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OSR Is there room in modern gaming for the OSR to bring in new gamers?

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Earlier there was a comment about “Everything grognards hate is good for new gamers.” Impudent comment aside, it got me thinking. Back in the early 80s, the game had a meteoric growth rate, so it seems that the old school style of play (being current at the time) did very well in bringing in new players. Now, 5e seems to also be doing a great job bringing in new players.

Has our community changed that much that not only is there no room in modern gaming for the OSR to bring in new gamers, but it’s actively harmful to bringing them in as that comment implies?

On one hand, I think there are elements of OSR games which might not have aged well as originally presented, but on the other, I still believe a game like B/X could be an excellent tool to being in new players. We seem to think that only the most recent edition should be used to bring in new gamers, and I don’t think I subscribe to that.

Thoughts?
 

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My take on old school vs. new school is that in the old days (the golden days, whatever you want to call it), characters died a lot more. It was a "badge of honor" if your character survived to 20th level. Stories and legends were weaved more for how your character died than what dungeon they overcame. Mechanically, old-school characters were fragile relative to 5E. My theory is grognards like myself feel 5E cheapens that experience since characters are not so fragile and at higher levels look more like Marvel superheroes.

Having played DCC ("dungeon crawl classics"), there's absolutely a market for old school 3d6 ability scores, "you're going to die a lot" games, at lower levels when you don't have hundreds of hours invested in the character.

Looking at the patterns of TSR, eventually gamers will get tired of the same old stuff and something dramatically different will move the market. It's not outside the realm of possibility that old-school gaming comes back as a simpler way to do things (albeit not necessarily mechanically balanced or fair).
 

Mark Hope

Adventurer
In the last two years, I've run B/X and AD&D games for new players, all of whom are still gaming with me. One went on to start his own group, which in turn spawned a third group, so my experience is that older editions can definitely bring in plenty of new players.

That said, I don't know that my games count as OSR - apart from a few years spent with 3e, I never stopped running TSR-era D&D. But I do know that older editions are not per se a barrier to entry for new players.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
There is room for new gamers in OSR.

But like said many times, OSR has to now explain and pitch its rules, worlds, and ideas. Everyone is not coming from the same background and genres of fantasy. OSR is known for its weak explanation of "why" and this hurts buy-in.
 
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Jack Daniel

Engines & Empires
When I run a public game, it's red box D&D. So any new players I introduce to D&D (and pre-plague, it was certainly a good number of them) learn the old-school game. How many of them go on to play 5e? Most of them, I'd wager, given the way I would hear them talk excitedly about the characters they created for other campaigns. But they also keep coming back to my table, and some of them turn around and learn to DM the system too (and I actually recommend Basic Fantasy RPG when they're learning, just because the books are so cheap and easy to get ahold of). The point is, it's not really one or the other. My table, at least, is turning out new players who play both.

OD&D and 5e cater to different desires, and it's not a matter of challenge vs. power fantasy, not really. From what I've seen, it's the difference between exploring a mysterious and dangerous environment while having few tools other than your wits to contend with what you find (think Myst plus monsters & death-traps) and creating a highly customizable OC that you get to take through a compelling story. These are two related but fundamentally separate hobbies, and understanding them that way carries, I think, a great deal of explanatory power concerning their appeal.

“Everything grognards hate is good for new gamers.”

Yikes. Whoever said that probably doesn't know how much grognards hate it when complex game mechanics get in the way of simple, try-anything, interrogation-and-response style play.
 
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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Part of the OSR world is very young and diverse, and wildly creative.

For example, look up the GLOG. It's an almost D&D system (you can use it to run low levels B/x adventures and it will work fine), designed for low level/low power characters, quick character creation, and extremely easy to design classes. You can be a fighter, a wizard or a thief, sure, but you could also be a cannoneer, a monkey dad, a gun priest.

Probably the best ruleset (there are many versions): OSR: GLOG-based Homebrew v.2: Many Rats on Sticks Edition
 

TerraDave

5ever
B/X D&D brought in so many players, and of course you could run it with them now. As they say, with the right DM...

I would run it as it often was back then, in a way for more forgiving to new players and generally looser and more rules (and roles) as guidelines then definitive requirements. This is where the modern OSR approach may differ.
 

Earlier there was a comment about “Everything grognards hate is good for new gamers.” Impudent comment aside, it got me thinking. Back in the early 80s, the game had a meteoric growth rate, so it seems that the old school style of play (being current at the time) did very well in bringing in new players. Now, 5e seems to also be doing a great job bringing in new players.

