Yeah, okay, I went there. I'm not sure I want to, but as this OSR thing keeps rolling on, it's going to become a bigger and bigger question. Clearly, D&D, Traveler, Rune Quest, early versions of GURPS, Star Frontiers, and similar games are all old-school. Are there games from the '70s and early '80s that are not old-school? Are their new and original games that are? Exactly how far can Raggi go with his alterations to the basic D&D chassis and still be able to call his games old-school?
I ask this because I think the OSR is about to turn a corner. Most of what we've seen up until now has been attempts at faithful re-creation of the old games. There have been notable exceptions, including X-plorers, Mazes & Minotaurs, and possibly Mutant Future. But I think we're about to start seeing a number of games that are not so faithful to the mechanics of the games of yesteryear. I think we're about to start seeing games that try to capture the spirit of old-school while striking out much further afield in terms of mechanics.
The OSR is getting very playful. For instance, there are things like Zak's map of an inn run by a medusa and Raggi's excellent character sheets and encumbrance system. We are seeing a lot more tweaking of rules to support emergent play from long-term gaming, especially in terms of reward systems and balance issues. And there is, as always, just the usual playing with the aesthetics, especially with things like magic systems.
And I'm seeing a lot of stuff around the edges of the OSR that looks like brand new games with inventive new mechanics, things like the work of the Evil DM, Barbarians of Lemuria, Warriors of the Red Planet, The Metal Earth, and others. Even WotC is clearly trying to get its old-school on with its random character generation and frequent deaths in the new Gamma World game.
now I could just launch into what I think an OSR game is, and I kinda sorta almost did that I when attempted to define neo-classical gaming, but let's be honest here: any definition from me is going to be heavily influenced by the Silver Age and my love of verisimilitude. And I'm pretty certain that's far too limiting. The OSR so far has easily bridged the Gold and Silver Ages, and maybe even a bit of the Bronze as well.
So I toss this out to you: what are the bare minimum attributes of an old-school game? I'm tempted to say any true answer cannot be as specific as, "it must include random character generation." I think that gets too specific. I think the true answer has more to do with goals and attitudes than techniques and tools. But maybe that is too slippery. So what do you think?