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.
PART 2: SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT
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, Itch.io 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.
(Have you got others? I probably missed a lot. Drop 'em in the comments)
PART 3: What FollowsWhere 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.
PART 4: EDITS WERE MADE
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.
BONUS: DISC HORSE
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.