What's the OSR doing right that maybe the New School isn't?

edited October 2018 in Story Games
I'm sorry to categorize, and half-assedly define two things, that aren't really that separate, but also are. Try and figure that sentence out. It's an apology, along with an acknowledgement of ignorance, laziness and the briefest of arrogance.

Is it because the system is open, and somewhat recognizable?
To me, and maybe I'm really freaking wrong, the osr seems healthier, more robust than new school, hippy games do.

I fully admit that the osr isn't really a thing like a tree is, or a person is, but a movement. A practice. A history. A method.

Do you have any vague, rambling thoughts like these?

Comments

  • edited October 2018
    The OSR is based on the ideas advanced in the Most Popular Tabletop Roleplaying Thing Of All Time, Forever. It doesn't have to do anything right at all to be more popular, robust and vibrant than literally everything else going on in the hobby.

    Just like asking Willie Sutton why he robbed banks. "That's where the money is!"

    Don't get me wrong, it is doing a lot of things right including creating a community around a particular aesthetic and artistic set of ideas. But it doesn't have to do anything at all to win that contest.

    Furthermore, the New School (ahem) simply was never interested in doing that (compare Burning Wheel to Primetime Adventures to Apocalypse World, for example) and, resultantly, would never have the kind of collective success the OSR has even if the OSR didn't have the coattails of a D&D cultural moment that is going beyond anything we could have imagined since 1984 to ride.
  • Don't get me wrong, it is doing a lot of things right including creating a community around a particular aesthetic and artistic set of ideas. But it doesn't have to do anything at all to win that contest.
    This is the part I'm most interested in.

    I don't care about any fake contest. If it seems like I'm focusing on that, some bullshit dichotomy, I'm not trying to.
    I understand that it's(OSR) got some intrinsic advantages. I feel, and maybe I'm wrong, but it's doing something right, besides just successfully riding coattails.



  • I don't want to say that the OSR is ideologically homogeneous, but I do think that it has a much more narrow focus than the "New School" does. The latter is almost certainly going to be a far more ideologically disparate group, and you can't really expect the kind of synergy.

    If I like some OSR content there's a decent chance that I will at least be interested in any other arbitrary piece of OSR content. I don't believe that the same is true of hippie games.
  • I think what’s interesting about this question isn’t the Old-School vs New School contest, it’s what are some cool/good things that OSR games do that New School games have forgotten about?

    I know nothing about OSR, but as someone who’s interested in designing New School style games, I’d love to know about any good design ideas that OSR employs that the New School doesn’t. Where are the blind spots? What has fallen out of fashion but actually works great at a table?

    I’m sure there are all kinds of gems buried in the OSR that the rest of us could use & learn from.
  • Aren't you trying to compare Archives and R&D departments ?
  • I'm sorry to categorize, and half-assedly
    To me, and maybe I'm really freaking wrong, the osr seems healthier, more robust than new school, hippy games do.
    Can I ask what it is in particular that gives you that impression?

  • edited October 2018
    Things that I think the OSR is doing better than Weird Games right now, just from my passing familiarity with stuff in the OSR sphere (it's not really my scene):

    - Zines, both print and digital
    - Self-publishing WITHOUT crowdfunding
    - Setting a really low, accessible bar for entry into legit game publishing
    - Taking advantage of D&D being cool again (at least for now)
    - Making super-weird content accessible (since it all runs on D&D)
    - Creating a shared sense of community/identity
    - Cultivating a hip and edgy vibe
    - Connections between older and younger generations
    - Generating attention and excitement
    - Generating significant sales for small products

