So to address this post more directly, I think the contribution from @rogueattorney
is helpful in illuminating some of the issues when it comes to discussing OSR or "old school" in general.
The first is that, as was helpfully pointed out, there was a specific movement in the very early early 2000s to clone rule-sets to enable people to play older versions of D&D
. This was a specific response to the time that I think some people have forgotten (or newer players aren't aware of). Since this was just covered, it doesn't need to be dealt with in depth again, but this was a reaction against WoTC and 3e.
In other words, because the older rulesets were not available, people craving the "TSR" experience instead of 3e looked to make their own, compatible rulesets (whether for OD&D, B/X BECMI RC, 1e, or 2e). Moreover, we see the explicit use of the name "old school" in two of the most prominent of these rulesets- OSRIC is Old School
Reference and Index Compilation. OSE is Old School
That said, I wouldn't say that the desire to clone (or clean up a little) the older rulesets necessarily carries a philosophical component. It was just people that were worried because their favorite games had disappeared, and they would rather play the older rules than the new-fangled 3e (at that time). Notably, this was specific to D&D, simply because it arose in a very specific context of a new edition being released and older editions were not available (and would not be officially until 2013).
However, there is a separate component to this, which both involves the older rules (and retroclones) and stands independent from them. I haven't done a deep dive on this, but I would say that, arguably, it rose to prominence as a reaction to 4e
. I could be wrong, but the earliest documents related to it as a philosophical movement (such as Matt Finch's primer) date to 2008. Arguably, "old school" or "OSR" is best conceived when thinking of a specific set of ideas as to "how to play" as a reaction against the direction of D&D- both 3e and the new 4e. Again, this is particular to D&D
because it arose both as a reaction to the current "direction" of the game, and because it presented a "historical" version of the game as the way to play. This included ideas like- resource management, regular characters (not superheroes), unbalanced scenarios that the players would have to chose how to solve, a reliance on rulings by the DM as opposed to rules, and the idea of "player skill" not "character skill" (aka, skilled play). Usually, there would be additional bits added in (mapping, hirelings, etc.).
Notably, like all movements that call for a return to the past, it presents a unified, but false vision of what the past was
. Obviously, and this should go without saying, the past is not a monolith. As you know, having read Elusive Shift
, there was a vast variety of playing styles and approaches to OD&D in the 70s. While I think that OSR captures some concepts from then that have fallen out of favor in more modern games, it is also necessary to point out that it is certainly not true that every game back then was an attrition-based megadungeon crawl with 10' poles and disposable waves of hirelings. As you are aware, the sheer weirdness of the games is captured by the fact that so many early RPGs were, in fact, simply spinoffs of D&D (one of my favorite anecdotes is that Superhero 2044, the first superhero RPG published in 1977, was actually the campaign notes from an OD&D game where the characters went through a portal and met up with comic book heroes).
Unfortunately, when you have a style that is explicitly rooted in the the rejection of modern gaming, it will often attract people that are along for the ride not because they are rejecting the rules of modern games, but because they are rejecting the sensibility of the people that are playing. In other words, the nostalgic attraction isn't rooted in the simplicity of the rules or the belief that these rules better allow for a better game for their table, but instead a nostalgic attraction for a time when (in their opinion) they didn't have to worry about appropriation, or risque art, or inclusive play. The adoption of this, for these people, is a rejection of the modern ansd a political statement.
...which is unfortunate. I think that the vast majority of people attracted to OSR or "old school" games, specifically to the various retroclones and versions of D&D
that seem to comprise the majority of the current "old school" market, just love aspects of the play or the rules. Others have stripped away the rulesets even more (this is FKR
, which is just the latest iteration of "rules lite, DM adjudicates" that has been part of the hobby since the 70s as well).
Anyway, those are my thoughts. I genuinely love the older games and the history involved, and I have a special appreciation for people like @Sacrosanct
that go out of their way to make inclusive OSR game, but it can be difficult to discuss these issues because they often get derailed for various reasons. Which is unfortunate, to me, because there are aspects of play that are worth discussing.
So, good luck!