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RPG Evolution: Is the OSR Dead?

As kids who grew up with Dungeons & Dragons have gotten older, they've entered a new phase of gaming. These adult gamers now have enough influence as customers and game designers to return tabletop gaming to its roots. But if their efforts to bring back a past industry end up shaping the future of gaming, is it really Old School anymore? Picture courtesy of Pixabay. The Four Year Cycle To...

As kids who grew up with Dungeons & Dragons have gotten older, they've entered a new phase of gaming. These adult gamers now have enough influence as customers and game designers to return tabletop gaming to its roots. But if their efforts to bring back a past industry end up shaping the future of gaming, is it really Old School anymore?


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

The Four Year Cycle

To explain the popularity of the OSR, it's helpful to understand what changed about gamers: they grew up. In the early days of gaming, the time available to early role-players was much more limited, as Kenneth Hite explains:
Role-playing gamers traditionally enter the hobby around ages 12 or 13, before high school. They play until age 16 (dropping out with the availability of a car, and the concomitant expansion of available competing activities), re-enter the hobby in college (when mobility and choice are artificially constrained again) and drift out of it after graduation, marriage, childbirth, or other life changes. By this understanding, a typical gaming group lasts only four years at the most...
That cycle is no longer true. The "graduation, marriage, childbirth," etc. has its own duration, and once life settled in older gamers rediscovered the role-playing games they loved. Their limited time made them crave games they knew, the ones they grew up with. Mike Mearls, Senior Manager of Dungeons & Dragons Research and Design, outlined the dilemma facing today's gamers on a PAX East Panel:
I believe that's what's really happening to tabletop roleplaying, is that it used to be a hobby of not playing the game you want to play. And there are so many games now that you can play to fill all those hours of gaming, you can actually game now, and that what's happening is that RPGs needed that time, we, a GM or DM needed that time to create the adventure or create a campaign, a player needed that time to create a character, allocate skill ranks and come up with a background, and come up, you know, write out your three-page essay on who your character was before the campaign. That time is getting devoured, that time essentially I think is gone, that you could play stuff that lets you then eventually play a game or you can just play a game. And people are just playing games now.
This nostalgia fueled the creation of many imitators, some successful, some not -- and the brand owners of D&D had a sometimes contentious relationship with their fans, as well shall see.

Love D&D, but Don't LOVE D&D

Budding game designers have always tinkered with the games of the past. Throughout the 90s, a lot of energy went into improving Dungeons & Dragons without really breaking fully away from it. Ron Edwards called them "fantasy heartbreakers," which he described as:
...truly impressive in terms of the drive, commitment, and personal joy that's evident in both their existence and in their details - yet they are also teeth-grindingly frustrating, in that, like their counterparts from the late 70s, they represent but a single creative step from their source: old-style D&D. And unlike those other games, as such, they were doomed from the start.
One of the reasons "fantasy heartbreakers" existed was because there was no legal means for aspiring game designers to easily launch their own variants. Frank Mentzer, the father of the BECMI version of D&D, explained to me in an interview:
In the Bad Old Days, TSR filed a lot legal actions against fans who tried to publish things that, in the opinion of TSR's lawyers, infringed on their property. But in 2000, WotC created the "Open Game License" (OGL), which changed all that. If another company published an adventure for the D&D game and simply included that License (a one-page thing), they didn't get sued. Wizards didn't have to beat up their fans to appease the lawyers!
Eventually, the tide turned as gamers became less interested in improving on D&D and more in recapturing the elements of the game they enjoyed. They also had a back catalog of content they wanted to play again, so compatibility was paramount. The proliferation of older gamers and the Open Game License (OGL) primed the market for a gaming renaissance. What, exactly, that renaissance constitutes is open to interpretation.

What's OSR Anyway?

