Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The OSR, Part II

In many ways, the history of the OSR movement is bound up in the games they have helped create.

When 3.0 debuted, one of the first publishers was Necromancer Games, whose PR tagline was “Third Edition rules, First edition feel.” which is an effective a description as any I can think of. It was at this point that there was a publisher who sought to satisfy those who might have been dissatisfied with the play experience of that which came before.

It was several more years before that dissatisfaction blossomed into Castles & Crusades, which uses a rules-light version of 3rd edition in an attempt to recapture something that was felt to have been lost. Hackmaster is effectively 1st edition with additional rules, but Kenzer & Co’s RPG was more an attempt to recreate the fictional game of Hackmaster then it was to re-capture a particular essence of previous era of game play.

OSRIC was the first true retro-clone, or simulacrum. It set out to be a strategy more than a game, an attempt to use the OGL to create a game that could be used as a way to promote the new publication of 1st edition modules. Labyrinth Lord, which sought to emulate B/X, and Swords & Wizardry, which sought to emulate the original three volume box set of D&D soon followed.

More retro-clones, variations, modules, and supplements have appeared since, each taking a slightly different approach, either in marketing, theme or rules. Lamentations of the Flame Princess, for example, takes the B/X rules and applies the principles of horror to create a Weird (in the sense of the old Weird Tales magazine) Fantasy RPG.

There is a sense, in this explosion of enthusiasm and material, of a common purpose: a renewal of something that has been lost, a return to a time where play was paramount over rules, and most of all a style of play that was less frenetic, more leisurely, and much less complicated by matters of rules interpretation.

There are certainly different ways of expressing this ‘common’ purpose within the OSR movement; in particular James Malezewski has reminded all of us that old school does not have an exact equivalency with rules-light.

But I do think that there is a concern with ‘play over rules’ that marks this movement, and it is this reversal of priorities where the OSR movement shines brightest. Facilitating a sense of free play and improvisation is a common denominator that the OSR movement has with its sister sub-genre, the ‘indie games’ movement.

Like the OSR, the indie games movement promotes rules light texts. Like the OSR, the IGM is focused on play, rather than endless splat books, vast tomes of background material, and a consistent revenue streams. Most indie games are a single book, with any expansion designed to take the original idea in a totally new direction. The IGM doesn’t have too many modules, but OSR modules, especially with the explosion in the one page dungeon, is more about a text to base improvisation around, rather than a module in the old sense of the word. (Witness Fiasco, however, as an indie RPG with lots and lots of ‘modules.’)

As this is more of general sketch or introduction than a true history or analysis, and I am leaving out quite a bit. Many of the topics here demand expansion. But I do want to give some general context for some of the succeeding posts I will be writing, especially for those who have never been exposed to the OSR before.

Tomorrow: Your comments.

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