The OSR has no gatekeepers…

…and that’s intentional.

I stumbled across a blog post today, which said, in part:

Again, this is a difference between the OSR and indie scenes – any fool who starts a blog and claims it to be OSR is automatically just as OSR as any given published creator. Things are often even considered OSR regardless of creator opinion on the label…

Yes, exactly. The OSR is not a community, or a brand, or a genre, or a play style, or a design aesthetic, or any of the myriad labels that are sometimes applied to it. Rather, it is all of those things, and a lot more.

I might define it as, at its heart it’s a group of people, and a bunch of products (not all of which are sold), that share an ineffable quality that blends nostalgia, a DIY sensibility, and a way of viewing role-playing games as an adversarial relationship between the DM and players, but with a shared goal of having fun.

But even that definition is just mine, and there are plenty of “OSR” things and people that defy that definition.

And that’s the beauty of the OSR. Nobody gets to create boundaries for it, nobody gets to say so-and-so is or isn’t a member of the OSR because he takes his own ideas in a particular direction, or because he has a particular political view, or practices the wrong religion (or any religion), or whatever. The OSR doesn’t work like that. There’s no Central Committee with the authority to declare a given OSR work or person “out of the club” because there’s no club in the first place!

And that’s a state of affairs that the many people who keep wanting to form some alternative to the OSR, that better matches their political or other aesthetics, can neither tolerate nor understand. The OSR by its very nature defies categorization, regimentation, and gatekeeping.

You can’t get thrown out of the OSR just because you’re an asshole. Or because you voted for Trump. Or Sanders. Or because you write adventures that feature bestiality, or weird sex, or that have art that has chain mail bikinis, or trans men, or because you use “phallic” sword symbols, or show boobs, or whateverthehelelse you do.

Remember that when you see people saying “it’s like the OSR, but without X”. Because it’s entirely the lack of people who can unilaterally decide X isn’t a part of it that makes the OSR what it is.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

26 thoughts on “The OSR has no gatekeepers…

  1. Well said. This is how it should be. However, I have run into people who question the old school-ness of others, question the old school-ness of some editions, some types of rules etc. etc. Useless people for sure, but sadly they exist.

  2. By and large I agree with your points … with maybe the exception of one famous/infamous OSR author who was pretty much blacklisted industry-wide over allegations of domestic abuse.

  3. German saying: If there’s a Nazi at the table and 10 other people sitting there talking to him, you’ve got a table with 11 Nazis

    1. Yea, that’s called Guilt by Association. This collective guilt/punishment BS has got to stop.

    2. Sure, sure, and everyone who disagrees with you is a Nazi as well. We hear that all day now.

      P.S. that’s not an old German saying, liar.

  4. It’s ok (nay, it’s EXACTLY what the OSR is about) to say “This is what an OSR game is to me….”, and thus it isn’t gatekeeping, because it’s a loose confederation of people who like old RPGs and want more new gamers to know and enjoy them, as well as new takes on older rules. It (the OSR) seeks to dispell the illusion that “new edition” means “improved edition”, and it seeks to break down walls and eliminate the need for gates at all.

    I think what bothers OSR haters is that the OSR is capable of being apolitical, is about looking at old RPGs solely on their own merits without post-modernism, what-aboutism, and false equivalencies they shove into all aspects of life in order to feel mentally and morally superior.

    In short, they are threatened by, and terrified of, the idea that the possibility of opposing views peacefully coexisting…exists.

    1. Some days I think the OSR is a bit like the modern heathen movement. Some/most heathen groups are very inclusive and open; welcoming anyone who wants to join. Other groups are exclusive, but aren’t jerks about it (we think you need to be x, and, y, and z to join our group; if that’s not you don’t ask to join our group … but you can join my bowling team). And then there are the people who intertwine their faith with hatred, or more likely their hatred with the false trappings of faith.

      Doesn’t really matter how few people/groups in the movement are either ‘closed to others’ or hate-filled jerks; that’s the way a big part of wider society/media sees the whole movement; and Gods forfend that your first encounter with a heathen is with a jerk, ‘cause then you’re convinced they all are, and you become a 5E Buddhist instead.

  5. Elle hits the nail on the head.

    One can claim the OSR has no leader, or isn’t a “community”, or doesn’t gatekeep… but when the loudest voices in the “community” are asshats who have 1000’s of followers, then the community will be seen as full of thousands of toxic assholes.

