OSR A Historical Look at the OSR

We had a lengthy thread discussing whether introducing people to gaming via OSR games was harmful. It’s not like shade doesn’t also get cast the other way.
Absolutely. Though, honestly, no one in that thread was as aggressive as I've seen some OS proponents being, but that's probably the "besieged minority" effect in operation.

(There was also the issue of the association with OS with certain particularly socially retrograde parts of the hobby, which gets really complex to unpack, since its not fair to tar the whole part of the hobby with that, but on the other hand you don't have to wander far into the OS hinterlands to hit that bigtime).
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

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.

Well, as you say, adding a +1 to a skill or buying a new perk is trivial. But that's always been a distinction hard to make for outsiders; 90% of the character creation complexity in incarnations of Hero is in buying powers, whether superpowers, psionic abilities, or spells. Once you pull the power system out, its just not all that on a complexity level.

But of course I did use Champions as an example, so you can have situations with advancement where someone is, say, buying a new multipower slot, and that can potentially be time consuming. But even there a lot of advancement is spent buying another combat level or pipping up an attribute, and that's hardly complex.
 

LoganRan

Explorer
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.
Yes, you are correct about the distinction between character creation vs. character advancement in Champions/HERO system. I was just lazy and didn't bother to make the distinction myself but the game still fails my Old School = simple character creation (or character advancement) test.

As I said in my OP, I love me some Champions, I just don't consider it truly 'Old School' even though it is an old system.
 

Yes, you are correct about the distinction between character creation vs. character advancement in Champions/HERO system. I was just lazy and didn't bother to make the distinction myself but the game still fails my Old School = simple character creation (or character advancement) test.

As I said in my OP, I love me some Champions, I just don't consider it truly 'Old School' even though it is an old system.

How do you feel about Traveler or RQ? Neither of them has the completely minimalist character gen of OD&D.
 

The author of the post the OP linked to addresses whether non dnd games are "OSR" in post V on the topic:

Not included anywhere above is a vague "old games" category. Some with no grounding in the history of the OSR have become fixated on the "old-school" part of the OSR label and, taking "old-school" to mean only "older than I am" have begun applying to any suitably (arbitrarily) old RPG. As such, you get games like Traveller and Gamma World and RuneQuest and Champions and WEG Star Wars slotted here. Some people now ask if 3rd edition D&D is included, seeing as it's over two decades old at this point. I think any serious reflection would make a person realize that a so-called movement that can encompass D&D, Bunnies & Burrows, Traveller, and Teenagers From Outer Space is conceptually useless except in the broadest categorizational sense (i.e. "RPGs"), but as this confusion occurs all the same I felt it worth covering.

I don't necessarily agree because perhaps the principles of play that the OSR (Matt Finch etc) articulated were at least indirectly also influenced by those other games?
 

Mezuka

Adventurer
Else where they use the word Simulacra to refer to more recent RPGs that emulate the old D&D editions.

It has beens said that 2e isn't really old school even if published by TSR. The removal of XPs for treasures and the shift to a more campaign arc oriented play and less sandbox being the major reasons.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen
The author of the post the OP linked to addresses whether non dnd games are "OSR" in post V on the topic:

Article said:
Not included anywhere above is a vague "old games" category. Some with no grounding in the history of the OSR have become fixated on the "old-school" part of the OSR label and, taking "old-school" to mean only "older than I am" have begun applying to any suitably (arbitrarily) old RPG. As such, you get games like Traveller and Gamma World and RuneQuest and Champions and WEG Star Wars slotted here. Some people now ask if 3rd edition D&D is included, seeing as it's over two decades old at this point. I think any serious reflection would make a person realize that a so-called movement that can encompass D&D, Bunnies & Burrows, Traveller, and Teenagers From Outer Space is conceptually useless except in the broadest categorizational sense (i.e. "RPGs"), but as this confusion occurs all the same I felt it worth covering.

I don't necessarily agree because perhaps the principles of play that the OSR (Matt Finch etc) articulated were at least indirectly also influenced by those other games?

Perhaps indirectly? But I think the article's author is correct that older games span a very wide range of play styles, and while I don't mind calling them all "old school" in that sense, I don't think they consistently share in, for example, the OSR principles of play as expressed by Finch. SOME may share in some of them, but I think he's completely right that "a so-called movement that can encompass D&D, Bunnies & Burrows, Traveller, and Teenagers From Outer Space [My insert: and Champions] is conceptually useless except in the broadest categorizational sense".

