Yes, that thing. Or “thing”. OSR.
I was just peeking in again at Dragonsfoot, and unexpectedly, though it really shouldn’t have surprised me, I almost immediately came upon onother recent discussion of “What is OSR?” And my first reaction was “probably better not click at it, it’s almost certainly just more bickering and doom mongering about the state of western society”. This is the point where we are now. Where I think we’ve been for quite a while now. And I very much doubt that I am in a small minority of people having this reaction. I did end up looking into that thread and yes it was primarily about bitching about the collapse of western society. I didn’t read very far, but there were some intitial points raised that made me come to a conclusion about the various feelings I’ve had on the subject.
OSR has been over for a couple of years now. It’s not dead, it’s been concluded.
From how I experienced it, that thing that later became known as OSR began in the mid 2000s when the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons kept bloating and bloating until it was eventually discontinued and the plans for the new 4th Edition were increasingly looking like a drastic departure from all that had come before. And for a lot of people, that was the point where they said “I’m no longer wishing to keep up with current developments. I’m just going back to play the game the way I had enjoyed the most and stick with that.” OSRIC had actually been out since 2006, two years before 4th Edition. But I think the end of 3rd Edition really was the point where a lot of people paused to reflect about whether they wanted to hop onto this new thing or stick with their current thing, or perhaps even go back to an older thing.
And I think it is this reflection that really was this thing that went on to become known as OSR. Old School Reflections? It wasn’t just people thiking to themselves with which game edtion they had the most fun, but engaging in a wider conversation on why they feel they had more fun through the medium of blogspot sites. It was a period in which people dug into old rulebooks to critically analyze the mechanics and advice given in them, and exchange their experience with other GMs who were doing the same. Many things that had been discarded and dismissed as silly where quite literally rediscovered, and with the great wealth of experiences that had been gathered over the decades could now actually be much better understood. Old School Research?
The thing with research of this kind is that you often make lots of easy big discoveries early on, some more difficult discoveries later, and after that only very rarely minor and obscure discoveries of little impact to the bigger field. And I think this is exactly what we’ve been seeing here. All the really big and exciting stuff in OSR happened between about 2008 and 2010. Then the ocasional neat new idea up to maybe 2014, but since then I don’t think anyone has been making any new major contributions to the field. The Rennaisance had reached its end, it’s work been done.
It’s not like all of it went up in smoke and feded into the wind. I would argue the opposite. Of course, it seems quite ridiculous to say that the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is an OSR game. It really isn’t. But it is also very hard to deny that during the creation of this new game, the creators did draw significantly from this knowledge reintroduced into the sphere of fantasy adventure games by the old school revivalists. Not everything has been widely embraced, some things remain the domain of fringe enthusiasts. But the creative and intelectual space of roleplaying games today is fully suffused by ideas that came out of this period of reflections about what made early RPGs tick. If the term Old School Rennaisance makes any sense, then this is what it’s really about.
This does leave us with this somewhat strange position in which we are finding us today. Today, when something gets labled as OSR, it really is an “Old School Roleplaying Game”, which is “D&D Editions released by TSR”. It is a group of games, one among many other options that groups can chose from. But I think many people are fondly remembering the creative movement from a decade ago and are still somewhat under the impression that the two are still the same thing. And when there is nothing really left to discover or create, the only thing left to “the movement” is an endless cycle of self-reflection. Which is a conversation lots of people see little appeal in, which in turn provides much more space and attention for people who relish bickering. There probably has always been bickering, but with the intelectual and creative conversation having been concluded, that little bickering is now the only thing that is still going on.
Looking at my archive of posts, I stoppded using the OSR tag in mid 2017, almost two years ago now. It’s not that I no longer care about reaction rolls and morale checks, random encounters, encumbrance, noncombat-XP, and monsters that are safer to circumnavigate then to fight. I still love them, and I discovered their value from the great ongoing conversation about older RPGs. But all the things I am doing and writing now don’t feel to me like contributions to this discussion. A discussion that has concluded.
6 thoughts on “Oh, no! I am writing about that thing nobody wants to hear anymore.”
The American revolution is also long over, but everything we now do is predicated upon those historic events. It’s part of our country’s DNA.
D&D is just a silly hobby (one I happen to like too). Escapism shouldn’t be confused with the Real, as much as we’d like it to be otherwise.
It also is art. Often extremely simplistic and banal, but it’s what you make of it.
Art? Yes, why not. But should it be a lifestyle? Is it worth doing (internet) wars over it? That’s giving way too much seriousness to a hobby, however involving to oneself it can be…
From what I have wittnessed myself, any “OSR related discussions” in recent years have been “I found out that person is okay with something I find objectionable, and I am upset that he shares a hobby with me.”
It’s not even arguing, it’s just whining.
Obviously it’s not, and to the degree OSR is seen as a “movement” that needs curating, that’s a big problem. I agree with the post in that sense – there’s no need to reify a few years of discovery/discussion and turn it into an institution that people endlessly fight over. The whole modern “movement” is not, in that sense, any kind of real mediating institution or directly shared experience.
But there is a caveat, which is that artistically there is *always* some kind of discussion going on within a genre or form. OSR does now broadly describe a range of products/artpieces rather than a particular creative process, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be meaningful discussion about those products, according to the canons of the genre/form…but the caveat to that caveat is that as the OSR is not a mediating institution, there is no one person or group who can define those canons. Which means that attempts to discuss those canons across subgroups is doomed not just to disagreement, but complete semiotic failure.