    So claim that the OSR isn’t a community, or doesn’t gatekeep, or whatever… but that won’t stop the exact opposite impression when the self-appointed leaders demonstrate otherwise.

  6. Sure whatever… or learning that radically politicizing all things, with demands that others accept your framing, results in irrational consequences.

    Like how by inserting radical views and making them a signal of virtue, a radical counterpoint is encouraged to come into being. People who disagree with one side, find themselves flocking to the other side for relief. When you’ve cowed the most rational of your opponents, all that’s left is the worst.

    Like how it suddenly became okay to commit violence on people who disagree with you, because they’re Nazis. Or seem to be friends with Nazis. And anyway, they might not claim to be Nazis – but they sure dog whistle like Nazis – so they must be Nazis. We can totally read their minds, they’re Nazis. NAZIS!

    So wreck everything and ruin their lives. We’re only one more murder away from utopia probably.

    Why the West is in such a rush to re-enact the Spanish Civil War is a great mystery to me.

    PS. NAZIS!

    1. Hyperbole much? I’m talking about presenting a better face because like it or not, the OSR *is* a community whether you believe it or not. And the community looks like a rancid shit hole from the outside.

      So use your bullshit “someone will be murdered” straw man. Put your head in the sand and watch while the only players left desiring an “old school” game are the ranting shit-lord wannabes instead of normal people.

      1. I approved this hesitantly, but everybody, please tone it down. Let’s keep things civil. There’s a valid discussion to be had, but it won’t be as valuable as it might be if we start pounding the keyboard in outrage.

      2. Speaking of hyperbole?

        If we want a better face on a community – I’m not part of the OSR community fwiw – people need to stop assuming the worst of each other. The implication that one is an X because one is “sitting” with X is absurd, and is a dangerous intellectual precedent. You explicitly supported such an approach, and now you’re angry that I have an opinion on just where such an approach leads us. Look at the wording of your disagreement – you’re displaying a non-trivial degree of exactly what I’m talking about.

        I’d say that this site is the primary representation of OSR to me, and I rarely see anything objectionable. I’ve been observing the OSR community for many years, and I don’t consider it a “rancid shithole”. It’s okay if you do. We can disagree on that.

        As for the straw man argument, I mean sure if that’s what you think? I’m seeing increased violence of words, and even deeds, over what to me are fairly mild political disagreements. I even see it in discussions of gaming now. It’s everywhere I look now. Dissent is punished as people claim to know the absolute moral truth of every point of contention – to disagree is increasingly seen as evil. (Nazi being a popular refrain where I live.)

        You think that won’t have repercussions? History says otherwise.

  7. Seventh Wave Of Roleplaying Design – DIY Rules Everything Around Me
    This is a design philosophy identical to the current OSR, without the bigotry, intolerance, misogyny, racism and white privilege.

    Seventh Wave because there are way more than two waves.

  8. In any event, gatekeepers can only exist on the specific platform level. No matter your origins, screed and social status, if you can find a group of like-minded friends and a handful of dice, you can start gaming essentially for free, and keep playing until the cows come home. There are also more than enough very good old-school materials out there for free, enough to last a decade (and that’s just the cream of the crop). Add graph paper and a table, and you are set.

    If that is not inclusive and open, what is? The same, but with political censorship? Yeah right. No. We are fine, and we will continue to be fine.

    1. This. I have a gaming group. What they think of me and the game of group determines if I have an active game. If it fits within certain broad parameters it is an active OSR game (mine currently is not, but I’m not that worried about it).

      If there is one thing Ron Edwards got right is the proof is in the actual playing at the table. People who try and gatekeep online who neither have their own table or people using their stuff at any table is less active, IMHO, in the OSR than someone who never posts a thing, but plays in the style of the OSR.

  9. To me, the OSR has been a means of recapturing the feeling of wonder I found at a gaming table decades ago.

    Modern iterations of D&D and other games lacked the same appeal. But retro-clones made it easy for me to get right back into things. I don’t care much about the personalities involved or their views on any topics. They each occupy and control their own little niche and nowhere else. The OSR is gaming freedom, for me. 🙂 If I don’t like one little corner of it, I can pick another. Or another. Or another…you get the point. Or create my own corner.

  10. I must have my head in a hole. Where is all this coming from? How have politics seeped into a such a small niche hobby? Was there some seismic event I slept through?

    Nevermind. I’ll just keep playing D&D.

    Thanks Joseph for a nice article and an enjoyable site.

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