Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Whither (Wither?) the OSR

With the reprinting of AD&D, coupled with the impending release of 5e, mixed in with a healthy promise from Wizards of the Coast that 5e will be awesome for old school gamers ... we're at an interesting crossroads for the community of pre-3e gamers.

I call that the "OSR," since it's a blanket term for something with several -- often mutually exclusive -- moving parts. Interestingly, we may be moving as a result of the WotC release strategy toward a splintering of the relatively big-tent OSR that we've had so far.

The reprint of AD&D, done for whatever reason, may have had some intention of arresting the progress of OSRIC as a 1e resource. I imagine that once the reprints hit the street there will indeed be a decline in the number of downloads of the OSRIC rulebook. On the other hand, it might significantly increase the number of people who get interested in looking at OSRIC modules/resources. If part of the objective of the reprint was to slow down OSRIC, I think it's going to backfire on that particular point unless 5e happens to be so usable for 1e that a 5e module can actually, really be used for a 1e game.

In reality, I think WotC is doing the reprint because it's something they can sell in between 4e and 5e. In between editions they aren't going to sell much 4e material, after all. They have to look for their alternative sources of material, and a collector version of AD&D fits the bill quite nicely.

The potential compatibility of 1e and 5e isn't going to be known until the secret public playtesting session at this D&DXP convention leaks like a sieve and there are copies of the playtest document all over the internet. If WotC doesn't think that D&D players are beyond bringing in James Bond scanners and engaging in techno-stuff that would boggle the CIA in order to get copies of that document into circulation, they don't know the dynamics of the internet or the capabilities/determination of the fan base. I've already started seeing on ENWorld (yes, I went to ENWorld) the beginnings of grumbling about all the secrecy.

If 5e is somewhat compatible with 1e, whether that's forward compatibility or backward compatibility, there's going to be a neold-school group that fuses the two. Another edition war in the old school, how beautiful. Because this edition might very well be more old school than 3e ... it's almost certain to be closer to 1e than 4e was. (For those who didn't try 4e, it's very different from 1e, like that's going to shock anyone).

I can see a circumstance in which the compatibility with 1e is close enough to allow an agile person to write for 1e using either 5e or some kind of "AD&D Compatible" trademark license. That would be an extremely positive outcome for us, because it would mean (a) nice reprints on FLGS shelves, at least for a while, to attract new players and pull in our off-internet brethren who still play AD&D (b) ability to publish for the system without using the code-names made necessary by the terms of the Open Game License, and (c) OSRIC is still there, but goes into a Cthulhu-nap until the next WotC generation of managers removes the ability to legally speak the words "Ia, Ia, AD&D Ry'Leh." At which point, substitute "OSRIC" for "AD&D" and keep right on truckin'.

However, I've got a feeling that the attempt to make 5e compatible with 1e is going to disrupt our sense of identity a bit. Depending on the nature of the beast (unless it's utterly obvious that they aren't compatible -- a possibility) this is going to create some bitterness between those who think it's compatible enough and those who aren't influenced by "close enough," or by the idea of an expanded community, or by the idea of picking up mostly-usable game materials at Barnes & Noble.

No matter what, the core of our community isn't likely to change much, but the shape of the activity just might get rattled around a bit as some gamers switch to 5e, as they get edition-warred, as third-party publishers (including free resources) try to figure out the trademark/license landscape for the words "AD&D," as new people discover the OSR because of the reprints at the same time many leave for the "almost-compatible" 5e.

I don't think it's going to be seismic, but I betcha we have a great big edition war now that there's an edition coming out that -- we're told -- is actually aimed at bringing us back into the official fold. 4e made no ripple in our community because far from trying to attract us ... it brought new 1e players in droves. This time around, it's going to have some sort of effect in our part of the world.

We'll have to see.

PS, I don't think WotC is deliberately targeting the OSR other than probably wanting to reduce the number of OSRIC rulebooks that people are buying/downloading. They want us on the WotC website, buying WotC products, and I think they're legitimately making their best attempt to make that happen. I'm just a bit concerned about the collateral damage we're going to inflict on ourselves when the attempt is unveiled.