    Weird Games used to be good at some of those things, but we're kind of in a transitional stage again, I think? But I'm also a bit out of the loop and don't really get to see the mentoring and community-building that's probably happening at places like Metatopia, so I could be wrong on some of those. Also, for some of those things I am kind of glad that Weird Games doesn't do them as much anymore.
  • "New school"? I'll note that, when I first read the title of this thread, I thought the comparison was OSR vs. 21st century mass-market D&D (3E and onward), as that's the sort of comparison the Old School Primer lays out.
  • That's what I thought as well. "Old school" is old D&D, "middle school" is trad-style D&D, "new school" is post-3rd edition WotC D&D. Relatively little to do with non-D&D games (although of course there are connections), the way I've seen this school age comparison terminology used.
  • edited October 2018
    I need some vibe measuring device to agree with John Walton. I mean, aren't PbtA games the new cool kids ? In both cases, the flagship gives visibility. But there can't be one flagship for all Weird Games. Weird Games is a swarm. It doesn't care about this thing you want done right.
    What we see is that parts of Weird Games make it anyhow, through other games DNA, if you pardon one more analogy.
  • I mean, aren't PbtA games the new cool kids?
    I was thinking much the same thing, though I feel like the PbtA hype has waned some in the last couple years. But I also agree on the other counts: PbtA-alone still leaves a lot of Weird Games ground untouched, and the reincorporation of Weird Games elements into the "mainstream" can present, I think, a very different paradigm for judging their "health" compared to the OSR.

    In fact, with those first and last points combined, I often find myself not thinking of PbtA in general as part of the hippie fringe just by virtue of how much adoption and success it often saw (a categorization I make with absolutely no attached value judgements about mainstream vs Weird Games, just in case it sounds like I'm trying to arbitrarily gatekeep the tabletop avant garde).
  • To further clarify things... maybe? I'm always kinda amazed how much drift happens in forum communication. I guess it happens in real world, face-to-face communication as well.

    I'm talking about small-press, labors of love.

    OSR = smallish-press things, based sometimes only vaguely, on the oldest of old versions of Dungeons & Dragons

    New School = smallish press things, often with a disregard for Dungeons & Dragons, and with a different focus and goals in mind
  • As a side-note, it'd be great to be getting this much interest in my query post concerning creating colorful characters to populate towns in Ryuutama.
  • edited October 2018
    - Setting a really low, accessible bar for entry into legit game publishing
    This sounds to me like it might be pretty important here. I'd love to hear more thoughts on this if you have 'em!
  • edited October 2018
    @Nathan_H It's just that everyone's concepts have been constructed through different experiences. Forums and generally discussion are useful to beep-beep-check these concepts, comparing and updating their value with that of others.

    Now if you define OSR by relation with D&D, the obvious answer has been given. They have a flagship that obliterates the moon. I don't get what you don't get.

    Maybe "hardcore challenge based games" are more successful than "collaborative narrative games". I don't know. If it's the case it's perfectly fitting with the dominant values in western society. Hence the "hippy" tag. And it's still nothing OSR "does right". It's still howling with the wolves.
  • To further clarify things... maybe? I'm always
    New School = smallish press things, often with a disregard for Dungeons & Dragons, and with a different focus and goals in mind
    Hard to see these as less healthy, robust when:
    2017: Dialect (190k KS)
    2018: Good Society (110k KS)
    201?: Star-Crossed (60k KS)
    201?: Dream Askew/Dream Apart (47k KS)
    201?: Imp of the Perverse (27k KS)
    201?: BFF! (25k KS)
    201?: Something Is Wrong Here (22k KS)

    All new, out there concepts, no rehashing of old games. Not even PbtA/FitD.





  • I don't think we're talking about commercial success here, are we? That's not how I took the original comment. A lot of OSR stuff is just dumped for free on blogs.
  • In no particular order...

    It is very easy to be productive and useful in OSR discussions. Do you need a list of desperate and motivated people in wild west or whatever else? Just ask. Someone else asks? Contribute an entry or two. This kind of lists are useful and appreciated and part of the culture.

    Because many of the game share sensibilities, it is also possible to think about the effect of changes in isolation. What would happen if attack rolls always hit? What would happen if, every time a priest gains a level, you roll d100 and if it is below the new level they ascend to their god's realm? To critique an experimental indie game, you need understand an entire new game, and one that might be strange to all sensibilities.

    Consequently, the gap between "designer" and "game master" is quite small, due to the ease of participation and hacking, and adventures and settings being a respectable thing to publish. Adventures, settings, new classes, spells, monsters and generally new content is not so common among experimental games.