Has our community changed that much that not only is there no room in modern gaming for the OSR to bring in new gamers, but it’s actively harmful to bringing them in as that comment implies?
A key difference between now and the early 1980s is the state and role of video games. Old school D&D with its focus on dungeon exploration and its comparative minimising of the connection between characters and the world to me aspires to be one of a huge range of CRPGs. There is a massive demand for that sort of thing - but in 1983, if you didn't have an Apple II and Ultima almost every RPG I can think of was almost purely text based - meaning that for visualisation a map and minis was outright superior. The 1983 boom was at a specific place in time.

By 1986 things had changed. The old days were over. Gygax had been forced out of TSR. The Dragonlance Saga was dominating D&D. And more importantly what a cRPG (and computer action adventure game) was had changed drastically with two 1986 games being the start of a sea change; Dragon Warriors/Dragonquest and the original The Legend of Zelda demonstrating that you could have approachable exploration heavy cRPGs with interaction with NPCs.

I'm going to say directly that the original 1986 Legend of Zelda is a better game of dungeon exploration than all but the very best old school games and if we skip forward a decade The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time's Water Temple is a meatier exploration dungeon almost than is possible within the realms of tabletop play. And it's far faster and more responsive with it. Skip forward another decade and World of Warcraft has team exploration and dungeon mastery in dungeons more fully realised than any DM can manage.

Can players be brought in by either (a) good communities or (b) a pitch like "It's WoW but just with good people, no griefers, and where you can do things the programmers never thought of" by someone they consider a friend? Yes. A good DM is still an excellent tool for bringing in new gamers no matter what the game system or style. People still get together to play Monopoly or Risk with friends and those are games that are not just surpassed by other media, but actively bad games because people are more important.

It's not only the OSR that struggles this way compared to their heyday. Adventure Paths are always going to struggle as The Story of Cloud Strife, the Story of Sora, The Story of Commander Shepherd, the Story of Geralt of Rivia, the Story of Aloy, the Story of Joker, or the Story of Zagreus (to name a few examples) are going to be both more detailed and better targeted than an adventure path and we've basically seen the back of the "realistic" RPG designed to cover every possible combination, with e.g. Hitman 3 or Breath of the Wild able to cope with interactions far better while handling everything in real time.

Which is why modern RPGs tend to focus on PC-PC interactions (which is a central feature of Critical Role of course), worlds the PCs are a part of and get to flesh out rather than getting Isikai'd there, and other places where tabletop RPGs still have a significant advantage over CRPGs. And it's these sorts of things that may have been referred to as things good for modern gamers that grognards hate.
 

LoganRan

Explorer
OD&D and 5e cater to different desires, and it's not a matter of challenge vs. power fantasy, not really. From what I've seen, it's the difference between exploring a mysterious and dangerous environment while having few tools other than your wits to contend with what you find (think Myst plus monsters death-traps) and creating a highly customizable OC that you get to take through a compelling story. These are two related but fundamentally separate hobbies, and understanding them that way carries, I think, a great deal of explanatory power concerning their appeal.
This paragraph, particularly the part I bolded, so clearly states exactly why I love old-school gaming. For me, the game will always be about the adventure, not my character. My favorite adventure of all time is the oft derided "funhouse dungeon", White Plume Mountain, precisely because of its crazy, fantastic environment which was an absolute joy to experience.

By the by, I was looking at the cover of the Moldvay Basic book yesterday and only then noticed that the tag line reads: Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Adventure Game, not Fantasy Role Playing Game (although it does use the second phrase at the bottom of the cover.)
 

Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
I have no nostalgia for our first six months of playing D&D Basic in 1980. The characters died all the time. It was unfun to us. When we switched to AD&D a decision was made to do a heroic campaign with the scope of LOTR. That is when D&D became fun for us. It's not a modern thing. We did that 41 years ago.

As for the OP, sure why not, parents teach D&D to their children with the edition they prefer.

Spent the winter of 2021 reading B/X and Old School Essentials. I don't want to go there. If I was to teach D&D specifically to someone these days I would use the 5e Essential Kits. If I was to teach fantasy RPG to someone I would use Fantasy AGE instead.
 
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AmerginLiath

Adventurer
The old systems served by or emulated by the OSR were puzzle boxes. The design of the dungeons and traps, the monsters to avoided rather than necessarily fought, and the characters with few in-game bells and whistles, those all were built around the players navigating by their own wits various challenges. The modern game’s fleshing out over time of the adventure plot and in particular the character (with its codified abilities) as the means through which the PC makes their decisions and actions more directly has changed that dynamic (and the role of monsters — with the switch from “gold as XP” to monster XP as a driver — has accompanied the switch in plot drivers).

Neither is a wrong way to play, and what we see in later D&D was present in other “crunchier” games early on (notice the design credentials for other systems the crew for 3rd edition had, for example). Likewise, many streamlined games of new systems run on more similar conceits to the older D&D model, even if there’s not the complex post-wargaming chassis (the modern D&D math is far more elegant and not the determinant either way — indeed, part of why many OSR games work is that their OGL math works better than the BX or AD&D math they’re emulating). It’s simply a matter of which focus a given game presents to players.

