No OSR for me!

I have never really paid much attention to the OSR movement. Firstly, I didn’t really understand if it was Old School Revival or Old School Renaissance. Then I didn’t know what counted as old school. I mistakenly thought that it was a move back to the style of gaming that we all discovered in the 70s and early 80s. It then appeared that that isn’t the case and OSR is a just limited to D&D retro clones.

I think within 12 months of owning the D&D basic set, red box, I was writing house rules even if I didn’t know that the phrase ‘house rule’ meant or even existed. We were modding our games on a monthly basis. We absorbed every new spell, character class, monster, magic item and rule suggestion when ever we saw them. Initially there was loads of D&D material in White Dwarf magazine and that was easier to buy than Dragon magazine.

As soon as you saw how other people were modifying the game then we all started doing it. I can remember the first time my character got hold of a musket. I quickly went from D&D to Boothill to Traveller and then Runequest. Boothill was a brief liaison and I can put Gamma World in that group as well.

As soon as I discovered RuleQuest and Traveller with its on target combat system I had to have hit locations in D&D. Once you have hit locations then armour by the piece is a natural extension.

Once we had Gamma World we basically had D&D compatible high tech equipment. I think it was 1979 or maybe 1980 that I discovered Gamma World and I only ran one adventure and that had mutant chickens called Gallus Gallus513. That name has stuck in my memory ever since. One day I will manage to slot a mutant chicken into a game with that name.

It must have been 1981 that I discovered Rolemaster. This is back in the day or the rules being sold as drop in house rules for D&D and we could drop lots of our own house rules and use these awesome books instead.

Once I had all of rolemaster I house ruled that to make it a bit more like RuneQuest, which I think came out first, possibly 1979?

The point of that little jog down memory lane is that is RuneQuest old school? Is rolemaster old school? Rolemaster Classic is a basic rerelease of Rolemaster 2nd Edition and the 2nd edition was pretty much just a tidying up of those piecemeal D&D house rules. There is still a huge amount of Dungeons and Dragons DNA in Rolemaster Classic right down to magic users not wearing armour for absolutely no good reason at all and everyone taking Sleep as their most useful 1st level spell.

I suspect that if I published a Rolemaster adventure and stuck the OSR labels all over it there would be howls of protest.

Even given that OSR really means the resurrection of old D&D rules in infinite variety I don’t really understand the appeal. I understand that no one is forced to play OSR or D&D the reason we stopped playing it surely is because it really wasn’t very good.

Other games flourished and we had the proliferation of so many different games because those games could do what they did better.

I cannot even see it as a desire for simpler games. D&D was never simple. The DMG was basically 300 pages of exceptions to the basic mechanics. Rolemaster was labelled chartmaster because of the visual onslaught of and entire book of charts, Arms Law, but D&D had more charts and tables but scattered far and wide.

I am sure it is a case of if you ‘get’ the whole OSR thing then it makes perfect sense. What started me thinking about this today was that I was asked to do a review for an OSR game. As is my habit I looked up any other games that the publisher had produced and as this was an indie developer I ended up looking at his MeWe profile as well.

One of the things about OSR seems to be that it has attracted a lot of what I would consider unpleasant people, that is what the reaction to the logo was all about in Michael’s recent post. Well this game was written by one of those people. There was no way on earth I was even going to read the game based upon the personal posts by the author.

I have had some tense discussions with people on forums especially in rolemaster circles where I strive for ever greater simplicity in my play and they revel in the micromanaging of every detail. In the Rolemaster community we are discussing the idea of a competition to create spin off mini RPGs ‘powered by’ a core of the Rolemaster rules. I am all in favour of this sort of thing and bringing Rolemaster to genres and audiences it has never appealed to before. Those with opposing views are saying that you cannot go outside of fantasy or sci fi as any realistic simulation of wounds would mean that the PCs would die from infections if there were no magical or high tech healing. I don’t agree with them but I can understand their point of view, this would be a fun competition and not compulsory homework, their gaming table, their rules.

That is nothing like sort of argument I am seeing in even my brief encounter with the OSR, I cringe to use the word, community. I can now understand why the logo’s owner would not want it associated with some of these games. I honestly had no idea. It is obviously not D&D’s fault, nor the OSR concept that breeds hate speech and intolerance. I don’t really understand why it has coalesced around OSR. If OSR went away they would not all suddenly become liberal pluralists. They would hold the same views if they were playing any game or not gaming at all.

Where did all this come from?

I was doing a bit of digging and I came across this. It is from White Dwarf magazine issue 2, August 1977.

