the primer, the retro-clones, the adventures, the houserules, and the magazines have been more useful and a bigger priority for us. In many ways, the OSR is a play-now-and-figure-out-what-it-is-we’re-doing-later movement.
“Later” is apparently today. Here’s a brief outline of what I see as the central theoretical principles that underlie the OSR. (And I welcome comment and disagreement; it’s not like I’m the OSR pope or anything. ;) )
D&D is Always Right
And speaking of “damn it, I’m not the Pope of the OSR” this one comes from Mr. Maliszewski and started as a tool for analysis of the old games. By this, he meant to take the games in their own terms. Rather than come at them assuming he knew what they were about, he studied them under the assumption that the designers did, in fact, know what they were doing and succeeding in producing the games they meant to write:
The "D&D is always right" principle means that many times you're left wrestling with things that simply don't make sense or at least whose meaning is obscure. There are two ways to resolve the confusion. The simplest one is simply to assume that the original text must be "wrong," which is to say, that the author had no idea what he was talking about and that you can safely substitute your own preference in their place. The more difficult approach is to step back and assume the author actually intended something and that, simply because that something isn't immediately obvious, it isn't any less real.And this has lead to all sorts of interesting discoveries. Like if you actually inspect how EXP works in the pre-2e editions of D&D you realize that the original versions of the game were not about tactical combat (which was risky, dangerous, and offered piddly rewards) but about strategic exploration (which minimized risk while offering the greatest opportunity for finding the unguarded hoards which were the real key to leveling up, especially at lower levels). And this leads to all sorts of fascinating discoveries, like the role of rust monsters in an adventure and how to maximize the strategic possibilities of your mega-dungeon.
(Addendum: This is not about saying that any version of D&D is the perfect game, or that Gygax, Arneson, etc. were infallible gods of gaming or anything like that. Heck, it's not even really about D&D. It's about leaving your assumptions at the door and investigating the rules on their own terms, to see what they actually do and how they perform at the table, without prejudice or prejudgement. As Mr. Maliszewski adds in the comments here:
FWIW, my point was simply this: don't start pulling at loose strands in the tapestry until you've spent the time figuring out which ones really are loose and which ones only look that way and that, if pulled, will unravel the whole thing.And all of this reinforces the point that…
It's most emphatically not about treating D&D as a holy text or viewing Gygax or Arneson as infallible. Rather, it's about rejecting the notion that just because a rule looks "broken" to you, it really is. )
In spite of arguments to the contrary, 4e and 1e are very different games. In many ways 3e and 4e were attempts to “fix” the fact that the original versions of D&D were not about the tactical combat (“killing things and taking their stuff”) that everyone has always assumed the game was about. This isn’t to say that 3e and 4e can’t be fun, but it is to say that they favor very different experiences from BECMI or 1e.
The Old School Renaissance is a classic Reformation movement. For most of us, RPGs stopped being as much fun as they’d been. Wondering why, we jumped back to when they were fun in an attempt to find out what happened. Some of us didn’t have to go back as far as others, but in almost every case, it’s been an exploration of how style and rules work together to create the experience of play. We’ve gone back to the way things were to explore paths not taken, opportunities we passed on, to try other ways of doing things. Once you understand how the games actually work (insight which comes from adopting the “D&D is always right” attitude) and you also understand what sorts of activities you actually enjoy, you can meld the two into a more perfect experience for you and your friends. Which then leads to…
Because, really, we’re here to play games, not just think about them. And once you know what you want, you can build a game and a campaign to make it happen. Honestly, my love for Moldvay/Cook/Labyrinth Lord derives in large part from them being so easy to tinker with.
saumurai and ninja in our games. Others want rayguns. Others want to really freak people out. Yeah, there are a few around here looking for that “pure” Old School experience, but most of us are about the wahoo-fun of tossing in everything cool from our favorite Saturday-morning cartoons to musings about the historically significant cultural meanings behind the monsters we use in our games.
If you are new to the OSR, this is an easy place to jump in. There are lots of projects underway even now to create new versions of these old games. We’ve already beaten out a number of different OGL versions of those old games, whether your preference is for 0e or 1e or one of the many others now out of print. The challenge now is to see just how far these games can be pushed. Feel free to join in the fun; play some games and offer to test out some new tweaks to the rules. Make your own rules or a dungeon and get it published in Fight On! or Knockspell. Start your own project. There’s more than enough room for your vision in our crazy little corner of the intrawebs.
UPDATE: Mr. Benedicto weighs in over at Eiglophian Press. And The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms drills a little deeper.
And tavisallison at "The Mule Abides" gets it, and demonstrates by an example of "D&D 4e is Always Right."
If you're still confused, you might see what Herb has to offer, which includes a very amusing baseball analogy.
UPDATE the SECOND: Greetings, visitors from the Lands of Ara! Yeah, I know, there's a lot of links in this post, but if you're new to the OSR, they'll make good compliments to Mr. Soles' lists.