Thursday, 23 August 2012

Renaissance, Revival or Revolution: Does OSR Gaming Evolve?

Erik Tenkar posting at his Tavern ( subtlety (perhaps unknowingly) raised an important consideration that lurks on the fringe of the OSR, namely questions surrounding ‘substance’ and ‘style’.  To date, in my admittedly recent foray into the OSR, I have tried to get a sense of both ‘substance’ – by which I mean what to game and ‘style’- meaning how to game. Indeed, while other ‘substance’ (and surely ‘style’) options exist, a short Google search or a weekend at OSRcon, fantasy - OD&D fantasy- highlights the reality that for the moment, OD&D puts the ‘O’ in old school.

If Mattew Finch’s 'Quick Primer for Old School Gaming', taken together with the tone of online commentary, and my (again very limited) experiences of contemporary visions of OS ‘play’, prove representative standards defining the nature of the OSR, in what ways can other visions, styles and substances be incorporated?  Indeed, can they be, without a significant re-think of what OS in fact means?

One of the subtexts I noted in (or read into?) Sean Robson’s recent post (, was that perhaps the boundaries of the OSR are being reached so long as OSR itself is, in reality, a code word for a particular substance (OD&D-inspired mechanics) and style (dungeoncrawl, hexcrawl).  Not surprisingly then, just as historically the hobby evolved, so too must its revival (or is that renaissance? revolution?)

Perhaps, as we have seen with Goblinoid Games recent efforts, republishing out-of-print games marks one evolutionary direction.  But what of games that never actually disappeared?  Systems still in print such as T&T, RQ, HARP, Traveller and Palladium Fantasy may not be first, but they are, to my mind, definitely first wave.  Yet, while owing a debt of both inspiration and degree to OD&D, each offered different substance and, more often than not, style too.  

Surely, difference must be acknowledged before it can be celebrated.  Here then lies the rub: if a game is neither linked to the past trajectory of the OSR in terms of either substance or style is it still OSR?  Can OSR be broadened towards inclusion and evolution?  Is, in fact, OSR also something intangible, a reaction, or an attitude?  What effect would this elasticity have, as in the end (as we see in OSRcon’s suggestion), OSR is definable as little more than a historical time period. 

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