The following article was submitted by Happy Jacks RPG Podcast listener and Forum participant Eric “Maxinstuff” Parker.
A critique of the OSR (Old School Renaissance) and its attitudes
I am part of what you might call the new generation of role playing gamers. I grew up in the age of Super Nintendo, and only discovered D&D via a PC game called Baldur’s Gate. Years later I bought my very first RPG book, the Savage Worlds Deluxe hardback. That is so embarrassingly recent that I feel this qualifies me to take a look at our hobby with some fresh eyes, and provide a bit of a critique of the ‘Old School Renaissance’ (OSR) and some of the attitudes it entails.
Now I am not out to shit on anyone’s fun. There is no wrong fun. If you really want to play old school D&D then go ahead – I could care less. What annoys me is when old school grognards start waving their 0 edition ePeen about as if it is the best invention since the rolodex.
Now to clarify, there are pockets of excellence in the OSR that have brought the old school flavour into the 21st century. Castles and Crusades, DCC RPG etc. are fantastic because they are a modern take on a classic idea. It is the purists that insist on going back to 1st edition D&D and earlier – and become very vocal about it – that irk me. I have observed this behaviour up to and including shitting all over more modern systems – and that just pisses me off. It pisses me off because they are hindering growth in our hobby generally, and the spread to new players in particular. There are a few reasons for this – as I will explain.
1. The OSR is D&D centric
It might come as a surprise to some grognards that the thought of playing 0 edition D&D (or heaven forbid so recent a publication as 1st edition AD&D) does not really appeal to me, nor does it appeal to a great many gamers new to the hobby or considering it. Despite this, OSR types are seemingly everywhere, prosetylising their edition of choice with a zeal that belies the fact it was out of print for more than thirty years. I say was because WOTC has taken notice and has decided to bring most editions of the game back into production, including the legendary OD&D.
To be clear though – I don’t hate old school D&D. The games themselves are fine, they just haven’t aged well. Some of the revisionist games that put a more modern spin on the game (as mentioned above) are actually very good. To use video games as an analogy, there are a great many video games that I grew up with, but this does not mean I eschew modern games in favour of my good old Commodore 64. That is madness. Video games have evolved and moved on – and so have tabletop RPG’s.
The primary issue with the laser-like focus on old D&D (and similar) is that it does this to the exclusion of all the other great options that exist. Options that new players would do well to consider. There are a great many systems that have innovated in many ways and to ignore that is simply silly. It also does nothing to support the publishers who keep the hobby alive by innovating and creating actual new stuff.
2. It’s driven by nostalgia that new players just don’t ‘get’
The OSR is driven by the nostalgia of aging gamers and little else. WOTC is well aware of this and so is happy to sell older editions (though this took them longer than it should have to figure out). The most glaring example of this is the original dungeons and dragons ‘premium re-print’, which can be had as a (very lovely) boxed set for the low, low price of $149.99. They could not be any more obvious about who they are really targeting with that offering.
What does this do for the hobby? Nothing new is contributed, no innovations are made. Are we to play OD&D circa 1974 until the end of time? New (and especially younger) players find this type of enthusiasm for the past utterly unrelatable. I wax nostalgic about games from my childhood all the time, but that doesn’t mean I actually play them regularly. If I did I would be more likely to ruin my fond memories of them than to enjoy myself.
If my first impression as a new player was one of these quaint and dare I say clunky games, I don’t know if I would still be a participant. To be perfectly honest – modern gamers expect more. We expect a high standard of readability, intuitive mechanics, a decent layout that makes things easy to find. We also expect a rule-set to be relatively complete and fit for purpose out of the box (set).
Which brings me to my next point –
3. The OSR wants to have the cake and eat it too
One of the main arguments put forth by OSR purists is that 0 edition (or whatever your old-school D&D flavour is) is so flexible and so modular that you can incorporate any rules you want. From any system! Wait a second…. I thought old school D&D was already awesome?
A real pet peeve of mine is OSR types commenting on the release of actual new work, that contributes actual new things to our hobby, with statements to the effect of, “I won’t play this, but I sure will steal things from it for my 0 edition game!”.
Really? First, no-one cares. Second, congratulations, you have just told the world what an elitist prick you are.
This hipsterish behaviour results in weird frankenstein-like creations that are at their core a D&D experience, but are unrecognisable as 0 edition (or similar – pick your flavour). I’m sorry, but you cannot tell me that you play 0 edition exclusively, because it is simply the best RPG ever written, and then in the next breath brag about all your house rules and system hacks you have done to make it playable. You will never convince me or any newcomer to our hobby that having to make up your own rules and/or incorporate rules from other games into yours is a good thing. All it does is make the hobby seem impenetrable to new players. It also makes individual groups very insular, something that is very off-putting nowadays because gamers like to be able to share common experiences with other players outside of the group, and – heaven forbid – play in more than just your game.
It does not matter that “that’s how we did things in the old days”. Nowadays we expect a game to be somewhat complete before we play it – the bar has been raised.
4. The OSR is GM centric
Lastly, to what I feel is the OSR’s greatest deterrant to new players – the GM centric nature of the entire thing.
According to http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/, all white people want to write a book. It seems that all OSR GM’s want to write their own system. The elitist, hipsterish behaviour of hacking and house-ruling until the system is your own beastly creation is an affront to community inclusion. It hinders communication between players because no-one has common gaming experiences, and new players to your group have to learn all of your rules. It is quite frankly self indulgent, ego-centric bull-shit to force your players to do this.
As a player, I don’t want to have to learn your hodge-podge of house rules. I want to be able to buy the book – read it, and know the rules. I want this knowledge to be portable to other gaming groups I may play with. Don’t patronise players by ‘protecting them from the rules’, and don’t mind-rape them by making them sit through what amounts to your design process disguised as a game.
Modern gamers expect the GM to act as a conduit between player and system, not to make up the rules themselves. There is a certain point where you are just playing make-believe, and I can do that with my two year old. That is not a role playing game – it is play-acting. In certain circumstances, the GM should of course make a ruling, but this is very different to the extensive house-ruling and hacking that has become characteristic of the OSR movement generally.
In short – gamers have moved on. They expect more from a game system than 0 edition can provide. And they aren’t interested in your (lovely) house rules.