Sunday, April 10, 2011

You are playing it wrong!

I have a confession to make: I have always been a bit reluctant to embrace the so-called OSR. Why? Because, frankly I have not always felt welcome among those who call themselves Old School gamers. On various forums and blogs there are always people trying to define what Old School gaming is about. And when I read some of these posts, I get them impression that they think that I am playing the game wrong.

The very first post on the Grognardia Blog had a statement which I liked:

"I don't think the history of roleplaying games since 1974 has been one of continual decline, but I do think a lot of good stuff has been lost or at least forgotten since then. One of the purposes of this blog is to discuss that good stuff and its importance for and applicability to the hobby today."
Since then I have seen Maliszewski use terms like the age of decadence on the period from 1981 and onwards. Was the initial mission statement forgotten? As someone who got into gaming 1980s, I find it hard to accept that everything that has shaped my experience with D&D as a result of decadence.

However I do like Grognardia's original idea of finding the good stuff that has been forgotten from ages past. If there is something looking into the original Blackmoor game has taught me, it is that the game cannot be played wrong. If you want to add space ships, dinosaurs or aliens in your game, then do it! Old School should not be about limitations but about freedom. As Gary Gygax said, "if you are having fun, you are doing it right."

Now this is the kind of Old School movement I can get behind. If Tavis is right, in his recent post on the Mule Abides blog,  about how the Old School movement is fighting for the DIY attitude and preserving the original miracle of gaming then that is an OSR that I can be a part of. If it OTOH, is an elitist club of grumpy (wanna-be) old men telling me how to play my games, then I have no interest in it.

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  1. I've been reading this blog for quite a while now, and I seriously could have sworn that you were one of the cornerstones of the OSR, Havard. I had no clue.. heh.

    "take what you want and leave the rest, just like your American salad bar."

  2. If it's not DIY gaming, then its just pointless rules quibbling. And ok there is some of that, but I think it's mostly the former.

  3. the Old School movement is fighting for the DIY attitude and preserving the original miracle of gaming then that is an OSR that I can be a part of. If it OTOH, is an elitist club of grumpy (wanna-be) old men telling me how to play my games, then I have no interest in it...Unfortunately, it is both. But that is the nature of every subculture. Treasure the good and ignore the rest is my advice.
    I find a certain attitudes kill my enjoyment no matter if it's first edition or 3rd.

  4. I've been reading this blog for quite a while now, and I seriously could have sworn that you were one of the cornerstones of the OSR, Havard.

    Same here.

    As for "decadence," I think Maliszewski's using it in more of a philosophy/art history way, rather than as a blanket condemnation. Decadent movements have produced the likes of Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire, and much of the art and creativity spawned in Berlin during the '20s was described, both by fans and foes, as decadent.

    And since Edgar Allen Poe is seen as one of the inspiring influences of Decadent literature, I certainly wouldn't see that as a bad thing at all.

  5. As I say over at The Eternal Keep, the 'R' stands for re-boot. To bring back the spirit of the games pre-90's and continue on a path as if the 'industry' never occurred.

    The hobby business was always about taking chances and pushing the envelope. Start counting how many systems were released from '74-'89 and you might well feel overwhelmed.

    Now, I stuck mostly to AD&D1e for my core, but we mashed up anything we wanted into it. 3 DMs all claimed to be running 'AD&D' but you probably would have thought different if you had sat in on a session with each.

    Rip off the straight jacket, grab a set of rules you like and run with it. Find others who enjoy the action and you are truly doing it right ! :)

    May all your rolls be natural 20s.

  6. How can a subculture that embraces The Arduin Grimoires be opposed to doing it your own way?

  7. Its a funny thing this OSR business; funnier still that it generates so much naval gazing. OSR exists as a historical trend (seen from outside) on the one hand, which basically more or less includes any act of play or promotion of decades out of print RPG products or simularcrum and on the other hand it is a self identified group of RPG enthusiasts. Easy enough to be in the first group without being in the second. In the end I suspect we will all be lumped together as "OSR" whether we like it or not. So it's probably in "our" best interests to promote the OSR as being about openess and flexibility and fun is doing as you please rather than about some kind of AD&D or RC or whichever fundamentalism. Plus being tolerant is waay cooler!

  8. I think gaming should just be fun. However you do it, who cares, as long as you're having a good time of it.

  9. Havard, you're someone any movement would want to claim as one of their own! Your enthusiasm for my post is highly gratifying.

    I see the OSR as like the spaceship sticker the library puts on science fiction books. I like many books that don't have that sticker, and I think some books that don't have it should. I don't like many books that do, but I think they're still part of a conversation about things that I'm interested in; and overall the sticker helps me find books that I'm likely to enjoy.