    People have divided themselves into groups - there are the DIYD&D artsy left-wing OSR people who experiment and are okay with gonzo and gore in the same circles. There are the people who have always played the same game and like TSR-style adventures (whatever that means to them) or the same campaign world in which they have played for eternity and who often prefer more family-friendly and conventional content. Maybe pundit and his ilk have a community, too, if they count as OSR, but I have no idea what they do and produce, if anything, or if anyone cares. I have no idea if there are fairly clear subcommunities among experimental games people. Clear in the sense that there are separate online communities and resources, and also clear in the sense that it is pretty easy to decide if you like TSR AD&D -type content and so should go to Dragonsfoot, or if you like bizarre monsters and strange art and should follow Scrap Princess. It is easy to know if you are in a right or a wrong place.

    OSR and mainstream D&D are fairly close to each other, so moving people and content between them is fairly simple, which benefits both.

    Many OSR games allow for a wide variety of styles of play, much like many traditional games do. A campaign may change style of play, slowly drifting here and there, or a group might start as doing something non-standard. There still is a strong default to fall back on (dungeoneering, wilderness exploration, at least moderately challenge-focused). Experimental games are often highly-focused in terms of how to play them.

    The games support both long-term play and short play, since half of the design is the adventure.

    Zak S. has frequently argued that art and layout are important factors, and also Jim Raggi uses money on those. Based on their track record I would not disregard it.

    The bar to play is not very big, but there is depth to play - you come, roll or are given a character, and then you can hang out and say "I follow" and "I attack" every now and then, or you can plan expeditions or draw maps or negotiate or experiment with everything. The games work with a single active player, and work well with a few of them. Passive players are not a problem if active ones are present. Also, silent and introverted players are not a problem. Many experimental games require far more intense participation from all players, or they will fall flat.


  • Weird Games used to be good at some of those things, but we're kind of in a transitional stage again, I think? But I'm also a bit out of the loop and don't really get to see the mentoring and community-building that's probably happening at places like Metatopia, so I could be wrong on some of those. Also, for some of those things I am kind of glad that Weird Games doesn't do them as much anymore.
    For sure. I'm in the Weird Games zone and it's impossible to get eyeballs anymore unless I kickstart which I have no interest in. It used to be that we'd rally together and co-promote (like the OSR does) but that just doesn't seem to happen any more. They have a banner to rally under. We don't and, worse, we might be more exclusionary.
  • I don't think we're talking about commercial success here, are we? That's not how I took the original comment. A lot of OSR stuff is just dumped for free on blogs.
    I don't really know what is meant by healthy or robust here. And a lot of the hyped OSR stuff certainly isn't free. Look at the games Ben Milton talks about on Questing Beast for example. They're all supposed to be bought.
  • edited October 2018
    There's no question that art and presentation are a huge part of RPG success these days (perhaps always!) Perhaps the only part. City of Mists is a tangled jumble of stumbling second-draft writing, but it is stunning as an artifact, has some incredible gems of fictional concepts and even a couple of good mechanics, and made a hundred grand on Kickstarter. There's an argument to be made that what RPG purchasers want is cool looking art, glossy pages and some awesome fictional ideas, and if the mechanics are extremely bad, that's a plus for a significant number, and not a minus for a dramatically larger number.
  • The bar to play is not very big, but there is depth to play - you come, roll or are given a character, and then you can hang out and say "I follow" and "I attack" every now and then, or you can plan expeditions or draw maps or negotiate or experiment with everything. The games work with a single active player, and work well with a few of them. Passive players are not a problem if active ones are present. Also, silent and introverted players are not a problem. Many experimental games require far more intense participation from all players, or they will fall flat.
    I think this is a crucial point.

    OSR is, just as D&D and "traditional" RPGs, heavily focused on the "game" side rather than the "story" or the "role-play". Not that it's impossible to play those aspects, but the rules by themselves deal almost exclusively with the "game" part, and the "story" part is mostly "consumed" from pre-written material (or from the Gm's prep) rather than collectively "produced" at the table.

