The OSR Title and Evolving Meaning

I wrote this. I’m braced for people to not read this as they are reading this, and I want to be pleasantly surprised.

What I’m really trying to say is that OSR at the beginning meant, “I’m preserving aspects of older games that are no longer supported in the majority of the hobby,” and now it means, “I’m preserving exactly how older games do things, as the larger gaming hobby adopts similar to different ways of doing things that have existed in the hobby since the beginning.”

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Hi, Jared! You have one reader here!

Unfortunately I don’t have much of a reaction. I wish I knew—or maybe I don’t?—some of the “bad acting” that seems to underpin your concerns regarding the OSR community today.

The most I can say is that I must be one of those “new” members of the OSR. I’m 45 years old, but my first game was MERP, and I didn’t play a single session of D&D until 3e! But I’m very thankful to the “revolution” that has been occasioned by the OSR. Swords & Wizardry is my absolute favorite, and it’s all that I run, now, at cons. But my home group is playing Conan 2d20 right now, and I love it!

As far as gatekeeping, I’ve encountered it—but not in the OSR alone. The Pathfinder and Rolemaster communities likewise can have high bars for entry (not sure about 5e—I have absolutely no experience with that group). I guess I’m wondering if bad actors might not be found in almost any community in which the members are exceptionally passionate.


I think I get what you’re getting at. I enjoy “OSR” games. At the dawn of 3e, my group didn’t really bite, we kept playing 2e, and soon found the game we wanted in HackMaster, which was basically a houserule set for AD&D. Your early point of “do you call out a bad game element”, I for one say “absolutely”. To that end, I think this was an EASY win for Swords and Wizardry, when they built in descending AC for traditionalists, or ascending AC for newer mindsets, which honestly, I think it makes more sense.

Much like you identify your experience as just your experience, I would like to similarly strongly identify my experience as only my personal experience. To that end, I’ve seen people trying to gatekeep get shut down. Nothing rude, but a solid “well, that’s good for you, but that’s not everyone”. My experience is that OSR people lean toward “does it work for your table? If so, cool.” Ascending AC? Cool. You think weapon speed is dumb? Don’t use it. Want to add luck as a stat? Let me know how that works. Firearms? Go for it. You mention the attempts to define OSR. I think that lack of definition is a strength. Don’t let people, on “one side or the other” define it. Just like good fiction can transcend genre, a game system doesn’t really need a label. Quote the Bard “what’s in a name…”.

Is there nostalgia involved? For sure. Are there curmudgeons? Sure there are. But let’s be honest, there were those same people at the peak of Pathfinder, more than happy to “well, actually…” any thing the new kid wanted to try.

I can’t disagree with your perception of the history. My personal completely unresearched, armchair historian version runs pretty close. I feel like KenzerCo got access to the AD&D framework (I have hypotheses on this), which to me was the beginning, WotC releases the OGL, OSRIC comes out and the gates open.

I think you for sure hit the nail on the head in your points about 5e and structure vs house rules. I have extremely limited experience with 5e (read: the only session I’ve played was at a table with you) but from what I understand, this is a very solid strength. And that’s where I believe the value of not having a solid definition becomes even more relevant, “old school” isn’t “just old”.

I can’t disagree with the specific examples you sites regarding OSR vs “?new school?” games. But from my experience ( again, just an n value of 1) the OSR is WAAAAAAYYYYYY more welcoming than my experience with RPGA, which I tried annually, and was run off by it’s toxicity. Your statement “Virtually any element provided by a game championed by the OSR is also provided by a game that is currently in production” is something I feel any OSR advocate should embrace. It’s not a slight on OSR, it’s shared excellence. If there’s an AMAZING mechanic/ module/ system out there, we ALL win.

“I am saying that it may be time concede that OSR has drifted from movement to preference”- cool. So, for those people, good on them. Some people like diceless. Some like LARPs. Some like “storygames”, others, “megadungeons”. Isn’t that diversity the strength of the hobby?

I’m sorry you seem to have had very poor experiences with the community, and as one it’s proponents, I’m sorry some people don’t understand Wheaton’s Law. Come over to my table anytime.

Love and Respect



But seriously.
12ish hours later, still milling this one over. A LARGE part of my position is likely a level of self selection. I avoid places I know suck. I log in to Facebook about once a week or so.
Just yesterday, I made the mistake of contributing on Reddit.
To the comment:

And I responded with what I thought was an appropriate

And it’s been downvoted into being hidden.
Now, by all means, EVERYONE, PLEASE tell me what I said wrong here. I’m always in for being a better person. I didn’t think I was being rude, or condescending, which is what I fear a person comes off as when “telling someone how to run their character”. Even with the best intentions.

The point here is, this is NOT an OSR page. It’s the general r/RPG, which is dominated by 5e (as evidenced by the rest of the comments). And I can take that hint and realize that that’s a community that’s apparently more concerned with (as the BSers call it) “optimal play” than they are with roleplay or how you engage other humans.