Shannon Appelcline defined the OSR in Designers & Dragons:
The OSR in OSRIC stands for “Old School Reference.” The grassroots movement that it generated also uses the abbreviation OSR, but with a different meaning: usually “Old School Renaissance,” but maybe “Old School Revival.” Some people also say that OSR can mean “Open Source Rules,” since that was the initial intent of OSRIC — though this idea has faded in recent years.
Mentzer defined OSR a little more broadly:
Whether the "R" in OSR is Renaissance, Revival, Resurgence, or something else, the "OSR" is simply a Re-appreciation of the simplicity of the original games.
Whatever the definition, the sheer number of OSR-style products in the early aughts meant it was more than a passing fad. Eventually, the OSR became so powerful that it began shaping how designers thought about game design, most specifically the latest incarnation of Dungeons & Dragons. Mentzer explained what changed when I interviewed him:
The evolution and changes in the D&D game have often increased what we designers call 'granularity' -- the level of detail at which you handle combat and other events. But when it's more granular, it takes more time to resolve all those details, and that means a slower game. This is neither right nor wrong, but is definitely a Style. If a player learns a 'newschool' game and is happy with it, great; I'm absolutely in favor of ANY game that we play face-to-face, in contrast to the online or computer game experience. If that player is then introduced to a less-granular game with faster play, he or she may incline toward it, and often that way points toward Old School.
The OGL would provide designers a means of expressing all of these play styles and more.

Enter the OGL

Ryan Dancey, VP at Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) leading Dungeons & Dragons at the time, launched the OGL with the intent of ensuring D&D would live on in perpetuity. Citing the Theory of Network Externalities, Dancey envisioned a license that would bolster sales of the main Dungeons & Dragons rule books by encouraging more players to play ANY role-playing game. Dancey called this the Skaff effect, named after game designer Skaff Elias:
All marketing and sales activity in a hobby gaming genre eventually contributes to the overall success of the market share leader in that genre.
Using the OGL, WOTC's efforts opened the way for game companies to take on the risky costs of creating adventures, while supporting the sales of the three core rule books that made up Dungeons & Dragons: the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual. By opening the license to small developers, the gaming scene exploded, with more content than ever before. In addition to the sales benefits to WOTC, Dancey also hoped that the OGL would encourage innovation:
The other great effect of Open Gaming should be a rapid, constant improvement in the quality of the rules. With lots of people able to work on them in public, problems with math, with ease of use, of variance from standard forms, etc. should all be improved over time. The great thing about Open Gaming is that it is interactive -- someone figures out a way to make something work better, and everyone who uses that part of the rules is free to incorporate it into their products. Including us. So D&D as a game should benefit from the shared development of all the people who work on the Open Gaming derivative of D&D.
This allowed some interesting divergent paths for fantasy role-playing, but perhaps not in the way Dancey expected. Chad Perrin explains:
The result was growing troubles in the implicit partnership between WotC and the publishers that produced competing works. In an effort to differentiate their products from the WotC products that were eating into their markets, some of these publishers (e.g. Crafty Games and Green Ronin Publishing) started producing their own variations on the d20 System for fantasy RPGs, diluting the core game market for WotC in an attempt to remain solvent in the face of an invasion of the niches WotC had created for them by WotC itself.
The advent of the Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons was a turning point for the OGL, fragmenting fans of the game. Perrin divided them into three groups:
One was the old school, "grognard" market that preferred D&D editions prior to 3E, often the older the better; another was the d20 System market, a mix of people who started with 3E and liked it there and those who passed through two, three, even four or so major D&D product line upheavals and found 3E the best so far in a steady improvement lifecycle; and the 4E gamers, who found its tactical complexity and balance superior to anything that came before and prioritized that higher than other aspects of the D&D game that had previously been at least equal partners with the tactical aspects since the original D&D emerged from the Chainmail miniatures game in the '70s.
The "grognard" market would go on to strongly influence future games by tailoring the OGL to recreate the kind of games they enjoyed as kids. Mearls explains what he thinks went right and wrong:
In the end, it failed to achieve the same type of success as open source software. In table top gaming, "open source" became a value neutral entry fee to gain access to the D&D mechanics. We never saw the iterative design process embraced by software developers primarily because RPGs lack easily defined metrics for quality, success, and useful features, a big shortcoming compared to software.
The OSR wasn't about "rapid, constant improvement in the quality of rules" but rather what rules they could remove to mimic the feel of earlier editions. The OSR ended up looking more backward than forward. That doesn't take away from the remarkable innovation that the OGL engendered. Marty Walser credits Dancey and the OGL for the OSR's success:
Without Ryan Dancey, it is uncertain whether the OSR (Old School Revival) movement would still exist... Or at the very least, it would look nothing like it does today. Ryan Dancey made it possible for all of us to play D&D compatible games until eternity, because regardless of what happens to D&D as a brand, D&D as a game will forever live on.