    Think of the archetypal dungeon crawl session: a group of heterogeneous people meet for no sensible reason in a generic tavern and is given for no sensible reason a MacGuffin mission that brings them into a completely unrealistic "dungeon" filled with traps and creatures that have no sensible reason to be there other than provide a carefully balanced game challenge. Is it a good story? Meh. (There are modules with better stories than this one, of course, but that's not required.) Is it good role-play? Who knows. It's completely up to players' style, but good role-playing is actually not required for the game to work. Is it a fun game? Sure!

    For many people this is more appealing and definitely easier than "hippier" games. Being creative is challenging and definitely harder than deciding whom to attack in your round or when to cast your precious spell. It's not a coincidence that there are far more computer gamers than novelists. Games that put the player into an authorial role are automatically less accessible and require a different kind - if not level - of involvement.

    Also, there are - usually - more people willing to be "just" a player rather than taking the bigger burden of being a GM. For many people GMing is not fun at all: too much work, too much thinking, too much responsibility, too much spotlight. Many "new school" games spread some of the GM's tasks among the players, so this also can be a barrier for some tables.

    When I tried to play Fate with my friends, they wanted to skip the collaborative world-building part (which I saw as an interesting and exiting part of the game); we ended up playing a sort-of dungeon crawl with the Fate rules, not bad but definitely not a Fate game. And when we played Swords Without Master, a couple of them told me that they found hard and weird to be in an authorial role.

    So, yes, I can see how for many people OSR games can be more accessible, easy and appealing than "hippier" styles of RPGs, but it's not a matter of doing "right" or "wrong".

    ("IMO" applies)
  • Oh how I've missed you, Jason.
  • For what it's worth, my own experiences with OSR-style play make me feel that being a passive participant isn't very rewarding. Unlike more modern editions of D&D where what you're suggesting is certainly true, I don't think there's really that much of a structured game to speak of in most OSR rulesets.

    Regardless, I'm not even sure that it's true that OSR has a more robust play community than Weird Games (if that's even what is trying to be argued), at least not based on my experience with conventions (admittedly a narrow view of the RPG playing world no matter how you slice it).

    Another point to consider is that a popular (though certainly not universal) trend in Weird Games is reducing the amount of prep, while a lot of OSR productivity is basically nothing more than prep and/or "lonely fun"-style designing. It's very much a tradition where "the DM is also a game designer" holds true. All the open space leaves a lot of room for semi-bespoke design, even if it's just micro-design; how do I run this encounter, how do I populate this dungeon, how do I stat this monster, etc...
  • I think D&D is about generating fun for people, without a burden. You show up, hang out with your friends, and laugh for 3-4 hours. No one has to perform.

    The OSR is about making that work even better

    I mean, it's popular because it's good. And it always has been. It's not like there's anyone gatekeeping the industry. D&D is still tops. Getting treasure, levelling up, playacting venturing into the jungian unknown, it's levels more compelling then anything happening in a structured game where everyone has levels and controls over what happens.
    YMMV
  • edited October 2018

    OSR is, just as D&D and "traditional" RPGs, heavily focused on the "game" side rather than the "story" or the "role-play". Not that it's impossible to play those aspects, but the rules by themselves deal almost exclusively with the "game" part, and the "story" part is mostly "consumed" from pre-written material (or from the Gm's prep) rather than collectively "produced" at the table.
    What do you mean by "role-play", here?

    And what do you mean by "story", for that matter? OSR is very adamantly against railroading and prepared stories, and very much for player choice and, in longer games, often sandbox play. The idea that story is not something one strives for, but something that might happen, is common. Here, one should understand "story" as something more than only a sequence of events following each other.

    Think of the archetypal dungeon crawl session: a group of heterogeneous people meet for no sensible reason in a generic tavern and is given for no sensible reason a MacGuffin mission that brings them into a completely unrealistic "dungeon" filled with traps and creatures that have no sensible reason to be there other than provide a carefully balanced game challenge. Is it a good story? Meh. (There are modules with better stories than this one, of course, but that's not required.) Is it good role-play? Who knows. It's completely up to players' style, but good role-playing is actually not required for the game to work. Is it a fun game? Sure!
    OSR is typically very vocal about being against balanced game challenges. I have not seen that many MacGuffin missions, but I am sure many exist. This sounds like a completely different part of OSR than what I have been exposed to. Now I'm curious; what kind of OSR stuff have you been reading or playing?