I see a number of blogs of writers playing AD&D or OSR with their kids and their kids’ friends, due to that open-world/puzzle box nature (even if these same writers also play 5th edition themselves). I’m reminded of how I was introduced to AD&D as a child in the same manner, stumbling through avoiding dangers and figuring out how to open dungeon gates (while quickly learning how not to get killed). As much as the ongoing stories of WotC-era D&D have given me some of my best gaming memories over my adult life, I still always think back to the AD&D of my childhood and teen years and consider how well that works as a Beer & Pretzel problem-solving game on the order of many board games. I think the OSR can approach things like that in presentation and marketing to some succes.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I will say this, and yeah, I admit it's my own experience, but I find it much better to use B/X for new players who are also younger kids, than 5e, or even 5e basic. With the streamlined rules of B/X (less to learn), it's not only easier for them, but kids have a great imagination. They constantly just use that imagination to come up with new and interesting ways to address challenges, often not bothering to look at the character sheet at all. I love that. They don't have preconceived notions of what a PC can or can't do within the rules like experienced players have, and it seems that the imaginations of kids are much more open to all different types of ideas. That old school style of "players used their wits rather than codified character abilities or tools" lends very well to the unbridled imagination of children, IME.
 

Imaro

Hero
I don't think it's all about the rules themselves, I think the OSR has an image issue. Whether it's deserved or not the OSR (products and people involved in it) have a reputation for being unwelcoming to people of color. people of alternate lifestyles and so on... and lacking the willingness to change in order to become more welcoming.
 

Retreater

Legend
Yes. I think it needs a new name, though. Calling it "Old School" has appeal to grognards and traditionalists. I've brought a few new-ish gamers into OSR, but they're conservative guys in their 30s-40s. I don't think a name like that will have appeal to kids/teens (as someone who has run game programs for those ages as a part of my job).
I also think that we should be aware of the style in the classic products and realize that for most younger players, old art and layout will seem very dated. The same with charts, negative AC, etc. Think about how video games have been designed with skill points, increasing armor ratings, etc., and you'll see that this is a concept that is easier for young people to grasp.
It's like any form of art. There are young people who will be fans of classic movies or old music, and there are now enough people being introduced to the hobby that there is something for everyone.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
Has our community changed that much that not only is there no room in modern gaming for the OSR to bring in new gamers, but it’s actively harmful to bringing them in as that comment implies?
I think the most important factor in bringing in new gamers is an enthusiastic player/GM who will teach them the ropes. Get them excited, and they'll happily learn any system.
 

Mistwell

Crusty Old Meatwad
Yes. I think it needs a new name, though. Calling it "Old School" has appeal to grognards and traditionalists. I've brought a few new-ish gamers into OSR, but they're conservative guys in their 30s-40s. I don't think a name like that will have appeal to kids/teens (as someone who has run game programs for those ages as a part of my job).
I also think that we should be aware of the style in the classic products and realize that for most younger players, old art and layout will seem very dated. The same with charts, negative AC, etc. Think about how video games have been designed with skill points, increasing armor ratings, etc., and you'll see that this is a concept that is easier for young people to grasp.
It's like any form of art. There are young people who will be fans of classic movies or old music, and there are now enough people being introduced to the hobby that there is something for everyone.
A lot of 20-somethings want to be able to say to other 20-somethings that they played an old school game at least once. Just to experience how it used to be. And a lot of the reason is a lot of the "experts" they watch in YouTube videos on D&D mention they grew up on those old school games. They want to see that old art and layout. They want to see the obscure negative AC chart because they've seen dozens of memes about THACO and want to experience it for themselves.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think the premise of this thread, and many of the responses, absolutely misunderstands what OSR is. It is not a return to older editions of D&D, although that's a small part of it. It is, instead, a massively creative movement that is taking games in new directions altogether, based on a few core assumptions about play. Just playing Red Box is not OSR, that's just playing Red Box. OSR has many very interesting and rather different from old editions (and new editions) of D&D. It's not locked into recreating, it's instead centered on some of the play agendas that were part of some older editions.

Five Torches Deep, for example, is an OSR game that uses 5e to create a "old school" feel. It's not just older editions.

As such, of course OSR has plenty of great capability to bring in new players. Hell, if you've played Gloomhaven, you've played and OSR onramp. If you've played the computer game Darkest Dungeon, you've actually played an OSR game -- Torchbearer. And that game is based off of Mouse Guard, which is semi-OSR, and that game is based off of Burning Wheel, which is very Indie and not OSR.
 

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