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Stargazer’s thoughts on the OSR

What is the OSR? If you ask several gamers you’ll likely get different answers. The acronym usually stands for old-school revolution or old-school renaissance. For some people the OSR is celebrating games and gaming styles from the “good old days”. For others the OSR stands for everything which is wrong in the RPG community. The truth is – as always – much more complex.

It’s also not sure if the OSR is just about Dungeons & Dragons and its retro-clones, or about all games from the 1970s and 1980s. Can a game from the 1990s still be considered old-school? TSR’s D&D Rules Cyclopedia is from 1991 and most people would consider it quite old-school. What about Vampire – The Masquerade which was released in the same year?

I have to admit I don’t know who actually coined the term OSR. If I am not mistaken the OSR was started or at least became more well-known in the RPG community around the same time the RPG Bloggers Network got born. This was in 2008. But the idea is of course much older. Since the beginning of the hobby, people stuck to the game they first played and preferred it over the new-fangled stuff being released. For others it’s all about discovering the hobby’s past or celebrating the DIY nature of the early years of the hobby.

Back in the day the DM was supposed to be not just the person running the game, but also a game designer in their own right. Most DMs ran games in their homebrew world using house rules. No two games of D&D were alike. Part of the OSR has always been the idea to create your own stuff and share it with others. Eventually people noticed that there was a market for old-school gaming and the rest is – as they say – history.

Ok, what is the OSR now? A community within the RPG community? A gaming style? A group of game designers and publishers releasing D&D retro-clones? A hive of scum and villainy? Again, it’s not easily answered. The way I see it, the OSR is an idea. The idea is to preserve beloved games from a bygone era and create new material for those games. It’s also a group of people who adopted that idea. But it’s not a group lead by someone. You can state that you’re part of the OSR and then you are. No one can throw you out. There’s no secret handshake.

So why am I talking about all this? The OSR attracts many people and some of them are just not the nicest human beings to put it mildly. People associated with the OSR have been bullies, misogynists, transphobes, gatekeepers, and generally assholes. Some of them even go out of their way to offend people. As a reaction on a case of severe asshattery Stuart Robertson, who created a very popular logo for the OSR (see above), stated that you are not allowed to use that logo if it’s used to promote hate speech.

I applaud his decision. But of course not everyone was happy about that and accused Stuart of gatekeeping the community. This is of course bullshit. He’s merely using his rights to restrict the usage of something he created. But can he throw someone out of the OSR? Of course not. As I said before, there’s no membership card, no application form. If you state you’re OSR, you are OSR.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t stand up against  some vicious hacks who try to take over the OSR. If we want it or not, the OSR is a community of people. Its members may not share much aside from their love of old-school gaming, but that doesn’t mean the OSR is defenseless against bullies. Since the OSR has no leaders and is no formal organization, everyone who feels part of the OSR should speak out against people trying to use the OSR for their nefarious means! The OSR can be welcoming to everyone, an idea fueled by nostalgia and love for gaming, or it can be a much darker place where everyone who is not a cis-gendered white man is not welcome. The latter is not a community I want to be part of.

Realms of Terrinoth: Play Report

239561On Friday I finally had the chance to play in a Genesys game. My friend Sebastian ran an adventure set into the Realms of Terrinoth for us. Since it was meant as an introduction to both the mechanics and the setting, we decided to pick our characters from a list of well-known characters from the settings. Since I already played him several times in Descent, I picked Leoric of the Book, a somewhat arrogant mage who is on a forced sabbatical from the university of Greyhaven.

In the game our group of adventurers were on their way to Greyhaven, when we stumbled upon a group of bandits pillaging a farmhouse. After a very short exchange of unpleasantries and the casting of a very effective attack spell, the bandits surrendered and we got to explore the farmhouse. It turned out the inhabitants were killed. One victim had its neck broken, while the others had their blood drained. The only visible wounds were two small holes on their necks. Since we all failed our Lore roles miserably we made up the theory that someone must have used some kind of barbecue fork to skewer the victims. We then found tracks caused by a two-horsed carriage, which we followed until we came to a landslide which blocked the road. A guard told us about a detour we could take and also remembered a carriage going the same way, carrying at least one driver, a guard, and a female noble.

BarghestWe followed the trail until we reached a roadside inn. We quickly realized that a) the stablehand has been missing since the carriage arrived and b) that the carriage was about to leave again, which was surprising because people usually don’t travel at night. We then found out that the noble riding that carriage was from the house of Farrow from Nerrekhall, a town with a history of demon worship. Some patrons also heard strange noises and noticed a weird green light coming from the noble’s quarters. Immediately after the carriage left we searched the rooms and found – to no one’s surprise – the dead stablehand, killed in the same manner as the farmers.

A chase ensued and eventually we had to fight not only the noble which was quite proficient at magic, but also a couple of barghests. We barely survived but the horse-drawn carriage was able to escape. But we’ll get her next time!

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All of the players were already familiar with the mechanics since most of us have about thirty sessions of Edge of the Empire under our belts. The differences between the Genesys system and the mechanics used in FFG’s Star Wars line are pretty small. Reading the dice and interpreting results has pretty much become second nature to most of us.

I particularly enjoyed the magic system. It’s extremely versatile but still easy to use. Each type of magic (Arcana, Primal, Divine, etc.) has a number of basic spells (like Attack, Barrier, Heal, etc.) which can then be modified to one’s heart’s content. You can add various elemental effects, increase the range, affect additional targets, et cetera. Modifying spells usually adds to the difficulty of the casting roll, but there are magic items and talents who alleviate that issue. We mostly used the spells created for the characters, but the great potential of the system was obvious.

Overall our first session in Terrinoth went exceptionally well. The GM did a solid job even though he hasn’t worn the GM’s mantle that often before. Because of the usual scheduling issue we probably won’t get to play before next year, but I am already quite excited to continue our adventures!

Organizing my tabletop RPG library

I have a huge collection of roleplaying games. Aside from a lot of books which are scattered all over my house (we even have a bookshelf with roleplaying games in the bathroom next to the toilet – I am not kidding), I own about 60 gigabytes of PDFs which I have put into folders sorted by publisher and sometimes product line.

So there is a Green Ronin folder with sub folders for the various games I own. Stuff I got via bundle deals are in their respective Bundles’ folders and not sorted into the publisher folders. It just helps me to find stuff easier that way. One major problem I have is that I often can’t remember which publisher has released which games (especially when it comes to smaller, more obscure ones). There’s also the issue with publishers like Free League Publishing which also rely on others like in this case Modiphius on publishing services. So do I put all of Free League’s stuff in the Modiphius folder, or do I put them in a Free League one? In that case I decided to do the latter.

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Over the years I have looked for software which could solve this problem. I’d really love to have a software which shows the PDFs as virtual books on a virtual bookshelf, much like iBooks does it. Aside from that the tool should be able to search for books and have a filter. The more I think about it, iBooks sounds like the perfect tool. Unfortunately I don’t use a Mac, so it’s not a viable option. I have tried Calibre but I find it extremely clunky. The other problem is that a lot of RPG products don’t have ISBN numbers. So any database I’d use have to be filled manually. With 60+ gigabytes of PDFs this will take a looooooong time.

How have you solved this issue? Are you using something along the lines of my a-folder-for-every-publisher method, or do you use a proper database app. I’d love to hear about your ideas on how to organize a huge collection of tabletop RPG PDFs, so please share your thoughts below.