Look at the italic text. It looks like the dark side of role players had been there right from the start. I guess I was just too young at the time to see it. Maybe, the OSR community in moving back into old style D&D gaming has stepping into an area of gaming that has already been there quite happily for decades without drawing attention to itself.

I don’t know and I don’t really care. All I know is that any ideas I had of trying to suggest that Rolemaster was a perfectly valid OSR system is now firmly in the ‘bad idea’ pile. I won’t be doing that any time soon.

I have been blogging about Rolemaster for the past few years. When I am not blogging I run the Rolemaster Fanzine and create adventure seeds and generic game supplements under the heading of PPM Games. You can check them out on RPGnow. My pet project is my d6 game 3Deep, now in its second edition.

12 thoughts on “No OSR for me!”

  1. I’m sorry that you’ve had bad experiences with some tabletop RPG fans online, but don’t let that discourage you from continuing to experiment and play.

    Sure, much of the old-school Renaissance movement is rooted in nostalgia, but the popularity of the Open Game License has encouraged hundreds of authors, designers, and players to adapt D20, D6, and other systems to different genres and settings.

    From RuneQuest and Rolemaster to Savage Worlds or FATE, you should play what you like. Finding others who share your interests can be a challenge, but it’s better than letting a few bad apples ruin your enjoyment of our hobby.

    1. Since I have been contributing to Stargazer’s World I have not read so many games and I also would not have played so many different games. I never thought I would play a FUDGE game as I had confused FUDGE with FATE. Last weekend I even introduced my die hard Rolemaster group to FUDGE and they loved it. Mind you they looked at the dice with somewhere between “What are these things?” and “I think the cat has brought something in?”. I am 95% of the way through creating my own FUDGE game as part of this years NaGaDeMon. I will be sharing that game here pretty soon. We are less than a week from the end of November.

      I don’t let other people put me off. I just don’t get it[OSR]. I was really shocked/surprised at how many hate filled people have sent me contact requests on MeWe from RPG design groups. I think I am rejecting 3 in 10 contact requests.

    1. Yeah, I was there too and the reason that D&D grabbed me was not because of D&D but it was that introduction to role playing. I didn’t know that at the time but with hindsight that is obvious now.

      I guess that is why most of us moved on as soon as we discovered that D&D was not the only option.

  2. While it’s true that D&D and its offshoots and retro-clones sometimes attract munchkins, rules lawyers, power gamers, and other less-attractive types of role-players, I’ve enjoyed most of the OSR products and scenarios that I’ve seen.

    As a Game Master, I like the ability to run and tweak sandbox scenarios or revisit old ones. My current groups have a few go-to systems, but I’m willing to try almost anything.

    I’ve also met gamers who prefer “anything but D&D,” which is also a valid preference, if not one I share.

    “Don’t feed the trolls” is always good advice online, and I’ve also gravitated toward simpler, more narrativist systems in recent years. That said, if you find or have a good group that likes Pathfinder 2e or BFRPG — or 2d20 or the World of Darkness — enjoy the ride!

    1. I have bought World of Darkness but I have never even opened the pdf.

      Never touched Pathfinder and probably never will.

      I cannot say I don’t or didn’t like D&D, I wouldn’t be here doing this if I hadn’t started out with D&D. It is just that I don’t really understand what OSR is trying to achieve. All RPGs are equal, they are simply toolboxes that we use to tell stories. Nothing is sandbox and nothing is railroad, it is the GM and players that ultimately decide that.

      As for the munchkins and rule lawyers you will get them with every game and game system. I suspect that RPGs attract them the most as most board games have fairly tightly defined rules and play areas whereas RPGs are far more open to interpretation and the play area is unlimited.

  3. The appeal of “old school d&d” is … it was lighter. Instead of a rule for everything, all of the missing material was left to the judgement of the DM and/or table.

    At the time, yes, a lot of us filled in the missing blanks with house rules… but you didn’t need to do that. Like any light system, you can improvise or play it loosely instead of adding more to it.

    OSR is about seeing the extra-text of AD&D and it’s descendants as: bloat. Because it is bloat. All of those extra rules, rules for ever more detailed situations…. aren’t necessary. All of that time we spent filling in missing structure was, in some ways, wasted effort. We were chasing hobgoblins that didn’t exist.

    It’s true that the “official” OSR movement is focused on the D&D family… but it’s also true that RQ/BRPG, RM, and Traveler (and T&T, for that matter) are all equally “old school.” But I’ve seen people apply “OSR” to non-D&D clones. Stargazer’s WRM system is sometimes called OSR, and it’s not at all like D&D… other than being minimalist like original and “basic” D&D.

