Friday, January 8, 2010

OSR and Innovation

I'll admit that I am relatively new to the whole Old School Role-Playing (OSR) movement. I am an old school gamer and have loved for a long time, but I'm not the sort who never bought or played a new edition or who sees the OSR games as some sacred thing. This leads me to the point of this post, but first, a bit of background on where this post comes from.

As OSR revivalist gaming is still coming into its own or perhaps it is just coming into the light so to speak, there is much discussion of what makes for good OSR and what is and is not OSR. As folks try to develop their latest retro RPG clone or OSR-styled masterpiece (and there are some good ones), I keep finding discussions that seem to want to hem OSR into a very tight listing of "is" and "is nots". Now, maintaining a sense of style and a certain standard is important to uphold that OSR feel. But, does this mean that there is no room for innovation?

I recent project with Will over at Green Skeleton Gaming Guild has really brought some of this thinking to the surface as we discuss whether or not this and that is OSR or not. I should point out here that neither of us is a die hard "it must be OSR" guy but we are trying to work on this project in that same sort of style and so we are using it as a check. Our general concensus is that OSR is more about a feel and a style and as such, no rule should be completely dismissed as "not OSR" just because it is not one of the origjnal conventions of OSR games.

I think it is important to remember that, in their day, the OSR games were the new thing and they were popping with inventive ideas that hadn't been seen anywhere. They also went through a lot of changes and clonings and outright copying as well. The OSR movement itself even includes quite a few systems under its umbrella. The main fear I hear voiced time and again is the worry that a new rule or type of character element might complicate things in a way that is outside the established style of these sorts of game. This doesn't have to be true as there are ways of doing new things in old ways.

For example, OSR games, at least the three or four main systems I have seen, tend to not use racial attribute modifiers but instead default to a set of minimum attribute requirements for particular races. I would argue that neither is any more simple or complex than the other. The main difference is which of them is the more established way of doing things.

Another example that came up in the discussion between Will and myself was whether or not to use the "race is class" concept or seperate Races and classes. Now this isn;t a hard and fast OSR element, but it did spark a minor discussion as to which is the OSR way of doing things. For our project, however, it seemed a bit limiting to have race and class one in the same. The key was finding a way to allow for races to be seperate but in a manner that did not clutter the game in a way that took it outside of that OSR feel.

When considering the whole "is it OSR" idea, I do hope that as the movement takes off and more and more folks get into producing new products in this style, we will see some innovation. Given enough time or the need to consider it for their games I'm sure the founding fathers of RPGs would have and indeed did bend their own established rules to innovate their games to go in directions that their original visions might have supported. I hope the OSR community continues to be the wonderful supportive and fun community it is and will receive innovation in a manner that open-minded and cdonsider new ideas with the same interest and attention they did when they first encountered those original ideas that gave them their beloved hobby to begin with.

Thanks to all for reading,



  1. I agree that race/class should not be one in the same. I await further persecution from the first ed DND purists who will surely slay me for saying Elf is not a class. :)

  2. Great post! I like the whole OSR thing, but at some point I think it's become the re-inventing of the wheel over and over again. For the most part though there has been a lot of innovation! Having so many people involved with a lot of great ideas helps.

    I used to play 2nd edition AD&D and then 3rd and 3.5, I just got tired of the gaming companies changing the rules on me. All those games were completely playable, there was nothing wrong with them. When WotC was bought out by Hasbro that was pretty much the last straw for me.

    Personally, my preferred retro-clone is The Rules Cyclopedia (I know, it's not really a clone). And I'm really getting into T&T lately!

  3. A lot of people are working on a lot of games that parallel the old games that inspired them.

    Don't get me wrong, I love the stuff that has been done but I think we are seeing the tip of the iceberg in what will come of the "re-invention of the wheel" as you put it. People are developing new OSR styled games and worlds and that is the exciting part for me.

  4. My group is playing through Dungeonland right now. IT's that Alice and Wonderland module put out in 1st edition.

  5. Great post Eli,
    I've have Dungeonland, crazy module and lots of fun!

  6. Everything is opinion but my favorite is 1st edition warhammer fantasy roleplay because it uses careers instead of classes. One of the reasons I switched from AD&D to WFRP was I wanted a bit more reality with my fantasy. :)

  7. Eli, if you haven't already read them, you might enjoy the following blog posts and their comments:

  8. From what I can tell, the OSR movement is after more of a "feel" than an exact set of rules. This is where my hope stems from.

    I am eager to see where the OSR movement goes rather than where it came from. Some great new works have come out of OSR like "X-Plorers" and the still WIP "Warriors of the Red Planet" are two good examples that have each taken the basics of a given OSR system and transformed it into a new offering. Hopefully as time goes by, we'll see more new material that takes OSR "flavor" to new heights.

  9. Hopefully as time goes by, we'll see more new material that takes OSR "flavor" to new heights.

    The OSR is a growing, changing thing. 2009 saw many exciting developments and I have no doubt we'll see many more in 2010. I think the worry over rules-fundamentalism is long gone. While it's important that the term "old school" is not watered down till it becomes meaningless, it should be obvious by now that the OSR is a movement that embraces change and creativity, as shown by the year we've just had.

  10. I am just coming into the OSR movement so I haven't been there for too much of the history and am playing a bit of catch-up and will freely admit I may have missed some of the innovation that has already occured. But I like what I'm seeing.


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