So, I self select out.

Most of my encounters in OSR are discord communities, which lean to being smaller and tighter knit, and I think lend toward a bit of ownership, and therefore stewardship, from the regulars. Tenkar’s Tavern, Troll Lord Games, Frog God Games, HackAndSlash Blog’s Perdition, Goodman Game’s Dungeon Crawlers, ACKS, HackMaster etc. I’ve had great interactions in these places. Add this forum and the KenzerCo one, and I have a strong set of connections and communications, but I realize, I’m probably NOT going the places where you and others have those bad experiences. The only convention I attend (outside our 60 person CheapCon) is GameHole, which has always appeared to me to be open and accommodating at any table, and I try to play 80% game systems I’ve never played, so there tends to be a lot of explaining to me (evidenced by everyone taking for granted I knew my character’s go-to was the arcane bolt cantrip at Brett’s game).

So, yeah. As I said in my FIRST novella up there, those are just my experiences, but perhaps that’s more based on the choices I make, than on the parts of the community that I might not engage with???


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Hi, Laramie. I’m certainly missing the greater context of your interaction on Reddit. Judging by the context provided here, however, I’m confused. The original comment seems to be about explaining to others at the table how one’s own character works, whereas your response seems to suggest to not tell others how their own characters work (which is, of course, good advice). Perhaps it was downvoted because it was off topic. I’m certainly not seeing the entire conversation here.

That said, everything else you say lines up. The “well, actuallys” seem to be prolific in most communities. I think self-selecting is the way to go. Sometimes I go looking, specifically, for a “well, actually,” particularly when I’m asking a rules question. When I’m submitting my own rules hacks, however, those sorts of responses are frustrating. In those cases, I usually assume those writers don’t understand me, and I ignore them.

And I agree 100% that toxicity isn’t confined to OSR communities.

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Agree with Eirvit – looks like peeps maybe thought you were suggesting you tell others how to run their characters. I can certainly see that getting down-voted.

Good stuff, Jared. Don’t disagree with anything you wrote, but honestly, honestly, I don’t think the OSR has been a particularly tightly defined thing for a while now. There are elements of the broad movement I adore, and some stuff (beyond the ick of some creators and the gatekeeping) that just leaves me cold – as it did in 1987 when I quit playing AD&D and class/level systems in general for a few decades. In fact, it was the OSR that brought me back, and why I keep an eye on it and care about it as a thing.

The variety in it is what I love, and also part of what makes it kind of hard to define at this stage. Even with Finch’s primer and tons of other good resources out there on what it is, the differences within the movement are vast. Consider:

  • Retroclones like S&W, LL, OSRIC, B/X Essentials, Basic Fantasy, etc. vs. old-school inspired games with more modern RPG DNA like The Black Hack, The White Hack, World of Dungeons, Freebooters on the Frontier, etc.

  • ‘Small’ stories and adventures that play on folklore, the mysteries of childhood and forbidding woods (Dolmenwood, Winter’s Daughter) vs. gonzo science fantasy (DCC, Electric Bastionland, Ultraviolet Grasslands) vs. weird / dark / adult adventures (LotFP)

That’s pretty wide-ranging, even if they are all based on early versions of D&D. (And now there are the OSR games like Troika that aren’t even rooted in D&D.)

Anyway. Here’s what I know: the movement, whatever it is, is producing some of the most creative and fun content in the hobby. I can easily ignore the gatekeeping and arguments about what is and isn’t really OSR if that creativity keeps on coming. I’ll just ignore the bits I don’t like – hireling/retainer rules, punishing players when they don’t manage to tell you exactly where they look in a room, crawling through dungeons one mind-numbing turn at a time – and gobble up all the goodness that’s otherwise there. It’s definitely evolving, but I still kind of like calling it a ‘thing’ – a movement, whatever. Doesn’t bug me that it’s ill-defined, I guess.

Anyway, that’s my $0.02, which probably should be discounted down to $0.01…

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I will say, one big thing I’m not a fan of in OSR game, now that Harrigan brought it up… Player Skill. I, personally, hate games where you have to scour every 5ft square and every ceiling tile.

Not saying it sucks, saying I hate it.


I’m the same, Laramie. I played in a con game that was run like that last year, and it’s just not fun for me. I also dislike descending AC, just because it’s pointless. I ran that way for years, I just have no further desire to do so now. I kind of hate charts in play period.

I also neglected to make one wider point, and this is very much just my opinion: a lot of those older modules weren’t great. I bought tons of them as a young teenager, and I think I can count on one hand the number I ran anywhere close to by the book. The new OSR content — systems and art and maps and adventures — is way better than what we had back in the day. I can wax nostalgic with the best of them, but give me that new goodness at the table.


I have been amused by the amount of drama that crops up in the OSR. Some of the drama is decidedly NOT amusing. I thought Sean and Brett did a nice job of exploring this topic in there episode about it.