Thursday, December 19, 2013

For Your Consideration: A New Definition Of "OSR"

Some food for thought:

Earlier today, as I hammered together a blog post on one of my favorite classic boardgames, I realized that not everyone would agree with me that this game could be classified as "OSR." Classic RPGs, sure. I think most can agree on that. But what about classic wargames? Or classic board-and-chit simulations? What about games like Magic Realm? TSR's mini-games? Battletech? Talisman? Squad Leader? I bought each of these games brand new back in the 80s at my FLGS. Can we consider these games as part of the OSR? Yes? No?

And, as they say this time of year: "I puzzled and puzzed until my puzzler was sore."

I even asked the OSR G+ board if they felt that tabletop board/wargames could be classified as "OSR." And the opinions were just as varied. A big part of the problem is that there is no true consensus as to what "OSR" stands for. It is:
  • Old School Renaissance?
  • Old School Revival?
  • Old School Role-playing?
You know what our problem is? It's that damn "R" at the end. If you feel it means "role-playing," then you may feel that boardgames are not part of the OSR landscape and must be rejected. Those who feel it's "renaissance" or "revival" may think that the game in question must be undergoing some kind of resurgence in popularity or at least be returning to the public eye for it to be classified as such. A long-forgotten game that no one is playing nowadays can't be considered, can it?

I swear, defining the OSR is like trying to specifically define pornography: "I may not be able to specifically describe what it is, but I know it when I see it."

In an attempt to bridge all of our personal preconceptions as to what is and what isn't covered under the OSR banner, I'd like to offer up the following suggestion:
If it's old school, and it's a game, then it counts. Boom. Done. Ship it.

And to those who want to argue that this is too open to interpretation, and we need to narrow the focus to disallow games like Scrabble or Space Invaders or Cat's Cradle, well I'll let you worry about your exclusions. I'll be too busy playing Car Wars.


  1. Old School Rules could be another one

  2. Just as long as 'rules' means 'the best' and not a bunch of tables and books religiously followed to the letter; then, yes, I quite prefer that one. It's like changing the Thief class to 'Expert Treasure-Hunter' like Gandalf did. 'Like an Expert Treasure Hunter in the night, Old School RULES!'

  3. I like it. Elegant in its simplicity.

    Good luck getting the grognards to agree with it, though!

  4. The main issue is whether you're using "Old School" to mean a particular design ethos, or any of the design ethoi in play pre-1990 or so. For example, it can refer to both GM-heavy and rules-baroque styles of roleplaying.