Making Peace With the Past

One of the ongoing challenges that TSR faced was the fragmentation of its player base between different settings and different editions, as described by Allen Rausch:
The many settings also contributed to something called "Brand Dilution." The original Dungeons & Dragons brand stood for something. You knew essentially what you were getting when you bought a D&D product. All of these new settings began to play havoc with the rule sets and philosophy of the game. As the settings grew more popular, they began to diverge from one another, advancing along their chosen philosophical paths, essentially becoming their own separate games. In not too many years, players had stopped identifying themselves as D&D players and were instead identifying themselves by the setting they played in.
With the advent of the Internet, publishers no longer had control over the obsolescence of a game -- games could live on forever in digital format. WOTC's acquisition of TSR and the D&D brand paved the way for new editions, but it also inherited TSR's baggage. WOTC was faced with a choice: continue waging TSR's battle against the proliferation of D&D clones or embrace them.

The OGL, modeled after open software design, was a key part of how content was shared on the Internet. But the OGL didn't work out that way, as Mearls explains:
There was a time when I pictured an active community of designers, all grinding away on D&D to make it better. I think that happened, but only in a fragmentary manner. Some people wanted levels gone, others wanted hit points fixed (with "fixed" defined differently for each group). At the end of the day, most people wanted books of monsters, character options, and adventures. Products either stuck with the baseline or created a new baseline for a fragment of the original audience to then stick to.
It took some time, but eventually the open-design thinking seeped into the development of the Fifth Edition of D&D -- undoubtedly influenced by the fact that Mearls' gaming cred was grounded in dozens of OGL-powered products. He explained in an interview:
I think that if we do our jobs right, that fragmentation will give way to a shared language like you saw with the SRD and the games it helped spawn. In terms of game designers, I think that, again, if we do this right they’ll have a nice starting point to tinker with in creating their own ideas.
WOTC helped fuel the OSR by re-releasing the original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set and reprinting the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons tomes. It was a sea change for the D&D brand. WOTC recognized that there was a market for older products and even supported them by releasing older editions of D&D in PDF format. Steve Wieck, COO of OneBookShelf, Inc., shared with me in an interview:
We have been in constant dialogue with Wizards every year since we opened our virtual doors. Granted that from 2009 to 2011 there wasn’t a lot of dialogue to have, but as the next edition was announced and Wizards has geared up support for all prior editions, we started having constructive dialogue with the team at Wizards last year. It was a jaw-dropper for me when Wizards let us know that they had already collected hundreds upon hundreds of classic titles and had them all re-digitized at high resolution. Wizards had not been idle on the digital product front.
Since WOTC's embrace of its digital back catalog, there have been many OSR variants, each encompassing a different style and edition of past versions of D&D. One of the more popular is OSRIC, as Appelcline explained:
Today most people mark the release of OSRIC (2006) as the start of the grassroots OSR movement. This was the first actual retroclone; it tried to specifically recreate a past game system (AD&D) rather than just recreating its feel — as Castles & Crusades had. In addition, OSRIC wasn’t a commercial release. It was instead a free download that was mainly intended to give publishers a legal basis for publishing AD&D modules.
OSRIC was just the beginning. Castles & Crusades from Troll Lord Games streamlines the OGL rules so they are more in the spirit of the Original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set. HackMaster by Kenzer and Company continued a series of compatible rules for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Mentzer explains how the OGL helped the proliferation:
That gave rise to various reincarnations of the original games -- OD&D, Holmes, Moldvay, BECMI, 1st and 2nd edition Advanced, and others (oft called 'clones', though they're not really) -- and now every fan can publish legally, just by including that OGL (and following its rules of course). Before those 'clones', you had to pay out $100 or more to get those out-of-print rules, but now these reincarnations are available for far more reasonable prices, and are sometimes even free.
Appelcline adds to the OSR list:
The most successful retroclones have probably been: OSRIC (2006), a recreation of AD&D; and Labyrinth Lord (2007), a retroclone for Tom Moldvay’s original Basic D&D. However, there are numerous other retroclones on the market, all published by small companies and sometimes even given away for free. Among the more prominent are: Dark Dungeons (2010), a D&D Rules Cyclopedia clone; Mutant Future (2008), a Labyrinth Lord variant intended to recreate Gamma World play; and Swords & Wizardry (2008), an OD&D clone.

