Monday, November 11, 2019

Original, Simple, Ready to Hack

The bloated ourobouros that is The Discourse (TM) has slouched towards Bethlehem once again, nibbling at its tail. This has inspired me to do the smart intensely stupid thing of distancing myself from it interacting with it. I have thrown my hat in the ring, to be gobbled up by the mindless many-mouthed colossus.

PART 1: Dandy's Eightfold Path

OSR games are...

  • Original -The game content setting and rules are novel and/or shares lineage with variants of the OD&D ruleset. It is not required that both of these be active simultaneously.
  • Simple - The core rules are easy to explain and learn. They can be understood easily by new players, children, drunkards, and the occasional very clever dog.
  • Ready to Hack  - The game is modular, so it is trivial to change rules, add mechanics, make substitutions, and otherwise incredibly easy to make your own material.

The act of play is...

  • Organic - The story and world are emergent, coming into being during the act of play. Random tables, player input, whim + foppery, and chains of consequences all play into this.
  • Skill-Based - A player's skill at navigating problems with novel solutions is worth more than the character's mechanical skills. Unorthodoxy is rewarded.
  • Reactive - The world of the game is not static, nor does it conform to a set of genre expectations. It exists outside of the players and reacts to their actions. Consequences are enforced.

And finally, the most important...

  • Make Cool Shit - You know that cool shit you want to exist but doesn't? Make it. Make it yours. Make it the coolest shit you can make. Life is too short to wait to let other people make  shit you think is cool.
  • Fuck the Man - The Man is not your real dad and therefore cannot tell you what to do. Your own real dad can only offer polite suggestions on what you should do, if he is a cool dude. Submit to no authority. Silence brands. Publicly humiliate Nazis. Murder the gods and topple their thrones.


The Discourse (TM) tends to go something like this: A person outside the OSR noosphere has a brush with some of the unpleasant elements of the scene, makes some broad statements on twitter, everyone gets all up in a huff and spends the next few days wondering if we should even use the term anymore and how to deal with the shitheads who are tramping around and what even is this OSR stuff anyway when we get down to it and a few people distance themselves from the label and then we all forget about it and we go back to normal for the next two months.

I hate this cycle so, so much. I hate it because it's stupid and I hate it because arguments over the precise nature and definition of what is and isn't OSR are precisely as stupid as similar arguments about science fiction. All broad categories contain multitudes of variation within them, so the idea of talking about the OSR or science fiction as if either is a singular thing is a very silly bit of reductionism.

So I propose this: there are schools of the OSR as there are schools of wizardy or schools of philosophy or schools of sci-fi. There can be no "true OSR", because purity is a lie unbefitting an entropic universe.

All of these are malleable, shifting, overlapping, intermingling, and otherwise inconstant. A single person can and will be a member of multiple schools at a time and can shift between them according to both time and specific projects. There are certainly schools I have left out. They are all subjective, except for the Regressive Wanker School.

  • Retroclone School - Focused upon games that revise and repackage OD&D, B/X, etc, without major additions or modifications. Old School Essentials, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
  • Regressive Wanker School - Those who spend far more of their time complaining about SJWs and/or storygames and being unpleasant to be around than creating cool shit. Love playing victim and proclaiming over-inflated self-importance. Pundit, Venger, Zak.
  • Goblin School -The very particular flavor of weird originating with Arnold K. Includes anyone who plays around with the GLOG and I lump most bloggers with their own bespoke weird-takes-on-vanilla-fantasy settings here.
  • DREAM School - Hybrid school experimenting with storygame elements. Lightweight, personal, and Twitter based. More of an inclusive social contract than a specific set of dev guidelines, but many DREAM games share the similar traits listed.
  • Dog Knight School - Grotty, cynical, gross, decadent, obscene. Eat trash do crimes. Fuck the Man. If Fiona Geist likes it, it's probably Dog Knight.
  • Light and Cozy School - Light and comfy games with a lot of influences from fairytales, cartoons, and JRPGs. BREAK! is the poster child. Counterbalance to Dog Knight.
  • New School Old School - OSR attitudes towards play but sprouting off into complete new rulesets and genres. Mothership, Maze Rats & Knave, Esoteric Enterprises, TROIKA!.
  • Hardcore Artcore School - People who get really artsy and out there. Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess.
  • Orbital School - People who don't identify with OSR as a label but the games they make and their styles of play fit right in.
  • Fiver School - Folks who do mostly 5e (or close to it) stuff, but they still have the energy to them. Jack Shear and Kiel Chenier.
  • The Generally Cool School - Individuals who are off doing their own thing and killing it.
  • FLAILSNAIL School - The "who cares do whatever" school of gonzo, as spearheaded by Jeff Rients. Anything goes, everything is cross-compatible.
  • The Big Time School - Games that have broken out into the big leagues (or what we have of them). DCC and Shadow of the Demon Lord.
  • Alignments are for Suckers School - For those who neither have nor want a school. Rock on, people.
I'd say I am a Goblin-NSOS friendly to the ideas of DREAM and dipping a bit into Dog Knight when the mood strikes me.

