Friday, November 15, 2013

I Begin Studying the OSR Movement

Been a while since my last blog post, I know. However, I've been busy with both my existing 1st edition AD&D campaign, hosted on Roll20.net, as well as working on launching a second campaign. Additionally, I've created a few tutorial videos for prospective GMs who are new to Roll20 and that takes up valuable free time as well. Anyway, on with the blog...

Once I realized I was part of the so-called OSR Movement (after a roughly 8-year absence from gaming), I figured I should look into it more closely so as to see exactly what the phenomenon was all about. I mean, sure, I knew what I thought "old-school gaming" meant because I was playing during that time frame and I had my own experiences to draw upon. But I was curious to know how others interpreted it.

My OSR research quickly pointed towards a work entitled A Quick Primer to Old School Gaming by Matthew Finch. I found a lot of people referencing it as summarizing very well what it meant to game in the old-school manner. So I created a Lulu account and downloaded this free document. No doubt most of you are already familiar with this work, so I won't repeat it here in detail. But here are the main points in bullet format, as well as my thoughts on them:

Rulings, not Rules
This sounded very reasonable to me, from hard experience as a DM. I did appreciate 2nd edition AD&D when it was released because it filled in a lot of the grey areas left over from the 1st edition rules. However, I also fell into the 2nd edition "splat book" trap, back when those were new releases and every player insisted on using them. We ended up spending more game time looking up rules than actually playing. Furthermore, much of the older published adventure module material was rendered largely obsolete because the writers could not have anticipated all the new skills and powers which 2nd edition characters would possess. So, getting back into gaming now, I wanted to recapture a simpler time and that made 1st edition AD&D an easy choice. Besides, I still had all my 1st edition AD&D books, so why not use them?

Player Skill, not Character Abilities
This also sounded good to me. Although I had not played the more recent editions of D&D, I was aware of the mechanics somewhat. I felt that by reducing almost everything down to a difficulty check, a skill check or what have you, something had been lost from the early editions of the game. It could be argued that surviving in an old-school campaign can be more difficult for new players because a lot of it comes down to experience and intuition. But that can be overcome through experienced players being willing to mentor the newcomers. That's how I learned to play way back in the day, and the value of that approach is still relevant today.

Heroic, not Superhero
This absolutely rang true with me. For me, it's always been about your character starting out as just an average Joe (with maybe an exceptional attribute or two) and then rising above the "huddled masses" to become the stuff of song and legend. Yes, it does mean that at very low levels your character may have a difficult time surviving. But if he does survive, it makes your accomplishments all the more meaningful.

Forget Game Balance
I found myself agreeing with this concept as well. I believe the campaign setting should be a living world, with all manner of challenges and perils. If a low-level character pursues a challenge beyond his capabilities, he's probably going to die. Knowing when to run is as an important a skill as knowing how to fight. There's no shame in running away and living to come back and fight another day. The campaign world does not exist only to facilitate the player characters' advancement and if they make the wrong choice then the consequences could cost them their lives. It's hard, yes, but that's the price of experience and in the end you are a better player for it.

Well, so far, so good. This oft-referenced OSR document seemed to confirm my own attitudes towards the game. I'll admit, I was a bit put off by what I felt was a mildly condescending tone towards the "new school" gaming style. My personal philosophy is, play whatever is fun for you and I wish you all the best. But at the same time, I know what game style I like personally and I was glad to learn that others felt the same way.