OSR Guide For The Perplexed

In order to “get back in the saddle”, I chose to fill out this little questionnaire going around. It appears as though all the cool grognards are doing it, thus it seemed a reasonable way to get myself back to working on my community after the gut punch of the Google+ issue. To be real however, I look at the idea of the OSR like a lot of old punks look at the idea of old school versus new school punk rock. To paraphrase an old punk friend of mine when he was asked if he was “old or new school”– He simply stated, “Kid, I am out of school.”

I know we as humans tend to enjoy labels, as they offer a sense of comfort through the ability to easily identify what we have encountered. However, a label rarely tells you the truth. A label often hides too much of a things subtly, and it paints in too broad of stokes to be useful to those who truly pay attention. For those who casually encounter a thing, the label just allows one to place the object of inquiry on a shelf of “I sort of know what this is” and leave it there without having to truly understand what sits behind that label. In this, a label fails most everyone.

When I set out to write my own game, I really had little idea of what the OSR even was. I did not set out to make an “old school” game, I simply wanted to make a game that had the feel of some of my favorite elements of roleplaying over the past forty years. It was only after I began to research and test my ideas with others that I encountered the term OSR. In fact, I even spent time arguing that my game was NOT in fact an OSR title. In the end, it seemed that I lost that argument. With that information known, I can imagine many of my answers to the following questions are likely to be quite different then those of other OSR fans and some are likely to seem absolutely daft. That tends to be the nature of expectation and labels, once we look beyond them, things often do not appear as we thought they should have.

So let’s get on with it shall we?

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me: We start off with a really tough one here. Since I am not an avid blog reader, I am not sure I could name a single blog article, let alone one that I felt exemplifies the OSR. However, there was an article (really more of a LONG forum post) on combat in OD&D using the Chainmail rules. It was that article that sent me hurtling through history in the “way back machine” to my earliest days gaming as we tried to figure out the OD&D/Chainmail rules as grade school kids in the late 70s through early 80s. My friends and I had to make due with hand me down books from a friends older brother and those hand me downs were Chainmail and all of the OD&D books. This article cleared up issues we had and acted as a reminder of what was so fantastically cool about my first few sessions of what would become a lifelong obsession for me. When I stumbled on this article, I realized that my ruleset needed to be based around the original rules I used to undertake my first steps into the world of roleplaying. (Edit: The article was on the “odd74.proboards” forum.)

2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark: If you have time to min/max or character optimize to munchkin land, you are likely not actually playing much.

3. Best OSR module/supplement: Not really a supplement, and possibly not even really a portion of the OSR, but I have to go with all of Beyond the Wall. There is just something about that game and all of its supplemental material that just oozes the wonderment of my favorite fiction from boyhood. The developers and writers of that game truly crafted something magical and I am constantly inspired by the unique approach they took to what is essentially a multi-edition D&D clone.

4. My favorite house rule (by someone else): This one is easy, the game master rolls all the dice during the game and keeps track of all the numbers. The players only know the words behind their characters. No stats, levels, hit points, or anything of that nature are known to the players. This enhances the sense realism of a game (IMHO) by not making such things clear and thus dependable. Though I do not use this idea in Faerie Tales & Folklore, many of my favorite sessions as a player and game master utilized this house rule.

5. How I found out about the OSR: When I began writing my own game, I slowly became aware of the idea of the OSR. At first, I thought it was pure silliness, but later I did come to see some point, albeit small, to making such a distinction.

6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy: In truth, the best online resource for the OSR has been the OSR community on Google+. If it is OSR, it has appeared there at one time or another. The answers to any questions I have had, all the help I have needed, and some of the best people I have encountered online have been found there. Not sure anything else has come close in my experience.

7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers: I have long found Google+ to be one of the best places to prattle on about the OSR and RPGs in general. Its demise will be difficult for me to move beyond, as I put so much energy into the various communities there.

8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games: Rarely, my nom de guerre can be found on Reddit, but Mr. Thorne comes out less and less these days.

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough: That ‘Rule Zero’ is an overly lauded idea that really does not maintain the best ideals of a cooperative roleplaying experience. The game master should be respected, but no player at the table should be seen as any more or less valuable then any other.

10. My favorite non-OSR RPG: That is easy, Fate Core/Accelerated. I am a fan of the way the system incorporates narration from both game master and player through interesting yet functional mechanics. In fact, Faerie Tales & Folklore was originally going to be a Fate Core mod with the objective of making Fate play like older versions of D&D. The focus was always to be on the Mythological Earth, the rules supporting it were just going to be vastly different.

11. Why I like OSR stuff: I enjoy OSR material for its nostalgia primarily. Like most things, roleplaying has evolved, sometimes for the better and other times for the worse. There are times when playing within the rules I grew up with just satisfies some inexplicable part of my psyche. I do not necessarily believe OSR titles are in any way superior to non-OSR titles, but they are often more successful at capturing a feeling. In my opinion, one of the best aspects of OSR style games is the widespread use of nested systems to accomplish many of the needs encountered during a game. I also feel that many OSR titles, in their desire for extreme simplicity, avoid this element of older RPGs in favor of reusing systems for a multitude of situations. In my opinion this starts to make the experience seem too much the same. I begin to lose track of whether or not I am fighting or climbing a wall. The old habit of having some unique mechanic for each type of occurrence or situation provides a variation during play which can shake up the “mechanical monotony” more prevalent in modern systems.

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet: This one is a little odd for me to answer. The first, and possibly most important (in my view), is the lack of extreme action limitation in OSR games. When you played old versions of D&D, we could have your character make their series of actions, the character’s hirelings make their actions, the character’s animal friends could even make their actions, all without braking the rules or consuming each other’s actions. This is paramount “old school” ideology to me. The second, and possibly the most impactful to a game, is the fact that OSR products (maybe I should just state “old school” products) have elements that just are not fair. This to me is actually a good thing. Level drain, monsters potentially popping up far beyond a parties ability to deal, really bad attribute rolls, etc are all example of such “unfair” rules. The fact that such rules exist enhances the sense of believability in my opinion. Life itself is not fair, so why does modern roleplaying seek balance and fairness for all involved? That ideology tends to add to the sterile nature of many modern systems. I get the roleplaying is a game and that players can have a strange need to feel equal to the other players, but that ideology does not lend itself well to a great narrative. Some of the best roleplaying I have ever been part of was the work of the least capable character in the group. I have had “drop in” players take up the role of existing hirelings and add so much to the story as to have become indispensable to the game. Sometimes, a lack of “fair and balanced” can be the spark for great roleplaying as opposed to “roll-playing”.

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be: The only one I read with any regularity is ‘Olde House Rules’, mostly because it also pops up in my Facebook feed. The writer also avoids that element of pretension common in many gaming blogs (including my own).

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is: I believe that would be Faerie Tales & Folklore, though I am not exactly sure if I am proud of it.

15. I’m currently running/playing: Continued play testing for Faerie Tales & Folklore, especially in what I have termed ‘The Great Campaign’. Set within the Mythological Earth, the campaign moves from Roman Britain to the borders of the Han Dynasty and many places in between. It is very loosely based on a series historical occurrences, with a lot of “what if” to stitch things together.

16. I don’t care whether you use ascending or descending AC because: Actually, I almost do care. Armor Class was brought from Chainmail and was originally ascending. Furthermore, armor class in Chainmail had a much more specific meaning then found in later versions of D&D. In Chainmail, armor class was specific to certain combinations of armor and shield. This allowed a more believable interaction between various weapons and armor.

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice: Too snarky?

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