(Have you got others? I probably missed a lot. Drop 'em in the comments)

PART 3:  What Follows

Where do we go from here? Wherever we want to. I'll be damned if I hand over the reins to the Regressive Wanker School, and I'll likewise be damned if I sit still and let good folks doing a great job out there get painted with a broad, dismissive brush.

And I'll be damned triply if I let The Discourse (TM) show it's ugly mug on this blog in the future. 

I solved the problem we can all go home.


David Schirduan of Technical Grimoire made a tweet saying that OSR should actually stand for Open Source Roleplaying and this is the correct answer toss all my garbage right out the window.

Open Source Roleplaying. Free to all. This is the secret of the eightfold path.


Oh god what the fuck. Why is it circular. What did you do to this horse. It is like a plate on its rim, with horse legs around the edge. Too many legs. Why does it have so many legs. No I will not look into its horrible horse eyes, the horse eyes that beg for death no I will not listen to the pitiful whinnies that plead for mercy. What has happened to this horse.

God has abandoned us.

Appearance: As a creature vaguely-resembling but no longer in practice a horse.
Attacks: Trampling hooves. Medium damage 1-4 strikes
Armor: Only speed grants it defense from the blades it deserves
# Appearing: 1. There is only ever 1.

All Will Shudder and Collapse With Trembling: Witnessing the DISC HORSE is an immediate will check to avoid panicking (fight/flight/freeze response)

Abomination in the Eyes of God and Science: Simply being in the presence of the DISC HORSE will give all magic a 33% chance of failure with a terrible blowback (roll for mutation!) This applies also to magical devices, electronic devices, and anything involving gunpowder or internal combustion.

Even the Angels Are Afraid: A DISC HORSE will immediately throw any angels, demons, elementals, chaos-spawn, or lawful adjudicators into a panic. Beings of singular essence cannot handle this horrific bullshit.

Love Will Not Save Us: If someone should deliver a blow that drives the DISC HORSE below 1/2 HP, it will make a beeline towards whatever that person holds dear and attempt to destroy it utterly. It is very fast. Despair means that it does not tire.

FUCKING BUER: If the DISC HORSE is captured and Buer is summoned in the same location, they shall form the damnable artifact THE BICYCLE OF WOE. If this does not kick off the apocalypse, it means that God truly is dead and the heavens are empty.


  1. Schools are a good idea, maybe sidesteps some of the hand wringing that that occurs every now and again.

  2. Clearly I must mixt your excellent observations with my more... erm… something... classification!

    Seriously speaking, schools? Trends? Currents? I'm not 100% sure what the best term is, but you are completely correct that the OSR is not just one thing - and that's ok.

    Lastly, Buer has to be involved...

  3. Hardcore Artcore School forever. Make it as retro-pretentious as all human artifice allows. I’ve declared my allegiance and am open to wizard duels from all other schools!

    1. Prepare thyself Ben, for the reach of the Goblin is long!

    2. New School Old School has the most potent magicks and our familiars are most endearing!

  4. I've been feeling for awhile like the OSR of today is different from last year, but I couldn't exactly pin it down. I think you're right though, that there's been a proliferation of mini-scenes. (Or maybe most of them were there already, but the post-Gplus diaspora makes it more obvious?)

    I'm probably on the periphery of several mini-scenes, which is pretty normal for me. I sometimes feel envious of those who are in the center of a scene (whose presence practically defines it) but that's never really been my place in any part of my life.

    In addition to the "orbital school" I think there's also a group who mostly make their home among story gamers, but their interest in things like Dungeon World, Vagabonds of Dyfed, Freebooters on the Frontier, Trophy Gold, etc, are explicitly intended to capture some OSR style (in their own words, not just my opinion).

  5. 10/10 for DISC HORSE.

    I want to reclassify your classifications according to my classifications but that would mean that I did not learn from your mistake.

  6. Overabundant Selection of Retinues

  7. Is DISC Horse a dead horse which just got beaten to the state of pancake with legs?

    1. Who is to know? It is a mystery unfit for human consumption...

    2. I am asking because if it is, it is a good metaphor.

  8. not to beat a disc horse, but [zealous handwringing regarding communities and/or genres followed by "not all OSR"]

  9. Normally people making categories of things are so insufferable I've grown really distrustful of the practice, but this was accomplished with such good humor I can't do anything but agree.