    To talk about gaming specifically, the OSR helped me find some ways to approach gaming that made it more fun for me, and unlearn some ways that were giving me grief. The latter is kind of "doing it wrong" but the OSR voices I hear most clearly always are speaking from their own perspective - "trying to do it this way was wrong for me and here's how my experience changed when I tried it this other way."
    - Tavis

  10. Immediately after writing this post, I almost regretted it, wondering what your reactions might be. Looking back at it, some parts may have been too harsh, but I am still glad I did raise the issue.

    I think the bottom line is that I want to be part of the OSR, but I want a say on what it ought to be about. I prefer an inclusive movement rather than an excluding one. Looking at the responses to this post, I think I am not alone in this. Old School gamers is a pretty large group. Although some individuals posting on certain forums may be full of bile and grumpiness, it was wrong of me to attribute these attitudes to the entire movement.

    I feel pretty good about being wrong about this actually. I think we are all interested in looking back at the early days of gaming and recovering those hidden gems, even if we may have different approaches to it.

    The kind words in many of your comments put a smile on my face on anotherwise dreary Monday. I will try to comment to each of you later on, but for starters, I just wanted to thank everyone for this response, in spite of my own grouchy blog entry.


  11. I don't think it was harsh at all Harvard. The article raises more then a few good points. If you want to add space ships, dinosaurs or aliens in your game, then do it! For me its simply not a complete game if these elements aren't present. You sir are an inspiration & one of the reasons that I continue to play!

  12. Good post, Havard. This is purely anecdotal, but I wonder if the OSR, on the whole, hasn't gotten more tolerant in its online tone? As somebody who considers himself a fan of the two different (main) streams keeping OGL gaming alive, Paizo and the OSR, I don't have trouble seeing viewpoints with which I disagree being presented, but when they are presented in a way that seems like empty rhetoric or belligerent, of course I've winced a bit, as someone falling between what is supposedly two exclusive groups. My feeling, though, is that this has toned down somewhat in recent times. "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar," my grandmother always said.

  13. I think that both "old school" and "new school" bring different properties to the table.

    Each brings specific advantages and also specific disadvantages. I think the two are interlinked, so that you can't have the pros without accepting the cons.

    What I think causes a lot of disputes is that there will be someone out there who makes a big deal of all the pros of the things they like (while ignoring or refusing to accept the cons) and then at the same time they will make a big deal of all the cons of things they don't like (while ignoring or refusing to accept the pros).

    The bottom line is that if you look hard enough, you will be able to find an advantage or disadvantage with any game system, campaign setting, play style or other RPG product.

    When people from the OSR look for the good stuff in old products or make excellent fan products, I really love to see what they are doing.

    But when people from the OSR tell me I'm wasting my cash on inferior products (or claim that newer editions are "not D&D") they are just pushing me away.

    I by no means blame this entirely on the old school fans, there are just as many new school fans accusing old school fans of being luddites.

    I just think people need to understand the things that both extremes of rules bring to the table (as well as accepting that 1e, 2e and 3e are in the middle of the evolutionary process) and work *for* the things they enjoy, instead of working *against* people who enjoy the things they don't enjoy.

    It seems to me that one thing that defines the really old D&D products is that they have a strong bottom up approach. Entire settings are sandboxed in tiny starter products, leaving the GM to use their imagination to build their own version. Newer products tend to take a top down approach, defining the entire world and leaving the GM to fill in the small details.

    I think that at the dawn of D&D, with no back catalogue of products to milk for canon, the small products that laid down the foundation of our hobby were forced to take the "sandbox" approach. But after they created that foundation, newer products could choose to either create a new sandbox or to "improve" an existing sandbox.

    The top down approach to gaming, that we have today, just could not exist without the multiple layers of gaming styles that preceded it. I get frustrated by newer school people who do not value those foundations, because within them I see the optimal design process for new settings. You can't just pull Forgotten Realms out of your ear - it took years to build. But if you study the iterations of FR, you might just possibly be able to learn of a few shortcuts that can make a 1 year old homebrew setting feel more like a 10 year old setting.

    I think that what is "wrong" with the big corporate thing is that they "need" every setting to be "big". The old school took risks and some of the lines that were not continued with are pretty interesting ideas that new school marketing folks won't touch today.

    There are a number of minority D&D settings (and subsettings) out there (like Jakandor, Tale of the Comet, Malatra, Maztica, Al-Qadim or Thunder Rift) that could be embraced by fans of the new school style and built up to beat 3e or 4e at their own game.

    I think that what the OSR sometimes does wrong is reject newer settings instead of working out how to work with the top down design they are founded upon.

    Rule Zero (the GM can do whatever they want) is something that can be be applied to Ghostwalk or even Eberron, as easily as it can be applied to a setting that has the sort of age that Blackmoor has. There is no reason why you could not pull out parts of Ghostwalk or Eberron and add in new stuff. There is no reason why either of these new style settings could not be given an old school makeover.

  14. I always considered you part of "the circle" Havard. Whatever this circle of our is all about, I consider the open, friendly and enthusiastic to be in. :)

  15. Thanks Andreas! Maybe I was a bit grumpy when I wrote this. The response to this post has been great! :)


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