Although we're pretty safe, because all grognards are level-headed and slow to anger, fair in our judgements and accepting of ... um ... okay, yeah, there's going to be an edition war.


  1. I don't see a war the size of the last one, unless it 4e players lamenting the loss of their preferred system.

    From the OSR side of things, I'm very used to playing / owning /reading various rule sets that are more or less compatible with each other as well as other RPGs. A new D&D edition that is closer to 1e then 4e might get me playing it, but it's not going to drive me from the OSR. There's always room for another good set of rules in the stable of games that I follow and play.

    IF WotC actually brings new blood into the hobby with 5e, it will be a win / win for everyone. Time will tell if that plays out or not.

  2. I'm betting that the 1e reprints will do little to attract younger gamers to old school D&D, given that they've been brought up on glossy, polished product. Us older gamers might get a warm and fuzzy feeling when we read Gygax, but I reckon a lot of younger gamers will find the Gygaxian verbosity and the disorder of his rules off-putting to say the least.

    However, releasing the 1e reprints is probably a good way of testing the market for old school D&D. How big actually is the OSR? Do we represent the online tip of an iceberg of a much larger potential customer base? How far down this old school path do WotC need to go in investing resources?

    I wouldn't waste my time wagering money on an edition war, I reckon it's a safe bet. :-)

  3. I suspect the actual volume of the 1E "reprint" will be very small, more of a vanity / collector's release than anything else. Keep in mind, 1E books aren't exactly hard to get - I don't think a few of them with new covers are going to cause some resurgence of 1E (while that would be nice).

  4. I'm a 1e player and DM.

    I'll give 5e a fair shake. I may like it. I may run and play it for a few years.

    But unless 5e is an OSRGASMIC experience, I predict I'll return to 1e AD&D as my full-time, regular game, if I quit running it at all.

    I'm a 1e player and DM, and I do not have an identity crisis. Nor will 5e cause one.

  5. I actually think the Gygax name will pull in a sizeable number of customers, even if they don't end up playing it. Many players of later editions are curious about the older rules, even if just for historical reasons. For example, one of my players is a pretty hard-core fan of 4E. His favorite editions? 4E and 1E.

  6. I'll try 5e and may run a few games locally to broaden my gaming circle if the game clicks with my playstyle. I totally agree with David and Al about the 1e reprints.

    What concerns me most is the licence 5e uses, I think that will have the greatest effect on the OSR.

  7. I'll be buying the reprints, but OSRIC will still rule at my table. I love having the originals around, but they are not very table friendly. It is much easier to find stuff in OSRIC. The guy who put that together was genius.

  8. Stuart and I thank you, rmckee78! :)

  9. Its also interesting to ponder how many of the folks buying the collector's edition 1E set will actually be *playing* the game, as opposed to just putting it on their shelf to admire :)

  10. I think it's not past the playtest participants to bring a mini-camera and photograph the text, reproducing blurry parts from memory.

    Although, you really don't need to. Just remember the rules. The specifics aren't important, like how many spell points you get per level or whatever. Just the description of it will be enough.

  11. Oh, and as for the other stuff:

    I might pick up a copy of the reprint. $75 is a lot to spend on books I already have though. I'd rather buy 50 figures from megaminis.

    I'll probably pick up 5e if it has things in it the OSR doesn't describe fully. I wouldn't play it, I'd just strip it for ideas for my campaign. But if it's actually totally cool and is just a great game, sure I'd buy it and play it.

    That is, I'd buy a single DM guide, a single player guide, and a single monster guide. I can rewrite monsters and magic items from other sources for the new rules, so I wouldn't buy other supplements unless they too were, standalone, chock full of awesomesauce.

  12. If WotC doesn't think that D&D players are ...engaging in techno-stuff...they don't know the dynamics of the internet or the capabilities/determination of the fan base.

    Hmmm...PDF retraction, Eberron Unlimited, D&D Insider, Q.E.D.

  13. I am hard pressed to understand how any version of the game can be better than S&W:WB + OD&D.