    I think that’s the heart of OSR: minimalism. But also, frequently, nostalgia for the earliest editions of D&D.

    1. You see, that is the OSR I went looking for, what I was hoping to find. As it is all those other systems are such a tiny part of what is actually calling itself OSR that they are almost getting lost in all the D&D and retroclone chatter.

      Something else I have learned in the past 12 months is that I like it when it feels like the game mechanics really fit the game setting, that the two were designed in tandem. Not one bolted on to the other. That is what I didn’t like about Stars without number that felt like D&D in space, the whitebox games felt like D&D in . I know lots of people like those games and they are highly successful but to me they feel cheap and lazy. That is highly subjective of course but then what in rpgs is not subjective?

      1. Doesn’t SpaceMaster fit that bill? (It’s RM with a different genre bolted on).

        And RM isn’t tailored to any specific setting either.

        To me, while I recognize that tailored-to-a-setting rules are always better optimized for the feel of a setting… I still prefer generic rules that can be adapted to a genre and setting, but then taken to other genres and settings as well. Often because I like genre-bending, and genre-mashups.

        1. There are several ways to answer this.
          First, the original rolemaster was intended to be just drop in house rules and not a game in its own right. For that the setting was the implied D&D setting of the day.

          The setting with the biggest influence on the rules was always Middle Earth and even to this day Rolemaster Elves are Tolkien’s elves, the stats and descriptions have barely changed in all these years.

          Another answer is that the native setting is Shadow World and that Spacemaster and Rolemaster actually exist at the same time in the same place. Kulthea is one world in the Spacemaster universe but what makes it unique is that it has magic. It also has technology in that science fantasy blend that some people love and others don’t so much.

          Another answer is that one of the hottest topics on the Rolemaster forums is about settings and generic rulesets. Some see generic as standing for boring or uninspiring. Others see it as a great asset in that it gives a wider audience. There is nothing that grabs the imagination and says ‘play me’ about the word ‘generic’.

          Another answer is that all my writing on this blog has been about my journey or move away from Rolemaster. I want those simpler rules and that is what made me curious about OSR in the first place.

          Regarding mashups and genre bending I have never let a specific setting or unusual mechanic get in the way of doing whatever I want and you do not sound like the sort of person that it would stop you either.

          Some systems have hit a very clever balancing point. Adventurers! is generic and extremely light as a rule set but it also comes with a range of setting specific genre booklets that are equally light but add that setting optimisation and specialisation. The opposite end of the scale is GURPs I suppose with more genre specific books than you can throw a hobbit at.

          The very first game I published was generic and I intended to follow the GURPs model and release genre specific add ons to customise it. As it panned out I have not released a single add on, although there are two part written documents on my PC waiting to be completed. In hindsight I wish I had kept the naken core system to myself and just released setting specific games. I many had achieved more with that approach than I have with the core game.

          I learned from my mistake and in playing with Devil’s Staircase the first incarnation will be the Wild West game but I will shape and adapt the core system to other genres that suit that playing card mechanic. It will not suit fantasy, in my opinion, but it may work for 1920s gangsters and 1930s private eyes.

          I am not trying to dodge your question but I think there are as many valid answers are their are GMs.

          I mentioned the ‘powered by Rolemaster’ discussions in the article and I think that is a really exciting idea. There is no reason for Rolemaster not to be both a generic game engine and setting/genre optimised.

  4. Cringeworthy people can be found in any social scene. Way to Go! Point out some bad elements and then paint everyone with the same, tarnished brush. And Stuart’s logo issue was with ONE website. As for “Coalesced around OSR” maybe I can enlighten you. It’s not just the OSR. It’s a significant portion of the American populace and quite a bit of Europe from what I hear. How many far right people are playing other play styles? Maybe, about the same proportion? But, right wingers are loud and there’s always people like yourself, ready to condemn and jump on the band wagon without understanding what’s really happening at all. As for Rolemaster, there’s plenty of OSR inclined people who like RM. It’s sitting on my own shelf, right now.

    1. Yes, you are probably right. There is a lot of personal perception. I think it is similar in a way to when you are about to walk into a bar your have never tried before, you get to the door and through the window you see the current clientele and hear snatches of conversation and you make that choice in a second or two do you go in or decide that this is not the bar for you.

      I may have missed out on the night of my life by not walking into that bar, I will never know.

      In all my years of gaming I have never come across the polarisation of views as I have read in the past few weeks since joining OSR rpg groups. I am not tarring everyone with the same brush. It is just rather a case of I can avoid the entire issue if I just don’t go there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.