D&D Returns to its Roots...Again

The success of the OSR has been unprecedented. In fact, it's so popular that Appelcline argues it's not even a movement anymore:
Beginning in 2012, some fans have suggested that the OSR is dead — not because it’s faded out, but because it’s succeeded. Fans on blogs have become companies publishing print products, while larger publishers like Goodman Games have proven very successful with their own OSR releases. Even Wizards of the Coast seems to be moving toward the OSR with its AD&D-like D&D Next and with releases of classic PDFs on Dungeon Masters Guild -.
The announcement of Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons had a conciliatory tone that focused on bringing fans of all editions back into the fold. Robert Schwalb, a designer on the development team, shared how they plan to accomplish a grand unification:
Our primary goal is to produce a rules set that speaks to every incarnation of D&D. So if you are a diehard BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia enthusiast or have embraced 4th edition, loved 2nd edition, 3rd edition, or never moved on from 1st edition, we’re creating this game for you. Imagine a game where you can play the version of D&D you love best. And then imagine everyone plays at the same table, in the same adventure. We aim to make a universal game system that lets you play the game in whatever way, whatever style, with whatever focus you want, whether you want to kick down doors and kill monsters, engage in high intrigue, intense roleplaying, or simply to immerse yourself in a shared world. We’re creating a game where the mechanics can be as complex or as light as you want them. We’re creating the game you want to play.
Just how much the Fifth Edition was influenced by the OSR was answered in Mike Mearls' Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit:
...It’s really about getting back to the core roots of RPGs, and seeing how things changed for both the better and worse over 40 years. There are a lot of assumptions that became embedded in RPG design that have been unchallenged. Looking back and really studying RPGs – both new and old – helped give us a sense of what we had to keep and what prior elements of the game needed to be re-emphasized...The concept behind the OSR – lighter rules, more flexibility, leaning on the DM as referee – were important. We learned a lot playing each edition of D&D and understanding the strengths and weaknesses each brought to the table. Similar to the OSR, I think indie games bring lighter rules via focus and an emphasis on storytelling to the table that we learned a lot from. While a traditional RPG like D&D by necessity has a much broader focus than traditional indie games, there’s a lot to learn there in being clear and giving people a good, starting goal or framework to work within. For OSR stuff, we drew directly on older editions of D&D.
OSR-style games currently capture over 9 percent of the RPG market according to ENWorld's Hot Role-playing Games. If you consider the Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons to be part of that movement, it's nearly 70 percent of the entire RPG market.

The OSR has gone mainstream. If the OSR stands for Old School Renaissance, it seems the Renaissance is over: D&D, in all of its previous editions, is now how most of us play our role-playing games.

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


Per Betteridge's Law of headlines, "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no."

The OSR isn't dead. It's somewhat muted because, yes, 5e has adopted some old-school influences and so has attracted some of the OSR adherents. And also because 5e generates so much discussion that everything else (including Pathfinder) is seeming more muted by comparison.

But according to your own statistics, there are still 9% of conversations about OSR games, games like LotFP are still by all accounts selling very well, and I daresay there's an awful lot of people who didn't feel the need to change their game with 3e, didn't change it with 4e, and haven't changed it with 5e but who also don't feel any great need to evangelise. The problem there being that if they're quiet, there's no real way for us to tell how many of them there are.


Well, that was fun
Staff member
OSR-style games currently capture over 9 percent of the RPG market according to ENWorld's Hot Role-playing Games. If you consider the Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons to be part of that movement, it's nearly 70 percent of the entire RPG market.

Just a note - EN World's tracker doesn't show market share. It only shows a sample of discussions across a range of websites/forums/blogs. For market share you need to look elsewhere (although the best public info is the ICv2 data, and that's obviously not much use in this case).

OSR isn't dead. 5E is evidence that OSR has won!

That's exactly what the article says!

I'm not sure I agree entirely, because I don't think it was a conflict. At least, certainly not one like the Edition Wars of a few years ago. I think there was a broad taste for some older style influences, especially after the changes inherent in 4E, and the OSR helped bring that about. But I don't feel that was an awful lot of resistance to the idea - most people seemed on board with it.

