Sunday, January 9, 2011

My favorite things about the OSR

In my effort not to add to the negativity of a spate of recent blog postings and discussions I have had I wanted to talk a bit on what I like best about the whole OSR movement/phenomena.

Back in the paleolithic days of the internet TSR was the big bully on the block.  There were plenty of great email lists (MPGN) and sites (The Great Netbook Site, Morpheus') that had a ton of great content.  Not all of it was good, in fact most of it was bad, but there was an honestness about it all that I liked.  When WotC came around they opened up the game with the OGL and even had a pretty open web-site license as well.  D&D was no longer in the dark corners of the web.  Everyone was now a "publisher".  The OSR takes the best of both worlds really.  There is a gritty honestness about all the products and they are not hidden in some dark site or list that you can't get access too (STILL waiting on my password to Morpeus' site).
The products are high quality and fun.  And damn some of them look really great.  I am not a fan of LotFP but it is a sweet looking set.

What Ifs and the Path Not Taken
Playing D&D in the early 80's was often a guessing game.  You could get a game going at school and have 5 guys show up each with a different rulebook (LBBs, Holmes, Moldvay, AD&D, some homebrew).  Sometimes this was an issue, most times it was not a problem at all.  The OSR captures that feel well.  Spellcraft & Swordplay is a great OD&D "what if", Basic Fantasy RPG is a great example of how many of us actually played D&D when we sat at a table with Basic and Advanced books in hand. The various S&W books are like watching OD&D morph into AD&D if it had all been done with a solid plan in mind.  *I* may not ever need another retro-clone ever again, but I can't begrudge anyone for wanting to try to make their own particular version.  I do think we have reached the maximum amount of clones, near-clones and forgotten half-brothers the market can stand.

It's like having everything I always wanted, all at once
When growing up there were a lot of things I wanted for my game that I never got.  Most times it was because the things I wanted were not sold in my area (though talking to friends now I see I had it better than most), could not afford what I wanted, or it simply didn't exist.  I had to make my own Witch class when I was not 100% satisfied with what I found available to me.  Same with the Hearler class I made back in the day.  But now all of that is out there somewhere.  Part of this is because of the 'net obviously, but there are others out there that felt like did and are now making those things.  B/X Companion is a great example and one I'll continue to praise for a long time. Basic Fantasy RPG is another one and there are countless more out there.  It is like having a subscription to Dragon, White Dwarf and Dungeoneer circa 1978-1983 all at once.

Old School games, new school aesthetics
I have had the chance to be part of some of the most awesome publications in the RPG biz.  The old books are fun, but production wise, art wise, style AND writing most can't stand up to newer books.  The OSR applies that same aesthetic to their works.  Even a one shot with clip art still has the aesthetics of a modern book.  It is what people expect.  Now this is something of a stickler.  I love my beat up worn out copy of Eldritch Wizardry, but have you looked at it with modern eyes?  Not only is the art cartoony it is poorly edited and difficult to read.  I can't fault the original books for their production values, it is just easier and faster to do a better looking product today.   But the OSR can make an old school book AND give it the readability and look of books of today.  Afterall wasn't that what OSRIC was all about?

There is so much cool stuff going on that I wonder why anyone even has the time to complain about what someone else or what other edition is doing?


Xyanthon said...

Well said. I really love the whole DIY aesthetic. I like the home brews, house rules, cut-up- and-photocopied-or-polished-and-professional aesthetic. It reminds me of what I liked best of the punk rock scene back in the day. The raw energy, the excitement of getting your stuff out there, the different takes, etc. There is a vibrant energy about it all that I'm really digging. It reminds me of the best of my gaming days AND punker days as a kid.

Unknown said...

I don't play anything that qualifies as OSR. And if I were to guess, the last book I purchased was almost a year ago, and it was MAGE. I've never played it though. I didn't buy it to play it, really. I bought it to read it.

The same applies with a large chunk of what I subscribe to, out here on the interwebs. I am not looking to change the system I use - I rather like the system I'm developing with my gamer friends - but I love the spirit of OSR. It all comes down to creativity to me, the story-teller aspect of taking a common tale and infusing your own imaginings into it. Collaborating with others for art and setting details. Just as a good DM makes you want to take a stab at running something, the OSR crowd makes me want to make something.

And that's my favorite thing about OSR.

christian said...

I like that instead of putting mileage on my Moldvay Basic book, I can use LL until it falls apart, then easily buy another copy.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

@Christian: My Moldvay Basic is actually sitting right next to me now. It is beat up, falling apart and in generally really bad shape. That is the cool thing though about the OSR that I CAN get a new copy of LL or BFRPG. Good thing for me I also have another Moldvay Basic set that is more-or-less untouched.

@Johanthan, I think the comparisons to the Punk scene are a goods one. There is chaos and there is creativity and often they are the same thing.

@Dustin. I think you summed it up well. Go out and make something!