OSR gaming is not about nostalgia. It's not about playing an old rules set just because it was old. It's about updating or rediscovering a style of table top gaming that was left behind by mainstream game publishers, and evolving the style with the benefit of 30 years of experience.
You may have a different definition of OSR gaming. There are plenty of primitive screwheads arguing on message boards whether a game that drops clerics can still be considered an OSR game, for instance. What follows is my definition, and it explains much of the focus of my blog.
OSR Gaming: The role of the game master is to act as an impartial referee and present a pre-defined setting, while giving the players complete freedom to make their own choices within the setting. We shorthand it nowadays as "sandbox gaming". To me, it's that simple. OSR gaming requires giving the players the freedom to explore a setting, and using rules that facilitate exploration as the primary mode of play. Everything else is just details.
(I like the word "setting", but I wonder how many times "milieu" shows up in the 1E DMG?)
Building hex-crawls, site-based locations, random tables for content, those are all tools and techniques for defining the setting. Those are the kinds of things that are evolving by borrowing ideas from 30 years of game publishing. Those are the types of things that are maturing through the efforts of the DIY publishers and the talented bloggers out there.
What about the choice of rules? The simpler rules of early games make it a lot easier for a referee to create a sprawling setting for sandbox play than a heavy system - like those systems where a monster stat block takes paragraphs and pages. But folks have certainly tried to play modern rules-heavy games in the older style, and there are plenty of Pathfinder or GURPs bloggers in the OSR blogosphere taking part in the conversations.
Games like early Dungeons & Dragons, where an over-arching objective is to recover treasure and level up your character, provide a strong incentive to interact with the sandbox regardless of the setting details or story. But not all OSR games have a class and level system, either.
Conversely, just because a particular adventure or campaign uses an older rules set doesn't make it an OSR style game. Dragonlance was published for 1st Edition AD&D, but the plotted nature of those adventures, and the use of pre-made characters, takes those adventures completely out of the realm of player-driven sandbox play.
My pocket is still full of opinions, but alas, the rest will have to wait until tomorrow. I want to discuss some of the publishers doing DIY OSR games and why they get me all fired up with the sandbox joy.
That's it for me, too. The difference between modern and OSR gaming styles comes down to the value of player choices in determining the course of events. I'd add that players (other than the Referee) make choices mainly from the perspective of their particular playing pieces (or "characters"). There are some modern games that involve the players in areas that traditional games reserve for the Referee, such as allowing players to overrule Referee-designed setting elements by spending some variety of plot token.ReplyDelete
I'd go so far as to say that this definition, for me, trumps the requirements of 'site-based' or 'sandbox' play. Those are the methods we've latched onto for creating player-driven games, because they work, but there's no philosophical reason that I know of which necessarily ties player choice to geography. (I'm not saying there isn't one. In fact, that might be an interesting discussion.)Delete
Well, "player choice paramount" == "sandbox", as far as I can see. Meanwhile, items like "site-based" and "random tables" are noted by Beedo as being tools for defining setting. Obviously, they aren't the only ones available. For instance, early Top Secret adventures showed the value of the timetable for sandbox style play. That is, the adventure would provide a timetable that defined what would happen if the players did nothing. Then the players would do stuff, and the Referee would adjudicate what happened as a result, altering the events of the timetable to account for changes caused by the players' choices.Delete
Well said sir. As a cat who made a TFT inspired OSR style game, I am happy to see your philosophy/theory is not hemmed in by the 20 sided die.ReplyDelete
You nailed it!ReplyDelete
This came up in a thread at rpgnet about Next and the "Rulings not Rules" credo, and the OSR is getting bashed by people who argue for more robust systems. Someone was asking for a concise explanation of the OSR mindset that wasn't simply condescension toward WotC versions, and linking to this satisfied him. So, well done, I guess. I certainly thought it crystalized things nicely.ReplyDelete
That's pretty funny, I had actually seen an OSR-bashing thread on a different place a week or so ago (at the RPG site) and made a mental note that I wanted to put down a functional definition for myself. Glad it was helpful.Delete
I agree with consensus with the sandbox is a large subset of player-directed.ReplyDelete
I did not buy a lot of modules in the early days, but when I did, they were site-based -- City State of the Invincible Overlord, Spinward Marches, Arden, the Citybooks from Flying Buffalo, and all the way up to Over the Edge's Al Amarja. My favorite campaigns as a player were definitely sandboxes, though sometimes the sandbox was enormous (a continent or even an entire ringworld).
My best GMing has been player-directed and site-based. The stuff I'm writing now that's not rules is site-based. So, I guess I'm old school. Thanks for the validation.
OSR gaming is not about nostalgia. It's not about playing an old rules set just because it was old. It's about updating or rediscovering a style of table top gaming that was left behind by mainstream game publishers, and evolving the style with the benefit of 30 years of experience.ReplyDelete
I think that your statement about evolving the game and its style (within their imaginative remit while still remaining true to both the game and it's style) is a key component of OSR gaming that is generally lost in the shuffle: many folks are out there trying to recreate to a tee the rules, adventures, art styles, etc. of OD&D or AD&D. However, there aren't nearly as many trying to improve them using the benefit of nearly-40 years of playing these original RPGs and others that have come along in the meanwhile. Being willing to look outside the confines of games published by TSR should be a more-well-regarded virtue than is often in practice in the OSR today, unfortunately.
I fully agree with your definition of OSR gaming, and it ALMOST implies a definition for an OSR Game, which I'd define (approximately) as "An RPG ruleset that facilitates genre-specific sandbox-style gaming for players, while only minimally mandating or constraining setting decisions by the referee."ReplyDelete
Compare the Elves of AD&D 1e with the Eladrin of D&D 4e... Elves could easily fit into any fantasy campaign world, while Eladrin come with history and culture defined to the point that a referee must either use that history and culture in his setting or extensively modify the race and ensure the players are aware of the differences prior to play.
I hope that this does not appear as spam - I'm going to be tackling this exact issue at Grognard Games http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75g4AuhhWQIReplyDelete
Please do chip in to debate and join in with us. We're the only channel of our kind on Youtube and if we can compliment the blogsphere with OD&D and OSR we certainly will :)
I am glad you mentioned that "OSR" can go beyond system. I have applied the ideas and ideals of OSR play in most of my games. Whether that game is D&D or Ghosts of Albion or WitchCraft.ReplyDelete
It is an interesting question whether style or rules determine if a game qualifies as OSR, or rather some mix of the two. For example, I DMed a lot of nWoD and WtF games in the past (and I'm about to start a MtAw campaign, too), and never have I altered the outcome of die rolls or forced the PCs to follow "the plot". Still, I wouldn't consider any of those OSR.ReplyDelete
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