Thursday, September 1, 2011

OSR the second wave

The OSR has undergone what I think is a radical transformation, stepping into a "second wave" that has been building gradually over the last 2-3 years. Here comes the necessary blah blah disclaimer about what I mean by OSR. I am one of the guys who means the entire community, not just the publishers. 'Nuff said, this isn't about defining the OSR -- if "OSR" hurts your head, just substitute "the old school gaming community that takes advantage of electronic communication." That's the group I'm talking about.

Okay, what is this second wave? People have been talking about second-generation retro-clones, which is a misnomer because the whole point of what they mean by "second-generation" is that these games are not clones ... in any case, this is not where I think the actual second wave is taking place. It's a good thing, for people to be producing innovative rules that draw upon the structural design goals of older gaming (as opposed to actually restating the out-of-print rules for preservation, cost reduction, publication support, or organization as the retro-clones do).

If they're the same thing, then the second generation of retro-clones happened before the first: Castles & Crusades broke the finish-line tape for using new game mechanisms in an old school game long, long ago. Whether they did a good job, which some people debate, is a completely different question -- they absolutely were the first to undertake the project of using different rules to target old school design objectives. The SIEGE Engine was a very new approach to target numbers, used in the context of a game with few rules and lots of roots in AD&D.

The two undertakings are quite different: one project is to build a better mousetrap, the other (retro-clones) are just trying to take the original mousetrap back off the shelf and get it working again.

Anyway, I'm not trying to start a terminology war, because goodness knows I think "old school" is too vague and lots of people argue with "Renaissance," and I think that whole sort of academia-of-last-week's-developments tends to miss the point. I bring it up only to emphasize that what I'm talking about as a "next step of the OSR" is completely different from the second-generation "retro-clones."

I'm talking about actual gaming.

Castles & Crusades, as the first simulacrum game, and OSRIC as the first clone (yes, I'm ignoring Hackmaster, I know) were both primarily about publishing. C&C was a vehicle for playing Castle Zagyg and allowing Troll Lords to publish AD&D resources under their proprietary brand name. OSRIC, although it morphed in a major way, was primarily about creating a shared brand name that would allow anyone to publish AD&D resources. C&C used purely the OGL, OSRIC added the use of some copyright law outside the OGL, but they were both oriented NOT toward increasing the number of gamers or building communications among gamers. C&C was to create a product line, OSRIC was to create multiple product lines.

Products. Resources is probably a better term, but the bottom line is that we aren't talking about gaming, we're talking about resources. As it happened, OSRIC accidentally turned out to be something that was used as a tool for introducing AD&D online to new players, but it wasn't planned that way and didn't affect the existing community of gamers. Actually, come to think of it, C&C also brought a lot of 3e gamers back to old school gaming too, although by a different process. These games expanded the community, but the way they enriched it was by increasing the number of resources.

Then come the conventions. GaryCon was the first self-described "old school" convention. (actually, this might have been TrollCon -- not familiar enough with the way TrollCon works to have an opinion on that, so I'll stick with GaryCon for the purpose of this discussion, but I could be wrong). There's no question that the critical mass for GaryCon came from the internet, and the ability of the internet to spread the word to a pre-existing community. Which is why I call it a product of the OSR as I define it. The primary driving engine of the OSR is the internet and the communication that it permits.

And then came North Texas RPG Con. Another old school con. A powerful one, with lots of attendance given that there was already another (and possibly 2 others) con out there with the same target audience.

What you see with the conventions is GAMING. Not resources, but actual gaming.

And now ... ConstantCon. using the internet to gather people together for online gaming. Yes, that has been a constant feature of the net for a long time, but this is the first umbrella organization for it.

So I submit this: I think there is indeed a new wave in the OSR. But it's not something that has to do with product-creation like the retroclones or the more recent "new-rules, old design prnciples" games. It is a larger sea change, because it is a new set of steps that are being taken toward gaming rather than toward gaming resources. Gaming resources are awesome, but actual gaming is obviously the real thing that the OSR has been striving towards.

Rebuilding a convention scene for older games, whether the convention is face to face or online, that's the real new wave that's going on here.

Next step after this one is to increase the number of people who can find face-to-face players nearby for regular games at home. But I think we'll need teleportation technology for that one.


  1. Good posting and great points. I see the OSR in a similar light. I also have trouble finding new players for face to face gaming. That is where our hobby needs a booster shot but I am not sure what we can do.

  2. I'd like to see Total Confusion become a "must" for East Coast old schoolers. This year they are bringing in Frank Mentzer, Tim Kask and Jim Ward. There are other publishers that live in the north east and might make it out. Old school gaming had its own room at the con last year. There weren't just old school RPG's at that con either but some old school mini and board games as well. There is a Car Wars tourney, a Battletech tourney and I played a round of first edition Space Hulk that was fantastic. The con starts taking event submissions from GM's in two weeks and pre-registration happens in November.

  3. While it is fun to play in a face to face situation, there are other avenues to explore. PbP for instance there is a game forming on DNDonlinegames. The first S&W game on that forum.

    I wish I could say that it was my game that got started but it is not. Another member of the forums is starting a S&W Whitebox game. I invite you all to check it out and hopefully join to support our presence on that forum. The link to the thread is

    If an interest for Old School gaming gets going on this board I to have a game in the works to start. I can not have a game without players whether it be face to face or by PbP.