    For what it's worth, my own experiences with OSR-style play make me feel that being a passive participant isn't very rewarding. Unlike more modern editions of D&D where what you're suggesting is certainly true, I don't think there's really that much of a structured game to speak of in most OSR rulesets.
    I, also, do not find being a passive participant very rewarding, so I try to be more active when playing and hence have more fun. But if someone is very quiet, or is passive (not the same thing), they do not kill an OSR game by doing so.

    I do not know if OSR games include a structured game, but they certainly support one - characters go to a dangerous and unexplored location, try to survive and get rich, while players play their characters so as to achieve these goals. The games offer mechanics for handling many typical situations that are difficult to adjudicate (most famously, combat rules for martial conflicts), while leaving off stuff that can easily be played out (social interaction) or that is difficult to mechanize in an interesting way (solving problem by mcguyvering random bits together). GM/referee adjudicates that. Many rule sets also help in running the location by offering random encounter rules and reaction rolls etc.
  • edited October 2018
    @valis My mileage is parsecs away from yours and yet "Where everybody has levers and controls over what happens" gave me a great insight. Take a hippie game and collaborate to slowly strip it of its security systems, weld the direction, etc. Not joking.
  • edited October 2018
    I will try to explain what I mean with "perfectly fitting with the dominant values in western society".
    Some people are under the impression that Weird games are weird, hard to grasp, even that handing creative power to the players is dangerous. Because of some bad experiences, some players tend to be more conservative than they need. We have a saying that goes "scalded cat fears cold water", that is : even if it would be good for them, they made their mind on a first bad impression. When I hear this kind of talk, I can't help thinking that it's due to a stigma attached to Weird games.
    I find the word "stigma" fitting, in that it's not only something that we think as individuals, but something that we pass along in our behaviours and discourses, Foucault calls it "power", I call it "dominant values".

    TL;DR
    Weird games go against conservative reflexes, the very term being, you know, kind of a clue. I am not whining, it just seems so obvious I find it hard to discuss.

    edit : focused on topic, found the word "stigma", and kept at bay ramblings about someone nice enough to excuse me.
  • For those people wishing to have a "semi/passive players in D&D(-ish games)" conversation (I might perhaps be one of you, maybe), I really believe that conversation will be more useful if you have it in a separate thread, not enmeshed here. Part of why is, I don't think that's a topic specific to OSR at all, it's more about:
    - weird indie games vs. "trad" role-playing games
    - strong GM-led games vs. everybody on equal grounds games
    - some strands of weird indie games vs. some other strands of weird indie games.

    One could even argue that hardcore that the sort of hardcore challenge-oriented, positioning-based, step-on-up D&D I tend to associate with the label "OSR" isn't nearly as resistant to certain forms of "passivity" (low creative engagement?) as a certain way of playing post-Dragonlance D&D/Call of Cthulhu/Pathfinder.
  • My take: Indie rpgs are doing just fine for what they are and they shouldn't be measured against selling D&D. In addition to the Kickstarter camapigns I mentioned above, there's zines like Codex or RESISTOR, even in Germany we have one now called Erzählspiel-Zine. There's a ton of indies being streamed on Twitch. Even more played online via the Gauntlet. If you don't do a Kickstarter (yet) you can do early access like Band of Blades, In Which We Live And Breathe or Mutants in the Night. There's mentoring by well known designers and the IGDN Metatopia Diversity Sponsorship. The 200 word rpg challenge gets more and more games every year and seems to be an easy way to get into designing indie rpgs (they've even been criticized for allegedly excluding more trad games).
  • edited October 2018
    The question is an interesting brainstorming exercise, but I pity the one who will have to make a digest with the answers.
    Can I try a rewording I think will be more focused ? "What's new on the OSR front that could be transferred to the whole indie lot ?"
  • The OSR is based on the ideas advanced in the Most Popular Tabletop Roleplaying Thing Of All Time, Forever. It doesn't have to do anything right at all to be more popular, robust and vibrant than literally everything else going on in the hobby.