As talien says, there's also a demographic factor. Added to the cycles described, there's now the additional demographic of 40 year olds with fond memories of their teens (I'm one of them). That demographic was much, much smaller back when 3E came out 16 years ago. So the OSR fits in well with a lot of folks - it seems natural that D&D would follow that pattern.

"The OSR wasn't about "rapid, constant improvement in the quality of rules" but rather what rules they could remove to mimic the feel of earlier editions. The OSR ended up looking more backward than forward."

So if you are playing chess, publishing chess, and promoting chess you are looking backwards? The heart of OSR has been is always been about playing older games and making new material for those game.In a Very similar to a chess club, bridge club or any number of groups or organization devoted to a popular game.

And actually the OSR had and I quote "rapid, constant improvement in the quality of rules", some of the OSR rulesets are better presented, and better organized than the rules they are cloning. For example Swords & Wizardry White Box, Delving Deeper, etc compared to the original 3 books of OD&D. OSRIC was presented as a full rulebook in its 2nd edition (edition in the sense of a book edition) instead of the publisher's reference of its 1st edition because people found it useful as a quick reference to AD&D during play.

The idea of progress in the design of RPGs is a false one. What happens is that RPGs and games diversify. Over time people come up with new mechanics that later designer can use or combine to create other new games. But is Settler's of Catan is "better" than Chess? Is Chess better than Dominion? No it all about personal preference and taste. Tabletop Games are not like software dependent on the state of technology at a particular time to make it happen. Chess is as fun or not as it was in 1300 AD. OD&D is as fun (or not) as it was in 1974.

What does improve are ways of presenting the game and it's concepts. It reasonable to look at OD&D of 1974 and say "Yeah it's presentation makes it difficult to learn." And look at Delving Deeper or White Box and say "Yup it's OD&D but way easier to learn."

In the case of OSRIC "Yeah I like Gygax advice and commentary but there are times when I just want more concise to look up rules and items."

Last it wasn't the release of the reprints that made the OSR victorious. It's victory as such was already cemented by 2010 when it COLLECTIVE volume of products and sales reached that of a typical 2nd tier RPG publishers.

While there are no hard numbers for sales other than what we shared from time to time while blogging Hoard and Horde (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1LUFmadXbg67pp9dEu_KsLc2-2Gf-0t5mVOvzetAqdFw/edit#gid=0) is a good reference for D&D related OSR products up to April of 2012. If you tally the numbers things really start to kick off around 2008 and accelerate from there.

The reprints along with it's influence on 5e were just icing on the cake. While appreciated by fans of the OSR the reprints were not an important part of why it succeeded.

On the other hand the OGL and the d20 SRD were instrumental in the success of the OSR. Because if you omit feats, skills, and other newer mechanics what was left was a hop and a skip from being an older edition of D&D.

Rob Conley
Bat in the Attic Games
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First Post
I think it's easy for people to get "stuck in the past". Perhaps they like an old version of a game, and don't even consider the merits of a newer version. That's fine for them and they should pursue what they enjoy, but I think it the realm of tabletop RPGs, being open minded about new products is a good perspective to have.


There certainly is an aspect of 1970's and 1980's gaming that was not playing the game you wanted to play. It does have an aspect in RPGs, but you can see it more clearly in other sorts of table top gaming.

Almost no one plays traditional hex wargames any more, and certainly no one is being added to the hobby faster than the grognards die out. Hex wargames died back in the 1990's, when computer versions allowed you to actually focus on playing them when it was convenient for you, with as detailed of rules as you wanted, on as large of a map as you wanted, while doing the book keeping for you, for a fraction of the cost.

Likewise, there were a number of turn based games that were quite popular once upon a time that simply don't have the prominence they once had because there are now video games that give you the visceral experience those games were trying to capture through their elaborate rules. Star Fleet Battles let you play an intense space combat game - at a glacial real time pace. As a kid, I desperately wanted to find someone to play Car Wars with. As an adult, I look at the complex rules for sliding and drifting and all the rest, and I think, "I'm never going to play this unless it's on a computer." There was a time when Battletech had as prominent of a place among gamers as D&D did. But as early as the early 90's, Battletech MU*'s started beating pen and paper RPGs at their own game, and now, if you want to play Battletech you'll almost certainly play some sort of fast paced complex computer version of the reality that Battletech was trying to simulate with its pen and paper rules.