    Other avenues to explore are skype based games with real time forum posting of maps.

  4. I would love to get some people into VisionCon in Springfield Mo. It is mainly current editions and WoD these days.

    You do have some good points but I want to add in a couple about C&C since you left it some time before I did. After Gary died and TLG lost the CZ license C&C began to implode. There were things going on with the company and in the community that were rather hinky, imo. I won't touch on it all but TLG dropped the ball big time on what could have been a good product line.

    I think that the time is right for another company to fill the void TLG left and one of these 'Second Wave' games may be what can.

  5. Great post! Yes, us "old schoolers" need to be out there playing. We need to be in the game stores, libraries, etc with our old school style gaming materials showing loud and proud. I created a GM screen using three ring binders with the cover of the Mentzer Red Box in all the front slip covers. I get a lot of curious looks when I'm gaming in my FLGS, since every other game in the store is D&D 4E Essentials. And some people have come up to ask what we were playing, and expressed interest in joining.

    Now, at the moment I'm running C&C, which causes some confusion since I'm showing off a Red Box cover, but regardless, the point is that we need to be recruiting. Plain and simple. We can't just be grognards and sitting here complaining about kids these days. We need to be nice people, open to new gamers and their many questions. We can't be stuck in our little niches grumbling anymore.

    There are those who prognosticate the death of the hobby, but what are they doing to stave off that demise, besides being doomsayers? You want to find more players for the OSR? Create them. Nurture them. Show them the true TAO of D&D (Tao meaning "the way," right?) Don't just sit back as some silent, inscrutable "master" of an OOP game. Be a truly enlightened gamer and get out and recruit.

  6. Inviting total news to play is the key. Dump all the gamer shame/elitism bs and tell people what a freakin' awesome game this is and ask em if they would like to come over and play sometime!

    Hey, it worked in the 1970's. We should be able to manage at least a modicum of success, now!

  7. If it makes the OSR a force for gaming rather than one for collecting, then I'm all for it.

    Less product, more play.

  8. I think we're a force for gaming. I certainly don't want to see product disappear, because I like buying and reading gaming stuff. :) But, a focus on gaming is a good thing.

  9. 'I certainly don't want to see product disappear, because I like buying and reading gaming stuff.'

    Me too, but there's still a crazy reliance on product amongst those of us who probably know all the rules we 'need' and have enough experience to make rulings on the rest.

    Product has helped the OSR to grow and reach out further into the online marketplace, but it's passion and not product, that sustains the hobby.

  10. I'm not at all saying that product should disappear, or that it's unimportant. Having a steady stream of stuff to read and use is part of the fun of a game! What I'm saying is that there's a new set of developments -- the online and face-to-face conventions -- that are offering to take things to the next level.

  11. As a co-founder of NTRPG con, I can positively say it was the birth of the OSR that led to the impetus to start an old school gaming con. The other main goal was to get a convention dedicated to OLD SCHOOL, face to face gaming instead of having it as one or two events at a larger con, a place where old schoolers could meet and game together without having to wade through cards, miniatures, and other distractions.

    I agree with Mythmere that this "second wave" will be fueled by actual gaming at cons, face to face, and not arguments or discussions about systems and product.

  12. FWIW, Matt, I think that the large success of GaryCon can be directly attributed to the Lake Geneva Gaming Cons put on by TLG, Gary, Rob, and the core of the current GaryCon attendees. GC stands as squarely on the shoulder of LGGC as AD&D does OD&D.

    WRT other old school gaming cons: Joe Bloch has mentioned good things about DexCon in NJ, and DunDraCon still had a strong old school component to it when I was living in the Bay Area from 2000-2005. GenghisCon in Denver's also got a significant old school focus, fueled at least in part by the fact that Harley Stroh is local. And, the SoCal Minicon is on the cusp of growing into something larger.


  13. Things look very different from my little island, from our timezone.

    The 1st wave - resources - reached out internationally.

    The 2nd wave - if it is about cons (and I don't believe it is), is reaching into America only. We don't share a timezone, so Google+ with US gamers is a total drag for those of us who work.

  14. I think the recent spate of OSR blogger retirements (Torch, Pole, and Rope, Chogwiz, and one or two others) might also point to a bit of fatigue with the 'blogosphere' and the teapot tempests that rage through it, as well as normal attrition. There is also the slowdown in Raggi's page as he concentrates on marketing and Za S as he handles Constacon. This and the lessening in the glut of retroclone rulesets and increase in useful tools being produced makes me hope you are right and the move towards playing and expanding playerbase will constitute the second wave of the OSR. My harddrive is full of rulesets so now I need to get my game on. :)

  15. Sean - reckon its time that the UK OSR sorts out some sort of Con, and one thing the UK scene does well is small to mid sized cons. If not a full con, certainly a con within a con say at UK EXPO.

    More musings about this to follow on Sorcerer Under Mountain.

  16. I'm totally focused on playing and gaming. I think it's great that product issues forth but I'm not interested in learning other systems or reading other rule-sets. It just has no interest for me b/c I don't have the time (and I already have D&D that I'm happy with). Regardless, I totally think people need to play, and then express/communicate it.