Else where they use the word Simulacra to refer to more recent RPGs that emulate the old D&D editions.
Ah, I haven't seen much use of Simulacra in that sense yet (I think on Dragonsfoot they use that as an umbrella term both for new OSR games and retroclones), but it makes sense as a term. I sometimes also see "NuSR" or "OSR-adjacent", and I think there's another term I'm blanking on.

It has beens said that 2e isn't really old school even if published by TSR. The removal of XPs for treasures and the shift to a more campaign arc oriented play and less sandbox being the major reasons.
Yup. Which is part of why in my OP I articulate that I generally see the old school of D&D as ending around the '84-'85 period. There are a bunch of markers there. The beginning of the Adventure Path/Fantasy Novel Emulation model of adventure design, with Dragonlance. The beginning of AD&D getting a skill system, with OA, the WSG and DSG. Gygax leaving the company. And in other modules and in general discussion (in Dragon's Forum and such venues) you start to see the seeds of 2E removing xp for gp as a core rule, as happened in '89.
 

LoganRan

Explorer
How do you feel about Traveler or RQ? Neither of them has the completely minimalist character gen of OD&D.
Never played either system.

I do know that Traveler's character creation system is...unique. As in, "Hey, I just died in character creation" unique. ;)

Runequest is the one that anthropomorphic ducks as a player race, correct? Hard pass.
 

The author of the post the OP linked to addresses whether non dnd games are "OSR" in post V on the topic:



I don't necessarily agree because perhaps the principles of play that the OSR (Matt Finch etc) articulated were at least indirectly also influenced by those other games?

In any case, I suspect the attempt to keep "ownership" of the term "Old School" to apply only to D&D is a ship that has sailed. Not that its stopping people.

Its probably easier to try and fence off "OSR", but then you still have the question of things like Cepheus Engine and ZEPHrys.
 

Perhaps indirectly? But I think the article's author is correct that older games span a very wide range of play styles, and while I don't mind calling them all "old school" in that sense, I don't think they consistently share in, for example, the OSR principles of play as expressed by Finch. SOME may share in some of them, but I think he's completely right that "a so-called movement that can encompass D&D, Bunnies & Burrows, Traveller, and Teenagers From Outer Space [My insert: and Champions] is conceptually useless except in the broadest categorizational sense".

Ironically, the original edition of Bunnies and Burrows had a lot more to do with what the author considers the core elements of "Old School" than I think he's giving it credit for.
 

Never played either system.

I do know that Traveler's character creation system is...unique. As in, "Hey, I just died in character creation" unique. ;)

Runequest is the one that anthropomorphic ducks as a player race, correct? Hard pass.

It does, though that's a pretty minor element of the setting. You could go a long time playing RQ without seeing one of those. It was (originally) very setting specific, though.
 

Ironically, the original edition of Bunnies and Burrows had a lot more to do with what the author considers the core elements of "Old School" than I think he's giving it credit for.
Yeah... I appreciate that those posts have so many citations to things like blog and forum posts, but reading in between the lines the authors seems to want to constrain OSR to correspond to an evergreen AD&D 1e game (he indicates a split between the b/x/OSE rules lite segment of the OSR and the 1e players).
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen
Ironically, the original edition of Bunnies and Burrows had a lot more to do with what the author considers the core elements of "Old School" than I think he's giving it credit for.
I don't think he would argue otherwise. I think he's pointing out that the disparity between B&B and, say, Teenagers from Outer Space (which I also have and enjoyed making characters for as an adolescent) is so broad that saying they're both Old School really says nothing about the games themselves other than that they're old. They don't share a "school".

Yeah... I appreciate that those posts have so many citations to things like blog and forum posts, but reading in between the lines the authors seems to want to constrain OSR to correspond to an evergreen AD&D 1e game (he indicates a split between the b/x/OSE rules lite segment of the OSR and the 1e players).
OSR started off meaning one thing, and has gradually broadened over time, to the point where some ways the term is used are semantically pretty meaningless. People lament this in places like the OSR Reddit pretty regularly. That it's become a marketing term used indiscriminately. 🤷‍♂️

For my part I think "mechanically compatible with old school D&D" is a useful thing to be shorthand for, but I tend to conceptualize the OSR at least a little more broadly than JUST that.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
It has beens said that 2e isn't really old school even if published by TSR. The removal of XPs for treasures and the shift to a more campaign arc oriented play and less sandbox being the major reasons.

?It's been said?

2e is not old school.

Arguably, anything from UA on in 1e (and certainly anything post-85, when you got DSG and WSG) is not old school.

