon. We can acknowledge the accomplishments of the past while still moving forward.
  • Not because he was great writer - hey, I enjoy the quirks of his writing, and he had his moments, but I don't consider his writing to be wonderful.
  • Not because he held enlightened social views - some of the things he wrote didn't age well and can't be easily explained away by the time in which he was writing.
  • Not because he was brilliant business man -- plenty has been written about the history of TSR to make that clear.
But instead because:
  • He recognized the potential in Arneson's inchoate game
  • He had the experience, network, and work ethic to turn Arnesons jumbled notes into something someone else could use to learn to play and run their own games
  • He added a lot of his own creativity to it, much of it informed by the weird Sword & Sorcery literature of his use, which gave D&D its strange, magical feel
  • Despite some lapses due to ego and business interests, he was a life-long proponent of gaming and being open to games of all kinds
  • He was a vocal and often effective voice of reason defending the gaming community during the Satanic Panic, despite FBI investigations, being shunned by his own religious community, and heaps of negative media pressure.
If D&D has taught me anything, heroes are not perfect.
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
I was going to upvote this comment and then, sadly, I remembered that EGG was responsible for most of the junk in Unearthed Arcana which, as I stated in an earlier post, was the death knell for 'Old School' gaming.

I just died a little inside. ;)

It was rushed together to avoid bankruptcy...but also...as I have managed to mention the Arduin Grimoire (multiple times!), Spell Law, and Palladium in other recent threads....messy and half backed could be part of the true old school. So could ambitious and unbalanced. UA had all that, and polearm illustrations. Look at the OD&D supplements. Lots of creativity, but pretty rough around the edges.

It was the desire to smooth off the rough edges and settle everyone into a nice story that killed the Old School.
 

I think a lot of this depends on how old you are and when you started playing.

For me 1e/BEC and earlier is old school. Anything later is Middle school. I still see Unearthed Arcana as old school but it was the beginning of the end and Wilderness and Dungeoneer Survival Guides were the end of Old School.

3.x gets mentioned because it helped OSR via the OGL which permitted OSRIC and could be adapted to make it old school a la C&C. I don’t think 3.x is a streamlined MERP, having played both (and Rolemaster and Spacemaster).

The Champions discussion is interesting, I’d say anything before the Big Blue Book (was that 4th Edition?) was Old School Champions.
 

Hussar

Legend
Old School pretty much defines someone's tastes. The line that gets drawn is nearly always directly related to whatever line that particular person feels is when D&D "lost" something that it had before. IOW, all Old School actually means is "I like this, and I don't like that, but, in order to make my personal preference seem like it's based on anything other than purely personal taste, I'm going to draw this completely arbitrary line, call it "Old School" and then pretend like it's not simply a matter of personal taste."
 

Old School pretty much defines someone's tastes. The line that gets drawn is nearly always directly related to whatever line that particular person feels is when D&D "lost" something that it had before. IOW, all Old School actually means is "I like this, and I don't like that, but, in order to make my personal preference seem like it's based on anything other than purely personal taste, I'm going to draw this completely arbitrary line, call it "Old School" and then pretend like it's not simply a matter of personal taste."
I think that's uncharitable, though there are no doubt instances where it's accurate. I don't think "old school" is a value judgement. I like and enjoy every edition of D&D, each for its own virtues.

Do you really think the historical overview in the linked series of articles is purely about personal taste? I do think the OSR was started largely due to varying personal tastes, but there are observable changes over time in what was emphasized in adventures and other books TSR put out at different time periods. The differences between (e.g.) the 1E and 2E DMGs are pretty stark.
 

It's funny but I was thinking about whether or not Champions (aka the HERO system) would qualify as 'Old School' while reading the OP. I LOVE Champions but in all honesty I'm not sure it would meet my criteria of 'Old School' as it violates what I consider to be a central tenant of Old School play: character creation/advancement must be very simple. Champions most definitely does not meet that criteria.

I'd note by that standard, probably neither does RuneQuest. You didn't have as much consideration you'd have to put into it there, but the process was not trivial.
 

I think that's uncharitable, though there are no doubt instances where it's accurate. I don't think "old school" is a value judgement. I like and enjoy every edition of D&D, each for its own virtues.

It can seem to be very much a value judgment when encountered in the wild sometimes. That doesn't mean everyone who uses it (or particularly the OSR) is, but the heavy overtone of "kids these days" you hit in many cases of it is hard to miss.
 

It can seem to be very much a value judgment when encountered in the wild sometimes. That doesn't mean everyone who uses it (or particularly the OSR) is, but the heavy overtone of "kids these days" you hit in many cases of it is hard to miss.
Certainly there are grumbly grognards out there. :) As I recall, when I first joined Dragonsfoot, even 2nd edition was looked at askance, 3rd referred to as TETSNBN (The Edition That Shall Not Be Named), and 4th YAETSNBN (Yet Another Edition That Shall Not Be Named). :ROFLMAO:

Overall it's seemed to me that most of the edition warring and shade throwing at modern editions has died down over the last decade, but there are definitely some folks out there who can't seem to wrap their heads around the concept of "different strokes for different folks".
 


Liane the Wayfarer

Frumious Flumph
It's funny but I was thinking about whether or not Champions (aka the HERO system) would qualify as 'Old School' while reading the OP. I LOVE Champions but in all honesty I'm not sure it would meet my criteria of 'Old School' as it violates what I consider to be a central tenant of Old School play: character creation/advancement must be very simple. Champions most definitely does not meet that criteria.
I would argue that character advancement is simple, but character creation can be complex. The way I explain it is, with D&D you have to make increasingly complex choices when you "level up" your character -- more so in 3.0/3.5 and 4E than 5E, but it's still there; so the D&D system is "back-loaded," where you have to do more work later.

In Hero System, 99% of the complex choices you will ever have to do for your character is done in the very beginning. "Leveling up" your character usually takes only a few minutes, since it's just a matter of adding a few points here or there. So Hero System is "front-loaded."

Admittedly, I mostly run Heroic level games, where nobody is trying to create the power to erase half of the lifeforms in the universe in an instant, or something. Mostly they're just buying skills and slightly improving characteristics; that doesn't take long.
 

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