    Just like asking Willie Sutton why he robbed banks. "That's where the money is!"

    Don't get me wrong, it is doing a lot of things right including creating a community around a particular aesthetic and artistic set of ideas. But it doesn't have to do anything at all to win that contest.

    Furthermore, the New School (ahem) simply was never interested in doing that (compare Burning Wheel to Primetime Adventures to Apocalypse World, for example) and, resultantly, would never have the kind of collective success the OSR has even if the OSR didn't have the coattails of a D&D cultural moment that is going beyond anything we could have imagined since 1984 to ride.
    The biggest thing the OSR does, at least for me, is it rewards material that is written and designed with table play in mind, and emphasizes approaches that work very well for long term successful campaigns. It also is very careful not to the throw out the baby with the bathwater where trends are concerned (which I think is an important strength). That isn't minor or accidental (and it certainly doesn't indicate to me that they don't have to do anything to 'win'). If you do either of those wrong, OSR folks won't give you any victory points. And if it wasn't working at the table, it wouldn't have gained the traction it has. There are much better voices out there than myself, as I am much more on the periphery. But I take a strong interest in OSR adventure design approaches, GMing approaches and attitudes toward rules, because, again, they tend to result in stuff that works much better at my table. It isn't simply aping D&D. You can take things from the OSR that are useful without even playing D&D. There is a spirit of play that sets it apart (and it goes beyond simple aesthetics). Yes excellent work was done building a community, but it is a community with a high satisfaction rate when it comes to table play (and this is honestly something I saw lacking in many other communities prior to the OSR).
  • edited October 2018
    What's the "trends" bit ?
  • What's the "trends" bit ?
    I just mean there are trends that happen with things like adventure design, GM advice, etc. In the 90s, for example, there was a trend away from dungeons towards story-driven adventures and towards meta plot. Prior to that there was a huge trend toward realistic simulation of things. It isn't bad to have trends. But don't forget about the dungeons. Don't forget about the tools that can be useful. Trends should occur. But the OSR is particularly mindful of losing good practices when trends overlook or turn against them (or when people are just tired of something because it has been used so much). And not saying everyone should always use dungeons. I am saying when I examined my table in the mid-2000s, because I was unhappy where the trends had led me, the thing that brightened my imagination and my interest again was reading the 1E Dungeon Masters Guide and realizing there were a lot of old tools, approaches and tricks, that I didn't even realize I had taken off the table. Bringing them back re-invigorated my campaigns. I started using more random tables again. I didn't avoid dungeons like I had been. I allowed for the game to be a game, without getting too wrapped up in it leading anywhere in particular. Not saying this is for everyone. For me, it was useful to play to the strengths of the medium. And a lot of the trends I had embraced just by being part of the hobby and absorbing mainstream common wisdom in the hobby, made me feel like I was fighting against the medium, rather than enjoying it on its own terms.
  • edited October 2018
    Edited away as no longer relevant.
  • edited October 2018
    I just wanted to show that there is a stigma attached to Weird games that they are difficult to handle, that narrative freedom requires extra caution, etc.

    edit : to make amends and keep to the topic
  • In addition to the Kickstarter camapigns I mentioned above, there's zines like Codex or RESISTOR, even in Germany we have one now called Erzählspiel-Zine.
    Hey, thanks for this! I wasn't sure there was even a hippy scene in Germany. That zine seems to mostly be about American games, but it's nice to see something in German related to these games nonetheless!
  • @Bedrockbrendan : I see, and it's true that some games are mostly probes, or demonstrations, like some jazz pieces, following one idea and leaving all the rest behind.
  • The OSR is having a bit of Linux Flavor problems. Interoperability is easy depending on how much work you want to do.

    Also like Linux you see some fanaticism.

    In the New School zone you see communities around PbtA games, Cortex, Fate but less among them.
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