Ah, yes. Every couple of years, some genius thinks they’ve solved the problem with role-playing games. It’s the OSR.
The current culprit, as far as I can tell, is the Secrets of Blackmoor blog (which is putting together a documentary about Dave Arneson which I am very much looking forward to, and for which I backed the Kickstarter). But oh BOY has he gone off the mark on this one. He is himself (apparently, but maybe not) responding to a post on Beyond Fomalhaut. which proclaimed the OSR dead.
Let’s start with Beyond Fomalhaut:
The old-school community split this year, and its surviving pieces have gone their separate ways. It is gone. There has been surprisingly little talk about it, and most still speak in terms of a general scene, but in my eyes, the divorce has clearly taken place. The fault lines had been present for a few years, and the conflicts were visible for all to see. Google+’s shuttering by its corporate overlords provided a good opportunity for things to come apart, but it has also obscured the OSR’s disintegration.
Things are never tidy and clear-cut. But there is no big tent “old school community” in the way there was one on Dragonsfoot ca. 2004-2008, the blogs ca. 2007-2012, or G+ for a few years afterwards. These will be smaller groups with more focused interests.
Gods, the level of fundamental misunderstanding here about what the OSR is, is simply astounding.
So many people, even many of those ostensibly in the OSR, fall into this trap. Indeed, when I changed the logo in the OSR G+ group a couple of months before G+ went dark (I was the group owner), that set off an intense blow-up among the OSR along ideological grounds, about “you want to enable haters” vs. “you are bringing politics in”.
The liberal/progressives in that group went off and formed the laughable “Honorable OSR” and “Sworddream” nonsense (which might well have morphed into something else by now; it’s about as stable as communist splinter groups in the 70’s), while the conservative/ libertarian/ don’tcareaboutpolitics side went over to MeWe, where the conversation has pretty much continued as it did over on G+.
I don’t mention this in order to reignite any old wounds from the G+ OSR community (and comments to this post which try to re-litigate it will not be approved), but rather to point out the fundamental flaw in the whole argument.
The OSR is not an online community. It was never a forum on Dragonsfoot, it was never a bunch of blogs, it was never a G+ community, and it’s not a MeWe group today.
I tried to make this point back in June. The OSR is a mindset. It’s not even a bunch of people playing by the same rules that we played with in the 1970’s and 80’s (more about that in a second). It’s about playing those games, and playing games that are mechanically like those games, and it’s about playing games that evoke the “feel” of those games.
That brings us to Secrets of Blackmoor, and how he gets it very, very wrong too:
What is OSR?
I actually thought it stood for Old School Rules.
If it’s a movement how come most people don’t even know what it stands for?
How come everyone who does claim to be into OSR can’t really define it for you either. The main point of it seems to be that they are OSR and you aren’t!
No, no, no, and NO!
The fact that OSR as an acronym has many definitions is not a weakness. It’s not indicative of some flaw. It’s (ironically) one of its most defining and most inclusive features. Does it mean Old School Rules? Old School Renaissance? Old School Revival? YES! All of the above.
And can someone say “you’re not really in the OSR” if you use a different definition than they do? NO!
Which speaks directly to Blackmoor’s statement:
Maybe it’s time to dump the OSR label for good. It seems to have done the opposite of what it should be doing. It is somewhat elitist and it’s a turn off for some people.
I disagree most vociferously that the OSR label is in any way elitist, except perhaps in the most general “I think the way I prefer to play is preferable to other ways” which is hardly unique to OSR gamers. There are people who like 3E, 4E, 5E, Pathfinder, Warhammer Fantasy, and a thousand other games. Having a preference does not make one elitist.
Could it be a turn-off for some people? Sure, if it’s a style of play that those people don’t like. I don’t like to vast crunch of 3E/Pathfinder. I don’t like the tactical skirmish feel of 4E. Does that make the people who do like those rules elitist? Of course not! It means I have different preferences. And people are allowed to have different preferences, and doing so does not mean they think people with other preferences are objectively wrong or are somehow being elitist for liking a game that other people do not.
(Of course, there’s more than a bit of good-natured ribbing about edition wars, but when it’s done right, by normal people, it’s all in good fun.)
Lets get rid of OSR as a term and as a way of excluding people, and move forward with a much looser definition. Something will grab the attention of gamers as a new label. I would propose a term like Traditional Role Playing…
Yes, like “Honorable OSR” and “Sworddream” grabbed the attention of gamers.
I will point out that the desire to create new labels is often in and of itself an attempt to exclude people. It’s a way of saying “I refuse to be included in any label that also includes those people with whom I disagree. So I’ve invented this new label, which is just like that old one, but without those evil people.”
That’s what the “Honorable OSR” and “Sworddream” are. I submit that “Traditional Role Playing” will go the same route.
Like it or not, the OSR is here, and will never go away just because people think it’s too open (like the “Honorable OSR”) or because people think it’s too closed (like Secrets of Blackmoor). It’s amorphous by its very nature, and that means it is by definition a big tent. Democrat? Republican? Libertarian? Socialist? Christian? Atheist? Pagan? None of it matters.
It’s all about playing RPGs like they were played in the early days. Same rules, similar rules, new rules with similar feel; whatever.
And of course it all hinges on however you define “early days”. Some people might plant that flag at 1977. Some might plant it at 1984. I personally plant it at 1995, but that is entirely my personal preference. I have every confidence that the definition of “old school games” will eventually stretch to include 3.x just as the definition of “classic rock” has somehow inexplicably stretched to include ZZ Top and Nirvana.
And I have no power whatsoever to impose my choice of 1995 on other people, other than my own decision not to include anything past that date in the OSR on this blog. Another blog, or podcast, or YouTube channel, might move the date. If enough people agree, the date moves. For them. If not, they’re regarded as “eccentric” in their definition. Just like “classic rock.” But ultimately nobody controls it, nobody has the power to impose the ultimate definition of it, and nobody can declare it dead.
And that is entirely the point.