  10. Slightly more seriously, I view games/OSR the same way I view watercolours as painting medium.
    There are many different systems/brands-paint sets - some quick and easy, with limited palettes of 12, some with 100+ pigments and growing. Handmade, factory-made. Ones you can use on a go, ones that need a studio and a lot of stable space. More expensive, less expensive. Using different pigments, binders, principles of combination - and you can stick to one brand/system or piecemeal your own palette. Some watercolours are digital, emulating the feel/look but nothing to do with actual physical medium/original system. Some paints are so weird that the only thing that makes them watercolours is that they aren't oils, inks or acrylics (or pens, or pencils, or markers).
    And each artist works differently even within the same medium; medium defines the overall look/feel and particularities of process but techniques and the themes are different for each artist. Some artists are purists, using just watercolours to their full potential, some add other paints/mediums to increase what is possible to portray; neither way is inherently superior.

    And watercolours as medium had one of the most notorious dictators and war criminals as their practitioner, but it didn't (and it shouldn't) prevent many other wonderful people from creating works of art.

  11. “The Generally Cool School”. What’s not to like?

  12. As someone powerfully outside the loop, I thank you for finally explaining it in a way my rotten mind can grasp.

  13. My rather unoriginal thought is this: definitions inherently limit things, defining what they are abd can be. As far as I know, the only people who care about defining the OSR are people who want to co-opt and control it.

    So I say to Hell with labels and anyone who tries to label you or the OSR. I hate the people trying to come into the scene and make it the same safe, sanitized corporate slop you can find at a hundred other places. I much prefer when those people go off and mske something like SWORD DREAM ir whatever it's called.

    But if I had to define the OSR it would be: if you make cool RPG stuff without all the modern RPG nonsense, you're OSR. And if you don't, you're probably not.

    Also Dan, I disagree with your assessment of Venger and Pundit. The former seems to just want to mske weird stuff and doesn't care what people think and the latter actively defends the OSR from totalitarian minded individuals. Furthermore, as far as I know, neither of them have anything in common with Zak, who was just a bad person. In fact, to even think of Zak as "regressive" is absurd. Did you see what he wrote?

    1. I did. He wrote his intent to file an international lawsuit in a country where the court would lean in his favor to retaliate at a woman who spoke out against him. That isn't progress towards anything good.

      It's terribly funny how these "totalitarian-minded individuals" are a vague, shadowy "people who want to co-opt and control it" or the people "trying [...] to make it safe, sanitized corporate slop" (I've yet to find a single instance of such an individual, let alone multiple) and not, say, Alexander Macris, who in the very best case scenario had no qualms from accepting money from white nationalists.

      "Only I can defend you from this outside force that is corrupting us" is straight out of a very dark playbook. It's got no place in civil society, because that shadowy enemy does not exist. Zak liked using the Drama Brigade and those evil, evil storygamers, but the principle is the same.

    2. "...if I had to define the OSR it would be: if you make cool RPG stuff without all the modern RPG nonsense, you're OSR. And if you don't, you're probably not."

      This might be useful, except you need to define "cool" and "modern."

      Not exactly an easy task . . .

  14. Maybe I just don't get the joke, but I hoped for a proper classification... y'know, with genealogical trees, pointing out cross-pollination, focussing on the games and underlying principles rather than social groups.

  15. You forgot the "Still playing 1E AD&D and old wargames" branch of the Old School Revival / Renaissance. We're alive and well, thank you very much ;-p , and some of us are playing games every Second Sunday - The OSR @ LGG at Lake Geneva Games in Wisconsin (Warning: may include the occasional Gygax sighting) and going to Gary Con every year. Come join us!

    1. I expect to start seeing "Gygax lives!" memes.

  16. Liked: "You forgot the "Still playing 1E AD&D and old wargames" branch of the Old School Revival / Renaissance."

    That's me. Too bad I'm in Charleston, SC, or I'd be there Mark!

  17. Thank you trebley for still applying Joesky's Law, Dan.
    You are a man among them.

  18. Sorry for being late to the party, but what are examples of DREAM games?

    1. In one of the aspects of this essay that aged the least well, DREAM games never actually coalesced into a thing. It was a vague label, halfway to a joke, that was bandied about for a time but ultimately didn't amount to much.

  19. I can accept this definition of our dreary departed OSR, RIP good friend.

    I guess that makes me Neo-Classical/retro clone (Proceduralist) Orbital-Artcore?

    It would be nice if the hobby could analyze the design of 5 - 15 years ago (Let alone 1974) without too much agitation.