The RPGs themselves have died off more slowly, because the computer still can't create the dynamic world of a good DM's imagination. But they are clearly on the way out. It's been noticeable for the last 10 years or more that no one wants to be a DM anymore. Being a good DM inevitably means enjoying spending 10 or 20 hours a week not playing the game you want to play so that the content and game will be there to play. There really is no way around it. But for at least the last 10 years people have been trying to create RPGs that at least in theory don't need a DM to spend time not playing the game. They've promoted the fantasy that all this content can just create itself during play and it will be the same thing, or that the game is little more than a series of tactical scenarios which you can buy a book of and play and that will be an RPG. They've promoted 'fast prep' and 'no prep' and 'no myth' and all of those were just variations of saying, "You don't need a DM; all you need is a referee and some rules." And I think the problem is ultimately that nothing like the worlds that the DMs wanted to play in and create and animate actually existed in the 1970's and 1980's, so that if you wanted such a world to play in and explore you just had to do it yourself.

OSR I think was built on what I consider a myth - that back in those 70's and 80's the rules were simple and game prep was easy and so you didn't have to spend much time prepping in order to have a really good time. And I think that myth was largely a myth of players back in the 70's or 80's, because DM I think remember how much time they were putting into prep. The sad truth is that nostalgia aside, the one sheet dungeon (to say nothing of the map) is no longer going to intrigue for long. By 1990, that sort of entirely dungeon centric, plotless, 'old school' play we were doing as 12 year olds just didn't satisfy. Partly that was because if that was all you cared for, computers had already started doing a pretty good job of providing dungeon exploration as a solo experience. Partly that was because there is only so many hours of kicking down doors and pointless exploration that satisfies.

And now, that same geek can just play Skyrim or Witcher III or something, and a goodly portion of them that create for its own sake and enjoy it probably are spending their time writing mods as a way of making Skyrim or any number of other fantasy engines more personal rather than creating homebrew game worlds.

I think Mearls is somewhat wrong to suggest that the problem is that players don't want to spend their time creating characters, when they could just play Skyrim or Witcher III. It isn't the lack of players willing to make an investment that is the problem. For one thing, the investment time in creating characters a cRPG isn't necessarily much less that of D&D. People spend at least as much time pouring over their Path of Exile builds as they do their D&D characters. I think it is true that D&D and ilk are less and less the only thing going for a person who wants to be a player, so that they can play D&D or Skyrim and enjoy the experience. But I don't think that it is true that those players wouldn't or don't want to play a PnP RPG because those RPGs are no longer seen as fun or no longer offer something that you can't get from a solo or small group experience in a computer. I think that something like Skyrim is simply more accessible because its a lot easier to print another copy of Skyrim than it is to make a good DM. I think that there are vastly fewer PnP RPG games being played than people would like to play simply because of the effort that goes into running a game, that most players are now lacking a DM.

National Acrobat

First Post
I think it's easy for people to get "stuck in the past". Perhaps they like an old version of a game, and don't even consider the merits of a newer version. That's fine for them and they should pursue what they enjoy, but I think it the realm of tabletop RPGs, being open minded about new products is a good perspective to have.

I think this is true up to a point. However, there are people who know what they like, and are quite happy with it. My group prefers and generally plays Pathfinder. However, there are times when we want to play 1e ADnD and we do. All of us are near 50, and still have all of our original books, and there are a few of us who play so infrequently, that it's more enjoyable for them to play the version they know and love.

That's the good thing about RPGs. Just because it's not being made anymore, you still have the old books. You can play what you want.


Circa 1980 Hex and Counter were in the midst of a boom as big a tabletop roleplaying as you correctly pointed out it collapsed since. In my opinion it got hit harder than tabletop roleplaying by the changes in the market and technology. However today it is far from dead. Again thanks to the internet it have revived into a small niche hobby that uses both physical products and virtual tabletops like Aide de Camp and Vassal to the play older games and newer games.

It is highly unlikely that it will ever be THE board game the way it was circa 1980 as the euro-games are far more suited to causal gamers. And thanks to clever game design many euro-games have the same depth of play as the hex and counter games. However euro-games are not simulations of the situations they depict. That where hex and counter games excel and why they have a niche today although it may be small.

Now if this was the 1980/early 90s then the fact that hex and counter games make for good simulations would not be enough even to sustain a small niche. Because the cost of reaching the fans would be too high. However the Internet changes all that allowing niche hobbies like hex and counter wargame to flourish enough to keep it alive.