I think very credible arguments can be made that anything after 1983 cannot even be considered old school when it comes to D&D, with the best dividing line being the publication of I6 Ravenloft at the end of '83.
 


I don't think he would argue otherwise. I think he's pointing out that the disparity between B&B and, say, Teenagers from Outer Space (which I also have and enjoyed making characters for as an adolescent) is so broad that saying they're both Old School really says nothing about the games themselves other than that they're old. They don't share a "school".

Not the takeaway I got, which was "D&D is not like these other things." It really is like B&B in many ways (and I think I'd make an argument that it was more like original Traveler than I suspect he's giving it credit for, too). Gamma World/Metamorphosis Alpha were too. You can certainly draw a thematic line between all of those and the other games on the list, but unless the definition is as much about mechanics as theme and approach, separating off the other four doesn't make much sense (Traveler perhaps a bit more than the other three) unless you're just privledging D&D for "reasons".
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Absolutely. Though, honestly, no one in that thread was as aggressive as I've seen some OS proponents being, but that's probably the "besieged minority" effect in operation.
The premise that spawned the thread — that a particular style of play can be harmful — isn’t particularly great. That’s not justifying or pardoning crappy OSR proponents. Edition warring crap is toxic nonsense regardless of who does it. It does seem particularly crappy when it’s the dominant style punching down. You want to have a conversation about a particular system, and people are quick to chime in how 5e does things right in this way or that, or that those systems are broken some way. It doesn’t even have to be an OSR game. That’s basically the PF2 forum here in a nutshell over so many ridiculous threads. 😒

(There was also the issue of the association with OS with certain particularly socially retrograde parts of the hobby, which gets really complex to unpack, since its not fair to tar the whole part of the hobby with that, but on the other hand you don't have to wander far into the OS hinterlands to hit that bigtime).
I was disappointed that the fifth article seemed to gloss over that. I agree it’s not fair to paint the whole OSR that way, but I think it’s something one needs to acknowledge (even if obliquely).
 
Last edited:

Egon Spengler

"We eat gods for breakfast!"
In any case, I suspect the attempt to keep "ownership" of the term "Old School" to apply only to D&D is a ship that has sailed. Not that its stopping people.

It's not a matter of owning the generic term "old school" (or having "old school" itself be any kind of value judgement); it's a matter of linguistic precision. The OSR was founded by old-school D&D players mostly interested in old-school D&D, with any interest in other old games being sporadic and largely incidental. Quite naturally, those original OSRites are not too terribly keen on the OSR "brand" being diluted.

It's not that there are a gaggle of grodnards out there who all hate Tunnels & Trolls, Traveller, and RuneQuest; or at least, I'm certainly not aware of any. Rather, it's D&D enthusiasts who are peeved that they now have to specify "old-school D&D" where previously—for at least a decade of online discussion and creativity—the specificity could just be assumed.

Like the article said: barreling into an OSR discussion space and assuming everybody wants to talk about Champions is a bit like pestering a vintage Ford forum about vintage Chevys, because, hey, we're all fans of old cars here, right?
 

Hussar

Legend
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.
Oh, absolutely it was uncharitable. I make no apologies for that. OSR is nearly always a very large blunt instrument to use in beating people over the head and attempts to claim ownership and gatekeeping in the community.

There's a significant difference between "I like older versions of D&D" which is perfectly fine, and the general tone of many (certainly not all, but a significant number) of OSR voices that veritably drip with either "git off my lawn" or "go woke, go broke" type attitudes. I mean, good grief, you've got NuTSR right there, banking on OSR feelings.

Or, put it another way. Whenever some social issue in the game comes up - be it gender issues, race, whatever, there is a very large overlap in the venn diagram of people that oppose the idea and play OSR games.
 

bennet

Explorer
Oh, absolutely it was uncharitable. I make no apologies for that. OSR is nearly always a very large blunt instrument to use in beating people over the head and attempts to claim ownership and gatekeeping in the community.

There's a significant difference between "I like older versions of D&D" which is perfectly fine, and the general tone of many (certainly not all, but a significant number) of OSR voices that veritably drip with either "git off my lawn" or "go woke, go broke" type attitudes. I mean, good grief, you've got NuTSR right there, banking on OSR feelings.

Or, put it another way. Whenever some social issue in the game comes up - be it gender issues, race, whatever, there is a very large overlap in the venn diagram of people that oppose the idea and play OSR games.
There is probably an overlap between people who take Viagra and play OSR too, not sure what your point is. People want to play OSR because of childhood nostalgia, simpler rules, not because they care about a few people on twitters pronouns.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top