Now the internet is still too young to see what happens to niches after a generation or two. So you may be right. However given how low the barriers to communication is I don't think any hobby will die out to the point where there no community surrounding it.

You are right that it is a myth that games of the 70s and 80s were all simple to play and easy to prep. Where you are wrong is that the OSR was founded on that. The OSR was founded to play, publish and promote classic editions of D&D. Anything else depends on the group or individual you are talking about.

What you are referring too is the influence of Matt Finch's a Quick Primer to Old School Gaming which can be gotten for free here. http://www.lulu.com/items/volume_63/3019000/3019374/1/print/3019374.pdf

The super condensed version of what Matt was trying to explain was how you pick a lock or disarm a trap using the OD&D core books. For those of you who don't know there is no thief class or skill in the original three booklets of OD&D. The thief and it's attendant skills got added in the Greyhawk supplement.

If you read OD&D core booklets you will see they had locks and traps so how was it dealt with? The primer is a combination of his own insights, talking to people who played back in the day, and more than a little jabbing at modern mechanics all in order to explain how to play OD&D, and other classic editions that were mechanics lite.

The result proved to be highly influential and extrapolated to be a whole philosophy of playing RPGs with lite mechanics. Which proved to be popular in it's own right only for the OSR but for games like FATE, D&D 5e, and others. And of course people being people, many took it to be a accurate view of how RPGs were played back in the day. Which as you pointed out is a myth given that games like Space Opera, Chivalry and Sorcery, Dragonquest, etc all had their own following. AD&D has considerably more mechanics and details than it's OD&D progenitor.

But remember the primary purpose of the primer was to give people practical and useful advice on how to run various classic editions. To get people to play those editions, not something that feel like those edition, not something that had the same themes like dungeon crawling, but the actual games themselves.

And that what the heart of the OSR is about playing the actual games themselves.

Now there is another foundation of the OSR and that is Open Gaming. The default for tabletop roleplaying regardless of era or rule system to kitbash whatever you want to make the campaign you want to play. In my experience this far more common than playing the rules as written mostly due the fact that just about all RPGs come off as toolkits when you read them.

Classic D&D was no different so when you combine that natural tendency of RPGs with Open Gaming the result is the kaleidoscope of the OSR we have today. So while the heart of the OSR is the revival of play of the classic edition, it is just the heart of a very large galaxy of related games that are not even all of the fantasy genre. Anything that can be done with classic D&D mechanics is being done somewhere in the OSR today. From the simple to the complex.

This a far more accurate picture of the OSR then your post or the original article. What it doesn't do is simplify it because the OSR can't be simplified. If you say the OSR is about lite mechanics then you need to qualify it with which segment are you talking about? You are certainly not talking about me and my adventure and supplements which are not lite by any measure. Nor about Blood & Treasure, Adventure Dark & Deep, or Adventurer, Conqueror, King none of which would be considered as a lite RPG. Now granted none of us are at the level of Hero System or GURPS complexity either and occupy a middle ground. Any point about the OSR other than the fact it revolves around classic editions of D&D has to be qualified with specifics.

Rob Conley
Bat in the Attic Games
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Shadow Demon

And that what the heart of the OSR is about playing the actual games themselves.

I agree with your overall assessment but the above quoted part is no longer true. The heart of the OSR from the beginning until now is about creating new adventures that are compatible with classic 20th century D&D game (circa 1974-1999)

Because of WOTC's changing stance on previous D&D editions and the rise of dndclassics.com, new players who didn't play these originally can now legally obtain them without searching for that Internet scanned copy. I expect to see 0e make an appearance soon.

Instead, the retroclone becomes addenum to the original ruleset. They are just names to use as placeholders because you can't print "Compatible with AD&D" on the cover. It is a true rarity to find anyone who would play these retroclones exactly as written just as it was rare to play AD&D exactly as it was written. (2e was the easiest to actually do so). Each of these retroclones has the author's own built in biases which you can either take or leave. Personally, in IMHO, I have found the actual retroclone rulesets have diminished in value over time.

The OSR has given new adventures for this 20th century era as an alternative to creating your own. This is the OSR's greatest continuing value. It's greatest achievement is making WOTC realize this market segment is still important part of RPG demographic which is why the current incantation of D&D exists.

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